Heritage Alerts
Home:  - Heritage Alerts
Heritage Alerts
October 2011 Back

Jaislamer’s ‘living’ fort crumbling

Bastion of the world’s only living fort may collapse under the added weight of the illegal constructions

The historic “Golden Fort” of Jaisalmer is in danger. The 855-year-old fort is crumbling and may not hold out for much longer against man-made and natural disasters. Heavy incessant rain in the last monsoon has damaged the fort, bringing down a 40-foot-long and 20-foot-wide portion of the retaining wall near the main entrance.

Another part, a 100-foot-long wall, is on the verge of collapse, making it unsafe for the fort’s residents and thousands of tourists who visit it every day and raising questions over the conservation efforts.

Over the years, 87 of the 469 structures within the fort have collapsed. In 1993, a portion of Rani Ka Mahal, one of its most significant buildings, caved in under the heavy load of its saturated sandstone walls.

Seventeen of the 99 bastions of the fort have already crumbled. People have occupied the remaining bastions and many have built four-storey houses on their edges, making both the fort and their lives unsafe. A faulty sewage, unchecked encroachment and illegal construction, including 35 unlicensed hotels and guest houses, have exacerbated the plight of the world’s only “living fort”, which houses over 4,000 people, descendants of Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal. Experts fear the bastions may not be able to withstand the added weight of these illegal constructions and eventually give way.

As the fort area is on weak sedimentary rock units, another danger is from tremors.

According to a Geological Survey of India report, the fort is in a seismic zone and that three fault lines pass under it. The 2001 Gujarat quake had caused extensive damage to several buildings in the fort.

A report prepared by consultancy firm Bombay Collaborative Urban Designing and Conservation also confirmed tectonic movement beneath the fort.

“The main cause of damage to the fort walls and bastions are erosion activity around the hill slopes, drainage congestion, unauthorised activities and absence of a proper sewerage system,” ASI superintendent archaeologist, Jaipur circle, Syed Jamal Hasan said. “Also sand-bearing winds hitting the fort and fluctuations in night and day temperatures cause damage.”

“Another basic problem is the sewage system in the fort,” says Luca Borella, who moved to Jaisalmer from France in 1994 and now owns a nine-room heritage hotel here. Borella says the sewage system is leaking and the water percolates to the fort’s foundation. As early as 2001, environment experts had observed that the seeping water would be harmful for the stability of the fort. Amita Beg, the India representative of World Monuments Fund, voiced fears about water seepage underneath the fort and the dangers it posed.

Conservation architects also argue that global climate change is also partly responsible. In an arid region that was not designed to face rainfall are now receiving heavy rainfall.

When Jaisalmer was built, the Thar Desert received on average six to nine inches of rain a year. In the summer of 2007, 22 inches of rain fell in just three days. When Raja Jaisal’s workers built Jaisalmer in the 12th century, they topped many of the buildings with three feet mud as insulation to keep interiors cool. Now the rains turn the roofs to sludge, which causes buildings to collapse, they opine.

A WMF report points out that until about 20 years ago, the fort remained relatively untouched by tourism. But in the past few years, Jaisalmer faces serious pressure from its population and from tourists. Increased water usage has not been matched with drainage facilities. Sewage dumped on the streets is seeping below the buildings and affecting the foundations.

Jaisalmer was once home to the Bhatti Rajputs—a tribe of warriors and traders who, for centuries, prospered by levying taxes on the merchants who wound between Egypt, Persia and India. Prone to warring not only against outsiders but also among themselves, the Rajputs built a network of intricate fortresses to defend themselves and their accumulated wealth.

Built by Rawal Jaisal in 1156 on Trikuta Hill, the fort rises like a mirage from the barren Thar Desert with its 99 bastions silhouetted against the sky. It soars 30 metres above a maze of streets, squares, places and a cluster of dwellings, all in golden yellow sandstone.

Its massive yellow sandstone walls are a tawny lion colour during the day, fading to honey-gold as the sun sets, thereby camouflaging the fort in the yellow desert. For this reason, it is also known as the “Golden Fort”. This fort formed the backdrop of Satyajit Ray’s 1974 movie, Sonar Kella.

The Lonely Planet travel guidebook advises tourists not to stay in the fort as it is weak and unsafe.

Rules say the permission of the ASI superintending archaeologist, Jaipur circle, is needed for any construction within 100 metres of the fort. In 2004, following a PIL, the Rajasthan High Court issued a directive to remove all unauthorised constructions. But nobody is listening Since 2004, at least 168 new unauthorised const¬r¬uctions have come up inside and outside the fort. Conservationists say it would be very difficult to remove the unauthorized residents as they account for quite a few votes during an election season.

9 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Bright, bold and beautiful

A lively marriage procession, royals on a hunting tour, nayak and nayika (beloveds) on a pleasure trip, a cavalcade of elephants standing in ceremonial welcome of a state guest, the classy Marwari steed in gallop... are some very characteristic representations visible in paintings of the Mewar region (Udaipur and around) in Rajasthan.

Another typical feature of the art from this region is these can all be freely found on the exterior walls of homes, palaces, forts and temples. Indeed, wherever a brick-mortar or mud-straw canvas stands, it’s given a vibrant makeover.

Think Rajasthan, think bright, bold, beautiful. Adversity is known to bring out survival skills in man and an exemplar are people of the desert state. It is aridness that’s made Rajasthan a synonym for colour. Its people have not only overcome the hardships of life and landscape but embossed it with a brilliance that reflects in whatever they create: cuisine, craft, textile, architecture or painting.

According to art historians, it’s in the Rajput kingdoms of the region that the seeds of refined painting (and also architecture) got sown. The warrior Rajputs were in constant battle with the Mughals and one of the outcomes from the mixed scene of triumphs, defeats or annexations was an inflow of creativity.

The Mughals, it resolutely appears, possessed an artistic gene and some of their outstanding traits rubbed-off on the equally creative Rajputs. The 16th century is usually recognised as the origin of the Rajput style of painting, which was a blend of Mughal miniature and localised style. Over time, several schools of Rajput paintings got established. These include Bundi-Kota, Jaipur, Kishengarh, Bikaner, Marwar and Mewar.

Rajput painting was found on all sorts of medium, the wall being one of the most striking among the canvases. Paintings on walls (not to be confused with fresco, which refers to the art of painting on fresh plaster before it dries) is a common sight across Rajasthan; the painted havelis of Shekhawati being the most celebrated in this genre. What stands out in the Mewar style of wall art is its dramatic life-size and bold subject, as opposed to, say, the Shekhawati style where the theme is painted within a specified block. The Mewar style is freewheeling, bold and expressions display a sense of vivacity, making it immensely appealing. The dominating features are the use of bright colours against a plain white/cream backdrop; stylised trees, flowers, birds and hills; and the costumes being a mix of Mughal and Rajput styles.

In today’s geographical arrangement, Mewar’s poster girl is the lake city of Udaipur, recognised as one of the most beautiful destinations of India. A trip around the city — from Jag Mandir, ghats, City Palace and museum to Jagdish Temple and the many bustling bylanes — lets a visitor come face-to-face with boundless artistic abilities. Amidst the aesthetic profusion up for grabs as a treat to the eyeballs, the wall paintings do score high.

The Maharanas of Udaipur are known for valour and all things beautiful; and this one feature can be seen across the paintings… whether the subject is a battle scene or a mythological chieftain escaping with his beloved. Both acts do require men (and women) to be bravehearts and the painted expressions clearly relay that!

Popular episodes from the epics are a muse, and so are legends and ballads. Another constant in most paintings is the elegant Marwari horse. Amongst India’s prized steeds, it is considered a cross between the sturdy native pony and the Arab horse, the latter’s distinguishing features of swiftness, endurance, grace and strong bone structure clearly visible in it.

A distinctive trait of the thoroughbred Marwari mount is its ability to curl its ears inward, such that the pointed ends touch; and painters have captured this with perfection. Almost all paintings emerging from the Rajput school will have the Marwari steed as the preferred mount used by the protagonists of their art works.

Among the gamut of work, what also stands out is the ‘trick paintings’. In these, for example, a doorway or staircase is incorporated into the canvas, the resulting artistic deception lending the painting a remarkable three-dimensional feel.

The wall art is a tribute to the local unknown, possibly unlettered, artist who exhibits his prowess to satisfy creative energies, and in the endeavor adds to the beauty of Mewar.

9 October 2011, Deccan Herald


ICCR to showcase Tagore’s legacy

New Delhi: There is more to Rabindranath Tagore than just the distinction of being India’s first Nobel Laureate. And on his 150th birth anniversary, the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) plans to showcase that.

The celebrations will begin on Monday morning with the inauguration of a threeday international conference — focusing on Tagore’s vision of the contemporary world — by Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. Calling Tagore India’s first truly global citizen, Dr Karan Singh, president ofICCR said, “Tagore was proud to be Indian, but at the same time was equally proud to think of himself as a global citizen.”

To truly illustrate Tagore’s global presence, the ICCR has also organized similar conferences to be held in different countries like China, Egypt, Argentina, Australia, Germany, Vietnam and Fiji.

There will also be a photo exhibition at Azad Bhavan, curated by Dr Samuel Berthet, which will be open to the public till October 21.

10 October 2011, Times of India


Despite eviction notice, business as usual for people in Tughlaqabad

A day after the ASI eviction deadline for residents of Tughlaqabad village ended, nothing had moved on ground on Sunday.

The ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) had served a notice to the residents, in compliance with a Supreme Court order, asking them to vacate their homes within a week.

The heritage body had earlier said it would demolish the illegal construction in the area, one the week-long deadline was over.

As the residents, however, continued with their routine work on Sunday, with no demolition activity in the area.

Police said they had not received any intimation from the ASI regarding any demolition action. “We have not received any intimation from the ASI as to what their plans are as of now. As and when we get information, we will make the necessary arrangements,” said a senior police officer.

Despite the furore surrounding the proposed demolition, villagers are confident their houses will not be razed. “Not one person in the village has moved out and shops are open as usual. People have been living here for many years. How can they ask us to leave and uproot our lives? Several times in the past also, they have tried to remove us. But nothing has happened,” said Ramesh Kumar, a resident of the village.

In 1997, two years after the land was handed over to ASI, an effort was made by the agency to remove the encroachment, but the process was stopped due to public protest. In 2001, when another demolition was planned, village leaders obtained a stay order from the Delhi High Court, which applied till September 8, 2011, when the Supreme Court removed the stay.

“In spite of the court order, we will try to ensure that no action takes place. We have filed a review petition with the Supreme Court that will come up for hearing on October 12, and we are hoping for a favourable decision,” said Dhiraj Lala, a village leader.

He said the court had asked to carry out the demolition in the two months after serving the eviction notice.

Meanwhile, construction of new buildings in the area could be seen as well. Rakesh Yadav, a contractor said, “The owners have not told us to stop work. After the controversy arose, we did ask them if we wanted to continue, but they said go ahead.”

“We have seen such tamasha before. This place is a village for namesake. There are big houses here; BJP MLA Ramesh Kumar Bidhuri stays here as well. There is a senior secondary school, too. We are very confident that nothing will happen. In fact, you will not find the eviction notice put up anywhere in the village. The residents tore them all down,” said Lokesh Sharma, a shopkeeper.

Despite repeated attempts K K Muhammed, Superintending Archaeologist, Delhi Circle, ASI, could not be contacted.

10 October 2011, Indian Express


Stop illegal constructions on Yamuna bed: MCD

Expressing concern over encroachment and rampant construction on the Yamuna river bed, the Works Committee of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) on Monday urged the Delhi Government to direct its departments to stop illegal constructions there with immediate effect. While providing pictorial evidences, MCD Works Committee chairman Jagdish Mamgain said it was a matter of concern that illegal encroachment and constructions are going on the Yamuna river bed and the Government does not seem bothered.

Alleging that it shows the insensitivity towards protection of natural resources, which may cause environmental hazard, Mamgain said, “Starting from Noida to Delhi and onwards along the bed, a large number of buildings, including pucca buildings, are raised and all these structures are going to be completed soon. I am surprised how builders managed to build without attracting anyone’s attention,” he said.

Urging Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit to direct the city Government’s agencies to stop illegal activities on the Yamuna River bed immediately, he said failure to do so would endanger the life of Delhiites in future. “As all these structures are being created on the river bed, these buildings will not be safe. Foundation of these edifices will remain weak and endangering the life of people,” he said. Mamgain further said flood department should conduct a survey about the status of river Yamuna and its bed. “No ongoing construction should be allowed at least up to danger area. The DND road may be taken on priority as maximum illegal activities are undergoing on it,” he said.

“Whenever any incident happens due to illegal construction, the CM and their colleagues tries to pass buck on MCD. Preventive measures and strong action against the law violators is better than trading changes later,” he also added.

11 October 2011, Pioneer


Gandhiana on a platter, everyone’s invited

NAI Puts Together Resource Centre on Mahatma Gandhi With More Than 40,000 Items

New Delhi: It’s no secret that Mahatma Gandhi had a terrible handwriting. Reading his notes means puzzling over ‘Ts’ and ‘Ls’, ‘Bs’ and ‘Ns’ in every line. “I was ashamed of myself and repented of my neglect. I saw that bad handwriting should be regarded as a sign of an imperfect education. I tried later to improve mine, but it was too late,” he writes in his autobiography. So, it’s surprising to learn that the Father of The Nation could actually trace straight lines and smooth circles at 73.

National Archives of India on Janpath has a calendar for the year 1942 that uses the Mahatma’s geometrical drawings as artwork. Apparently, he had sketched these to teach geometry to the other inmates of Pune’s Yerawada Jail where he was housed that year. The calendar is just one among the 40,000 items and 400 microfilm rolls compiled as part of ‘The Bapu Collection’ — a resource centre to help researchers studying the Mahatma’s life.

The collection includes some of the most valuable documents recording different phases of Bapu’s life. His correspondence with his friend Hermann Kallenbach that author Joseph Lelyveld used for his controversial biography, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With Indiais also available here as part of ‘Gandhiji Kallenbach Correspondence’, covering the period 1909-1946. The letters provide a vivid description of Bapu’s life at the Phoenix settlement and Tolstoy Farm in South Africa, where he first experimented with creating self sufficient communities.

The collection’s ‘Gandhiji Polak Correspondence’ covers the period 1902-1956 and has the Mahatma’s letters to Henry Polak, his clerk who later became a partner in his legal practice. Subjects covered in this correspondence include civil rights issues, Satyagraha in South Africa, some important press clippings and rare photographs. For instance, there’s one of a young Indira Nehru sitting with Mahatma Gandhi during his fast.

Equally interesting are the Gandhi murder trial papers (68 volumes); Gandhi’s correspondence with a Danish woman, Esther; documents related to his student days, including his terminal and annual exam results, and personal letters to Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant.

As the world’s fascination with Gandhi continues to increase with the passing years, the NAI staff hopes that the centre will become a facilitator. “We don’t just deal with dusty documents in dark rooms but with fascinating human beings. The collection related to Mahatma Gandhi is very rich and very few people have ever consulted some of these documents, especially the extensive papers on his South Africa days and the Kallenbach and Polak correspondence,” says eminent historian and Director General of NAI, Mushirul Hasan, who is also working on a book on Gandhi.

“Many authors access this collection. Joseph Lelyveld had also accessed it but quite some time back. We at NAI are trying to take a far more liberal approach and make much more information accessible to the public,” says assistant director, Rajesh Verma.

The institution seems to be undergoing a major change in its relationship with the public and opening up to more researchers. It is enlarging its microfilm repository for very old and brittle documents. More than five lakh images have been converted to microfilm so far. Hasan also plans to open a Nehruvian collection in November and a collection on ‘Ghalib’s Delhi to Lutyen’s Delhi’ later.

“The collection on Delhi is very close to my heart. We have started research on it to showcase different dimensions of Delhi. It will be displayed in the main building,” Hasan said.

11 October 2011, Times of India


New Metro line to roll over 200 century-old tree

More than 200 trees lining the Janpath-Mandi House area in central Delhi could be chopped to make way for Delhi Metro. These trees, many of which are rich in medicinal properties, are nearly a century old and date back to the time the new Capital was founded.

Yet, within a few days, many such trees will face the axe. Taking their place will be Metro tracks and a Metro station.

Meanwhile, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has already brought down 36 trees. DMRC officials said that they have obtained permission from the Forest Department to chop as many as 203 trees at various places, including Chelmsford Club, Janpath and Mandi House.

Anuj Dayal, DMRC spokesperson said: "We have compensated the Forest Department for this. We have paid Rs 28,000 for cutting each tree. Now, it's the Forest department's responsibility to carry out afforestation."

As per the norm, the Forest Department plants 10 trees in lieu of each tree that is cut, Dayal said. The Forest Department, however, failed to complete afforestation for thousands of trees that DMRC had chopped during the past decade for construction under phase 1 and 2, reportedly due to shortage of land and staff.

DMRC has already paid Rs 15.34 crore to the department during the last 10 years, officials said. "In such cases, we carry out afforestation on forest land. But now, we have severe shortage of land where afforestation can take place," said Rajgopal Prashant, Deputy Conservator of Forests (South). "Afforestation will not benefit us at least for three to four decades," said Ajay Mahajan, a member of Kalpbriksh, an NGO working on environment issues. He said DMRC was environment-sensitive during phase 1.

"But from phase 2, their sensitivity has reduced. Choosing alignment through green belts shows that saving trees is no longer their priority. The Central Secretariat-Badarpur corridor and the Gurgaon line pass through a rich green belt," he added.

Dayal, however, said DMRC would also carry out a plantation and greening drive around the station premises after completion of the Metro construction under phase 3 - scheduled to be over by 2016.

11 October 2011, Hindustan Times


Batting for the bat

These nocturnal creatures are much needed not only to sustain our ecosystem but also to ensure that pollination takes place.

This is the International Year of the Bat, and it is appropriate to get to know these nocturnal creatures. Did you know that without bats you would have less food on your plate? This is because, bats spread seeds far and wide, resulting in more food and shade. Bats also eat harmful insects and rats thereby reducing vectors that spread these diseases. The only mammals that can fly, they come from both tropical and temperate regions. Mostly black or brown, they can also be bright orange, yellow, silver, white, grey and some also have spots and stripes on their body and wings. A bat's home is called a roost. They do not make nests like a bird or burrow like a snake.

There are two kinds of bats — fruit bats and insect bats. The insectivorous bat family is called Michroc hiroptera. Micro means small and they eat insects, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, fish and even other smaller bats. They echolate (the use of echoes to detect objects and other creatures) to navigate and hence have modified ears. Fruit bats' family is called Megachiroptera meaning large. There are 14 kinds of fruit bats in South Asia alone. Fruit bats are also called flying foxes. They usually feed on fruits and smaller insects.

What you can do

  • Save forests

  • Do not disturb trees, caves, buildings that have bats

  • Do not cut trees that have roosts

  • Identify bat colonies in your school and observe without disturbing them.

  • Observe bats in temples and other sacred places and talk to your friends and relatives appreciating their usefulness.

  • Start bat clubs in your school

  • Avoid using chemicals in your gardens. Some insecticides may harm bats that naturally get rid of pests, insects that trouble us.

Itty bitty batty bits

  • The largest bat is the Giant Flying Fox, which has a wingspan of six feet and weighs about one kg.

  • Bats live in colonies called roosts. A mother bat produces one pup a year.

  • Bats have muscles and circulatory systems that are well adapted to make their upside-down life easy.

  • Insectivorous bats use a range of ultrasonic sound to detect food and obstacles.

  • All bats are not blind. Fruit bats have good vision.

  • Bats do not attack humans. People feel uneasy when they swoop down to catch insects.

  • Like cats, bats are clean animals. They groom themselves several times a day.

  • Bats are not pests. In fact they help us by controlling a lot of insect pests.

  • Bats are not a bad omen. In some parts of Asia and Europe they are considered lucky.

  • Bats are important to the forests as they pollinate and disperse seeds.

  • Vampire bats are not found in South Asia. They are only found in Latin America.

  • In total darkness, bats can detect everything by echolocation- even objects as thin as human hair.

  • Like cats, male bats also mark their territories and themselves with strong smelling urine.

  • Bats live in narrow crevices and bamboo and have flat skulls.

Did You Know?

  • Bats belong to the order “Chiroptera which means, “hand wing” in Greek.

  • Bats are the only mammals that can fly. Other flying mammals only glide.

  • Bats have been in this world for over 50 million years.

  • Bats are found throughout the world except in the Artic, Antarctica and some isolated islands.

  • Some bats are known to live up to 30 years.

  • Among the nearly 1001 species of bats in the world 123 species are found in South Asia.

  • Of the 450 mammal species in South Asia 123 (20 per cent) are bats.

  • The smallest bat in the world is the bumble bee bat that can fit into a match box.

To know more:
Contact: zooreach@vsnl.com, www.zooreach.org

www.chesterzoo.org.uk: Keeps one of the best bat exhibits in its artificially created caves and trees.

www.batcon.org: Bat Conservation International (BCI) is an organisation in the U.S. which devotes itself to saving bats around the world. The Chinese revere bats as symbols of good luck and happiness.

Walk at dusk

The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust in Chennai recently organised a bat walk. Wildlife enthusiasts also got to see other reptiles, trees and birds in a 30-minute walk to a village that hosts a banyan tree housing a colony of bats. The walk, undertaken at dusk enabled one to see bats as they were setting out for their hunt.

A few years ago there were hundreds and one could hardly see the gaps between the branches. But with each passing day their numbers are decreasing. Today, there are just over a hundred bats.

The people of the village have taken to keeping bat boxes. They have also stopped allowing hunting and killing of bats and make sure they keep noise to a minimum. They do not allow bursting crackers and intrusion. Bat guano or bat dropping is good fertilizer and the villagers have realised the benefits of having bat colonies closer to where they live. Bat droppings have another use besides spreading seeds — it piles up and makes a home for many small animals. The many animals and bat droppings that grow in bat droppings are an ecosystem by itself. Substances from bat droppings are used to make laundry soap and other products.


11 October 2011, Hindu


Indian literature and cross-cultural comparison

Is literature a valid discourse of knowledge? Does it enlarge the understanding of the world we inhabit? Should literary discourse be considered alongside other discourses of knowledge, say, scientific, philosophical or historical? These are questions that have intrigued critics and philosophers alike since the time of Plato.

Colonialism, Modernity and Literature makes a case for literature as knowledge in the face of skepticism fostered by post-structuralism. While insisting on “reading literature… as continuous with social, moral and epistemological theory,” it also stresses cross-cultural comparison.

Satya Mohanty, editor of this book of critical essays, calls the method “critical comparatism.” This approach, he argues, enables us to talk about “world literature” which stresses cross-national compact even as it resists the flattening of national/regional content. At the same time, it helps us develop an inclusive notion of Indian literature, neither as a singular and homogenous conception nor as an aggregate of parallel chronologies, but as a dynamic interacting model of multiple regional/vernacular literary traditions. Furthermore, it could help bring into sharp focus shared themes of identity and issues of social justice, which otherwise remain marginalised.


This comparative perspective is tried out in the book, in part, on a major 19th century Oriya novel Six Acres and a Third by Fakir Mohan Senapati, by juxtaposing it with a range of texts, both from India and abroad. Such a perspective allows us a grasp of “the tangled relationship between colonialism and socio-cultural modernity in the colonised world” and the nature of subaltern agency. In the process, it advances the agenda of the book, which is to contest the notion of a singular European modernity by “revealing the alternative and non-dominant layers of modernity” present in the non-western societies.

Pointing to the strategic political value of comparison in literary study and its broader implications, Mohanty suggests that it leads to “both greater specification as well as more expansive understanding of the contexts” of literary works. Many of the essays use this approach to look at the forms in which social critique is articulated in literature.

While showing how a subaltern perspective is represented in Senapati's novel by employing indigenous narrative forms, they advance the thesis that social critique and narrative forms through which it is constituted are inextricably interwoven; the narrative forms shape the nature and content of this critique.

For instance, Paul Sawyer and Himansu Mohapatra, who compare Senapati with Geroge Eliot and Premchand respectively, argue that Eliot and Premchand, despite their genuine sympathy for the underclass, do not adequately represent their lives primarily because of the narrative conventions they use. On the other hand, Senapati succeeds in this endeavour by drawing on traditions and conventions of indigenous folk culture, especially in modelling his ironic and unreliable narrator after them.

Similarly, Jennifer Harford Vargas, in comparing Senapati's novel with Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, shows how “the forms of narrative realism and socio-political critique complexly overlap and even interact in novels from the global South.” Tilottama Misra and Velcheru Narayana Rao read Senapati in the Indian context, and compare his novel with two 19th century texts — an Assamese satirical prose sketch, Fair Without and Foul Within by Hemchandra Barua and a Telugu playKanyasulkam by Gurajada Apparao respectively. They argue that indigenous forms of modernity prevalent in pre-colonial India, especially the ones preserved in popular oral traditions, inform the writings of Senapati, Barua and Apparao, thus enabling them to offer a critique of colonial structures of power, on the one hand, and orthodox society, on the other.

Ulka Anjaria and Claire Horan look at Senapati's narrative forms from a feminist perspective. Comparing Senapati's novel with Premchand's Nirmala and Monica Ali's Brick Lane, Anjaria explores the narrative politics of silence, showing how it can be used to “represent injustice as a social and textual problem.” Horan shows how Senapati “presents vivid, complex and non-sexist portraits of rural women.”


The last two essays place Senapati's novel in a socio-historical context. Gagendra Nath Dash reads in it a “critique of the land-tenure system introduced by the colonial government” which led to a cruelly exploitative regime in terms of the emergence of a new money-lending-cum-zamindar class. Debendra Dash and Dipti R. Pattanaik argue that Senapati, who is opposed to the hegemonic dimension of colonial modernity and to a homogenised fictional past — and not to modernity or to tradition as such — visualises the possibility of a genuine synthesis of the two in the vibrant vernacular tradition.

Breaking new ground by its advocacy of a de-canonised reading, the book goes to the margins of both culture and society, to the folk, oral cultural traditions and vernacular literary traditions and then seeks to mine them for modern ideas and values through a cross-cultural analysis.

Critical comparatism is especially valuable in our Indian context where an exclusive focus on one literary tradition often contributes to ignorance of texts in other traditions, leading to myopia and chauvinism. This book suggests a way out.


11 October 2011, Hindu


Hope for avian visitors takes wing

Environmentalists in general and bird lovers in particular were overjoyed when on Tuesday, water from the Chambal river began flowing into the Keoladeo National Park near Bharatpur, the winter abode of migratory birds from across the country and the globe.

Owing to an acute shortage of water, several winged visitors had left the park soon after they reached there in September. In normal situations, they would have stayed put till February-March. By December, the park would have received about 300 million cubic feet (MCF) of water from the Chambal, against its total requirement of about 650 MCF.

According to District Forest Officer Anup KR, the Chambal water would help in tackling the grim situation of the water shortfall. He hoped that by December the much-delayed Goverdhan Drain Project, meant to bring the Yamuna water to the park would also become operational. UNESCO had recently warned the State Government that the world heritage site would come under the endangered category if the perennial water crisis was not resolved soon.

A civil society organisation, the Keoladeo (Ghana) Bachao Sanyukt Samiti had recently held dharnas and demonstrations to build pressure on the Government to release Chambal water to save the park. “We are happy that the Government has listened to our demand,” Rakesh Faujdar, secretary of the body, said.

Under the Chambal-Dhaulpur-Bharatpur drinking water project, about 400 MCF of water was to be diverted from Chambal to solve the drinking water problem in Bharatpur and Dhaulpur. “Though the pipeline part of the project was completed on time, the water storage tanks would be ready only by December. So, till then the Chambal water would be diverted to the park to solve the park’s immediate problem,” a senior State Government official said.

Last year, about 450 MCF water was released from Anjana dam to the park, and the quota lasted till the monsoons. This time around, though the dam received less water, only 50 MCF water was released to the park.

12 October 2011, Pioneer


Police memorial to green oasis

Winning Design Shuns Grand Symbolism For Calm Spirituality

Arow of steadily rising greenery enfolds you as you walk towards the central circular structure. The atmosphere is quiet and strangely still, lending the setting an air of tranquility. As you circumambulate the building — first going up, then coming down — a screen on the roof casts changing shadows around. On this same screen you spot names of martyrs like Delhi Police officer Mohan Chand Sharma, who died in the Batla House encounter three years ago... This is the winning design for the new National Police Memorial that will be constructed at the head of the Shantipath Vista.

Two Delhi-based architects — team leader Sidhartha Talwar and landscape architect Nikhil Dhar — have won the contract to design the new memorial. Siddhartha, with 15 years of experience in architecture, has won numerous awards. Nikhil, who did his master’s from Massachusetts University has 20 years of experience in landscape architecture and is a visiting faculty at School of Planning and Architecture here.

The memorial’s design is supposed to honour the various arms of the police force, from the local police to the central paramilitary forces. It will not only perpetuate the memory of police martyrs but also inspire and encourage serving staff. At the same time, the design will allow for regular additions, making it a “dynamic” memorial.

The memorial will be set at the head of the Shantipath Vista — the second such planned axis in New Delhi, the first being Rajpath. This vista is unique as it is 125 metres wide and 1.75 km long, and looks straight into the site designated for the memorial.

The prize-winning design seeks to exploit this contextual asset of the site. The axis between Shantipath and Rashtrapati Bhavan has been taken through the memorial. It is also conceptualized as a place of ceremony where several functions, including foundation days of different police forces, will take place.

Trees standing like sentinels of different police forces will form a protective ring around the central structure. The entry to the memorial space slices through this berm and emphasizes the feeling of entering a hallowed space. The memorial space itself is a 25-metre diameter circular jaali, about nine metres high, focusing towards a large sandstone lion of the national emblem.
The internal surface of the earth berm is a retaining wall faced with stacked marble down which water trickles. The form of the wall resolves itself into two four-metre-wide ramps, starting from the top of the plinth. The 24 spokes of the Ashok Chakra in the memorial floor and the concentric tree circles are symbolic of rings of protection formed by the various police organizations.

As you move up either of the framing ramps, the view of the memorial space through the jaali changes until you are at the highest ‘bridge’ point (about seven metres high) of the structure. At this point, the entire green and grey Shantipath Vista becomes visible, and the axis changes from a “notional” entity to a “tangible” one. From this point, the surrounding area of the memorial — the seemingly abstract patterns on the grass slopes — falls into abstract patterns of lotus petals. Underneath the memorial, in the basement, is the museum. The museum will display uniforms, medals and arms of the various Indian police agencies. It will also serve as a display space for a looped audio-visual on martyred police personnel. A sombre voiceover will give a brief description of their life and sacrifices. This will serve as a poignant reminder that the numbers and names engraved in the memorial were real people whose memories live on after them.

Government of India, through the Home ministry, had held the design competition for the memorial and declared the winners on Thursday evening. The Board of assessors for the competition included architects Jasbir Sawhney, Romi Khosla and a chief architect of the Central Public Works Department, Ravi Kakkar. NS Kalsi, an IAS officer and Safi Rizvi, a senior police officer were the other members. The Board of Assessors was assisted by a professional advisor, eminent architect Sudhir Vohra.

The second prize was awarded to Saket Jain, Sachin Jain and Ritu Jain while the third prize was given to Anita Tikoo Matange, Vijay Matange and Sroboshi Das, all of them Delhi-based.

The new design was created after the old, Rs 130-million steel structure consisting of columns and a globe was dismantled by NDMC on the high court’s direction.

The court had been approached by architects and other citizens who termed the 150-foot high structure a ‘monstrosity’ as it obstructed the view of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

14 October 2011, Times of India


Protect wildlife from cellphone towers: Panel

India should bring out a law to protect its wildlife from the ill-effects of electromagnetic-field radiation from mobile phone towers, which may be endangering birds, bees and disturbing wildlife across the country, a government panel has recommended.

A 10-member expert panel of the Ministry of Environment and Forests formed earlier this year under bird expert Asad Rahmani, director of NGO Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), studied the phenomenon worldwide and recommended that India should regulate the installation of mobile phone towers recognising electromagnetic field— or EMF— as a serious pollutant hurting wildlife.

“We want some independent regulator which decides what kind of towers should be installed, where and in what density. Such strict regulation exists in Russia, New Zealand and a host of other countries. As a precaution, India could borrow from them because signs of such damage have been apparent for long,” Rahmani told The Indian Express.

Electromagnetic field radiation does not figure in India’s notified list of pollutants for want of incriminating, India-specific data.

After reviewing 919 international studies on this matter, the group found 593 studies that said EMF bore a significant ill-effect on behaviour and mating habits of birds like urban sparrows and in bee colonies.

In countries like Russia, China and New Zealand, regulation includes the amount of radiation a tower is permitted in certain areas and also prohibiting the installation in “sensitive” areas.

“Strictly control installation of mobile towers near wildlife protected areas, important bird areas, turtle breeding areas, bee colonies, zoos, etc up to a certain distance that should be studied before deciding and should also be practical,” said the report submitted to the ministry on Wednesday.

The committee will take up the matter at a joint meeting with the telecom ministry in December so that environmental concerns can factor in the process of installing of mobile phone towers.

Electromagnetic radiation from the towers disturb birds, bees and certain wildlife population in a way that they tend shying away from mating. Sparrows, for instance, sense the radiation as an irritant and globally evidence has been found that it destroys their eggs before hatching, the study said.

14 October 2011, Indian Express


Warli goes global

The 500-year-old Indian art form is leaving its mark across the world. Mini U takes you through the origins of the Warli art in the interiors of Maharashtra and finds out why it has managed to surpass the boundaries of time, space and language

Men carrying firewood for food, women drawing water from the well, farmers watering crops, young boys playing with mud, cows grazing, birds flocking and the mighty sun shining bright. Those who know India are familiar with a busy morning in a quintessential Indian village. But in the expressions of Warli artists, the community has a homogeneity against the backdrop of the red earth. The villagers are all white, faceless and matchstick-thin, chasing lives made less ordinary by their stark originality of documentation and contemporaneity. Interestingly, today one of the country’s oldest art forms seems to be the most compelling way to tell the world the story of India and its roots. It has now been incorporated in cola commercials and the 2010 Commonwealth Games ceremonies.

The philosophy
The Warlis are an indigenous tribe who have been scattered within the interiors of Maharashtra for over 500 years. You can spot them at Dahanu and Talasari talukas of northern Thane, parts of Nashik and Dhule. You would also find them in Valsad district of Gujarat, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu. Though the artists themselves are unsure of its early origins, this legacy of story-telling was first discovered in the caves of western India.

The word Warli comes from “warla” which means a piece of land or a field, and, therefore, indicative of the scope of a frame. Dominated by geometric designs including dots, triangles and crooked lines, the paintings in this style are usually circular in a limited colour palette against an earthen background. The canvas is usually a cow dung-washed mud wall, while a chewed up bamboo stick acts as a paintbrush and a mixture of rice powder and gum as paint.

Though it is this minimalist, caricature like depiction that distinguishes Warli from other traditional art forms, that first impression is countered by its innumerable themes that are inspired by their habits. They don’t milk a cow, believing that only the calf has the right to the milk. They even share their crop with rats fulfilling their duty to feed the hungry. They dance to the sound of the tarpa (a wind instrument) inviting abundance at the beginning of every harvest. Each action fulfils a larger purpose. In many ways, it is an art form where life is the canvas and experiences are art works.

Until the 1970s, the art works were created merely for a specific occasion. That changed, thanks to the efforts of one man. One of today’s most reputed practitioners, Jiva Soma Mashe pursued the art form as a means of livelihood, making it more available to the outside world. One of his many students, 35-year-old artist Ramesh Hingade, who has been a Warli painter for over 28 years, explains, “We celebrate festivals, enjoy the harvest, perform pujas, talk about religion, dance, eat, sleep and perhaps do everything through our art works. For instance, you will often see a woman drawing the rangoli in our paintings. It is a routine practice in every Warli house. Similarly, we have rituals for every season. No wedding takes place without the drawing of Mother Goddess in the front portion of the bride’s house. When the monsoon arrives, we worship the Kohlidev and when the first crop grows, we perform a ritual called the Nava Bhath.

We try and recreate these through light swinging and swirling moments. Men, animals and trees form a loose, rhythmic pattern across the entire canvas which many a time meets a circular end representing the circle of life.”

Every pattern invented by the Warlis probes a deeper meaning. Their extremely rudimentary wall paintings use a very basic graphic vocabulary: A circle, a triangle and a square. The circle represents the sun and the moon, the triangle is derived from mountains and pointed trees. Only the square seems to obey a different logic and seems to be a human invention, indicating a sacred enclosure or a piece of land. So the central motif in each ritual painting is the square, known as thechauk or chaukat. It is also believed that these paintings invoke the powers of gods.

This art is two-dimensional, with no perspective or proportion. The paintings are simple and linear. It follows the universal concept of yin/yang that has an upward facing arrowhead representing the male and a downward facing arrowhead representing the female. This fertility symbol revolves around the tribal belief of continuity. Usually, the paintings are done by married women.

But ironically, the remarkably social nature of the art works does not reflect in the artists themselves. In an attempt to preserve the exclusivity of the tribe, Warli artists have started involving middlemen to get the world to acknowledge, appreciate and reward them for their work. “Older artists may flock to the city to sell their works but they always come back to where they belong. A cell phone is a luxury for most of us and we would like to keep it that way, because it is this lifestyle that translates into our work. If it doesn’t exist, we are no different from any other artist,” Hingade points out.

In sync with time
The tribe may strive to keep to its minimalist way of life but that hasn’t stopped Warli from making its way into spaces that act as breeding grounds for young minds. Warli motifs have danced their way from cow-dung walls to those of Facebook. A handful of artists often travel in small groups to the UK, Germany, Australia and France where there is an increasing curiosity about the art form. Those inspired and influenced by the art constantly attempt to promote it within and outside the country, through workshops, demonstrations and adapting it in different styles. Like 23-year-old fashion designer Neeta Sharma who believes that Warli paintings breathe life into her designs. “I was introduced to Warli in college where I was learning textile design. I visited the tribals and spent days with them, understanding the craft. Now we use it on dupattas, kurtas, T-shirts, shoes and even bags. There is an inspiring ring to the characters in the paintings, like they’re dancing to the music of life.”

But like every other art form, contemporising Warli doesn’t come without compromises. “We need the youth to relate to these designs, so we modify them accordingly. An Indian instrument like the sitar is replaced with the guitar to make it look ‘cooler’,” adds Sharma.

With popularity comes money. Tribal art invaded the homes of the rich and affluent, creating a record for artist Jiva Mashe’s Warli painting that was sold for as much as $13,600. After all, what better way for the city folk to boost their knowledge about these little ghettos which define the real India?

The future
Though Warli struggles to make peace with staying true to its form and acceptance within the modern mindset, it cannot be denied that everyone, from connoisseurs to amateurs, has borrowed heavily from the ancient art form. The reason being the pure intent the Warlis bring to their work. As we read, curators from across the world are putting together exhibitions to promote Warli. Like Australian art enthusiast Narmada Smith, who welcomed at least a hundred spectators at her recent Warli exhibition at Elizabeth Street in Sydney. “In between the clutter of life, there are many little things we forget to observe. It could be something as simple as the sound of a bird. The Warlis worship these nuances that make our lives precious. People are amazed to see the detailing in their work and they want to know the meaning of the motifs,” she says.

Who would have pictured a 500-year-old Indian art form being appreciated within the alleys of an Australian city? Adds artist Krishnamachari Bose, “There needs to be more infrastructure to educate people about Warli. Like folk songs, the art may not demand a copyright but people should be made aware of the real significance of their works.”

The Warlis teach you to press the pause button and take a closer look at life. A lesson that will be treasured till the end of time.

16 October 2011, Pioneer


Regal extravagance

Konarak is a royal palimpsest. Like most great monuments the world over, it has accumulated tales upon legends upon myths till it is difficult to know where one ends and the other begins.

Tourist guides will patter on about how a huge magnetic stone crowned the soaring temple tower, drawing ships to their doom. Then there's the legend about a king's comely son being stricken with a disfiguring disease and building the temple to cure himself of his affliction. The profusion of sringara sculptures of beguiling sensuousness is sometimes explained as talismans to ward off the evil eye, or lightning.

There's also the factual description given by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) of the seven, superbly sculpted, prancing horses drawing the twelve-wheeled chariot of Surya, the Sun God: an equestrian deity imported from Iran. The horses represent the days of the week, the wheels exemplify the months of the year. As in most folkloric accounts, there seem to be small cores of authenticity in the tales.

Even the most powerful loadstone would not have had an effect on wooden ships. Scholars believe that a shining brass or gold ball had been installed atop the tower of the temple. Moonlight reflecting off this could have led unwary navigators astray. This, in turn, probably angered the sea-born forces of invaders particularly if they belonged to faiths that had a traditional apathy to women.

Misogynists would have found the sculptures in the temple deeply offensive. There is a strong local tradition that the initial damage to the great temple was inflicted by the armies of the legendary iconoclast Kalapathar.

Sun power
Belief that sunlight cures skin ailments is an old-established one. The striking image of Surya does wear riding boots, contrary to established Hindu iconography, and could have been an Iranian deity worshipped by Magi. There is also strong reason to believe that the original Sun Temple was in present-day Multan, though it is not clear why the legends of that temple were appropriated by Konarak, nor is it clear why the dancing hall was built a fair distance in front of the temple.

These structures, including the plinth and entrance, are all that remain of the original temple. They are, however, so richly embellished by carvings and sculptures that they riveted our attention.

To start with, the fact that the dance hall is detached from the main temple is curious. Traditionally, the Nata Mandap is an adjunct of the sanctum so that dedicated devadasis could entertain the installed deity. Moreover, there are literally hundreds of images of dancers and musicians, an abundance not seen in many other temples. Finally, as pointed out by scholar Dhirendranath Patnaik in his very informative book Odissi Dance , this dance hall has an unusual, named, sculpture of a Dance Master holding a pair of cadence-keeping cymbals. All this gave us the impression that this dance hall was built for the entertainment of an elite audience, and not of the installed idol.

After this, other perceptions began to fall into place. Very few of the carvings and sculptures depicted the lives of common people. They captured wars and hunts and a plethora of voluptuous mithuna couples and sringara . The emphasis was clearly on the pleasures of the flesh and not the pursuits of the mind and spirit. Religious themes were also significantly absent, apart from the main one of the Sun God riding his chariot. Not even the temples of Khajuraho devote so much attention to depicting of the delights of kama . We skimmed through the Archaeological Survey of India's booklet on Konarak, seeking an explanation. We found a very revealing comment. It said: “…the edifice is the realization of the dazzling dream of an ambitious and mighty king, secular to the core and with immense zest for life…The vision of the king, whose personality has been fully reflected in these secular sculptures, has thus been completely fulfilled.”

Smaller one
There is also another significant fact. To the west of the temple stands a second, smaller temple now called the Mayadevi Temple. According to the ASI, “This temple was meant originally for Surya.”

Clearly, however, if a rich and powerful monarch wants a great boon from his deity, he has to make a suitable gift. King Narasimha was also known as langulia: “One having a tail.” Some people are born with a protuberance jutting out from the base of their spines: A vestigial, and enormously embarrassing, tail. It is more than likely, then, that the Nata Mandap was the pleasure dome of the monarch. Later, he built the great temple behind his evocative dancing hall to placate the powerful Surya, begging the Sun God to rid him of that mocking appendage! A tail must have repelled those with whom the monarch shared his vigorous “zest for life”!

16 October 2011, The Hindu


Metro line to get heritage nod soon

Delhi Metro’s Red Fort line, which is awaiting clearance from National Monuments Authority (NMA), may get the go-ahead soon. ASI’s watchdog, NMA, is expected to begin functioning in a couple of weeks. One full-time member and two part-time members are scheduled to be appointed soon. Those living in the vicinity of protected monuments have been waiting for NMA to be set up for nearly two years. It is the only body which can grant permission to residents for construction within 300m of 174 ASI-protected monuments.

The heritage line runs close to sites like Khooni Darwaaza, Delhi Gate, Old Delhi Wall and Red Fort. NMA member secretary Praveen Srivastava has assured that he will take up projects like the Red Fortline and a busstand project in Ahmedabad on a priority basis. The competent authority for Delhi has recommended a clearance for the DMRC project and the file has been submitted to NMA for the final nod.

16 October 2011, Times of India


Manuscript Moguls

They love the written word — and the older the better. Sunday Times meets a breed of collectors as rare as the papers they have in their possession.

With their engines roaring, the F1 cars zipped down Raj Path at 270 kmph and disappeared in a cloud of smoke, sending shivers down the spines of spectators. This was a prelude to F1 on October 30. But, way back on September 19, 1906, when Poona held an international car race, speed was the last thing on the minds of the participants. For a vehicle to create news then, it was enough to merely move without animal power.

Those sepia-toned days are still alive in a page of ‘The Bystander’, a British magazine which Delhibased collector Sandeep Katari has preserved. The yellowing page shows men in hats driving their Peugots and De Dions at Sotara Control as Indians in dhoti-kurta and turbans gawk. The caption says: “Our Indian Empire is rapidly taking up the automobile.”

It’s collectors like Katari who are keeping history alive, often on shoestring budgets, as they rummage through sales, strike up friendships with dealers and travel to distant places to ferret out rare manuscripts, books and postcards.

Sometimes these slices of history recreate the past as it was. Tipu Sultan’s tragic death, for example, is chronicled in an old, fragile newspaper of 1799 which Katari has. It has the official account of the “storm of Seringapatam, Tippoo’s capital” and says, “It was reported Tippo Sultan was flain. Immediate fearch was made for his body, and it was found late in the evening, under a heap of the flain. It was carried to the palace and burned with military honours.” Fascinating stuff but what’s intriguing is the use of the word ‘f” instead of‘s’. Many collectors have tried to buy this paper off Katari, but in vain. “I am not selling, not for anything in the world,” he says.

Another gem is a 1930s horoscope on a yellowing cloth that is more than 10 feet long and has peculiar diagrams, designs and colours on it. Bobby Kohli bought it for a few hundred rupees in Varanasi. With his long hair and gold earrings, Kohli seems bohemian enough for painter Jatin Das to have once remarked (after seeing his collection), “He’s mad, but we need more mad people like this.” Kohli says, “These horoscopes were handwritten by pundits and took months to finish.” Historians would be delighted with a scrapbook Katari has about the role of Indian princes in World War I. One page has grainy but debonair photos of Sir Pertab Singh, the Maharaja of Mysore, Bikaner and Patiala. And old magazines such as a 1928 Illustrated Weekly has ads extolling one to “keep that schoolgirl complexion”.

Postcards, too, give a glimpse of bygone times. In Nagpur, lawyer Pushkaraj Deshmukh has postcards and letters from his great grandfather’s time. “He was a poet and kept them in chronological order. For the next two generations, it was a matter of pride to add to this pile,” says Puskraj. The oldest postcard dates back to 1899 and is written in a script he can’t understand.

In Chennai, A R Krishna Kumar was thrilled when a woman came to him to get rid of palm-leaf manuscripts. “She felt her family was having a bad time because of them,” he says. Kumar now has some 232 palm, paper and bamboo manuscripts, including 13 roll manuscripts about Veera-Shiva history. “I got this from a guru in Mysore.”

Some, like Bangalore-based Abhishek Poddar, even have rare textile labels, some 400-500, from the 19th century. During the Industrial Revolution in Britain, most of the textiles in India were produced in Glasgow and Manchester. “Though printed in places like Germany, they carry icons, imagery and scenes from Indian mythology,” says Poddar. Decades back, he paid Rs 40-50 each for them. Now, they cost Rs 20,000-30,000 each.

It’s pricey deal for a priceless passion.

16 October 2011, Times of India


Inside Red Fort, ASI stumbles upon original pathway to Diwan-e-Aam

Early next year, when visitors at the Red Fort walk into the 17th-century monument, they will be walking beside the original pathway that Shah Jahan’s citadel had.

Having stumbled upon archaeological remains of the original pathways and a map of the monument, dated 1850, showing the original circulation pattern, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is working to restore the original floorscape.

At present, visitors walk through the western gateway, called Lahori Gate, into the Chhatta Bazaar and then cross the Naqqar Khana (drum house) to follow the central axis into the Diwan-e-Aam.

According to reports, the central axis was a British construction, and did not adhere to the original Mughal circulation pattern. As per a Thomas Krafft map (1850), the pathways diverged into a rectangular pattern from the Naqqar Khana, leading towards the Diwan-e-Aam from either side, and the same passage further led into the monument.

Officials said the original pathway was a vaulted arcade, so the visitors could walk in the shade. The central Chowk Diwan-e-Aam was left open for public gatherings.

While the ASI is in the process of restoring the floorscape in areas such as the Naubat Khana forecourt and Chowk Diwan-e-Aam with the objective of bringing back the spatial character of the monument, the new pathways will not be vaulted as the agency is trying to keep intervention at the site minimal.

“We will restore the pathways to ensure that present-day tourists follow the old routes. The new pathways have been traced out alongside the original, but at a reasonable distance so that the original pathways can be excavated and preserved,” said K K Muhammed, superintending archaeologist (Delhi Circle), ASI, told Newsline.

“A portion of the original pathway has already been excavated and we will preserve the excavated portions by covering them with glass,” he said.

The foundation for the new pathways has been dug. The new passages will have lime mortar at the base and a top layer of red sandstone. The entire process should be complete in four months’ time, an official said.

The pathways will be four metres wide, which is more than the existing central axis, and are expected to ease tourists’ circulation. Earlier, the central axis would often get congested on days when high number of tourists visited the site.

The monument sees an annual footfall of over 28 lakh visitors.

The ASI is also planning to restore and revive a fountain located in front of the Naqqar Khana. At present, there is a fenced roundabout with a garden at the spot. The fountain also had water channels linking it to the moat of the fort.

The British had filled up the fountain and converted it into a roundabout.

A ‘comprehensive conservation management plan’, drafted by conservationist Gurmeet Rai of Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative in 2009, had listed out details of how the World Heritage Site needed a concerted conservation effort, which must be implemented in a phase-wise manner.

The ASI has been undertaking parts of the plan on a piecemeal basis.

As of now, the passageway is being restored and work on conserving and strengthening the Diwan-e-Aam has also been sanctioned.

16 October 2011, Indian Express


A walk with the Khwaja

As you walk through the quaint lanes of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah, an omnipresent calm envelops you. RAHUL DEVRANI takes you to one such spiritual journey

 Even though the streets are buzzing with activity as hundreds of people walk briskly towards their destinations and vendors pester you to buy traditional clothes or jewellery, an accompanying sense of calm and innocence makes you wonder: What separates these streets from other parts of the city? They are crowded but they cannot be compared with old Delhi; it’s a market area and yet it cannot be called one.

The Legacy
Not many people would know, but the entire stretch of Mathura Road — from Humayun’s tomb right up to Faridabad — is like a graveyard with kings, philosophers, poets and men of eminence buried underneath. Be it the famous historian Ziauddin Barani or Mughal prince Mirza Babur and Mirza Jehangir, all were buried here.

However, out of all these people, 13th century Sufi saint of the Chishtiyyah order, Nizamuddin Auliya, “Allah’s favourite one”, has always had a special significance among the masses. So much so that even after centuries, people would want to be buried near his tomb.

Nizamuddin Auliya has been immortalised for his generosity and humanitarianism. His advice — “first greet, then eat, then talk” — is still followed heartily with people often saying “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim” before opening their meals.

“This has never been a residential area; people used to live in areas around Mehrauli and old Delhi. It was only after Partition that people started to reside here. But interestingly, everyone wanted to be buried here,” says Yousuf Saeed, an independent filmmaker and researcher.

The shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya is across the road from Humayun’s tomb, and as we know from historical records, was earlier a village called Ghayaspur when young Mohammed Nizamuddin migrated to Delhi from Badayun (Uttar Pradesh) in the early 13th century along with his mother to become a qazi (Muslim priest). Later, he became a disciple of Baba Farid and was appointed his spiritual emissary for Delhi.

Nizamuddin Auliya settled near the Yamuna, about a km east of the present-day dargah, behind Humayun’s tomb. This is where he prayed, meditated and met hundreds of people. Even today, devotees from across the world come in numbers to get the spiritual feel.

“Nizamuddin Auliya was the most well-known of Sufi saints. Sufism as an ideology or a course of conduct has enchanted many. It says that God is best worshipped through humanity. This is what Nizamuddin Auliya did and in the process became the most celebrated of saints,” says Saeed, adding, “One thing that makes Sufi saints special is the fact that they are and have always been with us. The ritual of burying the deceased, in fact, brings this place alive as you feel all the more connected to the past.”

Towards the west of Nizamuddin Auliya’s tomb is the Jamaat-Khana (prayer hall), supposedly constructed by Feroz Shah Tughlaq a few years after Nizamuddin Auliya’s death. Indeed, the very thought that one is breathing the same air in the ancient locale, makes for an ecstatic experience.

Legendary Companionship
There may be several celebrated friendships in history but none can match the fabled relationship Nizamuddin Auliya had with Amir Khusrau. According to historians, Khusrau was the most favourite disciple of the Sufi saint.

Constructed in 1605, Khusrau’s marbled tomb is just steps away from Nizamuddin Auliya’s and is considered to be highly sacred. Just opposite the opening of Khusrau’s tomb is the Hujra-e-Qadeem (the ancient room), believed to have been built in the 13th-14th century. On the wall at the entrance to the room has an engraved poem in praise of Nizamuddin Auliya by Urdu poet Allama Iqbal.

“Iqbal wished if he could be Nizamuddin Auliya’s servant and he requested that his poem be engraved in his praise,” says Saeed.

Born in 1253 to a Turk-Indian family, Khusrau was a renowned poet of his time who served as many as seven rulers of the Delhi Sultanate. Even today, his poetry and prose, which are considered the best in Persian, serve as a casket containing invaluable historical information.

Being a court poet, Khusrau enjoyed all sorts of materialistic privileges but he felt at home only in Nizamuddin Auliya’s khaneqah (monastery). As the legend goes, Nizamuddin Auliya could get annoyed and angry with anyone but Khusrau.

Saeed mentions that there is a fable that when he was eight-year-old, Khusrau’s mother pushed him to visit Nizamuddin Auliya’s khaneqah. As he reached there, Khusrau waited at the entrance and composed the following lines impromptu: You are a king at the gate of whose palace/ even a pigeon becomes a hawk./ A poor traveller has come to your gate,/ should he enter, or should he return?

It is said that Nizamuddin Auliya at once asked one of his servants to go out at the gate and narrate the following lines to the boy: Oh you the man of reality, come inside/ so you become for a while my confidant/ but if the one who enters is foolish/ then he should return the way he came.

Stairway to Heaven
To many, the custom of celebrating someone’s death might sound eccentric, but for a Sufi it is only a transition phase — the penultimate stage for unison with God. So, every year about 16 days after Eid-ul-fitr, people take part in another festive occasion, the urs or death anniversary of Amir Khusrau, called the ‘Satrahvin Sharif’ (holy seventeenth). Hundreds of thousands of people come to offer their nazrana (flowers, sweets, chadars) at the twin tombs of Nizamuddin Auliya and Khusrau.

Urs has been taken from the Arabic word uroos which literally means ‘wedding’. So, in Sufism, someone’s death is considered to be a wedding with the divine,” says Saeed.

It is believed that Khusrau learnt of Nizamuddin Auliya’s death while he was away in Bengal, but he immediately rushed back to Delhi. When he saw Nizamuddin Auliya’s grave, he immediately uttered the following lines The fair maiden rests/ On a Bed of roses,/ Her face covered/ With a lock of hair;/ Let us oh Khusrau, return home now,/ The dark dusk settles in four corners of the world.

Six months later, Khusrau died.

Today, the entire dargah adopts an ambience that is a mélange of a massive celebration and unmistakable sacredness. Qawwalis are sung in the evening and for centuries they begin by a recitation of the above quoted lines.

People consider Khusrau no less than Nizamuddin Auliya and pray to them for their well-being and request the two to become a mediator between them and God.

In fact, a little ahead of Nizamuddin Auliya’s tomb, a dark passage, with adjacent sieved walls, leads to Nizamuddin Baoli — the only step well in Delhi that is still fed by underwater springs. It is considered to be highly sacred. According to popular belief, water in the step well is a mixture of different types of water and has healing powers.

Till sometime ago, there were houses made on the roof of ancient structures around the well. Although the well, which was built in the form of circular stairs converging at the bottom, has lost much of the originality as a result of renovations and man-made pollution, it still charms people and is sacred not only to the locals but also devotees all around.

Even as you read this piece, there sits a man near the dargah, who is dumb and is yet playing harmonium. He’s been sitting there for years, hoping that his prayers would be heard and he would be able to speak someday.

16 October 2011, Pioneer


Conservation on the cards

A young French officer bought land to bury his Catholic wife when the church refused to perform last rites

The oldest church of South India (1809) in a sleepy coastal town is no match for the marble Taj Mahal.

But the cemetery and the church in the midst of the tombs built according French tradition is fondly termed as the Taj Mahal of coastal Andhra Pradesh.

Even after three centuries, the natives of Machilipatnam even now recall the love story of a French soldier who built a burial ground in  memory of his beloved wife.

The forlorn church opens for prayers every day. It takes back the odd visitor to the 17th century the coastal region ruled by the French and the battles between the British empire and the French army.

The burial ground, tucked amid hundreds of palm and coconut trees, is now a part of St Mary's Church.  Machilipatnam, also known as Masulipatnam or Masula, is a city on the Coromandel Coast. Situated on one of the mouths of the river Krishna in the Bay of Bengal, Machilipatnam is the administrative centre of Krishna District in Andhra Pradesh.

Machilipatnam was a 17th century port for French, British and Dutch. It was a small fishing town; had a carpet-weaving industry; other products include rice, oilseed, and scientific instruments.

Masulipatam was a station of the Church Missionary Society (CMS).  After the independence, it got unionised into the Church of South India.

The love story
It was blasphemy for a Catholic to marry a Protestant in the 17th century. But in the days of French rule in India, a young French Protestant soldier not only loved and married his superior’s daughter who was a Catholic but also built a cemetery especially for her in the port town of Bandar, as the Catholic Church refused burial rights to his outcaste wife.

Locals say that schisms between Protestants and Catholics were common until the 18th century. Once they got married, the soldier's superior banished his daughter. However, tragedy struck soon after. The soldier's beautiful wife died suddenly leaving her husband crestfallen.

What added to the sadness was that the local Catholic Church refused to perform the burial rites as she had married a Protestant. Undeterred by the developments, the soldier bought a huge piece of land on the outskirts of the town, embalmed the body of his wife and laid her to rest in a tomb that would open when a lever was depressed. Every evening, he would go there, depress the lever and have a look at his dead wife.

He continued in this manner till his death. With his death, the entire land was handed over to the Church of South India, which built a chapel around the tomb. The visitors can clearly see the tomb's cover panel near the Preacher's pulpit. This tomb was kept open for public viewing until a person died of shock while viewing the embalmed body. Now, the lever has been sealed and people will not get a chance to see the body of the woman who charmed the soldier.

Historian DV Raghava Rao, who wrote a book on the history of Machilipatnam and made a mention of the St Church, said “There were no efforts made to record the events that led to the construction of the cemetery. I could only gather information about the French soldier from a few Anglo-Indian families before they left this remote town.” Stressing the need to protect the French tombs, Raghava Rao has been opposing the usage of the cemetery as a regular burial ground.

Now efforts are on to protect not only the Taj Mahal of Coastal Andhra but also  Dutch, the British, and French cemeteries in and around the port city, according to Assistant Director of Archaeology and Museums K Chitti Babu. The cemeteries were spread over five acres and dated back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

“Once we get clearance from the government, we will take up fencing, internal pathway, landscaping, and other conservation measures,” Babu added. He said a European tomb located near St John burial ground in Machilipatnam was also high on priority for conservation.

“This 17th century tomb was built by the East India Company and comes under the protected monument. The Collector's bungalow and the Collector's office and record room in Machilipatnam are the other ancient structures, which are in the pipeline for protection and conservation,” he said.

Efforts are on to conserve the cyclone tidal wave monument near the Bandar Fort.  The structure was constructed by the then District Collector G Thorn Hill in memory of 30,000 people who perished in a tidal wave that struck Machilipatnam on November 1, 1864.

16 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Magic with needle and thread

The immensely beautiful yet simple embroidery known as kantha work from West Bengal is perhaps the most talked about traditional handicraft item from this region.

Though eye-catching hand embroideries are done in various regions of the country, anyone fairly acquainted with the range of handicraft items can easily tell how kantha work stands out from the other varieties. It is all about using a simple stitch called the running stitch, which is filled within the design to give a complete and intricate effect.

Like many other rich forms of embroidery flourishing in various rural areas, kantha work too is said to have been initiated by women.

According to the local lingua of the region, kantha means “embroidered quilts”. Much before kantha became the famous form of traditional embroidery, it was broadly identified as a way of mending old clothes and fashioning them artistically for reuse.

It was an activity women took up to while away their time and eventually made it an outlet for their ingenious talents. Kantha stitching, as done by Bengali women, was all about putting old saris and dhotis together in several layers that was finally sewn together and embellished with kantha stich in coloured thread all over the spread in various motifs depicting birds, flowers, leaves or geometric designs. This multipurpose decorative piece of cloth could be used as a light baby blanket, bed spread, table or pillow cover, or shawl.

These remodelled clothes were given names like Lep Kantha and Sujini Kantha, according to their uses. The region of Shantiniketan and Bolpur are known for their quilts adorned with beautiful kantha work. Artisans dispersed in and around this region are keeping alive the tradition of kantha work and its growing popularity has made it a commercially viable activity.

This method of quilting and embroidery is very much similar to the Japanese art of Sashiko quilting. The beauty and utility of traditional kantha work has caught the fancy of people for over five centuries and it traces its roots to the days of Lord Buddha.

It is said Lord Buddha and his followers made use of this quilting technique to mend their clothes. References have been made to kantha work in the literary works of Chaitanya Charitamrita by Krishnadas Kaviraj, which was scripted during that era. A simple running stitch has surely come a very long way.

16 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Villagers move out of tiger zone, and are the richer for it

At a time when the rehabilitation of villages out of tiger landscapes has become more difficult than ever, with the Forest Rights Act having made it subject to vilagers’ consent, here is one tiger territory that stands out in contrast.

Tucked in the Melghat hills, Wan has become the first tiger area to have successfully relocated three villages at one go. And the villagers have not only consented but are so happy that many other villages have petitioned the Forest Department to rehabilitate them too.

For the 350 families of Amona, Nagartas and Bharukheda, relocation earlier this year has brought Rs 10 lakh per adult, free land for a house, and better access to markets, education, health facilities, the court, the police and tahsil headquarters. They now use buses that rarely reached them earlier.

Amona, which has shifted 10 km to a new location in Kasod, is now 15 km from its new tahsil headquarters of Akot in Akola district; its previous headquarters of Chikhaldara in Amravati was over 100 km away. Shivpuri, just 2 km away, has a primary health centre as well as job opportunities. Mahadeo Tote says: “I suffered a sloth bear attack a few months ago. It took me six hours to reach the hospital; now, anyone can reach a hospital in less than 30 minutes.”

Akot itself has all educational facilities. Earlier, the villagers had to walk 3 km for water when their borewell went dry in the summer; now, they have water right in the village round the year. Bharukheda and Nagartas, earlier 10 km apart, have been resettled at the same place. Bharukheda was 120 km from Chikhaldara and villagers travelled on foot or by bullock cart, then change buses thrice. Neither Bharukheda nor Nagartas had electricity; now all three villages have free connections and new ration cards, besides an assured government job to a member of each family.

“We thought of a novel idea of offering them the vacated irrigation colony of the Wan project. They were so happy to see the pucca quarters that they shifted to the place without waiting for the formalities to be completed,” says Srinivas Reddy, deputy conservator of forests, Akot.

“We are closer to many essential facilities. We now also have electricity,” says Sheikh Nizam Sheikh Munir, a ration shop owner in Bharukheda.

The shift has fetched villagers mobile phones, two-wheelers and even four-wheelers, apart from financial stability — a Rs 5-lakh, six-year fixed deposit that fetches the beneficiary around Rs 4,500 per month; Rs 2 lakh in a savings account and Rs 3 lakh in a nine-month fixed deposit.

“Some families with four adult members have received up to Rs 40 lakh. This they would probably never have been able to save... inside the forests,” says Reddy.

The forest department offered only the plots; many villagers built their own houses. “We didn’t want to leave anything for them to complain about. Normally, there are lot of complaints about the quality of construction,” Reddy says.

A few families, less than 50, legally owned farmland at the pervious locations. “We compensated them,” Reddy says. The landowners, however, say they have faced difficulty buying suitable land for farming since local farm-owners have jacked up prices. “They feel we have a lot of money now,” one says. Reddy says, “That would be a temporary phenomenon. We hope the prices will come down in the near future.”

The new residential properties offer a major consolation. The 2,000 sq feet each villager owns is worth Rs 3 lakh.

For the forest department, the advantages have been many. “With the three villages gone from the prime tiger land, a large tract has been freed for freer movement of wildlife. It has also taken the grazing pressure off the area with more than 3,000 heads of cattle now out of it. The villagers ignited forest fires for better tendu harvest. We will now have drastically fewer fires to tackle,” says principal secretary (forest) Pravin Pardeshi, who was divisional commissioner of Amravati till a few months ago, and who personally interacted with and convinced the villagers to go for rehabilitation.

17 October 2011, Indian Express


The sad plight of Zeenat Mahal

The once famous Zeenat Mahal in Lal Kuan now lies in a state of near-ruin, laments R.V. Smith recalling its days of glory

Passing by Zeenat Mahal's palace (also known as Zeenat Mahal) in Lal Kuan in old Delhi fills one with dismay at the plight of this once magnificent 1846 structure. Zeenat Mahal was the youngest and favourite queen of Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was the age of her grandfather, and key participant in the Revolt of 1857, collaborating at first with nobles like Hakim Ahsanullah Khan alias Gangaram Yahudi (a name coined by his enemies) but charting out her own course after she suspected the emperor's physician of being a British mole.

This was not true because Ahsanullah Khan was a man of great foresight who advised Bahadur Shah to adopt a cautions approach lest the rebellion failed to dislodge the East India Company Sarkar. His mansion was not far from that of the queen and still exists with much of its earlier trappings, including the beautiful 19th Century chandeliers. Zeenat Mahal has almost disappeared, with only the badly marred façade and boundary wall staring the passerby in the face. A girls' school now occupies the inner space and outside is a rabbit's warren of shops overhung with electric wires and signboards. At one corner a dhobi plies his trade of ironing out clothes and dirt and refuge litter the street over which all sorts of vehicles weave their way in and out. And yet this place was one of the most posh areas of Shahjahanabad.

Tomboyish Figure
Zeenat attracted the emperor's eye because of her tomboyish figure. Some alleged that this was because of the monarch's love for boys in his youth, which made his father, Akbar Shah II decide against making him heir apparent, and Zafar's step-mother, Mumtaz Mahal II advocating the cause of her own son, Mirza Jahangir. But the British overruled Akbar Shah's decision as they thought the younger prince was not only wayward but a drunkard. He played into their latter's hands by firing a shot at the British Resident, Charles Seton, at the Red Fort and was sent into exile in Allahabad. He returned to great rejoicing, which gave birth to Phoolwalon-ki-Sair, because of royal entreaties but was sent back because of continued disorderly conduct which included an attempt on the life of Zafar. He died an alcoholic at a young age and the way was clear for his brother to succeed to the throne.

Zeenat Mahal came to the Red Fort with much fanfare despite her not so grand heritage and was all-powerful in a short time because of her beauty and penchant for court intrigues. The emperor doted over her and granted her every wish. When she went to her maternal home drums were beaten to announce her arrival. This made her known as Danka Begum among the young men who allegedly kept her company in this palace. But much of the gossip was the result of character assassination by the queen's detractors, who were jealous of her power and swift rise to fame. It is pertinent to remember that Zeenat Mahal was the prominent queen who accompanied Zafar into exile in Rangoon, with Bibi Taj Mahal and some others opting out, last named returning to Delhi from as far away as Allahabad.

Zeenat, though who grumbled against the ousted king as “the Buddah who keeps coughing all the time”, also died in Rangoon (Yangon) more than 20 years after her husband. Mirza Jawan Bakht died there too but some of their descendents are still to be found in that city.

When one buys nahari from the roadside facing Zeenat Mahal all this and more comes to mind and one wishes that mahal was somehow restored to its pristine glory as a memorial to a once a gallant queen and freedom fighter who opened the doors of the Red Fort to the rebel sepoys from Meerut on the morning of May 11, 1857. Beauty, brains and courage were her hallmark then.

17 October 2011, Indian Express


Amber Fort's moat to be filled to capacity

The jumbos at the historic Amber Fort near here are going to have fun. So are the tourists reaching the 16th Century fort. Following a decision taken after a meeting with Rajasthan Tourism Minister Bina Kak and heads of various local bodies, including the Jaipur Development Authority (JDA) and the Amber Development and Management Authority (ADMA), the moat, commonly referred to as maota by the locals, in front of the massive hill fort is going to be filled with water from the Bisalpur dam.

For many years now the moat, once frolicked by the hundred-odd pachyderms who ferry tourists at Amber Fort on joyrides, has either remained bone dry or carried only some water. Even the middle-aged among the city's population may not have seen it filled to the brim. However, what is going to be an onerous task is to lay a new pipeline exclusively for the Amber location, some 15 km from Jaipur.

Supply of water to Jaipur city colonies from the Bisalpur dam, situated in the neighbouring Tonk district, began a year ago.

“The project is to cost Rs.2.50 crore. The ADMA, JDA and the Tourism Department will pool in the funds required for the pipeline,” said Ms. Kak, who has elaborate plans for the Walled City's heritage restoration.

“The moat filled with water would attract more tourists. It will also benefit the surroundings of the old township of Amber. Once the maota gets filled, it will help recharge the bawris [step-wells] and ponds. In fact, this should have been done long time back,” said State Chief Secretary S. Ahmed.

The idea
“We will fill it only once a year after the monsoon. The idea of filling the maotacame up while discussing restoration of the city with a group of trade representatives. With people's cooperation and the government's efforts the Walled City will regain its old, pristine heritage look,” Ms. Kak said.

She had elaborate discussions with trade representatives of the city's famed markets — Johari Bazar, Chandpole, Chaura Rasta, Kishanpole Bazaar, Tripoliya, and Ramganj — on the need for the Pink City to have a uniform paint, similar signage and timely repair and restoration.

Among other things, she discussed the need to provide toilet facilities, monitor the traffic in the Walled City. “The JDA would give Rs.2 crore for restoration of original look and for augmentation of facilities. It has already spent Rs.36 lakh on restoration in the Walled City. For more funds, we will approach the Centre. We have already sent a proposal for Rs.11 crore under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission,” Ms. Kak said. Chief Secretary Principal Secretary (Tourism) Usha Sharma, JDA Commissioner Kuldeep Ranka and ADMA Executive Director (Works) B.D. Garg were also present.

After all the talk about jumbos having boisterous fun, a note of caution. It is not yet clear whether the authorities will allow them to wade in the moat any more. But then, watching them watching the sheet of water reflecting the silhouette of the grand fort is going to be a pleasure for sure!

18 October 2011, The Hindu


In Mehrauli, Lodhi-era structure GOES TO SEED

Opposition from occupants runs aground archaeology dept’s plans to conserve the medieval Bagichi ki Masjid

New Delhi: A historical mosque located a stone's throw away from Qutub Minar in Mehrauli was for years a significant example of Lodhi architecture. Called Bagichi ki Masjid because it stood in a wooded patch, the mosque had survived more than 500 years, and continued to be in good repair without the protection of government agencies. In fact, it was widely mentioned by historians as an impressive example of the Lodhi-era mosque.

But in just the last few years, the building has undergone a complete transformation. It has been painted over, encroached upon and encumbered with new constructions like toilet blocks and rooms. 

Now, as the archaeology department of the Delhi government tries to undo the damage, it finds itself up against the occupants of the mosque, who refuse to recognize its claim upon the building. While the department has made a preliminary notification about the mosque, the locals insist it is owned by Delhi Wakf Board. "The property is owned by the Wakf board and we are the caretakers. Delhi Development Authority has no ownership here,'' said a resident who did not disclose his name. DDA officials, however, said they had repeatedly complained about the "unauthorized" occupation but no action was taken.

Painted white and green, Bagichi ki Masjid is one of the 15 structures recently identified by the state archaeology department for notification under Delhi Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 2004. Once the final notification is issued, this B-rated monument will be conserved by conservation body INTACH Delhi Chapter. But for now, this mosque makes a striking contrast with its contemporary, the Archaeological Survey of India-preserved Madhi Masjid that stands in a clearing a short way off.

Officials said they would resolve the issue with the Wakf board before beginning restoration work. "A meeting will be held with the board soon to resolve issues related to ownership of many unprotected mosques and gumbads (domed structures). Alterations or unauthorized constructions done to the masjid will be removed. If we do not take serious steps to conserve the mosque, it will collapse any time,'' said an official.

Sources said the Wakf board, after it was set up in 1970 to look after Islamic monuments, had invited objections to its claims within a year. Many departments, like the state archaeology department, were set up much later. "The issue is not the ownership of a monument but its preservation. A corner of the Masjid has collapsed and many additions have been made to the original structure. Some months back, the façade was also painted over. All this will have to be undone once the final notification is issued,'' said an official.

18 October 2011, Times of India

Hassan’s elephants: Will they survive?

In the last one decade, 28 persons have lost their lives in accidents involving elephants in Hassan district. The government is considering two options: translocation of these herds to a larger elephant habitat or capturing them to be permanently put in elephant camps, observes Sanjay Gubbi

It was a late evening setting with a pre-monsoon drizzle. Over 200 people had gathered in spite of the rain and the darkness. Residents of Hetthur, a typical Malnad village in the State’s Hassan district crowded around one of the proud sons of the State.

The occasional vehicular traffic was blocked as Hetthur residents eagerly talked to Anil Kumble; however they spoke of neither cricket nor spin bowling.

Anil now dons the cap of the Vice-Chairman of the State Board for Wildlife. The villagers were deliberating with him seeking a solution to mitigate the human-elephant conflict in their area, a serious problem in the district of Hassan.

The district of Hassan, which has a combination of both dry plains and the typical Western Ghat forest areas, has two distinct populations of elephants. A small population of about 25 elephants are found in the reserved forests of Kattepura and Doddabetta in the backwaters of the Hemavathi reservoir. The other larger population is found in Bisle, Kagneri, Kanchankumari, Kemphole, Bhagimalai and other reserved forests abutting the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary.

The elephants found in Kattepura and Doddabetta are locked in tiny islands of forests that have no connectivity to any other larger elephant habitats to allow dispersal across the larger landscape. This population is in the midst of human settlements and has little source of natural forage. The elephants are forced to source their required nutrients and food from surrounding crop fields.

These pachyderms literally spend their lives in coffee plantations, paddy fields and villages leading to severe conflict. This conflict has cost both humans and elephants immensely. In the last ten years, 28 people have lost their lives in accidents involving elephants in the district. It has cost the government nearly Rs 3.5 crore by way of compensation paid for crop damages and loss of human life. In response, too often, the solution to the problem has come from electricity tapped into farm fences. Four elephants have been electrocuted in the last one year alone.

Farmers in the district have resorted to all forms of opposition to express their angst from softer to more bred-in-the-bone approaches. Representations, protests, highway blockades, locking up forest officials, they have tried it all. Obviously a permanent solution needs to be found.

What choices exist when an endangered wildlife species genuinely causes serious damages to human life and livelihoods and has little long-term future in the area? The world over, wherever such situations have existed, managers follow either lethal or non-lethal approaches to mitigate conflicts. However the solution needs to be socially, culturally and ecologically acceptable.

The two possible options contemplated by the government at Hassan include translocation of these herds to a larger elephant habitat or capturing these animals to be permanently put in elephant camps.

A report prepared by M K Appaiah, a retired forest official, and elephant biologist Ajai Desai have suggested translocation of these elephant herds to far-off elephant habitats. If the translocation course is taken, then the elephants will be captured in herds rather than individuals as elephants form tight family groups.

There are fewer chances of the animals moving back to their original home ranges if translocated to distant forest areas. Such kinds of experiments are regularly carried out in some African countries. This month, in a massive exercise, Kenyan authorities have shifted 60 elephants from Narok North district into Maasai Mara National Reserve to reduce conflicts.

They intend to shift another 140 if the current operation succeeds.

In South Africa, elephant translocation efforts have had mixed results. In some instances, elephants have returned to their former home ranges and there are instances where they have successfully settled in their new homes. However, this is a new experiment for Karnataka and should be seen with caution and patience.

If science fails

Wildlife ecology is projected as one of the tools to solve conservation problems. Ecologists, time and again, blame managers for not following conservation principles based on science.

However on subjects like these, science has found little time or interest to examine the problem and find solutions based on which managers could have adopted decisions.

If science continues to fail to provide timely, pragmatic results that are meaningful to wildlife management, it will not be surprising if managers prevail to show apathy towards wildlife research.

Last elephants standing...

In Karnataka, elephants now survive in good numbers only in the southern Western Ghats with massive contraction of their historical distribution ranges. They have lost ground in the northern parts of the Ghats with a handful surviving in Dandeli Tiger Reserve.

In the central Western Ghats, only Bhadra Tiger Reserve has a decent population. However it is disjointed from the bigger population that survives in Nagarahole, Bandipur, B R Hills and M M Hills. The population of elephants in Cauvery wildlife sanctuary and Bannerghatta National Park hangs under severe stress. Though there are smaller links for these small populations to larger elephant grounds through forest in Tamilnadu, their future depends on the decisions that would be taken across the border.

The elephant habitats in the Hassan district have been greatly modified. The recent threat comes in the form of ‘green energy’ projects where 44 run-of-the-river mini-hydel projects have been permitted across the River Nethravathi, with most of them falling within the current domain of jumbos.

Moving away from the parochial approach, we need to understand that destruction, fragmentation and degradation of wildlife habitats, which has left a huge footprint on the elephants of Hassan, can cause similar effects on other habitat specialist wildlife species in the future. ‘Destruction’ has always happened in history, but the destroyers and the opportunities for destruction were fewer.

A sub-population of the Hassan elephants will go locally extinct during our lifetimes, but hopefully this morbid event will not be repeated in the other surviving elephant sub-population in the district.


18 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Feudal palaces of yore

Hyderabad, being the city of nawabs and nobles, had numerous sprawling palaces architecturally perfected to the last detail.

The palaces were called deodis and before 1948 there were nearly 1,200 of these magnificent edifices. However, today, only a handful of them have remained in various stages of ruins as multistoried buildings are coming up in these commercially valuable spaces.

Deodis, which in a broad sense mean the ‘homes of lords’, were fortified residences built with imposing main entrances big enough to let an elephant with an ambari pass, high walls to afford privacy to inmates, and a series of inner courtyards which served the public and private needs of its residents.

They had attractive pillared pavilions called dalans which were reception areas, private living quarters for men and women called mardanas and zenanas, and other sundry buildings like the diwan khana where the master held court, naubat khana, from where music played on special occasions or indicated the time for prayer, bawarchi khana, tosha khana, farrash khana, baggi khana and many similar structures.

If men’s quarters buzzed with official activity, women’s quarters were marked by comfort, leisure and ease. The zenana had its own courtyards open to the sky and was equipped with fountains, flowering bushes and pretty chamans. The atmosphere in the zenanas was restful and slow paced. Water tinkled in the fountains and flowering trees like mulchari and champa sprayed fragrance into the air. Women kept birds like mynas and lal munias for pleasure.

Over time, they grew into virtually self-contained townships, throbbing with their own rhythm of life, and serviced by a large number of retainers, consisting of male and female servants, sipahis, lightwalas, palanquin bearers, jewellers, tailors, embroiderers, musicians, entertainers,  and the like, living either on the premises of the deodi itself, or in its vicinity.

The forecourt of the deodi was strictly meant for performing official functions of the feudal lord. For example, the deodi known as the Irram Manzil Palace had about 900-odd servants who lived in wadas behind the palace. Jagirdars like the paigahs and diwans not only maintained troops but also took care of civil and judicial administration in their jagirs. Building large and elaborate deodis came to be seen as a statement of power and wealth.

However, two momentous events that marked the end of deodis were the Police Action of 1948 by the Indian Army which removed the Nizam from his supreme position in Hyderabad state, and the abolition of the jagirdari system which dismantled the feudal base of the city. With the nobles’ main source of income drying up, they started selling the only assets they were left with — their large ancestral homes.

The city witnessed distress sales of beautifully appointed deodis. Rich adornments like chandeliers, Belgian mirrors and alabaster statues were sold for a paltry sum. The painted pavilions were pulled down to be sold as scrap. Expensive jewellery started changing hands and the days of opulence and grandeur ended for the Hyderabadi aristocracy.

A few deodis that are still extant are Iqbal-ud-Daula Deodi and Khursheed Jah Baradari. Other deodis like the Asman Jah Deodi haven’t been so lucky. While some were demolished, some were sold in bits and pieces by the families that owned them, and the rest succumbed to the ravages of time.

Prior to its demolition, the Diwan Deodi of the Salar Jungs was the most celebrated deodi in the city. Home for generations of diwans, it was known for its grandeur and opulence. In a remarkable coincidence unparalleled in history, six members of the same family rose to the position of diwan in the princely state of Hyderabad and all of them lived in the Diwan Deodi.

Consequently, for over a century and a half, the Diwan Deodi was the epicentre of power, influence and authority. The location of the deodi itself was a statement of its importance, located as it was on the Charminar High Road, back to back with the Purani Haveli, one of the many palaces of the Nizams. Today, one of the gates of the Diwan Deodi is the only surviving portion.

One other famous deodi surviving till recently was the Malwala Deodi. The Malwalas took care of the revenue records of the Nizam’s dominions. Their grand deodi, one of Hyderabad’s finest buildings famous for its grand wooden pavilion made of teak wood from Burma, has now been demolished.

The Rai Rayans were also daftardars or revenue officials of the Nizam’s empire, but were higher in the aristocratic hierarchy than the Malwalas. Their deodi is in a slightly better state than the rest, but only slightly. The mansion has been sold in parts by the family while modifications have distorted it beyond recognition. However, a few parts of the original structure remain, giving us a small glimpse of its former glory.

Hyderabad is a city where the past lives in the present. Old structures that once dotted the city have given way to modern buildings. But no Hyderabadi has forgotten the charm and grandeur associated with its old and imposing structures.

18 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Framed treasures from the past

A photography exhibition in the Capital displays some rare photographs of the city during 19th century, chosen from the collection of the Alkazi Foundation. Rahul Devrani visits IIC and finds out more about our rich legacy

Every inch of the street is packed with people, as the Emperor of Delhi heads for a royal procession, riding his elephant. Some of the people are talking among themselves; some are enthralled by the grandeur of the ceremony, while others are waiting anxiously, thinking that some announcement is going to be made. No, this isn’t fiction, nor is it a theatre piece depicting the 19th century. This is as real as from the naked eye. Or in this case, from the camera’s eye. The photograph defines the bygone era of Delhi. Once you take a look at the framed past, you will realise how much things have changed in the Capital.

Such rare and incredible pictures are a part of IIC’s Framing A Capital exhibition which showcases Delhi from 1860-1920. Evocative, almost nostalgic photographs of the Capital are on display here.

The exhibition is organised by the IIC at a time when Delhi completes 100 years of being India’s Capital. Ebrahim Alkazi, one of the most celebrated and influential theatre personalities of our times, and recipient of Padma Vibhushan was more than happy to come for the exhibition. “I love observing and taking note of anything that has to do with the Capital,” he says.

The photographs for the exhibition were provided by the Alkazi Foundation which boasts of having thousands of centuries old pictures.

The exhibition or the photographs in particular, show Delhi from various perspectives. Be it as a site of battle during the revolt of 1857 or as the center of art, where pottery, ivory carving and other crafts flourished.

While a picture shows a train entering a platform in 1911, another shows men clad in traditional dhoti kurta. The shots establish themselves as a testimony to a changing world — with Hindus, Muslims, art and craft, cuisine, technology, industry and other diverse things native to Delhi coming together to shape a new identity.

“Delhi has always been a photographer’s dream. It’s a big thing that when camera was invented, Delhi was one of the few places in the world that was extensively shot. And what better can we expect? The brilliant pictures that we have with us give us an inexplicable account of things that otherwise many of us would have sidelined as mere myths,” asserts Alkazi.

The pictures showcase several things that we would otherwise not even care to look at, things, that directly affect our lives. Sample this: Delhi lies between river Yamuna and northern most spur of the Aravalli ranges. Behind this topographical fact lies the strategic importance Delhi had for the men in governance. Among the many reasons why it was chosen to be the Capital (on 12th December 1911 by King George) was this one too. Covered from both the sides, it was safe enough to keep away from invaders.

“With increasing congestion and population these things are no more clearly visible but the old pictures show all such things. They reflect the entire process — how things came about and changed later,” explains Alkazi.

The exhibition generates a question in the onlookers’ minds: why do we really need to know our history? Aren’t we quite happy with our Apple and Blackberry world? Add to that remarkable restaurants, brands, Cricket (and now F1) etc. And is the knowledge of our city’s past only important to clear an IAS entrance?

“Jokes apart,” laughs Alkazi and the inquisitive 86- year-old who “travels so much in the Capital” that a meeting with him is a rare occasion, adds, “There is nothing wrong in the evolving culture of technology. We must enjoy the present. But, yes, we must not also forget that what we have now will be history in future. It is thus important to know our past too. Only then can we find a connection between things and avoid confusion and despair later. It is a process of life.”

Alkazi, however, feels sad about the fact that “people who possess treasures from the past don’t share it.”

He says with distress, “If this exhibition was not put up, those who have come here with great enthusiasm would have never got an opportunity to see how different things were. There are people with some rare collections and they must share too.” Well, if that would happen, we are sure that the claim by a writer who said, “Delhi was the epitome of India, just as Rome was the epitome of the Roman Empire,” would definitely get more substance.

The exhibition ends October 21.

18 October 2011, Pioneer


That sinking feeling...

The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that almost all freshwater species found in the Western Ghats region are showing signs of extinction. Experts blame over-harvesting, pollution and the aquarium trade for the same. Nearly 28 per cent of medicinal aquatic plants of the region have started to slide towards extinction, writes Atula Gupta

The Western Ghats encapsulate a freshwater ecosystem that is self-sustaining and self-sufficient. It is an incredible biodiversity hotspot. This freshwater region supports 400 million people with water for drinking, transport, irrigation and hydroelectric power, together with food and resources to sustain livelihoods.

It is also the life-giver for 1,146 species of fishes, molluscs, odonates and aquatic plants. In the tussle between economic progress and ecological sustenance, the conservation of this unique region is being overlooked. Now, much to the despair of biologists, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that almost all freshwater species found in these parts are showing tendencies of extinction.

The IUCN Global Species Programme’s Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, in collaboration with the Zoo Outreach Organisation (ZOO), conducted the Western Ghats Freshwater Biodiversity Assessment to review the global conservation status and distributions of 1,146 freshwater species.

Diversity nearing its end

The experts found that over 16 per cent of the fishes and other species found in the Western Ghats face the threat of extinction. Almost two per cent are near-threatened. The main reason for the plunge in the population of river fish and other species is unquestionably the rising human demand for sea food.

Over-harvesting is causing fewer fish to remain in the water giving them no time to grow, mature and breed. Pollution and presence of other invasive species is only making survival a more arduous task for the endemic species. In fact, it is domestic and agricultural pollution that is harming this environment more.

From the Deccan Mahseer (Tor khudree), a much sought-after edible fish, to Miss Kerala (Puntius denisonii), another edible variety of fish, they all meet with untimely death in a fishing net. No wonder, the population of all edible fishes has reduced drastically in the last few years.

“Water pollution from agricultural and urban sources, over-harvesting and invasive species are the major threats that have led to 16 per cent of freshwater species becoming extinct,” said Sanjay Molur, executive director, Zoo Outreach Organisation, in the report. To make matters worse, a growing percentage of fishes are also being captured for the aquarium trade. Even molluscs have not been spared and are being captured to be served as restaurant delicacies putting 18 per cent of these species on the fast track to extinction.

News is equally disquieting for the aquatic plants of the region. The unique flora is constantly harvested to be used for medicinal purposes. Many plants species present here are so exclusive do not grow in any other part of the world thereby becoming an even pricier medicine. Regardless of the continuous uprooting, there are no signs of regeneration and little efforts made to sustain the depleting supply.

About 28 per cent of aquatic plants with medicinal value have started becoming extinct. Like the cremnochonchus syhadrensis, an endangered freshwater periwinkle, and a pond weed aponogeton satarensis. The IUCN report dampens spirits further by stating that although within the Western Ghats, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and southern Karnataka have the highest freshwater species richness and levels of endemism, these states also contain the highest number of threatened species.

Challenges for communities

Can difficulties for humans be far behind if they have made survival of other species so tough? The fishing community of the entire region is already paying a price for causing such a massive damage to the natural environment. There are fewer fish to catch, diminishing their source of livelihood and seriously jeopardising their future as most have knowledge of no other trade.

Fewer fish in the river may not make much of a difference, but the simultaneous disappearance of hundreds of species can have a tumultuous effect on the entire environment. Previous massive species destruction events have wiped out all living beings of that era and present signs only point to the same direction. As Rajeev Raghavan of Conservation Research Group at St. Albert’s College, Kochi says, “If we continue to degrade our freshwater systems and over-harvest our resources, we will not only lose biodiversity but also many valuable services that nature provides us for free.”

Time to act

Saving the precious freshwater flora and fauna of Western Ghats needs a synergistic approach. The foremost aim of IUCN researchers to conduct the research was to end the dearth of knowledge about such an elaborate ecosystem of the world. Now that the report is out, the onus is on each and every individual who in some way benefits from this biodiversity to help sustain it.

The agriculture sector, fisheries sector, chemical plants, pharmaceutical companies, corporates, mining industries, power plants, tourists, fishermen, fish eaters, herbal medicine practitioners, NGOs, forest departments, other government bodies and even those who simply drink a glass of water sourced from these rivers, all have a duty to perform.

More taxonomic studies, protection of key habitats, prevention of modification of areas which are home to endemic species and conservation of specialised ecosystems such as Myristica swamps are some of the ecological measures. Stricter pollution laws, enforcement of standards to curb the entry of foreign species, and restricting tourism of critical habitats along with restricting agrochemical use are other measures that need to be taken side by side. Public involvement is as much a necessity at this juncture as stricter government policies.


18 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Govt plan to turn Vikrant into museum runs aground

The state government’s ambitious plan to turn decommissioned aircraft carrier Vikrant into a national maritime museum, riding on the ship’s immense emotive value for her role in the 1971 war has, once again, hit a dead end.

While one of the two bidders in the fray for the public-private partnership project opted out at the penultimate stage, the solitary bid by Ackruti City projected a steep viability gap fund (VGF) of Rs 500 crore. That is almost the state government’s estimated total project cost in 2010. Officials said there could be no justification for the government to undertake a PPP project involving such a large grant.

An earlier round of bidding had ended in April 2010 with a no-show by five private developers after the government decided not to extend the last dates for bid submission.

The reason for the latest debacle, revealed officials, is that the government deleted a key revenue stream at the stage when the bids were already in and were in the technical evaluation stage. “Helicopter services, including joyrides — a key component of the state’s feasibility analysis for the project — had to be removed from the project design even though the final two bids were in. The decision was at the insistence of the Navy that chopper operations could not be permitted from the flight deck of Vikrant,” said a senior government official.

One of the two bidders was Aamby Valley, which had participated aggressively as its parent company, the Sahara group, having exited from the airline business, was keen to use its existing aviation industry assets, including helicopters. It was also keen to forge a chopper route to Aamby Valley from South Mumbai for owners of chalets and luxury holiday homes there.

Though the committee overseeing the design of the project and the bid documents included a Naval representative, the Indian Navy reportedly took the stand that helicopter operations could not be permitted — they would clash with operations from INS Shikra, the Navy’s nearby helicopter base. While officials courted the idea of instead offering the museum’s visitors chopper rides from Shikra, the idea had to be abandoned too as a seaside entry into Shikra was considered a security hazard and the option of resettling large slums to permit entry from another end was deemed unfeasible.

With helicopter operations ruled out, Aamby Valley expectedly opted out.

“The idea was that the commercial segments would cross-subsidise the cost of grouting the ship at Oyster Rock, stabilising her, etc. The VGF was to have provided for any further gap in the cost of basic works, that gap can hardly be Rs 500 crore,” said the official.

While the government is yet to take a formal decision on Ackruti’s bid, officials said it cannot be accepted at the current VGF. Re-tendering may be an option, but without revenue from helicopter operations, the state government’s own feasibility study will have to be overhauled.

19 October 2011, Indian Express


Capital reclaimed

In the mid-40s, Delhi was divided into three silos - the newly-built colonial capital, Mughal Shahjahanabad, fondly called Shahar by its inhabitants; and Civil Lines, the hub of European life until Edwin Lutyens’ New Delhi came up. It had been a decade and half since the Imperialadministration moved into the grand new city that took almost 20 years to build. Quarters built for the new workforce now housed families from east and south India. The elegant arcades of Connaught Place were the exclusive hangouts of the British. For countless generations, the old Walled City remained a secure universe for families living in Delhi. A little outside of the gates of the Shahar, the mansions of Civil Lines were now home to affluent old Delhi families looking for a modern living.

In 1941, Delhi had a population of 9,17,939, of which three-fourths lived in urban areas. “The city had a few hundred cars. We could tell who owned which just by looking at the number plate,” recalls Sultan Singh Backliwal, 85, whose father moved the family business from the Walled City to Connaught Place in 1935.

For 20-year-old Lalitha Ramakrishnan, a Lodhi Colony flat was a cosy, secure home she had set up with her husband, a government official, and her baby daughter, thousands of kilometres from her hometown in Kerala.

Community lunches, outings to Qutab Minar on a bicycle, and movies at Connaught Place made the Ramakrishnans’ life idyllic in this quaint government colony — the last one to be built by the British before they left India.

On August 8, 1947, while returning from a gathering at a relative’s house a few blocks away, Ramakrishnan saw her neighbour’s brother, a college student, carrying a radio. “He told me he had picked it up from a shop that was being looted. He had already got a sewing machine at home. He said he was going back for more.”

“I was not exposed to this kind of madness,” Ramakrishnan says. “The boy with the radio later became secretary in the Government of India.” A few days later, she saw a young man being lynched from her window. “They caught him and beat him to death. The police came a few minutes later and dispersed the crowd with tear gas. My eyes watered. This was my first experience with tear gas,” remembers Ramakrishnan, now 84 and a resident of a high-rise apartment in east Delhi’s IP Extension.


Nearly 5 lakh people poured into the city from Western Punjab, Sindh and Northwest Frontier. Even for an ancient city that has seen several invasions, this influx was mind-boggling. The old city barely had enough infrastructure to support this kind of migration. New Delhi was simply not prepared for this.

The refugees moved into camps, gurudwaras, temples, schools and military barracks. The less fortunate settled on pavements and in parks. “Many government employees sublet their quarters to refugees, one family sharing a room and toilet with three or four others,” says Ramakrishnan.

But the Punjabi spirit was indomitable. They were willing to do whatever work they could find. It helped that most refugees were literate, often better educated than the locals, (a study of refugees by VKRV Rao and PB Desai showed 88% of men and 68% of women in Kingsway Camp were literate). “Yet they did not allow their pre-Partition status to rule out socially less acceptable occupations. Pragmatism, refusal to cast themselves as victims, along with state help, changed their lives and Delhi,” wrote Ranjana Sengupta in Delhi Metropolitan: Making of an Unlikely City.

So those who could take up their old profession did so, while others got into new businesses selling whatever assets they had for the start-up capital. Those who had nothing invented jobs. “Women went door-to-door to collect discarded husk from the wheat flour, made toys out of them and got the men to sell them,” remembers Chaman Singh, 83, whose family lived in old Delhi for several generations.

Backliwal recalls how the dispossessed refugees who squatted outside his shop in CP traded on extremely small profit margins. “They used to buy wares at wholesale prices from Sadar Bazar and sell them at the same price. The only profit they would make was on selling cardboard cartons in raddi (junk).”

Connaught Place that offered no ancillary services till 1947 was breaking new ground. “Now, if you bought a saree from a shop, you could get a petticoat and a blouse right there. To give jobs to refugee women, traders hired them as tailors. In fact, that is how Delhi learnt about readymade garments,” says Backliwal.

Others, such as Dharam Pal of Sialkot and HP Nanda of Lahore, set up virtual empires from scratch (see box). But the refugees couldn’t have found their feet so soon without the help of locals. “We offered them space outside our shops. We called them Pursharthi (men of good virtues) and not Sharnarthi (refugees),” says Backliwal.


The government moved fast to shift refugees from camps and squatters to permanent locations. Thirty-six permanent rehabilitation colonies were set up. These single and double-storey houses built on land cleared from the fields and the wooded Central Ridge were to serve as the model for private developers such as DLF who established Greater Kailash, Gulmohar Park and Vasant Vihar among other neighbourhoods in the later decades.

The enterprising refugees in fact boosted trade in Delhi. The explosion of retail and general merchandise shops opened by refugees gave Delhi the great retail market status it still enjoys.

This was also the time when Delhi industrialised. The 1964 Industrial Survey showed that between 1945 and 1951, the number of registered factories grew from 227 to 431. Before 1945, there were three bicycle-manufacturing industries. By 1951, there were seven. ‘Ring towns’ such as Sonepat, Ballabgarh, Faridabad and Ghaziabad initiated the idea of the National Capital Region. Okhla Industrial Estate, set up with government initiative to promote refugee enterprise, served as a springboard for business groups such as Ranbaxy and Bharat Steel.


Once settled in their enterprise, the new residents of Delhi stamped their cultural dominance on the city. The influence of Lahore, in particular, came to stay.

Paneer, till then unknown to the Delhi palate, became the city’s staple vegetarian fare. Dhabas selling tandoor (clay-oven) baked roti and daal makhani (buttered daal) mushroomed. Moti Mahal at Darya Ganj came up with tandoori and butter chicken. Restaurants in Connaught Place passed into Punjabi hands and Delhi discovered the concept of eating out.

The Lahoris brought with them fashion trends and the publishing industry. “Delhi’s men followed trends from Bombay and women looked to Lahore,” remembers Backliwal. Lahore’s University of the Punjab was set up in 1882, 40 years before Delhi University came into being.

“Books were published and transported from Lahore in pre-Partition days. Almost all big publishing houses were based there. With Partition, some big publishers like Uttar Chand Kapoor and Sons moved to Delhi and publishing became a thriving business here,” adds Backliwal.

With a large Muslim population gone, Urdu, the only language the city knew, went on a decline and was soon substituted by Hindi and Punjabi. Mushairas (Urdu poetry recitation) became rare, replaced by government-sponsored Kavi Sammelans.

The signboards across the city added Hindi and Punjabi with the existing Urdu and English. The zubaan (language) changed for good. So much so that Delhi even reinvented its customary affirmation: from ji to haan ji.

19 October 2011, Indian Express


No crowning glory at 100-yr bash

Delhi’s D-Day is less than two months away. After all, it’s no mean achievement we’re talking about: it’s 100 eventful years of New Delhi as capital. Yet the ragtag arrangements made by the authorities to rev-up the Coronation Park — the setting for the grand centenary celebrations — might actually be a cause of embarrassment for the nation.

Sources confirmed that major components proposed in the Coronation Park redevelopment plan will not be completed within the November-end deadline, and only some of the work like landscaping and amphitheatre may be over on time. But there’s a catch: labourers will have to work round the clock.

Also known as the Coronation Memorial, the park is situated in north Delhi’s Burari area, and occupies a significant place in history as this was the place where King George V had announced on December 11, 1911, that the capital of British India was shifting from Calcutta to New Delhi. However, for nearly a century, the park has been neglected and vandalized; and it was only in 2007 that plans were first mooted to give it a facelift.

The facelift plans were submitted by Intach’s Delhi Chapter in 2008, but now it’s official that two-thirds of the original project will not be over on time. “The facelift plans were divided in three major components —landscaping, interpretation centre, and conservation of coronation pillar and statues. Only landscaping work is going on and the other two components will drag on past the centenary celebration deadline,” said a source.

While officials of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) confirmed that the interpretation centre would not be ready before March 2012, Intach sources said even if they work round the clock, the conservation work on the statues would not be completed before the December celebrations.

“It requires at least three months as first the statues have to be chemically cleaned. We also proposed to use mud-pack treatment and then consolidate the statues,” said an official. The coronation pillar, one of the main highlights of the park where the Durbar took place, will also get a facelift only after the centenary celebrations. “It has to be cleaned and restored as no repairs have taken place for nearly a century. But there is no time now,” claims an official.

Other planned projects like the VIP parking and waterbodies will also be completed only by next year. DDA officials blamed problems in the tender process and the extended monsoon for the delay. “The first tender for landscaping did not materialize, so we had to invite a second tender in May. This way, we lost several months’ time. Then we could not work on the landscaping for three months during monsoon as rainwater had made the soil too wet. It’s a race against time now and we are working non-stop to complete the amphitheatre, floodpost, relaying of the pathways etc,” said a senior DDA official.

Officials said it would be a challenge to see how the celebrations take place at the park on December 11. “It’s possible that only some portionswill be opened during the ceremony as work will still be under progress. Opening the park for the public for the function is also unlikely as it could become a safety hazard with bulldozers and construction material all around,” said a source.

Senior officials said the non-completion of the conservation work on the statues was a “shame”. “It’s a shame that the pillars and statues will not be ready on time. Two or three of the statues are almost disfigured and even the pedestals are falling apart. They have also developed cracks as no work has ever been undertaken on them for a hundred years now,” said an Intach official.

20 October 2011, Times of India


Wait list of devotees growing by the day

Over 1.2 lakh devotees await their turn for special prayers at the Golden Temple

For devotees cherishing a special “rendezvous with god” at World’s holiest Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the wait could stretch up to 10 long years. Those who have booked well in advance for the special prayers, chances are they would get a call from the shrine priests somewhere in 2020.

Among the wait list are Bollywood celebrities, country’s top businessmen, Army Generals, NRIs and politicians. Until recently, Amitabh Bachchan, his wife Jaya, son Abhishek and daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai, cash-rich non-resident Indian Sant Singh Chattwal and Bollywood star Akshay Kumar were in the waiting list since early this millennium.

That’s how it has been at the Golden Temple’s most revered “Dukh Bhanjani Beri” site.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, the local Member of Parliament from Amritsar, Congress MP Partap Singh Bajwa are also in the waiting list and will perhaps perform this special Path (prayers) at Dukh Bhanjini Beri sometime at the end of this decade. Actors, including Rishi Kapoor, Reliance’s Ambani brothers, Bharti Mittals of Airtel, had already sought blessings through path after a long wait. Temple sources say the devotees lined up for all these prayers at the Golden Temple are over 1.20 lakh, and still counting. The rush is getting unmanageable and the shrine management feels it is hard for them to maintain records of people on paper sans computerisation.

For now, the bookings for path (prayers) at Dukh Bhanjini Beri have been stopped. Only those who were booked earlier will be the privileged ones whenever their turn comes. The wait may look endless, but the path at this tree site has a special significance. This is the site which existed before the construction of the sacred Golden Temple or Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. In the early 17th century, the compilation of the holy Guru Granth Sahib was done under the tree site called Dukh Bhanjini Beri.

A loosely bound legend among the Sikhs also gives an account of the discovery of this tree site. It cites a girl named Rajni who was a daughter of a very proud and egotistical King. Once having displeased her father, she was married off to a leper. The couple had heard of a miraculous place where black crows bathe in a pool of water and emerge as white doves. After many years searching they came to a jungle and saw the sight of black birds turning to white doves. The husband rolled down the slope into the water and was cured of his illness.

Talking to Deccan Herald, temple officials said the booking of Paths at the rear of the Akal Takht are still on, but Dukh Bhanjani Beri and har Ki Pauri considered most pious have been discontinued for now. Here is how the ritual is carried out. The Akhand path continues for 48 hours by Granthis (Sikh priests) in the name of the person who has booked the path. A Bhog ceremony is held on third day. A nominal Rs 4,100 is charged for the entire ceremony.

While offering obeisance through special prayers at Dukh Bhanjini Beri look like a distant dream, prayers at the Golden Temple other three sacred area, the Har-Ki Pauri, Gumbad Path and at the Akal Takht, have relatively shorter waiting list. Devotees will have to wait for the next two-three years for their turn for pooja at these three places. For once, commoners, bigwigs, celebrities and the powers that be all are queued up in one line for these special prayers.

No exception Dalmegh Singh, Secretary of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the Sikh body that manages majority of Sikh shrines in the country, said, “ It is believed to be the most pious of places within the temple and so everyone wants to invoke blessings of the god at this place. Therefore, it’s a long wait. We don’t make any exception for the rich, famous or the celebrities. All are regarded the same here.” Devotees seeking blessings through path here usually avoid their ranks and designations. Off late, a path was carried out in the name of one PS Gill, sources said. It was only on the date of the prayers that it was learnt by staff members of SGPC that PS Gill happen to be the Punjab DGP, now retired. That too came to light given the paraphernalia that tagged along with Gill.

Like in the case of actor Akshay Kumar, there’s a possibility that the devotee who had booked these prayers is unable to reach on the given date. There are even cases when devotees have died even as their “date with God” at the shrine is pending. The SGPC says the path is held irrespective of the devotees reaching the site or failing to reach. The blessings of the prayers for him and his family are sent to through these special prayers, the SGPC said.

Satinder Pal Singh, who is in charge of the prayer bookings, said, “Bookings of Paths at Dukh Banjani Beri, a site that existed even before Harmandar Sahib, have been discontinued for now because of the long waiting list of devotees, in many cases up to 10 years. The shrine is on a mission now to clear the heavy backlog. For this, its been planned that everyday 40 paths are held. Other sacred places in the backside of Akal Takht are available with a waiting period that may stretch up to 2014-15, he said.

The practice of path at Dukh Bhanjini Beri has been there since very long, however, a formal structure where devotees had to book the ritual well in advance, started sometime after the SGPC was formed way back in 1925. One such Path is performed by one Sikh priest at a time. It’s a nonstop recitation of the holy script. Priests keep rotating the task for the next 48-hours.

The devotee has to give the name of the person for whom the prayers need to be performed. The entire Path is performed in his or her name and can be participated by family members. At least four Paths continue simultaneously just at the Dukh Bhanjini Beri site. Together at all sites within the holy Sikh shine, at least 30 special prayers are performed every day. The plan is to increase this devotional space by at least 10 paths a day.


23 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Delightful and inspiring

Ravi Varma’s oil paintings gave Indian painting a new dimension. He was the first Indian artist to fuse the techniques of Western and Indian art successfully, writes Swapna Dutta

While surfing the art circuit recently, the snippet that caught my attention was from Sotheby’s that stated Raja Ravi Varma’s picture, ‘A Himalayan Beauty’, went to a private European buyer for $2,66,500 on September 16, 2011. I immediately remembered him being featured in the 1998 Limca Book of Records when his painting, ‘The Begum’s Bath, was sold for Rs 32 lakh at an auction of contemporary Indian art at the Nehru Centre, Mumbai, in 1997. It was recorded as the highest price ever paid for an Indian painting. Of course, Indian paintings have sold for much more since then. But one always remembers the pioneer. He was the first Indian artist who fused the techniques of Western and Indian art successfully, painting scenes from Indian myths and legends in the realistic style of the West, which eventually formed the basis of a popular art tradition later.

I first came across Ravi Varma’s paintings at the Maharaja Fatesingh Museum in Baroda. The art collection is displayed in a school building within the palace compound where Maharaja Fatesinghrao Gaekwad and other members of the royal family had their schooling. The art collection once belonged to Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, said to be the maker of Baroda city. It was he who invited Raja Ravi Varma, the first Indian artist to use oil colours, to paint portraits of the royal family. Many of his famous paintings on mythological subjects were also done at Baroda and now comprise a part of the Ravi Varma collection. They include masterpieces like Vishwamitra and Menaka, King Shantanu and Matsyagandha, Arjuna and Subhadra, Nala and Damayanti, Radha waiting for Krishna at the Kunjavana, and several others. The royal portraits include studies of Maharaja Sayajirao III, Sampatrao Gaekwad, Maharani Chimanabai II, Princess Tarabai and others. I was particularly interested in locating the portrait of the beautiful princess Indira Raje, his only daughter, who was the mother of Maharani Gayatri Devi. There are 80 paintings by Ravi Varma in this collection. Later in life he also patronised the royal houses of Travancore, Mysore and Udaipur, where his paintings are exhibited.

What strikes the layman first of all is Ravi Varma’s use of bright colours in his portraits and landscapes. There is an exquisite blend of the early Tanjore style of painting and the graceful realism of European masters. His forte was the use of bright colours in his portraits and landscapes. What also stands out is his apt selection of significant moments from the Sanskrit classics. He is said to have provided an important link between traditional Indian art and the contemporary; between the Tanjore School and Western Realism. Although his technique was European, the soul was undoubtedly Indian. He has been described as “a representative of Europeanised School of Indian Artists”.

Ravi Varma’s development as an artist is interesting. The son of Umamba Thampuratti and Neelakandan Bhattathiripad, he was born in a royal Travancore family at Kilimanoor. He showed great promise from a very young age, making charcoal drawings on the walls and floors of his house. His uncle, artist Raja Raja Varma, recognised his talent and gave him his first lessons. Ravi Varma was lucky enough to get the patronage of Ayilyam Thirunal, Maharaja of Travancore, when he was just 14 years old and had his first lessons from the palace painter, Rama Swamy Naidu. This is where he discovered and learned new techniques in the field of painting. Another important artist who trained him in oil painting three years later and greatly influenced his style was his British teacher Theodor Jenson.

Varma’s later years spent in Mysore, Baroda and other places enabled him to sharpen and expand his skills, finally blossoming into a mature and complete artist. Connoisseurs feel that it was largely because of his systematic training, first in the traditional art of Thanjavoor, and later, European art.

Ravi Varma made his debut in the fine arts exhibition at Chennai (then Madras), in 1873. His work, ‘Nair Lady at her Toilette’, won him the governor’s gold medal. This picture also fetched him the gold medal at the painting exhibition held in Vienna that year. After his return from Madras, he painted ‘Heights and Depths’ showing a Tamil woman from the royal family flinging a silver coin at a beggar woman. ‘The Gypsies of South India’, featuring a wandering fortune teller with a baby on her lap, also belongs to the same period. Some of his works were exhibited at the World Religious Conference of 1892 at Chicago.

Varma’s paintings have been broadly classified as portraits, portrait-based compositions and theatrical compositions based on classical myths and legends. His most outstanding paintings include Nala Damayanti, Shantanu and Matsyagandha, Shantanu and Ganga, Radha and Madhava, Kamsa Maya, Shrikrishna and Devaki, Arjuna and Subhadra, Draupadi Vastraharan, Harischandra and Taramati, Vishwamitra and Menaka and Seetaswayamvaram, among others. By 1876, he had painted several versions of Shakuntala and one particular painting sent for the Madras competition impressed the Duke of Buckingham so much that it was selected as the frontispiece for Sir Monier William’s translation of Abhijnana Shakuntalam. All his chosen subjects took new forms under his skillful brush. He was also convinced that mass reproduction of his paintings would initiate millions of Indians to real art. So, in 1894, he set up an oleography press called the Ravi Varma Pictures Depot.

Other museums housing paintings by Ravi Varma include the Jayachamarajendra Museum and Art Gallery in Mysore, the Sri Chitra Art Gallery in Trivandrum and the National Art Gallery in Chennai where fiber optic lighting is used to illuminate the important paintings to protect them from heat and radiation.

Ravi Varma had given Indian painting a new dimension with his dazzling oil paintings. Although some have criticised him for the European influence in his work, beauty — in whatever form — cannot but arouse admiration. Which is why great art never fails to delight and inspire.


23 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Firm setting up power unit in reserve forest

The district administration and forest department have allegedly allowed a private power producing company to set up a hydel power plant at a reserve rainforest area of the Western Ghats in Sakleshpur taluk.

Maruti Power-gen (India) Pvt Ltd, a Bangalore-based company, is setting up hydel power projects at the Kaginahare and Kenchanakumari reserve rain forest area of Western Ghats in Sakleshpur. The work is in progress for the past one year.

The deputy commissioner has permitted the company to use dynamite to blast boulders in violation of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, endangering the rich flora and fauna of the region.

The compnay has been allowed to set up two mini hydel power projects in an area of 8.21 hectares on survey number 16 of Kenchanakumari and survey number 1 of Kaginahare in the reserve rainforest area.

The thick rainforest of the Western Ghats is an abode of diverse wildlife. According to the Wildlife Act Schedule 1, Column 2 entry into the forest is illegal. Environment and Forest Minister C P Yogeeshwara, who inspected the place where the work on hydel project is in progress last week, said he wondered how permission was accorded to a hydel project in a reserved forest areaAnil Kumble, vice-chairman of the State Wildlife Board , during his visit to the project site on June 13 had termed the use of dynamite for blasting a grave violation.

The Board wrote to the district administration stating that prior permission from National and State Wildlife Boards is required to allow any activity in the reserve forest. It has also sought legal action against the company for violation of the Wildlife Act.

On the direction of the Board, the district administration ordered the company not to use dynamite for blasting.

Clean chit

On July 28, Deputy Conservator of Forests Chandregowda wrote to the deputy commissioner that there was no violation of the Wildlife Act by the company and the project did not endanger the wildlife.

The deputy commissioner has permitted minimal use of dynamite for blasting. However, it is common knowledge here that the blasts can be heard at least four kilometres from the point of the blast.

The blasts have caused fear among animals. For the construction of a tunnel, the company has triggered thousands of blasts over the last one year. To make the dynamites, a team has been camping in the forest for the past one year.

The use of gigantic machinery, generators, excavators and the plying of tippers, trucks and jeeps have been causing disturbance to the wildlife.

Malnad Janapara Horata Samithi president H A Kishore Kumar has demanded an inquiry into the clean chit for the project given by the Deputy Conservator of Forests.

As the Environment and Forest Minister himself has admitted that this project is detrimental to the forest and wildlife, the ball is now in the government’s court.


24 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Heritage study to map details of protected zones

New Delhi: If you live close to a protected historical monument, get used to being closely watched — even moving a brick without permission can land you in trouble.

From next week, the Delhi government-appointed competent authority will start a field survey of all monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)in the city. The survey will map all structures within a 500m radiusof every ASI monument.

Delhi has 174 protected monuments of national importance and in the first phase, the survey — to be considered as the base index for future —will cover 100. The Survey of India has been roped in to do the mapping and prepare the documentation. Every construction, house, building, street size, lamp post etc will be recorded and mapped exactly on their current position and its exact distance from the protected monument will be noted down. The structures will then be categorized as within a prohibited zone (100m), regulated zone (at least up to 200m) or outside the restricted zone.

“The field survey will not only help Delhiites who wish to know whether their houses arelocatedin prohibited, regulated or outside the restricted zones but will also keep tabson future constructions,” said a senior official. Delhiites living in colonies like Hauz Khas, South Extension, Green Park, Nizamuddin etc are likely to be affected most with a centrally protected monument located in the mid of residential areas.

“During the field survey, all the structures along with their height and other basic details like the property number will be noted down so they can be processed for permission. If we come across an unauthorized construction and the owner cannot provide the documents, action will be taken,” said Vijay Singh, the competent authority of Delhi.

The field survey is part of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment Validation) Act 2010 that seeks to protect historical monuments in the country. It will be most beneficial for the residents applying for permission to undergo construction in their houses as with the new mapping and site plans, it will be easy to assess the exact location of the property. “Right now, we do not have any plans and have to go to the spot to measure the distance. When the new survey is done, all these details will be quickly available,” said Singh.

The survey is likely to take several months as reports have to be prepared, each property/structure detailed, and documents scrutinized and verified for every monument under the culture ministry.

The mapping will also help the National Monument Authority (NMA) to decide on the extension of the protected area of each monument.


24 October 2011, Times of India


Dust lifts from medieval grandeur

Isa Khan’s Tomb At Nizamuddin Is Being Restored To Its Original Splendour

It’s a crumbling edifice of serenity at the entrance of the majestic Humayun’s Tomb. But despite its intrinsic splendour, Isa Khan’s tomb has always remained in the blind spot of visitors to this 16th century world heritage site.
Poor maintenance and lack of awareness about the tomb’s significance in the city’s architectural legacy contribute to the general lack of interest. But all of this will change after the launch of an intensive conservation programme.

In about six months from now, the tomb will don a new look with new pathways, lush green lawns and original ornamental patterns. Already, several layers of earth in the garden that surrounds the tomb have been removed and interiors scraped clean of dust and soot.

The project began on January this year as part of the Humayun’s Tomb-Nizamuddin Basti Urban Renewal Initiative. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) teamed up to implement it. The World Monuments Fund is also chipping in with funds.

Apart from structural consolidation and essential repairs in the monument, much effort has been made to remove 3,25,000 cubic feet of earth to restore original levels of the outer sunken garden. “The Mughal tradition of raised pathways that allows visitors to be at the eye level with treetops was inspired by this building,” said an Aga Khan Trust official.

Lowering the earth by over three feet across the outer garden was carried out manually under the strict vigil of archaeologists and the Trust team. This was followed by planting of an orchard of citrus fruit bearing trees in the outer garden. “Generally, in all archaeological sites, the garden level goes higher along with the surrounding area. But at Isa Khan’s Tomb, the garden level was lowered and restoration work in the interior boundary of the monument and other parts were undertaken,” said Dr P B Sengar, regional director of ASI. Officials said now, one can see the true proportions of the arched niches on the enclosure wall as well as architectural fragments from the tomb and associated building. A sixfoot high quartzite column on the gateway and fragments of the finials of the canopies that stand on each of the eight sides of the roof were also revealed during renovation. These fragments, said officials, are being carefully put back where possible or being used to make new fragments for restoration. The collapsed portions of the gateway were also rebuilt following the discovery of the column that supported this bay.

Inside the tomb, something magnificent was waiting for the team. Centuries of dust and soot had covered the ceiling of the tomb. When it was scraped clean, an exquisitely ornamented ceiling revealed itself.

All this has been a laborious task. Aga Khan Trust officials said throughout last year, exhaustive documentation and archival research was undertaken and every detail of the tomb was recorded using the revolutionary 3D laser scanning technology. This is the first time this technique has been used in India for conservation. This revealed the high degree of ornamentation in lime plaster, ceramic tiles, polychromy, and sandstone elements such as finials and stone brackets.

“The biggest challenge was to undo the inappropriate alterations of the 20th century and match the original work with superior craftsmanship,” Rajpal Singh, chief engineer, Aga Khan Trust, said.


Isa Khan Niyazi was a noble in the courts of Sher Shah Suri and his son Islam Shah, and his tomb built in 1546-47AD predates Humayun’s Tomb by over two decades. It is the culmination of the octagonal tomb style of the earlier Sayyid & Lodi dynasties. Isa Khan’s Tomb stands on the entrance to the Humayun’s Tomb, yet most of the millions of visitors to the world heritage site skip it. Conservation work started in Jan 2011 with the removal of 3,25,000 cubic feet of earth to restore original levels of the outer sunken garden. The restored Isa Khan’s Tomb will be reopened for visitors by mid-2012. Earth removal led to discovery of architectural fragments from the tomb and associated buildings; a six-foot high quartzite column of the gateway and fragments of the finials of the canopies that stand on each of the eight sides of the roof . Some historians claim that the Mughal tradition of raised pathways that allowed visitors to be at eye level with treetops was actually inspired by this.


24 October 2011, Times of India


Delhi zoo to get a major facelift

Aquarium, insectariums and a butterfly park along with different zones representing different geographical areas of India will be part of the revamp work to be carried out at the National Zoological Park over the next two decades. Authorities at the park, popularly known as Delhi

Authorities at the park, popularly known as Delhi Zoo, are all set to unveil the master plan with focus on its overall upgrade and increasing its inhabitants.

The draft plan, which is almost finalized, envisions that Rs 150 crore will be spent on the park's upgrade over the next two decades.Ever since 2008, thanks to reasons ranging from a court case to changes in the administration, had delayed the zoo's master plan, which is under the purview of the Union ministry of environment and forests.

Major re-hauling works include a new comprehensive visitor centre along with automated parking and a fine dining facility outside the ticketing area. On the premises, revamp work will include re-working the visitor circulation path

and coming up with an aquarium, insectariums and butterfly park. With the introduction of three new sections, the administration plans to increase the number of species and figures of animals, birds and reptiles at the zoo over the next few years.

At present, the zoo houses 105 species and 1,300 inhabitants. “We plan to increase the species to more than 200 and the number of animals, birds, reptiles etc to more than 2,000,” said zoo director AK Agnihotri.

“For living up to the nomenclature of ‘national’ zoological park, the zoo will also have different zones representing Himalayan foothills, Central Indian highlands, Peninsular India among other areas,” Agnihotri added.

The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) — a regulatory body for zoos across the country — has cleared the master layout plan and on its basis, the zoo masterplan will be prepared.


25 October 2011, Hindustan Times


Been on the HOHO?

You’ve probably seen them on the road, but never really hopped onto one of the purple buses in Delhi, perhaps one of the best ways to thoroughly explore the city. HOHO buses, Delhi Tourism’s hop-on hop-off-ferry passengers to and fro 19 meticulously selected ‘must-visit’ spots in the capital.

The journey begins at the HOHO Centre, Baba Kharak Singh Marg (opposite Hanuman Mandir) and the stops are an eclectic mix of monuments, museums and markets, and include Red Fort, National Gallery of Modern Art and Saket Malls, among others.

A ticket costs Rs 300 and is valid for two days. Board the bus at the centre or one of the 19 stops, and alight it at the stop you wish to explore. Once you’re done, get on the next bus — there’s a bus every forty-five minutes. You can hop-on and hop-off, as many times you like. Also, every bus has on board a Guest Relations Executive (GRE), a tour guide who points out the landmarks and important buildings, and briefs you about the stops.

These buses are air-conditioned, comfortable and affordable — great for a city tour. “It has a higher standard than any other Hop-on Hop-off bus (in other countries),” says Derek, a tourist from Canada, adding: “Taking a taxi would have been too expensive.” Eugene Lyubezny, from Chicago, says: “These buses are a fantastic way of sightseeing.”
And, to save your time, you can buy your entry tickets to the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb and Qutub Minar, from the bus itself. For Dilli Haat, your HOHO bus ticket suffices to get you a free entry.

Oddly enough, many still don’t know about this bus service, which started last year as part of Delhi Tourism's initiatives for the Commonwealth Games. “I didn’t know Delhi had a hop-on hop-off,” says Simon Leow from Singapore. BB and Sharon, from Malaysia share the sentiment. “People had no idea, when we asked them about the HOHO bus,” says Sharon.

Not just for foreigners, the HOHO bus is a great way for Delhiites too, to get going and explore the city.
Hop On: The Pros

It’s big, air-conditioned, comfortable and purple.

The bus runs like clockwork.

The ticket is valid for two days. There’s something (on the bust-stop list) for everyone. You can buy water bottles on the bus.

The stops are fascinating.

You can stop to eat, shop, sightsee, and just hop back on, when it’s time.

Along with the ticket, you also get a route-map, so you know when to catch the next bus.


1. Go in a group, it will be more fun.

2. Carry your own music. You may get stuck in traffic.

3. Read up before, or carry a traveller’s guide book. You

may feel a little lost at some destinations.

4. Many stops are fantastic food destinations, you don’t need to carry any food.

Hop Off: The Cons

Be warned: Shirenna, who was travelling with some friends from Canada, had a bad start.

“At the HOHO centre, I was told only two tickets are available (this when the bus was half-empty). They tried to get us to take a Taxi. It was only when I clarified at the Delhi Tourism office, that I got the tickets.” she says, adding: “Had I not gone there to clarify, these guys (Canadian friends) would have been fooled into taking a cab so expensive.”

Fact file

What: Hop-on hop-off (HOHO) bus

Where: HOHO Centre, Baba Kharak Singh Marg (opposite Hanuman Mandir)

When: Runs every 45 minutes from 8.30am to 4.15pm. The last bus reaches the HOHO Centre at 8pm

How: Buy a ticket for R300 (R150 for children under 3-feet-tall) from the Centre, or from the bus itself at any of the stops. You can also buy the ticket online.


25 October 2011, Hindustan Times

MCD officials told to check constructions near ASI monuments

The MCD commissioner has issued special directions to officials to implement amendments in the Archaeological Survey Act that bans construction within 100 metres of a protected monument. The act also puts several restrictions on properties/construction within 100-300 metres of the state.

Not just this, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeolog-ical Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act 2010 also puts severe monetary fine and jail term for erring officials who allow this.

Since the AMASR Act was passed in March 2010, the ASI officials have been promptly writing police complaints/FIRs and sending copies to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) for taking action. More than 1,200 such complaints have already been lodged across Delhi, which has 174 protected monuments.

“Commissioner KS Mehra has directed the deputy commissioners (DCs) of each zone to act with due vigilance with regards to various provisions of the AMASR Act,” said Deep Mathur, MCD’s director (press and information).

The MCD has circulated provisions of the act to all its officials. Further, the commissioner has also directed the DCs to ensure that no unauthorised construction or encroachment comes up in the vicinity of protected heritage monuments as required under the law.

Meanwhile, after HT wrote twice about the ongoing unauthorised construction in Nizamuddin Basti near Atgah Khan’s tomb, MCD finally demolished large chunk of the construction. However, no action was taken against any of the MCD officials.


26 October 2011, Hindustan Time


Releasing hand-reared tiger cubs into wild: Experts doubt move

The issue of “re-wilding” of three tiger cubs reared in captivity in Bor Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra has sparked off a controversy. Experts have cautioned strongly against the proposed “soft release” — transferring them from their present small enclosure to a wider one having natural landscapes — of such cubs.

This, experts point out, was the precursor to the ultimate release of the cubs into the wild. While reared in captivity they are used to human presence, including vets, attendants etc who are around them. Hence, such big cats seldom fear or avoid humans, which otherwise is the natural instinct of wild reared cubs. In such cases, there are increased chances of man-animal conflict in the areas where they are released and lives of both humans and the big cats are under threat.

They pointed to the recent brutal killing of a sub-adult tigress by a furious mob on the Chhattisgarh — Maharashtra border. She had been released in the wild after being kept in a cage for injury treatment for nearly two months, in human presence. The local community had stoned her to death after she killed a woman in a local village.

However, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has released `1.05 crore for the rehabilitation of the Bor tiger cubs. Two scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, Dr K Ramesh Kumar and Dr Parag Nigam who had recently assessed the conditions of these big cats have given a go-ahead for their soft release.

Of the three cubs aged about two-and-half years, two are female and the other male. A Nagpur-based NGO Shrusti Paryavaran Mandal had recovered the cubs from South of Chandrapur after their mother was untraceable. These 10-month-old cubs were reared by the NGO in association with the Forest department. They were initially kept in small cages in Zaran in Chandrapur for treatment for about two-three months before being shifted to Bor on November 9, 2009 where they continue to be till date.

Talking to The Pioneer Dr Ramesh pointed out, “There may or may not have been human imprints in the mind of these cubs, as steps had been taken to rear them in minimum of human presence” These cubs had at least spent some time with their mother and thus are likely to have undergone the first phase of training with her. They have been found suitable for “soft release” to a wider enclosure with natural surroundings where they would be trained to develop hunting skills, he added.

Elaborating further on the preparations of their “soft release”, the Chief Wildlife Warden Maharashtra, SK Khetarpal, informed that their new enclosure is amid 4 hectares of forest land. These enclosures are being specially designed for minimal interaction of the cubs with human. While a male and female pair would be shifted in the Pench Tiger Reserve, the other would be sent to Nawegaon Reserve.

“The purpose is to train them in identical forest landscapes to acclimatise them to wild,” he said. The enclosure would have undulating terrains and natural water holes --150 live preys would be provided to them for the next one year to develop their hunting skills. They would be kept under intense observation during the period through CCTV cameras placed at strategic locations,” he added.

Questioning the so-called “training” of the cubs in the enclosures wildlife experts said they may be made to acquire hunting skills but how would they learn to cope with other big cats or humans? Being raised in captivity, they are likely to go near man (who is the only providers of food and care they have known). But man would invariably panic at the sight of a tiger and react aggressively, thereby inviting counter aggression.

Expressing worry over “simple physical monitoring”, Dr Aniruddh Belsare, Wildlife Veterinary Doctor argued that the issue of humanisation or human imprint of cubs is a serious one and their “behavioural suitability” requires to be evaluated more scientifically.A tiger in the wild has the natural instinct of being stressed in presence of human, which is indicated by increase in cortisol level (stress hormone) in blood. However, if there is no such change in this hormone level in presence of human in comparison with their wild counterpart their release in the wild is not recommended. The cortisol level can easily be detected through scat examination.

Wildlife activist Diya Bannerjee pointed out that the issue of release of orphaned or abandoned cubs is still under consideration with NTCA and a committee has been constituted to examine the issues related to the fate of such cubs. The report of the committee to be submitted by September 30 is still pending. Hence, such activities should be undertaken under strict guidelines from the NTCA, she felt.


26 October 2011, Pioneer


‘Cell towers killing birds, bees’

MoEF Study Blames Radiation For Deaths, Wants It Classified As Pollutant

Ahmedabad: An environment and forests’ ministry study has blamed electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from communication towers for the declining numbers of sparrows and bees. The study titled “A possible impact of communication tower on wildlife birds and bees” said the radiation decreases egg production in the bees.

A 10-member expert panel headed by Bombay Natural History Society director Dr Asad Rahmani was asked to study the radiation impact after the issue was raised in the Lok Sabha in August last year. “We have suggested that EMR should be recognized as a pollutant given its effect on wildlife and should be audited regularly,” said the Wildlife Institute of India’s Dr B C Choudhary, who was part of the panel. The experts noted a Punjab University’s study that said embryos of 50 eggs of house sparrows were damaged after being exposed to mobile tower radiation for five to 30 minutes. Sparrows exposed to the radiation suffered from reproductive and co-ordination problems. They also became aggressive.

In the case of honey bees, the group observed that high radiation resulted in an unusual phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder characterized by sudden disappearance of a hive’s inhabitants, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers behind. The vanished bees were never found. Also, the navigational skills of the bees were affected by high-tension lines.

The panel also took note of a recent study that showed that the worker bees stopped coming to the hives after 10 days and egg production in queen bees dropped drastically to 100 eggs per day compared to 350 eggs when a mobile phone with frequency of 900 MHz was kept for 10 minutes in the beehives. It recommended a law to protect urban flora and fauna from EMR and said no new towers should come up within 1km radius of the existing ones. “New towers should be more than 80 feet and less than 199 feet tall,’’ it said and recommended independent monitoring of the EMR levels. “Forest department should be consulted before installing towers near protected areas and zoos.”


26 October 2011, Times of Indiar


Ramayana Returns in a New Language

A new edition of Ramayana in French and illustrated with miniature paintings shows interest in the epic is universal.

The debate sparked by removal of an essay by A K Ramanujan on the many versions and traditions of the Ramayana from the curriculum of undergraduate history syllabus of the Delhi University proves that interest in the Indian epic can never die. Even in a European country which is known for its commitment to secular ideals like France. French publisher Diane De Selliers has accomplished the creation of a beautiful version of the timeless Hindu epic - Valmiki's Ramayana in French, illustrated with 660 exquisite reproductions of miniature paintings (16th-19th century) sourced from around the world. Diane de Selliers tells Narayani Ganesh in Delhi on the sidelines of the book release that in the process, having read the epic four times in full, not only does she feel transformed as a person but feels an immense sense of achievement at having made the work accessible to a European audience

You've read the Ramayana four times in the course of 10 years' research and the final publication of the seven illustrated volumes. Which character in the epic appealed to you the most?

Hanuman, definitely, because he is someone who is very well educated with an awful lot of knowledge and he is just living as a monkey - until he discovers he has this power given to him by his father. He has all these virtues yet he is so modest and helpful; he thinks only of Rama and in that sense I think Hanuman is a very good person as he would never be weak and he will carry these virtues and never complains. I prefer Hanuman's virtues over Rama's and Sita's. I find it difficult to accept this about Rama's character that he complains a lot... he complains when Sita is not there anymore and cries; Lakshman has to help him out. Of course, this makes Rama a very human person. When he is complaining, he seems almost weak... and that's very human. The other annoying thing is that when Vali is fighting Sukriva, Rama kills Vali in the back. Vali says, how can you kill me when I am fighting my brother, that too hiding yourself behind a tree? And Rama says that he kills him because Vali represents something bad, "so I have to kill the evil in you; not you but the bad in you." I love the discussions; it is interesting because even if you don't agree with what Rama is doing, you are given the reason why he is doing what he is doing. Also, in the beginning, Rama lets Sita go through the fire ordeal after her return from Ravana's Ashok Van. Yet, later, he sends her away to the forest, bowing to public opinion. You really wonder, what is more important - duty to the country and civilisation or shouldn't a king not be saying to his people that Sita already went through the fire ordeal and so why not accept that wherever she was, in her mind, Sita was always with Rama? Sending her away was a cruel thing to do; for in his mind, Rama is convinced that Sita has been through the fire ordeal and so is blemish less.

Do you find a parallel here - though Pontius Pilate was convinced of Christ's innocence he let the people decide his fate?

Yes, and should not the king educate his people to make them aware that Christ is pure or Sita is pure?

Does this raise doubts about democracy itself, for you are letting the majority have their way despite knowing their decision is not right - in this case, the people decide that Sita ought to be sent away?

But democracy is the best way to administer a country. But sometimes you do wonder if the people should not be a bit more educated to know what is good and bad so they can see through the politics of a person. However, democracy often functions by instinct and fear. Even from a philosophical aspect I think each democratic country should invest more in education and help the people to learn from the past, from all that has been created before in the context of what they are today. The Ramayana and its philosophy - whether written or in oral tradition - goes far beyond Hinduism; that's why Jainsim and Buddhism also revere it as do others. Celebrating virtues, a way of thinking and acting, celebration of the fact that goodness if more important than any personal desire or feelings... all this comes through. All faiths carry the same message.

Everyone celebrates theRamayana; it is carrying something universal. Reading or hearing the Ramayana is an experience in education - it helps us get educated and go into fundamental truths and that is exactly what education is meant to do, to help you in your search for Truth. It is therefore important to know your roots; even if you don't want to teach people religion, you can teach them the great epics, for instance, like Omero's Iliade and Odisseo (Homer's Iliad and Odyssey) or Virgilio's Eneide (Virgil's Aeneid). I think Homer was inspired by the Ramayana but as the Ramayana was oral tradition and Homer's was written down before Valmiki wrote the Ramayana, we don't easily connect the two. But the stories are related as they have many reciprocal situations.

But the Ramayana is a living story; that's not so with Homer's stories...

Yes, hence the Ramayana has many versions; it's living today. But Homer, there's only one version - there is no change in the text of the Greek period. I was in Jaipur early this year and met with school children, telling them about the volumes we were publishing with illustrations, of Valmiki'sRamayana. They knew the whole story! They loved the images and were most interested in the details

Would you say epics authored by Homer and Virgil are comparable in depth and reach to the Ramayana?

Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are Greek and Virgil's Aeneid is Latin. They are very close to the Ramayana. They are about people and wars, emotions and dilemmas. Ulysses was away from home for ten years. Rama was away for 14 years. In Virgil's Aeneid, the protagonist goes from Toya to Roma and there are stories of land conquests. There is something common in all of them. I did the two-volume 2001 edition of Homer's works with the contemporary Italian painter Nimmo Paladino. Paladino was commissioned to do this because his artworks show how close he is to his Mediterranean and Byzantine roots. He lives near Napoli in Italy. For Virgil's Aeneid (2009, two volumes), the illustrations are frescoes and mosaics from the Mediterranean rim, dating from the first century BCE to fourth century CE. Though initially in French, Homer has been translated into Greek and Virgil and we're working on the Italian edition; it is important to take these works back to their roots. Hence to reach out to more people, the English version of Valmiki's Ramayana (illustrated with miniature paintings) is in the works, and it is going to be very expensive as we are looking to publish 10,000 copies to touch more people, especially in India, so that we bring it back to its roots. I would be happy to get a supporter whose name would be carried along with that of mine as publisher of the English version; I hope to publish this by September 2012 but the estimated printing cost is 700,000 euros (roughly Rs four crore) for 10,000 copies. We'll give 1,500 copies to the supporter to donate at least 300 copies to big libraries in India, UK and USA. We would need to go to press by March 2012.

You sourced some illustrations for Ramayana from Pakistan. How was the experience?

I couldn't go as there were floods and I had visa problems. But we got a local photographer and an art historian from Delhi went to Karachi and Lahore and sourced illustrations from the National Museum of Pakistan, Karachi like the image of Hanuman uprooting trees in Ashok Van during his search of Sita. But the painting is damaged by moisture, such a pity. Since my first journey to India, I have been walking in Rama's footsteps. Rama said: "Since life trickles away like the waters of a stream, never to return, happiness should be one's aim - and people have found happiness, or so it is recorded." I like to think that I have found happiness in bringing the story to a larger audience.


26 October 2011, Economic Times


Anegundi: Of history and mysticism

Anegundi, now a small town with about 4,000 residents, is a historic place where many a battle was fought.

The town also has samadhis (graves) of mystic saints. In the early 14th century, Anegundi (elephant enclosure) got its name from the Vijayanagar army which had its elephant contingent in the hilly environs of the fortified capital Anegundi located on the banks of the Tungabhadra.

The very first capital of Vijayanagar dynasty, Anegundi was also the capital of several dynastic rulers. This region was ruled by the Shahi dynasty of Bijapur, Moghuls, Marathas and also Tipu Sultan during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. During the British rule, the king of Vijayanagar who ruled from Hampi lost his kingdom according to the 1824 treaty with the British and the Nizam of Hyderabad. The 1824 treaty provided a monthly pension of Rs 300 to the then king’s family which was forced to leave Hampi and make Anegundi its official residence. Rani Lalkumari Bai was the royal family’s last descendant who received this monthly pension paid by the government.

The grandson of Rani Lalkumari Bai, also named Krishnadevaraya and his family (the 19th generation) are now residents of Anegundi. Today’s royal link of Anegundi, the son of Raja Achyutharaya and Rani Chandrakantha Devi, Krishnadevaraya, professionally a mechanical engineer, having worked in the US for seven years, left his job and returned to Anegundi after the death of his father Achyutharaya. Geologically, the Anegundi region is known to be one of the oldest plateaus on earth. In the beginning of 13th century, Anegundi came to be ruled by Malik Nayab, the appointee of Sultan of Delhi, Mohammed bin Tuglaq who won the war against Jambukeshwara Raya. Later, when he was outwitted and defeated by Harihara Raya and Bukka Raya (Hakka-Bukka) who renamed their kingdom as Vijayanagar (originally Vidyaranayanagara named after the Rajaguru Vidyaranya who founded the kingdom). Anegundi has numerous religious and natural heritage sites.

Mythology has it that Anegundi was Anjanadri hill, the birthplace of Lord Hanumantha. It was also Kishkinda ruled by Vanara kings Vali and Sugriva of the epic, Ramayana.

Anegundi’s tourist attractions are the hills Taraparvatha, Rishimuka, Anjandri, the holy pond Pampa Sarovara, Aramane (palace ruins), Jain basadi, Navabrindavana, Huchchappayana Mata and the ancient Ranganathaswamy temple. A short coracle journey across the river takes you to an islet situated in the backdrop of the Anegundi hill ranges. This isolated spot is called Nadugadde (island) Nava Brindavana and has tombs of nine Madhva saints. Vysaraja Thirtha (1460-1539), whose Brindavan is easily distinguishable at the Anegundi Navabrindavana site, for 20 long years was the Rajguru of Vijayanagar emperor Krishnadevaraya.

Getting there

Anegundi is 18 km from Hospet via Hampi Talvaraghatta river crossing by easily available boats and coracles. It is about 350 km from Bangalore. Hospet is well-connected by direct buses and train services. The nearest airstrip Toranagallu is 30 km from Hospet and Bellary airport is 70 km.


26 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Murals on a temple wall

The culture of building magnificent temples by dynasties of Karnataka is well known. The list of artistic and famous temples like those of Belur, Halebid and elsewhere in the State, is endless.

There are also numerous lesser-known temples that may not find a place in the list, but are equally appealing because of other art forms. Murals and paintings adorning temple walls was one way of encouraging art and religion. An example of a temple with a collection of fine paintings is the Narasimhaswamy temple of Seebi near Tumkur.

Located just off the highway NH4 about 20 km beyond Tumkur is the nondescript village of Seebi. Obscured in its quietness is a shrine dedicated to the deity of Narasimhaswamy.

If not for the few devotees who come to worship and the crowd during the annual fair in February, hardly anyone else visits the village. It is difficult to imagine that such a simple town once existed during the days of Vijayanagar kings. The ancient name of Harihararayapura was in fact named after the son of Bukkaraya. Over the years, the village went into oblivion and the area became a jungle where wild animals roamed. It was only during the latter part of the 18th century that the place and the temple gained some significance.

Known in those days as Sibur, the town of Seebi came into prominence during the period of Kacheri Krishnappa, the dewan of Mysore by virtue of his royal connection. Nallappa, his eldest son continued the tradition serving as a revenue officer during the regime of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan and earned the title of Karnik. He and his two brothers, Puttappa and Lakshminarasappa, were the ones who built the present temple in memory of their father. According to mythology, the whole area surrounding Seebi was a dense jungle.

One day, a merchant passing through with bags of rice and grain had to camp overnight in the forest. He used the stones lying there to cook rice. But he was aghast to see that the rice had turned blood red and he fainted. When he regained his senses, he heard a celestial voice telling him that the very stone used for cooking was the idol of Lord Narasimha. The voice ordained him to build a temple for the god there. The merchant built a small shrine around the stone and went away. Karnik Nallappa and his brothers realised the significance of the temple and built a fine structure (between 1795 and 1811). Outside the temple is a tank called Gajagundala.

Adornments on the temple’s walls

The temple does not boast of any distinct architectural style, but the high entrance tower is well adorned with images. The inside of the cloister has a series of pink coloured niches with stucco images of various forms of Narasimha.

There are also other gods but one enclosure has the images of Alamelamma and Kacheri Krishnappa the parents of Nallappa too. But what steals the show here is the collection of beautiful murals on the ceilings. Many of the paintings relate to the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavatha. The regal scenes are impressive too but the presence of kings Krishnaraja Wodeyar, Hyder Ali and Tipu intrigue as to the date of the paintings. There is no record about the artists who created these intricate works of art.


26 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Reflection of art and culture

The southern part of Chhattisgarh state is the Bastar region with a predominantly tribal population.

There are about 24 tribal groups including Bhatra, Chandar, Dora, Dravid, Munda, Halba, Ganda, Kolas, Madia and so on.

A few like the Nahar are nomadic tribes. They collect herbs and are hunter-gatherers. Others have settled down as farmers but still depend upon the neighbourhood forest for their daily needs of fodder, herbs, bamboos, and minor forest produce like roots, wild fruits and honey.

Not surprisingly, woodcraft comes naturally for tribals who are familiar with forests and trees. Tribal art can be seen in wooden models and masks with tribal motifs. Some of the wooden panels, with a wide range of motifs, are fascinating and infuse life into any modern living room. Tribals are quite adept at bamboo craft too.

They weave baskets that can be used either as decorative pieces or for functional purposes like storing food grains, fruits, vegetables, clothes and other items. Weaving of bamboo mats is in itself an art. Other bamboo items that are in demand include table mats, wall hangings and coasters. Bamboo is an ideal material that serves the tribals’ various needs.

Terracotta art flourishes among the tribals who are dexterous in shaping earth into any shape they like. Potters bring the finest clay from the Indravati riverbed and fashion out items like ornate elephants and horses, including the famous Bankura horse, bowls, urns and jars. Indigenous colours are used, where needed, that enhance the beauty of these terracotta objects.

Tribals hand-weave ordinary cotton into exotic saris, dress materials and drapes. They bring life to the material by use of intricate to simple hand printing using vegetable dyes extracted from raw materials found in the Bastar forests. Their designs reflect tribal artistic patterns in all their majesty.

However, the use of bell metal is not very well-known in tribal handicraft. The bell metal art originated for serving the needs of the erstwhile king’s horses that were decorated with bells and trinkets. Later on, the craft developed to make a wide range of products such as small and big idols that decorate a drawing room and bell metal animal designs depicting deer, horses, elephants and masks as well as heads of tribals that could be displayed in a showcase. Each piece is painstakingly crafted by hand using the vanishing wax technique. A few tribal families have taken to the designing of bell metal objects in a big way.

One might wonder how wrought iron becomes an art object? Innovative village blacksmiths have developed the knack of turning out wrought iron art objects that are not only attractive but affordable too. Whether it is a human figure or a deer with curved antlers, there is something magical in these simple objects that attract attention.

A wide variety of art objects are turned out one by one by skilled blacksmiths who love their creations. These might appear somewhat crude at first sight, but on closer examination, they stand out as pieces made by a person who is devoted to the handicraft. There is change as well as continuity in the design and execution of tribal handicrafts using different media. It is for us to encourage tribal handicrafts.


30 October 2011, Deccan Herald


Peek into history

Lakshmi Sharath explores the rich past of the Carnatic region. Beginning from the House of Arcot, she revisits a land that once was, and still is, a treasure of sorts.

Think Carnatic and what plays in your mind is divine classical music. Aside from the ragas and thalam, the term Carnatic can also refer to a region in South India which was once known to be a hot seat of power amongst the Mughals, Marathas, and even the British and French. Soon, the region came to be associated with the Nawabs of Arcot.

This dynasty began with a siege between the Mughals and Marathas in the 17th century, and survived for 200 years after.

The royal house still stands erect today, with the present prince, Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali maintaining its age-old traditions. While Arcot may have been their seat of power, their home remains in Madras, or Chennai, as we know it today.

My trip to the royal house of Arcot began on a wet Saturday morning in Chennai, when I went on a Wallajah trail along with noted documentary film maker, Kombai S Anwar. The skies were covered with a thick layer of rain clouds waiting to drench the wind-swept city. The seas were choppy and the Marina looked vacant and washed out. As we walked towards the Chepauk Palace, Anwar traced out the history of the dynasty.

Towards the end of 17th century, the Marathas were trying to establish their base in the south. Aurangazeb, the Mughal emperor, sent Zulfikar Khan, an army general, to Arcot to contain the Marathas. “The siege was supposed to get over in a few months, but it was prolonged for over six years,” said Anwar, adding, “it is possible that Zulfikar Khan was actually in collusion with the Marathas.”

Continuing with his narration, Anwar informed me that a local chieftain, Yachamma Nayak, wrote a note to Aurangazeb stating, “Your man was fooling you. If I was given the responsibility, I would defeat them in a week’s time.” The letter, however, was intercepted. Zulfikhar Khan invited the chieftain over for a meeting and without revealing his knowledge of the letter, killed him.

“He made it look like an accident, by cutting off the ropes of the tent when the chieftain walked in,” said Anwar. The story, however, did not end here. Aurangazeb apparently did get to know about the incident after the siege was over and asked Zulfikar Khan to let the young successor of the chieftain ascend his rightful throne.

The story, in many ways, is the beginning of the House of Arcot. Zulfikar Khan was appointed by Aurangazeb as a Nawab of Carnatic, and is officially recognised today as the first ruler of the dynasty. “Over six years, the camp slowly developed into a town and the successors eventually made Arcot their capital,” said Anwar.

The dynasty expanded despite the strong hold that the British East India company had over Madras, from Fort St George. The Nawabs and the British seemed to share a strange friendship, often mutually beneficial to each other. “The story goes that the British used to supply expensive liquor and gifts to Nawab Daud Khan Panni. Often in a state of inebriation, he gave away villages to the British in return! At times, when he was sober, he would demand them back,” said Anwar.

However, his successor, Saadatullah Khan or Mohammad Saiyid, showed more caution, and preferred to contain the British. He built a fort in Kovalam, in the outskirts of Chennai, and invited several merchants, including the Armenian and Belgian East India Company. Anwar explained that as these were revenue states, they needed the money to fund wars and welfare schemes. Hence, trade came of importance. Saadutullah Khan also established Saidabad, known today as Saidapet. If you were to walk around the locality today, you would find a mosque named after him, right in the heart of the town.

Anwar continued with a bit of history, as we admired the Indo Sarcenic style of the Chepauk Palace. Internal feuds in the royal house took a bloody turn as the British and the French took sides in the war for succession. Robert Clive and Dupleix clashed in these Wars of Carnatic, but eventually, the British succeeded and the most important ruler of the dynasty, Mohammad Ali Wallajah, commonly known as Wallajah, came to the throne. “Wallajah prefered to move to Madras and stay closer to the British.

His wish for a palace in Fort St George was granted eventually by the local governors, but the directors in Britain developed cold feet,” explained Anwar. However, there is still a Palace Street in Fort St George. Finally, the area around modern day Chepauk was offered to them and a palace was built for them. Even today, one can see parts of the palace such as Kalas Mahal and Humayan Mahal where the darbar was held.

Our next stop on the trail was the 18th century mosque built by Wallajah in Triplicane, Chennai. Being my first entry into a mosque, my initial observation was that of a natural pond that seemed to have formed in the front. As we explored the mosque, the second one to have been built in the city, we found ourselves detaching from the urban strappings and chaos of the city.

We examined the dargah of Bahrul Uloom, a highly revered scholar invited by Wallajah to teach in his madrasa, placed adjacent to the mosque. “Wallajah personally carried the palanquin of the scholar when he entered the city,” said Anwar, drawing our attention to the chronogram in the centre of the shrine, right above the Mihrab. ”One can gather Wallajah’s secular approach to life from the fact that the chronogram he had selected for the dargah was written by his Hindu Munshi, Makan lal Khirad,“ he added.

The trail led us to the heart of Mylapore, where Anwar pointed out to us the tank of Kapaleeshwar Temple and explained that it had been gifted by the Nawabs of Arcot. In fact, the tank is used by Muslims even today. Wallajah himself was connected to Mylapore in many ways. Wallajah wanted to be buried in Meccan or Trichy, where another sufi saint’s, Nather Wali, dargah is located. However, he was temporarily buried in the dargah of renowned scholar, Dastageer Sahib, in Mylapore.

We finally landed at the last point in our trail — Amir Mahal, a sprawling mansion in the middle of the city, and home to the current Prince of Arcot. After the death of the last nawab in 1855, the house was heavily in debt. The British eventually confiscated the palace and other properties and moved the nawab’s successors to Shaadi Mahal. “Eventually, the Crown recognised the house as that of Amir I Arcot or Prince of Arcot and they shifted back to Amir Mahal,” said Anwar.

The charm of the house still rests with its artistic and cultural legacy. Aside from the monuments, one can lose themselves in the library built by the nawabs, which stocks books gifted by previous governors of Bengal and kings of Egypt.

As if he were reliving a past life, Anwar shared a description of Triplicane, drenched in the tunes of courtesans, which mingled with a few Hindustani lyrics sung from a nearby street, Ghanabad. “There is also a story of Nawab Saadutullah Khan and his noblemen conducting an improptu mushaira in a church located near St Thomas Mount,” said Anwar. Relishing in these titbits of rich cultural heritage, and reflecting upon a forgotten secular past, we made our way back to Marina Beach.

30 October 2011, Deccan Herald