Thursday, March 08, 2007


I hate early morning journeys, but you gotta lose some to gain some. Early morning heralds the take off to Belur, Halebid and Sravanabelagoda. Some journeys have little to do than twiddle your thumbs in transit. This is one of them. The time spent at the monuments though, proves worth its while.

After stale idlis and watery sambhar, Sravanabelagoda is the first destination. Six hundred and eighteen steps are all it takes to get the top of the hillock to get a glance of the temple and the famous Jain statue. Six eighteen is a large number, and palkhis [palanquins] are available. In true adventurous & religious spirit, I intend to conquer those six hundred & eighteen steps (that I don’t have money to spare for the palkhi is irrelevant banter). The sluggishness of daily life & the sins of zero exercising catches up when only on the 50th step itself, the lungs are screaming for air, the feet are trembling and buckling under their own weight. But grit and determination (and a resolve not to embarrass myself) gets me going anew to the summit. This gargantuan task is accomplished bare foot, creating a record of sorts of banging my toes painfully into every rock or stone I encounter on the way up.

The Mahamastakabhisheka festival [anointing of the statue with milk, ghee & the like, along with big-time ceremonies & worship] happens once every 12 years, and the arrangements made for the festival held 2 years back still stand, decaying – bamboo & thermocol arches on the verge of being blown away by the strong gale of wind, worn signs and scaffolding for the tourists/pilgrims. The statue of the Jain Tirthankara stands at 58 feet, much smaller than I expect it to be. One of the largest monoliths in the world, it depicts a naked God with stone vines growing from a rock around him onto his thighs. The posture – erect. The expression – serene. The view from the top? Breathtaking – literally!!!! The tikka finds a place on my forehead, and proceeds with giving me an allergic rash.

The descent is deceptive. Though it looks easy, it is so easy to trip & go rolling down the hill. No Jack & Jill here. One tumble and hello Humpty-Dumpty. As always, hordes of hawkers selling everything from postcards to chess boards to imitation Ganeshas storm troop me. A cold, indifferent glance is all they get…

Surprisingly good noodles for lunch in a South Indian restaurant pave the path to Belur and Halebid. Both these places could pass off as the poor-man’s Hampi. The temples belong to the same dynasty and the same time period, hence the uncanny similarity in the architecture. From a distance, I can’t tell one from the other, but a closer look at the thousands of stone human figures, elephants, warriors, Gods and Goddesses adorning the temple clearly sets a clearer picture. The sculpted inner & outer walls of the temple tell a tale of dedication and sheer hard work by the craftsmen. Each figure is carved to perfection and straining to come to life any moment.

Each figure carries a different story, sometimes amusing, sometimes amazing and sometimes downright insane. Like how once Lord Vishnu was so pissed with a demon that he literally ripped the skin off his face [a la autopsy]. Also, how the word GOD actually stands for the Holy Hindu Trinity –

G - Generator (Brahma)

O – Operator (Vishnu)

D – Destroyer (Shiva)

That one has me rolling on the floor.

Two figures that really catch my eye are of figures attired in what appears like the European judges’ wig and coat, and also space suits of astronauts. And these temples were built in the 12th century!!!! I wonder if these guides just make up these fantastic stories to make us believe our ten bucks is worth the banter!

The peripatetic tour of the temples becomes a game of hop-scotch as the sun-heated stones play havoc with our bare feet. I won’t walk easy for many days, but the entire trip is a feast for the eyes, and an artist’s delightful dream come true. Though I keep wondering why the women in stone are depicted with such enormous breasts!!! Is this the same country which denotes much of its time on sexual taboos and on debates on how western influence is corrupting us sexually? Two sides of the same coin…

Journeys back home after an enjoyable trip are never happy ones, knowing that the getaway from the mundane daily routine has come to an end. I still find my bike where I left it, and zoom back home. The tired body has taken a beating, and it calls it a day.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


[Image courtesy =]

An evening of perfection

An evening of mastery

An evening of pure magic!

I expect no lesser in a jugalbandi between Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, sarod Maestro, and Ustad Zakir Hussain, tabla virtuoso. Cheap tickets never get good seats, and a cash crunch negates expensive tickets. 2nd March brings "The Tribute to Bangalore" concert.. Chaotic traffic and poor parking arrangements are the venue’s decorations, but once inside the mind is set to rest. The venue is large, and the stage well decorated though it could’ve been better considering the magnitude of this performance. People from all walks of life seem to have gathered – from the evidently upper bracket to the middle class. From curious adventuress to hardcore music lovers. Indians, Europeans, Kenyans – a motley group of interested people. Seated at the rear end of the venue, I strain my burdened eyes to see the giants of classical Indian music look like tiny figures. It is small comfort to have giant screens with blown up pictures

[Image courtesy =]

The emcee goofs up a little, but otherwise does a good job at the introduction of the maestros. Ustad Zakir Hussain, in his own inimitable humorous style keeps peeking into the emcee’s notes!!! Ustad Amjad Ali explains how both haven’t had the time to rehearse their show, how they shall play according to each other [a gift of years of dedication & practice] – hence the amalgam music produced is birthed only once and never repeated. The perfect symphony between the two is the stuff of legends. The beautiful rendition surprisingly sounds like impending doom, melancholy, the advent of monsoon and joy all at once. The snail paced compositions pick up tempo to reach a frenzied crescendo. Sure, for a carnatic music ignoramus like me, it is tough to tell one composition from the other but surprisingly, I find myself swaying to this form of music too.. Whenever the performance begins to get monotonous, the Ustads conjure a magic-trick from their infinitesimal repertoire that has us cheering and applauding with gay abandon. Some of the raags performed are Raag Kirwani, Raag Saraswati, Raag Zilahari [for the festival of colors, Holi], Raag Kamal Shree [dedicated to late Rajiv Gandhi] and my selfishly personal favorite – Raag Durga, one which I have sung in school a long, long time ago.

“Ghir ghir aaye kaare kaare baadal,

Sakhi mohey chain na aaye piya bin.

Kaise jaaoo main piya se Milan ko.

Ghir ghir aaye kaare kaare baadal”

It is pure bliss to sit there and imbibe the renditions. Three hours pass by quickly in a haze of bliss & wide-eyed wonder. Maybe it has been too much for me and I stand with a raging headache. In spite of the hammering in my head, there is no denying wizardry of the Ustads, and they have me in their thrall. A hearty dinner of parathaas is followed by deep slumber, graciously interrupted by memories of melodies played earlier….