Thursday 31 January 2013

A Nazi who escaped from India

He was a member of the dreaded Schutzstaffel (SS) of  Nazi Germany where he held the rank of an Oberscharfuhrer. He also became a member of the Nazi party in Germany
He wore his SS uniform only once in life and that was on the day of his marriage. A renowned mountaineer, he was one among the four of a team of four who were personally received by and photographed with Adolf Hitler.
He was a world champion in mountain climbing. He was also the winner of the downhill event at the World Student Championships at Zell am See Mountain climbing competition in Austria.
He was classified as a Nazi by the British and placed in a German internment camp in India. He escaped from India to Tibet, by giving a slip to the British guards. His escape is the stuff of legends and it closely resembles a Hollywood potboiler like Indian Jones  or even a war movie like Escape to Victory.
He was Heinrich Harrer, an adventurer, mountaineer, writer, sportsman and a geographer. An Austrian, Harrer was born on July 6, 1912. The son of a postal worker, he studied geography and sports at the Karl Franzens University in Graz. Here, he became a member of ATV Graz, a student organization.
In  1935, Harrer was selected to participate under the Austrian flag in the Alpine skiing competition at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch Partenkirchen, a mountain resort in Bavaria, southern Germany. The Austrian team, however, boycotted the event following a dispute about the status of skiing instructors as professionals. Harrer, therefore, lost an opportunity to participate in the Olympics.
In 1937, Harrer won the downhill event at the World Student Championships at Zell am See. Subsequently in 1938, Harrer and his friend, Frtiz Kasparek, became the first mountaineers to climb the North face of the Eiger mountain in Switzerland.
This mountain peak was known as The White Spider because of its sheer vertical cliffs and dangerous crevices. Decades later, Harrer published an account of the climb called the White Spider. The book, published in 1959, immediately became a  best seller and was translated into many languages and even made into an English film.
Coming back to Harrer, he joined the SS where he held the rank of a  Sergeant. On May, 1 1938, he became a member of the Nazi party. By then, Harrer’s fame as a mountaineer had spread far and wide and he was received by and photographed with Adolf Hitler.
Harrer then decided to get married to Charlotte Wegener, the daughter of  well-known explorer and scholar Alfred Wegener. He wore his SS uniform on the day of his wedding. He never wore the uniform again.
In 1939, Harrer joined a four-man team led by Peter Aufschnaiter to climb Nanga Parbat in India. When the World War broke out, Harrer was declared by the British to be a Nazi and placed in a German Internment Camp in Dehradun and Hazaribagh where there were nearly a thousand such “enemies” .
Before being transported to Dehradun, Harrer was taken to a detention camp in Ahmedanagar where he considered the option of fleeing to Goa which then was under Portuguese rule. Before he could put the plan into operation, he was sent to Dehradun and from there to Hazaribagh. 
The days at the Internment camp in Hazaribagh were long and hard and Harrer decided to escape to Tibet and from there to the Japanese war front of  Burma or China.
Aufschnaiter and Harrer escaped from Hazaribagh and were recaptured a number of times before they finally succeeding in breaking free.
On April 29, 1944, Harrer and six others, including Rolf Magener and Heins von Have, disguised as British officers, and  Aufschnaiter,  Bruno Treipel, Hans Kopp and Sattler, disguised as native Indian workers, walked out of the camp.
While Magener and von Have took the train to Calcutta and from there joined the Japanese army in Burma. Harrer and others
headed for Tibet. While a weary Sattler gave himself up to the British, the other four crossed into Tibet on May 17, 1944 by fording the Tsang Chok-la Pass (19,350 ft). They then divided themselves into two teams-  Harrer teaming up with Kopp and  Aufschnaiter going along Treipel.
Kopp later surrendered to the British. Aufschnaiter and Harrer, helped by the former's knowledge of  Tibetan language, carried forward to Lhasa.
In their travels, they had passed Mount Kailash, the South-West plains of Tibet (Gyirong) and the Northern Changthang plateau.
In 1948, Harrer joined the Tibetan Government as a salaried official, translating foreign news and acting as court photographer to the Dalai Lama.
Harrer first met the 14th Dalai Lama when he was summoned to the Potala Palace, and asked to make a film about ice skating. Harrer, by then, had introduced ice-skating to Tibet. He then built a cinema for the Dalai Lama, with a projector hooked to a jeep engine.
Harrer soon tutored the Dalai Lama in English, geography, and science.
In 1952, Harrer returned to Austria where he wrote several books. The seven years in Tibet  (1952) and Lost Lhasa (1953) dealt with his experiences in the mountain kingdom. Seven Years in Tibet was translated into 53 languages, and was a bestseller in the United States in 1954, selling more than three million copies. The book was filmed twice, the first time in 1956 and the second in 1977, featuring Brad Pitt as Harrer.
By then, Harrer had been cleared of any pre-war crimes and this was later supported by Simon Wiesnthal. In  his book “Beyond Seven Years in Tibet”, Harrer called his involvement with the Nazi Party a mistake.
Harrer participated in a number of ethnographic as well as mountaineering expeditions to Alaska, theAndes and  central Africa. He also explored the Amazon river in south America with the former king Leopold of Belgium.
In 1954,  Harrer climbed Mount Deborah and Mount Hunter, both in Alaska. In 1962, he was chosen as the leader of the team of four climbers who climbed Puncak Java in western New Guinea. He also explored the Neolithic stone axe quarries at Ya-Li-Me.
He  wrote more than 20 books about his adventures. An  excellent  golfer, he won the Austrian national championships in 1958 and 1970.
He visited Tibet again and wrote a sequel to Seven Years in Tibet called Return to Tibet. He made 40 documentary films and founded the Heinrich Harrer Museum in H├╝ttenberg, Austria which is dedicated to Tibet.
Harrer died on January 7, 2006 in Friesach, Austria.

The head that watched the Kurukshetra war

In Kaliyuga, he is known as the other Krishna. He watched the entire Kurukshetra war from a hillock. Since he had been killed, only his head could watch the entire war, including the final destruction of the mammoth Kaurava army.
A grandson of the redoubtable Bheema, this man could easily swing the Kurukshetra war either in favour of the Pandavas or the Kauravas. Krishna, who was a witness to his heroic feat, realises that the only way he can save the Pandavas from certain death is to ask for the head of Bheema’s grandson.
A chivalrous man, Bheema’s grandson readily obliges. But he has a condition. “I have come here to watch the war and I must do so”, he says. Krishna agrees and after getting his head, places it on a hillock where the head watched the entire battle.
This is Khatu Shyam or the other Krishna. He is the son of Kamkantaka and Ghatotkacha, the son of Bheema.
Khatu Shyam’s real name is Barbarika. He is also called Barbarik  or Barbareeka.
Barbarika was a redoubtable warrior even in his childhood. He had learnt the art of warfare from Shiva. This not only made him redoubtable but also fearless. Please with his devotion and dedication, Shiva had given Barbarika three arrows which were invincible (teen bhan). This earned Barbarika the name Teen Bana Dhaari.
Subsequently, Agni, the God of Fire, gave hum a bow that would ensure that he remained undefeated in all the three worlds.     
When the preparations for the Kurukshetra War was beginning, Barbarika decided to see the battle for himself. He also promised his mother that if he felt an urge to join the battle, he would take the side of the losing party.
He then rode towards Kurukshetra with his three arrows on a blue coloured horse. When Krishna learnt of Barbarika’s intention, he became concerned about the safety of the Pandavas. He disguised himself as a Brahmin and came face to face with Babrika.
Krishna asked Barbarika how he could go to such a battle with only three arrows. Barbarika retorted that the arrows were more than enough.
He said the first arrow he would shoot would mark or identify the things that were to be destroyed. The third arrow would destroy all the identified objects, while the second arrow would mark the things he wanted to save. All the three arrows would return to the quiver once they completed the task, he said.
Krishna was not convinced and wanted to test Barbarika. He challenges Barbarika to tie up all the leaves of a peepal tree under which he was standing. Barbarika accepts the challenge and starts meditating to release his arrow by closing his eyes. Then, Krishna without the knowledge of Barbarika, removes one of the leaf  and places it under his feet.
When Barbarik releases his first arrow, it marks all the leaves of the tree and then starts going around one of the legs of Krishna. When Krishna asks why the arrow is going around his foot,  Barbarika replies that there must be a leaf under his foot and the arrow was targeting his foot to mark it.
Barbarika then advises Krishna to lift his leg, since, otherwise the arrow will mark the leaf by piercing Krishna’s leg. Krishna lifts his foot and to his surprise finds that the first arrow had marked the leaf that was hidden under his foot. Then the arrow collects all the leaves and ties them together.
Krishna now realises that Barbarika’s arrows are so infallible, that even if Barbarika is not aware of his target, they can easily trace all their targets. Krishna realises that even if he manages to hide the Pandavas, they can still come to harm when Barbarika shoots his arrows.
Krishna then asks Barbarika with whom he would join hands in the war. Barbarika says he will fight whichever side is weak. As Pandavas have only seven Akshounis compared to the eleven of Kauravas, he considers that the Pandavas are weak Therefore, I will fight the Kauravas, he says.
Krishna then makes Barbarika aware of the danger of the oath he had taken before his mother.
Krishna then tells Barbarika about the strategy of Kauravas. He says the Kauravas will not use all the eleven Akshounis on the first day. Hence, the part of Kaurava's army that comes before Pandavas on the first day, will be completely destroyed by Barbarika. But, that part of Kaurava's army that does not come before Pandavas on the first day will become weak. This will force Barbarika to support Kauravas and fight the Pandavas. Now, Barbarika will destroy the Pandava army that comes before the Kauravas. The remaining part of Pandava army that does not come before Barbareek will have become very weak. Thus, whichever side he supports will only make the other side weak due to his phenomenal power and nobody will be able to defeat him.
Thus, in an actual war, Barbarika will keep on oscillating between the two sides, thereby destroying the army of both sides and eventually only he will remain.
Krishna then decided to preempt this catastrophe by asking for Barbarika’s head. Barbarika then obtains a boon from Krishna that he would be known by Krishna's own name (Shyam) in the Kaliyuga.
Krishna also declares that Barbarika's devotees would be blessed just by pronouncing his name. The wishes of devotees would be granted if they worship Barbarika with sincerity and dedication.
Barbarika then cuts off his own head. But he wants to watch the battle. Krishna then places the head on top of a hill overlooking the battlefield. From the hill, the head of Barbarika watched the entire battle.
When the battle ends, the victorious Pandava brothers argue among themselves as to who was responsible for their victory. Krishna intervenes and says that Barbarika’s head should be allowed to answer.
Barbarika’s head then reveals that it was Krishna alone who was responsible for the victory.
The head is then immersed in Rupamati river by Krishna himself.  Thousands of years later, the head was found buried in the village of Khatu in Rajasthan.  Roopsingh Chauhan, the King of Khatu, builds a temple in 1027 and instals the idol of Khatushyam.
The temple was later renovated by Diwan Abhay Singh in 1720.

Rajasaurus-The Indian dinosaurus

It was 1981 and two geologists from the Geological Survey of India (GSI) were mapping Rahioli and surrounding areas of Kheda district in Gujarat.
When the geologists, G.N. Dwivedi and D.M. Mohabey, reached a quarry near Rahioli, workers of quarry belonging to a private cement factory showed them some round or circular balls.
The geologists found that the structures were fossiled eggs of dinosaurus.
Many such eggs were unearthed  from a limestone bed near the quarry. Apart from the eggs, they also found several fossiled bones.
(What they did not know was that they had stumbled upon the discovery of an indigenous type of dinosaurus, which was native to the Indian sub-continent only.)
An year later, another geologist from the GSI, Suresh Srivastava, of the paleontology division of Jaipur, collected many fossiled bones of the dinosaurus. He also marked the precise coordinates of the area. This work went on from 1982 to 1984. Ashok Saini, a paleontologist at Panjab University, was also involved in the search for fossiled eggs and bones.
Subsequently, Suresh Srivastava and U B Mathur, under supervision of S. C Pant, cleaned up the fossiled skeletal parts of the dinosauras. Several papers came to be published in national and international journals about these fossils.
In 2001, the American Institute of  Indian Research, New Delhi and the National Geographic Society of USA sponsored further research on these fossils and the fossil sites. Under the project, two US researchers, Paul Sereno and Jeff Wilson, reconstructed the collection of dinosaur bones gathered in 1983 and 1984. The team came to the conclusion that the dino found in Gujarat closely resembled the one found in Madagascar.
Later, fossils of  the same type of dinos were found in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. This type of dine came to be named as  Rajasaurus Narmadensis.
The Rajasaurus are abelisaurs and so far it is known to have occurred only in the Indian peninsula. Research so far has revealed that the Rajasaurus was alive when the Indian sub-continent had separated itself from the Gondwana landmass. After separating itself, the Indian sub-continent was moving north.
The Rajasaurus was at least 30 foot or nine metres in length. It was  a horned carnivore that hunted other dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.
The full name of the Indian dino is Rajasauras Narmadensis. While Rajasaurus means princely lizard,  Narmadensis means dinosaur from the Narmada river.
Today, Gujarat boasts of having among the most abundant of dinosaur hatcheries in the world. Geologists say that the presence of dinosaur eggs, bones and skin impressions suggest a widespread presence of dinosaurs.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

The fort which no enemy could detect

This is one fort which you have to search to locate. It is amidst high cliffs and there is only one entrance to it. During the medieval ages, it provide safe sanctuary for several kings and rebels.
Its location was so secret, or rather so difficult to track, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb gave up the campaign to disciple a rebel who had declared Independence
Similarly, the Nizam of Hyderabad conducted a war for several months but to no avail. He had to voluntarily withdraw from the campaign as it made no headway and he had not way of storming the fortified bastion.
The fort and its buildings so impressed people that it gave rise to an iconic saying or proverb.  The popular saying in Kannada goes like this,
“Kaalu iddavaru Hampi Noda beku,
Kannu iddavaru Kanakagiri Nodabeku.”
This means people who can walk should visit Hampi and people who are blessed with eyesight should see Kanakagiri. This adage holds true even today and one should see both Kanakagiri and Hampi-one is a feast for the eyes and the other for the legs (This means that even if  you walk miles you will not get tired).  
Today, the fort in Kanakagiri  stands a mute testimony to the glory of the centuries gone by. The fort is called Hemagudda which has been a favourite hideout of  rulers and rebels in times when they were in trouble.
Kanakagiri is situated in Gangavati taluk of Koppal district. It was an important outpost during the Vijayanagar period, It was the capital of  the Palegars or local chieftains of Kanakagiri from the 15 century AD to the 18 century AD.
These Palegars were vassals of the Vijayanagars and  they loved their buildings like the Vijayanagar rulers. Today that love can be seen in the buildings, temples and forts that the Palegars built. The  Hemagudda fort is a labour of love and art. It is located about 20 kms from Kanakagiri in the midst of  towering hills and small mountains.
What the rulers could not do-destroy the fort-our Government has successfully done. Years of neglect and official apathy have put the fort on the endangered list
The Hemagudda fort is adjacent to another fort. This fort is the Kummata Durga fort which belonged to the warrior prince  Gandugali Kumara Rama.
The Hemagudda fort is enclosed by gigantic rocks on all sides and it can be entered only from its entrance in the east. It was this unique location that kept it hidden from the eye, giving it the name of a good hide-out.
Some of the rulers who took shelter in the fort were Peetambari Baharipidda Nayak, the ruler of Surpur. He had come to the fort as he was being perused by the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, in  1688. The Nayaka stayed in the fort for an year.
The then ruler of  Hemagudda,  Udacha Nayaka, agreed to shelter Peetambari Baharipidda Nayak as he was sure that the Mughals could never locate the fort.
Similarly, Hire Nayaka, the last ruler of Kanakagiri, waged a war against the Nizam of Hyderabad while hiding in the Hemagudda Fort.  The battle went on for more than three months and the Nizam was frustrated as he lost both men and money. He was forced to give a call for truce.
Even after the war ended, the Nizam failed to locate the fort.
Locals will tell you that the fort was first constructed in the 14th century AD.  The temples of  Shiva and Parvathi, Kanakachala, Lakshminarasimha and Durga Devi were constructed by Udacha Nayaka, the second ruler of Kanakagiri, between 1510 and 1533.
A palace is also seen in the fort with hide-outs constructed in its  walls.
Kanakagiri is also known as Swaranagiri. During the ancient ages, it was the provincial capital of  the southern region of the Maurya Empire.
Kanakagiri has several temples built by the Nayakas. The temple of  Kanaka Chalapathi Gidu is the biggest and it is known for its beauty and elegance. One of the edicts of Ashoka were discovered here. It can still be seen besides the main gopura of the Kanaka Chalapathi Temple.
The Venkatappa Bavi is a royal bath constructed by Venkatappa Naik during  the Vijayanagara period.  This stepped well is surrounded by an aisle on three sides. It also has a temple and shelter for pilgrims.
This place is also called Queen's bath. There are four entrances to enter the well; three through stairways that wind around narrow passages and the fourth entrance is from a regular wide and open stairway. Kanakagiri is just 37 kms from Koppal and 17 kms from Gangavathi. It is well connected by roads

The tortoise that outilved Clive

One of the pioneering British soldiers who played a pivotal role in establishing British supremacy in India was Robert Clive. The son of a Shropshire Squire in England, he rose from the ranks to command the British Army and set the English on course to rule India.
Clive later became an opium addict and committed suicide in 1774 at the age of 49. More than two hundred years later, one of Clive’s pet died in India in 2006. Unbelievable? Read on. 
Clive had settled down in a beautiful villa at Latbagan in Barrackpore near Calcutta. He had several pets and one among them was a male Aldabra Giant Tortoise.  
This tortoise was a gift to Clive from the British sailors who captured the animal from the Seychelles Islands. Clive had four such tortoises in his villa. While three of them had died, the one he named as Adwaita had survived.
Nobody knows why the tortoise was named Adwaitha. All we know is that it was pet he treasured and he left behind when he went back to England.  
Carl Louis Schwendler, the founder of the Alipore Zoo in Calcutta, transferred the tortoise to the zoo in 1875. Adwaita lived in a enclosure in the zoo until its death in 2006.
It weighed 250 kilograms (550 lb) and it was a bachelor with no records of his progeny. Though he was huge, he lived on a simple diet of wheat bran, carrots, lettuce, soaked gram, bread, grass and salt. He was a loner and when he died he was the world’s oldest bachelor.
He died in March 2006 after his shell cracked and a wound developed. By then, he had also developed liver infection. At the time of his death, Adwaitha was one of the longest living animals in the world.
Generally, Aldabra tortoises are found in the Aldabra atoll of Seychelles. It is today a world heritage site with about 1.6 lakhs such tortoises.These animals are similar in size to the Galapagos Giant tortoises.
The average weight of a male is around 250 kilograms (550 lb). Females are generally smaller than males, with average specimens measuring 90 centimetres (35 in) in length and weighing 150 kilograms (330 lb).
Adwaita died at the age of  255. This makes it the oldest tortoise of modern times, living longer than Harriet by 80 years, and Tu’i Malila by 67 years.
Harriet, a 176-year-old Galapagos tortoise, lives at the Australia Zoo north of Brisbane. She was taken from the island of Isla Santa Cruz by Charles Darwin in the 19th century.
Though Clive is long dead and gone, his legacy continues to live in Kolkata and elsewhere. His estate was at Barrackpore and it can still be seen. The Fort William here was commissioned by Clive  and it is still  one of the best preserved forts in India. The fort is used by the Army and entry is restricted.

The Indian King who turned his back on the English royal couple

The eyes of the world was on the event. In India itself where the event was being organized on a scale unheard of, it was received with mixed emotions. While the intelligentsia and the nationalists reviled the waste of money and the event as pompous and worthless, the British were determined to go ahead with it.  
All the Kings and Queens of  India (please remember that there were nearly 600 princely states) were in attendance along with their top officials. The entire world media, including newspaper representatives from the United States, England and other places had converged in India to cover the event.
The event, held 101 years ago, witnessed more than a lakh people gathering at what was described as one of the most defining moments of Indian history.  The Emperor of England, George, the fifth and his wife, Queen Mary, had attended the event along with a host of top British India and England officials.
This was the Coronation Durbar of 1911, also known as Delhi Durbar since it was held in Delhi.
The Durbar had been organized by the British in honor of the coronation of King George and also announce the shifting of the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi.
The durbar also saw the announcement of the construction of the Viceroy Palace near today’s Guru Tej Bahadur locality. This was found unsuitable and the building later came to be constructed at the Raisana Hill.
Coming back to the Durbar, the British had ensured that everything went according clock-like precision. To ensure that nothing went wrong, a dress rehearsal was held in which all the Kings participated. The Kings were “taught” the manner in which they would have to behave before the ruling English monarch.
The day dawned and King George and Queen Mary were seated on thrones atop a platform. The new tented city that sprang up in Delhi had accommodated more than 2,5 lakhs people. Nearly, 80,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army had been stationed at the venue for providing fool-proof security. 

The Durbar commenced and each of the Indian Prince or King came up to the stage to pay his or her respects to the King and Queen and then withdraw gracefully after bowing.
The Rajput Kings from Rajasthan, the Nawabs, Nizam of Hyderabad, the Maharaja of Mysore, Holkars of Indore, Scindias of Gwalior, Bhonsales of Nagpur and Gaekwads of Baroda were all in attendance. 
Each of them had been asked to perform proper obeisance to the English monarch by bowing three times before him and  then backing away without turning. The Indian Kings were told that they should never turn their back on the monarch as it would amount to a great insult.
Each King or Maharaja did as he had been told by the British. King after King headed towards George and Mary and bowed before them like a well-drilled mummy and stepped back, heads down and hands at the sides. As if to add insult to injury, the British had asked the Maharajas to wear all their royal ornaments and decorations. All of them did without fail.
It was then the turn of the Gaekwad of Baroda. The British had considered Baroda to be second in importance after Hyderabad.  
Maharaja Sayajji Rao Gaekwad, the third, rose casually from his seat and walked towards the English monarch with his trademark walking stick.
The then Viceroy of India, Lord Hardinge cringed with anger and fury when he saw that the Maharaja had discarded all his jewels and decorations and was walking with a majestic gait towards the monarch.     
Sayajji Rao not only ignored royal etiquette by turning his back on the king and queen after formally introducing himself but also  “laughed ever so lightly” as he walked back from their presence.
He showed his back to the English royals and the Viceroy and walked back “insolently” swinging his walking stick.
Lord Hardinge was bursting with anger at the perceived insult to his King and his fury doubled when he saw the bow by Sayajji was only perfunctory. At no point of his “presentation” did Sayajji show himself to be a subordinate of  the clueless British assembled in the tented amphitheatre.
Sayajji’s conduct sent ripples of shock among the gathering and it made headlines throughout the world. As can be expected, the British Press went hammer and tongs at the Maharaja. “How dare he insult our monarch”, seem to be their refrain.
From then on until his death in 1939, Sayajji Rao was kept at bay by the British. This even though he apologised for his conduct and blamed it on his  “nervousness and confusion in the presence of Their Majesties”.
Though not forgiven, Sayajji Rao was made a Knight Grand Commander by the British in 1919. The action divided the Indian nation then. While many welcomed his open defiance, they criticised Sayajji’s apology saying that it showed him in much worse light. 
Hardinge later had his revenge when he tightened the screws on Baroda state and forced Sayajji not to give shelter to the nationalists (freedom fighters). He also took away some of the administrative powers of the King. Howsoever much the Viceroy would have liked, he could not depose Sayajji Rao because of his popularity among the people and also due to the bad press that the British would have to face.
On his part, Sayajji Rao took a series of measures to develop Baroda. He introduced compulsory and free primary education in  1906.  He encouraged textile and banking industries.
While his defiance seems to have been forgotten today, what India still remembers is that in 1913, he financed three years of postgraduate studies for B.R. Ambedkar at Columbia University.

Swamy Vivekananda and the story of the stone bench of Bangalore

They are so common that nobody gives a second thought to them. They are  there everywhere-in parks, playgrounds, houses, malls, schools, hospitals and even in the most remote places.
However, not much attention is paid to them unless they have a history of their own or they have a tale to narrate.
They are the stone benches. These benches are designed in the most simple manner. There are plenty of them in and around Bangalore. But this one located in the Ramakrishna Matha in Bangalore is a special one.
This is the very bench on which one of India’s greatest citizens, Swamy Vivekananda sat.   
The Ramakrishna Ashrama in Basavanagudi is at the Bull Temple road and it is a well-known landmark of Bangalore. However, what is not well-known is that the Ashrama houses some of the rare exhibits or artifacts such as the stone bench.
The stone bench was not originally the property of the Ashrama. The bench was in Majestic locality n Bangalore till 1997 after which it came to the Ashrama.
This is the story of the stone bench.
It was 1892 and Bangalore then comprised of  the old petes and the Cantonment area. Majestic was developing then and the railway station was constructed there.
Swamy Vivekananda had come to Belgaum in 1982 and he arrived in Bangalore in December the same year from Belgaum via Dharwad. He stayed in the Kalappa Choultry near Majestic for a few days.
Kalappa Choultry in the 1890s was an alms house. Since he knew nobody in Bangalore,  he decided to stay on in the choultry. However, soon after his arrival, he became infected with chicken pox.
According to then Municipal laws, infections could only be treated by authorised doctors Since  Dr. P. Palpu, the Municipal Medical
Officer, was available, he was called in.
When the doctor met the Swamy, it took him just a few minutes to relies that Vivekananda was no ordinary person or monk. He then persuaded the young monk to leave the alms house and stay with him in Majestic area.
Coincidentally, Dr Palpu, an acquaintance of  K. Seshadri Iyer, the Dewan  of Mysore State. When the doctor met the Dewan, he told him about the extraordinary monk.
The Dewan, whose curiosity was aroused, met the monk and even he came under the influence of Vivekananda. Very soon, the Dewan introduced the monk to the aristocracy and the intelligentsia of Bangalore. He affectionately called Vivekananda  “Young Acharya”.
The Dewan then decided to personally introduce Vivekananda to then Maharaja of Mysore, Chamarajendra Wodeyar. He then invited Vivekananda to visit Mysore and be his guest.
By then, Vivekananda was cured of chicken pox and Dr. Palpu declared him fit to travel. Vivekananda travelled to Mysore, stayed for some time at the Niranjana Matha near Narayana Shastri Road and then shifted to the Dewan’s house on Seethavilas Road. He then called on the Maharaja and confounded him with his knowledge and expertise on all subjects.
The Maharaja, himself a scholar, was moved to remark,“Such
brilliancy of thought, such charm of personality, such wide learning and such penetrating religious insight”.
It was at Mysore that Vivekananda resolved to visit Chicago ad attend the World meet on Religions. He then left Mysore for Trivandrum and then to the United States.
Well, Vivekananda went to Chicago where he gave a stirring speech on September 11, 1893. The world then woke up to the greatness of Vivekananda. India too received news of  Vivekananda’s greatness. It was only then that Sugappa, a jeweler of Majestic in Bangalore, decided to preserve a stone bench in front of his house.
The bench was placed near the house of  Sugappa adjacent to the Kalappa choultry and Sugappa had noticed a young and handsome person sitting n the bench for several days. It appeared to him that the person liked the bench. However, after a few days, he noticed that the handsome person had disappeared. He thought nothing of it and it was only when new of Vivekananda taking the West by storm reached India that the jeweler realized that the young and handsome person who so frequently sat on the bench was none other than Vivekananda.
Sugappa and his descendents preserved the bench and in January 1997 they handed over the bench to the Ramakrishna Ashrama in Bangalore.
The ashrama decided to preserve the bench and its link to one of its most illustrious monks. On March 27, 2009, the bench along with a statue of Vivekananda was consecrated at a special function presided over by Swamy Bhaumananda, president, of the Pune branch of the Ramakrishna Matha.
The bench can still be seen today along with some other relics belonging to Sharada Devi.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

A sweet named after a Viceroy's wife

He was the last Governor-General of India and also the first Viceroy. It was during his time that the first war of Indian Independence broke out.
Though the war was put down brutally, he was seen as a man who was on a mission to heal the wounds. Even if he handed over exemplary punishment to those involved in the war, he tried not be revengeful. He managed to restore law and order and introduced several administrative reforms. This earned him the sobriquet “Clemency”.
His wife, the first lady, was passionately in love with India. She not only painted but also wrote a series of detailed letters to Queen Victoria about the life and times in the age. The letters were so comprehensive that the Queen appreciated her. However, her husband, the Viceroy of India, rarely wrote to the Queen and even if he did they were short, brief and to the point.
They were the Cannings. The husband, Lord Charles James Canning, was the last Governor-Genera and the first Viceroy of India. His wife, was Charlotte Canning, who was once in the court of  Queen Victoria.          
Canning was the Governor General of India from 1856 - 1862 and the first Viceroy in India from November 1, 1858. Born on 14 December 1812, he was the third son of the famous statesman George Canning.
An year after he took over as Governor-General of India, he had to face the most daunting task of the period. The war of Indian Independence broke out in 1857. It was overcome and Lord Canning by  the Parliamentary Act of 1858 the rule of the East India Company ended and Britain formally took over India as one of its province. Canning was made the Viceroy.
Though Canning punished all those involved in the war, he was found to be liberal and not vengeful. This earned him the admiration of the people and he was called Clemency Canning.
The Cannings were stationed n Calcutta and they had a retreat  at Barrackpore, which is today one of the suburbs of  Kolkata.
 The Cannings mixed well with the Indians and locals. Lady Canning in particular was found of  Indian dishes, particular Bengali sweets. Her all-time favourite was the Pantua, which she regularly ate and also served to the many guests who visited the house of the Governor-General in Kolkata (now it is the Raj Bhavan. This building was commissioned by Lord Robert Clive).
Lady Canning was so fond of the Bengali sweet that a well-known local confectioner local confection in Calcutta, called Bhim Nag prepared special types of Pantua and called them as Ledikeni.
Ledikeni is a corruption of the English name Lady Canning,
Today, apart from Rosagollas and other sweets, Ledikeni is also a popular Bengali dish.
It is a conventional Bengali, Bangladeshi and eastern Indian dish prepared of deep-fried sweet balls  made from semolina, milk, ghee, khova and sugar syrup.
Of course there are many versions of Pantua and we do not exactly know what Lady Canning liked. All we know is that Bhim Nag prepared her favourite dish and even named it after her.
The story goes that Bhim Nag prepared the dish on the birthday of Lady Canning and dedicated the sweet to her. Whatever be the veracity of the story, one thing is for sure. Ledikeni is one of the most mouthwatering sweets of  Bengal and Bangladesh and if you want the ones prepared by Bhim Nag head for Kolkata.
Kolkata is well connected by both road and rail networks. It has an airport too but Dum Dum airport is far away from Kolkata. Now, the metro makes it easier for you to alight at Dum Dum, take a cab to the Dum Dum metro and get into the hustle and bustle of Kolkata.
By the way, Lady Canning contacted malaria and died in the arms of her husband in her house, rather mansion, in Kolkata in 1861. She was buried in Kolkata, the city that she felt was a lonely one for her. Her tomb can still be seen in Barrackpore, which she always preferred over Kolkata.
Her husband, Canning, was made an Earl and he returned to England an exhausted man. He died in 1862 and is buried at Westminster Abbey in London.   
Canning may have been forgotten. But Ladikeni is not. Though almost 150 have passed after Charlotte’s death, her names survives in a sweetened form.

Your Gods are made here

Who have not seen or at least heard of the breathtaking Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebidu and the magnificent Vijayanagar temples of Hampi. Many people are aware that some of the most Hoysala temples were sculpted by Janakacharya and his son Dankanacharya.
But did you ever wonder what happened to the descendents of these two great sculptors. Or what happened to other equally eminent artistes of rock and stone. Well, you can meet some of them, including the descendents of Shilpi Janakacharya and Dakanacharya at a small village near Bangalore.
What is likely to warm your heart is that the descendents along with several hundred others are still engaged in the task  of making sculptures, carving images and dressing stones. Yes, their profession is sculpting.
The small village of  Shivarapatna in Mallur taluk of Kolar district is home to the sculpture village where nearly 350 families are actively engaged in the profession of designing, sculpting and carvings images and idols.
One of the members of the sculpting families in the village is that of Basavalingacharya.
Basavalingacharya was the grandson of Shilpi Jakanacharya and it is believed that he settled down here. One of the reasons for the mass migration of sculptors to Shivarapatna was that it was very near to Kolar, which the capital of the early Gangas. The Gangas were master builders and they encouraged sculptors. It was due to this reason that Basavalingacharya settled down here.
His descendents still stay here and they also continue with the family vocation of sculpting.
The village of  Shivarapatna is named after the Ganga Emperor, Shivaramara. The village still boasts of the beautiful Shiva temple which was designed by Jakkannacharya and Dakanacharya. This later came to be known as Virdharaya Swami Temple.
For centuries, artistes here have been sculpting idols and statues. The sculptors are experts in both stone and metal carvings.
The Hindu deities are the main source of inspiration for these artistes or rather artisans.
 Since sculpting is a hereditary vocation, the business of sculpting has passed down from father to son. The skills to have been handed down by the older generation and there is no school of sculpture here to train people. These sculptors say they are descendents of Vishwakarma, the architect of Gods or Devas.
A majority of the sculptors belong to the Brahmin community.
They generally use granite, soapstone and sandstone for sculpting figures of gods and goddesses. The sculptors look at a stone and decided what figure they can carve on it- male, female or neuter gender. They decided on this by closely examining the sound quality of the stone.
The stones are procured from Heggadadevana Kote (HD Kote), Mysore, Chikajala and other places. Many temples in and around Bangalore and other cities have statues sculpted in the village such as the Ranganatha Swamy temple in Bangalore, the Sarvagna statue in Kolar, both of which were carved by the late Shilpi Sridharacharya.
Besides, the statue of  former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi  at the international airport in Delhi was sculpted here. The idols of many temples in Madurai, Udupi and Tirupathi have been sculpted here.
Shivarapatna is about 50 kilometres from Bangalore and the Government has declared it a heritage village.
By the way, Jnanpeetha awardee  Masthi Venkatesh Iyengar had his early education in this village.
The Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation (KSHDC) has taken up a project to encourage sculpting. It is already working on a project in this regard.
The Union Government too has declared Shivarapatna as one of the cluster villages producing near similar products and facing common opportunities and threats. It has also defined an artisan cluster as geographically concentrated household units producing handicraft/handloom products.
It has classified the Shivarapatna  cluster as able to form 100 plus artisans and  twelve self help groups (SHG) supporting the strong work force. It has aid that the mobilisation is gaining momentum day by day.

The Queen of the Deccan

She was the Queen of the Deccan. She ruled over the Kingdom when it was passing through a difficult phase. Though she was the  Queen of  one of the most prominent dynasties of the Deccan in the mediaeval ages, her name even today is unknown.
When she died, the kingdom stretched from Goa and Konkan in the west to Machilapatnam of Andhra Pradesh in the East and Berar in the north to Kanchipuram in the south.
She was also the chief of the Regents and the Dowager Empress of the kingdom and she was an associate of Mahmud Gawan, one of the most well-known personalities of the period.
The Queen and Mahmud Gawan worked for the welfare of the people and took up several developmental works. She is Makhduma-e-Jahan Nargis Begum, the Bahmani (also spelled as Bahamani) Queen, who ruled the Deccan for nearly two decades.
Unfortunately, she is a very obscure figure in India history and she has not been given her due place either by historians or by people. This is really surprising as Queens with lesser reigns such as Chand Bibi and Razia Sultan have been immortalized in history for one or other.
The reason for her obscurity could be because she exercised control indirectly and was always a shadowy figure even then. Even then, for her not to figure in any book on history is itself a mystery.
Nargis Begum was the ruler of the Kingdom which had a running feud with the Vijayanagars. However, during her reign, except for minor skirmishes, there were no major wars or battles against the Hindu Kingdom.
When she took over as the Dowager Queen, the capital of the Bahmanis had been shifted from Gulbarga to Bidar. The magnificent Madrasa at Bidar was constructed by Gawan along with other monuments. (The ruins of the Madrasa can still be seen.)
She was the real power behind the Bahmani throne between 1458 and 1473. She was married to Humayun (Aladdin Humayun Zalim Shah)  who had a short reign  from May 7, 1458 to September 4, 1461 A D. Humayun was a cruel and despotic King. He hated others and they hated him equally. He and the Begum had two sons, both of who succeeded the Bahmani Throne made of Torquise one after the other.
At the time of his death, Humayun had constituted a council of regents to rule over the kingdom with Begum as its head. One of the other prominent members of the council was Mahmud Gawan.  A brave and doughty warrior, Begum also lead the Bahmanis in their war against the Kingdoms of Konkan, Belgaum and Kanchipuram.
She was instrumental in introducing administrative reforms and overhauled the system of  land survey. She also extended all help to Muhamad Gawan to construct the famed Madrassa in Bidar.
She was the regent when two of her sons occupied the Bahmani throne- Nizam Shah alias Nizam-Ud-Din Ahmad III (September 4, 1461 to July 30, 1463 AD) and Mohammed Shah III Lashkari alias  Shams-Ud-Din Muhammad Shah III (July 30, 1463 to March 26, 1482 AD.
The Queen died in Bijapur while she was returning from a battlefield in Belgaum. She was buried with all honors in the royal necropolis of Ashtur on the outskirts of Bidar. Her tomb is almost opposite to the tomb of her husband, Humayun.
Her tomb is built in Persian style. A simple stone inscription in Persian reads, “Makhduma -e-jahan (ruler of the world) Nargis Begum, most gracious queen of Sultan Humayun, sleeps here”.
By the way, this is the only East facing tomb in the complex which houses the tombs of sixteen Bahmani rulers.
Like in life, she has been neglected in death too. There are few articles on her and fewer details about the Dowager Queen.  

Monday 28 January 2013

When Hanuman spoke to Aurangzeb

It is regarded as a centerpiece of  Islamic art, architecture and literature. It also occupied a prime position in India and it played a decisive role in several events and incidents that shaped the history of south India.
Today, it is regarded as one of the major hubs of the IT revolution in India and it is trying its best to catch up with Bangalore as the most favoured IT destination.
It is also a city that has an impressive past. Known for its cuisine and the iconic Qutb Minar, Hyderabad is also the city of the Nawabs.
Hyderabad today presents a city with a rich past and a promising future. While tourists and visitors flock in lakhs to see the Qutb Minar, Salar Jing museum, the Nizam’s palace and of course Golconda, they conveniently overlook another piece of history.
However to be fair to the tourists, not many even in Hyderabad are aware of the importance of this historic structure and its association with a Mughal Emperor. Moreover it is not on any tourist circuit or map.
This structure is a temple and it has an interesting story about its survival in a Muslim dominated Kingdom. This the old and beautiful temple of  Hanuman located in Lakshmipuram near Karmanghat. The structure is believed to be almost nine centuries old.
The temple was located at its present place when Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah established Hyderabad in 1591.
When the last great Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, invaded Golconda and defeated the Nizam Shahi King, he overran Golconda and Hyderabad apart from other cities belonging to the Nizam Shahis.
The year then was 1687 and Aurangzeb marched on to Hyderabad after imprisoning the Nizam Shahi King. He then entered Hyderabad and asked his soldiers and officials to raze all Hindu temples in and around the city.
When the Mughal soldiers came to the Hanuman Temple at Lakshmipuram, they found that they could not enter the premises. When they tried to push through, they felt a bigger and stronger force pushing them back. Try as hard as they could, they could not overcome the invisible force.
They ran back to the camp where Aurangzeb was holding court. When they reported the matter to Aurangzeb, the Emperor could not believe his ears. Angered over the failure of his soldiers to act, he himself marched with another group of soldiers to the temple.
Aurangzeb to met the same fate as his soldiers. He felt an invisible force holding him back and the crowbar he had held in his hand fell to the ground.
He then heard a voice which spoke to him.
The unseen voice warned Aurangzeb by saying “If you want to enter this temple, make your heart stronger (Karo-man-ghat)”. It then contiuned saying, “Mandir todna hai rajan, to karo man ghat.”
Though Aurangzeb appeared shaken, the voice did not satisfy him. He asked the voice to prove itself and its truthfulness.
The voice then dissolved into several strands of light. The whole temple came to be illuminated by the lights and in their midst appeared a hazy form. There was also a defeaning sound resembling thunder. A thoroughly humbled Aurangzeb beat a hasty retreat and ordered his soldiers not to harm the temple.
Since then, the place where the temple is situated has come to be known as Karmanghat.
The temple attracts thousands of devotees everyday but very few tourists. Historians say the temple was built by the Kakatiya king Prataprudra II in 1143 A.D.
There is an interesting legend behind the construction of the temple.  The Kakatiya Emperor, Prataprudra II, went out for hunting and when he came to Lakshmipuram, he heard the roar of a tiger.
Hungry and tired, the King thought he could hunt down the tiger for a meal. But try as might, he could not find the tiger. When he heard the roar again, he went in direction of the noise. As he neared a place, he could distinctly hear the chanting  “Sri Ram”.
The King then found a Hanuman statue hidden amid the foliage he had cut down to look at the place from where the chanting was coming from.
The King prostrated himself before Hanuman and then went back to his palace. The same night, Hanuman appeared in his dreams and asked him to build a temple. This is how the temple came to be built.
There are several smaller structures within the Hanuman temple. They are all built by the Kakatiyas themselves. There are deities of    Rama, Vigneshwara, Nageshwara, Bramaramba Lingeshwara, Durga, Saraswathi, Jagannatha Venugopala and  Navagrahas.
There is a belief that if women worship for 40 days the Hanuman here, which is called Dhyana Anjeneya, they will be blessed with healthy children. Similarly, all diseases are supposed to be cured if the person prays here for 40 days.
The temple is 15 kms from the railway station and 12 kms from the bus station. The temple is open from 6 am to 12 pm and again from
4 pm to 8 pm.

The deity which is abused by devotees

People approach temples with a great deal of faith and devotion. So much so that any transgression leads to a war of words. Sometimes these exchanges have even lead to clashes and loss of life and property.
Whatever the religion or whichever the place of worship, devotees bow to the deity and seek its blessings with utmost respect. In Hindu temples, the priests chant Sanskrit mantas and seek to propriate the deity on behalf of a devotee.
On his part, a devotee comes to the temple with the hope that the deity will grant ho a boon to fulfill his wishes. Even the most hardened criminal will address God with a great deal of respect and humility.
But what would you have to say  if I tell you that there is a temple in India where its devotees go around its structure hurling abuses at the deity and calling it names. Unbelievable but true.
This is the Kodungalloor Bhagawathy Temple of  Kerala.
The main idol here is six-foot high wooden image of Kurumba Bhagavathy. There is also a shrine dedicated to Kshethrapalan (temple guardian) and Masoori Goddess.
The temple permits only Hindus top enter. The devotees do not hurl abuses at the deity all the time. It is only during the  Malayalam month of  Meenam or during April-May when this unique spectacle takes place, The abuses can get so profane that people living around the temple prefer to close the doors and windows of the houses so that they cannot hear the words.
During Meenam, the Bharani day is celebrated with this spirit of abuses. A large number of  velichappadu or oracles- people who can forecast-gather at the temple premises.
These velichappadus drive themselves into a frenzy and then begin uttering profanities at the deity.  Most of the abuses are in the form of ribald songs with double meaning lyrics.
Thousands of devotees who gather around these velichappadus do not get angry or annoyed at this feat. Sometimes, the crowd eggs on these people to become more frensized.
These songs continue when the velichappadus take out a procession. Over the years, these songs have become a staple diet of the festival and they have been given a name called Bharani Pattu.
Sometimes the Bharani pattu gets so obscene that people prefer to stay indoors and lock the doors and windows to escape hearing the profanity.
Next comes another peculiar ritual. It is called Kavu Theendal port the pollution ceremony. This is also an important part of Kodungallur Bharani.
A large number of devotees who have gathered at the temple , including the vellichappads (oracles),  gather around the temple. They then begin the ritual of  waving hurling swords and sabers in the air, while others strike the bean of the temple roof with sticks and hurl objects, including cock, on to the inner quadrangle.
They use abusive words to Goddess while this ritual continues. A local legend says the Goddess accepts the abuses offered to her by her devotees.
Later, the  devotees bring offerings including turmeric powder, kumkum, pepper and cock. The velichappads and their followers then go around the temple thrice and then fall at the feet of the  king of the area seeking his blessing.
The next day is also important as the deity a purification ritual is undertaken.  
It is believed to have been constructed during the reign of  Chera King, Cheran Senkuttuvan. Apart from the Bharani, it is also well-known for the Thalappoli festival.
Devotees are expected to carry pepper and turmeric powder as one of the offerings to the deity. Traditionally, the temple has been associated with animal sacrifices.
The temple was built to honor the martyrdom of Kannakis during the Sangam age. Parasurama, the sixth incarnation of  Vishnu, built the temple for the welfare of devotees.
The temple is Thrissur district  and it is 29 km north west of  Kochi and 38 km south west of  Thrissur. The nearest railway station. Irinjalakuda, is 20 kilometers away and the nearest airport is Cochin which is 30 kilometers away.