28 August 2015

Hauz Khas Trail, Delhi


“The city of Delhi, built hundreds of years ago, fought for, died for, coveted and desired, built, destroyed and rebuilt, for five and six and seven times, mourned and sung, raped and conquered, yet whole and alive.. Yet the city stands still intact, as do many more forts and tombs, and monuments, remnants and reminders of old Delhis, holding on to life with a tenacity and purpose which is beyond comprehension and belief.”
– Ahmed Ali, “Twilight in Delhi”


Delhi's secret treasures


In the heart of one of the city's most posh localities, presently abounding with upscale fashion boutiques, glittering designer showrooms, expensive restaurants and resplendent souvenir and antiques outlets, lie the remains of Hauz Khas, a regally-patronized, breathtakingly beautifully constructed medieval Islamic seminary (“madrasa”) which – in its original outstanding splendor as a colossal L-shaped construction thoroughly ornamented with numerous colonnades, a profusion of domes and highly-detailed filigreed stone latticework screens, richly plastered over with myriads of delicate stucco patterns and embossed calligraphy inscriptions, and warmly painted in reds, oranges and gold to reflect a beautiful shimmering image in the purple-green waters of the colossal, deep tank that exists besides its enormous presence – is unquestionably acknowledged to be the remarkable zenith of Tughlaq-era (AD 1320-1414) cultural and civilizational heritage that today survives in the form of magnificent massive ruins and beautifully illustrated royal histories and travel accounts. The esteemed seminary, christened “Madrasa-i-Feroze Shahi”, after Emperor Feroz Shah Tughlaq (reign AD 1351-88) who conceived and commissioned it, is said to have been regarded as an unparalleled center for education and learning especially of arts, calligraphy, algebra, mathematics, history, philosophy and Islamic jurisprudence (refer Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas complex). Scattered around and overshadowed by it are numerous minor, historically insignificant and architecturally inconsequential, but visually fascinating edifices.


Geometry and flourishes - Poti ka Gumbad


Discounting the outstanding Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad and the downtrodden, curmudgeon Kali Gumti and Tohfewala Gumbad in the vast, thoroughly forested Deer Park adjacent which I have already documented in articles on this blog (refer Pixelated Memories - Deer Park), here we shall traverse around the Hauz Khas Village (HKV) proper where, overshadowed by massive trees possessing immense canopies composed of thick gnarled branches, abound several smaller monuments camouflaged as street furniture in the midst of tiny plots of beautifully maintained, manicured lawns carpeted with thick tufts of vibrant green grass and plentiful rows of flowering shrubbery. The history of the commissioning and construction of most of these monuments has not been documented in contemporaneous literary accounts, nor, in the case of the mausoleums, is anything known about the identity or the life and times of the personality interred within.


Another Delhi


Most of these structures and the minuscule garden plots enclosing them have been recently spruced up keeping in line with the beautification drive that visually and aesthetically glorified most of the city on the occasion of the 19th Commonwealth Games (CWG XIX 2010) and consequentially several of these monuments are lit up with incandescent orange and blue lights even during night time and make for interesting photography and evening stroll avenues. Also, granted that HKV is regarded as one of the most posh localities in all of Delhi, the monuments here and the small lawns surrounding them are markedly free of encroachments and conspicuously well-preserved and well-maintained by the archaeological and horticultural authorities respectively. Sadly however, while BMWs, Jaguars and Mercedes zip past here at almost all times of the day, seldom do the passer-bys bother to stop or even grace a second glance to these magnificent structures.

Closest to the Hauz Khas group of monuments is a cluster of three mausoleums – Choti Gumti (“Small Domed Building”), Sakri Gumti (“Narrow Domed Building”) and Barakhamba (“Twelve-pillared Domed Building”) – the first two separated from each other by a wide road that traverses the different localities of Hauz Khas and the last separated from both the others by another wide road that connects HKV to the arterial, perennially crowded Aurobindo Marg in the near distance.

Choti Gumti –


Adorably dwarfish - Choti Gumti


Coordinates: 28°33'12.3"N 77°12'04.8"E
Choti Gumti is a typical perfectly-proportioned Lodi-era (AD 1451-1526) mausoleum that reflects pretty gracefulness despite its diminutive magnitude. The cubical mausoleum noticeably employs small decorative alcoves in cohesion with the numerous pointed arches of the facades on all sides and is surmounted by a proportionate semicircular dome which is itself crowned with a blossoming lotus finial. The noteworthy use of “kangura” patterns (battlement-like ornamentation) and traces of small budding minarets protruding from the corners of the octagonal drum (base) of the dome and the embossed rectangular facades on each of the sides adds a certain flamboyant flair to the otherwise subdued architecture. A solitary grave slightly offset against the side of the raised ornamental courtyard that surrounds the monument crumbles to dust against the relentless assault of the elements while the dark and forgotten interiors, which possess three more sarcophagi, have been miserably transformed into a store room for housing lawnmowers and broomsticks and those information panels which never got around to be affixed against the mausoleum compound’s entrance. Seldom do visitors venture in this forgotten patch of beautified green paradise, but when they do intermittently it is merely to escape the scorching heat of the summer sun or to cuddle into the arms of a beloved and never to observe and appreciate the architecture and the gentle outline of the gorgeous monument. Sigh!

Sakri Gumti –


Enigmatic - Sakri Gumti


Coordinates: 28°33'11.6"N 77°12'06.7"E
The triple-storied, extremely narrow Sakri Gumti opposite is a remarkable edifice. It is not known what purpose did this building serve – it is too congested and unusually designed to function as a mausoleum, moreover there is no trace of a grave inside. Conjecture is that it originally was a gateway for a garden complex housing at its centerpiece one of the nearby mausoleums – but then again, all its four faces possess an entrance arch and if it ever was a gateway, it certainly was a unique one! What is even more compelling is the presence of a small extension of rubble wall that runs adjacent one of its sides – originally, the wall must have entirely blocked one of its entrances – why then was it constructed this way is anyone’s guess. Externally, through the appendage of ornamental arches and windows the structure has been afforded the semblance of a double-storied building. The short dome rests on a relatively high drum delineated by a row of kanguras identical to the ones that demarcate the roof’s vertical expanse. The only other decorations exist in the form of rudimentary, roughly carved patterns sparsely embossed on a few of the stones that compose its exterior surface and small adornment arched niches and squinches (diagonal added between two arms of a corner so as to span space and convert a square structure successively into an octagon and then a polygon/circle to support the heavy dome) along the confined interiors.


Crowning glory



Barakhamba –

Coordinates: 28°33'10.0"N 77°12'08.1"E
In architectural lexicon “Barakhamba” translates to “Twelve-pillared Domed Building”, however the extremely massive Lodi-era structure present here is an innovative advancement over the simplistic twelve-pillared constructions – the enormous domed square is supported upon pillars of different girths such that the corner protrusions spontaneously take the form of significantly solid buttressed walls. The three arched entrances located along the center of each face are embedded within a wide arched depression that justifiably reflects the colossal nature of the monument under consideration. The entire structure rests upon a high, gently sloping artificial hill and is surrounded by numerous graves and two rare constructions – a singular worn bastion that totally appears out of place here in the absence of any connecting walls and a curious square projection inset with a small alcove (which might have been once used to house an earthen oil lamp) facing the monument.


Considerably thick - Barakhamba


The hemmed-in area around the monument, despondently enclosed by high iron grilles and flanked along one side by the perpetually crowded road, is hidden from passer-bys and pedestrians alike by a nearly impenetrable veil of flourishing vegetation and perhaps that explains why it is not as tenderly maintained as the small patches that frame the other monuments nearby – thus the grass-shrouded lawns are bordered by unruly hedges and punctuated by sporadic outbursts of brightly colorful weeds, thereby suggesting an aura of uncontrollable wilderness benevolently shaded by massive trees that weigh down upon it from every conceivable direction. And in the enclosed space thus isolated abound peacocks with brilliant violet plumage who frolic around and often sweep down from trees to generously pose for the occasional photographer who treads this way.

Dadi-Poti ka Gumbad –


Brown beauty - Dadi ka Gumbad


Coordinates: 28°33'11.8"N 77°12'13.2"E
At the very intersection of Aurobindo Marg and HKV Road (couple of hundred meters from the previous cluster of mausoleums) exists another enclosed landscaped garden, studded with well-maintained hedges and lines of ornamental lampposts, hiding in its beautiful bosom two of the most striking and exceedingly well-preserved mausoleums of unknown identity that the city possesses – referred to as the mausoleums of “Dadi-Poti” (Grandmother-Granddaughter) or “Bibi-Bandi” (Mistress-Hand servant) following later date nomenclature originating from the difference in their spatial dimensions, they rest adjacent each other on contiguous artificial grass-enshrouded hills. The larger mausoleum, “Dadi ka Gumbad” dated to the reign of the Lodi Dynasty (AD 1451-1526), is a massive triple-storied edifice possessing as its distinguishing features exquisitely crafted medallions adorning its interiors and tapering fluted pillars flanking the rectangular embossed facades on each of the sides along its exteriors. The smaller mausoleum, “Poti ka Gumbad” dated to the earlier reign of the Tughlaq Dynasty (AD 1320-1414), boasts of an unfamiliar domed kiosk surmounting its towering dome and displays a splendidly outstanding profusion of intricate geometric and floral plasterwork patterns along one of its sides.


Unusually surmounted - Poti ka Gumbad


It is conjectured that both the mausoleums were primarily constructed for the internment of female benefactors who possibly belonged to nobility – however, the first tomb houses six graves and the second houses three and there is no way of ascertaining whether the personages buried underneath are feminine or masculine since all the graves have been restored and re-plastered over thereby eradicating any identifications/inscriptions that were originally engraved on them.

Chor Minar and Kharera Wall ruins –

Coordinates: 28°32'51.7"N 77°12'20.3"E and 28°33'07.1"N 77°12'18.2"E respectively
In the midst of residential quarters and bungalows on the other side of the village, past the enclosing walls of the medieval village Kharera which are the last of their kind since most of the fortifications and periphery walls that surrounded such villages and settlements were demolished at the obnoxiously avaricious altar of burgeoning urbanization and relentless commercialization, encircled by a small square garden lined with pomegranate and khejdi (Prosopis cineraria) trees, sits the city’s most macabre, supposedly haunted, monument – “Chor Minar” or “Tower of Thieves” is a tapering cylindrical edifice arising from a high rubble platform and possessing along its surface 225 holes through which once protruded sharp spears used to pierce and display the decapitated heads of thieves and other criminal offenders. Said to have been commissioned and employed by the fierce Sultan Alauddin Khilji (reign AD 1296-1316), the structure would have once lain along the peripheries of the 13th-14th century settlement “Tarapur” (“City of Joy”) and thus served to remind the inhabitants and caravan travelers entering the city of the Sultan’s preferred mode of delivering justice.


A monument to the morbid - Chor Minar



It is also conjectured that in order to prevent them from joining their brethren from central Asia in mounting a full-fledged invasion on the citadel, the Sultan here displayed the heads of brutally massacred Mongol citizens (“New Muslims”) who had adopted the city as their home and converted to Islam. Of course, the relentless Mongols did nonetheless attack Delhi in the hope of plunder and pillage only to be contemptibly defeated and rightly butchered – the Sultan raised his new fortress Siri on a purportedly auspicious foundation of their severed heads (refer Pixelated Memories - Siri Fort ruins). It is said that when the number of beheadings exceeded the count of holes, for instance during times of war or increased cases of crime in the domain, the Sultan would decree that only the heads of the more notable of criminals be displayed on the tower and the rest be stacked near it like a gruesome blood-dripping, soul-curdling pyramid! Sadly though, today very few of the city’s inhabitants know the place’s gory history and even fewer venture to visit it. Unconversant with the morbid tales that hang around the air here, locals use the small, well-shaded garden for evening strolls and gardeners and laborers employed around doze off in the corners during scorching summer days. Instead of the decapitated heads grinning their lopsided, post-death grins, pigeons and crows peep through the numerous holes and squirrels cavort around its large platform.

Thus comes to end a midsummer day’s exploration of death and macabre in the heart of one of Delhi’s most expensive and colorful locations. Hauz Khas does have several additional monuments and ruins to offer as well, several of them deserving individualistic articles for themselves on account of their exemplar detailed artworks or architectural features – fodder for future posts!


Fitted seamlessly - Kharera village fortifications and an air conditioning unit


Nearest Bus stop: Hauz Khas on Aurobindo Marg
Nearest Metro Station: Green Park (900 meters away)
How to reach: Walk from the metro station/bus stop - Dadi-Poti ka Gumbad exist on the very intersection of  Aurobindo Marg (on which the bus stop and metro station are located) and HKV Road leading to the restaurants, gastropubs and larger monuments of Hauz Khas. The rest of the monuments are located along HKV Road on a straight line from Dadi-Poti ka Gumbad. Chor Minar and Kharera fortifications are located on the other side of Aurobindo Marg and one can ask locals for directions to them - Chor Minar is a fairly famous park/traffic turnaround.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 20-30 min per monument
Suggested reading -
Other monuments located in the vicinity - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad (Deer Park)
  2. Pixelated Memories - Deer Park
  3. Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas complex
  4. Pixelated Memories - Kali Gumti (Deer Park)
  5. Pixelated Memories - Nili/Neeli Masjid
  6. Pixelated Memories - Tohfewala Gumbad (Deer Park)
Other trails in the city - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Lodi Road - Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium Trail
  2. Pixelated Memories - R.K. Puram Trail
  3. Pixelated Memories - South Ex. Trail

21 August 2015

Sri Pataleshwara Temple, Belur, Karnataka


“Travel makes a wise man better, and a fool worse.”
– Thomas Fuller, 17th-century British writer-historian

In the shadow of the massive, ethereally magnificent Sri Chennakesava temple complex in the beautifully idyllic township of Belur sits an irredeemably forgotten, incorrigibly damaged and irreversibly mutated shrine transformed irrevocably into a melange of brilliant new and tarnished old that does little justice to the ruined remnants of its original unparalleled medieval ornamentation and spatial structure. This is the diminutive, squat temple dedicated to the "Pataleshwara" aspect (“Lord of the Netherworld”) of Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction – barely heralded by a whitewashed traffic square indicating its presence and a sum total of zero presence on the internet, the small square shrine visually appears to be a beautiful exemplar of the unsurpassed architecture conceived and commissioned by the Hoysala Dynasty and displays similar remarkable architectural and artistic features including an overspilling profusion of dexterously carved, highly ornamented sculptures, a spatially stellar geometric structure and a dense abundance of mythological and mythical entities, deities and anthropomorphic creatures. It is however not documented when the temple was constructed or who financed it.


Sri Pataleswara Temple - A confusing assortment of medieval ruins and modern fixtures


The sculptures are skillfully carved, the hallowed canopies surmounting them and the scrollwork bands of floral foliage that surround them are delicately detailed and the miniaturization of the features, be it the jeweled ornamentation of the divine draperies or the smaller figurines of inconsequential musician-dancers and celestial followers, is in itself unearthly. Yet the figurines and the temple’s numerous features visually portray an eventful, malicious past which entailed irretrievable injury and mutilation to them at the hands of brutally iconoclast Muslim armies originating either from the mighty, territorially supreme Delhi Sultanate (ruled AD 1192-1526) or the southern sovereign Bahamani Sultanate (ruled Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, AD 1347-1527). The shrine appears to have been irreversibly wrecked and what presently exists in its place is a framework of glistening white marble supporting in its midst the devastated remains of the original hallowed entity. There still exist, albeit surrounded and flanked by a redeeming skeleton of flawless white marble that does not even structurally adhere to the unusual configuration of the original graceful temple, the artistically superior doorjambs vividly blossoming into an intricately convoluted sculptural rococo depicting Lord Shiva dancing ecstatically to the tune of the celestial musicians flanking him amidst an eye-opening visual composition of sophisticated floral scrollwork and wave flourishes bearing as their apex the vicious jaws of a “Kirtimukha” (the ferociously wide fanged, lion-like face of an all-consuming demon conceived and originated out of thin air by Lord Shiva to destroy other, mightier demons) and eventually culminating in an elephantine mythical “Makara” on either side of the lintel whose skin and tail too transform into a sophisticated embellishment of foliage and elaborate artwork.


Poetry in stone (V3.0)


Embossed upon layers of elaborate foliage and geometric patterns once more culminating into fierce Kirtimukhas and horrendous skulls, are spellbinding realistic and artistically evocative sculptures of celestial guards and yak tail-bearers possessing tridents and drums wrapped with layers upon layers of serpentine foliage, draped with extremely fine jewelry and headgear that one would have been hard pressed to even be able to carve in soap and yet those tremendously skilled sculptors of yore crafted in stone. Lastly, there exists an array of divine figurines, predominantly Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu (the Hindu God of life and nourishment) and their varied incarnations and aspects, most prominent among them once more being “Gajasurasamhara”/“Gajacharmambaradhari”, that portrays a sixteen-armed combative depiction of Lord Shiva wielding numerous weapons of death and devastation while dancing blissfully upon the decapitated head of the slain elephant-demon Gajasura whose flayed hide he triumphantly raises and brandishes as an enormous cloak while his family and followers gaze wide-eyed terrified and deferential. Opposite the shrine sits a brand new black granite statue of the bull Nandi, the mount of Lord Shiva and a patron of spirituality and religious dedication, reflecting the occasional explosive bursts of sunlight that escape the impenetrable veil of dark purple-black clouds traversing the atmosphere overhead. The shrine itself is surmounted by a large glittering glimmering marble statue of Lord Shiva and a layered, domed roof that would have been tremendously hard-pressed to prove its similarity to the immensely long pyramidal spires that crowned the Hoysala shrines.


"Gajasurasamhara" - The ecstasy of a triumphant God (V3.0)


While one notices the mutilation of limbs and the destruction of facial features and animal figurines undertaken by the Muslim armies, one also cannot fail to notice that the shrine has been converted to a translucent parody of itself, displaying prominently its original ornamentation and yet effectively failing to be evocative or resplendent in its present tastelessly ostentatious appearance – couldn’t it have been better preserved for what it was? Wouldn’t those sculptures and carved arrays have appeared several times more mesmerizing and visually appealing without the gaudy application of tons of unmatched marble that merely succeeds in bringing its despoliation and embarrassment to the surface instead of compensating it structurally or spiritually? Couldn't the ruins have been preserved as they were? One wonders if a centuries old shrine can be transformed thus right under the nose of one of the most enthralling temple complexes in the subcontinent, a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site, then what about the unexplored, undocumented and nameless millions of medieval shrines and architectural/artistic paradigms scattered throughout the vast country?


Glitter!


Location: About 500 meters from Belur Bus stop, Hassan district (Coordinates: 13°09'46.3"N 75°51'49.6"E) 
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
How to reach: Hassan is accessible from different parts of Karnataka by regular KSRTC bus and Indian Railways train services. It is approximately 180 kilometers or five hours away by road from Bangalore. From Hassan, Belur is located about 42 kilometers or roughly one hour away by bus at the end of a journey that does take one on certain thoroughly pockmarked stretches of road winding through hill-flanked barren plains and fields. Regular buses ply between Hassan and Belur throughout the day.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Remarks – Footwear is not allowed inside the temple complex and can be left outside the courtyard.
Another temple located in Belur - Pixelated Memories - Sri Chennakesava Temple complex, Belur
Another temple located in Hassan district -Pixelated Memories - Hoysaleswara Temple complex, Halebidu

18 August 2015

Qasr-i-Hazar Sutan and Bijay Mandal, Delhi


“Few maps of modern Delhi bother to mark Begampur. It lies engulfed amid the new colonies that have recently sprung up along the way to Mehrauli, a small enclave of mud-walled, flat-roofed village life besieged by a ring of high-rise apartments. The smart metalled road which links the new colonies in Aurobindo Marg gives out a few hundred feet before you got to the village. Bouncing along the rubble track, you arrive in the midst of a dust storm of your own creation.”
– William Dalrymple, “The City of Djinns”

Sultan Alauddin Khilji (reign AD 1296-1316) was one of the most formidable Emperors of the city of Delhi – an ambitious ruler, fierce general, ruthless administrator, efficient dispenser of justice, master of diplomacy and a pronounced agnostic with a taste for fine sculptural arts and captivating architecture – his mighty armies stemmed the flow of Central Asian Mongol invader-plunderers and themselves ravaged the entire Indian subcontinent from Bengal in east and Gujarat in west to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in the south. He vigorously consolidated the mighty empire by violently crushing rebellions from nobles and smaller kingdoms throughout his vast territories, strengthened the frontiers by having constructed fearsome garrisons and military centers and eradicated robbery and criminal activities by having his subjects disdainfully beheaded for even the minutest of transgressions. The Emperors who chronologically followed him throughout the medieval history of the subcontinent strived to emulate his glorious example of administration and display of the untrammeled might of the state – and architecture, imposing and bewildering, was to be one of the most often employed means to portray the same.


Forgotten glory? - Jahanpanah - "The Refuge of the World"


The Tughlaq Sultans Muhammad Juna Khan (reign AD 1325-51) and Feroz Shah ibn Rajab (reign AD 1351-88), individually perennially endeavoring for posterity throughout their long eventful lives, decided to attempt something architecturally similar to Alauddin – so while the latter had his enormous community water tank “Hauz-i-Alai” restored and expanded into a massive, ethereally beautiful madrasa complex (Islamic seminary) that would over the years become a leading center for the study of Islamic jurisprudence, languages, mathematics, algebra and calligraphy (refer Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas complex), the former was even more vigorous in his undertakings – in AD 1326-27, instead of overtaking and retrofitting Alauddin’s long-abandoned fortress citadel and acknowledging it as his own, he commissioned an enormous fortification – the fourth medieval city of Delhi – that would engulf within its own being Alauddin’s capital Siri as well as several other preceding cities. The new mammoth capital, determinedly christened “Jahanpanah” (“Refuge of the World”), possessed as its centerpiece an immensely grand, thousand-pillared wooden palace that was to outrival Alauddin’s architecturally similar residence and was also to be referred to by identical nomenclature as “Qasr-i-Hazar Sutan” ("Thousand-pillared fortress"). Jahanpanah has since been obliterated off the face of Delhi, disintegrated by the vagaries of time and nature – an eventuality that it shared with Siri, the elliptical enormity that it attempted to emulate and surpass – the magnificent wooden palace has long crumbled to dust, the imposing audience halls Diwan-i-Khas and Diwan-i-Aam have disappeared in their entirety and only a couple of the more colossal of the Sultan’s edifices remain, ruined and collapsing, marooned in several of the city’s urban villages and posh colonies as run-down fortified mosques and remnants of palaces and fortresses (even a huge medieval water reservoir in one case! Refer Pixelated Memories - Satpula) – the terminology “Jahanpanah” however lives on as one of the city’s better preserved and protected forests near Jamia Hamdard College. British travel writer Jan Morris could have been summing up Jahanpanah’s present existence when she sharply described Delhi thus –

“Tombs of Emperors stand beside traffic junctions, forgotten fortresses command suburbs, the titles of lost dynasties are woven into the vernacular, if only as street names."


Fall from grace - Sultan Muhammad's personal palace


The remains of Qasr-i-Hazar Sutan can be spotted in the village of Begumpur best accessible from the nearby located Hauz Khas metro station – across the road immediately opposite gate 2 of the station, walk a couple of hundred meters down the unpaved dirt path leading into the village proper and the ruined, foliage-reclaimed walls of the palace appear in all their splendor on the right – mere skeletons of their original glory, the carcasses of the edifices rise through grass and weeds that have grown well past higher than me in certain places and pierce the village’s ragged colorful skyline in a protrusion of sheer rubble masonry and fortification redundant of all forms of artistic ornamentation and sculptural art. One can literally feel the trademark Tughlaq disdain for bewitching ornamentation and graceful plasterwork. The deep red rubble buildings, emerging from the vast patch of dry grass and foliage that twirls and unfurls with every undulation in wind, are redolent of ignorance and desolation and a ruinous, long forgotten existence that steadfastly refuses to be snuffed out. Mongooses quickly scurry around and with alarming frequency buzz tiny insects and mosquitoes probably breeding in the murky puddles around the corners where locals dump their everyday domestic waste and excreta. Several of the dry weeds rattle incoherently and hoarsely against the onslaught of the aggressive wind, prompting one to wonder whether there might be rattle snakes (or just about any kind of snakes) here.


Obliterated lavishness and destroyed grandeur


As the wind liberally drifts around, time seems to have slowed down to a near halt in this little patch of wilderness in the heart of the city. An uninterrupted hush surrounds the ruins, disturbed only occasionally by the movement of several fat, odorous cows grazing on the dry grass and the crash of another polythene bag, stuffed with vegetable wastes, plastic wrappers and in numerous cases, glass bulbs, flung across the high grilles into this ignored wilderness by the residents of the nearby box-like, equally ruined and creaky residential quarters. The heat made matters worse – Delhi's sweltering weather anyway makes one toss and turn and debate whether lying still is hotter or moving about, it worsens the tempers and makes one launch into acts of aggression on the slightest of pretexts – the dogs in this miniature “Heart of Darkness” were faced with a similar dilemma of having to decide whether to continue pretending to snooze or take turns barking and chasing me or the cows around – the cows, of course, were not be perturbed while they munched in utter abandoned tranquility, so the dogs went back to pretending to have dozed off while occasionally cocking a wary eye at me, the foolish stranger with the camera hopping around the crashed stones and devastated walls.


Glimpses of color!


Qasr-i-Hazar Sutan happens to be the city’s most perplexing monument – while it is known that it originally functioned as the idiosyncratic Sultan’s residential palace and was originally surrounded by numerous fortified gateways, beautiful audience halls and vast tree-lined gardens, historians and architectural scholars today have a hard time explaining the set of disjointed, confusing ruins that survive as the Sultan’s stronghold. The first structure visible even from a distance is the “Bijay Mandal” (“Pavilion of Triumph”), a tapering octagonal protrusion that projects from the palace’s roof and has been invariably conjectured as a military watchtower, the Sultan’s penthouse apartment, an abnormally designed defensive bastion at the junction of fortification walls and even a relic from Alauddin’s original, vertically dominant palace complex. Stepping through the mere iron gateway that now defines Qasr-i-Hazar Sutan’s peripheries, one is struck by the unrelenting onslaught of wilderness and weeds that even shroud the larger buildings and unbelievably even appear to be thriving on stone faces. Whitewashed and heralded by a few furiously fluttering green flags, in the shadow of the better conserved ruins of interconnected chambers in a corner near the gate is the modest grave of Sufi saint Sheikh Hasan Tahir who lived sometime during the reign of Sultan Sikandar Lodi (reign AD 1489-1517) and about whose existence nothing is remembered or documented in contemporaneous historical records. From here on begins the short walk over sloping land to reach the palace’s remains – it is a wonder how the locals manage to fashion an almost straight and uniformly wide pathway by incinerating a narrow strip through the grass whose selfless sacrifice marks the entire length of the path in the form of a layer of grey-speckled black that immediately comes into view against the brilliant green of the all-encompassing foliage and the merciless glare of the scorching sun.


Sufism - Seeping into even the most miserable of edifices in the city


The ruins of the Sultan’s private residential quarters, including the deep pits which one led to the treasuries and where pearls, diamonds, gold and emeralds were discovered till as late as last century, are stuffed to the seams with garbage in the form of polythene bags, plastic wrappers, beer bottles and cans, empty packs of cigarettes and rotten, foul-smelling vegetable waste and excreta from man and animal alike. The tell-tale Tughlaq roughly carved rectangular pillars stand like wasted sentinels supporting amongst themselves roofs that, if not collapsed and reduced to rubble fragments projecting in free space, are blackened by the numerous fires that have been lit under their sanctuaries for several centuries past by vandals and encroachers. The coats of sparkling white plaster that must have once covered the walls and the arches is long gone and only layers of rubble and rough-hewn stone garishly compose the ruined walls at present – there are neither exquisitely sculpted stone lattice screens nor intricate stucco patterns in plaster, consequentially neither artistic distractions nor regal grandeur or architectural harmony – the age was prohibitively ascetic, disdainful of ornamentation and elaborate artwork. In the distance, engulfed by vegetation and layers of accumulated earth, can be spotted the occasional grey-glistening fragment of stone in which were once pegged the thousand delicately gilded and painted wooden pillars that supported the colossal gorgeous palace building. Adjacent this roughly rectangular edifice is an impressive yet puzzling square structure that confoundingly possesses 12-feet thick walls and is surmounted by a strange ribbed dome thoroughly overgrown with dry grass – the purpose that this building served is not known, however most historians concede it to be a later Lodi-era (AD 1451-1526) addition to the complex. Could it have been an attached mosque or a funerary structure given that its western wall is entirely walled in and might have functioned as a “mihrab” (western wall of a mosque/religious structure indicating the direction of Mecca and faced by the faithful while offering prayers)? One can be forgiven for believing that these monuments have been long abandoned. As Sam Miller notes in his poignantly humorous journal “A Strange Kind of Paradise: India through Foreign eyes” –

“Bijay Mandal has its uses. It is frequented by drug addicts, card players, young lovers and goats – and is popular with latrine-less locals who use it as a urinal and a shithouse – but I’ve never, ever, in my half-dozen trips there seen anyone else ‘visiting’ it; not a single tourist, Indian or foreign.”


Desolate remnants from an interesting past


On the other side of this humongous entity, fragments of unconnected staircases, beginning here, terminating in another corner, following the thread through another side, lead upstairs to the unusually designed roof – entire Begumpur can be observed in detail from the Bijay Mandal and in the distance, veiled by the lines of buildings and commercial spaces, can be spotted the slender outline of the towering Qutb Minar (refer Pixelated Memories - Qutb Minar). Historians conjecture that Bijay Mandal was the “Badf Manzil” (“Wonderful Mansion”) rooftop pavilion, described in his memoirs by the 14th-century Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta, from where the Sultan would administer his colossal kingdom and appear before his supplicant subjects. The octagonal building with alternate shorter and wider edges is a culmination of essentially unaesthetic Tughlaq architecture juxtaposing militaristic, defensive battered sloping walls against fringe highlights of color introduced by the utilization of thick, minimally carved slabs of grey quartzite and red sandstone – also noteworthy is the introduction of trabeate arches composed of flat lintels stacked spanning the space over one of the doorways and proper horseshoe-shaped arches endowed with keystones on other sides. Beer bottles in their hands and potato crisps strewn around them on newspapers, half a dozen teenage youngsters, three guys and three girls, sit gossiping, giggling and cozying up in the shade afforded by the pavilion. Once the Sultan must have stood here and inspected the vast expanse of his sovereign territories, monitored his troop formations and gazed fondly at monuments from ages prior to his, including Alauddin’s massive “Hauz-i-Alai” near which once he and his father Ghiyasuddin Ghazi Malik Tughlaq (reign AD 1320-25) had stationed their combined forces to challenge the might of the armies of Khilji Dynasty (reign AD 1290-1320) assembled under the command of the usurper Khusro Khan. Noticing the near-total disappearance of his unassailable fortress and the deplorable condition of his beloved palace, his anguished soul must be wretchedly writhing in his mausoleum – of course, his miserable plight would not have been this heartrending and dark-humored ironic had the inhabitants of his kingdom at least remembered where he was interred!


Unusual! - The Sultan's penthouse pavilion



Location: Begumpur Village, Malviya Nagar
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Nearest Metro station: Hauz Khas
Nearest Bus stop: Laxman Public School, Hauz Khas
How to reach: From Laxman Public School/Hauz Khas Metro station Gate 2, proceed for Begumpur village immediately across the arterial Outer Ring Road/Gamal Abdel Nasser Marg. A straight track one kilometer long takes one to Begumpur Masjid past Hazar Sutan/Bijay Mandal ruins.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 1 hr
Relevant Links -
Some of the other Tughlaq-era constructions in the city -

  1. Pixelated Memories - Begumpur Masjid 
  2. Pixelated Memories - Dargah Dhaula Peer 
  3. Pixelated Memories - Feroz Shah Kotla 
  4. Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas complex 
  5. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah 
  6. Pixelated Memories - Khirki Masjid 
  7. Pixelated Memories - Satpula
  8. Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad - Adilabad - Nai-ka-Kot Fortress complex 
Other monuments located in the neighborhood - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Begumpur Masjid 
  2. Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Nili/Neeli Masjid

13 August 2015

Hoysaleswara Temple complex, Halebidu, Karnataka


“They say the past is etched in stone, but it isn’t. It’s smoke trapped in a closed room – swirling, changing, buffeted by the passing of years and wishful thinking. But even though our perception of it changes, one thing remains constant the past can never be completely erased, it lingers like the scent of burning wood.”
– Marvel Comics, “Daredevil”

The state of Karnataka is endowed with some of the most scenic landscapes that the country possesses – dotted as far as the eye travels with clusters of plentiful coconut trees bent heavy with fruit, lush fertile green fields yielding bountiful harvests magnanimously sprinkled with massive medieval shrines transformed into exemplars of an otherworldly pursuit of architectural and artistic brilliance that the emperors who commissioned and the sculptors who constructed these indulged in, the entirety ringed by vibrant blue mystic mountains surmounted occasionally with rows of captivating white windmills as if mankind is continuously striving to complement the unparalleled tranquility benevolently bestowed on the beautiful state by the grace of nature. An unsurpassed epitome of this relentless quest of mankind to reproduce the designs of nature in the fabric of human (and therefore fallible) art and architecture, the Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction, and was commissioned by some of the wealthiest members of the city’s aristocratic and mercantile classes, prominent amongst them Dandanayaka Ketamalla (the commissioner of police) and Kesarasetti, during the glorious reign of Emperor Bittideva Vishnuvardhana (ruled AD 1108-52) who had only a couple of years earlier initiated the construction of an architecturally similar and likewise artistically superior shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Hindu God of life and nourishment, in the neighboring serene township of Belur (refer Pixelated Memories - Sri Chennakesava Temple complex).


Poetry in stone (V2.0) - Hoysaleswara Temple


Notwithstanding the fact that Halebidu’s magnificent past has been ingloriously forgotten and it presently merely survives as a mediocre, densely cultivated village within the frontiers of the nondescript district of Hassan, the temple reflects on the city’s unmatched ancient cultural and architectural heritage as well as its enviable position as “Dwarasamudra/Dorasamudra”, the original capital of the formidable Hoysala Dynasty which reigned from AD 1026-1343 over most of Karnataka and parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and embossed throughout their vast territory an unmistakably visually prominent legacy of several excellent, exceedingly ornamented shrines. Not unlike the rest of Dwarasamudra, the architecturally outstanding temple, constructed over AD 1120-60 and christened “Lord of the Hoysalas” after Emperor Vishnuvardhan’s royal title, was also abandoned and relinquished to relentless wilderness and ruinous desolation during the reign of Emperor Veera Ballala III (ruled AD 1292-1343) following internal strife between members of the royal family and numerous plundering raids by fiercely fanatical-iconoclast Muslim armies led by Malik Kafur, the ferociously barbaric eunuch General of Sultan Alauddin Khilji (reign AD 1296-1316) of Delhi Sultanate. Thereafter, Veera Ballala III fled to the state of Tamil Nadu and Dwarasamudra was rechristened “Halebidu” or “Old City”.


Divinity arrayed!


The bewilderingly majestic temple building, seated on its enormous 5-feet high star-shaped platform (“jagati”), externally follows the sculptural artistic style idealized by its slightly older sibling at Belur and yet at the very first visual impression, one can undeniably state that its exceedingly ornamented facade and the sheer variety of artworks encompassed therein are not imitation, but further evolution of the latter – and although overall the angles and the protruding corners appear less distinctly pronounced and thoroughly simplistic, it is the noticeable emphasis on miniaturization and detailing that is the most noteworthy. The entire superstructure is composed of dark-green/blue-black hued chloritic schist (soapstone) which is extremely easy to chisel into ornately detailed patterns in its original form but transforms to tremendously resilient, unmalleable stone once exposed to the elements for years. One unquestionably perceives that the engrossingly committed Hoysala sculptor-craftsmen might have believed that even a layman visitor will comprehend each and every mythological tale etched in stone and reflect unyielding attention not only on the individualistic sculpture of each deity and mythical entity, but also on their bejeweled ornaments and composite physical traits – thus the unrelenting emphasis on even the minutest of details, the slightest of illustration of movement and the simplest of physical features, even when the sculpture is merely a fraction of an immensely massive panel portraying over a dozen divine beings and anthropomorphic mythological deities.


Sculptural extravaganza!


Furthermore, the extraordinarily accomplished artists did not merely restrict themselves to the artworks and ornamentation introduced by their counterparts painstakingly building the shrine at Belur, but unequivocally took their craft to an unparalleled zenith by introducing several decorative elements and depictions of sculptures, mythological tales and mythical folklores that are absent in the latter – thus there are representations of Goddess Kali, the unruly manifestation of primordial feminine energy who reigns supreme over sexual acts and inclinations and death and destruction; Goddess Saraswati, the patron of arts, music, learning and knowledge; Lord Kartikeya, the young and formidable General of the mighty celestial armies; Lord Krishna (aka “Govardhana Girdhari” or “The Lifter of Mount Govardhana”), the ostentatious playboy-strategist-statesman-cow herder-warrior-philosopher who supposedly lived some 5,000 years ago and is regarded as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, physically lifting the mountain Govardhana to shield the inhabitants of his domain from a merciless hammering of fierce hailstorms invoked by indomitable demon lords. This in addition to the ubiquitous sculptural illustration of other deities, most prominently of course Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu and their varied incarnations and aspects – the anthropomorphic, boar-faced mighty Varaha lifting the Earth Goddess Bhudevi from the sea of ether after defeating the demons who had imprisoned her; the terribly fierce and unimaginably powerful semi-lion, semi-human Narasimha furiously tearing apart the body of the demon Hiranyakashyipu; the benevolent, boon-bestowing, omniscient aspect of Lord Shiva flanked by his wife Parvati; the winged, muscular, multi-armed falcon-faced bird deity Garuda; the ten-faced, twenty-armed intellectual demon King Ravana of Lanka attempting to physically lift the massive Kailasha mountain, the abode of Lord Shiva; the supremely gifted archer-warlord Arjuna; the ten-armed Goddess Durga, a fierce manifestation of primordial feminine energy, piercing the body of buffalo-demon Mahishasura with her intimidatingly long trident; Lord Shiva furnishing his terrific trident and celestial drum and indulging in “Tandava” (the destructive dance of universal obliteration); “Gajasurasamhara”/“Gajacharmambaradhari”, that portrays a sixteen-armed combative depiction of Lord Shiva wielding numerous weapons of death and devastation while dancing blissfully upon the decapitated head of the slain elephant-demon Gajasura whose flayed hide he triumphantly raises and brandishes as an enormous cloak while his family and followers gaze wide-eyed terrified and deferential.


"Gajasurasamhara" - The ecstasy of a triumphant God (V2.0)


Exquisitely evocative is the intricate depiction of foliage of numerous varieties abounding on the immensity that is Govardhana mountain (so lavish is the sculptural treatment showered by the craftsmen that even the slightest of details – crowns of bananas dangling from trees, monkeys climbing the shrubbery and the snakes slithering around – can be observed in fantastic vivacity!), and yet my unquestionable favorite remains “Gajasurasamhara”, especially considering that here Lord Shiva is not revealed with his celestial followers and devotees but surrounded by extensive slithering snakes and horrific undead corpses with ghastly emaciated faces and protruding ribs worshipping him with drums and cymbals! Unbelievably, the impeccably flawless shrine envisages an enthralling profusion of exemplar ornamentation and an outstanding variety not only in the splendid array of larger sculptures that lines its exterior surface barely below the roof delineation, but also in the tiniest of the fantastical rows of creatures that mark its colossal base – counting vertically upwards from the base are fashioned eight individualistic horizontal layers respectively composed of charging elephants, fearsome lions, mounted horses, mythical “Makara” (entities possessing the body of a fish, the face and tusks of an elephant, the limbs of a lion and the tail of a peacock) and beautiful swans respectively symbolizing insurmountable stability, formidable strength, matchless agility, unchallenged might and elegant grace, punctuated by floral scrolls of foliage and creepers and miniaturized discontinuous depictions of tales from the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and the various Puranas, followed eventually with an extravagant flourish of hundreds of smaller, inconsequential crafted deities, celestial dancers and divine devotees.


Breathtaking!


The exquisite artworks and the years of toil that must have gone into their execution also give credence to the unforeseen span of time – nearly 86 years – involved in the shrine’s completion – however, for some inexplicable reason not documented in contemporaneous historic records, it is said that several portions of the shrine were never consecrated or even completed even though Emperor Vishnuvardhana’s successors Narasimha I (reign AD 1152-73) and Veer Ballala II (reign AD 1173-1220) had their chief architects embellish it with additional layers of ornamentation and sculptural artwork. As with the Sri Chennakesava Temple at Belur, the multitudes of sculptures and scroll work here too lend testimony to the incomparable skill of the architects and artists who were themselves so impressed and overjoyed by their own creations that they disregarded ancient Hindu architectural customs that prohibit artists and sculptors from signing their work – thus come to light the names, sovereign-bestowed titles and places of origin, but not the achievements and lives, of Kalidasa, Ketana, Ballana, Harisha, Damoja and Revoja.

But the vivid blossoming of poetry in stone does not cease here – the massive doorjambs that grace the spectacular facades mutate into an intricately convoluted sculptural rococo depicting Lord Shiva wielding weapons in his ten arms and dancing ecstatically to the tune of the celestial musicians flanking him amidst an eye-opening visual composition of sophisticated floral scrollwork and wave flourishes bearing as their apex the vicious jaws of a “Kirtimukha” (the ferociously wide fanged, lion-like face of an all-consuming demon conceived and originated out of thin air by Lord Shiva to destroy other, mightier demons) and eventually culminating in an elephantine mythical “Makara” on either side of the lintel whose skin and tail too transform into a sophisticated embellishment of foliage and elaborate artwork.


Hoysala ornamentation - Epitome of miniaturization art


The most spellbindingly realistic and artistically evocative statues are however those of the celestial guards that flank the entrances – draped with extremely fine jewelry and headgear that one would have been hard pressed to even be able to carve in soap and yet those tremendously skilled sculptors of yore crafted in stone, the divine figures, bearing tridents and drums wrapped with layers upon layers of writhing snakes and serpentine foliage not very differential from each other, are embossed upon layers of elaborate foliage and geometric patterns once more culminating into fierce Kirtimukhas, miniature Makaras and horrendous skulls. And yet, while one reflects upon the explosive bursts of artistic confidence and cultural development that prompted the sculptors to enthrallingly conceive and dexterously shape the extensively detailed nature of the ornate jewelry and celestial weaponry, one cannot fail to register explicable disappointment, in fact even sorrow, at witnessing that most of these otherworldly figurines were brutally disfigured and dismantled by the iconoclast Muslim soldiers led by the pitiless Malik Kafur – it is at once a discovery of ancient Hindu imperial magnificence and bourgeois grandeur and also of the cruelest of illusions that the unrelenting passage of the sands of time could wreak on unsuspecting humans – the illusion originating from hope, from belief, that even though we might wither and die and decay, our mere creations, be they sculptures carved in perennial stone or words in timeless literature, will survive the ravages of time and the exploitation and imprudence of fellow individuals.


Those sculptors, these details!


Somehow, standing there, gazing rapturously at the surrealistic filigree of stone adornments and shrubbery, I began to feel grievously ashamed about belonging to the ancient city of Delhi, whose remarkable achievements in the spheres of art and architecture I often profoundly and poignantly termed as notable enough to be classified as amongst those that can be termed as the pinnacle of civilizational heritage – after all, could not those soldiers, those seekers of worldly plunder, timeless fame and religious redemption, sense the intricacy of the stone jewels that I was looking at? Could they not visualize the sweat and labor of the sculptors who meticulously and laboriously toiled on crafting these? Could they not notice the enchanting textures, the ethereal impressions imbibed in stone by those expert craftsmen hopeful of being remembered through their hypnotizing creations, if not their mortal names and meager origins? How could they have failed to be mesmerized?

“Blessed are the braggart, the bully, the brute for it is the thoughtless thug – the nithing – and not the pitiful, picked-upon, penniless poor or the cursed and curmudgeoned mean and meek who shall surely stand to inherit the earth.”
– Stephen Edden, “The Wordsmith’s Tale"

Interestingly though, possibly a consequence of the aforementioned Islamic invasions, the elegantly sculpted smaller shrines (“Bhumija”) that are surmounted by pyramidal spires and border the wide staircases and were supposed to be studded with thoroughly carved and polished figurines are devoid of the same – ditto for the minor shrines and alcoves that line the interiors.


Here myths come alive!


The enchanting superstructure is divided internally into two exactly identical, parallel square sanctums located along the extremities, each facing east and accessible by a set of two entrances set perpendicular to each other along the corners of the adjacent sides such that the western side of the enormous temple delineating the rear of the twin sanctums is entirely devoid of any openings. The interiors are illuminated only by minute streams of sunlight tracing their way in through the formidably set entrances or the numerous square openings of the highly symmetrical stone lattice screens. The darkness further accentuates the forbiddingly straight vertical and horizontal lines that define the numerous deftly designed stone pillars and smaller shrines that support the immensely heavy roof, but it also succeeds in blurring the methodically detailed nature of the delicately carved stone roofs that grace the square hallways preceding the two sanctums and the exceedingly long and straightforward walkway connecting the two. The extensively conceived roofs of the large square hallways are supported upon tantalizing pillars passionately decorated with ornate strings of sculpted trinkets and meshwork patterns and culminating into lithe arched lion figurines supporting upon their heads brackets inset with voluptuous, finely proportioned celestial damsels crafted to perfection – referred to as “Madanika” or “Shilabalika” or “Salabhanjika” (literally translating to “breaking a Sala tree (Shorea robusta) branch”), each of the heavenly maidens, attired in fine thin draperies that barely cover their large breasts and hips, is adorned with jewels and ornaments and surrounded by followers and highly intricate foliage – sadly however, most of these were destroyed by the Islamic plunderers-pillagers and none survives in its entirety without its facial features disfigured with chisels and hammers and its limbs dismantled. Similar amorous figurines that gracefully existed within the telltale brackets fitted along the exterior walls have disappeared in their entirety, in all probability demolished and crushed irretrievably to bits and pieces.


Lines!


One might be forgiven for believing that the discerning sculptors forgot to incorporate the unmistakable, renowned emblems of the Hoysala Dynasty – a young man battling a huge aggressive lion (some say a tiger) either with his bare hands or with a sharp-edged sword – but the insignia is nonetheless reinforced here as well, not constructed as massive sculptures defining exterior adornments, but once more as miniature, more complexly visualized panels inset along the bases of the smaller shrines lining the interiors and composed of a single piece of stone sculpted pattern-wise into layers depicting numerous mounted lions being engaged in dreadful mortal combat by a sword-wielding regal warrior. Legend goes that the dynasty’s mythical progenitor, Sala, was indulging in ritualistic ceremonies with his Jain monk Guru Sudatta Muni when a fierce lion (or tiger) pounced upon them prompting the terrified mendicant to pronounce “Hoy, Sala!” (“Strike, Sala!”) and later, following the gruesome battle and the slaying of the lion (or tiger), blessing the courageous disciple with vast territorial sovereignty that would soon flourish. Most architectural historians and wildlife experts however doubt that lions ever existed in this part of the country and that might explain the ill-conceived stone figurines that mark Hoysala temple complexes for they might have been envisioned by the otherwise superiorly talented artists on the features of tigers that are still abundant here. Other historians also point out that this mythical tale and its sculptural depiction gained credence following Emperor Vishnuvardhana’s vanquishing of the Chola armies from his territories and the lion in the sculptures is probably symbolically representative of the Chola insignia.


Yet another corner!!


The twin shrines, christened “Hoysaleswara” and “Shantaleswara” after Emperor Vishnuvardhana and his ethereally beautiful Queen Shantala Devi, too are adorned with resplendently ornate divine guards crafted from lustrous black granite and massive astonishingly impressive doorjambs – both house a single, substantially large “Shiva linga”, the universal, terribly simplistic rounded-pillar representation of Lord Shiva, unbelievably austere and barely encircled with a few garlands of vibrant fragrant flowers. It is said that both the sanctums were originally surmounted by enormous pyramidal spires that spatially followed the stellar pattern established by the shrine’s numerous angles and projections – however neither of the two towers have survived the vagaries of time and nature and can now barely be envisioned as imaginations drawn upon from similar towers that crown analogous exemplars of magnificent Hoysala architecture throughout the vast land of Karnataka. It is compelling to notice how the relatively straightforward interiors were transformed into an artistic extravaganza along the exteriors by matchlessly accomplished sculptors and consummate craftsmen through the employment of numerous angles and recesses in cohesion with hundreds of thousands of sculptural curves and miniaturization art in collaboration with an unequalled understanding of light and shadow play.


Kali - Primordial destructive feminine energy incarnate


On the eastern front outside the temple, facing each sanctum and sharing the enormous plinth with the temple structure, is a gigantic pavilion composed of flawless lathe-turned pillars (that is, they weren't sculpted by hand, but the roughly crafted pillar was mounted on a wheel and rotated so that its edges sweeped against a fixed blade/chisel that smoothly shaped its surface) and flanked by equally passionately conceived and manufactured smaller shrines – visually enchantingly, both the pavilions house imposing monolithic statues of the bull Nandi, the mount of Lord Shiva and a patron of spirituality and religious dedication, however the pavilion opposite the Hoysaleswara sanctum is considerably larger than the one opposite the Shantaleswara sanctum and also possesses towards its rear a small, minimally illuminated hallowed shrine dedicated to a 7-feet tall representation of Lord Surya, the Sun God. The narrow base supporting the heavyweight pillars along the rear side of each of the pavilion is decorated with a single row of substantially smaller sculptures and representations of deities very nearly identical to the superior ones that grace the temple building’s exterior walls.


The Bull


Like several other medieval temple complexes scattered throughout Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the Hoysaleswara Temple too was used to record inscriptions and legends commemorating military victories, religious conversions and heroic deeds – towards the rear of the majestic temple, one such inscription is emblazoned on a short cylindrical pillar embossed with figurines of soldiers severing their own necks with knives – dedicated to the elite personal bodyguards of Emperor Veer Ballala II, the pillar honors the memory of Kuruva Lakshma who was a dedicated “Garuda” (nomenclature derived from the mythological falcon-faced bird deity Garuda, the steed of Lord Vishnu) – valorous soldiers who followed their master like an ever-present shadow, protected him from all unforeseen threatening eventualities and committed suicide upon his demise, natural or otherwise. Kuruva Lakshma is said to have sacrificed not only his own life, but also that of his wife, family and associate officers – and was thus privileged with this celebrated monument, also locally referred to as a “Garuda Stambha” or “Garuda’s Column”. The inscription reads –

“No one before has set such a gallant example as King Ballala's great minister.”


Commemorative


What is however most heartwarming is that the shrine is surrounded by immense, neatly manicured lawns lined with rows of enormous, wide-canopied trees and flowering bushes and carpeted with vibrant green grass that appears to sparkle against the deep blue-black overcast sky. As mentioned in the previous post, the Bangalore (Bengaluru) circle of the Karnataka division of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has undertaken commendable restoration and conservation efforts for the maintenance and preservation of these magnificent ancient temples. Sprinkled occasionally throughout the landscaped lawns are archaeological finds such as enormous sculptures and engraved inscriptions – while some, like a massive monolithic insignia of the Hoysala sovereignty, a lavishly detailed 8-feet high statue of Lord Ganesha (the Hindu God of auspiciousness and beginnings) and an 18-feet high statue of Jain Tirthankara Mahavira are placed thoughtfully towards the rear of the shrine, others are scattered around or left inclined and grass-shrouded as if waiting to be discovered by visitors and devotees. Towards the rear side of the aforementioned elegant Nandi pavilions is mounted another smaller, similarly oriented but more gracefully carved sculpture of the bull Nandi, seated on a high pedestal and surrounded by a ring of red-hued shrubbery. In another corner is being managed a small archaeological museum dedicated to the display of hundreds of inscriptions, engraved memorials and smaller, individualistic sculptures discovered in the surrounding areas.


Discovery!


Despite its near-forested appearance and unmentionably tranquil ambience, Halebidu, like the rest of the hundreds of thousands villages scattered throughout the Indian subcontinent hides in its ancient bosom grand ambitions – peppering the landscape are numerous massive electricity pylons towering immensely high as if attempting, Atlas-like, to support the enormity of dark, rain-bearing black-purple clouds against which sparklingly contrast the flawless white windmills that, seated dominantly on their hill thrones, pierce the skyline like colossal extraterrestrial beings stepping around on their spindly tripods. Head closer towards Hassan and the brightly painted red advertisements of “Airtel” and “Apple Plywood” give way to violet banners of “Byju’s CAT coaching classes” and printed A4-sized posters for “Paying Guest Accommodation for Boys/Girls”. Yet, the general pace of life is unmistakably slow, the manner of doing business laid back like the gait of old men who traverse its numerous bazaars and teashops. Where not dug up into gargantuan craters by bulldozers persistently mining sand for construction, the abundantly fertile, grass-blanketed base of the dried up Dwarasamudra Lake behind the temple’s peripheries doubles up as grazing grounds for scrawny cows, long-horned buffaloes and hundreds of goats. The often inexistential roads that connect Hassan to Halebidu are characterized by their progressively undulating surface and transform into narrow, one-way strips of levelled ground in numerous, unbelievably long stretches where buses, I joke not, literally bounce and spring across the pockmarked surface like roller coaster rides. One cannot help but feel that the village is literally considering whether to sluggishly progress to a dazzling future or continue to exist in the shadow of its former glory. Wonder what would the Hoysala sovereigns be contemplating about this existential dilemma of their erstwhile impressive capital?


A horde of tales and myths! - Halebidu Archaeological Museum


Location: Immediately opposite Halebidu bus stop, Hassan district
Open: The temple complex remains open on all days except Friday from 7 am – 5 pm for people of all faiths, belief systems and genders.
How to reach: Hassan is accessible from different parts of Karnataka by regular KSRTC bus and Indian Railways train services. It is approximately 180 kilometers or five hours away by road from Bangalore. From Hassan, Halebidu is located about 32 kilometers or roughly one hour away by bus at the end of a journey that does take one on certain thoroughly pockmarked stretches of road winding through hill-flanked barren plains and fields. The bus service between Hassan and Halebidu is however not very regular and one might occasionally have to wait up to 30 minutes.
Entrance fees: Nil
Entrance fees for the museum: Indians: Rs 5; Foreigners: Rs 100 (Free entry for children up to 15 years of age)
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 3 hrs
Remarks – Footwear is not allowed inside the temple complex and shoes can be left at a makeshift counter near the staircase and retrieved afterwards following the payment of a modest sum (usually Rs 10 for two pairs of footwear).
Relevant Links - 
Another Hoysala temple in Hassan - Pixelated Memories - Sri Chennakesava Temple complex
Suggested reading - Whc.unesco.org - Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysala