Tuesday, 25 June 2013

When a son avenged his father's arrest

Indian history has rather been unkind to our own countrymen or rather we have been unkind in writing our own history. Even today, we have failed ourselves in reading and writing history accurately and in a dispassionate manner.
Many incidents and events in our past have either been simply glossed over or given a slant. Deliberate or otherwise, such writings have made their way into history and today they have become a part of  history books.
Indians have always been besotted with what Westerners have said about our history and culture and we have blindly accepted them even if they are wrong. Many incidents and personages have been dismissed by British and European historians without giving them their due.
One such figure who has not been accorded due recognition and whose exploits have been significantly whittled down in history is Shahaji Bhonsale, the father of  Chatrapathi Shivaji.
Few historians and fewer people are aware that Shahaji was among the first exponents of guerilla warfare. He was also an astute military strategist and he once managed to outwit the combined forces of Mughals and Bijapur armies merely by his common sense. This was when he was in the service of the Nizam Shahis.
Once the Nizam Shahis were extinguished, he joined the service of the Adil Shahs and for decades he was counted among the bravest, courageous and extremely far sighted commander of  the mighty Bijapur Army.
A peculiar incident that has not been given its proper and correct perspective during this time is the so called arrest and imprisonment of  Shahaji in 1648-1649 by the Adil Shah Emperor and his subsequent release.
While most history books ascribe his arrest to the rise of Shivaji,  contemporary accounts and even a few Marathi books speak otherwise about the incident.     
The Marathi Bakhars (Bakhar is a historical narrative written in Marathi prose and it is classified as one of the earliest genres of medieval Marathi literature. More than 200 bakhars were written from the seventeenth to nineteenth century. Many of them detail the deeds of Shivaji) and Basatin-i-Salatin by Mohammad Ibrahim Al Zubairi are sure that Shahji was arrested as a reaction to the military exploits of Shivaji.
According to these two sources, Shivaji had taken possession of some forts and territories in Maharashtra
and they belonged to the Adil Shah. Besides, he had killed several Bijapuri officers and even surprised the escort below the Bhor Ghat and captured the royal  treasure which was being sent from Kalyan to Bijapur. The conquest of Kalyan and the hill forts of Rajmachi and Lohgad had angered the Adil Shah who naturally concluded that these disloyal acts must have been done by the young Shivaji with the advice and instigation of his father. Hence secret orders were issued to arrest Shahaji.
Other sources such as the Sabhasad do not give credence to this view and infact they go so far as to say that Shivaji’s conquests had nothing to do with his father’s arrest. On the contrary, the Sabhasad throws up an entirely new angle on the incident. The Sabhasad records-this was the earliest work on Shivaji written by one of  the courtiers in the Maratha administration, Krishnaji Anant Sabhasad, in Ginjee in 1694- that a letter was sent to Shahaji by the Adil Shah Emperor directing him to keep Shivaji  under proper control.
The record further says Shahaji replied that his son was no longer under his control and that the Emperor might consequently deal with him in any manner he liked. This reply angered the Emperor who directed Afzal Khan to punish Shivaji. Surprisingly, the Sabhasad makes no mention of the imprisonment and release of Shahaji in 1649. The Chitragupta and Shiva Pratap Bakhars also make no such mention.
One of the earliest historians on Marathas, Chitnis, claims that Shahaji wrote a letter to Shivaji censuring his conduct and asking him to go to Bijapur. Chitnis further claims that Shivaji sought advice of his wife, Sai Bai Saheb, as well as of his officers and nobles.
Another work, Shiva Digvijaya, reproduces all the letters of  Shivaji, Shahaji and the Adil Shah on the issue. It confirms that Shivaji consulted his mother, officers, his wife and Goddess Bhavani before he wrote to his father and the Adil Shah.
Shivaji says in his letters that he was responsible for his own actions and that he was ready to take responsibility for the consequence of his deed. He further said he could not be diverted from his course.
Another source says that the Adil Shah disbelieved Shahaji when told that he had no control over Shivaji. Since the Adil Shah continued to be suspicious of Shahaji’s conduct, he ordered another Maratha nobleman in his service, Baji Ghorpade, to arrest Shahaji by any means and bring him to Bijapur.
Shahaji then was near Tanjore or Thanjavur and Baji Ghorpade accompanied Nawab Sarje ( Sharza ) Khan to meet Shahaji. The Adil Shah had asked Baji Ghorpade to arrest Shahaji in case he refused to control Shivaji. The Nawab, however, refused to arrest Shahaji as he considered him to be his friend.
Baji Ghorpade asked Shahaji to take steps to control his son and prevent Shivaji from invading the Adil Shahi territories. When Shahaji said he had no control over his son, Ghorpade decided to arrest Shahaji.
The Muhammad Namah, an imperial chronicle of Bijapur, has a different story altogether. It says there was some ill will between Shahaji and Mustafa Khan, Prime Minister of the Adil
Shahi Kingdom, during the siege of Ginjee. It says Shahaji questioned the authority of the Prime Minister who then ordered his arrest. Historians like Jadunath Sarkar say that the arrest of Shahji was due to his hobnobbing with the Raya of Vijayanagar and other Hindu Kings.
The Basatin-i-Salatin and the Shiva Bharat carry the same tale about the imprisonment of Shahaji. The Shiva Bharat narrates that one day, just as the sun was about to rise, the Adil Shahi commanders Dilawar i Khan, Masud Khan, Ambar Khan, Rajahs of  Adoni and Karnpur, Farhad Khan, Khairat Khan, Yaqut
Khan, Azam Khan, Bahlol Khan, Malik Raihan Khan,
Balal, son of Haybat Raja, Sidhoji, Mambaji Pawar,
Mambaji Bhosla, and some other nobles, besieged the
camp of Shahaji.
As Shahaji’s soldiers had kept awake the night, they had no idea of such a sudden attack and were unprepared, and so there was a great disorder and tumult in their camp. Masud Khan himself was commanding the forces. Then Khandoji, Ambaji, Manaji, Baji Raje and a few others entered the camp and arrested Shahaji.
The Basatin-i-Salatin says three Sardars- Baji Rao
Ghorpade, Yashwant Rao Wadhwe and Asad Khan-entered the
camp of Shahaji and thus awakened him and asked him to surrender. However, Shahaji decided to fight and ordered all his nobles to be prepared. He then rode on his faithful horse and attacked Baji Raje Ghorpade.
Shahaji was injured in the fight against Ghorpade. When he  swooned, fell down wounded, Ghorpade arrested him. The three thousand horse of Shahji soon dispersed and much plunder was secured from the camp.
Another account says that Shahaji was invited by Baji Raje Ghorpade of Mudhol to his house for a banquet and was treacherously put under arrest. Surprisingly Shahaji;s own kinsmen like Mambaji and Trimbakji Bhosle were in the
pursuing party, as were Sidhoji and Mambaji Pawar. The accounts say that Baji Raje was really accompanied by seven Maratha Sardars.
The vast booty acquired in the fort of Ginjee and Shahaji
were brought to Bijapur under the personal escort of Afzal
Khan. The Adil Shah received the party led by Afzal Khan in the Kalyan Mahal.
The Muhammad Namah claims that “Shahaji Raja who was brought in chains was sent to the prison.” However, the fact that the Adil Shah did not mete put any harsh treatment or torture Shahaji surprised the nobles and people of Bijapur.
A further surprise awaited the when the Adil Shah said he would release Shahaji and restore his jagir provided his forts of Bangalore
and Kondwana were returned to him. Shahaji then wrote to his two sons, Sambhaji and Shivaji, asking them to return the forts. When the forts were returned, the Adil Shah honored Shahaji and gave back his jagir.  
Shahaji, on his part, never forget the arrest. He wrote to Shivaji asking him to take revenge against the Ghorpade. Shivaji did kill the Ghorpade in his palace in Mudhol  and extracted revenge but that is another story.
Once Shahaji came back to Bangalore
, he allowed Ekoji to rule the province and he himself retired to Kanakagiri where he stayed on till his death in a horse accident in Hodigere near Chennagiri in 1664.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The levitating stones

India is a land of  mystics and sages belonging to all faiths and religions. Every mystic, whatever be his religion, has preached tolerance, non-violence, love and respect. No wonder, the resting places of such seers have turned as much into places of pilgrimage as temples and other places of worship.
One such place is Shivapur, a small village in Pune in Maharashtra. The village is renowned for its levitating stone. What is so special about this stone, you may ask.
Well, the stone is quite heavy and it can be lifted easily by eleven men if they say aloud the name of the seer who is buried nearby. What is more astounding is that the stone can be lifted off the ground where it rests with eleven finger tips-one finger of each of the eleven men.
Strange but true. This is the legend of Hazrat Qamar Ali Darvesh and two stones lying near his grave. Both these stones can be easily lifted by eleven men with each supporting the stone with one finger.
If the bigger stone can be raised by just eleven finger tips the smaller can be lifted with just nine finger tips. This unusual phenomenon has been scientifically researched by national and international scientists but no scientific or even rational explanation has been forthcoming.
Lakhs of Indians and hundreds of foreigners, who have heard the tale of the levitating stone, have ended up lifting the stone with either eleven or none finger tips but have failed to solve its mystery.
The grave of the Sufi saint Qamar Ali Darvesh is more than eight hundred years old and even the stones are as old, perhaps a little more older than the structure.
Locals and even the priest of the shrine tells us that there existed a gymnasium at the very place where the saint is buried. Qamar Ali Darvesh belonged to a family of wrestlers and body builders and while every male members of his family took to the family tradition, he did not.
His family members and others used the two huge stones to exercise. Some of them made fun of Qamar Ali’s disinterest in the physical sport. However, even at the age of six, the youngster found the teachings of a Sufi saint more appealing than lifting weights. He was the youngest of the brothers and he was more inclined towards religion and philosophy than any of his brothers.  
Before long, Qamar Ali began fasting, meditating and his fame as a Sufi saint spread far and wide. People of all faiths and from different villages began to flock to him. Qamar Ali died young-in his late teens- but just before he died, he asked the people to place the two stones near his grave and told them that they could be lifted by eleven people with their index finger when they chanted his name.
He said: “If eleven males place their right index fingers under the stone and then call my name, I will cause it to rise higher than their heads. Otherwise, neither singly nor together will they be able to move it more than two feet off the ground”.
To this day, this saying holds true. The bigger  stone weighs 140 lbs and the smaller about 100 lbs. Try out whatever combination you want and see if you can cleanly lift it off the ground.
Shivapur is 180 kms from Mumbai and is very near Pune-24 kms away. It takes barely 30 minutes from Pune to reach Shivapur.
Shivapur is located amidst hills and the iconic Sinhagad fort is thirteen kilometers away. The fort is also called Kondana after the sage Kaundinya. The Kaundinyeshwar temple, the caves and the carvings in the fort are said to be more than 2000 years old. The Sinhagad forest is home to a variety of flora and fauna.    

Sunday, 9 June 2013

This Modi has nothing to do with Gujarat

One of the most important battles in India was the third Battle of Panipat between the Marathas and Ahmed Shah Abdali. This battle signaled the beginning of the end of the Maratha hegemony in India and also paved the way for the growth of the British.
The battle took place on January 14, 1761, at Panipat, in present day Haryana. The battle field can be seen even today and it is about 60 miles or 95.5 km north of  Delhi.
This battle is generally considered by historians to be one of the largest wars fought in the 18th century and also the battle with the largest number of fatalities recorded in a single day.
By the way, this was also the last major battle in south Asia till the Independence of India and consequent formation of Pakistan in 1947. Tragically, the battle also saw the Mughals who initially sided with the Marathas losing face, power, territory and their prestige and from then on till 1857, they continued only as titular emperors of north India, ruling over Delhi and a few miles in radius.
However, one very little known fact of the war is that today we have exact amounts of money spent on the war, preparation and other connected aspects of the war and this is thanks to the Maratha tendency of keeping precise exact and complete accounts of all monies.
This was could be one of the few major wars where we can easily estimate the amount spent by the Marathas. According to documents available at Pune, which was the headquarters of the Peshwas, the Marathas spent exactly Rs. 92,23,242. 9 on the war that once for all shattered their might.
The records of the expenditure incurred on the war are in Modi script or Marathi shorthand which was used till the 1950s in Maharashtra to write the Marathi language.
The Modi script gained popularity as a cursive variant of the script during the 17th century and it was replaced in the 1950's when Devanagari replaced it as the written medium of the Marathi language.
Modi script was first developed in the 12th century by Hemadripant, a minister in the Yadava Kingdom  under Emperors Mahadev and Ramadev of Devgiri.
He is also the author of  Chaturvarga Chintamani (dealing with spiritual aspects) and Rajprashasti.
It is believed that the medieval period in Maharashtra witnessed a spurt in literature and written documents. There came a need for writing fast and accurately. It was difficult to write quickly in Devnagari because of the space between two words and punctuation marks.
Instead, Modi was widely used as it does not have punctuations and spaces between words. During Chhatrapati Shivaji’s and Peshwa periods, Modi came to be used by both the Government and people.
However, Modi lost its luster when the British took over Maratha held territories. It soon lost out to other languages as typeset and computer fonts could not be developed.
Many Marathi records in Pune are in Modi script and the war account is one such document. What makes this document unique is that it also throws light on how the Peshwas managed to raised such a large amount and what was the exact amount spent on raising the forces, hiring horses, oxen and donkeys.
The Peshwa Dafter or Maharashtra State Archives of Pune houses a large number of documents. The archives are located in a building opposite the Council Hall. Some of the documents date back to the time of Chatrapathi Shivaji.
The building houses over four crore documents, and many of them have not seen the light of the day.  

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The little-known brother of Shivaji

There are innumerable records, chronicles, annals and even letters  about the life and times of Chatrapathi Shivaji who spent two years in this city from 1640 to 1642. However, the very same records contain scanty or practically no information about Shivaji’s brother, Sambhaji.
When Shivaji came to Bangalore, Shahaji, his father, got him married a second time. He also ensured that Shivaji was trained in statecraft and warfare along with Sambhaji, and their half-brother Vyaknoji or Ekoji who later on went to found the Maratha line of rulers at Tanjore or Thanjavur, now in Tamil Nadu.
Both Shivaji and Sambhaji were the only surviving sons Shahaji and Jija Bai-four sons died in infancy. While Shivaji stayed on in Poona with his mother, Sambhaji was taken to the Deccan by Shahaji and he was with his father for several years. Shahaji had his second wife, Tuka bai Mohite, by his side and Venkoji was their son.  
When the Adil Shahis overran Bangalore in 1638 and defeated Kempe Gowda, the Adil Shahi commander Ranadulla Khan gave due credit to the victory for Shahaji, who was also a frontline  commander. Interestingly, the redoubtable Afzal Khan, who Shivaji later killed, was an understudy of Ranadullah Khan.
It was Ranadullah Khan who sent Afzal Khan to Sira, while he himself proceeded to Bangalore along with Shahaji.
The reason for the mighty Adil Shahi war machine to march towards south Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh were many. The Adil Shahi Emperor, Ibrahim Adil Shah also called Jagadguru, had died in 1627 and he was succeeded by Muhammad Adil Shah (1627-1658). Muhammad never wanted to see the rise of Vijayanagar and he decided to take on Sriranga Raya, the Vijayanagar ruler who was making attempts to reassert his authority.
Sriranganga was in touch with the many erstwhile provincial governors or palegars of the once mighty Vijayanagar Kingdom. At the same time, the Wodeyars of Mysore were emerging as the powerhouse of the south Mysore region. Kempe Gowda in Bangalore was also a prominent figure as were Bidanur and Sira.
Muhammad then ordered Ranadullah Khan and Shahaji to take on the Hindu principalities. They were ably assisted by Afzal Khan and at times by Myustafa Khan and Asad Khan.
Ranadullah Khan first took on the Raja of Dharwar and Lakshmshwar in 1637 and defeated them. He then took on the Vijayanagar King and captured Penugonda, Chandragiri, Adoni or Adwani in Andhra Pradesh, Vellor and Ginge in Tamil Nadu, Ikkeri-Bedanur, Bangalore, Kanakanagiri and Sira in Karnataka.
Ranadulla Khan and Shahaji got on well with each other. Both respected each other’s bravery and the Khan knew that Shahaji was an excellent military strategist. Once the war was over, Ranadullah Khan left the terms of surrender and other aspects to Shahaji and he rarely interfered.
Thus, when Kempe Gowda, the third, surrendered to the Adil Shahi, Shahaji allowed him to leave to Magadi and set up court there. Impressed with Shahaji, the Adil Shah granted him the jagir of Bangalore, which also included the surrounding principalities of Kolar, Chikaballapur, Doddaballapur and Kakakagiri.
Shahaji stayed back at Bangalore and set up court. His headquarters was the present Chickpet where he had his palace called Gauri Mahal.
Shahaji then became extremely busy in wars and campaigns conducted by the Adil Shah. He rarely had time to go back to Pune and meet his first wife Jija Bai and his second son, Shivaji.
Shahaji could not even attend the first marriage of Shivaji. He then invited Jija Bai and Shivaji to Bangalore so that he could meet his daughter-in-law.
Once in Bangalore, Shivaji learnt statecraft and warfare and he stayed here for two years from 1640 to 1642.
In 1642, Shivaji returned to Pune with his mother and he began the task of building up the Maratha Empire. Simultaneously, Shahaji began a process of  Hindu revival in the south. He did not put to the sword the Palegars or Nayakas whose territory he conquered on the behalf of the Adi Shah. He took away the capital cities of these provincial rulers and sent them away to smaller cities and towns. Thus, he earned the gratitude and respect of  the Palegars.
The only exception to this was in Sira where Afzal Khan treacherously murdered Kasturirangan, the ruler, by calling him out of the fort on the pretext of holding negotiations.
Sambhaji slowly earned the respect of his father and soon, Shahaji made him the Governor of Kolar.
When Muhammad Adil Shah called Shahaji to Bijapur in 1648 and imprisoned him, Sambhaji stoutly defended Bangalore against the Adil Shah army led by Farhad Khan and Tanaji Dure and even defeated them. In the Pune region, Shivaji defied the Adil Shah. Both gave up their defiance only after Shahaji addressed a letter to them and pointed out that their resistance might lead to his losing his life.
However, the Adil Shah realised the folly of imprisoning Shahaji and released him and conferred several honors on him. He also restored the jagir of Bangalore to Shahaji who then came back to Bangalore.
Sambhaji then continued to govern from Kolar, while his father lorded over Bangalore. Sambhaji met an unfortunate death in 1654 when the Adli Shahis under Afzal Khan attacked Kanakagiri. The Palegar, Apakhan, had revolted against the Adilshahis.
Afzal Khan once again played the part of a traitor and this led to the death of Sambhaji who was wounded by a cannon ball fired from within the fort of  Kanakanagiri.
When Shahaji heard of his son’s death, he personally marched to Kanakagiri and conquered it. For Shivaji, the loss of his elder brother was devastating. When his mother told him about the complicity of Afzal Khan in the death of Sambhaji, the Maratha swore revenge.
Today, people know about Sambhaji, the son of Shivaji but very few know about Sambhaji, the brother.
Sambhaji was born at Verul or today’s Ellora near Aurangabad in 1619 in Maharashtra. He was married to Makai and they had two sons- Suratsingh and Umaji, who records say was an adopted son. Umaji was believed to be the son of Parsoji Raje Bhamberker
After the death of Sambhaji,  Kolar was continued as Jahagir to his son Suratsing. When Shivaji conquered Bangalore from his half-brother Vyankoji, he continued the jagir of Kolar to his brother’s children.
Kola remained in Maratha hands till Hyder Ali (1721-1781) claimed Kolar as his right. Hyder’s reason for his conquest of Kolar was because he was born at Budikote, a short distance away from Kolar.
The Tarik-i-Shivaji, Siva Digvijaya, Chitnis Bakhars, Sabhasad and Adil Shah records give us information about Shahaji, Shivaji and Sambhaji as does the excellent work by H.S. Sardesai.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The manmade Bhool Bhulaiyaa

Mention Bhool Bhulaiyaa and the immediate reaction is that it is a 2007 Bollywood remake of the English film “The Maze”. The Hindi film starred Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan and others.
The huge house that is shown in the film is in Jaipur and the many passages of the house and the staircases add to a sense of the mystery in the film.
However, India is fortunate to have a real maze, which is also called Bhool Bhulaiyaa. This structure is a Nawabi inspiration and it was built when the province was in the throes of a severe drought. The Nawab employed thousands of labourers to build the Bhool Bhulaiyaa.
One legend about the structure is that as soon as labourers finished construction of a portion of a wall, the Nawab sent away all the labourers from the work spot and had it pulled down so that the labourers would be reemployed in building it afresh.
Another legend associated with the Bhool Bhulaiyaa is that if common men were employed in the morning, noblemen and the landed gentry worked on it during the night. All in all, the Bhool Bhulaiyaa is a superb piece of architecture and it is a harmonious blend of  local, Mughal, Arabic and European architecture.       
A man made wonder, this structure is also well known as the gravity defying palace. This palace has more than a thousand narrow staircases with the stairs going up and down in a confusing manner.
It is this intriguing maze that lends the name Bhool Bhulaiyaa to the structure which comprises of a large mosque, the Bhool Bhulaiyaa or the labyrinth or the maze, a bowli, a step well with running water and two imposing gateways lead to the main hall.
This is the much visited and much admired Bhool Bhulaiyaa of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh.
The Bhool Bhulaiyaa is mystifying palace complex commissioned in 1783 by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula of Oudh or Awadh. This called the Bara Imambara and the Bhool Bhulaiyaa is an integral part of it. The Imambara’s central arched hall is almost 50 meters long and about three stories high. What makes this arch all the more astounding is that it has no pillars or beams. No iron is used. This is supposed to be the world’s largest unsupported structure. It contains the vaulted central chamber with the tomb of Asaf-ud-Daula.
The Imambara was designed by Kifayatullah of Delgi and even his tomb is in the main hall of the Imambara.
The main hall of the Imambara was constructed with interlocking brickwork and is  from here that the Bhool Bhuliayaa commences. There are eight surrounding chambers around the central vault and they are built to different roof heights. This allowed the Nawab to use he spaces above them to design the labyrinths with passages and stairs which are interconnected with each other through 489 identical doorways.
This is possibly the only existing maze in India and it today supports almost the entire weight of the building. The only other similar maze, though not as big or as confusing is the tunnels leading from the Ibrahim Rouza mosque or the stairs leading to the whispering gallery in Bijapur. Another similar monument would be the palace of thousand doors, several of them false, in Murshidabad.    
Coming back to Lucknow, this maze has more than 1,000 narrow staircase passages and old timers say that it was meant to prevent any possible intruders from gaining any easy access or easy egress from the building. Since the passages are open, you can roam around them but it is better to hire a guide. If not, follow the ray of sunlight that you can see at the end of the maze and you are sure to come out of  jigsaw.
Since there is an Asifi mosque, the structure is also called Asifi Imambara. There is also a Chotta Imambara nearby, a smaller and beautiful version of the Bara Imambara.
Bara in Urdu means big and Imambara means a shrine. This was built for Shia Muslims for Azadari (Azadari in Lucknow is the  practice during Moharram relating to mourning and commemoration of the anniversary of the death of Imam Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680).  
The construction of the Imambara was completed in 1791 and it was estimated to cost anywhere between half a million to a million rupees. Even after the building was completed, the Nawab spent every year several thousand rupees on its decoration.
There is also a tunnel which leads through a mile-long underground passage to a spot adjacent to the Gomti river. There are several other passages and they are supposed to lead to Faizabad, Allahabad and even to Delhi. These passages have now been sealed.
Take a look at the Imambara and explore its maze. I can assure you, it will be worth your while.

Monday, 3 June 2013

In a world of their own

Where will you get Mysore Pak and Bangalore Pak together or Sonia Gandhi mingling with Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Juhi Chawla. You will also get High Court, Vidhana Soudha, Glucose, Cycle, Hotel, Coffee and English, all at one go and in one place.
Surprised. Don’t be. These are names of people who live in colonies near Bannerghatta, Bangalore, Heggada Devanakote (HD Kote), Angadihalli on the Hassan-Belur road and a few other places, all in Karnataka.
The people staying in these areas are called Hakki Pikkis and they belong to an exclusive group of tribals who till four decades ago, made a living off the forests.
However, strict implementation of forest conservation rules during the 1970s forced these tribals out of their homes and into the unfriendly urban landscape.
The Government settled these tribals in several parts of the State, including Bhadrapur near Bidadi on the outskirts of Bangalore and near Bannerghatta, Bangalore. There are also Hakki Pikki settlements in Mysore and Hassan.
In case you are interested in learning about tribals and their way of life, visit these settlements. The will be a marvelous sociological visit and will help you in knowing how people live in the forests and how difficult it is for the forest dwellers to adapt to urban life.
Visit Bhadrapura near Bidadi taluk and stuffy the tribal way of life, their lifestyle, customs and traditions and it is amazing that just 25 kilometers from Bangalore, there exists a world of difference.
In Bangalore, the names reveal which religion a person belongs to. For example a name like Lakshmi or Vishnu is generally Hindu, while Peter, Mary and Joseph should be a Christian, Mahaveera definitely a Jain and Balbir Singh a Sikh.
However, go to Bhadrapur and you find a two-year-old Sonia Gandhi playing with Coffee or chattering with High Court or quarreling with Shah Rukh Khan and of course Congress and Janata peacefully smoking a pipe.
The Hakki Pikki have their own unique manner of naming their children and they name them with the first word that comes to their mind. In some cases, the name or place that is associated with the child just before he or she is born, is the name that is given to the baby. Thus, if the parents have happened to see High Court or heard of the name before their child was born, its name will be High Court. Though strange, the custom truly needs to be admired. The names do not tell you the caste or community and this perfectly illustrates the adage, “What is in a name”.
So the names that the Hakki Pikki give are taken from the objects and personalities they see around them and sometimes even eatables and food grains.
The tribe started this peculiar naming ritual about a decade ago, as a link with the outside world. The Hakki Pikkis earlier lived in dense forests and they began interacting with people from outside the tribe only when they came out of the forests to sell their wares.
However, with the IT boom touching the tribals, they have stopped naming their children after places and things and have instead zeroed in on film stars, politicians and other famous personalities. We, therefore, can find a film fraternity near Bidadi with Shah Rukh Khan, Sonali Bendre, Anil  Kapoor, Sridevi, Juhi Chawla and others making up the group.
However, the odd names are not the only thing that sets apart these people from the rest. They have their own practices and some of them seem more odd and bizarre.
The Hakki Pikkis generally relish cats, birds and other small animals. They marry only at night and the mangalasutra is tied at the stroke of midnight.   
Girls of the tribe who elope or run away are made to drink cow's urine. If a girl from a lower group elopes with a boy from a higher group, the girl, if caught, is made to drink cowdung mixed with water and cow urine. This ritual is meant to purify the girl. Then, her tongue is branded with a hot silver knife. After all this, she is married off to the same boy but she has still to pay a fine of Rs 1,000.
If a woman is caught killing her husband, her nose is chopped off.  If the people suspect that a girl is not a virgin and they want to test her, she is asked to dip her hand in boiling oil.
Another strange custom is that the Hakki Pikkis do not believe in getting treated by doctors. They have their own brand of doctors who are skilled in treating wounds, ailments and infections with herbs and plants plucked from forests. Many of these doctors are bare foot and they give medicines for a variety of illness and diseases.
However, things have slowly started changing for the tribes. In Angadihalli in Hassan district, Hakki Pikki children are being sent to schools and males have been given land to cultivate crops. It may sound unbelievably but true that there are one hundred passport holders in this settlement and almost all of them have visited China, Tibet and Nepal.     
The men of this settlement market Rudrakshi which they get from Tibet and Nepal They also sell “tiger teeth” ( Huliya Hallu) and  “tail of jackal” ( Nariya Baala).
When the health officials visited Angadihalli, they were shocked to see that all the Hakki Pikki houses were surrounded by weeds, shrubs, creepers. When the health workers began cleaning the area, the Hakki Pikki sat back on their haunches and just watched them. None lent a helping hand or thanked the officials after the area was cleared.  
The doctors found that the tribesmen rarely bathe or clan themselves. Most of the old tribesmen were found suffering from cataract.
The Hakki Pikki community of H D Kote too follow similar practices. These people board trains without tickets. If they are thrown out of one train, they board another. You see, they are the lucky few people on Earth who rarely bother about where they are headed. Just any city would do.
Well, what about their religion. These people have their own customs and rituals. They worshipped idols of  Gods made in silver and some worship only once an year. The worship is in tents which are pitched outside the settlements. The Gods are all individuals and there is no community or common god. Animal sacrifice is very much a part of their religion.

The bird sanctuary in a drain

If you happen to be in Delhi, ask the people there about the river near their city and a majority of them are bound to point out the Yamuna river. Tell them that there is another river running across Delhi and they are more than likely to scratch their heads in disbelief and once again reiterate that the Yamuna is the only river.
How false is this fact which has been perpetuated for generations by everyone, including the authorities, who have conveniently forgotten the existence of perhaps one of the most ecologically rich and climate controlling river of Sahibi or Sabi river.
Yes, Sahibi is one more river that flows by Delhi by today most people, including Delhities know the river as the Najafgarh drain. This is perhaps the only river in India that flows from south to North direction in between the Aravalli ranges.
The Sahibi is one among the many rivers that originate in the Aravallis. The other three rivers are Indori, Dohan and Kasavati rivers, all of which flow north-south.
Over the years, the Sahibi and the vast lake it forms at Najafgarh has been misnamed, misclassified and mistaken, sometimes deliberately,  as a drain and even today it is popularly known as Najafgarh drain.
In reality, the Najafgarh drain is a channelised waterway fed by the Sahibi river and one formed the Najafgarh Jheel. The Jheel quickly became a drain when the municipal authorities and localities called it a Nullah.
Till the 1960s, the Jheel encompassed 300 square kilometers of a seasonal lake and it was the rain-fed Sahibi river, that originated in Jitgarh and Manoharpur in Jaipur district of Rajasthan, that was its main source of water. When the Jheel overflowed, and this was regular and frequent in the rainy seasons every year, the waters drained into the Yamuna river. Thus, Sahibi was one of the tributaries of the Yamuna.
However for some strange reason, the authorities decided to dig a huge drain from Dhansa- where the Sahibi flows or rather enters the union territory of Delhi- on the outskirts of Delhi and link it directly to the Yamuna. This had the effect of draining out the Nagafgarh lake.       
The channel from Dhansa has regulators and it runs upto Keshopur Bus Depot on the Outer Ring Road. The channel is wide with thick and high embankments. A vast amount of water is retained in channel by closing the crest gates at Kakrola under Najafgarh Road to recharge the local ground water table. Hence, the channel acts as an elongated lake as well.
The Sahibi forms a fairly broad water course near Alwar  and Kotputli in Rajasthan as it is fed by over a hundred streams. It then enters Rewari in Haryana State and reenters Rajasthan at Kot Kasim. It then again traverses to Haryana  near Jarthal village. During summer, the dry river bed near Jarthal is several kilometres wide. During scant monsoon rainfall, the flat and sandy soil absorbs all rain water and the river almost runs dry.
Today, this once magnificent water body, when it reaches Delhi, is nothing but a polluted mass of liquid. It is rated Delhi’s most polluted water body as inflow of untreated sewage from surrounding populated areas of the national capital region of Delhi even today continues.
The Jheel once controlled the climate of Delhi and it also helped maintain the water table of the capital and surrounding areas. But this is no longer the case. The Jheel is bone dry and the river nothing more than a cesspool of sewage, debris, filth and silt.
The Central Pollution Control Board has clubbed this drain with thirteen other highly polluted wetlands under category ‘‘D ’’ for assessing the water quality of wetlands in wildlife habitats. The drain was once famous for its wetland ecosystem, waterbirds and wildlife.
Today, this has transformed into one of the longest sewage drains of Delhi. However, over the yeas, the drain has been attracting a large number of birds and last year wildlife enthusiasts and bird watchers counted 77 species, both resident and migratory, in the vicinity.
The birds frequented the drain along a 12-kilometre stretch between Delhi's border with Jyotigarh village in Haryana and the Chhawla BSF Camp bridge as the water is clan and the water is much less polluted. Once the water crosses the BSF camp bride, it turns into a cesspool.
The Asian Waterbird Census (AWC), in its 2013 report, said it had taken up a study of  birds in the drain as part of the largest and longest running internationally coordinated faunal monitoring programme in the world. This study found 75 species of birds roosting in the drain.
Another study by Wetlands International was undertaken to identify and monitor Wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention of Wetlands. This survey too listed the number of birds in the drain and the steps needed to conserve the fragile ecosystem.
Surveys and wildlife enthusiast have identified several endangered species of birds making their home here, including 34 oriental white ibis or black-headed ibis, 98, gadwalls, 121 painted stork, 90 northern shovelers, ten  northern pintails, sixteen common coots and a number of cattle egrets, great cormonants, spotbill ducks, common moorhens, swamp hens, common teals, black ibis, Glossy ibis, wooly-necked storks and  Eurasian wigeons.
Today, mention Najafgarh and people immediately associate it with cricket player Virender Sehwag and Olympic wrestler Susheel Kumar. The mention of the drain comes next.
Najafgarh is at the outskirts of the southwestern part of  Delhi.
It was so named after the Kiledar (Fort Administrator) Najaf Khan Baloch (1733-1782) of the Mughal dynasty during the 16th century. The Khan was a powerful Persian noble of the later Mughal court and later this place became the stronghold of Rohilla Afghan chieftain Zabita Khan.
It was here that the Battle of Najafgarh was fought on August 25, 1857 between Indians and British soldiers as part of the first war of Indian Independence. At least, 800 people died in the battle, which was the first victory for the British in the uprising.
The drain is once again attracting birds and it has perhaps become the only bird sanctuary in a drain. It is time for the authorities to wake up and take steps to preserve, protect and nurture the water bodies

Sunday, 2 June 2013

When an Emperor caught a bolt of lightning

The Gol Gumbaz is one of the most well-known monuments of India. Located in Bijapur in north Karnataka, the magnificent structure has the second largest dome in the world with a diameter of 44 metres or 124 feet. The whispering gallery of the Gol Gumbaz, where you can hear a whisper at a distance, is another marvel. The gallery is so designed that a faint whisper, clap, tick of a watch or even the rustle of paper can be heard across a distance of 37 metres and the sound is echoed seven times over. In earlier tines, the sound echoed eleven times over.
The Gol Gumbaz is also one of the biggest single chamber structures in the world and covers an area of 18,225 square feet or 1,693 square meters, which is substantially bigger than the Pantheon in Rome which is 14,996 square feet  or 1,393 square meters.
However, this post is not about the construction of the Gol Gumbaz or its features.  Built by Mohammad Adil Shah (1627-1656), the Gol Gumbaz was never fully completed as it was taken up during the ending years of Muhammad Adil Shah. The construction of the Gol Gumbaz was stopped in 1659, twenty years after it was taken up.  
However, the Gol Gumbaz, which is the subject of many legends and myths, has an unusual aspect which is generally ignored by both locals and millions of tourists who visit the monument.
One of the many popular legends about the Gol Gumbaz is that Muhammad Adil Shah chased and caught a bolt of  lightning which struck a place a little away from the monument.
Muhammad Adil Shah believed that the bolt of lightning or Sidilu in Kannada would bring him and the Kingdom luck and he hung the piece of rock in front of the Gol Gumbaz.
This bolt of lightning can be seen even today, hung ornamentally on the façade of the monument. It is tied in a tripod like ring and hung through a chain.
Since the bolt of lightning can be seen only if one observes the façade closely, it has been generally given a royal go by by the many tourists who mill around the monument.
Historians and archaeologists who have examined the rock have said that it is a piece of meteorite that fell within the confines of Bijapur.
When Muhammad Adil Shah was told about the falling piece from the sky, he went to the spot and had it examined. His astrologers told him that the rock would bring him and his Kingdom luck. They also told him that the rock would help him expand his Kingdom and lead to greater prosperity of Bijapur. However, they warned him that the rock would have to be carefully preserved if the good luck was to continue. Muhammad Adil Shah then decided to use it as a good luck charm and hang it from the façade of the Gol Gumbaz.
Believe it or not, after Muhammad got the rock, then called Bijli Pathar, hung on the façade atop the south door or main entrance of the Gol Gumbaz, he was officially recognized as the ruler of the Kingdom by the Mughal Emperor, Shahajahan.
Muhammad Adil Shah also managed to defeat Kempe Gowda of Bangalore and the Nayaka of Ginji from whom he seized immense booty. He also managed to sack the city of Doddaballapur. Muhammad also sealed an alliance with the Mughals to put an end to the Ahmednagar Kingdom.            
When the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, annexed the Adil Shahi Kingdom in 1686, Bijapur soon became a ghost town and the Mughals and Marathas were at war with for gaining a stranglehold over Bijapur. The meteorite also came to be almost forgotten after the eclipse of the Adil Shahi dynasty.
However, it was Henry Cousens (1854-1933), a British officer, who served as the chief archaeology officer in Western India in 1896, who re-discovered and recorded the Sidlu of Gol Gumbaz.
Cousens has described Bijapur and its monuments in his book, “Ruins of Bijapur City”.
Cousens visited Bijapur for the first time in May 1891to organise the Museum in the Yaqut Mahal. However, it is only in 1896 that Cousens talks about rediscovering a meteorite at the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur in his “Ruins of Bijapur City.”
He examined the rock and said, “This is a rare piece of rock and believed to bring good luck to those who possess it. Therefore, Mohammed Ali Adil Shah might have brought and dangled it before the Gol Gumbaz.”

Saturday, 1 June 2013

When a language was born in Bangalore

Language is a means of communication and there are scores of cities in India which can lay claim to having contributed significantly to the growth and development of a language. However, there are only a handful of cities and provinces which can claim credit for having given birth to a language or for having pioneered the development of a new language.
Bangalore is one of the fortunate metropolises which can lay claim to having helped in the birth, origin and even in the initial growth of a language. Unfortunately, few people know about this and fewer are aware of  Bangalore’s link with Rekhta-a language which was a mix of several south Indian languages and which finally reached the royal Mughal court at Delhi came to be known as Hindustani.
Today, while we have realms of papers and research on Urdu, Persian and Hindustani, there are hardly a few on Rekhta-which can lay claim to be the progeny of  poetic Urdu and the language that Mirza Ghalib and other poets of Delhi liberally used in their writings.
The origin of Rekhta and its connection with Bangalore in itself is a romantic episode in the etymology of Indian languages. Rekhta first took shape in Bangalore when the Marathas first came to Bangalore under the leadership of Shahaji, the father of Chatrapati Shivaji.
Shahaji was one of the foremost military generals of the Adilshahis of Bijapur and he along with Ranadulla Khan had conquered Bangalore from Kempe Gowda in 1638. They banished Kempe Gowda to Magadi and planted the Adil Shahi flag n Bangalore.
Shahaji introduced Marathi as the official language of Bangalore province which was given to him as a jagir by the Adil Shah. This was the first time that Kannada speaking Bangalore had to contend with an alien language. Shahaji appointed Marathas to all important posts and all official and administrative letters, dispatches and work went on only in Marathi.
When Shahaji died on January 23, 1664 after an accidental fall from a horse, his son, Venkoji took over the reigns of Bangalore Jagir. Venkoji continued patronage to Marathi in addition to Persian which was one of the official languages of the Bijapur court of the Adil Shahis.
The Maratha domination of Bangalore continued till 1689 when the Mughals under Emperor Aurangzeb defeated the Marathas and occupied Bangalore. Though there is controversy over the number of years the Mughals occupied Bangalore, it can safely be said that they built the mosque at Taramandalpet which even today is known as Sangain Masjid.
The Mughals scrapped Marathi as the official language of Bangalore and Sira provinces and introduced Persian. However, they retained several Marathi and erstwhile Kannada administrative and everyday names.
The Mughul rule first in Bangalore and after 1789 in Sira province ensured that Persian and Arabian languages mixed with Kannada and Marathi, resulting in the birth of  Rekhta.
Rektha thus owes its origin to Bangalore. Rektha means scattered and this term for a language which was a harmonious mixture of two Indian and two foreign languages was in use from the late 17th century till the closing decades of the 18th century, when it was displaced by Hindi/Hindwi or Hindavi and later by Hindustani and Urdu.
Rektha was given a major fillip when Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869) used it extensively in his writings. Mir Tadi Mir (1723-1810), a  principal poet of the Delhi School of the Urdu ghazal who remains arguably the foremost name in Urdu poetry and  often remembered as Khuda-e-sukhan (god of poetry) and Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) also known as Allama Iqbal used Rektha.
Subsequently, Rekhta also came to be used for forms of poetry like Masnavi ( is a form of romance in Urdu poetry in heroic couplets which may extend to several thousand lines or shorter. Mir and Sauda wrote some of this kind), Marsia (It is usually a poem of mourning. and it can also be a genre to mourn the death of a friend. Lord Alfred Tennyson's poem 'In Memoriam' can be called marsia. The sub-parts of marsia are called noha and soz which means lamentation and burning of  heart respectively. Mir Babar Ali, Mir Moonis, Salamat Ali Dabeer, Mir Zameer and Ali Haider Tabataba are some of the nest exponents of this genre), Qaseedah, Thumri, Jikri or Zikri, Geet, Chaupai and Kabit.
Incidentally, the grammatically feminine counterpart of Rekhta is Rekti, a term first popularised by the eighteenth-century poet Sa’adat Yar Khan Rangin  (1756-1827) to designate verses written in the colloquial speech of women. His Rekti has love making as its theme. Another well-known Rekti poet was Insha Allah Khan Insha (1756-1817) of Lucknow. A multi-talented polyglot, he was the author of the first grammar of the Urdu language, Darya-e-Latafat.
Rektha is a form of poetry in which if one line was composed in Persian, the next was in any of the Indian languages like Hindustani, Punjabi and Bengali. The words are generally those which are used by a common man and they have emotional connotations. 
Rektha continued to be used sporadically until the late 19th century and Rekhta-style poetry is still being written by Urdu writers.
Of the early Urdu poets, Wali Muhammad Wali (1667–1707), played a remarkable role in giving the final shape to Urdu by substituting the idiom of Delhi for that of Dakhni and hence he is called the Father of Rekhta.
Wali's visit to Delhi in 1700 is considered to be of great significance for Urdu ghazals. His simple, sensuous and melodious poems in Urdu, awakened the Persian loving poets of Delhi to the beauty and capability of  Rektha which can be termed as an  old name for Urdu as a medium of poetic expression. His visit thus stimulated the growth and development of Urdu ghazal in Delhi.
He is the first established poet to have composed ghazals in Urdu language and compiled a Divan- which is a collection of ghazals- where the entire alphabet is used at least once as the last letter to define the rhyme pattern.
Before Wali, Indian ghazal was being composed in Persian– almost being replicated in thought and style from the original Persian masters like Saa’di or Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī (1210-1291), Jami or Nur ad-Dīn Abd ar-Rahmān (1414-1492) and Khaqani (1121-1190). It was Wali who began using Indian language, Indian themes, idioms and imagery in his ghazals.