Mysore – Down memory lane. Chamundi hill

The Chamundi hill stands as a backdrop to the city and provides some fantastic views of the busy Mysore city at its foothills. The hill itself is a few kilometres outside the city and is at a height of 3,489 feet. On the way up and from the top of the hill, one cannot miss the spectacular Lalitha Mahal palace with its sprawling gardens. 

I always saw the hill for what it is rather than the famous temple sitting atop its peak. But one cannot escape the fact that Chamundi hill is more popular for its divine deity, Goddess Chamundi, than its geographical topology. Almost every tourist bus makes a stop here to introduce the tourists with the divine deity who guards the city. During my recent trip to Mysore, I visited the hill with the intention of touring the temple of the fiery Goddess. 

According to the legend, the Goddess, in a bloody battle, slew the cruel king Mahishasura with her powerful trident. In doing so, she freed the people of Mahisooru or Mysore (the land of Mahishasura) from his demonic reign. 

In her Mahishasura Mardini (slayer of Mahishasura) avatar, she looks fierce, a south Indian version of Kali, with multiple arms holding various weapons and adorned with a garland of skulls. 

As you drive up the hill, there are huge signboards that declare it’s a ‘plastic free’ zone. Sadly, the reality is different with plastic bags strewn everywhere – another case of good intentions with no follow up. While the road uphill is motorable, the parking is an uneven dusty zone. Many tourist buses are parked here and each time a bus enters or leaves the area, there’s a lot of dust and smoke.

There is a huge colourful statue of Mahishasura, the demon King, with a raised sword in one hand and a snake in the other. He stands at the summit, a few yards away from the parking. 

When I came here as a kid, I thought he was pretty menacing. Now he’s just a colourful backdrop for photoshoots by the many tourists, especially on weekends and public holidays. 

The board ‘Way to Temple’ marks a meandering path through a small congested claustrophobic lane of shops that sell statues (of every Hindu god), beads, shawls, books, cassettes and everything else that is divine. Only when you reach the end of the melee, you can see the towering gopuram. If you want to avoid the chaos take the parallel path, away from the shops, which leads to the same temple. Be careful with your snacks as there are monkeys in abundance here. 

The Wodeyars, erstwhile rulers of Mysore, patronised the goddess and worshipped her in this charming hill temple. The Temple’s gopuram, the 1000 and odd granite steps from the base of the hill to the top and a huge monolith statue of Nandi (divine bull), halfway up the hill, were some of their contributions. 

The shrine itself is much older and the hill deity is associated with Hoysala and Vijayanagar reign. Some of the stone carvings resemble the Hoysala style of architecture.

It is an inescapable fact that Mysore’s history and prosperity is perpetually linked to Goddess Chamundi’s blessings, sworn by even her rulers. Next time you are in Mysore, do visit Chamundi hill. Even if you do not believe in the divinity, it’s atleast a pleasant drive up the hill and cooler than the plains below. Only, avoid the trip on fridays and weekends as the crowd is huge.

(This post was originally written in Feb. 2009 for my personal blog,  http://coffeenirvana.in/)  

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