How Thrissur is Connected with Arasikere via Kunjanambi Setti

The concluding episode of this series shows how Kunjanambi Setti from Padiyur, near Thrissur, became a profound connection with Arasikere, Karnataka.
How Thrissur is Connected with Arasikere via Kunjanambi Setti

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How Thrissur is Connected with Arasikere via Kunjanambi Setti
The Ennobling Story of Kunjanambi Setti: The Sanatana Guild Leader who Stopped Hindu Infighting

IN THE UNBROKEN ADMINISTRATIVE PARLANCE of the Kannada regions of that era, Kunjanambi Setti was classified as a Nānādēśi. This technical term means, “a group of merchants usually moving together for purposes of trading and selling goods in different places, akin to a sārtha-vāha or commercial caravans. 

The Sevuna attack against Ucchangi kept rankling in Vira Someshwara’s mind. When we read between the lines in the inscription, we can reasonably conjecture that revenge was being planned by the Hoysala monarch. 

However, it was Kunjanambi Setti’s timely and virtuous intervention that averted this potential battle and prevented further, needless Hindu bloodshed. More than his skill and knowledge and business acumen, this singular act of refined diplomacy earned him universal acclaim. This is how the inscription praises him:

Pleasing both the Hoysala emperor in the south, and Sevuna himself in the north, he formed an alliance between the two kings which was universally praised, and obtained credit in negotiating for peace and war. He was an embodiment of perfect truth (satyavakya) and an ornament of mercy. Kunjanambi was a Vidyadhara in counsel.

The term Vidyādhara literally means “wisdom-holder.” In the Sanatana epic and Puranic literature, Vidyādharas are a group of supernatural beings (what are known as demigods or Upa-devās) who possess magical powers. Their traits typically include gazing at human prowess with astonishment, strewing flowers while watching a combat and rejoicing with music and laughter. They are crowned with wreaths and are universally praised for being the “doers of good and devoted to Ananda or joy.” 

Whether or not Kunjanambi Setti was endowed with magical powers, his diplomatic triumph was certainly exemplary. Sadly, no details of how he accomplished the feat are available in the inscription. A measure of the esteem that Vira Someshwara held him in can be gleaned from this gushing mention: 

He obtained extensive merit, so that no Setti was equal to Kunjanambi throughout the Hoysala kingdom. An emperor of justice, honoured in the great Hoysala kingdom, of kind speech, a tree of plenty in natural wisdom, delighting in truth, thus did all the world unceasingly extol Kunjanambi-Setti as a collection of unnumbered good qualities.

Neither was Kunjanambi alone in this exceeding virtue. His entire family and lineage outdid one another in piety and righteousness. 

Kunjanambi’s son-in-law, Kondanambi was a devout Vishnu devotee. Some details of his Vishnu-Bhakti-impelled munificence are truly astounding and profoundly moving. He commissioned Satras (charitable rest houses) across an impressive swathe of geography including Harihara (near Davanagere), Rameshwaram, Pandharpura, and Varanasi. In fact, the inscription says that “wherever there were famous bathing-places, there were his gifts to be found and people sung his praise in all these places.” Indeed, Kondanambi’s prolific donations earned him the nickname, Bhandinambi (Bhandi = cart).    

And then, it appears that Kondanambi’s younger brother Damodara surpassed him in the selfsame Vishnu-Bhakti. His profound devotion reminds us of the exalted piety of Vishnuchitta described so evocatively in Sri Krishnadevaraya’s Āmuktamālyada. Our inscription extols Damodara on a grand scale and elevates him to a higher pedestal than the celebrated Bhagavatas in our tradition such as Rukmanga, Suka, Nadīja, Vibhishana, Arjuna, Hiranya’s son (i.e., Prahlada), Hanumanta, Garuda, Dhruva, Vyasa and Narada. Damodara was also the fabulous donor of lands, cows, calves, Kanyās, sesame seeds, vessels, lotuses, gold, and water… in short, everything that the Hindus traditionally consider as sacred.  Damodara passed his whole life “delighting in the story of Hari, in repeating the name Hari, in worship of Hari, in faith in Hari.”

When we return to Bhandinambi, we see him marrying his daughter to another pious businessman named Kandanambi who “was known for his virtues and devotion to his Lord’s business throughout the brave Hoysala king’s empire.” Kandanambi’s son was Kunja, named after his illustrious grandfather, Kunjanambi Setti.  

By this time, the whole family had become Kannadized. 

At an early age, Kunja became an avowed devotee of Shiva and finding worldly life pointless, became a Jangama (wandering Shaiva ascetic), and “giving his body to the Jangama, and his mind to the lotus feet of Somanatha, he by his merit attained to the abode of Siva.” 

It was a truly monumental occurrence and it was celebrated as divinity is celebrated in the Sanatana tradition. By building a grand temple to Shiva. Kunja’s father himself took the lead. At a city named Muttana-hosavūru. Kandanambi made enormous grants to the temple in order to provide for the “offerings, decorations, worship, for two Pujas in the Chaitra month, and for daily Annadaanam.” He also made land grants for temple repairs from time to time. Needless, all these grants were in perpetuity. The whole local community, and even people from surrounding villages pitched in by contributing to this pious work. We get a glimpse of this from the inscription:

And all the Brahmanas of the Damodara-Agrahāra, which is Nāgarahaḷḷi, made a grant. Kandanambi Setti made over all these lands to the temple by pouring water on the holy feet of the Deity.

Kandanambi Setti’s daughter Chandavve, was appointed as the Oḍeyaḷu (chief trustee) of the temple in an elaborate ceremony. The ceremonial details are noteworthy. Chandavve was granted a Hombaḷi land (tax-free land such as an endowment, etc) and the transaction was ratified with 

…pouring of water in the presence of the God…and in the presence of Rudrasakti, the Raja-Guru of Dorasamudra, the capital of Tribhuvana [i.e., the Three Worlds] and in the presence of the Kampanacharya of the 120 temple priests and of numberless Mahāgaṇaṅgaḷu [i.e., Shaiva-Jangamas] and in the presence of all the subjects, farmers and priests of Muttana-Hosavūru. The Raja-Guru, the 120 temple priests and the numberless Mahāgaṇaṅgaḷu and all the people of Arasiyakere, in a unified voice, bound upon Chandavve the Vibhūti-paṭṭa or crown of authority. She was given the rank of a Gaṇa-Kumari [literally, “princess or daughter of the Gaṇas]. She was also granted the Maṭha dues and all the other dues payable to this temple, free of all imposts, to continue as long as the sun, moon and sky.

The temple is known as the Kunjeshwara Temple. 

Dorasamudra or Dvarasamudra is today’s Halebidu. 

Arasiyakere is Arasikere. 

Muttana-hosavūru is the Hiriyur village, about 12 kilometres from Arasikere.

HERE IS THE PORTRAIT of Muttana-hosavūru as described by the inscription: 

In the Hoysala country which was daily increasing in prosperity, a place of great good fortune was Muttana-Hosavūru. There hunger was unknown to the people, so abundant were the crops. The bees knew not hunger, such were the bountiful flowers. The birds knew no hunger on account of the abundance of woods. This was the favourable residence known as Muttana-Hosavūru. Its moat was as deep as the Serpent King’s city, and its golden fort walls rose higher than the clouds — what can I say of its glory? Equal to Indra’s town, or to Dhanada’s city (Kubera’s Capital), or to Vishnu’s town, was Muttana-Hosavūru with lines of lofty houses and many different temples.

Today it is a decrepit village, sharing its neglected fate of being one among the countless meaningless dots on a map. Its name, Hiriyur (literally, “elder or big town”) too, has been overshadowed by its namesake near Chitradurga. 

As for the Kunjeshwara Temple, its most recent mention that I was able to find was in an Indian Archaeology Review dated 1978-79. This is how it reads: 

Three temples, of which the Kunjesvara temple, built in A.D. 1255, consisting of two garbhagrihas, navaranga and mukhamandapa and a small shrine by the side of it and Siddhesvara temple of tri-kuta type with three garbhagrihas and a navaranga, and three inscriptions, all belonging to Hoysala period, were noticed at Hiruyur, a prosperous town in the Hoysala period and known as Muttana-Hosavuru in Arsikere Taluk of District Hassan.

I am unsure if the temple still stands there and I’d be more than delighted to learn that it does still stand. 

Postscript

This is how Bharatavarsha was woven. Via cultural indivisibility. Kerala was connected to Karnataka via noble souls like Kunjanambi Setti. Padiyur was meshed with Arasikere via the Kunjesvara Temple built in the Hoysala style architecture by the descendants of a Malayala businessman. The same bloodline which boasted of avowed Vaishnava Bhaktas also produced an illustrious Jangama, a Shiva Bhakta in whose honour Mahadeva manifested in sculptural form as Kunjesvara.

This is the real idea of India, which no seminar or conference will tell you because it can't be taught.

|| Ōṁ śrī kun̄jēśvarāya Namaḥ ||

Series concluded

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