Monday, December 22, 2008

The Face Of Terror

15th August, 1947. On this day, India broke away from the clutches of the British and marched into the alley of freedom. It was the day that the struggle of a nation ended. Today, sixty one years later, India is fighting for freedom from the clutches of fear. Freedom from the grip of terror. Freedom to choose between life and death.
The terrorist attacks at Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Assam are still fresh in my memory. It is appalling that a nation that walked the path of ahimsa (non-violence) to its freedom is now soaking in a bloodbath. What is the motive behind these strikes? Is it an eye for an eye?

In the recent past, a spate of bomb blasts has rocked our country. Families from different faiths, religions and geographies lost their loved ones and bread winners. Innocent lives were snatched away. The blame game was on. Fingers were pointed at the members of a communal minority. These mindless acts of violence of a few have tarnished the reputation of the entire community. The possibility of the hand of Hindu extremists in terrorist attacks hit the headlines a few weeks ago. This sent shockwaves across the country. Religious leaders were accused of fuelling acts of terror. Are religious fundamentalists abetting terrorism? Does terrorism have a religion?

Some under-trials in the recent terrorist attacks are said to have strong connections with the high and mighty. It is probably not possible to carry out attacks on such a large scale without the cushion of power and money. The water is murky and the network is large. A war of words has followed the war of weapons. It appears that the politicians are trying to gain some political mileage ahead of the elections. Are government officials, who hold top posts wielding their power for unparlimentary and ruthless actions? Are seats of power being abused?

An unforeseen circumstance or a grave incident could have led people who were otherwise leading peaceful lives to resort to acts of violence. A study reveals that youth under emotional stress are prone to become violent. Some youngsters from affluent families are also embracing terrorism. The advancement of technology has empowered the masterminds of these attacks. Highly qualified professionals could be utilizing the wealth of their knowledge to execute their well calibrated plans. What drives them to commit such unpardonable crimes? What is the reason for such irrational steadfastness?

A series of blasts at different locations within minutes of each other has been a pattern in most of the recent terror strikes. I read an article about a good samaritan who offered a helping hand to the bomb blast victims. While shifting the injured to the hospital he was killed in another bomb blast outside the hospital. Should the man on the street turn a blind eye to a person gasping for breath or should he offer aid at risk of his life?

Patriotic fervor peaks during Independence Day and people are out on the streets to celebrate. In Bangalore, M G Road is the hub of most celebrations and I was there trying to capture the action on my camera. Last year, the locals had turned out in large numbers and a plethora of tricolors were flying high. Expecting the same this year too, I promptly ventured out on M G Road and was in for a rude surprise. The usually crowded roads were almost deserted. Tricolors were minimal. Celebrations were tepid. The fear of terror could have dampened the spirits of enthusiastic Bangaloreans who seemed to have been shaken by the eight blasts which rocked the city just a few days before. Terrorists have been targeting crowded places and the fear of a possible attack might have kept people tucked in the safety of their homes. Our freedom fighters had big dreams for the country and they sacrificed their lives in the struggle to make these dreams come true. Are the leaders of today doing enough to uphold the vision of their predecessors?

What is the role of the “Common Man” in this fight against terror?

These questions and more are ringing in my head. I seek to find answers. But, I have none.

To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield….
- Alfred Lord Tennyson

I hope that the police force, investigators and leaders of our country strive to identify the culprits, seek to decipher the missing pieces of this puzzle, find the cause for these blatant attacks and never yield in the effort to make India a safe haven where peace and communal harmony prevails….

A Temple Town

In the Udupi district of Karnataka, on the banks of the river Sita, is a quaint town called Barkur. A hub for trade and commerce, Barkur was established as the capital by the Alupas who reigned in provinces of coastal Karnataka. Art and culture flourished under the patronage of the rulers of the Alupa, Hoysala and Vijayanagar dynasties. Barkur was under the rule of the Vijayanagara kings until the 17th century. In the 18th century it was conquered by Haider Ali and was ruled by his successor, Tippu Sultan until he was defeated by the British. It was then attached to the Madras Presidency and was later reverted to the state of Mysore, the present day Karnataka. As the reigns of the kingdom changed hands, many of the monuments in Barkur were plundered and ruined. Most of what remains now are structures constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries.

Temples and keres are a common sight at Barkur. A “kere” is large stepped water tank in the vicinity of the temple. In the olden days, it was customary for people to take a holy dip in the kere before entering the temple. It is believed that there were 365 temples in this small town and that the king visited one temple each day of the year. The king’s visit to the temple was marked by an utsav (festival).

Majority of the temples at Barkur are dedicated to Lord Shiva. A mutilated lingam can be seen even in a basadi (a Jain temple). Although, temples are strewn all over the town, the one which caught my attention was the Chowlikeri Temple. The entire temple including the walls and ceiling is hewn out of stone. Aesthetic pillars etched out of stone surround this mammoth structure. Unlike most temples in South India, the temples in this region do not have a gopuram (an intricately carved dome at the entrance of the temple). The Panchalingeshwara temple is the largest temple at Barkur.

Another interesting monument worth a visit is the Kathale (darkness) Basadi. The 24 dents in stone are the only evidence of the existence of the statues of 24 Tirthankaras (Jain monks who achieved enlightenment through asceticism). Prior to my visit, I had heard a lot about the Barkur fort which is said to have been built during the Vijayanagara rule by King Hariyappa in the year 1336. This fort was excavated a few years ago and archeologists are trying to reconstruct some pieces of history from the remnants of this mighty fort. Although I did not have high expectations, the least that I expected was to see some kind of a structure. To my utter disappointment, I saw a vast stretch of land and a waterless moat. In fact, I heard from my guide that the stones which were stolen from the fort were actually being used to wash clothes!

The temples here portray unique idols and creations and the locals often narrate interesting stories woven around these ancient artifacts. Among the many stories I heard, the one that was particularly interesting was the custom of Aliya Santana (nephew lineage) which is believed to have originated here. The demon Kundodara Bhoota wanted the ruler Deva Pandya to sacrifice one of his sons for the safety of a fleet of newly built ships which were carrying some important cargo. When the queen did not give her consent to this, the king's sister, Satyavati came forward to sacrifice her son, Jaya Pandya. The demon was impressed with this benevolent gesture and let go of the brave young man and gave him the title “Bhutala Pandya”. The king also made his nephew the heir to his throne. This is believed to have been the origin of the matrilineal custom of Aliya Santana which is practiced even to this day by some Bunts and Jains of this region.

In recent times, the process of renovation and restoration of the temples has drastically changed their fa├žade and interiors. The air of modernization has not changed the essence of the design and architecture of the houses here. The architectural style is traditional and most houses bear a rustic look. The houses have sloping tiled roofs and are tucked in pockets between large trees. These are well ventilated structures and there is seldom the need to use a fan even in the hot summer months. Hibiscus shrubs in a wide variety of colours, shapes and sizes can be found in the front yard of almost all the houses. The households in the village are self-sufficient. Alternate sources of energy are used to supplement the power requirements. Cattle are reared for milk. Gobar gas is used for cooking. Solar power drives electrical appliances.

Fruits and vegetables are grown in the backyard. LPG and electricity are used sparingly. I noticed that the people were very judicious in the use of water. It was a heartening to see the conscious effort to be eco-friendly.

A visit to Barkur takes you on a walk along the corridor of the monumental history of a small town.

Getting there - The town of Barkur has a railway station and is on the Mangalore-Mumbai route. Udupi is well connected by buses to Bangalore and Mangalore. Udupi is about 400 Kms from Bangalore and about 60 Kms from Mangalore. Barkur is at a distance of about 16 Km from Udupi and can be reached by bus. If you are driving down to Barkur, take a deviation at Brahmavara. Barkur is about 3Km from Brahmavara.

Accommodation – There are many hotels and good South Indian restaurants at Udupi to suit all pockets.

This article was pulished in The Deccan Herald on the 26th of October 2008. Below is the link to the online version of the article.