On the bus to Badami, a little girl sat across me, on her grandfather’s lap, looking out of the window. The window was too high for her. I smiled at them, and the grandfather coaxed her to come talk to me. She smiled sheepishly and nodded a no. After a little persuasion, she ran up to me, handed me chocolate candies,some of what she was eating, and ran back to hide behind her grandfather. Behind them sat a school girl, in salwar kameez and dupatta with pleated hair, three horizontal lines of Vibhuti running across her forehead. As the bus crossed the small villages, most of the people, children and elders alike, had the same horizontal lines drawn. Later in the day at the Banashankari temple, I saw neat stacks of Vibhuti. It had been prepared by burning cow dung cakes with some roots.
As the landscape outside changed from villages to farms, I crossed decorated oxen with bejeweled horns and colorful ribbons. And for the ones missing the jewellery, the horns were painted in flamboyant colors to match the color of cart. As the clouds loomed promising of bountiful rains nearby, the farmers were busy preparing for the monsoon, oxen tilling the land. The road passed a bazaar in progress, where men clad in white dhoti and kurta, topped with a Gandhi cap bought and sold cattle and other commodities. An interesting little shop outside sold plain ribbons to more intrinsically woven ox horn decorations.
Badami is a small village at the foot of the hills. Known earlier as Vatapi, the name probably came from the almond color of the hills. Legend has it that the city got its name from the demon brother Vatapi and Ilvala, who used to trick mendicants and kill them, until sage Agatsya came and outsmarted the brothers, thus killing Vatapi and relieving the town of its woes. The man-made lake at the foot of the hills got its name thus ‘Tirtha Agatsya’. Believed once to have healing powers, it is now a place where the women wash clothes.The two hills were named after the demon brothers.
These sandstone rocks at Badami invites climbers from far and wide throughout the year. That is how I had first heard of the place, from a group of climbers. Over the years, natural forces ,and, manmade, alike had carved out caves in these rocks. I sat in one, overlooking the lake cradled between the hills, as a pleasant breeze ruffled my hair.
The sun set and it was soon time for dinner. Difficult to find a better place to eat nearby, I called up my latest acquaintance from the day, an engineering student (Shankar) heading back home, to ask for suggestions. And as a bout of good luck, got invited to his place for breakfast. The morning meal turned out to be an elaborate affair consisting of idli, dosa, puri bhaji and sweet. And while it was enough to last the entire day, his mom invited again for lunch which would have been foolish to turn down. An even grander affair than breakfast, it consisted of a variety of dishes including the Bagalkot specialities of Bajra and Jowar roti which looked more like papad(and was even sold on streets like fried snacks are). The meals, both breakfast and lunch, typically ended with banana. Such a warm welcome in so short an acquaintance! And when it was time to leave, as I touched his parent’s feet, I promised I would come visit them again.
The culture, while so welcoming, has its own unique and sometimes funny aspects of it also. Opposite the Banashankari temple, 5 km from Badami, lay a few days old raft made of the kernel of the banana plant, with a wilted garland on it. Shankar informed that when a child was named, the ceremony consisted of floating the child in the raft from one end of the pond to the other! I tried contemplating the idea, but it didn’t seem very logical to float a baby alone in it. Maybe a boatman accompanied him.
After Banashankari, Pattadkal looked majestic in the backdrop of dark and heavy clouds, a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site, some 20 odd kilometres from Badami. Famous for its experimentation of temple architecture, it housed 10 major temples belonging to North Indian and Dravidian style of architecture. Etched on the walls of these temples were numerous famous and lesser known stories of Mahabharata, Ramayana, Panchatantra etc.
By the time we came back to Badami, a slight drizzle started. The rain drops created ripples on the Agatsya Tirtha and the washed rocks donned a splendid rich color. A group of young monkeys ,at the base of the cave temples, played catch; while the elder ones watched them. The notice board read ‘Beware of monkeys’, the monkeys did not look in a mood to scare the people, probably, the weather had a pacifying effect on them too!
The rock-cut caves were dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Jain Tirthankaras. It was a marvel how the entire structure was carved out in a single rock and had no joins, way back in the 6th century without any rock cutting equipment. The 18 armed Natraja, the dancing idol of Ganesha, the sitting idol of Anantha Sheshnag are structures unique to Badami. The third cave was the grandest of them all and had traces of rock painting which has weathered away in years.
As the trip came to an end, I sat watching out of the window, dark clouds looming over sugar cane fields. The puncture of the tyres of a vehicle ahead created a traffic jam as other vehicles trying to cut the line added in the confusion. Soon it started pouring, and as the rain drops streaked the bus window, I squinted my eyes, taking in the lovely fields distorted in rains looking no less than a painting!