Saturday, January 28, 2006

Watching Out For Monkeys at Badami

Finally the photos are out! This is a picture of Badami, as taken from the caves. The net has some great pictures of the place, just search Google for 'Badami'.

Badami was under the rule of the Chalukya kings. The place is so called because the rocks here are the colour of Badam. Its a beautiful place (a friend keeps making fun of how I manage to find every place beautiful or nice or amazing! And each with an exclamation mark too!)

We were out early that day after a pleasant night. The roads leading to the place are pathetic, even by normal rural standards. We were wondering whether we were on the right road, going as we were through slums. Something that was to become very common throughout the rest of my trip caught my eye. A lot of houses here have blue doors, a few green. Blue not the colour of the sky but a rather gaudy shade. I remember Nat Geo showing how blue doors were to ward off the evil eye in Arab countries. I asked a person at Pattadkal but he could not confirm this.

A popular Kannada editor had once written about Badami and warned of how they snatch your cameras and throw them on the rocks, pull your clothes and generally make a nuisance of themselves. I was very apprehensive about this but thankfully, I found it to be a tad bit exaggerated. There are monkeys but will bother you only if you pretend to offer food. Ma made a dig on the media here and said how you can never trust journalists to tell the truth. (She loves doing that to see me defend my profession!)

Badami is essentially cave temples at four levels. The first three are dedicated to Lord Shiva and the last one is a Jain temple. We hired a guide who rattled off the history of the place for full two hours. Most of it, the names and the dates, just flew out with the cold breeze on top of the hill. There were some interesting details I remember though.

The first cave has a figure of Nataraja, Lord Shiva in a dancing pose, that has eighteen arms. It is so carved that various permutations and combinations of the arms bring out the mudras of Bharatanatyam. Also, a carving of Lord Ganesha is unique because the way the sculptor imagined Him is very different from how we see Him today. The figure does not have a big belly that is so much a part of Ganesha today. There are interesting carvings, each of which tell a story, so like all the temples in India where each stone has a story behind it.

The stone used here is sandstone that literally melts with the vagaries of time, wind and sunlight. The Chalukyan kings had earlier tried building a temple in Aihole and Pattadkal nearby but those melted with time. Hence they built their temples at Badami in such a way that the wind does not get into the caves and neither does light. The sculptures are intact, though the natural colours used to paint the walls have faded away long ago.

The picture above shows the hill opposite the cave temples. The houses that you can see are illegal as per the Ancient Monument Act. Houses can be built 100 meters (is it more or less? I am not too sure.) away from monuments and these people will be evacuated any day now. The pond was supposed to have had healing powers though human activity has polluted it today. The entire place is supposed to have been an ocean millions of years ago.

Badami is a good place. It forms a triangle with Aihole and Pattadkal. We went there too but were not very impressed. I wouldn't say it is worth it to travel as far as we did to see just Aihole and Pattadkal. Both are in ruins. It is interesting to see how the stones have melted as if they were plain wax. But Badami is worth going. There are stone benches to take in the imposing structures but it was too cold that morning to do so.

You can spend an entire day there going to the opposite hill and the pond. We were on a tight schedule and moved on. The tall rocks block the sun and as we moved on, the sun hit us square in the face. And so did the realities of the world. The splendour of the Chalukyan Dynasty was juxtaposed with a naked child playing in the mud while a older girl, not yet a teenager, looked longingly at the trickle of water that was filling up her bucket. The rocks hid not the destitution of the world outside of where its shadows fall.....

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