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Oh!Jerusalem

the old city of Jerusalem is an interesting place to visit.We have these arches and narrow passages,still a taxi can pass through
The arch on the way to the old city

I never ever dreamt that one day I would visit Jerusalem. In September-October 2017, I was invited to Israel as the curator of the Indian section of the 3rd Jerusalem Biennale.

The small city of Jerusalem holds many wonders in its fold.You can explore the city with its museums,open cafe,music and cultural events or you can go to the old city of Jerusalem which has its own quint charms.The old city has three distinct quarters of Christian,Jewish and Muslim ,apart from the Armenian quarters also.

this is the entrance to the old city from Jaffa gate.there r three quarters
entrance to the old city

Well, talking of Jerusalem,to begin with, I took the flight to Tel Aviv via Moscow. I landed in Tel Aviv and came outside the airport to take the shuttle taxi service to Jerusalem. These buses are called sherut. Very friendly people. So, off I went in that bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The view outside was stunning with palm trees lined on the way. By 8 p.m.I reached my hotel where a friend was waiting for me in the lobby. I checked in and she showed me everything inside the room including how to open and close the door. Things were quite new to me and if she had not helped me, I would have been lost. Since I had had my dinner on the plane itself, I said goodnight to her and then went to bed.

The next day, there was a lot of work to do in connection with the exhibition. The day after that, it was a religious holiday in Jerusalem and so no work. But I went to the old city of Jerusalem and walked around.

western wall,jerusalem

Well, folks, next day, I visited the western wall with some Jewish artists friends. The place was calm and serene. Although I do not know much about its significance, I can understand its importance to others for whom it matters. There were separate enclosures for men and women. We spend some time there, then moved on. Nearby was the Western Cardo, which is the remains of a magnificent main road from the Roman-Byzantine period.Today it is a major through fare for shopping. From here, the others dispersed for lunch and I headed back to the hotel.

The next day, of course, I ventured out on my own to the old city passing through the Malala Mall. Outside the shops, you can see many artworks kept outside for sale.

entrance to the church of the holy sepulchre,old city,Jerusalem
entrance to church of holy sepulchre, jerusalem

I started walking towards the Christian quarters. The first thing one visits is, of course, the Holy Sepulcher Church. Here, it is believed, Jesus Christ was crucified and his tomb is also there.Rest I will post in my next blog

Chennakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

The imposing gopuram at the entrance of chennakeshava temple,belur,karnataka
Gopuram  at the entrance of the temple,Belur

So, here I am back to writing about one more historical and architecturally unique place in Karnataka. You guessed it right. I shall take you to,Belur, situated in Hassan district of Karnataka.

What to see in Belur,Karnataka

While there might be many things to see in Belur, the Chennakeshava temple is the most popular and must see one. Built in the 12th century on a star shaped platform, the temple is in the form of ekakuta vimana design meaning it has a single shrine and combines the North Indian nagara style and south Indian temple architecture. The temple faces East with a beautiful gopuram in the front. Inside the temple complex, you will come across three shrines. The first one is the main Chennakeshava temple, the other two being the Kappe Chennigaraya and Ranganayaki temples. There are also many smaller shrines.

What to see in Chennakeshava temple,Belur

One will be spoilt for choices to see in this temple. Although it is a single shrine, it’s architecture itself is unique, unlike other Hindu temples. It has countless friezes, relief sculptures, figurines, ornate and intricate carvings on the ceilings, exquisitely carved pillars which hardly resemble pillars with madanikas and celestial damsels, narration from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata both inside the temple and on the outer walls of the temple. Let me begin by taking you inside the temple.

1.Inside the temple

Inside the temple, it is a little dark as once upon a time, the central hall of the temple was open on three sides which was later enclosed with jali and perforated walls. So, it is a little dark inside. The hall has 48 pillars with a domed ceiling. The center four pillars are a later addition and were hand carved while the rest were lathe turned meaning a machine was used to carve and cut them. Two of the pillars with Narasimha and Mohini friezes are particularly noteworthy. On the eves of the pillars are exquisitely carved figures of madanikas or celestial damsels. It is said that the jewelry of the ladies are free standing and can be removed.

The ceiling inside chennakeshava temple,Belur. It is intricately carved with a rendition of Narasimha avatar of vishnu in the center
carved ceiling inside the temple

In the center of the ceiling is a lotus bud with the three lords, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva carved on it. There are mandala designs and, in the center, there is a rendition of Narasimha avatar of Vishnu and towards the end of the circular pattern, there are sculptures in relief of dancers, singers and musicians playing the drum.

2.Sanctum

just outside and above the door of the sanctum of chennakeshava temple in Belur,we come across this intricately carved panel
ornate panel above the door of the sanctum

The hall leading to the sanctum has a doorway with a huge relief panel. In the center of the panel is the pair of Lakshmi Narayana in a seated pose. In the bottom row, musicians are playing instruments. The deity is flanked by mythological figure of makaras and the whole panel is a continuous rhythmic movement of lines and contours.
From the inscriptions, it has been deciphered that many of the artists left their signatures including their village name in the sculptures.

3.Outer walls

At the back of the temple in Belur, Karnataka,row of horses and lions in procession
procession of horses and lions on the walls of the temple

As we go around the temple at Belur,Karnataka,along the circular path, we come across numerous sculptures and friezes. One has to observe carefully to identify them. The bottom row consists of elephants in different movements as if supporting the entire structure. There are different bands which have been left sometimes empty and at other times filled with cornice work and in one band, lion faces appear repeatedly. In one of the bands, we have salabanjika (lady touching a tree) figures in various poses with yaksha figures in between. While in other bands, we have many secular figures and people playing musical instruments. At the back of the temple, a row of horsemen in various positions have been depicted. Along the walls of the temple, we find numerous sculptures and friezes depicting stories from the epics. Even the smaller shrines have intricate sculptures carved on them.

4.Relief of Ravana

on the outer wall of the chennakeshava temple in Belur,karnataka,we find this interesting depiction of ravana lifting mount kailasha
ravavna lifting mount kailasha

Of particular mention is a beautifully carved relief sculpture of the demon Ravana lifting Kailasha hill on one of the niches on the outer wall. On top, we can see Shiva and Parvati.

5.Garuda pillar

The Garuda stamba which was erected during the Vijayanagar empire faces the main temple.

6.Gravity pillar


The gravity pillar inside the complex is 42 feet high and stands on a single stone platform. As guides say it is held there by sheer gravity and has been there since the 15th century. It is also known as Deepa stamba.

7.Temple Water tank

the temple  water tank at chennakeshava temple,Belur,karnataka
Temple water tank

There is a temple tank in Chennakeshava temple also as in other Hindu temples. It has steps leading down and has a structure with intricate carvings.

Thus, you can enjoy this temple from the inside, the outside and also visiting the other shrines.

Who built the temple

This temple in Belur,Karnataka, was built during the Hoysala period by King Vishnuvardana who commissioned the building after a historic win over the cholas in 1116 CE. It is dedicated to the God  Vijayanarayana, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.However, it took more than 100 years for the temple to be completed as it was repeatedly attacked by invaders like the Delhi sultanates. Several noted Chalukyan artists and architects were involved in the construction of this temple wherein they developed a unique Hoysala style using gridlocks and interlocks.

The temple has been built with soapstone which is very soft and easy to carve. Hence, we find intricate and ornamental carvings throughout the temple.

How to reach Belur, Karnataka

Belur is in the Hassan district of Karnataka. So, once you reach Hassan, regular buses ply to Hassan. We can also reach Belur from Bangalore (distance-220 KM or Mysore(distance-155 KM).The nearest airport is Mangalore airport which is 130 KM away from Belur. The nearest railway station is in Chikmagalure, 22 KM from Belur and Hassan which is 32 KM away.

Places to see nearby Belur

If you are in Hassan district, you should not miss seeing the Halebeedu temple,about 14 KM from Belur, which is another wonder of Hoysala architecture.

Shravanabelagola

Karnataka has got several interesting places to see which are historically and culturally important. One of these places is the statue of Jain saint Bahubali in Shravanabelagola. After a tiring day covering the temples in Belur and Halebid, we reached Bahubali statue at Vindyagiri hills in Shravanabelagola, Karnataka. As we got down from the taxi and walked ahead, we saw in front of us, an imposing statue of the Jain deity Bahubali and winding steps to reach the top. I wondered how I would manage to climb so many steps (nearly 500). However, my husband and son prodded and urged me to climb. So, we all began the climb. Really, it was not so difficult and worth the view that we got of the surroundings once we reached the top. There are two hills called vindyagiri or Indragiri and Chandragiri in Shravanabelagola and the statue is on vindyagiri hills with a pond in between.

Bahubali statue in Shravanabelagola,Karnataka
Statue of Jain saint Bahubali

How to reach Shravanabelagola

The distance from Bangalore to sharavanabelagola by road is 143 KM. As there is no direct communication between the two, the easy option is to reach by taxi. Or we can take the bus Basava express from Bangalore to Pandavapura and from there take a taxi to sharavnabelagola.
We can also reach Sharavanabelagola from Hassan which is 200 KM from Bangalore and is like a center point as it is closer to other attractions like Belur and Halebid temples. Again, there is no direct link from these places to Shravanabelagola. But we can take a taxi or Dwaraka Mysore expresses from Hassan to reach Mandagere and then take a taxi to reach Shravanabelagola. Distance from Hassan to Sharavanabelagola by road is about 53 KM.

We enter the area where the statue of Bahubali is through this structure
The main entrance to Bahubali temple

What to see in Shravanabelagola

It is a small town where the famous statue of Jain saint Bahubali is situated. It has been built from a single block of granite and hence is monolithic. It was commissioned by Chavundaraya, who was the Prime Minister and also commander in Chief of the Ganga Kingdom. Built-in 10th Century A.D, the statue is 57 foot tall. It is dedicated to the Jain deity, Lord Gommateshwara, who is also known as Bahubali. Facing North, the statue is in a straight standing meditative posture with both his hands on his sides. Marked by curly hair, open eyes, serene face, and long earlobes, he is a personification of someone who has renounced all materialistic things of the world. An anthill is depicted at the base of the statue and creepers and plants cover his arms and legs flowering as they reach the top. The main entrance to the temple is very imposing. Many images of Jain Tirthankaras have been sculpted on panels. We get a panoramic view of the surrounding town from atop the hill. One feels at peace with oneself having traveled quite a distance.
Before we reach the top, on the way, we come across several shrines such as Odegal Basadi which is a 14th-century Jain temple. Beautiful statues of Tirthankaras are housed inside the temple.

Gajalakshmi Panel on Akhanda Bagilu in Shravanabelagola
Gajalakshmi panel on Akhanda Bagilu,Shravanabelagola

Who was saint Bahubali?

It would be interesting to know the legend behind the saint Bahubali. He was the son of Rishabananda and the younger brother of Bharatha. When Rishabnanda decided to become a monk, his kingdom was distributed among his sons. Finally, combat ensued between the two brothers Bahubali and Bharata which Bahubali won. However, as it happens, he was filled with disgust and decided to renounce the world and become a Digambara monk. He is said to have mediated in a standing posture for a year as creepers grew around his legs and arms. After a year of mediation, he is said to have attained salvation.
The Mahamastakabhisheka festival is held once in 12 years when the statue is anointed with water, Sugarcane Juice, milk, and saffron.

View from the top of Vindyagiri hills,Shravanabelagola,Karnataka
View from the top of Vindyagiri hills,Shravanabelagola

Places to see in and nearby Shravanabelagola

In Shravanabelagola itself, we can visit Chamundaraya Basadi dedicated to lord Neminatha on Chandragiri hills, Bhandara Basadi which is about 300KM from the Vindiyagiri hills, Agregal Basadi, about 2.5 Km from Bahubali statue, Chandragupta basadi,1.5 KM from Bahubali temple, chennanna Basadi and sidhara basadi. on Vindyagiri hills We went to see the statue after visiting Belur and Halebid temples which are also in Hassan district.

The ultimate destination-Hampi ruins

Ruins evoke a strong sense of history, reflections on times gone by, the lifestyle of royals, royal adventures and many a thing which we can only imagine. In this context, India does not lag behind being the mother of ancient civilizations, dynasties and kingdoms which used to rule for several centuries. Sons and grandsons only carried forward the legacy and grandeur of several kingdoms before finally the kingdom was destroyed by some invading armies.

Today,I am talking about the erstwhile vijayanagara kingdom and the Hampi ruins. The Hampi ruins have been declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO and it lies in the Indian state of Karnataka. It was the centre and capital of the famed Vijayanagara Empire which flourished in the 14th century. Situated on the banks of the tungabatra river, Hampi was a prosperous, grand and a wealthy city with many temples, water tanks, public spaces and markets where trade in all forms flourished. It attracted travelers and traders from Persia and Europe till the empire was finally attacked by Muslim Sultanates in 1565 and since then Hampi has remained in ruins. As you wander around visiting the palace sites, temples and market area, you can re imagine a grand city in all its glory. One can also find slabs with sculpted figurines lying beside the meandering tungabatra river. You can visualize what a maginificant city it must have been where gold and other precious stones and metals were traded.

slabs with sculpted figures lying on the banks of tungabatra river,Hampi

But, let’s go back a little into the prehistoric era. As per the Hindu legends, Hampi existed much before the vijayanagara empire and is associated with the ‘pampakshetra’ which is mentioned in the epic ramayana. It is derived from the name Pampa which is another name for the goddess Parvati’. As the site is associated with the epic ramyana, we can also visit ‘Anjanikshetra’ which is the birthplace of Lord Hanuman.But,we will come to that lateron.

In and around the ruins of Hampi, several temples are located. Notable among them being the ‘Virupaksha ’, achutaraya, vittala , hazararama and pattabirama temples, Hemkuta hill monuments, and jain monuments. There is also a shiva temple which is immersed in water and you have to wade through the water to reach the lingam kept in the inner sanctum. Quite an adventure!

Near the ruins of the Krishna temple is the largest statue of yoga narasimha avatar of lord Vishnu seated in a yogi position. The statue shows extensive damage, but it has been cleaned and partially restored. The Mahanavami or the great platform is a grand structure with three ascending stages leading to a large square platform .There is also a water pavilion which is also called the queen’s bath. It has the usual advanced technology of receiving and flushing away water which we can find in all old monuments in India. Hampi also had a good system of drainage and aqueducts.

Hampi can be approached from both the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. I went from Bangalore and took the overnight train to Hospet. You can stay in either side of the Tungabatra river and I found many foreigners staying across the river. However, the boat service to cross the river is stopped in the evening. We took a room nearer to the bus stand and stayed. From here you can arrange a taxi to visit all the nearby places in Hampi.

In my next post,I shall take you to the anjani temple on top of the hill across the river.

Elephanta Caves

                                                                                      

Image courtsy-Unesco.org

Maharashtra is well known for its rock cut cave temples be it Ajanta, Ellora or the Elephanta caves which are a unique style of art and character of this region of India. One wonders how man who is at the most six foot tall, thought about and cut and chiseled those huge monolithic rocks and carved such exquisite pieces of sculpture, standing in front of which today we feel dwarfed. Added to this is the fact that there were no huge cranes, stonecutters and even some form of electricity! The Elephanta caves are an evidence of the capability and endurance of the Indian artisans during the medieval period who worked under trying circumstances.

The Elephanta caves, declared as world heritage site under Unesco, are one such rock cut cave temple hewn from solid basalt rock. It is situated on an island about 7 kilometers away from the city of Mumbai, which is the business nerve center of India. As per Archeological survey of India’s information provided at the site, not much is known about the history of these caves before the 4th c. A.D. when Pulakesin II of the Badami Kingdom defeated the Mauryan rulers of the Konkan dynasty and Elephanta came under their possession. Subsequently, the island was ruled over by various dynasties until it came under the Portugese rule and later on under the British. The caves are supposed to have been sculpted and worked upon during circa 6th 7th  century A.D. The original name of Elephanta was Gharapuri’ meaning the ‘city of priests’ or a fortress city. As with the other cave temples, this was also a Buddhist center and it is believed that the caves were constructed when there was a decline of Buddhism and revival of brahminical traditions in India.

            The name Elephanta was given by the Portuguese in the 16th century. A.D. after a huge rock cut elephant with its baby perched on its back, which originally stood east to the Gharapuri village. It was shifted and now stands outside the museum in the zoological gardens at Byculla in Mumbai. During early colonial period, the group of islands which is now present day Mumbai was under Portuguese rule and these islands were given away as dowry to the British at the time of the wedding of the daughter of King John IV of Portugal in 1661,but the Elephanta islands were left out and remained as Portuguese outpost for some more time as it was of strategic importance.  Situated about 7 miles East of Mumbai’s Applo Bunder or Gateway of India, Elephanta caves is a shivite temple and it is a treasure trove of high relief sculptures spread over several panels depicting various scenes linked with the god Shiva like the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, Nataraja, Spearing of Andaka and Descend of Ganga and so on.

Elephanta caves have 7 caves, out of which cave no.1 is the most important and contains majority of the panels while cave no.6 and 7 are the furthermost and not very frequented by visitors. Many Buddhist stupas can be seen around Cave no.7.Although cave no.2 and 5 are unfinished, yet they give us an idea of the planning and structural construction of these exquisite caves. Cave 3 is a large cave complex with huge cushion capital  pillars. The door panel leading to the recesses inside is richly carved, but due to extensive damage, they cannot be deciphered properly.

 The Elephanta caves can be approached from the north leading to Cave no.1 and the Mahadeva Image. The main cave is a large excavation being almost 130 feet in square, supported by rows of massive pillars, which have a square base, fluted shafts and a cushion capital. There are three large square recesses each of them bearing huge dwarapalas. It appears that the pillars have been made huge to support the rock. There are two other entrances from the East and the West, both leading to the courtyards of subsidiary shrines.

As one enters from the northern side, there are sculpted panels on the left and right side depicting Shiva as the Lord of yogis and Shiva as Nataraja respectively. In the panel on the left, Shiva is shown seated on a lotus in a yogic pose. Although the figure is badly damaged, the face of the image expresses calm and serenity. In this panel, celestial gods and goddesses, Brahma, Indra, and Lord Vishnu have also been sculpted.

Nataraja

Image courtsy-Vinayahs.com

The panel on the right that of Nataraja is better preserved, but the lower portion of the sculpture is completely missing. Shiva’s right arm although broken is stretched across the chest in a characteristic mudra. The whole sculpture exudes vitality. The other figures are Parvathi, Vishnu on Garuda, Indra on Iravati,Lord Kumara, Ganesha and Brahma.

In the cave proper, the huge image of Maheshamurthi which is almost 18feet high occupies the centre. This unique sculpture of Shiva showcases three different manifestations of Shiva that of creator, destroyer and preserver. The central face is calm, and rows of necklaces adorn his chest. The face of Bhairava, to our left, is always in shadow showcasing death and time. The forehead is protruding, mouth cruel with a twirling mustache and symbols of death like skull and snake adorn his hair. The third face represents the feminine aspect of creation. The hand holds a lotus and the hair are decorated with pearls and fresh flowers.

Shiva as Ardhanarishwara

The other panels represent the descent of Ganga and Shiva as the Ardhanarishwara. Shiva is shown leaning against the bull nandhi, his upper hands holding a snake and a mirror. The other gods such as Brahma, Vishnu, Kumara, Varuna have also been depicted. The panel showing the descent of the Ganga is well executed, showing Shiva at the very moment of receiving the impact of the mighty river. Shiva’s body is slightly tilted with the weight of the river, with Parvati turning her face away. The figure of Bhagirata kneels at his feet. The whole panel is a very poetic representation showing movement, rhythm and lyric.

Yet another panel shows Shiva as the destroyer of demon Andhaka. Despite the fact that the image of Shiva is badly damaged in this panel also, one can notice the fierce form of Shiva with his teeth bared, hair adorned with skull and bulging eyes.

The panel of Shiva’s marriage is full of lyrical charm. Shiva is shown supporting Parvati who is to the right signifying that the wedding has not yet taken place. Parvati is shy with downcast eyes. The other gods and goddesses have also been depicted.

Ravana lifting Mount Kailsha

Image cortsy-Holidayindia.com

On the Eastern side, there are panels depicting the demon king Ravana uprooting mount Kailasa, a panel showing a scene in Mount kailasa with the entire family of lord Shiva and there are also recesses with the image of saptamatrikas. These images are quite damaged. Some traces of the paintings which adorned the ceiling of the walls can also be seen. There is a Shiva shrine in cave no.4 as we walk back, with a lingam in the sanctum and two sculpted images of lions at the entrance. The dwarapala figures at the entrance are huge and sculpted to perfection.

If we walk further up, there are two cannons kept on the top which was perhaps used by the Portugese. The Elephanta caves also houses a museum.The island on which the caves are can be reached by a launch from Gateway of India. The ferry drops you on the island from where one has to walk a about a kilometere to reach the flight of stairs leading to the caves. There is also a small train which takes one near the flight of stairs.