Saturday, 12 April 2014

Bruce and his code for Tirupathi

Who has not heard of Robert Bruce, the hero of Scotland. Born Robert I (1274-1329), he is more widely known as Robert the Bruce, the King of Scotand, from 1306 to 1329. He fought successfully during his reign to regain Scotland’s place as an independent nation, and is today remembered in Scotland as a national hero. However, there is one more Bruce and he is closely connected to the East India Company and British India. A British civil officer, this Bruce had a hand in drafting the first set of administrative rules for the Srinivasa or Venkataramana Temple in Tirumala. Unfortunately, he remains relatively unknown and even today mention Bruce and the majority of people link him to the heroic Scot King.
The Indian Bruce, as we will call him here, formulated a set of rules which came to be known as  Bruce's Code. This code, which operated for several years, is a set of rules for the management and administration of temples of  Tirumala and Tirupathi and it was enacted by the East India Company way back in 1821.
Bruce was the District Commissioner of Chitooor under which Tirupathi-Tirumala came. He drafted a set of  42 rules to ease the administration of temples. These rules were drawn from the existing customs and traditions practiced in the temple and  they did not interfere in the day-to-day affairs of the temples.
The British found themselves the masters of  South India after they killed Tipu Sultan in the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore War of 1799. Except for the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas, there was no other major power in south India.  The British found themselves ruling over a fairly large part of south India, including the province of Tirumala-Tirupathi.
The vast wealth of the temple and its huge income was a major attraction to the East India Company. The company decided to take over the management of the temple and Bruce, the then district commissioner, framed the rules. The main objective of the Bruce Code, as it came to be called, was to generate fixed revenue to the company and also to prevent misappropriation and mismanagement of temple funds. The rules or the Bruce Code were in force till 1842-1843 when Queen Victoria of England stripped the company of all powers to administer Hindu temples.
The Srinivasa Temple, till then, had been generously endowed with and funded by scores of Hindu Kingdoms, including the Pallavas, Cholas, Hoysalas and Vijayanagars. After the Vijayanagar Empire disappeared in the mid 17th century (1665), the area of Thondaimandalam came under Muslim rulers including Golconda. When the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, extinguished Golconda in 1687, Tirupathi-Tirumala came under the Mughals. It was in 1710 that Thondaimandalama became a separate Kingdom and Sadatullah Khan became its first Nawab. In 1748, the Nawab of Arcot first assigned the revenue of the Tirupathi temple to the East India Company. In 1782, Hyder Ali of Mysore, captured the region but he did not interfere with the administration of the temple. In 1801, the East India Company took over the administration of the temple from the Nawab of Arcot.
In 1803, Bruce, the then Collector of  Chitoor, sent a report to the board of revenues of the East India Company showing the full account of the institution, along with details of pujas, expenses, and extent of lands. This report was known as Statton’s Report on the Tirupati Pagoda. These reports formed the basis on which the company controlled the temple till 1821. The report was accepted and the code was prepared on July 25, 1821 and it was in force for a little over two decades.
The Bruce Code makes for fascinating reading. It states that food offering were made to the deity six times a day. To pay for this, erstwhile rules had donated the revenues of 432 villages surrounding Tirupathi to the temple. When the temple came under the Sultans, the Nawab of Arcot and finally the Company, the offerings were reduced to three times a day-morning, noon and night.     
Between 1805-16, there were many instances and complaints about misappropriation and mismanagement of  temple funds and when they were brought to the notice of board, the East India Company passed Regulation VII of 1817 to check such buses. Through the regulation provided only superintendence and not management, the board interfered in almost all aspects of the administration.

Such interference in the Tirupathi temple continued till the Court of Directors in England strongly resented the participation of the Company in idolatry and ordered its relinquishment of their administration of religious endowments. This order was signed by Queen Victoria in 1842-43 when the administration of the temple was transferred to the Hathiramji Mutt, Tirupati. It was only in 1932 that the TTD was formed to administer the temple.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The little known rookery

The world’s largest known rookery of Oliver Ridley turtles is in Orissa and thousands of  Nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, zoologists and researchers flock to the Gahirmatha Beach to witness the turtles mate, nest and hatch.
The beach separates the Bhitarkarnika mangroves from the Bay of Bengal and it forms part of the Gahirmatha Marine reserve. Apart from this beach, Orissa has two other known nesting areas for turtles and they are on the mouth of  Rushikulya and Devi rivers. The Olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), also known as the Pacific ridley sea turtle, is primarily found in the Pacific and Indian Ocean and over recent years, Orissa has attained international recognition for this mass congregation of turtles.
However, there are many other places in India where Oliver Ridley turtles mate, nest and return to the Sea. Though they may not be in the numbers seen on the Orissa beach, they are a fascinating sight and what is more many of these areas are relatively unknown.
One such place is in Karnataka but very few people know about it. The Murudeshwar-Gangavali coastline of Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka is known for the breeding of this critically endangered species
The beach along the 75-kilometre long Murudeshwar - Gangavali route on the west coast is ideal for breeding of these turtles between November and February.
However, a few cluster of turtle eggs have been found even between September-October and February-March. Last year, close to 2.86 lakhs eggs were laid by these turtles.
Potential nesting beaches include Jali, Talmakki, Murdeshwar and Baindoor in Bhatkal taluk, Apsarakonda and Manki, Haldipur in Honnavar taluk and Dhareshwar, Baad-Kagal, Gokarn and Gangavali beaches in Kumta taluk.
The Olive Ridley turtle is so named  because of the greenish color of its skin and shell. It is close relative of the Kemp’s Ridley. Both these turtles are the smallest of the sea turtles, which prefer the open ocean. They migrate hundreds or thousands of miles every year, and females congregate once an year in selected beaches where they lag eggs and swim back.
Olive Ridleys have nesting sites in tropical and subtropical beaches all over the world. Generally carnivorous, they feed on snails, crabs, jellyfish and shrimp. They are also known to eat algae and seaweed too. Hatchlings, most of which perish before reaching the safety of the ocean, fall prey to birds, crabs, raccoons, pigs and snakes.
They also provided protection to the eggs in absence of their mother turtles. After laying eggs, the female turtles go back to the deep sea without waiting to see the hatchlings, which generally emerge around 45 days of the nesting. "We have made fencing in around 5-km long area,"
Apart from Orissa and Karnataka, these turtles are also found in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and of course West Bengal.  Do you want to see Olive Ridley turtles nearer home. Then head for Murudeshwar, a small town in Bhatkal taluk. The nearest airport is Mangalore, which is 160 kilometre away. Murudeshwar has a railway station and it is on the Konkan railway route.

Murudeshwar beach has two beautiful temples and the statue of Shiva, which is the second tallest in the world, is awe inspiring. The sea shore is inhabited by crabs and you can see crabs digging holes in the beach sand. Bathing is not allowed in the beach since the sea is inhabited by crabs and scores of people have been bitten by crabs. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Budgeting Venkateshwara

Very few institutions apart from Governments and undertakings like the Indian Railways present budgets every year. Every year, the regular budget in India is receded by the Railway Budget. However, there is another institution in India whose budget is awaited as eagerly as the Union Budget and the Railway Budget and this is the budget of the famous Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), which manages the Lord Venkateswara or Srinivasa temple in Tirumala, Andhra Pradesh.
The TTD budget is generally regarded as the largest religious budget in India and one of the largest on the world.
The TTD, a month ago, approved a Rs.2,401 crore budget for 2014-15. This is an increase of over six percent compared to 2013-14 budget of Rs.2,248 crore.
It has budgeted a massive Rs.900 crore as offerings by devotees in the “hundi” or offering box. This is as against Rs. 859 crores it had targeted under this head last year. Apart from this amount, it is targetting Rs.655 crore as interest on its money and other valuables deposited in national banks (Last year, it was Rs. 555 crores).
Another massive and rather regular revenue earner for the TTD is  human hair. Thousands of devotees offer hair to the Lord every day and the “hairaising” sale is expected to fetch Rs.220 crore. This is as against Rs.200 crore that the TTD earned last year.
It also stands to gain Rs.190 crore though sale of  Darshan tickets, Rs.130 crore through sale of  prasada and Rs.108 crore through rentals of its properties all over India.
The interest on investments deposited by the TTD in national banks is placed at  Rs 555 crore.
Since it is one of the biggest employers in the region, payment of salaries and wages to its 9,000 staff will cost it Rs.400 crore. This is in addition to 7000 employees and twelve other temples it runs in other parts of the country.
Another Rs.155 crore is budgeted as outsourcing expenses. Besides, the TTD has set aside Rs.109 crore for propagation of  Hindu dharma, Rs.88 crore for education and Rs.92 crore for health and sanitation. It has also set aside Rs.52 crore on vigilance and security and Rs.56 crore on hospitals operated by it.
The budget this year and those of the earlier years show that the sacred abode of the “Lord of  Seven Hills’, shows no sign of recession.
The Lord’s abode, it seems, is immune from recession. Year by year, the TTD coffers are getting richer and richer and there is no end to the ever growing queue of  devotees and their offerings.

The budget also shows a rising graph every year and this shows the faith that the people have in the Lord. Is this a lesson that our politicians and bureaucrats can learn.      

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Avatars of the Acharya

Who has not heard of the sloka “Pratamo Hanuman Namo, Dwithiyo Bheema yevacha SaYeva Poorna Pragnya Bagavat Karya Sadhaka”.
This sloka tells us of the three avatars of Vayu-Hanuma, Bheem and Madhwacharya.
Madhwacharya, otherwise also known as Poornaprajnya or Ananda Theertha (1199-1278), was a saint-philosopher and social reformer  of his times.
It was he who propagated the Dwaitha concept in which the Pancha Beda plays an important role. It was for the first time ever in Indian philosophy that Madhwacharya distinguished the souls into three categories. It was also he who upheld the Taratamya or gradation of gods in which he placed Vishnu or Hari as supreme.
Madhwacharya has in several works of his indicated that he was the third avatar of Hanuma-Bheema-Madhwa trinity.
Also known as Sukha Theertha and Purnabodha,  he showed all the three avatars to Trivikrama Panditacharya (1258-1320), his disciple and author of the Sri Vayu Stuti.
It was after Trivikrama Panditacharya saw all the three avatars in a temple in Udupi that he composed the Sri Hari Vayu Stuti. His son, Narayana Panditacharya wrote the Madhwa Vijaya wherein he gives us a complete picture of the life and times of Madhwacharya. Of course, he too believes in the Hanuma-Bheem and Madhwa avatar.
However, the very first mention of such a avatar is in the Rig Veda. Ananda Theertha is commonly identified with Madhwa in the third Balittha or Balitha Sukta of the Rig Veda.
The Rig or Rg Veda says

“yasya trinyuditani veda vachane rupani divyanyalam.
bat.htad.hdarshatamitthamevanihitam devasya bhargo mahat.h
vAyo ramavachonayam prathamakam pr^iksho dvitiiyam vapuh
madhvo yattu tr^itiiyametadamuna granthah kr^itah keshave”

It is in this sukta that we see Vayu Devaru being mentioned as taking three avatars -Hanuman during Ramayana,  Bheema  during Mahabharata and finally as Madhwa during Kali Yuga.
The Vayu Purana too makes a mention of the three avatars.
It says,

“Vayurdivyani rupaani padmatrayayutaani ch | trikotimurthy sanyuktastretaayaam raakshasaantakah || hanumaniti vikhyaato Ramakaarya dhurandharah | sa vaamurBheemsenoabhuuddwaparaante kurudvah || Krishnamsampoojayamaas hatva duryodhanaadikaan | Dvaipayanasya sevaartham badaryaam tu kalao yuge || vayushch yatirupeNa krutva dushashtra Khandanam|
tatah kaliyugeh praapte tritiyo Madhwanamakah | bhurekha dakshiNeh bhagehmsnimadgarvashaantaye | dhikkurvanstprabhaam sadyoavateernoatra dvijaanvaye ||

Madhwacharya himself in Vishnu Tatwa Nirnaya says he came down during Kali Yuga and that he was earlier Hanuman and Bheema.
Madhwacharya had all the physical features, attributes or 32 shubha lakshanas that characterise a person, including the prescribed height, (shannavati angulo apetam) quoted in the Mahabharata-Tatparya Nirnaya.
By the way, only Hanuman is supposed to have all these 32 attributes. Even Gods like Shiva had only 28 attributes. The Balittha sukta speaks of the trinity of Hanuma, Bheema and Madhwa and here is part of a text from the Balittha SuktaBalittha tad.hvapushhedhayi darshatam devasya bhargah sahaso yato.ajani |
yadImupahvarate sadhate matirr^itasya dhena anayanta sasrutah || 1 ||
pR^ixo vapuh pitumannitya ashaye dvitiyamasaptashivasu matR^ishhu  |
tr^itiyamasya vr^ishhabhasya dohase dashapramatim janayantayoshhaNaH || 2 ||
niryadIm budhnanmahishhasya varpasa ishanasah shavasa krantasurayah  |
yadimanupradivo madhwa adhave guhasantam matarishva mathayati || 3 ||
prayatpituh paramanniyateparyapr^ixudho virudho dansu rohati  |
ubhayasya janushham yadinvata adidyabishhtho abhavad.hdhr^ina shuchih || 4 ||
adinmatr^iravishadyasva shuchirahimsyamana urviya vivavr^idhe  |
anuyatpurva aruhastanajuvoni navyasishhva varasu dhavate  || 5 ||
The suktas are very similar to stutis and stotras and they form a vital part of hymns and prayers. Some of the suktas include Devi sukta, Narayana sukta, Purusha sukta, Vishwakarma sukta, Devi sukta, Sri sukta, Medha sukta, Ratri sukta, Agni sukta, Ayushya sukta, Balitha sukta, Neela sukta, Bhagya sukta, Vishnu sukta, Bhu sukta, Durga sukta, Shanna sukta, Parjanya sukta and
Saraswati sukta.

Incidentally, Raghavendra Swamy (1595-1671) has written a short gloss on the Balitha sukta. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The philosopher Trinity of India

Madhwa Navami is a highly important event for all Madhwas and it was held a few days ago. All mathas in Bangalore and Vaishnava temples celebrated the day with free food, religious discourses and special poojas.
It was on this day that Madhwacharya, the Viashnava saint philosopher of the 12th century, disappeared amid a shower of flowers from the Anantheshwara Temple in Udupi after giving a lucid lecture on the Upanishad.
A master commentator, philosopher and writer, Madhwacharya is ranked among the trinity of saint-philosophers of India who have given a solid foundation to Indian philosophy and religion. The trinity are Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya and Madhwacharya. The first of the trinity was Shankaracharya who propagated the concept of  monoism or Adwaitha.
Shankara or Adi Shankara (788-820) wrote several works in Sanskrit and established the four Shankara Peethas across India to support his doctrine of Adwaitha Vedanta.
He preached the unity of the atma and and nirguna Brahman (one which has no attributes) and extensively based this concept on the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and, of course, the Bhagawath Geetha. He took on the Mimamsa school of thought and pioneered what later came to be known as Shanmata tradition of worship.
His philosophy can be summarised in his own words as,
 
“ Brahma satyam jagat mithya, jivo brahmaiva naparah,”

meaning that Brahma (paramathma) is the only truth and that the world is an illusion  and that finally there is no difference between  Brahma and Atma (individual self).
After Shankara came Ramanujacharya (1017-1137) with his concept of  Vishistadwaitha. This concept stresses that Brahma is ultimate and that it has several attributes. Ramanuja says that Brahma or truth (paramathma) is different from the individual.
He further says that all jeevatmas will join Paramathma.
He set out five basic steps of his philosophy of Vedanta. They are 
Taapa or the branding of the symbols of conch and discuss on the shoulders of a person. These two symbols will help eliminate past sins and also serve as a reminder to the person that he is a servant of Narayana.
The second is Pundra or the application of sacred marks on twelve places on the human body. This, Ramanujacharya, said is protection against temptation and also a reminder that the body is a temple.
The third step is Dasya Nama or securing a name that constantly reminds one that the person is a servant of god. 
The fourth is Mantra Upadesha or instruction of the three sacred mantras and their meaning. Ramanajucharya was certain that recitation of these mantras will redeem one from the cycle of birth and death (Karma and rebirth).   
The fifth and last step was Yaga or complete surrender to Narayana.
The third of the trinity was Madhwacharya (1199-1287). It was Madhwacharya who for the first time opposed the concept of Shankara and his monoism.
Madhwa said the world is not an illusion as set out by Shankara. He said the world is not maya and that it is as real as a human being. The pain, suffering and desires of man were also as real as other human attributes. 
Madhwacharya preached what is known as Dwaitha or Bhedavada. This is also known as Tatwavada and Bimba-pratibimba-vada. He has a huge volume of works which are collectively known as Sarvamoola Grantha. He based his philosophy on the Vedas, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharatha and Pancharatra Agamas
Madhwacharya distinguishes between Atma or bodily soul and Paramathma, the supreme being and this is the essence of  his philosophy.
For Madhwacharya, the supreme being was none other than Narayana or Vishnu. For him, the soul of an individual was not created by God but nonetheless they depended on God for their existence or survival.
For the acharya, the supreme being is personal and one who has several attributes. This supreme being is none other than “brahmashabdashcha vishnaveva” or Vishnu.
Vishnu thus takes on the role of a guardian of the Universe and all others Gods are subordinate to him. It is in his “Vishnu tatwavinirnaya” that he establishes the supremacy of Vishnu.
Interestingly, Madhwacharya’s principle of Dwaitha is not similar to the concept of Western dualism. For Madhwacharya, the jeevatama or individual Jeeva or prana are dependent on Paramathma. Thus, he says there are two worlds and one is dependent on the other.
Madhwacharya enunciated five main differences and they are  the differences:
Between the individual soul (jeevatma) and God (Brahmatma or Vishnu).
Between matter (inanimate-jata) and God.
Among individual souls (jeeva)
Between matter (jata) and jeeva.
Among various types of matter (jata-jata).
All these five differences go on to make up the universe which Madhwacharya calls prapancha.
However, the Jeeva or atma for Madhwacharya is not one. He not only attributes characters to them but also distinguishes them into three categories.
The souls are classified as Mukti (which can get liberated), nitya which means rebirth and andhatmas which are condemned to hell. This is the first time that an Indian philosopher makes such a distinction. No other Indian philosopher or theologician or even school of thought has held such thoughts or propagated them.
It was Jayatheertha or Teekacharya who interpreted the works of Madhwacharya so that even a common man could understand them. This was further simplified by Vyasa Raja (1447-1539).

Today, we have a huge volume of works on Dwaitha philosophy. The essence of this philosophy is Taratamya and the five-fold differences which is commonly called Pancha Beda.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

A once thriving City that is now an obscure village

What do Banavasi, Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal, Halebidu and Belur, Somanathapura, Manyakheta or Malkhed, Mayurkhindi, Talakad, Manne have in common with Gundlavaddigeri.
Gundlavaddigeri is a small village, just a little over a hundred kilometers from the City of Hospet in Bellary taluk. It has a population of less than a thousand people and we at the post are sure that its name has never been heard of by a majority of people.
But what is it that makes us place its name along with well-known places such as Banavasi, Badami, Belur and other places.
Banavasi, as all of us know, was the capital of the Kadambas (345-525), the first Kannadiga dynasty of our State. The beauty of Banavasi was such that even Kalidasa, the greatest Sanskrit poet of all times, admired it and mentioned it in his work, Meghadoota.
Kalidasa had been sent to Banavasi as an Ambassador of the Guptas. Today, Banavasi has a few temples that speak of the glory of  the Kadambas.
Similarly, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal are well-known for their Chalukyan temples. Badami, which was earlier known as Vatapi,  was the capital of the powerful Chalukyas (543-763) and it has some of the most magnificent temples and cave temples of the Chaluyka period, some of which were built by Pulakeshi (609-642), who is often particularly described as one of the greatest Emperors of Karnataka.
Talakad was the capital of the Gangas (400-1000) and it was one of the major cities of its times until it was sacked by the Hoysala Emperor, Vishnuvardhana. Today, Talakad is nothing but ruins in a sand.  
Similarly, Belur, Halebidu and Somanathapura are renowned for their exquisite temples belonging to the Hoysalas (1026-1343). All these places have ruins of temples.
Malkhed or Manyakheta and Mayurkhindi were once the capitals of  the Rashtrakutas (753-982) who ruled over large parts of south and Central India.
All these centres mentioned in earlier paragraphs were once known as major cities or urban conglomerates and each of them have had their tryst with history. Even today, they are in the news and they attract hordes of tourists and visitors. But how does Gundlavaddigeri get into this list of illustrious cities.
Gundlavaddigeri was earlier in Bellary district and it is today placed in Koppal district.
Archaeologists and historians now have discovered that Gundlavaddigeri was one of the biggest cities of its times in Karnataka and this was prior to the establishment of the Vijayanagar Empire in 1336 by Hakka and Bukka.
A 12th century stone deed in Halegannada (old Kannada), belonging to the Vijaynagara dynasty and some weapons used by people have been unearthed in the village.
The old Kannada inscription says that a lake was built in Gundlavaddigeri in memory of Yankubi, son of Kumbara Ponnayya. The inscription says the lake was constructed for  irrigation purposes.
The inscription has three lovely figures, a wheel of eight swords,  cow and a calf, which are the symbols of Shaivism.
Research has shown that Gundlavaddigeri was a big city before the founding of Vijaynagara. Even today, the village boasts of scores of  dry lakes and this is a testimony to the extent of the City that once Gundlavaddigeri was.
The stone inscription, measuring four feet by three feet, stood facing the North with a four-line script in Halegannada.
Gundlavaddigeri is surrounded by Gangavathi taluk towards North, Sandur taluk towards South, Koppal taluk towards west and  Hagaribommanahalli taluk towards South. All these taluks headquarters too were big cities at one point of time but while they are all fairly well-known even today, Gundlavaddigeri is even today an obscure and forgotten village.
Today, Gundlavaddigeri is surrounded by Bellary, Gangavati, Hospet, Sandur, Mundargi and Tekkalakota. Kannada is the local language here and there are less than 150 houses. The total area of Gundlavaddigeri is just 629 hectares and compare this to the thriving town it was more than nine hundred years ago.

What does this post tell us or rather what does it teach us. It tells us that just as centuries passed by, cities rose and fell and some like Gundlavaddigeri fell into obscurity, never to rise again.  

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

India's only steam loco shed

This is as near Delhi as it comes but lakhs of tourists and visitors tend to either give it a miss or they are totally unaware of this unique museum.
The museum is easily accessible by both road and rail and at one point of time it was an important junction when metre gauge railway lines dotted the length and breadth of the country.
Today, this junction stands mute testimony to the bygone era of the Railways. However, it has not entirely cut off the umbilical cord connecting to the past. It still has strands that tell us of its rich and nostalgic connection to the past and this is in the form of  India’s only Heritage Steam Locomotive Museum.
The museum is located in the only surviving steam loco shed in India and it showcases some of Indian Railway’s last surviving steam locomotives.
The loco shed and the heritage museum is in Rewari in Haryana which today is a bustling major junction for trains on the broad gauge.
The loco shed in Rewari, which is just 80 kms from Delhi, was constructed more than a century ago and it was located on the erstwhile Delhi-Peshawar line (Peshawar is now in Pakistan). For decades after it was commissioned in 1893, Rewari was the only loco shed in north India. At one point of time, it housed 85 steam engines and a staff of 500 to care for it. Today it has a dozen engines and a staff of 25.
After Independence, the loco shed played an important part and it was after steam engines were phased out by 1990, that the decline began. It was only in December 2002 that the Railways under Nitesh Kumar, now Chief Minister of Bihar and then the Railway Minister, decided to revive Rewari loco shed as a heritage museum.
Since then, the museum has been showcasing many of India’s  magnificent steam giants. What is more, the museum when it opened on October 9, 2010, also lets us take a peek into Railway equipments and devices, including the old signalling system, gramophone and even seats.
There is even a huge 30-tonne steam crane that the Railways used during earlier years. Another exhibit is a special carriage with a renovated restaurant car which was meant for Edward, Prince of Wales. This was built when the Prince visited India in 1921.
What makes the loco shed more unique is that the engines are also available for live demonstrations. An engine takes visitors around the shed for a once in lifetime experience.
The Rewari Steam Loco Shed is situated on the Delhi-Jaipur railway line and it once had the distinction of being called the largest metre gauge shed in India.
Rewari was first connected by Railway in 1873 when the first metre gauge track in India was opened between Delhi and this place. The first metre gauge line at Rewari was converted to broad gauge in 1995 an since then all the six major railway lines are broad gauge.  
Thankfully, the new developments have not erased the old from Rewari and the loco shed is looked after by many employees who are all veterans in the steam engine upkeep. Many of these engines can be easily identified as they have appeared in many Bollywood films such as Amir Khan’s Rang De Basanti, Gadar: Ek Prem Kahani starring Sunny Doel and Amisha Patel, Guru starring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai and Gandhi-My father and Veer Zaara starring Salman Khan.
The Railway engines have names such as Virat, Angadh, Rewari King, Akbar, Sindh, Sahib, Sultan, Azad and Sher-e-Punjab. Akbar, a WP model steam engine, ran on the Delhi-Kolkata main line. Virat is an imported American engine. It is a AWE 22907 of 1943 vintage, built at the Baldwin Locomotive Co. Philadelphia, This is one of the biggest engines not only in Rewari but in India.
The Sher-E-Punjab saw a lot of service in south India. This WL 15005 was originally manufactured by Vulcan Foundry UK in 1955. It was based at the Shoranur shed and then at Bhatinda, Ludhiana and finally at Firozpur shed.
The Rewari King is the only surviving and working class YP locomotive still in working condition. Though 870 of them were built between 1952 and 1972, this is the only one in operation.  Sindh, Sahib and Sultan are 3 YG class locos.
However, the oldest among them is Angadh, a broad gauge loco vintage IRS class XE 3634, manufactured in 1930. It came to Rewari from the National Rail Museum in Delhi, where it was donated by the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board. The MP electricity Board operated the engine at its thermal plant at Kobra for several decades.
Angadh like other broad gauge engines consumes 25,000 liters water and 18 tonnes of coal. Compare this to a metre gauge engine which consumes 12,000 liters water and 12 tonnes of coal. Impressive as these figures may be, the efficiency of a steam locomotive is just 38 per cent as against 65 per cent in a diesel and 98 per cent in electric locomotives.
Among the workmen engaged to keep the steam giants operating are painters, fitters, turners, boiler makers, machinists, loco cleaners, boiler-maker khalasis and fitter khalasis. All of them work in tandem to get the steam engines fit and going.
The workmen clean the engine parts, refill the huge boilers with water and empty coal from fireboxes. Every Saturday at midnight, the ritual of  firing up the engine takes place. It takes hours to get the engine up and running. If it is a broad gauge engine, it can take upto eight hours to get the engine to start.
If the engine is Angadh or any of the other four broadgauge engines, 2 tonnes of coal and 20 kilograms of wood are filled into the firebox. Then, jute grass soaked in kerosene oil is put into the firebox along with a lit matchstick. This is on Saturday.
On Sunday (next day), the engine driver of the locomotive lifts the regulator handle and the engine then is ready for its journey. The shed is open from 8 a.m., to 5 p.m.
The loco shed also houses a cafeteria, library and museum.
No entry fee is charged to see these steam engines.
There is a rail package tour from Delhi to Rewari and more details can be had from the Railways.  

Monday, 27 January 2014

The American who introduced apples into India

He was not an Indian. Nor was he a European. He was an American. He had come to India to work as a volunteer in a leper home. Yet, he actively participated in the Freedom Movement of India. He was also the only foreigner who signed the Congress Manifesto. Infact, he even attended several Congress sessions, which in those days gave a lead to the people yearning for freedom.
He also fought against bonded labour and compelled the British to outlaw the practice. Today, he is just not remembered for his fight for India’s Independence, but as the man who introduced apples in Himachal Pradesh. Then, these apples were known as Red Delicious American. Now, they are famous as Himachal appeals and they have their own brand in the market.
He was a wealthy American Quaker-who set sail for India aged twenty two. Once in India, he worked with great zeal and enthusiasm and later became a Hindu and even took a Hindu name. 
This man is Satyananda Stokes, who was born as Samuel Evens Stokes.
Born on August 16, 1882, to a distinguished and wealthy Quaker family in Philadelphia, his father was a successful businessman and also the founder-owner of the Stokes and Parish Machine Company, the leading manufacturer of  elevators in the USA.
Samuel could not acquire any professional skill and he appeared totally disinterred in his father’s business.
In 1904, Samuel left for India to work at a leper colony at Subathu in Shimla Hills of Himachal Pradesh. Though his parents opposed his decision, Samuel decided to set sail for India.
In India, Samuel met his calling and he began living with the villagers. In 1912, he married Agnes, a local Rajput Christian girl, and purchased a farm. In 1916, he then decided to improve his farm and he began cultivating a new variety of apples developed by the Stark Brothers of US in 1915.
If the Stark Brothers called their variety of apples grown in their nursery in Louisiana as the Red Delicious, Samuel planted them in his farm at Barobagh in Thanedar in the winter of 1916 and this was the birth of the famous Himachal apples
The apple trees took root and the first apple crop was harvested in 1926. Samuel then encouraged other farmers to take up apple cultivation.    
In 1932, he converted to Hinduism and took the name Satyananda, while Agnes became Priyadevi.
Meanwhile, he had started taking active interest in the freedom movement. He was the only American to become a member of the AICC and alongwith Lala Lajpat Rai, he represented Punjab at the AICC session. He was also the only non-Indian to sign the Congress manifesto in 1921, calling upon Indians to quit government service.
The British put Samuel into jail on charges of sedition. Samuel thus became the only American political prisoner in the freedom struggle. He died on May 14, 1946 in Shimla. Ironically, many  leaders had gathered at Shimla to discuss India’s future constitutional framework with the visiting Cabinet Mission from England.
He was cremated in Shimla and his ashes later taken to Kotgarh.

Though apple growers of Kashmir and Himachal still remember Samuel, the Government seems to have forgotten him. There is no mention of this great man or his contribution in Shimla. Indeed, there is not even a statue. 

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The gift of Life

There was news a few days ago that Dwayne Johnson, the WWE wrestler-turned actor, had gifted his housekeeper, Esperanza, a new Ford Edge car
The gift came to light after Dwayne took to Twitter, saying that the gift was for his housekeeper as, she has cared after their home with for ten years.
The gift may have created news on the net, but does it match up to the gift a diamond merchant form India gave to his employees. This was sometime in December  and a Surat-based diamond merchant had gifted brand new Chevrolet-Beat as incentive to 70 of his employees for achieving their annual targets.
But what makes this gift all the more poignant is that several of the Surat diamond merchant’s employees  do not even know how to drive.
The diamond merchant, Savji Dholakia, had an year ago, set specific targets to all his diamond artisans. Savji employs 2,000 artisans and of them 100 achieved their target. Savji gifted cars to 70, while the remaining 30 opted for cash.
The cash wasgiven to some employees as some of them had to repay home loans, while others wanted to buy gold jewellery for their wives.
 Dholakia has a diamond-cutting and polishing unit at Varachha in Surat.
This post is not about gifts we give ourselves or to our friends and family. It is about what people give to their employees. One of the earliest such act in India is by Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, during the Mahabharata period when he sees Karna in tears and magnanimously gifts him the Kingdom of Anga and makes him its ruler.
True, die hard critics may say Duryodhana gifted the Kingdom for a purpose. They may say that he anted Karna on his side and he saw him as a champion who could take on the redoubtable Arjuna. Whatever it may be, the fact that Duryodhana elevated Karna to the ranks of a King ought to be appreciated.
There are several other such tales in India, which has a huge storehouse of such acts. Our epics-Ramayana and Mahabharata, Puranas, Shastras and history is full of such instances.
A unique case of a gift is by a Haridasa from Karnataka, Gopala Dasa (1722-1762), whose aradhane was celebrated yesterday. He  gifted forty years of his life to Jagannatha Dasa of Manvi after his guru Vijaya Dasa asked him to do so.
Gopala Dasa not only gifted his life but also took on the pain of Jagannatha Dasa.

Jagannatha Dasa was suffering from severe stomach ache. When Gopala Dasa gifted him his life, he also took upon himself the pain of Jagannatha Dasa. Till he met his end, Gopala Dasa suffered from severe stomach ache. But there was no murmur of dissatisfaction or repentence.  Gopala Dasa continued with his life with equanimity. This is perhaps the greatest gift of all-the gift of life which is unparalled anywhere in the annals of world history.      

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The sword making factory

Prithviraj Chavan is one of the legendary rulers of India and his name is remembered even today for his heroism and chivalry.
While much has been written about the life and times of  this Hindu emperor and his legendary enemity with Jaichand, who ultimately had his revenge of  defeating Prithviraj Chavan by inviting Mahmud Ghori to attack India, not much is known about Hansi, the town in Haryana today which is very closely associated with him.
Legend has it that Hansi once had a company manufacturing swords and that the swords were exported to almost all countries of what is today known as the Middle East.
The sword manufacturing company was started by none other than  Prithviraj Chauhan himself. It goes without saying that the swords were so fine and so sharp that they were in great demand.
Prithviraj Chavan himself had in his possession many swords manufactured by this company. He also equipped his army with these swords.
Since the swords could not be made easily available, Prithviraj Chavan set up the manufacturing unit within the fort at Hansi. The fort survives to this day, though all traces of the sword manufacturing facility have all but disappeared.
The fort encompasses 30 acres and it is square in shape. It has  security posts in all the four corners of the fort. This fort was later strengthened by Emperor Drupad, son of Anangapal.
Emperor Dhrupad too established a sword manufacturing factory in this fort and, hence, it came to be known as Asigarh.
In the ancient and medieval period, Asirgarh became an important military centre and 80 forts across the area were controlled from here. During the period of Firoz Shan Tuglaq, an underground tunnel was constructed connecting the present Hansi to Hisar.
The gate of  the fort is carved with figures of gods. Besides, paintings of Gods, Goddesses and birds can also be seen on the walls of the fort. The entry gate of this fort was built by George Thomas, an Irish soldier.
The ancient statues of  Mahavira and Gautama Buddha are placed in front of the fort . These statues are priceless.
The Barsi (South) Gate in the centre of the bazaar of Hansi was constructed in 1304 by Alauddin Khilji.
Hansi has five gates of entry – Delhi Gate (East), Hisar Gate (West), Gosain Gate (North-west), Barsi Gate (South) and Umra Gate (South west). The altitude of the town increases after entry from any of the gates.
The Sikhs captured Hansi in 1778, and established a Sikh State for some time until the Marathas captured it.
Locals say that the town was founded by Hansivati also known as Ambavati, who was the daughter of Prithviraj Chauhan. Some others say it was founded by King Anangpal Vihangpal Tomar for his guru Hansakar and this was sometime in 957 AD.
In 1192, after the defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan by Mohammed Gauri, the Hindu rule at Hansi ended. This was the time when non-Muslims were not permitted to settle down here. It was only during the reign of the Mughal Emperor, Shahajan, that Hindus were permitted to come back to Hansi.

In 1705, the Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, came to Hansi and inspired the Hindus to revolt. In 1707, the Sikh leader, Banda Bahadur, attacked Hansi andmeted out punishment to the Muslims. Hansi then came under the Marathas in 1736. The Marathas lost it to the Afghans after the third Battle of Panipat in 1761.