Continued from Part 7
Hazara Rama temple
(Photos by Suhas Mehra, text and quotes selection by Beloo Mehra)
यावत्स्थास्यन्ति गिरयः सरितश्च महीतले |
तावद्रामायणकथा लोकेषु प्रचरिष्यति ||
“As long as the mountains and even rivers flourish on the surface of the earth, so long the legend of Ramayana will flourish in this world… [Valmiki Ramayana, 1.2.36]
Hazara Rama temple, which literally means a temple with thousand relics of Bhagavan Sri Rama, is a delight for the eyes – outer and inner. This was a private temple for the royalty of Vijayanagar. And the location was such that all the paths from the Royal Centre converged to this temple. Today it is not a living temple and merely a UNESCO world heritage site.
Why the name Hazara Rama? One quickly surmises that it is because of the temple being dedicated to Sri Rama! And then there are perhaps thousand or more depictions of Rama on the walls of temple. But according to local guides, the name is a deformation of the Telugu word Hazaramu, which means an audience hall or an entrance hall of a palace. So the connection with the royalty is very clear.
“…the life of Rama and Krishna belongs to the prehistoric past which has come down only in poetry and legend and may even be regarded as myths; but it is quite immaterial whether we regard them as myths or historical facts, because their permanent truth and value lie in their persistence as a spiritual form, presence, influence in the inner consciousness of the race and the life of the human soul.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 19: 171)
The Ramayana connection of the temple is evident in several interesting ways. The temple’s location is such that from its north porch one gets a view of the Matanga Hill, the place where Sugriva after being driven out by his tyrant brother Bali (Vali), had taken refuge along with Hanuman. From the eastern doorway of the temple, one can see Malyavanta Hill, where Sri Rama and Lakshmana had stayed after the killing of Vali while waiting for Hanuman to bring news of Sita. In fact, it is also believed by some that the Hazara Rama temple stands on the location where Sri Rama killed Bali.
“Tangled is the way of works in the world. When Rama the Avatar murdered Vali, or Krishna, who was God himself, assassinated, to liberate his nation, his tyrant uncle Kansa, who shall say whether they did good or did evil? But this we can feel, that they acted divinely.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 12: 467-468)
When one is at any Rama temple, can Hanuman be far behind?
“When one speaks of Hanuman, this represents the evolutionary man, and Rama is the involutionary being, the one who comes from above….
“The evolutionary being is the one that’s the continuation of the animals, and the other is a being from higher worlds who, when the earth was formed, materialised itself upon earth—it does not come from below, it has come from above. But in the evolutionary being there is that central light which is the origin of the psychic being, which will develop into the psychic being, and when the psychic being is fully formed, there is a moment when it can unite with a being from above which can incarnate in it. So this being from above which descends into a psychic being is an involutionary being—a being of the Overmind plane or from elsewhere.” (The Mother, CWM, Vol. 5, 21 Oct 1953)
Compared to other temples at Hampi, Hazara Rama is not a very large temple. Nevertheless, it is very unique and one of the few temples at Hampi dedicated to Sri Rama. On the entire periphery of the compound walls, facing toward the temple, we find beautifully carved panels depicting the life and times of Sri Rama. Walking through one feels as if one is reading the Ramayana, etched in stone.
Some of the panels on the temple compound walls also portray the grand Ramanavami festival processions which the mighty kings of Vijayanagara organised. These processions included elephants, horses, attendants, military contingents, dancing women and also the tableaus depicting the life of the Lord, as can be seen in the carved panels of the temple walls. Some foreign visitors during those times have also given similar account of such festivity on Ramanavami at the Vijayanagar capital.
Meenakshi Jain includes an important reference in this regard, in her book ‘Rama and Ayodhya’
“During the Vijayanagar period, Rama themes enjoyed great popularity in temple art. The physical setting of Vijayanagar was itself linked to Rama, particularly the Kishkindha Kanda of the Ramayana. There was a conscious attempt to link spatially the world of the Vijayanagar king with that of Rama. The landscape was charged with the presence of Rama and the king himself was occasionally compared with him, as was the capital linked to Ayodhya. The king was ritually identified with Rama in the Maha Navami festival, an extravagant nine day ceremony that commemorated the worship of goddess Durga by Rama on the eve of the decisive battle against Ravana. (Dallapiccola, 1998:141, as cited by Meenakshi Jain, 2013: 62)
Similar carved depictions of Sri Rama’s life are seen on the exterior walls of the two other smaller free-standing shrines within the complex.
It is believed that in the early 15th century Devaraya I built this temple devoted to Sri Rama and initially called it as Ramachandra temple. The original structure was a simple one within a rectangular complex consisting of only a garbhgriha, and an ardha-mandapa. Later the temple structure was renovated and an open porch and a beautiful pillared mandapa were added.
“He [the Avatar] may…descend as an incarnation of divine life, the divine personality and power in its characteristic action, for a mission ostensibly social, ethical and political, as is represented in the story of Rama and Krishna; but always then his descent becomes in the soul of the race a permanent power for the inner and spiritual rebirth.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 19: 170)
Walking through and noticing the details on these panels, Indians who were introduced to Indian stories and legends through Amar Chitra Katha might feel as if they are flipping the pages of their favourite childhood comics!
“The idealism of characters like Rama and Sita is no pale and vapid unreality; they are vivid with the truth of the ideal life, of the greatness that man may be and does become when he gives his soul a chance” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 20: 353).
The arthamandapa has four unique black stone pillars which are raised on a stone platform at the centre of the hall. These pillars are made of a stone called Dolerite, which might have been brought from western Karnataka. These pillars depict the various avatars of Sri Vishnu.
“Avatarhood is a fact of divine life and consciousness which may realise itself in an outward action, but must persist, when that action is over and has done its work, in a spiritual influence; or may realise itself in a spiritual influence and teaching, but must then have its permanent effect, even when the new religion or discipline is exhausted, in the thought, temperament and outward life of mankind.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 19: 171)
More ornately carved columns lead one to the garbhgriha. An empty pedestal with three spots in the garbhgriha signifies the spot where once the murtis of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita might have been standing, worshipped by the kings and other members of the royal families of the mighty Vijayanagar empire. The empty garbhgriha reminds us of the furious iconoclasm unleashed by Deccan Sultans at Hampi and elsewhere in the southern India.
The temple is also renowned for the narrative sculptures of the Bhagavata Purana, glorifying the life and work of another avatar, Sri Krishna. At Hazara Rama, one is mesmerised by the sculptures of Bala Krishna, as well as the sculpted polished pillars of the maha-mantapa (main hall).
“The Avatar is not bound to do extraordinary actions, but he is bound to give his acts or his work or what he is—any of these or all—a significance and an effective power that are part of something essential to be done in the history of the earth and its races.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 28: 490)
Near the main shrine is a similar but smaller shrine also having carvings from Ramayana and Bhagavatam on its walls. This was perhaps a shrine for Devi Sita, and features on one of its walls a beautiful sculpture of Lord Narasimha, another avatar of Sri Vishnu.
“The Divinity acts according to… the consciousness of the Truth above and the Lila below and it acts according to the need of the Lila, not according to men’s ideas of what it should or should not do. This is the first thing one must grasp, otherwise one can understand nothing about the manifestation of the Divine.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 28: 475)
What does the avatarhood of Rama mean for the earth-consciousness? For the future of the humanity? If we don’t contemplate on this question, we fail to fully grasp why Sri Rama’s story will be told over and over in this land of ours.
Victory to Sri Rama!
“[Rama’s] business was to destroy Ravana and to establish the Rama-rajya – in other words, to fix for the future the possibility of an order proper to the sattwic civilised human being who governs his life by the reason, the finer emotions, morality, or at least moral ideals, such as truth, obedience, co-operation and harmony, the sense of domestic and public order, – to establish this in a world still occupied by anarchic forces, the Animal mind and the powers of the vital Ego making its own satisfaction the rule of life, in other words, the Vanara and Rakshasa. This is the meaning of Rama and his life-work and it is according as he fulfilled it or not that he must be judged as Avatar or no Avatar. It was not his business to play the comedy of the chivalrous Kshatriya with the formidable brute beast that was Bali, it was his business to kill him and get the Animal Mind under his control. It was not his business to be necessarily a perfect, but a largely representative sattwic man, a faithful husband and a lover, a loving and obedient son, a tender and perfect brother, father, friend – he is friend of all kinds of people, friend of the outcaste Guhaka, friend of the Animal leaders, Sugriva, Hanuman, friend of the vulture Jatayu, friend even of the Rakshasa Vibhishan. All that he was in a brilliant, striking but above all spontaneous and inevitable way, not with a forcing of this note or that…., but with a certain harmonious completeness. But most of all, it was his business to typify and establish the things on which the social idea and its stability depend, truth and honour, the sense of Dharma, public spirit and the sense of order. To the first, to truth and honour, much more even than to his filial love and obedience to his father—though to that also—he sacrificed his personal rights as the elect of the King and the Assembly and fourteen of the best years of his life and went into exile in the forests. To his public spirit and his sense of public order (the great and supreme civic virtue in the eyes of the ancient Indians, Greeks, Romans, for at that time the maintenance of the ordered community, not the separate development and satisfaction of the individual was the pressing need of human evolution) he sacrificed his own happiness and domestic life and the happiness of Sita. In that he was at one with the moral sense of all the antique races, though at variance with the later romantic individualistic sentimental morality of the modern man who can afford to have that less stern morality just because the ancients sacrificed the individual in order to make the world safe for the spirit of social order. Finally, it was Rama’s business to make the world safe for the ideal of the sattwic human being by destroying the sovereignty of Ravana, the Rakshasa menace.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 28: 491-492)
Coming up in next part…Lotus Mahal and Queen’s Bath