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Hampi Visit- III. Allegro agitato
I passed the last half of my overnight journey, half-asleep half-awake with no notion of what was dream and what was reality. I remember seeing low, rocky, crags with big boulders littered around them under a moonlit, starry sky and thinking of Hyderabad. I vaguely recall a truck driver sleeping under his vehicle parked near one such rocky passage. I even have faint recollections of seeing a movie poster in Kannada, trying to read it, realizing that it was Telugu (because it had characters that I couldn’t decipher) and then giving up the whole exercise in a state of irritated befuddlement. I woke up when our bus slowed down when passing through a small village with beautiful, small, white houses; an observation which I am more inclined to classify as contents of a fatigued reverie.

At around 4:45 in the morning the lights in the bus came on, a phenomenon accompanied by loud devotional music on the Bus’s public address system; of which the only word that I registered was ‘Mantralaya’ – it being the name of our destination. Before I could speculate the time left for our arrival, the bus came to a halt near a guest house and we again received our bilingual instructions from a now very sleepy bus conductor. Mantralaya in Andhra Pradesh was thus the first stop of our two day tour. We got down with our luggage and assembled at the guest house’s reception desk. Since this was not an overnight stay but merely an arrangement to allow every one to freshen-up, we were curtly informed that four people would share one room. Now I’ve been a day scholar right uptil my college days and so have been privileged enough to have never been forced to share my room. On moving to Bangalore, despite the somewhat steep rents I was determined to make do on my own - even if that amounted to inhabiting a sleeping bag under my cubicle. Sharing my quarters therefore, is a concept wholly alien to my nature. I hadn’t made any acquaintances on bus and was thus mortified at this sudden prospect of sharing room with three total strangers. “Dearest Deepak, time to climb down your ivory tower and learn a lesson or two in humility”, I muttered to myself peevishly.

I exchanged courteous greetings with my newly assigned roommates and followed them to our room at the guest house’s right wing second floor. As we opened the door to our room, a fetid draught of stale air threatened to extricate the contents of last night’s dinner, from its present station of my bowels, with an unassailable force. We switched on the fan which dissipated the pervasive malodor a bit, till gradually my olfactory faculties were entirely desensitized to it. Of all the rooms in the guest house, our room must have been suffering from severest case of inferiority complex owing to its appearance (or perhaps it didn’t care). The whitewash was peeling off the walls and you could see grey patches of cement on the ceiling. To compound our misery, the room was also a haven for rowdy gangs of mosquitoes that looked mortally thirsty for blood – our unwelcome roomies that I wasn’t quite informed of (come to think of it, I was being naïve to not expect them there!). A reluctant peek into the bathroom and I was determined to go without a bath for the remaining day.

The rest of the stay was not a memorable one. I visited Tungbhadra river in the temple complex and was appalled at filth strewn all around it. The sunrise which I had hoped to catch as a fair reward for my overnight journey, was obstructed by a low hill in the east.

The subsequent visit to the temple was an experience that I would rather forget. I have enjoyed visiting temples in past; perhaps because the temples I have visited have had more historical renown than religious. I like temples where I can sit in peace and reflect without unwelcome presence of an overbearing priest engaged in garish display of his clout. While here peace was in such short supply that I am tempted to theorize its inverse proportionality to the number of priests.

I would now digress for a very short dissertation on religion, my own liberal interpretation of it, and how antediluvian (dare I say rotten) some of the practices in the temple were. For instance, the darashan ceremony was telecast on a closed circuit TV throughout the temple complex but to get into the main sanctum for seeing the same, you had to take off your shirt and vest or be reprimanded (even man-handled) by a fully liveried guard standing in that very holy spot. I am not a dotingly devout person. My upbringing and education has taught me to put everything under a scientific scrutiny – without making an exception to matters of faith or religion. I am deeply spiritual and yet a most casual practitioner of my religion, a practice that borders on agnosticism. I don’t see it as dichotomy or contradiction. Religion was created by man not by God. Religion was created by man for serving man, for his deliverance. Theology evolved because there were questions that science and philosophy did not (and do not yet) answer. Then why is it that we end up serving religion and that too rather ostentatiously? What happened to the Hindu reformist movements started by the likes of Raja Ram Mohan Roy? This was my first ever visit to a place of great religious significance and I have vowed to never undertake anything even remotely resembling a pilgrimage again.

With these agitated sentiments, I stepped out of the temple. Outside, urchins were begging or peddling incense sticks, coconuts and garlands for consumption by deities inside. A person with tonsured head had painted himself entirely in silver color and stood still, slouched, with a long walking stick, in an imitation of Gandhi. Passers by threw loose change into a tin box lying at his feet. I was undecided who I should feel sorrier for – that man or Gandhi. A quick ten minute walk later I was on a village road that led me away from temple.

As I moved farther on that road, the din of devotees gradually faded into silence. This allowed my ears to register chirping of birds for the first time since we had gotten down. I made a call home. Sis’s remark that I was actually standing by a river which we had so often drawn on map of India in geography class at school has somehow stayed in my mind even days after our conversation. I strolled for some forty minutes, took a few pictures and finally settled down on a low brick structure by the roadside to mediate on all that I had seen so far. Across the road, by the bank of the river, were paddy fields with an occasional heron plodding in shallow waters there. As the wind would change its direction, it would buffet my eardrums and bring incoherent echoes of cricket-commentary from a loudspeaker installed in the playgrounds of near-by school. Herds of goats and buffalos sheparded by villagers would pass me by every now and then; bells and trinkets tied around their necks chiming sweetly. An improvised nine-seater auto running on a two stroke engine; ferrying more people than it was originally invented for, would announce its approach from far away and then trail past me with a speed surprising for its load.

With thirty minutes to go for the deadline set by our bus conductor I started my walk back to the guest house. At 12:00, having valiantly collected my baggage from our shabby lodgings, I sank back into my window seat, wondering if the remaining leg of the journey was going to be worth my while.
posted: 4.2.05

10 Comments

I had visited Mantrlaya a few years ago and don't have a very pleasent memories of the temple just like you. but i feel some mediators who feel they are the agents of god and religion are giving us all these wrong notions about our religion and customs.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7.2.05  



Rightly said [Anonymous]. But theology tends to be difficult for masses to understand. To make matters trickier, reading of scriptures is open to varied interpretations. Hence the need for these mediators and religious institutions.

I wish each one of us could study scriptures and carve our own path. Unfortunately, in the current world order, we inherit religion (just like bad debts) so I am not sure how many of us get to study religions other than what our families practice.

By Blogger Deepak, at 7.2.05  



... tempted to theorize its inverse proportionality to the number of priests.I find your method of writing technically about absolutely non-technical matters most amusing.

Was waiting for part iii. and now for part iv.

avis

p.s. too lazy to login and post a comment. hope you don't mind the anonymous entries. :)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7.2.05  



Thanks Avis!

No problems with Anonymous comments, I respect your laziness :-)

By Blogger Deepak, at 7.2.05  



You might have had a somewhat disappointing journey, but you've managed to make a fine story out of it. Well done.

By Blogger Deirdre, at 9.2.05  



Thanks Deirdre! This was the only part of the two day journey that left me a little upset. The remaining part (and I hope I can write about it soon) more than made up for it and left me elated!

By Blogger Deepak, at 9.2.05  



Well, thank goodness for that! A completely depressing holiday would be... well... completely depressing. Lovely photos, as always.

By Blogger Deirdre, at 10.2.05  



Deepak,

Cool Description. I visited the same area circa 1992 on an excursion.

The temple folks wouldnt let anyone with their shirt on, for that matter no upper garments. I refused to take off mine and said I would get a "darshan" with my shirt on and took a stroll along the river while my compatriots went inside devoutly by accepting the restriction.

Not very pleasant trip for me but Jog Falls nearby more than compensated for it.

Nice Blog! Stumbled through Geebaby's blog

By Blogger Paddy, at 12.2.05  



Hey Deepak,
Remember me this seems to be a small world, infact i got your blog from one of my friends Blog site(Rajiv). Am still to develop my Hampi Trip photographs. Post yours as soon as possible you write real good..
bye
Samarth

By Anonymous samarth, at 16.2.05  



Thanks for dropping by Paddy!

Hey Samarth! Yes I remember you well - you were the only photography enthusiast I came acorss :). I'll start post the pics soon - in a week or so.

By Blogger Deepak, at 16.2.05  


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