Langudi – Odisha’s Miraculous Buddhist Hill

Year 1995! I had just registered my PhD programme on Buddhist Archaeology at Pune’s Deccan College. I had come to Odisha for my initial fieldwork. On a fine late afternoon, I had stumbled upon Langudi Hill with my other companions Dr Pradip Mohanty and Dr Harish Prusty, both experts in Buddhist Archaeology.

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Remains of Rock-Cut Stupa Ruins

The hill was not far from busy Kolkata – Chennai Highway, but at the same time it was far from the maddening crowd of the hustle bustle of city life and surrounded by vast rice fields and small and large villages. It was awe inspiring. The site had not gone through excavations. But the exposure in a horseshoe-shaped rock-cut panel had confirmed its potential.

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A couple of years later Langudi was excavated by Odisha State Institute of Maritime and Southeast Asian Studies based in Bhubaneswar. A fresh journey began with a new perspective after its excavations.

Travel Tips

Langudi Hill is located in Dharmasala Block near Jaraka Town in Odisha’s Jajpur District at a distance of 90 km from Bhubaneswar. The site is well connected by road and rail networks. When you are visiting Langudi also visit the nearby Kaima and Tarapur Hills for other Buddhist remains. You can also plan for a larger Buddhist trail around Langudi including Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri and the Shakti Peeth Viraja at Jajpur.
There are no accommodations at Langudi, however, Ratnagiri has a decent resort for the night stay. Alternatively, you can stay at Bhubaneswar and visit the Buddhist clusters during a day trip.

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Finding Shravasti (Sāvatthī)

Today standing atop Langudi Hill among its splendid archaeological ruins I became a time flyer and reminded of Huen Tsang, the Chinese monk who had visited Langudi in the middle of 1st millennium CE.

Looking at the plains of Brahmani Delta, I recall Huen Tsang’s statement: ‘In the southwest of the country was the Pu-Sie-P’o-K’i-Li (Puspagiri) monastery in a mountain; the stone tope of the monastery exhibited supernatural lights and other miracles, sunshades placed by worshippers on it between the dome and amalaka remained their like needles held by a magnet. To the northeast of this tope in a hill monastery was another tope like the preceding in marvels. The miraculous power of these topes was due to the topes having been erected by supernatural beings’.

Several attempts had been made prior to Langudi’s excavation to identify Puspagiri University. But most of them had failed.

An inscription found at Langudi reveals its identification as Puspa Sabhara Mahagiriya (Puspagiri). Archaeological excavations have also brought to light a large number of Buddhist caves, dilapidated rock-cut stupas and ruined monasteries in and around Langudi Hill. The area was a prominent Buddhist seat of learning from the time of Ashoka until 11th Century CE. All the three branches of Buddhism, Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana flourished here at different periods of its history.

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As you enter the hill what draws your immediate attention is the remains of a large square stupa of burnt bricks and laterite stone built during the rule of Emperor Ashoka in remote 3rd Century BCE. Supposed to be the earliest in Odisha, the stupa testifies the presence of Buddhism in Odisha in the Mauryan Era. An inscription found here also carries Ashoka’s name.

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Mauryan Period Buddhist Stupa – Earliest in Odisha

A passage in the rock edict XIII of Ashoka at Dhauli suggests that there were sramanas along with adherents of other sects in Kalinga at this time. It was during the rule of Ashoka thorough and systematic propaganda was carried out by protagonists of different schools, and Buddhism made considerable headway in Odisha. Ashoka’s brother Tissa had selected Kalinga for the place of retirement. Ashoka had constructed for him a monastery known as Bhojakagiri Vihara, which became the centre of activities of the Thera School. Dharmarahita, Tissa’s preceptor had come to Kalinga to spend his last days with Tissa and other monks in the monastery. Ashoka had also built 10 stupas in Odisha, the Langudi Stupa being one of them. During the time of his grandson, a wealthy Brahmin named Raghav from Odra had become a follower of Buddhism. Raghav had made arrangement of an assembly of eight thousand arahats in his house where they were entertained for three years.

To the further north of the Mauryan Period stupa, there are remains of 34 rock-cut stupas dated to 2nd-3rd centuries CE.

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The central stupa or the maha stupa in the series is shown with lotus medallion and flying vidyadharas.

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On its base are depictions of musicians and dancers, one of the earliest in Odisha showcasing ancient Odisha’s cultural life.

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In the southern part of the hill, excavations have revealed rock-cut images of various female deities such as Tara with her two arms and Prajnaparamita, both Mahayana deities and sculptures of Dhani Buddhas testifying the presence of Vajrayana Cult in the hill towards the end (9th – 11th centuries CE).

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The early Buddhism in Odisha or elsewhere in India was urban-based. The monasteries which were exclusively used as varsa vasa or rainy retreats were located in isolated hills for meditative pursuits, yet not far from their respective urban centres, which were the support base. Trade, both domestic and international thrived in this era.

Langudi Hill was not an exception. Close to the hill in its north is located Radhanagar, the ruins of an ancient city, which was part of my PhD topic in the 1990s. Excavations at Radhanagar have brought to light a large number of objects associated with aristocratic life and markers of domestic and international trade.

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The site of Radhangar and Archaeological Finds

Close to Radhanagar is yet another hill, Kaima on the bank of Kelua River. On its foothills is found a rock-cut elephant, the second after Dhauli, symbolically representing Lord Buddha. There are also caves in all nearby areas including Tarapur, where excavations have brought out yet another circular stupa of Mauryan era.

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Langudi and its surrounding hills are major Buddhist cluster yet to be explored by tourists. The views from these hills are breathtaking. You are simply taken back to the time of Ashoka and ponder to visualize how the bhiksus of Langudi had been responsible for the conversation of Chanda Ashoka to Dharma Ashoka or from Digvijaya to Dharmavijaya.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Ekamra Walks: Unplugging History

Cities represent mini civilizations. If civilizations are part of the evolutionary chronicles of human settlements, cities in the miniature format represent a broad canvas, on which the civilization and its cultural effects are painted in the form of historical structures, monuments and the other remains of these vestiges, which, ultimately gives the prototype signature to the entire gamut of architectural legacy and decorating the expert craftsmen’s dedication to build the historic structures dotting around the city landscape.

 

With temples being its signature monuments and the Kalingan architecture forming the epitome of the unique temple building style, Bhubaneswar stands tall as perhaps the most densely populated city of temples with national and state importance, making them 361, here.

However, the city of more than 7,000 temples in the past never got noticed for all its precious monumental jewels excepting a few major heritage sites. There was always a need to promote the city’s rich heritage and cultural traditions showcasing its colourful festivals and temple-based rituals so that visitors from around the world would take note and start orienting their tour plans towards the Temple City Bhubaneswar _ tranquil, historic and Smart.

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While the genesis of the city from the Mauryan era Sisupalgarh to the modern Capital city of new Odisha in 1948, and winning the coveted Smart City Challenge in 2016, (Best proposal for a child-friendly city) could be an indication, heritage in the city was always taking a backseat, years ago.

Despite having so many monuments, including many protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the city’s projection with its priceless monuments along with its urban development and the latters side-effects never made headlines.

Putting all things to a rest, the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation, Bhubaneswar Development Authority and Odisha Tourism took a bold and dynamic step on December 18, 2016 to launch the city’s first guided heritage tour in the city known for its majestic temples, intricate carvings, alluring damsels and fierce forms of Goddesses in the form of Sapta Matrikas or Seven Mother Goddesses.

 

The heritage walk was conceived from the very idea to make the city a happening place on the world heritage map and moreover, branding it with explorable avenues so that the visitors would be always willing to participate and rediscover the city. The opening up of the skies through the international flight services also added to the fun as many travellers are coming from the ASEAN nations and loving discovering the city in an old and charming way.

The name Ekamra Walks was coined deriving from the old name Ekamra Kshetra as the city was always known from the beginning of the temple building era of 7th Century CE or even earlier. Adding 10 major monuments to the list, a live demonstration at the dance institution Art Vision by Odissi Guru Padma Shri Ileana Citaristi, a visit to Bindusagar, Doodhwala Dharamsala and medicinal plant garden Ekamra Van.  It was also planned to have the event non-stop every Sunday starting from the 10th Century Mukteswar Temples, which has got a beautiful arch representing the beauty and precision of Kalingan sculptural art.

The Walk

Ekamra Walks Old Town Circuit starts from the precinct of Mukteswar Temple every Sunday at 6.30 am. There is a “jugalbandi’’ of heritage and music there, as the visitors are offered a nice dose of Odissi and Hindustani Classical music amidst the chirping of birds as the nearby lawn and trees are frequented by the winged guests and locals use the lawn for their morning exercises and  walks. After Mukteswar, visitors watch the sun dial and then proceed towards Parasurameswar temple through the lawn. The temple is one of the best preserved monuments dating back to 7th Century CE in Bhubaneswar.

After visiting Parasurameswar, the walkers pass through a narrow passage called Kotirtheswar Lane, named after the 15th /16th Century Kotirtheswar Temple. However, during the journey through the lane, Swarnajaleswar temple makes for a nice peep. The Kotitirtheswar Lane leads to the Eastern banks of holy lake, Bindusagar. After seeing the lake from the Parikrama on its Eastern bank, they move towards Ananta Vasudev temple, which perhaps is the only Vishnu Temple in the Ekamra Kshetra and visitors also see the temple kitchen, which perhaps is the second oldest after the  Jagannath Temple in Puri. After Ananta Vasudev temple, the next stop is Doodhwala Dharamsala, a heritage structure for budget pilgrims. Then after climbing the Curzon Mandap to view the majestic Lingaraj, it’s the beautiful  Chitrakarini and Sari Deula to showcase the restoration after excavation, Mohini on the bank of Bindu Sagar, Parikrama around Bindusagar, Vaital Temple near Tini Mundia Square, the visitors soak in the Odissi recital by beautiful young dancers at Art Vision, an institute run by Italy-born Padma Shri Ileana Citaristi.

The Monks, Caves and  Kings, at Khandagiri-Udayagiri, on the other hand, starts at 6.30 am on Saturday at Udayagiri caves and goes through Rani Gumpha (ground and first floor), Ganesh Gumpha, Udayagiri Hilltop, Bagha (Tiger) Gumpha and Hati (Elephant) Gumpha. Inscription in Hati Gumpha, rock art and inscriptions at Bagha Gumpha and Manchapuri Gumphas are worth mentioning. After the Udayagiri trail, the visit to the relief images of Jaina Tirthankars at Khandagiri is a delightful journey, only to end the trail in the Twin Hills.

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 Objective

Bhubaneswar has all the potential to become a World Heritage City as it harbours timeless vistas and monuments but there was no way to make the visitors understand the dynamics of historic evolution and Ekamra Walks was perhaps the best way to carry forward such an agenda.

The pre-historic cave art, nature and man-made caves, monuments depicting the influences of three major religions originating from the Indian sub-continent, handicrafts from stone with mesmerising details and life-like portrayal with magical craftsmanship, unique architectural patterns and forms of Kalingan temples are there to invite the guests to immerse themselves in the all-new experience .

Impact

Ekamra Walks has so far attracted travellers from 29 nations. Staring from the Mayor of Cupertino Mrs Savita Vaidhyanathan, a crew from Air Asia, students from University of California, College of Charleston, South Carolina, University of Melbourne, IIT Bhubaneswar, business management institutions like XIMB, Xavier University, Bhubaneswar, Benares Hindu University, Institute of Mathematics and Applications, Indian Institute of Tour and Travel Management, KIIT University, Centurion University, architectural students from across India, SAI International School, DAV Public School, Chandrasekharpur, ICICI Academy of Skills, Bhubaneswar and local institutions of the city and nearby districts. Participants and officials from Asian Athletics Championship-2017, Hockey World League, International Hockey Federation and mascot of AAC-2017 Olly also took part in the heritage trail.

Voices 

Just after finishing the heritage walk at Ekamra Van on the western bank of the holy Bindusagar lake, Mayor of Cupertino Mrs Savita Vaidhyanathan had said that her IT City would  have a medicinal plant garden like that of Ekamra Van here. She appreciated the fact that even after embracing modernity and all the new-age development in the Capital city, the Old Bhubaneswar city has kept its unique characteristics and for the participants of Ekamra Walks discovering these uniqueness is a beautiful thing to be associated with.

Best-selling Marathi author, poet, critic and linguistics scholar of repute Balchandra Vanaji Nemade,  who was a recipient of the coveted Jnanapitha Award in 2014 for his novel “Hindu: Jagnya Samruddha Adgal’’ and also a recipient of the Central Sahitya Akademi Award and Padmashri, was a guest of Ekamra Walks, Old Town Circuit.

The famous author, who has taught comparative literature in India and abroad and also a frequent visitor to Odisha, said “Odisha has a treasure which is unique in its own way. People are gradually discovering it and those in the Western world and Indian metros should come to explore the poetry written on stone by the craftsmen from Utkala.’’

Senior Editor NDTV Hindi Ravish Kumar, was delighted to see the treasure of artistic monuments in the Old Town area of the Ekamra Kshetra and said “every temple here is like a big volume of artistic book written and carved through the efficient carvings and poetic expressions with all detailing and imagination.’’

Suggesting that the storey-telling style of the guides must be on interesting anecdotes and not just chronicling historic facts, the senior journalist also added that if the city could have information boards on the monuments in public places or parks, then more people and especially kids would show more interest in these historic monuments.

Knowledge gained

 

From little know to a sought-after weekly heritage walk, Sunday in Old Town and on Saturday at the Twin Hills of Khandagiri and Udayagiri, a well-known Jain heritage site with beautiful pre-historic and man-made caves, several inscriptions with potential to influence the socio-political equations of the-then India and Odisha in particular, engineering knowledge used in that period for better drainage and ventilation in the caves and cave art of various motifs the regularity of the event and constant presence, especially in print and social media has made Ekamra Walks a success story with a follow-up by more than 550 newspaper and webpage articles (for Old Town and Monks, Caves and Kings at Udayagiri-Khandagiri) and more than 6,500 Face Book page likes and followers of around that number, in FB.

The success of Ekamra Walks would also help in the development of the start-up ecosystem in tourism, travel and guiding sector as the heritage trail has proven its worth in the City of Temple. Several other start-ups have also started their ground work and some even gone to the extent of conducting pilot tours and packages in and around the city with themes like heritage, wildlife, rural nature trail. The heritage tour might be just a small step towards showcasing the monumental treasure of the Temple City, but it would be a giant step to provide an ample kick to the latent potential of the tourism sector as the region is not only bestowed with sites to be explored, but with beautiful handicrafts and souvenir items to go back home with fond memories.

 

Ekamra Walks, thus, has kindled the hope on the heritage front and it would certainly light up others in the fray, for a great socio-economic uplift and progress. Bhubaneswar would certainly have more presence in heritage and tourism sectors. 

 

 

 

Author – Bibhuti Barik

Writer, journalist, amateur photographer and currently working as Communication Consultant to the Bhubaneswar Smart City Ltd. He can be contacted at bibhutibarik@gmail.com

Kulpak Ji – An Ancient Derasar in Telangana

The ramparts sketching a thick line in the distance told us that we were somewhere in the vicinity of Bhongir Fort on the outskirts of Hyderabad in Telangana. Sheer steps hewn out of basalt on one among the innumerable boulders scattered along the timeless landscape of Deccan Plateau seemed both difficult yet alluring. But our hearts lay elsewhere, 80 kms away precisely! In a quaint village called Kolunapaka, named so after its huts and lakes; kolanu means lake and paka is the word for huts.

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We alight in front of a large gate where watchmen ask us to leave our cameras and anything made of leather behind. Such things are prohibited in a Jain Derasar (place of worship). One look at the Kulpak ji temple and I was overcome with Deja Vu. The style of the temple, the pink sandstone, the gleaming marble and the pretty parchinkari… there were glimpses of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Agra in a village tucked in Telangana!

Kulpak ji did not look wee bit like a 2000 year old structure that we were expecting and the sense of Deja Vu continued. This temple being one of the oldest known Jain worship sites in Telangana enjoyed patronage from various dynasties right from the Ishkvakus to Chalukyas who donated generously to the temple for its maintenance and upkeep.

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The temple finds mention in many old Jaina texts and is home to Manikya Swami; the green stone idol of Rishabh Dev or Adinath, the first Jain Tirthankara. Besides this, the marbled interiors houses idols of 8 other tirthankars including the 51 inches idol of Mahavira made of a single jade stone. Legends state that Manikya Swami housed here was worshipped by Ravana’s wife Mandodari who then immersed it in the sea. It was found by King Shankar of Kalyan and it is believed the idol chose this temple as its abode.

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One of the smaller shrines beside the main temple

If Jaina texts are to be believed this is one of the temples that was built by Chakravartin Bharat himself. Bharat was the son of Rishabha Dev or Adinath Bhagwan and it is on his name that this country gets its name as – Bharat Varsha. Rishabhanatha has two wives, Sumangala and Sunanada. Sumangala bore 99 sons and 1 daughter of whom the eldest was Bharat. Sunanada bore 1 son and 1 daughter and he was known as Bahubali as he was tall and had strong arms.

After ruling for a long time, Rishabha Dev divided his kingdom among his 100 sons equally and left for forest to attain Kewal Gyan or omniscience. While Bharat got Vinita (Ayodhya), Bahubali got Taxila. After his coronation Bharat embarked on an ambitious voyage to conquer the world and he did so becoming Digvijay. But he could not fight his brothers so sent the messages to accept him as their King. All his brothers, knowing his might, decided to join their father in the pursuit of knowledge and became monks forsaking their kingdoms.

Now only Bahubali was left who decided to fight it out with Bharath. Knowing this could be a battle that would claim many lives, the kings decided to go for an individual duel. In all the decided 3 fights (eye, water and wrestling) Bahubali prevailed over Bharath. Enraged at the defeat, Bharath broke rules and used his Chakra (he had a chakra ratna, a deadly discus that could kill anyone and that is why he was known as Chakravartin) but the weapon just encircled Bahubali and halted in front of him. Bharath had forgotten that the Chakra would never attack anyone who has the same blood as him. Bahubali bundled up Bharath in his arms but instead of throwing him to the ground, gently placed him there. Disgusted by what he might have done, Bahubali decided to forsake everything and meditate where he was standing.

Bahubali not only became a shruta kevalin but also a kewal gyani and Bharath, an able ruler. Kulpak ji is thus a part of the first legends of Jainism. Many inscriptions of various eras talking of grants have been found on the site and it still remains a prominent place of pilgrimage for the Shvetambar Jains of the country.

After 12th century Jainism saw a major decline in Andhra desa and its activities started reassuming from 17th century onwards. Bringing marble and sandstone from Rajasthan and 150 stone sculptors and artists from Gujarat and Agra, the temple was zealously rebuilt by devout Jain traders some 50 years ago. The temple complex provides accommodation and food for visiting Jain pilgrims. The trust has built a water tank for the village and also maintains cows and buffaloes.

This peaceful oasis built with much love and devotion is not be missed whenever in Telangana and also the nearby Sri Someshwara Temple which is both a living temple and an ASI museum.

 

Author – Zehra Chhapiwala

She can be reached at zchhapiwala@gmail.com

Finding Shravasti (Sāvatthī)

While growing up I often heard recitations of the poem Bonolota Sen, written by Jibonananda Das in 1942. In this poem, the poet beautifully describes his muse, painting her with various attributes from ancient India. One of the most enigmatic poems that I have read, the words cut deep into the reader’s soul as he or she travels back in time to the glorious past. Few lines from the poem run as such:

A thousand years I have walked these paths,
From the harbour at Malacca in the dark of night
To the straits of Ceylon at glimmer of dawn.
Much have I travelled – 
The grey world of Ashoka-Bimbisara,
Further yet,
The dark city of Vidharbha;
Around me life foams its stormy breath.
Weary of soul,
I found a moment’s respite in her presence – 
She: Banalata Sen of Natore.

Her hair the ancient darkness of Vidisha,
Face an intricate sculpture from Shravasti.
A sailor in distant oceans, rudderless, lost,
When hoves into view
Island of grass through fronds of cinnamon,
A green relief
So she felt to me….”

(translation by Amitabha Mukerjee: https://www.cse.iitk.ac.in/users/amit/other/poems/banalata.html)

From treading the magical realms of this lyrical verse, when I finally walked into Shravasti on a bitterly cold and foggy morning, I found no intricate sculptures resembling the beauty of Bonolota Sen waiting for me. What was waiting was the magic of 2600 years, compressed and hidden amidst the ruins and paths of the once thriving site known as the Jetavana monastery.

Looking back at Shravasti:

The name Shravasti is a familiar one in Indian history from ancient times, and finds mention in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist texts. Shravasti  was also often referred to as Champakpuri and Chandrikapuri, though Kalidasa called it as ‘Sravasti.’ According to the Mahabharata, the name Shravasti was derived from king Shravasta, while Buddhist folklore says the town was named as Savatthi after Savattha, a hermit who lived here. In Ramayana it is said that Lord Rama of the Surya dynasty divided his kingdom of Kosala (with capital at Ayodhya) into two parts. The elder son Kusa inherited Kushavati or Kushasthali, and Lava got Shravasti that was situated on the banks of the river Rapti (currently the Sehath-Mehath village site near Gonda and Baharinch). It is believed that Lava’s descendants ruled the area for a long time; however, during the time of Mahabharata both Kushasthali and Shravasti seem to have gone into oblivion, though we find mention of Ayodhya under control of king Bruhadbala I, who fought for the Kauravas. In Buddhist literature the name Shravasti carries great significance, as Lord Buddha spent many years of his monastic life in this city. During his life time Shravasti was considered one among the six largest cities in India. For the Jains, Sharvasti holds great religious significance, as the now ruined Sobhanath temple is considered to be the birthplace of the third Tirthankara, Sambhavanath.

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Third Jain tirthankara Sambhanath was born in Shravasti to King Jitārī and Queen Susena (photo courtesy – Wikipedia)

When we look at archaeological evidences from the Gangetic basin, we find the presence of fine Black Red Ware or B-R-W  that denotes the Chalcolithic era, thus establishing the fact that it was likely Chalcolithic people settled down in this area around the second millennium BCE. As the settlements of the BRW people expanded through first half of the 1st millennium, there was also a  shift from copper to  iron, possibly due to discovery of iron ore resources. This iron technology helped the Gangetic basin to expand and develop its unique cultural mosaic, and it is likely that Shravasti settlements started at this time (early half of 1st millennium BCE). Using these new iron tools, soon forests in the Gangetic basin were cleared, farmers started producing surplus crops, and people settled down permanently, forming cities like Shravasti.

In the later Vedic period we find that increasingly territorial identities started gaining importance over tribal ones, and by 600 BCE we find a shift from oligarchic republics to the formation of large states or kingdoms. From loyalty towards the jana (the tribe), the loyalty of the people now shifted to the janapadas (states). By subjugating other janapadas, more powerful mahajanapadas soon came into existence. According to Anguttara Nikaya (Buddhist text), during Buddha’s time 16 such mahajanapadas existed. Kosala was one of them with its capital at Shravasti (by Buddha’s time Ayodhya had been reduced to an unimportant city), and considered among the four great monarchies of that time that survived well after the 6th c. BCE.

Mahajanapadas during Buddha’s time (photo courtesy – wikipedia)

With the formation of these mahajanapadas, India saw an increase in material prosperity owing to trade with Central and West Asia and the Mediterranean region, leading to urbanization. From the strategic location on east-west route of Uttarapatha, which connected the Gangetic basin with the Himalayas, it is likely that Shravasti held great economic and political importance as a trading centre. Shravasti at that time was well connected with other important commercial hubs, such as, Taxila, Rajgir, Pataliputra, Pratisthana, Kaushambi and Varanasi

Dynasty that held Shravasti

According to the Ramayana and the Puranas, the Kosala mahajanpada was ruled by the Aikshvaka dynasty that originated from a king named Ikshvaku, and members of this dynasty held sway over Shravasti, Vaishali, Maithili, and Kushinara. The Puranas give a list of the rulers of the Aikshvaka dynasty from Ikshvaku to Prasenajita, the latter being a contemporary of Bimbisara of the Haryanka dynasty, and Lord Buddha. Prasenajita who was then the king of Shravasti or Savatthi, became one of the leading upasakas of the Buddha. As per the Buddhist scriptures, Bimbisara (who was also the brother in law of Prasenajita) met the Buddha prior to his enlightenment, and later he too became one of his leading upasakas.

Procession of Prasenajit of Kosala leaving Shravasti to meet the Buddha. Sanchi Stupa. (picture courtesy – wikipedia)

Burmese art showing King Bimbisara of Rajgir, who was the brother-in-law of Prasenajit of Kosala, offering his kingdom to the Buddha (Picture courtesy – wikipedia) 

Seeing Shravasti as it is now:

Currently what remains of this ancient city are  parts of the wall that once guarded

The remains of city walls built of mud and bricks of Shravasti in the Maheth site. The walking-path seen in the front is the site of one of the four main city gates of ancient Shravasti, and is the closest to Jetavana monastery. It must have been the same road used by the monks living in Jetavana monastery during Buddha’s times, as they went around for alms (bhiksha) in ancient Shravasti (photo courtesy – wikipedia)

Shravasti, in the Maheth village site; and the Jetavana monastery ruins at Saheth. Besides the remains of religious complexes that contained Buddhist monastic cells with a central court, excavations at Shravasti have found many idols, inscription plaques, terracotta seals in Brahmi script, copper coins of the Ayodhya series, glass and etched agate beads, blue and green glass bangles, and copper ornaments, which are now placed in the Lucknow and Mathura museums. Ramayana plaques were unearthed from the site of Kachhi kuti in the Saheth site of Jetavana, which likely came from a Hindu temple. It is believed that King Ashoka visited Shravasti, and had built two pillars on the eastern gate of Jetavana. Both Fa-hien and Hiuen Tsang in their travel accounts mention Ashokan pillars with ox-capital that they saw at the Jetavana monastery in Shravasti. When Hiuen Tsang visited Shravasti in the 6th c. CE, he found the ancient city in ruins, but he recorded  the monuments that he saw here.

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Remains of the stupa of the merchant prince name Sudatta of Shravasti, who acquired the site of jeta-vana for Buddha, from prince Jeta (son of King Prasenajita of Kosala) at a huge price that equalled the total amount of gold pieces which would cover the entire surface of the plot (the total price amounted to 18 crores). Sudatta was titled as Anathapindika, which meant “giver of alms to the destitute.” This stupa is now better known as kacchi kuti, because a sadhu had made a temporary shrine made of kaccha bricks on top of the mound. This stupa represents structural remains dating from 2nd century CE to 12th c. CE, ranging from Kushana period to Gupta era structures and later period renovations. 

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Donation by Anathapindika, as shown on Bharhut stupa.  Here we can see a cartload of coins being taken down, while the square pieces on the ground denote the gold pieces covering the site. The Brahmi text reads  “jetavana ananthapindiko deti kotisanthatena keta.” (picture courtesy – wikipedia). Buddha first came to Shravasti on an invite from Anathapindika. 

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Remains of monastic complexes at the site of Jetavana monastery. It was also in Shravasti that Buddha attracted many women disciples, which led to his forming an Order of the Nuns, much against his wishes, and he had predicted that with this reform the Buddhist order will not last for long. The first disciple to join the Order of the Nuns by forcing Buddha’s consent was his own step-mother Mahaprajapati. One of his most well known women disciple was Visakha, the daughter of a business tycoon of those times from Saketa. She built Buddha another monastery at Shravasti and named it Purvarama, by selling her expensive head dress. Of the total 25 monsoon seasons that Buddha spent teaching in Shravasti, 19 were in Jetavana and 6 in Purvarama. 

Stupa of Visakha, where her ashes were interred in Shravasti (picture courtesy – wikipedia)

Stupa 1 in Sanchi depicts the three preferred homes of the Buddha within the Jetavana monastery in Shravasti (picture courtesy – Wikipedia)

 

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Remains of the brick made plinths, foundations, and walls of the different monastic cells  in Jetavana. The ancient site of Shravasti was completely forgotten, until excavations were started under Alexander Cunningham in 1863, who followed the details given by Fa-Hien and Hiuen Tsang and found that Saheth was the site of Jetavana monastery and Maheth was Savatthi during the ancient times. Most of the excavated remains in Jetavana show the typical elevation and plan of early Buddhist architecture, and belong to the Kushana period, with a number of reconstructions and renovations done during the Gupta period, and some more from the later periods dating upto 11th- 12th century CE. 

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The Anandabodhi tree in Jetavana planted  by Anathapindika, considered as the second most sacred tree among the Buddhists.  A cell right behind the tree is supposed to have belonged to a goldsmith’s workshop, as derived from remains of a lump of pure gold in a clay crucible in the room and ash heaps around the building. 

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Gandhakuti, the hut where Buddha spent 19 monsoon seasons. Lord Buddha spent most his monastic life in Shravasti, preaching 871 suttas from the four nikayas, of which 844 were preached from this very spot in Jetavana. According to a description given by Fa-hien, the Gandhakuti originally had seven sections, that held different kinds of offerings, decorated insignia, marquees, and the place was lit with lamps that burned all the time. A rat supposedly set the entire vihara on fire destroying it completely, and when it was rebuilt it only had two sections. 

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Thin gold foil offerings to Buddha is seen on Gandhakuti  and other monastic cell wall remains in Jetavana. This practice of offering gold foil is common among south east Asian devotees, especially from Myanmar. 

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The stupa of the notorious robber known as Ahimsaka or Angulimala, who killed those travelling through the forests in Kosala. He killed people by dragging them out of their homes in nearby villages. To keep count of his victims he strung their fingers around his neck like a garland, which gave him the name Angulimala. While looking for his thousandth victim Buddha intercepted him and made him his disciple. Despite becoming a monk, Angulimala while out begging for alms often faced the wrath of the people whose loved ones he had once killed; but Buddha told him to endure it as a penance for his former misdeeds or Karma.

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Angulimala chasing Buddha in  their first meeting. Painting in the Sri Lanka Buddhist temple at Shravasti. 

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Shravasti is also an important religious place for the Jains. The Jain temple seen here is situated a little away from the Jetavana monastery, and is supposedly the birth place of the third Tirthankara Sambhavnath, whose symbol is a horse. Born to King Jitārī and Queen Susena, he ascended the throne at an early age of 20, and ruled ably for thirty four years, ushering in many changes during his reign. However, one day after seeing a vanishing dark cloud, he realised the transient nature of life, renounced his throne, and chose a monastic life. The remains of the structure show a basic rectangular plan with different strata, and many later additions, extensions, and superimposition. The domed roof structure built of lakhori bricks is a much later medieval Islamic imposition. The interior face of the structure had several niches that housed Jain deities and many such deities have been recovered from the site. 

 

Remains of small room like structures within the Jain temple. Just outside the temple are two more mounds of ruins, likely to hold remains of ancient monastic structures.

The Shravasti Miracle

The Twin Miracle  performed  by Buddha at Shravasti, seven years after gaining enlightenment, is considered as his best miracle. The miracle was in response to a challenge thrown to Buddha by the heretics, wherein he had predicted that he would perform a miracle while seated under a mango tree (as stated in most of the Pali texts, such as Dhammapadathakatha and Jataka tales). Hearing this the heretics destroyed all mango trees in the area; however their plans were thwarted when Buddha planted a mango seed that immediately grew into  a full grown tree with fruits, thus allowing Buddha to perform his miracle, known as the Yamaka-pātihāriya  or the Twin Miracle. This miraculous phenomena paired two opposite natural elements:  flames that came out from the upper body, while water streamed down from his lower body, and the two were alternated. At the same time,  water and fire also emitted alternatively from the left and right sides of his body. 

The twin miracle by Buddha at Shravasti (photo courtesy – wiki pediaby Ddalbiez) 

Another important text Divyavadana written in Sanskrit talks of another Great Miracle performed in Shravasti, which was a miracle of multiplication, where Buddha created multiple images of his self in front, back, and the two sides, thus forming a group of Buddhas that reached up to the Heaven.

The miracle of ‘Many Buddhas’ in Shravasti (photo courtesy – Wikipedia)

Downfall of the high and mighty

Shravasti, the once powerful city and capital of the mighty Kosala mahajanapada, a centre of economic, socio-cultural, and political activities, saw a sudden decline from 3rd-4th c. CE. The decline started  a little earlier than the other important north Indian cities of the time, from the later part of the Kushana period, when for some reason (could be economic, political, or cultural) people suddenly started moving out of this urban centre. The decline can be attributed to economic stagnation, owing to the Hun invasion and the diminishing Indo-Roman trade in the later half of the Gupta period. Thus, an economic decline led to the complete disintegration of political unity, and breakdown of the socio-cultural fabric that had been held together for many centuries.

Author – Monidipa Dey

She can be reached at monidipadey@rocketmail.com or at MoniGatha

Travel Shot – Cheriyal Art of Telangana

It was that time of the evening when all had gathered to listen to stories. The stories of ancestors beyond what granny knew or could remember, stories of heroes that made them proud, stories that they would sleep with and dream about. Today, the Kunapulis were coming to perform Markandeya Puranam for the Padmasalis and the show will go on anywhere from 3 nights to 20 nights. Later, the Dakkalis will come to perform Jamba Puranam for the Madigas and this cycle of performances will continue till genealogies of 7 local castes (the barber, toddy tapper, washerman, fisherman, leather worker, weaver and farmer) have been recited by bards from their sub-caste.

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The perfomers paraphernalia consisted of large scrolls that were 3 feet wide and 40 to 60 feet long on which the stories were painted and sometimes colourful masks for the days when story telling would turn into play acting. Over the years these wandering minstrels diversified their repertoire and included stories from the other Puranas and epics educating the unlettered rustic folk.

 

As a preparation, the story tellers would go to the ‘Nakaashs’ and recite their story that would be painted scene by scene, character by character onto a scroll. The earliest reference to this tradition dates back to the 12th century; the Kakatiya times where Ekamranatha in his literary text Pratapa Charitram indicates the presence of 1500 painter families living in and around Warangal. Even today the Nakaashs live in Cheriyal, a small village with winding alleys about 85 kms from Warangal city.

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A non-descript village like any other in rural India and crowded with houses that has pretty wooden doors, Cheriyal is easy to find but not the Nakaashs. It took a lot of asking around and negotiating through narrow streets where one led to the other like a never ending maze to finally reach the humble house of an artist. Once inside his living room cum showroom cum godown, Mallesham carefully unwrapped the colourful frames of Cheriyal paintings depicting both the deities and the everyday life of people in the region.

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The processes still remain the same wherein the canvas is prepared after coating and drying a handwoven cloth (mostly khadi cotton) with  boiled rice starch, white clay, gum and boiled tamarind seed paste in layers. Every coating is allowed to dry thoroughly before the next is applied. When the canvas is dry and hard, an outline of the painting is made using indigo on an essentially red background and later colours are filled in. The colours used are natural derived mostly from seeds, flowers and stones like black from lamp soot mixed with gum from the thirumany tree, white from sea shells, red from tamarind seeds, brown from geru. The frame is marked by a floral border indicating the end of a scene on a scroll. Now, it is merely ornamentation as the scrolls have miniaturized into frames meant for hanging on a wall. Yet the scenes retain a strong local flavor as it follows the tradition of oral story telling.

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Celebrating the ‘Bonalu’ festival which is unique to Telangana just like Cheriyal art is

Drying on the sidelines were masks of gaily adorned men and women of Telangana along with an occasional parrot and cow. The masks, made from coconut shells, are layered with wood powder, gum and tamarind paste over a khadi cloth before finally painting them. From face fitted to fist fitting, the masks are available in many sizes. 

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The masks in various stages of preparation

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But if you thought the delight ends here then you have not seen the colourful dolls yet. Made with the same raw materials as masks are made of, these dolls are a lilliput version of the performers of yore. Relegated to the role of producing souvenirs, this unique art got a shot in the arm when it received a GI tag.

 

The traditions do not remain nor can we hit the rewind button but isn’t it wonderful that the artists have given us a chance to revisit those times. It was heartening to see a complex built on the periphery of the village which is not just used as a centre for showcasing and selling the Cheriyal art but also as a centre for teaching the art to those interested.

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Author – Zehra Chhapiwala

She can be reached at zchhapiwala@gmail.com

 

 

Dravida Temple Architecture – Origin and Development : A Visual Journey

As an art and heritage lover, I have travelled to many historical sites in the country but Tamil Nadu seemed to have eluded me. With the three great living chola temples on my mind, I sat down with a map and planned a 10 day road trip through Tamil heartland. And was I not surprised and overwhelmed. This state is full of stories and here stones speak eloquently !

Though temples were on my mind, I made sure not to miss seeing the Pichchavaram mangroves that are a mere 20 minutes drive away from the Thillai Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram. Here I recall my journey not in the way I took it but how Dravida style of temple architecture has developed.

Post Sangam Age, Tamilakkam, which was more of a cultural identity than a geographical entity was the crucible of development of a fabulous style of temple architecture known as the Dravida.  Dravida style temples were first constructed by the Pallavas.

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Tamilakkam of Sangam Age. Picture courtesy – Wikipedia

Pallavas were the great rulers of the northern part of today’s Tamil Nadu, and parts of Karnataka and Andhra until the 9th century. During their long reign, art and architecture of early Dravidian period bloomed and thrived. The rock cut as well as built architecture pioneered by them continued to be the inspiration and base for the architecture of peninsular India whose development continued for many centuries thereon. The journey of rock-cut architecture in Tamil Nadu started with King Mahendravarman I commissioning the construction of Laksitayana cave temple at Mandagapattu. It imitated the interior of a timber building akin to the Buddhist rock cut caves of Maharashtra. The cave and its pillars showed Chalukyan influence and have well defined mukha mandapa, ardha mandapa and three shrines. The Panchapandava caves at Pallavaram and Rudravaliswaram cave at Mamandur were amongst the series of rock cut caves that followed. His successor, Narsimhavarman Mamalla (630-668 CE) built a new port town called Mamallapuram and introduced unique temples that were carved out of a large boulder.

Mamallapuram is what we know today as Mahabalipuram – the place that I found as spectacular as Hampi is. Scattered with magnificent structures and ruins. Surely, Mamalla’s style led to the development of various stylistic attributes such as the Kudu (inspired from the Buddhist sun window), development of Sala and Kuta, a well defined adhisthana (basement), slender columns, crouching Vyalas and introduction of various decorations such as garlands, kalasa (vase), potika (corbels), padmabandha (lotus petals). Koneri Mandapa, Varaha mandapa, Mahishasuramardini caves, at Mamallapuram can be considered the earliest examples of this style.

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From the book ‘A History of Fine Arts in India and the West’ by Edith Tomory
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From the book ‘A History of Fine Arts in India and the West’ by Edith Tomory
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Trimurti Cave, Mamallapuram (present day Mahabalipuram)

Narasimhavarman also introduced free-standing monolith rathas. These rathas carved out from hard granite and 9 in number, are important milestones in the development of Dravidian temple architecture as they show the development of multi-storey Vimanas. These storeys known as Tala are stacked onto each other with the upper tala necessarily being smaller than the lower one, making it appear like a stepped pyramid. Mamallapuram was the Pallavas laboratory of experimenting with various construction styles and sculptural details. Here you see rathas from a single storey (Draupadi ratha) to three storeyed (Dhramaraja ratha) structuring and with varying number of Talas. Pallavas also experimented on the roofing style of the rathas. Draupadi ratha, the smallest ratha, looks like a hut with its curved dome like roof, Arjuna and Yudhisthir ratha have pyramidal roofs while the Bhima ratha has wagon vaulted roof and, Nakul-Sahadeva ratha is a horse-shoe shaped building topped by a wagon vault with an apsidal end. The Dharmaraja and Arjun ratha here are the most important ones as they influenced the later form and development of Dravidian temple architecture. Similarly, various theories also suggest the possibility of the wagon vaulted Bhima and Ganesha rathas influencing the design of Gopurams – the most striking feature of south Indian temples.

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View of the Pandava Rathas
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Ganesha Ratha
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Bhima Ratha

Successive Pallava kings – Rajasimha and Nandivarman continued the legacy of their predecessors and constructed beautiful structural temples. The famous shore temple at Mamallapuram consists of two Shiva shrines having vimanas, a third shrine dedicated to Seshashayi  (reclining) Vishnu having no superstructure, and a prakara wall enclosing the three. Unique feature of this temple is however its vimanas which don’t appear like stepped pyramids but rather tall slender tapering spires. 

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Shore Temple

Kailashnathar temple built in the Pallava capital Kanchipuram has many unique features such as; the main shrine has smaller shrines attached to it on the middle of each side as well as its four corners. The exterior of this temple mainly features the pilasters with rearing Vyala at their base. A gopuram makes an appearance in this temple, while a prakara surrounds the entire temple, with a row of mini shrines running all along its inner face.

After the Pallavas came the mighty Cholas. The long period of wait from the fall of early Cholas till the resurrection of Cholas (hereafter referred to as medieval Cholas) is known as a dark period in Chola history. The great empire which once ruled Tamilakkam became extinct in its own land with the rise of Pallavas and Pandyas. According to Manimekalai, Princess Pilli Valai had a liaison with the Early Chola King Killivalavan. Out of this union was born Prince Tondai Eelam Thiraiyar, a supposed ancestor of Pallava Dynasty. Since no other source except Manimekalai mentions the name of King Vallivalayan, this myth remains a tale whose historic veracity is yet to be confirmed.

 The Cholas, under the suzerainty of the Pallavas and Pandyas, had held onto their ancient capital – Urayur near modern day Trichy and continued to have influence over areas around like Thanjavur, Trichy, Mayiladuthurai and Pudukkottai. Taking advantage of the continuous wars between the Pallavas and Pandyas, Chola king Vijayala captured Thanjavur and added large parts to his territory. Finally, in 897 CE, Pallava king Aparajitavarman was defeated by the Chola King Aditya I, ending the Pallava rule. With large parts of northern Tamil Nadu under their belt the Cholas went on to become a mighty power in the South and ruled the region for more than four centuries- a golden period of art and architecture.

Although the Chola architecture is considered to have reached its zenith during the reign of the father- son duo, Rajaraja and Rajendra I who built the Brihadeesvara temples at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram respectively, this giant leap in the development of temple architecture didn’t take place overnight. Cholas knew that after defeating the Pallavas they had a large gap to fill when it came to ruling over a territory that had seen glorious rule of Pallavas as well as their magnificent rock-cut architecture at Mamallapuram and the brilliant built architecture in and around the Pallava capital of Kanchipuram.

It was natural that the early medieval Chola architecture was greatly influenced by the architectural style of Pallavas. These examples of medieval Chola architecture though small in size and not many in number implies that these structures/ temples were built by local chieftains of the Cholas without any imperial involvement like the Moovar Koil that is built by an Irukku Velir Cheiftain and a Chola general; Boothi Vikrama Kesari. Most of the examples of above mentioned style were entirely built in stone and are found in the Pudukkottai district of Tamilnadu.

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A fine example of early Cholan temples

 

Vijayalaya Choleesvaram – a temple in Narthamalai named after the first Chola king Vijayala was constructed in second half of the 9th century. This Shiva temple is famous for its unusual plan where the sanctum is circular (omkara garbhagriha) and its prakara is square. Of the four storeys of the Vimana here, three lower ones are square and the topmost is circular shape which then supports the dome like round kalasha above it. Another very interesting fact to note here is that, some of the ancient south Indian literary works such as Svayambhuvagama, karanagama, Marichi Samhita etc define hybrid ‘Vesara’ temple style as “the buildings which are round, apsidal and elliptical or may be square at the below but round from neck upwards”. This definition of Vesara exactly fits Vijayala Cholesvaram temple’s sanctum which is square at the base but round from Griva (neck) and above.

Moovar Koil- another milestone in the early medieval Chola architecture is located at Kodumbalur near from Pudukkottai and was constructed in the 10th century by a Chola general. Moovar koil meaning ‘temple of three (Gods)’ in Tamil, this temple complex had three temples only two of which survive today. At Moovar koil, one can observe a change in the sculptural form- from non- refined figures to the delicate figures showing Pallava influence. This change in temple form was attributed to the marital relationships of the Cholas with the Muttaraiyars who were the vassals of Pallavas.

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Moovar Koil. Picture courtesy : By Kasiarunachalam (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Brihadeesvara temples at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram are considered two of the greatest examples of Dravidian architecture. Both the temples are massive in scale and constructed out of large blocks of granite. Their tall Vimanas seem to be competing with the clouds with the one of Thanjavur Brihadeesvara reaching 66 meters. Both the temples stand on an ornate Adhisthana carved profusely with intricate designs and Tamil inscriptions. Massive monolithic Nandis sit in front of the temples in detached Nandi Mandapas. Their exterior mainly consists of pilasters, niches and decorative pillars called Kumbhapanjaram besides the common features of Salas and Kutas. The Thajavur temple is internally adorned with beautiful frescos and equally amazing sculptures on the exterior make it a heaven for the iconography enthusiasts. The relief sculptures inside the temple have been a great resource for documenting the history of classical dances such as Bharatanatyam as they showcase Nataraja, dancing Lord Shiva in various classical dance poses. Another overwhelming fact about this temple is that, its sixteen storeyed Vimana is topped by a massive octagonal monolithic Shikhara stone weighing 80,000 kilos. It is a mystery to this day how such a heavy stone was carried to such a great height. Some theories suggest it was taken to the top with the help of either a linear or spiral ramp being pushed by several elephants! Another interesting feature is the faces of a European man wearing a hat, a European girl, an Oriental man placed in kudus on the exterior of Vimanas. Although later additions, they confirm that Cholas had diplomatic as well as trade relations with far flung lands even thousand years ago!

Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram although smaller, is more intricate and has higher sculptural quality than the one at Thanjavur. Though the temples flummoxed me, being a marathi, I must admit that I found Thanjavur’s maratha connection quiet thrilling ! 

Another temple- Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram though much smaller in size than its predecessors surpasses both of them when it comes to an elaborate sculptural and architectural design. It is designed in such a way that it appears like a giant chariot pulled by elephants. Not surprisingly all the above mentioned three temples are a part of UNESCO world heritage sites together known as the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’.

Thus by the time the power of the Cholas started declining the Dravida style reached its maturity with distinct features. Very broadly, these features are:

          Pyramidal Vimana standing on a square base.

          Vimana towers formed by superimposing diminishing storeys on one another.

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Picture courtesy : Wikipedia

          Hara (a horizontal row on each storey consisting of miniature shrines) consisting of Salas (intermediate mini shrines) and Kutas (miniature shrines in the corners).

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          The main temple structure divided between Garbhagriha (Sanctum), Mahamandapa (closed hall) Mandapa (semi-closed hall), Ardha Mandapa (porch). Depending on the size of the temple, Mahamandapa and Mandapa often replaced each other. Natya Mandapa for dance performances was introduced in a lot of temples for performances of classical dances.

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Brihadeesvara Temple, Thanjavur

          Gopurams (temple gateway towers)- probably the most striking feature of the Dravidian temples. Just like Vimanas, Gopurams too have their pyramidal tower divided into many diminishing storeys topped by a barrel vault having several small finials placed along the ridge of the vault.

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Brihadeesvara Temple, Thanjavur

          Enclosure wall known as Prakara that encompassed the entire temple complex within. Depending on the size and importance of the temple, the number of concentric Prakaras varied. Vaikuntha Perumal temple, in Kanchi has a unique plan where the sanctum is encircled by four layers of concentric walls, the fourth being its prakara.

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-A water tank near the temple for ritualistic purposes and to provide for the priests living in the temple.

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Temple tank of Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram

-Huge Nandis with a mandapa of their own

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Nandi at the Brihadeesvara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Pandyas came back to the power for a while in the Tamil region after the collapse of Cholas in the 13th century. However, Pandyas were not creative builders like Cholas and rather concentrated on building Gopurams to the existing temples. The main contribution of Pandyas is in the heightened focus on the temple gateways. The gateways of Jambukesvara temple and eastern gopuram of Thillai Nataraja temple are the prime examples of gateways built during this period.

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Gopuram of the Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram

Vijayanagara Empire that came into being in 1336 CE, though concentrated on constructing new temples in and around their capital Hampi, also made significant additions to older existing Pallava and Chola temples by constructing sky soaring gopurams known as Raya Gopurams and Kalyana mandapas. The Kalyana mandapa at Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram has 96 pillars carved with either mythological figures or warriors on horses or Yalis except for the two pillars where the Goddess and God of Love in Hindu Mythology Rathi and Kamdev are carved on a parrot and a swan respectively. The entire hall is intricately carved with sculptures of stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, various dances, daily chores of people, amorous couples, Portuguese soldiers carrying guns, trick sculptures etc. However, fascinating stone rings that can move freely even though the entire chain is made of a single stone remains the most mindboggling feature of this era.

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Monolith chain and Yali Pillars in the Kalyana Mandapa of Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Kanchipuram

The sky soaring gopuram of Ekambarnathar temple at Kanchi was erected in 1509 CE by King Krishnadeva Raya. Its pyramidal tower has eight diminishing storeys in plaster-covered brickwork and rises to 192 feet. Raya Gopurams at the Chidambaram (139 feet high) as well as the one at Annamalaiyar temple (217 feet high)are some of the other well known examples of the temple gateways built during this period. Another example of Vijayanagara era worth mentioning is the impressive hall of Thousand Pillars in Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangam constructed during the years 1336–1565 CE. The pillars consist of sculptures of wildly rearing horses bearing riders on their backs and trampling with their hoofs upon the heads of rampant lions/ yalis.

 

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Ekambarnathar Temple, Kanchipuram
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Annamalaiyar Temple, Thiruvannamalai

The last phase of Dravidian temple architecture began with the collapse of Vijayanagara Empire and the declaration of independence of various Nayakas under them, such as the Thanjavur Nayakas, Gingee Nayakas and Madurai Nayakas. These Nayaka rulers continued the legacy of their previous masters and added various halls and gopurams to the existing temple complexes. Southern gopuram at the Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai by far remains the most important contribution of the Nayakas as its here that the development of gopuram reached its zenith. With its slightly inward curvature and unbelievable projecting stucco statues, this is easily the most beautiful gopuram in all of south India.

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Southern gopuram, Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai. Picture courtesy : Madhu Jagadeesan

The gopuram at Srivilliputhur is taller than the one at Madurai and has a larger number of stucco figures all over it. Very intricately carved Subrahmanya temple in Thajavur Brihadeesvara complex perfectly exhibits the ornate temple architecture style of the Nayakas. Features such as Pushpapotikas, Kumbhapanjara, double flexed cornice, mouldings of adisthana and various pillars add to its beauty by manifolds.

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Subramanya Temple

It is astonishing how the Dravidian style did not change much as per the region unlike its northern counterpart, Nagara whose regional styles flowered to become distinct sub-styles in their own right.  Almost like the people who till today live very traditional lifestyles and retain fierce pride in their culture. 

Author – Onkar Tendulkar

All the pictures used in the post belong to the author unless stated otherwise. The illustrations are from the book “A History of Fine Arts in India and the West” by Edith Tomory

He can be reached at Onkaar7@gmail.com

 

Turtuk – Living On The Edge

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page-” thus spake the Augustine of Hippo; and since I am a voracious reader, I decided to read a few more pages this year. This reading took me up the long, winding roads of the greater Himalayas, and I found myself wandering in the ‘land of high passes’: Ladakh . While taking one of the lesser explored trails into far north western part of Ladakh, we ended up in the village of Turtuk. Nestled amidst the towering peaks of the Karakoram, this village was once a part of Gilgit-Baltistan region.

When I reached, I found it sitting smug under the warm August sun, wrapped in the thoughts of its glorious past.

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Sun dappled lanes of Turtuk. Time stands still here.

Taken over by Pakistan post -independence, Turtuk, which is hardly 10 km from the Line Of Control (LOC), became a part of India during the Indo-Pak war of 1971 under the able leadership of Major Chewang Rinchen. Settled in the shadow of the famous K2 peak that falls across the LOC, this village has the river Shyok flowing beside it. Its greenery came as a relief to our eyes that were sore after hours of gazing at the black tarmac road, boulders, and white sand on all sides, without any vegetation.

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The Shyok river which gives company till Turtuk, flows across the LOC and meets the Indus. Shyok, which means “Death” in Uyghur, was named thus as it frequently floods its sides, cutting banks causing soil erosion.  Many times the river has wiped out entire villages often forcing villagers to move away and seek home elsewhere. The Shyok has not quietened with time and with an increased volume during the summer, it is impossible to cross the river. People living in villages such as Hunder and Utmaru are forced to use boats known as bips, for crossing it at remote places where there are no bridges.

Turtuk, once part of the inland  trade route (the silk route) for merchants travelling through the Karakoram ranges, was likely to have been an important trading post linked with Tibet, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. However, little recorded history is available of those days and what we now see has been shaped more by  the 1971 war and events thereof. With the closing down of borders in 1971 and the ancient trade routes sealed, the economic lifeline was cut off, choking Turtuk and the other border villages.

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The United Province of Baltistan, divided by recent borders. Interestingly, the area of Ladakh (of which Turtuk and adjoining areas are a part) has seen many partitions before. It started in 9th century CE when it was separated from the Tibetan empire by Beg Manthal of the Yabgo dynasty who conquered Khaplu. Later, in 1834 CE, the Dogra rulers from Jammu annexed it and made it a part of Jammu and Kashmir. Then in 1947, the Indian subcontinent underwent partition, and Baltistan was taken over by Pakistan. Finally in 1971, the Indian army took back the control of Turtuk and three other villages.

Baltistan once was a separate kingdom, and a Central Asian tribe named the Yabgo dynasty, controlled the united province from Chinese Turkistan.  Among the rulers of the western Turkistan, the Yabgo surname belonged to the leader of the  Gaz tribes whose kingdom extended from Afghanistan to Turkistan. The Yabgo reign in Baltistan started from around  800  CE, when Beg Manthal, the 10th descendant of Prince Tung (he started the Gaz dynasty), came from Yarkhand (a part of modern China) and conquered Khaplu. The dynasty’s reign lasted until 1834 CE when Ladakh was annexed by the Dogra rulers of Jammu. The Yabgo dynasty were patrons of art, poetry and literature which flourished under their long rule over the region.

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The family tree of the Yabgo dynasty prepared by the current ‘king’ Yabgo Mohammed Kacho with help from Indian Army.

The descendants of the Yabgo dynasty still live in Turtuk and the family is considered as rulers by the villagers. The ‘king’ Yabgo Mohammed Kacho, a rather down to earth and soft spoken  gentleman, receives all those that visit his former summer home that now serves as a museum with warmth.  Some of his family members remain on the other side of LOC as do many family members of other villagers. Along with this pain, the villagers harbor a regret that the Indian army did not take over the entire Baltistan that fateful night during the war.

Turtuk reeled under two long decades of mistrust arising from a sense of mixed emotions of losing close family members to Pakistan, and add to it the apathy and neglect shown by the Indian government towards these border villages. Finally in 1999, Lt Gen Arjun Ray, who was then the Commander of 14 Corps, started ‘Operation Sadbhavna,’ which aimed at reviving a positive civil-military relationship. Under this operation, the army undertook many projects that ranged  from building schools, developing infrastructure,  to establishing computer and other vocational training centres, poultry farms, programs aimed at women empowerment, providing telephone connections, free medical services and a daily bus service. Today, for the people of Turtuk it is “upar Allah, niche Indian Army.” Turtuk stands as a shining example of how things can work out amicably, when both sides are willing and able to appreciate each others efforts.

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The current ‘king’ Mohammed Kacho of the Yabgo dynasty tells us of the former glory of his ancestors. Of the fateful night when they became Indians and how the Indian army is the best thing to have happened to the villagers. He categorically said that while politicians are the same corrupt players on all sides of the borders, it is the Indian army that stood by them at all times. His former palace was almost entirely looted and destroyed by the Pakistan army because his father had filed a case in the Lahore court against them for illegal occupation. Almost nothing remains of their former wealth and the only evidences seen are in the form of dusty artefacts that are a part of the museum.

Located at an altitude of 9846 feet, the village of Turtuk is inhabited by the Balti people of Tibetan origin. Once one crosses the Hunder area and nears the Balti zone, everything changes drastically: the landscape, physical features of the locals, clothing, language, and culture which is markedly different from the rest of the people in Ladakh. The Balti women are seen wearing colourful floral prints that stand out in contrast amidst the stark mountains all around.

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The villagers in Turtuk. The women are still not so open to being photographed, so didn’t take their pictures. Extremely hospitable, the villagers are always ready to talk and help. 

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Golden heads of barley

Turtuk being warmer, the villagers are able to cultivate two crops in a year. Barley, wheat, buckwheat, peas, spinach, pulses, beans,  and mustard are widely grown. Among livestock that provides milk, meat and wool are the dzos (hybrid of yak and cow), goats, dzomos and sheep. Fruit cultivation is another widespread practice seen in all these border villages and the little gardens abound in apricots, walnuts and few apples that help to augment the villagers’ incomes. Interestingly, there is a Tsarma apricot juice factory in Turtuk that  sells pitted and pressed  apricot juice. Since Turtuk is a strategic military outpost, it was closed to outsiders, even other Indians, until 2010 when the locals weary of  isolation and looking to increase their meagre incomes petitioned for the beautiful valley to open up. As tourists slowly started trickling in, albeit armed with permits, tourism as an industry has started evolving bringing in the much needed cash.

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We were offered these apricots by a lady who was standing in her garden as we walked towards the museum. She plucked them from a tree, washed them in a flowing stream, and offered them to us. As we bit into them we realised we were having the best apricots we have ever had. Juicy and sweet, they were absolutely delicious, and I can guarantee that I have never found such wonderful apricots in the markets of NCR!

Fruit laden trees and vines: apricots and grapes. The villagers sell their fruit and crop produce in the local markets and to the army and sometimes travel to Nubra, Hunder and Diskit to sell their fruits.

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Fields of Turtuk

Baltistan was predominantly a Buddhist region which changed when Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, a poet from Iran and an Islamic scholar, arrived there in the 13th century CE.  An old mosque near the memorial of Captain Haneef Uddin (Kargil war hero) still stands in the old part of Turtuk. While its exact period of construction remains unknown, it was first renovated in 1690 CE. The mosque has a blend of Buddhist designs, swastikas, and Iranian motifs. Turtuk villagers are mostly Muslims, unlike other parts of the Nubra valley, and 70% of them follow the Nurbakhshi school of Sufi Islam.

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The bridge that one has to cross to reach the old monastery and the mosque

As we walked through the narrow cobbled lanes of the village, we marvelled at the wooden, gaily painted houses that were huddled together, almost as if they wished to escape the winter cold. Some houses showed old carvings on them. As we explored the village further, following the hand-painted map, we found a wooden house that was larger than the other houses and it turned out to be the museum and the king’s former summer palace.  At the entrance gate there was a large wooden eagle hanging, which symbolised the ‘saviour’. As we looked at the house (it certainly didn’t look like a palace), we suddenly noticed the old wooden doors and the wooden carved cornices that still held flaky remnants of colours on them, and it seemed as if these old walls were telling us a story of a kingdom long lost.

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The wooden eagle on the gate of the former summer palace’

Inside the palace courtyard

The worn out wooden pillars, thick wooden beams, delicate arches in wood, bright carpets, all speak of a bygone era

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On the terrace, there is a vineyard !

Left: Photographs of the current ‘king’ Kacho Mohammad Khan, his grandfather and father. Right: A painting of Beg Manthal, who started the Yabgo dynasty rule in  Ladakh in the 9th century CE

Various artefacts in the family museum.

The remnants of ‘king’ Kacho Mohammad Khan’s family wealth are seen in his DSC_0669 own private museum in the summer palace. The collection includes coins, old metal and earthen pots, silver ink containers, shields, arrows used in war, lapis lazuli encrusted sword, paintings, clothes, headgear, footwear, family record books, leopard traps,stuffed heads of hunted animals, along with a donation box for the visitors. The current ‘king,’ who is a writer and lover of books, earns his daily bread by selling fruits and vegetables to the Indian army. He is also likely to be the last king of his dynasty that once ruled Baltistan for more than 1000 years. His only son is more interested in doing business than performing the role of a non-functional king of a non-existent kingdom.

Turtuk, a charming high altitude border village, with its hospitable and friendly people, has steadfastly refused to take part in any attempts at radicalisation, and are solely focused towards creating a cordial atmosphere. Their patience and efforts have borne fruit, and today tourists are coming in from all parts of the world to Turtuk and returning with wonderful memories of love and affection received from the villagers. With hopes of a better tomorrow,  Turtuk can now sit smug and revel in the stories of its past glory.

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com

or at

Monidipa

Mandapeshwar Caves – Isolated Remains Of A Tumultuous Past

4 kms in an hour. My bike can go faster but not the rush hour traffic and crowd of Swami Vivekanand Road in Borivali. Does not matter if its a sunday today for in Mumbai every waking hour is a rush hour. Exhausted but finally in front of Mandapeshwar caves. How I wish I could go back in time when the Buddhist monks used the Dahisar river to travel between Kanheri- a 5th century Buddhist university and Mandapeshwar- a Hindu rock cut cave complex that the monks had made their home.

Centuries have gone by and a lot has changed, including the course of Dahisar river that now flows at least 300 meters away to the east of the caves and is reduced to a dirty nullah. A far cry from a navigable river that was a nodal point of a wider trade route.

facade of Mandapeshwar cave

Nevertheless, I was very happy to see the caves being preserved and protected well with a compound wall and a large open breathing space in front of the caves contrary to Jogeshwari, Magathane and other such rock cut caves that are choked by illegal urban settlements mushrooming all around them.

Mandapeshwar is rather small for a cave complex and has just two caves, one much smaller than the other. The bigger cave, as is apparent was meant to be the main shrine for Lord Shiva while the other one- which is largely unfinished, plain and devoid of any sculptural traces was meant to be the living quarters.

Front pillars cave 1

The caves start capturing your imagination from the entrance itself where four completely worn out frontal pillars of the Mandapa flanked by two pilaster in a fairly good state at the extreme ends, greet you.

claws of an animal appearing like lions at the entrance of cave number 1

There are evidences of claws of an animal- most probably lion on both the sides of the entrance steps. As one enters the mandapa, we see more refined and fairly intact pillars. This cave has a total of five cells of which two are at the extreme ends and facing each other while the middle three cells are along the rear wall. It has a large Mandapa spread across five cells, most likely the reason why this cave shrine came to be known as Mandapeshwar- hall (Mandapa) of the lord (eeshwar).

L to R (nataraja cell, Pashupata cell, Sanctum, another cell, and the cell from where i have clicked this picture- a total of 5 cells)

cave interior

Entrance to the sanctum cell in cave 1

 

The central of the five cells is the sanctum sanctorum of the cave- the abode of lord Shiva. The entrance to the sanctum is flanked on both the sides with pilasters. These pillasters are designed in almost the same way as the rest of the pillars in this cave are, with an Amalaka as a capital. A quintessential feature of many rock cut caves of this period that are dedicated to lord Shiva, be it Mandapeshwar, Elephanta or as far as Badami in Karnataka.

Newly installed lingas in sanctum

 

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The interior of the central shrine is largely plain except for a couple of niches carved in the walls housing remains of withered sculptures. The sanctum is occupied by two Shiva lingas that are clearly a later addition to the cave.

Nandis in front of sanctum

Just outside the entrance of the sanctum, sits the original sculpture of Nandi bull- the vahana (vehicle) of lord Shiva, split into half with just the rear half still in place. Alongside the old and injured Nandi sits a younger Nandi with his ears in place to listen to the devotees. It is a general custom to whisper one’s wishes in the ear of the Nandi so that it reaches Lord Shiva and the same is granted. Look out for the inscription on the door jamb –  done during the Maratha rule as is evident from the devanagari script

Inscriptions on door jamb of sanctum

Moving to the extreme left cell, we see what can be termed as a treasure – a Nataraja panel carved with great details. A massive six armed figure of Nataraja takes the centre stage here surrounded by various other figures. On the right are the figures of Goddess Parvati along with two of her attendants. While on the other side is an artist beating a drum. The upper left corner is occupied by the three headed Brahma while the upper right corner has Vishnu. Just below Brahma’s sculpture is the sculpture of Lord Ganesh. Celestial beings are present on both the sides of the head of Nataraja.  The panel seems like some sort of a celebration, Henry Salt in his ‘Account of the caves in Salsette’ published in Transaction of literary society in Bombay Vol.1 1819 A.D, describes this panel as that of Shiva’s marriage with Parvati. However few historians are of the opinion that the figure thought to be Parvati is just another attendant and the panel depicts the dance of Nataraja to the beats of a drum!

Nataraja panel cave 1

The story of the creation of Mandapeshwar caves between 5th and 6th centuries and the ensuing events that took place is a tale of how structures bear a testimony of the struggles of the time and encapsulate it. 90 percent of the rock cut caves in Maharashtra are of Buddhist origin including the nearby caves of Mahakali & Kanheri, but what makes Mandapeshwar fascinating is that the construction of this Shaiva cave is also attributed to the Buddhist monks. What made the Buddhist ‘missionaries’ hewn a Hindu cave? Could it be that Buddhism- a comparatively new religion then considered itself to be a faction of Hinduism? Is it possible that the Buddha was still considered more of a saint than God while the Hindu Gods continued to be worshipped?

Lets compare the time periods of the construction of Kanheri and Mandapeshwar caves. Kanheri caves, cut as early as 3rd century BCE, attained the status of a Buddhist university between 4th and 5th centuries. At its zenith, Kanheri had a total of more than 125 different types of caves and structures including Stupas, cemeteries, Chaityas (prayer halls) and Viharas (residential chambers for monks) carved out of a single rock hill. There is a possibility that during those years Kanheri’s infrastructure could not handle the increasing population and they were forced to look for accommodation options for its visiting monks. Various historical texts confirm that Mandapeshwar was indeed used as a residential quarter by the Buddhist monks. Kanheri was situated very close to the mouth of Dahisar river and Mandapeshwar was along its banks making it very easy for the monks to access it by the riverine route. Dahisar river was a part of a bigger trade route that existed between Konkan and Sopara (today’s Nala Sopara which was an established Buddhist center back then).

Pashupata panel cave 1

 

Another sculptural link that connects the dots, is the cell between the sanctum and the Nataraja panel cell. This cell is apparently thought to have had a large sculpture of Lakulisha (a Shaiva sect reformist and often considered the last avatar of lord Shiva himself) in the centre sitting on a lotus flower, stem of which is held by two nagas, while the central nonexistent sculpture is surrounded by other divinities and celestial beings. The style in which the lotus is carved, anyone with even a little knowledge about Buddhist sculptural art would not miss the connection between this sculpture and sculptures of Buddha represented in rock-cut art of the same period. Although, much is lost in this panel and the central Lakulisha figure is destroyed beyond recognition, we can only guess (logically) that the Pashupata cult that Lakulisha is often associated with, was dominant during this period.

Plain interior of cell next to Sanctum (if Pashupata cell is on left then this is on sanctum's right side)

Looking out from Pashupata cell

The cell on the other side of the sanctum however is plain with no sculptures except for few on the pillars and so is the lateral cell next to it

Cell 5 (its not called cell 5 .. im calling it cell 5 so you know which one is in the picture)

Sculpture on a pillar in cave 1

As you step outside the main cave and walk towards the second cave, you notice a misplaced symbol on the southern facade- a rock-cut Christian cross. This seemingly small cross however is the only remnant of Mandapeshwar’s tumultuous past. The Portuguese chipped off what was thought to be an idol of lord Shiva and flattened it to carve a cross out of it.

Southern external facade of the cave (right side is the Portuguese cross, and left side is the entrance to Cave 2)

Every event that soon followed has two drastically opposite theories, one from the Hindus trying to portray the Portuguese and the Christians in bad light and the other claimed by the Portuguese blaming Marathas for destruction of sculptural art here due to the usage of heavy explosives to uncover the Hindu sculptures from the plaster used by Portuguese to hide them.

Clicked from cave 2

It all goes back to the time when the Portuguese were ruling Mumbai with their main base in today’s Thane on extreme northern end of Sashti- the Marathi name for Salsette island on which the caves are located. Hearing about these wonderful rock cut caves, the Portuguese arrived here in mid- 16th century and chased away the Hindu yogis to set up their base in Mandapeshwar thinking of a larger role for it to be played in future. The Christian account of the same story however claims that the Portuguese arrived at Mandapeshwar wanting to meet the Hindu yogis but hearing of the news of arrival of the Portuguese, the Yogis got scared and ran away. However, both these accounts agree that a yogi known as Ratemnar was converted by the Portuguese priests and was given the village of Mandapeshwar.

Cave 2 & cave 1 and monastery on top of it

 

The Caves were soon converted into a shrine for Mary named as Nossa Sra De Piedade (roughly translating to Our Lady of Pity) with all its Hindu sculptures buried under a thick layer of smooth plaster and the Shiva shrine was hidden by a brick wall in front of it. Mandapeshwar was ripped off its identity and it came to be known as ‘Monapazer’ or ‘Mont Pesier’ by the Portuguese. As a part of expansion of the complex, a church and a monastery was constructed on top of the cave and was used to impart religious education to the recent converts and other Indian Christians. Another shrine was erected on the opposite hill and a graveyard in between the two.

 

Mount Poinsur church Graveyard

After about 180 years of functioning as a Christian shrine, Mandapeshwar returned to its original ‘faith’ and again became a Shaiva shrine when Maratha prime minister Bajirao Peshwa 1 defeated the Portuguese in 1737 in the battle of Bassein (Vasai). But Mandapeshwar soon exchanged hands when the Sashti island went to the British in 1774 under the treaty of Salbai with the Marathas. The caves again became a Christian place of worship. The Portuguese church, however couldn’t survive and what remains today are beautiful ruins evocative of a distant past. 

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Ruins of the portuguese monastery

The second cave at Mandapeshwar is very different than the main cave in many ways. There are no sculptures, no carved pillars, no idols, no niches but just a large plain hall. The only traces of carvings are found on the entrance pillars which form the southern facade of the main cave.

Narrow rock cut path to cave 2

Cave 2

Cave 2 interior shot

Mandapeshwar caves remained a Christian place of worship till 1920’s and was possibly abandoned later. Around 1960’s the caves were declared a protected monument by the Archeological Survey of India and continues to be a popular Shaiva shrine. Life seems to have truly come a full circle for Mandapeshwar!

a small devotee

A walk today in this area better known as ‘Mount Poinsur’ (a disambiguation of Mandapeshwar) of Borivali is a living reminder of its past. The residential area along the Laxman Mhatre Road and Swami Vivekananda Road are largely Hindu whereas to the rear side of the caves is IC colony; named after the Portuguese Immaculate Conception Church, a residential colony that has highest concentration of Christians in entire Mumbai. As a popular quote by journalist Edurado Galeano goes “History never really says good bye. History says, see you later”!

Author – Onkar Tendulkar 

He can be contacted at onkaar7@gmail.com      

Travel Shot : Dargah E Hakimi

“Bharde jholi meri Ya Mohammad, laut kar main na jaunga khaali”

Who can forget the hesitant Bajrangi Bhaijaan going to a dargah as a last resort with a lament that is voiced soulfully by Adnan Sami in the form of the above qawwali. His request is heeded and things fall into place. This is the stirring power that faith has and faith, as I have known and believe, does not see religion.

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It is faith, that brings people in hordes to Dargah E Hakimi in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh. Faith in the powers of the 17th-century Bohra saint Syedi Abdul Qader Hakimuddin who was known for his piety, humility and scholarship. A sanskrit scholar and a Hafiz-e-Koran (he could recite the entire Koran from memory), his recitation of the Koran could mesmerise any living being. It is faith, that a tiger on hearing the saint reciting the Koran obediently sits down in front of him and later walks away silently.

When Syedi Hakimudin died in 1730 CE, his detractors exhumed his body after 22 days and found a fresh and fragrant body much to their utter disbelief. Over the years, people’s faith in Syedi Hakimuddin’s miraculous powers have grown manifold. The word Hakim denotes a healer and thousands of Bohras flock to his shrine, taking a mannat (vow) for shifa (cure) from disease and seeking restoration of the health of both the body and the soul only to return back again and again.

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The Dargah that looks more like a resort than a mausoleum has lush environs with water fountains, well laid gardens and lawns along with living facilities that can be compared to a starred hotel and for those who cannot be accommodated in the rooms there is a dormitory too replete with all the facilities. All of this at a pittance for the maximum you pay for a room is Rs. 1000/- only ! Food is not charged and the first thing you hear as soon as you enter the Dargah is “jamvanu nu izzan che” (you are invited for food).

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Hosting an average of upto 1000 pilgrims everyday, this Dargah is impeccably clean and very well managed. The food is always there despite the fact that there is no prior registration and people just walk in at any time. None of the staff is trained in hospitality or management but the systematic way in which this huge property spread over 125 acres runs reminds you that here, faith is at work. If one day someone sponsors the dessert, than another day a group pays for the entire feast, someone takes care of the appetizer than another day someone sponsors the piping hot tea and breakfast. The grains that reach the Dargah (125 kgs of rice, 80 kgs of flour and pulses daily) are many a times sent by ‘Hakimuddin’, anonymous donors who give in the name of the saint.

Last year approximately 121,356 people came seeking the serenity that this dargah offers making the Madhya Pradesh government honour it with the ‘Most Tourist Friendly Pilgrimage Centre’ award. The accolades and initiatives don’t stop there, the Dargah has now taken up organic farming producing wheat on the surplus land. It is utilized by the kitchen of the Dargah. All the bio waste is collected and composted that enriches the soil making it a green haven. Bee keeping is also practiced and the honey is given to the pilgrims during breakfast. Plans are afoot to expand these initiatives further.

IMG_7260 Astounded, puzzled or just in awe ? At Dargah E Hakimi, the standard answer to every puzzled question is a smile and a finger that points towards the dome of the tomb of Syedi Hakimuddin.

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It befits our brethren, may Allah give them strength, to not despise any field of knowledge, or shun a particular book, or bear prejudice towards a certain faith. Indeed our philosophy and our faith encompass all faiths and all knowledge.

Rasaa’il Ikhwan al-Safaa

Author – Zehra Chhapiwala

She can be contacted at zchhapiwala@gmail.com

All the pictures used in the post are courtesy Jitu Mishra

Himalayan Temples – A Himachali Sojourn

Growing up in Darjeeling and Kolkata, and being a regular visitor to the neighbouring state of Sikkim, as a child I invariably associated the Himalayas with gaily painted Buddhist monasteries or gompas, fluttering colourful flags that kept away evil spirits, and maroon robed monks. It was much later when I travelled to Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh that I realised these age-old mountains held many secrets amidst its high peaks. Some in the form of beautiful old temples carved in stone and wood.

My tryst with Himalayan temples started with a visit to Kedarnath, Badrinath, and Gangotri, during my school days. Despite the milling crowd, these places still

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Kedarnath temple (approximately 8th c. CE), Uttarakhand

retain a charm of their own, and a darshan of the evening aarti at the Kedarnath temple is a magical experience. Makes you realise why “the land north of Ganga-dwar is known to the wise as Paradise Ground” (Kedarkhand Skanda Purana).

There is a belief among the mountain dwellers that in the Himalayas there are as many deities as there are hamlets. Nothing could be truer than this especially in Himachal Pradesh where every hamlet has its own local deota and possibly a kul deota of the head priest. They are worshipped in kathkuni styled pretty shrines built with wood and stone

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Hatu Mata temple (newly constructed) dedicated to Mandodari, wife of Ravana, at Hatu Peak in Narkanda in Himachal Pradesh

. Besides the temples for the local deota that are often reconstructed or relatively new, there are also many early medieval (post classical era) stone temples with exquisite sculptural works on them. Most of these temples are functional, well maintained, and

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Shikhara of an almost 1400 year old temple within the Chaurasi temple complex in Bharmour, Himachal Pradesh.

often under the purview of the ASI. Yet, they remain unknown to most tourists that travel to Himachal Pradesh. While speaking to the locals I realised that this anonymity is a conscious decision for keeping the temples away from unwanted attention. The locals prefer to preserve them the way they have always been … standing in isolation.

Interestingly, besides the stone and wood temples, often trekkers come across small piles of stones at a particularly precarious bend or at a cross-point, with a flag or cloth tied onto them. These are holy shrines dedicated to the hillside spirits or deotas gathered up as an appeasement to avoid accidents. A custom that is as ancient as human civilisation and continues unabated through time.

The Kullu Manali circuit

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The Kullu Manali circuit, a tourist hub famous for its scenic landscape, is also renowned for its temples and often referred to as the Valley of Gods. The ancient name of Kullu was Kulut or Kulantapitha, and finds mention in old Vedic literature. The term Kulut is historically important as it denotes a place that was beyond the then dominant socio-political norms or kula- vyavastha. Around 6th c. CE, after defeating the imperial Guptas, Khashas became the dominant ruling class in this area (as recorded on the Salanu inscription from the Tirthan valley), and they established a Gana-rajya, a form of theocracy (Malana remains an extant example).  Few centuries later the Rajputs dispelled the Khashas and brought in the feudal system, forcing the Khashas to migrate to distant places. Interestingly, the Khashas, later came back as Rajputs and are still considered powerful in the outer and inner Seraj region of the Kullu valley.

A somewhat definitive history of the Kullu valley can be derived  from the genealogical records of the Rajas of Kullu known as Vanshavali. From this record it is believed that Vihangamani Pal after being displaced from his seat in Haridwar (then known as Mayapuri; though there are some speculations that Vihangamani Pal came from Prayag) came to establish his kingdom at Jagat Sukh, with the blessings of the Hadimba devi. Thus, started the Pal dynasty that ruled Kullu until 1450 CE. From Jagat Sukh, Raja Visudh Pal shifted his capital to Naggar, and later the capital was again moved to Sultanpur (Kullu) in 1660 under Raja Jagat Singh.

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Inside the Naggar castle, the palace from where the Kullu kings ruled

The entire valley, covering Kullu to Manali that includes Mandi, is dotted with temples built predominantly in the Nagara style of temple architecture. The Nagara style, originated during the Gupta rule, shows the following basic characteristics: a cruciform base plan, a curvilinear/convex shikhara, a garbagriha and a mandap

  • The ground plan is square with gradual projections from the centre of each side giving it a cruciform shape. With a single projection from two sides, the temple would be a Triratha; two projections from two sides would make it a Pancharatha; three projections from two sides would be Saptharatha; and four projections  from two sides of the temple would make it a Navaratha. These projections often continue throughout the entire temple height and end at the skandha (shoulder course).

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    photo from wiki
  • The temples have a tall spire known as Shikhara that gradually curves inwards, ending at the skandha, above which is the griva (circular necking).  On this is placed a ribbed circular stone slab known as Amalaka, often carrying a Kalasha on top
  • The dieties are housed in an inner chamber called the Garbhagriha (sanctum)
  • A covered entrance hall or porch leads to Garbhagriha called Mandap

 

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From the book – Temples of India by Tarun Chopra

 

In Himachal Pradesh, owing to easy availability of wood from forests, another common form seen is the timber bonded style with a pent roof and a veranda. The other styles seen are:

 

  • The pagoda style (Hadimba temple in Manali)
  • The domed temples (Jwalamukhi temple in Kangra)
  • The flat roofed ones (Narbadeshwar temple at Hamirpur)
  • Satlej valley style (Bhimakali temple in Sarahan)

 

Bhimakali temple in Sarahan (Photo from wiki)

 

My article will focus on some of the temples in and around Naggar, which was once the capital of the Kullu kingdom.

Tripura Sundari temple

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This is a huge pagoda style three-storeyed wooden temple, similar to the Hadimba Devi temple in Manali. According to folklore, the temple was in the shape of a spider web woven by the Devi herself after turning into a spider. The original temple was built during the reign of Raja Yashodha Pal, while the current prettily carved wooden structure is largely a reconstructed one.

While inside the temple complex, I noticed many stone murtis , evidently older than the wooden structure that we see now. Some were kept free standing, while some were embedded into the newly constructed walls. Being a functional temple all  murtis are under worship, evident from the flowers and leaves in front and the red tilak on their foreheads. The murtis include Anantashayana Vishnu, Ganesha, Shiva-Parvati, and Mahisasurmardini. Sharhi yatra, an annual fair is held here in the month of May to honour the Goddess.

Wooden carvings on the temple wall showing a mithuna couple and floral patterns

Peacocks, Dwarpalas, and Ganesha on a door panel (left) and a devotee or a donor on the temple wall

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Stone murtis once part of the original temple (?) Lakshmi, Anantashayana Vishnu, and Ganesha (looks to be part of a broken panel, now cemented to the wall) kept together under a newly constructed shed

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A rather mossy looking wooden simha pranala: there are four such pranalas placed at four corners of the pagoda styled shikhara

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Footprints carved on stone, placed near the entry door to the temple

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Mahisasurmardini murti kept near the temple doorway

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Tripurasundari devi inside the garbhagriha

 

Gauri Shankar temple

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This beautiful 11th-12th c. CE temple stone stands right beside a village, yet holds a serene atmosphere. It was raining when I had reached the temple and there was not a soul in sight. As I stood in front of the centuries old stone structure, then wet and glistening in the rain, the feeling was ethereal and of supreme tranquillity.

The Gauri Shankara temple is a perfect example of Nagara style, following the Gurjara Pratihara tradition that was once popular in the Kullu valley. It is considered the last temple to follow this particular architectural pattern in this area. It is tri-ratha in plan, has a square garbhagriha, with a vedibandha (the socle) showing kumbha and ardharatna motifs that include the mouldings of kalasa and kapotali . The jangha (temple wall) show bhadra niches on the three cardinal directions east, north, and south. The walls have square and rectangular recesses that depict dancers, musicians, warriors, deities, birds, purnakumbhas, and purnaratnas. The shikhara is curvilinear, with an amalaka at top, is decorated with chaitya motifs (chandrasalas), and the corners have bhumi amalakas marking the storeys. The mandapa is pillared with square bases and ghatapallava as capitals, while the sanctum entrance holds a Ganesha on the lalatabimba.

A beautiful stone nandi greets you as walk towards the temple doorway. Notice the little figure that is pulling its tail ( a closer look will reveal it’s  a little lady who dares to pull Nandi by his tail)  

The river devis, Ganga and Yamuna holding kalashas, along with dwarapalas, on two sides of door leading to the garbhagriha They wash away your sins and impure thoughts before you enter the sanctum

Left: A very happy looking Gauri Shankara light up the garbhagriha. Right: five receding panels on the door jamb show dancers, musicians, and geometrical and floral patterns

Carvings on the temple walls showing floral patterns, birds,  purnakalasha, and figures of deities

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Panels on the jangha showing a bird, a rishi (or devotee?) sitting with folded hands, purnakalasha, and a musician playing a dhol like instrument. Adjacent to it is the shikhara of a niche
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Jangha with the fluted pillared niche, and below it the Vedibandha with its ardharatna motifs and a pranala to let out the water from garbhagriha

A donor couple (or devotees) and a mithuna (an amorous) couple sculpted on the wall.

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Trimukha Shiva from part of a broken panel is kept in one of the niches. The pillars here are of the fluted type. A panel commonly seen on the Shikhara of the Himalayan temples. After all, Himalayas are Shiva’s abode

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Another broken panel of Shiva kept in a niche

Dashal temple

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This 11th c. CE temple sits amidst an enchanting setting, surrounded by thick forests and orchards. I came across it while walking aimlessly through the Dashal village lanes. The pretty roads take you around the farms, orchards, and you meet a gushing stream with a panichakki. After crossing the little wooden panichakki, you  take a turn and suddenly this temple is upon you. The rains had just stopped when I reached, and the clouds were slowly dispelling, when the sudden appearance of a temple from amidst the rising cloud cover made the entire setting seem almost unreal.

This pancharatha Shiva temple with a pillared mandapa is richly carved and figures of Vishnu, Brahma, and flying gandharvas are seen on the capitals. The door frame of the garbhagriha is richly carved with floral patterns and figures of dancers and musicians. Ganga and Yamuna with dwarapalas flank the doorway, while Ganesha sits on the lalatabimba. Above the lintel is a panel depicting the navagrahas.

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At the top we can see the three faced form of Shiva. Below, at the mandapa entrance can see figures of Vishnu on Garuda (left pillar head of the temple) and Brahma (right pillar head) on the pillar capitals
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Ganesha on lalatabimba and navagrahas on a panel above him

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Ganga and Yamuna with dwarapalas on pilasters flanking the doorway to the garbhagriha

the two figures one two sides of the wall as one enters the mandapa

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a worn out murti of Vishnu and Lakshmi on Garuda is kept on the left side of the mandapa
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Inside the garbhagriha

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Other stone figures inside the garbhagriha include Mahisasurmardini, anantasayana Vishnu, Shiva. 

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purnakalasha, floral patterns and mithuna couples on the temple wall panel

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 Left: A pillared  niche on the temple wall: Right: Two bharavahaks doing their eternal duty of carrying heavy loads

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Two beautiful Nandis, age-old and weather beaten, yet standing guard 

Erotica carved on temple walls have a deep underlying philosophy. During Vedic times, Purusharaths (human life goals) were propounded and one among them was Kama or physical pleasure. Mithuna couple sculptures on the walls of temples panders to ancient Hindu philosophy wherein yoga (spiritual exercise) and bhoga (physical pleasure) are the two paths that lead to moksha (final liberation), explains Tarun Chopra in his book ‘Temples of India’. Deep in the throes of passion they represent the transition from the physical to the spiritual plane of consciousness analogous to the walk from the mandap to the garbhagriha. One enters the sanctum leaving behind all worldly thoughts including the erotic represented by mithuna sculptures on the walls of the temple

Naggar and its adjoining areas areas are dotted with temples of various styles and times of construction. Among these, some temples and a unique custom that caught my eye are:

  1. A beautiful Shiva temple hidden amidst the surrounding houses, remains well maintained. I am especially fond of the mandapas of the Himachali temples with their little pillared entrances. Half way up on the plain shikhara, clearly visible are the three faces of Shiva, looking benevolently down at us

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Some sculptures that I  saw lying outside. These are all worshipped, and the temple is  a functional one with a deity inside the garbhagriha. 

2. An old Chandi temple showing the the timber bonded style with a pent roof and a veranda. The small, solitary wooden structure in the second photograph, I was told, is a place where the neighbouring deities reside, when they come visiting.

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3. A roadside “ancient” village temple dedicated to a devi. What interested me here were the offerings made to the goddess. The masks were eye catching too.

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Noticed horns of animals as offering. My guide insisted this devi temple was an ancient one too, but now completely renovated and built over in a new style!

4. An interesting custom prevalent in the region is the worship of the local deotas that is distinct for every hamlet. While I missed the devta on his palanquin in this celebration in a village named Banjar, we met a couple of apdevtas roaming around in their broom stick gowns. We were duly blessed by them with dried floral twigs that was to be put behind our ears and kept for the day. A novelty to be blessed by the apdevta instead of devta!

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The apdevtas in their broomstick gowns
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This is how you wear your blessings from the apdevta!
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The smiling face behind the mask of an apdevta.

As I keep taking the roads less travelled in order to explore the interiors of Himachal Pradesh, lately I find myself agreeing more and more with the locals when they tell me that these temples and certain remote high altitude places are better off when kept away from tourist radars. The feeling of awe, the overwhelming sense of magic and enchantment, the sensation of an unspoken power radiating from these old temples when I stand in front of them, would all disappear like thin mountain mist, if hordes of disinterested tourists carrying their plastic packets of chips and water bottles descended upon them. Some paths better be left less travelled, except for the ones who truly love and respect nature and heritage.

 

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com

                                                                                or at

Moni Gatha