When I left Vishakapatnam yesterday afternoon after my visit to Simhachalam, I had the plan to reach Mukhalingam by nightfall and stay there for the night. Good that my arrival at Srisailam was delayed and fairly late in the day. Good that I stayed at Srisailam last night. Today I found out that Mukhalingam is a village with no accommodation whatsoever.
Sri Mukhalingam feels quite remote although it is accessible by public bus services. Services are pretty much regular and run through the day. There are direct buses from Srisailam but not that frequent. I took a bus to Challavanipeta, which the locals call Chalapeda. To give you an idea, the bus from Challavanipeta to Mukhalingam takes 45 minutes to cover the distance of 16 km. It costs Rs. 10. It is a slow ride because it will sometimes leave the main road to digress into en route villages including Budithi. I was informed that Budithi they make some sort of metal pots. Every village grows by being in active business of something specific.
After my failed hunt for an accommodation failed, I resolved to return to Srisailam for the night. It is a pity to return to town when the brown hills and green fields all around this village are perfect for hiking.
Mukhalingam has three main temples. One of them is plain but the other two have a wealth of carvings in relief on the walls and shikara. The shikara is of the rekha nagara style, something of which I will see more of when I enter Orissa. Cushion mouldings alternate with ribbed disc mouldings on the shikaras. In the main Mukteshwara Temple, the main shikara crowns the garbha griha while a plain roof covers the antarala. Four smaller shikaras stand at the edges of the inner courtyard. Many smaller shrines are present within the temple complex.
While the architecture captivated me – I had first seen such a shikara at the Galganatha Temple of Pattadakal – the quality of art is not to be ignored. A set of five aedicules with deities and sculpted canopies on the west outer face of the antarala are well preserved. Jambs on doorways are superb with floral motifs and kumbhas. There is a nice dancing Ganesha. Many blank stones on the shikaras indicate that this temple was never finished.
The temples are under the maintenance of the ASI. Today they are more monuments than temples. I guess a real temple would never have been excavated. When a temple is consecrated there are strict rules how the foundation stone is to be laid, how the deity is to be brought, cleaned and installed, and how the first abhisheka and puja are to be performed. A temple that is rediscovered by archaeologists will not be reinstated automatically. It is forgotten. However, it is common for “common” priests to use these monuments as temples for their private purposes.
The worst form of this can be observed at Mukhalingam. The priests will hassle you for a donation. They will tell you legends and stories associated with the temple. They will even become self-proclaimed tourist guides. They will utter some slokas knowing only too well that most will not understand, not even God. Bare-chested, a saffron coloured dhoti, a thread slung across the body from the shoulder and a few dashes of ash and vermilion are enough to transform these ordinary people into Brahmin priests who intercede with the gods on our behalf. And the common people will believe easily seeing that they believe in any stone that is within a temple. Thus I found the crowd in the garbha griha wrapped in the smoke and words of the modern priests.
The villagers at Mukhaligam are simple people. The women wear no blouse, only the saree which covers them fully. Even this, I presume, is only for tourists and visitors, or when they go to town on business. I believe they will feel no shame even if they are topless because it is quite the culture in these parts. What is amazing is that the Indian saree is worn differently. The saree must be one of the most ancient apparel of the Indian women and I am sure it has a long history of its own.
I walked around looking at village wooden doors, neatly painted. Many house verandahs have a long and spacious wicker basket, perhaps to store grain. I looked at the thatched roofs. I looked at cartwheels resting in the shade of thatched sheds. An old woman sat in her verandah chewing busily and eyeing me keenly. Someone pumped water from a bore-well. I made some enquiries with a group of women.
‘There are no rooms here,’ they said. They had heard of Bangalore when I replied to one of their questions. One of them carried on a long ramble. I didn’t understand a word of it. I left the women to their laughs and giggles, myself feeling like a walking joke.
I walked down the road towards Challavanipeta, a road flanked by green fields and farther hills. A villager was on a peepal tree, tearing down branches for his herd of goat ready for their daily meal. Another villager and a woman talked loudly by the shade of the tree. Two women walked by balancing on their heads aluminium pots, perhaps filled with water. A man walked briskly balancing a pole across his shoulders, the pole bending under the weight of its load. A couple of bullocks tried to run down the road but their owners (husband and wife) were quickly upon them to set them right. The bullocks were yoked. A snap of rope got them moving under the hot sun. It is time to prepare for the next cycle of crop.