Veerabhadran was a reporter in a popular magazine. Recently the circulation of the magazine fell down for no reason and everyone connected with the magazine, including the distributors and local and outstation agents, were worried. An urgent meeting of all staff members was called to discuss the issue in detail. If and only if, the magazine covered spicy and juicy write-ups, anecdotes, stories or documentaries, it would be very difficult to increase the circulation. As a matter of policy, cinema stuff and political gossips were kept at bay. Ideas came pouring from all and sundry, but workable ones, were just a few. Among many suggestions received, one was about writing on queer and funny things. One of the members suggested that a serial may be started on finding out and analysing meanings and references of names of funny and amusing places or persons. Immediately, everyone turned to Veerabhadran. While others had short and crispy modern names, Veerabhadran alone, had an uncommon name not keeping with the times. Without a hitch or a second thought, he was assigned the job.
Veerabhadran, was staring at the roof and contemplating on what to write, what to cover and how to start. Then his wife, Daakshayani, said,
“Is it not our practice? Have you forgotten? Whenever you start on a new project, you must do so, only after worshipping God, or after offering a small prayer to Him.”
That triggered his thoughts in that direction. He said to himself, ‘let me find out why I was given this unfamiliar name. If there is any God by my name, that could be one reason and if so, I must know where the temple is situated. Generally, parents name their first son by the name of their family deity or their ancestors.’ But the name Veerabhadra neither connoted his family deity, nor any of his ancestors carried such a name. His curiosity pushed him to probe further. His parents were not alive to offer any explanations. So, he asked his uncle. The uncle said,
“Yes, your father was working in a small village in Andhra Pradesh at the time, when you were born at your mother’s native village in Tamilnadu. Your father sincerely prayed to God that if by God’s grace, a normal healthy baby boy was born, he would simply keep the name of local deity, so that, he could take the name of the God as often as he could and also express his gratitude for His benevolence. That is how you became Veerabhadran. We often called you ‘Veeru’ or ‘Veera’ out of love and affection.”
Now, he wanted to know where was that village and where was the temple of Veerabhadra. He was very much worried that in these forty years, the temple should not have crumbled or reduced to ruins. He sincerely wished that the temple should be there even today, strong and sturdy. A Google search made things easy. That led to a treasure of information and a series of videos on various aspects of the temple. OH! My God! What an awesome collection of precious stuff. He never knew that he would stumble upon such a vast treasure of beauties and marvels of by-gone era, standing tall and mute. What a splendid work of sculpture, all huge and mighty! A scintillating poem in stone, erected in 16th century, roughly more than five hundred years ago!
He told his office about the place and showed the videos of the temple and took permission to cover the temple in the next few issues. His boss was also impressed and told him to take the cameraman along. Damodaran, the cameraman, was a very sportive young man. The two set out on their journey. Otherwise a pilgrimage, now because of their official duty, it turned out to be a journey. They knew that the gigantic temple was situated in a small town, where they might not get any accommodation, that too for at least a week or so. Therefore, they chose to stay in a hotel, in a nearby town and commute daily. They came to know that temple was not open for all twenty-four hours. So, on the day they reached the town, they had to remain there only. They could visit the temple next day only. Being a small town, there was not much to go around. Not knowing how to kill time, after an early dinner, they just bumped into a cinema theatre. They did not bother to know what picture was being screened there, in which language it was being shown and whether it suited their interests or not. After all, it was meant to be a time-pass.
It was an English picture, a very old one. ‘Night at the Museum.’ A very old film, but an interesting one! Though there were three films taken at different times,2006, 2009 and 2014, this one was oldest. All three films were major hits and kept the audience spell bound. Based on children’s Books and falling under category of fantasy, the cinema dealt with exhibits of the museum. The story-line was unique and offbeat. When released, it had enthralled kids, children, adults, all alike. Even after decades, it was equally gripping. The story went on as this…
‘A newly recruited Night Security Guard at the Museum of Natural History, discovers that an ancient curse causes the animals and other exhibits on display to come to life, to wreak havoc. The security guard cleverly uses them to stall a robbery which was about to happen.’
Both Verabhadran and Damodaran did not expect that they would get a chance to see such a very good movie in a small town like this Hindupur. The impact was so high, that they kept talking about it for a long time. It was very impressive and entertaining. On the spur of the minute, they decided to see other two sequels also. Anyway, that was not the purpose of their visit to the place. So, they on reaching the hotel decided to go over the videos shot on the temple they had to visit.
Both being pious people and in keeping with the subject they were required to deal with, dressed up in ethnic attire and maintained their spiritual mindset. They wanted to be emotionally involved. They were first greeted by the giant monolithic stone carving of a bull statue, ‘Nandi’. The people around there were watching them in curiosity. Veerabhandran interviewed a few and collected information, folklores and mythological stories. They came to the temple and there, they were taken as tourists. Everyday lot of people visited the shrine. Many guides were trying to hook customers to give more information. Both went up wanting to cover main items like, the shrine of Veerabhadra , a dancing courtyard called natyamandapam, hanging pillar, five shivalingams, incomplete kalyana mandapam, a lata mandapam, blood stains of slain Jatayu, Seeta maata’s footprint, a hall for pilgrims to take rest etc.,
He wanted to be a devotee first and a reporter next. So, with all his sincere devotion and prayers, he bowed before the Lord Veerabhadra Swamy. He strongly wished for Lord’s benevolence upon himself, his family and more than anything else, upon his office and its well-being. Goddess Durga was showering her divine blessings upon all devotees. He instinctively, sought for Her divine blessings to remove all hindrances which disturbed the circulation of their magazine. Damodaran was also in the same state of emotions. They both sat down for a few minutes’ meditation. Then they came out to the Natyamandapam, the courtyard for dances. To his utter surprise, Veerabhadra saw an unusual thing happening there.
‘Damsel Rambha was alighting from the pillar and started performing her celestial dance. From another pillar, came another damsel, with her musical drums. From yet another pillar, one more beautiful lady alighted with her flute instrument. One more beauty from one more pillar with her Veena, a string instrument, was also seen with the musical group. All these apsaras, that is beautiful cosmic women, were dragging one more lady, Menaka, who refused to come down. She adamantly said, ‘See, I am standing on a hanging pillar and if I step down, entire structure will collapse. Don’t you see that I am only holding and supporting all of you? Have you forgotten that old incident, when a stupid crook, a British soldier wanted to take away this pillar to his country, by pulling it from here? The entire temple complex trembled. He got frightened thinking it to be an earthquake. He ran away from the spot and I was spared. So, remember, I will not come down. I shall render my performance as a statue only. Ask Tilothama to sing for all us.’ The lady from next pillar came down and the hall was filled with melodious music. Two more dainties came down from remaining pillars and the entire musical ensemble was offering a divine dance and music programme, an astounding one, never seen, never heard. It appeared as though it was an endless and enduring performance. Veerabhadran actually wanted the show to go on and on. But Damodaran was impatient. When interrupted, the divine ladies abruptly stopped their cosmic performance and went back to their respective pillars and into their statue forms.
Veerabhandran got annoyed and scolded Damodaran for spoiling a grand show. He instead of getting angry, laughed and laughed aloud non-stop. ‘Hello, Sir, I was only showing you a video of actress Shobhana performing a dance in a Malayalam cinema. You were mesmerized by yesterday’s cinema of ‘Night at the Museum’ and thought that the statues in the pillars of this dancing hall came alive. Good joke! Moreover, this is Halloween time, you see! So, all innate and eerie things coming into life are not strange.’
Veerabhadran felt very awkward. But the cosmic dance performance he saw or ‘maybe’ visualized was par-excellent. He told Damodaran, ‘Halloween, OK. But not spooky.’ Just then Damodaran drew his attention to one statue in a pillar, which somewhat resembled Veerabhadran’s wife. No sooner he pointed out to the figurine in the statue, Veerabhadran exclaimed, ‘Yes spooky one arrived!’ That statue was meant to be Soorpanaka, the sister of a demon.
By the time they stepped out of dancing hall, Veerabhadran saw two ladies coming towards them, old and young. One was his wife and another, his daughter. He was surprised. ‘How come they are here?’ By then, they came near. He asked them, how or what brought them here. They said in chorus that a cameraman coming to this village asked them to join him and hence reached here without any problem. Veerabhadran was utterly confused. Which cameraman? How could he ask them to join? The office cameraman-Damodaran, he knew, was already with him. How could he have asked his wife and daughter to come along with him? Was anybody playing any trick? He turned to Damodaran. He was not found anywhere. Where did he vanish? Sometime before, he said he played a video and that appeared to Veerabhadran, as statues coming alive and rendering a performance. Now these ladies said, cameraman escorted them. What was going on here? Now cameraman was missing!
At a distance, he saw Damodaran with his camera hanging on his neck, coming from a narrow passage. He had gone there to capture a few more rare statues. Veerabhadran called him and wanted to get clarifications for the spurious things happening. When he was apprised, again he laughed. He simply asked.
“Where are your wife and daughter? When I am here with you in the temple, how can I be with them? Don’t be funny!”
Veerbhadran turned around helter-skelter. His wife and daughter were not seen anywhere nearby. He really got scared now. Just now he saw them. He spoke to them. They confirmed about their coming here with cameraman. Now they were missing!
Damodaran confirmed that the spooky Halloween was in full swing on Veerabhadran. As soon as he saw his wife-like statue, his thoughts immediately transported him to a different status and he imagined things. He advised Veerabhadran to go down from the temple premises, collect his mobile phone from temple’s security, contact his wife and confirm the truth. The hallucination of Halloween would soon be cleared.
Veerabhadran did what Damodaran advised. His wife Daakshaayani came on line and she replied,
“No. I cannot come down from where I am. Things will go out of control as I am holding and supporting all of you.”
‘This is exactly what Menaka from the hanging pillar said’
Veerabhandran caught in a maze, fell unconscious.