Monday, June 20, 2011

A Kutchi Summer: Day 5- The Nawabs of Junagadh and their makbara

I knew nothing about the Nawabs of Junagadh before my recent Gujarat venture - yes, I agree, I was a lousy student of history. For me, the trip has not only shown me lions and wild asses, Indian Coursers and Crested Larks, but it also brought me in touch with a part of the history of Indian independence and that dreaded P word - Partition.

Muslim rulers have been in Junagadh since the fourteenth century, and from the mid-eighteenth until Independence, Junagadh was under the rule of the Babi nawabs.

Amazing structure, and I just gawked at the Gothic columns, the Islamic domes, the somewhat European large windows...all together!
Click on the picture, and you will get to see the detailed work. I thought the quality of the work rivalled anything I had seen earlier.
The sixth nawab ascended the throne when he was 14, apparently, and ruled for 31 years. He is supposedly responsible for the mango orchards that Junagadh is now famous for. By this time, these nawabs were kowtowing to the "Agency", via the regent at Baroda.
So then we move ahead to the last nawab, the ninth one, Mahabat Khanji III, famous in India and buried in Pakistan. During my googling I discovered that he was a student of Mayo College, Ajmer. You may wonder, why this caught my attention, but a certain favourite author of mine also studied there!

So, Mahabat III is going along nicely, building dams (Willingdon dam), creating libraries, opening colleges, and being an extravagant dog lover (he had some 300 of them I believe, and used to throw birthday parties for them!).

He was also instrumental in putting a stop to lion hunting, preserving the Gir forests and the Gir cattle, so in terms of conservation in India, I guess he does have a place in history.

He was the nawab in 1947, and soon became friendless in India as he decided to accede to Pakistan. Much manoeuvering and dirty politics from both India and Pakistan, and he soon fled to Karachi, where he lived until his death, never returning once to his home soil. Matters were left to his Dewan to resolve and negotiate, and guess who the Dewan was?! Shah Nawaz Bhutto.

I also discovered that the descendants of Mahabat III continue to claim Junagadh as their state and part of Pakistan, as there is an instrument of accession, signed by the ninth nawab to Pakistan, and our Indian occupation of the state is therefore considered illegal.

Check out this site on the Junagadh state.

The Somnath temple, destroyed, looted and vandalised countless times in Indian history. Linked with the cruelties of Mahmud Ghazni in every school-going child's brain in India. A temple whose wealth has attained mythical status.

And there we were at its gates, with a strong breeze whipping off the Arabian Sea, facing this mammoth, rather new-looking structure, surrounded by the usual set of temple hawkers, but unusually clean for an Indian temple town. As we moved to get in, we had to ensure we had no leather on us (belts, wallets not alloed), no phones no cameras, and there was security to ensure that everyone was decorously attired. My fifteen year old son was not allowed in, in shorts, and so waited at the gates for us, in a black mood.

The location of the temple is just fabulous, and I could have spent hours just standing and staring across the sea. But in its current, restored pristine state, my imaginations of times gone by were just not was like a new Birla mandir, if you know what I mean.

Re-built in 1951, the structure is supposed to be a wonderful example of the Chalukya style of architecture. The ruins of the temple were pulled down in 1950, and Indian's first president Rajendra Prasad was said to be a moving force behind its current restoration.

It was time to head to the Veraval station, where this egret bade us farewell, as we all made our assorted ways back to our homes in Madras.

How fascinating is each and every state of India! Thirteen states that I have still not yet seen!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cubs for T-19!

The Hindu reports that it is Celebration time at Ranthambhore as T 19 is spotted with her 3 cubs.

The MNS group were at Ranthambhore in the summer of 2010, and there was sufficient Tiger spotting including T 17 and T 19, mentioned in this article. It was nice to read of their successful breeding.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Kutchi Summer: Day 5- Ashoka's edicts at Junagadh

Continued from the Uperkot fort.
This was one piece of antiquity that I wanted to see. Actually touch. I did. All those years ago, sitting in my history class (almost nodding off) as the teacher droned on (yes she did) about Ashoka, his edicts and his golden rule. And here I was, some three decades on actually seeing it!

After the Uparkot fort, we drove through some regular Indian town lanes and arrived in front of this white building. This would be the foothills of the Girnar mountain, the spot in the old days that pilgrims would have to pass on their way to the temples up in the hill.

Like a well-placed advertising hoarding of today, it must have gained much viewership because of its location!

I was seeing stuff from the second century BC, then! It had vanished into obscurity, as Junagadh itself languished. One of the reasons proffered is the flooding by rivers coming down the hills and the damage to the dam across the sudarshana lake. These are mentioned in the inscriptions of Rudraman and C Maurya. The edicts were then "re-discovered" by Lt Col James Tod, in 1822, after the British took over the area. The John Keay book on India quotes Tod as saying about the rock - "converted by the aid of the iron pen...into a book."
I could not be sure which was the earlier brahmi of Ashoka and which was the later script of Skandagupta Maurya from the fourth century AD, and there were no boards or "map" of the stone, to educate us either.

As my son pointed out, as only a teenager can, the ancient stone was in good shape compared to the new boards on the wall. Take a look.
The translation of the Rudraman inscriptions.
Translation of the first to fourth edicts of Ashoka

The first edict (on morality) prohibits the slaughter of animals. Basically the king had become a vegetarian! The second one decrees that medical treatment centres for men and cattle should be set up, as also wells dug and trees planted. (I have to say, this is what I used to write for every king who was "a good king", in my various history exams!!)
Fifth and sixth. Also on morality. It was interesting to read about how the king was to ensure justice for all men, mechanisms for grievance redressals, in the context of the DMK losing elections in TN and Kanimozhi being arrested.
Twelfth and thirteenth. The twelfth talks about sectarian harmony and the thirteenth about the path of non-voilence in the aftermaths of the kalinga war.

Skandagupta Maurya's edict transcription
Is this Brahmi? I think so.
Brahmi again?

I found these two sites:

Is it too much to wish for just a little eye to aesthetics, atmosphere and child-friendly and educative displays from the ASI? These were my thoughts as we moved on from here to the Makbara.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Kutchi Summer: Day 5- The Uparkot fort at Junagadh

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Ten of us skipped the last ride into Gir sanctuary, in order to make a quick dash to Junagadh. For sure, the rest would see spectacular sightings without us, that was a given! But I could not come so far, and go back without dipping into this part of ancient Indian history. Junagadh, linked to the Mauryas, important to Buddhists and Jains, a nawab who wanted to accede to Pakistan, the Girnar range of mountains...
The early morning sun falls on the Hiren river, as we set off to explore Junagadh
A purple moorhen watches us go - an Indica and a Qualis, ten of us peeled away from the lions of Gir.

First stop, the Uparkot fort. Believed to have been built by Chandragupta Maurya in 319 BC! The Neelam and Manek guns are displayed here. According to a board there, the Sultan Bahadurshah of Gujarat invited the Turkish naval force under Suleman in 1538 to fight the Portugese in Diu. the Sultan was killed, the Turks defeated and the guns abandoned! tehy were installed in Junagadh later.

Click on the picture and zoom in on the lovely detailing around that window on on of the walls of the structure that housed the Jami Masjid. The fort was abandoned for several centuries, some historians believe that there was a flood and the city was evacuated.
The inner courtyard. This part is believed to be a later addition when Muslim conquerors occupied and restored the fort, say tenth to fifteenth century AD. The pillars were arranged so that the roof had an octagonal opening.
One of the side corridors
The engravings over the mihrab
A closer look at the marble detailing, surrounded by graffiti. How did they get so high up to scribble, I wondered.
The Girnar mountains must have served as a natural barrier and protection. We did not have time to explore the temples on the highest peak (1100m and an extinct volcano), where you need to climb 5,000 steps to reach the Jain temples as well as aHindu temple.
Kites swooped and soared overhead
The upper ramparts
A view of the walls after we had descended to the site of the Buddhist caves
The entrance to the Buddhist caves, which are scooped out, in three levels from the surface downwards. The ASI board dated the caves, "stylistically" to the second century AD, the Satvahana period. There was a lot of kshatrapa pottery found buried in the caves, datable to 3rd-4th century AD.
This was the first chamber, a pond that collected rain water directly and also through a sytem of channels! Ingenious no?
Vanishing decorations along the roof. It was a hot day, but down below, it was remarkably cool. There were stone alcoves that probably served as beds for monks.
We could just about make out the carvings on the base of the pillars, down in level 3, floral ornamentations.
Emerging back up, and out from the caves.
A brahminy mynah was busy feeding its young.
A short walk brought us to the top of the Adi kadi Vav, a 162-stepped well!!
Here we are the head of the steps, looking down some 41 m. Its cut in the rock. Its probably one of the earliest stepwells in the country. Imagine, in times of siege, the fort thus had its own water source, but then again imagine walking up those steps laden with water!
The walls reminded me of the Petra rocks in Jordan, but what was really really sad was the state of the well. If you have the stomach, click on the picture and zoom in, the muck you see at the bottom of the steps is the well. I did not descend further because there was a foul smell emanating from below, and it is a shame that the ASI, which is charging an entrance fee, is not doing anything to keep this well clean.
A little further up was the Navghan kuvo, another stepwell, with a more elaborate forecourt.
I enjoyed the play of light and shadow, as I peered down those innumerable steps.
And was that a whole bank of pigeon-holes in the walls? The home for the official courier pigeons of the kingdom?