Mangalore : The sublime city


The city of Mangalore has seen itself dominated by various powers – from Indian dynasties to the Portuguese and British. What exists today is a multi-linguistic, coastal land, rich in history and culture, with beautiful vestiges of religion, monuments and food left behind by each of its rulers.

Text and photos: Text: Usha Hariprasad

Athree-faced, six-armed statue is in front of me at the Kadri Temple, Mangaluru aka Mangalore. Named Lokesvara, it is one of the finest bronze statues in South India. The inscription at the statue dates it to 968 AD, and identifies it as the statue installed by Alupa King Kundavarma. I am intrigued. My imagination of Mangaluru history does not extend so far back. That Mangalore was garrisoned, and it featured prominently during the Anglo-Mysore wars I knew, but that it had a history of more than 1000 years was a complete surprise to me.

A city with many names
I am in for more surprises. The Greek historian Ptolemy had referred to this place as Maganoor. Sixth century Christian records refer to this place as Mangarouth. A seventh century copper inscription talks about an Alupa King of Mangalapura. The city locals believe that the name Mangaluru or Mangalapura comes from one of the oldest temples in the city – the Mangaladevi Temple.

The Kadri Manjunatha Temple, a tenth century temple dedicated to Lord Shiva

The Kadri Manjunatha Temple, a tenth century temple dedicated to Lord Shiva

Mangalore is multi-linguistic with people speaking different languages – Tulu, Konkani, Beary, Malayalam, Kannada etc. The Tulu people call this city Kudla or Kodiyala, the Konkanis, Kudala. Kudla means a junction; Mangalore is on the banks of the River Netravati that flows into the Arabian Sea. So the confluence could have gotten the city, the name Kudla. The Malayalees call it Mangalapuram, and the Bearys Maikala. Mangala means blessed, so Mangalapuram is a blessed land. The name Mangalore, however, is an anglicised form of Mangaluru.

A peek into the city’s history
Mangalore is the headquarters of the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka. It has been governed by many rulers including the Alupas, Vijayanagara, Keladi and Mysore.

As mentioned, a seventh century copper inscription mentions that the capital of Alupa was Mangalapura. The Alupas ruled the South Kanara region for more than a 1000 years, shifting their capital from Mangalapura to Udayapura, and then to Barkur, and finally back to Mangalapura again. The Alupas were feudatories to various powers in the South like the Kadambas of Banavasi, the Chalukyas, Rastrakutas, and Hoysalas.

After their decline in the beginning of the 15th century, the region came into the hands of Vijayanagara Kings. These kings relied on good horses that were imported from Arabia and Persia. So ports such as Mangalore and Barkur were important to them for trading. Post Alupa period, the coastal district also saw the rule of a number of local ruling families like Savantas of Mulki, Chautas of Ullal, Bhairarasa Wodeyar of Karkala etc., some of who were feudatories to Vijayanagara Kings, then to Keladi rulers and finally to the Mysore rulers.

The Portuguese arrival
The Portuguese influence on the coast started during the latter half of Vijayanagara rule. When Krishnadevaraya ascended the throne, he had good relations with the Portuguese. However, the Portuguese were in constant battle with the Arabs over trade in the coastal belt. Finally in 1526, under Lopes Vas de Sampayo, Mangalore went into the hands of the Portuguese. Here it is worth mentioning the battles of Abbaka Devi – the Queen of Ullal, with the Portuguese. She was one of the first women freedom fighters battling against foreign invasion. She took the help of Malabar chiefs, stopped paying tribute, and constantly fought with the Portuguese. Finally, she was subjugated with the help of strong troops from Goa, and on 5th January, 1568, the Portuguese got complete victory.

The Mangalore Mangaladevi Temple, one of the oldest temples in the city (Photo: H.V. Shiv Shankar)

The Mangalore Mangaladevi Temple, one of the oldest temples in the city (Photo: H.V. Shiv Shankar)

After the decline of Vijayanagara power in 1565, the Nayakas of Keldai ruled the region. They were from the Veerashaiva agriculture family. They built a number of forts, basadis, in their rule of 200 years. Meanwhile, the Portuguese power declined during the middle of 17th century.

Hyder and Tipu take control
In 1763, Hyder Ali defeated Virammaji, a Keldai queen, and garrisoned Mangalore. Mangalore was important for Hyder Ali. He established a dockyard and left the port in the hands of Latif Ali Baig. The English were quite worried with this move as they felt that Hyder Ali would cause trouble for them, intercepting them in the western sea. So they captured the port in 1768, but had to return the port to Hyder Ali. After Hyder’s death, Tipu Sultan succeeded him. After his death in 1799 in the final Anglo-Mysore war, the west coast went into the hands of the British.

The division of Kanara by the British
Earlier, the entire coastal belt of Karnataka was named as Kanara by the Portuguese, who named the area after the common language spoken here – Kannada. This name continued till 1860, after which the Kanara region was divided into North Kanara and South Kanara by the British. South Kanara was a part of Madras Presidency, and North Kanara went into Bombay Presidency. South Kanara then had the present Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Kasaragod districts and Aminidivi Islands. Till 1956, Mangalore was the capital of this district.

Panambur Beach, which is popular for water sports

Panambur Beach, which is popular for water sports

Today however, Dakshina Kannada forms the southern coastal district of Karnataka bordered by Udupi district in the North and Kasaragod district in the south, i.e., a part of Kerala. Aminidivi Islands belongs to Lakshadweep.

A city with so much history has plenty to see. Here are a few must see destinations in the city and around it.

Things to do
Temple hopping: Head to Mangaladevi Temple at Bolara if you wish to see an ancient temple built in Kerala style architecture, with wooden enclosures. The city, you guessed right, got its name from the deity Mangaladevi. There are many legends associated with the temple, one of them mentioning that it was built by Parashurama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

Kudroli Gokarnatha is a modern style Shiva temple built in 1912 by a Billava family. It was later renovated sometime in the 90s and designed as a Chola styled temple. The temple sees a huge gathering especially during Navaratri when life size idols of Navadurga are beautifully decked up and showcased here.

Kadri Manjunatha Temple is an ancient 10th century temple or slightly older, again dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is located south of Kadri hills and is said to be the site of both Buddhist and Hindu religions. Pre-historic caves, the Naga style Kadri Temple, bronze reliefs, are some of the attractions here. Kateel and Polali are some other temples worth visiting.

Beaches and sandy shores: Plenty of beaches exist in the city. Panambur Beach is one of the popular beaches with good facilities and water sports. But it can get quite crowded, especially during weekends. Head to Tannirbhavi Beach for a less crowded experience. You could catch a ferry from Sultan Battery which is actually a watch tower constructed during Tipu Sultan’s times. Or you could travel via road to reach the beach. Other popular beaches are Suratkal that has an operational lighthouse, and the beach at Ullal, i.e., 16 km from the city. Ullal, the sea town, also boasts of historic structures like Queen Abbakka’s Fort, Someshwara Temple and beach, Jain temple, St. Sebastian Church etc.

Visit Jain Heritage Centre at Mudabidre: Mudabidre is fondly termed Jain-Kashi as it boasts of numerous Jain monuments. Though the Jains came as early as third century to South Kanara, their hold got strengthened during the 11th-12th century. They built a number of basadis, tombs, sculptures etc. Mudabidre was one such centre and it has 18 basadis. One of the most famous temples here is the Savira Khambada Basadi (a 1000 pillar temple), also called as Thribhuvana Tilaka Chudamani. It is a three-storey structure built during the time period 1429-1462 AD. It was built in phases, the first part built during 1429, the mukha mantapa added during 1451, and the pillars added during the final phase. None of the granite pillars on the mantapas are alike. The inner sanctum consists of the image of Chandranathaswami made of five metal alloys or panchaloha.

Churches and cathedrals: Christianity saw a rise during Portuguese times in Mangalore. Evangelical institutions, educational establishments, churches were built during these times. The Society of Jesus was established in Mangalore in 1878. Before that, the German Evangelical Mission of Basel set up the Basel Mission in 1834. These missionaries learnt the language of the locals – Kannada – to bond with the locals and spread their message more efficiently.

The Milagres Church, one of the popular churches in Mangalore

The Milagres Church, one of the popular churches in Mangalore

Some of the popular churches in the city are Milagres, Saint Aloysius, and Rosario Cathedral. The Rosario Cathedral is one of the oldest churches built in 1526, the Milagres Church or the Lady of Miracles was built in 1680 AD, while the Saint Aloysius building was constructed in 1885 by Fr. Joseph Willy. One of the attractions at Saint Aloysius Chapel are the paintings by Br. Antonio Moscheni, an Italian Jesuit who depicted the life of Jesus. The paintings are beautifully done in bold colours. The artist took two and a half years to paint the chapel.

Sample Mangalorean delicacies: Mangalore is famous for its coastal dishes. As it hosts diverse communities – Catholics, Konkanis, Bunts – you will find unusual and interesting dishes in the Mangalore cuisine. Being a coastal town, fish and chicken dishes are popular here. Various fish fries, prawn masala, chicken ghee roast are some dishes worth checking out. Some unusual items to try out here are Kori roti – dry rice wafers mixed with chicken curry, Neer dosa (rice crepes), Pathrode – a dish made of Colocasia leaves etc.

Don’t leave the city without trying out Mangalore ice creams at Ideal Ice cream. It has won awards in the Great Indian Ice Cream completion, 2013, for its vanilla ice cream flavour.

Other attractions: For museum lovers, there is a city museum that holds a small collection of rare coins, weapons, old photographs, paintings etc. Pilikula Theme Park – a 370 acres park is also a nice getaway that boasts of a biological park, a heritage and artisan village of 35 acres that showcases the Dakshina Kannada culture, a science centre and arboretum. The biological park is also a breeding centre for the King Cobra.


Usha Hariprasad

Usha Hariprasad is a freelancer who is fond of travelling, discovering new places and writing about travel related destinations around Bangalore at Citizen Matters. Currently, she works in a trekking organisation.