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

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Hampi in Karnataka, India is an UNESCO site, a site of rich heritage of sculpture, architecture, culture and history. Hampi, the glorious capital of  the great Vijayanagara empire.The area of about 26 sq, Km. is studded with ruins of temples, small  and grand temples. Many of these are restored to great extent and others might have been buried under the ground completely destroyed.

Among this large bevy of magnificent temples Virupaksha temple holds a special place due to many reasons.

Virupaksha temple , we can trace it back to our mythological references. Hemkuta hills on which this temple is located is said to be the place where Lord Shiva was doing his penance[ tapsya, dhyan] when Kamdev, God of love disturbed Him in order to help the local girl Pampa who was deeply in love with the lord and wanted to marry Him. Pampa was ultimately successful in impressing Lord by her severe penance and deep devotion and He agreed to marry her but in the process Kamdev had to bear the burnt of Shivas anger and that too literally. Shiva opened His third eye in anger and Kamdev turned into ashes. So here Shiva opened His third eye. Does it have any relation with Shiva being worshiped here as Virupaaksha? Aksha means eye, Virup means formless- formless eye. In deeper sense it refers to consciousness — seeing without eyes, feeling without skin, means absorbing everything without the help of sense organs and that is the state of yoga samidhi. On these hills Shiva was in samadhi awastha.

The recorded history of this temple is from seventh century A.D. Inscriptions from ninth century are still there in temple premises. The inner sanctum of temple is older than the Vijayanagara empire. This temple has a history of active worship of more than 2000 years.It is believed that despite various attacks, destruction of mighty Vijayanagar empire, ravages of Hampi in the hands of time, the puja, archna in the temple continued uninterrupted. This in itself is very reassuring. It strengthens our faith in the Super being, the divine entity.

Exterior of temple-—The east facing gate is the main gate of the temple. In front of it is about one kilometer long bazar with shops on both the sides of wide path. The lines of colonnaded shop reflect on the great planning skills of the people in power at that time. At the end of the Bazar there sits a giant monolithic Nandi on high platform facing the temple. In Lepakshi too the big monolithic Nandi sits about a kilometer away from Virupaksha temple. What could have been the thought behind this? Why Nandis were not made just in front of the temples or inside the temples? In Brihdeshwara, Tanjore too the Nandi idol is mammoth but it is inside the temple. Though placed under a separate canopy, on a separate high raised platform but inside temple premises just outside the door leading to Garbhgrah but in these two Virupaksha temples they are placed at a distance. Does it have anything to do with this particular form of Shiva?

Gopuram of Virupaksha temple – The gopura on the bazar side was under renovation when we visited Hampi. However even the horizontally, vertically rods fitted all around the lofty gopura were not able to mar the grandeur, the majesty of the nine storied gopura. Another gopura is on the tank side. This too is built almost in the same style and grandeur. The progressively narrowing figure of gopuram is built of brick and mortar. there are exquisitely sculpted characters and figures on the lower tiers of the nine story Gopuram. In every storey in the middle is a small door like open structure. Somebody told that there is provision of going to the top of the Gopuram, May be there are stairs inside the structure. Not sure about that. just a thought. On the top of Gopuram there are two horn like projections at each end and in the middle is placed Kalash.

 

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The shape of Gopuram always remind me of hands with folded palms. The entire structure as if speaks on behalf of us…. we send our reverential salutations to Almighty, up there.

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This is Kanakgiri gopura side of the temple, the holy tank side of the temple. I spent an evening on it’s bank. The still waters of the tank with reflection of Gopura nestled close to it’s heart appeared to say a clear heart is the abode of the sacred and pious entities. How pacifying and calming was it’s impact. Far and wide the distant blue horizon invited one to drop all the binding chains and soar high with stretched wings and light heart to pastures unknown. The deep waters of tank locked the gaze and took it deep up to the core of the being. These are the moments when I forget that I exist.

Kalyan Madapam

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This Mandapam in the temple courtyard with carved pillars and painted ceiling is an exquisite example of the impeccable skills of artists of the Vijayanagar empire period. This mandapam is said to be the contribution of one of the most famous king of Vijayanagar empire, Krishnadeva Raya. It is known as Kalyan Mandapam or Rang Mandapam. The mythological figures carved on the pillars, the carving on the panels above the pillars and the colourful depiction of various mythological anecdotes leave one spellbound.Such treasures of our rich heritage not only fascinate us but prompt us to explore more, to learn more, to go deeper.

 

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A closure look of the paintings on the ceiling of the mandapam. The colours still retain their brightness though centuries have passed.

 

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Another look of the Kalyan Madapam

 

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Second Courtyard

A small three tiered gopura leads us to the second courtyard of the temple. The outer and the first courtyard houses architecturally beautiful structures but this second courtyard houses the soul of the temple. Not only the main shrines of Virupaksha Shiva, the consort of the local goddess  Pampa[ pampa is associated with river Tungbhadra] but also many shrines are fitted in between the collonaded pathway encircling the courtyard. Even when the day is sparkling blue and gold outside certain niches and antechambers in this section are dusky with some sun rays filtering  in at some places. A small shrine tucked in the wall, a lone deepak burning steady, devotees sitting here and there engrossed in their own inside world– the entire area pulsate with deep positive energy. You sit quietly with your eyes closed for few minutes and the murmurs of tourists gradually turns into whispers and then a complete silence engulfs you and a little blue glow suffused your inside. The pervading energy makes you feel secured and protected , a feeling of being in womb.

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Some other deities are Bhuvaneshwari, Pataleshwara, Navgrah, Nagas, and Ganesha, Hanumana

There are some shrines outside Kanakgiri Gopura, on the side of tank.

 

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The inverted  shadow image of the gopura on the wall of one of the ante image is another attraction of the temple. The pin hole camera effect.The shadow falls on the wall which is close to the rear end of the temple, quite far away from the entry gopura.

 

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Another special feature of the temple is a big kitchen and the water connectivity system here. Water from river Tungbhadra was carried directly to the the temple kitchen through underground canal system. I am not very sure whether the system is functional presently or not but the network of pipelines can be seen.

The annual chariot festival celebrated in February every year and marriage festivity activities of Virupaksha and Pampa too take place with great fervor.

 

Visiting Virupaksha temple at Hampi was an enriching experience for me in more than one way. It took me back to glorious pages of history of my land, my race and strengthened my being like that tree whose roots go deep inside earth and it faces the rough weather with  faith on bonds that hold it firmly.

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer (more…)

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.

In Hindu Mythology Shivalinga and Nandi are inseparable. Wherever there is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, an idol of Nandi is sure to be found  inside the temple complex.Nandi at Lepakshi is a bit different in the way that it is outside the temple enclosure, say about five hundred meter away on the road side. But then so is the big majestic Shivalinga in the temple. Infact the main deity of this temple is Veerbhadreshwara, a form of Lord Shiva only and the very artistically carved Nagalinga is  in the open courtyard of the temple outside the sanctum. The Nandi faces this Shivalinga.May be during the time both these were sculpted there were no high buildings in that five hundred meter stretch and Nandi even from that distance was able to continuously gaze his beloved lord and master.

This splendid Nandi bull is of gigantic dimension, approximately 4.5 meter high and about 8 meter long.This monolithic bull is a spectacular example of prodigiously talented artists of the Vijayanagar empire period.The massive Nandi bull like a guard presides over the entrance of Lepakshi town.

The exquisitely carved details of ropes, belts and bells over the body of Nandi are one of the finest example of stone craftsmanship.

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For ages it sits elegantly under the open sky rapt in the bhakti of the supreme Lord.

 

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Look at those intrinsically carved details of all the ornaments…and the expression of Nandi Maharaj…I can almost see a delicate smile lingering on His face. Are you able to make out the mythical bird with an elephant in it’s claw, hanging as a locket from the chain? Well, it is said to be an insignia of Vijayanagar kings.

 

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Like me do you too find a Ganesha reflected here?

 

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The green lawns. shady trees and rocks here and there… a perfect setting to set you on pondering mode about our rich cultural heritage…the bygone times….almost tempting you to jump into a time machine and live that era for some time.

 

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The lotus ponds and the rocky terrain stretched around makes it a perfect spot to spend leisurely time.

Nearby this spot is Andhra Government guest house with fooding and lodging facilities.

All the 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