Saturday, 23 July 2016

Temple Run in Bhubaneshwar

The lanes of the old city of Bhubaneshwar are choc-a-block with temples making you wonder if this is how Delhi and other North Indian towns looked before the temples disappeared and tombs appeared. In Bhubaneshwar, however, the temple building continued with some minor sporadic hiccups. The result is that the beautiful city is packed up to the rafters with temples. You just need to get lost in the lanes to discover these jewels away from the more touristy spots.

The 7th Century Parasuramesvara Temple in Bhubaneshwar Odisha

Beyond the well-known Mukteshwar Temple is one of the earliest temples in Odisha. The Parasuramesvara Temple was built in 7th century and is adorned with some fabulous carvings of Ganesh, Kartikey and the Saptamaitrikas. Everything about the temple – the spire, the intact jagmohan, the sumptuous sculpture including the rare ashtagrahas on the sanctum entrance makes it a must-see temple.

The 10th century Shiv Temple hidden away in the lanes of Old Bhubaneshwar Odisha
A little INTACH sign indicates that there is a 10th century monument beyond. Now it gets exciting.  I am moving deeper into Old Bhubaneshwar where tourists usually do not venture. Few directions later, I find myself in a quiet temple complex seemingly submerged within modern houses. This is a Shiv Temple with boundary wall, shrine like entrance, two minor shrines and a well – this beauty took some finding but what a surprise. I have the temple to myself. The weather is pleasant as I can discern the usual household sounds. The closest a Delhi monument comes to the location and vibe is Atgah Khan Tomb in the crowded Nizamuddin village.

The 15th Century Kotitirthesvar Temple in Bhubaneshwar Odisha

So while Delhi has balconies hanging over the tombs, here in Bhubaneshwar, the balconies and verandahs seem to lead you into the temple. Odisha Tourism has done a good job of installing signs so I do not miss the temples hidden behind the houses. Here a verandah leads me to a simple looking 7th century Swarna Jalesvara Temple. Continuing my walk through the lanes brings me to a 15th century Kotitirthesvar Temple which is again a Shiv Temple. There is a small water tank called Papanashini Kund where the locals bathe hoping to wash away their sins.

Brightly painted home facades will greet you in the lanes announcing recent family matrimony - Bhubaneshwar, Orissa
Subarnajaleswara & Sampurnajaleswara Temples in Bhubaneshwar Orissa
Walking in the lanes of this ancient city is almost therapeutic. Here, ancient temples are a way of life just like the neighbourhood shop or park. They sit unobtrusively, a part of the landscape. A solitary devotee drops in. I stand unnoticed. Rituals are performed. Incense is lit, lips move in prayers. Words are whispered in Nandi’s ears. Life goes on languidly. Colourful houses and temples keep appearing. Next is the pair of Subarnajaleswara & Sampurnajaleswara Temples as kids play around in the premises.

 Life around Bindu Sagar - Bhubaneshwar Odisha
Time for Contemplation - Spend an afternoon looking out to Bindu Sagar - Bhubaneshwar Odisha
The 9th Century Mohini Temple overlooking the Bindu Sagar in Bhubaneshwar Odisha
And then I emerge out to see the waters of Bindu Sagar. This is a whole different world. There are even more temples all around the rim of the lake. I sit under the shade of tree to reflect. The atmospherics are wonderful here. Priests attired in colourful dhotis perform services for the devotees. Devotees come down the steps of the tank. They take water in their hands, mumble players and look to the sun. Cows mill around. Kids are learning to ride bicycles. A sadhu indulges in a soliloquy. I could spend the entire day here. 

Ananta Basudev in Bhubaneshwar Odisha
The main temple here is the Ananta Basudev Temple and it is a beehive of activity as food is being cooked. Earthen pots filled with rice and other delicacies simmer over wood fired ovens. The devotees buy the food or ‘anna’ from the numerous shops filled with pots. The feast is served on the spread banana leaves.

Sari and Sukasari Temples in Bhubaneshwar Odisha
Chitrakarini Temple - One of the prettiest temples around Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneshwar Odisha
Ganesh images are adorable here in Bhubaneshwar Odisha - Yameswara Temple
Walking further, I come to the fort like walls enclosing the Lingaraj Temple. I climb a platform to catch a bird’s eye view. There are numerous shrines inside of all sizes. Outside, along the periphery there are even more temples. The procession of the temples seems to be unending. And these are the ones that are not even the more popular ones. This is a pure bonanza for someone interested in temple iconography as the riches of carvings and sculptures and architectural styles spanning across centuries and dynasties can keep someone busy for months.
Vaital Temple in Bhubaneshwar Odisha
So while Delhi transports you to medieval age, here in Bhubaneshwar, it has been a splendid day walking in Ancient India. The sun goes down as I sit by the stepped tank of the Rameshwar Temple complex. For the locals, the day starts with a visit to the neighbourhood temple. Now in the evening, people who have come to walk in the park have settled around the steps of the temple. A group of devotees is singing bhajans. The tabla beats echo through the darkening trees. I look back – the spires of the temples have a golden halo around them. They are talking to me. I feel blessed.  For the first time in the day, I bow my head in reverence. A walk in the glorious old city of Bhubaneshwar will do this to you.

A version of the above story first appeared in the July 2016 issue of magazine NRI Achievers

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Onake Kindi – The Gated Prehistoric Rock Art Community

An exhilarating smile is playing on your face. Few minutes ago you have slid down on your back down a boulder with your feet luckily landing on flat rock. Before that there was some desperate clambering, ducking and walking on all fours to get to this cavity high above the pile of loose boulders. The reward was an incredible panel of prehistoric rock painting.

The Prehistoric Rock Art of Onake Kindi in Anegundi Karnataka

In Anegundi, where Harihar and Bukka founded the mighty Vijaynagar Empire, every day has been a surprise. But there is a bigger reward waiting beyond. Onake Kindi is a site of prehistoric settlement with rock shelters adorned with rock art. At Chikkarampur village, few kilometres ahead, you ask for directions. Two kids jump into the car. They will be your guides today. We drive off into this landscape of paddy fields with swaying coconut trees and these rounded boulders sprinkled around carelessly by some unseen hands.

The Anegundi Landscapes you love to see
The Expedition Team

Getting off the car, we walk across the field to come to this gate. The caretaker appears and leads us up a narrow track among the boulders. This time around, the entry is far easier than you experienced an hour ago. Our expedition team is in the middle of a clearing while boulders form a ring all around. Onake Kindi is a perfect setting for our ancestors - a narrow opening that can be easily guarded leading into this settlement with naturally formed shelters all around. This almost looks like a present suburban gated community with a central park and dwellings all around!

It is time to look at the paintings. Boulders balanced over each other have formed shelters. It is in these protective shelters the prehistoric human beings lived. In their spare time, like their contemporary brethren across the world, they indulged in some painting; just like they hunted, gathered food, danced and sang.

The Large Painting Panel at Onake Kindi
Iron Age's Facebook Community Wall - At the entrance of the seemingly gated prehistoric community, this smoothened rock face is densely painted with rock art. It seemed it was a facebook group where everyone shared their photos - Onake Kindi, Anegundi, Koppal District, Karataka 
You are framed - Prehistoric Painting at Onake Kindi
On the right is the first shelter. The rectangular panel of the wall apparently has a smoother finish and is densely packed with scores of figures. To you it seems like a community notice board or facebook wall where almost everyone has shared photos! In archaeological excavations, the layers of the mound or stratigraphy reveal different time periods and culture, it is possible that this rock face was probably painted over by generations of dwellers reflecting the time periods they lived here. Most figures belong to animals like ox, bull, deer, sheep, goats and even dogs. There are birds with long slender necks that look like peacocks. Some men chase after animals. A couple of framed images of perhaps a man and a woman together are seen – it almost looks like a wedding photo frame. The images can be interpreted in exciting ways.

Hunting Scenes
In another shelter there are hunting scenes. One man is armed with a bow and arrow while another figure rides a horse brandishing a spear. Another panel has row of men in a seemingly military like formation as if marching together.

Looking at these canvases that have images of humans, birds and animals, it does seem that all prehistoric painters attended the same Arts College! It is incredible that across India and the world indeed, the symbols, humans and animals have a common form. You have seen similar figures at Bhimbetka, the World Heritage Site near Bhopal. Here in Onake Kindi too, the largely similar looking figures have been painted using red ochre pigment made by mixing hematite with water. There are some white figures too probably painted with limestone and could well be Karnataka’s earliest graffiti!

Snake in Onake - The Huge Hooded Snake
The Possible Burial Sign - Rock Art of Onake Kindi
But then there are some surprising images too. There is a striking larger than life image of a huge cobra with its hood unfurled and ready to strike while another rock has a solitary image of a man with very long legs and thin arms. Another panel has mish-mash of geometrical figures. The biggest mystery is the abstract circular image over the painting board. The painting is a complex depiction of a burial along with sun and moon. There are tiny circles, wavy patterns and dashed lines probably conveying light and darkness. The interesting observation is that though much smaller in size and sprawl to Bhimbetka, Onake Kindi has figures that encompass all three categories defined by distinguished rock art scholar Dr. Yashodhar Mathpal – representation or natural, geometric and abstract.

Just admire the Balance!
Prehistoric Geometry Class
Taking a round of the place you duck into one of the shelters formed by the overhang of a flat boulder balanced precariously over smaller rocks. You go back in time. It is evening and hunters come in with their game. In the open centre kids play and dogs bark. Men tie their horses as women fire up stoves to cook the wild boars. Cows and sheep are being tended to. Soon it is dark as men take positions to guard the colony. And then by the light of lamp, one of our earliest artists begins to paint on the wall.

Magical Anegundi with its surprise of Onake Kindi

Magical Anegundi brings you to a different epoch at every turn. This right here is Iron Age. Just beyond, Anjanadri Hill rises above the mythological Kishkindha Kingdom where Lord Hanuman was born and across the sparkling Tungabhadra River are the sprawling ruins of evocative Vijaynagar. The inhabitants of the villages you passed through today are probably the descendents of the people of Onake Kindi. Anegundi which is as old as the rocks and is the mother to Hanuman, the prehistoric people and Harihar and Bukka will call you back soon.

A version of the story appeared in Spectrum supplement of Deccan Herald published on 5th July 2016
Story in Spectrum Supplement of Deccan Herald

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Anegundi Fort