Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sringeri - God's own abode

grahEShu dhAriNI ramyA tatra ramyA dharAdharAH |
abhibhUtAsmi tatrApi pashchimAdrErvishEShataH ||

ग्रहेषु धारिणी रम्या तत्र रम्या धराधरा: ।
अभिभूतास्मि तत्रापि पश्चिमाद्रेर्विशेषतः ॥

I have professed my love for the hills and valleys of Malnad in an earlier post. No place in the world I have visited hitherto, has moved me as much as malenaaDu has. I read Kuvempu's 'malenADina chitragaLu' and similar works with greed. The reason is not just that the place is beautiful, it is something much more than that, something that I cannot put my finger upon. Though my trips there have been short, they influence me in undescribable ways. I always get the feeling that I am visiting home, during my travels to that area.

It was, therefore, with great enthusiasm (tempered with a little apprehension because my little son was to accompany us) that I prepared for our weekend trip to Sringeri. As Mother Sharada willed it, we did not get tickets for the Rajahamsa bus, and we had to take the ordinary bus which was euphemistically called an express. After a slightly uncomfortable journey, we alighted near the Sharada temple, the cold breeze biting into our hands and faces.

Sringeri is a place made famous by Shri ShankarAchArya. Legend says that the Acharya, during his travels, saw a cobra sheltering a pregnant frog from the heat of the Sun, on the banks of the Tunga river. He established the dakShiNAmnAya peetham, and made SureshwarAchArya, one of his chief disciples, the head of the peetham. Shri Bharatitirtha, an eminent scholar, is the present pontiff, and comes from an unbroken line of highly accomplished aacharyas.

There are two main temples in the complex. One is the temple dedicated to Mother Sharada, and the other one is the Vidyashankara temple. Vidyashankara temple was got constructed by Vidyaranya, the preceptor of Harihara and Bukka. The temple architecture is a beautiful icon of Shaiva-Vaishnava harmony, with imposing sculptures of the dashaavataaras along one half of the temple walls, and sculptures of Shiva on the other half. The inside of the temple is extremely soothing and peaceful. Biyadiya liked this temple the best, probably because he got to test his climbing skills (the steps are a little steep for a kid).

Of course, this is only the religious face of the Shankara matha (I hate calling it mutt). Borrowing words from Jane Austen, I can say that I have never seen a place for which Nature has done more, or where natural beauty has been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. The lamps in the Narasimhavana (the grove next to the temple), are all solar. Right next to it flows the beautiful but dangerous Tunga river. The fish in the river are taken care of by the matha. Needless to say, this was the little one's favorite part of the trip! There is a deer park nearby, also maintained by the matha. And the biggest attraction for me in all the temples of Udupi and South Canara, is the food. Hot and fresh and yummy. Before you know it, the plate is empty and you are left waiting for the next item, in spite of the serving being superfast and the helpings large. Even my son, the slowest and most picky eater I have seen till now, liked the food. An added aspect at the Shringeri Matha is that the food is cooked mainly using solar energy. It behooves us to take this leaf out of the Shrimatha's book!

After a brief rest in the afternoon, we left for a place called Hariharapura, a short distance away from Sringeri. Hariharapura houses another famous matha and a temple, whose main deity is Narasimha.

But the best attraction of Hariharapura has to be the Prabodhini gurukula . We crossed a small suspension bridge with a breathtaking view, to reach the gurukula. It is a gurukula in every sense of the word, with affectionate teachers (as far as we saw them) and lively children. Though I have my own reservations about residential schools, I really liked this gurukula. The students of the gurukula are taught organic farming and yoga along with Physics and Chemistry and the Vedas and fine arts. Not to mention discipline. There is an icon of Lord Krishna, sculpted by the students and worshipped by the students. The names of the classes are also interesting - ShraddhA, mEdhA, prajnA, etc., all very desirable qualities. Many of the gurukula's students have gone on to study various branches of Sciences and Arts. A few continue their studies at the Veda Vijnaana Gurukula near Bangalore, and join Prabodhini Gurukula as Acharyas. This school also conducts summer camps for children aged 13-14 years.

From Hariharapura we went to Kigga. Kigga is a very small town, recently in the news for Naxal activity. The Sun was already setting by then. The orange rays of the Sun played with the green leaves to create a heavenly effect. The temperature had fallen by this time, and it was very pleasant. How anybody can dare to disturb the peace of these small hamlets, is more than I can comprehend. Kigga has the temple of Rishyashringeshwara, the form of Shiva worshipped by the deer-horned sage, Rishyashringa. A rare and unexpected treat awaited us by the time we exited the temple. It was already dark by then, and power went off. We just happened to look up, and the night-sky was revealed to us in all its glory. For us city slickers, this kind of a view is as exciting as sighting a UFO.

Much can be said about the beauty of the Sringeri and the nearby hills. We did not pass by the Charmudi ghats this time. We could have possibly included Horanaadu or Agumbe, but after a terribly hectic one-day trip to Madurai last month(I was dreaming of Saravana Bhavan, but all of us had to settle for a banana and a couple of kODubaLes each, because we did not have time to dine!), we played it safe and stuck to Sringeri and a couple of the places that were very near, and enjoyed every minute of it.

R says that I love the place so much because of the novelty (I was brought up in Bellary, and live in Bangalore), but I refuse to believe that. Maharashtra did not inspire me with the same kind of devotion and awe and love, even though the beautiful Bhimashankar situated amidst the Sahyadri range is worth more than just a visit.

Our return journey was a day-journey. Biyadiya and some of the others fell asleep as soon as we got into the bus. I picked up my book to read, but shut it within two minutes. I could read the book any other time, but these hills and valleys would elude me for at least another year or two. The diversity of the flora struck me as I looked out of the window. Sometime I have to trek in these parts, just to observe the plants. I am sure that such a thing is not going to happen soon, but till then, I have memories of this trip to keep replaying in my mind.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


The other day, we went to a nearby park with little Biyadiya. This one, near my house, is frequented by all nearby kids, including kids from nearby construction sites who do not know any language other than Tamil. It is a great experience to watch all these kids treating one another as just playmates, no strings attached.

That evening, there were two kids, who were evidently Muslims. The boy was young, five or six years old, with a skullcap on. The girl was slightly older, and wearing a worked-on red churidar. Both of them were conversing in Urdu. Now there are three slides in the park, one for big kids and two that are more toddler-friendly. While my little one is not scared of slides, he is usually reluctant to actually slide. This girl held him while he slid down, like the protective elder sister. The boy then tried to climb up the slide, but his big toe got stuck in a hole on the slide (did I mention that this park is maintained by the BDA?). He started crying. R tried to take his toe out, but it was stuck tight. The girl then cried "arey, Allah ka naam le ke nikaalo, aa jayega!". After some struggle, the toe came out, and everybody was happy.

I was amazed at the girl's maturity. She was helping kids onto swings and merry-go-rounds, held on to little Biyadiya because he was not comfortable sliding down the slide. She was but only slightly older than the boy, but had already taken on the role of a nurturer, a person who was capable of comforting others. One may say that girls are wired that way, but this one was extraordinary. She was far too intelligent, nay, mature for her age. What would she grow up to be? Would she grow up to be a Benazir Bhutto or a Taslima Nasreen? I wondered about the boy, too. Would he look up to his sister as he did now? And the other kids - would they (including my son) treat these two kids as somehow different when they grew up? I, an adult with reasonable sensitivity and intelligence, was thinking so much about the girl just because she was a muslim. This, in spite of knowing about cases of women-abuse in my own community!

Now, before people start accusing me of looking at people with colored glasses, let me make it clear that I have had, and still have muslim friends. And I think that it was much easier for us to befriend people from other religions, than it is for today's kids. Some boundaries are vanishing, but other, more unsurpassable boundaries are rising.

The truth hit me hard when we listened to some older children (probably 10-12 years old) talking in another park. One was asking another "Hey, what caste is yours?". When we were young, we were taught that asking about another's caste was wrong. I am definitely going to teach my children the same thing, but with so many divisive forces around us, is it possible?