Think of Karnataka and myriad beautiful images come to mind-the old world charm of villages and towns; friendly rural folk; misty mountain ranges of the Western Ghats; lovely waterfalls at Jog and Sivasamudra; cacophony of migratory birds at Ranganathittu; call of the wild at Bandipur and Nagarhole; and the mild aroma of teak, ebony and rosewood in the forests. The state is steeped in tradition yet is one of the forerunners of the information technology revolution in the country.
Karnataka is the eighth largest state in India. Located in the southern part of the country, it is surrounded by other states like Maharashtra and Goa in the north, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the south, Andhra Pradesh in the east and the Arabian Sea in the west. The state of Karnataka is situated approximately between the latitudes 11.5° and 18.5° North and the longitudes 74° and 78.5° East.
The state of Karnataka is part of two well-defined regions of India, namely the Deccan Plateau and the Coastal Plains and Islands and it can be further divided into four physiographic regions-the Northern Karnataka Plateau, Central Karnataka Plateau, Southern Karnataka Plateau, Karnataka Coastal Region.
The Northern Karnataka Plateau, at an elevation of 300 to 600 meter, is largely composed of the Deccan Trap. It represents a monotonous, treeless extensive plateau landscape rich in black cotton soils.
The Central Karnataka Plateau is the area between the Northern and Southern Karnataka Plateaus, which results in the general elevation varying between 450 and 700 meter. This region represents the area of the Tungabhadra basin.
The Southern Karnataka Plateau covers the area of the Cauvery river basin lying in Karnataka and is encircled by the Western Ghats in the west and south. The region is situated between 600 and 900 meter above sea level.
The coastal plains and the Western Ghats constitute the Karnataka Coastal Region. The coastal stretch, with an average width of 50 to 80 km, covers about 267 km from north to south.
The state boasts of a wide range of topological features. There are chains of mountains, the highest being the Mullayyana Giri (1,925m). Other than the mountains, there are plateaus, residual hills and coastal plains.
The state possesses six percent of the total water resources in the country as there are many rivers flowing through it. The most famous among them are the Krishna, Cauvery, Godavari, North Pennar, South Pennar and Palar.
Evidences from the pre-historic ages indicate that the culture of Karnataka had much in common with the civilization of Africa and is quite distinct from the pre-historic culture of North India. Iron weapons dating back to 1200 BC found at Hallur in Dhaward district point to the inhabitants of the early state using iron much before the metal was introduced in the northern parts of the country.
The early rulers of Karnataka were predominantly from North India. Parts of Karnataka were subject to the rule of the Nandas and the Mauryas. It is believed that Chandragupta Maurya came down to Sravanabelgola after renouncing his empire. Proof of this are the Ashokan edicts scattered all over the land. After the Kadambas who first laid the foundation of a political empire in Karnataka, came the great Chalukyas of Badami, of whom Pulakesin II was the most illustrious.
The Rashtrakutas who followed were no less a powerful dynasty. Consider the pinnacle of their achievement, the rock-cut Kailasanathar temple of Ellora. Renowned among the Rashtrakuta kings, is Amoghavarsha Nrupatunga of the 9th century, under whose benevolent patronage was published the 'Kavirajamarga' (Royal Road to Poetry).
Nevertheless, it was the Badami Chalukyas whose style of architecture and patronage of the arts really made way for Kannada and Karnataka to flourish. And descendents to this tradition of patronage were the Hoysalas, whose poetry endures in the temples of Halebid and Belur and in the one perfect jewel at Somnathpura.
It was Mohammed bin Tughlaq who, in 1327, took over Halebid and the impact that his army had on the intricately built temple is evident even today, less than 600 years later. After this, Mysore was in a swing for a great number of centuries with alternating Hindu and Muslim rulers. A recognized peak in the Hindu kingships came with the success of the Vijayanagar Empire, which was at its prime in the 1550s. Not much later, though, the Deccan sultans took over Hampi, the capital of Vijayanagar.
The most prolific rulers after the Vijayanagar kings were the father-son duo of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan in the 18th century. They overthrown the Wodeyar kings of Mysore and established their new capital at Srirangpattnam. They were the first rulers in India who recognized the importance of scientific warfare and took the services of French to defeat the English. After long drawn fighting with the English, Haider Ali was defeated in 1799, but the heroism and progressive culture that he and his father gave is a legacy still maintained by the people.
During the British rule, Karnataka was a part of the Madras Presidency and it became a new state only in 1956. It was name of Mysore and added some districts from the former Bombay Presidency. The state was renamed Karnataka in 1971.
True to its colorful heritage, Karnataka has an array of festivals that add life, gaiety, and color to mundane activities.
The Paryaya Festival of the Krishna temple at Udupi, held biennially in January, marks the ceremonious handing over of the charge of the shrine to one of the eight religious orders of the Madhwacharya's spiritual descendants in rotation for a two-year term.
Thousands throng to the Melkote Temple in March to catch a glimpse of the diamond-studded crown of the temple deity taken in procession on one of the 13 days of the Vairamudi Festival.
The Karaga Festival, peculiar to Bangalore, is a quaint celebration of goddess Shakti invoked in the earthen pot from which the festival derives its name. This pot, heavily bedecked with flowers, is borne by a man who observes severe penance for several days before the festival. Dressed as a woman in saffron, sword in hand and wearing the mangalsutra (necklace) of his wife, the karaga bearer precariously balances this pot on his head to set out from the Dharamaraya Temple on the day of the Chaitra Purnima in April.
Keil Poldu a festival celebrated in Coorg in the first week of September and is marked by the worship of arms and implements, sumptuous eating, followed by games and competitions on the village meadows.
The Feast of St. Mary's Basilica, Bangalore is celebrated from August 29 to September 8 in honor of Our Lady known for her miraculous powers of healing the sick.
Dussehra, a ten-day festival in September-October is symbolic of the triumph of good over evil. The city of Mysore is transformed into a fairyland of illuminated places, gaily-festooned streets and arches. The celebrations are marked by cultural programmes, exhibitions, classical music festivals, torchlight processions, culminating with a grand procession on the tenth day headed by a gaily caparisoned elephant bearing a golden howdah with a deity.
On October 17, in the wee hours, ripples of water come bubbling up a small pond at Tal Cauvery, the source of River Cauvery. The event, celebrated as Cauvery Shankaramana by the Coorgis, is symbolic of the annual return of Goddess Cauvery to her birthplace and a reassurance of her promise of continued protection to her devotees when they tried to dissuade her from becoming a river.
Thousands of devotees, both Muslim and Hindu, throng the tomb of Sufi saint, Khaja Banda Nawaz at Gulbarga for the Urs held in November.
Dharmasthala, the temple town dedicated to Lord Manjunath is choc-a-bloc with festivities during the Lakshadeepotsavam in November/ December for five days prior to Amavasya. The festival is marked by literary and music meets and a Sarvadharma Sammelan (all religion meet).
Inam Dattatreya Peetham is venerated both by Muslims and Hindus because a laterite cave here was sanctified by the stays of Dattatreya Swami and Hazrat Data Hayat Mir Khalander.
The Coorg Festival is marked by folk dances and sports characteristic of the region. The National Dance and Music Festivals at Pattadakal and Navaraspur (five kilometers from Bijapur) are held in January-February every year to rekindle interest in the cultural grandeur of the Chalukya and Indo-Saracenic culture. The Hoysala Festival celebrated at a hill near Halebid presents different styles of classical and folk dances reminiscent of the Hoysala culture. The Hampi/Vijayanagar Festival organized in December is typified by music, drama, dance fireworks, puppet shows, and spectacular processions-all combining to recreate the grandeur of a bygone era.
The variation in the geographical features affects the climate of the region. Coastal Karnataka experiences a hot, rainy tropical monsoon climate. In the southern inland places the climate is hot and dry and the interior northern areas are semi arid and hot.
Belur is situated around 38 km from Hassan, which is 187 km from the capital Bangalore. The Channekeshava Temple at Belur is the only one of the three major Hoysala sites still in use. The construction of this temple started in AD 1116 to commemorate the Hoysala's victory over the Cholas at Talakad. It is said that every Hindu deity has been represented at this temple.
Halebid is famous for its Hoyasaleswara temple. The construction of the Hoyasaleswara Temple was started in AD 1121 and continued for around 90 years, but was never completed. Yet, this temple is the most outstanding example of Hoysala art and architecture. Every part of the walls of this temple is covered by an endless variety of Hindu deities, sages, stylized animals, birds, etc. The temple is enclosed by a garden and there is a museum nearby.
Sravanabelgola is famous for the statue of Lord Bahubali (Gommateshwara). The place is an important Jain pilgrimage center and has a long history. The 17 meter high statue of Bahubali is said to be the tallest monolithic structure in the world. It overlooks the small town of Shravanbelgola from the top of the rocky hill known as Indragiri. One can reach this hill after ascending 614 rock-cut steps.
Aihole is situated on the banks of river Malaprabha at a distance of 483 km from Bangalore. Here, the cave temple of Ravana Phadi stands all by itself backed against the rocky hill out of which it has been carved. The sculptures here are superb, particularly the beautiful dancing Shiva who seems to be trembling with motion.
Mohammed Shah Wali of the Bahmani dynasty selected Bidar as capital in 15th century. The ancient fort at Bidar has a length of 5.5 km and is hewn out of solid rock. It is a very impressive structure, which once held 37 bastions and seven gates, royal baths, audience halls, pleasure pavilions, and water gardens in the style of West Asia. Other interesting monuments include the Rang Mahal, a huge college (madarsa) constructed in 1472, the Barid tombs, Bahmani tombs, and Chaukhandi of Hazrat Khalil-Ullah.
Gulbarga was the first capital of the Bahmanis and the main attractions here are the tomb of Hazrat Khwaja Band Nawaz Gesu Daraz and a mosque in the old fort.
Bijapur is a large town with the Gol Gumbaz rising like a humpbacked monarch above the trees, dominating the town from a great distance. But the Gol Gumbaz is only one of the many impressive monuments of Bijapur. Other monuments include Ibrahim Roza built in 1626, Taj Baoli, Assa Mahal, Gaggan Mahal, Bara Khamba, and All Saints Church.
Badami was once the capital of the Chalukya kings and the place is famous for many Hindu and Jain rock-cut cave shrines. There are around four caves each better than the other. Apart from the cave shrines there are some old structural temples around the lake.
Pattadakal is famous for its 150 temples constructed within a radius of 48 km by the Chalukya kings. The famous ones are Papanatha, Kashivishvanatha, Jambulinga, Galganatha, Sangamesvara, Mallikarjuna, and Virupaksha.
Somnathpur is home to one of the best examples of Hoysala temple architecture, the Kesava Temple.
Bangalore is the capital city of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. It is also known as the Garden City because of its many beautiful gardens and parks. Though the origin of Bangalore is ancient, the present-day city was founded in the 16th century and has since continued to be an important administrative center. Due to the high concentration of IT industry, it also called the Silicon Valley of India.
The town of Belgaum is the assimilation point of various cultures. Due to its proximity with the states of Maharashtra and Goa, Belgaum has acquired the cultural flavor of these states and blended it with the local Kannada culture to create a rich heritage, which is unique in every on of its manifestations. Belgaum is not only famous for its history but also for its natural beauty. It is also known as Malendu or the Rain Country and the vegetation here is lush green throughout the year.
The birthplace of the River Cauvery and home of some of India's bravest soldiers, Kodagu or Coorg, is noted for its scenic beauty. Hiking, cross-country biking, or simply motoring down mountain trails in Coorg, the visitor encounters panoramic views of the morning mist rolling down thickly wooded hill slopes and the undulating paddy fields and neat rows of coffee bushes resplendent under the blue skies.
Hampi is famous for its ruins belonging to the erstwhile medieval Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar and it has been declared a World Heritage site. The temples of Hampi, its monolithic sculptures and monuments, attract the traveler because of their excellent workmanship. The Hindu style of architecture found at Hampi reflect the splendor of the Vijayanagar Empire. The rugged landscape adds to the historic ambience of this site.
Mysore is the former capital of Karnataka. A city of palaces, people and smells, the princely city of Mysore is worth a visit whatever the month or season. Mysore is a dream city that never lets down the visitors with its clean, light and easygoing environment. Even with the growth of the city in response to modernization, Mysore has acquired only a mild change of pace.
Considered to be the finest tiger reserve in India, the Nagarhole National Park derives its name from a combination of two Kannada words-'Nagar' denoting snake, and 'hole' denoting stream. True to its name, quite a few serpentine streams fork through the rich tropical forests of the park. The Nagarhole Park was set up in 1955.