From the moment I heard about this temple I was very eager to go there but then we often say that you can’t touch the threshold of a temple till the deity there wants you to. In this case it appeared to be true. The temple is just at a distance of two hours drive from our home yet for years we could not go there. I can’t attribute any particular reason to this delay but it just didn’t happen. During that period we travelled to many places in and outside country but somehow a visit to this place couldn’t happen. And then last week the outing materialised. Though a day in the June month of scorching heat was not an ideal one for a day time trip but then whatever God plans always turns out to be the best for every one. For us too despite the initial hiccups like not turning in of the cab we booked, our day was just perfect and the temple was definitely more of a marvel than I thought of.

The temple is located in Oel village, about say 12 to 15 Km before Lakhimpur Khiri on Sitapur – Lakhimpur highway, near about 104 Km from Lucknow. The temple is unique in it’s architecture, structure. It is said that the temple was built under the guidance of a Kapalik Tantrik and is based on some yantra described in Tantra Vidya. I am not sure about the authenticity of this fact but the structure and the carvings, images on the walls of temple and other structure in the premises definitely suggest that this belief hold some truth.

The entire temple structure is erected on the back of a big frog. That is why the temple is popularly known as Medhak Mandir and Manduk Mandir. Big open mouth of the frog faces the main gate of the  premises with it’s back portion and all the four legs clearly visible in respective directions.

Near each of the limb of the frog is one double storyed tower with carving of Gods, Goddesses and other images on the outer walls. The doors leading inside the towers were locked though we could have a glimpse of some coloured murals on the walls of second storey from out side. These towers are on the ground level

In the center is main temple at the height of about 100 ft from the ground level. The steps leading to the temple from the base are in three tiers and are in the shape of Havan Kund or Yagna Vedi. The three tiers are said to represent the three Suksham Elements – Satva, Tam and Raj, Above these yagna kund like steps there are structure of lotus with eight and sixteen petals respectively and in the middle of it stands the main temple housing the main deity– Narmadeshwar Mahadeva.

The dome of the temple too is very unique. entire dome is filled with petal shaped carvings and in every petal is an inverted triangle with a dot inside it. Spiral of dome consists of metal kalash , from the side of which faces of cows with horns are clearly visible. On the top of Kalashes is a small metal flag and a half OM structure. It is said that originally it was a complete Om but vagaries of nature with passing of time damaged it.

It’s not only this Om but many images, carvings and other parts too are damaged and destroyed though restoration work too has been done and the premises is neat , lawns, plants well maintained. Considering that the temple is personal property of the royal family of Oel, the maintenance is definitely praise worthy.

Outer walls of temple and the four towers are engraved with many images. Some of these images are very intriguing. Some of the images are that of Goddess Durga, Lord Ganesha, Hanumana , Kartikeya, brahma but many images are of Yoginis, Bhairavis, Bhairav, Batuk Bhairav, some engrossed in sadhna sitting on shavas while others appear to tell some story. The animal forms in images too are strange. There are dogs on the steps as if guarding the premises. some look like jackals while others are snakes.

In the sanctum sanctoram at the center stands a vedi of about three ft. in height. It is made of what marble and in the center of  vedi is placed black coloured Shivlinga. Not in front of Shivalinga but slightly at a diagonal position stands, yes stands Nandi made of white marble. No where else have I seen a standing Nandi prior to this. Normally in almost every Shiva temple I have been so far, I have seen Nandi sitting  calmly, personifying patience but here Nandi in standing posture comes as a surprise. The ceiling of the sanctum displays many colourful murals.

Just outside the entrance to the sanctum there is a well. Yes, the well is on the height of 100 Ft from the ground but the water is at ground level only. The water is clearly seen and devotees take out water for washing hands and feet before entering the sanctum. It is said that since inception that is almost 250 years this well has never been dried.

In all the four directions of the temple structure there is open space having many shady trees, flowering plants, Bel Patra trees, Shami trees. There is a well and a handpump also in this area. the plants are well maintained.  In all the four directions in the middle of boundary wall there are thakurdwaras. Earlier a door from each thakudwara used to open towards temple and these were used as resting places for ascetics, saints and other pilgrims. Now except the thakudwara on the wall of front entrance all other three are in dilapidated conditions.

We heard two more unique things about the temple. It is said that the colour of Shivalinga changes with change in direction of sun, not in every short span of time but during the four Prahars of the day. We could not confirm that as we did not stay there till evening. It is also said that the  roof of the dome earlier used to appear to rotate with time but now that phenomenon occurs no more. It is said that with passing of time some damages has been done .

The temple was got erected by Rai Bakhat Singh, who was the Zamidar of the area. Rai Bakhat Singh expired in 1838. His successor Raja Aniruddh Singh was given the title of Raja by the Badshah of Awadh in 1849 and then later on British Government gave it a hereditary status. Present Raja of Oel Raja Vishnu Narain Dutt ji and his Rani Sudha Rani have their kothi in Oel and they visit there frequently.

According to popular belief Rai Bakht Singh ji got the temple made for the well being of his family and his subject. The temple was constructed under the guidance of a Kapalik Tantrik from Meghalaya. As suggested by Kapalik saint Rai Bakht Singh ji went on a pilgrimage to Narmda river and as predicted by the saint while taking a dip in holy river he found this Shivlinga. The Shivalinga was then brought here and was consecrated. That is why Lord Shiva of this temple is known by the name of Narmadeshwar Mahadeva.

The temple appears to have many unique features but no authentic explanation of so many things. There are many images which tell various stories but we can’t interpret those. May be because they are related to a particular sect and we in our society are not exposed to those stories. There are images of Gods and Goddesses, of Goddess Durga, Lord Hanumana, Ganesha, Brahma and Kartikeya and then there are images of Chausath Yoginis, Bhairavis, Batuk Bhairav, persons doing Sadhna sitting on dead bodies and various intriguing looking animals, animal- cum- humans. There are dogs, jackals , snakes etc.

The mouth of the big frog is wide open and the wholes on steps suggest that there must have been a time when the water poured on Shivalinga on the top travelled down and poured out of frogs mouth.

During Deepawali and Shivratri big fairs take place every year here.

The temple has got a vibrant aura, surrounding is calm . peaceful and it has a kind of mystique feel. So much is there to know and understand. Somehow you feel as if many stories are there to be heard, told and retold. It is a unique piece of our heritage and it needs to be preserved and protected.

 

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All pictures copyrighted by Sunder Iyer.

 

 

Kek Lok Si temple stands on a hilltop at Air Itam. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Penang or may be in Malayasia too. It is not just a temple but an entire temple complex comprising of monasteries, many gardens, prayer halls, souvenir , food and drink stalls, many idols, statues, ponds, pagoda, kings pavilions all laid beautifully at different heights and levels of hill. The construction is still going on and the construction is largely financed by the donations of the devotees and believers.

I think I will let the pictures talk more as I really find it very difficult to describe the entire magnificent lay out in words.

 

 

From afar we could see the ten thousand Buddha pagoda on the top of hill. Ofcourse we came to know that it was called so after reaching there only but the structure going high in the sky proclaimed the existence of the temple from very far and it draws one to it with an irresistible pull. After reaching the base of the hill we meandered our way through food and souvenir stalls and reached here—–

 

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This tower reminded me of the Deep Stambhs  found in Hindu temples, specially that of Maharashtra. From here one can gather a little bit idea of the magnitude of the entire temple structure.

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This hall with many Pink Buddhas on inside and  outside walls too is really very beautiful. This was my next stop . It was a peaceful experience to be in their company. Their hands posture appear to denote that in this world you receive from one hand and be ready to give out from the other. that is how the life should be. The cycle of gratitude is completed that way. Swastika on chest , at the place of heart perhaps symbolises that our thoughts, feelings should be of good for all.

“If you knew what I know about the power of giving you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.”

says Buddha.

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The fresh air, the serenity, the quietness and these disciples with Buddha on the seat. I felt like closing my eyes and sit there in august company, forgetting myself.

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” 

Says Buddha. one needs to pave one’s path in one’s own way. We have to experience before believing.

 

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“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

that’s what it conveyed to me.

 

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This idol with sixteen arms appear to be of some female deity. I don’t know about the name and other details but to me it appeared that she surrounds herself with peace from all directions. Yes, the outside world is there. We need to accept it’s existence and respond to it too as that is a part of our duty as mortal beings but then need to create our own space of peace within. I would certainly like to know more about it. She appears to hold different weapons in her hands. Is she a representation of Shakti, the destroyer of evils?

“If you are quiet enough, you will hear the flow of the universe. You will feel its rhythm. Go with this flow. Happiness lies ahead. Meditation is key.

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”Do not look for a sanctuary in anyone except your self.” Buddha

Inward , that is the direction every prayer hall with serene Buddha takes you to.

 

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Like these two there were perhaps nine images in this hall. To me it appeared that these represent different emotions, Not sure about their significance, though.

 

 

Incense sticks, lighted lamps, wishing ribbons and tiles, folded hands, closed eyes….. the bliss of surrendering, the strength of believing.

”Prayers don’t just change the things, they change us.”

 

 

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We climbed this inclined path in a lift, kind of a small funicular. It takes us to the topmost floor where 30 meter high statue of Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin is located.

 

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This pavilion of Goddess is gargantuan and shelters a very high idol of Goddess of mercy of Mahayana Bddhism. The pavilion from it’s base to tip is said to be about 83 meters high. the roof is supported by 16 pillars.

It’s not just the size of pavilion and statue but the divine grace emitted by the goddess, the fresh air, the spiritual aura that make being there an experience worth cherishing.

 

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And that is seven storey pagoda containing ten thousand images of Buddha, another landmark feature of Kek loksi temple. This pagoda ia a unique symbol of unity too as it assimilates different cultures in it’s design. The octagonal base is Chinese, the middle portion is Thai and the spiral top is Burmese. It is said that the foundation stone of this pagoda was laid down by the then  king of Siam, that is present day Thailand, King Rama VI.

While climbing those steps leading to pagoda I looked up to sky and the light filtering through fluffy white clouds showered it’s grace. I closed my eyes and mumbled a prayer….We mortal ones go on creating darkness but O! the supreme one , you go on showing us the path . Be with us.

 

All the pics by Sunder Iyer.

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Kalyan Madapam

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

 

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

 

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Another look of the Kalyan Madapam

 

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Second Courtyard

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer (more…)

.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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24.10.2017

We started our three day Hampi monuments tour from Kadalekalu Ganesha. A very apt start. After all we start every auspicious work by worshiping Ganesha first. Kadalekalu Ganesha is located on the eastern slopes of Hemakuta hills

Dated to fifteenth century Kadalekalu Ganesha is a giant statue of Ganesha carved out of a single rock. The statue is about 4.5 meters high and really magnificent. Bengal gram is called Kadalekalu in local language and the idol got it’s name due to the shape of it’s belly resembling it. His favourite modak in one hand and another in var[blessing] mudra posture Ganesha sat there peacefully in his signature style almost filling the entire sanctum.I was specially fascinated by the var mudra palm. With the lines in palm etched clearly it almost looked live .

The pillared mandpam in front of sanctum is aesthetically very beautiful. The exceptionally slender pillars with carving of mythical figures provide a kind of delicacy to this stone structure. Standing on a raised platform this  mandpam is an ideal place to enjoy a distant view of Hampi Bazar, Matanga hills and other monuments dotting the nearby area.

Behind Kadalekalu Ganesha on a slightly higher rock stands a Shiva temple. May be at certain period the temple was  surrounded by boundary wall but now only a gate stands there. The gate leads to a simple verandah in which a small Nandi sits facing Shivlinga. Shivlinga is there but no pooja Archna is being conducted in the temple. The feature which make this otherwise simple temple unique are two big rectangular inscribed slabs on the side walls of the verandah. If interpreted these inscriptions might tell us some historical facts. May be something about this temple. One of the slab is clearly in Devnagri lipi. The language might be Sanskrit perhaps.

Outside the sun was bright and hot but the quiet verandah of the temple was cool. The silk like tender green, white blades of grass standing on the broken top of the gate simmered and vibrated in the golden day light…perhaps the only form of life which never abandoned the glorious stones of Vijayanagar empire, however dark the times would have been.

 

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All pics by Sunder Iyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were  nearing Abhaneri to visit the famous step well Chand Bowari, when midst wide spread green fields this brownish ancient structure looking striking against the sparkling blue sky caught our attention. In fact before stepping in to the premises we were totally unaware of the existence of Harshat Mata temple. Yes, very poor research work before setting off for an excursion but this lack on our part increased our joy of encounter with this temple manifold. It was like stumbling upon a treasure trove and a treasure trove of the finest quality of sculpture and carving it is.
If we take into account the broken panels kept in the temple premises, the idols kept in the verandah encircling Chand Bowri and innumerable sculptures from this temple donated to various museums in our country, we could imagine what a grand, magnificent and huge temple complex it would have been in it’s days of glory.
Harshat Mata temple has faced massive destructive and damaging attacks yet faith survived. The sanctum is there, deity is there. Pooja archna is done on daily basis what suffered is  a jewel of architecture marvel par excellence.Still on pillars, the panels, the ceiling of domes can one find many mythological themes, Gods, Goddesses and scenes from royal life carved intricately. Each image, each panel deserves a detailed description. One needs time to appreciate each piece.
There is Shiva in His various forms– Ardhnarishwara, Natraja or dancing Shiva etc. Goddess, Shakti in the forms of  Mahishasurmardini, Gajalaxmi, Parvati, chamundi, Saptmatrika etc, Laxminarayana, Vishnu. Ganapati. Kartikeya, Sun God and many other deities with mixed features of different Gods and then are dancers, ballerinas, garden scenes, court scenes. various kinds of ornaments with minute details in vogue that period, dresses. weapons…myriad glimpses of social fabric. Harshat mata temple literally is a kind of  an open mythological and cultural encyclopedia in stone, if you know how to fathom the depths.

 

 

 

 

 

All Pics 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

 

World of Hindu mythological tales and folklore is very interesting, charming and varied. It is believed that about thirty three crore Gods and Goddesses occupy Hindu pantheon. Quite possible…in a culture where many plants, animals and almost all the elements of nature are worshiped, where every small village, hamlet has it’s very own guardian angle, reaching even that staggeringly high  number is not out of bounds. With every revered place and deity are associated certain folklore and tales.The authenticity is neither questioned nor argued. It is simply accepted.

One of these is Latu devta of Wan. The folklore related to Latu Devta is very interesting and one of it’s own kind. Nanda devi is  one of the most revered deity of Uttaranchal. She is considered to be Avatara of Goddess Parvati and Latu Devta is her adopted brother. Goddess Parvati nee Nanda Devi did not have any brothers. On one occasion she felt very sad about this and wanted someone to be with her at Kailash Parvat as her brother. She went to Royal family of Kannauj and requested the queen to send one of her two sons with her to Kailash. On the way to Kailash they reached Wan and here Goddess decided to take bath in the river Kali Ganga. While waiting for Her on nearby hillock Latu felt very thirsty. He went to nearby hamlet and asked women to give him water. Women folk were in a jovial mood and instead of water handed over the pitcher containing local drink to Latu. Unaware of their prank Latu drank the whole content of pitcher and became unconscious. On her return from river, Goddess became very angry with the women and conferred a boon on Latu that he will be worshiped by the inhabitants of the area but no one will be allowed either to enter the sanctum of his temple or see him.Till date the doors of the temple are opened only for one day in a year and then too neither devotees nor even Pujari is allowed to have a glimpse of Devta. The Pujari enters the sanctum blind folded and lights the lamp. Doors of the temple is closed by evening.

This temple is very different from any other temple. There is this massive Devdar tree at the place. It is the only Devdar found in entire region. Rest are centuries old Surai trees.There is another anecdote regarding presence of that single Devdar tree in the area. However I am not talking about that here as I am not able to recollect all the details narrated by the old gentleman, a retired porter, we met at Wan. So, the abode of Latu Devta is said to be inside the a chamber in the trunk of this Devdar tree.People of the area have great faith on Latu Devta. They visit the premises with their troubles and unburden their heart at His threshold and when the wish is fulfilled, the task done, they return to present a bell. Hundreds of bells hanging from poles are the testimony of people’s undying faith on the deity.The place becomes alive with massive crowd of devotees on the days of fair being organized there. People from far off villages come and stay in tents etc. Bhajans, Kirtans are sung in praise of Lord.

We first heard of Latu devta at Gwaldam.One local gentleman advised us that if we intend to go to Wan, we must go to Latu devta temple.During the day we spent at Wan village we heard His name many times from villagers and children.

While we were returning from Bedini, yashwant and Pushkar trekked upto Ran ka Dhar to meet us.In fact they knew we had to leave by evening and they wanted to spend as much time as possible with us.We too were delighted to have more of their company. With these two kids we went to Devta’s temple.Their enthusiastic company suffused enough strength into our tired limbs to trek upto the temple.

As we climbed towards temple we wished we had more time in hands.The Surai trees dotting the hill along the circuitous path leading to temple left us spellbound. Each one had it’s own tale to recount.They appeared so ancient as if they had witnessed all those mythological events unfolding. It is said that these trees have very long life. Don’t know much about their botanical characteristics but can definitely vouch for the enigmatic impact they imprint on your being. They look like wizened saint, lost in deep meditation.Their towering presence make you feel that they are the dwelling places of divine spirits. The secrets, the teachings, the lessons they have in their heart, one need to tune up to understand. Trees to me are one of the most sacred images of God.

 

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Sonorous sounds of faith and devotion.

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Behind us, under the tree is shrine of Latu Devta and these are the kids who brought us to temple. In fact before going to meet us at Ran ka Dhar they came here and kept incense sticks and match box…all set and ready …to be lighted by us when they brought us here. The little one Pushkar insisted that we should pray to Latu Devta for appeasement of our any wish. He had full faith that our wish will be fulfilled and then we would return to offer the bell. The faith, love and affection of kids filled my heart with sublime emotion. Kiddos, you are the harbingers of our hope and faith in all that is pure, innocent and selfless. We shall definitely love to return at least once.

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This one was clicked by Yashwant, the elder kid, on their insistence ofcourse. That triangle like structure is where incense sticks are lighted by devotees.The outstretched arms of Devdar trees….bless us Lord.

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There is a guest house of Garhwal mandal vikas nigam (tourism department) and another of forest department near the temple, on the hill. During Nanda Devi Jat Yatra, this is an important station for devotees.The time we were there the entire premises was very quiet, peaceful….kind of aura when you can feel nearer to God, more intimate to your best self.

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View of Wan village and valley from temple.

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Boys waiting for us to climb down from temple. They rush down speedily, said that going slow tire them.

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‘A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.’ Hermann Hesse

Pictures by Sunder Iyer