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My Guru- My Tribute: Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan – Cultural Visionary – Navina Jafa

Dr. Navina Jafa

Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan has gone down in Indian History as the First Woman Rishi-Acharya on Indian Culture and Arts. Turning pages of History, one does not reference women as Rishis and Acharya and their body of work. There are references to Gargi and Maitri but not of any work they may have produced, and Meera and Andaal as poetesses.

Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, once called the Czarina of Indian Culture, was a legendary scholar on Indian Culture. A Cultural administrator, educationist, institution builder, scholar, and Dancer all packed in one. She worked on:

 Indian Culture

Indian Culture and the World

Cultures of the World tool to be the driving force in Global and Asian Worlds.

Celebrating GGuru Purnima

My Association: Over the years, she has advised, and guided my work in the field of Writings on Arts and Culture, Sustainable Development, Heritage Studies of India and Asia, 

My journey with her started at the age of 10 and a half years. She was our neighbor for over three decades. We often shared time over dinners, shopping, and walks. She was a second mother, my teacher, my friend. She became my affiliated guide for my Ph.D. along with Dr. Narayani Gupta at the Jamia Milia Islamia.

Excerpts from My Journal – Diary

Diary Entry 1:  INSTITUTIONS:

Indira Gandhi Centre For The Arts – IGNCA: The Indian Smithsonian – Her Last Major Contribution Of Institution Building

The Concept– the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts visualized as the Indian Smithsonian. Spread on the Raj Path; the IGNCA institution’s conception was to house several Museums and Cultural Research Centers in the most holistic, inclusive, and most comprehensive frame. She visualized the IGNCA as the repository and the laboratory for India to take Culture as the tool for Global leadership.
Her zeal was to reclaim, preserve, and think about Indian Culture accepting its complexity of holistic sensibility.
IGNCA – CONCEIVED AS THE INDIAN VERSION OF THE SMITHSONIAN: Kapila didi once shared her drawings and thoughts that she kept when she conceptualized IGNCA. “India, with its rich, diverse cultural capital, can be the leader to drive hard politics. IGNCA is that Concept and that tool. There is a map to that Concept, she said, Comprehending India’s approach to create the holistic legacy of the past .

Some other landmark institutions she conceived and established include –         

  • CCRT for Arts education in Schools.
  • Schools of Buddhist Studies
  • She is closely associated with Indology, Sanskrit, Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Archeology, Anthropology, Religions, and literature. –
  • Through cultural policies, administration, and cultural diplomacy, she drove her vision to chart the power of Culture in Indian Society and Economics.  

Diary Entry – 2 – Cultural Explorations

We were taking a walk in the Rose Garden in Chanakyapuri, Delhi. The fragrance of the maroon rose called Christian Dior engaged us. Kapila didi stopped and responded:

“How can you go to the aroma of a flower? You need to understand the soil in which the seed is nurtured. Question, question all the time – is the soil, for example, loamy, alluvial, or sandy? You need to think of the structure of the seed and how it is nurtured. From there, you need to ponder on the journey of the plant, and then the flower.

 But see… most times by most of us, our journey begins and ends with the fragrance. Kapila didi laughed, then said, “The fragrance is so engaging, but it dissolves as soon as it is released in the elements.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is geet-govind.jpg

Based on her lifetime work on 13thc Poem Geet Govind she under IGNCA created one of the finest examples of Multimedia involving Dancers, Art Historians, Musicians, and Computer Experts

Dairy Entry – 3 : Innovations & Apllication of Knowledge to Projects

The Geet Govind Multimedia Project – “Everybody laughs at me and says, Kapila, what are you doing with this small 13t c Radha –Krishna love-story? You know what I discovered. This small little poem was the story of the Indian Subcontinent’s organic ethos of Multimedia. It is written, painted, danced, sung, and created as a ritual. The poem is an entry path to linguistic nuances as much as to the key to understand cultural geographies.”

– Creating International Dialogues. Dr. Vatsyayan had launched in the form of extraordinary exhibitions, an ecology of creating sustainability for cultural ecosystems, cultural skills, and creative communities. From Documentation, Exhibition to Sustainability was her motto. “Cultural Diplomacy is not about onetime events. It is about starting dialogues, about conversations, abut questioning, and critiquing!” From Nordic countries to Europe and America, her participant list had the best.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mind-man-mask-1.jpg

 An example of this was her program titled “Mind, Man, and Mask.” In our several talks over dinner, I learned the manner she conceptualized such a complex program.

– To address the Mind’s idea, she got a range of National and International Scholars who worked on psychology, Mind, and creativity E.T.

– For Man- It meant scholars and practitioners engaged with studies of human societies.

– For Mask- It was performing arts and crafts.

Receiving her degree at the Banaras Hindu University from Kashi Maharaja Vibhuti Narayan Singh

Diary Entry –4. Culture is a response to varied Physical Geographies and Natural Resources

Her Visual, Performing Arts in-depth knowledge and training in archeology, numismatics, literary and spiritual traditions covered the wide span of Indian, Asian, and Western Aesthetics.

She could speak in-depth and in one breath about the organic multi-media on Sacred Mountains from Kailash to Mount Fuji; Of Cubist painting styles from M.F. Hussian to Pablo Picasso; Geometry and Science of Archeological Sites – From Brihadeshwar to Angkor Wat.

She could map the idea of the Science of Modern Dance movement, say of Laban and with microscopic surgical eyes and then contextualize that understanding to the Natyashastra for the Modern Practitioner.

She was as inspired by her the iconic Guru Vishnu Sharan Agrawal, as she was by Stella Kramisch. But her soul was in Dance, for the longest time she had the portrait of Balasaraswati where she slept.

Iconic Dancer – Balasataswati

Diary Entry 5: The Eagle Eye of Nurturing Talent

Holi was nearing, and Kapila Didi was engaged with Spring Cleaning. Her house-help Dulari looked harassed as things got pulled out, put away… Suddenly Kapila Didi remarked, “Look, these are school writing books, and here is what I did with Birju Maharaj when I brought him to Delhi…”

Kapila Vatayayan identified, launched, and patronized legends like Pt Birju Mahraj, Yamini Krishnamurti, and took Balasaraswati for her first concert abroad.  

It was as much about protecting as it was about preserving the creative communities of this country. Most grants in the Ministry of Culture were planned and started by her.

Entry 6: Culture & Politics: Politics Can Work Only When Cultural Geographies Are Understood, Negotiated To Create Coexistence:

“Culture is the response to geographical contexts.” The only way power can work when those in power respect local cultural world views. How can the person living in the Northern Indian Plains understand the context of the Cold desert of Ladakh? Or how can the person on the Western coast of Mandavi relate to the forest community in Bandhavgarh? Conversations, dialogues need to happen so that negotiations happen, and multiple streams’ coexistence becomes a reality.

Diary Entry 7India- The World & Geopolitics – We do not need troops in thousands on our borders; the people on Borders are our permanent Soldiers.”

 Hers was a futuristic aerial vision that remained well ahead of time. 

I had returned from rigorous research in Ladakh. Soon after, in one of our Sunday Garden walks, she said, “Our political borders are so vulnerable and unchartered. Geopolitics’ strategy is not about placing thousands of troops on the coast or land borders; it is about comprehending to include the people on the margins and the borders. The troops’ man-in-charge is on a ‘posting,’ and the Border people are permanent soldiers. It was so important to involve, for instance, H.H., The Dalai Lama, to build healthy border cultural communities in the Himalayas through the thread of Buddhism. His wisdom and other Tibetan Scholars and knowledge streams were not only about addressing the fragile Indian Buddhist Cultural Heritage, but engagement with the exiled Tibetans were ways to build the communities on the Border.” Dr. Vatsyayan was the one who suggested to Pt. Nehru and Maulana Azad the idea of Higher Buddhist Study Institutions like Sarnath Sikkim, Ladakh, and other places. His Holiness continued to call her “Mother.”

 Her Eyes caught talent and worked to understand the Idea of India better- Spiritual leaders, Shankracharya, Sufi Scholars from Kashmir, and Mata Amritanandamay, among many others. They felt honored to dialogue with her. Leading Indian and World Scholars like Stella Kramisch, Bettina Baumer, Dr. Roger Lipsey, John McKim Malville, to name a few, worked with her.

THE ‘ASIA PROJECT’ OF THE INDIA INTERNATIONAL CENTRE was once again ahead of time. Dr. Vatsyayan already knew not EVENTS like festivals, but knowledge networks with Asian nations will pave the way for India to invest in a rooted, concrete manner to lead Asia.

Diary Entry 7: Guiding Young Talent She did invest in younger people, although she was a difficult old time guru.

 Some names include:

 Late Premola Ghosh, Teteii L.S. Tochhawng, and the team of the India International Centre(whom she called ‘My Girls’) Amar Behl,(designer), Radha Sarkar, Himani Pande, Dr. Advaitvanidini Kaul, Dr. Mouli Kaushal, Vaswati Mishra (Dancer) Rekha Tandon, and a few others.

Mentoring the Young – My Initiative in the End:

It was clear that Dr. Vatsyayan’s Time was nearing its end. Last year in 2019 the India International Centre asked me to present a live Multimedia program on the concept of Jhoola ‘”Swinging India’ . I requested if the program could be a tribute to Kapila ji while she was alive,. It was also the last time she met Pt. Birju Maharaj my guru of Dance.

I reached out to a couple of young dancers to interact with her. The relay of interactions opened for them new ways to enter the world of creativity, and imagination

Entry 8: Engagement with Culture is weaving: 

“Culture is similar to weaving. If you are the weaver, then respect all the colors in the threads. Respect the dynamics of the weft and the warp. It is only then you can optimize the functionality of human communities. Diversity is the strength of Culture. If you suppress diversity, you kill the human community.” That day, Kapila Ji and I listened to Kabir’s ‘jhini re jhini re jhini chadariya,”

Entry 9: My last Conversation: My Teacher Always

Last week I called, and she was irritated. “You always call at the wrong time! I am going to a meeting at the India International Centre!” I was happy that in COVID Time, despite some health issues, she was back with her spirit to live. (To be 91 yrs.’ old and all set for a meeting. Wow, what zest to live). For that energy, one cannot but thank those who worked to take care of our National Treasure – Mr. Ramachandra, Amita, Vishwajeet, her driver, and the India International Centre’s entire world.

 Before we put down the phone, she said what her last words to me were –

“I am sitting on the platform for quite some time waiting. I am glad you are all set for creative work. Jeeti Raho!”

Long Live – Kapila Vatsyayan

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COVID-19 Lockdown Reflections on the Begumpuri Masjid, New Delhi Navina Jafa

Begumpuri -1

Summary: Against the turbulence of the uncertain period, a partnership develops with the silent massive structure of the Begumpur Mosque seen in the frame of a tree. We both are witnesses reflecting in the silence of the lockdown the unfolding crisis before our eyes. The article explores the historical and experiential interaction with 15thc Mosque. (Follow on Twitter and Instagram: @navinajafa)


Begumpuri frame


Sitting in my verandah, the gloom of the pandemic permeates the surroundings. A perception captures my imagination. It is the tree-framed vision of the domes of the 15thc Begumpuri Masjid. My occasional visit to the mosque is through the massive Eastern entry gate from the congested road amidst the Begumpur village. The gate opens into a massive courtyard surrounded by domed galleries.

Heritage of Linguistic Toponym: The linguistic vocabulary defining the cultural geography of a city is called Toponym. Names of places and locations provide uniqueness to a city. It reflects layers of human settlements, patterns of human movements and explorations. The word Begumpur evolves from the Persian- Arabic vocabulary and lends itself both to the locality and the heritage building. Begum- Pur – A high ranked woman’s fortified city. The Toponym of Begumpur mirrors overlays of the civilizational landscapes that have moved into the present.

Experiencing the Building: Made of austere rubble masonry, the mosque illustrates a sacred quality from all directions. It aligns itself to the intermittent calls of prayers throughout the day. The slanting buttressed walls and their monochromatic texture produces a dramatic experience of their surfaces dialoguing with light.


Begumpuri -2 Gateway pylon

  1. Pylon or Bratmukhi: The gates are featured by pylons which are tapering towers on the sides of the Gate.


Begumpuri - 3 courtyard

  1. The 64 Mini Domes: They line the roof of the galleries around the mosque and play a role in providing good acoustics. This feature links the mosque with other examples such as the Jami Masjid in Mandu, Madhya Pradesh and the Ottoman’s Sultan Bayezid II Mosque Complex in Edrine – Turkey.

Reflections in COVID-19 LockdownAgainst the turbulence of the uncertain period, a partnership develops with the silent massive structure of the Begumpuri Mosque seen in the frame of a tree. We both are witnesses reflecting in the silence of the lockdown the unfolding crisis before our eyes. The humongous revenge of Nature in the form of this pandemic against which is slated the impervious arrogant, unbending, unethical greed to the human species. The hypnosis of power blinding, the sheer inability to accept his puny stature. It seems the opaque vision as it blurs in the sunset the chirping birds laugh an ironical surrealist song. 


Type of Mosque: Congregational

Period: 15thc

Builder: According to renowned scholar Catherine Asher it was built by Muhammad Shah Tughlaq, son of Firoz Shah. However, it is popularly attributed to Firoz Shah Tughlaq and his prime minister.

Location: Historical city of Jahanpanah

Contemporary Geographical Location: Between Malviya Nagar, Sarvapriya Vihar and Sarvodaya Enclave.












India – Disadvantage Democracy & International Heritage Diplomacy – Dr. Navina Jafa


navina jafa Twitter & Instagram Follow :  @navinajafa


Central Vista – Delhi

It is an unwise decision by the Government to Re-design the already reclaimed Colonial Architectural Heritage of the Central Vista. Space defines the power capital of India – Delhi and asserts democracy. The re-design will not only impact tourism, but also the advantage of creating International Mutual Heritage Diplomatic programs.  Keeping the advantage in mind, it is better to re-locate rather than re-design even the debated Government of Myanmar re-located and not re-designed their power capital.

Parliament house
Iconic Indian Parliament Building



The controversy about re-designing the Central Vista, reflects the ruling party’s idea of Cultural Nationalism. This step ruptures the ‘Global advantage’ India enjoys related to international heritage diplomacy, the tourism industry and most of all, the collective memory of the creation of a republic and a democracy. The deal won by HCP Design, Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd. The firm based out of Ahmedabad ‘Gujarat’ will Re-Develop the iconic Heritage buildings and complexes – the grand circular Parliament Building, Secretariat and Central Vista by 2022. What does this really implicate especially in terms of the Global perspective and overall discourse on the Collective Heritage of a democratic Nation?


Hyderabad house
Hyderabad House around the India Gate Circle

The Government construction agency in charge the Central Public Works Department has not specified which buildings on the 3km stretch will be retrofitted or one which would be pulled down. A.G.K. Menon Convener of the Delhi Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) responded to the statement by Harpeed Singh Puri, Union Housing and Urban Affairs Minister the need to do away with the “colonial ethos of the country.” This widens the scope of using architecture to create deeper fissions. Not only does history have a methodology, but is also accepted and perceived with responsibility. The precedence set in demolishing colonial heritage could lead to demarcating in the name of ‘foreign’ any other kind of architecture.

mayawati park
Mayawati Park


Power and Architectural Symbolism

The politics of architectural symbolism is continuously echoed in historical processes. Politicized architecture presents a lens for perceived national or community identity by a political regime as was seen in the Mayawati parks. (refer :

Capital cities specifically are intersections between power and architecture feeding the vision of a political agenda of ‘a’ nationhood. However, the Central Government’s hurry to on ‘replace’ the identity of Delhi the Capital City of India, takes spatial politics to another level. After all, Delhi has its history of power territories represented in historic cities. The 1985 Delhi NCR Act states that NO additional government buildings should be constructed within Delhi. The proposal being pushed by the government cites for lack of office space and modern facilities.  The upgrading of heritage spaces can be done following rules and by bringing people into the debate of preserving not replacing heritagescapes. The strategy must aim to conserve the cultural, historical and humanistic values that are part of the collective narrative of Delhi’s urban spaces and that of the people of India.


The Visual Canvas for the Republic of India

Central Vista
Democratic India – King’s Way – Rajpath & Queen’s Way – Janpath


The entire heritage zone of the Central Vista represents the space where India presents itself as a Republic, and as a democracy. It is the location for the National festival celebrations of the Republic Day parade ending with Beating of Retreat. It is the space where the democratic republic reclaimed King’s way as Rajpath (rulers’ road) intersecting with Queens’ way as Janpath (people’s road). The people of India have the right to assert preservation of the visual quality of the heritage zone that marks their political identity of the World’s largest Democracy and Republic.

Relocate Not Replace

Nay-Pyi-Taw-the New capital-city-of-Myanmar


It will be appropriate if the present regime chose to ‘relocate’ instead of replacing heritage architecture. There are several other examples all over the world for relocating and incorporating their specific design of power centers, but even Myanmar’s military rulers in 2005 while choosing to move the capital from Yangon to Naypyidaw did not pull down the colonial heritage. Security and national identity were reasons cited for moving their capital. Nigeria, yet another post-colonial country shifted its capital in 1991 from Lagos to Abuja citing security, modernized requirements, accommodating additional government machinery, neutrality and establishing their version of national identity. Russia quoted maritime security reasons in 1918 for relocating its capital city from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Similar reasons explain Shahjahan shifting the capital from Agra to Delhi, and the British moving from Calcutta to Delhi.

Breach in Heritage Diplomacy

Secretariat building
Secretariat Building – North Block – New Delhi

Heritage Diplomacy provides a common ground for conserving the best of cultural expressions by humanity. These are nodal spaces for nationalism and internationalism. Heritage Diplomatic programs unfold histories of international engagement. The Central Vista Heritage Zone in Delhi is one such space. Herbert Baker the architect who designed the Secretariat blocks in Delhi made them in his distinct style similar to the design of the Union Buildings in South Africa.

secretariat building Pretoria

The design of the Mall from the Raisina Hill to the India Gate and the eternal flame for the ‘Unknown Soldier’ is similar to the plan in Washington DC in the United States from the Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument.


The Coincidental Similarity between Washington DC Mall & the Indian Central Vista

The Central Vista, Parliament and Secretariat complex are significant components for Delhi to apply for the tag of World Heritage City. This status locates a city within the frame of the International Heritage Diplomatic discourse. The Central Vista heritage zone along with a contrasting experience of the Mughal boulevard in – Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi) tops the must-see list of most travelers.  The spatial display of multiple power-public architectures provides a fascinating insight into the existent living heritage of coexistence and the idea of diverse India in a democratic frame.

The idea by the Dutch Concept of ‘Mutual Heritage’ launched in the 1990s, is yet another dimension of Heritage diplomacy. It opens lines for cross-cultural people to people dialogue and shared history for future engagements. Mutual Heritage programs serve to build a contested past for a constructive present and future. Another example of heritage diplomacy is the American Embassy’s Ambassador’s Fund. By replacing the Central Heritage Zone in the capital of India e that represents the Indian Republic and Democracy, the argument of Cultural Nationalism trivializes history and the latitudinal space to assert global leadership in Heritage Diplomacy.


About the Author: About Dr. Navina Jafa: A Short Account:

A short film: : Dr. Navina Jafa, is a well-known academic, curator, writer, interpreter, and presenter of and on Indian Cultural Heritage and an acclaimed Indian Classical Dancer, Writer and Cultural History and Dance Scholar.  She specializes in inventive ways of documentation and exhibition that looks at the wider frame to address Traditional Skills of India and Asia through research and livelihood program.  She has extensively worked on Cultural Skill Diplomacy in the Context of the Indian Ocean and Asia.Recent Awards:  Women Economic Forum: Exceptional Leaders of Excellence – April 2019; Woman of Pure Wonder – Vodafone Foundation – 2017;











Missing the Step Swadeshi Governance – Indian Culture, Water & Economy Navina Jafa –

The recently offered 100-day action plan by the Minister for Culture Prahlad Singh Patel ignores the two major crises facing the Nation – The reality of the economy and the National Water Emergency.[1] Existent practical community science to address water, provide traditionally skilled jobs are completely ignored in the plan. The Western Development Model serves the purpose of the present generation only. The article provides strategies to bring sustainable traditional knowledge systems to the center ensuring environmental, development sustainability, and economics.

waterharvesting and community


Modehra- Water tank

Rani ki Vav

While culture serves as the basic tool for divisiveness in society, it does not feature as a tool for development, for democratic community engagement, and conscious responsibility to factor traditional knowledge and sociological systems.

Salihotra Samhita

The Plan Ignores the Cultural Landscape in the Narrative on Development: The plan by the Central Government – Ministry of Culture offers ‘Greening India’ vision that comprises water harvesting by digging multiple pits at 123 heritage sites. A Heritage site does not exist in isolation it is a part of a larger regional specific cultural ecosystem. However, the lack of comprehending cultural heritage has led to disconnecting heritage sites from their surroundings leading to an imbalanced development. For example, the disassociated Taj Mahal with the Agra city and the Yamuna river-heritage has presented developmental imbalance. Contrast this with the Agha Khan initiative of the development of the Humayun’s tomb and its holistic approach to address the Nizamuddin Basti. The monuments are more than seasonal tourism exotica.

Western Model of Development is Fracturing – India has always had in different regions practices of community ownership to conserve common-wealth. Traditional Culture of Community Ownership   The present government’s initiative ignores ‘Swadeshi’ Culture and ratifies the Western model of development, and is frozen in the top to bottom approach. Interestingly, it was always important in traditional sociological dynamics for sharing the responsibility for community commonwealth. One of the expressions remains is Shramdaan which means Voluntary contribution by way of physical labor resulting in community ownership to improve the environment.

community ownership shram daan

Another example in several traditional societies all over the world is that of ‘sacred groves’. This implies community ownership to protect bio-diverse natural resources. In India, some community practices emerge as resistance by civil voices against the Western model of development. The latter provides solutions in the present but results in a damaging environment for future generations.

sacred grove goa

In Udaipur, Rajasthan there is along the city lake the Gangaur Ghat. Gangaur festival and on other occasions the community gather to clean and de-silt lakes in the urban landscape addressing their water security.

citizenbs clean lake in udaipur

Recently, in the name of development (building roads, metros, mining) a number of forests, trees are endangered. Cutting of trees has fractured community ‘sacred groves’ that assert community responsibility to conserve local biodiversity.

Building roads and investment in tourism infrastructural development ignore local cultural centuries-old sustainable practices to sustain resources. For example, along with the sacred river space of Uttaranchal the building of roads without taking into consideration river-beds, and other natural geographical consideration has ruptured community practices for community ownership of natural resources such as the practices of ‘Jal Yatra’ (community water worship processions).

jal yatra

Suggested Strategies: There is a need for a definitive strategy to bring transformative change. A program that addresses water crises, creates jobs, and sustainable development.

A suggestive approach: Begin with tabulating a geographical region-wise grid of the 123 heritagescapes coordinated with local traditional water-wisdom, and other scientific heritage knowledge.

Second, translate the tabulated information in action by evolving an action plan for systematic community engagement with the heritage sites. This will imply bringing back the Swadeshi parampara (tradition) of community commonwealth ownership.

The sites can be the focal point to form ‘paramapara panchayats’. The plan must work to bring in groups like the Anganwadi, resident welfare associations and other civil society bodies to actively claim community ownership of water security and practical science for everyday life. This will illustrate the development from below.

Thirdly, the amplification of information of the multilayered heritage-site program through Development Communication for larger community involvement. For this, using regional linguistic specific traditional folk performing arts can be effective and also provide job work for the marginalized skilled performance communities and help conserving intangible heritage.

This ‘Combined Heritage program’ in the 123 Heritage site can be the Link Program for Water Emergency and Job Creation in each heritage-landscape. The site program will serve to connect local Natural heritage with traditional science and skill heritage. It will empower communities at the grassroots and ensure sustainability.

Misplaced Scientific Cultural Steps – Suggestions to Redirect for Community Participation  

science water

The action plan also talks about taking scientific knowledge to rural children by investing in mobile van science museums. Viewing the present National crises, the culture of science needs to part of everyday life. As mentioned above the purpose can be served in the suggested Heritage site program. The site program can incorporate for instance, besides traditional water-wisdom, scientific heritage on categorizing plants by indigenous communities, sustainable practices concerning seeds and irrigation. The mobile van ‘museums’ are non-productive, misdirected utilization of public money and ignores larger urgent issues.

Lost Opportunity to Address Cleaning of the Ganga- Kawar Yatra – Additionally, the action plan will develop places for aarti along sacred rivers for daily pilgrim by installing large LED screens and audio systems. This spectacle is again ignoring urgent community ownership, maintenance, and recharging of the ‘sacred’ water bodies. The rivers, lakes, ponds, step-wells need to be de-silted and cleaned off of garbage and plastic. The contrast can be best gauged by referring to contrasting community expressions. Water expert Farhad Contractor says, “The urban city of Udaipur illustrates existent living water wisdom and community practices. For instance, during the celebration of the festival of Ganghaur, women gather around lakes. They engage in cleaning the lakes so that they can continue to be used by the people and provide clean recreational and worship spaces.” In contrast, the present UP government in the Badaun district organized daily aartis during the recent Kanwariya Yatra. Reports refer that the District Collector, the chief administrative officer of the district routinely attended the aartis rather than motivating the public incidentally comprising of a very large number of male-youth to stake ownership and participate to clean the Ganga. This is similar to the recently completed spectacle of the Ardh Kumbh that was converted as a Maha Kumbh Mela celebration by the Uttar Pradesh Government. The huge investment was sold as a tourism spectacle and there was huge investment advertised to illustrate Swachh Bharat. At the end of the festival, it was evident that there was planning to deal with the garbage leaving the river and the city dirtier than ever before.

This misplaced action plan by the Cultural Ministry ignores the potentiality of Culture to contribute to development. In the directionless plan, the emphasis is confining culture to create spectacles and quick showbiz elements. The lack of engagement of subject knowledge experts as consultants is evident. With the economy nose-diving, and important issues like joblessness and water scarcity on hand the 100-day action plan is flimsy.  There is the need for bringing in cultural heritage professionals, and for responsible investment to address the larger issues of jobs and water-crises rather than injecting the masses with the opium of spiritual spectacles.

About the Writer:

navina jafa

Dr. Navina Jafa, a multifaceted polyglot is hailed by the Financial Express as the ‘Gatekeeper of the Spectacular!’, by the Times of India as ‘Experience Architect’. She is a specialist in Indian, Asian Cultural Heritage. Her multiple roles include that of a thinker, academician, performing artist (classical dancer), writer, and heritage interpreter and engaged in grassroots sustainable development.  She is Director of Indian Cultural Heritage Research and Vice President of Centre for New Perspectives.

The Hindu – 1st August, 2019,

Unlocking Economic Potential of Aligarh By Navina Jafa #CelebrateComplexDiversityofIndia ;   #BharatCitizensForDevelopment

Lock- 3

Aligarh or Kol in  Western Uttar Pradesh is a wonderful Location of Traditional Knowledge Skills. It provides the potential for Economic Growth,  for Skill Development and Employment. With a majoritarian mandate for the BJP, the excitement and aspiration of the people of the largest Democracy are just lying to be tapped especially regarding real-time economic growth. The sector of Traditional Knowledge Skills is one of the largest self-organized skill sectors. A nudge, small investment, and innovations and zoom a difference can be made. Development which is environmentally friendly and provides equity for all.


Aligarh: Located in Western Uttar Pradesh, it lies in one of the most fertile alluvial plain of the world The Doab- Land between the Ganga and Yamuna.  It can be an ideal location for innovative programs on Food Security and organic farming, Heritage Tourism one which will create jobs and growth


This short blog offers inventive thoughts on the potential for economic development by highlighting Small Heritage windows:


The Heritage of Metals: A Bonanza for High Lifestyle and Tourism

  1. Heritage of Unbelievable Locks: Walking down the busy bazaar, one comes across a fascinating array of locks – with Lions, Fish designs, handcuff (Hathkadri) and even ones with false holes. A small innovative input can push this dying small scale industry to expand and revive. It is an industry that can add to the tourism sector, construction sector and to the High Fashion Lifestyle. The indigenous traditional method of casting locks can be factored as unique residency programs on creative city tourism.Lock - 1


  1. Brass: The stunning array of Brass offers a huge variety of ritual objects such as Gods and Goddesses of India and other functional and decorative objects.

Natraj Brass


Of Fashion, Language, and Cuisine

Aliogarh Pyjama

It is said that a person from Aligarh can speak on any topic under the sun with the same energy as the one next to him who started the topic of conversation. Poetry laced conversation and it can match the old culture of Rampur and Lucknow.  A diverse, and spicy culture representing the idiom of colorful India; how can one miss out the elegant and style statement in the Aligarhi Pajama?  Yes, the fashion industry is welcome to invest in a city of Heritage Skills.


Cuisine: Almost all towns of our Uttar Pradesh are famous for some or other food delicacy.  Aligarh is lesser known. Have you heard of Gulatthi, similar to the rice-based Kheer? Rich, creamy, with Khoya (dried milk) and dry fruits, it takes one back to the days of the exotica of the Royal Nawabs. Along with is the famous Sibbooji ki Kachori, whose aroma of spices and Ghee fill the air as the crisp kachori goes into your mouth, all its spices are ground by the 5th generation of the family of this unique dish.

Not for Profit Organizations and citizens like Udaan are addressing issues such as Water, Jobs, Old age care. We look forward to our new government to create Aligarh one of the model locations for jobs, traditional skill development, and Food Security.


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Travel Blogging & Individual Social Responsibility (ISR) The Himalayas By Navina Jafa Follow on twitter & Insta: @navinajafa

An Appeal to Travel Bloggers to contemplate to contribute through Individual Social Responsibility to Save the Himalayas and its cultural Traditional Heritage.



Geographical contexts and human responses to them provide content to travel bloggers. When geographical contexts become imbalanced, the rest of the frame of references becomes skewed.

For travel bloggers engaged with the Himalayas, the variety is seen in natural surroundings and the manner in which human communities have acknowledged is revealed in cultural traditions, beliefs, lifestyles, and values.  Travel bloggers are also engaged with those entities who provide infrastructural facilities. However, more than ever, today the Himalayan region is vulnerable and the foremost reason is climate change. Like I often say “no water, no Ganges, no Kumbh,” the same applies to the Himalayas – Those who engage with the Himalayas need to think to give back. This short article offers a point to think – Can Travel bloggers develop a quotient of Individual Social Responsibility to conserve the intrinsic value of the subject they write on?  As an example I offer a Case Study in Ladakh:


Chitral to Gilgit - 1

My travels in Ladakh started in 1981 at a time when tourism was limited to visiting Leh city, Thiksey, and Hemis. There was just one Air India Flight on every Wednesday with an hour stop for breakfast in Chandigarh. It was after the breakfast that the final call was declared whether or not the flight will go to Leh. On three Wednesdays one went to Chandigarh, had breakfast and returned to Delhi for Lunch, finally on the 4th Wednesday, lunch was in an army camp in Leh.

There were no hotels only rudimentary homestays. Running water was rare, the army supplied electricity through the diesel brought up. Lights went off at 9 pm, and on Sunday it was a holiday for electricity.

Much has changed. I have been returning time and again to Ladakh to study, travel and participate in different activities. On one occasion I learned about a distinct initiative where trekkers as travelers explored to give back to the Himalayas, an initiative which has grown enormously over the years.

Garry Weare

                                                               Garry Weare

An adventurous Australian Garry Weare pulled by the magnetic allure of the Cold Desert began trekking the Himalayas. Garry introduced several Australians to trekking in the Himalayas, however, my story is limited to Ladakh. He brought annually groups of trekkers. The groups traveled in the deep interiors. They were enchanted by the Natural beauty of Ladakh and were touched by the hospitality, simplicity, and warmth extended by local communities. Most trekkers led by Garry wanted a way to give back to nature and to the people, and that is how began the mission of the Australian Himalayan Foundation. The Foundation runs a number of programs in different locations in the Himalayas especially in Ladakh, and Nepal covering issues of health, education, and conservation of wildlife among others.



Zanskar: The case study which I present is that of Zanskar and the success of the work by the Australian Himalayan Foundation. I know of one issue and that concerns maternity and infant health. The Zanskar region, which even today requires almost two and half days to reach, the trekkers found out that the maternity death rate is as high as 1:3 (one in every 3 women died in children birth). Systematically it was understood that most traditional health healers were men and although there was the support of the army it was not enough. In a methodical manner, the trekkers linked up with Servants of Society a small NGO comprising of dedicated professional Ladakhis who became the executing partners. The Servants of Society, in turn, created a network with concerned stakeholders comprising of Amchis (traditional Tibetan doctors), Onpos (astrologers), Lahmu (Oracles).


Today after more than a decade there are now Women Amchis (Tibetan doctors) who even have trained in the civil hospital in the Gynecological Modern Medicine ward in Leh as much as in the adjoining Civil Tibetan Medicine Hospital. The death rate of women and children has fallen drastically in the Zanskar region.

Zanskar -4

When I met Garry, he had convened a review and forward plan with stakeholders linked to the Zanskar program. Inspired it compelled me to ask travel bloggers to contemplate and perhaps as trekkers contribute through Individual Social Responsibility to Save the Himalayas and its cultural Traditional Heritage.


Navina Jafa – Diaries of Glimpses of My Travels

Some Personal Snippets in Zanskar:

Kharsha Monastery

The above picture is that of the Karsha Monastery housing the largest number of Monks.


snow leopard

An important part of the culture is reverence to the Snow Leopard. Once in 1995, a snow leopard slept on the rug in the main room in the home of  Norbu my taxi driver. It was already 3 days I was there. The entire community gathered to worship the ‘Lord’. Some Wildlife personnel along with the army shot through a half-opened window. The aim was to induce the animal to sleep and even more deeply for longer hours. It seemed by the entire village had gathered by this time. Long poles with Buddhist flags were prepared, the heavy animal hoisted up and a procession with monks chanting proceeded to leave the Shan. I did not have a phone with a camera. But the photograph above of the Snow leopard is taken in the beautiful Sikkim Zoo.




Citizen Trees of Delhi – Voice of Artist Kate Bowen Can We Save Trees of Delhi? By Dr. Navina Jafa (follow: @navinajafa )


Imagine being here ‘Now’ is a title I offer up for advance publication when I have no idea yet what I’ll talk about, but also because I enjoy the paradox. Why would we have to imagine a place if we are right here now? Because we’re always doing it because every day we imagine and then live a version of our new stories, our histories, which we then disseminate through friends and families. ‘Imagine’, John Lenon exhorted us. And artist David Wojnarowicz said in the 1980s, “I’m beginning to think that one of the last frontiers for radical gestures in the imagination.”   

Kate -2

Trees & Environment Concern: Case of Delhi: Environmentalists all over the world are talking about the vital role of trees in the world’s ecosystems. Citizens of Delhi, the capital of India and one of the most polluted city struggles against the narrative of ‘development’ comprising of construction of a wide range of urban dwellings, broadening roads, flyovers and much more. Each action presently seems to be unbalanced considering long term sustainable factors; such that the holistic parameters of these ‘development’ initiatives seem to be more as under-development than development. The pressure groups engaged in the narrative of pushing such ‘development’ seek to counter the voices of citizen groups and environmentalists.  Within this framework, the recent work of Kate Bowen a British artist who created a series of paintings on Trees of Delhi is a fascinating artistic response to the critique. The paintings were a part of a group exhibition at Sangeeta Gupta’s Prithvi Fine Art and Culture Centre, Delhi in January.



Kate, who moved to Delhi just about a year ago found herself amidst issues of air pollution, and the cutting of large, old trees of Delhi. She witnessed protests by environmentalists and tree lovers. As an artist, her journey in India seems to have motivated her to dialogue with the Trees of Delhi – the silent but vulnerable citizens of Delhi. The drawings seemed to bring out the characters of her new friends which she represented on Banana paper and painted with a squirrel brush. She journeyed to bring her modern training in conversation with the miniature style of painting. Her paintings seem to highlight the minutely certain distinct character of each chosen tree represented. She tried to create in the portrait of each tree the personality which emerged in the manner distinct patterns of their branches, roots, the girth of their trunks, the movement of leaves in the breeze seem to catch the stirring emitted in their intangible voices.

 Trees and Indian Miniatures:

Miniature painting found currency between the early 16th century and late 19th century from Rajasthan in the West, Punjab hills in the north to Deccan in the south. They stand out like a jewel in a crown in the Indian painting tradition.  It is known that trees and foliage in Indian miniatures were often added not merely as decorative elements but to enhance the mood of a chosen narrative. For example, the 12thc poem Gita Govinda by poet Jaidev describing the love between Krishna and Radha. The poem inspired a large number of painters from the ateliers of a variety of medieval courts who promoted the genre of Miniature Paintings. The poem mentions the dark Tamala trees under which several activities of the characters are described and fundamentally the trees get featured as an intrinsic part of the paintings. The trees in the miniature paintings served as geometric designs as much as they conveyed the mood of the central narrative. The trees also served to create spatial compartments so that a story flowed from one part to the other in one painting. It was for this reason the miniature paintings produced a three-dimensional effect.

Tamala tree


Bridging Genres: Kate Bowen a modern painter entered the world of the Miniature painting by training with Delhi based miniature painter – Banwari Lal Rajput.  It was intriguing to see her paintings on the trees which also represented the manner her modern art training dialogued with the new genre of the miniature painting.



 Negotiations: For instance, Line is rarely seen in nature but heavily used in paintings. The lines form an important element in creating the designs as the basis of all work. Quality of the line work can have a huge effect on the final rendering. Miniature artists frequently use lines to delineate one shape from another or to bring out the form. Kate has used Lines to impart energy and dynamism to bring of the character of each tree. The swirls of her squirrel brush seem to glide or to draw to capture designs of branches and roots. Sometimes they seem to be delineated with simple, coarse lines, investing a rawness in the image.



kate -3

It is only in twentieth-century art that shapes started getting used as an end in themselves, as we see in Kandinsky’s work. In miniature paintings, all depiction is through realistic, representative shapes usually associated with the objects. Shapes can be rendered with shading, scale, and lines to bring out a three-dimensional form, or they can be rendered flat in a collage-like manner by use of flat color or delineating lines. There is an interplay of myriad small shapes of different tones, contrasting or painstaking similar shapes that brings about an amazingly energetic image. The use of shading which provides hues, saturation, and brightness (or tonality). This technique is absolutely necessary to communicate a definite perception of the world.





Yet another technique Bowen applies and finds similarity with the miniature genre is a quest of texture. Her use of the banana paper enabled a fascinating dialogue between the hair of the squirrel brush and the magnetic pull of the crevices of the paper which seems to capture like a camera the flow of paint bringing out the raw texture of the trees. The appearance seemed to highlight the visual element that served as a stand-in for the qualities of another sense, touching. One could imagine the roughness of the roots, leaves, the sharp bends, and curves of the branches.


Portraits of Trees Fighting to Survive as Citizens:

Finally the question of Space. A miniature painter on his canvas is required to detail and maximize the poignancy of the chosen subject, narrative, character or setting. Each of Bowen’s paintings considered aspires to bring out the depth by depicting foreground, middle-ground and background in their own unique ways. Bowen using a bold naturalist voice does not choose to create the setting of the tree but selects to only paint The Tree transforming the Citizen Trees as personalities by creating their Portraits. Each Citizen tree seeks to communicate a quality where the sense of space is embraced through the overlapping fighting figures of each body part of each tree. The body of each tree appears like a collage-like depiction of space heightening the sense of tumult in the fighting action of trying to survive as a citizen in Delhi.


The work on Trees of Delhi by Kate Bowen is representative of exploring the genre of miniature paintings from the dimension of the twentieth-century design. Her style brings together two different fields, from two different contexts, giving rise to many interesting viewpoints at the points of intersection—the dynamism of lines, the volume afforded by the shapes, the sense of space, the tactile quality, among many others.

However, what is important is the commentary through the visual art to be the advocate voice of the silent Citizens who decades and centuries have remained seminal companion, residents to other citizens. Can we save the Trees of Delhi?






Sikkim – Part 1- The Himalayan Wolf – #AcademicTourism with #NavinaJafa : Follow on Twitter: @navinajafa

Wolf Himalayan


Curating experiences in India a country which offers such a range of geological and geographical diversity is inspirational enough to incorporate experiences of and on Natural Heritage. A variety of this component formed a part of my curatorial program on #Academictourism in the Green Indian State of Sikkim. This particular article focuses on the subspecies of the Grey wolf the very elusive Himalayan Wooly Wolf.

wolf 2

This animal is perhaps having a lineage which experts believe goes back to 800,000Ancient Himalayan wolf says Experts perhaps have lineage 800,000 years almost extinct because of human-wildlife conflict but worth protecting given its genetic distinctiveness & deserve special conservation attention. My special visit to comprehend the Wolf program in the Himalayas formed a special community element in my experience of #AcademicImmersiveTourism with #NavinaJafa as part of the program on Natural Heritage.

Found in various locations in the Himalayas in India and Nepal, they move in small packs since they are small in numbers. Their food is usually small animals like rabbits and rodents. They are not aggressive and yet human communities fear them which is the reason for their depleting population.

Cultural Aspect:

The other aspect is the wolf as a spiritual totem who symbolize for ancient communities when there was no conflict and still does for Native American Indians, represent intuition, intelligence but most of all the idea of Freedom!


Havelis, Heritage Walk & Conservation: Case of the Chunnamal Haveli in Chandini Chowk Navina Jafa: Follow @navinajafa

chunnamal haveli


Tiles & Patios

Much has been written and spoken about a certain kind of allure that surrounds the ideas of and on Havelis in India. Art historians, architects, Travel bloggers, common tourists among others express their wonder on the architectural structures and interior designs of these amazing mansions specific to the Indian Subcontinent ; one that is representative of oriental luxury and resplendence. A recent Heritage walk on the theme of Havelis presented these reflections and went beyond to provide a glimpse on the lifestyles of the communities who live or lived in these incredible mansions by referring to the historical Chunnamal Haveli located on Chandni Chowk the main arterial road in Shahjahanabad Old Delhi. The walk advocated the need to immediately address and support Havelis owners and to acknowledge the dire need to sustain both tangible and intangible heritage within the dynamics of the fast ‘developing’ New India.

Havelis & Lifestyle: A Brief Note

The havelis, courtyard mansions were architecturally designed to suit climatic conditions and accommodate multiple generations who lived as a joint family unit. In the North, these homes had spaces for community living like the courtyards and the roofs. While the courtyards saw everyday family congregations and celebrations, the rooftops were where all kinds of activities such as kite and pigeon flying and even flirtatious activities with neighbors that defined and peppered the interactive humdrum life and formed seminal aspects of Haveli lifestyles.

Courtyard -2

Within the context of the urban phenomenon, these Havelis were homes of the city elites who were largely political, mercantile, and professionals. In the city of Shahjahanabad like in Varanasi, a large number of more elaborate mansions belonged to merchants. Lala Chunnamal of Delhi was not only a successful trader but one who benefited from his closeness with the British much like the Neo-Nawabs of Lucknow in post-1857. His primary trade was cloth, and the family had significant trade links in Calcutta. His neighborhood of cloth merchants came to be known as Katra Neel (Neel – as in Indigo). His famous Haveli built in 1864 carries a slab that provides the date and says that this home was a paradise.


Such was his friendship with the Brits that Lala Chunnamal bought the entire Chandini Chowk for a pittance. He also owned the Fatehpuri Mosque at the end of the road. The influential merchant was twice elected to the municipal council in Delhi, and the Indian family was one of the few who was granted membership of the Delhi Gymkhana Club during the British days. And while Havelis such as that of Lala Chunnamal integrated sturdy cast iron balconies and spun spiral or straight iron grilled staircases around the courtyards, the interiors were often about Indo-Western aesthetics. Viceroys visited, Nehru, and Indira Gandhi came to dine, and the family participated in horse races including winning in the Aminabad horse-show in Lucknow. Theirs was one of the earliest homes to acquire a telephone, a car and other trappings of Western lifestyles. Khatris by caste, their family deity kula devta is Shiva hence they built multiple Shiva Temples one in Katra Neel, and another in Mehrauli (the Old, old Delhi).

Like in other Havelis their courtyards hosted mehfils (gatherings) of tawaifs (geishas) while their women watched from behind the chicks or bamboo curtains. The washerwoman dhobin and the barberess nainyin were important figures who transmitted news from one zenana or women quarters to those of other Havelis.


The luxury of lifestyles manifested themselves in acquiring Western decor like the famed Osler glassware chandeliers for candles and kerosene and Belgian mirrors. The Chunnamal Havelis had it all which incorporated stylistic European furniture, clocks, fireplaces and even the maintenance tools for the fireplace. Later on, they became one of the earliest families to own a telephone and a car in the city.


This was augmented by using sophisticated crafts to embellish the interiors. Clay tiles from Sindh that provided a carpet look, gold plated stucco work along the ceiling with an offset with the use of real indigo and ceilings decorated with cloth ensured the best of the Indian crafts.

indigo and gold work


Dilemmas, Struggles & Solutions: It is a struggle for those who continue to live or own such large mansions. Whether in Lucknow like the Raja of Memoodabad and Raja of Jehangirabad or in Delhi like Mr. Anil Pershad the only one from the Chunnamal family who continues to live in the Haveli while the rest of the stakeholders of one of the largest Havelis of the old town have moved out. Mr. Pershad has relentlessly work to glue the history of his family and house as a significant heritage of Shahjahanabad, however, he hopes support is extended to somehow sustain the home amidst a well-conserved ecology of heritage-landscape.

The Heritagescape of Shahjahanabad certainly is in peril. The construction lobby who without any synergized local aesthetics has overtaken the area with such force that there is a garish and outlandish aura about the newly constructed buildings. The heritage zone is under threat and fast changing. Advocates, tradition bearers and cultural repositories like Anil Pershad are marginalized in the face of the lopsided fervor on development.

Cultural Policy & Action: There needs to be a strategy to provide economic incentives to Haveli Owners to preserve the outer facades of mansions like the Chunnamal Haveli along with incentives to create and sustain an exhibition section of the interiors. This kind of strategy can emerge only when there is a wide and a detailed Cultural policy which at present is nonexistent both as the Centre and at the State level.

The strategy towards Havelis needs to assimilate and address issues related to intangible heritage and cultural skills. For example, much of the décor in several Havelis and temples especially Jain Temples which were constructed like Havelis in Old Delhi comprise of frescoes that are painted with organic paints by Muslim artists from Rajasthan. The elaborate interior painted work in the ‘Naugarha’ Swetamber Jain temple in the Kinari Bazaar is one such example. A few years ago the trustees recruited artists from the original family, and a significant amount of conservation of artwork was done. However, as it often happens, a tourist from Belgium lured them and now they have acquired substantial work in Europe.

jain haveli

Again, on Chandni Chowk road itself, there has been an assertion by the Swetamber Jain Community to conserve the Mahavir Bhavan. While the politician Vijay Goel has converted an old Haveli into a now popular hotel the Dharampura Haveli. Of course, money matters, the Jain community as whole come to own their heritage, while a politician heritage enthusiast can garner ways to bring a haveli to reconnect with the present via a business route map. But what happens to individuals such as Anil Pershad? The same is true for individual players in locations like Lucknow and Varanasi and other towns.

Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC)

A few years ago, the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC) was set up to address such issues. Nonetheless, constant red tape by ill-equipped bureaucrats, constant change in political views has done away with positive documentation and plans suggested by both internal and external experts. So while the jamboree regarding the fashion of Heritage Walks has peaked there is a disjunction between the State, Heritage stakeholders and the actual players in Old Delhi and this needs to be resolved soon before Delhi forfeits its crowning glory of Heritage in Shahjahanabad.

A Note on the Writer

The Walk was curated, narrative reached by Dr. Navina Jafa writer of the pioneering work (Performing Heritage Art of Exhibit Walks) on Academics of curating and presenting Heritage Walks & Art of Heritage Interpretations and creating Heritage Experiences: Log onto