Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sholingur

Sholingur
Another name for annual check-up (physical and spiritual) for me and my family. That’s the place we go at least once every year, to thank the Lord for what He blessed us with during the last year and to pray for what we wish to happen in the course of the coming year. A recap of this week’s trip. It also gives us a good break from routine life and an opportunity to experience the ever varying nature.

Sholingur is a small town about 100 km from Ambattur where I live, and about 120 km from Chennai, on the Tiruttani-Chittoor road route, about 25 km from Tiruttani. It is connected by rail on the Chennai-Bangalore route, but the railway station is far away. The place has developed recently with the setting up of a number of factories around. Easily accessible by bus from Tiruttani and Arakkonam.

Sholingur
Legend has it that Lord Narasimha, after killing Prahalada’s father Hiranyaksha at Ahobilam (near Cuddapah in Andhra Pradesh – another lovely place to visit), came here to cool down and sat in meditation on top of the larger hill. The smaller hill has Lord Anjaneya in a stance worshipping Lord Narasimha. Anjaneya has four hands, holding the Shank (conch) and Chakra (discus) on two hands – a unique feature that can be found only here. The place is also called Ghatikachalam (Ghatikai meaning a short duration of time - 24 minutes). There are several legends that hinge on the short duration – Sage Viswamitra performed penance just for a Ghatikai and got his powers; etc. Therefore, it is believed that if you visit this place and pray for a short time or even be here for a short time, your prayers will be answered – in a short time, of course. No wonder people throng this place. More so in the Tamil month of Karthikai, when the Lord Narasimha is believed to wake up from his meditation and the devotees get to be blessed by being ‘seen’ by the Lord.

The drive from my home takes about two-and-a-half hours. On reaching the Sholingur town from Tiruttani and after crossing the bus-stand, you need to take a left turn on the road leading to Arakkonam.  Within about half a kilometer, you can see the arch for the temple on the right side, and a well laid concrete road. This road goes right up to the foothill of both hills. The larger hill has a little over 1,300 steps and the smaller one, about 400 steps. The steps are rock-cut, but are neat, uniformly spaced and not too steep. The recent development of Sholingur as a town with industries around it has seen more funds coming in for the temples and now the entire pathway of both hills is covered with roof-sheets, thus making the climb not-too-difficult even in the heat of summer or the worst of winter.

Sholingur Sholingur

The trip this year happened in a matter of minutes. My daughter who is now married, had come home for the weekend and was about to start to work. My son was at home. My wife had plans to go out with my daughter if she was prepared to take off for the day. When I too pitched in bunking work, we decided in a flash to make it to Sholingur. Being a week day, there was no crowd at all at both the temples and we had a good and leisurely darshan.

The major change we noted this year was the absence of rogue monkeys and a perceptible decline in the monkey population. Those that were there were docile and did not bother us. In fact, they did not mind us at all even when I went near them to take photographs. I had a good amount of simian scenes to capture.

Sholingur Sholingur Sholingur

The Narasimha temple has just been renovated after a long time, and hence the statues and brass-inlaid figures were in good shape, as can be seen from the photographs. The Anjaneya temple is yet to be renovated. Work is on.

Sholingur Sholingur

We reached Sholingur around 10:30 am. Even after a leisurely climb with ample rest at both temples, we could return by 1:30 pm, right on time for lunch at the Krishna Mutt near the foot hill of the larger hill. For ensuring lunch there, you need to inform them before you start the climb.

The cool-drink shop at the foothill of the smaller hill is our favourite – we never miss the ‘masala soda’ there. Regular soda-lemon mixed with a powder of pepper and jeera (cumin seeds), it serves as a good appetiser too.

The trip is the same every year, but the experience is different each time, depending on the time of your visit. I have seen the place bone-dry at one time, full of wild flowers with blooming cacti all over the terrain on another occasion, and just lush green all around because of the late rain that is still continuing to pour this year. A moderate wait of less than an hour in one year, an unforgettable wait of over three hours a year of two back, and not even a minute this year. I think this unpredictability is what makes life interesting,

The trip was fulfilling on all counts – satisfaction to the soul after a good darshan, feast to the eyes from the vastness of nature you get to see from the elevation, homely food away from home and a pleasant drive with the family in my compact Santro. Well, the Lord has blessed us well, and I hope and pray, His blessings will continue.

Sholingur

The other photos taken at Sholingur are available in my Flickr set, http://www.flickr.com/photos/raghu_ambattur/sets/72157625378238923.

Please feel free to post your comments.

Update Nov'2013: I will be failing in my duty if I do not mention the good work done by Yathugiri Ammal Trust who have provided sheet roofing for the entire stretch of stairs of both the temples.  With the work fully completed, now devotees can plan to visit any day, summer of winter, rain or shine!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cyclosa

find2
I admire photography as a hobby. It keeps you active, keeps your eyes and mind alert to take note of changes taking place, and gives you avenues to learn more about generally everything you get to shoot.

My eye-opener this time was the tiny Cyclosa spider. Having first caught it on the camera, I was stuck unaware of its identity to write or share anything about it. I posted its pictures on my photo forum and was instantaneously rewarded with details of the spider. My thanks to Saly in the Panasonic forum on Steve’s Digicams site for directing me to Aniruddha Dhamolikar’s blog, and to Aniruddha himself for his beautiful blog that gave me interesting info about this spider.

Coming to the subject, Cyclosa is a spider belonging to the Aranidae family and is an orb weaver. Its speciality is the way it builds its web. The web consists of a regular frame, close spiral line of web from the outward edge up to about two-thirds of the centre, a little free space and then the central home.
find1 

The central portion of the web contains a small chain of debris that includes the body parts of its prey insects, egg sacs, etc. and it builds it in such a way that the debris collection resembles itself. The spider itself is shaped with such an irregular body that when it sits at one end of the debris home, it completely gels with the debris and you cannot realise its presence.
Cyclosa spider

In addition, it spins a circular pattern of thicker yarn around its home that attracts attention and makes prey fall for it (see the second photo from top). I also read in a BBC article that Cyclosa builds its debris in a shape that is a life size replica of itself! Why it does so has quite a few answers including attracting its predators, which baffles scientists and the exact cause of such behaviour is still being researched.

It is NOT a rare spider and can easily be found in bushes and thickets all over our country, if you know just where and what to look for.

For me, it gave me quite a challenge to photograph because of its tiny size. Still, I think I have achieved a decent quality of images of itself and its web.
cyclosa spider

These and other photos that I caught of the spider can be viewed in my flicker album http://www.flickr.com/photos/raghu_ambattur/sets/72157625482099878.

If you find this post interesting, please post your comments here. I would appreciate it very much.