HYDERABAD: Monsoon in India is considered an ideal time to celebrate. For travellers like me, to celebrate is to travel.
I find travel in the monsoon most romantic and soothing to the soul. Especially when you have nothing else to do but look out of the glass window, be it from a car or a train.
It is always a pleasure to watch the quintessential Indian monsoon: swaying emerald green paddy fields nourished by the rain; the aroma of corn being roasted on charcoal; people with steaming cups of chai huddled around a wayside shop.
How about watching sheets of rain-washing the timeless boulders of the Deccan Plateau? Yes, I am talking about Telangana, the youngest state in India, where travel is highly rewarding as it boasts of many unexplored gems in its vast tablelands.
For many Hyderabadis, the most popular weekend getaway is Warangal, which is less than 150 kms. It can be reached within four hours on a smooth road (NH 163), which is tempting enough. Thus started my journey into the rain, into a historically rich land!
After about two hours on the road (and a sumptuous breakfast at Bhongir, which is on the way), I reached my first stop- Kolanupaka village. The famous Kulpakji Temple of Swethambara Jains, said to be 2,000 years old is situated in this ancient village.
Jainism was prevalent in the Telugu land even before 4th century and Kolanupaka flourished as a prominent Jain centre during the Rashtrakuta era. It is said that around 20 Jain inscriptions were found in this region.
The temple was in ruins for a very long time and it was renovated in the ‘90s. A completely new temple was built around the existing tower, while preserving the old “garbhagriha”.
The beautiful and ornate structure is made of red stone from Dholpur (Rajasthan) and the pillars are carved out of marble.
The main temple houses three idols of Rishabha, Neminath and Mahavir (1st, 22nd and 24th Jain Tirthankaras). The statue of lord Mahavir is the most impressive of all, carved out of a single jade (a semi precious stone), while that of lord Rishabha, also known as Adinath is carved out of a green stone: it was historically popular as Manikya Swami. Legend says that Mandodari (wife of Ravana and the queen of Srilanka) originally worshipped this particular idol.
There are eight idols of various other Tirthankaras, each built with their own unique style. The statue of lord Mahavira has been carved with the image of a lion, while there is a bull on the pedestals of lord Rishabha. A cobra with multi heads has been carved as an umbrella over the statue of lord Parshawnath, which is now known as Balaji. There is also a black stone idol of Padmavathy, the consort of lord Venkateshwara - this may be attributed to the local South Indian influence.
One of the most beautiful elements of the temple is the “meenakari” (marble inlay work) crafted by artisans specially brought from Agra.
You can see the uncanny resemblance to similar work present in the world famous Taj Mahal. Designs are etched on marble and filled with colourful lac; the beautiful floral designs are simply stunning! The delicately carved marble trelliswork is wrapped around stained glass figures on the top.
Overwhelmed by the serenity of the temple, I sat down on the cool marble floor to absorb the positive energy that was present all around.
The mildly glowing lamps; the lovely fragrance of sandalwood; the gentle temple bells rung occasionally; the sing song chanting in “Ardhamagadhi” that is used in Jain prayers and rituals for its sonorous appeal. In the distance were heard the bird calls, making my experience surreal. It was “Amavasya”, considered sacred as lord Mahavira attained nirvana on that day. I was asked to participate in the “Abhishek” and “Aarthi”. What a fulfilling experience it was!!
Amidst chants, the small silver idol was ritually washed with water, milk and a mixture of sandalwood and saffron; the spiritually appealing ritual was simple, devoid of any ostentation.
One has to be fully and properly dressed to enter the temple. No leather goods, including belts, are allowed. Only those who wear puja clothes (one of the Jain norms) are allowed into the sanctum sanctorum. The temple has guesthouses for their Jain devotees. Free food is served every day. The temple funds are also donated towards the development of Kolanupaka village like drinking water, tractors etc.
Nearby is the Someswara Temple built by the Chalukyas, almost 800 years ago. The ruins around are as enchanting as the pillars of the main temple ornate with the rich, trademark sculpture of the Kakatiyas. It is a place that transports you to times bygone.
The Archeological Museum is located along the corridors of the temple courtyard with several wonderful sculptures dating back to 10th - 14th centuries that were found in this region. Some were mounted while some were strewn around the compound.
A life size statue of Mahavira, the customary “Dwajasthamba”, a three-tiered pillared structure form the entrance to the temple while a well decorated black stone “Nandi” adorns the courtyard.
Note worthy are some miniature sculptures of stories from “Ramayana” and “Dasavataras” of “Vishnu” (rare in a Shiva shrine) and the “Sahasra Linga”, where hundreds of small Lingas are carved on the main “Shiva Linga”. The ruined shrines around the temple reflect the faded Kakatiya glory.
I sat there for a long time, pondering over the lost splendour of our rich heritage.
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; she blogs at vijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)