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.

When we reached Chew Jetty , it was the time to wait for sunset. Infact it was the perfect time to be there. We were a bit tired from our day long excursion and sitting there on wood planks platform quietly seemed to be the best way to sum up the day. Water extended to the limit of my vision. Ships were anchored far away. Boats from shore were making rounds to and from like bridges on move, from shore to waters. Other tourists were there. some resting with their legs hanging from the plank seats, others lying down on their backs with eyes on the sky above. Of course few were busy clicking selfies while others focused their  cameras to capture the landscape around. Yes, activities were there yet it was not getting on the nerves and it was calming, that kind of special moment when you feel assured with the presence of the fellow beings around you, yet you let yourself loose to wander beyond, beyond those waters, beyond the sky, somewhere in distant horizon where waters and sky appeared to embrace each other.

Jetties in Penang are small wooden villages built on stilt by pioneer Chinese immigrants. These are known as clan jetties, each jetty representing a particular clan. we came to know that there were about seven jetties initially, however we visited only two of these. Tan jetty and Chew Jetty. These water villages were set up almost a century ago by the chinese immigrants , who were compelled to leave their motherland for various reasons like famine, poverty and other politically unsettling events. Now with the passage of time they are well settled  over here. They work as ferry operators transporting people and goods from shore to ships anchored in waters. Some of them have even joined in the main stream jobs on land while others have started their own small businesses.

Tan jetty had a kind of abandoned look on the time we visited. the houses were only on one side of the wooden way and doors were closed. We could not find any one outside. But at the end of this some what curved path was one colourful hut where some youngsters were having fun and view from that point was awesome.

Path of Tan Jetty that leads to that colourful hut at the end.

 

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And the hut itself.

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On the other hand Chew jetty was bustling with inhabitants, tourists and activities. It bore an alive, festive look. At the very entrance of Chew jetty is this bright colourful temple.

 

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I don’t know whether this one is a permanent feature or not but when we visited Chew jetty this colourful stage was set up in front of the temple. May be some show was about to begin.

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Almost every house in chew jetty has opened up it’s own business. There are small food stalls , shops selling souvenirs, books, even beauty products.

 

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This colourful boat kept in open space on jetty added brightness to surrounding. The inhabitants of jetty have done their bit to make jetty more attractive to tourists and then preserving cultural symbols always give feeling of remaining attached to roots.

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colours add power to soul, the belief that rainbow blossoms when both rain and sun meet.

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This one is a house on another jetty, clicked from Chew jetty. Man not only survives in all kind of circumstances, he is capable of creating his own little heavenly spaces.

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And the great mesmerizing expanse. How so ever high and mighty steps might man take, he still is a pygmy when faced with The Master himself.

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This was the moment I talked about in the beginning of the post………….the horizons slowly spreading within…..

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By the time we walked back through the wooden pathway, the temples lights were lit. The noises of bustling day activities were slowly drowning. Heart was full of gratitude and calmness slowly settled down.

 

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These flags fluttered slowly under the evening sky. I don’t know what exactly the significance of these flags is but to me at that moment these felt like the verses sung in praise of the one and  the only …………… sky showered it’s grace.

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The ethnic migrant communities of Penang add to it’s charm, be it Indians at Mariamman temples or the Chinese at the jetties. Displacement is an integral part of human history but then they can grow their roots wherever they find suitable climate and embracing earth. Ultimately we all belong to only one clan—– the human.

All pics by Sunder Iyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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The waterfall danced like a dream….

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

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

All the pictures@Sunder Iyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Our plan to catch hold of rising sun at Michigan lake was finalised during preceding evening. we four got up, freshened up and drove towards lake well before the announced time of sunrise on the day. I have always felt that the magic of watching a rising sun has it’s full impact if you start waiting for it in the darkness. The gaze fixed at east, slow descent of dawn, gradual spreading of light, changing of colours and the anticipation, all these combine together to make the experience sublime and uplifting.

Drive to North Avenue beach was pleasant. It was still dark . The road slipped smoothly under the wheels and the slight nip in the early morning air pepped up our eagerness to witness the majestic show  of sun stepping into the scene.

When we reached the beach, it was still translucent dark and the beach was almost deserted. one or two photographers carrying their kit, tripod walked on that concrete platform on which stood a small light house. This concrete strip runs midst waters. As there was hardly any human presence on the beach, ducks and other birds walked freely on the sand. It appeared they had been fun frolicking there for quite some time as the sand bed was full of their paw marks making it look like a painted carpet.

 

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The out lines of sky scrapers on city side gradually started emerging .  lights twinkled like gems while  the perfect moon with all it’s calm dignity as if stopped there behind the building to say it’s goodbye for the day.

on the other side we were waiting for the magical splendor of nature to unfold.

 

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The stage was getting ready for the  majestic appearance.Small blue waves lapped rhythmically.  It was mesmerizing to watch an unseen brush gradually paint the horizon  with soft silky hues– such lovely shades of pink, blue and yellow. While the light eased its way with gradual progression some feathery blue clouds floated as if in a blissful state. There were number of people on the beach but each one was wrapped in one’s own quietude. Watching the sky , I felt tranquil and serene within.  This always happens while waiting and watching the sun gracing the east sky.  Calm descends  slowly percolating down to the very core of soul.

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And then sun rose it’s head above the waters. It’s arrival coloured the sky pink and orange. The blues and yellows receded back. even the waves started blushing pink. as if all the elements around joined hands to be one with one another. How pacifying the thought was! we could see that lone, tiny boat on the other end of waters slowly inching towards the rising sun. None of us talked about it but all of us waited with batted breath to touch the boat the sun point before the sun rose high above the water rim. We all silently prayed to the boatman to be successful in his attempt. no prayers were not said loudly but the positive vibration of pious thoughts could be smelled in the air.

In the mean time a young couple had arrived and sat on the platform facing east, girl’s head softly anchored on boys shoulder while her traces flew slowly in the morning breeze. What a lovely picture they presented…. secure in each others company waiting for light to illuminate the world. I silently prayed for all their dreams to come true.

 

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And then came a group of youngsters riding on their bicycles. They parked their bicycles on the cemented strip and suddenly the air was filled with their lively chatters  and laughter. Sun too leapt to revel in their enthusiasm. Or was it blessing them to reach higher.

 

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as the cool sky of early morning was flushed with the magnificent hues of orange, crimson, rose and apple, we all there perhaps lived our most enchanting moments of the day  and got ready to walk in the agenda of the day with more calm and confidence.

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Landoll’s Mohican castle in Loudonville, Ohio, at first glance looks like a picture out of fairy tales book. Standing in deep salubrious woods the wooden castle with it’s many spires, balconies and stairs is enchanting.

 

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starry pinks and purples gives welcome smiles when heights entice with arms outstretched

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and far off horizons descend in my eyes

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As I climbed the winding stairs which were getting narrowed with rise of every storey my expectation of the view from the top was rising and the view, the feel, was worth every step. The tall, stately trees came closer. Leaves started whispering to share the secrets. The stillness of the moment percolated deep down in heart.

 

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While climbing the stairs never look back. The vision has to be followed by venture.

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And then the vision turns into reality. on the topmost balcony……

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Another view from the top…

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Artistically laid down path around the castle…..

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Besides suits in castle there are separate cottages too. Set in green spread surrounded by trees and adorned with baskets of colourful flowers the entire area is a beautiful place to unwind and relax.

 

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The Copper Mug Bar and Grille in the vicinity of castle provides awesome dining facility. Both indoor and outdoor facility is available.

 

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outside dining space of restraunt

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every flower is a miracle and watching that miracle unfolding make you bloom inside.

All the pics@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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Stepwells in India came into existence long long back. They were born out of necessity, simple water reservoir kind of structure. They were dug deep into earth and steps were created so that villagers could reach the lowest level during dry hot months when water level recedes considerably…
during monsoon torrential rains filled these wells and that guaranteed the year long uninterrupted supply of water.
These stone cistern looking down deep into heart of earth were marvels of architecture even in their most simplest forms and some of those which evolved in their structures are astounding to look at.
One such step well is Chand Baoli in Abhaneri in Rajasthan.
We started from jaipur very early in the morning and after spending few hours at Bhangarh we covered Abhaneri too the same day. Though before visiting Chand baori I had read about it and seen pictures too but nothing prepared me for the astounding magnificence of the structure. Symmetrical steps running down in an identical pattern on the three side walls of massive reservoir created an impact of rhythmical, harmonious ode… an ode it is..ode to the skill, craftsmanship and imagination of those artist/ sculptors of bygone era.
The terraced steps walk down to almost thirteen levels and each level is said to be of about five feet. The number of steps carved is said to be approximately 3500. At the end water lay studded like a precious stone in the frame of the ring. On the fourth side are built three pillared enclosures, on the pillars facing water are sacred images of Goddess Durga and Lord Ganesha.

It is said that the place was earlier known as Abhanagari which later on was distorted into Abhaneri. Chand Bawari was built in 8th to 9th century by Chand Raja, the then ruler of the area. The Bawari is named after him only. It is said that long back there were two rivers in the area Bana river and Sang river. This bawari was built between these two rivers in such a way that during rainy season when the level of water in the rivers used to rise, the water flowed into the Bawari. I think that served two purposes … if at all the torrential rains threatened to submerge the area in floods, that danger was completely obliterated and second one of course the obvious one, the water was stored in the well to be used during summers when there was scarcity of water. Today also it is said that level of water during monsoon rises about three levels from below.
We were also told that originally on the fourth side was a ramp going down. This was built for taking down the animals to drink water. Later on that small summer palace was built by Raja Man Singh first. There are rooms in which royal family used to rest seeking refuge from the scorching heat of summers. Not only for royal family the steps of the well also served as sanctuary for travellers and common public providing them cool respite from hot sun above. This place also served as an arena for public meetings conducted by royal family. villagers used to sit on the steps on three sides while king, queen and other dignitaries of importance sat on the chhataris built on fourth side. What a multi utilitarian structure ! and to this day the astounding master piece stand there quenching our thirst for aesthetic and beauty.
Chand Baori, it’s premises, the lawns surrounding it – all are very well maintained, neat, clean, sparkling.
In the premises around the bawari runs covered verandahs on three sides. These verandahs serve as a kind of open museum of a number of finest sculpted, carved idols. It is said that these sculptures were part of the adjacent Harshat mata temple. The temple was plundered and destroyed/damaged by Mahmud Gazhani . Later on these sculptures scattered all over the area were collected and kept here. The temple still is there. But I shall talk about the temple and beautiful sculptures in my another post.
outside Chand bowri there is a small market where besides few eateries one can also find few shops of local handicrafts.

 

Locals there told us that on way back to Jaipur from Abhaneri if we have time we can also visit Bhandarej ki Bawari. From Dausa this bawari is about three km. away. We didn’t go there due to paucity of time in hand but thought of mentioning it, if some other enthusiast is interested in exploring.bundi_23nw

closer to the heart of earth runs the nectar of life

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Asymmetry might be compelling but then symmetry is so comforting.

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All Pictures by Sunder Iyer

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

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

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

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

Folklores related to Bhangarh —

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Temples in the premises.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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the ornate ceiling of Gopinath temple

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 Somesvara temple.

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

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

 

All pictures by Sunder Iyer,