The International Writers Magazine: Indian Temples
Templed Air of Solitude
I drifted off, under the host of Indian sky, dreaming of ancient
elegance and elephants and beautiful bathing women.
Exquisite regions there are, exotic places, enchanted realms of the
spirit, lofty and palpable. At the edge of desolate places where the
landscape appears at first to offer only its flatness, there suddenly
appear Hindu temples, the anvil the sacred of India is pounded on, that
you can climb until you can climb no further, up and up into sculpted
deities in stone, where painted mythic figures, the story animators
of the dream, arms folded or swaying in dance to the infusion of symbolic
decoration, where mystics proud and sadhus hungry wrestle in their minds,
the mental being just another of many metaphors, with devastatingly
ultimate mysteries. Here is the ancient wonder of India, enigmatic,
imperishable, defiant. Here is no compromise or concession to the mundane,
all elaboration and abandonment. Whether painted yearly by villagers
in the South or adorned by chariots of gods and erotic imagery in the
North, these temples reach into an air so rarefied that the mere physical
images of life no longer exist.
After a few years of living in India I thought I had seen the most impressive
temples, Kajuraho and Madurai and the shore temples of Mahabalipurum.
One day in Goa I happened upon a handwritten notice attached to a palm
tree that said: "Go to Hampi, go to Vijayanagar for a full moon
gathering." Others had spotted notices as well but no one had ever
heard of Hampi although Vyanagar was a major railway station on the
A short walk from the station was the Hampi Bazaar, a plentiful market
that was set between double rows of broken columns. The merchandise
in all its vanity formed the walls between the columns. A long line
of an arcade stretched in front of me as I walked into Hampi and ascended
a hill where I arrived at some ruins. The morning sun was searing hot
so I paused under a tamarind tree looking off in the reported direction
of the major ruins seeing only desolation, dust and bushes.
Walking on after a while a cloud passed in front of the sun. Adding
to the gift of momentary shade came a lovely sensation. Instead of dust,
I was walking a smooth domed surface like the swirling flow of lava,
black and glistening and bald. In my sandals, I could gently slide skimming
the cool surface. At the top I caught a glimpse of the river, strewn
with huge smooth boulders of glazed deep black rock. The view was stunning
in contrast to a flat landscape, as the river had no vegetation along
its banks. The ancient Hindus chose their temple sites carefully and
I wondered why the Teller princes, Hurrah and Buck, founded their capitol
here __ the site that was to become the most immense Hindu Empire in
the subcontinent's history. The next days among the most solitary and
blissful of my life the answer to that question became exquisitely revealed.
The immense black dome was so smooth and cool that I lied down upon
it and just rolled along its surface and I heard little bone in my back
crack easefully as if aligning my spine, settling its vertebrae in place.
I stood up, took a deep breath, and walked until I came upon the Kings
Balance where a plaque told me that it had originally been a scale that
balanced the king on one side and piles of gold placed on the other
side by loyal subjects. My imagination supplied the weighing pans. The
road ahead led to the Vittala Temple that glimmered like a jeweled heat
wave, a mirage in the haze and dust of this unreal almost moon like
landscape of Central India.
Just near the temple I came upon several huts where a few men crouched
around a smoldering ash pile smoke still rising from the logs that had
been burned. Without much ceremony the men rose and invited me in to
join them The men were unmistakably sadhus, matted hair, ash smeared
faces and thin bodies, wild friendly jackals of men, spiritual mendicants
who gestured to me to sit down to join them in their noon meal. I squatted
with them around the embers among the ash pile, smiled and felt blessed
when they smiled in return. Soon I was the guest among these gaunt and
intense men. The one carrying a trident, put the metal pole down and
bent over me and smeared fingers of ashes upon my forehead and began
reciting a mantra. I recognized it at least in essence. It was given
to travelers about to embark on a journey. Where I sat with my initiators
was considered the threshold of the main entrance to Hampi and the mantra
paid homage to Ganesh and Vishnu invoking the lotus-eyed Vishnu, rider
of the Garuda to give me blessings, wealth and auspiciousness. The first
line of the verse called upon Ganesh, always the first of the deities
to be worshipped at pujas. Opening my eyes upon the completion of the
mantra I saw the meal that had been prepared. The fire that was just
embers now had cooked rice, chapatis, dhal and curried vegetables. I
ate voraciously, smiling all the time so that the muscles of my mouth
ached. Suddenly there came a soft rain, brief and refreshing. When it
ended the sadhus shook their heads bidding me farewell. There was such
sparseness and dignity in their manner.
The temple was an immense, wall-less structure, surrounded by columns
of intricate stonework carved with deities and demons and figures from
the animal kingdom. The ceiling was a soft gold color, flickering like
gossamer in the sun. I ran my hands along the stone, stroking its texture
and then slightly padding it. I heard a (loud) noise and so slapped
the stone and (?) by the column emitted a sound like singing. The columns
it appeared were tuned like pipe organs slapping lightly upward produced
deep tone and stroking downward another sound rang in the columned court.
I wandered round testing their pitches dazzled by the harmonics that
could be evoked.
Nearby stood a huge stone chariot. It had amazing wheels carved of golden
stone, each spoke delicately inlaid with filigree(?) It was said to
be at least four hundred years old and had, no doubt, carried sacred
images in many festival processions. I went down to a small temple that
had sunken partly into the river. The river that winded its way through
Vijayanagar appeared totally black at this point.
A dusty road that curved through a banana orchard went past scattered
ruins and further past a field of sugar cane and through a crumbling
gate and then turned into the barrenness of desert. The road had no
one but me on it, no tourist. I was alone beneath the ruined walls of
Vijayanagar and its fortifications, a civilization that had contained
around a half a million inhabitants. I walked its wonder in solitude.
The small map crumbled in my hand pointed to more ruins ahead: walking
through the heat and dust I felt like an ancient mystic on his vision
quest. I had no concern about food. The rushing river whatever parasites
it might cost me could quench my thirst. I felt invulnerable and blessed
that nobody else had chosen my route. These ruins were unique, somewhat
mysterious. Why had I never found a single book on Vijayanagar? Why
had no other travelers showed up, not anyone from Goa where the notices
had announced a full moon gathering. The empire of Vijayanagar was so
swiftly annihilated in a period of five months, a brutal massacre with
blood sacrifice surpassed in its hasty destruction only by the Spanish
slaughter of the Aztecs.
The lava-like black rocks that only existed along the river intrigued
me. I left the road to cut across the sand to walk again upon those
smooth block rocks by the river. When I arrived, taking off my sandals,
I sat down wondering why these huge black rocks were only along the
river when I fell into a deep refreshing sleep.
Somewhere I could hear the wind playing softly about the columns creating
a gentle music. I saw bands of merchants walking a marketplace full
of silks and gems and spices, fruits and vegetables, glinting in the
sun. I was a merchant from the West who had come from as far as Venice
or Lisbon to breathe the opulent air of India. I wandered into chambers
filled with gold and among inhabitants, who all wore jewels and gilt
ornaments, whether rich or poor and into bazaars of the world's treasures
profuse with flowers and diamonds and rubies and pearls. The city was
wealthy yet peaceful. No weapons existed, or fortresses. This place
of plenitude was a kingdom without violence. No pillage or plunder,
greed or threat. Above what the eye could see were towers that climbed
into the clouds. It was the sense of what I could not see that gave
the dream its fullness and completion. The towers reached into a region
of opposites. My eyes empowered by dream could see or my senses feel
an unkindness that existed far off, an ugliness that might be the other
side of this beautiful city, the decay of growth, the void and paltriness
of riches. In the circle of the city heaven and hell were not so distant
but embraced each other like dancers. It was a mystery to be celebrated.
It was only when the optimism of images merged with the shadow of another
side, ultimately a complementary side, that an image of a village appeared
When I awoke, I could in fact see a village in that distance. I got
up and slid across the rocks and took a path towards that village, which
turned out to be a magnificent structure, the King's Palace, the Lotus
Mahal, the Hall of Victory. The fading figures adorning the buildings
still had an elegance to them and the walls and you could walk up a
three-story- high stairway and wander in and out of doorways in the
buildings and out through the walls. I imagined myself an emperor of
this lost kingdom. I spoke the beauty of the names of these ruins __
the Lotus Mahal, the Dasara Platform, the Khanavami, Dibba, the Zenana
Enclosure along a row of curved stone walls, tall posts set side by
side were the elephant stables. The domes covered spacious round rooms
where each room it was imagined, an elephant had a place of his own.
The trough? of elephants thrilled me, especially elephants enjoying
their solitude. Like with the musical columns I ran my hands along the
walls, whispered so I could hear the domes echo my words. Behind the
Palace along friezes were rows of beautifully carved elephants, trunk
to tail, in long procession. In a while I came upon mounds of recently
dug earth, and a huge rectangular, deep very deep hole, built of carefully
cut stone. My map identified this place as the Queen's Bath. I sat along
the rim of this exposed emptiness, imagining it overflowing with the
sparkling coins of water that a sun filled sky made. My kingdom had
beautiful women who bathed, splashed, and played in the water. For a
moment I was a benevolent king who had several hundred wives. I drifted
off, under the host of Indian sky, dreaming of ancient elegance and
elephants and beautiful bathing women.
From a distance, it came __ an unwelcome human voice. It took me a moment
to exit my trance long enough to hear someone shouting, calling out
to me, calling my name. Blood rushed to my head, my nerves paced frantically.
Someone, probably someone I knew from Goa was calling my name. "Richard"
It was distant but getting closer. "Richard". I was spotted,
no longer alone and I panicked. I looked towards the direction where
the voice came and I could see a dim figure coming along the road, unrecognizable
in the dust and haze. No matter it recognized me.
The urgency to flee seized me. I backed away from the Queen's Bath and
began walking hurriedly towards the path that would take me across the
crumbling bridge that sunk into the cane fields. From there I couldn't
be seen and could follow the river to the black rocks where I'd find
a cave. It would be very easily done. I looked back only one more time.
My thoughts sunk into dullness. Why couldn't I see who it was? Perhaps
I needed glasses. I'd go to Bombay and see an eye doctor. Who was it
that came to break my trance and end my solitude? I began to worry that
my eyes were adjusting too much to only what I really wanted to see.
Would I return to America only to find the light muted and everything
more mundane, several shades less interesting than what my eyes beheld
Soon I was far out of sight of any intruder and as I began walking along
the river and those cool black rocks and exploring the boulders for
caves, I relaxed slowly, then completely. In fact I felt slightly ridiculous
in my absolute attachment to solitude. But this place is so perfect
to be alone in, my mind argued. It was after all a lost kingdom, an
abandoned glorious realm, a jewel hidden, almost a secret place, not
yet fully discovered.
As my peace returned and I lied down under a darkening sky preparing
for its full moon that night, I vowed to stay as long as necessary even
without food to absorb the grace and beauty of this remote paradise.
I fell asleep even before the full moon could stare at me. I awoke at
dawn and enjoyed the texture of the morning sky. My heart was full.
I sat up upon the black rocks that had been my bed with the river running
through them, first black then whitening into a sweet steady flow. I
looked down upon the ruins of Vijayanagar, the columns and palaces and
the layered temples and my brilliant kingdom dusted deep red by the
rising sun sprawled across the horizon as if embracing the whole enchanted
© Richard Meyers Sept 2004
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