In midst of Ahobilam – Jwaala Narasimha Swami

12.12.2016:

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The path which we chose runs along the mountain side and the other side is the valley which is full of breath-taking views. Though the views offered by this route are awesome, the path is a dangerous one! One wrong step, we will be down by a few hundred feet! So, watch carefully for your steps. We came across a small cavern formed naturally into the mountain and small ponds formed by the river. Most of the times we were alone, as this path is less frequented. At one point of time, we were even doubtful whether we are going in the right way 🙂

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After an hour and a half trek, we were able to see some other pilgrims who are making their way up and we joined them. Half the way is just a wild path while the other half has steps. We started ascending the steps which are steep and draining the energy out of us. Half way through, Bilal was down, he told me to carry on as he can’t make it anymore. I told him to wait till I return and continued to ascend. It was here when I got to see few people trying to scale a steep hill. I heard from the devotees that there is the Ugra-Stambha up. It is a steep hill to climb and full of rocks. Though I wanted to ascend it, I don’t know how much would it take to reach the place and come back and adding to that it started to rain!

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The hill which I was ascending is called the ‘Achalachaya Meru’ where the Jwaala Narasimha Swami temple is located. I need to speed up as we have to return back to Anantapur by evening, so that we can make our return journeys. So I dropped the plan of visiting the Ugra Stambha 😦 . From here, I got the first glimpse of the Jwaala Narasimha Swami temple. After ascending the steps, it was again a rugged path and the path leading to this temple goes under an overhanging rock. At the same time, a waterfall runs down from somewhere above this rock and one should walk under this waterfall to reach the temple. I saw few devotees filling up their water-bottles with this water and the feeling of walking under the waterfall with the water splashing on you after a tiring trek is truly refreshing and rejuvenating!

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While I was nearing the temple, towards the right of the path is a small pond called Rakta Kundam. The legend behind this is that Lord Narasimha had washed the blood off his hands after killing Hiranyakashipu. The pond has a red shade and hence the name I suppose. I proceeded into the temple which is again located in a small cave like that of the other temples here and it has some 3-4 idols. The main idol is that of Shri Narasimha Swami holding Hiranyakashipu on his lap and ripping him apart. It is believed that this the exact spot where Lord Narasimha had killed the demon king Hiranyakashipu. After having the darshan, I joined Bilal and we started descending down the hill.

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This time we took the other route and as always this route is quite easy to walk except that it’s a bit more rocky. On the way down, we came across a old saint and we were amazed by his power. After seeking blessings from him too we quickened our pace and reached the base of the hill from where we have to take a bus to get down to Lower Ahobilam. But we couldn’t find one and opted a free-hanging journey on the back of a 7-seat auto-rickshaw and this too is one of my most memorable journeys as I never tried one such before 🙂

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From Lower Ahobilam, we took a bus back to Aallagadda and then to Tadipatri, from where I took a bus to Bangalore and Bilal to Anantapur. Thus ended my three days wild road trip and

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Ahobilam – The Adventurous Pilgrimage

12.12.2016:

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There is a pathway onto the left side of the Ahobila Narasimha Swami temple which leads us to the Jwala Narasimha Swami temple on the top of the hill. After ascending a few steps we saw a waterfall, though it doesn’t have much water, I can imagine the flow in it during the monsoons. The waterfall is formed by the River Bhavanaashini which carves its’ way through the jungles. Watch out your steps while walking on the wooden bridge over the waterfall that leads to the trek path, as the bridge was partially broken and a leg can go through those patches!

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The path is covered with dense foliage and many trees all the way. Adding to this was the Vanara Sena (the monkey population). This place is full of monkeys and be careful if you are carrying water bottles, food items and your cameras with you. One careless moment, they can snatch anything from you! After a short while, we came across the Varaha (Krodha) Narasimha Swamy temple, which is on a raised platform, but the idol of the God here, which is also a self manifest is in a small cave. The idol here faces upwards towards his left and the Goddess Lakshmi sits on his left shoulder holding one of his tusks. After a small prayer, we left the temple.

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There are two ways from here. One is through the sideways of the valley, while the other is through a safer side. We preferred the later. The later is comprised of steps through some distance and then a rugged path and again few steps and so on. The real trek starts from here as the steps are steep and we were getting tired. We stopped here and there, but we kept on moving. After a hike of 2 kms, we stopped at the ‘Malola Narasimha Swami temple’. The deity in this temple appears in a graceful form. As the Lord Narasimha is seen with his consort, goddess Lakshmi, he is known as Malola Narasimha Swami. The word ‘Malola’ means beloved to Lakshmi (Ma-Lakshmi, Lola-beloved). This place is also known as Markonda Lakshmi Kshetra.

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There is a path besides this temple which leads us to other interesting place called the ‘Prahalladuni Badi’ (Prahalada’s school) and his cave. It is believed that Prahalada had his schooling here. One can see transcendental letters all over the rocks and these are believed to be etched by Prahalada. We were back on way to continue our forward journey. From the Malola Narasimha Swami temple, we got to see the beauty of those hills covered with the thick blanket of trees. After clicking few photographs, we started walking again. The terrain is getting more rugged. We chose the path through the valley-side from here as we heard that this is like more adventurous and more scenic. Truly, it is!

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The path which we chose is less frequented. There is another way which leads to the Jwala Narasimha Swami temple and most of the pilgrims chose this. The best part is there are sticks available here for the pilgrims for supporting their walk and we can choose one, and for the elderly there are the palanquins made of cloth or wood that will be carried by few people for some money. I mentioned at the beginning of this post that trip is truly a miracle for me and besides we running short of time and without having proper food for a long time, we didn’t run out of our energies. Secondly, we forgot to carry water bottles with us and though we started feeling thirsty at the beginning, this thirst never hindered our foot-steps towards the Lord 🙂 🙂

aho viryam aho shauryam aho bahuparakramah
narasimham param daivam ahobilam aho balam 

Ahobilam – The Nava Narasimha Kshetra

06.00 hrs – I woke up when my alarm buzzed while my brother and Bilal were still sleeping. I started to get ready and in the meanwhile, they too got up and while Bilal was busy in checking how to reach Ahobilam and all, my brother went for a jog as his physical test for the Police selection was around the corner! We got ready quickly and left for Proddatur’s old Bus station from where we should get a bus to Allagadda and before doing that my brother insisted us to have our breakfast and we did so. We got into the bus and the distance to be covered is around 60 kms. We reached Allagadda around 10.30 hrs. From there, we took another bus which would be leaving to Ahobilam, located in Kurnool district and only then did we come to know that there are two places called the Diguva Ahobilam (Lower Ahobilam) and Eguva Ahobilam (Upper Ahobilam).

The bus-conductor gave us tickets till Upper Ahobilam. It was around 11.20 hrs we were at the Lower Ahobilam. Ahobilam is the place where there are nine different self-manifest (swayambu) deities of Lord Narasimha amidst the Nallamala hills. The sacred ranges of Nallamala hills are believed to be personified Adisesha whose head is Tirumala, middle portion Ahobilam and tail portion is Srisailam.

The nine manifestations are:

  1. Jwaala Narasimha
  2. Ahobila Narasimha
  3. Malola Narasimha
  4. Kroda Narasimha
  5. Karanja Narasimha
  6. Bhargava Narasimha
  7. Yogananda Narasimha
  8. Kshatravata Narasimha
  9. Paavana Narasimha

Aho-bilam literally means “wonderful cave” referring to the caves in which some of the nine self-manifest deities reside. The Puranas indicate that the Devas (Gods) saw the manifestation of Lord Vishnu as half-lion and half-man and shouted as Ahobala (great strength) as well as Ahobila (a huge cave where the current sanctum is present). It is the place where Lord Vishnu appeared from the Stone Pillar or Ugra Stambha to slay Hiranyakashipu and hence this place is called Ahobilam. According to another Purana, Garuda performed intense penance to have vision of Lord Vishnu and realized him here. And hence these hills are also known as Garudadri.

Our bus stopped just in front of the temple complex of Shri Lakshmi Narasimha Swami at Lower Ahobilam. The temple complex was serene and if we have enough time we would be visiting the temple on our way back. The bus soon came to life again and started ascending the hill. The snake-like road is carved in middle of the hills and the lush green trees all along the way makes the journey a pleasant one. Within no time, our bus reached Upper Ahobilam and we got down there. We searched for a cloak room to keep our luggage, but couldn’t find one. But there are few accommodations where the pilgrims can stay and we requested the manager over there to allow us to keep our luggage there.  Once freed from the luggage, we walked to find a route-map and there it was, giving each and every detail. In the meanwhile a guide approached us, but he asked us way too much and we dropped the plan of hiring a guide!

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We started climbing up the hill. Initially there were a few concrete steps and it took us around 10 minutes to climb those. We reached the first temple situated in the Upper Ahobilam. This is the Ahobila Narasimha swami temple where the lord appears in his fierce aspect, called Ugra Narasimha. The temple is the main temple and earliest of all the nine temples in Ahobilam. The architecture is pretty much like the other South Indian temples but as told earlier this was a cave temple and the deity here is a Swayambu (self-manifestation). Just infront of this temple complex there is a mandapa, from where one can get the a nice panoramic view of the hills surrounding this temple. While Bilal stayed back, I went inside and took the blessings of the Lord!

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A night in Proddatur – The “Second Bombay”

11.12.2016:

18.10 hrs – We were waiting in front of the entrance of Belum Caves for a vehicle which could drop us at Kovelakuntla, so that we can catch us an onward bus to reach Proddatur. My brother Vijay lives there and I wanted to pay a visit to him! After a long wait, a bus came and we got into it and reached Kovelakuntla. The conductor of the bus suggested us to get down there and get an onward bus to Jammalamadugu from where we can get good number of buses to Proddatur.

18. 35 hrs – We were dropped at the Kovelakuntla bus station. We were feeling damn hungry and looked around for some food. The best part of Andhra Pradesh is that one can find a lot of make-shift shacks or carts mushrooming on the road-sides selling hot pakodas, bajjis and other street food. We found a cart where hot mirchi bajjis were being fried and I took some of them while Bilal took some aloo pakodas. While in the coastal region of Andhra, the mirchi bajjis will be slit and some onions will be stuffed into them, here they were cut into pieces and some chat masala was sprinkled over them! Nevertheless, I loved them 🙂 🙂

19.00 hrs – A bus stopped in front of us and we got into it! The distance between Jammalamadugu and Koilkuntla (other name of Kovelakuntla) is around 70 kms. It took us two long hours to reach Jammalamadugu and luckily we got a bus to Proddatur immediately from there. @ 21.10 hrs – Proddatur is another 25 kms from Jammalamadugu. On the way, we saw so many cement factories like Ultratech, Penna etc. By 22.00 hrs – We were at the Gandhi Road Junction waiting for my brother to pick us up. And there he was, freshly bathed and in his t–shirt and pyjamas, whereas Bilal and I were almost mud-colored after travelling all through the day! 😦

22.10 hrs – My brother took us to the Nirmala Sweets Bakery and Restaurant in the M.G.Road and  told us that it is one of the finest restaurants that serves some fine vegan food. We ordered Vegetable Biryani, Nirmala Special Biryani (Steward’s choice) and also Egg Biryani along with some coke. Food tastes better with coke! 🙂 The food was served hot within minutes and we really attacked it! 🙂 😀 Nirmala Special Biryani was too good. They served it with lots of vegetables, spicy and with some fried potatoes and paneer (Paneer 65 and Aloo 65).

22.45 hrs – We were at my brother’s place. After a quick shower, we settled down to show him our pics of various places so far we visited and jumped on the discussion about our next destination. Trust me, we don’t have any planning or a specific circuit! That’s why I described this as a wild tour! Lol!! We started googling the distances of various places in and around proddatur and it was then I came across a video about Ahobilam! And my brother too told me that he heard that it’s a beautiful and must visit place! So, it was fixed! My next destination is Ahobilam!!

23.30 hrs – I drifted into a deep sleep and have no idea when the guys slept! I need to wake up early also, as my brother has to leave for his field around 07.30 hrs and Bilal should also reach his place early that evening!

Belum Caves – A Stone Age Heritage

11.12.2016:

Wrapped up our shopping at Dharmavaram and left for the bus station. The day is going to be long! We had our lunch around 13.00 hrs in a small restaurant near the bus station and got into the Tadipatri bus. Our destination is the famous “Belum Caves”, located in the Kurnool district. The district of Kurnool is located in the western central part of Andhra Pradesh and its capital is the town of Kurnool. This is the perfect town for people, who enjoy exploring ancient architecture and historical monuments. Kurnool has plenty of them.

The caves are about 120 kms from Dharmavaram and when we asked the locals how to reach these, they asked us to travel to Tadipatri and from there we would get number of buses going to Belum Caves. We reached Tadipatri and when inquired at the bus station they asked us to get into a bus that goes to Kovelakuntla. After a while, we got into another bus which dropped us at Kovelakuntla. The twist is that everyone told us that time to visit these caves would end at 17.00 hrs and it was only around 15.50 hrs, we reached Kovelakuntla and the caves are another 15 kms from there. After all the auto-rickshaw drivers denied us a ride, we could do nothing but wait for a bus which can drop us there.

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Finally at 16.15 hrs we got into a bus going to Banaganapalle and is full of school children. When we asked the kids about the visiting hours of the caves, the response was positive. They told us that they would allow visitors upto 18.00 hrs and this filled us with a new energy. The bus took 15 minutes to drop us at the entrance of the caves. We bid a bye to the children and started walking towards the ticket counter, which is again another 10 minutes walk from the entrance. The first things that welcomed us are a huge Buddha statue and a hill in it’s background on which the name Belum Caves is written.

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The Buddha here is a super attraction here. The huge idol nestled in the nature looks serene and beautiful. Though I immediately wanted to go and click some photographs of it, caves are the first thing and I don’t wanted to be turned down simply saying that I was late for the entry! So, we walked fast towards the counter and bought two tickets and started walking towards the entrance of the caves. These are underground caves and we left our luggage with the security there and climbed down the concrete staircase into the cavity which is about 30 feet below the ground level. My heart skipped a beat when I entered the caves! They are magnificent!

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Nestled in the hinterlands of Andhra Pradesh in the midst of a rocky terrain abounds in limestone formations belonging to the Kurnool series of the Cuddapah system, which comprises shales, slates, limestones, sandstones, and quartzites, a prehistoric site, called Belum caves in Kolimigundla Mandal (Kolimigundla village) of Kurnool district, is uniquely preserved. These rock shelters tell us the stories of Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) era and exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India. Belum Caves derives its name from the Sanskrit word Bilum (meaning ‘cave’). These caves have long passages, fresh water galleries, siphons and spacious chambers. These caves have been formed naturally due to constant flow of underground water.

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The Belum Caves were originally discovered in 1884 by a European surveyor Robert Bruce Foote. Nearly after a century, a team of German speleologists headed by H Daniel Gebauer conducted a detailed exploration of the caves. It is said that ‘Belum Caves, running a length of 3229 mts, is the second largest cave in Indian subcontinent and the longest caves in plains of Indian Subcontinent, known for its stalactite and stalagmite formations’. As the remnants of vessels discovered in the caves were scientifically dated to 4500 BC, the Belum caves are stated to be thousands of years old.

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The locals named the entrance of the caves as ‘Simhadwaram’ as the natural arch-like formation where the stalactites look like the head of a lion. We were spell-bounded at the sight of these caves. Thanks to the Government of Andhra Pradesh laying down the pathways, providing illumination and oxygen shafts. The well-planned illumination rids the caves of its claustrophobic feel and creates a brightness that enhances their grandeur. As we started walking deep into the caves, the passages became narrow and led us into a narrow passage which led us into a large chamber known as the ‘kotilingalu’, so called because it has thousands of stalagmites and stalactites that look like lingas.

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One should be careful while passing through some of the real tight passages as there are chances of your head to one of those stalactites and they should also ease themselves as the passages are very narrow. As visitors get lower, the stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations awe them to no end. These caves are famous for their stalactites that hang from the ceiling of the cave like icicles and the stalagmites are found in myriad formations on the cave floors. But, it was too hot inside the caves and at times, we used to feel as if we were deprived of air! In the meanwhile, a guide came along with a group of members and started leading them into another chamber, and we followed them silently! 🙂 🙂

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It is the deepest point of the cave system and is a descending passage to Patalaganga. At Pathalaganga, there is a small perennial stream flowing from the southeast to northwest, disappearing and believed to be heading towards a well at the Belum village, located 2 km away from the caves. We saw the water there, and it is said that the level of the water remains constant. There is also a linga just above the rock adjacent to the Pathalaganga. After reaching almost the end of the caves, we started walking back where we came across the unique feature of Belum Caves!

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The unique feature is the metallic sounds that its stalactites make when tapped on. Saptasvarala Guha (musical chamber) has this feature, as the metallic sounds the stalactites make when hit with a wooden stick or one’s knuckles.  That’s thrilling and one should experience it by themselves. Once out, we sat there for quite sometime to relish the fresh breeze blowing there and walked towards the giant Buddha statue to click some photographs before we leave!

Dharmavaram – The Woven Heritage

One of the world’s oldest and perhaps the only surviving unstitched garment from the past, saree has now become a sensuous and glamorous dress for women. Saree, ranging from 4 metres to 9 metres in length, is a traditional attire worn by women in India. Though centuries have passed since the sari was conceived as the Indian women’s hereditary costume, its charm has not waned till date. In-spite of the limited scope for any change in the garment, it seems to have a limitless future for every new generation of women.

Unstitched garment which is considered sacred in Hindu tradition, Sari evolving from the prakrit word “sattika” which is most sacred garment for females not only symbolizes cultural, grace and elegance but also an epitome of courage and strength as depicted by Rani Lakshmi Bhai during the war of independence. This 5 yard fabric has been a unifying feature, despite the variation in its wearing style in different parts of India. Draped around the body in such a way that midriff is left bare so that the navel which is center of creativity and life embraces the positivity from the Panchatantra of environment and recreating the abundance in the form of new life (fetus), is a reflection of women’s ‘inner supreme self’.

roopkala-orange-dharmavaram-silk-saree-sdl430155844-3-4e277India has a number of silk weaving clusters that are known for unique designs, weaves, colors, patterns, traditional knowledge and processes that are specific to a geographical region, and are guarded for centuries. Andhra Pradesh is a treasure of traditional handloom silks known for their distinct and typical style of products. Dharmavaram is a famous hub for its unique silks and a small town of rich handloom weaving cluster located at a distance of 47 km from Anantapur, has enthralled, endeared and throbbed the hearts of millions of women with its elegant, splendrous and classic silk sarees. The traditional, heavy, broad bordered rich with buta sarees of Dharmavaram have world wide popularity.

11.12.2016:

My mom is a huge fan of Sarees and especially she likes to have a collection of all from the various weaving clusters of India. And I too love to add things to her collection and hence decided to visit Dharmavaram. On our way back from Nimmalakunta, we asked our auto-driver to drop us at Naesaepet which is the landmark of Dharmavaram, having more than 1000 shops selling sarees. Though it is a difficult task to find out a shop which is genuine (had a very bad experience in Kancheepuram 😦 ), with belief in our guts, we entered a shop. With the cash crunch going on, we first inquired whether there are any ATMs nearby and whether they would be accepting card payments 😀 . The response was negative, but we turned it to positive 🙂

The shopkeeper and his assistant started showing us a wide-varieties of silk sarees. It is said that each and every thread of a Dharmavaram saree is hand woven. The silk sarees are exclusively made of mulberry silk woven by hand, with elaborate zari work woven on them in resplendent colors. These sarees are known for their excellent weaving quality, rich look and feel. Evidence of origin of Dharmavaram sarees can be found in the roof wall painting of Lepakshi temple. There are a total of 280 designs in the temple, constructed during the year 1522 to 1538 AD. A place called the “Latha Mandapam” wherein 36 rock pillars have 144 unique designs of Dharmavaram sarees!

indexThe shopkeeper explained us that the weavers and designers of Dharmavaram are continuing the legacy of yester year designers and experimenting on silk weaves and producing array of unique designer silk sarees. The hallmark of Dharmavaram Sarees are the motifs and designs adapted from the sculptures of temples at Lepakshi and Tadipatri and other motifs of nature like peacock, deer, flowers etc. The Dharmavaram Sarees may range between Rs. 6000 to Rs. 100000. I bought a silk saree for my mom and a cotton saree for my mam back at office. Both were satisfied with the quality of the products as well as the prices 🙂 🙂 .

We bid a bye to them and thanked for explaining us the rich history of the place and the sarees 🙂

Thank you Shweta for the opening paragraphs in this article :). Shweta – a well-educated and humored person with passion for fashion, beauty and entrepreneurship can be reached @  https://shwetasinghspeaks.wordpress.com

Nimmalakunta Leather Puppets – A day with Dalavai family…

11.12.2016:

10.00 hrs – We were at the Dharmavaram Bus station. We thought of shopping here and if time permits to head to another famous pilgrimage centre of Andhra Pradesh – Puttaparthy. Bilal and I were calculating the time and were walking towards the road when a board drew my attention. The board said ‘Welcome to the Nimmalakunta Art Village and Puppetry Workshop”. We dropped the plan of Puttaparty as we need to cover another important place and hence decided to visit this village. We hired an auto-rickshaw to take us there and drop us back in Dharmavaram.

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Nimmalakunta is a small village located 10 kms away from Dharmavaram town, which is famous for its leather puppets. There are different forms of traditional puppetry prevalent in rural areas in India. Shadow puppetry in Andhra Pradesh is referred by the name Tolubommalatta. ‘Tolu’ refers to leather; ‘bomma’ denotes doll and ‘atta’ means play. It is traditionally performed in villages and now in various theme restaurants and craft villages. The origin of Tolubommalatta in Andhra Pradesh has had a long history and the oral tradition and old scriptures suggests that the art form originated in 200 BC, when the rulers of Satavahana dynasty patronized it. The mode of entertainment in those good olden days! 🙂

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The components of a puppet show are the curtain, the audience sat before it, the commentator behind the curtain, the lights that throws the shadow on the screen and the puppets (actors). Episodes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are the popular themes selected. The puppets range from 3 to 6 feet in size. Among the Andhra Pradesh Puppeteers, the Nimmalakunta artists are well known both at the national and international level. The Nimmalakunta puppeteers are frequently seen in all the government sponsored exhibitions conducted in major cities all over India. They are also well known as leather craft artists.

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When we reached the village, the community center and the workshop were closed. Our auto-driver inquired, and to our luck – the Dalavai’s family turned to help us. Dalavai Chalapathi Rao is a famous shadow puppeteer, a national award winner and gave many a performances in the West.  His son started explaining us the various aspects of puppetry while his son was busy painting the lampshades and his wife busy in making the puppets. They explained us the process right from the procurement of the skin, processing it and how they are cut and designed. They showed us various pictures of puppets under the light in a dark room.

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Leather puppets of Andhra are large and made from translucent goat skin. The details are painted in bright colors and perforations are added. The designs are mainly mythological figures and occasionally the painters own creations. These drawings are done with a pencil. After making the designs, outlines are painted with black. Thereafter colors are filled in with vegetable dyes – brilliant red, green, white, yellow, brown and orange being the most popular. Many of these puppets have movable hands and legs and some, movable heads and necks 🙂 Elaborate ornamentation of puppets indicating jewellery and clothing is typical and amazing.

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They further told us that with the advent of television and cinema, leather puppetry is on the decline and that they are diversifying into the production of miniature puppets, lampshades and other utility items. The lamp shades are of much demand in the near-by Bangalore and Hyderabad and these people supply most of their work to these cities. I too bought a lamp shade before leaving the place 🙂

A day in Anantapur

20.30 hrs – I reached Anantapur (120 kms) after a well-spent evening at Lepakshi. Bilal – a brother, is going to join me from here. We reserved our rooms in the nearby SRS Regency Hotel, which is clean and neat enough with spacious rooms. We ventured out looking for a good restaurant to have our dinner and ended up at the Hotel Masineni Grand, a three star hotel. As it was a Saturday and there is this habit of having tiffin on Saturday evenings in Andhra Pradesh, a special tiffin buffet was arranged in their restaurant. The buffet had various delicacies like the famous Rava Dosa, Onion Dosa, Idli, Button Idli, Chole Batura, Rava Upma along with some vegetable noodles and sweetcorn soup.  They served some freshly prepared grape juice too. Try this restaurant for sure!!

After a hearty meal, we headed to the Ganga Gowri Gayathri Movie Complex to watch a Telugu movie ‘Yekkadiki Pothavu Chinnavada‘. It is all together another different experience for me as the theater has got some old cushioned seats which are not push-back kind and is running on fans and air-coolers, which we forgot long back :). Though I complained first, later I started enjoying the movie. It was at 23.50 hrs we reached our hotel.

11.12.2016:

Anantapur lies at the westernmost part of Andhra Pradesh. It is located along the NH7. The town of Anantapur has embraced modernity, but has not forgotten its historical past. The town is home to many ancient temples, monuments and forts that give a glimpse into the rich historical past of the region. At every corner of Anantapur and its surroundings, there is something to stop and admire.

Some of the major attractions in Anantapur and its surroundings are the beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Shiva at Lepakshi, the birthplace of Sri Satya Sai Baba in Puttaparthi, the ancient and massive banyan tree (Thimmamma Marri Maanu) at Gutibayalu. This region is also well-known for its booming silk and cotton weaving industry – Dharmavaram (silk sarees) and Hindupur (Cotton sarees). The ancient religious legacies left behind are visible in Penna Ahobilam, Gugudu and Alurkona.

06.00 hrs – Start of the day! 07.00 hrs – We walked down the streets to find a restaurant to have our breakfast and it was the choice of Bilal. While he ordered a plain dosa, I ordered an Onion Dosa. It wasn’t that great. 07.30 hrs – We checked out and headed to the Bus station from where we have to get a bus to Dharmavaram. We got into a bus and occupied two seats. The day was pleasant and bus was not too crowded. Bilal started explaining me about the erection of wind-mills which can be seen through out the way and the difficulties faced by them in the sites.

One can see the Sri Krishnadevaraya University situated on the way and some other education institutions established by Sri Satya Sai Trust. The vast stretches of land filled with rocks and a little vegetation here and there. If there is irrigation facility, the farmers are growing vegetables like Brinjals, Tomatoes and Tapioca (Sago).

The Holy Abode – Veerabhadra temple

10.12.2016:

While I was in the bus, I got to speak with the locals travelling along with me and when they heard me saying that I was here to see the Nandi, they asked me to visit the 16th century Veerabhadara (Lord Shiva) temple also.

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I walked back to the temple, one among the three famous shrines of Lepakshi which is just 10 minutes walk from the Nandi. There are few interesting legends associated with this temple. It is believed that this temple has been built on the spot where Jatayu (the bird God) fell after being injured by Ravana who was kidnapping Sita. When Rama reached the spot, he saw Jatayu and remarked, ‘Le Pakshi’ which translates to ‘rise, bird’ in Telugu and hence the name Lepakshi for this town 🙂

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The temple is built on a low, rocky hill called Kumarasilam (Translation – Tortoise hill) and dates back to 1583 and was built by two brothers, Viranna and Virupanna, who were the royal treasurers of the Vijayanagar kings. The temple is built in the Vijayanagar architectural style and has beautiful sculptures adoring the walls. There is also a belief that the original temple has been constructed by Saint Agastya himself.After climbing some 30 or 40 steps, I reached the Dwajastamba and I entered the temple from the left side.

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The temple’s main deity is Lord Veerabhadra, the fiery god created by Shiva from his hairs in his rage after the immolation of Sati Devi during the Daksha Yagna. There are also other manifestations of Lord Shiva like the Kanakala Murthi, Dakshinamurthi (Guru of Gurus), Tripuranthaka or Tripurasurasamhara (vanquisher of demon Tripurasura), Ardhanareeshwara (the half-female, half-male form, where Shiva and Parvati are equally represented in one body). This temple also has the fiery goddess Bhadrakali. After the darshan, I walked around the Garbagriha and I noticed what made this temple stand apart!

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Those are the finest specimens of mural paintings of the Vijayanagar kings. It is said that the 24 ft by 14 ft fresco of Veerabhadra on the ceiling, before the main sanctum sanctorum is the largest in India. They are beautiful and the attention paid to their details is amazing. The colors are strikingly contrasted – black limework against an orange-red background with some green, white, black, and shades of ochre-gold and brown make for a stunning visual spectacle. It is said that most of those were natural dyes or pigments and the paintings depicts the scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Most of these paintings are now fading and are peeling off in many places. I think it’s time for the government to act for their better maintenance and expert restoration!

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Another important feature of this temple is the famous “Hanging Pillar”. This pillar doesn’t fully rest on the ground and to prove that, the guides over here executes a newspaper test and pass the newspaper from one end of the base to the other! There are about 70 pillars in this temple, but this one is the best known and is a tribute to the engineering genius of ancient and medieval India’s temple builders. However, it is a bit dislodged from its original position — it is said that during the British era, a British engineer tried to move it in an unsuccessful attempt to uncover the secret of its support.

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I entered the outer enclosure of the temple where there is a huge Ganesha in stone, leaning against a rock as well as a massive Naga (the Snake God) with three coils and seven hoods, which shelters the Shiva Linga. The temple is divided into three parts, the ‘Mukha Mandapa’, the ‘Artha Mandapa’ and ‘Garba Griha’ and the ‘Kalyana Mandapa’ with 38 carved monolithic pillars. Legend also has it that Lord Shiva and Parvati were married on the spot where Kalyana Mandapa now stands (the most photographed place in the recent times).

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There is also another legend attached to this temple. It is said that Virupanna, the royal treasurer, was accused of drawing funds without the king’s permission from the state treasury to build these shrines and is supposed to have blinded himself. And there are two red stain marks on the western wall of the inner enclosure and these are believed to be the marks left by his bleeding eyes. But I couldn’t find them :(. Might be next time! Time to go, as it’s getting dark and I have to reach Anantapur town!

Lepakshi – A date with history

09.12.2016:

19.00 hrs – Trivandrum : Boarded a Volvo bus to Bangalore. The bus was not that comfortable, yet manageable. And I had an assumption that they would stop somewhere in the middle for dinner, but they didn’t 😦 Sleep overcame my hunger and I was into my dreamworld within few moments and by the time opened my eyes, I was on the outer area of Bangalore. Though the arrival time was mentioned as 06.00 hrs in my itinerary, the bus reached Bangalore only by 08.00 hrs.

09.15 hrs – I was at my Aunt’s home in Bangalore. Quickly refreshed myself and filled my starving stomach with some yummy dosas prepared by my aunt. In the meanwhile, few of my aunt’s friends visited our home and my departure was delayed as my aunt started introducing me to everyone 😀 . Once done with the exchange of pleasantries, I took leave from them and headed to the Majestic Bus Station, from where I have to catch a bus going to my first destination – Lepakshi.

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12.30 hrs – There were no direct buses running in between Bangalore and Lepakshi, but there were a good number of buses running in between Bangalore and Bagepalli as well as Hindupur. There was this Bagepalli bus ready to leave and when I approached the driver, he asked me to get down at Bagepalli and head to Lepakshi which is 25 kms away. It took me three hours to reach Bagepalli and when I inquired about the buses to Lepakshi, the people there asked me to go to the Checkpost, from where I would be able to board some private buses or auto-rickshaws going to Lepakshi.

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03.30 hrs – After a 20 minutes journey in a tightly-packed auto-rickshaw (there were 13 members in all along with the driver in a 7 seater auto), I reached the check-post, where a private bus was waiting to leave to Hindupur via Lepakshi. The road leading to Lepakshi has an entrance with the mighty sculpture of Jatayu welcoming to this historical place. Also, there is a small Nandi statue in middle of the road representing the significance of this place. I got into the bus and took a ticket which costs Rs. 12 and it took me around 45 minutes to reach Lepakshi.

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Lepakshi, located in Anantapur district of southern Andhra Pradesh is an ideal weekend destination for people who are looking for an off-the-beaten-track day outing. To be frank, when I first heard about Lepakshi from Bilal, the first thing that came to my mind is the monolithic Nandi (the bull god) about which I read in my school textbooks and the story which explains the name Lepakshi. And finally, am here 🙂 🙂

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04.30 hrs – The bus dropped me in Lepakshi and I had to walk back for 10 minutes to see the marvel for which I traveled all the way from Trivandrum. There it was, the colossally large spectacular Nandi, which is 27 feet in length and 15 feet height and is amongst the biggest monolithic Nandi in India. What makes this structure more spectacular is the smooth structure and finely-carved ornaments on it! Besides the record size, the perfectly proportioned body, finely-carved ornaments, and smooth contours add to its grandeur. I walked around the Nandi and the surrounding gardens before heading to the other famous landmark – the Veerabhadra temple.

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By the way, if you feel peckish, there is this Andhra Pradesh Tourism Resort from where one can eat and the food is good 🙂