Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Men and Gods of Rajasthan – travels in India.

But Mt Abu is perhaps most famous for the ancient Dilwara complex of temples, a sacred place for the Jainists. Built on a terrace, carved out of the mountain, it remains invisible to the visitor from the outside. Inside the temples are sculpted from rich marble. An almost paralysing sense of wonder hits you. Peace is in the atmosphere, suggesting meditation. And in fact, in the shade of the cell, in front of an enourmous statues of Tirthankara we see a monk wrapped in his simple tunic lost in deep meditation. I’ve seen monks meditating in temples many times, but this was the first time I’d encountered such a sense of distance and abbandonment of the body on the part of any human being. The monk seemed to have left his body, abandoned and relaxed, and to have gone elsewhere. Maybe that’s the way it should be.

The jainist religion was born almost contemporaneously with that of the Buddhist, with which it has much in common. Non violence and the respect for every form of life are its founding principles. Every creature is respected and the little birds in the temple, as they weave their way,singing, around the gharlands of flowers, seem to know it. This is a sublime place that opens up every part of your soul to peace; it’s a sin to have to leave it.

With heavy hearts we leave Mt Abue and continue our travel. The car runs smoothly in the hills, on the sw
eet and rolling road, into a bucolic countryside. Every now and again we meet farmers, with their traditional clothes, the women brightly coloured, the men in white with enormous coloured turbans. The people off Rajastan are strong and proud like the land that has forged them.

Suddenly, at the top of one hill, a fort circled by imposing walls appears: it’s the fort of Kumbhalgarh. Its belt of walls, about 36 kilometres long, is the second largest in the world, by some distance, after the great wall of China. Inside the vast area there are villages still inhabited by farmers who live in perfect harmony with the place. The fort of Kumbhalgarh is one of a kind, with all the characteristics of a genuine feudal fort. While holding a strategic position, it manages to have a peaceful atmosphere and the numerous temples, both Hindu and Jainist, call to mind a place of devotion rather than one of defence. The scene of high fortifications, temples and farmers with their buffalo is completely arcadian.

Setting straight back off on the trip we soon reach the temple of Ranakpur, a Jainist architectural treasure and a centuries old centre for pilgrimage. As with all Jainist temples the simplicity of the outside contrasts with the magnificence of the interior. Once more we’re hit with a sense of wonder that leaves one almost breathless. The building, in stone, is formidable. The main cell is at the centre of the structure made of multiple columns richly sculpted with figures of gods, demi-gods and mythic creatures. It’s like being at the centre of a three dimensional mandala, one is encircled, above and bellow, by a world both full and empty, of light and darkness; you sense the supernatural. Outside, the kitchen of the temple, staffed entirely by volunteers, at five o’clock precisely, serves a perfect healthy meal, blessed and, obviously, vegetarian.

Our next stop is Udaipur, the city that takes its name from Udai Singh, the forefather of the royal family who declared himself the direct descendant of the Sun god and thus of divine stock. Their symbol, the Sun, is visible in many palaces and temples constructed by them. Once in the city we marvel at the lively, and at the same time relaxed, atmosphere that surrounds us. We’re looking to reach the palace moving forward into a maze of laneways ever more narrow and crowded and finally, at the end of the bazar, appears the royal palace. From the square in front of the entrance to the palace one can admire the entire complex. The bizarre mix of colours and shapes is the result of the fusion of rajput and moghul elements. The asymetric combination of little columns, small loggie and windows of various types bring to mind, in some ways, Venice. The interior is a mix of rooms, turrets and halls sumptuously decorated by skilled artists with paintings and coloured mirrors that create strange tricks of light and a fantastic atmosphere. Peering at the outside scenery through the arches of the verandas and the oddly shaped windows, is like looking through the frame at a living painting. From here, the landscape, attentively studied, gives a full panorama of the hills and the lakes, the principal touristic attractions of Udaipur. These artificial lakes as well as having been conceived as water reservoirs also have a purely aesthetic function. As a matter of fact for the Indians, a sentimental people, Udaipur is the most romantic city of India. And the local sovereigns, themselves romantic, wanted to create atmosphere and magic. In a country as torrid as India, water in itself creates an immediate sensual pleasure. If on top of that one adds to the scene, white and royal palaces, that seem to emerge from the water, one can easily guess the visual effect that follows. It’s a shame that the drought has almost completely drained the water and that in its stead today one finds green grasslands. Who knows if sooner or later we’ll see once again the famous lakes of Udaipur filled with water. But this is also a part of India, ancient and indifferent land, where everything becomes worn and ruined and assumes the betwitching spell of decline.

The Multi-Culturalist. William Dalrymple in interview

  • Pages: 1
  • 2