Friday, September 23, 2016

Marginal Dieties

Hundred odd villages around Pudukkottai/ Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu are collectively known as Chettinad (Land of the Chettis). 

Contrary to the established norm that villages and towns grow 'around' temples, the Ayyanar Temples of Chettinad are invariably located at the outskirts of villages. 

In times of celebration and thanksgiving, villagers offer animal / fowl sacrifice at these temples, they cook the meat within the temple premises and share it with friends and families. 

Another feature of these temples is the rainbow  parade of earthen horses. Loud, colourful clay horses are placed within the temple premises by individuals as offerings. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Big Captain of Colachel


Colachel, the fishing hamlet near Kanyakumari in Southern India witnessed a historical milestone of continental proportions in 1741 AD.
The Battle of Colachel was won by Travancore here in these shores a few centuries ago

It was the first time ever that an Indian princely state defeated a European naval force when Travancore King Marthanda Varma 's army defeated the Dutch East India company forces under the command of Captain Eustachius De Lannoy  in the 'Battle of Colachel'.

A commemorative pillar with the Travancore insignia stands tall in Colachel reminding us of the glorious event. Illustrations , which are mostly reproductions from those in the Padhmanabhapuram Palace visualises the sequence of events.

Captain De Lannoy and his crew were captured and their ship was sunk by the native forces. De Lannoy pledged his allegiance to the Maharaja of Travancore and was later appointed general of the Travancore Army.
Colachel memorial

Travancore Army under De Lannoy achieved greater laurels and the Maharaja was able to stretch the boundaries of his kingdom to more adventurous limits.

De Lannoy was adored by all as 'valiya kapithaan' (Big Captain). De Lannoy outlived King Marthanda Varma to serve his successor Dharma Rajah. De Lannoy died in 1777 at an age of 62.

De Lannoy was buried in Udayagiri Fort, nearby Padhmanabhapuram Palace, off Thuckalay along the Trivandrum - Kanyakumari highway.
Tomb of De Lannoy

The latin inscription on his tomb reads:

"Stand Traveller! Here lies Eustachius Benedictus De Lannoy who was Commander of the Travancore Army and for nearly thirty seven years with the greatest faithfulness served the King, to whom by the strength and fear of his armies he subjugated all kingdoms from Kayamkulam to Cochin. He lived 62 years and 5 months and died first day of June 1777. May he rest in peace"

 Udayagiri fort iscurrently being maintaines by Tamil Nadu government as an eco park. The tomb and history of Captain Eustachius De Lannoy lies hidden away from the tourist track in the shadow of a more popular  Padmanabhapuram Palace, which is hardly a mile away. 

De Lannoy Memorial, Udayagiri Fort
 And meanwhile, the fishing village of Colachel itself is getting ready to be developed as a major sea port of Arabian Sea.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Boulder Lands

Virupaksha Temple, one of the oldest functional temples on earth

After a date with River Nila in 2012 and the journey in search of the cloven Budha along the backwaters of Alleppy in 2013, they regrouped in summer of 2014.

The boulder lands of Hampi by the banks of River TungaBhadhra was a perfect excuse for the re union.

Tower of Virupaksha Temple

From the ambitious city of Bengaluru busy hatching its grandiose plans to raise itself as an international business hub, at a distance of approximately 350 km lies in ruins  Hampi, the capital of the once  mighty Vijayanagara empire. Sincere and commendable attempts by ASI of renovations notwithstanding, it still remains a lost city, a leftover skeleton of its magnificence of yore. 

Those rare tourists who veer off from the otherwise busy tourist circuits of India might as well have trespassed into an Indiana Jones movie studio. Boulders of all sizes and conceivable shapes are strewn around with careless precision of a toddler who has been playing with its monster toy blocks. Stare hard enough and you can see Harrison Ford  from behind one of those huge,centuries old rocks trying to squeeze  his way out to safety just before closing credits start rolling in. 

The sight of those king size rocks clinging on to one another so precariously makes one feel that all it needs on any given day is a gentle nudge by a wet Thungabhadhrian breeze - may be with a coded message from the 14th century- to dislodge one weak link and trigger a chain reaction of inter galactic proportions.

That hasn't happened yet. 

The imaginary ligaments that hold together the star rocks continue to prove strong enough to withstand the onslaught of time and other invaders. Cemented together by secrets of the Vijayanagara empire, stories about the Rayas, of their valour, celebrations, bloodshed and victories, laughter echoed from the courts enthralled by the likes of Tenali Raman, the boulder lands of Hampi is where history and geography lie intertwined in a petrified embrace even as the Tungabhadhra moves on perennially with a knowing half-glance. 

Step back into the realm of myth and the mindscape suddenly widens and  becomes more colourful. Valmiki staged the entire Kishkintha Kanda of Ramayana in and around Hampi. This is where Hanuman is believed to have been born, brought up and stood for Rama. Some even refer to this place as maternal home of Bhoodevi, mother earth. 

More recent and reliable documents provide ample proof to confirm that as capital of Vijayanagara empire, Hampi has been a great center of culture, trade and architecture. (As if the exquisite temples and the remains of the market places aren't loud enough to assert that.) 
For all its yearning to be at the center of international business, modern day Bengaluru would be thrown into a bout of inferiority complex induced depression as and when it comes to know of the stature good old Hampi enjoyed a few centuries ago. 

Abdur Razzak Samarkhandi (1413-1482), ambassador of  Persian emperor Mirza Sharukh to Calicut writes: 

" The city of Bidjanagar [Vijayanagar] is such that the pupil of the eye has never seen a place like it, and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything equal it in the world" 

"..the jewellers sell publicly in the bazaars pearls, rubies,emeralds, and diamonds. In this agreeable locality, as well as in the king's palace, one sees numerous running streams and canals formed of chiselled stone, polished and smooth." 

Ugra Narasimha

Nicolo dei Conti, an Italian visited Vijayanagar in 1420 shortly after the accession of King Deva Raya II. His stories were recorded by Poggio Bracciolini, the Pope's secretary. 

"The great city of Bizenegalia [Vijayanagara] is situated near very steep mountains (sic). The circumference of the city is sixty miles; its walls are carried up to the mountains and enclose the valleys at their foot, so that its extent is thereby increased. In this city there are estimated to be ninety thousand men fit to bear arms"

Duarte Barbosa, a cousin of  Magellen who visited Vijayanagar between 1504-1514 writes that the "kingdom of Narsinga" exported iron, spices, drugs,myrabolans, and imported horses and pearls. 

"There is an infinite trade in this city.. In this city there are many jewels which are bought from Pegu and Celani (ceylon), and in the country itself many diamonds are found, because there is a mine of them in the kingdom of Narsinga..."  

Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah, popularly known as Firishta has written extensively about the Vijayanagar empire. So has the Portugese traveler and  horse trader, Fernao Nuniz who visited Vijayangara between 1535 and 1537. 

More of Hampi, Vijayanagara and the Rayas to follow after further visits to the lost empire. Till then, a few images that attempt to convey what they realised during the visit : 

Hampi is in its details. 

Vitthala (Vishnu) Temple

Stone Chariot  , Vittala Temple

Entrance of Vitthala Temple , with the remains of Lamp Pillar in the fore ground

Tower of Vitthala Temple

Ruins of Vitthala Temple

Vitthala Temple, architectural influences

Vitthala  Temple: Strangely attired horse trader from distant lands

Market place, Vitthala Temple

Shiva Temple within the Vitthala Temple premises

Pedestal , Sanctum sanctorum . Idols relocated to museum elsewhere.

The King's balance, Vitthala Temple premises

Quite flows, Tungabhadra

Mahanavami Dibba,  Within the  Royal Enclosure ruins

Mahanavami Dibba, ( stage for performing during celebrations) 

Ruins of the Royal Enclosure

Stepped Tank  , renovated recently by Archaeological Society of India

HazaraRama Temple

Sita Swayamwaram, HazaraRama Temple



Dhasharatha and his wives, Hazara rama temple

Krishna Temple

Lunar Eclipse

Dwarapalaka and avatars of Vishnu (image above) at the entrance of Krishna Temple

Gopuram within the Krishna Temple complex

Conch shell and chakra insignia outside the Krishna Temple

Ruins of the market place outside Krishna Temple

Pushkarani (water tank) with Krishna Temple as the backdrop

Panorama of Achyutha Raya Temple. Far left is Pushkarani (water body); in the middle runs the market place; far right is the temple complex.

Ruins of Achyutha Raya Temple

 Achyutha Raya Temple: Market place, Pushkarani and Tungabdhra 

Intricate columns of Achyutha Raya Temple

Kuchela visits Sri Krishna in Achyutha Raya Temple

King seeks advice from the wise within the Achyutha Raya Temple

Virupaksha  Temple, The Cathedral of Hampi 


Multi storeyed structure

Jain Temples 

Column and Roof of Jain Temple

Monolithic Linga

Monolithic Nandhi

Hawa Mahal

Elephant Stable

Queen's Bath

Thalayari (Toll) gate

Hampi, our AngorWat- in- waiting


All quotes (in italics) from " A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagar " by Robert Sewell
Images clicked by blogger using Canon 1100D and LG Nexus5