Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jaisalmer and Sam

On the "road" to Jaisalmer
The desert swallows some of the roads, if you are not on the highway

Visiting Bahubali in Shravanabelagola

Bahubali in Shravanabelagola: The world's largest stone monolith at 57 feet

Shravanabelagola, India

Approximately one hundred fifty kilometers west of Bangalore, in the Hassan District of the Indian state of Karnataka, stands the world's largest stone monolith. The statue is of the Jain teacher, Bahubali, and he sits atop Chandragiri Hill in Shravanabelagola. Carved in the tenth century, this statue received the most votes in the Times of India newspaper's listing of twenty candidate sites to become the Seven Wonders of India. Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) and Taj Mahal came in second and third place, respectively.

Pooja at Bahubali's feet
You can really get an idea of the size of Bahubali with this picture

Bahubali is revered by Jains because he was the first to attain moksha, or total enlightenment and freedom from death and rebirth. Shravanabelagola is a major Jain pilgrimage, and every twelve years the Mahamastakabhisheka is celebrated, where Bahubali is coated in milk, saffron and powdered sandalwood; and given offerings of food and precious metals. The next celebration will be in 2018, so mark your calendars.

Shravanabelagola roughly translates from Kannada to mean "The beautiful pool in the center of town."

Bahubali ( बाहुबली )

Bahubali, or Gommateshvara, was the second of one hundred brothers. His older brother, Bharat, did not appreciate the fact that the land his younger brother ruled over was more prosperous than his, so he decided to take it by force. Soon into battle, it was decided that war would end in too much suffering for both kingdoms, so Bharat and Bahubali should have a contest of strength to determine the victor. Each would hit the other over the head until one admitted defeat. Since he was older, Bharat delivered the first blow, almost knocking Bahubali unconscious. Bahubali, whose name means "arms of strength", realized in mid-swing that if he landed his fist on his brother's head, Bharat would surely die. Already in an attack position, he could not stop because of the warrior code. If he stayed his hand, he would lose his position of power over his kingdom for breaking the Kshatriya attack protocol. In order to save his brother and to maintain his warrior status, he grabbed his own hair, ripping it from his head and struck the ground. Bahubali then gave over his kingdom to his brother and went off to live an ascetic life.

Bahubali's brother, Bharata
Statue of Bharat on the hill opposite where Bahubali stands

Bharat approached the meditating Bahubali several times, to return the kingdom, and even later to give over both kingdoms. Bahubali was not interested and remained deep in meditation, until he attained moksha. It is said that the statue of Bahubali is really Bahubali. Others say that Bharat fired his bow at the hilltop and the rock split by his arrow took the shape of the statue. The statue atop Vindyagiri Hill in Shravanabelagola won't tell us the true story, neither will the smaller statue of Bahubali's brother on Chandragiri Hill.

Chandragiri Hill

Bahuballi in the background
You can see Bahubali on top of Vindyagiri Hill from Chandragiri Hill

Just opposite Vindyagiri Hill, past the sarovar, is Chandragiri Hill. While it does not have a huge statue of a siddha on it, it does have a dozen or so bastis, or Jain temples. I particularly liked roaming around this hill, as there were very few people around. You could really enjoy the scenery, take your time examining the old writing on the rocks and spend time inside the shrines.

On a temple on Chandragiri Hill
One of the many Jain temples on Chandragiri Hill

A few things to note about this day excursion from Bangalore. First, you cannot wear shoes on either hill, so just leave them in the car for the day. Second, there are a lot of steps; repeat, a lot of steps involved getting to the top of either one of these hills. Third, carry some water with you, as there are no vendors waiting to sell you cold drinks at the top of these hills. Finally, carry more water than what you think you would like to drink, as you should remain hydrated.

Click here for more pictures from our trip to Shravanabelagola.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jodhpur, The Blue City

Jodhpur ahead
On NH 65 heading to Jodhpur

The Blue City

Jodhpur is known by many names: Sun City, Gateway to Thar and Brahmpuri are only some. Its most well-known moniker is The Blue City. Many of the houses to the north of Mehrangarh Fort are painted blue. The reason for the homes' color varies with the person you ask. Here are some of the reasons I have heard or read:

  • Brahmins are the religious leaders and skin of the gods is usually blue in color
  • The color discourages mosquitoes from entering the city
  • Chemicals to block termites tinted the originally white paint
  • This marked religious homes during the Jaipur-Jodhpur war, keeping inhabitants safe
  • Brahmins marked their homes to show themselves superior to neighbors
  • The color keeps the home cool

Whatever the reason, it was an interesting sight, looking down from Mehrangarh Fort.

The Blue City or the Sun City
View of The Blue City from Mehrangarh Fort

Friday, December 11, 2009

Brahma Temple in Pushkar

"Born from a flower" - that is what Pushkar means. Brahma accidentally dropped a flower down to Earth from the heavens, and Pushkar Lake was instantly created. This was the site of Brahma's first vajna, or sacrificial ritual. When Brahma's wife, Savitri, did not attend this event, Brahma took another consort. Savitri, hurt by this, cursed Brahma never to be worshiped anywhere outside Pushkar. So it was cool to visit the spot where it is cool to have a temple devoted to Brahma.

Pushkar Lake

Ghats surrounding Pushkar Lake
Pushkar Lake

Pushkar Lake is a pilgrimage spot, or dham, for Hindus. During Kartik, in October or November (lunar), devotees come to bathe in the lake water. Surrounding the lake are fifty-two ghats, though many of the steps do not lead to water, as the lake was nearly void of water when we visited.

The Pink City of Jaipur

What time is it? If you are in Jaipur, head over to the Jantar Mantar for the answer.

Jantar Mantar Observatory Zodiac instruments
Jantar (instrument) Mantar (calculation) is a complex of astronomical measuring tools

Jantar Mantar is the largest of five ancient Indian observatories, completed in 1734. These will constructed under orders from Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. This king accomplished so many things in his thirty-year rule that his title of maharaja, or grand king, was modified by "sawai", which is Hindi for one and one quarter. The massive astronomical devices at Jantar Mantar were used mostly for religious purposes: marking times of the year for Muslim and Hindu festivals. Jai Singh was a religious astronomer himself and strove for accuracy in timing important decisions regarding politics with heavenly events, for the gods' favorable assistance.