31 March, 2014

Kalgudi (stone temple) at Degulahalli

The Kalgudi at DegulahaLLi believed to be built by Halasi kings is in an utterly dilapidated condition and is in dire need of repair work. The various Shiva and Jaina stone sculptures scattered around the temple ruins bear testimony to the fact that Halasi was a centre of confluence of Jainism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism during early Kadambas.

"Every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction…without end…For the modern physicists, then Shiva's dance is the dance of subatomic matter. As in Hindu mythology, it is a continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos; the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomena."

- Fritzof Capra (The Dance of Shiva: The Hindu View of Matter in the Light of Modern Physics )

The cosmic dance of Shiva is called 'Anandatandava,' meaning the Dance of Bliss, and symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death. The dance is a pictorial allegory of the five principle manifestations of eternal energy — creation, destruction, preservation, salvation, and illusion.

According to Kumara Swamy, the dance of Shiva represents:

'Shrishti' (creation, evolution) - symbolized by the drum
'Sthiti' (preservation, support) - symbolized by abhaya-hastha
'Samhara' (destruction, evolution) - symbolized by fire
'Tirobhava' (illusion) and
'Anugraha' (release, emancipation, grace) - symbolized by foot held aloft

Following paragraphs borrowed from "Sacred Animals of India By Nanditha Krishna"

Nandikeshwara, lord of happiness, was one of Shiva's ganas. He was also fond of music and dance. He was born to the divine progenitor Kashyapa and divine cow Surabhi. He married Suyasha, the daughter of the Maruts. As his life was coming to an end, he prayed to Shiva to lengthen his life. Shiva granted him both immortality and the chief position over his ganas. He was given the title "Adhikara Nandi" (or 'authoritarive Nandi'), for it is only with Nandi's grace and permission that one can enter the temple of Shiva. Adhikara Nandi took on a human form as a bull-headed human standing on two legs, or even a bull standing erect on his rear legs.

Nandi's attributes were taken over by Shiva as Nataraja, the lord of dance. Nandi ceased, thereafter, to be a deity and became the companion and, later, the vehicle of Shiva. When Shiva dance the tandava, Nandi accompanied him on the mridangam (a percussion instrument).

There are several other stories about Nandi's origin. According to one, Nandi was a rishi (sage) who performed such severe austerities that Shiva granted him the wish of becoming the head of his Ganas.

According to another legend, Nandi was born from Vishnu's right side as a gift to the Brahmin Salankayana. This was Nandi's forty-ninth rebirth.

Nandi is more than Shiva's vahana or vehicle. As the chief of Shiva's attendants, he is also the guardian of all four-legged animals. Nandi is essential to every Shiva temple - the sanctum sanctorum of each temple, where the deity may be in human or linga form, has an image of Nandi facing the shrine. The devotee will first touch the Nandi image and ask for his blessings before entering. Sometimes, Nandi may be as big as or even bigger than the image within.

Following paragraphs have been borrowed from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ganesha

Historically, Ganesha appeared as a distinct deity in recognizable form beginning in the fourth to fifth centuries C.E., during the Gupta Period (c. 320-600 C.E.) of Indian history. His popularity rose quickly, and he was formally included among the five primary deities of Smartism, an influential stream of Hinduism that began in the ninth century C.E. Ganesha appears as a distinct deity in clearly-recognizable form beginning in the fourth to fifth centuries C.E., suggesting the emergence of the Ganapatya (Ganesh-worshipping) sect (probably an offshoot of mainstream Shaivism). The earliest cult image of Ganesha so far known is found in the niche of the Shiva temple at Bhumra, which has been dated to the Gupta period. By about the tenth century C.E., Ganesha's independent cult had come into existence.

Despite these fragments of information, questions as to Ganesha's historical origin are still largely unanswered, and many theories persist as to how he came into being. One theory of Ganesha's origin states that he gradually came to prominence in connection with the four Vināyakas, from whom he gains one of his epithets. In Hindu mythology, the Vināyakas were a group of four troublesome demons who created obstacles and difficulties, but who were easily propitiated. Krishan is among the academics who accept this view, and states flatly that Ganesha "is a non-vedic god. His origin is to be traced to the four Vināyakas, evil spirits, of the Mānavagŗhyasūtra (seventh–fourth century B.C.E.) who cause various types of evil and suffering." While none of these gods are conceived to be elephant-headed, they are held to be responsible for the creation of obstacles.

Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshvari, Indrani, Kaumari, Varahi and Chamunda or Narasimhi - Saptamtrikas

Following information has been referred from wikipedia -

Matrikas were existent as early as the Vedic period and the Indus Valley civilization. Matrikas may be non-Aryan or at least non-Brahmanical (orthodox Hinduism), local village goddesses, who were being assimilated in the mainstream. Matrikas maybe inspired by the concept of Yakshas, who are associated with Skanda and Kubera – both are often portrayed with the Matrikas. The Sapta-Matrikas were earlier connected with Skanda (Kumara) and in later times, associated with the sect of Shiva himself. During the Kushana period (1st to 3rd century), the sculptural images of the matrikas first appear in stone. In the Gupta period (3rd to 6th century A.D.), folk images of Matrikas became important in villages. The Western Ganga Dynasty (350–1000 CE) kings of Karnataka built many Hindu temples along with saptamatrika carvings and memorials, containing sculptural details of saptamatrikas.

The inconsistency in the number of Matrikas found in the valley [Indus] today (seven, eight, or nine) possibly reflects the localization of goddesses. Although the Matrikas are mostly grouped as seven goddesses over the rest of the Indian Subcontinent, an eighth Matrikas has sometimes been added in Nepal to represent the eight cardinal directions. In Bhaktapur, a city in the Kathmandu Valley, a ninth Matrika is added to the set to represent the centre.

28 March, 2014

Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia (R.A.) Dargah

O breeze! turn towards Medina (and) from this well-wisher recite the Salaam.
Turn round the king of the prophets (and) with the utmost humility recite the Salaam.
Sometimes pass the gate of mercy (and) with the gate of Gabriel rule the forehead.
Salaam to the prophet of God (and) sometimes recite Salaam at the gate of peace.
Put with all respect the head of faith on the dust there.
Be one with the sweet melody of David and be acquainted with the cry of anguish.
In the assembly of the prophets recite verses from the humble being 'Nizam'.

- Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia (R.A)

Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia's ancestors were from Bukhara (now in Uzbekistan). After leaving their homeland, the paternal grandfather of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia -- Khwaja Ali -- and the maternal grandfather of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia -- Khwaja Arab -- along with their family, came to India. At first they lived in Lahore, but later they took up their residence in Badayun (East of Delhi). Khwaja Arab married his daughter Bibi Zulaitaikha to Khwaja Ali's son Khwaja Ahmad.

Shaikh Nizamu'd-Din was born at Budaun in 1236. He lost his father at the age of five and came to Ghiyaspur near Delhi, with his mother. Young Nizamu'd-Din mastered the seven ways of reciting the holy Qur'an. Then he studied Arabic grammar, commentary of the Qur'an and logic. At the age of twelve, he received the "turban of excellency." He was so sharp-witted, wise and understanding that he was given the title "Debater, capable of defeating the congregation." He became distinguished in mathematics and astronomy. Later he became the disciple of the famous saint Shaikh Farid Shakarganj, who introduced him into the world of Sufism. Later, Sheikh Farid Shakarganj appointed Nizamuddin as his successor and he was conferred as Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia.

In his lifetime, Nizamu'd-Din was frequently at loggerheads with the Delhi rulers but was also sought after for advice and blessing. He had many followers which include the ferocious ruler named Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji and Muhammad Bin Tughlaq as well as Hazrat Amir Khusrau, who is known as one of the most renowned poets of all times.

"He was not a miracle-monger of the ordinary sort. He never flew in the air or walked on water with dry and motionless feet. His greatness was the greatness of a loving heart; his miracles were the miracles of a deeply sympathetic soul. He could read a man's inner heart by a glance at his face and spoke the words that brought consolation to a tortured heart."

In the early period of his Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia experienced great poverty. Although in Sultan Ghyasuddin Balban's time one could buy melons for very little money, the greater part of the season would pass without Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia eating a single slice. One day a pious woman brought some barley flour and presented it to him. He asked Sheikh Kamaluddin Yaqub to boil it in a cauldron. At that moment a faqir with a patched frock arrived and with a loud voice said: "O, Nizamuddin! bring whatever is present." Then Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia gave all the food to him. The faqir ate it all and then broke the cauldron. Hereafter he said: "O, Nizamuddin! You have received the bounties of the invisible world from Baba Farid and the bowl of visible poverty I have broken. Now you have become the sultan of both the visible and invisible world." From that day on, countless gifts started coming and free food was distributed to hundreds of visitors every day.

Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia was very generous as can be seen in the following narration, which can be found in Jami's "Nafhatul Uns". A merchant of Multan lost all his possessions to a band of thieves. He told Sheikh Sadruddin, the son of the famous Suhrawardy saint (Shaikh Bahauddin Zakaria of Multan), that he intended to go to Delhi and asked for a letter of recommendation to Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia. Then he was told by the great saint that he would receive all the gifts that would be given from the morning to the chasht (forenoon) prayers. About 12,000 golden and silver coins were received. All these were given to the merchant. Every day large numbers of gifts used to be received, but they were distributed before the evening. More than three thousand needy people used to live on the langar (free feeding).

"In Allah's garden you gather roses,
Being drunk with divine mysteries:
Hazrat Mehboob-e-Elahi -- the beloved of Allah,
O, how I long for the attar of your company

Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia represents in many ways the pinnacle of the Chishti Order of the Sufis. Hazrat Baba Farid, his spiritual guide, said to him on appointing him as his successor: "Be like a big tree, so that Allah's creation, the human beings in their vast multitudes, may find rest and solace under your shadow." This partly explains why he admitted so many (according to some, including Barani, too many) men into the Chishti order as his disciples. Another reason has been clearly formulated in this way: "History, nonetheless, bears out the wisdom of his open-ended policy . . . To far-flung areas of Uttar Pradesh, Rajastan, Gujarat, Bihar, Bengal and the Deccan, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia sent able disciples well versed in the Chishti practices, yet sensitive to the needs of the local populace."

Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia lived in a small village called Ghiyaspur on the outskirts of Delhi. He lived there for 60 years. He is also referred to as Mehboob-e-Elahi, the beloved of Allah. He died in 1325 and is buried here. Today, Ghiyaspur is better known as Nizamuddin. Muhammad Tughluq built the tomb and to this day, the place is one of the sacred places of pilgrimage. Though the original Tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin does not exist, a nobleman and follower of the Saint named Faridun Khan constructed this present Tomb structure sometime during the mid 15th Century AD. This was later renovated and re-decorated by Feroz Shah Tughlaq and his following successors as well as the following rulers. The present structure was built between 1562-63 by Faridu'n Khan, a nobleman with a high rank, and has been added to or repaired later by several persons.

Hazrat Nizamuddin was so popular that while travelling through this place, Mughal Emperors like Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan would ensure to halt at the Shrine of this Mystic Saint and duly pay their respect at the Dargah. He was mainly known for his Doctrine of Sacrifice and Surrendering to the Almighty as well as tolerance towards other religious sects which greatly influenced people from all cultural backgrounds and hence had a huge number of devotees following. He also prophesized that Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq (name also spelled as Ghiyath Al-Din Tughluq and real name was Ghazi Malik) would never return to Delhi from his campaign and that is what exactly happened. Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq died on his way to Delhi in February 1325 AD. He ruled for a short span of 5 years only between 1320 AD and 1325 AD and was succeeded by his son, Muhammad Bin Tughluq.

The Courtyard is paved with marble where the sacred Shrine, Dargah or Tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin sits and the grandiose pavilion that you see today decked with lattice screens or 'Jalis' and arches made of marble was later added to the shrine by Emperor Shah Jahan. Most of the devotees and worshippers tie a red thread around these lattice screens in hope of getting their wishes fulfilled. The imposing dome, ornate with vertical stripes of black marble with lotus ornamentation was later added by Mughal Emperor Akbar II.

The Tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin is surrounded by a Mosque and several Tombs of famous people as it was their dying wish to be buried next to the Sufi Saint. Other tombs situated inside the complex of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliyaa Dargah belong to Begum Jahan Ara, Shah Jahan's favorite daughter, and Mirza Ghalib.

Seven hundred odd years later, the dargah still retains the essence of what it must have been like all those years ago.

Reference Sites:

27 March, 2014

Turtuk - Delightful Baltistan Indian frontier village

The barren landscape slowly transformed to green pastures. The chortens and prayer flags, those ubiquitous landmarks of Ladakh, had disappeared. The village transformed from Buddhist-Ladhaki to Muslim-Balti both culturally and linguistically as we drove from Hunder via Panamik to Turtuk, a delightful hamlet tucked into a narrow Shyok river valley in the farthest corner of India. It is literally the last village on Indian Line of border control.

The scenically magnificent main village is up a steep stairway leading to stone terracing. High on a crag are the crumbling ruins of an old fort. Turtuk like any other typical Baltistan village perches on laboriously terraced and fertilised alluvial fans that extend from side streams onto the banks of the main rivers. It is a tight cluster of interconnected houses and narrow passageways. Houses of stone and dried mud-brick with flat roofs of interlaced willow fronds overlain with mud stand in the shade of giant apricot, walnut and mulberry trees. As with other Ladakhi/Balti villages, water channels gurgle through the winding village lanes.

River Shyok (literally "the river of death" in Yarkandi or Central Asian - probably given by the Central Asian traders who ventured on this treacherous route for centuries and perished) a roaring, turquoise torrent rushing to converge with the mighty Indus in Pakistan is the only thing noisy and brash in an otherwise tranquil and peaceful podunk. Its water is augmented perennially by the countless little streams originating from the Himalayan glaciers. One such gushing glacier-stream cuts across Turtuk, dividing the village into two sides known as the Youl and Farol. Youl, the original Turtuk village, is clustered below the old fort and palace on the west bank of the stream. Pharol is the newer village area among terraced fields on the east bank of the stream. About 300+ Balti families belonging to Tibetan origin stay happily together on either sides.

In the Balti language, balti refers to a basement chamber where animals are housed below the ground-level human dwelling space. Such protective housing for a necessarily limited number of animals marks the early Balti people as settled agriculturists. These Tibetan-speaking farmers might have been known to their Tibetan pastoral neighbors as Balti-pa, "those who keep their animals in an underground chamber"

In winter the families occupy an 8X10 feet ground floor room with their animals quartered below in the balti. In summer much of the life and work of the household takes place on the roof. The village occupies as little space as possible in order to allow maximum amount of cultivation in this inhospitable soil. The village is surrounded by small plots of privately owned land. Although new lands are developed through communally pooled labour, as the land comes into production it is divided into individually owned parcels, and villages must travel farther and farther away from the village to work their fields. The people continue to reside in the main village, preserving its compact character.

Being lower in altitude than most towns in Nubra Valley (somewhere around 3000m), the village is fertile and lush with vegetation. Agriculture is in its full splendour during the summer months. Vegetables including cauliflower, tomato, cabbage, spinach, carrots and greens are cultivated and stored for the long and hard winter. Apricot trees border every house's fencing. Walnut trees sport green, unripe fruits. The locals dry up the mature fruits to extract the crispy walnuts. Ancient Chinese documents refer to Baltistan as 'Apricot Tibet' and Balti dried apricots were prized as far east as Lhasa.

The Balti, presumably descendants of the Scythians (Saka), form a majority group among the Muslims of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir. They derive their name from their homeland Baltistan, and they also perceive their distribution in Kargil, Leh and in parts of Baltistan. They speak Balti and use the Perso-Arabic script.

The Baltis were Buddhist prior to 1400. At approximately that time, Sufi teachers converted the Baltis to Islam. Local tradition attributes the origin of Islam in Baltistan to one or more visits from Kashmir by Sayyid 'Ali al' Hamadani. There is no historical record of his personal visit, but his influence, whether directly or through his disciples, is well established. Some of the oldest mosques in Baltistan are wooden Khanaqahs, constructed on the unique design of the famous Shah Hamadan mosque in Srinagar.

But most interesting, the Nurbakshiya Sufi order, derived from Ali al Hamadani through Isaq al Khuttalani to Muhammad ibn Abdullah (known as Nurbaksh) was brought from Kashmir to Baltistan. Nurbakshiya Sufis still prevail in the eastern sections of Baltistan and are numerous in the Shigar region. The rest of the Balti population, notably in the Skardu area is predominantly Shia.

Following information has been borrowed from Encyclopaedia of the World Muslims: Tribes, Castes and Communities, Volume 1

A more important social-organisational correlate of Balti hydraulic ecology is seen in the history of state formation and alien rule in Baltistan. What are now the three most intensively irrigated regional centres in Baltistan - Skardu, Shigar and Khapalu - were, from as early as 740 A.D., the foci of major political development in the upper Indus Basin. Most likely under the sponsorship of Chinese imperial power in Turkestani dynasties established rulership in all three regions of Baltistan. The Amacha family ruled over the sovereign state of Shigar from some unknown date of origin until 1840.

The Yabgo dynasty was ruling in Khapalu for some time well before 1500 until 1972, when Khapalu was fully annexed into Pakistan. There is a reason to believe that 'Amacha' derives from Amacas, a title granted by the Chinese crown to the kings of Khota; and the 'Yabgo' derives from yabghu, the title of the 8th C Turkic Buddhist rulers of Kundus in the Tokharistan region of Turkestan.

In Baltistan, these dynasties came to rule under the title cho ('chief' in Balti/Tibetan). Thus a ruling class of ancient Turkestan origin (called Kha-Cho, brothers of the Cho) ruled over indigenous Tibetan-speaking cultivators. The Balti states lost sovereigenity and were gradually absorbed into the British-Indian empire beginning in 1840, when Zorawar Singh conquered all of Baltistan and Ladakh.

We were honored to meet the Khan of Turtuk, Mohammad Khan Kacho of the Yabgo Dynasty of Chorbat Khaplu. He is the direct descendant of King of Western Turkistan that ruled over this area (called Baltistan Chorbat) for over 1000 years (800AD – 1800BC). His ancestors derived their power and wealth from Turtuk’s strategic location on a feeder road of the Silk Route going on to Central Asia via Skardu and Yarkand. The old Khan now lives a poor life with a young wife and daughter aged 8-10 years who could be easily mistaken for his grand daughter.

Khan has his own private museum of family artefacts that have been passed on for generations. A proud historian himself he has written up the history of his village and compiled the family tree from a cloth version that was passed from generation to generation. A very humble and hospitable man, he warmly welcomes one and all to his humble abode and talks about his royal history with pride in fluent Hindi.

People of Turtuk primarily speak Urdu. Many can converse in Hindi and some Ladakhi. Most also have only a smattering of English.

Myriads of cobbled paths led us to a polo ground in Farol. Horse polo is the famous game of Baltis and is being played for centuries with gaiety and fervour. A game of Central Asian origin, it was first played in Persia (Iran) at dates given from the 6th century BC to the 1st century AD. Polo was at first a training game for cavalry units, usually the king’s guard or other elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen, who played it with as many as 100 to a side, it was a miniature battle.

In time polo became a Persian national sport played extensively by the nobility. Women as well as men played the game.From Persia the game spread to Arabia, then to Tibet (the English word polo is the Balti word meaning “ball”), to China, and to Japan.

Both parts of the village have a school that is managed by Avalokitesvara Trust.The trust’s vision is to empower children with the gift of education, the joy of learning, bringing previously absent opportunities for a better overall quality of life in the region.

The aim is to enhance the mental, emotional and psychological development of children within and beyond the education they receive at school, giving them the best possible foundation for the rest of their lives.

A land that is not frequented by the tourists manages to cling on to its slowly dying Balti culture. A visit to this little village sure makes you feel like you are on top of the world!

02 March, 2014

Jama Masjid - Champaner

Champaner, a sleepy town, with its crumbling fortifications, is a tribute to Begada's architectural imagination. The focal point of Champaner's World Heritage status, is the imposing Jama Masjid. Dating to 1513, this is one of the finest mosques of Gujarat. The fine architecture is an unique amalgam of Hindu and Muslim styles of decoration. This gigantic structure with two imposing minars on either side of the central entrance to the prayer hall was constructed over 125 years. The minars are a fine blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture.

The mosque is a place of pilgrimage for those who seek blessings from the pir who is buried in one corner of the mosque gardens.

The roof just behind the central dome is filled by a carved slab of great beauty and ingenuity of workmanship. There are seven mehrabs (prayer niches) in the back wall of the main prayer hall, the central being more elaborated. The northern section of prayer hall was separated by a perforated screen, reserved for ladies from where an extra entrance was provided. The prayer hall has eleven domes with the central dome, a double-storied structure, built on pillars in an arcade form. A pillared corridor goes round the vast court yard.

The mosque stands on a raised platform and comprises a walled structure with entrances on its north, south and east sides. The eastern entrance is the main gateway into the building and projects outward in the form of a wonderful doorway embellished with skillful decoration in stone.

The mosque has a courtyard surrounded by pillared corridors, with the main shrine at the far end within which are seven mihrabs or prayer niches. Like the Shahar-ki-Masjid , this mosque also has five arched entrances, with the central one —higher and more prominent flanked by 30 metre high minarets. This mosque had three oblong mural plaques, one at the top of the pulpit and the other two on the sides, with engravings of hymns from the Koran. Of the two minarets, one was damaged by an intentional gun firing in 1812 by Patankar, a Scindia Governor considered a “tyrant.”

It was during the reign of Mahmud Begahra a passionate builder, the famous Gujarat Muslim style reached its apogee. The Hauz-i-Vazu, a large open-air tank for rainwater harvesting, adjoins the main mosque. Nearby is a stepped tank that must have been used for pre-prayer ablutions.Water-wise, Begada created narrow ledges at the base of slopes to contain downhill streams, leading to interconnected lakes, and finally to the largest Vada Talav in the plains.

Artisan communities responsible for building Champaner's mosques practised the regional style of architecture, offering their skills to the reigning patron, regardless of his faith. Even though figural representation - a mainstay of temple embellishment was prohibited in Islamic religious buildings, the artisans had many opportunities to practice their trade in the profuse aniconic ornamentation. The stone mihrabs in the Jami Masjid and other mosques had recessed frames with lintels topped by aedicular niches within which were carved symbols of plenitude: the sun, pot and foliage. Besides the pot motif (purnaghata), the mosque and tomb surfaces were ornamented with the vine (kalpavalli), the bands of diamond motif (ratnapatta), and lotus medallions (padmasila), which had adorned the surfaces of earlier temples.

Although the stone carvers and masons worked within a regional design tradition, learned by imitative practice and passed down from one generation to the next, their knowledge and skills were employed with a degree of flexibility and inventiveness. The building patrons and users were identifiably Hindu, Muslim, or Jain, but while the workers themselves also had specific religious identities, their art was not limited by sectarianism but could be adapted as needed. Their building knowledge and skills were a living tradition imbibed from their forefathers, not a codified and static text that would prove irrelevant with changing times and patrons of different faiths.

Among all the UNESCO world heritage sites of India, Champaner is the least celebrated.This is truly one of India's finest archaeological sites and yet limelight still eludes it...Which muezzin called the faithful to prayer at this masjid? I wonder!