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Friday, 19 September 2014

The Mandolin Magician

As an 8 year old, my initiation to any form of music was listening to a vinyl cassette, on top of whose cover was a young kid holding an instrument. As the music played in the newly arrived cassette player at our home, it brought out a magical sound, which was attributed to that instrument by my grandfather. He also told me that it was a mandolin being played and that the kid in the picture had been playing it with great mastery right from a very young age. 

I remember only keeping two things in mind from that listening experience and from that interaction with my grandfather. That the sound of a mandolin was great and a little kid like me plays it. I thought anyone could play music if a kid my age had already mastered it. I thought music was simple, although I never tried any instrument myself. I remember begging my uncle every time he was coming home from Bangalore or Mysore for cassettes of mandolin played by this kid. If he had brought some cassettes and if none of them were of his, I don't remember listening to any of them at all. For a long time, music for me began and ended with Mandolin of U Srinivas.

As I got to know more about music, I realized that the genre Srinivas played was Carnatic Music. Then I became receptive to other great exponents of Carnatic Music, like M. S. Subbulakshmi, D. K . Pattammal, Sikkil Sisters, R. K. Srikantan and more. But there was always a special place in the heart for Mandolin Srinivas. There always will be. He was also the one who introduced me to my favorite raga Charukeshi, through a Sai Bhajan.

Fittingly, the first live music concert I ever attended was of U. Srinivas and his brother U. Rajesh playing their mandolin with great reverence at the Rama Navami concert at Fort High School, Bangalore a few years ago. I was left stunned and was guided through a state of deep meditation by the geniuses in them. The Bhairavi, the Nasikabhushini, the Karnataka Devagandhari, the Sindhubhairavi and other ragas they played still reverberate in my ears to this day.

News of his untimely death today was a rude shock. How can someone so talented go so early? How much more could he have possibly achieved just boggles the mind. A kid sent from the heavens just to perform penance and shower utmost bhakti through his mandolin. That was the goal set for his life, may be. How blessed was he? "Jagadoddharana" in Raga Kapi has been orphaned. Indeed, it is possible to achieve moksha through music. Although many of his renditions are being played in my mind, I'll leave this with this masterful piece - "Gananayakam" - in Raga Purnashadja:

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Hoysala Expedition Part 40: Kaitabheshvara Temple, Kubatur

The Kaitabheshvara Temple, also known as the Kotishwara Temple, is situated in the town of Kubatur, near Anavatti in Shimoga district of Karnataka. The temple is in fact on the outskirts of both Kubatur and Kotipura, and is only about 25 kilometers away from the historically important town of Hanagal.

The temple is one of the earliest constructed during the Hoysala Empire, this one in 1100 AD, towards the end of the reign of king Vinayaditya (grand father of Vishnuvardhana), the second ruler of their lineage. While the "Hoysala Arcitecture" was still a developing concept and design at that time, this temple borrows a lot from the Later Chalukyan style. The main deity is the Shiva Linga of Kotishwara or Kaitabheshwara, while just outside the sanctum sanctorum, one can see a Ganesha statue as well as a Keshava statue. The large area inside the temple has 5 entrances, and is adorned with finely lathe turned soapstone pillars. 

The main inner ceiling is an intricately carved magnum opus, and the outer walls are devoid of any major carvings except for the keerti mukhas. The parapet over the eaves though, has a typical Hoysala feel, with a lot of small and detailed carvings of deities including the Astadikpalakas - the care takers of the eight directions, Keshava, Shiva in his Bhairava and Nataraja forms, dancing Ganesha, Ugra Narasimha, Varaha, Mahishamardhini and more.

Here is a video of this little known early Hoysala masterpiece:

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

शिशुमारः = Dolphin

शिशून् मारयति इति शिशुमारः। अध्ययनाः कूपीनासिकशिशुमाराः (bottlenose dolphins) स्वशिशून् मारयन्ति अपि च ताडयन्ति इति विषयम् स्थापयन्ति ( )। एतद्विषयम् पुरातनभारतीयसागरजीवशास्त्रज्ञाः ज्ञातवन्ताः वा इति प्रश्नः।

अपि च भारतीयपुराणेषु ध्रुवस्य पत्नी भ्रमी। तस्याः पितुः नाम शिशुमारः। आकाशे ध्रुवनक्षत्रः यत्र भवति, तत्रैव "शिशुमारः" इति नक्षत्रपुञ्जः (constellation) भवति। एतदेव नक्षत्रपुञ्जम् यवनः खगोलशास्त्रज्ञः टोलेमि महोदयः "डेल्फिनस्" इति समीकरोति। डेल्फिनस् नामस्य कारणम् तन्नक्षत्रपुञ्जः dolphin इव दृश्यते इति। विचित्रोऽस्ति "शिशुमारः" इति पदस्य उपयोगः व्युत्पत्तिः च।

Monday, 8 September 2014

Hoysala Expedition Part 39: Moola Sindheshwara Temple, Bellur

Bellur is a town on the outskirts of the Bangalore - Mangalore national highway approaching Channarayapatna, and it belongs to the district of Mandya, Karnataka. In addition to the similarity of its name to the Hoysala city of grandeur, Belur, this town also hosts a few temples from that period, some of which have been completely rebuilt or have gotten destroyed over a period of time. One of them that still stands is the Moola Sindheshwara Temple, constructed in 1224 AD according to the inscriptions available, during the reign of King Veera Ballala II.

Situated at a quiet corner of the town next to the "Gowri Pond", this temple is a trikuta temple, which has been renovated in parts recently. Historically, the temple had, in its three sanctum sanctorums, the idols of Sindheshwara (a Shiva Linga), Lakshmi Narayana and Venugopala, again signifying the peaceful co-existence of the Shaivaite and Vishnavite beliefs. Currently only the Sindheshwara linga remains, while the slightly broken statues of Lakshmi Narayana and Venugopala reside at Adi Madhavaraya temple, the other major Hoysala temple of the town.

Here's a small video collage:

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Hoysala Expedition Part 38: Channakeshava Temple, Hullekere

Near Gandasi Hand Post and belonging to Arasikere Taluk of Karnataka, and 3 kilometers from the Arasikere - Tiptur road is the village of Hullekere. This silent town has a beautiful Channakeshava Temple built during the Hoysala Empire. The period of the temple (1163 AD) indicates that this was built during the reign of king Narasimha I, but like many other temples of their time, this one too received a lot of contributions by his son, king Veera Ballala II.

This temple is a simple ekakuta complex surrounded with a large pillared circum-ambulating platform further away from the temple structure itself, much like what can be seen at Belur and Somanathapura. In fact, it holds much closer similarity with the Channakeshava Temple at Anekere. This temple looks like an exact replica of the Anekere temple, but with an enormous amount of carvings on the outer walls compared to the one at Anekere. Although simple and well structured, the Anekere temple surprises you with its lack of intricate carvings on the outer walls that is so typical of any Hoysala architecture, but the Hullekere temple makes up for it, and appears to indicate how a fully completed Anekere temple might look.

The carvings are intense and stunning, and being in a mostly unexplored country side, the temple has retained its completeness but for a small blemish in the statue of Sala slaying the lion. Sala's right arm is broken, but your attention would soon be drawn towards a spectacular carving of Goddess Chamundeshwari inside the curled tail of the lion being slayed. This is special, and cannot be missed.

The inner sanctum, of course, hosts a beautiful Channakeshava statue. Here's a video from the quiet village of Hullekere: