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Traveller's Tales

The temple of Munroe

RUKMINI BANERJI

The story of how a picture of Thomas Munroe came to adorn the walls of a Hanuman temple near Cuddappah.

PHOTO: V GANESAN

Surprising inroads: A statue of Thomas Munroe in Chennai.

It was dark. Cuddapah was still quite far away. The gently sloping road ahead seemed to go on and on. “There is a temple on the way,” said one of our companions. “We must stop there. It is a small temple but a temple with an interesting story.”

The legend was that as Ram and Sita made their way back from Lanka to Ayodhya, Hanuman went ahead. He would search for a good place for the royal couple to stop and rest on their journey home. Not far from where we were was one such place. Hanuman had chosen a cave by the side of a river. To mark the spot, Hanuman hung a golden rope across two hill tops. So that from a distance the rope could be seen. The story continues. Ram and Sita did indeed stop at the cave. Grateful for Hanuman’s efforts, Ram etched a picture of Hanuman on the stone walls of the cave.

Centuries later

Hundreds of years later, in British times, Thomas Munroe was the Collector of Cuddapah. Travelling through the hills, late one night, he saw a gleaming rope of gold stretched from one hill top to another. “What is that” he asked his companions. “Why is there a golden rope hanging from one hill top to another?” There was a long silence. No one among Munro’s companions spoke. No one could see the rope that Munroe was referring to. No one had the courage to speak. Finally, an elderly man spoke up. “He who can see the golden rope is blessed. But he will die in a few months.” Thomas Munroe looked at his companions in disbelief and put the story aside as superstition. But it must have stayed with him. It is said that he even wrote about this incident in his diary. In a few months time, Munroe was dead.

We stayed silent. We could not see any golden rope over the river. The dark hills passed us by. Our thoughts going back and forth: the mythical story of Hanuman and the unlikely fate of Munroe. In some time we came to the temple. A small glow of light in the darkening night. There were hardly any people in the temple. A few priests were conducting the evening aarti.

It was easy to walk right into the inner sanctum of the temple. There was a carving of Hanuman on the stone walls. Parts of the carving had been covered in silver. Till today, Hanuman’s service to Ram was being acknowledged, celebrated and worshipped.

Taking his place

Out in the main hall, a few people sat on the floor listening to the aarti. High above on the walls were framed pictures. Most were of gods and goddesses. In the centre, prominently displayed was one of Ram and Sita. The glass framing the picture had been smeared with holy ash, haldi and kumkum. There was a garland of fresh flowers encircling the frame. Right next to Ram and Sita was a framed picture of Thomas Munroe. Like the gods and goddesses around him, he too was covered in haldi-kumkum and crowned with flowers.

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