Thirty-four

When one walks on the narrowly established streets of Vittla, a small town about 40kms from Mangalore, a lot seemed to have been fit in a pocket-sized town. The low rising miscellaneous buildings on the sidewalks, dwarfish houses in between, the ever moving private buses from the vicinities with people strolling and crossing across the roadways. It was a Sunday morning, and stalls of flowers had started their day already, with baskets of blooms in different hues. Half of the shops were shuttered down while the rest were about turning their hands to. It’s about time the sun was rising high.
I walked past an opened fruit stall, looking at a badly biten mound on the other side. Along with some deserted areas and complex shops, unoccupied food carts and an array of hotels with sign boards – chai and coffee written with style.
Small potholes here and there kept the road interrupting with the sun chasing it from not too high in the sky.
People were in all directions, though not in swarm. After another passing uninhabited area, I stopped near a government bus stand where I waited for my friend who was coming to pick me up. The harvested farm land opposite the bus stand was quite a sight.
Past fifteen minutes, my friend and I were on a trail road through the matching farm that I had seen earlier and on the other side were backwoods trying to touch the ground. The enroute we were wending our ways was a countryside, road to the palace of Vittla, entirely distanced from the toiling purb. There weren’t many people except for an odd or two men seen walking by. As the paddy farms unfolded into areca trees, somewhere on the way my friend stopped me to show a small holy place which wasn’t too faraway from where we stood. Belongs to the palace, she said pointing to it. And continued that the priest who lived in a house just above it offered prayers every morning which have now been ceased for reasons not known.
Within the distance of a stone’s throw was another small neat roof top which also, according to the friend, was a residence of a family member of Aramane (palace). Native flowers were looking out.
The path ahead was streched simply straight and without many intricate networks.
As we neared, the roofs of the palace were coming into the picture and when we were on the back of it, walking down to it’s anterior, a septuactogenarian waved at us from one of the many small rooms. We waved back. ‘That’s my grandfather’ my friend made an acquaintance. Sir Nanda Verma, her grandpa is one of the oldest leading descendants of the royal family. When we reached to the front, he was there to greet us, a book in his hand which I thought the one he was reading inside at his room. We walked on the maroon oiled porch to the centre where Sir Verma was standing. We exchanged formalities, after which, I was introduced to the Arasa (king) of the Aramane. Seated in his wooden chair with legs crossed, Arasa Janardhana Verma, brother of Nanda Verma, nodded at us with a warm smile.
The roof was pouring rain as we sat on a wooden bench in the porch. It, including the hallroom was gloomy by the morning monsoon. I was offered a glass of malt and a plate of biscuits and bananas. The palace, re-built in the year 1800 after the destruction of the older one, which was only several metres away from the existing was more like a traditional house. Sir Verma says that the bygone was burnt down by Tippu Sultan in 1784. Today if you go in quest for the old palace, all you’ll find is climbing steps, from the corners of which, rainy grasses have grown in abundance. While the rest of it have been used for areca plantation now. Some strong fence have been railed across the area which while crossing hurt one of my legs and I sadly, ended up getting a Tetanus vaccine for it. One can also notice the elephant carvings on both sides of the steps which is sighted in the newly built as well.
When asked childishly why would Tippu do a harmful thing like that, the humble Verma giggled and said ‘That’s what he did, you know. He destroyed dynasties and temples’ which led to another story of similar instance which took place in Madhur temple, Kerala, where Tippu went in an intention to destroy the temple but on the way feels thirsty, drinks some water from the well nearby and after a while changes his mind and leaves the temple unharmed, except for a mark with his sword or dagger.
Vittla is a host to about 18 villages and 16 temples – all of Lord Shiva or Vishnu. ‘Have you visited Pnchalingeshwara temple?’ I was asked. It being only kilometres away from the palace happens to be the most famous of all and the one close to the family.
The family had had their sculptor Neelakanta Acharya to chisel the house, some of which includes the charismatic four tall pillars in the front, the window paintings, wooden carved doors and many more in and out. After the tenure of Neelkanta, it is said that his heirs kept the work going for the Aramane in the coming years. Pretty flowers painted in pale yellow at the top of each blue pillar are quite adoring to look at. Sir Verma particularly showed us the carving of the thick wooden ceiling which bore designs that would leave the looker captivated.
Having listened to us speak of their veteran sculpture, Arasa Janardhana Verma quickly adds from where he sat in the porch that ‘And Vasudeva Bhat was our cook’ and chuckled at the thought of having remembered to mention it. We nodded in awe. The palace has sheltered for about hundred and above family members back then which have now been reduced to 60-65 after the rest moved to places afar. Each family lives in a separate room, the house comprises of thirty rooms in total. The food is cooked at their respective rooms while otherwise, during festive occasions, it’s quite a family gathering.
We later went on to explore some of the ancient things which were used on a daily basis back in those days at the palace. Starting with a lofty lantern of rock which was now getting wet in the rain as it was positioned in the grass covered frontyard. When I went close to photograph it, I saw something written on it which I assumed was a Malayalam script but Mr Verma corrected me saying that the script was Tulu and the lines meant that lighting the lantern during festival nights is believed to bring home a great deal of wealth. ‘We’re going to get it prepped up for the Navratri night in the coming week’ he was delighted to say that.
He then took us around to the goddess of the family placed in a separate room and as we walked on the floor, pointing down to it ‘Brahmins sat right here in row and would have lunch.’ He then pushed the door open to the dingy room where a small idol of illuminated Durga was decorated with fresh morning flowers.
At the backside of the same room, a palanquin covered with cobwebs was hanged up. The kings and queens were taken along in the same to temples by three to four carriers. ‘Back then most of them were doddamma arasas (lady rulers)’ he recalls. And then reminisced that when they were little, they’d sit inside it and play.
140 year old palazzo is called as a four sided establishment, a common ground unfolding to four adjacent walls. The members inside appeared to have been living a normal lifestyle, perhaps royally. They were humble and smiling. Each wall in the down floor opened into atleast two to three rooms while the rest were upstairs. The rooms were tiny and seemed to have just many small pillered windows. The ladies were preparing food inside, a man on the stairs, a few were commanding the workers on the construction work that was underway. The kids playing, writing homework. A girl was seen inside a room and never really came out till I was there. The boys were hustling outside the house.
We moved outside to the hall by bending down to the rather short doorway. In the hallroom were photographs of Verma family rulers. And besides were several framed agreements that had been made with British and other foreign countries. One of them was a statement where pension was extended by the English to the Vittla dynasty after Tippu devastated the old palace.
When the oldest descendant of the Heggade dynasty, the modest Sir Nanda Verma narrated us the stories of this long forgotten palace, some of the family members too had joined in listening and shared their bit too. About time, when I got to my feet to leave, he gave me the book he was reading when I first entered the palace.
‘This is for you’ he handed me the book. Rudrakshi, read the cover page of it with a picture of temple Panchalingeshwara. The book was said to have included some of the facts about history of Vittla and it’s palace.
‘Thank you. I’m grateful’ I really was and I left, hoping to visit again.

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