Documenting a legend
Sashi Sivramkrisna's Curse of Talakaad effectively conveys why the three-line utterance continues to intrigue and fascinate
SANDS OF TIME A retelling of the myth
Most people of Karnataka know the lines Talakaadu maralagali, Maalingi maduvagali, Mysoru doregalige makkalagadirali and the story behind it. The utterance, supposedly a curse by Alamelamma whose husband, Tirumala the second, of the Vijayanagar Empire was defeated by Raja Wodeyar, ruler of Mysore, translates to "Let Talakaad become sand, let Maalingi become a whirl pool and let the kings of Mysore not beget heirs." People believe that the curse has come true.
Talkaad, a favourite picnic spot is full of sand. The water currents at Maalingi, the upper bank of River Cauvery are strong especially during monsoon and the Wodeyars, the royals of Mysore have been left heirless time and again. But was there really such a curse or did propaganda of such a legend serve some purpose?
A 48-minute documentary Curse of Talakaad by Sashi Sivramkrisna tries to put together all the evidence, archeological, historical and genealogical, on the subject in an intriguing and visually appealing style. "When we started research on this topic we found no historical evidence. It was just a legend that people spoke about. We wanted to document this legend by fixing it in a time frame. Legends are in danger of being lost unless we document them in a way that can act as a bridge between historians and people," Sashi, whose other documentary "Faces of Kudremukh," was about people-forests conflict said.
Sashi, who has a PhD in Economics, brings his academic discipline to the movie.
The documentary examines each line of the curse in depth, moving back and forth from 17th century, when the curse is supposed to have been uttered, to the present - when archaeological evidence is gathered and when even to this day, Alamelamma, is appeased through religious worship in the Mysore palace during Dasara.
"There is enough evidence to show how Talakaad could have become the sandy place that it is. Construction of a bridge changed the course of the Cauvery and this along with other geographical factors accounts for the formation of sandy dunes over a period of time. Malingi in the southern banks has strong currents.
The Wodeyar dynasty being heirless remains a mystery but then there could be some plausible explanations. The aim of the documentary is also to raise questions rather than provide the final answer." acknowledges the film maker.
What Shashi has attempted to do is to place the legend in another context and reconstruct events. So instead of it being an occurrence of the 17th century, as the legend has it, Sashi feels that the legend is more likely to have been constructed around the 19th century. Around the time of the "Peasant Revolt" of 1831 when the upsurge against the royals took place. The legend would have also suited the British Empire's Doctrine of Lapse fine.
The Wodeyars had after all ruled over the region for close to six centuries growing from a small principality to a mighty empire.
Searching for historical mention of the curse Sashi's team found it in the Mysore Gazzetter, a document by the British. Till the 19th century there is no record of the curse. Thus perhaps far from being just a curse of an angry woman coming true, a host of factors (including the feeling of sadness experienced by Raja Wodeyar who had only wanted Alamelamma's jewels for Lord Sri Ranga and recorded in the annals of Mysore palace as appearance of Alamelamma in the king's dreams) perhaps were at play in fashioning the legend. Part history and part legend the documentary effectively conveys why the three-lined utterance continues to intrigue and fascinate.
This documentary was screened at Films South Asia 2005 in Katmandu to a very appreciative audience. And what next? A happy Shashi says: "www.archaeologychannel.org is streaming the film.
That site has over a lakh visitors a week and those interested can also buy the DVD's from them." Are there plans to show it to the regional audience? "The film has been screened at Suchitra and NIAS. I would love it if the documentary could be dubbed to Kannada and shown here." Sashi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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