Hoyasaleshwara temple is not very far from Chennakeshava temple Of Belur. We left our guest house at Belur early in the morning and reached Helebidu in about half an hour. In fact we were the first visitors to temple that day i.e. 14. 12. 2021.. Guides were the only people to reach there before us.

front view of temple

As I walked slowly towards the main building of the temple imbibing the grandeur of the 12 th century architecture, the refreshing greens of the garden, I felt the weight of baggage stored inside falling away bit by bit and blue, soothing calm descended within. It felt as if the temple with outstretched arms welcomed me to it’s protective folds.

The temple was built by king Vishnuvardhana Hoyasaleshwara. the temple has four porches for entry.

one of the entry door

All the entry doors are embellished with large, intricately carved figures on either sides. The temple is treasure trove of masterpieces on soap stone all around its walls and inside temple too. I thought that first I would go to the shrine directly. I mean visiting a temple, surrendering to the divine is always the first priority. Later on I enjoyed it as an open art gallery of exquisite art pieces.

interior hall of the temple

It was early in the morning. Natural light was entering the hall with hesitant steps. Few shy sun-rays were peeping through the interspersed stone lattices on the wall. The dimly lit hall was bathed in the mysterious but peaceful aura, which cuts you off the humbug of outside world and you feel divinity all around. A journey within commences.

Shrine in the temple

There are two Shiva shrines in the temples. It is said that one was built by king Vishnuvardhana while other by queen Shantala. The time we visited there doors of only this shrine were open. Other shrine was closed. As we were informed this shrine is from king.

The ceiling of the hall too has richly carved designs.

carving on ceiling

This is only one example of finely carved images on the ceiling of the hall. Even the small squares have a detailed story narrated by the sculptors.

Now let us come out of the hall and walk towards Nandi Mandapam. As the temple hall houses two Shiva shrines obviously there have to be two Nandis. Yes, there are two Nandi Mandapam and each of them very richly and exquisitely carved. They are masterpieces in themselves.

Here are both the Nandis: one with its mandapam in full view and the other one in close up. These nandis are listed among few biggest nandi statues in India but carving and finery wise these are considered to be top ranking ones. In fact no words, and images can replicate the detailing, the fine lines and the over all mesmerizing impact.

Hoyeshaleshwara temple is poised on a star shaped base. The base consists of eight rows of friezes. Images of elephants, horses , floral scrolls and lions are carved symmetrically in these rows.

rows at the base.

The walls of temple have elaborate and sophisticated carvings of Hindu deities, mythological episodes from Mahabharata, Ramayana and Gita, scenes from daily social life of that time. The images of deities on walls are highly ornate and each image has its own way of casting its spell on you.

Brahma on his vahana

Shiva and Parvati on Nandi.

Our guide told us a very interesting story about it. It seems nandi did not enjoy Parvati riding over him. He considered only Shiva to be the one to ride on him, hence his stride is a bit different with an intention to make Parvati uncomfortable.

krishna holding Govardhana

This magnificent Ganesha idol is installed in one of the lawns on the backside of temple.

This Jain Muni statue is found in the lawn near the museum. Dakhin Karnataka and many dynasties ruling there followed Jainism. We found many Jain monuments and temples in the area. Queen Shantala too was follower of Jain Dharma, though she took interest actively in Hindu shrines too.

A view of open campus of museum. There is a big hall having many beautifully sculpted idols and images. The art part is being preserved very nicely.

This is the moment I savoured most, sitting outside the Nandi Mandapam. On one side is temple and on the other the open space, green trees, flowers, sky and water beyond. All the elements as if unite to take you deep into the serenity of just being.

This corner of one lawn ablaze with reds and yellows was quiet and adding colours, as if manifesting different aspects of existence. it was so inviting that I could not resist myself from going nearer and whispering a ‘thank you’.

The splendid view of water body.

Presence of this sparkling waterbody makes Hoysaleshwara temple all the more alluring. It was calm and beautiful. Due to it’s presence Halebidu was also known as Dwarsamudram.

Wondering: how could our ancestors create such marvels! They left such rich heritage for us. We don’t know the names of the artists and creators but they left their indelible marks for posterity. The thought in mind was- would we be able to leave for our generations to come something like this, something, which gives peace to their world, soul and mind.

Al the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Bhairava

Look at this relief on the wall. Who could he be?  That wreath on his head and beautiful, serene face, doesn’t he look like a Greek God? But that wreath is not of flowers. Zoom in and you find skulls roped in like beads. Interesting, isn’t it? What a fabulous fusion the sculptor’s imagination has created! Neck and beneath till the feet, is it some Jain Muni? Hoyasalas followed Jainism. In fact Queen Shantala the most popular and dynamic queen of the dynasty followed Jainism till her death. There are many Jain basadis and temples spread across Hoyasala kingdom. But he can never be representing anyone even remotely linked to Jainism. Those skulls, snakes, and bhoot, pishach kind of figures in the side towards bottom, the dog licking the blood tells otherwise. Even though the face reflects serenity of the munis, this sculptor surely did not have any Jain muni in his mind. Then who he could be?

It is the most mysterious and enigmatic God of Hindus, The Bhairava.Bhairava is an incarnation of Shiva. Yes, the tridents, the snake around neck, the bhoot pisachs all confirm the association with Shiva. If you come to think of it even the serenity on face is that of Siva. Surrounded by all kinds very unusual companions, His Ganas, even in midst of chaos, decked up in His strange adornments Shiva sits perfectly still, calm and sublime. So yes, this is Bhairava, who was created by Shiva Himself.

Do you know what the skull in his hand and the begging bowl represent? The story goes like this; once Brahma and Shiva had an argument over the issue of supremacy. Enraged by Brahma’s continuous atrocious behaviour Shiva created Bhairava. That is why Bhairava is known as Raudra roop of Shiva. As it happened Bhairava immediately after taking shape decapitated Brahma’s fifth head, which actually was creating the entire problem. But this fifth head of Brahma stuck in Bhairava’s hand and could not be dislodged. The head in Bhairava’s hand in this relief is that fifth head of Brahma. How so ever angry Shiva was with Brahma’s unethical behaviour and He Himself had created Bhairava but justice is a highly valued ethic in our religion, hence Shiva punished Bhairava for the sin of Brahmahatya. He ordered Bhairava to roam around the earth with a begging bowl like a mendicant. That is why we see the bowl in his hand and Bhairava is shown naked or say in tattered rags.

So in this relief the sculptor has etched Bhairava as a mendicant walking on earth with skull and bowl. In this avatara dog is said to be vahana of Bhairava. Otherwise too just imagine Bhairava walking on streets in rags with a bowl and skull in hand, his flaming hair waving and,  dogs following him flashes as a natural reaction.

The mythological story further progresses like this. Shiva while ordering Bhairava thus had told that when the skull would automatically dislodge from his hands, he should understand that he had been absolved off his sin and then he had to stay at that place and this happened when Bhairava entered Kashi. Since then Bhairava is stationed there in the famous Kal Bhairava temple.

There is another story about Bhairava which says that during His punishment tenure   wandering once Bhairava came to dense Deodara forest where many Rishis used to reside. Bhairva’s mysterious enigmatic naked presence with a God like aura attracted the women in Ashramas. They were not able to resist His charm.  This infuriated rishis and they casterated Bhairava. The fallen Linga immediately turned into an endless column of fire and Rishis understood the miracle of God and started worshipping Linga. Some what similar story I heard at Jageshwar in Uttarakhand where the famous Bal Jageshwar temple of Shiva is located. Jageshwar is surrounded by dense Devdar trees. It made me wonder how our mythological stories spread so far. Did pilgrims covered such long distances from one part of nation to other? That too when fast modes of transportation were not available.

Another question which popped up in my mind while going through these stories is why our Gods, Devtas are depicted to behave so human like. They represent Supreme Being yet they are shown to have weaknesses, human weaknesses. Do these tales want to convey that it’s ok to have weaknesses but if we work upon the positive and just forces inside us, we too can develop certain traits which could produce miraculous results? One very popular thought propagated in our religion is that we carry a part of God within us. May be that is what it means. Ah! Thoughts would go on churning, let us move forward and enjoy the dazzling testimonies of art and sculptures.

Many mythological stories, episodes are engraved on the exterior walls of the temple. Most of us are aware of those stories. We would have seen them depicted in different art forms at some or other time. Besides the fineness of the art what I enjoyed most about the depiction there, is the way the artists have let their imagination take shape of their own.

Mahishasur Mardini

The story of annihilation of Mahishasur by Goddess Durga is well known. Mahishasur was born out of union of a Mahish (buffalo) and an Asur i.e. demon (did our people at that time conceptualized about mutation between two different species? Well, let us leave the question for another time.) Another remarkable feature about our mythology is that here the Asuras, the bad and negative forces have been depicted to be very strong willed and capable in performing arduous and difficult penance to get boons of various kinds. For getting the boons most of them worshipped Brahma or Shiva. Though both of them were on the side of Suras [ Devtas], i.e. those representing good forces, they never shied away from granting boons to Asuras if the arduous penances were done rigorously. Good deeds deserve reward, is the message here, I think.

So like many other powerful Asuras in our mythological stories Mahishasur also got boon by appeasing Brahma. He asked for a boon that no one other than a woman could kill him. In fact he first asked for a boon of immortality but Brahma said this boon could not be granted as every living organism has to die at some or other time, hence Mahishasur asked for the above boon and thought him to be as good as immortal. He was very powerful, strong and capable of changing many forms. Obviously he thought a woman could never overpower him. Well as the story goes after acquiring the boon Mahishasur started his reign of terror. He conquered Bhooloka, i.e. earth and then set Devaloka as his target.

Now Devas approached Brahma for seeking help as they knew all of them together also could not do any harm to Mahishasur. Finally all the three entities of Trinity came together and created a woman by vesting best of their powers. She was manifestation of Shakti. At some places I have read that this manifestation of Shakti had ten hands while others describe her as having eight hands. However in this particular sculpture, the sculptor has depicted her as having ten hands. So, Vishnu gave Her His Sudarshan Chakra, Shiva His Trishul, Brahmna His Kamandal, Indra His Vajra, thunderbolt and other Devatas too gave Her their weapons.

When the final battle between Devi and Mahishasur took place it is said that the Asura took form of buffalo. When Devi overpowered this mighty beast and cut its head, the Asura in human form started to emerge, but Durga’s lion pounced upon him and pinned him to the ground and at that moment Durga raised the trident, piercing his chest and slayed him. This exact moment has been sculpted by the artist to the precision — the buffalo, the asura coming out of it in human form, pinned by lion to the ground and Durga with the trident piercing his chest. All other hands of Devi are armed with different weapons. Just pay a little attention to the expressions of Devi and the lion. Devi’s expression clearly reflects the emotion of executing the final act for accomplishing a task, while lion is kind of in a joyful mood, satisfied with himself for pinning down asura to the ground, happy for being of assistance to goddess. Whatever it might be but creating emotions on stones! These Hoyasala sculptors did wonders and we compare a deadpan face with stony expression.

Picture@Sunder Iyer

Besides inscriptions the sculptures, the carvings on and around Chennakeshva temple too act like historical documents reflecting upon not only art and culture aspect but also the norms and ways of social life of that time. I feel the Shilabalikas of Chennakeshava are a powerful statement about the way the women of that period led their life. They pampered themselves, they pursued their interests be it dance or instrument playing or hunting. They appear to celebrate being woman and I think placing of these women as brackets supporting the roof, connecting it to walls too is a powerful statement about their importance and place in social structure, specially as a supporting force, an adhesive entity. Let me introduce you to as many as I can.

1 –Let us start with Darpan Sundari, the most famous shilabalika, as she is also the emblem figure of Karnataka tourism department. She is on the left side of the main entrance door. The Sunadari is engrossed in looking at her image in a mirror in her hand. Look, even the mirror is carved with minute details like the handle and frame etc. Head to toe decked up with fine ornaments, hairstyle, her posture, movement of jwellery and clothes in synchronisation with her posture, the grace and beauty reflected is simply mesmerizing.

There are two women figures on one side and one on other side of Darpan Sundari towards the lower side of the sculpture. It is interprted that these are the assistants, maids of Darpan Sundari. One of the figures is carrying a monkey in her lap and is the smallest among the three, while the woman on other side appears to be looking at tall standing Darpan sundari. The deatais of ornaments of these smaller figures, their dress and hairstyle too are chiseled with precision and is almost similar to that of main figure.

Darpan Sundari

2- This one has a Damaru in hand and is dancing. Look at the foot above ground, the tribhanga mudra posture. I have read a drum dance; a traditional folk dance called Dollu Kunitha, ows its origin to a tribal community, kuruba Gowda of Karnataka. It was performed as a ritual while worshipping Shiva. Is the lady performing Dollu Kunitha? Her facial expression, eyes half closed, that smile playing on her lips clearly spell that she is enjoying a blissful mental state. Isn’t it astonishing that these craftsmen brought out the emotions too so perfectly on stones?

3 – This Shilabalika is remarkable for its hairdo. Look at the stylist bun. The turns and twirls of hair are so distinguinshigly clear.Hairstyles of these Shilabalikas, each and everyone come as a remarkable fashion statement. No two hairstyles are exactly same. Focus at the monkey pulling the saree of the maiden. She is looking at the monkey a bit annoyed or that could be an indulgent smile,and she is trying to shoo the monkey off with a stick in her raised hand.Is it really a monkey only or the sculptor created it as a symbol. This Shilabalika is attired in a way different than other shilabalikas. I feel the artist wanted to convey much more than what is apparently seen here.

4 – Shuk Bhasini is another quite popular shilabalika. She has a parrot on her hand and her lips are carved in a way that she appears to say something, that slight protrusion of her lips. She is talking to her pet parrot.Minute detailings in these sculptures is mind blowing. Shuk Bhasini too is accompanied by three small figures with similar hairdos and jwellery etc.

5- I am not very clear what this Shiabalika is holding in her hand but the expression of this one and one of the smaller figures reflects as if they are in a kind of indolent mood. The rings in her fingers, the head jewelry, everything is carved meticulously.

6 – Here dance practice is going on. Instrument players are accompanying her. Look at the sole of one foot perfectly placed in a dance stance, not fully touching the ground.

7- Here too smaller figures are playing on instruments but the lead figure is not dancing rather singing and playing cymbals. Her feet are not in a dancing mudra, lips are a bit parted so this Shilabalika loves to sing. Music and song is in the air.

8- This one appears to stand waiting for some one. The most remarkable part of this shilabalika is her hair. Look closely at that big bun and then long, thick bunch of hair cascading down. Did you mark that the long hair is perfectly pruned in a straight line and the big bun is held with a long clasper?

9 – And here is another interesting depiction. The lady is standing on one foot. She definitely is not a dancer so to maintain her balance she needed to hold that creeper. Her assistant is putting toe ring on her one finger while in her free hand she has another toe ring ready. The joy of dressing up, getting ready is so apparent on her face.

10- Speciality of this Shilabalika is the artist’s attempt to craft a transparent dress on stone. Pay attention to the design of the dress at the back of the lady and on one of her leg and impressions on upper part of body.

11—This one appears to play an imaginary flute or is it a kite flying posture. I think she is playing flute and a sombre tune at that. Isn’t that what her expression tells?

12 – This Shilabalika appears to be quite confident in her own skin, assured of her power and beauty. Look at that smug expression on her face and what her assistant is trying to do? Is it a mirror in her hand? Is she trying to show it to her and she does not bother even to cast a glance on that side? Is this gesture too has another symbolical interpretation?

13 – This Madanika is playing Nag-veena. One end of Veena is snake shaped.musicians are accompanying her.

14—here comes the drummer. An all girls band? She holds the stick to beat the drum and did you notice her second hand? She holds the drum at place with another hand and has placed it under the ropes of drum. Loved that detail. Each and every rope of drum has been carved so nicely and clearly. These minute details reflecting the imaginative power of the artists are the signature stamps of the sculptors of Hoyasala period.

15 – one hand of this lady is damaged and she is holding something in her other hand. Due to the damage its not very clear what she is doing exactly. However when we pay attention to her assistants, we find that one assistant is giving a tumbler kind of pot to the lady. Is the assistant giving her something to drink and the other one, what that assistant is doing? Two kind of interpretation is done for this frame. Some believe that it is depiction of holi playing celebration as one assistant is filling colour in pichkari. Other interpretaion is that the assistant is someone well versed with medicines and is preparing some potion or a kind of medicine to relieve the lady of her pain or ache. The other assistant has brought water to her. Looking at the facial expression of the lady , I incline towards the second interpretation. Don’t you think that she gives an impression of being in pain. Her half open eyes , drooping eyelids too seem to indicate that.

16 – here comes another special one. She is squeezing her hair dry after coming out of her bath. She is not yet ready hence not decked up with jwellery and is putting on only the minimum of ornaments.

17 – Another one with Damru and kartal in hand.

18 – this group is all ready for hunting or war. Bows on their shoulders are clearly stating their intentions.

There are 38 Shailbalikas as bracket figures adorning the exterior of the temple. I have talked here about 18 of them. Each of these graceful Shilabalika or Madanika stands under intricately carved creepers, laden with fruits and few of them having birds and insects too. These Madanikas are epitome of feminine beauty, grace; symbol of fertility, peace, prosperity and harmony. The splendid workmanship of the master craftsmen of Hoyasala period is at their magical best while giving life to these richly ornamented beauties with shapely eyebrows, pointed nails, graceful postures and varied expressions.

All pictures @ Sunder Iyer

Main shrine in chennakeshava complex at Belur

I walked upto the steps leading to Jagati, the star shaped platform with 32 angles over which the temple stands. Even before one raises foot to climb on the first step the miniature temples on both the sides of step invite one to stop.

The entrance to Garbhgrah and a view of smaller temple outside

I too was tempted but after stopping for a fraction of second, looking up and around, I inhaled deeply and went directly inside. I decided to come out later and let the art pieces carry me into their world but first I thought to have darshanam of Keshava and convey my gratitude for calling me to His doorstep. As I crossed the threshold and stepped inside, the darkness in the chamber made me stop. I looked straight over the heads of other devotees and the lamp in the Garbhgrah beckoned like a guiding force. From exterior to interior, it was like body to soul and at the farthest end Keshava smiled like the blue light at the deepest core of our soul. It was such an amazing experience that for few minutes I was rooted to the spot. And then gradually the eyes became accustomed to the dark and the unparalleled beauty inside started captivating me. But first I headed directly to sanctum, paid my obeisance to Lord and then moved back to get subsumed by the sculptural beauty around.

That source of light, the supreme being

The interior of temple is divided into three parts – Garbhgrah (sanctum), Sukhanasi(vestibule)navaranga (central hall). On both the sides of the door of sanctum stand dwarpalas – Jay, vijay. Above the door hangs an intricately carved Torana with many embleshiment. Above that stand a band of musicians and dancers and then are two makaras on both the sides with garland like, arc shaped finally carved image coming out from their mouth under which sit gracefully Laxami Narsimha. It is not easy to see every detail there as it is quite dark inside but then who is in a hurry to come out. Stand there inside for some time. Let your heart soak in the aura and eyes ready to be able to focus and the wonders start unfolding.

Have divine Darshanam and then enjoy every intricate detail

Navaranga mandapam, the central hall has many pillars but out of these the four pillars close to the dancing floor stand out due to their exquisite carving. These pillars and the ceiling between them is mesmerizing. The pillars are smooth, shining so much so that even though black in colours they sparkle in the darness of hall. Of course, for absorbing the finally carved details we need to throw some light. One of these four pillars is known as Mohini pillar.

An overview of central hall and vestibules with exquisitely carved pillars.

Navaranga and one of the vestibule

Mohini pillar depicts Vishnu in His Mohini Avatara. Her serene facial expression, stance of standing, the curves of body and with that swaying effect of intricately carved jewelry is astounding. How could such fine detailing be done on stone! And when it comes to detail these Hoyasala times artists and sculptors have surpassed all the limits. Take an example of this Mohini image. Along with various items of jewelry like necklace, anklets, waistband there is a thread hanging from left shoulder to waist. What is that? An Yagopaveet, the sacred thread and what that thread is doing on a woman image? Perhaps, the artist wanted to establish that this is Vishnu, a male deity in a woman form. What a flight of imagination and what a way to manifest that!

Mohini pillar

Another pillar here is Narsimha pillar. The entire body of the pillar is studded with fine filgree work, images of Gods and goddesses and various mythological episode. Besides this the shape of the pillar too depicts the ingunity of the sculptors. The rectangular base on which rests a circular end of the pillar, again a rectangular portion and then a circular portion with many horizontal layers and at the top the pillar gradually becomes narrow. I have not witnessed it but heard that this pillar has this specific structure as it was made with a purpose to be rotated on its axis. May be like those big prayer bells in Buddist temples and monestry the artists had something in mind. This pillar is very near to Garbhgrah.

The ceiling above these four pillars too is very intricately carved. Above each pillar is a bracket figure. These are Suk Bhasini, Gandharva dancer, lady drying her hair and Queen Shantala. These bracket figures are specialty of Chennakeshva temple, Belur and the outer wall of the temple has many specimens of this type.

Shukbhasini, a bracket figure
intricately carved ceiling over central hall
ceiling with two of the bracket figures.

The dancing floor on three sides leads to vestibules with doors opening to platform on east, north and south side. The platform with pradakshina path has flight of steps on these three sides touching the open temple compound.

From Garbhgrah now we are out on platform ready to enjoy the extravaganza of art and sculpture, a wonder world of masterpieces created by the artist and sculptors.

I love the symbolism in this picture — the body, the soul and the light source at the farthest end.

All the pictures @Sunder Iyer

We started from Boondi to Gadaria Mahadev. After running on Jaipur Kota highway[ NH 52] for some time our vehicles turned and later on entered into an area having dry trees forest for a long stretch. Our vehicles ran on narrow uneven kachcha path and on both the sides stood short, dry trees with their arms extending to all sides. We have travelled through many dense tropical forests, forests of gigantic tall trees standing erect on high mountains but this one had an entirely different feel. As if each one of those trees has some tale hidden inside, a story different from that of lush green forests. This perhaps was part of Mukundra hills tiger reserve.  We visited the place with an intention to enjoy the spectacular view of famous turn of mighty Chambal river and the little shrine of Lord Mahadeva in the caves below.

 

As we reached the place from where we could see the Chambal river flowing down many feet below with hills standing guard on both the sides, the rugged panoramic beauty made us awestruck. We were the only visitors there at that time. As I said earlier, the river flew many feet below from the place we were standing but it’s width and slow, grave flow gave a very clear idea of it’s depth. Watching it from the rocks above the force of flow, waves or the churning in the water can not be apprehended but even from that far one can feel the wild, mighty and profound nature of the river. It as if clearly cautions not to mess with her. But then there was that tiny dot like boat coursing through its flow, the sole boat slowly making it’s way towards some destination. Watching it intently at first I wondered how the person or persons in that boat could muster so much courage as to go down there in waters and why on earth he was rowing a boat there but then slowly once again the realization dawned upon me, how so ever defiant, imposing the nature and it’s forces might appear we need to surrender to them with complete faith and our boat would definitely reach its destination.

 

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After enjoying the panoramic stretch for some time, we walked down to the shrine. On the way at some places steps are cut and on others rocks itself work as steps. Near the cave steps are cut, made properly. we reached the shrine. Three four locals were there. Pujari was there. He told us that he resides there only. In another very small chamber of cave his living quarters could be seen. High green trees surround the cave and down flows the Chambal. His living alone there in the wild surroundings once its totally dark, once again reinstated my faith in the miraculous powers of thoughts and beliefs.

 

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By the time we reached the shrine the tiny boat which we watched from above too had reached there. Its sole occupant tied the boat with trunk of a tree and started climbing the steep rocky terrain to reach the cave. To us it felt very dangerous, but he moved forward with ease.

We spent some time offering pooja, talking to priest and locals and treasuring the enriching experience continued our onward journey.

The place is about 20 Kms from Boondi.

Pictures @Sunder Iyer

 

On way to Munsiyari, Uttarakhand Birthi water fall  is one of the most spectacular sight to behold. The water plunging down with great force, the  droplets sprayed around the mouth of fall forming a white smoking screen, the sheer power and rhythm of gushing waters leaves one wonder struck.

Standing there on the road, my eyes roamed from the energetic rumbling fall,  to the silent, graceful mountains standing around it like somber, silent sentinels and finally rested on the azure sky overhead. I felt an irresistible pull towards the waterfall. Oh, how I wish to reach the top , the point from where the water plunges down. But that was not to be, so we chose the another best option available. We started climbing on the rocky, narrow path ascending from the roadside. It was not a smooth path with properly laid stairs  but  we could walk on it conveniently. On one side were multitudes of wild plants and flowers on the rocks and on the other side deep down water ran playfully among rocks and boulders.

We reached a point from where we could go down and reach the boulders resting in the water. We were also able to reach rocks lying low in the waters and could hold the cold water in our hands. It was a bright sunny day and after the climb the cool touch of crystal water felt soothing. In between the rocks the restrained flow of water murmured softly while the roars of tumbling cascades echoed in the surrounding and the symphony created by their duet performance slowly loosened the knots insides one by one.

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The waterfall danced like a dream….

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The journey from top to down can also be beautiful if you learn to take it with grace — message of waterfall.

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On the side of mountains from where the fall was tumbling down we could see two tiny figures- a man and woman cutting grass or plants. It was amazing to see them working on such great height but then for these inhabitants of hills it was perhaps a routine chore.

All the pictures@Sunder Iyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birthi fall is about 37 Kms from Musiyari. On the roadside options for tea, snacks and food are available. Two three small restaurants are there. People who are interested in staying at Birthi to soak in the enchanting beauty of nature can check in the Kumaon  Mandal guest house at Birthi.

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.

 

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.

.25.10.2017

The Sunrise

We decided to have a date with rising sun on Matanga hill. Started climbing the steps to top at about 5 A.M. It was quite dark. Though steps are there but not well laid down. Diversions too are there in between hence it is advisable to be accompanied by some local person while venturing on hills in dark. If possible take a torch with you. We had our auto wallah with us. The climb is not too high. We reached the top in about twenty five to thirty minutes time. Four persons — two girls and a young couple were already there with their cameras all set and ready to capture the majestic entrance of sun. We too settled down on the side facing valley and hills beyond.

I feel we can never appreciate the charisma of sunrise to it’s full extent if we have not waited for it in the darkness. The tranquility all around, the soft silky wisps of air, the mystique translucency of darkness and that expectant gaze fixed on horizon for the glimpse of the first hint of emergence of sun….every thing for the time being as if stood still. Slowly the sky behind the hills started changing colours. Just a hint, little bit of diffused light. Chains of hills, the boulders in the valley stirred slowly into existence.  The illuminated clouds were suffused with ethereal glow.Hearts set on prayer tune with batted breath we waited and then we felt it…. the red orb behind the clouds. Slowly the curtain parted and there was the smiling , big red sun on grayish blue sky. To hold an eye to eye communication with the celestial being was a divine experience. Slowly I let go my breath. The realization dawned upon me then only that I was holding it . With this descended a feeling of being burden free, a quiet strength to face to face what lies ahead.

 

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I stood up to look around. Down there in the valley the entire  Achyut Rai temple complex lay spread. We have been to this temple day before but this aerial view presented entirely different perspective. The gopuram stood high. The temple enclosures spread wide but the entire complex mingled homogeneously with the surrounding rocky terrain. Not only this temple complex, ribbon like serpentine Tungbhadra, the roads meandering through the green trees, big rocks jutting out into the valley,each and every boulder scattered all around, the big tall trees, the tiny blades of grass… all looked like an essential part of a bigger scheme of thing. The scene before eyes filled the heart with all embracing emotions. The elevated perspectives do widen and deepen our thoughts.

 

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View of Achyutrai temple from Matanga hill …. If one wants one can come down from hill and directly go to visit this temple.

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Every boulder there has a story etched in it’s heart.

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The Tungabhadra….

By this time the silky golden sun rays had descended on the earth. The delicate tufts of slender grass blades on hill top glistened with fresh beauty. Gentle morning zypher tickled the grass blades and they danced with mirth. I turned around and for the first time noticed a modest white colored top of temple on the rock.

 

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Veerbhadra temple

This is Veerbhadra temple. In fact while coming up we passed through the courtyard of this temple and then ascended steps to reach the hill top. But due to darkness we couldn’t notice the arch of entrance, the courtyard .Most of the part of the temple is in ruined condition yet a long covered varandah with view to valley was kept clean by the Sadhu, who frequents this temple. In the niche of the verandah in a dark corner we found two idols too . The main shrine is of Veerbhadra. It is a cult of Shiva followers and it appears that during it’s prime time significant number of Humpi population followed this cult. Veerbhadra is one of the raudra form Shiva.

 

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Gopuram of Veerbhadra temple.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

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A view from covered verandah of Veerbhadra temple. Many such mandpam are found on hills ,on way to temple.

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veerbhadra Swami…. The main deity of temple.

The sadhu in the temple informed us that still an annual fair takes place there and many pilgrims belonging to a particular community and cult gather here in large number.

 

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The Sadhu we met in the temple. He was making these trinkets with thread tatting and displayed them for sale.

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view of Virupaksha temple from Matanga Hills.

Mythological references

As per our mythological stories Matanga Rishi is one of the very first crusader against untouchability. By birth he belonged to  lower caste. Caste system at that time used to be very rigid. Once unknowingly he crossed the path of princess of the kingdom and was beaten for this so called offense. He protested against this injustice outside king’s palace and  later on attained a place and respect of a Rishi by his severe penance, knowledge and divine powers.

We find another reference of Matanga Rishi  in Aranyakand of Ramayana. Near Hampi on another side of Tungabhadra it’s Kishkindha Kshetra. The kingdom of strong,powerful monkey king Bali. The story goes like this.

Once a mighty bull named DunDubhi arrived at Bali’s kingdom and challenged him to fight. Bali could never ignore a challenge hence he fought with him. After a long and ferocious fight Bali killed Dundubhi. He caught the corpse of mighty bull with two horns, raised it high in air and threw it far. The corpse landed on Yagnavedi of Matanga Rishi at Rishyamuk parvat. Matanga Rishi cursed that who so ever has polluted his Yagna would be blown into pieces if he ever stepped on this hill. Indra informed Bali about this curse in presence of Sugreev and Hanuman and this curse of Matanga Rishi proved to be a boon to Sugreev.  When due to certain misunderstanding Bali was after Sugreev’s life, Sugreev along with Hanuman ran to this hill only as Bali could not dare to step on this due to Matanga Rishi’s curse.

I feel most of us know about Shabri. The lady who tasted every Jujuberry fruit in her basket before offering it to Rama, when during his fourteen year exile period he once happened to meet her. Shabri was disciple of Matanga Rishi.

And that was glorious start of the day for us…..divine sunrise, enriching emotions, panoramic nature specters, people we met, faith and belief. Matnga hills. I wrote this morning with sunrise colours, dipped in early morning scent and kept it deep in my heart.

 

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“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer

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