Swirling tongues of fire welcomed erstwhile royal families and priests who ascended the stairs of Palah, a late 12th-century Hindu temple located on the southwestern slopes of Mount Kelud. The volcano was so active and unpredictable that a temple was deemed necessary to appease Acalapati, the mountain god, so he would spare the surrounding settlements from his erratic wrath. Inspired by Krishnayana (Krishna’s life told in an epic poem), the upper walls of the temple were encrusted with bas-reliefs depicting scenes from the epic. One panel portrayed Krishna’s escape from Kalayawana (Kalayavana), a ruthless king who was killed by Muchukunda through his burning gaze (another version of the story refers to Wiswamitra/Vishvamitra as the killer of Kalayavana). The flames were indeed a metaphor for Kelud’s volcanic eruptions.
More than eight centuries later, I find myself looking at the same…