By way of architecture (predominently the Vijayanagara school) the Halasuru Someshwara Temple pleases lovers of heritage buildings. I spent a morning there with the INTACH folks. It is a temple in use, and perhaps for that reason it is greasy and messy. Those that have authority over it lack taste and annexes round it are hideous in contrast with the aesthetic of the 500-year-old central structures. People offer fervent prayers there, have done so a long time, and so the hallowed aura of the place will live as long as the temple survives. God is for ever, temples to Him are not.
The story of the origin of the temple follows the pattern we know. King went hunting, got separated from his party, lost himself in the jungle, and, tired, rested in the shade of a tree. He fell asleep and dreamt a dream in which God appeared. In this instance it was vassal Kempegowda who dreamed, and it was Lord Shiva who caused the dream and appeared in it. “There’s treasure where you lie,” he told Kempegowda. “Build me a temple with it.”
There’s another version: King Jayadeva of the same Yelahanka clan went hunting in the jungle, was lost, and after he’d tired lay down to rest under the canopy of trees. Shiva’s message to him was somewhat different: “There’s my Linga buried where you lie. Dig it out and build a temple to it.”
Neither would’ve dreamt that 500 years later, a Theresa May would visit the temple wearing a lovely silk sari, of the class that is draped round a temple goddess.
Some centuries before the time of Kempegowda and Jayadeva, in the twelfth century, when the great Hoysala ruler Veera Ballala lost himself while hunting, he did not sleep. He kept up the search for an exit and while at it he came upon an old lady who sheltered him in her solitary hut and made him a meal of beans. In gratitude he built a town dedicated to her, and called it Bengaluru, after the beans.
And here in Karnataka, Hoysala temples proliferated across the kingdom of the Hoysalas, all almost a millenium old, with intricate carvings and unique architecture of great beauty, marking a thanksgiving, a victory in battle, and such other vanities.
The other famous temple in Bangalore is the Bull Temple, also built by Kempegowda. It is small and white and nice, and the face of the divine bull Nandi turns coy with the ornamentation in butter that it’s covered in. It’s a large Nandi in a small temple; even on its haunches it is 15 feet high. In Kempegowda’s time it had appeared in flesh among the jungles that covered the plains across from the hill where it sits now. It was of a blazing golden colour, and those who’d sighted it chased after it, and when they found it the bull had turned to granite. That night it appeared in Kempegowda’s dreams and asked for a temple also.
“You’re a temple-going man,” a Malaysian customer used to tease me each time I declined his offer of a drink. That’s not 100% true, though I don’t deny that I’m the praying type. So when I visit a temple for its archeaology, the art on its walls, half my mind is given to the worship that must follow. I’m fervent in my prayers, because I’m afflicted with depression for some years now, and live in mild, perpetual fear of impending misery. I worry about mistakes I might make in the puja and cause slight to the gods. I look for omens, but I don’t know the things that count as omens, so I weigh everything that happens round me while I’m at prayer in a temple. If my wife is with me, I ask, “Is that an omen?” I repeat myself until annoyance creeps across her face. Then I stop.
I’d made a vow and I’d gone to the Male Mahadeshwara Temple to better seal it. It was early morning when I stood in line, and even then it had gotten really long. When I neared the deity I saw how little time each devotee was getting before the Shivalinga, after all the pains taken to reach that most sacred spot. So I pulled a large note from my wallet and when I arrived before the deity I kept the note on the collection plate in the hands of a young priest. He noted my contribution, and looked away, allowing me to linger, but in a moment he recovered and began to chant: “Move on! Move on!” So I went out and rejoined the line and returned a second time, and repeated the trick with another large note. I got a few extra seconds once more, but I had no more the presence to look for omens, and came out feeling dirty.
The very prashast Gavigangadhareshwara Temple is on a granite rise in South Bangalore. This, too, was built by Kempegowda, this time to mark his release from emperor Ramaraya’s prison.
Mid-year in 2016 I traveled to the great thousand-year-old temple in Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. The Tanjore Temple to Shiva was built by Rajaraja to proclaim his victories and overwhelm his foes and friends. The largest temple in these parts, its height and mass and girth stun you into sublime silence.
In which temple shall I worship?
“I visit a small temple quite near Ayyappa’s,” a big-time criminal lawyer whom I know once told me. He once saved an employee of mine from goondas who were out to cause him grievous harm. “She’s a very powerful goddess.” The lawyer lives in Bangalore, and the city’s temples appear to have disappointed him. The temple he goes to is among the misty folds of dense hills in the tail-end part of the Western Ghats in Kerala.
As regards me, I’m turning inward.