Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Mysooru Mallige and other musings

     Summer was expected to be hot, but the ‘highest temperatures in eight years’ was the last endurance test we were willing to abide by at the end of a hectic spell of changes and reorientation. And so we decided to run – literally.  
     My parents were headed westwards on work and though we desperately needed some rest, anything seemed better than having to tolerate the mercury in Bangalore. So we joined them. And as, bit by bit, the smog of a city bursting at the seams gave way to wider and roomier stretches of relaxed and less aggressive countryside, our stresses also started ebbing. By the time we rolled, unaccustomedly unhindered, into laid-back and even (as a friend says) languid Mysore, we were breathing easy again. 
     And then we stepped out of the car.
     Ah! The mirth of deception! The Sun seethed as if avenging a lost victory to the winds of past years. Large open waters sighed their vapours away and the rest of earthly life simply gave in.  
     But thanks to a friend and his timely arrangements, we were well roosted in a quiet little nook comfortably appointed for an indefinite period of stay. As balm against the vicious Sun (which sneaked everywhere) was the lush green and well-watered roof-high palm enclave that offered serene shade and cooling to the dwelling quarters, ensuring the maximum relief possible. 
     And while the IPL took charge of all evening plans and the lung power of our little fellow, the itinerary was quickly made to cover the days. Though work carried on for us, father and son set out to beat the odds and make a worthy holiday of our ‘escape’. 
     First to summon us from our ‘three top cultural stops’, was Mysore’s jewel, one of the most visited tourist spots in India after the Taj Mahal and the official residence of the erstwhile Wodeyar monarchy. 
     Set in the middle of Mysore’s din and hustle of hawkers, stands the majestic Mysore Palace. The boys had been briefed to look out for the pillars, the silver and gold, and the art along the halls and ceilings, but I had my doubts on how my cricket-crazy munchkin would take to such fine interludes. Hakoonah matata, they say rightly, for he came back bounding with facts and figures and eyebrows so arched, you’d think architect Henry Irwin had sketched his strokes even there! Catch his musings at: http://crishmish.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/mysore-medley-i/

     My husband, on the other hand, having looked at celebrated western monuments and art over the decades, was dumbfounded. He was bewildered as to why in all the years he had stopped over at Mysore, it had never occurred to him to pay the palace a visit.  
     The sapping heat and the bare-foot trek along its length and breadth did not dampen his enthusiasm when he called it a “temple to art, engineering and secularism”.  
     He was utterly fascinated with the 3-D multi-perspective paintings which are virtually unknown to the rest of the world. In fact, the closest he could compare them to was Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’ which “western curators only understood in recent decades”. He raves about the multi-cultural architecture, the gold central dome, Italian marble, ivory inlays, gold and silver guilding, Scottish iron beams and pillars, English tiles, Belgian stained glass, the royal throne that is made of over 200 kgs of pure gold and traces back to the Pandavas and the 96,000 bulbs that light up the palace at night time.  
     Be it for the inventory of materials from around the world, the wealth of the rulers and their impeccable taste for the best in life or the more modern and recent Wodeyars’ celebrated stables that once housed 24 Rolls Royces and Bentleys amongst a host of others including the likes of Daimlers, Delahayes and Lancias, the Mysore Palace and its heritage stands alone in its history of Kings from ancient times to the modern day.  

      There is a delectable story about the ‘lesson’ in etiquette that a famous maker of luxury cars was taught to by the Mysore Maharaja. ‘Doing a Mysore’ is a phrase coined by the Rolls Royce factory in honour of the custom of batches of seven Rolls Royces that got delivered to the Mysore palace at any given time. In that vein, an unfortunate sales manager at Rolls Royce, failed to recognise the Maharaja when he visited the showroom and, worse, slighted him.
The monarch simply placed his customary order of seven motors and then used the cars, upon delivery, to collect the city’s garbage. Of course, he ensured that the car company was, publically, notified of how and how much he was enjoying being their patron! And while Rolls Royce remains red-faced for that misdemeanour, my little son calls the Maharaja, a ‘cool dude’.  
  There was nothing cool on the other side of our masonry, though. Two more days of chasing reluctant painters and shirking cleaners, more sweat, even more exasperation and soothing curd rice and fish-fry later, I sent the boys packing to the land of leggy long necked giraffes, ivory tusked pachyderms and chest thumping gorillas.

Mission II:

Mysore Zooone of the oldest zoos in the world. 
     What started off in 1892 on ten landscaped acres of palace land is now a sprawling 245 acre sanctuary for many species of animals and birds. A feast for children aged between 0 to 100 years and over, this was a veritable day out with a host of delightful moments to cherish

Get a true child’s eye view of parrot propaganda and tiger trails at: http://crishmish.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/mysore-medley-ii/
     The painting at the house was all but complete and the Kannada New Year was upon us – reason to rejoice. It was Ugadi. With bevu-bella well and truly swallowed whole, we wished happiness and sweetness upon the world.  With everyone enjoying a day off work and venerating their deities, we welcomed the day off too. We could not have hoped for a better day to wind our way up the famous hill in the region and pay obeisance to the resident Goddess who keeps her watch upon all of Mysore from her summit.

     As a family, on an auspicious day, we were at our last stop for the season – Chamundi Hills. As the legend goes, the destroyer of the demons Chanda and Munda, Chamundeshwari, was called upon by the Gods to put an end to the atrocities of Mahishasura, the demon king of the land. And it is on these hills that she seeked him out and ended their misery.
     An imposing statue of the asura, sword held high in the right hand and a serpent in the left hand, stands prominently, to the right of the path leading to the shrine instituted in honour of Chamundi, his slayer.
     While the drive up mesmerises with its enchanting views of the entire city of Mysore, it is quite a treat to be able to spot the famous landmarks of the city we know so well. 
     Traditionally and for those trekking on foot, the speciality here is the 1008 steps that lead from the foothills right up to the Chamundi temple 3000 feet above. 

     The devout still climb all the steps in vow or reverence and the health conscious have instilled these steps into their fitness routine. Like in the city, even these hills provide a fair  variety of tourists – cultural, religious and the merely curious – vendors and lovebirds. And though the climb is not as steep or dramatic as some other pilgrimages in India, there is something special to take in at every view point and every bend along the 12 km road up.  Unmissable, though, at every turn, is the tall and delicately carved temple gopuram that beckons from the skyline.   
     Our only halt before the top was the splendid Nandi, at the 800th of the 1008 steps.

     The vehicle of Lord Shiva, this magnificient bull sits carved onto a monolith some 16 feet tall and 25 feet long. If it is of tremendous religious significance to the devotee, it inspires reverence of a different kind in those with an eye for excellence and craftsmanship.

The Nandi, black and beautiful, is a testimony to the timelessness of art. Through ages of weathering and coating with various elements of nature and worship, this monolith stirs the soul. Words cannot describe the passion that creates such life-like forms.

The intricacy of design, the flawless artistry and the passionate work of a steady and attentive hand, live their clear lines along each bead, each link and each bell on each row so perfectly sculpted, as lucidly today as they did when first set on this rock, more than 350 years ago! Truly humbling. 
     And in that solemn state of awe, we ascended further to gain darshan of the devi that protects us all. The vendors showcased their wares around the temple complex and we finally got our  fair share of white jasmine –  the famously fragrant and gorgeous Mysuroo mallige.  

  In earnest contrast, were the cows and bullocks, roaming loose, eager to be fed ripe bananas by equally eager worshippers. My son took the delightful privilege of feeding one too. His upbeat account is on: http://crishmish.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/mysore-medley-iii/  
     Oblivious to the melee outside, the arathi carried on inside the temple walls before the heavy doors were thrown open to the waiting minions.  

    The priests within, kept a tight vigil on the crowds thronging to get a glimpse of the beautiful statue and pray for the Goddess’s blessings upon them and theirs. The stone walls and pillars from another time, stood in stoic silence, as witness to each new foot-fall upon the ancient steps leading into the sanctum sanctorum, deep inside.  

     For those of us who understood the significance of this shrine and believe in its mythology, it was a surreal experience. For the rest, it was an invaluable piece of culture. Back in the open, for all, the night views from that height were spectacular. We took our time to breathe in the clean and crisp mountain air and leisurely enjoy the sight that glittered expansively below us.

     Again, the wind down the hill enthralled us until we were hit by the bright lights of oncoming traffic. Our tranquil state suitably disturbed, we were back to the navigator telling us where to go. On the city roads, it was still rather relaxed. But that was because we were still in Mysore.  

     Just another day of peace and relative quiet and we were hurtling into the shock of choking traffic and blinding lights – my respite being the rerun of our break on this blog post, slumping into my pillow and clicking away at my laptop, into the freshly rained upon Bangalore night.