Photostory: How to tie a turban

The Mehrangarh Fort at Jodhpur is one of the most impressive forts in Rajasthan and easily the best maintained and managed of all the Forts I visited during my Rajasthan trip in February this year.

It caters to all to all kinds of tourists and does it rather well without letting anyone feel left out. Quiet spots for contemplation; fantastic photo-ops for the serious or click-happy photographer; architecture, history and a jaw dropping collection of objets d’art on display for those interested in culture, design and history … the Fort has it all. But the activities that are the most popular and draw the tourists are the fun ones like ‘how to tie a turban’, ‘how to play chess’, having your palm read, etc.

That afternoon in February, I had just finished walking though one part of the museum at the Fort and was crossing one of the many courtyards there, when I saw a couple of international tourists requesting some Fort’s ‘volunteers’ to show them how a turban was tied. And within seconds, it was showtime.

Presenting the story of how a turban is tied in the words of the “demonstrator” :-)

First we spread out the turban cloth to show how looooooong it is.

How to Tie a turban, Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

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The unique wall art of Jaisalmer

All guidebooks and people who have visited Jaisalmer rave about its beautiful golden fort, the grand havelis, camel rides, sunset among the dunes, its Jain temples, cenotaphs, etc. But none (at least I haven’t come across any) talk about the unique wall art of Jaisalmer. When I saw the first one (see photo below), my reaction was one of horror: how could something like this be painted on the walls of an old haveli?

1-P1030192 Then I saw more of these and then some more. In fact, almost every house in Jaisalmer has such announcements painted near the entrance. The announcements are of weddings, upanayan ceremonies, housewarming ceremonies… And realised that this is a custom, a tradition in Jaisalmer and one that is unique to this city, as its residents kept telling me. Almost all these “announcements” have auspicious symbols accompanying it like the kalash, the swastika, and Ganpati.

A small selection of Jaisalmer’s wall art in Jaisalmer is presented below:

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Forts of Rajasthan – 5: Chittorgarh Fort

It’s a hot and dusty day in February and the mid-day sun is relentless as is the perspiration that trickles down by back. And yet, I feel cold and shiver as if some one has walked over my grave.

I am at Chittorgarh Fort, the erstwhile capital of Mewar, and at the site that was once the cremation ground for members of the royal family. The site is also known as the Mahasati Sthal as this is where widowed queens would commit sati. According to the guide, from the vast quantities of ash found at this site, this is also where at least one of the three jauhars — ritualistic mass suicide through immolation committed by women and their young children in the face of certain defeat to Muslim invaders — that Chittorgarh Fort has witnessed happened.

Chittorgarh Fort, Mewar, Travel, Rajasthan, Forts of Rajasthan, UNESCO World Heritage Site

The high raised platform in the background is where sati used to take place and when jauhar took place at this site, the entire ground turned into one vast burning pyre

Death before dishonour is a code that all Rajputs — men and women — lived by. While for men this meant dying in battle; for women, this translated into jauhar instead of being captured by the Muslim invaders. Available literature and ballads say that as the jauhar ritual began, the men would dress up in saffron clothes and ride out to fight their final battle and into certain death.

I feel an immense degree of sadness mixed with revulsion as I listen to the guide describing the jauhars. Though my eyes close automatically as if to keep out the horror, my mind conjures of images of this description and devastation. I try to recollect my day at the Fort in an attempt to divert my mind.

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Forts of Rajasthan – 3: Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur

The story of the Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur begins with a curse.

There was once a King and like all self-respecting kings of his time, he wanted a grand and imposing fort at an impressive location. One day, he came across the location of his dreams — an isolated hill. The King ordered his men to immediately clear the hill of inhabitants and lay the foundations for the construction of the fort.

Only one man lived on the hill — a man considered holy by the local people around and known as Chidiyawale Baba. He was called thus as he took care of birds and fed them and spoke to them. Chidiyawale Baba was so furious at being evicted from the hill that he cursed the King with recurrent drought in his kingdom. Shaken and now contrite, the King went to Chidiyawale Baba to ask for forgiveness and to request him to cancel the curse. The Baba said that words once uttered could not be taken back, but the effect of the curse could be reversed if a selfless sacrifice was offered. In other words, someone had to volunteer to die by being buried alive on the hill.

The King came away dejected as he did not think anyone would volunteer. But that very evening, a man by the name of Rajaram Meghwal presented himself before the King and volunteered for the deed. A relieved (and, I’m sure, delighted) King accepted and on an auspicious day and time and at an auspicious site on the hill, Meghwal was buried alive. Rao Jodha, the King, then laid the foundation to building the Mehrangarh Fort in 1459.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel

The memorial of selfless warrior, Rajaram Meghwal, who volunteered to die

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The Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

I love museums, and I can spend hours inside them pottering about and looking at their varied collections. And yet strangely, for some inexplicable reason, I have never really explored the museums in my city of Mumbai. Of course, I have visited them as a child but not really visited them, if you know what I mean.

Bhau Daji Lad Museum 2So one rainy day in August last year, I took the afternoon off from work to see the Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (BDLM). This was a museum that I had never visited, but one that I had heard about a lot from Appa. I went without a camera as I automatically assumed that, like most Indian museums, photography was not allowed. Big mistake. Non-flash photography was allowed in the Museum, though they don’t really advertise the fact.

The dazzling 3-hour BDLM visit was a visual treat all the way — right from the stately Museum building to its grand interiors (that reminded me of a ballroom) to its tastefully displayed collection — and one that stayed with me longer than the time I spent there. I knew that I didn’t just want to write about the BDLM’s artefacts in my Museum Treasure series, but write an entire post on the Museum itself. And since I wanted to include photographs, I had to wait for an opportunity to visit the BDLM once again. And last month, I got that chance and when the Museum opened it’s doors that Friday morning, I was the first to enter with a big smile and my camera. :-)

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

The entrance to the Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

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Celebrating India: A book review

What makes India a nation? What gives a common Indian identity to its billion plus population? Is it religion? Is it race or ethnicity? Is it language? Or is it something else altogether? In his essay on “The Invention of India”, Shashi Tharoor says that the answer for a common national identity, unlike in other countries, is neither religion nor race nor ethnicity nor language, but diversity.

India is never truer to itself than when celebrating its diversity. (in Celebrating India, p.14)

Celebrating IndiaThese particular lines in Tharoor’s essay sets the context for Celebrating India (2012, Nivasini Publishers, pp. 152, Rs. 200), an anthology that aims to celebrate this diversity and the “India in each of us” through memoirs, poems, short stories, travelogues and art. A special feature of this book is that all the contributors have waived off their fees and have agreed to contribute the profits of the book to the Yamini Foundation, Hyderabad.

An initiative of the publishers themselves, this anthology has contributors from various backgrounds — journalists, engineers, editors, academicians, film personalities, students, bloggers… In fact, nearly half the contributors have blogs !

The contributors are a mix of well-known names like Tharoor, Gulzaar and Deepti Naval and unknown writers (for me at least) and have attempted to elaborate on the theme of the anthology in their individual pieces. And do the contributors succeed in communicating this? Let’s see.

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