All posts by Understanding Indian Heritage ; Note on DANCE #navinajafa #incredibleindia #skillindia #Delhi heritage walks #Dance #Kathak

About Understanding Indian Heritage ; Note on DANCE #navinajafa #incredibleindia #skillindia #Delhi heritage walks #Dance #Kathak

Blog 1 : Gatekeeper of The Spectacular - NAVINA JAFA: Blog 2: Dance Scholar & Kathak Dancer #navinajafa ...

From Compassion to Militancy- Reversing A Sacred Metaphor

Published as: Of Rats, Rituals and Rajputs in THE HINDU Friday Review : 15th December, 2017



Recently, The Rajput Karni Seva, a self-styled outfit drew attention to itself by expressing its aggressive resentment against the depiction of certain Kshatriya values in the Bollywood film Padmavati. Significant of those Rajput beliefs are drawn from the cult of Karni Mata.


The 15thc sacred shrine of the Karni Mata also known as the Rat Temple of India is located in village Desnok 30 kilometers from Bikaner in the Marwar region of the Thar Desert.As one nears the temple, it is inevitable that the internet images of the more than 20,000 rats makes one skeptical on enduring the presence of the rodents and simultaneously reconciling to the blessing if a rat crawls over one’s feet.

Karni Mata-2

Intricately carved rows of sculpted rats on the borders of the door panel with a tree of life in the center forms on the marble gates presents the theme of co-existence where predators and prey namely, rats, serpents, and squirrels and lizards are woven within the branches of the tree.

Karni Mata- 11



On crossing the threshold rats are evident everywhere in the courtyard and beyond and yet they fail to frighten. A sublime energy of calm fills the visitor who is transformed into a pilgrim. His audience with the image in the sanctum is intensified by the phonetic poetic devise sonorous flow dingal sung by the dholis, describing the story and miracles of Karni Mata.

Dholis singing dingal

The goddess as dharini represents the female principal in Nature, upholding human, animal and natural creation, she symbolizes compassion, coexistence, and nonviolence.

The ritual priests of the temple known as the Charan Brahmins draw on the one hand their ritual sacred identity as children of Karni Mata and on the other hand their antiquity from Ramayana, Mahabharata, and even the Jain Prabandha where they are mentioned as bards and minstrels.  And while on the one hand, the Charans sing elegies and genealogies of monarchs that connect the Rajputs to mythological pasts and timeless dharma and which function to legitimize the power of the rulers; for example, a bardic rendition mentions that it was Karni Mata who defined the political territories for the Rajput rulers of Bikaner, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer. On the other hand, Karni Mata is perceived in other narratives as a protector of the pastoral and marginalized communities. The metaphor of the Goddess serves to invoke coexistence of disparate human classes and emphasis nonviolence.

The local spiritual creed of Karni Mata is linked to a larger canvas with that of the cult of the Great Mother Goddess – the idea of Shakti. Her story is connected to that of Devi Hinglaj whose temple is located within the Hingol National Park in the Lasbela District of Baluchistan on the Makran coast in Pakistan.  It is one of the 52 Shakti peeth, which are major shrines associated with the cult of the Mother Goddess. Hinglaj Devi was reborn as Karni Mata to a Charnan Brahmin couple who had only daughters. From an early age, the child exhibited miracles and was bestowed the name Karni, ‘the doer’ by her paternal aunt when the latter was cured of her paralyzes. Later, to relieve her parents, young Karni married Kipoji Charan of Sathika village, but before the marriage was consummated she revealed herself as a Devi to her husband and commanded him to marry her younger sister by whom there were among several children four boys. When one male child died, it is believed that Karni went to ask for his life from Yama, the God of death who refused to say that to bring the boy alive will be an intervention in the natural cycle of life and death meant for all living organisms.  Karni admitted that she was in the wrong, but her compassionate nature made her tell Yama that from now on, the responsibility of all the children from her family will be hers. They will be born in two forms – as rats or Kaaba and as men they are known as Charans.  Secondly, they will remain in her in her service in the temple, and her space will remain for them until eternity their earth, heaven, and hell. As Kaaba they carry a special spiritual energy and an occasional white rat is a goddess herself. The sacred food blessed by the Kaabas is known to have cured ailments and diseases including plague. What is more amazing is that there has never been any plague or disease usually associated with rodents, neither is there any smell of dead Kaabas or attacks on the Kaabas by cats or desert snake, and even though they are fed with ample food, the Kaabas are all of one size.

Karni Mata

The spiritual importance of the symbol of the Karni Mata as that of nonviolence, protector, peaceful coexistence and provider of the power legitimacy to the Rajputs who are supposed to function to uphold these values is ironically subverted by the Rajput Karni Sena in their assertion of a new kind of political power.









India-Balochistan Ports & Potential of Cultural skill Diplomacy

Published in an Editorial – titled –  “A Shared Cultural Map

Much more than politics and security links Balochistan and India” –  Much more than politics and security links Balochistan and India on 13th December, 2017 as an editorial piece in the Indian Express :



While at this point in time the geopolitics surrounding the Indian Ocean has placed the ports of Gwadar and Chabahar in the center stage of an engaging chess game of power, the cultural ecology of these ports on land provides an alluring potential of the creation of crafting inventive soft diplomatic links in the cultural territory of the ports which are defined by the idea of the Baluch.

baloch - 1


The Balochi a semi-nomadic, pastoral community carry with them the cultural heritage as the collective memory of the West, Central and South Asia along with Greek connections. And while they are Muslims, the strains of other beliefs such as Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Sufism colour various aspects of their traditional cultural heritage. Their language, bardic traditions, and other traditional knowledge skills covering linguistics, crafts, performing arts, rituals, and warring, pastoral and agricultural traditions recall an underlined cultural map of different parts of Asia and an ethos of human ideas exchanged on land and sea through centuries.

baloch - 2

One such aspect is the mytho-historical thread addressing a variety of cults of the Mother Goddess which are represented to name a few as Ishtar, Nana and Hinglaj.  In this, the cult of the Hinglaj has a special place in Baloch. The Hinglaj Temple is located within the Hingol National Park in the Lasbela District of Baluchistan on the Makran coast in Pakistan.


It is one of the 51 Shakti peeth, which are major shrines associated with the cult of the Mother Goddess. The locations of these shrines correspond to places where dismembered body parts of the goddess fell and in Hinglaj it was the head of the Goddess.  The temple like that of Vaishnav Devi is in a cave which is situated among rugged mountains. The pilgrims include not only Hindus but also the Zikri Baloch who call the pilgrimage Nani ki Haj. Even, despite the political challenges in the area, it is the Balouch Muslims who continue to protect the shrine and ensure the success of the annual fair associated with shrine as a metaphor of a vibrant living heritage of the Balouch territory.

Zikr Balochi

In India, Hinglaj Devi forms an important part of the cultural geography of large numbers of traders, pastoral and agricultural communities like Khatris, Charans and Rabaris.  And, while the shrine is important for the Shaktas, it acquires special significance for the Kan Phata Gorak Nath Yogi (torn ear ascetics) cult as well. For them, the sacred stone that lies in the temple shrine has importance in the initiation ceremony.  Yet another part of the spiritual landscape is the water bodies of kunds like the Til Kund or black sesame pond where it is believed that the black seeds when washed with the pond water become white.

And while the evident geopolitical importance of Baluchistan plays a role in areas of economics, security and other areas of hard diplomacy, the shared traditional cultural heritage skills and knowledge can create the potential for an inventive trajectory of soft power. There can be the idea of not only road and ocean routes but also creation of Skill corridor a term for which the Centre for New Perspectives, a think tank that works on Traditional knowledge skills has a copyright of. The creation of a skill corridor characterized by a fascinating cultural ecology can actually develop sustainable skill programs, augment the realistic people to people contact on the grassroots level which are energized by recalling the past and building the future of unique Asian Identity.

The author is an academic on Heritage, traditional knowledge skill sector and classical dancer




Politicization of the Humayun’s Tomb Ten Silver Arrows That Miss Their Mark



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 –

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.


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.”


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).

matka pir
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



God of Justice in Uttranchal – Golu Devta


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

Published in the QUINT:



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





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//

Fossilized Existence and De-linked Directions The article was published as an editorial in the Indian Express Follow on Twitter @navinajafa Website

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 –

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.  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 –



[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