Chamba Rumals: Painted Embroideries or Embroidered Paintings?

It was serendipity that led me to the exhibition on ‘Chamba Rumal: Life to a Dying Art’ at the Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (BDL Museum) one Saturday evening earlier this month! I call it serendipity for till that afternoon, I had neither aware of the existence of something like the Chamba Rumal nor of the exhibition.

It all started in my Indian Aesthetics class on Krishna Shringara by Prof. Harsha Dehejia. While giving examples of the depiction of Krishna Shringara in art, the embroidered Chamba Rumal was one of the things he mentioned and showed in his presentation. Ruta, one of my coursemates (and who was probably aware of my love for museums), told me about the exhibition on Chamba Rumal during the break. And of course, this meant that I had to go see the exhibition that very evening after class.ūüôā

When I walked into the Special Projects Area of the BDL Museum and where the exhibition on Chamba Rumal was being held, the first thing I noticed was the display ‚ÄĒ large framed pieces hung on bamboo stands. The cool whitewashed walls, and the gleaming kota flooring was just perfect for the vibrant exhibits, which looked like paintings from a distance, but were actually exquisitely embroidered pieces, the Chamba Rumals.

Chamba Rumal, Crafts of India, Art, Indian Aesthetics, Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Delhi Crafts Council, Exhibition

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The stepwell at Lohargal

One place that everyone I spoke to in Shekhawati said I must visit was Lohargal. And all gave different reasons for visiting it.

It is our hill station, said one. You get the best pickles in the world there, said another. It is a holy place and a dip in the tank will remove your sins, said the third person. There is an ancient sun temple there, said the fourth. The mention of the sun temple got me intrigued. Then another person said, “There’s a stepwell at Lohargal. If you’re interested in history, you must go there.” The stepwell was the clincher to visit Lohargal.

That’s how on my return journey to Jaipur from Nawalgarh, at the end of my Shekhawati trip, I took a detour to visit the stepwell at Lohargal. It was an hour’s drive from Nawalgarh through steady rain, narrow roads skirting the Aravali ranges, and some beautiful scenery.

When we arrived at the stepwell, which is on the road, the rain had lessened to a light drizzle.

Lohagal stepwell, Chetan Das ki Bawri, Travel, Rajasthan, Shekhawati

The stepwell. At the far end is the well and the well shaft and beyond that are the Aravali mountains

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The Rudra Mahalaya Temple at Sidhpur

The gates to the Rudra Mahalaya Temple at Sidhpur are locked when I arrive just before 6 pm that December evening in 2014. Surrounded by modern-day residential houses, the centuries-old temple is deserted and looks like it is holding out against a seige.The twilight makes the temple, which is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, look lifeless as well. As I’m wondering what to do, a passerby stops to say, “Call out for the watchman. He’ll come and open the gate.”

I call out for the watchman and the driver of the auto-rickshaw I have hired also adds to my calls. Soon, I can see someone coming out of the temple and walking towards us.

‘Yes?”, he asks.

“I want to see the temple,” I say, prepared to argue it out with him if he says something about closing times or anything else.

“Okay,” he says simply, pulling out a key bunch and deflating my ready arguments immediately. “Put your camera away. No photography allowed here.”

“Why not?” I ask, getting ready to argue again.

“Rules,” is the simple and frustrating answer.

I realise I have no choice in this matter and put away my camera. Only when I put away the camera and close my bag does the watchman open the gates and allow me inside. “You can take pictures from outside the gate, if you want to.”

Rudra Mahalaya Temple, Shiva Temple, Sidhpur, Siddhraj Jaisinh, 12th Century, GujaratI just shrug and follow him inside and stop when I reach the temple. And stare at the sight in front of me. Continue reading

The grand and empty Vohrawads of Sidhpur

I first heard of Sidhpur about 6 months back when I shamelessly eavesdropped on a conversation while commuting to work by bus. In my defence, the conversation, which was between two women from the Dawoodi Bohra community (as was evident from the colourful ridas they wore) in Gujarati and English, was really loud.

It was an animated conversation in which they spoke about their ancestral homes in Sidhpur and the holidays spent there. They spoke of chandeliers, Belgian glass windows, wooden antique furniture, fine linen, tableware, feasts, parties, and antiques among other things. There was gossip, as well as an element of ‘my-ancestral-house-is-grander-than-your-ancestral-house”, but it seemed to be in good fun.

The “conversation” on ancestral homes in Sidhpur intrigued me to look for more information on the Internet. Thanks to my good friend Google, I found in Sidhpur mansions with distinctive European style architecture, each one grander than the other. This information was enough for me to include a visit to Sidhpur when I toured North Gujarat in December 2014.

It was a little after 4 pm when I arrived at Sidhpur. While asking for directions from a local tea stall, I learnt that the Bohra houses were called Vohrawads and also that I needed to go to the Najampura area, which had the best and maximum number of such houses. A short rickshaw ride later, I was standing in front of the house that you see in the photograph below.

Sidhpur, Vohrawad, Comminity housing, Gujarat

Locally, this mansion is called the “house with 365 windows”

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Travel Shot: Brihadeeshwara Temple

Brihadeeshwara Temple

My parents and I visited the Brihadeeswara Temple¬†in Thanjavur,¬†in December 2005. We couldn’t have chosen a worse time as it was raining heavily and there a flood alert¬†as well. The upside was this had deterred a lot of tourists and we arrived to a practically deserted temple at around 8.30 in the morning. Needless to say, I was delighted at the lack of people around.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Brihadeeshwara Temple Complex is very well maintained and remains, to this day, one of the most beautiful and cleanest temples that I have seen. The temple, which celebrated in 1000th anniversary earlier this year, is huge and yet, very compact and intimate.

I took many photographs of the Temple, but the one¬†featured here is my favourite as the wet temple ground¬†as well as the perspective add¬†a¬†mysterious depth to this magnificent temple. Don’t you think so?

The Banashankari and Mahakuta temples: Examples of neglect and apathy

My recent trip to some heritage sites in North Karnataka (Aihole, Badami, Bijapur, Hampi and  Pattadakal) was an eye-opener in more ways than one. While I was amazed to see the excellent work done by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in restoring and maintaining the sites, as well as the efforts taken by the Karnataka Tourism Board, I was appalled to see condition of heritage sites not maintained by the ASI. My visits to the Banashankari Temple and the Mahakuta Temple Complex, both near Badami, are perfect examples of this.

The Banashankari Temple site has been a place of worship for about 14 centuries or so, though the current temple building is only about 200 years old.¬†The temple’s name is derived from its location in the Tilakaranya forest.¬†The main deity, Banashankari is also known as Shakambari or the vegetable goddess. Banashankari was the kuldevata or the tutelary deity for the Chalukya kings of the 7th century.

Our tour group arrived at the Banashankari Temple after spending a magical and enchanted evening at the Bhoothnatha Temples and the Agastya Teertha, near the Badami Cave-Temples. And came back to earth rather rudely with a ride through narrow, dusty, potholed and dirty access road to the temple. It was an inkling to the state of the temple itself.

Outside the Banashankari Temple. The guard-cum-lamp tower at the entrance to the Harida Teertha in the centre of the photograph

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