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November 2011 Back

Waiting for 'arribada'

Enormous nesting aggregations of the Olive Ridley turtles occur at three sites in Orissa, Gahirmatha, Devi and Rushikulya. From October till May, the waters here become the feeding and breeding ground of these turtles. However, the beaches are becoming increasingly uninhabitable for them with each passing day, observes Atula Gupta

Millions of years ago, an Olive Ridley turtle hatched from its egg laid on a beach in Orissa. It then began its arduous seaward journey and later the struggle for survival in the marine world. But years later, spanning thousands of kilometres, it returned, to the land of its birth to nestle eggs in the safe sands and bring forth the next generation.

Centuries have passed, but this annual behaviour of hundreds of Olive Ridley turtles returning to their birthplace and themselves nesting en masse has remained unchanged. The only change that has occurred is that of Orissa’s beaches, no longer considered safe.

The endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles constitute the smallest but the most numerous of the seven species of sea turtles, and are famously known for their unique annual behaviour of mass nesting, a phenomenon known as “arribada” (Spanish for arrival).

Along the Orissa coast of India, such unique, enormous nesting aggregations occur at three sites viz., Gahirmatha, Devi and Rushikulya. Of these three, Gahirmatha provides the site for the largest congregation of nesting turtles. In fact the state government is sure that the Gahirmatha rookery represents about 50 per cent of the world population and 90 per cent of the Indian population of the sea turtle.

In coastal Orissa, the area of confluence between a river and the sea is a fascinating ecosystem. Also called the inter-tidal area, the land here is constantly under the influence of salty sea tide and also of the sweet river water. Thus, it is covered with mangroves and is the breeding ground of several marine forms such as fish, molluscs and prawns.

It is in search for this food that sea turtles come and spend a significant part of their life annually in the region. From October till May the waters here become the feeding and breeding ground of the Olive Ridley turtles. Although sporadic nesting carries on all through the year, it is during these six-seven months that an entire generation of the turtle is born simultaneously.

However, behind the rose coloured glasses is a picture far grimmer and uglier. The mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles at Gahirmatha takes place between December and March and the first arribada is sometimes followed by a second one of much lower intensity after a gap of 35 – 60 days. However, recent trends in mass nesting here indicate a failure of the second arribada. What once was a phenomenon that stretched along 15 km of the mainland beach has now restricted to a four-km long beach.

At the Devi rookery mostly sporadic nesting occurs. The Rushikulya rookery is the southernmost nesting point for the turtles and though the arribada occurs here each year, neither this nor the Devi rookery are protected areas, much to the dismay of conservationists.

Problems galore
Unknown to the sea-faring turtles, the beaches are becoming more and more uninhabitable for them each day. From the time they start feeding in the water, till the hatchlings emerge after 45 to 60 days of fertilisation inside the nesting pits, the turtles fight threats from all directions.

The most significant of the problems is fisheries, where accidental catch and the use of trawlers and gill nets, lead to death of many turtles. Modification of the beaches through plantations and through development of ports, etc too adds to the threat. Strong illumination around nesting beaches greatly disorients the adult turtles as well as the hatchlings.

Pollution of on-shore ground and off-shore waters by the discharge of effluents from industries and commercial establishments only leaves the area in a more derelict state. Natural calamities, soil erosion, climate change, and the danger of predators like feral dogs, jackals, hyenas etc. are the dangers that turtles have to naturally cope with.

Divided interests
There are many forces in Orissa today that are working in favour and also against the presence of Olive Ridley turtles. What is of graver concern is those who wish to conserve the beaches are a divided lot.

While conservationists like the international NGO, Greenpeace are against the modifications of the beaches in any way for the sake of the turtles, the fishermen lobbying against government led urban and industrial developments think it will hamper their marine fish trade and are fighting not for the turtles but for their own interest.

The core issue really is the lack of systematic coastal management that capacitates turtles protection, fish production and also infrastructure strengthening. Turtles have immense mythological importance in Indian culture and their coming back to the Orissa shores, year after year, is nothing less exclusive than the Taj Mahal we are so proud of.

What then is of extreme importance is to give these creatures of habit the little they ask for from humans- some peace, some space and clean and clear waters where they can pass on the traditions of their ancestors in the most unhindered way. For the avatar that took the burden of an entire mountain on its back for the benefit of humanity, turtles really ask for just a bit of material sacrifice from humans.

1 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Celebrating Karnataka

Any narrative of the State's history is incomplete without the mention of the famed Halmidi inscription or Dharwad's Sadhanakeri, apart from the cultural and historical legacy of Mysore or Hampi. Lakshmi Sharath lists out five places which don't have much to offer in terms of 'sightseeing', but have a rich cultural heritage.

This is a story about dusty hamlets and their dusty legends. They may not find a place on tourist maps, but may find a spot in the itinerary of many a discerning traveller who is looking for a cultural experience or wants to get a feel of history.

These are places which probably have nothing to show you in terms of “sightseeing” but will let you soak in the cultural heritage of the State. These are places like Karwar which had once inspired Rabindranath Tagore to write, or the rocky fort of Chitradurga which tells the brave story of Onake Obavva who fought Hyder Ali’s forces, or Begur, where an inscription mentions the name Bengalooru for the first time. So, if you like to journey down to nondescript villages and experience art and literature, then add these destinations to your itinerary.

In many of our journeys, we find small jaded inscriptions and hero stones that lie scattered and neglected alongside temples or under trees . But they tell you the story of a dynasty that thrived and eventually ended in that village. Reading these inscriptions and putting together the history of a place is often like solving a jigsaw puzzle.

Head to Halmidi, a small village near Belur for one such experience. Villagers tell you about a small inscription in sandstone with a Vishnu Chakra on top that was found near a mud fort in the area and was later housed in a temple.
The Halmidi inscription, as it is known, lends an identity to Kannada language as we know it today. It is believed to be the oldest record of an ancient Kannada, called Purvada halagannada and the first time it was used in administrative communication. Historians have dated it between the fifth and sixth centuries (around 450 AD), but of course, there are several debates on it.

Some claim that it was written during the period of Kadamba ruler, Kukusthavarman, while others differ. Some historians even claim that there are other inscriptions older than the one found in Halmidi written in Kannada, while others cite older inscriptions which have halagannada words. Nevertheless Halmidi’s place in the linguistic history of the State is important. While the original lies in a museum, a replica is in the village. Head to the town and listen to the people tell you stories about the inscription.

Kuppalli & Mattur (Shimoga dt)
While on the subject of languages, let us visit Mattur, a village located barely 10 km from Shimoga on the banks of the River Tunga, where the residents believe that Sanskrit is no longer a dead language. It is the language of the masses here, as people speak the language in their day to day communication.

The Sanskrit grama has made every farmer a scholar as even students are taught Sanskrit in schools. Home to over 3,000 people, Vedic classes are not new here as the Sanskrit movement started barely three decades ago. Even though Sanskrit is spoken here, the village is a rich contribution to Karnataka’s cultural heritage. Self-assured and classical Kannada offers space for Sanskrit learning, and both the languages are accorded respect here.

Any talk of Kannada and poetry and one cannot but miss Kuppalli, the birthplace of Rashtrakavi Kuvempu. The Rashtrakavi Kuvempu Pratishthana has turned the home of the great poet into a museum, where the life and times of the great man comes alive, in the form of several pictures, and other memorabilia.

Sadhanakeri, Dharwad
There is a saying in Dharwad that if you throw a stone anywhere, it may land in a poet’s house. And so, it’s a great place to head out to on a weekend trip for a literary tour. This is the home for several poets, writers, musicians and artists including the legendary Da Ra Bendre.

Visit Bendre Bhavan and Shree Matha, the memorial and house of poet Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre, Jnana Peetha award winner, and stop by at Sadhanakeri, the lake which apparently inspired the poet to pen Baaro Sadhana Kerige. You can see some rare photographs or pick up some books here. The entire town of Dharwad is culturally stimulating if you would like to immerse yourself in some poetry and music.

The ruins of a fort and palace in this town located in Bailhongal taluk of Belgaum speaks of a queen who defied the British. Karnataka’s own Kittur Rani Chennamma fought the British in the 19th century when they did not accept her adopted son, Shivalingappa as heir to her throne. After a fierce battle where the British Commissioner was killed, she was however imprisoned in the nearby Bailhongal fort where she later died.

A memorial still stands there at Bailhongal town. A festival is held annually here in her honour and the museum has some wonderful paintings showcasing her life and times.

In a small village called Kaidala near Tumkur is a Chennakeshava temple, lost amidst the wilderness. The temple lacks the magnificence of the Belur Chennakeshava temple but the six-feet idol dedicated to the deity is almost the same.

It is believed to be the hometown of the master sculptor, Amarashilpi Jakanachari who had carved several Hoysala monuments, including the Chennakeshava at Belur.

The deity here is flanked by Sridevi and Bhoodevi. Another tall sculpture with folded hands holding a dagger is possibly the master sculptor himself or the local chieftain.

The outer wall has a small image of a couple, who the priest says could be the parents of Jakanachari.

Even as historians wonder if Jakanachari truly existed or was he just a reference to a Yaksha or a talented sculptor, the priest here narrates a tale of miracles. Locals say that while the sculptor left his hometown in his early days, his son later followed him to Belur.

Although he was not aware that his father was the sculptor, he pointed out a flaw in the idol of Chennakeshava. Jakanachari refused to accept that there could be a blemish and proclaimed that he would cut off his hand if a defect was found.

But a test later showed that a live frog was found inside a cavity in the statue. Jakanachari went on to cut his right hand only to find out that the young sculptor was none other than his own son.

The story does not end here as folklore usually has happy endings. It is said that Jakanachari got a vision from the lord himself asking him to return to Kaidala and build a Chennakeshava temple there.

Both father and son sculpt the idol here and carve the sculptures together in the temple and it is said that his right hand was restored as soon as the temple was built.

1 November 2011, Deccan Herald


1921 Malabar fatwa against British found

Exactly 90 years ago, a Malabar musaliyar (cleric) issued a fatwa against British rule, exhorting Muslims in the region to rebel against the Raj. This came to light at the ongoing workshop on Arabic and Persian manuscripts organized by National Manuscript Mission in association with Calicut University's Arabic department.

The fatwa, written in Arabi-Malayalam (Malayalam in Arabic script), a style prevalent then, was issued by a cleric from Kondotty in 1921 against the backdrop of the popular Khilafat movement. Liberally sprinkled with quotes from the Quran, the fatwa was also an extended critique of British policies of the period.

"The fatwa reveals the resentment of Muslims against British rule. During the time, the nationalist movement was strong and Muslims were asked by their leaders to join the movement," state coordinator of National Manuscript Mission and noted historian, K K N Kuruppu, said.

Several scholarly articles supporting the fatwa have also been found. "We will be translating these works to Malayalam and will preserve them in a digitalized form," Kuruppu said.

2 November 2011, Times of India


Heritage first: Metro steps back from monuments

At 100.8 metres from Delhi Gate, the station there on Delhi Metro's extension of the Central Secretariat-Kashmere Gate line is an interesting example of technology taking care of heritage. It was originally just 15.8m from the protected monument. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) claims it has accepted the suggestions of the heritage lobby and relocated not only this station but others on the line too.

The law regarding protected monuments says that no construction can take place in a 100m radius around the structure. "Let's go by the spirit of the law," says Kumar Keshav, director (projects), Delhi Metro. Interestingly, Keshav admits that the proposed tunnel of the line is still within the 100m prohibited radius. "But that's 18m under the ground and will not affect any structure in the way," he says.

The heritage line of Delhi Metro - going through Janpath, Mandi House, ITO, Delhi Gate, Jama Masjid, Red Fort and Kashmere Gate - may turn out to be one of the most delicate projects that the agency has undertaken till date. With several prominent heritage structures, including a world heritage site - Red Fort - on the way, the line not only abuts these protected monuments but will also cater to a mammoth ridership when the corridor comes up. As Keshav puts it, "In Phase I, we have gone more closer to some of the protected structures than we are doing now. The benefits of the corridor need to be juxtaposed with the importance of our heritage as well."

With newer technology available, Delhi Metro claims it is better equipped to handle the complexity of the construction now. Says Keshav, "We will construct the tunnel using state-of-the-art technology, which is widely accepted and adopted the world over." Besides the use of a sophisticated tunnel-boring machine (TBM), which will do its job without causing any damage to the structures above ground, Delhi Metro also plans to extensively use instruments for monitoring at the time of construction. "Continuous monitoring will be done, including impact assessment, during the course of work. Every vibration and measurement of noise will be calibrated," says Keshav. He cites the example of the metro in Vienna, where the metro station shares a wall with the grand Opera House.

With the tunnel of Line 6 (Central Secretariat-Kashmere Gate) going 15-19m under the ground, Delhi Metro says it has been following suggestions of the Competent Authority for Delhi heritage circle, including having the entry/exit structures match the surroundings of heritage structures and create special photo galleries to depict the historical importance of the monument along with an informative map on the heritage of Delhi.

It has also moved four stations - Delhi Gate, Jama Masjid, Red Fort and Kashmere Gate - from the original positions to beyond 100m.

2 November 2011, Times of India


Enjoy absolute silence at Kalinjar

The first thing I saw on entering through this gateway was a large Ganesha cut on a huge rock. This is a dancing Ganesha with six arms clearly visible and two more possible ones which looked lost in the tangle. Further inside the fort are a large number of rock cuts.

Within the fort, the silence was absolute. As I walked through the fort, the only sound that could be heard was that of dry leaves crunching under my feet. Never mind human presence, even the chatter of birds was conspicuous by its absence. Unlike Kalinjar, there is not too much intact in Ajaigarh. The most significant spot is the Ajaipal ka Talao, named after a local saint to whom a temple is dedicated on the banks of the talao.

Nearby stands a building that could only have been an Islamic tomb but is now missing the gravestone. The talao was probably the ritual tank to a temple that once existed here. Remains of what was once a huge temple lie scattered on all sides of the talao. At the edge of the talao is a shed containing some large Jain Tirthankara idols.

A short walk through the trees brought me to an area enclosed in barbed wire. The area houses four more temples, which though ruined, are at least standing. On the back of the fort is another gateway called the Tarhaoni Darwaza with more rock cuts nearby. Both forts give a tremendous view of the countryside around for miles. Where there was once fire and death, there is now silence. The battles have ended and the two old forts are gradually fading, much like old soldiers.

Getting there: Kalinjar is 104 km from Khajuraho and lies in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. Ajaigarh is about 70 km from Khajuraho and is located in Panna district of Madhya Pradesh. From Khajuraho, drive eastward towards Panna and take the bypass short of the district headquarters towards Ajaigarh.

3 November 2011, Economic Times


Ajaigarh: Harder to get to

Kalinjar abounds with ancient and medieval remains, many of which have been aggregated into a museum in the fort. The museum is housed in a palace, built on the banks of a pond called the Kot Tirth, considered a revered spot to bathe in by locals.

There are several such water bodies in the fort, some or all of which may be fed by an underground stream present in the hill. One such water body is a tank located above the Neelkanth temple inside a natural cleft in the hill's rocks.
No story about Kalinjar can be complete without a mention of its twin fortress, Ajaigarh. Located about 30 km away, this fort is more difficult to access than Kalinjar. While Kalinjar can be climbed via a motorable road, it takes a climb of over 400 steps to get to Ajaigarh.

In today's modern India, a state border separates Ajaigarh from Kalinjar, with the former being in Madhya Pradesh while the latter is in Uttar Pradesh. But artificial borders such as these can never separate the joint history of the two forts.

Legends hold that an underground passage connected the two forts allowing access to men and material in times of siege. On a clear day, it is possible to see one hill from the other.

In an earlier era, signals too could have been seen between the two forts. The main entrance gate into the Ajaigarh fort is called the Kalinjar Darwaza as it faces that fort.

3 November 2011, Economic Times


Walls of the Kalinjar Fort changed history

Historians have described Kalinjar as being a fortress unparalled in strength. Seen together with its twin fort at Ajaigarh, Kalinjar formed a formidable line of defence of centralIndia from any attacks from the north. In 1019, Mahmud Ghazni ravaged much of north and west India but had to turn back in the face of stiff opposition from the Kalinjar garrison.

The year 1022 saw a repeat with Ghazni having to stay content with a few gifts from the Chandella ruler but no fort. Had Kalinjar fallen, it is unlikely that Khajuraho would have survived. Today, Khajuraho is a thriving tourist hub, while Kalinjar is a grey area tourists seldom venture into.

The Chandellas were sapped by their conflict with the Chauhans. After the defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan at the hands of Mohammad Ghori in 1192, the weakened Chandellas were the next to face the invaders. In the face of a long siege by Qutab-ud-din Aibak's forces in 1203, the fort's water supply ran dry and the garrison was forced to surrender.

It is a tribute to the fort and its garrison that the invading force did not have the strength left to carry on further conquest and yet again, places like Khajuraho were left alone. Over time, the Chandellas regained control of the fort and it stayed with them till the invasion of Sher Shah Sur in 1545. Another siege followed and this one ended dramatically.
A missile-like weapon set off by the invading force bounced off the mighty walls and landed in a gunpowder dump near Sher Shah. The resultant explosion saw him suffer fatal burns.

Kalinjar eventually fell to the attackers in a battle that extinguished the Chandella dynasty. Had Sher Shah not been killed at Kalinjar the Mughals may never have come back to power in India. The walls of the fort literally changed India history.

In 1569, the Mughals occupied Kalinjar which became part of the jagir of Birbal. The next interesting turn in the fort's history took time to come. In 1688, Bundela hero Chhatrasal took control of the fort. Warding off Maratha attacks, the fort stayed with the Bundelas for over a century eventually falling to the British.

Like a soldier come home from the wars, the fort of Kalinjar gradually faded after this. Violence of a political nature gave way to occasional spurts of criminal activity with criminals finding shelter in the abandoned walls of the fort at times.

Today, two companies of the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constalbury ( PAC) provide security to the fort, apart from private security guards provided by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

While its location and its physical setting on a 900-foot high hill gave it strength in military terms, Kalinjar drew spiritual power from being described as the abode of Shiva, in the Koorma Purana. The Neelkanth temple in the fort is a symbol of that spiritual past. The temple is in a corner of the fort and is accessed via a long flight of steps that lead to it. On either side of the steps and throughout the entire courtyard around the temple is a range of rock cut figures of gods and goddesses, with Shiva in his myriad forms being the dominant theme.

The actual temple bears the marks of assault but has survived. The mandapa of the temple has only pillars standing and no roof. Each pillar has wonderful rock cut designs and that only indicates the grandeur of the temple in its prime.
The temple is built in a cave with two dark lingas inside - one each to indicate Shiva and his consort Parvati. Temple priests are quick to point out that the throat of the linga always stays moist even if no water or milk is poured for weeks on it. What seems to be the case in this temple is that a small shrine existed inside the cave.

Later years and royal patronage saw layers of rock cuts being added on all sides. The most significant of these is an amazing depiction of Shiva in his Mahasadashiva form, a rock cut that stands nearly twenty five feet high.

3 November 2011, Economic Times


A tale of two veterans: Kalinjar and Ajaigarh

Stories, so they say, must be told from the beginning. Therefore, much as I am inclined to cut to the chase and talk about the Neelkanth temple, I shall refrain from doing so until I have described the context.

Not that the context is uninteresting. It is most certainly not, given that in this case the context happens to be an ancient fort - probably India's oldest extant one - that has battled everyone from Mahmud Ghazni to the British.

Kalinjar, to give the fort its name, is a bit like an old soldier. And quite like old soldiers, old forts don't die, they just fade away! I remember reading some passing mention of the fort in school text books but those childhood history lessons had faded. Until one day in 2005. A traveller's tale on Khajurahohad a mention of Kalinjar being in the vicinity. What intrigued me was the description, 'a frightening embodiment of Hindu power', which had not been used for any other fortress in India.

But the fort seemed like a bridge too far, given its remote location. It was at least a 100 km from the nearest airport or railway station with any sort of connectivity to the national capital. Moreover, current descriptions of the fort were anything but encouraging. A government official who had served in the vicinity described it as the hangout for Uttar Pradesh's notorious kidnapping-and-ransom gangs. Another acquaintance spoke of its evil reputation, as a place where human sacrifice had been conducted in the past, a practice which - so he said in a hushed tone - may have not died out entirely. As you may imagine, such descriptions do not deter but only spur a person to get to the place. That's how it worked with me.

While driving towards the hill on which the fort stood, all I could see from a distance was a massive outcrop of rock. Getting closer, the sharp outlines of the ancient battlements became more clear. Time and the elements have done a great job of giving the fort walls a colour identical to that of the hill rocks which serves as a wonderful camouflage.
For a fort that has a prominent place in not just Indian history but also in mythology, Kalinjar does a very good job of camouflaging its significance. The hill on which the fort stands is seen as an important spot for pilgrimage. The Vedas describe it as a place for penance. The place even gets a mention in the Mahabharat. But that is mythology.

To cut to recorded history, Kalinjar hill is believed to have been first fortified around 2,000 years ago though there were earlier settlements here. In the 10th century, the fort was the heart of the Chandella kingdom whose administrative capital was Mahoba.

3 November 2011, Economic Times


Together, we can save our forests

Residents of a Jharkhand village show the way to protect the environment without waiting for official help, writes Naushad Alam

The thick forests in the tranquil village of Jirwa in Simariya Tehsil of Chatra district in Jharkhand hide a gloomy past. With bare land where lush cover once stood, the forests had been felled over the years by indifferent and greedy hands.

A magic wand seems to have changed all that. A magic wand held up by several hands. The miraculous makeover was not achieved in the blink of an eye but over a long period of time, backed by unity and hard work of the various communities that came together to create it.

The unique experiment of collective forest management was initiated by the Jirwa Panchayat. “About a decade ago, our rich forests had turned to barren land with no pasture left for the cattle. Some stumps and shrubs were the only reminder of what had been,” remembers Indranath Bhokta, a member of Jirwa Panchayat.

“Villagers were facing several problems caused by the loss of forest cover. Less bamboo meant no beams for roofs of our houses. That is when villagers realised what they had done,” he adds.

Community meetings were organised under the leadership of the panchayat to work out what was needed to be done. Everyone agreed to come together to stem the crisis. That collective realisation set the tone for the present day voice of the community.

The initial work gained momentum without any outside support, not even of the Forest Department that was expected to sustain the natural wealth with its access to knowledge and resources. Later initiatives of the department led to the creation of forest committees in these villages. The Joint Forest Management was launched in 2001 to make villagers aware about the protection of forest resources.

The Southern Forest Division, under which the Jirwa Panchayat falls, has succeeded in its efforts in some parts of Chhatra District but Village Jirwa continues to work independently, blissfully unaware of the Joint Forest Management programme or the committees.

The determination and will of the people helped overcome the difficulties that cropped up, and problems were solved effectively. Here, dwellers of seven villages have joined hands to protect the forests in an organised manner. A systematic distribution of the forests in different divisions has been done by the villagers with each group taking charge of the protection of the adjacent forest area.

Explaining the methodology adopted, Manoranjan Singh, the panchayat head says, “Every forty-five days, the local communities meet to discuss the security of the forests. The main agenda of such meetings is to tackle a variety of issues like laxity in protection of the forests and identifying threats to the harmony of the forests.”

As a result of such meetings, people come up with innovative and strict measures to punish the guilty. Imposing a fine of up to `500 on the culpable was one such step.

“These people have learnt the art of sustainable development which is indicated by the fact that they use a certain amount of forest products which could be naturally gained in a specific time-frame”, he added.

The people follow an annual ritual of worshipping the forest Goddess. In a country where emotions and religious beliefs play a central role in the lives of people, the idea of worshipping the forests was an intelligent way to establish a sensitive relationship between people and forests.

At the festival, ceremonies include offering prayers and chanting mantras. The most intriguing ceremony at the festivities is the tying of a security thread around the tree which, like the popular festival of Raksha Bandhan, symbolises a commitment to protect.

The communities relied on rustic and effective means. Of the seven villages, Kathara, a nativeadivasi village, played a central role. The close relationship that tribal communities share with water, forest and land became a source of inspiration for the people of Jirwa panchayat. They shared with villagers the traditional art of protecting and invigorating the forests, helping them to renew the green cover.

“The tribal communities participated in the discussions in large numbers. Their contribution in regenerating the forest can't be ignored,” says Singh.

Joint efforts by various communities to save the forests, starting with awareness, have become an integral part of the lives of its people. The success of the Community Forest Management is evident from thousands of teak, Asan and Chakodi trees that stand tall today, adding to the natural wealth of the village. Such steps taken by communities living outside the urban compass defy all the divisions set over time. Taking a leaf from Mahatma Gandhi’s wisdom, they became the change they wished to see around them, this time for their environment.

3 November 2011, Pioneer


Panel ‘no’ to privatisation of lake upkeep

A committee formed to look into the privatisation of management and rejuvenation of lakes in Bangalore has strongly recommended against the commercial involvement of the private sector in the activity.

The committee was set up by the Principal Division Bench of the High Court in response to a public interest litigation that had challenged the privatization of management and rejuvenation of lakes in the City.

It was mandated to formulate a long-term plan to conserve and manage lakes in Bangalore, and was headed by High Court judge Justice N K Patil, and involved top officials of nine agencies connected with lake management. The committee formulated a comprehensive plan for the ‘Preservation of Lakes in Bangalore’ with inputs from the petitioners and the respondents.

This report was submitted to the High Court which accepted it on March 3, 2011, and has been monitoring its implementation every quarter.

The court had observed that the report “satisfies all the prayers sought by the petitioners in the writ petition, except the one pertaining to leaseholders who have made constructions on the periphery of the lake, or are in the process of making such construction,” referring to the already privatised lakes. The committee held five meetings after the court issued an interim order on July 7, 2011, to deliberate the nature of the policy that would be most suitable to the long-term sustenance of the lake systems.

Report submitted
After hearing all the parties involved, it submitted its report before the High Court on October 12, 2011.

The report explicitly states that “commercial exploitation of any lake cannot be allowed under any circumstances.” The committee observed that “the private entrepreneurs to whom the lakes have been handed over for maintenance failed to complete justice to ecology.”

Ultimately, “profit motive” prevailed over “public interest” and “public trust.”

“Hence, it is necessary that the participation of the private sector in the rejuvenation and development of lakes and tanks in the City has to be highly discouraged, if not eliminated.”

The High Court will deliberate the submissions of the committee on Thursday.

3 November 2011, Pioneer


Bright and gorgeous

The venue was the Lalit Kala Akademy in New Delhi. I was at an exhibition of Tanjore paintings by Ravi Raj, an artist from Chennai, Tamil Nadu. I had met him first when he made a national record in 1994 for having created the largest ever Tanjore paining.

That had been the starting point of my getting interested in Tanjore art which I had never seen before. His magnum opus, ‘Rama Pattabhishekam’ (the crowning of Rama) was 9 ft by 6.5 ft and had 50 characters in all, with Lord Rama as the central figure. Like all Tanjore paintings, Raj’s abhishekam painting was embossed with gold leaf and encrusted with semi-precious stones, synthetic stones and crystals, which gave it a three-dimensional look. In addition, he also used a paste of gum and powdered chalk to heighten the effect. Mounted on an elegant teak frame, the painting needed half a dozen people to lift it! I had asked him then how long it had taken him to complete the painting.

“A whole year,” he had answered. He has been holding exhibitions of his work regularly ever since, sometimes at Lalit Kala, sometimes at the AIIFACS, or else at the Tamil Sangam. And I attended whenever I could make it because he always had something fresh to offer – the same favourite gods and goddesses but presented differently, my favourite being a painting of dancing Ganesha with a playful smile lurking on his lips that still adorns the wall of my study.

Tanjore art is very different from other forms of traditional Indian art. This does not imply, of course, that all Tanjore paintings are large. The size can vary between works that cover a whole wall and miniatures that are no bigger than 6 inch squares. It gets it name from Thanjavur (shortened to ‘Tanjore’ by the British), a town about 300 km from Chennai. That is where the art originated, evolved and flourished in the 16th century during the reign of the mighty Chola rulers. They were not just great warriors but also important patrons of art and culture. These beautiful paintings adorned the walls of their palaces and the simpler, smaller ones found a place in every household within the empire. Later, the Maratha princes, the Nayaks of Vijayanagar dynasty and the Naidus of Madurai also patronised Tanjore Art until the 18th century.

Tanjore painting is one of the most popular forms of traditional Indian art. What sets it apart from other Indian paintings is the way it is embellished after the basic painting is done. The liberal use of rich and vibrant colours, heightened by gold leaf, the abundance of precious and semi-precious stones, pearls and glass pieces, are its distinctive hallmarks. These days, semi-precious stones and pearls are often replaced by synthetic stones and crystals that look quite as beautiful. But the gold leaves are still used extensively, giving the paintings a sheen that does not get dull with time. Crafted with meticulous care, each painting is a unique piece of art and has a three-dimensional look.

Many of them are panel paintings done on solid wood and known as palagai padam in local parlance. The themes of the paintings are mainly religious and mythological.

Evergreen favourites are Lord Krishna and Lord Rama in various stages of their lives; Ganesha; Kartikeya; Ambika and so on. I was surprised to find that in many of the Tanjore paintings, Krishna does not appear in his traditional blue complexion but is as fair as Radha, even when he is depicted as Bala Gopala.

Creating a Tanjore painting involves many stages. At first the preliminary sketch of the image is made on the base which consists of a cloth pasted over solid wood. Then powdered chalk or zinc oxide is mixed with a water-soluble adhesive and applied on the base. Sometimes a mild abrasive is also used to make it smoother. Once the final drawing is made, the jewellery and the apparel of the figure is made with stones (semi-precious or synthetic) and sometimes threads and laces are also used to give the cloth a realistic look. Then the gold leaves are pasted. Finally, bright colours are used to give the painting a finished look. The gold foils used are of high quality so that the painting remains bright for generations.

Where does one learn Tanjore art? I remember asking Ravi Raj when I first met him. He was an alumnus of the Chettinad School of Art, located in the Chettinad palace grounds at Chennai, then run by Meena Muthaiah. Raj was initially a student of fine art and followed it up with a course in metal sculpture. But more than anything else, he had been impressed by the distinctive style of Tanjore paintings to which he was exposed while at the school of art. He loved the clean lines, the smooth yet firm finish and the delicacy of details which are the special features of Tanjore Art and realised that herein lay his forte.

Raj’s paintings have won the heart of many a connoisseur and art lover from across the country and abroad because of their individualistic quality. There are several learning centres that specialise in teaching Tanjore art in all the major cities, including Bangalore. It appears to be equally popular as a hobby. In fact, there are quite a few websites where you can pick it up online, step by step.

6 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Picking up the pieces of our past

In south Delhi’s Kotla Mubarakpur, an area that has evolved from a medieval village and is located a few hundred metres away from the upscale Defence Colony, lies a dense hodge-podge of buildings.

At the end of a narrow, winding lane cutting through this modest settlement stands the tomb of the Sayyid dynasty’s Muis ud-din Mubarak Shah, who ruled over a small region on the banks of the Yamuna in the 15th century and from whom the area gets its name.

Said to be the second octagonal tomb to have been built in Delhi (the first was the 14th century tomb of Khan-e-Jahan Tilangani in Nizamuddin), the roughly three-storey-high structure is hemmed in on all sides by apartment blocks. An iron fence erected a decade ago by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the organisation responsible for looking after this monument, is the structure’s only protection.

This lack of security is one of many problems that experts say beset the ASI, whose two main tasks are to conserve monuments and to excavate ruins. (See ‘What’s hampering the ASI’). Before the Commonwealth Games last year, the ASI spruced up several monuments in south Delhi, but this Sayyid dynasty structure was not among them.

It is consequently a picture of neglect. Plants, including at least half a dozen peepul trees, are growing on and around the dome and in other niches. Inside, a lone electric bulb illuminates the central chamber containing several tombstones, including Mubarak Shah’s. Dust covers the floor of a two-feet-high verandah going around the tomb.

Paper, rotting food, nails and metal scrap line the strip between the veranda’s outer wall and the iron fence. “An ASI attendant comes here once in a while,” said Ganga, a local resident. “I do most of the cleaning and also help the crowds who come here on Thursdays.”

He is referring to locals who consider the tomb a dargah, a holy shrine, and come to light candles and lamps. They call it Ghumat.

“Young men from this area come here to pray before they get married,” said Chaudhary Khajan Singh, 97, who has lived here all his life.

Given the significance locals attach to the tomb, the ASI might have involved them in its upkeep. This is not an

exception: The ASI has not done enough to engage with local communities in general, say experts.

“What can we villagers do?” asked Ravinder Chaudhary, the locality’s

councillor, referring to the upkeep of the monument. “I will write to the ASI.”

When asked about the tomb, ASI’s KK Muhammed, in charge of Delhi’s monuments, replied, “We have a huge staff shortage. Also, we generally clear the plants only after the monsoon.”

Another fairly typical problem is the absence of information. The winding road has no signs directing you to the tomb. At the site itself, except for the ASI’s trademark blue board that says the tomb is a protected monument, no details are available, including basic facts, such as what the structure is.

Khazan Singh remembers a time when Kotla Mubarakpur had just around 50 houses surrounded by fields. Now, as it continues to expand, the ASI’s job will only become harder.

6 November 2011, Hindustan Times


Protecting birds, with the sounds of silence

Vettangudi villagers observe Deepavali by lighting lamps and shunning crackers

The Bishnois of Rajasthan, religiously protecting animals and birds for over five centuries now, may be delighted that a fragment of their ecological faith has wafted across the Vindhyas to a remote village in Tamil Nadu’s Sivaganga district.

Step into the lush green canopy of two proximate villages- Vettangudi Patti and Kollukudi Patti in Tirupathur taluk that encompass three “Kanmaai’s” (large irrigation tanks), the “mantra” in everyone’s lips is not any esoteric or sacred chants, but a speech-act that delivers “silence”.

If the Vettangudi Bird Sanctuary that nestles on two of these tank beds spread over 38.4 hectares, is still pleasant to thousands of migratory birds from around the globe for over four decades now, it is thanks to a golden rule the people of these two villages have passionately upheld, a la the Bishnoi community’s creed to preserve all life forms.

Good or bad times, it is scarcely believable that in these days of high-decibels excitements, about 800-odd people of these two village Panchayats, namely

Vettangudi Patti and Kollukudi Patti, closest to the sanctuary, have given a permanent holiday to fire-crackers. Even beating a small drum badgering native pride is a taboo for a profoundly environmental cause.

While Vettangudi was officially declared a bird sanctuary in June 1977 by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, for long years before that an amazing variety of migratory birds have been gravitating to the “Kanmaais” of these two villages to make it a nature’s receptacle for nesting and breeding.

The Vettangudi Bird Sanctuary, located about 51 km from the temple city of Madurai, tucked away a wee bit inside as you drive down the Madurai-Melur-Tirupathur Highway in Sivaganga district, is not just an ornithologist’s delight for its rich miscellaneous croons. It also mirrors how humans live in harmony with nature setting aside cultural compulsions.

It is not that the villagers do not celebrate a universal festival like “Deepavali”. Little bright lamps dot the homes in these two villages for the occasion. But “for the last 43 years, as I know, nobody has burst a single cracker here to celebrate the festival as we don’t want the loud noise to disturb or unsettle the birds that flock here,” says Chinnaih of Vettangudi.

Typically, the birds from distant lands reach the sanctuary by September-end every year and stay on till March, said Mr Palanichamy, Forest Ranger, Tirupathur. By that time, the birds would have hatched and the young ones eager to take wings. This year, 5000 birds have already homed in so far.

As rest of India celebrated “Deepavali” with a variety of deafening crackers, from the sturdy “Red Fort double”, ‘thousand wallahas’ to ‘atom bombs’, the locals play host to these birds observed as usual, a quiet, self-imposed moratorium on all crackers in a noble quest to protect the sanctuary.

“The people here do not use even fire crackers at a funeral procession or beat the traditional drum as it can scare away the birds,” says Sivaganga District Forest

Officer Sampath Lal Gupta. The migratory birds come for “nesting and breeding”, mostly from the Trans-Himalayan region, including some of the erstwhile Soviet Republics like Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, Tibet, besides from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives.

Giving birth to new life is so sacred in the Eastern traditions that nobody wants to inconvenience these birds with even a sharp rustle, adds Gupta, explaining how the villagers of Vettangudi Patti and Kollukudi Patti are, “somewhat like the Bishnois practicing this self-restraint to protect wildlife.”

The people in these two villages may not be total vegetarians like the Bishnois, but when it came to ensuring a comfortable, noise-free ambience for the birds to nest and breed, the people caringly bond with them.

“It’s a concern we show for the birds as we would do for our children by ensuring all is silent here,” says, Ms Karunambikai, a resident. “To give up a custom may seem no big deal, but people do it for the birds,” she adds, explaining the importance of being earnest in saying ‘no’ to crackers.

From the “open bill stork”, “tarter”, “Indian cormorant”, “night heron”, “grey heron’, ‘pond heron’, ‘cattle egret’, ‘great egret”, “Asian open bill”, “glossy ibis”, “common coot”, “green peafowl”, to the “white-breasted water hen”, the veteran bird watcher of the village, K R Veeriah lists 25 such exotic winged ones who come calling to Sivaganga District every year.

The Forest Department also reinforces the keep-silence people’s creed, routinely sensitizing people right from school children upwards. “Even a kid here will tell you why not to burst crackers,” chuckles Veeriah, adding, the birds can be viewed in a close natural setting without need for binoculars.

As a reciprocal gesture to the villagers, “we pass on the proceeds of the sale of bushes-like growth as firewood to the Village Forest Committee” to encourage their conservation efforts, said Gupta, adding, the funds so transferred averaged Rs.75,000 per year in the last three years. One small step by the people has meant a leap for wildlife protection at Vettangudi.

6 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Genius who translated Indian epics

There are many who believe that multilingual scholar AK Ramanujan, who is in the news for Delhi University's rejection of his controversial essay on the many versions of Ramayana for undergraduate studies, is the best translator. But one cannot ignore the massive contribution of Manamathanatha Datta who translated virtually every important Indian epic between the late-19th and early-20th century.

The past few weeks have seen Indian literature scholar AK Ramanujan being described as India’s greatest translator. While much of Ramanujan's translations have been from literary works in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada it would be a stretch to describe him as the greatest translator. While the jury may be out on to who else could be the likely candidate, a possible name is that of Manamathanatha Datta.

Little is available in the public domain of Datta’s life story. Most of his works describe him as a Rector at the Keshab Academy in Kolkata for several years. In a review of Professor P Lal’s verse by verse translation of Mahabharata, Datta is also described as having been a Rector at the Serampore College between 1895 and 1905. The closest thing to a biography of Datta can be found on a German language website on the Ramayana. The website describes his educational background as an MA and MRAS while going on to speculate on what was likely a marathon few decades of effort spent on translations.

What makes Datta’s candidacy to be perhaps described as India’s greatest translator is the sheer volume of translations he undertook within his lifetime. Datta’s voluminous three-part translation of Vyasa’s Mahabharata and five-art translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana stand out. In addition, to Datta’s credit are translations of Sayana’s Commentary of the Rig Veda, Markandeya Purana, Agni Purana, Vishnu Purana, Garuda Purana and the Bhagavatam.

It would be a mistake to conclude that Manamathanatha Datta’s translation work was limited to ancient Sanskrit texts of Vedic and Puranic origin. In fact, Datta to his credit also authored a translation of Mahanirvana Tantra and a book on Buddha’s life, his teachings and his order, which Datta says in the preface is based on all extant works in Sanskrit and Pali. In the Gleanings from Indian Classics Datta profiles the lives of eighteen historical Indian women ranging from Rani Sanyukta to Mirabai. Other translations by Datta include the Manu Samhita, Harivamsam, Parashara Samhita, Gautama Samhita and Kamandakiya Nitisara. He is also described as the editor of a monthly magazine, ‘Wealth of India’.

A criticism of Datta’s verse by verse translation of the Mahabharata is the manner in which he avoids translating verses in the Adi Parva on two occasions on account of explicitly sexual content. But for this notable omission Datta’s English translation of the epic stands out for what a translation ought to really be about — a dry literal rendition that keeps interpretations to a minimum. In fact, one must contrast Datta’s translation with another body of work from the same era by KC Ganguli to understand the stark distinction in which the latter injects Victorian English and Christian metaphors into his narrative. Beyond the criticism of Datta’s omissions of sexual content in certain verses of the Mahabharata, it appears that there has not been much scholarly appreciation of his translations.

Most of Manamathanatha Datta’s work can be accessed digitally through the GoogleBooks Archive and the public domain Archives website http://archive.org. It is speculated that his translation of the Mahabharata spanned a 10-year period between 1895 and 1905 and that of the Ramayana a five-year period between 1889 and 1894.

The Rigveda Samhita translated by him between 1906 and 1912 appears to be incomplete for unknown reasons. It is unfortunate that not much else is known of Datta’s life beyond his memory preserved within the mammoth body of translation he left behind more than a century ago, that today is accessible to a wide population thanks to modern technology.

In this age of ideologically coloured political debates on history and ancient Indian literature there may not be much space or room for an unsung translator like Manamathanatha Datta. His dry, literal translations with limited interpretations don’t make for anyone’s politico-ideological agenda.

But for the enlightened reader who is looking to make his or her own interpretations, Datta’s works should serve as a handy English language reference to Vedic and Puranic age Sanskrit Literature. A fitting tribute to him would be to undertaken the digitisation efforts further where the original Sanskrit in Devanagiri along side English language transliterations and translations are made available in a web friendly hyperlinked format allowing for cross referencing and keyword searches. Such a digital platform would take Datta’s 19th century efforts to their logical conclusion.

8 November 2011, The Pioneer


‘Oust tribals but allow tourists in tiger zones’

New Delhi: The Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT), an international group of wildlife tourism operators, wants tourism to be allowed in the corezones of tiger reserves — areas where tigers breed — because it benefits both conservation and tribals. However, TOFT wants tribals to be shifted out of national parks and sanctuaries and is against the implementation of the Forest Rights Act there.

The representatives of TOFT along with some wildlife enthusiasts and scientists on Monday demanded that the government allows tourism to continue in the core areas of tiger reserves across the country. They were reacting to a petition filed in the Supreme Court asking for tourism to be stopped in the core zones of tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh as mandated by the National Tiger Conservation Authority under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

They presented Sonsai Baiga , a tribal displaced from Kanha National Park, at the press meet as a case study of how tourism helps the local population. Thrown out of the national park in 1973 without any compensation for the land his family and the community lost, Baiga became a daily wage-earner for the forest department. Now, he is part of a cooperative to perform ‘tribal dances’ at hotels near the national park ‘to preserve and sustain their traditional culture’.

When asked, Baiga said, “If I had got compensation I would have got land even today.” But Vishal Singh, head of TOFT India, and Belinda Wright, who heads the Wildlife Protection Society of India, said, they were against the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in tiger reserves and sanctuaries.

8 November 2011, Times of India


Rogan: Gum embroidery of Nirona

Even the yuckiest things become art in our creative land. Most parents and guardians would hesitate to do it now, but when we were children, at home or in the convent, a monthly dose of castor oil was as obligatory as going to church every Sunday.

We had to swallow that treacly, distasteful fluid because it was “Good for you!”, no questions asked.Sometimes it was followed by a spoonful of honey “to make the medicine go down” as they sang in The Sound of Music. Ever since then, whenever we saw castor plants growing at the side of the many roads we have travelled on, the terrible, gluey taste of that obnoxious oil would well up in our throats.

Until, that is, we met the Khatris of Gujarat’s Nirona Village.

Not that the village was very appealing. In fact, its narrow lanes were among the most noisome we’ve encountered in that largely efficient state. Hopefully, things will change if Narendra Bhai chooses it for one of his high-profile fasts. But, grimy or not, we are very glad that we visited the home of Khatri Sumar Daud in Nirona.

According to him, he and his family are the only people in the whole world who have preserved and developed the intricate art of Rogan. The intricacy was clear at first sight.

Sumar brought our lengths of black silk and cotton with panels of stylised trees that resembled the illuminated capitals of ancient manuscripts. Teams of artist-monks often spent lifetimes sitting in silent scriptoriums, grinding minerals, boiling flowers, melting resins, collecting soot from oil lamps, laying paper-thin gold and silver leaf, burnishing it with a tiger’s claw, creating letters that glowed, for centuries, like the stained-glass windows of cathedrals. These fabric panels looked like stained glass glowing against their dark background. At first we were convinced that they were embroidered and when we reached out and touched them, the designs had a raised texture. But that was almost imperceptible. The patterns had certainly not been created by coloured threads. Also, they had definitely not been printed or even painted as batiks are.

“How have they been made?” we asked. “What is Rogan?” “It’s made from castor oil!” Sumar said.

Our initial reaction was that nothing so beautiful could have been created out of something so distasteful. But, as we listened, we grew more and more fascinated.

“We boil castor oil for two or three days,” the National Award winner continued. “It has to be watched very carefully to make sure that it does not catch fire.” Too great a heat, we gathered, would make it flame; too little and it would not be reduced to the right consistency. We were reminded of a Swiss friend hovering over fondue cheese simmering on a spirit lamp, ensuring that its tackiness was just right.

Another member of the Khatri family entered with a bowl of the heated oil and a palette of coloured powders in little bowls on a tray. He held a tiny metal stylus, sat on the floor and spread a cotton cloth over his lap. The tacky substance in the bowl wafted faintly resinous odour into the room, pleasant and oddly familiar. We knew that it was reduced castor oil but it didn’t trigger any of the revolting reactions of our childhood. Clearly, the hours of boiling had exorcised the devils in it! “We have made those powders from natural substances,” Sumar explained. The black was soot, the other colours were ground-down minerals and semi-precious stones. We thought of the old monks in their scriptoriums labouring away at their ancient art.

The burly young artist with the black beard tested the consistency of the gummy reduced castor oil, rolled the stylus in it, picking up a blob. He then dipped the blob into one of the powders and spread it on the palm of his hand. From there he drew out a thin strand of the coloured substance and began to lay it in a small floral design on the cloth. It was slow, painstaking, freehand work and if his hand had shaken while he was doing it, the pattern would have blurred. But it did not shake and the design stood out clearly: a red pattern against the dark cloth. So did the next and the next and the next. Then, since only a single colour was required, he folded the other half of the cloth over the design while it was still wet so that the pattern was replicated on it. If multi-coloured designs are needed, however, each one has to be created separately. Once again, its similarity to an illuminated manuscript struck us. There, too, each stroke in every illuminated letter had to be calligraphed separately as every piece of coloured glass had to be inserted separately in a stained glass window. We were looking at an art-form that must have had its genesis in medieval times when life had a much, much slower cadence and such hand-wrought creations could ransom a king.

As if he had sensed our thoughts, Sumar said, “Our art nearly died out because, in the old days, it was meant for saris like this one.” He held out an understated, old-gold sari embellished with delicate Rogan patterns. “We could not compete with machine-made stuff. We abandoned our art and went to work in restaurants as labourers. Then...” he smiled at the recollection, “our father decided that since ours was an art, we should re-position it as an art, not as saris for everyday use but as panels to be framed and as unique walls hangings to be admired and sought after.”

He looked at some of their creations with pride. “Every piece is unique because every line, every single pattern has been hand-crafted and, therefore, no two designs can ever be the same.” He looked up at us. “Besides, every Rogan piece has to be bought from this house... it is not sold anywhere else.”

We thanked the Khatris, wished them goodbye, and stepped into the street. Outside, the village of Nirona was still grimy. But the castor plants, growing against stone walls, seemed to hold their heads up with great, and justifiable, pride.

And the memory of castor oil did not seem to be so yucky anymore.

8 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Cambridge launches study on ancient India

London: Britain’s Cambridge University, one of the world’s leading seats of learning, has embarked on a landmark exercise in ‘linguistic archaeology’, which is expected to unearth greater knowledge of India’s ancient intellectual and religious traditions.

The effort will involve completion of a comprehensive examination of the South Asian manuscript collection at the university’s library, which includes the oldest dated and illustrated Sanskrit document in the world.

The estimated 2,000 manuscripts in Cambridge’s collection are said to reflect South Asian thinking on astronomy, grammar, law, philosophy, poetry and religion. Some of these are written on now-fragile birch bark and palm leaf.

Heading the project will be Sanskrit specialists Dr Vincenzo Vergiani and Dr Eivind Kahrs. The former said: “In a world that seems increasingly small, every artefact documenting the history of ancient civilizations has become part of a global heritage to be carefully preserved and studied.” He added: “Among such artefacts, manuscripts occupy a distinctive place—they speak to us with the actual words of long-gone men and women, bringing their beliefs, ideas and sensibilities to life.”

He, then, explained: “One reason this collection is so important is because of the age of many of the manuscripts. In the heat and humidity of India, materials deteriorate quickly and manuscripts needed to be copied again and again. As a result, many of the early Indian texts no longer exist.” A discovery made in 1883 represents treasures like a 10th-century Buddhist Sanskrit manuscript from India – the oldest dated and illustrated Sanskrit manuscript known anywhere. Some of the oldest holdings were discovered in Nepal. These now priceless cultural and historical artefacts were rescued in the 1870s from a disused temple, where they had survived largely by chance.

“The word Sanskrit means refined or perfected. From a very early stage, its speakers were obsessed with handing down their sacred texts intact,” Vergiani elaborated. “Out of this developed an attention to how the language works. A grammatical tradition arose that produced, around the 4th century BC, the work of Panini, an amazing intellectual achievement and arguably the beginning of linguistics worldwide, which made the language stable and transmissible.” It is this robustness that Dr Vergiani believes explains how the language became so prevalent in South Asia — a situation that has been likened to the spread of Latin across Europe.

9 November 2011, Times of India


Siberian birds arrive at Sultanpur park

With the onset of winter, birds from Siberia and other parts of Europe have started arriving in large numbers at the Sultanpur National Park in Gurgaon.

This is an annual phenomenon when the lakes and mountains in Siberia get covered with snow and the birds flock to India in search of food. Apart from greenery and water, they also like the salty lake soil.

According to wildlife officials, every year they float fish seeds of species such as Rahu, Katla, Murathee and Mirgal, which are ideal feed for the winged guests.

Birdwatchers also come in large numbers to see the flock of grey leg goose, pintail, whistling teal, gadwall and other species. The flying visitors come during the night to avoid falling prey to bigger birds. They do not forget their directions when returning home six months later.

The Sultanpur Lake is spread across 250 acres with an average depth of 1.5 feet. The annual average water congregation here is about 100 acres.

9 November 2011, Hindustan Times


Spotted horses in cave art are not fictitious, DNA study shows

Artists Painted Images Of Animals That Existed 25,000 Years Ago Hillary Rosner

Roughly 25,000 years ago in what is now southwestern France, human beings walked deep into a cave and left their enduring marks. Using materials like sticks, charcoal and iron oxides, they painted images of animals on the cave walls and ceilings — lions and mammoths and spotted horses, walking and grazing and congregating in herds. Today, the art at the Pech-Merle cave, and in hundreds of others across Europe, is a striking testimony to human creativity well before modern times.

But what were these cave paintings, exactly? Were prehistoric artists simply sketching what they saw each day on the landscape? Or were the images more symbolic, diverging from reality or representing rare or even mystical creatures? Such questions have divided archaeologists for years.

Now, a group of researchers has used distinctly modern techniques to help decipher the mystery, at least in the case of Pech-Merle’s famous spotted horses.

By comparing the DNA of modern horses and those that lived during the Stone Age, scientists have determined that these drawings are a realistic depiction of an animal that coexisted with the artists.

The research grew out of an effort to discern the coat colors of ancient horses to help figure out when the animals were domesticated, a pivotal moment in the development of human societies.

In general, domesticated species exist in a far greater variety of colors than wild ones, so understanding color variation in fossil animals can help pinpoint the timing.

Previous research on DNA from the bones and teeth of horses that lived 7,000 to 20,000 years ago showed that those animals were either black or bay (a brown coat with a black mane and tail). That work was published in the journal Science in 2009.

Since then, geneticists have deciphered the underlying code for the spotted pattern, known as leopard, in modern horses. So the scientists went back to their samples, looking for the leopard sequence in horses that lived in Europe 11,000 to 15,000 years ago.

“There is a striking correspondence between the coat-color patterns of horses painted in Paleolithic caves of France with what geneticists found in the genotypes” — the specific genetic sequences — “of color genes,” said Hopi E Hoekstra, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard who studies pigmentation. Dr Hoekstra was not involved in the study but called it “very convincing.”

An author of the study, Michael Hofreiter, an evolutionary biologist at the University of York in England, said, “Why they took the effort making these beautiful paintings will always remain a miracle to us. NYT

9 November 2011, Times of India


2 rivers captured in public art to prick conscience

On Yamuna Banks, Exhibition, Music Shows & Discussions

People in the city are getting the whiff of two different worlds: one that lives along the Yamuna; the other, which is enlivened by the Elbe.

Visitors to ‘The Yamuna-Elbe — Public.Art.Outreach Project’ on Wednesday were actually offered two bowls that had water from both these rivers. They were asked to smell the water and then share their feelings with a German artist, who later put them down on the canvas.

The location of the exhibition — the Yamuna bank — has created an impact. It’s happening in the area that will be developed into the Golden Jubilee Park. The entire span of the Old Yamuna Bridge is visible from the banks; the soft, uneven ground has patches of tall grass, and an attenuated form of the Yamuna (replete with filth) flows by. “This is a historic setting. The bridge was built in 1866. It’s a complete span and it is still there. You should see it at night. It is itself art,” says curator Ravi Aggarwal.

An initiative of the Goethe-Institut/ Max Mueller Bhavan (New Delhi), the City of Hamburg and the Delhi government, the project will include an art exhibition with the two rivers as theme, and a range of activities, including walks, music shows and discussions.

Artists Sheba Chhachhi and Asim Waqif placed their works on the river itself. Chhachhi places a ‘form’ – “It can be anything, a seed or a human body” – made of thermocol and iron wrapped in bandages. “The idea is of a wounded organic form,” says Chhachhi, “A metaphor for wounded river.” In the dark, flames (created with the help of a projector on the bank), engulf it.

“Water that has a lot of toxins can catch fire,” she adds. Her work is best viewed from atop a staircase put together with bags of sand with excerpts from the Ya m u n a A s h t a k a m, a 14-century hymn to the Himalayas. Waqif’s work included a row of plastic bottles tied to a rope that was dragged through the river by a motor-boat.

Bottles also featured in the work of Atul Bhalla, who has also participated in the Hamburg part of the Yamuna-Elbe project. Giant bottles were embedded in the ground and had questions from the 54 questions Yaksha asked Yudhisthira in the M a h a b h a r a t a. It invites viewers to contemplate their treatment of the river, the attempts to “control the river”, the waste, and the “ecological catastrophe” it could all lead to. Gigi Scaria’s “Fountain of Purification” – a 24-foot tower representing an apartment complex – draws water from the Yamuna, runs it through a few levels of purification, and dispenses clean water from the top.

There’s also a lot for the visitors to do at the exhibition. Visitors to the exhibition will be asked to sniff the water of the Yamuna and the Elbe and express what they feel for “research for an Elbe-Yamuna perfume” that Berlin-based artist, Ines Lechleitner, is developing with the help of Vienna-based Indian perfumer, Yogesh Kumar. “I’ve brought Elbe in a bottle,” says Lechleitner. She conducted the same exercise in Hamburg and recorded the reactions of those who’d tried it. “I’m working on a perfume that combines my associations with the two rivers,” she says.

Lechleitner is one of the five German artists featured at the exhibition; Jochen Lempert, Michael Clegg, Martin Guttmann and Nana Petzet are the others. Petzet has created a biodiversity patch using an existing patch of grass and planting photographs of birds, insects and flowers in them. “A patch is not just a patch, it’s full of life,” says Aggarwal. The event in Hamburg, says curator Nina Kalenbach, was different in that it included artists from countries other than India and Germany. “There are a lot of artists in Europe, who are working on research-art,” says Kalenbach.

Golden Jubilee Park was chosen by Aggarwal. Toxics Link is his day job and this is his first shot at being a curator. There are bamboo benches and light poles and an amphitheatre made of piles of gunny bags with soil from the riverbank. “This place is a cusp between Old Delhi and New Delhi. New things are coming up here. It’s like the city is seeking a new proposition,” he says. The exhibition will continue till November 20.

10 November 2011, Times of India


Taj Mahal will turn blue on Sunday night

The Union health ministry and anti-diabetes activists have managed to convince the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) to give permission to light up the Taj Mahal to spread awareness against a disease that affects nearly 51 million Indians.

The ASI has cleared a proposal to illuminate the Taj Mahal in blue on November 13, the eve of the World Diabetes Day. While a red ribbon is symbolic of HIV, a blue circle is the universal symbol of diabetes.

The ASI has also allowed two other world heritage sites — Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri — to be draped in blue. Indudhar Dwivedi, superintendent archeologist of ASI, Agra, said, “This is the first time the ASI has shown such a gesture to light up these three world heritage sites. We wanted to support the drive to raise awareness against diabetes that affects so many of us.”

Dr Anoop Misra from Fortis Hospitals, which is part of the Diabetes Blue Fortnight programme being supported by the health ministry, Heal Foundation, Project Hope, N DOC and WHO, said, “Taj Mahal draped in blue will spread awareness about diabetes. The world’s most recognized monument to be lit in blue will send a global message. It will help multiply preventive efforts several times.”

Several other monuments will be lit up in blue to commemorate the World Diabetes Day. These include Old Fort, Red Fort, Qutub Minar and Humayun’s tomb in the national Capital; Imambada in Lucknow; Manek Chowk and City Palace Ground in Udaipur; Sidhivinayak Mandir and CST Station in Mumbai; Sahniwada Fort in Pune, 13 Gates of Ahmedabad; Konark Temple in Orissa and Victoria Memorial in Kolkata.

Globally, several other iconic monuments will be lit in blue, including the Inverness Castle in the UK; Fountain Teatro Valli and Reggio Emilia inItaly; Bomb monument in Hiroshima; Union Square in San Francisco and CN Tower and Niagara Falls in Canada. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) said last year, over 900 monuments and buildings in 84 countries were lit up in blue on the World Diabetes Day (November 14).

Diabetes was recognized as a serious threat in 2006, and in a landmark resolution passed by the UN General Assembly it became the first non-communicable disease to be recognized as a global threat back then. Till then, only communicable diseases had captured the world’s attention despite non-communicable diseases accounting for over 60% of morbidity and mortality in the world.

For the first time, the UN also asked all member states to establish national policies on the treatment, prevention and care of diabetes.

12 November 2011, Times of India


Unity of faith to mark silver jubilee of Lotus Temple

Over 5,000 People From Across Globe Visiting ‘House Of Worship’ For Prayers, Music And Dance Over The Weekend

NewDelhi:With its iconic lotus-shaped facade, the Bahá’í House of Worship in the city is easily one of the most recognized, and architecturally complex, structures in the world. Surrounded by 26 acres of perfectly manicured lawns — landscaped with an extensive variety of trees, shrubs and plants — this striking white marble and concrete structure behind Nehru Place continues to attract thousands of visitors everyday since its inauguration 25 years ago.

Over 5,000 members of the international Bahá’í community are meeting this weekend at the Lotus Temple, which was inaugurated in December 1986, to celebrate its silver jubilee. “We will have prayer services, traditional music, dance performances, films on the House of Worship, book stalls, a procession of people dressed in traditional clothes from all parts of India, and an award ceremony where we will honour those who have contributed to the fields of education of the girl child, youth empowerment and communal harmony,” said spokesperson Shatru-Ghun Jiwnani.

The Bahá’í faith, however, is not so young. It is rooted in the 19th century Persia, when Báb proclaimed to be a messenger of God. He announced the arrival of an even greater manifestation, and in 1863 Bahá’u’lláh revealed himself to be the one. He suffered a life of imprisonment until his death in 1892 but his message of “unity of God, religions, and mankind” spread, with about 6.5 million members in the worldwide community today. And with a third of them in India, it seems only natural that Asia’s House of Worship is here.

There is one House of Worship in each continent, built entirely from funding by the Bahá’ís. Each has two common features — nine sides and a dome. The 27 immaculately crafted petals — each with about 10,000 pieces of white marble — that shape the look of the temple give way to nine entrances, each with its own lotus-leaf shaped pool of water and a round patch of red-leafed poinsettia plants. “Nine is the largest single number and includes all the others, so it is a symbol of unity and comprehensiveness,” says Jiwnani.

Architect and project manager Fariborz Sahba says the concept of using the lotus flower came almost by chance, “I wanted to design something new and unique, yet familiar, and visited hundred of temples to discover a suitable concept. By chance I had to change my route, and that’s when I met an Indian who first brought up the idea of the lotus flower.” Because the flower is so ingrained in Indian culture, Sahba faced the challenge of making sure the temple didn’t look trite or ordinary. But with all its architectural complexity, that was never an issue.

“The structure functions as a skylight, and light enters the hall just as it would pass through the inner folds of the lotus flower. Even external illumination was designed to create the impression that the lotus structure floats on water, with the light focused brightly on the upper edges of the petals. Apart from their aesthetic purpose, the pools of water also cool down the temple as it has no air conditioning,” says Sahba.

Despite their common features, each House of Worship has its own charms, and features aspects of the region it belongs to, showing unity in diversity, which is what the Bahá’í faith is founded on.

Bahá’ís believe that God sent messengers at different points of time, and in essence all religions stem from the same God.The four daily prayer services at the temple — 10am, 12pm, 3pm and 5pm — give evidence of this belief. The services are short, barely seven-minute long, but apart from Bahá’í prayers in English, Hindi and Persian, they also include readings from the Bhagvada Gita, the Quran, and the Bible. The people inside the prayer hall, too, embody the inclusivity of the faith — women in bur-qas and hijabs meditate next to men in kurta pyajamas, youngsters in slogan tees sit alongside women in saris, and toddlers barely able to walk share space with the elderly. With the focus entirely on spirituality, there are no idols or religious pictures in the hall either.

At every step there are volunteers — about 40 of them from different countries like USA, Austria and Australia — to guide visitors. Kimiya Missaghi (20) has chosen to spend time volunteering at the temple’s public relations office before she begins her undergraduate studies at a Canadian university. “I think that by volunteering here and helping others selflessly, I can learn more than I ever can at college,” she says. Kimiya has also learnt “th o - d a t h o d a” Hindi in these two months that is “enough to haggle with the auto drivers at least”.

Both her parents are Bahá’ís, and but the choice to accept the faith was hers when she turned 15. “We believe that everybody should investigate their own truth. I studied all the religions. The Bahá’í faith seemed the most logical to me.”

Believers say it’s driven on logic purely because it is a fairly new religion. One of the main principles of the faith is an agreement of science and religion. “Science without religion is materialism, and religion without science is fanaticism. For example, nuclear power can be used for both destruction and construction, but spiritual principles will help decide what one uses it for,” says Jiwnani.

All through the year, the community participates in certain core activities — daily prayer, children’s classes, junior youth classes, devotional meetings and study circles. They also practise fasting for spiritual cleansing, most importantly from March 2 to March 20 each year, when they do not eat anything from sunrise to sunset and after which on March 21 they celebrate the Bahá’í New Year.

Although there are no dietary restriction, Bahá’ís are prohibited from consuming any mind-altering substances such as alcohol. But as everybody is encouraged to decide for themselves what they perceive as the “truth”, there are no compulsions.

13 November 2011, Times of India


Crores spent, but Ganga flows maili

The government has earmarked Rs 15,000 crore more to make the river pollution free

Thousands of people took a holy dip in the Ganga river at Patna on the occasion of one of the most auspicious festival Chhath this year, but an equal number avoided the sacred river in the wake of reports that the water was unfit even for bathing. As a consequence, many devotees opted for a makeshift arrangement on their rooftops and offered arghya (obeisance) to the Sun God on the occasion.

The reports that the Ganga  is still polluted appears to be disturbing given  that a whopping amount of Rs 916 crore was spent on cleaning it through an ambitious project-- Ganga Action Plan -- launched in 1985. As if that was not enough, the United Progressive Alliance government in 2009 decided to spend an additional Rs 15,000 crore to make the Ganga  pollution-free by the year 2020.

Despite spending huge amounts in the last two decades, the river still remains one of the most polluted one in the world.

There was a time when one could see a sea of humanity rubbing shoulders to offer “arghya” to the Sun God on the banks of the Ganga. After all, it is one of the most revered river. Until the reports pointed out the failing health of the Ganga River due to chemical wastes, sewage, idol immersion and even human and animal remains.

According to a report of the Central Pollution Control Board, the total coliform count in Patna downstream has been calculated at 1,60,000 most probable number (MPN)/100 ml, nearly 60 times higher than the permissible limit of just 2,500 MPN/100 ml. The faecal coliform count is also alarmingly high at 50,000 MPN/100 ml, 100 times more than the permissible limit of just 500.

“Forget drinking, the water is dangerous for even bathing,” said noted environmentalist RK Sinha. “To expect that the river retains the mythological traits intact, is sheer wishful thinking.”

Most Hindus consider the river as sacred and a large number of them believe that a dip in the river will help to wash of their sins. A few decades ago when the transport system had not improved, people would undertake arduous journey to have a dip in the holy river. Now, most people loathe the idea of taking a bath in the river.

To stem the rot, the Prime Minister constituted National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) shortly after designating Ganga as the national river. The Chief Ministers of five states, including Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal are members of the Authority.

The Ganga river basin is the largest in India, constituting 26 per cent of the country’s land mass and supporting 43 per cent of its population. It has an average population density of 523 people per sq km, making it one of the most congested river basins in the world. The basin covers 230 cities and towns.

The 2,510-km long Ganga, which originates from the Gangotri glacier in Uttarakhand in the Central Himalayas and drains into the Bay of Bengal, enters Bihar at Buxar and leaves the State at Bhagalpur. Perceived to be one of the most sacred rivers, the Ganga enjoys the position of reverence for millions of Hindus who worship it in its personified form as the goddess.

But, of late, the river water near Patna has been declared unfit for drinking and even for a holy dip. Water samples tested in different research laboratories here have revealed that the high presence of coliform bacteria is mainly due to the indiscriminate discharge of untreated sewage into the river.

According to another research study, t Patna town, with a population of about 18 lakh, generates about 200 million litres of sewage every day. The Bihar Rajya Jal Parishad, the nodal agency, has the capacity to treat only 100 million litres of waste per day. The rest 100 million litres of untreated dirty water enters the river every day through 30 drains in the city.

Earlier this year, the then Union Minister for Environment and Forest Jairam Ramesh had pointed out that there was a sewage treatment capacity of only about 1,000 million litres per day (mld) as against 3,000 mld sewage being generated in the towns along the Ganga, “but no untreated industrial effluent and municipal sewage would be allowed to flow in the river after 2020.”

We have no option other than to wait and watch till then.

13 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Dance, as she saw it

The line does not join the dots. Instead, it curves around them making intricate and infinitesimal patterns.

These configurations, known as the kolam or rangoli, have adorned household courtyards and thresholds for ages. The late dancer-choreographer Chandralekha left behind some 40 notebooks of kolam patterns she had drawn. They were to inspire her later work, including the 10 major dance productions she choreographed in a burst of creative energy from the mid-1980s onwards, beginning with ‘Angika’ in 1985, which sought to contextualise the human body, to her last composition, ‘Sharira’ in 2001, which celebrated male/female energy.

As Sadanand Menon, one of India’s foremost art commentators, who was Chandralekha’s companion and associate for over 30 years, explains, it’s clear that all the work of the late dancer emerges from these kolams. “She devised a pedagogical method on how the line moves through the dots,” he says.

Today, Chandralekha’s kolam notebooks are part of a valuable collection of material associated with the feminist dancer-choreographer’s life that presently occupies a backroom in her Chennai residence at 1, Elliot’s Beach Road. It includes up to 40,000 photographs; innumerable newspaper clippings, some dating back to the 1950s; around 300 video documentaries; interviews; enormous amounts of writing and drawings, posters and costumes. Taken together, these varied effects could potentially make up an important archive on the times and genius of a woman whose work sought to re-interpret, liberate and energise the human body.

But there is a central problem that lies at the heart of such an enterprise: An unwilling subject. Chandralekha was a rebel. Not only did she battle stultifying interpretations of classical Bharatanatyam, she was constantly defining modernity on her own terms while infusing it with the energy of an indigenous martial art form like Kalaripayattu or the therapeutic values of yoga.

“Chandralekha was not just suspicious of the idea of institutions, she hated them. She also detested the idea of leaving behind a legacy,” says Menon. This made her naturally hostile to audio-visual documentation — which she saw as two-dimensional recordings of a three-dimensional form.

Dealing with memorabilia
So, how can such a life be archived? That is the conundrum faced by people close to her. On the one hand, they knew there’s a deep interest in her work; on the other, here was a woman who chose to travel light. As Menon puts it, “The idea of an archive is a counter-Chandra idea.”

He shares an amusing tale of how Chandralekha herself coped with the task of dealing with memorabilia. Once, when she had to move house and had to decide what to do with her old love letters, she and a friend sat before an old iron tub temporarily converted into a furnace.

Chandralekha asked her friend to read out the first line of every letter. On the basis of that first line, the decision on which letter was to feed the flame in the tub was made efficiently.

Those that began, “Dear Beloved Chandra”, were immediately consigned to the fire!

But for Menon, there was no getting away from working on a Chandralekha archive. “I remember, a couple of weeks after Chandra had passed away in December 2006, and after an obit on her had appeared in The New York Times, someone from Princeton University called me, indicating that the university was keen to have all the material on her. I was assured that it would be very well preserved. I just said, ‘Yes, yes’, and forgot about it. But later, there was another call from Princeton, and then another one. That began a buzz in my head. I thought to myself that while people at Princeton were so keen to gather all the material on Chandralekha in one place, our own Sahitya Natak Akademi — of which Chandralekha was a fellow — hadn’t even sent a condolence message.”

So a point of reference on Chandralekha’s work was obviously needed and the responsibility of ensuring it fell on those left behind. Just as obviously, such an archive needed to be located, not in some distant land, but in the space Chandralekha had called home, in a city she had lived in since she was 17. For her, 1 Elliot’s Beach Road was more than a home, it was her working stage. Around 1979-80, Chandralekha, Menon, and artist, design pioneer and close associate Dashrath Patel, got together along with other associates, and began building it as a place where dancers and performing artistes could train and showcase their work, with Chandralekha herself staging her major works. Only by locating the Chandralekha archives here would it become an organic part of her life and work.

Subversive role
Menon, who is of course an intrinsic part of this archive, also feels that the resource could provide a fresh lease of life to her body of work. “Currently, only her last work, ‘Sharira’, is still being performed. The others don’t exist except in the minds of those who had danced them.

So, with an archive, there is the potential of the original performers recreating her work,” he says. He also believes that besides bringing together all the material associated with her, an archive can play a subversive role by highlighting the ‘constant rupture’ that marked her work.

“Take the idea of western dance choreography, cast in a geometric grid. She knew all of that, but she looked to kolams, curvatures instead of lines, for her own compositions. So, at some point, when there is a debate on this, there will be material to join that debate,” explains Menon.

Given the compelling arguments for a Chandralekha archive, Menon got down to the task, despite serious constraints, including a conspicuous lack of funding for archival documentation. Neerja Dasani, who is assisting Menon in this, is excited about the project. “I had only heard about Chandralekha, never met her, so I see it differently, almost as an outsider. Clearly, what emerges is the sheer interdisciplinarity of her work. The feminist idea was, of course, a strong element. She used her body almost like a weapon. As a woman, for her, it was a special thing, a liberating thing. Then there is her notion of time and space. The slowness you see in her work is not seen in today’s world, but it was integral to her philosophy of dance,” says Neerja.

Walk around her home and visit its central theatre space — now re-christened the Chandra-Mandala — and its clean-lined elementariness comes across powerfully. The trees around it have acquired impressive proportions despite the sandy soil from which they grow — including the neems the late dancer had loved, and a banyan, all of 30 years. There is also a sunken amphitheatre with a Kerala roof constructed in the style and proportions of the kalari — the traditional stage of Kalarippayattu artistes. Also, in one corner of the campus is a small samadhi for Chandralekha and Dashrath Patel, who died in 2010.

The complex takes you part of the way to Chandralekha; the archive, once it takes form, promises to take you closer. In her last interview before she died, she was asked by Menon how she responds to those who attack her work for ranging on the obscene. Her response was characteristic of a woman who never lacked either courage or cool — “I would like to tell the audiences: ‘I have walked half the distance. Now you should walk half the distance towards me. Because, I have finished my walk towards you. Now you have to come walking towards me. Then only we will understand each other’.”

Chandralekha has finished her walk. Now, those who seek to comprehend her would have to walk towards her. An archive would help in that walk to understand one of India’s great modernists.

13 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Fashioning beauty with beads

If one takes a look at the wide range of Indian handicrafts, it appears there is hardly anything, any material, which gifted craftsmen have not explored to fashion it into a significant piece of art.

Be it metal, wood, stone, leather, thread or glass, everything is turned into an extension of their creativity, adding to the richness of the handicraft industry.

Beadwork is an art that dates back to over 5,000 years in India and was even practised by the people of Indus Valley Civilisation. Along with many other amazing artifacts, the unearthing of beads made of gold, copper, clay, ivory and wood from the ruins authenticates the skillfulness of ancient people.

During the Mughal era, many forms of craft were patronised and bead work was one such art that found appreciation and recognition from the royal courts. Jewelry designed with stringed beads made of precious and semi-precious stones was seen as the choice of the affluent class.

Studies show that although local tribesmen were skilled in using wooden, stone and metal beads for making ethnic jewelry, they were introduced to the uniqueness of glass beads by European craftsmen who came to India from East Africa in the late 19th century. It is said that bead work saw more advancement and refinement because of the European influence as they introduced local artisans to transparent and semi-transparent beads. New ideas and inspirations added more versatility to the art that was showcased in the form of decorative pieces, jewelry and embroidery.

In current times, many tribes from various regions across the country have found ways to use beadwork to enhance the beauty of their myriad handicrafts. It is said that in Rajasthan the Mochi tribe is perhaps the first one to utilise beads in embroidery done on dresses, bags and other creations. Beadwork is usually done on bags, door hangings, clothes, belts, jewelry, footware, bed spreads and numerous accessories for household and personal use.

However, beadwork these days is free from the erstwhile European influence and has evolved as an indigenous art displaying the inborn talent of local craftsmen. In fact, India is one of the largest producers of glass beads. Varanasi, Purdilpur and Mathura are known for manufacturing and exporting glass beads of refined quality, whereas Karnal city in the state of Haryana is famous for its silver beads.

The other regions famed for beadwork are Saurashtra and Kutch. The distinctive style of beadwork done in Ferozabad, Agra and Meerut are well renowned across the country.

Not just glass beads, but an array of other kinds of beads — made of plastic, terracotta, ivory, wood, bone and various metals — in various shapes and sizes, are used by artisans to create amazing objects of beauty and style.

13 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Reliving a fabled past

About 37 kilometres south-west of Agra, on National Highway 11, lies the celebrated town of Fatehpur Sikri — a place of pilgrimage because of Salim Chisti’s mazar (tomb) situated right in the middle of The Emperor’s Courtyard.

The history of the place, which was once a small, nondescript village called Sikri, goes back to the 14th century when it was held by the Sikarwar Rajputs hailing from Dholpur. It became a Turkish settlement once the Sultanate of Delhi got established. Babur, after defeating Rana Sangha in 1527 AD in the battle of Khanua, renamed the village as Shukri, meaning, ‘thanks to God’.

My very knowledgeable guide, Prasad, gave me a good dose of history with Akbar as its main architect. In 1564, Akbar built a resort named Nagarchain, near Sikri. It is said that Akbar used to visit Sikri to seek the blessings of the great Sufi saint, Salim Chisti, in order to have an heir to his throne. The saint prophesised that he would have three sons. As per his instructions, Akbar erected a beautiful palace, now known as Rang Mahal, for his Rajput queen. It was in this very same palace that Prince Salim was born in 1569, and the queen was given the title of ‘Maryam-uz-Zamani’.

Akbar planned a new capital and selected the site on the Sikri ridge, which had a  view that stretched as far as Bharatpur. Red sandstone was chosen to be the base of all construction. The capital city, originally designated as Fatehabad, after Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat, came to be popularly referred to as Fatehpur Sikri.

While palaces were built to the east, the city was planned below the palace site, along the border of the ridge. The walls were fortified with rubble and covered with lime plaster. It was enclosed on three sides by walls and on the west, by a large artificial lake. It had nine gates, namely: Delhi Darwaza, Lal Darwaza, Agra Darwaza, Surajpol or Birbal Pol, Chandra Pol, Gwalior Darwaza, Terha Darwaza, Ajmeri Darwaza and Hathi Pol, besides a Chor Khirki. There was also the Naubat Khana or Chahar Suq, the market place. On the right side of the road was Taksal, which once served as an imperial workshop where coins were struck.

Diwani-I-Aam, the hall of public audience, is a huge, rectangular, walled-in courtyard where petitions were heard, proclamations made, visitors received and celebrations held. The royal balcony, set within a frame of jail screens, appears on the western front. In front of the royal seat, a stone hook can be seen embedded in the ground.

At the northern corner stands a small but grand single-storey structure of Diwan-I-Khas, with a magnificently sculptured stone column at the centre of the hall. It bursts forth into a set of 36 closely placed, vaulted and pendulous brackets, supporting a circular platform from which radiate four passages. It is supposed to be the famous Ibadat-Khana where Akbar initiated religious discourses amongst diverse religious groups.

Occupying the highest point of the ridge is the grand Jami Masjid and with its lofty portal, the celebrated Buland Darwaza. Here, one can see the most gorgeous ornamentation in the floral arabesques and ingenious geometrical patterns in brown, red, turquoise, black and white. The spacious courtyard adds a stately charm to the place. At one time, it could accommodate 10,000 men for a prayer service. Akbar was so enthusiastic about this mosque that he occasionally swept the floor and gave azan (call for prayer).

Sheikh Salim Chisti’s mausoleum was the place we were looking for. We wanted to tie the red thread there. The story goes that in 1580-81, eight years after the saint had died in 1572, Akbar had built his tomb in red sandstone. In 1606, Qutubuddin Khan Koka, on orders from Jehangir, had the edifice covered in white marble.

The magnificence of the splendid jali screens carved out of huge marble slabs show a rare perfection of craftsmanship. The dramatic serpentine brackets supporting the wide chajja on all four sides of the edifice have an amazing grace. The real grave lies in an undisturbed repose in the crypt, closed to visitors. Devotees, especially women longing for children, come here and tie coloured threads in the jalees.

Soon, we were in front of the Buland Darwaza, the colossal triumphal arch which dwarfs all other buildings in the neighbourhood. The towering portal is 176 feet tall from the ground level and 134 feet over the top step. The grand recessed central arch is the most magnificent of its kind in the entire range of Mughal architecture in India. I was quite intrigued at the inscription on the inner side of its walls, Jesus Christ’s famous line: “The world is but a bridge: pass over, but build no houses on it.”

We called it a day at the Hiran Minar, which was 80 feet in height, and said to be the tower from where Akbar used to aim for deer. According to Prasad, Akbar’s favourite elephant is supposed to have been buried under it.

Fatehpur Sikri’s glory is reflected in the feel of rich red sand stone. The city puts you in a time warp, reflective of Mughal splendour. A World Heritage Site as per UNESCO, Fatehpur Sikri is today one of the greatest prides of the Mughal era.

13 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Forts less travelled

What’s new in Udaipur, you would wonder? What’s there that you haven’t read about or been to already? Ajay Khullar takes you to a journey beyond the picture perfect

Heritage in Rajasthan is often embedded in the lonely cenotaph, in ruins that are yet to be discovered, in restored palaces that have rescued some part of ancient glory and most importantly, of tiny moments in time that have been stitched up to form the big picture.

Often in the road most travelled, you tend to be less searching of its smaller delights. So, in Udaipur, I decided to stop, listen and look for anything that had been swept outside the purview of technology, by which I mean no trip advisories on the Net. Clearly, Udaipur’s backyard didn’t feature in digital scans except for being mentioned as localities for future real estate expansion of an ever-burgeoning city. Good for me. For this is how I wanted to slow down, in the middle of nowhere, reclaiming my own place as the first traveller.

Sardargarh Fort: Elegantly defensive
It took the travails of invasions, displacement, a journey that involved crossing the Arabian Sea and relocation once again. It has been a long and perhaps a difficult journey for the Dodiya family. But they found their home. And the journey of the traveller who sets out for the Sardargarh Fort might not have the same gravity of difficulty, but it is nonetheless unpredictable.

The NH-8 from Beawar to Deogarh leads you to believe that heaven is ahead but what lies ahead of Deogarh is a jungle that would be dark even during the day. And after an 11-hour journey from Delhi, you reach the fortress, a journey that took the Dodiya family 12 centuries to cover. As you enter the gates of the 300,000 sq ft fortress, you suddenly realise that the journey was worth it.

And that journey was made possible because of the vision of one man — Thakur Sardar Singh. Not much is known of him but as you walk through the fortress, you know everything about him — or at least what needs to be known. He had vision. And the skill of Songaras artisans from Maharashtra at his disposal.

It was the same man who built the famous Lake Palace in Udaipur. But that came later. Long after the last stone of the Sardargarh fortress had been laid. Every stone of the fortress is elegantly defensive. Like most forts and palaces of Rajasthan, this too has been turned into a heritage hotel. Ten generations after Sardar Singh, elegance is not lost to the family.

Mahipal Singh and his wife Dharitri Kumari gave a new life to the fortress when they turned it into a hotel. The `5 crore given by them and the `21,08,799 and 11 annas of their predecessors is well spent.

The fortress is not imposing, either in its majesty or splendour. The entry and parking to the hotel is austere, but the moment you step into the main building, you walk into the Ganesh Chowk — a tastefully done lawn on the right of which lies what was earlier used as the darbar. Now here, at the entry of the former darbar lies a picture of Lord Ganesh.

Up ahead is the Khush Mahal, a sort of entertainment and dining area which earlier served similar purposes. Connected to it is the Wadi Mahal with a small swimming pool which was earlier a water reservoir.

As you walk forward you come to the Ravla or the royal home, which earlier served as the women’s quarters and have now been turned into 21 suites. The rooms are comfortable and sufficient, not overpowering you with luxury and not starving you for comfort. The doors were, however, built low for strategic reasons, and yes while the enemy would have been delayed in making an entry, the guests could end up with a bump on the head if not careful — but then you are in a fortress.

For sheer size and drama, Sardargarh Fort is unbeatable, while the intimate size of the hotel itself makes for an exclusive stay.

Gogunda Rawala: The soul of Udaipur
Sometimes history is more important than restored grandeur. It always has a way of rescuing the present. A sandstone specimen, it is Maharana Pratap’s spirit that resides here. One of the rooms shown to us is where he held his first meeting after his coronation.

Such is its sanctity that no designer or architect has yet decided on playing with its original sobriety. The fortress, which was built in the early 16th century (though basement structures and other findings date back to previous times).

It was built on the tableland of the Aravalli mountains to protect the way leading from the north to Udaipur and it was later on transformed into a watch station. Rana Pratap held his final war council here prior to the battle of Haldighati (June 18, 1576), which is sometimes called the battle of Gogunda, although the town is several kilometres south of the township of Haldighati.

The alternative name possibly came about because following the battle, Mughal commander Man Singh of Amber captured Gogunda and made it his temporary headquarters. Around 1611, while Maharana Amar Singh was regrouping his forces in the Aravallis, Mughal emperor Jahangir captured Gogunda, along with other areas and Udaipur, in a desperate effort to crush Mewar resistance. In 1615, Amar Singh met Mughal prince Khurram (later Shah Jahan) and negotiated a peace treaty at Gogunda. This became the first instance of Mewar submitting to the Mughals.

Earlier in time, Akbar did send a peacemaking mission to Udai Singh, suggesting a matrimonial alliance. In reality, it would be a political alliance, with Mewar becoming the empire’s vassal, the same ploy of peaceful subjugation Akbar had used to annex Marwar. Maharana Udai Singh indignantly and proudly refused matrimonial relations with the Mughals and this independent attitude was too much for a man of Akbar’s ambition. He resolved to subdue the proud Maharana. In 1567, the ultimate showdown arrived, and the Maharana received the news with a mixture of regret and renewed bravado. Immediately, he sent out a call for all loyal Mewari chieftains to assemble at the capital.

Though the emperor admired Maharana Udai Singh’s courage, nothing would stop him now. Before Akbar arrived on the scene, Udai Singh and his family retired to Gogunda, laving Udaipur to be guarded by four Rajput chiefs — Jaimal, Patta, Kalla and Sain Dass — all of whom were killed in the subsequent battle. Many historians have labelled Udai Singh II a coward for deserting Chittorgarh in its hour of peril; others insist he acted wisely to protect the family line. Had he not, of course, the magnificent city of Udaipur would not exist today. And this little fortress wouldn’t have been dug up for many secrets.

13 November 2011, Pioneer


ASI book to make kids feel part of Delhi history

It’s hard to believe but Humayun’s Tomb is nearly as expensive today as Greater Noida’s shiny new F1 circuit that cost Rs 1,700 crore. When it was built, the 16th -century tomb cost Rs 15 lakh, but at today’s prices its construction would cost more than Rs 1,500 crore, according to a book for children compiled by the Archaeological Survey of India.

To be released on Children’s Day, the site-specific guide promises to enliven visits to Delhi’s world heritage sites. So, next time you visit one of these sites with family, your child could well be your guide around the place, armed with not only interesting trivia but also details like history, architectural features and significance of the site.

With colorful illustrations and simple narrative, the guidebook reads like a storybook for children. The first guidebook on Humayun’s Tomb will be released by culture minister Kumari Selja on Monday in the presence of children from 15 schools.

 “This is just the start. The minister has mandated that a series of guidebooks be brought out on all world heritage sites and also monuments frequented by children. This is part of our outreach programme; every citizen right from childhood should feel a part of the city’s history and understand it. We particularly want to make our monuments come alive for children,’’ said a culture ministry official. The series has been called ‘I Explore’ and the first edition releasing on Monday is called ‘I Explore Humayun’s Tomb’.

The book is the first of a series commemorating 150 years of ASI. Prepared by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and published by ASI, it is part of the Humayun’s Tomb-Nizamuddin Basti Urban Renewal project, a not-for-profit publicprivate partnership initiative.

The guidebook is written by historian Dr Narayani Gupta and illustrated by Anitha Balachandran. Officials claim it will significantly enhance the understanding of Humayun’s Tomb for more than three lakh children who visit the tomb annually. The guidebook is priced at Rs 50 and will be available at all ASI book counters as well as at monuments. Officials said 30,000 copies, both in English and Hindi, have been published by ASI.

The book, vividly illustrated, brings to light several little known yet interesting facts. For instance, the location of Humayun’s Tomb was chosen keeping in mind the proximity of the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, and the interior chamber of the tomb, now plain, was historically covered with ceramic tiles and gilding on the ceiling.

14 November 2011, Times of India


Chandni Chowk makeover delayed, blame game starts

Risha Chitlangia & Maria Akram TNN

New Delhi: Residents of Chandni Chowk will have to wait to see any development in their area, as the proposed redevelopment plan has got stuck in procedural delays. Three months have elapsed since Union HRD minister and local MP, Kapil Sibal, inaugurated the redevelopment project, but the plan is yet to take off as Delhi government has not released the funds. Sibal had then promised that the work would start within a month. MCD officials now claim the work is unlikely to start before January next year.

The consultant (architect Abhimanyu Dalal) for the project was appointed only last week. The civic agency claims that Delhi government is yet to sanction Rs 19 crore for redevelopment of Chandni Chowk and Rs 13 crore for taking electric and telephone cables, etc underground. “Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC) delayed the entire process. Delhi government has to release the money for the project. We have appointed the consultant last week after getting clearance from SRDC,’’ said an MCD official.

According to a senior government official, “MCD has delayed the process as it didn’t do the paperwork on time. The civic agency submitted all the documents only last week. We will soon process it and release the funds. The work for taking electric and telephone cables underground is likely to start by November-end.”

In the first phase, the utilities like telephone lines, electric cables, etc will be taken underground. For this, SRDC will release Rs 13 crore. “Agencies like BSES, NDPL and Delhi Jal Board will have to do their work and only then work like repair of roads and pavements and beautification can take place. MCD’s work will start later. The project has got delayed as Delhi government has not releases the money. The main work will start only by next year,” said Jagdish Mamgain, chairman of MCD works committee.

MCD officials maintain that Chandni Chowk market traders’ association does not want the electric and telephone wires to be put underground and this is another reason for the delay. “The traders of Chandni Chowk do not want the cables to be laid underground. They say that detecting a fault in underground wires is difficult, and if there is a fault in the underground cables, the pavements and roads will have to be dug for carrying out repairs,” said Mamgain.

The consultant claimed the working drawings, which will have a detailed plan for executing the project, will take at least three months. “We have to do a lot of planning before work can start. We have taken measurements and done marking in the area. We need to work out a way so that the work can go on without disrupting traffic and business in the area. We will now hire a consultant to work with discoms for taking the utilities underground,” said Alok Kumar Maurya, of Abhimanyu Dalal Architects.

The Chandni Chowk redevelopment project was approved by Delhi lieutenant governor Tejendra Khanna in April this year. Under the plan, motor vehicles will be not allowed to ply inside Chandni Chowk during the day.

The Jama Masjid redevelopment project is also yet to take off.

15 November 2011, Times of India


Colour, heritage at trade fair launch

Participants of 16 Countries To Display Wares At Event

New Delhi: Over 6,000 exhibitors from India and foreign countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand, China, among others will showcase their wares at the 31st India International Trade Fair (IITF) at Pragati Maidan that began on Monday. The first five days will be restricted for business visitors. It will be thrown open to the public only on November 19. ;The 14-day fair was inaugurated by Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Monday.

Commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma, Union minister for new and renewable energy Farooq Abdullah and chief minister of Jharkhand Arjun Munda were present on the occasion.

Official said the theme of this year's fair is “Indian Handicrafts—the magic of the gifted hands”. More than 1.4 million visitors are expected to visit the fair.

From Mughal art to Madhubani paintings and sculptures from the ancient India, IITF this year presents a rainbow of handicrafts from across the country and abroad.

This year the partner states are Jharkhand and West Bengal, and the focus states are Bihar and Orissa. The organizers said the food stalls would be much more vibrant and varied than last year. There will be 92 beveragevending machines and 35 food stalls," Kher said.

Speaking on the occasion, Mukherjee said IITF has been a launching pad for a large number of domestic and overseas companies. “The theme ‘Indian handicrafts’ is a good initiative and it will help promote artisans, mostly from rural areas,” he said. The finance minister said India’s export sector has performed well despite global economic downturns.

Rajeev Kher, CMD, India Trade Promotion Organisation, said 16 countries are participating this year, including a ‘Eurasia pavilion set up under the initiative of ministry of external affairs with six countries of South Asia’. Kher said that a Facebook page has been launched to connect with the youth.

15 November 2011, Times of India


Every whisper is an echo here

Sitting at the back of a hired one-pony tonga, I had felt the cold breeze of dawn in Bijapur. Get to the Gol Gumbaz mausoleum as the sun rises, they’d told me. And I was doing precisely that.

Upon reaching, I had to stir the watchman from his sleep to gain entry and broke into a sweat after climbing nine stories of a narrow stairway to reach its whispering gallery on top.

Compared to the Taj Mahal, Gol Gumbaz, a 17th-century monument is a simple building with four walls that enclose a huge hall with octagonal seven-storey towers at each of the corners. This basic structure is capped by an enormous dome, which is said to be the world’s second largest after St. Peter’s, Vatican City, Rome. Atop the hall, at the base of that 40-yard hemispherical Gumbaz dome, there is the four-yard wide gallery known as whispering gallery because the acoustics are such that any sound made is repeated ten times over. Some say your whisper echoes and comes back to you twelve times.

I wanted to do my own acoustic test at this medieval marvel. Still panting after 108 steep steps, I took out my match box, struck a match and along with the acrid smell of cordite and the sight of undulating flame upward from the stick held between my fingers, I clearly heard the sound of the snap once, then a second, third, fourth and fifth time.

Then suddenly it was bedlam. From the tranquil medieval mausoleum atmosphere, it was a sudden change to a cacophony of yells and screams and caterwauling, echoing over and over and merging with one another, as though souls were being tormented in an inferno.

I had been well advised to reach early. The hellish torment is a feature every single day at Gol Gumbaz. Bijapur’s hordes come visiting and no one waits to climb the narrow staircase up the south end tower to access the whispering gallery. Children and adults run amok.

Still at ground level, they don’t whisper to savour the unique acoustics. They crane their necks upward, cup their mouths and bellow from below, yell and scream. Many do it at the same time. Their loud sounds reverberate in a nerve jangling high decibel din.

A group of school children didn’t even wait to enter the Gumbaz and be under the dome. All excited, they were off their buses and already shouting while they were still out in the open as they ran.

By arriving at 6 am, waking the watchman for entry and rushing up those nine stories and at once lighting my match, I had just made it ahead of any other visitor.  Just made it by a – err – a whisper.

I can only confirm as follows: at Gol Gumbaz, the snap of your lit match can be heard echoing five (not ten) times across the hemispherical dome.

While in Bijapur...

You would need a week to relive the seventeenth century in this town which has so many intriguing and outstanding monuments. The Ibrahim Roza is as delicate as the Taj Mahal.

There are Asar Mahal, Gagan Mahal (sky palace), Anand Mahal, Jal Mandir (water temple,) Jami Masjid (mosque) and the unfinished and monumental Bara Kaman (twelve arches) tomb, open to the sky, with undressed basalt stone arches looking like Fountain Abbey near Ripon, the largest monastic ruin in England, and telling its own story of a megalomaniac project coming to a sad, premature end. Bijapur is on meter-gauge railway to the larger city of Sholapur (60 miles), which connects on broad gauge railway to Hyderabad, Poona, Bombay.

There are five buses to/from Bangalore (500 miles, 12 hours) and Hyderabad (10 hours). 
Many hotels are on the arterial Station Road of Bijapur, and most have restaurants and bars. On Mahatma Gandhi Road, the state government’s Hotel Mayura Adil Shahi has an old-world ambience. The main shopping areas are on Mahatma Gandhi Road, Azad Road and New Market. Summer temperature goes up to 45 deg C. The best time to go is winter: December-January when the range is 20deg C- 30 deg C.

15 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Nod for mining near Vaishno Devi shrine

Environmental Groups Call It Outrageous

New Delhi/Jammu: The hills around the Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu & Kashmir, visited by lakhs of pilgrims every year, will soon see mining activity with a high level Union environment ministry panel giving a conditional clearance to the proposal.

The ecologically sensitive hills where mining would take place are under the shrine board’s jurisdiction and environmental groups are alarmed that such a plan was approved. The proposal by Jammu & Kashmir Mineral Development Corporation to mine mangnesite was cleared by the standing committee of National Board for Wildlife at a meeting chaired by environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan. The committee also gave approval for setting up Dead Burnt Magnesia Plant near a sanctuary, home to endangered species like leopard, goral and peafowl. “The committee after discussions recommended the proposal with the conditions proposed by the chief wildlife warden, J&K,” a document said.

Hong Kong-based Asia Monitor Resource Centre’s executive director Sanjiv Pandita told TOI, “This is outrageous. The area being prospected is environmentally fragile. I don’t understand the compulsion… There is good tourism there; why ruin the hills?” The convener of the shrine board, R K Goel, told TOI, “The wildlife presence will not be disturbed by the mining. We don’t have reports of the presence of animals near the shrine area.”

The J&K government’s proposal is to exploit 12,40,000 tonnes per annum (TPA) of high grade magnesite deposit at Chirpprian Hills and setting up 30,000 TPA Dead Burnt Magnesia Plant at Panthal, near Trikurta Wildlife Sanctuary at Katra District.

“The magnesite mine pit is at Chipran hills near Panthal village and is at a distance of 3km from Trikut Wildlife Sanctuary. The Deat Burnt Magnesite plant is 4.5 km from the Sanctuary. The non-forest private land is under the ownership of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board,” it said.

15 November 2011, Times of India


The French connection

S V Upendra Charya visits Pandavapura, where the French army wing that served Tipu Sultan had its temporary camp during the fourth Mysore War. The town is famous for many scenic spots in its vicinity.

Ten kilometers from the famous temple town Srirangapatna, Pandavapura, is a historical town where the French army wing serving Tipu Sultan had its makeshift camp during the fourth Mysore War (1798-1799), which was Tipu’s final war against the British. Possibly inspired by the town’s most visible rocky ranges like Kunti Betta, the Frenchmen called the town ‘French Rocks’. Near Pandavapura is Chinkurali, another historically linked place, associated with the battle fought by Hyder Ali and the Marathas in 1771.

Originally called Hirody, legend has it that Pandavapura got its name from the Pandavas who spent the final phase of their agnathavasa (exile) here, atop Kunti Betta named after Pandavas’ mother Kunthi. A region known for its geological features, Pandavapura is said to have been picked in the early 19th century for a geological survey by the famous British geologist, Robert Bruce Foote (1834-1912) called ‘Father of Indian Prehistory’. He is known to have unearthed numerous sites and human settlements identified with the prehistoric times (Neolithic age).

A small but quaint town with quite a few tourist attractions, Pandavapura has many sight-seeing spots offering many choices to visitors. It is situated amidst picturesque hillocks, ancient temples, beautiful coconut groves and lush green paddy fields. Also, there is a must see wonderful waterspot called Kere Thonnur or Thonnur Kere, a large reservoir occupying acres of pristine water.

Sugarcane being the main crop in and around Pandavapura, as you pass by the roads situated in the vicinity of the town’s sugarcane fields, you get to almanes (jaggery-making units) buzzing with activity. Pandavapura is known for its once well-established co-operative sugar factory which has remained closed since 2003 because of financial problems.

Kunti betta

A ninety-meter-high hillock with many legends from mythology surrounding it, Kunti Betta (four km. from the town) is known to attract trekkers, holiday makers and the devout alike from all over. Surrounded by scenic forested valleys and the village fields, the Kunti Betta is part of one more hillock called Bheemana Betta. The twin hillocks are separated by a small valley with two temples dedicated to Mallikarjuna, Ganesha, Goddess Bhramarambika and Annpurneshwari, believed to have been worshipped by the Pandavas.

Located adjacent to the Mallikarjuna temple are monolithic rock cut idols of Nandi and Ganesha, not to be missed.

Almost hidden between the tall twin hills, the temple spot can be reached by a short  climb of a flight of steps leading to the temple, which is actually the starting point to go up the hill of your choice. Kunti Betta is at the rear side of the temples and adjacent to it is Bheemana Betta.

The left flank hill path leads to the Kunti Betta, the bushy boulder hill with its summit forming a small plateau, which has Kunti Kola (a natural pond named after Kunthi) and Bheema’s footprint on a rock. The view of the surrounding rural scenery from atop Kunti Betta is simply astounding.

At the foot of Kunti Betta, there is a residential high school in addition to higher primary and primary schools established for the benefit of students from backward villages like Doddabedarahalli, Thimmanakoppalu, Nuganahalli, Chikkamarli and other villages situated near Kunti Betta. These rural schools were established here in 1973 by Sri Shankaranada Bharathi Vidyapeeta.


Located near Pandavapura (eight km), Thondanur has a history dating back to the 12th century during the rule of Hoysala’s Bittideva (1108-1152), who later inspired by the saint Ramanujacharya became a Vaishnavite and changed his name to Vishnuvardhana.

Today’s Thonnur was once Thondanur, which was the second capital of the Hoysala empire. The inscriptions found here mention that King Vishnuvardhana had built many basadis and temples at Thonnur, including the famous temple of Nambinarayana as desired by his Guru Ramanunajacharya, the saint who proceeded to nearby Melukote after his short stay at Thonnur.

Ramanunajacharya (1017-1137) is said to have built Tirumala Sagara, the present Thonnur Kere.

Though located next to an eye-catching valley, huge temples and secluded rural spots, Thonnur’s main attraction, however, is its lovely lake, better known as Thonnur Kere which has been the main canal irrigation source for the farmers of many villages belonging to Pandavapura taluk. Thonnur Kere is not actually a kere (tank) but a sprawling reservoir with its backwaters spread over an area of more than two thousand acres, a large manmade embankment of a dam (230 meters in height and about 150 meters in length) built across the river Yadavanadi.

Thonnur lake is surrounded by numerous spots like Tipu caves, Ramanuja Gange (a waterfall beside the lake) Padmagiri hillock (located next to the dam) and the ‘Turtle rock’ (turtle shaped rock atop Padmagiri). It is said  that the scenic sights surrounding this lake and the purity of its water inspired Moghul Nasir Jung to call it ‘Moti Talab’ (Lake of Pearls).

Apart from the Jain basadi and Sayyad Salar Masud Sahib Dargah, Thonnur has 18th-century temples dedicated Nambi Narayana, Gopalakrishna and Narasimha.

Thonnur’s famous Nambi Narayana temple is known to have been built by Suragi Nagaiah, a chieftain under Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana.

The Nambi Narayana temple is one of the five Vishnu temples which was worshipped by saint Ramanujacharya. The other four temples are in Melukote, Talakadu, Beluru and Gadag.

How to get there

Pandavapura is ten km from Srirangapatna (on the Bangalore-Mysore highway) and from Srirangapatna, there are frequent buses to Pandavapura. The town is also well connected by train from Bangalore and Mysore.

15 November 2011, Deccan Herald


ASI claims no threat to Taj Mahal, but SC not satisfied

Piqued over the response of Uttar Pradesh government and the archaeological survey of India to its notice regarding the threat posed to ‘Taj Mahal’ due to drying up of the Yamuna, the Supreme Court on Monday wondered if it was duty of the court to ensure safety of the 17th century monument of love.

"The monument is in your state. But this is how you take care of your monument? Is it the duty of the Supreme Court to take care of it? No one seems to be interested," a bench headed by justice DK Jain said. The SC has been passing orders for conservation of the Taj since the 1980s.

One of the seven wonders of the world, the famous monument of love was built between 1632 and 1653 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their 14th child in 1631.

A British daily had reported that the foundation of the monument had been damaged and the wood used in the wells had rotten. It was reported that the river was crucial in moisturizing the wood used in the Taj's foundation, and that it could collapse soon.

The bench that had on October 14 taken cognizance of media reports about the danger posed to Taj Mahal and asked the Centre, ASI and the Uttar Pradesh government to examine the issue, expressed “dismay” at the state of affairs.

Terming the affidavits filed by the Mayawati government and the ASI as “far from satisfactory”, the bench said, “We do not understand anything from your (state’s) affidavit.” It expressed regret over the Centre not filing its response in the matter.

The bench also pulled up the ASI for claiming on the basis of an old report that there was no threat to the Taj.

“The CBRI (Central Building Research Institute), Roorkee has carried out Geotechnical and Structural Investigation Survey at Taj Mahal in 2005 and submitted its report in 2007 which shows no visible distress or dislocation is seen at the joints of floor and walls in the basement below Jasmine Floor,” the ASI stated in its affidavit.

Not convinced with the report based on data collected six years ago, the bench remarked: “We are sorry, rather dismayed to say that after 2005 there has been no attempt to examine the Taj…This 2007 report relates back to inspection done in 2005. Nobody has gone deep into the matter. It needs to be examined by experts.”

The court directed the ASI to file a fresh affidavit in two weeks placing on record the latest report of CBRI and Survey of India regarding Taj’s safety and fixed December 7 to further hear the case.

The court was told that the depth of water in the Yamuna near the Taj was just one-meter, four meters less than the required level.

Availability of certain level of water in the Yamuna was essential to maintain the massive foundation that supported a complex system of wells, arches and wooden-spoked wheels and the dry ambience could fragment and disintegrate the massive ‘saal’ wood, it was reported.

According to the report, the foundations of Taj Mahal got rotten and had become fragile as the Yamuna, which feeds the building’s mahogany, (evergreen trees), is running dry owing to deforestation and pollution.

Acting on a public interest petition filed by environmentalist MC Mehta, the SC has been passing orders, including closure of polluting industries in Agra, for conservation of the Taj since the 1980s.

To save the monument from ill effects of pollution, the Centre has set up the Taj Trapezium Zone, a 10,400-square-kilometre area around the monument where strict emissions standards are in place. The ASI too is working on a major facelift for the Taj Mahal since 2007.

16 November 2011, Hindustan Times


Capital's cultural affair began in 50s

Before Independence, New Delhi was far from being the cultural capital of the country that it is today. The city's cultural scene was dominated by Western music recitals, attended by anglicised elite of the city, who were besotted with the classics of Beethoven and Mozart; ballroom dances in hotels, clubs and restaurants; and the Regal Theatre in Connaught Place that occasionally hosted Shakespearean plays, performed by the likes of Geoffrey Kendall. Upwardly mobile youngsters of the city flocked to the ballroom dancing classes run by a woman named Dina Rodda in Connaught Circus.

While Regal Theatre and New Delhi Town Hall (where the NDMC headquarters are today) occasionally saw Indian theatre, classical music and dance performances by the likes of Prithviraj Kapoor and Uday Shankar; Indian classical arts were on the periphery of the Capital's cultural landscape before Independence.

"Such was the craze for western dance and music before Independence that Indian classical music and dances were looked down upon in the city," says SS Backliwal, 85, a city-based businessman. His wife, Sharan Rani, a Delhiite, was one of the foremost Sarod players of the country.

"When we came to Delhi in the early 40s, the city did not have any exhibition hall or an auditorium worthy of the capital city. The usual venue for exhibitions was either the New Delhi Town Hall or, after 1946, the abandoned wartime church on Parliament Street, which was later taken over by All India Fine Arts and Crafts society," says DN Chaudhuri, author of Delhi: Light, Shades, Shadows. He came to Delhi with his father - the legendary Nirad C Chaudhury - in 1942.

Residences as cultural centres
Before Independence, in the absence of auditoriums, most classical music performances - called 'music conferences' - were organised either at ancient monuments such as Firoz Shah Kotla and Qutab Minar, or the houses of individuals, who patronised Indian performing artists.

Many such performances began in the evening and ended at dawn. Dr NC Joshi, an eminent surgeon those days, hosted cultural performances at his Karol Bagh residence. Writer Satyawati Malik also hosted eminent writers, performing artists, poets and musicians.

But the Curzon Road house of industrialist Shri Ram, the founder of DCM group, was the biggest venue of Indian classical music and performing arts those days. The house saw evenings of classical music with as many as 1,000 people in attendance. Sheila Bharat Ram and Sumitra Charat Ram, the daughters-in-law of Shri Ram, were instrumental in organising these evenings and played charming hostesses at these cultural events.

Sumitra Charat Ram, started Jhankar Music Circle, a society in 1947. Soon, some of the biggest names of Indian classical music and dance - Siddeshwari Devi, Ravi Shankar, Hafiz Ali Khan, Allaudin Khan, Shambhu Maharaj, Sunder Prasad, Birju Maharaj, Durga Lal, Aminuddin Dagar - were associated with it.

"Most of the country's legendary musicians were part of the extended family of my mother. They often visited our home and stayed with us. In 1947, when India attained Independence, my mother hosted a whole-night soiree featuring several top-class artistes," says Shobha Deepak Singh, 68, director, Shri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra (SBKK), which was founded by her mother, Sumitra Charat Ram, in 1952.

Cultural renaissance post Independence
After the country attained Independence in 1947, the city's cultural scene got a great boost, thanks to the patronage provided by Pandit Nehru. He took a keen interest in promoting Indian classical arts. In fact, the 1950s saw the building of several top class auditoriums and setting up of several institutions such as Sangeet Natak Akademy (1952), Lalit Kala Akademy (1954), Sahitya Akademy (1954), and National Gallery of Modern Art (1954), and National School of Drama (1959).

The auditorium of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) at Pusa was a venue for music and dance performances from 1948 to 1955, the year Sapru house was built. In fact, Sapru House marked the beginning of Mandi House as the cultural hub of the city. "The capital's art movement started in the mid-1950s in right earnest, with the building of several auditoriums. Sapru House's auditorium had the best acoustic and projection instruments and hosted musical and theatre performances as well as regular screenings of foreign films," says Chaudhuri, who covered many art and cultural events as a photographer in the 1950s and 60s - inarguably, the defining decades of New Delhi as the cultural capital of the country.

Vigyan Bhavan, built in 1956 and the new building of the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society (AIFACS), at Rafi Marg, which also came up in the 1950s, also boosted the city's cultural scene a great deal. The new AIFACS building had top class exhibition halls and hosted major events such as the International Exhibition of Contemporary Art, which saw the works of artists from all over the world being displayed in the Capital. Charles Fabri, a Hungarian, who had moved to Delhi from Lahore, was the most influential art critic in Delhi those days.

Then Rabindra Bhavan, which opened in 1961, attracted artists to the Capital from all across the country. In fact, Pandit Nehru took a lot of personal interest in the design of the building, which was built to mark the birth centenary of Rabindranath Tagore.

With increasing governmental patronage, many artistes started pouring into the city from all parts of the country in the 1950s to 60s. Legends such as classical singer Siddheshwari Devi, Shambhu Maharaj, Ali Akbar Khan, Uday Shankar, Ravi Shankar, Hafiz Ali Khan settled here during this period. Sumitra Charat Ram and Nirmla Joshi played a key role in bringing many classical artistes to the Capital.

Besides, many artistes came to Delhi to work for the All India Radio (AIR), which under the stewardship of the then Information and Broadcasting minister Dr BV Keskar, employed many artists and regularly sponsored concerts of vocal music in the Capital. Many artistes who came to Delhi in the 1950s and 1960s were settled in an artists' colony called the Ferozeshah Hutments, built by the government.

In 1960s, such was the resurgence of Indian classical music in the Capital, that Godin & Company - the famous music instrument store in Connaught Place, that as a matter of rule sold only the piano - now bowed to the market demand and started selling Indian instruments such as the sitar and tabla.

When theatre became popular in the city
Unlike Kolkata or Mumbai, Delhi did not have any significant presence on the theatre map of the country until the 1960s.

In the 1950s, while the Indian People's Theatre Association brought a number of plays to Delhi, Habib Tanwar moved to the city and Bhartiya Natya Sangh in Shankar Market promoted theatre, it was not until the early 1960s, when Ebrahim Alkazi moved to New Delhi from Mumbai and made theatre popular and more glamorous in the Capital.

Alkazi's production of Dharamvir Bharati's Andha Yug at Firoz Shah Kotla broke new ground. Jawaharlal Nehru came for the Andha Yug premiere in 1964, as did the who's who of the Capital.

Sheila Bhatia came to the Capital from Lahore. She started the Delhi Art Theatre and made Punjabi opera extremely popular in the 1950s and 60s. Her plays Heer Ranjha, Ghalib Kaun Tha, and Dard Ayega Dabe Paon were instant hits.

All these artistes played a key role in the national cultural enterprise, the epicenter of which was the Capital.

16 November 2011, Hindustan Times


Metro needs NMA nod to begin work on Janpath

New Delhi: Delhi Metro cannot begin work on its proposed Central Secretariat-Kashmere Gate section at Janpath with just a go-ahead of the competent authority. Officials of urban development ministry made it clear last week that DMRC must wait for the constitution of National Monuments Authority (NMA) and its approval before beginning work within 300 metres of protected monuments.

A senior official of the culture ministry said, “DMRC has been told that it has to wait for clearance and, till that is granted, it cannot proceed with even preliminary work in a prohibited or regulated zone. It can go ahead with other work on the proposed line but has to steer clear of sites within 300m of protected monuments, such as Jantar Mantar, Ugrasen ki Baoli, Sunehri Masjid, Red Fort and Delhi Gate.’’

Sources said DMRC had agreed to wait for NMA approval but sought early constitution of the body. DMRC’s project site at Janpath, which has been heavily barricaded, lies less than 300m from Jantar Mantar and a stop-work notice was issue by Archaeological Survey of India earlier this month.

Culture ministry officials said that approval of the state-level competent authority was not enough to go ahead with the work. “That is just a recommendation and has to be approved at a much higher level,’’ explained an ASI official.

16 November 2011, Times of India


White Mughals: Recreating past for city’s heritage tag

Dalrymple Sheds Light On British Life From 1803-1857

New Delhi: With Delhi in the race for Unesco’s world heritage city tag, a series of seminars have been organized to help the average Delhiite view his city with a new perspective. On Wednesday, history enthusiasts got a taste of the complex social life of the British in Delhi from 1803 to 1857, courtesy acclaimed writer and historian William Dalrymple.

The seminar on ‘White Mughals’ focused on a period of Delhi’s history — though not-much-talked about — which witnessed a nexus of western and Indian culture. A number of British officers like David Ochterlony, William Fraser and Edward Gardner, had adopted the courtly culture that Mughal Delhi boasted of. Dalrymple spoke about Ochterlony who married a Mughal begum and was concerned about how his Anglo-Indian kids would be treated in society. William Fraser had almost become like a native, by dressing in traditional Indian clothing, refraining from eating pork and beef and growing whiskers and a beard, like most Indians in that era.

Anumber of monuments like Dara Shikoh library, St Jame’s Church, Safdarjung Tomb, Quli Khan’s tomb and Zafar Mahal were also touched upon in the 45-minute seminar with each having contributed something to the reign of the ‘White Mughals’ in Delhi. Gardens and monuments that were destroyed in 1857, an Anglo-Mughal tomb built by Ochterlony in north Delhi, that some said was just as grand as Safdarjung Tomb, also found a mention. The re-naming of Roshanara Bagh to Queen Alexandra’s garden had the audience wondering to what extent the British rule changed the face of Delhi.

The seminar was part of a series organized by INTACH to spread awareness on Delhi’s potential to become a world heritage city. Other seminars on different aspects of Delhi, including landscape, architecture, Lutyen’s Delhi have been organized earlier, giving residents a new perspective about the capital. The tentative nomination dossier for Delhi’s world heritage city inscription was submitted to the Archaeological Survey of India in July this year. Work on the final nomination dossier is underway.

16 November 2011, Times of India


Relief for properties near heritage monuments

The Delhi high court on Wednesday directed the Centre to notify the names of the members and chairperson of the National Monument Authority (NMA) within 30 days. The order brings relief to hundreds of property owners and also a number of public infrastructure projects awaiting permission for construction as they fall within 300 metres of centrally protected monuments.

The court has further directed that if the government fails to appoint the chairperson and members within the stipulated time, the powers under this authority would be executed by the competent authority for Delhi.

A bench headed by Justice Pradeep Nandrajog cited a June 2011 Bombay high court judgment, which had directed the competent authority there to carry out functions of the NMA till it is formed.

The matter came up when the court was hearing a case for infrastructure development and expansion plans for the Delhi High Court complex. A portion of the land for the proposed expansion was falling within the regulated area (101-300 metres from a protected monument) of Sher Shah Suri Gate, an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)-protected monument.

The court had asked the competent authority to come up with heritage bye laws for the Sher Shah Suri Gate. When the court was informed that competent authority’s Vijay Singh had not complied with the court directives, it gave him three more weeks to prepare heritage byelaws.

When Justice Nandrajog was informed that the government had failed to appoint the chairperson and members of the NMA even after one-and-a-half-years of the amendment, he immediately directed the Centre to appoint the chairperson and the members within 30 days.

16 November 2011, Hindustan Times


Ministries spar over Metro work

New Delhi: As work takesoff on Phase III of Delhi Metro project, the differences between the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) seems to have spilled over to their respective ministries. Sources in the ministry of urban development admitted that the ministry has written to the ministry of culture to expedite the setting up of the National Monument Authority (NMA). The delay in the setting up of NMA, the approving authority for projects related to heritage structures, has already got the Delhi Metro and ASI sparring over the extension of the Central Secretariat-Kashmere Gate corridor.

Asking the ministry of culture, ASI’s parent ministry entrusted with the task to set up the NMA, to constitute the NMA soon or set up an alternative mechanism to grant approval to pending projects, the letter by the urban development ministry points that delays in projects escalate costs. Elaborating on the various projects that are waiting approval from the heritage body, the urban development ministry goes on to predict that further delay in nominating members for the NMA and its continued non-functioning could cost the DMRC “dearly”, with the financial “burden” of escalating costs falling on the government of India and the Delhi government, which are the “sole shareholders”.

The letter, dated November 3 – days after the stop work notice was issued by ASI to the contractor of the Janpath and Mandi House stations — points to the “continuous interaction” between DMRC and the competent authority appointed for Delhi under the NMA Act on the project, and the former’s approval for the extension of the line. It says that the ASI notice to Delhi Metro for undertaking work without NMA approval, which hasn’t been set up yet, has prompted the contractor to demand damages.

The letter, dated November 3 – days after the stop work notice was issued by ASI to the contractor of the Janpath and Mandi House stations — points to the “continuous interaction” between DMRC and the competent authority appointed for Delhi under the NMA Act on the project, and the former’s approval for the extension of the line. It says that the ASI notice to Delhi Metro for undertaking work without NMA approval, which hasn’t been set up yet, has prompted the contractor to demand damages.

Sources in the ministry said the letter was sent following the ASI notice, which had asked DMRC to stop work at the Janpath station site, that abuts Jantar Mantar and is within the 300m perimeter of the heritage site. On Thursday, the ministry will holding a press briefing of the variousMetro projects coming up in the coming year.

16 November 2011, Times of India


Love’s labour may be lost

The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed concern over the safety of the 17th century Mughal structure Taj Mahal in view of reports that the monument of love might collapse in five years.

A bench of Justices D  K Jain and A R Dave directed the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) to submit a report in two weeks on the surveys undertaken after 2005 by the Survey of India and the Central Building Research Institute on its safety aspect.

It had on October 14 taken suo motu cognisance of media reports about  the ancient monument facing threat due to inadequate supply of water from the Yamuna river.

The court, which had sought response from the Centre and Uttar Pradesh, expressed dissatisfaction over the state government’s affidavit filed on the issue. The bench also posed query to counsel appearing for the UP government whether   it was the job of the court to protect monuments.

“The monument is in your state.  But this is how you take care of your monument? Is it the duty of the Supreme Court to take care of it?  No one seems to be interested,” it said.

Advocate Ajay Agrawal pointed out that the state government had taken no steps despite a direction by the apex court on December 30, 1996, to construct a barrage for ensuring adequate water supply to the monument.

The court last month issued notices on the news report which contained a statement from BJP MP Ram Shankar Katheria saying the Taj could collapse in five years. The MP had said the foundation of the monument, built between 1631 and 1648 on the banks of the Yamuna in Agra by Mughal emperor Shahjahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, had been damaged and the wood used in the wells had been rotten.

16 November 2011, Deccan Herald


A testament to the Capital's transformation

Delhi Public Library
The story of the Delhi Public Library - one of the city's most important institutions - began in 1944. General Sir Claude Auchinleck, then commander-in-chief of the Indian Army, was keen to have a library with a magnificent building. He approached industrial Ramkrishna Dalmia to help with funds to construct a building for the library. Dalmia readily agreed and donated all or most of the amount for the library building that was constructed on Queens Road (SP Mukherjee Marg).

It was called the Delhi Public Library in 1951, after the Delhi Library Board acquired the building. In the beginning, the library had only 8,000 books in three languages - Hindi, English and Urdu. Today, it has around 18 lakh books, and boasts of several branches across the city. It also has a fleet of mobile vans, which serve in every nook and corner of the city.

All India Institute of Medical Sciences
Built in 1956, AIIMS is not only one of the most prestigious medical colleges in the country, but also offers cutting edge medical care. It was built with a generous grant from the government of New Zealand. AIIMS was established in New Delhi after former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's initial proposal to set up the institute in Calcutta was shot down by then West Bengal CM Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy. The institution was the vision of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, the first health minister of India. In its report published in 1946, the Health Survey and Development Committee recommended the establishment of a national medical centre to serve as a nucleus for nurturing excellence in all aspects of health care. An act of Parliament in 1956 established it as an autonomous institution.

Delhi Zoo
It was in 1952 that the need to have a zoo in the national Capital was felt by the Indian Board for Wildlife. The site between Purana Quila and Humayun's Tomb was approved in 1953 to build the zoo. Major Weinmann, director of the Ceylon Zoological Garden, Colombo, was invited to help draw a coordinated plan for the development of the park. Finally, a general layout plan of waterways, roads and paths, animal enclosures and sewage system was formulated in March 1956. With the announcement of the establishment of a zoological park in Delhi, gifts of animals started coming from states and individuals. Till the zoo was built, the animals were kept in temporary enclosures around Azimganj Sarai, an enclosed courtyard built for halt for travellers during the Mughal days.

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)
The concept of the IITs was first introduced in a report in the year 1945 by NM Sircar, then member of Education on Viceroy's Executive Council. Following his recommendations, the first Indian Institute of Technology was established in the year 1950 in Kharagpur. This was followed by IITs at Mumbai, Chennai, Kanpur and Delhi. For IIT-Delhi, the government of India negotiated with the British government for a collaboration. The British government agreed, but only for a modest beginning. It was therefore agreed that a college of engineering and technology would be established at Delhi with their assistance. This college was later declared an Institution of National Importance under the Institute of Technology (Amendment) Act 1963 and was renamed Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. It was then accorded the status of a university.

India International Centre (IIC)
The idea for the India International Centre (IIC) was first mooted by John D Rockefeller III. He suggested setting up of an international house on the model of Tokyo's International House of Japan. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who immediately liked the idea, took a lot of interest in the selection of a site for the building, adjacent to Lodi Gardens. Eventually, Joseph Allen Stein was selected to design the building. The building comprises two wings - one for accommodation, while the other houses public facilities including auditoriums, conference room and library.

Sir Ganga Ram Hospital
The Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in west Delhi was originally founded in 1921 at Lahore by Sir Ganga Ram (1851-1927), a civil engineer and leading philanthropist of his time. The current hospital was built at the site after the partition of the country in 1947. The land allotted to the hospital was approximately 11 acres. The foundation was laid in April 1951 by the then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and inaugurated by him on April 13, 1954. The hospital, one of the premier medical institutions in the Capital, continues to maintain its charitable character, as per the wishes of its founder. The money generated from the hospital services are partially utilised for providing free health care to the poor and needy patients.

National Museum
The National Museum was founded due to a chance happening. An exhibition of Indian art was held in Burlington House, London in 1947-48. At the end of the event, it was decided that the same collection would be exhibited in New Delhi.

The exhibition was held in the state rooms of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi, in 1949. The event was a huge success and led to the creation of the National Museum, which was inaugurated at Rashtrapati Bhawan on August 15, 1949, by the governor-general of India, C Rajagopalachari. The museum was moved to its current location at Janpath in 1960. Today, the museum boasts of approximately 2,00,000 artifacts that go back to more than 5,000 years.

16 November 2011, Hindustan Times


India will stick to equity in climate talks: Natarajan

New Delhi: Historical responsibility and equity are at the heart of India’s international climate change stance again. Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan stated that India would insist on unconditional commitments under Kyoto Protocol II by the developed countries and would not agree to talks on a new legally binding deal at Durban.

Natarajan’s first elaborate public statement on climate change set the tone for India’s position at the upcoming Durban climate talks. She saidIndia and other developing countries had walked the extra mile over the last two years — at Copenhagen and Cancun — as part of confidence building measures but the developed world had done little.

“The effort in the last few years has been aimed at giving the issue of historical emissions a quiet burial and refashioning a regime that is anchored in current emissions rather than cumulative emissions… this is unscientific,” she said. “My fervent hope is that better sense will prevail at Durban,” she added.

The minister was speaking at a briefing for South Asian journalists by Centre for Science and Environment on Thursday.

“There is a consistent attempt to hold Kyoto Protocol hostage to a new legally binding agreement. A long-term binding agreement cannot be a quid pro quo for a second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol,” she said. “A new legally binding agreement is not required for talks to continue because the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities already exist in the UN convention and the protocol,” she added.

Answering a question on US President Obama’s statement that India and China needed to do more and the US had done enough, Natarajan said they needed to put up a mirror to their actions.

18 November 2011, Times of India


Making of a city

Change: New Delhi in the 1950s and ’60s was a Capital in a hurry to grow up. And so the additions continued — a university here, a milk plant there, a civic centre, a supermarket, a cinema hall, a Golf Club...

1958-Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD)
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) came into existence in 1958 when the erstwhile Delhi Municipal Committee and different local bodies in the city were merged together. The corporation — which is amongst the largest municipal bodies in the world — came into existence on April 7, under an act of Parliament. Initially, Town Hall in Chandni Chowk, which was built in 1866 by the British served as the MCD headquarter. Later, in 2011, the headquarters were shifted to the Civic Centre on Minto Road. The body has jurisdiction over the entire area of Delhi, barring certain areas that fall under the New Delhi Municipal Committee and the Delhi Cantonment Board. The agency covers 96% of the city and caters to 97% of the population.

1951-Delhi Milk Scheme
Queuing up early in the morning outside the Delhi Milk Scheme (DMS) booth to buy bottled milk is one ritual that generations of Delhiites have grown up with. Earlier known as the Delhi Milk Supply Scheme, it was renamed DMS in 1959 and its primary objective was to supply hygienic milk to Delhi citizens at reasonable prices, and provide remunerative prices to milk producers. Starting from tin sheds where cows were milked and the product put in sealed cans to be distributed in trucks across the Capital, now DMS provides 5 lakh litres of milk everyday in plastic packs to Delhiites. Apart from supplying milk, DMS now also manufactures ghee, table butter, yoghurt, paneer, chhachh and flavoured milk. DMS now procures milk from the State Dairy Federations of neighbouring states.

1950-Delhi Golf Club
Spread over 220 acres of land in the heart of the Capital, the Delhi Golf Club — one of the oldest golf clubs in Asia — is home to many professional tournaments, including the Indian Open. The Club became a corporate entity on February 24, 1950 and its course was redesigned by golfer Peter Thomson through 1976 to 77. The course was originally laid out by the British as Lodhi Club, integrating existing Mughal structures and tombs into the course. In the 1950s, the foundering member of the club — Dharma Vira — requested then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to ensure that the club stayed put, bringing glory and prestige to the Capital of India. Last month, the club celebrated hundred years of playing golf in the Capital. The club has a pub, a lounge, dining hall, swimming pool, health club, card room, club halls and banquette.

1966-Super Bazar
The now defunct Super Bazar, which only has a closed building and a nearby bus stop named after it as its remnants, was once a part of the every day life of Delhiites. The Delhi-based Super Bazar was established in 1966 to provide quality products to the citizens of the Capital at reasonable prices after the acute scarcity of day-to-day goods seen during the 1965 India-Pakistan war. The retail outlets and mobile vans that supplied household goods and foodstuff across the Capital were very popular with Delhi’s middle class. As a result of financial mismanagement, however, the supermarket started accumulating huge losses in the 1970s. It was finally closed down in 2001 and efforts to revive it are yet to fructify.

1961-Shiela Theatre
Opened in 1961, Shiela Theatre on DB Gupta Road, Paharganj, was the country’s first cinema hall with a 70mm screen. In fact, constructing the theatre’s building was quite a challenge. There were no architects or technicians having any previous experience of designing a theatre with such a large screen. So, the owner — DC Kaushish — who had seen the successful commercial trials of 70mm in New York and wanted to bring this new system to India, sought the services of Ben Schlanger, world authority on motion picture theatre and auditorium design. Schlanger, as chief consultant, collaborated with professor Cyril Harris of Columbia University to design the acoustics of the theatre. He also helped in installing a six-track sound system. This iconic theatre — which is still going strong in these times of multiplexes — has boasted of several famous patrons, including then President Zakir Hussain and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

1969-Jawaharlal Nehru University
A research-oriented postgraduate university, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) today has approximately 5,500 students. It was established in 1969 by an act of parliament and was named after Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. The objective of the founders was to make the university an institution of higher learning and promote research and teaching that would lead students as well as teachers to a higher level of academic work and national and international policy making. G Parthasarathy was the university’s first vice-chancellor. JNU’s building, located in south Delhi, is an example of the new red brick universities built in the mid-twentieth century.

18 November 2011, Hindustan Times


Centre to amend environment act, fine violators heavily

The environment ministry’s approval to Lavasa Corporation’s lake city project stipulating stringent conditions will now be a norm than exception. The ministry has decided to amend the Environment Protection Act (EPA) to include a new provision of furnishing bank guarantees for specific restoration of the environmental damage caused by project proponents.

In case of Lavasa, the ministry on November 9, had asked the Lavasa Corporation to deposit 5% of the project cost with the Maharashtra government as a guarantee for completing the environmental restoration work.

The ministry had imposed the condition that companies which damaged the environment while building high-end real estate projects would have to pay for its restoration. But, any condition of environment clearance can be challenged in the court and to prevent it, the ministry wants an explicit provision on “polluter pays principle” for damaging environment in the existing law.

For future environmental violators, the ministry wants to enhance the penalty from the present R1 lakh to R10 crore. To fast track imposition of penalties, the ministry seeks to change EPA to have a “civil administrative adjudication system”.

Some other conditions imposed on Lavasa of self-regulation and an effective monitoring mechanism would also be part of EPA. “Industrial self-monitoring, reporting and verification process needs to be refined and appropriate provisions are needed in the act,” said a ministry’s document.

18 November 2011, Hindustan Times


Preserve forests to protect wildlife

With the forests of Jharkhand shrinking, many species of birds and animals are threatened with extinction, says Amrendra Suman

The State of Jharkhand, Land of the Forests, celebrates 11 years of existence this November. But the forests that give it its name offer no cause for celebration. For, while the State continues to make elaborate plans for industrial development using its rich mineral resources, indigenous and endangered species of flora and fauna in the forest ranges of the Santhal Pargana region are fast dwindling, and some are on the verge of extinction. The reasons are not difficult to find. Careless and illegal human activity tops the list. The dense mountainous forests have become the target of man’s insatiable greed.

The huge expanse of 5470 square miles has been home to several tribal groups for centuries, communities with wisdom who lived in harmony with forests that sustained them through generations. These forests have also been home to hundreds of rare species of birds and animals, making them the destination of numerous bird-watching enthusiasts and researchers worldwide. Dumka and Godda districts alone boast the largest number of animals and birds in the state, assert locals, though there are no statistics available to substantiate the claims.

L S O’Malley West Bengal Gazetteers, published in 1910, was the first book to bring to light the large presence of wild animals in Dumka, Godda, Pakud, Sahebganj, Devghar and Jamtada forests. The clash between man and animal, he asserts, started around 1790-1810, when the Santhalis began to settle in the forests.

The last 11-12 years have seen instances of damage caused by wild elephants reported from the region, but this also goes to show that the forests of Santhal Pargana were once home to these gentle pachyderms. Standing testimony to this today is the 11ft huge Skeleton of Asian elephant from Pattabadi forests of Dumka dated 1934, now exhibited in Kolkata Museum, one of the most renowned museums in the world. According to the available documents, about 300 years ago, the elephants of Santhal, referred to as Makuni elephants were of relatively smaller size. The house of Late Dev Kumar Pandey in Godda district is a living example of this.

According to the villagers of Rani Bahal, Asanbani (Bhaya Asurdaha, Dumka division), wild pigs, bears, rabbits, wild cock, royal peacock, wild cats, hyenas, jackals and bucks still inhabit these forests. This, despite the fact that rabbits, wild pigs, cock and other animals continue to be hunting game today.

It is a matter of grave concern that hunters no longer use traditional weapons for hunting. Modern weapons make the killing of pigs in large numbers in the Panjan Mountain, for instance, fairly easy. Reports of encounters between a bear and a tiger often trickle in. But the death of a white tiger near Badi Ranbahiyar village, Ramgadh division, after a gap of 16 years, created a stir in various government departments. This was a dark and sad day not only for Santhal Pargana, but also for the entire nation.

Rampant hunting of wild animals has put them in danger of becoming extinct. Making matters worse is the increasing demand for skin, teeth, bones and meat of rare species in the international market. A few days ago, a hyena lost its way and wandered out of the forest in Dumka and found itself on the busy road. It was grievously injured by terrified people in the locality.

What happened next is uncertain: officials of Dumka’s Forest Department declared that it was treated and released into the forest, but the villagers claim that it had died the next day. Ironically, when the hyena was breathing its last at Nonihat, Jharkhand was celebrating Wildlife Week (October 10-16, 2011).

Research into the immense variety of birds and animals in the forests of Santhal Pargana are bound to astound wildlife enthusiasts. Those familiar with the forests believe that Government officials are in the know about the illegal killing of these animals and birds. Recently, the killing of a leopard created a stir in Chopa Bathan of Raneshwar Division. What happened to the poor animal; more importantly, to its prized skin?

Wild pigs are found in large numbers in Mahhuagadhi and Sogel forests of Kathikunda, Singli and Champa mountains, besides the mountainous region of Shikaripada (Gopikandar). This region is also home to bears. A few years ago, in Chiharbani village, villagers saved two bear cubs that had fallen into a well. Later, they were left in the forest.

Godda district is believed to have the largest number of hyenas in the state. In Santhal forests, small and big mouthed hyenas are called Hadlakar. These forests also take pride in a large number, and variety, of peacocks. They live in the mountainous forests of Kathikund, Gopikandar, Ramgarh and Jama. Hunting these, our National Bird, have put their very survival at risk.

Action taken under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, is a mere eye-wash. Civil Society Organisations, strapped for funds, have proved ineffective. With no support from the State and an indifferent Forest Department, the extinction of several rare species of birds and animals from these green forests is only a matter of time.

18 November 2011, Pioneer


Gond art at its best

Must Art Gallery, which has an extensive collection of beautiful Gond art, is always upbeat about exhibiting these. The gallery houses works of artists of international repute such as Jangarh Singh Shyam, Ram Singh Urveti, Durga Bai Vyam, Suresh Singh Dhurve, and also strives to provide a viable platform to many young and emerging artists to exhibit their talents.

Must Art Gallery’s latest venture is for young and budding artists. This two-day workshop, which is from November 26 to 27, is on Gond tribalart by Gond artist Japani Shyam, who is the daughter of the late Jangarh Singh Shyam. The workshop is at F-213 B, First Floor, Lado Sarai-110030. Japani Shyam, who is the recipient of The Kamala Devi Award has showcased her works in galleries all across the world, and now her innovations are poised to captivate young art lovers with the divine Gond afflatus.

The workshop aims to bring out the dormant creative side in young people. It also seeks to involve them, make them participate and bring awareness about the rich Gond cultural heritage, and its need for preservation. Tulika Kedia of Must Art Gallery, says that this workshop will charge the pupils, and instill in them the responsibility of maintaining Gond culture. It will, Kedia says, inspire generations and ignite their passion to make a difference in the world of art, which will be a unique celebration of Gond art.

The pupil-artists will be taught the aesthetics of Gond art, including the complexities of the vibrant use of colours. This interaction will assist these artists to improve their artistic temperament. The flamboyant style and the refined expressions are sure to make this workshop socially and culturally vital. It will also herald a new beginning in the history of these budding young artists.

19 November 2011, Times of India


Has Amba Vilas Palace missed its centenary year?

The Amba Vilas Palace, Mysore City’s historic landmark, is all set to celebrate 100 years of its existence.

The district administration is planning year-long programmes to mark the centenary celebrations in 2012. However, if the archival records are to be believed, the details reveal that the Palace has already crossed its centenary year.

According to the Palace records, the Amba Vilas Palace is a fusion of Hoysala and Greek styles of architecture, designed by H Irwin, an architect from England. The construction of the palace began in October 1897 and completed in 1912.

The three-storey palace has a a five-storey tower at the centre. As per the details on page 16 of the ‘Palace Administration Report’ (1886 to 1918), the ‘Grihapravesha’ was performed in May 1907 and the royal family moved into the palace immediately after.

Going by the ‘Grihapravesha’ dates, the Palace has crossed its centenary year, in 2007. According to Hindu rituals, Grihapravesha or the house-warming ceremony, marks the occupation of a building. It is also a fact that the construction work on the Palace continued till 1912.

Apart from this, page 17  mentions that the ‘Upanayana’ (thread ceremony) of Yuvaraja Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wadiyar was held at the new palace on June 16, 1910, before his marriage at the Jaganmohan Palace on June 17, 1910. Other details on page 17 also mention that the ‘Simhasana’ was brought into the Sajje Hall or the Durbar Hall, on the eastern side of the new Palace on October 4, 1910, the first day of Dasara. The Dasara durbar was held there that day.

Tracing history
The Amba Vilas Palace is the third version of the erstwhile structures in its place, which were demolished twice.

Records reveal that prior to the present structure, there existed a palace for the royal family, not as big as the present one. The existence of the royal house can be traced to the early 17th century, when a court poet of the then ruler, Kanteerava Narasaraja Wadiyar, describes it in his work ‘Kantheerava Narasaraja Vijaya’ in 1634.

After the shifting of the capital from Mysore to Srirangapatna and the subsequent Anglo-Mysore wars, the palace was neglected and was in a dilapidated condition.

Tipu Sultan pulled down the structure to ensure that there were no remnants of the Wadiyar era. After Tipu’s demise in the fourth Mysore war in 1799, the capital was shifted back to Mysore, and a new palace was built for the then Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, under the supervision of Maharani Lakshmi Ammani Devi. He had to be coronated at the Lakshmiramana Swamy temple in Mysore, as the royal family did not have a palace then.

The newly constructed palace, the second version of the royal building in the place of the dilapidated structure - housed an armoury, library, office rooms, dining and meeting halls, with a huge entrance arch - primarily built of wood and mud, with elaborate paintings in thick wax colours.

The palace also had two major halls, the Amba Vilas and the Rama Vilas. Major portions of the palace, including the two halls were destroyed in a fire accident in 1897, during the wedding of princess Jayalakshmammani with M Kantharaja Urs. It is said an oil lamp which fell down triggered fire. The palace staff tried to douse the fire, but in vain. However, they shifted the valuables to a safer place.

After this, the foundation stone for the third version, that is the present palace was laid in October 1897. Impressed by the Shimla Viceroy Bungalow, Kempananjamannani, the regent to Maharaja Chamaraja Wadiyar IX, who was a minor then, invited Irwin to design and supervise the construction of the palace.

The palace, an architectural wonder, was built over a period of 15 years, from 1897 to 1912 at a cost of Rs 41,47,970. Changes were brought to the central view of the palace, and also the elevation of the dome was changed as per Vaastu Shastra in 1932. The name of the one of the halls of the erstwhile palace was retained and the palace was named Amba Vilas.

19 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Redevelopment plan for Delhi

A draft redevelopment plan for Delhi has been approved by the MCD and has been forwarded to the DDA for approval. Once the plan is OK’d, it will act as a base for redeveloping any property within the defined special area of Master Plan of Delhi-2021. TEAM TIMES PROPERTY writes

Delhi has spilled over to its surrounding areas to an extent that further development of urban extensions around the city is severely limited due to non availability of land.

In this context, the Master Plan of Delhi, 2021 (MPD-2021) has proposed the redevelopment of builtup areas through the process of reorganization and utilization of existing land to accommodate more population in a planned manner.

As a part of this process, the "Special Areas", which encircle three prominent old areas namely: (i) Walled city, (ii) Walled City and Extension, and (iii) Karol Bagh, has been identified as one of the areas for redevelopment. The boundary of these 'Special Areas' conceived in the MasterPlan enclose areas falling in Development Zones A, B and a small portion of Zone C, covering partly or wholly around 24 wards.

The strategy is to provide suitable framework for allowing mixed-use activities appropriate to the character of the areas according to individual schemes having greater flexibility which permit a variety of uses like commercial use (shops, offices, banks, etc), household industries or outlets for specialized services, besides accommodating more population.

To analyse in detail the trends towards commercialization in these areas, a socio-economic survey of households and commercial establishments was conducted in various parts of the Special Areas. The employment pattern within the Special Areas is unique in all parts. Partwise analysis of workers indicates association of specific type of establishments with each part.

Whereas employment in Part 1 (Walled City) is mainly in garment related trade, in Part 2, a variety of employment avenues exist in trade related to garments, electronic goods and auto parts. In Part 3 areas, establishments dealing in garments and jewellery predominate. In Part 4, Karol Bagh residential is marked by businesses relating to furniture and auto parts. The Part 5 areas are known mainly for industrial activities and trade in building materials and fruits and vegetables.

The survey covered aspects like demography, employment, type and size of establishments, mode of transportation of produced goods and other economic characteristics. These characteristics were comparatively analysed for parts of the Special Areas. The analysis lead to the finding that various parts have varying economic vibrancy, which is related to future commercialization.

It was found that Part 3, which includes the Karol Bagh area, has the maximum economic vibrancy. Surprisingly Part 1, which appears to be the most highly commercialized area, is ranked lowest in terms of economic vibrancy. This may be due to the fact that whereas in Karol Bagh area where, the layout is based on a gridiron pattern, the commercial use has penetrated deep into all parts. In Part-1, comprising the Old City of Shahjahanabad, the dead-end pattern of streets with narrow widths does not allow such commercial penetration. Thus, in Part 1, the commercial use is by and large confined to the peripheral roads alone and has less scope for further increase inside unless redeveloped. Part 2 stands third on the ranking and shows moderate potential for economic up-scaling of activities.

Similar analysis was done wardwise in each part. The analysis identifies the wards in each part, which show economic vibrancy. It has been observed that even if a part is low on economic vibrancy indicator, its specific wards may be transforming rapidly through intrusion of economic activities.

The results were used in formulating the strategic dimensions of a future development policy for each part and wards in the Special Areas. Based on these analyses, the extended Metropolitan City Centre was delineated, which comprised most areas of Part 1 (Walled City), the whole of Part 2 (Walled City Extension, Sadar Bazar and Paharganj), about half of Part 3 (Karol Bagh Commercial) and some part of Part 5 (Old Sabzi Mandi, Roshanara Road and Extension).

These Special Areas are very rich in terms of heritage value. Presently, the Old Delhi areas are getting degenerated and their rich heritage is dying.

The Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk have been jewels in the crown of Shahjahanabad. Chandni Chowk Street forms the most prominent axis of the Walled City. The original Chandni Chowk had octagonal Chowks with a water channel running through the centre. Its wide boulevard with prestigious buildings and bazaar created a vista between the magnificent Red Fort and the Fatehpuri Mosque.

With the passage of time, there has been an all-round degradation and deterioration of this glorious avenue, which can be attributed to several reasons, like over-crowding, encroachments by shops and street vendors, markets, wholesale trade, rickshaws in haphazard traffic, unauthorized constructions, conversion of heritage buildings, overriding commercial interests and private motives, coupled with lack of controls.

The areas have certain weaknesses like the unplanned intrusion of commerce, loss of hierarchy in road width, lack of organized green open space and parking space, growth of commercial activities devastating the local infrastructure, and chaos in movement through various modes of transport system.

There are abundant possibilities which force us to say that the redevelopment is possible for these Old Delhi areas. Excellent connectivity through road, rail and the Metro is one of the biggest strength of these areas. The location of this area, its regional setting, presence of many vacant lands, the oldest commercial destination, globally recognized heritage sites, and an important tourist destination are factors that form the base for a positive outlook for redevelopment to happen.

If the redevelopment does not start soon, the intrusion of commercial activities, the unorganized parking practices creating further chaos in movement, current Infrastructure indirectly affecting tourism potential, would all go into making these areas much more dreadful than even slums.

Most people who live in these areas want the place to redevelop and be like any other advanced and developed area. The stakeholders like the market and trader associations, resident welfare associations, and also the common man, either having a house or a shop in these areas, are mentally and financially ready for the redevelopment process to take place, and that too as soon as possible.

19 November 2011, Times of India


For the record famous architects are building twisted pieces

Fariborz Sahba, architect of the Baha’i House of Worship, also known as the Lotus Temple in Delhi, speaks to Anupam Srivastava about the beauty of simplicity in architecture

What was Delhi like 25 years ago, especially the surroundings of the Lotus Temple?
Ans: For me, it was 35 years ago, as the temple took 10 years to design and construct. Of course, a lot of new buildings have been added to Delhi along with traffic but the general impression you get when you are in Delhi is more or less the same. But our limitations were completely different at that time since import was prohibited and we could not get the material and tools we needed to build the temple.

The location of the Baha’i temple on a natural mound is magnificent. When you conceived the temple, did you consider any other sites?
Ans: The location of the temple is perfect. This is an old property bought by the Baha’is in the 1950s. At that time it was out of the city and then the city moved in this direction. It is unfortunate that there are huge neon lights and LED boards behind the temple which takes magnificence out of the view. This temple has won an award for being one of the best-illuminated buildings of the world by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. This is an award that the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty have won, so you know what I am talking about. I do hope there is recognition of the need to preserve the views of the city.

There was a time when one could see the temple from virtually anywhere in Delhi. Now, one has to get closer or strain to get a glimpse. Do you feel a sense of loss?
Ans: Certainly. It is the responsibility of the city to protect its own future and its important monuments. This temple got 4.6 million visitors last year – almost twice as many as the Taj Mahal. In a way, it brings tremendous asset to the city and contributes to its prestige and dignity. I was delighted when Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit told me that she would like to improve the roads and surroundings leading to the temple.

Delhi has a mix of historical monuments and modest houses. How do you see it from an architect’s perspective?
Ans: Delhi has certain beautiful parts such as Lutyen’s Delhi and Mughal buildings, which are its treasure. These buildings make Delhi distinct. Every city should have a face that should come to one’s mind when you think of the city. Delhi should look different from Shanghai or Singapore. That quality, I feel, is lacking with modern architecture. That is why a consciousness about architecture is very important.

Can architecture concern itself only with the beauty of a building and not its use? The Taj Mahal and the Lotus Temple are accessible to everyone, but Lutyen’s Delhi is not.
Ans: If a piece of architecture is beautiful, I appreciate its beauty but there is no doubt that there is something special about a building made in the service of mankind. In the Lotus Temple, the presidents of countries sit on the same chair on which a half-naked beggar sits. The beggar is a son of God, and the king too is a son of God.

With growing affluence, our cities should have been getting more beautiful but they are at best getting more functional and efficient. Why?
Ans: I think the main reason is that as we get less spiritual and more materialistic; we lose our taste, our touch, our connection with the creator and the source of our being. There is no relation between the cost of the building and its beauty. A building can be very humble and, at the same time, very beautiful. I think there is dignity in simplicity. Taj Mahal’s material is very simple. Its geometry is very simple. Look at the Baha’i temple. It is so simple and naked. Inside it has a few plain marble benches. Still, people like it.

Where do you think architecture is headed?
Ans: Most of the famous architects of today have been building twisted and complicated pieces which no one else can build. As a society, we don’t know where we are going. Architecture too is part of this journey. It is a very difficult period of history.

Are we ending on a pessimistic note?
Ans: No. The Baha’i faith believes that eventually people will find a balance between the material and the spiritual. In the same way that we cannot live on water or food alone, we need to strike a balance between the spiritual and the material. Science and technology and spirituality should go hand in hand. That is the message of the Baha’i faith.

20 November 2011, Times of India


Govt to fund publications on Indian heritage, culture

To encourage more magazines and journals on India's heritage and culture, government on Saturday launched a scheme that provides financial support of up to R20 lakh a year to such publications.

Culture minister Kumari Selja also launched 'Cultural Heritage Young Leadership programme’s aimed at promoting cultural awareness among school children and to develop a love for the country's rich cultural heritage.

Launching the schemes on the occasion of 'Heritage Walk Week' here, Selja said the Ministry will give financial support of upto Rs 10 lakh a year, and in exceptional cases, upto R20 lakh ,to magazines and journals dedicated to India's cultural heritage.

"The scheme is intended to fill a gap being currently encountered in financial assistance for publication and support to journals and magazines,” she said.

20 November 2011, Hindustan Times


Straight from the women’s world

All our folk arts have something special about them. What distinguishes Mithila art (also known as Madhubani art) from others is the fact that it belongs exclusively to the women’s world.

Originally these paintings were done on freshly plastered mud walls of huts and floors. But now it is also done on cloth, hand-made paper and canvas. The story of how the art originated, grew, thrived within a tiny village and then turned global is a rather fascinating story.

There was a time when very few people outside the Mithila knew about this art. The first to document this tradition as a form of folk art was William Archer, a British civil servant posted in the region during the colonial era. He and his wife Mildred got some of the typical designs copied on paper. They carried these to the India Records Office in London, now part of the British Library, so that artists specialising in folk art could get an idea about this special folk art from India.

As the name suggests, Mithila art is a style of painting that originated in the Mithila region of Bihar, particularly in the village of Madhubani. The origin of the art is shrouded in mystery. However, it is generally believed that it was created during the epic period when King Janak of Mithila ordered the marriage hall to be decorated for his daughter Sita’s marriage to Rama. We find some vivid descriptions of the wall and floor paintings in Tulsidas’s magnum opus, Ramcharitamanas.

Traditionally, Mithila painting was done by the womenfolk of the village who were the sole custodians of this art. Younger women and girls helped them and learnt it from them from a very young age. That is how it passed on from one generation to the next.

Mithila art is usually divided into three categories — paintings done on the floor, on the walls and on moveable objects such as wooden seats, clay pots, mats, fans, woven baskets and so on.

The first one is called aripan, which is a floor art like the alpana in Bengal. Aripan is made with rice paste called pithar in the local language. As in alpana, aripan is also done with one’s finger tips and the basic pattern is done in white and filled up later with different colours, usually red and yellow. Astadala, sarvatobhadra, dasapata and swastika are some of the symbols used in aripan.

An interesting feature of all Mithila paintings was that the artists used only locally available raw materials, including indigenous colour — vermillion and local red clay for red; turmeric and flower petals for yellow; leaves for green; soot for black and  crushed berries for blue. In fact, a number of local flowers, leaves, fruits, barks, herbs and roots were used to extract colours, usually in the form of powder which was then strained through fine cloth.

Some colours were made by boiling the ingredients in water. All the colours were then mixed with goat’s milk and gum from babul trees so that they stuck to the walls properly and also lasted longer.

However, now Mithila artists use readymade acrylic colours and paint brushes, although the style and themes remain the same.

The themes of Mithila art comprise Hindu deities such as Rama and Sita; Radha and Krishna; Shiva and Parvati; Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati and so on; natural objects such as the sun and the moon; sacred plants like tulasi and banana stem; social scenes like wedding or a royal court gathering, and also various symbols, depending on the occasion.

Generally, no space is left empty. All gaps are filled up with pictures of flowers, animals, birds and even geometric designs. Many of these have specific meanings. An elephant is supposed to convey good luck, fish stands for fertility, parrots symbolise love and so on.

Traditionally, no brushes were used for painting. The colour was applied with a piece of cotton or lint stuck to a piece of bamboo. Or, they made a rough brush by wrapping cotton at the end of a twig.

These paintings are made during all festivals, religious events and social occasions such as weddings, naming ceremony, sacred thread ceremony and others. All ceremonies related to marriage are performed in the kohbar, a special chamber where the newly weds spend their first few nights. All paintings in this room symbolise love, sex and fertility, as well as some specific gods and goddesses, such as the Dashaavatara, Gauri, Bidh and Bidhata and so on.

Mithila art was first practised by Brahmin women who used bright colours. They mostly painted gods and goddesses and symbolic painting used in the kohbar. The art was then taken up by Kayastha women whose speciality was fine line drawings. They also used muted colours and shaded the drawings. Many of them painted just outlines, depicting village and festive scenes with fine, intricate details. Their style is very different from the others. Women of other castes took to painting much later, from the 1980s onwards. Their drawings are often quite simple, comprising lines, waves, circles, animals, trees and flowers.

What prompted the artists of Mithila to share their exclusive art with the rest of the world?

Surprisingly, it came about because of a major ecological and economic disaster that struck Mithila following a prolonged drought during 1966-68. In order to create a new source of non-agricultural income, the All India Handicrafts Board encouraged the women artists of Mithila to produce their traditional paintings for commercial sale. That is how women from all levels of society joined in and Mithila paintings became the primary source of income for scores of families. It is now taught in several art schools, all over the country, and has become a popular stylised art.

20 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Unravelling mystery of the mighty Saraswati

A sudden gush of water near four separate temple sites baffled geologists

It was once eulogised as the mother of seven rivers flowing in the northern region, fierce and roaring in all its full grandeur. But the majesty of the erstwhile Saraswati river is long lost. The mighty river does not flow anymore, but the quest for its lost remains in Haryana has intrigued geologists like never before. And this unflinching pursuit could well be the answer to mitigate water scarcity in starved regions, besides offering a bounty of rich placer mining.

Sometime ago, a sudden gush of water from below the surface near four separate temple sites in Haryana left geologists burning midnight oil in pursuit of the lost remains of the erstwhile mighty Saraswati river. The exploration that eventually followed only reinforced their theory of the existence of numerous paleo-channels (dried river tracks beneath the earth) of the erstwhile river, deep aquifers further below and buried remains of the river. The water still continues to spill out. Geologists say the river may not flow today, but its buried channels still exist in Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Talking to Deccan Herald, Dr A R Chaudhary, professor of the Geology  Department, Kurukshetra University in Haryana, who has pioneered this research and is in charge of a full-fledged Saraswati River Research Laboratory at the university, said that a mighty river of the magnitude of Saraswati must have had a perennial source.

He said: “Satellite imageries suggest the presence of several paleo-channels indicating a major river flow that once existed. Laboratory analysis of sediments collected from the water that came out of these two sites suggest a dense mineral content of higher Himalayan hills, which only reinforced our theory.”

Dr Chaudhary, who has been working on Himalayas and the Saraswati for about two decades, said the research is significant as it attempts to address the critical issue of water scarcity, something which could be a major problem area in the future. “The existence of deeper aquifers, and more significantly the phenomena of these getting re-charged could eventually lead to huge untapped fresh water reserves. The paleo-channels are also getting re-charged,” he said.

Here’s what the way forward is. Oil  exploration major, the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) is gearing up to dig deep within the surface in search of fresh water trapped in these deep aquifers. The process is likely to be outsourced to the  Hyderabad-based National Geo-Physical Research Institute and Dr Chaudhary, for which talks are underway, sources said. ONGC has undertaken this project as part of its corporate social responsibility to address issues of water scarcity in the region.

A memorandum of understanding with stakeholders, including the governments of Haryana and Gujarat, have been signed by ONGC to initiate digging and scientific exploration.

Haryana has attained a special status in the endeavour to unravel the mystery associated with this river of the Indian subcontinent. In Haryana, nearly 103 early Harappan (2500-2200 BC) archaeological sites related to the Saraswati river civilisation have been identified. These sites are spread across various districts of Haryana. The battle of Mahabharata was fought on the fields of Kurukshetra, which were dotted by hermitage sites of numerous renowned ascetics along the course of the Saraswati. So what went wrong in geological time, some 9,000 years ago. Dr Chaudhary maintained that the disappearance of the mighty Saraswati was because of the rise in the Himalayan mountain chain, among other reasons.

He said the major diversions in the course of the gigantic Satluj river, which in fact was a major contributor of the erstwhile Saraswati along with the Yamuna, could possibly have let the Saraswati to lose its flow. “The deeper aquifers related to the paleo-channels of the Saraswati, through which flowed billions of million cubic metres of fresh water for a considerable period of geologic time, hold the key for mitigation of water scarcity in the  region,” he said.

Historically, the venerated Hindu texts, are replete with references of a major  river which drained the northern part of the country. The Saraswati, Dr Chaudhary said, is supposed to have originated in the glaciated region of the Himalayas and  during its passage to the Arabian Sea, the river roared as it carried peaks of newly  upheaved mountains as flowers in its flow. The river, as per the vedas, is supposed to have bestowed upon the people huge material and spiritual benefits. Along the path of the Saraswati flourished numerous agrarian civilisations.

Investigations carried out by a team of geologists reveals that the Saraswati glacier branch of the Saraswati flowed through Yamunanagar and Kurukshetra districts in Haryana before it joined the Ghaggar river at Rasula in the Patiala district of Punjab.

A buried river bed in Haryana village has revealed an estimated width of this paleo-channel to be more than 2 km. Intensive surface and sub-surface geological investigations, including detailed study of satellite imageries of Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh, have been carried out before inferences were finally drawn.

Dr Chaudhary said he has identified a number of paleo-channels along the vedic tract of the erstwhile Saraswati river. These widely spaced signatures include water coming out of Kapil Muni temple Sarovar and Chyavan Giri kund at Kalayat in the Jind district.  Subsurface geological studies in Kurukshetra and presence of buried river bed in the Pehowa district of Haryana have reinforced the research theory.

The analysis of sediments, including textural and dense mineral analysis of the sediments coming out with water, have been carried out to ascertain their major depositional environment and provenance.

The dense mineral assemblage from the above mentioned sites suggests that the sediments have been derived from very high pressure plate tectonic setting. The river channel that deposited these sedim­ents was trans-Himalayan in character, Dr Chaudhary said.

20 November 2011, Deccan Herald


On their toes, literally

The population of Manipur’s Sangai deer is dipping. The dancing deer is special because it is not found anywhere else in the world and its habitat is a floating mass of vegetation in the Keibul Lamjao National Park, the world’s only floating national park, writes Atula Gupta

Tucked in the North-eastern state of Manipur is Loktak lake, home to a curious herd of deer. These mammals earn their distinction not just because they are found nowhere else in the world, but also because their home and natural habitat is a floating mass of vegetation on the lake, the Keibul Lamjao National Park (KLNP), the world’s only floating national park. But the deer are not happy anymore in their one-of-a-kind home.

Natural calamities and man-made devastations are rapidly changing the composition of the critical biomass, leaving the deer with little to live on. Chances are, the deer as well as their unique home, may sink into oblivion pretty soon.

Sangai deer of Manipur are known by many names, Eld’s deer, brow-antlered deer and the scientific name Cervus eldi eldi. But one name that indicates in the best way the species relationship with its home is the name dancing deer.

Balancing their hooves on the wobbly surface of the floating biomass called phumdies, these deer hop, skip and jump on the surface like graceful ballerinas. The deer were in fact declared extinct in 1951, but were rediscovered in this secluded location which necessitated declaring this reserve park area as a national park.

From a small herd of 14 in 1975, Sangai deer population was reportedly 155 in 1995, but dropped to 92 in 2008. It is a critically endangered species, according to IUCN, and even the slightest manmade errors can indeed send it rapidly back into the list of extinct animals.

It is not that Manipur does not take pride in the existence of this species. Sangai deer is the state animal. Much folklore too is woven around the animal; about how it was brought to its present home by a young prince who wished to gift the deer to his beloved. Tragedy struck when he found she was already married and thus released the deer on to the phumdies.

Ironically, what concerns environmentalists today is the modern-day tragedy that has affected the species. From global warming, pollution and poaching to threat from exotic species, the delicate phumdies are receding at an alarming rate and thus aggravating the threat to the deer’s existence.

Floating homes
Phumdi is a Manipuri word meaning floating mats of soil and vegetation. Scientifically, phumdis are a heterogeneous mass of soil, vegetation and organic matter in different stages of decay. Although there are many such phumdies on the Loktak lake, the largest among them is the Keibul Lamjao National Park.

Experts fear the size of the biomass has been decreasing over the last few years and its buoyancy and thickness too is getting reduced by the day. At many places, according to environmentalist R K Ranjan, phumdies have become less than one-metre thick and if a Sangai steps on this biomass, it will drown.

Manipur’s Deputy Conservator of Forests L Joykumar Singh says that because of the restricted movement of the deer, there are other problems that have increased. In-breeding within a herd has risen and competition with other wildlife for food in a particular area has increased too.

Shrinking habitat
The main reason for the declining swamps, according to biologists, is the hydrological changes in the eco-system which occurred after the water level in the lake was kept at a higher level for NHPC’s hydro-power project. “This increase in water levels has brought the phumdies farther away from the ground making it difficult to draw nutrients from the river bed and support vegetation,” N C Talukdar, Director of Institute of Bio-resources and Sustainable Development, says. Talukdar warns that global warming will further reduce the biomass as they will decompose quickly due to the heat.

Pollution is yet another problem for the deer. According to a report by Wetlands International, the inflow of pesticides, chemical fertilisers and domestic sewage is lowering the quality of the water of the lake complicating births and even giving rise to deformities among the deer.

Increasing human encroachment and poaching is cause for grave concern too. Another enemy of the species is the para grass, a species that was not earlier found in the area. The grass spreads very quickly leaving no space for the endemic plant species. Thus, the deer is also not getting enough supply of its staple food because of the invasive plant. “Para grass expands very quickly and prevents the growth of other plants. The species is invading fast and the more area it covers the less food will be left for Sangai,” warns Ranjan.

Technically, the world’s only floating national park is spread across 40 sq km, but the area deemed safe for the Sangai is only 9.5 sq km. Statistics therefore clearly point out that it will be really very easy to destroy the natural habitat and eventually kill this species of deer. What statistics also show conversely is that it is also relatively simple to protect, preserve and save this small piece of land. Simply put, unlike man-made changes that can be halted, if this unique ecosystem is lost once, it will be lost forever, taking with itself the last of the dancing deer.

22 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Truth about Taylor...

Taylor's Manzil, the T-shaped 167-year-old bungalow in Yadgir taluk’s Surapur, was built by British resident Philip Meadows Taylor, author of the well-known 'Confessions of a Thug', writes Devu Pattar

A row of rocky hills. A small town that sits in the middle of these boulders. A 167-year-old bungalow constructed on the peak of one such hill. This bungalow, built to resemble the letter ‘T’ in the English language, has at least one door on every outer wall.

There are four rooms and as many as 27 doors! When every door of the building is closed, and there is a knock on any one of them, all the doors begin to shake. This has been planned for safety, and is based on sound principles of construction and science. The building we are talking about is Taylor’s Manzil.

The bungalow is in today’s Yadgir taluk’s Surapur and was built by British officer Philip Meadows Taylor, who also served as the Resident of Surapur. It was he who created the blueprint for the building.

Who was Taylor?
It was Philip Meadows Taylor (1808-76) who introduced India and its culture to the West, by way of his well-known works such as Confessions of a Thug. The work was popular not only in England, but the whole of Europe.

Taylor also contributed immensely to historical research in India. He first landed in India at the age of fifteen. He came looking for a job, and started work as a clerk in Aurangabad.

Later, he served in the police and military units of the British and rose to the ranks of Captain-Colonel too. Taylor became extremely popular in India thanks to his administrative policies. To people who couldn’t pronounce his name, he became ‘Mahadeva Baba’.

Taylor in Surapur
Surapur brings to mind Venk atappa Nayaka who fought the British in 1857. Nalwadi Venkatappa Nayaka was seven years old when Taylor came to Surapur. Taylor was sent to Surapur as Regent to resolve administrative issues related to the principality. Captain Gresly who had come to Surapur before Taylor left the town, unable to handle resistance from the local regime.

Venkatappa Nayaka’s father Krishnappa Nayaka had died an untimely death, and the throne had fallen vacant. Before Queen Eshwaramma could deliver a male child, Krishnappa Nayak had declared his brother Pidda Nayaka as the crown prince. It was Pidda Nayaka’s desire to crown him the king.

But, Queen Eshwaramma wanted to coronate her own son as the king. It was when there was a lot of confusion and the entire province was split over this that Taylor landed in Surapur. It was not easy for him to take all parties involved into confidence and come to a fair decision. However, Taylor, who conducted himself with immense equanimity, patience and grace, was successful in helping seven-year-old Venkatappa Nayaka ascend the throne. But the anger of the other group now turned towards the young king and Taylor.

Taylor sensed that an attack was being planned against him during the Dasara procession, but was able to thwart it successfully. Taylor had to spend his initial days in Surapur in great anxiety. Meanwhile, he had decided to build his residence in Surapura. He built the bungalow far away from the town, and at a great height, in the year 1844.

The second half of Taylor’s 12-year regime in Surapura was largely peaceful, and there was much progress in the region during his administration. Taylor, who was very close to King Venkatappa Nayaka ensured that the king was not only well versed in weaponry, but also trained in other forms, and was well-educated and knowledgeable.

Nalwadi Venkatappa Nayak was known to address Taylor as ‘appa’ (father) with great love. When Taylor’s administration came to an end, the king could not bear to bid him goodbye.

Because Taylor had begun the construction of the building in an atmosphere of fear and anxiety, safety was on his mind the most. The building was constructed in such a manner that there was an escape route if an attack was launched from any side. He had envisaged the building plan to ensure that he would know when the main door was opened from his own room. When one stands at the entrance of the bungalow, one would realise that there are two doors right next to main door. There is also a separate door that leads to the rooms on the left side.

There is a huge drawing room, a dining room and two other big rooms. The building has been constructed in such a manner that it will stay cool even in summer.

There are many pieces of furniture inside the building which are ‘T’ shaped. A chair and some pieces of china that Taylor is said to have used are now housed in Gulbarga’s Government Museum.

There are signs to show that there was a park in front of the bungalow at one point. The ‘Kudure Gudda’ (a hillock called the ‘Horse peak’) was called Taylor’s peak by localites.

If one sits here, one gets a panoramic view of the whole town, from the line of hills in the distance to a view of the horizon. Taylor’s bungalow is a must-see for anyone visiting Gulbarga district.

22 November 2011, Deccan Herald


Court raps govt for failing to curb Yamuna pollution

New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Thursday demanded an explanation from the state government why contempt of court proceedings shouldn’t be initiated against it for failing to construct enclosures along the Yamuna so that garbage could not be dumped into the river, especially during the festival season. HC issued the enclosure order five years ago.

Justice Vipin Sanghi also issued similar showcause notices to the Delhi government’s environment department, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), seeking their replies by February 7 on the contempt plea.

The plea was filed by Vinod Jain, director of NGO Tapas, on whose PIL in 2006 the court had asked the Delhi government to create 13 enclosures along the Yamuna where idol immersions and disposal of p o oja s a m a g r icould take place. The work was to have been undertaken under the Delhi Degradable Plastic Bag (Manufacture, Sale and Usage) and Garbage (Control) Act, 2000, under which MCD also had the power to fine those who threw in anything into the river directly

The court had directed the government in September 2006 to take measures to ensure that no garbage and worship material was thrown into the river, drains and sewers. The agencies concerned were to have constructed the 13 permanent enclosures for which land had also been identified. DDA was supposed to finance the project while MCD was in charge of constructing and maintenance. “The environment department has sent several reminders to them but to no avail. Till 2010 only one enclosure had been built at Kudsiya Ghat and that too was dismantled and stolen within a year. DDA has released funds but concerned agencies do not seem to be bothered,” said Jain

Jain added that HC had in its order also directed authorities to give wide publicity to make the general public aware of this ban. Even the Delhi Pollution Control Committee had suggested making specific enclosures for immersion of idols, following which the civic agency had assured thecourt for the development of such enclosures within three months, the petitioner stated.

25 November 2011, Times of India