Friday, 7 December 2018

Ellora caves- Part I

It seemed too unusual for us to take a trip during the monsoon. With unsure minds, with flood alerts transmitted throughout South India,  we had booked our tickets to Aurangabad. Once there, we were glad to learn that the weather was clear since the previous day and it was a perfect day to explore the elaborate caves at Ellora or Verul Veni (known locally).

Ellora was about 30 kms from Aurangabad city and we had passed through the foot of Daulatabad Fort on our way. We had reached the caves quite early to avoid the crowd of late hours. Though we had read about the place beforehand, it was quite unimaginable to comprehend the vastness of the carved beauties until we entered the entrance gate. And, we were welcomed by one of the celebrated structures among other caves, the Kailasa Temple. This blog post purely speaks about the caves that are dedicated to Hindu Gods (just to avoid a lengthy blog post).

Monsoon views...

First glimpse of the Kailasa temple at the entrance


Out of all the 34 caves present in the complex (Cave 1 to 12 Buddhist, Cave 13 to 29 Brahmanical and Cave 30 to 34 belonging to Jainism) dating back from 6th century A. D to 11th century A.D., the Kailasa temple stands as the epitome of all the other caves carved out during that era. According to a Marathi legend, in the 8th century, the queen of Rashtrakuta king Elu suffered from a severe disease. His wife prayed Shiva and made a vow to build a temple if her wish was granted. When the king was cured, she declared that she would not eat till a magnificent temple was built to Lord Shiva and was able to see its' 'Shikara'. When many architects refused to build the temple in such short notice, the king finally found an architect name Kokasa from Paithan who took the task of completing the temple. He assured the queen that she would see the Shikara in a weeks' time. He cleverly started carving out the temple from top so that the queen could see the top most Shikara first. Thus, he completed the Shikara in a week, helping the queen end her fast.

Shrine depicting the river Goddesses- Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi

Pillars around the rectangular trench...

It is estimated that over 200,000 tons of basalt rock was chiseled out over a period of two and half decades to build this magnificent 276 feet deep temple. Scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata are intricately carved on the north and south plinths of the temple. In the courtyard there are free standing 'dhwajasthambhas' and elephants. A pillared chamber in the north-western direction houses a shrine dedicated to river Goddesses- Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi. The rectangular trench round the temple with numerous pillars on all sides and life- size carvings of various Hindu deities kept us busy for more than an hour.

View from the first- story of the temple...

We then moved towards other caves in descending order while enjoying the fresh growth of green plants all around because of the rains. The simple facade of cave no. 15 did not appeal us. When were just deciding to head back, we were stopped by a local guide who lead us to the double- storyed part of the temple that lay hidden behind the temple. A small flight of steps lead us to a spacious hall with square pillars and life-size carvings from Dasavatar on the wall. The hall was very dimly lighted and we had wished that the ASI had spent some effort in lighting up the area just like in Ajanta (a difference that we noticed in maintenance the next day).

The next important cave we visited was cave no. 12. That being a Buddhist monastery, I will write a separate post on it. To reach the other Hindu temples, we got on to the bus service available within the complex. We were quite famished by that time as we had not carried any eatables and except a MTDC canteen at the entrance there is nothing inside that we could find to replenish ourselves. The bus stopped near the Jain caves so we visited the Jain caves before heading to cave no 29. We had to walk quite a bit to reach the cave. But we were welcomed by a refreshing view just outside the cave. 
By the side of the cave 'Sita-ki-nahani', is a pool created by the Elaganga river. Due to the monsoons, the pool was being filled by a waterfall just above the cliffs. Spending some time enjoying the view, we entered the cave.

View outside cave no. 29

Pillars inside the cave...

Inner sanctum with 'dwarapalakas'

Known as Dumer Lena, the whole cave is supported by 26 cushion-like pillars. It is a huge cave again with life-size sculptures on the walls. Unique scenes of Shiva and Parvathi's wedding and both of them playing a dice game can be witnessed here. The inner sanctum has entrances from all four directions. Massive 'dwarapalakas' guard the entrances with female attendants. The cave also has sculptures depicting Ravana shaking the Kailasa mountain and Shiva killing the demon 'Andhaka'. 

Ravana shaking the Kailasa mountain...

Shiva killing Andhaka...

River Goddess Ganga...

With ever-growing hunger pangs in our tummies, we had decided to head back without completely visiting all the Hindu caves. The most important cave that we missed was cave no. 21 and view of Kailasa temple from top of the cliff for which we did not have the energy. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Temples and Step wells of Lakkundi

The numerous drives that we had undertaken between Hubli and Hyderabad in the last 10 years, never had we noticed this tiny village- Lakkundi until last year. It can easily be missed as there are no special sign posts that would guide you to these temples and step wells.

Located just 11 kms away from Gadag district in North Karnataka, Lakkundi is home to several temples and step- wells belonging to the Chalukyan period. The main temples are: Mallikarjuna temple, Veerabhadra temple, Lakshminarayana and even a Bramha Jinalaya. All the temples are located at different locations, scattered throughout the village. We had to drive through narrow by lanes to reach these temples that were almost desolate.

The first temple we visited was the Bramha Jinalaya. The ASI has established a museum right in front of the Jinalaya so we decided to visit the museum before entering the temple. Apart from few sculptures the museum doesn't hold anything much.

The museum

Early monsoon showers welcomed us as we entered the temple. It was good to see that there was no one around the whole temple except us. This Basadi/ Jinalaya was built by Danachintamani Attimabbe and is dedicated to saint Adinatha of Jainism. Under Attimabbe's patronage lot of other temples were constructed and she is said to have sheltered famous Kannada poet Ponna.

The Basadi was built using textured chloritic schist that differed in material and texture from the sandstone that was available in the region. Due to this, the architecture and carvings of this temple is said to be almost near perfection. The pillars are ornate with intricate carvings and an Old Kannada inscription can also be seen just before the Garbhagriha. The Garbhagriha of the Basadi has the idol of Neminatha Thirthankara and is worshiped even today.

Jain Basadi

Carving on the pillars

With the help of some locals, we then drove towards another temple- Kashivishwanatha temple. Though locked, a lady generously came forward to open it for us. This temple has strikingly beautifully carved pillars and entrances. The Southern direction too has a door with elaborately carved panels. They have carvings of leaves, flowers, animals and birds.
One important feature that amazed us about pillars is the carving of 12 star signs covering the pillars. Dancers, musicians and Darpanasundaris (dancers holding a mirror) can also be seen in other pillars.

Kashivishwanatha temple

The Southern door with carved panels...

The carved pillars...

The Nanneshwara temple that was behind  Kashivishwanatha temple was closed and nobody had access to the keys. So decided to head towards Manikanteshwara temple that also had  a stepped well right in the front. There was poojari in the temple who was more than happy to show us around the temple and the step well.

The temple that  is dedicated to Lord Shiva mostly has geometrical designs around the panels of the doors. The temple is very simple as compared to others but visitors never miss this place because of its' Kalyani (step well). This step well is popularly known as Musukina Bavi as for many years the well was hidden among thick canopy of trees. As we descended the steps, a whole new world was thrown open before us- rows and rows of steps leading to the well that was dry. We walked on the narrow steps, went around the whole well and were ready to head out thoroughly satisfied.

Manikanteshwara temple

Complete view of the temple and step well

We must have spent around 2 hours in this little village but were totally refreshed before heading out for another 10 long hours of drive!

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Sun Temple at Modhera

A couple of playful squirrels welcomed us to one of the few shrines dedicated to the Sun God- the Sun Temple at Modhera. This was our stop before heading towards Patan (read about it here). With only a countable number of visitors, the sandstone temple against the clear blue sky was a beautiful sight to behold.

The Sun temple, situated on the river Pushpavathi, was built by Bhimdev I of the Solanki dynasty. He is the same king on whose memory his wife built the Rani- ni- Vav in Patan. Solankis were descendants of Sun (Suryavanshis), so a temple dedicated to Him. The temple stands gloriously on a raised platform even after undergoing several attacks by Mahmud Ghazni.

The Sun temple and the sacred tank...

According to the legends, Rama, while returning from Lanka after killing Ravana wanted to wash away his sins of killing a Brahmin. Vasishta Muni directed him to Dharmaranya where Rama performed a 'yagna' and established a village called Sitapur. Sitapur is the same village that came to be known as Modhera in later years.

This east- facing temple has three main parts- the Surya Kund (stepped water tank/ sacred resevoir), the Sabha Mandapa (or Ranga Mandapa) and Gud Mandapa (temple with the Gurbhagriha but it does not have an idol to worship at present).

Even before we enter the temple, we get a glimpse of the Surya Kund on the right side. The Surya Kund is rectangular in shape with pyramid shaped steps that make a beautiful geometric pattern. A unique feature in this step well is the placement of small temples on these steps. The shrines of Ganesha, Shiva and various other Gods adorn these temples. The tank (also called Rama Kund) is house to many turtles too.

Surya Kund

Pyramid shaped steps and small shrines along the steps...

The pillars of Kirti Torana...

A flight of steep steps from the Surya Kund can lead us to the Sabha Mandapa through a Kirti Torana (victory arches). But only the pillars remain now. The Sabha Mandapa (used as an assembly and dance hall) is octagonal in shape with 52 pillars denoting 52 weeks of the year. Scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Krishna Leela are intricately carved on these pillars. Each pillar is connected to the next pillar with either a semi- circular or triangular arch. These 'Toranas' give the Sabha Mandapa's ceiling and pillars a floral look.

Sabha Mandapa

Ceiling inside Sabha Mandapa...

Pillars inside Sabha Mandapa...

Semi Circular arches...

Walking through one of the doors from Sabha Mandapa, we reached the Guda Mandapa. This is where the Garbhagriha (without any idol) exists. The temple sits on Tropic of Cancer that passes through Gujrat and during days of equinox the first sun rays would fall on the idol that was present in the Garbhagriha. The interiors of the Garbhagriha is dark and stinky (because of the bats). It is believed that the idol that was present earlier was made of pure gold that depicted Sun God. The idol sat in a deep plinth that was filled with gold coins. The exteriors (or the Mandapa) again, has exquisite carvings of Ashta Dikpalakas (deities that guard the eight directions), Brahma, Shiva, Sarasawati and many other deities. 

Main Temple...

Carvings outside the Guda Mandapa...

The Sun temple is an architectural site that has been very well maintained and a visitor can explore the site without any rush and disturbance as there is less crowd. 

Friday, 29 June 2018

Theyyam-the dance of the Gods!

Travelling through the narrow roads of Mangalore- Kannur state highway this summer, one sight that could not be missed was the innumerable flexes and banners announcing the Theyyam performances in various temples (not that I could read the Malayalam banners but the picture of the Theyyam on those banners said it all). I secretly hoped to witness at least one performance while I was in Kannur. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to attend two performances the very next day (but not the ones that were performed at night)!

Theyyam is a popular ritual form of worship in Northern parts of Kerala and also in some parts of South Canara and Coorg districts of Karnataka (usually referred to as Bhuta Kola). The word Theyyam is derived from the word Daivam (God). Theyyam is a corrupt form of this word! There are about 400 different types of Theyyams. Its' origins are said to be from the ancient art form of Kaliyattam. It is said that Parashurama, the sixth incarnation of Vishnu (and founder of the state) sanctioned the festivals like Kaliyattam and Theyyattam. Several indigenous tribal communities were given the responsibility of Theyyam and from there the great stories of heroes and worship of celestial beings began.

Vigneshwari Theyyam

Gulikan Theyyam

The sweltering heat of the next day, the crowded open ground of the small shrine did not stop us (my sister's family and me) from seeing the Theyyam perform. We thrusted ourselves to have a better view of the power-packed performance. Sadly, all the four Theyyams there were seated taking a break from their frenzied performances. People gathered around the seated Theyyam seeking blessings and fanning the exhausted 'God'. Wait of another 15 minutes, then one of them rose and entered the shrine in circular motion. Standing on a wooden stool, Theyyam made an offering to the God and sat on the same stool to wear metal accessories (to his fingers), headgear (mostly made of tender coconut leaves) and other remaining parts of the costume that required him to keep his arms up in air (which also demanded him to be in that position till end of his performance!) Once dressed-up, he started the circular motions again by stopping at regular intervals to give blessings. The energy of the drummers beating the 'Chenda' in perfect synchrony provoked the Theyyam for a more rigorous performance.

Vishnumoorthi Theyyam

The dancer's make-up is done by specialists and there are different patterns of this make- up for different Theyyams. Mostly primary and secondary colours are applied (that is prepared by mixing rice paste, turmeric and chunnambu with coconut oil)  with contrasting colours to enhance the stylization in the dance. Each Theyyam has its' unique make-up, costumes, headgear and series of ritual practices. 

The accessories and headgear...

Theyyam is sponsored by the members of upper class and ruling class families but it's artists hail from low caste communities. This is considered as an equalizer of the course of the history. This was clearly visible in the second performance we attended in another temple- Muchilotte Bhagavati Theyyam. 

Muchilotte Bhagavati Theyyam

It was a more organized set up (as compared to the rustic look of the earlier performance) with well decorated temple complex and special arrangements for the devotees to watch. There is no stage for the performance so the devotees were standing while the Theyyam performed. The make-up looked more complex and the costume heavier than the one we had watched earlier. With a burning log of wood in both hands, the Bhagavati took Pradakshina of the temple and the temple priests and other devotees seeked her blessing. The performance related to the particular deity belonging to the shrine- in this temple it was Bhagavati. Most Theyyam performances last up to 12- 24 hours with regular intervals. The night performances are believed to be more energetic than the ones played at day time. But, I was there for a short time as my visit was brief. Though I had missed the night performance, I was thoroughly contented with whatever I had watched.

Ellora caves- Part I

It seemed too unusual for us to take a trip during the monsoon. With unsure minds, with flood alerts transmitted throughout South India,  w...