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]


Friday, July 3, 2015

Thousand steps of Chamundi Hill

There may be no Mysorean who has not climbed the thousand steps of the Chamundi Hill, at least once, in the last about 348 years since they were fashioned.  My grandfather used to say he would ascend in ten minutes and descend in five.  I am sure my great grandfather was also a fit man who did the same.  Step number 'zero' at the foot of the hill is just 3 kms from our locality.  Walking was an everyday activity.  They knew how it had direct benefit on health.  They would have walked all the way and walked miles effortlessly.  They walked a lot and were definitely healthier.

 The earliest I recall having taken the steps was in the early 1970s.  It was a casual trip.  My aunt, brother and our upstairs tenants - three girls and their father formed the group.  We had carried some light food and snacks.  I can recall my aunt who was in her 40s gasping as she had not climbed in many years.  After the customary visit to the temple of Goddess Chamundi, we spent a few relaxing hours.  We had earlier stopped at the Nandi Bull for a snack.   At about 4 pm, we realized a thunderstorm was looming large with thick black 'rain clouds' sending thunders and flashes of lightning enveloping the hilltop. So we hurriedly climbed down and walked home.  No sooner had we reached home, there was a very heavy thunderstorm accompanied by a strong wind.

The next climb was in the mid 70s.  I was one of the youngest few in a large group of relatives of "Capt. Kanti" who lived in the opposite house.  They had carried 2-3 large boxes with cooked food for the picnic. It was a very enjoyable trip.

In the late 70s, our friends group went twice, once in the morning and on another day, just for kicks, after dark.  We went up to the Nandi Bull and returned.  I have climbed on many occasions since.  One has to climb to experience the thrill.  It defies description.  We would gasp and rest every now and then, esp. at places where we could get the view of the city.  Regular climbers will have better heart-lung efficiency. Some people climb weekly and many daily, either or both for fitness or to visit the Chamundi Temple for worship.

Chamundi Hill is a real boon to nature-lovers, bird-watchers, fitness buffs, worshipers alike. As a bonus, we get to see the breathtaking beauty of the city view while we inhale fresh air. Click on the pictures that follow.

By day.

By night.... during Dasara when the city lights up, Palace glows!

Constance E. Parsons, in her very valuable book "Mysore City", published in 1930, describes beautifully:

An energetic visitor will be well repaid by a climb up these thousand steps, fashioned 263 years ago, when the Great Fire of London [actually in1666] was raging, by, some say, Manaji Rao, a pious cloth merchant of Mysore; others, and they have the weight of the Archaeological Department behind them, by Dodda Deva Raja Wadiyar.  At the foot of the steps is a small temple to Chamundeswari, where animal sacrifices replaced the human ones, discontinued by order of Haidar Ali.

The steps are here and there green with moss and lichen, they are slippery with votive oil, they are polished by the passing of countless pilgrim feet.  They are any and every length, breadth and thickness, they slope at every angle, and are nowhere of monotonous uniformity.  At the natural resting places the widening view becomes more and more arresting.  Foothills raise their crests, far-off mountains define the horizon, and half-way up, with a little gasp of delight, those who know Mr.Hilton Brown's exquisite poem, Friendly Mountain, will see, with a thrill, far away to the west, the pearl and amethyst come of Mallikarjuna, by Bettadapur. Those who reach the top of the hill by the easier way of the long spiral motor road will pass, on the way from the Boulevard to Lalitadri.

In order to reach the top you had, twenty years ago, the choice of riding lazily up a cart-track, or of climbing first a thousand steps and then half a mile of stony path.  If you were a Royalty or Viceroyalty, you had the further choice of being carried up in a dhuli or of riding up on an elephant; a long, hot and tiring expedition either way.  Poor Lady Dufferin at least found it so, and describes it as follows: 'After lunch we went to the top of a very high hill, which I ascended in a jhampan, borne by 12 men, who chanted as they went up the thousand steps; it was a wild sort of song, which sounded very inspiriting.  D--- [Dufferin] rode up the other side of the hill and we met at the top, where we admired the view of the country, and a fine specimen of a Hindu temple which crowns the hill...... Our descent was very fatiguing, as the thousand steps were very slippery.'

[The authorities have since repaired the steps from time to time.  In a recent foolish plan, they proposed railings, which the public succeeded in quashing it. It would have spoiled the existing, original beauty.]

Parsons writes of an amusing incident: There is a tradition that the Duchess of Connaught elected to make the ascent on an elephant, and bitterly regretted her choice; for the steed, after lumbering up with exemplary sedateness, suddenly decided that his elephant lines were far more attractive than sacred shrines and extensive views.  So he bolted home again, with a desperate but powerless mahout and a very frightened and uncomfortable Duchess on his back.

Some very recent images of my sojourn: [Click on them for an enlarged view]

Step 'Zero' and the 1000th step.  The count is engraved at every hundred steps.

The start of the ascent. The sheltered passage is where Step 'Zero' is marked - picture left and the ascent begins - picture right.

Notice the 'turmeric and kumkum' marks on the edge of the steps. This is in my opinion desecration, an 'un-Mysorean' tradition. Certain 'religious' people vow to touch each step with those marks as they climb and reach the temple. This practice was not in vogue earlier.

There is a unique set of steps on the way up. "Pandavas Steps"

Panch Pandavas [from Epic Mahabharatha]. Panch=five. 
Five steps hewn out of a single boulder. 
Instead of moving the boulder, they hewed the steps on it! 

Another portion. This is an earlier picture.  Notice the less desecration on the steps.

A strairway 'of legend and ringing rhymes,
Of splendid songs and singing chimes,
A road where every pilgrim climbs
To God as to a friend'  ~ A.G.Prys-Jones.

Climb when you can, experience the thrill, as often as you can. This is a great gift to Mysoreans. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bumper of Kitti's Morris Minor Car

A flat, solid-looking metal object, broken in the middle, was lying in the store [attic] room for many years.  When I moved house, it came with me.  I knew it was the bumper of a car.  Since this looked like an object that could be useful in some other way, I got this broken junk welded by my friend Ramas.  It continued to lie here and there.  Finally it found some re-purpose after five decades!

My late uncle Kitti had a car which he had bought for a thousand rupees.  I still wonder how he managed this huge sum in 1964-65, which was probably 5 or 6 times his salary from a small job. It was a car that had changed many hands already and at least 20+ years old.  It was, I reckon a "Morris Minor" from the 1930s vintage.  

Kitti's car was something like in the web-grab images [below], cream coloured, 4-seater, two doors. Back-seat access was by folding the front seat. 

From 'OldClassicCar'

Keep an eye on the front bumper to which the registration plate is fixed. 
That is the part being bragged here. Click on the images to enlarge.

Its registration plate bore "MYM 828".  I can remember that they used to talk about how someone had cheated Kitti with a very poor condition vehicle.  It was frequently finding itself in the repair garage.  Unable to meet the expenses Kitti sold it off for peanuts after incurring a heavy loss and landing in debt. He had reverted to his Robin Hood bicycle [1958], which I still use.
 Kitti died as a bachelor in his early 40s in 1967.  

Kitti was fond of kids. He was a bit adventurous, much to the chagrin of my grandmother. I hear that young Kitti used to clandestinely take away my g/g/father's Model T Ford car which made my grandmother anxious.

Me and Kitti at Raj Studio

 After Kitti sold this troublesome Morris Minor, the new owner had painted it red.  It was a prominent vintage car even in the 60s and attracted passersby, for its mere vintage look. "Look, Kitti's car" we used to exclaim when we saw it.  This car was on the road for a couple of more years before finally 'disappearing'. 

Did you see the bumper in the car images above?  It is actually just over a metre long, so you can imagine the width of this baby car!   

Fifty years on, this bumper gets 'unjunked', finally finding some use in my garden, of all places.  For growing small flowering vines, I placed two ladder-like structures and then connected the two on top with this bumper.  Soon, the plants from both sides will reach the top to dangle and droop.

View from above.

Close-up of one end of the rusty bumper.

This sleek object will remind me of Kitti' Morris and the short rounds he took me after he returned from work.