The bride is wide-eyed and beautiful but unadorned because she is marrying against her mighty father’s wishes. But who needs jewels when there is love ? She has spent the night preparing herself for this morning. Her long hair is scented, her body gleaming with aromatic oils. Her large eyes are lined with kohl and her skin is luminous with happiness. She trembles ever so slightly because she cannot believe she is marrying the man of her dreams.
Long, long ago when this ancient world was still very young, the great Lord Shiva married Sati, the eldest daughter of Daksha, the son of Aditi, the mother of the Gods. Sati, the primordial Goddess who is also called Uma, lived with her Lord in a state of divine bliss up in the icy Himalayas, till the day her father Daksha, had his great Yagna and intentionally forgot to invite his ash smeared, Soma drinking, serpent haired son-in-law whom he disapproved of heartily.
A Gateway to a priceless treasure
Though attributed to being built in parts by five dynasties over the centuries – the Nolambas, Cholas, Hoysalas and the Vijayanagara empire, records also state that the foundation was laid around 806-810 AD, along with a donation by Queen Manikabbe (Ratnavali), the consort of King Bana Vidyadhara, son of Malladeva. The Banas claimed descent from Mahabali, an Asura King who was the grandson of Prahlad, and ruled over a substantial territory east of modern day Mysore, Kolar and all the way into Andhra.
Stucco sculptures all around the Kalyani
Since five seems to be the lucky number here (five dynasties, five peaks) let me tell you that Nandi Hills is also the birthplace of five rivers, the Palar, Papagni, Chitravathi, the Arkavathi (a source of water for Bangalore), and one more name which eludes me. The afternoon sun turns the paving stones in the courtyard to silver.On my left is a gateway that invites me to step in, so I do. Only to have my breath taken away by a magnificent stepped well which is said to be the source of the Dakshina Pinakini (South Pennar). It is the fifth river on my list. The one I could not remember. Pinakini means `bow shaped’ and Shiva himself is `Pinaki ‘ – one who wields `Pinaka’ (the mighty bow). Pinaka is also the name of India’s multi -barrel rocket launcher used by the Indian army !
Shringa Tirtha, the stepped well
Later I find a mention of the Kumudavathi and Suvarnamukhi rivers in the area, so am left wondering exactly which five rivers make up this list. The Shringa Tirtha built here is said to be in the Vijayanagar style and named after Shringamuni, a sage who meditated at this place. Another story says that on a very dry day, a thirsty Nandi the divine Bull plunged his horns (shringa) into the earth and water gushed out, creating this pond.
But the predominant images in my head are that of Maha Shivaratri when the massive Ratha is rolled out for the Brahmarathotsava celebrations and Kartika Masa when the dark night is punctuated with the light from a million flickering oil lamps that are lit all along the steps of the pond. Like stars that have fallen from the sky to carpet the earth.
The Vasantha Mantapa
Beautiful Yalis adorn the pillars
It is only in India that families, matronly aunts, well meaning `go-betweens’, marriage bureaus, Nadi astrologers, sacred fasts, village priests, horoscopes and even the Gods all conspire for two people to say ” I do.” In 18th century India, says Abbe Dubois, once everyone said `we do’, the decision was made official with ” a new cloth, a coconut, five bananas, vermillion and powdered sandalwood… “
The 10th century Arunachaleswara Temple below contains the `UgraGanapati’ the angry, almost lionfaced Ganesha, son of Parvati and Shiva. He is also called the `Simha Ganapati ‘ and looks angry because being Vigneshwara, he mirrors the mood of his father, Arunachaleswara, who is depicted here in his furious form.
In the inner sanctum of the Chola built Bhoganandishwara Temple on the right of the Uma Maheshwara temple the air is musty. The stone floor has been polished smooth by countless feet over the centuries and the bells have echoed here for eons.We whisper to each other in Shiva’s space, afraid to wake the past sleeping in the crevices. There is also a black stone statue of Rajendra Chola I here and I am excited to finally meet my favourite Chola king !
Outside, the ever faithful Nandi sits with eyes wide and ears alert. There are many interpretations accorded to this sacred vehicle of Shiva.To some, he is powerful sexual energy that is transformed into spiritual energy when Shiva sits on him. Elsewhere, he is a symbol of Moksha, Sadhana, justice, cosmic order or fertility and his four legs represent Satya (truth), Dharma (religion/duty), Shanthi (peace ) and Prema (Love).
Intricate lotus petals under this Vijayanagara stone umbrella
The Bhoganandishwara Swamy Temple is about 1.5 hours from Bangalore, past the BIAL, on the way to Nandi Hills. It is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.