It was a cool January morning when we started from Jaipur to Bhangarh. The ride of about 52 Km. was full of beautiful pastoral scenes – small villages, green fields. Just before entering the limits of Bhangarh we passed through this village of idol, statues makers. the narrow muddy lane was lined by scores of statues of all sizes. Some were almost ready and stood tall in full glory while others lay scattered in semi finished states waiting for their turn to get shaped. There were Gods, Goddesses. dancers, angels, animals, flowers all carved out of white marble. outside every house of the village we could see these images.
On the way we stopped at two places to confirm the direction of Bhangarh. In front of a humble small house a middle aged man was working, we stopped the vehicle and enquired about the distance and direction. After guiding us suitably spontaneously he invited us to have some water, a gesture to welcome the guests. It really felt very good. The warm hearted traditions of our culture are still being followed/ preserved at least in some corners of our country. We had the same experience at other place too. Soul of soil still breaths.

Ruins of Bhangarh are known as the most haunted place of India or perhaps Asia too. Nobody is allowed to stay there after sunset. Prohibitory orders by archeological department to this effect are displayed on a board at the site. There are many versions of the story about Bhangarh ruins, the fate of the place. But today here I am not going to talk about the haunting quotient of the place as we didn’t go there to explore that. We visited Bhangarh as a tourist place and the ruins communicated with me in a very different language.

After entering the first gate we walked on a neat, smooth cobbled path lined from both the sides by rows of roofless one rooms structures.It clearly gave an impression of being a market place.The walls were of boulders and in certain structures few stairs were seen, may be once they led to roof top or there was a first floor. Behind the rows of shops [ i will call them shops only] on one side at a distance spire of a temple could be seen amidst swaying green tops of trees. The area in between was strewn with piles of rocks, boulders while green stamped it’s presence emphatically in all kinds of forms, from tiny grass blades to shady, thick canopy of huge trees. On other side behind the rows of shops various structures of ruins stood every where and behind these overlooking the entire scene was a continuous chain of hills, laden with greenery.
There were other groups of tourists too in the premises . Murmurs of voices could be heard in distance but overall, the serenity and quiet reigned.
At the end of the market there is another high , imposing gate. Crossing that the first structure we visited was Gopinath temple. The temple stands on a high platform. After ascending five-six steps we reached the open platform and sat there for some time imbibing the all around scenes. On one side of temple was open ground covered with green grass beyond which certain structures were visible and farther loomed the Aravali hills. Behind the temple at some distance stood the ruins of palace elegant in their deprivation closer to the heart of hills.As far as the eyes reached the roofless labyrinth of ruins as if whispered every thing on this earth comes with a definite span, everything comes to an end. But the message was conveyed in such a soothing serene way that it didn’t make me afraid rather a sense of calm acceptance pervaded the being.
In the temple is a sanctum sanctorum and in front of sanctum is a circular space with ornately carved ceiling and beautifully paneled pillars. The inverted bowl shaped canopy and pillars have intricately carved images of dancers and musicians. This kind of music enclosures in front of sanctum was perhaps quite prevalent in ancient times. I have found so in many other old temples in different parts of our country. There is one in Lepakshi at Andhra Pradesh, one such circular one I saw in a temple at Pithoragarh. I am sure there are many examples of it places like Hampi etc. Singing, dancing, chanting have always been a part of our worshiping rituals. There is no idol inside sanctum. The only functional temple in the premises is Somesvara temple, the one devoted to Lord Shiva. Besides these two there are Hanuman temple. Kesav Rai temple and Mangla Devi temple .
On the extreme right of the palace there was this broken wall. I climbed on it and sat there for quite some time. Many feet down on the other side of the wall was dense growth of Kevra plants.A thin curved ribbon like kachcha path passed near it and then lost itself in the dense darkness of the forest ahead. Sitting there I could feel the green of earth touching the blue over head at a very very far point. A curtain of mist hung there as if trying to cover the sacred, the mystique from harsh, peering doubtful souls or may be signifying that what lies beyond, the sacred, the unknown is not perceivable through eyes. That was my moment of ultimate midst the ruins of Bhangarh. I did not feel fear of unknown, paranormal. I did not experience that overt enthusiasm of exploring, trekking. Rather I lived the serenity, breathed the calm.

History of Bhangarh —
It is said that Bhangarh was established somewhere in 1573 by Bhagwant Das. Bhagwant Das got it established as the residence of his younger son Madho Singh. Madho Singh was younger brother of famous Man Singh, general of emperor Akbar. After Madho Singh his son Chhatr Singh ruled over Bhangarh but after his death in 1630, Bhangarh started declining slowly. Later on Jai Singh II took control of Bhangarh . The famine of 1783 came as a final blow to gradually diminishing population of Bhangarh. It is said since then it lay uninhabited.

Folklores related to Bhangarh —

Though historians attribute famine as reason of the abandonment and destruction of Bhangarh the folklore have their own tales to tell.

According to one legend Bhangarh perished due to curse of Guru Balunath. Guru Balunath was the person who permitted the establishment of Bhangarh at the place under one condition that shadow of the palace should never fall on his abode and the day it happened so, the town will be perished. To honour his words initially the palace of Bhangarh was erected upto three storeys.However later on when one of the rulers added a storey to the existing palace, it cast a shadow on Guru Balunath’s residence and the town came to it’s end as prophesied. It is said that Balunath lay buried in a small samadhi in Bhangarh.

There is another a more interesting legend related to Bhangarh, Ratnavati, the princess of Bhangarh was very beautiful. And there was a Tantrik named Singhia. He was master of many occult practices, He lived on a hill overlooking the palace, Once by chance he happened to have a glimpse of princess’s face and fell in love with her immediately. He knew that she can never be his so he planned to bring princess under the influence of his occult practices. He used his black magic on the oil to be used by princess. Singhia was sure once the princess used that oil she would come running to him and surrender, It is said that the princess too had some knowledge of black magic and she could decipher Singhia’s plan. She threw that oil on a big boulder which ran towards Singhia and crushed him to death but before breathing his last the Tantrik cursed that Bhangarh would perish soon. Soon after there was a war between Ajabgarh and Bhangarh in which the royal family, army and most of the population of Bhangarh was wiped off.

How to reach Bhangarh —
Bhangarh lies in Alwar district. nearest airport is of Jaipur and nearest railway station is Dausa. Distance of Jaipur is about 52 Km and Dausa is about 22 Km. Drive from Delhi is about of 300 Km. Route is Delhi, Gurgaon, Bhiwadi, Alwar, Thanagazhi, Ajabgarh ,Bhangarh. From Jaipur cabs can be hired . If you have only one day spare in hands then too can go to Bhangarh and even cover Abhaneri stepwell, one of the biggest and most beautiful stepwell. Sariska tiger reserve is about eighty Km from Bhangarh fort and the road is scenic and beautiful. However locals can guide you to many small yet beautiful places, temples in the vicinity.

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The way through the market. This must have been once the bustling, colourful place but then time always has it’s own story to write.

 

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Temples in the premises.

 

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Front view of the remains of palace. Graceful in it’s silence, wrapped in another time zone.

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She is Munni, I met her while we were exiting the palace. She comes there with a bucket full of drinking water for tourists. Her small source of earning.

 

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view of Gopinath temple, Surreal, misty , calm inviting one to the world beyond

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My ‘it’ moment of intimacy with Bhangarh ruins….. soul to soul communication

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the ornate ceiling of Gopinath temple

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 Somesvara temple.

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Met him in the verandha of ruined palace. From that height today’s world looked far away. He has many a tales of beliefs from his childhood to this age. ….kind of suspended moment.

Fixing my gaze on scattered ruins, the high arc of the gate, the temple, the palace , the crumbling fortification I was transported into the stage of deep meditation. Silence and solitude penetrated and spread within. Something of that ancient world came fleeting and nestled inside reassuringly.

 

All pictures by Sunder Iyer,

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

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

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

 

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Way to our homestay.

 

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

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

 

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Welcoming smile of lady of the home

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Those cozy warm moments in the kitchen

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Pictures by Sunder Iyer and Shubham sunder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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Temple at Mankhim view point.

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

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Nandi and Kalash in row outside temple.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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A folk dance by seniors in the cultural fair.

 

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

 

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

 

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This Gumpa was quite close to our homestay.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

©All the pictures by— sunder iyer

 

 

poojas on ghats

 

 

These kids on Ghats of Varanasi, engrossed in offering jal [water] to Shivalinga, made me  think… what would have been their thoughts about God, worship or prayers. I felt they have imbibed it as a part of life, part of belief system from the elders in the family and the people around them. The unquestioning trust…. the purest form of devotion.

 

 

The lady here is performing ‘Tulsi Vivah’. Tulsi is the herbal medicinal plant Basil but it is considered to be a sacred plant by Hindus. The plant is worshiped like Goddess in Hindu households. Lighting a lamp near tulsi plant every evening is a ritual followed by almost every Hindu family. Tulsi Vivah celebration in the month of Kartik, specially on Ekadasi is considered to be very auspicious by Hindus all over India. On ghats of Varanasi during last five days of Kartik month this ceremony is conducted by many groups of women. There is a mythological story related to this ritual.

 

 

On several places on ghats we observed these squares made by flour. These were divided by twenty five smaller squares. These were kind of Chauk. On some places pulses, rice and other seasonal grains with colored cloth pieces were kept in each square while at other places flowers and sweets were kept. We could not ascertain the significance of this ritual but even then it filled the heart with a kind of reassurance. Unnamed, unknown it might be but faith can always be felt inside our souls.

 

 

The moments of silent communication with God — serene and peaceful. Prayers , the bridge of kinship with Lord.

 

 

From the depth of slumber,
As I ascend the spiral stairway of wakefulness,
I whisper
God, God, God!

When boisterous storms of trials shriek
And worries howl at me,
I drown their noises, loudly chanting
God, God, God!

by Paramhans Yoganand

All pics by Sunder Iyer.
Dev Deepawali …. 2016.

Rangoli, Alpana, Kolam,Muggulu, Puvidal, Mandana , Chauk….. you can call it by any name but different patterns adorned on ground on various auspicious occasions all over India speak one language and that is of celebration, welcome and devotion.

In South India drawing the geometrical patterns at the entrance and Pooja room is a daily ritual. Different states have specific design patterns for specific occasions and specific Gods too. In South India these patterns are drawn with dry powder or wet paste of rice powder while in North India it is made with dry wheat flour. With the passage of time various other mediums are also being used to draw Rangolis. Innovations and experiments with new design patterns are also seen but the spirit of these motifs still reverberate on the same tune.

The design galore on ghats of Varanasi on Dev Deepawali day was spectacular.The magnificent display of patterns, designs, colors and lights was mesmerizing.Ghats after ghats one could see old ladies to young girls busy in drawing designs, filling those with colors, decorating with diyas.  Witnessing  three generations involved enthusiastically to fill the world with beauty and sacredness gave a deep reassuring feel. Air was filled with Shlokas, Bhajans.Innumerable lighted earthen lamps in flower bowls floated slowly, rhythmically, steadily on quiet Ganges. These tiny dots of light on wide  waters of holy river bathed in inky darkness filled the heart with gratitude and peace. Big round moon in the sky smiled benevolently  as if granting boon.

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All pics 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We started from Bangalore at about 6 A.M and reached Lepakshi by 8 O’clock.Lepakshi is a small non-decrepit town in Anantpur district of Andhra Pradesh Veerbhadreshwara temple at Lepakshi  is one of the finest example of  artistry of craftsmen of that era.Grand, massive sculptures, delicate, intricate carvings on stone, ceiling adorned with murals depicting mythological tales…this temple has a lot to offer to leave us spellbound.

Standing below the high raised platform on which the huge splendid Shivlinga is carved, is a humbling experience.Three coils of Naga around Shivlinga led to its seven hooded magnificently carved head stretching over Shivalinga.Craning my neck as I tried to look at the topmost point of the entire sculpture, i had a sudden feeling as if the  canopy of those seven hoods is descending directly from the bright blue morning sky overhead. The Linga transformed into that mythical  pillar of light connecting the earth and the heaven, the  manifestation of limitless Shiva energy. Perhaps it is not just the grace, the magnificence of masterpiece carved by the great artists of yesteryear but all their commitment and devotion which to this day start resonating in our hearts once we stand there silently with our   heads bowed, imbibing the  sacred spirit.The open courtyard bathed in soft morning glow gave the entire scene a haloed touch. Shadows in the covered verandah walking along the courtyard appeared to be harboring many untold stories. Such are the moments when you feel at peace with yourself.

 

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Chiselled on the other side of the huge rock behind the Nagalinga is  Ganesha, calm, quiet and peaceful.I love Ganesha idol in this form – the big belly resting on the ground, the legs denoting the sitting posture and his small vahan mouse in front.  Various symbolical interpretations are available for His body parts and His Vahana but to me He radiates substance, faith, confidence and dignity, He always fills me with a kind of intrinsic joy, a kind of happiness you feel on being comfortable with your own being. And the tiny Vahana– more than anything else it’s our faith that make us traverse through the life.

 

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The Natya Mandapam of Veerbhadreshwara temple at Lepakshi is a sculpted ode to the artistry of carvers and chisellers of sixteenth century Southern India.Impressive sculptures of divine dancers, drummers and other musical instrument players in half-reliefs on the granite pillars are so intense and alive that you almost feel them in actions. The rhythm in shapes, palpable emotions, glorious manifestations impart the stones a dream like feel. Early morning sunlight tip toes the mandapam from one side and the shadows in the pavilion simmer, the dark corners get suffused with golden dust and the bygone era as if awakens…..

 

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This Natya Mandapam has about seventy pillars and one of these is an architecture wonder beyond comprehension.The hanging pillar– this pillar like all other pillars is attached to the ceiling but does not touch the floor below. Such heavy granite pillar…how can it hang ! Presently it stands a bit dislodged from it’s original position. It is said that during British times certain enthusiastic engineers tried to fathom the secret behind this marvel and in turn, the pillar suffered. However faith of people put it on divine pedestal. It is believed if you pass any cloth underneath it,the wish you sought will be fulfilled.

 

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer