(A) Noor’s Homeland.

 

BEAUTIFUL NOOR2 Old map


Avi wef 16 2 2017

Welcome to Noor’s blog page which features stories and musings, ancient and modern from her homeland of Hindustan/India.

I hope you enjoy reading the entries.


THE NAUTCH.   #Nautch

 

“Dancing is the poetry of the foot.” ~ John Dryden.

I love to dance ~ I always have ~ for as long as I can remember.

 

It releases a freedom in me; an explosive trigger releasing and propelling my seemingly weightless spirit to soar upwards, and in doing so, I exit mortality and enter a place of indescribable beauty graced by celestial dancers, angels ~ and my mother.

 

A heavenly jurisdiction that few are blessed to reach; yet it is here, for an all too brief period, that we perform our ethereal dances together.
And it is during this existential interlude that dancing assumes the form of a protective shield ~ temporarily erasing the cruel realities of the world and negating my sorrowful recollection of times past.

 

Navneet (@Navneet_Maid1) smiles and softly plucks at sitar’s sympathetic strings ~ its distinctive timbre resonating with soothing notes as her skilful accompaniment to my early morning exercise. For she knows where I will be going.

Just the two of us, peaceably settled in my yoga room, as I assiduously practice the steps of ancient, classical dance, each thoughtful, controlled breath encouraging the warm, lithe muscles of body, torso, legs, feet, toes, arms, hands, fingers, shoulders, neck, head, eyes and expression to move in fluid, fluent, sensual, synchronisation and interpretation.

 

It matters not that I no longer dance for men; only my husband and, by his invitation, honoured guests were permitted that privilege. And accompanied by the most skilful singers and musicians of the Imperial Court, dance for them I did ~ but as a matter of command, compulsion and duty ~ my outward visage of radiant happiness and obedience a mere skilful mask of concealment at the disgust and humiliation raging inside.

 

Whereas now, in my seclusion, I can dance of my own volition; the liberty of choice, the elation of soul and the love of heart conjoining and embracing me in the sheer joy of freedom and movement.

Beat and tempo increasing, feet stamping and ghungru ~ wound and hovering immediately above tiny ankles ringing out ~ I spin fast now through my steps.

The metallic emissions of the ghungru accentuate the rhythmic aspects of my dance as I seek accurate placement, not only of my steps, but of expression through arms and hands ~ but my vocation becomes so much more than that, as consciousness is lost to a sensuality permeating my entire body and elevating my mind as I seek to penetrate and absorb the skills of the Nautch ~ and to reach beyond them to the Apsaras ~ and ultimately ~ my mother……

 

 

Mind driven into and by the trance of the dance, I wonder if the Nautch, in their rarely performed and most sensuous of dances which would draw them too into irrecoverable trances ~ and finally to the attainment of Nirvana ~ ever experienced ascent from the earth to dance with the celestial in heaven. 

 

 

To dance with the unsullied, the repositories of voluptuous beauty, the Goddesses and celestial dancers of the clouds ~ the Apsaras ~ and to pay obeisance at their elegant, sculpted feet; ankles and legs still adorned with the echo of ghungru bells in a continuing spiritual reminder of times long past.

 

The pristine presence of the Apsaras continuing to enchant as they embrace those who reach them through dance, whilst waiting ever longer for their appreciative audience of lovers they had denied to return.

 

 

……Whilst I continue to dance through the vacant void of a future yet to be filled, and having abdicated my body, I dance before ~ and with ~ my mother…… 

 

 

Do the Nautch in their trances ever dance with the Apsaras and angels as I do now?

 

Is there someone beyond mortality that they too dance to reach? I hope so. I really do, as exiting the hurdy-gurdy spins, I plummet back to earth and fall ~ exhausted in mind, body and spirit ~ to the floor…….Navneet quietly setting the sitar aside before covering me with a blanket as I cool and recover. For she has seen it all before.

 

As a high-ranking member of the Mughal Imperial family, my father (@Zafar_Bahadur1) always kept Nautch girls as part of his household, and as such, they lived under his protection.

Although accommodated in a separate zenana (ladies’ quarters), they were not imprisoned and I would ask you not to think badly of father for keeping these ladies ~ for it was the Nautch, as artistes, who patiently taught me the sensuous and disciplined secrets of dance. Lessons for which I remain forever grateful.

 

 

When I was young ~ at about ten years of age, already married but not yet of an age to join my husband’s house, I would serve at father’s table in the evenings, after which the Nautch would present their professional calling and entertain his male dinner guests.

 

Partaking of further refreshments, drinking, speaking in low voices and uttering murmurs of appreciation at various aspects of the performance, the men would pass the remainder of the evening reclining on the finest Persian rugs, with their bodies supported by sumptuously upholstered silk bolsters.

 

My father never asked or compelled me to serve at table, but as a dutiful daughter, and aware that before long I would be hidden away from the covetous eyes of men in my husband’s household, I considered it a privilege to honour my father’s hospitality by serving food and drinks as well as presenting basins of rose petal scented water and napkins with bowed, covered head and lowered, averted eyes whenever a man arrogantly beckoned in my direction that his hands were soiled.

 

Father remained a man of the utmost probity and integrity ~ and having vowed never to lie with another woman following the death of his beloved Begum ~ he never deviated from his commitment; even with the beauteous Nautch girls dwelling in his household.

 

 

Neither would father tolerate any male guests uttering foul words to the Nautch, misbehaving by word, deed or gesture or offering them payment for services outside their professional art.

 

For those who actually /knew/ my father realised the Nautch he kept were respected and revered for the purity of their art form ~ an art my father helped preserve and perpetuate, whilst others would have it diminished and the dancers disrespected.

 

As tradition dictates, father would continue to offer courtesy and hospitality, even to those who breached his standards of conduct, successfully concealing any insult to his honour by anyone who dared slight the Nautch ~ with the result that few did.

 

And what of the Nautch? Little did we know at the time, but we were witnessing the zenith of their skill, social and cultural standing.

 

Regarded as a gift the Gods had bestowed on my father’s house and living in considerable comfort, no eunuch served to guard the zenana doors, and thus their privacy, from the prying eyes of men; the Nautch being free to enter and leave as they chose, to join another Court if they so wished or even to become free and independent performers.

 

In essence, a relationship forged on trust and respect between my father, the Nautch and male guests in his house.

 

Having attracted devoted admirers, a few Nautch chose to leave for love marriages, but most remained, knowing how vilely their beautiful yet talented minds and bodies might be used and abused elsewhere, as despite being trained dancers and performers, they were frequently enslaved; confined and hired to perform for men, given as gifts or purchased to enhance a man’s status amongst his peers and adorn his harem.

 

But in the protective sanctity of my father’s house the Nautch thrived, and as their dancing days drew to a close, they trained willing young apprentices to dance, as well as in other female arts. For the Nautch were so much more than dancers.

 

They possessed the most refined manners and a ready wit and they were also renowned as being raconteurs of love poetry memorised and handed down through the ages ~ in addition to being talented singers and musicians. 

 

Plus, all were born with an irrefutable knowledge and love of the arts flowing through their veins ~ knowledge which they refined to cater to the whims of their elite patrons and their guests.

Even though I was still very young, innocent and unversed in the ways of men, I was proud of my father for I knew he imposed a strict limit on the enjoyment male guests could gain from the company of the Nautch; and thus, they felt confident under the protection of my father’s house and good name.

 

To my knowledge, none of the Nautch were ever abused whilst under my father’s protection ~ and so they danced on ~ to the strains of sitar, tabla, cymbals and the metallic rhythm of their ghungru.

 

Fluid, sensuous movements capturing and enrapturing men; sometimes building from a slow commencement to twirling and whirling so fast their bodies could barely be seen, colourful glass winking in their richly decorated costumes a blur, whilst feet spun lightning fast circles across the ground, all the while maintaining a gossamer lightness beneath ankle bells beating time ~ and then suddenly……a transition to absolute stillness, the most beautiful of sculpted statues, the mere flicking of toned, defined, shuddering, delicate muscles, surmounted by beguiling, beckoning eyes tempting desperate men towards a Nirvana they would never fully attain or experience.

 

Temptation and sensuality so alluring that it mesmerised men into absolute obedience, enslaved by the Nautch; and as they called out in appreciation of her art form and threw gold coin as her reward ~ she would be gone ~ leaving only male gasps followed by the silence of their memories still seeking her dance in what was now a void space as /their/ reward.

And in the void absented by my mother, I too dance on, celebrating and paying homage to the Nautch, as well as giving thanks for my own freedom from possession and compulsion. Albeit temporary.

 

{{Writers notes:}}

Nautch dancers first emerged and rose to prominence during the Mughal era (1526 – 1857) but they were also a significant presence during the time of the British East India Company and the subsequent British Raj of 1858 – 1947.

 

Originally performers at the Mughal Imperial Court, as well as at the palaces of the Nawabs and rulers of the Princely States, they later performed before the higher echelons of the British Raj before gradually dispersing to the palaces of the smaller Zamindars (aristocrats and landlords).

 

Nautch girls should not be confused with Devadasis who performed predominantly classical ritual and religious dances in Hindu temple precincts to please the temple deities; whereas Nautch performed solely for the pleasure of men.

 

Attributing the name “Nautch” to a female in Hindustan reflected her entrancing skill in dance, and as such, they were a unique class of courtesan who played a significant role in the history, social and cultural life of the country.

 

Sadly ~ and over time ~ the Nautch skills and knowledge of the arts and classical dance became diluted to include popular dance; in part due to the reduced power and finances of many of their patrons, the spread of western education plus pressure from an increased number of Christian missionaries after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.

 


And gradually, as dance became stigmatised and shunned by both British and Indians, many Nautch girls were abandoned by their patrons and forced into prostitution to survive ~ so that by the early 20th century, the respectable art of the Nautch had acquired a derogatory connotation; their demise further exacerbated by being driven almost wholly underground by the attention of zealots.

 

A sad end to their art form ~ but long may the Nautch dance ~ in memory and history.

 

 

 


 

“THE DAUGHTER’S TALE.          #StrongWomen       #AMughalGameOfThrones 

1 To Begin

“I know of this Princess, for she was of my time. Not the elder or favoured daughter, but possessed of a brilliant and cultivated mind, circumspect in her choice of allies, destroyer of her adversaries, ambitious and jealous. And her time would come.”

Raised in the Imperial Court during the zenith of the Mughal Empire, she railed against the claustrophobic restrictions of the harem; something of an irony, as it was an institution /she/ yearned to control.

But the Princess was also a pragmatist – observing and listening, carefully cultivating future allies, controlling her jealousy and curbing her ambition whilst biding her time during lengthy sojourns closeted behind the doors of the Imperial Harems of Agra Fort, and latterly, the Red Fort – the centre of government in the newly created capital of Shahjahanabad.

Fort. Fort. And she fought for her place – as does every woman from the moment they are birthed with the disadvantage of their sex. Her exalted place not earned, but bequeathed through the advantage of birth as the daughter of an Emperor. And the ambitious Princess determined, at an early age, that her place in the Imperial Court would not only be retained – but advanced.

Her calculating mind forever advancing too, benefitting from and utilising her extensive education as a means to the ultimate end game. A Princess acknowledged as an eminent scholar as well as a talented musician and poet – her brilliance in all fields admired by friends and foes alike.

But she wanted more. So much more.

2 Roshanara Begum.png
Beware then, the unfavoured Princess – jealous, ambitious, manipulative, perceptive and an intuitive tactician; vital life skills honed razor sharp by the constant ebb and flow of secrets, gossip, innuendo, truths, lies and disinformation constantly conveyed in hushed whispers forever swirling like grains of sand in the wind around the Imperial Harem’s many chambers.

The harem – to which no man has access – unless the keeper of wives and concubines. Even then, he is only permitted access to those he keeps. None are permitted unlimited access, and so are not privy to the innermost secrets of the ladies’ chambers. Unless you are the Emperor. The ladies see to that.

Undermining and outmanoeuvring male and female inquisitiveness, the Princess used her position and considerable wealth to establish a personal network of informants amongst the harem’s ever present eunuchs. With gold coin to lubricate their tongues, the Princess moulded them into compliant and reliable sources of information; absolutely essential in taking forward her pursuit of power. And she looked first towards supplanting the existing Padshah Begum.

But she wanted more. So much more.

For the Princess wanted to wield power, not only within the confines of the harem, but throughout the Empire too. And the eunuchs and everyone else in her employ and inner circle knew not to cross her.

Her parents were potent and prolific producers of children and amongst her four brothers, the first and eldest was her father’s favourite and heir apparent. Promoted throughout his life, and ultimately appointed Governor of Bihar, he was civilised, courtly and supported by an elder sister, who was also their father’s favourite – which caused the unfavoured Princess to rage even more as the elder sister exerted considerable influence throughout the Imperial Harem /and/ Court as the Padshah Begum – a position conferred by their father after the death of their mother.

And the Princess seethed with jealousy when her elder sister was allocated the Mumtaz Mahal, the most magnificent of the zenana quarters in the Red Fort as exclusively hers, thus enabling the admission of forbidden lovers in secret, the younger Princess receiving no such favours – despite both being forbidden to marry.

3 Mumtaz Mahal.png

But she was a Princess sickened too. Sickened by the rumours that the father/eldest daughter relationship went beyond what was accepted as normal parameters. “For would it not have been unjust for the father to deny himself the privilege of gathering the fruit from the tree he himself had planted?”…….the rumours said.

Thus cultivated, fertile resentment, jealousy and ambition continued to grow.

Her second brother? Their father appointed him Governor of Bengal with his capital at Dhaka – but he was of a rebellious nature and it wasn’t long before his covetous eyes turned towards the ultimate prize – the Peacock Throne.

The third brother? Their father appointed him Governor of the Deccan – but he was a sly one, projecting the aura and simplicity of a devout Muslim in public – but what of his private persona?

And her fourth brother? Their father appointed him Governor of Gujarat, but he was so ineffective that he was soon stripped of his titles, their father conferring them on his first and favourite son, which proved to be a costly mistake as it became the catalyst which ignited the simmering tensions between father and sons and eventually resulted in bitter internecine fighting.

But which one of her four brothers did the embittered Princess choose as her ally? Who did she support in the power struggle between her father, his four sons and their resolve to depose him and seize the Peacock Throne for themselves?

Who will win the Mughal Game of Thrones? And who will die?

For the Mughal dynasty never followed primogeniture whereby the throne passed to the eldest surviving son and proclaimed heir. Custom and tradition dictated that all the princely sons could contest for the right to sit upon the Peacock Throne – military might plus influence and support at the Imperial Court being paramount in the quest for success – and survival.

4 Shah Jahan on the Peacock Throne

And the quest of this unfavoured Princess?

She ultimately masterminded the accession to the throne, but not before she had taken the greatest of care in observing and listening silently as well as obtaining and analysing information gleaned from trusted informants before choosing the ally she deemed worthy of her support – and the most likely victor.

Clinically dissecting her brother’s temperaments, ambitions, intelligence, military might and political support, she soon realised that the battle would be decided between just two of her brothers; and she intended to be on the winning side.

Her choice?

Her third brother; a battle hardened warrior and proven tactician commanding military strength in numbers; this despite him being distrusted at the Imperial Court, rarely revealing his true hand outside of his public persona which was permanently cloaked in Muslim piety.

As neither the Princess or her third brother had been favoured by their father, both had taken the precaution of establishing separate but extensive and effective networks of spies and informants; essential for individual survival, but when these were amalgamated by the ambitious pair with victory and the prize of Peacock Throne in their sights, they became formidable adversaries.

And of the rumours that the Princess was both a poisoner and a witch? ShrugsHer brother also was rumoured to have similar skills with poison and in sorcery, so they made the most likely of allies!

5 Shah Jahan embracing his three sons - not MuradMeanwhile their father, in wishing to maintain his iron grip on the throne and claiming he wished a peaceful resolution to the family crisis before it dissolved into open conflict, summoned all parties to Shahjahanabad.

But the spiders web of trusted eunuchs and other informants now permeating the harem and all aspects of Imperial Court life intimated otherwise to their controller and paymistress, the ambitious Princess. And on hearing that their father intended to slay her brother on arrival in Shahjahanabad, she sent dispatches to him with all speed warning of his demise at the hands of their father if he obeyed the summons and entered the capital.

6 The Peacock Throne

And so this plot, one of many which would threaten the ambition of a ruthless Princess, was foiled. Which of course meant her brother was now in her debt and duty bound to show his gratitude with a commensurate reward at a later date

Meanwhile the warring parties continued to monitor each other’s activities remorselessly; on the lookout for anything that might be used as an advantage over a rival.

And the powerful but unwitting and naïve Padshah Begum continued entertaining her illicit lovers – perceiving herself secure in /her/ position as their father’s appointee – whilst a deadly dance of positioning between four brothers and sister circulated around her; their manoeuvres coming to a head when their father fell ill and appointed his favourite son as Regent.

7 Jahanara with lover.png
For that was when the bitter power struggle finally erupted into a vicious war of succession which threatened to destroy an Empire which was the one of the largest, and certainly the richest and most civilised, in the known world.

The second brother was the first to make a move. On hearing that his elder brother had been declared Regent, he declared himself Emperor and immediately marched his troops out of Bengal and headed towards Agra.

Simultaneously, the fourth brother also declared himself Emperor, but besides being a weak administrator, his claim emanated from a position of military weakness, and so, putting discretion before any lust for power, he decided to ally himself with the third brother and the Princess.

And it was only after several months of virulent and bloody campaigning, resulting in great loss of life, that planning, strategy, tactics, military might and influence won the day; the victors being the third son and his primary supporter – the unfavoured but ambitious Princess.

Power! Power that was finally hers. But how would the Princess utilise her new found power? The power /behind/ the Peacock Throne……..for now.

Of necessity she had to rid herself and her brother of their enemies. For they still existed, and far too close to the Peacock Throne for her liking; particularly the threats from within her own family.

Her solution? She determined to exile, purge or dispose of them as soon as practicable, but without the finger of blame pointing directly at her, as she had no wish to be continually looking over her shoulder at looming, threatening shadows.
For the dark threat of death always beckoned, silently stalking from the shadows and more overtly along the corridors of power in the Imperial Court.

8 Hall of the Public Audiences Red Fort Delhi_tonemapped + signedThe Princess quickly persuaded her brother to exile the deposed and ailing ruler – their father – from the seat of power in Shahjahanbad to incarceration in the forbidding sandstone fort of his old capital, Agra.

Her brother then summarily declared himself Emperor – despite his father still being alive.

Yet for the Princess, victory remained bitter sweet – incomplete whilst she lived in fear of her first born brother, for despite his defeat, he still had many allies and considerable military strength and it took two long years of relentlessly pursuing him around the Empire before he was finally brought to heel.

The Princess, well aware that her brother, the erstwhile Regent, would execute her if he ever returned to power, had to strike fast. Only then would her insecurities dissolve. Or would they?

9 Agra Fort IMG_4922_tonemapped + signedBattles, the exhaustion of continual pursuit, desertion, treachery and betrayal finally brought the first born brother down and the Princess wasted no time in bringing her influence to bear on the new Emperor by demanding that he execute their defeated brother as soon as possible – presenting her plan as the /only/ viable option open to them; for not only was the defeated brother the only remaining political threat to their newly acquired positions of power, but he was also popular with the common people. A dangerous mix.

And after the eldest brother was defeated, captured and brought to Shahjahanabad, the Princess took great joy in his humiliation, weighed down by chains and paraded on a filthy, tatty elephant in “procession” along Chandni Chowk, designed ironically by her now deposed sister as the main thoroughfare of their father’s new capital – the road linking the Red Fort with her father’s magnificent mosque of Jama Masjid.

10 Jama Masjid IMG_7479_tonemappedThere was little doubt in the minds of the high born, courtiers and populace alike that the Princess virulently “encouraged” the new ruler to execute their brother, poisoning his mind with views that he was a heretic – for had he not favoured Hindus? An anathema to her pious Muslim brother – despite earlier Emperors setting the tone that their subjects should accept religions of all persuasions.

And thus persuaded, the heinous deed was accomplished by four of the new Emperor’s henchmen who beheaded the defeated brother in front of his terrified young son.

And what of their ailing, imprisoned father? The powerful pair were not so heartless as to separate him from their deceased mother, his beloved wife. Or maybe they were, as he viewed her glistening white mausoleum through the bars of his prison in Agra Fort each and every day.

His living hell – under house arrest on the orders of two of his children and now, grey of hair and beard, countless tears dripped as heavy as the morning dew in the monsoon rains as he awaited news of his favourite son’s campaign to ascend the Peacock Throne as well as his appointed time to join his beloved.

11 Agra Fort IMG_4978_tonemapped + signed

Heartless!

For all her success and power, the Princess continued to seek revenge for every perceived slight she had suffered under her father’s rule – even dispatching his favourite son’s head, wrapped in a golden turban and neatly packaged as gift from herself and the newly installed Emperor to their father in Agra – along with a carefully constructed, cryptic message, that allowed him to hope that his offspring still cared for him and thought of him frequently as he spent his days languishing as their prisoner.

And the heartless Princess scoffed and laughed when his gaoler returned a message saying that when their father received the brilliantly presented package – just as he was sitting down to dinner – he was heartened and overjoyed that his children had remembered him. But when he opened the package and saw the head of his favourite son he fainted away and remained in a stupor for several days afterwards.

And the desecrated, headless body of the favourite son? Buried in an unmarked grave in the site known as the “Dormitory of the Mughals” as there are so many graves there. In Humayun’s Tomb – somewhere.

13 Humayuns Tomb IMG_7657_tonemapped + signed

12 Humayuns Tomb IMG_2393_tonemapped

And a daughter smiled at a father now restrained – whilst her own restraints and ambitions were unleashed – to usurp the Padshah Begum. First.

But what of the other two brothers? The second, having suffered mass desertions which negated his pursuit of the Peacock Throne, fled into exile in Arakan (Burma) where he disappeared from view; but he was never a serious contender.

And the fourth brother, despite originally aligning himself with the victorious Princess and her brother, was executed following a brief trial. His crime? He was found guilty of the murder of an official in Gujarat many years earlier. But as the victors had imprisoned him in Gwalior Fort for three years prior to his “trial,” any threat from him had been long neutralised.

And now – no threats remained. Or did they?

For it was the ambition of a Princess which ultimately turned /her/ into the threat.
To say the relationship between the elder and younger Princesses was tinged with jealously would be an understatement; but when the Princess and her brother emerged victorious, who else other than his loyal supporter and informant could he choose to head the Imperial Harem and supplant the elder Princess as the Padshah Begum?

14 Roshanara and Jahanara

Padshah Begum at last! Ambition realised and victory achieved through feminine wiles, deviant cunning, little mercy and much bloodshed. Although a small mercy was dispensed when the new Padshah Begum permitted the deposed one travel to Agra to care for their ailing father, where she remained until his death.

But she remained alive, and as such, /her/ continuing threat was overlooked.

15 Jahanara 4 The Passing of Shah Jahan + Jahanara

But still….still….the new Padshah Begum wanted more.

For another issue rankled her ever active mind. Ever since the time of the third Emperor, Akbar the Great, Mughal Princesses had been forbidden to marry lest any of their issue mount a challenge for the throne. Bad enough an Emperor having disaffected sons warring amongst themselves, let alone the offspring of daughters who had /no/ line of succession to the Peacock Throne. And so Akbar, in living up to his reputation for perspicacity, ensured this would never happen.

16 Roshana 1

Despite being forbidden to marry, and as her elder sister had done before her, the Princess took lovers – many lovers – and none too discreetly, thus offending her pious brother’s sensibilities and stirring resentment amongst the other wives and concubines of the Imperial Harem whom she ruled with an iron hand; the Princess considering herself untouchable now that she was the Padshah Begum.

And it also gave her great pleasure to accrue wealth on a huge scale, frequently through corrupt methods, levying multiple, unfair taxes and misusing the sweeping powers her brother left in her hands whilst he was campaigning in the Deccan – which he frequently was.

Powers she did not hesitate to abuse in order to further her own aims.

Padshah Begum! And as such, the Princess believed herself inviolable and that no-one could touch her, for as much as her enemies reported her financial and moral turpitude to her increasingly angered and devout Muslim brother, he was too far away to act against her.

But it was during a monsoon season, when her brother had returned to Shahjahanabad and fell ill with a fever from which he was not expected to recover, that the Princess made a mistake from which she would never recover her standing in the Imperial Court.

In order to protect her own power and position after her brother, the Emperor’s “demise,” and acting as the Padshah Begum, the Princess misused the Imperial Seal to make a proclamation in favour of her brother’s nine year old son as successor to the Peacock Throne in preference to his elder brother and rightful heir. Her intention being to reign as Regent on the young son’s behalf.

But her brother recovered; and in hindsight maybe it was a catastrophic error on the Princesses part not to have had him poisoned – just to /ensure/ her position was consolidated after his death.

And on the Emperor’s recovery, it wasn’t difficult for those jealous of the Padshah Begum – and there were many of them – to advise him of her plans, and despite the Princesses long term support for her brother, he publicly disgraced her, ordering her to remain in seclusion and live a pious life in the garden palace and gardens she had created for herself outside the Shahjahanabad city walls.

17 Gardens

But there were also rumours that when her brother subsequently discovered the Princess entertaining no less than nine lovers in the Red Fort harem apartments, he had her discreetly poisoned. Who knows?

Plus, there was a final irony to add to the Princesses spectacular fall from grace, as some years after the natural death of their father, her brother was reconciled with their elder sister and bestowed on her the title “Empress of Princesses.”

Karma you might argue, which eventually saw the elder Princess restored to her former position as First Lady/Padshah Begum – and she outlived the younger Princess by 13 years.

An adversary is always a threat, and if overlooked, can be very dangerous indeed.

Which left only those at the height of Imperial Court circles who knew the truth behind the death of an unfavoured, intelligent, jealous and manipulative Princess – and the truth was buried with her when the Emperor had her laid to rest beneath the pavilion in her peaceful gardens.

I often wonder at the truth behind the death of a Princess of my time – and in parallel with her life I suppose – her final resting place in the beautiful gardens she had created would eventually fall into decay and ruin.

18 Tomb.png

19 Roshanara 2

Roshanara Begum was born on 3rd September 1617. She was the second daughter of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. From a young age she tried to exert her influence in the Imperial Court, but after the death of their mother in 1631, it was her elder sister – Jahanara Begum – who rose to prominence when their father appointed her Padshah Begum; the head of the Imperial Harem.

20 Jahanara 2

In seeking revenge for this perceived slight, Roshanara played a major role in the politics surrounding the War of Succession during which all four of Shah Jahan’s sons laid claim to the Peacock Throne. Allying herself with the victor, Aurangzeb, finally allowed Roshanara to usurp her elder sister’s position.
Dara Shikoh, the eldest son, was Shah Jahan’s favourite, nominated Regent, heir apparent and supported by his favourite daughter, Jahanara.

The second son, Shah Shuja, was rebellious, had designs on the Peacock Throne and declared himself as Emperor at one stage. But he was not a serious contender and fled into exile.

Aurangzeb, a pious Muslim, was the third born son. He was ambitious, a hardened warrior and keen to expand the Mughal Empire. Roshanara joined forces with him and became the mastermind behind his accession to the throne. Having imprisoned his ailing father – whom he did not physically mistreat – Aurangzeb declared himself Emperor in 1658 and was crowned a year later.

Murad Baksh, the youngest son, was an incompetent administrator, but this didn’t prevent him from declaring himself Emperor before joining forces with Aurangzeb and Roshanara. Again, not a serious contender for the throne before his execution in 1661 following several years imprisonment.

The Imperial Court relocated from Agra to the newly constructed capital of Shahjahanabad in 1648 – well before the battle between the Emperor and his offspring began in earnest.

22 Hall of the Private Audiences Red Fort Delhi_tonemapped + signed
Roshanara was a brilliant political tactician, capable of making military decisions and it was considered likely that she masterminded the murder of Shah Jahan’s nominated successor – Dara Shikoh – thus enabling Aurangzeb to consolidate his claim to the throne. He installed Roshanara as Padshah Begum whilst their father remained under “house arrest” in Agra Fort; his quarters overlooking their mother’s mausoleum, the Taj Mahal.

23 Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

24 Taj Mahal IMG_4740_tonemapped

Roshanara continually overstepped the mark though, consistently abusing the powers given to her, and when Aurangzeb succumbed to an illness from which he was not expected to recover, it was rumoured she supported his youngest son as successor so that she could reign as Regent – only to be publicly disgraced when Aurangzeb recovered.
She also accrued great wealth – often corruptly – enjoyed great displays of ostentation and flouted her many lovers. Possibly in frustration at the fact that Mughal Princesses who were the direct issue of an Emperor were forbidden to marry.

Eventually this all proved too much for Aurangzeb, who was frequently absent from Shahjahanabad on lengthy military campaigns in the Deccan.

On stripping Roshanara of her powers, he ordered her to remain in seclusion and live a pious life in the garden palace she had created for herself outside the city walls – and the gardens of Roshanara Bagh survive to this day.

25 Gardens
However, some accounts say that Aurangzeb had her discreetly poisoned when he subsequently caught her red handed with several lovers in the Red Fort harem apartments. Who knows?

Following the death of Shah Jahan in 1666, Aurangzeb was reconciled with Jahanara, whom he eventually restored to the position of Padshah Begum.

What /is/ certain is that after Aurangzeb became Emperor, Roshanara remained afraid of the implications of her actions in supporting him and built a palace outside the city walls where she could conceal herself from the dangers of political intrigue if necessary. The area she chose was in the north of the city in an area of thick forest.

26 Roshanara in her gardens
Unable to marry and having become one of the most notorious women in the Mughal Empire, Roshanara went on to pursue an esoteric lifestyle, living mainly in her garden palace until her death on 11th September 1671 at the relatively young age of 54.
Aurangzeb then had her body interred under the white marble pavilion she had built in Roshanara Bagh – the gardens she had commissioned and designed herself.

27 Tomb.png

28 Tomb.png

29 Tomb

Meanwhile Jahanara died in 1681 aged 67 and Aurangzeb in 1707 at the age of 88.

30A Aurangzeb.png

Roshanara Bagh is a Mughal style garden and one of the largest gardens in Delhi. It features a great variety of plants, some imported from Japan, and the area around the lake is a good spot for bird watching.

32 Gardens
In 1922 the British established the elite Roshanara Club in the grounds and first class cricket has been played there since 1927. Post-independence cricket administrators also gathered there and this led to the establishment of the existing Indian cricket body, the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India.)

There’s no doubt that Roshanara Begum possessed a brilliant mind; but ambition, greed and jealously clouded her judgement and led to her downfall.
And it saddens me greatly that the beautiful pavilion in Roshanara Bagh Gardens where she held court, and is interred, now lies derelict and neglected……..whereas her parents lie beneath the Taj Mahal!

34 Tomb.png

This has been a challenging piece to write. Princess Roshanara Begum was one of the more colourful, interesting, but lesser known #StrongWomen of the Mughal court. There are few descriptions of her and conflicting sources, accounts and opinions surrounding her life – especially the latter years – mainly because the scribes of the day concerned themselves with documenting the history of the major male players rather than the peripheral, unmarried daughters of Emperors…………….. So, I’ll have to leave it there!

#TheDaughtersTale      #RoshanaraBegum    #StrongWomen    #AMughalGameOfThrones
Images where © are the writers own.  ((End))

36 Shah Jahan on the Peacock Throne

“Shah Jahan on the Peacock Throne” – but that’s a story for another day – and time!


“RANI KI VAV.”           #BEFOREYOURTIME

1 TO BEGIN SL +B

1-2-3-4-5-6-7…….Saat – seven levels down through ever cooling air.

1-2-3-4-5-6-7…….Saat – seven times you circled the sacred flame as you consecrated your wedlock.

Saat – seven – an auspicious number and all the more relevant as I reverentially allow it to guide me through a discovery of worship and sanctity, hallowed passageways leading ever downwards as religious observations combine with the gift of functionality.

1A Entrance +B

And so, in the loss of centuries past, I ghost through this place, where Saraswati’s inundation did not discriminate in alluvial burial as she rendered a memorial……obsolete. But obsolete only to those who would have its need, or those who would worship at, or within, the force of its life giving properties.

……..Water.

Absorbing what is past – but not yet dead or buried – forehead and palms press hard against stones birthed from the heartbeat of a woman’s creativity and determination not to be denied, ignored…..or forgotten.

3 Interior of stepwell 2 +B

Clothed in the invisible, intangible silence of long forgotten labours, yet still pristine, unsullied and resplendent in voluptuous beauty, the Apsaras view my progress.  Paying obeisance, I place a hand on the elegant, sculpted feet of one of the spiritual and celestial dancers of the clouds. Their presence continuing to enchant in this vacant void as they wait ever longer for their appreciative audience to return. One day.

4 Pillars 1 +B

5 Pillars 2 +B

And Yogini, the most pulchritudinous of women, also biding their time before they can flaunt their beauty and taunt once more all those who would /be/ them – or /have/ them – as they continue to pay unseen permanent deference and respect to Vishnu in all his sacred avatars and forms. One day.

7 Apsaras 2 +B

Drawn onwards and downwards with no thought of turning back and exiting this long forgotten wonder, ankle bells jingling through abandoned, partitioned corridors – muted echoes of ghazal’s long lost entreaties meld with holy chants and whispered voices, resonating around and through my being – wrapping and overcoming me with expressions of birth, marriage, love, life, labour, grief and death amidst the clash, cacophony and aftermath of battles won and lost as history speaks in this place.

8 Apsaras 3 +B

9 Apsaras 4 +B

Marvelling at sculpted pillars, hundreds, thousands of them, united and flowing in texture, pattern, symmetry, faces and figures. I touch and trace my fingers around numerous shapes and forms in wonder before I turn in fast circles, arms outstretched, head thrown back, ankle bells ringing out through the passageways – their anthem sounding a reminder of rediscovery to the ancient artisans of the extant lives they created in stone as I absorb the whirl of their craft now spinning madly around me, carving its way into my very soul.

“Your work speaks in this place.”

10 Carved interior of stepwell 1 +B

Then just as suddenly I pause. And gradually the still spinning gyrations of body slow and partner with the gyrations of mind as enchanted – hypnotised – as if in a trance, I am drawn ever downwards.

12 Steps +B

Down. My journey through this inverted temple akin to life’s push from the female womb, expelling her gift – her issue – into the fertile well of life; sanctified, blessed and enshrined in this place of everlasting observation.

“Do you still partake of the well?” I wonder.

13 Interior of stepwell 1 +B

But no. Finally I see that you cannot. For your gift to your issue is bare now.     Sterile.     Gone.     Lost.     Abandoned.

Taken by Saraswati when she covered it in her fury.

“Did you disturb the coursing flow of the mind of the Goddess? If not, who?”

Arriving at my destination I bow my head, inhale and exhale deeply and then kneel as the female visionary delivers me comparative contemplation, understanding and the peace that, one day, will be hers

15 Carved interior of well 1 +B

16 Carved interior of well 2 +B

For it was a woman – yes a woman – who built this memorial to a husband lost. Her construction a sacred, monumental yet functional display of mourning. But alas – there came a time when Saraswati ravaged, consumed and choked this temple’s sanctified source and, apart from the statuary of ages past, I am alone in this place.

And I smile at irony of her final message, knowing that – one day – the world will look on this monument and know her name again

17 The Well +B

For /her/ memorial to a lover lost has barely touched eternal consciousness and knowledge; unlike your magnificent, white marble ode to grief, Shah Jahan.

For a woman too constructed an ode to grief, but one built well before your time, Shah Jahan.               #BeforeYourTime

Montage + poem 3

Montage + poem 2

Montage for poem 1 + poem version 2

((Writers notes: The Taj Mahal, the most famous symbol of love and grief, was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan between 1631 and 1648 to commemorate the death of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Petyr edit 1But centuries earlier, a woman had already built a symbol of love and grief to commemorate the death of her husband, Bhimdev I in 1063. She was Queen Udayamati, and with assistance of her son, and Bhimdev’s successor Karandev I, the grieving Queen built a beautiful stepwell called Rani ki Vav (Queen’s stepwell) as /her/ memorial to the one she loved.

Stepwells are also called “Baori” and were built with the purpose of providing animals and people with shade and water. They’re a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems unique to the Indian sub continent and have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BC. They’re also typical of the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan which have little rain.

Rani ki Vav is in the town of Patan (Gujarat) which was the capital of the Chaulukya dynasty. Situated on the banks of the Saraswati River, the stepwell has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2014.

Petyr edit 2Rani ki Vav was built during the Chaulukya (also known as the Solanki) dynasty and King Bhimdev I reigned between approximately 1022 and 1063AD. To put this into context – the stepwell was built between 1063 and 1068AD – at the time of William the Conqueror’s arrival in Britain.

But stepwells were not merely functional sites for the collection of water and socialising; they also conveyed immense religious and spiritual significance which confirmed the ancient Indian reverence for the sanctity of water, both as a life giving compound and important natural resource.

They were originally constructed along quite simple lines, but evolved over the years to become more ornate; thus reinforcing the sanctity of water when carved stone deities were added as decoration in the step wells.

Rani ki Vav was designed as an inverted temple with the water at its base. It originally featured seven levels, but only five levels of the stepped corridors remain today. As an integral part of the design, the corridors were divided at regular intervals into compartments of pillared multi storied pavilions. This is unique to this stepwell and more than 400 principal sculptures can be seen whilst passing from the beginning of the descent, at ground level, and on through the various levels to the well which lies at the base.

Petyr edit 3The ornate and intricate carvings include sculptures representing the religious, mythical and cultural symbols of the era to which it belongs. It’s estimated that more than 5,000 sculptures in total exhibit the mastery and genius of the artisans of ancient India.

Rani ki Vav faces east and is approximately 64m long x 20m wide x 27m deep, making it one of the largest and most sumptuous structures of its type. The well is at the western end and is 10 meters in diameter.

In the 13th century however, the Saraswati River, whose waters fed into the bodies of the stepwell, flooded the area and deposited large volumes of silt over the step well. It was not until the 1980’s that the Archaeological Survey of India excavated it and found the sculptures and carvings to be in surprisingly good condition. Not much of the actual well is visible now, apart from some sculptured panels in the circular part of the well, the wall being made of brick and faced with stone.

But the exquisite carvings throughout make it one of the finest specimens of its kind and, as befitting its name, Rani ki Vav is considered to be the “Queen” amongst the stepwells of India.

Most of the sculptures pay devotion to the Hindu God, Vishnu, in his various avatars and represent his return to the world. The avatars are accompanied by Sadhus, Brahmins, Hindu goddesses, Jain idols and Apsaras (celestial dancers), as well as beautiful women.

Petyr edit 4Around 50-60 years ago there were also ayurvedic plants growing around the area, and as a result, the water accumulated in Rani ki Vav was considered to be helpful for viral disease etc.

There’s also a small gate below the last step of the well, which guards the entrance to a 30km tunnel. It’s currently blocked by stones and mud, but it leads to the town of Sidhpur near Patan and was used as an escape route for later Kings in times of defeat. Maybe it will be restored. One day.

So here you have it – Rani ki Vav – the oldest and deepest amongst the stepwells of Gujarat and built by a grieving Queen to honour her dead King.

This SL will form a series devoted to #StrongWomen and I’m also posting (I hope!) the link to the UNESCO video which showcases this magnificent stepwell in all its glory. I hope you enjoy it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJGO3ySQ13o

And in closing, many thanks plus #editcredits to @PetyrBaelish for the illustrations used in the second part of this SL.

Much love and I send you peace – Noor. xx ))

#BeforeYour Time       #RaniKiVav     ((End))

Petyr edit 5


 

“TAJ MAHAL.”

#OFPARALLELS     #STRENGTH    #GRIEF    #TRUTHS    #MYTHS    and     #LEGENDS

1 Montage of Agra Fort to begin Blog

Avi wef 23 2 2018

*Announcing renewal and the energy of spring, sap rises and first buds swell as frantic birds claim their territories, swooping from trees and bushes in acknowledgement of reproductive urgency and nature’s prompting to gather nesting material.

And it’s whilst I’m kneeling to offer prayers seeking personal renewal at my father’s tomb in a simple graveyard that my mother comes to me – her all enveloping spiritual warmth invading my senses, stealing away my awareness of season, time, place and present to compensate me with her gift of vision.*

“What is to come, mother?”

Senses heightened, I see, listen and absorb; erasing all mortal physical and mental barriers to allow her spirit to enter as I see, hear, speak and thus become her Seer – her Visionary – before she asks…….

“How many men will share broken hearts and have the strength to share their grief in what are destined to become parallel lives?”

Pausing and uncertain, I reply

“Father perhaps? Grief consuming his entire life after my birth took you from his side, mother. Your passing marked with the simplicity of a plain marble tomb, inscribed with only two Persian scripted words – Mumtaz Begum. A plain tomb in a plain mausoleum as no visible ostentation could have assuaged father’s grief. Yet he found the strength to share his grief with me, and through me to you, whenever you came calling.

Twenty plus years he prayed at your tomb, head bowed, hands clasped, lips moving in the silent entreaty of prayer, body hunched, knees tortured and aching as he sought your companionship, but not even the ache in his knees – an ache craving submission – came close to touching the ache he felt in his heart.

2 Mumtaz Bahadur tomb Blog

Grief compounded by the mental anguish of separation from your resting place – his site of sacred commemoration – when duty to an Emperor and his country removed us far from our ancestral home. A journey which led to his death and burial at the place you come to me now, mother.”

Haltingly I stop, eyes narrowing, failing to fully understand mother’s original question and the cloudy vision she now sets before me

“But why do I see two sets of lovers? Two ladies at peace and two men destined to live on the other side of life’s dark, dividing curtain until the day the curtain shimmers into translucence, melds into marbled, glowing white and lifts, allowing all of them the permanence of reunification.”

*Struggling to interpret the message through my personal mental anguish of loss, I smile as I see my revered and honoured parents’ link hands in the vision – reunited – even though their remains lie interred in lands far apart. A chasm of mortality that no longer separates their souls.

Listening intently as mother speaks again, I lean forwards, placing both hands firmly on father’s grave as she allows me to see what will become parallels of loss, grief, mourning, strength, incarceration and internment*

“Your father was incarcerated – but as an Emissary sent far from his ancestral home on the direction of a man who will one day suffer a far worse incarceration – betrayed and condemned by a son. And this man too will pay obeisance to his beloved through strength founded on loss, grief and mourning. But ultimately he will be the more fortunate, as his death and internment will occur in the land of his beloved.

Know this, Noor. That rich and poor are equalised in loss, and although it will be loss, grief and the anguish of mourning which will result in this man’s vision of commemoration, it will be wealth and position that provide him with the ultimate means to mourn on a world stage.

I see a very public display of grief and mourning; impossible through strength of purpose alone, but combined with the means of a man at the height of his powers, it will result in an enduring and visible commemoration of devotion to an Empress Consort lost.

I see one man’s vision, interpreted and created by tens of thousands as it rises into a seductive symmetry of death beckoning from the opposite bank of a river.

I see one man’s vision subsequently becoming the visual anguish of his incarceration, his hands turning white as he grasps a balcony in a red sandstone fort; a brooding, stark and forbidding contrast to the purity and serenity of a white marble mausoleum taunting him from the opposite bank of a river.

His vision. His creation.

You know his name. Shah Jahan.

You know his Empress Consort. Mumtaz Mahal.

3 Quote IMG_4880 + Taryam quote Blog

A man who will grieve both in freedom and incarceration whilst he anticipates and craves life’s closure – and the world will look upon his legacy forever.”

I exhale in wonder and confusion as a vision appears briefly before me. Both the white mausoleum and the place are unknown to me. And then, as silently as a gossamer curtain drops, the vision is gone. Slowly I close my eyes….and when I open them again….my mother too is gone

Petyr edit 1 USED end of part 1 SL 3 4 2018

((But who were Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal? And what is the truth behind the building of the Taj Mahal?

Shah Jahan was born in Lahore on 5th January 1592 when he was given the Persian name of Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram (“King of the World.”) One of four sons of the fourth Mughal emperor Jahangir, he was regarded as the most competent, and when Jahangir died in 1627, Shah Jahan emerged victorious from the ensuing war of succession to become the fifth emperor, reigning from 1628 to 1658. He took the regnal title of Shah Jahan at his coronation in Agra.

Shah Jahan’s reign is remembered for his architectural achievements and it’s also widely regarded as the golden age of Mughal architecture, during which the Taj Mahal – the pinnacle of architectural beauty – was built as the mausoleum to house the tomb of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.5 IMG_4970 Agra Fort interior BlogIn September 1657 Shah Jahan fell ill and another war of succession, amongst /his/ four sons ensued. His third son, Aurangzeb, emerged victorious, and although Shah Jahan recovered, Aurangzeb placed his father under house arrest in Agra Fort from 1658 until his death on 22nd January 1666.

Having usurped his father, Aurangzeb was crowned as the sixth Mughal emperor on 31st July 1658.

It’s both sad and ironic that Shah Jahan, one of the great Mughal emperors, was incarcerated for the last eight years of his life in Agra Fort where he could gaze across the Yamuna River and see the Taj Mahal – his enduring testament to his favourite wife.

7 View from Agra Fort Blog After his death, Shah Jahan’s body was ferried across the river to be entombed beside Mumtaz. It wasn’t the original intention that he would be buried in the Taj Mahal, so it’s Mumtaz Mahal’s sarcophagus that lies in the centre of the burial chamber with Shah Jahan’s larger one beside her. Ironic too that /his/ internment made the burial chamber the only place in the Taj Mahal complex which fails to reflect Shah Jahan’s obsession with symmetry!

Photography is not allowed in the burial chamber but I managed to source an image.

8 Taj Mahal burial chamber Blog

MUMTAZ MAHAL (“Exalted one of the Palace”) was born in Agra to a family of Persian nobility on 27th April 1593. She was named Arjumand Banu, and as well as being the daughter of a high official in the Mughal Empire, she was also niece to the Empress Nur Jahan –  the powerful chief wife of the fourth emperor, Jahangir.

Arjumand married Prince Khurram (later Shah Jahan) on 30th April 1612 when he renamed her Mumtaz Mahal. They had actually been betrothed since 1607, and during the intervening years Shah Jahan had taken a first wife. After becoming the second, and Shah Jahan’s favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal bore him 14 children, of whom 7 survived, including the Crown Prince, Dara Shikoh. He temporarily succeeded Shah Jahan until he was deposed by Mumtaz Mahal’s sixth child, Aurangzeb, who subsequently became the sixth emperor.

9 IMG_4738 Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bagh Blog

Mumtaz Mahal reigned as Empress Consort from 1628 until her death in Burhanpur, Deccan (present day Madhya Pradesh) on 17th June 1631. She died from post partum haemorrhage following a labour of 30 hours in giving birth to her 14th child, a daughter named Gauhara Begum.

It is quite remarkable that a woman of that time birthed 14 children, with a 50% survival rate during 19 years of marriage – and only fitting that her mausoleum has stood the test of time as an eternal monument to a husband’s love.

THE TAJ MAHAL (“Crown of the Palace”) lies on the south bank of the Yamuna River in Agra. Shah Jahan commissioned it in 1631 and building commenced in 1632. The mausoleum is the centrepiece of the 42 acre complex, which also includes a mosque and a guest house.

11 Taj Mahal Blog

The Taj Mahal is set in formal gardens, surrounded on three sides by crenellated walls. The mausoleum was completed 1643, and the surrounding buildings and gardens were finished about 5 years later.

20,000 artisans were employed on the project under guidance of a board of architects led by Ustad Ahmad Lahuari and the complex was finally completed in 1653 at a cost (at the time) of c32million rupees.

Design traditions followed those of Persian and earlier Mughal architecture such as Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, Itimad ud Daulah (sometimes called the “Baby Taj”) in Agra, as well as Jama Masjid in Delhi which was built during Shah Jahan’s reign. Whilst many earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed in red sandstone, it was Shah Jahan who promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi precious stones.

13 Humayuns Tomb IMG_7648 Blog14 Itimad ud Dualah IMG_5062 Blog15 Jama Masjid IMG_2252 straightened on PIXLR Blog

The Taj Mahal stands on a square plinth and is a totally symmetrical building with an iwan (arch shaped doorway) topped by a large dome and finial.

Four minarets stand at each corner of the plinth, each built at a slight angle, so that in the event of collapse or earthquake, they would fall away from the mausoleum.

16 IMG_4870 Minaret Blog  The main burial chamber, with its lack of symmetry contains false sarcophagi, the two graves being at a lower level.

One the western side of the mausoleum is a Mosque, its Mihrab facing Mecca. And on the opposite, eastern side, is a Jawab (answer), which is thought to have been built purely for symmetrical and architectural balance. It is not a mosque and there is no Mihrab in this building.

17 IMG_4831 Mosque Blog18 IMG_4839 Mosque Blog

And not surprisingly, the Taj Mahal has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.

19 IMG_4834 Taj Mahal BlogPetyr edit 3 USED end of part 2 SL 4 4 2018

MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE TAJ MAHAL.

#1 – “The Taj is a Hindu Temple”                                                                                                    The theory that the Taj is a 12th century Shiva temple, built by a Hindu King, which was later converted into Mumtaz Mahal’s mausoleum.

The Mughals actually had “form” for this – according to a Persian inscription on the inner eastern gateway at Qutab Minar in Delhi, the Quwwat-ul- Islam Mosque, which is situated within the complex, was built from parts taken from the destruction of 27 Hindu and Jain temples.

IMG_7597 Signed by @OE

In 2000 however, the Supreme Court of India dismissed a petition asking for the sealed basement rooms of the Taj Mahal to be opened to prove the “Shiva Temple” theory.

This particular petitioner was also known for outlandish claims that the Kaaba in Mecca, Stonehenge in England and the Papacy all had Hindu origins, that the Hindus conquered Italy and that Westminster Abbey was originally a Shiva Temple.

And in 2005, a similar petition was dismissed by the Allahabad High Court, the petitioner claiming that the Taj Mahal was built by the Hindu king Parmer Dev in 1196.

#2 “Shah Jahan started the construction of a Black Taj Mahal”                                          The legend goes that Shah Jahan intended to construct a negative image of the Taj Mahal in black marble on the opposite bank of the Yamuna River to his wife’s mausoleum and that the Black Taj was intended to be his own mausoleum. It was also claimed that work started before he was imprisoned in Agra Fort by Aurangzeb.

The idea originated from the fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveller who visited Agra in 1665. Ruins of blackened marble were discovered across the Yamuna River in the “Moonlight Garden” (Mehtab Bagh) which appeared to support this legend, but excavations carried out in the 1990’s confirmed they were discoloured white stones that had turned black.

21A IMG_4779 The Taj from Mehtab Bagh Blog

A more credible theory was demonstrated in 2006 by archaeologists who reconstructed part of a pool which originally lay in Mehtab Bagh. A dark reflection of the Taj Mahal on the opposite bank could clearly be seen in the water – befitting Shah Jahan’s obsession with symmetry and the positioning of the pool. However, extensive excavations at Mehtab Bagh have failed to find any evidence of the construction of a “Black Taj.”

22 IMG_4852 Symmetry Blog23 IMG_4855 Symmetry Blog  #3 “Craftsmen were mutilated”                                                                                                 Legend has it that on completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan ordered the hands of craftsmen to be removed to prevent them from building anything as beautiful again. Some even say he had their eyes gouged out. There is no historical evidence to support either theory.

26 Quote IMG_4846 + Bayard Taylor quote Blog25 IMG_4868 Taj Mahal Blog #4 “The British intended to dismantle the Taj Mahal and sell the marble”                      No evidence exists that Lord William Bentinck, the Governor-General of India in the 1830’s, planned to demolish the Taj Mahal and auction off the marble. His biographer says the story arose from Bentinck’s fund-raising sale of discarded marble from Agra Fort.

29 IMG_4876 Carving Blog  #5 “The silhouette of the finial has magical properties”                                                       This myth suggests that beating the silhouette of the finial will cause water to come forth. To this day, officials find broken bangles surrounding the silhouette – but no water.

#6 “The Taj is sinking”                                                                                                                      Some experts believe there is evidence that the Taj is slowly tilting towards and sinking into the riverbed due to the changing nature of the soil beside an increasingly dry Yamuna River.

The Archaeological Survey of India has dismissed any marginal changes in the elevation of the building as statistically insignificant, adding that it has not detected any structural damage at its base in the seven decades since the first scientific study of the Taj was carried out in 1941.

31 Quote IMG_4834 + Keyserling quote to end Blog

I hope you’ve enjoyed the short SL and accompanying stroll through the history, myths and legends surrounding the Taj Mahal.

All the images, except the one taken inside the burial chamber, are my own.

“TajMahal”  #OfParallels  #Strength   #Truths   #Myths   #Legends       ((End))

32 Agra Taj Mahal to end Blog

 


 

“COME AWAY WITH ME: ABANDONED.”

Petyr edit 4 + poem USED as teaser 10 12 2017    Petyr edit 2 + quote

Petyr edit 1 + quote    Petyr edit 6 + quote USED as teaser 8 12 2017

1 to begin Noor in Zafars study    1A to begin Noor after reading Zafars letter

Petyr edit 4     #ABANDONED.

*Breath hitching, I drop down onto the floor, slumping against the wall, ignoring the comfort and security provided by father’s well used, and much loved desk chair, the seat covered in the finest leather worn, smooth by countless hours of thought and toil, the arms richly patinated by years of use as he would rise and sit frequently, having retrieved a volume from his extensive library to consult on the various issues set before him. An empty chair, covered in cloth, occupying a lonely corner whilst it languishes in storage – but loved none the less.

I also ignore a simple, rush seated chair, beside an equally simple, rustic table – both unused now and pushed up against a far wall – although there was a time when they resided in father’s library too, close to the window, so that he could move his inks, pens and papers across and write on matters he considered of great importance using the light he loved so well*

For the last two days I’ve been labouring in a chilly storage room, compiling an inventory of family artefacts and possessions, as well as examining father’s personal papers to decide what should be moved to, and preserved in, the permanent family archive. And as I near the end of my task, I delve into an old trunk of father’s which contains his most personal of papers – and it’s what I find there that causes me to drop to the floor and slump against the wall.

2 IMG_4639

Extracting a dispatch and tracing an index finger across the neatly honed script, I realise it mentions a fortified city – one little talked of in Imperial Court circles

And yet I remember asking father about it once, many years ago, and he merely replied that he “thought” he was born during the first year the third Mughal emperor, Akbar, occupied it as his new, red, sandstone capital. I thought at the time it was most unlike father to be so vague.

Puzzled and placing hand on head, I attempt to place my recollection of history in parallel with father’s year of birth

1571 was father’s birth year, but I thought he was born in Agra as that was where the Imperial Court resided. His father was Akbar and his mother one of many junior wives.

But here it says Agra was being replaced. In 1569. Replaced?

2 IMG_4659

Retrieving a well-worn leather pouch from the trunk, I open it, examine the contents and read extracts from the old papers

“The Imperial Court then relocated to Lahore before returning to Agra where it is to this day.”

Frowning How curious, and so unlike father not to keep an accurate and contemporaneous account of history, especially when it involves our family lineage.

Peering at another fading document, I try to set this discovery in some semblance of order and context in my mind

“In 1569 Akbar decreed this place was to be called Fatehpur meaning “Town of Victory” after he travelled to the village of Sikri to consult with a Sufi Saint by the name of Shaikh Salim Chisti.”

Reading quickly now, finger tracking the lines of the beautifully crafted court Persian from right to left, trying to make sense of this mystery

“Akbar had attained 26 years, had many wives, but no living heir as all the children born to him had perished in infancy. He visited many holy men in his quest to sire an heir and it was Chisti who foretold he would have three sons. Soon after, a senior wife, namely the daughter of the Raja of Amber, was found to be with child and Akbar sent her to live near the sage. Then in the year of 1569, she birthed Salim; later to be renamed as Jahangir.

In 1570 another senior wife birthed a son to be named Murad and in 1572 another senior wife birthed a son to be named Daniyal.

Akbar would not be swayed and was resolute in building his new capital at Sikri to honour the holy man, and when Chisti’s prophecy was fulfilled, he insisted on adding “Sikri” to follow after the original “Fatehpur” naming.

And thus it was decreed that Fatehpur Sikri would become the new Mughal capital”

Father’s earlier notes on our family history indicated Akbar had sired more than one legitimate male heir from his most senior wives; but this document clearly confirmed that Chisti’s prophecy was fulfilled three times over.

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Impatiently, I tip the contents of the pouch into the floor, kneel and quickly examine documents, sliding their history around the surface of the coarse woollen rug in the storage room, excited, yet trying to find a chronological order of history to make sense of a city father barely mentioned

A /new/ capital? But father only told me he was born in the year of its adoption and that he didn’t remember it very well. Or was there perhaps a reason he was reluctant to talk about it?

I know he had shifted to Benares when he was still quite young, but I always thought he had attained at least sixteen years. So he must /surely/ have lived in this mysterious city before that……..

Picking up documents at random, I read on

“An Islamic masterpiece”

“When Akbar left Fatehpur Sikri, the city slowly became deserted, completely abandoned by 1600 due to lack of water supply; but not only was the Emperor a shrewd ruler, he was also ambitious, a noble commander, great administrator and patron of the arts, so consider the other reasons that prompted him to relocate to Lahore. The loss of the singer Tansen, one of the Navaratnas (“nine gems”) of his court affected him greatly. But Akbar was a master tactician; his decision to abandon undoubtedly involving political and strategic considerations. His attitude towards orthodox Islam was evolving towards a new ideology incorporating a fusion of religions, thus supplanting his earlier veneration of Chisti. Not forgetting the close proximity of the belligerent Rajputana with whom he was often in dispute.”

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Thus, I gleaned from the papers that Akbar moved the court much further north, to Lahore in 1585, and when he returned south again, in 1598, it was to Agra – where he established the virulent court which was to destroy my childhood.

Yet from father’s old notes and collection of papers, it appeared that Akbar spent the richest and most productive years of his 49 year reign at the abandoned capital of Fatehpur Sikri.

During my numerous lessons on the history of Hindustan, I was taught that Akbar was a far-sighted emperor, forging alliances with the Hindus by marrying a Hindu princess as well as taking Muslim and Christian wives. He also forged fragile alliances with the restive Rajput leaders – the administration of Hindustan becoming a partnership with Hindu nobles and princes who resented being ruled by “foreigners” following the earlier conquests of Babur and Humayun.

And although Akbar was illiterate, he won a great deal of respect for his wisdom, administrative and military skills, encouraging and gathering around him the most eminent men of learning and education of his age, as he was always anxious to learn from them and to hear what they had to say to him and his court.

Moving an untidy jumble of papers and father’s notes aside for inventory and safekeeping, I glance down and see an old and crumbling parchment envelope, tied with ribbon, fading ink on the outside addressed in my father’s hand – “NOOR.”  Then, with clumsy, trembling fingers I open the document, rise to my feet and pace the room as the secrets of my father’s past are revealed.

3 Noor reading Zafars letter3A Zafars letter

Avi USED 24 7 2016  BENARES IN THE YEAR OF 1625.

Before memory fades and life begins to dim, I set before you the truth in this account, my darling daughter – for ultimately, we must all account for our faults and shortcomings.

An account which I have locked away, secreted in the family archive, secure in the knowledge that you will not read it until after my death.

Yes. I hid my past in Fatehpur Sikri from you, but do not think ill of me—–the motherless son of one of Akbar’s junior wives, barely more than an infant on the day my mother was taken to another part of the Imperial palace and never returned. Nevertheless, I remained in the care of the other ladies of the harem until it was time for me to move to quarters alongside those occupied by the other numerous junior princes of the Imperial Court—sired by any number of different fathers.

Unlike the other junior princes though, I did not indulge my precious and all too short youth in profligacy and indolence in the capital city I never spoke of—preferring to spend my time in learning from, and debating with, the most educated of men, just as the Emperor Akbar did in seeking to assuage and inform his illiteracy.

And it was in the year of 1584, as I was turning towards my teens, that my eyes first alighted on the four year old daughter of a concubine. She had been walking in the ladies gardens and was crossing the public courtyard accompanied by her ayah, singing a light, tinkling, song of laughter as she skipped along, correctly naming all the birds she could see in flight and bathing in the cool waters of the many ornamental fountains.

4 IMG_4700 Ladies garden

As the little girl had not yet taken the veil, I approached and requested her name. She smiled up at me and replied that she was called Mumtaz. I was immediately captivated by her eyes and something about her almost ethereal spirit making her seem wise beyond her years, possessing a vision I could not understand. Something about her mere presence, constricting, commanding and then conducting the now erratic beat of my heart whilst I was rendered almost incapable of coherent speech.

So there and then, and somewhat unwisely as I was in the churning tumult of impending manhood, I vowed to her, in public, that I intended to take her as my wife. Immediately the ayah hurried Mumtaz away from my ill-advised proposal and the last image I carried with me was of a little girl, serious and wise beyond her years, fixing me with an unblinking, knowing stare over her right shoulder until she was removed from my view.

I cared not that any decision on marriage was not mine to take; being of Imperial lineage my future was inextricably bound by court alliances and decisions—-and so it was that I fell from grace and into immediate disfavour for the insolence and temerity of my proposal—especially to one so far below me in status.

Our ancestral lands in Benares were held in trust then, gifted by Imperial patronage, and as I was of junior lineage, I was not deemed sufficiently important to merit lands immediately adjacent to those of the Imperial Court. Our lands therefore remained in the administration of Imperial Court appointed officials until I reached my age of majority of sixteen.

However, in view of my unseemly public behaviour, I was banished from court as soon as the Emperor had taken the decision to relocate the capital to Lahore.

Throughout my youth I had always been careful with my allowances paid by the Court as well as funds remitted from the estates in Benares. And as my wealth continued to grow, and my time in Fatehpur Sikri diminished, I started to listen, quietly but very attentively, for any source of harem gossip, and as this tended to flow as permanently as the sacred rivers, a picture gradually emerged of Mumtaz’s mother who, despite her remaining in the strictest purdah and her very junior status as a concubine in the harem, was a greatly respected, intelligent and educated woman.

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And so it was that after witnessing my outburst, realising my time for departure was fast approaching and seeing my ensuing lovelorn state, I was discreetly approached in the dark and quiet of some cloisters by a sympathetic eunuch, Malik. He was also smitten by the wonderful Mumtaz, appreciated she had gifts it was impossible to describe to mortal man or place on paper, and unbeknown to me, he had already vowed to protect her, as best he could, from the cruelty of court machinations.

Malik persuaded me to trust him with all my disposable wealth to discreetly disburse to Mumtaz’s mother if required. Impulsive youth that I was, I immediately agreed. I had no recourse other than to trust him for I had no access to Mumtaz and her mother in the ladies quarters – only he could ensure Mumtaz’s protection, although not without risk to himself.

I also gave him the smallest of notes, sewn into the lining of a small purse and written in disguised hand, urging Mumtaz’s mother to keep her safe, educate her, and by whatever means, bring her to me in Benares when she reached an age of majority. And so, in Malik I trusted.

Soon afterwards, and accompanied by another court official to teach me administration and the efficient running of estates for the few remaining years until I attained the age of my majority, I departed for Benares—-to lands I had never seen, saddened, chastised, impoverished and in despair, knowing that eventually proposals of a “suitable match” at Court would find their way to me; but always, always holding out hope and remaining hopelessly in love with Mumtaz.

And despite still being in my formative years, I swore a sacred vow as I rode out through the gates of Fatehpur Sikri that I would never leave Benares unless, or until, I had Mumtaz by my side.

6 Zafar dreaming of Mumtaz

I waited and dreamed for twenty long years before my bride was brought to me, during which time I garnered further Imperial displeasure by refusing all the matches put before me. And during all the years of waiting, I sought to avoid attracting the attention of the Emperor, but he was always assailed and distracted anyway by the many scheming princes and others seeking Imperial favour and advancement as they jostled for attention and position at court.

Gradually then, the court paid less attention to me – after all I was just a junior prince living quietly and contentedly on his estates, far removed from the court, causing the Emperor no angst, administering his lands effectively and remitting taxes and revenue, in full, to the Imperial coffers when due.

Twenty long years before Mumtaz’s now ailing mother, whose name I never knew and face I never saw, brought her to me, still intact, not wishing her to remain motherless and at the mercy of the Imperial harem. And for all those years this remarkable woman had defended her daughter’s honour with the ferocity of a tigress—and Malik’s assistance.

Despite my youth, I had been right in my initial feelings about Mumtaz. She had been kept safely in the harem, revered and consulted due to her mystic Sufi gifts, the piercing timbre of her voice in rendering ghazals reducing men to tears, her beauty enhanced still more when she danced—head thrown back, weaving, swaying and spinning through the dances of ages—her learning, education, wisdom and her skills in medicine and herbalism all inherited from her mother combining to ensure that no man dared touch her, upon pain of death from one of the Emperor’s execution elephants.

But that protection came to an end with the succession of the new Emperor, your nemesis, Jahangir—his succession widely supported by his two powerful step-mothers, both of them senior wives of Akbar, as well as his powerful grandmother—Akbar’s mother.

I had been right about her Mumtaz’s mother too. She had used my wealth wisely to cultivate “friendships” amongst the other eunuchs, dispensing funds judiciously to ensure the eventual escape of Mumtaz and herself disguised as dancers in a group brought in for an evening’s entertainment in the harem.

Yes – Mumtaz’s mother was a truly /extraordinary/ woman, possessing great personal wealth which she had accrued during her years in the harem, having the care and foresight to limit her “acquisitions” to small, easily moveable and concealed assets in the form of immensely valuable pieces of jewellery, gems and gold coin generously, yet foolishly, heaped on her by “admirers” in the Imperial Court—but she was no fool, and knew their greater interest lay in piercing her daughter’s maidenhood.

These ornaments and valuables, as well as the family journals detailing her ancestral learning in medicine and herbalism she entrusted to Malik’s safe keeping until he released them back on their departure, and they formed the basis of Mumtaz’s dowry, which has since become your own, my beloved daughter.

7 Mumtaz jewellery7A Mumtaz jewellery

And what of Malik, the eunuch to whom I had pledged my trust and all my wealth? He had risen to the position of Khwaja Saras—head eunuch—and it was he who arranged the ladies escape and safe passage to me in Benares when he realised the time was right; a journey made easier for them as the court had relocated to Agra several years previously. So much closer to Benares than Lahore.

7B Map

I owe Malik so much for his honesty, perspicacity and courage, and ever since Mumtaz was brought to me, I prayed, and continue to do so, that any repercussions taken against him were not too severe when the absence of Mumtaz and her mother was discovered—-but alas, I heard no more of him.

You owe that man your life, my daughter.

The rest you know—well—most of it.

I married my beloved Mumtaz immediately and the fruits of our union were quickly blessed with you, my dearest daughter, Noor.

8 Mumtaz with butterfly headpiece

Sadly though Mumtaz’s now frail, brave, wise, modest and trustworthy mother died the day after she saw her daughter married, happy in the knowledge that Mumtaz had finally passed—in love—through the rite of passage into womanhood.

You are probably now wondering if a grave marked her passing, but there is none, for on her deathbed she instructed Mumtaz that she wished to remain in anonymity, to be cremated and her ashes scattered on the sacred Ganges. A woman whose face I never saw and whose name I never knew – not even from your mother’s lips.

Would that the first days of our marriage had not been tinged with such sadness and loss.

The year I spent with your mother was the happiest of my life, and I made a vow on her death bed that I would never lie with another woman or marry again. This vow I have kept.

Forgive me for not speaking to you of Fatehpur Sikri and the part it played in my past, as well as your mother’s, but there some things which are deeply personal, bringing both anguish and joy, and sometimes these places are best left undisturbed as we journey through life—–a journey of falling from grace due to the impetuosity of youth to potential rehabilitation as a senior minister of the Emperor, Jahangir—a position I neither want nor seek.

Believe me when I tell you again my dearest, that my sole intention was always to do everything within my power to protect and keep you from the insidious clutches of the Imperial Court and to allow you to marry for love, as I had done.

In this I failed and when you read this missive, which I know will be after my death, I beg your forgiveness, my daughter, the light of my life, my dearest Noor.

As I close now, I pray for your happiness and that you are living a fulfilling life—a life to be proud of, a life filled with love and encompassing the dignity, wisdom and compassion inherited from my beloved Begum.  But if life has strewn obstacles in your path, I pray that your mother and I have given you the courage and strength to overcome them.

Yours in peace, your ever loving father – Zafar Bahadur.

[Sighing with affectionate irritation at the closing paragraph which became smudged when a tear rolled down and dripped onto the parchment, I fold and place it carefully in a large envelope addressed simply—“NOOR”—tie it horizontally and vertically with ribbon and place it with my most private of papers, which I know my darling daughter will never disturb during my lifetime]

9 The abandoned library poem © to finish part 2 of SL

Petyr edit 4

*Stunned. I slump back down to the ground in silence. Lips trembling. Tears welling. Looking at the smudge on the last paragraph and realising whence it came. A precious tear shed by my father whilst he sat on the simple, rush seated chair presently pushed up against the wall of this room.

Gently brushing my fingers across the smudge, naively hoping for a trace of dampness, I attempt a smile of understanding as to why father had spared himself the pain of telling me about this city, it’s secrets and the part it had played in his past……no /our/ past*

Poor father, his anguish over so many years must have been unimaginable, unable to protect a benevolent eunuch called Malik, or his beloved Mumtaz and her mother whilst they remained within the strictures of the Imperial Court.

And what of my maternal grandmother? A purdah clad concubine, unnamed and unseen, a woman father never spoke of – until now – and the realisation slowly dawns on me that /she/ is the heroine of my past.

A woman of courage, utilising shrewd, calculating intelligence in refusing to sacrifice her remarkable daughter, Mumtaz, to the undeserving.

A woman of intuition, finely honed instincts developed during her time in the harem which persuaded her to trust Malik and father, a boy now grown into manhood, a man she had never even seen. And her ultimate act of trust, even as her life ebbed to a close? Giving her daughter in marriage to my father.

I bless you and send you peace – whoever you were.

And my father? A son of Akbar, sire of too many children to count? The Imperial Court was barely any kinder to him, the son of a junior wife who disappeared without trace before father could even utter her name. A woman lost to us both.

My father. All his life carrying a burden of guilt, a burden of self perceived faults and shortcomings. Not telling me of his life in the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri, of his mother’s disappearance, of the circumstances surrounding his proposal to Mumtaz which led to the shame of his banishment and of the part Mumtaz’s mother played in ensuring his marriage to the woman he loved.

A self-imposed, lifelong recognition of the sacrifices made by the three most important women in his life, whilst he led a comfortable, privileged life by virtue of his position in a male dominated court.

I join you, father, in saluting these women, as I salute all the brave women who have little or no choice in their lives other than to exist and survive.

And me? My father gave me love beyond compare, the benefits of an extensive education and the luxury of choice. And although my protection was always at the forefront of his mind; it was ultimately sacrificed when he could no longer escape the notice and summons of the Imperial Court. But that time is past. Dead. Buried.

*Then, looking down again through tear clouded lashes, I open a separate silk pouch, and peering inside I see it contains plans and drawings in my father’s young hand, probably drawn up under the guidance of one of his teachers as part of his education in the arts, geometry, mathematics, building and planning.

I extract them carefully, as they are very delicate, before opening them out and following their route as my writer now takes you on a tour of the Mughal capital city of Fatehpur Sikri.*

Long since     #ABANDONED

((Fatehpur Sikri  was originally surrounded by a massive wall with nine gates – Delhi, Lal, Agra, Bir or Suraj (Sun), Chandar (Moon), Gwaliori, Tehra (crooked), Chor (Thief’s) and Ajmeri.

It’s a vast site, comprising three areas – the Royal Palace, “outside” the Royal Palace and Jama Masjid (the Mosque), but due limited time and the 40+C heat, I confined my visit to the Royal Palace complex, entering through Agra Gate.

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Firstly, and from one of the city courtyards, I viewed the distant “Hiran Minar,” which I included in a SL (“Subjugation”) a few months ago. Towering over the surrounding landscape, it stands 21meters high and is said to mark the spot where Akbar’s favourite execution elephant, Hiran, is buried – the hundreds of protruding stones representing an elephant’s tusks. But historic opinion indicates it was built as the first “akash diya” (lamp to light the sky) or “zero point” …..the starting point for subsequent mile markers (“kos minar” – of which I have also written before) measuring the distance on the royal procession route between Fatehpur Sikri, Agra and on to Lahore.

11 IMG_4629 Diwan i Am11 IMG_463111 IMG_4658

Next I turned to the Diwan-i-Am or Hall of Public Audiences which backs onto the private palace area and has cloisters on three sides of its rectangular courtyard. Besides being used for celebrations and public prayers, Akbar would preside over the courts here, dispensing justice from the middle seat of five, flanked by his advisers. It was built to utilise an echo sound system so Akbar could hear anything at anytime from anywhere in the open space. Justice was dispensed quickly, with execution elephants used to dispatch the condemned.

12 IMG_464312 IMG_465112 IMG_465512 IMG_4705 cropped

Close by is the Diwan-i-Khas or Hall of Private Audiences. It’s quite plain on the outside, but the central stone column was modified in deference to Akbar’s new religion, Din-i-Illahi (God is One), encompassing a fusion of Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist decorative techniques. Although a two storey building, it’s actually a single room, famed for its central pillar with a square base and octagonal shaft, both carved in bands of geometric and floral design. Serpentine brackets support a circular platform on which Akbar would sit, connected to each corner of the building at first floor level by four stone walkways, entered by a staircase outside the building. Akbar would spend long hours here engaged in discussion with representatives of differing religions who would sit along the walls of the balcony connected to the throne pillar by the screened bridges, whilst courtiers would listen from the ground floor.

13 From the Astrologers Chair towards Panch Mahal13B Astrologers Kiosk Treasury and Diwan i Khas (iPhone3)

Always keep the money close! The Treasury building lies next to the Diwan-i-Khas and the Makaras carved on the brackets are mythical sea creatures who guarded the fabulous wealth once stored there.

Just in front of The Treasury is the beautiful Astrologers Seat, a small kiosk with elaborate, serpentine, Jain style carvings on the roof supports. The kiosk may have been used by the court astrologer or treasurer.

14A Pachisi board

In the centre of this vast courtyard is the Pachisi Board or Chaupar and the large game board is visible surrounding the block in the centre. Here, Akbar played Pachisi (an ancient version of Ludo) moving slave girls dressed in yellow, blue and red around as the “pieces.”

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The Panch Mahal, which flanks this courtyard, is a simple but elegant, airy, five storey pavilion, each storey smaller than the one below and it was one of the gateways to the Imperial harem. Rising to a single domed kiosk at the top, it is supported by 84 different pillars on the ground floor – the magical number of 7 planets multiplied by the 12 signs of the zodiac – with wide overhanging eaves providing shade. The 56 carved columns on the second floor are all different and display Hindu influences. In total there are 176 columns. Dampened and scented khuss (grass screens) were hung across the open spaces to provide protection from the heat and sun as well as to provide privacy for the ladies using the pavilion.

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The Daulat Khana (Abode of Fortune) were Akbar’s private quarters, located next to a rose water fountain. There were two main rooms on the ground floor, one housing his library with recesses in the walls for manuscripts. Although Akbar was unable to read or write, he enjoyed having books read to him and wherever he went, his library of 50,000 manuscripts accompanied him. The larger room behind the pavilion was his resting area. On the first floor is the Khwabgah (Palace of Dreams) which would have been a richly furnished reclining area. The southern window here is called the “Jharokha Darshan” and Akbar showed himself to his people here every morning to reassure them he had survived the night!

There were also three palaces for Akbar’s senior and favourite wives: one Muslim, one Christian and one Hindu.

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The Turkish Sultana’s House was built for Akbar’s Muslim wife, Sultana Ruqayya Begum, also known as Rumi Sultana. It’s a small, but elegant pavilion and the most intricately carved building in the entire complex. The walls may originally have been set with glass to give the effect of a Sheesh Mahal (mirrored palace) with the lion, deer, eagle and peacock’s heads being formed of precious jewels; sadly now beheaded and stolen for the jewels.

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Adjacent to this palace is the ornamental pond known as Anup Talao consisting of a water tank surmounted by four bridges connected to a central platform. Akbar may have sat on the central platform surrounded by perfumed water or viewed the musical performances given there from his private quarters. Tansen, said to be the most gifted Indian vocalist of all time and one of Akbar’s treasured nine Navaratnas (gems), would be showered with coins during performances on the central platform of the ornamental pond.

The “Akbarnama” also mentions Akbar’s display of charity when he filled the Talao with silver and gold coins which he distributed over the course of three years.

18 IMG_4697 Mariams palace

Maryam’s palace or the Sunahra Makan is situated in the Ladies Garden and was built for Akbar’s Christian wife, Mariam – although some doubt he took a Christian wife, and that Mariam was short for “Mariam-Uz-Zamani – a title he also gave to his Hindu wife, Jodh Bai. The palace is a two storey structure and like many of the buildings, and in line with Akbar’s tolerant religious beliefs, it contains elements of different religions. The domed ceiling is Islamic in style whilst the remnants of a wall painting of the Hindu God Shiva can also be found. Inscriptions on the beams are by Fazl – Akbar’s poet Laureate – another one of the Navaratnas (nine gems) of his court.

19 IMG_4685 straightened19 IMG_469119 IMG_469419 Jodha Palace

Adjacent to this palace lies Jodh Bai’s palace – she was the daughter of the Maharaja of Amber, Akbar’s Hindu wife and also known as Mariam Zamani. Said to be his favourite she was to become the mother of his eldest surviving son, and successor, the emperor Jahangir. Her palace is set around an enormous courtyard and blends traditional Indian columns, Islamic cupolas and turquoise-blue Persian roof tiles.

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Raja Birbal’s palace is a highly ornamental building – inside and out. Birbal was a Hindu, Akbar’s Prime Minister, one of his most senior advisers and the brightest of the “Navaratnas” (nine gems) in his court. Again, the building combines a fusion of Hindu and Islamic elements.

21 IMG_4704 Ladies Garden

Exiting through the Ladies Garden, it’s worth reflecting that this stunning Imperial complex also housed numerous pavilions for the royal ladies and concubines, as well as many courtyards spread across the huge city. Buildings and accommodation also included courtiers, servants, grooms and mahouts quarters, kitchens, vast gateways and ornamental pools, as well as stabling areas for elephants and horses, kennels for the hunting dogs and cats (cheetah) and mews for the falcons.

Fatehpur Sikri is without doubt my favourite Mughal site. It’s not crowded and sitting alone, cross-legged in the centre of one of the vast courtyards, I could feel the abandoned city exuding a palpable sense of desolation, loss and sadness in the gentle breezes wafting across from its cloisters and pavilions – as if the buildings were crying in hushed mournful echoes as they recalled the days of their past glory.

I’ve had this story in mind for many months, but felt it was better written after I had visited Fatehpur Sikri again.

This red sandstone capital of the third Mughal emperor, Akbar the Great, was one of his great architectural achievements and the magnificent fortified ancient city spreads along a ridge 40 km west of Agra.

Although it was the short lived capital of the Mughal Empire between 1571 and 1585, the city remains an Indo-Islamic masterpiece – the deserted palace buildings a vivid reminder of Akbar’s power and vision as they conjure up the lifestyle of the Mughals at the height of their glory.

But as the city was built in an area that suffered from continual water shortages, it was #Abandoned as the capital after only 14 years and became ruined and deserted by the early 1600’s.

And so, in 1585 Akbar relocated his Court to Lahore, and when he returned south again, it was to Agra. But it was at Fatehpur Sikri that he spent the richest and most productive years of his 49 year reign.

Fatehpur Sikri is over 400 years old, and yet perfectly preserved, thanks to careful conservation work carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India at the turn of the century.

22 IMG_4707 Diwan i Am

I hope you’ve enjoyed the interwoven SL as well as exploring these magnificent Mughal monuments with me.

All the images of Fatehpur Sikri are my own.

Much love and I send you peace – Noor. xx ))    #ABANDONED    #END

23 Petyr edit 5 + imprint to end SL


                                                                   “POOJA THE AYAH”

SL 1 Pooja the ayah 1         SL 2 Noor + imprinted quote Posted as teaser 5 9 2017

For as far back as my memory serves, Pooja was always a part of my life; even telling me of the suffering she endured when she witnessed my birth. Of the intense pain she felt as the watery world of suspension in my mother’s womb gave me up, expelling me, forcing me towards my father’s trusted hands to tear me into the world, and of how he placed me tenderly in Pooja’s outstretched hands to clear the cloying plugs which prohibited breath from my nose and mouth, and then to rub, massage and force the cries heralding new life from my tiny lungs.

How my searching eyes misted with dew-drop tears, bewildered senses, plaintive cries and tiny, grasping hands desperately sought a mother’s first touch and embrace, cushioned against nature’s nurturing breasts. Yet as my eyes achieved their first focus, it was Pooja’s wrinkled face which came into view – not my mother’s. A face I never knew – apart from the one and only portrait my father had painted of her before her demise.

And Pooja also told me of the reflections from the twin pools of sorrow and loss rippling through my father’s eyes, his body wracked with heaving silent, unshed tears of grief at the loss of his beloved Begum on the birthing bed. Life and loss. So often inseparable.

Harbingers of life – my newborn piercing cries – were my one and only gift to my mother. Precious last sounds resonating through her dimming awareness as she slipped away to her place of eternal peace. I pray she went there in joy; although nothing could compensate for my father’s loss. Except my survival.

Pooja also admitted she was always galled – having ensured my survival and loving me as the fruit and produce of her own wizened womb – to hand me to a wet nurse, time and time again, to provide the essential lactation she could not.

SL 3 Baby Noor

My ayah – my nursemaid – called Pooja. The name means prayer or worship, and worship her I did, since my first childhood recollection of her old and extremely wrinkled face which exuded kindness. A face inhabited by an infectious laugh and permanent smile – despite her only having one tooth in her mouth – in the centre at the top.

Pooja, who cared for me since the moment I was handed to her, slippery, vulnerable and motherless – overseeing wet nurses, nursery nurses, maids, feeding, bathing, dressing, clothing, lessons, schooling, walks and my safety.

But /most/ of all, she was the teller of childhood fables and I /still/ revere her as my storytelling mentor to this day.

The earliest stories she told were of jackals, wolves, monkeys, deer, birds, shepherds, buffalo, sheep, donkeys, tigers, lions and villagers; stories which kept me amused in the nursery during the day and lulled me to sleep at night.

So apart from my beloved father, Pooja was the one constant in my young and growing life, sleeping in the nursery and holding me close to her at first and later sleeping on a simple, rope charpoy in a screened corner of my bed chamber in case I needed anything during the night.

My schooling took place at home and I had as many tutors as subjects I was expected to study! Reading and writing came first, followed by mathematics, astrology, the arts, science, languages and my favourite subject – the history of Hindustan.

Practical studies of medicine, healing and herbalism came later, lessons drawn from the extensive journals kept by my mother and her female forebears – and with further study, I added some entries of my own.

And whilst still of a young age, father ensured the wives of the local notables and respectables taught me how to conduct myself as a lady, to defer to my elders at all times, to converse freely and be comfortable with men and yet to remain respectful.

The ladies also taught me the importance of being a loyal and discreet confidante to friends and others in times of trouble, and if any confidences were entrusted to me, they should never be revealed to others.

I practised yoga and meditation each day and learnt to play the sitar (badly), to sing, to paint and to stitch delicate embroidery and needlework.

But my /greatest/ love was being outdoors with the syces (grooms) and riding my fat little pony, Rani, around the estates. I was especially proud if father rode with me, as he would explain how he ran the estates and we would always stop and talk to the estate workers and their children.

Laughter and happiness echoed around the estates and everyone would welcome us into their homes, no matter how humble, and ask us to take tea. We always accepted as it would have been impolite to refuse hospitality.

Laughing, shaking my head and chiding myself at my self- indulgence, my thought processes now return to Pooja

Pooja is gone from this world now – she died some years ago, and by way of meagre thanks for her constant, nurturing presence in my life, I was present at the end of hers; holding her hand and murmuring soft words of comfort and prayer as her life drew peacefully to a close and she embarked on her journey of re-incarnation.

But how did this elderly lady, who was nearly three score years at the time of my birth, and who had such an influence on my young life and played such large role in shaping me into the person I am today, come to be in my father’s employ?

One day, when I was about 10 years of age, I asked Pooja to tell me about her past – from her childhood days – and as she did, I recorded her life story scrupulously, contemporaneously and with childish hand in the daily diary father insisted I kept – and to my joy, I discovered it a short while ago whilst examining the contents of an ancient and long forgotten wooden chest.

SL 4 Old chest  SL 5 Pile of old books + imprinted poem Posted as teaser 7 9 2017

Here then is the story of “Pooja the ayah.”

“Well, where to start, Noor. I was born around the middle of this century of 1500 to a poor but respectable family and our native place was Chittor in Rajputana. I was the youngest of all the children, with three living sisters and two living brothers. Although poor, we were a happy family, living in a small house of one bedroom, living quarters, a small kitchen, and as the roof was flat and the weather usually warm, even at night, we often slept up there on rope cots. We were never short of water for drinking or bathing as we drew it from one of the many wells or tanks as our house was within a famous fort called Chittorgarh.

The fort is one of the oldest in Hindustan and many fierce battles and sieges lie deep in its history, as well as three famous instances of “Jaurah”…….the mass self-burning by the ladies of the city to protect their honour when they refused to surrender or be carried away by victorious invading forces.

As my ancestral homeland of Chittor lies in the Mewar region, it means I am a descendent of a proud Rajput family. Proud yes, but my father only had the funds to send my two brothers to school and so I grew up helping my mother with running the household kitchen, fetching water in pots balanced on my head and other domestic tasks – as did my three sisters before they were married – but as you know, these are the tasks of most daughters born into humble households.

SL 6 Lady with pot on head

But whenever I had the chance, and my brothers had the time, for they were often playing outside with their friends, I begged them to tell me about their lessons at school that day and to show me how it was written on their slates. We did not have money for books to read, so I had to learn as best I could, and quickly too, before the slates were wiped clean ready for the next lesson.

I think it was past my tenth year that my first bleed came and my marriage was arranged soon afterwards. I took a very small dowry to the groom’s family as I was the youngest and last of the daughters of the house to be married. With four girls it was difficult for my father to meet the expenses to marry all of us, as well to find enough dowry to satisfy family expectations on the groom’s side.

My husband was a few years elder to me, but he was a good, honest, hard working man and he did not drink or beat me. As is normal, we lived with his extended family. They too were quite poor, but we got by and always had food on the family table, although I was not blessed with any sons or daughters.

Then one day, when I was about one score of years, a man who was a neighbour came banging on our courtyard door. A small child had slipped from the steps and fallen into a rush of water. The fort had many tanks to catch rainwater as well as to store water from natural sources you see, and it was also the monsoon season so all the tanks were full to overflowing.

The child’s mother had been rushing around begging the male bystanders for help and it was my husband who jumped in to save the child, but the rush of water was too strong and my husband could not swim well, so they were both swept away without a trace as the extra water was being sucked out of the tank and overflowing to the outside – or maybe they got stuck deep down in the tank as it was very deep. Anyway, neither body was found.

SL 7 Chittorgarh tank

As there was no body to cremate, I was spared the choice of the pyre, but be in no doubt Noor, I would have become a Sati, sitting amidst the flames with my deceased husband’s head in my lap to signify my pride as a Rajput widow of a decision made in courage and honour. How could I not have avoided the flames? For I was now a widow /and/ barren after about seven years of marriage, and not surprisingly, my husband’s brother refused to take me as a second wife.

SL 7A Sati

Such is the stain, the stigma of being a childless widow, my dear Noor, and although I came from a respectable family, I could not ask my parents to take me back. As you know, when a girl leaves her father’s house on marriage, she becomes her husband’s property and can never return to her father’s house.

And it was difficult for my late husband’s parents to find the rupees to feed the mouth of a childless woman who had no means to put bread on their kitchen table. At my husband’s house the ladies were kept in strict purdah you see, and we were not allowed to leave the house unaccompanied – only under the supervision of close male relatives.

I understood their problems – we were all poor people – and so one night, during the sleeping hours, I quietly rose from my charpoy and offered a prayer at the family shrine. Then I collected my few coins and a bowl, wrapped all my clothes in a small bundle for carrying, and gathered the only book I owned, an old book which had been given to me by a kindly schoolmaster, a precious book of ancient children’s fables. Then, stepping carefully over and around the sleeping family as I tip-toed across the mud baked floor, chappals in hand, I took one final look around before creeping out into the dead of the night to await the opening of the fort gates in the morning. Then I slipped out and was gone from their lives forever.

SLM3      I had heard the family talking about a famous and sacred city on the River Ganges called Benares where unwanted widows went to live and die. I knew it was far, far away, but I decided to walk and beg my way there. It took many, many months and often I was harassed by men who tried to misbehave with me, but my determination to find a better, kinder life kept me going. Sometimes I paused in my journey to do some daily labouring or stitching of garments or cleaning – anything to earn myself a morsel of bread or a sip of milk as sustenance. But it was hard, so very hard.

SL 10 Benares

And finally I reached my destination – Benares – the famous city of prayer where I hoped there might be some help for poor widows like myself. But it was not to be and I ended up like so many others, living a hand to mouth existence on the streets and begging from worshippers near the temples or on the ghats of the sacred river as devotees went to make their prayers.

SL 11 Poojah doing washing on ghats

One thing I never forgot though were the lessons I learned from my brothers, and with the help of some other impoverished widows who were better educated than me, my reading and writing began to improve. Between us we begged old and tatty books that the booksellers could not sell to their customers, and from the few rupees we earned doing rag picking and other menial tasks, we bought some slates and chalk.

Very, very slowly my confidence in other people began to grow a little, and after a few years, two of my closest widow friends asked if I would help them start a small school for the children of the very poor people. I was happy with this, as giving lessons on the steps of the ghats helped us pass our days with something to do and we tried very hard to provide some education in reading and writing for the children. The parents were too poor to pay us of course, but I got by with begging for alms – although I remained living on the streets, washing and bathing in the ghats and sleeping in doorways.

SL 12 Pooja sleeping in doorway

One day, I was teaching a few poor children when your father, Zafarji and his wife, the beautiful Mumtaz, arrived at the ghats in a magnificent carriage. It was only later that I found out that your mother had recently discovered she had conceived, and so she wished to pray and give thanks in the Ganges. Which meant you were there too, Noor!

Recognising Zafarji as a close relative of the Emperor, a prince, the local Zaminder (landlord) and a man of the highest social standing and influence, I bowed and covered my head in respect before hastily moving the children aside so as not to impede their royal progress.

And then to my surprise, your mother turned, smiled and thanked me – and your father too! This was almost unheard of, as widows and the children of the poor were not usually afforded so much as a glance, let alone words of thanks……and then they proceeded to their prayers.

SL 13 Benares

But unbeknown to me, that was not the end of the matter. For your mother had noticed, with her sweetest, swift glance, my makeshift classroom on the hard, wet, slippery steps of the ghats as well as the attentive children, all of them dirty, some with runny noses and crusted eyes and most with barely a stitch of clothing to their name – but all of them listening in rapt attention to a story I was telling.

And so my days continued to pass as normal, one day blending into another, and the crowded and busy life flow of the ghats continued unabated with all sorts of comings and goings and I didn’t notice yet another veiled lady who stopped and listened to my teaching for a while – as ladies, especially widows with so much time on their hands, would often stop, settle down and listen to my stories.

SLM5

Then came an auspicious day, Noor. I was in my accustomed place, helping the children write and spell by scratching with a small stick in the sand, when a simply dressed lady approached me from the shadows and pulled her veil aside. I immediately recognised your mother Noor, so I knelt and touched her feet and asked if she wished us to move aside in case she wished to pray again, but she merely shook her head.

SL 16 Mumtaz

As you grow older Noor, you will come to realise that ladies who live in purdah, behind the closed doors of local courtyards, are the custodians of all sorts of secrets. And it was through them your mother discovered that from what little coin I begged, I always bought two small jugs of milk each day for the children to share and that they all attended classes without fail for the love they bore me in telling them stories and giving lessons as their parents did not have the rupees to send them to school.

SLM6

And then – on the spot – and to my surprise, your mother offered me the position of ayah to her unborn child. To you Noor!

Now most women in my humble and lowly position would have grabbed at any chance to live and serve in the household of royalty, but I stopped myself and asked if I might think on her offer. And then, much to your mother’s amusement, I started to bargain with her – not for me you understand, but for the future of the children I was teaching and the classes they attended.

I was sure your mother would walk away from my insolence, as there were many other ayahs she could choose from, most of them better educated than me. But your mother simply sat down beside me, in the sand where I had been drawing, and spoke with the children and asked what they wanted to do in their lives. All of them said they wanted to go to school and learn, but beyond that they told your mother that their parents would decide their futures. But it would be better for them if they were able to read and write.

And then your mother surprised me again by making /me/ a proposal! She agreed to place all the children in a school she would establish nearby as the family owned many buildings on the ghats, some of which were empty, so she would select one as a school. She then said I should choose some other poor widows who would make suitable teachers for the school as, despite their poverty, many had received some education. And the blessed Mumtaz continued by saying she would cover the costs of the building maintenance, salaries, school fees, basic health care and a daily meal for all the pupils and teachers from her own purse.

She finished by saying I could visit the school whenever my duties, if I accepted the position as your ayah, allowed.

I wept with joy at my good fortune and her kindness and kissed her feet – and your mother kept to every single word. The school is still there today as your father took over the funding when your mother passed and perhaps one day we shall go down to the ghats and visit it.

I was nearly three score years when your mother came into my life and a few days later she explained that when she discovered she was with child – and despite the fact the child would have the very best tutoring in the arts and sciences – both she and Zafarji wanted someone from outside higher status circles, someone with an affinity with children, as the ayah for their child. And after witnessing the joy with which I conducted simple teaching and the love the children had for me, your mother decided that I should be your ayah, Noor.

So that is the story of how I entered your family service, spending many happy days with your mother in preparation for her confinement and being present at your birth, Noor…….seeing the blessed Mumtaz…………..”

“Pooja then broke down in tears and was unable to continue – so my diary entries of her life story finished here.”

SL 19 Diary entry Chillor font Posted as teaser 9 9 2017

“Pooja served me from my birth and travelled to Agra with me where, aged five years, I was unknowingly married.

She returned with me to my father’s estates in Benares shortly afterwards but did not accompany me when I returned to the Imperial Court in Agra to join my husband’s house some years later.

Time now for the aged Pooja to rest from her duties – but no – she was there, waiting for me when I was banished from the Imperial Court and returned to my father’s house, widowed and with child a few months later. And it was Pooja who held my hands as I birthed a dead son. Pooja then chose to remain with me for another six years until her death.

And, holding hands again as her life ebbed away, Pooja asked two things of me. Firstly, that I kept the first book she ever owned, her precious book of ancient children’s fables, in our family archives forever. This I have done, and by loaning the book to @Navneet_Maid1 to help with her writing and storytelling, I hope Pooja’s legacy as a storyteller will live on. Navneet is aware of the books history and treats it as a most precious possession.”

SL 19A Navneet avi Navneet…………..

“Is very special story book to me always handled with due care and reverence. And when each time Navneet is finished reading, am wrapping carefully in silk cloth, placing away in my trunk of delicate articles, and before shutting lid, Navneet is always saying a little prayer over the book for Pooja~~~~as Noor madam is telling me much about her. Namaste.”

SL 20 Storybook 1SL 21 Storybook 2

Avi wef 16 2 2017   Noor………….

“And secondly Pooja asked that her body be prepared and taken for burning on the Benares ghats before her ashes were scattered on the sacred River Ganges.

The ghats were always special to Pooja, a humble widow, as they gave her the opportunity to live her life with dignity and self respect; but if it had not been for my mother making the auspicious decision to go there to pray and gives thanks for my conception, she would never have met Pooja…….the ayah who went on to become such an important presence in my life.

And the school? It still remains as a school for the poor – exactly as my mother and Pooja intended. A fitting memorial, I think.”

1 Montage of Chittorgarh views

((And to conclude a few notes on Pooja’s birth place – Chittor))

Chittor Fort or Chittorgarh (“garh” meaning “fort”) is one of the oldest in Rajasthan. It was founded about 728AD and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013.  Chittor was the capital of the Mewar region of Rajasthan and the fort is built on the top of a steep hill, 180meters above sea level and adjacent to the Berach River. The fort is “fish shaped,” covers 1.1 square miles and a winding hill road of about one mile leads to the first of the seven entrance gates. The walls cover nearly 4 miles.

SLM8

The history of the fort is long and extensive, so I’ll confine myself to the three instances of “Jaurah” mentioned in Pooja’s story and a little about the main sites of interest.

Chittorgarh was attacked three times by Muslim rulers. In 1303 by Alauddin Khilji who defeated Ratan Sen, in 1535 by Bahadur Shah the Sultan of Gujarat who defeated Bikramjeet Singh and in 1567 by the Emperor Akbar who defeated Udai Singh II.

SLM9

After each defeat, the women of Chittor committed “Jauhar” or mass-self immolation which represented the Rajput ideals of courage and medieval chivalry. Rulers, soldiers plus the womenfolk of royalty and commoners all considered death to be a better option than the dishonour of surrender to invaders.

In 1615/6, the fourth Mughal emperor, Jahangir, returned Chittorgarh to the Rajputs, but it remained unoccupied as a capital and was eventually restored in 1905.

The fort originally had 84 water sources but only 22 remain. They are fed by natural catchment and rain water and have a combined water storage capacity of 4 billion litres – enough to last an army of 50,000 for four years. The water is stored in ponds, wells and step wells.

SLM10

I wrote “The legend of Padmini” recently about the 1303 siege by Alauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, who wished to claim Ratan Sen’s (the Rajput ruler) beautiful wife Padmini as his own.

The fort was retaken by the Rajputs in 1313 and Chittor soon regained its past glory with Mewar becoming a large and prosperous kingdom – although a number of rulers remained keen to usurp the powerful state.

Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat besieged the fort in 1535. Popular folklore links the birth of a prince, and subsequent ruler Udai Singh II, with his maid Panna Dai who saved him by spiriting him away in a fruit basket and substituting her own son as a decoy who perished in the ensuing battle. History records that every Rajput clan lost their leader when the fort was sacked and it is said that 3,200 men died and 13,000 Rajput women committed Jauhar when the medieval dictates of chivalry determined the final outcome.

SLM11

The third Mughal emperor, Akbar, wanted to conquer Mewar and establish himself as the supreme Lord of Northern India as a precursor to conquering the whole of India. His Rajput adversary was Udai Singh II. On 20th October 1567 Akbar was camped on the plans below the fort, but following the advice of his council, Udai Singh II left Chittorgarh and subsequently founded the new capital of Udaipur. Two army chieftains were left to defend the fort along with 8,000 warriors. The battle continued until 23rd February 1568 when one of the chieftains ordered the women to commit “Jauhar.” The next day the gates were opened and the defenders rushed out to their deaths. As a new capital had been established in Udaipur, the fort was abandoned and the lower town of Chittor was developed.

10 Chittorgarh tower10A Chittorgarh tower

The Vijay Stambha or Tower of Victory built between 1458 and 1468 is the “Symbol of Chittor” and was constructed by Rana Kumbha to commemorate a famous victory over Muhmud Khilji of Malwa in 1440. It’s dedicated to the God Vishnu and rises to a height of 37 meters through nine exquisitely carved storeys.

11 Meera Temple

Meera temple – also built by Rana Kumbha is associated with his wife, a mystic saint-poetess called Meera Bhai who dedicated her life to Lord Krishna. Popular folklore says she survived an attempt on her life after consuming poison sent by her by her evil brother-in-law.

12 Rana Kumbha Palace

 

Rana Kumbha Palace – is close to the Vijay Stamba, but is mostly in ruins now. It included horse and elephant stables and is said to be the site of Padmini’s Jauhar in 1303.

13 Padminis Palace

Padmini’s palace was built in the late 13th century and rebuilt at the end of the 19th century.

SLM12

Gaumukh Reservoir Tank – a spring feeds the tank from a carved cow’s mouth in the cliff and this pool was the main source of water for the fort during the numerous sieges.

((Firstly, thanks to @PetyrBaelish for this edit, which was originally posted at the conclusion of a previous SL. It was seeing the image of “Vijay Stambha” that provided the inspiration for this SL.

17 Petyr artwork to end 1

Secondly, Namaste and my grateful thanks for yesterdays’ edit of “The Ancient One” which I’m privileged to use in finishing.))

#PoojaTheAyah   ((End))

18 EDIT FROM PETYR BAELISH OF 13 9 2017 THE ANCIENT ONE TO END 2


 

“THE LEGEND OF PADMINI.”

Montage 1 for blog Pooja and young Noor

“She wasn’t book read or learned, but she owned the wealth of wisdom……and me.”   #Noor

For as far back as I can recall, Pooja was a part of my daily life. Besides being my ayah (nursemaid) from the day I was born, she was also a font of worldly wisdom and kindness – despite the privations she had suffered for most of her adult life.

Pooja remained my carer and confidante until her death – her life story belonging to another day – yet I /still/ revere her as my story telling mentor, many of the stories she told encompassing her childhood, homeland and past, as well as tales of courage, chivalry and valour.

Pooja was born in the ancient city of Chittor in the Mewar area of Rajputana. She was intensely proud of her Rajput heritage and today I would like to share one of the stories from her ancestral homeland that she told me as a child – and I shall endeavour to do so as accurately as my memory serves.

The story is called “The legend of Padmini”

SL 3 Padminis eyes

Padmini was the beautiful daughter of Gandharv Sen, the ruler of the Singhal kingdom on the island of Sri Lanka. Eventually word of her beauty travelled far and wide; in fact she was said to be the most beautiful woman in the world.

Her doe hued eyes were framed to perfection within the artistry of beguiling almond contours, whilst her hair tumbled in black, lustrous locks, the blue-black sheen glistening as if copied from the raven’s wing.

Her heart was so finely attuned it kept beat to the rhythm of the world in support of her soul – the everlasting custodian of fierce loyalty, commitment and love.

And Padmini’s body? It was so perfect that it defied depiction and description in painting, poetry or prose, whilst the exquisite song-like lilt and timbre of her voice calmed and soothed as a balm to a troubled mind.

Blessed too with natural elegance in deportment and dance, she possessed an effortless ability to meld her movements into sweeping lines of grace and fluidity as if floating on air – her footfall barely grazing the ground.

And her innocence? As pure as the first bloom of the un-plucked lotus…….and yet she was imbued with the knowledge and intelligence of the oracles of ages past.

Montage 2 for blog Mughal images of Padmini

What man could not be captured, enraptured, enslaved by such a woman? Breath catching in their throats when coming into her presence for the first time. A vision of beauty, whose whisper soft words were akin to a hand closing tenderly around the heart with gossamer lightness……and yet capable of wringing tears from a man’s eyes.

And so it was that news of Padmini’s beauty reached the ears of Ratan Sen, the Rajput ruler of Chittor in Hindustan from – believe it or not – a talking parrot named Hiraman!

Padmini’s father was jealous of her closeness to Hiraman and gave orders for the parrot to be killed – but he flew away, only to be trapped by a bird catcher, who then sold him to a merchant, who transported Hiraman many miles from his homeland and sold him to the Rajput ruler.

Ratan Sen was so impressed with Hiraman’s ability to talk, as well as intrigued by his praise of Padmini’s beauty, that he quickly resolved to marry her. It was a long and perilous journey, but guided by Hiraman and accompanied by 16,000 followers, he travelled to Sri Lanka to claim Padmini’s hand.

After arrival, Ratan Sen dressed himself as an ascetic and went to perform religious rituals in a local temple in the hope that it might help him find Padmini. Meanwhile Hiraman told Padmini that Ratan Sen was in the temple and she went there to see him; but she lost her nerve as soon as she got to the temple and returned to the palace without meeting him – yet as soon as she got back to the palace, she started yearning for him.

When Ratan Sen realised he had missed the chance to meet Padmini, he resolved to burn himself to death; but before he could set himself alight, the deities Shiva and Parvati intervened.

Shiva advised Ratan Sen and his followers to attack the royal fortress at Singhal, but his force was soundly defeated and many of them were imprisoned whilst still dressed as ascetics. Just as Ratan Sen was about to be executed as a rebel, Hiraman revealed his identity to his captors – who were astonished to learn he was the Rajput ruler of Chittor in Hindustan.

On learning of Ratan Sen’s quest, Gandharv Sen married Padmini to him and also arranged 16,000 women for her retinue to match the 16,000 men Ratan Sen had brought from Chittor.

However Ratan Sen already had a wife – Nagmati – back in Chittor and one day he learned from a messenger bird that she was eager for him to return home.

During the return journey to Hindustan, the ocean God decided to punish Ratan Sen for his arrogance in winning the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world and he invoked a fierce storm which resulted in the death of everyone on the voyage, except Ratan Sen and Padmini.

Padmini found herself marooned on the island of Lacchmi (the daughter of the ocean God) and Ratan Sen was rescued by the ocean God himself, who decided to test his love for Padmini. Lacchmi disguised herself as Padmini and appeared before Ratan Sen in an attempt to seduce him, but he was not fooled and knew she was not Padmini.

The ocean God then reunited them both and showered Ratan Sen with gifts which he used to arrange a new retinue when he reached Puri (in Odisha, Hindustan) before travelling with Padmini to Chittor.

Soon after arrival however, friction developed between the two wives and there was also a lot of scheming at court. This caused Ratan Sen to banish a musician/courtier named Raghav Chetan for fraud. He immediately travelled to the court of the Alauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, and to have his revenge on Ratan Sen, he told the Sultan of Padmini’s beauty.

Montage 3 for blog Padmini in lake

Alauddin was very jealous on hearing this and decided to steal Padmini for himself. He marched his forces to besiege Chittor, and although Ratan Sen offered him mediation and tribute, he refused to give him Padmini. The Sultan was a deceitful individual however and signed a false peace treaty with Ratan Sen before using subterfuge to snatch him and take him back to Delhi – without Padmini.

Padmini then enlisted the help of two of Ratan Sen’s loyal feudal followers called Gora and Badal to retrieve her husband. They hurried to Delhi with some followers and, disguised as Padmini and her female companions, they gained access to the palace areas. Their rescue plan was successful and they returned to Chittor with Ratan Sen – although Gora was killed in the fighting.

Meanwhile Devpal, the Rajput ruler of Chittor’s neighbour Kumbhalner, was also infatuated by Padmini, and whilst Ratan Sen was imprisoned in Delhi, he proposed to her through an emissary. When Ratan Sen returned to Chittor he decided to punish Devpal for the insult and challenged him to single combat – in which both men were killed.

Montage 4 for blog Chittorgarh views

Alauddin needed no further invitation to invade Chittor again to take Padmini for himself, and with the Rajput forces facing certain defeat, Nagmati and Padmini committed sati on Ratan Sen’s funeral pyre. The other women of Chittor also died in an act of mass self-immolation called “Jauhar.”

Montage 5 for blog Rajput female warriors

Then, with their womenfolk dead, the men rushed out of the fort to meet their deaths – and Alauddin acquired nothing but an empty fort.

And so in sacrificing themselves, the Rajputs displayed the epitome of courage – rulers, soldiers, commoners and their all their womenfolk considering that death was a better option than the dishonour of surrendering before invaders.

“Death before dishonour.”

SL 12 Sati Padmini

((Writers notes))

Chittor was, and is, the name of the city and “garh” means “fort.”

Legend has it that during the first siege, Alauddin Khilji saw Padmini via her reflection in the water of the lake on which her palace was situated when viewing her through a mirror – and her beauty convinced him she had to be his.

Alauddin laid siege to Chittorgarh for a second time in 1303. The fort was considered impregnable as it was built on top of a high natural hill, but on 26th August 1303 the battle was decided in Alauddin’s favour.

Instead of surrendering however, the Rajput ladies led by Padmini, preferred to commit Jauhar (self-immolation) to protect their honour.

It is said that 30,000 men died and some accounts mention that Padmini entered the flames last of all the women. The number of women who perished is unclear.

At the end of the battle, when Alauddin discovered all he had acquired was an empty fort, he renamed it Khizrabad and entrusted it to his son, Khizr Khan – but the fort was retaken by the Rajputs a few years later.

Padmini’s Palace was rebuilt at the end of the 19th century.

SL 13 Padminis Palace

Despite there being no historical evidence that Padmini actually existed, she has become a symbol of valour and sacrifice in Rajput history and folklore and the “Legend of Padmini” is the best known story about the siege. With little historic basis however, most modern historians have rejected its authenticity.

The original bronze gates to Padmini’s Palace were pillaged by the third Mughal emperor, Akbar, and are now at Agra Fort.

Alauddin’s siege of Chittor in 1303 /is/ an historic event.

SL 14 Jaurah Petyr artwork to end

****And special thanks****to @PetyrBaelish for this edit which was originally made at the conclusion of a previous SL and subsequently became the inspiration for “The legend of Padmini.” Namaste and my grateful thanks.  ((End))


 

“RETRIBUTION”

Noor black and white + teaser USED 5 7 2017 and RT 6 7 2017

Formed at the beginning of time and creation, my hue rarer than blue when I was birthed in earth’s strata elsewhere, I was later hewn and domiciled in a place dedicated to the warring elements; time alone revealing the irony of this.

A foreign abode, where I was revered for my spiritual powers of aligning planetary and astrological influences as well as for creating an atmosphere of pious calm, imbuing a sense of inner peace amongst supplicants – until the day my own peace was disturbed.

SL 2 Cawnpore Indra temple

My surroundings and awareness constantly assailed by the sight of perambulating priests accompanied by their sonorous, murmured incantations. The slap of devotees bare feet on stone, the rhythmic chanting of devotees mantras, clanging bells, multitudinous prayers, the scent of jasmine and marigold perpetually hanging in the air, as well as the never ending obsequious offerings of coconuts, milk and other edibles, all beseeching favours from the deity for sons, children, wealth, status, security and longevity.

Theft and mockery too – the acrobatic agility of squabbling black faced monkeys as they launched themselves through windows to pilfer the devotional offerings of fruits and foods, grabbing and grasping with their little black hands before making off, chattering with delight at the scale of their booty.

And amongst all the hubbub and daily demands of worship, I was content and at peace.

SL 3 Cawnpore

For centuries – I know not how many, for I had no need to tally time’s inexorable movement as I rested in my cloistered existence observing and heeding offerings and prayers – although the latter were not mine to answer, that power vested in the temple deity alone.

It started as a gentle swelling which grew into a boil. A large boil. One which could not be lanced.  A boil that burst of its own accord as a river bursts its banks at the time of the monsoon inundation.

SL 4 Indra

The first murmurings like a trickle of water, then tributaries joining to form a stream of resentment – taxes and land reforms, rules for the rich and ruling classes, the disinherited also joining the now swollen river of resentment. But it was rumours of tallow and pig fat, offensive, forbidden and haram to many that sounded the inevitable death knell and swept me away into anguished exile.

Women and children amongst the populous besieged, starvation, the brutal sounds of suppression tearing through the air, eventually supplanted by a tense, nervous quiet before the murmurs of absolute abandonment and despair reached my hearing.

Running, stampeding, shouting, screaming, smoke, gunshots, murder, killing, the putrid sickly sweet stench of death, mangled bodies neither buried or cremated, horror mingled with prayers of anguish and loss – with few prayers offered in gratitude for salvation, survival and safety.

SL 5 Cawnpore Slaughter Ghat

Defeat, then came a scraping noise and frustrated stabbing as I was prised free – carried away – defiled by the touch of an ungodly hand, yet forever shrouded in the possessiveness of an ancient deity whose wrath at my removal was marked with a curse even as I plunged into the darkness of the unknown.

A darkness populated by strange sounds, strange languages, softness, movement and stillness, then creaking, shuddering, slamming, pitching, cries of alarm and groans of sickness as I tumbled around as if rolling through time.

The darkness of further jolting, a jarring lurch, superseded by yet more shouts in strange tongues, lifting, movement and finally the stillness of arrival as I emerged into the light of a place I did not know – separated from my resting place of many years.

So quiet, too quiet…..all the supplicants are gone, but not my ability to observe.

There are oil diyas (lamps) set on the tables, others hang from the ceiling or are attached to walls. All are lit by long tapers and have a clear case surrounding them, but those on the walls and ceiling are never replenished with oil to make them burn. Something is turned close to these diyas, so maybe that releases the holy oil for lighting.

SL 6 Gas lighting 1

A daily sweeper, a servant maybe, a woman attired in black and white and wearing a white cap stares at me and turns me upside down and round and round, touching me with circular movements of her fingertips before brushing me with feathers and returning me to my newly appointed resting place on a table laden with papers. But where are all the people?

And a rhythmic noise emanates from an ornament with a round face that stands in a wooden box against the opposite wall. The ornament regularly emits chimes – but not of the familiar bells. A man, also dressed in black, unlocks a clear door on the front with a tiny key. He then puts another tiny key in a hole in the face of the ornament and turns it. Is this to keep the beating heart of the ornament working, I wonder? I also observe two pieces, like small sticks, which slowly move around the strange writing on the front of the ornament. What is this thing?

SL 7 Grandfather clock 1

I hear voices raised in anger many times by a family speaking a language I do not understand and chitties, pieces of paper are waved about. Husband, wife and son I think, always squabbling, and although I cannot comprehend their anguish, I sense there is a morbid sickness in this abode.

Lifted and engulfed in softness, darkness surrounds me again as I feel movement accompanied by the sound of pacing feet, horse’s hooves, continuously striking a hard surface. Muffled voices, hands moving me – and in the light of another place – another face. A man, happy and curious at the sight of me. How little you know!

Placed to rest on a night table beside the cot where he sleeps, the gradual anguish overtakes him too. I watch as he writes a frantic last chitty in a nervous hand before his last slumber. He is no more. Did he believe in reincarnation?

Travelling through darkness again, I am returned to the table laden with paper documents in the room containing the ornament with the round face and rhythmic noise, and meanwhile, my anger grows, as well as my longing to be back in the care and protection of my deity.

SL 8 Library

A firm, grasping of right hands, an agreement between two men, darkness and movement again, emerging into a house of many books, headed by a man of learning and strange music, the like of which I have never heard before; the music made by scraping a thin stick with threads attached against the strings of an unusual looking sitar held under the chin……but there’s no chanting or mantra accompaniment.

Arguments and looks of fear, whilst my over-riding sense is one of calm as my spirit deity awakens into mortal vision. He sits in a corner, scratching at the floor, digging, seeking that which was stolen.

“I am here! I am here!” Why does he not see?

To repel the power, the man of learning encloses me in a metal ring with ornaments at each end, the engraved script being of a time and place I do not recognise. Pathetic! His hope that ancient talismans will guard against an even more ancient deities wrath.

Fury at my containment rising, I loathe this room full of books and rail against the jail of false scriptures of a bygone age which now surround me.

The arguments continue, I am constantly viewed with fear and suspicion…..and the recurring solution? I move on again when the man of education disappears.

Another house, a smaller house – but soon the familiar face of fear manifests itself – from a woman this time. My cyclical reward darkness, movement and stillness again. Full circle. And when light once more reveals itself, I am back in the house of books with the man of education regarding me with juxtaposed looks of bemusement, fear, determination and finality etched on his learned features.

In futility he grasps at finality, allowing it to wash over me as I transmit anguished pleas to my deity to free me from the ever recurring darkness.  As if in answer I become weightless, flying as a bird might fly through the air, followed by the sound of a stone being cast into water – but it’s me! My hearing muffled as a morbid, frigid chill surrounds me. I am sinking, sinking into a watery grave. Sinking until I can sink no more.

SL 9 Indra riding his three headed elephant Airavata

Churning, churning, the area around me disturbed one day by a throbbing sound, growing closer and closer before I eventually tumble, tumble in confusion. Grabbed and pulled, snatched, rising in exhumation from my grave, falling, shaken around and found; but yet I’m blind……I cannot see!

Eventually I am cleaned, but when sight is restored, I am facing a stare of pure, avaricious greed before being unceremoniously laid to rest in a rough spun pocket.

The deity reacts with fury as others of my kind lie around me; a man with a glass held to his eye stares at me and the deity stares back at him with malice. The man gasps, startled, the glass dropping from his eye with a loud clatter as it meets the floor. He then places me carefully on a table, steps back and regards me with great suspicion – and recognition.

Walking across the room, he pauses, looking back at me over his shoulder before turning a round object on the front of a big box both ways to open the door. Momentarily, I see more of my own kind in the big box, before the man retrieves me, places me inside and locks the door.

Deities loathe claustrophobia, they are created to be see, be seen and worshipped, and when I see the light again it frames the deathly pale features of the learned man of books and music, who is engaged in animated conversation, laced with shock and disbelief with the man who locked me in the big box.

Reluctantly, the terrified man lays his fingers on me – merely to pitch me into my dark, accustomed abode – until I am being examined by a woman with enormously large breasts, who is begging, pleading and beseeching my ownership. The educated man is reticent and perturbed, but unable to resist her feminine charms, he relents and I am gifted to her.

Her house is soft with feminine decoration and I am displayed on a tiny table in a light and airy room. The woman picks me up, caresses me and smiles, then she turns towards the window, takes a deep breath, mountainous breasts rising as the first mountains from the sea, her lungs filling with air as she gathers herself, opens her mouth and……nothing!

Aghast, she tries again and again. Still nothing. Karma. The deity regards her dispassionately as we both know what will happen next, I will return to the house of the man of education and books.

But there is a babe, an infant girl in the house now, and in deference to her tender age, my deity’s powers are finally heeded rather than challenged and I am committed to my final resting place in this frightened ownership – inside a box, one of many inside each other and surrounded by yet more talismans to ward off evil.

All this designed to avoid me being soiled or offended by human sight, sound or touch forever. But they are the sinners in this, not I.

Will I ever see the light again or will this be my darkness of forever?

A young man now, with long hair reveals me into the subdued light of a sombre and dusty place. It reminds me of a temple, but I’m in a container that slides, together with crumbling bits of rubble. He furrows his brow, regarding me with curious fascination as he reads from the piece of paper which had been my funeral shroud. The script is beyond my comprehension, but the message causes him to place me back in the container and slide it back in the direction from which it came.

Lost in time again – before there are people, many people, staring at me with wide, slightly nervous eyes and discussing me most seriously. I came to this place in something that moves on wheels, but not a bullock cart or horse drawn tonga. The noise was different, the vehicle making a roaring noise as it moved, and when the people have finished with me, I return to the chariot.

The deity is not amused and so, without warning, his command of the weather intervenes and he demonstrates his powers. An argument between a man who is in charge of the chariot and a woman ensues amidst violent monsoon storms. The storm holds no fear for me, but both of them scream and shout in fear, afraid of being inundated and swept away. The deity scorns them before I return to the place of the sliding cabinet.

SL 10 Indra with lightning bolt

But my deity will not be repeatedly mocked, and when the same man takes me in his chariot again, he falls violently ill during the journey. Again strange people discuss and look at me fearfully, afraid to touch or handle me. Another small interlude, my deity now reduced to little more than a curiosity who belongs in the place of the sliding cabinet.

Time to move again – with the same man – but the deity strikes him down, hard and fast this time and I am conveyed in the chariot of another. Strange educated people lick their lips with nerves on seeing me and I am not required to linger long.

After the passing of time I move out of the sliding cabinet and into a clear container. People still come and stare at me – lots of them – some with a sense of familiarity, others in trepidation.

But this is not the end of my exile. Far from it – for I am moving again. I cannot account for the journey, but I was moved around with care, in softness and in the dark – as usual.

And today – I look at small, dark haired people with wheaten skin and narrow eyes through which they peer back at me – softly spoken people, always bowing to each other, men and women both, talking in the quietest of tongues.

And until the day the power of the deity causes the land to shake and the seas to rise, I remain far removed from my country of origin and my sense of belonging……….longing, longing, always to return to my deity in the place of peace.

SL 10A

SL 11 Montage + imprint to begin part 3

“The Delhi Purple Sapphire,” also known as the “Accursed Amethyst” is a precious gemstone which may have been mined in Sri Lanka before it was housed in the Temple of Indra in Cawnpore (now Kanpur), in Uttar Pradesh State, India.

The stone is an amethyst, but it didn’t bring any benefits to its owners after it was looted from the temple as it was widely considered to be “cursed.”

Unremarkable in appearance and not considered particularly valuable or rare, it’s now set in an unattractive silver ring. But it was a note detailing the chilling tale of the stones past that captured the attention of a young curator in the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London.

But to return to the beginning of the stones documented history –it was looted from the temple of Indra, the Hindu God of war, weather, rain and thunderstorms during the Indian mutiny of 1857. Indra is often depicted riding a white, three headed elephant and/or carrying a lightning bolt. Subsequent owners of the stone believed that when it was stolen, Indra placed curse on it.

SL 12 Indra

During the Victorian era, the plunder and looting of religious artefacts was not uncommon, and after the mutiny, the stone was brought to England by Colonel W. Ferris, a Bengal cavalryman. He soon regretted his actions, as shortly after his return, his entire family was beset by health and financial troubles, exacerbated by a series of failed investments by Mr Ferris and his son. The latter inherited the stone, but by this time the family were well on their way to financial ruin.

The Ferris family, believing the stone to be cursed, were glad to be rid of it, especially as a friend of the family, who was in possession of the stone for a short time, unexpectedly committed suicide for no apparent reason, yet managed to bequeath it /back/ to them in his will!

The next owner was a London born author, Edward Heron-Allen, born 1861, who accepted the stone from Ferris in 1890.  A close friend of Oscar Wilde, he spoke of an immediate series of misfortunes and bad luck which led him to believe the stone was “accursed and stained with blood and the dishonour of everyone who had ever owned it.”

SL 13 HERON ALLEN PHOTO

Well educated at Harrow, Heron-Allen studied the sciences, classics and music. He practised law, but his interests were eclectic and he possessed an exceptional intellectual ability. An accomplished violin player, expert in palmistry, graphology, palaeontology and the Persian language, he also wrote on a wide range of subjects from archaeology to Buddhism to the cultivation of asparagus.

As a respected academic in scientific studies, he did not appear to be someone who would accept superstition and mythology easily and seemed an unlikely victim of a curse. Initially he was sceptical about the stories surrounding the stone and presumably that is why he so willingly accepted it.

When Heron-Allen changed his mind about the stones powers though, he had it bound in a silver double headed snake that had been the finger ring of John Heydon (a 17th Century astrologer and Rosicrucian), looped up with zodiacal plates and neutralised between two amethyst scarabs of Queen Hatasu’s period brought from Der el-Bahari (Thebes, Egypt). He hoped this would contain the stones maleficent power.

SL 14 Dehi Purple Sapphire 1

All remained quiet until 1902 – although Heron-Allen and others reported sightings of a Hindu yogi in his library who persistently tried to get it the stone back as he sat on his heels in the corner of the room, digging at the floor with his hands as if searching for it.

In 1902, before he went to Egypt, Heron-Allen gifted the stone to a friend, but she also met with bad luck and on his return in 1903, he found she had returned it.

SL 15 Delhi Purple Sapphire 2

After further misfortune, Heron-Allen attempted to get rid of the stone by throwing it into the filthy Regents Canal in London, only for it to reappear a few months later after it had been dredged up. The Wardour Street dealer who bought the stone from the dredger recognised it as belonging to Heron-Allen and returned it to him – much to his astonishment – which left him even more convinced there was a powerful curse attached to it.

Next he gifted it to a friend, a singer, who wished to own it – but the next time she tried to sing, her voice was dead and she never sang again.

In 1904, after the birth of his first daughter, Heron-Allen sealed the gem inside seven boxes surrounded by lucky charms and lodged it with his bankers with instructions that it should be locked away  for 33 years after his death and that his daughter was never to touch, or be in possession of the stone.

In January 1944, shortly after Heron-Allen’s death, his daughter donated it to the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London together with notes on the stones history and a warning. The NHM then set the box containing the stone aside as per Heron-Allen’s request.

It wasn’t until 1974 that a young curator at the NHM, Peter Tandy, chanced upon the stone and Heron-Allen’s warning whilst was examining the contents of a mineral cabinet.

The note, dated October 1904, is reproduced here.

SL 16 HERON ALLEN LETTER

Thus, the gems history emerged, although Heron-Allen’s advice went unheeded, as curators are reluctant to dispose of any item for more practical reasons than the threat of misfortune. The discovery was however kept quiet due to the supposed curse and the stone was not put on public display.

Even after 50 years the family’s belief in the curse remains undiminished as Heron-Allen’s grandson, Ivor Jones, a 77 year old former naval officer refused to hold it stating “My mother certainly wouldn’t touch it and she recommended that we didn’t either because of the curse.”

And it seems the curse continues. In 2000 John Whittaker of the NHM staff transported the stone to the first annual symposium of the Heron-Allen Society. During the return journey, he and his wife were engulfed in a violent thunderstorm which trapped them in their car. He said it was the most horrific experience of his life. “The sky turned black and we were overtaken by the most horrific thunderstorm I’ve ever experienced. We considered abandoning the car and my wife was shouting…..Why did you bring that damned thing?”

The next year, he fell violently ill with a stomach bug on the night he was transporting the stone to the symposium and he missed the following years gathering as he fell ill with kidney stones just before it was due to take place.

The fourth symposium, held in 2004, was held in the NHM, and despite well founded trepidation, nothing untoward occurred.

Since 2007 the stone has been on display in “The Vault” Gallery of NHM.

SL 17 NHM Signed

And, of course, there’s a “BUT.”

It’s possible Heron-Allen fabricated the “legend” to give credence to a collection of short horror stories he wrote in 1921 under his nom de plume of Christopher Blantyre entitled “The Purple Sapphire and other posthumous papers.”

The legend also seems to have parallels with the plot of Wilkie Collins “The Moonstone,” supposedly based on the origins of the Hope Diamond or the Black Orlov Diamond. All three stones were stolen from India and seem to have enacted their revenge, and this particular plot could equally well have been based on the “Cursed Amethyst.”

It’s a pity the stone hasn’t been returned to its rightful place, thus ending the curse, but it would have led to a less interesting story.

And to conclude – during a recent History Channel programme about the NHM’s collection of precious stones, a contributor was happy to explain the meaning of the occult binding symbols around the stone, but refused to hold or touch it!

I hoped to see the stone at the NHM a few weeks ago – only to discover it’s currently on tour in Japan – a country naturally susceptible to earthquakes and tsunami warnings, if not to the influences of an “accursed gemstone!”

SL 18 NHM citation why the sapphire is missing on 31 5 2017 2 SL 19 NHM citation

So maybe the “curse” does continue…..as it wasn’t on display at the NHM when I went to see it! But make of the legend and the curse what you will.

Noor + imprinted poem

#Retribution    ((End))

(( The image taken in the NHM is the writers own. Many thanks for all your likes, RTs and comments. I always appreciate followers input, and in this case, I’m especially grateful to @mustloveswords for sowing the seed of this SL when I asked for ideas for future SLs recently. Much love to you all and I send you peace – Noor. xx ))



 

“GUPSHUP” – Chit Chat: the male perspective.

SL 1ASL 1 + Evening for use with poem + begin SL

“Godhuli vela – the hour of the cow dust”……and every evening they come to me, as the end of the day melds into rest.

The end of daily toil, marked by long shadows raking across the fields as herders and shepherds are absorbed by golden veils of dust kicked up by the hooves of cattle, sheep and goats as they wend their way home.

And as the dust settles, softening the last hours of daylight, the temperature cools and peace and tranquillity reign.

Wood smoke now permeates the air, along with the aroma of countless ingredients – particularly all pervasive spices – emanating from the housewives home cooked dishes. And throughout the village mouths water in anticipation of the women calling their men folk and children home, brewing fresh chai and setting meals upon the family table.

And it is also my time – the time when the men come to my welcoming, gathering and forgiving arms to sit beneath the shade of the Banyan, Peepal or Neem trees as they savour the sweet hour of the cow dust.

Montage 1 for blog

Dusk falls, and as butter lamps are being lit throughout the village, the men discuss the day’s events, mainly local, but they also talk animatedly, and with differing opinions of politics, read items from their newspapers, hand roll and smoke beedis, sip tea or something stronger, whilst others sit in companionable silence, gazing….just gazing… as the sun sets and birds fly across a rose-coloured sky, cormorants and egrets, night herons and skimmers all seeking a safe haven for the night roost.

Yes, even surrounded by your closest friends engaged in earnest and at times heated debate, peace, serenity and solitude can be yours at this time of the day. For they……and I……understand your needs.

Montage 2 for blog

“I hear the Emperor is coming here hunting the Houbara Bustard and other creatures again with his elephants, horses, hawks and big cats.”

“How will we bear the expenses this time? The Emperor and his retinue stay so long and eat the surrounding countryside bare without covering our expenses. It is an honour I suppose but it always leads to hardship as it is so many days to the next harvest and the landlord must have his share also. Should we prostrate ourselves before the Emperor as supplicants and explain our need? Surely he will not turn us away. All of us have families to support.”

SL 7

“I hear Gandhiji, Nehru and Jinnah are still talking to the British. We want to be free of them. They want us to be free of them, and so quickly now it seems. But to draw a line across our country so we can live in one part or the other according to our religion if we wish it, how will that happen? Will we be asked? Or will our lands be divided by pencil and marked just like field boundaries on a local map?”

“My neighbours on both sides are different religions to me…..but they are my neighbours /and/ my friends. We live in peace. We have /always/ lived in peace. It seems to me that the common man can live in peace with his neighbour, it’s just the politicians who can’t. I fear for our future and what will become of our country.”

SL 7A

We have always had army men in my family as you know. My three boys may be low ranking Sepoys in the British Indian Army, but my family has always been loyal in service to the British King or Queen. Now they are saying some regiments may belong to Britain if India is divided and the rest will stay in India. These are very uncertain times, so many rumours, but still I wonder how that will work.”

Montage 3 for blog

“Women and their incessant chatter. Non-stop in my house with wedding preparations and all the expenses…..the dowry demands from the groom’s side I swear will bankrupt me, besides the usual money and household goods, jewellery, furniture, bedding, crockery, utensils, clothes for the entire family and some of the wedding guests, a scooter, a car, some land, a house. Why, when we have /laws/ against Dowry, are they so blatantly ignored? Such greed!”

“Tell me! Me! The father of /five/ daughters. Please God let the next one, due close to Diwali, be a son. My wife is offering so many prayers to the deities. But what of me? I pray to the God of the Bank Manager to grant me a loan to cover the expenses of sending my daughters to school. And I need to pay back the loan to the Zamindar (landlord) for this season’s crop seed and urea”

Holds head in hands in exasperation “But why do we pay more to /marry/ a daughter than we do to /educate/ her? We must have our priorities wrong. This is what the school master told me last week. School fees are as /nothing/ compared to a girls wedding dowry, yet I had to take my only daughter out of school early and keep the fees back for my sons who prefer indolence to learning. Although it will be my daughter’s marriage that bankrupts me rather than her education!”

Montage 4 for blog

“Women!  My wife is nagging me with so many words. But maybe she is right….to a point. I /do/ need to see a dentist as many of my teeth are paining me and she says a train is coming with pukka dentists on. But she didn’t say how much the expenses might be. Although their qualifications may be more and the pain may be less than that inflicted by the pavement dentist I last went to.”

SL 12

“Why /my/ son? Why has he been taken from me? My only son. It was I who asked him to help me in the flooded field planting out the paddy rice. Why could I not have trodden on the cobra? At least then my son could have cared for my wife in her old age. Now who will care for us?”

“Karma, my friend. Strikes at us all without warning sometimes – just as the cobra did against your son. Come, let us go to your house now, and if it is your wish I will help you prepare the body for cremation and say the final prayers with you.”

SL 13

“That bastard feudal Zamindar, still refusing to have schools in the villages on his lands. There are schools outside, but too many miles for my children to travel and as I am tenanted to him, I do not have the rupees in my hand for school fees and the transport and I want my children to be educated.”

“This thing will not go away. He will not change his mind as he does not want his tenants or any of their children to be educated as then we might start to think about what he is telling us to do and question his orders”

“Yes, just as he tells us to jump in his lakes and streams to collect up the ducks he has hunted and killed. If our children were educated they might think on it and then refuse to do this thing….or tell him to do it himself!”

“That  Patwari! (Land Record Officer) Do you know how much he wanted in his outstretched palm to copy some land documents? I told him he was a rogue, but we are at their mercy. Otherwise /we/ are the ones who go away with empty hands and I need those documents as I have a parcel of land I want to sell to my neighbour”

“I know…..but this would not have happened with the British. If they gave their word, you could trust it. Now all this corruption, it is like an extra tax – everywhere you turn someone has an outstretched hand.”

“Yes. The British always had fair play. Now even the police want their share for routine tasks”

“She knows we oppose exogamy, but this girl wants to marry out of the village to a boy of her choice who is of a different caste and religion. For love she is saying!”

“Love is a dangerous thing. Her father will surely talk her out of it. Forbid it. Or marry her quickly to someone of their choice. Maybe that is why he is not here tonight. Oh hush….here he comes now!”

“I have heard that some girls who go against their family wishes, or run away with a boy or insult the family name even in a small way have been killed so that the family honour remains whole”

“As fathers it is our duty to care for and protect our daughters, in fact all of our women from shameful behaviour and to respect the women of other men.”

Montage 5 for blog

All talking at once “It is an inexcusable affront. Bad enough our women have to go into the fields to relieve themselves before the sun comes up and are unable to do so in private until it sets again, but to hear that young boys and migrant labourers from the neighbouring village have been harassing and misbehaving with them and using foul language! We should go there now with sticks and beat them.”

“No, no! We must take it to the Panchayat first, ask them to meet as soon as possible and they must go to the next village with our anger and see what the elders say about it!”

———————————

 

((Moving away to one of the village houses now and as discussed with the writer.))

“You have come to see my grandfather?”

“Yes. Is he here and may I enter?”

“Come. He is present. Pauses and looks rather sheepish “Will you be very long with my grandfather?”

“I hope not I have other villages to visit”

“Could you speak to him for a long time?”

“Why are you asking me to do that?”

“Um….he’s just discovered how to work our computer. He has been taking lessons and is learning things surfing on the net and won’t let me take a turn. If you speak to him for a long time, then I shall have a long turn”

Laughs I’ll see what I can do.

SL 16

((All in a day’s work – at a time when the internet was beginning to reach rural villages!))

—————————————————–

But who am I? Welcoming the men and listening to their conversations. Yet I also welcome the gossiping ladies and have presided over Panchayat discussions and decisions through the ages.

I am the chaupal. A space in rural villages of India and the hub of community life, especially for men. In small villages the chaupal can be a simple raised platform shaded by a large tree, typically a Neem, Banyan or Peepal fig tree, although in larger villages the chaupal may be a building that also serves as a community guesthouse.

Panchayats (village councils) usually function and hold hearings in the chaupal.

Montage 6 for blog

Many Indian villages have a strong social norm of village exogamy, and the chaupal is often the site where the groom’s party are received and hosted when a “daughter of the village” is married.

Chaupals are constructed and maintained using community funds, often raised through donations. Although fundamentally a feature of village life, in broader sense, a chaupal is any place where people sit and discuss their problems, celebrate good news, condole the pains of individual families and mediate on disputes. It is a sacred place of a secular nature that guarantees freedom of speech and expression to everyone.

And the Panchayat is the oldest system of local government in the Indian subcontinent with historic mentions dating back to c250AD. “Panchayat” means assembly (ayat) of five (panch).

Traditionally panchayats consisted of wise and respected elders chosen and accepted by the local community, which today include women amongst their members. As a village council they still settle disputes between individuals and villages, under the leadership of a mukhiya or sarpanch, which is either an elected or generally acknowledged position.

So there you have it. “Gupshup” which is “chit chat” or just plain gossip between friends and neighbours about issues that concern them.

Montage 7 for blog

((This concludes Part 2 of the SL reflecting village life and conversations throughout the ages, some imaginary, some philosophical and others overheard or based on the writers own experiences whilst working in the Asian sub-continent – this time from the male perspective – in which politics feature far more heavily than in the ladies conversations.))

#Gupshup  ((End))

 


 

“DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND…….BUT HAS THAT ALWAYS BEEN THE CASE?”

SL 1Shah JahanSL 2Mumtaz Begum

Of the “Halqeh e Nur”…….the “Halo of Light.”

Shah Jahan was the fifth Mughul Emperor, most famed for commissioning the Taj Mahal, that most beautiful of mausoleums, to commemorate his love for his deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Born in 1592, Shah Jahan ascended the throne in 1628 and his reign spanned what is considered to be the golden age of Mughal architecture, a time of great wealth, opulence and ostentatious display.

In 1658 however Shah Jahan fell ill and his son and successor, Aurangzeb, had him confined in Agra Fort until his death in 1666. He was then interred, next to his wife, in the Taj Mahal.

Shah Jahan married Mumtaz Mahal in 1612 and she was only 37 years of age when she died shortly after giving birth to their fourteenth child in 1631. Seven of their children survived to adulthood.

Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal in 1632. The mausoleum was completed in 1643 and the remainder of the complex in 1654.

SL 3 tonemapped + signed

But how was Shah Jahan affected, mentally and physically, by the death of Mumtaz Mahal? Contemporaneous accounts say he was “paralysed by grief” and that he shut himself away in isolation for lengthy periods. And he cried…and cried…and cried.

It was also said that due to excessive weeping, Shah Jahan’s eyes became damaged, and so two diamond eyeglass lenses were made for him in what was a masterpiece of Mughal gem cutting.

The two diamond lenses are called the  “Halqeh e Nur” or “Halo of Light.”

SL 4 Lenses

The rather gaudy frames surrounding the lenses date from the late 19thcentury but the lenses were cut c1650 from a single flawless diamond of about 250 carats.

Amazing – cut as far back as 1650 from an approximately 250 carat diamond!

SL 5 Glasses from William Dalrymple IGSL 6 Glasses from William Dalrymple Twitter

Slightly earlier, in 1645, the renowned French traveller, merchant and jeweller, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, visited the Raolconda diamond mine (modern Ramallakota in Andhra Pradesh state) where he noted how skilled the local artisans were at cleaving diamonds – especially into virtually flat surfaces with mirror-like reflections, which enabled them to be mounted onto spectacle fames amongst other uses.

The skill displayed by these ancient artisans in sectioning large natural diamonds into thin plates is without precedent in modern times as the cutting and polishing of diamonds into such thin specimens was, and still is, a real technical challenge.

Although diamond is a hard material, it can also be brittle when worked, so it was apparent the lapidaries working the stones were highly skilled artisans and well versed in the physical properties of diamonds.

The size of the original stone used in the manufacture of the two lenses suggests it was an Indian diamond and Tavernier’s account of cleaving in India is the first accurate description of the process of forming large facets on gemstones. The fashion for flat diamonds for decorative purposes continued in India until the early half of the twentieth century.

SL 7 Glasses frames

The glasses are now part of a private collection held in a bank vault in Zurich – but the lenses have been validated by recent scientific examination – which made the size of the diamond used and the skill in cutting and polishing a part of it into these two lenses as far back as the 17th century, all the more astounding.

SL 8 tonemapped + signed

I would love to see them – but can shed no further light on their history.

The “Halqeh e Nur – Halo of Light” ((End))

SL 9 tonemapped + signed


 

“GUPSHUP” – Chit Chat: the female perspective.

SL 1

Today is no different. I watch, wait, observe and listen. As I have for centuries…………..

Ghosting through the still mists of early morning, the ladies process silently along the galis (narrow lanes between houses) where skilled artisans are already at work. Their small shops, opening directly onto the lanes, enable the men to stare at the ladies as they pass, whilst other traders busy themselves setting out their wares, calling out in jest to their neighbours and sharing the all important morning chai.

Blog montage 1In his courtyard the potter squats on wiry haunches, grabbing handfuls of clay which he hurls downwards as he makes a quick succession of water pots on his slippery, watery wheel. And how quickly the children smash the pots – good for his trade but not for the ever grumbling housewives purse! Shouting at his long-suffering wife to prepare some more clay, he sighs and continues with his work.

Blog montage 3The cobbler grumbles at the number of sequins required for hand stitching on a pair of outdoor slippers ordered by the school teacher’s wife. Diwali is soon and she simply /must/ have the new shoes by then! A design he has never made before – and from a picture taken from a European magazine which /imitates/ the local style! He bristles at the insult, but he has pride in his craft and knows this could lead to more orders. Looking up at the searing hot globe of the sun steadily rising in the sky, he threads his needle, sighs and continues with his work.

Blog montage 4The tailor’s order book is also full. Stitching and sewing, skinny feet pumping at the treadle of his old sewing machine so fast the cable almost generates its own heat as he struggles to complete all the orders for new sets of clothes in time for Diwali. Everyone must have the best, better than their neighbour, but at the lowest prices! Slurping the last of his chai, he changes the colour thread on his sewing machine, sighs and continues with his work.

Blog montage 5In another small shop the silversmith works his exquisite magic, teasing the most beautiful filigree work onto a pair of earrings for an upcoming wedding. Again, the highest quality workmanship is expected for the lowest possible price! Picking up a minute hammer, he wipes the sweat from his brow, places the earrings carefully on a work bench, taps at them delicately, sighs and continues with his work.

SL 10

And like the gentle buzzing approach of a bee, the chatter of the ladies grows louder as they approach the village well, their elegant deportment refined by years of balancing clay water pots on their heads. Close by, some ladies have already paused, sitting in the shade as they await their turn to draw water – the elixir of life in this infernal heat – sitting and gossiping as they have done for centuries – or to be more accurate, ever since women were gifted upon this earth.

Blog montage 1AThe cost of basic commodities, servants, children, sons, daughters, other men’s wives, marital issues, relatives, births, marriages, deaths and all that happens within the village are the usual topics of their gupshup.

Chattering away, some bend over a pail, soaping up clothes which they will then take to the stream for rinsing – although it is now running low in the fierce summer heat.

Naked toddlers run, stumble, laugh and play in the dusty ground, finding amusement in a seed pod, a round stone, a stick, chasing chickens or each other until their mothers shout at them to quieten their noise. And they do.

………….But now it is time for me to listen attentively…………………

“I hear Dhanti is expecting again. May God give her a son this time. Five daughters. Although her husband’s eye has not strayed elsewhere in search of a son………….yet”

“But five /surviving/ daughters so he cannot be a bad man and I have heard that rich women can go to a doctor who can see if the child in the womb is a boy or girl. That way a girl can be rid of before the birthing. Why do we not value our girl children? Could it be that one day there will not be enough girls for all our boys to marry?”

“I’ll not stay long at the well today as Baljit died suddenly last night and I am to sit with the family and condole them, whilst the men attend to the cremation rituals.”

“I’ll not linger here either as I’m preparing some food for the family. I will see you later at the condolence prayers. I will miss auntie, she was always kind to me”

“A train you say, auntie? But how will it help grannies eyes? Cataracts the learned Doctor says they are. But I have not heard of this train thing”

Blog montage 6“The train will be stopping at our village station, but no passengers will be getting down. It is a medical and eye train and it stops at villages far away from cities. There are doctors and nurses and the train is run by charity money so family members with bad eyes and other ailments can be taken to see the doctors. I have heard they can make cataracts better on the train on the same day and then send the patients home. Speak to your husband and I will speak to mine. We must find out when it is coming and tell the village. And my husband needs to see a dentist. There is a proper one on the train too, I am thinking.”

“I will tell granny and we will take her if the train comes. But she will be frightened, even if we are there with her. Even her big glasses do not help her to see anymore. I have to help her the whole time.”

SL 16

“The cost in the shops of daily household items! We are lucky we live in a village and can grow wheat, chillies, tomato, onion, other vegetables and rice in season and preserve some of them or trade with our neighbours. And the buffalo for milking are good.

“I know. But the price of other kitchen items – soaps, spices, pulses, ghee, tea, biscuits, sugar and cooking oils are all adding to our daily expenses”

“I am lucky my husband earns enough to meet our daily needs. But for daily wage earners not knowing if they can put one meal per day on their kitchen table shakes head I could not bear such a hand to mouth existence”

“Do you know what that /stupid/ husband of mine did? He went to the memsahib and said I was a stupid woman and he had to guide me on how to vote! And then he asked her if it was alright for him to vote for the Congress Party and could he tell me to do the same!”

“What did the memsahib say?”

“She is saying the vote is private and personal and he should make his own decision on his favoured party and let me do the same”

“This is how they vote in other countries I think. Did you know there is to be some sort of electronic machine for voting this time? My husband told me – but you still need your voters’ card and fingerprint to make your mark though – if you cannot write your name that is”

“A machine? Then my husband will have to guide me. But I hope we don’t arrive at the voting place this time to be told our names on the lists say we had /already voted/….all this fraud!”

“Poor woman. She was so frail and must have come to draw water unaccompanied by any family members, or with her bad eyes maybe she didn’t see the edge, or tripped and that’s how she toppled into the well. Her family have been out seeking her most of the night. As we are neighbours one of the sons woke us when they found out she was missing and asked if we had seen her. My husband helped them search”

Blog montage 2“My bucket did not reach the water but stopped on something, not something hard, before the water level. It can only be her. I am so shocked. My husband has gone to tell the family and bring ropes so she can be retrieved and then her family can give her the funeral rites”

“Yes, they will want to conduct prayers and bury her as soon as possible. And she should be taken from the well quickly otherwise the water will not be potable”

Nods Come to my home and together we can prepare some food for your neighbours”

“My husband is complaining of the cost of building materials, but our courtyard is large. It is our duty to draw water from the well and bear it home. But a small private enclosure bathroom in the courtyard will not take much space and my daughters can take turns with me in carrying the extra water”

“So much easier for men to perform their ablutions, I hate being seen in public in the fields lest a man misbehaves with me and I am shamed. Let me know what your husband decides about the bathroom space as I would like to be able to cleanse and relive myself in private too. Then I can speak to my husband”

“More and more daily expenses. All of them asking for more. The servants, the maid, the sweeper, the cook, the chowkidar (night watchman), the mali (gardener) the dhobi wallah (washer man), the kabadiwallah (rubbish collector)……all with outstretched palms asking for more daily wages”

SL 19“Yes – my husband was trading livestock the other day and said the price of a good milking buffalo was too much. But at least they are useful besides milking as they draw the carts and we make fuel cakes from their dung”

“I had to get to the Post Office at opening time today as I received a message saying there was an express and urgent telegram for me. The queues and so slow they were. But the telegram said my father is near death. I replied back and now am going to the railway station and hope for a third class ticket on the soonest train. My eldest son will accompany me. The journey is four hours I think”

“Try and get your tickets through the ladies counter if there is one still. The queue may be less. Though if they see your son they may send you to the general counter. And make sure you carry identification.”

“I have not been on a train since I married so many years ago. But we are lucky to have a village station. The British were good to us”

——————————————————–

But who is the attentive listener and narrator of all this gupshup?

Also known as the Indian Lilac, I’m a mahogany, arboreal, lignum vitae (tree of life), fast growing, evergreen, but in drought conditions I shed most of my leaves. I’m highly drought tolerant but prefer deep well drained sandy soil. I’m not delicate about water quality and can survive on a mere trickle. My branches are wide, spreading for shade, and my flowers white, fragrant and drooping.

Most importantly, my fruits and seeds are the source of medicinal oil. My leaves can be dried and put in cupboards to prevent insects eating clothes, but they can also be burned to ward off mosquitoes and used as a herb in baths. My shoots and flowers can be eaten as a vegetable and my bark woven into rope.

My properties are also used in ayurvedic medicine as they are considered to be antifungal, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antiviral and calming for use as a sedative. They are also used to treat skin diseases and in non-pesticidal agricultural management.

The list goes on to include my use in toiletries such as shampoos, soaps and especially in toothpaste – in fact my small twigs are used as a toothbrush. And I have my use in livestock management as well; in horses my properties are used to treat mud fever and sweet itch.

And the listener who has presided over village life for centuries and absorbed all the gupshup? The shady Neem Tree!

Blog montage 7((This Story Line gave a glimpse into village life and the concerns of the inhabitants over the years. Some conversations were quite philosophical, and many were overheard and based on the writers experiences whilst working in the Asian sub-continent.  Part Two will feature the male perspective on life))

SL 24


 

“INHERITANCE: OF SNAKES, DANCE, MUSIC AND THE KALBELIA TRIBE.

SL 1 Begin Image of NoorSL 1A Begin raised cobra

“Tower above me, oh rapacious devourer of snakes. But you will not advance, or strike, nor waste your precious venom on me.”

It was before I had attained my fifth year, for I was not yet married, that I was first startled by a spectacled cobra. I was walking hand in hand with my father through the choking dust of freshly harvested wheat being winnowed – the annual bounty from the fields which formed our estates near Benares – when the cobra flashed before us, stopped, stood and flared its hood in warning.

Father explained that the cobra had been disturbed by the labourers working in the fields, and provided we left it in peace, it would do us no harm and continue to rid the area of rats, mice and small birds which fed so avariciously on our crops. He also spoke of the importance of snakes in our culture.

And by the time I had attained, I think it was my seventh year as it was several moons after my marriage, I had been well taught by my father as well as the local villagers, to respect, and not to take fright at any wild creature that could do me harm.

I’d also learnt to forage for natures safe eatables and had been picking wild berries in a local forest glade – but now I sat, cross-legged amongst the dry, brown leaf litter of the reptile’s home staring into the eyes of the dreaded King.

The largest of venomous snakes, who, although he hears little, this huge intimidating serpent is the custodian par excellence of vibration and perception. The vibration of the smallest prey plus the perception of the slightest movement excite his full attention – silently and stealthily narrowing the gap between predator and prey, venom laden fangs poised to strike with a swift, imperceptible  injection of fatality which heralds the onset of paralysis and death.

“Patience” is the King Cobra’s mantra in his waiting game of death.

And so the vibration of my approach, amusing myself by kicking my way through the deep leaf litter in what was rightfully his home, irritated him and surprised me as he rose hissing to his full height; which in a King Cobra amounts to about one third of his entire body length.

Mouth agape, he issued his warning hiss, before closing his flexible jaws to allow his flickering, forked tongue to flash and taste the scent of my intrusion, the fabled serpent now stood almost as tall as my full height as he looked squarely, severely and piercingly into my eyes.

Immobilised by his aura, I sank slowly down; observing quietly and knowing he could only strike as far as he could stand, the serpent continued to tower above me, even when I was sitting. But I knew I was out of reach providing he did not advance upon me – for this serpent does not possess the eye deceiving, death dispensing, swiftly extending bodily range of the viper, nor does he waste his precious venom on those who are no threat.

We then observed each other in absolute silence and stillness before I started to rotate my upper body from my hips, very slowly; imitating the way the serpent sways, rotates and articulates. He too watched, swayed and rotated – our eyes locked, but always respectful of each other’s space.

Again slowly, I raised my hands in an elegant praise to the snake expressed through dance, remembering my dance lessons and allowing each tiny finger to flow in singular articulation and imitation of the serpent’s movements – my fingers and hands a tribute to his grace and sylph like flexibility.

And then, knowing I meant him no harm, we danced together – me still sitting cross-legged and the King standing, rising further before falling back, twisting and turning, dipping and rising in our mirrored dance of the movements instilled in serpents since creation, a reptile so revered by my people.

Leaning backwards, forwards, round and round my body rotated and circulated from the hips, my hands entwining, fingers extending and stretching – but all in silence during my homage to the King who hears little but feels and observes all.

Finally, a deep respectful Namaste and the snake dipped forward in seeming acknowledgement until, hands placed in my lap and sitting tall, we both understood our performance was over.

No longer conjoined, the serpent lowered, turned with effortless, muscular grace and glided towards the camouflage of dancing, dappled golden filters of sunlight, admitted and created through the green canopy of the ancient forest high above, earthy leaf litter absorbing him without as much as a movement or a rustle, gifting the serpent the cloak of invisibility once more.

And some months later, after walking to a local village fair hand in hand with my father and chattering away excitedly as an eight year old girl does, I watched some tribal women perform; dancing to a hypnotic beat as they too imitated the serpent, the cobra, the revered one.

I was so excited that during the performance I couldn’t stop myself from mirroring the women’s movements, just as I had once mirrored those of the King of snakes.  And when I looked up at father, hoping to have gained his approval, he was smiling down at me with profound understanding, pride and joy, for I had told him of my encounter with the serpent at the time.

4 Montage of dancers 1 for blog

But to return to the dance……arms and hands always moving, expressive, flowing like the snake and when seated on the ground, a circular swirl of colourful skirts surrounding upper bodies swaying, twisting and turning as would the cobra, its vision never wavering as it follows the line of the charmer’s pipe. Bending backwards and then sharply forwards to mimic the cobra’s strike, the women paid homage to the flexibility of the snake.

And performing with such joy, flowing black skirts swirling and floating, an extension of their bodies replicating the serpent’s graceful movement.

5 Montage of dancers 2 for blog

And yet these women understand nature – for the black hues of their skirts are mixed with shades of red, the garments richly embroidered with silver thread and small mirrors which catch the sun, reflecting against the eye, sparkling and whirling in a giddy spectacle throughout the dance.

Curiously though, when the women dance the combination of the decoration and colours in their garments soothe both the eyes and the atmosphere.

Many are tattooed with traditional designs and all wear heavy jingling jewellery so that as the performance progresses and the rhythm of the music increases, the tinkling of jewellery becomes faster and faster, louder and louder as the dancers keep time with the increasing tempo.

3 Montage of instruments for poem and blog

And it is the men who provide the music – essential to the interpretation of this ancient dance.  Playing the pungi (the traditional snake catchers pipe), the dufli and khanjari (both akin to a tambourine), the morchang (a mouth harp) and the dholak (drum), the men create and drive the rhythm to which the dancers perform.

And the songs; both men and women sing, the power in their voices reaching across the sands, fields, forests and villages to the very nests of the snakes themselves. And who knows what they will sing, for the songs are based on stories of their folklore and mythology, with special dances being performed during our colourful festival of Holi celebrated at the beginning of spring.

Indeed, no-one knows what they will perform on any given day as the Kalbelia, for that is their name, have a reputation for composing lyrics spontaneously as well as for improvising songs during their hypnotic performances.

((Writers notes as I move to the present day))

Kalbelia or Kabeliya is one of the most sensuous dance forms of Rajasthan and is performed by the tribe of the same name. The dance is an integral part of Kalbelia culture and they are intensely proud of their heritage of song and dance. Not only does it form an inherent part of their tribe’s identity, but the dance also represents the creative adaptation of their small community of snake catchers to the ever changing socioeconomic conditions in India as well to their own role in rural Rajasthani society.

Both men and women participate in the performance, usually held to celebrate joyful occasions. The songs and dances are part of an oral tradition that is handed down through the generations – there are no textbooks or training manuals.

In times gone by, the Kalbelia tribe frequently travelled from place to place, pursuing their traditional occupation as snake catchers and traders of venom and this is why the dance movements and costumes of their community bear a resemblance to that of serpents.

Many still live a nomadic life and they belong to the scheduled tribes of India. Traditionally, the men carried cobras in woven baskets from door to door in each village, whist the women would dance and ask for alms.

The tribe revere the cobra and advocate non-killing. If a snake is found in a dwelling, the Kalbelia will be called to remove it and take it away alive.

They remain a fringe group in Indian society though, living in spaces outside villages where they establish makeshift camps called deras. They move their deras from place to place in a circuitous route, which they continue to repeat, and it is through their nomadic lifestyle that the Kalbelia have acquired a unique understanding of local flora and fauna and are aware of herbal remedies for various diseases which provide an alternate source of income for them.

A while ago I wrote a piece about the Irula snake catchers of Tamil Nadu (a state in the far south east of India) after I had spent some time with them. I also mentioned the Wildlife Act of 1972, which banned snake catching, and the financial effect it had on the Irula’s traditional skill of snake catching. The new law affected the Kalbelias in exactly the same way, so they too were deprived of their traditional source of income.

To their credit, and like the Irula, the Kalbelia too diversified and it’s the performing arts that now provide their major source of income. They have received widespread recognition inside and outside of India, but performance opportunities are sporadic, and since the whole community is not involved in them on a regular basis, many Kalbelia work as agricultural labourers or tend livestock to sustain their families.

The recognition of their art was further enhanced in 2010 when UNESCO placed the Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan on its “Intangible Heritage List.”

This then is their heritage and inheritance – but we should also make it ours, lest it be lost.

SL 14 EndSL 15 End

((And in finishing, I hope this link will load and that you’ll enjoy watching the Kalbelia perform one of their traditional dances.

Much love to you all and I send you peace – Noor. xx))

https://youtu.be/nSDEE7pb3qY

#Inheritance                                            ((End))

Montage general of SL


 

“MARWARI MUSINGS: OF THE RAJPUT REVERENCE FOR THEIR HORSES.”

#1 Begin Dundlod horse

*Late at night, I find myself humming in Chhota’s stable as sleep has failed to claim me. His muzzle and the area around his eyes, forever heavens window to his soul, are now showing the first signs of ageing grey as I turn my attention to a firm, strong hath malesh (hand massage) which he loves so well – a skill the old syces (grooms) so patiently taught me – causing his eyes to close, his lips to draw back and his nose to twitch and wrinkle with deep seated pleasure.

#2 Chhota

Tracing a delicate finger in light circles around his auspicious kanthmala (whorls on the neck), I step back and admire the subsequent intricate handiwork applied to his dark silken coat. Massage finished, I’d amused myself by tracing patterns on it.

Then, chuckling, smiling and still humming I tossed a large slab of hay into the stable for Chhota to munch overnight, checked his pail was full of clean water and, despite the peace always found with my horses, I decide it’s time I must attempt sleep.

But before returning to my bed, I lean over Chhota’s stable door and recite some prose by Rumi:*

{“In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty how to make poems. You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”}

My connection to my beloved Marwari as I walk away into the silence of the night.

#3 Woman with mare and foal

The Mawari horse, the war horse of Rajput warriors – forever revered, worshipped and well cared for during times of peace, when they were fed a plentiful diet of barley, millet and hay – yet also able to subsist on the sparsest of rations during times of shortage and war.

And those equines fortunate to be stabled in royal households would be fed milk and sweet molasses by the ladies of the Court,  but all Rajput women, regardless of their station in life, knew that their male protector’s survival depended on the courage of his horse during battle.

And thus, a number of ballads, songs, quotes and poems were written in praise of the Marwari.

#4 Foal being blessed from Marwari book uncropped

Woman:  “See how God has given my husband’s bay a white blaze that I may bless him with the tilak for he has returned victorious from battle”

#5 Maharajah and family#6 Bonnie and Gujraj

Yet sometimes, and as is their way, the women would complain if they felt their husband was neglecting them in favour of his horse – thus leading to a degree of domestic strife!

Man: “Do not quarrel, my beloved, when I give the horse ghee, for in the midst of battle she alone can save me”

Woman: “Faster than your mare is the desert doe, yet pray, what does she feed on? Thin grass and the hot desert air, not ghee like the mare you ride on”

Man: “It is she, my beloved, who bears the weight of my armour when I mount for war. The doe of course is nowhere near”

Then the mare intervenes: “Before you cut my fare, oh my master, listen to my plea. Betwixt the swords in the heat of battle, there are only you and me”

And then the wife laments: “How can I compare, beloved, to the mare when she is so close to thee. I am sure when she’s between your thighs, you lose all thought for me!”

((Writers note: This short ballad was taken from a repertoire of traditional Rajasthani folk songs in praise of the Marwari horse.))

#7 Marwari horse

Despite this, Rajput women were brave, committed and devoted supporters of their warrior husbands, whose honour demanded either victory or death on the battlefield. Their wives fully understood the value of their husband’s martyrdom, and would prefer to sacrifice themselves to the flames rather than surrender to the ill treatment meted out by an enemy conqueror. There are even recorded instances of all the noblewomen of a defeated ruler’s clan choosing death through “jauhar” (mass self-immolation) rather than surrender.

And so, to this day, those who made the ultimate sacrifice are honoured; as is the Marwari horse.

#8 Man praying to Marwari sent by DM to Marie and USED in Montage

And a later Indian Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote of the horse:

“Brahma was excessively sparing with earth, water fire……the reckless expenditure of air and ether in his composition was amazing. And, in consequence, he perpetually struggled to outreach the wind, to outrun space itself. Other animals ran only when they had a reason, but the Horse would run for no reason whatsoever, as if to run out of his own skin.”

#9 Montage of foals to end    #MarwariMusings    ((End))


 

SUBJUGATION: PEOPLE KNOW SO LITTLE OF MY HOMELAND.”

1 Noor at entertainment to begin SL B1

This SL may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is based on historic fact.

Having been wed to a man my father’s age when I had attained but five years, and following my first bleed, I left my father’s care and protection to join my husband’s house at the Imperial Court in Agra. And so, in subjugation, I became my husband’s property, but Khusrau Mansur was not a cruel man – although a “spectacle” I witnessed just the once, soon after arriving at Court, was abominable in its cruelty.

Under my diaphanous veil, I was acutely aware that my face reflected a deathly pallor, blood sucked downwards whilst sweat pooled in the channel between nose and top lip. Sweat – I dared not lick or wipe away, as any sign of outward emotion displayed in public by the ladies of the Court was frowned upon and construed as a slight, an insult, to the honour of their male protector.

Sweat – the glistening sheen covered my face as I fought against the encroaching light headedness heralding a faint and the need to gulp down air in my struggle to keep the bile from rising, seated amongst the baying nobility and courtiers.

The canopies over our dais were soaked in perfumed water to give some relief from the beating sun, but I questioned – “What “spectacle” is this?” For I was not “entertained.”

Still so young yet determined, out of necessity, to maintain my regal, rigid poise, glancing surreptitiously at the other ladies of the court who were more used to such “entertainment for the Emperor’s enjoyment” than I.

All of us were commanded to attend, and in our subjugation to our Imperial Master, we did. But it was clear to me that what pleasure I could see etched on the other ladies faces was little more than a mask concealing the abhorrence they too felt at witnessing the afternoon’s events.

I was on my own, I felt so alone, despite my husband being at my side, and anxious to avoid shaming him with a faint, I reminded myself to take slow, deep, regular breaths and very quickly trained myself to look at, but not to see, the horrific events before me.

The trained participants were subjugated also, but surely they must have felt some emotion as limbs were stretched to the limit of human capacity before being torn asunder or clinically amputated on command.

And there I sat, trying not to betray my shock as bodies were tortured and mutilated to accompanying terrible screams for mercy, the spilt, slimy, bubbling contents of skull cavities seeming to give a special perverse pleasure to some of those present .

The smooth swishing of unsullied blades, blinding silver glints in the sunlight, the conclusion of their fluent arcs spraying crimson around the arena before being laid to rest in the silence at the end of their appointed tasks.

Bones cracking, snapping, sounds piercing my mind, the ripping and tearing of limbs, tendons, ligaments and muscles unable to withstand the pressure of the torturer beyond human endurance, the useless fragments of bodies thrown, strewn at random around the killing place, limbless bodies, their original appendages scattered with abandon with no way of knowing which of the condemned they originally belonged to.

Blood pulsing, spurting and then depressurising as bodies fountains grew weaker, bodies bursting asunder distributing shining guts, the contents mixed with the voluntary and involuntary secretion of urine and shit as the sand soaked up its ghastly gift.

Stomping, stamping, screaming, shouted commands; the cacophony surrounding the termination of lives laid bare.

Avoiding the sights as best I could, I craved the gift of deafness, eventually resorting to small, shallow breaths as the days heat roasted the arenas stomach churning stench, flies buzzing and swarming in anticipation of the feast of flesh.

And through it all, I could not betray any emotion, utter a sound or even permit the moistening of an eye.

Eventually the Emperor grew bored and stood to leave. This was the signal for all of us to subjugate ourselves in his presence and I took a few more deep breaths – of relief this time. The killing spectacle was at an end – this time.

“People know so little of my homeland”

Least of all that we loved, revered, yet subjugated the pachyderm, the “Hathi,” the elephant –