gre SHAMBOLLIC: Inauthentic insites gk

Friday, November 03, 2006

Inauthentic insites

All phots curtsy: Sudha
At roughly the same time history dates the stirrings of the Renaissance in Europe* (14th C), an ominous conquest was laid and a complete victory soon registered at its doorstep: the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantine, was taken by the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet (Mohammed) the Conqueror. The gcrandiose creative expression in the Vijayanagar kingdom in the face of constant enemy overtures from around and afar, took place at the same time. Whether this is a coincidence, or a demonstration of the surge inspired by overwhelming threat, something frenzied and euphoric was happening in a kingdom that was the Vijayanagara Empire. Though no one could say it in any way rivalled the technical innovation and mastery of the Reniassance, if there was ever a first Renaissance (rebirth) in any geographical area of what is today called India, with something to show for it* as well, it was here: in this capital city of an empire that spanned all of South India (including Goa).

It would not be unreasonable to suspect this frenzy was conducted in the knowledge of an immanent successful attack from the surrounding hawks of the Deccan sultanates, that for the period during which the kingdom was at its greatest, had been successfully beaten down, notably by the most inspired and successful king since the city's fouding, Krishnadevaraya. An unprececented victory in the defining battle to capture Raichur from Adil Shah, sealed Krishnadevaraya's distinction. A trained fighter, he personally engaged in the battle, charging the second line in despair of victory when the first fell, to register what all accounts put as the most sensational triumph of the Kingdom. Nuniz's account of this battle is, as Sewell put's it, vivid. Check it out here, under "The Siege and Battle of Raichur, and Close of Krishna's Reign".

But with Krishnadevaraya's death and the accessssion of Achyuta, Vijayanagar was more compromised than ever with all the inherited wealth and creation from previous rule without the great reign of inspired leadership. The catastrophic defeat of the great Vijayanagara it had become and to which it would never return, came in 1565, in the reign of Rama Raya, at the hands of the combined forces of the formerly divided Deccan sultantes.

As for the the destruction, it would have to be considered disingenuous at some stage. Not only because of the effort it would have taken to damage any part of a structure that in several cases was made of granite and monolithic, but because some remarkable structures, that may have been easily broken up, were left untouched. I am thinking the members of the rampaging army were simply awed on these occassions, or at least their commander was sufficiently shamed by the magnificence of the work, to order his men of violence, destruction, and base mob skills (like him), to let it be, move away, and take a break; or less virtuosly, the stone was too much of an effort to break. But considering that after its fall in 1565, the capital city was subject to repeated invasions, the explanation for unbroken structures would have to something more inspired. Unless. Unless once again, since the invaders were all alike, they trusted the wisdom of the marauders who preceded them and left untouched what the previous armies had left untouched. (Naturally, all wooden structures were torched and we can only imagine the brilliance of its addition).

Though much of the destruction may be credited to the sultans of the Deccan, later invaders would include the Maratha armies, the menacing Haidar Ali and finally, Tipu Sultan. Sewell convincingly points out that nothing remarkable would have come of the Vijayanagara empire, indeed it would never have existed, had the many assertive and quarrelsome local leaders not conceded* that to put up any successful resistance against the forces they agreed were enemies, they would have to acceede to a leader among them and project something like a united front. Compromise and amalgam, pulling at the joints; it barely held together at all; that it did, is to the real, repeated and persistent thrust of enemy armies.

This was a kingdom of legendary wealth; Paes and Nuniz record the flamboyant display of city life; rubies, pearls and diamonds were not infrequent payments at the sprawling bazaar that traded every commodity they were familiar with and others, raiments, a variety of grain and pulses in abundance, citrine from plentiful orchards. It is said the Portugese Empire fell with the Vijayanagara. (Deepa who taught children at Hospet for some time, recalls a bit of the lore that the children piped, most of which has turned out to have recorded basis. One question that still confounds me, is: what exactly was this great wealth based on? trade. but the speciality? The children had told her that everyone in the city knew that the wealth came from the prostitute trade. This would also explain Sule Bazaar, the name of which the guidebook dismissed as unimportant and possibly misleading, predictable because of some implications on pride of the writer. But also diamonds - the 'mines of Golkonda', on the north bank of the Krishna river became proverbial. Also, explorer Sassetti has much to say for the wealth made from the horse trade).

There are many versions of the genesis of Vijayanagara, and though I am emotionally attached to one mentioned by explorer Cuoto of a sheperd who was anointed King by the ascetic Madhava, I think the most probable has to do with Harihara I and his brother Bukka who had served under Tughlaq. There is a suggestion that they were taken to Delhi, were converted to Islam and sent back as Tughlaq's deputies in the South; once out of the reach of Delhi and back South, they slipped into their own skin, reconverted and put their lot behind the successful pricipality of Anegundi. (This is a version Naipaul mentions in 'India: A Wounded Civilization', though its a version that keeps it to Harihara I.) The people of the city never forgot that Harihara I was once sold (made muslim) and served on the other side, and it is probably for this reason that he never dared call himself king.

We saw every place in the book expect those on the other side of the Tungabhadra. I guess we were so content with the Sacred and Royal Centre. We also gave the recently excavated Pushkarani a miss; now this is more regrettable since from pics it appears so well preserved it's hard to believe it isn't some shady PR trick. We started out with the Kadalakai Ganesha then the Mustard ganesha, then the Krishna temple and the Krishna Bazaar with a sacred tank next to it. Plantations were only recently cleared.

So then these are the places that had that jnsq that appealed to me. Somehow the vaunted Vitthala Temple didn't give it to me. But just as a dyk - the wheel of the stone chariot were designed to and do revolve. Everyone went about banging the musical pillars and I have to admit that I did it too. I'm sorry. But tired after the first tap and ear stick, and instead gawked at a couple romancing through the medium of the pillars. These are the places that pleased me:
Royal Center
Hazararama (!)
Lotus Mahal
Elephant Stables
Sacred Center
Ugraha Narasimha
Matanga Hill
And at every span of it, the shimmering Tungabhadra. I would want to return to visit the suburban settlements, particularly the village(?) of Anegondi. Of the several outstanding remaining monuments and structures, it was a surprise to me at least that only a few were under some UNESCO list of endangered world monuments, with help from them, with some identified remaining others maintained by the Govt. of Karntaka. Numerous others remain unmarked, and theyre up for unobstructed claim from the first guy who will get around to it. To make things more promising, in 2004, the group of monuments in Hampi was removed from the UNESCO list of world heritage in danger. Don't ask me what the consequences of that will be. I saw some seriously questionable restoration work-in-progress and work-in-place. Supposing to serve as support structures to pillars in the Achyutadevaraya complex that clearly needed support, were immense trapeziodal buttresses erected from block quarried from a defining hill of boulders that framed the view of the complex. Ofcourse they overwhelmed the structure itself. This is the least of the mindless meddling that will be the theme of Hampi. No comments. Just: What the point of being inheritors to a legacy like this if you can't accept it may be something? Hand it to these guys from UPenn who have put up some of the most impressive studies on Vijayanagara in the Vijayanagara Project, available on the net.


Hazararama Temple

1. Personally
Back with the most unabashed tan of the siecle.
For me, the trip to Hampi and the time in Hampi became more than the sum of its events. In fact each event became more than just an event and took on larger meanings for me at a viable age. The significant sensations began when we guessed at the train to board. 5 minutes later, the TT asked us to get the hell out cos out bogie was further ahead and unconnected to the current bogie. We hoofed and ran because we knew there was no time left for the train to start. And then while we were still running guess what happened? The train began its movement and we actually let 4 seconds pass before we decided it was now or never. Selfishly, I climbed in first and badly and fell inside. S came in after and made it in better style. But this was not our bogie and as we stood in the interim point, we saw that this bogie was also unconnected and we had to come out again and jump to the next one at the next station if we wanted to board and bed at all. And as we stood trembling in the interim passage at the drag expected of us at the next station, a stud appears and tries to be saviour.

In 3 seconds I had my back and bag in his face; after a minute of frantic rattling, the train reluctantly decelerated for the malleshwaram station. And it turns out the 5 minutes stop is less than 45 seconds. There is no station or platform. Have you ever tried boarding a train from a ditch as deep as a platform is high? So not only did we run and trip on deep gravel jelly and bush with a few farmers in the dark knowing time wouldn't stop, but we had to get onto a step that was inches above out head and already moving. The run was about life and I weeped inside as I panted and scrambled again; it shouldn't leave without me. I hoisted myself, willing massive mechanical efficiency for life and everything I wanted. We had made it.

Got off the train at 7:30 the next morning, after seeing a huge lake and what looked like a nuclear reactor but was possibly the steel plant mentioned in a few documents. Walked up to the bus stop; put off by the sight of a man puking at the foot of the door of the bus we were supposed to take, we decided to take a rick to Hampi. We managed to slip out of the guesthouses he had tried to ram us into once he had reached us there. Found one on our own called 'Vishnu' and decided it was okay and cheap enough. We stayed in one of the many guestrooms in one of the byelanes off the main colonnaded thoroughfare stretching between the monolithic bull and Virupaksha Temple.

We walked down to the German Bakery which was run by a Tibetan family and overseen by a Mallu Ayappan. They played Bob Marley to death and had bunting with the Ethiopian tricolur. Walking back down to the main avenue after going as far as the monolithic nandi on the far left, we hired a heavy duty tvs (should have been a bullet). These guys are pricey and charged a bomb for just that. Also bought a tiny map and guide book. I saw many white-browed wag tails, a bee-eater, some parrots, a kingfisher, egrets, crows, swifts, and some others I couldn't name, also bats and reptiles, inside temples. Lots of cows, goats and buffellows were about. Carnival Pilgrims. Tribal tourists. But the cobra sitting next to me at the side gateway to sule bazaar has to earn a post all of its own. :(

Climb to Matunga Hill
We took the most trecherous climb up Matunga hill, following the steps to the left of the monolithic nandi. We really should never have made it to the final landing before the little ascetic shrine on top. The scottish girl up there, who is not a regular feature, told us she had come up an easier way but before we used it to go down, we saw the cavetemple higher up, and all 3 of us proceded to it, up a sheer side ascent before regular slabs. Sewell tells that the temple could date back to 3rd or 7th centuries, though the use of mortar suggests it would have been much later. One thing everyone can be certain of is: this little temple on top of this hill that gave this transcendant view of a land, would be very special for hermits, ascetics, spiritualists. I would love to spend a week there on my own some time.

+ the nightsky
+WHo was Naipaul referring to?
+Tungabadhra - a tributary of the Krishna River

*Sewell dates the creation of Vijayanagara to 1336, during the reign of Edward III in England. The city was formally founded in 1336, by brothers Hakka (Harihara) and Bukka (Bukkarayya), who were the first kings of the Sangama Dynasty. Let us also note that the the Muhammadan advance on the Deccan began only at the
end of the thirteenth century

*Sewell: "...Prior to A.D. 1336 all Southern India had lain under the domination of the ancient Hindu kingdoms, -- kingdoms so old that their origin has never been tracedWhen Vijayanagar sprang into existence the past was done with for ever"

*Sewell: Its importance is shown by the fact that almost all the struggles of the
Portuguese on the western coast were carried on for the purpose of
securing its maritime trade; and that when the empire fell in 1565,
the prosperity of Portuguese Goa fell with it never to rise again.
a city with which for richness and magnificence no known western capital could compare

Hampi - Guide Booklet
Naipaul's India: A Wounded Civilization

posted by Finny Forever at 10:22 AM


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