Mundigada – Your Wanderlust in Kandhamal (Part 2)

When you are at Mundigada you don’t see any glamorous monuments around you. But you hear stories of its hoary past. You are bound to contemplate, is the history of Odisha or India just restricted to the glory of Mughals or Gajapatis…why we don’t hear the stories of unknown India. Here is an attempt!


The Kondhs are a militant tribe and don’t want to interfere in their territory. In the past, they were virtually independent in their mountainous kingdom but also connected by alliances with the ruling chiefs from the plain, especially Ghumsar. But when the chiefs tried to exert their political influence over them, the Kondhs resisted violation which in course of time led to Kondh uprising against the rulers of the plain and the British Raj in the 19th century.






A forgotten chapter in history, the Kondh uprising predated even the much-talked mutiny of 1857.

There are three causes of Kondh uprising.

The first is the tradition of human sacrifices, called Meriah. The Kondhs were first brought to the notice of the British during 1835-37 through the Bhanjas of Ghumsar. In February 1836 the British force for the first time, while ascending the ghats, came to know about the existence of human sacrifice among the Kondhs of the hill tracts of the present-day Kandhamal including Mundigada. The British did not like the barbaric practice and wanted to abolish. But the practice of human sacrifice was the foundation of their socio-religious life. Therefore the British authorities took many cautious steps in dealing with the problems. Interestingly, the officers exerted their influence in making the Kondhs understand the norms of civilised life. They would come in elephants through the dense jungles and crossing several mountains and mountain rivers and assemble in a field at Mundigada to interact with Kondhs.

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It is said that through direct inducements, such as gifts of land, money and cattle, titles and employment in the company service, the Kondhs were influenced. Even they tried to influence the priests of the Kondhs. But all such attempts were miserably failed to produce a due effect on the Kondh tribes. The practice of Meriah was so deep-rooted in Kondh society that any attempt by the British to suppress it created a sharp reaction among the Kondhs.





Kondhs have 84 deities of whom ‘Thadi’ or ‘Teri Penu’ is the supreme. The Kondhs would be united in a ceremony in the worship of this deity. There would be sometime a child with a belief that the earth would become stable and fit for ploughing. Their prosperity would be ensured.

Travel Tips

Mundigada is a small village located in Tumudiband Block of Kandhamal District at a distance of 5 km from Tumidibanda and 50 km from the Subdivisional town of Baliguda. Connected by excellent road and bus service, the state capital of Bhubaneswar is 350 km away from Mundigada. At Mundigada, you can stay at Sathi Ghara Mountain Home, a homestay specially designed for knowledge seeking travellers.

When the British authority failed to persuade the Kondhs to give up Meriah sacrifice, they decided to use force against them. But due to high altitude difficult terrain, it was not feasible. The British interference in their socio-religious rites led to prolonged states of warfare.



The second cause was the forced taxation. Ghumsar was in a state of political turmoil from the time the British captured it in 1767 till the end of Ghumsar rising in 1837. During those 75 years, Ghumsar faced desolation, devastation and ruin. There was the failure of crops in 1836 and consequently scarcity throughout the state. The following three years were of bad harvest for the whole of Ghumsar Kingdom. It crippled the backbone of people. On top of it, the British authority levied heavy taxes on rajas of Ghumsar and Baud. The government demanded arrears and revenue from the rajas, who in turn tried to realize the amounts from the Kondh inhabitants. But the Kondhs considered themselves the owner of the soil and they would not part with their lands on any ground whatsoever.

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The Kondhs apprehended that their land would be grabbed by the British. They were against the imposition of any land revenue or taxes when they and their ancestors have not been in the habit of paying.

The British officers and the local agents with the instruction of the Government imposed illegal taxes on the Kondhs. To extract the money from them, even their cooking utensils were carried away forcibly.

The condition of Kondhs gradually worsened. Consequently, the oppressive rule was no longer tolerable, the Kondhs violently revolted against the British authority.

The third cause was to maintain political autonomy of Kondhs. The Kondhs carried on prolonged warfare against the British for upholding the prestige of the native people. Chakra Bisoi, a Kondh rebel took the leadership of the Kondhs. He established Lakshmi Narayan Bhanj, a scion of the royal family as the new ruler of Ghumsar against the wishes of the British Government. Such a move immediately attracted the attention of Kondhs, who eventually fought for the re-establishment of the native rule, in which it was believed their privilege could be safeguarded and grievances removed.

Today Mundigada is transformed, its native, especially the new generation has forgotten its pride history. Thanks to Sri Suresh Patra, who in this film narrates an incident of Kandh rising near Munigada in the 1850s.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Chandipur – Beyond the Vanishing Sea

You are told and retold…Chandipur in Balasore is a unique beach where the sea recedes for 5 km twice a day during ebb tides.


During when the sea recedes, the beach turns into a biodiversity hotspot.







Hundreds of ghost red crabs crawl on its golden sands.





There are swamps covered with thin layers of seagrass sheltering hundreds of tiny fish, gastropods and mollusc species attracting egrets and seagulls for grand feasts.








Fishermen walk for miles to place wooden posts on the edge of the retreading shoreline only to return next day to bring home kilos of tiny fish that get trapped during the movement of tidal waters.

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Children play cricket on the dry sand and tourists walk for miles enjoying the unique phenomena of nature.



When you go on a leisurely walk in this nature’s Shangri La, you discover hundreds of tiny patterns on sand formed by sea crabs, many having holes. When you approach near them the shy red ghost crabs scurry into these holes.

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You are floored. Chandipur is perhaps the only beach in this part of the world where nature’s drama can be experienced at its best. Your day is made.

Travel Tips

Chandipur is located at a distance of 16 km from Balasore city which is a major railhead and transit point for travel into various parts of northern Odisha. Connected by a metalled road Chandipur can be reached both by public transport and private taxies from Balasore. Though Chandipur can be covered in a day visit however we recommend for a night stay to experience the complete tidal stories of nature and the nearby Balaramgadi Muhana and the maritime heritage of Balasore. The beach has a number of staying options for budget travellers including the property of Odisha Tourism, Panthanivas. Relishing seafood is a major attraction in Chandipur.








However, beyond nature’s hide and seek games, Chandipur has much more surprises. The Budhabalanga River which flows nearby empties into the Bay of Bengal at Balaramgadi, only 3 km from Chandipur in the further north.





A major fishing harbour today, Balaramgadi at any moment of the day is full of large-sized fishing trawlers and small fishing boats anchored in the jetty. And if you are in the morning hours you find them unloading tons of fish (hilsa, pomp fret, jumbo-sized prawns and many more) from deep-sea fishing for auctions. You also meet subsistence fishermen engaged in various fishing-related activities.


The Budhabalanga River was a major maritime passage in the 18th century. The Danish, the Dutch, the French and the British used it as a maritime route to seek business and establish factories. In Balasore there are a few vestiges remained of Chandipur’s maritime past. The region was a centre of shipbuilding and ship repairing. Its natives were most resourceful for their knowledge and skills in navigation. So well-known was Balasore in the nautical circle around the world in 1872, a shipbuilding farm in Glasgow was christened ‘Balasore’. In those days Balasore was also a textile manufacturing hub. The muslin handkerchiefs of Balasore had the brand name ‘Balasore Handkerchiefs’. Because of its high quality and uniqueness, an English Man had established a factory in England to manufacture Balasore Handkerchief.

The French also had a tiny colony at Balasore called Loges. The oldest organised maritime service in India was the Bengal Pilot Service which used to lead foreign ships from Balasore to Calcutta through Balaramgadi near Chandipur and vice versa.

Ref: Some Vignettes of Balasore and its French Loge

Today in Balasore there are settlements like Dinamar Dinga, Farasi Dinga and Oladanj Sahi testifying Balasore’s link with Europe’s maritime nations.




Within Barabati High school there are remains of two large Dutch Tombs from the 16th century.



There are also remains of a British Cemetery in Damodar locality consisting of 33 gravestones from the 18th century. The graveyard contains the tombstones of Sir Hennery Rickett, the first collector of Balasore (1827 – 36), and his wife Lady Rickett, who was a doctor and had served people with missionary zeal when Odisha was reeling under ‘Nannka Durvikha’, the worst over famine in Odisha that had killed millions of souls due to hunger and diseases. The graveyard also contains the tombstones of Captain Morgante and Captain Francis Walter, a hero of British Royal Navy who led several battles in Madras, Goa, Harispur, Pipli Port and Balasore.





Chandipur is fairly a meeting point of nature and history and a true representation of Balasore’s cultural identity.


Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Gopalpur – Tranquillity on the Sea

During the days of the French Revolution! There lived a man called Loraine in France, who always stood for a cause to help the distressed.

The French Monarch did not appreciate his cause and he became a soft target of the authoritarian government. As the French authorities launched a massive manhunt for him, Loraine went into hiding. With the help of one of his close friends, G.G.F Edwardo, a captain in the East India Shipping Company, he arrived at Gopalpur on the coast of South Odisha.




However, for the entrepreneur Loraine, Gopalpur turned out to be a base to seek opportunities for lucrative overseas trade with Burma. He established a port and built the present lighthouse, the star attraction of Gopalpur. Loraine joined his hands with the East India Company and got involved in exporting cheap Bengali labourers, local spices and bidis (country cigars). Within no time he established his own shipping company Bengal India Steam Navigation. Fortune favours the brave. Loraine succeeded in his business building several properties, resorts and hotels at Gopalpur on Sea.

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Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret


Imagine the early 20th century! When Europe was passing through a tough time fighting two world wars, Gopalpur on Sea was celebrating its glorious days.



Named after the 18th-century temple of Lord Gopala, the laidback seaside town had its heydays during the period between two world wars. Allured by its strategic location, the British and Loraine’s successors had built massive warehouses and grand villas on the beachfront.





The prosperity of Gopalpur had brought an Italian merchant from Sicily Signor Maglioni, who had built Palm Beach, India’s first beach resort in 1914. During the glory days of Gopalpur, a large number of rich Bengali families, British traders and soldiers frequented Maglioni’s Hotel. Gopalpur’s character changed over the years from a sleepy fishing village to a prosperous holiday gateway from Calcutta, the cultural heartland of the British Raj, though the capital had moved to imperial Delhi around this time.

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South Chilika Coast – Back in Time





Built-in the Mediterranean architectural style, the Palm Beach Resort, the first of its kind on Indian Shore was a massive hit amused with exotic dines and elegant ball dances. There was gaslight, wooden dance floor and parties that would continue till the early hours.

Travel Tips

Gopalpur on Sea is a small town in Ganjam District of South Odisha. Gopalpur is located at a distance of 16 km from Berhampur, South Odisha’s largest city and a major railway station and 170 km from Bhubaneswar. It takes about 2 and a half hour to reach Gopalpur by road from Bhubaneswar Airport. The other major airport near Gopalpur is Visakhapatnam (4 hours). There are several stay options in Gopalpur to suit all kinds of travellers. However, for a unique experience, we recommend Mayfair Beach Resort and Swosti Palm Beach Resort.  Both are located on the beachfront. Besides Odisha Tourism also has a Panthanivas near the beach. One can easily spend 3 to 4 days at Gopalpur languishing on its beach. From here you can leisurely travel to Ganjam’s other destinations in day trips, such as Taptapani Hotspring, Vetnoi Blackbuck Sanctuary, Chandragiri Tibetan Monasteries, Taratarni Temple and Potagada Fort.






Many Christian missionaries set up training schools and seminaries, some of them still exist today.

Gopalpur’s prosperity started declining after the end of World War II. After India became independent, most of its wealth dwindled to tickle as the British left the Indian shore. The busy waft crashed down and the sprawling warehouses crumbled.





Rai Bahadur M.S, Oberoi, one of India’s first generation luxury hoteliers purchased Palm Beach from Maglioni in 1947 at a throwaway price. The hotel got a new identity ‘The Oberoi Palm Beach’. In 2013, the hotel was further bought by the Mayfair Group and now has evolved as the best luxury hotel in this sleepy fishing town.

Today, Gopalpur on Sea has again evolved a perfect gateway for laidback holiday seekers. Its long stretch of languorous beach with coconut groves, casuarinas and gentle sand dunes is deserted for miles. For hours after hours, Gopalpur is the place where you can stroll on the sand and relish on mouth-watering seafood. Watching the life of Nolia fisherman is also exciting.














A little away from Gopalpur is the enchanting countryside of Ganjam. Cycling around here will simply drag your soul into an experience of a lifetime. You are drawn to the age-old practices of fishing and farming and the fishermen navigating the narrow channels of creeks.





Barely 16 km away from Berhampur, South Odisha’s commercial hub, Gopalpur is truly a tranquillity by the sea.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Barbara Forest – A Blend of Nature, Indigenous Culture and Archaeology

It was 6 PM on an October Day. I was at Salia Dam enjoying the pristine beauty of nature, sun going down against the western sky turning it into a pallet of golden and turmeric hues; and a fisherman sailing through the placid water after the day’s catch in his bamboo raft, a watercraft that has survived from the prehistoric time.







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In less than 30-minute pitch dark shrouded all around us. I and Chitra, my companion dared to drive into the jungle of Barbara, Asia’s largest teak forest. The distance was less than 10 km, but the forest road in the dark came as a major obstacle. There was not a single soul to ask. We lost the direction. With no hope of finding in the middle of nowhere and fighting against the eerie evening, we gave up our daring adventure. We turned back our vehicle in the direction of Odiart Museum, my camping site. To drive 30 km, it took nearly 2 hours in the dark jungle treks.

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Human Adaptation in Satkosia Tiger Reserve – Challenges and Prospects

Barbara Forest is a nature’s best-kept secret near Chilika Lake in coastal Odisha. It is named after a British woman, Barbara who had been killed by a tiger in the late 19th century while she was with her husband in a hunting expedition.

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However, Barbara Forest is not very old. Historically, this region was under the rule of Raiyat Zamindari System of Banapur. Till 1870, there was no restriction for cutting trees in today’s Barbara Forest. The locals had almost cleared the forest to support their agriculture. In 1871 for the first time restrictions were made to fell trees and the practice of seasonal agriculture. In 1880, it was declared as protected forest and in 1883 it was taken over by the Forest Department, Bengal.

Travel Tips

Barbara Forest is spread over Khruda and Nayagarh Districts near Banapur Town in Coastal Odisha. The forest and its surroundings can be approached from National Highway that connects Bhubaneswar with Berhampur. While at Barbara, one can also visit the nearby Chilika Lake at Balugaon and Barkul, which have also staying and food options. Also, visit Banapur Bhagawati Temple and the 13th-century Dakshya Prajapati Temple. The nearest airport is at Bhubaneswar (120 Km) and railway station is at Balugaon (25 km). The other nearby city is Berhampur (70 km).












According to Mr A.L. McIntire, Conservator of Forests, Bengal, 1908:

‘In 1883 the forests were placed under the management of the forest department, a forest settlement being carried out at about the same time. Under the latter a total area of 110 square miles of forest was declared reserved forest, free of rights, and the rest of the forest and waste, was declared to be protected forest, in which revenue paying Raiyats were allowed to exercise a number of privileges, such as gazing their cattle and cutting bamboos and trees, of kinds which were not received, for making their houses, agricultural implements, etc and for firewood. The most important timber and fruit trees were reserved, and they were not allowed to cut or damage them, nor were they allowed to cultivate any parts of the protected forests before such parts were properly leased to them, and they were required to pay grazing fees for cattle in excess of the numbers supposed to be necessary for ploughing and manuring their fields, and cesses for permission to remove unreserved trees for firewood, etc. Since 1883 the 110 square miles of reserved forest have been carefully protected from fire, grazing and unauthorised felling; and efforts have been made to increase these forests by planting teak in small parts of the area. Under this management, the growth of trees has steadily improved’.

Thanks to the British Forest Management, even today, the slopes in the hills still hold the natural evergreen-deciduous forest, where teak is the prominent trees. Some of these trees are more than 80 feet high and 10 feet wide in circumference.

To oversee the forest management, the British also had built a teakwood panelled forest bungalow in 1912. Today it is a major attraction in the forest. Giant squirrels are found in great numbers in the teak forest of Barbara. While on a trek, one can find them in their acrobatic best jumping from one branch to another. But I was unfortunate. The forest is also a heaven for bird watchers. Woodpeckers, bulbul, bets, oriole, jungle fowls, baya weaver bird, parakeets are found in abundance in Barbara Forest.



On my day 2 trail, I stepped into mystic ruins on the fringe of Barbara Forest. Bankadagada, the remains of a fortress butting out of a hill, and a Shiva Temple built in Pre-Kalinga style of architecture are the major archaeological heritage of the area, that any serious traveller to Barbara cannot miss.






The area was the capital of Sailodvaba in the 7th century CE. Sailodvabas ware the first to introduce temple building activity in Odisha. The ruined Shiva Temple is one of the earliest having beautiful carvings of amorous couples and Tantric deities on its walls. There are also loose sculptures carved in the formative styles sheltered within the complex. Some of these sculptures strongly resemble with sculptures of Java and Sumatra (Indonesian Archipelago). One may wonder – around this time of history, the nearby Chilika was a major hub for maritime trade. Ships would sail from ports of Chilika to Southeast Asia for trade and business using wind power. Ideas would be exchanged between these regions and therefore bring artistic influences.

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South Chilika Coast – Back in Time













According to a local legend, during the reign of Sailodvaba ruler Pulind Sen, the king once saw in his dream the next ruler of the dynasty, a heavenly personality, was coming from the Mahendragiri region. Pulind Sen followed the instruction and welcomed the young man and coroneted him as his successor.

The temple built in Astayana style (the central temple surrounded by seven smaller temples) was perhaps built by the successor of Pulind Sen.

The Barbara Forest is surrounded by the timeless rural charm of interior Odisha. Inhabited by Sabara tribes and ethnic Odia communities, you are simply drawn to vast paddy fields that appear as emerald greens as far as your eyes can stretch. Sabara is an ancient tribe and were the original worshippers of Lord Jagannath. They speak in Mundari language, a branch of Mon-Khmer group of the language spoken in Mainland Southeast Asia. Apart from their adaptation to jungle life they also do subsistence farming, fishing, animal rearing and brewing of mahula alcohol. Their houses are made of wattle and daub. Sabaras also revere Barbara Forest and each of its trees as their Gods.

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The Heritage of Mahula Drink in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey






















The region around Barbara is also a major elephant corridor. To chase out elephants, apart from being vigilant and night after a night patrolling they erect manchas (temporary small raised structures) to watch animals’ movements in harvesting season.



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For a traveller, each one of these wonderful souls has countless tales, ranging from their version of tribal and Hindu mythologies to sustenance, farming to food security and local actions against global climate change. You are simply back in time with scores of experiences that you can cherish for your rest of life.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Kumbhars of Kumartuli (Kolkata) and the story of the creation of idols for Durga Puja

With the last spell of the monsoon rains having drained down the narrow lanes of Kumartuli, the season bids adieu to an important festival – Durgatsav. It has been a busy time for the kumbhars of the region, especially of Eastern India, who have been busy with the making of the clay idols of the deity for this festival of Goddess Durga. Amidst the many stories of the kumbhars of the region, those of the area of Kumartuli from Kolkata occupy an important space of historical significance. This is a story of the kumbhars of Kumartuli, who has been moulding the clay idols of Goddess Durga and other deities through generations. Today, their craftsmanship has reached even foreign shores as the idols find a way into several regions all around the globe.

Chokkhudaan- or 'imparting the eyes'- is considered to be very auspicious and is done at an auspicious time

cast being used to make fingers

Fingers made from the cast

The word kumbhar is used for potters in Sanskrit and several Indian languages, including Bengali. Though traditionally, the festival of Durga was celebrated during the Indian agricultural month of Chaitra (corresponding to the Roman calendar months of March-April), the kumbhars of Kumartuli witness a spurt of activities during the period of the Durga Puja festival in Ashwin (corresponding to the Roman calendar months of September-October). This puja of Ashwin reflects an important historical as well as mythological strain. According to popular lore, the first kumbhar was brought in Kumartuli area from the region of Krisnanagar (Nadia district in Bengal) by Raja Nabakrisna Deb to build a Durga idol for worship and to mainly celebrate the victory of the British at the Battle of Plassey (June 23- 1757) against the Islamic power of Siraj-Ud-Daullah (the last Nawab of Bengal). After the battle and in the following Ashwin month thus, Durga Puja was observed in Kolkata with aplomb. This worship followed the mythological story of the worship of Lord Rama from the Indian epic, The Ramayana. In due course of time, this puja also inspired several other rich families of the region to perform similar puja of the deity, giving rise to more number of Durga Pujas and a rise in popularity of the kumbhars. As demand increased with time, the kumbhars found it difficult to travel across the Ganges river to build the clay idol in Kolkata since they were travelling from Krishnanagar. On their request, this community was given a section of land to settle down and work. This was the beginning of the region of Kumartuli. Various lore describes the contribution of different rich families to help the settlement of Kumartuli. One popular one which still reverberates is:

Jagatseth’s money

Umichand’s beard

Banamali Sarkar’s house

Govinda Mitra’s walking stick

(“Jagat Seth – an influential banker” with “the road called Banamali Sarkar street [which] runs out of Kumartuli into the Chitpur Road on which is situated the temple of the Mitra family”- all being rich and influential families of the time).

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Glimpses of Calcutta (Kolkata) heritage

The fact that Bengal already had Durga Puja, even before the Battle of Plassey, can be ascertained through various lore, e.g. the Maharashtra Purana of the Marathi poet Gangaram. The story also ascertains the significance of the worship of Goddess Durga in the region. A piece of important evidence is reflected in the story of Maharashtra Purana. According to Gangaram, Bengal faced serious threats from Marathas of Western India, known as Bargees between 1740-1750. The poem of Gangaram also describes a battle between the forces of Bengal under Nawab Alivardi Khan and the Maratha general- Bhaskara. According to the poem, as Bhaskara desired to win the battle, he wished to perform a puja of Goddess Durga and summoned the local zamindars or landlords to help him. The zamindars invited several kumbhars to make an idol of the deity for Bhaskara. However, Bhaskara had to flee before the puja could be completed being beaten at the hands of the Nawabi forces. Bhaskara managed to only complete till the seventh and eighth day of the puja- Saptami (seventh) and Ashtami (eighth) and fled. This happened in the month of Ashwina. A few months later and in the month of Chaitra, Bhaskara returned once again. Nevertheless, the deity is mentioned to have been displeased with Bhaskara at the very first time, since he could not complete her puja and fled. Thus, though Bhaskara fought valiantly, yet he was defeated and killed after a fierce battle at the hands of the Nawabi forces. Through much other local lore as well as literary sources, the popularity of the deity is seen and by the time of the 19th century, many British officials also used to attend pujas in many rich households. The worship also started to come out of family circles as a community effort (Baroyari Puja). This was first performed by twelve Brahmin friends of Guptipara region in Hooghly district of West Bengal in 1790. Finally, this community puja in Kolkata was introduced in 1832 by Raja Harinath of Cossimbazar (from Murshidabad district).

Deities stands at various stages of completion

Awaiting the mounting of the weapons across the ten hands of the deity

Artists At work within the narrow lanes of Kumartuli

A workshop of a kumbhar at Kumartuli

Ganesha and Lakshmi

The deity is often decked in a red saree

Making the idols

The process of the making of the clay idols has traditionally followed the following steps:

  • Making the framework out of bamboo and dried straw, entwining them to
    render the basic shape of the structure.
  • Coating with well-kneaded and manually prepared soft clay to render the entire shape of the idol.
  • Drying them in the sun
  • Applying the basic and the primary and secondary layers of paints.
  • Finally decorating the idol with other embellishments.

The fine clay is prepared through various layers of straining (refining the texture) and mixing with water and hand-made glue which is made from the power of seeds of the local Siris tree (Albizzia lebbeck)– mixed with water and boiled to get a certain thick consistency. This hand-made glue is also mixed with the colours before they are applied to the idols. Finally, this glue is also used to attach the many embellishments onto the idol for decoration. The cloth/sari and dhoti are adorned variously- keeping in touch with changing times and demands. Of the popular types of decorations are- “Daaker saaj”, ‘Rangta saaj’ and ‘Sholar saaj’. Daaker Saaj or postal decorations came from the beaten and thin sheets of silver which were traditionally delivered from Germany through post or daak. Rangtasaaj traditionally came from the beaten and thin sheets of gold which were used for decoration. At present though- neither gold or silver are used- but the name remained. Sholar saaj (decoration made from shola) remains a popular decoration due to its pristine white touch. Shola is obtained from the fleshy, white interiors of the bark of pith plants which are found in marshy areas of West Bengal and Bangladesh.

The puja in the month of Ashwin- Akal Bodhon- and the lore associated with it

Interesting lore is associated with the festival of Durga Puja in the month of Ashwin. This story from Indian mythology also explains the reason for this puja. According to the version of The Ramayana, written by poet Kirtibas during the battle between Rama and Ravana, the latter began to sing praises of Rama. Thus, Rama found it difficult to slay him as he had turned into a devotee. Seeing this tricky situation, all the Gods and Goddesses assembled in heaven to find a solution and finally decided to send Goddess Saraswati to reside on the tongue of Ravana to make him utter foul words against Rama. As soon as this happened- an enraged Rama cut Ravana into two halves, however, he came back to life as he had a special boon of life bestowed by Lord Brahma. Ravana also prayed to Devi Ambika to assist him in the battle and the appeased Devi sat with him in his chariot. Seeing an impossible situation to defeat Ravana now- Rama was finally advised by the Gods and Lord Vishnu to pray to the Devi. However, she was not appeased and did not appear before Rama. Finally- Bibhishan suggested that she be worshipped with 108 neel kamal or blue lotuses. On the request of Rama- Hanuman flew to Debidaha- the only place where one could find blue lotuses and Hanuman brought back the lotuses. Halfway through the puja- Rama discovered that there are only 107 neel kamal. It was too late to stop the puja and Rama finally decided to offer one of his eyes as the last lotus with his arrow. At this moment- the Devi appeared before Rama and blessed him and also mentioned that she would leave the side of Ravana. Rama had started the puja on the sixth day (Sashti) of the month of Ashwin and the Goddess appeared before him on the eighth day (Ashtami). At the meeting point or sandhikkhan between the eighth and ninth days- the Devi entered into Rama’s weapons and gave them required strength to fight against Ravana and the latter was killed a day after- on the tenth day (Dashami). Thus, this day is also referred to as Vijaya Dashami (the victorious tenth day). Following this story- on the day of Dashami- many effigies of Ravana are burned across many celebrations in India. The idols of Kumartuli also reflect this image of the victory of good over evil. Traditionally, Bengal worships the Mahishashurmardini (slayer of the demon- Mahish) form of Devi Durga as a warrior goddess. However, she is worshipped along with her family and this is represented by two daughters Saraswati (Goddess of knowledge and learning), Lakshmi (Goddess of prosperity and wealth) and two sons- Kartikeya (Warrior God) and Ganesha (God of good wealth and fortune).

The history of the clay idol-making profession of the kumbhars of the region also got moulded according to the stories of Indian mythology and local history. It is also interesting to note the representation of the warrior deity in Bengal which follows a complacent expression and never displays anger- as should befit a warrior goddess. The goddess is also worshipped in Bengal (including by the Bengali community worldwide) along with her ‘offsprings’ Kartikeya, Ganesha, Saraswati and Lakshmi and the image portrayed across popular belief is that of a married woman visiting her father’s abode, along with her children for a few days every year. Through time various changes have taken place to include these representational transformations, as well as the changes within the sculptural expressions, adornments and embellishments.

Author – Dr Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai

Born and brought up in Kolkata, Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai now lives in Pune. A specialist in Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology and cultural journalism, Lopamudra has a PhD in Ethnoarchaeology (a branch of archaeology that deals with living cultural practises as an enquiry tool to draw parallel with past human behaviour). Over the years Lopamudra has also specialised in Visual Anthropology and has worked extensively in the genre of intangible cultural heritage of India and South Asia and their reflections in visual- including media, art, architecture and folk culture and has authored 40 international publications on the subject- including her edited volumes at SAARC, Sri Lanka recently._DSC0263

At present Lopamudra teaches at MIT World Peace University, Pune and a Research Grant Fellow of the Indian High Commission, Colombo (Sri Lanka). Until recently Lopamudra had been deputed as the Culture Specialist (Research) at the SAARC Cultural Centre- Colombo in Sri Lanka (2017) – where she edited publications- covering intangible cultural heritage of all the 8 SAARC Member States. You may access these issues- edited by herself at (Issue 3- March, 2017- focus being- Theatre)

and (Issue-4- September, 2017- focus being- Storytelling and Folklore)

Lopamudra has also recently been invited by Aleph publications to edit a book for them about the folktales of India. This will be a collection of folktales from all over India- including firsthand accounts as well.

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








Jawai – Where Leopards are Locals

‘We went to India not only to observe the changes that had occurred since my former visit, 23 years ago, at the conclusion of our Philippine war, but also to visit places of interest, see something of the military air and ground forms, visit some old friends and acquaintances and then have a good tiger and big game hunt…Tiger hunting is regarded in India as a royal sport, and he who is successful in bagging this master of the jungle is looked upon as a public benefactor, for the number of people killed each year by wild animals and reptiles in India is appalling. Statistics are difficult to obtain because the native in some places hesitate to report what has happened, and in other cases those killed disappear without leaving a trace. The number reaches into the thousands, however.’

Brigadier General William Mitchell, Assistant Chief, US Army Service

A lot has changed since Mitchell wrote this in 1924. Now hunting of wild animals is officially banned and those blue-blooded Rajputs, who often partnered the British on their hunting expeditions, their present descendants have become saviours of wildlife.




It is difficult to date the practice of hunting as a sport in our country but as per the available historical records it proliferated in the early 16th century CE with Akbar’s passion for big games. He began the tradition of royal hunting, shikar that was followed by Mughal rulers until the dynasty fell in 1857 CE. A large number of murals and miniature paintings from 16th century CE depict Mughal, Rajput, Turks and Afghan nobility hunting from elephant or horseback. These outings were an exotic and heroic sport and tigers were considered the ultimate trophies.

A mural, shown in Bundi Palace depicting royal women hunters in the 18th century CE

British hunters along with their Rajput counterparts almost shot the tigers to extinction. The mass killing of tigers and leopards showcased their royalty, machismo, power and wealth. Often the hunters went out in large parties, carried by 10, 20, 30 or even 40 elephants. Their servants dragged and baited tigers into open public spaces for grand exhibition and the hunters often legitimized the killing by arguing that the big cats were terrible bloodthirsty beasts with an unquenchable desire for human flesh.

This is one side of the story and the other side shows a remarkable bond between India’s people and the natural world. The same Mitchell further writes: The jungle beasts of India are very ferocious, while the inhabitants are practically unarmed and are unwilling to kill most animals on account of their religion. A fact which forcibly impresses the western travellers in India is the proximity in which the indigenous people and the animals of the fields and forest live. Wild creatures of all sorts are found at the doors of the huts’.

After a century of Mitchell’s hunting expedition, I meet a young scion of Mewar’s Rajput clan Pushpendra Singh Ranawat at Bera village in the heart of Rajasthan’s renowned Jawai Leopard Country. Pushpendra runs a successful wildlife camp on his own ancestral farm called Varaval Leopard Camp ( Together we went on an expedition deep into the leopard country and the exotic Jawai Dam where you see some of the best landscape in the whole of Peninsular India against the backdrop of spectacular Aravali Hills, one of the oldest in the world with a vast expanse of wetlands, agricultural farms and pasture lands. The drive was thrilling – daredevil off-roading on solitary granite hills.

Travel Tips:

Jawai is a cluster of hills surrounded by Jawai Dam in South Western Rajasthan on Jodhpur – Ahmedabad Highway at a distance of 163 km from Jodhpur and around 250 km from Ahmedabad. The nearest towns are Sirohi and Pali. While at Jawai do visit Bankli Home stay, a beautiful country resort at a distance of 50 km from Jawai. ( Owned by Krishnapal Singh Champawat the property has a magical ambiance set against the dry Jawai river, Aravali Hills, agriculture farms and secret marshy land where you can see countless migratory birds including pelicans and flamingos.  








Each hill of Jawai has a story and on some hills, there are temples of Hindu and folk gods. Interestingly, the local villagers associate the temples with leopard as the face of the god and treat the kills of their domestic sheep/goat or stray dogs by leopards as an offering (prasad). This reminds us of India’s millennia-old humble faith in Almighty resulting in the unique bond between the human and the natural world. In the last 50 years of Jawai’s history, there is not a single case of a leopard killing a human being in complete contrast to the erstwhile Maharajas and British hunters claim of big cats as man-eaters and therefore a reason to kill. Watch the film here to know more about Jawai.

Also, Read Here:

Khichan – A model of ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’

Pushpendra’s story starts much before his birth. Rao Bahadur Thakur Shivnath Singh Ji, Pushpendra’s great grandfather and the Thakur Saheb of Bera was a passionate hunter.

Rao Bahadur Thakur Shivnath Singh Ji

By the time his grandfather Thakur Saab Lal Singh Ji was young enough, India was free and had banned hunting. A new journey had begun. As a child Pushpendra would listen to scores of stories of shikar from his dada and nana and play around the very hills with his peers where his great grandfather once upon a time would set camps for hunting. These early childhood experiences set him on his path, not for an armchair corporate career but to lead and educate people like us about his land and the leopards of Jawai. For the last three and a half years, he has been consistently researching and watching leopard behaviour and passing the constantly created new knowledge to his esteemed guests. His day starts with an early morning safari at 4.30 am, much before sunrise with guests to Jawai’s magical hills and wetland and ends with yet another safari in the evening.










Jawai consists of 28 granite hills and most of the leopards live in and around these hills in volcanic caves that are found in abundance.  Rebari shepherds, farmers and Garasia tribes inhabit the landscape. The seasonal Jawai River flows from east to west before meeting the Luni River in the midst of Thar Desert.









The Jawai Dam was built by Maharaja Umaid Singh of Jodhpur in the 1950s to provide water to the parched region of Marwar. It is the biggest wetland in the whole of Western Rajasthan. The dam may have brought prosperity to the region as you see extensive canals in the countryside supplying water to the fields. Once upon a time a harsh desert land now altered into a mosaic of green and yellow with wheat and mustard plantation as far as your eyes can see. However, the river which once carried seasonal runoff has dried up completely.



My dear friend Krishnapal Singh Champawat shares his views on the now dry Jawai River in the film below.

Jawai has one of the largest concentrations of leopards in the country but it is still not a sanctuary either under the protection of state government or Government of India. This is perhaps due to the high density of human population and their peaceful coexistence with leopards. It is true that Jawai has leopards because there are humans and therefore has an easy food supply. Pushpendra’s team is working towards obtaining the status of community owned reserve forest for Jawai where local community will manage their wildlife resources, not the government. If it comes through then it would become a classic example of Gandhiji’s Swaraj, an idea that had led India to its independence from the British Raj.

Also, Read Here:

Mangalajodi– Where Ashoka is Born and Dies Every Other Day




Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Kalighat Patachitra – A Journey

“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” as Plato had once said and it holds true for Kalighat patachitra. With their lack of symmetry in human figures and sense of proportions, they often fail to impress the eyes of a realist. However, these paintings appeal to many art lovers with their bright colours, bold and vigorous strokes, and free flowing curves. It also occupies an important place in the history of Bengal and Indian art, as it forms a distinct line where the traditional pata or scroll painting took an urban form, while transcending the boundaries of religion and exploring into the contemporary socio-political realm. Thus, Kalighat patachitra is the first school of art in India that can be considered as truly modern.


Hanuman in boots. Note the modern twist given to popular characters


Kalighat paintings, as evident from the name, originated in the vicinity of the famous Kali temple, which was founded in 1798 and is located on the bank of the Adi Ganga in southern part of Calcutta. This school of painting, which started sometime between the 19th century continued until early 20th century and included sketches and paintings created by artists referred to as the ‘Patuas.’

Historically the Kalighat paintings claim its lineage from the once popular narrative scroll paintings of rural Bengal.  Patuas, who were avid story tellers, moved from village to village with their painted patas and sang tales from the epics, various folklores, and the Puranas, to the largely illiterate farmers. The scrolls or patachitras which were hand painted, were long narratives that often stretched to more than 20 feet. Sometimes the paintings and narratives were made on scrolled clothes, and these were known as jorano patas. In a patachitra, each section was referred to as a pata. The travelling patuas would roll open the colourful patachitra scroll and would sing about one pata at a time.


Somewhere in the middle of 18th century, many of these patuas moved to Kolkata from the villages, especially from the Midnapur and 24 Paraganas areas, and settled around the Kalighat temple. Amidst this new setting the patuas soon realised that painting long narrative scrolls was not just tedious and time consuming but economically not feasible. The devotees that thronged the temple were looking for small, inexpensive paintings that were done quickly and could be carried back as souvenirs. Thus, to meet consumer demands, handmade papers were replaced with cheap, locally available mill papers; paintings were made affordable; and churned out in large numbers. Despite the influx of mill papers, the patuas continued with their tradition of  using natural dyes, made from different vegetables and plant extracts that were mixed with natural binding agents, such as, those made from bael fruits and tamarind seeds. The colours used along with the bold black strokes were mainly shades of red, yellow, blue, and white, while the jewellery was depicted using silver or tin, the later being a cheaper alternative, easily available, that also did not tarnish with time. The brushes used were also natural, made from easily available materials, such as squirrels’ fur, calf’s hair, and goat’s tail. Later with the coming in of water colours from England, the painters slowly adopted these synthetic paints, as they were easily available and proved to be more cost effective.


Kalighat paintings unlike other folk paintings of India show the human face in full frontal or three quarter views. Also interestingly, Kalighat patuas depicted enhanced glittering effects of jewellery in tin/silver or gold, which is seen only in Mughal and Rajput paintings. Another influence of Mughal art is seen in the large number of animal depictions by the Kalighat patuas. These artists did not follow any set rules of art but mirrored contemporary social life, thus giving us a wonderful insight into the religious and social life of Bengal during the 19th and early 20th centuries. These paintings were ultimately a product of that particular era, which skilfully amalgamated both the British style and Bengal techniques in their bold colours and strong lines that showed simple settings with minimum characters.


From the Sundari series that depicted voluptuous women



Duldul, the horse of Imam Hussain in Karbala. The silver lines have been used to highlight arrows. Patua artists painted scenes from other religious narratives indicating the secular bend of the art form.


The Kalighat patachitra themes vary widely and the patuas of Kalighat did not separate art from life; and social hypocrisies, quirks, meanness, and follies, were all shown liberally through their paintings.  The early patachitras (early 19th century) focused mainly on religious topics, but in later part of the 19th century the themes turned more contemporary and depicted some famous social events, like the infamous Elokeshi-Mohanta affair, or the subsequent murder of Elokeshi by her husband known as the great Tarakeshwar scandal. Paintings also depict the then well known characters, such as, Rani of Jhansi, and the wrestler Shyamakanta fighting a tiger, and Bengali women on a balloon flying in the sky. Often humorous scenes are also depicted from the ‘Babu Bibi culture’ that show the changing Kolkata socio-cultural landscape under colonial influence. The popular religious themes of Kalighat patachitras were depictions of the Kali devi, devi Durga as Mahisasurmardini, Shiva in his various avatars, Vishnu in his different incarnations, tales from Ramayana and Mahabharata, and depictions of scenes from Krishna’s life, such as Krishna milking a cow, Kaliya daman, Krishna killing the demon Putana, Krishna with Radha, Krishna with Balarama, Krishna with Yashoda, among many more.




The Whore’s goat. A humorous depiction of the times when Babus were in the throes of bewitching prostitutes


The Kalighat School of painting started dying out with the influx of cheap oleographs that reproduced the paintings. These cheap oleographs from Bombay and Germany blatantly copied the Kalighat patachitras, and flooded the markets with their machine made prints, ruthlessly killing the once flourishing Kalighat patachitras. The patuas with their strong sense of creativity and skills, failed to cope up with the rapid speed of the machines and decided to give up the art form. By 1930, the school of Kalighat patachitra completely died out, and whatever paintings were later found are now seen in prized art collections in various museums and private collections of connoisseurs.




Famous artists like Jamini Roy took inspiration from this art form that could truly be called as the product of rural renaissance. A school that has inspired satire in narrating social events while preserving an age old tradition of storytelling was hailed globally but has failed to achieve similar recognition on homefront. An exhibition of Kalighat patachitras was held in Prague as early as 1872 but in Kolkata only in the late 90s for it was labelled as bazaar art catering to gossip mills rather than a higher pursuit of excellence. As Shyamalkanti Chakravarty, Director of Indian Museum, once said “It’s time art lovers realised who the forebears of modern Indian art really were.”

(All photographs shown here are of prints in post card size, collected by the author over time. No original paintings have been shown here, and the pictures are for representational purposes only)

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be reached here

Mandapeshwar Caves – Isolated Remains Of A Tumultuous Past

4 kms in an hour. My bike can go faster but not the rush hour traffic and crowd of Swami Vivekanand Road in Borivali. Does not matter if its a sunday today for in Mumbai every waking hour is a rush hour. Exhausted but finally in front of Mandapeshwar caves. How I wish I could go back in time when the Buddhist monks used the Dahisar river to travel between Kanheri- a 5th century Buddhist university and Mandapeshwar- a Hindu rock cut cave complex that the monks had made their home.

Centuries have gone by and a lot has changed, including the course of Dahisar river that now flows at least 300 meters away to the east of the caves and is reduced to a dirty nullah. A far cry from a navigable river that was a nodal point of a wider trade route.

facade of Mandapeshwar cave

Nevertheless, I was very happy to see the caves being preserved and protected well with a compound wall and a large open breathing space in front of the caves contrary to Jogeshwari, Magathane and other such rock cut caves that are choked by illegal urban settlements mushrooming all around them.

Mandapeshwar is rather small for a cave complex and has just two caves, one much smaller than the other. The bigger cave, as is apparent was meant to be the main shrine for Lord Shiva while the other one- which is largely unfinished, plain and devoid of any sculptural traces was meant to be the living quarters.

Front pillars cave 1

The caves start capturing your imagination from the entrance itself where four completely worn out frontal pillars of the Mandapa flanked by two pilaster in a fairly good state at the extreme ends, greet you.

claws of an animal appearing like lions at the entrance of cave number 1

There are evidences of claws of an animal- most probably lion on both the sides of the entrance steps. As one enters the mandapa, we see more refined and fairly intact pillars. This cave has a total of five cells of which two are at the extreme ends and facing each other while the middle three cells are along the rear wall. It has a large Mandapa spread across five cells, most likely the reason why this cave shrine came to be known as Mandapeshwar- hall (Mandapa) of the lord (eeshwar).

L to R (nataraja cell, Pashupata cell, Sanctum, another cell, and the cell from where i have clicked this picture- a total of 5 cells)

cave interior

Entrance to the sanctum cell in cave 1


The central of the five cells is the sanctum sanctorum of the cave- the abode of lord Shiva. The entrance to the sanctum is flanked on both the sides with pilasters. These pillasters are designed in almost the same way as the rest of the pillars in this cave are, with an Amalaka as a capital. A quintessential feature of many rock cut caves of this period that are dedicated to lord Shiva, be it Mandapeshwar, Elephanta or as far as Badami in Karnataka.

Newly installed lingas in sanctum


a sculpture in one of the niches in sanctum of cave 1

The interior of the central shrine is largely plain except for a couple of niches carved in the walls housing remains of withered sculptures. The sanctum is occupied by two Shiva lingas that are clearly a later addition to the cave.

Nandis in front of sanctum

Just outside the entrance of the sanctum, sits the original sculpture of Nandi bull- the vahana (vehicle) of lord Shiva, split into half with just the rear half still in place. Alongside the old and injured Nandi sits a younger Nandi with his ears in place to listen to the devotees. It is a general custom to whisper one’s wishes in the ear of the Nandi so that it reaches Lord Shiva and the same is granted. Look out for the inscription on the door jamb –  done during the Maratha rule as is evident from the devanagari script

Inscriptions on door jamb of sanctum

Moving to the extreme left cell, we see what can be termed as a treasure – a Nataraja panel carved with great details. A massive six armed figure of Nataraja takes the centre stage here surrounded by various other figures. On the right are the figures of Goddess Parvati along with two of her attendants. While on the other side is an artist beating a drum. The upper left corner is occupied by the three headed Brahma while the upper right corner has Vishnu. Just below Brahma’s sculpture is the sculpture of Lord Ganesh. Celestial beings are present on both the sides of the head of Nataraja.  The panel seems like some sort of a celebration, Henry Salt in his ‘Account of the caves in Salsette’ published in Transaction of literary society in Bombay Vol.1 1819 A.D, describes this panel as that of Shiva’s marriage with Parvati. However few historians are of the opinion that the figure thought to be Parvati is just another attendant and the panel depicts the dance of Nataraja to the beats of a drum!

Nataraja panel cave 1

The story of the creation of Mandapeshwar caves between 5th and 6th centuries and the ensuing events that took place is a tale of how structures bear a testimony of the struggles of the time and encapsulate it. 90 percent of the rock cut caves in Maharashtra are of Buddhist origin including the nearby caves of Mahakali & Kanheri, but what makes Mandapeshwar fascinating is that the construction of this Shaiva cave is also attributed to the Buddhist monks. What made the Buddhist ‘missionaries’ hewn a Hindu cave? Could it be that Buddhism- a comparatively new religion then considered itself to be a faction of Hinduism? Is it possible that the Buddha was still considered more of a saint than God while the Hindu Gods continued to be worshipped?

Lets compare the time periods of the construction of Kanheri and Mandapeshwar caves. Kanheri caves, cut as early as 3rd century BCE, attained the status of a Buddhist university between 4th and 5th centuries. At its zenith, Kanheri had a total of more than 125 different types of caves and structures including Stupas, cemeteries, Chaityas (prayer halls) and Viharas (residential chambers for monks) carved out of a single rock hill. There is a possibility that during those years Kanheri’s infrastructure could not handle the increasing population and they were forced to look for accommodation options for its visiting monks. Various historical texts confirm that Mandapeshwar was indeed used as a residential quarter by the Buddhist monks. Kanheri was situated very close to the mouth of Dahisar river and Mandapeshwar was along its banks making it very easy for the monks to access it by the riverine route. Dahisar river was a part of a bigger trade route that existed between Konkan and Sopara (today’s Nala Sopara which was an established Buddhist center back then).

Pashupata panel cave 1


Another sculptural link that connects the dots, is the cell between the sanctum and the Nataraja panel cell. This cell is apparently thought to have had a large sculpture of Lakulisha (a Shaiva sect reformist and often considered the last avatar of lord Shiva himself) in the centre sitting on a lotus flower, stem of which is held by two nagas, while the central nonexistent sculpture is surrounded by other divinities and celestial beings. The style in which the lotus is carved, anyone with even a little knowledge about Buddhist sculptural art would not miss the connection between this sculpture and sculptures of Buddha represented in rock-cut art of the same period. Although, much is lost in this panel and the central Lakulisha figure is destroyed beyond recognition, we can only guess (logically) that the Pashupata cult that Lakulisha is often associated with, was dominant during this period.

Plain interior of cell next to Sanctum (if Pashupata cell is on left then this is on sanctum's right side)

Looking out from Pashupata cell

The cell on the other side of the sanctum however is plain with no sculptures except for few on the pillars and so is the lateral cell next to it

Cell 5 (its not called cell 5 .. im calling it cell 5 so you know which one is in the picture)

Sculpture on a pillar in cave 1

As you step outside the main cave and walk towards the second cave, you notice a misplaced symbol on the southern facade- a rock-cut Christian cross. This seemingly small cross however is the only remnant of Mandapeshwar’s tumultuous past. The Portuguese chipped off what was thought to be an idol of lord Shiva and flattened it to carve a cross out of it.

Southern external facade of the cave (right side is the Portuguese cross, and left side is the entrance to Cave 2)

Every event that soon followed has two drastically opposite theories, one from the Hindus trying to portray the Portuguese and the Christians in bad light and the other claimed by the Portuguese blaming Marathas for destruction of sculptural art here due to the usage of heavy explosives to uncover the Hindu sculptures from the plaster used by Portuguese to hide them.

Clicked from cave 2

It all goes back to the time when the Portuguese were ruling Mumbai with their main base in today’s Thane on extreme northern end of Sashti- the Marathi name for Salsette island on which the caves are located. Hearing about these wonderful rock cut caves, the Portuguese arrived here in mid- 16th century and chased away the Hindu yogis to set up their base in Mandapeshwar thinking of a larger role for it to be played in future. The Christian account of the same story however claims that the Portuguese arrived at Mandapeshwar wanting to meet the Hindu yogis but hearing of the news of arrival of the Portuguese, the Yogis got scared and ran away. However, both these accounts agree that a yogi known as Ratemnar was converted by the Portuguese priests and was given the village of Mandapeshwar.

Cave 2 & cave 1 and monastery on top of it


The Caves were soon converted into a shrine for Mary named as Nossa Sra De Piedade (roughly translating to Our Lady of Pity) with all its Hindu sculptures buried under a thick layer of smooth plaster and the Shiva shrine was hidden by a brick wall in front of it. Mandapeshwar was ripped off its identity and it came to be known as ‘Monapazer’ or ‘Mont Pesier’ by the Portuguese. As a part of expansion of the complex, a church and a monastery was constructed on top of the cave and was used to impart religious education to the recent converts and other Indian Christians. Another shrine was erected on the opposite hill and a graveyard in between the two.


Mount Poinsur church Graveyard

After about 180 years of functioning as a Christian shrine, Mandapeshwar returned to its original ‘faith’ and again became a Shaiva shrine when Maratha prime minister Bajirao Peshwa 1 defeated the Portuguese in 1737 in the battle of Bassein (Vasai). But Mandapeshwar soon exchanged hands when the Sashti island went to the British in 1774 under the treaty of Salbai with the Marathas. The caves again became a Christian place of worship. The Portuguese church, however couldn’t survive and what remains today are beautiful ruins evocative of a distant past. 

Ruins of the Portuguese monastery Pic 2

Ruins of the portuguese monastery

The second cave at Mandapeshwar is very different than the main cave in many ways. There are no sculptures, no carved pillars, no idols, no niches but just a large plain hall. The only traces of carvings are found on the entrance pillars which form the southern facade of the main cave.

Narrow rock cut path to cave 2

Cave 2

Cave 2 interior shot

Mandapeshwar caves remained a Christian place of worship till 1920’s and was possibly abandoned later. Around 1960’s the caves were declared a protected monument by the Archeological Survey of India and continues to be a popular Shaiva shrine. Life seems to have truly come a full circle for Mandapeshwar!

a small devotee

A walk today in this area better known as ‘Mount Poinsur’ (a disambiguation of Mandapeshwar) of Borivali is a living reminder of its past. The residential area along the Laxman Mhatre Road and Swami Vivekananda Road are largely Hindu whereas to the rear side of the caves is IC colony; named after the Portuguese Immaculate Conception Church, a residential colony that has highest concentration of Christians in entire Mumbai. As a popular quote by journalist Edurado Galeano goes “History never really says good bye. History says, see you later”!

Author – Onkar Tendulkar 

He can be contacted at      

Mumbai – A Short History

Is this a fantasyland, a land where money grows on trees? Or maybe it is just a throbbing vein that attracts too many blood cells from all over. Be it the fish eating Konkanis, the carol singing Goan Christians or be it the Banias from the north, there is room for everybody. This is Mumbai. To an outsider it is a chaotic city full of dreams but for an insider it is a part of their life. As for me, it is where life truly moves on- be it the floods, be it a terror attack, I haven’t seen a bunch of people ever more disconnected and still in tandem. Mumbaikars pull together when in need and don’t mind shouting each other’s’ ears off in a railway train over a seat. Was Mumbai always like this; at odds with itself, wailing horns and constant traffic and not to mention the stinking gutters? Maybe we haven’t seen Mumbai in any other way but let’s not dismiss the fact that the roots of this city run deeper than we think.

Somewhere in the 3rd century BCE Ashoka found his way on an island in the Arabian Sea (Sopara). The existence of an Ashokan edict testifies the presence of Mauryan Empire in Sopara. They weren’t the only ones. These bunch of islands off the coast near the central region of India have welcomed not one or two but multiple visitors, whether guests or rulers; they’ve all left a stamp behind. The Gujaratis, the Marathas, the Mughals, the Portuguese and many others sport a link with Bombay.

After the Mauryans, the Shilahara Dynasty of Konkan came to the islands. These Hindu rulers have left a significant mark on these islands. Two very famous temples of Babulnath and Walkeshwar are from this era. The Walkeshwar Temple was constructed in the 10th Century and the Babulnath temple in 13th century. The Hindus ruled from around 810 CE to 1348 CE. In the mid-14th century, Gujarat Sultanate took over the reins of this area. Another two centuries and on 25 October 1535, the Portuguese came under the possession of Bombay. They weren’t to stay either.

Portuguese Bombay
Map of Portuguese Mumbai

Signing over her royal dowry, Princess Catherine of Braganza married Charles II of Britain on 8 May 1661. The royal dowry included the 7 islands that would later form Bombay. After a little tussle with the Portuguese, the English acquired the Bombay island and later on also added Mahim, Sion and Wadala to their kitty. By the Royal Charter of 27th March 1668, Charles gave away these islands to the British East India Company at a mere rent of £10 per year.

The Portuguese had built a Bombay Castle. The British East India Company set to work. They built a fortification around the Bombay Castle. They also constructed a quay and warehouses. Till then small economy had grown in Bombay. But the British wanted more. The fort wasn’t just a city but a potential gateway. Anyone with half a head could see that wasn’t it obvious? Mumbai was a natural harbour, very safe from the ocean yet deep enough for most ships and it was on the west coast. It was the perfect entryway into the Indian subcontinent.

Mumbai Harbour – 18th and 19th century paintings

By this time, Mumbai had had its first governor under the Company. They had also established the mint. Gerald Aungier, the second governor, formulated inviting business incentives. People began flocking to these 7 islands. They came here to settle and make livelihoods. Parsis from Iran, Marathis, Gujaratis, Christians, Muslims and Jews all gathered and lived in this city.

1855 – View of the Fort from Colaba

Fast forward to 1838 and Bombay began looking like what it does today. In 1782 when William Hornby became the Governor, he decided to link these 7 islands of Colaba, Old Women’s Island, Mazagaon, Worli, Mahim, Parel and Bombay. He initiated the Hornby Vellard project. It changed the face of this city.

Fort area as it looks today. Pictures courtesy : Jitu Mishra


As Bombay became the place for British Troops to set camp, they needed their laundrymen. The laundrymen needed a clean water resource. To create lakes, trenches were dug and filled. Several lakes constituted a part of this area around where today a big junction exists. The hospital opposite to the cinema now stands on top of a lake! When the government became building a subway for pedestrians under this major junction, they were surprised to find fresh water springs underneath! These springs filled the lake with fresh water and the dhobis (laundrymen) washed clothes here.

No lake anywhere in sight ! Dhobi Talao Junction. Picture Courtesy : Onkar Tendulkar

The first cotton textile mill was set up on 7th July, 1854. The shipbuilding industry followed in 1863.

Before Colaba became Colaba, there was a fort that covered the St. Thomas area called Church Gate. The extended Colaba area south of the fort was a village with green meadows. There were paths for leisurely strolling and thus the name Cotton Green.
As the docks were near, a cotton exchange was held to the east of Bombay Green. Over time, the cotton exchange got the name Cotton Green. As industrialisation gripped the city, the cotton exchange shifted north near the Sewri – Mazgaon area. A mint green colour building was built here and the cotton exchange started. Thus the new Cotton Green area was created.


In 1862, Sir Battle Frere became the Governor of Bombay. He was ever the optimist and conceptualised the roots of Bombay. He decided to bring down the Bombay fort. It was too inconvenient and nascent, he had even bigger plans for this city.

The British troops housed overseas in India were undoubtedly homesick. They missed the revival gothic architecture and the upbeat vibes of urban London. Bombay was a quiet harbour and a clean canvas to draw upon. Sir Frere set off to build mini London.

The entire area of present day Churchgate and some parts of Colaba together formed the Fort area. The old fort had fortifications and three gates- the Apollo Gate, Church gate and the Bazaar gate. One of the gates stood right in the place of the famous Flora Fountain. Since this gate was close to the St. Thomas Cathedral locals referred to it as the Church gate. This name caught on and when the Colaba Station shut down, this new station was built near this gate and thus was christened Churchgate.

The fort and its gates were bought down to make way for a new Bombay.

This is how the Churchgate area looked in 1860. Don’t miss the gate of the Fort at the fag end of the photograph
And this is how Churchgate looks today ! Pictures courtesy : Onkar Tendulkar

The excess money in the city went in to the stock exchange. A business elite class consisting of Sir Jamshedjee Jeejebhoy, Jagannath Sunkersett, David Sasson and Sir Premchand Roychund amongst others where the chief employers in the city. They banded together and gave a boost to Sir Frere’s dreams. They provided the finances and built huge legacies that are still around today. Libraries, hospitals, educational institutions, the Bombay Stock Exchange and the famous Prince of Wales museum as it was formerly known are all a part of that legacy.

Pictures courtesy : Jitu Mishra

Despite the rapid advancements, cattle were definitely a part of Bombay transport belonging to shepherds. In 1838 a new tax was imposed that made all herdsmen pay a tax for cattle grazing. In good faith Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy bought land near the Chowpatty till the Wilson College known as Thakurdwar. He let the herdsmen use this land for cattle grazing. Did you guess? What is the word in Hindi for grazing? Charna. This area thus came to be locally called as Charna. Soon it changed to Charni and we got Charni Road.

Charni Road
Charni Road as it looks today making it a tad difficult to imagine this was a grazing area not too many years ago. Pictures courtesy : Onkar Tendulkar

Textile mills ran this city once. Bombay was where India came, to haggle their wares to the foreign merchants. Cotton exchanges were an intrinsic part to Bombay and took place at Colaba. Cotton was turned into textile and exported here.


There was a time when these mills fed the city. They had 2 shifts, one for the day duty and one for the night duty. Such was the demand for textiles. A common gong rang around the city at 9 signaling the shift timings. And then as if a light was switched off, all this came to an abrupt halt when the strikes began. Workers went on major strikes, forcing all mills to shut down, not for a day or two but permanently. Today there isn’t a single functioning textile mill around. Huge mills in the Parel area have given way to an industrial area and a shopping mall. The old mills are being brought down and in their place sky high skyscrapers are blocking the light. Those skyscrapers that hardly anyone seems to afford.

Whether it is the swelling crowds that is bursting the maximum city at its seams or its resilience against all odds. Mumbai is what it is today courtesy the British and not just in the way it looks and feels but also in the way it has exponentially developed in this short span of time. So, has this city finished evolving? Absolutely not. After 1995, Bombay became Mumbai again. The name comes from the local goddess Mumba devi. Many local names changed from sounding British to very much Indian. True for many railway stations in the country but that is another story for another day.

It might be ‘Mumbai’ for the world yet it is ‘Bombay’ for the city’s lifelong dwellers. They still catch a train to the Victoria Terminus (VT) now known officially as CST and we all know- Mumbai is our jaan. The railway local is its throbbing vein and the buses are the BEST in this country. By the way, Bombay is the refined version of the Portuguese word ‘Bom Bhaiam’ meaning beautiful bay. It’s an irony, is it not?

The cover picture is an engraving of the Horniman Circle area.

Author -Shanaya Wagh. She runs a website on historical trivia

She can be contacted at