Where on earth is ‘Bangara Doddi Naale’?

Medha Patkar’s fast-unto-death to stop the raising of the height of the Narmada Dam that will displace even more people on the banks of the river, brings to mind a lovely story that Niranjan Vanalli narrated as we drove back from Bangalore last week.

Niranjan, a professor of journalism at the University of Mysore, pointed to a little channel of water joining the the Cauvery near the bridge at Srirangapatna, just after Paschimavahini, and asked with typical North Kanara insouciance.

“Do you know what that channel is called?”

“No,” I said.

“It’s called Bangara Doddi Naale,” he said: “Do you know why it’s called that?”

I pleaded ignorance again.

Then Niranjan began. Apparently, a couple of centuries ago, the then Maharaja of Mysore, Randheera Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wodeyar, had been on a routine hunting expedition in that part of his kingdom, bordering Tipu Sultan’s, when he chanced upon a ravishing beauty carrying a pot of cow dung on her head.

After taking just one look at the rustic beauty from the rear, Mr Wodeyar wanted her real bad.

He ordered his courtiers to produce the woman before him. Which she duly was. Her name was ‘Doddi’.

The maharaja, already besotted with her beauty, however, had an even bigger surprise in store.

The woman did what no other woman had done before to the maharaja: she tamed him in the noctural arena.

Mesmerised, the maharaja fell for her charms and pleasures, hook, line and sinker. “Ask anything, your wish will be my command,” promised the maharaja.

Divine Doddi could have asked for pots of gold, for acres of land, for anything. But she did the counter-intuitive thing.

“Maharajare,” she told him, “the residents of my village have no water to till their lands, no water to drink, cook or clean. If you are serious in your promise, just dig us a canal that will ferry water to our village from the Cauvery.”

Niranjan, who has looked up Hayavadana Rao’s History of Mysore, says, Doddi actually throws the maharaja a challenge.

These are her exact words, as recounted by gazetteers:

‘Ninage chathi iddare

Ninna hole mele

Nanna naale harisu’

Which, roughly translated, means: “If you have it in you, make your river flow over my channel.”

Thus was born Bangara Doddi Naale, which even today quenches 860 hectares of land and a few hundred mouths. Just what connection can be made with Medha Patkar, I know not, but it’s an amazing story of Mysorean selflessness.

Niranjan, a champ at Kannada freelance journalism, first wrote the story for Sudha, the weekly magazine produced by the Deccan Herald group many moons ago, when he noticed the plaque announcing ‘Bangara Doddi Naale’ from a KSRTC bus.

Even today, Nagesh Hegde, the editor who accepted and published the story, uses the example to show just what good journalism is all about.

“Millions of people and hundreds of journalists have passed by Bangara Doddi Naale,” says Hegde. “Yet, why was Niranjan the first to notice a story in it?”