Trip in Hampi | Sai Baba | 666 | Up
Virupaksha & temple complex
Vijayanagara empire



In January, 2003 I finished making the movie “An Expedition to Ladak” and for the first time went to India. I chose Hampi as a main target of the trip. I was attracted by the temple looking like a pyramid I saw in a picture.

Puja. Day 1

How we took off our shoes before the Temple of Virupaksha
How Molly tried to pull the sheet off a priest
Purification and prayer
Temple square, the column of light, the torch in a monky’s hand
10 minutes of silence
We followed Molly. The feeling of obedience overwhelmed me. I was studying its components. There was something scary about my trust in this little boy. Is there anything he can show me I can’t see myself? Still, somewhere deep inside I was inexplicably sure that I had to follow him and do everything he could ask for. Along the way two boys joined Molly (of those boys dressed like monkeys we met at mount Hemakuta. I’ll call them “monky”). We reached Market square before the Temple, crossed it and stopped by a shop. I saw a woman of 50. Molly turned to us and said ‘It’s my mom’. Then he started explaining something in bad English with a ‘karnataka’ accent. As neither I nor Harchun knew even basic English, it felt like eternity.
coil's From his gestures we understood what he wanted us to do. He took off his shoes and put them under a table saying his mother would look after them, so there was nothing to worry about. We took off our shoes and put them under the table too. Molly took us to the entrance to the Virupaksha Temple.
It was a passage through the main pyramid tower that was 70 meters high. The ground from the shop where we left our shoes to the entrance was paved with stones and we walked barefoot on them. Polished in many centuries they gave a pleasant cool feeling coming through the soles up into the body. We passed the main arch and entered a wide patio. The faces of pilgrims could be seen here and there in the dim light coming from the sides. Men and women in pink silken clothes curiously looked at us being led by Molly. Each one had a red bindi on the brow. We came into a small room. On the left there was the table with ritual things the pilgrims passed in line. There were priests behind the table. The pilgrims passing donated money to gods, putting it into a metal dish, took the purifying water one of the priests poured into their cupped hands and in the end got a bindi made of red or yellow powder on their brow. Harchun and I stood in a long line to the table with the Hindu pilgrims. Now, besides their pink clothes they had white sheets on their shoulders. The same sheets were on the priests at the table doing the rite. I saw Molly behind the table speaking to a priest. After a short talk Molly grabbed the sheet the priest had on his shoulders and pulled it but the man held it tight continuing the talk that was gradually turning into a quarrel. As I found out later Molly tried to take the sheet off the priest to give it to Anna. Then I and Harchun came to the table. Harchun went first. He took out of his pocket 10 rupees and put it into the dish for donations. The priest having dipped his finger into the cup with the red powder touched Harchun’s brow in the middle. Following suit he in turn gathered the candlelight heat moving his palms over it and with a symbolic gesture washed his face. Then the priest poured some water out of a small vessel into his hands. He took it to his face, touched the water with his lips and then splashed it in his face. Having made another step forward he bowed with his hands held together on chest.
Then Molly led us to the symmetric statue with absolutely identical seven faces looking in seven directions. Around the statue pilgrims walked counterclockwise holding hands in prayer. Molly pulled us into this go-round. Then there were other altars where we donated, got purified with holy water and got more paint added onto the brow so the spot grew bigger and clearer.
coil's We went out on Temple square and walked to its center. Having covered about 50 meters I heard a noise behind. Looking back I saw a procession among the columns. Pilgrims in orange clothes led by the priest holding a torch moved toward us. Molly and his two pals were walking by the priest. Suddenly, a monky turned to the priest and pointed to the torch. After a short quarrel he caught the torch and rushed forward. The boys ran after him merrily jumping.
The monky neared the stone column in the middle of the square and placed the torch on it. The procession rounded the torch, paused, then each pilgrim walked round it a few times and then one by one they left. Molly took Harchun to the ritual stupa about a meter high and pointed to the knob in the center making a sign that he should take it into his hands, look up in the sky and imagine a column of light going up and make a wish. As he touched the knob somewhere at the far end of the square among the columns on went the light and the polished stones on the ground reflected it. Holding the knob he slowly looked up to the sky watching the particles of the light in the upright beam go their long way to the stars. Molly asked us to keep silent for about 10 minutes. We sat down on the steps by the wall around the square and silently watched the stars in the sky above us and the boys were having fun, speaking loud of something gesturing.

Puja. Day 2

Bowing to Sivalingam near Natarajeeva
Praying by the Statue to the Gold Cobra
Lion with the Mane of Fire-Shiva
Snake inside
The next day I visited Sivalingam near the statue to Natarajeeva. The base of the gigantic (3 meters high) Sivalingam stood in water. When I came close my hands out of my will got together in prayer. I bowed my head and closed my eyes for a moment.
Sivalingam is the Cobra place. It coils round the central knob (lingam). The sun was coming down. I asked Molly if a puja was going to be held in the Temple. He nodded. 8p.m.
- May I take a camera along?
- Yes, - he said.
Molly knocked on our door at 7.45p.m. I took the camera and left with Harchun. Just like the first day we left our shoes in the shop and got in the Temple by main entrance. I got the camera ready. Inside we came to the table with a dish for donations. A lamp was lit. There stood a priest at the table and poured water into pilgrims’ cupped hands, dipped his finger into red powder and touched their brows with it. Having come through it we stopped before the table behind which there was a passage through the next room into the one with a representation of the God. (As I learned later the Temple’s most valued holy thing). There was a monk sitting next to it before a candle. Chanting a prayer now and then he spilled something on the candle thus making it sparkle and burn brighter. Above the deity almost completely covered in flowers there was a seven headed cobra shining gold in candlelight. I took the camera to the eye-level preparing to shoot, but the priest at the table made me a sign to put it down. In the meantime a monk led two men in military uniform with big stars on their shoulder straps into the room behind the table. They stopped on the left of the passage leading to the deity with their hands held together on chest.
A bell rang in the inner room. Its rhythmic jingling made attention concentrated on the Gold Cobra. Molly neared and pointing to the inner room said: ‘Puja, puja…’
I noticed the events go different from what we saw the day before. I was in front of the statue holding the camera down. Suddenly consciousness got narrow and I started falling down. Molly got near just in time to catch the camera. Looking out from deep inside myself I realized someone was taking me somewhere by the arm. It was the monk that stood at the table. He took my hand and had it laid on a metal rail. I caught it with both hands feeling power pulsing inside my chest. Holding on to the rail I squatted and then stretched my legs out…
...something tells me if I start wriggling like a snake it’s going to be right. My back starts moving in waves. The pulsing in the stomach is getting stronger. I hang on the rail, my body wriggles. On the left I hear Harchun telling me not to pass out. Understanding how embarrassing it may look I feel the Cobra’s heart beating inside me and the hood growing larger with every beat. My mind refuses to watch the events silently and it starts telling me that it’s the puja where a god gets inside a pilgrim. Inner sight shows me Shiva as a lion with the mane of fire. (Why Shiva-I can’t say, I’m just “knowing” it). His mane spreads in flames. The mind goes on: “Remember the strange looks on the monks’ faces… They didn’t tell you the point of the ritual because they had to follow instructions.” The pulsing is getting weaker. My half open eyes see a large crowd of monks and pilgrims, the two military asking Harchun who we are and where we stay. Molly tells them we are his guests. I try to get up but the priest takes me by the hand and helps me sit down on the floor by the wall making me a sign that I’d better sit still for a while. Only now I start feeling wet-the priest splashed the water out of the jug in my face. I look up. The people around look scared and puzzled at me. I feel a bone in my neck, try to turn my head but can’t. The priest asks me how I feel. “Snake inside,” - say I. “It’s good,”

- says he and strokes my shoulder…

The crowd started moving. “Snake, snake…” - echoed here and there. The military followed us out and got left behind on the square. Looking back I saw an old man in monk clothes stop them and explain something. They listened while severely watching us go.


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