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.

































Thursday, 14 June 2018

Rani ki Vav (Wow)...

One of the main attraction that was listed in our Gujrat tour itinerary was to visit the 'queen' of all step wells in India- Rani ki Vav. We learned that this visit could be clubbed with other two important nearby places- the Sun temple at Modhera and Sidhpur to witness its' beautiful Bohra havelis. We skipped Sidhpur as we were short of time.

The garden leading to the step well...

























The first glimpse of Rani ki Vav…


























The view of the pillars once we descend the steps...

























Rani- ki- Vav or the Queen's step well is situated in the town of Patan  (around 125 kms from Ahmedabad). The well is almost hidden among the sprawling gardens spread across the area.  Located in the banks of river Saraswathi, it was built in the 11th century by Queen Udayamathi not only in memory of her beloved husband Bhimdev I (the founder of the Solanki dynasty) but also to keep up a traditional practice called- 'Parvathi's Penance'- goddess separated by death from her consort and practicing austerities to win reunion.

View from other end (notice the stairs and the levels one has to descend)… 





































The depth and the levels of the well...























































The well is constructed in the form of an inverted temple in keeping with the notion that 'water is scarce in the semi-arid region and thus will be revered as God'. It has 7- storeys which is 64 mts long, 20 mts. wide and 27 mts deep. There is also a small gate below the last step well (which is blocked now) with a 30 kms tunnel which leads to the nearby town Sidhpur. But entry into the well after forth level is prohibited for public.

The step well was flooded in 14th century by the near by Saraswathi river and silted over which was later excavated by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1980s. Due to its' late discovery, much of the structure is still in good shape.



























Vishnu in standing pose (at the far right end)…

























Vishnu in supine pose...


























Sculptures on the galleries...


























Dasavataras…





































There are more than 800 elaborate sculptures and 226 pillars in the 7 galleries of the vav. The central 
theme of these sculptures being 'Dasavataras' or the 'Ten Incarnations' of Vishnu, each 'avatar' has been intricately depicted. The view of the 'Vishnu' in a standing pose and that of 'Sheshashayana Vishnu' in the inner sanctums are very unique. Made with black stones, these sculptures can be seen their respective levels only but not from any other levels. 

Geometric designs on walls...














































































Other major depiction in the step well is that of Gauris (different forms of Parvathi, Shiva's consort). 
Nagakanyas and apsaras in different moods showcasing different styles of make-up (solah shringar) is appealing too. Detailed geometrical designs 'patola' can also be seen at various places which has its' significance till modern times as it is being reproduced in the form of Patola sarees.  



















































The step well as well as the entire vicinity has been very well maintained. It gets very few visitors as compared to the crowded Adalaj step well (near Gandhinagar) so we were able to admire the beauty of this historical marvel in quietude. 

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 ...