Indian Art Forms and their Proponents

Odissi & Sharon Lowen

Sharon Lowen is one of the most popular faces in the sphere of Indian dance art forms like Odissi, Manipuri or Chau and is one of the most internationally recognized Indian Arts performer. Trained by well-known Guru’s, she has taken these art forms to greater landscapes and performed in languages like Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil and Oriya.

She has worked relentlessly in popularizing Chau dance in India and abroad presenting it on Doordarshan’ s National Broadcasts and international diaspora’s.


She has broken many barriers. Being the first woman soloist of a previously all-male form was no mean feat in India. She was also responsible for introducing Mayurbhanj Chhau to the United States at the 1978 Asian Dance Festival in Hawaii and later at the Olympic Arts Festival of Masks in Los Angeles.

Sharon has been trained since 1975 in Odissi by the doyen of the art, Padmavibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra; in Manipuri by Minati Roy from 1969 through 1971 and from 1973 by Guru Singhajit Singh in Delhi and Ranjani Maibi and Thangjam Chaoba Singh in Manipur; in Mayurbhanj Chhau by Late Guru Krishna Chandra Naik and in Seraikella Chhau by Guru Kedarnath Sahoo.

Sharon Lowen was born and brought up in USA and is a Fulbright Scholar with a Bachelors and Master degree in Fine Arts and Humanities, Asian Studies and Dance. However, from the time she has come down to India in 1973, she is more Indian than people born and brought up here.


Details of her performances and achievements are given in her website : www.sharonlowen.com

 

 

The Earth Connection

Man is made of dust and to dust he returns. We, human beings are so intimately connected to everything that is about this earth, the soil and the dust but in our utopia of cleanliness and neatness, we make all efforts to keep our pretension of removing them from our life day in an day out without realizing that they are woven into our very fabric of life. Whether it is the food we eat or the vessels in which we eat!!

Earthern vessels were a part of our daily life till some years ago. It has taken a backseat with all the wispy, feathery plastic and glass vessels taking its place in our kitchens and the showcases. But the taste, the aroma and the healthy aspects of earthern pot is still intact. It is rare to see people making and selling these pots now.

It was only a couple of decades ago, we used to store water in these earthern vessels called `Ghada’ in Hindi. In the golden days that were when people used to care about their fellow human beings, big Ghadas filled with water used to be kept outside big buildings and roadsides for quenching the thirst of passersby and the pedestrians. Commercialization has taken over this simple act of charity and converted this tradition to selling bottled water in its place.

 

There were earthern pots to suit different needs. There were pots in which we could cook vegetables and rice. These were used to set our curd and there was no need to hang the curd as all the water would ooze out automatically through the pores of these vessels and one could have a tasty, pure and healthy curd, thick in texture. These pots would also be used to churn out butter using wooden ladles.

Even tea was served in small glasses made from clay called “kulhad” in Hindi. These were made compulsory in Railway Stations some years ago to reduce the usage of plastic disposable glasses. However, it has become a rare sight.

There were other items too, like the little money pots, flower pots, clay diyas widely used around Diwali festival, craft items like elephants, idols of god and other little animals.

 

 

Lohri – The winter festival of Delhi

If there is one festival in the thick of winter that people in Delhi look forward to, it is Lohri.  It is a time for people to come together in the evening and create an atmosphere of bonfire and bonhomie!

Even in a busy city like Delhi, people make an effort to gather wood from all around to make a fire in the evening – sometimes in their lawns, parks or even roads. In the evening, people gather around it and enjoy the crackling fire, eating rewris, peanuts and chikkis. Some sing songs and dance around the bonfire creating an atmosphere of mirth and celebration.

Why do people celebrate Lohri? Good question. Not many might be able to answer. There are cultural and seasonal twists to the origins of this warm festival.

One of the stories behind this festival is that this festival is celebrated in remembrance of Dulla Bhatti, the Indian version of Robin Hood who saved a girl and adopted her as his daughter. Children in some parts of North India sing his songs on this day. But why celebrate Dulla Bhatti on Lohri is a question that doesn’t quite have an authentic answer till now. “Why not” could be a very well put riposte to the question “Why?”

However, in Punjab where this festival is celebrated in its full glory and excitement, it is said to be a harvest festival. People take a breather from their farming as the rabi crop has been harvested and spend time to sit together and enjoy. Brightly attired young men, women and children dance to the drum beats, the famous Bhangra dance of Punjab!

The seasonal twist to this festival comes from the fact that in its early avatar, the festival was celebrated on the eve of the winter solstice, which essentially came around December 22-23. However, over a long period of time it shifted to the end of the month in the Bikrami calendar when the winter solstice occurred. The origin of the association of the sesame seeds with the festival also is in conjunction with this belief that after the festival, the nights would gradually becomes shorter by the “grain of one sesame seed.” Yes, that is a tough one to decipher, but then, aren’t most folklore 😀

Sanderson’s Sundial at Qutub Minar Complex

It was a lone form standing amidst tall and imposing structures! It looked like it did not belong there. Slightly out of place and standing alone is this Sundial which did not gel with either the giant monuments spread across the vicinity nor the architectural family of Qutub Minar complex.

But its significance in the history of the preservation of our heritage and architecture is immense.

It was built as a memoir for the immense contributions made by Gordon Sanderson who was the superintendent of Archeological Survey of India during the British times. He led the excavations around the Qutub Complex. He has documented many books on the history of Delhi and its monuments.

The marble structure has a blade fitted on top. The shadow of this blade keeps rotating according to the angle of the sunlight.

We were however robbed of this opportunity to see the shadows rotating as there was no sunlight when we went and therefore, no shadows!

This sundial in its simplicity expresses the fact that the shadows keeps coming and going but the light remains (which is the meaning of the words written on it – Transit Umbra, Lux Permanet).

 

 

The Qutub Minar Complex – Tomb of Iltutmish

  

Shamsu’d-Din Iltutmish succeeded Qutub-ud-din-Aibak on the throne of Delhi and therefore he was the second Sultan of Delhi. He was the one who took over the construction work of Qutub Minar and managed to complete 3 more floors after Aibak’s death.

The tomb of Iltutmish was constructed by himself. It has a tomb chamber with a central cenotaph. There are exquisite carvings at the entrance and the interior walls of the tomb. Kufi and Naskh character inscriptions can be found on the inside walls. There are 3 mihrabs on the west side of the tomb and the central one is made with marble with exquisite carvings and inscriptions.

  

Like Aibak, Iltutmish was also a slave. He was bought by Qutub-ud-din-Aibak and grew in stature and position during Aibak’s rule. He married Aibak’s daughter and became the Governor of Badaun. When Aibak died in a polo accident and Aram Shah whose relation to Aibak was shrouded in mystery tried to take over the Sultanate, Iltutmish was invited by Qutbi Amirs to take over as Sultan in Delhi.

He acquired a great nation and is credited with consolidating the power of Sultanate in India. However, he was not able to hold all of them together. Slowly one by one he kept losing parts of the country as rebellions broke out and the Hindu Maharaja’s asserted their dominion over the captured regions. Even his own people in different parts of the country left allegiance to him and started their own Sultanate!

Qutub Minar Part II – The Alai Minar

Looking at that incomplete structure standing lonely and sadly, I felt pity for the one who started this venture.  It almost looked as if God wanted to punish him for being so proud of his achievements.  It is a fate that almost all who want to show off and brag about their successes ultimately receives in this world.   The one who felt that I can build better and show the world who is mightier has had to taste its ridicule even after generations have passed!!

The Qutub Minar Part II – Alai Minar was started by Alauddin Khalji who usurped the Slave dynasty and wanted to build something bigger and better than the Qutub Minar in the same complex.   The building construction started with almost double the diameter and was also visualised to be of double the height of present day Qutub Minar!   But Alas, the construction was left incomplete as he died immediately after the construction started and his successors were never interested in taking this up and completing it.

Standing in the same complex, it is an eye sore but a reminder for all the mighty and powerful, of what it could all turn out to be… unfinished and unsightly!

 

Read our full blog on Qutub Minar

History of Delhi and Tourist Attractions

I came to stay in Delhi about 34 years back (sounds like I am ancient!) with my parents.  My dad working at that time with the Defences was posted here. We kept moving from one place to the other in Delhi in search of a better place to stay, study and work in that order and I have to now say that we’ve covered almost all the corners.

Delhi is big and there are so many places to see in and around Delhi that it is overwhelming.  If a person comes to Delhi with the pure intention of sight-seeing, then it could take them anywhere between 3 to 4 days or even a week to cover all the monuments and parks and the important sightseeing places.

Delhi has been a place of action and centre of politicaland cultural hub for many centuries and history is embedded in each and every part and structure.  The heritage, the culture and the traditional architecture are living proofs that showcase a very interesting and exciting past.

It is believed that Indraprastha mentioned in the Mahabharata was Delhi. This place was ruled by the Rajputs under the Tomars and Chauhans when the Afghans attacked them and captured Delhi.   From then on, it fell into multiple hands – Lodhi’s, Tughlaks and Mughals.   Finally when Mughal empire was established across India Shah Jahan established Old Delhi as the capital from where he ruled.

The monuments, tombs and forts scattered around Delhi are tourist attractions.  These showcase distinct designs and architectural lineage to the heritages.   Still standing tall and preserved from each of these era, these buildings give out an eerie feeling when we step into them of having traversed unknowingly into that period.

The tourist attractions are Red Fort in Old Delhi (was part of Shahjahanabad), Jama Masjid (the Royal court of Mughals), Qutub Minar at Mehrauli (from the Slave Dynasty), Lodhi Gardens which houses tombs of Lodhi dynasty rulers, Humayun’s tomb, Zafar Mahal and other tombs around Mehrauli from the Mughal Era, Raj Ghat, India gate from British era, Lotus Temple and Akshardham Temple are fairly new additions after Independence.

So when one goes visiting these tourist attractions, one needs to have a little bit of the background.  It is intriguing to find out that there is so much history behind all these places.

Sights of India

India is a vast and beautiful country..  filled with different sights and sounds.   It is one of the most colourful and diverse countries of the world.   An amalgamation of many countries in one single entity,  it carries within itself a diverse set of religion, people, beliefs, culture, tradition, language, landscapes etc.

Every part of the country and state is different.  Within states, every city behaves differently!   It could be very confusing and difficult to decide which part of the country one should be visiting if there is paucity of time.  It could take ages to visit each of these beautiful places.

With the country spread so far and wide, covering mountains, plains, deserts, coasts and beaches, there is something or the other for everyone to see.

The people of India from the North to the South have different traditions and culture.

North of India is mostly hilly and for an adventure loving or sports person, this might be the right choice.   Heading to the Himalayas will give ample opportunities to go for white water rafting, trekking etc. through the mountains.   Some of the hill stations like Shimla, Chhail, Manali, Ranikhet, Nainital, etc. are beautiful and breathtaking.

The flora and fauna of this country are diverse and there are various wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and zoological gardens.
The south of India is mostly the coastal belt and have beautiful beaches.  Kerala and Goa are known tourist attractions for its beaches and natural beauty.
Delhi, Mumbai or any other Metropolitan cities could give out India in a nutshell.
About India Travel Blog – We have tried capturing our experiences travelling through India and our aim is to give you a holistic view of the sights and sounds and smells of this beautiful country!

Bhul Bhuliyan – A tomb of Akbar’s Foster Brother

It was a chance meet.  We went looking for something else and this fell into our lap!

 We were out looking for Zafar Mahal and we came up on this lofty structure.  While it was a complicated exercise locating Zafar Mahal, Bhul Bhuliyan as it is popularly called, was standing tall right in the middle of the Mehrauli Square.

Facing the Mehrauli Bus Terminal and the myriad labyrinth of lanes that goes into the bylanes of Mehrauli, this structure is difficult to miss.    This structure is right in the middle of the throbbing and pulsating market of Mehrauli and you can see many people perched on the walls and taking a little rest in and around the structure.   If you ask anyone around of the historical significance of this structure, you would not get a satisfactory response.   In fact, there is not too much written about this anywhere around the building too.

As we set out to unearth the intriguing history behind this building,  we got to know that this was the tomb built by Akbar for Adam Khan and Maham Anga.

Now who is Adam Khan and Maham Anga?

Akbar Nama  gives an account of this tale.   Maham Anga was the foster mother of Akbar.  She brought up Akbar under her care while Akbar’s mother Hamida Banu Begum accompanied her husband Humayun who travelled a lot.  When Humayun died, Akbar was just 13 and Maham Anga acted as the Regent of the Mughal Empire after the death of Bairam Khan.   Adam Khan was the son of Maham Anga and therefore foster brother of Akbar.

Adam Khan was a youth intoxicated by power and politics.   He served as the general in Akbar’s Army.  It is said that Maham Anga and Adam Khan wanted to usurp Akbar and take over power in their hands.   So, Adam Khan attacked Atga Khan, the Prime Minister appointed by Akbar and would have even killed Akbar if he was not caught in time.  Akbar commanded his officers to immediately throw him down from the fort.  He finally died after he was thrown the second time.   When Maham Anga heard the story of her son’s fate, she retired and withdrew into herself.   She died after 40 days of lamenting for her son.

Akbar had great compassion on Maham Anga and built this tomb for both of them.

 
 

The building is located right next to Qutab Minar.  It is an octagonal structure with eight entrances to the tomb.   It is said that Octagonal structures were assigned to the tomb of traitors and consiprators as per early Lodhi and Sur Dynasty.

Constructed in 1561 AD, this building comes under the preservation of Archeological Survey of India.

This is bang opposite the Mehrauli Bus Stand and nearly impossible to miss. Check out the location on Google Maps.

The lost glory of Zafar Mahal

I had never heard of Zafar Mahal till some days ago when my husband brought it up as one of the places we should be visiting.  And to know that it was in Mehrauli which is about 15 minutes from where we live was even more astounding. 
When we finally made the visit today we realized that people living right next to the Palace were also quite unaware of its existence and significance.   We asked some people for directions in Mehrauli and they were quite clueless.

It could be probably because the area around Zafar Mahal has been encroached and people have built all kinds of buildings in and around that it is not seen properly and even the front façade does not give out the impression of the vastness that lay beyond.
The frontage is very simple.  The Mahal looked deserted.  The gates called the “Hathi Gate / Elephant Gate” were massive but closed and only a small enclosure which was part of the gate was open for people to pass through.  We got in not knowing whether we should or not but once inside, saw some men old and young in groups sitting on the inside lanes playing cards.  I was a bit scared, but since I was with my husband, we went on with our discovery mission. 
I should confess, it was a revelation!  The more we went in, it opened up more and more surprises.   Even though the building was in a ruined condition, it was delightful to see the gorgeous formations and composition of the pillars, walls and its structure.   Made in Red Sandstone with some marbles thrown in, there was hardly any roof left apart from the main building and the domes. 
To think that this is a place where the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar wished to be buried was quite shocking.   He used to spend the summers in this place and was called his Summer Palace. 
The Palace was originally built by Akbar II and named after his son Bahadur Shah Zafar.   The entrance was then modified by Bahadur Shah Zafar himself.   The tombs of Akbar II, Shah Alam and Mirza Jahangir lie within this Palace.   Akbar II’s tomb is inside a marble enclosure. 
There is a royal mosque also built in marble adjacent to where the tombs lay.
The halls in the upper parts of the buildings are vast with columns of arched pillars.  The carved pillars and arcades are beautiful to behold.  

How to reach Zafar Mahal
You have to reach Mehrauli to visit this historical nugget. It is very near to the Mehrauli Bus Stand. This map should give you the exact map to reach your destination.