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.
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…” 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE THEATRE OF GHALIB
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…..
Ajmer city located in the Western Indian state of Rajasthan is famous various aspects of Cultura heritage which include – a Sufi Dargah, Mayo School and college which was the Eton of the East and where the dazzling Maharajas of Princely India came to study, the city is dotted with an array of Havelis and it is the doorway to the exotic locations of Pushkar, Bundi and Kota and was the capital of the iconic Rajput King Prithviraj Chauhan. However, few relate the city with an important place of and for traders many of who belong to the Jain religion.
A Brief Ethos on Jainism in Relation to the Temple
Every religion has a dual history of myths and facts the former finds its validity in faith while the latter in tested scientific proof. Jainism like Buddhism historically evolved n 6thc BC. It has 24 supreme teachers Tirthankars (those who crossed over and through highly evolved karma gained freedom from the cycle of life or nirvana). While the first 22 teachers are mythical, there is historical evidence in for the last two namely Parashavnath and Mahavir.
Soneji ki Nasiya – Jain Temple in Ajmer Built in late 19th -early 20thc Soneji ki Nasiya was commissioned by a family of Jain traders who were largely engaged in Jewelry and this is evident in the elaborate use of Gold, other jewels and the refined décor characterizing the temple. The central theme in the temple revolves around the first Tirthankara Rishabhnath. The Temple complex has two sections, one comprising for ritual worship where only Jains are allowed and the other section is an installation exhibit on the life of Rishabhnath the first Tirthankara or supreme teachers in Jainism.
Section 1: Made from Red Sandstone and fine Makrana Marble the architecture combines Mughal and European features. While the Mughal features are presented in the ornate Shahjahani pillars, Pietra dura inlay work and Islamic arches; the European features comprise of ionic and Corinthian pillars and stained glass work. Local artisans are responsible for the décor and whose seventh generation are patronized by the temple authorities have a shop and are constantly called upon to retouch the décor.
Devotees enter the main temple through a courtyard which has an imposing pillar dominating the centre and is surrounded by the motifs of elephants who play an important role in Jain.
The temple is entered through a staircase and a marble pillared corridor. The ritual sanctum comprising of a commanding hall with elaborate with variegated artwork in glass, stones, and paintings has two alters.
The main altar has a bejewelled statue of Rishabhnath while the sub-altar has some other Tirthankaras.
The other section is opened to the general public and has a nominal ticket. The installation exhibit on the life of Rishabhnath is all in gold is arrived by climbing a two storeys steep staircase. On reaching the second floor one is left open-mouthed where a huge world in Gold opens before you. An elaborate hall replete with gold ornamentation describes the mythological story of Rishabhnath.
The Narrative of the Installation:
The Jain philosophy presents that there is no beginning or end to the universe and that within the context of the five elements it has and will always continue to exist. Within the contextual arrangement, the Earth is the round but flat dish which is divided into various worlds comprising of land mass and the great ocean. There on this flat space is a central mass called the Jambu Dweep amidst which is located the mythical cosmic Mountains Meru and Kailash. Planets revolve around Mount Meru.
The Installation is divided into various parts related to different episodes of Rishbhnath’s life. The first scene depicts the event his conceptualization on Mount Meru. The celebration is illustrated by floating boats carrying celestial beings.
The next scene depicts the birth of Rishbhnath in the city of Ayodhya which is shown with the placement of extensive processions and other celebratory scenes.
The next setting depicts Rishbhnath’s renunciation which is believed to have taken place in the city of Prayag or present day Allahabad and finally his nirvana or ultimate victory in escaping the cycle of life which occurred on Mount Kailash. Kailash Mountain located in Tibet is sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Bons.
The sheer monumental use of Gold and other details leaves the visitor in t awe, yes this is a lesser known heritage of a city which emits a special energy and is not only nominated to be developed as a smart city but is a symbol of the macrocosm of Incredible India and resplendent Rajasthan!
The writer curates bespoke academic tour on a commissioned basis.
Getting off at the Ajmer Railway station, one is confronted by busy Sufis caretakers from the big Sufi centre in Ajmer moving in crisp white clad Kurta pyjamas, making their way to collect their pilgrim clients.
On another level dressed in colourful traditional clothes are the Rajasthani men and women who dot the railway landscape. The passengers walk out into a vibrantly painted porch in front of which are elaborate terracotta sculptural friezes describing the mytho-historical story of Prithiviraj Chauhan 11th c king of Ajmer and Delhi who was defeated by an Afghan warrior Mahmud Ghori.
It is believed that king Prithiviraj Chauhan along with several others was taken as a prisoner of war to Afghanistan, and among them was the court poet Chand Bardai.
The tale of Ghori and Chauhan goes on. Believed that Prithviraj was blinded he was challenged to prove his ace shooting skills. Ghori challenged blind Chauhan to shoot a difficult target.
Poet Bardai who was standing next to his king was filled with anger and he guided with reciting a poem Chauhan, not at the target but to shoot Ghori himself…
The lines recited gave clear directions and measurements of exactly where sultan Ghori sat
चार बास, चौबीस गज, अंगुल अष्ट प्रमाण, थे ऊपर बैठे सुल्तान, चुके न चौहान”!.
Chaar baas, Chaubis Gaj, Angul Ashta Praman, Tha Upar baithe sultan, Chuke na Chauhan”.
(Height of four bamboo, 216 sqft and in-depth one thumb plus eight fingers…There above sits the sultan..Go Chauhan hit your target).
Soon after, Chauhan positioned his arrows towards Ghori and killed him…so goes the tale
The lines along with this episode are sculpted in the porch of the charming railway station of Ajmer. And so begins a great heritage trail of a dynamic heritage landscape… Compliments to Indian Railways what an entry!
In a time when Indian Handlooms are in present times challenged by the invasion of power looms, the story of weaving in the heritage town of Maheshwar provides not only a glimpse of hope in the struggling handloom industry in India but that the entire dynamic heritage and its history of the past is a record of the glory of women.
Maheshwar a small town on the side of the river Narmada in Madhya Pradesh in Central India is part of the tourist circuit covering Indore, Ujjain, Omkareshwar, Dhar and Mandu. The town rose to prominence when in the second half of 18th c the hamlet saw the reign of one of India’s renaissance, remarkable Queen called Ahilya Bai Holkar.
However, it has multiple identities that of a pilgrimage, weaving and heritage town. The ex-royal family of the Holkars have done much to create the visit to this location an attractive proposition. Defined by a quaint setting, where a visitor climbs the fort area through a bustling town one approaches the tranquil waters of the holy river Narmada. The town of Maheshmati has a mythical history and is mentioned in the two epics of India namely the Ramayana and the Mahabharat.
The symbolism of both the river and the queen Ahilya is a living spiritual entity in the town. Both are perceived as ‘Mothers’.
The river Narmada or Reva as it is locally called is considered one of seven holiest rivers in India. Her name Reva means the bouncing cadence defining her flow.
Such is her importance in the individual psychological aspect of spiritual evolution that while to reach mukti or release from cycle of rebirth and suffering it is believed that one can bathe in the river Ganges once, or bathe thrice in the now hidden river Saraswati, or seven times in river Yamuna, but the mere sight of river Narmada is enough for eternal bliss. There are, many myths associated with the river, the most common being that Lord Shiva one of the main Gods in the Indian mythological trinity, meditated with such intent that his flowing sweat drops gradually transformed into a river. Both Shiva and Ganga came to reach their mukti by bathing in ‘Ma’ Narmada. The concept attaining freedom from the life cycle comes to purify themselves in this river, and that every pebble represents the linga or the unmanifest form of Shiva the supreme force a belief reinforced by the well know saying Narmada ke Kanker utte Shanker ” Pilgrimage rituals impel devotees to perform over nine hundred kilometers of circumambulation. The most powerful symbol of the river is that she represents Vairagya or detachment.
Apart from the tourism and pilgrimage identity, Maheshwar has emerged as a vibrant handloom weaving location and the credit goes to not only the historical queen Ahilya, who of course has emerged as a symbol related to the textile cottage industry but to Sally (of women’s weave) and Richard Holkar (Rehwa society) who initiated the revival of the heritage tradition.
History: Empowered Queen
Ahilya belonged to the ruling Holkar family. The Holkars formed a part of the Maratha Confederacy and had established their dominance in Central India. There are several stories that are associated with Ahilya and the merit of introducing weaving goes to Ahilya. One version of the story as told by the town’s people goes like this: Malhar Rao Holkar, the Maratha’s military governor of the Malwa region once happened to stop at a village called Chondi in the modern state of Maharashtra. He was most impressed by a young girl who conducted herself impeccably while performing complex temple rituals. He asked her parents for her, brought her back and groomed her as the bride for his son Khande Rao. Unfortunately, she was widowed before she even reached 30. As was the custom those days, a widow was expected to sit on the burning cremation pyre holding the body of her husband and would immolate herself thereby proceeding to gain sainthood where she would be called Sati. In Ahilya’s case, her father in law Malhar Rao Holkar not only prevented her from committing Sati¸ but appointed, trained her both in military and administrator affair to take over his kingdom and appointed her regent for her young son from 1765-1795. She took control as an effective ruler. However, after her father in law’s death, there was opposition from some feudal lords who resented her leadership. Ahilya, strategized ways to win overlords, she commissioned some weavers from the Surat in the Western part of India to weave beautiful turbans which she sent as gifts from a ‘sister’ to the chieftains and requested their help. The chieftains appeared with armies in her defence. Young, small built and courageous Ahilya garnered the support of the Brahmin clergy by bestowing them with generous gifts and alms. The combined support of religious and feudal elite made her invincible. However, as the common tale among with the citizens of Maheshwar goes, the sending turbans had other consequences. Wives of the ‘brother’ chieftains demanded that they too are given a gift, and the queen then commissioned nine-yard sarees which then became what is today known as the ‘Maheshwari Sarees’, and locally are fondly known as Sarees of Ahilya.
The young Queen provided the direction to her small kingdom just as the river in Jungian therapy embodies the flow of life or the goal-directedness of the psyche. The river represents for the environment of the small town Maheshwar, the symbolism of a powerful flow, and one aspect to provide that direction was the legacy of the tradition of weaving of Maheshwari Sarees, which has been re-positioned in Neo-Liberal India in a manner that provides hope to the survival of the handloom industry.
The Design of the Maheshwari Sarees: Traditionally in cotton, they were usually nine-yard the sarees were in bright colours of red, yellow, blue-green among others but today through design intervention there are a larger variety of colours and combination. Traditional Maheshwaree sarees as similar to the sarees from Pune, their end or pallu are characterized by white and red stripes with gold, their borders are inspired from the motifs in the surrounding historical architecture and environment – Leheriya – wave, the river design among several others.
Such was her rule that she has over time evolved into a symbol and has inspired or continues to inspire all kinds of creative energies, about whom the Scottish poetess Joanna Baillie expressed in her poem Ahalya Baee:
“For thirty years her reign of peace,
The land in blessing did increase;
And she was blessed by every tongue,
By stern and gentle, old and young.
Yea, even the children at their mothers feet
Are taught such homely rhyming to repeat
“In latter days from Brahma came,
To rule our land, a noble Dame,
Kind was her heart, and bright her fame,
And Ahlya was her honored name.”
Over 200 years have not lessened the belief that she remains alive as the reigning ruler. One can see it in the small courtyard house where there is her throne, a remake of her humble court, her residential area, it can be viewed in the impressive riverine landings (ghats), soaring temples, cenotaphs, in the woman selling a snack of sprouted black chickpeas saying “there is nothing to worry… Ma Ahilya and Ma Narmada are watching over us, over you…” and finally in the rhythmic clacking sound of looms run by women weavers. Yes the handloom in India has a chance when Women take to the Loom in all textiles towns of India
Tourist Destination: Post Script: you can do a day visit or stay a weekend, Maheshwar is well connected by road. The Ahilya Fort run by Prince Richard Holkar among several other places to stay provides the visitor with a serene getaway. One can walk or cycle around, and enjoy the sunrise and sunset along or on the river. An important part of the experience to Maheshwar is that unlike other pilgrimage locations, one is struck by the immense cleanliness that defines it. The local governing body in tandem with the locals has disciplined themselves over several years to handle the garbage.
Traversing various terrains of myths, histories, symbolism and modern use of the animal such as the field of intelligence, the article traces in brief the manner in which the dog fulfills several human contradictory aspirations – from securing power, territory, to being a loyal companion in the alienated existence of modern age and, as a metaphysical idiom the dog evolves in the Indic religions of Hinduism and Buddhism as a symbol of ultimate self-realization and compassion. The dog closely associated with humans is reflected in Indian and other cultures of which just a few examples are given.
Where Natural traits make the Dog Special: Their sense of smell, hearing, and sight makes a dog capable of detecting trespassers up-to 200 meters. Because of these traits, they have been used by man not only as pets, companions but as hunting assistants and in more recent period for intelligence and military intention. But amongst his many traits, the dog is most celebrated for his affection, loyalty, and sense of marking territories.
Recently, as I was about to take a walk in the Lodi Gardens, one of New Delhi’s most popular public spaces, I chanced to a see an unusual breed of dog arrogantly getting out of a swanky BMW 4 Series Convertible Model. Both the car and the dog caught my attention which led me to approach the young man who accompanied the intriguing canine. I was told that the dog was an American Akita a breed known for its legendary loyalty. Suddenly, I recalled the Hollywood Film ‘Hachi: A Dog’s Tale’ -starring Richard Gere. The story of the film is based on a real Japanese Akita dog- Hachiko in Tokyo, who in the 1920s kept loyal vigil outside the Shibuya railway station used by its deceased master for several years until he passed away. His loyalty has been acknowledged in many ways among which is a statue in the vicinity of the railway station.
Yet another reference to an Akita is associated with the famous American deaf, and blind author and political activist Helen Keller who is credited with bringing the first Akita into the United States as her guide and companion.
Inspired, I sat charged my batteries to write a fascinating but selective article on the Heritage of Canine. This narrative like any storytelling piece is a small collage of various aspects of the heritage of dogs.
Traits & Myths
One of the most interesting aspects of the human psyche is his activity of creating myths and symbols. It is also fascinating to trace the manner in which myths and symbols with time acquire a life of their own and assume another level of reality. Such a phenomenon is widely conspicuous in ancient cultures like India where observed reality and ideas are woven into a metaphysical reality and tales of mythical wonder.
The process for an object to evolve as a symbol most times emerges from realistic nature embedded in the elements in the object itself. For example, the dog has visual and olfactory sensory abilities that are literally superhuman and hence it is not surprising that in modern times man has used them among other functions in the arm forces where the animals can go to places where a soldier cannot, and the dog is often said to subdue or intimidate a foe more quickly with non-lethal force. According to ongoing studies their brains are capable of tracking, detecting explosives, and locations of casualties and used in rescue and search missions. Selective breeds are preferred to be part of the intelligence squads among which the Labrador and the German Shepherds are most popular. The Labrador is mainly used for detecting the bombs while the German shepherd is used mainly for rescue operations.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a Brazilian neuroscientist who works on comparative neuroanatomy and has researched formations of neurons in human and brains of other animals and offers that the increased number of neurons (the basic information processing units) in a brain is directly correlated to the higher degree of cognitive capability. As such, the preference of selected breeds is determined by the high number of neurons in the brain. In India, the army, the paramilitary organization – Border Security Force and the police have formal Dog Squads and special personnel who handle them, there are special centers of breeding, training and researching these animals for a variety of security and other emergency situations.
Myths and Symbols:
Ancient Indian texts have referred to dogs both as symbols and myths. For example, Sarama is perceived as the divine female hound who is sent by the King of the Vedic Gods Indra to search for missing cows, in some references it is believed that Sarama taught man to milk the cow. It is considered that Sarama’s four children are companions of Yama the god of Death, and are also linked to the powerful epic mendicant Dattareya. The four dogs emerge as guardians and as hunters. As watchdogs, they are seen as protectors of the Ultimate Truth. The number four is understood to represent the truth entrenched in the idea of the four Vedas which are compilation on human wisdom, with the four Yugas or perception of the four cosmic time periods and with the four states of existence; all in all the dog is a symbol of protection of the Dhrama or the moral order.
When one perceives the location of the dog in the Vedas, there emerges the multilayered yet complex symbolism of the animal. One of the earliest books in the world, the Vedas are a compilation of metaphysical existentialist human knowledge where the mechanism of transmission is based on listening and memorizing- shruti and smiriti . The dog symbolizes the faculty of listening where this power facilitates the experience to the most sublime – the sound of silence, the ultimate subtlety of truth by which man has the means to self-realization.
This symbol of moral order or Dharma is repeated in a story in the great Indian epic The Mahabharat where the eldest of the five heroes Yudhisthira is accompanied by the God of Moral Order who is shown to be in the form of a dog. While the hero is invited to go to heaven, the dog who has been his loyal companion is denied entry. The hero Yudhisthira is willing to forgo his seat in heaven but is unable to leave his loyal companion. The story ends with Yudhisthira passing the final test. The idea of loyalty, protection and compassion is reiterated in Buddhism as well. In Nepal, the thanksgiving festival of Tihar, is one where animals useful to man are worshiped and the dog is one of them.
Kal Bhairav and his mount – Dog
In yet another association in the long list of Indian mythology the dog appears as the mount of the deity Kal Bhairav. Kal Bhairav is one of the form of Shiva. Perceived as a guardian deity, the Kala Bhairav represents a contradictory concept; where on the one hand he is understood to be the protector of territory, and is therefore linked as a guardian of cities such as Ujjain and Varanasi among many others which also includes the five Bhairavs of Delhi; on the other hand, Kal Bhairav is worshipped by the ritual offering of alcohol.- A substance that numbs and confuses the human brain resulting in a state of disempowerment that makes the devotee experience the force of disintegration of his identity and his urge for possessing territory. Both the power-identity equation, and the urge to possess is driven by the overwhelming illusionary force of the Human ego. The offering of the alcohol is a symbolic ritual whereby man is made to realize the futility of pining for worldly power, name, possession and territory. And yet, in a contradictory manner the ethos of Kal Bhairav celebrates dualism since the dog as the mount of the deity remains a symbol of guarding territory.
History and some breeds:
The Indian Pariah – In a documentary film titled Search for the First Dog the National Geographic depicts among the several breeds the Indian Pariah. An indigenous breed the Indian Pariah is through the DNA closely associated with the Austronesian dogs such as the Australian Dingo and the Santhal Hound among many others. In fact, the Indian Pariah gains much importance in the index of the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society (PADS) as well.
The Santhal Hound found in the Chotanagpur area of Jharkhand is reddish-brown in color and like other ancient dogs, they are known to Yoodle which is believed by several indigenous communities that the dogs are incarnated mystics who sing to the moon. As mentioned above, they are a part of the group of Austronesian dogs who are said to have moved with human populations from Africa four to five thousand years ago. As one of the most ancient Indian dogs who is closely integrated with several indigenous communities on various levels, they are seen as hunters and as spiritual totems. As totems they are depicted in paintings of large number of indigenous communities like those of the Sorais and Gonds.
Outside India, there are inevitably a number of dogs apart from Akitas, German Shepherds and Ladradors who have fascinating histories and one such breed is the ancient dog – Saluki whose fossils are found in the archeological evidence of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The Salukis were used for hunting and were perceived as protectors and sacred totems; and like the Shanthal hound, their figures are seen on sacred amulets. The Saluki as guardians were even buried with their noble owners and masters.
In the present times, conflict is an inevitable reality with an overpopulated world and a planet with limited resources, and hence the issue of security, and other emergencies gain much importance. Hence, it is not surprising that in recent times among several other things the use and visibility of dogs by the security forces for example in public spaces has increased. But the demand for dogs as pets too has increased which has led to the development of the Canine Industry which includes kennels, parlors and much more; and yet, the mytho-historicity of the dog, along with their scientific functionality and social habits presents a fascinating narrative on their heritage and makes the DOG no less – Man’s best friend!
One can go on and on discovering the tale of Delhi that goes beyond the clichéd Heritagescapes (term copyrighted by Navina Jafa) in the city, and one such heritagescape is the unique building of the National Defense College in the prestigious Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone. Embedded with an interesting history it, unfortunately, remains out of reach for heritage buffs. The National Defense College is located on the 30 January Marg and its location presents a poignant symbolism since it is opposite the Gandhi Smriti, the famous house where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
The building has a unique history. Commissioned in the starting year of the Second World War it was built as an Army General Mess in 1939. However, in the post-partition period, 20 rooms of the building were converted to house some British officers and their wives before they left for England.
In 1960 the use of the building was re-positioned when the President of India who is the supreme commander of the Indian Defense forces sanctioned for the structure to be transformed into the National Defense College (NDC). The College was inaugurated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the first prime minister of India. Ever since the responsibility for its maintenance lies with the Military Engineering Service.
As far as a distinct but dynamics of Heritage of the City of Delhi goes, the NDC remains a unique pioneering institution in Asia of its kind. Perceived as a think tank it offers courses on Strategies of Security and related matters to high ranking civil and defense officers from India and around the world.
The majestic building, characterized by rows of Tuscan pillars, high ceilings, is defined by long galleries, large halls, rooms and impressive gardens. Different parts of the building are shared by the Army, Air Force, and the Navy.
There is yet another alluring snippet in the narrative of Heritage of this building which emerged in my visit to this sacred out of the bound building, and it was one that is related to what now has become a topic of great discussion on heritage platforms – The Heritage of cuisine.
It is humbly acknowledged by the defense forces that the best cooks are from the Indian Navy, so much so, that the Chief cook for the President of India is also appointed from the Navy. “For days with nothing but the ocean, where the seamen are often rocked by sea-sickness and with a strict order not to consume alcohol, food takes a great priority of engaging the senses….” told me an officer associated with the administration of the building. Before leaving this hallowed space, I had the chance to sample the famed food. But the travel from the front of the building to the dining room seemed to be a heritage journey of its own. One passed imposing halls decorated with fascinating paintings, documents, and gifts from different countries. While what appeared to be the Army side contained monumental animal trophies, the naval section of the building that led to the dining room contained paintings related to the sea, photographs of prominent ships, and officers, there was for example an interesting well almost a sexual frame describing why a Ship is a ‘She’… It read that the Ship is a She since she is surrounded by the bustle, and gang of men, that she has a waist, and takes a lot of paint to keep her good-looking….
The Stroll to the space of the much-awaited food was through a long carpeted, narrow corridor lined that was like everything else had interesting photographs and other unique adornments. Finally, the journey expanded into the realm and sensibilities of food and it was worth the walk… a wide spread of salads, exotic sweet dishes, experimental assortments of bread awaited us…YES! The Ship of our Sense truly rocked.