Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Destination Saundatti

The feel of an early morning  is unbeatable. Its now a ritual to head out at dawn on a holiday and take in nature and its resident birds. Thoreau has quoted " an early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day". But like any other rat in the city race, I am blessed only on holidays and not every day.

This holiday was also blessed by Devi Yellamma or Renuka Devi. Before getting high on bliss, we had to take a short drive towards Saundatti in Belgaum district. The roads are lined with endless sunflower fields. The color of sunshine, the warmness of day, the cheerfulness of being on a holiday just made the day more enjoyable.

One of the things that I like about traveling is that I get to feel the various types of landscape. Did you know the different types are desert, plain,Taiga,Tundra,wetland, Mountain, Mountain range, cliff,coast, Littoral zone, glacier, polar regions of earth, shrub land, forest, rainforest, woodland and jungle. North Karnataka falls under Deccan Thorn Scrub forest region. Whatever be  the technical term, the green countryside is dotted with wind farms.The Saundatti wind farm is a 72 MW wind power project and will be selling 100% of its output to the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company Limited. Lucky Bangaloreans!

One of the legends constantly mentioned in my family was that of Parashurama for reasons not worth mentioning in  a travel blog. I was told Goddess Renuka Devi also called Yellamma is the mother of Parashurama. The legend of Renuka Devi and Parashurama is an interesting one. A chaste and devoted wife to Sage Jamadagni, Renuka lived a life dedicated to the Sage. A momentary distraction due to presence of  Gandharvas led to the enraged Sage commanding his five sons to kill their mother. Only one son agreed and he was Parashurama. Pleased with Parashurama's dedication,the sage granted him two boons. Prashurama used one of them to bring his mother back to life.

So here I was visiting the temple dedicated to Goddess Renuka. It is situated on top of Yellammagudda. Like with any temple towns in India, one has to pass through a line of hawkers before setting eyes on the temple.The main temple is built in the Chalukyan and Rashtrakuta Style of architecture and the Carvings indicate the Jain architecture. Multiple shrines dedicated to Lord Ganesha, Lord Mallikarjun, Parashuram, Eknath, Siddeshwar dot its premises.

The furious devotion of a devotee of Goddess is well known. Yellamma devotees are also unique considering the rituals,customs ,traditions of some and myths associated with jogatis. Devotees smeared with turmeric dancing wildly to the local drums to invoke Renuka devi's spirit in them is a common sight. Turmeric powder or Bhandara is considered Yellamma Devi's prasad signifying purity of mind and body ,is believed to cleanse the environment and body of impurity and evil. The dry mist overflows in the temple complex making it a sea of golden yellow. Saundatti is a filled with exuberance but might not be a place for everybody.

Date : December 2014
Place : Saundatti, Belgaum ,Karnataka

Tip : Dress appropriately unless you enjoy turning yellow in amidst of a turmeric storm
First : Golden Cloud of turmeric Bhandara
The Travel Connection: Mountains are the cacathedrals where I practice my religion.- Anatoli Boukreev

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Destination Badami

Badami Or Vatapi is in the rugged region of North Karnataka. The red sandstone outcrop greets you the minute you drive out of the train station. You feel you have transported yourself to wild west and any minute a gun wielding  outlaw or a cowboy could greet you.

Our conquest of Badami began with a bumpy ride in the local stage couch or the Indian Auto rickshaw. Our stay in the Dry and Arid North Karnataka was made better by the wonderful hospitality of Krishna Heritage and its green surrounding of fields. The location was a gold mine. Gold mine for Bee eaters, Coucals, Silver bill,Brahmini Starlings, Indian rollers, Kingfishers, wagtails, sparrow larks, Munias, Bulbuls, Babblers, parakeets and many more residents and migrant visitors.

 Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark

Large Grey Babbler

We started the exploration of Badami with a visit to Banashankari Amma temple. An incarnation of Goddess Parvathi,kuldevi of chalukyas  resides in the refurbished temple built in 1750. The original temple is dated to 7th century AD.

 Another place of interest was the Mahakuta group of about 2 dozen temples built between 6th to 8th century AD. Two inscriptions in the Mahakuteshwara temple make it a place of  historical significance. A natural mountain spring flows within the temple complex and feeds fresh water into a large tank called the Vishnu Pushkarni and an ablution tank called Papavinasha Tirtha.  There is a small shrine in the center of the Vishnu Pushkarni tank and in it is a Shiva linga called Panchamukha Linga, one face for each direction and one on top. It is believed that Papavinasha Tirtha is fed from water from Kashi. The thick green cover from century old trees, the scared water tank with noisy kids, the stone temples some of it crumbling makes it North Karnataka's Angkor Wat.

This part of Karnataka is known for IIkal sarees named after the town of IIkal in Bagalkot district. You are never far from history in this area. The traditional art of weaving the cotton saree with art silk border and pallu is supposed to have originated in the 8th century AD. How can one miss an opportunity to pick a piece of fabric drenched in history. The straight lines or the checks that predominate the designs of these saree work in this day and age too. 

The most important place of interest in Badami is of course the caves. It is beautifully set next to Lake Agastya in admist the intricately time carved red sandstone cliffs.The immaculately maintained complex is a favorite among tourists as well as the naughty little menacing monkeys.

 Natural Cave amidst the ravines of sandstone

 The stairway to history

The Entrance to Cave 1

 The Entrance to Cave 2

 The Entrance to Cave 3

View of Lake Agastya from entrance of Cave 4

Rock cut architecture is found in abundance across India. I wondered why till I was told natural caves have always been given a place of sanctity in Hindu and Buddhist  religion. Man made caves were an extension of this philosophy / religious idea of asceticism and the monastic life .Although free standing structural temples were being built by the 5th century, rock-cut cave temples continued to be built in parallel. The caves of Badami were carved out between late 6th to 7th century.

Frieze of 18 armed dancing Shiva demonstrating the 9 different poses of Bharatnatyam at the entrance of Cave 1 dedicated to Shiva. Accompanying him are his son Ganesh , bull Nandi and a drummer.Other prominent sculptures include a two headed Ganesh, Mahishasura Mardini, Ardha Nareeshwara and Shankarnaryana.

The eight feet tall Ardhanareeshwara with sage Bhringi (the skeleton like figurine),Nandi on left and Parvati in the right, is another elegant sculpture. The left portion in the photo is symbolic of male while the right is female.The fluted interior columns are more ornate than the exterior columns. The garland of beads, Iha Mrigas ( mythological animals) are among the other decorative elements that make the rock columns delicate.The verandha ceiling has five hooded Nagraj flanked by celestial couples.

Cave 2 is dedicated to Vishnu and has his avatars depicted in form of Trivikrama, Varaha and Krishna . The English judicial attire with the wigs came into existence in late 1600s. But seen here is similar style dating back to late 6th century

Cave 3 also dedicated to Vishnu, is the largest of the caves and most elaborate wrt sculptures and carvings. On one side of the verandha/mukha mandapa, Vishnu is depicted sitting instead of the usual reclining position  on the coiled five headed Anant Shesh.

Panels of Trivikrama,Narsimha ,Shankaranaryana, Varaha ( a more intricate interpretation compared to cave 2), Anantasayana and Harihara seen here are engraved into the natural walls of man made cave.

The column corbels/brackets  have intricately carved divine couples or yakshas. The clothing and culture of 6th century is prominently visible in the art of cave 3.

Cave 4 is dedicated to Jainism. Parshvanath was the 23rd Tirthankar and the most popular among Jains. Adishesh hoods the head. The voluptuous Padmavati Yakshini holds an umbrella while her husband Dharanendra sits. The statues do not have clothes following the customs of Digambar Jains which means renunciation of all worldly possessions.

Badami was a fitting end to the trip back in History! The escape into the Almond hills was a memorable one filled with legends, history and religion. A do not miss destination!

Date : December 2014
Place : Badami, Karnataka

Tip : Do not encourage the monkeys by carrying eatables or bags!
First :Wild West in India
The Travel Connection: We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape from us.

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Friday, 19 December 2014

Destination Aihole

The cradle of Hindu temple architecture, Aihole or Aryapura was the destination to learn and experiment on the temple architecture. Under the patronage of early Chalukyan kings, the Chalukyan style of temple architecture was refined here between  the 5th and 8th century. 

The preview of Aihole given to us by the guide at Pattadakal was enough to excite me about visiting the ancient school of architecture, You wonder if you have arrived at Aihole as the narrow lanes leads you into the chaos of a village life but the complex of ancient structures in various states of disintegration  make you think you have time traveled. The proximity of the timeworn stone monuments and the present day village dwellings raised a lot of questions. The encroachment of these temples was even more intriguing. Be it the cattle housed in these structures, smoke bellowing out or the colorful clothes drying on a line between intricate carved column, all of it just amazed me. When we arrived at one of the better maintained complexes, we were eager to hire a guide and calm our confused minds.

At the entrance, the information board told me that there are about 50 temples within the ancient fortification and 50 more outside. Some of the temples listed were Huchimalli temple, Chikki temple, Ambiger temple, Durga temple, Gaudar, Ladkhan and suryanaryana temple complex, Chakragudi and Badiger temple, Rachi temple, Eniyar temple complex, Huchappayya math complex, Kunti temple complex, Charanti Math complex, Tryambekesavara temple, Gauri temple, Jaina temple, Mallikarjuna temple,Meguti temple,Jyothrilinga group,Huchappayya temple, Ravana Pahadi, Galaganatha  temple, Ramalinga group. Aihole just got more interesting! Temples called huchimalli or ladkhan is not something you come across every day.Couldn't wait any more!

With a guide in tow, we approached the temple closest to entrance of the complex.The late 7th / early 8th century Durga temple is unique due to its apsidal plan or in layman's language a structure with semicircular termination.The sculptures here are among the masterpieces of early Chalukyan art. Columns at the entrance are carved with amorous couple and guardian figures. the ceiling panel has a coiled naga and wheel with fish spokes. The mantapa is flanked by river goddess and guardians. Sculptures of Shiva with Nandi, Vishnu with Garuda, Varaha, Durga ,Harihara dot the mantapa.

Durga temple is not dedicated to Goddess Durga but the name is derived from durgadagudi - temple near the fort and is dedicated to Vishnu

Durga temple

                               Rekhanagara style of Shikara standing tall on an ornate structure

The semi enclosed corridor around the temples lets you admire the sculptures and take in the related stories in shade.

One unique feature of this temple is the faux door frame, well its a stone door frame that is made to look like a polished wooden frame.
The next prominent temple in the complex is the Ladkhan Temple. The first thing that catches your eye are the "stone" logs on the rood. Another example pseudo architecture or an experiment to adapt existing wooden construction techniques into experimental stone architecture. This 5th century temple which first shrines Vishnu and then Shiva  was later turned into a residence by a Muslim merchant named Ladkhan. Yes the reason behind the unique names of temples in Aihole was that they were used as homes and named after the owners, not the deity.

One can see more sculptures of Goddess and Embracing couples on the columns. A large Nandi is placed in the middle. icons of Vishu, Ardha narishwara, Surya are carved into the walls

Lad Khan Temple

The 5th century Panchayat/ pavilion style of architecture at Ladkhan

Aihole in 2014 is still a playground for the locals. The rehabilitation of locals which began  as late as the 80's has managed to clear up only a handful of temples. The ancient structures continue to be vandalized  for building material.  The statues, friezes and other elements of architecture lying around unprotected are of no significance to the locals and  their livestock. They continue their daily life nonchalantly and oblivious to  their importance.The government renewed its effort in 2012 in hopes of getting a world heritage tag but they are a long way off. 

Aihole map
We continued our tour of the Durga temple complex  and explored other temples like the Suryanarayana and Gaudara temple. As the style was still being experimented and developed, the workmanship is rudimentary and not like the intricate work at Pattadakal. But it was a pleasure  to experience these structures nevertheless .

At a distance from the complex, is the Huchimalli temple named after the lady who resided there. One can see the introduction of ante chamber or the ardhamantapa in this temple. The ceiling panel of Kartikeya ridding peacock greets you as you enter the porch to explore this temple.Figures of Yama, Indra, Kubera adorn the niches of Mantapa.The curved north Indian style gopuram rises over the beautiful sanctuary making it among prominent monuments in Aihole.

Suryanarayana Temple 7th/8th century , simple in its composition with a curvlinear shikara in rekha nagara style and housing the chalukyan image of Surya
Unnamed temple in the complex with circular columns typical to Belur Halebid

 Gaudara Gudi, the 5th century Mahalakshmi/ Baghavathi Temple

Huchimalli temple stands on a elevated  plinth and is from 7th century.

Ravana Phadi is considered to be one of the oldest rock cut temples in Aihole. The 6th century temple is carved out of sandstone outcrop . It has several sculptures and carving  including but not limited to Ardhanarishwara, Shiva with Ganga,Harihara, Varaha, Durga and ten armed Shiva dancing in company of Parvathi, Ganesha and Saptamatrikas.

 Ravana Phadi was like a preview to what was more to come in Badami. Here we come!

Date : December 2014
Place : Aihole, Karnataka

Tip : Ticket counters try to extract more entrance fee claiming that we are foreigners. So be cautious!
First : Historical structures being used in present day.
The travel connection :  "Travel is very subjective. What one person loves, another loathes"- Robin Leach

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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Destination Pattadakal

Jambulinga temple , 7th century, Rekhanagar prasada style (North Indian)
Horse shoe projection on the curvilinear gopuram!

Pattadakal, a world heritage site is not prominent on a traveler's radar as it is comparatively far flung.This place had eluded me for  a very long time. We finally got a chance to visit the 8th century center of art and architecture as an offshoot of trip due to social reasons. 

Pattadakal comprises of a group of monuments surrounded by well manicured lawns and  uttarabhimukhi ( flows from south to north) river  Malaprabha. The spic and span surroundings with all the hawkers and stalls at a distance transports you into the past without a second's delay. Wish all historical sites in India are maintained like Pattadakal.

 Kada Siddeshwar Temple, 7th century ,Rekhanagara prasada style (North Indian)
The severed sculptures on the front facade-A reminder of Muslim austerities

The initial attempt in monument construction was sometime around 3rd/4th century and visible signs of experimentation are prominent across the site. What makes it interesting are the small scale models of the temple and the many variations it underwent before the final monument was built.This could be unique to Pattadakal as i haven't come across use of models at any other location. One can also see the Linga in its barest form without the pitham in the temples that are no longer used for worship. The bottom base of linga which is rarely visible is a hexagon. Recommend one visit the place and hear out the guide on  the significance of the 6 sided base

Galaganatha Temple, 8th century ,Rekhanagara prasada style (North Indian)
Sandstone temple with intricate work

Sangamesvara temple, 7th century Dravida Vimana style ( South indian)
Old Kannada inscription of Sinda chieftain Chavunda II (1162 A.D.) describes grant made for construction of the Sangameshvara temple by King Vijayaditya
The center of chalukyan patronage was also the location for coronations.The grandest of the temples in the complex , the Virupaksha temple and the Mallikarjuna Temple were built by the queens in honor of the kings' victory over his Pallava opponents. Stories from Mahabharat, Ramayan and Bhagavata are sculpted into the stone monuments. Also common are religious figurines God and Demi Gods and scenes from the daily life.

Mallikarjuna Temple  and Kashivisvanatha Temple- 8th century Dravida Vimana style ( South Indian)and Rekhanagara prasada style(North Indian)
Mallikarjuna temple was commisioned by Rani Trilokyamahadevi

Virupaksha Temple and Nandi temple - 8th century Dravida Vimana style ( South Indian)
Queen Lokamahadevi  commisioned the temple in 745 to commemorate her husband's victory (Vikramaditya II) over the Pallavas of Kanchi.

Cluster of temples at Pattadakal. Image courtesy:

Nandi at Virupaksha

 Virupaksha pillared navaranga

East entrance - Virupaksha
 Old Kannada inscription on victory pillar, 733–745

 Narratives from Mahabharata , Ramayana

Shikara Kashivisvanatha Temple

 The scaled models

Pattadakal Cluster of temples!Unesco World Heritage site

Date : December 2014
Place : Pattadakal, Karnataka

Tip : December and it was scorching hot! So you know what to do.
First : Chalukyan style of architecture
The travel connection :  “You have to taste a culture to understand it.” Deborah Cater

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