The parichay heritage walks organized by INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) in Bengaluru sells like hot cake. Most of the times even before I get an opportunity to read the mails sent by them, I see another mail in my inbox informing of registration being closed.
Also, Jaishree was complaining for long that her shift to the IT city has curbed her freedom, thanks to a growing need versus pathetic infrastructure of the city. So when I got her registered for Ulsoor Heritage walk and I got a confirmation, I considered it an opportunity.
However, things did not turn out as I expected. At the last hour, she found some valid excuse for not being able to go on the walk and the onus came back to me to utilize the opportunity. This is the reason I am in the bus going towards Accounts office. I have read some where that not everyone can have the darshan of Lord Someshwara, only chosen ones get this opportunity. So, He has chosen me for the day! While thinking on these lines, I visualize Jaishree smiling at me and commenting, “You need His darshan more than me. I have internalized Him, so He is never far from me. A religiously challenged person like you need more reminders to bow and surrender before Him”.
I glance out of the bus. I am already crossing my office. I wonder am I thinking long on these lines! It was only a few minutes back that I boarded the bus. It usually takes an hour for me to cross my office that is on the way. I check my watch, it was only twelve minutes back I boarded the bus. Twelve minutes! I check it again and realize that I am making no mistake. In fifteen minutes I am at my destination.
I am exasperated. Am I spending forty minutes extra everyday in one direction? And, so many like me wasting the precious time of their lives on the road in this manner. I make a humble request to the people responsible for the infrastructure development in the city, “Dears, do you realize how much productive time the country is wasting on these roads. Please change the scenario, please invest in the infrastructure and make Bengaluru a city par excellence in infrastructure, a city country is proud of. May God bless you with a strong will to change the current situation”.
I am the first one to reach at the Dhwajastambh of the Someshwara temple, our meeting point. Slowly and slowly people start coming in and we become a group. As the INTACH leaders arrive, we come to know that today’s walk would be led by Prof Sathya Prakash Varanshi, conservation architect and convener Bengaluru chapter of INTACH. He is involved in eco-friendly design and heritage conservation. He is also an author whose articles frequently appear in the Saturday edition of The Hindu. He is here to talk about the architectural peculiarities of the Ulsoor area. Along with him are Meera Iyer and Aravind Chandramohan. Meera is a freelance journalist and also a trove of history and folklores. While working on this article, I happened to read an interesting article on silkworms written by her in the saturday edition of Mint, crisp and well-written. I feel lucky to have them as tour leaders.
In the beginning of the walk, Prof Varanshi makes it clear, “We, the INTACH leaders, are not here to guide you. We are here to explore the area together with you. We can maximize the gain of the walk by sharing our observations and learning from each other”. Some of us are carrying camera, and some notebooks. Prof. Varanshi is the only one who is carrying both camera and his notebook. Even at this age, his zeal and desire to learn and share is amazing. I am impressed.
A fellow person in the group points to a semi-relief on Dhwajastambh and comments that it is Veerbhadra. I have noticed that Southern India has more religious icons in temples than in North and luckily local people recognizes them too.
I ask him, “How do you recognize him”?
“Well, it is not difficult as he is shown with a dagger, and at Shiva Temple, it is he, who is sculpted at Dhwajastambh.”
I try to find more about Veerbhadra.
“At Daksh Prajapati Yajna, her daughter and Shiva’s wife Sati self-immolated herself when Daksha insulted her and Shiva. When Nandi and Shiva’s other Gana, who accompanied her to her father’s place, came to know about it, they attacked Daksha. However, Maharishi Bhrigu gave Ahuti in sacred fire and generated thousands of demons who defeated the followers of Shiva. When the defeated army returned back home and told Shiva about Sati’s self-immolation and their defeat, he was deeply pained and became mad with fury. In this state of intense anger he plucked a set of his matted hair and broke them into two by striking them on his knees.
From this set of two, emerged ferocious Veerbhadra and Bhadrakali (or Mahakali). Shiva ordered them to kill Daksha and avenge Sati’s death. The two were Shiva’s creation and they were unstoppable. They led Shiva’s followers again to the battlefield and humbled the army of Maharishi Brighu along with the guests present in the Yagna, and eventually killed Daksha and avenged the death of Sati.”
I make a mental note, “if he is VeerBhadra then the Goddess carved on the other side of the pillar must be Mahakali”.
As we enter in the temple compound through the gopurams, Prof Varanshi makes a cheeky comment, “As we planned this walk early in the morning, so many of you might not have got an opportunity to take bath. However, do not worry about entering the temple unclean. We all are purified by the Ganga water”.
All of us look at him puzzled. No one among us has touched water and it is not even raining. He then points to the carving of Ganga in the gopuram, through which we just entered. In religious iconology, Ganga is shown riding a Makar (crocodile), and Yamuna is shown riding a tortoise.The two Goddesses are often carved on temple entrances to purify the devotees with their holy waters.
In the temple compound, Prof Varanshi briefs us more about Someshwara Mahadeva temple. It is one of the oldest surviving temple of the city. It opens from 6 AM to 12 PM in morning and then from 5:30 to 9 PM in evening.
The Ulsoor area is believed to be gifted to KempeGowda (1513-1569) ,founder of Bengaluru city, by the VijayNagar Emperor. KempeGowda was a feudal subsidiary of the VijayNagar empire. At the time of KempeGowda, the area was famous for its Jackfruit orchards. Jackfruit is called Halasinahaṇṇu in Kannada and Ooru means Village, and so the place started to be known as Halasuru – the Jackfruit Village. The name was later anglicized by the British who found it difficult to pronounce Halasuru and started calling it Ulsoor. The famous Ulsoor Lake of the area is the only surviving lake built by the Gowda kings.
He points towards its Sancta-Sanctorum and tells us that it was built-in the tenth century in the Chola period. Historians believe that a wooden temple existed here even before that. It is a popular belief that the Shiva-Linga in the main temple is the same that was worshiped by Markandeya Rishi.
The temple was later renovated either by Kempegowda or by Yelahanka Nadu ruler Jayappa Gowda (1420-1450 AD). In the “gazetteer of Mysore”, Benjamin Lewis has described a legend according to which Kempegowda once rode away from his capital Yelahanka, to this village. He was tired so he rested under a tree and fell asleep. Lord Shiva appeared in his dream and told him about His temple needing renovation. He also told Kempegowda about hidden treasure that can be used for the purpose. Some believe that it was not Kempe-Gowda but Jayappa Gowda. So one among the two, renovated the temple and gave it a new lease of life.
Prof Varanshi continues, “The concept of Gopurams did not exist in the Chola Period temples. The gopurams were later addition. In case of this temple, the gopurams was added later in the sixteenth century. In the beginning the gopurams were kept plain, but soon it became a tradition to paint them in bright colors, probably also to stop decay and seepage.
The gopurams are built-in pyramidal shape, tapering towards top. They represent the soul’s journey towards Nirvana as we move up, the path to move further up and attain Nirvana becomes difficult and more difficult.
These gopurams have numerous deities, sacred animals, musicians, and dancers carved all over. Sometimes these sculptors narrate a story as well. Someone in the group pointed that even on this gopuram one can read the story of Narasimha and Prahlad as one moves his gaze from top to bottom.
Prof Varanshi directs our attention to the narrow passageway that surrounds the inner Sancta-Sanctorum, Ardhmandap (the closed hall) that is connected to the girbh-grih (sancta-sanctorum) and the spacious mandap-hall with forty-eight pillars and tells that these were added later during the Gowda kings. The walls of the inner hall and the pillars of the open hall are decorated with pilasters and divine sculptors in frieze. The entrance is guarded by two dwarpals (door-keepers).
Prof Varanshi, “Look carefully at the columns, they are square at the bottom and top, and are round with carvings in between. Also, look at the secondary pillar along with the main pillar – piers with cut-out colonettes, these are some of the typical Vijaynagar architectural style.”
All of us now move inside to have darshan of Lord Someshwara. After the prayers as we come out we notice that there are two idols of Nandi here. Just outside the Girbh-grih, there is a three feet high statue and there is another small one near RajGopuram (temple tower used for hoisting flags and lighting lamps). Modern times have taught a few tricks to devotees also about what is the most effective way to communicate with the Lord; there we could see devotees whispering their wishes for Lord Someshwara into Nandi’s ear, so that he could bring them to God’s notice at proper time and opportunity 🙂
From here we start the tour of the temple in clockwise direction. Meera directs our attention towards the nine sages (navnaths) etched on the temple walls. She tells us that it is not usual to see the images of these sages carved in a temple. These nine naths are believed to be the divine immortal gurus who were taught by Rishi Dattatreya, an incarnation of the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Theses nine sages were devotees of Shiva. Meera tells us that most popular among them are Swami Matsyendranath and Guru Gorakhnath. These sages can be recognized by their vehicle. Swami Matsyendranath is the one who can be seen riding a fish.
However, I could not find the vehicles associated with other Nath Gurus and hence not sure about other Gurus.
As we are moving, Meera explains that another important aspect of the temple is that though primarily it is a Shiva Temple, but Brahma and Vishnu are also worshiped in the temple. I find it little odd. As in North it is common to see Vishnu and Shiva being worshiped in the same temple. The divide between Saivite and Vaishanavites was probably more pronounced in the South. It seems in the ancient times the followers of the two sects persecuted the followers of other sect and so the divide widened.
Someone in the group points to the Kalash etched on the temple wall, and tells, “It is quite common to see these on the temple walls”. Meera adds, “Yes. Take care that these kalash should not be depicted empty, as an empty kalash depicts poverty and bad omen. On the other hand a filled and overflowing kalash represents prosperity”.
The other side of the wall carry the main attraction of the temple, the carvings of Girija Kalyana. According to the legend, before self-immolating herself, Sati took a vow that she would take a birth and would marry Shiva again; but she would be born to a father who would keep Shiva in high esteem and pay him the respect and regards he deserves. At proper time, Sati’s soul took birth as Parvati to Himavat (Himalaya).
Meera draws our attention towards the temple wall, “Look at the marriage procession of Shiva coming to Parvati’s home”. After a few carvings, she again draws our attention towards another carving, “Look Himavat is carved on the wall, here he can be seen doing Kanyadan. Have you noticed that Brahma is the priest who is conducting the marriage?
Also, did you notice Shiva’s marriage procession before marriage and after marriage; and can you make it out that before marriage he is etched alone on the Nandi while after marriage he and Parvati can be seen riding Nandi together led by his jubilant Ganas.
Along with Ganas Lord Brahma, Vishnu, Saptarishis, twelve Adityas and Eleven Rudras are shown as part of this procession.
After the circumambulation we again reach at the colonnaded hall. One of the member comments, “This temple was considered auspicious for the marriages and devotees believed that by getting married here their loved ones would develop a strong bond like that between Shiva and Parvati. But I am not sure if marriage ceremonies are still conducted here”.
Another one in the group confirms, “Yes they are still conducted here. I myself have been part of one marriage here.”
Meera, then draws our attention towards Yali carved on the porch wall guarding the Girbhgrih, “The popular belief is that Yali is a mythological beast, but it is also possible that the artists of far south tried to carve Lion from their imagination. Lion was considered Royal and was looked upon with fierce awe, so the artists planned to carve it out on the temple wall to keep the evil forces out. However, most of them had never seen one themselves; they only heard about it from others. Probably, their imagination coupled with what they learnt from others about how Lion looked like, gave birth to Yali”.
Meera then tells us, “Today the walls of the front porch are covered, but behind these coverings there is a figure of a man with his folded hand. Some believe that it is a sculptor of KempeGowda. However, I tend to disagree. If it was commissioned by him, he would have got it constructed in the girbh-grih, so that he could be in continuous presence of Lord Shiva”.
Here she draw our attention towards a double-headed eagle carved on a pillar. It is Gandaberunda, a two-headed mythological bird believed to be in possession of immense strength capable of dealing with destructive evil forces.
One of the common elements in Indian and Western Asiatic art are designs representing two or more animals sharing the head, Gandaberunda is of reverse type, it is a two-headed bird sharing a common body. It first appeared in the Hittite Art at Boghzai, however, the symbol is believed to be in existence even before it. It was then found on a Jain Stupa base at Taxila. It is believed to be adopted by Parsis and also got its place on Rubble. It was later adopted as armorial bearing by European, Arabs and also in Southern India and in Sinhalese folk art.
This mysterious eagle is adopted by state police of Karnataka as their emblem and it also appears on the BMTC bus tickets/pass. I travel daily by bus, but only when people in the group pointed towards the fact, that I realized its existence in the center of my bus-pass (that I carry daily).
All the pillars are intricately carved with beautiful semi-reliefs depicting Yali, Nandi, Nrisingh Avtaar of Vishnu, Mahishasur-Mardini, Navnath Gurus. Nandi worshipping Shivalinga. Like the relief of Gandaberunda and three-headed swan, I notice an equally interesting carving of four monkeys sharing heads and bodies.
Meera asks, “Have you took note of the tree in the compound?”. Several in the group replies, “Yes, it was Cannonball tree, also known as Naglinga”. This tree is associated with Shiva and is considered the favorite of devotees for worshiping Shiva. The petals of its flower resembles the hood of a Naga protecting the Shiva-Lingam. She adds, “This tree is not a native of India, it arrived in India only around three hundred or four hundred years ago. It is surprising that how it got associated with Shiva.”
I guess, the shape of its flower brought it closer to Shiva. Also reading more on net I learned that there are references of this tree growing for around two-three thousand years in India, so it is equally possible that this is a native tree and not a foreign tree as thought by Meera.