Bijapur Water Heritage – An Oasis in Parched Deccan

A little west of Navrashpur, the third city of Bijapur, now in ruins…I chanced upon a freshly painted mural, quite uncommon, depicting a Muslim King as a yogi meditating to invoke Goddess Ganga to descend down to his capital from the Himalayas to quench the thrust of million plus people in the mid 16th century.

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He is Ibrahim Adil Shah II, celebrated as the Akbar of Deccan for his religious tolerance and literary ingenuity.

When Ibrahim built Navrashpur as a city of par excellence for performances of dance and music, he needed water. The legend goes: ‘Goddess Ganga was pleased with his prayer and agreed to flow down to the heart of Bijapur but under one condition. Ibrahim would walk in the front and she would follow him behind. The condition was – he would never look back till he reaches Navrashpur. Ibrahim agreed to the condition and was in high spirit. He marched down to Bijapur from the Himalayas and a few kilometres before his destination, he stopped, as he could not hear the cascading sound of water anymore. He was puzzled and looked back. Now the water stopped flowing. Upon asking the reason, Ganga replied: ‘You did not follow my advice. Now it is you to channelize water from here’.

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The Ruins of Navrashpur

This place was Torvi, a dry undulating place, but catchment for all the run-off water from the plateau.

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Torvi – The Source of all Water for Bijapur

The water heritage of Bijapur, however, begins with Ibrahim’s predecessor Ali Adil Shah, who had pioneered establishing Bijapur as a commercial hub after the battle of Talikota that led to the fall of Vijayanagar Empire.

Ali Adil Shah, the visionary Sultan of Deccan, had initiated grand projects for his capital including the construction of Jami Masjid. He also had established a city called Shahpur for traders and merchants to the east of Bijapur Fort. For all these people and their domestic animals, it was essential to manage water with high sophistication as the region was a harsh semi-arid plateau.

Ramalinga Tank, an existing water facility from the time of Yadavas, was upgraded by constructing a long masonry bund to meet the water requirement of Shahpur. Ramalinga Tank received water from Torvi catchment and was meant for Sahahpur residents. Water was also supplied from here to the main city of Bijapur.

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Ramalinga Tank – Now Under Intensive Agriculture

Initially, it was an earthen dam built by the Yadavas. The Adil Shahi engineers brought in a new technology of hydraulic engineering making it one of the most advanced dams in Medieval Deccan.

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In the film below, Dr Viswanath Siddhanti, a heritage activist from Bijapur explains the water heritage of Ramalinga which had a series of jack wells across the bund. The dam covered an area of 40 sq km supplying water to more than one million populations that thrived in Bijapur and its suburbs in the 16th century. At present, sadly, the tank is under intense cultivation by the locals.

The bund constitutes a series of jack wells which are intake structures for collecting water from the surface sources like rivers, lakes, and reservoirs and conveying it further to the water treatment plant. These structures are masonry or concrete structures and provide relatively clean water, free from pollution, sand and objectionable floating material.

Travel Tips:

Bijapur is a medium-sized city located in North Karnataka near Maharashtra border in the heart of Deccan. The city is well connected both by road and railway. However, the nearest airport is either in Pune or Hyderabad (both 8 hours away). Hubbali is yet another nearby airport which is well connected by both rail and road service. The city has plenty of stay options starting from budget to luxury. Famous for Medieval architecture, especially Indo-Islamic including the second highest dome and a triumph of Deccani architecture, Bijapur is an art lover’s paradise. While at Bijapur also visit Kumtagi waterworks (25 km from the city). One should keep a minimum of three days for a true appreciation of Bijapur’s water heritage.

The Ramalinga Tank, which formed the core of water management in Bijapur, did not survive for a long time. During the rule of Ibram Adil Shah II, it was breached by Ahmednagar Sultan. Ameenduin Hullur, the heritage activist of Bijapur explains the reason in the film below.

The next stage of development was at Torvi which is situated beyond Navrashpur in the west. It is also the catchment for all run-off water from the plateau. As mentioned earlier, during the rule of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, water was brought from here through earthen pipes till Surang Bavadi near the tombs of Afzal Khan’s wives and then through subterranean channels (qanat system) to Ibrahim Rouza enclosure through Moti Dargarh.

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Annicut and Terracotta Pipes Laid by Adil Shahi Engineers from Torvi Source, Photo Credit – Hamza Mehboob

Water Layout at Bijapur

Also, Read Here:

Karez System of Bidar – A Persian Oasis in Deccan

Burhanpur – A Medieval Water Oasis

During my travel to Bijapur, I was fortunate to be accompanied by Hamza Mehboob, a local heritage activist. We spotted a number of air-shafts, however, except few sadly, most of them are encroached upon.  They are placed at regular intervals along its course, but beyond Ibrahim Rouza it is lost.

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The Qanat System in Bijapur

Ameenudhin Hulur explains here about the qanat system in Bijapur.

At the time of Muhammad Adil Shah, the Ramalinga Talav and Torvi waterworks had lost their capacities as these had been destroyed by the Sultan of Ahmednagar during his raid of Bijapur. It was necessary to create a large water facility to meet the growing demand of the city.   In 1651 CE in memory of his wife Jehan Begum, Muhammad Adil Shah constructed Jehan Began Talav to the south of his capital. The talav today is popularly known as Begam Talav. It is located about 5 km to the south of Gol Gumbaz and covers an area of 234 acres. Even today this talav fed southern and eastern side of Bijapur.

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Begam Talav

To the right side of the tank is an underground room from where water was supplied to the city through terracotta pipes. The pipes were laid to the death of 15 to 20 feet and were joined and encased in masonry. Many water towers of height 25 to 40 feet called Gunj had been built to release the pressure of water and prevent pipes from bursting. These towers also allowed dirt in pipes to remain at the bottom and the water to flow.

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Gunj or Water Towers

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Terracotta Pipes

Apart from Begam Talav, several other tanks were created in and around Bijapur to meet the water need of its population. Some of these are Rangrez Talav, Qasim Talav, Fatehpur Talav and Allahapur Talav. There were also a large number of bavadis or step wells constructed at different locations by both sultans and nobles for water management. Among these, the most significant is the Taj Bavadi.

Also, Read Here:

Travel Shot : Community Revival of Taj Baodi – A Success Story

Prior to Taj Bavadi, it was Chand Bavadi that had formed the most iconic among all water monuments of Bijapur. Chand Bavadi was built by Ali Adil Shah in memory of his queen Chand Bibi in 1549 CE. The square-shaped bavadi is located closed to Shahpur Gate.

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Chand Bavadi

Most of Bijapur’s tombs and mosques had also attached water structures which show the engineering achievement of Adil Shahis. These were actually the quarries used for building the structures and later converted into small bavadis. For example, the Gol Gumbaz the largest of all among Adil Shahi monuments had an excellent hydraulic arrangement as suggested by the presence of water tanks, fountains, tank cum lifts, tank cum distributor and wells. At present, there are 28 features within the complex. The main sources are Khandak on the west, Masa Bavadi on the north and Begam Talav on the south.  One of the major water structures is Khandak, a small reservoir along with two tanks on the eastern and western rim. It is actually the quarry used for building the Gol Gumbaz that was eventually converted to a water structure. The two tanks lifted the water from Khandak and supplied to an array of fountains in the complex.

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Water Works at Gol Gumbaz Complex

In Bijapur, water was managed not only for sustenance but also for the luxury of Adil Shahi sultans and nobles. You visit any palace or grand public buildings, there are traces of water fountains and Jacuzzi. Ameenudin explains in this film how water was integrated with luxury and amusement of Adil Shahi Sultans.

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Today sadly, that entire water heritage for which Bijapur had achieved height benchmark is in shattered ruins. Lately, however, thanks to dedicated efforts of activists like Ameendhin and Dr Sidhanti there is hope for their partial revival for posterity.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle in Bhubaneswar’s Walls – A Visual Treat

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle is the smallest and most abundant among all sea turtles found in the tropical world. They are found mostly in warm and tropical water, primarily in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

Growing to about 2 feet in length and weighing around 35 kilos, Olive Ridley Turtle is best known for their behaviour of synchronized nesting in mass number, termed arribadas. Females return to the same beach from where they hatched to lay their eggs. They lay their eggs in conical nests about one and a half feet deep, which they laboriously dig with their hind flippers. Gahiramatha and Rusikulya Estuaries are the world’s largest mass nesting sites for olive turtles.

Mating often occurs in the vicinity of nesting beaches, but copulating pairs have been reported over 1000 km from the nesting beaches.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles migrate in large numbers from the beginning of November every year for mating and nesting on the coast of Odisha. Within two months the nesting season starts.

However, though listed as vulnerable under IUCN and protected under the ‘Migratory Species Conservation’ there is a high rate of their mortality due to collision with boats, trawlers, gillnets ghost nets and longline fishing. In addition, coastal development, natural disasters, climate change and beach erosion have also become potential threats to nesting grounds.

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The carcass of an Olive Ridley Turtle found near Devi River Mouth

Also, Read Here: 

The Slow Death of Odisha’s Living Marine Heritage; the Olive Ridley Turtles

There is also a lack of public awareness about Olive Ridley Turtles in Odisha. Both as ideas of beautification and generating awareness recently part of Bhubaneswar’s public walls were illustrated with cycles of their migration and nesting on Odisha coast.

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The drive for beautification started in October 2018 with an eye on Odisha Hockey World Cup that was held in Bhubaneswar in the following months. The artwork was carried out by 15 groups of artists from Odisha Modern Art Gallery, Krutika, Konark Arts, Bakul Foundation and Sutra Advertising apart from several individual artists. Each of the groups had submitted proposals on themes focusing on wildlife, folk and urban lifestyles, hockey and tangible and intangible heritage of Odisha in general and Bhubaneswar in particular.

Travel Tips: 

Bhubaneswar’s AG Square where murals are drawn is located at the heart of the city, at a distance of 2 km from the Airport and the Railway Station. Go in the early morning to avoid traffic. For Olive Ridley Turtle sighting the best place is however Ruikulya Estuary, 150 km from Bhubaneswar towards south on Berhampur Highway. February and March are the nesting seasons.

The AG Square area, which forms the city’s most prime location, was chosen for Olive Ridley Turtle and the work was assigned to artist Satyabrata.

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Olive Ridley Turtle (Oly) was also the official mascot for Odisha Hockey World Cup 2018. One section of the walls focused on Oly as hockey players.

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Today any passerby on the roads around AG Square is drawn for a moment to these beautiful murals and for children no doubt these together have become an open-air picture book to explore the world of Olive Ridley Turtle.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Charu Maa – The Face of Durga Maa

Our story starts in the 7th century CE Bhubaneswar! It was the time in Indian history when the personification of ideas came to be institutionalized.  One such idea was Nataraj, the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva, which you find profusely in temple walls of Bhubaneswar. Why Nataraj – for me the answer could be the metaphoric representation of destruction that depicts the other side of the sea which is otherwise gentle and calm through most of the year.  The other idea was Maa Durga – the metaphoric representation of women power, for which Eastern India is widely celebrated.


Goddess Durga in Parasurameswara Temple – 7th Century CE

Lord Nataraj in Parasumeswara Temple 7th Century CE

Maa Durga in Cuttack 

1999 super cyclone that had devastated millions of lives, both humans and domestic animals in coastal Odisha. Lord Shiva had shown his extreme form, tandav leela. It was one of the darkest moments in Odisha’s modern history. It took years to recover what Odisha had lost. But the lesson learnt not only made Odias cautious but Odisha became a successful model for disaster management worldwide.  Much has been written and filmed about Odisha’s adorable initiatives in cyclone management, but very little about Charu Maa, a woman in her 50s from Gudalaba Village near Astarang on the coast of Bay of Bengal. You see the face of Durga Maa in her, who has been leading a group of 90 women from her village consisting of both Hindus and Muslims for the protection of forest and wildlife from the time their village was devastated in the wrath of 1999 cyclone.

Travel Tips

Gundalba Village is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Gundalaba Village, you can also visit Pir Jahania Beach and the revered Sufi shrine and trek through the dense Casuarina Forest. Remember, there is no public transport facility here. You have to arrange your own vehicle to reach here. Gundalba is located at a distance of 70 km from Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Puri. The world heritage site of Konark is only 30 km away. 

There is no stay option here. But with prior information and local contact accommodation for a night stay can be arranged at Forest Rest House. There are also plan for tented accommodation in the near future by Ecotourism Wing of Odisha Tourism. With prior information, food can be arranged at the sight with the speciality of seafood. 


Charu Maa in the left at Gundalba Village

 

 

 

 

Gudalaba is a small village of farmers and fisherfolk near the Sufi shrine of Pir Jahania at a stone throw distance from the sea. A thick forest of Casuarinas separates the sea from the village. To the north of the village is a network of creeks of Devi River which meets the Bay of Bengal at Sahana. Nature’s paradise, the beach is also part of the rookery of Olive Ridley Turtles.  The casuarinas trees, a native of Australia had been introduced more than a century ago by the British to prevent sea erosion. However, ecologists have a different viewpoint. According to whom, the alien trees have been least protectors from sea erosion. These have only become a good source of fuel. On the other hand once dominated by hundreds of species of native mangroves, now most of it lost, thanks to intensive shrimp farming and agriculture. The loss of mangroves is taking toll of destruction year after year.  

Also, Read Here:

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


Pir Jahanaia Sufi Shrine


Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned boat at Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned house at Pir Jahania Beach – Behind it the thick Casuarina Forest


Casuarina Forest


Depleting Mangrove Forests and Estuaries 

 


Near Devi Mouth


Commercial Fishing in Devi Mouth


Subsistence Fishing in Devi Mouth 


Intensive Rice Farming – The Harvesting Season


Harvest of Gold

Gudalaba has also been a nurturing ground for ideas related to wildlife conservation and sustainable living. Here you meet Bichhi, the turtle man, who has dedicated his life for the conservation of Ridley Olive Turtles. You also meet a group of youngsters led by Soumya Ranjan Biswal, who are continuously engaged in generating awareness on beach cleaning and environmental protection.


Conservation of Olive Ridley Turtle – a severe environmental issue – This one is one of the first deaths sighted this season due to trawlers movement

 

It was on 4th November night I was first introduced to Charu Maa at her residence and while talking to her I felt the best geography teacher I have ever met in my life. There is so much of understanding about sustainable living that we have taken for granted as dwellers of large cities. I heard the first-hand experience coping the most severe disaster in the living memory of Odisha. I saw the face of Durga Maa in Charu Maa. It was decided to film her interview on the daylight the next day along with her other women companions.


An early morning scene at Devi Mouth 

Here is what she narrates:

Charu Maa has turned crises into opportunities and it is an eye-opener for each of us. Truly she celebrates the idea of Durga Maa.      

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

The Slow Death of Odisha’s Living Marine Heritage; the Olive Ridley Turtles

The Balighai beach is a beautiful pristine place to be. Located 8 kilometres away, on the northeastern side of Puri, it is on the mouth of the Nuanai River. The confluence can be seen on the Konark-Puri Marine Drive and I stopped there on my way back from Konark. The long, smooth stretch of golden sands was too tempting to pass by on the river and in the sea at an alluring embrace. Not a single soul could be seen on the beach, and it’s a pleasant break after the crowd at Konark temples.

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But as they say, because of the first impression, because the Balighai beach upon my reaching there, turned out to be a graveyard for turtles. The carcasses lay as far as eyes could see and the pathetic bodies were mostly beheaded. It was a shocking sight, one made in my track and made a hasty exit from there. The shocking sight haunted me for many days, and I decided to do some research to find out the reason. The truth turned out to be a horrible tale of human greed, misinformed bureaucrats, and twisted government policies.

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The Balighai beach is a nesting site for the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles. Pairs of mating sea turtles arriving on sea waters, mark the start of the breeding and nesting season of these endangered marine creatures. The mating season ends with most of the male turtles returning, leaving behind the female turtles to lay their eggs. The female turtles on the beach at night.

After the mass egg laying, the turtles return to the sea, leaving the hatchlings to emerge after 45-60 days, sans mother. An Olive Ridley usually lays about 120 to 150 eggs at a time, but not all become hatchlings. The mortality rate of these endangered species is quite high and the eggs have many predators. High tides so wash away many eggs in the sea and the alarming plight do not end there.

During the mating season, when the turtles come close to the beach, most of them get entangled in the gills and the asphyxiation. 20 minutes from the beach.

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Olive Ridley’s the biggest killer of the Odisha is a silent one and most of these endangered marine creatures are from ghost nets. A huge threat, which is creating a massacre in the marine world everywhere, ghost nets are fishing lost or discarded at sea. Every year, these animals are responsible for trapping and killing millions of marine animals, including sharks, rays, bony fish, turtles, dolphins, whales, crustaceans, and birds.

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Since ghost nets drift with ocean currents for years, travelling huge distances, their deadly effects can be felt from the point of origin. Ghost fishing for killing marine animals in a process called “ghost fishing”. The entanglement in ghost nets often results in suffocation, starvation, amputations of limbs, and, eventually, the death of a marine animal.

A drifting ghost net entangled with a carcass sinks to the bottom of the ocean. On the sea floor, other marine animals and natural decomposition get rid of the carcass, after which the ghost net floats back to repeat the deadly cycle. The durability of modern fishing nets enhances the longevity of this circle of destruction and Indian coastline, especially in the east is strewn with these remnants.

Ironically, Oliver Ridley sea turtles have a peculiar nesting habit. The females Olive Ridley turtles return in large numbers to the same beaches from which they first hatched. Odisha unbroken coastline is the largest nesting site for Oliver Ridley turtles in the world and here is hoping that someone out there pays attention before the state loses its important marine heritage.

Author – Svetlana Baghwan

svetlana Svetlana is a mother, writer, entrepreneur, traveler, foodie and an animal lover. An ex-flight attendant living in Cairo, Egypt, she has explored more than 35 countries as a solo woman traveler. Experiencing and exploring are her passion and she loves to tell stories. More about Svetlana here: http://www.maverickbird.com/

Kuldhara in Jaiselmer – A Travel Shot

Today, a deserted land haunted by stories of akal, conflicts and migrations, Jaisalmer, India’s golden city and a major tourism hub was not always like what you hear. The region was located in the middle of flourishing trade routes connecting India with Persia and the Arabian Desert cities via land route as well as ports of Gujarat. Opulence wealth had made it a pearl in the Thar Desert. The region was largely inhabited by merchants and traders, especially by Paliwal Brahmins in mansions and houses that stand deserted today, appearing almost like freshly excavated cities of Indus Valley Civilization.

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We wanted a place of solace from the city’s hustle and bustle and what could have been a better place than Kuldhara, the erstwhile thoroughfare of Paliwal Brahmins, but now a haunted place. 20 km further drive takes you to yet another abandoned village and a fort called Khabba Fort, a sight appears as if straight from Arabian Night sets. Spend two days and hop around desert villages. You will discover many more such abandoned houses.

Travel Tips:

Kuldhara is only 20 km from Jaisalmer. Most tourists don’t prefer to stay here, however, we recommend to make Kuldhara your base at least for 2 days and 2 nights if you are a soul seeking traveller. You are at absolute peace in the rugged landscape with zero human interference, especially in starts studded nights. For a comfortable, yet budget accommodation check out Dreamline Cottages behind the heritage site. The rooms are clean, spacious with hot water facilities. Its owner is Mr Khan (+91 9929834687) who is a local man and knowledgeable. He also takes tourists on desert safari deep in Thar desert. Food is at extra cost and has to be told in advance.
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A Village near Kuldhara

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Kabba Fort and the Village

Paliwal Brahmins had established these villages in 13th century immediately after the Rajput Chieftain Jaisel Bhatti taking possession of Jaisalmer as the founder ruler. Trade was at its peak and the place had an advantage being far off from Agra-Delhi, the centre of political power in India. Gifted by its extreme landscape the locals had mastered the guerrilla warfare. The looted wealth gave rise to prosperity over time attracting merchants in large numbers to settle in the region.  Though nothing has remained as markers of their prosperity in the villages around Kuldhara, you see slices of their opulence at havelies of Jaisalmer.

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Havelies and Jain Temples at Jaiselmer

A popular story goes:

Some 200 years back the inhabitants of Jaisalmer were profusely rich and it was a seat of highly sophisticated culture.  In the desert trade caravan route, there were 84 villages of Paliwal Brahmins that came under Jaiselmer kingdom.

Everything was going peaceful. But the trouble started With Salim Singh becoming the new Diwan who introduced fresh taxes and started oppression against villagers. He crossed his limits when his lusty eyes were set on a beautiful 15-year-old girl in Kuldhara. He commanded the villagers to hand over her in 10 days time.

On the next day, 83 people from Kuldhara were sent in all directions to rest 83 Palliwal villages for hosting community meetings.  On 5th or 6th-day village representatives from all 84 villages assembled in Kuldhara and in a meeting it was decided that they had reached the limit of oppression. They also felt that the king of Jaisalmer had ditched them.  The only option was to pack up and move somewhere else.  On the 9th day, all 84 villages were deserted.  They fled in the dark night, leaving behind their homes and everything within them. Kuldhara was abandoned by its very own people. No one saw the thousand-odd members of the village leave. For generations now, no one knows where the Paliwals have resettled. All that is known is they cursed the town when they left that no one would ever be able to settle down in Kuldhara again.

Today the houses are almost in the same condition as they were left behind by their inhabitants. In the middle of the abandoned village is an abandoned Jain Temple. From the terrace of the temple, you can see the sprawling ruins of lanes and brick homes, equidistant from each other, are neatly laid out. There is also an abandoned boali, a traditional water harvesting structure built during the glorious days of Kuldhara.

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Kuldhara today is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India as a heritage site.

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Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

The Meluha

It was mesmerizing. The beige white ground spread in front of our eyes, small mounds rising on the horizon and millions of brick red pottery shards strewn across till horizon ! The shards were more than precious. Priceless actually because this was the earthen connection to our past, of not a few centuries but a millennia back.

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The pot shards found at Rakhigarhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

Just try to turn the wheels of time to 2500 BCE, and you will find yourself standing in a bustling metropolis abuzz with activity and not the present day Rakhigarhi, a sleepy town in Haryana.

Indus Valley or Harappan culture refers to archaeological finds pertaining to time period of 2500-1900 BCE having specific similarities. The importance of these ruins is their timeframe. The distinguishing characteristic of this culture is the presence of town planning evident in spacious perpendicular roads, sewerage system, fortified townships and large houses with courtyard and brick walls. Findings of seals, weights, beads, gold ornaments indicate flourishing trade. The pottery is again painted finely with geometric designs and baked to perfection. In all, it was a culture of urban people who enjoyed a good life.

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Harappan pottery at National Museum in Delhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

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Harappan Pottery at National Museum. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

Certain sites show the initial phase of this culture known as early Harappan pegged at 3200-2600 BCE. Mature Harappan is found between 2600-2000 BC. The declining phase termed as late Harappan is dated at 1900-1300 BCE.

Timeline
Timeline done by author

This urban civilization, almost 5000 years old, found in Indian subcontinent  changed the landscape of Indian history entirely. The earliest monuments found in Indian subcontinent date back to third century BCE, which are the Buddhist stupas or  rock carved caves at Barabar in Bihar or later at Bhaje in Maharashtra.  Before that archaeologist have found human dwellings which can be categorized as chalcolithic cultures. Chalcolithic Era implies use of metal and stone as per the evidences gathered from various  archaeological excavations. India also has several Neolithic dwellings discovered.  The urban settlements found in the subcontinent almost all date back to Mauryan Era.  So, till third century BCE, there was no evidence of planned townships existing on this land from archaeological perspective.

On a global timeline, Egyptian civilization is pegged at 4000-3000 BCE, the Sumerian, present day Iraq also boasts of a civilization as old as to 3000 BCE. The classical Greeks reigned in by 1000 BCE while the Romans tried to conquer the world in Christian Era.

Till recently India did not have enough evidence to establish its antiquity. This all changed in 1922 when a well-planned city was excavated literally from the mound of dead people, that is Mohenjo-Daro.

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Sites of Indus Valley Civilization. Picture courtesy – Internet

Mohenjo-Daro

In the vast dry land of Sindh now in Pakistan, on the banks of Sindhu river stood a mound. There was a Kushan era stupa excavated earlier here dating back to third century BCE. What they found now was totally different. Layout of a city with roads crossing at right angles wide enough to accommodate 2 bullock carts side by side, plinths of houses lining the roads and their openings in adjacent lanes.  The most important discovery was of a functional waste water management or sewerage system through properly built brick channels. The level of sophistication discovered put the site right up there with some of the earliest civilizations of the world.

Mohenjo-Daro has a large rectangular tank, Was it a ritualistic bath or a something like a modern day swimming pool! They have found a granary in Mohenjo-Daro implying that surrounding arid lands were green and giving at that point in time. Kalibangan in Haryana on the banks of Ghaggar, presents a ploughed field near the settlement. Kalibangan also has fire altars built with baked bricks. Kuntasi is a factory site producing millions of steatite beads. They had a flourishing trade outside India, there is even a seal with a ship drawn on it! Lothal excavation in Gujarat resulted in discovery of dock to safely harbour large ships. Dholavira, in Rann of Kachh is a prominent site with fortification and 4 entrances to the city in 4 directions. Archaeologist found a signboard scripted with incomprehensible Indus signs dating back 5000 years. Dholavira citadel has large spacious halls with their pillar bases intact.

The earthen seals found in abundance have several things carved on it, right from the typical Indian bull with massive hump to sitting yogi posture.  From elephants to cats to one horned animal, there are even depictions of fire altars on some seals. The peacock was important , carved on several pots as we find now.

They sure were great traders, as we find Indus valley seals in far off regions like Iraq and Turkey. The Acadian people of Iraq, contemporary to this civilization called them merchants of Meluha and imported several things including beads of garnet and shells!

Harappa

Let us now move north to Harappa. On the banks of the river Ravi, this town is home to a settlement that lay buried for 5000 years.  Harappa is particularly unfortunate as the priceless standardized baked bricks that were used to build houses of Harappan metropolis in 3200 BCE were stolen in large quantities to build the Karachi-Lahore Railroad in 19’th century, by the contractors in their ignorant bliss. Still the unearthed huge granary and citadel has given us a fair idea of a thriving economy and polity.

This IVC or Sindhu Saraswati culture can be found in a large region covering Sindh, Punjab and part of Baluchistan in Pakistan. In India, several sites have been discovered in Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Some sites can be found as far as Rangpur in Uttar Pradesh and Daimabad in Maharashtra.

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A metal chariot excavated from Daimabad in Maharashtra at National Museum in Delhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

Rakhigarhi

Coming back to Rakhigarhi which is the largest IVC site in independent India.

The road to Rakhigarhi leads us through the famous ‘Sarason ke khet’ all around us, lovely bright yellow flowers spread across acres, green fields of wheat giving an equally beautiful alternative to the eyes. The flattest land with not a hill in site, the air fresh and morning mist reluctant to go away with the dawn of every day being a sight to behold. There were lakes and happy buffaloes relaxing in it, dew drops still waiting on the leaves and sun rays trying hard to make inroads to reach us. One such charming day found us in Rakhigarhi.

The site is spread on 7 mounds that generally depict a place where people had lived for centuries and now moved away. The prominent feature of Rakhigarhi is the fortification wall. Unfortunately it is so neglected and encroached by the present village that for an onlooker it looks like a heap of mud with pigeon nests in between. But a closer look will reveal the famous fine baked Harappan bricks standing solidly for last 4500 years.

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The Harappan bricks at Rakhigarhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

 

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Remains of fortification at Rakhigarhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

Rakhigarhi shows continuous settlement from early to late Harappan phases. Several copper , gold and silver artefacts have been found along with the ceramics of Indus brand. One of the interesting finds at Rakhigarhi is graffiti like wall decorations, which could very well be signs of an early Indus script.

After Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, archaeologist discovered several sites along the course of Indus in present day Pakistan. The name Indus valley culture was given primarily because most of the sites of this culture were found in Indus valley after the first excavation in 1922. Post independence, since both Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa became part of Pakistan, Indian archaeologists were keen to find similar site on Indian soil and they were not disappointed. We now have almost 1000+ Indus valley sites in India belonging to early, mature and late cultures. Most of them are in the so called Saraswati river valley hence, many insist on calling this culture as Sindhu-Saraswati culture.

Now where is this Saraswati river? All Indians believe in their hearts that Saraswati river once flowed on this land and there is ample literary evidence in the scriptures to prove it. Rig Ved mentions Saraswati in glorious terms, a river more prominent than Sindhu or Ganga. Mahabharata records Balram having done Saraswati Parikrama and vanishing of river Saraswati in the desert, in a place called Vinashan Tirtha. It is assumed that Ghaggar River in India and Hakra-Nara channel in Pakistan must be the old river bed of Saraswati. Ghaggar is not a perennial river as it originates in Shivalik mountains and is fed by glacial waters. Hence it is much likely that Sutlej from west and Yamuna from east were the major tributaries of Saraswati thus giving her substantial water load.

Saraswati dried up because of tectonic movements and its major tributaries changing their course. This must have happened around 1900 BCE approximately. It had a great impact on environment as the fertile land turned arid. Decline of Indus culture is also attributed to this sudden change in the climate. Late Harappan culture shows marked down gradation in the quality of pottery, town and artefacts. It is assumed that the trade declined, people left their cities and spread outside the region in search for greener pastures. A probable reason why camel bones are not found in mature Harappan sites excavation.

Farmana

Close to Rakhigarhi is another IVC site of Farmana. On the banks of river Chautang which was Dwishdwati of the past, is this tiny town holding evidences of a legacy in an idyllic setting. Shades of green and yellow smile at you from all corners of horizon. With a backdrop of clear blue sky and buff alluvial soil, it was a riot of colours, unexpectedly from the most simple, rustic surroundings. The brickwork of a forgotten era, the pottery scattered around and serene calm; as if it was a different world, in a different time with only the landscape remaining as a sole witness.

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The IVC site of Farmana. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

An excavation was done in the middle of a field here. Archaeologists found roads crossing at right angles, a big house with hearth, storage pits and a main door opening in a side lane.

People

The excavated sites of this culture have shown that people of those era had opportunity to live in fortified cities, walk on planned good roads, live in big houses with courtyard and adjoining rooms, wear gold ornaments and bead bangles. They had the finest pottery to drink and to eat from. The children played with beautifully made earthen toys and people probably worshipped earthen idols. There were seals with images and scripts, most likely used for trade and weights used for measurements. Sometimes there were citadels, huge halls and granaries,  but everywhere a standard sized brick was used.

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Beads found at Rakhigarhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

They had ‘Tandoor’ ovens in their courtyard just like their present day predecessors. And they entered their houses from doors opening in the adjoining lanes, just like todays inhabitants, to avoid the blast of sand storms in summer. They ate wheat, barley ,peas spiced with mustard. They used sesame oil and had jowar. They wore clothes made from cotton washed with indigo and women used henna to beautify their hands. They had many cows, bulls and chickens strutting in their backyard and also loved cats and dogs and had them as pets.

The men and women wore ornaments made from gold and use of tusk was common. The beautiful stylish pottery would take us by surprise. Big jars with perforated walls, dish on a stand,  huge round barrels for storing grains and delicate stemmed pots to drink from ! The quality of pottery found in Harappan sites is superb with a fine finish.

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Harappan Pottery. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

Riddle

The earliest scripture in Indian history, the oldest surviving texts through oral tradition is Vedic literature. And Rig Ved is the oldest set of poetic hymns available to us. But there is not a strong archaeological support to this oldest text, so dating Rigveda is a daunting task. Whereas in Sindhu Saraswati culture there are countless artefacts and ancient ruins to look at and study but since we don’t know the script, there are limitations to our understanding about the people who built this. This is biggest riddle in Indian history and historians are trying to solve it for years now.

 

Author – Manisha Chitale

She can be contacted at manishachitale@hotmail.com

 

 

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.

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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.

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 Objective

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 .

Impact

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.

Voices 

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 bibhutibarik@gmail.com

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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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 rsphaugat@live.in

Dundlod in Shekawati – A Timeless Heritage

A short distance from Nawalgarh, one of the largest painted towns of Shekawati in Rajasthan takes you to Dundlod, a picture postcard Rajasthani village famous for its Goenka Havelis and Chhatris.

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In the 18th Century, the East India Company had a strong establishment in Calcutta. The backbone of their trade was produced that came from the hinterland. In those days, Calcutta was a major trading hub with huge caravans of camels, horses and bullocks loaded with prized merchandise making a beeline for its port. The transport and supply was generally taken care of by middlemen.

The Indian middlemen were mostly Marwaris from Shekhawati who worked on a commission basis. They were hardworking but shrewd businessmen and acquired substantial wealth over a period of time.

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Among the earliest to establish such trading contacts with the British was Ramdutt Goenka of Dundlod. Along with his brother and sons, Ramdutta managed to acquire several profitable brokerships with early British farms such as Kinsel and Ghose, Kettlewell and Bullen. He also traded with the Greek farm Alexander Ralli which was one largest importer of Indian cotton, jute and hessian.

Travel Tips

Dundlod is located midway between Nawalgarh and Mandawa in Jhunjhun District of Shekawati region at a distance of 160 km from Jaipur via Sikar and 250 km from New Delhi via Dharuhera and Rewari. Established in 1750 CE it was a thikana of Jaipur state. Part of the the fort wall still exists in this heritage village. You need a minimum of two hour to appreciate the late 19th century murals at the chhatri of Ram Dutt Goenka and Arjun Das Haveli. The haveli has been converted into a museum with an entry fee of 50 INR. 

Dundlod Fort which is now converted into a heritage hotel (http://www.dundlod.com/) is a blend of Rajput and Mughal architecture. The Diwan E Khas has stained glass windows and exotic antiquities. It has a library too. The hotel organizes a variety of activities including horse safari and cycle polo. 

Having acquired these agencies, the Goenkas expanded their business in jute and tea rapidly and part of the wealth they generated was invested in construction of havelis in their native Dundlod.

One of the key attractions of Dundlod is the chhatri of Ramdutt Goenka built in 1888. The dome of the chhatris has floral motifs with banners extending from the center. The dome is encircled by frieze showing Krishna dancing with his gopis, interspersed with musicians and peacocks. Another major draw among the frescoes is a man drawing water from a Shekhawati well.

Also, Read Here: 

Hill Forts of Jaipur – Jewels of Aravali

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Though most of the havelis built by the Goenkas are not at their glorious best, the Seth Arjun Das Goenka Haveli is an exception. The haveli is now converted into a small private museum. The haveli is of typical Shekhawati architecture consisting of a public area, a courtyard, a family area and bedrooms on the upper floor. The havelis has 20 rooms spread over two floors.

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Built in 1870s by Arjun Das Goenka, the haveli has some of the finest frescoes of Shekhawati. The dioramas in the interior of the haveli reveal aspects of life in those times, beginning with their reception room, cooled by huge pankhas (swinging cloth fans).

Also, Read Here:

Deeg Palace – A Synthesis of Persian and Indian Aesthetics

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Dundlod is small and less crowded compared to other Shekawati heritage towns, such as Nawalgarh and Mandawa. But the wealth of its heritage is no less splendid. Besides havelis, the town also has a Darbargarh (palace) built in the 18th century by Keshari Singh, the erstwhile ruler of Dundlod thikana. The present scion and the owner of the palace which is converted into a heritage hotel conduct excellent customised horse safaris into the desert. The other attraction here is the Satyanarayan Temple located beside the Arjun Das Goenka Haveli. The temple has some breathtaking frescos of Shekawati tradition that are well preserved.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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.

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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.

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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 (www.varawalleopardcamp.com). 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. (http://www.thecountryretreat.in/). 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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com