Continued from Part 6
Chakratirtha, Tungabhadra River and Kodandarama temple
(Photos by Suhas Mehra, text by Beloo Mehra)
Not far from Vittala temple, a short walk along some semi-paved/stepped rocks and you will soon find yourselves entering into a cave-like rock formation. A few minutes later as you come out out of this cool shady path, you will be rewarded by this breathtaking beauty.
The Tungabhadra riverbank in Hampi is a sight to behold. Or many sights, rather.
“It is one of the greatest weapons of the Asura at work when you are taught to shun beauty. It has been the ruin of India.” (The Mother)
The Tungabhadra River which starts and flows through the state of Karnataka during most of its course is formed by the confluence of two rivers – Tunga and Bhadra. The story goes that Bhagwan Vishnu in his Varaha Avatar, after killing the mighty asuras, was once taking rest on a hilltop which is today known as Gangamoola or Varaha Parvata peak in the Chikkamagaluru district. The sweat flowing from left side of his scalp became the river Tunga and the sweat from his right side became the river Bhadra. Starting at same source, the two rivers flow separately for some distance and unite with each other at Koodali village, from where they are known by the name of Tungabhadra.
At Hampi, which is somewhere in the middle of Tungabhadra’s path, the river takes a number of twists and turns owing to the rocky terrain. No wonder this river carried such immense significance in shaping the political and religious history of Hampi. The river along with the boulder-strewn hills formed a mighty northern barrier for the capital of great Vijayanagara empire.
At the flat rocky bank of Tungabhadra in Hampi, known as Chakratirtha (‘the sacred water body that swirls’), you hire a coracle which takes you on a mesmerising ride through the river. Chakratirtha is the valley point of two hills — the Matunga Hill in south and the Rishyamukha Hill in the north. Here the majestic river gets narrower and changes its direction, thus making the current swifter.
The coracle slowly takes you to places where all you can do is marvel at the beauty of Mother Nature which is kept in delicate harmony by human ingenuity when there is no need or greed to conquer or destroy Nature.
“The preoccupation with universal beauty even in its aesthetic forms has an intense power for reﬁning and subtilising the nature, and at its highest it is a great force for puriﬁcation.” (Sri Aurobindo)
You don’t mind the somewhat strenuous climb up a few boulders at certain places along the riverbank when you get to see something like this:
“The gods of Indian sculpture are cosmic beings, embodiments of some great spiritual power, spiritual idea and action, inmost psychic significance, the human form a vehicle of this soul meaning, its outward means of self-expression; everything in the figure, every opportunity it gives, the face, the hands, the posture of the limbs, the poise and turn of the body, every accessory, has to be made instinct with the inner meaning, help it to emerge, carry out the rhythm of the total suggestion, and on the other hand everything is suppressed which would defeat this end, especially all that would mean an insistence on the merely vital or physical, outward or obvious suggestions of the human figure.” (Sri Aurobindo)
Hampi was once one of the most prosperous cities in the world, known for its riches in all spheres of human activity including trade, arts, learning, and warfare. The remains of magnificent temples and sculptures that we see today at Hampi are just the tip of the iceberg, which might have reached its pinnacle in the magnificent Vittala Temple.
Riding along the mighty river with boulders on each side, you can’t help but wonder that once upon a time in Hampi, carving these abundantly available granite boulders and bringing life to these boulders must have been considered a very high and noble work.
But this was not merely a work. This was a way to find God.
“To find highest beauty is to find God; to reveal, to embody, to create, as we say, highest beauty is to bring out of our souls the living image and power of God.” (Sri Aurobindo)
The entire landscape feels like a prayer to the Divine, marked by these beautiful offerings made by the unnamed sculptors for whom art was their sadhana, their means to seek God in stone.
“What Nature is, what God is, what man is can be triumphantly revealed in stone or on canvas.” (Sri Aurobindo)
The young apprentice artists of Vijayanagara might have found the hills with boulders as their playground to sharpen their skills. Perhaps that is why you see so many finished and semi finished sculptures of gods and goddesses at most unusual places around the banks of this river. Making this place feel like a prayer of a whole civilisation!
“In a town of gods, housed in a little shrine,
From sculptured limbs the Godhead looked at me,—
A living Presence deathless and divine,
A Form that harboured all infinity.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Stone Goddess)
The serenity and the sacred beauty of the landscape slowly does its work upon your heart, mind and soul. And soon you are lost in the grand simplicity and majestic quietude that surrounds you.
“Love of Nature is usually the sign of a pure and healthy being uncorrupted by modern civilisation. It is in the silence of a peaceful mind that one can best commune with Nature.” (The Mother)
As the boat slowly turns around to bring you back to the Chakratirtha ghat, you are once again mesmerised by that long pavilion that has been there for centuries housing the pilgrims who came to bathe at the holy river and pray at the nearby Kodandarama temple.
Located close to the Kodandarama Temple, Chakratirtha is considered the holiest bathing spot in Tungabhadra. It is believed that on some special occasions the swirl in the river forms into the images of Rama, Sita and Laxmana.
The place where Kodandarama temple stands today on the Tungabhadra riverbank is believed to the place where Sri Rama crowned Sugreeva as the king of Kishkindha after Vali-vadha.
In the temple garbhagriha are three very tall murtis of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, somewhat like deep bas-relief carved on a huge boulder. It is also believed that the murtis were perhaps carved by Sugreeva himself. The sanctum and the pillared pavilion are added around the murtis at a later time. During peak monsoon season as the river Tungabhadra swells up, sometimes the water level rises high enough to reach up to the temple courtyard. Nature touching the feet of her Lord!
After some prayerful moments of silence and solitude at the temple, you turn around and the river calls you back. To take one more look, to soak in, for a few more moments, all that majestic beauty. The beauty that continues to inspire the poets, the artists, the seekers. The beauty that reminds you of the poetry of life, of the great poets who sang of such beauty.
Those songs may not have been of this riverside, of this clear morning, of the gods found on the boulders on riverbank, but that in no way takes away the beauty of the moments spent here by Tungabhadra. Something reminds you that Sri Aurobindo once spoke of Meghadūta of Kalidasa as the poem of India. Why, you wonder?
“In India the Cloud has gone even nearer home to the national imagination. For this there is good reason. It is, essentially and above all, the poem of India, the poem of the country, its soil and its scenes, its thoughts & its atmosphere. No one who has not lived the life of India, till it has become part of his breathing and woven in with every thread of his imagination, can fully appreciate the poem. If one does not know the charm of its hills, the scent of its flowers, the beauty of its skies, the flowing sacredness of its rivers with all the phases & emotions of an Indian river’s life, if one cannot distinguish & thrill to the touch of its various winds, if one cannot clothe its local places with ancient historic & mythical association or people them with the strange host of beautiful & weird figures & faces which the imagination of its people has created, if one does not recreate for himself the ancient splendours of its cities, the sense of peace & infinity in its temples & hermitages and the simple sweetness of its rural life, for him the Meghaduta offers only its shell. But all these, everything that is redolent of India, the visible, material, sensuous India has been fused and poured into one perfect mould by the genius of this supreme artist.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Poetry of Kalidasa)
One look at the river Tungabhadra and you feel you kind of know why. This river also sings the poem of India.
It makes you feel the historical and the mythical associations, it helps you recreate for yourself the ancient splendours of the cities by its banks, the sense of peace and infinity in the temples and hermitages nearby and the simple sweetness of the life of people around it.