Off late, I have been reading a lot of books on spirituality and mysticism. Probably, this is why I got thinking about how and why myths, legends, tales of kingdoms bygone are generated. Are these true stories? Or did they grow as tales of strength and valor passing from generation to generation,peppered with liberal doses of imagination of the people who had no better past times than story telling? Or were they trying to glorify these stories just to get a proxy ego boost? Somewhat like, “Though I have not done anything great, wait till you hear about my ancestors!”. The glory of past achievements trickling down into their blood, giving them the confidence to carry out with their mundane existence.
Which ever way it goes, the best part about these stories are that, they are interesting to listen to. And if you are like me, in a way that anything history and mysterious fascinates you, they can lead you into the past of your imagination so many hundreds of years ago, when levitating sages and magic potions were probably as common as roadside cows now!
I first had this feeling when I visited Hampi, in Hospete. The ruins of the Vijayanagara Kingdom, the plains, the rocky mountains, the silence and the fact that most of the city is so well preserved, make it easy for you to suddenly imagine those times when they would sell gold in bushels on roadsides, the swish of the King’s silks as he entered the Vittala temple and generally,the grandeur of those times.
The same with the fort in Chitradurga, where one look at “Obavvana Kindi”(the crevice in the wall of the fort named after Obavva ) is enough to push me into a world where Hyder Ali’s treacherous plan was spoiled by a soldier’s wife with a wooden pestle.
Recently, this feeling caught me when we went to an almost unheard of place called Sirigere, about 30 kms from where I live. What started as a long drive in the rains became a lesson in history and mythology.
Sirigere looks like any common village in the heart of malnad, with one road,a couple of houses,and a temple on the top of a hill.But what sparked my interest was this board:
Which reads, “This is the place where the Pandavas(yes, the same ones from the mahabharat), prayed”. Trudging up the hill, we found a makeshift temple and an over enthusiastic priest. The temple consisted of a mound covered in red with a trident and some rudrakshis wound around it and another mound next to it.
The priest explained that we were actually standing on the top of a temple which had been buried underground. He showed us a closed trap door entrance to the temple underground, which was not accessible to visitors, as they had seen and caught a lot of them trying to steal into the tunnel in search of treasure! (Only if it were so easy!). He claimed that this was indeed the place where the pandavas prayed last before their exile ended. And that there was a whole sect of people replete with a swamiji (Godman), who had grown on and into that belief.
He pointed to the other mound and said that this was the place that the swami took his Samadhi. In other words where he died. But the concept of this again, is part spooky and part exciting to me. Taking samadhi means that the seer would have known by divine intervention that his time on earth was coming to an end. At which point he would crawl inside a cave on a self imposed fast and meditate for days on end. There would be a lamp placed at the mouth of the cave, with instructions that, once the lamp extinguishes(which meant that the swami’s soul would have left his body), the cave would be sealed. I had recently also seen Sri Shankaracharya’s samadhi in a cave of a hill in Kashmir! Again, this is impossible for me to imagine, but apparently happened quite often!History or fantasy?
We become instantly suspicious about the fact that we can be in a place so famous and deep in history which no one has heard about, when he comes out with yet another explanation.” If we let the Archaeological Department into this secret, they would most certainly dig out the temple from underground and spoil its aura. Why do we need a scientific body to prove something that we know as true and believe. Hence all this secrecy!” Put that way, it makes a weird kind of sense. Who are we to burst the bubble, if it is giving solace to so many??
He went on to show us the weapons which were apparently used by the pandavas, hands us a visiting card of the temple, complete with a website, which some techie from Bangalore(who is also a devotee) has created with a detailed description of the miracles which have happened in the temple and tells us about a cave right on top of the hill in which Arjuna meditated, and is off bounds to visitors(but not to him) due to the divine energy it radiates.
Dazed and part unbelieving,we clamber down in the rain.One part of me wants to believe that I have indeed been living close to a very important, magical, mysterious,mythologically significant place.The fantasizer in me is glowing, and how!The rational side, plays spoilsport though. I wonder how the pandavas strayed so far from their course, in exile. Then again, fourteen years is a really long while. And they did not have GPS for sure!
I had once met a scholar who told me that most of the stories of bravery and valor recorded as history in our textbooks and the like had actually never happened in that exact same way. The people existed, and so did their brave spirit, but the story was, in fact blown out of proportion to impress upon the lay people, the strength of spirit! Being the emotional country that we are, any talk of changing the story would erupt into a fight or convert into threats for the scholar!
Hence, our myths and legends have stayed. And grown. And enticed me into their mystery. Fleetingly making me forget that there is a line between fact and fantasy. And that sadly,most times we need to boringly stay with the facts. For the rest of the time, there is places like Sirigere!