memories


That morning standing on the top of those ruins on Malyawant hill, when my glance fell on you for the first time, I was transfixed. You were standing there, many feet down in the compound of Raghurama temple but I felt as if you are gradually spreading inside me. Tall, stately, graceful, branches clad with green leaves and those bunches of white, delicate silky flowers, you looked divine. The mystique early morning blue swirled around you slowly very slowly rising upwards. you know what I felt…I felt as if a fairy, a devkanya,  had descended from heaven to enjoy the magical moonlight under your equally magical persona and now with first rays of sun filtering in, she is leaving to her abode, caressing and tickling you  with her Aanchal. Those soft, simmering  mellow golden spots on your leaves and flowers made you look radiating indulgent, affectionate smiles. Even from the height I was standing on, the white spread of  flowers under you was clearly visible. What I felt is beyond words. The peace, the pious feel, you filled in my heart…I felt blessed.

And when we came down and I stood there under you, it was like literally getting drenched in the showers of blessings. The delicate white flowers with long, slender greenish white pedicile and small white star shaped petals on the tip, dropped from above gradually, rhythmically. On the branches high above were thousands and thousands hanging in bunches like chandeliers. I felt enriched to the core of my being. That was a sacred moment.

I don’t know by what name are you called? But I felt if Kalptaru [ the mythical tree found in heaven abovem which is believed to fulfill all your wishes, if you deserve ] is there, it must look and feel like you only.

 

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

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Nathang falls on old silk route circuit in East Sikkim. This valley is very close by Nathula pass leading to Indo China border.

That day as we got out of our vehicle at Nathang , the little village at about 13500 ft altitude looked at us with it’s drowsy eyes. It was cold and cloudy . Almost no body was out on streets. little wooden houses sat huddled together as if in an attempt to counter the biting chill in the air.

Gautam had to go about in the area for few minutes to ascertain our homestay and then we entered the narrow lane between two houses, walking on the frozen layers of snow . Heaps and mounds of snow were all around homes.

 

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Way to our homestay.

 

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Entering the doors of homestay we were engulfed in the warmth of welcoming smiles of hosts and the cozy, comfortable indoors. Neat, clean rooms, bright colored comforting beds. linens and spotless western style toilets …… homestay in that little village on high altitude . surrounded by rough terrain was a very pleasant surprise.

Except night, I spent most of my indoor time in the kitchen of the home talking to the lady of the home and basking in the warmth of the indigenous room cum food warmer. It was a long, knee length high rectangle table with tin surface.  On the lower surface of the table ,almost in the middle an iron furnace was fixed. logs were burning in it. On the upper surface there was hole at the mouth of furnace but it was covered with an iron lid. A long cylindrical pipe arose from the table and went out of the roof, a chimney to carry out the smoke.Warmth around the table was very comforting. Moreover I got to share lots of family, community , life in general kind of things with the lady.  How easily can we open ourselves to the strangers… perhaps  the comfort of anonymity makes it easier to share. But you know the amazing part is that while conversing you never feel that you are stranger to each other. It’s easy to strike the chord, when you open your heart wide. And then I believe that one who is  closer  to nature is  simpler . Luxuries and material comforts do contaminate human thought process.

 

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Welcoming smile of lady of the home

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Those cozy warm moments in the kitchen

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This is the indigenous warmer I talked about above. That is the chimney pipe extending out from the table surface. dinner preparation are on.

 

 

From my room window I could see the far off mountains and snow but day light receded fast as hoards and hoards of grey, white clouds descended in the valley. Wrapped in the furry blankets of cloud as if valley too was getting ready to take rest.

Early. very early in the morning I parted the curtain of window and was excited to notice the signs of a bright morning.  Nudged others to get ready and after a piping hot cup of tea in the warm kitchen ventured out to walk in the valley.

The valley is guarded by mountains from all sides and have stretches of grasslands, Valley is totally devoid of any kind of tree. There are few streams crisscrossing the valley and there are cute wooden small bridges across the streams. We wandered around as if in a vast plain of nothingness. Except those few dogs no body was to be seen. Wind though chill was comforting. Those were the moments of uninterrupted interaction with mountains, with sky  stretched over.  a small shrine atop a ridge, beckoned,prayer flags fluttered in the air….. and… and you feel as if that noisy world full of chaos didn’t exist at all.

 

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under the blessed shadow of blue horizon above head, guarded by tough, mighty mountains and the prayers in the air.

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Sometimes to find yourself, you need to travel through wilderness, nothingness.

 

Pictures by Sunder Iyer and Shubham sunder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mankhim view point…….The temple at Mankhim view point is at the height of about 6500 ft and offers a wonderful scenic view of Aritar and hills around it.The temple belongs to Rai community of Nepali origin. The Nandi outside the temple and various tridents in the premises suggest that the temple is dedicated to lord Shiva however the Shivalinga inside temple is in different form than found in other parts of country. Lord here is called Paruhang. Rai, mainly a community of cultivators consider themselves children of Peruhung, who is supposed to reside in Himalayas. Rai people in Sikkim gather here every year to celebrate Sakewa, a festival celebrated for expressing gratitude towards Mother Earth. Sakewa is also known as Bhumi pooja or Chandi pooja. Prayers are offered  for peace and protection of all living  beings and for rich crops and cultivation.

 

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Temple at Mankhim view point.

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Peruhang….inside temple. As it was annual festival time in the valley, we found many youngsters visiting temple in groups and pairs. youngsters clad in western outfits, different colored streaks in hair and half shaved head kind of hairstyles…. taking off their sports shoes and bowing before God with that expression of surrender and reverence….. somehow the sight felt very reassuring.

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Nandi and Kalash in row outside temple.

Besides panoramic view of hills and mountains, from here we can also enjoy the beauty of Lampokhri lake and scenes around it.

 

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and when the blues descend to embrace greens, the dreamscape created is so surreal, so inviting that you close your eyes, stretch your arms and are almost ready to be lost in oblivion…. Niravana kind of feel.

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From up there, the view point, the terrace fields looked like wide spread poetry sheets, nurturing life in their womb.

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 A glimpse of  Lampokhri lake from Mankhim view point. Without the emerald spread all other colours would look so static.

 

Later on we went down to Lampakhori lake. Annual cultural function and fair was going on at the ground near lake so many parked vehicles and an ongoing stream of people filled the area. However the Green placid lake surrounded by hills and trees promised that on quiet days the place would be worth spending some time in one’s own company. It’s not like that I don’t like humans or I like them less but I like nature more, There midst pathless woods I find a different kind of joy, sitting on a roadside rock, looking at the mist covered street dissolving in oblivion ,as if leads me to altogether different vistas  and I love being there.

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Lampakhori lake and the small temple on it’s bank.

 

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A folk dance by seniors in the cultural fair.

 

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A lady in her stall in fair with some handwoven stuff.

 

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And the light of world, little girls in fair, enjoying their day out. Golgappa, pani batasha, pani-puri, fuchkas…. you may call it by different names in different parts of country  but they definitely are high on ladies favourite list, whatever might the age be.

 

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This Gumpa was quite close to our homestay.

Solitude is the language of these small places on Old silk route and ever smiling, hospitable locals add charm to one’s visit there.

Meet some people who made our Aritar stay more enjoyable—-

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She is Pinchu. We met her on our way to Mankhim view point. To reach view point we need to climb a stretch of well laid stairs and on the way is Pinchu’s home, her shop. Her parents provide home stay facility too. While returning from view point we stopped at Pinchu’s shop for sizzling Wai- Wai and hot coffee. Pinchu made our stop over very enjoyable. Very smart girl she is and was handling the customers confidently, offcourse consulting her parents for cost of items etc. As her father was telling us about their homestay facilities and tourist agency at other places too, Pinchu took out his visiting card from the drawer in shop and handed over to us. Her perfect business woman kind of gesture made us laugh aloud. Nobody there even mentioned the visiting card there but she knew what should be done.

 

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And he is Aryum, our homestay owner’s son. Kid with his young companion, Nasima, a girl of eight years filled our hours with pure joy and laughter, which you can enjoy only in the company of innocent kids only. Aryum and Nasima shared a beautiful relationship. Nasima proudly told us that she was a student of class third.

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She is Aryum’s mom, owner of Shangey homestay. wonderfully efficient lady,. I saw her with amazement running on her toes from ground to second floor, attending all the guests with a charming smile, managing her staff, looking into problems of water, electricity supply and kitchen too.

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And the aesthetically decorated dining space of Shangey homestay. We stayed at four or five homestays during this trip but Shangey homestay at Aritar is our most favourite one.

Reliving my memories feels like that rose pressed between the pages of a book, even after ages I can inhale the fragrance and feel fresh.

 

©All the pictures by— sunder iyer

 

 

Long, lean bamboo poles with bamboo baskets dangling on the upper tips stood in clusters on Madhis (the platforms on both sides of the steps leading to Ganges.) on various ghats of Ganges at Varanasi. This is a common site on ghats in the Hindu month of Kartik. Every evening Diyas [earthen lamps] are lighted and placed in these baskets in the memories of ancestors, the symbolic significance being that these lamps light the path of the departed soul upto heaven. These are known as Aakash deep or Aakash kandeel. The tradition is said to run from as long as people can remember.

As twilight descends, the ripples on Ganges water hitherto bathed in golden sunlight, dancing merrily get sombre.Sky overhead dons it’s inky blue night gown and Ganges flows placidly absorbing the calm greys of atmosphere. Groups of men and women with their pooja baskets start gathering near these bamboo poles.

This was the Kartik month of 2016 and we were on Nepali ghat at that evening. Preparations for lighting diyas were on. The hanging  baskets were lowered with the help of thin ropes attached to pulleys and baskets. Diyas taken out, filled with oil and fresh cotton wicks,  the lighted diyas placed inside basket and the basket once again pulled up on the poles.  The dangling baskets facing the sky and the flickering lights of Diyas paying homage to departed souls, women making rangolis near poles, chanting shlokas, praying with folded hands, lighting few more diyas on ground near each pole in the name of Gods and Goddess…. the entire scene filled the heart with peace and content. It was like a bridge of bonds and emotions has been erected from earth to heaven.The lighted baskets overhead moved slowly, rhythmically on the tune of winds. It felt as if the souls of ancestors are expressing their happiness, bestowing their blessings. What a beautiful concept of remembrance, gratitude and duty.

It is said that corresponding to the Diya in Aakash deep one more Diya is lighted on the ground near the respective pole. As if denoting that the lineage is alive and continuing. This one Diya is essentially lighted while rest are optional. one can light as many as one wants in the names of kul devtas, devis and other Gods.

On one of the ghats these Aakash deeps were lighted in memory of martyrs, who lost their lives defending our country  during various terrorists attacks.

We also witnessed lighting of Aakash deeps at Ganga Mahal Ghat on the terrace of Krishna temple. on ghats the poles were erected on Madhis (मढ़ी) near the steps of Ghats and the reflection of lighted Diyas could be seen in the Ganges water. View of Aakash deeps on terrace of temple from the ghats looked like a group of fireflies.

Aakashdeep are like lighted verse of prayers reaching zenith.

This month long event culminates on the day of Kartik Poornima.,when the glorious moon steps out in it’s most magnificent form, smiling and assuring the lamps that the journey of light will go on for ever.

 

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Few days ago I got to spend few hours with this ninety two year old gentleman with varied experiences of life. He takes care of this ages old temple but does not hold a good opinion of so called Sadhus and babas. He prefers to communicate with we grahasth [family] persons, who according to him happen to be more enriched spiritually.
He lived with Sri Govind Ballabh Pant, the first chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, when he practiced as an advocate and Our country was under British rule.He started his first government job with salary of Rs forty per month, did his char dham yatra on foot from Haridwar.He shared lots of memories of the days when entry of Indians was banned in Hazaratganj after four P.M. as that was the time British offiicials and their families used to come there for enjoying their evenings.He also shared how there was scarcity of educated people and posts in government offices, seats in higher educational courses lay vacant for want of candidates.
This temple where he now resides is ages old. He told us that no body knows who built it originally. years ago it lay surrounded by dense forest on the bank of river. Dacoits, bandits and freedom fighters too took shelter here.When he arrived here then also it was surrounded by dense forest and forty to forty five snake couple resided in the vicinity…and why not after all it is an ancient shrine of Lord Shiva.It is said that plastering of the temple structure has been done by the mixture of Urad dal [ black lentil] pulp of Ber [ indian plum / jujubi] and chasani [syrup of Gur[jaggery]

Talking to him was like turning pages of a old history book nay more interesting and enthralling. He created wonderful imagery while narrating his travel experiences of mountains and the underlying spiritual essence provided hope and strength.

 

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

World of Hindu mythological tales and folklore is very interesting, charming and varied. It is believed that about thirty three crore Gods and Goddesses occupy Hindu pantheon. Quite possible…in a culture where many plants, animals and almost all the elements of nature are worshiped, where every small village, hamlet has it’s very own guardian angle, reaching even that staggeringly high  number is not out of bounds. With every revered place and deity are associated certain folklore and tales.The authenticity is neither questioned nor argued. It is simply accepted.

One of these is Latu devta of Wan. The folklore related to Latu Devta is very interesting and one of it’s own kind. Nanda devi is  one of the most revered deity of Uttaranchal. She is considered to be Avatara of Goddess Parvati and Latu Devta is her adopted brother. Goddess Parvati nee Nanda Devi did not have any brothers. On one occasion she felt very sad about this and wanted someone to be with her at Kailash Parvat as her brother. She went to Royal family of Kannauj and requested the queen to send one of her two sons with her to Kailash. On the way to Kailash they reached Wan and here Goddess decided to take bath in the river Kali Ganga. While waiting for Her on nearby hillock Latu felt very thirsty. He went to nearby hamlet and asked women to give him water. Women folk were in a jovial mood and instead of water handed over the pitcher containing local drink to Latu. Unaware of their prank Latu drank the whole content of pitcher and became unconscious. On her return from river, Goddess became very angry with the women and conferred a boon on Latu that he will be worshiped by the inhabitants of the area but no one will be allowed either to enter the sanctum of his temple or see him.Till date the doors of the temple are opened only for one day in a year and then too neither devotees nor even Pujari is allowed to have a glimpse of Devta. The Pujari enters the sanctum blind folded and lights the lamp. Doors of the temple is closed by evening.

This temple is very different from any other temple. There is this massive Devdar tree at the place. It is the only Devdar found in entire region. Rest are centuries old Surai trees.There is another anecdote regarding presence of that single Devdar tree in the area. However I am not talking about that here as I am not able to recollect all the details narrated by the old gentleman, a retired porter, we met at Wan. So, the abode of Latu Devta is said to be inside the a chamber in the trunk of this Devdar tree.People of the area have great faith on Latu Devta. They visit the premises with their troubles and unburden their heart at His threshold and when the wish is fulfilled, the task done, they return to present a bell. Hundreds of bells hanging from poles are the testimony of people’s undying faith on the deity.The place becomes alive with massive crowd of devotees on the days of fair being organized there. People from far off villages come and stay in tents etc. Bhajans, Kirtans are sung in praise of Lord.

We first heard of Latu devta at Gwaldam.One local gentleman advised us that if we intend to go to Wan, we must go to Latu devta temple.During the day we spent at Wan village we heard His name many times from villagers and children.

While we were returning from Bedini, yashwant and Pushkar trekked upto Ran ka Dhar to meet us.In fact they knew we had to leave by evening and they wanted to spend as much time as possible with us.We too were delighted to have more of their company. With these two kids we went to Devta’s temple.Their enthusiastic company suffused enough strength into our tired limbs to trek upto the temple.

As we climbed towards temple we wished we had more time in hands.The Surai trees dotting the hill along the circuitous path leading to temple left us spellbound. Each one had it’s own tale to recount.They appeared so ancient as if they had witnessed all those mythological events unfolding. It is said that these trees have very long life. Don’t know much about their botanical characteristics but can definitely vouch for the enigmatic impact they imprint on your being. They look like wizened saint, lost in deep meditation.Their towering presence make you feel that they are the dwelling places of divine spirits. The secrets, the teachings, the lessons they have in their heart, one need to tune up to understand. Trees to me are one of the most sacred images of God.

 

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Sonorous sounds of faith and devotion.

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Behind us, under the tree is shrine of Latu Devta and these are the kids who brought us to temple. In fact before going to meet us at Ran ka Dhar they came here and kept incense sticks and match box…all set and ready …to be lighted by us when they brought us here. The little one Pushkar insisted that we should pray to Latu Devta for appeasement of our any wish. He had full faith that our wish will be fulfilled and then we would return to offer the bell. The faith, love and affection of kids filled my heart with sublime emotion. Kiddos, you are the harbingers of our hope and faith in all that is pure, innocent and selfless. We shall definitely love to return at least once.

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This one was clicked by Yashwant, the elder kid, on their insistence ofcourse. That triangle like structure is where incense sticks are lighted by devotees.The outstretched arms of Devdar trees….bless us Lord.

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There is a guest house of Garhwal mandal vikas nigam (tourism department) and another of forest department near the temple, on the hill. During Nanda Devi Jat Yatra, this is an important station for devotees.The time we were there the entire premises was very quiet, peaceful….kind of aura when you can feel nearer to God, more intimate to your best self.

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View of Wan village and valley from temple.

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Boys waiting for us to climb down from temple. They rush down speedily, said that going slow tire them.

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‘A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.’ Hermann Hesse

Pictures by Sunder Iyer

 

 

 

Raja’s tomb— does not that make one curious? It definitely intrigued me. A Hindu king and buried ? And that’s not the only interesting fact, feature about this place of tourist attraction at Medikeri town of Coorg, Karnataka.
We visited Raja’s tomb in October 2014. It was a balmy afternoon with clear blue sky and cool breeze, As I got down from the taxi in front of high gate of iron bars,  these kids trying to ride the elephants sculpted on platforms on either side of the gate made me smile. Their innocent laughter and mirth gave a perk to my holiday mood.

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Inside the gate stood three structures in a straight line, distanced from one another by the green lawns in between. These structures are raised on square platforms, skirted by parapet. I was facing the back of the buildings. I started walking towards right side on the narrow, meandering gravel path running through the grassy patches. Bushes of various colored flowers in between the soothing green brightened the scene. After covering some distance I reached a small iron gate which was locked from inside. On the concrete square were two rectangular platforms . An idol of Nandi sat on each of these. On the side walls of platforms on black stone, I could see that something was engraved but from that distance it was not possible to read it. At that moment I could not know what these platforms denote. Why the statues of two Nandi were carved there? Rustling leaves  tried to whisper some tales of bygone era but alas that could not satisfy my curiosity rather ignited it a bit more.

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moving forward on the circuitous path I reached the front of the tomb buildings.
Here in front of the middle tomb is a plaque that imparts certain information about the buildings, the tombs and other structures.
The central structure houses the tombs of Kondva king Dodaveerrajendra and his wife. Door of this structure was open when we visited. Inside was a Shivling and Nandi. Isn’t it fascinating— a temple within the tomb building.On the roof of the building is a dome in center flanked by minarets on the four corners. Well, these are the usual features of most of the sepulchral structures of Mughal time but what contributes to the uniqueness of these tombs are the Nandis sitting besides every minaret. what a fascinating amalgamation of two different cultures. The walls of tomb buildings are lined by windows and the side panels of these windows have carvings of various images of mythological and folk relevance and importance, each telling it’s own tale. Every time I visit a historical monument with such images carved, I feel curious to know what it represent, what it depicts.

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A view of the back of Raja’s tomb.

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An overview of a part of Medikeri town from a small hilly portion inside the campus.

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Tomb of the royal priest.

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Inside view of Raja’s tomb. The hanging lamp, the Shivalinga and other idols can be seen.

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This one was interesting…..two bodies one face. Was the sculptor trying to engrave something symbolic…separate body, soul in unison or just because he had limited space on stone slab and that was the solution found for symmetry. Who can reach the nooks of a creative mind?

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This certainly is Ganesha and in the center …is it depiction of Om…. and the figure in right ? Is it Ma Laxmi?_MG_0323

Figures engraved on upper side of the window on the wall of tomb building. What or whom can these be representing? The figure on the left, the one with bow does that represent Rama or a Kodwa warrior and that on right—- is it some Rishi, praying but then why is he sitting on a boar. Is it representation of some folk tale or a mythological. So many thoughts race through minds. What you have to say about it?

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 These two figures stood on the gate of the central sepulchral structure. Dwarpals they could be representing . But the Trident  annd Damru in the hands of one figure suggests that it could be Shiva’s representation. Quite logical too it appears as Lingayats are great worshipper of Shiva but do they subscribed to this avatara of Shiva or adhered to Linga form only. More over foot above snake ? We are used to snake on Shiva’s neck. The symbols, signs and manifestations of the art and sculpture schools of that era had their own expressions, own language. We, as common tourist can interpret the same as per our own thoughts.
To the right of this tomb is the tomb of Lingarajendra built by his son Cheekaveerrajendra in A.D.1820. to the left is the tomb of royal priest Rudrappa built in  A.D. 1834. The two platforms with Nandis on them are tombs of two royal officials Biddanda bopu and his son Biddanda somaiah. Boddanda Bopu died fighting Tipu Sultan.

These kings of Paleri / Haleri dynasty ruled over Kodagu for about 200 years.[ 1580-1834]. From Haider Ali to Tipu Sultan these kings fought with the powers of Mysore to retain their individual and free identity. Kodwa people of Kodagu were brave, full of valor and were very loyal to their kings. After every defeat they rose with fresh strength .
Throughout the history of Coorg, no ruler has held direct sway over the region. Coorg has always been under the influence of local chieftains. The culture of Coorg has never been assimilated with the neighbors and has always maintained their unique identity.

Kodwa kings worshiped Shiva yet they were buried unlike all other followers of Hindu Dharma , whose body is burnt after death, this fact led me to search for an answer. Well, I came to know that these kings were Lingayats i.e. followers of Veershaiva faith.  Followers of this faith  wear a  symbol of Linga encased in a pendant around their necks. The faith preaches that Shiva is within every body and urges to worship the God within. Followers of this faith have their own unique customs, rites and traditions. During pregnancy of a woman on a certain month a  Guru gives the would be mother the pendant encasing Linga, tied to a thread ,which is to be worn by the child on the day of the birth itself and throughout his/her life that pendant with ishtlinga is on the body. May be the presence of Shivling and nandi inside king’s tomb has something to do with this belief. Alive or dead God is with us, within us.

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer

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