Magical Odisha – An Architectural and Cultural Odyssey

Odisha located on the eastern seaboard of India has long been known for its rich culture and heritage. Celebrated as Kalinga kingdom in the historical time, Odisha was once an important maritime nation. Odisha’s Sadhavas (merchants) often would make sea voyages to carry out trade with the merchants of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka and bring enough wealth. Through these mercantile communities, Odisha also had made profound cultural expansion in Southeast Asia, which is evident among numerous Hindu and Buddhist art of the region. A comparison of Odisha’s historic art with Southeast Asia’s Hindu and Buddhist sculptures show strong cultural ties between the two regions.

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The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise

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Odisha’s Wall Murals at Nuapatna Village

For an appreciation of Odisha’s heritage and to narrate the stories of Odisha recently Virasat E Hind Foundation had conducted its first curated trip for four guests from the National Museum of Thailand at Bangkok. It was the brainchild of our esteemed friend Ms Anita Bose who also worked as a volunteer in the museum until recently.  Though the guests are based in Bangkok at the moment they represent diverse nationality, Beverly from the United States, Cathy from the UK, Nathalie from France and Tasnee from Thailand.

The trip was for 5 days, part of an 11 day East India Tour, which also included West Bengal, Anita’s home state, apart from Odisha. In Odisha, the trip was conducted in the golden triangle (Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark), Buddhist excavated sites at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, the royal heritage of Dhenkanal, Joranda, the global headquarter of Mahima Cult, Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga, Ragurajpur, Odisha’s craft village, Nuapatna textile cluster and Dokra craft of Saptasajya. The logistic support for the trip was provided by Discovery Tours and Travel, Bhubaneswar.

The trip had been designed to showcase Odisha’s diverse heritage in a capsule, from culture to heritage, forest and mountains, art and craft and food.

Visitors arrived from Kolkata in an early morning flight and they were received with a hearty welcome.

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Receiving the guests at Bhubaneswar Airport

Our first destination was Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga. Dhauli is also where the story of Odisha begins. At the break of the dawn, the site of Dhauli is transformed into a mystical aura overlooking the Daya River, which was the stage of Kalinga battle. You become a time flyer visualizing how the site would have looked 2,300 years before at the time of the battle and Emperor Ashoka gave up his arms while surrendering to the eight noble paths of Buddhism.

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At Dhauli Battle Site in the Early Morning

Our next stop was the Yogini Temple at Hirapur, one of the four open-air circular shrines dedicated to Tantric Yogini worship in the whole of India. Some of the Yoginis at Hirapur look terrific with their Tantric gesture and attire. Our guests also offered puja at the shrine and were narrated about the Tantric practice in Odisha in the historical era. The temple is dated to 9th century.

After visiting the Yogini temple, we headed for Ranch Restaurant to relish an Indian breakfast. It was also the occasion for a chit chat and to know the interest of the guests better.

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The next stop was at Raghurajpur, Odisha’s craft village. Sri Gangadhar Maharana, Odisha’s finest patachitra artist had been intimated before. Our guests strolled through the open-air art corridor of Raghurajpur and interacted with several artisans and finally spent considerable time at Gangadhar Ji’s house to see his innovations for the art. We also narrated the origin and evolution of patachitra art and what makes it unique among all Odia crafts. Anita also has written a book on Patachitra and Jagannath cult. The next surprise was the Gotipua dance. The young boys had dressed up like girls and performed stunning dance sequences before us for about 30 mins. It was the highlight of the day. Our guests were simply astounded.

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At Raghurajpur

We headed for Puri for the check-in at Cocopalm Resort, which is sea facing on the Beach Road.

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On day 2 the early morning was spent at the golden beach of Puri experiencing various morning activities in the beach and fishermen delving into the deep sea.

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At Golden Beach in Puri

After a lavish breakfast in the hotel, we headed for Konark, Odisha’s only world heritage monument and an epic in stone. Our guests were taken on a journey through its art corridors. It was magnificent glowing under the morning sun. After spending an hour we visited the recently built Konark Interpretation Centre and explored Konark’s history, legend, art, architecture and also about history and monuments associated with Sun worship of India. Watching a documentary film on Konark in a cosy theatre was an experience by itself.

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At Konark

After relishing a delicious meal at the seaside Lotus Resort we returned to Puri for a brief nap. In the evening we again travelled to Konark to witness Odissi Dance at Konark Kala Mandap. Thanks to the gesture of Anita, Abhada, the mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath had been arranged in the hotel.

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On Day 3 we explored the temples of Bhubaneswar in the morning. Our guests were narrated about the idea behind Hindu temples, their meaning and in particular about Kalinga temples, their architectural styles, legends, history and cultural significance. We saw Brahmeswar, Parasurameswar and Mukteswar temples.

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In Bhubaneswar Temples

After visiting the temples we headed for Odisha Hotel in Lewis Road to relish a sumptuous Odia thali. It was grand with all ingredients of an Odia meal, badi chura, chenna tarkari, kakharu phula bhaja, tomato khata, patra poda machha, and rasagola. All our guests enjoyed the food very much.

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After lunch, we went to visit the towering Lingaraj Temple, the highest achievement of Kalinga temples. The next surprise was a visit to the Odisha Craft Museum, one of the finest museums in the country showcasing the region’s finest art and craft heritage.  Our visitors were thrilled while taken through a journey of Odisha’s timeless craft culture.

After a coffee break in the museum, we travelled to Dhenkanal for the night stay.

Everyone was surprised when we entered through the ramp and the majestic gate of the royal palace. No one had ever thought that they would get a chance to stay in a royal palace. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for all our guests.

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Next day was the longest journey to the Buddhist corridor. After breakfast, we headed for Udayagiri and then Ratnagiri, both excavated Buddhist sites having much artistic splendour of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It was almost an emotional journey for all our guests specialising in Buddhism and its art.

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At Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Joranda

In the evening while returning back we spent an hour at Joranda’s Sunya Temple, the seat of Mahima Cult, a 19th-century religious movement which rejected the Hindu orthodox practises and emphasized on the nirakara (god without form) philosophy. Our guests got a chance to interact with resident monks who are known for their simplicity having matted hair and wearing the bark of trees.

Our last day of the trip was spent at Dhenkanal’s Dokra village and at Nuapatna textile cluster. The highlight of the day was having interaction with Sri Sarat Patra, Nuapatna’s most respectful and talented weaver. The trip ended with the shopping of stoles and saree at his shop.

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At Dokra Village and Nuapatna with Sri Sarat Patra

In the words of Beverly Frankel

I want to tell you how much I appreciated your knowledge, guidance and friendship throughout our February trip in Odisha’s many architectural and cultural sites. As “Culture Vultures” from the National Museum Volunteers in Bangkok, we adored being able to experience the beautiful villages you showed us for the Patachitra paintings, Odisha dancers, batik and ikat weavers and bronze cast makers.  The religious contrast between the majestic temples of Konark and Bhubeneshwar’s Lingaraj, etc and the Aleka Mahini settlement was amazing to see the range of devotional activities.

Ashok’s conversion to Buddhism retold by murals, stone engravings, and the Buddhist sites of Udaigiri and Ratnagiri were unforgettable. Appreciated especially was our arrangement to spend the night in the old Palace in Dhenkanal.  It was magical –  dining in the garden and living in the spacial splendour of the old rooms. The seaside of Puri and life in the markets and streets of our journey were added delights.

Thank you for making it all possible and guiding us with your vast range of knowledge.

 

Papier Mache – The Story of Odia Mukha and its Master Artisan

Imagine Odisha or in that matter, rural India before the economy was made open in the 1990s and penetration of cheap Chinese goods in the rural market. Imagine rural Odisha before the flooding of television channels’ cheap entertainment shows such as Sas Bahu and the spread of much-hyped social media and free mobile phone entertainment.

Festivals and rituals thrived in Odisha’s rural landscape. Janmashtami, Dussehara, Ramleela and a score of other festivals were celebrated with great pomp and festivity along with folk operas and dramas illustrating mythological stories of Hinduism in general and of Odisha in particular.

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Folk performance in Rural Odisha

Also, Read Here:

Dola Jatra – The other Rath Yatra

A major attraction of these folk mythological dramas were the characters wearing papier-mache masks, Hanuman, Hiryana Kashyapa, Narasimha, Vishnu, Devi, Shiva and so on. Patronized by the feudal kings of Gadajat Odisha, papier mache artisans thrived in several rural pockets. But sadly as the globalization has taken a stroll the tradition has dwindled to a large extent. These days the folk drams are still a big hit among local communities, but the mukhas have been replaced by bright fluorescent coloured silk cloths and body painting.

No one knows when papier-mache made its way to Odisha, but for generations, the craft has been thriving as mukha chitra in the rural heartland.  Now the mukhas that have survived from past have made their ways to museums, both in India and overseas.

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Kalabhoomi Odisha Craft Museum, Bhubaneswar
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Kalabhoomi Odisha Craft Museum, Bhubaneswar
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Kalabhoomi Odisha Craft Museum, Bhubaneswar
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Kalabhoomi Odisha Craft Museum, Bhubaneswar
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Kalabhoomi Odisha Craft Museum, Bhubaneswar

And their miniature versions have found new patrons at Raghurajpur and Puri for home decorations.

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Also, Read Here:

Raghurajpur – An Open Air Museum

Papier mache according to Wikipedia is a composite material consisting of paper pieces of pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch or wallpaper paste. Literally, it is also referred to as craft of ‘chewed paper’, ‘pulped paper’ or ‘mashed paper’.

Though I have been acquainted and bought a few miniature mukhas from Raghurajpur in the past my understanding was limited until when I came across a splendid papier mache chariot depicting Lord Krishna as the charioteer carrying Arjuna to the battlefield of Kurukshetra at ODIART Museum in Lake Chilika. It was one of the highest standards of any craft I have come across. The chariot is designed in the Odia Ratha style and influenced by traditional patachitra art. I was simply floored and could sense a strong connection between the object and its creator through divinity and passion.  Later I came to know about Sri Purushottam Mahapatra, its creator who lives in Kapiliswara area of Old Bhubaneswar.

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Travel Tips

ODIART Purvasha Museum is located at Barkul on Lake Chilika at a distance 100 km from Bhubaneswar and 70 km from Berhampur, the largest city in Southern Odisha. The museum is strategically located in a major tourism hub on the National Highway that connects Kolkata with Chennai and closes to the rail route connecting Eastern India with the rest of Southern and Western India. The nearest airport is in Bhubaneswar, which is a 2-hour drive from the museum. 

The museum has limited accommodation facility at the moment (only 4 rooms) for visitors to stay, but the nearby Barkul has varying staying options in a property managed by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation. 

Besides the museum and a scenic boat ride in Lake Chilika, a traveller can also explore the rustic rural life of fisherfolk and farmers and the historic temple of Dakshya Prajapati at nearby Banapur. Chilika is also a heaven for seafood lovers. With prior intimation, the museum can arrange delicious ethnic lunch at its premises.

Contact Details

Odiart Centre, Barakul, Balugaon,
Khordha, Odisha-752030
Contact No-9439869009,  9853242244
Email : odiartchilika@gmail.com 

Purushottam Mahapatra lives in the address below at Bhubaneswar. 

Purushottam Mahapatra

Sassana Padia, Kapileswara

Old Town, Bhubaneswar 751002

Phone: +91 9937881342, +91 7008039025

Purushottam Ji is Odisha’s no one papier mache artist. But his journey has never been simple. In the film below he shares his journey during the formative period of his career.

Even though he is in the 60s he is strong and promising. With a simple phone call, he gave me time and introduced the process which is carried out by him; his wife and son, however, offer helping hands.

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What keeps him busy on a daily basis is creating a range of colourful birds, which are in high market demand and each sold for 250/300 INR. When you see them together you are almost drawn to a bird sanctuary where the chorus of birds has come to a sudden pause.

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Then he showed me an unfinished peacock of life-size. What a stunning beauty even though the painting was yet to be done.

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The next was an unfinished bowl depicting Krishna’s themes.

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His creations, however, had many more surprises; one such was a puppet, entirely his own visualization.

While being drawn time and again to his unique creations I also witnessed the process.

First, the desired object is created in clay, which is then kept for drying for a couple of days. Once dried thoroughly it becomes a solid core. The core is then wrapped and glued with a number of paper strips.  Then the core is removed. The glued paper pieces are now ready for the desired alternation. In cases of birds, wings and tails are added. Following it, the object in making is coated with a paste of chalk powder. The last step is painting and then your papier mache craft is ready.

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Apart from the Mahabharata chariot, Purushottam Ji has also created recently a life-size sculpture of Krishna’s Giri Govardhana lifting. Some of his masks are also displayed in Bhubaneswar’s International Airport.

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I spent nearly three hours at his studio. But one thing that disturbed me was the lack of zeal and passion among young generation artisans, who want quick monetary success with little effort. So it is difficult to predict about the future of papier-mache craft after Purushottam Ji. The production will be there but not sure about the standard and creativity.

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Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Etching Krishna and his Childhood

Tall and short, the tree grows in abundance on the coast of Odisha, both in a cluster and in solitary.  It is one of the palm trees, in Odia called Tala Gachha. The tree may not have cultural or religious significance unlike the sacred banyan tree but its leaves are the most sought after material for creative experimentation to illustrate Hindu gods, goddesses and their leela.

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From childhood, I have been well acquainted with the art and also with talapatra pothis or palm leaf manuscripts as it is referred to in English. Talapatra pothis are traditionally used to write horoscopes and its history can be traced back to the beginning of Odisha’s history.

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Depiction of Horoscope Writing in a Patachitra

However, in historical records, we have only from the 17th century now mostly preserved in the State Museum at Bhubaneswar. This may be due to the humid tropical weather of Odisha we have lost the earlier ones.

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A historical Pothi Chitra from 18th/19th-century exhibit at Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar
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Specialized tools known as lekhani – Exhibit at Kalabhoomi, Bhubaneswar

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Among the contemporary talapatra pothi chitra one of the most stunning and richly illustrated that I have come across is a pankha (hand fan) exhibit at ODIART Purvasha Museum in Chilika. Narrating the story of Lord Krishna and his leela in a multitude of colours the talapathra pothi chitra pankha is a treat to eyes. The creator of the pankha is noted patachitra artist Bijaya Parida.

Travel Tips

ODIART Purvasha Museum is located at Barkul on Lake Chilika at a distance 100 km from Bhubaneswar and 70 km from Berhampur, the largest city in Southern Odisha. The museum is strategically located in a major tourism hub on the National Highway that connects Kolkata with Chennai and closes to the rail route connecting Eastern India with the rest of Southern and Western India. The nearest airport is in Bhubaneswar, which is a 2-hour drive from the museum.

The museum has limited accommodation facility at the moment (only 4 rooms) for visitors to stay, but the nearby Barkul has varying staying options in a property managed by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation.

Besides the museum and a scenic boat ride in Lake Chilika, a traveller can also explore the rustic rural life of fisherfolk and farmers and the historic temple of Dakshya Prajapati at nearby Banapur. Chilika is also a heaven for seafood lovers. With prior intimation, the museum can arrange delicious ethnic lunch at its premises.

Contact Details

Odiart Centre, Barakul, Balugaon,
Khordha, Odisha-752030
Contact No-9439869009,  9853242244
Email : odiartchilika@gmail.com

Also, Read Here:

Celebrating Seasons in Patachitra – a Tribute to an Artist’s Dream and Passion

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The pankha is a pinnacle of traditional Odia creation, but its process starts in nature.

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A tall Palm Tree
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Freshly cut leaves from a Palm Tree
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Dried leaves before they are processed for pothi chitra making

During my travel to Nayakapatna village near Raghurajpur in Puri District, I had got a chance how and who procure the leaves, process them before they appear in zigzag folds of yellow-green leaves. A special set of tools known as lekhani are used for etching the processed leaves. It is not an easy task. You need patience and perfection. First, it is drawn in a pencil and then in a lekhani. Colours are filled at the end. The style is influenced by patachitra painting.

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A stack of palm leaves
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A woman in the cutting and sizing process
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After the Cutting and Sizing with the help of various tools
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An artisan at work
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An artisan at etching work using a lekhani

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The pankha is made up four concentric circles out of which the outer three are filled in illustrations depicting Krishna’s all childhood episodes, mystical beasts, flora and fauna and geometrical patterns. Even the handle is not spared. The innermost circle has the depiction of patra-lata (vegetal motifs).

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It’s Process

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Looking closely at this masterpiece time and again I am reminded of how incredible Odia art has been for centuries. However, sadly with the penetration of foreign goods, especially the Chinese market the glory is fading away at a pace that was never thought up before. But there is hope as long as there is a support of museums like Purvasha and art connoisseurs. Fingers crossed!

Author- Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Kala Bhoomi – The Soul of Utkala

Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha

Dravida, Utkala, Banga’

When Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore composed India’s national anthem he preferred the name Utkala, instead of Orissa, the anglicized name of Odisha or Kalinga, an ancient kingdom from the times of Ashoka. An art connoisseur and an artist himself, Tagore’s choice indicates his appreciation for Odisha’s unique art and crafts for Utkala means ‘Utkrustha Kala’ or the ‘land of finest art and craft’.

Odisha’s landscape is blessed with a diverse topography. While the Eastern Ghats dominates its interiors with its rolling hills along with the Chotanagpur Plateau, the east is a long stretch of coastal plain formed by the deposits of alluvial silt carried by the rivers from the mountains during flood. From east to west and north to south, each of the 30 districts of Odisha are a treasure house of art and craft, like the intricate silver filigree work of tarakashi art, the 5,000 years old Dhokra art of metal casting, terracotta wonders and delicate ikat weaving.

25% of Odisha’s population, which is more than 10 million people are indigenous hill and forest tribes who live close to nature and have in part sustained 5000 years of Neolithic culture.   In contrast, the coastal delta and river valleys have been a strong hold of Hinduism, the cult of Jagannath being the essence of Odia life. Prior to Jagannath Cult, the coastal plain was a major center of Buddhism and Shaivism. Jainism too had its presence under the patronage of Emperor Kharavela in 1st century BCE.

Throughout history, Odisha has maintained a close cultural contact with Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia through trade. However, unlike Mughal India and Deccan, Islamic influence was limited and confined to Cuttack and its surrounding districts without political patronage.

Being far away from India’s power centers, the art and craft practices of the region have retained much of its originality. With a vast repertoire of cultural resources and art and craft practices with many on the verge of extinction due to modernization and pressure from the market economy, it was important for the state to have a central place, aesthetically built to showcase what can be aptly called as Odisha’s soul. This is how Kala Bhoomi, a sprawling museum of 13 acres, with built-in space of 8 galleries, a cafeteria, library, resource room, audio-visual auditorium, workshop areas and an impressive open air amphitheater was conceived and built.

Travel Tips

Bhubaneswar is the capital of Odisha and a vibrant metropolis. Also known as ‘The Temple City of India’ Bhubaneswar hosts the largest concentration of Hindu Temples built in Kalinga School of Architecture between 7th and 16th centuries CE. The city also has been known for its incredible Jain (the caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri) and Buddhist heritage (Dhauli Hill). Detour Odisha, a Bhubaneswar based culture and travel company in collaboration with Odisha Tourism and local civic bodies organize various heritage walks on weekends (see https://www.ekamrawalks.com/). The Museum Walks at Kala Bhoomi is the latest addition which is held on every Sunday afternoon. The museum also organizes a number of thematic walks both in Odia and in English on daily basis, besides workshops and cultural programmes. The museum is closed on Mondays. 

Bhubaneswar is well connected by air, rail and road with all important cities and other state capitals of India. The city has a plenty of choices for accommodation of various categories, from budget to high-end. The city is best known for its seafood delights, Pahala Rasagola and a variety of snacks and street foods. 

A brainchild of Shri Naveen Patnaik, honourable Chief Minister of Odisha, himself an art connoisseur, Kala Bhoomi is a world-class facility built to showcase the craft diversity of the state. The museum was inaugurated recently.  From 1st June onward, photography has been allowed (for personal use) with a fee of INR 50. So, here is a visual journey of the crafts museum.Later, I shall write posts on each gallery elaborating on the specifics.

For more on Kala Bhoomi do visit the museum’s website www.odishacraftsmuseum.com

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Kala Bhoomi – The Main Building
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Inside the Main Building

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Audio-Visual Unit
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Open Air Amphitheater

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Terracotta Unit

A Potter’s Journey – Tulasi Vrindavati

Votive Offerings and Storage Jars

The Gallery of Textile Weaving Process

Finished Fabrics – Ikat and Silk Saris of Odisha

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Tribal Weaves

Tribal Jewelry

Tribal Material Culture

Folk Odia Crafts

Odia Murals

 

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Turtuk – Living On The Edge

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

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

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Sun dappled lanes of Turtuk. Time stands still here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Golden heads of barley

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

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

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

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Fields of Turtuk

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

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

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

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

Inside the palace courtyard

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

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On the terrace, there is a vineyard !

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

Various artefacts in the family museum.

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

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

Author – Monidipa Bose

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

or at

Monidipa

Chandragiri Fort Museum – A Photo Story

Chandragiri on the Tirupati – Bangalore highway has an unusual address for an ASI Museum- Raja Mahal; a Nayaka palace located inside the Chandragiri Fort. The fort It is located in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Unusual because down South, fort palaces are hardly converted into museums, yet it is the perfect setting for displaying the excavated remains from the archaeological sites of Yaganti and Chandragiri and also of the bronzes and stone sculptures that are remnants of the artistic splendor of the Vijayanagara period (1336-1565 CE ). The empire at its zenith ruled most of South India and was considered its rule was marked with artistic and cultural advances among many others.

The address was once the palace of Chandragiri Nayakas, those very Nayakas who came to the rescue of Vijayanagar Rayas after the battle at Talikota. Chandragiri became  the capital of the Rayas. The fort has been attributed to Shivappa Naik of Yadava Naik dynasty and is more than a 1000 years old. Its most glorious period was under the Vijayanagara rule when it was made the capital of the mighty empire.

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The Raja Mahal is architecturally akin to the Lotus Mahal at Hampi. It is a three storied palace crowned with towers in Hindu architectural tradition. Arches are used to bring in a feel of space and lightness. It is constructed with stone, brick, lime and mortar devoid of timber. The floors are supported by massive pillars. The central tower that covers the durbar hall rises through the two floors. The floors are supported by massive pillars while the walls bear fine plaster and stucco decorations. The six tiered pastel hued Raja Mahal, built in Indo – Sarcenic style, set amidst manicured  lawns and surrounded by the Chandragiri mountains  is  an inspired setting to showcase  the rich legacy of Vijayanagara art and architecture.

ASI at Chandragiri is a modern day avatar  of the Nayakas. It  is restoring the glory of regional architecture much like it did of the Vijayanagar empire!

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The museum houses rich artefacts found in Andhra Pradesh. The findings displayed  are from Gandikota, Yaganti, Chandragiri, Guddimallam, Cuddapah district and Kurnool district. The idea is to showcase the rich regional and material heritage of the area whose history goes back to thousands of years. Although most of the exhibits belong to the 16th and the 17th centuries and are in the artistic Vijayanagara style , yet the subtle local influences are discernible. Walking down the corridors, reading the tags , barely  familiar with the sites the mind is suitably challenged and pleased at the same time.

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The arched corridors along which the regally robed Rayas once strolled , discussing war strategies with their commanders, now house stone sculptures discovered in the region . Who can tell what secrets these mute stones have heard and hold , sealed , within themselves !

 

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Pic credit – Jay Shankar

A single file of lovely stone icons salvaged from Gandikota and Renigunta is headed , auspiciously,  by a Ganesha from Renigunta

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Vishnu in lalitasana. Notice the fine details chiseled with perfection in stone. Pic credit – Jay Shankar

 

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Pic credit – Jay Shankar

Above : Soma Skanda and Parvati; Below : Details of the upper body and clothes of Parvati. The Vijayanagara rule saw a gradual transition from Chloritic Schist to Granite for sculptures. Though soapstone was still preferred but granite was being increasingly used leading to sublime pieces like the above one. Pics credit – Jay Shankar

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The Alwar saints sitting in calm repose.

The highlight of this floor is the Navagraha collection retrieved from the Uma Maheshwara temple at Yaganti

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One of the Navagraha to help you understand the depth of sculptural beauty of this region.

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Who else but Chandra, the  Lord of Chandragiri

The scene stealer of the ground floor or rather of the museum is the Bronze gallery. The Vijayanagara bronzes follow the tradition set by the Chola bronzes. These are panch kula or five metal icons; Copper, tin, zinc, lead and traces of gold and silver were used in casting these icons with most of them being Utsav moortis that were cast using the lost wax process.

The bronzes displayed at the Chandragiri museum belong to the later Vijayanagar period. These are classified as lesser Vijayanagar and closer to later provincial Chola bronzes.  Experts feel that these are more stylized, less natural and heavily cold worked as seen in the hatched designs.

But to the  untrained, uncritical eyes all look sublime, sensuous and supreme!

 

Vishnu in his many forms. Pics credit – Jay ShankarIMG_6140 (2)

Lakshmi Narasimha

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Bal Gopala

Although the Rayas patronized Vaishnavism, the local Nayakas were Shaivas. At Chandragiri we see this icono-eclecticism

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Soma Skanda and Parvati. Pic credit – Jay Shankar

_DSC6851 correctedPoet King Krishna Deva Raya with his consorts. Pic credit – Jay Shankar

The reservoir at the base of the hillock collected rain water and made the fort self – sufficient. Today, it is used for pedal boating. There is a light and sound show in the evening that gives a general overview about the history and cultural significance of this place. For both history buffs and art connoisseurs, the corridors and halls of the palace are no less enthralling as they are enlightening and educative.IMG_6306

One long lingering look as you walk out of the palace thanking the ASI DG Mr. Tiwari who gave the timely permission to take photographs and the Senior Conservationist Mr G. Srinivasulu who made the visit memorable.

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This  too is a teertha, a place of pilgrimage, albeit of a different kind.

 

All the pictures used in the post belong to the author unless stated otherwise. Cover pic credit – Jay Shankar

Author – Aparna Pande Misra

She can be contacted at aparna.anusha.28@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sanskriti Kendra – Delhi’s Hidden Gem

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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A beautiful  old dresser

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

 

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

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Large birdhouse with a peacock as the wind vane

 

 

 

 

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

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A rather looking happy looking crocodile ready to enter the water

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Warli art on the houses inside the campus

 

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Another old wooden artefact on display

 

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The Museum of Indian Textiles

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

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

 

The Museum of Everyday Art

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

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

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

 

The Museum of Indian Terracotta

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

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Terracotta horses from various regions in the country

 

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

The nearest metro station is Arjan Garh on the Yellow line

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

 

Author – Monidipa Bose

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

 

 

Munsiyari Tribal Heritage Museum – A Bhotiya Love Affair

While strolling through the remote villages of Tehsil Munsiyari, shaded by the mighty Panchachuli and nestled in the Johar Valley of Kumaon region of the state of Uttarakhand, the remoteness of the region hardly escapes your notice. The sublime valley was once a bustling trade route to Tibet inhabited by the Himalayan trading and herding community, the Bhotiyas. Also known as Shaukas or Joharis, they followed barter system by exchanging produce like grains and  jaggery for commodities like salt and wool.

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Cover picture and the above picture credit : Atul Misra

The laidback Bhotiyas did not know the locks and metallic bolts of modern times. So, how did they keep their belongings safe? With the aid of two ingenious contraptions, Taal and Gareli. Their’s was a crafty system devised out of a sickle shaped key and  lock in shape of a wooden block called Gareli. Two parts of a wooden door were fastened with a long piece of wood, with the help of a sickle. How innovative !

Setting:

The Bhotiya houses had wooden doors with two panes. In the middle of the plank a rectangular  port of about 1 ½ “ x 1 ½ “ was made. This looked like a key hole .

The inside panes had a block of about 1’x1’x 4-5’ dimension .This back side block housed the locking rod; the Gareli. Holes were made in the block for the Gareli to slide in.

Contraptions:

Gareli – the sliding rod crafted out of wood  was fixed on the inside of the panes. This was the lock that slid in the grooves crafted in the middle of the panes and would lock both the panes together.

Taal  – was an iron rod like a sickle  which  was used to slide the lock in the slot. The size and curve of individual Taal varied with individual houses so that no body could break in.

Mechanism:

IMG_0405The caretaker points out the port through which he will insert the Taal.

IMG_0406He puts the taal inside the hole and thus starts the lock down procedure.

IMG_0407As he  pushes it in further, the taal lifts the gareli and slides it inside the hole made on the inside of the block fixed to the frame.

IMG_0408Voila ! The door is locked !

IMG_0409And this is the key!

Taal also had another use. It was used to immunize the children. During winters on the day of festival called Vishu- tayar when there was a no – moon on a Monday, Somavari – Amavashya, the pointed end of the taal was placed into the fire and with its heated end the belly of children near the navel was pricked. The treatment was called Taal- Bhutai ( burning with the hot end of taal) and it was believed that it immunized the children from certain ailments. Perhaps it locked out bacterias and germs. Well maybe the kids were relieved  when Taal and Gareli were replaced by regular locks and bolts. Godrej definitely is !

You came across this unique door locking system at the Tribal Heritage Museum in Munsiyari. You have visited many museums; some have added to your knowledge, some have wowed you with their displays, few have baffled you with their archaic rules and regulations but most have stayed fresh in your mind because of their uniqueness.

The Tribal Heritage Museum in Munsiyari is one such museum. The museum is Mr. Pangti’s dream to document the fast disappearing way of life of the Bhotiya community. Bhotiya is a generic term employed by the Britishers to denote the communities coming from a common Tibeto- Burman family .

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The Sino- Indian war of 1962 and the Chinese occupation of Tibet abruptly ended the Tibetan barter trade and gave a deathblow to the prosperity of the region and the culture that depended on it. Though they were given the status and benefits of being a Scheduled Tribe via a notification dated 1967, many members migrated to cities in search of a better life.  Even those who were left are slowly loosing their traditional way of life.

Mr. Pangti has striven hard for the conservation and preservation of this dying culture of the Joharis. He has done it by collecting and showcasing the various aspects of this folk culture in a unique museum set in eye ball to eye ball contact with the Panchachuli range

 

You are humbled by the man’s love for his community and the passion to document every aspect of the Johrai culture. You are amazed by the organization of the displays at the museum…..humble it may be but not poor!  The ornaments, the implements, the artifacts, the tools of weaving and agriculture, the baskets, the clothes, the weights and measures, the richly carved doors and windows are explained to you via an excellent audio guide. You walk along listening to the guide and you feel you are rubbing shoulders with them in their Johar valley.

Author – Aparna Pande Misra

She can be contacted at aparna.anusha.28@gmail.com