Monday, January 28, 2008

Shravanabelagola: Lord Bahubali’s Abode

“I don’t want to spend the first day of the year at home.” Shilpa a friend of mine wanted to go out on the New Year and who best to tag along but a person with “itchy feet” like me. After much brainstorming Shravanabelagola was decided as the destination to be, a unusual choice for the New Year’s day I must say, considering the fact that people prefer partying on the 1st. So, the New Year’s Eve was spent in booking bus tickets, and the first time in the history of my conscious existence I slept even as the clock struck twelve, only to get up early in the morning to start for Shravabelagola. To our surprise the KSRTC bus started before its scheduled time, and this was enough to impress me and as if to bolster my notion the bus covered the 160 Kms stretch from Bangalore to Shravabelagola in a quick three hours.

The majestic statue of Lord Bahubali at Vindhyagiri, Shravanabelagola.

A sleepy town, seeped in history
Shravanabelagola, a major Jain pilgrim centre, is a sleepy town settled around the two hills Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri with the tank Kalyani nestled between them. The 57’ tall statue of Bhagwan (Lord) Bahubali Gomateshwara, the largest monolith in the world(or is it), at the top of the Vindhyagri, is the city’s claim to fame. As we started our ascent an elderly couple from Bangalore joined us, and we were together for the whole day, to any bystander we would’ve appeared as a family out on a trip, Shilpa and me being of the same stature could be easily thought of as sisters. This is what amazes me the most about traveling; strangers don’t remain strangers for long.

Tyaga Khamba
Tyaaga khamba, commemorating Chavundaraya who commissioned the statue of Lord Bahubali, on the way to Lord Bahubali’s statue, Vindhyagiri, Shravanabelagola.

There was a quite crowd climbing the hill; school children, families, foreigners alike on their quest for Lord Bahubali on that particularly sunny day, but the sun couldn’t beat down their enthusiasm. There were carriers available for the elderly, and one lady looked particularly smug sitting on one but the gutsy ones preferred the tougher option, the steps. The climb was not very steep and was made comfortable by the gradual steps and the soothing view of the Kalyani.

The Basadis and the well-preserved inscriptions on the Vindhyagiri date back to a period starting from 600 to 1830 CE, with the inscriptions providing insights into the life of ascetics of that era, the Bahubali statue itself dates back to 10th Century. Whenever I visit a place seeped in history these days, I always wonder what would be the ruins of our civilization, would they all be digital?

At your feet
A priest at Lord Bahubali’s feet, Vindhyagiri, Shravanabelagola.

His Majesty, Lord Bahubali
As we reached the top after climbing the 500 odd steps we caught a glimpse of Lord Bahubali from the entrance of the enclosure where it is situated. My first reaction was one of awe, a priest was meditating close to the feet of Bahubali and he didn’t even amount to as much as one foot of the statue.

The statue is minimalistic advocating the philosophy of Jainism. I marveled at the colossal effort that would have gone into sculpting a statue of such immense proportions, it is imposing and beautiful at the same time. The face of Lord Bahubali with curled locks exudes nothing but tranquility; creepers entwine his whole body to depict the time he must’ve spent meditating in the erect posture before attaining bliss. People were meditating all around the statue, and we too sat down soaking in the vibrations of the place.

After spending some time on the top we started our descent, the sun was beating down on us with full force now. We headed for lunch at a Jain Aahar (an eating place) where we were served some simple but delicious food. On the way back from the Jain Aahar we stopped at a temple, which had some beautiful stone carvings and an idol of Bahubali carved out of marble. As is typical of pilgrim centres in India, Shravanabelagola too teems with shops selling knick-knacks and mementoes, and girls that we are, we indulged in some impromptu shopping buying bangles and stuff. Time was running out so we couldn’t explore the 2nd hill, Chandragiri and headed for the bus stop.

Sculptures at a temple in Shravanabelagola.

Mahamastakabhisheka, when all roads lead to Shravanabelagola
The town appears dull now, but during the Mahamastakabhisheka it undergoes a complete transformation, people from all around the world flock to watch and perform the ceremony. I remember seeing the ceremony live on television as a kid, the event is a riot of colors with Lord Bahubali being bathed with holy water, vermillion, turmeric, and sandalwood… God-willing I would be there for it sometime in person, and capture the whole event through my camera.

The promise being made, we start back for Bangalore, Chandragiri has been left unexplored until the next time. A new year has begun and I’ve spent the first day doing what I like doing the best, traveling, exploring, introspecting and photographing. If the first day were any indicator, hopefully the year 2008 would also be spent in a similar fashion.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Last Laugh

I am dead, almost. But why, what had happened? Memory fails me. With an immense effort I lift my eyelids, the harsh light of the room blinding my eyes I search for the picture; Pari being kissed by Suresh and me on each of her cheek. It was the picture I opened my eyes to every morning, Pari’s kohl lined light-brown eyes shone through the picture even now. Dressed in a baby pink frock with puffed sleeves, her scarce but curly hair (unruly even then) scrupulously tied into two fountain ponies, and a toothless grin that could captivate anyone, she was the cutest baby ever, as every baby on the face of this earth is.

The picture was taken two years back, when Pari was barely 4-5 months old, it was her first picture in the studio, her eyes had danced from one flashlight to the other and then to the camera, hardly resting in one place. But how had she posed and given the best of her smiles when the photographer was ready to take the picture, as if she understood fully well what was happening. “She is a born actress, so comfortable in front of the camera.” The photographer had remarked, jokingly. How would ‘her’ first picture be? I thought. And my hands instinctively reached for my stomach to feel her, but I immediately sensed that something had gone horribly wrong, and my world crashed down in an instant. It was coming back to me in patches now and I so wished that I had died without remembering, without going through it all over again.

Is it a girl or a boy? Nine months of suspense, expectance and nervousness. But not in this age of advanced technology and Suresh wouldn’t wait. I had reluctantly agreed for the sonography, forbidding him from disclosing the result to me. But the result couldn’t have been more obvious; I had never seen him so preoccupied. Suresh wanted a boy and it was plain from his disappointment that it was a girl.

A girl! Pari will have a little sister! Will she be like Pari? Will she also be as tiny and delicate just after birth, will her eyes be as big and unblinking, will her hair be as unruly, will she also sleep, curled up like a cat, forehead tense in concentration but lips curved in a serene smile? Will her favorite game also be entangling things into my hair and then extricating them with great skill? Will her antics also make my otherwise boring day, exciting? Will she also hold the same power over me; will her tears make me anxious and her laughter make my moods soar? Questions, left unanswered forever.

It was yesterday (or was it?) when Suresh took me to the hospital for what was supposed to be a routine checkup, only if I had known of what lay in store! Suresh was quiet all through the drive, he had made up his mind, I being used to his mood swings didn’t give it much of a thought. But I started having misgivings the moment I was brought into this room, it somehow didn’t feel right, but the Doctor assured me. Events after that are a blur, but there would’ve been complications, which are bound to happen in an abortion so late. I remember having a dream though (or was it a dream?), I was in a pitch-dark room running away from a masked man, soon he had me cornered, his knife glinting, as if it had sensed its prey. I cried and begged, but was he even listening, I still remember his eyes they were, so unmoved, so business-like, so inhuman.

But can words ever describe what I am feeling for Suresh now? Is a human being capable of such an intense hatred? Why did he do this to me? Is the desire to have a son, so strong, so maddening? Is it a boy or a girl? Does the answer to the question matter so much? Why is ‘girl’ a totally unacceptable answer to some? Questions left unanswered again, but can any answer be convincing enough to justify a deed so wicked?

People are shouting outside, I hear Suresh too. “It was a boy, you killed my son, you killed him!” he is shouting. Some one is trying to pacify him “The technology is not fullproof, Sir,there is always a margin for error.” But this enrages Suresh even more, and the placatory voice is drowned in agonizing screams and sobs.

I no longer hear the voices, it’s as if calm has descended over my whole being. A strange sensation is flooding my body, and of all the feelings, strangely I am feeling elated. And so, in spite of the tears streaming down my eyes, in spite of the powerful pain searing my heart, in spite of knowing that I am going to die, inspite of knowing that I’ll never hold Pari in my arms again, in spite of having just lost a part of my soul, I laugh and laugh and laugh.
--A mother

Sex-selective feticide is so rampant in India; it sends shivers down my spine whenever I read about it. And ironically it is more common among the so-called educated class .In many cases women are forced into it, but many a times women are complicit, even willing participants, in both the cases it is a gross violation of human rights. Laws are there but only on paper. Detecting the sex of foetus, without citing proper reasons, is illegal, but clinics have spawned up everywhere and they are doing brisk business. Mobile clinics frequent rural areas which otherwise are untouched by technology. It is easy to see that these clinics are catering to the demand of the society, but that does not make them less unethical. Amidst talks of women’s rights and women’s liberalization, every single minute a girl goes ‘missing’ in India and the clock is ticking fast.

Cross-posted on Writer's Blend under the theme for December, Human Rights.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

I smile without a reason.
I laugh at myself for smiling without a reason.
I smile again because I catch myself laughing without a reason.
I laugh again; this time it is a guffaw and this too without a reason…

Reason is a beautiful word but some things are best done without any.

This year, wishing you reasons to smile and smiles without reason.

P.S.- The photo was taken at a restaurant in Bangalore.