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 ...

Western Designs in Lucknow- Constantinople of the East: Interiors- Exterior of Oriental Luxury Navina Jafa Follow: @navinajafa

Private tour Lo Martinere College Lucknow

Teaser: The exotic character or the heritage of Lucknow is not limited to the history of Nawabs, or the revolt of 1857. Lucknow’s historical frame incorporates a riveting account of the Western designs displayed in Architecture, garden landscapes, and interiors. The article critiques the evidence and the creation of the Luxury of Oriental-Western Lifestyle in Lucknow.

It is challenging to break stereotype tourism associated with Lucknow a city whose heritage presentation and tourism experience are framed within two dominating themes – the first comprises of the Exotica of the Persian Nawabs (Maharajas). It is a narrative on the opulent decadent lifestyles of Oriental rulers, their cuisine, mannerisms, language, poetry, and creative expressions. The second account relates to the preoccupation with the Revolt of 1857 (called by the British the Indian Mutiny). The article traces the manner a city defined by a regional power charted a fascinating specific identity that involved incorporating intriguing elements of Western designs and architectural features; cultural elements that are part of the inherent heritage identity of Lucknow city that has changed or is changing but continues to retain the thread of the Western Aesthetics lending to the multiple Cultural layers of Lucknow.

 Nawabs & Late Baroque Courts

The weakening of the Mughal Empire in the 18thc propelled regional powers like Awadh to assert themselves. The process of the crystallization of the regional power identity was manifested in architecture and lifestyles. The Nawabs (the title of the rulers of Lucknow), Persian in origins had inherited an imagination of the Mughal splendor displayed in their cities, buildings, and facets of cultural heritage. The city of the Nawabs comprised of a horizontal collection of palaces, residential buildings, interspersed with squares, gardens, markets mirroring an organizational cadence reminding one of the Late Baroque Courts of Western of 18thc. The European Baroque courts aspired to bring in exuberance and grandeur that defied the contrasting austerity of the Protestant movement in Europe. The influences of the Western aesthetics had emerged in Lucknow as early as 18thc. Apart from the Nawabi Buildings of Imambaras,(congregational building of Shia Muslims to mark mourning rituals during the month of Moharram)  gardens and ornamental gates in stucco ornamentation called gajkari, it was clear that European influences crept into the creation of the regional identity to affirm the transition of the Nawabs from being warriors to refined courtiers. In 1775, the 4th ruler Nawab Asafu-ud-Daula shifted his capital from Faizabad to Lucknow. Situated along River Gomti, a major tributary of the Ganga, the location on the river not only provided the Nawabs a hold over a large territory of alluvial land but also monopoly over the riverine trade. The wealth of the Nawabs attracted several Europeans. The Nawabi city became a mesh of designs and embodiment of architectural styles Late Baroque – Rococo evident in a number of buildings of Lucknow. The rococo design characterized by ornamentation and dramatic effects aspires to create surprise and movement by injecting sculpted moldings, curvaceous scrolls.


An example is an arresting similarity between the mid 19thc entry gate of the Chota Imambara in Lucknow and the 16thc first Baroque façade of the Church of Gezu (Italy).


On the Left is the Entry of the Chota Imambara, & Rt: Church of Gesu Italy, 1st Baroque façade

The Making of the Oriental-Western Exotic

The energy of 18thc Europe was defined by the creation of an identity that referred to the Classical Greek-Roman past and came to be known as Neo-Classicism. Roman- Greek Mythological references along with Oriental experiences adorned decorative art, furnishing, tableware, and buildings. Like in the Tulip Period, ownership of material world became the fashion, style of the upward mobility and class. The period in England known as late Victorian and Edwardian period generated variety in cultural forms that were both flexible and mobile.  An important feature was the growth in the consumption and material cultural habits of local rulers of colonies such as the Nawabs of Lucknow. Their demand dictated supply, and this was evident in the growth of for example of the company F&C Osier of Birmingham who produced glass objects as decorative and consumption ware. The designs of which were associated with the exotic Eastern otherness. For instance, in 1874, the Osiers created the famed glass fountain for the Maharaja of Patiala. The Nawabs of Lucknow used Osier glassware and mirrors from Belgium in religious and domestic spaces.

mirrors      osler



Among the various artistic expressions that emerged in the 18thc was the art of the English ceramic master Josiah Wedgwood. In his factory, he began to produce a variety of new ceramic-ware and introduced new shapes that were defined by a new almost cameo glass look where the pastel colors in the background gave way to uplifted moldings of figures from the Classical Greek-Roman Myths. Wedgwood cream-ware soon became the favorite of royalty and upper-classes in Europe and interestingly made its way in Lucknow.

Augmenting European Influence in Lucknow: Claude Martin

Claude Martin, an 18thc Frenchman who traversed the Indian soil working in a different capacity, organizations and places accumulated wealth, and power and was able to build a trusted alignment with the Nawabs of Lucknow where he lived and died. His history has been painstakingly penned down by Rossie Llewellyn-Jones. Martin not only built elaborate buildings, but he also funded the Nawabs, and in his personal capacity was quite a Renaissance man who indulged in Hot-Air Balloons, puppet theatre, art collections, and libraries among other things.


The building Constantia which became his mausoleum is now the La Martinere boy’s school. The building boasts of Baroque towers, Neo-Classical rhythms in facades of buildings, Greek-Roman statues of Muses, and of course elaborate Jasper and other variety of Wedgewood designs.


The Imprints of Freemasonry Architectural Features:


Recalling Renaissance in 19th c Lucknow

Claude Martin, it appears could be also influenced by the Architectural ideas of the Free Masons (17th-18thc). The Freemason movement emerged as a fraternal secret assembly which grew as a network that drew several intellectuals of the time. Organized in the system of administrative and cultural institutions called lodges even today continue to attract politicians, philosophers, professionals, and artists. Past members of the Free Mason community include Oscar Wilde, Henry Ford of Ford Motors, Winston Churchill, Mozart, and George Washington among others. Today there are over 5 million Freemasons who believe that God is the great Architect of the Universe, and for their rituals, they use architectural and geometrical symbolism such as square and the compass.


Architectural Metaphors of Free Masons in Lucknow

occuli-3  wedgwood

The architectural metaphors of the Freemasonry are about visual grandness and dramatic effect of perspectives and revelation. For example, the presence of oval openings called oculi (which reflects geometry at play) in the La Martinere School serve to create a theatrical effect of revealing beckoning worlds lying beyond. The repeated evidence of the oculi communicating a narrative of a visual spectacle and movement seem to link Claude Martin having a Free Mason thinking.


European design  such as Baroque architectural features, twisted columns and dramatic effects of space and light is evident in palace complexes like Farhat Bakh (of Martin’s time), and buildings like the Dilkusha Kothi  which was built under the rule of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan was intended to be a Hunting lodge but later used as a summer home. The building surrounded by forest today has an extended garden. It was in the grounds of the Baroque building of Dil Kusha that Claude Martin launched his hot balloon venture. In the narrative of Imperialism, Gardens became almost laboratories which were used to experiment with botanical resources for the benefit of the Empire.  This is the history of the Lal Bagh Garden in Bangalore and many others were linked to the Kew Gardens in London.  Nawab Saadat Ali Khan interestingly became the man who instituted the Royal Garden which came to be the National Botanic Institute.

 Post-1857: Making of Colonial Lucknow: After winning over the Indian in the revolt/war of 1857 the British were determined to make Lucknow and other cities – ‘safe, hygienic and clean’ writes Veena Talwar Oldenberg in her iconic research ‘The Making of Colonial Lucknow’. This, for example, led to the expansion of the Cantonments in Lucknow, Kanpur, and Meerut to name a few. The Cantonments which were initially meant for servicemen and troops now integrated several kinds of built structures to accommodate civilians which included a range of Bungalow architecture. The Bungalows served the purpose of a British suburban villa marked by classical lining, huge lawns, and stables, the pitched roofs and high ceilings. In Delhi, the features of the Bungalows included columns called the Tuscan orders representing the might of the British Empire. The Tuscan columns are defined by simplicity and by a stoic essence that communicated the idea of power. The columns have shafts, base (round or square) and capital that remained unadorned.


Lifestyles, Designs, and Architecture of the Neo Nawabs:  To keep the city safe a strategy to build allies was adopted by the British. A part of this was cultivating loyal landed elites most who were not seen to be aligned with the family of the erstwhile Persian Nawabs.  These new power elites called the Neo-Nawabs acquired homes around Kaiser Bagh the former, elaborate palatial complex laid out by Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Lucknow.

Kaiser Bagh


Several families of the Neo Nawabs acquired family crests, many came to be called Raja (irrespective of being a Muslim or a Hindu). A number of them were invited to be part of the Princes’ Chamber held in Delhi, and still, others received honors, titles medals, and other decorations. Like the previous Nawabs, the Neo Nawabs too acquired a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. Their lifestyle combined oriental lavishness of the former Nawabs and acquiring of Western tastes. Their lifestyle was defined by a fondness for entertainment, acquired etiquette, mannerisms along with Western Cultural nuances that included furniture, interiors, and landscaping gardens.


The 1920s & Beyond:  The first half of 20thc several city elites and other middle-class sections in cities like Lucknow, Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, which included a significant population of Anglo Indians participated in a wide range of Western Leisure activities. These included Clubs, coffee houses, introduction to Western ballroom and dance music via gramophones disks and radio broadcasts.

The Cantonment in Lucknow was expanded yet just prior to the 2nd World War, “It (Lucknow) was considered a strategic military defense location because of the fear of bombing campaigns in Calcutta by the Japanese military. A large portion of the Allied Easter Command was moved inland and established in Lucknow to counter this threat. The size of the Cantonment grew” (Shope, Bradley: Anglo-Indian Identity, Knowledge and Power: Western Ballroom Music in Lucknow: Published in The Drama Review, Winter 2004) The growth of Western sensibilities, and presence of a greater foreign population in the city led to the fashionable marketplace- Hazrat Ganj one which provided of European goods and service.

Hazrat Ganj


Australia-American Connection: The Walter Burley Griffin Factor:

The presences of the American husband-wife Architect team of Walter Burley and Marion Mahon Griffin in Lucknow provides yet another narrative on Western sensibilities in the city. Walter Griffin was the designer of the Australian city of Canberra. In 1935, the couple arrived in Lucknow where Griffin spent his last 15 months and Lucknow became the place of his final resting. Griffin’s enchantment with orient along with his training of the progressive architectural school led him to create a vocabulary of confluence. Griffin designed the Tagore Library at the Lucknow University, the Zenana quarters in the palace of Raja Jehangirabad. His close bond with the House of Mahmudabad led him to design for the Raja a library and several other projects including ones in Ahmedabad.


Case Study of The Jehangirabad House:

The present Nawab Mohammad Jamal Rasul today struggles to fight for the Heritage Status for his Home was designed by Griffin. The present Nawab is attempting its sustainability by converting the property into a hotel. The Jehangirabad House building in Hazarat Ganj stands as a majestic reminder of the Nawabi British days. It showcases photographs that speak of the family connection with the Mughal Royals and high society lifestyle which enabled them to host the likes of Jackie Kennedy.

A small note by the family describes: “The exterior of the palace is symmetrical”.  The Jehangirabad House in Lucknow reflects strains of the Majestic Mughal Architecture combining the Awadh identity, with domes and ornate floral motifs.


The Interiors: The interior plan of the Jehangirabad House building is along the ‘Fibonacci principle’. The Fibonacci is a mathematical concept of introducing an arrangement of the sequence where the sum of two numbers precedes the next for example – 0, I become 2, then 1, 2 become 3, and 2, 3 becomes five. This sequential pattern is evident in the interior planning of the Jehangirabad House where one experiences opening of spaces and fascinating perspectives of a journey within a home.

This planning is complemented by a mesh of oriental, European interiors. An elaborate tile flooring from Sindh that gives a look of a carpeted floor along with Edwardian furniture and Osier lampshades of Ships among other things conveys a stately character.


The General Electric Fans: Additionally, the interiors of the Jehangirabad House house three fans standing independently on a pole. Produced by the American General Electric Company the fans have three inverted blades and a system of direct current. Such fans are also to be found in the Indian Parliament House in Delhi.


As one moves further into the house, the interior drawing room has charming patio spaces, and walls are adorned with original miniature paintings alongside with having had personal links. Presence of which communicates the high flying lifestyle of the landed Oriental flashy aristocrats of Lucknow.

Conservation – Heritage Presentation: The Western thread represented in the Anglo Indian lifestyle in Lucknow lives on in the environment of the estate of the La Martinere School, the Ram Advani Bookshop to name a few. But new globalized shops have emerged in the elite Hazrat Ganj Market and tucked in one corner are new spaces the Cafes like Cherry Tree Café in the famed Habibullah Estate. Yes, tourism narrative of the city has the potential of expansion such that it incorporates the multilayers like the story of Western designs and lifestyles. However, what remains important is the manner in which tourism strategies allow tradition bearers such as the Nawab of Jehangirabad. Mahmoodabad to conserve their heritage to sustain and retain echoes of the character of the city famously called the Constantinople of the East which is certainly not monochrome but is rich and a delight for an explorer who sets out to relish their senses.








Swinging Union Hindola Utsav in Braj Follow: @navinajafa



The Idea of Hindu Gods

The Sanskrit word Utsav encapsulates more than just a festivity, it functions to make an individual transcend into the realm of spiritual ecstasy. Each of the thousand Hindu God represents an abstract idea such as that of protection, love or knowledge or wealth and these ideas assume a form which could be human or an Animal or a combination of both. The form allows the common worshipper to access spirituality through a network of rituals and festivities woven in a mytho- spiritual calendar of events for both individuals and communities.

Hindol Minature 1


Krishna – Finding the Self

Of the many Indian Gods, Krishna (from the pastoral community) and his overarching lineage from within Vaishnavism postulates the most vibrant form of celebrations through which the devotee finds himself. The cult of Krishna although present all over India has a pilgrimage marked area a theme park – Braj Bhoomi (pastoral land). It is located in the present day Uttar Pradesh and has several places correlating to the mythological life of the God which through rituals and celebration becomes vibrant, lived spiritual reality. As with other Gods, Krishna is for many a personal (ishta) or a family (kula) devta or deity. He is the anchoring energy for several schools of thought and philosophy such as that of Pushti Marg.

Seva or service to Krishna is an important element for the believers to connect with the divine. “We experience Krishna with our eyes, we feel Him through all of our senses. Hari is the desire, the festival of our hearts. To imbibe Krishna’s form is the ultimate reward. “(Venu Gita, Subodhini).  A large number of services rendered corresponds to his daily and festival activity calendar throughout the year. His daily schedule is divided into 8 units of Hindu time of the day called – aath prahar and each unit comprises of services the Lord. Each event has specific prayers, dress code, rituals, and foods. He is awakened, bathed and so on and so forth. The services involve three rituals – Shringar – adornment, Raag- entertainment which includes music, dance, festive rituals, arts such as, painting among others and finally the ritual of offering Bhog or variety of sacred foods. The bhog is offered, blessed and then shared among the believers.

The sacred food offering


The Hindola Festival

The Hindola or swing festival is a prominent event in the ritual calendar of Krishna worship. In the rainy Hindu month of Shraavana, the monsoon clouds provide relief from the intense summer heat giving way to an exuberant spirit. It is time for lovers to unite, the environment is colored by lush greenery, sweet-smelling flowers, and fruiting trees. Krishna is believed to be in service of his female principal Radha who he woos on the swing. Recreating the spirit, songs are sung beckoning Radha on the swing, Radhe,jhoolan padharo, jhuki aae badra hindola…Come on the swing O Radha, see how the cloud also bends…

Jhulan Utsav -2
Radha and Krishna on swings during the festival

The arrival of the festival of  Haryali  teej third day of the month heralds the time when lila or divine play of Krishna with his consort Radha, and Gopis (cowherd girls) symbolizing the unity of contrasting energy in the environment of love is recreated and each day  of the month, believers gather to celebrate the festival.

Haryali Teej:


And while the gods are placed on swings, women in communities, especially in North India, hang swings on trees, the Mango tree is the most preferred one. Women dressed in the attire of green, women who have fasted for having conjugal bless, and unmarried girls who wish for getting good husbands, engage in the celebratory activity of swinging which together with their green attire becomes a symbol of fertility.

The Festival of Swings in Krishna Worship


Hinmdol miniature 2


Swings are hung in all temples and every day for an hour in the afternoon, the idols of Krishna-Radha are taken out from the altar and placed on a swing. The swings made of silver, gold, mirrors, fruits, vegetables, jasmine, Indian roses, and greenery represent fertility and love in union. A string pulls the swing to and fro and the bhaktas or devotees in the courtyard bind themselves through the string to the divine couple. On the opposite side, Haveli Sangeet (a genre of music associated with Krishna worship) is sung. While flowers are showered on the divine couple, the worshippers are sprinkled with red dry powder gulal representing love. “Soon after, a pool of perfumed water decorated with lotus blooms is prepared in front of the swing, and a small boat is launched on which Krishna-Radha are placed and given a joyous boat ride,” says Pandit Anil Joshi a Pushti Marg priest in a Hindu temple in Chicago where he celebrates the festival.

Boat ride

The boat ride ends, the divine couple is placed back on the swing, after which bhog is offered to the divine couple. The specific food called the Raj Bhog comprises milk products, dry fruits among other things is offered by reciting a special prayer. The festivities of the day ends with an arti, a ceremony where amidst singing a metal plate lit with oil lamps decorated with sacred food, water, and flowers representing the four elements of fire, water, earth, air is moved in a circulatory path drawing the devotees to swing in spiritual ecstasy. The divine couple retreats, the curtain closes leaving the followers with a glimpse of the divine consciousness reminding one of the lines by William Butler Yeats –

O body swayed to music, O Brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Heritage Interpretations and Swing: Watch:

All Heritage landscapes are multilayered and invite heritage interpreters and curators to display innovations in the presentations of heritage landscape. The symbol of the swing, for instance, is recreated in the intriguing palace Hindol Mahal or Swing Palace appropriately built in Mandu in Madhya Pradesh known as a Monsoon retreat and called the City of Joy. The presenter expands on the idiom of the Monsoon and the swing and dances in the Palace.

hindola mahal

About Navina Jafa: NAVINA JAFA- Kathak Dancer who performs Heritage:  She has been called the Gatekeeper of the Spectacular by Financial Times, Study Leader by the Smithsonian Museum Journeys, Experiential Architect by Times of India is engaged in curating (Academic Immersive Tourism) #AcademicImmersiveTourism in India and Asia. She teaches Culture/Art and Sustainable Development at the TERI UNIVERSITY is engaged with sustainable development at the Centre for New Perspectives and is a writer with several leading Newspapers and journals on Indian and Asian Cultural History, Management and Diplomacy.





Rampur Sahaswan Gharana of Music

Heritage of Rampur-Sahswan Gharana :

Uttradhirkari A program presented by Raza Foundation to launch those who will take legacies of performing arts forward. This evening saw the recital of Dr. Sarita pathak Yajurvedi  representing the Rampur-Sahswan Gharana a student of Salochana Brihaspati.

My paternal family comes from Badaun, once a cultural capital where there flourished poetry, Sufism (Hazrat Nizamuddin was born here) a town which gave India three distinguied rulers – Balban, Illtutmish and Razia Sultan.

It is a place which is part of the cultural geography of the Afghan Pashtun rulers of Rampur which patronized a league of 19th-20thc Musical Genre – the Rampur Sahaswan Gharana. Among several aspects of culture the Nawabs of Rampur were patrons to poets such as Ghalib, and stalwarts of music such as Wazir Khan the teacher of Alauddin Khan, the guru of Ravi Shanker and many, many others who represented the Senia musicians. The Rampur Court had close musical links with the court of Gwalior. This was the court which nurtured the likes of Bhaiya Ganpat Rao who brought harmonium in Indian Classical music, and it was this court among others who spearheaded the All Indian Musical Conferences which were an important part of the Cultural Nationalist movement in the 20thc. The court gave patronage to the likes of  Paluskar, Musicologist Acharya Brihaspati.

One of the outstanding genres of the musical tradition is the fine rendition of Tarana – A composition made of nonsensical syllables that create an audio rhythmic map in space. Ustad Nissar Hussain from this school was one of the finest musicians of Tarana.

Other singers from this school are Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan, Ghulam Mustafa Khan (now in Pakistan), Rashid Khan, Ghulam Sadiq Khan, Shanno Khurana.

The legacy of the Rampur Nawabs in music was critically analysed in the body of work of the great musicologist Acharya Brihaspati whose legacy Saryu Karlekar and Salochana Brihaspti continues.

Kudos to the Raza Foundation which tirelessly works to conserve traditions such as these.

Trade in the Indian Ocean Studies of Historical Frame & Trade Wars today @navinajafa

Connecting Asia

Connecting Asia

This article is not only about the heritage of Singapore, but about the heritage of Trade in the Indian Ocean especially against the present discourse on Trade Wars of the present time. Singapore conjures for a traveler a destination which symbolizes the essence of “…Modern Asia, sparkling and savvy…”[1] Both for travelers as well as for those challenges is to enjoy the conventional and go beyond. This article presents the Tang Shipwreck along with a fascinating narrative on ceramics of China and comprehension of Trade in the Indian Ocean.  In the present times, when Trade Wars and the claim on the contested Indian Oceans seems to take a center Stage, such exhibits are displays on Heritage brings in intriguing ways connecting the dots on human histories. One cannot dismiss the idea of soft power and memories of human communities, reference to the past augments the frame of the present.


[1] Welcome to Singapore- , cited October, 2016

Laser show - on the Singapore River

Laser show on Singapore River

Money makes the world go round, and it is what sells that directs the manner in which tourism as an ‘industry ‘grows in different places.  The thematic concept of the ‘exotic’, be it the inherent idea that characterizes a city like Singapore- as Modern Asia, sparkling and savvy, or Lucknow which is sold as the Golden city of the world, or at the exclusion of the city of Agra when the Taj as a symbol of Eternal romance is sold to the world, or the temples of Khajuraho in Archaeology as the Erotic exotica and not the village is popularized.  This ‘creation of the exotic’ leads to excluding a range of skills, communities, cultural geographies, it results in marginalizing identities, and essence of locations, sometimes perhaps pain, suffering, struggle or the respect to all things past that have factored in the making  of the present.

The Tang Shipwreck

This article on Singapore focuses on the permanent exhibit called the Tang Shipwreck, which embodies one such marginalized cultural aspect in the experience of Cultural Heritage of Singapore. It has been recreated, reclaimed and represented in the Koo Teck Puat Gallery in the Asian Civilization Museum in Singapore.

model installation on the ship - Introduction
Installation Art  of the Tang Shipwreck


corals on an urn
Corals growing on an Urn found on the Shipwreck

The Tang Dynasty in China (6th CE – 9th CE) personifies dynamism in trade, economic, political, diplomatic and cultural expressions. A large number of boats sailing in and out of China connecting it with the world led to a celebrated growth in Chinese art and literature among other things.

map of trade routes
Trade routes 

On taking a ferry tour on the Singapore River, the traveler comprehends the vibrancy and importance of Singapore as an island of converging trade dynamics in the Indian Ocean since ancient times. It remained a point of the economic heritage of the idea of taxes and levies. With this in mind, one accesses this fascinating exhibit on the Tang Ship Wreck. The reconstructed story of the wreck in the museum introduces the visitor to a larger frame in which Singapore was and continues to exist.  Singapore was and remains an important part of the Indian Ocean in the East, the shipwreck represents a tangible form of the intangible exchange of ideas, culture, and products between locations on the Indian Ocean in the East with those in the West such as West Asia better known as the Middle East and Africa. The area around the Eastern part of the Indian Ocean was known for a variety of goods, skills to repair ships and provide crewmen.

The Tang shipwreck was discovered off the Indonesian Belitung Island in the Java Sea by a fisherman.  Most ships sailing West went through the Strait of Malacca, and the fact that it was found in the Java Sea, perhaps could mean that it was either waylaid or had deliberately deviated for trade in spices to Java, which was common. Since Singapore had advanced techniques of marine archaeology they were invited to conduct the excavation and also to host the shipwreck.

The Tang shipwreck was discovered off the Indonesian Belitung Island in the Java Sea by a fisherman.  Most ships sailing West went through the Strait of Malacca, and the fact that it was found in the Java Sea, perhaps could mean that it was either waylaid or had deliberately deviated for trade in spices to Java, which was common. Since Singapore had advanced techniques of marine archaeology they were invited to conduct the excavation and also to host the shipwreck.

Games; Personal belongings and medicine bottle found inside the wreck


The shipwreck contained a cargo of a gamut of ceramic objects along with personal belongings of those on the Ship such as glass bottles for medicines common again in the Middle East and Africa, grinding stones, games for the those on board to spend their time and luxury items of gold and silver.


The Gold Chalice with performers, & prized White ceramics

From the way, the boat was made from African wood and bound by not using nails, but the wooden parts were stitched with coconut coiled ropes dipped in oil, it was clear that the final destination was the Abbasid Empire and perhaps Oman.

coconut ropes to bind the ship

coconut coils meant to bind wooden planks of the boat

The mere size of the ceramic cargo reveals several things. Firstly, there was a large number of similar bowls packed in jars in huge quantity. It was therefore evident that there was even those days, a system of e mass production in China due to the great demand for a category of a cheaper variety of ceramics.

the fascinating packaging of mass-produced ceramics

The Exhibition also is a clear indication of hierarchies in ceramics and other goods. It also represents that these variety of ceramics were produced in different kilns located in different parts of China.

For example, there were 300 pieces of white pottery found on the Tang Ship. This category of ceramics was prized both in China and in other parts of the world, and were produced in the Xing Kilns in Northern China and fired at very high temperature.

Finest Ceramics from the Xing Kilns in North China


Other spectacles included the Gold luxury items which clearly communicated lifestyles of higher classes.

Silver bowl
the silver piece found in the shipwreck

This exhibition of the 8th c Tang Ship in Singapore reasserts the multilayers of decoding and comprehending human civilizations when travelling. What was wonderful about the exhibition was the end …. Apparently, once the wreck was completely excavated, the Singapore government and the leader of Oman agreed to build a ship like the Tang Ship, with the same technique and it made a journey from Singapore to Oman. One would think, if this was the case, the wonder of cruises and marine archaeology would open intriguing journeys of great discovery and surprises.


However, in the present times, when Trade Wars and the claim on the contested Indian Oceans seems to take a center Stage, such exhibits are displays on Heritage brings in intriguing ways connecting the dots on human histories. One cannot dismiss the idea of soft power and memories of human communities, reference to the past augments the frame of the present.










[1] Welcome to Singapore- , cited October, 2016

India Urgently Requires a System of Cultural Management @navinajafa



A version of this article was published as an editorial in the Indian Express

In my article in the Wire ( on the recently launched scheme called Adopt a Heritage by the Government of India as a form of initiating public private partnership there was a mention of the lack of Cultural Management study programs in India.

This article is a short critique on the subject along with solutions.

Earlier last year 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 major anomaly is that neither does India have a cultural policy nor does it have any cultural management academic structures.

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? The other point to note is that initiatives by organizations such as  United State India Education Foundation does offer Fulbright Scholarships on this subject, but the push has to come from within.  If the cultural sphere is not addressed in a systematic, detached and professional manner, we risk losing huge capital. Culture is too precious to be left Ram bharose!

Navina Jafa

 Vice President of Centre for New Perspective works  on Traditional Skills and Sustainable Development, is an academic on Heritage Studies, Tourism and A Kathak Dancer and Dance Scholar. 

Follow on Twitter @navinajafa



Ghalib: A Cultural Metaphor of His Time Follow – @navinajafa

Printed in Vistara Inflight Magazine as EXPERIENCE Ghalib’s Haveli – MAY 2018




Mirza Ghalib, the legendary Urdu shayar, is one of the most discussed Urdu poets having been translated into many Indian and foreign languages. His poetic expressions have continued to rule hearts of poetry lovers for over 200 years. Here is a look at the life of the poet

Navina Jafa

In the winding labyrinth of Gali Qasim Jan in Ballimaran, which is in Old Delhi, stands a haveli that was once home to Mirza Ghalib. The poet, one of the most celebrated bards of his time, spent his last years in this home which has been converted into a memorial museum. The site intends to convey the life and time of the poet. Framed verses, photographs of the last Mughals, an effigy of the poet and household artifacts populate the space. The fad of Delhi Heritage Walks and the magnetic pull of Urdu poetry attract a number of visitors to this site, and occasionally there have been performances and cultural events centered on the life of the poet and poetry recitation by celebrities.


Neither the poet nor Ghalib ki Haveli existed or exist in isolation. They remain a part of a larger cultural geography marked by a heritage of the past and narratives of the near present reflecting socio-economic and cultural stirrings.

THE MUSEUM ENVIRONMENT Neither the poet nor Ghalib ki Haveli existed or exist in isolation. They remain a part of a larger cultural geography marked by a heritage of the past and narratives of the near present reflecting socio-economic and cultural stirrings.

“Gali Qasim Jan, where the haveli of Ghalib is located, was owned exclusively by Nawab Qasim Jan. The Gali had mansions of the elite, and its adjacent lane, Gali Gareeb, accommodated servants of these mansions. Later, plots were demarcated in the contiguous area, Sarhad Kale Sahab, and sold to elites like Nawab of Pataudi”, said Mirza Arif, poet and creative personality hailing from the family of the Mughals.

The Gali interconnects with the neighborhood of Ballimaran, where once one strolled and encountered a visual and aural interface with dozens of shops, such as the clinic of Buqaullah – popularly known as Bakka Hakim, a 19th century Yunani doctor, who, like many others, was associated with the palace, Red Fort. He was known to have great knowledge and cures related to eye ailments. Shopkeepers and their clients exchanged Urdu verses written by an assembly of noted poets who lived or were engaged in the area such as Mir, Hali, Daag, Zauqand even Hazrat Mohani whose ghazal (a lyrical poem set to music, usually on the theme of love) titled ‘Chupke Chupke’ attained great popularity when Pakistani émigré to India, singer Gulam Ali, sang this composition and made it immortal.



Ghalib wasn’t merely an eminent man of letters but represented an entire cultural environment; one that was about lifestyles, historical events and cultural networks. Among several historical sketches that relate to Ghalib is his association with the prestigious family of Nawab Loharu whose sister, Umrao Begum, was Ghalib’s wife, and it was the Nawab who gave the house to the poet. The Loharu family, like the Mughals, came from Central Asia and besides Ghalib had an eclectic group of men of letters, Zauq and Dagh, as sons in-law.

One of the many aspects of Ghalib’s life is his well-known writings and observations of the revolt of 1857, which saw the dislocation of thousands of people in Delhi and displacement of the cultural system. However, a much less known fact remains that the State of Rampur in present Uttar Pradesh played an important role in Ghalib’s life and work. Following the horrors of the revolt of 1857 in Delhi, the Rohilla Nawabs of Rampur provided the poet laureate sanctuary and a small stipend. Ghalib served under two rulers and was the teacher of one of them. It was in Rampur where Ghalib assembled his famous ‘deewan’ or compilation of his poetry.

Ghalib 5

The ‘deewan’ is embellished with artistic calligraphy and artwork in gold ink. Apart from this, Ghalib, through a large number of letters, expressed not only his art of poetry and language but also the comments on political and social circumstances. Despite the luxurious arrangements provided by the Nawabs, the temperamental poet chose to return to live in Delhi but maintained, even in his old and fragile age, constant connect through letters with the Rampur Nawabs wherein one he pined to attend the Benazir Ka Mela; a glamorous annual event organised by the Nawab, Kalbe Ali Khan, in honour of his favourite courtesan, for whom he had laid out a magnificent garden.

Ghalib 3



Ghalib combined a colorful, witty and mystical persona which is not only conveyed in his poems but through often-quoted anecdotes. One of them relates to his passion for mangoes.



Ghalib’s student and biographer, Altaf Hussain Hali, describes in the biography titled Yaadgaar-eGhalib, that on one occasion, Ghalib was strolling with Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor in the lush orchards of Baagh-e-Hayaat Baksh, (the garden which bestows life) located in Delhi’s Red Fort. The fruiting trees were filled with ripe mangoes. Ghalib stopped, stared and told the Emperor that he had heard from elders that on each and every fruit one can see written a specific person’s name. That this was for that one, and that one for this one and so on, and that he could spot the name of his ancestors on these fruits. barsare har dana ba navishta avaan kaeen fulaan, ibne fulaan, ibne fulaan…..


Installation in Gold – Cultural Heritage of Incredible India & Resplendent Rajasthan @navinajafa

Ajmer – Heritage in Rajasthan

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

tirthankar 2

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.

art work soniji ki nasiya

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.

pillars Sonji ki nasiya

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.


Sonji ki nasiya

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.

Sonji ki nasiya-hall2

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.

Narratives on a #Indian #railway Station-Ajmer @navinajafa

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.


prithvi 2


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).

Prithvi 1

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!

Heritage – Women Empowered A River & Handlooms Travel Notes Maheshwar – Central India @navinajafa;

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 - 1

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.

maheshwar bath


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.

maheswaree sari

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.”

Women weave-1

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.