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.
The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise
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.
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.
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.
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.
We headed for Puri for the check-in at Cocopalm Resort, which is sea facing on the Beach Road.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sirpur in Chhattisgarh (also known as Mahakosala) was the seat of power for Panduvamsa at a time when political turmoil was at its peak in East-Central India. During the reign of Mahasivagupta Balarjuna at the beginning of the 9th century CE, Mahakosala had been invaded by Rastrakutas from Deccan. With little hope for revival, a branch of the family left Sirpur for Suvarnapur (or Sonepur) in search of fresh fortune in Western Odisha. Here they thrived and established a kingdom known by Somavamshi, which later penetrated into Coastal Odisha and became the creator of some of India’s finest temple jewels in Bhubaneswar.
Suvaranapur from then on became a flourishing centre of art and religion. However, its link with Ramayana’s Lanka by Late Prof H.D Sankalia, the Father of Indian Archaeology traces its roots to much earlier time. The archaeological expedition at Kahambeswarapalli and Manmunda Asurgarh (the settlement of Asura Tribe) on the southern bank of River Tel also pushes back its antiquity to Prehistoric time.
Sunset over River Tel
For everyone in India, a familiar story goes: Thousands of years ago, Lord Vishnu took birth as Rama, to kill the demon king of Lanka. Ravana carried off Sita, Rama’s beautiful wife, to his kingdom, and in course of the search, Lord Hanuman made a great leap across the seas. His superhuman bound carried him from the southernmost tip of India into the land of Lanka, now known as Sri Lanka. Rama stormed the country, and after a long battle, rescued his wife.
However, archaeological finds revealing sacrificial alters, skeletons of horses, prehistoric tools, plenty of Iron Age war tools, the remnants of a large fortified city dated from 6th century BCE, all suggesting to one point – Sonepur was a cradle of early civilization inhabited by Asura tribes.
Sonepur is located in Western Odisha at a distance of 278 km from Bhubaneswar by road. It is a medium-sized town and the district headquarter of Subarnapur District. While in the town a traveller can also explore its other heritage temples, such as Budhi Samalai Temple, Bhagavati Temple, Dadhibabana Temple, Dasamati Temple and Jagannath Temple. Sonepur is also a major handloom cluster. Bomkai or Sonepuri Saris are woven by Bhullia community in villages around Sonepur.
Sonepur does not have many staying options. However, nearby towns of Balangir and Bargarh, both connected by rail have a number of budget hotels at affordable prices.
Lankeshwari Temple in the Middle of River Mahanadi
In the living tradition of Sonepur, Hanuman is disrespected and his effigy is burnt as a mock of counterpart on the day of Purna Amas, 40 days before Dussehra, the day Rama defeated Ravana. On this day Lanka Podi is performed in Sonepur during which monkey god’s terracotta image is burnt, crushed and thrown into the river as a mock of Ravana’s antipathy.
Much later in history, Sonepur was also a princely state of India during the rule of the British Raj. Its ruler was entitled to 9 gun salute. The state was founded in 1556 CE by the rulers of the Chauhan Dynasty. During Sambalpur Uprising the Chauhans of Sonepur had extended support to the British.
The Remains of Ruined Palace in Sonepur
The Chauhans were great patrons of art. Under their patronage, artisans were invited from other parts of Odisha and elsewhere. Applique or chandua kam, pattachitra, wood carvings, ganjapa, terracotta and many more thrived on its historic corridors on the banks of River Mahanadi and Tel.
Ganjapa Cards of Sonepur
Several temples also dot its landscape representing the combination of Tantra, Shaiva and Vaishnava faiths. Among the temples, the most noteworthy are the Gundicha Temple, Sureswari Temple, Budhi Samalai Temple, Rameswara Temple, Lankeswari Temple and Pancharatha Temple.
Budhi Samalai Temple
Sureswari is the presiding deity of Suvarnapur and is an ancient seat of Tantra Sadhana. Although it is not possible to trace when the worship of Sureswari began, the legend goes, Sri Parasurama worshipped his mother Renuka in the name of Sureswari. He killed Kshatriyas and offered their blood to the holy fire of the yajna he conducted.
The Sacrificial Wooden Post used for Animal Sacrifice
A stroll through the lanes of Sonepur would take you to different artisan streets. Beyond the Gundicha Temple on your way to Rameswara Temple at the confluence of Mahanadi and Tel, there is Kumbhara (Potters) Pada (Street). Here one discovers the oldest surviving craft in human civilization untouched by time. The speciality here is the making of terracotta images of Lankapodi Hanuman (described earlier).
At Maharana Pada, there are wooden crafts and paintings in patachitra style. On your way to Manmunda before the bridge on River Tel you meet chandua artists and what they show is very different from Pipli chandua. Across the River, Tel is the settlement of Manmunda Asurgarh where one can explore the process of Bomkai Pata Silk Saree making in a large workshop established by Chaturbhuja Meher.
Sonepur and its surrounding villages are home to nearly 50,000 weavers belonging to Bhulia community. Originally belonged to Rajasthan, the Bhulias came to the region during the mid 14th century through Chhattisgarh. The weavers were later titled as Mehers.
From then on they have been traditionally weaving the tie and dye fabrics. In the earlier time in the absence of chemical colours, the vegetable dye was mainly used, which had a limited colour range.
However, during the 1960s a lot of fresh ideas were introduced with the initiative of visionary Padmashree Krutartha Acharya. Chemical dye was also introduced in the process, which led to increasing in the range of colour sheds and design variations. Bomkhai designs were introduced from Ganjam in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One speciality of Sonepuri tradition is intricate of motifs and designs unlike the tie and dye tradition of other parts of India.
Sonepur is mystic, where time moves at a slow pace. You can simply relax here leisurely for a couple of days strolling through its rural heartland among farmers, potters and fishermen all engaged in rustic folk settings and relishing delicious fresh organic food and lobsters fresh catch from rivers.
Think of the famous Rath Yatra or Car Festival of Puri that is held every year in July – August. Think of the brightly coloured chariots of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and Sister Devi Subhadra. Think of the gorgeously colourful appliqué sheets that are used to protect the gods and goddesses from the Sun and the Rain when they are out on the street to meet their maternal aunt Devi Gundicha. That is how the story of chandua (the Indian version of appliqué) began in Jagannath Dham.
Rath Yatra of Puri
According to Wikipedia, ‘Appliqué is ornamental needlework in which pieces of fabric in different shapes and patterns are sewn or stuck onto a larger piece to form a picture or pattern’. Appliqué is commonly used as decoration, especially on garments, but also in canopies, wall and door hangings, quilts, covers for royal bullocks and horses, umbrellas, banners, etc.
India boasts a great diversity of appliqué craft, the prominent regions being Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Kashmir, Manipur and Himachal Pradesh. Each of these regions has its own uniqueness in styles and fabrics used.
Chanduas are curated by a hereditary caste of a community called darji, who trace their roots to Jagannath cult somewhere around 1000 CE when they first started creating chanduas for the rituals of Lord Jagannath and the Ratha Yatra. In due time, they became sevayatas or temple servitors and were patronized by the Gajapati Kings of Puri for their craft that became a hereditary occupation.
They settled in Puri and also in Pipli apart from 50 villages that are scattered in the region. From then on they have been putting together several small pieces of cloth to make designs that are so joyfully colourful and impeccably symmetric.
Pipli is a small town on old Bhubaneswar – Puri Highway at a distance of 20 km from Bhubaneswar and 40 km from Puri. The new bypass is about a km away from the town. There is signage for Pipli after the Toll Gate while driving from Bhubaneswar towards Puri. While at Pipli do visit Jabar Khan’s shop on the Main Road called Diamond Applique. (http://www.diamondapplique.com/).
For accommodation, Pipli does not have many options but the nearby Bhubaneswar and Puri offer plenty of choices. A traveller can also explore the nearby Dhauli Hill, the famous Buddhist site of Mauryan Era and Aragarh Hill, yet another important Buddhist site. To visit Pipli booking a cab from Bhubaneswar/Puri is a better option as most buses passing through Pipli are overcrowded.
For modern applique work at Puri meet Shri Debi Nanda at his residence cum workshop in the address below.
Kundheibent Sahi, Near Bhagvat Club
Panch Chaura, Puri
Phone – +91 9437166369
A Darji in Work at Pipli
The uniqueness of appliqué creation lies in the carefully created motifs of birds, animals, flowers, leaves and other geometric patterns that are stitched onto a base cloth used to make artistic products, like umbrellas, wall hangings, gardens or beach umbrella, lampshades and other utility items.
The Bazaar Street of Pipli with a colourful display of Applique Work
However, traditionally the appliqué items were used during the procession of the deities in their various ritual outings. Items like chhati (umbrella used in religious functions and processions), tarasa (heart-shaped banner mounted on a stand) and chandua (canopy) were used for the purpose.
They also made batuas (cloth bags of semi-circular shape) and sujni (embroidered quilt). Colour combination of traditional items consisted of black, red, yellow and green.
Artistic motifs such as leaves, flowers, animals (elephant, lion and tiger), birds (parrot, duck, swan, peacock) and astral bodies such as Rahu (the demon that swallows the sun and moon during eclipses), sun and moon were cut out from a single piece of cloth and then fixed to the base material with the help of various stitches in embroidery. The decorative repertoire of traditional Chandua crafts has been mainly influenced by temple motifs of Odisha.
Depiction of Rahu
Traditionally chanduas have also been used as palanquins during Dola Purnima and folk dances like ghoda nachha.
Over centuries, the small town of Pipli became a hub of appliqué craft and started catering to the demand of kings, nobility and the Jagannath Temple. Historically, Pipli was a centre considerable trade in rice and cloth. The town was seized in 1621 CE by Emperor Shah Jahan when he was advancing from Deccan to Cuttack and then to Bengal in revolt against his father. From then on Pipli became also a settlement of Muslim communities, who since then have also been involved in appliqué trade.
Today the traditional chanduas are mainly replaced with the new variety of items in order to meet the present taste of people and market demand. A New colour combination such as blue and turquoise have also evolved with time.
Mr Jabar Khan, a celebrated chandua artisan of Pipili explains in the film below on his personal journey, and concerns for the craft’s survival.
In 1980, there was a remarkable shift in appliqué craft of Odisha from traditional to global. Mr Debi Prasanna Nanda, a leading craft innovator and entrepreneur based in Puri was a young man than when he was approached by one of his American clients to create an appliqué based on Mexican traditional themes. Debi Babu saw this as an opportunity and hence agreed to the proposal. As he narrates in the film he succeeded in 80 to 90 percentage in executing the work.
In modern appliqué craft, the enhanced effect is gained by supporting pieces of coloured fabric in predetermined layout and sequence. The patch edges are then sewed. Unlike the traditional ones, which are mainly carried out by machines, modern appliqué work is done by hands.
Modern appliqué work revolves around needlework. Designs or representative scenes are created by attaching small pieces of cloths to a larger piece of bright or contrast colour fabric. There are however three important elements – stitches, strips and patchwork.
The product range includes wall hangings, pillow covers, bedspreads, bags, umbrella, saris and party canopies. These have become quite popular and adorable in urban households and in corporate spaces. The designs are timeless representing both traditional as well as modern art decor.
Chandua craft is Odisha’s timeless heritage. But it is not a static craft. Its journey has always been synonym with creativity to address the changing time and the taste of people. But its core essence has always been its deep association with Jagannath Cult of Puri, one of holiest tirthas for Hindus of India and worldwide.
For an archaeologist from South Asia such as me, what could be a more precious discovery than the Priest King of Mohenjo-Daro! Archaeologists have been debating on his role and position in Indus Valley society, but for those who are inclined towards aesthetics and art they are fascinated with his shawl depicting trefoil patterns interspersed with small circles – the fusion of three sun-disks of the gods of earth, water and the sun. That is Ajrakh, South Asia’s oldest textile tradition of block printing.
5000 years later the tradition still prevails in Sindh and the artisans still use the same methods of production that were used in the days of the Indus Valley civilization to create an ajrakh fabric. Ajrak is derived from the word Azrak, meaning blue in Arabic as blue happens to be one of the principal colours used in Ajrakh printing.
(Images Source – Jay Shankar)
The Raos of Kutch had invited a group of Sindhi artisans to Kutch for introducing the art in the region. They first settled in a village called Dhamadka near Bhachau, the epicentre of 2001 earthquake.
Ajrakhpur is a small village at a distance of 10 km from Bhuj on Bhuj – Gandhidham Highway. Bhujodi, the craft village is just 3 km away from Ajrakhpur. The village has been established after the 2001 earthquake. You can meet Dr Ismail Khatri with a prior appointment ( 91 9925169313). He or his son Sufian (91 9427719313) would be happy to show you the entire process of Ajrakh block printing. The best season to visit is in winter (November to February). Bhuj can be your base for accommodation.
Dr. Ismail Mohammad Khatri, the man behind the successful revival of Ajrakh printing using natural dyes, told us about the context of their arrival in Kutch while introducing the art and the significance of blue colour.
The indiscriminate cultivation of Indigo in Bihar and Bengal affected its production in Kutch. In 1840s, organic colours were introduced in Europe – indigo for blue and alizarin for red. These were produced in industries on a large scale replacing the organic colours and lowering the cost of fabric. Eventually the Kutchi farmers forgot the knowledge of organic dye production and instead used the cheaper but hazardous European synthetic colours.
Dr. Khatri explains how the revival took place with changing time and people’s change in taste and occupations.
Ajrakh printing is a long process involving different stages of printing and washing the fabric over many times with various natural dyes and mordants such as herda, lime, alizarin, indigo, tamarind paste and even camel dung.
An ajrakh fabric is usually about 2.5 to 3 m in length. The printing on the fabric is done by hand with hand carved wooden blocks of various designs. A number of wooden blocks depicting different designs are used to print repetitive patterns, the characteristic feature of ajrakh. These blocks are made by synchronizing the patterns perfectly. Making these perfect blocks is indeed a huge challenge.
Ajrak print is done within a grid, the repetitive patterns creating a web-like design. Borders are then added employing specific designs. These borders are aligned both vertically and horizontally and frame the centre, separating one ajrakh.
Once the printing is done, it is left for dyeing. The process is repeated time and again with different kinds of dyes to eventually achieve the final desired pattern. It is a very labour intensive and time consuming process taking upto two weeks to create a single piece with an eye-catching print.
In this entire process the role of water is critical. There are 30 steps through which an ajrakh fabric passes and each step involves washing. The water influences not just the character of the fabric but also its colour and shade.
Dr. Ismail Mohammed Khatri is an institution as far as Ajrakh printing is concerned. He traces the origin of his community to a village called Santreja in Sindh. In the 16th century during the reign of Rao Bharmal I, JindaJiva, his ancestor was the first artisan to settle in Dhamadka in Kutch. In the video, Dr. Khatri traces his journey from being an humble ajrakh artisan to a PhD on the subject.
From Dhamdka to Ajrakhpur – A New Beginning after 2001 Earthquake
The river adjacent to Dhamadka village provided regular and easy supply of good quality water for ajrakh printing work. But after 1991, the river started drying up resulting in the lowering of water level in tanks and wells of the area. The 2001 earthquake destroyed the village itself forcing Dr. Ismail Khatri and others to migrate to a new place. How did it happen – watch the video to know what challenges were faced in the settling of the village of Ajrakhpur.
The history of weaving in Haryana is as old as the Indus valley civilization. Archaeological evidence suggests that the people of Haryana have been growing cotton for several millennia and spinning yarn for making cloth. The skills for preparing many types of cloth by weaving and dyeing the cotton yarn continued to be refined for several centuries. However, the basic tools of weaving and the Kargha or crude weaving machine have remained unchanged until a century ago. In spite of British influence on weaving in India that changed the scenario to great extent, the rural weaver continued to operate his old frame (four and six pedal loom) and weaved a traditional kind of cloth popularly known as ‘Reza’, a purely organic product of the Indian soil.
Little is known about the origin of the word ‘Reza’, but a large number of people in the rural area wore various kinds of apparel made from this fabric until the mid-1900s CE. Everyone was familiar with ‘Reza’ as a coarse cloth woven by the village weaver directly from raw cotton. The women of the family would do the ginning, spin fine yarn and provide it to the village weaver who would then weave the cloth as per the requirement of the family whether for preparing wearable garments or for other household and agricultural purposes.
Due to impact of industrialization and people taking to other professions in Haryana, many started discarding the coarse cloth and instead preferred mill manufactured cloth. For nearly five decades since the 1950s, the people of Haryana had nearly forgotten if such a cloth as Reza ever existed and confined most of the old garments prepared at home with this fabric to boxes in attic. It remained secure for decades until it was rediscovered a couple of years ago by Lalita Singh, convenor of Daksh, a group of fashion designers. Its revival has been nothing short of a miracle and the quality has not been compromised.
Before introducing Reza, thorough research work with documentation was undertaken followed by recovering the old textiles – dyed as well as decorated, from the cupboards. Relics of information were gathered during conversation with several elderly weavers and traditional dyers. A home-based facility was set up at Bohar village adjacent to Rohtak town in Haryana for weaving of Reza.
Through constant research and veritable inputs, Lalita attained a level in skills to weave fine to coarse cloth and was able to produce Reza. After receiving her initial training in fashion designing, her new endeavor took her to take a quantum leap into textile manufacturing and apparel designing by exclusive induction of traditionally home spun yarn and Reza manufacturing. It could now be used for cutting edge marketing by manufacturing garments for every age group. As a special project, Lalita Singh imparted the skills of Reza manufacturing to the prison inmates in two districts –Rohtak and Jhajjar, for which she got instant support from the highest authorities in the government as well as the Jail Department.
In the preliminary phase various kinds of cotton grown in Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra were tried for manufacturing Reza. When the trial period was over, it emerged that the long fiber and color of the white cotton obtained from Western Madhya Pradesh was best suited for its enduring quality and sheer strength of yarn. The cloth that acquired a distinct color could also be dyed to yield dull but soothing shades in blue, red and green. Nevertheless, her designing skills and enthusiasm have led to test brown or Khaki colored natural cotton for weaving designs and patterns into weaved cloth i.e. Reza. May be next cloth would be all naturally Khaki. Lalita cautions that ‘Reza’ should not be compared or branded as ‘Khadi’.
Reza manufactured at Lalita’s facilities – whether at home or in Jail premises, can endure seasonal variations in temperature and withstand moisture to last a decade at least, provided how many times a garment is used and washed in a proper medium. Its thermal efficiency is better than cloth manufactured in a modern cloth mill.
Her fame led many an eminent personalities in the department of Justice, Police, public administration and patrons to opt for Reza garments and customized apparels. The garments prepared with Reza cloth can be embroidered with raw silk or woollen threads with folk motifs handpicked from a rich tradition of decorative textile designs of Haryana and north India.
In September 2017, Reza made apparel was introduced at the New York Fashion Week by Lalita’s group Daksh. It was a rare occasion when an ancient Indian textile was rolled out on an international fashion platform. It was much appreciated and loved by all. This has led to Daksh launching various ensembles and collection of apparel made from Reza fabric. The future of Reza now looks as bright as the full moon.
The story of revival of Reza is not of personal triumph alone but also of public – private partnership where all played their roles perfectly.
What is common to the Patolas, the coveted sarees from Patan, Gujarat, and the Pochampallys that come from the eponymous village of what is Telangana today. Obviously it is the tie-and-dye technique one would say but it is also a story of migrations. If the Salvis from South India moved to Patan to make fresh silk Patolas for the king, two brothers Malliah and Venkiah from the traditional weaving community of Padmasalis moved from Chirala to Pochampally. Patolas, then as well as now is a matter of all silk, “pattu” as the name itself is supposed to indicate. Pochampallys were woven only in coarse cotton to begin with, as silk was added much later.
Above left: Girl standing in a veranda wearing a Pochampally Ikat weave sari, by Hermann Linde (1863-1923). Pictures courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
The story of migrations of weavers as perhaps art guilds across the country in ancient and medieval times is fascinating. While Patan has records of its Patola heritage from 11th – 12th centuries CE, Andhra Pradesh doesn’t seem to have that. One of the earliest evidences of migration is from the 5th century Mandasor pillar inscription that records silk weavers guild from Lata, Gujarat who migrated to Mandasor and built a temple dedicated to Sun. Movement of weavers within and outside the country established Ikat as a well-known and widely practiced craft from the eastern coast of Odisha to Andhra Pradesh, and on the west in Gujarat.
“Some of the weavers claim to have originally migrated from Saurashtra, and settled in Chirala, which formerly produced the finest weft Ikat in the form of rumals used by rich Muslims,” wrote Mrinalini Sarabhai in “Patolas and Resist-dyed Fabrics of India’.
Writing for the ‘The Journal of Indian Textile Industry’, in 1955 the veritable Pupul Jayakar says it was forty year ago that the brothers migrated from Chirala, already famous for the variety of fabrics called Telia Rumal. Telia Rumals, literally indicating the process the yarn goes through soaked in oil and the square cloth or the handkerchief. Telia Rumals with chowkas, diamond within a square patterns woven in cotton, was a famous export from the eastern coast to Arabia and beyond. They were made typically in three colours, white, black and red with geometric patterns and a single colour wide borders.
Though Pochampally is a name that is generally used for all the Ikat that comes from Telangana today, it came to Pochampally, a small village in Nalgonda district only by the turn of 20th century. It soon spread across several mandals, covering many places like Puttapakka that makes intricate designs in double Ikat and Koyyalagudem that specializes in upholstery and bed spreads.
Chirala’s Telia Rumals served the nobility as well as the fishermen. The cotton square cloths served as basic clothing and the royalty used the embroidered and Ikat woven with gold as dupattas. How then did they transform to full six-yard sarees is an interesting story.
It is believed that All India Handicrafts Board helped the weavers of Pochampally revitalize their craft of weaving Ikat sarees. But, writer Renuka Narayanan gives a dramatic account in Hindustan Times – “Nobody knew of Pochampally until Kamaladevi (Chattopadhyay), a wet towel tied over head in a trick learnt from Bapu, drove through scorched Andhra countryside to track down weavers. The first three saris together cost Rs. 120”. So, the doyen of crafts, textiles and heritage had a hand in bringing us the Pochampallys. During Jayakar’s time itself she records around 150 weavers practicing Ikat weaving at Pochampally village. Today it has grown exponentially and all of Nalgonda district is humming with the sound of looms.
As per the geographical indication (GI) tag application, Pochampally comes from at least 40 villages within a 70 km radius of Hyderabad, capital of Telangana, in the adjoining districts of Nalgonda, and parts of Warangal, including Pochampally, Koyalagudam, Puttapakka, Elanki and Chautupal where Ikat textiles are woven. “In these villages, Ikat weaving is a way of life, with every member of a family from child to grandparent, being involved at one stage or another,” says the GI application of Pochampally Weavers Associations.
Pochampally Ikat or resist dyeing, involves the sequence of tying (or wrapping) and dyeing sections of bundled yarn to a predetermined colour scheme prior to weaving. Thus the dye penetrates into the exposed section, while the tied section remain un-dyed. The patterns formed by this process on the yarn are then woven into the fabric.
Pochampally Ikats can be single Ikat or double Ikat – single Ikat involves tying and dyeing either the warp or weft before weaving, double ikat means tying and dyeing both the warp and weft according to predetermined patterns and colours and then painstakingly matching them on the loom manually, a complex and time consuming process. There is also a combined Ikat where there are portions of warp Ikat, and weft Ikat and at places where the warp Ikat and weft Ikat overlap.
With the popular demand for Pochampally increasing, weavers started getting silk from Bangalore and zari from Surat to produce silk Ikats. They added to their repertoire of designs, traditional motifs like parrot, elephant, and flowers. Pochampally weavers also experimented with jacquards and dobby techniques that is reflecting in the hybrid Pochampally with Kanchipuram border sarees in the market.
“Today Patolas of Patan are imitated fairly successfully … The basic difference between the double Ikat weaves of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and the Patola of Gujarat is that the Patola uses eight-ply silk while the imitations do not,” wrote Mrinalini Sarabhai. Though the copying of Patola designs continue at Pochampally, the weavers and their craft go much beyond the mere imitations.
Copies they do, but the issue is also how some traders are taking copies of Patola made in Pochampally for comparatively lower price of Rs. 30-35,000 and selling it up to even a lakh. If this copy of Patola at Pochampally for a lower price is bad, worse is the fakes that are passing of as Ikats in many cities, as gullible buyers won’t be able to differentiate the Ikat prints passed off as Ikat weave. This is killing the Ikat weave and its trade – a connoisseur had recently mentioned how a printed copy of fake Ikat look alike on a shiny material sells for as low as Rs. 900/- in the markets of faraway Kolkata. A word of caution, always look out for the handloom mark and silk board mark on the fabric you buy as it is a stamp of authenticity and ensures you a verified product.
Today, at Pochampally an invention that has brought a lot of pride and if followed to convenience to weavers is the ‘AsuLaxmi Machine’. Born in the family of traditional Pochampally weavers, Chinthakindi Mallesham won the 2015 Kamala Award for Contribution to Crafts in 2015 and Padma Shri in 2017. One of the processes involved in making of Pochampally sarees is the process of yarn winding called as “Asu” that involved 9000 arm movements consuming 5 hours for a single saree. Mallesham who used to watched his mother go through the painstaking Asu process created the AsuLaxmi Machine which in a day can prepare yarn for six sarees with little labour involved.
The AsuLaxmi Machine. Refer the following website for more details
While the industry is picking up, the issues that the Pochampally weavers face are grave especially that of low wages. Younger generation has moved on to other jobs. Second, an inability to price the products for if they stick to the old practice of using locally treated yarn rather than all falling for the mercerised yarn the price is going to be steeper. For instance the Telia Rumal is made from a distinct quality of yarn that comes from the treatment of it in oil. Today, this practice is unviable and just one master craftsman accepts it on order and the price naturally hits the roof. Telia Rumal is still available on order, but the ones that are made of mercerised cotton.
Whether it is the advent of swift powerlooms or the profuse availability of mercerized cotton, until we do not value a handmade product and the skill and artistry involved, we will loose an invaluable piece of our rich cultural heritage.
Picture courtesy: Shilpa Shankarnarayan Iyer
Pochampally is not only a name famous for textiles but has an important place in the post independence history of the country. Bhoodan Pochampally, as the place is referred to comes from the Bhoodan Movement. It was at Pochampally in 1951, Vedire Ramachandra Reddy voluntarily donated 100 acres of land to Vinoba Bhave and began a movement that would leave a permanent mark on the social consciousness of the country. Thus was created Bhoodan Pochampally.
Modernity and urbanization has led to the decline of traditional form of clothing, however the saree continues to remain an eternal favourite. While means of production, style of draping, and designs, may have changed markedly over times, one factor remains unchanged: the love for sarees among Indian women.
From a fragment of cotton found on a metal tool in Mohenjo-daro, and silk found in ornaments excavated from Harappa and Chanhu-daro, to the modern synthetic fabrics, mankind’s journey in the arena of textile has been long and colourful. In ancient India, both stitched and unstitched lengths of fabrics, such as cotton and silk, were draped around the body and formed the main garments. While the men wore a turban on their heads, tied a piece of cloth around their waists (similar to a dhoti), and placed a shawl like cloth around their shoulders, the women too draped a cloth around their waists, and sometimes covered their upper torso with a blouse, a tunic, or an odhni / dupatta like cloth. These garments draped perfectly, were made keeping the climate in mind, and catered to the trends and tastes of the time. One look at a woman’s garments and style, and you could guess her caste, marital status, area of origin , and her social standing.
Ajanta frescoes showing women in drapes covering the upper torso and the lower antariya. Picture source – Wikipedia.
A donor couple – The man is wearing a turban and the antiriya. The woman is wearing a garment that drapes around the waist and below, leaving her upper torso uncovered. Shunga period, 2nd c. BCE, Haryana. National Museum, New Delhi
Left – A saree like garment with perfect drapes framing a woman, Mathura, 2nd c. CE (Picture source Wikipedia). Right – Devi Yamuna ( Gupta period, 5th c. CE, UP) in a saree like garment that drapes from waist down below, and covers her upper torso, and the aanchal is wound around her arm, National Museum, New Delhi. Notice how both the women are seen wearing a waist band.
A Matrika figure from Gupta period, 6th c. CE, seen wearing a blouse, while a pleat on her waist shows a garment that would drape below. National Museum, New Delhi.
The word sari/saree is a derivative of the Prakrit word śāḍī, with the original term being the Sanskrit word śāṭī meaning “a piece of cloth”. It is likely that the petticoat and blouse, two necessary accompaniments of a saree in modern India, were later additions during the colonial era.
Draping a saree – Bengali Style
Draping a saree to accentuate one’s figure is an art by itself. There are innumerable references to it in ancient Indian literature like satavallika or pleats with many fine folds, or hastisaundaka or pleats that resemble an elephant, abound in Buddhist literature. It is evident that in the ancient times it was customary to tie a piece of cloth around the waist, and sometimes a cloth would also be draped over the head and upper torso. The uttariya that was used like a shawl over the shoulders can be drawn parallel with the modern odhni, while the stanapatta or kanchuli likely formed the choli or blouse. It is conjectured that the lower garment, which was known as antariya, and the upper uttariya fused sometime between 2nd c. BCE and 1st c. CE to form a long strip of cloth or śāḍī. The long aanchal or pallu of the saree, which hangs free after draping over the shoulder, was used for covering the head.
The intermediary form of draping a saree, which was shorter in length and worn without a blouse or a petticoat, was prevalent in Bengal until some years ago. It was known as the aatpoure form of draping, and many of us have seen our grandmothers wear saree that way. While aatpoure still remains in fashion during festivities and is a favourite of Bollywood movies when portraying a Bengali woman, it is now worn with a blouse and petticoat.
A picture postcard of a Kalighat painting from the 1900s depicting a woman with her saree draped in the aatpoure way, without a blouse or a petticoat. The saree goes anticlockwise first around the waist, followed by a second drape in the clockwise direction. The loosely hanging pallu is then placed over the shoulder, and can be easily draped over the head when in front of strangers or when required as per customs. At the end of the pallu, tied in a knot, from one corner of it would hang the various keys of the household. During those times when women remained within the four walls of the andarmahal, the keys hanging from the aanchal (pallu) were the symbols of power, denoting supreme control of the woman over her house and household matters as the Grihini. The keys of the larder (bha(n)rar gharer chabi) and almirah keys were deemed the most powerful ones.
During the mid 19th c. CE when women empowerment slowly started taking shape,
Jnanadanandini devi, sister in law of Rabindranath Tagore, was the first among Bengali women to move out of her in-laws’ home, defy the purdah system, and travel to Bombay to live with her husband who was posted there as the first Indian member of the Civil Services. It was she who first developed the new style of combining the saree with a blouse and petticoat, to enable women move out of their seclusion in the andarmahal and take part in outdoor activities. She achieved this by fusing the Parsi and Bengali style. While adopting the Parsi jacket and petticoat, she kept the Bengali style of wearing the pallu on her left shoulder. This style, which lacked the pleats from the waist downward, became popular among the Brahmo Ladies. Jnanadanandini devi, a social reformer and an advocate of woman empowerment, gave classes to women willing to learn the new way of draping the saree.
Three generation of women from the same family in their distinct style of sarees. Top left – Maharani Suniti Devi of Coochbehar. She was the daughter of Keshab Chandra Sen, one of the founding members of Brahmo Samaj in Bengal. The Brahmo Samaj ushered in a new era in women’s freedom and allowed them to appear in public. Suniti devi, here, is seen wearing the attire often chosen by Brahmo women when they appeared in public, with the pallu in front, a full sleeved jacket worn as blouse, and a laced cloth to cover the head. On her right is her daughter-in-law Maharani Indira Devi. Indira devi was widowed at a young age, and she followed the Bengali custom of wearing only white sarees after the husband’s death. However, she moved away from the tradition of wearing only white “thaan” sarees (cotton or mulmul), to wearing customised chiffon sarees in white with zari/silk borders. This soon caught the fancy of the entire nation, and chiffon sarees became the order of the day, both among royalty and commoners. Bottom – Suniti Devi’s grand daughter Maharani Gayatri devi, is wearing the saree in the modern form with pleats from waist below, and without the customary head cover, unlike her grandmother and mother.
The modern style of wearing a saree was derived from mixing the style pioneered by Jnandanandini devi with the Nivi style of Andhra Pradesh. In this style, the saree is draped by first tucking one end into the waistband of the petticoat and then wrapping the cloth around the lower part of the body once, followed by hand-made even pleats that are tucked into the waistband, around the navel. After one more turn the loose end is then draped over the left shoulder. Seen on right is Maharani Ourmilla Devi of Jubbal wearing saree in the modern style.
Jamdani: The word Jamdani is a Persian derivative and denotes the floral designs that adorn these sarees. There are four types of jamdaani: Dhakai, Tangail, Shantipuri, and Dhaniakhali. Jaamdani was woven on fine muslin, a material also known as abrawn (running water) because when it was placed under running water, the fine muslin would turn almost invisible. Alternatively it was also known as shabnam (evening dew) and bafta bana (like a cloud). Muslin finds mention in various travel accounts of the Chinese, Arabic, and Italian traders, along with Arthashastra, as a fine cloth from Pundra and Bangla.
Making a Jamdani saree is extremely time consuming, and requires intense concentration and hard-work. It is hand woven on a loom by weavers that “place the patterns, drawn upon paper, below the warp, and range along the track of the woof a number of cut threads equal to the design intended to be made; and then, with two small fine-pointed bamboo sticks, try to draw each of these threads between as many threads of the warp as many may be formed. the shuttle is then passed through the shed” (Taylor James, Descriptive and Historical account of the Cotton Manufacturers in Dacca, 1851. cited in Geroge Watt, p. 281).
In Jamdani, the cotton fabric is woven with cotton or zari threads and the sarees have two to four large motifs (mango motifs, known as kolkaa) at the junction of pallu and the border. The body of the saree has butis or small flowers. Often a butidar saree with close set butis would be known has Hazarbuti (thousands of butis), or in case of floral motifs which are connected together as in a jewel like setting it would be known as Pannahazar (thousand emeralds). Floral motifs arranged in straight lines are known as Fulwar, but when arranged in a diagonal line it becomes Tersa. Sarees that were dyed a deep indigo with designs in a lighter shade are termed as Neelambari (blue sky).
Hazarbuti and Pannahazar Dhakai Jamdaani sarees. These sarees are woven on an unbleached cotton base while the design is woven with bleached cotton threads, so that there is a light-and-shade effect.
Dhakai Jamdani sarees in modern designs for the highly competitive market of today (Picture courtesy: Gency Chaudhury)
Murshidabad in Bengal is well-known for its fine silk, which is light and easy to drape. Silk weaving in this region started during the early 18th c. CE and flourished under the British patronage. During the Mughal period, Nawab Murshid Quli Khan moved his capital from Dhaka to a place known as Baluchar, on the eastern bank of the Ganga river. Along with the Nawab came many weavers, and the famous Baluchari weave was born when silk was used instead of the gold and silver threads for weaving patterns. Baluchari sarees came with a long pallu that had distinct kolkaas (mango motifs) surrounded by themes that varied from showcasing the lives of nawabs, to railway carriages, Europeans and Indians sitting and smoking hookahs or reading books, amorous couples, dancers, animals, and also scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Baluchari sarees focused on reflecting the sociopolitical images of the time, and we see them in the earlier colonial motifs, and later in the nationalist ones where Vande Mataram is woven repeatedly all around in pallus and borders. The basic colour of the sarees were either maroon or purple and the saree bodies had butis all over. In 19th c. CE, flooding of the region by the river Ganga resulted in Baluchari weavers shifting and setting up shop in Bishnupur (Bankura district of Bengal).
Baluchari sarees on Murshidabad silk with their butis and human motifs (here there are two dancing figures)
Baluchari on Murshidabad silk showing an amorous couple and a traditional motif
Baluchari on Mushidabad silk – the weave depicts episodes from Ramayana (Picture courtesy – Gency Chaudhury)
A typical Baluchari pallu with silk weaves showing the kolkaa (mango) motifs
Left: woven theme of a Baluchari saree showing an European riding his horse and his dog going with him. Right: Baluchari saree from the nationalism era, where the word Vande Mataram has been woven on the saree border
Kanthas started as small pieces, usually in square or rectangles, that were made from old torn pieces of clothes, such as dhotis or sarees. The salvaged parts were quilted together and threads dyed in indigo and madder were used for sewing fine embroidery, known as Kantha. Every piece of a Kantha cloth, used either for domestic needs or given as a gift especially for a newborn baby to lie on, would show thousands of running, darning, herringbone and chain-stitch patterns. The patterns on kantha vary from human and animal figures to floral motifs, cars and trains, to fine ornamental patterns. Kantha work in Bengal has always been women oriented work, and it would involve women of the household sitting with their needles, in their long free afternoons, and weaving patterns that often told tales of their yearnings, dreams, aspirations, love, sadness, and heartbreaks. Once the weave of the women from poor households, the same kantha stitch is now patterned on silk sarees and is held dear by those that wear them.
Traditional Kantha patterns woven on silk
Modern patterns of Kantha work on silk (Picture courtesy: Gency Choudhary)
Besides these famous weaves, Bengal specialises in both silk and cotton sarees with prints and simple weaves. These are light and comfortable sarees for those sultry summers of Bengal.
Colourful prints on the light Murshidabad silk
Butidaar taant sarees (cotton weave and base with golden zari on the grey one) Pictures courtesy: Gency Chaudhury
Traditional motifs on plain taant cotton sarees. Lightweight and easy to drape these sarees are a comfort wear during the humid summer months.
Author – Monidipa Bose
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
A modern sculpture of the head of Buddha placed in the lawns
A beautiful old dresser
A lovely Jharokha with vertical lattice screen panels in red sandstone and old wooden windows
Old elephant head pieces in wood used as the base for a wooden pillar that in turn supports a large modern birdhouse
Large birdhouse with a peacock as the wind vane
An old wooden piece (probably a part of some larger furniture)
A rather looking happy looking crocodile ready to enter the water
Warli art on the houses inside the campus
Another old wooden artefact on display
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.
The entrance to the Museum of Everyday Art that houses old utensils, old musical instruments and various other items used in daily lives
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
Terracotta horses from various regions in the country
The Queen of Deccan Plateau, spanning Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, in length, second only to the celestial Ganga and in spirit ,the Ganga herself reincarnated at the Brahmagiri is the celebrated river goddess of peninsular India, the mighty Godavari.
Literally meaning ‘the one who nourishes cows’, Godavari is a giver in all respects. Flowing with abundant waters for nearly 1500 kilometres, she is the eldest and most capable daughter of Sahyadri. Godavari is revered as one of the seven important rivers of this land along with Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri from ancient times.
Gatha Saptashati, a collection of Gathas, with rustic emotions was composed by King Hala of the Satavahana Dynasty on the banks of Godavari. Though it is essentially love poetry; the lyrical anthology is an ode to the flora, fauna and rural life of Deccan. In the Gathas, the waters of Godavari have been used as a metaphor for the flow of love and desire.
Godavari originating in Western Ghats near Nasik, flows through the entire Deccan plateau, aggregating waters of several tributaries and passing through Eastern Ghats, to meet the Bay of Bengal near Kakinada. A long, coast to coast journey, through hills and forests, civilizations both modern and ancient, of welcoming pilgrims and nurturing life
Tryambakeshwar, at the origin of Godavari is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, an important place of worship of Lord Shankar. Godavari starts her divine journey, through city of Nashik, one of the designated places for Kumbh. Godavari is also known as Gautami here owing to the legend of sage Gautam bringing the sacred Ganga river to the Deccan plateau and hence is known as ‘Dakshin Ganga’ meaning Southern Ganga.
Trimbakeshwar Temple, Nasik, built with black basalt, was constructed by Shrimant Balaji Bajirao, the Nanasahib Peshwa, in 1786. The Shiva deity installed in the temple at that time was decorated with the world famous Nassak diamond. The stone was appropriated by the British during the 3rd Anglo-Maratha war. Pic credit Nirdesh Singh
Trimbakeshwar (Tryambakeshwar, Trambakeshwar) takes its name from ‘Trimbaka’, which means ‘The Lord Who has Three Eyes’. This is a place of Tri-Sandhya Gayatri, the birthplace of Lord Ganesha. Godavari forms the southern boundary of Dandakaranya in Ramayana whereas Panchavati, the place where Ram and Sita stayed during their exile is now a part of Nashik. Trimbakeshwar is also considered to be one of the holiest places to perform Shraddha. The Nirnaya Sindhu mentions Trimbakeshwar as the place where Sahyadri Mountain and Godavari River exist, purifying the entire earth planet.
Built between the 2nd century BCE and 2nd century CE by Jain traders and Kings for Buddhist monks, the Trirashmi Leni are some of the oldest caves of Maharashtra. Though popularly known as Pandav Leni, the caves have nothing to do with Mahabharatha. Most of the caves are Viharas with one Chaitya and represent the Hinayana sect of Buddhism. The caves are a wonderful example of syncretism between Jains and Buddhists in spirit and Indians and Greek in stone and sculptures.
The richly sculptured Trirashmi caves or Pandav Leni near Nashik. Pic courtesy Manisha Chitale
On the banks of Godavari in Nashik stands the Kalaram Mandir with black idols of Ram,
Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman. Built in 1788 by Sardar Rangarao Odhekar after he had a vision of a black idol of Lord Ram floating in the waters of Godavari, this temple played an important role in the Dalit Movement. In 1930, Babasaheb Ambedkar launched the Kalaram Mandir Entry Satyagraha and stormed the temple thereby ending restriction on the entry of certain castes in the temple.
From right at its source Godavari waters seem to have witnessed pathbreaking movements leading to emancipation of the common people.
Meanwhile, downstream, the birds chirp, and flamingo flocks swing in blue skies at the Nandur Madhameshwar Bird Sanctuary.
Once past Kopargaon, through the parched lands of Marathwada in Maharashtra, Godavari provides the much needed touch of water.
Just before Paithan, she meets with Pravara. This Pravara-sangam is itself a visual delight. Pravara has a special place in every Maharastrian’s mind. Just before the confluence, Pravara passes through Nevase. This is the place where Sant Dnyaneshwar, the child prodigy of Maharashtra penned ‘Bhavarth-Dipika’, commonly known as ‘Dnyaneshwari’. One of the most revered and complete commentary on Bhagvad Geeta, since early thirteenth century.
Dyanenshwar, at the tender age of 16 was one of the most brilliant and accomplished Yogi. His life story with his three equally enlightened siblings, the arduous childhood, the unfettered faith in Vithal the God, and attaining the difficult Sanjeevan-Samadhi before touching twenty years of age , he was the indeed the path breaker in the continuous tradition of Marathi saints. There will be very few households in Maharashtra, who will not have a copy of ‘Dyaneshwari’ on the pedestal. Godavari is blessed to have the fortune of raising this extraordinary son of soil in her backyard.
All ancient key cities or capitals are on the banks of prominent rivers. Paithan , or the ancient Pratishthan is not an exception. Godavari, blocked at Jayakwadi, flows seamlessly around Paithan. Paithan, as some experts believe, was the capital of Satawahan, the original royal dynasty of Maharashtra. It finds mention in the navigation and trading bible called ‘The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea’. Paithan remained an important city of trade and administration even during the time of later dynasties such as the Chalukyas and Yadavs. Paithan and its surrounding areas are of great archaeological interest, as it provides continuous settlement pattern over 25 centuries to say the least.
And Paithan is equally celebrated for that special silk fabric in beautiful bright colours
and real gold or silver borders, famously called as Paithanee Sarees. Parrots and peacocks form some of the central motifs in this hand woven silk cloth. Handed down as a heirloom and a must-have in the wardrobe of every Marathi Mulgi, Paithanee is a much sough after saree and fabric both in India and the world.
River of Faith
Paithan had a long tradition of Marathi saints starting from Dyaneshwar, Eknath and many others like Namdev, Sant Janabai, Changdev and others in the vicinity. These saint poets and thinkers of medieval times including Tukaram , Dasganu , Chokha mela, initiated the Bhakti or Varkari movement which later flourished and is still in practice. A whole corpus of lyrical ‘Abhang’ and ‘Owee’ in Marathi language can be attributed to this tradition. Abhang are poetic compositions in Marathi, centred around worship of Vitthal or Vithoba, with philosophical message. These compostions actually brought the Sanskrit based ‘Darshanik’ knowledge to common people. Bhakti tradition literally got the Godavari of Indian philosophy to the doorsteps of everyone through this vernacular literature. Bhakti movement also insisted on removing the caste barriers and thus discarding the rigidity in social behaviour. It is almost like Godavari has blessed this Bhakti and Varkari sect with her ever nourishing waters.
The meandering stream of Godavari, traverses the Marathwada, taking in waters of Kundalika and Purna, flourishing this sacred land which also belongs to Nath Yogis.
Nath Sampraday a pan India sect of Shaiva worship, is one of strong branches of the tree called Hinduism. The banks of Godavari are dotted with Nath monasteries and temples right from its basin in Maharashtra to its delta in Andhra. Offshoots of Sahyadri in Nagar, Nashik and Aurangabad have several Nath places of worship. Nath Sampraday finds reference in several literary traditions and books. Disciples of this sect are termed as Nath, Siddha or Yogis. Gorakshnath, Matsyendranath , Gahininath are some of great sages of this lineage.
Datta Sampraday another equally important faith stream, popular on the Deccan plateau also finds its important places in the Godavari basin. Datta sect is closely linked with Nath Tradition, but worships a Vishnu incarnation. Mahur, Karanje are places of worship for Datta devotees which are in upper basin of Godavari. Mahanubhav sect which also finds its roots in the same region around Godavari is almost like a combination of Nath and Datta cults. Waters of Godavari have given life to these various streams of philosophies and cultures.
Reaching Nanded, Godavari prepares to leave Maharashtra and enters the present day Telangana. Nanded by itself is a prominent place in Sikh history. There stands the majestic Takht Shri Huzur Sahib Gurudwara reminding all about the bond shared by Punjab with Maharashtra. Around 250 years back, when Guru Gobindsinghji, the tenth Sikh Guru chose Nanded as his last abode. This is where he passed the authority to Guru Granth Sahib and put a stop to the human Guru Tradition. Ever flowing Godavari has witnessed this transition with mute admiration.
Taking a sharp turn to south, Godavari continues till she meets her southern affluent Manjara. Manjara drains the passage between Godavari and Krishna, bringing in the flavours of Karnataka.
Godavari now a substantial flow, turns north, to pass through some of the holy places such as Basar and Dharmapuri. Basar is famous for its unique Gnana Saraswati temple, one of the two temples in India dedicated to the Goddess of Learning and Knowledge. The other temple is in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Children are bought to this temple in Telangana to write their first letter, a symbolic initiation into the world of learning known as ‘Akshara Abhyasam’. Passing through Nizamabad and Macherial districts of Telangana, Godavari once again touches south eastern border of Maharashtra.
The Jungle Lore
Now entering the Mahakantar, the great jungle region, Pranhita river, the biggest tributary of Godavari meets her near Sironcha. Pranhita carries with her waters of Satpura ranges and whole of Vidarbha to merge with the sacred stream of Godavari. Sacred town of Kaleshwaram is at the confluence.
Skirting the Maharashtra border, moving through Sal forests and roars of tigers, Godavari receives her another major tributary. Indravati flows through thick forests of Chattisgarh, passing through craggy hills of Vindhya, and carrying the fading flute tunes of Gond tribals, is a force to reckon with.
Another tributary of Godavari called Sabari, which meets the main river further downstream also comes from thick wooded belt of Chhatisgarh-Odisha border. And interestingly, Indravati and Sabari are interconnected naturally through a ‘middleman’ stream !
From this point onwards, Godavari flows in southerly direction and enters Andhra Pradesh. Taking in waters from some more tributaries like Talperu, now at the confluence with Kinnarseni, stands Bhadrachalam, a prominent place of Rama Bhakti. This temple town has rich association with the river. Godavari’s enormous expanse here is awe inspiring.
This lifeline of ‘Dakkhan’, has seen rise and fall of several empires on both sides of her banks. The Yadavs, Rashtrakutas, Vengy Chalukyas giving way to the Kakatiyas of Warangal and then with wheels of time turning, to the Islamic kingdoms of Bahamani, which further split into 5 Shahi sultanates.
Moving ahead, Godavari enters the Eastern Ghats, the mountain ranges close to the eastern coast of India. It takes a twisting and turning ride through the green blue Papikonda hills, gushing through the sloping hills, flanked by high rising mountains and carving a deep valley the river continues its eternal journey. On feeling the whiff of sea breeze, Godavari impatiently crosses the mountain terrain to come out in the open and spread at Rajahmundry, a prominent city of Andhra Pradesh. The massive bridge here on Godavri measures 4 KM. This is third largest bridge in Asia and is an attraction by itself.
Moving past Rajahmundry, Godavari splits into 2 major branches, Gautami Godavari and Vasishtha Godavari, which further splits into 2 more branches each and with these four arms she embraces the Bay of Bengal. The delta region of Godavari is known as Konaseema. A scenic landscape with swaying palms and green paddy fields stretching across.
Gautami Godavari branch merges with the tides, at Kakinada. Yanam near Kakinada is an erstwhile French colony and part of Pondicherry union territory. Earlier in 18th century this area saw rise of several Dutch colonies doing Indigo trade. Later, the Dutch handed over this colony to the French.
The Vasishtha branch meets the sea near Narsapur, again a temple town and former Dutch colony.
The silk thread of Paithan, finds a coastal counterpart here, on the banks of Godavari
again. Uppada , a small beach town near Kakinada, has made mark in the world of silk saris. The Jamdani style of weaving from Bengal combined with patterns and motifs of Andhra has given rise to Uppada Pattu, a distinctive fabric style. Extremely light weight, contemporary in design and style and its fine silk makes Uppada a great choice over other exorbitantly priced silks.
We have now traversed almost the entire south central India, from west to east with this river goddess, a journey through time and geography!
Over several towns, temples and traditions, Godavari banks also host several festivals throughout the year. The sacred and massive Kumbhmela in Tryambak to Godavari Pushkaram festival in Telangana and Andhra, from the Adishesh devotees gathering for Nagoba Jatra at Pranhita confluence to the Antarvedi fair, the cultural celebrations have bloomed in abandon on the Godavari water front.
Godavari has marked the borders for kingdoms and helped win battles for the kings. She has devastated her banks with raging floods at times and has also blocked herself with dams to fulfil the quench of her children.Godavari has inspired sages, saints and poets and her tranquil waters have given solace to the seekers. But she is not without her woes.
Beginning of the End
During the British Raj, Sir Arthur Cotton, an irrigation engineer changed the face of Konaseema in Andhra by building an Anicut, The Dowleswaram Barrage. This first-of-its-kind barrage was completed in the year 1885 and diverted the flood waters of Godavari to farmlands. He later built another barrage over Krishna River turning the delta into one of the most fertile regions of the country. Even today, the people of Konaseema in Andhra revere Sir Arthur Cotton as a deity. Unfortunately, only parts of the original barrage remain for it has been remodeled as the modern Godavari barrage. While the original barrage had fish lifts and passes, the new one does not have these features robbing the downstream people of not only the much needed silt and water but is also hindering the migration of the Pulasa / Hilsa fish, one among the 228 species of fish that swim in the waters of Godavari.
While a few barrages and irrigation projects were much needed in the region, today it boasts of a slew of projects that has fettered the river over its long course. According to MoWR (Ministry of Water Resources), so far nearly 921 Dams, 28 Barrages, 18 Weirs, 1 Anicut, 62 Lifts and 16 Powerhouses have been constructed in the Godavari basin for irrigation, diversion or, storage purpose. The basin has 70 Major Irrigation Projects and 216 Minor Irrigation Projects. For how long will we able to squeeze the river of its resources and water, one wonders.
predominantly tribal, in Malkangiri are cut off from the main land for several years, first by the Machkund Hydro electric project and then by Balimela Project. They hire a ferry to get to mainland and in 2010, this ferry was targeted and attacked by the Maoists. The biggest threat to these tribals and their houses is not from the naxalites but from the ambitious Polavaram project that plans to interlink the Krishna and Godavari rivers. If at all the project comes through which is stalled from past four decades then Malkangiri will be submerged along with few other tehsils of tribal Odisha. Just a few of the many devastating side effects of irrigation projects and dams. Siltation, loss of biodiversity, submergence of forests and most of all drying up of areas downstream are other major issues facing the people and its river.
From a surplus river to a deficit river, From clean swells of water to being critically polluted, From nurturing revolutions to facing massive conflicts; the Dakshin Vahini Ganga, Goda Mai as she is fondly called is fettered and frail and needs her sons and daughters today much more than ever before.
Authors – Manisha Chitale and Zehra Chhapiwala
Manisha can be contacted at email@example.com
In the annals of Indian history, rivers occupy a special place. Revered as deities by Hindus, rivers mobilized resources, ideas and agricultural wealth. If there is something that strongly characterizes the idea of India, it is her endless river system. The very name ‘India’ or ‘Hind’ has been derived from the river Indus, first cited by Arab geographers. At the dawn of the Christian era, Ptolemy divided India as the lands of Ganges and beyond Ganges.
River Betwa in Orchha
Although most of India’s rivers played a prolific role in shaping her civilization, only a few are celebrated as Pan-Indian tirthas, such as Ganga, Godavari, Narmada and Cauvery. Betwa or Vetrawati is a historically vibrant river that flows through the heart of Central India in the modern states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Cutting through the Vindhya ridges, its banks are not fertile valleys and the population density is low. It has still retained its medieval charm as not too many industries and large cities dot its banks.
Betwa silently crafted a story that we identify as the story of India. In her catchment we find the earliest imprints of humankind in India, the earliest of Hindu temples and India’s most splendid Buddhist monasteries. On its banks ran the grand highway of Ancient India, the Dakshina Path, connecting the cities of Gangetic plain and Deccan. Both Jains and Buddhists lived and prosper in the region. They together with Hindus have left beautifully sculptured edifices along the Betwa.
The story of Betwa begins approximately 30,000 years when the rock shelters of Bhimbetka and its surrounding hills were transformed into one of the earliest habitats of modern humans in the Sub-continent. The unique position of hills with gradual slopes and surrounding valleys not only provided shelters to live but also supplied a wealth of food resources. Our Stone Age ancestors took the advantage of this nature’s gift and silently laid the foundation of the story of India. They painted on the walls of the caves scenes from their daily life and created the first visual language. Today the rock-shelters of Bhimbetka are a world heritage site and a repository of knowledge of an ancient way of life and living.
Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka
The Stone Age way of life continued for thousands of years until the process of earliest urbanization began in the middle of 1st millennium BCE. Vidisha became an important trade centre around this time and continued till the Gupta Empire took over in the 2nd-3rd centuries CE. Emperor Ashoka was the governor of Vidisha and his Buddhist wife Vidisha Devi was a native of this city. Today, among Vidisha’s oldest remains is the stone pillar that was erected in the 1st century BCE by Heliodorus, a Greek ambassador of Indo-Greek King Antialcidas. The pillar is surmounted by a sculpture of Garuda and dedicated to Vasudeva.
Heliodorus Pillar at Vidisha
Sanchi, another world heritage site is a jewel in the crown of Buddhism. Originally commissioned by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE, the great stupa at Sanchi is an architectural landmark. It was here that Ashoka married Vidisha Devi, the daughter of a merchant from Vidisha. In the 1st century BCE, four elaborately carved toranas with beautiful sculptures depicting daily life in Ancient India, the Dhamma wheels, Jataka tales and the worshipping of the Buddha in symbolic form were added.
During the course of time a number of stupas, temples and monasteries were built in Sanchi, among which the Temple 17 is worth mentioning. It is one of the earliest temples of India built in the form of a small square sanctum and a portico with flat roofs. The portico has four pillars bearing four lions on top. This temple is a wonderful example of the fact that the concept of Shikhara did not exist earlier.
Sanchi 17 Temple, one of the earliest temples in India
A later Temple at Sanchi
Similar to Sanchi, a number of other hills around Betwa and its tributary Bes became established centres of Buddhism. One such centre is Satdhara. The main stupa at Satdhara is even bigger than the Sanchi Mahastupa and was built during the time of Ashoka. Overlooking Bes River, the strikingly simpler Satdhara stupas are spread over a sprawling plateau.
Satdhara Buddhist Complex
When the Guptas took over, they created a parallel centre of worship at Udayagiri Hill near Vidisha and introduced the idea of rock-cut Hindu monasteries in the region. It was perhaps to counteract the popularity of Buddhism in the region and spread Brahmanical faith. The gigantic rock-cut statues of Varaha and Anantaseshayi Vishnu at Udayagiri will leave any visitor spellbound. This was the beginning of Hindu iconography that later evolved into more complex forms profusely adorning the medieval temples of India and Southeast Asia.
The Udayagiri Cave Complex
Situated on the right bank of Betwa in Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh, Deogarh has one of the best known Gupta period temples, Dashavatara Vishnu Temple. It is also identified as the earliest known Panchayatana Temple in North India.
Nar Naryana Sculptures at Dashavatar Temple in Deogarh and Jain Sculptures at Parshavanath Temple in Deogarh (Source: Wikipedia)
Deogarh was also a major centre of Jainism. There are about 31 Jain Temples with 2000 sculptures built between 7th and 17th Centuries CE in Deogarh. According to UP Tourism website, Deograh has the largest collection of Jain sculptures found in one place. Most of these temples were built by Jain merchants who carried on trade both inland and overseas from Deogarh.
Calm flows the Betwa towards Budhi Chanderi, or the Old Chanderi, which is 20 km North of modern Chanderi and yet another major centre of Jainism.
A Jain Temple in Chanderi
The early seeds of architectural grandeur sown by the Guptas flowered during the period of Rashtrakutas and the best examples are found at the unfinished Shiva Temple at Bhojpur and ruins of the nearby Bhootnath Temple complex. The temple at Bhojpur was massive and the Shiva linga is the tallest in the medieval world.
Temple Ruins of Bhojpur and Bhootnath
The temple building activity continued in Vidisha and the sheer size of the unfinished temple of Bijamandal speaks eloquently of the skills and ambition of its builders.
Temple Ruins of Bijamandal at Vidisha
The next phase in Betwa story begins with the introduction of Islam. The political ambition of Sultanate rulers led their march to South and Betwa became the key passage. Victories of invaders pulled down the wealth of temples throwing life that revolved around sanatan belief into disarray. But this was not to last long. The faith in humanism saw new light through Sufi mysticism. Chanderi became a magnet of Sufi ideas with the preaching of the followers of Nizamuddin Auliya.
Chishtiyya is one of the four main streams of Sufi Islam. Though Chishtiyya had originated in Afghanistan in the 10th century CE, it was Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, a revered Sufi Saint who had his abode at Ajmer in Rajasthan in the 12th century AD, who established the Chishti order in the Indian Subcontinent. The Chishti order of Sufism made a profound impact on the spread of Islam in India and stressed on values such as independence from rulers and states, rejection of money and land grants, generosity to others through sharing of food and wealth, and tolerance and respect to religious differences.
One of the eminent disciples of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti was Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. According to primary historical sources, in 13th and 14th centuries CE, Auliya’s influence on Muslims of Delhi was so much that a paradigm shift was effected in their outlook towards worldly matters. People began to incline towards mysticism and prayers and remained aloof from the world.
During the time of Nizamuddin Auliya, the Chishti Silsila spread all over the country owing to the moving out of a large number of his followers to different cities and provinces. According to Abdullah Shatteri, a noted historian of that time, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya had sent seven hundred well-trained disciples to various important cities in the country. These Khalifas, as theye were called, went on to become central figures in their respective regions. One such Khalifa was Hazrat Wajihuddin. During the reign of Allauddin Khilji, he was ordered by Hazrat Nizamuddin to go and settle in Chanderi and work for the people.
Sufi Shrines and Indo-Islamic Structures at Chanderi
Chanderi lies at the meeting point of Malwa Plateau and Bundelkhand. It is strategically located on the major trade routes of Central India towards Malwa, Mewar, coast of Gujarat and Deccan. Throughout history, Chanderi has attracted all major powers from Pratihars to Khilji, Lodhi, Mughals, Bundelas and finally the British.
A rock-cut Jain Sculpture at Chanderi
Hazrat Wajihuddin reached Chanderi in 1305 AD and established his Khanaqah. Soon he attracted thousands of visitors to Chanderi. These devotees not only came from Chanderi and surrounding areas but also from places as far as Bengal. Meer Khurd in his book Siyar-Ul-Auliya mentions many devotees especially from Lakhanuti, which is near Dhaka, who not only visited Hazrat Wajihuddin but decided to settle down in Chanderi. It was, most probably, this group of people that began the practice of weaving in Chanderi as Dhaka was a major centre of weaving in those times. Chanderi today is well-known for its silk and its patrons are from all religions, classes and faiths but most of us are unaware of its deep connection with Sufism, especially the Chisthiyya order of Sufism.
A Chanderi Weaver at Work
Mazar Khandan – e – Nizamuddin is a grave complex that was built in 1425 AD for the followers of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya during the rule of Hoshang Shah, the Sultan of Malwa. The complex has some of India’s most beautiful jali work on its walls and carving of motifs on black stone graves. According to KK Muhammad, a noted archaeologist and an expert on the subject, the jali work of these tombs are earliest, which eventually would develop into more intricate refined jali work at the Mausoleum of Muhammad Ghaus in Gwalior and the Dargah of Salim Chishti at Fatehpur Sikri. Many of these jalis and motifs have found their way into the design of Chanderi Sarees and fabrics.
Chanderi has also a deep connection with Hindustani music. Baiju Bawra, a contemporary of Tansen sang many of his dhrupads in the court of Chanderi in the 16th century CE.
In the final leg of Betwa story, we encounter the fusion of two great ideas, the Mughals and the Bundela Rajputs. Orchha, the capital of Bundelas is one of the most celebrated centres of art, architecture, music and dance. The imposing chhatris of Bundela Rajputs, the majestic Chaturbhuj Temple and Jehangir Mahal were amongst the last link of Betwa story that began at the remote corner of time in Bhimbetka, some 30,000 years back.
In the 13th Century CE, Bundelkhand region was embroiled in battles between Sultanate and the Rajput kings to acquire power and wealth and the region became important as it connected the Ganga – Yamuna doab in the North to the Malwa Plateau and Deccan in the South. Betwa’s fortune changed with the arrival of Akbar and Bundela Rajputs. Their peaceful coexistence turned Orchha into a magnet of creativity. The region witnessed cultural renaissance with several innovations in Hindustani music, dance, paintings and architecture.
The Bundela Cenotaphs across Betwa
The name Orchha has an interesting story. Once when, Raja Rudra Pratap was out on a hunting expedition, he came across a small Rama Temple in the middle of the forest. Being a devout follower of Rama, he sat in front of the temple to meditate unaware of a wolf that was hiding nearby. The smell of human sweat pulled him closer to the king. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a voice boomed ‘Orchha’, the chasing command given to dogs. The hunting dogs thus awakened chased the wolf finally killing it. According to the story the command was given by Lord Rama himself. The King immediately decided to establish his capital at this holy spot and named it Orchha.
Though Rudra Pratap founded Orchha, he did not survive to build his dream city. He died the same year saving a cow. His successor Madhukar Shah however took Orchha to new heights of prosperity. Orchha became a vassal kingdom under the Mughals during the reign of Emperor Akbar.
Vir Singh Deo was the next important ruler of Orchha. He was a vassal of Jahangir, the next Mughal Emperor after Akbar. It was during his rule that Orchha reached its zenith in terms of artistic and architectural proliferation. Vir Singh Deo built Jahangir Mahal, a jewel among the medieval palaces in India and the Laxmi Narayan Temple, where we see the best of Orchha murals. He had a dashing personality but his name was tainted as the murderer of Abul Fazal, the court historian and one of the nine jewels of Akbar’s court.
Splendours of Orchha
Jahangir Mahal was expressly built for a warm reception of Jahangir, the Mughal Emperor. A fusion of Rajput and Mughal architecture, Jahangir Mahal is a three storied building in square shape. The entrance is flanked by two impressive stone elephants that look as if they have been standing guard forever. Another remarkable feature of this mansion is the stone lattice work on the windows.
Another major attraction of Orchha are its 14 massive cenotaphs of Bundela rulers that stand imposingly along the banks of the tranquil Betwa River. Most of the cenotaphs are three storied and the architecture of these cenotaphs is a synthesis of traditional Rajput, Indo-Saracenic and ornate Mughal architectural styles. Most of the cenotaphs are in a very good condition.
Chhatris of Bundela Rajputs at Orchha
Today, Bundelkhand through which the Betwa flows is a thirsty region. In a recent clearance to one of the most controversial projects of river linking, Betwa with Ken, has posed a series of questions on Betwa’s tranquility that has remained untouched for centuries. The Ken region harbors tiger habitats and the river linking will submerge a part of it.