Temple Tales – Someshwara temple, Magadi.

Someshwara temple, Magadi. Main entrance. Note the carved dwarapaalikas on either side of the gate.

I am an atheist. I describe myself as a Brahmin atheist. Go figure.

My atheism doesn’t stop me from appreciating my country’s ancient culture or from admiring Her timeless art. Thus, my on-going efforts to learn Sanskrit and understand our scriptures, and thus, my visits to historic temples that our country has thousands of.

I carry a high-end camera on my temple visits, and when permitted by the priests inside, I shoot as many images as I can. It’s an expensive pastime, but it’s worth it.

I never visit a temple without researching its history and, last weekend, after suitable preparations, I paid a visit to Magadi. This historic town is about 50km from my home in Bangalore. There are several temples here that meet my criteria for historicity, popularity and most important, willingness to permit photography.

Remember though, that there are very few temples that permit direct photography of the primary deity. Most of them will permit photography outside the sanctum sanctorum, especially if you offer a generous donation (for which you will be given a proper receipt, don’t worry). Always ask about photography first.


Someshwara temple, view from the east side.

So prepared, I paid a visit to the Someshwara temple at Magadi. Correctly known as Shri Prasanna Someshwara Devasthana, this ancient temple was established by Kempe Gowda in 1512. This is what the priest told me, and what is mentioned in the temple’s website.

Kempe Gowda and his descendants heavily patronised this temple. It is said that Kempe Gowda held court here and dispensed local justice. He also planted a Bilva tree (Wood apple), that still survives.


Kempe Gowda’s court.

The notable features of this temple are its Yali pillars. A yali is a mythical creature, analogous to a gargoyle, that you will find in temples across south India. Usually, Yalis are seen in pillars and supporting structures around a temple. When you visit any temple, ask the priest about them.

A fine example of a Yali pillar.

And pay attention to the carved columns inside the main temple. There is a shrine dedicated to Shiva’s consort, Parvati, and also a shrine to Nandi, Shiva’s mount.  Don’t forget to take a look at the Nandi tower a few meters outside the temple.

The temple is quite well maintained, although the main gopuram was knocked down by a lightning strike about a century ago. The Archaeological Survey of India has yet to get around replacing the gopuram.

Two brothers, Praveen and Arun Dixit, are the presiding priests here. I met Arun Dixit, and he was a genial, helpful person. It’s best to visit the temple between 8.30am and 10am. Please offer a contribution of Rs 200/- or more to the priest. An official receipt will be given to you. Of course, you can also have an “archana” done for your family.

The place is easily located on GPS. The road from Bangalore is pretty good, right upto the temple which is on a hillock. Carry your own food and water. Magadi town is not noted for high-quality eating houses.

You should also visit the Ranganathaswamy temple, which is located off the highway, 10km before the Someshwara temple. More about this temple in my next blogpost.

Bottomline: A nice place for the family to visit, and a pleasant one-day drive from Bangalore. Strongly recommended.

Cheers … Srini.


Somnathapura – revisited.


“The construction of this temple was caused by Somanatha”, the notice-board put up by the Archeological Survey of India informs us at the entrance. That mild syntax glitch aside, the ASI has done a fair job at the Channakeshava temple at Somnathpur.

Channakeshava means “Handsome Krishna”.

I last visited this place five years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the temple and its surroundings are well maintained now.

Built around 1268 AD, during the reign of the Hoysala king, Narasimha II, the Kesava temple presents the connoisseur with the best of Hoysala architecture in a compact, one-day package. To the purist, Somnathpur is perhaps a more complete representation of Hoysala art, than its much bigger and more famous cousins at Halebidu and Beluru, a hundred miles to the west.

Not many people know that the Halebidu-Beluru temples are generally incomplete. They don’t have the vimana (or gopuram) on top. Somanthpur does, and while its vimana doesn’t tower over you, unlike the gopurams of Tamil Nadu, it is imposing all the same.

Walk around slowly, pause at an exquisite sculpture, admire the lathe-turned stone pillars, turn your eyes upward to the sixteen intricately carved ceilings, and as Whitman would put it, simply ‘stand and stare’. Each of the ceilings depicts a banana flower in different stages of growth.

Somnathpur is one of the few temples in India where you can walk right into the sanctum sanctorum with your camera and snap away at the idols. Try and locate the names of the sculptors, carved at the base of each statue. Ruvari Mallithamma, a famous temple sculptor of the time, sculpted most of the statues.

Make it a point to read the informative notice board at the temple’s entrance, and if you have the time, read up about the temple on the internet. That way, you can really appreciate the craftsmanship and engineering skill that have gone into the making of this fine masterpiece.


Every stone tells a story. The walls depict various scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The detailing is exquisite. The sculptors even snuck in a few erotic scenes as well, just to keep things interesting I suppose!

Best time to visit: Any time, but it does get hot during April-May.

How to get there: About 30km from Mysore, and 120km from Bangalore. The road is good all the way to the temple. Parking is an issue, so try to avoid weekends. The temple opens at 9 am and closes at 5.30 pm. The entry fee is a nominal Rs 25 for Indians and Rs 100 for foreigners. As at all ASI sites, still-cameras are allowed free of cost, but tripods are strictly not allowed. Video cameras require special permission.

Bottom-line: If you appreciate medieval Indian temple architecture, then Somnathapura is worth your visit.

Cheers … Srini.

You’ve been Culted!

India is the birthplace of the highest number of religious cults in the world.

At least one person you know is involved in a religious cult. You may yourself be a victim of a cult, without knowing it.

Why do so many religious cults flourish in India? Because of you.

Most Indians have a very poor knowledge of our own culture, if at all. We prefer to obtain our cultural education from grannies’ tales, TV and Amar Chitra Katha -and from self-appointed Gurus and godmen.

The wrong values are dinned into our heads. We are told to blindly obey our elders. Skepticism is crushed out of a growing child’s brain. Free thought is blasphemised. The spirit of enquiry is demonised.

Religion and “spirituality” (whatever that means) are simply shoved down our throats. Unreasoning adherence to idiotic rituals, esoteric prayers chanted in an abstruse language by an incoherent pot-bellied priest – this is “religion” for us.

I spent two years learning classical Sanskrit, and after passing four exams in the language, I gained a cursory understanding of our ancient culture. It will take me a decade before I can claim any kind of proficiency in Sanskrit, but even now, with my rudimentary knowledge, I am deeply impressed by the profundity of India.

Skepticism and religious debate were encouraged in India. There were several schools of thought, not all of which regarded the Vedas as sacrosanct. In fact, the Charvaka school was blatantly anti-Vedic, atheistic and materialistic. Yet, all schools flourished side-by-side. Each school was expected to study and understand other schools.

That was the India of the past. Broad-minded, skeptical, tolerant in behavior, free in thought. And there’s India of the present. Violently intolerant and cultist. The colonialists are long gone, but we are still enslaved – by the Gurus of modern India.

These are the cardinal signs of cultism:

1) One person above all: Cults grow around one powerful individual. That one leader is known by different names – Guru, Baba, Father, Amma, Maseeha, Avatar, and the like.

That individual need not even be alive. The most dangerous cults in India are built around self-styled godmen who are long dead.

The Guru is all. No criticism is allowed. Dissent is ruthlessly erased. What the Guru utters is alone the truth. His word is the law. The Constitution of India and the law of the land do not exist in his domain.

2) Secretive rituals and practices: Cultists greet each other in a special way, they are “initiated” into allegedly yogic practices that are unknown to the outside world, they are made to sign non-disclosure agreements. They are told they are an elite group that has access to “spiritual” treasures unavailable to lesser mortals.

3) Guilt and fear: These are the primary instruments of control. You are made to feel guilty about your personal habits, your behavior, your appearance, your wealth, your career or lack of it, your sexual orientation.

You are blamed for your bad “karma”, for the sins you committed in a previous life, for the alleged sins you keep committing in the present life, and so on. And in a literal sense, the fear of god is put into you.

The Guru alone can show you the path to your salvation. Surrender yourself to Him or Her, and you will be saved.

And by the way, the path to your salvation doesn’t come free of cost, and you will be relieved of all your wealth, thank you very much.

4) Aggressive recruiting methods: Cultists (especially your relatives who are cultists) will barge into your house, emotionally blackmail you, harass you, scare you, turn your loved ones against you, and do anything they can to rope you in.

5) Brain-washing: Repetitive chanting, bhajans, group meditation, vigorous and rhythmic breathing techniques – these are powerful brain-washing methods used since ancient times. Usually, psychotropic drugs are also used, and usually without your knowledge.

6) Unrelenting demands for money and your free labor, in the name of “nishkama” karma.

When Krishna talks about “nishkama” karma in the Gita, what He means is that you perform your duty, whatever that duty is, with all your heart, and dissociate yourself from the outcome of that duty. He means that while you do need to act with a certain objective, you understand that there are factors out of your control that may defeat that objective. And so, do your work sincerely without unduly worrying about failure or success.

By “nishkama karma” Krishna certainly does not mean that you donate free labor and your hard-earned money to an unscrupulous rogue who evades taxes and goes around in a Mercedes, while you roast your ass in the sun doing unpaid charitable work for him.

7) Us and Them: You are constantly told that the world outside is your mortal enemy. The outside world is jealous of your Guru and all the alleged good he’s done. Your duty is to protect your Guru, by giving him all your money and by recruiting more and more ignorant devotees for his use.

8) Vague platitudes: Ask the Guru an uncomfortable question, and either you will be forcefully shut down, or he will answer with a benign smile and vague cliches. For good measure, he will throw in some high-sounding Sanskrit phrases, and a joke or two that will make everyone chuckle, but won’t answer your question. Confused and intimidated, you smile bravely and shut the eff up.

9) Foul-mouthed bodyguards. Only the chosen ones (and politicians) are allowed direct access to the Guru. He lives in a secluded mansion, travels in a motorcade, surrounded by an aura of “spirituality”, and pan-chewing watchmen armed with walkie-talkies and guard dogs. All of which are paid for by your “nikshama” karma.

10) Showmanship: This is the defining characteristic of all great cult leaders. They know how to put on a grand show. Massive group events, huge venues, lavish stages, caparisoned elephants, dazzling celebrities, high-profile politicians, they know all the tricks in the book. PT Barnum would have been ashamed of himself.

Does all this sound horribly familiar to you? Then you, my friend, have been Culted. Cut your losses and run.

If you really want to do charity, donate money to a reputed academic institute or to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. You will get substantial tax benefits as well.

If you want to help someone, then first see if that someone actually deserves your help. If he does, then just help him, and forget about receiving any gratitude.

Do your official work, however humble it be, with sincerity and devotion. Teach your kids to think for themselves, to question, to wonder, to seek their own answers – without the help of a self-styled Guru.

Read about our country’s glorious culture, even if you have to read an English translation. Use your own brains. And do not hesitate to rudely shut down any cultists, even if they are your own family.

Feel free to be an atheist, or not. Feel free to accept the Vedas, or not. Just be a good human being, do your job sincerely, be nice to your fellow man and to the rest of the planet, respect the law, and do not abuse Mother Nature.

That, my friend, is nishkama karma. And you don’t need an effing Guru to teach you that.

Cheers … Srini.