Monday, May 23, 2011

Among the ruins of a forgotten empire

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi, Karnataka

Work takes me to different parts of south India outside Kerala. Last week, I went to Goa, travelled to Hubli and then to Hospet. Then it was to Kurnool via Bellary and to Guntakkal from where a train brings me back to Tripunithura.

Each of these places is different from the other. Summer is quite felt all over but the liveliness of the country is all pervading.


Inside Virupaksha Temple Complex

One Saturday night I reached Hospet from Hubli. The next day being holiday, I decided to spend the time in Hampi, among the ruins of the forgotten empire, Vijayanagara. Mohan, an employee of our company is a local lad and he was to be my guide. He arranged an auto rickshaw for a day so that we could leisurely move around in this UNESCO world heritage site at Hampi spread over many square kilometers. This village was the site of the last great Hindu empire of Vijayanagara which was fabulously prosperous as described in the writings of travelers of the 14th to 16th centuries.

Arab traveler Abdul Razaak (1442), Portuguese travelers Domingo Paes (1522), Fernao Nuniz (1535) and Italian traveler Nicolò Conti (1420) all have left glorious accounts of the rich princes and of the prosperity of this amazing kingdom. In the market places of Vijayanagara, it has been chronicled, precious metals and stones used to be traded with the casualness of other cheap merchandise reflecting the prosperity of this great empire. Founded in 1336, the empire reached its zenith during the reign of Krishnadevaraya (r.1509-29 who won many battles and extended the empire considerably. Its tragic end came in 1565 in the battle of Talikotta in which the combined armies of the Deccan sultans defeated and killed King Ramaraya. The city was plundered for six months and left abandoned bringing down the curtains on one of the most prosperous kingdoms the world had seen.

One of the Harems

Musician on a pillar

Describing one of the battle victories of Krishnadevaraya, the Spanish writer, Faria y Souza writes, thus:

"While the governor was in the Red Sea, the King Crisnao Rao of Bisnaga covered the plains and hills and stopped the flow of the river with an army of thirty-five thousand horse, seven hundred and thirty-three thousand foot, and five hundred and eighty-six elephants carrying castles with four men in each, and twelve thousand watermen ... and baggage in such quantities that the courtesans alone numbered more than twenty thousand.”

What great army he might have had, I wonder!

I recommend the book, "A forgotten empire: Vijayanagar; a contribution to the history of India" (Includes a translation of "Chronica dos reis de Bisnaga," from Domingos Paes and Fernao Nuniz from 1520 and 1535 respectively) by Robert Sewell to anyone wanting to read the stunning rise and fall of Vijayanagara. It can be freely downloaded from the web.

While walking among the ruins of the great city, I told Mohan that I was not actually seeing the excavated sites. My mind had taken a trip in a time machine which took me back by 500 years. I was seeing Krishnadevaraya with his consort on a fine evening coming in royal procession to the Virupaksha temple premises. Caparisoned elephants, horses, chariots and the infantry were in the places allocated. The beautiful citizens of Vijayanagara in festive moods were walking around the market place appreciating the beauty of various merchandise displayed for sale. The musicians, dancers, courtesans and other artists were aplenty. Scholars, ambassadors from other countries and governors of provinces and other vassals were arriving in great numbers. The whole city smelled of silk, sandalwood and other perfumes......

Ornate pillars of Vittala temple

Lotus Mahal

River Tungabhadra behind Virupaksha Temple

Ugra Narasimha hewn out of a single boulder of granite 1528

Magnificient stone chariot in the Vittala temple complex

The elephant stable

The king's balance

As the shadows grew longer, I returned to the cool premises of the hotel room with my mind wandering around the events of an era gone by.

Unfortunately, Sindhu my wife was not there with me to see all these in spite of the day being the 28th anniversary of our wedding.

Tripunithura, South India.
24th May 2011

Sunday, May 01, 2011

An IPO, IPL and distant Malawi

At Le Meredien Kochi , 29th April 2011

I have been to the famous cricket grounds of Firoz Shah Kotla in Delhi, The Wanderers in Johannesburg and the lesser known Chandrasekharan Nair stadium in Trivandrum to watch Test matches during different times of my life. However, an occasion to see some of the great players in close quarters came rather recently; to be precise yesterday.

The company, for which I work now, came out with its IPO during this month which met with stupendous success getting subscribed 25 times! We also happen to be the principal sponsors for the “Delhi Dare Devils “, one of the teams of the Indian Premier League which has popularized cricket among people across the country while making itself a big money spinner. So it was an occasion for the company to invite members of the senior management with their spouses to a dinner in honour of the Delhi team at the Le Meridien Kochi on 29th April 2011. The following day, the Delhi Dare Devils were to meet Kerala Tuskers, Kochi at the JN Stadium, Kochi.

Virender Sehwag signing on the cricket ball for Unni

A fine cultural entertainment was hosted to welcome the team led by the inimitable Virender Sehwag, the captain of the team. Sharing his views about Kerala, as observed during his shooting days in Alleppey for some commercials, he said it is indeed a beautiful country, but, the water - he probably meant the backwaters of Alleppey - was dirty. He said,” Paani bahuut gandaa hai!”

Mithun Varma (Unni) by Lake Malawi, 2005

You could not have agreed with him more. Years back, far away in the Southern African state of Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the best climates on this planet, I have seen Lake Malawi with pristine surroundings and pure water. We claim ourselves to be very literate and being aware about the environment. Sadly, the visitors judge us differently.

Scene from the cultural event

A sumptuous dinner followed. Everyone wished a great game to the Dare Devils and it probably worked. The next day, Sehwag made a captain’s knock of 80 runs in 47 balls to lead his team to victory!

Scenes from the cultural events hosted

The team members arrive at the venue

The team on stage

James Hopes autographing for Unni

Irfan Pathan of Delhi Dare Devils at the Dinner

I got a couple of cricket balls, autographed by Sehwag and James Hopes, his Australian teammate to be gifted to Mithun (Unni) my son. He would have preferred an autograph from Jack Kallis, though.

Tripunithura, South India
30th April 2011.

Notre Dame Cathedral and my visit of 2006

It was with much agony that I read about the devastating fire at the famed Notre Dame cathedral and the damages thereof. To me, the Notre...