Thursday, November 10, 2011

carving my way into history ...

a road towards heaven; Mulaingiri, the highest peak in Karnataka

I was all set to spend that beautiful October weekend among the moss green coffee plantation and luxurious ambience of ‘The Serai’, a beautiful resort at Chikkamagalur, a district in the Indian state of Karnataka. My mind was already tuned for the beauty of the Westernghat Mountains, lush green coffee plantations and the expensive extravagance of The Serai resort by the time we started our journey from Mysore at about 7 am. There was a distinct winter chill in the air and it merged beautifully with a mild suppressed fragrance from a Hasnuhana tree, making the poetry within me yelling for more. I felt happy for yet another opportunity to be among the wild raw beauty of nature.

a beautiful play of light and shade; Chikkamagalur

So a few hours later when our vehicle casually stopped at Belur, a small town at the bank of river Yagachi in Hassan district and as the driver said – ma’m I think you might just like the temple, here - least did I realise that I am heading towards such stupendous marvel of art and sculptors, with a history 1000 years old, standing tall in front of me with all its grandeur.
Belur temple of Hoysala Dynasty
It is the Chennakeshava temple dedicated to Lord 'Chennakeshava' (handsome Vishnu). It was built by King Vishnuvardhana of Hoysala Dynasty. It is about one hundred feet high and has a glorious gateway tower. There are many other shrines around the main temple. The whole temple is conceived in an unusual star-shaped structure.

the king sala killed a lion in his youth and later became the founder of this dynasty - hence hoysala -

The temple is a holy house for sculptures showcasing innumerable variety of ornaments, the doorways, the ceilings, the birds, the animals, dancers and other figures still alive with life and vigour despite repeated vandalisms and destructions by early Muslim rulers and during the colonial period. Stories from the Puranas, Upanishads, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and other mythological stories have been carved in the most authentic way all around the temple. 

a famous sculptor of a musician lady -
the intricate works of stone as the drum wires are amazing

a beautiful lady of higher stature - her expression depicts pride

As I was carving my way through history I came to know about Shantala Devi, the queen of Hoyasala king Vishnuvardhana who got the temple built. The more I tried to find out about her from those guides and later from the internet sources and history books, the more mesmerised I became. The queen kept drawing me towards revisiting history and into her enigmatic life. Shantala Devi, a Jain by faith was a noted dancer and her dancing poses has been sculptured in the most ornate and in exuberant style. The Madanikas and the Apsaras (celestial nymphs) on the temple walls are said to be inspired by the beautiful Queen Shantaladevi, epitomizing the ideal feminine form.

a lady admiring her in mirror - notice the maids at her feet - they are shorter to signify the lower social class

a lady dancing in her garden - the vine all around her - notice a lizard that's chasing some insect among the vine

the lady is coochie cooing with her parrot - the maids are waiting with fruits etc

looks like it was an age of female domination - the lady is coming back from hunting - the maids are carrying her kill

What I could gather from my little research is that Shantala Devi was an extremely beautiful woman, an epitome of feminine grace and was well versed in the fine arts of dance and music. She was well trained in Bharat Natyam dance. The numerous celestial female figures are sculpted being inspired by her grace and splendour. There is a circular, polished stone platform in the temple right in front of the shrine. It is said that Shantala Devi used to dance on that platform in praise of Lord Chennakesava. She herself was a patron of Jainism and built several temples.

the famous bhasma mohini dance - bharatnatyam

A story that makes the round is that - Chalukya king Vikramaditya who is invited for the opening of the Lakshmi Devi Temple misses the dance worship of the Hoysala Queen Shantala. He arrives two days behind schedule along with his wife Lakumi Devi. Shantala receives the Chalukya Queen and the latter expresses the desire of her husband to witness Shantala's dance performance. The queen of dance Shantala refuses the suggestion asserting that her performance is not an entertainment, but a sacred art meant for gods. The Hoysala queen, who remains a follower of Jainism till last, despite her husband Vishnuvardhana embracing Srivaishnavism, passes through a lot of trauma. An honest and principled queen, she is often misunderstood and made to suffer in herself. Finally, the queen embraces death through the Jainism way of 'Sallekahana' at her native place.

with a support of a vine she has lifted her right foot - the maid is putting in a toe ring - a compulsion for married karnatik women till date

Meanwhile my obsession with the life of Shantala Devi continues. The more I search the more I feel this strange attraction to know her better! It could be some past life connection, what say? :-)

photos - courtesy Biswajit Mitra


Rose said...

I am dear friend so happy for you*:)

Marvelous images and the temples so rich in history I too would like to know more of this facinating woman and also how the magnificent temples and structures could possibly have been built without modern technology is mind boggeling to say the least!!
Thank you for sharing :))

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Oh how wonderful to be able to see such beauty, and learn the history - such riches, of the inner kind! I so enjoyed this little trip! Spectacular photography.

The Unknowngnome said...

I say the last pic looks a lot like "jungle spirit". :)

A very interesting and informative piece Moon.

Mary said...

I enjoyed travelling with you here, Moon! An informative piece which gives me a glimpse of your beautiful area.

Brian Miller said...

this is all the art i am with rose as well as this is premodern which to me is fascinating...

R.Ramakrishnan said...

Your pics bring out the magnificent architecture, sculpture and intricate ornamentation of this historically significant temple. Fabulous pics and detailed informative narration - a poem on Belur to follow! A twin of this temple is Halebid also in Hassan Dt ?
Have a great weekend.

Biswajit said...

Such an amazing portrait you have made, I could ever imagine !!
Excellent, marvellous snapshot....
Best wishes to you

ashok said...

beautiful post!