December 22, 2015

Panchalingeshwara Naganatheshwara Temple, Bangalore, Karnataka

“My country! In thy days of glory past, a beauteous halo circled round thy brow
And worshiped as a deity thou wast – Where is thy glory, where the reverence now?
Thy eagle pinion is chained down at last and groveling in the lowly dust art thou,
Thy minstrel hath no wreath to weave for thee, save the sad story of thy misery!
Let me dive into the depths of time and bring from out the ages that have rolled,
A few small fragments of these wrecks sublime which human eye may never more behold
And let the guerdon of my labour be, my fallen country! One kind wish for thee!”
– Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, "To India - My Native Land"

Several highly embellished, possibly fabricated medieval tales popularly claim to hide in their outlandish bosoms the intriguing beginnings and the interesting nomenclature of the glittering glimmering city of Bangalore – one such fascinating tale recounts how the mighty Hoysala sovereign Veer Ballala II (reign AD 1173-1220), frustratingly lost in the impenetrable forests encircling Bangalore, was kindheartedly offered boiled beans by a poor old woman and gratefully christened the densely-forested area as "Bendakaluru" (literally, “City of Boiled beans”), which eventually evolved into “Bengaluru”; an alternate belief goes that the city derives its name from “Bengavaluru” (“City of Guards”) since here were provided accommodations for royal bodyguards servicing Ganga Dynasty (AD 350-1000) sovereigns; yet another fairly scientific theory however credits the enormous city’s perplexing nomenclature to a possibly vegetative origin and states that it was thus named because of the overwhelming presence of the deciduous Kino trees, locally referred to as “Benga”!

Spellbinding tranquility!

Another bewitching lore enthrallingly recounts the curious construction of the formidable fortress and establishment of the finely planned city around it in AD 1537 by Hiriya Kempe Gowda I (ruled AD 1513-69), the Lord of Yelahanka principality (refer Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort). It is this one to which I too professed since I began exploring the magnificently ornamented monuments and eye-opening architectural heritage of Karnataka – a year later, the mesmerizing journey has come to fruitful (and unbelievably painful!) termination and it is time for me to return to Delhi beloved, but the last ancient monument I photographed and studied, painstakingly I must point out since it is miserably located in a very distant, perennially ignored corner of the otherwise shimmering city, has unquestionably defeated all the previous beliefs and folklores, notwithstanding how undeniably believable or how fiercely explicable they were, regarding Bangalore’s mysterious origins.

Challenging established notions

The gorgeously traditional Panchalingeshwara Naganatheshwara temple located in the underdeveloped, poverty-encrusted village of Chikkabegur off the Silk Board – Electronic City – Hosur highway happens to be a tiny ancient edifice superficially embellished and unremarkably drenched in myriads of brilliant hues on several occasions throughout its over 1150-year history and is encircled on all sides by multistoried, vividly painted, box-like residential apartments not any different from the millions of buildings littering Bangalore’s overpopulated landscape except that the backbreaking, undulating roads leading to this unexceptional agglomeration of ubiquitous residential spaces are so thoroughly pockmarked and crumbling to featureless oblivion that every moving object – human, vehicle and animal alike – reaches the beautiful temple complex in the all-enveloping midst of an irritating dust cloud of their own making consistently proportional to their own physical dimensions and velocity. Heralded by the enormous Begur Lake and three vividly painted, towering pyramidal gateways (“Gopuram”) displaying a mind-blowing collection of celestial guards, fearsome mythological deities and mythical anthropomorphic entities intertwined with religious pattern work and geometric and floral leitmotifs, the unbelievably simplistic, architecturally austere shrine is altogether a picture of tremendous contrast not merely to the gigantic soaring buildings colonizing Bangalore but also its own three multi-hued, artistically flamboyant, recently constructed gateways (the dexterous stonemasons as well as the traditional artists, all are Muslims – there goes the country's recently manifested and fiercely debated religious intolerance!).

The forced imposition of modernity

Said to have been constructed around AD 860 during the rule of Western Ganga Dynasty sovereign Ereganga Nitimarga I (reign AD 843-70) with further structural and religious additions commissioned by Ereyappa Ereganga Nitimarga II (reign AD 907-21), the exemplar shrine is said to be a handsome epitome of Ganga Dynasty architecture, further embellished during the rule of Rajakesarivarman Kulothunga Chola I (reign AD 1070-1122) and Raja Raja Chola II (reign AD 1146-73) with elaborate Chola Dynasty (reign 300 BC – 1279 AD) artistic and sculptural idioms including representations of "Kirtimukha" (the ferociously wide fanged, lion-like face of an all-consuming demon conceived and originated out of thin air by Lord Shiva to destroy other, mightier demons) and "Makara" (entities possessing the body of a fish, the face and tusks of an elephant, the limbs of a lion and the tail of a peacock).

Piercing the skyline

Apart from the three exquisitely painted, intricately designed gateways (one of these a sparkling golden furiously reflecting the brilliant sunshine) and the numerous subsidiary shrines dedicated to minor mythological deities and serpent divinities associated with fertility rituals and childbirth, the two identical granite shrines are widely renowned for their traditional layered architecture adorned with multi-patterned pilasters and smaller figurines of Lord Shiva (the Hindu God of death and destruction to whom these temples are dedicated) and his bull demigod mount Nandi (patron of spirituality and religious commitment). Nageshwara, Nagareshwara, Choleshwara, Kameshwara and Kamateshwara are the five forms (Panchalinga) of Lord Shiva religiously venerated here.

Ancient textures

Numerous stone epigraphs and Veergallu inscriptions (commemorating eminent soldier-warriors and efficient generals) miserably lie scattered in different stages of ruination around the historically unique shrine, expounding mythical tales from ancient Hindu epics as well as extolling the unparalleled courage and battle worthiness of military commanders and regal personal guards – one such intricately sculpted stone plaque agelessly celebrating a fierce battle fought in the year 890 between King Ereyappa Ereganga and Nolamba King Bira-Mahendra (whose fearsome elephant battalions were efficiently commandeered by his son Ayyapadeva Nolamba) notes the existence of Bengaluru ruled by a Jain feudal officer named Nagattara within the domain of the Ganga supremacy –

“Bengaluru kalaghadhol buttana setti sattam”
(“In the Battle of Bangalore, Buttana Setti died.”)

The obdurate locals stubbornly prevent conservation authorities from relocating these epigraph inscriptions to museums believing that malevolent spirits and bad fortune would accrue in the village if these are even slightly disturbed – thus the continuous exposure to the relentless ravages of ruthless nature.

History's mystery?

Thanks to the perennial construction enveloping the tiny village on all sides, one of the faces of the massive lake nearby has been transmogrified into an incredible stretch of multi-rise residential apartments and commercial buildings totally foreign to the underdeveloped, semi-rural landscape, and amidst such development the magnificent colorful shrine, inexplicably peaceful and very strongly fragrant with the aromas of incense and camphor, is an ethereal site of soothing peacefulness and serenity, tranquil enough to attract hundreds of waterbirds that contentedly frolic in the hyacinth-shrouded purple-blue waters of the immense lake opposite and noiseless enough to nearly soothe every single visitor to an undisturbed calmness and facilitate uninterrupted conversations with one’s own self especially during the commotion-free afternoon hours.

Unassuming simplicity

But Begur, originally referred to as “Behuru” (“City of Spies”) since here lived the most efficient spies prominently employed by the Ganga Dynasty sovereigns, apparently does not wish to continue being existential in a state of erstwhile skeletal glory – the immense stretch of unutilized area is rapidly giving itself to burgeoning urbanization and avaricious commercialization, modern-day shimmering glass-and-concrete buildings are rapidly piercing the contourless skyline, gigantic resort-like educational institutions such as the Manipal Institute, offering diplomas in banking, financial institutions and corporate investments, encircled by numerous mouthwatering continental cafes and delectable coffeehouses, and lastly, large gated communities enclosed by massive periphery walls and ostentatiously christened Royal Castle, Lakeview Apartments, Wellington Paradise and Regal County are mushrooming in every direction one looks to. It is unreservedly stimulating to know that despite striving to catch up in the race of globalization and urbanized development, the perennially ignored settlement continues to supply reputed historians and archaeologists with rich layers of epigraphical material instrumental in sifting through impenetrable webs of millennium-old folk history and highly embroidered tales to decisively extricate the city's curious history and unequaled identity.

P.S: The sumptuously delectable white-sauce pasta and tremendously calorie-laden chicken burgers at cafe Magic Oven, prominently located close to the intersection of the Bangalore-Hosur highway and Manipal County road, is definitely worth an irresistible detour.


Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Location: Chikkabegur locality, Begur village, off Bangalore-Hosur highway
Nearest Bus stop: Singhasandra, couple of kilometers from Bommanahalli
How to reach: All BMTC buses plying to Electronic City from Silk Board, Majestic (Kempegowda Bus Stand) and Koramangala stop at Singhasandra. Irregular private buses are also available from Madiwala junction. The shrine is located approximately 3 kilometers from Singhasandra past Manipal County educational campus. Walk/avail an auto to reach the same.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Relevant links -
Other monuments/landmarks located in Bangalore -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort
  2. Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Palace
  3. Pixelated Memories - Jama Masjid and Dargah Hazrat Bahadur Khan Shaheed
  4. Pixelated Memories - Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens
  5. Pixelated Memories - Sir Puttanachetty Town Hall
  6. Pixelated Memories - Tipu Sultan's Palace and Kote Venkataramana Temple
Suggested reading -
  1. - Article "Veeragallu stones will stay put in Begur" (dated May 22, 2015) by Kushala S
  2. - Nageshvara Temple - Begur, Bangalore
  3. - Sri Pancha Lingaeshwara Temple, Begur
  4. - Article "A city's secrets etched in stone" (dated March 28, 2012) by Pushpa Achanta
  5. - Bangalore

December 07, 2015

Kedareshwara Temple and Jain Basadis, Halebidu, Karnataka

“As the cradle of the human race, southern Asia would alone have a dim and reverential feeling connected with it... No man can pretend that the wild, barbarous, and capricious superstitions of Africa, or of savage tribes elsewhere, affect him in the way that he is affected by the ancient, monumental, cruel, and elaborate religions of Indostan, &c. The mere antiquity of Asiatic things, of their institutions, histories, modes of faith, &c., is so impressive, that to me the vast age of the race and name overpowers the sense of youth in the individual.”
– Thomas De Quincey, “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” (1821)

Forbiddingly dark, appealingly photoshopped - Parshvanatha Basadi

It had poured tremendously the entire night and consequentially the beautiful pink-blue early morning was chillier than usual. The still undisturbed landscape, lethargically being tinted yellow-green by feeble rays of sunshine twinkling and sparkling like otherworldly diamonds against tiny water droplets immovably lodged amidst leaves and foliage, was awash with telltale earthly fragrances indelibly associated with any respectable countryside – the distasteful, yet strangely attractive, odor of water-drenched rotting wood and plant waste coupled with that of fresh cowdung littered about, the unmistakably rural wood smoke drifting around and thoroughly enveloping a few households and, piercing it all, the uplifting aroma emanating from sugarcane and paddy fields interspersed by fragrant flower-bearing weeds and wildflowers. Even more pristine at this early hour than its idyllic reputation would foretell, Halebidu, formerly referred to as “Dwarasamudra”, the celebrated capital of the distinguished Hoysala sovereigns (reign AD 1026-1343 over most of Karnataka and parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh), was slowly beginning to rouse from its undisturbed soundless slumber. Lined along the streets, several of the bovine species sat contentedly ruminating and uninterestedly regarding the languid appearance of orange-red sun streaks on the horizon. Goaded into action by the sudden realization of querulous crows and roosters spontaneously awakening with daybreak, a few mangy dogs sprinted about collecting whatever rotten leftovers they could. Only the majestic eagles appeared to have conscientiously taken to heart the adage “Early bird gets the first worm” and were already gracefully reconnoitering in successively loftier circles the immense green fields.

Couple of hundred meters from the astonishingly gorgeous Hoysaleswara Temple, the foremost of the remarkably conceived, meticulously sculpted and architecturally unsurpassed Hoysala-era shrines dotting Karnataka’s indescribably verdant vast landscape, I stood opposite another cluster of sanctified shrines of Hindu and Jain denomination, assiduously designed, extraordinarily executed, similarly ornamented, physically smaller, equally historic, and yet far less renowned, in fact nearly irredeemably forgotten, vis-à-vis their enormous magnificent neighbor.

Minimalist - 180° panorama depicting (left to right) the Brahma Stambha, Shantinatha Basadi, Adinatha Basadi and Parshvanatha Basadi

The first self-effacing cluster, whose discontinuous construction was initiated during the supremacy of Hoysala sovereign Bittideva Vishnuvardhana (reign AD 1108-52), comprises three austerely ornamented Jain shrines ("Jinalaya"/"Basadi") composed of rudimentarily sculpted resilient granite intermittently interspersed by intricately ornate decorative panels and exquisitely polished lathe-turned pillars. Also existential within the limited peripheries of the small compound enclosing this cluster are an irregular zigzag-shaped sacred step-well (“pushkarni”) and a soaring 20-feet tall “Brahma stambha” pillar which unmistakably indicates the existence of a consecrated Jain site. The shrines, heralded by a huge, partially ruinous but excellently conserved and restored gateway and a Kannada inscription inscribed on a massive stone also depicting representations of a seated Jain Tirthankar (lit., “ford-maker”, omniscient spiritual teachers who attained liberty from the terrible cycle of rebirths and worldly attachment by fierce contemplative meditation, unremitting emphasis on non-violence, and the renunciation of worldly relationships and responsibilities) flanked by fly-whisk bearing celestial attendants, even though architecturally and artistically terribly austere and traditional, nonetheless undeniably succeed in impressing a casual visitor through their graceful humility and abhorrence of pretentious flamboyance.

It was also in Emperor Vishnuvardhana’s glorious reign that the aforementioned evocatively spellbinding Hindu shrine dedicated to Sri Hoysaleswara, and also the similarly magnificent one dedicated to Sri Chennakesava at Belur nearby, were conceived and commissioned (refer Pixelated Memories - Hoysaleswara Temple complex, Halebidu and Pixelated Memories - Sri Chennakesava Temple complex, Belur). Jain faith too found unequivocal resonance in his immense empire since he originally adhered dutifully to that faith, and his ethereally beautiful Queen Shantala Devi afterwards too continued to sincerely believe in and plentifully patronize Jainism despite his conversion.

Symbolism - Doorjamb, Parshvanatha Basadi 

Dedicated to the legendary twenty-third Tirthankara Parshvanatha (BC 872-772) and therefore unimaginatively christened “Vijaya Parshvanatha Jinalaya” (although it was originally acknowledged by the nomenclature “Dhrohagharatta Jinalaya”), the first shrine, physically grander and artistically significantly better refined than the other two, is preceded by a large, freestanding pillared hallway and possesses embossed on its doorjamb an exquisitely intricate depiction of a tiny seated figure of a long-eared Tirthankara superimposed with three successively smaller umbrellas above his head and a voluptuous, richly attired, heavenly attendant on either flank bearing regal yak-tail flywhisks. Against the wall rest several large stone tablets delicately carved with similar religious representations and engraved with numerous medieval inscriptions chronologically recounting the commission and construction of the shrine in AD 1133 by Boppadeva in loving memory of his father Gangaraja, a high-ranking minister in the illustrious court of Emperor Vishnuvardhana, and the subsequent financial donations and structural and ornamental additions to it.

The initial disappointment, if any, upon exploring the understated exteriors of the shrines instantaneously dissipates on stepping within. Originally, the drop-dead gorgeous interiors were illuminated only by minute streams of sunlight tracing their way in through the formidably set entrance, however presently numerous high-wattage fluorescent lamps have been embedded along the indentations and sharp vertexes defining the extensively conceived roof designs. Nonetheless, the unrelentingly grim severity of darkness further accentuates the forbiddingly straight vertical and horizontal lines that define the numerous deftly designed stone pillars that support the immensely heavy roof and are tantalizingly decorated with ornate strings of sculpted trinkets and meshwork patterns, but it also succeeds in blurring all but the most prominent of the methodically detailed nature of the delicately carved stone roof that graces the hallway preceding the sanctum.

Flawless symmetry - Subsidiary shrine, Parshvanatha Basadi

In the constricted sanctum, almost frighteningly rises wraith-like an enormous 18-feet tall, eerily glistening grey-black sculpture of Tirthankara Parshvanatha compassionately smiling, standing entirely naked against an exceptionally magnificently designed, highly symmetrical archway interposed with an enormous slithering seven-hooded serpent which also reverentially forms a protective canopy above the Lord to shield him from the elements. That the meager sunlight streaming through the cavernous entrance, which is equally proportioned as the massive sculpture, so brightly illuminates the latter that it almost perceptibly glows amidst the terrifyingly blinding darkness somehow initially proves intimidating, invoking a singular aura of being as emotionally threatening as visually mesmerizingly.

Except for the spatial dimensions of the considerably narrow, pillared hallway preceding it, the Shantinatha Basadi is almost equally proportioned, identically conceived and likewise ornamented as the Parshvanatha Basadi. Consecrated to the gold-complexioned sixteenth Tirthankara Shantinatha (who supposedly lived for over 50,000 years 10^194 years ago!!), it was commissioned in AD 1196 by an affluent merchant Madhukanna Vijayanna during the reign of Emperor Vishnuvardhana’s grandson Hoysala Veer Ballala II (reign AD 1173-1220), however it’s explicitly contended that the inelegant pillared hallway composed of unsophisticatedly rough-hewn granite was constructed during the culturally renowned Vijayanagar Dynasty reign (AD 1336-1646). Curiously, the entirety’s massive spatial extent regressively reduces the adjacently located, considerably smaller, far simplistically intended and rudimentarily crafted Adinatha Basadi, which it almost physically embraces, to the visual impression of being forcefully and asymmetrically wedged between its two larger contemporaries despite it being commissioned decades earlier in AD 1138 by Devara Heggade Mallimayya, another eminent minister in the distinguished court of Emperor Vishnuvardhana.

Medieval impressions - Commemorative inscription, Adinatha Basadi

Compared to the dexterously sculpted Parshvanatha Basadi, Shantinatha Basadi is a significantly simpler affair, both internally and externally, in terms of additional decorative appendages such as exquisitely carved decorative panels and the artistic nature of the 18-feet high hallowed sculpture deified in the congested, extraordinarily dark sanctum. Along the roof-level of the aforementioned pillared hallway are employed as restrained adornments fairly rounded, markedly well-spaced and singularly thick “kangura” patterns (battlement-like ornamentation).

The Karnataka circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) deserves to be highly commended for preserving and restoring these historic monuments as well as excellently maintaining the limited grass-shrouded space around them. The diligent caretakers employed too consider their duties as essential public service and perform them laudably conscientiously. What is most impressive however, which I’m sure any adherent to the essentially non-violent and all-embracing tenets of Jainism will indulgently approve, is that even though high-wattage fluorescent lights have been meticulously installed within the shrines to highlight their unique artistic adornments and architectural features, none have been mounted within the constricted sanctums where numberless tiny bats still continue to cheerfully roost and ceaselessly chirrup.

Displaying an unparalleled excellence of artistic conception and decorative embellishment including a spatially stellar geometric structure, a dense abundance of detailed representations of mythical entities, mythological deities and anthropomorphic creatures, and an overspilling profusion of dexterously carved, highly adorned sculptures festooned with flawless jewelry and religious symbolism, the Kedareshwara temple is located very slightly more than a stone’s throw away from the surprisingly simplistic Jain Basadi cluster. A beautiful exemplar of consummate Dravidian architecture, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction, and was jointly commissioned in AD 1219 by Emperor Veer Ballala II and his famous queen Abhinava Ketaladevi.

Unequaled - The Kedareshwara Temple

I shall only briefly touch upon enumerating the unique considerations exhibited by the Hoysala's Hinduism-oriented architecture since the same have been several times previously comprehensively described on this blog. Immediately conspicuous here too is the diligent attention to the minutest of ornamental details introduced by the extraordinarily accomplished artists, the overindulgence of the representation of imaginary entities like “Makara” (entities possessing the body of a fish, the face and tusks of an elephant, the limbs of a lion and the tail of a peacock) and “Kirtimukha” (the ferociously wide fanged, lion-like face of an all-consuming demon conceived and originated out of thin air by Lord Shiva to destroy other, mightier demons), the incredibly fantastical number of beyond-belief gorgeous sculptures of mythological deities and mythical anthropomorphic entities employed along the exterior surface barely below the layered-roof delineation and the composition of the hallowed superstructure’s colossal base comprising an outstanding variety of individualistic tiny horizontal columns (counting vertically upwards – charging elephants, fearsome lions, mounted horses, mythical “Makara” and beautiful swans respectively symbolizing insurmountable stability, formidable strength, matchless agility, unchallenged might and elegant grace; intermittently punctuated by extravagant flourishes of floral foliage scrolls and creepers and miniaturized discontinuous depictions of tales from the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and the various Puranas, followed eventually in their turn by an exaggerated mesh work of small arched alcoves inset with tens of hundreds of smaller inconsequential deities, celestial dancers and divine devotees). The smaller images give way to larger sculptures, each an exemplar not only of unparalleled sculptural art, but also of excellent ancient mythological fables that even precisely specify how a deity is to be visually depicted and which weapon and which facial expression and bodily movement symbolically represents what action and which boon-bestowing capability!

Poetry in stone (V5.0)

On the walls are carved massive sculptures of several Hindu deities and their numerous different incarnations, most prominent being Lord Vishnu, the God of life and nourishment, and Lord Shiva, the God of death and destruction – thus there is the anthropomorphic, boar-faced Varaha mightily lifting Earth Goddess Bhudevi from the sea of ether after defeating the demons who had imprisoned her; the benevolent, boon-bestowing, omniscient aspect of Lord Vishnu flanked on either side by his wives Bhudevi and Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity; the ten-faced, ten-armed intellectual demon King Ravana of Lanka attempting to physically lift the massive Kailasha mountain, the abode of Lord Shiva; the supremely gifted archer-warlord Arjuna; the ten-armed Goddess Durga, a fierce manifestation of primordial feminine energy, piercing the body of buffalo-demon Mahishasura with her intimidatingly long trident; several representations of Lord Shiva furnishing his terrific trident and celestial drum and indulging in “Tandava” (the destructive dance of universal obliteration); Goddess Kali, the unruly manifestation of primordial feminine energy who reigns supreme over sexual acts and inclinations and death and destruction, being reverentially worshipped with musical instruments by cadaverous ghouls as she unusually exclaims with regret and shyness upon unknowingly stepping on her prostrate husband Lord Shiva; Lord Krishna (aka “Govardhana Girdhari” or “The Lifter of Mount Govardhana”), the ostentatious playboy-strategist-statesman-cow herder-warrior-philosopher who supposedly lived some 5,000 years ago and is regarded as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, physically lifting the mountain Govardhana to shield the inhabitants of his domain from a merciless hammering of fierce hailstorms invoked by indomitable demon lords; and Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed, pot-bellied God of auspiciousness, knowledge and beginnings. My personal favorite, as always, remains “Gajasurasamhara”/“Gajacharmambaradhari” – six-armed, combative Lord Shiva wielding numerous weapons of death and devastation while dancing blissfully upon the decapitated head of the slain elephant-demon Gajasura whose flayed hide he triumphantly raises and brandishes as an enormous cloak while his followers gaze wide-eyed terrified and deferential.

"Gajasurasamhara" - The ecstasy of a triumphant God (V4.0)

The marvelous shrine’s and consequentially the sculptures’ smaller, more human, dimensions succinctly allowed the outstandingly accomplished craftsmen-sculptors to dexterously execute astonishingly vividly detailed artworks and exceedingly convoluted foliage flourishes and jewelry. What is more interesting however is the sartorial treatment of several of the more prominent sculptures – indeed numerous portrayals of Lord Shiva have been represented unclothed, except for extensive headgear and layers upon layers of slithering snakes and serpentine foliage not very differential from each other, therefore exposing his genitalia (more often than not, like numerous other exceedingly elegant sculptures, incorrigibly damaged and disfigured by the fiercely fanatical-iconoclast Muslim armies led by Malik Kafur, the ferociously barbaric eunuch General of Sultan Alauddin Khilji (reign AD 1296-1316) of Delhi Sultanate, who invaded and pitilessly ravaged Halebidu).

The road leading to the enviable shrines literally terminates at the sacred complex’s enclosing peripheries and beyond it begin ceaseless bountiful vibrant green fields. Adoringly gazing at the exceedingly delicate shrine while leaving, I could not help immediately reflecting that in numerous figurative ways too, it is indeed the end of the road. Historically, the breathtaking shrine can be chronologically considered one of the last Hoysala-era achievements and can unquestionably be regarded as cherished among its foremost distillations of miniaturization sculptural ornamentation. Little did I realize however that it would prove an agonizing end of road for me as well and soon I shall be leaving charismatic Karnataka for the immensely well-tread pathways of my beloved Delhi. I nostalgically hope to return someday.


Location: Basadihalli, approximately 500 meters from Halebidu bus stop.
How to reach: Hassan is accessible from different parts of Karnataka by regular KSRTC bus and Indian Railways train services. It is approximately 180 kilometers or five hours away by road from Bangalore. From Hassan, Halebidu is located about 32 kilometers or roughly one hour away by bus at the end of a journey that does take one on certain thoroughly pockmarked stretches of road winding through hill-flanked barren plains and fields. The bus service between Hassan and Halebidu is however not very regular and one might occasionally have to wait up to 30 minutes.
From Halebidu bus stop, keep walking towards the right for about 300 meters until you encounter another road branching off towards the left. Follow that road to reach the two temple complexes located almost adjacent in a straight line. The road terminates at Kedareshwara temple.
Open: Everyday, 8 am – 5 pm. On the occasional Sunday however, the part-time ASI caretaker, part-time knowledgeable guide at the Jain Basadi complex (though he vehemently refuses to accept pecuniary benefits for his generous assistance) might arrive around 8.30 am. The straightforward interiors of Kedareshwara temple are presently kept perennially locked and one can only look within through the iron grille.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 45 min each
Remarks – Footwear are not allowed inside the temples and have to be left outside. No toilets and drinking water facilities are available here, but the same can be availed at Halebidu bus stop/Hoysaleswara temple complex.
Relevant Links -
Other Hoysala-era shrines in Karnataka -
Suggested reading -

December 01, 2015

Talakadu, Mysore, Karnataka

“I travelled a lot once, but you can go on doing that and not get anywhere. Wherever you go or whatever you do, most of your life will have to happen in your mind. And there’s no escape from that little room!”
– Ruskin Bond, “Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra” (1991)

A city, no matter how miniscule or how fervently explored, can rarely ever be entirely depleted of its numerous spellbinding tales – some endearingly regaling, others unforgettably horrific, almost all of them ceaselessly striving to explain the commissioning of a medieval edifice, or the continuation of an ancient custom, or the destruction and devastation of others. Nor can a city ever truly be exhausted of its myriad visual compositions, gratifying gastronomic corners and haunting portraitures both of the melancholy of socio-economic oppressions and the sudden brimming jovialness of life that it is undeniably composed of. And an individual even ever so slightly grazed by the travel-bug can rarely ever stop seeking not just the magnificent edifices and the mouthwatering gastronomic hubs but also the perplexing folktales and the seemingly implausible myths for one gradually dawns on the blissful enlightenment that every single place, no matter how superficially regular or conventionally unstimulating, is always brimming just slightly below the surface with a perennial supply of bewildering lore and the remarkable shared wisdom of the communities that relentlessly demands to be meticulously discovered and lovingly shared.

Ancient grandeur recreated - Keertinarayana temple

Of course there are by-passes and escape routes for whenever one does eventually decide to terminate the dream-like sojourn, but how can one ever stop exploring, stop discovering both the mesmerizing country and one’s own deep philosophical self? How can one not look forward to the next (hopefully everlasting) journey, the next multihued sunset, the next tranquil beach front and the next unbelievably sensational tale? Soon enough one begins to derive indescribable pleasure from living out of tiny suitcases, the soothing cradle-like locomotion of buses and trains legitimately lulls one to peaceful slumber better than any bed can and the thrilling provocation in the knowledge of one’s own steadfast endurance associated with the intermittent terrifying vulnerability arising from not understanding a language or a place’s milieu, geographic, socio-cultural or otherwise, becomes an interminable addiction.

But continuous ceaseless travel can often become harrowingly lonely. One is obliged to surrender the comforts of a conformist life, the cherished company of family and friends and, indeed, it demands the investment of a considerable sum of time and capital without any particularly conspicuous dividends except of course what one carries within one’s own self – and yet, the sudden irresistible conversations with complete strangers commuting on public transport, the exploration of myriads of cuisines, fragrances, visual compositions and monumental edifices, the enviable ability to hop on/off buses and trains and run off unrestricted wherever one wishes to, one becomes bewitched so irrevocably that one can never log off. Ever. There always are more embellished myths to be unraveled, intriguing narratives to be interwoven, cities and states to be charted, medieval artistic and architectural accomplishments to be marveled at – soon enough superfluous conversations begin to seem disagreeable, life becomes a continuous adventure and, despite the occasional heartfelt pangs at not having someone one can curl up with over long-distance journeys, one comes to realize that all one actually requires in this pursuit of happiness are earphones, cameras, a bucket load of money, lots of well-detailed maps and full-fledged travel ideas!

Small wonder - Nandi pavilion, opposite Veerbhadreshwara temple

In the enviably indomitable shadow of the elegant city of Mysore, the incredibly unassuming and terribly underdeveloped historic village of Talakadu on the serene banks of the mighty river Kaveri is where I explicably found myself waddling in endless stretches of orange-brown sand this past weekend – unsurprising of course, considering that the place epitomizes a seamless assimilation of implausibly far-fetched medieval folklores and ancient mythological legends with emotionless history and cataclysmic geographical turbulence. Said to originally have been a densely forested fertile land, the spiritually hallowed site suffered spontaneous irreversible devastation in AD 1612 when the pious noblelady Alamelamma, unnervingly aggrieved and infuriated when Maharaja Raja Wadiyar I (reign AD 1578-1617) arrogantly schemed to deprive her of her fabulous royal jewels after crushingly defeating her mortally ailing husband Tirumalaraya, the viceroy of his liege-lord Emperor Sriranga Raya I (reign AD 1572-86) of the Vijayanagar empire (ruled the modern states of Karnataka, Telangana, Seemandhra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and minute portions of Maharashtra, AD 1336-1646. For further details, refer Pixelated Memories - Hampi), catastrophically cursed the place prior to committing suicide (festooned indisputably with the invaluable jewelry) in the dreaded waters of torrential Kaveri –

“Talakadu maralagi, Malingi maduvaagi, Mysuru Arasarige makkalagadirali!”

“Let Talakadu be submerged under creeping sands, let a cruel whirlpool be the scourge of Malangi and let the Mysore kings bear no offspring!

Irrevocably cursed? - Pataleshwara temple

The atrocious curse promptly evoked for me thoughtful ruminations of the one formerly uttered by the saintly Hazrat Nizamuddin to categorically chastise Delhi’s megalomaniac Sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq (reign AD 1320-25) and his gigantic fortress at Tughlaqabad (refer Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad Fortress complex). Spookily enough, the two uniquely geomorphic villages Talakadu and Malangi (originally located opposite each other on either side of the river) have since been completely buried respectively under an inestimable amount of sand and furious vortexes of the treacherous river Kaveri, perpetually perplexing acclaimed archaeologists, geologists, genealogists, historians, rationalists and visitors alike. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) concludes that over 30 temples (dated between 6th and 17th century AD) of varied historical origins, artistic and architectural features and spatial measurements lie intriguingly submerged underneath an infinite amount of all-pervading sand at Talakadu and has undertaken an ambitious project to entirely excavate and conscientiously restore as many of these as feasible. What is however infinitely more baffling is the ruinous consequence of the punitive curse on Mysore’s extravagant Wadiyar sovereigns – since then, the Maharajas have ceaselessly failed to beget heirs and interestingly therefore the regal bloodline continues such that a reigning Maharaja adopts an illustrious heir from his immediate family to succeed him, however the new Maharaja’s otherwise prodigious sons too afterwards fail to beget heirs and the entire cycle reiterates when they succeed to the throne.

Extensively restored! - Vaidyanatheshwara temple

Of course, like most inexplicable folklore this one too seems extravagantly embellished and full of numerous glaring inconsistencies – firstly, to his credit, Maharaja Raja Wadiyar was merely demanding the retrieval of sanctified ornaments belonging to the fanatically revered deities at beautiful ancient Srirangapatnam which were then in the secure custody of the queen, secondly, why consider a queen, notwithstanding how religious, as pious if she avariciously covets sacred ornaments and miserably proceeds to curse ancient temple towns with irreversible annihilation for no apparent fault of theirs? Repenting afterwards, Raja Wadiyar had a realistic sculpture of Alamelamma deified in a small personal shrine within the regal palace at Mysore (refer Pixelated Memories - Mysore Palace) which is till date annually venerated by his blue-blooded descendants to mollify the so-called “Curse of Talakadu”. The last Maharaja Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar (titular reign only to fulfill straightforward cultural and religious obligations sans administrative authority, 1974-2013) too died without any biological heirs.

In any case, numerous medieval shrines have already been unearthed in Talakadu and it wretchedly needs be noted that ASI as well as the local religious committees supposedly entrusted with managing these have in a severely harebrained manner ridiculously subjected most of these in the name of conservation and restoration to an unbearable application of conspicuous slabs of featureless granite and painted plasterwork and insufferably drenched what remained with an excruciating overdose of paint in flamboyant shades of sunshine yellow, mottled blues and blazing orange so much so that most of these hallowed shrines, the larger ones significantly so, easily resemble modern unromantic constructions and do not in any way retain most of their original subdued, and yet glorious, artistic ornamentation and sculptural accomplishments!

Worshiped by Lord Brahma?! - The Shivalinga at Maruleshwara temple

The unquestionably magnificent Vaidyanatheshwara temple is physically the largest and artistically the most majestic amongst the extensive cluster and constitutes the widely renowned and passionately celebrated “Panchalinga” (“Five divine Lingas”, a “linga” being the terribly austere rounded cylinder representation of Lord Shiva, the Hindu Lord of death and destruction) in association with the Pataleshwara, Maruleshwara, Arakeshwara and Mallikarjuneshwara shrines. The majestic shrine, composed throughout of painstakingly sculpted granite and surmounted by a brick and plasterwork pyramidal superstructure (of fairly recent origins and soaked with the ubiquitous blinding brilliant yellow), bears the telltale architectural and artistic idioms of the Vijayanagar empire and also possesses pillared hallways, gorgeous subsidiary shrines (most notably that of Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva) and highly ornamented and bejeweled embossed depictions of benevolent heavenly sentinels, celestial deities, anthropomorphic entities, mythological creatures and numerous geometric and floral scrollwork patterns of discernibly diverse motifs and imaginative designs. Realistically however, the evocative sculptures cannot even be remotely considered as impressive as their elegant counterparts at Belur-Halebidu or Hampi (refer Pixelated Memories - Hampi, Pixelated Memories - Hoysaleswara Temple complex, Halebidu and Pixelated Memories - Sri Chennakesava Temple complex, Belur), undoubtedly as a terrible consequence of calamitous exposure to moisture and the elements having been land-submerged for several centuries.

Be dazzled! - Goddess Parvati, Vaidyanatheshwara temple

Local belief postulates that Talakadu, historically chronicled as “Gajaranya” (“Elephant forest”), derives its present nomenclature from two legendary forest-dwelling hunter siblings Tala and Kadu who, having sneakily witnessed an ancient gnarled tree being deferentially worshipped with fragrant flowers and sacred river water by massive wild elephants, severely mutilated it with axes only to see copious blood horrifically sprout through it and realize that in it had incarnated Lord Shiva for the spiritual gratification of his affectionate devotee Sage Somadatta who had been reborn as an elephant. The gorgeous shrine too has its derivations in this remarkably convoluted mythology and is said to have been expanded and embellished around a tiny primordial temple conceived around this mythical sacred tree. The blessed tree is said to have automatically healed itself immediately afterwards, thus the self-explanatory nomenclature “Sri Vaidyanatheshwara” or “Lord of the Healers”. How did the ancient Hindu poet-writers conceive such fabulous fables, teeming with every sort of marvelous wildlife, everyday professions and mythological chimeric entities, is entirely beyond comprehension!

Sands of Time! (Oh, how could I not have used this cliche!)

Not once failing to capture the imagination of visitors to this horribly underdeveloped, geographically besieged town, from here on begins the strangely sanitized wilderness zone where wide serpentine paths have been cleared in the rugged midst of tall eucalyptus trees whose mottled brown-green bark discontinuously peels away to reveal the glistening silver underneath, and scores of unnaturally shy monkeys peeping from behind the trees and hopping on to the corrugated iron roofs sheltering the pathways from sweltering summer sun near-continuously create a shocking, clattering commotion. It is singularly demanding to tread the bottomless sands which instantaneously swirls and realigns itself into frustrating eddies around one’s feet and suffuses into the shoes as soon as one pushes forward another fatigued step. Scores of wrinkled, indeterminably old beggars with cataract-clouded eyes line these pathways and intermittently one also comes across small makeshift shops offering tiny stone idols, packets of sugarballs, clarified butter-drenched sweets, brilliant red vermillion, multi-hued flowers and incense to appease the deities.

Sculpted (and restored!) to perfection - Keertinarayana temple

The remaining shrines are predominantly unremarkable single-celled simplistic structures buried encompassed within enormous craters as if recently constructed within an urban construction zone (unquestionably the presence of shimmering multihued paintwork and ubiquitously modernistic superstructures is to be blamed!) and accessible via sets of staircases delineated by glinting steel cordons. ASI has built brick and cement embankments to restrict sand accumulation, however the same aren't as efficient as one would have liked them to be. The massive Shivalinga in Maruleshwara temple is said to have been established by Lord Brahma (the Hindu God of universal creation, profound knowledge and learned enlightenment), while the diminutive Shivalinga in Pataleshwara temple, festooned with fragrant jasmine garlands, is said to miraculously transform from red in the morning to black in afternoon and white in the evening! There are several other smaller, relatively architecturally/artistically unremarkable shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva too scattered around, and a large rectangular water tank (“pushkarni”) only a stone’s throw away from the Vaidyanatheshwara temple.

Several shrines are also located amongst thick eucalyptus tree forests spanning vast sand plains and rock undulations in the immediate vicinity of the majestic Kaveri where gather tourists and locals alike for fun frolic (there even are tourist-laden coracle boats sashaying to-and-fro!). Catering to the tourists near the beatific riverfront exists a vividly colorful, perennially boisterous bazaar lined with cheap roadside eateries (offering fried fritters, steamed rice cakes (idlis), greasy noodles, tea/coffee, cold drinks, cigarettes and meals comprising servings of steaming boiled rice and watery vegetables and lentils) and makeshift shops (offering stuffed toys, cheap plastic playthings, faux-leather hats, vividly multi-hued stoles and the occasional souvenirs).

Submerged! - Gaurishankara temple

Mysteriously peeping from its unintended entombment, the exceedingly tiny, single-celled Gaurishankara temple, constructed when Maharaja Chikka Devaraya Wadiyar (reign AD 1673-1704) ruled over the area, despite also being painted over with faded yellow and hideous silver, is almost entirely concealed and can be regarded a perfect exemplar of how physically punishing the advent of these shifting sands was to the architectural and religious heritage of the laidback village.

Despite its unostentatious appearances and uncultivated, almost untouched atmosphere (even the majority of signboards here are in Kannada!), Talakadu is not just any other miniscule village next door – though its medieval prestigious impressions are presently indiscernible, it was an important religious township throughout the supremacy of the Western Ganga Dynasty (reign over parts of Karnataka and Seemandhra, AD 350-1000) and the Chola Dynasty (reign over the modern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa and the islands of Sri Lanka and Maldives, 300 BC – 1279 AD), two of the most prominent kingdoms of southern India! Originally referred to as “Dalavanpura”, it was developed as the outstanding capital of the Ganga dynasty, an honor it retained over a course of 600 years from AD 390 to 1000. Later, it came to be recognized by the name “Rajarajapura”, christened after the remarkably distinguished emperor Rajaraja Chola I (reign AD 985-1014), and was afterwards seized from the Cholas by the formidable Hoysala sovereign Bittideva Vishnuvardhana (reign AD 1108-52) in AD 1117 who celebrated this outstanding military conquest by assuming the title of “Talakadugonda” (“Victor at Talakadu”) and gratefully commissioned the construction of the notably matchless Sri Chennakesava Temple at his capital Velapuri/Belur (refer Pixelated Memories - Sri Chennakesava Temple complex, Belur). Historically, it is believed that the Keertinarayana temple at Talakadu was also ordered to be constructed by him to commemorate this significant achievement upon the request of his spiritual mentor Sri Ramanujacharya, the celebrated interpreter of Hindu Vishishtadvaita Vaishnavism texts – indeed the staggered square-shaped grandiose shrine heralded by an equally handsome gateway is the only one discovered at Talakadu to be conceived and executed in the traditional Hoysala style of architecture.

All dressed up and nowhere to go! - Lord Vishnu, Keertinarayana temple

It needs be noted that the magnificent shrine was commendably transported stone by stone from its marshy submerged location, painstakingly recreated in its entirety and impeccably restored to flawless perfection by the ASI. The exceedingly skillfully finished, variously patterned delicate pillars of the shrine's associated hall gracefully frame the sanctum where is consecrated an eight-feet tall idol of Lord Vishnu, the Hindu God of life and nourishment, flanked by relatively smaller sculptures of his two consorts – the earth Goddess Bhudevi and Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity – each deferentially adorned with brilliantly glittering silk and exquisite gold-tinged ornaments.

The exquisite shrines exhumed so far, despite being physically moderately-proportioned and predominantly artistically unremarkable, conclusively prove to be a mysterious phenomenon in themselves, attracting several million wonder-struck visitors and faithful devotees annually from all over Karnataka and neighboring states, especially for the spiritual Panchalingam Darshan festival, a prominently renowned cultural extravagance organized every 12 years. What is however most remarkable about the enigmatic place is that one cannot shake off the extraordinary, somewhat unnerving, consciousness that one might actually be treading centuries-old superlative civilizational and architectural heritage while walking around here! Surely, these unusual thoughts and destinations are reason enough to travel!

Talakadu's secret fun zone - Kaveri riverfront

How to reach: Talakadu is located approximately 45 kms from Mysore and 185 kms from Bangalore. Private autorickshaws and shared cabs ply between T. Narsipur and Talakadu villages (15 kilometers – 20 minutes – Rs 20/person). Regular government buses are available from Suburban bus stand, Mysore to T. Narsipur bypass flyover (35 kilometers – 30 minutes – Rs 15/person) from where one can walk to T. Narsipur village bus stand. The roads between Mysore and T. Narsipur, although terribly pockmarked, wind through vast water-logged paddy plantations that alluringly glisten soothing blue-green early morning and brilliant blinding green in the afternoon. From T. Narsipur onwards, the route is simple and the roads perfect, and the combination can pretty easily lull one to an undisturbed slumber, especially on slightly cold, extremely pleasant days when it is gently drizzling!
Entrance fees: Nil for all the shrines
Photography/video charges: Nil for all the shrines
Note: All temples are open everyday for people of all socio-economic and religious backgrounds and genders from 8.30 am – 5.30 pm. Footwear are not allowed within the individual shrines and have to be left outside. It is advisable to carry sufficient drinking water and wear comfortable shoes since one has to walk considerably long distances across undulating topography and punishing sand plains to cover all the monuments.
Relevant Links -
Other monuments/landmarks in/around Mysore -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Church of St. Joseph and St. Philomena
  2. Pixelated Memories - Mysore Palace
  3. Pixelated Memories - Seringapatnam
  4. Pixelated Memories - Sri Chamundeshwari Temple
  5. Pixelated Memories - Sri Prasanna Chennakesava Temple, Somnathpura
Another cursed location - Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad Fortress complex, Delhi
Suggested reading -
  1. - The Curse of the Mysore Royal family: A rational analysis
  2. - Article "Jain basadi at Talakad to be excavated" (dated July 23, 2013) by R. Krishna Kumar
  3. - Article "Thousands throng Talakad" (dated Nov 21, 2006)
  4. - Wadiyar Dynasty

November 27, 2015

Jahaz Mahal and Hauz-i-Shamsi, Mehrauli, Delhi

“Dilli jo ek sheher tha alam me intekhab, rehte the muntakhib hi jahan rozgaar ke
Jis ko falak ne loot ke veeran kar diya, Hum rehne wale hain usi ujde dayar ke” 

“Delhi, that singularly celebrated city where lived only the remarkable few of their time 
Fate has devastated and rendered it deserted, I belong to that very destroyed city.”
– Mir Taqi Mir, renowned Urdu poet (lived 1725-1810)

Jahaz Mahal - An enigmatic ship washed ashore

Despite the viciously bone-chilling, teeth-clattering cold they invoke, winters in Delhi, merciless in their extortion and cruelty, can occasionally be tremendously heartwarming (pardon the expression!) – the otherwise vibrant, perennially overcrowded landscape transmogrifies into a chillingly bleak and thoroughly deserted ghost city colonized by such impenetrably dense fog that early morning one cannot see the buildings across the road, conducive of course to steal a few quick smooches from one’s sweetheart as I have often been guilty of. The chance appearance of minute slivers of warm sunshine are merrily greeted by the entire neighborhood – the infirm elderly quickly rush out to catch up on the gossip, the effusively cheerful children skip and run about, the slightly older ones calmly settle down in the verandahs and balconies with books and earphones and, not to be left behind, the resourceful homemakers too instantaneously bring out the vegetables and fruits that they are to shred and dice and gleefully spend extra minutes bargaining and (often unnecessarily) scolding the “reri-wallahs” (fruit-vegetable sellers, recyclemen, garbage collectors, papad-wallahs and the likes), an ancient convention which they would have otherwise rudely interrupted to rush back into the mellow warmth of the house.

The irony, the religious hypocrisy! - Hauz Shamsi and the sandstone pavilion enshrined with Buraq's sacred hoofprint

Engaged in a losing skirmish with these infinitesimal rays of sunshine, the universally abhorred forces of impermeable fog hastily call a temporary retreat only to regroup and reappear later around dusk, in the meanwhile leaving behind only a few scattered wisps sentinel-like hanging about keeping eagle-eyed watches over the larger lakes and hyacinth-shrouded water bodies. No mist however hangs over Hauz-i-Shamsi – where there once was a huge artificial lake exclusively encircled by luxuriant pleasure pavilions, vibrant orchards and manicured gardens, today is an uneven crater bursting with stinking murky water capped with plastic garbage, rotten organic rubbish and human and animal excreta enclosed by a vast contour-less plain where can be spotted even more of this malodorous waste in addition to putrid animal carcasses and shards of beer bottles! Disappointingly, reality, in this case, does not even come close to holding a candle to mythical legends.

According to popular folklore, 1230 years following the crucifixion of Christ, two men dreamt the same lucid dream – the Prophet Muhammad, seated on Buraq, the celestial winged steed with a head that instantaneously transformed from that of a heavenly horse to a glorious woman and back, beckoned them to follow and thus quickly traversed several miles. Suddenly halting, the otherworldly Buraq kicked the ground with its muscular foreleg and immediately erupted there an immense fountain of sparkling clear water.

Not a drop to drink!

Now these two men could be any ordinary persons living anywhere, but they weren’t – they happened to be the legendary Chishti Sufi saint Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki and Sultan-i-Azam Shamshuddin Waddin Abul Muzaffar Iltutmish (reign AD 1211-36), the emperor of Hindustan, and being incredibly pious men they decided that the formidable Sultan must set out with his entire immense retinue to determine if the dream was indeed prophetic. Intriguingly, some distance away from the regal citadel was discovered the hoof print of the mighty Buraq and thus resolved, the Sultan instantaneously issued a royal decree to commission an immense tank, christened “Hauz-i-Shamsi” (“Shamshuddin’s tank”), encompassing as its centerpiece a small domed pavilion conceived around the stone slab bearing the celestial hoof print thus preserved for posterity. Drinkable water supply then being terribly acute, the blessed water, besides being religiously venerated, was immediately drawn via terracotta canals and pipelines to supply the thriving residential enclaves within the medieval fortress of Qila Rai Pithora and later Tughlaqabad (refer Pixelated Memories - Qila Rai Pithora and Pixelated Memories - Tughlaqabad Fortress complex). Unbelievable now, considering the present insufferable levels of pollution!

Blues and reds

During the architecturally glorious reign of the Lodi Dynasty (AD 1451-1526), a magnificent floating pavilion accessible by a large causeway was constructed along the peripheries of the majestic tank divinely thus ordained and regally thus patronized – referred to as “Jahaz Mahal” (“Ship Pavilion”) on account of it being immediately reminiscent of an enormous ship gracefully floating on the brilliant blue waters underneath, the graceful retreat was envisaged as a transit accommodation (“serai”/inn) to serve devout pilgrims from central Asia and Europe arriving in Delhi to visit its numerous, devoutly worshiped Islamic shrines and accordingly is composed of numerous individual chambers tastefully designed and opulently adorned. Later it was repaired by the Sultans Alauddin Khilji (reign AD 1296-1316) and Feroz Shah Tughlaq (reign AD 1351-88) and was eventually refurbished to function as an ornamental pleasure pavilion for the last Mughal emperors Akbar Shah II (reign AD 1806-37) and Mirza Abu Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II (reign AD 1837-57).

Relics from an age long gone - A ruined chamber (mausoleum?) in the vicinity of Jahaz Mahal

Rendered visually imposing by the employment of massive square chattris (umbrella domes surmounted on slender pillars) and conical buttress corner towers, the gorgeous palatial edifice possesses a U-shaped layout arranged around a large central courtyard (where presently are organized the extravagant cultural and literary celebrations associated with the annual “Phoolwalon ki Sair” aka “Sair-i-Gulfaroshan” festival) and is much embellished with Persian glazed blue and white tiles, multi-patterned alcoves, numerous pointed arches, staggered cross-shaped decorative depressions and ornamental embossment facades. An odd octagonal chattri crowns the mihrab (western wall of a religious/funerary structure indicating the direction of Mecca, faced by Muslims while offering namaz prayers) distinguished by the fixation of white (now yellowish) tiles.

Long gone is the celebrated age when come monsoons the infinite expanse around the hallowed Hauz was rendered marvelously enthralling by flowering shrubs that would blossom overnight and hundreds of species of multi-hued butterflies romanced midair under the immense canopy of the crookedly gnarled branches of the massive trees peppering the entire verdant landscape; the earth reeked of the mesmerizing post-rain fragrance while good-naturedly querulous birds flitted from branch to another just as the hundreds of magical glittering glimmering dragonflies skimmed the surface of the numerous runoff-collecting tanks and natural water bodies; magnificently-plumed peacocks and spellbinding docile deer freely roamed about, defeated only in numbers by the gently-cooing pigeons and flawless white doves quietly making love against the vibrant red sandstone of the monuments that littered around. The lavish retinues, of Mughal emperors and British officials alike, would lugubriously encamp here and reverberate even till wee hours of the starlit mornings recounting tales of hunts past and phantoms and banshees, interspersed only by fierce drinking bouts and delightful musical and dance soirees set in rhythm with the heavenly descent of torrential rain and thunderous streaks of fearsome lightning.

Forgotten history? - An undocumented medieval mosque across the road from Jahaz Mahal

The sacred tank has been ignominiously reduced to less than a quarter of its original proportions and the preserved hoof print of the mythological Buraq too has been removed even though the twelve-pillared sandstone pavilion constructed to encompass it still exists buoyed in an ever-multiplying stream of foul-smelling garbage and excreta. Even the geographical continuity amongst the numerous medieval mosques and unusual mausoleums that mushroomed around the Hauz on account of its legendary sacredness has been ruthlessly shattered by malignant slum encroachment and extraordinarily ill-planned urban development – the Lal Masjid (“Red Mosque”) nearby, possibly a Lodi-era monument judging from its numerous ornamental features and architectural innovations including melon-like fluted corner towers and painstakingly embellished protruding central mihrab, has been redeveloped on all sides and converted into a grotesque multistoried brick-and-cement residential-cum-religious edifice, its singular domes and the slender minarets too waiting to be assimilated within this tasteless monstrosity but seemingly spared for the time being to herald its regal antiquity. Come to think of it, substitute the domed corner towers with low rectangular buildings and the wall mosque would almost visually resemble its cousin Madhi Masjid, distant both in terms of geographical separation and state of conservation and restoration (refer Pixelated Memories - Madhi Masjid).

Lost in a deluge of encroachments - Lal Masjid across the road from Jahaz Mahal

Another substantially huge medieval mosque, fitted with glass windows and iron grilles and alienated from the pleasure palace by a road stretched like an evil serpent between the two, has been entirely engulfed in an all-pervading deluge of encroachment and even the narrow mausoleums adjoining it have been bricked up and converted into makeshift residences!

“More than his (Sultan Iltutmish’s) wars or his conquests, it is with the water supply he has built for the people of Delhi that he has won his place in heaven!”
– Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (lived AD 1238-1325)

Sultan Iltutmish, Hazrat Qutbuddin and Hazrat Nizamuddin have been long deceased and their mortal constructions and conceptions shall too follow soon, murdered by the so-called educated intellectuals and civic planners who have irredeemably failed to preserve traditional water management techniques while simultaneously failing to adopt to rapidly evolving climatic and geographical realities and pressures. Why still do the educationalists insist on reminiscing about baolis (step-wells), artificial tanks, bunds (embankments) and surakhs (water tunnels) in CBSE primary school textbooks is perplexingly incomprehensible!

Towering - A lone mausoleum adjoining the aforementioned undocumented medieval mosque

Location: Mehrauli village (Coordinates: 28°30'51.5"N 77°10'42.7"E)
Nearest Metro station: Both Qutb Minar and Chattarpur stations are approximately 1.5 kilometers away
Nearest Bus stop: Mehrauli terminal, approximately 1.2 kilometers away
How to reach: Walk/avail a rickshaw from the bus stop or walk/avail an auto from the metro stations. The locals can easily supply the requisite directions.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 45 min
Relevant links -
Other monuments/landmarks located in the vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Adham Khan's Tomb
  2. Pixelated Memories - Ahinsa Sthal
  3. Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb
  4. Pixelated Memories - Gandhak ki Baoli
  5. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki's Dargah
  6. Pixelated Memories - Mehrauli Archaeological Park
  7. Pixelated Memories - Moti Masjid
  8. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
Suggested reading -