Early in 12th century, the great Srivaishnava saint Sri Ramanuja took up his residence and lived in this location for about 14 years. It thus became a prominent centre of the Srivaishnava sect of Brahmins, who obtained from the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana, who had become a follower of the Acharya, an assignment of the fertile tracts of land in the neighbourhood, especially of the Ashta Gramas, on either bank of the Cauvery.
In the 14th century, the place suffered at the hands of Muslim invaders, who wrecked Dwarasamudra, and it was at Tondanur (Tonnur) at the southern foot of the hills, that the Hoysala king at first retired. It was subsequently restored, in about 1460, by Thimmanna Dannayaka, a chief of Nagamangala, who was an army commander of the Vijayanagar king Mallikarjuna or Immadi Prudhadeva Raya. The buildings must have been on a grand scale, as can be seen from the remains of the Gopal Raya gate on the South, which are of immense proportions. The Brahmins deserted Melukote, which was later plundered.
Cheluvanarayana Swamy Temple:
The principal temple is a square building of large dimensions but very plain, dedicated to Lord Cheluva-Narayana Swamy or Thirunarayana. The utsavamurthi, which is a metallic image, represents the deity who is called Shelvapillai, Cheluva Raya and Cheluvanarayana Swamy, whose original name appears to have been Ramapriya (meaning "Rama's Favourite"). It is believed that this utsavamurthi belonged to and was worshipped by Lord Rama and the kings of the surya vamsa Dynasty for generations. Later the same idol was given to a king of Chandra vamsam (the dynasty of Lord Krishna) and was worshipped by Lord Krishna and many generations. So CheluvaNarayana is so unique that he was worshipped by both Rama and Krishna.
According to a legend, this metallic image was lost and was recovered by Sri Ramanujacharya. The annual report of the Mysore Archeaelogical Department (p. 57) states on the strength of epigraphic evidence, that the presiding deity of this temple was already a well-known object of worship before Sri Ramanujacharya worshipped at the shrine, in December 1098, and even before he came to the Mysore region, and that very probably, he used his influence to rebuild or renovate the temple.
The temple is richly endowed, having been under the special patronage of the Mysore Rajas too, and it has a most valuable collection of jewels in its custody. As early as 1614, the Mysore king Raja Wodeyar (1578–1617) who first acquired Srirangapatna and adopted the Srivaishnava faith, handed over to the temple and the Brahmins at Melkote, the estate granted to him by Vijaynagar king Venkatapati Raya. On one of the pillars of navaranga of the Narayanaswami temple is a bas relief about 1.5 feet (0.46 m) high, of Raja Wodeyar, standing with folded hands, with the name inscribed on the base. He was said to be a great devotee of the presiding deity and a constant visitor to the temple. A gold crown set with precious jewels was presented by him to the temple. This crown is known as the Raja-mudi, after his name. A legend says that on the day of his death, he was observed entering the sanctum and was seen no more afterwards. From the inscriptions on some of the gold jewels and on gold and silver vessels in the temple, it is learnt that they were presents from Krishnaraja Wodeyar III and his queens. Krishnaraja Wodeyar III also presented to the temple a crown set with precious jewels. It is known after him, as Krishnaraja-mudi. Vairamudi or Vajramukuta, another crown of great value, seems to be older than Raja-mudi and Krishnaraja-mudi.
All the three crowns are kept in the safe custody of the Government at Mandya Treasury and brought to the temple on a specific annual occasion known as Vairamudi which literally means The Diamond Crown for adoring the image of Cheluvanarayana Swamy. The Vairamudi festival, which is the chief annual celebration, is attended by more than 400,000 people and growing every year. Jatras are held annually during March–April and more than one lakh people congregated here.
In 1785, Tipu Sultan gave some elephants to the temple.
A number of inscriptions and records of the place speak of the land grants and gifts to this shrine. Perhaps the fort on the hill was built during Hoysala period. The renovated temple has a beautiful gopura.
Yoga-Narasimha Swamy Temple:
On the top of the hill is an attractive Melkote Narasimha temple dedicated to Lord Yoga Narasimha. It is believed that the image of Yoga Narasimha temple at melkote was installed by Prahlada himself. Krishnaraja Wodeyar III presented a gold crown to Lord Yoga Narasimha.
Vairamudi Brahmostava is an annual festival which gathers more than 3-4 lakh devotees of Lord Cheluva Narayana. Thirunarayana Puram another name for Melkote adorns a festive grandeur on this day when the Lord adorns the legendary diamond studded crown, the Vaira Mudi. It is believed that Lord Krishna Himself presented this crown to Cheluva Narayana. The Lord is taken in procession on the golden Garuda with His divine consorts Sridevi & Bhudevi, around the main streets of the city.
Vairamudi, the diamond crown, was stolen from Sriman Narayana, when he was asleep at his abode in the Ksheera Sagara (Milky Ocean), by Virochana. Virochana was the king of demons and the son of Bhakta Prahlada. Garuda was asked by the lord’s devotees to bring back the crown. Garuda went after Virochana to the nether world, fought with the demon king and flew back with the crown.
According to the legend it is believed that Vairamudi lost its blue gem on the crest while Garuda was bringing it. The blue gem is believed to have fallen near Nachiar Koil, a temple town in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. The gem turned into a stream, called the Manimuttaru, which to this day flows in Thanjavur. On his way, he saw Bala Krishna playing with his friends in the mid day sun at Brindavana. Garuda protected the Bala Krishna from the sun by placing his wings as the shade & placed the crown on his head. The local legends of Melkote claim that Krishna presented Cheluva Narayana with this crown. It is believed that Cheluva Narayana, was also worshipped by Lord Rama, the King of Ayodhya.
Thirunarayan Puram now Melkote has the temple of Lord Narasimha which was consecrated by Prahlada. This has been a birthplace for many Vaishanvite Acharyas. There is a research center for spiritual learning and Sanskrit Academy in the sylvan setting of Melkote.
Large number of devotees throng Mandya district, on the previous night to witness the Procession of the Lord. The whole town of Mandya prepares for the event.
The preparation for the Brahmotsava starts well before 2 weeks. Actual celebrations take place for 13 days. Garudotsava is celebrated a day before the Brahmotsava at Melkote. The district administration of Mandya makes rigorous arrangements for bringing the Vairamudi crown from Mandya treasury to the temple amidst stringent security measures. It is believed that the crown must not be exposed to daylight. Hence it will be placed in a special casket. Under vigilance of Mandya police it arrives at the boundaries of the town. It is from here taken up to the temple with honors in a special palanquin. It reaches the temple by evening.
The crown is placed in front of sanctum of Sri Acharya Ramanuja and the head priest places the Vaira Mudi and fits it to the statue of the Lord Cheluva Narayana. It is tradition that even the head priest should not look at the Vaira Mudi in naked eyes till it is fitted to the Lord. Hence the priest covers his eyes with a silk cloth while fitting the crown.
This takes place in the night and then the Lord and his consorts are traditionally decorated and procession continues to the dawn of the next day. The quiet town of Melkote comes to life with the grandeur and majesty of the procession. Rajamudi, another crown studded with precious stones is adorned on the Lord on the next day of the Brahmotsava.
During the 13-day celebration, Kalyanotsava, Nagavalli Mahotsava will be held in the Holy Kalyani, followed by Maharatotsava.
Library and Sanskrit College:
The private library of his holiness the Yatirajaswamigalu of Melkote contains a large number of Sanskrit and Kannada works bearing on the Vishishtadvaita school of philosophy, a few works bearing on logic, rheotic, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, ritual, architecture, Panchatantra, Dharmashastras, Grihya and Dharmasutra. There is also a Sanskrit college here named Sri Veda Vedantha Bodhini Sanskrita Mahapatashala (Govt. Sanskrit College) which was established as early as in 1854 and which is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the state. Melkote has contributed many literary figures like Pu Ti Narasimhachar, Tirumalaraya, Chikkupadhyaya and Devashikhamani AlasingacharJaggu Vakulabhooshana, Areyar Srinivasa Iyangar, Areyar Srirama Sharma...
Melkote Temple Wildlife Sanctuary:
Melkote is also the location of the Melkote Temple Wildlife Sanctuary. This Sanctuary was created on 17 June 1974, primarily to house wolves. Other mammals found in this sanctuary include the Jungle Cat, Leopard, Bonnet Macaque, Langur and Pangolin. It is also an ornithologist's paradise, with around 200 species of birds indigenous to the area. Also a walk early in the morning in the surrounding areas will guarantee peacock sightings. Melkote Temple Wildlife Sanctuary has been known for its once abundant Cycas Circinalis species,which in the recent time has been over exploited by the flower decorators and local doctors.