ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Impressions - Aihole

Aihole is a village deep inside North Karnataka. It is home to perhaps a couple of thousand people; and it contains anything between a hundred and three hundred temples - depending on which guide book one reads. Most are ancient Chalukyan structural stone temples (600 to perhaps 1000 AD). A few of the prominent ones - Durga temple, which is said to have inspired the design of the Parliament building in Delhi, Lad Khan temple, ... - stand amidst lush lawns in a protected enclosure, to enter which Indians pay 10 rupees and the others (hordes of firangees come here) ten times that amount; a neat little museum stands nearby. The rest of the monuments are 'free for all'.

At a quick glance, much of the sculpture on the temple walls is not quite top-class; some look derived from the Pallava carvings at Mahabalipuram and the Kailsanatha temple at Kanchi, which were done at nearly the same time (the Pallava kings who patronized those sites and the Chalukya's of Aihole were rivals); yes, there are a couple of examples - Siva standing next to his bull and Durga slaying Mahishasura - which seem to be original designs - and superbly executed too. Anyways, the real importance of the place,as the book says, is in the range of architecture on display rather than sculptural decoration; one can look at specimens of both the northern Nagara style temple design and the southern Dravida style in close proximity - there are a few temples which vaguely resemble the Orissa style as well.

A straggling extension of the village snakes up a gentle hill - near the base is a cave temple called Ravana Phadi with a 10 armed, larger than life Nataraja image and on top is the plain Jain Meguti temple. From atop the hill one can take in the full sweep of the fields and scrubland stretching way beyond the village in all directions.

Somewhere I see, written wistfully, many of these temples had been converted into houses and cattle-sheds. The implication: the present day denizens of Aihole have no appreciation for their architectural heritage. The villagers do seem seem very religious - the majority have holy ash smeared across their foreheads. We also saw some modern places of worship built of brick and concrete and interiors lined with bathroom tiles (more Maharashtran than Dravidian).

Life here seems hard. Water appears to be a concern although the river Malaprabha is not far and definitely, the lawns around the main temples get plenty. Bullock-carts are the principal cargo-carriers and most roads connecting the villages, except those on the main 'tourist trail' have long since crumbled into stone-strewn mudpaths, threatened by the scrub.

As we stop the car in a space between the closely built concrete dwellings below the Meguti temple , a gaggle of 4-6 year old kids come running. One little boy keeps touching me, pointing a finger at the sky: "Is he asking for money?" I wonder; perhaps I am mistaken. No word is spoken and the kids soon run off towards a shed-like structure from where they seem to have come - it has a facade supported by ancient-looking carved pillars and the rest of it, though of stone, is plain and boxy and the interior is quite gloomy. And then one catches sight of a woman standing there with a short stick, apparently calling them back - so, this is the local school!

Back after visiting the hill temple, I feel tempted to take a snap of the school. "Hey photo, photo!" the kids scream. The teacher seems to be admonishing them to be quiet and to stand steady. The flash goes. We start up the car and they all - including the teacher - wave us goodbye and one senses a slight tightening in the throat.

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