The corrupt Indian

So Anna Hazare and Team Anna are back with their fight against corruption in India and to ensure the implementation of the Lokpal Bill. There are mixed reports in the media about the success of this round of agitation, as none of the expected fasting, sloganeering, jail bharos, allegations, counter allegations, etc., etc, has really taken off. It the reports are to be believed then it appears that the movement has lost momentum as well as direction this time around.

I feel that part of the reason for the Anna juggernaut not sustaining is due to their simplistic understanding of corruption. Today, corruption is no longer only about those who take bribes; it is also about those who give bribes. Corruption is not only financial; it is moral, ethical, ecological, societal, ideological, creative… It is not only the politicians and the bureaucracy who are corrupt; society itself has become corrupt.

Corruption no longer has a simple definition; today, it is highly contextualised, complex, layered and subjective. What one person perceives as corruption can be another person’s “legitimate” way of securing his/her future! Take the case of a person who bribes his or her way to a lucrative posting within the organisation he/she works for. This is done with the understanding that the returns are worth the bribe paid. Think Customs, the Mumbai Octroi, the RTO… and you’ll know what I mean.

Corruption is so endemic and blatant that we have taken it for granted in a matter-of-fact way. Regrettably, the discourse on corruption in India rarely reflects its subjective understanding or its diversity or its depth or its endemic nature. Mostly, we get to read dry and technical analyses full of academic jargon, tables and figures and how India is being bled dry economically. Most of the articles are dramatic exposes intended to shock and titillate, but which ignore the deeper malaise that grips our society. Though some of these articles go into the reasons behind the corruption, very rarely does it take a mirror to the society we inhabit and present the different faces of the corrupt Indian.

I am surprised at the blinkers that we have on as we only have to look around us to see the many faces and avatars of the corrupt Indian :-(

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Disappointment @ the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary

“Hurry up ! The bears are already there. We need to get to the observation site quickly,” urged Doreen, our tour organiser. We scrambled out of the vehicle and followed Doreen to climb some rather steep steps that seemed to go on forever.

Our tour group had just driven to the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary from Hampi (about 15 km) over some rather bad roads, through beautiful scenery, and imminent rain. We were at the Sanctuary to see the Indian sloth bear or karadis, who came out of their caves every evening to have a special paste of rice and honey (or was it jaggery?) that was smeared on the rocks near their caves by the Sanctuary guards. For me karadi brought forth images of Baloo, the Jungle Book bear, resplendent in his Disney avatar or Jambavan, the wise bear king from the Ramayana. I was rather keen on what the karadi really looked like!

Created in 1994, the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary covers an area of about 5.58 sq.km. In addition to the bears, the Sanctuary is also home to wild boar, leopards, porcupines, striped hyenas, monkeys, hare, and peafowl, along with many bird species. Though we had come here to see the sloth bears, I secretly hoped to spot a leopard or two as well.

After about five minutes of huffing and puffing, we reached the observation site which is at the top of a hillock with fencing all around. Quite a few people had gathered there to watch the bears and they all seemed to be looking across the fencing and pointing at some black dots on the opposite hillock quite some distance away. It took me a while to realise that those black dots were actually the karadis.

A view of the black dots, sorry sloth bears, from the observation point

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The Banashankari and Mahakuta temples: Examples of neglect and apathy

My recent trip to some heritage sites in North Karnataka (Aihole, Badami, BijapurHampi and  Pattadakal) was an eye-opener in more ways than one. While I was amazed to see the excellent work done by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in restoring and maintaining the sites, as well as the efforts taken by the Karnataka Tourism Board, I was appalled to see condition of heritage sites not maintained by the ASI. My visits to the Banashankari Temple and the Mahakuta Temple Complex, both near Badami, are perfect examples of this.

The Banashankari Temple site has been a place of worship for about 14 centuries or so, though the current temple building is only about 200 years old. The temple’s name is derived from its location in the Tilakaranya forest. The main deity, Banashankari is also known as Shakambari or the vegetable goddess. Banashankari was the kuldevata or the tutelary deity for the Chalukya kings of the 7th century.

Our tour group arrived at the Banashankari Temple after spending a magical and enchanted evening at the Bhoothnatha Temples and the Agastya Teertha, near the Badami Cave-Temples. And came back to earth rather rudely with a ride through narrow, dusty, potholed and dirty access road to the temple. It was an inkling to the state of the temple itself.

Outside the Banashankari Temple. The guard-cum-lamp tower at the entrance to the Harida Teertha in the centre of the photograph

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Love and poetry through the ages: A bharatanatyam performance by Alarmel Valli

Last Saturday, I attended a dance performance after many years—”Only Until the Light Fades: Love in Dance and Poetry”, a bharatanatyam performance by noted danseuse Alarmel Valli at the Tata Theatre of the NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts) in Mumbai. This performance, which was part of the NCPA’s ongoing Nakshatra Dance Festival, was conceptualised in collaboration with the noted poet, Arundhati Subramaniam.

When I set out for the NCPA that evening, all I knew was that I was going for Alarmel Valli’s bharatanatyam performance at my favourite theatre in Mumbai and unaware that I was attending the premiere of a special production. I was also unaware of the fact that this was the first time that Alarmel Valli would be performing to an English poem, or even the fact that the theme of the dance performance was love and poetry!

“Only Until the Light Fades…” explored love through poetry in Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit and English from the Sangam Period to the medieval period to contemporary times and through the narration of a teenager, the feelings of a woman desolate in love, the actions of a jealous lover, and through the questioning thoughts of a contemporary Indian poet writing in English.

The dance programme was quite unusual in that there was no bhakti element at all. Alarmel Valli’s opening dance item was an invocation to love, instead of the conventional invocation to Ganesha or Saraswati. And yet it also followed the conventional pattern of a bharatanatyam performance by beginning with an invocation and ending with a tillana.

Alarmel Valli : Screenshot from http://www.alarmelvalli.org

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The temple ruins of Hampi – 3: The Krishna, Ugranarasimha and Ganagitti temples

The temples and other monuments of Hampi were built over 3 centuries, destroyed over a period of 6 months, and “seen” by our group over two, half-day sessions. Obviously, we could not do justice to all the monuments.

This meant that while we spent more time at the Hazara Rama Temple, the Vittala Temple, as well as the monuments of the royal family, we breezed through the Krishna Temple, the Badavilinga Temple, the Ugranarasimha or Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, and Kadalekalu Ganesha and Sasivekalu Ganesha Temples. We could not visit some monuments at all—the Hemakuta group of monuments, the Ganagatti Jain Temple, the octagonal water tank, Bhima’s Gate, etc., were pointed out to us by our guide in passing.

So, while I cannot write a detailed post on these quick visits here, I will compensate that with some photographic impressions of those “breeze in, breeze out” visits here.

Carved pillars at the Krishna Temple, depicting stories from the Bhagavatham. The Krishna Temple was consecrated in 1513 and is a complex with many sub-shrines and halls.

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The temple ruins of Hampi – 2: Vittala Temple

If Hampi was the showpiece of the Vijayanagara Empire, then the Vittala Temple is undoubtedly the showpiece of Hampi. Everything about the Vittala Temple is designed to make a statement—right from its settings and surroundings to its architecture to the temple complex itself. Everything. It is for this reason that the Vittala Temple is the most visited monument in Hampi, thereby making it the most talked about or written about or photographed monument. It is also the reason why our tour group was standing outside the Vittala Temple complex at 8.00 am one Saturday morning last month. Doreen, our tour organiser, was insistent that we visit the Vittala Temple before any other monument that day to avoid the tourist hordes. It was a good thing too, as the tourists started arriving in waves as we were leaving.

Located on the banks of the Tungabhadra with Anegundi on the opposite river bank, the approach to the Temple is through the stone ruins of a bazaar. We also passed a water tank and some manadapa-like monuments.

Bazaar outside the Vittala Temple

I also saw what looked like an enormous, narrow gateway, sans surrounding walls/ fortifications, a misconception that was clarified as I got nearer. The stone beam placed on two carved pillars was not a gate — it was the remains of a giant scale or a tulabharam. The ruling kings of Vijayanagara used to be weighed against gold, precious stones, food grains, etc., which would then be distributed to the poor and needy. At least this is what our guide told us, but I think that the gold and precious stones would have gone to the temples and the food grains to the poor and needy.

The stone frame of the King’s Balance or Tulabharam is all that remains of the original structure

As one nears the Vittala Temple, the burnt entrance tower captured my attention. The rulers of the Vijayanagara Empire were quite open to experimenting with building materials and styles. While experimenting with building styles seemed to be reserved for their royal buildings, their temples were experimented upon with regard to building material — at least for the temple towers. Brick towers replaced the heavier granite towers seen in the Virupaksha Temple at Hampi. While this made the temple towers easier to build, it also made them vulnerable to destruction by fire. Which is what happened when Hampi was sacked after the loss of the Vijayanagara Empire at the Battle of Talikota.

Entrance to the Vittala Temple

When I entered the Vittala Temple complex, the first thing that struck me was the geometric precision of the layout of the various structures within.

Inside the Vittala Temple Complex

Inside the Vittala Temple Complex. Part of the Mahamandapa is visible on the right, while part of the Kalyana Mandapa is visible on the left. One of the burnt temple towers is also visible in the background

It was difficult to concentrate on the guide’s orientation talk, as my eyes kept straying all over seeking details and delighting in the beauty around me. Once his talk was over, I set out to explore the Vittala Temple complex in greater detail, making the most obvious and best known structure there—the Stone Chariot—my first halt.

The Stone Chariot is built on a rectangular stone platform and its inner chamber once enshrined a Garuda idol. The Stone Chariot was originally drawn by 2 stone horses (now destroyed), and are currently drawn by 2 stone elephants brought from some other place. The Stone Chariot looks so amazingly real, right down to its stone wheels, that I felt all it needed was a tap or two with a magic wand for it to come alive! I’ve got goosebumps on my arm even as I am typing this out.

The Stone Chariot at the Vittala Temple

The Vittala Temple complex is also known for its hall of musical pillars. When I first heard about the musical pillars in Hampi, I imagined a long, seemingly endless, hall along which tall pillars would be lined up. These pillars would resonate with musical notes when struck gently. Nothing was further from this imagined structure of mine!

The Mahamandapa of the Vittala Temple, which contains the hall of musical pillars, is a many angled structure. Like the Stone Chariot, this too stands on an ornate platform, decorated with bas reliefs of traders, animals and floral motifs. There are 5 halls within this Mahamandapa corresponding to the four cardinal directions and a central hall, which does not have a roof, thereby leaving it open to the elements.

The temple pillars are composite pillars, with each individual pillar made up of many smaller and slender pillars (see photo below). The Eastern Hall of the Mahamandapa is the Hall of Musical Pillars. Each of these pillars are carved with figures of musicians, musical instruments, and dancers.

Details of the pillars of the Mahamandapa

A miniature temple on the walls of the Mahamandapa

Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the pillars, we could not test out the musical quality of the pillars. Over the years, too many people had tested the musical prowess of the pillars culminating in one of the pillars actually breaking a few years back. This resulted in the Mahamandapa being kept out-of-bounds for tourists. Eagle-eyed and strict guards are posted in the Mahamandapa to prevent tourists and tourist guides from testing the pillars. You can see one such guard lurking behind a pillar in photograph above.

This is probably a good thing as tourists can look at the beautiful carvings on the walls and pillars of the Mahamandapa, instead of only tap-tapping the musical pillars. I saw some particularly stylish carvings of miniature temples with a deity, on almost every side of the temple (see photo on the left). The Vittala Temple complex also has other attractions like the Kalyana Mandapa or the ceremonial marriage hall, a many (100?) pillared hall, as well as another mandapa whose name I forget now. Photographs of these attractions are given below.

The perfectly proportioned Kalyana Mandapa

A sampling of carvings from the Vittala Temple. Clockwise from top left: Krishna, with traces of the original painting still evident; a rare carving of Ravana; armed men on a mythical creature with a tiger’s legs, horse’s body, hare’s ears, and lion’s head; a drummer is rapt in his music.

One of the last things we saw at the Vittala Temple is the inner sanctum, which used to have an idol of Vittala (a form of Krishna). The idol is no longer there and our guide was not sure as to where and when the idol had disappeared from there. I wondered if it was destroyed during the sacking of Hampi or if was it shifted to another temple.

The Anjanedri Hill as viewed from Vittala Temple Complex

As we leave the Temple, I take one last 360° look around the complex and spot the Anjanedri Hill at Anegundi. From my explorations earlier in the day, I know that the Tungabhadra and the submerged Purandara Dasa Mandapa is somewhere close by. This was place where the saint-composer Purandara Dasa spent his last years in Hampi singing and composing songs dedicated to Krishna. More specifically, he composed songs dedicated to Vittala and signed all his compositions with “Purandara Vittala”.

And some things suddenly became clear to me. Purandara Dasa’s Vittala was the Vittala of this temple, and not the Vittala of the Pandharpur temple (in Maharashtra) as I had thought for all these years. At that point, I felt really blessed to be at the place that was an inspiration for the compositions of Purandara Dasa, one of my favourite composers. His simple, fresh and timeless compositions appeal to me like no other. Though most of his compositions are in Kannada, a language I can just about comprehend, I can somehow understand his compositions (you can listen to one of his compositions here).

I left the Vittala Temple with the hope that some of the inspiration rubs off on to my own creative pursuits.

P.S.: This visit was part of a tour organised by Doreen D’Sa of Doe’s Ecotours. She can be contacted at does_ecotours@yahoo.co.in.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Read more about my trip to Hampi through the following posts: