Lala Deen Dayal – Doyen of Indian Photography


“…it is nearly impossible to peruse history books on late 19th century India and not come across a Dayal photograph being used as an illustration.”

– Deborah Hutton and Deepali Dewan

Photographs are not merely experiences captured but they also serve as an evidence to contemplate upon the past left behind.


Interior of the Mehrangarh Fort (top left), Street view of Jaipur (top right), City view of Jodhpur (below right), circa 1895 CE. From the Curzon Collection: ‘Views of places proposed to be visited by Their Excellency Lord & Lady Curzon during Autumn Tour 1902 CE. Collection & Copyright: British Library.

If one delves into the world of 19th century India, they are bound to stumble upon at least one photograph clicked by Lala Deen Dayal. He was an Indian photographer who has become immortal through his photographs which covered minute details with highly accentuated perspectives. Whether you know him or not, you probably won’t be able to resist the appeal and charm of the photographs he clicked1- Portrait of Deen DayalPortrait of Lala Deen Dayal, photographed by E.Craig (staff photographer), April 1904 CE. Courtesy : Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.

By 1850s photography was gaining wide popularity in the country and among the princely states. Although not much is known about the early photographers, Lala Deen Dayal’s name has become a synonym for 19th century photography in India. From documenting the exotic life of the Maharajas, the British officials, to India’s marvellous architectural heritage and beautiful landscapes, his oeuvre encompassed it all. No wonder then that the Bombay Gazetteer, upon his death in 1905, gave him the status of being the “first great Indian photographer” while the Government of India issued a 500-rupee postage stamp in 2006 in his honour. With his studios successfully running in Indore, Secunderabad and Bombay back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they captured some of the most illustrious and iconic moments in the history of India in photographs, estimated to be over 30000 in number.

13-His Highness the Maharaja of Scindia, c. 1885-1887, Cleveland museum

His Highness the Maharaja of Scindia, circa 1885-1887 CE. Collection & Copyright: Cleveland Museum of Art.

16-His Highness Maharana of Odeypur, 1890, British LibraryHis Highness the Maharana of Udaipur (perhaps Maharana Fateh Singh), circa 1890 CE. From the Curzon Collection: ‘Views in Meywar’. Collection & Copyright: British Library


His Highness the Maharaja of Rewa and classmates (left), His Highness Maharaja of Rewa at Prayer, circa 1885-1887 CE. Collection & Copyright: Cleveland Museum of Art

Born in 1844 at Sardhana (Uttar Pradesh, India) to a family of devout Jains who were jewellers, Dayal took to the camera in around 1870s while working as a surveyor for the Public works department of Central India Agency in Indore. This is where he met Maharaja Tukoji Rao II of Indore, his first patron. Tukoji Rao II encouraged him to step into the world of photography and introduced him to Sir Henry Daly assigning him the task of photographing Prince of Wales’ visit in 1876. This was a turning point in Dayal’s life, as this largely self-trained photographer was on his way to explore photography and make a successful career out of it. In 1878 he took a professional step forward to document the Great Stupa at Sanchi. From accompanying Sir Le Griffin to Bundelkhand to photographing the zenana women of Hyderabad, from selling photographs as souvenirs to selling photographic albums for upto 200 rupees, he worked tirelessly for over a dozen Royal families and many middle class families.


Sanchi Stupa, Kandariya Mahadev Temple of Khajuraho, Teli ka Mandir in Gwalior Fort, Orchha Palace and Jahaz Mahal of Mandu. All the pictures are from the British Library and Victoria & Albert Museum collection dated 1882

Taking a two year furlough from his government job in 1885, he went on an extensive tour of India documenting major places in colonial India. But his career took a big leap when he started working for the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan (reign: 1866-1911 CE) – the then largest and wealthiest state in British Raj. In fact, after working in his Secunderabad studio for two years, Dayal was honoured with the position of court photographer of the Nizam. The reason behind this is significant.

One night in 1894, Dayal received an official order to leave for Pakhal jungle where the Nizam was enjoying Shikar (hunt). He was ordered to capture the scene. This was an exhausting task- leaving for Pakhal at 2 am in a special train, reaching Mankota after five hours and directly heading to capture the scene, working till two or three in the noon. More dangerous but rewarding was the time when a few days later Dayal’s shikar van (a large wagon drawn by horses) tumbled in the middle of Pakhal river. Although Dayal and his team were able to survive this accident, they had to urgently rush to photograph the Nizam and after presenting the iconic photograph of him standing victoriously over the tiger (see the image), the Nizam was so delighted that he not only bestowed him with the title of ‘Musavvir-i Asaf Jahi (Artist of the Asaf Jahis), but also composed an Urdu verse in his honour.

Ajab ye karte hain tasvir kamaal kamaal

Ustaadon ke hain Ustad Raja Deen Dayal

In the art of photography surpassing all,

The master of masters is Raja Deen Dayal.

17-Nizam of Hyderabad after hunt, Chowmahlla Palace collectionThe Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Mahboob Ali Khan posing after hunt, June 1894 CE. Courtesy: Chowmahalla Palace collection.

Later, during a durbar held in the celebration of the Nizam’s birthday, Dayal was honoured with the prolific title of “Raja Bahadur Musavvir Jung” roughly translated as “Bold warrior of Photography” and was also appointed the official court photographer with an impressive salary of rupees 600 per month. Dr. Deborah Hutton notes “The Nizam further ordered the salary to be payable retrospectively for six years in honour of the work Dayal had done during that time.”


The Drawing Room of Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad (left), Principal street showing Char Minar, Hyderabad (right), circa 1880 CE. From the Curzon Collection: ‘Views of HH the Nizam’s Dominions, Hyderabad, Deccan, 1892’. Collection & Copyright: British Library

Dayal’s fame grew and though he retired from his studio in 1894, he kept working for the Nizam, developing his firm “ Lala Deen Dayal & Sons”  and establishing a studio in Bombay, which was largely handled by his two sons- Dharamchand and Gyanchand. It was not merely a studio but also hosted events, most notably the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in 1897. Perhaps, the biggest honour for Dayal was the Royal Warrant which the studio received in the same year. Earlier in 1887, he had already been appointed as a photographer for Queen Victoria.

11-Picnic party, Mashobra, c. 1885-1887, ClevelndPicnic party, Mashobra, circa 1885-1887 CE. Collection & Copyright: Cleveland Museum of Art.

Dayal passed away in 1905 ushering the downfall of his studios that incurred huge financial losses. In his career of over thirty years, Dayal’s awe-inspiring progress from an amateur photographer to a professional one is echoed in his photographs. Many storerooms and boxes filled with his photographs are eagerly waiting to be discovered. It has been more than a century since he passed away, but his legacy lives on through the majestic black and white vignettes that he has left behind of the world he inhabited and which has so dramatically changed.


The Great Elephant, Sardhana (top left), circa 1880-90 CE. Collection & Copyright: Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Baroda college (top right), circa 1875-1900 CE. Collection & Copyright: Asian Art Museum. Elephant fight ,Udaipur (middle right), circa 1885 CE. From the Curzon Collection: ‘Views in Meywar’. Collection & Copyright: British Library. Lake view from the Udaipur city palace (bottom right), circa 1875-1900 CE. Collection & Copyright: Asian Art Museum.

Author – Vinit Vyas

He can be contacted at








Ekamra Walks: Unplugging History

Cities represent mini civilizations. If civilizations are part of the evolutionary chronicles of human settlements, cities in the miniature format represent a broad canvas, on which the civilization and its cultural effects are painted in the form of historical structures, monuments and the other remains of these vestiges, which, ultimately gives the prototype signature to the entire gamut of architectural legacy and decorating the expert craftsmen’s dedication to build the historic structures dotting around the city landscape.


With temples being its signature monuments and the Kalingan architecture forming the epitome of the unique temple building style, Bhubaneswar stands tall as perhaps the most densely populated city of temples with national and state importance, making them 361, here.

However, the city of more than 7,000 temples in the past never got noticed for all its precious monumental jewels excepting a few major heritage sites. There was always a need to promote the city’s rich heritage and cultural traditions showcasing its colourful festivals and temple-based rituals so that visitors from around the world would take note and start orienting their tour plans towards the Temple City Bhubaneswar _ tranquil, historic and Smart.

IMG-20180417-WA0021IMG-20180417-WA0011IMG-20180417-WA0010IMG-20180417-WA0006How It Started

While the genesis of the city from the Mauryan era Sisupalgarh to the modern Capital city of new Odisha in 1948, and winning the coveted Smart City Challenge in 2016, (Best proposal for a child-friendly city) could be an indication, heritage in the city was always taking a backseat, years ago.

Despite having so many monuments, including many protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the city’s projection with its priceless monuments along with its urban development and the latters side-effects never made headlines.

Putting all things to a rest, the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation, Bhubaneswar Development Authority and Odisha Tourism took a bold and dynamic step on December 18, 2016 to launch the city’s first guided heritage tour in the city known for its majestic temples, intricate carvings, alluring damsels and fierce forms of Goddesses in the form of Sapta Matrikas or Seven Mother Goddesses.


The heritage walk was conceived from the very idea to make the city a happening place on the world heritage map and moreover, branding it with explorable avenues so that the visitors would be always willing to participate and rediscover the city. The opening up of the skies through the international flight services also added to the fun as many travellers are coming from the ASEAN nations and loving discovering the city in an old and charming way.

The name Ekamra Walks was coined deriving from the old name Ekamra Kshetra as the city was always known from the beginning of the temple building era of 7th Century CE or even earlier. Adding 10 major monuments to the list, a live demonstration at the dance institution Art Vision by Odissi Guru Padma Shri Ileana Citaristi, a visit to Bindusagar, Doodhwala Dharamsala and medicinal plant garden Ekamra Van.  It was also planned to have the event non-stop every Sunday starting from the 10th Century Mukteswar Temples, which has got a beautiful arch representing the beauty and precision of Kalingan sculptural art.

The Walk

Ekamra Walks Old Town Circuit starts from the precinct of Mukteswar Temple every Sunday at 6.30 am. There is a “jugalbandi’’ of heritage and music there, as the visitors are offered a nice dose of Odissi and Hindustani Classical music amidst the chirping of birds as the nearby lawn and trees are frequented by the winged guests and locals use the lawn for their morning exercises and  walks. After Mukteswar, visitors watch the sun dial and then proceed towards Parasurameswar temple through the lawn. The temple is one of the best preserved monuments dating back to 7th Century CE in Bhubaneswar.

After visiting Parasurameswar, the walkers pass through a narrow passage called Kotirtheswar Lane, named after the 15th /16th Century Kotirtheswar Temple. However, during the journey through the lane, Swarnajaleswar temple makes for a nice peep. The Kotitirtheswar Lane leads to the Eastern banks of holy lake, Bindusagar. After seeing the lake from the Parikrama on its Eastern bank, they move towards Ananta Vasudev temple, which perhaps is the only Vishnu Temple in the Ekamra Kshetra and visitors also see the temple kitchen, which perhaps is the second oldest after the  Jagannath Temple in Puri. After Ananta Vasudev temple, the next stop is Doodhwala Dharamsala, a heritage structure for budget pilgrims. Then after climbing the Curzon Mandap to view the majestic Lingaraj, it’s the beautiful  Chitrakarini and Sari Deula to showcase the restoration after excavation, Mohini on the bank of Bindu Sagar, Parikrama around Bindusagar, Vaital Temple near Tini Mundia Square, the visitors soak in the Odissi recital by beautiful young dancers at Art Vision, an institute run by Italy-born Padma Shri Ileana Citaristi.

The Monks, Caves and  Kings, at Khandagiri-Udayagiri, on the other hand, starts at 6.30 am on Saturday at Udayagiri caves and goes through Rani Gumpha (ground and first floor), Ganesh Gumpha, Udayagiri Hilltop, Bagha (Tiger) Gumpha and Hati (Elephant) Gumpha. Inscription in Hati Gumpha, rock art and inscriptions at Bagha Gumpha and Manchapuri Gumphas are worth mentioning. After the Udayagiri trail, the visit to the relief images of Jaina Tirthankars at Khandagiri is a delightful journey, only to end the trail in the Twin Hills.



Bhubaneswar has all the potential to become a World Heritage City as it harbours timeless vistas and monuments but there was no way to make the visitors understand the dynamics of historic evolution and Ekamra Walks was perhaps the best way to carry forward such an agenda.

The pre-historic cave art, nature and man-made caves, monuments depicting the influences of three major religions originating from the Indian sub-continent, handicrafts from stone with mesmerising details and life-like portrayal with magical craftsmanship, unique architectural patterns and forms of Kalingan temples are there to invite the guests to immerse themselves in the all-new experience .


Ekamra Walks has so far attracted travellers from 29 nations. Staring from the Mayor of Cupertino Mrs Savita Vaidhyanathan, a crew from Air Asia, students from University of California, College of Charleston, South Carolina, University of Melbourne, IIT Bhubaneswar, business management institutions like XIMB, Xavier University, Bhubaneswar, Benares Hindu University, Institute of Mathematics and Applications, Indian Institute of Tour and Travel Management, KIIT University, Centurion University, architectural students from across India, SAI International School, DAV Public School, Chandrasekharpur, ICICI Academy of Skills, Bhubaneswar and local institutions of the city and nearby districts. Participants and officials from Asian Athletics Championship-2017, Hockey World League, International Hockey Federation and mascot of AAC-2017 Olly also took part in the heritage trail.


Just after finishing the heritage walk at Ekamra Van on the western bank of the holy Bindusagar lake, Mayor of Cupertino Mrs Savita Vaidhyanathan had said that her IT City would  have a medicinal plant garden like that of Ekamra Van here. She appreciated the fact that even after embracing modernity and all the new-age development in the Capital city, the Old Bhubaneswar city has kept its unique characteristics and for the participants of Ekamra Walks discovering these uniqueness is a beautiful thing to be associated with.

Best-selling Marathi author, poet, critic and linguistics scholar of repute Balchandra Vanaji Nemade,  who was a recipient of the coveted Jnanapitha Award in 2014 for his novel “Hindu: Jagnya Samruddha Adgal’’ and also a recipient of the Central Sahitya Akademi Award and Padmashri, was a guest of Ekamra Walks, Old Town Circuit.

The famous author, who has taught comparative literature in India and abroad and also a frequent visitor to Odisha, said “Odisha has a treasure which is unique in its own way. People are gradually discovering it and those in the Western world and Indian metros should come to explore the poetry written on stone by the craftsmen from Utkala.’’

Senior Editor NDTV Hindi Ravish Kumar, was delighted to see the treasure of artistic monuments in the Old Town area of the Ekamra Kshetra and said “every temple here is like a big volume of artistic book written and carved through the efficient carvings and poetic expressions with all detailing and imagination.’’

Suggesting that the storey-telling style of the guides must be on interesting anecdotes and not just chronicling historic facts, the senior journalist also added that if the city could have information boards on the monuments in public places or parks, then more people and especially kids would show more interest in these historic monuments.

Knowledge gained


From little know to a sought-after weekly heritage walk, Sunday in Old Town and on Saturday at the Twin Hills of Khandagiri and Udayagiri, a well-known Jain heritage site with beautiful pre-historic and man-made caves, several inscriptions with potential to influence the socio-political equations of the-then India and Odisha in particular, engineering knowledge used in that period for better drainage and ventilation in the caves and cave art of various motifs the regularity of the event and constant presence, especially in print and social media has made Ekamra Walks a success story with a follow-up by more than 550 newspaper and webpage articles (for Old Town and Monks, Caves and Kings at Udayagiri-Khandagiri) and more than 6,500 Face Book page likes and followers of around that number, in FB.

The success of Ekamra Walks would also help in the development of the start-up ecosystem in tourism, travel and guiding sector as the heritage trail has proven its worth in the City of Temple. Several other start-ups have also started their ground work and some even gone to the extent of conducting pilot tours and packages in and around the city with themes like heritage, wildlife, rural nature trail. The heritage tour might be just a small step towards showcasing the monumental treasure of the Temple City, but it would be a giant step to provide an ample kick to the latent potential of the tourism sector as the region is not only bestowed with sites to be explored, but with beautiful handicrafts and souvenir items to go back home with fond memories.


Ekamra Walks, thus, has kindled the hope on the heritage front and it would certainly light up others in the fray, for a great socio-economic uplift and progress. Bhubaneswar would certainly have more presence in heritage and tourism sectors. 




Author – Bibhuti Barik

Writer, journalist, amateur photographer and currently working as Communication Consultant to the Bhubaneswar Smart City Ltd. He can be contacted at

Kulpak Ji – An Ancient Derasar in Telangana

The ramparts sketching a thick line in the distance told us that we were somewhere in the vicinity of Bhongir Fort on the outskirts of Hyderabad in Telangana. Sheer steps hewn out of basalt on one among the innumerable boulders scattered along the timeless landscape of Deccan Plateau seemed both difficult yet alluring. But our hearts lay elsewhere, 80 kms away precisely! In a quaint village called Kolunapaka, named so after its huts and lakes; kolanu means lake and paka is the word for huts.


We alight in front of a large gate where watchmen ask us to leave our cameras and anything made of leather behind. Such things are prohibited in a Jain Derasar (place of worship). One look at the Kulpak ji temple and I was overcome with Deja Vu. The style of the temple, the pink sandstone, the gleaming marble and the pretty parchinkari… there were glimpses of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Agra in a village tucked in Telangana!

Kulpak ji did not look wee bit like a 2000 year old structure that we were expecting and the sense of Deja Vu continued. This temple being one of the oldest known Jain worship sites in Telangana enjoyed patronage from various dynasties right from the Ishkvakus to Chalukyas who donated generously to the temple for its maintenance and upkeep.


The temple finds mention in many old Jaina texts and is home to Manikya Swami; the green stone idol of Rishabh Dev or Adinath, the first Jain Tirthankara. Besides this, the marbled interiors houses idols of 8 other tirthankars including the 51 inches idol of Mahavira made of a single jade stone. Legends state that Manikya Swami housed here was worshipped by Ravana’s wife Mandodari who then immersed it in the sea. It was found by King Shankar of Kalyan and it is believed the idol chose this temple as its abode.

One of the smaller shrines beside the main temple

If Jaina texts are to be believed this is one of the temples that was built by Chakravartin Bharat himself. Bharat was the son of Rishabha Dev or Adinath Bhagwan and it is on his name that this country gets its name as – Bharat Varsha. Rishabhanatha has two wives, Sumangala and Sunanada. Sumangala bore 99 sons and 1 daughter of whom the eldest was Bharat. Sunanada bore 1 son and 1 daughter and he was known as Bahubali as he was tall and had strong arms.

After ruling for a long time, Rishabha Dev divided his kingdom among his 100 sons equally and left for forest to attain Kewal Gyan or omniscience. While Bharat got Vinita (Ayodhya), Bahubali got Taxila. After his coronation Bharat embarked on an ambitious voyage to conquer the world and he did so becoming Digvijay. But he could not fight his brothers so sent the messages to accept him as their King. All his brothers, knowing his might, decided to join their father in the pursuit of knowledge and became monks forsaking their kingdoms.

Now only Bahubali was left who decided to fight it out with Bharath. Knowing this could be a battle that would claim many lives, the kings decided to go for an individual duel. In all the decided 3 fights (eye, water and wrestling) Bahubali prevailed over Bharath. Enraged at the defeat, Bharath broke rules and used his Chakra (he had a chakra ratna, a deadly discus that could kill anyone and that is why he was known as Chakravartin) but the weapon just encircled Bahubali and halted in front of him. Bharath had forgotten that the Chakra would never attack anyone who has the same blood as him. Bahubali bundled up Bharath in his arms but instead of throwing him to the ground, gently placed him there. Disgusted by what he might have done, Bahubali decided to forsake everything and meditate where he was standing.

Bahubali not only became a shruta kevalin but also a kewal gyani and Bharath, an able ruler. Kulpak ji is thus a part of the first legends of Jainism. Many inscriptions of various eras talking of grants have been found on the site and it still remains a prominent place of pilgrimage for the Shvetambar Jains of the country.

After 12th century Jainism saw a major decline in Andhra desa and its activities started reassuming from 17th century onwards. Bringing marble and sandstone from Rajasthan and 150 stone sculptors and artists from Gujarat and Agra, the temple was zealously rebuilt by devout Jain traders some 50 years ago. The temple complex provides accommodation and food for visiting Jain pilgrims. The trust has built a water tank for the village and also maintains cows and buffaloes.

This peaceful oasis built with much love and devotion is not be missed whenever in Telangana and also the nearby Sri Someshwara Temple which is both a living temple and an ASI museum.


Author – Zehra Chhapiwala

She can be reached at

Kaman Pandigai

Lovely blossoming mango flowers are his lovely arrows,

                               Kinsuka is the bow and black bees its string.

                               Bright moon is his imperial canopy,

                               And the spring breeze is mighty elephant.

                               Cuckoos sing like minstrels,

                               Behold ! He has conquered the worlds.

                               May that victorious Kama shower benefaction on all

– Kalidasa in Ritusamhara

Vasant or the season spring has been the muse of many poets and is considered as the king of seasons; Rituraj. For when else is the air redolent of the fragrance of flowers, for when else is the breeze so cool, for when else does everything seem so pleasant.

Vasant in Indian epics has been depicted as one of accompanying mates of Kama Dev, the God of love who with his bow of sugarcane and string of bees aims sweet arrows of Ashoka flowers, mango flowers and blue lotus towards unsuspecting mortals inflicting them with wounds of deep passion. Therefore the onset of Vasant or spring is celebrated all across the country.

In South India and Tamil Nadu in particular, Vasant is identified with the legend of Kama Dahanam and celebrated as Kaman Pandigai (The Festival of Kama Deva). The legend has been described in various Puranas and also by Kalidas in Kumarasambhava. There are two important places that are identified with this legend. One is Manmatha Tank near Virupaksha Temple of Hampi in Karnataka and the other is Sri Veeratteswarar Temple in Korukkai city of Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu

Manmatha Tank of Virupaksha Temple in Hampi. Picture credit: Jitu Mishra

Legend of Kama Dahanam

This episode is intertwined with Girija Kalyana, the marriage of Shiva and Parvati / Girija. The story goes, after the death of Sati, Shiva decides to forsake everything and become a sanyasi. He goes to a desolate forest near a cremation ground and goes deep into meditation. The heat from his meditation is disturbing the Devas but it is a minor irritant in front of the problem named Trakasura whose death will come only at the hands of the son of Shiva. Meanwhile, Sati is reborn as Parvati, the daughter of the King of mountains, Himavan. Aware of her destiny, she begins her penance to have Shiva as her husband from a tender age.

Indra, worried of the fate of Devalok, approaches Brahma who placates him by informing him of Parvati and her penance and asks him to arrange for Parvati to wait on Shiva whilst he is meditating. Days pass but Shiva does not even notice Parvati lest falling in love with her. The impatient Indra summons Kama Dev, the Lord of love to induce lust in Shiva.

Kama though fearful of Shiva’s angst but knowing that his act will benefit the world calls on Vasant and stocks up on his flower tipped arrows and leaves to face Shiva. On reaching, Vasant turns the desolate forest into a grove with sweet smelling flowers and singing birds. Parvati watches in awe while Kama aims his arrow and shoots inducing lust but Shiva being the ultimate Yogi controls his lust that turns into rage. He opens his third eye and reduces Kama to ashes.

The place from where Kama aims his arrow is the Veeratteswarar Temple of Korukkai and here Shiva is worshipped as Kama Dahana Moorthy. It is one among the Ashta Veerattanam, eight places where Shiva is supposed to have exhibited his valour.

Kama also known as Manmatha shooting a love arrow at Shiva. This is a part of the panel depicting Girija Kalayana episode on the ceiling of the Virupaksha Temple in Hampi. The murals are one of the finest examples of Vijayanagar paintings. Picture credit: Jitu Mishra
According to the Sthala Purana of Virupaksha Temple, this tank is exactly where Manmatha fell after being reduced to ashes. T

On seeing the image of Sati in Parvati, Shiva’s joy knows no bounds and he immediately decides to marry her. Meanwhile, Rati on being informed of her husband’s fate come running to Shiva and pleads him to restore Kama as he was only doing his duty. Shiva relents and says – Kama will be restored on the day he marries Parvati but only in spirit. He will remain ananga (without physical form) to all except Rati. Only she will be able to see him in his physical form while he will remain invisible to others. Thus, the God of love works unseen and unheard!

The underlying philosophy behind resurrecting Kama Dev in spirit form is to assert that love in its truest form goes beyond the confines of the physical self and manifests in spirit. The day Shiva burnt Manmatha was the full moon day of Phalgun, therefore the holi bonfire represents the burning of pride and desires.

Kaman Pandigai

The advent of Vasant in Tamil Nadu begins with Pongal festivities where sugarcane plays an important part symbolizing bountiful produce and also Kama deva, the God of Love. The season spans the 3 months of Thai, Maasi and Panguni of Tamil calendar which corresponds to Makara, Magh and Phalgun months of Hindu calendar. Vasanthotsava or Manmadotsava consists of celebrations on pournami of all the three months

Sri Andal, one of the Azhwar saints of Vaishnava tradition, after a month long fast to be one with her Lord Ranganatha, decides to worship Manmatha throughout the month of Thai. In the verses of Nachiyar Thiru Mozhi, she talks of how to worship the god of love so that he helps her in uniting with her Lord. She can be called Meera Bai of South!

Given below are verses with translation taken from the book ‘Nalayira Divya Prabandam’ Four Thousand Hymns of Twelve Azhwars and commentary by Dr S Jagathratchagan. English rendered from ‘The Sacred Book’ by Sri Rama Bharati. Pictures courtesy: Balaji Srinivasan

Sri Andal in one of the verses offers Manmatha, Surava Kodi (Makara Dhwaja), Thuraga (horses), chauri bearers and sugarcane bow in order to please him. The above sketch is an artists rendition of the verse. The sun above is the symbol of Mkarasankranti, first day of the month of Thai. Sketch artist: Balaji Srinivasan

The very famous Thai Pusam festival commemorating the legend of Parvathi giving ‘Vel’ (spear) to Muruga is also celebrated during the Tamil month of Thai. It is celebrated in all countries where Tamil diaspora resides in large numbers and in some countries it is a national holiday!

An artists rendition of Kama Dahanam episode. Sketch artist: Balaji Srinivasan

But the festival that generally corresponds to Holi in the Tamil Calendar is Maasi Magam. The pournami of the month of Maasi when the star of Maagam is at the highest point in the sky. On this night Kaman Koothu is performed.

Tamil Nadu has various folk theatre practices for different occasions and it is called Koothu. Kaman Koothu or Kaman Nadagam is performed to commemorate the event of Kama Dahanam and narrates his story of supreme sacrifice for the greater good of the world. It begins with the marriage of Rati and Manmatha.

A mound is created and a pole in installed which is decorated with sugarcane, leaves and flowers to symbolize Manmatha. He is invoked in an abstract form.

 A priest performs the wedding between the pictures of Rathi and Manmatha. Here children are seen playing the protaganists

After the marriage, the couple goes around the village aiming arrows at each other which are mostly made from Oleander stems (Arali Poo Chedi in Tamil). An accompanying part sings ballads that are based on a dialogue between Rati and Manmatha. One interesting thing to note here is though there are references to Kaman Koothu in Sangam era epic, Silappadikaram, the ballads sung presently are called Lavani. An influence of the rule of Marathas in Thanjavur most likely.

After many exchanges between the spouses, Manmatha aims his arrow at Shiva and the enraged God burns him. Rathi expresses her pain through laments (sung by the accompanying party) and pleads Shiva to bring back her husband or kill her too so that she can join him in death. Finally Shiva marries Parvathi and restores Kama in his spirit form.

This Koothu was performed for 3 nights in succession earlier but now it is performed on one night only.

Kaman Koothu renders poignancy to the celebrations where people see their favourite God being burnt. Knowing that he will be resurrected soon, it renders a solemn air to the  festival that is otherwise marked by much fanfare in other parts of the country. Same country, same season, same festival yet a different legend and way of celebration!

The celebrations continue with Panguni Uthiram. Panguni is the last month of Tamil year and Uthiram is the star which is at its highest point in the sky during the pournami. Panguni Uthiram is the day when Shiva got married to Parvati and Manmatha was resurrected. This day of love and romance is celebrated throughout Tamil Nadu and adjacent states with the wedding of deities.

This is followed by a float festival where Utsava Moorthis (idols used during processions) are decked up and taken to the temple tank for a joyride. These celebrations are uniform whether it is a Vaishnava temple or a Shaivite or a Muruga temple

Thus, love in its various manifestations is celebrated in the form of Kama Dev throughout the three months of spring when the land is at its fragrant and colourful best!

The cover picture is the depiction of Vasanthotsav as seen on the ceiling of Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Kanchipuram. Picture courtesy: Balaji Srinivasan

All the pictures of Kaman Koothu used in the post are from the performance staged at Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu. The pictures have been clicked by: Sudarsanrao Bhoware


Author – Zehra Chhapiwala with inputs from Mr. Balaji Srinivasan

Zehra Chhapiwala can be contacted at and Balaji Srinivasan can be contacted at




Shigmotsav of Goa – Celebrating Life and Land

As the winter gets ready to make an exit from the land of Govapuri, when the fields are ready with the season’s harvest, the hard working peasant community gears up for the indigenous Shigmo festival. The festival that can be called as an exclusive legacy of Goa and its neighboring areas is the festival that celebrates the joy of harvest in various ways. 

Every village in Goa has its own way of celebrating the onset of spring. While in some parts of Goa, Shigmo begins on ninth day of Falgun month, in some parts it begins after the Holi or Gulalutsav. 

Some of the common customs associated with Shigmo are Maand davrap (literally means keeping/ initiating the Maand). Maand is the traditional space where the villagers gather and initiate the festival. It begins with invocation to the local deities. A group of men invoke the village deity and beating of dhol and taso, the indigenous musical instruments is initiated at the same time. The group then goes around the houses of the village as they sing and dance. This group and its processional marching dance is known as Romata Mell. Various households offer them coconuts, rice and other locally grown products. Their songs contain the social, political and satirical nuances of Goan rural life.

Shigmo Maand
Invoking the village deity at the Maand. Picture credit – Vinayak Khedekar
Maand at Barcem village of Canacona taluka. Picture credit – Soiru Velip

This ceremonial dance-cum-procession is known as Romat in the north Goa and Mell in the central Goa. Devotees dance and march with huge banners, flags, ceremonial umbrellas, festooned sticks and batons towards the temple of the presiding deity or to the house of the landlord to the reverberating beats of Dhol, Taso and Cymbals.

Below are a few glimpses of festooned sticks and batons carried during the Romata Mell and a video of the dance as seen during the Shigmo parade in Ponda


Pictures and video credit – Zehra Chhapiwala

As mentioned earlier, every village has its own custom associated with this festival. Many places have the tradition of Gade. It literally means players. There are men assigned in every household who are supposed to be Gade during Shigmo. They get into some kind of trance and go to the crematorium to bring the remnants of corpses. This is supposed to be a prayer to the Goddess of crematorium, locally called as Masundi Devata. This custom takes places during the day time in some villages like Bokadbag from Ponda taluka, while Cudnem and Sal villages from Bicholim taluka have this custom at night. The custom has its own rules which are strictly followed. Nobody is supposed to click these events, neither anyone is allowed to switch on the lights. In some places the Gade gets annoyed if anyone wears or has on his / her person leather products.

Other than this mysterious experience, Shigmo is the time to witness most of the folk dances of Goa. Goff, Morulo, Toniya Mell, Ghodemodni etc are some of the dances performed by males in various places of Goa during Shigmo. Goff is a very difficult yet a very colourful and beautiful dance form. It involves tying and untying of knots of clothes tied on wood as the dancers dance. Morulo is performed in Sarvan village of Bicholim taluka. It is a dance form that reflects the movements of peacock. Toniya Mell is similar to dandiya but is performed by only males. 

Villagers doing Toniya Mell. Picture credit – Vinayak Khedekar

A glimpse of the Ghodemodini dance as seen in Shigmo Parade in Ponda.

Video credit – Zehra Chhapiwala

Ghodemodni is performed in Bicholim and Sattari taluka. It is a warrior dance form where males dress up as war going soldiers and dance by wearing the wooden horses. The dance form is extremely vigorous and energetic in its nature.  

ghodemodni original (1)
Ghodemodini dance performers. Picture credit – Vinayak Khedekar

Females have minimum involvement in the festival. Their role is restricted to honoring and offering the gifts to the romata mells. Below is a traditional dance performed by village women as seen in the Shigmo Parade in Ponda. 

Video credit – Zehra Chhapiwala

Folk theatre is also a significant part of Shigmo celebrations in Goa. In various places, people dress up like mythical characters and join the romata mells. In some villages modern plays are also performed in recent times. Sattari taluka has a unique tradition of performing Ranmaalem during Shigmo. It is a folk theatre form which begins at night and ends with the breaking of dawn. Human curtain is a special feature of this form. The human curtain acts like chorus. The actors perform two kinds of characters called Songa and Dhonga. Songa portray the mythological characters and Dhonga reflect the characters from regular life.

Other rituals practiced in Sattari during Shigmo include Chorotsav, Mhaasti and Karvalyo. Chorotsav represents the legend of villagers who were killed while returning from cities because people thought they were thieves. The villagers believe that it was the mistake of their ancestors and thus to remember them they perform the ritual which includes burying of a few villagers in the ground after ritual worship mostly close to the temple ground. A few are buried while a few lie around acting dead. The people who play this part are carefully selected and trained prior to the ritual. Though this is not a traditional part of Shigmo, its occurrence co-inciding the Shigmo has made it an integral part of Shigmo festivities.

getting buried during Chorotsav. Picture credit – Soniya Sabnis

Ritual of Mhaasti involves worship of Mahasati. Two young boys dress up like women and portray the wives of the people who were killed mistakenly as thieves. The chorus sings the sad story of how they were killed during the Mhaasti ritual. This ritual too goes on till the dawn. At the end of the ritual, meal is served to villagers which is called as Baravya jevan, which means the food served on the twelfth day rituals of dead.

Mhasti ritual. Picture credit – author Tanvi Bambolka

Karvalyo, traditionally was celebrated to honour Sati and though the practice no more exists the ritual does. It has metamorphosed into a celebration of womanhood. It is celebrated mostly on the third or fourth day of Holi Pournima. During the 16th century, Afonso de Albuquerque Constantino de Braganza was against the evil practice of sati, even though unofficially sati continued to be prevalent in Goa.

In the villages of Sattari and Bicholim, people welcome the karvalyo by first washing their feet. The term karvalyo refers to two boys aged between 10 and 12 years, dressed in sarees and ornaments with heir heads decorated with garlands made from crossandra flowers. The two youngsters are dressed in the temple, made to sit on the shoulders of two persons and are then taken to various places as part of a procession. The procession is accompanied by a group of folk artists that continuously beat the dhol, taso and kasale and sings folksongs called sakarat’. The two karvalyo represent the Sateri and Kelbai goddesses. People believe that their visit brings good fortune.

 Thus, Shigmo consists of various rituals, customs and performances which reflect the beliefs, legends and lifestyle of agrarian communities of Goa. It is a festival of simple people believing in natural and supernatural elements. It also reflects how rural Goans revere their past and find ways of celebrating it. The fact that these rituals and customs are still practiced in today’s globalized and modernized world, show the affinity that villagers share with their traditions.

 In the main cities and town of Goa, the Shigmo parade is held in which village committees participate and showcase their regional dances. It is a showpiece event like Carnival. The urban population and tourists are often under the wrong impression that Shigmo is what is this parade with floats and various competitions. But it is only a hybridized form of the authentic festival. The actual Shigmo and various customs related to it can be witnessed only in the villages of Goa where the real Goa lives.

Author – Tanvi Kamat Bambolkar

She can be reached at

Bikaner – Town Of A Thousand Splendid Mansions

 Way back in 1990s, when I first heard about the magnificence of Havelis or traditional Indian mansions of Bikaner  I  nourished a subtle desire to visit in person and appreciate the impressive architecture of the Havelis. The newspaper feature articles that used to appear in the intervening period until my first visit to Bikaner circa 2000 CE could not satisfy my visual appetite that could be whetted only by a visit. . My first visit to the Havelis in Bikaner town and its agglomerations was facilitated by Tourism Writers Guild whose dynamic associates viz. Shri Updhyan Chandra Kochar, who is no more now and Zia-ul-Hasan Quadri with several others had organized a Heritage Walk in the old sectors of the city covering only a few major Havelis. At that time, it was cloudy and digital cameras had not come in vogue, which could have given considerable advantage to accurately record the beauty of the mansions of yore. I managed a few clicks but returned dissatisfied. However, a couple of years later, the situation came to be realized in an entirely diverse and more advantageous manner as the weather was cool-warm with a bright sunshine. Secondly I was equipped with a Nikon D800 and Kodak Easy Share Z990. During the five day’s stay in the City, I could thrice sneak into the old and narrow alleys to view Havelis as closely as could be managed, which were created by the collective wisdom of reputed native architects known as Suthar, stone carvers (Pashaan Silpi) and painters (Usta and the Chungar/चूनगर) whose names were assiduously listed by Mr Quadri during research.


The splendid Rampurion ki Haveli is the most well-known architectural wonder  ever created in Bikaner. In fact, it is a cluster of Havelis, which the Department of Archaeology of the Govt. of Rajasthan has declared as protected under the relevant Act. The fascia of the mansions, situated in narrow lanes bears ornamental carving depicting floral and animate objects up to a height of three storeys. The front portion of all these Havelis was laid in red sand stone, which was quarried in abundance at Dulmera in the erstwhile princely state of Bikaner.


The city is situated amidst sand dunes, interspersed by several lakes full of sweet rainwater that collects as runoff -such as at Gajner and Kolayat (22 and 34 kilometers away on the road to Jaisalmer, respectively), an abundance of thorny vegetation of the arid zone as well as large shady trees such as Neem , which are particularly protected by the locals. Sometimes, it rained in torrents in the Bikaner region but the weather might run dry for several years at a stretch causing scarcity of water. All water holes run dry  offering an opportunity to clean the mud from the bottom and strengthen the embankments. However, ground water aquifers are accessed to meet the growing needs of the people for potable water and keeping the population in comfort zone.  


In the regions that sustain brackish groundwater, the people have devised innovative ways to store sweet rain water in the Kunds and masonry tanks. The Tankas and Kunds were constructed with stone/bricks set in lime mortar. The materials naturally keepthe stored water cool and acid-free for a long period……sometimesfor three years with minimum micro-organism causing parasitic diseases. Nowadays, many industrial units have been set up in the district, particularly on the Sri Ganganagar road, which hasenhanced the need for water. It will be difficult to be able to meet the demand as well as manage disposal of waste and toxic water released by these newly set up units. 

 Shri Quadri’s listing of Havelis or old mansion of Bikaner and its agglomerations makes an impressive number -1003, which is amazing in itself and indicates the great effort and time devoted by both -the builders and the designer architects, in addition to the crafts persons that could be involved with the creation of the architectural splendor, which has become not only a window for the world to depict the ingenuity and standards of workmanship of Indians artisans but also as rich source material for study and research to the students of the Schools of Architecture and Design. A close inspection of the fine carving on stone and wood, the methods of cladding and fixing of stones, juxtaposing of the carved pieces and brackets without a visual indication of the glue, creation of frescoes on wall, niches and roof and the layout can leave one stunned for a while.  

Every Haveli had one or several internal courtyards, curved, narrow and vestibule type entrance whereas the Nauhras (Office space, parking- cum- godown) or business houses attached with godowns had a wide, arched gate with heavy door sets made of wood. One wonders at the acumen of the architects in the use of geometry and mathematical calculation with native instruments applied to the aesthetic look of havelis. The layout of the Havelis and positioning of windows and doors afforded complete privacy to the occupants who could perform mundane activities without being noticed from outside. Not much wood was used in the Havelis but wherever it was, great wisdom and appropriate methodology was used  Window-panes were deliberately kept small-sized, latticed or fixed with Jalis at certain places for the outer windows and, of course, door sets, lintels and the jambs were studded with inlay as well as suspended or shelved motifs. From the year 1860s to 1930s, the wealthy Seths or merchants  had commissioned construction of the Havelis and were visionaries in a sense that they loved revival of several art forms and splendor in stone inspired by forms in nature –particularly the wild plants, that was capable of enriching the ambient space of Mohallas . Frescoes depicting contemporary events, episodes from Hindu pantheon and mythology, native life and other decorative motifs within the interiors provide cultural ambiance to life of the people. The architects of the Havelis were fully aware about the fine rules of utilization of space in a creative and aesthetic manner .

It is regrettable that nowadays many Havelis have become victims of  air pollution loaded with toxic fumes containing lead particles and oxides of sulphur. Innumerable auto-rickshaws that ply within the narrow lanes throughout the day are the major culprits. These vehicles run on diesel fuel and ooze black smoke from the exhausts causing respiratory distress to residents and visitors. I am not aware if a policy of controlling pollution of the air in the city exists or the district administration is alive to the problem to regulate the type of vehicles or the fuel that can be used within the city. It is high time the district administration thinks of introducing innovative ways of ferrying passengers by mini-vehicles that may run on battery power.


In the area of Taj trapezium at Agra, these types of battery-run vehicles have given some respite from air pollution. The noxious gases that come out from the exhausts of diesel-run vehicles get mixed with small amount of moisture already present in the atmosphere and transforms into sulphuric and nitric acids, and then, comes into contact with red sand stone having fine carvings. It reacts with the stone and causes slow decay of the surface of the stone disintegrating the texture of the stone. Within a few years the cladding of red sand stone on a building becomes disfigured and weak.

Therefore, with great urgency the suspended particulate level in the air as well as the content of noxious gases need to be controlled as  an essential measure for preserving the architectural heritage of Bikaner.

Bikaner State has preserved the old Rajput political, cultural and artistic traditions, completely unadulterated, until sixty years ago; and even today very many of them are still alive. It is true that Bikaner is not so well known to tourists and scholars as other Rajput states like Jaipur, Jodhpur or Udaipur, which can boast of a more attractive scenery and of greater economic resources. But the very remoteness of Bikaner has preserved the heritage of the past much better than in the more accessible states. The heritage is great and can well compare with that of her more fortunate neighbours and seldom surpasses it.

–‘The Art and Architecture of Bikaner State’, 1950 by Hermann Goet

However, on page 84 of the book mentioned above Hermann noted: ‘The Banya houses of the last half century imitate unsuccessfully the over elaborate and somewhat petty exuberance of the Jodhpur mansions of the middle 19th century. At present the tradition is rapidly degenerating. For the complete breakdown of artistic taste in India during the Victorian period with all its fondness for the discarded tinsel of the West has now reached the mercantile class of Bikaner, and houses are decorated with copies of pseudo-Gothic scroll work and grotesque ‘portraits’ of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, etc. In the meantime modern architecture is penetrating into the new quarters of the town which are being laid out by the government.

The historical havelis of Bikaner have been selected for inclusion in the 2012 World Monument Watch.


Author – Ranbir Singh Phogat

He can be reached at

Karkala – On a Jaina Trail in Karnataka

On a full moon night of Kartik month, Chandragupta Maurya saw 16 dreams that left him disturbed and he sought the advice of his spiritual teacher, Acharya Bhadrabahu. The Acharya was the last Shruta Kevalin (all knowing by hearsay) of Jainism before it split into two sects. In one of the 16 dreams, Chandragupta saw a twelve-headed serpent approaching which the Acharya interpreted as the approaching of a 12 year long period of famine and death. Worried about the survival of his Sangha monks, Acharya Bhadrabahu along with Chandragupta left for land south of Vindhyas. On reaching Chandragiri hill in Karnataka, Bhadrabahu felt his end was near so he undertook Sallekhana (Jain ritual of fasting unto death) instructing his disciples to spread the religion. This was 3rd century BCE and the monks traveled in different directions making Karnataka an important Jaina stronghold.

Jainism in Karnataka flourished under various dynasties and a high concentration of Jaina monuments including shrines called Basadis and large Gommata statues are found in the state. Recently, on a trip to Mangalore, I decided to go on a day trip to the medieval Jain center of Karkala in Udupi district.

Although the exact source of how the name ‘Karkala’ came into being is unknown, the most probable answer lies in its geology, as the area is abundant in black flint rocks i.e. Kari Kala which later became Karkala.

The history of Karkala dates back to 1st century CE when Pandyan kings ruled Tulunadu from their capital Barkur. As per “Aliya Kattu”, the law of inheritance of Tulunadu, the next-in-line to the throne is the king’s nephew (sister’s son) and not his own son. Following the tradition, Bhutala Pandya came to rule Tulunadu. In due course, the throne passed to King Vidyumna Pandya who was reluctant to let the throne go to his nephew and instead divided his kingdom into twelve parts – each for his twelve sons. He installed his seven sons as “Hegdes” of Kapu, Ermala, Mudradi, Kantavara, Kapittu, Panambur and Kuthethur, three sons as “Odeyars” of Padubidre, Ernadu and Katpady, and two of them as “Ballals” of Kulur and Irvathur. Of the above, Kapittu in particular is directly related to the history of Karkala.

Kapittu Hedge was drunk on his power and often troubled the people of his dominion. These worried people approached the powerful king of Hombuchapura for help. Seeing that the Kapittu Hegde continued to ignore his kind advices, the enraged king of Hombuchapura attacked and defeated the army of Kapittu Hedge and thus Karkala came under the Hombucha kingdom. Various edicts found around Karkala speak of the region being under Kadamba, Chalukya and Alupa kings in the past. It is said that the ‘Santarasas’ of Hombucha had matrimonial relations with the Alupas of Mangalore. The Santarasas of Hombucha established their rule in Tulunadu after the fall of Alupas around 11th century CE. The direct rule of Bhairava Pandyas (They were called so due to their strong belief in Bhairava Padmavatidevi) over Karkala started somewhere between the end of 12th century CE and the start of 13th century CE. Karkala became a glorious and prosperous city during this time and it could be termed as its golden period.

Along with being a metropolis of those times, having separate residential colonies for each class, schools for music and painting, gymnasia, military schools and large trade centres, Karkala made unforgettable impression in the field of sculpture and architecture as well. Karkala has a total of 18 big and small basadis and a world famous monolithic idol of Bahubali. Out of the 18 basadis, Neminatha basadi at Hiriyangady, Chaturmukha basadi, Shravana basadi and Kere basadi are architecturally more important as these were built under royal patronage. The biggest advantage of Karkala is that the Nellikaru (a variety of granite) rock, perfect for stone sculpture and architecture is found in abundance here.

The most important landmark of Karkala is the Gomateshwara monolith statue that was installed by King Vira Pandya. He was a philosopher and influenced by the teachings of Muni Kalyanakeerti. The King believed that spreading his compassionate religion in the world is the truest way to attain good life after death. Accordingly, he took up the task to install the idol of Gomateshwara after consulting his Guru Lalitakeerti Acharya Mahaswami. A 41.5 feet monolithic statue was carved out by hundreds of sculptors within a year. The piece of rock out of which the statue was carved, was driven uphill on a wagon with 20 wheels with the help of several elephants and countless workers and heaving of pulleys and ropes. The statue was carved from the rock under the shade of a pandal (cloth canopy). Happy with the outcome, the king honored the sculptors with gold.


An auspicious muhurat was fixed by the astrologer and invitations were sent in all the directions. The statue was installed on the hill of Karkala on 13th of February in 1432 CE in front of guests of honor including King Deva Raya II of Vijayanagara Empire. King Vira Pandya’s fame spread in all the directions after the grand ceremony! He also installed a beautiful Brahma stambha in front of the statue later in 1436 CE.



Kannada inscriptions



Yaksha atop a Manastambha



Statues of Tirthankars placed behind the Gomateshwara statue


Kere Basadi is called so due to being situated in middle of a pond (kere) was built by Pandyappodeya VI in 1545. This Basadi too like most other in Karkala is a Chaturkukha Basadi. On the four sides, it has idols of Mahaveera, Adinatha, Chandranatha and Shantinatha. Although I could not make it to the basadi, heard that the pond has now shrunk and an approach road has been made whereas in earlier times, the pond was much bigger and the basadi was accessible only by a boat.


Kere basadi. Picture courtesy –


Chaturmukha Basadi is probably the most important and also the most visited of all. This basadi situated at Karishila Betta opposite Gomata Betta was built in 1586 CE by King Bhairavendra II. Being Chaturmukha, it has one life sized idol represented in three fold, making it a total of 12 idols. It has 40 pillars inside and 68 outside making it a total of 108 pillars. It is said that, the king had a very ambitious plan to build a 3 storeyed basadi and then build a connecting bridge to Gomatabetta. The 100+ pillars were built to support the ground floor structure. However, the king died as soon as the ground floor was completed and the rest of the plan was abandoned. One can have a clear view of the upper half of Gomata Betta from this Basadi.


Chaturmukha Basadi as seen from Gomata Betta






Some other places of heritage in and around Karkala include the Neminathaswamy Basadi, the 15th century Venkataramana Temple, Shri Mahalingeshwara temple, Anantashayana Vishnu temple which was originally built as Anantanatha Jain basadi, Kalikamba temple, Karkala Jamiya masjid built during Tipu Sultan’s reign and the 300 year old Atthur church.

How to reach: Closest major railway stations are Udupi (38 kms) and Mangalore Junction (50 kms). By road, it is most convenient to hire a cab from these two places to Karkala for a day trip.

Best time to visit Karkala: It is warm in Karkala throughout the year but December to February is a rather pleasant time.

Author – Onkar Tendulkar

He can be reached at

Travel Shot – Cheriyal Art of Telangana

It was that time of the evening when all had gathered to listen to stories. The stories of ancestors beyond what granny knew or could remember, stories of heroes that made them proud, stories that they would sleep with and dream about. Today, the Kunapulis were coming to perform Markandeya Puranam for the Padmasalis and the show will go on anywhere from 3 nights to 20 nights. Later, the Dakkalis will come to perform Jamba Puranam for the Madigas and this cycle of performances will continue till genealogies of 7 local castes (the barber, toddy tapper, washerman, fisherman, leather worker, weaver and farmer) have been recited by bards from their sub-caste.


The perfomers paraphernalia consisted of large scrolls that were 3 feet wide and 40 to 60 feet long on which the stories were painted and sometimes colourful masks for the days when story telling would turn into play acting. Over the years these wandering minstrels diversified their repertoire and included stories from the other Puranas and epics educating the unlettered rustic folk.


As a preparation, the story tellers would go to the ‘Nakaashs’ and recite their story that would be painted scene by scene, character by character onto a scroll. The earliest reference to this tradition dates back to the 12th century; the Kakatiya times where Ekamranatha in his literary text Pratapa Charitram indicates the presence of 1500 painter families living in and around Warangal. Even today the Nakaashs live in Cheriyal, a small village with winding alleys about 85 kms from Warangal city.


A non-descript village like any other in rural India and crowded with houses that has pretty wooden doors, Cheriyal is easy to find but not the Nakaashs. It took a lot of asking around and negotiating through narrow streets where one led to the other like a never ending maze to finally reach the humble house of an artist. Once inside his living room cum showroom cum godown, Mallesham carefully unwrapped the colourful frames of Cheriyal paintings depicting both the deities and the everyday life of people in the region.



The processes still remain the same wherein the canvas is prepared after coating and drying a handwoven cloth (mostly khadi cotton) with  boiled rice starch, white clay, gum and boiled tamarind seed paste in layers. Every coating is allowed to dry thoroughly before the next is applied. When the canvas is dry and hard, an outline of the painting is made using indigo on an essentially red background and later colours are filled in. The colours used are natural derived mostly from seeds, flowers and stones like black from lamp soot mixed with gum from the thirumany tree, white from sea shells, red from tamarind seeds, brown from geru. The frame is marked by a floral border indicating the end of a scene on a scroll. Now, it is merely ornamentation as the scrolls have miniaturized into frames meant for hanging on a wall. Yet the scenes retain a strong local flavor as it follows the tradition of oral story telling.

Celebrating the ‘Bonalu’ festival which is unique to Telangana just like Cheriyal art is

Drying on the sidelines were masks of gaily adorned men and women of Telangana along with an occasional parrot and cow. The masks, made from coconut shells, are layered with wood powder, gum and tamarind paste over a khadi cloth before finally painting them. From face fitted to fist fitting, the masks are available in many sizes. 

The masks in various stages of preparation



But if you thought the delight ends here then you have not seen the colourful dolls yet. Made with the same raw materials as masks are made of, these dolls are a lilliput version of the performers of yore. Relegated to the role of producing souvenirs, this unique art got a shot in the arm when it received a GI tag.


The traditions do not remain nor can we hit the rewind button but isn’t it wonderful that the artists have given us a chance to revisit those times. It was heartening to see a complex built on the periphery of the village which is not just used as a centre for showcasing and selling the Cheriyal art but also as a centre for teaching the art to those interested.



Author – Zehra Chhapiwala

She can be reached at



Mawphlang Sacred Forest – A Photo Story

Its no secret that India’s northeast is treasure-trove of many fascinating places. Ranging from varied natural wonders, age old archeological remains, living cultural sites of various tribes to religious places of mythological importance, India’s incredible north-east has it all! While on my trip to Meghalaya, I got an opportunity to visit one such interesting place – the Mawphlang sacred forest or Lawkyntang in Khasi. It is approximately 27 kilometers away from the state capital – Shillong.  Local Khasi people of Meghalaya, although now converted to Christianity have always remained nature worshippers. An important aspect of Khasi culture is their reverence for sacred forests. These sacred forests have been preserved and nurtured by the Khasi tribals for ages through strict religious sanctions.


The road from Shillong to Mawphlang is quite scenic, winding its way through pretty hamlets along the road. After driving for about 40 minutes, the landscape dramatically changed, and I could see green hillocks all around covered with tiny green grass and a dense forest popping out from nowhere! The surrounding area is bereft of trees so this forest looks like an oasis in the grassy desert.


We took a local guide with us and entered the forest through a small entrance formed by the natural canopies of Rhododendron trees. Just at the entrance, there were a few menhirs; our guide quickly told us that the standing menhir signifies a male while a horizontal stone slab supported on small stones signifies a female.  He was quick to tell us about the ‘strict’ rules of sacred forest that scared us a bit. One can sit on the female menhir for some rest but no one can or should climb a male menhir; the person who dared do so would get elephantitis! Not sure whether he was joking, we reluctantly nodded and entered the forest.

What we saw at the entrance was just a trailer, as inside the forest there were an infinite number of menhirs and funerary mounds / Dolmens, housing relics of the long dead ancestors. Menhirs were often erected in the memory of the dead elderly people who were highly respected in the society for their knowledge. But one can also find other menhirs, smaller in size, perhaps used for sitting while performing ceremonies and some used as platforms for ritualistic animal sacrifices. Khasi tribals visit these on many occasions but especially before going to war. 

Read more about menhirs and dolmens here

The male menhir



Menhir used as a platform for animal sacrifice



A group of monoliths



A Dolmen




The forest seemed more of an overgrown megalithic site teeming with Menhirs than a sacred forest. But for the Khasis, the nature spirits and their ancestors are sacred


Once inside the forest, we were flabbergasted by what we saw. Such a beautiful sight that it could compete with best of the Hollywood movie sets! We were surrounded by so many different kinds of trees and plants as if it was a live botany lab! The forest got denser as we went further. Owing to the density of the foliage, sunlight could hardly enter except filtered through the thickets of leaves and branches making the gloomy interior of the forest even more mysterious.



As we walked on the humus carpeted soft forest floor, our guide started giving us information and the scientific names of the plant species we were encountering along our path. Many species of parasitic Orchids, Rhododendrons, and mushrooms of various types could be spotted in abundance all around us. Other plant species that are common in the forest are Rhus Chinensis (Chinese Sumac or Nutgall), Schima Wallichi (Needlewood tree), Lithocarpus dealbatus, Engelher diaspicata (introduced by our guide as butterfly plant as when ruffled, its dried leaves appear like flying butterflies), Myrica Esculenta (box myrtle or Bayberry) and various Lichens. However the star attraction in the forest is the Castanopsis Kurzii trees as well as Khasi pine trees that form the dense canopy and also acts as a host to parasites like orchids, ferns, mushrooms, pipers, climbers and variety of mosses.











There are so many unusual things in the forest fallen all around that we were tempted to pick them up and take them back as souvenirs especially the seeds of Elaeocarpus Ganitrus or as we know them commonly; Rudraksh. Why not- anyway it is just lying around; I thought. But our guide warned me not to take anything that belongs here outside the forest as these forests are protected by spirits locally called as U Ryngkew U Basa. These are believed to be sent by the Gods to protect the forest from human abuse. To convince me, the guide narrated a past incident when the army officers tried to take out wooden logs from the forest. But the truck carrying the logs refused to move from its place until the logs were unloaded and put back into the forest.

Carrying any of the forests’ belongings outside is believed to anger the Gods and the protective spirit here, which results in a poisonous snake being spotted by miscreant resulting in injury or death. Good behavior and no ill intentions while entering the forest is rewarded by being protected by a tiger or a leopard! Call me superstitious or whatever but not wanting to hurt their sentiments I dropped everything I had collected before leaving the forest. Thank God our guide at least allowed me to take the pictures I had clicked inside in my camera to be taken outside. Jokes apart, I have never seen something this awesome in my life before. I strongly suggest everyone to come here and visit this stunning biological museum of the Khasis whenever you make it to Meghalaya.


It is heartening  how nature holds utmost importance in Khasi culture and despite modernization and rampant abuse of nature elsewhere, these forests remain protected by men for whatever reasons. The way these beliefs are deeply embedded in the minds of the people truly speaks how constructive religious sanctions can be at times resulting in the continual development of a responsible society. Some traditions are worth keeping and following


Free and wild growing roots of the trees have spread far and wide for there is no human to interfere here


How to reach: Hiring a taxi from Shillong (27 kilometers) to reach Mawphlang is the easiest way to reach. Shillong is less than 2 hours by road from Guwahati – the biggest city in Northeast with regular domestic flights to all major cities in India.

Where to stay: Although staying in Shillong is the most convenient option, a more adventurous traveller can opt to stay in the traditional Khasi huts constructed in Mawphlang village. Adventurous for the reason considering its remote location overlooking a valley, electricity is often a luxury here with not even small shops anywhere closeby!

Best time to travel here: Avoid monsoons for obvious reasons! Mawphlang village is also venue to an annual 3 day festival known as the ‘Monolith Festival’ in March.

Author – Onkar Tendulkar

He can be reached at

Sri Surya Pahar: Riddles of an Unwritten Past

The very mention of Sri Surya Pahar generally evokes a sense of doubt and confusion. Most people are unaware of it and even those who know the name find it hard to locate it on a map. The fact that it is one of the oldest and largest archaeological sites providing a vital clue to Assam’s undocumented ancient past matters little when it is not even taught about in local schools. The location also doesn’t help. Goalpara is not a district that generally features on the tourist map of Assam, inspite of it being quiet close to Guwahati and not that hard to reach.

I don’t exactly remember the moment but I first heard about it during my school days although it took several years to make the first visit. Over the subsequent years, more trips to the place followed and with every trip, my fascination for the site deepened, along with my frustration at its obscurity.  I have never seen another tourist out here. The only visitors are local pilgrims, most of whom mistake the Buddhist stupas to be Shivlings.

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An Uncertain History

Like most other archaeological sites in Assam, Sri Surya Pahar has a very unclear history. It is located atop a group of small hillocks not very far from the Brahmaputra. Considering the convenient location, it is not hard to imagine a prosperous port-city in the ancient times around these hills. What we know for sure is that this site contains remains of Hindu, Buddhist, as well as Jain shrines, thus pointing towards an era that has not yet been properly studied or investigated. Buddhist sites are rare in Assam and Jain sites are practically unheard of. So, this makes Sri Surya Pahar a very unique proposition.

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ASI has been conducting excavations intermittently over the last few decades and while a lot has been dug out so far, a lot more is believed to be still under the ground. Looking at the diversity and expanse of the site, it can be guessed that constructions must have taken place over multiple centuries, and represent different eras. In the absence of any solid historical document from those times, one has to take the help of ancient scriptures and some apparent references to the site can be found in a few 9th and 10th century religious texts. Also, these austere votive stupas point to a period of Hinayana prominence. In comparison, Mahayana sects were known to build more elaborate structures but they rose to prominence much later. This inference has led historians to believe that the Buddhist remains here could be as old as 2000 years, thus making them older than the oldest known historical reference to Assam (Gupta Era, 4th-5th Century). While none of these can be verified with complete certainty, it can be concluded that this site had been developed over a significant period of time in the first millennium.

Scattered Ruins

Sri Surya is not just one monument but a cluster of scattered ruins. According to some local myths, the site had 99999 shivlings in its original form. It sounds somewhat similar to that of Unakoti in Tripura which is believed to have one less than 10 million statues. In reality though, some of these are actually stupas while rest of them are indeed shivlings. The largest stupas are located on the western side of the site. Stairs have been built by the authorities and it takes a bit of climbing to reach the more important portions. One must have the willingness to climb all these stairs under blazing sun and spend at least a three hours to fully explore the site. Apart from the stupas, there are also a few unexplained ruins like the remains of a square shaped basement of some structure, which is believed to be a Vihara. There is another square shaped remain on the south-eastern side of the hills which is even harder to explain or predict.

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As far as the Hindu ruins are concerned, they are easily identifiable. There is a devi sculpture with twelve hands on a large rock, which is the primary attraction for the devotees. Various statues and sculptures related to Shiva and Ganesha are all over the site. However, many visiting hermits tend to build temporary structures out there, blocking the view.  This primarily happens during the month of “Magh” (January-February), when a local fair is organized. I tried hard to trace the origin of this fair and as far as I could understand, it started some time during the early 20th century when an ascetic settled here and started the fair as a way of attracting pilgrims.

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So, this year we visited it in February when the colourful local fair was in full swing and in complete contrast with the rest of the ruins. Nowadays it attracts a large number of local visitors and it is a rare form of entertainment for many. This also offers an opportunity for many new age, commercialized holy men to set up their “shops” here for a few days. Some of them could be seen taking residence in some of the caves and consulting the locals on various matters.

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The most puzzling though are the Jain remains. Assam has never really had a serious Jain connection in the past and the only known Jain communities here are the mercantile communities that arrived from Rajasthan in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Jain parts of Sri Surya are located on the South Eastern side of the site and it takes a bit of strenuous climbing through a flight of reasonably steep stairs to reach that part. The artefacts are not very elaborate in these parts. There are a few caves that were Jain meditation spots according to ASI signage. However, locals have a habit of planting flags and applying vermilion without much regard for its history.

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Also, as the name of the place suggests, sun worship should have been a primary aspect of Sri Surya Pahar. None of the major structures and artefacts point to that. It is in fact, hard to say how this place came to be called so. However, one of the excavations resulted in an artefact that to some extent looks like the sun. A small temple has been built to keep it protected but we were told that the original artefact has now been moved inside the museum situated nearby to protect it from damages and a replica is placed inside a newly built temple. But that has not deterred the visitors from gleefully offering prayers in front of the replica.

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Sri Surya remains a mystery, a tantalizing one for the lovers of history and archaeology. Technically it is sort of a missing link that remains hidden in plain sight. It deserves better restoration as well as research because that can clear a lot of doubts and provide a clearer picture about life and times in ancient Assam.

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How to Reach Sri Surya Pahar

It is 124 kms westwards from Guwahati. The nearest big towns are Goalpara and Dudhnoi. As the spot has not been developed as a tourist destination, you are unlikely to find any accommodation or public transport going directly to the point although buses do ply on that route. It is better to have a private vehicle and just follow the map.

Best time to visit Sri Surya

It can be visited anytime but better to go in the winter as the rocky hillocks heat up very easily on a clear day.

Where to stay near Sri Surya

Goalpara district does not have a very developed tourism infrastructure. There are a few small hotels in the nearby Goalpara town but a better idea will be to make a day trip from Guwahati and return by evening.


Author – Jitaditya Narzary

He can be reached here