Monday, October 17, 2005

Sravanabelagola, Belur, Halebid - poetry in stone

It was a wet day in Bangalore. Bangalore has few wet days in a year. It has wet hours, perhaps wet minutes and wet seconds, but to reiterate very few wet days. Our planned tour to Sravanabelagola, Belur and Halebid, happened to be on this day, a day that there was a depression over the Bay of Bengal which caused some good rain in this area.

Upshot? Cool pleasant weather all day long, a few showers. Downside? The photos did not come out too well.

Being the day after Dassehra, it was a holiday in Bangalore for most companies and there was less traffic on the roads. Our Volvo covered the city like it should. We went through atleast one city market, which the day before had been converted into a market for young banana plants (to tie on vehicles for Dassehra). Post Dassehra the economic value of a banana tree to any seller was zero, so many of the surplus stock had got left out there itself. As we came out of the city via Peenya, Nelmangala and onto the Mangalore NH-48, the cityscape slowly changed into ruralscape.

Long distance travel or tours in India during monsoons is soothing on the eye. The only way to describe the landscape is green. Imagine an entire brown palette of various shades of green garnished with yellow and speckles of other colours. The sights are familiar. Lazy buffaloes, cows chew the cud by the wayside imagining why would someone have to hurtle along at speed. Then there are village sights of a rural, unhurried and healthier lifestyle.

Having said that, the roads (and road sense) need improvement. We saw an accident, fairly gruesome; with oodles of luck, the car which crashed side on onto a truck had no casualities of serious injuries. The accident would not have happened even if there was something so simple as a divider on the road or if the drivers followed some very basic traffic rules.

Remember the rainy day, therefore there were clouds, intermittent drizzles all day long. Vindhyagiri (which has Bahubali) slowly came into view as did adjoining Chandragiri(a temple on the top). The climb to Vindhyagiri is a good climb to do in human first gear. The effort is well worth it at the top to see Bahubali looking over the plains with a peaceful look in his eyes.

From then on, a slightly bumpy (even in the Volvo) ride to Belur and Halebidu. The landscape is almost the same. Paddy fields, water bodies, sun flowers, coconut trees, lazy villages until the mind blowing scupltures of Belurs ChennaKeshava (handsome Vishnu) hit you.

The temple from afar looks squat, like many of the prehistoric temples, whose tops have been removed by the vagaries of time. Its only on a closer look that the true magnificience of the temple comes through. The words I write here on my computer do no justice to the reams of poetry written out there on stone.

Stone, that tells stories. Stone that tells you different stories depending on what you want to hear. You can look at the temple and fall in love with it. You can look at one panel and fall in love with it. The classic scuplture there is the one of an apsara. At one level it is another of those roof level apsara sculptures. On a closer look one can appreciate the fine art that has gone into producing it. A level closer and one can see a lizard trying to reach a fruit. On the fruit, is a fly, in stone! Thats the level of detail that these master craftsmen have gone to. My camera couldnt catch it, but apparently the wings of the fly are discernible, if one zooms enough.

Every stone has a tale to tell. Of the craftsmanship of centuries ago. Of a toil across generations to create, perhaps, one masterpiece, one sculpture for an entire lifetime. One error and you are kaput. Tales in stone that have stood the merciless test of time and is a story that is there for not just the elite or the educated or the rich, but to anybody who cares to stand and stare at the scuplture for just a few seconds. (Aside: How many of us will ever be fortunate to connect to millions through what we do across 12 centuries of time?)

Then there is the famous free standing stone pillar. In an amazing work of engineering excellence this is a monolithic stone pillar poised on a platform, just like that. There is no sand or cement or anything else to hold it. Three sides of the pillar rest on its base, the fourth, ever so slightly out of contact with the ground, so much that you can slide a paper underneath it. In perfect equilibrium it has been standing for the last 12 centuries.

One visit (this, incidentally is my second) is not enough to appreciate the level of beauty of Belur and Halebid (and I havent begun speaking about Hampi yet). The second visit had me
in raptures as much as it had in the first.

And then again, every visit to an Indian heritage site, monument, brings us back to how much heritage we have in India, how little has been done to protect it, tap it and how there is potential to do so much more.

1 comment:

sugan said...


I have been to Sharavanabelagola many a times...the monolithic structure never fails to amaze me...
I get very disturbed by the fact that Indians have very little value for their historical monuments.
Half of them are unaware and other half is not bothered.
Promoting Heritage tourism would help Indian Economy in a very big way.Alas, the government has bigger problems to into..