A moment longer at Elephanta caves, Mumbai.

Elephanta caves, Mumbai: A moment longer at Elephanta caves can give a life time of happiness. Sounds strange, but when you discover the value of such an amazing monument, your mind rests on it forever. You know, these monuments scattered around our country side do not just stop with being tourist attractions but have greater value when we try to understand them a little more.

Art historians like George Michell, scanned the entire caves and brought out a book the beautifully represents Elephanta pictorially to the average reader. It has a few very interesting things about it that triggered my thoughts further on Elephanta, and it just blew my mind when i realized what i possibly found. I might be wrong, but i dont feel so.

Elephanta's main cave hosts a four doored chamber which contains an incomplete Shiva Linga. In front of it stands a hall of pillars rather unassuming to start with. I think the cave faces east and on the south wall is our very famous Trimurti. Is all this leading somewhere, maybe... Lets walk a step back, what is Elephanta caves all about?

Elephanta caves hosts a complete cave dedicated to Shiva, with 11 iconographic representations from his various mythologies, 11 out of 25 forms of Shiva have been depicted here. Ok, if you though Vishnu was 10 and Shiva was 1, let me correct this, Vishnu is 10 but Shiva is about 25 forms.
This does not end here, i do not know the reason for picking these particular sculptures, am yet to figure that out, but what i know is that, what George Michell tried to conclude in these caves was that the ground plan represented some sort of a mandala that looks like this.

The square on the left is the shrine chamber that hosts the Shiva linga within it. The point i am trying to make is that much as he hit the nail on the head and said it represented a ground plan, i think he got it wrong diagramatically. Why do i say this?

For this we need to move away from pure are history and architecture towards ritual. The worship of Lord Shiva brings in the use of mystical diagrams like yantras to perform fulfilling worship of the Lord. The most auspicious yantra that represents Lord Shiva looks like this.

Now, counting the number of squares within this yantra we come to 25 (5x5) squares. Superimpose this on the ground plan of the cave, but not diagonally. The floor of elephanta now represents a living yantra, each square marked by a pillar at the corners, with the shrine chamber at the first square of row three, meaning square 11. (i hope you got the square) I think this number 11 is coincidental and may not symbolically represent the number of Shiva scultpures inside these caves. What remains a mystery to me right now is whether there was a lot more to this ritualistically or was this purely a representation to carry the tradition forward.

Now this might look normal and matter of fact to you. Well it does not look normal or matter of fact to me. I have woken up to this after 2 years of breaking my head on it, and man! this enlightenment makes a difference to me and makes me want to value these sculptures more than just beautiful depictions on stone. This is a hint of the potency that evolves when architecture and ritual combine which our ancestors have left behind for us, to take note of and pursue ( i dont mean to preach).

The more we soak ourselves in it, the more we dig deeper, the clearer it gets, and we are brought face to face with this potency. I cant explain this.. but i can only say its worth all the study i did, its worth all the frustration i have been through, its worth all the belief and faith i bank on! There IS something here to be looked at, cherished and valued.


Chaunsath Yogini temple

Chaunsath Yogini temple, 10th century, near Bhuvaneshwar:

The goddess, lesser known throughout the world but one of the most potent deities here, has long intriguied me. Though i am still reasonably unclear about her many forms, i am aware that Kali has ten forms called the ten mahavidhyas, though i dont quite know how the 64 yoginis fit into this pantheon.
The female form has played many roles, as shakti, as the goddess of fertility etc. but strangely few temples have been completely dedicated to Her.

This temple, better known as the Chaunsath Yogini temple, finds other references in the 64 shrines found around Khajuraho. I do not think i am completely equiped to talk about the many forms of the Goddess, but I do know that there is something entirely strange about this temple.

For one, this temple follows none of the old canons of architecture precribed in the holy texts, but is built on a circular ground plan quite unlike all the other temples that are square or complex versions of it. The central platform, possibly a shrine in the olden days is square and has no roof. This temple is not apsidal, therefore it does not have any remote connection with Buddhist influences. Its therefore very clear that these temples attributed to the Mother Goddess, were restricted to themselves and were not half as popular and well known as temples associated with male deities. There is one thing about this temple though, its plan can be very clearly associated with the aniconic symbol of Shiva, The linga with emphasis placed on the Yoni aspect.

Other interesting feature around this temple are that every male deity except Shiva are replaced by a female counterpart including Ganesha. The temple also hosts forms of Bhairava and Chamunda, who are better known as the fierce forms of Shiva and Kali. There definitely has been a lot of tantrik practices that have been taking place here for sure.

One of the most interesting and unique sculptures found here is that of "Ekapada Shiva" or the one legged Shiva. He is also known as Ajaikapada Bhairava. There are only two references to the presence of such a form, one here in Orissa and the other very strangely at Shore temple Mahabalipuram.

All in all, what ever the current state of the temple, it would have been very interesting to see the original form of this temple in completion as well as the potent sacrifices that were done here and the rituals practised here to appease the Goddess Chamunda!

Interestingly Chamunda has always been associated with Bhairava, even in the Vittal Deol temple in Orissa, better known as a remote temple that performed strange human sacrifices to appease this fierce form of the Goddess.


He presents Himself

He presents Himself in the light
of the oil lamp
and yet i see only the darkness

He presents Himself like
a full bloom lotus
and yet i miss the fragrance

He presents Himself in
the twinkling stars
and yet i miss the glow in His third eye

He presents Himself with
the crescent moon
and yet i miss the calm silence

He presents Himself in
a firey dance
and yet i miss the madness

He presents himself with
grace within my mind
and yet i miss the rhythm

He presents Himself in
the chilling air
and yet i miss His warmth

He presents His knowledge
within His stony self
and yet i miss the wisdom

He presents Himself in
all nothingness
and yet i miss His truth

He presents Himself with
me through out my life
and yet i miss his presence

He presents Himself with
me in all completeness
and yet i feel the emptiness

He presents Himself here
to save me from me
and yet i dont see the difference.


The calling - Darasuram Shiva temple

Its a bright sunny morning,the smoke rises out of the kitchen as she gets the aroma of a delicious brahmin meal in the making. Her father heads to the temple next door, to do the routine abhishekam for the day, while her mother gets ready to weave the next silk saree.

She hums a little tune to herself as she freshens up and looks out at the trees dreamily as the shimering leaves sway in the gentle breeze. She watches the birds with colorful feathers sing to each other as they make home. Dressed and ready for the day, she pins up the jasmine flowers onto her head and tucks the davani onto her waist and walks out of the house to head to the temple next door.

Its an old temple, not too big, not small either but simply beautiful. She rings the big brass bell hanging down at the hall, its ring reverberating through the walls. Its a calling, to the Lord that she has arrived to serve him again. She sings a melodious tune to herself as she sweeps through the hall while her father offers abhishekam to the deity within. She advances near the main shrine, the most beautiful shrine she has seen and been close to all her life.

She walks through the silence as the cool breeze shuffles her hair. She watches the fire dancing gentle as it clings to the wicks of the oil lamps. She observes the dancers all along the walls as they perform for the Lord, movement that she had wished she could grasp, movement that she saw even through stone. They danced and played the drum, they went in rhythmic motion, she could swing with them and bring it all back alive, she could hear the music in her ears as she swayed with the wind following the poses on the wall.

True beauty, pure love, that no one could touch, pure music in her heart as she danced her way through the pillars, pure rhythm in the feet as she felt each sculptural pose in her fingers as she bent backwards feeling them on the wall. The wind rang the bells in gentle motion, the fires seems to join the dance flow, as the idols in the niches watched on to see her, the performer on the floor.

She walked into the darkness, closer to the lord, through the dark passage occasionally lit by patterns of sunlight. Her anklets made the only sound she could hear as she stepped closer to the Lord's chamber. She was now as close as she could get, in front of the dark room, where he stood. She looked at his stony self, a silent Linga, draped beatifully in the lamp light. The intoxication rising as she felt it right through her skin, rhythm still in her mind, she swayed with the beat as the Lord danced in her mind. The madness ever rising, the darkness giving way to the eternal light, she watched the the fire flicker into haze as she swooned to the floor.

She had looked out of the grilled windows all these days, longing for her prince, wanting to know which land he would come from. He had been here, right by her side, always there, watching her every step in pure bliss as He took her in His arms, every day as she swooned listening to the rhythmic beat in his feet.

P.S. Darasuram hosts a shiva temple surrounding which live a lot of weavers who make our most famous silk sarees. This just brings alive the feelings of one such innocent life.


Galaganatha temple, Pattadakkal - prototypes of structural indian temples.

Galaganatha temple, Pattadakkal, Karnataka:

Karnataka boasts of some really interesting temples that are lesser known but more important in the path to maturity of architectural styles that later governed the imperial Cholas and Vijayanagara kingdoms in the south, as well as the Orissa and Khajuraho. Aihole, Badami and Pattadakkal were the seat of architectural experiments that took place in the post Gupta era, during the rule of the Chalukyas of Badami.

Galaganatha temple is one such temple, hardly known to us but would be considered a complete learning experience to anyone who sees it. What remains of this temple is the cross section of a once complete temple now in ruins.

At first look, it paves the way to Orissa school of architecture (a combination of Nagara and Bhumija styles), the elements seen in later Orissa temples like the Lingaraja, Mukteshwara and also the Vittal Deol temples. What is more interesting is the pronounced approach to the various parts of the temple roof.

For one, the most striking feature is the deep dark passage of circum-ambulation that surrounds the main shrine. The central door leads to the shrine proper within which the deity resides. Interestingly the sloping roof was experimented upon, in this temple as well as at the Hucchimalli Gudi temple also found at Pattadakkal.

In fact even more interesting is the point that the interior of the temple within the shrine chamber and the roof (vimana) above it was one hollow room, which displays itself is greater extravaganza in later temples like Brihadeshwara at Tanjore and Gangaikondacholapuram. It also shows a process of multiple floors in the making, which can be seen in Varadaraja Perumal temple Kanchipuram (Pallava style).

What appears here as a gaping hole in the tower (top most window) is called the Gavaksha window (chandrasala in the north and kudu in Tamil), which used to host a form of the deity within. In fact that was the only way to find out to whome these temples were attributed, given most of the shrines are now missing. The lintels above the door still show signs of possible iconographic carvings of the deity within.

This is one example of a temple in early stages of development, where we can quite clearly understand how to identify the deity to which it has been attributed, should all the idols inside and on the niches outside go missing.

Original photos ©2002 Michael D. Gunther.


Shore temple in true grandeur!

Shore temple, Mamallapuram - Tamil Nadu
By day its a simple temple. two roofed and gorgeous to an unsuspecting onlooker who visits this site for the first time. Innocent nandi bulls guard the entrance of this two shrine temple as it speaks of erosion and lost past glory. Yes very obviously its an ancient Shiva temple and flaunts the iconography of Lord Shiva all through. But is that it?

Look close, for this temple holds more secrets than what the normal eye can see. For one, to the trained eye, it speaks of a plinth (platform on which temple stands) that is more chalukyan than pallavan in nature. Two, it sandwiches a reclining vishnu in the center, and three, it holds two shiva lingas opposite to each other one facing west and one facing east. Does all this look normal to you?

Lets move back a little. This temple displays a congregation of many cults, or lets say all the Hindu cults known at that point in time. This would exclude the buddhists and jains. What this temple displays is the presence of an ancient vaishnavite cult that was over powered by the shaivite cults(supported by royal patronage) because of which there are two towering vimanas over Lord Shiva's shrines. It shows tolerance towards vaishnavite cult since lord Vishnu has been allowed to continue reclining and has not been uprooted from his chamber, interestingly he stayed carved well into the bedrock on which the shore temple stands. That apart it shows the strong presence of the devi cult more in the form of Parvati and Mahishasuramardhini - the two forms of the goddess that have been profusely carved across Mahabalipuram. Vishnu is either depicted as Himself or as Varaha.
But stranger cults exist among the shadows of this temple. The naga cult dominates the walls of this temple with five hooded serpent deities around its four walls transforming the whole look of the temple. This really takes ones imagination to wonder what could be called regular sacrifice at this temple.

As the sun sets in the evening, the temple priest lights up the oil lamps within their triangular niches into the temple walls. The darkness now wiped out by shimering lights that dot the temple allow for much larger ritual fires at the main temple platform. Fire, the path to heaven, the path to immortality, rises into the air as incense is lit right around the area of ritual. Drum beats pierce the air as the smoke and fire rise up to call on the dieties to come down into the forum of men. Rhythmic beats of the ancient drums with a slow constant rumble of the waves along the beaches completes the ambience of this small temple. Vedic chants rise into the air and the ritual takes full force. The heat generated calls on the very Gods to come and take a seat. The prayers roll out in rhythmic breath to the Mother and the ever present Lord Shiva as they are brought to life, into divine visibility. The Lord decends with the crecent moon dancing among His locks. Mystical diagrams paint the floor of the temple as oil lamps light up the temple bringing alive celestial beings who fly down showering flowers over the potent couple. Gandharvas play music as they fly around as tiny lights. The chanting creates rhythmic motion making the worshipers sway with the beat. The fire rages on and brings around the very beauty of the creator, as He comes alive with the Goddess to reunite and once again bring to earth the miracle of creation.

The fire dies down, the chanting continues to ring away within the mind. The sun rises again shimering among clear waters of the sea as it dances in its lap. The temple awakens again to another unassuming tourist passing by...

How then can one assume this temple is a mere collection of stone, that speak nothing but a tradition long gone? Its alive, very much alive well within my heart.


The churning of my ocean

I live in the ocean of life,
deep refreshing blue waters of life.
On a steady hill of order,
resting on the back of society,
of culture, tradition and faith.
I stay here and try to find
My complete truth i call within myself
while my demons and my angels
fight a deadly tug of war within my very mind.

I pray to you O Lord Vishnu
give me the stability i need
within my sphere of my people,
my feelings, my role in life
He protects me like a giant tortoise
giving me nothing more to fear.
I try hard to go within myself,
while my emotions swing like a serpent
As i perform within my life
my wheel of karma.

I grow, i churn, i evolve
extracting myself from myself
as i pour forth all poison
and negate all negative thoughts
within my being.
i suffer, i writhe in pain
as my emotions and my thought torment
while the world outside complains
on me being really me.

And while i grow and churn myself
O Lord Shiva help me so
Let not my poison affect
these beautiful waters of life.
He comes and takes my poison,
swallows it within Himself to help me grow,
to help me see while he saves the world from me

I dive deep into thought
i dive deep into action
i dive deep into myself
to extract the beauty within.
I glow, i am blessed
with the grace of the Lord
as i shine forth to all around me.
giving them in sweet words
the true nectar of life.

and to that very society i return
with true faith and virtue in sweet words i recite
the beauty of the Lord within.
I might live on, i might die
it does not matter no more
for i have seen my beauty within hidden,
deep within my being.

My ocean of nectar flows to the Mother
who gave me this new birth.
I worship you O Mother
You who protect me all through
You have brought me to myself face to face,
you have shown me who i am
i no not exist i do not live
i am but a speck of dust
forever at your lotus feet.


Death - the most over whelming experience.

Death is an interesting concept, in my mind its too interesting so much so that i consider it the greatest reality, the gateway to the greatest truth which we are all looking for. Yet interestingly it brings fear with it, unfamiliarity and a forbidding void in our hearts and mind and is most often considered to be unspeakably negative.

It has been our obsession, to be remembered in history, to be revered and also maybe to leave a legacy behind - for what purpose, I wouldn't know, maybe to pamper our own ego that the world can't do without us. We want to leave impressions behind either in thought or in action. By action i mean propcreation. This brings the need more often than not,to spread our genes and in some remote sense feel good that we managed to add to the hope of our immortality.

So all in all where are we really fooling ourselves? Why do we want to be remembered? Isn't it the biggest ego hassle we really have. The want to remain in a familiar environment because you cannot digest what is ahead? I mean people dont even want to talk death, if i talk death they think i am going through problems in life. "Life is a celebration"... well so is death.

My aunt died last night. She was a very nice lady. When I heard about it, i didnt feel sad, I was watching the times, the older generation was giving way to the younger, she was the 2nd to go. We were all growing old. Somewhere in all the barrage of calls I felt she was the only one who knew the real truth while the rest of us still look for it. I envied her. She possessed a peice of knowledge i didnt have. Hmm... interesting.

The best compliment i have received is from a dying lady who told me that i had been a wonderful person during her last days on earth - our reality. That was her parting message to me . I felt she would remember me in the next world.

When we hear someone has just passed away, its a reminder that that reality will come to our doorstep some day soon. It is a reminder that it is the next truth after birth and all that is inbetween is an illusion we get sucked into and hate to get out of. I just hope
when my time really comes, i am completely equipped to handle it with my mind and my heart and do not run away from it like an ignorant fool.


The moment of void - the moment of truth

Have you felt that moment of void when you suddenly feel silence around you.
That moment when you dont connect with anyone in the same room,
when you sit back and wonder what the hell you are doing there?

I felt that a lot of times,
when i simply felt i owed nothing to nobody and belonged no where.
When i felt detatched from the things i did every day.
When i asked if there was anything beyond going to school and coming home.
When i felt that i didnt fit into the world i was supposedly part of.
When i felt that my world was else where, a make belief world within my head.

When the world looked like a bunch of vague dead bodies walking around me.
when their worlds didnt seem to have anything to do with mine.
when they had their own problems and didnt want to share them with me.
when i realized all of us had the same problems and didnt handle them too well.
when i wondered what the big deal with all these problems was.
when i didnt understand why people were so overwhelmed with their emotions
when i questioned emotions that sprank up within me
when i wondered why the expression on my face didnt match the feeling within
when i contradicted my own self
when i realized the mechanics of being human
when i looked into the mirror and asked "is that really me"
when i felt i was looking at someone else altogether
when i felt my body was just a mechanical object subjected to functional problems
when i wanted to just be alone and not talk to anyone
when i felt i was just plain wierd
when i couldnt explain the intensity of my being to anybody
when i dug up the past and read all the books
when i wondered why ancients built so many temples and decorated them
when i realized the actual value of ritual that we call superstition
when i realized the trivial things that people call important
when i realized my curiosity to know death, the end
when i realized i will not exist anymore to anyone.
when i realized my mom will go one day and will she ever be my mom again
when i wondered whether the roles i play in life have a lesson to teach.
when i realized i am NOT all that important.
when i felt happy that i AM nobody, nothing.
when i felt i could do without outside attention from other people
when i felt i didnt need appreciation nor did i need approval
when i realized this is ME and you have no choice in the matter
when i wondered if this was all there was to life.
when i know i am just waiting for time to pass and drop me my pearls of wisdom.

while i wait for the final day when i die, to know what death is all about.


Durga - her attributes and iconography

Durga: Also known as Mahishasuramardhini, she is the personification of all male energy, and she sure has a lot to hold. She is most often depicted in a standing posture, with one leg over the Buffalo demon mahishasura, while her vahana - the lion- is seen devouring the demon. She is one of the forms of Kali and is worshipped widely across the country as the potent female energy. She often appears eight handed or more, each hand carrying a weapon that belongs to the Gods Here is a glimpse of what her weapons are.

Sculpted most often as a Goddess with many arms, she carries the following weapons:

cakra (disc), pa_s'a (noose), an:kus'a, bow, arrow, mu_s.ala (club), s'akti (spear), axe, khe_taka, vajra, staff or sceptre (yaks.am), bhusundi_ (missile), mudgara. Her hands may also carry a flag, a lotus, a plough, a mirror, a kaman.d.alu (water-pot), honey-cup, rosary (aks.ama_la_)

She is also sculpted with only two hands, one of the hands may hold a s'u_la or pa_s'a weapon.

Her mudras: Mudras are very interesting mediums of expression of emotion and attitude. Each finger is an energy center within itself. The energies are both positive and negative. Depiction of mudras is a sort of sign language, very evolved in nature. Mudras are most often used during ritual and dance, and popularly depicted on sculpture and painting.

Here the goddess is depicted in four mudra (hand-postures); these express attributes of protection, benediction; they also inspire terror or affection.


The time and faith relationship.

Is time the most important thing in our lives?

This is a question i asked myself this morning and i was quite startled with my thought process. I have taken to believe a few things after observing how our community reacts to various situations. This is one example. I went to the temple early monday morning to see the face of Lord Ganesha in the light of the rising sun. (been doing a few of these crazy things).

It was the day of the eclipse, and everyone was aware it was going to commence around 5.10 pm and go on till about 6pm. It was said to be the most auspitious time, as it fell on a no moon day and had a few more complicated features with respect to our age old panchangam. At the temple, there was a massive gathering, at 6.30am, and a whole lot of people had come by to perform their ritual toward ancestral worship. They also said that certain constellations would be affected because of this, mine being one of them. Hence the trip to the temple.

My mind just dwelled on this for a while. The eclipse was fixed, it was scheduled and everyone's life revolved around it. The over all population of chennai city went down on the road during the time of the eclipse. If i have to go the traditional thinking way, time appears to be the soul most important thing in our lives.

Most importantly the present. We seem to live in every other sphere of time except NOW. My thoughts are about what happened in the past and my attempts to relive them if they were good. Or my thoughts are completely about what has to be done in the future. But i miss out the vital moment of NOW.

Now let me look at it from another perspective. There are lots of things i used to consider important which are not that way anymore. There was a time when my job was the place where all my passions flowed out but now, i think otherwise. Its not mine to worry so much. Then my passions rolled out on my life and the people around me, but they scarcely even began to understand me. It didnt make that difference when i wanted to burst out to tell them the most amazing thing i had discovered and as i yelled with joy i just saw it boomerang back to me!

It took me too less time to realise i live in a lone world of my own and everything around me just exists in a lone world of its own. Leave alone that, there also seemed to be a lot of elements of shall i say "Rahu and Ketu" that seemed to add trouble to my life. The only way i chose to answer it was to see it through, disconnected instead of getting overwhelmed with my emoitonal reactions towards it.

It made me wonder, this is life, when all goes well or does not, and we have all these Godly elements adding fuel to the fire depending on our so called past karmas. But if i didnt let them have their due, and didnt let the situation affect me and let it pass like all events do, i noticed a strange peace within myself which seemed to reduce even the events of my life to almost insignificance. This left just one thing in my life to worry about, the unanswered passion within me that causes the unrest in my mind and heart.

There had to be a solution to the passions welling up inside me, someplace to let it lose. I knew it was beyond anyone to understand and it was too precious to waste on anyone beyond myself and a few people I really adoured. But largely given my nature of being by myself led me to turned to Lord Shiva, concentrating on His form every time i felt excited about something. It has since been an amazing experience.

Simple peace, where time comes to a halt, where i simply sit back in the bliss of imagining the Lord dance in a moon lit night with the Ganas by the fire as he raises his graceful body in the pose of Tandava Nataraja. I just stop to keep seeing that picture of him in my mind constantly hoping that moment will never end. I came to realize i was completely in the Present. Every moment, an experience within itself, powerful, silent and ever constant.

My mind is at rest. There is nothing called time. I am and i will always be. Ever in the present.


Divine Hierarchy - The who's who in the Indian pantheon of celestial beings

Most of the gods we know can be sorted into gods, demi gods, lesser gods, asuras, devas, rishis and the super gods. Buddha and Mahavira are more of saints than proclaimed gods.

The hierarchy starts with us humans being, the lesser mortals at the bottom, higher up are the lesser gods who are the gandharvas, kinnaras, vidhyadharas and apsaras. Their lords are the yakshis and yakshas - fertility goddesses and nature gods. Shalabhanjikas are fertility goddesses often depicted against trees with one leg bent up and one hand holding a branch. They are believed to be virgins who were capable of making a tree bear flower.

Nagas have a similar standing on this plain. Snakes are associated with water, the underground, and fertility. They were adopted into Hinduism as emblems of Shiva (perhaps reflecting Shiva's own origins from earlier nature cult), and were adopted into Buddhism as protectors of Buddha.

Above them are the rishis, devas, and demi gods etc who would be weather gods and their sons. Ganesha, the proclaimed son of Lord Shiva is the lord of the Ganas . Finally we have the super gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and to a certain extent the Mother Goddess.

All gods have vehicles or vahanas and various hybrid creatures like griffins scattered through out the pantheon.

Now lets have a closer look at the lesser known demi Gods:

Vidyadharas :
They are wisdom bearers. always seen with a small garland, who fly above the heads of gods. The garland symbolizes the attainment of supreme (spiritual) wisdom.

Gandharvas :

They are "Fragrances," celestial musicians and husbands of the apsarasas.

Apsaras :
They are celestial dancers, most famous being urvashi, the lead dancer in indra's court.

Kinnaras :
Kinnaras, who in Hindu mythology, are heavenly musicians who are the followers of Vaisravana also known as Kubera, their lord, who is a yaksha also popularly known as the lord of wealth. They have human heads and the bodies of birds or horses. The Kinnaras were either the sons of Kasyapa, or sprang from the toe of Brahma. They are often identified with the Kimpurushas, whose appearance is the exact opposite and who are also followers of Kubera. Essentially they are entertainers.

Here are a few verses from the Bhagavat Gita where reference is made to kinnaras.

Srimad-Bhagavatam 3:20:45
"The mention of upadeva-vara refers to inferior demigods like the Gandharvas, Kinnaras and Uragas, who are not exactly demigods but between the demigods and human beings."

Srimad-Bhagavatam 4:1:54-55
"From the description given in this verse, Garuda appears to belong to the Kinnara planet. The inhabitants of the Kinnara planet have the same features as Garuda. Their bodily features are like those of a human being, but they have wings. The word gita-kirtih indicates that the inhabitants of Kinnaraloka are very expert in singing the glories of the Lord. In Brahma-samhita it is said: jagad-anda-koti-kotisv asesa-vasudhadi-vibhuti-bhinnam. In each and every universe there are different types of planets, and each planet has distinctive features. On the strength of this verse, we can understand that in Kinnaraloka the inhabitants can fly with their wings. There is also a planet, known as Siddhaloka, where the inhabitants can fly even without wings. ."

These are celestial couples who are a common motif across temples both buddhist and hindu. They are believed to exert an influence which is both auspicious and magically protective.

In the next level are:

Gods or celestial beings, they are the residents of heaven. These Devas are also called ‘Suras’ - those with soma, the wine or ambrosia of heaven. Soma is the elixir of ecstasy, joy and contentment. The heavens are divided into three parts, the realms of desire, the realms of form, and the realms of formlessness.(picture is of devas pulling the serpent to churn the ocean at Angkor wat)

Demons, rivals and enemies of Sakra Devendra (Indra) and the Devas (Gods) with whom they are constantly at war. The Asuras dwell in the oceans (the atmospheres, the realms of turbulence) whereas the gods (Devas) dwell in the serene palaces of heaven. Asura literally means ‘one without the ambrosia of heaven (soma)’ - that is, they are restless, without the bliss, joy and contentment of heaven - they must ever struggle in the realms of strife and turbulence. They appear in many forms, including Nagas (water spirits), Yakshas (earth spirits), Daityas (genies), Dasyus (barbarians), Kalakanjas (stellar spirits), Kalejas (demons of time), Khalins (threshers), Nivata-kavacas (wearers of armor), Pisacas (flesh eaters), Raksasas (night wanderers) and a host of others forms. There are four classes, according to their manner of their rebirth: no.1 egg-born no 2 womb-born no 3 metamorphosis born no 4 water/spawn born. They are the competitive forces of nature that are forever battling for dominance over one another. In human nature they represent the assertion & clash of rival egos.

(Literally 'Devourers') The king of birds, with golden wings, living below heaven but above the highest trees of the earth. The Garudas are associated with the legends of the Roc and the Phoenix, and they are said to be able to travel a hundred thousand miles in a single day. They are the enemies and devourers of serpents (Nagas). They are called 'The Wings of Speech', and they represent the spiritual power and magic of the spoken word, which conquers nature, invokes and inspires the mind and carries it far and wide. The god of knowledge (Vishnu) is said to ride on the Garuda's back and the Garuda is said to carry the 'Wish-Fulfilling (Cintamani) Gem' around its neck.

Demons shaped like boas or pythons, with large bellies; also called ‘human but not human’. Demons of reptilian personality.

These spiritual beings can all be forces for good and spiritual enlightenment when embracing the Sutra and the teachings of the Buddha. In embracing and protecting the Sutra, they are known as the Naga Kings, Yaksa Kings, Gandharva Kings, etc.


Surviving original Shiva temples.

There are plenty of Shiva temples scattered around the country. So what are the original ones i am talking about? Most later shaivite temples depict either little or too much. For eg. Shiva temples at belur and halebid depict the entire pantheon of Gods, vaishnavite included on the over ornate walls of their temples, while some others restrict imagery to very few forms of Lord Shiva, line the later south indian temples in Tamil Nadu. They dont go beyond the depiction of Nataraja, Dakshinamurti, Lingodbhava and if you get lucky a form of trimurti. Of course you do have Parvati, ganesh, karthikeyan and chandikeshwara in all of them.

Original temples of Shiva had sprawling panels of mythological stories on Shiva and his exploits in all his various forms counting upto 26. Today we have few standing examples that depict all these forms and much more, some still unidentified, in few temples built from the period of the Vakatakas to the Cholas.

Here are some of the most authentic Shiva temples still standing:

Elephanta caves Mumbai coast:
Off the coast line of Mumbai stand Shiva caves on the island of Elephanta which have fantastic depictions from Shiva mythology arcoss their their dark walls. The sculptures take their influence from the art styles of the Guptas and the caves of Ajanta. Mammoth life size sculptures, exquisitely carved, depict Shiva in various poses. These include Ardhanarishwara, kalyanasundaramurti, yogishwara, nataraja, andhakasura, vrishabhavana, ravanaanugraha to name a few. The most striking of course is that of Trimurti, whose prototype goes way back to Indus valley. The caves of Elephanta are styled exactly like buddhist caves and were excavated well before structural architecture took shape in india.

Kailashnatha temple Ellora:
Another completely amazing temple and grand at the same time is that of Kailashnatha temple. The interesting part of this tempe is that it is right in the middle of brahmanical, buddhist and jaina caves. Tp top it all it is a museum of architecture that displays the sculptural supremacy of three dynasties that ruled the indian sub continent parallely - the chalukyas, pallavas and the rashtrakutas. there is cultural warfare written all across the walls of this temple. Apart from depicting various forms of Shiva, this temple shows stark examples of sculptors from all dynasties working together in the same place. eg. saptamatrika panel in a cave near the main temple shows few of the goddesses in pallava style, few others in rashtrakuta style and the remaining in chalukyan style. How do we figure that out? A rashtrakuta sculpture knows no proportion, heads are BIG and legs are SMALL. if the figure had to stand up, it would not be able to balance itself. A chalukyan sculpture always has a waist band and a Pallava sculpture is always slender and not intricately carved, very simplistic. Kailashnatha temple is also the first temple in India to be built multi storeyed, and monolithic at the same time. Truely fantastic.

Shore temple Mahabalipuram:
Almost completely eroded but salt and sea breeze over the centuries, we see traces of Shiva mythology on the walls of this temple. More than Shiva iconography this temple yells out the presence of strong naga cults and mother goddess worship. The reclining Vishnu is made of the bed rock, and existed well before this temple was built. Strangely, this is the first temple that hosts two shiva shrines back to back, one facing east and the other facing west. Nandi vahana does not stand in front of any of these shrines but seems to occupy the walls instead.

Kailashnatha Kanchipuram:
A truely well preserved and amazing structure, this temple gives us a complete account of shiva iconography ,so complete that we have not been able to identify all of them yet! Its a store house of all the possible forms one can think of. The sculptures are on the temple walls as well as on the walls that enclose it. Interestingly somaskanda panel seems to have been the most popular panel of the time. This temple also has the only example of a shrine chamber well within the gopuram.

Brihadheswara tempe Tanjore:
Truely magneficient archetecture and amazing sculptural depiction of Lord Shiva scatter its walls. This time with more plan and structure. All the walls of this temple depict Shiva or other Gods from his troop counting upto almost 10 per wall and that would be 30 allover. Interesting elements of this temple is that it redefines how a temple of Shiva should be built, with a series of Shiva lingas planted into the ground along the boundary walls of the temple. The yoni pitha of all these temples point northwards for the exit of the libation fluids. Interesting sculpture here is to see Shiva standing near the entrance with Vishnu bowing to him on his kneels. Shows the celebration of shaivite supremacy over vaishnavites. Of course vishnavite temples give it back equally well!!!

Brihadeshwara Gangaikondacholapuram:
Like father like son, but with a difference. This temple is definitely smaller but bursting with architectural creativity more than its older couterpart which is the personification of symmetry. The tower is not all that squarish anymore but more rounded! Shiva iconography covers all its walls as well with repetitions at certain places.

Interestingly all these temples display the various mythologies on the exterior walls except for elephanta cave which is completely on the inside! But its onlyin later stages that the 108 lingas came into temple architecture.

Other temples propbably are subsets of these temples. They house fewer forms of Shiva himself and concentrate more on the Gods and demi gods who accompany him. The outer walls are a little more bare and attention is given to elaborate architecture as compare to elaborate sculptural depictions.

All in all a true shiva temple contained concepts all about HIM and not about people around HIM!
But interestingly it seems to also have a lot to do with the magic of "Kailasa".


Thirst for a better life - the temple priest

What is a better life in the traditional indian mind?
In today's definition it probably is pots of money, good adouring wife who cooks great food and a good hubby who is loving and caring, children who are naughty for entertainment but well behaved otherwise and bright at school, a car or two at the backyard of preferably a self owned house. Dad's property being part of inheritence (i was shocked when a few people were really vocal about it!). Fantastic gadgets around the house, say a hify home entertainment system and other electronic equipment. a laptop and an ipod at arms reach and not a hit on the pocket. latest phone models that your friends would die for and maybe a plasma screen on your wall for a movie from your favourite movie collection. A bunch of real fun loving good friends who are there and not there at the same time. Peace between mom and wife. etc etc etc etc etc ....

a programmer would aspire for all this, thats the kinda life he is looking for. a priest is torn between two worlds. the world of the spiritual and the world of materialism. so lets see the other side of a priest's life. priests of all temples are trained in the art of performance of ritual, in recitation of sacred hymns, meanings of it, purpose of it, dos and donts, benefits and damages. they are historically and traditionally superior because of their intellect. (i have learnt to understand that intelligence is a luxury once the stomach is full).

the priests are normally the resposibility of the ruling matt, that takes care of all thier food, residence, maintenance of family, education of children preferably back into the matt's gurukul etc. all this while they perform ritual for the masses. The historical life of a priest down the ages has been one of renunciation from worldly interests and retreating into a world of intellect and spiritualism and passing the tradition of gurukul system down the ages which still continues today at shankara matt and others. their life revolves around the temple, their education is that of holy texts and not maths and chemistry equations that we go through in school.

their syllabus is that of occult sciences and ancient systems and sacred texts of subtle truth, of mythology and its impact on the spiritual progress of the human being classified in indian society as brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra, the labour of each community once upon a time being respected and not looked down upon. leading a virtuous life was of prime importance in society and these were the messengers who taught the ignorant masses how to lead it.

where the priests spoilt the show historically is:
1. converting devadasis(temple dancers also learned in other arts) to prostitues and therefore leaving behind a lot of illegitimate children(nambudiris of kerala and tamil priests),
2. being the rich folk and exploiting position when the ruling patronage decided to pay them hefty incomes for being respectable intellects and earning them a position at the courts(cholas were known for this)
3. being born brahmins and taking advantage of so called superior birth
4. taking milleage out of gullible ignorant audience and making them pay through their noses on the grounds of superstition that cannot be scientifically proven.
5. losing the honest trust most people had on them as being true to their faith and business of priesthood.

the result:
1. lack of trust and faith among people towards the actual occult sciences when its the priest to blame for not delivering the right goods.
2. mass disbelief and scorn on superstition which has left most of average indian house holds confused about what to believe and what not to believe.
3. lack of faith in paying for pujas, archanas, homams, etc. when the priest sits right next door talking on a cellphone when he is supposed to be singing mantras and calling the spirits down to earth to protect and bless the householders.
4. lack of interest in correcting wrong moves made by political parties or temple commities when temples are being slowly desecrated by
(a) the introduction of electric light into the garbha griha,
(b) lack of interest towards regular worship of the deity inside and subsequent steps of temple ritual being missed out (maybe because of lack of funds).
(c) cleaning of temple tanks and getting rid of plastics which clog the drainage systems and leave most of the tanks dry when they should be full of clear water so that devotees can purify themselves before the trip to the temple.
(d) blocking and closing of pradakshina paths around temples and restricting access, leaving the worship incomplete as circum-ambulation is important to ritual worship.
so on and so forth.

historically, temple priests in india have been the highest paid by the ruling patronage in society and today its their own greed that has brought about their down fall and resultant lack of trust. so today's generation of priests are reaping the deeds of the past.

if you still wish to pay them and give them a better life and feel sympathetic for them...go ahead.


Corruption among temple priests at sacred shrines.

Tamil Nadu

Kapaleeshwar kovil, Mylapore:
It is an interesting feature to see that apart from this temple being a place for community services and worship of the deities inside, it displays certain boards that speak a lot of religious intolerance. The boards say "non hindus not allowed". Why? Is it that we consider our Gods so sacred that any non hindu will desecrate the idol? What is the exclusivity for, is it that they are more impure than we are? I dont think so. Lets move on.

Shiva temple Chidambaram:
Here no cameras are allowed, the restrictions are more severe than other places. The boards threaten to confiscate electronic equipment if any such attempts are made to remotely photograph the Lord Nataraja inside. Secondly, there is an additional charge of Rs 30 a head to get onto the platform to get a closer view of the Lord. I dont mind paying but are the priests taking care of the cieling frescoes of the Chola period that have deteriorated with time right at the heart of this temple. Forget that, indians never learnt to preserve their past, they only know how to ape the west. Is the outer prakara of the temple maintained and kept clean? Where does all the money go?

Shiva temple Thiruvannamallai:
Here is another example of corruption at its best. In temples you can see the Lord, maybe from a distance but at least you can see Him. Here, you pay 30 bucks to enter into the inner most hall and sanctum, so if you are a staunch devotee and no money with you, you can be sure that only a miracle can get you through to get a glimpse of the Lord.

Shiva kovil, Sirkali:
Its as simple as it gets here. Apart from all the Nadi Jotsyars who hound you at the temple entrance, with their boards and advertisements, the priest of this temple simply couldnt care less. He would look at you and ask, is there a shrine in there at all? It was one of those places where i could get a view of the Lord with my handy cam with absolutely no objections at all!!! The priest didnt seem to have any ownership towards the shrine at all!

Perumal temple Kanchipuram:
I forgot the main name of this temple, its a large vaishnavite temple, orthodox and you pay for EVERYTHING. The kalyanamandapa stands in teh temple courtyard with the tank next to it. Oxygen levels are really low in the water so all the fish swim up, among the worlds plastics floating in the green waters. BUT, to get a view of the inside of the Kalyanamandapa you pay 5 bucks a head to enter an originally airy mandapa which has now been clothed in thick grills, around it such that even a kitten cant seem to get through. So much for preservation of ancient monuments. The indian priest has learnt to just make money on it and not even attempt preserving it.

Shiva temple Papanasam:
The temple falls bang in the way from Tanjore to Kumbhakonam. Its claim to fame is that Lord Rama is supposed to have worshipped 108 lingas within its walls. A very interesting and unique set of lingas catch your fancy in this temple, which is quite unlike other 108 set of Shiva shrines typically found around Shiva shrines. The price to enter this little hall of Lingas is Rs 20 for 3 people and its your tough luck if you show up with a lesser crowd. So the flat payment is 20 whether you have 3 people in your company or not! Interesting. The man with the ticket has a good belly and is loaded with such lethargy that i wonder if the idol gets a daily abhishekam!

Trichy Rock fort:
Gorgeours place and rottenly maintained. Painted all over with additional 21st century constructions that are more of a blotch in the whole canvas. Ticket is Rs 5 or 10 to enter, per head of course and if you do have a handycam or camera, please pay Rs 50, they will make you pay for it higher up, in case you escape the first time. The good side, you get a few books on the temple history in return, the sad side, its all in tamil, so you better know how to read it!

Srirangam Ranganatha temple:
I was attacted and mauled by senile old priests all above the age of 75, who wanted temple donations all in the name of temple maintenance. The nice part is the temple as compare to others is reasonably well maintained. I also didnt mind paying to get a quick darshan given our ever increasing indian population does pose its problems when it comes to crowd management in temples. Photography is not allowed once you cross the outer 3 prakaras of this gigantic walled temple. The good side, you dont pay for photography where its allowed and most of the imperial chola and vijayanagara sculptural art falls in these prakaras so you really dont miss much.
Point of caution: there are a lot of these old priests who sit around the mandapas and catch any unsuspecting pilgrim and tell them to do a few things before they very deftly guide them around the temple and finally take them towards a room which looks like an office where i suspect you will pay handsomely for some so called "prasadam". I escaped it, i suggest you do the same.

Thiruvanaikkaval temple, Jambukeshwara linga, Srirangam island:
Here the same 75 year old senile men, either beg you to pay for a simple arti, or take Rs 150 or so for a promised closer view for which you anyway pay with a ticket at the counter, think its Rs 10 per head. The good side, you get to see the Lord through a grilled window if you dont pay for a clearer view, given this shrine is a little sunken into the earth and can be entered from a side door which leads into a very small chamber that can house a max of 10 people without priests. The disgusting element is the look of corruption and lethargy on the faces of the priests.

Shiva temple Kalahasti, Vayu Linga:
This is totally hillarious, but i will also assure you, if you are a believer of Rahu Ketu and shani and are told to pay Rs 250 to get any Sarpa Dosha's off your head, please do not believe in these. The Kalahsti temple is a complete fraud deal when it comes to blind faith among their rather gullible audience. There are methods to get over doshas of various kinds, including sarpa doshas but that is a prescribed method that is defined by the family Guru and not just paying through your nose to please the Gods. Typically you would be told to light a ghee lamp at the inner Gajastambha on an auspitious day or give a whole packet of Gingerli oil in the sanctum. Yes to get a closer view of the Vayu linga you have to ay Rs 500 to get to the vestibule of the main shrine sanctum. If not its the standard Rs 30 to get a quick darshan, yes! the joys of over population i should say.

Brihadeshwara temple, Gangaikondacholapuram:
Here, free entrance but no cameras are allowed. You can take your camera inside and sincerely tell the authorities that you dont intend taking pictures of anything in the hall, leave alone the garbha griha, but you can sneak a small shot here and there. Is it worth it? well if you get lucky , yes its completely worth it.

So end of all this, should we hindus pay to see the Lord? Should tourists and non hindus who have come crossing oceans to get a glimpse of the shrines to quench their curiosity of Hinduism be denied this pleasure? If yes, how does it hurt us? Should temples force pilgrims to pay up, when there is a rich hat called Kanchi kamakoti peetam sitting there walloping money to pay for extortion instead of maintaining these jewels of architecture? Should money be asked of every thing a devotee asks for be it a coser view, an archana, or any other form of serious worship?

Last but not the least, should temple priests be allowed to use cell phones while they perform pujas , homams and other sacrifices in honor of householders anywhere?

If this is not corruption what is it, and if we keep silent and allow it, how is it going to improve and make a spiritual change to our lives?


The original house - Bedsa or Tanjore?

I decided to take this post a little further compare to what i have mentioned in my previous post about the architecture of Tanjore temple. This means we take a magnifying glass and move closer to the main tower of the temple. I had made a connect between the architectural elements of Brihadeshwara temple to the buddhist caves of Bedsa.

Now to substantiate the arguement, i managed to fish out a few pictures to show you the same thing. Explaining it was half the job, viewing it is the other half. Now lets leave behind who built it and in what century etc. and look at what was the evolution of a simple architectural house from say Bedsa in 3rd century AD or earlier to Tanjore in the 7th century.

Here is a buddhist cave at Bedsa(in black and white above), the reflection of a simple cell in which a monk would have lived, a silent retreat where he would have tried to meditate his way to enlightenment the buddhist way. A silent cell with an arched window leading to one rocky room with a stone for a bed with the pillow carved into it. The only light to his little chamber would be through that narrow door and circular window.

Now lets look at a series of these cells(or houses) in a line, with a broader house to the center, keeping two of these cells on either side of it, so we have five houses. Lets put some more add ons, for example, make a guys stand within these cell doors i.e. maybe shiva, lets make the arched window above the narrow door a lot more ornate so it will have some layers of floral designs on it, and lets enhance the shallow pillars on either side of the doorway to real proper ones and have a doorkeeper or dwarapala stand there. Now that we have these five cells, keeping in mind the central one being broader, lets add a floor to them making it two storeyed, and bring them out of the cave and put them as a free standing building. So we now have five standing houses.

Now lets take the camera up to see how many more such houses are systematically lined up behind them and, Wow that is the view of the city you get! Fantastic isn't it, the imagination of generations of people who tried so desperately hard to show us how their cities looked!!!


The unknown Tanjore temple

Tanjore: When one thinks of Tanjore it would be the Brihadeshwara temple that comes to mind. Now coming to think of it, there is more to Tanjore that exists beyond the fort walls that guard the temple. For one, we have old buildings and palaces that dot the landscape which most often go unnoticed.

There is something about the Tanjore palace that is of real interest. It is the only surviving example that clearly depicts that large pyramidal towers like the one in this picture were actually used as residential complexes. This means that every floor was occupied by people of the royal family. Adding to this, the top most chamber, at the peak of the tower which houses at the most one room with a path of circum-ambulation to get access to it was probably made exclusively for the king.

Pyramidal towers were nor just constructed, they have been depicted across panels across the south and where do you find them? Well, on relief sculptures of Vaikuntaperumal temple of Kanchipuram, at the shiva temple as well as the amman shrine at Darasuram to mention a few. So how did the ancients even go about something like this and what has it got to do with tanjore temple?

Well, the palace is a residence, which means every level depicts smaller house like structures and when put on one another sequentially make up the whole pyramid so people lived on all the floors. This has a strange background. As most of south indian art owes its past to Buddhist art in the northwest, we need to travel there to see how that affected a temple palace in Tanjore. If we take the buddhist caves of Bedsa and say Karla, we can very clearly see that they tried to depict a village or a group of houses on one single vertical wall. Of course keeping the maturity fo engineering through the ages, the original idea of wanting to live one over the other in a pyramidal structure started here, the pyramid being part of their discovery of architecture. When depicting a whole village on a vertical wall, without perspective in consideration, they tended to pile up all the structures, farthest house coming to the top of the compostion. Series of these smaller houses, architecturally were called shalakutas(broader houses) and karna kutas(narrow houses).

The shalakuta in indian architecture, and more so in the brihadeshwara temple occupy the central area of the main temple tower. all those smaller sturctures you see up there dotting it are shalakutas. the corner structures which are narrower are the karnakutas. Hence Tanjore temple is a depiction, of what a pyramidal palace would have looked like, and tanjore palace of course isthe residential quarters in those days.

Looking further into the tanjore temple itself, it houses the iconography of Shiva profusely on all its walls. Things that we will never get to know or see are the deep dark passages of circum-ambulation this temple hides on its two gigantic floors, and an underground chamber this temple stands on which hosts a world of ancient murals very vulnerable to daylight. So there is really much more than what meets the eye which we just seem to miss no matter how many times we go there. The passages that led up to the higher floors from inside the temple have been blocked with cement for good. The original garbha griha was hollow right through such that if you shood at the shrine and looked up, you could see the top of the tower, way above from inside. This has been blocked by floors constructed over the linga in the Nayaka period. Surely tanjore temple has seen a lot and Tanjore pallace even more.

These are the only surviving examples that show that "rich" people lived in multi-storied buildings, not rectangular but pyramidal in nature. There probably were more of this all around in wood, just the stone structures survive today.


Kali amman - the real mother!

Kali amman shrines: South Indian temples profusely depict a simple standing amman(mother goddess) shrine inside most Shiva and Vishnu temples. It is interesting however to see the presence of the cult of Kali in the historical temples across the Tamil Nadu region. This is seconded by the strong presence of the Naga cult, but for now lets stick to Kali.

Its not just a madness in Bengal, today's Durga puja would have seen a lot more versions in the South in earlier days. Here are a few examples. Lets start with Mahabalipuram. It was an interesting discovery i made when i was reading yet another book on the Goddess. Mahishasuramardhini or Durga, is supposed to have destroyed the demons Madhu and Kaitaba who attempted killing Vishnu while he slept on Ananta. This story has confusing parts to it. References to the same are made in dance where Vishnu is supposed to have woken up and faced them. In the amman cult, durga is supposed to have destroyed them. None the less, in this particular cave, all you get to see are Vishnu and Mother goddess, the actors of this particular drama, being carved out of the rocky walls. Apart from this, the goddess is profusely carved in the Draupadi ratha, with a scene of decapitation happening right next to her. This imagery finds place even in the Varaha cave.

Moving on, it was particularly interesting to note the presence of Kaliamman at wayside village temples near Samayapuram, enroute to Trichy. Here the shrine is known to be extremely potent and can be visited only on Mondays and Fridays. Further down at trichy she resides again near the Rackfort temple. In Tanjore, amman does not occupy a seat within the walls of the Brihadeshwara temple complex but is found 3kms away. Moving on as one takes the road to Kumbhakonam, we cross two places called Nellur and Papanasam. Who would believe that a small village like
Nellur, would even host a fantastic shrine for the Goddess and how many people would be privileged enough to get off the beaten track to go and see this form of the Goddess! Here she has a shrine all to herself, on the outside of a Shiva temple, which lies among very calm and peaceful fields of south indian countryside.

Moving on, as one leaves Kumbhakonam and heads for Chidambaram, the tamil countryside lies dotten with fields interspaced with temples and minor shrines of village deities. At Chidambaram, and not within the great temple, but behind it is a shrine to be seen. This is by far one of the most amazing Kaliamman shrines i have ever set my eyes on. She is not in the main shrine but on the side. The walls around her are decorated with scenes of a king in the act of decapitation while his army watches on. He holds his hair up and attempts cutting his head with a sword, sacrificing himself to the Goddess. Such was the faith those days. Inside the shrine sits the goddess, in true beauty. The first sight of her of course is breathtaking as she is dressed in a white dress, bathed in kumkum. Oh! that vision of the Goddess is something i will never forget. Its one of the few shrines i stood in front of, it was just timeless. I could have stayed there all my life. She was carved in stone, looked fierce and coy at the same time, in the same pose as shown above. Then came the moment of true beauty. They undressed the Mother and bathed her in oil. I have never seen a more beautiful form of the Goddess. She sat there eight handed getting bathed first in oil and then in kumkum. She was red and totally amazing. She bore weapons in her various hands and sat on her seat flexing her body most gracefully. Whats also amazing is a strange sculpture i have not seen anywhere else. A sculpture of a five hooded serpent with two and a half coils. It looked deadly, as if the snakes almost came to life as i took the courage to touch the stone they were carved out of. In the darkness, it looked out of the world with the small ghee lamps burning in its lap as it shielded them from the rain. Your heart skips a beat, and you lose your breath when you see the five hooded serpent and the Goddess in complete red, against the lamplight. You just realize how hopelessly small you really are.

The next shrine of the Goddess was at Gangaikondacholapuram. Another extremely gorgeous temple built by Rajendra Chola, but not half as dynamic and that at Tanjore, this temple originally hosted just Shiva. The sub shrines around the temple hosted devi in her various forms. One such shrine within the compound hosts a fierce form of the Goddess in attack. Its so strange, the silence and peace of Gangaikoncholapuram echoes with the presence of cults that were radiant and fiercely potent and well rooted into the indian traditional mind. It just leaves you with goose pimples as you think about the proliferation of the mother goddess shrines not as a gentle form in Parvati or the well known amman shrine but as Kali amman, radiant and energetic within her very potent self.

Finally this picture, not a stone sculpture of the ancient days but a modern remake of the splendor of the Goddess. Some how, though i do not take to sculptures made these day, this particular one caught my attention, she looks simply fantastic, gorgeous as a Mother and seductive at the same time. She fits the perfect description i have read across books. Her face, has warmth and fierceness at the same time. Oh she is something that needs to be first discovered, appreciated, loved, and respected to even start scratching the surface to know her true form. For all that, this is one of her forms as the ten Mahavidhyas that rule ancient Tantrik practices.

Truely She is the mother, ever creative, ever fertile, in permanent intercourse with Lord Shiva as she gives birth to us every life.


Inside the Rockfort - Trichy

Trichy, Tamil Nadu: one of the most amazing pieces of architecture can be found at the rockfort in Trichy. Now what makes it so amazing? Its not just a temple, its not just a fort, but a set of monolithic rocks that make room for both.

Yes. Getting into the rockfort can be through a very unassuming entrance with all the known Gods smiling down at you till you reach the shrine of Ganesha. This is probably the only shrine which is laiden with turmeric giving it the yellow look and making Ganesha almost come to life from his otherwise rocky exterior! Here Ganesha looks at you and smiles. After darshan and having bought the ticket one begins to ascend one of the most amazing peices of architecture in the south. Staircases lined up, one after the other, are punctuated with smaller shrines of Shiva and Ganesha along the way up. Its just fantastic.

The walk is for a short while and a little tiring. Along the way are dark mandapas with ghostly characters from past mythology peeping out at you through the darkness in lavish colors. Though the way up looks narrow, steep and reasonably secretive, such that you cant see who is really far above or far below, there is enough and more ventilation to bring in the air you might think you never got. Deep grilled
windows carved into the rocky wall provide all the cool breeze you want interspaced with small images of Ganesha and other lesser deities along the way. The steps are all painted red and white adding to the ambience of a rock temple fort. There comes a point when you need to turn right for the Ganesha temple way above and left to the Shiva temple way inside.

Lets take right! Here is a surprize, just as you enter the exterior of the fort, not having known till now how much you have actually climbed, you are welcomed by a Pallava cave which jumps at you from the left. It hosts the sculptures of Shiva Gangadhara and appears to be an incomplete cave. It looks like the artists of that period chose to write on the walls instead of carve down the pillars. There are elaborate scripts on the wall but the pillars stay unfinished. Walking further up, you are welcomed by the beautiful view of the city scape with the Caveri flowing along one side. Its just breath taking as the strong breeze just sweeps through your hair making you want to camp there for a while.

The walk up to the Ganesha temple atop the rocky hill is tough but beautifully managed by carving steps into the very rock itself. Its very clear, originally this was a plain mandapa which hosts ganesha within its four walls, and had a pillared corridor around it without any parapet wall, and what you have now is a granite floored, walled interior which completele destroys what the original mandapa would have looked like. Anyway indians are known to destroy what ever little they have from past glory. The view is amazing and gives a complete picture of not just Trichy in all its expance but the beautiful gopuram of the island temple of srirangam and tiruvanaikkaval in the middle of the dry Caveri.

Lets come back and walk to the left. This is something that really took my imagination by storm. it leads through a series of winding staircases so much so that keeping an eye on the direction of north gets to be quite difficult. It takes you from one mandapa to another, with the feel of having walked into a temple, looks like a palace but has the relevant shrines for the navagraha, smaller shiva lingas and ganesha with towering dwarapalas as you go into the heart of the very fort.

This is best described as follows. It feels like its a palace fort with the commanders and the king coming to perform a great puja and probably getting their armies ready for attack. The halls are richly decorated and the sounds of the drums and trumpets announce the arrival of the king. Richly decorated mandapas host a colourful spectacle of an even more richly dressed king and his battalion with dancers and queens adding to the glow of the show.

Fire torches light up the interiors and the whole place wakes up with the rhythmic banging of drums. Through out the path up the steps are small triangular holes in the walls for oil lamps to light up the passageway. Wow what a sight! Anyway walking further up and having crossed the Amman shrine one takes a sharp turn again and rises into a colorfully decorated hall of pillars which has a hole in its floor to accomodate for the roof of the amman shrine a floor below. Freaking awesome.

Finally the most breath taking of them all, is what lies at the top end on the other side. The grand finale is the Great Shiva shrine that rises out of a Swayambhuva linga. It is hosted within a garbha griha with no circum-ambulation within itself, though the outside has coloruful walls with all the bronzes that speak every story from Shiva iconography known to us. I stood there gaping at the Shiva idol, massive, black, silent and only viewed in oil lamp lights, my heart just swelled up with reverence. Lots of oil lamps decorate the room, and people outside light innumerable ghee lamps adding to the sanctity of the place. I sat and stared as the priests went about their business, and people sang songs and lamps got lit and fire was the path to the deity.

Then suddenly in walks this man with a mountain of rudraksha on his neck and an even larger moutain of ego on his head. He comes in taking the scene by storm, and as the last and final arti for the Lord rises into the air declaring the temple closed, the man goes into a trance and sits on the floor with another authoritaive man guarding him and the temple and the deity from the rest of us lesser mortals. Finally the drums begin to thunder through the roof, resonating through the walls clearing every passer by out of the rockfort temple.

Suddenly the kings are gone, the color, the dancers, the decorated halls, the music, the fire torches, the lit interiors, the war cries... everything vanishes into thin air and the curtain drops. Rockfort trichy closes for the night.


A pilgrimage to Lord Shiva

This was a trip to remember, a trip i have made across to shrines of Lord Shiva. The first stop i drove down to was Thiruvannamallai. The place for the agni linga, the place where the ashtadikpala lingas surround the main hill. The place where i first found peace. The place where i met my Guru.

Thiruvannamallai speaks for itself. The hill is collared by a road leading into forests hosting a lot of shrines. The road, girivalam, hosts promises to all who live along its path. Sanyasas dot its various parts, around the miniature shrines that surround the main hill. I went around with a handycam, with a hope to catch a glimpse of the lord himself in his aniconic symbol.

This was remarkable, but contradicting. I managed to get a few shots of seven shiva lingas. the 8th was simply not possible. This was interesting because i wondered what was wrong with shooting the garbha griha. Why is it not allowed? There are mixed opinions on it. Some priests are not game since they think its disrespecting the idol, other just love to throw rules around the place to assert them selves, a play of ego may i call it. Still others were completely open to it and infact performed doubly well since they were being photographed.

The reverence with which one comes to temples, to connect with the deity and to gain some peace in their lives is simply getting killed in the process. I was very disappointed with the levels of corruption i saw across the temples. It almost made me cry. But do i say that i was plain lucky when i realized that i had managed to shoot at least twenty odd lingas out 25 that i have visited in my life.

I had climbed the main hill of Tiruvannamallai, twice in my life. The view from up there is simply breath taking. Not to miss the feeling of accomplishment for having reached the top, for the hill is so forbidding, its a revelation if one makes it up there. The first part is to climb a smaller hill, whose steep sides give no hint of the mammoth hill standing behind. And just when you stand exhausted you figure out you have covered only one third of the entire height. The climb is a little dangerous as there are no steps made to just walk up. In fact one just manages to go up the beaten track and not lose their way. Once on top, the breeze and the view is completely worth it. I climbed to the farthest point where at the tip of the rock were the feet of the Lord himself carved into the rock. The say lord Arunachala leaped from one hill to the other, leaving a foot print here behind. Well that is anybody's guess but it just felt good for having made it to the top of the hill.

Descending down took another hour and an half. The slopes getting even steeper as i could feel my weight in my knees. Coming down was tough but when i reached the ground, it felt good to be back on earth. The hill itself is Lord Shiva some say, othere say it is the next Kailasa. What ever it is, there is a mixed opinion that nobody should climb it. There used to be the presence of Sidhdhas along the Girivalam road. When i walked around the hill the first time, i was one among few who did get to have an introduction to these celestial beings.

Yes i know it sounds wierd but trust me its true. When i walked the first time, i tasted vibhuti in my mouth, as i crossed the Goddess's shrine. Oh she is a piece to marvel, just a head with fantastic eyes and power just rolling out of her very form. Another companion smelt jasmine flowers. These were incidents that happened among us in the middle of the night as we walked around the hill.

The main hill too hosted a whole range of herbal plants on itself as one got near the peak. The air i remember was fresh and smelt of all sorts of herbs though the second trip up the hill didnt prove as fruitful. Tiruvannamallai is dying, with the increased wishlist of the people in the Kaliyuga. This is what you get to hear from the Sadhus when you ask them about the possiblities of meeting a Sidhdha in the spirit world. Sidhdhas dont inhabit the place anymore. Change for the worst is underway and the slow death of Thiruvannamallai is very visible.

It will take a
devotee persistence, sincerity, and love to see the true grace of the Lord.

The gatekeeper - dvarapalas in temple architecture

Going back into history, we can take this ancient tradition of temple gatekeepers to village guardians in ancient indian times which goes straight to the Yaksha cult. They have been through a couple of political cult changes along the way both buddhist as well as shaivite before they entered into a phase where they were finally defined as "Dvarapalas" in temple architecture.

The earliest creative examples of a decent dvarapala as we know it were carved by Baladeva, a chalukyan sculptor who belonged to a guild or artists who indulged in temple architecture around Aihole Badami and Pattadakkal. These artists did various things, for example, one sculptor was responsible for just the jali windows that adorn closed mandapas in temples. Another sculptor just carved ceiling panels for the great rulers depending on which cult the temple was to be dedicated. Yet another carved only lintels and assisted in planning on how all this was going to be put together and hoisted up to form the final structure - a temple in dravida or nagara style.

Lets take Baladeva. He specialised in dvarapalas, making them lean on the pillar and hold a club during his time. So if he were to dedicate a dvarapala to a shaivite temple he would give the dvarapala the same pose, but add a club to his hand and a third eye to his forehead. During his time, dvarapalas were incidentally human size and normal, soldier like. What happened with his contemporaries in the south was a little different. The pallavas also made them, some fierce, some gentle holding lotuses in their hands and inviting you home, for a cup of tea maybe. They were slender in true Pallava style.

Now came the big imperial guys, the Cholas who wanted to really show they are BIG. Their dwarapalas were giant size, snarled down at you making you feel real small when you entered the Brihadeshwara temple for example, or even larger and fierce when you tried to enter Gangaikondacholapuram temple. The are true giants, massive with fangs towering up and leaning on the walls leading up to already high cielings showing true Chola imperialism in their art. They also had a yali accompanying them at the bottom.

Back again during the late chola early vijayanagara time they became shade smaller, but more ornate, didnt lean on anything but stood kinda cross legged, this time with sharp fangs. Now they were demons for all practical purposes with a "dare not enter" look to their faces. The nayakas had learnt the art of chiseling stone very well and got the dvarapalas their muscles in better shape with more ornate jewellery to suit their rich exterior.

Finally, Marunthiswar Shiva temple at Thiruvanmiyur, brought about a drastic shift in the thought process of the generation of people who learnt temple architecture in their time. The same dvarapala, never shall die, the same pose, the same club, the same fangs but without any sign of the lost Chola imperialism in their form. They cover all of 10 by 10 inches of the gateway that leads into this temple. Crisp sculpture i should say, just so small that you have almost missed the dvarapala in the act of guarding the temple gate.

So much for a dying practise of guarding the diety. The dying of not just the dvarapala himself, but the very idea with which he even took birth in the Indian architects mind. He will always remain there, just ignored, unwanted, and forgotten...


Kumkum - the great indian bindi

A lot of foreigners think its style and a lot of Indian women don't know why they wear this Bindi. It is an age old tradition prevalent among Indian women to wear a red dot between their eyebrows. Of course with the passing of time, this has taken various forms and shapes and somewhere in this evolution, it has lost its original meaning or function.

Well I myself have experimented a lot, painting tiny stick figures on my forehead, occasionally of a mythological story representing Shiva Nataraja or Tripurantaka for that matter. Its interesting how much that little sketch on my forehead can convey. Yes all this with a backdrop of red smeared on my forehead.

This is kumkum, the original red powder made from turmeric, religiously everytime and taken to temples to dress the Goddess within its walls. It is first offered to the Mother Goddess, covering her sacred feet with mantras, it also dresses her forehead before it is given out to us, who take every particle of dust on her feet as sacred (Soundarya Lahari).

But what is this kumkum all about. Its not about the color red alone. Well infact the sticker bindis have gone way off the mark. Its not for beauty and vanity either. It was meant to ward off any evil intending soul who could hypnotise the woman, that is if she was all that vulnerable. The red dot made of kumkum, worn by both men and women, is powerful and keeps maleficent forces at bay.

But there is more to this. The purity of women could be seen in their eyes, pure love for the Gods they worshiped and the power of their worship glistened in their eyes. Very few got to really see the power in these eyes, and those who did experienced something totally different. This was when they looked up to her face without a kumkum. When she wore it, it brought power between her eyes, to ward off all evil lookers so that they would just bow to her in humility.

This power does not let any man stare her in the eyes for too long with wrong intentions in his mind. That is the power in her eyes, enhanced by the presence of vermillion between her brow. It doesn't let a man stare at her too long for she radiates the Goddess herself in all purity.

So much in so less, a red dot can carry such power and now it has been reduced to a mere sticker. Such is the power of kumkum, that needs to be understood by every woman and not be reduced to mere convenience.


Jagannathpur temple - Ranchi - anything but Juggernaut.

This is a fortified temple built on a hill in the 17th century, hosting Krishna, Balabhadra and Subhadra as the main shrines. It is a miniature version of Jagannath temple are Puri. A lot has changed in this temple since I last saw it. It was gorgeous when I was a young girl, in school, fascinated with anything that remotely looked like a fort with chambers and gardens, and temples with idols and flags.

We used to regularly visit this temple, every Sunday, without fail. For me it was an outing, always fresh in the mind, always beautiful and full of surprises, much as i always knew what to expect of this temple. We used to drive down every morning, around 9.30 to the temple and park the car way down near a Hanuman shrine at the bottom of the hill.

Climbing this hill was more exciting than tough. Coming to think of it, the hill was pretty small, but the climb was worth all the fun. A mud road led up to a part of the main hill which is rocky and has two kinds of staircases leading up to the main fort. Walking up the mud road was easy, and one always got to see the same old beggars lined up every morning with hope for a meal that morning from a devotee passing by. Most of them were really beggars, with leprosy and all the worlds deseases known to mankind. Apart from the road dotted with these guys, there always stood one very ancient car, the Rath of the Gods.

Painted green, I always wondered whether there was any life left in it. It definitely was not the juggernaut one would expect to see. It permanently stood inclined along its own axis, trying to maintain its center of gravity well within its frame, for it titled so badly, that I really wondered, how the pujari even dared to sit on it while they pulled it up the same hill during the mela (the only time we never visited the temple). This was a task to pull the Rath, in one piece hoping it would not fall apart like a pack of cards, leave alone moving and crushing anything on its way. It gave me no hope that it would withstand the passing of time, the pull of the ropes during the mela, forcing it to climb the inclination of the hill a few feet forward, and of course its own misplaced weight which fell on wheels that inclined a good 45 degrees, making it purely miraculous that the Rath, still stands for another mela, surely making it up the hill once again next year.

We always climbed by the rocky way, thought there was a good staircase in cement on the other side. Rocks always looked more appealing. The climb was always 10 minutes up when one came upto a courtyard, with the wind in the trees, and a stairway leading up to the main gate(picture above). This opened into a courtyard that hosted a small temple, with the shrines inside it. Cant remember too much but I remember having seen, Hanuman inside on one of the niches, and I think Garuda was the vahana outside. Brick walled and whitewashed, the interiors were bare, and dark as one walked into the main shrine lit up in lamp lights revealing the big eyes of the Gods smiling broadly at us every time. Later of course, the main temple tower got the wrath of the Gods, no it was not a canon ball that blew the roof off, but lightening that destroyed the main temple vimana, leaving a smaller one to replace it(below).

Whats interesting about this fort is the subshrines within each of the towers that protrude out of the main fort wall. These housed shrines of Hanuman, Kali and other deities all smeared with vermillion, withstanding the test of time, lightning or otherwise. This temple was worth it all, my introduction to architecture, introduction to fortification, and a remote location that just dreams can bring alive. It had everything, gods, forts, the view of the plains from the rocky hillside to see the oncoming armies march up to the hill and the main tower with the red flag for ever victorious, for ever flying... truly breathtaking!