27 December, 2011

Bhuvaraha Narasimha temple at Halasi

"Works of art indeed are not made entirely at random from inspiration; there are almost always discoverable some methods, principles and irrevocable canonical rules. Whatever may be the originality of a work, it is connected with contemporary works; it is explained by anterior works. The author belongs to a school, the work belongs to a style"
- Dr. Jaouveau-Dubreuil in Dravidian Architecture

Temple architecture in South India
The temple architecture that started in South India was generally classified into groups according to the names of the dynasties of kings. It is usually said that the Pallava period (AD 600-AD 850) is that of sculptured rock, the early Chola period (AD 850-AD 1100) that of grand Vimanas, the later Chola and Imperial Pandya period (AD 1100-AD 1350) that of the most beautiful gopuras and of the Vijaynagar period (AD 1350-AD 1600) that of mantapas and pillared halls and the Nayak period as also the modern period after 1600 as that of corridors.

Temple architecture in Karnataka

The Architecture of Karnataka can be traced to 345 AD with that of the Kadamba Dynasty. The Kadambas were the originators of the Karnataka architecture. Kadamba's architecture and sculpture contributed to the foundation of Chalukya-Hoysala style. Vijayanagara architecture is a vibrant combination of the Chalukya, Hoysala, Pandya and Chola styles, idioms that prospered in previous centuries

Salient features of Kadamba architecture

The most prominent feature of Kadamba architecture is the Shikara(tower), also called Kadamba Shikara. The pyramid shaped shikara rises in steps without any decoration and is crowned with a Kalasha on the top. Occasionally the pyramids had perforated screen windows.

Kadamba temples were an improvement on the Andhrabhritya structures. The latter we may presume, were like all ancient monuments, mere halls, as yet not separated into partitions. With the rise of the Kadambas, however, the temples came to consist of two distinct parts, namely the garbhariha and the sukanasi.

BhooVaraha Narasimha temple

A popular legend narrates that the Pandavas, while in exile, built Narasimha temple overnight at Halasi to worship Lord Vishnu.

Historically, the temple has been dated to 5th century AD when the Kadamba ruler Shivachitta were ruling over this region. Inscriptions inside the temple also support this.

The Varaha-Narasimha temple at Halasi shows further evolution in Kadamba architecture. The parallelopipeds in the stages of the tower are here more numerous than in several other temples. But as these stages are not so minutely divided or marked with profusion of ornamentation as in the later temples, the vigorous and purposeful lines of the tower are still maintained. The tower is arranged in eleven tiers. On the 10th tier there are four panels each crowned by a kirtimukha, or the grotesque face of a monster, apparently a lion.

The sukanasi which is surrounded by walls is lighted by pierced stone windows inserted above the overhanging eaves. Unlike the earlier Kadamba temples that have one window, Bhoovaraha Narasimha temple has three windows.

Originally, the temple had only one Garbhagriha where a crude idol of Narasimha having two hands was installed. It was later replaced with a seated Narayana. This shrine has a shikara built in the Kadamba-Nagara style which was renovated later.

A second garbhagriha facing the first, was added to the temple several centuries later. Vijayaditya III installed a 5 feet standing idol of Varaha carrying Mother Earth (or Bhoodevi) in his mouth in 1186-87 AD.

25 December, 2011

Yellamma Gudda

This popular pilgrim destination is situated at the foot of the scenic hills known as Sidhachal or Ramagiri overlooking the beautiful river Malaprabha which enchances the richness of the region.

A temple dedicated to Goddess Yellamma also known as Goddess Renuka, the consort of the mythical sage Sri Jamadagni and mother of Lord Parasurama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, forms the sacred crown of the beautiful hill. It is learnt from the legends that a part of the corpse of Sati fell here when it was severed by the Chakra or the 'Holy Wheel' of Lord Vishnu.

Although not usually a village guardian deity, Yellamma is represented somewhere in the pantheon of most villages in this region. She is also the "house deity" in a number of households from all castes in the social heirarchy. Equated loosely with Parvathi, all the prominent female deities of the region are considered her younger sisters; and the prominent male deities of the region (except Basavanna and Shiva) are her elder brothers.

According to one legend, Yellamma was born in Yellappagoudar's house in Haralakatti village. She married an ascetic Jamadagni who lived in an ashram on the hill outside Saundatti against her parents' wishes.

According to another legend, Renuka Devi also known as Yellamma, daughter of Renuka Raja married Sage Jamadagni on the advise of sage Agasthya

She would fetch fresh water for her husband from Malaprabha river every morning for his daily rituals by making a water pot with riverbed sand. She used a live cobra to cushion the pot on her head. One morning she saw gandharvas bathing in the river and she was momentarily lost in thoughts about her husband. She could neither make the pot nor catch the cobra as she could not concentrate. She returned home empty handed to face the wrath of her husband whose curse turned her to a leper.

Yellamma left the ashram and wandered far and wide. She came across two yogis, Ekayya and Jogayya who guided and helped her with the sacred waters of Jogalabhavi and cured her of leprosy. When she returned to the ashram, Jamadagni ordered his sons to chop off their mother's head. Three of their sons refused and finally Parasurama cut off his mother's head. The pleased Jamadagni granted Parasuram a wish and he chose to bring back his mother to life.

According to another legend,Jamadagni told Parasurama to bring his mother's head, but he couldn't find it. A woman Yellamma belonging to untouchable caste was passing by. Parasurama cut off her head instead and Jamadagni placed Yellamma's head on Renuka's body and she came back to life.

According to a third legend, Renuka fled to a low-caste community when her son parasurama was coming to kill her. He found an beheaded her along with another woman belonging to the low-caste who tried to protect her. When he later brought them back to life, he attached the woman's head to Renuka's body and vice-versa by mistake.

There are as many interpretations of the Renuka-Yellamma legend as there are varieties of the story. Since devadasis are invariably drawn from Dalit castes, the most obvious seems that it takes away the stain of sex with an untouchable: their heads (symbolised by Yellamma's) may be low caste, but their bodies (symbolized by Renuka's) might be used by upper caste men without defilement.

Sugandavarthi (Saundatti) - Capital city of the Rattas

Sugandavarthi, now popularly known as Saundatti was the capital of the Ratta chieftains during the period 930 A.D. to 1230 A.D. The founder of the Ratta dynasty of Saundatti in the Belgaum District is stated to have been raised to the position of a feudatory chieftain by a king named Krsna who has been identified with the Rashtrakuta emperor Krsna III (939 - 67 AD). An inscription of 1218 A.D. represents the said Rattas as the descendants of the same Krsna, called Krsna-Kandhaara, while in another record of 1209 A.D. from Hannikeri near Sampgaon in the Belgaum District mentions the same king as Krsna-Kandhara and represents him as Kandhaara-pura-varaadhishwara, 'The supreme lord of Kandhaaarapura, the best of cities'. The Rattas of Saundatti, used to represent themselves as lords of the city of Lattaloora.

Saundatti was popularly known as Sugandhavarthi, Saugandhipura in the krutayuga. Jayappa Desai II of Navalgund - Sirasangi built the fort at Saundatti. He ruled Sirasangi- a prominent dynasty from 1734 A.D - 1758 A.D which was recognised as the "Golden Era". He was a clever administrator. He was humble, Religious, generous and sympathetic to his subjects. He was a great scholar and a poet. He composed poems in several languages and was also a patron of art . He translated the Sanskrit work "Deekshitara kuvalayaananda" composed by Appayya and "Rasamanjari" composed by Bhaanudatta to Kannada.

He paid prominence to the safety of his dynasty and constructed forts on elevated lands. He constructed forts at Kusugal (Hubli taluq), Sirasangi and Saundatti at a total cost of 8.5 lakh Rupees. He started the construction of Saundatti fort in 1743 and completed it in 1751 at a total cost of 2 lakh Rupees. The fort is spread over an area of 10 acres and is built of red sand stone. The bastions, stone walls, stone arches, moat and watch towers enhance the beauty of this fort.

Hyder Ali attacked the fort during 1777 - 1782. There are records stating that Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan not only received large amounts of wealth from the Desais and but also looted the kingdom.

The rulers of Navalgund - Sirasangi were Veerashaivas. KaaduSiddeshwara of Siddhagiri was the Rajguru. Kaadusiddeshwara was the family deity of the Sirasangi rulers. The ancient temple of KaadaSiddeshwara was constructed (1635 A.D. - 1638 A.D.) prior to the construction of the fort by a farmer Kallappa who belonged to Saundatti village.

Jayappa Desai II remodelled the temple while constructing the fort. The temple is constructed with white stones and is 430ft in diameter. 59 steps lead to the temple. There is a vast navaranga and the beautiful idol of KaaduSiddeshwara sculpted in black stone is magnificient.

Jayappa Desai constructed a beautiful palace within the fort walls. 40 feet Darbar hall, teak wood door, windows and pillars were very artistic. The palace was burnt down in 1942 during "Quit India movement".

The historical palace and the KaaduSiddeshwara temple within the Saundatti fort also have Educational importance. An Anglo vernacular school popularly known as the "Palace School" was being operated in the palace between 1918-1920 A.D. K.L.E. Society started the Shri KaaduSiddeshwara Middle school in 1935. The school was shifted to KaaduSiddeshwara temple when the palace was destroyed during the Quit India Movement. The school was relocated to an independent structure attached to the fort in 1951. Few classes were still conducted in the Kaadusiddeshwara temple until 1965.

Godachinmalki Falls, Ghodageri and Gokak Falls

Most of North Karnataka's rivers originate in the Western Ghats. The Krishna and its tributaries-the Bhima, Ghataprabha, Malaprabha and Tungabhadra-cover a length of about 700 km. Krishna's basin covers 13 districts and about 60% of Karnataka's geographical area!

Rivers, elevations and rains create spectacular waterfalls in North Karnataka. Belgaum district has more than six big waterfalls, of which the Gokak and Godachinmalki falls are the most magnificent and most popular with tourists.

Godachinmalki Falls

The Godachinmalki Falls also known as the Markandeya Falls located in a rugged valley enjoys a beautiful and exotic setting. Located within a green valley, it is approachable from Godachinmalki village by a short trek through an irregular forest route. Another route is from Pachhapur via Mawanur, which is about 6 kilometers.

Instead of one dramatic steep drop the river takes two gentle descents. Markandeya river takes a first fall from a height of about 25 metres and flows into a rocky valley. After a short distance from the rocky valley, it takes the second fall from a height of about 18 metres. After this double fall, Markandeya river joins Ghataprabha river near Ghodgeri.

Ghodageri Hanging Bridge

Inspired by former president A P J Abdul Kalam’s belief that “physical communication between two places paves way for development.”,Girish, the 60-year-old mechanical engineer has constructed as many as 84 hanging bridges across the rural landscapes of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala to keep the villages connected during heavy rain.

The idea of building a hanging bridge came to Girish when residents of his village prompted him to build a hanging bridge across the Payaswini river at Arambur village in Dakshina Kannada district in 1989. He is confident that with proper maintenance, the bridges he built can survive for more than 100 years. The bridges are built according to the conditions of the place. Girish’s repertoire includes bridges with supporting cement pillars and huge tree trunks used as anchors.

The engineer along with his colleagues from Ayyashilpa Company Sullia, visit the spot where a bridge is needed, and go about their jobs.

The biggest bridge that Girish has built is a hanging bridge of 280 metres connecting Avaragola and Ghodageri villages across the Ghataprabha in Belgaum district. He says that he is ready to teach the art of constructing hanging bridges free of cost to youngsters who are willing to devote time and energy for the same. (Girish Bharadwaj-9448123475)

Gokak Falls

Gokak falls also known as the Northern Mysore Falls and compared to Niagara Falls (because of their distinctive horseshoe shape)is close to Gokak town. Ghataprabha river leaps over sandstone cliff into a rocky gorge 170 ft down which is a beautiful sight to behold. In flood, the falls extend across 177 metres. A 201-metre long hanging bridge is suspended 14 metres above the river. Several temples and monuments, dating back to the days of the Later Chalukyas of Kalyana, are found on the banks of the river.

24 December, 2011

Shivalingeshwara Math at Savalgi

Karnataka, like several other states in India, has witnessed religious conflicts among Shaiva sect, Vashnava sect, Jaina and Islamic religions over the centuries. However, the Bhakti movement and the unifying forces by Sufis, mystics and ‘tattva padakAraru’ have worked ceaselessly to further communal harmony. Communal accord that prevails in almost all villages of Karnataka is an outcome of these endeavours. People respect Gods and saints belonging to all religions. Festive occasions are celebrated in the entire village cutting across castes and religions. In addition to this there are many shrines in Karnataka which attract devotees from all castes and religions. These shrines are managed by people belonging to different religious faiths.

Savalagi (sAvaLagi) a small town in Gokak taluk of Belgaum district contains Islamic style religious institution known as ‘sAvaLagi maTha’. The shrine of Sri Jagadguru Shivalingeshvara is six centuries old. People from both religions congregate here during the annual fair. There is regular interaction between the Swamiji of sAvaLagi and the seer of Bende Nawaj darga in Gulbarga.

The shrine is a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity and communal harmony.Sri Shivalingeshwar Swamiji, its founder, and one of his disciples - Sharane Marulamma -- became Jeevantha Samadhis (a concept wherein individuals voluntarily embrace death).

The basement houses the nirvikalpa (live) samadhi of Shivalingeshwara. There is a tomb in the first floor with four minarets. There is a stone bed and a cotton bed. Khwaja Bandenawaz was a contemporary of Sri Shivalingeshwar Swamiji was a great admirer of the swamiji and had visited Savalgi. In turn, the swamiji had attended a Muslim festival in Gulbarga on the invitation of the saint. It is said that Shivalingeshwara and the famous Sufi saint Hazrath Khwaja Bandenawaz Gesudaraz of Gulbarga sat in this room and discussed socio-cultural issues.

Certain incidents during the late 14th Century led to communal tension among castes and religions. The Shaiva saint is said to have resolved these conflicts by performing miracles.

The Sufi saint Hazrath Khwaja Bandenawaz Gesudaraz visited Savalgi and is believed to have held discussions with Shivalingeshwara. Subsequently, he ordered Muslims to make common cause with all religious communities and serve the math as servants of the Shaiva saint. Since then, Muslims became an inseparable part of the math. The devotees chant the slogan “Hara Hara Deen, Hara Hara Mahadev” during religious procession.

The head of the math participates in all the important rituals observed by Muslims and other religious communities in the village. If there is a death, he cannot perform regular puja until the last rites are performed and the community informs him about it.

Philanthropic activities of the maTha
Without seeking any financial assistance from the government, the Math is running a hostel for girls studying in schools and colleges in Dharwad. It has also set up an institution in Dharwad for imparting training in yoga for girls.

As per the reports in 'Deccan Herald' dated September 26, 2003 some of the future philanthropic plans of the Math included construction of a marriage hall, starting of a milk dairy, an old-age home, a health-care centre, a botanical garden for growing Ayurvedic medicinal plants and a yoga centre at Savalgi.The Math is planning to open an institution for the rehabilitation of beggars and a centre for the deaf and blind children belonging to economically weaker sections of the society, both at Savalgi.

We did not have sufficient time to discuss about the maTha's philanthropic activities with the swamiji.

13 November, 2011

Yoganarasimha Swamy temple - Kaivara - Vaikuntha Hill

In Hindu temples throughout India, and most Hindu households, rituals, or pujas, are performed to the deities during which it is customary to offer a series of specific leaves and petals. Some will be carried out daily and other only on special festivals. Whilst people still perform the pujas today, it is less likely that the correct flower or leaf will be presented to the deities and they are often substituted with grains of rice: people have lost touch with this traditional knowledge about the ritual use of plants and can find it difficult to locate the correct species for each ritual.In response to this situation there is an initiative in the state of Karnataka, South India, to encourage temple authorities to create gardens in which these plants could be grown. In addition, the Karnataka forest department had also established a number of 'religious forests'. In 1984 the first 'religious forest' was opened in Sirsi, Uttara Kannada district. A second second had been established by 1989 in Ramanagaram, Bangalore district and a third in 1991, the Kaivara reserve forest, in Chintamani, Kolar district.

The Kaivara reserve forest was established in 1991 at the location where a popular 19th C philosopher sage Narayanappa or Yogi Nareyana Yathindra, born in the 1830s, attained jiva samadhi. The area is also famous in having been identified as the site of battles recounted in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata.

Nestled in this 'religious forest' is a piece of heaven on earth known as Vaikuntha- a tiny hill near Kaivara. Vaikuntha is the mytical celestial abode of Lord Vishnu in Vishnuloka according to Hindu mythology. The Lord's abode in Vaikuntha is surrounded by vast gardens where he plays with his consorts. The gardens consist of trees like parijatha, Harichandana, kalpaka and is filled with fragrant multicoloured flowers.

When the king of bees sings the glories of the Lord in the gardens, there is a temporary lull in the noise of pigeon, cuckoo, cakravaka, parrot, partridge and the peacock. The birds stop singing to hear the glories of the Lord.

A cave temple dedicated to Yoganarasimha swamy is located on Vaikuntha at Kaivara. Kaivara Narayanappa is said to have meditated here for more than three years and his statue is installed here.

The wide eyes of the Lord look like freshly blossomed lotus flowers (ambuja charulochanm). His beautiful lips sport a bewitching smile (suchi smitham). He has a long and sharp nose. He holds the panchaayudhas viz. the conch, the discus, the mace, the sword and the bow in his hands. His fingers are adorned with valuable rings (divya anguliyaka virajitham).

The Lord wears a beautiful crown (athi manohara kirita makuta), a pendent on his forehead (chuda), ear drops (makara kundala) studded with precious stones, a neck band (graiveyaka), rows of chains hanging on the chest (hara), armbands (keyura), a circular band adorning the wrist (kataka), the mole like mark on the chest (Srivatsa).

He wears Kousthubha gem on his chest, rows of stringed pearls (mukthadhama) and many other jewels. Each of these jewels is said to exude sweet fragrance (divya gandhiah). Besides vyjayanthi vanamala (a garland of unfading flowers) adorns him.

Adjacent to the temple is a magnificent structure with a spacious prayer hall. One can get beautiful views of the surronding hills from here.

09 November, 2011

Amaranarayana Temple - Kaivara

This Dravidian style temple at Kaivara is dedicated to lord Vishnu. The temple has four sculpted stone pillars carved with finely sculpted motifs. This constitutes the Navranga Mantapa. The outer mantapa serves the purpose of an outer hall and leads to an inner small closed mantapa and the shrine. The outer mantapa is the largest part of the temple and is the place supporting larger congregations of people. The vimana contains the most sacred shrine wherein resides the image of the presiding deity Amaranarayana.

Bittiga, popularly known as Vishnuvardhana, the emperor of Hoysala Empire in present day Indian state of Karnataka is believed to have installed the idol of Lord Amaranarayana in Kaivara sometime during the period 1115–1141 CE. Vishnuvardhana was the name given to Bittideva after he relinquished Jainism and embraced Sri Vaishnava religion under the influence of Ramanujacharya, the founder of that sect. He got a number of temples built both during the Jaina phase and the Sri Vaishnava phase. He has been described as the Constantine of Srivaishnavism.

The priest told us that Indra, the King of Gods and a demon named Vruthasura fought a fierce battle in the Krutayuga. After a few days of constant battle, Indra emerged victorious by killing the demon. To wash off his sins he installed the idol of AmarNarayana at Kaivara. Since the idol was installed in KrutaYuga by Indra, there are no customary bodyguards of Vishnu at the temple entrance. Inside the temple complex there are also idols of Kalyana Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana, Anjaneya and the statue of saint Narayanaappa.

18 September, 2011

Jal Mahal - Water Palace - Jaipur

Mansagar Lake is a 300 acre lake surrounded by the Nahargarh hills. In the past, at the location of the lake, there was a natural depression where water used to accumulate. During 1596 AD, when there was a severe famine in this region there was consequent acute shortage of water. The then ruler of Ajmer was, therefore, motivated to build a dam to store water to overcome the severe hardships caused by the famine to the people inhabiting the region. A dam was constructed, initially using earth and quartzite, across the eastern valley between Amer hills and Amagarh hills. The dam was later converted into a stone masonry structure in the 17th century.

Jal Mahal or water palace, is built in the centre of the artificial lake Mansagar, outside the city to the north-east, by the road to Amber. Though sometimes dated as late as 1775, it is likely that this was constructed by Sawai Jai Singh, at the time of foundation, around 1735. Certainly, one surviving drawing in the palace collection that shows it is a type and style consistent with other drawings from Sawai Jai Singh's time.

The Jal Mahal palace, a pleasure resort, is considered an architectural beauty built in the Rajput and Mughal styles of architecture. Its position in a lake extends and established Rajput tradition, of which earlier examples include the very early palace of Padmini at Chittor (originally built c. 1300 but reconstructed c. 1880) and the Jag Mandir at Udaipur (1620s). Roughly contemporary is the Jag Nivas, also at Udaipur, which was built by Maharana Jagat Singh II. The palace has airy domes, pavilions and terraces around an old fruit orchard. A lot of people presume the Jal Mahal was a duck hunting retreat used by the maharaja and his guests for shooting migrating geese, grouse and duck but it was actually a pleasure pavilion for the royal family.

The palace, built in red sandstone casts an enchanting reflection in the calm waters of the Mansagar Lake. It is a five storied building out of which four floors remain under water when the lake is full and the top floor is exposed. The rectangular Chhatri on the roof is of the Bengal type. The Chhatris on the four corners are octagonal.

The garden on the roof – Chameli Bagh – is a Rajput garden, very different from a Mughal garden. It has plants bearing scented white flowers – juhi, champa, chameli, mogra.

The paintings on the tibaris celebrate the art forms of Jaipur, each with a different theme like sunehri, hari, neeli. All the doors are of rose wood, specially carved by traditional carpenters from Sikar. This is as authentically Rajput as it can get.

17 September, 2011

Dargah Shariff of Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti

Love all and hate none.
Mere talk of peace will avail you naught.
Mere talk of God and religion will not take you far.
Bring out all the latent powers of your being
and reveal the full magnificence of your immortal self.

Be overflowing with peace and joy,
and scatter them wherever you are
and wherever you go.

Be a blazing fire of truth,
be a beauteous blossom of love
and be a soothing balm of peace.

With your spiritual light,
dispel the darkness of ignorance;
dissolve the clouds of discord and war
and spread goodwill, peace, and harmony among the people.

Never seek any help, charity, or favors
from anybody except God.
Never go the court of kings,
but never refuse to bless and help the needy and the poor,
the widow, and the orphan, if they come to your door.

This is your mission, to serve the people.....

Carry it out dutifully and courageously, so that I, as your Pir-o-Murshid,
may not be ashamed of any shortcomings on your part
before the Almighty God and our holy predecessors
in the Silsila on the Day of Judgment.

- The final discourse of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti to his disciples, one month before his death

Khwaja Mu'inuddin Hasan Chishti was born in Asfahan, Persia, around 1138 AD, and brought up in Sanjar. He completed his religious education in Samarqand and Bukhara . He was initiated into the Chishti Order by Khwaja Usman Haruni around 1156 AD. Mu'inuddin met the great Abdu-l-Qadir Jilani, the founder of the Qadiri Order and also Abu-n-Najib Suhrawardi, the renowned Saint of the Suhrawardi Order at Baghdad. During his visit to Medina, around 1187 AD, he received a mandate from the Holy Prophet to proceed to Ajmer where he established the first presence of the Chishti Order in India. His high morals, great wisdom and frugal lifestyle deeply influenced thousands of people as he carried on his work in Ajmer for more than 45 years and became known as also known as Gharib Nawaz, the Patron of the Poor. He passed away in 1236 AD. His tomb in Ajmer is a well-known place of pilgrimage for people from many countries, regardless of their religion.

Text in the following sections has been borrowed from http://dargahsharif.com/KGN_DARGAH%20SHARIF.htm

Dargah Shariff of Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti lies at the foot of Taragarh hill. The first recorded visit to to the Dargah Sharif (SHRINE) of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty Ajmeri was Muhammad Bin Tughluq in 1332. Between the death of Firuz Shah Tughluq (1388) and the invasion of Timur (1398), Zafar Khan, progenitor of the Sultans of Gujarat, made the pilgrimage to Ajmer from Nandalgarh.

The Khiljis of Malwa and Mandu had close connections with the shrine in the last half of the fifteenth century.Sultan Mahmud Khilji visited Ajmer in 1455. At that time there was still no proper mausoleum to house the tomb of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin. Two mighty Buland Darwaza, were built with the donations of Sultan Ghyasuddin Khilji of Mandoo who ruled Malwa from 1469 to 1500 A.D.

Mughal Patrons
Ajmer emerged as one of the most important centers of pilgrimage in India during the reign of Emperor Akbar. He was the first Moghul Emperor to visit the Dargah on foot when Ajmer came under his possession. Emperor Akbar used to come here by foot on pilgrimage from Agra every year with his queen in observance of a vow he had made when praying for a son. Akbar visited the grave of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty fourteen times.

One night His Majesty went off to Fatehpur Sikri (U.P.) to hunt and passed near by Mandhakar which is a village on the way from Agra to Fatehpur. A number of Indian minstrels were singing enchanting ditties about the glories and virtues of the great Khwaja, Khwaja Moinuddin--- May his grave be hallowed---who sleeps in Ajmer.

Often had his perfections and miracles been the theme of discourse in the holy assemblies. His Majesty, who was a seeker after Truth, and who, in his zealous quest sought for union with travelers on the road of holiness, and showed a desire for enlightenment, conceived a strong inclination to visit the Khwaja's shrine. The attraction of a pilgrimage higher seized his collar.

The Emperors subsequent devotion to the shrine was remarkable. He made it a rule for himself that he should go every year in the beginning of Rajab (the time of the 'urs) to the holy shrine'. But his visits were not confined to attending this annual festival. As the expeditions of just rulers are a source of soothment to mortals, and are market-days of justice, His Majesty was disposed to traveling and hunting especially when in this way he could make a pilgrimage to the shrine of some great ascetic. Akbar also visited the shrine regularly to give thanks after important military victories. Thus, he went there after the conquest of Chittor in 1568 and of Bihar and Bengal in 1574.

Akbar believed the birth of his son, Prince Salim, in 1570 to have been the result of the successful intercession with God by Salim Chishty, a darvish whose marble mausoleum may still be seen at Fatehpur Sikri. This reinforced the Emperor's faith in the Chishty order and was the occasion of his most striking display of devotion to Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty. He, at the time when he was seeking for a son, had made a vow to his God that if this blessing should be attained, he would perform an act of thanksgiving which would be personal to himself, viz., that he would walk from Agra to the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty and there pay his devotions to God. He repeated the visit on the birth of his second son later in the same year, through this time he only walked the last stage of the journey.

Each of Akbar's visits to Ajmer was celebrated by his making substantial offerings at the shrine, conferring endowments on it and beautifying it. His Majesty also arranged for the management of the shrine, and for the treatment of pilgrims, and for the extension of mosques and khanqas in the territory.

- From Akbarnama

He built the Akbari Masjid, a spacious mosque in the Dargah in 1571 A.D. It was repaired by Nawab Ghafoor Ali of Danapur in 1901 A.D. One of its wings now accommodates the Moiniua Usmania Darul-Uloom, an Arabic and Persain School, for religious education which is run under the management of the Dargah.

The buland Darwaza in the north, which is now the main entrance of the Dargah, was built by H.E.H. Nisam Usman Ali Khan of Hyderabad Deccan in 1915 A.D.

On the top of this gateway, there is the main Naqqar Khana (drum house) containing two pairs of huge naqqars (beating drums) which were presented by Emperor Akbar after his successful victory in a campaign of Bengal. They are sounded to the accompaniment of music played on Nafeeries and Shahnias at certain fixed hours of every day and night of the year by musicians permanently employed on the staff of the Dargah.

In the three years he was at Ajmer, Jahangir visited the shrine nine times. He gave the dargah one of its cauldrons (degs) and on the inaugural occasion he lit the fire beneath it himself and the contents of the pot fed five thousand poor, as well as himself and his wife, Nur Mahal. In 616, Jahangir had made a vow that they should place a gold railing with lattice-work at the enlightened tomb of the revered Khawaja. On the 27th of this month (Rabi II) it was completed and I ordered them to take and affix it. It had been made at a cost of 110,000 rupees.

Shah Jahan is also belived to have constructed a ghat to give access to the Jhalra tank which is adjacent to the south side of the dargah. A second monumental gateway was built outside the Buland Darwaza during Shah Jahan's reign. The inscription on the gateway indicates that it was built to commemorate a victory of Shah Jahan.

Shah Jahan's daughter, Jahan Ara Begum,was a loyal follower of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty & as an expression of her devotion, she had a porch of white marble built over the main entrance to the saint's mausoleum known as the Begumi Dalan the has been recently decorated.

The Emperor Aurangzeb was not wholly in favour of pilgrimages to the shrines of saints: 'He forbade the roofing over of buildings containing tombs, the lime-washing of sepulchres, and the pilgrimage of women to the grave-yards of saints, as opposed to Quranic law.' Even so Aurangzeb himself did not fail to visit the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty when he was at Ajmer in 1659 after his victory over Dara Shikoh, he presented Rs. 5,000 to the attendants as a thanks-offering for the victory. However, there are no lasting monuments in the shrine of Aurangzeb's reverence of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty. But in spite of the lack of any obvious imperial patronage at this time, there seems to have been no drastic decline in the popularity of the shrine.

The Dargah includes many other attractive buildings, tombs, courtyards and Daalaans, some of which are exquisite specimens of the Moghul architecture and were erected during the Moghul period.

Tombs in Dargah Shariff

Finch mentions that there were many men of distinction to be buried in the saint's vicinity. Most remarkable of them, at the time Finch was writing, was the grave of Nizam, the water carrier who saved the Emperor Humayun's life. In his gratitude, the emperor promised that he would seat the water carrier on his throne. Humayun did not fail to keep his word and the humble bhishti was able to dispense imperial authority for a period which varies in the sources from two hours to two days. By the time Aurangzeb visited Ajmer (1659) the water carrier's grave was so elaborately decorated that the Emperor mistook it for the of the saint. He ordered that it should be stripped of its embellishments.

Another of the graves belongs to Shahbaz Khan one of Akbar's leading generals. There is a curious story behind his burial at the shrine: Shahbaz had expressed a dying wish to be buried in Ajmer within the hallowed enclosure of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty. But the custodians of the sacred shrine refused to comply and Shahbaz was buried outside.

Ghiyas al-din entitled Naqib Khan, who was made a commander of 1500 at the beginning of Jahangir's regin, and died in 1614, is also buried in the Ajmer dargah with his wife beside him.

In 1616 Hur-al-Nisa', daughter of Shah Jahan, is believed to have died of smallpox and to have been buried just to the west of Gharib Nawaz 's tomb.

Outside the Begumi Dalan are several tombs, one of which houses the remains of Shaykh Mir, commander of Dara Shikoh's forces and Auragnzeb's father-in-law. Another contains the body of Shah Nawaz Khan, Aurangzeb's gneral. They were both killed in the battle of Ajmer fought between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb in 1658-9. In the same courtyard is the tomb of Mirza Adil, governor of Ajmer under the Scindias. The chronogram on the tomb gives the date 1768-9. Close to the grave of Mirza 'Adil is that of his son, Nawab Mirza Chaman Beg, who was Subadar of Malwa under the Scindias.'

The enclosure behind the Shah Jahani mosque is called the Charyar after the forty companions of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty who are supposed to have arrived in Ajmer with him, and whose remains are believe to be buried there.

Hindu Patrons
Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty's grave was replaced by Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur in 1730. This contains approximately 42,961 tolas of silver.

The advent of Scindia rule in Ajmer in 1791 was marked by the Nawab of Arcot wishing to repair the dargah buildings which had become dilapidated. Rao Scindia co-operated in this and was presented with a telescope in return. The Scindia family was devoted to the shrine. Bishop Heber, who visited Ajmer shortly after the beginning of British rule noted that 'the Scindia family, while masters of ajmer, were magnificent benefactors of its shrine.' They spent Rs 2,000 annually on the distribution of food to the poor at the two Id festivals.

In 1793 the Nawab of Karnatak, Muhammad 'Ali Khan Wala Jah, built the Karnataki Dalan as a shelter for pilgrims to the shrine.

In 1800 the Maharaja of Baroda presented a chatgiri with which to cover the ceiling of the mausoleum of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty.This was replaced in 1959 by Ghulam Dastgir of Hyderabad.

Distinguished visitors to the shrine
On 23 December 1911, Queen Mary of Britain visited Ajmer and its shrine. She gave Rs. 1,500 to pay for the repair & roofing of the tank in front of the Mahifil Khana.
Distinguished individuals continue to visit the shrine. Thus, in 1951 Dr. Rajendra Prasad, then President of India, Paid a visit to the dargah, as did the wife of President Fakhr al-din 'Ali Ahmad in 1975, and Indira Gandhi in 1977

24 July, 2011

Edakkal caves - A window to Pre Historic age

Fred Fawcett was a Superintendent of Police who served British government in Kozhikode. He had gone to Wayanad on an invitation from Colin MacKinzie, a planter who wanted him to join him on a hunting expedition. The planter showed him rock engraving in a cave and some very old implements which were found in his estate in 1890. They were situated on the western side of Ambukuthimala hill twelve kilometres south-west of the town of Sultan’s Battery in the Wayanad District of Kerala on an ancient route connecting the high ranges of Mysore to the ports of Malabar.

The name Ambukuthimala is ascribed to the local legend which has it that the caves were formed by arrows fired by Lava and Kusha, the sons of Sri Rama, legendary hero of the Ramayana.Even today there are many who believe that Lord Rama killed Surpanakha, the sister of Ravana, in the narrow fissure at the southern end of the cave.

Fawcett first discovered its anthropological and historical importance. Like many other officers of the British government posted in India, he had a keen interest in places and structures that had strong links with the culture and history of indigenous people and took time off his official duties to write about them. Fawcett was quick to understand these were "pre-historic". On his next visit to the cave in 1894 and in 1895 he was able to throw more light on the importance of the cave and the drawings found there. These were the Eakkal caves containing the Neolithic petroglyphs (rock engravings) on the walls.

The ground elevation is about 1200 metres above the mean sea level. The peak at over 500 metres above the surrounding area is easily identifiable from a considerable distance. The cave is formed by a heavy boulder straddling a fissure in the rock and hence has been appropriately named as “Edakkal” - which literally means “a stone in between”.

Edakkal cave is not a cave in the real sense. It is a fissure made by a corner of rock splitting off from the main body due to some natural causes. The depth of both the cleft and the fissure is 30 ft. What makes it a cave to the ordinary observer is the fact that in the other portion of the large cleft, an enormous rock, weighing several tonns, has fallen forming a roof over a large part of it. The rock wall contains some interesting carvings, which represent human and animal figures and objects of human use and symbols. These carvings speak of a highly civilized people of pre-historic era and inspires the archaeologists and historians to rewrite the history of Wayanad and Kerala as a whole.

Inside, the cave is on two levels. The lower chamber measures about 18 feet long by 12 feet wide and 10 feet high and can be entered through an opening of 5 x 4 feet. A passage opposite the entrance leads upward to a small aperture in the roof through which one climbs up to the next storey whose interior is about 96 feet long, 22 feet wide,and 18 feet high. Light enters the cave through a big gap at the right-hand corner of the roof where the boulder does not touch the facing wall.

The rock engraving indicate clear remnants of Harappan culture links the Indus Valley civilisation with South India. “There had been indications of remnants akin to the Indus Valley civilisation in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, but these new findings give credence to the fact that the Harappan civilisation had its presence in the region too and could trace the history of Kerala even beyond the Iron Age” - historian M R Raghava Varier. Later, Mr. Varier, along with noted history scholar Rajan Gurukkal carried out further studies, which testified that the caves had remnants upto the Iron Age.

Of the identified 429 signs, "a man with jar cup", a symbol unique to the Indus civilisation and other compound letters testified to remnants of the Harappan culture, spanning from 2300 BC to 1700 BC have been found in this cave. The ‘jar’ is more or less same as those in Indus ligature. But the human figure is a little different. Mr. Varier opines that the Edakkal engraving has retained its unique style as the engraver tried to attain a two-dimensional human figure.

Human figures are depicted on the Indus Valley seals as holding various objects such as bow, jar,stick etc. Scholars have identified in the corpus of Indus script nearly 430 ‘letters’ including basic and compound signs. While some signs are shared by other contemporary civilizations of the Old World, some combinations like the ‘man-with-the-jar’ are peculiar to Indus Valley objects

These symbols form part of compound letters similar to scripts and no concerted efforts appear to have been made in the past to decipher them, with a lone exception by Iravatham Mahadevan (a scholar on the Indus valley civilisation), who could gather valuable ideas from such letters. The discovery of the symbols are akin to that of the Harappan civilisation having predominantly Dravidian culture and testimony to the fact that cultural diffusion could take place. It is wrong to presume that the Indus culture disappeared into thin air,” Mr. Varier said.

The carvings in Edakkal have as much importance as the cave paintings unearthed as the prototypes of ancient world art in Africa and Australia. Edakkal has the prodigious history of more than 5000 - 7000 years. The figures of the warriors wielding bows and arrows bear a remarkable resemblance to the picture found on an earthen vessel discovered from Susa in Persia.

Lakkidi - gateway of Wayanad and around

The hill station of Lakkidi is the gateway to the Wayanad district of Kerala. Located at an altitude of 700 meters or 2297 feet above the sea level, Lakkidi is the highest location in the Wayanad district and lies above the Thamarassery Ghat pass.

The lush greenery of the hills, gorges and streams seen on both sides of the passage up the hill are sure to linger on our mind for a long time. On a clear day Lakkidi View Point offers spectacular views of the surrounding cliffs and valleys.

One of the highest locations in Wayanad, Lakkidi gets the highest average rainfall in Kerala. So streams, brooks, and waterfalls are a common sight around here. The rainfall at Lakkidi has also created a fresh water lake called Pokkot Lake in this area.

Pookot, a natural fresh water lake is located at 2,100 meters above sea level. The breathtakingly beautiful lake is surrounded by lush greenery all around. The pathway around the lake is lined by thick bushes and tall trees. One of the main tributaries of the Kabani River – the Panamaram rivulet originates from Pookot Lake and then tumbles down into Panamaram valley.The fresh-water aquarium at the lake is filled with an excellent array of fish.

Mountains, streams, thick forest and the panoramic view of the valley are exciting images. It is one of the vantage locations to experience the magic and mood of the monsoon in the woods.

Kanthapara and Meenmutty go through an exciting journey before tumbling down from rocky massifs. The streams meander through dense greenery, emerging for a brief, glittering plunge through the air before disappearing once again under thick foliage cover.Though relatively smaller, Kanthanpara - a two tiered falls is easily reachable, and makes an ideal picnic spot.

Meenmutty is the biggest of the waterfalls in Wayanad district both in terms of volume and height. The water cascades down in three stages from a height of about 300meters. Located in lush moist deciduous forests, the waterfall is a trekker's paradise. The best time to visit the falls is between November and May because the water is too torrential during the post-monsoon months. Meenmutty in Malayalam means "where fish are blocked". Since there is upward falls where fish can’t swim further this name is given to the falls.

The Meenmutty, Soochipara, and Kanthanpara waterfalls combined, feed the Chaliyar river.

Apart from the stunning views of the surrounding plains, Lakkidi's other claim to fame is the large Ficus tree bound by a prominent chain. It is the source of a dramatic local legend. Tribal legend has it that Karinthandan was murdered by some British engineers after he showed them the tribal people's traditional pathway for the construction of a ghat road that links Wayanad and Kozhikode. But Karinthandan's ghost made life miserable for British people who travelled on the route. Finally, a Christian clergyman chained the ghost to a tree near Lakkidi to facilitate a trouble-free journey for the British. A heavy chain anchored to the ground and placed around the stout branches seems to lend credence to the story.