Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ilkal reverie (contd..)

I ascend the Badami cave cluster in awe, confronted by the overwhelming rock faces flanking the steep uphill path. Cave number one, almost on the sly, slides in front of my eyes the charming and oblivious dancing Shiva. Shiva with his eighteen arms , creating a halo of rhythm around him, with his waist sveltely tilted into a Tribhangi dancing to his own music ( therefore called Natesha ) seems to be gazing into infinity. Though human in scale, his upright chin automatically turns the gazing mortal into a reverent onlooker.

The Badami rock cut monuments are a mix of Shaivite , Vaishnavite, Jain and Buddhist cave shrines. One grapples with the seductive and vibrant imagery of Shiva and his consort Parvati in one cave, while the next is subtle and restrained in its depictions of the ensemble of the Vaishnavite family with all his avatars and their amusing tales. While Varaha cant stop gazing at Bhoodevi, the damsel he has just rescued from distress, a stubborn and stout Trivikrama , acrobatically conquers the three lokas with his exaggeratedly raised leg. Vishnu resting on his serpant bed , with uncut finger nails , looks despondent without his consort Lakshmi around to massage his feet. Meanwhile the shrines in the shadowed depths of these caves, lie empty and bare, haunted with an absence of human touch, now that the shrine image probably, lies in the timeless vacuum of some decrepit museum a hundred miles away.

The sinuous and resplendent life of these caves lies in the myriad accomplice figures around the main images. The gandharvas , the mithunas, the gaNas , the mythical ani-morphs , the glimpses of wall paintings inside the caves , enforce the space with both , a historicity , and a mythical timelessness , that turn these caves into a phantasmagoria.

Chalukyan damsels in their most vulnerable and endearing moments, adorn the brackets of the pillared verandah of the caves. Their towering head gear seems to balance out their weightless and fragile waists , yet their slender long legs seem to carry them with a diva like elegance. While these damsels are lost in their solitary self-consumed indulgences, the mithuna couples on the other hand , revel in subtle moments of each other’s companionship. While one tries to help an inebriated lady to her feet, another stands firm and couth, allowing his lady to rest herself completely on his arms. They seem to be the ultimate ideal image of companionship and would perhaps seem incomplete without each other’s vulnerable presence. What is other worldly about them is that despite each other’s proximity, their gazes never meet. They seem to look beyond each other, into spatial and thoughtful tangents, and thereby never seem to materialize the moment into a mortal image by looking directly into each other’s eyes.

This amorous life of the bracket world aloft makes one raise his head in dreamy awe and look up at this mythical magic world like a child being told enticing stories. While the comical dwarves , the gaNas , add frivolity and a sense of festive celebration to the imagery, the alert and wide eyed mythical stags , antelopes and leogryphs on the brackets , brighten the narrative of the caves with an element of magic.

The warm red sandstone glistens under human touch. Rain and the wind seem to seek refuge from themselves amidst the deep shadows of these caves. Little girls in red ribbons manage to reach out and just about touch the navel of the dancing Shiva , as he has no choice but oblige to the soft inquisitive hands. The sweeper lady , rests her broom next to the Dwarpala’s trident , wiping her brow with the crimson border of her Ilkal saree. The idle guide sits resting his back against a pillar in one of the caves’ verandahs, placing his handkerchief on the floor so that his crisp white pant doesn’t get soiled. He takes a moment to look up at the Chalukyan damsel, and his mind rewinds to a hazy image of that shy girl in school, who always used to sit next to the window in the classroom, tying and untying her braided hair. His reverie is broken. A car honks in the distance as a family trickles out for yet another historic rendezvous with Badami. He is up on his feet , ready for his next round.

Stories are always waiting to be told.

Stones speak.

All you have to do is listen.