Reminiscences – This post is dedicated to Mubashshir, Kulwinder, Harish, Snehal and Pravin – dearest friends, until recently posted at IBM Bangalore, who made the stay here interesting and enriching through their company, laughter-filled discussions, meaningless debates and everlasting memories. Thank you guys, simply for being your affable selves!
Rare would be the Bangalorean who hasn't heard of Nandi Hills, that surprisingly famed, naturally landscaped, unbelievably crowded and yet magnificently spectacular mountain getaway located three score kilometers away from the city outskirts where we at present reside, but very few would have ever ventured to or even heard of the numerous exquisite medieval temples that exist on the summit and in the vicinity of the enchanting hill cluster. And it was these little known, nondescript gems of ancient ruined temples that made my day when we, i.e thirteen sleep-deprived, grumbling but cheerful friends from IBM and me, journeyed early morning few weeks back from our dreary existence to the laid back, fog-enshrouded, serene hill town. We had booked a Traveller to pick us at 4 am from outside the office campus and the ride to the hill base was an uneventful one, not because we were all sleepy (on the contrary, we travelled laughing, gossiping and listening to music on FM radio), but because the sheer blinding darkness outside the windows numbed us to the indescribably enjoyable pleasures of road trip that are experienced when the sun is up and about. A hour and a half later, refreshed by steaming cups of (poor quality) coffee and cigarettes at one of the several roadside eateries lining the base of the hill route, we still stood in complete darkness that was punctured only by the headlights of hundreds of cars moving in long slithering queues and waited for the gates leading further upward to the parking arena to be thrown open, while the unspoken tension to reach the summit before sunrise, for which it is so highly renowned, had begun to become palpable.
|In the vicinity of Nandi village - A countryside framed|
From the parking area, after purchasing the tickets, the pace at which we climbed the nearly 4-kilometer long slithering route, punctuated only by momentary breaks to click selfies and admire the unbelievably thick fog that nearly obscured everything beyond a couple of meters, would have been reminiscent of forced marches with which armies move during emergencies! The photos, of course, came amazingly well thanks to the unparalleled walls of fog that removed any and every background disturbance and left us with beautiful white backgrounds, though yes, our hair were left wet and clinging and the spectacles rendered fogged and wet because of the dew accumulating all over them. The rapid climb upwards combined with the solid walls of fog left little time or opportunity to appreciate the landscape, flora or the numerous viewing shelters and gently rising staircases built in the beautified hill sides; the granite walls and the cusped-arched gateway of the fortress "Nandidurg", raised atop the hill and enclosed within thick curtain walls interspersed by bastions and viewing towers, appeared beckoning, and so did the small ruined and ignored summer palace of Emperor Fath Ali Khan Tipu Sultan (ruled AD 1782-99) that is nestled in the bounty of thickly forested hilly area said to be the source of several streams – but we had to leave these for the return journey – anyway the fog would have rendered landscape/architecture photography nearly impossible! Signboards all along the slithering route also direct visitors to a small landscaped area near the hill's summit that is cultivated around a beautiful guest house now christened as "Nehru Nilaya" ("Nehru's abode") after Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru who once stayed in it but originally conceived and commissioned as a summer house by Mark Cubbon, the British army officer and administrator (in service of the British East India "trading" Company from 1801-61), while he was posted as the Commissioner of Mysore.
|A palace spoiled - Tipu Sultan's summer residence|
Eventually, drenched and slightly overcome by fatigue and cold, walking along the winding, spiraling pathway flanked on one side by the deep cliff face and on the other by bountiful, gently sloping, grass-shrouded hills, eventually we reached the summit only to realize that the journey wouldn't fruit as desired – the heavy fog ensured that the sun couldn't be spotted till it was nearly 10 am – but, as the saying goes, the journey is as essential as the end, and the trip proved uniquely refreshing and exhilarating. Running around, clicking group photos and sipping hot coffee at the small eateries at the summit, time for us flew quickly; the fog's impenetrability could only be gauged from the fact that I got separated from the group while we were having coffee and I ventured to clean some of it that had spilled on my shirt and then couldn't find them again for over two hours – there is no mobile phone signal, except of BSNL, anywhere beyond the base and hence I had no way to contact my colleagues nor did they – only after walking down four kilometers to the base and making a frantic phone call from there could I locate them and walk back to the summit to regroup! By then the sun was high in sky and the mist had very nearly disappeared – on the way back, I could observe the fortress' bastions built along the hill way which permitted strategic lookout over the entire valley for signs of approaching armies and were equipped with spaces for soldiers to mount guard and shoot. The fortress is said to have been commissioned by local chieftains, whose names have long disappeared from the biased pages of history, and was strengthened by Tipu Sultan.
|Bird's eye view|
With the sun shining bright, also came out numerous monkeys, many of them little suckling babies, others snapping for food and ice creams but almost all of them posing handsomely for the numerous cameras pointed at them by tourists – they were also intelligent enough to remove layers of chocolate from the ice creams and bite only at the vanilla core! Numerous bridal and model photo shoots were also in progress against the mesmerizing background of deep cliffs and remnants of flowing dew-laden mist clouds.
Soon after reuniting, we headed to the beautifully simplistic medieval Hindu shrine, referred to as Yoga Narasimha temple, built immediately next to the summit but ignored by almost all visitors except few devotees aware of its forgotten existence. The concept of twin temples is prevalent in south India where one temple dedicated to the enjoyment ("bhoga") phase of a deity exists at the base of a hill and another dedicated to the meditative ("yoga") phase exists in isolation atop the summit (more on the former later).
|Unshakably solid - The granite entrance to Yoga Narasimha temple complex|
Representing the renunciation form of Lord Shiva and entered via a simplistic gateway supported on mighty granite walls and pillars, the formidable structure of the Yoga Narasimha complex consists of a large central chamber constructed from granite blocks and surmounted by pyramidal spires plastered over and adorned with stucco figurines of mythological deities, Kirtimukha (refer the previous post for description – Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort) and Nandi, the bull steed of Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction to whom these temples are dedicated. Colonnades composed of simplistically carved, rough granite pillars encircle the temple courtyard and function as circumambulation passages around the shrine – occasionally here too one can spot idols embedded within plain whitewashed walls. A small shrine has also been reverentially set aside for the worship of "Nagas", serpent deities usually depicted singularly or entwined around each other and worshiped, especially fervently in south India, for their ability to grant blessings of life and fertility.
|Sunshine yellow! - A relatively simplistic spire surmounting one of the shrines within the temple|
Heading towards the central shrine which is composed of two interconnected chambers and whose exterior granite walls and doorway flanks are also sparingly ornamented respectively with small sculptures of deities and vegetative flourishes, symbolic of prosperity and fertility, emerging from sacred pots. Stepping into the first of the two interconnected shrines, one is for an instance dazzled by the exquisiteness of the sanctum and the idols gracing the chamber – the sanctum, entered via a doorway ensconced within gold framework extremely intricately carved into numerous patterns and designs, houses a single "Shiva linga" (Lord Shiva's phallic representation) enshrined within a silver throne sculpted with more depictions of mythological deities and serpent Gods, while outside, facing the sanctum, sits a sculpture of the bull-demigod Nandi; two brass sculptures of armed deities stand guard on either side of the doorway; several smaller stone sculptures remain strewn around the chamber, especially in the corners, as if they were simply stacked there with the intention of adding further holiness to the already divine chamber by the royals who originally commissioned the temple.
|Ancient elegance - Yoga Narasimha temple sanctum|
The second chamber sends shivers of discovery down a visitor's spine – it literally feels as if one has suddenly stepped into a realm still ensconced in the time when primordial deities reigned the Earth and were worshiped in the form of nature, animals and unique mythical creatures. The dark chamber, lit only by the sunlight seeping through the exit doorway, is supported upon pillars sculpted with panels depicting different forms of prominent Hindu deities like Shiva and his consorts, Vishnu (Hindu God of life and nourishment), Ganesha (the elephant-headed, pot-bellied God of auspiciousness and learning), Nandi and other Goddesses being showered with milk and nectar by elephants – even the lintels surmounted on the pillars are carved with these simplistic, but nonetheless eye catching, sculptures. A stone platform, mounted upon which are more idols of the divine deities, sits flanked between two pillars on one side while facing it on the other side are unique, glossy and oily-looking sculptures, crafted not from stone but perhaps from polished wood, of human figurines, multi-limbed insects, strange creatures like elephant-headed humans, big lizards, crocodiles and what can only be considered dinosaurs (probably Spinosaurs!) – what are these creatures, what worship are they used for, are these village deities or primordial entities?! I still cannot fathom. Following the exit from the shrine and exploring and photographing the colonnades around, it is worthwhile to walk past the mammoth jagged rock face to the wall overlooking the cliff face – it is fun to run uninhibited like a juggernaut across the sloping rocks and then gaze down the deep valley – the area is referred to as "Tipu's Drop" and it is contended that the cruel and atrocious ruler used to have his condemned political and military prisoners thrown to their death from this point. Horrific!
Returning back, we finally did stop at the aforementioned summer residence of Tipu Sultan, a double-storied, rundown, decrepit structure most of whose chambers were locked for visitor entry and whatever remaining is accessible is in such poorly maintained condition that one feels appalled by the conservation authorities' indifference and apathy. A gateway through the palace leads to the other side from where a rock staircase built in the hill face leads to greener valleys and some more ancient temples, but by now we were so terribly exhausted that we decided not to proceed further and head back to the base for lunch. The site at which the palace has been built is said to be associated with Jain saints who performed austerities here – in fact, heavy stone monolith slabs carved with depictions of Jain saints and mythical scenes can still be seen placed on a lengthy platform besides the front face of the palace. Remnants of stucco artwork such as bird figurines and design patterns can also be spotted marking the arched passageway through the palace; on both levels, the balconies are adorned with balustrades composed of multiple ornamental patterns and wide "chajja" (eaves) run underneath them; a huge, deep square tank accessible by flights of stairs on all sides also exists close to the palace. The area was originally referred to as "Anandagiri" ("Pleasure Hill") when the Jains used to meditate here, but the name was modified to "Nandigiri" ("Nandi's Hill") when the Hindu Chola Empire (ruled 300 BC – 1279 AD) incorporated it in their territorial domain and commissioned the fortifications. Tipu Sultan's father Hyder Ali (ruled AD 1761-82), the Commander-in-Chief and Chief Minister of Mysore, captured the impregnable fortress from the Maratha chieftain Peshwa Madhavrao I and Tipu further strengthened the defenses and expanded the area militarily – it eventually fell to Lord Cornwallis of the British East India "Trading" Company who also played a prominent role in defeating Tipu's forces garrisoned at Bangalore Fort (refer Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort). Later the palace was converted to a hill resort by British administrative officers but the structure was allowed to fall in a state of decay and despair subsequently and at present exists in a heart wrenching poor condition. It is hard to imagine that a mighty historic personality like Tipu Sultan could have stayed in a palace this plain, but stay he used to here every time he visited the area for a hunting/travel expedition.
|Miserable existence - Tipu's erstwhile regal residence|
After a quick lunch composed of south Indian cuisine at Nandi village nearby, we headed past massive rock outcrops, majestically wide ravines and sparsely vegetated rocky valleys nestled in the shadows of bare brown hills and pockmarked by deep craters to finally explore two of the ancient temples that exist so close to the renowned tourist site that its popularity dwarfs their sorry existence into a state of uninhibited neglect and unabated ignorance. The rugged hills and the scarred valleys rolling outside the windows proved conducive to a gentle sleep but very soon we were standing outside the first of the two temples – referred to as Sree Kanive Basaveshwara Nandi Swamy temple, the shrine boasts of a massive stone idol of the bull Nandi that is said to have originated on its own ("Swayambhu") in such perfection over a thousand years ago. The temple priest informed us that the sculpture, presently at least 10 feet tall and 15 X 5 feet across, was only a couple of feet tall some 40-50 years back and will perennially continue to grow in its proportions till it comes alive in its enormous majesty on the Judgement Day as foretold by ancient Hindu scriptures! Consequentially, the shrine surrounding the sculpture has to be regularly expanded into an increasingly huge rectangular chamber to accommodate the former's ever-expanding physical existence. Apart from the sculpture along one of its shorter sides, the present shrine, having been recently rebuilt and being given a coat of plaster and paint when we visited, also encloses within itself along one of its longer sides a cluster of three interconnected shrines reverentially dedicated to Lord Shiva and his family .
|In a state of perennial extension - The Nandi statue from Sree Kanive Basaveshwara temple|
Through the gradually narrowing streets of the village, past dried up fields, grape vineyards and boulder clusters comprising entire hills, we traveled, stopping every few minutes for directions since it proved unimaginably difficult to accept that such a small village uniformly composed of box-like houses and rows of haberdasher shops could house a temple so magnificent that everyone, at least in the village, talked of its existence in such glorious terms. And a magnificent gem did the historic, rock-hewed Bhoga Nandeeshwara Uma Maheshwara temple, reverentially dedicated (as the aforementioned twin of the Yoga Narasimha temple) to Lord Shiva and housed within a massive complex enclosed by rows of colonnades and possessing towering ancient trees, prove to be! Locally referred to as "Ishwar mandir" and said to have been commissioned somewhere around early 9th century AD by Queen Ratnavali who belonged to the ancient and long forgotten Bana Dynasty that reigned over these areas and claimed ascent from mighty demon lords, the exemplar temple, presently a national heritage site and a splendid epitome of Dravidian religious architecture, was subsequently expanded and improved upon by four successive dynasties – Cholas (reign 300 BC – 1279 AD), Hoysalas (reign AD 1026-1355), Pallavas (reign 3rd-9th century AD) and Vijaynagara Empire (reign AD 1336-1646) – who remained devoted to its protection, maintenance and glorification.
|Composite of three individual temples and yet architecturally and artistically uniform! - The central shrine within the Bhoga Nandeeshwara complex|
The majestic temple complex, accessed via a small gate built into a rundown boundary wall, is such a striking architectural marvel that one is immediately overawed by the sheer magnitude of the artistic and sculptural prowess of the artists who painstakingly toiled through its construction and the ambitious desires of the emperors who expanded and multiplied several times its grandeur. As marvelous as the complex itself, a colossal wooden chariot, indescribably richly detailed with carvings of mythological figures, stands adjacent to a royal congregation hall near the entrance. Though the fine complex, said to be the oldest temple complex in entire Karnataka, is distinctly divided into four major structures, the centerpiece comprises a very prominent rectangular superstructure shrine that is actually a composite of three nearly identical temples dedicated to Arunachaleshwar, Uma Maheshwar and Bhoga Nandeeshwara – three forms of Lord Shiva, respectively representing his youth, marriage and renunciation. The huge temple is exceedingly exquisitely ornamented with monolithic stone pillars that are adorned with sculptures of divine deities and mythological entities and demarcate the grids of passages that comprise the temple and eventually culminate into the massive structure that the shrine is; in front of each of the two side shrines sits a majestic granite sculpture of Nandi surrounded by smaller similar sculptures and enclosed by cylindrical pillars that add just a touch of irregularity to the otherwise symmetrical and uniformly laid grid of rectangular pillars. The magnificently conceived, superbly executed and intricately sculpted pillars and design patterns force one to observe and photograph each and every artwork individually – it is impossibly hard to tear one away from these and head to the shrines.
|Stone sentinels - Rows of colonnades encompassing the temple structure|
The central shrine revering Uma Maheshwar form of the Lord has a black-faced, gold-plated composite idol depicting Lord Shiva (Maheshwar) and his consort Parvati (otherwise referred to as Uma) springing from the same lower body which is exceptionally unique since generally Parvati is depicted either sitting next to Lord Shiva or on his left lap, only in some cases is she represented as merging with Shiva and possessing a lateral half of one body ("Ardhanareshwar"), very rare is the representation of the two as Siamese twins. But prior to seeing this unique sculpture that is silhouetted by a five-headed, hooded serpent, one passes through a small square where an ancient canopied square pedestal ("Kalyana mandapa") exists – composed of black granite, the pavilion, erected by Vijaynagara Dynasty emperors (ruled AD 1336-1646), possesses four stunning pillars mindnumbingly intricately carved with patterns and human forms and representing a divine couple each (Brahma-Saraswati (the God of creation and the Goddess of ancient knowledge and learning), Vishnu-Lakshmi (the God of nourishment and the Goddess of prosperity), Shiva-Parvati and Agni-Swahini (the God and Goddess of fire)) – the entire structure thus culminates in a representative witness of Shiva-Parvati's wedding. The walls enclosing the shrine and the mandapa too are adorned with such a wide array of sacred sculptures and carved patterns that one miserably fails to even photograph these divine artworks in their ethereal grace and feels terribly ashamed upon comparison with the ancient sculptors and craftsmen who were such superior artists.
|Singularly unique - The depiction of Uma Maheshwara in the central shrine|
The sanctum within the Arunachaleshwar temple houses a rather thick "Shivalinga" (Shiva's phallic symbol) and outside it sits a two-feet tall strangely terrible sculpture of Ganesha referred to as "Simha Ganpati". The Bhoga Nandeeshwara temple, said to have been constructed during the last days of the reign of Chola Dynasty (ruled 300 BC – 1279 AD), on the other hand, boasts of relatively simplistic pillar designs but is endowed with several statues gracing its sanctum including one that is believed to be that of Emperor Parakesari Rajendra Chola I (ruled AD 1012-44). The pillars display rectangular panels embossed with mythological and historic scenes, graceful dancers and fierce sages depicted as existing within the flourishes originating from the diabolically bestial face of a divine Kirtimukha, but as a whole the chamber is exceedingly plain compared to the other two. It is fascinating to note that while the three individualized temples and their constituent shrines were built in different eons – commissioned by the Banas and expanded by the Cholas prior to further modification and ornamentation by the Vijaynagara kings and the Hoysalas – they culminate in a majestic structure externally exceedingly uniform and seamlessly composed.
|Simplistic and yet architecturally opulent - Bhoga Nandeeshwara shrine|
Stepping outside the shrine and walking around the courtyard, which is itself enclosed by strikingly symmetrical colonnades that allow circumambulation of the deities and also possesses a few sacred pillars ("stambha") erected immediately opposite the entrances of the shrines, one notices that while most of the exterior pillars of the Bhoga Nandeeshwara shrine are simplistic rectangular in nature with very minimal design pattern work, some of them, especially the ones next to the entrances, are elegantly sculpted to represent divine figures bareback riding mythological figures known as "Yali" which are part-lion, part-elephant beings possessing the body and head of a lion and the tusks and trunk of an elephant and are themselves mounted upon another mythological being known as "Makara" which possess the face and tusks of an elephant, the body and tail of a fish and the feet of a lion. The colonnaded passages, with their interplay of light and shadows, provide excellent visual compositions for photographic purposes.
|More colonnades, this time surrounding the central shrine (right)|
Along its back side, the rectangular shrine boasts of an inconceivably brilliantly detailed pyramidal tower ("Gopuram") adjacent both its corners that feature such an eye-opening display of mythological creatures, powerful deities and intricate pattern work that one is left spellbound and wordless – the unparalleled designs and exemplar figures are mesmerizing to such an extent that one is hard put to describe the majestic scene in words and that the same have survived over a millennium is unsung testimony to the exceptional skill of the accomplished artists who gave form to these. Slightly offset from the temple courtyard's entrance and built in continuation with the colonnaded passages is a smaller square shrine dedicated to the Goddess who is revered as a gold-ensconced idol. Very elegantly adorned with murals and sculptures depicting several other deities and mythological scenes, the hallowed shrine is the site for devout veneration by numerous visitors who visit it with their entire families and offer passionate prayers for fulfillment of deep-seated wishes and dreams. Possessing some of the most beautifully carved sculptures of Naga/snake deities endearingly drenched with brilliant red vermillion and hibiscus blossoms, another smaller shrine dedicated to the worship of the former exists close to the small square shrine and is flanked by the numerous "Stambha" pillars that are minimally ornamented with embossments of Nandi and geometrical patterns.
|Sculpted divinity - Snake deities|
Accessed via a towered gateway built within the colonnaded passageway that separates it from the central shrine, the third major structure within the entire complex happens to be an eye-openingly intricately adorned square pavilion "Kalyana Mandapa" that is itself surrounded by a wide courtyard and possesses two rows of sculptural-detailed pillars running along each of its sides supporting the unique slightly sloping roof. Serving the functional purpose of a sacred marriage hall, the pavilion, constructed by the Hoysala monarchs (reign AD 1026-1355), is so notably beautiful that it is to be seen to be believed! The fog of mythology engulfing the temple in its currents is most prominent around this pavilion and its numerous pillars comprising the exterior row depict the legendary Yali and Makara figures in their complete majestic glory. The charm of the entire structure is further magnified by the presence, around the courtyard, of colonnaded passageways the roofs of which are surmounted along one side by crumbling decaying pyramidal towers boasting of blackened, disfigured and nearly ruined, but nonetheless gloriously bewitching, statues of deities and mythical creatures.
|Architecturally unparalleled - The mesmerizing "Kalyana Mandapa"|
Commissioned by the Vijaynagara Emperors (reign AD 1336-1646), the last of the prominent structures within the complex is a massive in-house water tank ("Kalyani") that is accessible on each side by rock-cut steps descending to the water level – referred to as "Shringi Teertha", "Shringa" being "horns" and "Teertha" translating to "site of pilgrimage", it is said to have originated when the bull deity Nandi dug its horns in the ground. The tank is assumed to be the source of Dakshina Pinakini river – the river's nomenclature ("Pinakini" translates to "bow-shaped") too is said to have been inspired by Lord Shiva who is considered to be the almighty wielder of "Pinaki" ("the mighty bow"). Another legend is that the site served as the abode of a renowned mendicant sage named Shringi who used to meditate here. The colonnades around the tank are symmetrically surmounted by numerous stepped pyramidal towers of which the ones in the corners and the centers of each side are considerably larger than the rest. The alcoves within these towers still possess inimitable embossments of several deities but most of these sculptures have been rendered decapitated and mutilated – possibly as a consequence of the subsequent Islamic reign over the area following the decline of the architecturally and sculpturally glorious Hindu reign. Hundreds of thousands of earthen oil lamps are lit on the steps around the tank on all the major Hindu festivals like Shivaratri, Pongal and Diwali.
|Grace and symmetry|
Retracing one's steps back, one cannot help once again admiring the various structures within the complex and their numerous design pattern works and sculpted figurines. These ancient temples have stood here as sentinels watching the blue mist-laden hilltops and green barren fields since time immemorial. They now appear ruined and damaged beyond recognition, ignored and neglected by conservation authorities and heritage enthusiasts and relegated to a decrepit condition that defies comprehension and the spirit of monumental conservation and heritage pride. And yet, seated in the heart of hilly valleys and barren lands, they culminate into droplets of magnificent grandeur emanating from ancient architectural and artistic expertise combined with deep-seated devotion and religious patronage, prompting ever-continuously the fire in one's belly to travel throughout the countryside and visit as many monuments as one can!
|The two "Gopurams" - Photo best viewed zoomed to observe the fine sculptures adorning the surfaces|
Location: Nandi village, Chikkaballapur, 60 km from Bangalore
How to reach: One can book a Traveler/taxi from Bangalore to Nandi Hills. The charges for 14 and 8-seater Travelers are around Rs 4000 and 3000 respectively, plus the additional kilometer and hour plan charges.
Photography/video charges: Nil (for both the hill area and the twin temples)
Regarding Nandi Hills:
Entrance fees: Rs 20/person
Parking fees: Rs 370
Time required for sightseeing: 4 hrs
Facilities available: Snacks, coffee, cigarettes and drinking water are available at several small outlets near the summit of the hill and along the village roads leading to the hill base. Washrooms (very horribly maintained) can be accessed at the base on payment of Rs 5. Near the summit is a large restaurant managed by the Karnataka Horticulture Department – we found it to be too expensive for our simpler tastes and did not eat there, hence cannot comment on the quality
Regarding Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple:
Location coordinates: 13°23'12.3"N 77°41'54.8"E
Timings: 6 am - 9 pm
Entrance/parking fees: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 1-1.5 hrs
Other attractions in the vicinity: Devanahalli fortress, established in AD 1501 by Mallabaire Gowda, who belonged to the same family as Hiriya Kempe Gowda, the founder of Bangalore (refer Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort), is located close to Yelahanka air base on the road connecting Bangalore to Nandi Hills.
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