Sunday, December 28, 2008

64 Yoginis of Hirapur, orissa- Introduction

I recently visited the 64 Yoginis Temple at Hirapur, near Bhubaneswar in Orissa (India).

What we find near the gate is a summary on the temple put up by the Archaeological survey of India and it goes like this- Locally known as Mahamaya Mandir, this hypaethral shrine facing the east was discovered in 1953 by Kedarnath Mahapatra of the Orissa State Museum. The circular shrine, measuring 27.4 m in circumference and 2.4 m in height, having frontal projection, resembles a Gauri-patta in appearance. Made of locally available coarse sandstone, it harbours images of Yoginis standing on different mounts, postures, and each exhibiting a distinct coiffure. The image of the ten-armed presiding deity of the pitha, worshipped as Mahamaya is the largest among the Yoginis. Whereas in the centre, exists a lately restored Chandi Mandap displaying four shaivaite figures and yoginis, the entire delicately carved imagery notable for feminine beauty is carved in Chlorite brought from elsewhere. The projected niches on the exterior of the edifice are studded with icons of Nava Katyainis made of sand-stone. It is assignable to circa ninth Century A.D.

After going through the same, I did not know what to expect. I took in all the sights from the compound. There was a village pond outside the compound. A small temple near the gate had a statue of Gopinath (one form of Lord Vishnu) make of black Chlorite and there was a circular stone structure towards the northern side of the compound.

As I moved closer to the temple, I saw a circular stone structure with a single door made of laterite.


I took a stroll on the outside perimeter before entering the inner sanctum. Once I entered, I was almost taken aback from the structure of the temple. It was a temple open to the sky, with a small platform in the middle with four pillars. The inner perimeter wall had small Yogini statues made of black Chlorite. I was suddenly surrounded by Yoginis on all sides and had a strange feeling.



I had never seen anything like this before. The time spent was worth it and induced me to do extensive reseach on the topic. I am sharing the details on the 64 Yogini Temple. This historical site is a must-see during one's lifetime and I am glad that I have.

How to reach there: There are two approach roads to the temple, both converging some 500 mtrs away from the temple on a semi-tarred road.
a) Road 1: Keep going on the Bhubaneswar – Puri Road. Once you see Dhauli Stupa, keep an eye on the left side. There is a distinct board showing the road directions.

b) Road 2: This is a more convenient route. Take the Tankapani (pronounced as Ton-co-pany) Road from Ravi -Talkies Square (RTS). Keep going straight to Gangua (also called Bhargavi by some accounts) river (This would come after you have crossed Rajarani Temple on the right-600 mtrs from RTS, Bhaskareshwar Temple on the left-3 or 4 Kms from RTS on the left, Megheshwar Temple-5 Kms from RTS on left, Sai Temple-7 Kms from RTS on left and another 2 to 3 Kms through the fields). Cross the bridge over the river and take the immediate right. Keep following the road signs or ask locally for the temple.

What time to go there: Go around 0900 hours IST. This is the time when the morning Pujas would be over and the people would be there to guide you. Non-monsoon time of the year is good. Avoid the monsoons. There is a pond nearby which gets flooded during the monsoons. Even the Gangua River gets flooded during the monsoons if the downpour is heavy. Durga Puja time would be crowded.

If you are a photographer: Carry an Ultra Wide Angle lens and a Circular Polariser. A 4 GB card would be handy, if u intend to capture all the Yoginis and the surroundings.

Now the details from the research:
1. Type of Temple: First of all why is it called a Hypaethral temple. Hypaethral Temple is an ancient temple with no roof. (From the Latin hypaethrus, from Ancient Greek hupaithros hupo- under + aithr, sky, air.) It has instead a hypaethros or hypaethral opening. It was described by the Roman architect Vitruvius in his treatise “On Architecture” written for the emperor Caesar Augustus probably about 15 BC. This term is in distinction from cleithral, which is covered with a roof.

2. Who built this temple: Some suggest that the Yogini temple at Hirapur was commissioned by Queen Hira, consort of Shanti-Kara II, and that the village was named after her. Why a queen and whats the significance of the socio-cultural setup then is what intrigued me.

Pls allow me a small digression here into the socio-cultural threads of circa 9th Century:
As per the then religious beliefs, Lord Vishnu consorted with Bhumi, Goddess Earth and a son was born. He was called Naraka, also called Bhauma. That the identification of the son was done from the maternal side suggested strong Matriarchal society. Orissa was ruled by the Bhaumakara Dynasty between 736-950 A.D. and during this time, 6 queens ruled the region with full powers and all sovereign rights, where the lineage was passed from mother queen to daughter queen. (In fact, in Agni Purana, one of the later Bhaumakara kings cited that he was the descendant of Bhagyadatta, son of Naraka and a yavana-meaning a foreigner).

During the initial part of their rule, Mahayana Buddhism was almost the state religion, yet members of their dynasty showed great tolerance towards Brahmanical Hinduism and ultimately they became hindus. This period of Orissan history was marked for the gradual incorporation of tantrism into both Buddhism and Hinduism and by the rise of tantric cults in the region (Brighenti 2001, 89).

Although the religious policy pursued by the Bhauma-kara kings and queens during their two centuries of rule over Orissa was aimed at conciliating tantric Buddhism, the dynasty's original faith, with Brahmanical Hinduism, their predilection would appear to be for the heterodox left-handed (vamacara) tantric. The presiding deity of some of the major temples built in Bhubaneswar under their patronage was the terrible Camunda, connected in all probability with the occult blood rites typical of the Kapalika sect. The influence of tantric Buddhism upon Brahmanical Hinduism was probably more strongly felt at Jajpur, the center of power of the Bhauma-kara kings, than at Bhubaneswar. Jajpur was a pilgrimage center, the site of the shrine of Viraja, the oldest and most eminent goddess in Orissa, whose worship was documented in the great Indian epic the Mahabharata (third century B.C.E. to third century C.E.). Located near the important monastic teaching establishments of tantric Buddhism in the nearby hills, the rituals at Viraja must have been influenced by their practices. Vajrayana Buddhist and Hindu tantric iconographies and rituals from this period appear to be too closely entangled to even begin to discern who influenced whom. What we can determine at this stage of our inquiry is that both were part of an emerging, influential tantric cultural climate in Orissa. (Gadon, Elinor W., 2002, Probing the mysteries of the Hirapur Yoginis) .

3. Temple Structure and details: There are sixty yoginis on the inner wall oblong niches encircling the devi mandap. The largest statue is that of 'Mahamaya'. The mandap is adorned with 4 chlorite statues - on the southern side, two statues of ten-armed "Swacchanda Bhairava" (Blissful fearsome Shiva) and on the eastern side, the four-armed "Ajaikapada Bhairava" (Shiva standing on one leg), and one statue of ten-armed Swacchanda Bhairava all with urdhvalinga (erect phallus or idyphallic). The western and northern faces of the mandap contain three more chlorite yoginis. 61st of the original 64 yogini statues is missing and I found no record on the same as I write this report. The outer walls are adorned with 9 Katyayanis. Katyayani, as per Skanda Puarana, is the the mother of Skanda. So the 9 katyanis are 9 different forms of the Mother goddess. On the entrance, there are two statues on the inner walls, and are identified as Kala and Mahakala. This part, I am not sure of because Kala and Mahakala, are understood to be the energy forms of Lord Shiva. (I shall try and throw some more light when I discuss each of the energy forms in detail) .There is a multi-purpose stage outside the temple.

4. Why 64 Yoginis:This part was pretty intriguing. Why 64 and not any other number? Some immediate thoughts that came to mind: Double helix has a 64. Kamasutra has 64 positions. After detailed research, some pointers made the picture slightly clearer but nothing can be clear 100% because of lack of any documents from that era that I can refer to. It was said that the tantric traditions were so hush hush and sometime grotesque, that it instilled fear in the common man. And as the brahmanical hinduism took centerstage, many of these documents were either hidden or destroyed.

Now coming to points of reseach and why 64: The symbol of number 64 is a product of 8 directions and replication of each one in the asthamandala/ asthaka-cakra (eight points on the cosmic circuit). This theoretic or esoteric interpretation is explained in the Agni Purana, AgP (52; 146) that prescribes that one goddess must preside overe ach group of the 8 goddesses. The primordial number of eight matrikas (mother goddesses) symbolises the condensation (sankoca) of the cosmic rhythm, and the number 64, resulting to the emergence of the matri-chakra or matrimandala represent its expansion (purna vikas). This pattern is clear by the geometrical arrangement of the 64 Yoginis. Thus, the number eight and sixty-four are the two phases of creation. Following the framework of the AgP,4, the placement of 64 Yoginis would be arranged into an Eight-petal (lotus) Yantra where each petal places eight forms of Yogini. Each of the petals is ascribed to a specific direction; and each direction is under the control of one of the eight forms of Matrikas : Brahmi (east) , Maheshvari (southeast), Kaumari (south), Vaishnavi (southwest), Varahi (west), Aindri (northwest), Camunda (north), andNarasimhi (northeast). The identities of Yoginis and their characteristics are not very clear, however most of them are place-specific or task-specific. I found that there are atleast 6 such lists of yoginis all with different names of 64 yoginis but all of them stressing the singular point that all of them are forms of the Great Goddess.

Similarly, there are 8 groups of 8 Bhairavas making the total number of 64 Bhairavas as per the puranas (hindu vedic scripts).

EDIT: Corrections made here...

Gopinath Temple near the entrance...


Similarly, u would notice that there are 9 Katyayanis on the outer perimeter of the temple again a 9. Still so many questions hover around...

In my next blog, I will try and discuss the details of the 64 yoginis and the bhairavas with images.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ranganthittu Diaries

Last Sunday, 5-6 of us photogs decided to give Ranganthittu a peek to see if the birds have started coming in. So as per the plan, I picked up Nagaraj (Fellow member of the Bangalore Photography Club and Bangalore Weekend Shoots) and Adi (fellow member of Bangalore Weekend shoots) at Satellite Bus Station in Bangalore on the Mysore Road at around 0430 hours. The idea was to reach the sanctuary by 0600 hours and take the first boat in. 4-5 more guys were supposed to join us there.
It was little early to find breakfast on the road. As we got nearer to the Ranganthittu junction on Mysore Road, Nagaraj mentioned that once we get in the Ranganthittu approach road, getting breakfast would be a dream. So, we decided to scout out some locations on the highway itself for some hot idlis. There was a shabby looking joint just beside the road where avaialbility of hot idlis and Vada was confirmed by the hotel owner.
And hot they were, albeit the plates came inj slightly late. Would the sunrise just pass us by as we have breakfast here...this was the lingering thought as I enjoyed the hot breakfast. The sunrise was good but was not spectacular that day, somehow probably becuase of the clouds and the fog.

After the breakfast as we entered the Ranganthittu bird Sanctuary approach road, just a few metres away, was parked a blue Maruti Zen. Unusual parking place...So, naturally, as I looked around, I saw a photographer immersed in taking a shot. After his shot, we shared the pleasantries. Gurudeep, he said, his name is. He was also there for the birds and said he has been doing this for quite a while.We decided to club uo to get a good bargain during the boat ride. He seemed to know quite a lot about the birds (has been birding! for 2-3 years now !!). Knowledge always acts like a magnet. I started soaking in as much information as I could on birding. I had to. I had very meagre knowledge on birding. I had gone birding only twice before and both in Bangalore- one in Hebbal Lake and one in Lalbagh. And both the times, I shot pelicans and was not getting the satisfaction of the shoot-out. Why? Please allow me to share the results of both here:
1. Hebbal Shootout: 14th Sep, 2008: I had gone there to shoot the birds and all I could get were these.
Pelicans were really far away for me to capture them in my 70-200 F4. This is the best which I could manage and after post-processing this woould be around 60% crop. Clearly, I wouldnot be able to print this. Totally, frustrated with the Pelicans, I tried the little winged creatures.
Got a couple of good ones, but too less number of frames from a two hour shoot-out. So, totally frustrated by the shoot-out, I also shot this. This was a dilapidated little walk over-bridge which helped people cross the marshy portions near the lake. Even this shot didn't come out properly because a tweed got in the way because of the wind.

2. Pelican shoot-out at Lalbagh botanical Garden Lake:4th Dec, 2008.

This time the Pelicans and the Ergets came out better and the time spent invested was also less. I was a little satisfied but the yearning for getting better shots was getting the better of me. So Ranganthittu it was. Now lets come back to the Ranganthittu diary.
As we reached the checkpost, the counter was closed but there always seems to a 'jugaad' in India. The gentleman in charge of the checkpost mentioned that if we pay him, we can go in to shoot the birds and that already the first boat has gone in. Gurudeep mentioned that this is the way the bird photogs get in and get to shoot before the
crowds come in around 0800 hours. The monies were reasonable- INR 30 per person, INR 30 per camera, INR 20 per 4-wheeler (While inside each boat-ride would be INR 500 per hour and each
boat can handle 6 people confortably. So, all of us decided to club up). We promptly made the payment and entered. As we were walking towards the main water body, Gurudeep showed us two places where a kingfisher normally perches. But the Kingfisher got to know our plans and even before I could ready my camera, it flew away. We had to wait for our guide and boatman to come, I took some test shots of the early morning at Ranganthittu. The environment was very peaceful and all I could hear were the sounds of the water, birds chirping and some talks amongst us. I was getting ready to face the shoot-out in anticipation. Soon, our guide/ boatman arrived and we set out to shoot (Ajay also joined us. he had travelled separately). The first birds that we saw were open billed storks, some grey herons. I couln't believe my luck and thanked god for it. Seems like my 70-200 would hold up. I was happy. There were many flocks of Black headed Ibis on the tree tops and one set of peacocks. All measures of stealth techniques failed while trying to capture the peacocks. Strange, I had seen peacocks from very close. They seemed like pets in the BITS Campus. Incidentally, there were so many of them in the campus, that they used to act as our wake-up callers in BITS. I suddenly felt a jab of sadness that I didnot have the SLR back then in BITS. Well, never mind. I think I got a good shot of an Ibis and we moved on. Then, came the highlight of the day- a couple of pied kingfishers. After much going back and forth, we realised that there are three perches where the move around. Our guide/ boatman was a skillful stealth rower. After about 4-5 trials each per perch and about 50 shots or more from each photog, we finally managed our shots. I got some good ones. But, capturing the pied kingfishers while taking off or flying is one helluva task. I bow to all those who have managed this. While doing this back and forth, we managed to catch some shots of a River Tern, who gave us a couple of closeups. While trying the River Tern, the beauty just stretched its wings long and I was too slow to capture that in my frame (the wings on the top got cropped...). This was my biggest rue of the day. We saw one Eagle, some Pariah Kites, a couple of Brahminy Kites, more peacocks. And then we saw a Snake Bird otherwise also called a Darter. I didnot want to repeat the mistake that I had done during the River Tern shooting. I composed the frame and waited for the snakebird to take off.
And take-off it did and I was ready this time. It was almost two hours that were shooting and we decided to call it quits for the day when we started seeing the visitors boats coming in. While in the way back some moody shots helped the cooling down. We reached the banks, paid up and joined in for tea/ coffee/ juice at the lake cafeteria before driving back.
It was a very fulfilling experience. I had never seen birds like the snake bird, Pied kingfishers, Thickknees, River Terns. The firs thing I did when I went to Landmark couple of days back, was to grab " The book of Indian birds" by noted ornithologist Mr Salim Ali.
Well, a long post, but I got slightly carried away :-)
Well, goodbye for today then :-)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reflections of my birthday

Well, after writing the first blog yesterday, I was hooked. And today is my birthday. Though, I had planned to go out for my morning walk today morning, I overslept. Tanwee woke me up saying that there is a surprise gift for me. A bouquet of roses and a tasty cake- from the business head of the team, which I currently belong to. Nice little surprise and felt good too.

Ahwaan, one of my closest buddies, had wished me around 12 and was the first one to do . Wishes are flowing in today morning. Everything is great...

Why do people celebrate birthdays, its just another timeline milestone and in its getting achieved, the individual has no contribution ;-0) But the happiness lingers and makes me a tad philosophical.

I feel happy that I have had a rocking 31 years of life full of ups and downs, pleasure and pain points, trials and tribulations, new and old until now. Last year was particularly great because many a pending passions and goals were achieved. I shall talk about one here.

I bought my first DSLR last year after waiting for 11 years. Yes-its almost 11 years now. I still remember the Budh hostel, front wing. The flame started burning in 1997 in my third year of Engineering @ BITS, Pilani. My sidee Naveen Parthasarthy (may god bless his soul- he passed away in an accident sometime ago) introduced me to the first SLR, "a second-hand Pentax", he had said. It was a basic film SLR but that was enough to charge me up. And then, I still remember very vividly, I had immediately rushed to C-not (This was a small shopping center inside the campus) and bought two rolls of 100 ISO film. Naveen had agreed to lend me his SLR for one roll only. And I felt free for some reason and never knew why :-) I didn't know the basics of photography so well but what was to stop me!!! There were too many locations to shoot in 32 frames and too little time. Bunking classes was the only option and an option which I would never regret. In approximately 2 hours, 36 frames got over. I quickly loaded the second one and kept shooting for a total of 2 days. And when the rolls were over, I gave back the SLR to Naveen thanking him profusely. He was stunned that I had finished one roll so early. And when I cheekily confessed that two rolls went under the shutter, u should have been there to look at his face. He couldn't believe that 72 frames were over in just two days. He was also taken aback seeing me jumping like a kid because the rolls were already in the lab for processing. I could not hold back the innocence and the joy and he felt happy too.

The frames came in 3 days later. When I showed him the frames, Rajesh (one of my wingies and a close friend) was also there. And when both of them saw the frames, I got my first point of appreciation from Rajesh. "The photographs have a professional feel to them. See the Clock tower and the Insti (our institute building) and the blue sky. It all seems so symmetric. Brilliant work, Sumo."

Well, that is when both he and Naveen had fired my ignition and imagination. When I see those shots today, I realised that I had unknowingly applied the rule of thirds and had exposed them properly by instinct. Well, probably this is my calling...

After that incident, I had borrowed the camera for couple of more rolls and had read a few photography magazines in Naveen's room. Each time, just holding the camera in my hand was giving me a great high. For sometime, I continued with a point and shoot Minolta film camera-which I had gifted to my sister. But that was that.

I did not have money to buy my own SLR for the next 11 years...1997-2008 was a long long wait..And the flame kept burning...

Now having started shooting with my own SLR, I still feel the rush of blood when I hold my Canon 40D in my palms and give it a small loving caress every time before I shoot the session.

Late night thoughts on my first blog...

Finally, inspired by many a bloggers, I decide to start my own blog. Feels great too...
And what a day to start. Tomorrow I would be 31 years old on paper but I feel that I am 25 years old- with the fire in the gut and passion in the mind. I am actually feeling completely blank right now. I created the blog alright...Okie top of the mind recall are two topics- Eco-Eye and Photography.

What is Eco-Eye: Eco-Eye is the team in Wipro which drives the various GREEN initiatives. For sometime now, I have been doing my little bit for the environment but this is the first time I have joined a core team which would be focused in Eco-conservation and will definitely boost the momentum of Eco-advocacy and practice. What was I doing earlier:

1. Rather than get the company notepads for my daily use, I used to scavenge the printers and collect all the useless trial printouts which no one claims or which doesn't find the way to the shredders, make them into scratch pads and use them for my daily rough work. This, if practiced well by many, can save a lot of trees.

2. I have seen people using running water while shaving or brushing teeth. This wastes a lot of water, particularly when some people keep the water running when the brush is still inside their mouth or the razor moving on their cheeks. Keeping the taps closed or better still using a mug of water for cleaning the razor would save a lot of water.

3. Making a habit of switching of the engine at long-haul traffic lights was not something that I was consciously doing. But, trust u me, switching of my car engine at traffic lights gave me an immediate saving of 400 rupees per month and at 51 rupees per litre, that was also saving approx 7-8 litres of Petrol per month per person... Imagine, how much fuel we can save and how much pollution we can reduce by just switching off the ignition at the traffic junctions when the signal is red.

And small small many other points...and I am sure Eco-eye would prove a catalyst now. I sometimes feel utterly lonely in my drive and hence need your help too to make our earth a better place. Lets all make the earth greener.

And as far as photography is concerned, I can just go on...But let me cover the lost ground by posting about my recent outing and I will try and seamlessly tie up my present and the past...

Well...feels good that I wrote my first blog today...Happy birthday to me...Sweet dreams :-)