Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Name : Fengdu - The Ghost City and Ming Mountain
Located on the northern bank of the Yangtze River, Fengdu is located high on Ming Mountain around 170 kilometers from Chongqing, China.
According to local superstition and folklores, Fengdu is the place where the souls of the dead rest, and it is therefore called the "Ghost City". Having a history of nearly 2,000 years, Fengdu has formed a special culture of ghosts and the afterlife.
Fengdu got its name as the Ghost City in the Eastern Han Dynasty. Two officials from the imperial court Yin Changsheng and Wang Fangping decided to come to Ming Mountain to practice Taoist teachings. Through self-cultivation they became immortals. Combining their surnames produces the term "Yinwang" meaning the "king of hell." Later, during the Tang Dynasty, a stupendous temple was erected on Ming Mountain depicting life in hell. It displays demonic images and torture devices and reflects the notion that good people will be treated well in the afterlife and that bad people will be punished by going to hell.
In the Chinese vision of the afterlife, the dead (or ghosts) must undergo three major tests to enter the netherworld. These tests are taken at three locations - Nothing-To-Be-Done-Bridge; Ghost Torturing Pass and the Tianzi (son of heaven) Palace. These three locations are among many attractions in the Ghost City.
Built during the Ming Dynasty, the bridge connects the nether world with the real world and is a testing point for good and evil. According to legend, the Nothing-To-Be-Done-Bridge is composed on three identical stone arches. The middle arch is used for testing people. There are different protocols for crossing the bridge depending on your gender, age and marital status. Below the bridge are square-shaped pools of water. Virtuous people will pass over the bridge without obstacle; villainous people will fall into the pools below. The other two arches are called the golden and silver bridges respectively. When preparing to leave, visitors are encouraged to pass these two bridges because according to local superstition this will bring them good fortune.
Ghost Torturing Pass:
The Ghost Torturing Pass is the second test before entry into the nether world. It is said that this is the place where the dead report to the Yama, the King of Hell, for judgment. In front of the structure there are eighteen sculptures depicting ferocious demons. Each of these devils is quite lifelike creating a feeling of true eerieness.
Having over three hundred years' history the palace covers an area of nearly 2,908 square yards. It is composed of a temple gate (paifang) and the palace itself. The gate is an archway made of wood and stone rising to height of nearly 33 feet. The palace is the nerve center of the Ghost City and is the oldest and largest temple on Ming Mountain.
The third test to evade hell takes place at a large stone in front of the gate. The ghost must stand on the stone on one foot for three minutes. A good person will be able to do this while an evil one cannot and will be sent to hell.
One other ghostly attraction in Fengdu worth mentioning is the Last-Glance at Home Tower. This structure was built in 1985 and commemorates the site where spirits consigned to hell could take one last look at their families.
There are 75 Buddha and Tao temples in the town of Fengdu, most of them gathered on a famous hill named Ming Mountain.
Legends said that Ming Mountain is one of the 72 graveyards for Taoism. Tao believes when people die, their spirits will gather there (also called "spirit world"). All the temples on the hill were built at Western Jin period (265 ~ 420A.D.) and rebuilt in Ming and Ch'ing Dynasty (1386 ~ 1911A.D.)
Fengdu is the only ghost city in China. The temples are all over the mountain with many statues. In the "spirit world", there are series of super beings in the temples. They all have its own responsibility, they guard the spirit world.
Due to the construction of the 3 Gorges Dam, the ghostly city is underwater. However, a hill and dozens of temples remain in the big artificial lake behind the dam. So that part can still be visited.
The mountaintop temple complex dates back some 1,600 years and is dedicated to Yama, the king of hell. Combining elements of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, it’s a fascinating and very visual place.
The giant face seen in the pictures is called The Ghost King, and it holds a Guinness World Records title as the biggest sculpture carved on a rock. At 138 meters tall and about 217 meters wide, The Ghost King can be seen from all around the city.
Fengdu is where the devil lives, according to Chinese legend. They say that spirits go to heaven, and evil goes to Fengdu. The town was overlooked by Ming Shan Hill that was said to be the home of Tianzi, the King of the Dead. A temple on the top of the hill is dedicated to Tianzi. The whole place had an eerie feel to it with deserted streets, tower blocks, and empty shops before the lake rose. Now the city is underwater.
However, Ming Shan Hill is now an island. There are a lot of tombs and grave sites there because Fengdu was a large burial ground. It was and may still be one of the major Taoist burial grounds, where the people who don’t achieve immortality are buried. There are also scores of temples and shrines. There is a temple on top. To get to the temple, there is path that takes about 15 minutes to climb. There is also a cable car.
Next we climb 33 steps that represent the steps to heaven, which lead to a row of statues of ghosts that line the path toward the so-called ghost gate. We must pass through this arched gate without touching it, or we’ll be trapped there forever, our guide warns. Additional tests await visitors who have the time to take them: one challenges men to balance a heavy stone upon another stone, as proof that they’re good husbands. Another test, taken just before entering the temple of Yama, has me attempting to balance on a rock on one foot (my left foot since I’m male; females stand on their right). If you can avoid falling three seconds while looking at the entrance of the temple, then you’re innocent of sin and a good person; those who cannot topple over and are sent to hell (I escaped damnation by a split-second).
The main temple, painted in rich blue, is all about the fabled king of hell, Yama. At the foot of his imposing statue, you can buy a “passport” for ten yuan (just a little over a dollar), write a name of a loved one on it, and burn it in their memory. Two galleries alongside the main temple use statuettes to illustrate various after-death tortures that sinners may suffer. The demons have interesting characteristics and colors. There are three toed demons and blue demons, etc.
One of the fun activities at the temple is physical tests such as running up stairs while holding your breath or crossing a bridge in the fewest steps. These physical tests, though they might be considered fun now, actually stem from a Taoist tradition about how to enter the area in peculiar physical ways that would make people have good Taoist fortune.
Admission Fee: CNY 80
Cable Car: CNY 20 (round-trip); CNY 15 (one-way)
Opening Hours: 09:00 to 17:00
Whatever your beliefs, you are constantly reminded the "Good will be rewarded with good, and evil with evil."
Festivals & Fairs :
The days, from March 3 to 15th of the lunar month, are Fengdu peoples' lively temple fair days. During the days, there will be a lot of interesting "spirit shows" in the streets attracting many tourists and believers.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Name : Mount Emei or Emeishan
Mt. Emei is located in Leshan City, Sichuan Provincein China. It is towering, beautiful, old and mysterious. Mt. Emei is like a huge green screen standing in the southwest of the Chengdu Plain.
The slopes of Emei Shan have been inhabited since as early as 10,000 years ago. It was originally a Taoist retreat, but became the location of the first Buddhist temple built in China in the 1rd century AD.
Pugong, a medicinal plant farmer, built the Puguang Hall on the Golden Summit in the 1st century AD. In the 3rd century, the Puxian form of Buddhism (which centers on devotion to the Bodhisattva Puxian, or Samantabhadra) became dominant on Emei and the Chinese monk Huichi built the Puxian Temple (now the Wannian Temple) at the foot of the Guanxinpo Terrace.
In the mid-9th century, the Song Emperor Zhao Kuangyin sent a Buddhist mission headed by Master Jiye to India. On his return he was authorized to build temples on Mount Emei, where he preached and translated the Indian Buddhist texts. He was also authorized to cast a Puxian bronze statue, 62 tonnes in weight and 7.85 m high, now in the Wannian Temple.
Ever since, Mount Emei has been one of the most holy places of Buddhism. Extensive rebuilding during the Ming dynasty finally converted most of Emei's Taoist temples to Buddhism.
The natural beauty and sacred significance of Emei Shan has been drawing pilgrims and tourists for 2,000 years.
Emei Shan literally means "Delicate Eyebrow Mountain" - it derives its name from two peaks which face each other and look like the delicate eyebrows of a girl. Mt.Emei is sacred to the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra.
Mt.Emei is the highest one among all the famous sight-seeing mountains in China.
Mt. Emei is one of the 4 sacred mountains in China and it is more than 1,000m higher than the other three Buddhist sacred mountains.
In Mt. Emei there are four scenic regions:
1) Baoguo Temple - starting place
2) Wannian Temple
3) Qingyin Pavilion and
4) Golden Summit
Its main peak, the Golden Summit, is 3,099 meters (10,167 feet) above the sea level, seemingly reaching the sky. Standing on the top of it, you can enjoy the snowy mountains in the west and the vast plain in the east. In addition in Golden Summit there are four spectacles:
1) Clouds Sea
3) Buddha rays and
4) Saint lamps.
In 1996 Mt. Emei was enlisted in the world natural and cultural heritage by the UNESCO.
There are many monkeys, who are accustomed to tourists and assertive; they aren't dangerous but will beg for food and grab at bags as hikers walk along the trails. Many hikers carry walking sticks to shoo them away.
There are over 30 Buddhist temples on Emei Shan, 10 of which are large and very old. They are considered masterpieces of creative ingenuity in the way they adapt to the natural enviroment and beauty of the holy mountain.
Further up the mountain lies the Crouching Tiger Monastery (Fuhu Si), Emei's largest temple. Once associated with the Taoist martial-arts master Zhang Sanfeng, today it is a Guanyin nunnery. Notable features include the 16th-century, 7m-high bronze Huayan Pagoda, which is engraved with 4700 Buddha images.
A few hours' walk or a cable car ride leads to the Golden Summit (Jinding), at 3077m. There are two temples here (the friendly Woyun Nunnery and the large Huazang Si) and thousands of padlocks inscribed with couples' names to symbolize eternal love. Jinding is the best place to experience the Four Wonders of Mt. Emei: the Buddha's Halo (rainbow-like rings that surround and move with your shadow), the Sea of Clouds, the Holy Lamp (or Divine Lights) and the Golden Summit Sunrise.
From the Golden Summit you can ride a monorail along the ridge to Wanfoding (Ten Thousand Buddha Summit), the true summit of Emei Shan.
The largest surviving building is Baoguo Monastery, at the mountain base. Built in the 16th century, Baoguo is the usual starting point for any serious exploration. The monastery includes a library of sutras and a huge porcelain Buddha. Further up the mountain lies the Monastery of Hufu, which features a lovely seven-meter high copper pagoda.
Getting there :
Mt. Emei lies 150 km away from Chengdu, 130 km from the Shuangliu International Airport and only 28 km from Leshan city. Access to the mountain is via Emei Shan town, 7km from the base. Minibuses and public buses leave from Emei's main street depot to the trailhead at Baoguo.
It is five kilometers to the top of Emei Shan, much of it consisting of stone stairs. If you walk it all, plan for a full day up and a full day down (around 10 hours on foot). Monasteries along the way offer reasonably-priced lodging, and there are several comfortable lodges on the summit. Dress in layers - a 20° variance between base and summit is normal.
Minibuses and cable cars can take tourists most of the way up the mountain. Most opt for tours from Chengdu, about three hours to the mountain base, then another two hours to Jieyin Dien, where you already feel the air at 2,540 meters.
A Swiss-style cable car soars over pines to Jinding, and a final hike of about an hour, huffing and puffing in the high altitude, to the peak. Some spend the night to see the sunrise, others quickly turn around and head back.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Name : Erice – Venus Castle
Perched just above 750 metres above sea level on Mountain Erice in Sicily(Italy). Erice is a charming town in the province of Trapani, the low western coast towards Marsala, the dramatic Punta del Saraceno and Capo san Vito to the north-east.
How to get there :
Erice is easily accessible by different modes of transport-simple as well as exciting ones. You can reach Erice from the two major cities of Trapani and Palermo. You can reach Trapani and Palermo by air as the airports in both the cities are connected to all the major European cities. Palermo is a port so you can reach Palermo by ship as well.
From Trapani there are regular buses to Erice. If you decide to drive down by car it take about it takes about an hour’s journey from Palermo and about thirty five minutes from Trapani.
However the most exciting and thrilling way to reach Erice is by Funivia or cable car. You can travel via the station in the Casa Santa valley. The cable car links Trapani to Erice through a picturesque and exciting ride of 3099m. Each individual motorized cable car can take eight passengers. A return trip can also be organized.
Eryx (meaning Mountain) or Erice, as it is more commonly referred to, was a religious centre where the Phoenicians worshipped Astarte, the Greeks worshipped Aphrodite and the Romans worshipped Venus. Today Christians still practice their faith and revere the Virgin Mary in the main church Chiesa Matrice which is dedicated to her.
On the summit of the mountain, there proudly stood an ancient temple of Venus or Aphrodite, founded by Aeneas. According to legend this is how Venus derived her surname name as many Latin writers refer to her as Venus Erycina.
Another legend, mainly attributed to the Greek historian Diodorus speaks of the town being named after Eryx the son of Aphrodite and Butes. Legend says that he invited Hercules to this ancient town in Sicily but was finally vanquished by him. Whatever the legend Erice is a historical town.
Erice was called Gebel Hamed by the Arabs and the Arabian influence is still a part of Erice especially its food. Erice was also invaded by the Normans who called it Monte San Guiliano. They built their famous Norman Castle on top of the ancient Temple of Venus, where Venus Ericina was idolize. In 1934 the town reclaimed its ancient name of Erice.
According to legend, the temple was established by Aeneas. It was well known throughout the Mediterranean area in the ancient age, and an important cult was celebrated in it. In his book On the Nature of Animals, Aelian writes that animals chosen for sacrifice would voluntarily walk up to the altar to be killed.
Castello de Venere or Venus Castle :
As evident from its name the Castello de Venere or Venus Castle is built around the ancient Venus temple in Erice. The decaying twelfth century Norman walls with their weather beaten graying stone exist amidst the ancient ruins of the temple of Venus. This Norman Castle bears the Coat of Arms of Charles V of Spain.
Although the castle is in ruins it offers a glimpse of its rich past and breathtaking views. There are ruins of a Roman bath and well. Legend says that these were the private bath of Venus the Roman Goddess of Love and Beauty. Alternatively as you roam through the ruins of the castle you can see rusting iron shackles hinting of deep dark dungeons and whispering hidden secrets which can make you shudder when there is an eerie silence and fog envelopes the ruins. The castle was used as a prison during World War II.
When the cool breeze blows through the walls a mystical atmosphere is created and one can almost imagine the flames of the fire in the Venus temple rising high and guiding sailors navigating the Mediterranean Sea. It is indeed a place of contrasts. There is a tower called the Balio Tower. The castle is situated on the jagged edge of the mountain peak and it almost looks as if the castle is coming out of the rocks. Castello de Venere or Venus Castle gives you such beautiful views that make you think it is worth the climb. Watching the sunset and the sky turn to a myriad of colours is a beautiful site in many parts of the world and Erice offers really stunning sunsets worthy of being captured for posterity through paintings or photographs.
Places to visit :
Triangular in shape and filled with cobbled and curving streets and arched passageways Erice is a tourist’s delight as you feel as if you have taken a step back in history. There are various attractions in the city of Erice. They include
Pepoli Castle, Balio Gardens, Cordici Civic Museum, EMFCSC or the Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture, Churches of Chiesa Matrice, Saint John, SanMartino and Saint Ursula.
Also Erice is a beautiful city to visit for a holiday and offers culture, food, places to visit and to enjoy delicious Italian/Sicilian food.
Erice hosts an international Week of Medieval and Renaissance Music every summer. This famous event attracts lots of tourists, music lovers, talented performers and music afficionados from all over the world. There is a special procession taken out every Easter.
Name : Keerimalai
Keerimalai is a town in the Valikaamam North division of Jaffna District, Sri Lanka and situated West of Palaly. Naguleswaram temple is located in this suburb also a mineral water spring called Keerimalai Springs reputed for its curative properties. In Tamil Keerimalai means Mongoose-Hill.
The stories associate the place with a sage called Nakula Muni. He was called by that name because he had a face of a mongoose. Nagula in Sanskrit means a mongoose. He was relieved of his curse and acquired a human face after taking bath in the natural springs at this place. He made the place as his abode and hence it became Keerimalai. Keeri is the Tamil synonym for nagula, meaning a mongoose.
The Siva temple established by this sage at this place was named Nakulesvaram, which according to the chronicles of Jaffna, is one of earliest in Sri Lanka, existed prior to the arrival of Vijaya of the Pali chronicles.
The stories continue to say that later, a Chola princess was also relieved of her curse of having a horse-like face by taking bath in the springs.
These myths found place in written literature at a later time.
Nakulisa or Lakulisa was the first preceptor of the Pasupata school of Saivism, which was the earliest among the sects of Saivism.
The word pasupata should be pronounced as paa'supatha. Originating from Gujarat, the sect spread across the sub-continent and even beyond in historical times. The sect doesn’t exist today.
The priority given to Guru (preceptor and initiator) in the fundamentals of Saiva Siddhanta (Guru, Linga, Sangama) and the idea that a Guru is Siva himself originated from the Pasupata teachings.
The iconographic representations of Lukulisa which was synthesized with Buddha in his teaching position in some parts of South Asia, was synthesized into Siva in the form of a teacher (Thadchanaamoorthi) in South India.
Thirumoolar, an early saint of Tamil Saivism, is regarded as one who had come from the lineage of Pasupata preceptors.
In all probability, it was one such Pasupata preceptor or a group of Pasupatas who had come to Keerimalai and made an establishment there. The present temple, Nakuleasvaram, at Keerimalai is a recent structure. There is a strong possibility that the original temple was a samaadhi temple (a burial or memorial temple). The Pasupatas were largely known to officiate in such temples built for preceptors or rulers.
There is yet another possibility for the origins of the name Keerimalai. As a limestone cliff, it can also mean ‘the white hill’. Keeram is milk according to the lexicons, Thivaakaram, Pingkalam and Choodaama’ni. The cognate in Sinhala is Kiri.
The Pasupata establishment at Keerimalai might have succeeded by a Veerasaiva one, probably in the times of the Vijayanagara Empire. Such transitions smoothly took place elsewhere too, because both Pasupatam and Veerasaivam were non-Brahmanic traditions.
Today, Keerimalai is an important centre of the Veerasaivas, who probably had come from Karnataka. Until recent times, the old generation of them was retaining a code-language, with traces of Kannada vocabulary, to speak among them, without being understood by others.
“Keerimalai” is 50 feet above the main sea level. The fresh water comes from an underground fresh water spring. Keerimalai is a pilgrim centre and is considered a sacred place to perform rituals to ancestors.
“Nagulaambigai Sametha Sri naguleswara Perumaan” temple (commonly known as “Naguleswaram” temple) spreads to 50,000 square feet. “Naguleswaram” temple is one of the hallowed Sivan temples (Pancha Ishwaram) in Sri Lanka is situated here as well. Lord Siva is the destroyer or transformer. He is viewed as the supreme deity in Hinduism. There are five famous Ishwaram~ Sivan temples in Sri Lanka. They are Thirukoneswaram in trincomalee, Thiruketheeswaram in Mannar, Naguleswaram in Jaffna, Munneswaram in Chilaw and Kokkattichcholai Thaanthondreeswaram in Batticaloa.
Naguleswaram temple is endowed with special three attributes such as Moorthy (deity), Thalam (temple) and Theerththam (water). This temple has the Biggest Linga in Srilanka, The SahasraLinga (Linga with 1000lingas in it).
The old “Naguleswaram” temple was destroyed by the Portugese in 1621. A Brahmin priest, who fled the area during the Portugese regime, took the valuables from the temple, put and preserved them in a well according to Yaazhpaana Vaipava Maalai.
In 1878, Hindu reformer Sreelasri Aarumuga Naavalar campaigned to rebuild the temple. After 17 years, the consecration ceremony took place at “Naguleswaram”. But, due to an accidental fire in 1918, the temple was severely damaged. The current temple is being renovated, and nearly 70% of the construction work is completed so far.
The Keerimalai springs are not warm like those in Kanniya (near Trinconamalee), but they are as big as a swimming pool. It’s very nice, if you get there before the back-flipping kids.
Hindus flock in large numbers on “Aadi Amaavaasai” day which falls during the Tamil month of “Aadi”, to carry out rituals for their forefathers and take a divine dip in the natural springs. These rituals are usually carried out by men. “Keerimalai” is famous for “Aadi Amaavaasai” and continues to be the foremost place.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Name : Karighatta Temple
Karighatta is a hill situated a few kilometres outside the 'island' town of Srirangapatna. It is situated off the Bangalore-Mysore road just before Srirangapatna in Karnataka.
It is referred in Varaha Purana as ‘Neelachala’, a Sanskrit word, which means 'Blue Mountain.'. It is believed that performing some aesthetic poojas (worship) at this temple could bring a lot of relief to the sufferings one may have gone through in life.
It is said that the hill got its name after a wild elephant, Kari attacked and killed four girls taking bath. To bring them back to life Sage Kutsamuni undertook a rigorous penance and requested the Lord to save His devotees.
Another legend has it that during the building of the bridge to Lanka to bring back Sita, Sugreeva brought this hillock, also called ‘Neelachala’ from Tirumala (Thirupathi). On his way several Vishnubhakhtas (disciples of Lord Vishnu) pleaded with him to leave it here and so the hill remained here.
In "Varaha Purana" it is said that when Lord Vishnu took the incarnation of Varaha and shook his body some of the body hair fell on the ground near here the grass now seen here is believed to have come from his hair. Even now at the temple premises, there are sharp grasses, Eragrostis cynosuroides locally known as Dharbe hullu(grass) in Kannada, which is used for performing all sacred rites.
“Kari” in Kannada means black and “Ghatta” means hill. The hill has a Hindu temple devoted to a form of Hindu god Vishnu, called "Karigirivasa". This deity is also referred to , "Lord Vaikunta Srinivasa" or “Lord Srinivasa”, also named “Bairagi Venkataramana”. The epithet ‘Bairagi’ for this idol is derived due the fact that when ‘alankara’ (flower decoration) is done to the deity, the deity looks like a Bairagi (mendicant). The hill stands at a height of 2697 feet above sea level. It supports dry scrub jungle and many tamarind and gooseberry trees are found around the temple. A small river, Lokapavani, a tributary of Kaveri flows by the hill.
The main entrance to the temple, with huge wooden doors opens into a large quadrangle, which is the main shrine for Vaikunta Srinivasa in black stone, flanked by Yoga Srinivasa (without his consort) and Bhoga Srinivasa idols. The temple of Goddess Padmavathi is on the western side. Facing the main temple is a statue of Garuda and a Garudastamba.There is also a Kalyanamantapa (marriage hall) which is used for performing marriages and other functions. It is believed that the great sage Bhrigu has done the Prathishthapana (installation ceremony) of the deity.
The hill may be climbed by stone steps (450 in number). A winding paved road may also be used. The stone steps lead to a flat land where the temple stands. The hillock has a view of Srirangapatna and Mysore. The beautiful landscape around the hill and the confluence of Kaveri and Lokapavani rivers can be seen from atop the hill.
A stone Vishnu Pada/footprint of the lord is present behind the temple.
The famous Nimishamba (the incarnation of Parvathi, the goddess wife of Lord Shiva) temple is on the opposite bank of the Lokapavani river.It is a belief that Parvathi will clear all the problems and troubles of her devotees within a minute (nimisha in Sanskrit).
It was on this hill that the British had placed their cannons during the siege of Srirangapatnam.
The traditional car festival held every year is believed to have been initiated by sage Vaikhanasa as early as the Treta Yuga. This practice is being continued and annual fair takes place during Kumbha Masa Palguna (February-March), when a large number of pilgrims attend.