Monthly Archives: November 2017

Politicization of the Humayun’s Tomb Ten Silver Arrows That Miss Their Mark www.navinajafa.com

 

 

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Author with Condolezza Rice, former Secretary of State, (USA) at the Humayun’s Tomb. She has presented the other aspects of Delhi’s Heritage to large number of World Leaders . Each Delhi Heritage walk is specially curated for the participants

 

Attempts to politicize heritage sites — first the Taj Mahal and now Humayun’s tomb — for narrow ends continually undermine the huge cultural economic value of heritage for the country… This article was published in the  Hindu Business Line B Link – http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/know/politicising-heritage-sites/article9971654.ece

Barely has the world-beloved Taj Mahal shrugged off the controversial and communally divisive remarks made about it by leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party than another Mughal-era site finds itself mired in politics. It all began with the Shia Central Waqf Board chairman Waseem Rizvi writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a proposal to demolish Humayun’s tomb to create additional burial space for Muslims in the space-starved National Capital Region.

Built by Humayun’s queen and her son, the great Mughal emperor Akbar, the tomb today bears a dual identity as a national monument and a world heritage site. This glocalised (global-local) status locates the monument in a neutral space, devoid of any religious identity and as a universal symbol of human creativity, knowledge, and skills.

Additionally, the tomb is a seminal part of a larger ecosystem — one in which it has always existed, and which is also constantly changing. The dynamics of the changing external environment and its own dual status together determine the site’s realistic and holistic identity.

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The History Keepers

Khawaja Hasan Nizami and Navina
author with Late Khawaja Hasan Nizami Sani

As a heritage presenter and researcher, my engagement with Humayun’s tomb and its landscape developed with my interaction with the late Khwaja Hasan Nizami Sani, the head caretaker of the Sufi shrine Khwaja Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah. He gave me access to diaries and oral narratives on the area. Here, for instance, is his account of the area presently known as Nizamuddin, where “…the dargah of Khwaja Hazrat Nizamuddin has always dominated the surroundings of the (Humayun’s) tomb… today you see a filthy environment, but there was a time when there were swaying agricultural fields, waterways along with the river Yamuna close by. I recall a bridge that had to be crossed to enter the Sufi complex… there were orchards such as Anarkali ka bagh, which is where Ghalib is buried. Along with the ongoing Urs and festivities associated with Sufis, the basti (local neighbourhood) celebrated Dussehra for 10 days. Each day had distinct celebrations and events such as the Tesu Ka Mela (fair) and a mushaira (poetry meet) in which each participant was required to create and present extempore poetry on themes having social, political or historical relevance. A large number of these poetic renditions became popular and were passed down orally, including in the form of folk songs.”

Basti

Hasan Sani was kind enough to share an interesting poem on the events of 1857, along with small satirical poetry pieces that were commentaries on public figures and community events. Some of these cultural expressions are described in the diaries and other writings in the possession of the caretakers. These together with the oral historical narratives on Humayun’s tomb and its surroundings are an important part of the history and heritage of Delhi.

On one occasion, walking me through Humayun’s tomb, Hasan Sani carried with him a small book on the history of Delhi. He described the Arab ki Sarai (caravanserai) in the complex: “…until about the 1930s the Sarai had functioning shops and also a post office. I recall the visit of a British officer by the name of Young, who came home to meet my father. He informed him that all the people living and functioning in the Sarai were going to be relocated to a new area. Yes, that new area was named Youngpura, after the officer, and is today known as Jungpura.”

On Sufi terrain

Humayun’s tomb was, and remains an integral part of the Sufi landscape — a heritagescape comprising tombs, shops, eateries, festivities and living cultural traditions such as Sufi singers, free kitchens (langars) and water carriers (bishtis), all of which revolve around the Sufi tombs known as dargahs — with which the Mughals were known to have a close link. The khadims (caretakers) of the Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah were also in charge of the tomb’s management until the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) took over in the early 20th century. The tomb was built close to the chilla khana (meditation rooms) of Hazrat Nizamuddin.

This heritagescape is not limited to the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin but also encompasses, for instance, other dargahs like the Matka Pir and Bibi Fatima Sam in the vicinity of the Purana Qila (the fort built by Sher Shah Suri); these too were managed by the khadims of the Nizamuddin dargah. While Matka Pir’s tomb is 800 years old and belongs to the Qalandar Sufi sect, pre-dating Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah, the Bibi Fatima Sam dargah is a Chisti Sufi shrine and belongs to the guru-behen (sister through transmission lineage). It follows then that both Hazrat Nizamuddin and Bibi Fatima Sam were the disciples of Baba Farid of Pakpattan (now in Pakistan).

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Matka Pir

 

Emperor Akbar was known to have conducted annual pilgrimages to the Sufi shrine in Ajmer and supposedly visited Matka Pir before coming to the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin. In fact, Maham Anga, Akbar’s wet nurse who was a learned person, had commissioned the Khairul Manzil, an important madrasa (educational institution) located close to Matka Pir.

Today, owing to the unplanned construction of roads and other buildings, the Sufi landscape around the Purana Qila stands delinked from the original cultural-geographical setting of Humayun’s tomb. The tomb and its surroundings serve, within the 16th-century context, as an emblem of the Mughal-Sufi relationship and as a record of the strategies the Mughals adopted for their empire-building, wherein they engaged with not just the Chistis but also the Central Asian Naqshbandi Sufi sect for political benefits.

Enclosed within walls today, Humayun’s tomb is a space containing, apart from the graves, well-kept gardens, a stepwell and a mosque. However, thanks to its location amid modern-day constructions, including a railway station, its heritagescape is characterized as much by the chaos of sounds and movements, as by the spaces of silence, stillness, and peace. The area presents a potpourri of contrasting neighbourhoods — chic communities in close proximity with slums and illegal constructions, long-time residents and floating populations, visible human suffering and a frenzy of faith in mystical spirituality.

Ruins of politics

A restoration programme initiated in the 1990s by the Agha Khan Foundation, in partnership with the ASI and other stakeholders, proved to be timely. Marked by a holistic heritage conservation approach, it helped bring out the best in the visual, functional and inherent character of the heritagescape. The foundation, while conserving the monument, had the courage to address the many contested claims to rights on land and built area in the heritage landscape, and did all this with active community participation. Today, Humayun’s tomb and the Nizamuddin basti exemplify an engagement of heritage conservation as sustainable development, where the value of the past has meshed with the needs of the present, and where there is a deliberate strategy to construct a greater value for the local people, as well as visitors.

Coming back to the Shia Waqf board, its recent stance smacks of irony. On one hand it recently announced a gift of 10 silver arrows for the quiver of the proposed 100-m statue of Lord Ram in Ayodhya — the site of the demolition of a historic mosque — and on the other it seeks to demolish Humayun’s tomb in a move that conveniently ignores the historically harmonious equation between the Sunni Mughals and Shias. While it is true that Humayun’s tomb is indeed perceived as a Sunni monument, it is also as much a fact that the two most well-known Mughal queens, Noor Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, the Mughal Prime Minister Safdarjung and several other influential and prominent courtly personalities were Shias.

Such attempts to politicise historic sites for narrow ends continually undermine the huge cultural economic value of heritage for the country, weaken the idea of incredible India, and erode the country’s image as a participant in the ongoing creation of glocalised heritage.

Navina Jafa is vice-president of the Centre for New Perspectives, a think-tank on traditional knowledge, an academic and curator on heritage and of heritage walks and tours. She is a well known Kathak classical dancer

 

 

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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.

Chittai

 

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.

Bhimtal

 

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

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

 

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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.

YOGI

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.

 

Siam

 

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