Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ancient thought and science preserved

Published in Chandigarh Tribune, 16 November 2017

100 years of Rai Bahadur Lal Chand Research Library

The Lal Chand Research Library, housed in DAV College, Chandigarh, is a treasure-trove of rare manuscripts rescued from Lahore during Partition

Kuldip Dhiman

In the wake of partition, not just human lives were lost, but invaluable cultural wealth was also lost in the form of valuable books, manuscripts, paintings and artifacts.

However, there were some very dedicated and fearless individuals who somehow managed to rescue some of this priceless wealth.

Among such great individuals was Lala Mehar Chand Agarwal, of DAV College, Lahore. While others were running for their lives, he risked his life in order to smuggle out, at least some rare manuscripts and books by managing to hide them under food stock in Army trucks. Unfortunately, most of the rare manuscripts and books could not be brought to India. The ones that were saved are now archived in DAV College, Chandigarh's Lal Chand Research Library, which was established in 1917 in Lahore.

The library boasts of 8,360 rare manuscripts, and more than 10,000 ancient books. Out of the manuscripts, 6,450 are paper manuscripts with illustrations, others are of palm leaves and birch bark. The manuscripts are in the Devanagari, Sharada, Grantha, Gurmukhi, Utkal, Banga, Nandi, Nagari, Kannada, Malyalam, Tamil, and Vartula scripts. Many of the manuscripts are inscribed on Tarpatras (palm leaves) with the oldest dating back to the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, a number of Bhojpatras (birch bark) were damaged after partition.

Dr BC Josan, Principal, DAV College, Chandigarh says, "What we have here is invaluable. In monetary terms, its worth runs into millions and millions. It is a vast reservoir of wisdom of life in a capsule form, and we would like to share it with others as much as we can. I looked at some of the books on architecture and was amazed. I believe, all the knowledge in this little brain that weighs 300 grams, is right.  And it is in the same measure in all human beings. All we need to do is to learn how to tap it, like these ancient seers did."

After the horrors of partition settled a little, these manuscripts were first kept in Vishveshvaranand Vishwa Bandhu Institute of Sanskrit and Indological Studies, Hoshiarpur, under not-so-ideal conditions. Fearing that they might deteriorate because of the extreme weather and lack of funds to preserve them, Dr Krishan Singh Arya, who was principal in the 1980s, brought most of them to DAVC, Chandigarh. However, because of his extremely busy administrative and academic activities, he could not devote much time towards their upkeep. It thus was left to Dr RC Jeewan, principal from 1997 to 2001, to establish a modern archiving research centre.

"We managed to get a grant from the Ministry of Human Resources in1999 to preserve these manuscripts,” says Dr RC Jeewan. "The economic assistance was not much but it was still good enough to get us going. Dr Krishan K Dhavan, the then lecturer of Sanskrit at our college, was a great Sanskrit scholar. I reappointed him after his retirement from Hisar, at a nominal honorarium to help us with the cataloguing of the manuscripts. He did a great job of identifying the manuscripts and guiding us regarding their worth."

After the yeoman work done by Dr RC Jeewan and Dr Krishan Dhavan, the library really took off, and slowly began to attract renowned scholars from all over the world such as Dr Ernst Prets of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Asian Studies, Strohgasse (Austria); Jeevan Deol of St. John’s College, Cambridge; Dr Heidrun Bruckner, Eberhad-Karls-Universitat, Tubingen, Germany; and Dr Prabhakar Shastri from Rajasthan University.

Recently, the library got a boost, says Deepti Madaan, librarian, "Our vice-president, SP Lohia has given us financial assistance to not only preserve the manuscripts but also to digitise them. It is because of his generosity that we have managed to buy latest equipment such as a scanner worth Rs 22 lakh. We are now scanning the manuscripts and linking them with Lohia’s website (  for the benefit of researchers."

Talking about the kind of manuscripts, Deepti Madaan says, "We have the Ashvalayan Shraut Sutra and Karika Ratnam, dating back to the 15th century. Ashvalayan Shrauta Sutra is perhaps the first Shraut Sutra of the Rig Veda. We also have Valmiki Ramayana, Mahabharata, Brahmasutra with Shankar Bhashyam, Shri Guru Granth Sahib and a lot more. We have some very rare ones on Ayurveda. However, in many manuscripts that we have, the year of composition is not mentioned. Most writers did not even give their names to the scriptures they wrote. We also have a rare book on medicinal plants by Major BD Basu that was published by Panini Office, Allahabad in 1918.”

It is one thing to have manuscripts and quite another to preserve them. Rajni Jindal, assistant librarian, says, "When we received the manuscripts, most of them had pages that were stuck to each other. It was with great difficulty that we got them separated using water. To preserve them, we use coal dust, lemon grass oil, neem leaves and naphthalene balls. We also have a fumigation chamber where we use thymol crystal to drive insects and worms out of the manuscripts."

With undying zeal and love for the preservation of cultural heritage of the archivists, and with the aid of latest technology, it is heartening to know that this treasure will not only be preserved, but also easily shared with researchers all over the world. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

The script of love and lyrics

Published in the magazine section of The Tribune, 30, July 2017

Urdu, the language of Mir, Ghalib, Faiz and Firaq has a rich literary tradition, which must not be allowed to wither away

Kuldip Dhiman
When poet Jaleel Manakpuri was being felicitated by an organiser who was not familiar with the nuances of Urdu, a friend sitting next to the poet said, “Jaleel sahab, aaj aap zaleel hone wale hain.” (Jaleel sahib, today you are going to be humiliated). This is because a slight difference in pronunciation can change the meaning completely in Urdu. Jaleel means ‘glorious’, and if pronounced zaleel, it means ‘to be humiliated’.
Urdu, along with its twin sister Hindi, has been a language of the masses for more than 700 years. Both grew out of what is called khari boli, the general language of communication in northern India. While Urdu is normally written in the Persian script, and has more Persian, Turkish and Arabic words, Hindi is written in the Devanagari and inclines more towards Sanskrit. These are virtually indistinguishable to the outsider. 
The name ‘Urdu’ has its origins in the Turkish word ordu which means ‘army camp’, and over the centuries, it has produced great literature, especially poetry.  A single sher (couplet) of Urdu can help you express what cannot be said in a thousand words. However, with the rise of English as the lingua franca, and with an unfair association of Urdu with religion, this beautiful language seems to be losing favour with the masses. Many Urdu aficionados have begun to feel that the language is slowly dying, while experts in the field hold that Urdu is doing much better than before.
Rekhta, an organisation devoted to the promotion of Urdu language and literature, recently held a mushaira (poetic gathering) at the Tagore Theatre, Chandigarh. If numbers are any indication, it was heartening to see that the hall was jam-packed with young and old, with many of them standing outside the theatre hall to listen to the poets. The same is true of wherever mushairas are held. Litterateurs from Punjab such as Saadat Hasan Manto, Sahir Ludhianvi, Krishan Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Gulzar and hundreds of others have made tremendous contribution to popularise Urdu.
Its popularity notwithstanding, Urdu certainly remains in the shadow of English. Dr Kumud Bansal, Chairperson, Haryana Urdu Akademi, Panchkula, observes, “Not just Urdu, all Indian languages are suffering. Children are not being taught their mother tongue anymore. Most parents want their children to learn only English. This is because of the slave mentality we have. This is the reason we need Urdu academies. Have you heard of an English academy?”
We move over to Malerkotla, a town rich in Urdu culture. Talking about the current health of Urdu, Dr Rubina Shabnam, Secretary, Punjab Urdu Academy, Malerkotla, says: “Urdu is the language that emerged in the undivided Punjab. In his book, Punjab Mein Urdu, Hafiz Mehmood Khan Shirani, the great linguistic and researcher, has shown through research based on historical evidence that the greater Punjab was the birthplace of Urdu. So Urdu is rooted in this region.” However, not all scholars agree with Shirani.
Talking about the academy and its aims, Dr Shabnam says, “We started in 2014, and we have a budget of only Rs 50,000 per annum. Even with this meagre sum, we have managed to hold stage programmes but have not been able to publish anything. Now, the government has given us a one-time sum of Rs 3 crore. With this, we hope to realise the aims of the academy. Recently, I met Manpreet Badal, Finance Minister, and he said he would give us a hundred crore rupees. If we got this amount, we would be able to encourage Urdu writers, and poets. Presently, we are starting free Urdu learning centres in six cities of Sunam, Bathinda, Ropar, Amritsar, Ludhiana, and Patiala.”
Regarding the popularity of Urdu, Prof Mahmood Alam, former professor at Government College, ex-secretary, Punjab Urdu Academy, Malerkotla, and writer of a poetry collection Shikast-e-Khwab, says: “If you ask me about the current status of Urdu, I would say it is far better than before. Two decades ago, Urdu was not being taught in as many schools as it is being taught now, and there were not as many students as we have now. During my time, there used to be four teachers, and we had about four or five students who wanted to learn Urdu. Now you have 30 students, but unfortunately only one teacher. Many wish to learn Urdu but they get discouraged because it does not offer employment opportunities.” 
Rubbishing language politics, Professor Alam observes, “People say that there is friction between Hindi and Urdu. They say languages create conflict between different people, but this is not so. Languages bring people together. If Hindi and Punjabi speakers learn Urdu, their Hindi and Punjabi pronunciation will improve, and vice versa.”
One has to learn the finer points of this language in order to speak it well. As Dagh Dehalvi puts it: “Nahin khel ai Dagh yaron se kah do; Ki ati hai Urdu zaban ate ate” (O! Dagh, tell friends that learning Urdu is not a child’s play; It takes its own time to be mastered).
Amarnath Wadehra, a diehard Urdu protagonist, remembers the days of his youth when Urdu poets were a rage in Lahore, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and the rest of Punjab. “There used to be regular mushairas that went on all night, and people came in hordes to listen to their favourite poets like  Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Firaq Gorakhpuri and many other stalwarts. Urdu poets did a lot to fan the flames of the freedom moment, and bring about a social change. Many freedom fighters sacrificed their lives for the country singing ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mei hai’. The younger generation should learn English for getting jobs, but they must also learn Urdu to enrich their personality.”
Born in 1937, Pakpattan, Pakistan, Dr HK Lall has been teaching Urdu for the past four decades. “Urdu is in my blood. My father taught it to my brother and me.” Even at 81, he continues to teach the language untiringly. “Khidmat-e-Urdu karunga umr bhar; Yeh meri puja, mera imaan hai.” (I will serve Urdu all my life; It is my worship, it is my conscience).
Disappearing readers
Propagators notwithstanding, the fact is that the circulation of Urdu newspapers and magazines is going down by the day. In 2001, the total number of Urdu newspapers in the country was 2,906, but many have been forced to go online or have closed shop because of falling circulation. In a telephonic conversation, Sham Dass Khanna, news editor, Hind Samachar, the number one Urdu daily in Punjab, said, “The situation is alarming. From 1,20,000 copies per day until the 1990s, our circulation has come down to 37,000 copies per day. Our readers are disappearing because Urdu does not promise career options.”
Measures needed
In order to improve the condition of Urdu, Dr Nadeem Ahmed Nadeem, who conducts certificate and diploma courses in Urdu and Persian at Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University, Fatehgarh Sahib, says: “We plan to start special classes for students who are doing post-graduation and doctorate in Punjabi because there is a close relationship between Punjabi and Urdu. The knowledge of Urdu is important even for religious studies because the poetry of Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Gobind Singh is replete with Persian words and phrases.”
Urdu is the language of Punjabi culture because it was born in Punjab, observes Dr Nadeem. “It is essential to learn Urdu, because once you learn how to read and write it, doors open to eight languages because they all used the same script. These languages are: Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Kashmiri, Pashtu, Dogri, Sindhi, and also Punjabi because in Pakistan, it is written in the Persian script. If you examine Punjabi and Urdu, you will notice that there are so many similarities. For example, chhabeel comes from the Arabic word sabeel; ardas comes from arz-e-dash.”
Dr Mohammad Ayyub Khan, programme in-charge, Haryana Urdu Akademi, points out the practical problems in the propagation of Urdu: “There is an acute shortage of teachers. At Panjab University, Punjabi University, Guru Nanak Dev University, and Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University, they have appointed only one Urdu teacher, and this one teacher runs the entire department. How can they do justice to their jobs? In MA classes, we have eight subjects, so we need at least four Urdu teachers. It is not that there are no posts, but I fail to understand why these are not being filled up. It is not that the government is not giving funds to promote the language; the funds are not being properly utilised.”
Muhammad Rafique, lecturer, political science at Government Senior Secondary School (Boys), Malerkotla, says: “A team from Delhi came here to study the status of Urdu in this tehsil, and they gave a good report about it. They said, in other states, about 1,200 Urdu teachers have been appointed but their output is very poor. We have only 45 teachers, but their output is tremendous.” 
Sahibzada Ajmal Khan Sherwani, a poet belonging to the royal family, suggests that if we want people to learn Urdu, we must produce excellent literature, films, TV serials and plays in Urdu. We see that the rise or downfall of a language is directly linked to the rise or downfall of its literature. “Urdu is very popular, and one of the reasons is the extensive use of Urdu in the film industry. Another reason for its popularity is various TV channels that telecast Urdu programmes, serials, seminars, and mushairas. In addition to this, the government must open more institutes and encourage students to learn it in schools and colleges so that great writers and poets are produced.”
Speaking of Urdu, he wrote a verse: “Hoon main Urdu, hai dilon mei mera maskan dekho; Kaun kehta hai ki meri koi jagir nahin” (I am Urdu, and my abode is in the hearts of people, Who says that I have no legacy?).
The legacy of Zauk, Sauda, Momin, Iqbal, Hali, Faraz and others is alive indeed in the hearts of the masses.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

O Monsoon! Come soon

By Kuldip Dhiman. Illustration by Vishu Verma

It is monsoon time, it is fun time, it is romantic time. It is a time to chat with friends and eat really chatt-patti spicy things such as pakore, malpude, kachori, and not to forget steaming hot jalebis. Outdoors, it is a great sight to see people running for cover, some tripping over wet earth and having a great fall, others watching and laughing, a car passing by and splashing water all over you. 
The fascination with the rains is due to the fact that water is the source of all life. That is why this season is a time for procreation not only among humans but nearly all creatures. No wonder it has a strong association with romance. 
Traditionally called Sawan- Badhon, the two months of rainy season mean different things to different people. For children it is a time to make paper boats and swim in the muddy pools. This was well expressed by the poet Sudarshan Fakir when he reminisced: Wo kagaz ki kashti wo barish ka pani. To the farmer, good rains mean good crop; to cricket aficionados, rain on the day of the match means disappointment; and to the lovebirds, it is the season for physical closeness as Zeenat Aman urges her lover to leave his job and come back: "Teri do takeyan di naukari, mere lakhon ka Sawan jaye re ...."  (For your two-penny worth job's sake, my priceless rainy season is going wasted.) 
Coming to the classics, Kalidasa gave a vivid picture of the rainy season in Meghadootam and Ritusamharam. Urdu poets have written profusely on the wet season, often with a tinge of irony. Making fun of his dilapidated home, a poet wrote: Mere ghar ki muflisi ko dekh kar badnaseebi sar patak ke rah gayi, Aur ek din ki muktsar bearish ke baad chatt kayin din tak tapakti rah gayi. (By looking at the dilapidated condition of my home, even misfortune was moved to tears; Because after only a day's brief rain, the roof kept leaking for days).
The poet Gopaldas Neeraj also wrote tongue in cheek: Abke Sawan me shararat ye mere saath hui, Mera ghar chhod ke kul shahar me barsaat hui. (This rainy season played mischief upon me; Leaving my home aside, it poured all over the town.)
Hindi films often have a rain song whether the story demands it or not. This is because it gives a good excuse to show the curves of the heroine. For decades rain songs such as Barsat mein hum se mile tum, (Barsat 1949), Zindagi Bhar nahin bhoolegi ye barsat ki raat (Barsat ki Rat 1960), Sawan ka Mahina pawan kare shore (Milan,1967), Rim jhim gire sawan (Manzil,1979), Tip tip barsa paani  (Mohra,1994); Sanson ko sanson mein (Hum Tum, 2004) and Yeh saazish hai boondon Ki (Fanaa, 2006) have been a raging success with the audience. 
Closer home, Hans Raj Hans sang his popular Saun mahina kin min kin min and Babbu Maan came up with Saun di jhari, evoking the romance of the rains. Not to forget Chaman Lal Chaman's Saun da mahina yaaro sung by Jagjit Singh.
Rains also mean fun and jokes. My maternal grandfather used to sing this funny limerick long before Hinglish and Pinglish came into vogue. The scene is of a little boy who is walking to his school but is stuck on the way because it is raining: "O! My master how I come; Godey-godey paani te mee chamacham'; Ik pair fisaleya te ho jaye ghadam; Upar my basta te heth I am." (O my teacher, how should I reach school. The water is knee-deep as it is pouring, and I might slip and have a fall with schoolbag above me and me beneath it.) 
Not too long ago, children just ran out and got wet in the downpour least bothering about their clothes or belongings, but in this age of comfort, most of us have forgotten the sheer joy of getting wet in the rain. It is time to be a child again, it is time to give up all inhibitions and get wet and have fun. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Engulfed in the labyrinths of time

The mounds of Rakhigarhi are still buried in obscurity, although it is one of the biggest sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation

Kuldip Dhiman
As you drive up the mounds of Rakhi Shahpur to reach the archaeological site of Rakhigarhi in
Haryana, you get a feeling that you are travelling 5,000 years back in time. Once at the site, you can see archaeologists and expert workers excavating the site and slowly unveiling the mysteries shrouded in time.
It all began with a toposheet that was published exactly a hundred years ago by the Archaeological Survey of India regarding the archaeological site of Rakhigarhi, now in district Hisar in Haryana. However, there was no mention about the site until 1969, when Dr Suraj Bhan published exploratory data stating that Rakhigarhi was a site belonging to the Indus Valley Civilisation.
Nothing was done about the site for the next three decades. In 1997, the Archaeological Survey of India undertook excavation under the direction of Dr Amarendra Nath. A very detailed report of his findings was later published in which he pointed out that the land around Rakhigarhi shows the availability of a number of resources required for a basic subsistence for a settlement. He categorised the site as class I fertile land. The settlement had a fortification around it. The streets were well-planned and had an efficient drainage system. Water was resourced from rivers, canals and wells.
The existence of a river has now been confirmed by satellite images produced by the ISRO. There is a disputed claim that this river, which has dried up, is the legendary Saraswati.
The presence of a thriving river made it possible for the people of Rakhigarhi to have trade links with other regions within India such as Gujarat, and outside India such as Mesopotamia and Egypt.
New beginnings
Currently, a team of archaeologists led by Prof Vasant Shinde of Deccan College, Pune, is excavating the site in collaboration with the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums of Haryana. At the site, you can also meet Wazir Chand, a local resident, has been selflessly helping researchers and the media for the last four decades. He is an unofficial guide and caretaker of Rakhigarhi.
The Shinde team started excavating at Rakhigarhi in 2011. Until then, seven mounds had been discovered by previous excavators, but the team found two more mounds. Earlier, the area of the site was estimated to be one and half kilometres, but with the discovery of two new mounds, the estimated area is three and half kilometres, making it one of the largest sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation. The uniqueness of Rakhigarhi is that in one place itself, one can find antiquities belonging to the early Harappan, mature Harappan, and late Harappan periods.
Marvel of engineering
If you climb up the mound, you can appreciate the engineering and architectural brilliance of the Rakhigarhi Indus Civilisation. Describing the layout plan of Mound-2, an archaeologist says, “You can see that the settlement pattern is in north-south direction. These people made structures at different levels. This was to avoid the ravages of flood waters. It is because of this technique that these structures have survived for so long.”
An interesting fact is that the bricks are all of standard sizes. One size is 1:2:3 and the other is 1:2:4. This size is universal to all Indus sites so far found, indicating that they had some sort of standards bureau.
“The discovery of gold and copper ornaments and several beads at Mound-2 suggests that it was the workplace of craftsmen, especially jewellers and bead makers. We also found drainage with firebrick structures. After analysing the samples, we can determine if it was freshwater drainage or wastewater drainage. In one of the trenches we found very small copper beads and some tiny gold filings.”
At the camp, where the archaeological findings are kept, you can see a number terracotta cakes, weights, beads, bangles, pots, jars, toys, and toy carts.
Like the people of Harappa, here, too, they buried the dead and placed pots with cooked food and water. It appears they believed in transmigration of the soul. Samples of the skeletons found at the site have been sent for DNA sequencing to a laboratory in Korea. After the results arrive, it may be possible to know the race of the Indus Valley Civilisation people. We might find an answer to the question why the Indus Valley Civilisation came to an abrupt end. As we wait for the results, many more mysteries may emerge from the mounds of Rakhigarhi.

The lone ranger
For the last forty years, Wazir Chand has been tirelessly and selflessly working to get
Rakhighari its rightful place in world history. Although poor and undergraduate, he has spent his own time and resources to preserve the site and guide researchers. He laments the fact that although UNESCO has listed Rakhigarhi as one among the tem rare archaeological sites, not enough is being done to preserve and promote Rakhigarhi. “Researchers and tourists from all over the world come here, but there are no road signs and milestones to guide people to Rakhigarhi. We badly need a hotel with a restaurant here for the convenience of visitors. Rakhigarhi must also be declared a world heritage site. Although Wazir Chand’s name has been mentioned with great respect in respectable journals and newspapers such as Science and The Guardian, the government has done little to recognise his outstanding work.

Penning life first hand

Kuldip Dhiman

It is difficult enough to write a book on one subject, but Bangalore-based polyhistor Mridula
Sharma writes with ease and authority on ayurveda, alternative medicine, self-publishing, vegetarian diet, and psychology.
Wow! No Side Effects!, her first book is primarily about simple traditional ayurvedic cures, although she talks about yoga, homoeopathy, and other alternative medicines as well. How did she manage to write on remedies when she is not a trained doctor?
“There is no greater ‘trainer’ than life. I wrote what I experienced, and I got it from my mother who was an encyclopaedia of herbal remedies. She taught me how small alterations can bring about great changes in personal health. Many who benefitted from her remedies requested her to pen knowledge in a book. She couldn’t do that, and I took to the task.” 
  Mridula says her book is different from several others published on ayurveda and alternative medicines, as it comprises simple, yet efficacious remedies. “The most common feedback that I receive from my readers is that the book is so interesting that they cannot put it down. They feel that I am talking to them through my words. Personal touch is very important in healing.”
The book has separate chapters on what to eat, how to breathe, remove toxins from the body, combat ageing and handle stress. There is also a chapter on dealing with obesity in a natural way.
Mridula had to self-publish the book. Most publishers ignore new authors and novel ideas. Self-publishing is a viable idea, especially with great advances made in printing technology. Without any publicity or promotional tours, the first edition of the book was sold out within 10 months. Of late, she has been approached by publishers to have it translated into Malayalam, Hindi and Spanish. 
 “Soon after the launch of my first book, I received a call from Kolkata. A girl wanted to know about the process of self-publishing the book. Her aunt had a book ready, but did not know how to publish it. I gave her a lot of tips.” After a few days, the editor of Femina South, late Madhuri Velegar, interviewed her, and she also asked her about self-publishing. “I realised that the subject hasn’t been written about and I might as well write a book on self-publishing. Thus was born Write Your Book and Self-publish. In this, I have dealt with topics such as how to get the ISBN number, copyright, essentials for making a book, and how to market it. It also deals with the pros and cons of going to a publisher and how to seek a publisher, etc.” 
Raising a Vegetarian Champion, her third book, is a complete guide for parents who wish to see their children as sports champions. “It advices on how to start shaping children from the very beginning, how to chart their progress, and make them international champions.”
 Though the title says ‘vegetarian’, it is only the recipes that are vegetarian, the rest, as the subtitle says is about giving that extra edge to all potential sports champions. “This book came about as I have raised four champions. My daughters were swimmers and my son is a tennis player.”
Talking about her next book, Mridula says, “We all have our genies within us. All of us have immense potential in us, but from childhood, we are told ‘you can’t do it’.”
She adds, “It is this that prevents us from aiming for the stars. We All Have our Genie is about power of thought and how we can lead a life desired by us.”
Mridula Sharma is one author who practises what she preaches. Although she is in her sixties, she is full of life and has a balanced outlook.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Chariot of the Sun

The magnificent stone structure of the Konark Temple in Odisha is an architectural marvel

Kuldip Dhiman

No matter how good it may look in pictures, the true measure of a place’s grandeur can be felt only when one actually goes there. This is true of the Sun Temple at Konark in Odisha. It is the feel of the architectural material, the location, the local sky, and the sounds that makes all the difference.
Odisha’s king Narshimhadeva, the first of Eastern Ganga dynasty, decided to make this huge temple complex consisting of four temples dedicated to the Sun god in 1255 AD. The site chosen by the architects was in the north-eastern corner of Puri, one of the four sacred dhams. ‘Kona’ means ‘corner’ and ‘ark’ means ‘the Sun’, hence the name Konark.  It is 35 km from Puri and 65 km from Bhubaneswar.
Statue of the Sun god
Nearly 1,200 workers took 12 years to complete this magnificent stone structure. It stands by the sea where stones were not available, so they got these from Khandagiri and Udayagiri, 64 km near Bhubaneswar. The stones were transported on wooden rafts that were carried by the current of the Chandrabhaga river. Instead of using bonding material such as limestone, the architects fixed metallic rivets in the stones and interlocked them.
The temple is made in such a way that can interest people from all stages of life. At the bottom of the temple are carvings of 1,600 elephants and horses for children. For the young, there are plenty of statues depicting 64 types of lovemaking. And for the old, there are the images of gods and goddesses.
A sculptural panel
The first section of the complex is called Natya Mandir or Nrityashala. It depicts 128 types of dance styles through 758 sculptures. All these statues are carved out of a single stone. Some of the important statues depict Shiva doing the Tandava, Krishna engaged in a leela, and Kubera, the lord of wealth. There are also several panels depicting the epics and the Puranas.
One of the wheels of the chariot
The Natya Mandir has three entrance points. These were designed in such a manner that rays of the sun reached the suspended statue of the Sun God in the main temple. Originally, it was 90 feet high, but 42 feet from the top have got destroyed. The big temple behind is called Prarthana Mandir. It was 140 feet high, but now it is only 127 feet high.
The Konark temple is designed in the form of the chariot of the Sun god. It has 24 wheels and seven horses. Twelve wheels represent 12 months of the year. According to the Indian calendar, each month has a Shukla paksha and a Krishna paksha, so the other 12 wheels stand for them. Seven horses represent the seven colours of the sun’s light, and the seven days of a week.
Each wheel has eight spokes. In the Indian time system, the day is divided into eight pahars comprising three hours each. The wheels served as a sun dial. One can tell the time accurate to a minute by observing the shadow of the axel falling on the rest of the wheel.
Talking about the magnificence of the main temple, Bheem Sen Malla, an experienced ASI Guide, says, “The main temple was behind the Prarthana Mandir. It was 227 feet high but got destroyed. There are three theories about how it got destroyed. One view is that there was a huge magnet on top of it which controlled all the iron rivets in the structure. A statue of Surya Bhagwaan made of panchadhatus remained suspended in air because of the magnet. In 1498, Vasco da Gama established ports, and in the 16th century, the Portuguese came here to do business. The compasses of their ships used to get disturbed by the magnetic energy, so they took out the magnets of the temple, which destroyed the temple. The second explanation is the region was struck by a super cyclone. Third explanation is it was destroyed in the Muslim invasion of 1568. However, no one can say with certainty why it got destroyed.”
In the far left corner of the complex is a structure where one of Krishna’s sons by the name Sambu meditated. It is said he was suffering from leprosy. To cure himself, he bathed in the Chandrabhaga river, prayed to the Sun for 12 years and finally got cured.
One whole day is required to properly see the Sun temple. And while in Konark, one must find time to visit other temples nearby such as Rameswar, Chitreswara, Tribeniswara and Utpaleswar known for Shivalingas, and Ramachandi Rudrani, Khileswari, Charchika and Chitreswari, the other incarnations of Goddess Durga. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The unyielding shall not yield

The Ballad of Bant Singh
A Qissa of Courage
Nirupama Dutt
Speaking Tiger
Pages: 214
Price: Rs 250

Reviewed by Kuldip Dhiman

On the ill-fated night of 6 January 2006, Bant Singh, a folk-singer and crusader of the oppressed was passing through the fields of Jhabhar village on his bicycle. Presently his path was blocked by seven young men. He realised he was in danger because these upper class boys had attacked him twice earlier. Before he could do anything, four of them struck him and dragged him to the edge of the irrigation canal. “There they put his legs on the embankment wall. A rough cloth was thrown on him as four of the men pinned him down. Two raised the metal handles and brought them down with all their strength on his shins. The pain stunned Bant but he still tried to raise himself and shouted, ‘What are you doing? What have I done for you to hit me?’ One of the boys struck him with even greater force and hissed, ‘We are just doing a job that has been assigned to us. Today, you will not get away!’ Blow upon blow, and the bones of Bant Singh’s legs were splintered beyond repair. Then, sure that Bant had been irretrievable incapacitated, they swung him about and began attacking his arms.”

This horrendous incident is from veteran writer, poet, translator and journalist Nirupama Dutt’s book 
The Ballad of Bant Singh, which I received on the very day some Jats of Haryana launched their stir demanding a special backward status. In a matter of days, they spread arson and anarchy all around paralysing the entire state. As I read the book, I found it hard to miss the irony of the whole situation. On the one hand, we have a large population that has been socially oppressed for thousands of years, and on the other hand, there is a better placed social section that is now agitating to gain the selfsame reserved status which was given to the downtrodden to allow them to catch up with the rest.

Nirupama Dutt’s book is about a man from a disadvantaged section stretching his hands out to justice and in turn having them cut off.  What was his crime for which he was brutally attacked and left for dead?

Six years ago, Bant Singh’s daughter Bajleet, who was then a minor, was gang raped. Outraged by the despicable act, he rightfully  sought justice.  In order to stop him from reporting the matter to the police, he was offered money and gold by the culprits as if violation of his daughter’s honour was a kind of minor road accident in which the defaulter offers money as compensation. In rural areas, the poor sections are taken for granted, and sexual crimes against their women are not seen as crimes at all but rather as a favour done to them. When Bant Singh refused, he was threatened with dire consequences. He did not care about such threats, her pursued the case and as a result, three of the accused were awarded life imprisonment.

“Bant Singh’s was that rare case,” writes Dutt, “in which a Dalit had defied the sarpanch of a village to seek justice in a court and had succeeded in having the culprits sentenced to life imprisonment. And for this, he and his family had to pay a very heavy price. This is because a Dalit had actually succeeded in getting an upper-caste Jat man and two others convicted of rape.” This could not be digested by the powerful landowners, and they decided to make an example out of him. The idea of retribution is very strong among the landowners. They seek revenge even among their own caste and it can run through generations. And Bant Singh was from a lower caste, he had to be dealt with severely and immediately.

Dutt’s powerful narrative is a mix of biography and documentary, although at times the documentary aspect becomes longer than necessary. As Bant Singh is also an accomplished folk singer, Dutt has deftly made use of folk songs and poems to tell the story. However, one notices the tendency to read more than what was intended in folk literature, and to see everything from one world-view.

The book portrays the hell Bant Singh, Baljeet Kaur and his family went through at the hands of the rich and powerful. Although they were physically and emotionally tormented, they did not cow down.

When you watch him speak and sing on the television, you find a cheerful man without a trace of self-pity. The head bows to him in respect to his indomitable spirit, and also bows down with shame because such inhumanity continues in this age in the world’s biggest democracy.