17 January, 2011

Jag Mandir Palace and Lake Pichola - Udaipur

From the early 1600s onwards, Maharanas of Mewar contributed to the development of this delightful island of summer palace on the serene waters of Lake Pichola. The construction of this water-palace was commenced during the reign of Maharana Karan Singh (1620-28AD) and was completed by Maharana Jagat Singh I (1628-52AD) after whom it is called JagMandir.

View of Jag mandir palace from boat

View of Jag mandir palace from boat

Gol mahal and chattris.

In an era of peace reigned Maharana Karan Singh (1620-1628). He completed the construction of circular chambers we know as 'Gol Mahal' in 'Jagmandir'. Maharana Pratap Singh once refused lunch with Raja Man Singh because he had given away his sister in marriage to Prince Salim, later Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Man Singh avenged this insult by defeating Pratap at the battle of Haldighati. Pratap’s son Amar Singh made peace with the Mughals but unable to accept his humiliation, he gave up his title in favour of his son Maharana Karan Singh.

Prince Khuram (later emperor Shah Jahan) resided for some time in this palace, while in revolt against his father Jahangir, in 1623 AD. The young Mughal prince Khurram forged a strong friendship with Karan Singh, who provided a safe haven at 'Jagmandir' for the prince in exile. The Suryavanshi ideal of doing the right action at the right time and helping in distress without taking into acount any other implications was upheld by the Maharana. In 1627 when Mughal emperor Jehangir died, Prince Khurram succeeded him as emperor Shah Jehan. On his departure, the mughal emperor and the Maharana exchanged turbans as a token of bonding and friendship.

Reflection of the ceiling on table

Maharana Jagat Singh I (1628-1652) was undboubtedly the greatest patrons of art and architecture in Udaipur. In his reign,the picturesque Garden courtyard with its central pool was completed at 'Jagmandir'. Zenana chambers were built along with the west-end of the 'Gol Mahal'. 'Jagmandir' and 'Jag Niwas' the incomparable island palace on Lake Pichola are named after him. The 'quest for excellence' in architecture, painting and the arts reached its pinnacle in this era.

Jagmandir was gloriously embellished during the reign of Maharana Sangram Singh (1710-1734). The 'Darikhana' or the open pavilion with its intricately carved marble columns, was built to complement the beauty of the Garden courtyard. The 'Barah Patharon ka Mahal' or the palace of 12 stones, a unique structure with 12 solid marble-slabs was created along the east end of the 'Gol Mahal'. The 'Kuwarpada Ka Mahal' or the palace of the crown prince, was built at the western-end of the Garden courtyard, complete with its pavilions and central pool.

By the 1750s, 'Jagmandir' had come to resemble 'Swarg ki vatika' or the proverbial gardens of heaven.

During the sepoy mutiny of 1857 several European families from Neemuch were lodged and entertained by Maharana Sarup Sinha in this palace.

In 1942, during the reign of Maharana Bhupal Singh (1931-1955), three 'chattris' or kiosks came to adorn the Garden courtyard in front of the 'Gol Mahal'. The chattris mark the central directions of the garden courtyard. Each one is unique for its intricate carving and craftsmanship; the central deep green-marble 'chattri' being the most characteristic of them all. The 'chattris' are instrumental in integrating the entire space of the garden courtyard and its pavilions.

Lake Palace or Jag Niwas was built in 1754 by Maharana Jagat Singh II,62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar – believed to be descendants of the Sun God, who gave his name to this elegant white building. The Lake Palace Udaipur a palace on an island in the middle of Lake Pichola girdled by hills, was the summer residence of the rulers of Mewar. Today this pleasure palace is a luxury hotel.

Udaipur is called "Venice of the East" due to the Lake Palace built on the island in the middle of Lake Pichola. It is an inspiration for the imagination of the poets, painters and writers.

12 January, 2011


44 km north of Udaipur is a small village in the Aravali hills known as Haldighati. Beyond this village is the Haldighati Pass. The soft yellow soil in the pass resembles turmeric / haldi when crumbled. This gives the place its name - Haldighati.

This place witnessed the famous Battle of Haldighati on June 18, 1576 between Maharana Pratap Sing of Mewar and the moghul army of Emperor Akbar of Delhi.

By the mid 1500s Akbar had forced all Rajput kingdoms, except Mewar, to become part of his empire. Akbar tried to force the Mewar king into submission, but failed. He sent a series of envoys to Mewar with peace treaty.

Akbar sent his first proposal with a team under the leadership of Jalal Khan Korchi. Two months of discussions did not yield the desired result.

The second proposal was led by Raja Mansingh - a high caste able Rajput who before serving the Moghuls, had extremely close ties with Mewar. Pratap refused to sign the treaty.

As per a popular folklore in Rajasthan, and as quoted briefly in epics like "Rajaprashasti" and "Vanshbhaskar", Pratap arranged for a "daawat" in Udaipur and excused himself from attending on the pretext of a stomach ache and sent his son prince Amarsingh instead. When ManSingh insisted on meeting the Maharana, Pratap refused to meet an outcaste. The enraged Mansingh challenges him to war. One Rajput commented "if you come with your army, then we will welcome you in Malpura. If you come on the basis of your paternal aunt's husband's (Akbar's) strength, then we will welcome you whenever we get the opportunity."

Insulted, Mansingh wentback. The food prepared in his honour was thrown into the lake and the ground where the party was held was dug up and Gangajal was sprinkled.

Rana saun bhojan samay, gahi maan yeh baan.
Hum kyon jeyvain aaphu, jeyvant ho kin aan.
Kunwar aap aaro giye, Rano bhakyo heri.
Mohi garani kachu, abbey jeyihun pheri.
Kahi garani ki Kunwar, bhai garani johi.
Atak nahin kar deyungo, taran churan tohi.
Diyo theli konso kanwar, uthe sahit nij saath.
Chulu aan bhari haan kahyo, ponch rumalan haath.

- By Ramkavi

Conversation between Mansingh and Maharana during dinner,
Mansingh: "Why should I eat the dinner when you are not eating?"
Maharana: "Kuwar, you eat the food, I have stomach ache and I will eat later"
Mansingh: "I will give you 'chooran' for your stomach ache".
Mansingh then puts aside his plate of food and stands up with his companions. Wiping his hand with his handkerchief, he says "I shall wash my mouth when I come the next time"

Akbar sent Mansingh's father Bhagwandas with a proposal for treaty. To give Maharana a proof of his strength, he conquered Badnagar, Rawail etc. Maharana respected Bhagwandas as a Rajput and not as a Moghul messenger. The third attempt too proved futile.

Akbar then sent his fourth proposal with Todarmal - an able commander and a clever politician. He too was not successful. Now a war seemed inevitable.

Akbar marched to Ajmer in March 1576. After 15 days of discussion, he made Mansingh the commander of his army. Abul Fazal has written about Mansingh -
"Raja Mansingh who was foremost in Akbar's court in intelligence, loyalty, and bravery and who was given the high title of 'farzand' (son) was chosen to fight Maharana Pratap".

Mansingh camped for two months at Mandalgarh to increase his military strength and finally marched towards Khamror - 10 miles away from Pratap's military camp and set up his base. Rana Pratap reached Gogunda destrying all the areas of Mewar plains so that the enemy would not be able to get food, grass or shelter.

Finally the two mighty armies faced each other for a battle that would go down in the annals of Indian history as one which showcased the great valour of the Rajput troops led by their scion Rana Pratap.The result was indecisive, but the battle was truly symbolic of the raw courage, spirit of sacrifice, and loyalty of the Rajputs in their heroic defence of their motherland.

The infantry of the Bhils with their traditional bow and arrows was under the leadership of Punja. The main commander of Mughals - Mansingh, was on an elephant in the centre.Pratap spurred his steed to a determined gallop towards Man Singh. He cut his way through to the Mughal general. Chetak collided with the elephant's plate armour. He reared up against the huge beast, his forelegs glancing off its tusks. Man Singh was partly obscured by his mahout, but Pratap heaved his lance at the howdah. The weapon passed through the driver's body, killing him instantly, and smashed against the howdah's metal plates.

Man Singh had disappeared. Thinking he had killed Man Singh, Pratap let out a triumphal cry of revenge. The uncontrolled elephant swung around in panic. The broadsword attached to its trunk slashed through the tendons of one of Chetak's hind legs. Unaware of this, Pratap wheeled Chetak to rejoin his men.

The horse now had the use of only three of his legs but, enveloped by the furore, he persisted valiantly. Imperial cavalry,who had rushed to guard their commander Mansingh, now surrounded Pratap. Chetak was limping and stumbling. Suddenly, a great commotion of kettledrums came from the rear of the Imperial ranks.The Rajputs saw the Mughal reserves making their entry and Man Singh followed closely at the head of battle-weary soldiers and horsemen.

Pratap's first impulse was to destroy the Rajput traitor, possibly meeting death in a blaze of glory. One of his officers, Jhala Man of Sadri, snatched the royal standard of Mewar from Pratap's hand, determined to fight a rear guard action until Pratap's army had reached the protection of the defile. "Ride swiftly to safety!" he yelled. Reluctantly but wisely, Pratap shouted an order to his remaining chiefs to take their men to the village of Koliyari, where arrangements had been made for treating the wounded.

Waving the Sun-God banner, Jhala rallied his men to meet the enemy's counter-attack, as the remainder of the Mewar army disappeared into the cover of the hills. Bringing up the rear, Pratap stopped upon an outcrop of rock. He turned to look back at the swirling dust haze that all but hid the horrendous spectacle of the battleground. Through it came the tumult of shots, the clashing swords, the cries of victory and death. For a few moments, he was able to follow the progress of his crimson banner. Then it, too, fell. They continued on. Chetak was now limping badly. Pratap, too, was now faint from loss of blood; he had sustained seven severe wounds from musket, sword and lance. Having carried his master to safety, Chetak died. Pratap joined the remainder of his men, recovered from his wounds, then continued his guerilla resistance.

11 January, 2011

Hatheesing temple - Ahmedabad

Hathee Singh temple is a very famous Shwetambar Jain temple constructed in 1848-1850AD by a rich Jain merchant Kesarisingh Hatheesing (Some sources mention the name as Maganbhai Hutheesing) at a whopping cost of Rs 10 lakh. It was designed by Premchand Salat and is dedicated to Dharmanath, the fifteenth Jina or Jain apostle.

The temple is an architectural marvel built in beautiful white marble. The temple is a double storied construction that has a dome on the front side. The other two sides of the temple consist of lavishly carved out galleries. The temple has a cemented courtyard enclosed by a row of cloisters and has 52 shrines in its spacious courtyard. Each of the shrines consists of an image of a Tirthankara.

10 January, 2011

Dada Hari ni Vav - Ahmedabad

Over large parts of the parched north western parts of India, nothing is more scarce and sacred than water. Water has dictated the lives, the myths and the rituals of the people of this arid and inhospitable region. Monsoon is scarce and life is possible only because the people have been harvesting rainwater since thousands of years by storing the monsoon gift in tanks / step wells.

The construction of stepwells can be dated as follows:

(i) Pre-Solanki period (8th to 11th century CE)
(ii) Solanki period (11th to 12th century CE)
(iii) Vaghela period (mid-13th to end-14th century CE)
(iv) and the Sultanate period (mid-13th to end-15th century CE)

Water-rich stepwells, were usually three to nine stories deep in the ground and served to conserve precious rain water for over 1,000 years until the late 19th century when they were replaced with borewells by the British Raj.

Stepwells shaded from wind and sun, are a niche out of the merciless desert heat. Water in the stepwells was used to quech the thirst of men, animals and crops. The underground facilities were used to celebrate colorful festivals and sacred rituals besides serving the everyday requirements for drinking, washing and bathing. The wells have drinking troughs for grazing animals and camels and people fill their basins as act of merit, lifting up more water than their own beasts need.

Stepwell locations often suggested the purpose they served. When a stepwell was located within or at the edge of a village, it was mainly used for domestic purposes and as a place for social gatherings. When they were located outside the village, on trade routes, they were often frequented as resting places. When they were used exclusively for irrigation, a sluice was constructed at the rim to channelise the lifted water to a trough or pond, and finally to the fields.

Preventing water pollution
When stepwells and ponds were in daily use, they were ringed with the unwritten rules prohibiting adjacent activities that could pollute them. Their architecture was designed to keep the water clean; the wells sloped from the parapet to drain surface water away from its cavity, and the first stair was raised above the ground to prevent ground contamination.

Hindu ritual brought many substances to the water of the stepwell. Puja combines ancient custom of offering fire and throwing flowers with scattering or pouring rice, water, oil or cow / coconut milk over a scattered object. In temples with many worshippers, drains are cut in the wall to carry the liquids poured during rituals to the outside. But, in stepwells, pieces of broken terra-cotta, vegetable offerings, garlands and coconut husks collect. The water mass quickly decomposes into humus and was regularly spread as mulch on the neighbouring fields. Todays efforts to keep wells open and fresh conflict with the tradition of puja. Even a dry well like Dada Harir receives offerings of coconuts full of sprouting grain every year.

Ecosystem of the stepwells
Hindus love animals, especially if they figure in their myths and there are numerous creatures to be nourished by a well. Some water animals make their way to stepwells when the monsoon fuses the dusty line between land and water, but most are put in the the water by Hindus who think wells should have living beings. They bring a fine tortoise or a fish to a well to gain merit. Further blessings come from scattering grain on the roof, the parapet and in the water, thus beginning a cycle of life. Turtles eat the flower garlands thrown in the water, frogs eat the insects and there is some creature to eat every organic thing that drops or is blown into the well. The ecosystem thus cleaned the polluted water.

Vav / Bavdi
Traditional stepwells are called vav or vavadi in Gujarat, or baolis or bavadis in Rajasthan and northern India. They were built by the nobility usually for strategic and/or philanthropical reasons. They were secular structures from which everyone could draw water. These sources of life, were architecturally celebrated by both Hindus and Muslims.

The vavs or baolis (stepwells) or baavdis consisted of two parts:
(1) a vertical shaft from which water was drawn and
(2) surrounding it were the subterranean passageways, chambers and steps, which provided access to the well.

Walls of stepwells were lined with blocks of stone without mortar and steps were created leading up to the water.Sculptures and inscriptions on the walls of stepwells demonstrate their importance to the traditional social and cultural lives of people.

Dada Hari ni Vav,is an octagonal shaped well located below the ground level which dates back to 1501.It was built by Bai Harir Sultani a woman of Sultan Begara's harem, during the reign of Mahmud Shah.The basic purpose of setting up the well was to provide the travelers with cool water and a place for relaxation.

This underground well has intricately carved designs.

Dada Harir's dedication reads:
As long as the sun and moon endure, may this well remain for the nourishment of insects, birds, plants and animals.

Dada Harir tomb and mosque

07 January, 2011

Jama Masjid - Ahmedabad

Sultan Ahmed Shah, the founder of Ahmedabad city constructed the mosque in 1423 A.D. in the heart of the old city. Jama masjid of Ahmadabad is classed as the best building of its kind in western Hindustan.

Made by using yellow sandstones, the architecture of this mosque is a blend of Hindu and Muslim styling. This edifice was built using items from the demolished Hindu and Jain temples. The mosque is supported by 260 pillars and consists of 15 domes.

The length of the veranda of the mosque is 103 yards by 89 yards. On either side of the veranda there are hallways which are 5 and a quarter yards in width, the flooring of the veranda is made of cut stones and the pillars of the hallway is of red brick. The hall consists of 354 pillars. Above these pillars the dome is situated. The size of this hall is 75 feet by 37. The floor, Mehrab and Minbar of this hall are made of marble. At the front on either side there are two round minarets from cut stone, which are spread on 3 sitting areas. This cut stone has beautiful ornamentation done.

On the right side, in front of the minbar, in the corner of the hall is the Royal seating area. Stone slabs have been erected between the pillars. Stone curtains are present around the Royal seating area until the ceiling. The purpose of this construction was that when the King came to offer Jumma or Eid prayer at the mosque, he, his advisors and entourage would make their prayers on the highest seating (also known as the Kings hall). It is also possible that this was done from a security point of view so that the King would be protected.

The method used to light this mosque is unique. The rays of light are made to change direction before being made to reflect into the whole mosque.

It took 13 years to complete this fine example of Indo-Saracen architecture of the Ahmed Shahi style. A white marble paved courtyard, with a pool in the middle provides a perfect pause between the raucous streets outside, and the dignity of the main sanctuary within.

Nearby the Masjid are Pols and the Teen Darwaza (The Three Gates). Sultan Ahmed Shah built these arched gateways, which were meant as the royal entrance to the Maidan Shah or Royal Square. From here the Sultans used to watch the processions from the palace to the Jama Masjid.

There are different entrances to the mosque. Near the eastern entrance are the tombs of Sultan Ahmed Shah, his son Mohammed Shah and his grandson Qutub-Ud-Din Ahmed Shah II.

Swamy Narayan Temple - Ahmedabad

This temple in Ahmedabad is situated in Kalupur - an area dominated by the Muslims. Relations between the temple and its neighbours have always been harmonious. In 2001, when an earthquake shook Gujarat, the Muslim neighbours cooked food and gave it to the temple authorities to distribute to earthquake victims.

It was the first of the several swamy narayan temples built across the globe. A British officer, Sir Dunlop was so impressed with activities of Swaminarayan and his followers, that on behalf of the government he gifted 5,000 acres of land in Kalupur area of Ahmedabad to build this temple. The temple construction was completed on February 24, 1822. When the temple was completed, the officer was so impressed by the temple that he commanded a 101 gun salute to the temple.50,000 devotees from all over India attended the installation ceremony of the idols.

The central gateway of the temple blends local, regional and British styles of architecture and sculpture. Marathi and Rajasthani folk cultures and costumes are evident on the gateway sculptors. At the top of the projected pavilions are ruminants of Mughal architecture. Statues of women wearing frilled blouses and petticoats carrying their kids on their waist depict the Gujarati women.

It is designed to resemble a mansion. Intricate carvings in Burma teak and exotic sculptures of mythological characters add a pleasant charm to the temple.

Women spiritual leaders of the Swami Narayan sect arrange for religious gatherings in the interiors of the temple. Young girls, teenage students and home makers throng to this temple in the afternoon. The Guru for women is the wife of the Dharmavanshi Acharya and is addressed by the title Akhand Sobhagyavati Gadiwalashri. She is affectionately referred to as Baa, (mother) by her disciples as she is the mother of the sampraday.

Swaminarayan offered parents help with dowry expenses to discourage female infanticide, calling infanticide a sin. At that time, influential and wealthy individuals educated their girls through private and personal tuition. Male followers of Swaminarayan made arrangements to educate their female family members. The literacy rate among females began to increase, and they were able to give discourses on spiritual subjects. Within the faith, Swaminarayan is considered a pioneer of education of females in India.Swaminarayan also encouraged the British Governor James Walker to implement strong measures to stop the practice of sati.