19 March 2013

Naubat Khana and Indian War Memorial Museum, Red Fort complex, Delhi


This article is part of a series about Red Fort, Delhi. Refer Pixelated Memories – Red Fort complex for the composite post.

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“There is ornamentation distributed over every portion, of gilt, coloured, and inlaid patterns in sinuous scrolls and serpentine lines accentuating that atmosphere of voluptuousness with which these buildings (within Red Fort) were so obviously associated. Within the traceried foliations on the walls, piers, and arches, conventional flowers were freely introduced, roses, poppies, lilies, and the like, for the Mughuls were flower worshippers, not content with those growing naturally in the gardens outside, but they craved for pictures of them always before their eyes.”
– Percy Brown, British art critic-scholar-historian-archaeologist,
“Indian Architecture, Volume II: Islamic Period”



“A thing of beauty is a joy forever” (John Keats)


Conceived of glistening rose-red sandstone, lavishly glazed with coats of sparkling white shell-lime plaster and profusely embossed with unbelievably intricate floral representations, the last even more exquisite than the real and dexterously encrusted with an incredibly thin layer of glittering gold paint – despite its bewildering artistic and sculptural excellence, functionally the superlatively majestic “Naubat Khana”, or “Music Gallery” or “Drum House” as it has often been referred as, was to the matchlessly extravagant Mughals a trifling formal gatehouse, undoubtedly constructed to inspire wide-eyed awe for their unparalleled lavish grandeur, yet technically just a functional demarcation between the magnificent fortress-palace’s peripheries and its regal interior divisions.

The gargantuan Red Fort – “Qila-i-Mu’alla” – is unquestionably considered as the pinnacle of Mughal fortress construction, and the imposing double-storied Naubat Khana aka Naqqar Khana was tactically built at the complex’s entrance. All visitors to the exemplar court, except princes of royal blood, would here dismount from their elephants and proceed further to the emperor’s majestic presence on foot – thus “Hathi Pol”, the edifice’s alternate nomenclature (“hathi” being the Hindi equivalent of “elephant”). Notwithstanding their prominent position or battle-worthiness, nobody, not even illustrious ambassadors, influential ministers or formidable military generals, were exempt from the rule. Twin arcades of six lofty chambers each existed on either side of the dignified edifice and housed royal guards and men attached with the regular routine of helping visiting notables alight from their vehicles and assemble their convoys.


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


Dresses of honor, conferred by the emperor on celebrated personages, were placed in smaller side-rooms (“toshkhana”), and were carried from there through the illustrious assembled crowds to the impressive royal courts (refer Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Am and Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Khas).

Besides playing tuneful compositions five times a day at propitious hours, bands of accomplished musicians accommodated in the upper floors of the grand entrance would also play solemn music whenever the mighty sovereign arrived from, or was about to depart for, a tour of his extensive territories. Drummers would play their instruments to announce the arrival of princes and other esteemed dignitaries amidst a booming pronouncement of official honorifics and regal pretensions proclaimed by court attendants. Francois Bernier, the French physician-traveler-chronicler who traveled through, and extensively documented, the Mughal Empire in the years AD 1656-68, initially took intense unbearable dislike to the overwhelming music consisting of oboe and cymbals.

Soon after the formidable Emperor Shahjahan (reign AD 1627-57) had envisioned the stunning fortress-palace as a glorious imitation of paradise on earth, the erstwhile unwavering revenue collection from far-flung provinces began to decline and the immense coffers of the sovereign treasury were even further strained by near-continuous wars and intrigues, so much so that the Emperor’s son and successor Aurangzeb Alamgir (reign AD 1657-1707) had to content himself with living life as an impoverished ascetic fulfilling his mortal requirements by sewing prayer caps and copying pages of the holy Quran that he then sold. Court patronage of music obviously had to be discontinued, the royal musician-composers were disbanded and the noble Naubat Khana, despite its enthralling ornamentation, was miserably transformed into a measly, uncared-for gateway which nonetheless fascinated visitors with its architectural opulence and the voluptuous flourishes of its decorative adornments.


...with a museum to vaunt


The history associated with the distinguished edifice has been notably sober, only intermittently taking the turn for gruesome brutality – it was within its exalted expanse that the emperors Jahandar Shah (reign AD 1712-13) and Farrukhsiyar (reign AD 1713-19) were murdered, the latter after having been first blinded. The privileges associated with the gorgeous edifice, especially its functional and prestigious importance, too transmuted into a fierce bone of contention between the despairingly destitute later Mughals and the incorrigibly conceited mutineers who prevailed upon the former to demurely participate in the First War of Independence/Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Here too were appallingly committed numerous barbaric atrocities and murders, and yet all these terrible tales from this much maligned long-distant and half-remembered past seem forgotten today, to only occasionally be borne on the fluttering wings of contemporaneous literary records and modern historical documentation.

“Along the edge of this tank (opposite Naqqar Khana), on the morning of 16th May 1857, were seated and were murdered the Christians who had been captured in the city, and chiefly in Daryaganj, during the five previous days – in number some fifty souls… One of the bitterest complaints of the last roi faindant of Delhi was that the mutinied soldiers used to ride through this gate, up to the Hall of Special Audience even, and walked about that hall with their shoes on, things which, he said plaintively, neither Nadir Shah nor Ahmad Shah, nor any British Governor-General (!) had ever done.”
– H.C. Fanshawe, 
British administrator and Commissioner of Delhi
“Delhi, Past and Present” (1902)



Hibiscus?


Of course, after the post-mutiny takeover of imperial Delhi, arrogant British soldiers would ride horseback till as far as the royal seraglio, and afterwards even proceed to demolish many of the opulent palaces, grandiose pleasure pavilions and functional edifices, including the immense arcades existential on either side of the Naqqar Khana, on frivolous accounts like being unsightly, unsanitary, or the space being required for strengthening the fortifications and raising monstrous military barracks!

The small ornamental tank in the middle of the court that Mr. Fanshawe mentions, where perpendicularly intersected the two arterial roads connecting the colossal fortress-palace’s interiors to its two considerably massive gateways, has also been obliterated entirely and in its place exists a small grass-carpeted square punctuated in the center with a perfect circle of flower-bearing shrubbery.

Visiting the enormous fortress-complex a few days back, armed with a comprehensively-detailed guidebook issued by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), I examined the beautiful edifice with great scrutiny and instantaneously fell in love with it. Undoubtedly, it exists as a mere wretched shadow of its original inspirational grandeur and bewitching artistic adornments, yet it is exceedingly well preserved and meticulously restored, especially vis-à-vis numerous other noble buildings within the unbelievably imposing palace complex.


Culmination!


The British East India Co.’s army had converted the edifice into an Officers’ barracks and several unappealing additions were instituted to its structure. The glimmering gold paint layering the design patterns and the lustrous lime plaster, which rendered it a shiny marble-like appearance congruous with the other palaces within the gigantic complex, gradually decayed and peeled off over the course of time until eventually only the vibrant red sandstone layer underneath remained.

In 1907, the said additions made to the poor structure were removed and it was painstakingly repaired as close to its original condition as financially feasible then – the British weren’t of course inclined to spend more financial, academic and human resources restoring edifices they themselves damaged and/or destroyed. Post-independence, ASI, cash-strapped, under-staffed and over-exhausted, never got around to garner enough funds to gold-leaf the dexterously embossed floral motifs, but nonetheless realized that they should at least layer the structure with white paint, a well-intentioned but poorly implemented administrative decision that has since caused widespread controversy and been thoughtlessly and unconscientiously put on hold in-process, as a despondent consequence of which the entire rectangular building is tastelessly divided into two precisely demarcated halves – the front carelessly painted brilliant white, the rear retaining the bright red, and the sides neatly divided into the two!


Exquisiteness, stolen from Sultan Iltutmish's mausoleum


While the white face is minimally festooned with shallow rectangular depression motifs, it is the exquisite floral embossments, dexterously sculpted in bewilderingly refined patterns, ornamenting the sandstone walls that spontaneously fixate one’s attention and invoke stunned admiration from amazed visitors. After spending an inordinate amount of time observing and photographing the majestic edifice and its various equally attractive decorative motifs on either side from every possible angle, alignment and composition, I still felt I am yet to understand the true extent of the ethereal beauty which permeates even the most inconspicuous of its surfaces. Even the otherwise plain base of the sandstone plinth on which the entire structure stands is marked with a line of painstakingly carved, exceedingly symmetrical, recurring inverted flower motifs!

Of the three almost equally-proportioned arched niches gracefully delineating the exteriors, the central is pierced by a massive entrance while the other two flanking it possess tiny doorways leading to the side chambers. Along the interior surfaces, the numerous high and pointed arches stretching around to climax in tiny bursts of radiant colors, the immaculately flawless curves, and the spider-webs of straight lines and geometric meshwork culminating in numerous thin star-patterns, all endeavor to picturesquely frame the smaller imaginatively conceived and ingeniously painted frescoes bearing in their midst remnants of impossibly incredible multi-hued foliage which unarguably steals the show, to say the least, and perennially reflects favorably upon Emperor Shahjahan’s exquisite tastes and his artist-craftsmen’s fantastic skills. Along one side of the entrance is embedded a strikingly intricate carved sandstone panel said to have been removed from the mausoleum of Slave Dynasty Sultan Shamshuddin Iltutmish (reign AD 1211-36, refer Pixelated Memories - Iltutmish's Tomb).


Spiders' envy!


A staircase along the unpainted rear side leads to the first floor where is located the Indian War Memorial Museum, a fascinating collection, as the name suggests, of sparkling battle insignia, corrosion-stained weaponry and numerous war-related technological breakthroughs, constituted to honor the Indian soldiers of the British army who gallantly fought in the two World Wars.

Sparsely furnished, the first gallery displays medieval Indian weaponry including several sorts of curved swords, ivory-inlaid daggers, inscribed battle-axes and rust-tarnished soldiers’ armors. The first highlight is a small diorama depicting the armies of Emperors Ibrahim Lodi (reign AD 1517-26) and Zahiruddin Muhammad “Babur” (reign AD 1526-30) facing off in the First Battle of Panipat.

The dimly-lit second gallery exhibits modern armaments and ammunition – numerous revolvers, ferocious-looking machine guns, easily-concealed pistols, golden glistening tank shells, cross-section of bomb fuses, French grenades, entire sets of soldiers’ uniforms, various shoulder badges and ribbons indicating military rank and hierarchy, and original models of telegraphic receivers.


Reminiscent of preserved biology samples in school!


Earlier, in an article about the desolate Shah Burj (refer Pixelated Memories - Shah Burj), I had mentioned how the once-unparalleled fortress has become full of heartrending anguishes and conservation-associated horrors on account of its forgotten history, obliterated grandeur, devastated architecture and annihilated ornamentation, and how to visit and observe it now is sadly not invocative anymore of excellent fantasies of its wonderful conception and beyond-fantastical execution but a horrific study of how a matchless palace complex can be overwhelmed and shattered. I am, to some extent, now forced to eat my words because the fortress-palace is still a worthy specimen, especially considering the presence of such dazzling edifices as Naqqar Khana and Diwan-i-Khas (refer Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Khas), to gain a memorable insight into the ceaseless affluence and the refined opulence of medieval Indian sovereigns, the spellbinding architectural entities commanded to existence agreeing with their unopposed commands, and the charming artistic ornamentation gloriously festooned on the same by supremely accomplished craftsmen bearing in their bosoms several millennium of interminable hereditary learning and dexterous expertise at plying even the most resilient stone like mere malleable wax.


“Stick 'em with the pointy end!”


Location: Red Fort, Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad). The fortress, located at an extremity of the renowned Chandni Chowk street and connected to all parts of the city via regular bus and metro services, remains open everyday from 9 am to 6 pm, followed by a light-and-sound show.
Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk
Nearest Bus stop: Red Fort
Nearest Railway Station: Purani Dilli
How to reach: The fortress is a mere half kilometer from the metro station and about a kilometer from the railway station. Walk from either of them. The bus stop is located immediately across it and is connected to all parts of the city via regular bus service. There are regular trains throughout the day to Purani Dilli on Delhi circular railway line and from the neighboring suburbs.
Entrance fees (inclusive of museum charges): Indians: Rs 15; Foreigners: Rs 250
Photography/video charges: Nil. Tripods not allowed without prior permission.
Relevant Links -
Composite post about the fortress complex -
Pixelated Memories - Red Fort complex
Other monuments/landmarks located in the immediate vicinity -

16 March 2013

Hira Mahal, Red Fort complex, Delhi


This article is part of a series about Red Fort, Delhi. Refer Pixelated Memories – Red Fort complex for the composite post.

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“In dino garche dakkan mein hai badi qadre sukhan,
Kaun jaaye Zauq par, Dilli ki galiyan chhod kar?”

“Let it be granted that there is today a greater patronage and love of art in Deccan;
But, Zauq, who has the heart to leave the lanes of Delhi and go away?”
– Sheikh Muhammad Ibrahim “Zauq” (1789-1854),
Emperor Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II’s court poet and Urdu tutor

At their lowest ebb, the tragically feeble dregs of the dying Mughal Empire had to content themselves by dejectedly manifesting in the uninspiring forms of artistically and architecturally inconsequential minor palatial edifices and religious/funerary structures scattered about Delhi, including within the bewilderingly impressive Red Fort fortress-palace that one of their formidable progenitors had extravagantly constructed and opulently adorned. In the penultimate moments of their sovereignty, not long before the shallow breath of their empire was to be conclusively extinguished, these last of the “Great Mughals” commissioned several insignificant edifices with the optimistic intention of these reflecting favorably upon their distinguished existence and sumptuous prosperity, but which in reality had an unforeseen effect quite to the contrary. And although numerous of these trivial edifices were viciously obliterated in their entirety, except in contemporaneous documentary records, by vengeful British forces that ferociously occupied and avariciously devastated the magnificent fortress-palace following the Sepoy Mutiny/First War of Independence of 1857, the few that were intermittently spared in the onslaught wretchedly remain to affirm the miserable ignominy of the despairing last of this unparalleled line of sovereigns.


Disguising reality - Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II
(Photo courtesy - Columbia.edu)


Prior to being contemptuously exiled to distant Rangoon on charges of treason and conspiracy, the last emperor Abu Muhammad Sirajuddin Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II (reign AD 1837-57), ostensibly entitled “Zil-i-Ilahi Badshah Ghazi Al-Sultan-al-Azam Shahanshah-e-Sultanat-ul-Hindiya-wal-Mughaliya” (“Shadow of God, Champion of Faith, The Great King, King of Kings, The Lord of the Empire of Hindustan and the Mughals”), commissioned several inconsequential palaces within the eminent fortress-palace and elsewhere in Delhi – of these, two minor ones are still existential within the colossal fortress-palace amidst the smattering of other far superior edifices that defined the noteworthy seraglio. The first, a tiny, vibrant red pleasure pavilion has already been documented on this blog here – Pixelated Memories - Zafar Mahal.

The second, grievously narrating its pitiful tale and exposing its stark nakedness devoid of even the minutest of ornamentation, is ironically known as “Hira Mahal” (“Diamond Palace”), and was one of two identical sparkling white marble pavilions built in the year 1842 as minuscule constituents of the long row of breathtakingly splendid regal palaces commandingly overlooking river Yamuna lethargically flowing barely a stone’s throw away from the fortress’ immense peripheries. While Hira Mahal thankfully escaped post-1857 upheavals with only minor damages, its twin counterpart, “Moti Mahal” (“Pearl Palace”), was decimated to imperceptible dust.

Unfathomably unadorned vis-à-vis Emperor Shahjahan’s (reign AD 1627-57) matchless bewitching palaces to which it looks up to like an unfamiliar impoverished pauper while extraordinarily standing on their own high plinth, the pavilion, measuring a measly 15.9 X 6.8 meter squares, was envisaged as possessing three arched openings on each of its four sides, therefore rendering it wholly open to the environment and bestowing upon it the alternative nomenclature “Baradari” (“Twelve-pillared pavilion”).


Hira Mahal - Nakedness articulated!


Given the last monarch’s self-acknowledged insurmountable destitution, one assumes that neither was the poor edifice shrouded by profusely embroidered tapestries during winters, nor would it have been enclosed with continuously-watered fragrant Khas grass (Andropogon muricatus) screens during summers. It wouldn’t be disorienting to learn that the outrageously penurious emperor sat here disgracefully stripped of all authority under an appallingly tattered canopy even more shameful than his regal audience hall!

The diminutive pavilion is presently closed for public entry and the sloping walkway providing access to the imposing seraglio on this side remains barred by stretched chains and barricades. Awestruck visitors can admire the strikingly symmetrical line of copiously ornamented palaces, and endeavor to comprehend how the unequaled Mughals disastrously managed to lose all they had and squander the world’s richest kingdom to recurrent military defeats and reprehensible court intrigues and internal strife. If visitors could climb up to the level though, they wouldn’t anymore observe the river flowing opposite for it too had abruptly shifted course long time back, only to be replaced by the slithering arterial Ring Road with its ceaseless barrage of vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. The lethargic flow of the widespread river immediately adjacent, like the prodigious Mughals, is now the envious stuff of oft-repeated legends, remembered in cherished folklore and documentary tales, yet availing little except endlessly prompting incredulous folks to wide-eyed wonder and assess what was and what could have been.


Talk about insignificance - That's all the Archaeological Survey has to offer!


Location: Red Fort, Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad). The fortress, located at an extremity of the renowned Chandni Chowk street and connected to all parts of the city via regular bus and metro services, remains open everyday from 9 am to 6 pm, followed by a light-and-sound show.
Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk
Nearest Bus stop: Red Fort
Nearest Railway Station: Purani Dilli
How to reach: The fortress is a mere half kilometer from the metro station and about a kilometer from the railway station. Walk from either of them. The bus stop is located immediately across it and is connected to all parts of the city via regular bus service. There are regular trains throughout the day to Purani Dilli on Delhi circular railway line and from the neighboring suburbs.
Entrance fees (inclusive of museum charges): Indians: Rs 15; Foreigners: Rs 250
Photography/video charges: Nil. Tripods not allowed without prior permission.
Relevant Links -
Composite post about the fortress complex -
Pixelated Memories - Red Fort complex
Other edifices/museums located within the fortress complex -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Baoli, Red Fort complex
  2. Pixelated Memories - Chatta Chowk, Red Fort complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Am, Red Fort complex
  4. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Khas, Red Fort complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Freedom Fighter Museum and Salimgarh Fort complex
  6. Pixelated Memories - Khas Mahal, Red Fort complex
  7. Pixelated Memories - Mumtaz Mahal and Rang Mahal, Red Fort complex
  8. Pixelated Memories - Naubat Khana, Red Fort complex
  9. Pixelated Memories - Shah Burj and Burj-i-Shamli, Red Fort complex
  10. Pixelated Memories - Sawan-Bhadon Pavilions and Zafar Mahal, Red Fort complex

08 March 2013

Shah Burj and Burj-i-Shamli, Red Fort complex, Delhi



This article is part of a series about Red Fort, Delhi. Refer Pixelated Memories – Red Fort complex for the composite post.

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“The Hindus believe that there is no country like theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs and no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self-conceited, and stolid. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course, from any foreigner.”
– Al-Ustad Abu al-Rayhan Muhammad Alberuni (AD 973-1048), Iranian linguist-astronomer-historian-mathematician-mineralogist, “Kitab fi tahqiq ma li'l-Hind”


Bearing in mind the numerous remarkable achievements of ancient Hindu scholars-scientists in the varied fields of medicine, pharmacology, surgery, mathematics, physics, geometry, literature, language composition, astronomy and astrology, and also the consideration that several of these were appropriated by inconsiderate, and in many cases avaricious, foreigners and incorporated in their own name – for instance, the elucidation of Indian numeric system as “Arabic numerals”, the acknowledgment of several geometric, trigonometric, algebraic and astronomic theories and computations having been postulated by western scholars, as opposed to, say, by Aryabhata (mathematician-astronomer, AD 476-550), Varahmihira (mathematician-astronomer-astrologer, AD 505-87), Brahmagupta (mathematician-astronomer, AD 598-665) or Acharya Mahavira (mathematician-trigonometrician, AD 800-70), it is but natural that ancient Hindus would often endeavor to safeguard their extraordinary knowledge and outstanding treatises from foreigners.

Increasingly even today, several surgical, phytopharmacological and scientific treatises already propounded by remarkable scholars-physicians including Charaka (“father of medicine”, studied and documented concepts of physiology, metabolism and embryology) and Sushruta (“father of surgery”, performed and documented plastic surgery, rhinoplasty, dentistry, obstetrics and gynecology, lived about 600 BC!) within the massive body of “Ayurveda” or traditional Indian medicine are being supposedly “rediscovered” and patented by modern western pharmaceutical and biotech firms which then appallingly prohibit their Indian counterparts from manufacturing and distributing these same traditional medicines and natural concoctions citing intellectual property rights!


The forgotten two - Burj-i-Shamli and (background) Shah Burj


While I do believe that Alberuni’s generalization still incontestably applies to a majority of the country’s population when it comes to the scientific, technological, medicinal or even spiritual achievements of their countrymen, there might actually be occasions when clearly the reverse is true. Let me briefly recount what transpired to bring about this belated epiphany before I humbly tender an explanation.

It so happened that I began rewriting my original blog entry about Red Fort complex which was very haphazardly put together with low-res photographs clicked with a mobile phone and monotonous uninspiring text not interspersed with much enlightening information regarding the marvelous architecture, the unparalleled ornamentation and the impeccable history that the fortress graciously offers. Visiting the colossal complex again to re-photograph the monumental edifices incorporated within it for the purpose of documentation, enumeration and research, I came across the soaring Shah Burj (“Royal Tower”).

Associated with the fortress’ impressive hydraulics was a large tank on the ground floor of the massive octagonal tower to which was lifted crystal-clear water from the turbulent river Yamuna (which back then flowed immediately adjacent the fortress’ vibrant red sandstone peripheries). The water was then diverted to the magnificent Burj-i-Shamli, a contiguous pavilion commissioned by Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir (reign AD 1657-1707), where it fell in a rippling cascade into a glistening white scallop-shaped basin from where it then spontaneously distributed into successively connected canals which constituted the Nahr-i-Bisht (“Stream of Paradise”). Mughals firmly believed in the extravagant idea of their painstakingly impeccable palace-fortresses conceptually resembling the designs of paradise as envisaged in ancient texts, thus the introduction of the sparkling stream, softly flowing through all the gorgeous pleasure pavilions and opulently-adorned palaces that constituted the regal residential quarters, while also dividing the immense manicured gardens into the traditional Charbagh pattern (massive gardens divided into smaller quadrants by walkways and causeways).

I was unsurprisingly thrilled by the flawless white marble ornamentation and the conception of the paradisiacal stream in such a decorative form, and, considering that I was aware of the employment of Persian wheel systems in Mughal palatial/funerary complexes to continuously lift river/well water as high as a gigantic fortress’ ramparts and drive it through an enormous system of canals, I naturally assumed that Mughals had imported such resourceful technology from medieval Iran and efficiently utilized it here in conjugation with pipelines dexterously crafted from terracotta/ceramics while the rest of the world lagged behind in terms of such ingenious innovation.


Delicate! - Interiors, Burj-i-Shamli


It was later, upon reading the article “The Persian Wheel in India”, that I realized that the efficient improvisation actually co-originated in India and Persia, and yet it is presently recognized as “Persian Wheel”! It was referred to as Araghatta in Sanskrit texts. No wonder then that medieval Indians were explicably suspicious of revealing the traditional knowledge and methodology they possessed.

Reverting to both the dazzlingly striking edifices' functional architecture and history – The mesmerizingly designed and meticulously adorned Burj-i-Shamli possesses three oddly-shaped curved roofs resting on five arches, the former believed to have been eccentrically inspired by the thatched roof of Bengali bungalows.

Shah Burj’s upper floor constituted the mighty emperor’s private working area where he would contemplatively reflect, without fear of resourceful spies or enemy mercenaries, upon matters of state policy and defense while commandingly gazing at the swiftly flowing waters of the Yamuna. Continuous presence of well-trained and lethally armed royal bodyguards ensured only his sons and his most trusted advisers had access to the building. One can only imagine the edifice’s erstwhile matchless splendor when its entire structure was drenched in sparkling pearl dust and the walls were ornamented with multi-hued glittering jewels and precious gems. The colossal floor area was richly shrouded with expensive Persian rugs and exclusively classy bolsters; during the summers were hung perpetually-wetted Khas-grass screens, and during the winter months were lit numerous braziers around the massive chamber, to render the whole more comfortable.

Originally a chattri-like dome gracefully surmounted the roof and completed the fortress’ highly symmetrical formal appearance, presenting to a visitor arriving to Delhi on a boat the impressive sight of the gigantic fortress’ riverine face flanked on either extremity by an immense domed corner tower (the other being Asad Burj). It was from Shah Burj that the heir apparent Mirza Jahandar Bakht, the eldest son of Emperor Shah Alam II (reign AD 1760-1806), jumped down to river Yamuna and swiftly swam across in order to save himself from the murderous forces of Ghulam Qadir Rohilla who invaded Delhi in AD 1787-88 and imprisoned the emperor and his entire family (read more about the Rohilla warlords and their numerous battles here Pixelated Memories - Rohilla War Memorial, Calcutta).


Tale of a missing dome - Impressions from "Reminiscences of Imperial Dehli" (Photo courtesy - Wikimedia.org)


Presently however, Shah Burj is one of the most wretchedly miserable structures within the entire fortress complex, which in itself is astoundingly incredible considering that the once-magnificent stronghold is a meager lackluster shadow of its original awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping visual and architectural opulence. The regal pavilion was twice damaged – the first time during the course of intense shelling from the other side of the turbulent river by the fearsome forces led by Ghulam Qadir Rohilla; and later again when British East India Co.’s army brutally bombarded the fortress during the siege of Delhi in the First Indian War of Independence/Sepoy Mutiny (AD 1857). It was on the second occasion, when the British were expeditiously staging a fiercely offensive comeback with fearsome firepower and infantry following their fellow officers being ruthlessly slaughtered and contemptuously chased out of Delhi, that the tower’s octagonal dome was irrevocably destroyed. The handsome tower however was partially repaired both times, though its majestic dome was never rebuilt, and it’s said that its structure is consequentially still much weakened and therefore unsafe for human exploration. Like most royal palaces within the colossal fortress complex, it too was converted into an officials’ barracks after the British Army occupied it immediately afterwards.

Burj-i-Shamli however was entirely taken apart and reassembled after an earthquake terribly damaged its structure in the year 1904.

After the unruffled river diverted its course and shifted away from the outstanding fortress, the two edifices spontaneously ceased to share the spotlight as important constituents of the fortress’ architectural well-being. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), when it took control of the mammoth complex, delegated the two, especially Shah Burj, to anonymity and wilderness. Weeds and grass have avariciously taken over the little space enclosing the desolate tower; visitor entry is perennially prevented by means of iron railings. Considering that tourists are predominantly ignorantly guided like sheep throughout the vast complex along predetermined pathways, very few visitors actually stop by to explore this section of the complex. The superlative edifices thus stand in a deplorable condition and grievously reflect rather poorly on the way we conserve our architectural heritage. There are times when I feel that the fortress is not worth visiting anymore – that it has become dejectedly hollow compared to its unbelievable original luster and incomparable lavish splendor – the state of Shah Burj sadly only strengthens these convictions.


Constituent of a World Heritage Site?


Location: Red Fort, Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad). The fortress, located at an extremity of the renowned Chandni Chowk street and connected to all parts of the city via regular bus and metro services, remains open everyday from 9 am to 6 pm, followed by a light-and-sound show.
Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk
Nearest Bus stop: Red Fort
Nearest Railway Station: Purani Dilli
How to reach: The fortress is a mere half kilometer from the metro station and about a kilometer from the railway station. Walk from either of them. The bus stop is located immediately across it and is connected to all parts of the city via regular bus service. There are regular trains throughout the day to Purani Dilli on Delhi circular railway line and from the neighboring suburbs.
Entrance fees (inclusive of museum charges): Indians: Rs 15; Foreigners: Rs 250
Photography/video charges: Nil. Tripods not allowed without prior permission.
Relevant Links -
Composite post about the fortress complex -
Pixelated Memories - Red Fort complex
Other edifices/museums located within the fortress complex -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Baoli, Red Fort complex
  2. Pixelated Memories - Chatta Chowk, Red Fort complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Am, Red Fort complex
  4. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Khas, Red Fort complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Freedom Fighter Museum and Salimgarh Fort complex
  6. Pixelated Memories - Hira Mahal, Red Fort complex
  7. Pixelated Memories - Khas Mahal, Red Fort complex
  8. Pixelated Memories - Mumtaz Mahal and Rang Mahal, Red Fort complex
  9. Pixelated Memories - Naubat Khana, Red Fort complex
  10. Pixelated Memories - Sawan-Bhadon Pavilions and Zafar Mahal, Red Fort complex
Other monuments/landmarks located in the immediate vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Jama Masjid
  2. Pixelated Memories - Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib
  3. Pixelated Memories - Sunehri Masjid (Chandni Chowk)
  4. Pixelated Memories - Sunehri Masjid (near Red Fort)
Suggested Reading -

05 March 2013

Kankaleshwar Kali Bari, Bardhaman


After traversing through the small lanes that make up the Kanchanpara locality in Bardhaman, Bengal, I came across a wide swathe of open land in the center of which a motley group of boys played a cheerful game of cricket. With no wickets, a single bat & a torn ball, the game progressed as naturally as it would have on the grounds of Eden. The boys, with not a care in the world & immersed in their revelry, were used to the ancient structures that stood around them & once again reminded me that we humans do not value what we have close to us. As Rabindranath Tagore put it in vernacular, "we travel far & wide at great expense to see the mountains & the oceans, but fail to appreciate the beauty of the dew drops glistening on the ear of the corn at our doorstep". Bardhaman is an ancient city, with structures & spots even older – here was I, a guy from Delhi, documenting the architectural heritage of the city & enjoying the game of cricket played by the boys who were ignorant of their temple’s history but were easily impressed by the flash of a camera. The temple that I was looking at is one of its kind in the country. Dedicated to Goddess Chamunda, a form of Kali, the Hindu Goddess of death & destruction, the temple is locally known as Kankal Bari (“House of the skeleton”, pronounced "Kon-kol-Bari") or Rakta tola (“Temple of blood”) – the name could not have been more suited.


"Blood Temple"


Kali has always been depicted in terrifying forms – her red tongue sticking out of her mouth, eyes glaring, bosom naked, a neckpiece of human skulls & a waist band of severed hands being her only modesty. She is death incarnate, the symbol of destruction, blood lust & sex. But here this depiction is carried forward to the next level – the black stone idol has eight hands & is carved in such a manner so that most of the major bones & the arterial veins of the Goddess’s body are visible. It is said that the idol was found from the bed of river Damodar after the devastating floods of 1923 (although many accounts say the temple itself was built around the year AD 1700). Belief is that the idol’s conception was influenced by the concept of “Tantra”. 


Kali - The mistress of death


Set in a square courtyard, the small temple has three tiny rooms – the central one houses the said idol, while the other two house Shivalingas (phallus symbol of Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of death & destruction & Kali’s significant other) & tridents (“trishul”, Shiva’s heavenly weapon). The shrine is entered from three arched entrances, each of which faces one of the three rooms. The temple was under renovation when I visited it, artists & laborers were at work on its roof as well as the shrine. The president of the temple managing committee was there too & so was a lady who made me believe that she held some important post in the management team. She downright refused to let me photograph the shrine, no amount of coercion could make her budge, until the president himself intervened on my behalf when I told him I would write about the place. The laborers were more than happy to have me amongst them as I proved to be a change from their daily monotonous schedule. The temple is topped by nine spires in tradition Bengali style of architecture. The front of the temple is profusely decorated with terracotta panels displaying sages, kings & mendicants. In fact, these panels are what make the Bengali temples so mesmerizing – they tell so many stories & present an entire lore through numerous scenes!! In the courtyard surrounding the temple are several smaller Shivalingas, & in one corner is a small building that houses the management committee’s office. The temple, though small, is an extra-ordinary structure - peaceful, enthralling & tranquil. 


Under renovation..


In the ground next to the temple complex, the boys had stopped their cricket game to observe me & scrutinize my activities. In one corner of the ground stands another small temple dedicated to Vishnu (the Hindu God responsible for creation & nourishment of the universe). Topped by five spires, this temple is even more brilliantly decorated with terracotta panels than the Kali temple itself. However it is relatively less known & not many people visit it. Three arched entrances lead into the shrine, each arch is bore by strong pillars betrayed by their gentle curves. 


The Vishnu Temple


The arches are decorated with panels that depict scenes where groups of monkeys have climbed up buildings (perhaps temples, given pyramidal roofs topped by flag masts), birds fluttering around & flowers blooming in the skies. The bigger panels are surrounded by numerous smaller ones that depict sages, kings with bows & arrows, monkey-men carrying maces & mountains (Are the larger panels depicting a scene from the Hindu epic Ramayana -  the welcome given to King Rama (one of Vishnu’s many incarnations) by his monkey-men army when he returns to India after sacking Ravana’s capital?? I don’t know – there are no sources that I could trace that detail the temple’s history or construction). 


Carved with precision!! 


In both the temples, what I found worth-mentioning is that the terracotta panels ornament only the front face of the temple, the embellishments stop as soon as the front wall ends & the other three walls are simply painted over with no decorations but only very small windows breaking the continuity. The single shrine within the Vishnu temple is barred by a grille, the gate of which is locked. I had to be content with photographing the shrine from the outside. The inner entrance too is ornamented with more terracotta panels, though owing to the lack of space there are no other decorations except for three big panels. The shrine consists of a depiction of Vishnu painted on the wall, the offerings are but simply holy water & a few marigold flowers. A few bronze utensils are scattered around the figurine – broken platters, lamps & an elongated spoon for burning clarified butter (“ghee”), thus completing the image of a temple where the same traditions & practices are being followed that were being performed several millennia ago. The paint itself is peeling away & flaking to reveal the temple’s ancient history. In dire need of a restoration, the temple has become blackened with time as a result of the action of the elements. I do hope the managing committee of the Kankal Bari do spare some time & effort for this temple too. 


Vishnu - The master of the universe


As I step outside, I notice an old beggar come & spread his coarse mat expecting visitors to spare him some alms. He told me that if I wait here half an hour, the priest might come & open the grille to the sanctum. However there isn’t anything in the sanctum which I haven’t already seen from between the bars of the grille. I take my leave from the Gods, for the first time I feel sorry for leaving!! The place, remarkable & yet depressingly secluded, makes my heart cry out. The silence & the serenity invoking passive emotions & commanding me to stay some more. I feel bliss, I feel happy for having stepped out & traveled to Bardhaman. Forgetting the travel fatigue that had gripped me a few days back, I feel eager again to travel throughout India to witness these forgotten structures & write their splendid stories. 

Location: Kanchanpara, Bardhaman (aka Burdwan)
How to reach: From the Bardhaman Railway Station, take a bus till Kanchanpara. From there ask for directions to Kankalbari (pronounced "Kon-kol-bari"). You will have to walk a lot from there, it is quite a trek actually (you encounter bridges enroute too!!) away & no rickshaws are available here.
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video Charges: Nil. But prior permission is required.
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Relevant Links - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Kali Puja

03 March 2013

Kumar Mangalam Park, Durgapur


Among the famous attractions in Durgapur is a large park popularly known as Mohan Kumar Mangalam (MKM) Park. Christened after M.K. Mangalam, the first Steel Minister of India, it was commissioned by Durgapur Steel Plant (DSP), a vast industrial complex that is the core of Durgapur’s livelihood & industry & employs a large proportion of the population here. A popular lover’s spot, the park boasts of a small lake for boating purposes, well-maintained lawns, a toy train giving a ride of the entire estate & even a musical fountain. The park becomes the site for festivities & frolic on the occasion of Holi, Chath Puja etc when people gather in hordes to perform pujas (ceremonial prayers), distribute food & sweets, meet friends & enjoy the gaiety.

There exist two entrances to the park, both of which are used for entry as well as exit. Ticket counters exist at both the entrances, & if you ask me, these entrances are the most beautiful part of the entire park complex. Each entrance is shaped like a horse-shoe, the opening of which faces the street outside, & in the curved wall are two separate openings from where the visitors enter & exit the park. The hut-like ticket counters are situated at the opening in the horse-shoe curve & sleepy security guards keep a drowsy watch over the proceedings. As I mentioned, the entrances are picturesque – the first has a large bronze statue of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu God of luck & beginnings, dancing & playing cymbals with a fierce (aggressive??) expression on his face. The sand-brown colored horse-shoe wall around the statue is embossed with human figurines – kids playing on swings, families picnicking, people going around in miniature trains & boats – giving an indication of what entertainments wait inside.


The Ganesha idol


The other entrance’s curved wall displays traditional dances that are performed in the various states of India. Not sure if the rest of the park would live up to our expectations (I had been living in Durgapur for almost 2 years then & what glitters here is never gold!!), I spent 15 minutes photographing the latter entrance (that’s where we entered from since it is close to our college). 


One of the panels at the first entrance


Inside, the park, though well-maintained, reeks of ignorance & waste. Calling it “boring” would be an understatement – more than half of the 80-acre park remains out of bounds for visitors, the fountains & the toy train were out of order, in the name of swings is a little merry-go-round & a small maze, the refreshments shop is criminally expensive. Owing to some constraints, DSP itself could not continue with the maintenance of the park & in the year 2006 leased it out to a private firm known as EXALT SERVICES Pvt. Ltd. It seems the people at EXALT are not taking their job that seriously & are simply cashing in on the fact that the population of Durgapur does not have many other options for entertainment & family get-togethers. EXALT has actually given a list of initiatives they took to improve the park’s ambiance here - EXALT - Development Done. Though I did not see much of what they are talking about despite visiting the place 7 years after they took over the park from DSP. 


Out-of-order!!


The park caretakers had difficulty comprehending both English & Hindi & their attitude bordered on rude, & the guards at the second entrance asked us to buy a second set of tickets only because we had stepped out to photograph the Ganesha idol & that too when they saw us exclaim about the statue & go round it under their watchful supervision. There were no kids in the park, the rides were all empty. However almost every bench & every boat was occupied by couples, even the space under the trees & behind the bushes wasn’t spared. It was “bees & birds” all around. With not a single bench vacant for us to sit upon, we had all the more of an excuse to go out as quickly as we could – Mr Guard you can keep your stupid tickets!! The place is in fact a good enough spot for those couples who want to get together & cuddle & kiss, & it is also a good spot for those who are frustrated & single & go about looking at all the other couples smooch – sadly, I fall into neither of the two categories. So goodbye KMP Park, I am never coming here again. Thanks, but no thanks, for your rudeness & ignorance.

This is what we expected..


Disclaimer – Perhaps our experience was a one-off incident, perhaps the caretakers & guards had a rough day at work & are usually cordial with the visitors, & also perhaps the place isn’t as boring as I felt – but I have the right to put forward my views & do hope that the EXALT Group &/or the inhabitants of Durgapur do not send me lots of hate mail. Or sue me!!
(The last time I wrote about Durgapur, some people did get very angry & I had to deal with their choice words even though I did not write anything as critical as this article.)


Sigh! No kids here!


Location: At walking distance from the National Institute of Technology (or R.E. College as the people here know it).
How to reach: Buses, autos & taxis are available from different parts of the city. One can also walk from the City Center.
Entrance Fees: Rs 10 per person
Photography Charges: Rs 10
Video Charges: Rs 25
Relevant Links about Durgapur - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Damodar River Barrage
  2. Pixelated Memories - Kali Puja, Durgapur
  3. Pixelated Memories - Kshitish's Durgapur
  4. Pixelated Memories - Ram Temple