Getting there : Gandhi Class !
I knew this trip was not going to be easy even when I planned it. But Sri Chennakesava Swamy made it as easy as possible.
I caught the bus to majestic at the end of the street. For Rs. 12, I was taken in comfort to the B.M.T.C. bus stand. I walked across to the K.S.R.T.C. bus stand from there and asked my way around to a Belur bus. The one I picked was en-route to Sringeri. I managed to chant the Vishnu Sahasranamam and one chapter of the Bhagavad Gita on the buses, before I rested. You can’t call it sleep. I like the rattle-y K.S.R.T.C. buses better than the AC Volvos, because I have to keep changing the my posture to minimise back pain. The ticket was Rs. 154. To travel in Karnataka you need tons of exact change., no one will give you any, especially bus conductors.
The bus started at 9,30 pm and dropped me off in Belur at 2.30 am close to what the driver declared was a bus-station. The bus-staton had been totally broken down and there was no question of waiting there till day break.
I noticed that some young men were at work putting up some buntings to celebrate a rally due on Monday. I asked a serious young man in their midst what I should do. He directed me to the Chennakesava temple and asked me to wait there. “Is it safe?” I asked. “Yes”, he said. And I was off in the street brightened by the flood lights as bright as the full moon in the west. As I followed the moon and jupiter to the west past all the closed shops and lodges, I came to the gopuram of the temple. The sky was clear and the view of the moon atop the gopuram was so beautiful. I scouted the area a bit, found some parked tourist buses, a parked police jeep and some people sleeping in front of the closed cloak room and one other in front of the temple door.
I sat in the freezing cold, with a dupatta to protect me from the wind. A couple of policemen came by and enquired where I was from and told me to cover my head so as not to catch a cold. I asked if I too could move near the temple door which was a little sheltered from the wind and they said that would be fine.
So covered with two dupattas, unable to lean on the freezing temple walls, and burying my face in my warm hands, I sat cross legged in front of the temple door (where temple beggars might sit in the day) and I rested.
As it became 4 am, I saw some people around a tiny fire and wanted to see if it was any warmer than where I was. So off I went. Some tamil men had made a little fire of the street trash of paper and plastic and permitted me to join the circle and warm my palms.
By this time a tea-maker had arrived with his cart and I though that would be warmer the fire which was beginning to die out and I took leave of them and bought a cup of hot tea. After that I was warmer but the wind got even colder. I chanted chapter 2 of the bhagavad gita for a while. It did not make me as warm as vedic chanting would have.. but I am scared of chanting vedas in public especially near a temple. I am afraid of how people might react to it.
This time I sat in front of the other door, since the man sleeping there had pushed off. I thought it would be warmer because it did not face the wind, but it was colder because there was a gap in the door and that lead to bernoulli’s effect.
After a while a small panel in the door opened and a man stepped out. He wanted to know where I was from. When I said Bangalore, he looked at my mismatched cotton dupatta drapes and asked me if I was from rural bangalore. That was rather astute of him because Bangalore north is rural-ish compared to the hep and happening south.
Once it crossed 5 am, I decided walking would be warmer than sitting down. So I went for a walk through the lovely flood lit streets and the namaaz started on the loudspeakers. Wherever you are in India, the 5 am namaaz is a part of the audio experience. At that instant I was in front of a Hanuman temple, so I did my namaah to Hanuman and wended my way back to Chennakesava.
As I sat on the steps of the temple, I saw the people in the buses had begun cooking, another tea-cart had arrived, people in walking
shoes were walking around the temple and others were exercising. A flower vending lady offered the first flowers of her basket to Channakesava and another lady wiped the ‘gadapa’ step with her saree.
The sky changed colours so beautifully and gradually as I sat on the temple steps facing east and the outlines of coconut trees emerged above the closed shops and slowly gained detail and colour against the pink clouds.
The audio chennakesava suprabhata started at 6 am, and the suprabhatam is another delightful audio experience whereever you live in India. At the sametime I heard another faint audio, of some man teaching some kids something in sanskrit somewhere. Hopeful that it might be a vedic school I set off in the direction of the sound and came to a school. The teacher was teaching the children all the names of Indian heroes from Hanuman to Gandhiji in the form of sanskrit couplets. It was lovely to hear.
I had a bun off the tea cart and after a while a hotel opened where I was served idlis. That was really good, because it was time for my medicine and breakfast. I am always happy to drink water in small places, because it has got to be less polluted than bangalore water and the ordinary water they gave was so much better than the funny tasting “Signature” bottled water I bought later in Halebid. The whole food bill came to Rs 27.50, including a Mangalore style sweet bun I found later in a shop.
On my walks around Belur, waiting for the temple door to open, I saw those big cylindrical tanks which the govt. fills with water in every street and had face wash there.. such a relief. By 7 am the “pay and use” facilities were open, which are a clean and useful service for travellers. The cloakroom charges Rs 5/- for your luggage which is not allowed inside the temple.
The experience of a life time : (Kanugontini!)
The temple doors were opened at 7.30 am and my world was opened to THE MOST beautiful sculptures I have seen in my life.
In spite of the destruction and pillaging carried on by the medieval muslims (and justice Khan says that Babri Masjid was built on Ayodhya ruins that had nothing to do with Babar ) and Colonial British (some of the best statues are in British museums), still the wealth and creativity of the Indians was so great, that there are thousands of sculptures left. Now, of course these are “world heritage” sites which means, that any contemporary Hindu school boy who carries of a tiny pebble can be fined, even as the likes of Mallya have to spend personal fortunes on “buying back” national historical treasures.
Every sculpture on every square cm of every pillar and wall is covered with a carving that is the same as but different from everyone on of its kind. For eg in the Siva Parvati sculptures, the foot stool used by Parvathi varies from an elephant to the Meru mountain to some fanatstic creature I have never seen. The elephants collide at the corners while some of them turn back to talk to the others behind them. If you can see Narasimha Swamy pulling out Hiranyakasipu’s guts in one sculpture, you will see his nails tearing into the flesh elsewhere.
I was saddened to see the sculpture of Arjuna‘s matsya yantra shooting at Draupadi‘s swayamvara defaced at one place by the medieval muslims and delighted when I found a variant of the same in excellent condition in another corner elsewhere.
(If our creativity is to survive into the future, we must make many copies., so many that it would take too much energy to destroy everyone and remove every trace. I was very happy to see so many people taking so many pictures for their facebook pages and so on… )
At 9 am, the inner temple was opened briefly for a darsan, and I had a glimpse of the beautiful face of Chenna Kesava Deva. Raja Vishnuvardhana, a disciple of Ramanujacharya was a Hoysala. the Hoysalas are a powerful branch of Krishna’s Yadavas who survived in the south-west of India. This is another reason why I believe that all the Yadavas were not drowned in Dwaraka. Just as Yadava kings ruled Nepal, for several centuries, so did they rule Maharashtra till Khilji’s time and Karnataka till very recently. (In Indian history 1000 years is recent!)
At Halebid :
Halebid is 45 min from Belur on the Arsikere route, a bus-ticket of Rs 13/- The sculptures are sooooooooo fine……. You can see the fingers through the damaruka strings and the lace like jewellry on sculptures. My words are not as fine as the work.. so you must go and see the place when you can.
It was very warm in halebid, but very cool inside the temple. There is a lake outside the temple. We walked over to the jetty and watched it for a while. There is also a well maintained lawn around the Siva temple at Halebid. There are two Sivalingas inside the temple. People were barely bowing to one of them. And the other one had a brahman priest doing puja and that place was thronged by devotees. To an average devotee, it is the priest and other devotees that give sacredness to a Sivalinga! In the Chennakesava temple where the rules and rituals are more and a larger number of brahmin pujaris, there was an even bigger throng of devotees.
While we would not want priests who tell us what to do, we definitely want priests who will tell God what we want Him (or Her) to do for us! While it is fashionable for politicians to decry brahmin priests in public it is well known that politicians of all parties rely on brahmin priests to perform special prayers for them. And while the media makes fun of their hair and clothes and other ways, who would employ a brahmin wearing stiched clothes and crew-cut hair and without a ‘nama’ of any kind? Who would accept prayers in english instead of mantras in sanskrit at a temple?
Getting Back Home : (Antaryami, alasiti, solasiti)
From Halebid to Hassan for 22Rs, is a 1 hour ride and from Hassan to Mysore is 83Rs by bus and 3 hours of cramped journey with the bus stuffed with people. The room rents are very expensive in Mysore this season, so I took the night train back to Bangalore for Rs 21.
The trains are jam packed, but I managed a place to sit having reached the station 1.5 hours in advance, It starts in Mysore at 11.40 pm and reaches Bangalore by 3.30 am or 4 am. You take the subway (walk) to BMTC bus stand and there are buses to city from 4 am itself!! I took one of those (Rs 12) and then a final share auto for Rs 5 and walked the remaining km home.
A journey that lasted 36 hours, cost about Rs.500 (as much as the dinner in Mysore) and was packed with a world of new experiences. Then of course I slept all day and am staying up late to write this…
Though I had no camera, every scene and sculpture is engraved in my memory, which will hopefully last for a few more decades! I think it was wise that I chose experience over comfort… I think that if one is willing to sleep in the open (railway stations, bus stations, temple grounds), travel unreserved and to use the pay-and-use facilities for washing etc., one can actually see, the country in a much smaller budget than expected..
- Travel : A trip to Brahmagiri, Chitradurga (Asoka Siddhapura)
- Travel : A trip to Dhanushkoti (Dhanuskodi)
- Travel : A trip to Dharmaraya temple, Bangalore
- Travel : A Trip to Pamban Bridge, Rameswaram
- Travel : DoluKunitha, Kodigehalli, Bangalore
Authorship and Copyright Notice : Al Rights Reserved : Satya Sarada Kandula