Wednesday, June 6, 2018

kalinjar fort

  As our vehicle entered Kalinjar fort from it's Parmala gate, on the way we could see two or three buildings, structure of a gate in another direction and scattered jungles of thorny bushes.

                                       Parmala gate --- A view from outside
                              Picture by Sunder Iyer.

This damaged sculpted piece on platform, outside the Parmala gate ---Veraha, near Parmala gate.  Picture by Sunder Iyer. 

 Running on well laid road driver ultimately stopped the vehicle at a far end on the western side of fort and told us that from that point we have to walk to reach the Neelkanth temple. Sitting in U.P. tourism guest house at Chitrakoot, our programme to visit Kalinjar fort was made on the spur of the moment. We did not have much time in hand to do a bit of research on the place before visiting it. Hence we relied on the driver, who was a local boy. we literally have no idea what to expect and believe me this ignorance turned out to be a boon. our joy and amazement on what we found was enhanced manifold as we went there without any preformed expectations, though we missed visiting the museum in the fort premises due to not being aware of it. Any way Neel kanth temple is worth visiting for it's sake only.
It was Somwati Amavsya day during Chaitra Navratri hence many pilgrims, local people thronged the premises. It is considered to be very auspicious to visit this temple on Amavsya day. I really wish to visit the temple one more time preferably on a day when lesser number of people are there. I feel the rocks, the images engraved on rocks and the entire ambience will make me harmonise with the soul of the place more deeply when silence reigns all around.

A view of temple premises from a height. Ganesha, carved on wall, the fortification wall, the big temple compound. Picture by Sunder Iyer.

Neelkanth temple is located on the western slope of Kalinjar fort. The main shrine is in a big bowl like deep valley. The shrine is in a natural somewhat octagonal cave. To reach this we have to descent down many steps. On one side of the stairs is the fortification wall and on other are rocky hills. These rocks have many small enclosures having different deities and other spiritual, mythological images. All around the rocks have beautifully carved images. It is like an open air art gallery. Go on walking up and down on the rocks and you are sure to find  amazingly embellished images almost every where.

                                                 Picture by Sunder Iyer.  Vishnu patta

Panel over a cave on the side of steps. Picture by Sunder Iyer

                             Images of Ram, Sita, Laxman, Picture by Sunder Iyer

Mahasadashiva, saivacharya and devotees. Picture by Sunder Iyer

On extreme left is Parvati or Dhanlaxmi as it has two elephants.

                                        Picture by sunder Iyer

                                                      Navgrah panel. Picture by Sunder Iyer.

Mukhalingas, Picture by Sunder Iyer

In front of the sanctum sanctorum stands the remains of a big mandap. Presently this mandap has a raised octagonal platform. Sixteen pillars run along its periphery . This mandap is open to sky. around the sixteen pillars runs an octagonal gallery, which is supported by pilasters forming outer wall of mandap. All the pillars, pilasters are richly decorated with beautiful designs and images of ratikas. May be earlier this entire octagonal mandap was covered with a roof but presently it's open. The pillars are placed at the angles of octagon   and they support the architraves forming an octagon. A vedika is there at the center of the platform. On that particular day many people were conducting hawans there. The scared fire leapt and danced in the kund. Smoke rising from vedika swirled and twirled to vanish ultimately in the air above. It was as if carrying the prayers of devotees to heaven. Fragrance emanating from various offerings to the sacred fire filled the air. Chants of shlokas and prayers echoed all around. Some were busy in rituals while others sat silently,eyes closed, lost in another world/inner world. Overhead blue sky peered down showering it's grace on one and all.

The octagonal mandap. Picture by Sunder Iyer

The cave housing Lord Neelkantha is entered through a door cut into original cave. The facade of cave is richly carved having ornamental images of dancing girls, musicians and other deities. Neelkantha is in the form of Mukhlinga. The special feature of this image of neelkantha is that it's kanth i.e. neck portion is always wet. From somewhere in between the rocks, water continuously trickle down to keep the neck wet permanently. And perhaps this has imparted a bluish tint to the this portion of idol, as if justifying the name neelkantha. To the left of this Neelkantha mukhalinga is another mukhalinga which is popularly known as Kartikeya.

   Santum sanctoram, neelkanth bhagwan .Picture by Sunder Iyer

At the roof level of the cave housing neelkantha is a water reservoir known as swargrohna. The water is covered with rock supported by five solid pillars cut out of rock. It has a narrow opening on western side. we can go down to reach water. there are steps cut on two sides to reach water.

Swargarohan, water reservoir. Picture by Sunder Iyer


I have seen the angels coming down from night sky and enter those images on the rocks-- the seers, the devotees, Gods and Goddesses all. I understand these are not just the pieces of art but infused with faith and devotion. Picture by sunder Iyer

On the sacred threshold I found myself, experienced the joy of being one with oneself. Picture by Sunder Iyer

The holy scented smoke calls me to rise above the earth, to join the world beyond, up there, to new heights, finding liberation.....Picture by Sunder Iyer

All pictures @sunder Iyer

Location -- Kalinjar, Banda, Uttar Pradesh. About 80 km from Chitrakoot and 130 from Khajuraho, around 60 from Banda.

Height--  244 meters above plain on Vindhya Ranges

Vehicles go inside fort but for reaching sanctum of Neelkanth temple one has to walk down steps. steps are in good condition. Better to leave place before it is dark.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Ganesh bagh, chitrakoot.


Chitrakoot and around is steeped in religious and mythological anecdotes. This is the place where Lord Rama spent eleven out of his fourteen years of exile. Amidst old, new, big, small temples and other places of religious importance, about eleven kilometers from Karwi, a bit away from the main road,on Allahabad Chitrakoot road lies Ganesh Bagh, a page from history, a witness to Peshwas ties with Bundelkhand region. It is said to be built in 1880s.
 Ganesh Bagh was perhaps created as a recreation retreat. The premises  has an ornately carved Shiva temple with various unique features , a seven storeyed step well, a big pond with steps and cenotaphs around it, few more smaller enclosures, a palace, remains of few other buildings and wide open space which is now being converted into lawns and gardens.
when Peshwa king Vinayak Rao chose this secluded place to built his resting retreat it's location was perhaps the deciding factor. Even today the quiet serenity of the place has a balmy impact on the tired mind and nerves. Mighty Vindhya range stands  as a backdrop and all around Ganesh Bagh are fields, trees and far flung villages with few mud houses. The pastoral beauty is soothing. 
The seven storey step well or Baoli is the first structure after entering the gate. We wandered around  in the colonnaded arcades and passages of it's top most story only though we could see two more stories below that . These were out of water level. One more story ,submerged in water too was visible. However the stories below that could not be seen. There was a narrow  canal like opening through which deep down  water could be seen in a long stretch. From the front end steps ran down and on both the sides of gap ran covered colonnaded verandah. In between at regular distances horizontal platforms connected verandahs of both the sides. On the farthest end was a huge circular well like structure. This too had water in it. The well had circular covered verandah around it . Remnants of water drainage system could be seen in this verandah. Perhaps the area was used  by royal women for bathing etc. On one side a small door opened to the open space on other side of wall of step well. A loan huge mango tree stood in the open space. May be a garden or full fledged mango groove was there in the bygone days. The step well, it's structure, design and continuous presence of water altogether form an amazing cooling system to bear the scorching heat of Bundelkhand. The step well is an amazing feet of engineering with perfect synchronisation with nature. At that time also they catered to all the comforts, luxuries and needs of people but always maintained an ecological balance. Nature was given an important place in the scheme of things. And here are we, creating havoc in the name of development.

Arcades of step well

The well at the end of colonnaded passages

The circular verandah around the well and the door leading to open space outside the walls

Shiva temple stands on a raised platform. At one end of this covered colonnaded verandah are three chambers with stone door frames  which had beautifully carved images of various Gods and Goddesses. On some of these images sea blue, pink, maroon colours still can be seen. none of these three chamber has any deity in the sanctum. No worship or daily rituals are performed here but local people throng the temple during Shravan month and on the occasion of Shivratri. Floor of the verandah running in front of these chambers is very interesting. Two games chaupar and ludo were engraved on the floor. verandahs I have seen in front of temples. Devotees sit there chanting, singing bhajans, offering prayers but indoor games!Well that was something unique. On the other end of verandah staircases from both the sides lead to the roof top. few feets ahead the verandah culminates into an oval small pond shaped structure. Not exactly of size to be called as pond, rather a stone tub would be more appropriate. This too was covered. For what purpose this could have been used. During those times this definitely must have been filled with water. Were there lotuses blooming or women used to sit their dainty feet dipped in water! Well , I was earlier talking about those staircases leading to rooftop. Reaching the rooftop one can even touch the ornately carved Shikharas of temples.Nowhere else have I ever been in such close proximity with Shikharas of temples. The richly carved shikharas display images of various gods , goddesses, mythological creatures,animals and some erotic figures too. This open rooftop was connected to palace through passages. In front of Shikhara on a small covered platform sat Ganesha. That may be one reason that the temple is popular as Ganesha temple among locals even though the main deity was Shiva. View from rooftop is beautiful. If it is the time of year when rains paint countryside in all shades of green and far away hills appear to be enveloped in misty blue, I am sure sitting there on rooftop listening to the sounds of silence can turn out be an unforgettable experience.

                                An overview of Shiva temple

Sun God showering it's grace

carvings and embellishments on temple walls.

indoor games etched on floor of temple verandah

                       Intricately carved Shikharas of temple

Another beauty of Ganesh bagh is the big pond near the temple. steps from all the four sides lead to water . The pond is square in shape. Few cenotaphs around the pond were still intact though indications were apparent that there were more such structures around the pond.


          The pond in front of temple

Ganesh Bagh is ASI protected monument. Premises are neat, clean . Whatever structures have survived the vagaries of times and humans , those are maintained.
If you love soluted, history, architecture and nature, you should not miss out on Ganesh Bagh , more so if you happen to be in the vicinity.

September, October  or January, February is the best time as the natural, pastoral beauty is at it's best during those months.
Ganesh Bagh should be visited during day time only. It is more convient to have one's own vehicle. However from Chitrakoot or Karvi you can hire full auto etc. Public transport is not available on the route. 

All pictures by Sunder Iyer. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Edakkal caves

Edakkal caves are located in Waynad, Kerala, India. The caves are about twenty five kilometers from Kalpetta. the two caves are about 1200 meter above sea level. These are not actually caves in it's traditional sense rather a heavy boulder straddling over a fissure in rocks form a cave. the main attraction of these caves are stone age etchings, writings, geometric figures and various scenes, activities of  neolithic times. The depictions on rocks is not limited only to one particular period rather it cover the span of many eras.
Besides being heritage repository these caves are also a good option for adventure and nature lovers. Though to facilitate climbing to caves steel staircases have been erected yet the rugged beauty of rocks and panoramic views all around is enough to leave it's charismatic impact on you.
The caves were discovered by Fred Fawcett, the then superintendent of police of Malabar district in 1890.The caves are situated on western side of Eddakalmala and to reach there one has to trek through Ambukuttymala.
After leaving our vehicle in the parking area we started walking on the road to caves. The road rises gradually and after some distance becomes quite steep but shady tall trees , wild vegetation and lavish display of beautiful natural scenes on both the sides of road make the ride quite pleasant,

 Soon the well laid road gave way to rocky terrain. Though slightly out of breath we kept on walking. When we started climbing up to some distance there were small shops of eatables and souvenirs on both the sides of road but later on after ticket window we were totally in company of nature. So, though we stopped in between to admire the beauty of nature and of course to catch our breath but we continued climbing. climbing over randomly piled rocks we reached a place where there was a very narrow passage between between the rocks. To pass through it we had to bend considerable and balance ourselves on precariously piled up rocks to haul ourselves on the other side. But it added to thrill and in spirit brought us nearer to the times bygone.

Hoisting and balancing ourselves on the boulders we reached the entrance to first cave. The entrance has a steel gate. Only a limited number of people are allowed in the cave at one time. The gate perhaps has been put to regulate the traffic in and out of the cave as those few steps are the only way to enter and exit the caves.

 Picture by Sunder Iyer

 In the cave on the rock wall was a gallery of carvings and etchings, animals, human forms, some figures looking like tribals with head gear and ornaments etc., some geometric shapes and drawings look like kolam drawings. Then there were animals, various symbols and scripts too. Everything was scattered all over the walls of caves.  How could they engrave so much on rocks? What were the tools used and such lasting imprints that centuries after we stood there agape with wonder and amazement.

                                        Picture by sunder Iyer

                                                      Picture by Sunder Iyer
  Writings on the rocks. What script is that? What had they said? Wish could know that.

                                            Pictures by Sunder Iyer
Edakkal caves are said to be only place in India with stone age carvings.  These caves are said to have some links to Indus valley civilisation too. Recent studies have found certain signs which establish it's link to Indus valley civilisation.

It was intriguing to see those imprints from centuries ago. With what instrument were those drawings made? The figures were all over the rock wall. The cave must have been different at that time and then this certainly was not an easy task. Why did they put so much labour into it?

Man has always had creativity inside him and urge of expression too. What do all these figures represent? So many questions floated in my mind. Look at the wheel like figure. What is it? A representation of time? One of man’s inventions? Can you make out those two human figures in the picture above? It looks like a tribal king and queen, hands up, in a dancing pose.The above image is definitely is some script. It is believed that these drawings and writings in the cave do not belong to any one particular period rather they belong to many spans of time. What have they written? Wish I  could read it.
So many thoughts fill the mind. I felt thankful to those unknown ancestors who left their signs in such non-erasable way . It is always good to feel connected.
All pictures by Sunder Iyer


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

virupaksha temple

Hampi in Karnataka, India is an UNESCO site, a site of rich heritage of sculpture, architecture, culture and history. Hampi, the glorious capital of  the great Vijayanagara empire.The area of about 26 sq, Km. is studded with ruins of temples, small  and grand temples. Many of these are restored to great extent and others might have been buried under the ground completely destroyed.
Among this large bevy of magnificent temples Virupaksha temple holds a special place due to many reasons.
Virupaksha temple , we can trace it back to our mythological references. Hemkuta hills on which this temple is located is said to be the place where Lord Shiva was doing his penance[ tapsya, dhyan] when Kamdev, God of love disturbed Him in order to help the local girl Pampa who was deeply in love with the lord and wanted to marry Him. Pampa was ultimately successful in impressing Lord by her severe penance and deep devotion and He agreed to marry her but in the process Kamdev had to bear the burnt of Shivas anger and that too literally. Shiva opened His third eye in anger and Kamdev turned into ashes. So here Shiva opened His third eye. Does it have any relation with Shiva being worshiped here as Virupaaksha? Aksha means eye, Virup means formless- formless eye. In deeper sense it refers to consciousness -- seeing without eyes, feeling without skin, means absorbing everything without the help of sense organs and that is the state of yoga samidhi. On these hills Shiva was in samadhi awastha.
The recorded history of this temple is from seventh century A.D. Inscriptions from ninth century are still there in temple premises. The inner sanctum of temple is older than the Vijayanagara empire. This temple has a history of active worship of more than 2000 years.It is believed that despite various attacks, destruction of mighty Vijayanagar empire, ravages of Hampi in the hands of time, the puja, archna in the temple continued uninterrupted. This in itself is very reassuring. It strengthens our faith in the Super being, the divine entity.
Exterior of temple----The east facing gate is the main gate of the temple. In front of it is about one kilometer long bazar with shops on both the sides of wide path. The lines of colonnaded shop reflect on the great planning skills of the people in power at that time. At the end of the Bazar there sits a giant monolithic Nandi on high platform facing the temple. In Lepakshi too the big monolithic Nandi sits about a kilometer away from Virupaksha temple. What could have been the thought behind this? Why Nandis were not made just in front of the temples or inside the temples? In Brihdeshwara, Tanjore too the Nandi idol is mammoth but it is inside the temple. Though placed under a separate canopy, on a separate high raised platform but inside temple premises just outside the door leading to Garbhgrah but in these two Virupaksha temples they are placed at a distance. Does it have anything to do with this particular form of Shiva?
Gopuram of Virupaksha temple - The gopura on the bazar side was under renovation when we visited Hampi. However even the horizontally, vertically rods fitted all around the lofty gopura were not able to mar the grandeur, the majesty of the nine storied gopura. Another gopura is on the tank side. This too is built almost in the same style and grandeur. The progressively narrowing figure of gopuram is built of brick and mortar. there are exquisitely sculpted characters and figures on the lower tiers of the nine story Gopuram. In every storey in the middle is a small door like open structure. Somebody told that there is provision of going to the top of the Gopuram, May be there are stairs inside the structure. Not sure about that. just a thought. On the top of Gopuram there are two horn like projections at each end and in the middle is placed Kalash.


The shape of Gopuram always remind me of hands with folded palms. The entire structure as if speaks on behalf of us.... we send our reverential salutations to Almighty, up there.



This is Kanakgiri gopura side of the temple, the holy tank side of the temple. I spent an evening on it's bank. The still waters of the tank with reflection of Gopura nestled close to it's heart appeared to say a clear heart is the abode of the sacred and pious entities. How pacifying and calming was it's impact. Far and wide the distant blue horizon invited one to drop all the binding chains and soar high with stretched wings and light heart to pastures unknown. The deep waters of tank locked the gaze and took it deep up to the core of the being. These are the moments when I forget that I exist.
Kalyan Madapam


This Mandapam in the temple courtyard with carved pillars and painted ceiling is an exquisite example of the impeccable skills of artists of the Vijayanagar empire period. This mandapam is said to be the contribution of one of the most famous king of Vijayanagar empire, Krishnadeva Raya. It is known as Kalyan Mandapam or Rang Mandapam. The mythological figures carved on the pillars, the carving on the panels above the pillars and the colourful depiction of various mythological anecdotes leave one spellbound.Such treasures of our rich heritage not only fascinate us but prompt us to explore more, to learn more, to go deeper.


A closure look of the paintings on the ceiling of the mandapam. The colours still retain their brightness though centuries have passed.

Another look of the Kalyan Madapam



Second Courtyard
A small three tiered gopura leads us to the second courtyard of the temple. The outer and the first courtyard houses architecturally beautiful structures but this second courtyard houses the soul of the temple. Not only the main shrines of Virupaksha Shiva, the consort of the local goddess  Pampa[ pampa is associated with river Tungbhadra] but also many shrines are fitted in between the collonaded pathway encircling the courtyard. Even when the day is sparkling blue and gold outside certain niches and antechambers in this section are dusky with some sun rays filtering  in at some places. A small shrine tucked in the wall, a lone deepak burning steady, devotees sitting here and there engrossed in their own inside world-- the entire area pulsate with deep positive energy. You sit quietly with your eyes closed for few minutes and the murmurs of tourists gradually turns into whispers and then a complete silence engulfs you and a little blue glow suffused your inside. The pervading energy makes you feel secured and protected , a feeling of being in womb.










Some other deities are Bhuvaneshwari, Pataleshwara, Navgrah, Nagas, and Ganesha, Hanumana
There are some shrines outside Kanakgiri Gopura, on the side of tank.


The inverted  shadow image of the gopura on the wall of one of the ante image is another attraction of the temple. The pin hole camera effect.The shadow falls on the wall which is close to the rear end of the temple, quite far away from the entry gopura.


Another special feature of the temple is a big kitchen and the water connectivity system here. Water from river Tungbhadra was carried directly to the the temple kitchen through underground canal system. I am not very sure whether the system is functional presently or not but the network of pipelines can be seen.
The annual chariot festival celebrated in February every year and marriage festivity activities of Virupaksha and Pampa too take place with great fervor.

Visiting Virupaksha temple at Hampi was an enriching experience for me in more than one way. It took me back to glorious pages of history of my land, my race and strengthened my being like that tree whose roots go deep inside earth and it faces the rough weather with  faith on bonds that hold it firmly.
All the pictures by Sunder Iyer