Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Attara Katcheri, Bangalore

The Attara Katcheri building originally housed the Secretariat of the Mysore kingdom, before the Vidhana Soudha building came into being. From 1956 onwards, the Attara Katcheri is being used as the Karnataka High Court Building.

I clicked this photo of a lady who alighted from an auto and was walking towards the building; probably an employee:
This is one of the entry gates to Attara Katcheri.
Attara Katcheri (Eighteen Departments) refers to the division of administrative departments into 18 specialised parts. Each part is called a chavadi or a katcheri, both words mean 'public assembly', referring to traditional systems of gathering together to discuss public matters.

The division into 18 administrative departments was originally done in Mysore by Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar in the early 1700's, in a manner similar to that followed in the Mughal court. The word Attara is not of Mysore origin; it is a corruption of the Hindustani / Khariboli word atthaarah.

The system of administering the kingdom through these 18 departments was followed during Tipu’s reign as well as during the subsequent British reign. While Tipu ruled from Srirangapatana, and the Wodeyars from Mysore, the British wanted to bring the seat of administration to Bangalore, close to their own cantonment. Therefore the Attara Katcheri building was commissioned in the mid-1800's.

It was designed by Major Gen Richard Hieram Sankey, the Chief Engineer of the Mysore government. He picked what is called the Graeco-Roman style, and you can see how he has used Greek temple and public building architecture concepts, such as columns and pediments. 
High Court by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Muhammad_Mahdi_Karim
The Attara Katcheri was completed in 1869 by the construction company of Arcot Narayanswamy Mudaliar and Rai Bahadur Bansilal Ramnathan. The public offices included the revenue collection arm, the secretariat, the judiciary and several others.

In 1956, when the Vidhana Soudha building was constructed, the Mysore High Court occupied the entire Attara Kacheri building. In 1973, the Mysore state was renamed as Karnataka, so Attara Katcheri is now the High Court of Karnataka.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Padmanabhapuram Palace in Kerala

Photo: Padmanabhapuram Palace entrance on the Trivandrum-Kanyakumari highway (on the Kerala side)

This was where Marthanda Varma stayed during the time of his rule. The elaborate structure is a good example of sprawling Kerala architecture. The stone interiors are spacious and cool, there is a bed made of 64 medicinal herbs all juxtaposed by pillars with intricate wood carvings. The secret paths make up a story of a regal life and intrigues of a time when life was precious but the control of land, more so. 

Photo Credit: http://nishaslifestyle.blogspot.in/2011/04/my-visit-to-padmanabhapuram-palace.html
Padmanabhapuram Palace entrance on the Trivandrum-Kanyakumari highway (on the Kerala side):

This was where Marthanda Varma stayed during the time of his rule. The elaborate structure is a good example of sprawling Kerala architecture. The stone interiors are spacious and cool, there is a bed made of 64 medicinal herbs all juxtaposed by pillars with intricate wood carvings. The secret paths make up a story of a regal life and intrigues of a time when life was precious but the control of land, more so. 

Photo Credit: http://nishaslifestyle.blogspot.in/2011/04/my-visit-to-padmanabhapuram-palace.html

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ghotua - a traditional sweet in Jaisalmer

If you go to Jaisalmer, try this shop - they're famous for their namkeens and mithais. 
Dhanraj Ranmal Bhatia, Sweet shop in Jaisalmer
I tried the ghotua and thought it was fabulous. I could only eat a little though, it was super sweet. Ghotua is a mix of gram flour (besan) and condensed milk solid (khoyaa/ mawa), it is cooked together patiently over a low flame, mixing and stirring often. That's what ghotna means, to mix in a circular fashion, so the laddoo made at the end is called ghotua. I think there's ghee in it also, and saffron or cardamom, not sure.
Ghotua! Gives you a sweet rush!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dutch forces surrender in Travancore, Kerala

Photo: Dutch forces surrender to the King Marthanda Varma in Travancore (1741 AD)

The king was kind to his prisoners and later employed the person shown bowing (Capt De Lannoy) in his army. De Lannoy was particularly impressed with his conduct and faithfully served till his death.

Maharaja Marthanda Varma was quite a hero of his time. At age 20, he took charge of the kingdom and found it to be on the brink of collapse. His soldiers were angry because there wasn't money to pay their wages. His own life was in danger since 8 neighbouring fiefdoms preferred him dead and kept plotting against him. Not a nice situation for one so young, but the king did not hesitate.

What did he do - made an opportune alliance with a powerful Pandya king as a result of which he bought an army and large infantry, all in return for lavish gifts from his side. This assured him of an army ready to work with him rather than against him and also kept his enemies (who were much smaller) at bay.

Next he got in place an effective spy network to keep track of his now subdued enemies.

He turned his attention to consolidation and annexed a smaller territory called Kayamkulam. This territory was under the control of the Dutch East India Company for its pepper output and his action put a spoke in their trade. They were particularly vexed because bad weather had caused the output to reduce substantially. Besides, the looming threat of the English had them worried about their strongholds.

To put the king in his place the Dutch General Van Imhoff threatened an invasion. The king warned that he would form a navy with the local fisherfolk and invade the whole of Europe :)

There are many views about the war, one side is that Varma made the local fisherfolk stand with their oars on their shoulders so they looked like guns and used fake cannons to fool the enemy. It was a time of heavy rain and poor visibility that helped the king to win. But his strategy is considered worthy. 

Another view is that the Dutch were just unlucky. They were waiting for replenishments that were delayed due to inclement weather. When it was time to fight, they had no choice but to give in. 

Whether it was subterfuge or just luck, this war placed a decisive blow on the Dutch plans to increase their presence in India and played an important role in the creation of history. 

Photo credit: http://bharatiyaculture.blogspot.in/2010/04/great-rulers-of-bharatvarsha-maharaja.html
Dutch forces surrender to the King Marthanda Varma (1741 AD)
Maharaja Marthanda Varma (1706 – 1758) was quite a hero of his time. 

At age 20, he took charge of the Travancore kingdom (what is today Kerala, Kanyakumari and southern Tamil Nadu), and found it to be on the brink of collapse. His soldiers were angry because there wasn't money to pay their wages. His own life was in danger since 8 neighbouring fiefdoms preferred him dead and kept plotting against him. Not a nice situation for one so young, but the king did not hesitate.

What did he do - made an opportune alliance with a powerful Pandya king as a result of which he bought an army and large infantry, all in return for lavish gifts from his side. This assured him of an army ready to work with him rather than against him and also kept his enemies (who were much smaller) at bay.

Next he got in place an effective spy network to keep track of his now subdued enemies.

He turned his attention to consolidation and annexed a smaller territory called Kayamkulam. This territory was under the control of the Dutch East India Company for its pepper output and his action put a spoke in their trade. They were particularly vexed because bad weather had caused the output to reduce substantially. Besides, the looming threat of the English had them worried about their strongholds.

To put the king in his place the Dutch General Van Imhoff threatened an invasion. The king warned that he would form a navy with the local fisherfolk and invade the whole of Europe 

There are many views about the war, one side is that Varma made the local fisherfolk stand with their oars on their shoulders so they looked like guns and used fake cannons to fool the enemy. It was a time of heavy rain and poor visibility that helped the king to win. But his strategy is considered worthy. 

Another view is that the Dutch were just unlucky. They were waiting for replenishments that were delayed due to inclement weather. When it was time to fight, they had no choice but to give in. 

Whether it was subterfuge or just luck, this war placed a decisive blow on the Dutch plans to increase their presence in India and played an important role in the creation of history.

The king was kind to his prisoners and later employed the person shown bowing (Capt De Lannoy) in his army. De Lannoy was particularly impressed with his conduct and faithfully served till his death.

Photo credit: http://bharatiyaculture.blogspot.in/2010/04/great-rulers-of-bharatvarsha-maharaja.html

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Blue City, Jodhpur

The Brahmpuri locality of Jodhpur has blue houses of the Brahmin community. Seen from ramparts of Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur. Later, we went walking in this area.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

The cattle breeds of Gujarat

There are 3.2 million people working in milk production in Gujarat.
The animal with the big upright U-curved horns is the Kankrej. Kankrej cattle are very well adapted to the geo-climatic conditions of Saurashtra and Kachchh. They have immense draught power, and yield good quantities of milk and good fat content even under stress conditions.

The Kankrej is renowned for its “Sawai Chaal”, i.e. the back leg reaches further than where the front leg landed, which helps ploughing of fields faster. If you have seen the bull seals of Mohenjodaro, you will recognize the Kankrej horns.

The brown one with the downward sloping horns is the Gir breed, a milch cow. The Gir is a very gentle breed, and they spend time in social groups. They lick and nudge each other and are very loving. The group protects calves together. In the photo you can see how they are sitting together in a group.

Buffaloes also are reared in Gujarat. Cooperatives in Gujarat pay Rs 455 per kg fat on an average to the farmers, which comes to around Rs 32 per litre of average buffalo milk. Due to the high income received, buffaloes have become so popular that the population of indigenous Gir breed has shrunk enormously. Pure bred Gir stock is not available these days, although there are now private as well as government initiatives to breed and develop Gir cattle.

The Banni Pashu Mela in January at Hodka is a cattle fair with competitions and displays.

The milk producers of Gujarat are organised into nearly 17,000 Village Dairy Cooperative societies. Gujarat produces 13 million litres of milk each day.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Charakku - The giant cooking cauldrons of Kerala

This is a Charakku, a type of famous cauldron from Kerala. Cast in bell metal (an alloy of tin and copper), these are said to be the largest cooking pots in the world. It is cast by a specific metal-worker community from Kerala, using the lost-wax method. They trace their genealogy from Vishwakarma.



The charakku is used in temples to cook sacred payasam (sweetened rice and milk porridge). In the past families also commissioned charakkus for wedding feasts, although this form of patronage now no longer commonly exists.

The process of casting is extremely complicated. A minute change in the temperature or consistency of clay or metal, or variation in the heating process, can ruin the vessel. Naturally the metal-workers begin the process only after ritual prayers.

Solar and lunar marks are often cast on the sides. The design has not changed over centuries; the curved handles and the heart-shaped design below the handle is commonly seen in old charakkus. This craft is dying for lack of patronage.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Aluminium trunks for sale in Jaipur

Aluminum trunks for sale in the market. These are very popular for storing a wide range of things - clothes, bedding, books, household implements etc. May be gifted along with a bride's trousseau. Some vendors such as biscuit-wallas also use aluminum trunks.

Photo: Aluminum trunks for sale in the market. These are very popular for storing a wide range of things - clothes, bedding, books, household implements etc. May be gifted along with a bride's trousseau. Some vendors such as biscuit-wallas also use aluminum trunks.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Shiva with the Mother-Goddessess in Ellora

Shiva with the series of Matrikas (mother-goddesses). You can see 4 of the goddesses here on the panel. The Matrikas are shown in their benign form. 
Carmel Berkson, author of Ellora - Concepts and Styles, says, "With the terrific aspect repressed entirely, the matrikas are depicted as benign and are worshipped in adulation. Sensuous, elegant, tender, beautiful adolescents, they are yet haughty and grand, quintessentially the creatrix."

Photo from wikimedia commons.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ellora_Shiva_Matrikas.jpg


Monday, April 14, 2014

Neem flower on Tamil New Year's Day

Today is the New Year for many parts of India: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab, Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Mizoram etc.

In Tamil Nadu, one of the ways we celebrate the festival is by making a dish with neem flowers.

Vepampoo or neem flower is known for its curative properties and the dish we make with it has all tastes - bitter (neem), sweet (usually jaggery), sour (usually tamarind), spicy (chillies) and salty.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Age at marriage in India

Today I saw an article where Iraq is considering allowing child marriages. And recently there have been numerous stories in the press about Narendra Modi being married at 17. It set me thinking about marriage trends in our country.

Not many people know that when Gandhi married Kasturba, he was 13, and she was 14. That was in 1882; and it was quite the norm at that time for people to marry young.
Gandhi and Kasturba
Based on his own life experiences, Gandhi concluded that child marriage was a "wicked custom" resulting in uneducated girls, early motherhood and sickly children. 

Gandhi refused to accept commonly held beliefs about protecting women's chastity through early marriage. "Why is there all this morbid anxiety about female purity?", he said. "Have women any say in the matter of male purity? We hear nothing of women's anxiety about men's chastity. Why should men arrogate to themselves the right to regulate female purity?"

More importantly, he said "It is good to swim in the waters of tradition, but to sink in them is suicide".

Thankfully the average age of marriage in India has improved vastly. When the British left India in 1947, the average age of marriage was 13 or 14. Currently we're at 21.2 years as the effective age of marriage (the age when marriage is consummated). We've come quite a distance in the last 60 years, especially if you look at the size of our population, and what it takes to change a whole nation's average in 50 years. It's nothing short of a revolution. But an average is just that; an average. It means there are many people below it. There are still many young brides and many young mothers.

Tougher implementation of legislation seems like the place to begin. There is legislation in place, called the Prevention of Child Marriages Act. The legal age of marriage today is 18 for girls and 21 for boys, and offenders are punishable with fines and imprisonment. If the boy is over 18 years of age at the time of marriage, he will be treated as an offender and can be punished. The guardians or parents of the child, including any member of any organisation or association that associates with child marriage or is negligent about preventing it can be punished. Those performing, participating or abetting child marriage can be prosecuted. Child marriages also can be legally annulled.

While the legal bedrock is necessary, prosecution is not the real solution. The underlying social and economic issues need to change. Thankfully again, there is a long history of social change and reform in India. While we protest today's wrongs, we must also rejoice that things are better for us today than there were yesterday. The country is changing. Women are changing. The old guard is actually bewildered by the speed of change.

The photo below is of Lakshmi Sargara, from Rohet near Jodhpur. In what is thought to be the first case of its kind in India, Lakshmi had her child "marriage" legally annulled in 2012.  She was married at the age of 1 to a boy 2 years old. When she turned 18, she appealed to the courts to declare her marriage void. The Jodhpur court supported her claim. She is now married to a man of her choice.
Photo and story source:
 http://aajtak.intoday.in/story/i-will-marriage-my-own-1-724297.html

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Goddess Meenakshi as the 3-breasted Tadaatakai, Madurai

Photo credit: Suba Palani, Chennai Magic
The Meenakshi temple in Madurai is all about legends. Each idol, each carving, has something to tell. 

Today I'll tell you the story of the goddess as the three-breasted Tadaatakai.

In ancient Madurai, Queen Kanchanamala and King Malayadhwaja Pandyan performed prayers to be blessed with a male child. 

To their surprise, instead of a boy, from the sacrificial fire, there emerged a three-year old girl child. She was born with 3 nipples. She was named Tadaatakai.

The girl was bright and valorous. She was raised as a son, taught the arts of war and grew up to be the ruler of Madurai.  

Tadaatakai set off on a 'digvijaya' (to conquer all four corners of the world). She vanquished the entire world, defeating the armies of all kings. When she met with Shiva's armies, she defeated them too. Finally Shiva himself came out to battle. But when Tadaatakai came face to face with Shiva, she suddenly underwent a change. The fierce warrior-queen became a shy maiden, lost her 3rd breast, and stood silent before the handsome Shiva.

The marriage of the maiden with Shiva was celebrated with great pomp and splendour. Shiva came to live in Madurai as Sundareswara, the Beautiful One. And Tataatakai became Meenakshi, the Beautiful Fish-Eyed Goddess.

The Silapadikaram, one of the 5 Great Tamil Epics, describes Tadaatakai as a warrior Goddess, with a crescent moon on her matted hair. In her left arm, she holds a lotus, and in the right hand a sword. In the statue above, we cannot see the left hand, but we can see that instead of the sword, she holds a vel, a spear. The Silapadikaram also describes her body as being coloured two ways - the right side is crimson in colour, and the left is dark coloured.

The phenomenon of having an extra breast is called polymastia; and Darwin believed it to be a form of atavism. Other such atavistic phenomena include additional nipples (polythelia), vestigal tails (coccygeal projection), or even prominent canines. A more thorough understanding of this phenomenon can be found here, including mentions of the Greek goddess Artemis, who is depicted with many breasts.

To me it is interesting that these naturally occuring phenomena in humans are not ridiculed, or the people who have 'abnormalities' denounced as witches. The goddess gives them their proud place under the sun. Truly Tadaatakai of the 3 breasts is unique among Indian goddesses.

Yaksha Matanga, Ellora Caves, Aurangabad

In Jainism, yakshas (male) and yakshinis (female) are guardian deities to protect the well-being of the tirthankaras, and to be their devotee. Usually, they are found in a pair around the idols of Jinas.
Yaksha Matanga, Jain Caves, Ellora
The Yaksha Matanga (pictured here) is associated with the Jina Parshvanatha. Matanga represents prosperity. Matanga is characterised by the following:
- His colour is blue
- He is seated on an elephant
- He is sometimes represented with 4 hands
- He holds the nakula (a stringed instrument, a simple zither)
- He holds an ankush (elephant goad) and pasha (noose)

While yakshas are mainly guardians and devotees of the Jina, people worshipped them because they were credited with supernatural powers and the ability to fulfil wishes. 

This cave at Ellora is called the Indra Sabha, because early visitors assumed this was Indra from the Brahmanical pantheon of gods.

Ranthambhore Tiger update

An update on the female tigers of the tourism zone in Ranthambhore, courtesy Dicky Singh of Ranthambhore Bagh:
  • All the mature females of the tourism zone of Ranthambhore have cubs right now: T 8 with one cub, T 19 with four cubs, T 39 has cubs (though no one has seen them as yet) and T 41 with one cub. Besides these, there are three or four young females that have either just come of age or are still too young to have cubs. Besides these females, there are about 14 males that can be seen in the tourism zones.

The photo below is something I clicked 2 years ago. The tigress in the photo is T 39 and she had just then given birth to her first cub. I am glad to hear she had a second one this year.
If you enjoy nature and wildlife, and wish to visit a tiger sanctuary, right now is the best time to do it. April, May, June are the best time for sighting tigers as the undergrowth will be less thick, and the water sources limited. Here is T 39 walking thhrough the shrubbery just a few feet from us. Can you imagine this scene in winter, when the forest is green and dense? The tiger would be impossible to see! So go now, people, while there are fewer tourists in the jungle.
More photos here: http://delhimagic.blogspot.in/2012/06/tiger-sighting-at-ranthambhore-may-2012.html

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Junagarh Fort (exterior), Bikaner

The first thing that struck me about Bikaner was the super-abundance of camel carts! It seemed to me that everywhere I pointed my camera, I found a camel. Here's the first photo I clicked in Bikaner city, you can see the camel-cart in the foreground, with 'Chintamani' (now called Junagarh) in the background. 
The word Chintamani refers to a legendary wish-fulfilling jewel. He who possesses the Chintamani is assured of getting his heart's desire. An apt name, then, for a fort that articulated the dreams of the Bikaner dynasty who wanted to build a kingdom of their own in a desolate land.

Juna means Old, and Garh means Fort. In the 1900's the royal family of Bikaner moved out of Chintamani, into a new palace. Locals then began to call the old fort Junagarh. The new palace, Lalgarh (translation: the Red Fort) is now a heritage hotel, and the family still lives there.

Most Rajasthani forts are designed for protection, usually located at vantage points at the top of a hill. The rulers of Bikaner seem to have had no such fears, and built Junagarh fort right at the ground level. Which is a bit strange, because Bikaner has had a history of feuding with Marwar (Jodhpur) ever since Rao Bika mounted an expedition against Jodhpur in the late 1400's. Perhaps they were confident of Karni Mata's blessings!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Janaki Krishnan's Kothamalli Thogayal

Best with crisp hot dosas!

Ingredients:
  • Fresh coriander leaves 1 bunch
  • 4 dry whole red chillies
  • a pinch of hing (asafoetida)
  • 1 cup urad dal
  • lemon size tamarind
  • small marble size jaggery
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • salt to taste.
In a tea spoon of oil roast urad dal, chillies and hing on low flame till the dal changes colour a little.

Grind it a little roughly, adding raw tamarind, jaggery and salt.

Once it is ground, then add the coriander leaves roughly chopped, and grind again, just do a quick spin. Ta-da! Done!

If you want a dry powder version of this dish, avoid adding water while grinding. Sprinkle a few drops only. For wetter version add 3 or 4 table spoons of water.

The dry version can be stored in the fridge. I sometimes use it on idlis, coat the idli with oil or ghee and roll in the powder. Good for a moist tasty lunch dabba. This can be used as sandwich spread also.

Some people add fresh grated coconut while grinding, but that gives it a very different flavour, and also in that case, it must be consumed quickly.