THE TRANQUILITY OF MALENADU is undoubtedly a blessing but it is also a cloak that conceals thousands of profound stories of history. The curious seeker will be left with wanting more if he as much as parts the bearded lushness of its deceptive shrubs. The dedicated historian will realize the sorry reality of his own mortality the moment he prises open the past of just one precinct, one temple, or one Agrahara. The profound interconnections are delicately bound to one another in a mirror-like fashion of its flora and fauna. The pleasure-seeking traveller, the most unfortunate of all species, will merely marvel at the fuliginous mornings of Malenadu from the illusory luxury of his resort room.
Malenadu has a thousand gates to enter and embrace it. One of the slogans of Hassan is the boast that it is the gateway to Malenadu. It is a well-founded boast but it is also borrowed glory. Like Hassan, other places skirting Malenadu, can claim the same boast. By the mere virtue of proximity, these geographies are indeed fortunate.
But when we push the geography farther away by three hundred kilometres and begin our journey from Bangalore, we arrive at Shivamogga, one of the nerve-centres of Malenadu. And when we travel twenty-seven kilometres westwards from Shivamogga along a crooked line, we arrive at an enchanting forest-pocket named Choradi. The ubiquitous contemporary urban-Hindu traveller will most likely not even bother to look at the signpost that announces its name as his car races past it. Google Maps tells us that it is a “place of worship” carefully omitting that it is a Hindu place of worship. But then we’ve long been accustomed to such technological subterfuges.
Choradi is the location of our story.
Today, it is a large village populated by about 2600 people. Its profound history is now as obscure and as inaccessible as the thousands of Malenadu valleys which no one knows about simply because they don’t care.
Its journey roughly begins sometime in the fourth century CE, during the rule of the Kadamba dynasty of Banavasi. Its original name was Soraḍe (ಸೊರಡೆ).
But a slight detour is essential before we narrate the full story.
In 1920-21, the Mysore Archeological Department, visited Choradi and found several valuable stone and other inscriptions in its vicinity. As part of this expedition, they came across the deserted house of a Nadiga (town or village chief or officer) in a village east of Choradi. In its compound, they sighted a key that unlocked a glowing but now-faded gem of history: a stone inscription lying on the ground, battered by eons of natural onslaughts. Its size was modest: 3.3/2.6 feet.
Good things come in small sizes.
The inscription, written in Haḷagannaḍa (Old Kannada) opened a new world.
The immediate fact that it revealed was stunning: Soraḍe was an independent village republic. Although the entire region was under the control of the Kadambas, Soraḍe did not owe allegiance to any king. In contemporary verbiage, this village, an Agrahara, was a flourishing and early model of what is today known as self-governing village community. Soraḍe was regulated by the Village Assembly, a ubiquitous feature in the history, structure and functioning of the Hindu administrative system from untold antiquity. The story of Soraḍe brilliantly reveals the historical fact that even the king largely left these villages untouched. The villagers paid no taxes to anyone and managed their affairs with extraordinary competence and justice.
External control and regulation become unnecessary when internal discipline is perfected.
This shows that by all standards, Soraḍe was tightly-knit, prosperous and sizably populous. But more importantly, its people were made of a different material. This is how they describe themselves and the justified pride they take in their village.
But the event that occasioned this inscription is the real story.
Once, a bunch of power-drunk officers of the Kadamba ruler Tailapa (II or III) launch an unprovoked raid against Soraḍe in order to steal their cows. They were in for a rude shock. The doughty village police chief, Cīladalāra bōpadalāra met the marauders head on and gave them a thrashing they would never forget. He saved the cows but died a hero in the battle.
Soraḍe sung praises of his undaunted valour, mourned his martyrdom and were convinced that through his meritorious service, he had attained Suraloka, or Svarga or the celestial abode (…bōpadalāra Kādi suralōka prāptan ādaḍe…). The villagers also reserved harsh words for Tailapa himself, branding his officers as “royal cow-lifters”: Kadambara tailapan…Gōva koḷḷ ahitaraṁ.
And then, in a characteristic act of nobility, Mācōja, an important officer of the Village Assembly, ratified the unanimous decision of the village to honour the martyred warrior. This was the decision in official language:
The last line is an extraordinary reflection of and an unabashed declaration of the fierce and confident spirit of independence of the people of Soraḍe. This is also Yoga. If they could pulverize the royal thieves, they could also safeguard their gift to their beloved martyr. This is the real deal of Sanatana political, social and community history that has been suppressed.
A scene of Bōpadalāra’s battle with the enemies has been engraved on the Soraḍe inscription along with the text. This inscription is just an infinitesimal example of our historical treasure-chest that yields such real-life demonstrations of the innate Hindu nobility shaped by eons of living the Dharmic life, of adhering to the Purushartha ideal and of placing Sanatana values above individualism.
Who knows, you might find a Choradi or Soraḍe in your vicinity.
The Dharma Dispatch is now available on Telegram! For original and insightful narratives on Indian Culture and History, subscribe to us on Telegram.