Monday, March 28, 2016

Hazara Rama - Hampi of Karnataka, India

It was National Heritage Day in April. A friend and I had just gotten into town the night before. The day before was rough. She was fighting off a blushing cold, I was impatient, and April happens to be the hottest month in Hampi. If you can bear through the heat in the cafe's with cold lassi or by the river the sweltering humid air slowly soothes the aching muscles and feverish headaches.

National Heritage Day is one of the days where all of the old ruins, temples, and scenery escapes entrance fee's don't exist. Despite the National holiday the heat deters 98% of the traffic that comes through these sites. Many are protected UNESCO  sights and have entrance fee's reaching $20 USD. Places like Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, all larger temples in Hampi, and etc., are all UNESCO protected sights -- many families in and around Hampi are facing eviction and removal from the sites around the ruins, despite the fact that the temple and villages have lived side-by-side, in tandem, together for over 2,000 years (Read this Guardian Article for more in-depth information on this issue).

The slow season for tourism and free entrance fee's ended up being the perfect concoction of luck and serendipitous fortune for us. Our auto driver, Shiva, picked us up at the dock by the river bank that morning and brought us here, to the Rama Hazara Temple for our first stop. We had negotiated the day before a reasonable price to have him drive us around the heritage sites -- some twenty or thirty minutes from each other -- also showing us back country roads and ruins in country side that were still used as daily worship alters for the local community.

It was early in the morning when we got to the temple. He dropped us off and told us that he had to go get more gas for the day. "Walk around, explore, I'll come back. Not many people should be coming through today, relax here for awhile," he smiled, waved, and drove off leaving only dust behind him. He was right, not a single person showed up. I'm not sure how long we were there. We ended up going our own ways. I spent most of my time inside of the main temple, where the corridor is made of black carved onyx. I remember sitting in the middle of the the room and realizing how cool it was inside the massive stone structure. Despite the bearing down heat outside the corridor was cold and fresh inside.

All I remember is Shiva popping his head around a corner with a smile on his face. He got the two of us back together and told us all the stories his family before him had told him as a boy about the temple. "Many stories, since I was very young about this valley... but this temple, very special," he told us, smiling always, "As kids we always come and look at the pictures on the wall..." A king use to use the temple as his own personal alter for puja. The circular stage in the middle of the black onyx corridor served as a dance hall for ritual. "Many years of very ancient hindu practices happened here, very old gods roam this valley." The carvings, inside and out, told the story of the thousand Rama's, or the words of The Ramayana. (click HERE for further interpretations I found later.)

As we left the perimeter of the outside walls of temple, to the northern side of the structure, was a very small stone built hut. Inside lay Hanuman, Rama's greatest devotee and protector. As we drove off, dust flying behind everything started to make it's own sense. The stories and the world found their connections. Shiva, our driver, drove us off to our next destination, nothing but our yellow and fringe covered auto, the sandstone walls of Hazara Rama, and golden dust in sight.

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