Netflix, youtube, and other stories #2

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories


Knowing that I have a fascination for things Japanese and also a fan of Malgudi Days, my daughter suggested to watch this series on Netflix. I am into the fifth episode and I have not been disappointed.

Each episode is an independent short story. However they have one thing in common. Most of the actions take place in a restaurant that is open from 12 in the midnight to 7 in the morning.

Through these stories, one gets glimpses of life and the mind of the everyday (or, every night :D) life of the Japanese living in the city of Tokyo.

Binge watch 1: World’s longest bus journey

All the five episodes of this DW documentary is available on youtube. When a peruvian bus company decided to run a bus service covering the 6300 km distance from Rio in Brazil to Lima in Peru along the Transocenica Highway, DW decided to send a crew to be part of the maiden journey.

It was supposed to make the journey in five days, but unforeseen delays along the way extended the journey by another day and a half.

In the backdrop of this journey one can peep into the life of the common men in South America. One can draw a lot of parallels with the life and governance in our developing south Asian countries – unplanned growth and lack of proper control playing havoc with the environment, unfinished and corruption riddled infra projects, and even frequent roadblocks by local to draw attention to their problems.

The journey is spiced with glimpses of personal life of the main driver and some of the passengers. Main tourist spots along the way are also explored in detail.

Binge watch 2: Harmony with AR Rahman


This series on Amazon Prime also has five episodes in total. AR Rahman, one of our greatest music directors, has a plan to conduct a special symphony that includes rare artists of vocal and instrumental tradition of classical and folk Indian music.  The first four episodes explore the back story of these four artists as Mr Rahman travels to the homes of these artists starting from Kerala to the North East.

Sajith Vijayan may not be well known even in his home state Kerala. Equally lesser known is the instrument that he plays. It is known as Mizhavu, a drum traditionally played during temple festivals.

From Kalamandalam of Kerala, Rahman travels to Mumbai to meet with Ustad Mohi Baha’uddin Dagar, one of the dozen surviving players of the musical instrument Rudra Veena. It was interesting to learn that his ancestors, who were Brahmins before getting converted to Islam, hailed from a village named Dagar. Rudra Veena is the oldest among the stringed Indian instruments.

The third artist,  Lourembam Bedabati, is a folk singer from Manipur. She has dedicated her whole life to revive the folk music known as Khunung Eshei, even preferring to remain unmarried. She is the main vocal artist in the symphony of the final episode. Her rendering was heart touching in spite of the fact that I could not understand the meaning of the lyrics. That is the power of music.

Mr. Rahman’s search ends in Sikkim where he meets with Mickma Tshering Lepcha who plays a bamboo flute know as Pangthong Palith.

Now the challenge  remains for Mr. Rahman to harmoniously blend and amalgamate all these diverse traditions of music. The master of music that he is, there is no doubt everything falls into place in the  grand symphony in the final episode.

It also shows how in spite of India being a land of diversity and plurality, since time immemorial, music has always found a way to transcend the boundaries of religion, ethnicity and other difference.



Netflix, youtube, and other stories #1

India is full of places of pilgrimages. Each state and each district can boast of thousands of places of pilgrimage, each associated with a puranic legend or some form of divinity. After all, according to Hindu belief, even though the ultimate reality is only one, it manifests in 3.3 bn different divine forms.

But, the four main places of pilgrimages, known as char dham,  are located in the four corners of the country. Badrinath in North, Puri in East, Rameswaram in South and Dwaraka in West. These four divine abodes were established by Adi Shankaracharya who is credited with reviving the Hindu religion and culture that was in a dying state due to the influence of Budhism.

Some say Lord Vishnu takes morning ablution in Badrinath, breakfast in Dwaraka, lunch in Puri, and retires to Rameswaram for rest. Some versions start with Vishnu taking morning ablution at Rameswaram. There seems to be some confusion among the pundits as to the association of the places with lord Vishnu’s daily rituals. However, there is no confusion with regard to one thing which is  with regard to the fact He comes to Puri for his lunch.

Why not? Anyone, who has tasted the Mahaprasad which is cooked in one fo the biggest kitchens of the world using age old recipes and techniques, will vouchsafe for this.

There also seems to be a lot of misconception and ignorance about the strange looking deities and the strange rituals associated with them. Of course, for any information these days, the internet opens the flood gates.  Out of thousands of videos available on youtube,  I found the three following videos very interesting and informative.

The central theme of every documentary is different. While the first one gives an overall idea about Lord Jagannath Dham and other prominent places of pilgrimage and tourism in Odisha, the other two are associated with different aspects of the grand annual spectacle known as  Rath Yatra and the event of Nabakalebara . 

  1.  Yatra Mahaprabhu Shri Jagannath Dham Darshan with prominent temples of Odisha.  This documentary gives an overall idea about Jaganath Dham, temples  and legend associated with the History of the idols, and other tourist attractions in the Golden Triangle which consists of Puri, Konark and Bhubaneswar. The stunning visuals are accompanied by the mesmerising narration by Sami Narang of Doordarshan fame.



2.  The Legend of Jagannath.  Originally aired on the National Geographic at the time of Navakalebara in 2015, actor Rajiv Khandelwal takes the viewer on a journey through the preparation for the grand car festival , sprinkling it with glimpses into the history of the temple and the deities from time to time. The documentary is also available on Netfilx with better video quality.



3.  God’s own people | Jagannath Yatra. This too was produced during the time of Navakalebara in 2015. However, it focuses on the aspect of the selection of the trees with specific divine manifestations. The wood from these four neem trees were used to carve out new idols of the four deities – Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan.

There are two parallel narratives in this documentary. One is about how the descendants of the Tribal King Biswabasu now known as daitapatis  go on an arduous journey to locate the trees and  the detailed rituals associated with bringing the wood to the temple. The second one which provides emotional depth to the narrative is that of a simple woman of the village where the tree for the idol of  Lord jagannath was located. Hailing from a remote village in Odisha, I had many nostalgic moments while watching it.

The documentary has been made by the famous director Nila Madhab Panda. (Remember I am Kalam, Kadvi Hawa …? ). Amitabh Bachan has lent his voice for narration – a grand actor for the documentary about a place where everything is grand.

Please watch the videos to go through an enlightening journey.

Jai Jagannath.

The Big Lord Descends Among Us

nava jauvana darshana of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra (R to L)

This is the time for the Annual Car Festival in Puri – the Rathyatra of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra. The rituals connected with the Jagannath temple has many roots and layers – some alaukik and some laukik i.e. some of divine origin and some by treating the idols as normal living human beings.

On the of the last full moon – known as Devasnana Purnima –  the idols were given the divine bath. Maybe, it was a little too much to handle even for the divine during their human leela on earth. So they fell sick, like they fall sick every year during this time.

According to western philosophy, time is linear. But the eastern concept of time is that it is cyclic. The rituals of the Lord gets repeated every year like the change of seasons. The rituals get repeated without fail, which is to say they repeat ad infinitum giving life a sense of immortality.

Of course it is not a monotonous repetition. How can it be? Everything connected with the temple is not only practically enermous, they are also named so. The temple is other wise known as Bada Deula – the big temple, the idol of Lord Jagannath is addressed as the Bada Thakura / Maha prabhu  – the big Lord, the road along which they make the annual journey in their huge chariots is known as the Bada Danda – the Grand Road, the sea nearby is  Mahodadhi – the great reservoir of water, the prasad is known as the mahaprasad, and so on. Everything is grand in scale and imagination scale and is named so.

After the Lords fall sick, the temple is closed for public darshan. These days are known as anavasara. At a practical level, this is the time for specific annual maintenance activities. The wooden idols are repainted and ‘many kinds of ‘secret rituals are undertaken so that the idols not only shine in their full glory when they emerge out of sickness, but also withstand the rough handling during the nine day rituals connected with the car festival.

So today, just a day before the Annual Car Festival, Jagannath – the lord of the Universe along with his big brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra emerge after recovering from the high fever.  The day is known as Nava jauvana darshana or netrotsav. The Lords are in their renewed vigour and splendour after being treated with powerful herbs and medicines.

During this period when the temple is closed to public, the hardcore devotees of the Lord  Jagannath have an alternate option not to miss the Darshan of the Lord even for a single day. They can go to Alarnath temple at Brahmagiri, located at about twenty five kms from Puri. According to the legend, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, during his stay in Puri,  was directed to go to Alarnath so as not to miss his daily darshan of the Lord during this anavasara period.  The boulder over which Sri Chaitanya used to do Sankirtan is still there.

Being the Lord of the Universe, He has the privilege to take a break. But not so for the devotee or, a seeker in the spiritual life. After getting this rare human life, not even a single day should be devoid of spiritual practices.

Alarnath Temple, Brahmagiri







today flowers blossom in me

Usually, the commuting to and from the office is the most unpleasant experiences of a working day in a city like Bengaluru so much so that when someone asks, ‘what is the distance of your office from home’, I say, ‘it is one and a half hours to two hours depending upon the mood of the traffic of the day’. Of course, in terms of physical distance it is only 25 km one way.

But today while going to office flowers blossom in me.

In spite of the fact that it is a post holiday working day. Today is Diwali. It must be a holiday for the Indians in the north of the Vindhyas. However, for many offices including the central government ones, yesterday was the official Diwali holiday. The thin traffic indicates that in spite of it being a working day, many thought in true Indian spirit that a day like Diwali ruled in favour of staying at home over whiling away time on mundane office affairs.  I also learn that officially it is Diwali off day for some.

Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian BloggersIt is such a pleasant experience to drive on Bengaluru roads on some of the busiest routes on a working day with thin traffic. I ruminate whether there is a remote possibility that in distant future a time will come when every working day traffic will be like this. Why limit the traffic problem to only working days. Even on weekends you may have a horrible time while negotiating with the Bengaluru traffic on many stretches. I am reminded of those lazy weekends twenty five years back when I used pedal around Bengaluru the whole day sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by a friend. If I do it now the doctor may, in stead of calling it a healthy habit,  discount my life expectancy by five years.

But today flowers blossom in me.  Bangalore is a cool beautiful city. What make it hell are its potholed roads, made worse by the incessant rain of the last couple of weeks. And the bumper to bumper laborious traffic. Today, free from the care of the bumper to bumper traffic, I can smell and feel the cool breeze passing through the roadside trees.

Flowers also blossom in me for another reason.  Thank God, I am not a Delhite. I will be able to blast a few crackers along with my son and his friends at least this year. For I don’t know when the ban- cracker-to -avoid- pollution syndrome that originated in Delhi will infect Bangalore, which is as cursed as Delhi in terms of vehicular pollution.

Of course our liberal and secular sensibilities do not allow us to ban certain types of highly polluting vehicles and industries, and inhuman practices of privileged religions.

Wishing all my readers a very happy Diwali.

diwali deepavali.jpg



Journey Through Karnataka’s Heritage Sites

For the Christmas vacation of 2015, the initial plan was to go somewhere far away, outside Karnataka. But plan A did not work out somehow. So here was the plan B – why not visit some nearby tourist places of Karnataka that we have been postponing visiting for years. A day before the visit, we decided, our 2/3 days journey would start with Shravanabelegola, then on to Shringeri through Belur and Halebeedu.

So, early one morning towards the close of 2015 we hit the road, me – the driver, Subha – my wife as the mentor and Dipayan – our 13 year old son as the official navigator and photographer.

Our first destination was Shravanabelagola which is about 160 kms from Bangalore. As I learn that some years back the statue of Gommatesvara at Shravanabelagola was voted overwhelmingly in a Times of India poll as the first of the seven wonders of India, I wonder, “how come I have missed such a wonderful site even though I have stayed in Karnataka off and on for over 10 years.”


Belagola means white pond and shravakas are Jain seekers. As the place is famous for both, it is named as Shravanabelagola. There is a beautiful pond- even though no more white – in the middle of the town which is flanked by two hills Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri.

On Vindhyagiri stands the majestic monolithic 57 feet high statue of Gommatesvara. There is no alternate to climbing barefoot or with socks the 650 odd steps to reach the sacred footstep of Lord Gommatesvara. Of course there are palanquin bearers for those who cannot climb. To reach the top, it takes a leisurely half an hour. There is no need to hurry. It would be better to take frequent breaks not only to stabilize breath, but also to appreciate the surrounding views as you climb. And of course to click those selfies to share on the social media.

As you climb up the Vindhyagiri Hill you can have a bird’s eye view of the Shravanabelagola town and the Chandragiri Hill across the town. It is here at Shravanabelegola that the Mauryan Emperor Chandragupta Maurya lived the last years of his life after converting to Jainism. On Chandragiri hills are a number of memorials to various Jain monks and a temple.

While climbing up the hill, you have the feeling that you are rising above the mundane affairs of the world and the majestic statue standing high on the mountain radiating bliss is inviting you to rise above the worldly worries and obtain the peak of bliss and innocence.

As one reaches the top of the hill through the winding steps one cannot but stand in awe of the magnificent statue of Gommatesvara Bahubali. Let it not be identified with the fictionalized character Bahubali of the eponymous multilingual movie.

When the movie Bahubali was released it drew protests from the Jain Community. May be, I think rightly so, they feared that the movie will evoke wrong associations and ideas concerning Jain History which is already misrepresented on many accounts by the scholars of Indian History.

On the rocks on both the hills are a large number of Kannada inscriptions that have survived the ravages of time for a thousand years. These have provided valuable information to the historians and archaeologists. However to me what was of special interest was the story of Bahubali written on a large board.

The story of Bahubali

Bahubali is the son of the first Jain Tirthankar – Rishavdeb who was the king of Ayodhya before entering into ascetic life. Rishavdeb had one hundred sons and two daughters through his two wives. Prominent among the sons were Bharat and Bahubali. Before renouncing worldly life, Rishavdeb crowned Bharat as the king of Ayodhya and Bahubali as the king of Taxshila. Other 98 sons were also made kings of various remaining provinces.

Bharat was highly ambitious. After subjugating 98 brothers he wanted Bahubali to surrender his kingdom. But Bahubali, which literally means the strong armed, would not consent. So war became inevitable. Fearing large scale devastation, the learned from both the sides, suggested a novel method – instead of the armies of both the sides engaging in battle, let there be a duel between the two brothers. Perhaps, it was keeping in line with the Jain principle of Ahimsa or where total Ahimsa was not possible to go for minimum collateral damage. Bharat was defeated in all the three rounds of the duel. But instead of being humbled, the defeat only infuriated him more and he sent his special weapon, known as Chakraratan – a wheel bestowed with magical powers, to kill Bahubali. To everyone’s surprise the weapon could not even touch Bahubali.

At first Bahubali was enraged. However, a sudden realization dawned on him and made him wonder about the futility of war and the craving for worldly gains. Thus, humbled in victory, Bahubali gave away his kingdom to Bharat and set on the journey of self-discovery. He engaged in deep meditation in the standing posture for such a long time that creepers grew over his legs. With a little help from Rishavdeb, Bahubali finally became enlightened.

Awestruck, as I climb down the Vindhyagiri, I cannot but agree with what the famous journalist Vir Sanghvi had written in an article after visiting Shravanabelagola – “It is a sobering thought that around 500 years before Michelangelo created his David, Indian craftsmen had created a statue that is much more beautiful and far more impressive. ….. Long before the European Renaissance and long before the great structures of the medieval era – such as the Taj Mahal – were created, India had a cultural heritage that was the envy of the world”.

The head anointing ceremony

Every 12 years, the head anointing ceremony known as Mahamasthakabhisheka is performed in an elaborate ritual where in the idol is bathed in sacred liquids like sandal paste, milk, ghee, turmeric paste etc. The grand ceremony, that draws millions of people, culminates with the showering of flowers from a helicopter. The next one is scheduled to be held in February 2018.

The message of Gommatesvara Bahubali

Bahubali, the strong armed one, stands alone, naked, innocent and majestic radiating bliss and peace atop mount Vindhyagiri to announce to the world that to patronize non-violence requires unsurpassed strength. It is not a sign of meekness and weakness. Defeat need not always humble someone. Real victory is victory over one’s own negative tendencies and ignorance.

Belur and Halebidu

Our next destination on the heritage tour was Halebidu which is at a distance of about 80 Kms from Shravanabelagola. We reached there by lunch time, hungry enough to devour whatever was on offer. So we did not mind the shanty hotel near the Hoysaleswara temple offering typical south Indian Thali.

Belur and Halebidu bear the testimony to not only the grand and distinct architectural style as the Hoysala style of architecture, but also the ravages done to a culturally advanced society by the barbaric Muslim invaders from time to time. A UNESCO study says that out of the 1500 temples built by the Hoysala rulers, only 100 survive today. Many temples were destroyed by the army of All-ud-din Khilji led by his general – Malik Kafur.

Belur was the first capital of the Hoysala Rulers whose empire spread all over Karnataka and some of the neighboring states. During their reign from the 10th to 14th century AD, art, architecture literature and spiritual practices thrived due to generous patronage of not only the rulers but also the influential citizens. In addition to the places of religious rituals, the temples served as centers of art and culture and sometimes even as courts. The Hoysala style attempted to achieve grandeur in ornate design with profusion of intricately carved stone sculptures, in contrast to the temples of other styles built to grand size , both vertical and horizontal.

The Chennakesava temple at Belur was commissioned in the early part of the 12th century by King Vishnuvardhana. The Vaishnavite Temple was earlier known as Vijayanarayana Temple to commemorate the victory of King Vishnuvardhana over the Chalukyas, as one legend goes. It is said that the Saivite Hoysaleswara temple at Halebidu was built by prominent merchants to rival the Chennakesava Temple in grandeur and glory. However after the completion of the temple it was dedicated to King Vishnuvardhana, who shifted his capital to Dwarasamudra which was later on called as Halebidu meaning the Old City. Some say King Vishnuvardhan was converted to Vaishnavism from Jainsim and his wife Shantala was also a Jain. Nevertheless, she patronized many Hindu temples. Overall, it is seen that during the Hoyasala period, a highly culturally and intellectually developed plural society developed making immense contribution to Indian and Kannada art, culture and literature.

The main attraction of Halebidu are the two conjoined temples of Hoysaleswara and Shantaleswar. There is an archaeological museum inside the compound of the temple. Other places of interest are the Kedareswara temple (also built in Hoysala style) and the Jain Basadi which are at short distance.

I was intrigued by the story behind the Garuda Pillar to the south side of the Hoysaleswara Temple. Usually Vishnu’s vahana Garuda sits on the Garuda pillar in front of many Vaishnavite temples. However, this Garuda Pillar here is erected in honor of the body guard of King Ballala II. I learn that Garudas were highly skilled and loyal body guards of the kings. With the death of the king they served, they also ended their lives. In this particular case, the body guard Kuruva Lakshma was so loyal that he took the life of his whole family along with his own.

Inside the the Chennakesava Temple at Belur are a number of other temples, some added later on after the consecration of the main Vishnu Temple. As I enter the large temple compound in the afternoon, roam around and sit down for a while to meditate, it gives one a feeling of timelessness. Nothing much has changed inside the temple during the last 800 years, including the form of temple ritual that has been carried on without even a day’s break .Of course men have come and men have gone. The carvings on the outer walls and the inscriptions provide valuable information and hints about the life in those days.

Each image, each carving has a story to tell and they are in thousands. The history and archeology enthusiast may need months to explore and fathom them. Even for a casual visitor, one day is definitely not enough to appreciate various historical land marks (that includes Hoysala-style step wells) spread in and around Belur and Halebidu.

At the end of a tiring day, falling asleep was not much of a problem. However certain vague and dreamlike feelings lingered on as I felt being transported back in time to those golden days of history. I hear the sounds of sculptors chiseling and bringing into life, lifeless objects, with the hope that the creations outlived the creators. I see them signing off their work with a feeling of pride and accomplishment (literally, because many of the carvings bear the name of the sculptor in local language). On various pandals inside the temple, discourses and discussions are going on as to the origin of the universe, the nature of reality and the ultimate aim of life. In another corner, the compositions of poets find expressions through accomplished dancers and singers. In the streets outside, the common citizens carry on with their lives as usual while the threat of battle and devastation looms large. Soldiers return from battle, wounded and tired, yet surviving to tell the tales of camaraderie, courage and victory.

Shravanabelagola, Halebid and Belur have been proposed to be included in the list of UNESCO heritage sites. There has been no such recommendation for Sringeri. May be because, Sringeri does not boast of any monument of architectural grandeur. Nevertheless it is an important landmark contributing to the notion called India and towards the preservation of ancient Indian spiritual and intellectual heritage. Thus seen, it is no less a heritage site than Shravanabelagola.

On to Shringeri and Shirimane Falls

The 100kms odd journey from Belur to Sringeri was mesmerizing. The winding road through the ghat sections of Chikmagalur district is flanked by coffee estates. In between there are stretches of roads that are in need of repair and it slows down our journey. Otherwise also, we stop frequently to have a panoramic view of the surroundings and examine the plantations of the estates. My wife gets fascinated with the creepers that grow on the tall trees which provide a canopy to the coffee plants. We learn that these are the creepers that produce black pepper. We reached Sringeri long before lunch time to take a little rest and visit the temples of Sringeri Sarada Peetham. The guest houses constructed and maintained by Sharada Peeham are well maintained and the charges are very nominal. Of course one can opt for one of the more expensive private lodges or home stays located throughout the town and the outskirts.

Sringeri is a small town with a population of about 5000 and is situated on the southern side of the river Tunga. There is ample parking place in between the town and the river and adjacent to the Sarada Peetham.

The majority of tourists were school children who came as a part of their annual excursion during the Christmas vacation. It was a bit crowded. At other times we may not see so many footfalls. As the place was meant to be a citadel of learning and contemplation for those who took to the monastic order, it would be fitting if the place is not filled with bustling crowds all the year round.

However, there is a story behind the place being chosen to be the first of the four original ‘Maths’ established by Adi Shankara. While passing through Sringeri, Adi Shankara saw a unique site near River Tunga. It was a very hot day and a snake had spread its hood over a frog to shelter it from hot sun. Adi Shankar could discern the special vibes permeating the place. The story has a modern parlance. Huge number of fish gather at the river bend near the temple to be fed with puffed rice by the human beings. They have so much faith of not being caught and fried that they come near you without any iota of fear or hesitation. Truly, it is a place with special vibes. The presence of ancient temples, the river flowing by leisurely and the green mountains standing still create a serene and peaceful atmosphere.

Here it may be remembered that today there are hundreds of swamis and saints who claim to be the torch bearers of the traditions started by Adi Shankaracharya. However, Adi Shankar established only four ‘Maths’ – one each in the southern, western, northern and eastern part of India, entrusting each Math to be administered by one of his four prominent disciples- Sureshwara, Hastamalaka, Totakacharya and Padmapada. Thus, in the south we have the Sharada Peetham at Sringeri, in the west at Dwaraka we have the Dwarakapeetha, Jyotirmath is located at Badrinath in the north and at Puri in the east we have Govardhan Peetha. Presently the Sharada Peetham is headed by Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji who is the 36th in the lineage of head pontiffs of the Peetham.

The temples of Sri Saradamba, Sri Toranaganapati, Sri Vidyashankar, Sri Adishankara and another dozen odd temples are located inside the temple complex on the southern bank of the River Tunga. Sri Vidyashankar Temple was constructed in 14th century combining Hoysala and Dravidian style of architecture. Different temples inside the complex have been constructed at different times. Our visit and prayers at the temples on the southern side culminated with the partaking of the free lunch (annaprasada) inside the temple complex. The lunch consisting of kheer, rice, sambhar and butter milk was simple yet sumptuous. Temple authorities claim that every day on an average of 8-10 thousand people are provided free lunch and dinner.

In the evening we went to the northern side of the peetham across the river. A narrow high bridge over river Tunga connects both sides of the premises of the peetham. Of course, nearby there is another hanging foot bridge for the use of the villagers on the other side of the river. The northern side across the river houses the living quarters of the pontiffs, other swamis and disciples. It has the ambience of an Ashram. One can have an audience with the head pontiff Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji and his successor designate Sri Vidhusekhar Bharati at prescribed timings in the morning and evening subject to their availability at Sringeri. Luckily for us on that day both of them were available for darshan.

There are a number of other temples in and around Sringeri. Another interesting place that we visited in the afternoon was the Sirimane Falls located at a distance of about 20 kms from Sringeri. Even though the road was so bad that it created doubts as to whether it would survive the next few days to be regarded as any kind of motor-able road, the waterfall was worth a visit. Here again the crowd consisted primarily of sportive school students running to enjoy a bath while their shouting, reprimanding, threatening guardians and teachers played the spoilsport.

The Article originally appeared on TourMyIndia. Visit the site for more photos.


The Idea of India


Even to this day the accepted idea of India in the west has followed the concept propounded by Sir John Strachey (1823-1907), a British Civil Servant posted in India. He said, “ ….. India is a name which we give to a great region including a multitude of different countries. There is no general Indian term that corresponds to it….. There are no countries in civilized Europe in which people differ so much as the Bengali differs from the Sikh …. That there is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India, possessing according to European ideas any sort of unity, physical, political, social and religious: no Indian nation, no ‘people of India’ of which we hear so much. We have never destroyed in India a national government, no national sentiment has been wounded, no national pride has been humiliated and this not through any design or merit of our own, but because no Indian nationalities have existed.

You are wrong Sir Strachey, as wrong as you can be. You have not only missed the sacred geography of India but also its impression of inexplicable  ‘oneness’ that was deeply felt by a western educated Nehru, who was one of the greatest votaries of secularism post independence. He wrote in his Discovery  of India, “ It was not her wide space that eluded me, or even her diversity, but some depth of soul which I could not fathom, though I had occasional and tantalizing glimpses of it. Though outwardly there was diversity and infinite variety among our people, everywhere there was that tremendous impress of oneness, which had held all of us together for ages past, whatever political fate or misfortune that had befallen us. The unity of India was no longer merely an intellectual concept for me: it was an emotional experience that overpowered me.”

The word India is a Greek word that referred to the land beyond the river Sindhu. The Greek historians wrote works they called Indika to consolidate knowledge received from this land. Of course the people did not call their own land India. The indigenous term was Bharata, derived from the famous son of King Dushyanta. It was also called Bharatavarsha, the land of Bharata. The Indian sub continent was known as Jambudwipa (Rose Apple Island) or Kumaridwipa (the island of the Virgin Goddess).

The names Bharatavarsha and Jambudwipa are not only ancient, but also very much in vogue.   Every Hindu Sankalpa, to make explicit one’s position in the cosmos, starts with,  “In Jambudwipa, in Bharatkhanda, in so and so city …….”.  This tradition has been followed since time immemorial.

What is so special about India’s landscape is that in addition to being diverse and dramatic, all its landmarks like rivers, mountains and seashores etc.  are alive with myths and stories, ranging from being local to pan Indian, being little known to being part of famous legends known throughout the length and the  breath of the country with links to the great epics like Ramayana or Mahabharata.

india-a-sacred-geographyWhatever I have written so far in this post have been excerpted, deduced or distilled from the book, India-a Sacred Geography. Diana L. Eck- the author of the  book is a professor of comparative religion and Indian Studies at Havard University. She has won numerous accolades and awards for her sensitive portrayal of religious history in Indian as well as American contexts. The book attempts to explore the myths and realities surrounding the idea of India giving us the historical perspective beginning from the vedic age.  At the core, it tries to establish that: (as excerpted from the book blurb)

“ ……….  ultimately Eck shows us that from these network of pilgrimage places, India’s very  sense of region and nation has emerged. This is the astonishing and fascinating picture of a land linked for centuries not by the power of kings and governments, but by the footsteps of pilgrims.”

The book also explores the impact of muslim invaders and colonialism on this sacred landscape and how even the replicas of this interlinked sacred places have been created by Muslims and Christians in India. However, the book primarily focuses on the sacred geography of the land from the point of view of Hinduism and there are detailed explorations of the places of pilgrimages and how they are linked to each other across India and some times find there local replicas.

Contrary to the belief that all the desecrations of temples that took place during Muslim rule were due to religious bigotry of the rulers, the author is of the view that it was more to do with stripping the conquered from their association with the source of power. For many rulers the patronizing of a particular place of worship was closely linked to his extent of power. Of course, many of the places of pilgrimage that they destroyed or tried to destroy – like the Somnath Temple, the Jagannat Temple at Puri, – have bounced back to their former glory.

My own view is that you may try to destroy the idea of India by destroying its sacred landscape, but how do you destroy the myths which are harbored in the minds of its people? At  a deeper level, perhaps, the idea of India lives in the collective consciousness of its people through the myths that have been handed down since time immemorial, construction of temples and associating the geography with the myths being a part of that process.

Prodding  through volumes of ancient Indian texts, the author has brought out many interesting facts, narrations and insights of the ancient seers. Here is one that I found interesting: India’s imaginative world map, as envisaged by the ancient seers, did not make India the centre of the world as did Anaximander who made Greece the centre of his world map. In fact the Indian seers were not only aware of the existence of the other parts of the world beyond Indian sub-continent, but also  idealized other parts of the world some of which they named as Ketumala, Uttarakuru, Bhadrashva etc. According to them in many other countries people led far better lives and had more material resources to enjoy life.

Then of course they had this final warning: However, it was only in India that the ultimate freedom or moksha was possible as it was the karmabhumi (lands of spiritual action) while other countries were bhogabhumi (lands of worldly enjoyment).

Therefore this Bharata is the most excellent land in the Rose-Apple island, O Sage. For the others may be lands of enjoyment, but this is the land of action” (Mahabharata)

Is not the above statement true even today? In fact it is so true that sometimes I doubt it was written thousands of years ago.

Isn’t it India where the serious spiritual seeker lands up, ultimately? (In spite of all her shortcomings)

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Karntaka Heritage Sites – Photo Essay

For the Christmas vacation of 2015, the initial plan was to go somewhere far away, outside Karnataka. But plan A did not work out somehow. So here was the plan B – why not visit some nearby tourist places of Karnataka that we have been postponing visiting for years. A day before the visit, we decided, our 2/3 days journey would start with Shravanabelegola, then on to Shringeri through Belur and Halebeedu.

Here are some photos of the trip. To read my detailed article at  click here

At the foot of the Lord Bahubali


The magnificent Bahubali


The guardian angels are no less majestic


View from the top of the hill of the shrines at the Chandragiri Hills and the sorrroundings


A panoramic view of the Chennakesava temple at Belur


halebid 2
Halebid interior
Entrance to Halebid Temple
Intricate carvings
Intricate interiors
The magnificent Bull – a witness of thousand years
The defined layers of intricate carvings


The journey should be as beautiful as the destination

For more photos and to read my detailed article at  click here