Monday, 15 April 2013

QUTAB Complex

Recently on my visit to the Capital, I had over an hour at my own disposal and Kutab Minar seemed to be the natural choice to spend time with, on my way towards the airport.

Qutab Minar is the tallest minaret in India made of red sandstone and marble. It is 72.5 metres (237.8 ft) high and has 379 stairs inside which reaches the top. It has a base diameter of 14.3 metres which narrows to 2.7 metres at the top storey. Construction was started in 1192 by Qutub-ud-din Aibak and was completed by Iltutmish. 

Kutab Minar pictures. some in black/white and some in colour.

It is so normal to look upwards towards these rising monuments as one walks around them and probably the first thoughts must be how did they manage to build these in that era !

This is how it looks as you look up ...

A classic view of the Minar that we see often in pictures . . .

The Iron Pillar located in Delhi (seen below along with the Qutab Minar), in the Qutub complex is another of the attractions notable for the corrosion-resistant composition of the metals used in its construction. Its origin is still not decided but said to be belonging to 'Candra' dynasty either Gupta King Candragupta II or Chandragupta Maurya based on the oldest inscription on the pillar which is in Sanskrit, written in Gupta-period Brahmi script referring to qualities of a king referred to simply as Candra.

The height of the pillar, from the top of its capital to the bottom of its base, is 23 ft 8 in (7.21 m), 3 ft 8 in (1.12 m) of which is below ground. Its bell pattern capital is 3 ft 6 in (1.07 m) in height, and its bulb-shaped base is 2 ft 4 in (0.71 m) high. The base rests on a grid of iron bars soldered with lead into the upper layer of the dressed stone pavement. The pillar's lower diameter is 16.4 in (420 mm), and its upper diameter 12.05 in (306 mm). It is estimated to weigh more than six tons.

Alauddin Khilji started building another minar : Alai Minaret as a tower of victory (seen below) in the same complex when he returned in triumph from his Deccan campaign. He conceived this tower to be two times higher than Qutb Minar but the construction was however abandoned, after the completion of the 24.5-metre-high (80 ft) first-storey core; soon after death of Ala-ud-din in 1316. 

Then there are other structures within Qutub Complex and one of them seemed to be a good resting place after a walk through the complex. The exquisite stone work in this place of about 10x10 meter structure with a dome on the top leaves every one wonderstruck.

The following gallery of pillars is from another area in the complex ...

As I was coming close to my time I remembered one of the quotes that I recently came across ... 'More you exlore, more there is'

The source of information in this blog is Wikipedia and I have to say it with a lot of gratitude.

I use it very often and I am amazed that it is being run purely on the donations received. What Wikipedia is about is best explained by its founder Jimmy Wales. It  is the #5 site on the web and serves 450 million different people every month – with billions of page views. What he has to say : " When I founded Wikipedia, I could have made it into a for-profit company with advertising banners but I decided to do something different. We’ve worked hard over the years to keep it lean and tight. We fulfil our mission efficiently.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

My Kumbh Experience

Life is all about faith. And it will be easy to understand what I say if one joins the millions who gather at Kumbh fair. 

This event of about 8 weeks taking place every 12 years at the confluence of 3 holy rivers in Allahabad attracts ascetics and devotees from all classes of society and all over the world. Streams of people from all directions were seen walking towards Triveni Sangam in Allahabad at that late hour, as I entered the city on the very night of Mauni Amavasya, the most auspicious of the days during Kumbh.

We are not new to crowd, be it railway stations or the daily office going crowd in metropolitan cities. But what was happening must surely be a 'one in 12 years' experience for me - as I with my friend began our walk next day morning towards Triveni Sangam, the meeting point of Ganga-Jamuna and the mythical Saraswati. 

Very soon we were inseparable part of the humanity that was moving as a single mass towards one destination. At one point of time on this 4 to 5 Km journey, the speed was such that I even wondered if we could return home by the sunset. But soon the crowd loosened and I dared to take a few clicks off my camera from a spot high enough to get a better feel of the crowd that was  .....

My purpose to be at Kumbh 2013 was just for an experience and be a part of one of the largest congregation on the face of earth but as we reached the waters, the atmosphere was so charged with 'Ganga maiyya ki jai' that it was natural for me to walk into the chilly waters and take that one holy dip the faithfuls believe would take them beyond the eternal life-cycle. 

Once through the holy dip, I began making my plans for the remaining time of the stay. On our return as we were making way through the crowd, my friend, a proud Illahabadi, had a lot  to share and while my ears were trained on him, my hands were busy clicking into the crowd.

It was nothing less than fascinating, the unending human flow, some carrying their baggage on head and  young ones on shoulders, and some even carrying their household effects wanting to set up their temporary homes on the banks of the holy river. It had to be the Faith that brought this huge number to this one place weathering all inconveniences in this chilly North Indian winter.  

All this only for a dip in the Holy river Ganga at the Sangam. Some, I was told, even settle for the whole period of about 8 weeks to take 3 dips every day.

Allahabad is a place of about 15 lacs (1.5 million) but on this auspicious day of Mauni Amavasya, over 30 million is said to have gathered in this one place if the TV reports were to be believed. It was difficult to fathom how could a city accommodates such a population even though for a short duration of a few hours or a day. As one drives around Allahabad the tents all over was a common sight. It was not very uncommon also to see families making any empty space their home for a few days under the open skies.

The arrangements that I saw throughout my 3 days in Allahabad were quite efficient considering the job on hand and the shear thought of controlling a sea of humanity and traffic like this was mind boggling. Bathing in the Ganges and rituals being at the center of this Mega Event, the administration this time had prepared 3 separate locations across the Sangam where the faithfuls were directed for their holy dip. The river was bridged at 22 locations temporarily with help of pontoon bridges, 7 of which are seen here :

When my good friend Ashok Kumar from Allahabad invited me for Kumbh about 4 months ahead of the event, I  did not think twice before saying yes and immediately had made my travel plans and bookings. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to reach and come out of the city so comfortably during this period.

Once I got my geography right about the Kumbh event on the day-one with help of my friend, I set out alone with my camera early next morning. here are some faces of Kumbh .....

With the main question of lodging solved by my dear friend Ashok Kumar, I was free to roam around in the Kumbh in somewhat carefree mind. And on arrival home after every tiring session, I used to be greeted first with Gajak a local sweet and a cup of hot tea and if the time was right then a meal with a new local delicacy cooked by his wife.  

Some information about Kumbh Mela gathered on Internet should be interesting and useful to the reader : 
It is believed in Hinduism that drops of nectar fell from the Kumbh (pitcher) carried by gods after the sea was churned. The festival is billed as the "world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims, with over 30 million people expected to gather just on the one day of Mauni Amavasya, which I had chosen as my day of  arrival in the city.   
In my reading, I had come across certain sects of ascetics named Aghoribabas and Nagababas, both disciples of Shiva, the master of Yogis and symbol of death and destruction. Nagababas were said to walk about naked, symbolizing their renunciation of the world of mortals, rub their body with ashes of the holy fires, symbolic of death and rebirth. Where as Aghoribabas another obscure and small sect try to emulate the most extreme characteristics of Lord Shiva as the Conqueror of Death. They haunt cremation-grounds, bathe in cremation-ashes, wear garland of skulls and bones and Aghoris even said to willingly transgress all ascetic taboos eating meat and drinking alcohol.                                                               
Even more horrid habits attributed to Aghoris is that they eat the putrid flesh of corpses and follow many such 'aghori' practices.  It is questionable whether all this is regularly done, but it seems quite certain that at least occasionally these cannibalistic and other 'inhuman' acts were still taking place. 

I did not have suitable contacts to reach the Aghori camps but was fortunate enough to come across the tents of Nagababas . . .

On one of the evenings, another of my local friend Arun helped me and even joined me on a boat ride through river Yamuna and that was another memorable experience watching the bathers and the gathering from the other side ... 

And later that day Arun even took me around the city and I dedicate following 2 pictures to him ..... one taken of the Kumbh camp at night where the railway bridge across Ganges is seen in he background and the Kumbh settlement in the foreground.
And ... this flock of gulls with the Kumbh lights in the background :

With my Kumbh experience coming to an end, I decided that I would be there at the next Kumbh in Haridwar 3 years from now. For understanding of the Kumbha calendar ... It is held every third year at one of the four places by rotation: HaridwarAllahabad (Prayag), Nasik and Ujjain. Thus the Kumbh Mela is held at each of these four places every twelfth year. The rivers at these four places are: the Ganges (Ganga) at Haridwar, the confluence (Sangam) of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati at Allahabad, the Godawari at Nasik, and the Kshipra at Ujjain. There is also 'Ardha Kumbh' held every 6 years at Allahabad and Haridwar.

Anyone joining me at the next Kumbh ?

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Mausolium of Akbar, the Great in Sikandra, Agra

How much do we know about Akbar, the Great ? Other than what we made of him from Akbar-Birbal stories that we read and heard in our childhood ?

After some wonderful days at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary I was on my way to Allahabad via Mathura for my first ever experience of Maha Kumbh in February 2012. Thanks to a missed train at Mathura, I was forced to take the road to Allahabad via Agra. I even convinced my driver that he could allow me about 30 minutes at Sikandra, Agra against his wishes as he was keen to reach the destination well before nightfall. It is a different story that I stretched my time at Sikandra to over 90 minutes. Reasons are here to see.

Akbar ascended his throne at a tender age of 13 in 1556 after untimely death of his father Humayun and had a long reign until 1605. Considered the most successful among the Mogul rulers, he also cherished a novel vision of  a new religion Dīn-i Ilāhī meaning "Divine Faith" which tried to merge the best elements of all the religions in his empire as an attempt to reduce differences dividing his subjects. Was his marriage to women of 3 different religions another attempt in the same direction ?

We certainly see merging of Hindu, Muslim and Christian architectural styles in tomb made of red sand stone which he started building during his own lifetime in 1600. It was later completed by his son Salim i.e. Jehangir in 1613.

Architecturally, this Mausoleum is said to be a transition from red stand stone structures like Red Fort to white Marble extravaganza of Tajmahal which was built about 50 years later.

The complex has 4 sandstone gates of which the Southern is the largest and the only one in use. The decoration on the gateways is very striking with polygonal mosaic patterns.

A broad paved causeway as seen below leads to the tomb which is of a unique square design...

from inside of Southern gate which today is the only entrance to the complex.

Geometric and calligraphic designs achieved by the mosaics of glazed tiles and colored stones inside the first chamber of the tomb is stunning to say the least. One can very easily and quickly forget his other plans once inside this room. Its inscriptions were said to be written and designed by Abd al- Haqq Shirazi (later known as Amanat Khan), famed calligrapher of Mughal monuments including Taj Mahal.

Two of Akbar's daughters found their peace in the same tomb complex. One of them is seen here :

What one comes across while walking around this large complex is its simplicity yet the richness of taste. Seen below is the cenotaph of the tomb and the emperor lies below it. It is placed in a large empty hall of about 20 sq meters with only a single dim lamp hanging from the top.  I spent some good amount of time in this place. The access to this hall is about a 50 meter long dimly lit passage of just about 1 meter wide.  

One also comes across a network of waterways in the complex as seen in some of the pictures above. Unfortunately, my guide was not informed enough about many things which I was curious about but then I had only a short time and there is always a next time. 

Keeping the best at the end...... The intricate floral jaali work in marble windows and screens ...... a hallmark of Mogul architecture.  

Admirers of history and architecture and photographers ... This is one place you should not miss if you are anywhere within 100 miles of Agra.