7 Secrets of Vishnu

The Background

Hindu mythology can be quite confusing for a non-Hindu. Why, it can be confusing and for a Hindu too. The different and contradictory world views that co-exist and even support and complement one another can bewilder even the most dedicated scholar or devotee.

According to Devdutt Pattanaik, author of the 7 Secrets of Vishnu (and the book under review here),

In mythology, all forms are symbolic. (pg.7)

This one sentence, in my opinion, is the key to understanding and appreciating not only this richly illustrated book, but also Hindu mythology and Hinduism itself. The 7 Secrets of Vishnu (Westland, 2011) has nearly half of its 220 pages devoted to images of calendar art, paintings, sculptures, etc. “to make explicit patterns that are implicit in stories, symbols and rituals of Vishnu” (p.xi).

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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 – 1: Hazara Rama Temple

The simple and elegant entrance to the Hazara Rama Temple

For me, the Hazara Rama Temple is right on top of the list of temples I liked in Hampi. This is not one of the biggest or the grandest of temples in Hampi, but it is certainly the most intimate temple, a temple which felt like my own personal space. It is also the temple with the most intricate carvings, which begin with the outer walls of the temple complex itself.

Inside, the temple is no less ornamental. It is full of bas reliefs from the life of Rama or Krishna, both avatars of Vishnu. I was very proud of myself for being able to recognise the various characters in the panels and reliefs and the stories that were trying to convey. All thanks to the stories that my grandmothers and my mother narrated to me in my childhood. And of course, Amar Chitra Katha!

An enchanted evening at the Agastya Teertha & Bhootnatha Temple

The two Bhootnatha Temples of Badami are located in one of the most picturesque settings that I have seen in my travels. In the photograph below, the Agastya Teertha or lake is spread out with the Bhootnatha Temple on the eastern bank visible somewhere near the centre of the photograph. Though I had seen pictures of the Agastya Teertha and the Bhootnatha Temple in a similar setting, the feeling of “Wow” is quite different when you see it yourself, than the “Wow” you feel when you see a photograph.

The Agsatya Teertha and the Bhootnatha Temple on its eastern bank

The Bhootnatha Temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva—Shiva in the form of the God of souls, spirits and ghosts. Built out of red sandstone probably sourced from the surrounding hills, the two temples are placed opposite one another at the eastern and western banks of the Agastya Teertha. The approach to the Agastya Teertha and the Bhootnatha Temples from Badami Caves is via a narrow and winding path that passes through a village.

It was around 5 pm when we arrived at the banks of the Agastya Teertha. From there we could see both the Bhootnatha Temples. The sun, which had been playing hide and seek with the clouds and us the whole afternoon, came out for a brief while. Almost on cue, the strains of a shehnai began, probably played from western Bhootnatha temple. The strains soon grew louder and discernible as Raga Sarang.

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Badami rocks !

The first time I heard about Badami was in my undergraduate Geology class nearly 20 years back. It was a class on the Geological Time Scale and we were being shown slides from various parts of India and the world as examples of different geological time periods. I still remember the Badami slide from that class—the sheer red sandstone cliffs, silhouetted against a deep blue sky. It was love at first sight.

Red Sandstone Cliffs of Badami

At that time I had absolutely no idea that Badami was also the location of rock-cut cave-temples dating from the 6th century. I got to know about this only a couple of years back, when one of my brothers visited the cave-temples of Badami and shared his photographs. Now, it was love at second sight!

When the opportunity to visit Badami, along with other heritage places in North Karnataka, as part of an organised tour group came up, I grabbed it with both hands. I applied for leave from work a full month in advance, juggled deadlines, prayed hard, etc., etc.

Bijapur was our first halt and after an overnight stay in that town, we left early next morning for Badami, with a short halt at the Almatti Dam Gardens. By noon, the red sandstone cliffs of Badami appeared in the horizon. There is an interesting reason as to how Badami got its name. Someone in the historical or mythological past, and I don’t know who, felt that the red stones were the colour of  badam or almonds. And hence, the name!

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