Friday, 20 May 2016

Love in the Times of Amaltas

The reason has to be special to stop the car and step out from the air-conditioned environs onto the scorching asphalt melting in the 45 degrees heat.

Amaltas on Akbar Road, New Delhi
Amaltas or Golden Shower

Amaltas (Cassia fistula) in all their golden shower finery is that special reason that makes you brave Delhi’s record-breaking heat and come out on the road to soak in the yellow feast. Nature knows how to amaze us. So while our garden plants are in their death throes despite our best efforts, here is a tree that seems to glow in the unforgiving heat.



It is hard to understand how nature works. It is quite possible that the tree trunk is filled with gold. When temperature rises, the molten gold turns into these glittering necklaces hanging from the branches.

So while other trees have turned green, amaltas is all yellow - Hauz Khas Lake

Just like the evanescent Cherry Blossoms of Japan and Floss Silk of Delhi, Amaltas blooms for a few days turning the roadsides golden. You are just glad that there are not many amaltas trees yet in Delhi, otherwise seeing the skies over Delhi glinting, Nadir Shah just might invade Delhi again.

Every month, Delhi’s trees offer joy to its denizens, who are fond of the cauldron of heat and noxious fumes that the city has turned into, but won’t give up their cars. For now, the trees have not given up on the uncaring people. Last month, while trees shed their leaves and these pink and red and green leaves sprouted, the silk semuls, jacaranda and coral (tesu or palash) painted the sky red, sapphire and some more red.

View of Hauz Khas Monument Complex from Munda Gumbad



Now that the trees have mostly turned green, it is the turn of the Amaltas or Indian Laburnum to cast its magic, offering some glorious visual respite to Delhites. To start with, Lutyens’ Delhi did not have any amaltas trees, when by design, non-flowering trees were chosen to be planted on the wide boulevards. After independence, when the neighbouring colonies came up, the portfolio of trees was expanded to include gulmohars, amaltas and silk cotton trees. In Lutyens’ Delhi, as some of the old trees died, a smattering of Amaltas trees seems to have appeared on streets like Akbar Road.

One of the prettiest monument complex in Delhi - Makhdum Sahib Mosque and Tomb in Mayfair Gardens, New Delhi



At Hauz Khas Madarsa Building

Delhi, just like the trees, is also dotted with monuments. No season is complete without visiting the monuments. And this is where Delhi amazes you again. There are always some seasonal flowers in the premises of the monuments spread across the city. On your visit to Hauz Khas monuments, where the brave few visitors have taken refuge under the domes, there are amaltas flowers spreading their magic.

There is always a reason to love Delhi, whether it is frigid winters or torrid summers like now. Come out and enjoy the Golden Showers before our beloved city and the trees give up on us. 

Related Posts on this Blog


Saturday, 7 May 2016

Delhi before the Sultanate - The Case of the Vishnu Idol from Mehrauli

Mehrauli has been a hotspot for construction which continued for centuries and today perhaps boasts of more monuments than any other part of Delhi. The building of Mehrauli started just a kilometre away from Fateh Burj where Ghori and Aibak entered Qila Rai Pithora (Delhi’s First Capital) after defeating Prithviraj. These existing monuments stretch in time continuum from the Lal Kot walls of the Tomar Jats and Rajput era (8th to 11th Century), Slave Dynasty (12th to 13th Century), assorted tombs belonging to the Lodhis (15th Century), Mughal era (16th to 19th Century) to the British times when the East India Company resident Thomas Metcalfe built his weekend getaway (early 19th century) in the form of living quarters, boat house, guesthouse and follies.

Even today, the construction continues unabated as the monuments are taken over by modern houses with terraces hovering over the domes of the tombs. This has been the story of Delhi’s capitals over the ages. Stone and material from Siri (Delhi’s Third Capital) went into construction of Shergarh (Delhi’s Sixth Capital) and stone from Ferozabad (Delhi’s Fifth Capital) went into Shahjahanabad. You do not understand the business of demolition and construction; of attempts to wipe out history. History can never be changed or swept away. It will always be there like the matter we studied about that cannot be destroyed. Delhi’s rulers never learnt it and it still continues - albeit less violently - through changing of names of streets.

The Temple Columns in the Quwwat-al-Islam Mosque at Qutb Minar

Temple columns holding the ceiling beams - at Qutb Complex

But this is the story of Mehrauli, of times, before the Qutb Minar rose into the air. As you go around the colonnades of Quwwat-al-Islam mosque (The mosque is the square open courtyard ringed with the ornate columns with the Iron Pillar and the imposing screens on the west) you can see the ornate pillars that have typical Hindu motifs like hanging bells, kirtimukhs, kalash and images of deities with faces disfigured. The inscription on the East Gate says that 27 Hindu and Jain temples were razed to build this mosque.

On your trips across India, you have seen the bountiful temples of Karnataka and Odisha, and ruined temples across Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and MP. But around Delhi and to its north, the area is surprisingly bereft of any ancient temples. The inscription does indicate the fate of the temples. You have always wondered how the landscape of Delhi would have looked prior to 1192.

Looking at this beautiful Vishnu image you can only imagine the splendour of the temple dedicated to the deity. Now imagine - no not in Karnataka - this temple being in Mehrauli! It’s true; before Mehrauli became the hotspot for tombs, palaces and mosques, the oldest city of Delhi had scores of temples. Until now, except for the pillars at Qutb Complex, there was no association of Mehrauli with temples. You do see some temple deities’ remains scattered across Qutb Complex and Mehrauli Archaeological Park. But this idol is unimaginably wholesome and beautiful.

Lord Vishnu and His Avtars - Idol belonging to Gahadaval Dynasty of Mehrauli, Delhi

The Inscription at the bottom of the Vishnu Idol, National Museum, New Delhi. The idol has the date 1147 AD and was commissioned by Gahadavala King Govindchandra (1114-1154)

But then, even the government museums can surprise you. You don’t remember seeing it last time but this time around as you walk around looking for Kartikeya riding his peacock in New Delhi’s National Museum, you come across this glorious Vishnu in black stone. The finesse, the detailing and you think it is another image from the South but when you read the description plate, you are pleasantly blown away. The image is from 1147 AD and is attributed to the Gahadavalas of Mehrauli.

You are hearing of the Gahadwals for the first time. Chauhans of Ajmer had conquered Delhi from the Gahadwals of Kannauj. The ruler Prithviraj Chauhan had ongoing wars with Gahadwals, Chandellas and Solankis of Gujarat. Yes, his wife Samyukta, their love story a subject of many lores, was a Gahadwal who reportedly eloped with Prihviraj making her father Jaichandra furious. Anyway the Gahadwals were already looking for revenge of losing Delhi to the Chauhans. As it always happened in the history, Ghori is invited by Jaichandra, Prithviraj stands isolated and in the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192, Prithviraj is defeated and killed. It is another story that Jaichandra is killed a year later by Ghori. Gahadavala survivors went to Rajasthan and became Rathores who founded the Marwar dynasty in Jodhpur. Delhi for the next 600 years will be ruled by Muslim rulers except for a brief period when Hemu became the Emperor before he was killed in a battle with young Akbar.

So here is another instance, in a long series of similar instances, when women brought down dynasties, changed history and gave rise to grand mythological events. The elopement, the consequent battles and Qila Rai Pithora along with the temples was razed to the ground.

The Jog Maya Temple in Mehrauli - some believe it could be a Chaunsath Yogini Temple

It is apparent that North India prior to 1192 would have been adorned with magnificent temples. Only a few have survived, probably protected by hills (in HP and Uttarakhand) and vegetation (Neelkanth Temple in Alwar, temples in Morena, Shivpuri, Khajuraho and the Deogarh Temple in Lalitpuri). Moreover Delhi was controlled by the Pratiharas of King Bhoj fame (mid 7th to 11th century), while the Tomars ruled Delhi under them. Pratiharas who were vociferous builders must have built similar temples around Delhi like they built at Morena, Naresar, Badoli and Gyaraspur. So while the Central India temples survived, the northern counterparts were not so lucky.

This Vishnu idol with the different avatars is an eye-opener. The only remnants of the pre-Sultanate Delhi that you have seen are the Lal Kot Walls in the Mehrauli area, and Suraj Kund and Anang Pal Dam in Haryana. The pristine quality of the image with the inscription makes you even more curious. You would love to hear the story of how this image found its way into the National Museum unscathed and if there are more images from Mehrauli in ASI cellars and elsewhere.


Mihir Mohan Mukhopadhyay' book 'Sculptures of Ganga-Yamuna Valley' with Vishnu adorning the cover

The idol is described in great detail by Mihir Mohan Mukhopadhyay in his book 'Sculptures of Ganga-Yamuna Valley.' The author describes it as an idol that is excellent in preservation and is typical of medieval Ganga-Yamuna Valley belonging to the closing period and has significant changes from the Classical Gupta Style. The idol must be special to the author because it appears on the book's cover. The book has history of Kannauj and Gahadavalas' history in the 'Historical Background section.

This is the beauty and grand scale of canvas of Delhi's glorious history. One idol in a museum and hundreds of stories tumble out calling for our attention. These stories need to be told. Delhi would have been even more beautiful if these stories were told and heard under the domes of majestic tombs, in the courtyards of imposing mosques and in the mandaps of splendidly ornate temples.

References



Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Where once the Indus Flowed - Narayan Sarovar, Koteshwar Mahadev, The Great Indian Bustard and Mandvi

The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey – Day 7: Kutch to Saurashtra

Today, the plan is undertake a long drive that will see you leave Kutch and reach Jamnagar in the night. The drive is going to be 500 kms long and it is imperative that you fuel up on the fulfilling and wholesome staple breakfast of fafda and jalebi. 

The Gujarati breakfast of fafda and jalebi - of course, the tea has to be slurped from the plate


The fafdas are coming out hot just outside the gates of the dharamshala you stayed in for the night. 

Shree Kutch Narayan Sarovar Annakshetra ane Bhojanalay - The dharamshala to stay in Narayan Sarovar

The Shree Kutch Narayan Sarovar Annakshetra ane Bhojanalay Dharamshala in Narayan Sarovar is a quiet and clean affair to stay for the night. They charge nominally for the rooms and offer free meals. Of course, you are welcome to make donations.


The fortification walls and the spiked gate that protects the temple complex
Okay, now that you notice, there are fortification walls where you are eating. You finish up the last of the jalebis. A spiked gate leads you inside the fortified complex with number of temples and residences. 
The Narayan Sarovar Temple Complex

This is the Narayan Sarovar temple complex. The main courtyard has seven temples. Maharani Vagheli Mankunvar, wife of Rao Desalji (1718-1741), had an unpleasant experience with the priest of Dwarkadhish (but then who doesn’t have unpleasant experiences with pandas) at Dwarka and decided to create another pilgrimage centre that could rival Dwarka. She first built two temples of Lakshminarayan and Trivikramray. In addition, she built five temples in a row. These five temples are dedicated to Lakshmiji, Dwarkanath or Ranchhodji, Govardhannath, Adinarayan and Lakshminarayan. The shikhars of the temples glow in the early morning sun.

The gate on the left leads to the Narayan Sarovar just outside the fort walls
On the other side of the courtyard, a door pierces the wall. Steps lead down to the waters of the holy Narayan Sarovar. Bhagwat Puran mentions a great lake called Narayan Saras visited by devotees and Siddhas. Once upon a time the Indus would feed this lake before the river’s course was changed by the earthquake of 1819. The earthquake created a dam called Allah Band to the north of Lakhpat that shifted the Indus west, turning the Rann dry. Alexander too recorded seeing the huge lake in 325 BC. (Some of the Greeks later settled in Vadnagar). Now the huge lake has disappeared leaving a small tank with steps leading to the ghats on three sides. Temples dot the ghats.

Narayansar or Narayan Sarovar - one of the five holy sarovars
Narayansar or Narayan Sarovar is one of the five holy sarovars of Hindus. The other four are Mansarovar in Tibet, Pushkar in Rajasthan, Bindu Sarovar in Sidhpur, Gujarat and Pampa Sarovar in Anegundi, Karnataka. You are pleased to realise that except Mansarovar, you have now seen them all.

It is cold in the morning discouraging any devotee to take a dip. There are not many devotees here this morning and the priests are eyeing you expectedly - the trick is to avoid eye-contact and keep walking!

The Trivikramray Temple at Narayan Sarovar, Kutch Gujarat
View of the Narayansar or Narayan Sarovar from the fort walls
You come back into the courtyard to find the steps that will take you on top of the battlements. This time you will walk your way out taking the aerial route. Now that you realise, the Trivikramray Temple does look like Koteshwar Mahadev Temple from your vantage point on the wall.

Checking out of the dharamshala, you decide to go back to the nearby Koteshwar Mahadev Temple to have another look, this time in the daytime.
This is how Koteshwar Mahadev looks like when coming from Narayan Sarovar about a km away
Koteshwar, the Ten Million Gods, is built at the mouth of the Kori Creek. Once upon a time, the town was probably cut-off from the mainland by tidal creeks but now a causeway is built from Narayan Sarovar. Last evening, you were enchanted by the dreamy sunset over the lapping waves. The setting sun cast its golden light on the Koteshwar Mahadev Temple, the western-most Temple in India. 

Who says photography is easy - here you stand at one spot for 12 hours to catch these two moments
This is how it looked last evening - Kori Creek at Koteshwar Mahadev Temple, Kutch
Mythology has it that Ravan built this temple when the ling he was carrying shattered into crores of pieces. Hsuan Tsang had visited Koteshwar in 640 AD when he found 80 monasteries, 5000 devotees and about a dozen temples.


BSF Post at Kori Creek, Koteshwar Mahadev Temple, Kutch Gujarat
This morning the water has receded leaving some boats beached on the mud. A jetty leads to the BSF border post where the jawans are scrutinising the documents of fisherman who probably landed overnight from their fishing expeditions. Later the jawans will sift through the cargoes just to be sure.

Koteshwar Mahadev Temple - the westernmost temple of India in Kutch
The Koteshwar Mahadev Temple built on a hillock rises over the waters. The present temple was built by two merchants or Seths, Sundarji and Jetha Shivji in 1820, after the 1819 earthquake that might have destroyed the original temple. The temple has a swayambhu or self-born ling that has iron nails driven into it by Alauddin Khilji, according to a local legend.

Leaving Narayan Sarovar
To Naliya and Beyond
Taking one last look, it is time to bid goodbye to Kutch as you make your way south towards Kathiawad. But before you do that, there are few more places you want to check out on the way.

Heading into the Terminator movie set
A road trip cannot be more beautiful than this - Narayan Sarovar to Naliya in Gujarat
'Woolly' Clouds
The skies continue to delight as the white woolly clouds hover over the road. The presence of Indus here two hundred years ago is a mighty interesting idea and you think you have found the proof.





Did Indus once flow here in Kutch?
Dry stream beds continue to intersect the road until it is time for you to get down and investigate. Here, standing under the overhang of earth and rock shaped by waters that probably flowed long ago, does give credence to Indus flowing here in Kutch, about two hundred years ago with green paddy fields all around, instead of the sandy scrubland characteristic of Kutch today. 
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This is how it all began:

The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey
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This trip is about visiting places that you long ago read about in the school textbooks - places like Rann, Porbandar and Diu. You had also read about the endangered Great Indian Bustard and luckily there is a sanctuary that falls on this route.

On the way to Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, Jakhau Kutch
Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary at Jakhau in Kutch Gujarat
Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary Kutch Gujarat


Scrubland and wind mills in the distance - Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary - but no luck spotting the birds!
Near Naliya, you make a detour going towards Jakhau port. Few directions later, you are driving towards the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary. The sanctuary is few acres of scrubland with the wind mills rising in the distance. You need permission from the Forest Division to enter the premises. It's okay - just being here feels good; just like you felt good standing at the entry gates of Sriharikota last year. From the gate you scan the grass all around but no luck. The camera lens strained but all you could get were some cranes. Well you tried!


Camel and Horse Rides at Mandvi Beach - Gujarat

Next stop will be Mandvi via Kothara. You have been to Kothara before taking in the raging waves of Pingleshwar Beach. You will give it a miss this time around and will go straight to Mandvi Palace and Mandvi Beach. As across the state, Gujarat does not have signs for attractions and it is when you enter the Mandvi city you realise that you have missed seeing the Mandvi Palace. Well, you don’t have the heart to go back.


Horse Riding at Mandvi Palace
This is the only view you could get of the Mandvi Palace
The day has turned hot and you are making your way to the popular Mandvi beach. The scene at the beach is similar to what you have seen at Mumbai’s Chowpatty. Well Mandvi, in addition to the bhelpuri stalls, also has horse and camel rides. The wind farm built on the beach gives another dimension to the beach here. The fafdas have long disappeared in your belly and it is time to have some ‘peeja’ (that is pizza for everyone else – don’t you love Gujarati accent!) and bhelpuri for lunch.

You are negotiating the lanes of the old city on your way out of Mandvi. You make another tight left. And then as it always happens, the sight leaves you thunderstruck. In the tumble of traffic you manage to park and leap out. It seems you have just stepped out of the time machine. You are in the Biblical era and Noah’s Ark is being built, ready to sail away. You are sure this is a make-believe Hollywood movie set. India gives you wonderment around every corner.

But then the constant honking on the road pulls you back into the present. On the dry Rukmavati river bed, dozens of wooden shells that look like ships lay sprawled. The ships are in different stages of construction. Planks of sal wood are being assembled together. You are not sure what to make of all this – sometimes the ships look like the skeletons of some magnificent sea beasts and sometimes it looks like a sunk ships of long ago have been salvaged.

Timber ship building on the banks of Rukmavati river in Mandvi Gujarat
Noah's Ark - The 400 year old shipbuilding yard of Mandvi
This is the shipbuilding industry of Mandvi or Mart which has lasted for over 400 years. Mandvi has a rich maritime history and was known for its intrepid seafarers many of which were the Siddhis. was an important maritime trading centre of Kutch. At one time the Mandvi merchants owned up to 800 ships. One of the ships went all the way to England and came back to Malabar. Trade was conducted with Arabia, Africa, Sind, Bombay and Malabar. Inland, there was this Desert Camel Caravan trade relations with Marwar and Malwa. Did the Bohras, owners of the magnificent Siddhpur havelis, made their way to Zanzibar from Mandvi? Another possibility to explore! Yes they did but that will be another story.

Rukmavati Old Bridge in Mandvi Gujarat
You cross the old elegant bridge over Rukmavati river to come back to the NH 8A highway on your way to Jamnagar.

Mandvi to Jamnagar on NH 8A Extn
If you don't want to make the 500 km journey from Mandvi to Okha, then you can hire the luxury yacht to get to Dwarka
In Malia, you are pulled over by the police for the second time. This is a routine stop where the cops note your name and registration number. It is already dark and you need to get to Jamnagar before midnight.


The shack like road-side dhabas have been replaced with these palace like eateries spread over acres
The road from Malia to Jamnagar is a breeze. You are surprised that there is not much traffic going westward with you. As you reach the outskirts of Jamnagar town, a motorcyclist volunteers to lead you into the city and to your hotel. Did you say the people of Gujarat are the best?

The journey will continue. 

Travel Tips
  • Shree Kutch Narayan Sarovar Annakshetra ane Bhojanalay is the best option to stay in Narayan Sarovar. There are no hotels here
  • Prior permission is needed for the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary at Jakhau - please look up the relevant Gujarat state websites for info (Kutch Forest West Division, Bhuj)

Day's Stats
  • Route Taken – Narayan Sarovar to Naliya (slight detour towards Jakhau for the Bustard Sanctuary) to Kothara to Mandvi to Malia by NH 8A. From Malia to Jamnagar NH 947
  • Distance covered today – 503 kms
  • Total Distance covered so far - 2294 kms 

References
Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency - Cutch

Related Links on this blog
The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey

Day 1 - Viratnagar

Day 2 - Pushkar

Day 3 - Vadnagar
Day 4 – Siddhpur
Day 5 - Dholavira
Day 6 - Lakhpat