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Athar-us-Sanadid by Sir Syed

It is said, that history is written by the victors. This makes the role of Historians doubtful. However, there are cases where certain facts are available and mentioned by multiple authors/travellers, yet, some historians fail to interpret them correctly.

When I started studying Delhi’s monuments, I was told to read Athar-us-Sanadid by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. We all know Sir Syed as a reformer and founder of various educational institutions in India. His contribution to the field of education cannot be ignored and at the same time, he was also instrumental in devising various acts, that still influence the constitution of India. He also has a very huge list of religious and academic work to his credit.

His work, Athar-us-Sanadid is one of the oldest compilation of Delhi’s monuments and is regarded as the oldest bible of Delhi’s heritage. I had to learn Urdu to read that book, only to find that Prof. R. Nath had translated his book decades ago. However, now that I can read Sir Syed’s work, I spent quality time reading and analysing it. There were few things that did not make any sense, but being new to this field, I felt as if challenging Sir Syed’s work would be blasphemy.

As I read more, I realized that Sir Syed’s work has numerous flaws. I have read several pages and I would like to use this post for a detailed discussion on his work:

What is Athar-us-Sanadid?

Athar-us-Sanadid is Urdu work, originally published in 1846. It was the first attempt of any Indian author to present Delhi’s heritage in vernacular language. The original work was divided into 4 parts, covered in about 600 pages. The work was presented in the Asiatic Society, London, where they requested it to be translated to English. Sir Syed and Mr. Roberts, the district magistrate of Shahjahanabad started its translation. It was then, when they found that this original work is full of flaws and is not organized properly. Sir Syed had to stall the translation and fix the flaws. In the preface of second edition, Sir Syed mentions “The original work was then found to be insufficient and full of defects, and the need to re-write it afresh in order to remove those drawbacks was realized. Hence the translation work was postponed and the book was re-written afresh.

However, I feel that even in this second edition of 1854, many of the flaws were not fixed, perhaps, new were introduced.

Flaws in Athar-us-Sanadid

This Blog post will get too long if I were to discuss every page of Athar-us-Sanadid. However, to spark the conversation let me point out following things:

  1. About Qutub Minar, Sir Syed mentions that the first door of minaret faces Northward, as the hindus always have it, whereas Mohammedans always have it eastward.
    Fact: Direction of gate depends on many factors in Hindu Vastu Kala. We have numerous temples facing West, East or South. Also, It is not important that Muslims buildings face eastward. We have strong examples from Feroz Shah Kotla, Khirki, Bijai Mandal and few others. Even Taj Mahal has entry from South.
  2. More about Qutub Minar, he mentions that it is customary for Hindus to commence building without any platform. But mohamedans first make a platform and then erect the building.
    Fact: There is only 1 temple (brick temple near Kanpur), that I am aware of, where we do not have a platform. All other Hindu buildings are made with a platform. Take Temples, or even if we talk about towers, take example of Kirti Stambh in Chhittorgarh. Platform is an important element everywhere and has a strong significance in Vastu Shastra.
  3. Sir Syed mentions that the first level of Qutub Minar was made by Prithvi Raj Chauhan (Rai Pithora, as he mentions), but his conclusion is majorly based on above two points, which we know, were written without gathering proper information about Hindu architecture.
  4. Sir Syed attributes talks about Indraprastha and says that King Indra (the god of rain) distributed pearls in this area and hence it is called Indraprastha. Kind Indra, the king of sky is also the king of this land.
  5. Sir Syed attributes King Anangpal Tomar with the construction of Old Fort.
    Fact: Anangpal built Lal Kot of Mehrauli and not Old Fort. Ain-i-Akbari mentions this fort as Kaurav-Pandav ka Qila. The present fort was built by Sher Shah Suri. On reading complete description of Sir Syed, I realized that he mixed up Lal Kot and Shergarh
  6. Sir Syed mentions that Qila Rai Pithora was built in 1143 AD.
    Fact: Prithvi Raj Chauhan was born in 1149 AD
  7. Sir Syed mentions at one place that Mehrauli is called so because of ‘Meher-i-Wali’. Wali here is refered to Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki
    Fact: Mehrauli is a corruption of Mihirapuri. The name finds mention in Jain Pattawalis and in records of several travellers, who came to the observatory of Varah Mihir, which was in Mihirapuri (now Mehrauli).

I want to mention several more, but the post will become very long. I may keep adding information to same blog in future, if required.

Please feel free to correct me, if I am wrong. And in case you have better information to add, please use the comments section below.

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Ramayana

Maharishi ValmikiRatnakar, a robber once tried to rob sage Narad. It was a routine job for him, to kill and rob travelers. But this time was different. Narad asked him, you do all this for your family, but will your family also share the load of your sins. This left Ratnakar deep thinking. He checked with his family and to his surprise, they did not agree to share the burden of his sins, regardless of the luxuries it provided. At this, Ratnakar asked Narad to teach him the right path. Narad told him the story of Lord Ram and also said, you should chant God’s name. But the name he gave was ‘Mara’ (means dead). So Ratnakar started meditating and chanting MARA-MARA-MARA…MA.RA.MA.RA.MA.RAMA.RAMA.RAM….RAM-RAM-RAM-RAM……

His chant soon became Lord Ram’s Name. But by the time he could master his worship, he was buried deep in anthills. When he reached the divine stage, the holy voice from heaven told him to rise and gave him a new name: Valmiki (means Ant-hill in Sanskrit).

This robber turned into the biggest saint of all times. It is said that when Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya, he had to disown his pregnant wife. His wife, Sita, took shelter at Sage Valmiki’s ashram. Rishi Valmiki also wrote the famous epic Ramayana and taught it to Sita’s children, Luv and Kush, which they recited in Ram’s court. That’s how their father Ram recognized them and momentarily reunited with his wife Sita.

Since then, hundreds of versions of Ramayan have been written. While most are mere translations, some were written from scratch, according to regional beliefs. The biggest challenge has been that the original Ramayana story was told to Valmiki by Narad and then passed to Luv and Kush. The original text was lost long back but it did travel orally to different regions and cultures. Saints and Poets from all across tried to interpret the epic in their local language. During this interpretation and translation from oral traditions, many aspects of the story were changed. However, one common and most important thing remains constant in all versions: Ramayana is actually a compilation of teaching of ancient Hindu sages. It presents these teachings in a nice narrative, where each character, starting from Lord Rama to Ravana and Sugreev are fundamental to cultural consciousness of the region, where Hinduism was prevailing.

Most importantly, Ramayana is not restricted to Hinduism. Muslims of South India incorporated the message of Ramayana in their poems and the work is called Mappillapattu or Muslim Ramayana. Jains have their own version of Ramayana, where Lakshmana kills Ravana instead of Rama, for which he is pushed to hell along with Ravana. Rama is characterized an upright person who at the end sacrifices his kingdom, becomes a Jain monk and attains Moksha. They also believe that Ravana will one day be born as a Jain Tirthankara.

The Buddhist version is much different from others. Here, King Dashrath was ruling Banaras (Varanasi) and not Ayodhya. He gave birth to Ram, Laxman, and Sita through his first wife. To save these siblings from his second wife, he sent the trio to Himalayas. 12 year later they come and now Ram and Sita became consorts and ruled the kingdom. Interestingly, abduction of Sita has no mention in this version.

Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th spiritual master of Sikhs also wrote the story of Ram in his bani ‘Ath Chaubees Avatar’ in Sri Dasam Granth. Even Guru Granth Sahib mentions characters and message of Ramayana at several places. ‘Salok Mahalla 9’ in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, written by Guru Teg Bahadur (9th Sikh guru) says:

Ram gayo, raavan gayo, jaako bahu parivaar, Kahu nanak thir kichh nahi, supne jiyo sansaar’. Means, both Ram and Ravan, who had such big family left this mortal world. Nanak says, nothing is stable. This world is like a dream.

Interestingly, while over 300 versions of Ramayana exist, Maharishi Valmiki is said to have written two versions himself. The other version is called ‘Adbhut Ramayana’, where after killing 10-headed demon Ravana, Lord Rama travels to Pushkar to kill his elder brother, the 1000-headed Ravana. Later in this narration, Sita transforms into Goddess Mahakali or Shakti. The best part is that even Lord Ram prays to Goddess Shakti with 1008 divine names, which glory the virtues and attributes of the Goddess.

Rishi Ved VyasRishi Ved Vyasa also authored a version of Ramayana, where an entire episode of maid Mantara provoking Queen Kaikayi to send Ram to exile was not an act of cruelty. Goddess Saraswati came as Mantara to play her part in the larger drama of destiny. Ram was born to remove the evils of Ravana, hence Saraswati helped the situation. Since Ram knew of the abduction of Sita, he ensured that Sita had her illusion born of fire in place. Here, all characters and their acts are portrayed as spiritual messages.

 

 

In Sri Lanka, the version of Ramayana depicts Ravana as Hero. Malaysian version places Dashratha as the grandson of prophet Adam and Ravana receives boons from Allah. Also, Laxman is a hero instead of Ram. In Thai version, Sita is the daughter of Ravana and Mandodry, while Hanuman is the main hero, instead of Ram or Laxman. Despite all these variations, the core message of humanity and spirituality remains same.

India’s Uncle Sam

This article originally appeared in NRI Achievers Magazine October 2016 Issue

Field_marshal_SHFJ_ManekshawAmerican Uncle Sam is famous across globe. India had her own Uncle Sam, who came from a Parsi family and was once the most powerful man in country. He was popularly known as Sam Bahadur and made India proud at many fronts. This article is about Padma Vibhushan Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, the commander in chief of Indian Army.

Born on 3rd April, 1914 to Captain Dr. Hormusji Manekshaw and Hilla in Amritsar, Sam was 5th of 6 children. He completed his education from Amritsar and from Nainital and joined Sherwood College. Wanting to become a gynaecologist, he requested his father to send him to London. But his father refused. He was unhappy with this and in those days, Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode was in process of setting up the Indian Military Academy. As an act of rebellion, Sam became part of IMA’s first intake against his father’s will.

During his IMA days, he appeared to be the most witty and notorious cadet. He had many firsts credited to his name like the first Gentleman Cadet (GC) to be awarded an extra drill and first GC to ask for a weekend leave. He was one of the first 22 cadets to graduate from IMA and commissioned as Second Lieutenants on 1st February 1935. Along with him, Muhammed Musa and Smith Dun also graduated, who later became the Army chiefs of Pakistan and Burma respectively, while Sam Bahadur took over as 8th Army Chief of India. General Manekshaw also became the first Indian Field Marshal.

Sam Manekshaw has always been the most outspoken and witty officer. Some of his statements have become history. Here are few:

1. On June 8, 1969, on the centenary of Sherwood College, speaking of his days at college, Sam said “College had prepared me for war in World War II as I learnt here to live alone and independently, to fight without relent, tolerate hunger for long periods and to hate my enemy.”

2. Speaking of Indian Army’s Gurkha Regiment (which he joined after passing out IMA), Sam said: “If anyone tells you he is never afraid, he is a liar or he is a Gurkha”.

3. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked about readiness of Indian Army for 1971 war, he said “I am always ready sweetie”

4. One of his most apt comment was on politicians, when he said “I wondehe said “n politicianssidleger and then moved to Nainital and joined Sherwood College. This article is about most powerr whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerrilla from a gorilla, although a great many resemble the latter.”

5. During 1962 Indo-China war, Indian soldiers were retreating and Sam Bahadur was sent to command this army. He reached there and said: “Gentlemen, I have arrived and there will be no withdrawal without written orders and these orders shall never be issued.”

6. During Indira Gandhi’s tenure, there was a rumour that Army has grown so big that they will soon takeover. Prime Minister called Manekshaw and asked her about these rumours. Sam looked into her eyes and said: “You mind your own business and I mind mine. Your kiss your own sweetheart and I’ll kiss mine. I don’t interfere politically, as long as nobody interferes with me in the army.”

7. Manekshaw was his with 7 bullets during a battle and when he was taken to hospital, doctor tried to engage him in a conversation. He asked Sam what happened, to which he replied in his own witty style: “I was kicked by a donkey.”

8. He said “Pakistan would have won the 1971 war” when some reported asked him, what if he would have joined Pakistan along with the regiment he was serving in 1947.

9. In Mizoram, there was an armed conflict and the commanding officer was avoiding it. General Manekshaw sent him a pack of bangles with a note that read: “If you are avoiding contact with the hostile, give these to your men to wear.” The commanding officer then decided to get into battle with his unit and returned victorious. He was then presented with another note from the General that read “Send the bangles back.”

10. Indira Gandhi wanted to go on a war with Pakistan immediately but Manekshaw was asking for few months of preparation. When the ministers sitting in meeting pressurised him to get into action immediately, he protested verbally. Mrs. Gandhi requested everyone to step out of room and had a dialogue with Sam Manekshaw in private. As everyone left, Sam said: “Prime Minster, before you open your mouth, would you like me to send in my resignation on grounds of health, mental or physical?”

11. Before partition, Yahya Khan was working with Manekshaw in same unit. He purchased Sam’s motorcycle for Rs. 1000, which was never paid. During 1971 war, Yahya Khan was the president of Pakistan. After India stood victorious and Bangladesh was born, Manekshaw said: “Yahya never paid me the Rs. 1000 for my motorbike, but now he has paid with half his country.”

12. General Sam wanted to ensure that Indian Army never indulges in the brutal trends of victorious armies to spoil and dishonour the women of defeated land. So he instructed his men during 1971 war that “When you see a begum, keep your hands in pocket and think of Sam.” As a result, there was not even a single case of robbing/dishonouring by Indian Army.

13. When some ministers in a meeting objected that Sam always address Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister and not as ‘madam’, he reminded them that the title ‘madam’ is reserved for the head lady of a brothel.

 

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Although Sam was one of the most powerful, brave and jolly general we had, his style of speaking to politicians made some of our leaders uncomfortable. As a result, he was denied all the post-retirement privileges and was not even given due salary. It was only after President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam met him and ensured that his arrears of 30 years are cleared and he was then presented a cheque of Rs. 1.3 crore. On June 27, 2008, at the age of 94, Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw passed away in Military Hospital in Wellington (Tamil Nadu) due to complications from Pneumonia. He was put to rest in Parsi cemetery in Ooty, but his funeral was not attended by any politician or even military top brass.

Third house of Indian Parliament

We are all aware of the two houses, Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, of the Indian Parliament. However, if you look at the design of Parliament, it has Four halls instead of two. Three halls on sides for the houses of Parliament and the fourth one in centre, for the joint session. Originally, Indian Parliament, or the Council House as it was termed then, was comprising of 3 houses. The State Council, Central Legislative Assembly and the Chamber of Princes.

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Council of State originally had 60 members when it started in 1919. The Viceroy or the Governor General of India was its ex officio president. In 1937, its size was increased to 260 members and in 1947, it was dissolved, to be later taken over by Constituent Assemblies of India and Pakistan respectively. Today, this upper house in India is known as the Rajya Sabha.

The Central Legislative Assembly, or the lower house, originally had 145 members representing different provinces of India. Out of these, 103 were elected, and rest nominated by upper house. Of these 103, 51 came from general constituencies (30 by Muslims, 2 by Sikhs, 9 by Europeans, 7 by Landlords and rest by businessmen). It was abolished on 15th August 1947 until in 1952, as India became republic, the Legislative Assembly was renamed as Lok Sabha and became functional under the new Constitution of India. Though its members are still known as MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly).

Then comes the third house, which was also abolished in 1947. While Council of State and the Legislative Assembly merged into the Constituent Assembly and later remerged as Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha respectively, this one house had no representation left in the new independent system of Republic of India. Hence, on 15th August, 1947, as India was divided into Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan, this one powerful house was abolished and forgotten for ever. This house was the Chamber of Princes, or the ‘Narendra Mandal’. It was established in 1920 by a royal proclamation of King Emperor George V, so that the princely states can have their say in the administration of India and voice their needs to the British crown. This decision was one of the most important decisions as it abolished the British policy of isolating Indian princely states from each other.

House first met on 8th February 1921. Initially, it had 120 members. Of those, 108 were representing major states, hence were members in their own right. While remaining 12 were elected to represent 127 smaller states. This left 327 minor states with no representation. Also, major states like Baroda, Gwalior and Holkar refused to join it. They met only once a year, with an appointed standing committee meeting more often. The house appointed a Chancellor as head of the house. The first chancellor was Major General His Highness Sir Ganga Singh, Maharaja of Bikaner, who presided over the house from 1921-1926. His successors were Adhiraj Major General His Highness Sir Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala (1926-1931), Colonel His Highness Sir K. S. Ranjitsinhji, Maharaja of Nawanagar (1931-1933), Colonel His Highness Sir K. S. Digvijaysinhji, Maharaja of Nawanagar (1933-1944), Hajji Major General His Highness Sir Hamidullah Khan, Nawab of Bhopal (1944-1947).

In 1940, as the discussion of Indian Independence was gaining momentum, the Chamber of Princes felt its heat and convened in the month of March. On 12th March 1940, they resolved:

“The Chamber of Princes, while welcoming the attainment by India of its due place among the Dominions of the British Commonwealth under the British Crown, records its emphatic and firm view that, in any future constitution for India, the essential guarantees and safeguards for the preservation of the sovereignty and autonomy of the States and for the protection of their rights and interests arising from treaties, and engagements and sanads or otherwise, should be effectively provided and that any unit should not be placed in a position to dominate the others or to interfere with the rights and safeguards guaranteed to them, and that all parties must be ensured their due share and fair play; And that, in any negotiations for formulating a constitution for India, whether independently of the Government of India Act 1935, or by revision of that Act, representatives of the States and of this Chamber should have a voice proportionate to their importance and historical position.”

Despite of this resolution, the chamber was dissolved and never revoked. Instead, the princely states were annexed into the Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan one after another the hall dedicated for Chamber of Princes was later converted into Parliament Library. As a compensation, a Privy Purse was established.

The Privy Purse was a payment made to the royal families of erstwhile princely states after they agreed to merge their state with India and lost all ruling rights. In 1947, the states were required to sign the instrument of accession with India and cede defence, communication and foreign relations to India. Later, in 1949, most of these states were completely merged. The amount of privy purse was determined by several factors, including the revenue of state, gun salute enjoyed during British Raj and antiquity of dynasty etc. While the smaller states were given a privy purse allowance, as low as Rs. 5000 per annum, states like Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, Baroda, Jaipur and Patiala received a privy purse above Rs. 10,00,000. 102 privy purse were between 1-2 lakh rupees. Government of India kept reducing the privy purse with every succession in family.

When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi abolished the Privy Purse in 1971, rulers of erstwhile states decided to contest in elections, hoping that their subjects would elect them into parliament, where they can voice their needs properly. However, most of them were left red faced after shameful defeats with huge margins. Popular rulers, like Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi could earn only 5% of total votes, in a 2-way contest.

Finally, the Privy Purse came to an end. Many of the nawabs and kings became more active in politics, while others went to start their business.

 

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Jim Corbett, Hunter who saved tigers

 

THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN NRI ACHIEVERS’ JULY-2016 EDITION

 

Jim_CorbettThis month, we celebrate the birthday of a fearless hunter, who turned into a saviour for tigers in India. I came across this story while I was sitting on the shore of Kosi River of Uttarakhand.

Few days back, I went to Namah Resorts in Dhikuli, Jim Corbett Park. I was interested in the lost temple of Vairapattana, which was supposed to be around this resort. I stayed there for few days, enjoyed the impeccable hospitality, and kept enquiring about the lost Shiva Temple. They pointed me to a direction and surprisingly, at mere 300 steps, I found the remains of Ancient Shiva Temple. My mission was complete, but during my discussions with staff and naturists at this resort, I learned few more things about the area.

One of the resident experts at Namah Resort asked me, if I know about Jim Corbett. I replied with a smile, “Yes! You made us interact with Mr. Imran Khan, the best known naturists in Jim Corbett National Park. He told us everything about flora and fauna.” He continued, ‘No Sir, I meant, James Edward Corbett’. I was quite. I have heard of him, but why is this gentleman emphasising so much. He praised Corbett and we retired to our room appreciating the spectacular sunset view across Kosi river. As I reached my room, I started reading about Colonel James Edward Corbett of the British India Army. By this time, Namah team sent me a wonderful Mocktail as reward for participating in one of their contests. Sipping this mocktail in the balcony of my cottage, I paid my homage to Google Baba and got started.

Colonel Corbett was born in Nainital in 1875 to the postmaster of Nainital, William Christopher Corbett. He spent his entire childhood in the region. During winters, the James Corbett with his other 15 siblings and parents used to stay in their family home downhill, what we now know as Corbett’s Village or Kaladhungi. After schooling, he was employed by Railways. He was so well versed with the jungle, that he could identify most animals and birds by the sounds they make. Soon, he became famous as the hunter, who would save locals from man eating tigers and leopards. His most famous kill was the tiger known as Bachelor of Powalgarh. Powalgarh is a connected reserve near Ramnagar. We were taken to Powalgarh the next day to show the site, where Corbett killed this tiger. We also have the largest tree trunk of this region in the vicinity. Corbett wrote a book titled ‘Man Eaters of Kumaon’. He mentions of several kills that he made and how he accomplished those victories. Interestingly, the only one to accompany him was his favourite dog ‘Robin’. His expeditions were all on foot. His book talks about the strategies he made to hunt man eaters in Champawat, Thak, Muktesar, Chowgarh, Rudraprayag, Kanda, Pipalpani and many more. The Panar Leopard was known to have killed as many as 400 people, before being slayed by Corbett.

Powalgarh

When Corbett analysed his kills, he found out that most of the man eaters had porcupine quills embedded deep in their feet. Some even had un-healed gunshot wounds. While I was discussing this with our nature expert at the Namah Resort, he explained that years of research has revealed that porcupine is the most common reason for tiger’s pain, unrest and forcing him to target slow moving targets like humans. Jim Corbett, when realized this, turned into a saviour of animals. He bought a camera and started filming tigers. I met James Champion a while back. He is son of Frederick Walter Champion, companion of Jim Corbett in his expeditions to understand and save tigers. He gave me few insights on how Corbett turned into a conservationist and led campaigns to protect tigers. Corbett and Champion established India’s first nature reserve, the Hailey National Park in 1936. It was named after Lord Hailey, governor of United Provinces (now Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh) from 1928 to 1934. His efforts laid the foundation of Project Tiger of Government of India, which helped us realize the reducing number of tigers and forced to take measures to save them. Today, his Hailey National Park covers 520 square kilometres of hill area near Nainital (Originally it was 323 sq. Km). It houses around 110 tree species, 50 species of mammals, 580 bird species and 25 reptile species. Initially, the proposal was to make it a Game Reserve, where British could come and enjoy hunting as a sport, while animals move freely. Princely state of Tehri Garhwal had already cleared most of this forest to save from invading Rohillas. When land came completely under British and restoring forest was underway, Jim Corbett played an important role to ensure that it stays as a Nature Reserve and not a Game Reserve. He emphasized on protecting the Tigers. He told, how careless hunting activities are turning tigers into man-eaters. His efforts were fruitful and the park was established. Later, in 1954 it was renamed as Ramganga National Park. But within 3 years, the Independent Indian Government gave credit to Jim Corbett and renamed this oldest national park of India as ‘Jim Corbett National Park’.

Until 1947, Corbett and his sister lived in Gurney house in Nainital. The house was sold to Mr. Sharad Prasad Varma, which is now passed to his granddaughter Ms. Nilanjana Dalmia. Corbetts retired to Kenya, where Jim Corbett kept working hard to protect the wildlife. He was escorting Princess Elizabeth of England during her Kenya visit and they were staying in Tree Tops Hotel when King Geroge VI passed away. Next morning, when Elizabeth was told about this incident, she came down from Tree Tops and left for England as a Queen. Corbett wrote the famous lines that day in the visitor log book of Tree Tops:

For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess, and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree the next day a Queen—God bless her.

He passed away on 19th April, 1955. We celebrate Corbett’s 231st birthday this 25th July.

– Vikramjit Singh Rooprai

Lost Heritage: Sikh legacy in Pakistan

17th December 2015: I got a call from S. Gurpreet Singh Anand called me and invite me over tea. I was excited to meet him as he had just put me in touch with Janab Faqir Syed Saifuddin of Fakir Khana Museum of Lahore. Faqir sahib comes from the legendary family of Faqir Azizuddin, the trusted minister of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

So on 19th, I reached his office in West Delhi. As expected, I received a warm welcome by this warm gentleman. Later I learned that he is an avid traveller, who also holds the honour of being first Sikh on North Pole, and perhaps only Sikh to cover both North and South pole. As I made myself comfortable, he presented me with a book, which in few minutes became the most precious possession in my book collection. He gifted me Amardeep Singh’s “Lost Heritage: Sikh Legacy in Pakistan”.

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I love books and have collected all kinds of, that I could get access to. But this case was different. When I held this book in my hands, I had a very strange vibe, something unexplainable. It was a mix of excitement and nostalgia. As I removed the layer of shrink wrap, my fingers were trembling. This has never happened before. As a practice, I turned the book and read back cover. Then checked index. S. Gurpreet Singh Anand jee was watching me and waiting for me to react. But all my reactions had travelled back in time and here I was sitting like a wax statue, staring at the precious contents of this book with stone eyes.

This book is about what Sikhs have left in Pakistan and how partition has separated Sikhs on both sides of border. Book starts with introduction of a Sikh doctor serving in Pakistan and later author introduces his audience with more Sikhs in active service in Pakistan. Book is a systematic journey through Gurudwaras, Forts, Havelis, Schools and other buildings related to the Sikh Raj. The chapters on Faqir Khana Museum and Princess Bamba Collection will force readers to time travel into the bygone era of Sarkar Khalsaji, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. As Faqir Syed Saifuddin Sahab show rare artefacts from Sikh Raj, the book takes a different turn.

LostHeritage-AuthorAuthor has travelled across West Punjab, North-West Frontier and Pak Administered Kashmir to gather information. It has 60 chapters with 507 photographs and lots of rare information. Author, S. Amardeep Singh, born in India and studied at Dehradoon and Manipal Institute of Technology, now lives in Singapore. He is an amazing photographer and his exhibitions and work is appreciated across globe.

From Havelis to Gurudwaras, Amardeep did not leave a stone unturned. But the most interesting part is that he mentioned about revered Muslim Sufi Saints. Many modern day self proclaimed religious preachers would love to draw a line between Sikhs and Muslims. Whereas, there was a very high level of religious harmony back then. When connecting with god, religion is perhaps the last thing that would matter. Our Gurus and Sufi saints understood this well. May be that’s why, there are so many Muslim contributors to Sri Guru Granth Sahib Jee and Sain Mian Meer Sahib of Lahore laid the foundation of Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Amardeep visited many Forts and gave a detailed description. While talking about Forts and Havelis, he did not restrict himself to the Sikh religion, but to the fact, that the property was built, modified or at least used by the Sikh Rulers/Nobles. There are many structures which were built before Sikhs took over and All that SIkhs left is now being used by modern occupants. Some are government offices, some schools, some residences and some are simply lying abandoned in a a dilapidated state.

While the content of this book is very precious, what forced me to take a bow and salute the Author was his photography skills. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the pictures. They were simply perfect. Books has some shots, which made me wonder, how did he manage to get this shot. The frame, the composition, lighting, everything seems perfect.

Now I am confused. What should I call this book? “A travel guide”, “A Coffee Table Book”, “A Photo-Journal”, “A Heritage Guide”……. Perhaps, this unique masterpiece is a combination of all.

I must thank Mr. Amardeep Singh jee for his brilliant talent and effort in putting up this masterpiece for rest of the world.

If you wish to buy this book, www.lostheritagebook.com should help. Book is already available on Amazon US and will be soon available on Indian e-Comm portals as well. Till then, one can order it from this website.

I clicked few pages for you…

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The Presidential Palace of India

Rashtrapati Bhawan, Delhi

Rashtrapati-Bhawan-(15)The “Rashtrapati Bhawan” has several secrets hidden under its facade, with some amazing facts tending to surface to surprise you. Right from its regal metal gates to the opulent residence cum office of the President of India, it has quite a few magical stories buried in it. For example, in the middle of the road connecting the Gates and the Building, we have the huge Jaipur Column. Did you know that barely any steel was used to build this Viceregal Palace but the Jaipur Column, funded by the then Maharaja of Jaipur Sawai Madho Singh, has a Steel Beam running through its entire height of 145 feet (44.2 meters), topped by a bronze lotus from which rises the six-pointed glass star, all of it weighing a little more than five tonnes! On the double base of column, the original plan of Delhi as designed by Jaipur-ColumnLutyen, is etched. Lutyen had placed Lord Hardinge’s statue at the foot of the column, but post-Independence this was shifted to the coronation grounds, where King George V laid the foundation stone of the new capital during his coronation in 1911. King George’s majestic statue was placed in a canopy near India Gate, which too was removed along with all other statues from Lutyen’s Delhi, all of them finding a resting place in the Coronation Grounds. The Jaipur Column also has the British Seal, a special image of King George and commemorative text etched on it.

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4 panels on Jaipur Column
(From Top left, clockwise – King George: North; Emblem: South; Text: West; Map: East)

Edwin Landseer Lutyen, chief architect of New Delhi, got this job thanks to his royal connections. He was married to the daughter of Lord Lytton, former viceroy of India. He planned the city for some 60,000 people, a city that today houses some 170,000,000 plus. Lutyen got his good friend Herbert Baker to be his co-architect, and both of them were excited about this partnership, until it ended because of this very project. Baker wanted to raise the two secretariat buildings connected with Rashtrapati Bhawan and level the space between them. Lutyen was against this because then the view of Viceroy House (Rashtrapati Bhawan) will be blocked. The heavy debate was won by Baker, and as a result, when we reach the foothill of Raisina, the Rashtrapati Bhawan is hidden behind the slope and appears only when you reach on top. This disagreement over the slope, which ended a long and trusted relationship was described by Baker as “the unhappiest in all my life’s work”.

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Lutyen also gave very deep thought to which trees ought to be planted where. King’s Way (Rajpath) was decorated with Jamun Trees, Queen’s Way (Janpath) had Arjun Trees lining it, Imli was for Akbar Road and Neem Trees were planted on Lodhi Road. A total of 10,000 trees were planted in the new city, making it the then greenest capital on earth. Luckily Delhi is still considered to be one of the greener capitals even today. It is very interesting to know that Lutyen was not a fan of Indian Architecture. But the then viceroy Lord Hardinge insisted on his introducing Indian styles, and that is when Lutyen traveled across India and fell in love with the Mughal style. Even the same red & buff sandstone material that the Mughals used in their buildings was chosen for this palace. Most of us think that Rashtrapati Bhawan’s dome was inspired by the Sanchi Stupa, but this is only a half-truth. Actually, Lutyen was very much inspired by St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, so he tried to blend both to create a dome with characteristics of both.

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“To the south of city, 27 Kilns came up to make the 700 million bricks or so that was needed for the project …. About 700 men were employed, to produce some 200,000 pounds worth of work in teak, shisham …. and other Indian woods. There were 84 miles of electric distribution cables and 130 miles of street lighting, 50 miles of road…….” Describes Edwin Lutyen. All pillars have bells carved, similar to temples in India along with the elephant motifs on the pillar-crowns. The huge main gate was wrought out of iron and has its motifs and designs taken from the Red Fort of Delhi.

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The Pillars of the main complex are borrowed from Roman architecture, topped with brackets inspired by Indian Temples. The palace has 340 rooms, 227 columns and 37 fountains. The estate around it also has a cricket ground, eight tennis courts and a golf course. On 13th February 1931, the new capital was inaugurated, and the hard work of chief engineers Hugh Keeling, S. Teja Singh Malik and contractors Haroun-al Rashid, Sujan Singh and his son S. Sobha Singh (father of legendary writer Khushwant Singh) became an enduring reality. After few days, Mahatama Gandhi was invited to the palace. But the Indian politicians were in no mood to celebrate as they were mourning the death of Motilal Nehru (father of Jawaharlal Nehru). In 1947, as India got independence, the Viceroy’s house was turned into the Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Council house into the Indian Parliament. And India Gate? This was not called India Gate then, but was “The Great India War Memorial”.

Also read: Ceremonial Changing of Guards – Rashtrapati Bhawan. This ceremony is practiced in almost all countries. In India, it is open to public on Saturdays.

 

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North Block

The Armenian Tawaif

In modern day, word ‘Tawaif’ is associated with prostitution. However, Tawaifs were originally respected members of the feudal society of India and considered as an authority on etiquettes. Tawaifs are also known as Kanjaris in North India. They were the courtesans in Mughal era, who were expert in music and dance. They were the elite female, masters of Urdu Poetry, whose job was to entertain the nobles through their dance, music and poetry.

On June 26, 1873, a girl was born to William Robert Yeoward and Victoria Hemmings in Azamgarh (Uttar Pradesh). Her father was an Armenian Jew and mother was born and bought up in India. They named their daughter ‘Angelina Yeoward’. Like her mother, she was also trained in Indian music and dance. When she was 6, her parents parted ways and later Victoria, her mother, took her to Banaras in 1881. Victoria was accompanied by a Muslim Nobleman ‘Khursheed’. In Banaras, Victoria converted to Islam and adopted a new name ‘Malka Jaan’. Her daughter, the star of our story, Angelina Yeoward was renamed as ‘Gauhar Jaan’.

GuhagharMalka Jaan became popular by the name Badi Malka Jaan, as there were three other Malka Jaan, younger than her. She became an accomplished singer & Kathak dancer of Banaras. In 1883, she moved to Calcutta to establish herself in the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, who had settled in Matiaburj near Calcutta. She became so popular, that within 3 years, she earned enough money to buy herself a building at 24 Chitpore Road (Now Rabindranath Sarani) for Rs. 40,000. Her daughter Gauhar Jaan started her training at this place. She was being trained by the founding member of Patiala Gharana, Ustab Ali Baksh along with Ustad Kale Khan of Patiala and Ustad Vazir Khan of Rampur. She also started learning Kathak from grand uncle of Pandit Birju Maharaj, the legendary Pandit Brindadin Maharaj. Her Dhrupad training started in parallel with Srijanbai and Bengali Keertan with Charan Das. She soon became proficient in Rabindra Sangeet and was writing with penname ‘Hamdam’.

Gauhar Jaan made her debut performance in the court of Dharbhanga Princely State (Bihar) at the age of 14 in 1887. She was soon appointed as the court musician. In 1896, she started performing in Calcutta and was called as ‘First Dancing Girl’ in her records.

In 1902, The Gramophone Company approached Gauhar Jaan to record India’s first ever record. This was a major milestone in Indian Music Industry and Gauhar Jaan became the pioneer, establishing her name in history for ever. She sang a Khayal in Raag Jogiya. The record format required the song to be 3 minute long. Gauhar Jaan developed this format for them. At the end of every song, she recited ‘My name is Gauhar Jaan’, which was a practice for records in those days. Gauhar Jaan charged Rs. 3000 per sitting, which was a huge sum in those days. F. W. Gaisberg, the owner of Gramophone Company noted that Gauhar never wore same jewels or dress twice. Even her motorcade was nothing less of royalty. Gauhar recorded more than 600 songs in 10 languages for them in next 18 years.

In 1910, she visited Madras for a concert in Victoria Public Hall. She impressed Tamils so much that her songs were translated and published in Tamil Music Books. By this time she was at the peak of her career. Next year, in 1911, King George V came to India for his coronation. Gauhar Jaan had the ultimate honour of performing during the coronation ceremony. She sang a duet ‘Ye hai Tajposhi ka Jalsa, Mubarak ho Mubarak ho’ with famous Jankibai of Allahabad.

Mallika-e-Ghazal, Padma Shri, Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, popularly known as Begum Akhtar was one the most famous Ghazal, Thumri and Dadra genres of Hindustani Classical Music. It is said that Akhtari Begum wanted to pursue her career in Hindi Films. But after listening to Gauhar Jaan, she gave up the idea of performing in films and started concentrating on Hindustani Classical Music. Gauhar Jaan’s Sarangi player, Ustad Imdaad Khan became Begum Akhtar’s first teacher.

14fr_jaan2_jpg_115741gGauhar Jaan lived a lavish lifestyle. Nazrana for 1 sitting was 1000-3000 Rs., which was an outlandish sum in those days. Some speculated that she made over 1cr back in early 1900s, making her the richest and one of the earliest Millionaires of India. She flaunted her money so much, that Rs. 12,000 was spent on her cat’s marriage and another 20,000 on a party, when her cat gave birth to kittens. When Gauhar went to perform in Datia, entire train was booked for her. Cook, Cook’s assistants, private Hakeem, Dhobi, Barber and dozens of her servants travelled with her. She was nothing less than a Diva of Divas. She decided to move out of Calcutta. She became court singer of Darbhanga, and later Rampur. From there, she moved to Bombay for a short period.

On 1st August 1928, Gauhar Jaan was appointed as the Palace Musician in the court of Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV of Mysore. In less than two years, as she turned 56, her financial state was bad. She had lost most of her money to the lavish lifestyle she kept. Her travel and lawsuits also cost her a fortune. While she was still respected, her patrons were reduced and the inflow of gifts and money had almost stopped. On 17th January 1930, Gauhar Jaan died almost penniless.

 

* This article was also published in NRI Achievers Magazine

Bhagat Singh, Martyr Vs. Reformer

Bhagat_Singh_1929_140x190Last 23rd March, all social media walls were flooded with patriotic messages, praising Bhagat Singh, who was hanged on this date for the murder of a British Officer. People have been flaunting T-Shirts with Bhagat Singh’s photograph printed on it and many have sported a Bhagat Singh sticker on their car bumpers. Many other changed their Facebook profile picture to Tricolor or Bhagat Singh’s portrait. Is this what Bhagat Singh really wanted? Was he just another revolutionist, who bombed British assembly, murdered an officer and kept on spreading non-violence? Why did he give himself, knowing that he will die, at a young age of 23?

Sardar Bhagat Singh was born in 1907 near Faislabad. He was one of the most influential revolutionaries of the Indian Freedom Struggle. British tried their best to suppress his voice. Even Gandhi stood openly against his style and is even alleged by some to be an active conspirator against him. Gandhi, during his lifetime, maintained that he is an admirer of Bhagat’s patriotism. However, many of Gandhi’s speeches hint otherwise. For example, Gandhi have been sending letters to British to save many other prisoners from hanging, but in case of Bhagat Singh, he sent a letter on the day of hanging, knowing that it can never reach viceroy on time. Also, Gandhi was strictly against the Capital Punishment in general. But after Bhagat Singh’s hanging, he said “The government certainly had the right to hang these men”.

What exactly did Bhagat Singh do to deserve all this?

After Independence, when the history books were being re-written, everything was re-painted in Gandhi style. People, who were not following the Gandhian philosophy did get a mention in books, but partially. Deeper facts were kept aside, to be unveiled by research scholars sometime in future. For example, what we read in schools is, Bhagat Singh was a patriot, who was devastated by the murder of Lala Lajpat Rai by British. To take a revenge, he, along with Rajguru, shot ASI Saunders in 1928. This murder was a case of mistaken identity, as Saunders was not involved in Lathi Charge on Lala Lajpat Rai. Original culprit was his superior James A. Scott. Chandershekhar Azad gave cover fire to Bhagat and Rajguru, so they can escape. Next year, Bhagat Singh decides to strike again. This time, the motive was not to kill anyone, but to give a jolt to this sleeping government. He, along with Batukeshwar Dutt, threw two bombs in Assembly, making sure that no one is hurt. Instead of escaping, they stood there and shouted “Inqlaab Zindabad” (Long live the Revolution). After the chaos was over, police was surprised to see them still standing and shouting. So they were arrested and put under trial. They were sentenced to life imprisonment. Later Rajguru & Sukhdev were also arrested and all were sentenced to death for killing a British officer. During his imprisonment, Bhagat Singh fought against the ill-treatment with prisoners. He also rose voice against the law, which deprived prisoners of reading and writing.

What I wrote above is all true. But it is just one side of coin. There is more to Bhagat Singh, which is part of history, but could not find space in major publications. The philosophy of Bhagat Singh is slowly surfacing with his growing popularity.

After killing Saunders, Bhagat Singh went into hiding. He came back without a turban and beard, so no one could recognize him. He joined Hindustan Republican Association (HRA). With his Marxist ideology, he turned HRA into Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). He undertook several reforming projects to ensure equality amongst all, even those imprisoned.

When Bhagat Singh was imprisoned in Mianwali Jail, he witnessed discrimination between Indian and European prisoners. He was able to convince other Indian prisoners to go on an indefinite hunger strike. British tried everything, from placing food items in cells to forcing milk/juice down their throats but strikers did not break. Political pressure was building, both inside and outside the prison. Ultimately, the British had to accept their demands of equal standards of food, clothing, hygiene and toiletries. They also had to accept the demand of accessibility of books and newspaper to political prisoners. Bhagat Singh then wrote several letters and a diary, which gives deeper insight on his philosophy.

Bhagat Singh called himself an Aethist. People, including his own family criticized him for being so. Few days before his hanging, he wrote a piece titled ‘Why I am an Atheist’ to answer all the criticism. He cleared that the fear of God has been created by humans to hide their weakness, limitations and shortcomings. If you turn Aethist, you are a stronger person, who can turn a revolution into success.

Bhagat Singh realized that mere road protests will not affect the Government. He believed that to achieve complete Independence (Poorna Swaraj), a much bigger shock is needed. He decided to give himself for the cause. He prepared a strategy and as the first step of that, he threw that non-lethal bomb in Assembly. He stood there to be arrested, so he can have better say in public. He defended himself in court and his speeches during case proceedings served as fuel for the independence movement. His letters from Jail, his diary and his protests done in Prison changed the way government functioned for ever. After Independence, when India’s new constitution was being written, inspired by the original British Constitution, some rules enforced by Bhagat Singh were incorporated. He even wrote to the British officer, stating that he should be shot and not hanged, as he is a war prisoner and should be treated like one. His death, as he expected, created news across the country and inspired every freedom fighter, to stand against the British.

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He was largely supported by mass during his time. Several leaders of Congress and other parties were in favour of Bhagat Singh, except Mahatma Gandhi.

Lover, lunatic and poet are made of the same stuff.
(First line in Bhagat Singh’s Jail Diary)

Kureh Khak hai Gardash main Tapash sai Meri ,
Main Voh majnu huan Jo Jindo’n main Bhee Azad Raha

{{Every tiny molecule of Ash is in motion with my heat,
I am such a Lunatic that I am free even in Jail}}
(Urdu lines from first page of Bhagat Singh’s Jail Diary)

The Ancient Clock–Jantar Mantar

On one fine day of 1719 AD, the courtiers of Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah were having a heated argument about how to accurately calculate the auspicious date and time for Emperor’s travel plans. While they were fighting with each other, one member of the Mughal Durbar was sitting quietly, thinking, why don’t we have an instrument, which can give very accurate date and time. By this time, this courtier had decided that he will construct a high precision astronomical observatory.

0 Maharaja_Sawai_Jai_Singh_II_ca_1725_Jaipur._British_museumThis courtier was Saramad-i-Rajaha-i-Hind, Raj Rajeshwar, Shri Rajadhiraj, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, Maharaja of Amer (later Jaipur). He was an ally of Mughals and had great interest in mathematics, architecture and astronomy. After the debate in court, he held a discussion with the Mughal Emperor, and took his approval on constructing astronomical observatories.

Jai Singh was influenced primarily by the Islamic school of astronomy. He studied the work of the great astronomers. Early Greek and Persian observatories contained elements that Jai Singh incorporated into his designs, but the instruments of the Raja Jai Singh’s observatories, are more complex, or at a much greater scale than any that had come before, and in certain instances, are completely unique in design and function.

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The first observatory was built in Delhi. Some people argued that the observatory was built in 1710, but Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, author of Athar-us-Sanadid correctly calculated the date as 1724. Raja Jai Singh had his estate near Delhi, which was known as JaiSinghpura. This estate today comprises of area from foot-hill of Raisina to Janpath and parts of Connaught Place. His palace/haveli/bangla was used by 8th Sikh Guru and is today known as Gurudwara Bangla Sahib.

After this first observatory in Delhi, he built similar observatories in Jaipur, Benaras, Ujjain and Mathura. The Ujjain observatory was painfully demolished by land mafia. Out of other 4, only the largest sundial, the Jaipur observatory is operational because rest 3 are surrounded by high rise buildings or trees, thus obstructing sunlight. All these observatories are accurate to half of a second, which is better than European instruments available at that time.

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Originally, these observatories were called “Yantra” or “Yantar”. In many north Indian accents, people often pronounce “Y” as “J”. Thus, Yantar soon became Jantar. “Mantar” means a formula, or in this context, a calculation. Thus we get the present name for these observatories “Jantar Mantar”.

A Jantar Mantar complex constitutes of multiple ‘Yantras’ (instruments). Each instrument serves its own unique task. Instruments from the Delhi Jantar Mantar are::

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5Samrat Yantra (supreme instrument): is ‘an equinoctial dial. It comprises of a triangular gnomon with the hypotenuse parallel to the earth’s axis, and on either side of the gnomon is a quadrant of a circle parallel to the plane of the equator’.

Jai Prakash Yantra: This consists of two concave hemispherical structures to ascertain the position of the sun and other heavenly bodies. It has a long tower with stairs attached to it, from which, the experts would accurately calculate time.

4Ram Yantra: These are twin structures, circular in shape with pillar in centre. The walls and floor of which are graduated for reading horizontal (azimuth) and vertical (altitude) angles.

Misra Yantra (mishrit/mixed instrument): This combines multiple instruments in 1. These instruments are:

  • Niyata Chakra: Indicates the meridian at four places, two in Europe and one each in Japan and the Pacific Ocean; half on an equinoctial dial
  • Dakshinottara-bhitti-Yantra: This one is used for obtaining Meridian Altitudes
  • Karka-rasi-valaya Yantra: This instruments indicates the entry of the Sun in the Cancer

The Jaipur Jantar Mantar on the other hand, consists of 14 major instruments. These include the instruments from Delhi Observatory.

Each of the instrument is carefully angled at the latitude of the location where it is built. The height of each building and its marking are very carefully calibrated and an expert can predict eclipses, tell time, track stars and determine celestial altitudes and related ephemerides

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Jantar Mantars are instruments of high precision and excellent craftsmanship. Unfortunately, we have lost the art to modern clocks. However, we must respect the talent and hard work of our forefathers, who made the modern day possible.

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