THE sprawling banyan tree at the confluence of the Cauvery and its tributaries stands alone like a mute witness to the past; shepherds laze about while their cattle graze in the water meadows; priests perform the last rites for the departed souls; tourists focus their cameras to capture the spectacular views of the riverside. The Cauvery itself flows past humming sweet melodies to the sleepy little town of Srirangapatnam.
It only gets a passing reference or a paragraph or two in the glossy brochures; even the tour guides allot only an hour or so to it. Srirangapatnam, unfortunately, does not get the attention it rightly deserves because of the more famous and culturally rich Mysore that is only about 15 km away. You don't have five star hotels here to lure you, nor any glitzy shopping malls to tempt you. Srirangapatnam is not the usual tourist town with pushy tourists guides to bother you and overzealous salesmen trying to palm off their merchandise onto you. It is a quaint little historic town that has so far not attracted builders and property dealers. But perhaps that is precisely the reason why you might think of spending a couple of days here.
Not many know that Srirangapatnam was the capital of Mysore from 1610 to 1799. If we clear the mist of history, we go as far back as the 15th century when it was a small hamlet dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who is also referred to as Sri Ranganatha. Thus the town got its present name — The Port of Lord of the World. In 1510 Hebbar Timmana built a fort whose ruins still form the major feature of the town. This fort stood firm against the French, the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the Marathas. It was finally conquered by Lord Wellesly of East India Company on April 28, 1799, by slaying Tippu Sultan. There is a small monument at the spot where the body of Tippu was found.
Although it is only a small town, Srirangapatnam has a wealth of historical monuments. The Sriranganatha Temple is believed to be several centuries old. It is said that after the old temple, built in 894 by one of the governors of the Ganga Kings, was destroyed, a Vishnu temple was built in the same place in 1200. This masterpiece of the South Indian architectural school has a five-storey gopuram, and it houses the reclining statue of Lord Vishnu. The 16th century Ganga-dhareswara Temple, and the 17th century Narasimha Temple built by Vijayanagara kings are the other two important temples.
Very close to the Sriranga-natha Temple used to be Lal Bagh, a structure built by Hyder Ali. It was a red building 'with an open balcony or durbar hall overlooking the parade ground'. It was razed to the ground by the British after the fall of Tippu.
Daria Daulat Bagh, or the summer palace of Tippu, is made of wood and it commands an excellent view of the green lawns outside. The construction of the palace was started by Hyder Ali in 1778, and it was completed by his son Tippu in 1789. It is now a museum that has personal affects of Tippu and his family murals depicting the military campaigns of Hyder and Tippu, paintings made by the artists of the East India Company, and a host of other historical memorabilia.
Not far is the Juma Masjid with its tall minarets built in 1784. When Tippu was a little child, a saint predicted that Tippu would be a great ruler one day. The saint asked Tippu to build a mosque if the prophesy was fulfilled. True to his word, Tippu built Masjid-e-ala in 1784. If you climb up one of its minarets you get a panoramic overview of the fort and the rest of the town.
Tippu also built the Gumbaz or the mausoleum which has the graves of Hyder Ali, Fatima begum, and Tippu himself. The walls of the cream coloured Gumbaz are lined with tiger skin. There are also frescoes painted by the soldiers of the East India Company. The grave of the other relatives of Tippu can be seen outside the Gumbaz. Nearby is Masjid-e-Aqsa.
The remains of the dreaded dungeon where Tippu used to imprison British soldiers, and the breach in the wall through which the British entered the fort can also be seen. There is an ongoing controversy re-garding the image of Tippu. His supporters claim that he was a very secular ruler and a true patriot; his detractors on the other hand say that they have enough proof of show that Tippu showed no religious tolerance, although some of his trusted ministers were Hindus.
Just 3 km away from Srirangapatnam is the Ranganthittoo Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary is a home of herons, egrets, white ibises, open-billed stroks. Boats are available for those wishing to see and photograph the birds nesting and breeding. The bird watching season begins in May and lasts until November.
The Karanataka State Tourism Development Corporation's snug little riverside bungalows are recommended because they are so beautifully sited near a murmuring brook. At 123 km Bangalore is the nearest town with an airport. Having reached Srirangapatnam, it makes sense to combine it with a visit to Somanathapura, Bandipur, Nagarhole, and Mysore.