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The Vaishnodevi Experience 2023

My first trip to Vaishnodevi was unimpressive. Climbing was hard, and it only served to highlight how badly out of shape I was, while my in-laws managed to cope so much better. Further, I hadn’t quite realized that the cave experience wouldn’t be the same as I had imagined, since the original cave was only opened at certain times a year, and that we only entered a newly created tunnel, one far easier to access, and hence more manageable with the crowds that thronged the mountain shrine. The resulting experience at the shrine, for barely a fraction of a second, hardly compared to what I had expected / imagined / heard about. So, for me, Vaishnodevi was like any other temple, nothing to write home about, something that was reflected (though not explicitly mentioned) in the blog post I wrote then.

Hampi Part 2 - Stones do Speak - A Photo feature

This post was originally published on the Club Mahindra Blog. I am re-posting it here on the request of some of my regular readers.

The first thing that strikes you in Hampi is these huge boulders all over the place. They were everywhere, and we started recognizing the distinctive ones over the two days we spent wandering around, looking at what was left of the erstwhile Vijayanagar Empire. While I listened to our guide and stared at the ruins with awe, all I could think of was the story that these huge boulders could tell, if only they could speak…. But then again, maybe they do speak…

They speak of an age long gone by….

Path leading to the Vitthala temple, once part of a huge bazaar

How they came to be there, no one knows for certain. Mythology says they were thrown there by a mischievous god. Science tells us that they are the last remnants of a volcanic eruption…

A distinctive set of naturally piled up stones

No matter how they came to be there, they stand vigil, sole witnesses to the highs and lows of various dynasties who passed by….

Mahanavami Dibba - built to commemorate victories

They watched over as kings were born, as kings ruled and made their names, some for their valour, some for their wisdom, some for their greed….. Some found a way to tame these huge boulders, some as old as time……..

Mandaps, pillars and paving blocks - all made from the stones lying all over

And they endured, as men found a way to break them up, carve them and use them to build their empire…… They bore the chisels as they worked their way inside, splitting them into smaller pieces, easier to manipulate….

This is how these rocks were broken - wooden wedges were inserted
and then saturated with water, so that they became swollen and eventually broke the stone!

They still bear the marks…. Even as they stand tall, still bearing the weight thrust on them…

Marks of the wooden wedges still remain on the stones

They stand testimony to the kings’ foresight….. As water channels and aqueducts, capable of supplying water even today, five hundred years after they were made…

Aqueduct at the royal enclosure

The mouth (or should i say, spout) of one of the water channels

They stand testimony to the kings’ understanding of markets…. as huge areas set aside for commerce…

The bazaar opposite the Krishna temple

They stand testimony to the kings’ spirituality… in the form of huge temples….

The Virupaksha temple

But most of all, they stand testimony to the creativity of the artisans, who created works of art which the world would admire…

stone chariot at the Vitthala temple

They talk of Gods…..

The huge, monolithic Lakshmi Narasimha

And stories about them…

Stories of Krishna depicted on the pillars of the Vitthala Temple

They talk about the people who lived among them…..

Depictions of everyday life on the walls of the Mahanavami Dibba

They tell us about those who fought for their kings….

Depictions of the Orissa war on the Gopuram of the Krishna temple

They watched over as one king gave way, or was made to give way, for another…..

They watched as greed and envy ruled over everything else, and all the good work came to naught.
They watched as a bustling city was laid waste…… as it was abandoned…..

Remnants of palaces in the royal enclosure

They were the sole witnesses as nature re-claimed the land……. As trees grew over whatever was left …….and poor farmers replaced the rich merchants who once walked along the same path……

A mandap amidst trees

And then came those in search of the ancient ruins, and dug up the fields, exposing the stone floors below…. Bringing to light chambers which lay hidden under the earth….

An underground temple excavated from amidst the fields

People come from all over to world just to see them, and as I stand amidst them, I can’t help wondering if these huge boulders have a message for us….. Standing tall among all the ruins, are they telling us not to make the same mistakes as those before us? To live a peaceful life without greed or enmity, forgetting petty differences such as religion and languages, to live in peace and harmony, for as humans, our life is short. We will soon pass on, but these huge boulders shall remain witness to our lives too, and what we choose to make of it!


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