Friday, December 31, 2010

Termite hills / Termite mounds

There is something fascinating about termite hills or termite mounds, (ant hills as we usually call them).  You don't agree? Well, most of my family doesn't either, except Samhith of course! He has the same fascination for these huge settlements built with nothing but mud, and stops every time he sees one!

Tirupati abounds in these termite hills - the Lord himself is said to have appeared in one, so undoubtedly there is something special about them!

Well, we have seen many ant hills, some small, some even bigger than me.... See this one we photographed in the Zoo... Its about 5 feet high!



We have often wondered what it would be like, inside this hill. It is believed that snakes live there too.... whether before or after the termites, I am not sure..... However, this time, the zoo not just gave us the opportunity to see some caged wild animals, but also some un-caged ones, among which were some termites - the hill had broken, probably thanks to some careless tourists - but we were able to see inside it as the termites swarmed all over! While I waved Samhith away and asked him to watch from afar, my mom wondered what attraction the repulsive creatures had for me..... as to my sister, you should have seen the expression on her face when I showed her these pics.... Now, tell me what you think about them!




To know more about termites, click on the following links.

http://www.termite-pictures.com/index.html


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Termite


http://hubpages.com/hub/Termites
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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Around Tirupati - Chandragiri

On our ten day Tirupati visit, we visited temples galore, waterfalls, museums, a zoo and even a science centre! The last place we visited was a fort, to round it off, so to speak! I would call the Chandragiri fort more of a palace than a fort, and that too, a rather simple palace, on the whole.

Layout of the Chandragiri Fort

According to Wikipedia, Chandragiri was built by the Yadava Rayas in the 11th century, and they ruled it for over three centuries. It then came under the control of the Vijayanagara rulers, who moved here when the Golconda attacked their capital at Penukonda. It was annexed by the Golconda sultans in 1646, and finally came under the rule of the kings of Mysore. Around the end of the eighteenth century, the fort was abandoned, and it sunk into oblivion.

Raja Mahal

The main structure here is the Raja Mahal, literally the king’s palace. Compared to some other palaces I have seen, this was quite simple, and is now used as a museum, housing various artifacts found in the fort as well as the surrounding areas. As usual, Samhith and I were drawn towards the various models of temples, forts and museums, which is what I shall always remember. We especially loved the model of the Gudimallam temple and lingam, as well as the model of the entire Chandragiri fort.


The only other structure in this complex is the Rani Mahal, the queen’s palace, which was even simpler than the Raja Mahal, so we just had a look from outside. Apart from this, there are only huge lawns where the crowds come to have a picnic and a too small lake where people go boating. Of course, Samhith wanted to go boating at once, but the lake was so small, that I was afraid we would get dizzy, and stayed away from it!


The fort complex is maintained by the ASI, which has done a pretty good job of popularizing the places it maintains by putting up huge boards, but none of the staff have any information about the places they are (supposedly) popularizing! Neither do any of them have any information, but the ASI book store has books about all kinds of places, except this one or the locations mentioned on the boards! It’s a pity to see the people who are in charge of our historic monuments.


Rani Mahal

More interesting was the drive through the narrow lanes of the erstwhile fort, along the remnants of the outer and inner walls. There are a few temples around, which were once inside the fort, but there is just one where prayers are still conducted, and it was closed. It was fun, though, to listen to our auto driver who acted as our guide and described how traitors were taken up to the peak of the hill and then thrown down from there… that triggered off Samhith’s imagination, which turned out to be not-so-funny after all! There are a few people who trek up the hill… that must be interesting, I felt, but since I am not the trekking kind, it is something I have to wait for someone else to try and write about…so that I can experience it second-hand!

ASI Board about other monuments

Incidentally, the second walking path to Tirumala – the Srivari Mettu – starts near the fort. Again, from what the driver told us, the path was made for the royal family to visit the temple, a kind of private walkway!

Here are some more images of the fort and its surroundings.....

A dilapidated temple..........


One of the gates - the inner wall, with a rickshaw coming through......



The same, by itself... which pic is better????


One of the hills with some structures atop it.....


The source of our driver's stories - it does look like the kind of place people would be pushed from.. don't you think so?


Another structure... there are steps to reach this place! See, there is a person up there!


Another gate - this time the outer wall.


A close-up..



Samhith peeping though the closed temple....



Information:



Chandragiri fort is about 12 Km from Tirupati, from where frequent buses are available.


There is a sound and light show every evening, from 6:30 PM  to 7:15 PM in Telugu and from 7:30 PM to 8:15 PM in English. The charge is Rs. 30 for adults and Rs. 20 for children.

This was something I wanted to attend, but I was informed that the show wouldn’t take place if it rained in the evening. Since it rained almost continuously during my stay, this turned out to be impossible. So there is one more thing for me to look forward to, when I visit Tirupati next!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Around Tirupati - Sripuram Golden Temple

The Sripuram Golden temple at Vellore was one temple I had been hearing a lot about, but had no plans of visiting on my Tirupati trip. For one thing, it wasn’t an ancient temple which draw me much more than anything else, and secondly, I felt it would be a better idea to make a visit from Chennai rather than Tirupati. However, as it happened, we found ourselves taking the APSRTC package tour to Kanipakkam and Sripuram, thanking our stars for the decision, since it poured constantly all day long, and we saw flooded roads all along the route. We would surely have been stalled had we taken any other mode of transport!

The Sripuram Golden temple has been built on 100 acres of land in Vellore by the Narayani Peetham headed by Shakti Amma. It’s a beautifully constructed temple situated in the centre of exquisitely laid out gardens and a pathway in the shape of a star. Cameras were not allowed inside, so I could not take any pics, but a google search yielded too many, so here are a few, as well as youtube video taking us through the temple.

For more information, go to the temple website which has all the details you could possibly want to know - http://www.sripuram.org/

To incite you to want to know more, here are a few photographs. I reiterate that all these images are from the internet!






Take a tour of the temple through this youtube video...


Information:

The Sripuram Golden Temple is about 120 Km from Tirupati and about 150 Km from Chennai.
The nearest railway station is Katpadi, 18 Km away, and the nearest bus station is at Vellore, 10 Km away.

There are plenty of buses from Chennai, Bangalore and Tirupati to Vellore.

APSRTC conducts a package tour to Kanipakkam and Sripuram Golden temple, by non-AC bus. The bus starts fromTirumala a 8:00 AM and reaches Srinivasam Complex, Tirupati at 9:30 AM. The bus returns to Tirupati by 7:30 PM. The bus only runs if there are a minimum of 10 passengers,  so please check in advance at the APSRTC counters at Tirumala / Tirupati before making any plans. Also, they allow enough time for darshan, so it is quite a comfortable experience. 

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Around Tirupati - Kanipakkam

The temple of Varasiddhi Vinayaka at Kanipakkam is one I have seen grow over the last few years I have been there. When I visited the temple this time, I found myself wishing that I had taken photos of the temple on my earlier visits (which, incidentally were before I began blogging!), for this time I was advised to leave the camera in the vehicle itself!


Image from the internet

The legend of the temple relates to three brothers, of whom, one was deaf, one was dumb and one was blind. They tilled their land together and made a living. When their well dried up, they dug another well, but were stumped when they were unable to dig further than a particular level. When they tried harder, the iron spade hit a stone which began to ooze out blood! The minute the blood oozed out, the brothers lost their deformities, and were stunned to see the sight! The villagers were amazed, and attempted to deepen the well further to see the origin of the blood. Finally, from the waters emerged an idol of Lord Ganesha, who is named ‘Varasiddhi Vinayaka’ because he makes wishes come true.

Image from the Internet

For many years, only a portion of the idol was visible, and all attempts to dig further were useless. However, over the years, more and more of the idol is being seen, something which is proved by the fact that the original kavacham (mask) for the idol no longer fits it! Some portion of the idol is still in the well, though, and water can be seen in the main sanctum even now!

When I first visited the temple, we were among the few pilgrims there, and the priest happily showed us the water swirling around the idol. The old kavacham was displayed outside the sanctum and it was quite apparent that the idol had grown. On this trip (almost 5 to 6 years after my first visit), there were a lot more changes – the temple was much bigger than I remembered it to be; the queues were much, much longer, there was a special darshan ticket for Rs.100; there were not one, but two smaller kavachams outside, now displayed proudly in a glass case; and there was much less water in the sanctum, which was rather surprising considering that it was pouring heavily outside and the whole temple was wet and slippery! So much for popularity and improvement!!!!

While I cannot help saying that I wish the temple had not changed so much, I do realize that changes are inevitable, especially as more and more people become aware of the place. But I shall always remember it as the temple I saw it first – unknown but remarkable!!

Information:

Kanipakkam is 75 Km from Tirupati and 165 Km from Chennai.
APSRTC runs daily buses between Tirupati and Kanipakkam.

Kanipakkam Temple Website: http://www.kanipakamvinayaka.org/
The temple website is comprehensive, with lots of details about the temple, as well as information about accommodation and seva activities.

Temple Timings: 04:00 AM to 9:30 PM

Monday, December 27, 2010

Around Tirupati - Gudimallam - A Lingam like no other!

Gudimallam is a small village about 31 Km from Tirupati. A few years back, I had read about an interesting temple there, and was determined to visit it this time. Getting an auto to the temple turned out to be the most difficult thing, for none of the auto chaps we met had heard about it! I was beginning to doubt the information I had gathered, when at last we met an auto driver who not only knew about the temple and agreed to take us there, but also regaled us with stories about Tirupati and surrounding places as he drove us from one place to another.


The narrow concrete road twisted and turned as it made its way along hamlets and then rice fields, now and then giving us a view of the dry river bed of the Swarnamukhi, as we headed towards Gudimallam. The river was dry, but the fields were fertile, and there were plenty of birds around. We saw swifts by the dozen as well as small green bee eaters, a few cattle egrets and some pond herons…as well as other birds I couldn’t identify. They flew away as the auto stopped, and the auto driver soon got tired of me trying to photograph them, so I gave up and thought instead of the temple I was going to visit.


A curve of the road and suddenly the temple was there in front of us – an unostentatious village temple situated amidst the rice fields on the banks of the now-dry river. The main gate was closed, since the temple hardly drew crowds except at festival time, but there was a small gate open, and by it were monkeys prancing about. A group of old men sat by the wayside, and pounced on our auto driver for his news paper, which they all pored over with enthusiasm. Our driver asked us to wait, for the temple was sure to be deserted, and he wanted to accompany us to make sure we were safe. And then we heard the sound of another vehicle, a Qualis this time, filled with Gujarati tourists from Mumbai, accompanied by a guide. We all trooped into the temple together, for once, glad for the company!


The first shrine we came to was a sub-shrine to Lord Karthikeya. The five feet tall image of the Lord was beautiful, and reminded me of some of the idols I had seen in the temples of Tanjore and around. There was no priest to deter me from clicking away, but somehow the Lord seemed too private to be photographed, and I didn’t feel like taking a snap. I settled with a photo of the Gopuram and moved on, towards the main sanctum, passing by the sanctums of Parvati and Surya along the way. At last, we entered the main temple, and at once, I was conscious of a great force, something which even seemed to strike the Gujarati crowd dumb! None of us uttered a word, and the silence was so charged with feeling, which I cannot describe as anything but divine!

The main sanctum lay in front of us, and there, in a depression, was the Lingam we had come so far to see. Before I describe the lingam and its importance, take a look at this photo of the Lingam. Photography is not allowed inside the temple, so I was unable to take a pic, and this one was taken from a board at Chandragiri. Incidentally, the Chandragiri Museum has a replica of this lingam, but photography is not allowed there either!


Here is another pic from the internet....



This lingam, which is unlike any other, is one of the oldest lingams, dating back to the first or second century BC! Shaped like a phallus, it is amazingly lifelike, and it also has an image carved on it. The carved image shows a dwarf sitting on his hunches, with a hunter perched on his shoulders. This is a unique image, seen nowhere else! The lingam is monolithic, but the texture of the stone varies too, and is clearly seen when the lingam is unadorned, as it was when we visited. The lingam has a peetham (base), part of which is still buried under the ground. The whole temple is maintained by the ASI, according to which this is probably the oldest continuously worshipped temple in the world!

The Lord here is known as Parasurameshwara, and this lingam is believed to depict the trinity. The legend of the temple connects it to Parasurama, an avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu. To give a brief description of Parasurama, he was a warrior sage, who cleansed the world of its tyrannical kings. When he was a young man, his mother invited the wrath of his father, who ordered his sons to kill their mother. Parasurama’s older brothers refused to obey their father’s order, fuelling his anger further. Parasurama bowed down to his father’s command and cut off his mother’s head! The sage was pleased and gave him a boon, as part of which Parasurama asked for his mother to come back to life, which the sage had to agree to. Though his mother had got back her life, Parasurama felt guilty, since he had sinned by raising his axe (parasu) against his mother. He came to the banks of the Swarnamukhi where he meditated on Lord Shiva to expiate his sins. Each day, a lone flower would bloom in the river, which the sage would offer to the lord. Once, Lord Brahma decided to test him, and arrived in the form of a dwarf, offering his help, to which Parasurama agreed. The dwarf aided him with his prayers, but tried to find a way to test the sage. At last he hit upon an idea and plucked and threw off the single flower in the river before the sage could use it for his prayers. For the first few days, the sage thought that the flower had simply failed to bloom, but then he suspected his aide, lay in wait for him, and caught him in the act of plucking the flower. His anger aroused, he chased the dwarf, brandishing the axe. Brahma, realising that the joke had gone too far, called out to Shiva, who appeared and pacified Parasurama. He told him that his penance had borne fruit the minute Brahma had plucked the first flower from the river, and that he need not carry his guilt any longer. Further, he blessed them by merging them with the lingam, Brahma crouching down as the dwarf and Vishnu as Parasurama on his shoulders, holding his axe and a ram’s head. Such is the story of this unique temple!

The temple has a lot more interesting things related to it, so I would suggest you go to the following link which gives a much more detailed description.

As we came out of temple, we saw that the monkeys were busy eating something. Our driver gave them a look and rushed to the auto and peeped in, only to realize that the box of sweets he had kept carefully tucked inside, was gone! It was the day after Diwali, and the monkeys had a wonderful feast! We ended our visit with our driver cursing the monkeys and the old men laughing at the cleverness of the animals! It was only after we drove away that our driver realized that the old men hadn’t returned his newspaper! What a day for the poor chap!

It has been more than a month since I visited this temple, but yet, even now, as I write these words, the lingam stands before me in all its glory. This is one temple visit which I can never forget!

Information:

Gudimallam is located on a diversion from the Tiruchanur Road, at a distance of about 31 Km from Tirupati and 18 Km from Renigunta. Buses are available from Tirupati Bus Stand, but there are only a few buses travelling on this route. An auto for the round trip costs Rs. 250.

Other links to the temple:





An interesting link about this lingam and Lingams in general: http://gunn.co.nz/anand/hinduism/lingum.html

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Around Tirupati - A Temple Tour by TTD Bus

There is no counting the number of temples in the vicinity of Tirupati, but the TTD maintains some of them, and they also run buses to these temples in an attempt to popularize them. While some are just small temples about which not much information is available, some of them are really beautiful and worth a visit. We took the TTD bus to make a visit to all these temples in a day. It happened to be Diwali, so we had the added satisfaction of spending the festival in a memorable manner. Here are the temples we visited.

Karvetinagaram, located about 48 Km from Tirupati, traces its origins back to the era of the Chalukyas, who had their capital at Narayanavanam. At some point, a forest was cleared and their new capital (Nagaram) was built here. Since the capital was built by cutting down a forest, this place came to be known as ‘Kadu vetti Nagaram’ (kadu means forest and vetti means cutting down; in Tamil). Over the years, the name has been corrupted to Karvetinagaram.

Today, the highlight of this small town is the Venugopalaswamy Temple, maintained by the TTD. The deity here is Venugopalaswamy – a form of Lord Krishna. He is seen here, standing in front of a cow, holding a flute in his hands and a pot of butter at his feet. Interestingly, he is accompanied by his wives Rukmini and Satyabhama. This is interesting because this form of the Lord is connected with his childhood antics, and he is usually depicted alone, or at the most with Radha by his side. Rukmini and Satyabhama appear in the later stages of his life, and usually have no place in such a depiction!



Information:

Distance from Tirupati: 48 Km
Nearest Railway Station: Puttur (A.P): 15 Km

Temple Timings: 06:00AM to 11:00AM and 4:00PM to 8:00PM


Narayanavanam was the erstwhile capital of the Chalukya kings. But before that, it was also the capital of Akasa Raja, the father of Padmavati. It is believed that the temple is the location of the marriage of Srinivasa and Padmavati. It is Akasa Raja who is believed to have built both, this temple as well as the original Tirumala temple to commemorate the divine marriage.



The main deity here is Kalyana Venkatramana Swamy and there is a separate shrine for Padmavati. Outside her shrine is a huge milling stone which is believed to have been used for preparing turmeric paste for the divine marriage. The temple is a beautiful one, clean and peaceful. Unfortunately, like all temples, cameras are not allowed inside.

Information:

Location: Narayanavanam is about 35 Km from Tirupati and 95 Km from Chennai on the Tirupati Chennai Road.
Nearest Railway station: Puttur (A.P): 5 Km

Contact Number: +91-08574 -31417


The Kariya Manikyaswami temple at Nagari, 51 Kms from Tirupati is also one maintained by the TTD. This temple enshrines Lord Vishnu as Kariya Manickya Swami. He is believed to have killed a crocodile and liberated the elephant Gajendra here.

We did not visit this temple for some reason, but it is normally included in the bus tour, so I am mentioning it.


The Annapoorna Sametha Sri Kasi Vishwanatha Swamy temple is located at Bugga Agraharam near Nagari. This is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva as Kashi Vishwanatha Swami and his consort, Annapoorna, who serves everyone food. The temple also has a shrine to Prayaga Madhava Swamy accompanied by Bhudevi and Sridevi. Thus, this temple enshrines all the deities one would see on a pilgrimage to Kasi and Allahabad!



This is a small, but nice temple, maintained by the TTD. The temple is situated on the banks of the Kusasthali River. The word Kusa refers to the sacred Darbha grass which is believed to have been introduced to this area by the sage Agasthya during his southern sojourn. The legends link the temple to the sage too, but unfortunately, I have not been able to get any details yet. This temple interestingly has two idols of Annapoorna – one in black stone in the inner sanctum and one in marble in the outer sanctum. I was curious and tried to find out more about this, especially since marble idols are rare in South Indian temples, but unfortunately neither our conductor cum guide, nor any of the priests could give me a satisfactory answer!



Interestingly, this area is also of interest to the Archaeological department, for prehistoric caves, paintings and implements have been found in the vicinity.

Location: This temple is about 56 Km from Tirupati and about 5 Km from Nagari, on the Nagalapuram route.


Nagalapuram is certainly one of the most interesting temples we visited on this trip. The importance of this temple is the fact that this is the only temple dedicated to the Lord in his first avatar (incarnation) as Matsya, the great fish.



The main deity is Veda Narayana Perumal, since He is believed to have rescued the Vedas from the demon Somakudu. He is in a standing posture, his fish-like tail clearly visible, flanked by Sridevi and Bhudevi, and in one of his hands holds the Sudarshana Chakra ready to be let loose. There are other sub shrines too, one dedicated to the goddess as Vedavalli, as well as shrines dedicated to Lord Rama as well as Hanuman.


An interesting thing about this temple is the Surya Puja celebrated in the Tamil month of Panguni (Phalguni – mid-March to mid-April). The festival is celebrated over 3 days. During these three days, the sun's rays fall on the main deity between 1800 hrs and 1815 hrs. On the first day, they fall on the feet, on the second - on the chest and on the third - on the forehead, depicting worship by the Sun God himself.



This is a beautiful temple which I would love to visit again, for a more leisurely visit. The bus trip was rather rushed, so I had no time to look at the wonderful pillar carvings and sculptures all over the temple. The Lord’s idol itself was so beautiful that I found it hard to tear my eyes away. Again, I found myself wishing that cameras were allowed inside!

Information:

Location: Nagalapuram is about 70Km South East of Tirupati and 90 Km North of Chennai.

Contact Number: +91-08574 -65282


Surutapalli is an interesting temple which depicts Lord Shiva in a reclining posture. Usually, it is Lord Vishnu who is seen reclining, sometimes with his head on Lakshmi’s lap, but here it is Lord Shiva who reclines with his head on Parvati’s lap while the sages and other Gods look on.



The story of the temple is related to the legend of the Devas and Asuras churning the ocean for nectar. When the ocean is churned, it spews out precious things of all kinds, from wealth and precious stones to unique animals and even the Goddess Lakshmi. However, before the nectar emerges, out comes the deadly poison, which is consumed by Lord Shiva to protect everyone. He imbibes the poison, but feels giddy, and lies down for a while with his head on Parvati’s lap. This is what gives the place its name, for suruta – comes from the Tamil word for dizzy, while palli is the word for resting place.



The main sanctum in this temple houses two lingams facing each other – Ramalingeswarar and Valmikeswarar. These are related to another legend about the same place. As the story goes, the sage Valmiki prayed to Lord Rama here and obtained his blessings. When Lord Rama was on his way back from Lanka, he stopped here for a while, and both of them prayed to Lord Shiva, who appeared before them and blessed them. The lingams they prayed to, are known by their names as Ramalingeswarar and Valmikeswarar.



There are many more interesting things about this temple, which deserves a much more leisurely visit than ours. For more details, see the following links:



Information:

Distance from Tirupati: 75 Km
Distance from Chennai: 56 Km

Darshan Timings:
Morning: 6:00 AM to 12:30 PM
Evening: 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM


The Sri Prasanna Venkateswara Swamy temple at Appalayagunta is the only temple around Tirupati where the Lord is shown in ‘Abhaya Hasta posture’, which means that his right hand is raised in a blessing gesture. Normally, Lord Venkateswara is depicted with his left hand on his waist and right hand pointing downwards. It is said that He tells us to look to his feet, pray to him and be humble. It is believed that at Appalayagunta, he blessed the sages who had gathered for his marriage, and hence his hands are in a blessing posture.



The temple, though small, is peaceful and clean. It poured heavily while we were there, so we just had darshan at the main shrine and hurried back to the dry comfort of the bus! From what I have learned after my return, the idol of the wind god – Vayu – in this temple is imposing and is worshipped for relief from chronic diseases.



Location: Appalayagunta is 14 Km from Tirupati and about 10 Km from Tiruchanur.

Information about TTD bus

The TTD runs a bus daily to all these temples. The bus starts from Srinivasam Complex at 8:00AM and returns around 5:00PM.

Cost: Rs. 80 per head; Rs. 40 for children.

More details about the bus can be had from the reception at the Srinivasam Complex. There is no advance reservation, and seating is on a first come first served basis, so on crowded days, there can be quite a rush as well quite a fight to get into the bus! The bus normally seats about 50 people, and standees are not allowed. The conductor doubles up as a guide, though he is not much use, since he knows nothing more than the name of the temple and the deity. He doesn’t even know any of the stories, and can speak only Telugu and some broken Hindi, so having a conversation with him is practically impossible for non-Telugu speaking people! The bus halts at the temple long enough for us to see all the deities, but not long enough for us to enjoy the architecture!

The bus stops for lunch and tea/coffee, and as the conductor repeatedly mentions, we have to pay for the food ourselves! It is difficult to imagine that anyone would want the paltry fare to cover food too, but apparently, people do have such bizarre expectations!!

The bus does have many disadvantages, but there is no discounting the fact that to see so many places at such a cost is virtually impossible otherwise. For one, most of the temples close during the afternoon, but as the bus enters the compound, the priest rushes out to open the temple – something that is done only since the temples are maintained by the TTD and the bus is also run by them! If we visit all these temples by ourselves, it will take much, much longer!

There are many more temples apart from these, also connected to the Tirumala temple, and run by the TTD. However, distance and time considerations prevent them from being included in this tour. For those of you, however, who would like to visit such temples on your own, there is one more temple I would like to mention. I have heard of this, but wasn’t able to visit this time. Maybe another time!


Tallapakka is the birthplace of the saint Annamacharya, who is closely associated with Sri Venkateswara. The temple of Chennakesava is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is believed to be more than a thousand years old. There are lots of interesting things about this temple, and you can read more about it on the following links:



More temples around Tirupati coming up!!
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