#8 India, East of Bangalore, Mar. 16, 1998

Dear Everybody,

Yesterday I got back from a three-day trip to look at some temples and climb up a granite hill. I hired a car and driver, as the driving is really something. Trucks/buses come at you two abreast on a small two lane road! Then there are the oxcarts, autorickshaws, people walking, mopeds, bicycles, and always those big trucks and buses. On the way going, there was an overturned truck, and on the way coming home there was another.

We drove straight east to Hassan, which is a town of 108,000 but not of any interest except to stay near the three monuments that I wanted to visit. I think we only drove about 200 km, but that took over four hours.

The next morning we set out for the little village of Daddagaddavahalli; the name is larger than the village! Anyway, I wanted to see the Lakshmidevi Temple, built in 1113 AD, which is off in the boonies in this tiny village. There are many like this, I think.

The village was as interesting as the temple. The young man that showed me around told me that his sister was settled in Minneapolis in the USA!

We went on to Belur where the Hoysalas held forth from the 10th to the 14th centuries. Hoy means ‘to kill’ and Sala was the name of the young man that killed a tiger, and became the first Hoysala king. (Seems I’ve heard that story—with lion—another time). Anyway, their symbol is the man killing the tiger. About 1100 AD the Hoysalas started working on this Chennakesva Temple. It took 103 years to complete. Every inch is carved in soapstone, which is soft enough to work intricately, but hardens over time. It is perfectly preserved. There were many beautiful detailed carvings, which called for many photos, which I couldn’t resist.

On some of the carved women, their jewelry is loose from the stone—it can be moved!

Then I went on to the Hoysala temple at Halebid, which was very much like the one at Belur, but was started 10 years later. It was under construction for 180 years, but never finished. Some people don’t have any stick-to-itiveness! It, too, is very beautiful.  All around the base there is a row of horses for speed, a row of lions for courage, and a row of elephants for strength.  A woman was honoring Nandi, the bull.

I had lunch with the driver. I invited him to eat with me, and it made him very nervous. He ordered an omelet, which he started clumsily to try to cut using his knife and fork. I told him it was fine to eat with his hands, and so he did. They do this very neatly. He didn’t say one word, though. I suspect I shouldn’t have invited him to eat with me, but it seemed like the right thing to do!

The next morning EARLY, we left at 6:45 to go to Sravanabelagola to see a statue of a Jain saint. I wanted to go early to beat the heat, since I had to climb 613 steps cut in the rock-hill. One has to remove one’s shoes, so I was smart and wore two pair of socks. This makes things much more comfortable as the rock steps are hewn by hand and so are quite rough, and also, they heat up as the sun rises high in the sky.

When I got to the top, there was the 57-foot high statue—a full nude of Gomateswara, carved in the year 983 AD out of one rock. It’s supposed to be the biggest monolithic statue in the world!? He is standing, meditating with carvings of vines growing around his legs and arms because he meditated so long that he was oblivious to that happening! It is really a colossal statue!! There was a ceremony with a priest and a dozen participants, who did lots of chanting. A red dot was applied to each forehead, and then offerings of water, milk, saffron water and jasmine petals were poured over a 12-inch high statue of Gomateswara in front of the big one, and caught in a drain, and then poured over the big statue’s feet, which are nine feet long. This ceremony is the small version of the big one that they do every 12 years when they erect a scaffold, and pour 16 things over the big statue’s head—water, milk, honey, gold, diamonds and more.

There were musicians—one drummer and two that played big double reeded instruments that sounded like loud and coarse oboes.

By 9:45 I was back down the mountain again. The hill is by itself on a plain so you can see the statue for miles. There’s a pretty village down below.

On to Bangalore, but, not so fast! The fan belt went out on the car and so we spent an hour and a quarter by the side of the road under repair. Then when we went again, there were loud knocking noises in the car—the driver got out and fixed that too, and we did eventually get to Bangalore.

I’ve been doing a little cooking. I can now make pretty good chapatis (bread, like tortillas) and other things.


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