Imagine 19th century Mahanadi, a river that formed the lifeline of Odisha and the only passage to commute between Sambalpur and Cuttack and further Puri for Jagannath darshan. Mahanadi looks pristine but at times could turn hostile for sailors, thanks to its floor filled with large and small rocks that could cause accidents if you are not a skilled and vigilant captain.
Flat bottomed boats that float even today are well suited for Mahanadi navigation. The boatmen would carry racks and hoes with which they would clear a narrow passage just sufficient to let their craft pass, where there were chances of rocks impeding navigation.
The people living on the banks of Mahanadi subsisted by river trading. They would carry salt, spices, coconut and brass utensils from Cuttack to Sambalpur in exchange of cotton, wheat, oilseeds, clarified butter, oil, molasses, iron, turmeric and ikat cloths.
Everything would go fine till they reach near Athmallik where Mahanadi would become a gorge, now flowing like a snake amidst densely forested hills of the Eastern Ghats in the south and Gadajat in the north. The river here is also infested with gharials, the Indian counterpart of American alligators. To gain courage and for safe passage in the gorge, the boatman would seek the blessing of Maa Binkai and Maa Konkai, two sister goddesses, whose abodes are separated by the river.
Today this may sound like a fairytale, but when you are at Binkai your soul is simply transported to yet another era of mysteries and courage of river people amidst the breathtaking collage of mountains and river.
Athmallik is located at a distance of 192 km from Bhubaneswar and it takes about 5 hours of drive on a scenic highway. However, one can also take a train up to Boinda from Bhubaneswar (the best option could be Bhubaneswar – Bolangir Intercity, which leaves Bhubaneswar at 6 AM and arrives at Boinda at 9.30 AM). From Boinda if informed priorly, Anupam Dash can arrange a vehicle for pick up. His phone no is +91 9937412336.
Deep Forest Farmstay is about 40 km from Boinda Station. The drive is scenic, especially on the Ghat Road. On your both sides there are majestic Gadajat Hills and mountain streams in the western periphery of Satkosia Wildlife Park.
Athmallik located in the geographical centre of Odisha is the closet town from Binkai. Steeped in history, Athmallik was a princely state at the time of British Raj. Nestled on the foothills of Panchdhara Mountains and surrounded by the dense jungle of Hatidhara, the buffer area of Satkosia Tiger Reserve, the origin of Athmallik State is obscure.
Glimpses of Panchdhara Mountains and Forest around Athmalik
In the 11th century CE, a jagir was established by King Pratap Deo of the Kadamba Dynasty. Pratap Deo was said to have found a Honda metal vessel which was considered an auspicious sign, after which the territory was named as ‘Hondpa’. Centuries later one of the chiefs divided the state into eight divisions and placed one sub-chief called ‘Malla’ in each division to suppress the unruly tribes. After this event, the kingdom’s name was changed from ‘Hondpa’ to ‘Athmallik’.
Folklore goes: Pratap Deo was a royal scion of Amer (Jaipur) who had come to Puri as a pilgrim along with his six brothers and one sister. For some reason, he ran on trouble and lost four of his brothers in a battle against the king of Puri. As there was no chance for survival, he escaped to the jungle of Bonai. Here at Bonai after he settled down without any fear he arranged his sister’s marriage to a scion of Keonjhar royal family. But the marriage did not last long as his brother-in-law was murdered during a conspiracy.
Once again to overcome threats he had to look for a safe place. Fortunes brought him to Boudh on river Mahanadi and then to present Athmallik, further downstream of Mahanadi, which was ruled by 8 mallas or village chiefs during that time.
At the time of British Raj, Athmallik was one among the 26 feudatory states of Odisha. Today what is left of the erstwhile state are the Kishore Bhavan Palace and an older dilapidated palace on the periphery of the town.
Vestiges of Royal Heritage at Athmallik
The region around Athmallik also has the largest number of hot springs in Asia. There are 84 in Deulajhari, a holy shrine of Lord Shiva, out of which 24 are accessible.
Deulajhari Shiva Temple
According to local belief before Pratap Deo arrived and when the tribal chiefs still ruled, the Lord Jagannath lived in a cave by a wide-eyed, limbless wooden statue worshipped by the indigenous Sabara people. But one day, Hindu priests arrived along the river by boat and kidnapped Jagannath, installing him at the main temple of Puri, where he has remained ever since.
Jagannath Temple Complex in Athmallik
At Athmallik, Jagannath is believed to have once been adorned by what was the largest diamond in the world, before becoming known as the Koh – i – Noor.
The Panchadhara Mountain Range covers a vast area of dense forest and is a prominent elephant corridor. A major watershed, the hills run in parallel to Mahanadi. The mountain range is named after being the source of 5 perennial streams that flow in different directions before forming tributaries of Mahanadi. There are splashing waterfalls deep inside the forest.
Oriental Scops Owl
Deep Forest Farmstay
A major attraction of Panchdhara is Deep Forest Farm Stay, a destination itself for nature-loving travellers. Spread over a land of 4 acres the property has been crafted by Anupam Dash, an avid wildlife photographer and a passionate naturalist. The facility is located in the buffer area of Satkosia Wildlife Sanctuary in Hatidhara Forest. As you take the winding forest road with the mountain streams in the backdrops, the Deep Forest Farmstay welcomes you to its abode with open arms.
A two-hour drive from Bengaluru on Hyderabad Highway drops you at a mysterious land surrounded by a cluster of dramatic hills and a vast semi-arid plateau of Andhra’s Anantapur District at the vicinity of the dried up Pennar River. A legend goes: this was where the blind Jatayu fell, wounded after a futile battle against Ravana, who was carrying away Sita. When Sri Ram reached the place, he saw the bird and said compassionately, “Le Pakshi” – “rise, bird”, in Telugu.
Keeping aside the legend, the tiny town of Leepakshi is however known for its 16th century Veerabhadra Temple, a grandeur in Vijayanagar art and architecture, and one of the finest monuments in the whole of South India. The temple is built on a tortoise shaped low hill called Kuruma Shaila.
Veerabhadra, the fierce god created in his rage after the Daksha Yagna and the immolation of Parvati is the main deity here.
The construction of the temple of Veerabhadra is attributed to the initiative of two contemporary brothers, namely Veeranna and Virupanna at the provincial Vijayanagar Court of Penukonda. It is said that Virupanna was the officer in charge of the state treasury of the provincial government at Penukonda, administered by a governor appointed by Achyuta Deva Raya (1529 – 1547 CE), the Vijayanagar Emperor from Hampi.
The Ruins of Penukonda – The Provincial Capital of Vijayanagar Empire
Penukonda or the Ghanagiri (as described in Vijayanagar inscriptions) was an important and influential province of the Vijayanagar Empire, and the rulers of Vijayanagar and Penukonda were also related through matrimonial alliances. The cult of Veerabhadra was quite popular during this period throughout the Vijayanagar Empire. He was the mascot, the war-cry and a source of inspiration for the Vijayanagar army. It is believed that both the brothers had a special affinity towards Lord Veerabhadra and had been inspired to build a temple at Leepakshi, which had been strongly linked with Puranic tradition.
The Veerabhadra Temple complex is a wonderful example of Vijayanagar architecture. Filled with gopuras, vimanas and sprawling courtyards the temple’s major architectural features are the ranga mantapa and ardha mantapa. Carved with an exquisite array of images of dancers, musicians and the Puranic deities, like those of Anantha Sayana, Dattatreya, Brahma, Tumburu, Narada and Rambha, the temple is however incomplete. The sprawling Kalyana – Mantapa meant as a sacred space for celebrating the wedding of Shiva with his beloved Girija has splendid and carved massive pillars, but there is no roof over them.
A major attraction of the temple is the ceiling murals depicting 14 aspects of Shiva, flanked by rishis whose gazes direct a viewer’s eyes to subsequent depictions from the killing of demon Andaka to Ardhanairswara, a figure whose body is composed of Shiva on the right side and Parvati on the left. There are also manifestations of Shiva as Kirata (boar hunter), Shiva’s wedding with Girija, scenes of Krishna’s childhood, and the legend Manu – Neeti – Cholan who disposed justice even to animals. There is also a scene of Viranna and Virupanna worshipping Shiva and Parvati in the company of other courtiers.
Leepkshi is located at a distance of 120 km from Bengaluru off Hyderabad Highway in Anantapur District of Andhra Pradesh. The nearest town is Hindupur, which is 15 km away. It takes about 2 and half hours to reach Lepakshi from Bengaluru. There are both buses as well as rail connectivity to Hindupur from Lepakshi. If you are travelling by bus or train hire an auto from Hindupur to Lepakshi. Lepakshi can be covered in a day trip. Penukonda is further north about 50 km from Lepakshi.
The murals of Leepakshi manifest the contemporary life in Vijayanagar Court and society. Full of vitality with protruding eyes, angular postures, grace and delightful movement these provide primary pieces of evidence to appreciate the grandeur of cosmopolitan Vijajayanagar. The costumes of men and women, colour embroidered sarees, jewellery, hairstyle, tall headgears (kulavi) are among the finest in Indian mural tradition. The wealthy traders and officials in the 16th-century court are seen dressed in Persian styles are depicted in Leepakshi murals. According to Brigitte Khan Majlis, an expert on Leepakshi murals, the textiles show a wide spectrum of patterns, some bearing a close similarity to extant cotton textiles of Kalamkari tradition, produced along the east coast for export to Indonesia in 17th and 18th centuries.
Veerabhadra Temple’s yet another major attraction is a mammoth Ganesha – hewn in stone and leaning against a rock. Perpendicular to it is a massive Naga with three coils and seven hoods. It forms a sheltering canopy over a black granite Shiva lingam.
The first sculpture at Leepkashi is, however, you will encounter is a spectacular Nandi of 27 feet length and 15 feet height, reputedly India’s biggest monolithic Nandi.
Scientists call him a great naked-eye astronomer. When the west had the privilege of having the best of telescopes and other aids for astronomy, he took observations with indigenous and handy instruments, all fabricated by himself. He was Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar (1835 – 1906) from Khandapada, an erstwhile princely state in Odisha’s Nayagarh district.
Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar
The Ancestral House of Pathani Samanta
Pathani’s greatest contribution in the field of scientific literature is a systematic record of his lifelong research in astronomy. The treatise ‘Siddhanta Darpana’ has been written in Sanskrit and Odia in the lines of Hindu tradition initiated by Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara, Satandu, Sripati and many more at different periods of history.
Chandrasekhar was born in the royal family of Khandapada. Nicknamed as Pathani by his parents (sources say that he was temporarily sold to a Muslim Faqir as a part of the local tradition), Chandrasekhar was initiated to identify stars by his father when he was a child. He received primary education from a Brahmin teacher. As he grew, he started mastering in subjects like lilavati, bijaganita, jyotisa, siddhanta, vyakarana and kavya using the resources available at the family library.
Then on Samanta Chandrasekhar became an ardent observer throughout his life. He spent many sleepless nights for making observations throughout his life.
Today Chandrasekhar’s childhood town Khandpada has probably been forgotten by many of us. However, a leisurely walk through this little town surrounded by nine hills, forest and interspersed valleys, wetlands and soulful Odia villages is like transporting to yet another world. You are driven through layers of history and myths of this offbeat Gadajat land.
Apart from the ancestral house of Pathani Samanta and the museum built to showcase his work, the star attraction of Khandpada is the palace. The 250-year-old palace, locally called Rajabati is a magnificent structure showcasing a fusion of Mughal and Odia architecture. The palace has two parts, the outer darbar hall overlooking a large courtyard and the inner Rani Mahal. While you can visit the Darbar Hall, entry to the inner chambers is restricted.
Khandpada is located in Nayagarh District at a distance of 80 Km from Bhubaneswar via Baghamari. Both Khandpada and Kantilo can be covered in a day trip from Bhubaneswar. While at Khandpada also explore Sunamuhi wetland on the outskirt of the town towards Nayagarh. The Nila Madhav Temple gets closed for darshan by 1 PM. You can also have food at the temple by paying a certain amount.
Khandpada State was initially part of Nayagarh State, founded by a former ruler of Rewa State in present-day Madhya Pradesh. It became a separate kingdom in the 16th century when Jadunath Singh Mangaraj, the first ruler of Khandpada received the title Mangaraj from the Gajapati King of Puri.
The state was merged with the Democratic Republic of India in 1948. The present Raja is His Highness Sri Bibhuti Bhusan Singh Mardaraj, who lives in Bhubaneswar.
The Jagannath Temple built beside the Rajabati is an architectural landmark of the town. Situated within a spacious courtyard, the temple draws a huge crowd during Rath Jatra and other festivals associated with the Jagannath Cult.
A visit to Khandapada is incomplete without experiencing the darshan of Lord Nila Madhav located on a hilltop on the bank of River Mahanadi at Kantilo.
Lord Nila Madhav occupies a central position in Jagannath Cult.
At the time, Puri became an established place of Jagannath Cult, here Biswabasu, a chief of Sabara Tribe worshipped Kitung as the God was known in Sabara dialect.
The legend goes: once upon a time, Indradumyna was ruling as the king of Malwa. He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu.
Once he had a dream…Vishnu had reincarnated as Nila Madhav in the distant land of Sri Kshetra. The king deputed one of his counsellors, Vidyapati to travel to Sri Kshetra and confirm the presence of his lord.
Vidyapati travelled far and wide but was disappointed. One day he met Lilita, a Sabara girl, who was the daughter of Biswabasu, the chief of the Sabara Tribe. Both fell in love and got married.
Vidyapati noticed that Biswabasu would go into the forest every afternoon. Vidayapati was curious but the Sabara Chief refused to tell him where he goes every afternoon. After much persuasion, Lalita admitted that her father went into the forest to worship Nila Madhav.
Hearing this from his spouse Vidyapati was over joyous. He nagged his father-in-law to take him to the shrine. Finally, Biswabasu agreed with a condition that he would take him a blindfold. Vidayapati had no choice. When he saw the heavenly beauty of Nila Madhav he was mesmerized. He hurriedly left for Malwa to give the good news to his master King Indradummyna.
Today, the locals still believe that Biswabasu lived in a nearby hill across the town and he would come every afternoon to the spot, where the present temple of Lord Nila Madhav stands.
Built-in the Kalinga School of Architecture, the Nila Madhav Temple resembles a miniature Jagannath Temple at Puri. From here one can have a sweeping view of the mighty Mahanadi River.
Truly Khandapada is a timeless journey shrouded in mysteries of time, culture and myths. It was a land which nurtured great souls like Pathani Samant. Here at every bit of its land, you will find the magical charm of rural Odisha.
In 14th Century CE, the Gajapati King of Puri had recruited hundreds of archers, wrestlers and military personals both from within Odisha and neighbouring regions for safeguarding Odisha from the invasion of Islamic rulers of North India. One of his favourite wrestlers was Shri Hattakeswar Raut who hailed from Singhbhum. Satisfied with his valour, Hattakeswar was offered to rule two villages on the bank of River Mahanadi, Sankha and Mahuri. Both these villages during that time were under the control of Kondhs, one of Odisha’s most aboriginal tribes. Hattakeswar defeated their chief and established a new kingdom and named it Badamba or Baramba after the goddess Biradamba, the other name of Bhattarika, and the presiding deity of the area.
Over the centuries, the state of Badamba was extended from Sankh and Mahuri to a large area surrounded by states of Narsinghpur, Khandapada, Banki, Tigiria, Denkhanal, Hindol and Athagarh.
At the time of British Raj, the state of Badamba had expanded to an area of 142 square miles consisting of 181 villages.
The present palace of Badamba spread over an area of 3 acres on the foothill was built in the 1920s during the reign of Narayan Chandra Birabar Mangaraj Mohapatra. Closed to the palace is situated yet another building in an abandoned state that was used as the state guesthouse. Within the complex is built a sprawling Jagannath Temple.
Before the state was merged with the Democratic Republic of India, Badamba had been known for excellent administration, jail system, court, high-quality education, promotion of art and culture and better health services including the establishment of an Ayurvedic Hospital.
During the rule of Birabara Mangaraj in the early 20th century, the weavers of Maniabandh had received royal patronage. This had led to the worldwide recognization of Maniabandhi Saree. He was also a great lover of nature and the environment. A large quantity of forest produces were exported to foreign shores from his kingdom.
Badamba is located at a distance of 85 km from Bhubaneswar via Athagarh and 96 km via Ansupa. It takes about 2 and half hours to reach Badamba. It can be covered in a day trip. From Badamba, Bhattarika is about 10 km and Champannath Temple is 22 km. Nuapatna and Maniabandh are situated on the highway before Badamba from Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. For food, there are a few dhabas found on the highway and for washroom and snacks, you can avail the facility at Wayside Amenity Centre near Ansupa and Maniabandh.
Badamba is situated by picturesque hills of the Eastern Ghats on its right and Mahanadi on the left. Maa Bhattarika is the tutelary deity of Badamba State. Located on the bank of River Mahanadi in a pictorial setting, the temple of Maa Bhattarika was built on the foot of a low hill, Ratnagiri, beside the river, is a major attraction.
According to a legend, Parasurama, facing certain defeat at the hands of Saharasjuna, prayed to Maa Durga who appeared on this spot to impart her divine power to his aid. Parasurama established the peeth and also carved the image of the goddess in the tip of his arrow.
According to yet another legend, Rama, Lakshman and Sita on their way to Panchavati had offered prayer to Maa Bhattarika.
One more legend goes: during the visit to Bhattarika by Krishna and Satyabhama, Arjuna came to know and reached here to meet them. However, before he reached Bhattarika Satyabhama was abducted by a demon called Gosimha. Arjuna fought bravely and killed the demon. After she was relived, Krishna, Satyabhama and Arjuna prayed Goddess Bhattarika, the presiding deity of Badamba Royal Family.
The temple of Maa Bhattarika also has a strong Buddhist connection, especially Tantric or Mahayana Buddhism. Cooked fish is offered as prasadam to the goddess. She is also considered as the deity of navigation and the fishermen community.
Further west of Bhattarika, is the temple of Lord Champannath, a Shiva Temple built in the time of Somavamsi rule. The major attraction here is turtles reared in the temple pond. When they are fed the leftover temple prasadam they come out of the water and offer a great sight for tourists.
For those seeking a little adventure and have a fun bath under a splashing waterfall, they will have to drive from Champannath Temple in the right direction through the mystic mountains and the forested corridor of Baramba Hills. The splashing water of Deojhar Fall is hidden deep inside a forest.
A visit to Badamba is incomplete without experiencing the textile heritage of Nuapatna and Maniabandh. Over 5000 weavers of the area are engaged in ikat weaving, mostly sarees and dress material. A unique aspect of these weavers is that they are Buddhists, the only leftover traditional Buddhists from the historical time. They are vegetarians and also strong believers in Jagannath cult. You can meet them while they are at work, interact and learn the intricate methods of ikat weaving. You can also shop directly from the weavers.
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.
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’.
The Ruins of Navrashpur
This place was Torvi, a dry undulating place, but catchment for all the run-off water from the plateau.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Annicut and Terracotta Pipes Laid by Adil Shahi Engineers from Torvi Source, Photo Credit – Hamza Mehboob
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.
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.
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.
Gunj or Water Towers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In some corner of my heart, I have developed a special weakness for Khemundi, an erstwhile historic territory in South Odisha’s Ganjam and Gajapati Districts with Paralakhemundi as the capital. Here I was born close to 5 decades before in Chitrakara (Artisan) Street. Though I did not live here for longer stretch of times, I used to spend my childhood vacations twice a year spanning one and half months put together. As I recall my childhood days, Kumara Purnima or Sarad Purnima used to be a festival immediately after Dusshera when elderly folks of the town would play day and night a kind of circular pictorial card game, called sāra locally. Later, I came to know it is called Ganjifa or Ganjapā, a game introduced from Persia through Mughals in the 16th century, but now lost everywhere except Paralakhmundi’s cousin town Badakhmundi or Digapahandi in South Odisha’s Ganjam District (25 km away) from Berhampur, the largest city of the region.
Asta Rangi Ganjapā Cards being played at Digapahandi
In the last 500 years of Digapahandi’s history, the region was blessed with diverse cultural influences. The influence of the Jagannath Cult of Puri had been its founding stone in the 16th century when a branch of Gajapati clan started ruling the Khemundi territory from Paralakhemundi.
Digapahandi is a small town/large village located at a distance of 25 km from Berhampur, also the nearest Rail Station. The town is well connected from Berhampur by a motor road (the national highway that connects Gopalpur Port with Raipur, the capital of Chhatisgarh). A drive through the highway and the surrounding countryside is very scenic with hills, paddy fields, water bodies and colourful villages. Beyond Digapahandi starts the Ghat Road of Eastern Ghats. Another 25 km drive from Digapahandi is Taptapani, a natural hot spring surrounded by dense forests, hills and Saora tribal villages.
While at Digapahandi your resource person for Ganjifa cards is Shri Lakshmidhar Mahapatra (+91 9439135827).
Digapahandi does not have staying options. But if you are interested in forest and tribes, try for Panthanivas (Odisha Tourism) http://www.panthanivas.com/ at Taptapani. Otherwise, you can find plenty of options at Berhampur or Gopalpur-on-Sea.
Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra in the Sanctum Sanctorium of the Jagannath Temple within the premise of the ruined palace
Lord Gopala and Goddess Radha
The last independent king of Odisha was Telenga Mukunda Deva (1559 – 68 CE). During his reign, Paralakhemundi was separated from the Old Khemundi state. Due to the fact that the Old Khemundi state was divided into three parts between the two sons of Swarnalinga Bhanu, the elder brother Ramachandra became the king of Badakhemundi and Sanakhemundi, while the younger son Subhalinga Bhanu became the king of Paralakhemundi State. So Badakhemundi and Sanakhemundi have always had a relationship with the Parala State, the place of my birth. After the death of Mukunda Deva, the region was briefly occupied by the Qutbshahis of Golkonda who were defeated by Mughals subsequently. The region was also under the Maratha domain for sometime before it was subjugated to the rule of East India Company in the early 19th century.
The Ruined Palace and the Tank
Ganjifā cards game was perhaps introduced here through the Mughals as there is no tradition of playing Dasavatara here, which is popular in Puri. Here 8 colours (Atha Rangi) or 8 suits cards is traditionally played.
8 suits cards had been initiated by Emperor Akbar. These were Ghulam (servant), Taj (crown), Shamsher (sword), Asharfi (Gold Coin), Chang (harp), Barat (Document), Tanka (Silver Coin) and Gimah (merchandise). In Digapahandi packs, one finds close resemble with the Mughal names, such as Gulama (Mughal: Ghulam). Chenga (Mughal: Chang), Someswara (Mughal: Shamsher) and Barata (Mughal: Barat). The other four colours are Surjya (Sun), Chandra (moon), Phula (flower) and Kumancha. Besides Ganjapā, there are three other games played traditionally at Digapahandi, which are explained by the players in the film here.
Digapahandi was also a thriving centre of art and culture during its heydays. However, most of its tangible heritage is lost with the ravage of time.
In Ganjam, a type of murals incorporating ideas from South and Puri had developed known by Dakshini style of murals. In one of the recent stories, we had highlighted the murals of Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda. The erstwhile kings of Digapahandi also had commissioned similar work in the 19th century at its mutts and temples. One can still find their traces adorning the walls of its crumbling temples.
The ruined Jagannath Temple and traces of murals that once covered its walls profusely
Another interesting aspect of Digapahandi’s cultural heritage is Osakothi murals that one finds on walls of temples and sacred spaces, freshly painted during Navaratra every year. Osa meaning penance and kothi meaning sacred space, Osakothi represents the shrine where Osakothi rituals take place. The Osa fasting is carried out by women for the welfare and longevity of their husbands and families. The paintings are solely done by men. A folktale goes, a beautiful woman Shriya whose seven sons were killed by a jealous queen. However, she was blessed by goddess Mangala upon observing Osa for 12 years with seven more sons and everything that she desired. Since then it became a custom to observe Osa for prosperity and well being of a woman’s family.
In an Osakothi shrine what draws your attention is more than life-size images of Goddess Durga, Kali, Shiva, Chhinnamasta, Parvati, Saraswati, Ganga, Yamuna and a number of folk deities. One also finds scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as warriors, birds, animals and other floral designs. Be there between Dussehara and Kartik Purnima to witness Osakothi rituals, where you can find elements of tribal, folk and Hindu beliefs and practices.
Digapahandi and its rural heartland are frozen in time. Little wonders it is also the gateway to South Odisha’s tribal territory, especially of Saoras and Kondhs. You discover miles and miles of paddy fields that appear in monsoon and during Durga Puja as fields of emerald. At distance, there are hills of Eastern Ghats.
Though its immediate surroundings do not have a significant tribal population, there are a few hamlets here and there of Sabara tribe, once hunter gathers into subsistence farmers. They also entertain you through their soulful devotional music using an ethnic musical instrument called kenadarā.
Sirpur in Chhattisgarh (also known as Mahakosala) was the seat of power for Panduvamsa at a time when political turmoil was at its peak in East-Central India. During the reign of Mahasivagupta Balarjuna at the beginning of the 9th century CE, Mahakosala had been invaded by Rastrakutas from Deccan. With little hope for revival, a branch of the family left Sirpur for Suvarnapur (or Sonepur) in search of fresh fortune in Western Odisha. Here they thrived and established a kingdom known by Somavamshi, which later penetrated into Coastal Odisha and became the creator of some of India’s finest temple jewels in Bhubaneswar.
Suvaranapur from then on became a flourishing centre of art and religion. However, its link with Ramayana’s Lanka by Late Prof H.D Sankalia, the Father of Indian Archaeology traces its roots to much earlier time. The archaeological expedition at Kahambeswarapalli and Manmunda Asurgarh (the settlement of Asura Tribe) on the southern bank of River Tel also pushes back its antiquity to Prehistoric time.
Sunset over River Tel
For everyone in India, a familiar story goes: Thousands of years ago, Lord Vishnu took birth as Rama, to kill the demon king of Lanka. Ravana carried off Sita, Rama’s beautiful wife, to his kingdom, and in course of the search, Lord Hanuman made a great leap across the seas. His superhuman bound carried him from the southernmost tip of India into the land of Lanka, now known as Sri Lanka. Rama stormed the country, and after a long battle, rescued his wife.
However, archaeological finds revealing sacrificial alters, skeletons of horses, prehistoric tools, plenty of Iron Age war tools, the remnants of a large fortified city dated from 6th century BCE, all suggesting to one point – Sonepur was a cradle of early civilization inhabited by Asura tribes.
Sonepur is located in Western Odisha at a distance of 278 km from Bhubaneswar by road. It is a medium-sized town and the district headquarter of Subarnapur District. While in the town a traveller can also explore its other heritage temples, such as Budhi Samalai Temple, Bhagavati Temple, Dadhibabana Temple, Dasamati Temple and Jagannath Temple. Sonepur is also a major handloom cluster. Bomkai or Sonepuri Saris are woven by Bhullia community in villages around Sonepur.
Sonepur does not have many staying options. However, nearby towns of Balangir and Bargarh, both connected by rail have a number of budget hotels at affordable prices.
Lankeshwari Temple in the Middle of River Mahanadi
In the living tradition of Sonepur, Hanuman is disrespected and his effigy is burnt as a mock of counterpart on the day of Purna Amas, 40 days before Dussehra, the day Rama defeated Ravana. On this day Lanka Podi is performed in Sonepur during which monkey god’s terracotta image is burnt, crushed and thrown into the river as a mock of Ravana’s antipathy.
Much later in history, Sonepur was also a princely state of India during the rule of the British Raj. Its ruler was entitled to 9 gun salute. The state was founded in 1556 CE by the rulers of the Chauhan Dynasty. During Sambalpur Uprising the Chauhans of Sonepur had extended support to the British.
The Remains of Ruined Palace in Sonepur
The Chauhans were great patrons of art. Under their patronage, artisans were invited from other parts of Odisha and elsewhere. Applique or chandua kam, pattachitra, wood carvings, ganjapa, terracotta and many more thrived on its historic corridors on the banks of River Mahanadi and Tel.
Ganjapa Cards of Sonepur
Several temples also dot its landscape representing the combination of Tantra, Shaiva and Vaishnava faiths. Among the temples, the most noteworthy are the Gundicha Temple, Sureswari Temple, Budhi Samalai Temple, Rameswara Temple, Lankeswari Temple and Pancharatha Temple.
Budhi Samalai Temple
Sureswari is the presiding deity of Suvarnapur and is an ancient seat of Tantra Sadhana. Although it is not possible to trace when the worship of Sureswari began, the legend goes, Sri Parasurama worshipped his mother Renuka in the name of Sureswari. He killed Kshatriyas and offered their blood to the holy fire of the yajna he conducted.
The Sacrificial Wooden Post used for Animal Sacrifice
A stroll through the lanes of Sonepur would take you to different artisan streets. Beyond the Gundicha Temple on your way to Rameswara Temple at the confluence of Mahanadi and Tel, there is Kumbhara (Potters) Pada (Street). Here one discovers the oldest surviving craft in human civilization untouched by time. The speciality here is the making of terracotta images of Lankapodi Hanuman (described earlier).
At Maharana Pada, there are wooden crafts and paintings in patachitra style. On your way to Manmunda before the bridge on River Tel you meet chandua artists and what they show is very different from Pipli chandua. Across the River, Tel is the settlement of Manmunda Asurgarh where one can explore the process of Bomkai Pata Silk Saree making in a large workshop established by Chaturbhuja Meher.
Sonepur and its surrounding villages are home to nearly 50,000 weavers belonging to Bhulia community. Originally belonged to Rajasthan, the Bhulias came to the region during the mid 14th century through Chhattisgarh. The weavers were later titled as Mehers.
From then on they have been traditionally weaving the tie and dye fabrics. In the earlier time in the absence of chemical colours, the vegetable dye was mainly used, which had a limited colour range.
However, during the 1960s a lot of fresh ideas were introduced with the initiative of visionary Padmashree Krutartha Acharya. Chemical dye was also introduced in the process, which led to increasing in the range of colour sheds and design variations. Bomkhai designs were introduced from Ganjam in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One speciality of Sonepuri tradition is intricate of motifs and designs unlike the tie and dye tradition of other parts of India.
Sonepur is mystic, where time moves at a slow pace. You can simply relax here leisurely for a couple of days strolling through its rural heartland among farmers, potters and fishermen all engaged in rustic folk settings and relishing delicious fresh organic food and lobsters fresh catch from rivers.
“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.” ~ UNESCO
As I sat down to read the books and various journals that I had bookmarked in order to write on my recent heritage run in Telangana, I would sometimes pause to wonder on the fact that when I had started my journey, how ill prepared I was to meet the grandeur of the Kakatiyan temples, with almost no idea about the dynasty that had built them. While north Indian temples have always figured in my travel itineraries, and many a time I have stood in awe at some of their exquisite craftsmanship, I was still unprepared for the sculptural magnificence of the innumerable temples that dot the southern parts of India. It was my first foray into South Indian temple architecture, technically termed as Dravidian temple architecture, and the beauty and splendour of it is indescribable.
A look at our history will show that architecture and sculpture were two distinctive forms of art, and developed as such from the ancient times. The two became intertwined during the Buddhist era; and as Buddhism declined, in the southern parts of India the intertwining continued, as beautiful figures were sculpted on temple walls during the Pallava and Chalukyan period, a practice later adopted by the Chalukyan vassals: the Kakatiyans. As the Kakatiyas declared their independence and slowly turned into a dominant ruling dynasty of the Andhradesa, their architecture and sculpture, which evolved simultaneously over the three centuries of their rule, merged seamlessly into each other. This is evident in their various temples, which are filled with exquisite figures covering each pillar, wall, door panel, door jamb, lintel, and ceiling.
Beautiful sculptures fill the door jambs and pillars of Kakatiyan temples
Who were the Kakatiyas? A rather complex history
There are no clear records of how the Kakatiyas got their name or their caste, and few theories make the rounds. From two stone inscriptions it is learnt that the Kakatiyas got their name from a place called Kakatipura, which is a place where the Cholas once ruled, and where the temples of Ekavira devi and Kakati devi or Kakatamma (Chamunda of the saptamatrikas) stand. It is also believed that the Kakatiyas worshipped the Kakati devi, from whom the family name may have been derived. Some epigraphical evidences suggest that the Kakatiyas belonged to some Ratta (Rashtrakuta) clan, hence they were Sudras (Chaturdhakulajas), with claims to Kshatriya-hood based on their warrior like activities.
Devi Chamunda or Kakati devi (Kakatamma) from whom the Kakatiya dynasty was likely to have derived its name, 13th century, Kolunapaka
Trying to decipher the Kakatiyan lineage:
870-895 CE – Gundaya’s reign as Rashtrakuta vassal
895-940 CE ~ Ereya’s reign as Rashtrakuta vassal
The Mangallu inscription in 956 CE shows Kakatiyan Gundyana fighting under the Eastern Chalukya king; hence likely their vassal (noticeably the inscription doesn’t place the prefix Rashtrakuta before Gundyana’s name showing the disconnect with the clan)
973 CE ~ Collapse of Rashtrakutas
996-1052 CE ~ Beta I installed as king of Annumakonda or Hanamkonda by Erana and his wife Kamaseni (Beta I’s sister)
1052-1076 CE ~ Prola I rules as Kalyani or Western Chalukyan vassal under king Trilokyamalla Someswara. The latter gave the official ruling rights of Hanumakonda to Prola I (which was already bestowed upon him by his aunt Kamaseni), after Prola fought a successful battle against the Cholas.
1076-1110 CE ~ Beta II rules as Kalyani Chalukyan vassal of king Tribhuvanamalla Vikramditya
1110-1158 CE ~ Prola II rules as Kalyani Chalukyan vassal
1158 CE ~ As the Western Chalukyas fall from power, Rudradeva or Prataparudra I declares his independence, and becomes the first independent ruler of the Kakatiyan dynasty. He rules as the first king of the Kakatiya dynasty until 1195 CE.
1195-1198 CE ~ Mahadeva rules. He dies in a war in 1198 CE and his young son Ganapatideva is imprisoned. Later Jaitugi of the Yadavas set him free, and Ganapatideva comes under loyal guardianship of his faithful vassal Recherla Rudra.
1199 -1262 CE Ganapatideva rules. In 1262 he hands over his throne to his daughter Rudrammadevi. In 1269 Ganapatideva dies.
In 1289 Rudrammadevi dies in a battle along with her loyal Senani Mallikarjuna Nayakudu.
In 1289 Prataparudra II starts his rule. He was Rudrammadevi’s grandson (daughter’s son), brought up by the queen herself and trained as her successor.
In 1323 CE after a fifth time invasion of Kakatiya kingdom by Mohammed bin Tughlaq, the capital of the Kakatiyas, Warangal finally falls. Prataprudra II was taken a prisoner, and while being taken to Delhi he commits suicide by drowning in the Narmada river.
In 1323 CE Kakatiya rule comes to an end.
As the loyal vassals of the Kakatiyas, the Nayakas, snatch power back from Delhi and take over. Prataprudra II’s brother Annamdeo moves to Bastar with his army and carves a kingdom there, which is held by his successors until 1947.
All five Islamic invasions faced by the Kakatiya kingdom took place during King Prataprudra II’s rule. The deadliest attack was launched during the second attack by Alauddin Khilji’s army under Malik Kafur in 1309, when different Kakatiyan cities, including Hanamkonda, were brutally destroyed by Khilji’s army. It was during this attack that Prataprudra II offered the Koh-i-noor diamond to Khilji in exchange for peace.
Remains of temple parts inside the 1000 pillared temple complex in Hanamkonda. The temple complex was started by Rudradeva (1163 CE), and later completed by Ganapatideva (1213 CE), and it is believed that Rudrammadevi came here everyday from the Warangal Fort to pray. Parts of this temple and the entire city faced massive destruction under Malik Kafur’s army (1309 CE).
Did the Kakatiyas rule well?
The Kakatiyas emerged as the most powerful rulers during 12th -13th CE, in the entire Telugu land. Their rule ushered in many new bearings in politics and administration, agriculture (especially in terms of irrigation), religion, literature, architecture, and arts. While it is believed that originally they might have been Digambar Jains, their temples predominantly show their Shaivite beliefs. The many conquests and good maintenance of their vast empire by the Kakatiyas; while encouraging growth of arts, literature, and temple architecture; and simultaneously defending their kingdom from constant onslaughts of invading armies, place them foremost amongst the ruling dynasties of modern Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. They united the Andhradesa and bought all the telugu speaking people under a single umbrella thus establishing a unique identity of the telugu people and its language.
During their three centuries rule, the Kakatiyas focused on developing the three Ts : Town, Temple, and Tank. Keeping the basic monarchical form, the Kakatiyas gave great importance to decentralisation of authority by distributing power horizontally to their subordinates (thus creating central, provincial, and local levels of administration). Owing to their continued policy of developing widespread tank irrigation, the kingdom at this time saw unprecedented economic prosperity. This led to large-scale trade activities, and development of many new trade guilds. Motupalli at that time was a well known sea port of the Kakatiyas. Marco Polo, the famous traveller visited the Kakatiya kingdom during the rule Rudramma devi, via Motupalli, and in his travel diary praised the prosperity of this kingdom.
Most of the temple and tank construction projects took place during Ganapatideva’s rule, while his successors Rudrammadevi and Prataprudra II spent their lifetimes fighting invasions. Innumerable majestic temples were built under the supervision of Ganapatideva and his loyal general Recherla Rudra, which included the well known Ghanpur temples and tank, Ramappa temples and tank, Laknavaram tank, and Pakhal tank, amongst many others. The Kakatiyan temples predominantly are dedicated to Shiva, and follow the Ekakuta, Trikuta, or Panchakuta plan. The sculptural art of this time gives us an idea of the socio-religious atmosphere of that era. A favourite theme in temple sculptures of this time were stories from various epics, such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavat Gita, and the Puranas. The artisans would take inspiration from these texts and transfer their imaginations onto stone sculptures on temple walls and panels, making it easily available for the viewing and understanding by the common people. The Andhradesa society during the Kakatiya era also saw some religious movements associated with Jainism, Buddhism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism.
From an overall perspective, the Kakatiya rulers provided their citizens with stability, security, and economic prosperity; while ushering in art and architectural growth, and literary development, which was unique and unheard of previously. The cultural roots sown by the Kakatiyas can still be seen and felt in the innumerable tanks and temples built by them that still dot the area.
The Nameswara temple in Pillalamarri village
During the rule of Ganapatideva, many tanks were constructed using the irrigation bund system, large forested areas were brought under cultivation, and many Shiva temples were constructed. The first tank was likely to have been constructed in village Pillalamari by Namireddy. He also constructed the Nameswara temple in Pillalamari in 1202 CE. The temple has a stone prakara and a tall dhwaja stambha in front. The temple has a large mandapa which is entered by 6 steps. The door to mandapa has dancers sculpted on the door jambs and six dwarasakhas, each intricately carved, while the lintel holds a gajalakshmi. There is a garbhagriha, antarala, and a square mandapa with a circular dance-mandapa at the centre (nritya mandapa). The temple has a small shikhara with later modifications. The mandapa has a kakshasana, with aasanapatta and mattavaarana, running all around it on the inside. The roof has a jutting out cornice, with tiny shikharas raised at the end on the inside of it. The door jambs to the antarala also have exquisite dancers carved on them, and there are chowrie bearers, yalis, eight handed Shiva, dancers, Brahma, and Ganesha to complete the line on the antrala door panels. The mandapa pillars are square with circular discs, and each pillar is a marvel with intricate carvings of dancers and musicians.
At night it is believed that here in this temple (as in Rudreswara temple too) when the world falls asleep, Lord Shiva on the antarala door panel lifts his feet, and all the dancers come alive, along with the apsaras, and the drummers. Then the heavenly dance starts and goes on until day break.
Sri Erakeswara temple in Pillalamarri village
Pillalamarri village was once the fief of Recherla Rudra’s family, a powerful vassal under the Kakatiyas. This temple also has a dhwaja stambh in front, and stone steps lead up to the mandapa. The main deity here is Lord Shiva. As per an inscription plate, Sri Erakeshwara temple was built in the year 1208 CE under King Ganapatideva’s rule by Recharla Rudra in memory of his wife Erasanamma. Another inscription mentions the rule of Rudradeva (1195 CE) and both are seen in this temple. The pillars are similar to that of Nameswara, with square blocks and circular discs, and have dancers and musicians sculpted on them.
In this temple the mandapa is partly broken (the broken pillars are still standing) and large dancers on the temple pillars all gone with just their stubs remaining, reminding us of those grim days when Malik Kafur’s army attacked the Kakatiyan empire during Prataprudra’s reign.
The temple has a stellate form and stands on a high platform. The temple pillars show floral motifs, elephants, and beautiful pushpalata mandalas that are often depicted for protection or beneficence.
slideshow —–> Pillar sculptures in Erakeswara temple.
slideshow —–> Door to the antarala: a female figure holding a child and dancers are carved on door jambs, while the pilasters show the dwarashakhas with dancers, floral motifs holding tiny human figures carved inside vines. The lower panel of the doorway also has female figures, likely to be dancers. The deity inside the garbhagriha is a Shiva lingam.
figures on a stone panel above the mandapa door
Kakatiyan temples : Thy name is beauty
In terms of architecture, the Kakatiyas followed their former masters, the Chalukyas, in form, but managed to create a distinctive feature of their own by bringing in more indigenous forms of art, such as paintings (Cheriyal paintings) that once adorned the temple walls and still survives in various manifestations. The artisans used granite, basalt, and sandstone that were locally available, while lime and bricks were used for making superstructures. Black granite and basalt were used for making pillars, lintels, jambs, ornamental motifs and figures. One must not forget that these were hard rock and not particularly easy to carve. The perfection of the edges and shapes of the lathe turned pillars especially those that adorn the Natya Mandapa speak eloquently of the skill of the artisans and the technology that was developed by them.
The various Kakatiyan temples show a gradual evolution of their unique style
Kakatiyan sculptures, from what remain, show a focus on kirtimukhas, dancers, Anna pakshi
Kakatiyan temple architecture show high levels of sophistication, and one can see the gradual evolution of their style starting from basic temples having a simple mandapa, antarala, and garbhagriha, with pillars lacking sculptures; to the complex trikuta and stellate form of the Thousand-pillared temple; and finally reaching its climax in the exquisitely carved Rudresvara/Ramappa temple.
Author – Monidipa Bose
She can be reached at email@example.com and at monigatha
Way back in 1990s, when I first heard about the magnificence of Havelis or traditional Indian mansions of Bikaner I nourished a subtle desire to visit in person and appreciate the impressive architecture of the Havelis. The newspaper feature articles that used to appear in the intervening period until my first visit to Bikaner circa 2000 CE could not satisfy my visual appetite that could be whetted only by a visit. . My first visit to the Havelis in Bikaner town and its agglomerations was facilitated by Tourism Writers Guild whose dynamic associates viz. Shri Updhyan Chandra Kochar, who is no more now and Zia-ul-Hasan Quadri with several others had organized a Heritage Walk in the old sectors of the city covering only a few major Havelis. At that time, it was cloudy and digital cameras had not come in vogue, which could have given considerable advantage to accurately record the beauty of the mansions of yore. I managed a few clicks but returned dissatisfied. However, a couple of years later, the situation came to be realized in an entirely diverse and more advantageous manner as the weather was cool-warm with a bright sunshine. Secondly I was equipped with a Nikon D800 and Kodak Easy Share Z990. During the five day’s stay in the City, I could thrice sneak into the old and narrow alleys to view Havelis as closely as could be managed, which were created by the collective wisdom of reputed native architects known as Suthar, stone carvers (Pashaan Silpi) and painters (Usta and the Chungar/चूनगर) whose names were assiduously listed by Mr Quadri during research.
The splendid Rampurion ki Haveli is the most well-known architectural wonder ever created in Bikaner. In fact, it is a cluster of Havelis, which the Department of Archaeology of the Govt. of Rajasthan has declared as protected under the relevant Act. The fascia of the mansions, situated in narrow lanes bears ornamental carving depicting floral and animate objects up to a height of three storeys. The front portion of all these Havelis was laid in red sand stone, which was quarried in abundance at Dulmera in the erstwhile princely state of Bikaner.
The city is situated amidst sand dunes, interspersed by several lakes full of sweet rainwater that collects as runoff -such as at Gajner and Kolayat (22 and 34 kilometers away on the road to Jaisalmer, respectively), an abundance of thorny vegetation of the arid zone as well as large shady trees such as Neem , which are particularly protected by the locals. Sometimes, it rained in torrents in the Bikaner region but the weather might run dry for several years at a stretch causing scarcity of water. All water holes run dry offering an opportunity to clean the mud from the bottom and strengthen the embankments. However, ground water aquifers are accessed to meet the growing needs of the people for potable water and keeping the population in comfort zone.
In the regions that sustain brackish groundwater, the people have devised innovative ways to store sweet rain water in the Kunds and masonry tanks. The Tankas and Kunds were constructed with stone/bricks set in lime mortar. The materials naturally keepthe stored water cool and acid-free for a long period……sometimesfor three years with minimum micro-organism causing parasitic diseases. Nowadays, many industrial units have been set up in the district, particularly on the Sri Ganganagar road, which hasenhanced the need for water. It will be difficult to be able to meet the demand as well as manage disposal of waste and toxic water released by these newly set up units.
Shri Quadri’s listing of Havelis or old mansion of Bikaner and its agglomerations makes an impressive number -1003, which is amazing in itself and indicates the great effort and time devoted by both -the builders and the designer architects, in addition to the crafts persons that could be involved with the creation of the architectural splendor, which has become not only a window for the world to depict the ingenuity and standards of workmanship of Indians artisans but also as rich source material for study and research to the students of the Schools of Architecture and Design. A close inspection of the fine carving on stone and wood, the methods of cladding and fixing of stones, juxtaposing of the carved pieces and brackets without a visual indication of the glue, creation of frescoes on wall, niches and roof and the layout can leave one stunned for a while.
Every Haveli had one or several internal courtyards, curved, narrow and vestibule type entrance whereas the Nauhras (Office space, parking- cum- godown) or business houses attached with godowns had a wide, arched gate with heavy door sets made of wood. One wonders at the acumen of the architects in the use of geometry and mathematical calculation with native instruments applied to the aesthetic look of havelis. The layout of the Havelis and positioning of windows and doors afforded complete privacy to the occupants who could perform mundane activities without being noticed from outside. Not much wood was used in the Havelis but wherever it was, great wisdom and appropriate methodology was used Window-panes were deliberately kept small-sized, latticed or fixed with Jalis at certain places for the outer windows and, of course, door sets, lintels and the jambs were studded with inlay as well as suspended or shelved motifs. From the year 1860s to 1930s, the wealthy Seths or merchants had commissioned construction of the Havelis and were visionaries in a sense that they loved revival of several art forms and splendor in stone inspired by forms in nature –particularly the wild plants, that was capable of enriching the ambient space of Mohallas . Frescoes depicting contemporary events, episodes from Hindu pantheon and mythology, native life and other decorative motifs within the interiors provide cultural ambiance to life of the people. The architects of the Havelis were fully aware about the fine rules of utilization of space in a creative and aesthetic manner .
It is regrettable that nowadays many Havelis have become victims of air pollution loaded with toxic fumes containing lead particles and oxides of sulphur. Innumerable auto-rickshaws that ply within the narrow lanes throughout the day are the major culprits. These vehicles run on diesel fuel and ooze black smoke from the exhausts causing respiratory distress to residents and visitors. I am not aware if a policy of controlling pollution of the air in the city exists or the district administration is alive to the problem to regulate the type of vehicles or the fuel that can be used within the city. It is high time the district administration thinks of introducing innovative ways of ferrying passengers by mini-vehicles that may run on battery power.
In the area of Taj trapezium at Agra, these types of battery-run vehicles have given some respite from air pollution. The noxious gases that come out from the exhausts of diesel-run vehicles get mixed with small amount of moisture already present in the atmosphere and transforms into sulphuric and nitric acids, and then, comes into contact with red sand stone having fine carvings. It reacts with the stone and causes slow decay of the surface of the stone disintegrating the texture of the stone. Within a few years the cladding of red sand stone on a building becomes disfigured and weak.
Therefore, with great urgency the suspended particulate level in the air as well as the content of noxious gases need to be controlled as an essential measure for preserving the architectural heritage of Bikaner.
Bikaner State has preserved the old Rajput political, cultural and artistic traditions, completely unadulterated, until sixty years ago; and even today very many of them are still alive. It is true that Bikaner is not so well known to tourists and scholars as other Rajput states like Jaipur, Jodhpur or Udaipur, which can boast of a more attractive scenery and of greater economic resources. But the very remoteness of Bikaner has preserved the heritage of the past much better than in the more accessible states. The heritage is great and can well compare with that of her more fortunate neighbours and seldom surpasses it.
–‘The Art and Architecture of Bikaner State’, 1950 by Hermann Goet
However, on page 84 of the book mentioned above Hermann noted: ‘The Banya houses of the last half century imitate unsuccessfully the over elaborate and somewhat petty exuberance of the Jodhpur mansions of the middle 19th century. At present the tradition is rapidly degenerating. For the complete breakdown of artistic taste in India during the Victorian period with all its fondness for the discarded tinsel of the West has now reached the mercantile class of Bikaner, and houses are decorated with copies of pseudo-Gothic scroll work and grotesque ‘portraits’ of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, etc. In the meantime modern architecture is penetrating into the new quarters of the town which are being laid out by the government.
The historical havelis of Bikaner have been selected for inclusion in the 2012 World Monument Watch.
If Ranisar and Padamsar overflow, the market rates will fall as there will be good rainfall and bumper crop and the hoarders and money-lenders will be put to loss
An old saying in Jodhpur
Jodhpur, Rajasthan’s second largest city and the cultural capital of Marwar is a jewel in the crown of the desert state. In spite of its hostile terrain and harsh climate, Jodhpur has produced some of the finest artistic expressions and music in the entire Indian Subcontinent. The erstwhile Maharajas were not just great patrons of art and architecture but also skillfully managed the water resources of the region.
So durable was its water management system that it could quench the thirst of its inhabitants till 1950s through a complex network of lakes, step-wells, wells and jhalaras. Jodhpur has hills surrounding Mehrangarh Fort and is a catchment area for monsoon waters that flow down into small and large depressions. Its medieval inhabitants converted them into lakes from where water was drawn to over hundreds of step-wells and jhalaras built in different periods of time in the walled city area and beyond.
Every neighbourhood in the old city had its own baori and the maximum concentration of baoris is in the Chand Pol area. These baories not only provided water to its inhabitants but also refuge to birds and a variety of aquatic life. Teeming with the life they were a cool refuge from the heat of the desert to spend some time in.
But with the construction of Indira Gandhi canal, the Himalayan water started flowing into every household of the desert town through pipes and taps. People started detaching themselves from their roots of harvesting and respecting the water. Slowly the places and related customs became obsolete and turned into a refuge for tons of trash. The most vulnerable were the underground baoris; hidden from plain sight these have become a safe haven for anti-social elements.
Rao Jodha decided to build his capital on the summit of Pachetia Hill in the 15th century CE because the area had immense potential for harvesting rainwater and perennial springs that were visibly flowing in-between the rocks.
Jodhpur is the second largest city and is located in the heart of the Marwar region in west-central Rajasthan. Founded by Roa Jodha in 1459 CE Jodhpur is a major tourist place for its palaces, temples, desert biodiversity and ethnic life. It is also a shoppers paradise. The main thoroughfare for tourists is around the iconic Ghantaghar, the lanes and by-lanes of the Blue City and the majestic Mehrangarh Fort.
From Jodhpur, a tourist can also plan to nearby Mandore Fort, Gurjar Pratihar Temples of Osian and Khichan for demoiselle cranes.
For a local delicacy try out rabdi and kulfi at street corners around Ghantaghar.
The first water project undertaken was Ranisar for supplying water to the fort above. The southern embankment of Ranisar has masonry walls of red stone with symmetrical steps descending up to its depth, exhibiting the great architectural skill of Jodhpur’s formative period. Water was collected from by both the common people as well as the royal family. Women would come to fill water in their pots for their household needs. For the royal family, labourers would carry water in large vessels up to the palace. From the turret (burz) water was also drawn up to the fort by Persian wheels.
The construction of Ranisar was patronized by Jasmade Haddi Ji, the Maharani of Rao Joddha in 1460 CE, which was later expanded during the rule of Rao Maldeo.
Beside Ranisar is the Padamsar tank, yet another marvel constructed by Rani Uttamade Seesdini Ji, who was the daughter of Rana Sangha of Mewar. Rani Uttamade’s other name was Padmavati. The project was also financed by Seth Padamsar Shah of Mewar at the behest of his mother to assist Rani Padmavati. Hence it came to be known as Padamasar after its patron.
Both these water bodies were periodically expanded and maintained by the royal families.
A little away in the walled city near the Ghanta Ghar is Gulab Sagar along with two temples – Neni Bai ka Mandir and Ranchor Ji ka Mandir. All of these were constructed by queens. According to Late Komal Kothari, Rajasthan’s foremost folk historian, most of the water bodies of Jodhpur were commissioned when these queens became widows.
The following is an extract from his conversation with Rustom Bharucha that appeared in the book Rajasthan – An Oral History.
‘Here we have to understand the laws relating to primogeniture (pātvi) inheritance, where the property of father goes exclusively to the eldest son and does not divide among the brothers as in the bhai-bant inheritance system.
In the pātvi system, we find that as soon as the king dies, his widowed queens are removed from the royal premises along with their servants. It is assumed that they pose a potential threat to the new king with their manipulations and conspiracies. Only the new king can sanction whether these ex-queens can hold on to their property; they may however, be denied access to it. Now so far as movable property (chal-sampati) is concerned, including ornaments and money, this could remain with the queens unless the king orders that it should be returned to the royal treasury. What we find is that when the queens became widows, they would often give their property to a Brahman – this form of donation is known as udakena. It works on the premise that anything given as dān (gift) to a Brahman cannot be reclaimed by the king. Till the queen lived she had rights over the property, but on her death, it became the Brahmin’s property. We find that the patronage of many water bodies has come from such sources.
The other prominent donors were female dancers and singers who were patronised by the king and given the status of pardayatpaswan and bhogtan. There were also prostitutes from musician groups like the patar. We find that these women financed the construction of quite a few temples and drinking water sources after the death of their respective masters.’
Unfortunately, the construction and development of water bodies came to an end around 1897-98, when a public water supply system was introduced for the first time. But Jodhpur’s inhabitants continued to value and maintain the sanctity of old water bodies till the 1950s, after which a collapse began.
On a fine morning when I started walking around the old city admiring its water bodies, what drew my attention were the clean waters of the Toor Ji Ka Jhalra built in the 1740s by Rani Toor Ji. This step well, however, had become a dump yard until recently when it was taken for restoration by local hotels. Water was drawn from this stepwell using Persian wheels once. I was very impressed with the sight, but this happiness disappeared as soon as I arrived at Gulab Sagar, a critically polluted talav with residents having opened their sewage lines into it and also dumping the garbage. Here I met Caron Rawnsley, an Irish environmentalist who has made Jodhpur his home for the last many years.
Toor Ji ki Jhalra and Gulab Sagar
We spent almost an hour at the spot to understand his ideas and concerns regarding Gulab Sagar and other water bodies of the city. Do watch the video below.
From Gulab Sagar, I next went to Mahila BaghJhalra, another restored stepwell, thanks to Caron who cleaned it single-handedly recently.
From Mahila Bagh, I strolled through the interiors of the Blue city and came across a number of small baories in different neighbourhoods. The most important being the Chand Baori but a great surprise was awaiting me on the following day when I and Caron walked through the Chand Pol area outside the walled city.
Our first stop was at Sukhdev Ji Trivedi ka Jhalra, a clean undisturbed water body teeming with aquatic life. There is no information available virtually on its construction or patron. As Caron said it was also not spared until recently by the neighbours and had become a dump yard like many other baories of Jodhpur. He put in a lot of effort in cleaning but vandalism of the structure and its sculptures have not ceased. Do watch the video below on Sukhdev Ji ka Jhalra.
One interesting feature you see near every step-well in Marwar is a stone post with sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses engraved on it. You also see the inscription of the donor and sometimes his/her image.
Our next stop was a hidden gem among all step-wells of Jodhpur – Panchmadi Baori. It is virtually unknown to the outside world and thanks to its almost secret location, it has escaped vandalism. You see pristine water as you descend the steps.
From Panchmadi Baori we moved on to yet another hidden gem, the Ram Baori. Though it is located in the heart of the city it offers unmatched peace and tranquillity.
Next, we went to the fairly well-known Suraj Kund, a large square tank with steps and pavilions spread over two floors. The structure is now under renovation by the Mehrangarh Fort authority. Built by Rao Suraj Singh in 1672 CE, the well is built in Mughal architectural style. It is located in the premises of the Rameshwar Siddha Peeth and was built to meet the water demand of the shrine.
In close proximity to Suraj Kund is the Raghunath Ji ki Baori, the most well maintained of all the baories I saw. The kids there told me they use the place to learn and practice swimming.
The last baori visited by us was the Panch Kua Baori located in an open space but close to being encroached from all sides.
Jodhpur is truly a magical city. Its art, architecture, settlement pattern and more importantly water structures are unique in the Subcontinent but one feels disappointed to see this wonderful water heritage on the verge of extinction. We need a little bit of Caron Rawnsley in each of us to fulfill what Gandhiji meant by Swaraj. That said, the government too needs to wake up from their deep slumber and take urgent steps.