DAY 3 - Wah ! Vatapi !
" Its just like the gorges of Grand Canyon, abridged! " Said one.
" Its just like the gorges of Petra, scaled down ! " said the other.
" Its just gorgeous ! " said I , slack jawed, "and just like the Vatapi i'd always imagined ! "
We were standing on a flat rock, hedged in by GIGANTIC, craggy cliffs on all sides, catching our breath before tackling the next fleet of steps leading to the pavilion called The Lower Shivalaya.
Carved into the rockface at the very base of the red sandstone massif on our left was a tiny Hanuman in bas relief, smeared with turmeric and vermillion and perfumed by a bunch of dying agarbattis. Traditionally, Hanuman is a guardian of wayfarers. Considering that the whole valley is overrun by armies of marauding monkeys, its always useful to be in the good books of the Big Boss. We dutifully uttered our prayers and proceeded left towards a lovely stone gateway heralding the Shivalaya. Another fleet of steps ran off right, towards a ravine from where ascended steeper steps to The Upper Shivalaya, perched somewhere high above.
Behind the lower shrine, mounted on the rampart of a fortress that runs all along the cliffs, was an old canon with the Western date 1558 inscribed on it . Tipu Sultan , who built that fort wall in the 18th century, could have put it there. Or, later, the British . Can only guess. The natural fortress of the rocks has attracted all warlords down the ages, and certainly this was the USP that influenced Pulakesi I to establish the seat of his empire in Badami aka Vatapi in 540 AD.
The lofty massed boulders looming all around made the magical myth of Vatapi-Ilvala-Agasthya seem quite true.
Inside my head, a tune flowed : "Vatapi Ganapatim bhaje". A popular Carnatic invocatory krithi in raga Hamsadhwani . Long ago, as a child, I had seen Vatapi Ganapathi in the Tiruchenkatankudi temple in farway Thanjavur district. He had been carried off from Vatapi as a trophy by the Pallavas, who had sacked the mighty Chalukyas after many attempts. The Pallava hold lasted only 12 years before Vikramaditya I regained Badami for the Chalukyas. (But the Ganapthi remained an expatriate). 45 years after meeting Him in the Tamil Nadu temple, i got to visit his native place - Vatapi or Badami !
A sudden commotion silenced the song in my head. Children, monkeys and parrots were all screeching together in a bizarre medley of terror and excitement. A troop of wily monkeys had snatched a big plastic bag from a kid, strewing books, papers,pencils and snack wrappers behind them as they leapt up an inaccessible ledge. There, they proceeded to stuff their cheek pouches greedily with all the picnic goodies , even as the cheated schoolkids tried out various scare tactics to bully them. The accompanying teacher, a thin young man, kept hollering " sealsealsealseal !" Apparently, an all important rubber stamp had been purloined by the rogues on the rock ! We moved on without finding out why a school seal was brought on excursion or if it was regained.
In contrast to such high drama on the hill, the atmosphere at the Bhoothnath Temple complex, bordering the Agasthya Theertha lake had been supremely peaceful that morning. As we were early, we had beaten the crowds and had the whole place to ourselves for a while. A veil of dawn mist still hung over the emerald water upon which the young sun had scattered shimmering sequins of light. A group of women washed clothes on the stone steps under an ancient peepal tree. The Boothnath Temple with its ringed pillars and placid Nandi, was cool, serene and peaceful . I could have sat there contemplating the beautiful valley all day long...........
The excited shrieks of busloads of school kids running wild among the Mena Basadi caves reached dimly across the water. We felt smug and satisfied that we had visited the caves early on, as soon as the ticket counter opened ( 6.30 am) and had had ample time to soak in the beauty of the vistas from above and to peacefully savour each and every detail of the wonderfully elegant and majestic rock cut cave temples. Four cut caves in all ( plus one natural cave with a superficial carving of a figure, thought to be Buddhist.) Three caves have Hindu gods, while the last is a Jain shrine with figures of Parshwanatha, Bahubali and Mahavira. They are dated between the 6 and 8 AD., the Shaiva cave ( Cave I) being the oldest. Unlike some of the later Kalyani Chalukyas, the earlier Western Chalukyas were secular and tolerant of different faiths.
The Cave Temples are cut into red sandstone which displays pink and russet striations ; these markings contribute a strange textured look to the smooth finished sculptures. Such exquisite pillars ! And what a grand array of noble figures ! Nataraja, VijayaNarasimha ( a laughing hero !) , Trivikrama, MahaVishnu, Harihara, Durga, Varaha, Thirtankaras.......all so powerful , beautiful, larger than life.
The much publicised, much photographed Nataraja with 18 hands ( above) , did not disappoint. Though he was a bit smaller than the giant i had imagined, the sculpture was, nevertheless, a marvel of dynamic action. Of the 9 pairs of hands, any two ( of different permutation and combination) taken together would illustrate a particular pose from Natya Shastra. On the whole , 108 hand positions are delineated here.
In the museum we had seen a reproduction on paper of the frescoes found in Cave III showing many lovely figures and scenes painted in the Ajanta style. This reproduction was done in 1974. But now, all that was left of it to be seen in the cave were two faded faces and six smudges of green and white organic pigment. I felt like crying !
Beyond the Boothnath temple rises a hillock green with shrubbery , alive with the gurgling of small cataracts that feed rain water into the lake. On one inaccessible slope of this hill are planted some modern multi coloured cement dolls in a tableau recreating Chalukyan times. Tacky !
The facade of the museum that stands at the foot of the northern hills, blends well with the rocks. Among the exhibits, two are striking. One is a huge ornate Thorana and the other, a graphic, prone figure of a fertlity goddess named Lajja Gauri, who has a lotus in place of a head. Her cult is unique and widespread in this ( Bagalkot) region.
In a cliff behind the museum is an inscription, in" tripadi" verse, called Kappe Arabatta Shasana done in the 7th. century. The oldest of example of versification found in kannada . Thrilled to see it, but still wondering why anyone would want to be known as Kappe - frog !
Having read in a guide book that there are some dolmens and prehistoric cave drawings in a place called Ranganatha Betta, we were very eager to see it . And we kept quizzing, with sleuthing zeal, everyone who looked even remotely like informants. We gathered the 'valuable' info. that the said Betta was either on the right or the left of Mena Basadi, with the possibility that it could also be towards the north or south of Badami ! So much for the location. What of the prehistoric art ? Some said there was no painting in the caves of Ranganatha Betta. Some said there was no cave in Ranganath Betta . Some said there was no Ranganatha Betta. Mission aborted .
A few asides:
* One quibble : The first thing i noticed upon entering Badami Town was the profusion of pigs. Too many. All over the place. In fact, when the Chalukyan Lanchana ( seal) was first pointed out, i thought i had started seeing things. The main motif on it was the boar !
* One object that caught my fancy : the Tractor. Without exception, all tractors in town were done up in bridal finery, dripping tassles and tinsel and plastic flowers. Like mobile Xmas trees.
* One observation : Little kids tag along visitors offering to " show them around" for " 10 rupees only". It was amusing to see a lad ( about 12) teaching an younger one ( about 7 ) to parrot a line straight out of some history text book. Considering that there are enough sign boards all over, giving exhaustive info. about the sites, and that no visitor was taking the kids seriously, i wonder why they keep persisting .
*One thought : The road( an apology ) leading to the Museum from the Caves, runs through a crowded bustling locality where children and cattle keep bounding about helter skelter and women put out clothes, grains and condiments to dry on the road. There's such a melee everytime a vehicle passes. Shouldn't there be a restriction on tourist vehicular traffic along such residential areas ? It must be such a bothersome intrusion for those citizens.
* One discovery : Badami is very popular with Rock Climbing and Bouldering enthusiasts ; there's a Rock Climbing Training Centre run by Gen. Thimmayya National Academy of Adventure ( GETHNAA) on Banashankari Road, on the outskirts of Badami Town.
* One added attraction : Had a fill of the local speciality "Karadantu", a widely advertised , tasty, nutritious fudge made of dry fruits, nuts and poppy seeds.
( photographs by Son and Nephew)
Distances : Bangalore - Badami : 510kms., Badami - Gadag : 65Km , Badami- Aihole : 35 km, Aihole - Pattadakal : 12 Km.
Accomodation : Badami Town.
Yashwantpur - Bijapur Express Train stops at Badami Station for 2 mins.
KSTDC has overnight Volvo- bus service, also tour packages.
Nearest Airport : Belgaum ( 150 km)
Group of Monuments,Pattadakal is UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Taxis, 5- seater Autorickshaws, horse buggies, motorbikes and bicycles can be hired in Badami Town.