Thoughts & Ideas

Friday, November 23, 2012

Hampi - A Travelogue

Hampi is one of those places in India which seem to exist only in history books (another being Daulatabad). One reads about it, but very few actually get down to visit it. The place vaguely exists somewhere in Karnataka, but being off the beaten track is hard to pin-point exactly where. 

I had lived in Bangalore for more than five years, during which time I thought I had explored all the places worth visiting which were, say, within one day driving distance. Mysore, Srirangapatnam, Ramnagaram, Shravanbelagola, Halebid, Belur, Yercaud, Pondicherry, Tirupati, Jog Falls, Mekedaauti, Mahabalipuram, Bannerghatta National Park, Shiva Samundra, Nandi Hills, et al. You just have to name it. The drive to Mysore used to be the most frequent. Every time we had friends and relatives visiting us, a trip to Mysore was invariably thrown in. But over this period, not once did it cross my mind to visit Hampi. It was neither that I had not heard of the place, nor was it due to lack of interest in historical places or new places to visit. The importance and fame of the Vijayanagar empire was also very much etched in my memory. It just did not happen.

But let me assure you that Hampi is well worth the visit. The area is simply stunning and you will be in awe of not just the magnificient ruins but also the stunning landscape with millions of boulders surrounding the area.  Within this landscape lie lush palm, banana, and mango plantations, quiet winding roads, colourful local temples, sky blue lakes, and the Tungabhadra River and Dam. Moreover, the fields were verdant green with paddy during the season of our trip.  Hampi is a great place to spend a few days wandering around and discovering the rich, vibrant history while also having a bit of 'your' time. It is a visual delight, especially due to its stark contrast from most other places. Rocks are all you see whichever direction you look at. Vegetation is visible in the wet months; but again it never dominates the landscape. 

 A small part of the Padras clan in front of the Narasimha statue in Hampi
 One of those colourful local temples on the road from Hospet to Hampi.
The musical bars. These are carved out of a single rock and give out the
Sa, Re Ga ... musical notes on being struck
 Hospet Railway Station
 Outside Hotel Malligi - where we stayed in Hospet
 Rocks & Gardens!
 More Rocks & Gardens!
 A Chinese visitor to 14th century Vijayanagar.
 Some still to be excavated temples
 Restoration of an excavated temple in progress.
 Lounge of Hotel Mallige.
The electric golf cart for visiting some of the far flung temples from the car park.

Hampi was the capital of Vijayanagar (14th century empire). The ruins of the capital is spread over and area of 25-30 sq km and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is said that before the fall of Vijayanagar empire, diamonds were sold on the streets. The main street selling diamonds and other precious stones, was surprisingly called Pan Supaari Street ( Betel-leaf Betel-nut street ). A visitor can still see the exact location of Pan Supaari Street in Hampi, which has been marked with a board by Archaeological Survey of India. 

Hampi hosts 'Hampi Utsav' every year during first week of November. It is supposed to be a visual delight as all the monuments/ruins are lighted in the night and it is a cultural extravaganza of dance and music. 

The best part is that the place is very easily accessible from Bangalore (through an over-night train), has some nice places to stay, a friendly and helpful local populace, well maintained monuments, while being relatively light on the purse. Being spread over a very large area, one needs to be ready to do a lot of walking, though if the weather is nice the walking is not strenuous. 

The nearest railhead and urban centre is Hospet, which is connected to Bangalore by the Hampi Express. We left Bangalore late at night (around 10 pm) and reached Hospet early next morning by 7.30 am. Having called up a local hotel, we had a taxi waiting at the station who took us to the hotel where we freshened ourselves and had a lovely breakfast before leaving for Hampi by the same Taxi. The taxi driver was well versed in the geography and history of the place and we did not have to take a separate guide. We spent the day exploring Hampi and returned to the hotel in the evening by 5 pm, rested for a couple of hours before being dropped at the station by the same taxi to catch the train back to Bangalore by 9 pm, reaching Bangalore early the next day. 

Hampi is about 15 kms from Hospet, and an alternative way (with hind-sight I would say a better way) of exploring Hampi is to take a local bus from Hospet to Hampi. After reaching Hampi, one can take motorcycles or mopeds on rent for about Rs.150 per day (excluding fuel). The modalities for taking the bikes on rent is simple. Just hand over some photo-identity card such as your driving licence, or pan card if you are carrying one.

Once on a bike, you can explore all the places at your own pace. The real pleasure in exploring Hampi comes from riding a bicycle or by walking around. Virtually every rock in Hampi has a story to say. This story is best heard if you give it time and walk around from rock to rock. As I mentioned earlier, the ruins of Hampi are located over 25-30 sq km area. The nice thing is that most of the famous places have motorable roads leading upto them, and at one place there is an electric powered toy train run by local girls. You can buy a local map costing Rs 15, and cover all the places on your own at your own pace by bike / scooty

Hospet is a very small town and the Railway Station, most hotels, and the bus station are within a couple of kms along one main street from each other. There is no danger of getting lost! One can easily walk it, or take an rickshaw for max. Rs.20 from moving from one end of Hospet to another.

Another place worth visiting is the Tungbhadra dam which is another 16 km from Hampi. Unfortunately, due to our tight schedule we were not able to see the Tungabhadra Dam. 

To do justice to all the sites, one needs at least 2 – 3 full days of sight seeing. To discover all the ruins, it may take much more than 3 days - may be months.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Fifth Columnists

If there is something more than culture, and music, and Bhakti, and Sufism, and food, and Urdu / Hindustani etc. etc. linking the Hindu / Muslim identities, it is the caste group of Kayasthas. Something which seems to be get habitually missed out by people ranging from Girish Karnard to Sir Vidia and of course our very own argumentative Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen. Though this is also something my ex-boss and continuing good friend Sachidanand Singh never misses an opportunity to remind me of – kayastha tho adha mussalman hote hain

M N Srinivas in discussing social change in India enlightens us that there has been a regular churning of various communities moving up and down the caste hierarchy. One of the examples he uses is that of the Kayasthas. Sometime in the not too distant past it seems (with fairly good evidence) that they were part of the Untouchables caste groups (Harijan to be politically correct – but that word was not coined in the epoch when the changes being discussed happened). Now the Muslim rulers of the country needed indigenous help to run their administrations. This raised both a problem and an opportunity. The problem being that caste Hindus would loose their caste and position in society (both in this world and all subsequent worlds) if they came into contact with the Muslims, and so they largely stayed away. The opportunity came to those who did not have any caste to loose – the Untouchables. So sprang up the Kayasth castes (with its 13 sub-castes) formed out of the Untouchables who associated and helped the Muslim rulers run their administrations. Their long association with the Muslims gave them education, power and social prestige. And in the process they moved up the social hierarchy, but with a difference. They fall neither in the Brahman, nor the Kshatriya, nor the Vaishya, nor the Shudra caste brackets! They are a special caste group in themselves and bracketed under the Upper Castes.  

While, the community continues to be largely Hindu (Wiki tells me that there also a lot of Muslim Kayasthas!), very many of their living practices, especially food habits, dress codes, and language continued to have Muslim flavour. Even today, members of this are found at nearly all places which had Muslim rulers, not only in North India, but also deep South in the Deccan such as Aurangabad, and Hyderabad.

Harivansh Rai Bachchan (a Srivastava Kayastha) mentions in his autobiography of a family heirloom by way of a hand written copy of the Ramcharitmanas in the Persian script. Babu Rajendra Prasad, mentions in his Autobiography that he got his primary education from a Maulvi at home in Persian. Then he studied in the English medium at school and college. Though he had a working knowledge of the Kaithi script, he learnt Hindi only after starting his law practise, at the age of 25-26! In the early sixties, yours truly’s introduction to formal education was through the alif, bey, they of the Urdu alphabets written in chalk on a wooden slate in front of Goddess Saraswati! 

Family lore mentions that immediately after Independence – when reservations were made for scheduled castes / tribes in Government jobs - the Kayastha community had made a spirited attempt for their inclusion among the untouchables. Unfortunately for themselves and (fortunately for the scheduled castes) they lost!

I also wonder why in the writing of the Constitution of India, only Dr. Ambedkar’s name is remembered by way of contribution of the Depressed Classes to this hallowed document? We should include at least two persons for this honour. Both were Kayasthas (read as from one of the untouchable castes) involved in this monumental national task. Dr. Rajendra Prasad the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly (a Srivastava Kayastha from Bihar), and Prem Behari Narain Raizada, the person who can be held responsible for literally writing the constitution in a flowing italic style in the best calligraphic tradition of our country (a Saxena Kayastha from Delhi). 

Would this background in any way indicate that the likes of Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Sinha, Ravi Shankar Prasad et al are Behen Mayawati’s Fifth Columnists in the BJP?