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Chitrakoot and around is steeped in religious and mythological anecdotes. This is the place where Lord Rama spent eleven out of his fourteen years of exile. Amidst old, new, big, small temples and other places of religious importance, about eleven kilometers from Karwi, a bit away from the main road,on Allahabad Chitrakoot road lies Ganesh Bagh, a page from history, a witness to Peshwas ties with Bundelkhand region. It is said to be built in 1880s.
Ganesh Bagh was perhaps created as a recreation retreat. The premises  has an ornately carved Shiva temple with various unique features , a seven storeyed step well, a big pond with steps and cenotaphs around it, few more smaller enclosures, a palace, remains of few other buildings and wide open space which is now being converted into lawns and gardens.
when Peshwa king Vinayak Rao chose this secluded place to built his resting retreat it’s location was perhaps the deciding factor. Even today the quiet serenity of the place has a balmy impact on the tired mind and nerves. Mighty Vindhya range stands  as a backdrop and all around Ganesh Bagh are fields, trees and far flung villages with few mud houses. The pastoral beauty is soothing.
The seven storey step well or Baoli is the first structure after entering the gate. We wandered around  in the colonnaded arcades and passages of it’s top most story only though we could see two more stories below that . These were out of water level. One more story ,submerged in water too was visible. However the stories below that could not be seen. There was a narrow  canal like opening through which deep down  water could be seen in a long stretch. From the front end steps ran down and on both the sides of gap ran covered colonnaded verandah. In between at regular distances horizontal platforms connected verandahs of both the sides. On the farthest end was a huge circular well like structure. This too had water in it. The well had circular covered verandah around it . Remnants of water drainage system could be seen in this verandah. Perhaps the area was used  by royal women for bathing etc. On one side a small door opened to the open space on other side of wall of step well. A loan huge mango tree stood in the open space. May be a garden or full fledged mango groove was there in the bygone days. The step well, it’s structure, design and continuous presence of water altogether form an amazing cooling system to bear the scorching heat of Bundelkhand. The step well is an amazing feet of engineering with perfect synchronisation with nature. At that time also they catered to all the comforts, luxuries and needs of people but always maintained an ecological balance. Nature was given an important place in the scheme of things. And here are we, creating havoc in the name of development.

 

 

Arcades m corridors of step well. Picture @Sunder Iyer.

Huge, magnificent well at the end of corridors. Picture@Sunder Iyer.

 

The circular verandah around the well. Picture @sunder Iyer

Shiva temple stands on a raised platform. At one end of this covered colonnaded verandah are three chambers with stone door frames  which had beautifully carved images of various Gods and Goddesses. On some of these images sea blue, pink, maroon colours still can be seen. none of these three chamber has any deity in the sanctum. No worship or daily rituals are performed here but local people throng the temple during Shravan month and on the occasion of Shivratri. Floor of the verandah running in front of these chambers is very interesting. Two games chaupar and ludo were engraved on the floor. verandahs I have seen in front of temples. Devotees sit there chanting, singing bhajans, offering prayers but indoor games!Well that was something unique. On the other end of verandah staircases from both the sides lead to the roof top. few feets ahead the verandah culminates into an oval small pond shaped structure. Not exactly of size to be called as pond, rather a stone tub would be more appropriate. This too was covered. For what purpose this could have been used. During those times this definitely must have been filled with water. Were there lotuses blooming or women used to sit their dainty feet dipped in water! Well , I was earlier talking about those staircases leading to rooftop. Reaching the rooftop one can even touch the ornately carved Shikharas of temples.Nowhere else have I ever been in such close proximity with Shikharas of temples. The richly carved shikharas display images of various gods , goddesses, mythological creatures,animals and some erotic figures too. This open rooftop was connected to palace through passages. In front of Shikhara on a small covered platform sat Ganesha. That may be one reason that the temple is popular as Ganesha temple among locals even though the main deity was Shiva. View from rooftop is beautiful. If it is the time of year when rains paint countryside in all shades of green and far away hills appear to be enveloped in misty blue, I am sure sitting there on rooftop listening to the sounds of silence can turn out be an unforgettable experience.

 

Over all view of Ganesha temple. Picture@Sunder Iyer

 

 

 

 

Carvings on the wall of temple. Picture @Sunder Iyer.

indoor games carved on the floor of temple verandah. Picture@ Sunder Iyer.

 

The Shikhara trio. The first floor view. Picture @ Sunder Iyer.

 

Another beauty of Ganesh bagh is the big pond near the temple. steps from all the four sides lead to water . The pond is square in shape. Few cenotaphs around the pond were still intact though indications were apparent that there were more such structures around the pond.

 

The pond with steps and cenotaphs. Picture@ Sunder Iyer.

Ganesh Bagh is ASI protected monument. Premises are neat, clean . Whatever structures have survived the vagaries of times and humans , those are maintained.
If you love soluted, history, architecture and nature, you should not miss out on Ganesh Bagh , more so if you happen to be in the vicinity.

September, October  or January, February is the best time as the natural, pastoral beauty is at it’s best during those months.
Ganesh Bagh should be visited during day time only. It is more convient to have one’s own vehicle. However from Chitrakoot or Karvi you can hire full auto etc. Public transport is not available on the route.

All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

 

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Edakkal caves are located in Waynad, Kerala, India. The caves are about twenty five kilometers from Kalpetta. the two caves are about 1200 meter above sea level. These are not actually caves in it’s traditional sense rather a heavy boulder straddling over a fissure in rocks form a cave. the main attraction of these caves are stone age etchings, writings, geometric figures and various scenes, activities of  neolithic times. The depictions on rocks is not limited only to one particular period rather it cover the span of many eras.
Besides being heritage repository these caves are also a good option for adventure and nature lovers. Though to facilitate climbing to caves steel staircases have been erected yet the rugged beauty of rocks and panoramic views all around is enough to leave it’s charismatic impact on you.
The caves were discovered by Fred Fawcett, the then superintendent of police of Malabar district in 1890.The caves are situated on western side of Eddakalmala and to reach there one has to trek through Ambukuttymala.
After leaving our vehicle in the parking area we started walking on the road to caves. The road rises gradually and after some distance becomes quite steep but shady tall trees , wild vegetation and lavish display of beautiful natural scenes on both the sides of road make the ride quite pleasant,

Soon the well laid road gave way to rocky terrain. Though slightly out of breath we kept on walking. When we started climbing up to some distance there were small shops of eatables and souvenirs on both the sides of road but later on after ticket window we were totally in company of nature. So, though we stopped in between to admire the beauty of nature and of course to catch our breath but we continued climbing. climbing over randomly piled rocks we reached a place where there was a very narrow passage between between the rocks. To pass through it we had to bend considerable and balance ourselves on precariously piled up rocks to haul ourselves on the other side. But it added to thrill and in spirit brought us nearer to the times bygone.

 

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Hoisting and balancing ourselves on the boulders we reached the entrance to first cave. The entrance has a steel gate. Only a limited number of people are allowed in the cave at one time. The gate perhaps has been put to regulate the traffic in and out of the cave as those few steps are the only way to enter and exit the caves.

 Picture by Sunder Iyer

In the cave on the rock wall was a gallery of carvings and etchings, animals, human forms, some figures looking like tribals with head gear and ornaments etc., some geometric shapes and drawings look like kolam drawings. Then there were animals, various symbols and scripts too. Everything was scattered all over the walls of caves.  How could they engrave so much on rocks? What were the tools used and such lasting imprints that centuries after we stood there agape with wonder and amazement.

The human figures with head gears, the wheel

Picture by sunder Iyer

Picture by Sunder Iyer

Writings on the rocks. What script is that? What had they said? Wish could know that.

 

Pictures by Sunder Iyer
Edakkal caves are said to be only place in India with stone age carvings.  These caves are said to have some links to Indus valley civilisation too. Recent studies have found certain signs which establish it’s link to Indus valley civilisation.

It was intriguing to see those imprints from centuries ago. With what instrument were those drawings made? The figures were all over the rock wall. The cave must have been different at that time and then this certainly was not an easy task. Why did they put so much labour into it?

Man has always had creativity inside him and urge of expression too. What do all these figures represent? So many questions floated in my mind. Look at the wheel like figure. What is it? A representation of time? One of man’s inventions? Can you make out those two human figures in the picture above? It looks like a tribal king and queen, hands up, in a dancing pose.The above image is definitely is some script. It is believed that these drawings and writings in the cave do not belong to any one particular period rather they belong to many spans of time. What have they written? Wish I  could read it.
So many thoughts fill the mind. I felt thankful to those unknown ancestors who left their signs in such non-erasable way . It is always good to feel connected.
All pictures by Sunder Iyer

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This was our interesting find at Hampi. In fact thanks to our autowalla cum guide cum companion Ramlee, he only showed this to us. If not for him we would have definitely overlooked these. These rectangular slabs of stone were placed in neat rows on both the sides of a dry narrow canal running towards the groves of trees at a distance. If I remember correctly it is somewhere on the road that connects Hampi to Kamlapur.

As told these slabs were used as dining tables by the soldiers of  that time.  An open community dining hall, interesting isn’t it. The slabs are of two types. In one , a round plate and four/six bowls are engraved while another type had a banana leaf and six/four bowls cut on it. What was the purpose of that narrow canal? I think at that time it must have been full of water for cleaning and washing the dining tables or may be even hands. Or may be the persons serving food walked in that canal to serve food to rows on both the sides.

nothing like Hampi grand temple architecture but an interesting and different kind of thing.

 

 

 

The Tiruvengalanatha Temple was built at Vijayanagara[ Hampi] during the reign of Achyutraya, younger brother of the most famous king of Vijayanagar empire, Krishnadeva Raya. Though like most of the temples at Hampi this too has Lord Vishnu as it’s principal deity but it has come to be  popularly known  as Achyutaraya Temple.

The temple complex is between two hills Gandhmadana and Matanga hills. There are two routes to temple one is to climb the steps behind the Nandi at the east of Hampi Bazar and another is from King’s palace path.

I had two experiences of Achyutraya temple, one while visiting it, roaming through it’s vast open spaces and mandapas with intricately carved pillars and the second one looking at the vast spread temple complex from the top of Matanga hills.

When we walked in the premises of the temple it was almost mid day. The day outside was bright, sunny though it was not hot. Walking towards it from a distance I could see the tall, wide imposing gate.  Reaching there I stood on the gate taking in the architectural grandeur spread before me and seeping in the serenity, the quiet, the peace of the moment. At the moment there were not many tourists in the premises, at least not in the range of our eyes and ears. From gate a well laid path led to another gate  and on both the sides of that path were open green patches of grass. In the middle of open space of one side there lay a big boulder with flat surface. A lone figure sat on that boulder, a soft golden light filling the space with ethereal feel. In the background loomed the pillars, pavilions and other structures, writing the testimonials for the time bygone. It was such a beautiful moment that I am incapable of putting it in the words. A moment when heart is filled with the mixture of diverse emotions, awe for the magnificent creations spread before, joy for being able to witness those, pride for being one from the land of those master craftsmen and a tinge of sadness for the end of that golden era of our history.

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The way which led us towards Achyutraya temple. On the right side  a bawali [ step well] was being excavated and being arranged. How much could be restored and how much has been lost.

The long lost path, rediscovered, re-travelled, an attempt to treasure the glory, to water the roots, the past cant be reconstructed, future can’t be predicted, ‘The moment’ to be lived in all it’s fullness.

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Imposing, magnificent first gate of Achyutraya temple. The second gate can be seen in the background. This is the outer side of the temple gate.

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The inner side of the first gate, one of the mandapam at the far end, the lone figure on the boulder.

Silence whispered tales from days bygone

figures on stone stood eloquent in their muteness

sky leaned over to caress the wounds of earth

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Every pillar, every gallery, every corner has a rich heritage tale of art and culture to narrate.

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These two pictures show the view of Achyutraya temple complex from Matanga Hills.

Entire plan is so grand and magnificent. This is said to be the last grand project before the fall of Vijay Nagar Empire. The temple was consecrated in AD 1534.

All the pics by Sunder Iyer

Creating any form of art transports you to a meditative state. The world around you as if does not exist, so engrossed are you in that process of creating. And I feel while carving shapes out of a stone slab one needs to be completely into it, at the highest and deepest kind of concentration level. You can not erase it, you can’t delete it, you can’t add a stroke of brush here and there to make it perfect.  Every stroke of hammer leaves a permanent imprint. No, I have never held a hammer to carve anything on stone but have enjoyed a wonderful experience of watching these artists at work in Hampi, prior to Hampi festival 2017.

Hampi is a magnificent open gallery of the architectural grandeur and sculpting magnificence. These artists were working on their pieces to participate in a competition to be held during Hampi festival. Themes mostly belonged  either to Vijaya nagar Empire or other temples, figures carved by the artists of the yonder years.

 

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Sculptors at work

 

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Badami cave temples taking shape

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This one was sitting a little away from rest of the artists, listening to music on phone, he was giving shape to a stone while few others peeped inside from window.

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He is etching image of Raja krishna deva Raya

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer

 

 

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Badavilinga is the largest monolithic Shivalinga in Hampi. The name and the story behind it makes an interesting read. Badavilinga is said to be combination of two words — Badava and Linga. Badava in the local language means poor and we were told that this temple was commissioned by a poor peasant woman, hence the name. All other temples, sculptures dotting Hampi are said to have royal patrons, either kings or their chieftains.

The huge Shivalinga stands inside a small stone chamber occupying almost entire chamber. The Shivalinga is placed on a large circular pedestal which in turn stands submerged in water. The chamber is always filled with water as a water channel flows through it. This is a kind of symbolic representation of the holy river Ganges coming down on earth and it’s flow being controlled by  Lord Shiva.

The mythological story related to River Ganges coming down to earth

Raja Bhagirath did great penance for years and years to bring the Ganges down to earth from heaven. It is said that the holy river Ganges was born in the Kamandal of Brahma. Raja Bhagirath was doing this penance to provide moksha/liberation to his sixty thousand ancestor who died due to curse of………… Ultimately when Goddess Ganges was convinced to come down to earth, it was feared that the entire creation would be washed away due to her tremendous power and force. Hence Lord Shiva was requested to  control her flow by making her descend on earth via His long, matted tangled hair.

Another attractive feature of this Shivalinga is the three eyes etched on it, representing three eyes of Lord Shiva.

The stone chamber around Shivalinga has no ceiling and sun rays enter through open space to bathe the Linga in golden light. The entire concept of it is beautiful. The huge black stone Shivalinga bathed in golden sunlight and swaying water ripples at the bottom. All the Panch Tatva as if congregate at one place — the sky, air, water, the warmth of sunlight and earth.  Besides that to be on the spot while sun rays enter the enclosure is kind of living a divine moment. Occasionally the sun light  reaches water below and the flickering light on water surface looks like lighted lamp. The almost inaudible murmuring of ripples sounds like mantras.

 

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Badavilinga bathed in celestial light

 

Laxmi Narasimha or Ugra Narsimha is located near  Badavilinga. This is said to be the biggest statue/ idol of any deity in Hampi. Both these temples are located on the road that connects royal area to the sacred area.

As per Hindu mythology Narsimha is another form of Lord Vishnu. Lord Narsimha is depicted having human body with a face of lion. He is considered to be a great protector of his devotees. Story of Prahlad in Hindu mythology is associated with this avatara of Lord Vishnu.

In this temple Lord Narsimha sits  cross legged in yogic  mudra  with a serpentine hood over his head. He is shown seated over coils of snake, the Sheshnaga, whose seven heads are clearly visible in the hood above deity’s head. It is said that originally Goddess Laxmi was depicted sitting on His lap. The temple was severely damaged during attacks by invaders. Now only a hand of Goddess can be seen. In Hindu mythological images Vishnu is seen lying on Sheshnaga, floating in the ocean and Goddess Laxmi is invariably with him. Though in those images Lord Vishnu is not shown in His Narsimha form.

Standing before the giant, magnificently chiselled statue I felt humbled not just by the divine aura but also by the stupendous creativity and unfathomable imagination of those artist of the times bygone. I tried to imagine Goddess Laxmi sitting there beautiful, delicate, decked in/ with all finery and ornaments  and the irreparable loss saddened me. At the same spot, at the same moment the realization hit me forcefully how creative and how destructive humane mind can be. It all depends  on what we believe in and what we want to leave for posterity.

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Laxmi Narsimha and Badavilnga, both the temples in one frame

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Hazara Rama temple is the only temple situated in the center of the royal enclosures – residential and ceremonial. Due to it’s location it is inferred that this was the private temple of royalty. The temple is dedicated to Lord Rama.

This temple can be said small when compared to other temple enclosures in Hampi like Krishna temple, Vittala temple, Virupaksha temple etc.. The reason can be attributed to it being the private shrine for royalty. The temple premises displays very well maintained green lawns.

The unique feature of the temple is sculpted friezes depicting the story of Ramayana in three tiers all around the outer wall enclosing the main shrine area. Due to this extensive depiction of Rama’s life sculpted in stone, the temple is known as Hazara Rama. Besides this there are sculpted narratives related to Lav- Kush and Bal Krishna too.

The temple has a flat roofed Dwarmandapa.

 

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Dwarmandapa

crossing the Dwarmandapa one enters Rangamandapam. High pillars made of black stone with attractive carvings of God and Goddesses like Hanumana, various avataras of Vishnu. Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga adorn the Rangamandapam.These intrinsically carved black stone pillars glistened in the semi darkness of Rangamandapam. In the entire pink colour scheme of the temple these black pillars stand out magnificently.  Why this temple only in entire Hampi we rarely find any sculpture in black stone. Whatever might have been the reason of placing these black pillars in the Rangamandapam but in that quiet afternoon when the sun shone brightly outside in the cool darkness of mandapam the black pillars as if invoked a deep solemnity.

 

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Most of the time we fail to reach within, to realize that deep down inside us is that part of the supreme being which when reached imparts the blissful state of being at peace with self.

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Silence is the most important part of communication.

The Rangamandapam has doors opening to north and south side.

 

 

The outer walls of the temple are decorated with various  relics of Rama, Krishna, scene portraying festivities, processions of horses, elephants, dancing women etc.

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This richly ornate outer wall of the temple too is a unique feature of Hazar Rama temple. The panels beautifully portray the abundance, the prosperity of the period.

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Another view of the outer wall.hampii_7nw

 

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can you make out the scenes from Ram’s life? I felt that the story started from the lowest panel. It went all around the temple the the middle panel and then the top one. here is just a part.  Is that Dasharatha getting boon from Rashi, Dasharatha with three queens? In the middle one it appears that there are scenes from Ram Vanvas.

 

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can you spot the Dhanush Bhang scene?

 

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In the middle panel are you able to make out Sita haran scene.Ravana , pushpak vimana, kidnapped Sita. In the third one is it  wounded Jatayu meeting Rama and Laxaman?

 

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Two of Krishna’s images on the walls of temple. There are many others. I specially loved this one. The ornaments, the lovely face, the eyes.

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The goddess

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The gopura, the ruined and destroyed still holds an undeniable charm

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The stillness inside synchronized with serenity outside and the moment stayed with me for ever.

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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