Monday, August 3, 2015

Nandi Bull of Chamundi Hill

At the outset, see some of the very old and rare pictures [click on them to view larger] of the Nandi Bull on our Mysore's Chamundi Hill. The old images are gathered from the web, years shown on them were as in their websites. The colour images are taken by me.  The one of Dodda Devaraja Wadiyar was kindly shared by Sri Nagaraj Gargya.


Photo by William Henry Pigou.





Nandi Bull can be found in all Shiva Temples.  In fact, there is also a small cave temple, carved under an overhanging boulder, close to its left. Also, the Hill's original shrine is of Lord Shiva [Mahabala] but the temple of Goddess Chamundi became famous in the 18th century. 



Above: From the book in our library you will find mention as you scroll.  Notice electric light poles. See water in Doddakere in the background.


A Picture Card from Shanker and Co., famous photographers in the 40s and 50s.



From "Life" magazine - may be from late 60s.


Ah there, another boy is coming out under the Bull's leg!

This Nandi Bull is listed as one of the seven largest monolith Bulls in India. It was carved in situ during the time of Dodda Deva Raja Wadiyar's reign between 1659-73, situated in the range of the 600th and 700th steps.  Climbing up the 1000 steps [read my other post on the legendary steps, click] on the way to the top of the hill, this is a must-stop place. Nandi is the vehicle of Lord Shiva in Hindu Mythology.

Let me reproduce a portion from the book "Mysore City", by Constance E. Parsons, Oxford University Press, 1930:

The Sacred Bull
Descending (by the footpath) past the little lake of Herekere, constructed 350 years ago by Bettada Chama Raja Wadiyar V, you may reach the Bull in a few minutes.  (A motor road, branching off from the 'Douglas Rice Circle', also leads to it.)  Fashioned, says a legend, in one night, out of the basalt of the hill, this recumbent, colossal Nandi (the vehicle of Siva) was a gift of Dodda Deva Raja, who reigned from 1659 to 1673; a valiant and pious king, who defeated enemies on all sides of the little kingdom, which he greatly extended and which he divided into four equal parts; the revenues of which, it is said, he gave to Brahmins, to the gods, to charities, and of the fourth, spent half on jewels for his queens and half on his State and palace. 'Temples', says an inscription, 'he has made, he is making, and he will make.'  He built rest houses at intervals of a yogana on all the main roads of the State, and stone 'rests' - a horizontal granite stone, laid on two upright stones - on to which weary travelers could slip their shouldered burdens.

Over 25 feet long and 16 high, adorned with ropes, chains, bells and jewels of stone, the Bull - from the days when in England Cavelier and Roundhead fought for mastery - has lain, massive, calm, inscrutable; with  half-shut eyes which seem, in yogi fashion, to be closing in meditation.  The carving, declared by Mr.Rice to be 'in no way extraordinary,' is bold and by no means without beauty. It is neither coarse nor finicking, and nothing could be more suitable for its exposed position and the distance from which it must be viewed.

Nearby is a small lamp-post, erected by a European and lighted, as part of the daily ritual, by the Brahmin priest in charge.

This picture was shared by my friend Gowri which shows probably the same lamp-post mentioned in the book. It is the oil lamp.

Whenever we climbed the steps of Chamundi, we had to stop over at the Nandi Bull for worshipping it. The most thrilling 'ritual' we children used to perform as we circumambulated was to pass under the left leg, crouching.  It was done on the same platform where the statue sits.  The gap we passed through appears 'wide enough', but when you actually pass you have to squeeze yourself out!  I do not remember any superstition attached to this 'passing through ritual'. In recent years, the 'Bettada BaLaga group [ಬೆಟ್ಟದ ಬಳಗ] has prevented people from going on the platform itself by building a fence [notice it in the 'colour pictures']. 

See the picture below.  The lady is doing what many of us used to do.  Do you know who she is? She is none other than the wife of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt!!   Eleanor Roosevelt.  [Click]  She is 68 years old at this time.  She toured Mysore in 1952. 


Two more pictures of her trip to Chamumdi Bull:


In recent times, the statue gets 'decorated' with all kinds of materials, flowers, cloth, ash.  The statue also gets anointment every year which 'tradition' was never done before.  It is beautiful without decoration and the paint on its eyes is not a good idea in my opinion. 'Feeding' the Bull was also a ritual some people did - fix a banana horizontally in the mouth of the statue to please the Lord. 


See the picture above and the one below [taken at night].  
Interestingly, I have taken these almost one year apart and from the very same angle!


A portion of the Nandi Bull is actually visible from our house top, far away. Can you see?


See the indicated white structure.  The telescope I had made in the 70s could focus on the Bull. [Click] 
Click on the image and focus your eyes. The back of the bull is seen.


This is the spot. Shops mar the sanctity of the spot.
Such a beautifully serene environ has become a victim of commercialization with too many vendors and shops selling various items like cane juice, tender coconut and whatnot. 



Some different views of the Bull.


Superstition is that when this Bull stands up and bugles, it would be doomsday. Another rumour is that the bull is 'growing' in size!  

These are from picture postcards from the 1980s. 




May serenity and sanctity return!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ganapathi, his whistle and more

Living opposite our house on Devaparthiva Road, was one humble Iyer family.  Ramaswamy Iyer and his wife had five children. The third one was Ganapathi, a boy slightly elder to me.  He was a very talented chap, my nemesis in many games we used to play against each other.


The Iyer family lived in the [rented] house seen with a green door at the back. Our tenant enters our premise.  Photo may be from 2001 or so. The houses have undergone facelift since the 60s. We no longer live in this street. The Iyer family left in the early 70s. The opposite row of houses had a common wall between them!

Ganapathi was an expert player in tops.  His top had a 'narrow design'.  His rope was unique.  It was short in length and stout which he himself had made using other threads.  The length was so short that he would load in a jiffy, spin and lift it into the hand using the rope while it was still spinning, as per rules. His swiftness coupled with the shortness of his rope ensured he spun the top a lot earlier than the opponent and hence ended up with a win.  I would still be winding my lengthy rope with Ganapathi watching me with a teasing look!  Sometimes the tip of my rope would tangle with the pivot nail.  It was a pleasing sight for Ganapathi!

In another variant of the game, the loser would keep his top on the ground in a drawn circle.  Others had to hit this top with theirs and spun their top in one action to dislodge it out of the drawn circle.  Ganapathi's aim was incredibly accurate and he seldom missed the target top.  His top's pivot nail was stout and sharp, meant to damage and even break the opponent's top!  He would hit very hard and deface it with deep dimpled nail marks. That was the game, in fact.  It was a great joy for the boys [in case of more than two players] who caused the dimples and identify them which mark was made by whom as they kept their pivots on the dimple to prove!  It was agonizing to see my defaced top while Ganapathi derived great pleasure! He ALWAYS won. He was an undoubted hero of the street.


A top from those days, cracked by time and not by Ganapathi. This is nearly how his top was like.


The big top on the right is not mine. It is a mysterious top which came rolling to our door one afternoon in the early 70s and I know not from where it came.  There appeared to be no one in the street playing when I went out to check! 


Only a few of these marbles are from those times, the roughened ones. 

Playing marbles, Ganapathi was very nearly invincible with his laser-sharp aim.  He played with his right hand while I was comfortable with my left [middle finger]. He stocked an enviable number [he kept count] of marbles he won in 4-5 beverage tin fulls!  It was testimony to his amazing skills.  He would proudly show the tin fulls when I went to his house.  When he poured the marbles out to show, the very sound of so many marbles was music!  I wanted to win like him, but it was impossible with boys like Ganapathi!  I would buy marbles, new and shiny, ten marbles for ten paisa at Shetty's shop on Sayyaji Rao Road. Ganapathi used to win most of them!  He was dynamic, elder, experienced, bold and talented.  He did not cheat, but he loved teasing.

Win he would in the little games with marbles for which matchbox labels were kept at stake. He had bundles of them to show!  All the boys lost to him.

At Gulli-danda game, the side in which he was in usually won.  In the absence of a Carrom board, he wrote the board with chalk on the floor of his house.  His sisters would join the game. It was quite a funny feeling with no 'rebounds' possible!  He was good at drawing and he used to show me his sketch book which was stitched from left over pages of old, note books without lines. I am sure he would have made that book too.

 There was a game for which we collected empty cigarette packs, folded and piled, kept in a circle and took turns to disperse out of the circle with the striker - a flat piece of stone - to win. Ganapathi would hit the target unerringly and grab all at stake kept in the circle!  Seldom did he miss.  At the game of Lagori also he was very good.

Ganapathi was adept in whistling with the fingers in different styles.  He would also make a few types with ordinary things like some bamboo pieces and bicycle tube rubber.  He had made a beautiful slingshot with which he would hit the target, usually some fruit or for fun with such aim that was truly astonishing.

Among the many other little things like those,  the one thing I still admire was his ingenuity in making a 'pea whistle'.  A real pea whistle would be like this, used by army officers, the police and sports masters.

Our genius Ganapathy made his own from real scrap. It was crude, but it worked... 'prrrreeeep... prrrrrreeeeeep'.  I tried to recall by trying to replicate the whistle 42-43 years since I saw Ganapathi's work.  I remember I had made one at that time also.  We needed an old wall calendar with its pages bound like this - with a thin tin strip.  In those days, this was the only type we had and the spring bound calendars had not arrived.


Unfold the tin strip and separate from the calendar paper. Just a length of about 4-5 inches is all that is required to make the whistle.


Flatten this portion, cut it.


Bend the piece like this.


I do not know how Ganapathi made this air-escape hole, but I punched the hole with a poker and flattened it. 


The 'mouth piece' which I had slightly rounded to blow air in was wrapped with paper to prevent air leakage from the sides.  Again, I cannot recall clearly how our genius used to make. I bent slightly at the hole for the blown air to enter the curved area that would house the 'whirring' seed.  The open sides were held closed by the thumb and another fingertip after putting the 'seed' in it.


Ganapathi used a star gooseberry seed but I found a Mirabilis jalapa plant seed [below] in my garden to serve the purpose.  


Ganapathi's whistle made a pleasing little 'prrrrreeeeep'. The seed had to be saved each time we removed the fingers from the whistle.  My latest project whistle produced 'Ssrrrssssrrrsssssss'.  Do not miss the 'r' that is the sound produced by the blown seed trapped in the gap, I need to adjust the angle of the air blow and I am sure to re-tune the true 'prrreeeeepp' some time.  
But then this is just for the idea how our genius Ganapathi did from things that one expected!  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Chamundi Hill, its beauty and legend

Chamundi Hill has been Mysore's natural landmark for centuries.  Standing 3,489 ft.asl [above sea level] on its plateau, it forms an imposing, yet adorable backdrop, south east of the city.  Its shape itself is very calming and is said to be the most painted and photographed scenes!  Has anyone guessed its age?  It is 800 million years old, yes 800, formed from 'recent volcanic activity'.  'Recent!'


1910s picture post card, with the now dry Doddakere [lake] in the foreground.

Geologists say that it is of igneous rocks of pink and gray granite and are considered young when compared to the 2.3 billion years old peninsular Gneissic rocks. Gravelly red soil, rich in silica content, a rocky surface and a scanty precipitation support a tropical deciduous thorn-scrub type of vegetation, which leopards have found suitable to inhabit and continues to.  The vegetation of Chamundi Hill comprises of 442 species of flowering plants spread over 91 families (ref. KB Sadananda and Sampathkumara). Chamundi Hill’s influence on the ecology of the region plays a crucial role in the micro-climate of Mysore. 


Look at the rock, taking all the weather since millions of years!


Above: View of the hill from our housetop at winter sunrise.



Another slightly zoomed shot from our rooftop on a sunny afternoon.


View from Dhanvantri Road - peeping from the first floor.  Vintage Devaraja Market in the foreground.


Mysore Race Course has this fantastic view. 

When I return to the city after any trip outside, I must see the Chamundi Hill as our train or bus is within 10-15 kilometres. This gives the ah-I-am-back-home feeling, even if it just a few minutes away!  It has become a habit.  Even at night, I must see the lights which are visible from some miles.  The grand hill is also my directional clue whenever I go to Mysore's newer and distant localities. 

Constance E. Parsons [a British lady] writes in her 1930 book 'Mysore City':
Mysore owes much to her loveliness to her tutelary hill that the first sight of her great isolated granitoid mass causes the returning Mysorean more than a little thrill...... Cloud-capped at dawn, rose-flushed at sunset, star-spangled with her 'torrent of gems from the sky' through the night; her mountain sides, green and gold and grey, Chamundi, as a background to the city she guards, is perfectly and perpetually satisfying.

My earliest childhood memory of 'being on top of the hill' is from, may be 1964-65.  My grandmother had taken me in a bus for the ಬೆಟ್ಟದ ಜಾತ್ರೆ [ರಥೋತ್ಸವ] 'Car Festival' [Temple Car].  Thousands would gather to witness the traditional event early in the morning.  I remember a very huge crowd. The Mysore King [H.H.Jayachamaraja Wadiyar] would be present.  He would 'pull' the huge car, with a very thick long rope.  Actually many others pulled it, but the King lending his hands on the rope for a short while was customary.  The King pulling the car was a mini event in itself.  People craned their necks to have a glimpse of this sight. I was lucky once or twice to watch the King, always clad in white. The car would be pulled in a slow procession perambulating the temple in the clockwise direction.


A recent image from "The Hindu".  See the Car [carrying the Temple Deity in it] in procession: ರಥೋತ್ಸವ.


Illustration of Goddess Chamundeshwari from 'Balashikshe', 1890, Maharani's Girls School Book.

My grandmother and me had reached the previous evening and spent the night in a house, which was where the Temple Priest lived and who was known to our family.  See picture below. The Temple entrance is just out of frame on the right.  Look for the low house with a tiled roof where a van is parked.  That is the house where we had stayed, one of the very few surviving.


I will be quoting more from Parsons [Italics] as she describes the scenario in a very beautiful manner. One can imagine how much more beautiful the hill really was many decades ago. 

Parsons writes: Wide, spiral roads now open up the many view-points on the hill, and lead to the village, the temples, the palace bungalow on the top; to the sacred bull, lower down, and to the still lower pleasance of Lalitadri.  'Circles' and 'islands', revolving summer houses, daintily sculptured 'mantapas' and newly built shrines adorn a hill already enriched by the legends and monuments of a romantic past.  Her shrines draw multitudes to worship; her cool fresh air, gardens, walks and drives draw multitudes more to rest and recreation. 


A very old picture of the Chamundi temple seen from behind.  The temple tower was built in 1827 during the reign of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar III. 


This is a narrow road winding up from the south. 


My scooter is dwarfed by a boulder.

Parsons also mentions of wild pig and porcupines besides leopards!  The hill's 11-km periphery falls under the Forest Reserve.  Leopards are sighted occasionally by 'lucky' passersby even now.  Here are two web grab images taken in the dark by two separate passersby.  My friend Ravindra also encountered one some years ago. He saw it leap across his bike, at some distance.  There are no reports of leopards harming people but sadly, people have harmed these poor cats sometimes when they have wandered down to the city in search of food.


The Journal of the Mysore Mythic Society [by Rev. E.V.Thompson, M.A.] mentions: 
'In the first instance the goddess worshipped in this shrine at have been identified with Siva's consort, and a sthala purana or mahatmya was composed which related that on this spot the buffalo-headed monster [Mahish = Buffalo and Asura = Demon], Chamunda, was slain.  Chamundesvari is now regarded as an incarnation of Lakshmi.  This unique feature in her legendary history being possibly due to the predominant influence of the Sri Vaishnavite sect in the palace in the twelfth century.'

Parsons writes: 'Though the legend has various forms, all indicate that in ages long ago Mysore was delivered from the grip of some great terror - from beast or foe or pestilence. 

One account claims that the goddess slew two demons, Chanda and Manda, so winning herself a name combined of both.  But the more usually accepted version speaks of her as Chamundi-Mahishasura-mardani, the slayer of the minotaur. 

She is, therefore, the household deity of the town named in commemoration of Maisa [buffalo], Uru[town].  Chama also means dark blue, and is regarded as her colour, as in the case of Krishna.  Her image on the hill bestrides a lion, and has twenty hands.'

The oldest shrine on the hill is in fact of Mahabaleswara, formerly the presiding deity of the hill, whose worship is now apparently eclipsed by that of the goddess Chamundeswari.  Writes Parsons: Two stone slabs were found, bearing almost the oldest Mysore stone inscriptions yet discovered.  Worn out as they are, enough remains to reveal a date not later than A.D. 950. They bear the hill's old name of Mobellada-tirtha, evidence that a thousand years ago this was a sacred spot - a place of pilgrimage, and dedicated to Isvara, Siva.  The fragmentary inscription on one stone relates a grant to charity.  The other is an epitaph, a record that some poor troubled soul - a woman - after life's long pilgrimage, 'found here', say the blurred old letters, 'salvation and peace'.

Later inscriptions on the hill note that in A.D.1128 the great King Vishnuvardhana made a grant to the temple, and a fugitive king of Vijayanagar another one in 1620.



Google-satellite image showing the two temples - smaller 'rectangle' is the Mahabaleshwara Temple.


Entrance to the Mahabaleshwara Temple


There will be a separate post on Nandi Bull, the great monolith, which is an integral part of the hill. 


This is an image from the 19th century, for the time being. 
* * * 

You will find my separate post on the beautiful fight of 'a thousand steps'. Here: [Click]

........................................