Dehradun

A cousin, who has been living in Dehradun for many years, had repeatedly invited us to his home. Finally, 6 years ago, we made the visit happen.

If I am heading to a new place, I start my research by checking out all the places to see, around the place we are to visit. Then I plan what we can see, depending on our time and finances. Then I plan a schedule for the trip and take care of any online bookings that have to be taken care of.

All this taken care of, we took a flight to Delhi and from there went to Dehradun by train. Meeting cousins after many years was a happy affair and the next day my schedule started. My cousin took us around Dehradun for the sightseeing on day 1.

First we went to Tapkeshwar mahadev temple.
Situated 6 km from Dehradun, Tapkeshwar Mahadev temple is a famous temple of Lord Shiva, on the banks of the Asan river (The Asan river is a tributary of the Tons river, which is again a tributary of the Yamuna river). It has a very old Shivling in a cave and drops of water fall naturally on the Shivling. Hence it is called Tapkeshwar temple. Tall people have to bend a lot to get the darshan of Shivji.

Next we went to Forest reserve institute.

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Established as Imperial Forest Research Institute in 1906, it was previously located in Chandhbagh. Later land was acquired and the present building was constructed in Greeko Roman architechture style. It is an impressive building, huge and with a plinth area of 2.5 hectares. This building was inaugurated in 1929. Its history is synonymous with the evolution and development of scientific forestry not only in India but in the entire Indian subcontinent. This campus has museums along with the university. The day we went, we could only see the building because all museums were closed that day. A few movies have also been picturised here.

Next we went to the best part, Robbers cave

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Robbers cave which is locally known as Gucchupani, located around 7 km from Dehradun, is a popular tourist spot. It is said that robbers used to hide here during the British rule, which gave it it’s name. We have to walk through water to reach the caves, walking in between huge rock formations.

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A waterfall inside a cave and the opening above it.

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It is a natural cave formation where rivers flow into the caves. It is safe, delightful and thrilling. We had a real fun time here.

There was a makeshift eatery at the entrance, where we sat on chairs placed in water. Normally all eateries at tourist places in Uttarakhand serve maggi noodles. Wherever you go, you may or may not get some eatables, but you will surely get maggi noodles. Eating hot noodles, chatting, with feet in water was a new experience.

Anybody going to Dehradun shouldn’t miss Robbers cave.

 

Chittorgarh – A King among Forts.

Chittorgarh is a major city in the state of Rajasthan, which was a former capital of the Sisodia Rajput Dynasty of Mewar. Chittorgarh Fort is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Chittorgarh fort is a massive fort, spread over 700 acres. Though mostly in ruins, it is still majestic. Chittorgarh resonates with stories of bravery and pride of the Rajputs . Chittorgarh fort is the largest fort in India. It was the site of three major sieges (13031535, and 1567–1568) by Muslim invaders, and its Hindu rulers fought fiercely to maintain their independence.

We had started at Udaipur at 8.30am after having our breakfast. We took a cab to Chittorgarh and reached Chittorgarh at 11am. Started enjoying the view of the fort from the time we reached the city. Normally a modern city is a bit far off from forts. But Chittor city is right next to the hill where the fort is situated.

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The top part of the huge gate to enter the fort with designs carved on the wall.

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Lower part of the wall beside the gate with lovely carvings.

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Beautiful pillars of the asvashala (horse stable) in front of the gate. The horses must sure have been pleased to stay here surrounded by beauty.

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One of the entrance to the palace area. It has seven entrances.

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One more ashvashala which is plainer without beautification.

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Rana Kumbha’s palace.

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The Queens palace

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Kumbha Shyamji Temple which is the best preserved temple in the fort. It is well carved.

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How can we not appreciate such beauty?

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MeeraBai temple which has carvings all around.

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The Gaumukh reservoir. The fort has 22 water bodies which are in the form of ponds, wells and step wells. These water bodies are fed by natural catchment and rainfall. The biggest of these water bodies is Gaumukh reservoir which supplies water for the gardens of the fort, even today. Beside the reservoir there is a temple where the queen used to pray. We were told that there was a passage from the queens palace to this reservoir, so that the queen could come with her maids to the temple in privacy.

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A carved doorway which led to a balcony, which has a view of the present city of Chittorgarh.

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Entrance gateway to Shiva temple, Jauhar kund and Vijay Stambh.

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The Shiva temple where apparently the women prayed before committing Jauhar. Jauhar was the custom of Rajput women who would self immolate, rather than face capture, rape and slavery by the muslim invaders.

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The Vijay Stambh. The Vijay Stambha (Tower of Victory) was erected by Rana Kumbha between 1458 and 1468 to commemorate his victory over Mahmud Shah I Khalji, the Sultan of Malwa, in 1440 AD. It is beautifully carved and a treat to the eyes.

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Rani Padmini’s palace

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The Kirti Stambh (Tower of Fame)

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The Jain temple beside the Kirti Stambh. This Tower of Fame dedicated to Adinathji, the 1st Jain Tirthankara was built by a wealthy Jain merchant in 12th century AD.

Missed seeing a couple of monuments because the guide didn’t take us there. We started back. It was quite late and we were hungry by then. After coming out from the gate of the fort, a little further along we stopped at a hotel to have our food. I regret that I don’t remember the name of the hotel. The food was good and the service was awesome. They truly exemplified the saying ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ meaning guest is God. We had ordered the Rajasthani Thali and the spread was awesome, with the waiter coaxing us lovingly to eat. He reminded us of our grandmother and how she used to coax us to eat.

With this pleasant experience we left Chittorgarh.

 

 

UDAIPUR – City of Palaces and Lakes

UDAIPUR, what do I say about this beautiful city? The city of Lakes and palaces. A long ago dream to visit this place was fulfilled last year in November.

We reached Udaipur at around 1pm. I had already planned out where all I wanted to go, and what I wanted to see by exploring the internet. I had booked a reasonably priced accommodation which was close to the City palace. That was all I knew. After getting down from the bus, it was a bunch of new experiences, pleasantly surprising me. First we took an auto and told him the address of the accommodation, Bhanwar Vilas Guest house. When we came to our destination, I was a little apprehensive, because the way he showed us to the accommodation was in a gully and I couldn’t see anything resembling the present day hotels. When we finally entered the small entrance door, we realised that many houses of the old city (the place where we were staying) were converted into Guest houses providing accommodation to travellers. It was neat with basic comforts. It is at a walkable distance to Jagdishji mandir, Pichola Lake and Udaipur palace. We deposited our luggage in the room and went in search of a hotel for our lunch. It was in a walkable distance, so had lunch and after freshening up a bit, took a cab and went to see Saas Bahu temple and Eklingji temple which are a 45 minute drive from the main city.

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Saas Bahu Temple complex

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Toran with carving

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Beautiful carving.                                                       Carving on ceiling

Saas Bahu temple is a Lord Vishnu temple in Nagda village. The temple was actually called Sahasra Bahu (thousand arms) temple, where the deity was a thousand armed Vishnu, later the locals started calling it Saas Bahu temple. The temple is in ruins, the deity no longer there, but you can appreciate the beautiful carvings on the walls.

Then we went to the Eklingji temple which is in the fort of the Mewar rulers. Eklingji is supposed to be the principle deity of the Mewar rulers. It was a different experience going into the fort to see the temple. Leather items and cell phones and cameras strictly prohibited, so they were kept in lockers at the entrance. Inside it is more like a temple complex with many small temples. The carvings are good which made us feel the loss of the camera. Had a good darshan and started back to the guest house.

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Wall of Jagdishji mandir.

After relaxing for sometime, went to Jagdishji mandir which again was in walking distance. It is beautiful. Fully carved marble temple, not only are the aesthetics amazing, but the atmosphere in the temple is also divine. When we went, a bhajan was going on, we had darshan of Jagdishji and sat for sometime, enjoying the bhajan and blissful atmosphere. Then we went for dinner at White Terrace Restaurant and had Laal Maas, a special lamb curry which is a famous delicacy there, and which was awesome. The houses in the old city are converted into restaurants and guest houses and so many foreigners stay there. . The roads in between were narrow, with small shops on both sides. Having said that, the old city is the place to be. For a tourist, to absorb the atmosphere of Udaipur, you have to stay in the old city.

Next day morning, we started our city sightseeing. The weather in November was very pleasant, bright sunny day, not too hot and nights were a bit cold.

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Maharana Pratap on his Chetak.               Model of Chittaurgarh fort.

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Beautiful views of Fatehsagar Lake and Udaipur.

First we went to Moti Magri, a memorial to Maharana Pratap and his beloved horse Chetak. It is a lovely place overlooking the Fateh Sagar Lake with beautiful views all around. There is something about the place that lifts your spirits. Took some photographs and went to the adjoining museum. It has some beautiful paintings of the Mewar rulers and models of the Udaipur palace and Chittaurgarh fort.

Then we went to Bharatiya Lok kala Mandal, which is a collection of some arts and artifacts of tribals and locals. Saw a nice puppet show there.

Then we went to see the Vintage car museum, which is the collection of the vintage cars of the Mewar royal family.

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Saheliyon ki bari.

Then we went to see the Saheliyon ki bari, a garden built by one of the kings for his queen to enjoy with her friends and maids.

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We took tickets to see the palace and for the boat ride to see Jag mandir. The boat ride in Pichola lake was great. First he takes us around Lake palace, which has been converted now into a 5/7 star hotel. So we just see it from outside.

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The white palace in between the lake is the Lake palace and the Udaipur palace on the  bank .

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Jag mandir

Then we stopped at Jag mandir, which is also in between the lake, like the Lake palace. There we got down to spend some time to see the place, which is small but lovely, then we took the next boat back to the palace which is on the bank of the Pichola lake.

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Part of the palace

The palace is HUGE. It has 5 or 6 floors and is spread over such a huge extent. Hiring a guide is a must. Otherwise you will not understand where to start and where to go. A guide will take you to all the important places and explain everything. One more thing to take care of is that it is not for people with joint problems or leg problems. Some steps are huge that it takes a toll on you. Moreover climbing 5 floors on such type of steps will take a toll on average people too. But it is not everyday that you go to such places. So my policy is ‘Grin and bear it’. In the palace, you see the life of the royalty, beautiful courtyards and converted museums.

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This garden is on the second floor of the palace.

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An extremely beautiful peacock courtyard.

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The palace of the present king and the horse carriage gifted by a Bikaner (I think) king during a wedding between both families. The carriage is beautiful but the horses are awesome and so lifelike. Couldn’t take my eyes from it for some time.

Within the palace walls, there is a shop which is overseen by the royal family, which sells all the Rajasthani stuff, dresses, sarees, handicrafts etc. If you want to shop, that is the place. Everything is reasonably priced in comparison to other places in Rajasthan. So if Udaipur is in your schedule among other places of Rajasthan, plan to shop in the Udaipur palace grounds. Your guide will tell you which shop is managed by the Royal family.

By the time we finished the palace, we were in no position to go anywhere else. We were extremely tired. So took rest because we had to leave the next morning to Chittaurgarh. Thus ended a lovely trip to Udaipur.

Buddhist Caves – Bojjannnakonda

Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda

Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda are two buddhist rock cut caves on adjacent hillocks, near a village called Sankaram nearly 40 Km from Visakhapatnam, which are dated between 2nd and 8th century CE.

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Bojjannakonda. View from down. The stairway to go up.

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The caves are on two levels, Buddha statues are carved on top of the entrances of both levels. There is an unfinished carving besides the entrance in the lower level.

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A small cave near the entrance. The monks must have had to bend a lot to go in.

The second pic is the main cave on the first tier. It has a stupa and pillars carved, with a pradakshina path around the stupa.

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The climb to the upper tier.                     Buddha carvings on top.

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The first picture is the entrance chamber in the second tier and the second picture is another Buddha in an inner chamber in the second tier.

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The next hillock is Lingalakonda which gets its name due to the numerous stupas on the hillock. The path to go to the biggest stupa on the hillock.

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The biggest stupa is in the first picture and second picture has many more stupas.

These caves were excavated by a team led by Alexander Rim in 1906. It seems all three phases of Buddhism, Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana are featured here. During the excavation, a gold coin of Samudragupta, Some copper coins of Eastern Chalukya king Vishnuvardhana (633 CE), a lead coin which may have been from the Shatavahanas were discovered along with terracotta beads and figures, thereby dating it as 2nd – 6th CE.

It is taken care of by ASI now.

Travelogue – Sri Mukhalingam Temple

Srikakulam Temple diaries 3

Today I will share some pictures of Sri Mukhalingam temple of Jalamuru mandal of Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh.

Sri Mukhalingam temple built on the bank of the Vamsadhara river is also known as Dakshina Kashi. It is very close to the Someshwara temple but is much older.

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There are two prakaras (enclosed area around the temple) of the temple. I have taken this picture from the outer prakara.

The inner prakara has many smaller temples along with the main Mukhalingeshwara Temple. While the Mukhalingeshwara temple walls are filled with carvings, the smaller temples too are a delight.

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The main entrance of the Mukhalingeshwara temple with wonderful designs.

It was built in 8th century CE by Kamarnava II of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. Mukhalingeshwara swamy is also known as Madhukeshwara as the idol self manifested from the Madhuka tree. Normally no shiva linga has the appearance of a face, but because this linga has the appearance of a face, it is called Mukhalingam. Mukha means face in telugu, meaning linga with a face. According to Skanda purana, Lord Shiva appeared here in the Madhuka tree to release the Gandharvas, who were born as tribals, from a curse.

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Carvings on doorways.

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Vimana of a smaller temple in the inner prakara.

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Gajalakshmi on the lower side with a story carved on top.

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Surya Deva on the lower part of the picture. Scenes of an army carved above on two rows, foot soldiers, horsemen and elephants. Kalash’s on the row above, and notice the perforated windows in between.

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Varaha Deva and Narsimha Deva

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Sringara Rasa, An affectionate couple and ladies admiring themselves.

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Mahadev killing Andhakasura

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At first I thought this was Buddha, but I was mistaken. It is Lakulisa with his four disciples.

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The first pic is Shiva and Parvati on Nandi. The second picture is a battle scene. So vividly portrayed. A story on the upper panel and perforated windows between flowers in the panel above.

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Entrance of a smaller temple.

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Lord Shiva opening his Jata to accept and hold Ganga in it. Here he is also known as Gangadhara in this form. We can see Bhagiratha praying to Shiva and a displeased Parvati Ma.

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The outlet of the sanctum designed in such a way that we feel Vasuki is pouring the water. What an innovation!

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The first picture is people praying, this is on the doorway. The second is an inscription in ancient Telugu language.

I have captured only part of this temple’s beauty. For those who love carvings, this will be a bliss to behold.

Srikakulam is about a 110KM from Visakhapatnam.

Sri Kurmam is about 10-15 minutes drive from Srikakulam town. Mukhalingeshwara temple is 56Km from SriKurmam temple and takes 1 and a half hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travelogue – Someshwara Temple

Srikakulam Temple Diaries 2

Today I will share the beauty of a Lord Shiva temple located in Jalamuru Mandal of Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh.

It is the Someshwara temple which is right now undergoing some restoration work.

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Built in the 11th or 12th century CE by the Eastern Ganga dynasty kings, it has great sculptural beauty.

Each picture can be enlarged to appreciate the beauty.

 

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The entrance to the sanctum with beautifully carved doorway

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This is Gajalakshmi with meditating Devas above her.

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Ganga

This is Ganga, I loved the adoring looks of the sevikas.

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This is Gangadhara. The name given to lord Shiva because he bore Ganga on his head.

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Designs and people, a treat to see.

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The first level of the temple is intricately carved, while the vimana is a bit more simple in the carving.

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Ganesha in all his splendour with his vaahan, the mooshika (rat) and the ganas carved below.

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The four armed Lakulisa (Lord with the staff or club). He is considered to be the 28th and last avatar of Shiva, and revivalist of the Pashupata Sect. He is also known as the Yogic incarnation of Shiva. He had 4 disciples Kusika, Garbha, Mitra, and Kaurusya. You can see them carved beneath.

Also notice a carving like a water outlet. Didn’t see if they managed a real outlet.

 

 

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Stories from puranas carved in stone.

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Lord Karthikeya, also known as Kumara Swamy, Murugan or Lord Subramanya is the son of Lord Shiva and Parvati Devi. The peocock which is his Vaahan looking at him adoringly and ganas carved beneath.

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Mahadev (Lord Shiva) cajoling Parvati Devi.

 

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Ganesha, Kumaraswamy and the ganas watching the divine scene.

Notice the second person from the left in the first picture. I was fascinated by how skeletal he looked and the finesse of the sculptor. I thought there must be a story there too. Someone pointed out that he is Bhringi. Since I did not know the story of Sage Bhringi, searched the net and found a wiki page for Bhringi. It is an interesting story.

According to Hindu epics, Bhringi was an ancient sage (rishi), and a great devotee of Shiva,[1] the Hindu God. According to epics, all the rishis paid homage to both Shiva and Parvati,consort of Shiva , but Bhringi would not worship Parvati and dedicated himself solely to Shiva .

The story goes that Bhringi one day, came to Mount Kailash, the abode of Shiva , and expressed his desire to go around Shiva . As he was going around, Shiva ‘s consort, Shakti, said, “You cannot just go around him. You have to go around me too. We are two halves of the same truth.”

Bhringi, however, was so focussed on Shiva that he had no desire to go around Shakti. Seeing this, Shakti sat on Shiva’s lap making it difficult for Bhringi to go around Shiva alone. Bhringi, determined to go around Shiva took the form of a Bhring (Black Bee) and tried to slip in between the two.

Amused by this, Shiva made Shakti one half of his body – the famous Ardhanarishvara form of Shiva . This was God whose one half is the Goddess. But Bhringi was adamant. He would go around Shiva alone. So he took the form of a rat, some say a bee, and tried to gnaw his way between the two.

This annoyed the Goddess so much that she said, “May Bhringi lose all parts of the body that come from the mother.” In Tantra, the Indian school of alchemy, it is believed that the tough and rigid parts of the body such as nerves and bones come from the father while the soft and fluid parts of the body such as flesh and blood come from the mother. Instantly, Bhringi lost all flesh and blood and he became a bag of bones. He collapsed on the floor, unable to get up.

Bhringi realized his folly. Shiva and Shakti make up the whole. They are not independent entities. One cannot exist without the other. Without either there is neither. He apologized.

This is the story given in the wikipedia page. But carving the skeletal Bhringi is amazing.

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Mahishasura Mardini or 10 armed Durga, slaying the asura. The battle scene carved below.

Seeing the temple from afar, we can never imagine that it has such sculpural beauty. It was a treat for me capturing these carvings.

 

Travelogue – Srikurmam

Srikakulam Temple diaries 1

Today, i want to share my experience of going to Sri Kurmanatha Swamy temple, popularly known as Sri Kurmam.

This temple is located in the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, India. It is the only Swayambhu (self manifested) shrine of Sri Maha Vishnu, where he is worshipped in his Kurma (tortoise) Avatar. Main shrine is said to be more than 10,000 years old and is mentioned in the Kurma, Vishnu, Padma and Brahmanda puranas. While the temple was built many times, the present temple structure is more than 700 years old.

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Sweta Pushkarini (the adjoining pond) is believed to have been created by Sri Vishnu’s Sudarshana Chakra and Goddess Lakshmi has self manifested as Kurma Nayaki.

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Sri Vishnu

 

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Gajalakshmi

 

Beautiful carvings around the temple

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Sri Vishnu in the yogic pose of padmasan
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Sri Vishnu with Lakshmi Devi

The beauty of these sculptures are the jewellery and clothes along with their folds, beautifully carved.

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Lord Yama
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Varuna Deva on his Makara

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Agni Deva

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The temple has 108 eka-shila(made of single stone) pillars. No two pillars are alike. Some pillars have inscriptions of the kings who ruled at various times.

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Pillar with inscription

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pillar with inscription

 

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This temple has the influence of both the Andhra and Kalinga (part of modern Orissa) architecture.

In the temple premises, a conservatory has been established for star tortoises and devotees who come to the temple feed the tortoise too.

This temple is also known as pitruksetra, a place for worshipping our ancestors.

 

Travel – And miles to go before I sleep.

Have you woken up one day and realised that the years have fled pretty fast? That there is so much to do and see before you face obstacles and find fulfilling your heart’s desire is no longer very easy? Well, that is how i feel now.

From childhood, palaces, forts, temple architechture and carvings have held a fascination for me.

When I was a child, we lived in United Kingdom for a few years. I had seen the Buckingham Palace from outside like any other tourist, but the image that stayed with me was not of Buckingham palace but of a castle that I had seen during a long drive. My father used to take these family trips with friend’s families, and it was during such a drive that I saw a castle. From afar definitely, but I couldn’t miss the atmosphere of it and was drawn to it. As a child you cannot ask your parents to change directions, when they were travelling with others. So that vague image stayed with me. Later our family shifted back to India.

Luckily in my country, we may not have castles, but we have palaces, forts, picturesque locales and temples with beautiful carvings. Till I was a student, I never travelled for sightseeing. The only travel was to visit relatives scattered in different places. So life just kept passing me by without me indulging in my love for sightseeing.

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After a few years I started getting a chance to travel. Even though it was occasional, I was glad that I was taking the first steps towards realising my dream. When you have a family, you have responsibilities, obligations and financial constraints, so even if I was taking a trip once in 3, 4 years, I was happy.

My trips may have been small, but they were definitely fulfilling. Going out of the country was not my focus (though I did take a trip to the US 2 years ago), but seeing what all beauty my country had to offer was very important to me. Till now, I have seen quite a few places, though I wasn’t able to photograph my earlier travels.

Going to new places is such fun. Each place has people speaking different languages, different dressing style, different cuisine, it is such a joy experiencing all these aspects of travel.

I have so much more that I want to see, and I surely will. As Scarlett O’Hara famously said, “After all …. Tomorrow is another day”.