May 28, 2016

remembering Mundgod visit 2013

During my stay at Dharwad, I'd visited Mundgod one weekend in June 2011. It was a casual trip.. I drove down to Mundgod, reached the Tibetan camp. I'd a preview of Shar Gaden and Gaden Jangtse Datsang Monasteries. There were monks of different ages; right from kids to elderly. I got an opportunity to see a monk school for youngsters.. something like our primary school. It had classrooms filled with little kids chanting mantras. After classes these students would go to their hostels.. they have come a long way from their homes, from their families. All monks were attired in their uniform maroon colored dress. Then I proceeded to Drepung Loseling Monastery.. it was a 4 kilometer drive though country road flanked by farm lands, mostly paddy fields. The road passed through a small market for Tibetan stuff.. woollen shawls, scarves, coins, wall-hangs and what not. Drepung Loseling is where Dalai Lama stays during his visits. The monastery was closed, while I waited for it to open, I had a good look at the amazing paintings at the entrance. They were traditional paintings of Buddhist legends, carefully created, very detailed.

Feb 2012 I received an email from an American lady about my visit to Mudgod. Soon we were exchanging emails regularly.. Alexis and her husband Archie were in touch with a monk at Shar Gaden. She also mentioned about her upcoming vacation to Kerala and then a short visit to Mundgod to meet the monk. They had never met him in person and were eager to see him. Since I had plans of visiting Mundgod again, I offered to meet him and send a picture of their monk friend Thupten Dhonden.

July 7, 2012
I and a colleague had plans to see locally popular temples of Adargunchi, Budarsingi and Kundgol. Then we headed towards Mundgod, we went straight to Shar Gaden Monastery administration office. The office managed by monks were friendly; they confirmed that Thupten Dhonden was available. We had tea during the short wait. It was nice to meet Thupten Dhonden, there was something special about him. I mentioned about Alexis and Archie whom he recognised easily. I told him about their upcoming visit; took few pictures; chatted a while and said bye to them. Surely monks have their routines, I can't be holding them up. At extreme left is Malatesh my colleague and in the middle is Thupten and to his right is Palden the administrator.

Then we headed towards Gaden Jangtse Datsang Monastery. This is the western gate of the campus.

We went around the monastery campus but not inside the main building since its doors were closed.

That's the main building with wide open space in the  front. During their annual ceremonies the entire open space is occupied by monks in maroon and saffron.. the colors you see on the building's top portion.

A religious symbol made of brick and mortar.

A stage for special occasions.

Painting on the stage backdrop. On the right, of the four figures, the top most is Shankh and bottom most is Chakra.. symbols of Lord Vishnu. Every figure has a lotus, the sacred flower of all Hindu based religions.

We moved on towards Drepung Loseling monastery, I wanted to see the colorful paintings again. Enroute we stopped at the Tibetan marketplace where we bought few shawls and wall hangs. We were famished by the time we reached Drepung Loseling; found a spot under a tree within the monastery campus; relished every item of home packed lunch packed by Malatesh's mother. After feeling rested we were expecting to see the inside of the monastery but unfortunately the monk with keys to the main door did not turn up. Slightly disappointed we left, headed back towards Dharwad.

Jan 3, 2014
Alexis and Archie had arrived at Mundgod. I planned a day trip to meet up with my friends from half way across the globe. I met them at Shar Gaden Monastery guest house; remember taking Thakur Pedha for them. I was introduced to Thomas, a British national who was here to teach English to young monks. The best part was the teacher and students were totally strange to each others' languages :) Yet, Thomas managed to teach them words and phrases.

My friends were happy to be seeing India but they were disappointed about not meeting Thupten Dhonden. He was sent urgently to Tibet for some conference or something. I shared their emotion. As a consolation, we were allowed to see Thupten's hostel room. It was a tidy little room, well kept. The hostel was 3 or 4 floors high; I could see middle age and elderly monks in small groups engrossed in discussions. Also, I got a glimpse of religious debate in process; two debates debating while judges and audience watched over.

Back to the guest house, we had lunch.. soup, rice, noodles and vegetables in Tibetan style. I suggested Alexis and Archie that we make a trip to Drepung Loseling monastery, I wanted them to see the lovely paintings at the entrance. The monks were not keen with my idea but I urged they should see it having come here.

I think Alexis and Archie did like the paintings. Here they are, inside the main building, right in front of the altar.

This is the prayer hall. I guess it can accommodate 500 monks easily. Wonder how it sounds when Buddhist Mantras are chanted in low voices.. the hall would be filled with positive energy.. powerful enough to calm a disturbed mind.. wish I could experience it once. Wish I could spend a fortnight or a month here.

Close to the altar is a scale model of the main building. Yes, we are in this building.

I was glad my friends  could see the monastery and that I could spend time with them. Well, it was time to leave; I dropped them back to Shar Gaden; bid them bye and headed back towards Dharwad.


May 21, 2016

Comparison of prehistoric paintings

The key to understanding any people is in its art: its writing, painting, sculpture.― Louis L'Amour, Education of a Wandering Man

Its true that art reveals a community's culture. Culture and art go hand in hand, they have evolved together. The human mind, the ever thinking machine, with its audio-visual inputs, churned out what we call art.. drawings, paintings, sculptures, music, dance, literature and what not. Humans imitated Nature with a twist of imagination and created beautiful things. Here's a quote by a Colombian artist named Fernando Botero: A painted landscape is always more beautiful than a real one, because there's more there. Everything is more sensual, and one takes refuge in its beauty. And man needs spiritual expression and nourishing. It's why even in the prehistoric era, people would scrawl pictures of bison on the walls of caves. Man needs music, literature, and painting-all those oases of perfection that make up art-to compensate for the rudeness and materialism of life.

I'm trying to imagine how paintings evolved.. humans must have drawn on sand or dirt using their fingers or twigs or stones. Probably random lines and curves in the beginning. Plants and hills might have been next because they were stationary. So man learns to draw leaves and flowers. Then came human themselves because they lived together. Humans drew individual humans, then couples, and groups. Then came animals pictures.. the animal figures had to be remembered and then drawn.. not as easy as plants or human. Sand drawings would fade out soon. Some one tried drawing with animal blood on a rock with fingers.. blood dried up and remained on stone for longer time. Or some herbs or minerals were discovered whose color was similar to blood. The ever thinking human mind experimented with blood, herbs pigment and minerals pigment, did some mixing and discovered paint. On the other hand, man found better ways to apply paint.. they must have tried feathers, twigs, leaves, animal hair among other things. With passing of time, rock painting became prehistoric diaries. A tribute to some brave huntsman or a warrior or in memory of a dance ritual. Humans had reared cattle and hunting dogs, they must have drawn pictures of the largest bull or the most shrewd canine... So here we have a painting of oxen, dogs and a bird too.

Onake Kindi near Anegundi - oxen and dogs
The first four pictures are all from Onake Kindi, a rock fort created by Mother Nature. Onake Kindi is near Anegundi, the place with a very long history. At the spot are several paintings of human figures, oxen, dogs, birds, a large serpent, a tiger, a hunting scene showing men on horse back, a life-size anthropomorphic painting and a diagram which I'm yet to understand.

Onake Kindi near Anegundi - unknown
Artists who had painted these not only knew how to draw but also knew how to prepare the stone surface and how to prepare the paint itself. Drawing on a horizontal surface is one thing but drawing on a vertical surface is something else. The liquid had to be a particular viscosity so that we wouldn't run off. We found a small pit in one of the rocks close by which might have been used to crush all the ingredients to obtain a consistent fluid. Probably some shells were used to carry paint from here to the canvas.

As you see these drawings are made of fine lines. Especially the oxen's horns in the first picture. The artists has a fine hand but the paint brush had to be convenient too. I guess paintings were made during a certain time of year.. when the air had the right balance of moisture in it at the right temperature so that the liquid dries over certain period of time. If the paint dries too quickly it might turn brittle and crumble. So humans understood the chemistry and physics of paints. 

Onake Kindi near Anegundi - tiger hunting
Here we have a unique painting. This life-size human figure is painted on the ceiling of a rock shelter. The rock is about 16' from the ground level. Wondering how the painter was positioned that high. Did the painter lie down on some sort of scaffolding? Coming to human figure, why are its arms disproportionate. There's a small bull close to his feet. Does this painting depict some sort of gigantic figure?  

Onake Kindi near Anegundi - anthropomorphic
During my journeys, I cam across six sites with ancient rock paintings spread around Bellary, Koppal, Raichur and Bagalkot. There are many more known sites and God knows how many unknown sites. Hampi is also known for rock paintings.

Here are paintings seen at other sites.. starting with Kutkankeri. The most predominant pattern seen here are zig-zag lines of the striped hyena which are local to this region. 

Kutkankeri - pattern of Indian striped hyena
Here's a lovely painting of a hyena. Kannada name for a hyena is Kattekirba. Katte means donkey; since hyena has large ears resembles donkey ears hence the name. Hyenas dwell in caverns and rock shelters which are plenty in rocky hills of Badami and surrounding area. Their dens usually stink because of their habit of feeding on highly decomposed carcasses.

Kutkankeri - Indian striped hyena
Close to the hyena is a human-like figure with slender limbs and giraffe like head. Does this depict some type of alien creature?

Kutkankeri - unknown creature resembling a human
On the same hill, at a different rock shelter are two small paintings. This is one of them. This seems like a battle scene; the two warriors are wielding swords and shields. The horse's features are nicely drawn- upright hair on its neck, its eye is clearly visible, its four legs, one of the fore legs hoof is predominant and its tail is long. Such a sweet little drawing. I have a feeling this has been created by a very young artists.. may be 8 or 9 year old.

Kutkankeri - battle scene
Next are small paintings we discovered at a rock shelter in Mudgal fort. The contrast between rock and paint is not much, hence they are barely visible.

rock shelter at Mudgal fort
Human figures and some geometric figures.

rock shelter at Mudgal fort - human forms
Gudekote is another historic spot with a shelters on its hills. One of the rock shelters close to the fort entrance has a large group of painting of human figures and few animals like oxen.

Gudekote hill
Gudekote hill - pair of oxen
Also, about 4 kms from Gudekote, right next to the road is a boulder with a small overhang. Under the overhang was a small painting. I think the rocky hills around Gudekote are many a rock shelters with rock paintings. It would be interesting to explore the hills & plains and see the paintings.

Next here are paintings of Beerappa Rock Shelter near Sanganakallu and Kappagallu villages of Bellary. This seems like a peacock. In fact one of the peaks of Hiregudda resembles a peacock head and its called Peacock hill. Probably the plains surrounding the hills were covered with woods, making it an ideal terrain for peacocks.

Beerappa Rock Shelter - Peacock
On the same rock is a creature with forked horns.. it has to be a deer. These paintings are at a height of 10' to 12' above the ground level. I remember there were images of fish as well.

Beerappa Rock Shelter - Deer
Now we are at the Chitra Gundu (picture boulder) of Hire Benekal hill. These drawings are slightly different.. human figures have long curvy arms. In fact this is one place I've seen a human couple, probably a married couple, leader of a group. The larger group of drawings shows scenes of hunting, men on horse back wielding spears.

Hire Benkal's  Chitra Gundu - hunting scenes
More four legged creatures.. ox and horses.

Hire Benkal's  Chitra Gundu - deer
All the while we saw humans, oxen, horses, dogs, peacock, serpent, and other creatures of our planet. Coming to the next set of paintings of Hiregudda of Badami.. these are completely different. The creatures seen here are similar but different. What seems like pigs, cows and humans are not exactly the ones we see now. These creature look outlandish.

Badami Hiregudda - strange looking animals
Then we have human like creatures but humans were never depicted this way in any of the scientific articles. Except for the structure of body, head and limbs, these creatures are completely different than the human figures of other sites. Humanoids from some other planet? Mars?

Badami Hiregudda - strange looking anthropomorphic figures
In fact the presence of this astronaut like creature gives a feeling these might be alien creatures. The objects behind the astronaut's head seems like a spaceship. Pretty mysterious set of paintings there are.

Badami Hiregudda - astronaut? 
One thing common in all these paintings is the color - ochre. Ochre, a shade of red. red is the most visible color, the color of blood, the color of life. These pictures, tell us stories, they give us a glimpse of past life, they have enough details for us to imagine how life might have been back then.

There are many more such sites.. places which I wish to visit, which I wish to discover..


May 14, 2016

Largest Cannons of Karnataka

The builders of great forts also equipped them with great guns, powerful enough terrorize enemy armies. Here we are with the three largest cannons in Karnataka. Two are at Bidar fort and one from Bjiapur. Also there are few more cannons from Raichur and Gulbarga fort.. these cannons are long 20 feet or more.

Lets start with the largest piece - Badi Tope of Bidar Fort the capital of Bahamani kingdom. True to its name its is a "big gun." Positioned strategically on a massive turret to defend the fort's western and southern walls. Here are my estimates of its physical dimensions-
Overall length - 18 feet
Bore length - 15 feet
Bore diameter - 15 inches

The cannon was originally mounted on a swivel mechanism which allowed the gunners to adjust its direction and trajectory. The massive turret on which its positioned has lock walls which prevent the cannon to be turned towards the fort itself.

The next largest piece is at Bidar fort again, on the north-eastern perimeter along the border of the plateau. This cannon is similar in outer & bore diameters except that it might be 2 or 3 feet shorter in length. The rings seen here weigh approximately 30 kilograms each while these cannons' approximate weight is the range of 28 to 33 tonnes. These two cannons are made of forged steel which would be magnetic.

Now lets imagine the size of the cannon ball.. a 15 inches diameter steel ball  approximately weighs 300 kilograms. These cannons were designed to propel a 300 kg ball some 4 kilometres. These cannons must have wrecked havoc on enemy armies. The steel ball wouldn't explode on hitting its target, but the amount of energy dissipated would be tremendous.. a massive cloud of dust would have caused great confusion in the enemy ranks..

Now coming to the third largest piece. This alloy cast cannon is at Bijapur, the capital of Adil Shahi kingdom. This gun is locally known as Malik-e-Maidan Tope. The caretaker said the specialty of this metal is it never heats up even in the worst of summers. Its made of five metals.. Copper being one of the main elements. This gun is approximately 3 feet in diameter and 12 feet long. Its bore is approximately 15 inches. This gun's range could be slightly lesser than its cousins' at Bidar. The caretaker also mentioned two such cannons were manufactured some place in Madhya Pradesh. While transporting them across a river, one of them fell into a river.. probably Narmada or Godavari and never recovered.

Malik-e-Maidan Tope, Bijapur
The gun was operated by trained crew, may a dozen or more.. crew to handle ammunition.. gunpowder and cannon balls, fix the wick.. pounders to fill in gunpowder and ball.. experts to position the gun to its target and finally the fireman. Once the cannon is ready to fire, the crew would clear off the turret only the fireman would remain. The fireman would light the wick and lower himself into a water tank and remain submerged several seconds after the firing. Reason to remain submerged in water is to escape heat, noise and shock waves generated during firing. Tough job!

Bijapur has two more large cannons namely 1. Aldi Buruj Tope on eastern wall (16°50'2.0497"N 75°44'10.8424"E) and 2. Landa Kasab Tope on the southern wall (16°48'52.1658"N). Both cannon are said to be in neglected condition and vandalized.

Now coming to the longest guns of Raichur and Gulbarga forts. Both are 20+ feet long with 1½ foot to 2 feet diameter barrels. These are again forged steel. If I'm not mistaken these cannons are an assembly of shorter barrels. The bore diameter could be 5 to 6 inches. These cannons could be firing 20 kilogram balls, range could be 5 to 6 kilometers.

Summit of Raichur fort
This piece at Balahisar the massive turret of Gubarga fort. The cannon is still intact with its swivel. Locally it is known as Bara Gazi Toph. With a length of 29 feet, this might be the world's longest cannon. On the Balahisar are three cannons and this is the largest one.
Atop Balahisar, Gulbarga fort
Other larger forts also have their guns but none as large as these. The noteworthy ones are at:


May 7, 2016

Prehistoric Ash-mounds of Karnataka

Our ancestors have left behind marks of their lives, with and without intention. The ones with a purpose are rock paintings, petroglyphs and tombs. The ones which just remained are ash-mounds. Why and how were these ash-mounds created? Obviously when combustible material was burned completely, what remains at the end of the process is ash. Considering the Neolithic lifestyle, the material that were burnt could be wood, cow-dung cakes and agricultural waste. Reason for making the fire could be to bake earthenware like pots, jars, plates, toys, jewellery and stoves. It is also possible that fire was made to dispose house-hold stuff during an annual ritual. Or its even possible that human bodies were burnt in a mass cremation after a battle or an epidemic.

Hundreds of ash mounds were located across the northern part of Karnataka. The well known sites are Kappagallu, Budihal, Kudathini and Hallur - these are the ones I've visited.

Here's the first prehistoric ash-mound I ever saw.. the one next to Hiregudda near Sanaganakallu. Many years ago there were three of them, two mounds were flattened out to facilitate cultivation and only one remains now. This mound id about 60 meters by 40 meters by 3 meters, its well preserved. Thanks to our friend Ramadasa for patiently sharing his thoughts.

This ash is supposed to be the remains of excessively burnt cow-dung and wood. It is believed that prehistoric cattle keepers burnt heaps of cow-dung during an annual ritual or cleansing process. It is also possible that fires were kept burning to keep away wild animals. Ash hardens when it comes in contact with moisture and oxygen rich air for extended periods of time.

Budhihal was the second site. There were several low mounds, all were badly damaged.
Eranna, resident of Budihal walked me around and found lot of earthen pottery pieces. Local people had hauled away cart loads of this ash to their fields.. they consider this as good fertilizer. Though archaeologists have confirmed this as a Neolithic site, there's no action taken to protect the mounds.

The ash-mound at Kudathini is probably the best preserved one. It measures about 191 meters by 50 meters by 7 meters high. The surface is hard yet soft enough for grass to thrive on it.

Though the mound is located on a state highway, it has been left intact, probably this is a preserved site though there's no board declaring it as protected. Probably there was a board planted later it got stolen.

Ash-mound at Hallur, on the left bank of river Tungabhadra is the largest one ever seen. The mound is spread over 30 acres easily, and reaches heights of 10 meters at places. The mound was a site to a fort as well, even to this day ruins of walls can be seen. Suresh a resident of Hallur village showed me all over the site. Literally every step I could see pieces of pottery.. black, red, brown. We found charcoal pieces, layers of different types of soil, grinding stones, bones, hair, and what not.

Considering the size, it could be the oldest ash-mound as well. However, the sad part is the monument is it's completely neglected, rather ignored by governments. The worst part is this - residents of Hallur village are hauling away the ash by tractor-trailers to their fields.. it seems farmers consider this a very good fertilizer. People are totally ignorant about their prehistoric heritage.

Here's a list of known ash-mounds in Karnataka state.

Sitenearest town / villageTaluqDistrict
BellagalluBellary RuralBellary
BudiguntaKudathiniBellary WestBellary