A 1,000-km car rally through the heart of Karnataka, with pit-stops at Hoysala temples and fuelled by dance and music, will combine the thrill of motorsport and the experience of ancient heritage.
There is a surprise in store for those who thought high-end motor car rallying and temples cannot go hand in hand. The Heritage Trust, Bengaluru, is all geared up for its third rally involving culture and temples through the heart of Karnataka between 20 and 22 September.
The idea of an Indic-rooted rally struck Vijayalakshmi Vijayakumar, founder Heritage Trust, when she along with the co-founders of the trust, dancers Supriya Komandur and Rekha Raghavan, participated in the Times Women’s Drive 2018 from Bengaluru to Goa. The all-woman team called TriShakti enjoyed the drive, but wanted to create its own time/speed/distance (TSD) motor rally with temple and heritage stops.
First, the temples are selected and then technical partner Buxus ProSports fixes the route according to the parameters of a TSD rally. Heritage Trust’s first drive was to Hampi with 50 cars participating. The second was to Kedareswara, a little-known temple in Karnataka and the September drive is a Hoysala trail.
The 1,000-km car rally through Karnataka’s heartland will include Hoysala temples located between Bengaluru and Shimoga on day one (Horakere Ranganatha Swamy temple and Amrutheshwara Amruthapura temple), Shimoga and Mysore on day two (Koodli / Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy Temple, Bhadravathi Veera Narayana Temple Belavadi, Hoysaleswara Halebidu, Kedareshwara Halebidu, Lakshmi Devi Doddagaddavalli, Lakshminarayana Temple Hosaholulu, Saumyakeshava Temple Nagamangala temple) and, Mysore to Bengaluru on day three (Nambi Narayana Swamy Temple Thondanoor, Chelluvanarayanaswamy Melukote, Mallikarjuna Temple Basaralu).
The main difference between Hoysala temples and those built by the Chalukyas is that the Hoysala artists ornamented both the top and surface of the pillars while Chalukya artists left the top plain and decorated only the surface.
The main features of these temples include a makartorana which leads to the mantapa of the temples. It is made with sculpted images of makara in lintel form.
It is believed that the Hoyasala dynasty has been foremost in representing Hindu mythology in sculpted and architectural form. Pictures from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and puranas people the walls of the Hoysala temples. At the entrance of the makartorana, various scenes are depicted from Hindu mythology in sequential manner.
Seven-time Indian National Rally champion B S Sujit Kumar is on board to bring the rally experience. He has been participating in rallies since 1989 and has won over 200 podium finishes and bagged the National Rally Championship five times.
Kumar’s team is responsible for finding routes with less traffic, identifying safe locations en route to place the marshals, and to make sure every team takes the route provided by them in the form of a road book.
He says the heritage drive is a unique event compared to a normal TSD rally or drive.
“The participants can experience the thrill of motorsport while visiting ancient heritage temples. Each day, the participants will pass scenic routes along the country side. Each day will be a completely new experience.”
Jay Shankar, a culture enthusiast and avid photographer, is the temple advisory for the drive. He says his earliest recollection of a yatra was as a Class VIII student to Badrinath.
“The intensity of my interest in temples, yatras and photography has increased in the last 10-15 years because I was in the US for a long time and from there when you look at India, there are three things that stand out – temples, (and once you are interested in that, a visit to a temple leads to a yatra), the second one is the Himalayas (there are kshetras which again leads to a yatra) and the third is capturing this on camera. My father was a photographer and so taking pictures is perhaps in my DNA.”
When asked which is the oldest temple he has visited, and he has visited scores, Jay Shankar asks what would constitute an ancient temple?
“Is Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple an old temple? The king Malayadwaja Pandya who built the temple, was the father of Meenakshi, and is believed to have fought for the Pandavas. And the Mahabharata happened, depending on who you look at, between 3000-3600 BC or 5500 BC,” he said.
“So Madurai Meenakshi Amman is definitely one of the ancient temples I have visited which is 5,000 to 7,000 years old. So was the temple the same at that time, probably not,” Shankar said.
“What else is older than the Mahabharata? The Ramayana is considered older than Mahabharata and so what are the sacred places that feature in the Ramayana other than Ayodhya? There is Lepakshi where Jatayu saw Sita and that is just 100 km north of Bengaluru. And if you go by the traditions, which date the Ramayana, it is 11000 BC?”
Shankar adds, “this questions takes us back to knowing what a temple is and what it does to us. A temple in the Indian tradition is a place where one can touch sacredness or experience sacredness. So for me it is not just the antiquity of the temple, but the energy and sacredness of the place where the temple is constructed.”
The drive will include stops to take in performances in some of the temples.
Vijayalakshmi Vijayakumar said: “performances in haloed spaces have a different appeal and the energy in these spaces are healing too. The inspiration to connect to one’s self is heightened by the atmosphere in the temple. The arts are a great channel for this whether for the artiste or the audience and the physical and material distance is reduced in the temple ambience so the experience has greater impact.”
There is a talk giving information about the temples and a quiz administered to the participants every day. In addition, this year, participants have been invited to submit an essay on their experience.
Vijayakumar’s deep cultural roots go back to her maternal grandfather who served in the Mounted Infantry in the First World War but was steeped in the Ramayana and also nurtured in her a deep love for plants.
“Our heritage is strongly connected with nature, like the sthala vrikshas or the nandana vanas that our temples had. In the rally, participants will disperse seed balls, where the seed has been wrapped in soil material which keeps it safe till it can safely germinate,” says Vijayakumar.
Seeds of trees native to India including mango, jackfruit, nerale, lemon, champaka, nagalinga pushpa, honge, arali, audambara and neem are being prepared for dispersal along with the students of BNMIT.
Plastic bottles and other non-degradable items are not permitted and participants have to wear hand-woven cotton clothes.
For the drive, the trophies and mementos are hand-crafted, special stoles are made from handloom cloth, and for the September 2019 drive even the logo on the stole is hand painted. The menus for all meals are personally curated — vegetarian and nutritious.
Caring for the environment is an intrinsic part of Indian heritage and culture, but as Vijayakumar puts it, “we have just lost that connect. Relating music and dance to themes related to nature are natural for traditional Indian arts. There are so many songs that allude to natural heritage.”
“The poetry and lyrics of our music are replete with references to various aspects of mother nature. We have gods like Ganesha who has an elephant face, or an Anjaneya, or Nandi and for that matter all the divine vahanas are animals,” Vijayakumar said.
“There are trees that are sacred and we worship the elements. Hence bringing this connect back is easy and important,” she added.
Heritage, the organisers of Gudiya Sambhrama and Srishti Sambhrama cultural festivals in Bengaluru, are trying to revive the temple ecosystem as it existed in the past.
“Traditionally, our temples had a major role to play in the ecosystem of our communities but sadly their role has now shrunken in most cases to only fulfilling religious and ritual roles. There was a time when the most important activities happened within the precincts of temples that were large and spacious,” she says.
“Temples had their own gardens that had ecologically important trees and plants, and the temples owned abundant fertile lands which were given to farmers to cultivate, boosting the economy,” adds Vijayakumar.
Over the last 10 years, Gudiya Sambhrama has seen that when the performances take place in temples, the art becomes more accessible to a wider cross section of society, kindling an interest to know more.
“During the drive, the distance is further narrowed between the art and the audience. We plan on having artistes travel with us, so that the dialogues keep happening. This helps the audience to have a better understanding and also for the performer to make changes within the framework for greater assimilation,” said Vijayakumar.
For Vijayakumar, the temple drive is as much a cultural experience as it is spiritual.
“To me a temple represents a place where the universal formless being manifests in a form, enabling the limited human being to communicate and relate within the framework of nama and rupa,” she said.
Vijayakumar added that many are the philosophies, many are the gods, many are the texts, festivals, rituals and paths in Sanathana Dharma and the temple encompasses all of this in one space.
“In the past, they were very powerful social institutions around which the community functioned, centering life around divinity — whether the activity was secular, religious or spiritual,” she said.
“For example, there is a unique festival in South India called Aadiperukku, the Aadi monsoon festival. The festival pays tribute to water's life-sustaining properties,seeking blessing for mankind’s peace, prosperity and happiness. Nature is worshipped in the form of the devi. This is such a beautiful festival which can give visitors a peep into what the dharma of our country is,” Vijayakumar added.
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