Ekamra Walks: Unplugging History

Cities represent mini civilizations. If civilizations are part of the evolutionary chronicles of human settlements, cities in the miniature format represent a broad canvas, on which the civilization and its cultural effects are painted in the form of historical structures, monuments and the other remains of these vestiges, which, ultimately gives the prototype signature to the entire gamut of architectural legacy and decorating the expert craftsmen’s dedication to build the historic structures dotting around the city landscape.

 

With temples being its signature monuments and the Kalingan architecture forming the epitome of the unique temple building style, Bhubaneswar stands tall as perhaps the most densely populated city of temples with national and state importance, making them 361, here.

However, the city of more than 7,000 temples in the past never got noticed for all its precious monumental jewels excepting a few major heritage sites. There was always a need to promote the city’s rich heritage and cultural traditions showcasing its colourful festivals and temple-based rituals so that visitors from around the world would take note and start orienting their tour plans towards the Temple City Bhubaneswar _ tranquil, historic and Smart.

IMG-20180417-WA0021IMG-20180417-WA0011IMG-20180417-WA0010IMG-20180417-WA0006How It Started

While the genesis of the city from the Mauryan era Sisupalgarh to the modern Capital city of new Odisha in 1948, and winning the coveted Smart City Challenge in 2016, (Best proposal for a child-friendly city) could be an indication, heritage in the city was always taking a backseat, years ago.

Despite having so many monuments, including many protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the city’s projection with its priceless monuments along with its urban development and the latters side-effects never made headlines.

Putting all things to a rest, the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation, Bhubaneswar Development Authority and Odisha Tourism took a bold and dynamic step on December 18, 2016 to launch the city’s first guided heritage tour in the city known for its majestic temples, intricate carvings, alluring damsels and fierce forms of Goddesses in the form of Sapta Matrikas or Seven Mother Goddesses.

 

The heritage walk was conceived from the very idea to make the city a happening place on the world heritage map and moreover, branding it with explorable avenues so that the visitors would be always willing to participate and rediscover the city. The opening up of the skies through the international flight services also added to the fun as many travellers are coming from the ASEAN nations and loving discovering the city in an old and charming way.

The name Ekamra Walks was coined deriving from the old name Ekamra Kshetra as the city was always known from the beginning of the temple building era of 7th Century CE or even earlier. Adding 10 major monuments to the list, a live demonstration at the dance institution Art Vision by Odissi Guru Padma Shri Ileana Citaristi, a visit to Bindusagar, Doodhwala Dharamsala and medicinal plant garden Ekamra Van.  It was also planned to have the event non-stop every Sunday starting from the 10th Century Mukteswar Temples, which has got a beautiful arch representing the beauty and precision of Kalingan sculptural art.

The Walk

Ekamra Walks Old Town Circuit starts from the precinct of Mukteswar Temple every Sunday at 6.30 am. There is a “jugalbandi’’ of heritage and music there, as the visitors are offered a nice dose of Odissi and Hindustani Classical music amidst the chirping of birds as the nearby lawn and trees are frequented by the winged guests and locals use the lawn for their morning exercises and  walks. After Mukteswar, visitors watch the sun dial and then proceed towards Parasurameswar temple through the lawn. The temple is one of the best preserved monuments dating back to 7th Century CE in Bhubaneswar.

After visiting Parasurameswar, the walkers pass through a narrow passage called Kotirtheswar Lane, named after the 15th /16th Century Kotirtheswar Temple. However, during the journey through the lane, Swarnajaleswar temple makes for a nice peep. The Kotitirtheswar Lane leads to the Eastern banks of holy lake, Bindusagar. After seeing the lake from the Parikrama on its Eastern bank, they move towards Ananta Vasudev temple, which perhaps is the only Vishnu Temple in the Ekamra Kshetra and visitors also see the temple kitchen, which perhaps is the second oldest after the  Jagannath Temple in Puri. After Ananta Vasudev temple, the next stop is Doodhwala Dharamsala, a heritage structure for budget pilgrims. Then after climbing the Curzon Mandap to view the majestic Lingaraj, it’s the beautiful  Chitrakarini and Sari Deula to showcase the restoration after excavation, Mohini on the bank of Bindu Sagar, Parikrama around Bindusagar, Vaital Temple near Tini Mundia Square, the visitors soak in the Odissi recital by beautiful young dancers at Art Vision, an institute run by Italy-born Padma Shri Ileana Citaristi.

The Monks, Caves and  Kings, at Khandagiri-Udayagiri, on the other hand, starts at 6.30 am on Saturday at Udayagiri caves and goes through Rani Gumpha (ground and first floor), Ganesh Gumpha, Udayagiri Hilltop, Bagha (Tiger) Gumpha and Hati (Elephant) Gumpha. Inscription in Hati Gumpha, rock art and inscriptions at Bagha Gumpha and Manchapuri Gumphas are worth mentioning. After the Udayagiri trail, the visit to the relief images of Jaina Tirthankars at Khandagiri is a delightful journey, only to end the trail in the Twin Hills.

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 Objective

Bhubaneswar has all the potential to become a World Heritage City as it harbours timeless vistas and monuments but there was no way to make the visitors understand the dynamics of historic evolution and Ekamra Walks was perhaps the best way to carry forward such an agenda.

The pre-historic cave art, nature and man-made caves, monuments depicting the influences of three major religions originating from the Indian sub-continent, handicrafts from stone with mesmerising details and life-like portrayal with magical craftsmanship, unique architectural patterns and forms of Kalingan temples are there to invite the guests to immerse themselves in the all-new experience .

Impact

Ekamra Walks has so far attracted travellers from 29 nations. Staring from the Mayor of Cupertino Mrs Savita Vaidhyanathan, a crew from Air Asia, students from University of California, College of Charleston, South Carolina, University of Melbourne, IIT Bhubaneswar, business management institutions like XIMB, Xavier University, Bhubaneswar, Benares Hindu University, Institute of Mathematics and Applications, Indian Institute of Tour and Travel Management, KIIT University, Centurion University, architectural students from across India, SAI International School, DAV Public School, Chandrasekharpur, ICICI Academy of Skills, Bhubaneswar and local institutions of the city and nearby districts. Participants and officials from Asian Athletics Championship-2017, Hockey World League, International Hockey Federation and mascot of AAC-2017 Olly also took part in the heritage trail.

Voices 

Just after finishing the heritage walk at Ekamra Van on the western bank of the holy Bindusagar lake, Mayor of Cupertino Mrs Savita Vaidhyanathan had said that her IT City would  have a medicinal plant garden like that of Ekamra Van here. She appreciated the fact that even after embracing modernity and all the new-age development in the Capital city, the Old Bhubaneswar city has kept its unique characteristics and for the participants of Ekamra Walks discovering these uniqueness is a beautiful thing to be associated with.

Best-selling Marathi author, poet, critic and linguistics scholar of repute Balchandra Vanaji Nemade,  who was a recipient of the coveted Jnanapitha Award in 2014 for his novel “Hindu: Jagnya Samruddha Adgal’’ and also a recipient of the Central Sahitya Akademi Award and Padmashri, was a guest of Ekamra Walks, Old Town Circuit.

The famous author, who has taught comparative literature in India and abroad and also a frequent visitor to Odisha, said “Odisha has a treasure which is unique in its own way. People are gradually discovering it and those in the Western world and Indian metros should come to explore the poetry written on stone by the craftsmen from Utkala.’’

Senior Editor NDTV Hindi Ravish Kumar, was delighted to see the treasure of artistic monuments in the Old Town area of the Ekamra Kshetra and said “every temple here is like a big volume of artistic book written and carved through the efficient carvings and poetic expressions with all detailing and imagination.’’

Suggesting that the storey-telling style of the guides must be on interesting anecdotes and not just chronicling historic facts, the senior journalist also added that if the city could have information boards on the monuments in public places or parks, then more people and especially kids would show more interest in these historic monuments.

Knowledge gained

 

From little know to a sought-after weekly heritage walk, Sunday in Old Town and on Saturday at the Twin Hills of Khandagiri and Udayagiri, a well-known Jain heritage site with beautiful pre-historic and man-made caves, several inscriptions with potential to influence the socio-political equations of the-then India and Odisha in particular, engineering knowledge used in that period for better drainage and ventilation in the caves and cave art of various motifs the regularity of the event and constant presence, especially in print and social media has made Ekamra Walks a success story with a follow-up by more than 550 newspaper and webpage articles (for Old Town and Monks, Caves and Kings at Udayagiri-Khandagiri) and more than 6,500 Face Book page likes and followers of around that number, in FB.

The success of Ekamra Walks would also help in the development of the start-up ecosystem in tourism, travel and guiding sector as the heritage trail has proven its worth in the City of Temple. Several other start-ups have also started their ground work and some even gone to the extent of conducting pilot tours and packages in and around the city with themes like heritage, wildlife, rural nature trail. The heritage tour might be just a small step towards showcasing the monumental treasure of the Temple City, but it would be a giant step to provide an ample kick to the latent potential of the tourism sector as the region is not only bestowed with sites to be explored, but with beautiful handicrafts and souvenir items to go back home with fond memories.

 

Ekamra Walks, thus, has kindled the hope on the heritage front and it would certainly light up others in the fray, for a great socio-economic uplift and progress. Bhubaneswar would certainly have more presence in heritage and tourism sectors. 

 

 

 

Author – Bibhuti Barik

Writer, journalist, amateur photographer and currently working as Communication Consultant to the Bhubaneswar Smart City Ltd. He can be contacted at bibhutibarik@gmail.com

Khunga Kothi – Retreat Awaits Revival

Reconstructing the history of an antiquarian structure of some grandeur becomes a fascinating experience when neither an inscription nor official records can be traced in situ. Khunga Kothi –a century old feudal retreat, was built sometime in early 1900s by Raja Ranbir Singh, successor and grandson of Raja Raghubir Singh of Jind Riyasat, then in Punjab but now in Haryana, on the picturesque left bank of Chautang or Chetang canal of the modern Western Jamuna Canal System.

The role of the Khunga Kothi remains confined in mystery except that it was used as a private retreat by Raja Ranbir Singh as and when he desired peace and solitude. Raja Ranbir Singh was the longest serving Maharaja of the princely state of Jind which was formed after the Anglo-Maratha War and was a British protectorate; a vassal of the British to put it simply. After the death of Raja Ranbir Singh, which was soon after the signing of the instrument of accession into Indian Union, the Kothi fell into disuse and remained neglected. It was reoccupied in 1986 by Navodaya Vidyalaya Sangathan for establishing a school.

This grand mansion is situated about 15 kilometers from Jind and for getting there one has to take the road to Safidon and also cautiously locate a rickety sign board bearing in faded letters the name of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Khunga Kothi, Jind. The Raja had set the Kothi amidst agricultural fields touching the left bank of the Chautang near the Bailey bridge, a little away from Khunga (after whom the Kothi is named) –a village settled sometime in the early eighteenth century by Redhu Jats, who came from Kandela, their head village. In spite of the Kothi’s obscure location, its dignity in colonial architectural magnificence of the British Raj period remains unblemished.

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Several entertaining snippets of Raja Ranbir Singh’s life exist which later made their way into Diwan Jarmani Dass’s ‘Maharaja’. As per the Diwan, Raja Ranbir Singh was stone deaf but carried on the administration of the state in his own peculiar style, which only a few close officials such as Sir Behari Lall Dhingra, the Prime Minister and Pundit Ram Rattan, a close associate, could understand. Sometimes he would get annoyed and frustrate his officials or even the British guests and at other times he would like to spend days in seclusion. Diwan Jarmani Dass noted: ‘This program was observed both in summer and the winter. In summer he used to go to Khunga where he had a bungalow at the canal bank and it was surrounded by several tanks where he used to fish and cook a meal himself. The whole day was spent in cooking, fishing and he had ordered that during summer months as in winter months, no official should talk to him about State affairs.’ Strange for a man who rose to the high rank of a colonel in the British Army and was decorated with the highest orders of the British Empire !

Despite being surrounded by residential quarters of the staff of Navodaya Vidyalaya, Khunga Kothi, bears a desolate look. There must have been a time when it glowed under the feeble illumination of petromax lanterns, decorated with period paintings, furniture with leather upholstery, chandeliers that contained wax candles, horse carts and colonial paraphernalia.

An oblique view of the Kothi 1

Khunga Kothi, built in late colonial architectural style, is structurally robust and still in good physical state. It could have been designed by either a British engineer architect or a native experienced mason. It is built on a square plinth with a spacious porch facing the northeast and inset verandahs with arched colonnades. From the porch, designed to accommodate horse driven carts as well as motor cars, one could straightaway step in to the huge reception or drawing room with two large ante rooms for the guests, if there were any. After crossing the drawing room, one can feel fresh breeze entering from a well-ventilated low roofed corridor that leads to the three interior rooms in the rear, the purpose of which could have been to accommodate ladies from the royal household and afford privacy to them if ever a couple of them paid a visit.

The masonry staircase located inside the western fringe was to lead visitors to the terrace. However another wrought-iron spiral staircase was put in place near the western wall providing access to the servants. Between the rear rooms and the ante-rooms there is a covered gallery from which fresh air and sun light entered from a cupola fitted with slits and glass panes. The roof of the cupola looks almost like a British country cottage. Strangely, no ornate fittings in washrooms or lavatories were found in the Kothi but a huge barrack-type building was constructed in the rear that was most likely used as a kitchen and a store room for essential commodities, appliances and firewood.

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On a recent visit, we noticed that the weeds, debris and dirt was cleaned. Minor repair work was in progress. The Alumni of the Navodaya Vidyalaya raised about 3 lakhs of rupees for carrying out the job. Unfortunately the cleaning and minor repair work has not been carried out according to the standard recommendations and practices in conservation of heritage structures.

View of the side depicting brick art work 1

Khunga Kothi is an excellent example of utilization of space and exposed-brick masonry work with attractively shaped cornices created by the method of chiseling. The floor is entirely made of tiled bricks. There is little breakage though cracks could be occasionally noticed in the edifice. The Kothi requires careful and extensive cleaning in addition to re-laying of the garden.

Obviously, the beautiful Khunga Kothi qualifies for a heritage tag and awaits attention and restoration.

 

Author – Ranbir Singh Phaugat

He can be contacted at rsphaugat@live.in

All the pictures used in this post have been clicked by Sunil Phaugat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sanskriti Kendra – Delhi’s Hidden Gem

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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A beautiful  old dresser

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

 

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

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Large birdhouse with a peacock as the wind vane

 

 

 

 

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

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A rather looking happy looking crocodile ready to enter the water

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Warli art on the houses inside the campus

 

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Another old wooden artefact on display

 

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The Museum of Indian Textiles

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

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

 

The Museum of Everyday Art

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

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

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

 

The Museum of Indian Terracotta

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

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Terracotta horses from various regions in the country

 

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

The nearest metro station is Arjan Garh on the Yellow line

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

 

Author – Monidipa Bose

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

 

 

Kalpavriksha and Its Depiction in Art and Architecture – An Overview

Moolatho Brahma roopaya, madhyatho Vishnu roopine,
Agratha shiva roopaya Vruksha rajaya they Nama.

My salutations to the king of trees.
Whose root is the form of Brahma,
Middle is the form of Lord Vishnu,
And top is the form of Lord Shiva.

Aswatha sarva papani satha janma arjithanicha,
Nudhaswa mama vrakshendra, sarva aiswarya pradho bhava.

The holy fig tree pushes away, all sins earned,
In several hundred births, and Oh king of trees,
Please grant me all different types of wealth.

Rig yaju Sama manthrathma, sarva roopi, parathpara,
Aswatho Veda moolo asou rishibhi prochyathe sada.

Great sages go in search of Aswatha,
As it is the soul of Rig, Yajur and Sama Vedas
And takes all forms, greater than the greatest,
And is the root of all the three Vedas

Vyaktha avyaktha swaroopaya, srushti sthithyantha karine,
Adhi madhyanth soonyaya vishtarasravase Nama.

Salutations to the very stable one,
Who has clear and unclear forms,
Who creates, looks after and destroys,
And who does not have beginning, middle and end

– Ashvatta Vruksha Stotram

Ashwattha is synonymous with our country and its symbolism. The figs are the most commonly found trees in the country and also the ones that are worshipped the most. Ficus religiosa / Pipal / Ashwattha tree was considered sacred and worshipped from the times of Indus Valley Civilisation but it is the Ficus bengalensis / Banyan / Vata that gained more prominence later and ended up as our national tree. While the Buddhists reclaimed the Ashwattha as the Bodhi tree, the Hindus clung onto the Vata. Associated with Yama, the Banyan is considered the botanical equivalent of a hermit for it can provide shade but cannot support new life or provide food. It is timeless like the soul and so the great sages, even Shiva, chose its vast canopy to contemplate under. They are tree shrines as idols were consecrated below these trees and even today women go around these trees longing for eternity of their marriages in the memory of Savitri who lost Satyavan under a Banyan and later regained his soul from Yama. Incidentally, the British named the Banyan tree so, as they noticed members of the trading community (Banias) gather under its shade for many a meetings.  The figs were the first among trees to be considered the Kalpavriksha – the wish fulfilling tree of the ancient scriptures that provided fruit and nourished the first people on the planet and the giver of immortality.

The concept of Kalpavriksha emerged from nature worship that has been an integral part of all ancient cultures of the world including India. The strong belief that trees, like us, possess a soul of their own has led to such reverence that if we look around we can still find groves that are held sacred. They are believed to be the abodes of departed souls and divinities that bring us good luck in the form of rain, sunshine, good harvest, increasing herds, and fertility blessings for women. While most tree spirits are considered amiable, there are some that are also seen as malevolent, the “evil spirits,” or the “ap-devta.” Such spirits cause harm, hence people avoid going near the trees that harbour them. One good impact that these beliefs had was protecting many trees from being mindlessly cut down for their wood.

My discussion here will revolve around the concept of kalpavriksha spanning a timeline of a few hundreds of years. How it started from the notions of nature worship, influenced religions, and still continues to be an integral part of our social, religious, and cultural heritage.

sacred sycamore

Let’s begin with some of the oldest civilisations of the world. The ancient Egyptians worshipped Sycamore trees, which they thought were homes of the sacred spirits. The dense, lush trees are one among the oldest species of trees and are known for their longevity and hardiness.  Seen in the picture here is an Egyptian making a regular offering of food, such as, cucumbers, grapes, and figs, to the tree. Pic source

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Ficus religiosa on different Indus valley seals. The last seal shows a goddess standing inside a pipal tree and the priest is clearly wearing a headdress made from the branch of a peepal tree. These seals with their emphasis on the peepal tree and various animals show a distinct reverence for nature.   Source  Source  Source

In ancient Indian literature, Kalpavriksha is referred to as Ashwattha, or the seed of life that produces nectar (the water of life), which is our very own Pipal tree. The Vedas (Upanishad part) describes it as :

The roots upwards, the branches downwards, thus stands the eternal fig tree; The leaves of which are veda songs; Upwards and downward its branches are bending; Nobody on the earth is able to conceive of its form, either its end, or beginning, or duration.”

In India, the sacred kalpavriksha refers to both the ficus varieties  (religiosa and bengalensis) that is both the Pipal and the Banyan. So next time you see a Vata or an Ashwattha in your neighbourhood, take some moments off to remember that you are looking at a tree that has been venerated right from the beginning of our civilisation. A long journey that is still continuing in the form of little shrines that are still extant under the roadside ficus trees along the streets of our country.

The wish fulfilling tree or Kalpavriksha in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism

Kalpavriksha also known as kalpadruma or kalpataru is said to have appeared during samudramanthan along with Kamdhenu. The tree can bear all kinds of fruits, hence it is associated with different trees, varying according to  the local vegetation. Thus, mahua, champak, pipal, banyan, tulsi, shami, parijata, and even coconut trees are often said to be the earthly manifestation of the heavenly kalpadruma. Kalpavriksha (of five types)are said to be located in the gardens of Indraloka with the devas and asuras at perpetual war over the wish fulfilling trees. Kalidasa’s “Meghadutam” tells us that kalpatarus yielded garlands, clothes, and provided for all fineries for the women in Alaka, capital of Kubera’s Yaksha kingdom. Thus, while bestowing immortality, we find that kalpavriksha also provides for all our material desires.

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Samudramanthan as depicted in a mural in Orchhha.  Notice the Kalpavriksha above the posse of animals. Picture courtesy: Jitu Mishra 

 

A 3rd century BCE pillar in the form of a banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) found in Besnagar, can be said to be the earliest representation of a kalpavriksha with the various symbolisms that we associate with it. The tree has a kalash or a pot full of coins, a sack tied with a string, a conch, and a lotus hanging from it, signifying the goddess of wealth or Lakshmi devi. Thus, we can say kalpavriksha is a giver that stands for growth, generosity, and prosperity.  It is therefore not surprising to find it as a common motif on the Gupta and Satavahana era coins. (Picture source).

 

The Bodhi tree is a sign of knowledge, as it is a well known fact that Buddha attained enlightenment under this tree. The above depiction of the Bodhi tree is seen in Sanchi. While we can say the Bodhi tree depicts knowledge, the kalpataru on the other hand denotes wealth and benevolence, along with spiritual guidance for those that seek it. Picture Courtesy: Jitu Mishra

In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism we find that the kalpavriksha is not a deity by itself, but rather a way to reach God. A giver, it grants wishes pertaining to both material and spiritual types. While providing us with shade, fruits, nuts, wood, and the life giving oxygen that purifies air, kalpavriksha also helps human minds to focus on attaining spiritual enlightenment. Thus, by glorifying kalpavriksha, we are in reality deifying an aspect of nature, and celebrating its immense contribution to our daily lives and existence.

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Kalpavriksha in  Adalaj stepwell, Ahmedabad. Here we find  a kalasha bearing the kalpavriskha that forms a beautiful creeper like pattern (very reminiscent of the alpona that we draw during our pujas back home in Calcutta). Photos credit: Jitu Mishra

Ancient texts, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, frequently mention a term, chaitya-vriksha. Interestingly both chaitya-vriksha and kalpavriksha are similar in concept. Chaitya-vrikshas are tree shrines with dense leaves and fruits that provide shelter and food for all living beings. These are open air shrines with railing or fence like structures that cover the tree trunks, or sometimes the tree is placed on a pedestal. Various tree spirits known as yakshas and yakshis, and sometimes even the nagas, are believed to live in these trees. They are worshipped as protectors of both human beings and gods alike. It is interesting how our ancestors acknowledged the importance of trees in our lives and venerated them in various ways.

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Worshipping the chaitya vriksha, a jack-fruit tree,  as we see at Sanchi. Picture credit: Jitu Mishra

According to mythology, kalpavriksha or kalpadruma, was gifted to Aranyani, a daughter Related imageof Shiva and Parvati. The chief aim was to protect the tree, so we often see it being guarded by kinnaras, apsaras, and animals, such as lions, peacocks, etc. Interestingly, from simple depiction of the Bodhi tree and Ashvatta, in the later part of Indian sculptures we see a more complex depiction of kalpavriksha that with their beautiful floral patterns make us wonder at their aesthetic beauty. On the other hand it has become increasingly difficult to rightly distinguish the tree it might be representing. In the picture – The deities Nara and Narayana sitting under a Badri tree, 5th c. CE Gupta period, Deogarh. Source

Thus we see Buddha meditating under a Bodhi tree, Shiva imparting knowledge under a Banyan tree, and Krishna standing under a Kadamba tree. Guru Adi Shankaracharya was also known to have meditated under a kalpavriksha, which is a mulberry tree located in Joshimath (Uttarakhand). Other trees that we find culturally significant are jackfruit, amalaka, haritaki, lemon, vilva or bel, neem, sandalwood, mango, and banana. All these trees are known to have medicinal properties, besides other uses in our daily lives. What better way to celebrate the benefits of nature, than to worship it.

In Jainism, we find the kalpavrikshas help in fulfilling wishes in the early stages of the cosmic cycle, and the 10 kalpavrikshas grant 10 different desires that include nourishing food, good music, ornaments, utensils, among others.

Artisitc representation of the Kalpavriksha in Jainism. A wall painting of a tree on red backdrop.

The wall painting of Kalpavriksha in Saavira Kambada Basadi, Moodbidri, Karnataka. A Jain kalpavriksha.(Photo from Wiki by Vaikoovery)

 

Interestingly  forms of Kalpavrisha are also depicted beautifully in the mosques of Gujarat. Left: Jama Masjid, Ahmedabad and Right: Ceiling of the Jami Masjid, Champaner. Pictures courtesy: Jitu Mishra

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Kumbharia Jain Temple, Gujarat. Picture credit: Jitu Mishra. 

The Jain goddess of wealth, prosperity, and fertility is Ambika yakshi, who is always shown seated under a mango tree. Source  Source

The tree of life in Christianity and Islam

The concept of the Tree of life is a part of the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic versions of the creation of life, commonly termed as the Genesis.

Interestingly, the Islamic concept of tree of life that we see woven on silk carpets or sculpted on monuments, is likely to have been largely influenced and derived from the Sassanian and Assyrian art forms depicting the World Tree/ tree of life.

  

A mid 19th c. CE Islamic prayer rug from Iran/Persia showing the tree of life within a pointed niche, a mihrab (first on left). It appears distinctly inspired from the Assyrian Aserah (Mother Tree/God’s wife, a symbol of fertility) on the right  Source Source 

 

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Various depictions of the tree of life on Islamic monuments of Gujarat. Pictures courtesy: Jitu Mishra

 

In Islamic literature, the tree of life is termed as the Sidra or Tuba which grows in Paradise (seventh heaven, placed at the right side of God’s throne). Being sacred, we find it depicted in mihrabs on rugs and otherwise. The tree marks the limits of heaven, and angels cannot cross this boundary. The Sidra has its earthly manifestation in a deciduous shrub that grows in Arabia and India, known as Zizyphus jujuba (bears edible fruits known as the red date or Indian date).  While the Quran refers to it as only ‘the tree’, and forbades Adam and Eve to taste the fruits of this tree, it was Satan who referred to it as the tree of immortality/life.

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Beautiful curled foliage with floral patterns arising from a thick central stem representing the Tree of life in the Sidi Sayyid Mosque in Ahmedabad. Here we can see that a palm tree is depicted at the top. Pictures credit: Jitu Mishra. 

 

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Mughal version of the gardens of heaven as seen in Fatehpur Sikri. Pictures courtesy: Jitu Mishra

 

In Christianity, the Old Testament is likely to have drawn inspiration and derived frombanylonia the old Babylonian concept of the tree of life, known as the tree of Ea or Ukkanu that grew in Eridu, the Babylonian name for paradise.  A Babylonian seal which is now in the British museum (seen here on right: source) It shows two figures on two sides of the tree of life, stretching their hands ready to pluck the fruit, with the serpent (representing the cycle of life and death in Babylonian times) standing behind the woman. Another Babylonian cylinder, now kept in the Museum at the Hague, depicts a garden with a palm tree at the centre, surrounded by other trees and birds. There are two figures plucking the fruit, while a third figure is holding the fruit, looking as if speaking to the other two. It is quite likely that these symbols were later adopted in the Bible by the Christians and Jews, and later also in the Quran.

       

Left: Holy Mary with the Child on the tree of life by Nicholas Froment, 1476, (“the burning thorn bush”) in Aiz Cathedral, France. Here the bush is shown on a hilltop signifying the world mountain. Source Right: The tree of life in a Sweden church, 11th c. CE. Source    

Left: Tree of life on floor mosaic, 8th c. CE, Jericho. Right:Tree of life on an arched doorway. Both are likely Christian depictions.  Source Source

Sacred trees or the tree of life from different parts of the world

 

Left: A tree of life From a Mexican manuscript, (Goblet d’Alviella).  Right above: Sacred pine of Silvanus (Roman folklore). Right below: The Egyptian goddess Nu̔ît in her sacred sycamore bestowing the bread and water of the next world.  source

 

German Folk Art… details and color - stencil or screen print

Left: Yggdrasil—the Norse world-tree, 1847. Source Right: tree of life in a German folk art. Source

While we see that the tree of life is a universal symbol of worship and its depiction since time immemorial has changed form and figure, it is the most recognizable symbol in Indian art and architecture. Whether it is a temple, or a mosque, or a church or a chaitya or a jain derasar, the Kalpavrisha is somewhere there proclaiming how everything in the world is ultimately connected.

(The cover picture is the depiction of tree of life at Akbar’s Mausoleum in Sikandra. Picture courtesy: Self) 

Author – Monidipa Bose

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

Katarmal Sun Temple – Interesting, Intriguing, Invisible

passerby mentioned the name ‘Surya Mandir of Katarmal’ when I was whiling away my time in Kasar Devi near Almora in Uttarakhand. I had earlier thought that Konark was the only Sun Temple in India but over a period of time it was known that there are Sun Temples in Modhera, Gujarat, Martand, Kashmir and also in the small town of Osian in Rajasthan.

Katarmal is a small village that lies on the Ranikhet road in Kumaon and the temple can be accessed by a 20 minute walk from the main road. We set off on a Royal Enfield Motorcycle from Almora in the morning and were pretty famished by the time we reached the hamlet of Kosi. I was quite excited about the prospect of seeing this 12th Century wonder that was said to be left half built.

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Legend says that ‘It was built by the Pandavas in one night and when the first rays of the morning lit the sky, the construction was halted and it has remained so ever since. This is the land of the lores of Pandavas. That and the fact that the terrain of this region has proved to be uninviting for the invaders. Except for an abortive attempt by a Rohilla chieftain and the Anglo-Tibet war, Kumaon has not witnessed any major battles. Though the region has always been engulfed by internal strife between the Kumaonis and the Garhwalis.

A dilapidated signboard by the ASI on the dirt track increased the sense of wonder and the first glimpse of the temple complex did not disappoint at all. It was a grand and colossal structure that oddly reminded me of the Parthenon in Greece!

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There were 44 small temples surrounding the main shrine but none of them had any idols inside them. Some of them seemed to have been damaged in an attack but as I have mentioned there is no history pertaining to the same. Some of the smaller shrines seemed to be leaning, while one of them was only balanced on a single pillar. I wondered if the Archaeological Survey of India did anything other than just putting up 3-4 boards in and around the temple complex.

From 7th Century AD to 12th Century AD Kumaon witnessed a sustained period of great temples being built by various rulers. The Katyuri dynasty has been credited for most of them, and even this Sun temple was built by the Katyuri king Katarmalla. The main deity of the sun temple is Surya –  called Vraddha Aditya (Old Sun God) here.

 

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Vraddha Aditya or Surya, the main deity. Picture courtesy: Mr Niraj Kumar Verma

 

The temple is perched at a height of 2100 m on a small hillock with an endless view of the valley on the front side. It has been designed such that on few days especially during the equinoxes, the first rays of the sun fall on the deity inside the Garbhagriha. There’s a small hole punched in one of the temples from where the first light permeates through and casts its light on the idol making it a glorious sight.

 

An azure sky behind the main temple creates a perfect backdrop. The setting is quite spectacular with a cool breeze blowing even on an otherwise hot day in May.  Various temple pieces like the Amalakas are found scattered in the courtyard. There is a spectator too, a lone tree that continues to witness the glories and vagaries of time. 

 

The temples of Kumaon from this period used huge stones instead of bricks, some of them so humongous that only the Gods are believed to have carried them so far ! (Perhaps thats why the local legend of so many of these temples to have been built by the Pandavas). These stones were quarried from the nearby valley and hauled upto the site where they were cut and carved. This temple is said to be one of the biggest and tallest in the entire Kumaon region. The style of architecture of the temple is Nagara style.

 The temple had intricately carved wooden doors and pillars that were shifted to the National Museum in Delhi after the theft of a priceless 10th century idol from the temple premises.

 The wooden door and pillars of the Katarmal Sun Temple displayed at the National Museum in Delhi. Pictures courtesy: Mr Niraj Kumar Verma

What really surprised me is that inspite of being both a rare and renowned heritage site with close proximity to the very touristy Almora, we met no other visitor during the time that we were there. There was no restaurant or dhaba near the temple and it sure looked like a place that no one cared about.  As a nation, we really don’t seem to be quite proud or caring of its rich heritage and culture. The same tourists who go gaga on seeing monuments when in a western country are not even aware of the rich architectural heritage that lies in their vicinity. Although I must admit; the monuments in our country are rarely well maintained and even basic facilities sometimes don’t exist at heritage sites.

Author – Shubham Mansingka

The author is a travel blogger and can be reached here

 

 

Traversing the Ganges, from Old Times to New – Part II

Once upon a time, when man did not bind waters for his own selfish needs, rivers moved freely. They traversed borders, crossed countries, beginning from one and ending in another; sometimes merging with rushing brooks, and sometimes branching away into runnels. They formed a network of  waterways, which seamlessly interwove varying cultural, religious, and social patterns in its flow. These patterns blended into each other, creating a vibrant cultural heritage. One of its most eloquent expressions is found in the Bhatiyali songs of Bengal. These are folk songs of the Majhis (boatmen) and Jeles (fishermen) that speak of love, longing, desire, pain, and a calm acceptance of death. Songs that play on the shimmering strings of tranquil waters.

Rivers were always an intrinsic part of life in Bengal and Bangladesh. The irrigating streams that meandered through the fertile land helped to yield ‘sonar fosol’ or golden harvest year after year. These rivers were so integral to those who lived on their banks that their waters came to symbolise the meaning of life itself. As one rowed through life, the river banks became allegorical to various stages in life, starting with birth, moving on through love, pain, happiness, and this journey ended in death: O Majhi Re, Apna Kinara Nadiya Ki Dhara Hai… 

Fishermen, whose very existence revolved around the waters, would go on long trips and were separated from their families for days, weeks, and sometimes months. During this time their only companion would be the endless river, its waters merging with the deep blue sky in the distant horizon. In such moments of absolute solitude, the fishermen would search for the meaning of their existence. The Bhatiyali songs reflect these dilemmas woven into the backdrop of music of the lilting waters.

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Majhis in Bengal.  Picture credit: Jay Shankar

In this concluding part, as we continue our journey from Kashi, we will travel across the calm waters of the Ganga in Bihar and Bengal that softly murmur the haunting notes of the Bhatiyali songs, sung over centuries by the fishermen.

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The Adi Keshava and Sangamesvara temples at Rajghat, at extreme east end of Varanasi, where Ganga leaves Kashi behind and moves eastwards towards Bihar. Here the rivulet Barna or Varuna meets the Ganga. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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Ruins of the 18th century river side palace of the Nawab of Bengal, Qasim Ali Khan, at Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh. The building was well planned with magnificent airy verandas (Heber, 1825).  According to Vishnu Purana King Gadhi, maternal grandfather of Maharishi Jamdagni, one of the Saptarishis, originated from this area. At that time Ghazipur had thick forests with several ashrams. This was also an important centre of Buddhist teachings, as evident from the various remnant stupas and pillars from that period. Painting by Sitaram 1814.

Bihar and Jharkhand

After Varanasi, the next important city on the banks of Ganga is Patna (ancient Pataliputra) in Bihar. This city is considered one among the oldest continually inhabited places, and mentions of this city start around 2500 years back in various Buddhist and Jain scriptures. Recorded history mentions the city alongside Raja Ajatshatru in 490 BCE. Patna has seen the coming and going of Mauyras, Guptas, Delhi Sultanate, Mughals, Bengal Nawabs, and the British.

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Bird’s eye view of Patna city and the Ganga. On the opposite bank is the city of Hazipur where river Gandak joins the Ganges. Painting by Sitaram 1814

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The famous Gola ghar or granary in Bankipore, Patna, near the Ganga river bank, painted by Sitaram in 1814. This structure was constructed in 1786 but was almost immediately abandoned because of a faulty design. The doors at the bottom were designed to open inwards with the result that as soon as grains were poured in, the doors would not move, and it was not practical to remove the grains from the top. The structure was therefore abandoned, its doors and the hole at the top were sealed, and it was termed as “Garstin’s Folly” (the architect was Captain John Garstin). With passage of time it fell into decay but was later renovated and is now a tourist spot, which provides a beautiful panoramic view of Patna and the river Ganges flowing nearby.

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Inside the Opium godown in Patna, on the Ganges river bank.  Interestingly this was originally a Dutch factory and the building could be from the Dutch era. Painting by Sitaram 1814.

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Ruins of a beautiful domed chatri in the once lavish palace-garden complex built by Mir Jaffar in Patna, as seen from the Ganga. Mir Jaffer betrayed the last Bengal Nawab Siraj ud Daulah, and helped the East India Company take over the Bengal province in 1757. Jaffar was rewarded by the Company with the rule of the province, where he remained their puppet king until his death in 1765. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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After Patna, the Ganga gently moves on and this is the riverside view of Munger or Monghyr (identified currently with Mod-giri, a name mentioned in the Mahabharata), painted by Sitaram in 1814. The riverside shows embankments with pillars, probably to prevent floods.  The bangla chala or Bengal roof, so favourite of the Mughals and the Rajputs, are a common sight on buildings here. All buildings (mostly large garden houses and palaces) in Bihar and Bengal that were built by the riverside had large doors and windows for the obvious reason, to let in the cool river breeze.

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Sculptures at Patharghat, by the banks of Ganga. Patharghat in Bhagalpur district of Bihar, is near the ruins of Vikramshila monastery. It has several cave temples and Vaishanava carvings dating back to the Gupta period, 5th c. CE. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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Pal tola nauka or boats with sails, on the Ganga. Seen here are the Rajmahal hills in Jharkhand that date back to the Jurassic era, when they were created due to volcanic activities. The Rajmahal traps cover parts of Jharkhand, Bengal, and Meghalaya. In the upper parts of these hills in Jharkhand live the Sauria Paharia tribes, while the Santhal tribes have settled in and cultivate the valleys. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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This picture by Sitaram (1814) shows vividly how tracking was done on the Ganges (it is still done the same way), especially when travelling upstream, against the prevailing water current and wind. Tracking (gun tana, in Bengali) is done when the Majhis get down from the boat and pull from the river bank using ropes. A laborious process, it is also extremely difficult for the Majhis to pull such heavy boats against the water and wind current.

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The interior of Jami masjid or Akbari mosque at Rajmahal  (Bengal) overlooking the Ganges. Painting by Sitaram 1820 Source: British library. 

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Ruins of the palace of Shah Shuja by the river Ganga in Rajmahal (Bengal), engraved by James Moffat in 1800. Shah Shuja was the second son of Shah Jahan, and the governor of Bengal, Orissa, and Bangladesh, during his father’s reign. Source: British Library.

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Gauda (Gaur), the once proud capital of the Sena and Pala dynasties, was completely destroyed and plundered by invaders time and again . The city fell into disuse once the capital was shifted, and until today the area remains a mass of ancient and medieval ruins. Seen here, in Sitaram’s painting is the ruinous five storeyed Feroz Shah Minar, built by Saifuddin Feroz Shah, the Sultan of Bengal (1488-90). The Minar has been recently renovated.

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Silk farming in Murshidabad district near the Ganga bank, as painted by Sitaram in 1820. Seen here are two men extracting silkworms from a frame, preparing silk cocoons, and winding silk on spindles.  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 under Mughal patronage, when the erstwhile Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, moved his capital from Dhaka to a place on the eastern bank of the Ganga river, and named it Murshidabad. Along with the Nawab came the art of depicting themes that showcased the lives of Nawabs on silk, which was known as Baluchari, and this trend continued in the region until early 19th c. CE under the Company rule. In 19th c. CE, flooding of the region by Ganga resulted in Baluchari weavers shifting and setting up shop in Bishnupur (Bankura district of Bengal). Murshidabad is still famous for a variety of silk fabric that is adorned with old and modern motifs, while Baluchuri weave which is equally well known, survives separately.

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Sitaram here shows the palace at Murshidabad, the Aaina Mahal, at left; at the centre is the Diwan Khana, which was the banquet hall for entertaining the British; and at the right is the Imamabara built by Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah.

After the town of Murshidabad, Ganga branches off into two main streams, Hooghly that flows towards Calcutta, and the other stream that enters Bangladesh meets the Brahmaputra river and is known as Padma. The famous Farakhha Barrage, which has been the bone of contention between India and Bangladesh for many decades stands at this juncture, controlling the waters of this mighty river.

The Ganges delta showing how the river fans out near the bay, and the various tributaries that meet the Ganga on her way to the sea. Source

Our travels will now follow the Hooghly river and move on to the next big city, Calcutta or Kolkata.

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Char chala temples on the banks of Hooghly river at Santipur in Nadia. Nadia also known as Nabadwip had once been one of the most well known sites for pilgrimage and universities in eastern India. However, when the river changed its course, it swept away the the old town, and the Raja was forced to move his capital to Krishnagar. Painting by Sitaram 1820-21.

The tranquil Hooghly river in Nadia source

Belur Math near Kolkata, on the western bank of the Hooghly river. It is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission and was founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1897. The temple architecture infuses Hindu, Christian, and Islamic motifs, signifying unity amidst diversity.  Picture credit : Jay Shankar

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Dakshineshwar Mandir near Kolkata, on the eastern bank of the Hooghly river. It is a Nava-ratna or nine-spired temple, showing the typical chala (roof) form of Bengal architecture. It was built in 1855 by Rani Rashmoni and houses Bhavatarini, a form of Devi Kali. Surrounding  the main mandir are twelve identical Shiva temples in a row, a Radha-Krishna Mandir, a bathing ghat on the river, and a Naubat Khana where Ramkrishna Paramhansa once lived. Pictures credit: Jay Shankar

Calcutta or Kolkata, once the capital of British India, archaeologically dating back to the Mauryan era, is located on the banks of the river Hooghly.  source

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The famous Howrah bridge over the Hooghly river, a name almost synonymous with Calcutta. It was commissioned in 1943 and is the sixth longest cantilever bridge in the world.  Photo credit: Nandini Dey

Just before reaching Calcutta, the Hooghly turns south west and enters an old channel of the Ganges at Nurpur, from where it glides down further south to form an estuary and meet the sea at Bay of Bengal. The streams here fan out to form a large delta and there are many points of the mohona (meeting point of sea and river). One such point is the Sagar Island, through which the Ganga supposedly enters the Patal (netherworld).

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Mohona at TaalsariPhoto credit: Nandini Dey

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Mohona at Mandarmoni. Photo credit: Nandini Dey

Mohona at Ganga Sagar where Devi Ganga enters the netherworld. It is the end point of a long journey that started amidst the wild terrain of the Gangotri glacier, and finally comes to rest amidst the tranquil waters of the sea, where the river and sea merge into each other and become one Source

Defiling the Ganges

“What we do not consume we poison. Sometimes we do both. Perhaps that is how we shall end, by consuming the poisons we have created.” ― James Rozoff

Ganga is an integral part of India’s culture; a part of both life and death for most Indians, yet this very lifeline is being slowly poisoned. Right from its source until its end point the river is dying a slow death owing to the daily pouring in of sewer water carrying human wastes, industrial toxic wastes, and human activities like washing of clothes, bathing, and bathing of animals. Various age old religious customs lead to throwing in of food, flowers, or leaves, often packed in plastic packets into the river, which are also responsible for its pollution. It is also a part of traditional belief that cremating on the banks of the Ganga, and immersing ashes in it will give moksha. In Varanasi alone, almost forty thousand cremations take place annually, many of those remain half-burnt. Some communities in India also practice water burial, especially of young unwed girls, while some do not have money for a proper cremation, and the dead bodies are simply made to float away, causing serious water pollution.

Macabre: Bodies are seen floating in Ganges river near Pariyar. Officials do not suspect a crime, but instead believe the dead were given water burials

Unclaimed bodies in a tributary of the Ganga: our “unholy” beliefs source

Garbage beside the Ganga: A mother’s agony source

Bathing in the “holy waters” filled with plastic that is choking the river. We revere with so much irreverence Source

Gangajal- impure but holy. Drinking the very poison that we have created Source

Reports say that daily an estimated 3000 million litres of untreated sewage enter the Ganges. By the time the river reaches Kashi, where some more sewage and toxic wastes are disposed into its waters, Ganga turns into a churning mass of sewer water. Is it a wonder then that Ganga is the sixth most polluted river in the world. According to a recent report, “In the Ganga basin approximately 12,000 million litres per day (mld) sewage is generated, for which presently there is a treatment capacity of only around 4,000 mld. Approximately 3000 mld of sewage is discharged into the main stem of the river Ganga from the Class I & II towns located along the banks, against which treatment capacity of about 1000 mld has been created till date. The contribution of industrial pollution, volume-wise, is about 20 per cent but due to its toxic and non- biodegradable nature, this has much greater significance.” reference

State wise division that shows the amount of sewage pumped into the Ganga source

The industrial units that are adding to the unholy mess source

Besides pollution, dams and associated irrigation projects on the Ganga have also raised concerns by endangering the habitat of aqua fauna. The pollution is not only killing the river, but also taking away the life that pulsates within its waters, and this is evident in the near extinction of the many species of aquatic animals, including the famous Gangetic dolphin. According to a report by the CAG in 2009:

Ganga is in grave danger from 600 dams (operational, under construction, or proposed). They will obstruct the natural flow, diverting water into tunnels to power turbines, but will also have cascading effect on the livelihood of communities and the biodiversity and stability of the surrounding natural ecosystems. Downstream communities also face the danger of flash floods when water is released from the dams. Not only that, if all the ongoing and proposed hydroelectric projects in Uttarkashi are completed as proposed by the Centre and State governments, the Ganga will get diverted into tunnels just 14 km from its origin in Gangotri. The river will remain tunnelled continuously for 130 km up to Dharasu near Uttarkashi. Environmentalists say tunnelling of the river for such long stretches would result in loss of flora, fauna, fertile soil and minerals.  59% of Bhagirathi and 61 percent of Alaknanda will dry up if all the dams are built. The 330 MW hydroelectric project on the Alaknanda lies in the buffer zone of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, which houses the Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers. Both are inscribed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. At least 34 dams on Bhagirathi and Alaknanda should be scrapped in order to protect Uttarakhand’s biodiversity, says the Wildlife Institute of India .” Source

The damning dams on the river Source

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The impact of pollution on the various lives from a case study (the flora, fauna and humans) ~slide 25  Source . Another case study on the Ganga pollution can be read at this link

A closer look at the unholy mess Source

Plans for cleaning the Ganga (the deadline 2018 already has been declared as void, and the project will need more time for completion) source

Swami Nigamananda had to die to stop illegal sand mining in Uttarakhand Source

Recently in 2014, the central government launched the namami Gange project with an aim of cleaning the river, and 20.4 billion rupees have been allocated for the clean-up. Few days back the Uttarakhand HC has declared Ganga as “a living entity,” giving it rights equivalent to a human being. The project and the court ruling are certainly praiseworthy and need all kinds of support (Indians certainly need to look beyond their religious and ideological differences in such instances, and it is truly disheartening to read some of the comments on various newslinks about the Uttarakhand ruling). Besides the various projects, it is also the duty of common citizens to wake up from their long slumber and their callous “chalta hain” attitude, raise awareness on the grave issue of Ganga pollution, and take part in the movement wherein defiling of the Ganges is completely stopped. Floating diyas on Ganga to get wishes fulfilled, or taking a bath to cleanse our sins in the polluted waters isn’t taking us anywhere, nor will it save the river that we revere as our mother. We need to be seriously committed towards freeing the river from the immense burden of pollution that has been killing it. For it is a very simple equation: if Ganga lives, India lives; and, if it dies, so does India.

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(Sita Ram’s paintings and pictorial details are from the book J.P. Losty’s Picturesque Views of India: Sita Ram)

Author – Monidipa Bose

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

Traversing the Ganges, from Old Times to New – Part I

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A lifeline that has defined human civilisation. A river that holds a cosmos in itself,  a fascinating  world of flora and fauna, unseen from above, yet pulsating below, under tranquil waters.

(Pic – Yamuna in Agra. Yamuna is the largest tributary of the river Ganges)

In a land where infrequent monsoons are held as the main season, water is as priceless as a flawless jewel, and rivers are considered sacred. From ancient times when man learned to settle down in what is termed as “civilisation,” water has reigned supreme over man’s life, living, thoughts, writings, paintings, culture, religion, and even wars. Rivers are ancient, and their waters have been flowing persistently even before human beings came into existence. Theirs is a separate universe, a little world of their own, which has sired many tales (mythological and folk), history, religion, philosophy, politics, and also in the modern era, technological incursions. The flowing waters of these mighty rivers have witnessed the creation of some of the earliest cities in the world and have seen their destruction too; they have seen the shaping of some the world’s earliest literature and religious texts and the brilliant minds that shaped those; and now the same waters are witnessing their relentless defiling by the very people that had once started their journey of civilisation on those muddy river plains.

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Map of the Ganges valley Source

What’s in a name?

In North India flows a river with many names. Its name is Ganga, rechristened the Ganges by the British, this river is a sacred entity, a focal point of constant reference that entwines life and death for billions of Hindus living in this country since the ancient times.

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The blue pristine waters of the Ganga at Haridwar)

Defying what Shakespeare said about a name not being significant, there are some names that certainly spell magic. They create a reverberation in the mind, leaving an impact like an echo. One such name is Ganga.

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The name Ganga evokes a vision of evening lamps, temple bells, smell of burning camphor, and the chants of Ganga stotram. 

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The Bhagirathi peaks from  Gangotri. Photo courtesy: Jay Shankar

One may wonder how the name that is so intermingled with the lives of billions, came to be known to the world? Let’s take a quick look back. Studies show that it was during the late Harappan period (2000 to 1000 BCE) that the node of Indian civilisation shifted from the River Indus to the areas adjacent to the upper Ganges basin, a land termed as ‘Cemetery H’ (reference).

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The map here shows the names of the rivers, including the Ganges, around which the new settlements grew up, the names of which are found in the Rigveda. Source

The early Rigveda, composed roughly between 1500 to 900 BCE, mentions Jhanavi (Jhanavi is another name for Ganga). However, Ganga gains greater prominence in the later three Vedas. As historian Romila Thapar aptly sums it, “In the Ṛig Veda the geographical focus was the sapta-sindhu (the Indus valley and the Punjab) with Sarasvatī as the sacred river, but within a few centuries ārya-varta is located in the Gaṅgā-Yamūnā Doāb with the Ganges becoming the sacred river.” (reference P. 415).

The first foreign traveller to mention Ganga was Megasthenes (350 – 290 c BCE), in his book Indika, where he spoke of the mighty river and its tributaries, the canal system that helped in irrigation of the Gangetic pain, and its extensive run that ended at Gangaridai (the ancient name for area near the Ganges delta), which he refers to as the land of large elephants (reference).

Ganga also finds mention in Mahabharata, Ramayana, and several Puranas. In Mahabharata she is the consort of  King Shantanu and the mother of Bhisma; in Skandapurana she is the consort of Shiva and the mother of Skanda or Kartikeya, also known as Kumara, the son of Ganga. In Bhagavad Purana, Ganga is shown to have emanated from the lotus feet of Vishnu, following which she acquired a beautiful pink shade. With Brahma, she is always seen accompanying him in his kamandalu, as the sacred water. According to a passage in the Ramayana, Ganga is also the daughter of Himavat and Mena, chief of the mountains and his wife, which makes her the sister of Uma/Parvati (reference).

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How ancient settlements were centred around the river Ganges and its chief tributary Yamuna  Source

The Legend, Mythological representations, and Iconography

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The descent of Ganga Source 

In Hinduism, Ganga is personified as Devi Ganga, and is in her own self a teertha, a link between heaven and earth. Such is her importance that it is believed that by bathing or taking a dip in her holy waters one is absolved of sins, while immersing the ashes in her waters brings the soul of the dead person closer to moksha. Hence she is often referred to as: Patita Pavani or the liberator of all sins.

In the Indian subcontinent, sometimes other rivers are also referred to as Ganga. This gives the rivers a sacred sanctity that shines through the name Ganga. Its name is also invoked in any ritual where water is used, therefore sanctifying all holy waters used for religious purposes.

Referring to other sacred rivers as Ganga has its own disadvantages too, as is seen in the misconception about the geographical origin of the river. For a long time it was thought Ganga originated in Manas Sarovar near Kailash. While there are no clear theories on how Ganga came to be related to mount Kailash, but one line of thought says that it might have started from an ancient Tibetan text Kailash Purana. A small flowing stream which connects the two lakes, Manas Sarovar and Rakshas tal, is mentioned in the Kailash Purana as Ganga chu (in Tibetan the word chu means river). Could this name have led to the notion that Ganga came from Manas Sarovar? One can only wonder and speculate. However, in 1808 while mapping and tracing the route and origin of the Ganges by Webb and Hearsay, it was specifically proven the river did not originate from Manas Sarovar near Kailash .

The birth of Ganga is beautifully depicted in the Bhagavad Purana, which says that Vishnu in his Vaman avtaar pierced a hole with his left foot at the end of the universe. It was through this hole, the pure Brahm Water came into the universe, in the form of the Ganga River. Since it washed the feet of Vishnu while flowing in, it is also known as Vishnupadi, or the one that emanates from the lotus feet of God. Ganga originally remained in Brahmaloka, until Bhagirath brought her down to the earth in order to release his forefathers from a curse, in what is termed as Ganga avtaran. With Ganga threatening to wash away the earth with her force as she descended, it was Shiva who broke her fall by holding her in his locks and taming her raging waters. There are other legends that give varying versions but this one remains the most popular. Since Bhagirath brought her down, Ganga in the Himalayas is also known as Bhagirathi. From the heaven (swarg or Brahma lok) she descends to the earth or prithvi (via Gaumukh glacier), and finally enters the patal (netherworld) in Ganga Sagar.

As Ganga came down to earth from heaven, she is also seen as the means of moving from earth to heaven.  The  Triloka-patha-gamini, or the one who traverses the three worlds (swarg , prithvi , and patal), she is herself a teertha, or the crossing point of existence (that includes all living and dead).

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Ganga avtaran by Raja Ravi Verma. Shiva readies himself to meet the raging waters of Ganga, while Parvati comfortably leans on Nandi watching the avtaran, and Bhagirath looks on with folded palms.  

Ardhanarishwar. Ganga flowing out of Lord Shiva’s matted locks Painting circa 1800 Source

Bhagirath leading Ganga down to Ganga Sagar to release his forefathers who were suffering in patal, Kalighat Patachitra (in print), 19th c. CE. It is believed that Bhagirath led the devi on until Bihar, and when he reached Bengal he wasn’t sure which route to follow that would take him to his forefathers in patal (the netherworld). It was then he requested the devi to take her own route, after which Ganga  decided to branch out in streams (in Bengal there are indeed two major streams, Hooghly and Padma, besides other smaller ones). That created the delta formation in Bengal and Bangladesh.  Finally one such stream led to a point, now known as Ganga Sagar, which took Ganga to patal, and she released Bhagirath’s forefathers from their sufferings.  

In ancient India, Ganga was seen as symbol of fertility, as it provided the daily bread for those that lived on its banks. She is first seen in the Cave V, on a relief in the Udaygiri caves (400 CE), carrying  a pot that symbolises fertility ( a womb), as well as the Brahma’s pot from where both she and Saraswati were born. Ganga is accompanied by a gana who symbolises development and attainment. Her vahana is a makara, a mythical figure with the head of a terrestrial animal (such as an elephant) and the lower body of an aquatic animal (generally a fish, sometimes with floral tail like a peacock). Makara symbolises both the underwater life, and the fear of the unknown, the fear of destruction caused by her uncontrolled waters.

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By the end of the 5th c. CE, Ganga was seen as a devi in her own right, symbolising all rivers in India, and her iconography turned more complex. All Hindu temples had the goddess carved at the door, symbolising ablution in the sacred waters of the river, as one enters the garbhagriha (the inner sanctum). Ganga on the temple door frame with her vahana, attendants, and the dwarpala ~ at Teli ka mandir, Gwalior fort, 850 c. CE

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Ganga in terracotta, 5th century CE. (Gupta Period), Ahichchhatra, Uttar Pradesh. Source

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A red sandstone relief, Madhya Pradesh, 8th/9th century. Very finely carved Ganga in a graceful tribhanga at right, adorned with an elaborate knotted belt, standing on a lotus blossom over a rearing makara, along with a retinue of attendants. Source

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Makarvahini Ganga, Kalighat Patachitra (in print), 19th c. CE

How the course runs:

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Some of the important cities beside the river Ganges as it travels through the northern plains of India and empties itself in the Bay of Bengal near Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). It provides water to an area of 8,61,452 Sq.km that is equivalent to almost 26% of the total geographical area in India.  Source

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Geographically speaking, the Ganga basin is spread over four countries that include India, Tibet, Nepal, and Bangladesh, covering an area of 10,86,000 sq.km. The extensive area of the Ganga basin Source

Casting aside the nitty-gritty of geographical data, let’s peek into towns and cities that line the course of this mighty river.

Gomukh:

At a height f 13,200 ft amidst the snow clad mountains of Uttaranchal, lies of the snout of a glacier from which the waters of the Bhagirathi rush out with great force. Gomukh literally means the mouth of a cow, and finds mention in the Puranas. It is said that the snout of the glacier from which Bhagirathi emerges looked exactly like the mouth of a cow. However, owing to environmental changes, and the glacier changing its position, the shape of Gomukh opening now remains largely left to one’s imagination. Gomukh, which is a two day’s hard trek from Gangotri, is a Hindu pilgrimage site, and it is not surprising to see sadhus and other devotees bathing or taking a dip in the icy cold waters of the Bhagirathi at its point of emergence.

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 Gomukh, the point of emergence of Bhagirathi at the base of Mt. Shivling. The Gangotri glacier is a receding one, and is moving back at an alarming rate, much to the concern of climate experts. The topography here is rather wild, with hard ice, patches of snow, and large and small boulders scattered everywhere. Picture credit: Saket Kumar

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The glacier spout from which Bhagirathi rushes outPicture credit: Jay Shankar

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Base of Mt. ShivlingPicture credit: Jay Shankar

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Tapovan at the base of Mt. Shivling, the beautiful meadow through which the Bhagirathi flows after emerging from the Gomukh. Picture credit: Saket Kumar.

Gangotri:

It is a small town at 10, 200 ft, popular among the pilgrims that has a temple dedicated to Ganga devi, which was originally built in the early 19th c. CE by  the Gurkha general Amar Singh Thapa. Many sadhus have small kutis here where they stay for most part of the year, pray, and meditate by the riverside. The beautiful, calm surroundings and the sound of the gushing waters of Bhagirathi make it a perfect place for mediation and prayers.

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The evening light on Bhagirathi peaks. Picture credit: Jay Shankar

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The Ganga temple at Gangotri. The evening arti performed under the open skies beside the river in front of this temple creates an ethreal aura that one has to experience to believe. Picture credit: Jay Shankar

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Forceful waters of the Bhagirathi gushing down at Gangotri. Photo credit: Jay Shankar

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The Suryakund waterfall in Gangotri located very near to the temple. Here the Bhagirathi falls from a cliff with immense force, making it an unforgettable sight. Photo credit: Jay Shankar

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The tranquil waters of Bhagirathi by the side of the Ganga Mandir at Mukhba village (near Harshil), which is the winter residence of the Devi when the temple at Gangotri is shut down on Bhai Ditiya, owing to the heavy snowfall that cuts off the place from the lower reaches during winter. Photo credit: Jay Shankar

Rishikesh and Haridwar:

Bhagirathi from Gangotri flows down the valley passing many picturesque locations such as Gangnani, Harshil, to reach Uttarkashi, which as the name suggests, is another important pilgrimage centre with a Vishwanath temple. Harshil is a Maha Prayag, a confluence of nine rivers, with a Vishnu temple located at the confluence of Jalandhari, Vishnu Ganga, and Bhagirathi. Dharali is another place on the banks of Bhagirathi, where the rivers Bhim Ganga and Hatya Harini meet her. It is believed that by bathing at the confluence of these rivers one is absolved of the sins of even Brahm Hatya (killing of human).

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Bhagirathi at Uttarkashi. Photo credit: Jay Shankar

The next important point is Devprayag where Bhagirathi meets Alaknanda, and here the river Ganges is formed. The Ganga which is formed at this confluence contains waters of six rivers, brought in mainly by the Alaknanda that flows in from base of Satopanth and Bhagirath Kharak glaciers, near Badrinath. The waters of Alaknanada contain the rivers Nandakini, Dhauliganga, Mandakini, and Pindar. There are five important Prayags or confluence points on the side of Alaknanda. The five prayags are Vishnuprayag, Nandprayag, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag, and Devprayag.

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The beautiful green waters of Alaknanda (left) merge with the dark waters of Mandakini (right) at Rudraprayag.  Mandakini that comes from Chorabari glacier near Kedarnath is an important tributary of the Ganga. Photo credit: Jay Shankar

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Devprayag, the birth place of Ganga. On the left is the tranquil Alaknanda, and on the right is the turbulent Bhagirathi . It is here where the  Vedic rituals for Shraddh ceremonies and pinda pradaan take place. Source

From Devprayag, the river now known as Ganga, moves down to reach Rishikesh. Here the river leaves the mountains behind and enters the north Indian plains. There are many temples (both old and new), and learning centres for religious education in this town.

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This place finds mention in Skandapurana (Kedarkhand), while it is also believed that Rama did penance here in Rishikesh for killing Ravana

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The RamJhula in Rishikesh, is a newly built suspension bridge over the Ganges. A little ahead is the more famous Lakshman jhula, where it is said Lakshman had crossed the river using a bridge made of jute ropes. A jute bridge was supposed to have existed in this spot until the late 19th c. CE, as mentioned in his travel records by a famous Bengali travel writer Jaladhar Sen. In 1889, a Marwari businessman from Calcutta sponsored the building of an iron suspension bridge to prevent any further deaths, which was later renovated in 1924 after a major flood.

The next important town beside the Ganga is Haridwar. Here a dam diverts some of the water from the main river to a canal, the waters of which are used for irrigation in the Doab area. The river changes its course from south-west to south east in Haridwar.

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Haridwar is one of the seven holiest places in Hindu pilgrimage. The evening aarti at Haridwar by the banks of the Ganga is a site worth seeing despite the crowd that gathers there everyday

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Har ki Pauri. It is believed that during samudra manthan,  one drop of amrit (elixir) fell on Haridwar in the Brahma Kund, located at Har ki pauri. It is for this reason Haridwar celebrates the Kumbha mela every 12 years, kumbha signifying the pot carried by Garuda, which contained the amrit.

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The murti of Devi Ganga  at Haridwar. This is the original murti, which has been shifted and kept in a side temple beside the ghat, while the main Ganga mata mandir now holds a murti of the Devi with Bhagirath.

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Haridwar as seen and painted by  Sitaram in 1814, while travelling with Hastings (then Lord Moira) from Calcutta to Punjab. From a recent record, it has been said that most of the buildings seen here in the picture still exist, however they are covered by ugly advertisement boards and so cannot be seen from the river anymore. The main river seen here has thinned down now owing to the dam built to divert water for irrigation. 

Prayag or Allahabad:

From Haridwar the Ganga passes the cities of Kanauj and Kanpur to reach Allahabad, where it meets its chief tributary the Yamuna at Triveni Sangam. Here it is said the Saraswati river was also a part of the confluence. The city was known as Prayag in the ancient times and finds a mention in the Vedas, the Puranas and in Ramayana. Later known as Kausambi, the city according to archaeological finds dates back to 700 BCE. It has seen the coming and going of many empires that include Mauryans, Kushanas, Guptas, Delhi Sultanate, Mughals, Marathas, and lastly the British. During Mughal rule, Akbar renamed the city as Illahabad, and built a fort on the banks of the Sangam. The British later changed the name to Allahabad.

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A bridge of boats on the Ganges in Kanpur (then Cawnpore), with two elephants crossing it. A bungalow, few temples, and Sarsaiya ghat are seen on the right side of the bridge on the banks of Ganga. The picture was painted by Sitaram in 1814, while travelling upstream on the Ganga in a bajra with Hastings (then Lord Moira) from Calcutta.

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The Ganga at Prayag. Photo credit: Gency Chowdhury

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The Yamuna at Prayag. Photo credit: Gency Chowdhury

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Prayag during Kumbh mela. Photo credit: Gency Chowdhury

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Prayag during Kumbh.  Photo credit: Gency Chowdhury

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The Allahabad fort built by Akbar at the Sangam. On the left is Yamuna and on the right is Ganga. Far left in the picture, partly seen is a white building which is most likely the Akbari masjid. The magnificent white octagonal structure in the fort seen here from the river, was known as Chalees Satun, and it was destroyed by the East India Company who took over in  1798.  The picture was painted by Sitaram.

Chunar Fort:

After Allahabad the next important city beside the Ganga is Varanasi or Kashi. Between Prayag and Kashi lies the important fort of Chunar on the banks of the Ganga. The fort has been linked to king Bali, Vikramaditya of Ujjain, and Prithviraj Chauhan. While archaeological finds place the fort settlement date at around 56 BC, recorded history starts from the time of Babar. It was taken over from the Mughal subedars by Sher Shah, who married into the subedar family. The fort was won over from him by Humayun, only to be again taken back by Sher Shah. Akbar won it back in 1574, and it remained with the Mughals until the East India company conquered it in 1722.

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Chunar fort. After East India Company took over the fort in 1722, they faced stiff resistance from Raja Chait Singh of Benaras in 1781. In 1791 the fort was made into a sanatorium for the sick and dying European soldiers. The picture was painted by Sitaram

Varanasi/Benaras or Kashi:

The name Varanasi rises from the two tributaries of the Ganga that bind the old city, rivers Varuna and Assi. Rigveda mentions the city as Kasi, which in Sanskrit means the city of light. Regarded as one of the holiest cities, Kashi or Varanasi was supposedly built by Shiva, and it is here that the Pandavas came to search for Shiva in order to atone for their killings during the Kurukshetra war. Buddha also started his preaching from Sarnath, a place very near to Varanasi, which was the capital of the Kashi kingdom during his time. Archaeological findings place the start of settlement in this city at around 2000 BCE (reference). The city is also well known from the ancient times for its religious learning centres, textiles (Benarasi weave on silk is famous), sculptures, ivory, and perfumes.

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Such is the religious significance of this city that it is believed that if one is fortunate enough to die in Kashi, that person will attain moksha. Photo credit: Gency Chowdury

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Ganga aarti on a ghat in Benaras. Photo credit: Gency Chowdury

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The riverfront at Benaras with Panchganga ghat at the centre, and Aurangzeb’s mosque rising above it. The mosque minarets were later removed because of of their instability. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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Dasasvamedha ghat in Benaras. The building seen here is the  rest house built by Rani Ahalya Bai. Painting by Sitaram in 1814.

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The palace of the Raja of Benaras that was constructed in 1750 by Raja Balwant Singh. He was the governor of Benaras under the Nawab of Oudh. The Nawab transferred the sovereignty of the city to the East India Company in 1755. Seen above is the State Boat of the Raja of Benaras. Painting by Sitaram. 

From Varanasi, Ganga travels further on, crossing the states of Bihar and Bengal. This part of the journey however, will be told another day. Kumbh13-26 (1)For now, I will leave you at Kashidham with Ganga, where the Devi makes a lovely arc and turns uttarvahini.

 

 

Author – Monidipa Bose

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

(All pictures used in the post are clicked by the author unless mentioned otherwise. Sita Rams’s paintings and pictorial details are from J.P. Losty’s Picturesque views of India: SitaRam)

HiStory – Make Way for HerStory

There is no such thing as the voiceless. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard

Arundhati Roy

Gargi, the Brahmavadini, as the female seers those who had the Brahmagyaan were called, was not just heard but had an intellectual debate with Sage Yajnavalkya, the outstanding scholar and teacher in expounding the nature of God. Maitreyi, Yajnavalkya’s wife was heard, when she profoundly said ‘What should I do with that by which I do not become immortal’. The echoes of this question still rankles.

Spiritual predicament apart, this small example amply tells us of the exalted position women enjoyed during Rig Vedic Age. They had rights to education, could possess property, perform rituals like last rites in the absence of a brother, and most importantly they had a right to choose the life they wanted. They could speak, and they were heard.

After 2nd century CE Dharmashastras like Manusmriti were written that laid down the principles of a social order which gave primacy to the Brahmins and their orthodox socio-religious norms. From liberal, free entities, women suddenly found themselves being equated with sins and darkness. She was to be guarded by male members and did not have any rights over property. If she did happen to have an earning / property, it was for the one she belonged to.

A fine example of a woman of those ages is the feisty queen, Draupadi. Her dialogue with Yudhisthira, prior to a battle that he is reluctant to engage in, as presented in the 6th century Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi, begins thus –

For a woman to advice men like you is almost an insult.

And yet, my deep troubles compel me to overstep the limits of womanly conduct,

Make me speak up ……

From renowned scholars to reluctant advisers, the deliberate silencing had begun.

Among the silenced, in 1261 CE, rang a booming war cry bearing the name, Rudrama Devi. She is among the few Queens in India who was chosen to rule, and did not serve in the capacity of a regent. Being the only daughter of King Ganapatideva, she underwent the Putrika ceremony, an ancient ritual to anoint her as a son inheriting and having sole rights over her father’s kingdom. She was renamed Rudradeva I, the name that appears on inscriptions confusing many. However, Rudrama’s monumental presence is hard to ignore in Orugallu, now Warangal, erstwhile capital of the Kakatiyas.

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The Kala Thoranam was constructed during the time of Ganapatideva, father of Rani Rudrama Devi. This Kakatiya symbol represents the state of Telangana

Rudrama faced stiff opposition from her cousins, but she quelled the internal dissent with the help of loyal chieftains like the Kayastha chief Jannigedeva and his younger brothers, Recherla Prasaditya, and Reddy chiefs such as Gona Ganna Reddy. She strengthened the Orugallu fort by building more fortifications. She recruited soldiers who were not of royal descent and gave them land tax revenue rights in exchange for their support. This practice was later continued in the dynasty and also adopted by the Vijayanagar Empire that was an offshoot of the Kakatiya dynasty.

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Temple inside the Warangal Fort

Marco Polo, who visited Orugallu, was highly impressed with the riches of Warangal and the administration of Rudrama Devi. She not only ensured health of her subjects by opening medical centres in every village but also introduced new techniques of irrigation by building tanks and earthen dams. Members of Munnuru community were brought in to teach the farmers new methods of agriculture, ushering in prosperity.

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Tanks turned the arid Warangal into an oasis

Her short rule of 30 years was challenged time and again by powerful dynasties such as the Yadavas and the Eastern Gangas, whom she crushed forcefully enough for them to not come back. However, she could not defeat the friend turned foe, brother of the Kayastha Chief who was one of her supporters. She died fighting Ambadeva, leaving behind an inspiring legacy. The star shaped Thousand Pillared Temple in Hanamkonda, Warangal, stands as a stellar example of the zenith of architectural glory reached by the Kakatiyas under Rani Rudrama Devi.

Rudrama Devi set a precedent that was hard to replicate but was followed nevertheless. Many kingdoms saw fearless warrior queens defending their land and people. Notable among them was Rani Durgavati of Garha Katanga / Gondwana, who defeated  Baz Bahadur, King of Malwa. She took on the mighty Mughals with her small battalion taking advantage of the mountainous region. When she could no longer stave off the menacing Mughals, she plunged a dagger into herself and embraced a dignified death. Elsewhere, and in another century, the Mughals were given a tough fight by the regent queen of Bijapur and Ahmednagar, Chand Bibi. Fond of falconry and imprisoned for long years, hers is a story of deceit, courage, bravado, patience, and selfless love.

The Mughals were here to stay. They bought with them ideas and influences that changed the landscape and mindscape of the country. While the Sharia granted Muslim women property rights and widow remarriage was not frowned upon, its strict adherence to Purdah ensured that the women stayed away from participating in decision making. They were seldom seen and preferably unheard. In this context, Noor Jahan stands out as the lone Mughal Queen who wielded unequivocal power. Alexander Dow, writes, ‘Noor Jahan stood forth in public; she broke through all restraint and custom, and acquired power by her own address, more than by weakness of Jahangir’.

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Noor Jahan shunned Purdah and stormed many male bastions like trade, politics and military tactics with ease and superiority

Noor, born Mehrunnisa, was from a scholarly family and adept at languages, philosophy, painting and poetry. She was an excellent strategist, administrator, diplomat and architect. Her influences in cuisine, embroidery and jewellery patterns were revolutionary. Churidar, ancestor of the modern day leggings is the gift of Noor Jahan to the world of fashion and style. She wrote poetry under the name of ‘Makhfi’, ‘The Concealed One’. Despite her talents, she never failed to recognise that she needed the staunch support of a man, which she received in the form of Jahangir. Among the many reforms she bought, one was to ensure that girls received a good amount as their Meher; a safety net that would stand by them in bad times. Noor Jahan minted her own coins and put a halt to the expansionist policies of the kingdom. Her reign was marked by peace and prolific construction. She made the pursuit of finer things in life a royal agenda.

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The silver coins minted by Noor Jahan in her name. Image source – Wikimedia commons

Sources of the time describe her as vivacious, alluring and compelling. One look at all the structures and spaces that she has designed and you will find yourself mouthing the same words. Whether it is the resplendent tombs that she built for Jehangir and her family, or the Charbagh gardens, whether it is the simple but soothing caravan serais with gardens, or the Shahi masjid made of stones in Srinagar. She was the first one to use parchinkari or pietra dura technique extensively on marble. Her contributions, if listed, might take pages and her remarkable story of rise and fall is worth many books. But she remains unheralded and anonymous. Khurram must be happy for after ascending the throne he not only unceremoniously ousted Noor Jahan but also launched a malicious campaign to remover her traces from the annals of Mughal administration and history.

Noor Jahan spent her final 15 years quietly in Lahore close to the tomb of her beloved Jehangir. She built herself a modest tomb in Shahdara Bagh with only a smidgen of the elegant patterns that she so loved, symbolic of her austere life. Her poignant epitaph reads thus

Bar mazaar-i-ma gharibaan

Na-chiragh-e na guley

Na-parrey parwanaan sozad

Na saadey bulbuley

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Tomb of Noor Jahan and her daughter Ladli Begum in Lahore, Pakistan. Image source – Wikimedia commons

 

On our lone grave no roses bloom,

No nightingale would sing;

No friendly lamp dispels the gloom,

No moth ever burns it wings

It has been a year since I first laid my eyes on the magnificent Itimad ud Daula’s tomb in Agra. but still remember my wide eyed surprise. There was not an inch that was not painted upon or incised. The pretty mosaic floor, the elegant parchinkari, the wonderfully painted flowers and trees, the riotous muqarnas left me enthralled. The dark interiors did not dampen my spirits and I was staring, hard and long. What broke my reverie was a remark by a fellow tourist, ‘Oh just look at all this beauty. No doubt this must be inspired by the Taj and that is why is called baby Taj’. A local guide intervened ‘This was built much before the Taj by Noor Jahan for her family’. Fret not Noor, for one can only wash away ink on paper, but not your sonnets in stone.

Noor Jahan was a woman of a different mettle. Her tumultuous saga reminds me of this verse

the rose has told

In one simplicity

That never life

Relinquishes a bloom

But to bestow

An ancient confidence’

Natalia Crane, Venus Invisible and Other Poems

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Achabal Garden in Kashmir built by Noor Jahan. She was a lover of gardens and built many fine Charbagh style gardens in Agra, Lahore and Kashmir. Image source – Internet

Not in imposing monuments, but it is in the sublime and the mundane that we often see the manifestation of the feminine. The mosques where they themselves were not allowed, the temples where they were idolised but still considered impure to chant mantras, the roads and its caravan serais where the vary traveler rested, in the gardens where the spreading canopies of the large trees shaded them from searing heat, fountains that cooled the environs, flowers whose scent turned the air heady. For it is in convenience and pleasure that the subtlety of the feminine is pronounced. Though her presence may seem strident for certain sections of the society, she remains a whisper.

To be continued.

Author – Zehra Chhapiwala

She can be reached at zchhapiwala@gmail.com

All the pictures used in the post are courtesy Jitu Mishra unless stated otherwise

Charming Chandor : A Capital Long Forgotten

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Ancient Chandrapur

The very name of Konkan conjures up scenes of lush greenery during the monsoons, seasonal waterfalls, low hills with ancient Buddhist and Hindu caves, and various forts built by the Portuguese and the Marathas. Recent excavations and archaeological findings have added further layers to this area already rich in ancient and medieval heritage. For the last few decades archaeologists have been working on various sites near the Konkan coast. Various pottery fragments, sculptures, and remnants of ancient structures provide valuable insights into the life of a common man. Dr. Kurush Dalal, an eminent archaeologist who has led many student excavations in and around this region, said in an interview “Now, we are discovering facets of ordinary early medieval life in the Konkan, and evidences of flourishing international trade and a vibrant economy all along the coast” .

Location of Chandor in Goa

(ref: http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2406/images/20070406000506504.jpg)

Chandor, a sleepy village consisting of old rambling villas, is located in South Goa, on the banks of the river Kushavati, 13 km east of Margao and across the fertile rice fields  of Salcete. While walking down the shaded tree-lined lanes of this pretty hamlet, one gets a strange feeling that time is standing still and the Portuguese are very much around, still ruling the roost.

With facades of graceful Portuguese houses dotting the countryside, the historical timeline of Chandor, however, goes back much further, and this sleepy village played an important role in defining Goa’s ancient history, as evident from the various fragmented archaeological remains in the form of ancient inscriptions, sculptures, and other artefacts.

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A beautiful sun dappled by-lane in Chandor that looks almost like a quiet Portuguese countryside road 

While Goa’s history goes long back to the 3rd BCE when Chandragupta Maurya reigned supreme, some excavated pottery found in Chandrapur belonging to the Satavahanas place the probable origin of this once important trade centre to 200 BCE.  After the Satavahanas, came the Bhojas who made Chandrapur or Chandor their capital, as evident from the various inscriptions found, dated between 3rd-4th CE. Next in the power race came the Chalukyas of Badami (580 CE to 750 CE), followed by the Shilaharas, and the Kadambas. The arrival of Kadambas saw the capital being shifted from Chandrapur to Goapuri or the modern Velha Goa around 1029. As maritime supremacy reached its zenith, the place known to the Arab cartographers as Zindabar, thrived as a central hub for various commercial activities. Both Hinduism and Jainism flourished under the Kadambas. This calm and prosperity was shattered with the appearance of Malik Kafur and his army in the horizon like black locusts in 1312 CE. Soon the entire Konkan region along with Goa faced massive destruction at the hands of this general of the Delhi Sultanate. In order to escape the wrath of Malik Kafur, the Kadamba king fled to its erstwhile capital of Chandor and built a fort there. Here it is interesting to note that despite the presence of the powerful southern dynasties, Malik Kafur could manage to defeat most of them. While effects of his devastating expeditions were temporary, his sweeping military success stemmed from unpreparedness of the local rulers, their failure to comprehend the shock technique used by the marauding Muslim army, and most importantly the rival jealousies among the different dynasties that were at constant war with each other which prevented them from forming a united front. When Kafur came in 1312, the Kadambas were already a spent force and their kingdom was limited to just Goa. Additionally  the dynasty was facing a lot of internal fights over control of power, as evident from a Ponda copper plate inscription which talks of a rebel Kadamba prince inviting Jamal ud din of Honavar for help after Tuglaq’s invasion. The thriving trade by this time had also dwindled considerably due to various factors, both external and internal.Whatever glory was left of the Kadambas was completely destroyed by Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s army in 1327 CE. After this, Goa (and Chandrapur) briefly went under the Vijaynagara empire,  followed by the Bahmani Sultans (1469 CE), and lastly the Adil Shahis of Bijapur (1488 CE). The power race of the Indian rulers finally ended here, and in came a new player from across the seas, the Portuguese!

While visiting Chandor in 2016, I was lucky enough to see some artefacts from the excavated site of an ancient temple displayed inside a villa called the Fernandes Heritage House. Sculptures of Vishnu, Ganesha, Shiva lingam, a piece of stone bearing inscriptions written in early Kannada script, among others,  speak of a rich cultural past of this ancient town. The owner said these pieces were randomly lying around in Chandor, and they being mostly temple parts were taken in by his forefathers. Despite the family being Christians they did not let the temple sculptures waste away in open fields.

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 The only remaining evidence in this archaeological site is the large 7th CE Nandi. Vandalised and decapitated, it stands as a sole evidence and witness of the once glorious Chalukya empire 

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The temple site in Chandor Cotta was first discovered by Rev. Fr. Heras in 1929. The ASI has made two excavations at this site, one in 1974, and the other in 1999-2000. The site now has a lone Nandi and a step-well, which is now covered with a wire mesh grill to avoid accidents (picture credit: Zehra Chhapiwala)

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The history of the temple site by the ASI- Goa (picture credit: Zehra Chhapiwala)

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Wooden fragmented parts, most likely from an ancient temple, as displayed in the Fernandes Heritage House in Chandor

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Sculpture of a Ganesha (?)

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(a) A stone bearing inscription from the 7the CE Chalukyan era in early Kannada

(b) History of the inscription

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A Shiva lingam from some ancient or early medieval temple in Chandor

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Various artefacts of daily use collected from different ancient and early medieval sites in Chandor

The Portuguese rule in Chandor

The Portuguese came to power in Goa in 1510, after defeating the then Bijapur Sultan, Yousuf Adil Shah. They set up their first capital in Velha Goa and thus began their four century long rule in the State. At this time they imposed their infamous ‘Inquisition’ on the people of Goa, with the objective of forcibly converting local Hindus to Roman Catholics. This Inquisition was primarily a method of social control against the Hindus and the converted Catholics, who they feared, practised their old faith behind closed doors.  Later, it was also imposed on the Jews from Portugal, along with some of the old Christians and new converts too.  Soon this turned into an easy way of taking away desirable properties by the Inquisitors (Benton, 2002, p. 122).

Chandor too faced the brunt of these Inquisitors and many families converted to Christianity to save their lives. Some of these early converts were richly rewarded. The first family in Chandor to embrace Christianity was the Braganza family. They were granted trade rights to various parts of the world, as a result of which the family became immensely wealthy within a short span and built a huge mansion that is one of the largest and the oldest surviving Portuguese villa in Goa. During my visit to Chandor, I visited two such palatial mansions owned by the converted Christian families. One of these mansions is more than 400 years old and owned by a branch of the Braganza family. The opulent interiors still reflect the long gone grandeur of these palatial homes, and while moving from one room to another one can only imagine the immense wealth and power that these families had once enjoyed.

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 A palatial mansion/villa in Chandor

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From roaring on the seal of the Kadambas to sitting and yawning outside a Portuguese Villa, the Lions best represent Chandor of today

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Casa De sobrado, or the double storied house. This architectural pattern for houses was first brought in by the Portuguese. Modelled on country homes in Portugal, the lower level was kept for servants, services, and animals, while the upper level was reserved for the owners. The intricate decorative work was seen only on the first level (picture credit: Zehra Chhapiwala)

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Another Portuguese style villa in Chandor

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The most charming part of old Portuguese houses in Goa are their unique windows. Flattened and dressed conch shells of the oyster Placuna Placenta, locally known as Karepa, were fitted between grooved wooden battens carefully by local workers. These shells did not just mute the harsh sunlight filtering in but also bathed the interiors in a warm glow. Alternatively, nacre of the mother – of – pearl oyster was used by the well heeled for their stately villas

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When inside a villa, one goes back in time (Fernandes Heritage House)

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A splendid colonial style living room (Fernandes Heritage House)

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A unique vintage bath tub that was used only for bathing new born babies  (Fernandes Heritage House)

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Remnants of a rich past, artefacts collected from different parts of the word where the family went with their trading rights (Menezes Braganza House)

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Preserved horns of a rhinoceros and a wild boar ( Menezes Braganza House)

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The quiet glamour of an elegant ball room now echoing the footsteps of infrequent visitors ( Menezes Braganza House)

Chandor, now a quiet idyllic village, hides a great deal of history in its various layers. As one stands at the excavation site and sees the lone headless Nandi standing guard in the middle of a small enclosed field, one can only imagine the grandeur of the cruciform temple that once stood here as a dedication to Lord Shiva. The Portuguese styled mansions, as one sees while walking down the pretty country roads, fare better, and one can have a glimpse into the wealthy lives that the converted Christians once enjoyed under four centuries of Portuguese rule. Exploring Chandor gives one a feeling of nostalgia and of wonder at the immense historical importance that this small town once held and is now lost in the folds of time.

References:

  1. ASi Goa archives

2. Nairne, K. Alexander. History of GoaVolume 1, Part 2, Book 1 of Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, Bombay (Presidency). Asian Educational Services, 1894.

3.”A History of the Inquistion of Spain (volume 3)” by Henry Charles Lea

http://libro.uca.edu/lea3/8lea1.htm

4. Benton, L., (2002). Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400–1900, Cambridge University Press.

5. “Goa Inquistion for colonialdiscipline” by T.de Souza

https://www.scribd.com/document/28411503/Goa-Inquisition-for-Colonial-Disciplining

 

Author – Monidipa Bose

The author can be reached at monidipadey@rocketmail.com or at Moni Gatha

Glimpses of Calcutta (Kolkata) heritage

Calcutta, once the city of palaces, so beloved of the British, has various  interesting theories regarding its name and origin. The name Kolikata first appeared in the 15th century writings of the Bengali poet, Bipradas Pipilai, and later in the 16th century, on the payroll list maintained by Akbar’s court. Some contend that it is this name Kolikata that later morphed itself into Calcutta/Kolkata. The other theories regarding how the city got its name are no less interesting. Some say the city  derived its name from the goddess Kali, and this place was once known as  Kalikshetra, or the land of Kali. While this remains the most popular theory of origin, another line of thought says this place was once known for production of shell-lime, wherein shell was colloquially known as ‘kali’ and lime was known as ‘kata.’ Another amusing theory tells us that one day Job Charnock, the architect of Calcutta, asked a farmer the name of the area around river Hoogly by gesticulating wildly with his hands, showing the area around. The farmer who didn’t understand, thought the white man was asking when he had harvested his crop, and answered ‘Kal Kata,’ or ‘I cut it yesterday.’ Charnock took the name of the place to be Calcutta. There is another remote possibility that the name Calcutta could have been derived from the term ‘kilkila,’ a word found in old Bengali literature, meaning flat land.

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Hazra More in Calcutta, one of the famous chowmathar more or junctions in the city, named after the famous  freedom fighter Matangini Hazra, a woman of grit, who was shot dead by the police in 1942

Whatever the origin of the name was, one thing that is very clearly documented in history is that when Job Charnock landed here in 1690, on behalf of the East India Company with the objective of starting a trade settlement, carrying a firman (permission to settle and carry on with trade) from the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and his Bengal deputy Ibrahim Khan, there were three villages that flourished in this place. These were: Sutanuti, Kolikata, and Gobindopur. That same year Charnock hoisted the flag of Royal Standards of England in Sutanuti, on banks of the river Hoogly, thus signalling the start of British involvement in the Bengal Province. Without going into the details of how Bengal was  won by the British from the Mughals and their Bengal subedars, it can be safely said that in 1698 the East India Company  bought the three villages from a local zamindar, the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family.

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Map of Calcutta showing the three villages ~ from the time when Job Charnok  landed here in 1690 until the Battle of Plassey in 1757 

(Ref: http://sankalpa.tripod.com/roots/oldcalmap02.html)

In 1699, the East India Company started developing Calcutta as its Presidency City, and in 1727, a civil court was established in the city with a Mayor of its own, under the order of King George I, and in the same year the Calcutta Municipal Corporation was also formed.

Despite the long drawn war, negotiations, and extreme hardships faced by Charnock in establishing British trading supremacy in Bengal, and his acquiring the site that later became the city Calcutta and earned him the title of the Father of the City, in 2003 the Calcutta High Court stated that Job Charnock was not the founder of this city. In one stroke the city was rendered fatherless and was left without a date of birth. The Court further stated that Calcutta goes long back into history, and had its origins in the Mauryan era, a fact which has been recently proven with many archaeological findings.

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Seen here is the Calcutta High Court premises, from where recently  Job Charnock was ruled out as the father of the city. The court started functioning formally on 1st July 1862 at the new Fort Williams, with Sir Barnes Peacock as the first Chief Justice.  The court building was built in 1872, and is neo-Gothic in structure.

This article, however, doesn’t travel that long way back into the Mauryan history. It simply satisfies itself by taking a peek into two old cemeteries in the city, where sleep some of the oldest colonial/firingee residents of the erstwhile British Empire.

St. John’s Church and the adjoining cemetery ground

St. John’s Church was among first public buildings that the East India Company constructed after establishing Calcutta as its Presidency city and capital. Originally an Anglican cathedral, it was constructed between the years 1784-1787, and is the third oldest church in Calcutta. The land was donated by Raja Naba Kishen Bahadur, founder of the Sovabazar raj family, and the first stone was laid in April 1784 by Warren Hastings, the then Governor General of India. At one time this church was the nucleus of colonial activities, and many important decisions were taken from a Vestry room situated inside the church that still holds some of the antiquities from Hastings’s era.

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The St John’s church, as seen here, is a large rectangular structure with tall Doric columns, designed in the Neoclassical style, and  made of bricks and stones. The widespread use of stones in this church earned it the name ‘Pathure Girja’ or a church made of stones. The tall stone spire is 174 ft tall and holds a giant clock, which still works and is wound every day

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The most distinctive feature of this church is the imposing stone spire, which instantly catches one’s eye, standing out from the brick body of the church. A little research and a study of the church minutes book revealed that the stones for building this church came from the ruins of the ancient city of Gaur,  via the river Hoogli. Gaur was once the proud capital of the Sena and Pala dynasties, later completely destroyed by the Islamic rulers and rebuilt to show their dominance over their Hindu subjects, only to be later plundered again by Sher Shah. The city fell into disuse once the capital was shifted, and until today the area remains a mass of ancient and medieval ruins, with the ASI slowly plodding its way towards unravelling the layers of history hiding amidst these ruins.

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Some interesting plaques with a brilliant mix of Indian and European sculptures are seen inside the church, in memory of late 18th-19th century British officers stationed in Bengal. The church floor is of a rare blue grey marble brought from Gaur.

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On the left side of the main alter there is a recently restored painting of  ‘The Last Supper’ by the British- German artist  Johann Zoffany.  This painting isn’t a copy of  the Leonardo’s famous artwork, but has some interesting Indian touches. The main figures in the painting are inspired from some real life characters of those times. (photograph of the “The last Supper”courtesy: Nandini dey)

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Within the church complex there are various graves and memorials. One such memorial is the tall twelve Grecian pillared structure with a circular dome, designed to look like the Temple of Aeolus. This is known as the Rohilla War Memorial. The two Rohilla wars (1772 – 74) were fought between the Rohillas (Pashtun tribes from the modern Afghanistan and Pakistan) and the Nawab of Awadh, with the British favouring the later. This memorial has a list of the British officers killed in these two wars.

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Here lies Jobus Charnock, the ‘founder’ of Calcutta (1630-1692/93). The administrator of East India Company, he brought together Sutanuti, Kolikata, and Gobindopur, to form the modern city of Calcutta. Built in Moorish style, this octagonal stone structure was built by Charnock’s son-in -law, with stones brought in from Pallavaram, near Madras (now Chennai). This mausoleum houses other graves, including that of his Hindu wife.

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Located near Charnock’s tomb is this  pretty looking circular mausoleum that looks almost like a Greek temple. The lady lying underneath the gravestone interestingly is known as Begum Francis Johnson (1725-1812), who married four times, and  was known as the grand old lady of her times. Her tomb epitaph makes for an interesting read, giving details of her husbands and the children.

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Mausoleum of Vice Admiral Charles Watson who died in 1757, during the retaking of Calcutta from the last Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud daulah. Charnock and Watson’s graves were the only two that were left undisturbed, during the construction of the church. All other old graves in this burial ground were dug up and the remains removed. The graves or mausoleums that we now see here are of a later period, built post 1784. The church complex has tombs of Lord Brabourne (d. 1939) and Lady Canning (d. 1861 ~ after whom the famous ladikeni sweet was named because of her fondness for it), amongst many more.

South Park Street Cemetery

This is considered as among  world’s earliest cemeteries that doesn’t have an adjoining church. It is also considered as the largest 19th century Christian cemetery outside the USA and Europe. It first started functioning in 1767 on a marshy land, and remained in use until around 1830, and is closely associated with the reconstruction of Calcutta after it was recaptured from the Nawab’s army. This area was once famously labelled as the ‘Bengal Burial Grounds,’ and the South Park Street cemetery was surrounded by the French cemetery (Tiretta’s burial grounds), North Park Street cemetery, Lower Circular Road cemetery, and the Scottish cemetery.

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Cenotaphs in the South Park Cemetery. As one checks each tombstone and reads the epitaphs, one can’t help noticing the short lifespan of the Europeans residing in Calcutta in the 18th and early 19th century. Most, it seemed, died within 40 to 45 years of age, and there are so many tombs for the infants who were just few years or even few months old. Some interesting professions noted are translator, cattle breeder, jailer, surgeon, head tide-waiter, among the other regular ones.

The tombs in this burial ground are unique, in the sense that they pointedly lack signs that are typical of Christian burial structures, such as, weeping angels or profusion of crosses. Instead there  are obelisks, pyramids, pagodas, some panchayatana structures having rekha deul replicas on four sides, and a rich mixture of the Gothic with prominent Indo-Saracenic styles. During that period in history, the Age of Enlightenment was sweeping Europe, and had some of its roots in the 17th century England that defied all established religions and moved away from the Church. Thus, the medieval notions of a vengeful god disappeared, which allowed for other influences from various parts of the world to take hold. There was a sudden shift towards the ancient Greek, Roman,  and Egyptian cultures, and this is strongly visible in the tombs here. The domed chattris with their Doric columns remind one of the 18th century artist Piranesi’s imagined ‘Appian way’ in south Italy, while funerary urns on tombstones show the presence of ancient Greece, and pyramids and obelisks transport one to ancient Egypt. Though there are crosses seen on few  graves, they are most likely recent additions by descendants that have come down to visit their forefathers’ tombs and pay their respects.

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The admixture of various styles seen here in the tombs, that include chattris with Doric columns, obelisks, pyramids, etc

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Distinct Greek  influence in this tombstone with no signs of Christianity

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The trees are a menace in this cemetery. Saw so many of these unique tombs marked in red as ‘endangered by roots,’ as is evident here in this picture. The three surrounding tombs have all been marked as endangered owing to the roots of this tree that is damaging their foundation causing cracks and chances of subsequent ruination.

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One of the most famous residents of this cemetery, Henry Derozio, a much loved and revered educator, who inspired a strong sense of nationalism among the Bengal youth

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A beautiful Greek influenced pillared mausoleum, and easily my favourite in the South Park Street cemetery

Calcutta with its colonial past has some of the most unique heritage structures. This article showcases some of the oldest structures of the colonial era in Calcutta, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. In the later years of the British rule, Calcutta developed a unique architectural style that mixed European and Indian style seamlessly, which is not replicated anywhere else. This is evident in some of the palatial homes of the wealthy people that still exist, and have somehow managed to save themselves from the brutal axe of the period of ‘heritage destruction’ that Bengal witnessed during the 1970s and lasted until the 90s, where old beautiful houses were broken down without any regard, to build high-rise apartments. Each of these houses were a marvel, and there are so many of them still standing. Come explore Calcutta, and slowly  lose yourself  in the sands of time, as you walk through the old gullies of this colonial era city.

Author – Monidipa Bose

The author can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com or at MoniGatha