Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Iron Pillar

Many legends surround the Iron Pillar in Delhi. Unknown to many, this pillar has been in existence for the past 1600 years, with many scientists trying to decipher its mystery. Several theories later, it was found that flaky rusting and white spots have appeared on the pillar, but due to this very fact, it has remained resistant to massive corrosion.Many believe it’s the climate of Delhi, others give credit to the material used, and yet others point to the way it was forged to be the secret behind its strength. It was subsequently discovered that the pillar was not cast, but painstakingly constructed by a welding process. An important factor in determining corrosion resistance is the presence of ancient massive iron objects in areas with high humidity for significant periods - the iron beams in the Surya temple at Konarak in coastal Orissa and the iron pillar at Mookambika temple at Kollur. It is obvious that ancient Indians produced iron capable of withstanding corrosion, this many believe is due to the high phosphorus content of the iron produced during those times. The pillar stands next to the famous Qutb Minar in the Quwwat ul Islam Mosque courtyard. It has a rectangular courtyard, 43.2 sq metres by 32.9 sq metres, and is enclosed by cloisters erected by Qutb-Ud-Din Aibak, with carved columns said to have belonged to various temples. The construction of the mosque began in 1193 AD by Qutb-Ud-Din Aibak of the Mamluk (or the slave) dynasty and was completed in 1197 AD. A massive stone screen with high five arches was put in front of the prayer hall, giving the building an Islamic character. The screen is carved with borders, inscriptions, geometrical and arabesque designs. The mosque was enlarged by Shansuddin Iltutmish (1211 - 1236 AD) and Alauddin Khalji (1296 - 1316 AD). The screens of these two sultans are carved with purely Islamic motifs with geometric patterns.
Belonging to the fourth-fifth century AD, this metallurgical wonder is 24 feet in height, 16.4 inches in diameter at the bottom, and 6 1/2 tons in weight. It stands in the courtyard of the mosque and has a Sanskrit inscription written in the style of the fourth century Gupta rulers. The inscription says that the pillar was probably a dhvajastambha or flagpole of a Vishnu temple, made at the request of Chandragupta II Vikramditya who ruled between AD 375 and 413. It is said to have been brought to Delhi by the Tomar king Anangpal, somewhere in the 11th century. There is a hole on the top, where there might have been a sculpture of Garuda.
The identity of king Chandra behind the Delhi iron pillar has been addressed. It has been firmly established that the king was Chandragupta II Vikramaditya and numismatic evidence also proves that Chandra was a shorter version of his name. Scientists believe it was made during his lifetime and also that Chandragupta’s religion gives sufficient evidence to support his being Chandra. It is only the name of Vahlika and Vishnupadagiri which have to be proved, although according to archaeological and historical evidence, Udayagiri could be considered as ancient Vishnupadagiri, where the iron pillar was originally erected. But archaeological excavations are necessary to confirm it as the original city of location of the iron pillar.The inscription at the top of the pillar indicates it was King Chandra's monument of victory, while another further down mentions King Anang Pal II of the Chauhan dynasty who ruled in northern India during the late eleventh century. This has led to confusion and a lot of myths that surround this pillar. The mystery of the pillar continues to intrigue, till more evidence can be garnered.

Silent Sentinel

The 40-km drive from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri through wide open spaces can be described long and tiring. On way, the monuments keep you company and break the monotony of continuous landscape. A complete planned city within its fort containing palaces, mosques and administrative buildings, Fatehpur Sikri is worth a full day's stop. The story goes that Emperor Akbar was without an heir and a worried man in 1568, when he visited Sheikh Salim Chisti, a Sufi saint at Sikri. He blessed Akbar with three sons and in gratitude, Akbar ordered a great mosque and a palace to be built under Salim Chisti's supervision in the small village of Sikri.The third Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar ascended to the throne at the age of 14. He established his dominion over the north and central India, including Bengal. He also secured the North West frontier by controlling Kabul. Akbar’s most important territorial gain was Gujarat, which as a commercial centre, would provided the Mughal empire with enormous wealth. It would also give open access to the Arabian Sea and the opportunity to do trade with Europeans and the Turks.Situated on the Vindhya range overlooking a lake, Fatehpur Sikri dominates the skyline for miles. The hamlet of Sikri was named Shukri (thanks) by Babur. Akbar named it Fatehpur (fateh - victory) making it the city of victory after his conquest over Gujarat in 1573. He was also the first great Mughal patron of the arts. Of his various building projects, the most ambitious was this new capital city - Fatehpur was built mostly between 1571 and 1585, when Akbar had adopted Lahore as his principal residence. Akbar proceeded to transform Fatehpur into a complete planned city. A fine blend of Islamic and Hindu architecture, Fatehpur has north-Indian style post and beams roofed with Islamic-style vaults and domes. Several elaborate palaces, courtyards, pools, harems, tombs and a great mosque were built here. A large number of masons and stone carvers toiled in an area over two miles long and a mile wide; they used locally available bright red sandstone which provides the buildings with much of their sheen. Fifteen years later, lack of adequate water supply and no means to bring it up from the lake led to the city being abandoned.The sprawling city is divided into two parts, the Palace Complex which has nine monuments and the Mosque Complex. The Mosque complex houses the Bulund Darwaza (the entrance) which leaves any visitor mesmerized. This massive doorway was built to commemorate the victory over Gujarat and is visible for miles at a stretch. Walking in through these gates is quite an experience. It leads into the huge mosque and a vast courtyard. Herein lies the white marble mausoleum of Sheikh Salim Chisti. Pilgrims come here to pray for a child and tie strings to the jali -- lattice work which is the most outstanding work of this mausoleum). Originally built in red sandstone by Akbar, it was later converted to marble by Jehangir. To the right is the mosque constructed under the saint’s supervision. Further down are a set of buildings, also referred to as the palace complex.The Palace complex hosts nine monuments within. The Ankh Michauli built in white marble, is a single-storey building with huge galleries and rooms behind it covered in jali. Here, the queen and her friends played hide and seek. From this building, one can take a peek behind into what was called the Meena Bazaar with a victory tower in the centre. It has a wide path with open structures on the side. It was here that the royal women organised a weekly market selling clothes, jewellery, food stuff etc and showed off their skills in all fields possible including the art of war. The invitees were men of the royal family and the royal entourage.The Panch Mahal or the five-storey building has pillars and is open on all sides. It was built with pierced stonework forming walls, behind which there was the royal harem. From here, the women could observe all that was going on in the yard. Diwan-i-Khas, from the outside, appears to be of two storeys, but has only one. It is supported by a central column with ornate brackets, and has nine seats in small galleries positioned strategically from across the centre. Here, Akbar sat in the centre and listened to his navratans or nine gems, the advisers. Across this building stands the Anup Taloa, with a central stage with four paths leading to it. According to historical evidence, this is where Tansen sat and performed many of the beautiful ragas for Emperor Akbar. On the periphery of the city and away from the administrative buildings in the centre are the personal palaces like the Sunehra Mahal (golden palace) sporting vivid wall murals. Nestling alongside this palace lie Jodhabai's and Birbal's Palaces. Diwan-i-Am is where Akbar took general audiences with the public. Close to it lies the Pachisi court or the pavilion, where the floor is marked in black and white and chess was played with humans as chessmen, with both players sitting on either side. The Panch Mahal and the Bulund Darwaza are today marked as the finest specimens of Mughal architecture with Fatehpur Sikri as a World Heritage Site. Fatehpur's innovative architecture has a vast array of disparate styles with a fusion of Indian and Islamic details. Both are used in a distinct manner and not repeated anywhere else. The palace buildings at Fatehpur Sikri reflect a synthesis of Timurid traditions of Iran and Central Asia with indigenous traditions of Hindu and Muslim India.During his reign, which lasted nearly fifty years (1556 to 1605), Akbar succeeded in consolidating the empire and establishing a strong administrative system. He was deeply interested in spiritual and religious issues, and in 1582 formulated a new code of religious behavior. It was here that Akbar held his famous religious discourses with leaders of many faiths. And it is only fitting that Fatehpur should be a blend of various styles

Baroda - a vibrant city

Baroda is also called the cultural and business capital of Gujarat. Baroda or Vadodara was originally Vadapadraka (a village amidst the banyan trees). Historical and archaeological findings date this place back to the 9th century when it was a small town called Ankottaka (present Akota) located on the right bank of the river Vishvamitri. It was flood-pronel; so Vadapadraka became the administrative headquarters.Ankottaka was a famous centre of Jainism in the 5th and 6th century AD. Some of the Akota bronze images can be seen in the Vadodara Museum.
History of Baroda
The Gaekwads, a Maratha clan who were originally the generals of the Peshwas in Maharashtra, carved out a kingdom for themselves in Baroda. Twenty years later, Damaji's nephew Pilaji became the founder of the house of Gaekwad. Although an English Resident was appointed to the Court of Baroda in 1802, the rulers had a good equation with the British. The wealth of the family is legendary, and stories abound of their priceless jewellery and works of art. The city witnessed a golden age when Maharajah Sayajirao Gaekwad came to the throne in the late 19th century. He brought about many reforms in education, medicine, religious tolerance and administration. Sayajirao was one of the three princes who rated and got a 21gun salute.Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III (1875-1939) is a legend; he was the adopted son of Queen Jamnabai. He took Baroda through a golden age with the help of an astute statesman - his chief minister, Diwan Madhav Rao. Sayaji Rao began constructing the Laxmi Vilas Palace, naming it after his first wife (a princess of Tanjore). Baroda can boast of one of the finest palaces in India. Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad commissioned the famous British Architects, Major Mant and Chisolm to work on Laxmi Vilas palace. Designed in the Indo-Saracenic style, it is quite a long drive from the huge wrought iron gates with the mounted royal emblem, to the portico. You look around in amazement as you step inside - the colourful frescoes in Italian style on the walls of the palace surprise you with their splendour. Beautiful statues, marble fountains, Moorish arcades and stained glass windows adorn the structure. The palace is a marvellous work of eclectic architecture, with a mix of all styles. Built in 720 acres, it was landscaped by Mr Gonderling of Kew. The work started in 1878 and was completed in 1890; it is still the residence of the royal family. The Fatehsinh Rao Museum, located in the palace grounds, houses the royal collection of paintings, sculptures and other objects of art. Here also existed the Raja Ravi Verma studio, where he painted some of his famous works which today belong to this royal family. A garden house which remains shut today and a dargah (mausoleum) also find place here, (which is also shut); besides a pond with crocodiles. Many cricket ball and limb were lost here, when those playing cricket close by ventured into the pond;. There is an in-house cricket club too.Massive black bulls with blue eyes stand in the doorway leading into the palace and the grounds,-- real ones, but stuffed ages ago. The gold gilt work on paintings is a sight to behold; models of the palace can be found under the impressive staircase leading to the top floor, where the personal chambers of the royal family are located. Its ornate Darbar Hall has an Italian mosaic floor and walls with mosaic decorations, lie empty since the day the Republic took over.The convention hall has the entire gamut of carpets, painting, photographs of the royal family, silver, gold, ivory, furniture, Venetian chandeliers, domes and a decorous ceiling, There is a huge garden and a Navlakhi Vav (lucky stepped well) which is dry and covered in creepers said to contain a treasure worth millions, though no one has found it yet. There is a small mandir by the riverbank and the palace is surrounded on all sides by a modern colony - large sections of the palace grounds have been taken over by the government for them. Heritage maintenance does not seem to be a priority in Baroda. Family disputes over property seem to have taken their toll, including the literature on the royal family and the architecture of the palaces is also almost impossible to obtain. Baroda makes for an ideal weekend getaway spot. You can visit the following places:
Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum
A royal collection of art treasures by masters like Raphael, Titian and Murillo as well as modern, western and Indian paintings, Graeco-Roman exhibits, Chinese and Japanese art and a large collection of contemporary Indian art are open to the public and well worth a visit. It was established in 1961, and has an outstanding collection of the portraiture of Raja Ravi Verma, a 19th century portraitist. Another interesting section houses Chinese and Japanese porcelain artefacts, while two rooms on the ground floor are treasure troves of the Roccoco period in art. The ground floor also has a set of crystal furniture specially made for Sayaji Rao Gaekwad. The bed and chairs were part of his personal chambers. They also have royal rooms decorated as they had been in the olden days, which are also open for the public to see.
Nazarbagh Palace
Built in old classical style, the Gaekwads used this palace on ceremonial occasions. It now supposedly houses the royal family heirlooms.
Makarpura Palace
A beautiful palace designed in Italian style, the Makarpura is now used as a training school of the Indian Air Force.
Pratap Vilas Palace at Lalbagh
This was originally built as the residence of the royal family. It is an extravagant mansion built in the Indo-Sarcenic style. It houses a remarkable collection of old armoury and sculptures in bronze, marble and terracotta. The palace is a riot of columns and arches drawn from a variety of traditions including South Indian, Central Indian, North Indian and Islam. The entrance has exquisite carvings as well as stuffed tigers placed on the walls. The Darbar Hall has mosaic floors, seven domes, 12 chandeliers, intricately sculpted cedar balconies and a silver throne. It is spread over an area of 720 acres with gardens and a golf course. One can visit Shastragar (weapons room) to see the Royal armoury.
Kirti Mandir
The family mausoleums of the Gaekwad rulers are decorated with murals made by Nandlal Bose. The memorial busts are shown by the eager old caretaker happy to have a rare visitor. The central spire is 110 ft high and an inner dome decorated with a series of specially commissioned frescoes.
This is an 8th century Narayan temple, is famous for its wall paintings.
Vadodara Museum and picture gallery

Founded by the Gaekwads in 1894, this museum houses, among others, miniature paintings and narrative paintings by different artists. Maharaja Sayajirao III Gaekwad of Baroda acquired choice items from across the world - Silver plated Copper Trays from Tanjore, a Shiva Natraja from 11th Century South India, 6th Century Sculptures from Shamlaji in Gujarat, an exquisite 9th century ivory-inlaid book box from North India, and a Jain bronze dating to 5th century AD. The upper floor of the building has a section each on natural history, ethnology and geology. The adjoining Art Gallery has a great collection of European old masters - Veronese, Giordano, Zurbaran, some Flemish and Dutch scholl paintings; Turner and Constable, a collection of Mughal miniatures, and valuable palm-leaf manuscripts of Buddhist and Jain origin and even an Egyptian mummy. There are dusty Egyptian artefacts, Greek sculptures and 18th Century Paithani textiles. Not even the museum officials are aware of that wonderful contraption, the Delhi Bungalow, located on the premises - a solid looking structure, it used to be dismantled and taken by the rulers to the Delhi durbars.
Nyaya Mandir
This is the home of the Baroda district court today. It was constructed in Byzantine style.
MS University Building

This was constructed in 1880 and boasts of the second largest masonry dome in India and towers to a height of 144 feet.Other places too are the Narsinhji haveli temple, the 1763 AD Maratha Brahmin Ganesha haveli, the Mandvi pavilion, Jumma Masjid, the Maqbara and the 1586 AD stepwell in Qutub Ud Din masjid.Baroda is also known for its bustling bazaars of silver and gold ornaments. A stone's throw away is the Sayaji Gardens a popular haunt for weekend visitors with its small zoo, mini railway museum, art gallery and the relatively new Sardar Patel Planetarium. The museum was completed in 1904, has a landmark collection of Tibetan and European art and also houses the famous Akota bronzes dating back to the 5th century AD.
Close to Baroda city
Dabhoi Fort – is a 13th century Rajput fort, rated among the greatest in India with 4 magnificent gateways. Champaner: An Islamic citadel, rivalling Fatehpur Sikri and Bidar, it has some grand Indo-Saracenic architectural monuments in India.The hill fort of Pavagarh, on the outskirts of Baroda, is a must-see. Pavagarh literally means a quarter of a hill. According to mythology a chunk of the Himalayan mountain fell from the grasp of Hanuman, as he was transporting it to Sri Lanka during the war between Rama and Ravana. Earlier, the fort and its temple were accessible only via a tedious climb but with a ropeway they are able to transport devotees right to the doorstep, and makes the trek all the more enjoyable. (Must-see here are the temple of Kali Ma and Dargah of Sajan Shah Sarmast.)
Baroda Factfile
By air:
Baroda is connected by regular flights of IA., jet airways.

Rail: Baroda is situated on the main rail link between Mumbai and Delhi. The township also boasts road links to the major towns and is situated on National Highway Number 8, connecting Delhi to Mumbai via Jaipur, Udaipur, Ahmedabad and Baroda.

Best Season to visit: October to March Baroda is 112 km south of Ahmedabad and 419 km north of Mumbai. The city is well connected with other cities by road, rail and air.Besides princely palaces, stately homes and museums, short excursions outside the city limits, the traveller can visit local handicraft centres, old temples, the ruins of ancient townships, long ago forts and, of course and places of pilgrimage.

Stepped Wells

While working on my first book, I travelled to various places in and around Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Delhi to look at the historic places. In passing, I heard that Vavs, in Gujarat and Rajasthan were repositories of architecture. These were wells - stepped wells in fact. Stepped and moving into the bowels of the earth, some five to six storeys in height. Designed to bring the people and Gods together, these wells attempted to entice Gods to leave their abodes for a cool drink of water - the elixir of life. Vavs were Built in the south western region of Gujarat, in the late 6th and 7th centuries. Builders/ masons dug deep trenches into the earth for dependable, year-round groundwater. They lined the walls of these trenches with blocks of stone, without mortar, and created stairs leading up to the water. These were the first stepwells, a practical which idea came to adopted even in Rajasthan. Several thousands of these wells were built in western India. The grandest period of the stepwell construction spanned from 11th to 16th century, the most extravagant of which is the Rani ki Vav, at Patan in Gujarat.
Vadtal Vav
I chose to go to Vadtal, a small village in the Kaira district of Gujarat. An out-of-the-way place, but accessible by road -- bus transport or private vehicle. What attracted me there was a mention from a close friend that a well existed there.I caught a local bus from Baroda and accompanied by a local guide, reached Vadtal at about 11.30. Crossing the highway, we walked into the village/town. Asking people for directions, we reached a murky little village pond close to what seemed like an old-fashioned round well. Close to it was what looked like a buried roof., stretched 30ft across and 15ft wide. I was mistaken. It was no roof, but an opening hidden by creepers and plants that seemed to be growing from within the breaks in the wall. The well seemed to be 40 ft deep. I peered from the top. The entrance was to the west with stairs leading into the semi-dark interior of the building. The place as all old places do, smelt of old age and refuse. Stepping into the doorway was like entering a time warp. This was a stepped well of Vadtal or Badhthal as called in history books - one of the well-known stepwells that have survived till day. The wide steps steadily moved into the interiors and downward, with just four levels in between to break the monotonous descend. The first and the second levels had doors on either side - chained and locked, probably rooms. The doors were made in wood and were just big and wide enough for a single person to pass through. By the third level, the height of the wall had almost reached 25ft - 30ft.The entire structure was built in stone. It had minimum of latticework, motifs and designs. Though these places were regarded as places of worship too, no idol existed except for a carved image of Lord Vishnu sitting on a serpent on the wall across the water. There was an inscription in Sanskrit written below the image - probably telling people the water came from the Ganges.The water could not be seen due to the fallen masonry, huge black stones. But anyway, I chucked a small stone through a hole; it took quite a while before I heard a plop. There was a circular walkway built around the well, where one individual easily walk or circumambulate it. Well, the water was there, but now no one accessed it for it could not be. A look skywards gave the impression that I was at least 40 ft below surface level. An amazing experience, the step well has become a piece of history. The Archaeological Society of India (ASI) has a board stuck outside, explaining that this is a historical sight. But no effort has been made to clean it or restore it.
Well structure
The vavs or baolis (step-wells) consisted of two parts, a vertical shaft from which water was drawn and the surrounding it were the inclined subterranean passageways, chambers and steps, which provided access to the well. The galleries and chambers surrounding these wells were carved generously, which became cool retreats during summers.
The earliest is the Mata Bhavani's vav at Ahmedabad, built in the 11th century. One could approach water by a long flight of steps above, which are four-storey open pavilions. The ornamentation of the columns, brackets and beams, and motifs all following are of the Solanki School of temple architecture.The Rani Vav (Queen's well) at Patan was built during the 11th century, and is the most magnificent stepwell in Gujarat, multi-storeyed with colonnades and retaining walls that link the stepped tank to a circular well. Columns, brackets and beams are encrusted with scrollwork and wall niches have carved figures - Hindu deities alternating with maidens flanked on the walls surrounding the staircase. It is massive in construction and the ornate treatment suggests it was a place for rituals, social and ceremonial purpose.The Dada Hari's vav at Ahmedabad, with the one at Adalaj, belongs to the Muslim period. The Dada Hari's vav was modeled on the Mata Bhavani's vav; it has an additional domed pavilion at the entrance. There is the absence of figures, but motifs and stylised scrollwork adorn the wall niches and can be compared to those that appear in Islamic architecture. Adalaj vav is located 12m north of Ahmedabad, and is octagonal in structure. A long flight of steps descends to the water level; columns and connecting beams create open structures. The receding perspective of the columns and crossbeams is particularly striking. Wall niches incorporate miniature pilasters, eaves and roof-like pediments.Lost in timeAn immensely practical idea, the step well lost out with the advent of British Raj, who were extremely unhappy with the quality of hygiene that existed in these wells, they installed pipes and pumps. The stepwell, other than a source of water, was also a place to socialise and gather for religious ceremonies. Women were usually associated with these wells, for it was they who collected the water, also prayed to the Goddess of the well for her blessings and offered votive gifts.
The wells fell into disuse with the invasion of the Mughal rulers but even they did not interfere in the rituals connected with these stepwells; in fact, they encouraged the building of many step wells. It was the British rule that forced a complete closure of these places. With it also ended the social and religious aspect of the stepwells and their importance in an individual's life.Awareness about the importance of water has increased over the past decade particularly now when many villages and towns are facing scarcity of rain and water. Special construction of these wells during those days encouraged percolation of rainwater into it. These have also withstood the earthquakes in the range of 7.6 on the Richter scale - the large flat stones joined superbly are hard to move. Stepwells, India's most unique but little-known contribution to architecture.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

Few people pay attention to this silent witness history, since few have heard about it. Few even know that the Bhau Daji Lad Museum exists. Named as the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1872 (named after the one in London), it is the oldest museum in Mumbai. For the past one and half years it has been under renovation under the strict supervision of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Mumbai. (INTACH)
Amidst the grounds now referred to as the Jijamata Udyan (Garden) it was earlier known as the Victoria Garden/Zoo. It makes for a beautiful backdrop to a museum in Mumbai. To the casual observer, the museum appears quaint and quite old, a square single storeyed building covered with windows, slender pillars, wrought-iron railings, elegant arches and high painted ceiling. Inside, the structure was painted in an even off-white colour. In the midst of all this you, would find heavy glass cases, oversized pedestals and fading information panels with labels that have turned yellow with age.
Now, the look has changed with the efforts of INTACH. the yellow paint has been pealed to reveal the gold ornamentations on wall corners, ceilings, hand railings and pillars; magenta and blue colours has been used to paint the pillars. The look is stunning. It is no longer faded, old and musty. It has been rejuvenated.
The story begins in the 1840s when Bombay came into East India Company hands. Dr. Buist, a collector conceived the idea of having a museum in Bombay. The idea took roots in and gradually, he was able to create the Central Museum of Natural History, Economy, Geology, Industry and Arts. Lord Elphinstone, the Governor of Bombay Presidency, was among its early patrons. In 1855, the museum had funds of Rs 6,000, a humble beginning. The curator was authorised to draw just Rs 86 per month to cover the ordinary contingencies.
Few people know that Sir George Birdwood, who wrote celebrated works like The Industrial Arts of India, and Sva, was among the first curators of this museum. He was appointed in 1858, after the revolt of 1857. For 10 years, he collected for the museum, and supervised its growth, with the active help and support of Indians such as the nagar seths of those times like Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, Framji Nusserwanji, and Jagannath Shankarsheth.
Ramkrishna Vitthal Lad, also known as Bhau Daji Lad was more actively involved. He, together with a number of his colleagues and men of influence, conceived the idea of erecting a new building for housing this collection, and naming it in honour of the Queen Empress of India, and the Prince consort. The museum that started as the Central Museum of Economic Products was christened as the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1862.
The museum, an archive of the communities that migrated from across the country to Bombay has, in addition, a library that contains rare maps and several old manuscripts and books that reveal Mumbai’s history. In 1975, Bombay Municipal Corporation that runs this museum decided to name it after Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum. It is still under their jurisdiction.
A great deal of time has rolled by, and the collection has expanded somewhat - statues of Englishmen that once occupied prominent positions have moved out into the attached garden. Although some major changes are in the offing, labeling, lighting and increasing the collection need to be looked at. The 150-year old look has changed – it has got a fresh life and look, bright surroundings and interiors – a new lease brought on by Vikas Dilawari, conservationist architect working with INTACH. But wait, the museum will be inaugurated (reopened) soon with great pomp. It has arrived at last, for people will look again and remember its lost glory.
The collection includes clay models equivalent of firka paintings made for the British in the ‘Company’ period—‘illustrating’ Indian types, and costumes, and trades and professions; finely wrought silver and copper ware; votive bronzes to fossils and minerals, delicate ivories to models of temples made from pith. Scattered and interspersed throughout are photographs of old Bombay and European bric-a-brac; wonderful Armour and garishly coloured ‘fruit’ models. Location: Bhau Daji Lad Musuem,Near Byculla Station,Mumbai

Archaeology: Techniques and Methods

This book I took over three and half years to work on, was published in June 2006.

About the book:

It is history that provides archeologists with a reason to dig, but sometimes it is the other way around. Although archaeology began as a treasure hunt, each discovery attracted attention and each new discovery adds a fresh aspect to human history. Archaeology: Techniques and Methods alphabetically lists the methods used by archaeologists to find evidence, for surveying, to dig, identify objects, place them in a time wrap and date them accurately. The book tries to follow the archaeologist in every step he takes to complete his job. It is of immense value to students of history, archaeology and researchers, and general readers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lord of the Nectar

As the final echo of the mantra ‘OM’ dies down inside the sanctum, one is left with the feeling that the echo continues somewhere far deep inside one's body and mind, setting every nerve and sinew to the hum and vibrate.

Well, this is no ordinary temple, for the looks as they say can be very deceptive. This is the Amruteshwar Mahadev temple located in Ghodbunder village close to Retibunder, off the Ghodbunder road and is 205 years old and considered a 'swayambhu' - self incarnated linga. It was in the begining of the 18th century when Jagannath Shunkerseth was digging a well close to his home that this linga appeared and a temple was built around it.

The tank or well is replenished by an underground sweet water spring, although it lies close to the sea hence the name amrut - nectar, eshwar-lord so the name Lord of the nectar or Amruteshwar Mahadev, has been given to this temple. People still take water from here for their personal needs, although it looks green and contains fish and tortoise, which in reality keep the water clean.

At first glance it feels like any other temple, later you begin to notice the round dome and the plaster work over the sanctum and the red tiled roof, and wooden pillars and beams of the mandapa. The wood is Burma teak known as the wood that survives almost all types and forms of ageing. A medium sized temple, a decorated Nandi adorns the mandapa with a tortoise in front of it. The inner sanctum has Bhairavnath as the guardian or dwarpal, Ganesha on its left and Hanuman on its right and a small painting portrait of the builder- Seth Jagannath Shunkerseth, merchant and businessman. The man who built this temple and was also responsible in setting up Sir JJ Hospital, Sir JJ School of Art, Grant Medical College, Elphinstone college, Town Hall and has Nana chowk named after him, for he was lovingly called 'nana'. Today the temple is looked after by Atul Shunkerseth the grandson of the scion. They are also going to build a statue of the scion in the main mandapa and the area has been demarcated already.

The beauty of the temple lies within the sanctum. What strikes you is the aura, the neatness and the feel that this is how a temple should be like and not cluttered like the modern ones with umpteen statues of different gods and goddesses. Neatly, the flowers have been arranged on the linga with a brass serpent coiled around it, a brass pot filled with water that drips continuously over the linga with the water flowing down through the channel towards the north - always the north. The carved serpent occupies the south niche; the west is occupied by Parvati and close to her stands the Trisul. A deepstambha stands outside in the courtyard like all old temples in Maharashtra facing seawards. The first floor of the temple is made of wooden boards and looks impressive but are coming loose at the joints, the beams holding the conical roof is also giving way and have moved from their slots.

The sanctum has been tiled and painted quite recently and as the maharaj of the temple says it is an ongoing process, repairs are done every few months - replacing the red roof tiles, cementing the dome from where water seeps in during heavy rains, and monkeys cause havoc every other day inside the temple unless it is kept closed. The maharaj or the chief priest of the temple belongs to the family of Upadhyays from Banaras and this family has been taking care of this temple for the last five generations. The temple and the land is owned by the Shunkerseths, and the Upadhyay's hope they will continue to serve this temple for generations to come.

The maharaj in fact believes that an approximate cost of 15 to 20 lakh will suffice for the restoration or is this an understatement for the support beams have to be replaced that are cracked into two complete halves, renovation of the temple dome, cleaning the tank, cement work where ever required, replacing the cracked support beams on the roof of the mandapa, floor boards, windows made in Burma teak needs to be restored. But all this can only take place after the owner Atul Shunkerseth, great grandson of Jagannath Shunkerseth, gives his permission, funds are collected and the right person is selected to handle the makeover and restoration work. One year has already passed and the second is going on.

Few people know about this temple and fewer come to this temple. At the present the maharaj completely depends on his salary given by the owner who comes in just a couple of times in a year but is very possessive of this temple for they do not like visitors asking questions about this temple. The restoration work will be an effort from both sides the restorers and the Shunkerseths.

It is not known when the work will begin. Everyone has been talking about it the mayor, the Shunkerseths but ultimately it is the family connection and blessing that will lead to the restoration taking place. Enter the sanctum, salute bhairavnath – the dwarpal and climb three steps down and enter into a quiet, cool world of a unique and ancient Mahadev temple that has a personality of its own.