17 February 2016

Loharheri Baoli, Dwarka Sector-12, Delhi


“Hogi is dher imaarat ki kahani kuch to,
Dhund alfaz ke malbe me ma’ine kuch to”

(“Surely a story hides behind these ruins somewhere,
Search the debris of words, the meaning is there somewhere”)
– Shahpar Rusool, Urdu Professor,
Jamia Milia Islamia University, Delhi

Bubbling with fantastically-conceived hyperbolic tales and mythology, oral folklore always conceals within its spellbinding florid exaggerations thoroughly disguised minute kernels of truth which resiliently resist, and often irreversibly shatter, even the most endeavoring communal forgetfulness and/or malicious attempts to whitewash history.

Comprised of huge staircases leading down to deep vertical shafts of associated wells, “baolis” (step-wells) are massive medieval water-management and congregational monuments majestically scattered throughout northern and western-central India. Considering their limited numbers and unparalleled ornamental adornments, they are unquestionably and quite conspicuously the most cherished monuments vis-à-vis the multitudes of contemporaneous religious and funerary edifices, extravagantly opulent palaces and formidable fortress-strongholds littering the immense landscape.

Substantially smaller than most of its magnificent counterparts intermittently peppering the city, the recently-discovered Lodi-era (AD 1451-1526) baoli in Dwarka’s Sector-12 is historically believed to have been  christened “Loharheri Baoli”, deriving from the contiguous presence of a small settlement of ironsmiths (“lohar”) whose hydrological and congregational requirements the tiny edifice was to fulfill. Perplexingly though, this satellite suburb would have been considerably distant from the extensive settlements of medieval Delhi whom the ironsmiths would have professionally catered. Fortunately for the enthralling step-well, this historical anomaly renders it one of the few medieval monuments in this part of the city (the only other, that too several kilometers away, is the desolately forgotten and grievously brutalized Hastsal Minar delineating the ruinous remains of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s hunting estate (refer Pixelated Memories - Kaushal Minar, Uttam Nagar)).


Lost and found


Walking the unclogged, strangely sanitized streets of Dwarka – almost reminiscent of post-apocalyptic, post-humanity scenes from science fiction movies – feels singularly bizarre and a tad bit bewildering. Unlike the rest of terribly overpopulated, thoroughly urbanized and ubiquitously commercialized west Delhi, minutes pass here before one spots another pedestrian walking purposelessly or expectantly sniffing around buildings, vehicles seldom blare horns, and the colossal multi-storied soaring residential buildings too are unbelievably distantly spaced and uniquely designed.

Accessed via a narrow wicket-gate puncturing the high walls enveloping the towering Gangotri Apartments whose peripheries it discreetly, in fact almost invisibly, adjoins, presently the extensively restored and impeccably maintained three-tiered baoli is existential within a vast garbage-carpeted barren tract of land sporadically shrouded here and there by sorry-looking miserable tufts of weeds and grass irrepressibly rising from amidst the collected assortment of foul-smelling plant and vegetable waste, an overabundance of cow dung and dog droppings, innumerable polythene bags filled with domestic non-biodegradable rubbish, discarded construction material, and worthless shards of glass and plastic glinting in the sunlight.

Although the Gangotri complex and Dwarka International School prominently located barely a stone’s throw away are not insignificant landmarks, the bewildered locals, it seemed, faced insurmountable difficulties either comprehending my modest intentions or offering directions, consequentially sending me on a to-and-fro walk in search of the elusive baoli which being an unadorned, rubble masonry-built underground monument is easy to miss even from the immediate vicinity.

“In India it is not a good idea to ask just one person’s opinion, especially as far as directions are concerned. Not wishing to appear discourteous or unhelpful, they will say the first thing that comes into their head rather than honestly and far more usefully admitting that they do not know. It is best to ask as many people as possible and opt for the majority view. This does not necessarily mean that you will then be going in the right direction – it just gives you a slightly better chance of doing so. We therefore asked as many people as possible but we still ended up lost.”
– Josie Dew, “The Wind in My Wheels” (1992)


First impressions


Moderately proportioned and truly parched owing to the disastrous lowering of water-table over the centuries, the mesmerizing edifice was conveniently forgotten and interred underneath layers of earth and thick undergrowth, which culminated in its unsurprising obscurity and disappearance from contemporary literary records and monument censuses. Like its almost similarly designed cousin associated with the Wazirpur group of monuments in R.K. Puram (refer Pixelated Memories - Wazirpur Monument complex), this beautiful rectangular edifice too possesses immaculate rows of ornamental alcoves lining the longer sides along its two levels. There isn’t however any other functional feature or artistic adornment perceptible, except the presence of the likewise-dry circular well-shaft hugging its rear. Unexpectedly though, especially considering the perennial paucity of heritage enthusiasts and touristic visitors and the wretched uncleanliness of its surroundings, not the slightest trace of garbage can be noticed anywhere within the baoli's earmarked area – certainly a most commendable achievement on the part of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) which restored the edifice and Delhi Development Association (DDA) to whom this tract of land belongs.


Isolated case?


Location: Pocket-1, Sector-12 Dwarka
How to reach: Walk/avail an auto/rickshaw to Gangotri Apartments/Dwarka International School from Dwarka Sector-12 Metro station which is about a kilometer and a half away. If walking, head towards Hotel Radisson Blu and take a left turn from there. The small baoli is located about a kilometer from this point on the right side of the arterial road in a vast barren expanse in the very shadow of Gangotri Apartments.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 20 min
Relevant Links -
Another monument located in the neighborhood - Pixelated Memories - Kaushal Minar, Uttam Nagar
Other baolis in the city -
Suggested reading -

09 February 2016

30th Surajkund Crafts Fair, Faridabad, Haryana


“Journalist and professional sociopath A.A. Gill wrote, If New York is a wise guy, Paris a coquette, Rome a gigolo and Berlin a wicked uncle, then London is an old lady who mutters and has the second sight. She is slightly deaf, and doesn't suffer fools gladly. Delhi, then, might be an ageing tsarina: ruthless, capricious, avaricious, paranoid – and fond of bright colours, pretty trinkets, and sex scandals. Like all grandes dames, she's showy, cash-splurging, hard to love, easy to photograph. Or perhaps, given her recent reinvention, she's more like a nouveau riche socialite – exactly as above, but on Twitter. The whole city jingles with theatricality, bling and the so-bad-it's-good.”
– Elizabeth Chatterjee, “Delhi: Mostly Harmless” (2013)


Traditional meets capitalism


Inimitably gorgeous paintings, meticulously designed sculptures, dexterously crafted handicrafts, mouthwatering delectable snacks, brilliant explosions of traditional attires and dance performances, myriads of vibrant colors, spellbinding sights, dizzying aromas and the rush of shopping frenzy-induced happiness amidst a terrifying deluge of aimless humanity at the very boundaries of Delhi – Surajkund Crafts Fair is back in its 30th edition and, quite gratifyingly, there doesn’t seem to be an end to the enchanting extravaganza of traditional handicrafts, matchless heritage and mouthwatering food on offer. And if the several kilometer-long traffic jams leading to-and-fro to the event location (especially on weekends!) are any evidence, the millions of spoiled-for-choice visitors thronging wide-eyed fascinated throughout the unbelievably enormous arena still cannot get enough!

I had previously been to the 28th edition (documented here – Pixelated Memories - 28th Surajkund Crafts Fair), and yet nothing could prepare me too for the incredibly immense crowds, the impeccably distinguished artistic designs and the delightful presence of at least a dozen traditional visual artists (“Behrupiya”) deviously attired in sparkling outfits and flawlessly masquerading as mythological divinities and traditional dancers.

This year, China-Japan and the newly-formed state of Telangana have been designated as the unique partner country(s) and theme state respectively for the enthralling cultural festival and consequentially present are several contingents of celebrated craftsmen-sculptors from these places to showcase their unparalleled artistic skills and cultural traditions.


Glitter glimmer - Dhokra tribal handicrafts (Chattisgarh)


Besides these, also in participation are craftsmen, sculptors, painters and handicraft merchandise traders from numerous other Indian states and countries like Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Seychelles, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Tunisia, Malaysia and Nepal – however, as the craftsmen from Seychelles pointed out, not every spellbound, bargain-hungry visitor is eager to purchase anything, and most of those wandering about are there just to absorb the impeccably vibrant sights, hypnotic sounds, vivid textures and multitude of tastes (not all of them mouthwatering or even worth contemplating upon though!) that the mesmerizing fair promises.

For the discerning, there are tremendously swamped craftsmen from Karnataka offering illustrious Bidri artworks (black copper very delicately inlaid with shimmering silver) and Channapatna toys (handcrafted wooden, painted with brilliant natural colors and polished to perfection), soft-spoken Japanese artists (enticing hundreds of selfie-seekers to wantonly click photos alongside gigantic kites imprinted with cartoon samurais), polished-looking Onyx traders from Pakistan (with massive vases almost as high as me!), conscientiously hard-nosed craftsmen from Chattisgarh offering consummate Dhokra artworks (thoroughly-detailed tribal figurines produced by pouring molten metal in baked clay casts), muscular Rajasthani traders with bristling mustaches lining the arena with exquisite cloth puppets in myriads of sartorial choices and accessory designs, diligent painters from Maharashtra selling the celebrated tribal Worli paintings depicted on earthen wares and showpieces, very kindly old ladies from Malaysia selling otherworldly beautiful handmade paintings and intermittently delving into impromptu drawing-painting lessons for little kids, and, among others, bored Bengali craftsmen stocking coarse jute accessories and simplistic decorative tapestries and religious figurines.


Colors of Surajkund - Channapatna wood toys (Karnataka)


Also in attendance are several hundred more merchants dealing in vibrantly multi-hued utensils, glittering hookahs, appealingly-patterned textiles, enviably intricate religious sculptures, temptingly fearsome tribal masks, delicate ornamental glass lamps and accessories, tantalizing papier-mâché accessories and hundreds of thousands of types of scintillating jewelry adorned with glittering beads and shimmering sparkles. Until last year, there were unmanned drones and numerous helicopters flying high above the immense premises for security purposes; impressively this time, the prime attraction available for joyrides are several helicopters conspicuously twirling about very low overhead and banking and swerving midair with dazzling impunity!

The only drawbacks, as far as I can gauge of course, are the gastronomic avenues – the overall quality of the assorted savories as well as the unsurprisingly exorbitant prices (a glass of jaljeera for Rs 50, a smaller-than-the-smallest Domino’s pizza for Rs 200!!). Thankfully, the marvelous handicrafts do make up for everything. Five hours and a couple of thousand rupees later, clutching a heavy bag of finely polished Dhokra artworks and wonderfully bright Channapatna toys, I was already planning on items I shall be purchasing the next year!


Learning - A Malaysian artist tutoring children about how to paint


How to reach: Surajkund is located in Faridabad, approximately 8 km from south-east Delhi. The nearest metro station/bus stop is NHPC on the arterial Mathura road. Free to-and-fro shuttle services are available between the fair arena and NHPC, Badhkal Chowk and Badarpur metro stations. Interstate buses and autos also ply throughout the day along Mathura Road and one can get down at Badhkal/NHPC and avail a shared auto from there. If driving from Delhi, one can access Surajkund past the Karni Singh Shooting Range near Tughlaqabad.
Entrance fees: Rs 120/person (Rs 60 for senior citizens and college students upon showing photo ID card; free entry for girl students and children below the age of 10 years). Tickets are also available at 31 metro stations including Badarpur, Neelam Chowk Ajronda, Escorts Mujesar, Badhkal, Tughlaqabad, Sarita Vihar, Rajiv Chowk, ITO, Mandi House and Central Secretariat.
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 3-4 hrs
Organizational details about the annual fair - Pixelated Memories - 28th Surajkund Crafts Fair
Another amazing place to shop for handicrafts and textiles - Pixelated Memories - Dilli Haat
Suggested reading - Wikipedia.org - Behrupiya

06 February 2016

Khas 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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“The Mughal buildings which remain…without their carpets, awnings and gorgeous trappings they look strangely uncomfortable: cold and hard and white, difficult to imagine back into life. Today, as the pavilions lie empty and neglected, they look like ossified tents – silk turned to stone. The Emperor is dead; the courtiers have dispersed. The whole structure has crumbled. The gorgeous canopies have rotted, the bamboo supports have snapped. The dazzling inlay of precious stones was long ago picked out with daggers.”
– William Dalrymple, “City of Djinns”

Conceived as the most extravagantly described, opulently adorned and painstakingly sculpted residential pavilion within the magnificent Red Fort complex, the dazzlingly resplendent “Aramgah-i-Muqaddas” (“The Most Auspicious of Residences”), more popularly referred to as “Khas Mahal” (“Royal Palace”), was envisaged as Emperor Shahjahan’s personal palace. Indeed, so unbelievably outstanding are its numerous ornamental features, so superlatively detailed are its delicate stone filigree screens and so meticulously sculpted are its various decorative elements that sycophantic royal chroniclers could not resist drenching it in such explicably grandiose prose, such inordinately lavish praise that one would have condescendingly dismissed their flattering words as superfluous hyperbole were one not witnessing festooned throughout the gorgeous edifice the incomparable spectacle of mesmerizing poetry described so dexterously in cold stone.

Externally perceptible as being only moderately-proportioned vis-à-vis other mammoth palaces and luxurious residential edifices scattered within the spellbinding complex, the palace’s incomparable majesty does not really feature in most fastidiously descriptive texts and effusively reminiscent photo-features, comprehensible of course in light of its incomparable splendor’s characteristic elusiveness to being comprehended in mere words. The fascinatingly detailed individual features – the rococo explosion of impenetrably intertwined vegetative scrolls, highly exquisite red sandstone lattice screens, vibrantly multi-hued floral motifs and hundreds of other imaginatively conceived geometric patterns – seamlessly culminate in a whole that unfailingly is, in terms of visual composition, irresistibly enthralling and densely impermeable.


Otherworldly!


The entire outstanding palace is fragmented into three divisions – “Tasbih-Khana” (prayer room), “Baithak” (dining/living room, also otherwise employed in the capacity of a “Toshkhana” (regal wardrobe)) and “Khwabgah” (bedroom) – and gurgling soothingly through the center of each is the “Nahr-i-Bisht” (“Stream of Paradise”) which once upon a time, heavily intoxicated by the mesmerizing sight of these elegant regal residences, gracefully gushed through the imperial seraglio.

In the Khwabgah would often sit notable rhapsodists, regaling with their fantastical tales and mythological folklore, lulling to regal slumber the powerful emperor who reposed on a comfortable couch separated from them by rich curtains. Along the profusely ornamented inner wall, outlined by extravagant festooning of sculpted foliage and floral patterns, is the fabulous fortress-palace's most renowned pictorial depiction – a tremendously exquisite representation of “Mizan-i-Adal”, or Scales of Justice, ostentatiously accompanied by several seemingly-brilliant stars and framed within a scythe-like sharp crescent moon.

Contiguous with the outstanding palace along its (formerly) river-facing side is Muthamman Burj, a semi-octagonal tower crowned by an attractive, immaculately rounded onion dome. Its present limestone-plastered surface luminously glistening unblemished white in the sunshine, the dome was originally lavishly gilded with gold, thus the nomenclature “Burj-i-Tilla”. A protruding window (“jharokha”) built into the wonderful tower was where the royally-attired emperor would appear to his subjects every morning for the traditional “darshan” (public appearance). The original jharokha was ordered to be rebuilt by Emperor Akbar Shah II in AD 1808 and an engraved inscription to the effect notes thus –

“Muinuddin Abu Nasr Akbar Ghazi, king of the world, conqueror of the age, and shadow of God,
on the face of Muthamman-Burj, built anew such a seat that the sun and moon sew their eyes on it.
May the seat of Akbar Shah be of exalted foundation. Year 1223 Hijri”


The imperial seraglio - Khas Mahal (left) and Rang Mahal.
Muthamman Burj is conspicuous by its onion dome.


Ferocious elephant and lion fights were regularly organized on the sand stretch underneath this tower for the enjoyment of the mighty sovereign. The elephant-trainers (“mahouts”) goaded their animals fearlessly and would often themselves be brutally and mortally crushed between the massive charging beasts, nonetheless they were propelled into the fearsome melee by two considerations – unbridled appreciation and pecuniary reward if they won, and financial support and professional assistance for their families if they lost. On the morning of May 11, 1857, however, there were no fierce animal-fights and yet the sand stretch swarmed with endless humanity – mutineers of the 3rd Light Cavalry of British East India Co.'s army had assembled here and were being addressed from the emperor’s window by Captain Douglas.

Via the small “Khizrabad Gate”, a steep flight of stairs descended, from underneath the beautiful domed tower to the riverfront, and was only privately used by the emperor, especially when embarking on boat journeys on river Yamuna adjacent.

The flawless sparkling white marble of Khas Mahal has miserably descended to mottled rotting cream-brown, the dexterously adorned walls have been irrevocably spoiled by avaricious plunderers-conquerors, the impressive inlay of semi-precious multicolored stones, agates and carnelians has wretchedly been despoiled, and the vibrantly sparkling porcelain-ware and the traditionally designed vases sporting fragrant colorful flowers too have disappeared, yet the handsome regal palace resiliently, though sharply in contrast with its present despondent existence, retains its irrepressible flair of royal dignity, unrestrained prosperous flamboyance and matchless artistic originality.
 
The shadow of heaven?

 
One cannot however helplessly fail to cringe at its unwarranted fall, more especially so considering that unanimously did numerous ingratiating court chroniclers and eminent calligraphists leave behind glittering tributes to its original illustriousness. Reiterated here for emphasis is the resplendent legend inscribed on its entrance arch by the distinguished royal calligraphist Sa'adullah Khan –

“Praise be to God! How beautiful are these painted mansions and how charming are these residences: a part of the high heavens they are! I may say the high-souled holy angels are desirous of looking at them!
 
If the residents of different parts and directions of the world should come to walk round them, as they walk round the Ka’aba, it would be allowable; or if the beholders of the two worlds should run to kiss their highly glorious threshold as they kiss the black stone at Ka'aba, it would be proper.

The commencement of this great Fort, which is higher than the palace of the heavens and is the envy of the wall of Alexander; and of this pleasant edifice; and of the Garden of Hayat Baksh, which is to these buildings as the soul to the body, and the lamp to an assembly; and of the pure canal, the limpid water of which is to the person possessing sight as a mirror showing the world, and to the wise, the exposer of the secret world; and the water-cascades, each of which you may say is the whiteness of the dawn, or a tablet containing secrets of the Table and Pen of Fate; and of the fountains, each of which is a hand of light inclined to shake hands with the inhabitants of heavens, or is a string of bright pearls made to descend to reward the inhabitants of the earth; and of the tank, full to the brim of the water of life and in its purity the envy of light and the spring of the sun, announced in AD 1639, the 12th year of the holy ascension, proved to be the harbinger of happiness for men.

The completion of it, at the expense of fifty lakh of rupees, by the power of the auspicious feet of the sovereign of the earth, the lord of the world, the originator of these heavenly buildings, Shihabuddin Muhammad, the second lord of felicity, Shahjahan, the King, the champion of the faith, opened in the 21st blessed year of the accession, the door of grace to the world.”

 
Mere pitiful remnant this?! Unbelievable!


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 - Mumtaz Mahal and Rang Mahal, Red Fort complex
  8. Pixelated Memories - Naubat Khana, Red Fort complex
  9. Pixelated Memories - Sawan–Bhadon Pavilions and Zafar Mahal, Red Fort complex
  10. Pixelated Memories - Shah Burj and Burj-i-Shamli, 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 -