Monday, December 3, 2012

Hampi & Badami; The Deccan Delights, Part I

The bus shakes and rattles like a child's plaything. With every jerk, the old springs underneath the bus, keep squeaking and creaking loudly, perhaps complaining about the cruel treatment given by the potholed road. The left side windows are all draped with heavy cotton curtains, to block any sun light piercing through. Even then, an odd quiver or shudder of the bus, makes the drapes dance wildly for a moment, allowing a brilliant yellow ray of light to shoot through and scorch my bare arms. The weather is pleasant and cool. Yet the rays of the sun hit my arms like a flare. I look out through the uncovered window on my right. I see unending acres of sugar cane, jawar and cotton fields roll on. I close my eyes for an instant. I realize that the the bus now taking a sharp left turn, suddenly comes to a stop. It seems we have arrived at Hampi.

Rocky Mountain

I get down from the bus and look around. The fertile fields have all disappeared as if by magic. What I see in the front, is incredible. In every direction, huge heaps of granite and sandstone stones and rocks of every imaginable and conceivable shape, lie scattered around on hilltops, vales or are heaped everywhere on top of each other in what look like to be the most precarious arrangements. It is difficult to even imagine how this scenario was ever created. Only explanation that I can think of is a major volcanic eruption billions of years ago, wherein the hot lava was thrown up in the sky to a great height. The hot lava solidified into stones while coming down and settled everywhere. My Deccan safari has just began at Hampi with the stones.

The history of any country in the world or region is always shaped by the geography of that region, human nature being same everywhere. In China, mighty empires of Qin, Han and Ming dynasties, faced periodic ravage and destruction from the north-westerly nomadic tribes of the Central Asian steppe region. The ancient Chinese history is shaped by these invasions. India is no exception. Ancient and medieval history of India also speaks of continuous aggressions from North-West.

Geographically speaking, Indian peninsula can be divided into four distinct regions. Himalayan mountainous region of far north, fertile flats of North and North-West India of Indus-Ganga river basins, central plateau region of Godawari-Krishna river basins and the tropical southern India. Out of these four regions, the entire Himalayan region, because of its extreme weather, was not really suitable for habitation and not many settlers came in except in the vale of Kashmir. Continuous foreign invasions took place over the Indus and Ganga river valleys or basins. The entire history of Indian sub continent is so closely associated with these invasions in northern plains, that the history of Deccan plateau region in the doab between Krishna and Godavari rivers is mostly neglected by most of the historians. We can learn from historical accounts that even this region was continuously subjected to foreign invasions. However this region saw many risings of local powers even up to 16th century CE, who had established their empires in the Deccan. These empires resisted effectively the Shaka ( Scythian) and later the Muslim invaders. As a result, no foreign rule could be established over complete Deccan region even up to 16th century CE, and the states in south India always remained insulated or isolated from Muslim invaders from north and Hindu culture prospered in South India. It can also be said that the local kingdoms of the Deccan plateau, blocked the process of Islamization of India, and it could never recover again.

The oldest known indigenous empire of the Deccan was established by Satavahana kings after demise of Emperor Ashoka in 3rd century BCE. However parts of this empire were soon captured by Shaka (Scythian) invaders sometime in first century BCE. The mighty king Goutamiputra from this dynasty liberated most of the areas of Deccan from foreign invaders around 78 CE and limited rule of foreign invaders only to west of his empire in Malwa, Gujrat and Kathiawad regions where kings of Shaka, Pahelavi and Greek origins continued to rule. Satvahana kings were followed by Chalukya, Rashtrakut and Yadav dynasties, who ruled over the Deccan. In the year 1294, Delhi Sultan Allauddin Khilji defeated Yadav kings and Muslim power was established over Deccan for the first time. In the year 1347, Bahmani empire was established in the Deccan and there were clear signs that Islamization of the Deccan would now be complete.

Two Hindu Kings, Harihar and Bukka from Sangma dynasty, established a Hindu kingdom on the bank of river Tungbhadra in the year 1336 and managed to block the spread of Islamic rule for next 200 years very effectively. The process of Islamization of India, which got blocked with establishment of Vijayanagara empire was eventually stopped for ever and even when Islamic rule of local Sultans was established 200 years later, with defeat of Vijayanagara army by combined armies of five Islamic kingdoms, it could not regain any momentum. Both these events therefore have great historic importance.

The traces of the indigenous empires of the Deccan are still found all over the region. In Maharashtra, such traces are found at Ajanta, Ellora and Doulatabad fort near Aurangabad city. However the region that could be considered as the most important from this historical point of view happens to be the Gadag, Bagalkote and Vijapur Districts of the state of Karnataka. The real glory of these empires of the Deccan can be witnessed still, only in these regions. That is why I have decided to start my safari of the Deccan, from Hampi.

The empire of Vijayanagara was in existence for more than 200 years and during this period it was considered as the most powerful and wealthy state. In 1565, after defeat of Vijayanagara army, the enemy armies totally destroyed the beautiful capital of Vijayanagara empire at Hampi. This destruction went on for a period that extended for more than 6 months. Only ruins of this once beautiful metropolis now remain. Even then, it is easy to find the traces and the signs of original affluence and wealth at many places in the ruins. Hampi ruins are spread over 26 square Km, but the most important ruins are seen only at 3 places, which are near about. It is therefore easily possible to see Hampi on foot, without much trouble.

After alighting from the bus, I am on my way to a section of ruins towards north, which have mostly temple ruins. I can see ahead of me 3 or 4 small structures, which appear to have a very special kind of construction. On a plinth built from granite stone blocks, number of vertical pillars stand up. Huge granite stone slabs seem to rest on these pillars creating a sort of a ceiling. Almost all the structures in Hampi that still stand, have a similar construction. I can see a structure bit higher up on the hill slope, which contains a huge stone idol. I walk towards the structure and immediately realize that this structure was a temple of an elephant Hindu God, Lord Ganesha. As per Hindu religious beliefs, any new undertaking succeeds surely, if begun with invocation to Lord Ganesha. I start my Hampi wanderings with a visit to a Ganesha temple.

Sasivekalu Ganesha

This Ganesha idol, about 8 feet tall, is called Sasivekalu Ganesha and has been sculptured from a single granite rock. In the local Kannada language, word Sasivekalu means a mustard seed. It is said that this idol has a stomach, shaped like a mustard seed and hence the name. A cobra snake is seen sculptured around the waist. This Ganesha idol is supposed to have eaten too much food and was scared that his stomach may now burst, so he tied a Cobra around his tummy.

Cobra snake tied on tummy

Side view of Lord Ganesha

Rear view, Ganesha sits in the lap of mother Goddess Parvati 

I just go around the sculptured idol. Hindu mythology tells that Ganesha was originally a shepherd. That is why we can see a stick and a lasso in his hands of this idol. From the other side, this Ganesha idol looks very much like a woman in sitting position with hair tied up in a knot. What this sculpture actually is trying to depict is Lord Ganesha's mother “Parvati” sitting with her gigantic child in her lap. Perhaps the sculptor of this idol is trying to tell us the fundamental truth, that for any mother, her son, even if he is very famous and powerful, is always a small child in her mind. I leave the Ganesh temple and start walking further towards north, greatly appreciating in my mind, the flight of fancy of the sculptor.

(To be concluded)

3 December 2012