To recap: On our first trip to this immensely diverse country, we sought to “avoid” the ubiquitously habitual trappings of Christmas & imagined it would be great to spend that holiday time on the beach instead… in Goa. That was before we learned that Goa had been a Portuguese colony & thus is the most Christian part of India! So much for poorly informed assumptions! However, we were introduced by James & Joel to their friends, John & George, who live in London but have spent winters in Goa for many years. They welcomed us & found a wonderful room for us at a hotel on the beach nearby… also inviting us to join their holiday party one evening. Such connections are gold to travel & we are indeed well blessed!
But the real gift of that encounter was to discover that they were archaeologists working at a site called Hampi. In fact, they have written several important books about what is now a World Heritage Site! I was entranced by their photos showing a sere stone landscape reminding me of Sedona, Arizona,
Disappointed we could not accommodate a visit in 2005, I’ve continued to hold that dream. While Stephen was not quite so enthusiastic as I, with his only slightly reluctant indulgence we included it in the planning of this trip. I similarly indulged his desire to visit the experimental city of Auroville, which was easy enough because I have a connection with there as well. As it happens, he fell in love with Hampi too, despite that it is not easily accessible… a 7-hour drive from Bangalore!
The natural organic chthonic state is quite simply perfect… yet… when approached with honor & skill to be worked into the aesthetic functions of architecture & sculpture, it attains yet more of perfection.
We met our guide Madhulika at dawn to begin this adventure. She ultimately proved to be invaluable to our understanding of this sprawl of ruins & spiritual history… which by the 16th century was the second largest city in the world, next to Peking. After generations of defense behind miles of stone walls, it was rather thoroughly demolished in 1656 by the invading Moguls. Only a few miles of those walls remain along the hills surrounding even fewer of the structures. Still, the place holds a intriguing, haunting beauty for me.
I’ve shared other strong encounters with such rock in earlier posts, particularly our experiences walking the ramparts of forts two years ago in Croatia see my blog here> Plus, of course my history in Sedona, where I consider those Red Rocks to be my best “gurus”.
While we were making the drive, Madhulika began to introduce us to her specialty of studying Hindu mythology. She is native to Hyderabad, studied in the US, earning a PhD in agriculture from Texas A&M. Seeking healing she has returned to her roots in a deeply personal way. She makes herself quite informed about the plethora of deities & gods in the Hindu panoply. Of course, as we continue to learn, that vast story has many local complexities & individual complexions. I can easily admit to some healthy reserve & even skepticism concerning such things, having left my own rather shallow roots growing-up a Kansas Baptist & sustaining an abundance of New-Age zaniness during my years in Sedona. Even so, I hold a wide equally healthy curiosity for all sorts of beliefs.
The history of Indian thought is so ancient & rich I cannot simply dismiss it without knowing I would cheat myself of much more than I can afford… if it can be acquired with a certain reason-ability. Madhulika soon proved the possibility of that. I certainly appreciate experiential spirituality. She has a grasp of the myriad stories & their cultural variations which form the over-richness which has mostly puzzled me enough to never have tried to address what seems to guarantee some sort of mental indigestion.
The Greek myths have been distilled enough into English that I can play there with some facility after many years of rather shallow academic encounter. I’ve only the most cursory scan of even the roots of the old European belief systems which I grok closer as my own, re-owning the word “pagan,” which simply means “of the fields” i.e. “not of the church,” whose fathers, fearing the organic female energy, cut down the groves of the sacred organic sites upon which they then built their stone forests of cathedrals… I am a feminist organic gardener happily proving the more genuine, lovingly creative food of earth-goddess energy. Thus I hold a satisfyingly curious appreciation of all sides!
We arrived in time to settle into our hotel & refresh ourselves a bit after the first leg of what will become several thousands of miles being driven on the sketchy roads of a country only recently being brought into modernity. After a late lunch we were met by the “auto” driver who would be facilitating our mobility from the hotel on the outskirts to all the scattered points of interest… learning that we had used a “car” for the long distance, but an “auto” is a three-wheeled motorized rickshaw, roofed with a canopy covering seats designed for three, but often used to transport entire families… sitting on a bench between those seats & crammed atop each other! Rock Shiva generously shared the front seat with Madulika, while answering questions which proved his intelligence about history as well as the logistics of route, the times of day to avoid the crowds & to catch the best light. His English was quite good in spite that he’d had to begin working before finishing his education in order help furnish dowries for two sisters. His is not an uncommon story as we began collecting those among the numerous drivers of both kinds of vehicles in which we would be traveling over the next weeks.
Our well-named Rock Shiva took us to the base of Malyavanta hill for a first walking exploration to orient ourselves to the royal center in the early part of a sunset. Too easily I confuse this landscape of rounded erosion in warmly colored granite with the red sandstone of Sedona… ignoring the huge difference of hardness, which is the strength protecting the age of this rock work… & the effort of its carving. How many feet before Stephen’s have trod these steps with so little sign of wear?
Up through walls built atop & around the huge natural boulders…
Through one of the gates…Where we begin to ponder the carvings which will become frequently puzzling: are they signs of some sort?I do not need to be so literally informed about such historical details because the simple visual beauty has so excited my imagination to envision that there were once many more structures, undoubtedly colored with the trappings of life: warmth of wood, patina of metal objects & colors of fabrics… canopies & draperies, not to mention the clothing of such an obviously rich culture…Some of those boulders have been moved by more the recent power of gravity… old encountering the geological ancient!
We watched until the cows began to come home, being sacred, they have first choice of any & all places, from a temple porch to straddling both lanes of any road.
Many of the small votive carvings are Linga, the symbols of the male property of regeneration… the phallus. In these cases, several of those, contained in the yonic enclosure of the female aspect… this symbol of fertility requires both… resulting in the spilling forth of life down a spout into the world. Inside all this fertility… perhaps it takes half more atop a billion souls to help us learn how to live successfully on this planet. I watch in my mind’s eye the commonality of traffic on many a contemporary street on this sub-continent, where some practice of tolerance becomes essential inside constantly momentary impatience toward the mutual goal of any forward movement. Probably toward the universal goal. Street smarts are essential anywhere!
Beyond the relative calm of these ruins one looks over into another version of worship… the huge temples built somewhat later… which we will visit tomorrow. ‘Curious, what a change in musculature, or perhaps mostly in attitude, a century or two can make.
Some of what we see may well be restoration or reconstruction… still there is so much to be learned from the geometry & craft of what has stood for centuries… or perhaps not…Wild varieties of discrepancy abound… which/what is the older than ???So, I spent three days in a deep encounter of the stones of Hampi, along with an introduction to the Hindu stories while we visited temples, both “of the landscape”… being those deliciously open structures… as well as the interior depths of the many more “active” temples which were so important to our guide. I enlarge myself as I listen to the complexity of these stories… while I contimur to relish my preferred spiritual practice of sitting quietly with the landscape, which from the beginning, informs all the rest of it.
There is so much more to share after one’s first sunset in Hampi… step over a next threshold into more!