Thursday, 28 May 2020

Gone Kannauj

The once great imperial Hindu Capital of Northern India of Harshvardhan, Rashtrakutas and Jaychandra has simply vanished from the historical landscape of the country

You think of Kannauj often. Kannauj, along with Thanesar, was the place to be in the Classical Age just like Delhi was in Medieval Age and later. Alexander Cunningham describes the great city of Kanoj as the Hindu Capital of Northern India for several hundred years. Harshvardhan, (reign 607 – 648 AD) the legendary Emperor ruled from Kannauj and was one of the few Classical Age rulers whose court accounts survive in the form of the beautiful Harsa Charita written by Banabhatta.

Kannauj Scenes
Plate 7 from the third set of Thomas and William Daniells' 'Oriental Scenery.' Kannauj, the ancient city of Kanyakubja, the capital of the Emperor Harshavardhana and later of the Pratihara dynasty, had by the early 15th century become an important Muslim city, part of the Sultanate of Jaunpur. The Jami' Masjid or Congregational Mosque in Kannauj was converted from former Hindu buildings in the period 1400-06 by Sultan Ibraham Shah of Jaunpur. The Daniell print shows the relatively unadorned front of the half ruined prayer hall with its pointed arches and polygonal columns typical of Muslim architecture in India before the arrival of the Mughals, although the richly carved corbels supporting the mostly vanished chajja or heavy eave are typically Hindu. Facing the mosque is part of a tomb.

Hwen Thsang, the great Chinese itinerant pilgrim, remembers Kanoj in 634 AD as surrounded by strong walls and great ditches and washed by Ganga on its east. He notes that Harshvardhan’s empire extended from Kashmir to Assam and from Nepal to Narmada. There is the famous battle at Narmada when the Chalukyan King Pulakeshin II halted Harsh’s southern march. Later the Parmaras, Gurjar-Pratiharas, Chandelas, Rashtrakutas and Palas would wrangle among themselves to wrest control of Kannauj. The story of Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta (Gulbarga in Karnataka) is especially inspiring as a kingdom of south of Vindhyas would come this further up North to control Kannauj. You always wondered why did the kings of those times fought so much. And when the crunch came, the invaders would roll over all these kingdoms in a matter of few decades. So much for all their bravura and all their legends.

Later the Tomars of Delhi also would have their capital in Kannauj according to Cunningham. Mohammd Ghori would first defeat Delhi’s King Prithviraj Chauhan in 1191 and then will march to Kannauj to rout King Jaychandra, who was Prithviraj Chauhan’s father-in-law and had decided not to help Prithviraj. We all have heard the story how the Chauhan King Prithviraj took off with the daughter of the Rathore Jaychandra This was one of the main reasons why all these kingdoms were demolished one by one in a brief span of time. About 150 years later, Ibn Battuta would describe Kannauj as a small town – the same city which Ferishta describes as being seen by Mahmud Ghazni raising its head to the skies and which in strength and structure might justly boast to have no equal.

Gahadwals, the dynasty whose signs you see in the museums in form of all these bewitching sandstone images in museums, would rule Kannauj later. So, the logic says Kannauj would have at least 800 years worth of temples. But where are they? You have not been to Kannauj and you haven’t seen any Sultanate time photos of monuments there, so what happened?

Gone Kannauj
So, you are still thinking. Everyone co-existed in Kerala peacefully. Temples, churches, mosques, synagogues all were built within metres of each others. No demolitions, nothing. And then came the Portuguese and everything changed. Those idiots were worse than the Delhi Sultanate. But that is another story.
In Spain, Moorish era monuments still survive when Christianity returned. In Iran, pre-Islamic monuments from dynasties like Sasanian still survive. In Turkey, the Byzantine structures still survive even when Ottomans took over. Bamiyan statues and stups survived in Afghanistan.
So, what happened to these Turks and Afghans and Persians when they came to India? Why did they unleash this new brand of total annihilation of cultural symbols? What were they trying to prove? Why couldn’t they have just built their own mosques like it has happened in Kerala in the past centuries. Not only they would demolish but they would boast too in their inscriptions; like the one at Qutb Minar.
Henry Cousens and others were as affected by this practise even as they tried to be objective. He notes: “We know, and they have exultingly recorded the fact, in many of their inscriptions, that the Muhammadans when they first overran the country, made a practise of destroying the chief temple at most places they visited and building their first Jami Masjid upon its site.”

Photo Credit - wallyg - NY Met Museum - early 12th century UP (looks totally like Gahadvala)

Cunningham is equally aghast when he visits Kannauj. He laments, “I am obliged to confess with regret that I have not been able to identify even one solitary site with any certainty; so completely has almost every trace of Hindu occupation been obliterated by Musalmans. Cunningham notices the triangular citadel that occupies the higher ground with few Muslim structures. The only remains of interest are the palace ruins of Rang Mahal, Hindu pillars of Jama Masjid and the Masjid of Makhdum Jahaniya and the Hindu statues in village Singh Bhawani.

The Dina or Jama Masjid was built in 1406 by Jaunpur ruler Ibrahim Shah on a commanding position in the middle of the old fort. Cunningham surmises that simply looking at its position one can be sure that a Hindu Temple of significance existed at the site. The Jonpur rulers in the template of Delhi Sultanate would raise similar mosques from Hindu temples in present Jaunpur (you have not visited Jaunpur yet). Cunningham visited Kannauj first in 1838 and then in 1862. He reports the placing of the pillars in the Jama Masjid was changed probably done by the Muslim Tehsildar before 1857. The same individual also destroyed all remains of Hindu figures on the walls of the both the masjids. Cunningham is getting angrier – the whole of these made up pillars must have been obtained after the usual cheap Muhammadan manner – by the demolition of some Hindu buildings – either Buddhist or Brahmanical.

Photo credit:

Since the city was visited by Hsieun Tsang so it should have a large number of Buddhist structures. Zilch. Cunningham rues that the Muhammadan spoliation is so complete that there is not a single piece standing to give a faint clue towards identification. There was a great 200 feet high Stupa of Asoka; another Asoka Stupa in the north-west. There were three monasteries and vihara that had a tooth of Buddha. There was another lofty 200 feet high vihara with Buddha Statue. There were two majestic temples, one dedicated to Shiva, and built of blue stones.

There would have been scores of more temples; you are pretty sure.

Cannoge (Kannauj) on the river Ganges

Plate 12 from the fourth set of Thomas and William Daniell's 'Oriental Scenery,' which they called 'Twenty-four Landscapes.' The views progress northwards from the far south at Cape Comorin to Srinagar in Garhwal in the Himalaya mountains. Kannauj was an important centre under Harsha, the most powerful ruler of Northern India in the early 7th century, and it later became the capital of the Pratihara dynasty. Looking at the ruined tombs in the distance the artists lamented that '...It is impossible to look at these miserable remnants of the great city of Cannoge without the most melancholy sensations, and the strongest conviction of the instability of man's proudest works.'

Pen-and-ink drawing of the mosque at Kannauj by an unknown artist between 1780 and 1820. Inscribed on the front in ink is: 'Mosque in Canouj.'
Kannauj is an ancient city in Uttar Pradesh, formerly situated on the banks of the Ganga River but now several kilometres to its south. It was the capital of a great Aryan kingdom which peaked in the 6th century and was later sacked by the Turkish ruler, Mahmud of Ghazni, in 1018. In 1540 it was the scene of the Mughal ruler Humayun’s (1508-1556) crushing defeat by Sher Shah. The Jami Masjid or congregational mosque at Kannauj was converted from a Hindu temple by Ibrahim Shah of Jaunpur in the early 15th century.

You have a theory. As opposed to say, Ajmer, Mehrauli, Mandu where the Delhi Sultanate demolished the temples to build mosques using the pillars, in Kannauj Ghazni paid a prior visit to the city, ransacking the city and scooting away in 1016 AD. In the intervening period, the temple parts would have been pilfered away. Some would have been used in the later Gahadwal period who would have built newer temples. And then Ghori came. Large scale ransacking would have taken place. But why didn’t they build their Ghurid hypostyle mosques in Kannauj? The answer is that the city was simply abandoned. The local Sultanate capital was moved to Badaun, 160 kms northwest to Kannauj.

The Daniells apparently saw the Jami Masjid built by the Jaunpur rulers much later. Is it still there? Just like Mathura, Kannauj apparently too has an overflowing museum with images that would have survived and some that keep popping up from the fields around the city. And yes, the Jami Masjid with a tomb still exists.

Some Questions: Why Kannauj did not become a place of prominence like Mandu or Chanderi in the Delhi Sultanate Days and why Kannauj is not popular subject of discourse today?

Next Step: Visit Kannauj, and Badaun and Jaunpur and whole lot of places in Uttar Pradesh; a state that you have not explored at all considering it is just next door.


Four Reports Made During the Years 1863-65 by Alexander Cunningham, Volume I, Page 279

Kannaui - The Scent of Ittar

Govt Museum in Kannauj

History of Kannauj

Please visit Justrippingg's Facebook Page for updates

Friday, 22 May 2020

Thrissur – The Thrilling Beauty

The Great Konkan Run – Day 21: Thrissur, Vadakkumnathan Temple, Lourdes Cathedral, Palakkad Fort, Coimbatore, Salem, Erode, Bangalore

This is your last day in Kerala. First you will have a look around Thrissur, founded by Parashuram, and probably the oldest town in Kerala. Then you will move eastbound dropping in at Palakkad before making your way towards Coimbatore and onwards to Bangalore. Yes, Thrissur does turn out to be interesting and you would love to come back here to visit the temples and churches and the Archaeological Museum at leisure.

The beautiful Vadakkumnathan Temple, Thrissur, Kerala

The pretty Lourdes Metropolitan Cathedral in Thrissur

Thrissur city looks interesting. In the centre of the city, there is a hillock called Thekkinkadu Maidan in which the Vadakkumnathan Temple is built. Just like the C-Hexagon of New Delhi which runs around the India Gate, here in Thrissur, the Swaraj Round runs around the Maidan with the temple in the centre and that's where you are going in circles.

The 12th Century Shiv Vadakkumnathan Temple, Thrissur, Kerala

The Vadakkumnathan Temple is the prettiest temple and the most atmospheric you have seen so far in the northern Kerala. The main entrance is through the western gateway which is a majestic four-tiered pagoda like gopuram. The devotees are few, unlike Guruvayoor which was swamped with people. Women look pretty in their off-white traditional sarees with the golden border and flowers in the hair. The saree and the flower combo does something to your pulse.

You will do something that you have never done before in public; no, not even at beaches and you have never swum or taken a dip - you are going to take your shirt off in public. The temple instructions do not prescribe mandatory dhoti. The three-fourths will let you in but you have to take that shirt off. You have been on the road for twenty days now. You have a scraggy beard and even with a shirt on, you look like a scrawny mongrel. Now the risk is that the temple people will see you in this famine-struck, Robinson Crusoe condition and might sequester you in the temple kitchen until they see some flesh on the bones.

Thrissur: Vadakkumnathan Temple - probably the south gate

The western gateway - Vadakkumnathan Temple in Thrissur

Vadakkumnathan is what temples should be like. Sprawling campus, spread out shrines, no sign of concrete, all traditional and all stone and wood. You have never seen a living temple this quiet and serene and so spotless. There is hushed silence across the hillock just like what you experience at Buddhist sites. Even the few devotees seem to whisper to each other. All you can hear is the breeze through these magnificent teak trees. It seems like you are in a wooded park and the temples have just appeared amidst all this.

The 12th century Shiv Temple complex is enclosed by a rectangular colonnade with gateways in each direction. Inside there are several shrines, with the biggest one dedicated to Shiv, while the other have deities of Ram and Harihar – a perfect blend of Shiv and Vishnu. The north-west has a pyramidal roofed Kuttambalam, a closed temple theatre for staging Kerala’s ritualistic ancient art forms. The shrines have some incredible wooden work and beautiful murals. No wonder the temple has received award from UNESCO for conservation work here.

The sprawling tree lined Thekkinkadu Maidan in Thrissur

Everything from the setting, to the pretty girls in sarees with flowers in their hair, the murals, the wooden sculpted brackets to the circular shrine with conical roof is divine. On your final day in Kerala, you find a beautiful temple, which is open, and where you actually wanted to come inside and feel like being in a temple. You don’t mind that they don’t allow photography inside.

British Online Library 
MacMPen-and-ink and water-colour drawing of the plan of the Hindu temple at Trichur, by John Gould, dated 11 June 1816. Inscribed on front in ink: 'Plan of the Hindoo Temple of Trichoore in Kerala & of its Environs. From the Section of the Survey of Travancore. J. Gould 11th June, 1816.'

Travancore, one of the three princely states of Kerala, consists of three natural divisions, a coastal area dotted with lagoons to the west, a midland in the centre and mountain peaks as high as 9,000 feet on the east. One of the most important Hindu complex of Kerala is the Vadakkunatha Temple at Trichur, founded in the 12th century and later reconstructed in the 19th century. The temple houses three shrines (srikovils) facing west, aligned in a single row in a rectangular court surrounded by a colonnnade. The northern one is a circular temple known as Vadakkunnatha, dedicated to Shiva. That at the south is dedicated to Rama. The central of the three temples is dedicated to Shankara Narayana (Hari-Hara), the combined form of Shiva and Vishnu and has a double-roofed circular srikovil. The conical timber roofs are covered with metal and crowned with pot finials. To the west of each shrine is an open pavilion. In the north-west corner of the outer court there is a hall for theatrical performances called kuttambalam, with an impressive overhanging pyramidal roof. The temple has preserved fine wood carvings and mural paintings.

Vadakkumnathan Temple - The elephant enclosure towards the north of the temple. And this is the Elephantmobile. Yes the truck carries elephants. Notice the water tank on top of driver's cabin in case the elephant gets thirsty cruising the streets

Beti tum toh raj karogi, raj. I can see a bangla, a big car, three kids, a loving husband who will buy jewellery for you every month and a mother-in-law who will bring you tea in bed every morning.

What will I do all day – just throw attitude around like a Princess

The breakfast of newspaper - of course Kerala is the most literate state

You come out of the western gate and walk north to the elephant enclosures. The elephants are the stars of the annual festival of Pooram celebrated in April and May when the caparisoned elephants from neighbouring temples march in a procession to take part in the colourful extravaganza celebrated in the Thekkinkadu Maidan with the entire area converging to witness the celebrations.

On the Thrissur-Palghat road that will take you to Palakkad, you stop over to look at this magnificent church. The soaring Gothic spire seems to have transported you to one of the plazas in Europe.

The strikingly good Our Lady of Lourdes Metropolitan Cathedral in Thrissur

Lourdes Metropolitan Cathedral - it literally gleams

The breathtaking interiors of the Lourdes Metropolitan Catholic Cathedral in Thrissur, Kerala

The interiors blow your mind away. The altar and apse are decorated with pleasing pastel colour paintings. The dome again done with understated colours will make you fall in love with this church. Paintings and stained glasses adorning the dome, the beautiful arched transepts, the brackets holding the fans, the glinting marble floors; the colour scheme is classy and tastefully done and the overall image is of total awe. On its side, with the entrance from the graveyard, there is an underground crypt like shrine apparently with beautiful paintings that you missed seeing.

The graveyard with people coming to pray to their loved ones

In the back, the graveyard has flat graves with cross and headstones. Some graves have been decorated with rose petals and flowers. The daughter and mother duo are here on her father’s death anniversary. You exchange few words with the charming daughter wearing flowers on her hair as she rides away on her scooter.

As if on cue, dark clouds roll in and provide you last scenes of monsoon rains in Kerala. Colourful buses which you saw last in Kannur, make an appearance on Thrissur roads livening up the monsoon skies.

Just like Kannur, Thrissur too has colourful buses

Roads of Thrissur

Going round and round in Thrissur - Swaraj Round

Time to move to Palakkad, the last stop in Kerala.

On way to Palakkad

Pit stop in Palakkad

The last meal in Kerala

About 65 kms to the east you will stop over briefly at the Palakkad Fort. Just like the other forts here, Kerala ASI lovingly maintains this fort too. However, this fort for the first time is inland and therefore has the protection of a moat that runs around this rhombus shaped laterite fort with nine bastions. A single causeway on the eastern side leads you inside the fort, the entrance protected by twin bastions.

And Kerala ASI keeps surprising you - one more immaculate fort - Palakkad Fort

View of the causeway on the east from the ramparts - Palakkad Fort

Never seen a moat this clean - Palakkad Fort

Kerala ASI
These folks are the best in the world. How many times have you heard them tom-tomming their knowledge? How many so-called historians do you know of from Kerala holding seminars and lectures? How many Kerala archaeologists have you heard of going around the country digging up the countryside even as their own backyards are full of ruined monuments?
This is because Kerala people talk less and do more. They let their wonderful work speak.
You thought Bekal Fort was an aberration but then every monument, fort, temple, mosque, church keeps surprising you throughout the trip. And it is not just the ASI people doing their job. When Kerala tops every people parameter then you realise what enlightened people can do. You have never seen forts this clean and this lovingly maintained. There is not a speck of grime and no litter that usually constitutes the biggest part of forts elsewhere in the country. Everything is curatedly beautiful. It is as if the people, the community owns these places and they treat them as if it is their own home. No wonder the places are as clean as our drawing rooms. You can never imagine the lovely Kerala folks to ever vandalise or litter their monuments. And expectedly, you never got into any verbal exchanges with anyone when visiting.

Palakkad Fort Map

The Hanuman Temple on the right - Palakkad Fort

Entering the interior of the fort

The Archaeology Museum - Palakkad Museum

Interesting Dolmen like structures - Logan's book 'Malabar' has some sketches

A beautiful baoli in the Palakkad Fort

The moat has an integrated stepwell

The fort was reportedly rebuilt in late 18th century by Hyder Ali as he looked to spread his influence in Malabar and later to Travancore through this Palghar Gap. The fort would later be in possession of Tipu Sultan and the British. A Hanuman Temple is built at the entrance. Inside, there is a small beautifully curated archaeology museum. A magnificent mango tree grows in the fort. You will spend some time walking around the bastions, marvelling how well Kerala treats its monuments and peering down at the deep moat that does not dry even in summers. The moat it seemed served as a stepwell too for the occupants of the fort.

Kerala trip comes to an end here in Palakkad. It is now going to be a non-stop drive of about 400 kms to Bangalore. You would have loved to stop in Coimbatore to meet a friend but you will come back.

Social Distancing - No Kissing

Tamil Nadu Roadways Bus

You will stay in Bangalore for the night and leave for Delhi tomorrow.
The journeys will continue.

Missing Kerala

You managed to see most of what you had planned

You will miss the funky painted technicolor buses of Kannur. You will miss sitting on the bench as River Periyar murmurs by whispering glorious stories of Muziris. You will miss the smell of the flowers of this godblessedly strikingly beautiful woman who had come to light candles at her father’s grave with her mother even as you shamelessly hit upon her. You will miss seeing the men in their dhotis – and when they sportingly raised their dhotis knee high so you could click them! You will miss the lovebirds in their dhoti and flowers in hair combo. You will miss seeing the unending billboards for gold jewellery and sarees. You will miss the unbelievable vibe of Fort Kochi and the rendering of Uriah Heep’s ‘Suicidal Man’ by a Navy fellow on India’s Independence Day celebrations on the promenade. You will miss the frustrating conversations trying to ask for directions, with you in Hindi and the nice Kerala folks talking in Malayalam. You will miss the duo on motorcycle who will direct you to the right way for 5 kms. You will miss the beaches and their quiet on an evening. You will miss the fishermen tirelessly working their Chinese fishing nets on Periyar. You will miss the conversation with Connell of Portuguese and English ancestory on the Chinese Net in Kochi as he reminisced about the good old days as they travelled from Kochi to Bangalore carrying hashish which they would sell to foreigners and lamenting that the buggers will just sniff it out if he tried it now. You will miss the waves lashing the rocks below the ramparts of Bekal Fort even as the burqa clad woman makes her appearance. You will miss the treacherous single lane highway with vehicles overtaking in death defying manoeuvres. You will miss the endless attractions in every city, town and village – each place will need a week to take in all the heritage, history, sights, nature, spices and people. You will miss the temples, churches, mosques, beaches, backwaters, boats, palms, those perfect picture postcards sights whichever way you turn.   

Did you say you will miss the beautiful women in white sarees with golden borders and flowers in hair.

The Progress Today:

Thrissur to Palakkad and then to Bangalore

The Kerala Run:

You drove a total of 1550 kms over a period of seven days over this almost circular circuit covering Northern Kerala.

Ideas for Some Future South Trips:
  • Mysore area including the palace and the Hoysala wonder Somnathpura
  • The Vijaynagar circuit from Gingee to Lepakshi and Tadipatri, Belum Caves, Penukonda, Hemavathy, Gandikota, Gooty, Guntakal and then crossing over into Hampi and spending a week with Tungabhadra and Anegundi
  • Kochi to Rameshwaram via Travancore, Trivandrum and Kanyakumari
  • Twenty days extensive tripping in Tamil Nadu


Lourdes Cathedral

The Kerala ASI site is as beautiful as its heritage sites

Palakkad Fort

The Great Konkan Run

Day 15 - Shravanabelagola 

Day 16 - Kasaragod

Day 17 - Kannur

Day 18 - Kozhikode

Day 19 - Kochi

Day 20 - Part I - Spice Wonderland

Day 20 - Part II - Kodungallur

If you liked the blogpost then

Please visit Justrippingg's Facebook Page for updates