Many of South India’s famous temples are massive complexes with droves of visitors pouring into multiple entrances day or night. This can be an intimidating sight to a new tourist of India. But Sri Chamundeswari Temple is surprisingly intimate, accessible, relaxed and yet still very interesting. Just minutes (13 kms to be exact) from the Karnataka city of Mysore, the temple sits atop Chamundi Hill, 1062m high. Road signs along the single lane describe Chamundi as one of 8 sacred hills of South India.
A popular haunt for locals who ascend the hill to escape summer heat, panoramic views of the city below can also be seen. Thick haze on some days can inhibit any chance of pointing out Mysore’s famous landmarks.
Chamundi Hill is named after Goddess Chamundi who is believed to be the incarnation of Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. Pilgrims strongly believe that the Goddess helps them to fulfill their needs, thus making the temple a required stop in their lifetime. A few sadhus lingered in the early morning hours of my visit. One caught my eye and obliged to a photo for Rs 5, something I rarely encourage. Leading the path from the robust parking lot were the ever vigilant merchants who set up stalls near popular religious sites. Backpacks, Coke, paan, an STD phone booth and yes, puja, were all for sale.
Tuk tuk’s, taxis, buses and cars can bring you to the top via the paved road but you might see pilgrims making the trek by way of the 1000-plus steps running from base to the peak. Along this route, about 300 steps from the top, is a 5m high statue of Nandi, carved out of solid rock in 1659. Visitors can also access this “must see” stop directly off the main road.
It’s hard to miss the 40m high, 7 story tall gopuram (entrance gateway) towering near one edge of the summit. The temple is said to have been constructed in the 12th century with the adorned tower added roughly 300 years ago. In typical South Indian fashion the gopuram is finished with intricate carvings, but, not painted in customary religious hued tones. Instead this temple takes on a rather bland, yellow color.
Major attraction of the temple is the idol of the Chamunda Devi which is said to be made of solid gold. Even the gates of the temple are made of silver. The temple also boasts of a jewel Nakshatra-Malike with 30 Sanskrit shlokas inscribed on it. A 16-foot-high statue of the demon Mahishasura near the temple is another significant feature of Sri Chamundeswari Temple. This is so because Mahishasura was slain by the goddess Chamundeswari (Durga or Parvati) to protect the area. Hence Chamundi Devi is also lovingly known as the Goddess of Mysore. The word ‘Chamundi’ means terrible, and this is another name for Parvati, who is in an angry mood to slay the demon. Source- Durga-puja.org
Across from the main entrance into the temple lies a make shift shoe drop. Manned by two men, they were outnumbered by the aggressively curious monkeys looking for their take. Early morning is the right time to visit for two reason:
- My travel partner and I were able to walk right in with a few locals avoiding the later morning lines.
- Morning arti was underway. A small band comprised of volunteers playing several instruments was led by a young Brahmin priest giving rice offerings to the many carved gods throughout the inner sanctum. One man walked behind the priest with the traditional arti plate allowing followers to give and receive their blessing.
Inside the sanctum sanctorum, I watched the local followers perform their rituals, trying to be discrete, until a police officer took interest. He very confidently strode up to me with his hand extended. Tall and well built, he had every reason to command respect. “where are you from, how do you like India, where are you going?” were just a few of the questions presented. Any chances of invisibility were now gone. Other visitors and locals were curious about our conversation now. He was remarkably friendly and outgoing, pushing me to the front of the crowd to get a visual of the shrine.
- Exiting is simple by retracing the steps which led inside.
- Have your shoe ticket/number card ready along with tip to ensure speedy retrieval.
- A minimum of one hour should be planned for a proper visit of the temple. Adding in travel time, long lines, and any festivals timings, a good half day could easily be spent here.
- Several food stalls are nearby to curb hunger as well as available chai.
- Be mindful of any bags/purses when in the presence of monkeys.
- Friendly, albeit aggressive, touts are positioned near the temple square.
- There is no entry fee regardless of what the main doorman believes.
- No photography is allowed inside.