Kakatiya Dynasty – An Architectural Sojourn

“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.” ~ UNESCO

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The stellate form of Sri Erakeswara temple, Pillalamari village, Kakatiya dynasty

As I sat down to read the books and various journals that I had bookmarked in order to write on my recent heritage run in Telangana, I would sometimes pause to wonder on the fact that when I had started my journey, how ill prepared I was to meet the grandeur of the Kakatiyan temples, with almost no idea about the dynasty that had built them. While north Indian temples have always figured in my travel itineraries, and many a time I have stood in awe at some of their exquisite craftsmanship, I was still unprepared for the sculptural magnificence of the innumerable temples that dot the southern parts of India. It was my first foray into South Indian temple architecture, technically termed as Dravidian temple architecture, and the beauty and splendour of it is indescribable.

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The most magnificent jewel in the Kakatiyan crown of temple architecture is the Rameshwara temple within the Ramappa temple complex, in Palampet. The beauty of this temple is mesmerising; like a beautiful verse carved in stone, frozen for posterity.

A look at our history will show that architecture and sculpture were two distinctive forms of art, and developed as such from the ancient times. The two became intertwined during the Buddhist era; and as Buddhism declined, in the southern parts of India the intertwining continued, as beautiful figures were sculpted on temple walls during the Pallava and Chalukyan period, a practice later adopted by the Chalukyan vassals: the Kakatiyans. As the Kakatiyas declared their independence and slowly turned into a dominant ruling dynasty of the Andhradesa,  their architecture and sculpture, which evolved simultaneously over the three centuries of their rule, merged seamlessly into each other. This is evident in their various temples, which are filled with exquisite figures covering each pillar, wall, door panel, door jamb, lintel, and ceiling.

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Beautiful sculptures fill the door jambs and pillars of Kakatiyan temples

Who were the Kakatiyas? A rather complex history

There are no clear records of how the Kakatiyas got their name or their caste, and few theories make the rounds. From two stone inscriptions it is learnt that the Kakatiyas got their name from a place called Kakatipura, which is a place where the Cholas once ruled, and where the temples of Ekavira devi and Kakati devi or Kakatamma (Chamunda of the saptamatrikas) stand. It is also believed that the Kakatiyas worshipped the Kakati devi, from whom the family name may have been derived. Some epigraphical evidences suggest that the Kakatiyas belonged to some Ratta (Rashtrakuta) clan,  hence they were Sudras (Chaturdhakulajas), with claims to Kshatriya-hood based on their warrior like activities.

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Devi Chamunda or Kakati devi (Kakatamma) from whom the Kakatiya dynasty was likely to have derived its name, 13th century, Kolunapaka

Trying to decipher the Kakatiyan lineage:

870-895 CE – Gundaya’s reign as Rashtrakuta vassal

895-940 CE ~ Ereya’s reign as Rashtrakuta vassal

The Mangallu inscription in 956 CE  shows  Kakatiyan Gundyana fighting under the Eastern Chalukya king; hence likely their vassal (noticeably the inscription doesn’t place the prefix Rashtrakuta before Gundyana’s name showing the disconnect with the clan)

973 CE ~ Collapse of Rashtrakutas

996-1052 CE ~ Beta I installed as king of Annumakonda or Hanamkonda by Erana and his wife Kamaseni (Beta I’s sister)

1052-1076 CE ~ Prola I rules as Kalyani or Western Chalukyan vassal under king Trilokyamalla Someswara. The latter gave the official ruling rights of Hanumakonda to Prola I (which was already bestowed upon him by his aunt Kamaseni), after Prola  fought a successful battle against the Cholas.

1076-1110 CE ~ Beta II rules as Kalyani Chalukyan vassal of king Tribhuvanamalla Vikramditya

1110-1158 CE ~ Prola II rules as Kalyani Chalukyan vassal

1158 CE ~ As the Western Chalukyas fall from power, Rudradeva  or Prataparudra I declares his independence, and becomes the first independent ruler of the Kakatiyan dynasty. He rules as the first king of the Kakatiya dynasty until 1195 CE. 

1195-1198 CE ~ Mahadeva rules. He dies in a war in 1198 CE and his young son Ganapatideva is imprisoned. Later Jaitugi of the Yadavas set him free, and Ganapatideva comes under loyal guardianship of his faithful vassal Recherla Rudra.

1199 -1262 CE Ganapatideva rules. In 1262 he hands over his throne to his daughter Rudrammadevi. In 1269 Ganapatideva dies.

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The painting represents the court of Rani Rudramma of the Kakatiya dynasty meeting Marco Polo, who was representing the Mongol king Kublai Khan (13th century CE). Marco Polo is shown accompanied by Chinese and Mongol representatives, and they are carrying gifts of silk and Chinese pottery. 
Here the Rani and her throne has been painted based on the image of Indrani in Ellora, while the two huge gold makaras are based on the two makaras seen on top of Yamuna in Ellora. The queen’s crown shows the Nataraja carved in emerald, which depicts her as a Shaivite. Marco Polo‘s clothes have been painted based on old paintings of Venice people, and the Chinese and Mongol dresses are based on old paintings of those places. The court has been based on pictures by Fergusson of Warangal temples and of Chakukyan temples.
Painter is Prabhat Mohan Bandyopadhya (1904-1987).

In 1289  Rudrammadevi dies in a battle along with her loyal Senani Mallikarjuna Nayakudu.

In 1289 Prataparudra II starts his rule. He was Rudrammadevi’s grandson (daughter’s son), brought up by the queen herself and trained as her successor.

In 1323 CE after a fifth time invasion of Kakatiya kingdom by Mohammed bin Tughlaq, the capital of the Kakatiyas, Warangal finally falls. Prataprudra II was taken a prisoner, and while being taken to Delhi he commits suicide by drowning in the Narmada river.

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Remains inside the Warangal fort. Standing prominently is a Kirti thorana of the Kakatiyas. The fort was completely destroyed by Mohammed bin Tughlaq’s army in 1323 CE.

In 1323 CE Kakatiya rule comes to an end. 

As the loyal vassals of the Kakatiyas, the Nayakas, snatch power back from Delhi and take over. Prataprudra II’s brother Annamdeo moves to Bastar with his army and carves a kingdom there, which is held by his  successors until 1947.

All five Islamic invasions faced by the Kakatiya kingdom took place during King Prataprudra II’s rule. The deadliest attack was launched during the second attack by Alauddin Khilji’s army under Malik Kafur in 1309, when different Kakatiyan cities, including Hanamkonda, were brutally destroyed by Khilji’s army. It was during this attack that Prataprudra II offered the Koh-i-noor diamond to Khilji in exchange for peace.

Remains of temple parts inside the 1000 pillared temple complex in Hanamkonda. The temple complex was started by Rudradeva (1163 CE), and later completed by Ganapatideva (1213 CE), and it is believed that Rudrammadevi came here everyday from the Warangal Fort to pray. Parts of this temple and the entire city faced massive destruction under Malik Kafur’s army (1309 CE).  

Did the Kakatiyas rule well?

The Kakatiyas emerged as the most powerful rulers during 12th -13th CE,  in the entire Telugu land. Their rule ushered in many new bearings in politics and administration, agriculture (especially in terms of irrigation), religion, literature, architecture, and arts. While it is believed that originally they might have been Digambar Jains, their temples predominantly show their Shaivite beliefs. The many conquests and good maintenance of their vast empire by the Kakatiyas; while encouraging growth of arts, literature, and temple architecture; and simultaneously defending their kingdom from constant onslaughts of invading armies, place them foremost amongst the ruling dynasties of modern Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. They united the Andhradesa and bought all the telugu speaking people under a single umbrella thus establishing a unique identity of the telugu people and its language.

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Many such large tanks for facilitating irrigation were built under royal patronage during the Kakatiyan era

During their three centuries rule, the Kakatiyas focused on developing the three Ts : Town, Temple, and Tank. Keeping the basic monarchical form, the Kakatiyas gave great importance to decentralisation of authority by distributing power horizontally to their subordinates (thus creating central, provincial, and local levels of administration). Owing to their continued policy of developing widespread tank irrigation, the kingdom at this time saw unprecedented economic prosperity. This led to large-scale trade activities, and development of many new trade guilds. Motupalli at that time was a well known sea port of the Kakatiyas. Marco Polo, the famous traveller visited the Kakatiya kingdom during the rule Rudramma devi, via Motupalli, and in his travel diary praised the prosperity of this kingdom.

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Owing to the relentless focus of the Kakatiyas on building innumerable tanks for irrigation purposes, the arid region turned fertile and remains so even to this day. Extensive farmlands stretch across to the horizon that are green and yellow with the growing crop-heads of paddy, cotton, lentils, maize, and sugarcane

Most of the temple and tank construction projects took place during Ganapatideva’s rule, while his successors Rudrammadevi and Prataprudra II spent their lifetimes fighting invasions. Innumerable majestic temples were built under the supervision of Ganapatideva and his loyal general Recherla Rudra, which included the well known Ghanpur temples and tank, Ramappa temples and tank, Laknavaram tank, and Pakhal tank, amongst many others. The Kakatiyan temples predominantly are dedicated to Shiva, and follow the Ekakuta, Trikuta, or Panchakuta plan. The sculptural art of this time gives us an idea of the socio-religious atmosphere of that era. A favourite  theme in  temple sculptures of this time were stories from various epics, such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavat Gita, and the Puranas. The artisans would take inspiration from these texts and transfer their imaginations onto stone sculptures on temple walls and panels, making it easily available for the viewing and understanding by the common people. The Andhradesa society during the Kakatiya era also saw some religious movements associated with Jainism, Buddhism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism.

From an overall perspective, the Kakatiya rulers provided their citizens with stability, security, and economic prosperity; while ushering in art and architectural growth, and literary development, which was unique and unheard of previously. The cultural roots sown by the Kakatiyas can still be seen and felt in the innumerable tanks and temples built by them that still dot the area.

The Nameswara temple in Pillalamarri village

During the rule of Ganapatideva, many tanks were constructed using the irrigation bund system,  large forested areas were brought under cultivation, and many Shiva temples were constructed. The first tank was likely to have been constructed in village Pillalamari by Namireddy. He also constructed the Nameswara temple in Pillalamari in 1202 CE. The temple has a stone prakara and a tall dhwaja stambha in front. The temple has a large mandapa which is entered by 6 steps. The door to mandapa has dancers sculpted on the door jambs and six dwarasakhas, each intricately carved, while the lintel holds a gajalakshmi. There is  a garbhagriha, antarala, and a square mandapa with a circular dance-mandapa at the centre (nritya mandapa). The temple has a small shikhara with later modifications. The mandapa has a kakshasana, with aasanapatta and mattavaarana, running all around it on the inside. The roof has a jutting out cornice, with tiny shikharas raised at the end on the inside of it. The door jambs to the antarala also have exquisite dancers carved on them, and there are chowrie bearers, yalis, eight handed Shiva, dancers, Brahma, and Ganesha to complete the line on the antrala door panels. The mandapa pillars are square with circular discs, and each pillar is a marvel with intricate carvings of dancers and musicians.

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The temple wall with the jutting out cornice, and thick cross beams for supporting the mandapa roof. The tiny temple shikharas are seen at the edge of the cornice on the inside, which were likely built for supporting the cornice. The main shikhara is short with many small turrets, and the bull in front of the shikhara is likely to be a later addition.
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The door to the mandapa. Dancers are seen on the door jamb and lower panel part, while the lintel has a gaja lakshmi
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The kakhshasana; and square mandapa pillars with discs that are intricately carved with dancers and musicians. The dhwaja stambh is seen outside.
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ceiling patterns
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Door to antarala. Dancers, yalis, among others, adorn the shakhas and panels. The Shiva lingam can be seen inside the garbhagriha, and it is one and half feet in height and and breadth.
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Two dancers in large square panel and two below. it is said there are 32 dancers in total in the nritya mandapa. There are two apsaras on the cross capitals of each pillar. Along with the other figures, is is said there are altogether 100 figures sculpted in the temple.

At night it is believed that here in this temple (as in Rudreswara temple too) when the world falls asleep, Lord Shiva on the antarala door panel lifts his feet, and all the dancers come alive, along with the apsaras, and the drummers. Then the heavenly dance starts and goes on until day break. 

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Pillar panel depicting dancers and drummers
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Pillar on kakhshasana supporting the ceiling and cornice of the mandapa. Square pillars with discs, and cross capital. Animal motif and floral patterns visible on panels
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An inscription pillar kept in the courtyard
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Beside the main temple is a smaller trikuta temple with less ornamentation. It is also a Shiva temple with a beautifully ornamented nandi in front. There is  a third smaller (double celled) Shiva temple at the back with various sculptures of Kakatamma, Kumara, etc kept inside the mandapa (shown in the slideshow below)

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Sri Erakeswara temple in Pillalamarri village

Pillalamarri village was once the fief of Recherla Rudra’s  family, a powerful vassal under the Kakatiyas. This temple also has a dhwaja stambh in front, and stone steps lead up to the mandapa. The main deity here is Lord Shiva. As per an inscription plate, Sri Erakeshwara temple was built in the year 1208 CE under King Ganapatideva’s rule by Recharla Rudra in memory of his wife Erasanamma. Another inscription mentions the rule of Rudradeva (1195 CE) and both are seen in this temple. The pillars are similar to that of Nameswara, with square blocks and circular discs, and have dancers and musicians sculpted on them.

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In this temple the mandapa is partly broken (the broken pillars are still standing) and large dancers on the temple pillars all gone with just their stubs remaining, reminding us of those grim days when Malik Kafur’s army attacked the Kakatiyan empire during Prataprudra’s reign. 

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The temple has a stellate form and stands on a high platform. The temple pillars show floral motifs, elephants, and beautiful pushpalata mandalas that are often depicted for protection or beneficence.  

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The temple walls and a part of the shikhara. The shikhara has little turrets (urushringas) attached to it. The cornice, like the Nameswara, shows tiny hanging little temple shikharas.
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The nritya mandapa. The yellow circles marked on pillars are the places where the dancers once stood. The base stubs just remain now.

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slideshow —–> Pillar sculptures in Erakeswara temple.

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slideshow —–> Door to the antarala: a female figure holding a child and dancers are carved on door jambs, while the pilasters show the dwarashakhas with dancers, floral motifs holding tiny human figures carved inside vines. The lower panel of the doorway also has female figures, likely to be dancers.  The deity inside the garbhagriha is a Shiva lingam.

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Gaja lakshmi on the lintel of the mandapa entrance

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figures on a stone panel above the mandapa door

Kakatiyan temples : Thy name is beauty

In terms of architecture, the Kakatiyas followed their former masters, the Chalukyas, in form, but managed to create a distinctive feature of their own by bringing in more indigenous forms of art, such as paintings (Cheriyal paintings) that once adorned the temple walls and still survives in various manifestations. The artisans used granite, basalt, and sandstone that were locally available, while lime and bricks were used for making superstructures. Black granite and basalt were used for making pillars, lintels, jambs, ornamental motifs and figures. One must not forget that these were hard rock and not particularly easy to carve. The perfection of the edges and shapes of the lathe turned pillars especially those that adorn the Natya Mandapa speak eloquently of the skill of the artisans and the technology that was developed by them.

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The various Kakatiyan temples show a gradual evolution of their unique style

Kakatiyan sculptures, from what remain, show a focus on kirtimukhas, dancers, Anna pakshi

A broken panel from a temple jaali of the Kakatiyas, with their distinctive Anna pakshi motif. Anna pakshi is a mythical white bird that resides in Devalok and is the symbol of purity and honesty. It has the ability to separate milk from water when given mixed together. It is a popular symbol down South especially in Andhra, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.

Kakatiyan temple architecture show high levels of sophistication, and one can see the gradual evolution of their style starting from basic temples having a simple mandapa, antarala, and garbhagriha, with pillars lacking sculptures; to the complex trikuta and stellate form of the Thousand-pillared temple; and finally reaching its climax in the exquisitely carved Rudresvara/Ramappa temple.

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be reached at monidipadey@rocketmail.com and at monigatha

Finding Shravasti (Sāvatthī)

While growing up I often heard recitations of the poem Bonolota Sen, written by Jibonananda Das in 1942. In this poem, the poet beautifully describes his muse, painting her with various attributes from ancient India. One of the most enigmatic poems that I have read, the words cut deep into the reader’s soul as he or she travels back in time to the glorious past. Few lines from the poem run as such:

A thousand years I have walked these paths,
From the harbour at Malacca in the dark of night
To the straits of Ceylon at glimmer of dawn.
Much have I travelled – 
The grey world of Ashoka-Bimbisara,
Further yet,
The dark city of Vidharbha;
Around me life foams its stormy breath.
Weary of soul,
I found a moment’s respite in her presence – 
She: Banalata Sen of Natore.

Her hair the ancient darkness of Vidisha,
Face an intricate sculpture from Shravasti.
A sailor in distant oceans, rudderless, lost,
When hoves into view
Island of grass through fronds of cinnamon,
A green relief
So she felt to me….”

(translation by Amitabha Mukerjee: https://www.cse.iitk.ac.in/users/amit/other/poems/banalata.html)

From treading the magical realms of this lyrical verse, when I finally walked into Shravasti on a bitterly cold and foggy morning, I found no intricate sculptures resembling the beauty of Bonolota Sen waiting for me. What was waiting was the magic of 2600 years, compressed and hidden amidst the ruins and paths of the once thriving site known as the Jetavana monastery.

Looking back at Shravasti:

The name Shravasti is a familiar one in Indian history from ancient times, and finds mention in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist texts. Shravasti  was also often referred to as Champakpuri and Chandrikapuri, though Kalidasa called it as ‘Sravasti.’ According to the Mahabharata, the name Shravasti was derived from king Shravasta, while Buddhist folklore says the town was named as Savatthi after Savattha, a hermit who lived here. In Ramayana it is said that Lord Rama of the Surya dynasty divided his kingdom of Kosala (with capital at Ayodhya) into two parts. The elder son Kusa inherited Kushavati or Kushasthali, and Lava got Shravasti that was situated on the banks of the river Rapti (currently the Sehath-Mehath village site near Gonda and Baharinch). It is believed that Lava’s descendants ruled the area for a long time; however, during the time of Mahabharata both Kushasthali and Shravasti seem to have gone into oblivion, though we find mention of Ayodhya under control of king Bruhadbala I, who fought for the Kauravas. In Buddhist literature the name Shravasti carries great significance, as Lord Buddha spent many years of his monastic life in this city. During his life time Shravasti was considered one among the six largest cities in India. For the Jains, Sharvasti holds great religious significance, as the now ruined Sobhanath temple is considered to be the birthplace of the third Tirthankara, Sambhavanath.

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Third Jain tirthankara Sambhanath was born in Shravasti to King Jitārī and Queen Susena (photo courtesy – Wikipedia)

When we look at archaeological evidences from the Gangetic basin, we find the presence of fine Black Red Ware or B-R-W  that denotes the Chalcolithic era, thus establishing the fact that it was likely Chalcolithic people settled down in this area around the second millennium BCE. As the settlements of the BRW people expanded through first half of the 1st millennium, there was also a  shift from copper to  iron, possibly due to discovery of iron ore resources. This iron technology helped the Gangetic basin to expand and develop its unique cultural mosaic, and it is likely that Shravasti settlements started at this time (early half of 1st millennium BCE). Using these new iron tools, soon forests in the Gangetic basin were cleared, farmers started producing surplus crops, and people settled down permanently, forming cities like Shravasti.

In the later Vedic period we find that increasingly territorial identities started gaining importance over tribal ones, and by 600 BCE we find a shift from oligarchic republics to the formation of large states or kingdoms. From loyalty towards the jana (the tribe), the loyalty of the people now shifted to the janapadas (states). By subjugating other janapadas, more powerful mahajanapadas soon came into existence. According to Anguttara Nikaya (Buddhist text), during Buddha’s time 16 such mahajanapadas existed. Kosala was one of them with its capital at Shravasti (by Buddha’s time Ayodhya had been reduced to an unimportant city), and considered among the four great monarchies of that time that survived well after the 6th c. BCE.

Mahajanapadas during Buddha’s time (photo courtesy – wikipedia)

With the formation of these mahajanapadas, India saw an increase in material prosperity owing to trade with Central and West Asia and the Mediterranean region, leading to urbanization. From the strategic location on east-west route of Uttarapatha, which connected the Gangetic basin with the Himalayas, it is likely that Shravasti held great economic and political importance as a trading centre. Shravasti at that time was well connected with other important commercial hubs, such as, Taxila, Rajgir, Pataliputra, Pratisthana, Kaushambi and Varanasi

Dynasty that held Shravasti

According to the Ramayana and the Puranas, the Kosala mahajanpada was ruled by the Aikshvaka dynasty that originated from a king named Ikshvaku, and members of this dynasty held sway over Shravasti, Vaishali, Maithili, and Kushinara. The Puranas give a list of the rulers of the Aikshvaka dynasty from Ikshvaku to Prasenajita, the latter being a contemporary of Bimbisara of the Haryanka dynasty, and Lord Buddha. Prasenajita who was then the king of Shravasti or Savatthi, became one of the leading upasakas of the Buddha. As per the Buddhist scriptures, Bimbisara (who was also the brother in law of Prasenajita) met the Buddha prior to his enlightenment, and later he too became one of his leading upasakas.

Procession of Prasenajit of Kosala leaving Shravasti to meet the Buddha. Sanchi Stupa. (picture courtesy – wikipedia)

Burmese art showing King Bimbisara of Rajgir, who was the brother-in-law of Prasenajit of Kosala, offering his kingdom to the Buddha (Picture courtesy – wikipedia) 

Seeing Shravasti as it is now:

Currently what remains of this ancient city are  parts of the wall that once guarded

The remains of city walls built of mud and bricks of Shravasti in the Maheth site. The walking-path seen in the front is the site of one of the four main city gates of ancient Shravasti, and is the closest to Jetavana monastery. It must have been the same road used by the monks living in Jetavana monastery during Buddha’s times, as they went around for alms (bhiksha) in ancient Shravasti (photo courtesy – wikipedia)

Shravasti, in the Maheth village site; and the Jetavana monastery ruins at Saheth. Besides the remains of religious complexes that contained Buddhist monastic cells with a central court, excavations at Shravasti have found many idols, inscription plaques, terracotta seals in Brahmi script, copper coins of the Ayodhya series, glass and etched agate beads, blue and green glass bangles, and copper ornaments, which are now placed in the Lucknow and Mathura museums. Ramayana plaques were unearthed from the site of Kachhi kuti in the Saheth site of Jetavana, which likely came from a Hindu temple. It is believed that King Ashoka visited Shravasti, and had built two pillars on the eastern gate of Jetavana. Both Fa-hien and Hiuen Tsang in their travel accounts mention Ashokan pillars with ox-capital that they saw at the Jetavana monastery in Shravasti. When Hiuen Tsang visited Shravasti in the 6th c. CE, he found the ancient city in ruins, but he recorded  the monuments that he saw here.

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Remains of the stupa of the merchant prince name Sudatta of Shravasti, who acquired the site of jeta-vana for Buddha, from prince Jeta (son of King Prasenajita of Kosala) at a huge price that equalled the total amount of gold pieces which would cover the entire surface of the plot (the total price amounted to 18 crores). Sudatta was titled as Anathapindika, which meant “giver of alms to the destitute.” This stupa is now better known as kacchi kuti, because a sadhu had made a temporary shrine made of kaccha bricks on top of the mound. This stupa represents structural remains dating from 2nd century CE to 12th c. CE, ranging from Kushana period to Gupta era structures and later period renovations. 

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Donation by Anathapindika, as shown on Bharhut stupa.  Here we can see a cartload of coins being taken down, while the square pieces on the ground denote the gold pieces covering the site. The Brahmi text reads  “jetavana ananthapindiko deti kotisanthatena keta.” (picture courtesy – wikipedia). Buddha first came to Shravasti on an invite from Anathapindika. 

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Remains of monastic complexes at the site of Jetavana monastery. It was also in Shravasti that Buddha attracted many women disciples, which led to his forming an Order of the Nuns, much against his wishes, and he had predicted that with this reform the Buddhist order will not last for long. The first disciple to join the Order of the Nuns by forcing Buddha’s consent was his own step-mother Mahaprajapati. One of his most well known women disciple was Visakha, the daughter of a business tycoon of those times from Saketa. She built Buddha another monastery at Shravasti and named it Purvarama, by selling her expensive head dress. Of the total 25 monsoon seasons that Buddha spent teaching in Shravasti, 19 were in Jetavana and 6 in Purvarama. 

Stupa of Visakha, where her ashes were interred in Shravasti (picture courtesy – wikipedia)

Stupa 1 in Sanchi depicts the three preferred homes of the Buddha within the Jetavana monastery in Shravasti (picture courtesy – Wikipedia)

 

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Remains of the brick made plinths, foundations, and walls of the different monastic cells  in Jetavana. The ancient site of Shravasti was completely forgotten, until excavations were started under Alexander Cunningham in 1863, who followed the details given by Fa-Hien and Hiuen Tsang and found that Saheth was the site of Jetavana monastery and Maheth was Savatthi during the ancient times. Most of the excavated remains in Jetavana show the typical elevation and plan of early Buddhist architecture, and belong to the Kushana period, with a number of reconstructions and renovations done during the Gupta period, and some more from the later periods dating upto 11th- 12th century CE. 

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The Anandabodhi tree in Jetavana planted  by Anathapindika, considered as the second most sacred tree among the Buddhists.  A cell right behind the tree is supposed to have belonged to a goldsmith’s workshop, as derived from remains of a lump of pure gold in a clay crucible in the room and ash heaps around the building. 

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Gandhakuti, the hut where Buddha spent 19 monsoon seasons. Lord Buddha spent most his monastic life in Shravasti, preaching 871 suttas from the four nikayas, of which 844 were preached from this very spot in Jetavana. According to a description given by Fa-hien, the Gandhakuti originally had seven sections, that held different kinds of offerings, decorated insignia, marquees, and the place was lit with lamps that burned all the time. A rat supposedly set the entire vihara on fire destroying it completely, and when it was rebuilt it only had two sections. 

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Thin gold foil offerings to Buddha is seen on Gandhakuti  and other monastic cell wall remains in Jetavana. This practice of offering gold foil is common among south east Asian devotees, especially from Myanmar. 

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The stupa of the notorious robber known as Ahimsaka or Angulimala, who killed those travelling through the forests in Kosala. He killed people by dragging them out of their homes in nearby villages. To keep count of his victims he strung their fingers around his neck like a garland, which gave him the name Angulimala. While looking for his thousandth victim Buddha intercepted him and made him his disciple. Despite becoming a monk, Angulimala while out begging for alms often faced the wrath of the people whose loved ones he had once killed; but Buddha told him to endure it as a penance for his former misdeeds or Karma.

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Angulimala chasing Buddha in  their first meeting. Painting in the Sri Lanka Buddhist temple at Shravasti. 

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Shravasti is also an important religious place for the Jains. The Jain temple seen here is situated a little away from the Jetavana monastery, and is supposedly the birth place of the third Tirthankara Sambhavnath, whose symbol is a horse. Born to King Jitārī and Queen Susena, he ascended the throne at an early age of 20, and ruled ably for thirty four years, ushering in many changes during his reign. However, one day after seeing a vanishing dark cloud, he realised the transient nature of life, renounced his throne, and chose a monastic life. The remains of the structure show a basic rectangular plan with different strata, and many later additions, extensions, and superimposition. The domed roof structure built of lakhori bricks is a much later medieval Islamic imposition. The interior face of the structure had several niches that housed Jain deities and many such deities have been recovered from the site. 

 

Remains of small room like structures within the Jain temple. Just outside the temple are two more mounds of ruins, likely to hold remains of ancient monastic structures.

The Shravasti Miracle

The Twin Miracle  performed  by Buddha at Shravasti, seven years after gaining enlightenment, is considered as his best miracle. The miracle was in response to a challenge thrown to Buddha by the heretics, wherein he had predicted that he would perform a miracle while seated under a mango tree (as stated in most of the Pali texts, such as Dhammapadathakatha and Jataka tales). Hearing this the heretics destroyed all mango trees in the area; however their plans were thwarted when Buddha planted a mango seed that immediately grew into  a full grown tree with fruits, thus allowing Buddha to perform his miracle, known as the Yamaka-pātihāriya  or the Twin Miracle. This miraculous phenomena paired two opposite natural elements:  flames that came out from the upper body, while water streamed down from his lower body, and the two were alternated. At the same time,  water and fire also emitted alternatively from the left and right sides of his body. 

The twin miracle by Buddha at Shravasti (photo courtesy – wiki pediaby Ddalbiez) 

Another important text Divyavadana written in Sanskrit talks of another Great Miracle performed in Shravasti, which was a miracle of multiplication, where Buddha created multiple images of his self in front, back, and the two sides, thus forming a group of Buddhas that reached up to the Heaven.

The miracle of ‘Many Buddhas’ in Shravasti (photo courtesy – Wikipedia)

Downfall of the high and mighty

Shravasti, the once powerful city and capital of the mighty Kosala mahajanapada, a centre of economic, socio-cultural, and political activities, saw a sudden decline from 3rd-4th c. CE. The decline started  a little earlier than the other important north Indian cities of the time, from the later part of the Kushana period, when for some reason (could be economic, political, or cultural) people suddenly started moving out of this urban centre. The decline can be attributed to economic stagnation, owing to the Hun invasion and the diminishing Indo-Roman trade in the later half of the Gupta period. Thus, an economic decline led to the complete disintegration of political unity, and breakdown of the socio-cultural fabric that had been held together for many centuries.

Author – Monidipa Dey

She can be reached at monidipadey@rocketmail.com or at MoniGatha

Turtuk – Living On The Edge

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page-” thus spake the Augustine of Hippo; and since I am a voracious reader, I decided to read a few more pages this year. This reading took me up the long, winding roads of the greater Himalayas, and I found myself wandering in the ‘land of high passes’: Ladakh . While taking one of the lesser explored trails into far north western part of Ladakh, we ended up in the village of Turtuk. Nestled amidst the towering peaks of the Karakoram, this village was once a part of Gilgit-Baltistan region.

When I reached, I found it sitting smug under the warm August sun, wrapped in the thoughts of its glorious past.

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Sun dappled lanes of Turtuk. Time stands still here.

Taken over by Pakistan post -independence, Turtuk, which is hardly 10 km from the Line Of Control (LOC), became a part of India during the Indo-Pak war of 1971 under the able leadership of Major Chewang Rinchen. Settled in the shadow of the famous K2 peak that falls across the LOC, this village has the river Shyok flowing beside it. Its greenery came as a relief to our eyes that were sore after hours of gazing at the black tarmac road, boulders, and white sand on all sides, without any vegetation.

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The Shyok river which gives company till Turtuk, flows across the LOC and meets the Indus. Shyok, which means “Death” in Uyghur, was named thus as it frequently floods its sides, cutting banks causing soil erosion.  Many times the river has wiped out entire villages often forcing villagers to move away and seek home elsewhere. The Shyok has not quietened with time and with an increased volume during the summer, it is impossible to cross the river. People living in villages such as Hunder and Utmaru are forced to use boats known as bips, for crossing it at remote places where there are no bridges.

Turtuk, once part of the inland  trade route (the silk route) for merchants travelling through the Karakoram ranges, was likely to have been an important trading post linked with Tibet, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. However, little recorded history is available of those days and what we now see has been shaped more by  the 1971 war and events thereof. With the closing down of borders in 1971 and the ancient trade routes sealed, the economic lifeline was cut off, choking Turtuk and the other border villages.

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The United Province of Baltistan, divided by recent borders. Interestingly, the area of Ladakh (of which Turtuk and adjoining areas are a part) has seen many partitions before. It started in 9th century CE when it was separated from the Tibetan empire by Beg Manthal of the Yabgo dynasty who conquered Khaplu. Later, in 1834 CE, the Dogra rulers from Jammu annexed it and made it a part of Jammu and Kashmir. Then in 1947, the Indian subcontinent underwent partition, and Baltistan was taken over by Pakistan. Finally in 1971, the Indian army took back the control of Turtuk and three other villages.

Baltistan once was a separate kingdom, and a Central Asian tribe named the Yabgo dynasty, controlled the united province from Chinese Turkistan.  Among the rulers of the western Turkistan, the Yabgo surname belonged to the leader of the  Gaz tribes whose kingdom extended from Afghanistan to Turkistan. The Yabgo reign in Baltistan started from around  800  CE, when Beg Manthal, the 10th descendant of Prince Tung (he started the Gaz dynasty), came from Yarkhand (a part of modern China) and conquered Khaplu. The dynasty’s reign lasted until 1834 CE when Ladakh was annexed by the Dogra rulers of Jammu. The Yabgo dynasty were patrons of art, poetry and literature which flourished under their long rule over the region.

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The family tree of the Yabgo dynasty prepared by the current ‘king’ Yabgo Mohammed Kacho with help from Indian Army.

The descendants of the Yabgo dynasty still live in Turtuk and the family is considered as rulers by the villagers. The ‘king’ Yabgo Mohammed Kacho, a rather down to earth and soft spoken  gentleman, receives all those that visit his former summer home that now serves as a museum with warmth.  Some of his family members remain on the other side of LOC as do many family members of other villagers. Along with this pain, the villagers harbor a regret that the Indian army did not take over the entire Baltistan that fateful night during the war.

Turtuk reeled under two long decades of mistrust arising from a sense of mixed emotions of losing close family members to Pakistan, and add to it the apathy and neglect shown by the Indian government towards these border villages. Finally in 1999, Lt Gen Arjun Ray, who was then the Commander of 14 Corps, started ‘Operation Sadbhavna,’ which aimed at reviving a positive civil-military relationship. Under this operation, the army undertook many projects that ranged  from building schools, developing infrastructure,  to establishing computer and other vocational training centres, poultry farms, programs aimed at women empowerment, providing telephone connections, free medical services and a daily bus service. Today, for the people of Turtuk it is “upar Allah, niche Indian Army.” Turtuk stands as a shining example of how things can work out amicably, when both sides are willing and able to appreciate each others efforts.

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The current ‘king’ Mohammed Kacho of the Yabgo dynasty tells us of the former glory of his ancestors. Of the fateful night when they became Indians and how the Indian army is the best thing to have happened to the villagers. He categorically said that while politicians are the same corrupt players on all sides of the borders, it is the Indian army that stood by them at all times. His former palace was almost entirely looted and destroyed by the Pakistan army because his father had filed a case in the Lahore court against them for illegal occupation. Almost nothing remains of their former wealth and the only evidences seen are in the form of dusty artefacts that are a part of the museum.

Located at an altitude of 9846 feet, the village of Turtuk is inhabited by the Balti people of Tibetan origin. Once one crosses the Hunder area and nears the Balti zone, everything changes drastically: the landscape, physical features of the locals, clothing, language, and culture which is markedly different from the rest of the people in Ladakh. The Balti women are seen wearing colourful floral prints that stand out in contrast amidst the stark mountains all around.

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The villagers in Turtuk. The women are still not so open to being photographed, so didn’t take their pictures. Extremely hospitable, the villagers are always ready to talk and help. 

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Golden heads of barley

Turtuk being warmer, the villagers are able to cultivate two crops in a year. Barley, wheat, buckwheat, peas, spinach, pulses, beans,  and mustard are widely grown. Among livestock that provides milk, meat and wool are the dzos (hybrid of yak and cow), goats, dzomos and sheep. Fruit cultivation is another widespread practice seen in all these border villages and the little gardens abound in apricots, walnuts and few apples that help to augment the villagers’ incomes. Interestingly, there is a Tsarma apricot juice factory in Turtuk that  sells pitted and pressed  apricot juice. Since Turtuk is a strategic military outpost, it was closed to outsiders, even other Indians, until 2010 when the locals weary of  isolation and looking to increase their meagre incomes petitioned for the beautiful valley to open up. As tourists slowly started trickling in, albeit armed with permits, tourism as an industry has started evolving bringing in the much needed cash.

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We were offered these apricots by a lady who was standing in her garden as we walked towards the museum. She plucked them from a tree, washed them in a flowing stream, and offered them to us. As we bit into them we realised we were having the best apricots we have ever had. Juicy and sweet, they were absolutely delicious, and I can guarantee that I have never found such wonderful apricots in the markets of NCR!

Fruit laden trees and vines: apricots and grapes. The villagers sell their fruit and crop produce in the local markets and to the army and sometimes travel to Nubra, Hunder and Diskit to sell their fruits.

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Fields of Turtuk

Baltistan was predominantly a Buddhist region which changed when Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, a poet from Iran and an Islamic scholar, arrived there in the 13th century CE.  An old mosque near the memorial of Captain Haneef Uddin (Kargil war hero) still stands in the old part of Turtuk. While its exact period of construction remains unknown, it was first renovated in 1690 CE. The mosque has a blend of Buddhist designs, swastikas, and Iranian motifs. Turtuk villagers are mostly Muslims, unlike other parts of the Nubra valley, and 70% of them follow the Nurbakhshi school of Sufi Islam.

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The bridge that one has to cross to reach the old monastery and the mosque

As we walked through the narrow cobbled lanes of the village, we marvelled at the wooden, gaily painted houses that were huddled together, almost as if they wished to escape the winter cold. Some houses showed old carvings on them. As we explored the village further, following the hand-painted map, we found a wooden house that was larger than the other houses and it turned out to be the museum and the king’s former summer palace.  At the entrance gate there was a large wooden eagle hanging, which symbolised the ‘saviour’. As we looked at the house (it certainly didn’t look like a palace), we suddenly noticed the old wooden doors and the wooden carved cornices that still held flaky remnants of colours on them, and it seemed as if these old walls were telling us a story of a kingdom long lost.

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The wooden eagle on the gate of the former summer palace’

Inside the palace courtyard

The worn out wooden pillars, thick wooden beams, delicate arches in wood, bright carpets, all speak of a bygone era

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On the terrace, there is a vineyard !

Left: Photographs of the current ‘king’ Kacho Mohammad Khan, his grandfather and father. Right: A painting of Beg Manthal, who started the Yabgo dynasty rule in  Ladakh in the 9th century CE

Various artefacts in the family museum.

The remnants of ‘king’ Kacho Mohammad Khan’s family wealth are seen in his DSC_0669 own private museum in the summer palace. The collection includes coins, old metal and earthen pots, silver ink containers, shields, arrows used in war, lapis lazuli encrusted sword, paintings, clothes, headgear, footwear, family record books, leopard traps,stuffed heads of hunted animals, along with a donation box for the visitors. The current ‘king,’ who is a writer and lover of books, earns his daily bread by selling fruits and vegetables to the Indian army. He is also likely to be the last king of his dynasty that once ruled Baltistan for more than 1000 years. His only son is more interested in doing business than performing the role of a non-functional king of a non-existent kingdom.

Turtuk, a charming high altitude border village, with its hospitable and friendly people, has steadfastly refused to take part in any attempts at radicalisation, and are solely focused towards creating a cordial atmosphere. Their patience and efforts have borne fruit, and today tourists are coming in from all parts of the world to Turtuk and returning with wonderful memories of love and affection received from the villagers. With hopes of a better tomorrow,  Turtuk can now sit smug and revel in the stories of its past glory.

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com

or at

Monidipa

Himalayan Temples – A Himachali Sojourn

Growing up in Darjeeling and Kolkata, and being a regular visitor to the neighbouring state of Sikkim, as a child I invariably associated the Himalayas with gaily painted Buddhist monasteries or gompas, fluttering colourful flags that kept away evil spirits, and maroon robed monks. It was much later when I travelled to Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh that I realised these age-old mountains held many secrets amidst its high peaks. Some in the form of beautiful old temples carved in stone and wood.

My tryst with Himalayan temples started with a visit to Kedarnath, Badrinath, and Gangotri, during my school days. Despite the milling crowd, these places still

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Kedarnath temple (approximately 8th c. CE), Uttarakhand

retain a charm of their own, and a darshan of the evening aarti at the Kedarnath temple is a magical experience. Makes you realise why “the land north of Ganga-dwar is known to the wise as Paradise Ground” (Kedarkhand Skanda Purana).

There is a belief among the mountain dwellers that in the Himalayas there are as many deities as there are hamlets. Nothing could be truer than this especially in Himachal Pradesh where every hamlet has its own local deota and possibly a kul deota of the head priest. They are worshipped in kathkuni styled pretty shrines built with wood and stone

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Hatu Mata temple (newly constructed) dedicated to Mandodari, wife of Ravana, at Hatu Peak in Narkanda in Himachal Pradesh

. Besides the temples for the local deota that are often reconstructed or relatively new, there are also many early medieval (post classical era) stone temples with exquisite sculptural works on them. Most of these temples are functional, well maintained, and

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Shikhara of an almost 1400 year old temple within the Chaurasi temple complex in Bharmour, Himachal Pradesh.

often under the purview of the ASI. Yet, they remain unknown to most tourists that travel to Himachal Pradesh. While speaking to the locals I realised that this anonymity is a conscious decision for keeping the temples away from unwanted attention. The locals prefer to preserve them the way they have always been … standing in isolation.

Interestingly, besides the stone and wood temples, often trekkers come across small piles of stones at a particularly precarious bend or at a cross-point, with a flag or cloth tied onto them. These are holy shrines dedicated to the hillside spirits or deotas gathered up as an appeasement to avoid accidents. A custom that is as ancient as human civilisation and continues unabated through time.

The Kullu Manali circuit

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The Kullu Manali circuit, a tourist hub famous for its scenic landscape, is also renowned for its temples and often referred to as the Valley of Gods. The ancient name of Kullu was Kulut or Kulantapitha, and finds mention in old Vedic literature. The term Kulut is historically important as it denotes a place that was beyond the then dominant socio-political norms or kula- vyavastha. Around 6th c. CE, after defeating the imperial Guptas, Khashas became the dominant ruling class in this area (as recorded on the Salanu inscription from the Tirthan valley), and they established a Gana-rajya, a form of theocracy (Malana remains an extant example).  Few centuries later the Rajputs dispelled the Khashas and brought in the feudal system, forcing the Khashas to migrate to distant places. Interestingly, the Khashas, later came back as Rajputs and are still considered powerful in the outer and inner Seraj region of the Kullu valley.

A somewhat definitive history of the Kullu valley can be derived  from the genealogical records of the Rajas of Kullu known as Vanshavali. From this record it is believed that Vihangamani Pal after being displaced from his seat in Haridwar (then known as Mayapuri; though there are some speculations that Vihangamani Pal came from Prayag) came to establish his kingdom at Jagat Sukh, with the blessings of the Hadimba devi. Thus, started the Pal dynasty that ruled Kullu until 1450 CE. From Jagat Sukh, Raja Visudh Pal shifted his capital to Naggar, and later the capital was again moved to Sultanpur (Kullu) in 1660 under Raja Jagat Singh.

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Inside the Naggar castle, the palace from where the Kullu kings ruled

The entire valley, covering Kullu to Manali that includes Mandi, is dotted with temples built predominantly in the Nagara style of temple architecture. The Nagara style, originated during the Gupta rule, shows the following basic characteristics: a cruciform base plan, a curvilinear/convex shikhara, a garbagriha and a mandap

  • The ground plan is square with gradual projections from the centre of each side giving it a cruciform shape. With a single projection from two sides, the temple would be a Triratha; two projections from two sides would make it a Pancharatha; three projections from two sides would be Saptharatha; and four projections  from two sides of the temple would make it a Navaratha. These projections often continue throughout the entire temple height and end at the skandha (shoulder course).

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    photo from wiki
  • The temples have a tall spire known as Shikhara that gradually curves inwards, ending at the skandha, above which is the griva (circular necking).  On this is placed a ribbed circular stone slab known as Amalaka, often carrying a Kalasha on top
  • The dieties are housed in an inner chamber called the Garbhagriha (sanctum)
  • A covered entrance hall or porch leads to Garbhagriha called Mandap

 

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From the book – Temples of India by Tarun Chopra

 

In Himachal Pradesh, owing to easy availability of wood from forests, another common form seen is the timber bonded style with a pent roof and a veranda. The other styles seen are:

 

  • The pagoda style (Hadimba temple in Manali)
  • The domed temples (Jwalamukhi temple in Kangra)
  • The flat roofed ones (Narbadeshwar temple at Hamirpur)
  • Satlej valley style (Bhimakali temple in Sarahan)

 

Bhimakali temple in Sarahan (Photo from wiki)

 

My article will focus on some of the temples in and around Naggar, which was once the capital of the Kullu kingdom.

Tripura Sundari temple

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This is a huge pagoda style three-storeyed wooden temple, similar to the Hadimba Devi temple in Manali. According to folklore, the temple was in the shape of a spider web woven by the Devi herself after turning into a spider. The original temple was built during the reign of Raja Yashodha Pal, while the current prettily carved wooden structure is largely a reconstructed one.

While inside the temple complex, I noticed many stone murtis , evidently older than the wooden structure that we see now. Some were kept free standing, while some were embedded into the newly constructed walls. Being a functional temple all  murtis are under worship, evident from the flowers and leaves in front and the red tilak on their foreheads. The murtis include Anantashayana Vishnu, Ganesha, Shiva-Parvati, and Mahisasurmardini. Sharhi yatra, an annual fair is held here in the month of May to honour the Goddess.

Wooden carvings on the temple wall showing a mithuna couple and floral patterns

Peacocks, Dwarpalas, and Ganesha on a door panel (left) and a devotee or a donor on the temple wall

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Stone murtis once part of the original temple (?) Lakshmi, Anantashayana Vishnu, and Ganesha (looks to be part of a broken panel, now cemented to the wall) kept together under a newly constructed shed

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A rather mossy looking wooden simha pranala: there are four such pranalas placed at four corners of the pagoda styled shikhara

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Footprints carved on stone, placed near the entry door to the temple

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Mahisasurmardini murti kept near the temple doorway

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Tripurasundari devi inside the garbhagriha

 

Gauri Shankar temple

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This beautiful 11th-12th c. CE temple stone stands right beside a village, yet holds a serene atmosphere. It was raining when I had reached the temple and there was not a soul in sight. As I stood in front of the centuries old stone structure, then wet and glistening in the rain, the feeling was ethereal and of supreme tranquillity.

The Gauri Shankara temple is a perfect example of Nagara style, following the Gurjara Pratihara tradition that was once popular in the Kullu valley. It is considered the last temple to follow this particular architectural pattern in this area. It is tri-ratha in plan, has a square garbhagriha, with a vedibandha (the socle) showing kumbha and ardharatna motifs that include the mouldings of kalasa and kapotali . The jangha (temple wall) show bhadra niches on the three cardinal directions east, north, and south. The walls have square and rectangular recesses that depict dancers, musicians, warriors, deities, birds, purnakumbhas, and purnaratnas. The shikhara is curvilinear, with an amalaka at top, is decorated with chaitya motifs (chandrasalas), and the corners have bhumi amalakas marking the storeys. The mandapa is pillared with square bases and ghatapallava as capitals, while the sanctum entrance holds a Ganesha on the lalatabimba.

A beautiful stone nandi greets you as walk towards the temple doorway. Notice the little figure that is pulling its tail ( a closer look will reveal it’s  a little lady who dares to pull Nandi by his tail)  

The river devis, Ganga and Yamuna holding kalashas, along with dwarapalas, on two sides of door leading to the garbhagriha They wash away your sins and impure thoughts before you enter the sanctum

Left: A very happy looking Gauri Shankara light up the garbhagriha. Right: five receding panels on the door jamb show dancers, musicians, and geometrical and floral patterns

Carvings on the temple walls showing floral patterns, birds,  purnakalasha, and figures of deities

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Panels on the jangha showing a bird, a rishi (or devotee?) sitting with folded hands, purnakalasha, and a musician playing a dhol like instrument. Adjacent to it is the shikhara of a niche
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Jangha with the fluted pillared niche, and below it the Vedibandha with its ardharatna motifs and a pranala to let out the water from garbhagriha

A donor couple (or devotees) and a mithuna (an amorous) couple sculpted on the wall.

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Trimukha Shiva from part of a broken panel is kept in one of the niches. The pillars here are of the fluted type. A panel commonly seen on the Shikhara of the Himalayan temples. After all, Himalayas are Shiva’s abode

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Another broken panel of Shiva kept in a niche

Dashal temple

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This 11th c. CE temple sits amidst an enchanting setting, surrounded by thick forests and orchards. I came across it while walking aimlessly through the Dashal village lanes. The pretty roads take you around the farms, orchards, and you meet a gushing stream with a panichakki. After crossing the little wooden panichakki, you  take a turn and suddenly this temple is upon you. The rains had just stopped when I reached, and the clouds were slowly dispelling, when the sudden appearance of a temple from amidst the rising cloud cover made the entire setting seem almost unreal.

This pancharatha Shiva temple with a pillared mandapa is richly carved and figures of Vishnu, Brahma, and flying gandharvas are seen on the capitals. The door frame of the garbhagriha is richly carved with floral patterns and figures of dancers and musicians. Ganga and Yamuna with dwarapalas flank the doorway, while Ganesha sits on the lalatabimba. Above the lintel is a panel depicting the navagrahas.

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At the top we can see the three faced form of Shiva. Below, at the mandapa entrance can see figures of Vishnu on Garuda (left pillar head of the temple) and Brahma (right pillar head) on the pillar capitals
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Ganesha on lalatabimba and navagrahas on a panel above him

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Ganga and Yamuna with dwarapalas on pilasters flanking the doorway to the garbhagriha

the two figures one two sides of the wall as one enters the mandapa

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a worn out murti of Vishnu and Lakshmi on Garuda is kept on the left side of the mandapa
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Inside the garbhagriha

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Other stone figures inside the garbhagriha include Mahisasurmardini, anantasayana Vishnu, Shiva. 

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purnakalasha, floral patterns and mithuna couples on the temple wall panel

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 Left: A pillared  niche on the temple wall: Right: Two bharavahaks doing their eternal duty of carrying heavy loads

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Two beautiful Nandis, age-old and weather beaten, yet standing guard 

Erotica carved on temple walls have a deep underlying philosophy. During Vedic times, Purusharaths (human life goals) were propounded and one among them was Kama or physical pleasure. Mithuna couple sculptures on the walls of temples panders to ancient Hindu philosophy wherein yoga (spiritual exercise) and bhoga (physical pleasure) are the two paths that lead to moksha (final liberation), explains Tarun Chopra in his book ‘Temples of India’. Deep in the throes of passion they represent the transition from the physical to the spiritual plane of consciousness analogous to the walk from the mandap to the garbhagriha. One enters the sanctum leaving behind all worldly thoughts including the erotic represented by mithuna sculptures on the walls of the temple

Naggar and its adjoining areas areas are dotted with temples of various styles and times of construction. Among these, some temples and a unique custom that caught my eye are:

  1. A beautiful Shiva temple hidden amidst the surrounding houses, remains well maintained. I am especially fond of the mandapas of the Himachali temples with their little pillared entrances. Half way up on the plain shikhara, clearly visible are the three faces of Shiva, looking benevolently down at us

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Some sculptures that I  saw lying outside. These are all worshipped, and the temple is  a functional one with a deity inside the garbhagriha. 

2. An old Chandi temple showing the the timber bonded style with a pent roof and a veranda. The small, solitary wooden structure in the second photograph, I was told, is a place where the neighbouring deities reside, when they come visiting.

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3. A roadside “ancient” village temple dedicated to a devi. What interested me here were the offerings made to the goddess. The masks were eye catching too.

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Noticed horns of animals as offering. My guide insisted this devi temple was an ancient one too, but now completely renovated and built over in a new style!

4. An interesting custom prevalent in the region is the worship of the local deotas that is distinct for every hamlet. While I missed the devta on his palanquin in this celebration in a village named Banjar, we met a couple of apdevtas roaming around in their broom stick gowns. We were duly blessed by them with dried floral twigs that was to be put behind our ears and kept for the day. A novelty to be blessed by the apdevta instead of devta!

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The apdevtas in their broomstick gowns
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This is how you wear your blessings from the apdevta!
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The smiling face behind the mask of an apdevta.

As I keep taking the roads less travelled in order to explore the interiors of Himachal Pradesh, lately I find myself agreeing more and more with the locals when they tell me that these temples and certain remote high altitude places are better off when kept away from tourist radars. The feeling of awe, the overwhelming sense of magic and enchantment, the sensation of an unspoken power radiating from these old temples when I stand in front of them, would all disappear like thin mountain mist, if hordes of disinterested tourists carrying their plastic packets of chips and water bottles descended upon them. Some paths better be left less travelled, except for the ones who truly love and respect nature and heritage.

 

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com

                                                                                or at

Moni Gatha

Bengali Sarees – A Brief History

Modernity and urbanization has led to the decline of traditional form of clothing, however the saree continues to remain an eternal favourite. While means of production, style of draping, and designs, may have changed markedly over times, one factor remains unchanged: the love for sarees among Indian women.

From a fragment of cotton found on a metal tool in Mohenjo-daro, and silk found in ornaments excavated from Harappa and Chanhu-daro, to the modern synthetic fabrics, mankind’s journey in the arena of textile has been long and colourful. In ancient India, both stitched and unstitched lengths of fabrics, such as cotton and silk, were draped around the body and formed the main garments. While the men wore a turban on their heads, tied a piece of cloth around their waists (similar to a dhoti), and placed a shawl like cloth around their shoulders, the women too draped a cloth around their waists, and sometimes covered their upper torso with a blouse, a tunic, or an odhni / dupatta like cloth. These garments draped perfectly, were made keeping the climate in mind, and catered to the trends and tastes of the time. One look at a woman’s garments and style, and you could guess her caste, marital status, area of origin , and her social standing.

Ajanta frescoes showing women in drapes covering the upper torso and the lower antariya. Picture source  – Wikipedia. 

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A donor couple – The man is wearing a turban and the antiriya. The woman is wearing a garment that drapes around the waist and below, leaving her upper torso uncovered. Shunga period, 2nd c. BCE, Haryana. National Museum, New Delhi

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Left – A saree like garment with perfect drapes framing a woman, Mathura, 2nd c. CE (Picture source Wikipedia). Right –  Devi Yamuna ( Gupta period, 5th  c. CE, UP)  in a saree like garment that drapes from waist down below, and covers her upper torso, and the aanchal is wound around her arm, National Museum, New Delhi. Notice how both the women are seen wearing a waist band.

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A Matrika figure from Gupta period, 6th c. CE, seen wearing a blouse, while a pleat on her waist shows a garment that would drape below. National Museum, New Delhi.

The word sari/saree is a derivative of the Prakrit word śāḍī, with the original term being the Sanskrit word śāṭī meaning “a piece of cloth”. It is likely that the petticoat and blouse, two necessary accompaniments of a saree in modern India, were later additions during the colonial era.

Draping a saree – Bengali Style

Draping a saree to accentuate one’s figure is an art by itself. There are innumerable references to it in ancient Indian literature like satavallika or pleats with many fine folds, or hastisaundaka or pleats that resemble an elephant, abound in Buddhist literature. It is evident that in the ancient times it was customary to tie a piece of cloth around the waist, and sometimes a cloth would also be draped over the head and upper torso. The uttariya that was used like a shawl over the shoulders can be drawn parallel with the modern odhni, while the stanapatta or kanchuli likely formed the choli or blouse. It is conjectured that the lower garment, which was known as antariya, and the upper uttariya fused sometime between 2nd c. BCE and 1st c. CE to form a long strip of cloth or śāḍī. The long aanchal or pallu of the saree, which hangs free after draping over the shoulder, was used for covering the head.

The intermediary form of draping a saree, which was  shorter in length and worn without a blouse or a petticoat, was prevalent in Bengal until some years ago. It was known as the aatpoure form of draping, and many of us have seen our grandmothers wear saree that way. While aatpoure still remains in fashion during festivities and is a favourite of Bollywood movies when portraying  a Bengali woman, it is now worn with a blouse and petticoat.

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A picture postcard of a Kalighat painting from the 1900s depicting a woman with her saree draped in the aatpoure way, without a blouse or a petticoat. The saree goes anticlockwise first around the waist, followed by a second drape in the clockwise direction. The loosely hanging pallu is then placed over the shoulder, and can be easily draped over the head when in front of strangers or when required as per customs. At the end of the pallu, tied in a knot, from one corner of it would hang the various keys of the household. During those times when women remained within  the four walls of the andarmahal, the keys hanging from the aanchal (pallu) were the symbols of power, denoting supreme control of the woman over her house and household matters as the Grihini. The keys of the larder (bha(n)rar gharer chabi) and almirah keys were deemed the most powerful ones. 

 

During the mid 19th c. CE when women empowerment slowly started taking shape,

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Picture Courtesy – Wikipedia

Jnanadanandini devi, sister in law of Rabindranath Tagore, was the first among Bengali women to move out of her in-laws’ home, defy the purdah system, and travel to Bombay to live with her husband who was posted there as the first Indian member of the Civil Services. It was she who first developed the new style of combining the saree with a blouse and petticoat, to enable women move out of their seclusion in the andarmahal and take part in outdoor activities. She achieved this by fusing the Parsi and Bengali style.  While adopting the Parsi jacket and petticoat, she kept the Bengali style of wearing the pallu on her left shoulder. This style, which lacked the pleats from the waist downward, became popular among the Brahmo Ladies. Jnanadanandini devi, a social reformer and an advocate of woman empowerment, gave classes to women willing to learn the new way of draping the saree.

 

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Three generation of women from the same family in their distinct style of sarees. Top left – Maharani Suniti Devi of Coochbehar. She was the daughter of Keshab Chandra Sen, one of the founding members of Brahmo Samaj in Bengal. The Brahmo Samaj ushered in a new era in women’s freedom and allowed them to appear in public. Suniti devi, here, is seen wearing the attire often chosen by Brahmo women when  they appeared in public, with the pallu in front, a full sleeved jacket worn as blouse, and a laced cloth to cover the head. On her right is her daughter-in-law Maharani Indira Devi. Indira devi was widowed at a young age, and she followed the Bengali custom of wearing only white sarees after the husband’s death. However, she moved away from the tradition of wearing only white “thaan” sarees (cotton or mulmul), to wearing customised chiffon sarees in white with zari/silk borders. This soon caught the fancy of the entire nation, and chiffon sarees became the order of the day, both among royalty and commoners. Bottom – Suniti Devi’s grand daughter Maharani Gayatri devi, is wearing the saree in the modern form with pleats from waist below, and without the customary head cover, unlike her grandmother and mother. 

The modern style of wearing a saree was derived from mixing the style pioneered by Jnandanandini devi with the Nivi style of Andhra Pradesh. In this style, the saree is draped by first tucking one end into the waistband of the petticoat and then wrapping the cloth around the lower part of the body once, followed by hand-made even pleats that are tucked into the waistband, around the navel. After one more turn the loose end is then draped over the left shoulder. Seen on right is Maharani Ourmilla Devi of Jubbal wearing saree in the modern style.

Bengali Sarees

 Jamdani: The word Jamdani is a Persian derivative and denotes the floral designs that adorn these sarees. There are four types of jamdaani: Dhakai, Tangail, Shantipuri, and Dhaniakhali. Jaamdani was woven on fine muslin, a material also known as abrawn (running water) because when it was placed under running water, the fine muslin would turn almost invisible. Alternatively it was also known as shabnam (evening dew) and bafta bana (like a cloud). Muslin finds mention in various travel accounts of the Chinese, Arabic, and Italian traders, along with Arthashastra, as a fine cloth from Pundra and Bangla.

Making a Jamdani saree is extremely time consuming, and requires intense concentration and hard-work.  It is hand woven on a loom by weavers that “place the patterns, drawn upon paper, below the warp, and range along the track of the woof a number of cut threads equal to the design intended to be made; and then, with two small fine-pointed bamboo sticks, try to draw each of these threads between as many threads of the warp as many may be formed. the shuttle is then passed through the shed” (Taylor James, Descriptive and Historical account of the Cotton Manufacturers in Dacca, 1851. cited in Geroge Watt, p. 281).

In Jamdani, the cotton fabric is woven with cotton or zari threads and the sarees have two to four large motifs (mango motifs, known as kolkaa) at the junction of pallu and the border. The body of the saree has butis or small flowers. Often a butidar saree with close set butis would be known has Hazarbuti (thousands of butis), or in case of floral motifs which are connected together as in a jewel like setting it would be known as Pannahazar (thousand emeralds). Floral motifs arranged in straight lines are known as Fulwar, but when arranged in a diagonal line it becomes Tersa. Sarees that were dyed a deep indigo with designs in a lighter shade are termed as Neelambari (blue sky).

Hazarbuti and Pannahazar Dhakai Jamdaani sarees. These sarees are woven on an unbleached cotton base while the design is woven with bleached cotton threads, so that there is a light-and-shade effect. 

Dhakai Jamdani sarees in modern designs for the highly competitive market of today (Picture courtesy: Gency Chaudhury)

Baluchari:

Murshidabad in Bengal is well-known for its fine silk, which is light and easy to drape. Silk weaving in this region started during the early 18th c. CE and flourished under the British patronage. During the Mughal period, Nawab Murshid Quli Khan moved his capital from Dhaka to a place known as Baluchar, on the eastern bank of the Ganga river. Along with the Nawab came many weavers, and the famous Baluchari weave was born when silk was used instead of the gold and silver threads for weaving patterns. Baluchari sarees came with a long pallu that had distinct kolkaas (mango motifs)  surrounded by themes that varied from showcasing the lives of nawabs, to railway carriages, Europeans and Indians sitting and smoking hookahs or reading books, amorous couples, dancers, animals, and also scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Baluchari sarees focused on reflecting the sociopolitical images of the time, and we see them in the earlier colonial motifs, and later in the nationalist ones where Vande Mataram is woven repeatedly all around in pallus and borders. The basic colour of the sarees were either maroon or purple and the saree bodies had butis all over. In 19th c. CE, flooding of the region by the river Ganga resulted in Baluchari weavers shifting and setting up shop in Bishnupur (Bankura district of Bengal).

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Baluchari sarees on Murshidabad silk with their butis and human motifs (here there are two dancing figures)

Baluchari on Murshidabad silk showing an amorous couple and a traditional motif

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Baluchari on Mushidabad silk – the weave depicts episodes from Ramayana (Picture courtesy – Gency Chaudhury)

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A typical Baluchari pallu with silk weaves showing the kolkaa (mango) motifs

Left: woven theme of a Baluchari saree showing an European riding his horse and his dog going with him. Right: Baluchari saree from the nationalism era, where the word Vande Mataram has been woven on the saree border 

Kantha: 

Kanthas started as small pieces, usually in square or rectangles, that were made from old torn pieces of clothes, such as dhotis or sarees. The salvaged parts were quilted together and threads dyed in indigo and madder were used for sewing fine embroidery, known as Kantha.  Every piece of a Kantha cloth, used either for domestic needs or given as a gift especially for  a newborn baby to lie on,  would show  thousands of running, darning, herringbone and chain-stitch patterns. The patterns on kantha vary from human and animal figures to floral motifs, cars and trains, to fine ornamental patterns. Kantha work in Bengal has always been women oriented work, and it would involve women of the household sitting with their needles, in their long free afternoons, and weaving patterns that often told tales of their yearnings, dreams, aspirations, love, sadness, and heartbreaks. Once the weave of the women from poor households, the same kantha stitch is now patterned on silk sarees and is held  dear by those that wear them.

Traditional Kantha patterns woven on silk

Modern patterns of Kantha work on silk (Picture courtesy: Gency Choudhary) 

Besides these famous weaves, Bengal specialises in both silk and cotton sarees with prints and simple weaves. These are light and comfortable sarees for those sultry summers of Bengal.

Colourful prints on the light Murshidabad silk

Butidaar taant sarees (cotton weave and base with golden zari on the grey one) Pictures courtesy: Gency Chaudhury

Traditional motifs on plain taant cotton sarees. Lightweight and easy to drape these sarees are a comfort wear during the humid summer months. 

 

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com

                                                                                                              or at Moni Gatha

Sanskriti Kendra – Delhi’s Hidden Gem

Growing up in a family where visiting a museum was akin to visiting a religious shrine, it was but natural that when I shifted to Delhi, the first places on my to-visit list were the museums here. The national capital offers many museums, the most well known of which is the National Museum, a great favourite place of mine, as it allows photography with no holds barred. Besides this great storehouse of ancient and medieval relics, there is the National Rail Museum that holds old trains, the National Gallery of Modern Art, and the National Museum of Natural history, which unfortunately is now burnt to cinders taking away with it some of the priceless stuffed animals that were on display there. Then there is the Nehru Memorial Museum, the National Philatelic Museum, the Indian Air Force Museum, the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, Museums at the Red fort and Salimgarh (rarely visited by people) and many more. Among these, quietly tucked away on the Gurgaon-Mehrauli Road (known as the MG Road) is the Anandagram, which houses the Sanskriti Kendra.

Founded by Mr. O. P. Jain in 1990 under the umbrella of Sanskriti Foundation, the museum complex is spread over a large campus with pretty buildings and lovely lawns. The Sanskriti Kendra rarely sees many footfalls, except perhaps on weekends, exhibitions, or during workshops. Yet it houses three well stocked museums: the Museum of Everyday Art, Museum of Indian Terracotta, and the Museum of Textiles that integrate the modern with the traditional, by preserving and displaying our indigenous culture, art, workmanship, different cultural practices, and their functionalities in our daily lives. Unfortunately photography isn’t allowed inside the two museums (a rule that I heartily deplore). There are many old and modern artefacts placed artfully across the campus, and one can easily spend a pleasurable afternoon strolling across the extensive lawns and brightly coloured buildings. Along with the museums, the campus also houses a library, an Amphitheatre, art galleries and studios which run in-house art programs teaching folk art forms to both kids and adults alike.

The gaily coloured buildings of the Sanskriti Museum. It reminds me of Tagore’s Santiniketan which has similar rustic buildings giving a feel of space and freedom.

 

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A modern sculpture of the head of Buddha placed in the lawns

 

 

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A beautiful  old dresser

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A lovely Jharokha with vertical lattice screen panels in red sandstone and old wooden windows

 

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Old elephant head pieces in wood used as the base for a wooden pillar that in turn supports a large modern birdhouse

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Large birdhouse with a peacock as the wind vane

 

 

 

 

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An old wooden piece (probably a part of some larger furniture)

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A rather looking happy looking crocodile ready to enter the water

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Warli art on the houses inside the campus

 

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Another old wooden artefact on display

 

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The Museum of Indian Textiles

It has 6 galleries. The first one has samples of indigo, madder, cotton and silk, the four basic ingredients of Indian textiles. Indigo and madder are considered among the world’s oldest dyes with a history going back to the time of Indus valley civilisation. The display cards also talk of folklores associated with textiles like silk. Legends say that silk was discovered by accident in China when a cocoon fell into the tea cup of a Chinese empress and the strands separated in the warm water of the tea, leading to the discovery of silk threads. The Chinese fiercely guarded the secret of the making of silk threads and thus reigned supreme in the silk trade for a long time, until the secret was revealed to some non-Chinese traders, some say by a Chinese princess. The other galleries in this museum contain beautiful 18th– 19th c. CE pigmented textiles, phulkari embroidery, kantha work, and kashmiri stitches on pashmina wool. Here the museum gives a very interesting anecdote on pashmina wool. The word pashmina is derived from the Persian pashm (meaning wool). This superior quality wool wasn’t produced in Kashmir, and was actually taken from the Ladakhi goat known as capra hircus langier.  All of Ladakh’s wool production was monopolised by Kashmir hence the pashmina was taken to be of kashmiri origin. Besides these, there are some beautiful 18th and 19th c. Jain tapestries in both silk and cotton from Jain temples made mostly by nuns. The Gujarat and Rajasthan chain stitch and bandhej collections are beautiful, followed by interesting ikats from Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Gujarat.  The last gallery holds brocades from Benaras, South India, and Gujarat, along with baluchari and jamdani from Bengal. It is indeed a textile lover’s paradise, and strolling through the galleries one wonders at the uniqueness of Indian textiles that are each a labour of love.

An ornate brass panel on the lintel, intricate woodwork on the pillars and a wrought iron bracket decorate the entrance to the Museum of Textiles

 

The Museum of Everyday Art

It houses interesting items from daily use like nutcrackers, shrines, spoons, cups, plates, knives, etc, and all of these items that are for basic functional use, have been turned into works of art by the hands of different craftsmen.

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The entrance to the Museum of Everyday Art that houses old utensils, old musical instruments and various other items used in daily lives

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An old wooden bracket placed tastefully at the entrance of the Museum of Everyday Art

 

The Museum of Indian Terracotta

It  displays almost 1,500 artefacts from various tribal communities of India, in its open gallery

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Terracotta horses from various regions in the country

 

Address : Sanskriti Kendra, Anandagram, Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, Delhi

The nearest metro station is Arjan Garh on the Yellow line

Time to Visit : 10 AM to 5 PM on all days except Mondays and Public Holidays.

 

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com or at Moni Gatha

 

 

Kalpavriksha and Its Depiction in Art and Architecture – An Overview

Moolatho Brahma roopaya, madhyatho Vishnu roopine,
Agratha shiva roopaya Vruksha rajaya they Nama.

My salutations to the king of trees.
Whose root is the form of Brahma,
Middle is the form of Lord Vishnu,
And top is the form of Lord Shiva.

Aswatha sarva papani satha janma arjithanicha,
Nudhaswa mama vrakshendra, sarva aiswarya pradho bhava.

The holy fig tree pushes away, all sins earned,
In several hundred births, and Oh king of trees,
Please grant me all different types of wealth.

Rig yaju Sama manthrathma, sarva roopi, parathpara,
Aswatho Veda moolo asou rishibhi prochyathe sada.

Great sages go in search of Aswatha,
As it is the soul of Rig, Yajur and Sama Vedas
And takes all forms, greater than the greatest,
And is the root of all the three Vedas

Vyaktha avyaktha swaroopaya, srushti sthithyantha karine,
Adhi madhyanth soonyaya vishtarasravase Nama.

Salutations to the very stable one,
Who has clear and unclear forms,
Who creates, looks after and destroys,
And who does not have beginning, middle and end

– Ashvatta Vruksha Stotram

Ashwattha is synonymous with our country and its symbolism. The figs are the most commonly found trees in the country and also the ones that are worshipped the most. Ficus religiosa / Pipal / Ashwattha tree was considered sacred and worshipped from the times of Indus Valley Civilisation but it is the Ficus bengalensis / Banyan / Vata that gained more prominence later and ended up as our national tree. While the Buddhists reclaimed the Ashwattha as the Bodhi tree, the Hindus clung onto the Vata. Associated with Yama, the Banyan is considered the botanical equivalent of a hermit for it can provide shade but cannot support new life or provide food. It is timeless like the soul and so the great sages, even Shiva, chose its vast canopy to contemplate under. They are tree shrines as idols were consecrated below these trees and even today women go around these trees longing for eternity of their marriages in the memory of Savitri who lost Satyavan under a Banyan and later regained his soul from Yama. Incidentally, the British named the Banyan tree so, as they noticed members of the trading community (Banias) gather under its shade for many a meetings.  The figs were the first among trees to be considered the Kalpavriksha – the wish fulfilling tree of the ancient scriptures that provided fruit and nourished the first people on the planet and the giver of immortality.

The concept of Kalpavriksha emerged from nature worship that has been an integral part of all ancient cultures of the world including India. The strong belief that trees, like us, possess a soul of their own has led to such reverence that if we look around we can still find groves that are held sacred. They are believed to be the abodes of departed souls and divinities that bring us good luck in the form of rain, sunshine, good harvest, increasing herds, and fertility blessings for women. While most tree spirits are considered amiable, there are some that are also seen as malevolent, the “evil spirits,” or the “ap-devta.” Such spirits cause harm, hence people avoid going near the trees that harbour them. One good impact that these beliefs had was protecting many trees from being mindlessly cut down for their wood.

My discussion here will revolve around the concept of kalpavriksha spanning a timeline of a few hundreds of years. How it started from the notions of nature worship, influenced religions, and still continues to be an integral part of our social, religious, and cultural heritage.

sacred sycamore

Let’s begin with some of the oldest civilisations of the world. The ancient Egyptians worshipped Sycamore trees, which they thought were homes of the sacred spirits. The dense, lush trees are one among the oldest species of trees and are known for their longevity and hardiness.  Seen in the picture here is an Egyptian making a regular offering of food, such as, cucumbers, grapes, and figs, to the tree. Pic source

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Ficus religiosa on different Indus valley seals. The last seal shows a goddess standing inside a pipal tree and the priest is clearly wearing a headdress made from the branch of a peepal tree. These seals with their emphasis on the peepal tree and various animals show a distinct reverence for nature.   Source  Source  Source

In ancient Indian literature, Kalpavriksha is referred to as Ashwattha, or the seed of life that produces nectar (the water of life), which is our very own Pipal tree. The Vedas (Upanishad part) describes it as :

The roots upwards, the branches downwards, thus stands the eternal fig tree; The leaves of which are veda songs; Upwards and downward its branches are bending; Nobody on the earth is able to conceive of its form, either its end, or beginning, or duration.”

In India, the sacred kalpavriksha refers to both the ficus varieties  (religiosa and bengalensis) that is both the Pipal and the Banyan. So next time you see a Vata or an Ashwattha in your neighbourhood, take some moments off to remember that you are looking at a tree that has been venerated right from the beginning of our civilisation. A long journey that is still continuing in the form of little shrines that are still extant under the roadside ficus trees along the streets of our country.

The wish fulfilling tree or Kalpavriksha in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism

Kalpavriksha also known as kalpadruma or kalpataru is said to have appeared during samudramanthan along with Kamdhenu. The tree can bear all kinds of fruits, hence it is associated with different trees, varying according to  the local vegetation. Thus, mahua, champak, pipal, banyan, tulsi, shami, parijata, and even coconut trees are often said to be the earthly manifestation of the heavenly kalpadruma. Kalpavriksha (of five types)are said to be located in the gardens of Indraloka with the devas and asuras at perpetual war over the wish fulfilling trees. Kalidasa’s “Meghadutam” tells us that kalpatarus yielded garlands, clothes, and provided for all fineries for the women in Alaka, capital of Kubera’s Yaksha kingdom. Thus, while bestowing immortality, we find that kalpavriksha also provides for all our material desires.

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Samudramanthan as depicted in a mural in Orchhha.  Notice the Kalpavriksha above the posse of animals. Picture courtesy: Jitu Mishra 

 

A 3rd century BCE pillar in the form of a banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) found in Besnagar, can be said to be the earliest representation of a kalpavriksha with the various symbolisms that we associate with it. The tree has a kalash or a pot full of coins, a sack tied with a string, a conch, and a lotus hanging from it, signifying the goddess of wealth or Lakshmi devi. Thus, we can say kalpavriksha is a giver that stands for growth, generosity, and prosperity.  It is therefore not surprising to find it as a common motif on the Gupta and Satavahana era coins. (Picture source).

 

The Bodhi tree is a sign of knowledge, as it is a well known fact that Buddha attained enlightenment under this tree. The above depiction of the Bodhi tree is seen in Sanchi. While we can say the Bodhi tree depicts knowledge, the kalpataru on the other hand denotes wealth and benevolence, along with spiritual guidance for those that seek it. Picture Courtesy: Jitu Mishra

In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism we find that the kalpavriksha is not a deity by itself, but rather a way to reach God. A giver, it grants wishes pertaining to both material and spiritual types. While providing us with shade, fruits, nuts, wood, and the life giving oxygen that purifies air, kalpavriksha also helps human minds to focus on attaining spiritual enlightenment. Thus, by glorifying kalpavriksha, we are in reality deifying an aspect of nature, and celebrating its immense contribution to our daily lives and existence.

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Kalpavriksha in  Adalaj stepwell, Ahmedabad. Here we find  a kalasha bearing the kalpavriskha that forms a beautiful creeper like pattern (very reminiscent of the alpona that we draw during our pujas back home in Calcutta). Photos credit: Jitu Mishra

Ancient texts, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, frequently mention a term, chaitya-vriksha. Interestingly both chaitya-vriksha and kalpavriksha are similar in concept. Chaitya-vrikshas are tree shrines with dense leaves and fruits that provide shelter and food for all living beings. These are open air shrines with railing or fence like structures that cover the tree trunks, or sometimes the tree is placed on a pedestal. Various tree spirits known as yakshas and yakshis, and sometimes even the nagas, are believed to live in these trees. They are worshipped as protectors of both human beings and gods alike. It is interesting how our ancestors acknowledged the importance of trees in our lives and venerated them in various ways.

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Worshipping the chaitya vriksha, a jack-fruit tree,  as we see at Sanchi. Picture credit: Jitu Mishra

According to mythology, kalpavriksha or kalpadruma, was gifted to Aranyani, a daughter Related imageof Shiva and Parvati. The chief aim was to protect the tree, so we often see it being guarded by kinnaras, apsaras, and animals, such as lions, peacocks, etc. Interestingly, from simple depiction of the Bodhi tree and Ashvatta, in the later part of Indian sculptures we see a more complex depiction of kalpavriksha that with their beautiful floral patterns make us wonder at their aesthetic beauty. On the other hand it has become increasingly difficult to rightly distinguish the tree it might be representing. In the picture – The deities Nara and Narayana sitting under a Badri tree, 5th c. CE Gupta period, Deogarh. Source

Thus we see Buddha meditating under a Bodhi tree, Shiva imparting knowledge under a Banyan tree, and Krishna standing under a Kadamba tree. Guru Adi Shankaracharya was also known to have meditated under a kalpavriksha, which is a mulberry tree located in Joshimath (Uttarakhand). Other trees that we find culturally significant are jackfruit, amalaka, haritaki, lemon, vilva or bel, neem, sandalwood, mango, and banana. All these trees are known to have medicinal properties, besides other uses in our daily lives. What better way to celebrate the benefits of nature, than to worship it.

In Jainism, we find the kalpavrikshas help in fulfilling wishes in the early stages of the cosmic cycle, and the 10 kalpavrikshas grant 10 different desires that include nourishing food, good music, ornaments, utensils, among others.

Artisitc representation of the Kalpavriksha in Jainism. A wall painting of a tree on red backdrop.

The wall painting of Kalpavriksha in Saavira Kambada Basadi, Moodbidri, Karnataka. A Jain kalpavriksha.(Photo from Wiki by Vaikoovery)

 

Interestingly  forms of Kalpavrisha are also depicted beautifully in the mosques of Gujarat. Left: Jama Masjid, Ahmedabad and Right: Ceiling of the Jami Masjid, Champaner. Pictures courtesy: Jitu Mishra

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Kumbharia Jain Temple, Gujarat. Picture credit: Jitu Mishra. 

The Jain goddess of wealth, prosperity, and fertility is Ambika yakshi, who is always shown seated under a mango tree. Source  Source

The tree of life in Christianity and Islam

The concept of the Tree of life is a part of the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic versions of the creation of life, commonly termed as the Genesis.

Interestingly, the Islamic concept of tree of life that we see woven on silk carpets or sculpted on monuments, is likely to have been largely influenced and derived from the Sassanian and Assyrian art forms depicting the World Tree/ tree of life.

  

A mid 19th c. CE Islamic prayer rug from Iran/Persia showing the tree of life within a pointed niche, a mihrab (first on left). It appears distinctly inspired from the Assyrian Aserah (Mother Tree/God’s wife, a symbol of fertility) on the right  Source Source 

 

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Various depictions of the tree of life on Islamic monuments of Gujarat. Pictures courtesy: Jitu Mishra

 

In Islamic literature, the tree of life is termed as the Sidra or Tuba which grows in Paradise (seventh heaven, placed at the right side of God’s throne). Being sacred, we find it depicted in mihrabs on rugs and otherwise. The tree marks the limits of heaven, and angels cannot cross this boundary. The Sidra has its earthly manifestation in a deciduous shrub that grows in Arabia and India, known as Zizyphus jujuba (bears edible fruits known as the red date or Indian date).  While the Quran refers to it as only ‘the tree’, and forbades Adam and Eve to taste the fruits of this tree, it was Satan who referred to it as the tree of immortality/life.

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Beautiful curled foliage with floral patterns arising from a thick central stem representing the Tree of life in the Sidi Sayyid Mosque in Ahmedabad. Here we can see that a palm tree is depicted at the top. Pictures credit: Jitu Mishra. 

 

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Mughal version of the gardens of heaven as seen in Fatehpur Sikri. Pictures courtesy: Jitu Mishra

 

In Christianity, the Old Testament is likely to have drawn inspiration and derived frombanylonia the old Babylonian concept of the tree of life, known as the tree of Ea or Ukkanu that grew in Eridu, the Babylonian name for paradise.  A Babylonian seal which is now in the British museum (seen here on right: source) It shows two figures on two sides of the tree of life, stretching their hands ready to pluck the fruit, with the serpent (representing the cycle of life and death in Babylonian times) standing behind the woman. Another Babylonian cylinder, now kept in the Museum at the Hague, depicts a garden with a palm tree at the centre, surrounded by other trees and birds. There are two figures plucking the fruit, while a third figure is holding the fruit, looking as if speaking to the other two. It is quite likely that these symbols were later adopted in the Bible by the Christians and Jews, and later also in the Quran.

       

Left: Holy Mary with the Child on the tree of life by Nicholas Froment, 1476, (“the burning thorn bush”) in Aiz Cathedral, France. Here the bush is shown on a hilltop signifying the world mountain. Source Right: The tree of life in a Sweden church, 11th c. CE. Source    

Left: Tree of life on floor mosaic, 8th c. CE, Jericho. Right:Tree of life on an arched doorway. Both are likely Christian depictions.  Source Source

Sacred trees or the tree of life from different parts of the world

 

Left: A tree of life From a Mexican manuscript, (Goblet d’Alviella).  Right above: Sacred pine of Silvanus (Roman folklore). Right below: The Egyptian goddess Nu̔ît in her sacred sycamore bestowing the bread and water of the next world.  source

 

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Left: Yggdrasil—the Norse world-tree, 1847. Source Right: tree of life in a German folk art. Source

While we see that the tree of life is a universal symbol of worship and its depiction since time immemorial has changed form and figure, it is the most recognizable symbol in Indian art and architecture. Whether it is a temple, or a mosque, or a church or a chaitya or a jain derasar, the Kalpavrisha is somewhere there proclaiming how everything in the world is ultimately connected.

(The cover picture is the depiction of tree of life at Akbar’s Mausoleum in Sikandra. Picture courtesy: Self) 

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com or at Monidipa

Traversing the Ganges, from Old Times to New – Part II

Once upon a time, when man did not bind waters for his own selfish needs, rivers moved freely. They traversed borders, crossed countries, beginning from one and ending in another; sometimes merging with rushing brooks, and sometimes branching away into runnels. They formed a network of  waterways, which seamlessly interwove varying cultural, religious, and social patterns in its flow. These patterns blended into each other, creating a vibrant cultural heritage. One of its most eloquent expressions is found in the Bhatiyali songs of Bengal. These are folk songs of the Majhis (boatmen) and Jeles (fishermen) that speak of love, longing, desire, pain, and a calm acceptance of death. Songs that play on the shimmering strings of tranquil waters.

Rivers were always an intrinsic part of life in Bengal and Bangladesh. The irrigating streams that meandered through the fertile land helped to yield ‘sonar fosol’ or golden harvest year after year. These rivers were so integral to those who lived on their banks that their waters came to symbolise the meaning of life itself. As one rowed through life, the river banks became allegorical to various stages in life, starting with birth, moving on through love, pain, happiness, and this journey ended in death: O Majhi Re, Apna Kinara Nadiya Ki Dhara Hai… 

Fishermen, whose very existence revolved around the waters, would go on long trips and were separated from their families for days, weeks, and sometimes months. During this time their only companion would be the endless river, its waters merging with the deep blue sky in the distant horizon. In such moments of absolute solitude, the fishermen would search for the meaning of their existence. The Bhatiyali songs reflect these dilemmas woven into the backdrop of music of the lilting waters.

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Majhis in Bengal.  Picture credit: Jay Shankar

In this concluding part, as we continue our journey from Kashi, we will travel across the calm waters of the Ganga in Bihar and Bengal that softly murmur the haunting notes of the Bhatiyali songs, sung over centuries by the fishermen.

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The Adi Keshava and Sangamesvara temples at Rajghat, at extreme east end of Varanasi, where Ganga leaves Kashi behind and moves eastwards towards Bihar. Here the rivulet Barna or Varuna meets the Ganga. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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Ruins of the 18th century river side palace of the Nawab of Bengal, Qasim Ali Khan, at Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh. The building was well planned with magnificent airy verandas (Heber, 1825).  According to Vishnu Purana King Gadhi, maternal grandfather of Maharishi Jamdagni, one of the Saptarishis, originated from this area. At that time Ghazipur had thick forests with several ashrams. This was also an important centre of Buddhist teachings, as evident from the various remnant stupas and pillars from that period. Painting by Sitaram 1814.

Bihar and Jharkhand

After Varanasi, the next important city on the banks of Ganga is Patna (ancient Pataliputra) in Bihar. This city is considered one among the oldest continually inhabited places, and mentions of this city start around 2500 years back in various Buddhist and Jain scriptures. Recorded history mentions the city alongside Raja Ajatshatru in 490 BCE. Patna has seen the coming and going of Mauyras, Guptas, Delhi Sultanate, Mughals, Bengal Nawabs, and the British.

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Bird’s eye view of Patna city and the Ganga. On the opposite bank is the city of Hazipur where river Gandak joins the Ganges. Painting by Sitaram 1814

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The famous Gola ghar or granary in Bankipore, Patna, near the Ganga river bank, painted by Sitaram in 1814. This structure was constructed in 1786 but was almost immediately abandoned because of a faulty design. The doors at the bottom were designed to open inwards with the result that as soon as grains were poured in, the doors would not move, and it was not practical to remove the grains from the top. The structure was therefore abandoned, its doors and the hole at the top were sealed, and it was termed as “Garstin’s Folly” (the architect was Captain John Garstin). With passage of time it fell into decay but was later renovated and is now a tourist spot, which provides a beautiful panoramic view of Patna and the river Ganges flowing nearby.

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Inside the Opium godown in Patna, on the Ganges river bank.  Interestingly this was originally a Dutch factory and the building could be from the Dutch era. Painting by Sitaram 1814.

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Ruins of a beautiful domed chatri in the once lavish palace-garden complex built by Mir Jaffar in Patna, as seen from the Ganga. Mir Jaffer betrayed the last Bengal Nawab Siraj ud Daulah, and helped the East India Company take over the Bengal province in 1757. Jaffar was rewarded by the Company with the rule of the province, where he remained their puppet king until his death in 1765. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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After Patna, the Ganga gently moves on and this is the riverside view of Munger or Monghyr (identified currently with Mod-giri, a name mentioned in the Mahabharata), painted by Sitaram in 1814. The riverside shows embankments with pillars, probably to prevent floods.  The bangla chala or Bengal roof, so favourite of the Mughals and the Rajputs, are a common sight on buildings here. All buildings (mostly large garden houses and palaces) in Bihar and Bengal that were built by the riverside had large doors and windows for the obvious reason, to let in the cool river breeze.

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Sculptures at Patharghat, by the banks of Ganga. Patharghat in Bhagalpur district of Bihar, is near the ruins of Vikramshila monastery. It has several cave temples and Vaishanava carvings dating back to the Gupta period, 5th c. CE. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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Pal tola nauka or boats with sails, on the Ganga. Seen here are the Rajmahal hills in Jharkhand that date back to the Jurassic era, when they were created due to volcanic activities. The Rajmahal traps cover parts of Jharkhand, Bengal, and Meghalaya. In the upper parts of these hills in Jharkhand live the Sauria Paharia tribes, while the Santhal tribes have settled in and cultivate the valleys. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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This picture by Sitaram (1814) shows vividly how tracking was done on the Ganges (it is still done the same way), especially when travelling upstream, against the prevailing water current and wind. Tracking (gun tana, in Bengali) is done when the Majhis get down from the boat and pull from the river bank using ropes. A laborious process, it is also extremely difficult for the Majhis to pull such heavy boats against the water and wind current.

Bengal

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The interior of Jami masjid or Akbari mosque at Rajmahal  (Bengal) overlooking the Ganges. Painting by Sitaram 1820 Source: British library. 

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Ruins of the palace of Shah Shuja by the river Ganga in Rajmahal (Bengal), engraved by James Moffat in 1800. Shah Shuja was the second son of Shah Jahan, and the governor of Bengal, Orissa, and Bangladesh, during his father’s reign. Source: British Library.

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Gauda (Gaur), the once proud capital of the Sena and Pala dynasties, was completely destroyed and plundered by invaders time and again . The city fell into disuse once the capital was shifted, and until today the area remains a mass of ancient and medieval ruins. Seen here, in Sitaram’s painting is the ruinous five storeyed Feroz Shah Minar, built by Saifuddin Feroz Shah, the Sultan of Bengal (1488-90). The Minar has been recently renovated.

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Silk farming in Murshidabad district near the Ganga bank, as painted by Sitaram in 1820. Seen here are two men extracting silkworms from a frame, preparing silk cocoons, and winding silk on spindles.  Murshidabad in Bengal is well-known for its fine silk, which is light and easy to drape. Silk weaving in this region started during the early 18th c. CE under Mughal patronage, when the erstwhile Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, moved his capital from Dhaka to a place on the eastern bank of the Ganga river, and named it Murshidabad. Along with the Nawab came the art of depicting themes that showcased the lives of Nawabs on silk, which was known as Baluchari, and this trend continued in the region until early 19th c. CE under the Company rule. In 19th c. CE, flooding of the region by Ganga resulted in Baluchari weavers shifting and setting up shop in Bishnupur (Bankura district of Bengal). Murshidabad is still famous for a variety of silk fabric that is adorned with old and modern motifs, while Baluchuri weave which is equally well known, survives separately.

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Sitaram here shows the palace at Murshidabad, the Aaina Mahal, at left; at the centre is the Diwan Khana, which was the banquet hall for entertaining the British; and at the right is the Imamabara built by Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah.

After the town of Murshidabad, Ganga branches off into two main streams, Hooghly that flows towards Calcutta, and the other stream that enters Bangladesh meets the Brahmaputra river and is known as Padma. The famous Farakhha Barrage, which has been the bone of contention between India and Bangladesh for many decades stands at this juncture, controlling the waters of this mighty river.

The Ganges delta showing how the river fans out near the bay, and the various tributaries that meet the Ganga on her way to the sea. Source

Our travels will now follow the Hooghly river and move on to the next big city, Calcutta or Kolkata.

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Char chala temples on the banks of Hooghly river at Santipur in Nadia. Nadia also known as Nabadwip had once been one of the most well known sites for pilgrimage and universities in eastern India. However, when the river changed its course, it swept away the the old town, and the Raja was forced to move his capital to Krishnagar. Painting by Sitaram 1820-21.

The tranquil Hooghly river in Nadia source

Belur Math near Kolkata, on the western bank of the Hooghly river. It is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission and was founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1897. The temple architecture infuses Hindu, Christian, and Islamic motifs, signifying unity amidst diversity.  Picture credit : Jay Shankar

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Dakshineshwar

Dakshineshwar Mandir near Kolkata, on the eastern bank of the Hooghly river. It is a Nava-ratna or nine-spired temple, showing the typical chala (roof) form of Bengal architecture. It was built in 1855 by Rani Rashmoni and houses Bhavatarini, a form of Devi Kali. Surrounding  the main mandir are twelve identical Shiva temples in a row, a Radha-Krishna Mandir, a bathing ghat on the river, and a Naubat Khana where Ramkrishna Paramhansa once lived. Pictures credit: Jay Shankar

Calcutta or Kolkata, once the capital of British India, archaeologically dating back to the Mauryan era, is located on the banks of the river Hooghly.  source

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The famous Howrah bridge over the Hooghly river, a name almost synonymous with Calcutta. It was commissioned in 1943 and is the sixth longest cantilever bridge in the world.  Photo credit: Nandini Dey

Just before reaching Calcutta, the Hooghly turns south west and enters an old channel of the Ganges at Nurpur, from where it glides down further south to form an estuary and meet the sea at Bay of Bengal. The streams here fan out to form a large delta and there are many points of the mohona (meeting point of sea and river). One such point is the Sagar Island, through which the Ganga supposedly enters the Patal (netherworld).

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Mohona at TaalsariPhoto credit: Nandini Dey

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Mohona at Mandarmoni. Photo credit: Nandini Dey

Mohona at Ganga Sagar where Devi Ganga enters the netherworld. It is the end point of a long journey that started amidst the wild terrain of the Gangotri glacier, and finally comes to rest amidst the tranquil waters of the sea, where the river and sea merge into each other and become one Source

Defiling the Ganges

“What we do not consume we poison. Sometimes we do both. Perhaps that is how we shall end, by consuming the poisons we have created.” ― James Rozoff

Ganga is an integral part of India’s culture; a part of both life and death for most Indians, yet this very lifeline is being slowly poisoned. Right from its source until its end point the river is dying a slow death owing to the daily pouring in of sewer water carrying human wastes, industrial toxic wastes, and human activities like washing of clothes, bathing, and bathing of animals. Various age old religious customs lead to throwing in of food, flowers, or leaves, often packed in plastic packets into the river, which are also responsible for its pollution. It is also a part of traditional belief that cremating on the banks of the Ganga, and immersing ashes in it will give moksha. In Varanasi alone, almost forty thousand cremations take place annually, many of those remain half-burnt. Some communities in India also practice water burial, especially of young unwed girls, while some do not have money for a proper cremation, and the dead bodies are simply made to float away, causing serious water pollution.

Macabre: Bodies are seen floating in Ganges river near Pariyar. Officials do not suspect a crime, but instead believe the dead were given water burials

Unclaimed bodies in a tributary of the Ganga: our “unholy” beliefs source

Garbage beside the Ganga: A mother’s agony source

Bathing in the “holy waters” filled with plastic that is choking the river. We revere with so much irreverence Source

Gangajal- impure but holy. Drinking the very poison that we have created Source

Reports say that daily an estimated 3000 million litres of untreated sewage enter the Ganges. By the time the river reaches Kashi, where some more sewage and toxic wastes are disposed into its waters, Ganga turns into a churning mass of sewer water. Is it a wonder then that Ganga is the sixth most polluted river in the world. According to a recent report, “In the Ganga basin approximately 12,000 million litres per day (mld) sewage is generated, for which presently there is a treatment capacity of only around 4,000 mld. Approximately 3000 mld of sewage is discharged into the main stem of the river Ganga from the Class I & II towns located along the banks, against which treatment capacity of about 1000 mld has been created till date. The contribution of industrial pollution, volume-wise, is about 20 per cent but due to its toxic and non- biodegradable nature, this has much greater significance.” reference

State wise division that shows the amount of sewage pumped into the Ganga source

The industrial units that are adding to the unholy mess source

Besides pollution, dams and associated irrigation projects on the Ganga have also raised concerns by endangering the habitat of aqua fauna. The pollution is not only killing the river, but also taking away the life that pulsates within its waters, and this is evident in the near extinction of the many species of aquatic animals, including the famous Gangetic dolphin. According to a report by the CAG in 2009:

Ganga is in grave danger from 600 dams (operational, under construction, or proposed). They will obstruct the natural flow, diverting water into tunnels to power turbines, but will also have cascading effect on the livelihood of communities and the biodiversity and stability of the surrounding natural ecosystems. Downstream communities also face the danger of flash floods when water is released from the dams. Not only that, if all the ongoing and proposed hydroelectric projects in Uttarkashi are completed as proposed by the Centre and State governments, the Ganga will get diverted into tunnels just 14 km from its origin in Gangotri. The river will remain tunnelled continuously for 130 km up to Dharasu near Uttarkashi. Environmentalists say tunnelling of the river for such long stretches would result in loss of flora, fauna, fertile soil and minerals.  59% of Bhagirathi and 61 percent of Alaknanda will dry up if all the dams are built. The 330 MW hydroelectric project on the Alaknanda lies in the buffer zone of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, which houses the Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers. Both are inscribed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. At least 34 dams on Bhagirathi and Alaknanda should be scrapped in order to protect Uttarakhand’s biodiversity, says the Wildlife Institute of India .” Source

The damning dams on the river Source

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The impact of pollution on the various lives from a case study (the flora, fauna and humans) ~slide 25  Source . Another case study on the Ganga pollution can be read at this link

A closer look at the unholy mess Source

Plans for cleaning the Ganga (the deadline 2018 already has been declared as void, and the project will need more time for completion) source

Swami Nigamananda had to die to stop illegal sand mining in Uttarakhand Source

Recently in 2014, the central government launched the namami Gange project with an aim of cleaning the river, and 20.4 billion rupees have been allocated for the clean-up. Few days back the Uttarakhand HC has declared Ganga as “a living entity,” giving it rights equivalent to a human being. The project and the court ruling are certainly praiseworthy and need all kinds of support (Indians certainly need to look beyond their religious and ideological differences in such instances, and it is truly disheartening to read some of the comments on various newslinks about the Uttarakhand ruling). Besides the various projects, it is also the duty of common citizens to wake up from their long slumber and their callous “chalta hain” attitude, raise awareness on the grave issue of Ganga pollution, and take part in the movement wherein defiling of the Ganges is completely stopped. Floating diyas on Ganga to get wishes fulfilled, or taking a bath to cleanse our sins in the polluted waters isn’t taking us anywhere, nor will it save the river that we revere as our mother. We need to be seriously committed towards freeing the river from the immense burden of pollution that has been killing it. For it is a very simple equation: if Ganga lives, India lives; and, if it dies, so does India.

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(Sita Ram’s paintings and pictorial details are from the book J.P. Losty’s Picturesque Views of India: Sita Ram)

Author – Monidipa Bose

                                She can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com or at MoniGatha

Traversing the Ganges, from Old Times to New – Part I

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A lifeline that has defined human civilisation. A river that holds a cosmos in itself,  a fascinating  world of flora and fauna, unseen from above, yet pulsating below, under tranquil waters.

(Pic – Yamuna in Agra. Yamuna is the largest tributary of the river Ganges)

In a land where infrequent monsoons are held as the main season, water is as priceless as a flawless jewel, and rivers are considered sacred. From ancient times when man learned to settle down in what is termed as “civilisation,” water has reigned supreme over man’s life, living, thoughts, writings, paintings, culture, religion, and even wars. Rivers are ancient, and their waters have been flowing persistently even before human beings came into existence. Theirs is a separate universe, a little world of their own, which has sired many tales (mythological and folk), history, religion, philosophy, politics, and also in the modern era, technological incursions. The flowing waters of these mighty rivers have witnessed the creation of some of the earliest cities in the world and have seen their destruction too; they have seen the shaping of some the world’s earliest literature and religious texts and the brilliant minds that shaped those; and now the same waters are witnessing their relentless defiling by the very people that had once started their journey of civilisation on those muddy river plains.

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Map of the Ganges valley Source

What’s in a name?

In North India flows a river with many names. Its name is Ganga, rechristened the Ganges by the British, this river is a sacred entity, a focal point of constant reference that entwines life and death for billions of Hindus living in this country since the ancient times.

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The blue pristine waters of the Ganga at Haridwar)

Defying what Shakespeare said about a name not being significant, there are some names that certainly spell magic. They create a reverberation in the mind, leaving an impact like an echo. One such name is Ganga.

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The name Ganga evokes a vision of evening lamps, temple bells, smell of burning camphor, and the chants of Ganga stotram. 

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The Bhagirathi peaks from  Gangotri. Photo courtesy: Jay Shankar

One may wonder how the name that is so intermingled with the lives of billions, came to be known to the world? Let’s take a quick look back. Studies show that it was during the late Harappan period (2000 to 1000 BCE) that the node of Indian civilisation shifted from the River Indus to the areas adjacent to the upper Ganges basin, a land termed as ‘Cemetery H’ (reference).

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The map here shows the names of the rivers, including the Ganges, around which the new settlements grew up, the names of which are found in the Rigveda. Source

The early Rigveda, composed roughly between 1500 to 900 BCE, mentions Jhanavi (Jhanavi is another name for Ganga). However, Ganga gains greater prominence in the later three Vedas. As historian Romila Thapar aptly sums it, “In the Ṛig Veda the geographical focus was the sapta-sindhu (the Indus valley and the Punjab) with Sarasvatī as the sacred river, but within a few centuries ārya-varta is located in the Gaṅgā-Yamūnā Doāb with the Ganges becoming the sacred river.” (reference P. 415).

The first foreign traveller to mention Ganga was Megasthenes (350 – 290 c BCE), in his book Indika, where he spoke of the mighty river and its tributaries, the canal system that helped in irrigation of the Gangetic pain, and its extensive run that ended at Gangaridai (the ancient name for area near the Ganges delta), which he refers to as the land of large elephants (reference).

Ganga also finds mention in Mahabharata, Ramayana, and several Puranas. In Mahabharata she is the consort of  King Shantanu and the mother of Bhisma; in Skandapurana she is the consort of Shiva and the mother of Skanda or Kartikeya, also known as Kumara, the son of Ganga. In Bhagavad Purana, Ganga is shown to have emanated from the lotus feet of Vishnu, following which she acquired a beautiful pink shade. With Brahma, she is always seen accompanying him in his kamandalu, as the sacred water. According to a passage in the Ramayana, Ganga is also the daughter of Himavat and Mena, chief of the mountains and his wife, which makes her the sister of Uma/Parvati (reference).

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How ancient settlements were centred around the river Ganges and its chief tributary Yamuna  Source

The Legend, Mythological representations, and Iconography

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The descent of Ganga Source 

In Hinduism, Ganga is personified as Devi Ganga, and is in her own self a teertha, a link between heaven and earth. Such is her importance that it is believed that by bathing or taking a dip in her holy waters one is absolved of sins, while immersing the ashes in her waters brings the soul of the dead person closer to moksha. Hence she is often referred to as: Patita Pavani or the liberator of all sins.

In the Indian subcontinent, sometimes other rivers are also referred to as Ganga. This gives the rivers a sacred sanctity that shines through the name Ganga. Its name is also invoked in any ritual where water is used, therefore sanctifying all holy waters used for religious purposes.

Referring to other sacred rivers as Ganga has its own disadvantages too, as is seen in the misconception about the geographical origin of the river. For a long time it was thought Ganga originated in Manas Sarovar near Kailash. While there are no clear theories on how Ganga came to be related to mount Kailash, but one line of thought says that it might have started from an ancient Tibetan text Kailash Purana. A small flowing stream which connects the two lakes, Manas Sarovar and Rakshas tal, is mentioned in the Kailash Purana as Ganga chu (in Tibetan the word chu means river). Could this name have led to the notion that Ganga came from Manas Sarovar? One can only wonder and speculate. However, in 1808 while mapping and tracing the route and origin of the Ganges by Webb and Hearsay, it was specifically proven the river did not originate from Manas Sarovar near Kailash .

The birth of Ganga is beautifully depicted in the Bhagavad Purana, which says that Vishnu in his Vaman avtaar pierced a hole with his left foot at the end of the universe. It was through this hole, the pure Brahm Water came into the universe, in the form of the Ganga River. Since it washed the feet of Vishnu while flowing in, it is also known as Vishnupadi, or the one that emanates from the lotus feet of God. Ganga originally remained in Brahmaloka, until Bhagirath brought her down to the earth in order to release his forefathers from a curse, in what is termed as Ganga avtaran. With Ganga threatening to wash away the earth with her force as she descended, it was Shiva who broke her fall by holding her in his locks and taming her raging waters. There are other legends that give varying versions but this one remains the most popular. Since Bhagirath brought her down, Ganga in the Himalayas is also known as Bhagirathi. From the heaven (swarg or Brahma lok) she descends to the earth or prithvi (via Gaumukh glacier), and finally enters the patal (netherworld) in Ganga Sagar.

As Ganga came down to earth from heaven, she is also seen as the means of moving from earth to heaven.  The  Triloka-patha-gamini, or the one who traverses the three worlds (swarg , prithvi , and patal), she is herself a teertha, or the crossing point of existence (that includes all living and dead).

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Ganga avtaran by Raja Ravi Verma. Shiva readies himself to meet the raging waters of Ganga, while Parvati comfortably leans on Nandi watching the avtaran, and Bhagirath looks on with folded palms.  

Ardhanarishwar. Ganga flowing out of Lord Shiva’s matted locks Painting circa 1800 Source

Bhagirath leading Ganga down to Ganga Sagar to release his forefathers who were suffering in patal, Kalighat Patachitra (in print), 19th c. CE. It is believed that Bhagirath led the devi on until Bihar, and when he reached Bengal he wasn’t sure which route to follow that would take him to his forefathers in patal (the netherworld). It was then he requested the devi to take her own route, after which Ganga  decided to branch out in streams (in Bengal there are indeed two major streams, Hooghly and Padma, besides other smaller ones). That created the delta formation in Bengal and Bangladesh.  Finally one such stream led to a point, now known as Ganga Sagar, which took Ganga to patal, and she released Bhagirath’s forefathers from their sufferings.  

In ancient India, Ganga was seen as symbol of fertility, as it provided the daily bread for those that lived on its banks. She is first seen in the Cave V, on a relief in the Udaygiri caves (400 CE), carrying  a pot that symbolises fertility ( a womb), as well as the Brahma’s pot from where both she and Saraswati were born. Ganga is accompanied by a gana who symbolises development and attainment. Her vahana is a makara, a mythical figure with the head of a terrestrial animal (such as an elephant) and the lower body of an aquatic animal (generally a fish, sometimes with floral tail like a peacock). Makara symbolises both the underwater life, and the fear of the unknown, the fear of destruction caused by her uncontrolled waters.

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By the end of the 5th c. CE, Ganga was seen as a devi in her own right, symbolising all rivers in India, and her iconography turned more complex. All Hindu temples had the goddess carved at the door, symbolising ablution in the sacred waters of the river, as one enters the garbhagriha (the inner sanctum). Ganga on the temple door frame with her vahana, attendants, and the dwarpala ~ at Teli ka mandir, Gwalior fort, 850 c. CE

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Ganga in terracotta, 5th century CE. (Gupta Period), Ahichchhatra, Uttar Pradesh. Source

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A red sandstone relief, Madhya Pradesh, 8th/9th century. Very finely carved Ganga in a graceful tribhanga at right, adorned with an elaborate knotted belt, standing on a lotus blossom over a rearing makara, along with a retinue of attendants. Source

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Makarvahini Ganga, Kalighat Patachitra (in print), 19th c. CE

How the course runs:

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Some of the important cities beside the river Ganges as it travels through the northern plains of India and empties itself in the Bay of Bengal near Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). It provides water to an area of 8,61,452 Sq.km that is equivalent to almost 26% of the total geographical area in India.  Source

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Geographically speaking, the Ganga basin is spread over four countries that include India, Tibet, Nepal, and Bangladesh, covering an area of 10,86,000 sq.km. The extensive area of the Ganga basin Source

Casting aside the nitty-gritty of geographical data, let’s peek into towns and cities that line the course of this mighty river.

Gomukh:

At a height f 13,200 ft amidst the snow clad mountains of Uttaranchal, lies of the snout of a glacier from which the waters of the Bhagirathi rush out with great force. Gomukh literally means the mouth of a cow, and finds mention in the Puranas. It is said that the snout of the glacier from which Bhagirathi emerges looked exactly like the mouth of a cow. However, owing to environmental changes, and the glacier changing its position, the shape of Gomukh opening now remains largely left to one’s imagination. Gomukh, which is a two day’s hard trek from Gangotri, is a Hindu pilgrimage site, and it is not surprising to see sadhus and other devotees bathing or taking a dip in the icy cold waters of the Bhagirathi at its point of emergence.

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 Gomukh, the point of emergence of Bhagirathi at the base of Mt. Shivling. The Gangotri glacier is a receding one, and is moving back at an alarming rate, much to the concern of climate experts. The topography here is rather wild, with hard ice, patches of snow, and large and small boulders scattered everywhere. Picture credit: Saket Kumar

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The glacier spout from which Bhagirathi rushes outPicture credit: Jay Shankar

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Base of Mt. ShivlingPicture credit: Jay Shankar

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Tapovan at the base of Mt. Shivling, the beautiful meadow through which the Bhagirathi flows after emerging from the Gomukh. Picture credit: Saket Kumar.

Gangotri:

It is a small town at 10, 200 ft, popular among the pilgrims that has a temple dedicated to Ganga devi, which was originally built in the early 19th c. CE by  the Gurkha general Amar Singh Thapa. Many sadhus have small kutis here where they stay for most part of the year, pray, and meditate by the riverside. The beautiful, calm surroundings and the sound of the gushing waters of Bhagirathi make it a perfect place for mediation and prayers.

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The evening light on Bhagirathi peaks. Picture credit: Jay Shankar

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The Ganga temple at Gangotri. The evening arti performed under the open skies beside the river in front of this temple creates an ethreal aura that one has to experience to believe. Picture credit: Jay Shankar

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Forceful waters of the Bhagirathi gushing down at Gangotri. Photo credit: Jay Shankar

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The Suryakund waterfall in Gangotri located very near to the temple. Here the Bhagirathi falls from a cliff with immense force, making it an unforgettable sight. Photo credit: Jay Shankar

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The tranquil waters of Bhagirathi by the side of the Ganga Mandir at Mukhba village (near Harshil), which is the winter residence of the Devi when the temple at Gangotri is shut down on Bhai Ditiya, owing to the heavy snowfall that cuts off the place from the lower reaches during winter. Photo credit: Jay Shankar

Rishikesh and Haridwar:

Bhagirathi from Gangotri flows down the valley passing many picturesque locations such as Gangnani, Harshil, to reach Uttarkashi, which as the name suggests, is another important pilgrimage centre with a Vishwanath temple. Harshil is a Maha Prayag, a confluence of nine rivers, with a Vishnu temple located at the confluence of Jalandhari, Vishnu Ganga, and Bhagirathi. Dharali is another place on the banks of Bhagirathi, where the rivers Bhim Ganga and Hatya Harini meet her. It is believed that by bathing at the confluence of these rivers one is absolved of the sins of even Brahm Hatya (killing of human).

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Bhagirathi at Uttarkashi. Photo credit: Jay Shankar

The next important point is Devprayag where Bhagirathi meets Alaknanda, and here the river Ganges is formed. The Ganga which is formed at this confluence contains waters of six rivers, brought in mainly by the Alaknanda that flows in from base of Satopanth and Bhagirath Kharak glaciers, near Badrinath. The waters of Alaknanada contain the rivers Nandakini, Dhauliganga, Mandakini, and Pindar. There are five important Prayags or confluence points on the side of Alaknanda. The five prayags are Vishnuprayag, Nandprayag, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag, and Devprayag.

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The beautiful green waters of Alaknanda (left) merge with the dark waters of Mandakini (right) at Rudraprayag.  Mandakini that comes from Chorabari glacier near Kedarnath is an important tributary of the Ganga. Photo credit: Jay Shankar

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Devprayag, the birth place of Ganga. On the left is the tranquil Alaknanda, and on the right is the turbulent Bhagirathi . It is here where the  Vedic rituals for Shraddh ceremonies and pinda pradaan take place. Source

From Devprayag, the river now known as Ganga, moves down to reach Rishikesh. Here the river leaves the mountains behind and enters the north Indian plains. There are many temples (both old and new), and learning centres for religious education in this town.

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This place finds mention in Skandapurana (Kedarkhand), while it is also believed that Rama did penance here in Rishikesh for killing Ravana

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The RamJhula in Rishikesh, is a newly built suspension bridge over the Ganges. A little ahead is the more famous Lakshman jhula, where it is said Lakshman had crossed the river using a bridge made of jute ropes. A jute bridge was supposed to have existed in this spot until the late 19th c. CE, as mentioned in his travel records by a famous Bengali travel writer Jaladhar Sen. In 1889, a Marwari businessman from Calcutta sponsored the building of an iron suspension bridge to prevent any further deaths, which was later renovated in 1924 after a major flood.

The next important town beside the Ganga is Haridwar. Here a dam diverts some of the water from the main river to a canal, the waters of which are used for irrigation in the Doab area. The river changes its course from south-west to south east in Haridwar.

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Haridwar is one of the seven holiest places in Hindu pilgrimage. The evening aarti at Haridwar by the banks of the Ganga is a site worth seeing despite the crowd that gathers there everyday

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Har ki Pauri. It is believed that during samudra manthan,  one drop of amrit (elixir) fell on Haridwar in the Brahma Kund, located at Har ki pauri. It is for this reason Haridwar celebrates the Kumbha mela every 12 years, kumbha signifying the pot carried by Garuda, which contained the amrit.

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The murti of Devi Ganga  at Haridwar. This is the original murti, which has been shifted and kept in a side temple beside the ghat, while the main Ganga mata mandir now holds a murti of the Devi with Bhagirath.

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Haridwar as seen and painted by  Sitaram in 1814, while travelling with Hastings (then Lord Moira) from Calcutta to Punjab. From a recent record, it has been said that most of the buildings seen here in the picture still exist, however they are covered by ugly advertisement boards and so cannot be seen from the river anymore. The main river seen here has thinned down now owing to the dam built to divert water for irrigation. 

Prayag or Allahabad:

From Haridwar the Ganga passes the cities of Kanauj and Kanpur to reach Allahabad, where it meets its chief tributary the Yamuna at Triveni Sangam. Here it is said the Saraswati river was also a part of the confluence. The city was known as Prayag in the ancient times and finds a mention in the Vedas, the Puranas and in Ramayana. Later known as Kausambi, the city according to archaeological finds dates back to 700 BCE. It has seen the coming and going of many empires that include Mauryans, Kushanas, Guptas, Delhi Sultanate, Mughals, Marathas, and lastly the British. During Mughal rule, Akbar renamed the city as Illahabad, and built a fort on the banks of the Sangam. The British later changed the name to Allahabad.

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A bridge of boats on the Ganges in Kanpur (then Cawnpore), with two elephants crossing it. A bungalow, few temples, and Sarsaiya ghat are seen on the right side of the bridge on the banks of Ganga. The picture was painted by Sitaram in 1814, while travelling upstream on the Ganga in a bajra with Hastings (then Lord Moira) from Calcutta.

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The Ganga at Prayag. Photo credit: Gency Chowdhury

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The Yamuna at Prayag. Photo credit: Gency Chowdhury

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Prayag during Kumbh mela. Photo credit: Gency Chowdhury

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Prayag during Kumbh.  Photo credit: Gency Chowdhury

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The Allahabad fort built by Akbar at the Sangam. On the left is Yamuna and on the right is Ganga. Far left in the picture, partly seen is a white building which is most likely the Akbari masjid. The magnificent white octagonal structure in the fort seen here from the river, was known as Chalees Satun, and it was destroyed by the East India Company who took over in  1798.  The picture was painted by Sitaram.

Chunar Fort:

After Allahabad the next important city beside the Ganga is Varanasi or Kashi. Between Prayag and Kashi lies the important fort of Chunar on the banks of the Ganga. The fort has been linked to king Bali, Vikramaditya of Ujjain, and Prithviraj Chauhan. While archaeological finds place the fort settlement date at around 56 BC, recorded history starts from the time of Babar. It was taken over from the Mughal subedars by Sher Shah, who married into the subedar family. The fort was won over from him by Humayun, only to be again taken back by Sher Shah. Akbar won it back in 1574, and it remained with the Mughals until the East India company conquered it in 1722.

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Chunar fort. After East India Company took over the fort in 1722, they faced stiff resistance from Raja Chait Singh of Benaras in 1781. In 1791 the fort was made into a sanatorium for the sick and dying European soldiers. The picture was painted by Sitaram

Varanasi/Benaras or Kashi:

The name Varanasi rises from the two tributaries of the Ganga that bind the old city, rivers Varuna and Assi. Rigveda mentions the city as Kasi, which in Sanskrit means the city of light. Regarded as one of the holiest cities, Kashi or Varanasi was supposedly built by Shiva, and it is here that the Pandavas came to search for Shiva in order to atone for their killings during the Kurukshetra war. Buddha also started his preaching from Sarnath, a place very near to Varanasi, which was the capital of the Kashi kingdom during his time. Archaeological findings place the start of settlement in this city at around 2000 BCE (reference). The city is also well known from the ancient times for its religious learning centres, textiles (Benarasi weave on silk is famous), sculptures, ivory, and perfumes.

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Such is the religious significance of this city that it is believed that if one is fortunate enough to die in Kashi, that person will attain moksha. Photo credit: Gency Chowdury

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Ganga aarti on a ghat in Benaras. Photo credit: Gency Chowdury

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The riverfront at Benaras with Panchganga ghat at the centre, and Aurangzeb’s mosque rising above it. The mosque minarets were later removed because of of their instability. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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Dasasvamedha ghat in Benaras. The building seen here is the  rest house built by Rani Ahalya Bai. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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The palace of the Raja of Benaras that was constructed in 1750 by Raja Balwant Singh. He was the governor of Benaras under the Nawab of Oudh. The Nawab transferred the sovereignty of the city to the East India Company in 1755. Seen above is the State Boat of the Raja of Benaras. Painting by Sitaram. 

From Varanasi, Ganga travels further on, crossing the states of Bihar and Bengal. This part of the journey however, will be told another day. Kumbh13-26 (1)For now, I will leave you at Kashidham with Ganga, where the Devi makes a lovely arc and turns uttarvahini.

 

 

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com or at Moni Gatha

(All pictures used in the post are clicked by the author unless mentioned otherwise. Sita Rams’s paintings and pictorial details are from J.P. Losty’s Picturesque views of India: SitaRam)

Charming Chandor : A Capital Long Forgotten

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Ancient Chandrapur

The very name of Konkan conjures up scenes of lush greenery during the monsoons, seasonal waterfalls, low hills with ancient Buddhist and Hindu caves, and various forts built by the Portuguese and the Marathas. Recent excavations and archaeological findings have added further layers to this area already rich in ancient and medieval heritage. For the last few decades archaeologists have been working on various sites near the Konkan coast. Various pottery fragments, sculptures, and remnants of ancient structures provide valuable insights into the life of a common man. Dr. Kurush Dalal, an eminent archaeologist who has led many student excavations in and around this region, said in an interview “Now, we are discovering facets of ordinary early medieval life in the Konkan, and evidences of flourishing international trade and a vibrant economy all along the coast” .

Location of Chandor in Goa

(ref: http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2406/images/20070406000506504.jpg)

Chandor, a sleepy village consisting of old rambling villas, is located in South Goa, on the banks of the river Kushavati, 13 km east of Margao and across the fertile rice fields  of Salcete. While walking down the shaded tree-lined lanes of this pretty hamlet, one gets a strange feeling that time is standing still and the Portuguese are very much around, still ruling the roost.

With facades of graceful Portuguese houses dotting the countryside, the historical timeline of Chandor, however, goes back much further, and this sleepy village played an important role in defining Goa’s ancient history, as evident from the various fragmented archaeological remains in the form of ancient inscriptions, sculptures, and other artefacts.

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A beautiful sun dappled by-lane in Chandor that looks almost like a quiet Portuguese countryside road 

While Goa’s history goes long back to the 3rd BCE when Chandragupta Maurya reigned supreme, some excavated pottery found in Chandrapur belonging to the Satavahanas place the probable origin of this once important trade centre to 200 BCE.  After the Satavahanas, came the Bhojas who made Chandrapur or Chandor their capital, as evident from the various inscriptions found, dated between 3rd-4th CE. Next in the power race came the Chalukyas of Badami (580 CE to 750 CE), followed by the Shilaharas, and the Kadambas. The arrival of Kadambas saw the capital being shifted from Chandrapur to Goapuri or the modern Velha Goa around 1029. As maritime supremacy reached its zenith, the place known to the Arab cartographers as Zindabar, thrived as a central hub for various commercial activities. Both Hinduism and Jainism flourished under the Kadambas. This calm and prosperity was shattered with the appearance of Malik Kafur and his army in the horizon like black locusts in 1312 CE. Soon the entire Konkan region along with Goa faced massive destruction at the hands of this general of the Delhi Sultanate. In order to escape the wrath of Malik Kafur, the Kadamba king fled to its erstwhile capital of Chandor and built a fort there. Here it is interesting to note that despite the presence of the powerful southern dynasties, Malik Kafur could manage to defeat most of them. While effects of his devastating expeditions were temporary, his sweeping military success stemmed from unpreparedness of the local rulers, their failure to comprehend the shock technique used by the marauding Muslim army, and most importantly the rival jealousies among the different dynasties that were at constant war with each other which prevented them from forming a united front. When Kafur came in 1312, the Kadambas were already a spent force and their kingdom was limited to just Goa. Additionally  the dynasty was facing a lot of internal fights over control of power, as evident from a Ponda copper plate inscription which talks of a rebel Kadamba prince inviting Jamal ud din of Honavar for help after Tuglaq’s invasion. The thriving trade by this time had also dwindled considerably due to various factors, both external and internal.Whatever glory was left of the Kadambas was completely destroyed by Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s army in 1327 CE. After this, Goa (and Chandrapur) briefly went under the Vijaynagara empire,  followed by the Bahmani Sultans (1469 CE), and lastly the Adil Shahis of Bijapur (1488 CE). The power race of the Indian rulers finally ended here, and in came a new player from across the seas, the Portuguese!

While visiting Chandor in 2016, I was lucky enough to see some artefacts from the excavated site of an ancient temple displayed inside a villa called the Fernandes Heritage House. Sculptures of Vishnu, Ganesha, Shiva lingam, a piece of stone bearing inscriptions written in early Kannada script, among others,  speak of a rich cultural past of this ancient town. The owner said these pieces were randomly lying around in Chandor, and they being mostly temple parts were taken in by his forefathers. Despite the family being Christians they did not let the temple sculptures waste away in open fields.

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 The only remaining evidence in this archaeological site is the large 7th CE Nandi. Vandalised and decapitated, it stands as a sole evidence and witness of the once glorious Chalukya empire 

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The temple site in Chandor Cotta was first discovered by Rev. Fr. Heras in 1929. The ASI has made two excavations at this site, one in 1974, and the other in 1999-2000. The site now has a lone Nandi and a step-well, which is now covered with a wire mesh grill to avoid accidents (picture credit: Zehra Chhapiwala)

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The history of the temple site by the ASI- Goa (picture credit: Zehra Chhapiwala)

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Wooden fragmented parts, most likely from an ancient temple, as displayed in the Fernandes Heritage House in Chandor

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Sculpture of a Ganesha (?)

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(a) A stone bearing inscription from the 7the CE Chalukyan era in early Kannada

(b) History of the inscription

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A Shiva lingam from some ancient or early medieval temple in Chandor

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Various artefacts of daily use collected from different ancient and early medieval sites in Chandor

The Portuguese rule in Chandor

The Portuguese came to power in Goa in 1510, after defeating the then Bijapur Sultan, Yousuf Adil Shah. They set up their first capital in Velha Goa and thus began their four century long rule in the State. At this time they imposed their infamous ‘Inquisition’ on the people of Goa, with the objective of forcibly converting local Hindus to Roman Catholics. This Inquisition was primarily a method of social control against the Hindus and the converted Catholics, who they feared, practised their old faith behind closed doors.  Later, it was also imposed on the Jews from Portugal, along with some of the old Christians and new converts too.  Soon this turned into an easy way of taking away desirable properties by the Inquisitors (Benton, 2002, p. 122).

Chandor too faced the brunt of these Inquisitors and many families converted to Christianity to save their lives. Some of these early converts were richly rewarded. The first family in Chandor to embrace Christianity was the Braganza family. They were granted trade rights to various parts of the world, as a result of which the family became immensely wealthy within a short span and built a huge mansion that is one of the largest and the oldest surviving Portuguese villa in Goa. During my visit to Chandor, I visited two such palatial mansions owned by the converted Christian families. One of these mansions is more than 400 years old and owned by a branch of the Braganza family. The opulent interiors still reflect the long gone grandeur of these palatial homes, and while moving from one room to another one can only imagine the immense wealth and power that these families had once enjoyed.

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 A palatial mansion/villa in Chandor

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From roaring on the seal of the Kadambas to sitting and yawning outside a Portuguese Villa, the Lions best represent Chandor of today

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Casa De sobrado, or the double storied house. This architectural pattern for houses was first brought in by the Portuguese. Modelled on country homes in Portugal, the lower level was kept for servants, services, and animals, while the upper level was reserved for the owners. The intricate decorative work was seen only on the first level (picture credit: Zehra Chhapiwala)

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Another Portuguese style villa in Chandor

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The most charming part of old Portuguese houses in Goa are their unique windows. Flattened and dressed conch shells of the oyster Placuna Placenta, locally known as Karepa, were fitted between grooved wooden battens carefully by local workers. These shells did not just mute the harsh sunlight filtering in but also bathed the interiors in a warm glow. Alternatively, nacre of the mother – of – pearl oyster was used by the well heeled for their stately villas

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When inside a villa, one goes back in time (Fernandes Heritage House)

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A splendid colonial style living room (Fernandes Heritage House)

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A unique vintage bath tub that was used only for bathing new born babies  (Fernandes Heritage House)

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Remnants of a rich past, artefacts collected from different parts of the word where the family went with their trading rights (Menezes Braganza House)

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Preserved horns of a rhinoceros and a wild boar ( Menezes Braganza House)

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The quiet glamour of an elegant ball room now echoing the footsteps of infrequent visitors ( Menezes Braganza House)

Chandor, now a quiet idyllic village, hides a great deal of history in its various layers. As one stands at the excavation site and sees the lone headless Nandi standing guard in the middle of a small enclosed field, one can only imagine the grandeur of the cruciform temple that once stood here as a dedication to Lord Shiva. The Portuguese styled mansions, as one sees while walking down the pretty country roads, fare better, and one can have a glimpse into the wealthy lives that the converted Christians once enjoyed under four centuries of Portuguese rule. Exploring Chandor gives one a feeling of nostalgia and of wonder at the immense historical importance that this small town once held and is now lost in the folds of time.

References:

  1. ASi Goa archives

2. Nairne, K. Alexander. History of GoaVolume 1, Part 2, Book 1 of Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, Bombay (Presidency). Asian Educational Services, 1894.

3.”A History of the Inquistion of Spain (volume 3)” by Henry Charles Lea

http://libro.uca.edu/lea3/8lea1.htm

4. Benton, L., (2002). Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400–1900, Cambridge University Press.

5. “Goa Inquistion for colonialdiscipline” by T.de Souza

https://www.scribd.com/document/28411503/Goa-Inquisition-for-Colonial-Disciplining

 

Author – Monidipa Bose

The author can be reached at monidipadey@rocketmail.com or at Moni Gatha