Gods own country.

Red Fort


Sunday, November 25, 2012


A Mandapam (hall) with 1000 pillars is the grand architechtural treasure of many south Indian temples. In some cases it can be as big as the one with literally miles of corridors like the grand 1000 pillar hall at Ramanathaswami temple at Rameshwaram (known as the longest corridor in the world) and some as concise and precise as the one of the Hanamkonda Temple of Lord Shiva at Warangal, where the pilgrim is surprised that it can contain 1000 pillars. (A portion containing 400 pillars was recently dismantled by the temple mandapams have elaborately and exquisitely carved pillars, like the one at Sri Ranganatha Temple at Srirangam, where the pillars are more than 20 feet high.
Then there are Jain temples in Karnataka with 1000 pillars as in the temple at Moodbidri. Strangely enough, as at present, the most famous temple in South India, namely that of Lord Balaji in Tirupati has no 1000 pillar hall, the Architectural Survey of India, having dismantled it few years ago due to unsafe conditions. It is a great surprise that the Balaji Temple, with the maximum number of pilgrims in India and with a revenue of Rs. 1,700 crore per annum, could not repair its grand 1000 pillar hall. It appears that some of the temple trustees, felt that instead of the 1000 pillar hall, the space could be used for a wide courtyard (Prakaram), which could be utilised for commercial purpose!
The  Thousand Pillar Temple in Hyderabad is a specimen with the Kakatiyan form of architecture in the 12th century. This temple with its ruins lies near the Hanamkonda-Warangal highway, abut 150 kms from Hyderabad. you can get a first hand view of the dynasty's taste for sculpture in Veyyi Stambhala Gudi or 1000 pillar Temple. It has a catchy and apt name. Are there thousand pillars? Yes there are - of many varieties and sizes; some of them are even part of others! Enter the temple, you will see four magnificent pillars supporting the natya mandapam (dance floor), each richly carved with exquisite designs. A pillar has multiple designs, 2 cms to about 30 cms, on the perimeter of circular pillar. They used designs of jewellery of the age. Chains, bangles, rings, crowns and Kakatiya Dynasty's symbol. Kalisam (ceremonial vessel). can be seen one after another on each pillar. The design also had flowers finely carved. So fine, the sculptures have carved gap between petals. A guide showed us such gaps by inserting a tiny stick into those holes. "This is how fine Kakatiya's sculptures are."
The Aiyaram Kaal Mandapam or 1000 pillar hall of Meenakshi temple at Madurai is of very high sculptural importance as it contains 985 (instead of 1000) magnificently carved pillars and maintained by the ASI. These pillars have been so arranged that from whatever angle one looks from within, the pillars look in rows. The 1000 pillar hall is supposed to have been built by Arya Natha Mudaliyar, the PM of the first Nayaka of Madurai (1559-1600 AD). An equestrian stature of the Mudaliyar flanks one side of the steps leading to the mandapam. each pillar is sculptured and is a monument of the Dravidian art. There is a temple art museum in this hall where you can see icons, photographs, drawings, etc, exhibiting the temple's history. Just outside this mandapam, towards the west, are the musical pillars. Each pillar when stuck, produces a different musical note. About an hour from the city of Mangalore, is Moodbidri, which has been an embodiment of some of the architectural wonders of jainism. Here is the world's unique and maginficent Jain Temple, the thousand pillar  basadi, which is located in the man city, and which lends particular enchantment to the city of Moodbidri. The temple was contructed in 3 stages. In its first stage in 1430 AD, the main building, which forms the first main part of the temple, houses the idol of Chandranatha Swamy (Thirtankara, who is the temple deity) was constructed. In the second stage which began in 1451 AD, the Bhairadevi Mandapa, which is the second main part of the temple, was constructed. The third stage of construction began in 1462 AD, when Nagala Devi, wife of King Bhairava, who was a Jain ruler, decided to constructManasthambha memorial pillar, which constitutes the third main part of the temple. Tribhuvana Tilaka Chudamani, Chaityalaya and Hosa Basadi are the other names of the 1000 pillar Basadi. Out of the huge temple only 1/3rd is allowed to be seen non-Jains. Non-Jains are not allowed to enter the first and second floors of the temple.
The famous Shri Shiva Nataraja temple at Chidambaram Tamil Nadu, is also called Shri Sabhanayaka Temple. In the fourth prakara (a large passage surrounding the sanctrum) there is raja sabha (royal hall), also called 1000 pillar Hall which symbolises the yogic chakra of thousand pillared lotus or Sahasraram at the crown of the head and is a seat where the sould unites with God. This chakra is represented as a 1000-petalled lotus. Meditating by concentrating at the sahasraram chakra is said to lead to a state of union with the divine force and is the pinnacle of yogic practice. The hall is open only on festive days.
At the Sri Ranganath Swamy Temple at Sri Rangam (the largest temple in India) the Hall of 1000 pillars (actually 953) is a fine example of planned theatre-like structure. The 1000-pillared hall made of granite was constructed in the Vijayanagara period (1336-1565) on the site of the old temple. The pillars consist of sculptures of horses with riders on their backs trampling with their hoofs upon the heads of tigers. In addition to these famous shrines, there are lesser known temples in South India with 1000 pillar halls. Built during various eras in Indian history, these temples are grand examples of stone art in India.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Big push to Tourism in Agra

With night landing facilities and Instrument Landing System (ILS) now operational at the Kheria airport here, the Taj city's tourism industry is hoping for an increased influx of foreign tourists. "Some international chartered flights have landed and we hope to see more on a regular basis. A few bottlenecks remain which. I'm sure, will be sorted out soon," said city's tourism industry expert Rajiv Tiwari. "Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh is taking a keeninterest and has written to the Uttar Pradesh chief minister to set in motion the process of land acquisition on a priority basis for the new civil terminal at Kheria." said Agra Development foundation chairman K.C. Jain.
Jain said the Airports Authority of India (AAI) had identified 55 acres of land near Kheria Airport. "If this land is handed over to the authority, contruction of the new terminal can begin any day. Ajit Singh is keen on this". Jain Said.
He said the civil aviation minister had written to cheif minister to expedite the land acquisition process. 
Industry sources said some 500 international chartered flights are likely to land at Kheria in the next couple of months. A senior executive of a travel company told : "The tourist season lasts till March end. By then we should be flooded with foreign tourists. Due to economic pressures, a large number of western tourists are finding India much cheaper, affordable and attractive compared to other destinations."
He added : "we have seen a decline of around 42 percent in foreign tourists, but with the ILS now operational, we should see tourists flocking to Agra. In Addition to the daily evening show Mohabbat at the Taj Mahal, we will soon have a hot air baloon to enable tourists to see the monument from the sky and a regular show of classical Indian dances in the afternoon."
The Delhi-Agra Yamnua Expressway has also opened up immense opportunies for the hospitality industry here.
"Since Aug. 9 when it opened, we have seen a massive influx of domestic tourists from Delhi. Everyone wants to see the expressway. So they all land up in Agra, see the Taj Mahal and return the same evening. If not hotels, at least hawkers, 'pethawalas' (sweetmeat makers) and handicrafts emporiums are gaining from sales." said hotelier Surendra Sharma.
As tourists pour in, the traffic system and hygiene have come under fire from the tourism industry. 
"It takes less than two hours from Noida to the Kuberpur intersection. From there, it takes an eternity for vehicles to reach the Taj Mahal. The Yamuna Kinara road needs beter policing and maintenance." said Rakesh Chauhan, President of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.
Author : Brij Khandelwal

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mesmerizing Kailash-Mansarovar

Purple mountains, pristine blue waters, the perfect white snow, mesmerizing landscapes and serenity in the thin air welcomes you to this God's country. An undiscovered and untouched land Mt. Kailash and Manasarovar in Tibet is every traveler's paradise. As soon as one reaches Kathmandu and starts transceding towards Tibet, one gets a sense of how exciting this journey shall be. After crossing the Nepal Chinese borders we enter into Tibet where the local land cruisers play the traditional Chinese folk songs; well, communicating with locals is surely not easy.
As one starts ascending to the higher altitudes of Tibet, the air becomes thinner and breathing difficult yet the myriad landscapes are truly breathtaking; literally. We come across the beautiful small towns of Nyalam, Dongpa, Saga where one can hire decent and cheap accommodations and stay overnight. Altitude sickness and dizziness are a common phenomenon but once you look at the 'painting like world' you will let that pass.
A few days of ascending into Tibet and finally your body shall become friendly with the altitude. Located in the far reaches of western Tibet, just north of Nepal and India, is one of the most sacred mountains in the world; Mt. Kailash. For the last two thousand years, people from all parts of India, the Himalayan kingdoms of Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, Kashmir and Laddakh, Central Asia and from even further have devotedly as well as adventurously made the journey to Kailash.
Lying to the south of Mt. Kailash are two lakes. The western lake is known as Rakshas Tal. However, its neighbouring lake to the east, Manasarovar, is by far the more significant of the two in a spiritual sense. Lake Manasarovar is frequented by pilgrims almost as often as Mt. Kailash, and it is associated with many myths and religious.
The limpid blue to the emerald green colours of the lake in contrast to the arid landscape immediately around it and the silver mountains beyond make the lake a highly praised destination for pilgrims. Lake Manasarovar is at an altitude of 14,950 feet above sea level, and is noted as the highest body of fresh water in the world.
For many travelers the very sight of Mt. Kailash and the sacred lake Manasarovar has been an emotional journey for its sheer magnificence and aura. It is believed that the journey to this sacred abode is a spiritual journey of discovering one'sown being. There is no place more powerful for practice more blessed, or more marvelous than their abode of God.
The Parikrama around Mt. Kailash is a three day long and 52 km. trek that passes through some of the most secluded regions of Tibet. There are Yaks and Porters to help the Pilgrims through this tough terrain. The trek trail is usually pretty straight with occasional valleys and troughs. The testing factor is the continuous chilly winds, lack of oxygen and highly unpredictable weather. One only needs to pray that there are no rains as we need to cross river and walk on the snow patches for several km.
The Parikrama starts from Yamadwar and one crosses many beautiful places on the way. There is Shivastal - a place where pilgrims leave some of their belongings as offerings. Gouri Kund (5,608 mts.) is a group of five small kunds of different shapes containing emerald green water. It is also called 'the lake of compassion' where Parvati would go to bathe. Further, the various faces of Mt. Kailash are truly special in their own ways the west face, the north face and the south face.
One needs to be healthy state of mind and body for this may prove to be one of the most challenging experiences ever. However the satisfaction of having 'been there and done that' is beyond words. One needs to experience it and know what it is like 'to skip a heartbeat' at the most spectacular sight. One should also remember to spend a night or two at the most beautiful Manasarovar lake. The lakes beauty grows on to you with each passing moment and just feels like gaping at it for as long as forever.
Whatever be one's motivation-adventurous or religious, the Kailash-Manasarovar Sojourn is an experience of a life-time and surely brings one closer to understanding own self.
As is the belief that the truth of life is incomplete without self-discovery; 'Satyam Shivam Sundaram' - Truth is Eternal and Beautiful.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Omkareshwar : A Spiritual Odyssey

Aquaint spiritual town offering you even quainter images of peddlers selling religious paintings and kitschy idols, malas and garlands, jewellery and toys and innumerable road side shops peddled on the steps to the holy Narmada River. This is Omkareshwar beatifically packed in hillock shaped like 'OM' and thus came the name Omkareshwar. Lying as a secluded island packed with natural beauty and holiness in the air to speak of, Omkareshwar presents a picturesque image one could only see in the most creative of landscapes drawn by most artistic of painters.
The magic of the image drawn from the MP tourism's Narmada resort with the temple on the other side of the river; its replection flickering with the waves of the river, the mammoth Omkareshwar Dam on one side and the dim lights of the distant and myriads of temples filling up the night sky is inescapable and unforgettable.
Omkareshwar is among the twelve jyotirlingas, a sacred shrine for Hindus but is also a lot of things unspoken of. This small sleepy town owes its existance in the travel books due to the jyotirlinga. As to who constructed the temple and when is all shrouded in mystery. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is said to be originally a small temple and the major extensive part was later constructed. One very conspicuous thing about the temple is that the sanctum sanctorum and the main deity are neither in the front of the main door nor below the higher Shikhar. A priest there would be quick to tell you that the jyotirlinga is a swayambhu meaning that it appeared all by itself. The interesting thing about the temple is that pujas are done here three times a day - the first by temple trust, second by the Scindia Samaj and the third by the Holkar samaj.
While Jyotirlinga is most often the obvious reason for pilgrims to come to this place, the Mamleshwar Jyotirlinga on the other side of the river to Omkareshwar offers a striking  architectural stone work. One definitely need a photographer's eye to enjoy this. But the real vista comes as one crosses to the other side on a boat where the Omkareshwar Dam waits to portray the prettiest picture drawn on the watery canvas of River Narmada. As the steamer struggles to move, you feel closer to the prowess of the harmless looking water as it roars past you.
Numerous shops wait for you on the steps of the river. A right turn and you head towards the Omkarshwar and a left takes you on the parikrama route (circumabulatory path) - a 10 km stretch to be covered on foot. Seems a bit strenuous exercise as one moves from the river banks to the hill top at 300 mts. but equally enjoyable and thrilling. Myriads of temples significant and less significant gild your way. Half-way on the parikrama route comes the sangam the confluence of Narmada and Kabeni - the holy point for mingling of the holy waters. Even the daily ritual of hundreds of pilgrims bathing at this holy point seems nothing less than a happening. You can-not afford to miss the small temples on the way adjusting them in the spiritual aura of this place. Even if you are intersted in these ubiquitous temples, keep taking side turns for the kaleidoscopic natural portrait this place draws for you with the indecisive turns of Narmada and the hills painted in the colour of green staging a natural holi before you. It is a colour palette set before you. As you ascend the hills the picturesque image gets brighter and more enchanting.
Passing through the Omkar Math, Patali Hanuman Mandir and Barfani Gufa and a durshan of the Gauri Mahadev Mandir with a six feet tall Shiva Linga, the parikrama ends with the Sidhinath temple and there you see the Hindu style mixing with the Carnatic style. This is one of the most architecturally inspiring temples. It is one the plateau on the island hill supported by a huge plinth with all its four sides carved with singular correctness and excellence of attitudes.
The beauty of Omkareshwar doesn't die with temples, in its uncovered layers is hidden some history, some mythology. As one descends from the Siddhinath temple towards the jhoola which connects the island to the main land, one comes across numerous ruins said to be of the Mahabhart era; the worth mentioning of them being the Arjun-Bheema dwar. The strategic place at which it is located offers the closest and the most elegant look of the dam. You can just spend hours looking and pondering about the unimaginable power of the gushing water as the dam opens its gates declaring its unchallanged control over the island. The feeling is like being send to the territory of dragong where you can just admire the sheer power of the creature. As you go down the stairs towards the jhoola, you can lend your ears to the roars of water declaring that you are but in its territory.
Stranded markets left to be adjusted at the mercy of the water level, the delicate sound of the bells in the temple voicing above the thurnderous roar of the mighty, untamed Narmada, the natural surroundings guarding the packs of spirituality and history lost in shrouds of mystery, the rustic lifestyle which seems more defined when embellished with tilak, malas, bhajans and agarbattis and the temple becoming synonymous to the identity of the place - Omkareshwar is a place to visit. Not just the spiritual completeness, the place offers you the untouched natural settings and the rustiness for you to carry along with yours.
Source : The Hitwada