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									Preview In how many countries of the world is visiting God a top priority? Where in the world – but India – will you find whole villages and towns dedicated to the Creator? Many of India’s “homes of the Creator” – pilgrimages – are tourist destinations par excellence. Some, like Vaishno Devi and Badrinath in the north and Ganapatipule and Kanyakumari in the south, are treasure troves of nature’s magnificent gifts: gushing waterfalls inside hidden caves, hot water springs alongside icy waters in idyllic valleys, silvery sands on pristine beaches near shimmering seas, and colourful confluences of the mighty skies with dancing oceans. Others, from Bhubaneswar and Konark in the east to Dilwara and Dwarka in the west, are wondrous expressions of man’s indomitable quest for the eternal. According to Mark Twain (who traveled widely in India), pilgrimages sanctified by temples are “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend.... India has two million gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.” How many of us are aware that the theory of the evolution of life on earth from aquatic forms to amphibians to mammals to homo sapiens was well-illustrated in the same order in Hindu temples over a thousand years before Carl Sagan popularised it in his famous TV serial, “Cosmos”, and long before Charles Darwin put before the world his revolutionary treatise on “The Origin of Species” (1859).

Indian culture firmly believes that all true art comes from God, and is an offering to God. Temples have ever remained gentle, generous and refined repositories, forming the backdrop of India’s highly evolved folk and classical arts – paintings, sculptures, music and some of the most graceful dances ever to be witnessed by the world. The stones of Indian temples seem to breathe the ethereal dance and music they once must have witnessed. You have to see and feel the stupendous stone columns at Halebid and Somnathpur to marvel at the massive (lathe?) machinery that must have been engaged for fashioning these. How did human hands manipulate such gigantic monoliths? And what was the background of men (and maybe women too?) who could sculpt dance, drama, music, poetry, philosophy and literature into stone in the temples of Orissa and Karnataka? Were they artists, scholars, sculptors, architects and masons – all rolled into one? After all, the great Michelangelo was known to have studied cadavers to feel and absorb the anatomy of the human body. How did these people manage to get such a minute feel of all their thousands of imaginary subjects? What was the degree of their patience, skill, imagination, co-ordination and team spirit so that not a single gesture or posture of man or animal, bird or beast was repeated even once? Kumud Mohan’s deep interest in Indian classical music and dance led her to find their ultimate expression in Indian temples. Armed with a notebook and camera, she looked for adventure at lesser known places on the periphery of better known ones. Unexpected discoveries came her way…. She came across a little temple atop a sword-shaped rock in the middle of a river, where the Gayatri Mantra, the most famous of Hindu chants, was believed to have been composed. Then, there was a hidden hashish-rich valley in the Himalayas, where hundreds of invaluable

and exquisite “protected” sculptures, heaped together like a pile of bricks, could have easily become the loot of anyone with the right implements and the wrong intentions. There was also the story of an invaluable100-kg ashtadhatu (precious metal) idol that was spirited away overnight under the very nose of officials of the Archeological Survey of India, to surface several years later at the house of a Member of Parliament! Another story of abandonment and neglect related to a cluster of about a dozen 1,500-year-old caves in the Deccan – adorned with exquisite sculptures vying with the renowned Ajanta – that have outlived the Taj Mahal and Qutub Minar by at least 1000 years. For many hours, the author, her son and driver were the lone visitors to these priceless caves. The most astonishing find perhaps was a colossal complex comprising nearly 50 small and big temples in the Kumaon Hills – which nobody seemed to have heard of, and which the author and her family could reach only after a fourth determined bid in that direction… How on earth did ancient Indians build such solid stone structures at inaccessible Himalayan heights! Did they actually hew the rocks on the formidable promontories? If they did, how did they raise the enormous, perfectly shaped, stone blocks – perhaps weighing a ton each – up to 50 feet and more? Did they have pulleys and other massive machinery? Otherwise, where was the space to build mile-long ramps for the purpose? Or, did they invoke some very special anti-gravity mantras for levitating the stones? There is a term tapobhoomi, or land that has been charged positively by years of penance. It is believed that Gods descend from the heavens at such places to shower their blessings – facilitating ordinary humans to cleanse and equip their souls to cross over the ocean of mortality in their journey to the infinite.

India is a tapobhoomi where millions of temples have arisen over thousands of years – shining as eternal beacons beckoning believers and non-believers alike by their sheer beauty if not their spiritual magnetism. Each of these temples has a story to tell – told in a refreshingly readable and adventurous manner in the Temple Tales from India…………

A bonus Glossary on cultural terms makes this book an indispensable reference for Indians the world over.

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