Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sathodi Falls, Yellapur

This was my second attempt at getting to Sathodi Falls and yet again for a briefest of moments I felt my chances of getting to see this waterfall receding, just like the sun setting in the horizon. The first attempt was a failure because accessibility was an issue. After reaching Yellapur, I found that there were no buses that go to Sathodi Falls. I knew it wasn’t wise to hire a Jeep or a rickshaw as they would charge me buckets. I was told that youngsters there offered to take you to Sathodi for a nominal amount. As it turned out, the nominal amount was Rs. 400 – something that I was expecting the Rickshaw-wallas to demand. I decided to drop the plan and instead go to Magod Falls. But even that didn’t materialize since the bus timings were very erratic and less frequent.

But this time round I was travelling with a group and with our own transport – a Tavera. The threat to our chances was however from the receding daylight. Our first challenge was to enter the forest area before 6:30PM before the gates close. And the second was to spend enough time enjoying the view and yet get back to civilization before it’s too dark. Sathodi is a 28km drive through the forests from Yellapur town. The roads are in a bad shape for the first 23kms. For the last 5 kms there is simply no road. Ok.. Im exaggerating a bit here. There is indeed a mud road for the last 5 kms but it’s in a pathetic condition. The rains make the road even worse with loose soil and slippery slopes.

With the menacing road taking a toll on the vehicle and the eager-to-retire sun looming over our heads, we started questioning the rationale of going ahead with our plan. Would the destination be worth the journey? Would we be able to spend at least 10 minutes there? Even if we do, are those 10 minutes worth the trouble we took just getting here? What if we have a flat tyre on the way back? Is it safe to spend the night in this jungle? Just as all these questions were hovering around inside the confines of our heads, we got our first glimpse of the backwaters of Kodasalli Dam. And just like that, our apprehensions started disappearing. We were now more than eager to get to the waterfalls.

We finally reached the check-in point of the falls where we paid a nominal entrance fee and quickly made our way to the falls. A one kilometer walk later we gaped with open mouths at India’s little Niagara falls. I had to admit that the pictures you see of Sathodi in the internet do no justice to the real deal. Even though you don’t get to go near the foot of the falls, the view is pretty intimidating. While most waterfalls I’ve seen till date are tall, and single or multi-tiered, this one was w-i-d-e. And thanks to all that rain for the last couple of weeks, Sathodi was a decked-up princess. Anybody with half a brain would know better than to venture into the water. At this time of the year Sathodi was strictly a viewing-only waterfall. Even though we had set ourselves a deadline of 15 minutes to reach back to our vehicle, half an hour had already passed. Not completely content with the amount of time we spent here, we had to drag ourselves back to the car. Our apprehensions of a flat tyre were highly misplaced and we reached Yellapur, and subsequently Sirsi, incident-free.

Getting-there: Sirsi->Yellapur ->Sathodi (Follow the signboards at Yellapur)

Must-Do: Start early so as to spend enough time there and get back safely
Must-Don’t: Adventurism or heroism in the rapid waters.

My Rating: 8/10

Sahasralinga, Sirsi

The literal translation of Sahasralinga means a 1000 Lingas. And that’s precisely what you get to see here. On the banks of river Shalmala are carved hundreds and hundreds of Shivalingas and Nandis (Basavannas). It is believed that for every Linga, there is a Nandi staring at it. Currently there are far too fewer lingas, and even the ones present have suffered some damage over the years thanks to the force of the ravenous waters. Even then the sheer number of Lingas and Nandis is sight to be seen to be believed, notwithstanding the fact that we went there at a time when the water flow was high.

These Shiva lingas were built by King Sadashivaraya of Sirsi. It is best to visit Sahasralinga during the dry seasons, when the flow of water is pretty less. Sahasralinga is 10 kms from Sirsi. A recent addition to this tourist location is a hanging bridge built across the river to connect neighboring villages. Since the flow of water is comparatively gentler, this place can also double up as a picnic center. Children might enjoy play in the water here.

Getting-there: About 10 kms from Sirsi en route Yellapur.

Must-Do: Visit during the dry seasons to see more of the lingas surfacing.
Must-Don’t: Vandalism and Littering.

My Rating: 6/10

Monday, October 29, 2012

Madhukeshwara Temple, Banavasi, Sirsi

Long before colonial Bangalore was deemed the capital of Karnataka, there was a lesser known capital for the state, which goes by the name of Banavasi. Set up in the 9th Century AD by the Kadamba dynasty, Banavasi was known to be the earliest known capital of Karnataka. As with most dynasties of that era, the kingdom revolves around the main temple in area. Madhukeshwara Temple occupies that significant stature in this regard. So prominent was Banvasi and the Madhukeshava temple that the temple originally built by Kadambas were renovated/extended by Chalukyas and the Hoysalas. As a result one can easily notice the different architectural styles starting from the garba griha to the mantapas. And yet there is no denying the fact that the mastery of the Hoysala craftsmen shine through. Hoysala craftsmen are top-of-the-class pioneers in stone craftsmanship. And their style is so distinct and uniform you can identify it pretty easily. The famous Hoysala artisan Jakkanacharya is being credited for the Hoysala additions. Im really beginning to doubt the existence of this character called Jakkanacharya. He’s been being associated with every Hoysala Temple dotted across the state. So unless he’s a superhuman sent from outer space, it’s highly unlikely that he would have worked with each of these temples

Onte Kallu Mantapa

Banavasi is a true-blooded Kannadiga pride temple town. Not only was it considered the first capital of Karnataka, it was also the birthplace for Kannada’s first poet, Adikavi Pampa. Few coins discovered here a few years ago, date back to the 5th Century with Kannada inscriptions on it. This means that the existence of a mint factory here can be considered amongst the oldest in the country.
When we arrived here, we found out, much to our dismay that there were no ASI guides who could give us a sneak peek into the history of this magnificent temple. But just as we were loitering around clicking pictures, a priest herded us together and starting giving us a guided tour of the temple. Even though we knew pretty well that there was no such thing as a free meal, we didn’t mind paying the priest for an insight about the temple.  The priest began by giving a brief history of the temple built by the Kadambas and subsequently renovated and improved upon by the Chalukyas and Hoysalas. He told us the reason behind the Shivalinga being called Madhukeshava. The large linga here is in the color of honey (madhu) contrary to the black that we see elsewhere. He also talked about the specialty of the large bell outside the garba griha. This bell made from pancha loha (5 metals) is unique because the gong of the bell rings for close to a minute. He then showed us the Triloka Mantapa carved out of a single stone. It is undoubtedly the work of the Hoysala craftsmen. It goes without saying that such artwork can only be produced from the Hoysala breed of artisans. This is followed by the trademark Hoysala pillars, that’s a common garnish in every Hoysala Temple. The concave and convex reflective pillars not only accentuated the viewing experience of the performing dance artists but also speaks volumes of the mastery of these stone artists.
Can you spot the right eye of Nandi?
The Onte kallu Mantapa (single stone mantapa) is yet another classic from the Hoysala staple – again, carved from a single stone. The other notable and no less artistic brilliance is the Nandi statue. The first thing most of us might straight-away notice is that the Nandi is not directly looking at Shiva but is rather looking slightly to the right. The reason behind this is that while Nandi’s left eye is looking directly at the Shivalinga, its right eye is looking at Parvathi which is separate temple adjacent to Shiva’s. Such is the mastery of the stone artisans of that era that despite a maze of pillars, the right eye of Nandi is transfixed on Parvathi Devi. Unbelievable? Well, you can confirm it yourself by standing in front of the Parvathi temple and looking at Nandi. Another important attraction here is the Ardha Ganesh. This statue of Lord Ganesh is split vertically right at the middle. It is believed that the other half is in Kashi.
These are only some of the stand-out features of this temple. By the end of it all we were left dizzy with amazement. With the Sun beating down hard we decided to spend a little more time admiring the place. After all it’s not every day you get to be a part of history. All that textbook knowledge of our History lessons look so worthless compared to the couple of hours we spent here.
Now did I say there’s-no-such-thing-as-a-free-meal a while ago. Ok, I take that back, because there was a free anna daanam in the temple served at exactly 1PM. We devoured the hot rice, blistering sambar and the super cool majige like there’s no tomorrow. With a content stomach and heart we started for the next leg of our Sirsi trip – Sahasralinga.
Getting-there: Approx 30 kms from Marikamba Temple.
Must-Do: Ask the priest for a guided tour. Free Anna Daanam at 1PM.
Must-Don't: Vandalism and Littering
My Rating: 8/10

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Marikamba Temple, Sirsi

A trip to Sirsi has been in the offing for quite a while. The plan was made at least 2 years ago. The idea was simple – cover as many waterfalls as possible in given time between August and October. The timing was important because this was the time when the monsoons would have abated leaving the waterfalls packed to capacity. But as the plans got serious and looked on the verge of being conquered thanks to a few enthusiastic co-travelers cum nature lovers cum awesome friends, the plan started taking a different shape and dimension.  My biggest learning before and during this trip was that Sirsi was not all about waterfalls. This sleepy little town is rich in cultural, linguistical and mythological heritage. Sirsi is as much about the cultural heritage of Karnataka as it is about the waterfalls. Add to that, there are so many places of mythological significance that it is difficult to cover Sirsi in a weekend. You definitely have to devote at least a couple more weekends to experiencing Sirsi.

After Alemarigalu’s planned Sirsi trip got cancelled because of drop-outs this time we fixed a quorum of 5 members to make a trip out of it. And 5 we were to explore the wonderful land of Sirsi. Our first stop after freezing bath in a canal was Sri Marikamba Temple.

Sri Marikamba Temple is a 17th Century temple located at Sirsi in Uttara Kannada. Marikamba is believed to be the Goddess of Power by Her devotees.  The seven foot tall wooden idol of the deity was resurrected from a tank near Hangal and a temple built for Her in the year 1689. Local puranas mention the deity as Renuka or Yellamma. She is also referred to as Doddamma – elder sister to all younger Mariammas installed in different villages and towns. She is believed to control evil spirits and epidemics. So in order to appease Her, devotees used to offer animal sacrifice. But all that changed in 1933 when Gandhiji  visited Sirsi but refused to enter the temple considering the brutal animal sacrifices that were performed here. Distinguished citizens like SN Keshwain and Vitthal Rao Hodike started educating the masses against this inhuman practice. They even went to the extent of kidnapping the buffalo the night before the sacrifice and have the courage to face an angry mob. Eventually the masses relented and the practice of animal sacrifice was finally banned.

The Marikamba Temple is also famous for its Kavi art. The temple walls are adorned with artwork from famous local artists. These wall murals depict episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The first impression of the temple is that it looks nothing like a South Indian temple and that impression stays throughout, thanks to the wall murals. It is unlike any temple you will ever see in South India. Here’s why you should you visit Marikamba Temple:

1.       It’s bang in the middle of Sirsi town

2.       The wall murals on the temple depicting episodes from our epics

3.       Take inspiration from the fact that God will be appeased even if animal sacrifices aren’t done

4.       Learn about how the courage of two brave and educated men can change age-old customs for the better.

5.       It is en route Banavasi Madhukeshava Temple.

6.       Because 5 reasons are good enough to go there!

Getting-there: Right in the heart of the town.
Must-Do: Check out the murals adorning the temple
Must-Don’t: Animal sacrifice of course. Photography of the deity.
My Rating: 7/10

Information Credits: Kamat's Potpourri

Chikka Tirupathi, Sarjapura

We wanted to make the best use of our Ayudha Pooja holiday besides the fact that we wanted to take our little one out on a long drive.  Considering that the little one hadn’t gone on a long drive yet, we wanted to go somewhere near, yet comfortably out of Bangalore. After a good look at the options, we zeroed-in on Chikka Tirupathi. Comfortably placed at 32 kms from house, the ride to this miniature Tirupathi seemed ideal.

Chikka Tirupathi is located 10km further of Sarjapura. There’s no chance you will get lost reaching this temple. It’s just one straight road till Sarjapura. From here you need to take a left. 10 kms later you will be at the door step of Lord Venkateshwara. Now if you are wondering why this temple is called a mini-Tirupathi, it is because this one is a replica of the actual temple in Tirumala. Also, all the festivities and poojas performed in Tirumala are also performed here. There are also some mythological stories associated with this temple.  It is believed that  Agni during incineration of the forests of herbs, causes burn injuries on serpent Lord Takshaka. Enraged by this act, Takshaka bestows a curse on Agni that he would lose his powers. Disturbed by this event, He rushes to Lord Krishna for advice, who suggests Agni to perform a penance to appease Lord Vishnu. A dedicated penance later, a pleased Lord Vishnu performs a shaapa vimochana for Agni. A joyous Agni  builds a temple for Lord Venkateshwara, aptly named, Prasanna Venkateshwara.

Surprisingly, there were hardly a handful of devotees, especially since it was a festive day. A quick darshan later we spent a few lazy moments there before heading back to Bangalore. On the way back, we stopped at the Kochu Guruvayoor temple, but it was already closed for poojas.

The ride till Dommasandra is nothing worth writing about. Its uneven and pot-hole ridden. However the road does better after Dommasandra till Sarjapura. Driving through the narrow market lanes of Sarjapura is a nightmarish experience, especially when careless people do not think twice before leaving a scratch on your car. The final 10 km stretch is beautiful ride through the idyllic villages. The well-laid winding roads and cool breeze settles the case that you are finally out of Bangalore – if only for a short while.

Getting-there: Take right at Iblur Junction on Sarjapur Road/ORR and continue till Sarjapura(approx. 20kms). After Sarjapura town take left and follow the signboards for the final 10 kms.

Must-Do: Drive carefully through Sarjapura town. Best to go in a hatchback than a sedan.
Must-Don’t: Littering along the way and near the temple.

My Rating: 5/10

Photo and Content Credits: Alemaari

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Kalil Temple, Methala, Perumbavoor, Kerala

Kalil Temple was originally a 9th Century Jain Temple situated in Methala near Perumbavoor. The temple sits on a hill under a huge rock. A rocky terrain and a final flight of about fifty steps brings you to this mysterious temple. I say mysterious because, surprisingly only one portion of the huge rock touches the ground and there is no support whatsoever. Although on the other side of the suspending rock are the temple walls, it has to be noted that the walls were a later addition. Hence the mystery of the suspending rock lingers, which draws devotees to this cave temple. On top of the cave temple is a carving on the rock. There is some confusion over who that image belongs to. Some claim it to be Brahma while others claim it to be Mahaveer Jain.

The erstwhile Jain place of worship is now a Hindu temple with Bhagavathy Devi sitting pretty as the main deity here, which brings us to the second mystery of the temple. It is clearly obvious to any devotee that the idol of Bhagvathy Devi does not sit in the centre of the Sanctum Santorum (in the doorway) but visibly to the right. Meaning, to see the idol the devotees have to go the left of the doorway. Apparently this was not the case many years ago. The popular belief is that the idol is moving on its own without any human intervention. There is a third mystery attributed to this temple. Apparently a few years ago, on one of the rocks there, people have started observing the markings of what looks like Lord Shiva. And as the years pass by the carving is becoming more and more visible. Nobody knows how the markings are becoming more distinct and legible. Currently the face and upper body can be clearly ascertained.

Up until recently the temple would close by noon after the poojas and not open in the evenings (a rare occurrence in temples of kerala). This can be attributed to the belief of existence of evil spirits in the dense forest there. But since a year ago, the temple is thrown open in the evenings and poojas performed. All the mysteries attributed to the temple gives a special aura to the temple.

Getting-there: About 10 kms from Perumbavoor town in Aluva en route Muvatupuzha.

Must-Do: Check out the suspending rock, displaced Bhagvathy idol and the self appearing rock carving.
Must-Don’t: Clicking pictures inside the temple.

My Rating: 8/10

Thrikkariyoor Mahadeva Kshetram, Kothamangalam, Kerala.

Shiva Temple
 The Thrikkariyoor Shiva Temple is considered to be the last pratishta of Lord Parasurama. It is the last among the 108 Shivalayas consecrated by Parasurama. Legend goes that, Lord Parasurama (sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu) created the land between Gokarna and Kanyakumari. After many years of penance Parasurama invoked Lord Varuna (Lord of the Oceans) to absolve Himself of His sins. Parasurama wanted to donate some land to the Brahmins and asked for this boon from Lord Varuna. Varuna gave Parasurama an axe and asked him to throw it as far as possible. The distance the axe covers from Gokarna will be given to him. The axe thrown from Gokarna landed in Kanyakumari, thereby creating the land (Kerala) for Brahmins. After this, Parasurama set about establishing 64 villages and consequently 108 Shiva temples in that stretch. Apparently Thrikkariyoor is where Parasurama attained Salvation.

It is also believed that this temple contains the spirits of Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna. But there isn't much info behind the reason for this belief. Another significance of Thrikkariyoor is that it is believed to be Capital of the Chera Dynasty. Some historians even claim that Thrikkariyoor is the modern Karur, although there is not much support for this theory.

Bhagvathy Temple

It is a comparatively large temple with medieval architecture. There is a calmness about the temple that will put your mind at peace - something that I look for in temples. The quietness and solitude of this holy place makes you feel a lot closer to God. Being walking distance from my maternal ancestral home, I've been here umpteen times. And every time I was here I just love the atmosphere and the cosmic energy projected at me. Refreshed and invigorated I head to the Bhagvathy temple bang opposite the Shiva Temple before returning home to relax for the rest of the day.

Getting-there: Thrikkariyoor is 4 kms from Kothamangalam town in Aluva (Ernakulam District, Kerala).

Must-Do: Obey the dress code.
Must-Don't: Miss a visit to Bhagvathy Temple opposite to the Shiva temple.

My Rating: 6/10

Information Courtesy: vaikhari

Punnathur Kotta, Guruvayoor

Aana (foreground) with the Kotta (background)
The name Punnathur Kotta (Palace) evokes images of a stately palace steeped in distinct Kerala architecture with its open courtyards, sloping red tile roofs and ornate wooden carvings. It also evokes images of the royal scions of the Verma lineage inhabiting the Palace. But here's the shocker. The Kotta is more known for the happenings outside the Palace than inside. Its inhabitants all stay outside of the Palace in the open - all 63 of them. The only beings that command respect and love of the people of Kerala after the Royal Vermas are the Elephants of the state. And it is them that have made the Punnathur Kotta their home. These elephants belong to Guruvayoor Sri Krishna Temple. They have been donated by different devotees to the temple for its various festivities.

I cannot be more cuter than this
There are elephants of all sizes, shapes and ages here. The younger ones are trained to become future temple elephants. Luckily for them, these elephants are very well taken care of. They are given an elaborate bath, lots of greens to chew on and in most cases enough shade to stand in. And then there are the elephants in heat, which are kind of quarantined from the rest with a Warning signboard cautioning the visitors from getting close to these mammals.

The Punnathur Kotta (now known as Aana Kotta) is a 30 acre Elephant Park in an erstwhile Palace of a local Ruler. It’s a nice way to relax in the hot Kerala sun after a visit to Guruvayoor Sri Krishna Temple and the Mammiyoor Temple. Children will especially love this place as they get to see so many live Jumbos up close and personal. And if you are lucky, you might even get to see the little kutti-aanas too. We weren't.

Getting-there: About 2 kms from Sri Krishna Temple and 1km from Mammiyoor Temple. For about Rs.130 an autowallah will be willing to cover this circuit, including an acceptable waiting period.
Ah... What a Life!

Must-Do: Try to get a glimpse of the cub elephants.

Must-Don't: Getting too adventurous and venturing close to the elephants (especially the ones in heat)

My Rating: 5/10

Mammiyoor Mahadeva Kshetra, Guruvayoor

The Sri Krishna Temple at Guruvayoor and Mammiyoor Mahadeva Kshetra are quite literally joined at the hip. One does not exist without the other. No wonder is a pilgrimage to Guruvayoor Sri Krishna Temple deemed incomplete without a visit to the Mammiyoor Shiva Temple.

Legend has it that Sri Krishna who's idol adorned the temple in Dwaraka, handed it over to Udhava to have it installed in a sacred location with the help of Guru and Vayu (hence the name Guruvayoor). Consequently, the sacred place which was identified was already occupied by Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva who heard of the noble deed from Guru and Vayu decided to vacate his seat of penance. He subsequently moved to the present day Mammiyoor Temple, while Lord Krishna occupied the seat at (the present day) Guruvayoor Sri Krishna Temple. Another unique feature of this temple is that, it is probably the only temple which bestows equal status to both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. Besides Shiva and Vishnu, the temple also houses Ganesha, Murugan, Ayyapan, Bhagavathi and Nagaraja.
Devotees must strictly adhere to the dress code here: Mundu and bare-chest for men and sarees or pavadas for women. Even though Guruvayoor temple has done-away with this rigid rule, Mammiyoor hasn't. In case you find yourself at Mammiyoor wearing pants, just remember to rent a mundu from the Chappal Stand. They let it out for a paltry Rs 25 for a single use. Women can also opt for this option.
Getting-there: The Kshetram is a mere one kilometer from the Guruvayoor temple and there are plenty of autos plying in that route, in case you do not want to walk in the hot sun.

Must-Do: Obey the dress code. In case you couldn't, enquire at the Chappal Stand for Mundus-on-rent.
Must-Don't: Clicking pictures inside the temple.
My Rating: 7/10