Ranigumpha – Rock-cut Romance

From Mughal-E-Azam to Bajirao Mastani, most of Bollywood’s period movies are romantic sagas replete with tales of unbridled passion and supreme sacrifice. Indian history, especially oral history, is a rich repository of such tales vivid in their description and varied in their situations and contexts. If there is one thread that is common to all such tales then it is the struggle of the lover to capture the heart of the beloved. Merely on hearing or reading how the love story unfolds and what happens next keeps us glued. So how would be the experience of seeing it unfold in the form of friezes in a cave. Delightfully overwhelming. That is exactly how I felt at the Ranigumpha Cave situated atop the Udayagiri Hill.

The Ranigumpha Cave is one among a cluster of 33 caves situated atop the Udayagiri Hill. Earlier known as the Kumari Parvat, Udayagiri Hill is located in a busy suburb of Bhubaneswar city in Odisha. It is here that one can see the earliest depiction of romance, that between Emperor Kharavela of the mighty kingdom of Kalinga and Princess Vajiragharavathi, who eventually became his second wife.

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Udayagiri – On the Footstep of Vajrayana Buddhism

After the decline of the Mauryan Empire in the 2nd century BCE, caves were hewn out of solid rocks atop hillocks in parts of Maharashtra and Odisha. While in Western Maharashtra, the caves were meant for Buddhist monks to live and meditate, the caves in Odisha were meant for Jain ascetics. Among the early caves of Odisha, the most prominent are the rock-cut caves atop the twin hills of Udayagiri and Khandagiri. The caves that are partially natural and partially rock-cut were carved as residential blocks for Jain monks during the reign of Emperor Kharavela in 2nd-1st century BCE. Inscription present in these caves says that Kharavela’s first wife, Queen Sindhula was a great believer and the patron of Jain monks. It is she who got these caves cut and carved and yet the friezes tell the tale of the King’s romance with his second wife. Quiet unseen and unheard of.

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Pashupata Cult and the Ancient Temples of Bhubaneshwar

Ranigumpha or the cave of the Queen is the largest and most elaborate of the Udayagiri caves with cells on three sides and an open courtyard in the front. The arrangement of courtyard and terraces of Ranigumpha suggest that it also served as an open-air theatre. The courtyard was used as a stage by the actors and the spectators most likely sat in the galleries. The rock-cut throne might have been first used by the Emperor Kharavela himself.


The open-air theatre-like setting of the Ranigumpha complete with a rock-cut throne for the King



The most engaging part of the Ranigumpha is its beautifully carved panels

On the first floor, the story begins with a flying Gandharva wearing dhoti, turban, scarf and jewels. The narration continues in the second frame depicting a disturbed herd of wild elephants as their favourite lotus pond in the forest was intruded upon by a group of 10 girls, actually a princess and her friends


One woman, who is most likely the princess, shows great courage and stands resolutely in the front of the wild elephants. She defends herself and the group by throwing a ring-like object, perhaps a heavy ornament or anklet. The man who is escorting the group is also seen fighting here while the rest of the women are nervous and in a state of panic.


The next scene opens near a rock-cut cave in the forest. A wounded man is under the nursing care of a woman, who seems to be none other than the brave princess of the previous frame. The scene continues with the arrival of another woman with a rapacious looking warrior, who kills the wounded man and attempts to abduct the princess. The brave princess takes out her sword and fights vigorously with the warrior, but is overpowered by the latter who forcibly carries her away through the forest tract infested with lions.

Travel Tips

Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves are located in a western suburb of Bhubaneswar at a distance of 10 km from the city centre. The caves are well connected by public transport. Udayagiri cave is a ticketed monument. It remains open from sunrise to sunset. However, for a better appreciation of the monument, the best timing to visit is in the early morning hours when there is less crowd.




The next frieze presents King Kharavel hunting in the forest. Among the attendants of the king, one carries an umbrella and a fly-whisk. The other holds a sword and the third a pot suspended from a rod over his left shoulder. The king wears a bejewelled tiara, long necklace, large size earrings and heavy bracelets. He carries a sword in an archer’s pose flexing the left leg and straightening the right one. The warrior, who abducted the brave princess in the previous scene, on seeing the hunting party led by the king himself approaching towards them, runs away leaving behind the brave lady in the lurch. It is a happy coincidence that the deer stuck with the arrow of the king runs for life and finally falls near the tree where the brave princess has taken shelter. On seeing the King, the princess asks him for protection by stretching her right hand. The king shows compassion, rescues her and takes her to his palace.



The next frieze depicts a dance performance by two girls. The performance is witnessed by the king, his queen and another woman, the one rescued by the king, the brave princess. Unfortunately, the rest of the friezes are badly damaged making it difficult to interpret how the love story evolved. But eventually, she ends up as Kharavel’s second wife.




The story is undoubtedly one of the oldest pictorial narrations of royal romance in Indian history, but unfortunately most of the visitors are not told about it by the guides. Even I would have missed it had I not read N K Sahu’s book ‘Kharavel’ before going to these caves. The purpose of this post is to bring out a fresh perspective for common people on how to infer ideas depicted in sculptural panels of early Indian art that are full of stories of love, sacrifice and elements that have been favorite subjects among Bollywood film makers for decades.

 Author: Jitu Mishra

The author can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Patan’s Patola – A Weaver’s Perspective

There is an old Gujarati proverb on the Patola that goes something like this – “PADI PATOLE BHAT, FAATE PAN FITE NAHI”. This roughly translates to ‘ The design laid down in patola shall never fade even when the cloth is torn.’

A Patola Pattern

With a guarantee of lasting close to 100 years and a design that can be worn any side, Patan’s famous Patola are no wonder a prized possession, a wedding trousseau essential, a heirloom and definitely one of the finest silk sarees of our country. It is the only form of the painstaking double ikat weave available in the world!

Some Common Patola Designs

One of the oldest forms of textile weaving is ikat – a dyeing technique used to pattern textiles. The word ‘ikat’ is derived from the Malay-Indonesian word ‘mengikat’ which translates to ‘to tie’. Among the different forms of ikat, the most impressive and tedious to weave is the double ikat. Patola sari of Patan is one such example, which for nine centuries now has remained as a proud icon of Gujarati heritage.

Patola  Making  in  Process

According to a legend, Anhilwad Patan was founded by Vanraj Chavda in 746 CE. It was the capital of medeival Gujarat till early 15th century, until Ahmed Shah decided to shift the capital to Ahmedabad. Kumarpal was a Jain king and always wrapped fresh patola fabric while performing his daily prayer. The patola worn by Kumarpal was specially imported from South India. But one day, he was told that the patolas he draped around his body were impure as these were used by the king of Mugapatnam before sending them to Patan. Kumarpal got annoyed and immediately invited 700 Salvi families to Patan so that he could be assured of fresh fabric.

Geometrical Designs in Rani ni Vav and in Wooden Havelis  

Patola was a major trade item on all the trade routes and was also used as a high denomination currency by few. Historical sources suggest that among the Dutch merchants, Patola was a symbol of aristocracy and power because of its high price and exclusivity and used them during the 17th and 18th centuries AD for establishing trade posts in Surat and Ahmedabad. It is also referred to in the travel accounts of Ibn Batuta (14th century) and Tavernier (17th century). Ibn Batuta mentions that Sultan Ala Ud Din Khilji had received a patola from Deogiri, identified with modern Daulatabad in Maharashtra. Patola is also depicted in the murals at Mattancheri Palace in Kochi in 17th century CE. Indonesia, the birthplace of ikat, was a large importer of Gujarati patola till World War II.

The Salvi familes of Patan are well-known for their contribution to patola weaving. They were Jains originally belonging to the Digambara Sect in South India. After moving to Patan, they converted to Shwetambara sect. Though Patola weaving was exclusive to them, in recent years families from other communities too developed skills and expertise in the fine art of patola weaving. One such family are the Sonis which runs a studio-cum workshop under the brandname of Madhvi Handicrafts. Though a new entrant in the field, Mr. Sunil Soni, its founder has created a niche for himself as a master weaver, in a short span of 25 years. His relentless fight for patola’s revival ended after Patola received geographical indication (GI) for Patan. His work received a shot in the arm when his son Shyam, a software engineer by profession, left his lucrative job to join his father in promoting this exclusive art which is fast fading.

On my recent visit to Patan, I got a chance to interview Shyam. Do watch the video for more on the story of the saree, its varieties and the meaning of the symbols printed on it


Author – Jitu Mishra

The author can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

The Dutch Connection – Katargam Cemetery and Hortus Malabaricus

Remember your Class 8 History textbooks? One of the most interesting chapters is on the Age of Exploration or the Age of Discovery that dominated the world history between the 16th and the 18th centuries CE. During this era, seafaring traditions proliferated and so did the trading of goods. This led the Europeans to search for a sea route to the markets of tropical spices that they were becoming increasingly fond of. Up until then, the Arab merchants had a monopoly on the trade of Indian spices via the treacherous mountain passes of the famed silk route. The Dutch were among the pioneers in sea trade and established the first MNC of those times –  ‘The Dutch East India Company’.

During the 17th Century, Suratte (Surat) was a thriving port under the Mughal rule. The city was famous for its muslin, indigo and spices, which were supplied to the city both from hinterland and via the Indian Ocean trade route. In the late 16th century and at the beginning of the 17th century, Portuguese were dominant traders in Surat. It is said that they were so agitated when two Dutchmen visited Surat for the first time in 1602 to establish trade contacts that they were captured and taken to Goa where they were finally hanged until death.

In 1606, another Dutch merchant David Van Deynsen arrived in Surat to set up a trading post, but he too could not escape the wrath of the Portuguese. He was tortured so much that he ended up taking his own life. But the Dutch did not give up and fortune turned in their favour in 1616, when Jehangir, the Mughal Emperor intervened and granted them trading rights. By 1620, the Dutch had established their own factory in the middle of Surat on the banks of the river, Tapi.

The Dutch East India Company controlled most of its trade in Asia via Surat. They had excellent relations with the Mughals and therefore unlike Portuguese, did not find the necessity to build elaborate forts. A number of  Dutch East India company settlements quickly mushroomed in and around Surat as well as in Ahmedabad, Sarkhej and Agra.










Dutch Cemetery in Ahmedabad located near Kankaria Lake 

In the first half of the 18th century, political unrest broke out in the Mughal Empire and this had a detrimental effect on the business interests and establishments of Dutch in Surat. In 1759 CE, the British finally seized Surat and it marked the beginning of the end of Dutch influence in the region. Today, ironically the only existing Dutch presence in Surat is left in a cluster of tombs that are located within an enclosure in the heart of the walled city near Katargam gate.

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The Port of Ghogha – Where India met Arabs


The Entrance Gate of Dutch Cemetery at Surat 

From a distance what appears as imposing tombs influenced by Mughal and Sultanate architecture, on closer inspection reveals traces of European architecture especially in the arches and pillars. All the epitaphs in the cemetery are in Dutch. Among the tombs, the most impressive mausoleum is that of Baron Hendrik Adriaan Van Rheede (who died 1691 AD), former governor of Dutch Malabar. It is a double storied octagonal structure with a central dome and a column supporting each of its eight corners. This 18 meters high structure has intricately carved wooden doors and murals depicting geometrical patterns. A fitting resting place for the man who gave us 12 volumes of the precious Hortus Malabaricus, the first of its kind documentation of plant life of Malabar region of India.

Travel Tips

Katargam Gate is located in the heart of Old Surat near Tapi River. Though the complex is open to the public it is most of the time closed. Ask the caretaker who lives inside the complex to open it. He may pretend that photography is not allowed as his intention is for getting a small bribe from you. But actually, there is no such rule. Photography is allowed. While at Surat visit Doticvala bakery, city’s and India’s oldest bakery that has Dutch connection. The Surti Nankhatai was invented here. Surat is well connected by train and road. The air connection is also picking up. It is one of the richest cities of India and its people are warm and fun loving. There are plenty of staying and food options in Surat.





















The Splendour of Dutch Cemetery at Surat 





Details of Hendrik Van Rheede’s Tomb

Hendrik Van Rheede was a nobleman from Amsterdam. In Dutch India, apart from overseeing the construction of forts and fortifications, he spent most of his time studying, documenting and cultivating tropical plants. In fact, he was the first European botanist in India who focussed on the systematic documentation of tropical plants and their use in fighting tropical diseases. The Dutch East India Company stimulated such scientific research and brought out a series of publications for the first time on plant heritage of west coast of India. The efficacy of the treatise can be gauged from the fact that Carl Linnaeus, the Father of Taxonomy, used Hortus Marcus as one of the bases of his classification thus explaining Malayalam roots names of certain species. Rheede was assisted by the King of Cochin and the Zamorin of Calicut along with Gaud Saraswat Brahmins and Ayurveda scholars of Kerala in his herculean effort.

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Surat’s Dutch Legacy – Dotivala Bakery

Today, it is sad to see the run down tombs and the pathetic state of the Dutch cemetery in Surat. It has been partly encroached upon and used as a playground and many of the precious architectural remains have been vandalized. There are heaps of garbage lying all around. A rich legacy is being wasted and needs urgent attention. I hope this post serves the purpose of raising adequate awareness.


The Present Condition of the Surrounding of Dutch Cemetery 

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Step – Wells of Gujarat – a Timeless Journey

In 1990s when I was a doctoral student in Pune’s Deccan College, I did not know much about step-wells or vavs (in Gujarati), Gujarat’s incredible subterranean structures that were created for rainwater harvesting. I only knew briefly about Rani ni Vav at Patan, a uniquely embellished and ornamental underground structure for water conservation in the medieval world. However, for the first time I got a chance to visit Rani ni Vav in 2003, thanks to a picnic organised by the organisation I work for. From hereon developed my interest, over time, in step wells of Gujarat owing further to my deep fascination for water and the urge to explore the various interplays between geography and history.

Gujarat is a semi-arid region. Though it receives moderate rainfall during monsoons, the salinity content in the soil does not allow it to hold the monsoon water for long. The water evaporates once the monsoon season is over. To tackle this problem, its ancient inhabitants had invented a variety of water harvesting structures from the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

At Dholavira in Kutch, archaeologists have unearthed one of world’s earliest series of water reservoirs. These were scientifically designed to channelize water from two seasonal nullahs into the reservoirs. Dholavira has also yielded a step-well, perhaps the earliest of its kind in the world.

One of the earliest water harvesting structures in the world at Dholavira in Kutch 

From the early medieval time (6th century onwards), step-wells became a common feature across the landscape of North-Central Gujarat and Saurashtra-Kutch.  Says a popular Gujarati proverb (in translation here),

‘On the way to Vagad, I feel thirsty. Build me a step-well for I want to go to Vagad’.

A clear indication of the importance of step-wells in the mundane life of Gujarati people.

Another local belief responsible for the proliferation of building vavs; says: ‘One, who digs a well for the public, has half of sins absolved’. So no wonder vavs dot the Gujarati landscape vigorously.

A prominent feature of Gujarati step-wells is stepped corridors consisting of several storeys, down from entrance pavilions to water level. In some examples we find pavilion towers constructed on supporting structures. While in some cases, step-wells are connected to temples indicating their ritual significance. With relation to their location, some are located either within or at the edge of villages. But most importantly they are located at the sides of overland routes, providing water and shelter in sizzling hot months to pilgrimage and trading caravans. At lower levels, the temperature in a vav, is surprisingly three/four degree lesser compared to the surrounding open ground.


Rani ni Vav on the outskirts of Patan, the former capital of Gujarat, is considered as the Queen among step-wells. A world heritage site, the vav, built in 11th century, is located amidst a sprawling garden. It was built by Queen Udayamati as a memorial to her departed husband, following a traditional practice ‘Parvati’s penance’ – goddess separated by death from her consort and practising austerities to win reunion with him were deliberately portrayed to express Udayamati’s own tragic widowed condition. It faces east having a length of 65 m, width of 20 m and height of 29 m. It consists of 7 storeys and 4 pavilions. Originally it had 292 pillars, out of which only 226 have survived. There are 400 exquisitely carved images of Hindu divinities, semi-divine creatures, holy men and women and of common people, all adorning the interior of the vav.

Most of the sculptures in Rani ni Vav are in devotion to Vishnu, in the form of his 10 incarnations, such as Kalki, Rama, Vamana and Varahi. But we also find a number of sculptures representing Brahma and his consort, Shiva in various forms, the prominent being Bhairava, guardian deities, Ganesha, Parvati and Mahisasurmardhini Durga. Depiction of nagkanyas and apsaras in different moods and showcasing 16 different styles of make-up (solah-shringar) is something to look out for. There is little doubt, therefore, that a visit to this UNESCO site will leave the visitors spellbound.

Those having limited time and can’t make a visit to Patan, the other option is a visit to the Rudabai Step-Well in Adalaj, a village in-between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. It is the second most important vav in Gujarat. The step-well was built by Queen Rudabai, the wife of the Vaghela Chief Virasimha in the 15th century AD. Like Rani ni Vav, the Rudabai step-well was also built in the memory of the queen’s departed husband.

Adalaj ni Vav

An interesting account goes thus: ‘Sultan Mehmud Begda killed Virasimha in a battle and asked Rudabai to marry him. Queen Rudabai promised to marry, after the well whose construction said to have been commenced by Virasimha is completed. Legend says Mehmud Begada completed the construction of the vav as promised. Queen Rudabai, satisfied with the ornamental vav as a memorial to her slain husband, committed suicide by jumping into the well.’

sculptural details in Adalaj ni Vav

Built in Solanki architectural style, the Adalaj step-well is five storeys deep. One of the prominent features of this vav is the balconies or jharokas, similar to the ones found in contemporary Indo-Islamic monuments of the region. The only difference is however depiction of animals and men, fighting elephants and lions, horses with riders and men attending to their horses that are restricted in Islamic shrines. Another interesting depiction carved from a single block of stone is of the Ami Khumbor (symbolic pot of the water of life).

Similar in plan and contemporary to Adalaj vav is Dada Hari ni vav situated in Asarva locality of Ahmedabad. It was built by Bai Harir, a nobleman in the court of Mehmud Begda. Dada Hari ni Vav is 5 storeys deep. Motifs of flowers and jali patterns in this well blend very well with the Hindu and Jain Gods carved at various levels of the step-well.

An interesting variation among the step-wells of Gujarat is Madhav Vav in Vadhvan in Saurashtra. This little town on the outskirts of the district headquarter, Surendranagar, has layers of history. Among many of Gujarat’s historical treasures, Madhav Vav is most fascinating. This step-well consists of six pavilion towers, but what makes them distinctive, is the pyramidal roofs on each of them with stone finials. This was built by Madhav, a minister of Sarangdev Vaghela in 1294 AD. A local lore relates how Madhav’s son and daughter-in-law sacrificed their lives so that it could have water.

Madav ni Vav at Wadhwan

Step-wells are Gujarat’s USP in heritage tourism. Once, more tourists will visit them and engage with local communities for their upkeep, there is no doubt that these will become one of the most sought after destinations for heritage lovers from all over the world. Their upkeep will also add to the depleting water supply in the region doubling up as storage areas with high aesthetic value.

Surat’s Dutch Legacy – Dotivala Bakery

On 2nd August 1616, a Dutch merchant named Pieter Venden Broecke arrived on the shore of Surat looking for prospects of trade. He was well received by the local Mughal governor but failed to make any business agreement as the governor did not have the power to give license for a factory establishment. Broecke sailed back to his country leaving four of his men to dispose of his goods. In 1617, two more Dutch ships arrived but both were wrecked near the port.  In 1620, Broecke took another chance. He arrived again at Surat with better planning this time. By this time, the Dutch had secured trade license and permission to establish a factory like that of the British in the city.



Dutch Tombs at Surat



Surat Fort on the Bank of Tapi


The Remains of Dutch Factory on the Bank of Tapi

This was the era of prosperity for Surat. The port city was very populous with full of merchants. The Dutch had established a strong base in city’s international trade network. Goods were being brought up in the river Tapi by boats. Among the natives, besides Hindus and Muslims, the Parsis also constituted a considerable share.

For the Dutch East India Company, one of the major items of trade was indigo. Surat was their chief factory in the whole of Indian Subcontinent. Their position was next to English.

Also, Read Here:

The Dutch Connection – Katargam Cemetery and Hortus Malabaricus

In their factory, the Dutch had employed five Indian gentlemen including Mr Faramji Pestonji Dotivala, a Parsi gentleman, to work in their bakery. In 1759, the Dutch East India Company’s had fallen substantially. Trade had largely moved to British Bombay with Surat playing a subordinate role.

When the Dutch finally left Surat, they handed over their bakery to Mr Dotivala. And thus began a new chapter in the history of baking in India. Listen to the story of their struggle and prospect from the mouth of none other than Cyrus Dotivala, Pestonji’s 6th generation descendant.

Travel Tips

Dotivala Bakery is located at Nanpura Area in the bustling city of Surat. Do visit their website http://www.dotivala.com/ for more information. While at Surat also visit Katargam Dutch Tombs.

Also, Read Here:

The Port of Ghogha – Where India met Arabs






Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Peacock in Indian Art – Depiction in Different Cultures

The idea of India is incomplete without understanding the relationship of its people with the natural world. From time immemorial, in Indian culture and civilization both human and the natural world have co-existed across religions and belief systems. Many of the familiar elements of natural world, such as trees, creepers, birds, mammals and reptiles are found integral to Indian culture. Indians have explored through these elements deeper meanings of life and its connection with earth and universe throughout history. As time progressed, some of these elements became subjects of Indian art as icons of wealth, divinity and royalty.

One of these natural elements is peacock, India’s national bird. Its majestic and graceful form and the charming colours of its plumage have always motivated artists of different faiths to depict it in a range of mediums, from clay to stone and wall to wood and metal.

Rangeen Mahal, Bidar
Eastern Gateway, Sanchi
Hyosala Period Temple, Sira, Karnataka

Peacock is the vehicle of Lord Kartikeya, also known as Skanda in Hinduism, the commander-in-chief of Gods. When he was assigned to kill Tarakasura, the well-known gods assembled before him offering their powers and armies. Garuda presented him his own son, the first growing peacock. There are numerous temples spread all over India dated from the Gupta Period showing Kartikeya with peacock.

Parasurameswara Temple, Kartikeya

Peacock, especially its feathers is closely associated with Lord Krishna, one of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. According to a story, in Govardhana Hill at Braj, once when Lord Krishna was playing his flute, peacocks started dancing in joy and excitement listening to the sweet melody. After the dance they spread their feathers on the ground and the chief peacock offered them to Lord Krishna with humility. The lord accepted the gift and adorned himself with it.

Chitrasala, Bundi Fort
Laxmi Narayan Temple, Orchha
Laxmi Narayan Temple, Orchha
Laxmi Narayan Temple, Orchha

It is believed that in Hinduism, when someone worships Lord Krishna with the feathers on his crown, he/she is blessed with auspiciousness, wealth, good health and transcendent knowledge. It is also believed that the feathers protect one from evil eyes and destroys all negativity, like anger, greed, and jealousy and remove poison.

Hawa Mahal in Jaipur designed like Krishna’s Crown
Raginis on Ceiling of Laxmi Narayan Temple Orchha
Laxmi Narayan Temple, Orchha
Warangal Fort, Kakatiya
Warangal Fort, Kakatiya
Warangal Fort, Kakatiya
Ragini, Bundi Fort
Ragini, Orchha Fort

Peacock has a deep connection with Islam as well. According to one story, the God created a peacock and it sat for 70,000 years on a tree. All these years it prayed God using prayer beads. Finally God put a mirror in front of the peacock who was so pleased at his own beauty that it prostrated itself to God five times. So the tradition of five prayers a day arose among the Muslims.

Sarkhej, Ahmedabad (Peacock shaped projection in an Islamic shrine)

Peacock is also a symbol of royalty and therefore it was adopted by both Rajputs and Muslims in their royal courts.


Splendours of Orchha – Myths and Realities

A popular story goes – In the remote history Virabhadra was the King of Kashi. One of his sons was Jagdas. After being denied a share in Kashi kingdom, Jagadas came to the shrine of Goddess Vindhyavasini and engaged in a long tapasya to seek her blessings. After failing to evoke response, he decided to surrender his head to the goddess. As soon as the first drop of blood fell on ground the goddess appeared before him. She declared that a brave hero and a future ruler would appear from the drop of the blood. This son, Bundela was named after the drop (bund).

Centuries passed. In 1501 AD, Rudra Pratap Singh, a decedent of Jagdas became the first ruler of Bundelkhand, a region named after the Bundelas. In 1531 AD, Rudra Pratap established Orchha as the capital of Bundelas.


Orchha is located in a low hill plateau near an island formed by the pristine Betwa or Betrawati River.

Orchha gets its name from an interesting story. According to the story, Raja Rudra Pratap was out on a hunting expedition when he came across a small Rama Temple in the middle of the forest. Being a devout follower of the God, he sat in front of the temple to meditate. A wolf was hiding nearby. The smell of human sweat pulled him closer to the king. All of a sudden a booming voice came out of nowhere shouting ‘Orchha’, the chasing command given to dogs. The hunting dogs awakened and chased the wolf finally killing it. According to the story the command was given by the god himself. The king there on decided to establish his capital at this holy spot and named it Orchha.

Rudra Pratap though founded Orchha, but he did not survive to build his dream city. While saving a cow he died in the same year. His successor Madhukar Shah however took Orchha to a new height of prosperity. Orchha became a vassal kingdom under Mughal rule at the time of Emperor Akbar.

Vir Singh Deo was the next important ruler. He was a vassal of Jahangir, the next Mughal Emperor. It was during his rule, Orchha reached to a new height in terms of artistic and architectural proliferation. Vir Singh Deo had built Jahangir Mahal, a jewel of medieval palaces in India and the Laxmi Narayan Temple, where we see the best of Orchha murals. He was a man of dashing personality, but he also held a black spot as the murderer of Abul Fazal, the court historian and one of the nine jewels of Akbar’s court.

Jahangir Mahal had been built for a warm reception of Jahangir, the Mughal Emperor. A fusion of Rajput and Mughal architecture, Jahangir Mahal is a three storied building in square shape. The entrance is flanked by two impressive stone elephants that look as if they have been standing guards forever. Another remarkable feature of this mansion is the stone lattice work of the windows.

Orchha’s eternal spirit is the temple of Ram Raja, whose temple stands within the original palace, built during the reign of Madhukar Shah. In India, it is the only temple where Lord Rama is worshipped as a king.

According to a popular story, Queen Ganesh Kanwari, also called Kamla Devi was a devotee of Lord Rama. Once the queen visited Ayodhya with a desire to bring the child form of Lord Rama with her to Orchha. Before voyaging the journey to Ayodhya, the queen had ordered her servants to start building a temple (Chaturbhuja Temple) for Lord Rama.

At Ayodhya, the queen fasted and prayed for about a month, but Lord Rama did not appear. So, eventually in despair, she jumped into the river at midnight. A miracle happened. Lord Rama appeared as a child in the queen’s lap. The queen requested him to come to Orchha. Lord Rama agreed, but on three conditions. One of these were, he would be the king of Orchha and not her husband. The other condition was the first place where she would shelter the god would be his final place of resting. When they returned to Orchha, the temple was still under construction.  So the god was sheltered at the palace and that became his permanent residence.

A major attraction of Orchha are 14 massive cenotaphs of Bundela rulers that stand imposingly along the side of the banks of the tranquil Betwa River. Most of the cenotaphs are three storied. The joining on each of the floor have balcony in Rajput style. Most of the cenotaphs are in pristine perfection. Moreover, the architecture of these cenotaphs is a synthesis of traditional Rajput, Indo-Sarcanic and ornate Mughal architecture.

Orchha Paintings:

Orchha is placed in high esteem in the mural map of India.  The paintings of Orchha touched all aspects of life and Hindu mythology. Scenes from royal court and mythical beasts were also portrayed. In many cases, the Betwa was used as the backdrop for Krishna’s eternal romance with gopis and the rugged terrain of Orchha as stage for hunting expeditions and wars.  The best example of Bundela paintings can be found at Raja Mahal. Themes like Dasavatra, Krishna leela and Rag – Ragini dominate the walls of Raja Mahal. Paintings are also executed at Rai Parveena Mahal, where Rai Parveena, a high esteemed court woman is seen in various dance poses.

Laxmi Narayan Temple has the largest concentration of paintings, but these belonged to mid-19th century. Here we see a profusion of gods, palace scenes, everyday life, royal processions and the scenes of 1867 battle between Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi and the British force.

Today Orchha has lost its grandeur and has been altered into a quitter countryside.  But a visit to its ruins is still awe-inspiring transporting us to an era where cultures and ideas mingled to create extra-ordinary art and aesthetics.

Mandvi’s Sea Trade – A Pilot’s Story

Imagine Indian Subcontinent, what if there were no coasts! Geographically speaking, the oceans bring in moisture and that get converted into monsoon rains every year sustaining billions of human and wildlife and thus making India as world’s densest region. Likewise historically speaking, the oceans brought in revenue, resources and ideas.

The Mughals might have chosen the land route to arrive at India, but the key attraction was the prosperity that came through sea. The Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British were all allured to India’s coast and established factories. The high sea that surrounds the Indian peninsula has been part of Indian Ocean network for millennia. Our navigators braved the high sea and ventured into the west coast of Arabia in the west and in the east to as far as Java, Sumatra and Borneo.

Gujarat, especially the Gulf of Coast had played critical role in the Indian Ocean trade owing to its strategic location as a maritime outlet to Arab and the western world.

Today the coast of Gulf of Kutch serves as a magnet in the economic landscape of India, thanks to the well-established Kandla and Mundra ports and their surrounding special economic zones. But this prosperity is not new. Historically till 19th century its ports such as Mundra, Mandvi, Jakhau, Koteshwar and Lakhpat played vital role in region’s economy.

From these ports the Kutchi seamen ventured into the deep sea sailing as far as Mozambique, Arab, Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean coast using the navigational skill. The ships, called kutia in Kutchi language are traditionally built sharing similarity with Arab Dhow boats.

Today a handful of kutia boats are made in Mandvi, the chief among all the historical forts of the gulf and are also mechanized. These are made for Arab clients as the local people have opted out the seafaring craft. There are also a few captains left having experience and skills of using non-mechanized crafts. One of them is the 85 year old Shivji Buda Fotidi. Here we present his story through an interview.

Toranas, Brackets and Mughal-Rajput Arches through Time

Culture is a dynamic process which continuously evolves and changes through interaction with other cultures, climate change and political and economic shifts. However, in most cases we do not appreciate the dynamic nature of culture and instead stick to our own ideas believing that they are supreme and pure. By doing so, we don’t appreciate how other cultures and ideas have influenced on our own ideas and vice versa. This leads to conflict and disrespect for others.

Architecture is a tangible way to show how ideas evolved, refined and influenced other cultures in Indian context. Torana is a type of gateway in Hindu-Buddhist-Jain architecture of Indian Sub-continent. But its influence in Islamic and later Mughal architecture is noteworthy.

Toranas in Hindu and Buddhist architecture are believed to bring good fortune and signify auspicious and festive occasions. The earliest architectural evidence of torana dates back to Sanchi Stupa in 2nd century BC. The Sanchi torana is an imitation of timber and brick construction in stone, which was a popular feature in Ancient Indian architecture.

As time progressed, torana was adopted in Hindu temples with makaras (crocodile) sculptures on base at both ends. Makara is a sea creature. It appears as the vahana of the River Goddess Ganga and of the Sea God Varuna.

Depiction of Varuna God in Rajarani Temple, Bhubaneswar

Makara is also considered as guardian of gateways (torana). An interesting feature of the Makara torana is that it is artfully designed to suggest if the doorway is held afloat, at either end, by the extended snouts of two makaras.

In Gujarat and Central India, depiction of Makara torana was a prominent feature in the 11th century. The best example of it can be found at Sun Temple in Modhera and Kandariya Mahadev Temple at Khajuraho.

In 14th Century AD, Gujarat became a seat of Islamic power under Delhi Sultanate. Several mosques were built of this new faith in Gujarat. One of these is the Jama Masjid in the port town of Khambhat featuring a Makara torana. Most probably it was recycled from an abandoned Hindu temple as in Islam depiction of animals are restricted. However, a century later at Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad we see an earliest form of torana in its true Islamic adaptation.

In Malwa and Bundelkhand, which were already strongholds of Hindu temples, a hybrid variety of slender serpentine brackets evolved in the 15th century. Its best examples are found among monuments of Chanderi.

These brackets formed into ornamental toranas in Gwalior Fort and then adopted in Mughal buildings at Fatehpur Sikri.

At Bundi, in southeast Rajasthan, these further evolved into torana arch.

The earlier variety of Makara torana further evolved into arch in the Mughal and Rajput monuments forming one of the most splendid features of Indian architecture.

Makara Torana and torana inspired arches in Indian art silently tell the story of India, a civilization that is strongly rooted in fusion of ideas representing different cultures and religions.

India as an idea has always been dynamic and open to experimentation. Today when some vested groups are trying to divide us on the basis of religions and castes, the meaningful interpretation of visual history of India can act as a bridge bringing communities together irrespective of their castes and religions.   img_3772-copy

Human Adaptation in Satkosia Tiger Reserve – Challenges and Prospects

A fascinating aspect of humanity is its geographical adaptability. There are terrains of all kinds where we have ventured and evolved with cultures in tune with the local geography. Among a range of geographical diversity, the adaptation of forest combined with river ecosystem makes human cultures even more fascinating. These kinds of biodiversity are often fragile with challenges of population pressure, resource management and wildlife safety.

Satkosia Tiger Reserve, a large forested and mountainous tract on both sides of a gorge formed by mighty Mahanadi for 21 km at a stretch in Central Odisha is a fascinating land to witness the existence of two ways human life, fishing and farming in deep jungle tracts, a cultural practice that has not much changed from the Neolithic time.


The reserve is very scenic and extremely photogenic. The reserve got its name from sat (seven) and kos (two miles), which equals 14 miles or 21 km gorge through which the river Mahanadi flows. The sanctuary is guarded by Garjat Hills of Chotanagpur Plateau on the north and majestic hills of the Eastern Ghats on the south and therefore the region is the meeting point of the Chotanagpur Plateau and Eastern Ghats on both sides. The tiger reserve has an area of nearly 1000 square kilometre but tourists are permitted only across 270 square kilometre. The vegetation is a combination of dry deciduous and moist deciduous forest.


The reserve has a tremendous genetic and ecological importance as it is the wet portion of Deccan zone. Apart from a significant elephant population in deciduous forests, the gorge harbours a large population of crocodile and fish. The gorge serves as a major watershed for the entire region.




Satkosia is however short of meadows causing a major threat for harbouring animal population. Most of the valleys are under human occupation with subsistence farming and animal rearing as the main economic base. Life is not rosy inside the forest. The crops are raided by elephants and wild boars. People guard their small farms in the pre-harvesting and harvesting seasons by sleeping on manchas (a temporary shed). Talking to villagers you hear stories of intense human-animal conflicts in the reserve.


Now thanks to the effort of forest department of Government of Odisha, ecotourism is becoming a new alternative source of livelihood. Government has created infrastructure at villages such as Bagha Munda, deep inside of the permitted forest, which is managed by local community members. They are warm, simple and hospitable. Interaction with educated people from cities also help them understand whats going on outside their world. They have realised the value of education and have started sending their children to schools. Their dependency on critical and fragile forest resources has minimised.


These are definitely welcome changes, but it is also felt that they must retain their organic way of living in the forest and on river banks and not compete in the madness of consumerism which has shaken our shared values and insensible heritage deeply over the years.