Sunday, April 22, 2018

Rock art that dates back 10000 years - Bhimbetka (M.P)

What can match the joy of discovering things of different era. A time, place, aesthetic, you know nothing about. Stories etched in stone paintings that tell you about the people of a long gone era, their life, their times and that is historical gem called Bhimbetka located in state of Madhya Pradesh.

Bhimbetka group of rock shelters located close to 45 kms of Bhopal in Vindhya mountain range amidst the Ratapani wildlife sanctuary exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India, number of these analysis suggest that at least few of these shelters were inhabited for over 10000 years ago. Home to the most gorgeous rock painting,. There are over 750 rock shelters in this region and guess what !! 500 of them are adorned with rock paintings. The site remained a center of human activities right from lower Paleolithic times up to medieval period. The subject of the paintings depict day to day activities of ancient man, human figures, animals, communal gatherings and dances, warfare etc.There is also one of the earliest recorded hand print of a kid.

Bhimbetka as the name stands is corruption of the Hindi word Bhimbaithka meaning seat or sitting place of Bhim, one of the Pandava's brother. Bhim is still worshiped as deity to several tribes residing in forest and villages of surrounding areas. It all started when Dr Vishnu Shridhar Wakankar, the discoverer  from Vikram university, Ujjain when travelling along the hills on a train, noticed the spectacular sandstone rock formations along the ridge, He got fascinated by them and their surrounding landscape. He got down from the train to explore and strayed too far from beaten path and thus found himself in treasure trove and discovered the greatest heritage of India. This was in 1957. Even imagining about the moment when Dr Vishnu would have taken a first glance on this rock paintings gives me goosebumps !!

Spread across 1892 hectares covering five hills withing the Vindhyan range, shelters are spread over 5 hills but only 15 shelters are accessible to general public. Filled with narratives of hunting, battle, festive scenes, daily life, royal processions, dancers and animals and birds of all kinds, these paintings shows the dynamics between humankind and nature in all its complexity. Colors used were mainly ochre from haematite and white from lime, plant extracts, animal fat and even rubbed stones.The cover of dense forest and vegetation has protected these rock paintings so far from being lost to vagaries of nature.

During excavation of one the caves some skeletons were also found in disintegrated state. The Mesolithic people (10000 - 2500 years) used to bury their dead within the caves in the living areas. The dead body was placed either in an extended position or in a crouched position with head usually to the east. Stones, rubber, antlers, bone tools were placed with the dead as grave goods.

The earliest drawing of a men which reminded me of good old school days when we as kids have also drawn something similar looking male figures.

Below is the painting with two elephants with long uplifted tusk and man standing on smaller elephant holding a spear in one hand and holding a goad in another.

Domesticated animals like goat, cows, bison as well as Tiger is shown in below pics. In all there has been total of 1377 wild as well as domesticated animals painted on the walls of rock shelters.

Shelter no 4 is one of the most elaborately painted one known as "Zoo rock" due to large number of animal species painted on the rock. There are total of 252 animals of 16 different species seen here.

Historic warriors with different kinds of weapons as seen in below pic. Sometimes the artist has used the same painted surface used earlier without obliterating earlier paintings.Superimposition of such paintings can be seen at many places.

The most famous of all the Bhimbetka paintings below which shows some procession with soldiers, dancers and various animals, birds as well as a scorpion on top left corner.

Panel where a flying bird is shown along with peacock and a snake with some humans forming a chain. Some men painted in white are the probably the newer paintings while one painted in natural dye are from earlier era.

Another masterpiece shown below is that of a mythical boar chasing a man while it is surrounded by armed men, men shown here are quite small in size as compared to the animal. A local tribe called Korkus living in the fringes of the forest still worship wild boars.

A line of galloping horses with horsemen brandishing their swords seen in rock shelter no 7.

Human chain seen here seems to be part of some dance ritual with one person holding some musical instrument.

What makes Bhimbetka even more interesting is that some of the painted shelters are still regarded as sacred by local Hindu villagers including the Gond and Korku tribes who go to them on special occasions in order to perform rituals and ceremonies even today. One of the old shelter converted into Goddess Durga temple is just a furlong away from main Bhimbetka shelters.

At the few distance before the cave, there is situated a flat bed of rocks which gives a beautiful panoramic view of the dense Ratapani wildlife sanctuary, area rich in varied animal species.

Nature has also played its part by creating some unique rock formation, There is a rock mass which looks like tortoise, the uncommon rock formation are due to enlargement of cavities through physical and chemical erosion.

When I and my friend Kiru decided to visit this place in December, we took an early morning train to Bhopal from Vidisha as that was our base for the trip and reached Habibganj. From there we took a public transport bus which dropped us at Obdellatif Ganj (which was a mistake we realised later as we could have continued further on same route towards Hoshangabad on NH12), Rickshaw here charge close to Rupees 400-500 for a round trip of 2 hrs, so instead we took another bus which dropped us at Bhimbetka junction. From here one does not get any transport and has to travel 3.2 kms on foot to the site passing through a check post and railway crossing. We were lucky to get a local bike rider who did two round trips to drop us at caves at a small price.

The ideal season to visit would be from November to February as temperatures are cooler. An early morning visit gives you ample time to explore the place with less crowd, ASI guides are available and at times the security guards also act as guide. Each rock shelter has been marked with sign board but it takes a lot of effort to spot and view the paintings. Though there are only 15 shelters for public viewing which requires a walk of 1.5 kms in well marked pavement, it took us close to 5 hours to view the spectacular heritage of Bhimbetka.

Nearby attractions: Bhimbetka tal around 4 kms from cave site who can't resist taking off beat route.

Bhojpur: On the way return to Bhopal one can also visit the half built Shiva temple of Bhojpur which is a heritage town. The temple is famous for it's unique Shivling which is 18 ft tall and is built out of a single rock.

Bhopal - Bhojpur: 29 kms
Bhopal - Bhimbetka: 45 kms
Bhimbetka - Bhimbetka T point: 3.2 kms
Bhopal NH12 - Mandideep - Obdellatif ganj - Bhimbetka - Shahganj / Hoshangabad

Monday, April 16, 2018

Sahasralinga - A thousand Shivlings shine here on a riverbed

From the depths of the ocean to the flowing rivers, Water- so vital for life to exist, hides within its belly lot of secrets. One such secret lies embedded on Shalmala river bed - A place called SAHASRALINGA. Sahasra translates to thousand in Sanskrit and as name suggest "Thousand linga's or Shivlings".The place is unique because the linga's are situated on rocks of the river Shalmala. Carved on riverine rocks, Sahasralinga looks very artistic and beautiful.

Sahasralinga is a pilgrimage place, located around 14 kms from town of Sirsi in Uttar Kannada district nestled in lush green Western Ghats. River Shalmala which originates from Dharwad flows quietly through the pristine forest near the village of Sonda. The bed of this river has huge boulders as well as small rocks and each one of them have Shivalinga carved on them. Some even have more than one Shivalinga and even Nandi - the vehicle of Lord Shiva. Originally every Linga had a Nandi facing it but now many seems to be damaged due to forces of nature.

In middle of the river bed there are these two huge boulders which has beautifully carved Nandi on its side. It seems as if the artisans have given life to these lifeless rocks.   

The first sight of these engraved Shivalinga is breathtaking, it just leaves one spellbound. The river itself has become a temple with Shivalinga carved stones lay scattered all over. Most of the Linga's are visible when the water level in the river is not high hence ideal time to visit this place would be post monsoon from October to May.

When we visited the place in March, water level was quite low which allowed us the freedom to move around at each rock and get a whole sum view of the carved rocks, though at few places the rocks are quite slippery. Also since it's considered a place of worship so we had left our shoes on the banks of the river which made it little difficult to move around on slippery and rocky river bed. Add to it, March scorching sun had heated the rocks to such an extent that it was difficult to stand on the rocks without the linga's and not burn our feet.

History says that these one thousand Shivlinga's on river bed are believed to have been commissioned to be carved by Sadashiva Raya who was also called King of Sirsi of Vijayanagar kingdom during 1678 - 1718. The local legend says that the king did not have any heir to the throne and hence was advised by a priest to make 1008 Shivalings to be blessed with children. So the king had every stone at the riverbed converted into Shivlinga. The story goes that the king had children, from then on these are called votive linga's, something made to get something in return. Even today the locals worship them as wish-fulfilling Shivlinga's. 

Though there are such Sahasralinga's in various other locations like one near Parshurameshvara temple in Orissa where a huge linga carries on itself 1008 miniature linga's. Similarly near Hampi many Shiva linga's are found on banks of river Tungabhadra. But the spot near Sirsi is unique in a way that here the linga's are carved in various sizes and scattered all over the riverbed. When I spoke to one of the purohit sitting near his makeshift on banks of Shalmala river, he mentioned that at Sahasralinga there would be close to 100-150 Shivalinga's now. But due to forces of ravenous waters during the rainy season many have got destroyed or buried deep in the riverbed or swept away, some were also taken away by the locals but there are many still found in a distance of 8 kms upstream and downstream of the river banks. 

Historians opine that there flourished in India a traditional cult that worshiped Lord Shiva in open. Sahasralinga is therefore considered as a manifestation of such worship.There is also a belief that representing an icon in multiplicity is intended to show the enormous power of the multiplied object.

Interestingly there exist a similar place in Cambodia near the world famous heritage site of Angkor Wat. "Kbal Spean", also known as valley of 1000 linga's. This place also has number of carvings on river bed just like in Sahasralinga. More on this place in the attached link (1000 lingas).

Sahasralinga could have been our own backyard Kbal Spean but what we have done is dirty the place with puja items, picnickers who take bath and litter around. I was appalled when the purohit I talked to said during the day of Shivratri, each Shivalinga is occupied by a purohit offering to do puja to the devotees who come to wash their doshas and sins !!

Sahasralinga is a serene, picturesque location amidst lush green nature, where one can relax, lavishly soak and blend in the glory of unspoiled natural ambiance only if we ourselves take the ownership and ensure that we don't litter around and spoil the beauty of the location. The Shalmala river and its banks are considered as a biodiversity treasure house and is rich in flora and fauna and there is a urgent need to protect this heritage and declare it as a natural heritage site.

How to reach: Sahasralinga is easily accessible from Sirsi at a distance of 14 kms on Sirsi - Yellapur road. Buses plying on the above route will drop at Sahasralinga junction at 1.5 kms from where one can walk down or take rickshaw if available. There is a canteen available for basic refreshments.

Other Attractions around:  Just next to a parking lot at Sahasralinga lies a cable hanging bridge overlooking the river Shalmala where one can take a stroll and get beautiful view of flowing river and pristine forest around. The bridge also connects the Bhairumbe - Hulekal villages. The distance between Sirsi and these villages have been reduced by 15 kms with inauguration of this bridge.

Marikamba Temple: The 17th century temple in heart of Sirsi town is dedicated to form of Goddess Durga. Known as "Doddamma temple" meaning elder sister to all Mariamma's in Karnataka. The central idol of this beautiful temple is an eight armed image of Goddess Durga known as Renuka.
What Goddess Ambaji temple is to Gujarat, Marikamba Goddess temple is to state of Karnataka. Sirsi Marikamba jaatre of deity is held every alternate year in month of February is one of the biggest fair of Karnataka state.

Banavasi: Known for its rural tourism projects, this town was historically capital of Kadamba dynasty and is famous for it's 9th century Madhukeshwara temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. This town lies around 23 kms from Sirsi town. The town is well known for its sugarcane jaggery that you can taste as fresh as possible.