Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Try to ignore the aggressive monkeys out to steal all your worldly possessions. It is not easy, but do try. Do definitely ignore the crowds. In this part of the world, ignoring crowds should be an ingrained habit by now anyway. Tune out the guides reciting their rote-learned history in a painful, singsong voice. Remind yourself –again -that they all have as much right to be there as you do, the monkeys perhaps even more so. And do try to put the aesthetically-challenged town at the bottom of the hill out of your mind.

Camera at the ready, run up the steps up the hill and make your way around a group of some 30 restless schoolchildren being subjected to a history lesson by a teacher.

The view is well worth it.





 We visited the Badami caves while touring Hampi, Aihole and Pattadakkal. All these places can be combined in a single trip.


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Hyderabad’s Old City has got to be one of the busiest and most chaotic places on the planet.

Autorickshaws really believe that laws of physics (and common sense) don’t apply to them, and try to head in different directions all at once, then find they cannot get anywhere. The pungent fumes from the exhausts almost jump off the photograph to assault the reader on his comfortable sofa.

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Heaven forbid that there should be any sort of urban planning.


But a very short distance from this chaotic center of the universe is an oasis of peacefulness, good taste and planning: Chowmahalla palace, home to the Nizams of Hyderabad in the 19th century and modern day museum.

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The interiors of the palace are just as good.







This is the founder of the Hyderabadi Asaf Jahi dynasty, Mr. Asaf Jah the First, no less.

DSCN0327 And this gentleman below  is the last of this illustrious dynasty.

DSCN0342 There surely must be a mathematical law that postulates that corpulence is inversely proportional to one’s sequence in the dynastic tree .

This is the Nizam’s car collection. In an earlier era it might have been elephants and horses.

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And welcome back to the present:  DSCN0212

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In Hampi’s Shadow

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Pattadakkal were peeved at being perennially in the shadow of Hampi, about 90 miles to its south-east and 6 centuries its junior. But aloof and sure of its own place in history, this ancient seat of the Badami Chalukyas does not seem jealous of the extraordinary attention attracted by its upstart neighbor.DSCN0614

Hampi, the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire, is the charismatic younger sibling who always hogs the limelight.  Be it its incredible founding myth, its legendary wealth, the scale of its trade with lands as far off as Aden and Venice or its intense enmity with its neighbors – Vijayanagar did not believe in doing anything by halves. Gold and precious gems were sold on Hampi’s streets by the kilo. People of all sorts of nationalities traded with and lived in Hampi and foreign travelers marveled at its pomp and wealth.

PICT0522A lesser entity would have been resentful. But Pattadakkal seems secure in its own accomplishments and its underrated but substantial influence across the centuries. After all, was Pattadakkal not considered so auspicious that Chalukya kings made it a point to be crowned on its soil? Did its literature not include some of the earliest work in the nascent Kannada language? And did not its architecture set the standard for future temple building? Even Vijayanagar for all its confidence could not resist incorporating Chalukya architectural styles.

If the Vijayanagar kings were constantly at war, the Chalukyas were no slouches. Foreshadowing Krishna Deva Raya’s victories over all manner of foes, the Chalukya Vikaramaditya, in an explosive career, went to war with the Kalabhras, the Pandyas and Cheras, the Arabs who were thrusting downwards from Sind, and above all, arch-enemies the Pallavas of Kanchi – and won practically all of them.DSCN0591

Vikramaditya’s victory over Kanchi inspired some competitive temple building among his queens Lokadevi and Trailokyadevi, resulting in the magnificent Virupaksha and Mallikarjuna temples. Proving once again that there’s nothing like good old fashioned competition to provide benefits all around. The King must have been very pleased to receive the competitive adoration of his wives; even more pleased must have been the sculptors, artisans and masons whose wages would have been bid up by the queens, and not the least delighted is posterity which got two magnificent temples for the price of the victory over Kanchi.

PICT0508In peace too, the Chalukya Empire provided fertile soil for developments in religion, art and literature. Faiths such as the Vaishnavas, the Jainas and the Veerashaivas made themselves at home in its borders. The literary types were on overdrive. A King called Someshvara took up the somewhat presumptuous task of composing an encyclopedia of all arts and sciences while in his spare time managing to defend his Kingdom – successfully – against the Hoysalas. The poet Vijayanaka was so taken with her own talent that she compared herself to the Goddess of Learning. Evidently a lady who considered modesty an overrated virtue. The law text Mitakshara written by the scholar Vijnaneshwara became the definitive source of law in most parts of India in subsequent centuries and (for better or worse) was adopted by the British as the authoritative source of Hindu law.

The Chalukyas are also credited with being a bridge between Northern and Southern India, a cliché that must surely annoy Pattadakkal. For they were not merely passive recipients of other peoples’ bright ideas; rather, what they really liked doing was to pick their influences ala carte, add their own (considerable) innovations, stir up the mixture and then interestedly watch what came out at the end.

The results sometimes were quite spectacular. The temples at Pattadakkal were certainly the product of combining the Northern Nagara and Southern Dravida styles – only subjected to more than 100 years of vigorous tinkering at nearby Aihole. This fondness for experimentation also perhaps explains the Chalukya indulgence of the radical Veerashaivas’ raising hell and flouting of social norms, something that might have alarmed anyone else exceedingly.

Today, Pattadakkal stands serenely in its own corner of Karnataka, not thrusting itself forward but graciously welcoming those who come to visit. The echoes of its doings more than 1000 years ago have grown very faint. But to anyone who takes the trouble to look beyond the bright lights and peer into the shadows, Pattadakkal will tell its story.

[While visiting Hampi in December 2008 I also visited the Chalukya ruins of Aihole, Pattadakkal and Badami. I would in fact have missed these altogether had our travel agent not strongly recommended them, for which I am very grateful. Pattadakkal was the seat of the Badami (Vatapi) Chalukyas in the 8th century, who subsequently lost their power to the Rashtrakutas. Chalukya fortunes revived again a couple of centuries later and their new capital moved to Kalyani. In this post, I have combined the earlier Badami Chalukya achievements and those of the later Chalukyas and generously assigned all the glory to Pattadakkal, for which I humbly beg Kalyani’s pardon].

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