Posts Tagged ‘Karnataka’

3 January 2016

Chithra Santhe is an annual exhibition of paintings organised by the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. However, it is no ordinary exhibition; it is not held in any air-conditioned gallery but is an open air event held in a location created by blocking off the Kumar Krupa Road! You can see paintings everywhere you look and the variety is just incredible. You can find anything from abstract to Tanjore paintings and murals. Most people are likely to find a piece of art that attracts them and also fits their wallet.

I had visited the event four years back and had the good fortune to be at Bangalore while the event was on this time. However, we had not factored in the growth and so, were a bit short on time. While walking around, I heard an announcement that about 1,300 to 1,500 artists are participating in this year’s event. The crowd had also grown as compared to our last visit and I was very happy to see that even if it meant constant jostling and shouldering to cut through.

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Most of the paintings were well crafted with most of the subjects being traditional. There were only very few works that could be classified as modern art as most paintings were focused on being pleasing to the eye. I do, however, feel that such events are very important in developing a culture of appreciation for the arts. The Chitrakala Parishath deserves a huge round of applause for organising the event. This is the 13th year of the Santhe and I would recommend this as a “must visit” event.

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1 May 2014

I had been intending to visit Lepakshi for a few months but had not been able to make the trip. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to make a visit even though it is not very advisable to visit this location in summer as the mercury will climb over 40 degrees and since it is a stone temple, it can become a fire-walking exercise. I left early in the morning to beat the heat and as it is only 125 kilometres from Bangalore and along very good roads, I got there in about an hour and a half.

My interest to visit the place had been fired up because of some of the stories I had heard. The village itself is very small and the temple was not crowded at all when I arrived. The temple itself is on a small hill and the entry does not look very imposing or grand, unlike some others that take your breath away at the first sight itself.

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This temple falls under the purview of the Archaeological Survey of India and as usual, they have limited their information providing to one small board at the entrance. It is a matter of constant frustration for me that ASI has never bothered to provide more information to help the tourists. This temple was constructed in AD 1538 and is a jewel cast in stone. Yet, ASI feels it only merits a badly written board. In contrast, even a very small monument is so well projected by westerners. They provide so much information about the place, audio guides etc. Here, we are left at the mercy of the local guides and their colourful and fertile imagination to learn anything about such wonderful monuments.

I think I was a bit early as I could not locate any guide and I wandered around the temple taking random pictures. I could not locate any of the marvels that I had read about, in the internet. The temple itself is gorgeous with wonderful stone carvings, but for me, the stories make a place come alive. Fortunately, just as I was about to lose hope, I was able to get a guide. As is the case with these local guides, they are rely more on their beliefs, myths and what they think will impress the visitor, rather than facts.

The main deity here is Veerabhadra, who was created by Shiva from locks of his hair, in anger, to slay the king Daksha – his father-in-law. Hence Veerabhadra is considered to be a god in an angry mood so, unlike in many temples, you cannot see the idol from the entry point. The door is set a bit to one side so that the angry gaze of Veerabhadra may not fall at the entrance. The temple was finished in AD 1538 and the construction was overseen by Virupanna, a Treasurer of the King Achutharaya of the Vijayanagar empire and the architect concerned was a person by name of Jakkanna Hampanna. There are three enclosures (prakaras) to the temple – the first has lodging quarters for guests and in the second is the dance hall and the innermost one houses the sanctum sanctorum. The guide told me that there were seven prakaras originally but there is no evidence of that currently.

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As soon as I entered, what I noticed were the long corridors that stretched on the four sides of the temple. This was where people who visited the temple stayed. Today, these long empty corridors present a nice sight with wonderfully carved stone pillars in neat rows.

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The dance hall is a very beautiful structure with 70 stone pillars that have wonderful carvings and some very nice murals on the ceiling.

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The actual space for dancing appeared to be a very small space set between 10-12 pillars. On one of the pillars, the apsara, Rambha is dancing and on the other pillars, various gods and other celestial beings are carved out as musicians and on side, slightly hidden, Bhringi the three legged dance teacher of the apsaras is shown. The carvings are all very nice and beautifully done.

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There is also a carving depicting the “Bhiskhatana” – Shiva’s begging to atone for having cut off Brahma’s fifth head. The guide had got this story totally wrong and mixed it up with the Daksha-Sati story and left me confused. I had heard the Dakhsa story from my grand-mother who was very knowledgeable in all the epics, when I was very young. Fortunately, a quick search on the internet cleared up the matter for me.

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All the pillars in the natya mantapa have beautiful carvings and the roof in the central space has a beautiful flower with 100 petals. Of the 70 pillars, one pillar does not rest on the ground and is a “hanging pillar”. Supposedly, a British engineer tried to find the secret of the hanging pillar and damaged it a bit in the process with the result that one corner touches the ground now. Fantastic structural engineering from the days gone by!

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The roof has many beautiful murals and they look good even today. There were pictures of Shiva, Parvati and also Virupanna (the figure on the right in the first mural below) and various other stories from the epics. Overall, it is a very ornate and rich hall with beautiful sights everywhere.

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The main sanctum sanctorum or garbhagriha has many other deities in addition to the idol of Veerabhadra. The guide was insistent that some of these were commissioned by Sri Rama himself in Threthayuga, which would mean that those idols predate human civilization as we know it! The air inside was very smelly and when I asked, the guide said it was because there was no air circulation inside and hence the smell. To me, it looked like more of a matter of cleanliness as it smelled of animal waste and I did see a couple of cockroaches crawling over one or two idols. There is a nice mural of Veerabhadra here but since no photography was allowed inside this place, I could not capture any images.

Outside and behind the sanctum sanctorum is a huge statue of a seven headed snake protecting a sivalinga. The serpent faces the room that was used as a kitchen by the mother of the sculptor. The story goes that one day when the sculptor came for lunch, it was not ready as his mother had been engaged in some poojas, as it was an auspicious day. The mother asked her son to wait while she prepared food. The sculptor did not want to sit idle and this statue was what he made while he waited for lunch – must have been some superman sculptor to finish such a huge statue in such a short time. In any case, his mother came out, saw the statue and was very impressed by the beauty of it. However, her “evil eye” caused the statue to have two vertical cracks on the coils of the snake and the sculptor was quite saddened by it saying no one would ever notice his work. However, she advised him to put a sivalinga in between the coils of the snake and said people would then pray to it and supposedly that is the story behind this beautiful work. In any case, it is a very impressive statue and is one of the most commonly reproduced images of Lepakshi.

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Right behind the snake is a huge idol of Ganesha, which is slightly pinkish in colour. When I asked the guide whether this was made of some different stone, he said that people had been applying vermillion and oil on the idol and hence the colour change. This practice has been stopped by ASI now.

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Just beyond the Ganesh is the site of the unfinished kalyana mantapa (marriage hall). There are many pillars strewn about the place with fantastic carvings.

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The theme of the kalyana mantapa is the wedding of Shiva and Parvati and the images of all the main guests that attended have been carved on pillars that form a rough square, in the centre. The guests depicted are (left to right in image below): Viswamitra, Eeswara (Shiva), Shiva in wedding attire, Maina Devi (Parvathi’s mother), Parvatharaj (Parvathi’s father), Devendra, Agni, Yaman, Vasishta, Varun, Bruhaspathi, Dattatreya, Vishnu, Vayu and Kubera. The guide also told me that some of these people did not particularly enjoy the company of some others in attendance  (for instance, Viswamithra and Vasishta) and hence, has been placed opposite to each other in the square. It was curious that the sculptor did not feel a need to bring in Parvathi into this mix.

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Now comes the most interesting part of the Lepakshi legend. It seems that some vested interests convinced the then king that Virupanna was squandering the resources of the royal treasury and the king, angered by this, ordered for him to be blinded. Virupanna was standing at the site of the kalyana mantapa when he heard this news and he himself plucked out his eyeballs and threw them on to a nearby wall. On that wall, there are marks with small holes and long stains, to be seen. Supposedly, the eyeballs pierced the stone and the stains were caused by blood. The guide was adamant that recent tests have shown that it is indeed blood and all efforts by the British to wash it away with acid had proven futile.

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On one side of the kalyana mantapa is the “latha mantapa” which has about 36 pillars and each of these pillars have a unique design on each face of the pillar, thus making up 144 unique designs. Supposedly, Lepakshi is known for sarees and it is these designs that have inspired those saree designs.

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Folklore in these parts say that Lepakshi actually is “le pakshi”, which means “rise bird” in Telugu. Supposedly, this is where Jataayu (the legendary bird) fought Raavana as he was kidnapping Sita. Ultimately, Jataayu lost the battle and fell here. When Rama was searching for Sita, he found Jataayu, who told him the whole story and which direction Raavana had taken. Rama is then supposed to have asked Jataayu to rise and hence the name “le pakshi” for the place.

Right beside the kalyana mantapa, on the rock, is a huge footprint. Supposedly, this is Sita’s footprint. Going by the size of the footprint, she must have been at least 25 feet tall as this one was more than four times bigger than my size 10 foot. The foot print always has some water in it and according to the guide, no one knows where it is seeping from and tis aspectt must add to the mystique and attraction of the whole story. I saw several women touching the water to their foreheads and eyes, in prayer.

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Another interesting sight is a lunch plate (thali) shaped sculpture carved into the rock. The guide said this was the lunch plate of the builder and when I pointed out the plate was at least four times larger than a normal plate, his replied that the builder was a man who was 16-18 feet tall as no ordinary person could have built such a temple! His argument being that if we need huge machines like mechanized excavators to demolish big buildings, how could they have built such a big temple and that too on rock, if they were not superhuman size, as they had no machines. It was an amusing thought and I overheard another guide tell his group the same story but he had cut the builder down to 9 feet!

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The sun was starting to get hot by this time and the fire-walk experience was looking like a real possibility. Even though I had spent about three hours in the temple complex, I was not in any hurry to leave. The place is so beautiful with so many rich carvings that it is such a visual treat!

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Within a kilometer or so of the temple is a huge bull (Nandi) carved out of a monolithic rock. It is 15 feet tall and 27 feet in length and beautifully carved. It faces in the direction of the seven headed snake with the sivalinga. I am not sure when it was made; to me, it looked a bit more recent than the temple.

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That was my final stop at Lepakshi and I started my drive back, satisfied and happy about a day well spent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 Feb 2010

We started off on the drive to Chikmagalur bright and early in three cars. It took us more than an hour to get out of Bangalore and the drive was more peaceful after that. The first stop of the day was at Halebidu, which is about 170km from Bangalore. Halebidu means old city and in Halebidu the main attraction is the Hoysaleeswara temple, founded by the Hoysala kings. Halebidu was the capital of the Hoysala Empire in the 12th century.

Legend has that in the 12th century, one day a teacher and his disciples were taking a walk in the forest when they came up on a tiger. All the students but a boy named Sala ran away. The teacher called out to Sala to kill (Hoy) the tiger – “Hoy Sala”! The boy killed the tiger and later founded the Hoysala dynasty. They ruled most of Karnataka between the 10th and 14th century and their emblem showcases the incident of Sala killing the tiger. I was impressed to note that an ordinary boy went on to become the king and founded a dynasty that ruled for about 5-6 generations and decided to look more into this after I got back to Bangalore. Wikipedia says that the Hoysalas were rulers of the hills who took advantage of the then political situation to expand their empire. Looks like the legend may not have been really true!

Belur and Halebidu are twin cities and boast of two temples built by the Hoysala kings, which are of note. The Hoysaleeswara temple complex in Halebidu actually consists of two temples – Hoysaleeswara and Kedareeswara. These temples took 195 years of work to build. The two temples are built on a single platform and have very intricate carvings, which show a lot of dedication and skill from the workers. The construction is of sandstone and so it must have been easier to work on, but the detail is amazing.

Stories from Mahabharata, Ramayana etc. are carved into these stones and the temple itself is built on a star shaped platform to provide more surface area for the carvings. The sun was fairly strong but thankfully, there were carpets all round the temple. The interior of the temple was very cool, dark and nice. These temples are dedicated to Siva and there are two idols there. There was a frame that caught my eye at the second sanctorum wherein the idol itself was kept in a poorly lit position whereas the priest was standing upfront in a very visible position to give blessings. It struck me as akin to today’s situation wherein the priests are more important than the gods! A mischievous thought I guess, but I captured it in the camera nevertheless.

The guide we had was at pains to explain how the ancient Indian texts were the first to imagine such modern items as the submarine, missile etc. by pointing out some details from some carvings. It was fairly evident that the sculptors had a good sense of humour as well; or maybe it was the interpretation of the guide. There is one particular carving which shows Siva’s bull (Nandi) carrying both Siva and Parvati; supposedly Nandi is upset at carrying Parvati as he prides himself to be Siva’s vehicle and does not like carrying women around. Hence, he is shown in the sculpture with a slightly raised tail to denote his irritation. The guide was of the view that from ancient times man was above woman and hence this depiction. My view is that this must have been an impish sense of humour at work as ancient India definitely believed in man-woman equality as can be evidenced by the concept of the Ardhanaareeswara. In any case, the image is captured below.

I have always believed that the texts of Mahabharata and Ramayana have tried to portray the world as is and the stories are designed to show that everyone has goodness and badness in them and that even the gods are not above this. Indeed there is no single character in these texts, be it god or man that is without any blemish.  One such incident is that of Rama, the personification of the Righteous Man, using devious means to kill Bali (the king of monkeys) so that his younger brother Sugreeva could become the king and help Rama. Rama is a great hero and an expert warrior; yet he shoots Bali with an arrow in the back, while the latter is engaged in a fist fight with Sugreeva. Clearly, this is not in line with the image of Rama as the epitome of goodness and valour but there has been enough cover provided through other stories (which came later, I feel) which talk about how Bali could be killed only from the back. I found it curious that the sculptors had deemed it fit to capture this image as well. See how Rama shoots an arrow through seven trees on to Bali’s back as he fights Sugreeva.

There are two large bulls also in the temple complex and according to the guide these are the sixth and seventh largest bulls in India. He went on to claim that the one dedicated to Parvati is the most beautiful one in India. I forgot to ask the guide as to why there is a bull dedicated to Parvati given Nandi’s clear displeasure in carrying her around!

The Halebidu temple complex leaves a lasting impression on one with the detail and the fine work on the sculptures.  It is simply amazing and one cannot but be impressed with the skill of the artisans in those days. They did not have the sophisticated tools of today but were able to carve out these masterpieces. The pillars look as if they were carved on a lathe but of course, there were no lathes in those days. You are left with a sense of total awe and wonder at the skill and dedication of these artists.

We left Halebidu with a sense of wonder and a clear feeling that it would have been a tremendous loss had we decided to drop it from the agenda and proceeded straight to Chikmagalur. The Chikmagalur town was about an hour’s drive from Halebidu and we got directions from there to the estate we were staying in. We had booked rooms in a working coffee estate owned by Tata Coffee and we got there in time for lunch with the last leg of the drive being over characteristically bad roads. The rooms were all in one bungalow and we had the whole place to ourselves. Lunch was very nice, especially given the hunger. The rooms were pretty large and very nice.

Towards evening, I went for a walk in the estate by myself. Earlier in the day, Vinod had seen a large snake and he had also added that snakes were very common in coffee estates; this made me extra careful in my walk! The silence was the first thing that came to you as you got away from the buildings of the estate. There were no artificial sounds and to an extent, it was even unsettling. It occurred to me that the busy life in the city might have built this need in me to have signs of human life around me all the time.  This was quite a disturbing thought indeed but nonetheless, I enjoyed my walk through the estate. I soon came upon a person named Nagaraja who was coming down the path. I conversed with him in my broken Kannada and learnt that the air gun he was carrying around was to shoot some bird (I thought it was peacock but I must have been wrong).  The scenery was beautiful even if the light was not very conducive for photography. Ripe coffee beans were a beautiful sight and I could capture some interesting shots.

13 Feb 2010

Early mornings in such locations are always very beautiful and this one was no exception either but I felt a bit lazy and did not venture out. The sit-out in the bungalow faced east and I got an interesting shot as I was playing around with the camera.

I suggested that we visit Kemmangundi and if possible, go to Baba Budanagiri that day. This turned out to be not-so-good an idea as I had not thought about the bad roads and the long journey times. We hired a vehicle that could accommodate all of us and set off for Kemmangundi. The first stop was Kalahatti Falls and we reached there after a tiring drive. The fall itself turned out to be a very small affair with a bridge constructed across. Local people believe that the waters have medicinal properties and can cure illnesses. I was not feeling very well when we got there and did not go near the falls. In addition, there was some local festival going on when we got there and a good sized crowd had gathered.

The festival reminded me of our “Mariyamman Pooja” back home as there were people with decorated idols on their head. The overall ambience was very unsophisticated and hence looked quite innocent and sincere. There were some musical instruments which were very basic and there was no apparent expertise in how they were played and that added to the feel of the event.

The villagers looked very rustic and were not elegantly clothed. Yet, their devotion was very apparent and it was clear that they had simple beliefs. At one point in time, all the ladies squatted down in front of the people carrying the idols and they broke a coconut on the ground. The people with the idols then went around the women sprinkling the water on their heads. It all looked very solemn and there was not much gaiety around. In particular, I noticed one woman who seemed totally lost in her prayer – she continued squatting even after the procession was moving out; she seemed immersed in her own world.

We then proceeded to Kemmangundi, which was another 10 km or so away. The road was pretty bad but the scenery made up for it. Kemmangundi is a small hilltop but the views are fantastic. We also saw several people trekking. We stayed for sometime soaking in the views and then turned back home as most people were played out by then. With the prospect of the long ride back, no one felt like going to Baba Budanagiri – later, I heard that it might have been better to skip Kemmangundi and go there. Rest of the day was spent at the estate in a relaxed fashion although there was a hilarious game of “Lakori” played in-between wherein the boys’ team beat the girls’ team hands down.

14 Feb 2010

I got up early in the morning and went for a long walk and almost reached up to the end of the estate. Once again, the views were most exciting and I experimented with the exposure settings of my camera and got a beautiful shot.

We checked out of the estate after breakfast and proceeded to Belur. Belur was an about an hour’s time from the estate and our objective was to visit the Channakesava Temple, which is also built by the Hoysala kings. This is a smaller temple as compared to the one at Halebidu and took 95 years to complete. This is a temple which is under active use and has a nice courtyard. The temple was built by King Vishnuvardhana in the 12th century.

Interestingly, they first built a prototype of the temple and that took them about 20 years. After successful completion of the prototype, they launched the work on the real one. A picture of the prototype is given below.

As is the case with Halebidu, this temple is also built of soapstone and is littered with intricate carvings. Once again, the detail and quality of work is amazing. The statues are very life like and many stories are told in the sculptures with great eye to details, including facial expressions. Inside the temple, there is a statue of an ideal woman with mathematical proportions – unfortunately, I could not get a photo of that statue due to light and space constraints.  Given below is the one of the most beautiful statues in the complex – a girl putting on ornaments. Parts of the statue are damaged but the quality of the work is pretty visible.

We left Belur with a feeling similar to what we had when we left from Halebidu – wonder and tremendous respect for the skills of those great artists that live in the years gone by and for the wonder that was India.