Monday, September 26, 2011

Bhatkal's alluring charm

A few weeks ago, I was in that most beautiful of regions, coastal Karnataka. WHAT a sight for sore eyes: mountains partially veiled by mists, vistas of various shades of green, and the almost-constant pitter-patter of life-giving rain. Shah Jahan had it wrong. If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is definitely here.

We were in Bhatkal, a quiet and charming little town full of beautiful old houses and handsome men and women. Yet who would have thought that five hundred years ago, this same town bustled with activity, being the mighty Vijayanagar Empire's principal port city?? Those were the good times for Bhatkal - business boomed, the economy flourished and money accumulated. Prosperity manifested itself in many ways. A number of large and grand temples and palaces were built in the town, most of them with donations from successful businessmen. The palaces are long gone but a few of the temples still survive. In fact, the very picturesque area of Mudbhatkal, a suburb about 2 km away from the main town, has a clutch of about 6 old temples, all situated in picture-postcard types of settings amidst paddy fields and coconut palms. Some like the Khetapai Narayana temple are fairly well-preserved, others like the Adikenarayana temple, are little more than partial walls and a roof. All are definitely worth a visit, especially the Adikenarayana and the Lakkar Kamti.

The only way to get to this last temple was by walking through the fields. It was quite an enchanting sight, a lone brown shrine marooned in a sea of waving paddy fields. I had assumed the temple was abandoned. Perhaps that is why I found a certain poignancy to the simple garland of white flowers draped around one of the idols. The temple might have been isolated but someone still took the trouble to adorn the idol everyday.

You can read a little more about Bhatkal and its temples in this article which appeared in Deccan Herald a few weeks ago.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bidriware... and a result

I was never a big fan of Bidriware - those highly polished black items with silver inlay that you can see at Cauvery. Sure, they looked nice. Would I buy one? Probably not. But a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity of interacting with some Bidriware artisans and that changed things somewhat.

One of the artisans I met was the genial, quick-witted and eminently likable Rasheed Qadri, a craftsperson who has won state and national awards for his work. "Awards get me recognition, not money," was one of his quotable quotes. He very patiently showed us the various steps that are involved in crafting these beautiful objets d'art. And as he wisely said, sometimes you can only appreciate something when you know it and understand it a little.

Although I do enjoy writing, sometimes I wonder if what I write serves any purpose at all. S often tells me writing is a complete waste of time and that it is only for hot-air types. I usually disagree but sometimes, I do get my doubts: does anyone ever read something I've written and maybe change their mind about some issue? Or perhaps they go out and do something that will make the world a better place, even if only for a few people, even if only in a very, very small way? Well, last week, after my article on Bidri appeared in Deccan Herald, I got an email from someone who said she had been in the handicrafts business for two decades. She said she used to sell Bidriware until her supplier suddenly stopped. "Seeing your article in the paper, I had to contact you to bring back this beautiful artwork into my showroom," she said. It's not much, I know, but at least one artisan will benefit from my writing. I'm moderately pleased.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Begur again

Begur beguiles. Or perhaps it is more correct to say I find Begur beguiling. Perhaps it is the cute little mud fort that still stands bravely against all the construction cranes that are inching ever closer. Or perhaps it is how vestiges of the past are sprinkled all around the village in the form of statues, broken idols and pillars. Or perhaps it is the people who seem ever ready to share a story with you every time you visit. And then of course, there is the Bangalore inscription (which I wrote about a while ago). Luckily, it is still standing. Like I've said here, all it needs is a small open-air museum where it could be placed along with some information about its importance. Incredible how even getting such a little thing done is so difficult. In the meantime, the temple's four new gopuras are coming up at a brisk pace.

Lakshmi Sharath also has a nice write-up on Begur in the this week's Spectrum.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A 3500-year-old calendar... in stone

Some weeks ago, on a searing hot morning typical of north Karnataka, we stopped at a site just about 20m off the highway from Shahpur to Bangalore. It was a plantation of tamarind trees, but an unusual one. Interspersed with the trees were about 400 boulders, arranged in a roughly 20 x 20 grid. Scholars have described the grid as being laid with almost mathematical precision, and standing next to one, I could see what they meant. Boulders neatly arranged in straight lines and diagonals stretched out in every direction, but for a few odd ones that seemed to have been slightly displaced. This was the site of Vibhutihalli, where some 3400 to 3800 years ago, ancient people painstakingly created this stone grid to serve as a sort of calendar in stone.

It was Dr NK Rao who demystified the site for me recently, describing how the site was probably
used to track events like solstices and equinoxes. Because so many events in neolithic and megalithic people's lives depended on the seasons, it made immense sense to monitor them. I tried to imagine how it might have worked, but the trees hampered the view and ruined any atmosphere the site might have had: perhaps the only spot in the state where trees should NOT have been planted is, of course, where they have been planted in plenty. I couldn't help but think of Stonehenge. The most celebrated prehistoric celestial observatory in the world draws millions of people every year (including Indians) and is a World Heritage Site. Meanwhile, Vibhutihalli and similar sites in India languish for want of understanding and care. But all is not gloom and doom. Research by Dr Rao and his colleagues is helping people understand such sites. Meanwhile, the Archaeological Survey of India has also taken an interest here. I am hopeful things will look up for this intriguing site.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cannon and fodder at the Battle of Bangalore

It's been a while since I posted here, mainly because I have been travelling a lot. But I couldn't pass up writing about the Battle of Bangalore on its 220th anniversary.
Did you know there was such a battle? Why, our very own fort was at the heart of things then. Bastions and breaches, bullocks and the British, cannon and fodder, bayonets and betrayals: the Battle of Bangalore had all the drama, blood and gore associated with battles. It was a short battle, with the siege lasting only two weeks. But the consequences were pretty far-reaching, or at least I like to think so. After all, capturing Bangalore made the assault on Srirangapatna (and hence the eventual defeat of Tipu) possible. Here's more on the Battle in my article in Deccan Herald.