These temples tucked in small villages of South India never cease to amaze me. We are blessed with such heritage, be it architecture, art forms, mythology or scriptures. Veernarayana temple at Belavadi village in Chikmagaluru distt, is one such shining jewel. Belavadi is approximately 15 km from Halebidu. We covered the famous Hoyalashwera temple at Halebidu, kedareshwara temple, Jain Basadis and Veeranarayana temple at Belavadi in one day. To be very frank one can easily spend an entire day in any one of these places, such is the peace permeating aura of these temples. Besides that architecturally too each of these temple has a lot to offer to a keen heart and eye.

Front view of Veeranarayana temple.

As you enter through the small gate the tall dhwajastambha under the open sky makes you stop. As I tried to fix my gaze to the top of the pillar, the overhead sky smiled benevolently as if embracing me. Glancing at the magnificent temple before me I thanked our ancestors over there somewhere in the open space. I hope they heard me, all of them, the patrons and the artists.

The two elephants on either side of the gate are elegant pieces of art with intricate carving. Look at the picture below, a close up of one of the elephant.

In Hinduism elephant symbolises physical and mental strength, majesty, fertility, intelligence and wisdom. Elephants hold a prominent place in our culture from times immemorial.

Entering the door flanked by the elephants you enter a small enclosure with a restful aura, cool and peaceful. At the end of this area is a door that leads to Mandapam. The temple complex including the mandapam and bay areas are said to have 108 lathe pillars, a specialty of Hoyasala temples. crossing the first mandapam you reach the area which houses two lateral shrines of Venugopala and Yoganarsimha. The venugopala idol at Belavadi is said to be officially certified by ASI as being the most beautiful idol of lord Krishna in India. Here Krishna stands in tribhanga mudra under the kalpavriksha and is playing flute in extreme bliss.

Main deity of temple is Veernarayana, whose shrine is at the extreme end of temple complex. Such is the construction that sitting at the gate of garbhgriha one can lose oneself in the expanse of sky outside. the specialty of the this area is that on 23rd march that is on the day of summer solstice, crossing the seven doors starting from temple entrance the sunrays touch feet of the lord. Isn’t that amazing. The temple complex comprises of so many doors, mandapams, corridors, yet how they have measured the height, the direction that on that particular day sunrays reach the interior most part of the temple. How deep and extensive was the knowledge and study of our ancestors be it architecture or nature. Awe inspiring is this.

A Side view of the temple.
Another side view of temple showing the part where exterior walls are not that ornate. but i love this shot because of that far of blue patch with green of tree leaves. To me it feels like that blue light deep inside our soul.
each and every carved image sings eloquently of the craftsmanship of those unknown artists.

Silence reigns within in the company of these images from centuries ago. Somehow looking at them I always tend to think about the hands and hearts that gave shape to these. Did they imagine that years after so many of us would be looking at their creation filled with immense appreciation and wonder for their art. Ney, they would have neither thought nor cared about it. They simply drowned themselves in their passion, they did with all their heart what they enjoyed, what they did. That’s the reason their art pieces stand before eons after echoing their sentiments.
‘Am I the traveller? Ney, the time is, and we scatter as miniscule dust particles while it goes on running with hurricane speed.’

Roaming around these ancient temples in small, quaint villages a peace always dawns upon one’s being. A kind of feeling of oneness with universe and the great spirit pervading it slowly spread within. These are the places where we lose ourselves to find ourselves. And this kind of spirituality is the true essence of culture. A culture that has withstood the test of time. I will sum up my posts with the following words of Dr. Radhakrishnan It is the intense spirituality of India, and not any great political structure or social organisation that it has developed, that has enabled it to resist the ravages of time and the accidents of history.

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer

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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

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

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.

Vittala temple at Hampi is another magnificent imprint of the extraordinary craftsmanship of the sculptors of the Vijayanagara Empire. The temple is said to be built in 15th century during the period of Devraya 2nd, one of the ruler of the Vijayanagar empire . Many extensions were done and new structures added to it by Krishnadev Raya, the most famous ruler of Vijaynagar empire. The sprawling campus of Vittala temple consists of many halls, mandapams, gopurams etc but the stone chariot and the hall with musical pillars are two of it’s crown jewels.

 

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The main entrance of Vittala temple on the east side. It appears that the primary building material of this gopura was red brick. It is very likely that the same was partially destroyed after the fall of Vijayanagara empire in the battle of Talikota.

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Images carved on the floor of the gate of the temple…devotees.

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An overview of Vittala temple complex, just after entering through the east gate.

The iconic stone chariot of Vittala temple now finds it’s place in recently printed fifty Rs. currency notes. It is said that initially this stone chariot was the shrine dedicated to Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu, the Vittala. It appears that this chariot is a monolithic structure but it is not . This was built by many giant granite rocks and the joints are hidden under the carvings and other decorative patters. Such amazing was the skill of the craftsmen that even stones as if turned into silk when in their hands. The chariot does not rest on wheels. As a shrine it was built on a high rectangular platform but the wheels on the sides are set in the manner as if they carry the chariot. The wheels are complete with axis, shafts and brakes etc.

 

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The iconic Chariot at Vittala temple, Hampi. The clouds above and behind it painting the perfect background for Garuna’s shrine …imagine Garuna floating through azure expanse, wings wide spread with spirit so determined.

 

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Another angle of Garuna’s shrine – the Hampi chariot.

Behind the stone chariot is Maha Mandapa. This consists of four halls but the unique feature of Maha Mandapa  is it’s exquisitely carved and sculpted musical pillars. There are fifty six such pillars. Every main pillar has seven small pillars around it. It is said that these minor pillars emit the sound of different musical instruments. I have not experienced it as some repairing work was going on inside.

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The Mahamandapa with musical pillars.

Even if we leave apart the unique music emitting quality of pillars the entire Mandap is  very graceful and magnificent. The exquisite carvings impart it a kind of delicacy. This Mandapa stands on very ornate platform which has bas reliefs of horses. Entire Mandapa is divided into four halls, each facing different directions. Each hall has it’s own steps and entrance. The front, that is east facing is the one with musical pillars.

 

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A closer look of East facing hall of Mahamandapa. The horses on the base and carvings can be seen. Repairing work was going on in this hall when we visited.

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The guide at the temple.

 

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This Mandapa is highly ornate . Pillars with mythical Yali are its special feature. In the picture with me are the guide and guard, Prashant. We had hearty chat about life at Hampi, the cultural heritage, art and creativity. Prashant is very passionate about photography. He showed me his photo gallery and he had many wonderful shots . It was really enlightening to talk to these two young men.

 

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I love those white clouds, sailing through the blue sky, inviting me to limitless journey to yonder lands where everything assimilates into ultimate.

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We met him in one of the Mandapam. His mother was  sweeping the mandapam. The little bundle of energy became so fascinated by Sunder’s camera that he wanted to peep inside the lens from the front instead of posing for a click.

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And the sun showered it’s blessings….

  1. All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.