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. 


SPGR. said...

Nice pictures. I have visited Mysore once and have gone till the Samundeswari temple. The bus took us almost close to the temple. Does the steps go beyond Samundeswari temple? Or from the ground level upto Samundeswari temple?


Five steps out of one boulder! So resourceful.
One can imagine how fit our menfolk were in the last century , with all the walking and climbing.

jothi's jottings said...

I once climbed the hills 5 days in a week. That was in the 70's, when I was fighting fit. The count was always 10 up, 5 down. Three of us, all childhood friends, ( those days we used to live in Chamundipuram, very close to the hills) would leave the house around 5 in the morning, cycle all the way to the foothills, park our vehicles there, and begin the climb. We had gotten into a nice rhythm. We were familiar with every step. It used to be very exhilarating. The changing seasons would add novelty to the experience.

But professional commitments came in the way. The climbs became irregular. ( Btw, I remember seeing J.Srinath quite regularly in the 80's.i.e just before he entered the national team.) Even now these steps attract me once in a month. They are so addictive. I invariably think each time that I should do the climb once a week atleast. The effect lasts for nearly two days.

Not only is it a physical experience, but a spiritual one too. I find visiting the temple is a wholly different experience after the climb. Nothing new in it. Our ancestors knew about this hundreds of years ago. That's why they located all the holy temples atop the hills. Maybe their message is that God cannot be reached easily!