God of Justice in Uttranchal – Golu Devta www.navinajafa.com


Driving about eight kilometres from Almora in the hill state of Uttranchal there stands the fascinating Chitai temple with acervate of thousand bells hanging around the temple complex.

bells in chitai

The bells vary in sizes and are caparisoned with fluttering red ribbons and threads that hold strips of paper that include battered letter envelopes, government bond- stamp papers. The Chitai along with others in Champawat and Gorakhal are the temples in honour of the most revered Godlings of Kumaon called Golu Devta (also called Goril and Gwalanath.) Golu represents social justice.



Even as there are rivers, valleys, pinewoods, an environment rich in medicinal plants, snow-capped mountains, life in general in the hills is rather tough. Access to courts and justice both in terms of money and actual means to reach the courts is not easy.



Mr. Gyan Joshi a priest at the Chitai temple states the fact that to actually go to courts that are quite far from villages needs both time and money. They need justice by means that is convenient and accessible. Then there are people who are helpless and are against someone who they cannot confront for fear of the power and influence of the accused. It is Golu Dev who comes to their aid and it is with his help that they get justice. Joshi went on to narrate how the Godling has assisted several people to get justice.  He recounted how a young woman whose husband would go to the city to seek seasonal work was intermittently raped by her father in law. “She had no place to go or anyone in whom she could confide her suffering and dilemma. It is believed that she filed a petition in the Chitai temple within a short period her father in law contracted leprosy. There have been incidents when a man has been cheated of his rights on a piece of land by his brother, after petitioning to Golu Dev he found that self-realization dawned on his brother who then resorted to giving him his rights over the contentious land. Golu either punishes the accused, or he assists in making the accused change his mind to follow dharma.

“Prayers to Golu Devta are the only answer to face epidemics, natural calamities and enemies who resort to black magic to harm others. He is the Ishta devta (personal deity) for a large number of people and families in Kumaon,” says Himani Pande archivist with the Indira Gandhi Center for the Arts.      The ritualistic procedure associated with the court of Golu comprises of the complainant writing a petition and posting it or placing it in the temple. “Thick smothered moth-eaten stacks and bundles of ancient appeals for justice, written on watermarked stamped papers are crammed into the lofts of the temple. On getting justice goats are sacrificed as an offering of thanksgiving; or those who abhor animal sacrifice offer huge brass bells, sweets, fruits and cash instead,” says Himani.

Bhimtal 2015

There are about twenty-five Godlings in Kumaon in whom the God-fearing bestow their faith and devotion. The origin of most Godlings is rather obscure although each is said to be linked with the Gods of the Greater Tradition especially the trinity –Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh; some of them have come into prominence in the past five hundred years.

Golu is considered to be an ‘avatar’ (reincarnation) of Bhairava considered to be a fierce deity, a manifestation of Shiva symbolizing dissolution, and in Buddhism, he is perceived as a protective deity. Golu was the son of Raja Jhalroa (circa 14thcentury). As a child, he was pushed into a pitcher packed with salt by his stepmothers who then went on to throw the pitcher into the Gori Ganga.  Apparently, the salt turned into sugar and the child was magically nursed back to life by local villagers. Since the child was found in Gori Ganga he was called Goril, which over time was distorted to Golu.

One day, Goril rode his wooden pony to the river and tried to make it drink water. On the same location, his stepmothers were bathing. Seeing Goril’s efforts to make his wooden pony drink water they ridiculed him. Golu calmly responded, “Can a woman give birth to a gourd?” Evidently, the stepmothers on Goril’s birth had remarked that his mother had given birth to a gourd. Soon his father came to know the cruel, unlawful behaviour of the queens and ordered them to be killed. He also asked Goril to come back and claim his heritage of a ruling prince, but Goril renounced the world and became a maverick saint.


Golu is considered to be benevolent deity symbolizing love, justice, and dharma. He is easily appeased and does not call for pompous rituals. Dharma is an eminent concept that engenders harmony in society. Dharma incorporates both neeti (to lead a life that is compatible with social and family norms) and nyaya or social justice.

Golu, as he is now popularly known today, was depicted by a simple, grotesque dark rock. The tradition of Golu worship has changed considerably over time. Today the temples of Golu have a dark figure riding a pony. The offerings in yesteryears were simple, but in present times petitions are made with elaborate offerings and pujas. One of the interesting developments has been the offering of kichadi or small packets with rice and black gram. This offering has been associated with tantric practices to ward off evil. In addition, there are now small prayer books of Golu Chalisa available.

For local people, the Golu represents fast-track justice. He exemplifies solutions to everyday problems hence even the mention of his name works wonders. For instance, a principal of a school only when he threatened to petition Golu was he able to stop the villagers from letting their cows from entering and damaging the school fields. Next time you are climbing the hills of Uttranchal make sure you do not miss the backside of trucks that have– Horn Please, and Jai Golu Dev written. Golu watches over the operators and drivers, countering the risks of technology and travel. In whispers, the Kumaonis say, “Wrongdoers fall ill and die, this form of Bhairav has dark powers…..”








Repositioning the Taj Heritagescape https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I41BSPPHRKk

Published in the QUINT: https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/yogi-adityanath-visits-taj-mahal-to-develop-tourism



UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s visit to the Taj Mahal amidst controversial statements by members of the BJP against iconic monument saw him symbolically ‘clean’ a spot left dirty for the photo opportunity as part of promoting swachh Bharat.  The unfortunate attempt to communalize the biggest Cultural Heritage Economic ticket undercuts PM Modi’s vision of the surging rocket ‘India’ as Incredible, Smart, and much more. Uncapacious, attention seeking and provocative remarks from these commanders are as distracting as tweets of another leader elsewhere.


Hypothetically speaking, if one does get swayed by currents of flowing divisive politics and the Wonder of the World is pulled down then what is central disjunction we see apart from drawing parallels with the fallen Bamiyan Buddha?

It reflects the lack of neglecting cultural economics and imbalance in sustainable development related not to a monument but to an entire heritagescape ecosystem of which the Taj Mahal is a part.  The identity of a heritage building is dynamic and changes within the context of the ecosystem in which it lives.

To begin with, the structure was established as a rauza or a shrine-tomb, and when the Mughals transferred their capital to Delhi, local communities of and in the city interacted with the Taj.  The structure was a seminal part of an ecosystem comprising of the river heritage of the Yamuna on one side and the bazaar of Tajganj on the other. Due to the constant human movement because of the river, and the township, there was an integral participation of the dwellers of the medieval town with the heritagescape surrounding the site.

As in other prominent Mughal buildings, the building of Taj is an example of intangible living heritage skills all of which are relevant by themselves and are the source of livelihood for several traditionally skilled communities and contribute to the commerce of the city.

The tangible heritagescape constituting the main structure, surrounding gardens and buildings went together with the intangible living heritage embodied in a canvas of traditional skills (crafts, performative arts, wrestling, cuisine), along with festivals such as tairaki ka mela (swimming festival) and colorful markets in Tajganj and till date even the fascinating heritage of art and photography associated with the Taj Mahal.  The trajectory of the changing identity of the Taj Mahal, along with the commerce of tourism has created a disjunction between the Taj and the City.

The upward mobility of the Taj in the hierarchy of heritage sites went parallel to its isolation from the city.  Beginning with its status first as a National Monument, then as a world heritage site and finally a wonder of the world, the Taj has become bigger than and has been cut off from the ecosystem that it was a part of. The Taj is not only a part of a great historic city and a cultural region it is also seen as a symbol of refinement and perfection.  This is exemplified by the use of its name in commercial products such as Tea, hotel chains and much more.

The isolation of the site heritagescape was visually and experientially enhanced by the manner in which the government created and developed tourism. Either visitors can come and go for a day without really having to stay in Agra, or if they do, they can do so without being in the city.

Much of the heritage of Agra covering its commerce and vibrant ‘Mandis ‘, it’s cosmopolitanism as seen in the mohallas, havelis and vast catholic settlement dating from Akbar‘s time, it’s literary and musical heritage has been marginalised. In fact, even the imposing Sikandra, the tomb of the Great Abkar is omitted from the tourist’s list after the coming of the Yamuna Expressway.




In contrast, one sees the example of Angkor Vat, and how the Cambodians have created a successful economic value of and from the entire heritage ecosystem surrounding the world heritage site. This strategic tourism journey was constructed as part of rebuilding the country after a traumatic experience of genocide. Presently, not only are tourists compelled to stay at least one night in Angkor, but most hotels have a tie-up with the immensely successful Phare Circus which began as part of the reconstruction post the genocide to reclaim cultural skills and narratives related to the Khmer culture. The circus provides scintillating shows over dinner in most hotels for tourists ranging from bag packers to high-end travellers. This has enabled the Phare circus to provide employment for its artists on all 365 days of the year, to run a school, create a 1.9 million dollar creative industry and reclaim to conserve the heritage of the Khmer culture.

Reverting to the Taj, the first important fact remains that as an entity it is a money-spinning wheel. The visit by the chief minister who is expected to launch a tourist pathway connecting the two world heritage sites Taj and Agra Fort, along with the proposed 370 Cr development plan for the city and an international airport will hopefully not only counter the  recent attempts to communalize the entity of the Taj Mahal  but move to address the opportunity and economic value that can evolve by the assertion of a neutral space for the cultural and traditional landscape, and secondly work to create a holistic development approach towards not just the Taj, but the entire cultural heritage ecosystem so that there is a tangible illustration of income generation possibilities and sustainable responsible tourism.

Please write to @navinajafa or http://www.navinajafa.com





Incredible India & Delhi Heritage Walks best Presented

Little did I realize that my book Performing Heritage: Art of Exhibit Walks  the first of it’s kind which speaks of the technique of doing such a Heritage Presentation genre, will inspire large number of people to curate and come into the business of Heritage walks in Delhi and other parts of the country. It’s only recently that a young boy hearing my name came and thanked me that I understood that the technique, vocabulary on Heritage Walks in the book that I introduced had become common. I even have a chapter in the book on the business of Heritage walks. Do have a look at this short video https//www.youtube.com/channel/UCnMPd6HtMxcMzDST4hMN3nA

Fossilized Existence and De-linked Directions The article was published as an editorial in the Indian Express http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/culture-needs-a-plan/ Follow on Twitter @navinajafa Website www.navinajafa.com

Navina Jafa with Kapila Vatsyayan
Dr. Vatsyayan has been one of the foremost personalities as a professional in seats of Cultural Management

The Indian Express reported that State Funded Cultural institutions have been asked to generate revenue amounting to 25-30 per cent of their budget initially and “eventually” achieve “self-sufficiency”. The idea will remain Utopian unless professional cultural managers are inducted to lead these institutions.

The government needs to create a cadre of professional cultural managers which calls for professionals with a host of skills and training. Among which is the requirement to be sensitive and knowledgeable about the wide, diverse and complex cultures and traditions of the Subcontinent. Such persons alone will be able to create business plans for these decadent institutions, provide a vision to connect them to audiences and “markets”, evolve practical strategies to conserve traditional knowledge skills and creative expressions. In the process, only then will these organizations be able to create both self-sustainability and renewed relevance for society, today they are white elephants.

Presently, most of these institutions are led either by artists (performing or visual) who have no idea of or training in administration, policy or management. Or, they are run or controlled by non-specialist bureaucrats. The few professional cultural mangers in the country are not motivated to join or head these institutions since they are unable to provide appropriate remuneration and perks and, most importantly, ensure functional autonomy. The dearth of professional cultural managers is unlikely to be addressed soon since not one eminent management institute in the country offers a programme on cultural management.

Most state-run cultural institutions across India have been unable to chart a meaningful functional role for either creative communities or for the preservation of their cultural traditions. Outreach programs that can make their creativity relevant have also not been created.

Cultural ecosystems are rocked when a cultural skill or knowledge system dies similar to when an animal species is reduced, hence large number of knowledge eco systems related to performing arts, linguistics, and crafts are endangered along with  Massive Deskilling And marginalization of large number of  Creative Communities.

There Is No Cultural Policy That Offers a Holistic and realistic approach to this complex and contested terrain. Committees to formulate policies are mostly formed with artists and cultural academicians; rarely are cultural management professionals or cultural economists invited to join them. Not surprisingly, these committees are unable evolve strategies that will ensure sustainability and conservation of creative communities, and other manifestations of the repositories of our rich cultural heritage.

In the absence of professional cultural managers, bureaucrats in charge of these institutions take up the task of making India’s great cultural heritage visible on the international cultural map. For example, the Festival of India model has not evolved since its inception in the 1980s. The exhibition model frozen and a major reason remains that many of the traditions presented have not been upgraded, and new thoughts of presentation not addressed. Similarly, Those in power are pressured to cope with international terms and frameworks and find themselves groping to address international cultural administrative jargon and fail to address these conceptual frameworks keeping in mind and ensuring the Indian  context and interest.

For instance, there is recently great attention given to ideas of cultural mapping and conservation of intangible heritage both by government and non-government institutions. However, there is a dearth of people who actually understand these complex issues or have any idea on the methodology to collect such a data which will involve large sum of public money, nor are they equipped to develop strategies to use the collected data, such that this exercise ensures sustainability of traditions and tradition bearers and creates welfare impact, poverty aversion and social transformation. Just passing directions to create themselves as sustainable organization will not generate the results, nor will choice of leasing land and infrastructure of these institutes to corporate provide a new functionality to the Cultural institutions.

There are, of course, people committed to the field of cultural management and economics. The question is if the government will induct them as professionals, as they do with scientists, health professionals and economists? If the cultural sphere is not addressed in a systematic, detached and professional manner, we risk to lose huge capital. Culture is too precious to be left Ram bharose!

Navina Jafa

 Vice President of Centre for New Perspective, on Traditional Skills and Sustainable Developm

Heritage and Identity: Inversion in the Glamour of Exotic Lucknow Dr. Navina Jafa Follow—- @navinajafa; Subscribe – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUnMPd6HtMxcMzDST4hMN3nA www.navinajafa.com

Yes, the Elections have  happened in my amazing Uttar Pradesh. It is a state which has always thrown challenges and redefined political contours. It is a fascinating region which projects intriguing aspects of dynamic of  ‘Heritage & Identity’ Navina Jafa explores one such aspect which has become an inherent part of memory in public space.

navina La Martiniere Lucknow

Tourism in India was propelled forward by the campaign of Heritage is not merely about frozen landscapes; it is about ever-changing dynamics of cultural geographies representative of socio-economic and political change of, and in, a region. This article analyses the conspicuous urban spatial and visual insertions that have resulted in the creation of a new cultural heritage-scape in the city of Lucknow. This is in the form of plazas, memorial parks, streets, and statues to portray the identity of the Dalits, a term used for the lowest group in the Indian caste organization. The analysis specifically examines the socio-political implications of the Kanshi Ram Eco Garden in Lucknow.

The very mention of Lucknow evokes dreams of the heritage of refined etiquette, manifested in language, mannerisms, cuisine and  lifestyles of luxury-loving rulers,   of  the idea of sham-e-Awadh or  romantic evenings  when elegantly-attired nawabs with poetry on their lips  kept company with glamorous courtesans. Under Nawabs of Lucknow the city   was presented as the Constantinople of the East, an image  reinforced by the gateway in the city called the Rumi Darwaza.

rumi darwaza

In contemporary Lucknow, the cultural geography is infused with new features in the forms of public spaces and in other nuances of the tangible heritage. This challenges, or even mocks, the silent  architectural legacy of the  Nawabs, and visually there is a powerful statement of an inversion of the social structure in the city, where the Nawabs and their exotic culture are silent silhouettes of yesteryears. A new class has taken the center stage with the backing of a newly emerged political ideologue in power.  .

An entire canvas of the Dalit heritage was constructed with fervor under the political leadership of Mayawati, a four-term Chief Minister of the State of UttarPradesh. The heritage was created through constructing parks in different parts of the state, and by renaming towns with names associated with the Dalit  past. There was a feverish drive to claim an entire province and impose the collective identity of the marginalized communities whom Mayawati represented as a  leader.

With political power, she defiantly sought to break the shackles using public money to project their  social identity in open public spaces. Eyebrows were raised, and public criticism rose with equal hysteria. Yet, at the same time, the legacy of heritage of the Nawabs continued to be celebrated as the identity of the city; it continues to be sold as  its distinctive culture on the tourism map.  Both public memory and time are forgiving. After all the Nawabi heritage of Lucknow had also been constructed with public money with the intention to assert power by investing in tangible icons. Mayawati, and her mentor Kanshi Ram spearheaded the political movement through their Bahujan Samaj Party to represent the  Dalits – re-styled as Bahujan– to include all socially and educationally backward castes and communities. The fact that she is herself a Dalit and a woman  who  rose to be not once but several times  the head of the largest state of India, adds to the discourse on representation of the heritage of marginalized communities through democratic processes. The legacy –  her architecture, sculptures, renaming of  towns, and creation of humungous public spaces  is an important pitch in the discourse on Heritage and Identity.

pillar-2      mayawati

The Mayawati Parks are, at one glance, huge in scale, located on important roads and strategic urban sections of Lucknow and Noida in the State of Uttar Pradesh. Their planned visual space emulates the grandeur of Lutyens’ New Delhi, the capital of  British India from 1911 to 1947, intended to celebrate the ‘grand’ Empire juxtaposed against the grand city of Shahjahanabad . The pictures below illustrate the similarity of the Mayawati Parks with New Delhi. For example, the domed structure of  Rashtrapati Bhawan is reproduced in the Mayawati Parks. Similarly, there is the re-creation of the Great Place, renamed Vijay Chowk  with its distinctive fountains  in the design of the parks along with duplication  of rows of pillars with elephants on top, as they appear in the  Secretariat buildings flanking  the President’s House. The intended symbolism is clear: the replication is aimed at creating the architectural visual of the Empowerment of the Oppressed Classes. However, a distinct feature is the rows of elephants, the symbol of the Bahujan Party, which does not let the onlooker forget the political strategy behind the creation of this tangible heritage depicting the creation of a collective identity.



The next meaningful shared features in the Mayawati parks are the assemblage of symbols associated with Buddhism.  B.R.Ambedkar, the 20thcentury iconic Dalit leader who provided to the repressed castes a path for upward social mobility by himself converting to Buddhism, and then by inviting others of marginalized communities to follow the path of mass conversion through what is known as the Neo-Buddhist movement. Thus, the Mayawati parks abound with Buddhist architectural features, like the presence of the Harmika or the square railing in the parks that create an exclusive sacred space for the collective community. Movement to and in all the parks both inside and outside are controlled, which sends out the message that this sacred space is exclusive and demands respect. Then there are the domed buildings imitating those of the circular top of Buddhist stupas, pillars with the Ashoka Chakra(as testimony of imperial power) and again the presence of the elephants, a symbol associated with the birth of Buddha.

pillar -1


Lastly, the parks are punctuated with over-sized statues, many of them placed under Lutyen’s- styled canopies. The statues are of leaders and social reformers who worked for the betterment of the oppressed communities such as Jyotirao Govind Rao Phule, his wife Savitri Phule, his follower Sauji Maharaj, and  Periyar E.V. Ramasamy.  The statues also include those of Kanshiram and his protegee Mayawati, among others, who fought for the cause of the Dalits and are therefore  part of the constructed historical narrative.

Regarding the  statues, reference needs to be made to the traditional ethos of Indian sculptures where there is an entire aesthetics of creating the image of a great man, especially in the statue of the Buddha and related Buddhist and even Jain deities. These aesthetics incorporate 32 signs of a great man (MahapurushLakshnan). In the Mayawati parks, the idea of the Maha-purush (great man) is manifested in sheer size,  and in framing several statues in elaborate niches, canopies and stands, more in the line of the British statues in India. Quite frequently the statues are accompanied with brief narratives in a museum-like presentation. The functionality of these parks in creating the collective consciousness extends to their use  for public rallies, and community events and festivals associated with Dalit historical figures. For example, in the square called Parivartan Chowk, situated in the central part of the Nawab’s city, Kanshiram, together with Mayawati organized, in 1995, the PeriyarMela. Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, a political, social activist from the southern State of Tamil Nadu, is remembered fort having taken up the cause of social and gender discrimination through the Dravida movement challenging the exploitative Indo-Aryan social network.

periyar mela



The creation of such festivities continue to construct the idea of living intangible heritage and to the reasserting of the building the collective memory for marginalized communities. The parks are loaded with symbolism Maurice Halbwachs wrote about collective memories: “…when a group is situated in a certain space, it transforms it in its own image but also subjects and adjusts itself in a framework it has constructed in the image of itself that it forms the external environment and the fixed relations that the group sustains…the image permeates all layers of its consciousness decelerates and regulates its evolution…”[1]

It is interesting to examine the dynamics of design interpretation and symbolism in Manyawar Shri Kanshiram Ji Green (Eco) Garden named after the founder of the BahujanSamaj Party. Constructed on the major   VIP Road in Lucknow, on 112 acre of prized urban land, the park  was built with public money for  rupees 834 crore (almost 12, 00,000 US dollars),  and  designed by Jay Kaktikar of Design Associates.  The finest materials – sandstone, marble, and granite, bronze – have been used. There are solar panels that cater to the requirements of energy and light in the park.  Entry is controlled though tickets. There are two gates based on ‘Vaastu’, the canonical Hindu principles of architectural design. As one enters, there is a feeling of entering an alien world of wonder, a universe defined by colossal empty spaces. The use of granite and water channels creates a lighted illusion, while the mammoth structures are devised to generate a deliberate grandiose  architecture  in a framed time and space.

One can divide the organization of the park in three parts. First the built structures comprising pillars, statues, and domed buildings. They are placed with ample empty space around them and are interspersed with real shrubs which are presented as manicured shapes and not in their natural shape,thus adding to a surrealist environment.

Kansiram park - tree



The second part of the park has hothouses with designed rows of plants and stone paths of white round stones following the design of  a  Japanese garden. However, the pebbled path makes it quite difficult for the visitor to take a walk, and therefore restricts the movements of people inside the hothouses. Furthermore, the plants inside are largely hardy plants and of them the most evident are the blooms of Euphorbia Millii succulents.  Euphorbia Millii is supposed to be the plant used as the crown of thorns for Jesus symbolizing pain and suffering.  On the outside of the hothouse are creepers of sweet smelling jasmines. The creepers symbolize upward mobility and freedom, with added symbolism in the fragrance permeating the environment. Thus, while the visitor finds it difficult to walk inside the closed space of the hothouse, he is allowed to mingle in the directed and controlled space outside the house emphasizing through symbolism the present state of the communities.

Euphorbia Millii

garden hothouse



The third part of the garden is perhaps the most interesting. On a running elevated oval mound area, surrounded by water channels, are bronze statues of 25 kinds of animals. The amazing part of these metal sculptures is that even the trees around the animals are made of metal. The intriguing part of the metal zoo is the positioning of most animals: they mostly are set to look or face right to the large open central space. The animals are varied and yet what strikes the visitor is that while there are the more common animals (made of bronze) such as peacocks, bears, lions, hippos, there are the more exotic ones like giraffes and kangaroos and even dinosaurs.



The bizarre zoo compounds the almost hallucinatory quality of the park and takes the visitor by surprise.

zoo- 1 peacock



Kansiram park - animals- 1


It takes some time to be able to comprehend the detailed manner with which the socio-political symbolism translates itself in a public space using contemporary concern with ecology, and asserting a dreamlike reality of the heritage of a community identity, and creation of collective memory. Its location is a statement of resistance, and a continued reminder to mock the world that marginalized these classes, which have finally arrived in the center of socio-political theatre. This heritage space of the marginalized communities built with public money, and situated in the prized urban land, is a strong and defiant affirmation of a new reality.  And yet, everything in the park looks artificial, emphasizing the impossible situation that has become a reality – the reality of social inversion and an integral part of the exotic heritage of Lucknow, a statement of the pedagogy of the oppressed.

spaces in mayawati park

In conclusion, it can be said that the idea of heritage remains dynamic and is representative of ongoing social change in different contexts of time and space. It is not a frozen idea, and heritage interpretation and presentation presents a continuous challenge and commentary on societies.



[1] Halbwachs,Maurice, La mémoire collective, Paris 1950. English translation: The Collective Memory, New York, Harper & Row Colophon Books, 1980. Pg.132



India’s Need – Smart Rural Towns -The Case of Maheshwar in Central India By Dr. Navina Jafa




Situated on the banks of River Narmada, Maheshwar is a sleepy heritage town in Central India. In recent time it has surfaced as an attractive stop in the travel circuit. One can critically offer, that its identity and attraction can be constructed along three modalities. First, its location on a sacred river has for a long time made it a popular religious tourism destination in the circuit covering neighboring places namely Omkareshwar and Ujjain.  Two, historically, it was the ruling seat of a renaissance 18thc woman – Ahilya who left behind two legacies – namely the built heritage in form of landing steps along the river, a fort, beautiful temples and cenotaphs all of which are heightened by the environmental heritage of the river;  She also left behind weaving tradition. This article traces, knits and critically analyses these multiple facets of the heritage town and advocates that India’s need is not Smart Cities but smart Rural Townships.

In India, like other old civilizations, rivers have always remained ideal locations for settlements, trade and communication. They, thus inevitably acquired a sacred status which got constructed through metaphors, symbols, myths and legends. The sacredness then manifested itself through rituals and beliefs by communities. In India, the symbolism of rivers gains an additional sacred perspective which is directly or indirectly associated with the concept of karma and mukti.  Mukti  is the idea of release through good karma or action, which is done  to escape human suffering and in turn results to transcend the cycle of life. The rivers are therefore a medium for this release, thus to attain mukti one can bathe in the river Ganges once, or bathe thrice in the now hidden river Saraswati, or seven times in river Yamuna, but most importantly in relation to this article, the mere sight of river Narmada is enough for eternal bliss.

Symbolism and metaphors on Narmada’s sacredness get extended with network of myths, the most common being that Lord Shiva[1] meditated with such intent that his flowing sweat drops gradually transformed into the river Narmada. Both Shiva and Ganges in their anthropomorphic form are believed to have had a bath in Ma (mother) Narmada and reached their release.



The sacredness of River Narmada is embodied in religious texts, festivals, rituals and pilgrimages. For example, on one hand, an important Sanskrit hymn in her honor called the Narmada Shatakam (or 100 verses on Narmada) says… Narmadashtakam: Sa-Bindu Sindhu Suskhalat Taranga Bhanga Ranjitam  … “I salute Devi (goddess Narmada) whose body is illumined with sacred drops of water and whose water ripples playfully in shape of bending waves…O Devi your sacred water has the divine power to transform hatred into love and  your power extinguishes the evil power of our  sins… You instill fearlessness in those who take refuge in you with your waters that form an armor … O Devi, mother Narmada, I bow down to your Lotus Feet… O mother give me Refuge….” On the other hand, thousands of pilgrims perform a parikrama or barefoot circumambulation of the river round the year calling her ‘Ma Narmada’ or mother Narmada and singing hymns in her honor. Many pilgrims immersed in faith walk a distance of over nine hundred kilometers along the route of this mighty river. The process of such a rigorous pilgrimage makes her a symbol of Vairagya or detachment for the pilgrim who performs the pilgrimage.

It is believed to reach mukti or release from cycle of rebirth one can bathe in the river Ganges once, or bathe thrice in the now hidden river Saraswati, or seven times in river Yamuna, but the mere sight of river Narmada is enough for eternal bliss. The local folks in Maheshwar have connected the powerful energy and symbolism of the river to the living spirit of their queen Ahilya who lived in the 18th c queen and both are perceived as ‘Mothers’, the nurturers and the protectors.



From a more realistic historical perspective, Narmada gains importance because of her geographical character. Not only does she originate and flows from and through the oldest part of the subcontinent – The Deccan plateau, but she is the fifth longest river in the Indian subcontinent and the longest west flowing river dividing North and South of India.  It was inevitable that her geographical importance led human communities to evolve her sacred identity.


AHILYA BAI – Queen of Maheshwar:  Ahilya, belonged to the ruling Holkar family who formed a part of the Maratha Confederacy. “The Maratha power began with the Maratha Peshwa, the agent of who became an effective leader…”[2] The Holkars had established their dominance in Central India. There are several stories that are associated with Ahilya including those crediting her with introducing the tradition of weaving Maheshwari sarees. One common version says that Malhar Rao Holkar, the Maratha’s military governor of the Malwa plateau region once happened to stop at a village called Chondi in the modern state of Maharashtra.[3]  There he came across a young girl who conducted herself impeccably while performing complex temple rituals. Impressed, he asked her parents as a bride for his son Khande Rao.  Unfortunately, very early in the marriage the young man died, and Ahilya became a window. As was the custom those days, a widow was expected to sit on the burning cremation pyre holding the body of her husband and immolate herself thereby proceeding to gain sainthood where she was called Sati.  However, Ahilya’s case, her father in law Malhar Rao Holkar, not only prevented her from committing Sati   but acted to subvert the custom. He personally trained her in military and administrator affairs and appointed her ruler. She ruled from Maheshwar from 1765-1795.[4]


However, the death of the father-in-law saw a group of chieftain resenting the rule by a woman even though she was an effective ruler. Ahilya, acted to protect herself by commissioning weavers from the Surat (in present day in the Western Indian state of Gujarat) to weave beautiful turbans, and sent them as gifts from a ‘sister’ to the group of loyal chieftains requesting them to protect her from opposing ones. Additionally, she managed to get the Brahmins or the religious clergy to back her by bestowing them with generous gifts and alms. The combined support of religious and feudal elite made her invincible, and installed her as a supreme ruler.

The oral history about gifting woven turbans to loyal chieftains takes on another angle, where it is believed that the wives of the ‘brother’ chieftains demanded that they too be given a gift, so, for each wife (sister-in-law)  Ahilya commissioned a traditional nine yard woven saree. These nine yard sarees came to be known as the ‘Ahilya Sarees’, and the weave as Maheshwari.[5]

For the local community both the river Narmada and Queen Ahilya represent Ma, or mother, they both perceived to be nurturing and protecting energies. The stature of Ahilya as a renaissance woman are aptly captured by the Scottish poetess Joanna Baillie:

“For thirty years her reign of peace,
The land in blessing did increase;
And she was blessed by every tongue,
By stern and gentle, old and young.
Yea, even the children at their mothers feet
Are taught such homely rhyming to repeat
“In latter days from Brahma came,
To rule our land, a noble Dame,
Kind was her heart, and bright her fame,
And Ahlya was her honored name.”[6]

After even the passing of more than 200 years she remains a living spirit and can be seen in the manner folks remember her, or visit and honor her small courtyard house where there is a her throne, a remake of her humble court in her residential area. Her energies resides in the impressive riverine landings (ghats) and soaring temples she built along with cenotaphs. The blessings of the river and the queen live in the woman selling a snack of sprouted black chick peas along the river …. “there is nothing to worry… Ma Ahilya and Ma Narmada are watching over us, over you…” and their energies resound  in the rhythmic clacking sound of looms run by weavers all over the town.




The Revival of Weaving:

Modern India’s founding father, Mahatma Gandhi, championed hand-spun cloth and weaving. But India’s handloom weavers have been hit hard by the industrialization and the inability to compete internationally. They are facing stiff competition from a flood of machine-made cheap clothing and challenge of power looms replacing the handloom. The fast pace of developing India poses challenges to the traditional knowledge and skill sector and yet the revival of weaving in Maheshwar  illustrates a success story of a  movement which has produced a wave of aspiration for the future sustainable existence of handloom in India, a compelling professional engagement, empowerment for women in rural India but most of all the validity the India needs smart rural towns and not too many smart cities.

Traditionally, in most parts of India, barring North East, the skill of weaving remains largely in the hands of men. One main reason for the success of handloom weaving in Maheshwar has been shifting weaving from men to women, and re-positioning the men in other ways the still link them to weaving.



In 1978 the royal couple of Maheshwar, Sally and Richard Holkar set up the Rehwa society a non- for –profit to revive the hand weaving industry in Maheshwar with the objective to empower women and to create a holistic development program by providing housing, healthcare and education to the families of weavers. The environment and the state of weaving in Maheshwar at that time was dismal. Most traditional weavers were leaving the occupation and taking to other means of livelihood. When Rewha started, there were less than two hundred people involved in the Handloom weaving industry in Maheshwar, “our local survey of 2013 saw this number increase to about three thousand people, while fifty percent were actual weavers, the other 50 % involved in the industry were engaged in ancillary work associated with cloth weaving namely, binding, dyeing preparing the loom and the yarn. There is an involvement of about 5-6 people in creating a weaving group.”[7]

Prior to the coming of Rehwa Society, it was the men who were the weavers, while the women played subsidiary role by performing ancillary work such as spinning, assisting in dyeing.  Rewha as a localized movement began by training 12 young women from nontraditional families. The training was by senior traditional male weavers.

Rewha principally aimed to promote the Maheshwar weave which is traditionally done using cotton and silk. Earlier, Maheshwari sarees had traditional patterns which were known by poetic names such as Chandrakala (moon like motifs) Beli (creepers), such motifs formed the vocabulary of local songs and thus the saree with its motifs was a living entity that added to the essence of both the women who wore them, the weaver who wove them and the community for whom they became an identity. Unfortunately, much of it the knowledge on traditional motifs which was part of the oral heritage is now lost.[8]  Floral motifs were rare in Maheshwari weaves, instead patterns like bricks, mats and diamonds inspired from the built architecture the fort and the temples remain popular. Maheshwari sarees are found in a wide range of colors which include blue, mauve, dark pink, greens with gold-thread zari borders.[9]


The cotton was acquired from Coimbatore and Silk from Bangalore. Maheshwar, therefore, had only the skill of weaving. Hence, a part of the revival of the handloom movement in Maheshwar incorporated the use of local raw material like locally grown cotton, “… we started a new woven product which was different from the traditional weave. Gradually, the Rehwa movement took on a life of its own and spread to others in the town. Entrepreneurial weavers started business in Maheshwari textiles. The revival of the textiles included addressing issues related to wages, consciousness of grasping the interest of consumer’s taste, idea of design, nuances of marketing, and comprehension of communal identity as weavers… the Maheshwar handlooms slowly and unmistakably emerged in the larger context of the handloom industrial sector in India with a representation of a positive index growth from within an otherwise negative scenario…”[10] 


Sally Holkar in 2002 expanded the movement initiated by the REWHA society into a larger and more ambitious independent, organizational network called the Women’s Weave, and now an even more ambitious program of a handloom school. The charitable organization has organized principal women weavers in a collective business entrepreneurial networks.  The model saw not only a gender role reversal where men chose to be engaged in activities connected with the outside world such as marketing, acquiring raw material and other ancillary work, but this movement has impacted other sociological dynamics. For instance, in 1980 several of the first batch of women weavers at Rehwa were in domestic abusive situations and that reality extended itself into the working spaces. For example, the women were paid weekly wages,  on the pay day, husbands would stand outside and grab their money. “We solved the problem with the women themselves. Those days the process of opening bank accounts was cumbersome, but between us we mutually decided that a part of their earnings will be deposited with us (Rehwa) as savings.”[11]  Other changes in social behavior have been related to education and professional choices.


In 2009 Hemendra Sharma, the Chief operating officer of Women’s Weave started interacting with six children (age 7-20 years) from traditional weaving families. At that point of time, all of them claimed that with their education they were not interested in weaving. Like in many parts of India, these young people perceived their upward mobility in terms of getting government (sarkari) jobs. Hemendra, started meeting them regularly in the evenings and engaging them in informal discussions related to opportunities of learning English, or deliberating about markets, economics and politics. Getting advice on learning to speak English was a great motivating factor which led them to interact with Hemendra. One interaction led to another, and gradually these very young men from traditional weaving families who were in rejection of their heritage gradually started getting drawn back to the handloom sector. With time, several have established their own businesses. Presently many are working with big players engaged in textiles such as ‘Fab India’ and ‘Jaypore’ and earning around 20, 00,000 rupees a year.”12]


           Hence, an important part of the success story of Maheshwar remains, that the work initiated by both REHWA and Women’s weave has trickled down to permeate the entire town. Interviews with several grassroots actors in Maheshwar revealed, that if holistic systematic knowledge on handloom is combined with entire context of dynamics of socio- economic environment as part of capacity building of not only weavers, but all those who form units of handloom it results in a form of bottom up development.

The Maheshwar handloom’s successful revival also exposes and attempts to on one hand break a post-colonial mindset and on the other hand, validate the importance of Gandhian economics of bottom up empowerment which in turn reveals the faults that are arising in the stress that is put by present day idea of development that focuses on urbanization and smart cities, The following is an important argument –  “Every child in rural area thinks of becoming a blue collared professional which is limited to becoming a doctor, engineer, or getting a government job. However, the reality is that they do not have the qualification and they will never be hired for those professions. A large number of children get educated only as far as grade eight or ten. So where are the opportunities for upward mobility? Children from traditional weaving families in rural areas give up their family skills where they usually earn per day rupees 150 to 200. Many of them then move into the construction work where they get minimum daily wages of rupees four hundred and fifty. However little do they realize that this is temporary work, and secondly, it disrupts family? No one is happy!”[13]

Handloom as a cottage industry is well synergized with agrarian lifestyle. The handloom provides employment “for at least 280 days, where the aggregate income ranges from 175 -300 rupees a day. This blends with agriculture which provides 60-90 days of employment in two seasons, and where the aggregate income is about Rs.75 a day.” The combination of the two occupation are complimentary, prevents urban migration, and allows multiple income generation for rural households.


The story of Maheshwar is indeed a unique one, a location where leisure and religious tourism are synergized with a cottage industry in an agrarian framework, a splendid display of not smart city but smart rural township.

http://www.navinajafa.com  Follow : @navinajafa



[1] Lord Shiva – the God in the Indian mythological trinity symbolizing multiple ideas of which release from cycle of birth-rebirth being one)

[2] :Chaurasia, R.S: History of Marathas, Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi, 2004. Pg : Xii


[3] Malwa – a natural region in west-central India occupying a plateau of volcanic origin

[4] Rajaswi,M.I : Ahilyabai Holkar, Manoj Publications, New Delhi, 2004, Hindi , Pg – 45-47,

[5]  Chopra, Gopika (Designed) – The Heart of Incredible India: Discovering Madhya Pradesh: Published by Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation. Published as a Destination guide. Pg. 220-229; 2008

[6]Baille Joanna : Ahalya Baee: a Poem : For Private Circulation , Spottiswoodes & Shaw. London. 1849; Google books – http://books.google.co.in/books?id=gNEsAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false



[7] Sharma Hemendra , Chief Operating Officer at Women Weave Charitable Trust,  Skype Interview with author. November,2014


[8] Interview with Sally Holkar, 2014.

[9] Zari is the woven thread traditionally made of fine gold or silver used in woven cloth especially as  brocade in sarees

[10]Author in Converation with Holkar, Sally, President  & Hemendra Sharma Chief Operating Officer Women Weave Charitable Trust, and on Skype, November, 2014


[11] Author in Converation with Holkar, Sally, President  & Hemendra Sharma Chief Operating Officer Women Weave Charitable Trust, and on Skype, November, 2014


[12] Author in Converation with Holkar, Sally, President  & Hemendra Sharma Chief Operating Officer Women Weave Charitable Trust, and on Skype, November, 2014

[13] Holkar, Sally, President Women Weave Charitable Trust. Interview on Skype with author, November, 2014


Great Rann of Kutch Beyond Rann Utsav Life, Creativity, Resilience in the Salt Desert @navinajafa www.navinajafa.com


In recent times, superstar Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachhan has been promoting the Great Rann of Kutch as a tourist destination with the central pitch of months long mela – Rann Utsav organized in the salt desert by Gujrat Tourism. The festival, a business opportunity for local ethnic groups undercuts complex enthralling experiences of this region, which like any other in India remains a mystifying rubric cube. Kutch is a statement of human grit, shared memory of disasters, and the mental space is balanced by victories of defiance in this mutating land.  This article attempts to bring out the multilayered idea of the Great Rann of Kutch.

The following passage is from a short story that communicates the starkness of the environmental surroundings— “THE DROUGHT in Kutch had lasted for three successive years. Even when clouds were sighted they passed by, ignoring the stricken country. The monsoons had, so to speak, forgotten to land. The Rann lay like a paralyzed monster, it’s back covered with scab and scar-tissue and dried blister-skin. The earth had cracked and it looked as if chunks of it had been baked in a kiln and then embedded in the soil-crust. The cattle became thin and emaciated. The oxen died. The camel alone survived comfortably, feeding on the bawal, camelthorn. Then one day the clouds rolled in like wineskins and the lightning crackled and the wineskins burst. Though two years have passed since the drought ended, everyone remembers that it first rained on the day when Fatimah entered the village. This is how she came….” – Keki Daruwalla – Love across the Salt Desert….

The Great Rann (wasteland) of Kutch lies west of the Indian Subcontinent in the state of Gujarat, and stretches into Pakistan. It is the land between the Gulf of Kutch and the mouth of River Indus in Pakistan and is a border area with Pakistan. It is a Museum of Environmental hardship and an area defined by the challenging scarcity of water. It is a landscape fraught with human and natural upheavals and disasters- earthquakes, famines, plague, history of smuggling, conflict between warlords, plague, on so on and so forth.  It is a land where potent community memories are defined by actions expressing resistive human spirit and celebration of live by inventive traditionally skilled people.


Figure 1Banni


The Salt Desert

The Great Rann of Kutch comprises of more than 5 ecological zones that includes the Rann or salt marshland, Banni or Asia’s largest grassland, irrigated fields in some areas, and among other zones the Arabian Sea. Scarcity of water and saline land have dominated the manner in which social communities, traditional knowledge networks and communities organize themselves. There are living in this a large number of social ethnic groups each having their own distinct visual identity, customs, language and cultural traditional skills.  wow-women-of-kutch

The story of Kutch is about herders, textile experts, boat-builders, of festivities, musicians and potters. It is a story of daring, celebration of human spirit manifested in the vibrancy of clothes and décor of their homes. The Great Rann of Kutch was under the Jadeja Rajputs a part of Princely India until independence, after which it became a part of the Indian Union.  Known as the Raja of Bhuj, the rulers built two palaces one in Bhuj and the other in Manadvi the coastal town.

kutch  bunga

Fig4-5 : Rabari people and traditional homes called Bunga

Kutch is where man asserts his place in the center of a wasteland in the most heroic manner, and where the awe of nature relegates big Gods to the margins giving place to local cults and beliefs and to syncretic energies of living cultures. And it is ironical, that, Kutch remains a part of Gujarat, where in 2002 there was a horrific genocide based on communal Hindu Muslim divide.


The journey begins in Bhuj, the capital of the district which was the epicenter of the 2001 earthquake that destroyed the entire town and of which even now one can see the rubble in the fringes of the town. The significant built heritage in the town are two palaces in one complex of the Maharaja of Bhuj. There is the old palace of which one remaining part Aina Mahal (palace of glass and mirrors) is converted into a small but beautiful museum hosting a range of wonderful embroidery, glass paintings, and other quaint artefacts. The other palace is the neglected mid 19thc Italian Gothic castle called the Prag Mahal.

mand-palace-bhuj  aina-mahal-in-bhuj-palace

Fig 6-7: Old Palace- Bhuj and Museum – Aina Mahal
aari-embroidery prag-mahal

Fig 8-9 : Aari Embroidery in Bhuj Museum & Prag Mahal in Bhuj

Traditionally Skilled INDIA

Journey in Kutch is incomplete without experiencing the display and fascinating processes of traditional skills by large number of social groups. It is these skills which have for centuries provided sustainability to large number of people. But most of all, the Kutchis are remarkable in the manner they have re-positioned their traditional knowledge skills for new markets.

There are in Bhuj and other parts of Kutch, for example the Kathri Muslim caste community who are textile specialists engaged in block-printing-dying, art of tie and dye, and Rogan cloth painters; then there are loharus or metal workers engaged in all kind of metal work life making of knives, nutcrackers, scissors wonderful silver work ( silver of Kutch that is known not to blacken), loharus are also boat builders, and coppersmiths.  Among all artisans Women plays an eminent role as partners in craft processes, but most of all as independent embroiderers which they even trade. The manner in which these artisans have re-positioned their art, design and entrepreneurial skills is an emphatic statement of the strength and depth of traditional knowledge education and tenacity of skills.

Each artisan community has their own stories. For example, the block printers of Bhuj have been resettled in a small neighborhood called Ajrakhpur in Bhuj. The neighborhood is named after the specific block printing technique called Ajrakh.  Several members of this community are perceived not to be formally educated and yet they have ironically been awarded honorary degrees from various well known foreign universities.  Members both young and old rattle chemical formulas and processes such that one is in awe while comparing their oral and experiential knowledge on chemistry with teachers in schools. Their sense of design and product development is one which draws great respect, so much that students and teachers from renowned textile schools around the world come to learn from them, finally their business sense can beat many who have business management degrees. These traditionally skilled communities form the intangible heritage of India.

sufian-khari-making-indigo-dye-ajrakh-block-printing Sufiyan Kharti making Indigo

ajrakh Ajrakh Block Print

knife-makers-of-bhuj Metal workers of Bhuj

While in Bhuj, a visit to the fascinating Danda bazaar is a hypnotical experience to the senses with shops selling traditional things, and variety of ethnic groups from remote villages in the dry grassland Banni moving around shopping including glimpses of the mysterious Rabaris.

daanda-bazaar rabari Danda Bazar, & Rabari Woman

Mandavi – the Coastal Town


Fig- Almost like a Noah’s Ark, the boat building in Mandavi

Fifty six kilometers from Bhuj, life in the town of Mandavi is marked by the coming and going of tide in the Arabian Sea, and the presence of the Rukmavati River. An ancient port, the present city was laid out by the Jadeja Rajpiuts in the 16thc. The royal patrons successfully organized a shipping and trade industry which comprised of elaborate dockyards and ship building activities which even now remain in the hands of the traditionally skilled community the metal workers – Loharus. The earlier days ships brought in dates, grains, Rhinoceros horns, ivory and other goods. The town hosts a disrupted, fortified wall, and was and remains a vibrant trading port connected to the Africa, Emirates and other parts of West Asia. According to the records, the ivory tusks were so big that they got jammed in the walls, balconies and windows of houses in the lanes of Mandavi. Evidence of contact with Africa is seen in the Siddhis or the African looking Kutchi speaking the local language serving tea to sailors, boat builders.

The edge of the town is marked by old shipyards, boat building activities and junked vessels. Across the river is a quaint neighborhood called Salaiya which houses colorful homes of fishing communities, boat builders, sailors, mosques and Sufi shrines. The energies of Madavi is marked by sailors, boat builders and merchants. The heritage of boat building is riveting and is captured in narratives of traditional boat builders like Ibrahim Mistry. For example, he explains the manner in which the wood selected for building a boat is almost given a human form, and deified then he describes rituals associated with consecrating the building process, customs associated with the completion of the boat and first sailing of a boat. These include the Sufi narratives that reach out to protect sailors on open sea from nature’s fury and pirates. It is a world of its own.


Our Group, the African Siddhi Kutchi and Ismail Mistry


Inside the Unbuilt Boat

The Vijay Vilas palace in Mandavi, has a rolling business of lending the venue for Bollywood shoots. So, the fairylike summer palace of the Raja of Bhuj with its picturesque setting overlooking the Arabian Sea in Mandavi has played host to Bollywood songs which now forms the new heritage of this built heritage. Alongside, the Maharaja and local businessmen have invested in Wind farms.


Banni – One of Asia’s largest dry grasslands, Banni is punctuated with far flung villages.



Fig 1– Banni Grassland bordering the Rann- Salt Desert; Fig2: Salt in Banni

As one drives the narrow, yet well tarred border road in this semi desert territory, visit to villages is characterized by surprises. For example, in Hudko village dominated by Harijans who specialize in leather goods and embroidery, run and maintain a resort and restaurant funded by UNDP.

kites-restuarant-undp-in-a-harijan-village   mandavi-woman

Visit to any Banni village comprises of interaction with artisan business women who self-organized skilled entrepreneurs lay out their embroidery and other crafts in a delightful manner. Savvy, rustic yet restrained they convince you to invest in their embroidered cloth and other artefacts. There are skilled communities who display mastery in woodwork, lacquer work, pottery. The pottery of  is distinct since it displays continuity with the pottery found in the Indus Valley Civilization of which the site of Dhola Vira is near the Great Rann.

indus-valley   indus-valley-onwards-pottery


 The pottery on the left is originally from Indus Valley civilization & right one is by a living potter in Banni

Comprehending traditional skills in Banni is incomplete without not visiting the craft village of Nirona where there is a loharu family specializing  in Copper bells The products comprises of musical bells, cattle bells, Angels for Christmas trees, wind chimes and much more. The bell man has a wonderful smile that lights the world, he sits on the floor, and as part of marketing immediately gives a lecture demonstration and whoops! A bell is made within ten minutes. You can also get hot barley bread made by the women of the house who participate the process of making the bells as well.

copperbell  copperbell-maker

Copper bell maker in Nirona

The other unusual arts in Nirona are that of Lacquer and Rogan painting. The lacquer although extremely refined in the hands of the local artisans, is one where the community is poor, and inbreeding has led to substantial deformity among them. It also seems the most unorganized of the artisan communities in this craft village and they live on the fringes of the village.

lacquer lacquer-1

Figure 14 Lacquer workers in Village Nirona

Nirona boasts of the art of Rogan (Oil) painting done by the Muslim Katri community. It is a skill which can be appreciated only if one understands the process. Mr. Modi presented President Obama pieces of Rogan painted textiles when he visited India a few years ago.  This YouTube will be self-explanatory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-M7-_YBp2o

Among the several ethnic communities in Banni the Mutwas in village Dhorodo are fascinating. Dhorodo the last village before the expansive salt desert starts is the home to the proud tribe Mutwa whose oral history says that about 500 years ago a Eunuch led this group of people from Arabia into Sindh and across the salt desert to Kutch.  Itinerant and Bedouin beliefs characterized this tribe which now has presented itself as one steeped in Islamic conservative beliefs so as to appropriate a sense of social upward mobility. Led by Gulbeg a formidable leader their main power came from their inherent understanding of the topography and geopolitically important vast salt desert which is shared between India and Pakistan. Like the shepherds in Kashmir, Gulbeg was closely associated with the intelligence network of the Indian State and gained great support of the state. However, Gulbeg was able to create a unique discipline in his community which ensured preservation of rituals, beliefs and arts (mud painting, Sufi music, embroidery) and herding. His granddaughter Sofia is unique in that she has learned on her own to speak English, is entrepreneurial and works with large number of International textile experts on various documents on Embroidery. No lady in this community is to be photographed.

gulbeg-mian-dhordo  gulbeg

Mutwas of Dhroodo Village – Left – Gulbeg and other members of the clan


Mehmood Mutwa known for his Mud -Mirror wall craft, His wife Hoorbai won the President Award for embroidery. 

The Rann- (Wasteland- The Main Salted Marshland)


Travel to Kutch is not complete with a visit to the Rann (Wasteland) salted marshland stretching from India into Pakistan. It’s location near the sea and low-lying areas by which marine water enters into the vast expanse has led to an admixture of saline, marshy and coastal desert where water and soils are extremely saline. This character has created a rich canvas of unique forms of desert flora and fauna biodiversity which has great natural heritage conservation significance. Salt-impregnated its wilderness value and appears like a tabletop surface, interspersed with small uplands (islands) locally called beyts or Dhoi. These beyts care the only landmark and perceptive eyes of tribal communities like the Mutwas have created their own mapping of the wilderness. The Rann and Banni grassland present micro-environmental conditions which are ideal for nesting and breeding ground for Flamingoes and other migratory birds who feed on algae available in the saline marshy ecosystemflamengoes-in-mandavi

Sustaining Energies – The Smaller Gods: for Kutchis folk saints remain more important than mainstream religious institutional practices. A major reason for this has been the dynamic infusion of cultures where itinerant communities moved on sea and land. There has been constant fusing and metamorphosing of ideas and identities. Kutchis acquire strength from local regional heroes who are connected to their everyday lives and to their land. These local cults and spiritual persons are more to the Kutchis than the higher Gods, it is these local deified heroes who come to their rescue in times of trouble. Kutchis realize that their egos are contained in face of the mighty natural forces. When sudden calamities come, neither do petty divisive community politics nor artificial divides on bases of caste, class, or religion come to their rescue. As an example, there is the Sufi shrine called Haji pir, the Sufi saint who protects cattle of thousands of pastoral   herdsmen, and when the annual fair to mark the death anniversary (Urs) of the Sufi is observed, people from all walks of life, ethnic groups, religions travel from far and near, in the different modes of transport, even walking in the night to avoid the heat of the day come to participate which transcends any social distinction.  The Kutchis while retaining their individual community identities with great pride, have mastered the art of living with their wider human and natural ecosystems.


Festivities in Haji Pir

The Shrine – Math of Dinodhar & Cult of  Kaan phata (ascetics with torn ears)


Dhoramnath an ascetic destroyed Ryan or Mandavi only to later repent by practicing headstand on a hill. However, the hill started collapsing weighed down by his sin, he then went to a second hill which too went down. Dhoramnath then climbed backwards on a third hill which was able to bear his weight, and this hill came to be known as Dhinodhar or the patient one. For 12 years, Dhoramnath meditated standing on his head, and a woman of the nearby village fed him during his meditative penance. His severe penance frightened the Gods for fear that Dhoramnath will become too powerful, they thus requested the ascetic to stop meditation. Empowered Dhoramnath said to the Gods, that when he stopped whichever spot he would look would become barren, the Gods thus asked him to look at the sea, and that is how the Rann of Kutch was formed, Dhoramnath fearing the death of creatures of the sea, shifted his eyes and gazed at the hill which split into two, he then came down the hill lighted a ritual fire, built a monastery and established the sect of ascetics with split ears, Kan patha. These ascetics are in service of the poor. There is a facility of a guest house in the monastery.

20150124_122456_resized      ear-split

The Kaan phata – ascetic with torn ear

The monastery and its head were patronized by the Maharaja of Kutch. The head priest was a powerful person, and an elaborate but dilapidated upper storey of his seat and living space is still there in the monastery. The monastery is characterized by the local architecture of balconies, and even paintings.

20150124_123306_resized  than


The journey in Kutch, is never ending, conversations with ethnic groups, herders, stories under stones festivities humbles an individual that there is in this territory the embedded memory of so much time and space between the Indus Valley civilization to the present. The spirit of people their smiles, warmth, and vibrant clothing defiantly located the Kutchis on the center of the this wild wilderness. Yes, Kutch is much, much more that the Rann Utsav…














Politicization of Culture – Death of Value based Education

Politicization of Culture - Death of Value based Education

I am going to divide the article in two parts, the first part is the misuse of culture by the power elites and the second is related to lack of moral education in schools
“Culture can be a worse bomb than a nuclear bomb. While the latter acts as a deterrent, the idea of culture ignites emotions. Culture can be anything from language, ethnic identity, religion, lifestyles choices and much more…” Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan well known authority on Culture and my teachers for over 3 decades, said to me in an informal talk at the time of Godhra riots. Since time immemorial culture has been used by the power elite as a useful tool to enhance their own monopoly of power.

What is worrying in our country is that we now have a ministry of human resource development and only a department of education. How can we expect civil behaviour and value based citizenry when the idea of morality and values are replaced to build the next generation of our country as a resource? As part of my professional engagement as a heritage educationist I have been visiting and interacting with schools across the country, and the rise cyber crime is intensifying. In rural areas schools may not have electricity, desks, chairs or even a proper black board, but, a large number of students now have mobile phones.Attractive packages are offered by mobile companies, hence most students have access to internet and they are active on social media sites. With negation of instilling value based education, lack of internet laws there is no control mechanism to prevent immoral behavior. For example, young girls between class 4-8th grade selfies of themselves nude since it is a useful way to get boyfriends, this is a means

Secrets of Ladakh- Water Shrines -Travel & Advocacy

Untold Stories on Performed India- Secrets of Ladakh –

Water Shrines in the Cold Desert

In Ladakh, spring water was and remains a precious resource. Unfortunately, while the earlier generations understood the significance of spring water and thus provided interesting ways to avoid pollution and contamination, the up scaled tourism in this Buddhist landscape has meant that traditional knowledge and practices are becoming redundant.  The opening of Ladakh to tourism meant that the local people gradually became exposed to ‘development’ and changes and in that run they started neglecting their traditional practices. Now, with greater awareness there is growing consciousness to protect both the environment and their resources. One aspect of traditional practices was the creation of Water shrines in Ladakh as community initiatives. An example of this is the reverence given to sources of spring water.

Come summer, just five short months, and the people in the valleys in Ladakh start working round the clock. Their lives revolve around preparing for the long winter. From collecting and drying fodder for their cattle to drying vegetables and other food on their flat roofs. Water is priceless. Glaciers melt and the springs generate the revered source and supply.

One such manifestation of reverence can be seen in Leh. In earlier times communities, monasteries, rulers or rich merchants erected rock sculptures above a spring water source. The chosen sculptures would usually be five dhyani Buddhas. The aspects of the idea of Buddha are a part of the Vajrayana Buddhism or the tantric system of Buddhism. They are represented by five colors – white, blue, yellow, red and green (the same colors of the prayer flags). Each of the Buddhas are associated with countering one aspect of delusion and one aspect of the enlightened mind, they are also associated with the five elements, five senses, five physical organs, five physical conditions and much more.

The placing of rock sculptures of the 5 Buddhas along with an urn to burn incense and hanging of prayer flags created a  community sacred shrine around the source of the spring water. The idea of sacredness prevented contamination and pollution of the water source.

There is one such shrine just below the palace in Leh called Chubi Yokma. The land of this water source is owned by the Hemis monastery which is one of the largest and richest in Ladakh.

Built in the 17th c by the Namgyal Ruler, the water source for drinking water served not only the King and his palace but also 208 families who lived around the hill where the Leh palace is situated. It was the King who had commissioned for the 5 dyani Buddhas to be sculpted. Later 4 of the sculptures were relocated at the Sankar Monastery or Gompa (as a monastery is called in Ladakh). Only the heaviest of the five monoliths was left behind.

With time, as development and tourism gained popularity both the Leh palace and the shrine of the spring water were neglected. In 2009, a local historian Sonam Phuntsog from the beautiful village of Achinathang appealed to Ladakh Buddhist Association and to the administration of the Hemis monastery to restore the shrine. The sculpture which had fallen and sunk into the ground was along with the source itself was restored by the Green Ladakh Welfare Society.