MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: It is three weeks since the pilgrim township of Mantralaya, the abode of Saint Raghvendraswamy Swamy on the Andhra-Karnataka border, suffered extensive devastation due to swirling waters of the river Tungabhadra.
Even as the town is inching back to normality, several questions remain unanswered.
Nobody has so far tried to explain the reason for the sudden flooding of the Tungabhadra river, which resulted in the unprecedented phenomenon of the shrine getting inundated. The water level had touched the portals of the main shrine before but never in its over-300-year recorded history had it come inside to inundate the Vrindvana and catch the township in its clutches.
Barring some areas of Mantralaya which were in a slightly elevated position, like the Venkateshwara temple and its vicinity, the entire township was submerged under 10-20 feet of water.
The flood extracted a heavy price, in terms of loss of property and physical infrastructure, modestly pegged at around Rs 50 crore. What is priceless has been the loss of the treasure trove of books including the palm leaf manuscripts some of them dating back to the time of Raghavendra Swamyji.
The silver lining was that there was no loss of human life. But several heads of cattle of the Raghavendra Swamy Mutt, including the elephant, perished in the process.
A new Mantralaya has to be built afresh says Sri Suyateendra Teertha Swamiji, the peetadhipati of the Rayara Mutt, who was among those who had a miraculous escape.
However, the big question remains: What caused this?
Was it a case of human failure, a freak phenomenon of nature, which went unnoticed?
Or was it a case of divine retribution of sorts?
In the days leading upto the floods, there had been no reports of heavy rains in the catchment area on the upper reaches of the Tungabhadra dam, resulting in heavy discharges from the dam. This is usually the contributory factor for the flooding of the downstream areas, affecting the monuments of Hampi including the stone mantapa of the Saint Purandaradasa, and raising the level of the river in Mantralaya, located around 150 kms away.
The discharge from the dam, remained between one lakh cusecs and 1.49 lakh cusecs for the first week October.
It did not even touch the 2 lakh cusecs mark, as had happened many times earlier.
The Tungabhadra Board, the interstate body which oversees the discharges from the dam, would normally notify in the case of heavy discharges. But no such warning had been issued since the discharges this time were considered normal or even less than normal.
Obviously something happened between the dam and the shrine to cause unexpected floods.
According to information that can now be pieced together, the villain of the piece for the Mantralaya, was not the aberration of the main river Tungabhadra but the tantrums thrown by the rivulets and stream which tattoo the area between the dam and Mantralaya.
The area is drained by rivulets like Hagari (also known as Vedavati) and streams like Hirehalla and Narihalla to name a few. All of them, without exception, went in spate adding to the misery.
Normally these are not taken seriously.
But this time all of them had assumed a quite ferocious proportion and the significance of the same was hardly taken note of. This is what extracted the heavy price Mantralaya has had to pay.
From information your reporter could gather, there had been heavy-to-very-heavy downpour in the catchment areas of Hagari on the fateful nights in both Bellary and Siruguppa taluks. This area received more than four times the normal rainfall of around 547 millimetres, the bulk coming on the first two days of October.
The rain gauge stations in Bellary taluk recorded rainfall of 522 and 892 mm on these two days, while it was 654 and 1194 mm in Siruguppa.
Hagari joins Tungabhadra near Hachcholli in Siruguppa taluk of Bellary district, on the upper reaches of Mantralaya and several of the streams flowing across Koppal and Raichur districts brought copious flows due to heavy rainfall too to the main river.
If only somebody in these areas had bothered to notice the phenomenon and alerted the governments concerned on the possible consequences it could entail, perhaps the blow in Mantralaya could have been softened and the people, including the pilgrims visiting Mantralaya, would not have been taken by surprise and it would have been possible to salvage materials lost.
But monitoring the rain gauges is a low priority all across Karnataka and Bellary was no exception.
The problems of the people in Mantralaya trapped by the sudden rise in the water level were further compounded by the slow response of the Andhra Pradesh government in arranging for rescue operations.
The Karnataka government went out of its way to rescue Suyatindrateertha swamiji, who heads one of the important seats of the dwaita philosophy. It despatched a helicopter and a minister Shobha Karandlaje, a confidante of the chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa for the purpose.
After having done that, the Karnataka did not extend helping hand to others stranded, bulk of whom belonged to Karnataka. It may be due to primarily intergovernment hassles over the territorial jurisdiction and also because of similar developments elsewhere within the state.
The signs of developing human tragedy and suffering inherent in the Mantrayalam development obviously did not catch the imagination of the media, both electronic and print, both of national and regional hues.
Transport connections to Mantralaya, both road and rail, had been cut off during the period. The rain water had submerged rain tracks in the vicinity, and road links to other parts of Andhra Pradesh and with neighbouring districts of Raichur and Bellary districts had been snapped. The only road link available was via Yemmiganur but it could not be accessed because of the continued presence of flood water.
The plight of around 3000 people caught in the quagmire was only seen to be believed. Men, women, children had taken shelter on the roof tops waiting for the assistance, which was getting elusive and not within reach. They had had a quite harrowing time and had to go without anything to eat or drink.
But none of this appeared as meat for the media.
The media’s interest was limited to the act of rescuing the swamiji by the Karnataka government and did not go beyond it. Once that was accomplished, none bothered about Mantralaya or the plight of the pilgrims and residents of the temple-town.
Even the regional papers in Karnataka failed to rise to the occasion, in arranging for proper coverage, although most of the marooned pilgrims happened to be from the State. The marooned people had to wait for the water level to recede before they could move out of Mantralaya to their destinations.
Several theories are afloat to buttress the theory that the flooding of the holy place was nothing but an act of divine retribution of sorts.
One theory is that it was the delay in the rebuilding of the temple of Manchalamma, the family deity of Raghavendra Swamy, which had been dismantled for the purpose, could be the causative factor. A second theory doing the rounds suggests the accumulated sins of omission and commission of those concerned.
Despite all that happened, it must be said there was no loss of life in Mantralaya. Some dead bodies, which were floating around are believed to be of those who had been washed away. None in Mantralaya lost his/her life, it is stated by the sources close to the Raghavendraswamy Mutt.)
Whatever maybe reason, it is clear that the Mantralaya has an arduous haul ahead to regain its lost glory. The flood it is said, has put the clock of development back by at least two decades.
Photograph: courtesy Shree Vartha