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.

img_0947

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.

img_1064

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!

img_0949

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.

img_0990

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.

img_0955

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.

img_1040

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! 🙂 🙂

img_1032

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!

img_1004

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.

img_0942

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! 🙂

img_0933

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.

img_0932

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.

img_0939

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.

img_0928

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).