Romance in Murals – Expression of Love at Chitrasala in Bundi

‘That slender one should send a letter

Couched in artistic language

Written on a Kettaki leaf, scratched by Kasturi and wrapped by a silken thread

Having a symbol of her breasts smeared with sandal paste

With her name inscribed on upper portion’

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‘Forgetful of worldly attachments

Lost in his thoughts

Suffering from fever caused by his memory

She heaves deep sighs, neglects her food, walks or rest

Without bothering to listen to her friends’

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‘High palaces and blossoming lotuses

Do not give the pleasure any more

She throws the ornaments being placed on her body by her friends

Nor is she delighted by acts of entertainment

Having achieved an objective she is restless

Is desirous of engaging in such pursuits

Which she could not in the presence of her lover’

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The 18th-century Chitrasala of Bundi palace in Southeastern Rajasthan is a chock-a-block of romantic depictions of Shringar Rasa in the form of large murals. Most of Chitrasala murals are inspired by Rasikapriya, a love poem written by Keshavdash of the 16th century.

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Bundi takes its name from a narrow valley Bandu – Ka – Nal (Bandu was a chieftain of the Meena Tribe and Nal means the narrow ways). Rao Deva conquered this terrain in 1342 CE and renamed as Hadoti. The Aravali Mountains surrounding Bundi present the most picturesque view with its flowing rivers and lush green forest, in the whole of Rajasthan.

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BUNDI PAINTINGS FROM AN ARTIST’S PERSPECTIVE

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Rasikapriya is portrayed as the vehicle of emotion. The description of the countryside, cities, forests, hermitages, rivers, gardens, tanks, sunrise, moonrise and the seasons are beautifully illustrated by the artists of Chitrasala. There are seven colours, namely, white, black, yellow, red, grey, blue and mixed tones that have been primarily used in Chitrasala murals.

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BUNDI FORT – A CONFLUENCE OF IDEAS

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Keshavadeva defines a nayaka or hero as a man who is young, expert in the art of love, emotional, proud, selfless, generous, handsome, rich and reframed in taste and culture. A nayika is a heroine whose very sight fills a male’s heart with shringar rasa. There are four categories of naikyas according to Rasikapriya.

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Padmini – Padmini is a beautiful nayika, soft as lotus, intelligent, cheerful, clean and soft-skinned, free from anger and has a golden complexion. She loves clean and beautiful cloths.

Travel Tips

Bundi is located in southeastern Rajasthan at a distance of 50 km from Kota, the largest city of the region. Bundi can be reached from Kota by regular bus services and shared vehicles. While at Bundi one can also explore the surrounding hill terrains rich in prehistoric rock art. There are many stay options in Bundi ranging from budget homestays to high end. Keep three days for your Bundi trip if you love a more relaxed slow trip.

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Chitrani – Chitrani is adorned with diverse beauties. She is fond of dancing and singing. She is fond of perfumes and her lover’s portraits.

Sankini – Sankini means short-tempered and clever. She is a luxuriant growth of hair, likes red garments and pinches hard when excited. She is shameless and unhesitant.

Hastini – She has a thick figure, a fat face and large feet. Her lower lip and eyebrows are thick and her voice is rough.

Another draw of Chitrasala is the Ragini murals. Ragas are primary sources of all musical renderings in India. Each Raga or Ragini has an emotional situation based on different facets of love, either in union or separation. Ragas are ascribed to Shiva and his consort Parvati and Raginis are ascribed to Brahma and his consort Saraswati.

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The important features of Ragini murals at Chitrasala are strong eyes, pointed chin, projected nose, round face, Jahangir style turban, narrow patka with geometrical designs, transparent chakadar jama, attractive black pompoms and shading under the armpits. Ragini Todi, Ragini Megha Mallar, and Ragini Asvari are important examples of this sect.

The depiction of zenana or women’s harem is yet the attraction of Chitrasala murals. Zenanas are large palaces built for women. These palaces are divided into different apartments allotted to the royal women or queens, less important ladies who hold various managerial positions and attendants. In these wings, only the kings and princes are allowed. Some common zenana scenes that appear in Chitarasala are princes playing chaupar, palace gardens, palace ponds, palace terraces, the celebration of Teez festival and women listening to music, feeding the fish and enjoying wine and smoking huqqua.

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The love murals of Chitrasala are a treat to eyes. They follow shringar at all its spell and intensity – when the passion strikes a woman after seeing her lover she sweats and is thrilled with romance and such is the intensity of her involvement she does not see even her friend standing nearby.  They integrate with the landscape of Bundi and the cycle of seasons. There are joy and delight everywhere.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Dhenkanal – Wars, Wilderness and Royal Hospitality

Year 1781! While most of Western Europe was at the forefront of the industrial revolution, a part of Odisha was passing through a political turmoil.  Odisha would witness intense rivalry between princely states and with the Maratha Force.

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Dhenkanal, one of the flourishing princely states in Odisha located amidst the dense jungle of Gadajat Mountains was a key witness to the political unrest happening in the 18th century. An 18-day Maratha seize had been the highlight which is narrated distinctly in ‘Samar Tarang’, a war poem written by the contemporary writer Brajanath Badajena.

Travel Tips

Dhenkanal is a medium-sized city located at a distance of 80 km from Bhubaneswar. Both Dhenkanal (http://www.dhenkanalpalace.com/) and Gajalaxmi Palaces (http://gajlaxmipalace.com/) facilitate as heritage homestays and have become favourite destinations among overseas travellers. While there are 13 rooms available at Dhenkanal Palace, the Gajalaxmi Palace has six rooms for guests. While at Dhenkanal do visit the Dokra village at Sadeiberani and the seat of Mahima Cult at Joranda. Both the properties can arrange your exploration into the enchanting countryside.

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Today, the vast sprawl of Dhenkanal Fort is no more, but what attracts you is the splendid Dhenkanal Palace which came up a century after the Maratha seize.

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ATHMALLIK – IN THE HEARTLAND OF MAHANADI WILDERNESS

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The Maratha army under the leadership of young Chimanji had started an expedition towards Bengal to collect the payment of chauth from the British. The route they followed was through Odisha. Historical records reveal that a large number of princely states in Odisha had supplied the Marathas with men and material with hope to receive help to bring down the power of their political rivalries.

The Raja of Keonjhar was one such opportunistic who could not withstand the progress of Dhenkanal. He had supplied the largest contingent of 20,000 men to the Maratha Force.

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DASPALLA – A JOURNEY THROUGH ODISHA’S UNTAMED FRONTIERS

The Marathas had an unsuccessful attempt to seize Dhenkanal before a couple of years. This time well prepared, they started from Cuttack to Dhenkanal. However, it was the peak of summer. The intense heat and the lack of basic provision forced them to return to Cuttack. Soon after the monsoon, Chimanji assisted by Bhavani Pundit marched towards Dhenkanal with a huge army and provisions.

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The Raja of Dhenkanal at that time was Sri Trilochan Dev, a respectful self-esteemed man who had denied giving the peskash to the Marathas. The angry Marathas wanted to give a lesson to the raja of Dhenkanal with the monetary help received from Manju Chaudhary, a banker from Cuttack.

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MYSTIC NILAGIRI – THE ABORIGINAL HEARTLAND OF BALASORE WITH A ROYAL PAST

The Maratha army came as far as Motari, a place 8 miles before Dhenkanal. This was the gateway to the territory and was well guarded by several soldiers. Sri Trilochan Dev lost no time in preparing to deal with the situation. He had created a strong fort on one side by a hill range and deep moat full of water, the fort could successfully hold at by an invading army.

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The Marathas marched towards the fort from Motari even though they had received a warning to return from Sri Trilochan Dev. But the Maratha Governor refused to listen unless the pride of the king was crushed.

Thereafter Sri Trilochan Dev ordered his soldiers to chase the Marathas and the Odia Paikas furiously attacked the enemy. The Marathas were put to utter confusion and were forced to retreat to Cuttack with a good number of soldiers either killed or wounded.

But things did not move always in favour of Dhenkanal.

Around that time, again Chimanji had planned an invasion of Bengal for collection of chauths and hence was on his way from Nagpur. When he entered Cuttack, Manju Chaudhary went to remind him about the defeat of Martha army in the hands of the Raja of Dhenkanal. He also provoked that if this trend continues Marathas would not get their peskash even from other feudal states and that would paralyse their Odisha administration. Chimanji was convinced and immediately decided for the second attack against the Raja of Dhenkanal.

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It was the rainy season and the terrain to Dhenkanal had become inaccessible. As the winter arrived considering that Dhenkanal was situated in the middle of thick jungle and access to it was very difficult, the Marathas procured the services of two local persons, Kistenraja and Chaitan Das.

‘Samar Tarang’ vividly describes – the Raja of Dhenkanal, Sri Trilochan Dev was confident of defending himself and his people inside to the fort against any attack from the enemy. Understanding the march of the Maratha army towards the fort, he at once ordered the garrison to take adequate defence measures to protect the fort from the outside. The fort wall had a good number of hidden holes which were now filled with cannons, guns and even arrows. Some raised platforms close to the fort were erected to serve the purpose of watchtowers to observe the movement of the enemy from the distance.

But the army of Maratha was huge. Upon approaching them, the Odia Paikas were frightened. The Marathas could easily enter the fort and seized it.

But it was not a smooth affair for the Marathas. During the seize of Dhenkanal Fort, there were frequent raids by the hilly tribe called Charas. They plundered or seized the belongings of the Maratha soldiers and put them into trouble.

To overcome this, the Marathas sought help from neighbouring kingdoms. The king of Keonjhar came forward immediately with 20,000 soldiers.

After most heroically defending the fort for 18 days, Sri Trillochan Dev abandoned it to the possession of the Marathas. But Marathas lost interest in Dhenkanal as it was not a priority for them. After the departure of Chimanji, Sri Trilochan Dev raged a war against the king of Keonjhar. In this battle, the chief commander of soldiers was beheaded by the soldiers of Dhenkanal.

A large complex of apartments, courts and gardens nestled against the gradual slope of Gadajat Hills of the Eastern Ghats is today’s Dhenkanal Palace, built in the 19th century and converted into a heritage hotel. A fusion of Odia, Rajput and European architecture, Dhenkanal Palace shines like a pearl in the heart of Dhenkanal City. A legend goes: in the 16th century, there was a Savara Chief called Dhenka who ruled the present Dhenkanal region. However, he was defeated in a war by Sridhar Bhanja, a chieftain from the neighbouring kingdom Gada Besalia. The dying wish of Dhenka was to preserve the name of the clan. The victor king agreed to the wish, and thus he renamed the newly acquired kingdom as Dhenkanal, Nala here means hilly terrain slope.

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Dhenkanal is a major elephant corridor and even today there are reports of human-elephant conflicts from time to time. As you enter the lounge, you are invited by the display of a large stuffed elephant head. It is told that in 1835 the elephant had gone made destroying human settlements and even killing people. The king for the safety of his subjects had killed the elephant whose head now is displayed as a matter of pride.

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Dhenkanal is truly the capital of royal heritage in central-costal Odisha. Gajalaxmi Palace at Borpoda amidst the dense forest and the foothills of Megha is Odisha’s only homestay overlooking a jungle kingdom.

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Built-in the first half of the 20th century, the view from the palace is incredible. The forest surrounding it is infested with wild beasts of all kinds, such as elephants, leopards, wild boars, and civets.

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However, the key attraction here is the display of Naryanpatna (in Koraput District), man-eating tiger. Its piercing eyes and sharp rows of teeth was the stare of death to 83 people it had killed and eaten before being put down by Late Kumar Saheb in 1986.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Khandapada – a Valley amidst Nine Mountains

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.

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Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar

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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.

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Daspalla – a Journey through Odisha’s Untamed Frontiers

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.

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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.

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Badamba – Exploring the Middle Mahanadi Kingdom

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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.

Travel Tips

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Badamba – Exploring the Middle Mahanadi Kingdom

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.

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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.

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Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

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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.

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Daspalla – a Journey through Odisha’s Untamed Frontiers

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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.

Travel Tips

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Buddhist Weavers of Maniabandha – A Confluence of Ideas

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Badamba is undoubtedly coastal Odisha’s one of the best-kept mysteries wrapped in riddles of time, culture and heritage, both tangible and intangible.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Daspalla – a Journey through Odisha’s Untamed Frontiers

Who does not like dosa, the signature south Indian breakfast! On 16th November 2014! History was made in Hyderabad with the making of world’s largest dosa measuring 54 feet 9 inches and weighing 13.69 kg at a restaurant called Daspalla.

Today Daspalla Hotels and Restaurants have created a big brand in Undivided Andhra Pradesh for their unique food innovations and hospitality, however, very little is known about the brand itself Daspalla, a tiny town in the frontiers of Odisha’s Nayagarh district surrounded by dense forest and hills of Mahanadi Division of Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary.

Nestled amidst the pristine beauty of nature, this sleepy little town has a rich legacy of past though its present maharaja, his highness Digvijay Deo Bhanja and the chairman of Daspalla Hotels Limited have settled in the port city of Vizag from the time of his late father Sri Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja’s move after his marriage to a Telugu Princes in 1949.

Silence in Kuanria Wetland

The princely state of Daspalla was founded in 1498 CE by Naran Bhanja, a younger son of Raja Narayan Bhanj Deo of Boudh during the reign of Siddya Bhanja. At that time the present Daspalla was a part of the Baudh Kingdom inhabited mainly by Kondh tribes in the inaccessible jungles of this frontier region. During the rule of Bira Bhanja, there was a rift for power between him and his younger cousin Sal Bhanja. The dissident Sal Bhanja left Baudh for Puri to meet the Gajapati King for assistance. While resting with his followers at a place called Padmatola Ghat on his way to Puri through Jagannath Sadak, the king of Nayagarh came to know about the troop and arrived here to help. Both made alliance and the King of Nayagarh declared him as the king of the area, the present Daspalla region. In no time the news of this development reached Baudh. Bira Bhanja got annoyed and declared a war against Sal Bhanja. But the troop of Bira Bhanja got defeated thanks to the alliance between Sal Bhanja and the king of Nayagarh.

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River Mahanadi near Daspalla

As Sal Bhanja got yasa (fame) after defeating the king of Baudh he named his kingdom Yaspalla which later came to be known as Daspalla. It is also believed that Daspalla got its name from 10 villages that were combined to form the gadajat.

Travel Tips

Daspalla is located on the highway that connects Bhubaneswar with Bolangir via Nayagarh and Baudh. The distance between Bhubaneswar and Daspalla is 125 KM and it takes about 3 hours. Keep a day for exploration in and around Daspalla. If you wish to stay overnight either you can stay at Barmul Nature camp on Satkosia Gorge (50 km) or at Nayagarh, the district headquarters. One can also travel by train up to Nayagarh from Bhubaneswar and then take a bus or public transport. But the vehicle of your own is advisable. While at Daspalla don’t forget to relish Odisha’s signature sweet chennapoda (it was originated here).

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Picture Credit – Satyabrata Dash

The earliest capital was at Badmul on the bank of Mahanadi. However, at the time of Padmanav Bhanja, the 9th king of Daspalla, the capital was shifted to the present location. A legend goes: during a hunting expedition the king was impressed with a heroic action at this place, a wild dove chasing a chhanchan (bird of prey) and decided to build his new capital here.

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Splendours of Sonepur – In the land of Ramayana’s Lanka

After independence when Daspalla was merged with the Democratic Republic of India, the former Raja of Daspalla Sri Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja, the 18th on the line shifted to Visakhapatnam and since then the Rajabati (the palace) has become obsolete.

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Picture Credit – Satyabrata Dash

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Daspalla Palace

Built-in the colonial style of architecture, in the days of the British Raj, small banquettes were regularly thrown here by the royal family for the benefits of the Governors of Odisha and these banquettes used to be catered by the Grand Hotels in Kolkata.  Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja Ji had widely travelled during his young days and he was a great philanthropist having specific interest in the spread of Jagannath Cult. Of late, the abandoned palace is getting a new breath of life as it is being made a heritage hotel.

Also, Read Here:

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

Travelling around Daspalla is like back in time. Laidback villages, farmlands, warm-hearted people, scenic wetlands, relishing mouth-watering chennapoda, fish and prawns from Mahanadi and trekking through its enchanting hills and forests make Daspalla a perfect weekend retreat.

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There are two ways to reach Daspalla from Bhubaneswar, one via Nayagarh, the shorter route, but with less interesting characters and the other via Kontilo on the bank of Mahanadi, the original abode of Lord Jagannath and then Gania, famous as the gateway to the Mahanadi Gorge Sanctuary.  We took the second route.

Also, Read Here:

Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

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At Gania, you relish the most authentic version of chennapoda and if you are on time, in the early morning hour you can experience its method of preparation. Try out the sweet at Jagannath Sweet Stall, where you get the best of the sweet anywhere in Odisha made out of freshly backed chenna, the country cheese.

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From Gania take the winding highway through countless farmlands, forested mountains on both your sides. The landscape is untouched by time. On your way, you meet warm-hearted Odia souls at villages surrounding the highway.

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At a distance of 7 km from Daspalla, there lies yet another hidden secret, the Kuanria Wetland, an irrigation dam project developed also to help local fishermen. Treks and resting places have been created surrounding the wetland by the forest department. A large number of migratory birds also flock to this reservoir during winters.

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You can sit here in silence for hours watching fishermen in actions. Even you can buy from the fresh catch and take home or arrange a barbeque meal onsite.

Daspalla is also a culture hub of Odisha. Thanks to the patronage and initiatives taken by its erstwhile rajas, here Ramnavmi is a big draw with carnivals telling the stories of the Ramayana through street theatres, lights and actions.

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Undoubtedly Daspalla is a great weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of Bhubaneswar. Come and discover the magical charm of this frontier land wrapped in mysteries of history, culture and nature.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Kuldhara in Jaiselmer – A Travel Shot

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

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

Travel Tips:

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

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Kabba Fort and the Village

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

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Havelies and Jain Temples at Jaiselmer

A popular story goes:

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

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

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

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

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

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Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Bikaner – Town Of A Thousand Splendid Mansions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Author – Ranbir Singh Phogat

He can be reached at rsphaugat@live.in

Jawai – Where Leopards are Locals

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

Brigadier General William Mitchell, Assistant Chief, US Army Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel Tips:

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

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

Also, Read Here:

Khichan – A model of ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’

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

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Rao Bahadur Thakur Shivnath Singh Ji

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

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

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

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

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

Also, Read Here:

Mangalajodi– Where Ashoka is Born and Dies Every Other Day

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Water Heritage of Jodhpur – Then and Now

Ranisar, Padamsar Ote, Vyapari Gaya Tote

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.

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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.

Also, Read Here: 

Burhanpur – A Medieval Water Oasis

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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.

Also, Read Here:

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

Bijapur Water Heritage – An Oasis in Parched Deccan

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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.

Also, Read Here:

Reviving Ballari’s Water Heritage – Hope for the Best

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.

Travel Tips:

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.

Also, Read Here:

Hill Forts of Jaipur – Jewels of Aravali

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Ranisar and Persian Wheel Structures 

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.

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Padamsar

Both these water bodies were periodically expanded and maintained by the royal families.

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Mandu’s Water Heritage – An Epicurean Delight

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.

Also, Read Here:

Water and Thar Desert – Stories from Indo-Pak Border

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.

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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 Bagh Jhalra, another restored stepwell, thanks to Caron who cleaned it single-handedly recently.

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Deeg Palace – A Synthesis of Persian and Indian Aesthetics

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.

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Chand Baori

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.

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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.

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Panchmadi Baori

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.

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Ram Baori

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.

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Step – Wells of Gujarat – a Timeless Journey

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Suraj Kund

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.

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The last baori visited by us was the Panch Kua Baori located in an open space but close to being encroached from all sides.

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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.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Datia Palace – Of Friendship, Mystery and Inspiration

The Delhi Durbar of 1911 was a major turning point in Indian urban history as it was during this event that the decision to shift the capital of Imperial India was taken. With Delhi now being crowned the capital, it was decided that a ‘New’ Delhi would be developed with sprawling avenues and majestic buildings.

Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, a reputed architect was chosen for the job. The 43-year-old immediately set out on an inspirational train journey through the heartland of the country carrying along with the baggage of scepticism and little appreciation for Indian symmetry and aesthetics. He was heavily influenced by classical European composition which the focal point of his layout plans for New Delhi. He maintained that the design was meant to demonstrate the superiority of western art, science and culture in India. Little did he realize that one palace was going to change all this.

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While travelling from Jhansi to Gwalior, Luytens saw two great palaces of Datia and was so impressed that he got off the train to visit them and returned for another visit. He was so impressed with Datia Palace’s blend of Hindu and Islamic styles that the fusion made its way in the design of New Delhi’s North and South blocks along with the palatial Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Travel Tips

Datia is a small town located on Jhansi – Gwalior Highway at a distance of 69 km from Gwalior and 325 km from New Delhi. The town is also an important Hindu and Jain pilgrimage centre. There are many temples, including the Sidhapeeth of Peetambhara Devi, Buglamukhi Devi Temple, and Gopeshwar Temple. Peetambra Peeth is a famous Shakti Peeth located at the entrance of Datia. The nearby Songiri has scores of Jain temples dated from the 19th century onwards.

While one can stay at Datia but we recommend nearby Orcha or Gwalior as better options for staying and food. MP Tourism runs a restaurant on the highway in Datia.

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Datia Palace, also known as Vir Singh Deo Mahal or Govind Palace is one of India’s most impressive palaces from the 17th century. Built essentially as a solid square fortress with very few openings to the outside the palace was hardly inhabited. The inside presents a marvellous geometric organization of space on several levels. Apartments inside have been built in such a way that there are proper cross ventilation and sufficient light without affecting privacy.

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Hill Forts of Jaipur – Jewels of Aravali

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Within the solid square, there are four quartered squares with corner towers and a large courtyard at its core. The five-storied central tower (115 feet high) houses the royal apartments connected to the four corners with narrow bridges.

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The five-storied central tower of Datia Palace is one of the most innovative architectural statements among the palace buildings in India. According to experts, it is an expression of power and the authority of Vir Singh Deo, an exceptionally wealthy ruler of his time. According to Giles Tillostan, ‘the Govind Mahal’s tower, on the central plot, could, therefore, be regarded as a secular version of a temple shikhara. And just as in the temple ritual all action is focused towards the central point, so the dynamics of the Govind Mahal is focussed on the tower – it is the hub of the palace, visually a dominant feature, and the resident not of a God or the image of a God but of a King, and a king with a pretension to divinity’.

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Betwa – Flowing in the Heart of India

Vir Singh built the Datia Palace for his friend, Jehangir who could not come and stay. In 1627, he decided to gift it to his son who was the first ruler of Datia. Bhagwan Rao however never lived in this great palace. He lived nearby in a smaller palace, which is ruined now. Bhagwan Rao’s son Subha Kiran built his own palace at Datia on another outcrop. Subha Kiran’s son Dalpat Rao (1683 – 1707) established a fort/palace in the middle of the present Datia town. So, mysteriously this palace was never lived in!

The domed towers of Datia Mahal were once covered lavishly with Cuerda Seca glazed tile decoration. Compared to other architectural masterpieces of the time, here the glazed Cueda Seca tiles have a greater range of colours and floral designs.

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Cuerda Seca is a technique used when applying coloured glaze to ceramic surfaces. In this technique, waxy resist lines are used to prevent glazes of different shades from merging into each other during firing. The technique has its origin in Central Asia from the second half of the 14th century CE. From Safavids to Timurids to the Ottoman Empire, the technique was used profusely for tile decoration. The introduction of different coloured glazing is seen in the buildings of Samarkand from this period.

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Splendours of Orchha – Myths and Realities

Vir Singh Deo while accompanying Jehangir in different battle expeditions had received wide exposure to various art and architectural techniques in Samarkand and Persia. While building the Datia palace, he introduced many of these ideas creating one of the best examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. Call it a symbol of his friendship or a display of his status and power, Vir Singh in Datia Palace, has left us with a wonderful palace that is a treat to our senses.

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Two large water bodies were constructed to the west and south of the palace. The western talav, which is called the Lalaka Talav has water, while the southern talav has turned into an open field. The talavs not just cooled down the palace in summer but also supplied water. These talavs also provided lovely views and cool place to serenade.

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Datia Mahal

The southern talav was once a wide expanse of water with a little pleasure palace, Badal Mahal attached to it. A photograph by Lala Deen Dayal (1870 – 90) shows Govind Mahal and Badal Mahal besides the talav.

 

Courtesy – The British Museum 

Vir Singh Deo was a man of great taste. His taste for visual aesthetics is evident right from the entrance to the private apartments inside the palace. The murals painted on the spandrels of the main entrance depict human faced sun images on both corners above winged dragons. Both the winged dragons bear noble riders chasing gazelles through the foliage. The panel is undoubtedly one of the best in South Asia for its display of fevered energy and force. Above the scene is the painting of a seated Ganesha flanked by two horse riders.

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There is extensive use of Mughal motifs stylistically reconfiguring in Bundela guise. The 17th-century Bundela murals marked a transition phase, blending local style with Mughal cosmopolitan style, imagery and aesthetics. Inside the palace, there are richly layered expressions of local and cosmopolitan themes resembling closely the murals at Orchha Palace, Vir Singh Deo’s capital.

The net and star vaulted ceiling of Maharaja’s bedroom, Maharani’s dressing room and adjoining balconies are lavishly painted with Ragamala series replete with floral imagery in natural colours.  With the graceful appearance, sinuous shapes and lilting movements the murals of Datia exhibit a sophisticated approach to natural form.

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Vases (guldan) in particular draw special attention. Illustrated in Araash technique, the vases taper from a wide curved base towards a narrow flaring rim. Long stems and leaves splay out from the vases’ lips in a vivid fan-like pattern.

The rasa-mandala ceiling located in the tripartite chamber on one of the palace’s lower ceremonial floors is one of the earliest extant depictions of this theme among Rajput palaces. The scene painted in relief was recently renovated by the ASI maintaining the original colour scheme – carmine, ochre, white and black. The circular composition is laid out around large flowering lotus resembling the moon that bathed the ecstatic dancing Krishna and his gopis in its light.

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The palace was visited in 1835 by Colonel Sleeman, a British soldier and administrator. A report published in Datia State Gazetteer states that when the Colonel asked the local maharaja’s servants why the Govind Mahal was abandoned they replied that no present-day ruler was worthy of such grand palace nor would one be comfortable living in a palace that had been built to house such a great king.

This suggests that Datia was already weakened around this time as a political power. Today, the Datia palace is in a desolate state with very few tourists visiting it. Though imposing in its structure, it takes an effort to imagine that only a century back it was a source of inspiration for New Delhi’s colonial architectural identity.

 

 

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com