Located on the banks of the river Seeta, is a town called Barkur. This city was known in ancient times as Barakuru, a centre of accomplishment. The glory of Barkur dates back as early as the 7th century, when it was the capital of the kingdom of Alupas. Later on, it served as the provincial capital of the great Vijayanagara Empire from 1353 to 1587 A.D. This place was the fountainhead of the Tulu language. Owing to its proximity to the Arabian Sea, it served as a major port in the 15th and 16th century.
However, the present situation of this glorious land is not one that makes its residents proud. Currently, Barkur is a mere village panchayath, its rich heritage in ruin. Barkur residents believe that a city which has been destroyed after reaching the peak of its development, will never flourish again.
The problem lies in the fact that the citizenry of Barkur have very limited knowledge of the history of Barkur. Sadly, they are least bothered about the historical importance of the city; however, they do have the minimum knowledge about the antecedents of the city they live in.
Barkur is also known to be a religious center; there are different temple structures within one single compound. E.g.: Katthale Basadi consists of Navranga with Nagkaali, Shiva, Vishnu and Jain deities with separate temples. It proves the existence of changing kingdoms with various rulers trying to control the city both politically and in terms of religion.
It’s a fact that we Indians feel sad whenever we come across the fact that our traditional civilization was ruined by foreigners during the course of history. The case is similar with Barkur as well. However, it is important to note that the destruction done by foreigners is comparatively limited in comparison with the contribution of our own people in the destruction of the temples and traditions.
Now at Barkur, we see concrete buildings which have been constructed after destroying a number of ancient temples. There are also a few houses with half of the original temples adjacent to them. Locals point to such houses and say “Once upon a time, it was a temple”.
This change did not happen in a day or year, but rather gradually. A few temples have been upgraded, but are not in accordance to ancient architecture or culture. The historical monuments and stone works have now been replaced with concrete works.
When we talk about the history of dynasties, stone inscriptions play a vital role. However, as of the present day, such stone inscriptions are used in the flooring of houses and a few in bathrooms as a platform to wash clothes.
Most of these temples are deteriorating due to lack of maintenance and natural calamities. If a little more effort was made to maintain these temple monuments, this city would have had more tourist importance.
Vox Populi – As the people feel
“Barkur was a center for many kingdoms, there were many as 365 temples in the city. However, although history speaks of 365 temples here, most of them were ruined. A few have been renovated without any adherence to traditional values and finally very few have survived with the same importance” says Ammanyakka, 66.
“Barkur lost its importance politically when it became a mere village panchayath, after Indian independence. A massive climb down from the provincial capital that it was. From that point onward it was a downward spiral – day by day, year by year” says Sanjeev Nayak, 47.
“More than 70% of the temples have already merged with the soil. In other words, completely ruined. Most of the deities are unrecognizable, stone pillars are rusted, some are broken and misused by visitors who scribble their names on them.” says Bandimutt Shivaram Acharya, 50.
"If human beings with five senses can contribute so much to the ruin of this place, we can only imagine what animals could do. Most of the temples currentlyserve as shelters for dogs, cats, pigeons and even snakes” Bandimutt adds.
Human civilization has caused pathetic destruction to Barkur fort. It has lost its grandeur and resembles plain land now.
Shashidar Poojari, 35, who stays near the fort says that “the funny part is that the place where royal elephants were tied during the ancient era, is now used to tie household cows. Remains of a Goshala and a horse stable can also be found here”.
Shashidar also noted that a pond where the king and queen use to bathe is now completely covered with weeds. A few steps are visible, but it is too dangerous to enter the pond. The fort is surrounded by a canal which shows that the area has adequate water resources.
“When people of Udupi cry for water due to its deficiency in the summer, such old ponds can give life to hundreds of nearby wells, but only if it is maintained well” he added.
Excavations were done by the Archaeological Department of Karnataka, but they did not try to protect the fort or the valuable monuments here from the ravages of nature or people.
Shakuntala Rao, 49, a teacher by profession opines that in order for Barkur to regain administrative and political importance it should be declared as a Taluk instead of the current Brahmavara Taluk.“There is no unity among the people to fight for a Taluk status. There is a simple reason for this is - If a proper survey were to be conducted, more than 50 % of the private land wouldbe declared as temple property, which would mean more than 50 % of the people will be shelter-less. The residents here want to protect their own land and are happy to stay as they are now. No one wants to lose their encroached property. The temple property is also being used by the Government to give title deeds” she laments.
Government officials and leaders remain quiet in this issue. A few say that nothing can be done at this juncture due to the fact that the encroachment level is so high and that if someone tries to intervene, it will stir up a big controversy and hence no one wants to risk that kind of a situation.
A priestess Vinaya Bhat, 28, says that Muzrai Department is providing aid of Rs. 1500 to the priest for offering puja, and some have taken the responsibility to do so. However this amount has nothing to do with the upgradation or “Jeernodhara” of the temples.
According to Sudhakar Poojari, 35, the Member of Parliament, the Gram Panchayath and the State Archaeological Department are the authorities responsible for the maintenance and well-being of these places. He feels that the Gram Panchayath should send a proposal to the State Archaeological Department to protect and maintain the integrity of these monuments. Unfortunately, the Panchayath members themselves have no idea about the importance of these temples, he laments.
Speaking to News Karnataka, Murukesh who is anAssociate Professor in Ancient History and archeology said that State Archeological Department can do nothing to protect these temples and they often act as if it is not related to them at all. The Government, up to some extent maintains only KatthaleBasadi."Encroachment is another curse of Barkur. The Fort has been completely destroyed by locals now, whereas 25 years back it was intact”, he added.
He further lamented "the pathetic condition was when I went with my students to the fort, last time, a gang was playing cards and drinking".
He continued, “Every year we take students and give them all the required information about the city, but we have limitations”. He suggested that a library that hosts information about all ancient sculptures, buildings and literature should be constructed at Udupi to encourage the interest and information flow about our ancient culture. “We also need a "Local Museum" which can protect the ancient monuments, than lying on the road” he added.
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