Ajmer city located in the Western Indian state of Rajasthan is famous various aspects of Cultura heritage which include – a Sufi Dargah, Mayo School and college which was the Eton of the East and where the dazzling Maharajas of Princely India came to study, the city is dotted with an array of Havelis and it is the doorway to the exotic locations of Pushkar, Bundi and Kota and was the capital of the iconic Rajput King Prithviraj Chauhan. However, few relate the city with an important place of and for traders many of who belong to the Jain religion.
A Brief Ethos on Jainism in Relation to the Temple
Every religion has a dual history of myths and facts the former finds its validity in faith while the latter in tested scientific proof. Jainism like Buddhism historically evolved n 6thc BC. It has 24 supreme teachers Tirthankars (those who crossed over and through highly evolved karma gained freedom from the cycle of life or nirvana). While the first 22 teachers are mythical, there is historical evidence in for the last two namely Parashavnath and Mahavir.
Soneji ki Nasiya – Jain Temple in Ajmer Built in late 19th -early 20thc Soneji ki Nasiya was commissioned by a family of Jain traders who were largely engaged in Jewelry and this is evident in the elaborate use of Gold, other jewels and the refined décor characterizing the temple. The central theme in the temple revolves around the first Tirthankara Rishabhnath. The Temple complex has two sections, one comprising for ritual worship where only Jains are allowed and the other section is an installation exhibit on the life of Rishabhnath the first Tirthankara or supreme teachers in Jainism.
Section 1: Made from Red Sandstone and fine Makrana Marble the architecture combines Mughal and European features. While the Mughal features are presented in the ornate Shahjahani pillars, Pietra dura inlay work and Islamic arches; the European features comprise of ionic and Corinthian pillars and stained glass work. Local artisans are responsible for the décor and whose seventh generation are patronized by the temple authorities have a shop and are constantly called upon to retouch the décor.
Devotees enter the main temple through a courtyard which has an imposing pillar dominating the centre and is surrounded by the motifs of elephants who play an important role in Jain.
The temple is entered through a staircase and a marble pillared corridor. The ritual sanctum comprising of a commanding hall with elaborate with variegated artwork in glass, stones, and paintings has two alters.
The main altar has a bejewelled statue of Rishabhnath while the sub-altar has some other Tirthankaras.
The other section is opened to the general public and has a nominal ticket. The installation exhibit on the life of Rishabhnath is all in gold is arrived by climbing a two storeys steep staircase. On reaching the second floor one is left open-mouthed where a huge world in Gold opens before you. An elaborate hall replete with gold ornamentation describes the mythological story of Rishabhnath.
The Narrative of the Installation:
The Jain philosophy presents that there is no beginning or end to the universe and that within the context of the five elements it has and will always continue to exist. Within the contextual arrangement, the Earth is the round but flat dish which is divided into various worlds comprising of land mass and the great ocean. There on this flat space is a central mass called the Jambu Dweep amidst which is located the mythical cosmic Mountains Meru and Kailash. Planets revolve around Mount Meru.
The Installation is divided into various parts related to different episodes of Rishbhnath’s life. The first scene depicts the event his conceptualization on Mount Meru. The celebration is illustrated by floating boats carrying celestial beings.
The next scene depicts the birth of Rishbhnath in the city of Ayodhya which is shown with the placement of extensive processions and other celebratory scenes.
The next setting depicts Rishbhnath’s renunciation which is believed to have taken place in the city of Prayag or present day Allahabad and finally his nirvana or ultimate victory in escaping the cycle of life which occurred on Mount Kailash. Kailash Mountain located in Tibet is sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Bons.
The sheer monumental use of Gold and other details leaves the visitor in t awe, yes this is a lesser known heritage of a city which emits a special energy and is not only nominated to be developed as a smart city but is a symbol of the macrocosm of Incredible India and resplendent Rajasthan!
The writer curates bespoke academic tour on a commissioned basis.
Getting off at the Ajmer Railway station, one is confronted by busy Sufis caretakers from the big Sufi centre in Ajmer moving in crisp white clad Kurta pyjamas, making their way to collect their pilgrim clients.
On another level dressed in colourful traditional clothes are the Rajasthani men and women who dot the railway landscape. The passengers walk out into a vibrantly painted porch in front of which are elaborate terracotta sculptural friezes describing the mytho-historical story of Prithiviraj Chauhan 11th c king of Ajmer and Delhi who was defeated by an Afghan warrior Mahmud Ghori.
It is believed that king Prithiviraj Chauhan along with several others was taken as a prisoner of war to Afghanistan, and among them was the court poet Chand Bardai.
The tale of Ghori and Chauhan goes on. Believed that Prithviraj was blinded he was challenged to prove his ace shooting skills. Ghori challenged blind Chauhan to shoot a difficult target.
Poet Bardai who was standing next to his king was filled with anger and he guided with reciting a poem Chauhan, not at the target but to shoot Ghori himself…
The lines recited gave clear directions and measurements of exactly where sultan Ghori sat
चार बास, चौबीस गज, अंगुल अष्ट प्रमाण, थे ऊपर बैठे सुल्तान, चुके न चौहान”!.
Chaar baas, Chaubis Gaj, Angul Ashta Praman, Tha Upar baithe sultan, Chuke na Chauhan”.
(Height of four bamboo, 216 sqft and in-depth one thumb plus eight fingers…There above sits the sultan..Go Chauhan hit your target).
Soon after, Chauhan positioned his arrows towards Ghori and killed him…so goes the tale
The lines along with this episode are sculpted in the porch of the charming railway station of Ajmer. And so begins a great heritage trail of a dynamic heritage landscape… Compliments to Indian Railways what an entry!
In a time when Indian Handlooms are in present times challenged by the invasion of power looms, the story of weaving in the heritage town of Maheshwar provides not only a glimpse of hope in the struggling handloom industry in India but that the entire dynamic heritage and its history of the past is a record of the glory of women.
Maheshwar a small town on the side of the river Narmada in Madhya Pradesh in Central India is part of the tourist circuit covering Indore, Ujjain, Omkareshwar, Dhar and Mandu. The town rose to prominence when in the second half of 18th c the hamlet saw the reign of one of India’s renaissance, remarkable Queen called Ahilya Bai Holkar.
However, it has multiple identities that of a pilgrimage, weaving and heritage town. The ex-royal family of the Holkars have done much to create the visit to this location an attractive proposition. Defined by a quaint setting, where a visitor climbs the fort area through a bustling town one approaches the tranquil waters of the holy river Narmada. The town of Maheshmati has a mythical history and is mentioned in the two epics of India namely the Ramayana and the Mahabharat.
The symbolism of both the river and the queen Ahilya is a living spiritual entity in the town. Both are perceived as ‘Mothers’.
The river Narmada or Reva as it is locally called is considered one of seven holiest rivers in India. Her name Reva means the bouncing cadence defining her flow.
Such is her importance in the individual psychological aspect of spiritual evolution that while to reach mukti or release from cycle of rebirth and suffering it is believed that 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. There are, many myths associated with the river, the most common being that Lord Shiva one of the main Gods in the Indian mythological trinity, meditated with such intent that his flowing sweat drops gradually transformed into a river. Both Shiva and Ganga came to reach their mukti by bathing in ‘Ma’ Narmada. The concept attaining freedom from the life cycle comes to purify themselves in this river, and that every pebble represents the linga or the unmanifest form of Shiva the supreme force a belief reinforced by the well know saying Narmada ke Kanker utte Shanker ” Pilgrimage rituals impel devotees to perform over nine hundred kilometers of circumambulation. The most powerful symbol of the river is that she represents Vairagya or detachment.
Apart from the tourism and pilgrimage identity, Maheshwar has emerged as a vibrant handloom weaving location and the credit goes to not only the historical queen Ahilya, who of course has emerged as a symbol related to the textile cottage industry but to Sally (of women’s weave) and Richard Holkar (Rehwa society) who initiated the revival of the heritage tradition.
History: Empowered Queen
Ahilya belonged to the ruling Holkar family. The Holkars formed a part of the Maratha Confederacy and had established their dominance in Central India. There are several stories that are associated with Ahilya and the merit of introducing weaving goes to Ahilya. One version of the story as told by the town’s people goes like this: Malhar Rao Holkar, the Maratha’s military governor of the Malwa region once happened to stop at a village called Chondi in the modern state of Maharashtra. He was most impressed by a young girl who conducted herself impeccably while performing complex temple rituals. He asked her parents for her, brought her back and groomed her as the bride for his son Khande Rao. Unfortunately, she was widowed before she even reached 30. As was the custom those days, a widow was expected to sit on the burning cremation pyre holding the body of her husband and would immolate herself thereby proceeding to gain sainthood where she would be called Sati. In Ahilya’s case, her father in law Malhar Rao Holkar not only prevented her from committing Sati¸ but appointed, trained her both in military and administrator affair to take over his kingdom and appointed her regent for her young son from 1765-1795. She took control as an effective ruler. However, after her father in law’s death, there was opposition from some feudal lords who resented her leadership. Ahilya, strategized ways to win overlords, she commissioned some weavers from the Surat in the Western part of India to weave beautiful turbans which she sent as gifts from a ‘sister’ to the chieftains and requested their help. The chieftains appeared with armies in her defence. Young, small built and courageous Ahilya garnered the support of the Brahmin clergy by bestowing them with generous gifts and alms. The combined support of religious and feudal elite made her invincible. However, as the common tale among with the citizens of Maheshwar goes, the sending turbans had other consequences. Wives of the ‘brother’ chieftains demanded that they too are given a gift, and the queen then commissioned nine-yard sarees which then became what is today known as the ‘Maheshwari Sarees’, and locally are fondly known as Sarees of Ahilya.
The young Queen provided the direction to her small kingdom just as the river in Jungian therapy embodies the flow of life or the goal-directedness of the psyche. The river represents for the environment of the small town Maheshwar, the symbolism of a powerful flow, and one aspect to provide that direction was the legacy of the tradition of weaving of Maheshwari Sarees, which has been re-positioned in Neo-Liberal India in a manner that provides hope to the survival of the handloom industry.
The Design of the Maheshwari Sarees: Traditionally in cotton, they were usually nine-yard the sarees were in bright colours of red, yellow, blue-green among others but today through design intervention there are a larger variety of colours and combination. Traditional Maheshwaree sarees as similar to the sarees from Pune, their end or pallu are characterized by white and red stripes with gold, their borders are inspired from the motifs in the surrounding historical architecture and environment – Leheriya – wave, the river design among several others.
Such was her rule that she has over time evolved into a symbol and has inspired or continues to inspire all kinds of creative energies, about whom the Scottish poetess Joanna Baillie expressed in her poem Ahalya Baee:
“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.”
Over 200 years have not lessened the belief that she remains alive as the reigning ruler. One can see it in the small courtyard house where there is her throne, a remake of her humble court, her residential area, it can be viewed in the impressive riverine landings (ghats), soaring temples, cenotaphs, in the woman selling a snack of sprouted black chickpeas saying “there is nothing to worry… Ma Ahilya and Ma Narmada are watching over us, over you…” and finally in the rhythmic clacking sound of looms run by women weavers. Yes the handloom in India has a chance when Women take to the Loom in all textiles towns of India
Tourist Destination: Post Script: you can do a day visit or stay a weekend, Maheshwar is well connected by road. The Ahilya Fort run by Prince Richard Holkar among several other places to stay provides the visitor with a serene getaway. One can walk or cycle around, and enjoy the sunrise and sunset along or on the river. An important part of the experience to Maheshwar is that unlike other pilgrimage locations, one is struck by the immense cleanliness that defines it. The local governing body in tandem with the locals has disciplined themselves over several years to handle the garbage.
Traversing various terrains of myths, histories, symbolism and modern use of the animal such as the field of intelligence, the article traces in brief the manner in which the dog fulfills several human contradictory aspirations – from securing power, territory, to being a loyal companion in the alienated existence of modern age and, as a metaphysical idiom the dog evolves in the Indic religions of Hinduism and Buddhism as a symbol of ultimate self-realization and compassion. The dog closely associated with humans is reflected in Indian and other cultures of which just a few examples are given.
Where Natural traits make the Dog Special: Their sense of smell, hearing, and sight makes a dog capable of detecting trespassers up-to 200 meters. Because of these traits, they have been used by man not only as pets, companions but as hunting assistants and in more recent period for intelligence and military intention. But amongst his many traits, the dog is most celebrated for his affection, loyalty, and sense of marking territories.
Recently, as I was about to take a walk in the Lodi Gardens, one of New Delhi’s most popular public spaces, I chanced to a see an unusual breed of dog arrogantly getting out of a swanky BMW 4 Series Convertible Model. Both the car and the dog caught my attention which led me to approach the young man who accompanied the intriguing canine. I was told that the dog was an American Akita a breed known for its legendary loyalty. Suddenly, I recalled the Hollywood Film ‘Hachi: A Dog’s Tale’ -starring Richard Gere. The story of the film is based on a real Japanese Akita dog- Hachiko in Tokyo, who in the 1920s kept loyal vigil outside the Shibuya railway station used by its deceased master for several years until he passed away. His loyalty has been acknowledged in many ways among which is a statue in the vicinity of the railway station.
Yet another reference to an Akita is associated with the famous American deaf, and blind author and political activist Helen Keller who is credited with bringing the first Akita into the United States as her guide and companion.
Inspired, I sat charged my batteries to write a fascinating but selective article on the Heritage of Canine. This narrative like any storytelling piece is a small collage of various aspects of the heritage of dogs.
Traits & Myths
One of the most interesting aspects of the human psyche is his activity of creating myths and symbols. It is also fascinating to trace the manner in which myths and symbols with time acquire a life of their own and assume another level of reality. Such a phenomenon is widely conspicuous in ancient cultures like India where observed reality and ideas are woven into a metaphysical reality and tales of mythical wonder.
The process for an object to evolve as a symbol most times emerges from realistic nature embedded in the elements in the object itself. For example, the dog has visual and olfactory sensory abilities that are literally superhuman and hence it is not surprising that in modern times man has used them among other functions in the arm forces where the animals can go to places where a soldier cannot, and the dog is often said to subdue or intimidate a foe more quickly with non-lethal force. According to ongoing studies their brains are capable of tracking, detecting explosives, and locations of casualties and used in rescue and search missions. Selective breeds are preferred to be part of the intelligence squads among which the Labrador and the German Shepherds are most popular. The Labrador is mainly used for detecting the bombs while the German shepherd is used mainly for rescue operations.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a Brazilian neuroscientist who works on comparative neuroanatomy and has researched formations of neurons in human and brains of other animals and offers that the increased number of neurons (the basic information processing units) in a brain is directly correlated to the higher degree of cognitive capability. As such, the preference of selected breeds is determined by the high number of neurons in the brain. In India, the army, the paramilitary organization – Border Security Force and the police have formal Dog Squads and special personnel who handle them, there are special centers of breeding, training and researching these animals for a variety of security and other emergency situations.
Myths and Symbols:
Ancient Indian texts have referred to dogs both as symbols and myths. For example, Sarama is perceived as the divine female hound who is sent by the King of the Vedic Gods Indra to search for missing cows, in some references it is believed that Sarama taught man to milk the cow. It is considered that Sarama’s four children are companions of Yama the god of Death, and are also linked to the powerful epic mendicant Dattareya. The four dogs emerge as guardians and as hunters. As watchdogs, they are seen as protectors of the Ultimate Truth. The number four is understood to represent the truth entrenched in the idea of the four Vedas which are compilation on human wisdom, with the four Yugas or perception of the four cosmic time periods and with the four states of existence; all in all the dog is a symbol of protection of the Dhrama or the moral order.
When one perceives the location of the dog in the Vedas, there emerges the multilayered yet complex symbolism of the animal. One of the earliest books in the world, the Vedas are a compilation of metaphysical existentialist human knowledge where the mechanism of transmission is based on listening and memorizing- shruti and smiriti . The dog symbolizes the faculty of listening where this power facilitates the experience to the most sublime – the sound of silence, the ultimate subtlety of truth by which man has the means to self-realization.
This symbol of moral order or Dharma is repeated in a story in the great Indian epic The Mahabharat where the eldest of the five heroes Yudhisthira is accompanied by the God of Moral Order who is shown to be in the form of a dog. While the hero is invited to go to heaven, the dog who has been his loyal companion is denied entry. The hero Yudhisthira is willing to forgo his seat in heaven but is unable to leave his loyal companion. The story ends with Yudhisthira passing the final test. The idea of loyalty, protection and compassion is reiterated in Buddhism as well. In Nepal, the thanksgiving festival of Tihar, is one where animals useful to man are worshiped and the dog is one of them.
Kal Bhairav and his mount – Dog
In yet another association in the long list of Indian mythology the dog appears as the mount of the deity Kal Bhairav. Kal Bhairav is one of the form of Shiva. Perceived as a guardian deity, the Kala Bhairav represents a contradictory concept; where on the one hand he is understood to be the protector of territory, and is therefore linked as a guardian of cities such as Ujjain and Varanasi among many others which also includes the five Bhairavs of Delhi; on the other hand, Kal Bhairav is worshipped by the ritual offering of alcohol.- A substance that numbs and confuses the human brain resulting in a state of disempowerment that makes the devotee experience the force of disintegration of his identity and his urge for possessing territory. Both the power-identity equation, and the urge to possess is driven by the overwhelming illusionary force of the Human ego. The offering of the alcohol is a symbolic ritual whereby man is made to realize the futility of pining for worldly power, name, possession and territory. And yet, in a contradictory manner the ethos of Kal Bhairav celebrates dualism since the dog as the mount of the deity remains a symbol of guarding territory.
History and some breeds:
The Indian Pariah – In a documentary film titled Search for the First Dog the National Geographic depicts among the several breeds the Indian Pariah. An indigenous breed the Indian Pariah is through the DNA closely associated with the Austronesian dogs such as the Australian Dingo and the Santhal Hound among many others. In fact, the Indian Pariah gains much importance in the index of the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society (PADS) as well.
The Santhal Hound found in the Chotanagpur area of Jharkhand is reddish-brown in color and like other ancient dogs, they are known to Yoodle which is believed by several indigenous communities that the dogs are incarnated mystics who sing to the moon. As mentioned above, they are a part of the group of Austronesian dogs who are said to have moved with human populations from Africa four to five thousand years ago. As one of the most ancient Indian dogs who is closely integrated with several indigenous communities on various levels, they are seen as hunters and as spiritual totems. As totems they are depicted in paintings of large number of indigenous communities like those of the Sorais and Gonds.
Outside India, there are inevitably a number of dogs apart from Akitas, German Shepherds and Ladradors who have fascinating histories and one such breed is the ancient dog – Saluki whose fossils are found in the archeological evidence of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The Salukis were used for hunting and were perceived as protectors and sacred totems; and like the Shanthal hound, their figures are seen on sacred amulets. The Saluki as guardians were even buried with their noble owners and masters.
In the present times, conflict is an inevitable reality with an overpopulated world and a planet with limited resources, and hence the issue of security, and other emergencies gain much importance. Hence, it is not surprising that in recent times among several other things the use and visibility of dogs by the security forces for example in public spaces has increased. But the demand for dogs as pets too has increased which has led to the development of the Canine Industry which includes kennels, parlors and much more; and yet, the mytho-historicity of the dog, along with their scientific functionality and social habits presents a fascinating narrative on their heritage and makes the DOG no less – Man’s best friend!
One can go on and on discovering the tale of Delhi that goes beyond the clichéd Heritagescapes (term copyrighted by Navina Jafa) in the city, and one such heritagescape is the unique building of the National Defense College in the prestigious Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone. Embedded with an interesting history it, unfortunately, remains out of reach for heritage buffs. The National Defense College is located on the 30 January Marg and its location presents a poignant symbolism since it is opposite the Gandhi Smriti, the famous house where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
The building has a unique history. Commissioned in the starting year of the Second World War it was built as an Army General Mess in 1939. However, in the post-partition period, 20 rooms of the building were converted to house some British officers and their wives before they left for England.
In 1960 the use of the building was re-positioned when the President of India who is the supreme commander of the Indian Defense forces sanctioned for the structure to be transformed into the National Defense College (NDC). The College was inaugurated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the first prime minister of India. Ever since the responsibility for its maintenance lies with the Military Engineering Service.
As far as a distinct but dynamics of Heritage of the City of Delhi goes, the NDC remains a unique pioneering institution in Asia of its kind. Perceived as a think tank it offers courses on Strategies of Security and related matters to high ranking civil and defense officers from India and around the world.
The majestic building, characterized by rows of Tuscan pillars, high ceilings, is defined by long galleries, large halls, rooms and impressive gardens. Different parts of the building are shared by the Army, Air Force, and the Navy.
There is yet another alluring snippet in the narrative of Heritage of this building which emerged in my visit to this sacred out of the bound building, and it was one that is related to what now has become a topic of great discussion on heritage platforms – The Heritage of cuisine.
It is humbly acknowledged by the defense forces that the best cooks are from the Indian Navy, so much so, that the Chief cook for the President of India is also appointed from the Navy. “For days with nothing but the ocean, where the seamen are often rocked by sea-sickness and with a strict order not to consume alcohol, food takes a great priority of engaging the senses….” told me an officer associated with the administration of the building. Before leaving this hallowed space, I had the chance to sample the famed food. But the travel from the front of the building to the dining room seemed to be a heritage journey of its own. One passed imposing halls decorated with fascinating paintings, documents, and gifts from different countries. While what appeared to be the Army side contained monumental animal trophies, the naval section of the building that led to the dining room contained paintings related to the sea, photographs of prominent ships, and officers, there was for example an interesting well almost a sexual frame describing why a Ship is a ‘She’… It read that the Ship is a She since she is surrounded by the bustle, and gang of men, that she has a waist, and takes a lot of paint to keep her good-looking….
The Stroll to the space of the much-awaited food was through a long carpeted, narrow corridor lined that was like everything else had interesting photographs and other unique adornments. Finally, the journey expanded into the realm and sensibilities of food and it was worth the walk… a wide spread of salads, exotic sweet dishes, experimental assortments of bread awaited us…YES! The Ship of our Sense truly rocked.
LADAKH the stark naked mountains in the North West Rain shadow Himalayan Region marks an important geopolitical region (two side there is the border of Pakistan and on one side China).
Figure 1 The Aryan communities of Ladakh
A mini Tibet, the geography, and essence of Buddhism provide its own hypnotic exotic pull.
Ever since tourism opened in the mid-1990s along with the depiction of a famous lake in a box office film 3 Idiots, the region has seen a vast flow of foreign and indigenous tourists.
The demand has led to a huge rise in the quantitative volume of cheaply affordable tick the box travel packages which also include adventure/sports activities like trekking, rafting, polo among others.
The Indian Cultural Heritage Research has been presenting Academic tours ever since 2000 and has been one of the earliest organization initiating experiential travel over the site travel. The presentation of the program is based on personal connections which allow for exclusive interactions and inroads to people and places. The travel programs are logistically well organized and well researched.
While the normal sites are covered the program in Ladakh is defined by special visits and interpretations based on the following themes:
This article about a splendid heritage town Orchha brings out the multilayered culture associated with its entity as a historical living vibrant town. The essay describes architectural uniqueness, some distinct ideas in the wall paintings such as the idea of ‘hasti kunj’, uncovers links with the heritage of poetry, the important element of a sacred heritage landscape where among other features is the coexistence of folk and high deities defined in an animated ecosystem of pilgrimage cultures, and intangible heritage. The article concludes by pointing out the necessity of adopting a balanced, sensitive heritage zoning policy in order to prevent degradation of a small gem of incredible India in Madhya Pradesh. The Academic tours with Navina Jafa pursue to bring to the audience the complexity of the Indian civilization in the most entertaining and simple matter with a narrative that aims to highlight in a parallel manner realistic issues of cultural skill mapping, sustainable development, and conservation of local intangible heritage.
Bundelas of Bundelkhand
The Bundela (Boondela) Rajputs (16-17thc) of Orchha in Bundelkhand fought valiantly, they played political games with Mughals, and later with the British. They built, painted, loved and explored spirituality. Their mytho- historicity says that a clan of Rajputs who were banished from Varanasi sought refuge in the Vidhyachal Hills. There their leader offered prayers to the Vidhyachal Devi or the Hill goddess, and when his prayers remained unheard, the Rajput went on to cut his head. As soon as one drop (Boond) of blood fell on the sacrificial stone, the Goddess appeared and granted the exiled Rajput supreme power to rule over a territory. He and his clan came to be called Boondela (Bundela) and reigned over Boondelkhand (Bundelkhad) which is today not only a geographical setting but is defined by Bundeli a linguistic culture.
The Bundelkhand region is made of an old landmass comprising of rugged rocks that date back to the pre-Cambrian period, it is defined by an undulating terrain, rocky outcrops, narrow valleys and plains watered by several tributaries of the Yamuna. This geographical environment where security and water were ensured thus emerged as the chosen territory to establish a safe haven of power.
BUNDELAS OF ORCHHA
One of the Bundela clans ruled over a high raised land (Udcha) a word which is believed to have been distorted to Orchha. Getting off at the chaotic Jhansi station in Uttar Pradesh (this is the nearest railway station to Orchha on the broad gauge), one travels along a meandering border section into the state of Madhya Pradesh where the entry into the quiet Orchha town is marked by forest area, small streams that can be seen in the Monsoons, a grand Gate that welcomes the visitor to a kingdom of brave Spirited Kings, and into a town marked by an imposing iron bridge, huge palaces, temples and other structures picturesquely located against the central Natural heritage of the largest tributary of the Yamuna – the Betwa River.
Despite, the blessings of the Goddess Vidhyachal, the Orchha rulers drew their legitimacy of kingship from the male Vaishnav incarnation of Ram and Krishna. which is evident both in paintings and architecture in Orchha. For example, one experiences the idea of Vishnu boldly captured in the aerial view of the architectural planning of the Caturbhuj Temple (Four-armed Vishnu Temple). The temple appears as if it itself is the form of the powerful robust Vishnu in metaphoric stone designed as if he Vishnu is striding the sky.
Whatever is seen as built heritage, hides within the walls fascinating political intrigues of power games. Orchha kings at one point of time sided with the rebellious Mughal crown prince Salim (Jahangir) against his father (Akbar) such that Abul Fazl, the writer of the famous Akbarnama, chronicler of Akbar’s reign and Akbar’s close friend was murdered by the Bir Singh Deo of Orchha and for this Deo was awarded by Emperor Jahangir the crown of Orchha.
Akbar and the Jahangir Mahal
The association of the King of Orchha and Emperor Jahangir assumed a tangible form in Orchha. A palace called Jahanagir Mahal, along with an elaborate garden (phool bagh) to welcome him were constructed. This garden with amazing hydraulics also has a large sculpted receptacle which is believed to have served the dual purpose of a wine cup for Jahangir and on other occasions was used during the festivities of Holi to fill colored water.
Temples, palaces, gardens and other structures incorporate Non-Islamic architectural features of Chajjas (eaves), canopied balconies (jharokhas) and Torans (decorative elaborate doorways) along with motifs of peacocks and elephants.
These blend with the Islamic features reflected in the octagonal ribbed domes decorated with blue tiles, aligned corridors, perforated screens, balconies that provide unique views or darshan to Gods, Kings, and Nature in conjunction with hydraulic features and unique Persian cool wind circulation contraptions called dastgir.
Dastgir – Persian – For Cool water circulation
The bold setting of architecture does not fail to communicate the militarized character of the buildings which is balanced by the grace and beauty presented in a quaint style of bright colored and single colored wall paintings in the palaces and temples. The paintings capture the folk styles and the themes are from Vaishnav mythologies, regular activities of entertainment such as dance, wrestling, processions and local mythical folk figures.
Some themes and iconographical placement are interesting, for example in the private chambers of King and Queen in Raja Mahal palace there are paintings that assert the Kings association with Vishnu in which is presented their concept of the king as a protector. This also reiterates the belief of the King as the supreme male principal who is empowered by Shakti the feminine principal. To elaborate this, for examples there is the painting of Gajendra Moksh a myth that recounts Vishnu as a protector is seen saving a repenting prince reborn as an elephant from the jaws of a crocodile. This is juxtaposed with another panel in a niche in the same space where the metaphor of the elephant is presented as a power symbol. The elephant painting technically called Hasti kunj is one where the body of the animal is made of multiple women in action (dancing, playing instruments decorating themselves), conveying that the power of the elephant is resourced from Shakti represented in the women; and yet, ironically the idea of power itself is in the hand of the male, and this is shown with a man riding the elephant.
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One of the lasting contributions of the court of Orchha was the poetry of the court poet Keshavdas. While Keshav Das has in his poetry amply celebrated the Betwa river, and Orchha, it his famed poetics Rasikpriya inspired by the court dancer Rai Praveen (perceived as Keshavdas’ Radha) and her lover Prince Indrajit (as Krishna) that has emerged as a classical work. The presentation of Orchha is enhanced by referring to the poetry on Rai Praveen that describes her beauty, wit and love for the Prince. The theme of poetry and art is most appropriate in the Anand Mahal commonly known as the palace of Rai Praveen. It is a restored structure with underground marble rooms, fountains and charming gardens that evokes romance in the audience.
Leaflet from a painted version of Rasikpriya; Rai Praveen
The palace and garden of Rai Praveen
The focus of Orchha for the people at the grassroots is its identity as a pilgrimage town. In the pilgrimage tourism map the Ram Raja Temple takes a central place. The temple houses an image of Lord Ram brought by a queen from his birth place – Ayodhya. The sacred calendar follows all festivities associated with the epic story of Ram that manifest as rituals and multiple rural pilgrim melas fairs. The sacred space of Orchha also includes the Chaturbhuj Temple, the temple of the folk deity of Hardol in the Ram Bagh and the sacred Betwa River.
SACRED SPACE OF HARDOL KI BAITHAK
The story of Hardol the spiritual prince of Orchha’s royal family is about political intrigue and political murder. However, Hardol is transformed as a folk deity representing an auspicious force related to marriage ceremonies and fertility rituals. His baithak or temple is a small grilled enclosure that is placed amidst a beautifully laid out Mughal Garden where thousands of pilgrims tie marriage invitation cards, newly married couples seek blessings as they start their life together, and couples send their prayers to godling Hardol to grant children. Colorful scenes of women adorned to present their marital status, dynamic bazaars selling religious and fertility objects, CDs of songs in a genre called Bundeli Geet Natika in honor of Hardol, along with pilgrims lazing around make this part a palpable hotspot of frenzy energy.
The Sacred River Betwa is marked by ghats (Flight of steps to the rivers) that functions for cremation/funerary rites, and sacred ritual baths. One special ghat is the Kanchan Ghat (the ghat of Gold) of which the oral history goes that the religious King of Orchha Madhukar Shah performed raas (Circular metaphysical dance of Krishna with Radha) in the full moon night with yellow flowers strewed around making them look like gold under the moonbeams. More than 600000 pilgrims in a year from nearby places visit Orchha and are part of the spiritual fervor and festivities that defines the vibrancy of the religious economy of the town.
The connectivity of trains and improved roads has made Orchha accessible to two popular tourist circuit – Gwalior-Agra and Khajuraho. Hence, besides the ongoing energetic pilgrimage tourism based on the rural social event calendar, there is now a surge in popular tourism. It is not surprising that quite a few eclectic hotels have come up along with associated service providers. However, what needs to be kept in mind and to be done is the participation of local and state governing bodies to address and regulate matters related to sensitive heritage zoning, building regulations, and strict heritage policing associated with water, natural environment, and plastics management so that a responsible sustainable tourism is established. One has to take care that the essence of the exalted outlines of the chattris (Cenotaphs) against the sublime Betwa River representing the metaphor of the Samadhi or dissolution, where the super consciousness are experienced in the rising towering of the almost Gothic like Lakshmi temple and the bold Chaturbhuj temple does not recede in oblivion due to callous Heritage Management to sustain and conserve a slice of Incredible India.
The Vindhya Range is geologically a broken, discontinuous chain of mountain ridges along a hilly track that runs through small hills, highlands and plateau in West-Central India. This geological space is interpreted as a sacred geography associated with the Vindhyachal Devi whose central Shrines is situated not in this area but in Mirzapir near Varanasi. The Shrine of the Mountain Goddess forms a part of the 108 Shaktipeets or the 108 locations where body parts of the Great Mother Goddess in the form of Sati fell. It is believed that the back of the Goddess fell at this location. The transformation of the Goddess into the Sacred Mapping of Tantra finds that the goddess is located in the Yantra/Mandala or Sacred geometrical map in honor of the Goddess of Wealth Lakshmi, where she is in the form of a Mountain considered to be the source of eternal power.
 The Hindu trilogy of the principals of creation, protection and destruction (to engender re-creation) is encapsulated in the anthromorphic ideas of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Vishnu the protection principal is depicted two streams as Vishnu the savior the idea of Vishnu itself through several stories like Gajendra Moksha and the other are parallel stories of his ten incarnations that appear at different points of mythological periods in various forms to replace the disorder with order, the evil with goodness. Of these 10 incarnation as the forms of Vishnu as Ram, and Krishna.
हाल में हिंद महासागर से जुड़ी भू राजनीति के विषय में ग्वादर और चाबहार बंदरगाह काफी चर्चित रहें हैं। इस सख़्त कूटनीति के शतरंज के खेल में भूल जाते हैं कि आविष्कार नरम कूटनीति एक आकर्षक क्षमता रखती है। अगर आधुनिक दृष्टि से देखा जाए, यह दोनों बंदरगाह हालांकि पाकिस्तान व ईरान में स्थित हैं, मगर उनकी अंदरूनी प्राकृतिक पहचान बलूचिस्तान कि बलूचिता है जिसमें हमें ज्यादातर लगता है कि वहाँ के लोग केवल पहाड़ी और मुसलमान हैं मगर एक आम धारणा है कि वह लोग घुमंतू व खेती-बाड़ी के जीवन में लिपटे हैं।
हम नज़रअंदाज़ कर देते हैं कि उनकी आंतरिक सामूहिक स्मृति में पश्चिम, मध्य तथा दक्षिण एशिया और यूनानी संबंधों की छवि दिखाई देती है। उनकी धारणाओं में हिंदु, ज़ोराष्ट्रियता और सूफी के रंग शामिल हैं जो कि उनकी अनेक भाषाओं में, हाथ कलाओं में, नाच-गाने,रस्मोरिवाज़, जीवन-मरण की प्रथा तथा परंपराओं में प्रदर्शित होतीं हैं। यह सारी छवियां हमें याद करने पर मजबूर कर देती हैं कि मनुष्य का इतिहास अलग-अलग समय पर ज़मीन व समुद्र पर सदियों से चला आ रहा है और यह विचारधाराओं और परंपराओं के अदले-बदले के रूपरेखा के सिलसिले का प्रमाण है।
यह ही सांस्कृतिक धागे भारत को इस बलूचिस्तान के इलाके से एक अटूट बंधन में जोड़ देता है। कितनी ही आधुनिक राजनीतिक दीवारें खड़ी हो जाएँ यह बंधन कायम रहता है। एक ऐसा पहलू भारत को बालुचिस्तान तथा एशियाई देशों से जोड़ता है और वह है देवी के पंथ की परंपरा चाहे वह ईरान में इश्तार के नाम से जानी जाती है चाहे अफ़गानिस्तान में नाना के नाम से और चाहे हिंगलाज देवी की प्रथा। हिंगलाज देवी बलूच में काफी मान्यता रखतीं हैं। पौराणिक कहानी के अनुसार यह सती की कहानी से जुड़ी है। हिंगलाज देवी शाक्तों में 52 पीठ में से एक पीठ मानी जातीं हैं।
इस जोड़ की कहानी सती की कहानी से जुड़ी है माना जाता है कि देवी का सिर इसी स्थान पर गिरा था और यह अमूल्य कड़ी देवी की प्रथा से जुड़ जाती है। हिंगलाज देवी की पीठ पाकिस्तान में, हिंगोल राष्ट्र पार्क, लास बेला प्रान्त मकरन्त तट में बीहड़ पहाड़ों के बीचों-बीच में स्थित है, जिसकी तीर्थ-यात्रा बहुत कठिन व जटिल है और आज के आतंकवाद और राजनीतिक गड़बड़ी के कारण और भी खतरनाक बन गयी है।
हिंदुस्तान में भी हिंगलाज देवी काफी सारे सांस्कृतिक सामूहिक से जुड़ीं हैं। यह ज़रूर है कि हिंगलाज देवी शाक्तों के लिए खास है मगर यह भी आगे आता है कि हिंगलाज देवी की गुफा के अंदर एक शिला है जिसकी मान्यता गोरखनाथ कानफाटों के लिए दीक्षा समारोह के समय बहुत महत्त्वपूर्णता रखती है और सांस्कृतिक सामाजिक समूह जैसे कि अनेक व्यापारी कृषि समूह खत्री, चारण और आबाणियों के लिए भी यह ईष्ट देवी का स्थान रखतीं हैं और तो और हिंगलाज देवी के धार्मिक परिदृश्य के आसपास कई कुंड हैं, एक तिल का कुंड है जहां माना जाता है कि काले तिल धोने पर वह सफेद हो जाते हैं।
सेंटर फॉर न्यू पर्सपेक्टिव एक दिल्ली में स्थित गैर सरकारी संगठन प्रबंध मंडल ने स्किल कॉरिडोर-कौशल गलियारी का विचार आगे रखा है और इस संकल्पना पर सेंटर फ़ॉर न्यू पर्सपेक्टिव के पास ट्रेडमार्क, व कॉपीराइट भी है। सेंटर फॉर न्यू पर्सपेक्टिव पारम्परिक कौशलताओं में काम कर रहा है, इस छोटे से गैर सरकारी संगठन ने भारत और एशिया के अनेक हिस्सों पर स्किल मैपिंग का काम किया है। उसके विचार में यह बलूचिस्तान से भारत को जोड़ने में एक अनोखा मौका है जिसमें साझा सांस्कृतिक भूगोल एक अनोखी कूटनीति का अवसर बन सकता है, जिसमें हम एक पारंपरिक सांस्कृतिक कौशलता गलियारी (स्किल कॉरिडोर) का निर्माण कर सकते हैं। इस योजना की सहायता में भारत अनेक एशियाई देशों के साथ पारंपरिक कौशलताओं के सतत विकास प्रोग्राम के साथ-साथ लोगों का आदान-प्रदान बढ़ा सकता है और भावी एशिया की अनोखी पहचान बनाने में वह अपनी प्रमुख भूमिका अदा कर सकता है।