October 23, 2013

Gaurishwara Temple, Yelandur

( This article was published in the Deccan Herald - Spectrum dated 22-October-2013 )

At a distance of 30kms from Thirumakoodalu Narasipura(popularly known as TNarasipura) lies the town of Yelandur that falls under the Chamarajanagar district. The road from TNarasipura was patchy at a few places and we had to literally slow down to a bullock cart’s pace in order to save the chasis and the shock absorbers of our car. The only saving grace was the lush and green fields on either sides, and soon hit the town of Yelandur. I  had expected this town to be a tiny village sporting a few houses and an old temple ensconced in some corner with an equally patchy road. But I was presented to a thrawling town with a reasonably big bus terminus and pretty vibrant crowd, and that too, early in the morning.

The Gazetteer of Mysore records that the fertile black soil so valuable here that there was not a single acre of uncultivated land, excepting on the hills. In “Mysore and Coorg”  By Benjamin Lewis Rice notes that ‘Yelandur appears to have been the seat of a wealthy principality at the time of the Vijayanagara sovereignty’ which is reinforced by the factor that the region was irrigated by the river Suvarnavati and the rich and fertile soil made agriculture extremely profitable. The hills also contributed to the wealth of the region as they were the home to many valuable trees like sandal, teak etc. But now Yelandur looked like any other small town.

In the present day, roads in Yelandur are narrow but are paved well and just as we crossed a corner, did we notice a small campus with some old structures jutting out a few feet below the road level. One could have easily missed this as there are no signboards or any other clear landmark. The campus houses the Gaurishwara Temple that is one of the few landmarks in this little town. The temple is dangerously close to a corner and any heavy vehicle with failed breaks can easily crash on it and destroy this symbol of our history.

A beautifully carved mantapa, Mahadwara, is presented as soon as one enters via the small(and only) gate into the campus. The temple and the mahadwara face east. Beautiful rings made of stone(with no joins) hang on corners, and hence this mantapa was called as ‘bale-mantapa’(bale in Kannada means bangles). Figures of Vali, Sugriva, Naramsimha swamy adorn the pillars of this mantapa while highly intricate carvings of Andhakasura vadha, Dakshinamurthy, Kalinga-mardana, Shiva, and other gods occupy the exteriors. Lord Shiva wearing slippers with heals and sporting his hair loose, being overlooked by kirthimukha is just too beautiful to be ignored. There is also a motif of a monkey drinking from a coconut.

The majestic mahadwara sets the expectations of an even greater and impressive temple inside the premises, which is only shattered as we step past it. Two temples, without any gopurams, stand surrounded by trees inside the campus. The architecture of these two temples are totally different from the bale-mantapa. Though the bale-mantapa seems to have been inspired by the Hoysala architecture, as can be seen by the running friezes on the exterior walls, the temples sport a distinct Vijayanagara architecture, as can be seen by its simple pillars and lack of any ornamentation. The sanctum-sanctorum is guarded by a wooden door, while the hall outside lacks any walls and is open from all three sides.

On the South side of the campus, a stone with inscriptions in hale-kannada stands in a small pit covered by a small structure. A Nandi, which seems to have been recently painted, sits on top of this structure. It is believed that this temple was constructured by a prince called Singadepa(who was also known as Devabhupala) in 1550AD. They belonged to the Hadinadu dynasty(also known as Padinadu) and were the feaudatories of the Vijayanagara dynasty. The beautiful entrance, known as bale-mantapa, was erected in 1654-55 by  his great grandson Mudduraja(also known as Muddhabhupa).

In December 1807, Yelandur was gifted (as Hereditary Freehold or inam)  to Dewan Purnaiyya for his ‘extraordinary’ services rendered to the Mysore Kingdom. A building, whitewashed in yellow paint, stands at the backside of the temple. This is probably the only highrise in the town and is the bungalow of Dewan Purnaiyya. Yelandur is strategically placed near Coimbatore and Mysore, and with natural riches during its hey days, it is believed that it was an obvious choice for Purnaiyya as he could be close to the Wodeyars of Mysore from here. Restoration and some renovation work was in progress during our visit and hence we couldn’t enter the bungalow.

October 20, 2013

Book Review: Reva EV: India’s Green Gift to the World By Dr SK Maini

(A variation of this review was published in the Business World Magazine dated 23-September-2013)

In the last week of July, BMW presented to the world the company's first electric car that was mass-produced. Called i3, it was priced upwards of 45,000USD and was looking ravishingly neat. And a few weeks before that, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Modors, unveiled the Battery Swap System for Model S that was faster than filling your gas tank. And a part of the World went gaga about them while the remaining still slept in the darkness and continued to ride the gas powered vehicles, let alone know about the other brands of EVs.

In our own backyard, Reva is a very popular name and is sometimes seen as a small animal zipping past the traffic. Though Reva or any other EV for that matter has many challenges for it to become mainstream, the success of Reva lies in the fact that it has continued to remain on the roads and be produced for a very niche market and is priced at one-tenths of the contemporary EVs. Professor Maini in his new book 'RevaEV' goes onto state that Reva has been getting really rave reviews and is not restricted to the Indian roads but is also being exported to a many other countries. What started as a small project in a tools industry has gone onto become an award winning car that has been mainly built using indigenous technologies. During the due course of the book Prof.Maini highlights the various achievements and breakthroughs that were seen during the development of the EV and how managing limited resources made them cost-competitive compared to many other EVs in various segments.

My biggest disappointment with this book would be that Prof.Maini is often seen repeating what he has already stated and continues his paeans on his son Chetan without much going into the emotions. The book, though a quick read, is seen lacking the 'rigour' that could have otherwise made this book an enjoyable read and an object of possession for posterity. Remember that RevaEV is probably one of the biggest achievements in our auto-industry as it was developed purely from inbred technologies and is truly our 'Green' gift to the World. The book lacks the depth that could be gone into some of the challenges that were faced, than merely stating them point wise. Though comparing with Lee Iacocca’s Autobiography would be inevitable and not do justice to the efforts, but Prof.Maini could have used some flavours of the ‘relentless pursuit’ that is often seen in the Auto Industry and given us some splendid insights.

Though the book fails in many quarters, it would be interesting to watch how the technology from EVs are used in other spheres of life and how EVs are molded into over the next decade. Do vanilla EVs have a chance to compete or do they need to rely upon standby gasoline powered engines for longer journeys. Would they command the label of being a 'Glorified Golf Cart' or indeed become an object of mass-consumption? We will wait and watch.

October 11, 2013

Book Review : My Journey by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

You are pretty much hooked when your grandpa tells you a story; for you know that the story is straight from his heart and might have many anecdotes which might lead to other interesting stories and observations. And this is the feeling when you read Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam's new book "My Journey".

A sequel to his previous books, this book is written the usual candid way, but the author has made this book deeply personal - his father, mother, sister, brothers, temple priests , mentors and many other characters who made an impact during his upbringing - figure in different stories.

As Dr.Kalam states, the book is not a linear account of his life, but events in his life that had a deep impact on him and how they taught him various facets of life and made him understand, appreciate and learn from them. Failures, dejections and death are part of life and Dr.Kalam talks about how he managed to tackle the different challenges that kept surfacing during different stages of his life. Talking about each of the chapters in this review would do no justice to the review or the book, as the stories on their own have a lot to teach to all of us alike. The honesty and the candidness in the stories is something that the author has perfected in all his books and that keeps the reader hooked and turn the pages with anticipation to know more.

It is but natural that you develop a sense of new vigour and energy when father-like figure helps you and shares some of their experiences in their life when you are experiencing tough challenges in life. Dr.Kalam is that elderly person who is all guns out in the support of GenX in realizing their dreams but at the same cautioning them of the various speed-bumps that might arise from time to time and how one needs to learn and rebound from these experiences. When his dreams of becoming a Pilot failed and walls closed in on him, a dip in the Holy Ganges at Rishikesh followed by spiritual enlightenment at Sivananda Ashram made him stronger and carry on with his life. He states:
"Each setback teaches us a new facet of life and something about our own responsibilities. When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had. And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realize that these recources are always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives".
A quick read, that can be finished in just a few hours, but I would request you to read each chapter slowly and soak in the enthusiasm and the humility that Dr.Kalam professes. The simplicity reflected in his life is also shown in the book. During the read, sometimes you slip into a state of nostalgia wherein your think about your childhood and that person that helped you learn something very trivial that is helping you a lot now - you credit them for their efforts and this I believe is what Dr.Kalam tries to stress at various junctures. Be it the sea or the boat or the morning walks with his father or the different people appearing in his life, every thing or person has something to teach us and we should always be all ears and eyes open to learn from them and further our life.

Dr.Kalam ends the books with a quick summary of his Journey from being a boy in the coastal town of Rameshwaram to India's top-most office and says ...
"Hard work and piety, study and learning , compassion and forgiveness - these have been the cornerstones of my life"
In Summary : Highly recommended short read.