Bahubali of Aretippur

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Aretippur is a model village enveloped in an atmosphere of serenity and divinity. The houses with their tiled roofs are very colourful and neatly laid out. Twin ponds separated by a natural mud bridge are the lifelines of the villagers. The village folk are very friendly and greet you with a smile. All around there is a strange silence which is occasionally broken by the chirping of birds, the mooing of cows, the movement of bullock carts or the giggles of children.

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The centre of attraction here are two hills – Savanappana Betta and Kanakagiri. Savanappana Betta is the higher of the two and more famous because atop the hill is one of the oldest statues of Bahubali also known as Gomateshwara. Believed to have been sculpted in the 900s not much is otherwise known of the statue. Some archaelogists are also of the view that this 10-feet high statue could possibly have been carved before the more famous Bahubali statue of Shravanabelagola. The sculpture bears a strong similarity with Bahubali of Shravanabelagola. There are vines entwined around the body like the Shravanabelagola statue and on either side are the sculptures of Bahubali’s two sisters Brahmi and Sundari pleading with him to end his penance. The statue is still worshipped by Jains the year round. Surprisingly, the existence of the Bahubali of Aretippur is otherwise not well-known. Wonder why? Thanks to a heritage trip organised by Bangalore-based company Carnelian Consultants I got to have a darshan of the revered Jain ascetic at his Aretippur abode.

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Savanappana Betta

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The climb up the rocky Savanapenna Betta proved to be an arduous one. And it was never-ending. Even as all of us clad in sports shoes laboured our way to the top, our local guide Putteramu very easily raced up the hill in Hawaii chappals. For him, the climb uphill seemed to be a cakewalk. This was the first time I ever scaled a mountain and I must say I was on cloud nine. The best part of the climb was just before we reached the summit, when we had to crawl through a cave. As we reached the summit, a gentle breeze caressed against our faces. The hilltop was truly divine. Meera Iyer and Pankaj Modi of Carnelian Consultants had us all engrossed with a lot of Jain lore. Around 1000 years back, Aretippur was a melting point of Jain and Shri Vaishnavite culture and a beehive of religious activities, a far cry from what it is now. Surprisingly unlike then, there is not even a single Jain residing in Aretippur. Jainism was the dominant religion in South India from the 500s to late 1000s. The first inscriptional evidence of the existence of Jainism in Karnataka dates back to 500 AD.

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Entering the cave.

Entering the cave.

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Story telling on the hill top.

Story telling on the hill top.

Aerial view of Kanakagiri and Aretippur as seen from Savanappana Betta.

Aerial view of Kanakagiri and Aretippur as seen from Savanappana Betta.

Another element of surprise is that the Bahubali statue is not protected by the ASI. Instead it is fully cared for by the village folk and someone from Mandya. A major threat to the statue came in the form of stone quarrying adjacent to the hill some years back. Fortunately, the quarrying activities were banned.

The ugly face of quarrying.

The ugly face of quarrying.

After having spent close to half an hour atop the hill it was time to move down. The descent proved to be less dramatic than the ascent. Again, the best part of the descent was the journey through the cave. This time we all had to slide down through it. At a distant I could hear the sound of a bird which sounded like laughter. I spotted the bird but couldn’t really distinguish its features. How I wish I had my binoculars. If it were Australia I would have presumed it was the Laughing Jack Ass aka the kookaburra. Putteramu pointed out to a cluster of beehives under the rocks and mentioned that the honey tasted ‘super’.

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Putteramu, the local guide.

Putteramu, the local guide.

Our next destination was Kanakagiri but not before savouring the views of the village and the twin ponds. There were a lot of women washing clothes and laying them out to dry on the hills. Children were having a field day running around even as their mothers were busy with their wash load. The air smelt very sweet. There was absolutely no pollution.

The village deity of Aretippur.

The village deity of Aretippur.

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Climbing Kanakagiri.

Climbing Kanakagiri.

Right on top of Kanakagiri is a pond which on that day was being de-silted. On one side of the pond, the rocks had engravings of 15 Jain Thirthankaras. The first four engravings were in quite good condition but the others looked quite worn out. They reminded me so much of the Bamiyan Buddhas. Lots of sculptures dating back to the days of the Ganga and Hoysala dynasty lay around most of them broken. Interestingly, the relics on Kanakagiri hill are ASI protected. Some of the rocks also had engravings in ancient Kannada. The pièce de résistance was a large tablet below a tree with sculptures on the top and a lot of Kannada script. This was easily the best preserved among all the relics.

De-silting in progress in the lake atop Kanakigiri.

De-silting in progress in the lake atop Kanakigiri.

Engravings of Jain Thirthankaras on Kanakagiri.

Engravings of Jain Thirthankaras on Kanakagiri.

Engravings of Jain Thirthankaras.

Engravings of Jain Thirthankaras.

Watch this slide-show of Jain relics at the Kanakagiri hill:

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Rounded bricks that lay scattered on the hill were indications of an excavation having been carried out at the site.

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Clothes left to dry on the slopes of Kanakagiri hill.

Clothes left to dry on the slopes of Kanakagiri hill.

After a tender coconut water break at Putteramu’s house we were on the bus back home. A 15-minute stop at Kokrebellur, a mini sanctuary for painted storks and spot billed pelicans. was like a dessert at the end of the visual feast that Aretippur offered. The sight of so many painted storks roosting on two trees was priceless.

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Painted storks roost on a tree at Kokrebellur.

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A Little Egret

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The day I discovered the Blue Gulmohr

A Sunday morning stroll through Lal Bagh threw up some surprises. This is nothing new. Every visit to Lal Bagh has thrown up surprises. The Tabebuia rosea are in full bloom in quite a few parts of the city. I had timed my visit expecting to catch a glimpse of these wonderful trees in the city’s most famous green space. To my disappointment barring one tree which had just begun flowering, there were hardly any.

However there were lot of other pleasant happenings in store. Awww..This sweet sight made up for the initial disappointment of not seeing the pink blooms.
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The Champaka trees around the Glass House had flowered and walking under them was an ethereal experience thanks to the sweet fragrance of the flowers.
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In what looked like a dry leaf dump outside the Glass House I noticed this foundation stone. Wow! Wonder what the gardens would have looked like in 1935.

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A lot of fruits had fallen from the Anda Gomesii tree (a tree that has its origins in Brazil). I tried to break one open. It proved to be a hard nut to crack. In fact I couldn’t crack it at all 😦

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The Anda Gomesii tree.

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The fruit of the Anda Gomesii tree.

The flowers of the the Pachira saithifolia looked spectacular. The central part of the flower bears a strong resemblance to the flowers of the Rain Tree.

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Pigeons were having a good time hopping on the roof of the bandstand.

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Yellow blossoms stood out on this arch.

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And this is a 200-year-old mammoth White Silk Cotton Tree. Notice the buttressed roots. The tree has pinnate leaves with five to seven leaflets. The wood of the tree being very light is used to make match splints and packing cases.

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The 200-year-old White Silk Cotton Tree.

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The foliage of the White Silk Cotton Tree.

As I walked on I noticed a tree with fruits that looked like mangoes. I learnt from the info pasted on the trunk that it is a baelfruit tree. On Googling I learnt that the Bael or Bilwa fruit tree has immense health benefits. Check this out.

http://www.satvikshop.com/blog/herbs-knowledge-base/bael

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My heart stopped when I came across this information plate. A tree called the bullock-heart tree! On Googling I was in for a pleasant surprise. This is another name for the custard-apple tree. The tree derives its name from the heart-like shape of the custard apple.

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The Red Silk Cotton tree was in full bloom and a pretty sight!

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The Canon-ball tree was beginning to bloom.

The fruits and flowers of the canon-ball tree.

The fruits and flowers of the canon-ball tree.

I sighted a lot of cormorants at the Lal Bagh lake.

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As I walked away from Lal Bagh lake, I noticed a row of pretty purple blooms. The ground below was carpeted with purple flowers. I learnt that this was the Blue Gulmohr. The trees don’t resemble the famous Gulmohr trees that we all know of. The Blue Gulmohr does not have buttressed roots. Also the flowers were purple (unless I am colour-blind). Wonder why the name Blue Gulmohr?

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And lo! What do I see here! An extremely beautiful piece of architecture. This is the Pigeon House that was constructed in 1893. More on this here:
http://www.ijaunt.com/lalbagh/pigeon-house

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As I walked on I noticed this old lady picking up fallen flowers. Now that’s another reason to visit Lal Bagh.

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People also come here for endless chats.

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Before I left I took one last picture, that of the hillock which has given so much character to the famous botanical garden.

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Book Review: The Inheritance of Loss

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Kiran Desai’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ is set in Kalimpong against the backdrop of the GNLF agitation of the mid-1980s in West Bengal. The story centres around the family of a retired widower judge Jemubhai Patel which consists of his 17-year-old orphaned granddaughter Sai and their little dog Mutt. An old cook afflicted with arthritis also resides with them. The foursome resides in a badly maintained cottage named Cho Oyu. Other key characters in the story include Gyan, Sai’s just-out-of-college Maths tutor and Biju, the cook’s son who works as a waiter in the US.

Jemubhai Patel is a Scrooge and a man devoid of passion. He only cares for Mutt. When his daughter and son-in-law pass away in an accident in Russia, their daughter Sai who till then has been a boarder at a residential school in Dehradun, is sent by school authorities to her grandfather. Incidentally, the judge had cut off ties with his daughter after she married a young man who grew up in an orphanage. In order to cut down expenses, the judge opts for home-educating Sai. Needless to say, Sai lives a lonely life in the hills devoid of companions of her age. Her loneliness results in her getting infatuated with her young Maths tutor, a Gorkha. Another victim of the judge’s miserly attitude is the cook. But the poor man manages the show masking his sorrow with a subservient attitude. His only hope in life is his son Biju, who has made it to the land of plenty despite all odds. The once in a while trunk call with Biju is the only time of celebration for the cook.

With a Scrooge of a protagonist and added to that  intermittent strife which as the story develops get very intense, one can only expect a melancholic storyline. Kiran Desai has told her story beautifully and has gone into the minutest details when explaining all the situations with a welcome dose of humour thrown here and there. Even as she tells the story of the happenings in and around Cho Oyu, she does not forget to tell us what is happening with Biju in the US. And then there are flasbacks galore about the life of the judge, an ICS pass from London.

As the story develops, one cannot but help sympathising for Sai. Her only friends besides Gyan, are two middle-aged sisters Noni, a spinster, and her widowed sister Lola, who live in a cottage called Mon Ami. Then there is Uncle Potty, a good-natured man with a love for the bottle, and Father Booty, a European priest who chose to stay in India  but forgot to renew his papers.

As the GNLF strife gets uglier, peace is lost in Kalimpong and neighbouring Darjeeling. Gyan too joins the protests much to Sai’s displeasure. Mutt gets dog-napped. Noni and Lola’s peaceful home is trespassed and they are forced to put up with anti-social elements residing in their courtyard. Father Booty is asked to leave Kalimpong. And Biju’s homecoming turns into a nightmare when he is robbed by the GNLF men of all his money, clothes, and gifts that he had bought for his dad. The attackers even take away the clothes he is wearing.

This is not one of those novels which you can finish in one reading. The story though it is very gripping and well-told develops very gradually. Definitely worth a read!

Grandeur of architecture

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A trip to the sprawling Bhoganandishwara Temple at Nandi village enlivened my Sunday morning. The visit, a part of Intach’s Nandi and Sultanpet village Parichay (heritage walk), falling as it was just two days after Shivarathri had us walking into a temple complex that had still not woken up from a boisterous three days of festivities. The entire courtyard was littered with papers, plastic and what not, a far cry from its otherwise sparkling clean look which I had marvelled at on an earlier visit.
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There was a colourful mini-market just outside the entrance with stalls selling an assortment of powders, grains and the like. Colourfully attired men in the guise of sadhus were the attention grabbers. This man with a conch stole the show. Every now and then he broke into a song.
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At the entrance of the main shrine were three chariots, undoubtedly, a prominent part of the Shivarathri festivities.

The ASI-protected monument is the biggest Shiva Temple in this part of rural Bangalore. Built in the early 800s, there is a questionmark about who built it. Meera Iyer, Intach’s heritage expert, had a lot of information to share with us. While one section of scholars claim that the temple was built by the rulers of the Bana dynasty, descendants of the legendary king Mahabali, owing to various copper plate engravings found at the site, another section reasons that the engravings were fake and that it was built by the Nolambas. This is because a substantial part of the architectural work on the insides of the temple bear a strong resemblance to the style of the Ganga dynasty with whom the Nolambas had proximity through various marital alliances.
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However, ASI information at the entrance of the complex says that the temple was built by Ratnavali, a consort of Bana king Bana Vidyadhara, based on information from copper plates.

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The intricate work on the walls and pillars of the temple are dazzling. In addition to the Bhoganandishwara shrine, which is in the south, the temple complex consists of the Arunachaleshwara shrine in the north and the Umamaheshwara shrine, in between them. Behind them is a shrine dedicated to Kuchilamba and on the side another one dedicated to Girija. The intricate work on the pillars (see slideshow below) in the shrine bear a distinct resemblance to Hoysala architecture and the work on the towers of the shrines bear a resemblance to the Vijayanagar style. Away from the five shrines is also a shrine dedicated to Agni, the god of fire.

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This mélange of architectural styles, all of them breathtaking, has been mesmerizing people for ages. Have a look at this slideshow.

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Adding more splendour to the temple complex is a kalyan mantap. Though signs all around the temple clearly say that tripods aren’t allowed, we were surprised on seeing a music video being shot atop the mantap and an array of tripods.

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The kalyani at the temple, which also had remnants of the Shivarathri celebrations, is otherwise a most tranquil place. It is one of those spots where one can finish reading a book in one sitting. Once upon a time, the kalyani was a recreation spot of Nandi village with village folks spending their leisure indulging in various ancient games.

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Visitors to the temple will also love the well here, the parapet of which rests on a platform.

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All around the temple one will also come across various golden statues. The pièce de résistance was this statue of Ravana.

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As we exited the temple we saw this man with a broom, another of the colourful characters we saw that day.

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And there were more architectural surprises in store like this raised platform below a tree.

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Our next stop was at Sultanpet, a village founded by Tipu Sultan. We were shown around the Sultanpet cemetry, a collection of graves (12 of them) of English military officers and their family members. The architecture of the graves is akin to the architecture of graves belonging to the Victorian era. According to the information board at the site, after  Nandidurg was captured by the English army under Lord Cornwallis in 1791, a regiment of the British army was stationed at Sultanpet which explains the presence of these graves here.

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Our walk ended with a trek to the ruins of a mosque whose architecture suggests it was built during the time of Tipu Sultan. We thoroughly enjoyed this trek on a bright Sunday morning. And this wouldn’t have happened if not for a lorry that had blocked traffic on the kutcha road that led to the mosque. The path was dotted with innumerable plants and trees. This Red Silk Cotton tree was everyone’s favourite.

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Inside the mosque it was really very cool, a result of the cross-ventillation. In spite of being in ruins, the mosque with its large windows is a nice place to be. Over here, one can experience the presence of a divine being. I only hope that it is preserved for posterity.

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The Tree of Gold

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It’s the time of the year when the Tree of Gold (Tabebuia argentea) is in full bloom. When these trees are in full bloom they are a sight to behold. There are plenty of them in Cubbon Park around the High Court. Their bright yellow flowers make them stand out even from a distance. I found it very difficult to take my eyes off them. And of course I didn’t feel like leaving Cubbon Park today.

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For all worshippers of the Tree of Gold, Cubbon Park is where you ought to head to!