Today is Vijaya Dashami or Bijoya. Today is the day when the Goddess Durga defeated Mahisasura or the buffalo demon, after a fierce battle that lasted 9 days and 9 nights. After killing him on the 10th day, Durga came to known as Mahisasuramardini or “she who killed the buffalo demon”.
The story of Mahisasuramardini (which you can read here or here) is perhaps one of the best known in Hindu mythology, and its associated imagery is one of the most recognisable.
I was introduced to the story of Mahisasuramardini by my grandmothers, and also my mother’s recitation of the Mahisasuramardini Stotram. Like most children of the 1970s, I was introduced to the popular imagery of Mahisasuramardini through Amar Chitra Katha’s “Tales of Durga” (see picture on the left).
It was this image of Mahisasuramardini that stayed with me till 1997 when I visited Mahabalipuram. I saw Indian sculptural art in a ‘natural’ setting for the first time, including this depiction of Mahisasuramardini. That was when I realised the immensity, beauty and power of the narratives I had heard and read from the time I was a kid.
That visit also marked the beginning of my interest in Hindu mythology expanding to include its representation in classical Indian art. And Mahisasuramardini fascinated me like no other, which, thanks to my travels in India, I came across in Aihole, Ellora, Patan, Vadnagar and Nalla Sopara. Artiistically and stylistically, each one of the relief sculptures were very different, and yet unmistakably that of Mahisasuramardini.
(a) is primarily a travelogue,
(b) is also a concise literary, spiritual, religious, mythological, and political history of the region,
(c) is part autobiographical, and
(d) includes a description of taming wild elephants, a folk tale and a one-act play.
The book that I am talking about here is R.K. Narayan’s (RKN) The Emerald Route, which is the outcome of the author’s travels along with R.K. Laxman, his brother and the famous cartoonist, through the length and breadth of Karnataka.
First published in 1977 by the Director of Information and Publicity, Government of Karnataka, and then by Penguin India in 1999, I recently bought the latter edition on the recommendation of Smeedha, a friend.
RKN chose to title his book “The Emerald Route” for one important reason—he did not encounter even a single dry patch during the first phase of his tour from Mysore through Hunsur and Hassan and back. He says:
The Banashankari Temple site has been a place of worship for about 14 centuries or so, though the current temple building is only about 200 years old. The temple’s name is derived from its location in the Tilakaranya forest. The main deity, Banashankari is also known as Shakambari or the vegetable goddess. Banashankari was the kuldevata or the tutelary deity for the Chalukya kings of the 7th century.
A drive through sleepy hamlets, lush green fields and the village of Aihole (pronounced I-ho-lay), brought us to another heritage temple site dating from around the 5th century.
Known as Aryapura in ancient times, Aihole occupies a unique place in the history of temple architecture in India. It was the site for experimenting with different temple-building styles by the early Chalukyan kings from AD 450 to 750. This experimentation began in Aihole, continued at Badami and finally culminated at Pattadakal. Our guide told us that the ruins of a temple, probably dating back to pre-Chalukyan times, had been recently excavated in Aihole. The present-day village settlement and agricultural lands were coming in the way of a full-scale excavation.
There are around 120 temples of varying styles and sizes in Aihole (all built from the same local red sandstone). I tried to imagine 120 temples, each with a unique architecture and failed. But I could imagine the whole area being turned into an architectural laboratory or a workshop, with architects and sculptors being invited over and given a site for constructing a temple. Just imagining the creative buzz in the area was enough to give me a high! Unfortunately, our group had the time to visit only one site, which had about 4 temples of such varying styles that it was astonishing and gave a glimpse into the kind of experimenting that was promoted and encouraged.
Someone said, and I can’t remember who, that the journey to a destination is as important and interesting as the destination itself. But sadly, most of us do not give much importance to what we see around us during journeys. I, too, have been guilty of this.
But a recent holiday to North Karnataka (where I visited Bijapur, Badami, Pattadakal, Aihole, and Hampi) changed all this. Since I was travelling with a tour group for the first time, common courtesy dictated that I do not bury myself in a book all the time, something I normally do while travelling.
But more than that, I feel that the main reason for the interesting journey was because I did not travel in a sterile aeroplane or air-conditioned train compartment (except on my return journey to Mumbai), or an air-conditioned car/jeep/bus, which usually does not allow you to be a spectator or participant to the world around you. Travelling in a Second Class train compartment or non air-conditioned vehicle forced me to look out of the window and breathe in the fresh, cool air or sometimes air flavoured with dust and diesel/petrol fumes !
This recent trip was a veritable feast for my jaded eyes and soul. Every leg of the journey (and the various destinations, about which I will write in other blog posts) presented something new and refreshing.
Enroute to Bijapur from Mumbai by train …
On the way to the Bhootnath Temple at Badami…
Enroute to Pattadakal…
Enroute to the Vittala Temple in Hampi…
Enroute to the Daroji Bear Sanctuary…
Enroute to Hubli…
Enroute to Mumbai by train…
There were so many things that I was unable to photograph and share it here with you:
endless fields of bajra, jowar, corn and sugarcane
lush green banana plantations
agressive pigs, nervous dogs and emaciated cats in the various towns and villages that we passed through