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

front view of temple

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

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

one of the entry door

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

interior hall of the temple

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

Shrine in the temple

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

The ceiling of the hall too has richly carved designs.

carving on ceiling

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

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

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

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

rows at the base.

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

Brahma on his vahana

Shiva and Parvati on Nandi.

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

krishna holding Govardhana

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

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

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

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

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

The splendid view of water body.

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

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

Al the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Bhairava

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahishasur Mardini

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

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

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

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

Picture@Sunder Iyer

Main shrine in chennakeshava complex at Belur

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

The entrance to Garbhgrah and a view of smaller temple outside

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

That source of light, the supreme being

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

Have divine Darshanam and then enjoy every intricate detail

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

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

Navaranga and one of the vestibule

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

Mohini pillar

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the pictures @Sunder Iyer

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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