July 27, 2011

Modern India - Mahabalipuram Temples

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I was excited to revisit the shore temple at Mahabalipuram, but also mildly confused upon arrival.  When I was there in 1974, the temple was actually on the beach; now it appeared to be some distance from it.  I agreed to take on a guide, Ali, and he proved to be a good choice and a font of information.  In 1976, two years after my initial visit, Indira Gandhi toured the site and was then instrumental in pushing legislation that provided funds to restore the site and provide a buffer zone from the sea.  Ali also described how he was guiding tourists when the 2004 tsunami struck--he saw the water boiling and got everyone in his group to high ground.  They watched as the water advanced, then receded, temporarily exposing the six companion temples that were once part of the complex but have been under the waterline for ages.  The tsunami swept fragments from the undersea temples onto the land, as evidenced by the chunk of sculpture and the dark colored piece of a column, below:
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I was also interested to see a group of Indians in street clothes and saris, and led by an instructor, practicing yoga on the grounds next to the temple.  When I was here in the the 70’s, hatha yoga was practiced by devotees in temples and ashrams, but not, to my knowledge, by the general public, or in public spaces.
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I would love to know more about what’s going on here, and I’m left to wonder if the popularity of yoga classes in the West is circling around and pushing it as an emerging trend here in India.  This woman certainly seems happy to be participating.
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The benefit of having a guide is the information and directions he provides; the downside is that one can feel rushed.  I made time to wander a bit and soak in the atmosphere and take the photos that were important  to me.  I love the perspective of this line of Nandi sculptures as much as I did years ago:
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We were the only Americans on the temple grounds that morning, and were regarded with enthusiasm and apparent delight by many of the Indian tourists.  We were approached numerous times and asked to pose for photos.  I was amused to think of myself as an exotic feature in someone’s vacations snaps, and asked our guide record some of these moments for my own version of posterity:
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A short drive away,and accompanied by Ali, who was expert at making himself indispensible, we next toured the Pancha Rathas, or Five Chariots.  They were not constructed, but instead carved from the top down, each from a single block of granite.  Pretty impressive:
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The carvings are intricate and varied:
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Ali was fairly insistent on posing us for photo ops:
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And I must admit he knew his stuff.  I’m quite fond of this image, especially since Alice and I are wearing the beautiful silk kurtas that were a gift from our friend Sashi:
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Here we are posed with a  group of very giggly schoolgirls:
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Next up, the Descent of the Ganges, or Arjuna’s Penance, an enormous bas relief, next to the Varaha Cave Temple.  Lots to look at, learn about, and photograph here as well:
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Another plus of hiring a guide--he will shield you from the street hawkers.  On the other hand, he will introduce you the vendors with whom he has an arrangement.  All very pleasant and polite!  And yes, I bought a small and beautiful carved elephant.  Here I am being urged on to the final stop in the tour:
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By the time we got to Krishna’s Butterball, I was tiring and beginning to lose some of my enthusiasm for the proceedings, but posed obligingly once more with some local people, including a little girl who kept kissing Alice.  Also, note that this picture contains goats:
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All in all, an awesome and inspiring day.  I am so fortunate and grateful to have been able to revisit this unique group of monuments.


Gerrie said...

What an incredible place. I am so taken with the ancient architectural elements.

Sherryl said...

I am so glad you are posting Sue. This is a part of India I didn't get to last year and I am so enjoying your travelogue. Ha, anytime you want to go back and want a travel companion, let me know. I would love to go back.