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Monday, March 8, 2010

The Song flows from stones but may go mute—Karnataka temple art
Pattadakallu in North Karnataka will feature in this year’s Republic Day Tableau for it is a UNESCO protected site. In Dec2009-January 2010 I travelled to North and south Karnataka on personal art awareness trip. I visited Gadage, Lakkundi, Dambol all part of Western Chalukyan empire. I travelled to Badami, Aihole Pattaadakal, Mahakuta and Hampi and I came down south to Halebidu, Belur and Sravanbelgola.
Its mesmeric its bewitching, its romantic opera and it’s the space that you enter and come out transformed, resurrected. I discover myself as I see more of others. I have grown up in a country which is strewn with exemplary spiritual and erotic art in every form from end to end. My sensibilities were sheathed by too much all around. I keep discovering such aesthetic highs that my marvel grows and grows. But I suffer too in the process.
The story is one of great joy and pride in what our ancestors left for us and that of pain and sadness of how we are totally oblivious, ignorant, and destructive of our great past. While tourist –focus places like Hampi, Pattadakal receive the care and protection they so rightly deserve a large number of exquisite archeological sites are in a shameful condition. If you remember in October 2009 the Malaprabha River flooded the village of Pattadakal razing almost all the mud and mortar houses, the harried villagers took shelter in the high grounds of the temple complex along with their cattle. How can you protect your heritage if the people living in surrounding areas have no basic civic facilities and live in degrading poverty?
Every place that I visited in these parts to see the temples I lived in two worlds—one that was magical, ethereal and the other that was the Purgatory. In Lakkundi the impoverished farmers live by the temples and share the space with gods. . Many of the old ruins and relics in Dambal are surrounded by human excreta for there are no toilets and it was impossible for me to reach them... To reach the Buddhist caves and the Jain Basadi on top of the hill in Aihole I walked through human excreta.
When I walked in the village it was a horrifying sight of unhygienic conditions, open drains, rotting garbage, open toilets, free roaming pigs and lack of infrastructure and utter poverty. Apart from being demeaning to the locals it is impossible to reach an old temple for all around is human faeces and stench. The rearing of pigs in these parts is a solution the villagers have worked out to clean open air toilets. I found near Pattadakal a row of abandoned and derelict toilets that for sure lacked cleaning and water.
In Badami village I walked by congested hovels where village women valiantly carry their lives on. They clean their utensils outside their houses and the water flows on the pot holed roads and all around is permanent slush and garbage. I walked around to reach the Agastya Pond it is in the middle of the village and is full of floating garbage and is surrounded by human excreta. The village women daily walk up to the pond to wash the family clothes and all the soap water flows in the tank. The story was repeated in Lakkundi, Dambal, and many other places. In Aihole and Lakkundi villagers share space with ancient temples and park their bullock carts, their washings and their farm implements in the temple precincts. Recently there was a hue and cry when someone organised a dinner in the precincts of Ghalib’s house in Ballimaran Delhi.
No conservation and preservation of our heritage can be effective without involving, and educating the local populace and improving local economy and quality of life.
Living in different parts of Europe I saw how the local populations benefited greatly by the historic sites and highly developed infrastructure. Venice with its excellent infrastructure benefits from the millions of tourists that visit each year. So do smaller places like Krakow in south Poland, Bansca Bistrica in Slovakia, Prague in Czech, Dresden in Saxony and many many more places.
A friend from Europe once told me that India is a golden jewel box but smeared with excreta and to see inside its wonderful heritage you have to soil your hands.
Lets change it!!!
I suggest

1. Create infrastructure for local communities around the historical sites—Toilets, electricity, roads, transport, tap water
2 Educate the villagers/children about their heritage and need to protect it by using community leaders. In schools lessons on local heritage sites and the need to protect them are made compulsory. The Government can introduce syllabus on the local heritage and the need for conservation. I found literally thousands of kids (also grown ups) on school trips touching the sculptures in Halebidu and in Hampi. In few years time we will have no sculptures on temples if millions of people fiddle with them every year. When I talked to some teachers about the need for protecting the heritage for the great grand children of the school kids on trip they admitted their ignorance about the harm and rebuked the children impromptu.
3 Bring economic benefits of tourism to locals by encouraging restaurants, hotels, tourism guides, and development of local crafts, heritage photography and archaeological literature on the temples. Make them involved and proud of their heritage.

I diverge a bit to focus on forgotten and generally ignored jewels of temple art that exist in Gadag, Lakkundi, Dambal, Haveri. There is near total amnesia about this great group of temples. They are not far from Hospet Hampi.
I arrived in Gadag a sleepy town about and hour’s journey from Hospet. Gadag was the capital of Western Chalukyas. They flourished in 11th and 12th century AD. Their art and architecture is an important link in the later evolution of Hoysala temple art and is called the transitional phase. I hired an auto for the day and went around Gadag, Lakkundi and Dambal that are in an area of 20 kms. There is only a hotel or two; there is no knowledge about most of the historical wonders around Gadag and there are no tourists and no interaction with the outside world. The town itself has a number of ancient temples of which Trikuteswara temple is outstanding with very nice carvings on the pillars and I can not forget the excellent cakes locally baked and sold by bakeries for a pittance. Some of the architectural breakthroughs that I encountered here were used by Hoysalas later in Halebidu and Belur temples. The Kalayani chalukyas used outer wall in a star shaped plan to create extrusions and recesses and decorated them with sculptures. This style was used with telling force by Hoysalas later to sculpt the marvels of decorative art in Halebidu and Belur located in south Karnataka.
Artistically and aesthetically it is an important part of our cultural history and requires infrastructure and promotion so that at least Indians from around the country can learn and be proud of their heritage. The positive feelings generated by viewing heritage sites imbues us with a greater enthusiasm for moulding a better future for our motherland and we need it in no small measure while we think about India arriving on world scene with a bang.

Viktor Vijay Kumar
23rd January 2010-01-24

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