Wednesday, August 20, 2008

VADNAGAR – A HISTORIC TOWN OF GUJARAT












Situated at a distance of 112 km from Ahmedabad in the north direction, Vadnagar is a historic town known for its legends, battles, temples, forts, gates and large water bodies.

In ancient time Vadnagar was called Chamatkarpur. According to a legend, there was a king named Chamatkar who ruled Anarthdesh, the ancient Vadnagar. The legend tells us that he was suffering from leprosy due to a curse from a she-deer. With the advice of sages, the king did penance and took bath in the famous ‘Sankh Tirth’ situated in Vadnagar, and his leprosy was cured. Thereafter he established the town name Chamatkarpur.

Vadnagar was also known as Anarthapur, the capital of the kingdom of Anartha. Anartha is referred to in Mahabharata. It says: warriors from Anartha participated in Kurukshetra war on the side of both the Pandavas and the Karuavas.

Post Mahabharata war, Anarthapura was no more remained the capital city and seat of power. In its west a new and powerful city called Vallabhi became the capital of Gujarat. But Anarthapura continued to be a prosperous trading city. It remained as a cultural centre and patronized artists, sculptors, musicians, dancers and actors. The city was joyful and happy. By 2nd century AD, it came to be known as the Ananadapura - ‘the City of Joy’. It attracted monks and followers of Buddhism and Jainism. The city supported hundreds of Buddhist monks. Recent archaeological discoveries of a finely carved Buddha head from a farmland suggest the presence of Buddhism.

The city was visited by the Chinese traveller Huen T Sang twice. He wrote:

‘This country is about 2000li in circuit, the capital about 20li. The population is dense; the establishments rich. There is no chief ruler, but it is an appendage of Malava. There are some ten sangharamas with less than 1000 priests; they study the Little Vehicle of Sammatiya School. There are several tens of Deva temples, and sectaries of different kinds frequent them. Going west from Valabhi 500li or so, we come to the country of ‘Su-la-Cha’.

The city of Anandapura became very old and at some stage people started calling it Vruddhanagar. However, the city maintained its importance as a place of art, literature, music, drama, architecture, sculpture, learning and trade.

The city was conquered by the Malvas and ruined its prosperity. However, under the rule of Solankis (942 – 1244) the Malvas were driven out from Vadnagar. To strengthen its security the Solanki ruler Kumarpal rebuilt the fort around it in 1152 AD. The city reached to its zenith during the Solanki rule. Great many temples, palaces, residences, bazaars, wells, vavs, kunds, roads were built in and around the city. Yet the most remarkable among the Solanki remains are the twin torans, which were built in the 10th century as victory symbols over the Malvas.

The entire city had a protective fort with six gates built by the Solanki rulers.

Vadnagar has always been a city of temples. However, the most important is the temple of Hatkeshwar, a 15th century monument and the shrine of the Nagar Brahmins.

After about four centuries of peace Vadnagar was attacked, looted, burnt by the army of Delhi Sultanate. Yet, during the rule of Gujarat Sultanate, Vadnagar bounced back its prosperity. But it was short lived. In 1726 Marathas sacked it and it was practically burnt down into ashes. Many of its citizens fled. It was again looted in 1735 by Khandji Holker and in 1737 by Daqmaji Gaekwad. The city was left to ruin.

Vadnagar has been strongly associated with Nagar Brahmins, a caste of high order Brahmins known for their novelty and knowledge. Though Vadnagar has been the original home of Nagar Brahmins yet the city could never sustain them. Vadnagar was invaded several times and Nagar had to flee and seek refuge at various places. It is believed that it is because of Lord Hatkeshwar the Nagar families have never been able to permanently settle at Vadnagar.

In 1669 AD, Vadnagar was invaded by the Maharana of Mewar. In the Maratha regime Vadnagar was repeatedly invaded forcing Nagars to move out of the city. In 1693, Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of the Hatkeshwar temple at Vadnagar. Shri Govindramji Tikaramji, a great poet of Shajapur has written ‘fed up the atrocities of the Muslim kingdom, our Nagar ancestors moved to Malva in 1400 bullock carts.’

LEGEND OF TANA AND RIRI
AKBAR, the great Moghul Emperor was a patron of art. His chief musician Tansen was an accomplished singer of various ragas. On hearing that Tansen had the gift of getting lamps lit up by singing raga Deepak, the Emperor decided to test him. However, Tansen pleaded not to make him sing Deepak because he knew the dire consequences. But the Emperor insisted. Tansen was compelled to sing the raga Deepak.

Indeed, raga Deepak not only light up all the lamps of the palace, but also at the same time Tansen too experienced intense burning within his own body. The only remedy for cooling his burning was that somebody else truly sang raga Malhar. Tansen roamed around the country and atlast came to know that Vadnagar nourished arts and culture and he might find someone knowing Malhar truly there.

He came to Vadnagar by nightfall and took rest on the bank of Lake Sharmishtha. In the early morning women began coming to the lake to fetch water. Tansen was watching them. Among them were two sisters named Tana and Riri. They filled their pitchers with water but soon Tana emptied her pitcher. She did this several times. Tansen was watching this. Riri asked Tana. “Sister, how long will you do like this?” Tana replied. “As long as we do not hear the tunes of Malhar.” Ultimately, Tana was satisfied when she succeeded in feeling the pitcher in such a way that the water flowing in it emitted correct Malhar sounds.

Tansen, who was listening to their conversation, was greatly surprised. He knew that his search for someone knowing true Malhar had ended. He approached the two sisters and asked. “I am a Brahmin. I know Deepak and I sang it at the insistence of the Emperor. Now my whole body is on fire. I do not know Malhar. Only you can save me. Otherwise, I will die of burning within my body. Please sing Malhar so that the fire within me would be extinguished and my body will cool down. Please help me.”
Tana and Riri took pity on the person because of his suffering. They told him to wait till they consulted the elders. The elders decided that the sisters would sing Malhar to help the Brahmin.
Tana and Riri began singing Malhar. The sky was slowly filled with black clouds of rain. Soon it started raining. By the time they finished their singing, it was raining torrential. Tansen was completely drenched in the cool rain water. His burning vanished like magic.

By now Tana, the elder sister, knew that the man pretending to be a Brahmin was none other than the famous singer Tansen. He only could sing true Deepak. And in her euphoria at the demonstration of her singing power of Malhar, she said. “You must be satisfied, Mian Tansen”.

Now that his true identity was known, Tansen begged everybody present to forgive him and spare his life. People of Vadnagar understood his plight. But they let him go only after he promised that he would never tell anybody about Tana and Riri.

Tansen returned to Delhi. Akbar was greatly surprised to see him cured of his burning. He asked him. “Tansen, you said there was no cure for your burning. Now you are cured. How did it happen? Who cured it?” Tansen didn’t want to give the full answer so, he said. “O, Great Akbar, I reached a land where I heard true Malhar and my burning stopped.” Akbar was not satisfied with his answer. He sternly asked. “Who sang true Malhar and where?”

Tansen was afraid. If he gave away the secret, his promise would be broken. But he knew that if he didn’t tell the truth, he would be a victim of Akbar’s wrath. “Who and where?” Akbar thundered. Tansen feared for his life. He narrated everything that had happened at Vadnagar. He praised their singing power and also, their beauty and goodness.

Unfortunately, two princes of Akbar’s many Begums were secretly listening to their conversation. They were greatly fascinated by the story. They hatched a plan to kidnap Tana and Riri for themselves. Soon, they secretly left for Vadnagar on horseback all alone.

They arrived at Vadnagar by nightfall. The gates of the fort were closed so, they decided to spend the night outside. They chose a spot under a Banyan tree on the shore of Lake Sharmishtha. They thought that in the morning they would be able to see Tana and Riri as Tasnsen had narrated.

When dawn broke over Lake Sharmishtha they woke up and waited. Soon the morning sun rose on its eastern shore. With shimmering golden waters the Lake looked very beautiful. Slowly women began arriving to the shore to fetch water as was their daily routine.

Soon, Tana and Riri too came talking and laughing with each another. The two princes had no difficulty in making out as to who they were. Even from a distance they looked quite distinct from other women. The two sisters began filling their pitchers with water by filtering it with a square piece of fine cloth the size of a large scarf.

When the pitchers were filled they took off the cloth and shook it off in the air for drying. The princes took it as a signal for calling them. Eagerly they approached the two sisters exclaiming loudly, “Allah be praised, how beautiful they are!” But all the women there were taken aback at the sight of two unknown men and started shouting for help. In no time many town people rushed to the spot and caught the princes. In their frenzy, they killed both the princes. Their horses too were killed. All the four of them were buried on the shore of the lake.

At the other end, when Akbar came to know about the absence of the two princes, he ordered his soldiers to find out them. After some time it was known that they had gone to Vadnagar and killed by the town people there. Now, Akbar was furious. He ordered his army to march to Vadnagar, punish the town people, and bring Tana and Riri to Delhi.

In a few days the army reached Vadnagar. It massacred all the men of the city, burnt it, and captured Tana and Riri. The soldiers put the two sisters in a palquin and began their march back to Delhi. But the two sisters were determined to die rather than go to Delhi. When their palquin reached near the Mahakaleshvar temple, just outside the city gates, they sucked the diamonds they were wearing on their rings and died of the poison.

Their bodies were cremated there only. Later on two small temple-like structures were built there as their memorial. The people of the ancient city of Vadnagar never forgot Tana and Riri.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

THE VRAT OF DASHA MAA IN GUJARAT















One of the most popular mother goddess cults in Gujarat is the cult of Dasha Maa. The goddess is worshipped mainly by the people of the suppressed class Hindus.

In the month of Shravan the women folk of the state representing mostly the lower strata of the society observe a ten days vrat (a vrat is a penance undertaken as a ritual occasion and calls for fasting, prayer often for a particular boon, and ritual worship according to set rules – at such times stories appropriate to the religious occasion, with the deity concerned appearing as a figure in the tale, are told by an older woman to a group of women) in the honour of Dasha Maa, and also in the honour of other folk deities: Nagbai Maa and Momai Maa. A small statue is made of these mother goddesses, to which chandalo (sandalwood paste and kanku), and puja is offered daily. The image is immersed on the tenth day. During this period women pray for the improvement of their dasha or condition, perhaps their economic well being or health. They wear a thread with ten knots, and each day one knot is united. The worshipper lives on one meal a day and the food is made of wheat. Dasama stories are told in the morning, and in the evening women dance the garba. Men do not participate in any of this.

The mata is worshipped mainly by the socially suppressed class as an act of fear and to seek her divine wrath. During the ten days vrat though the mata’s power is still present in the songs of garba, yet it is dwelt upon love and admiration rather than fear. The goddess is given familiar human attributes. She dresses, plays and moves as the women themselves do. The only difference is – she does it alone and in complete freedom. She is sufficiently like them in her joyful play and yet quite different in her single status.

In the religious domain of Gujarat, the worship of Nav Durgas has attained wide popularity. According to the Puranic tradition the Goddess Durga killed the demon king Mahisasura on the tenth lunar day of the Hindu month Ashwin. However, preceding the 10th day, on each day of Navratras the goddess had taken a form to kill the demon. The various forms of the goddess put together are referred to as Nav Durgas.

Goddess Durga is also called Mahamaya and the corruption of Mahamaya is Momai. Momai is also known as Ashapura and Dasha Maa. The union of the folk goddess with main stream Brahmanism cult probably occurred during the medieval time through Rajput intervention. An interesting story recounts the probable synthesis.

Once upon a time Vijay Singh was a king of a kingdom in Gujarat. Queen Rupmati, a beautiful, kind hearted and devotional woman was his wife. Both had two sons and all of them lived peacefully. The king had a palace called Jal Mahal, which was located on the outskirt of his capital. One evening the queen along with her attendants had gone to Jal Mahal for a visit. From the window, the queen however saw a devotional sight – a group of village women engaged in a vrat near the village pond. They were engaged in worshiping a deity called Dasha Maa. The queen was surprised because she had never seen such a ritual though she would worship every day in a different manner. She sent one of her attendants (dasi) to enquire what kind of ritual the village women were performing.

The dasi was told about the sanctity and power of Dasha Maa and the ritual and sacrifices associated with the vrat. After listening to the village women the dasi came back and explained to the queen. The queen was convinced and incidentally it was the first day of the vrat. The queen also followed the path of the village women by observing the vrat.

While the queen was busy in the vrat the king entered and got angry seeing the idol of the mother goddess Dasha Maa. He asked the queen to stop doing the vrat because Dasha Maa was the deity of poor people. Being a royal woman she need not had to be involved with such vrats. By saying this king offended the goddess.

Because of this attitude of the king Dasha Maa got angry and devastated his kingdom. The king and his family became very poor. One day while he was passing through a road he came across a fruit orchard. However, when he entered all the fruits became dry. He and his family proceeded further and came across a step well. But he lost two of his sons in the well. From there he went to his sister’s place and offered sukhdies (a kind of dry sweet) to her. But the sukhdies turned into stones. Like these the King was infested with all kind of problems. They were also sent the jail by a neighbouring king.

The king then realized that he had offended Dasha Maa. In the jail both started the vrat and were released by the rival king. They also got back all their glory.

The above story is an example of Rajput filtaration into the domain of socially oppressed class. Initially they tried to maintain their supremacy yet in course of time they had to surrender to the belief of the mass to acquire the political legitimation. This probably led to the synthesis of folk and Aryan cults during the historic time and has continued today as a cult of mass.

Friday, August 8, 2008

THE AO NAGAS AND THEIR WARRIOR SHAWLS


Ao Nagas are one of the primitive tribes of Nagaland, whose settlements are spread across the Mokokchung district in northeast Nagaland bordering Assam. Tradition says that the Aos sprung up from Langtrok, which means six stones. They then founded the Chungliyimiti village where they settled and stayed for a considerable period of time. In course of time, they crossed the Dikhu River by a cane bridge leaving other people behind. These people (the Aos) who went ahead leaving others behind came to be known as ‘Aor’ or ‘Ao’, which means ‘going’ or ‘gone’.

The Ao Nagas have a rich tradition of clothing, which besides fulfilling the decorative needs of the people, also, serves visually to distinguish the warriors and commoner class. The Ao Naga warrior shawl is called Mangkotepsu. This is exclusively worn by the men folk. In the past a man had earn the right to wear this shawl by taking human heads in warfare, through acts of bravery and by offering by feasts of merit as proof of his wealth. Anyone wearing without the credentials was taken to task by the village council and had to pay heavy penalties for violating the code.

Women of Chungliyimiti say that in the past the women of the village designed this shawl as a token to encourage their men to ward off repeated attack by neighbouring tribes.

The white strip in the middle carries the symbols of bravery and courage and the sun, moon and stars signify the resulting fame of such warriors. The animals depicted in the strip resemble the physical power and the valour of men. The hornbill is a revered bird whose feathers are used for decorative purpose in ceremonial costumes. The mithun (buffalo like creatures) indicates the wealth of the wearer because only the rich people could rear these animals. Other symbols are depiction of weapons and shields used by Ao men during warfare.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

DEVGAD BARIA – YET ANOTHER PRINCELY STATE TOWN IN THE TRIBAL HEARTLAND OF GUJARAT












A visit to Devgad Baria was in my mind even before I visited Poshina. It was a princely state, small town and more over located in the tribal heartland of eastern Gujarat. I visited Devgad Baria along with Kalini, my wife in a weekend in the month of August.

Situated at a distance of nearly 180 km from Ahmedabad, in the eastern most district of Dahod, Devgad Baria is a charming princely state town. The town is surrounded by low lying hills, forest and river Panam.

Devgad Baria’s history is closely linked to Pavagad. In the 15th century when Muhammad Begda, the Sultan of Gujarat conquered Pavagad, the two sons of King Vatai Rawal, the then King of Pavagad escaped from the region to the tribal belt. Elder son Uday Sinh established the town of Chota Udaipur and the younger son Dunger Pursinh stabled Devgad Baria.

However, the town of present Devgad Baria was established in the year 1782. The state of Baria was always safe from the Muslims and Maratha attacks due to its geographical location. Its rulers representing the Chauhan Rajputs were progressive and took utmost importance to develop even its mahals – Sagtala, Rajgadh, Dhanpur, Limkheda and Rodikpur.

One of Baria’s rulers King Mansinh was a reformer and had a modern outlook. He started some important educational institutions – an English medium school, a school for the boys and a school for the girls. He also established a police force, and justice and revenue departments.

Mansinh’s son Ranjitsinji took over the charge of Baria as the King in 1908. Highly educated and a person with brilliant career, he had joined the Imperial Cadet and was awarded the title of “Knight Commander of India”. Because of this prestigious title, he was popularly known as Sir Ranjitsinhji. Some important public institutions, such as a high school, a veterinary hospital, a tower, a gymkhana were established. Free education was offered in the state.

Today’s Baria is an impressive tribal town with royal gates, palaces and watch tower. The palace built in the plan of an European castle has retained the legacy of Baria of yore.

During the visit we had an audience with the queen of Baria Urbashiji in her sprawling estate Avanti, located at a distance two km before Baria. Urbashiji is a warm kind hearted women still retaining the charm of the royal culture. She has inherited the family tradition of philanthropy. She is a running two schools and a college educating more than three thousand local students. The chief attraction of her estate is however the drawing room – full of family photographs, trophies, art books and exotic decor from around the world. She is fond of animals which can be seen even by looking at the displays of miniature animal statues of all kinds.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

ON THE HISTORIC CORRIDOR OF POSHINA, SABARKANTHA, GUJARAT





















Long time back...one fine day the army of Delhi Sultanate was passing through the remote Aravali foothills, which now forms the northern most part of Gujarat in the district of Sabarkantha. The army of Delhi Sultanate however had to face an embracing situation at a spot which is now called Poshina. Like today, Bhils were the main inhabitants of the area during that time. The Bhils, a scion of Rajputs have been known for their archery skills for generations. It is believed that in the local lore that the Bhils looted and plundered the Sultanate army up to the extent that the soldiers had to lose all their cloths. The army general recounted the whole story to the Sultan in Persian. He revealed ‘pos – ih –na’ - pos – poshak (cloth) – ih (here) and na (not).

Poshina though tiny and not much known due to its remote location is yet shrouded in history. In its hostile terrains were fought battles between rival Rajput clans during the medieval time. The Rajputs also built chhatries (the royal cenotaphs) and the Nilkantheswar Mahadev Temple.

From the history books we come to know about the Muslim rule – how it had caused panic among the Rajputs who were once ruling in the most prosperous plains of western and central India. Due to fear of attack many of the Rajputs fled to the remote Aravali for the shelter. One of these was the Rathores who were the founder of Poshina.

However, Rathores' supremacy did not last long. Vaghelas of Patan had been invited by the Jain Vanias to live in Poshina peacefully. But the Vaghelas did not want to lose the opportunity to rule. They defeated the weaker Rathores in a battle in the year 1625 AD. The archaeological remains of Jadavgarh near Kazavas on the bank of river Sei stands as a mute testimony of this historic battle. Jadavgarh was however abandoned by the Vaghelas who preferred to build their palace in a hillock near the confluence of two rivers Vanari and Sei.

Today the 17th century Darbargarh, now a heritage hotel and the palace of the erstwhile Vaghela rulers, is one of the most charming Rajput forts of Gujarat. A visit to the place is like going back in time into the mystic past of Poshina.

Time has stood still in Poshina. Far from hustle and bustle, the village offers a distinct charm of India’s rural and tribal life. Its bazaar, artisans and colourful people mostly from the nearby hamlets are wonderful sights of Poshina. Yet the most unique among all is the two shrines near the river banks where one finds thousands of terracotta horses kept in rows. The horses are offered by the locals representing by all the communities to Angari Mata and Demi Mata.