Especially stories of those who live larger-than-life lives in spirit and feat.
This post is the tale of one such story—of a king called Bhimadeva I and his lovely, loving queen Udayamati, who lived a thousand years ago. And no, it is no myth. There are colossal monuments they left behind as testimony of their love and piety, as I discovered one sunny wintry day I travelled 75 kilometres north-west of Ahmedabad in Western India, in the state of Gujarat.
Come, let me tell you more.
Son of Agni, the fire-god’s, Sun Temple of Modhera
Yin and yang. Negative and positive. Feminine and masculine. Dark and light. Two sides which together make a whole.
Sidi Saeed, an Ethiopian who found his way to the Gujarat Sultanate’s army via Yemen, way back in 1572, seemed to have some inkling of this. Armed with 45 sculptors, “the nobleman who helped the poor and had a large collection of books,” created a series of jalis or stone screens as part of the Sidi Saeed Mosque in the heart of Ahmedabad. The most exquisite was the “tree of life” with its swirling, leaf-lined, abloom branches, topped with a palm motif; its beauty heightened when seen from both the outside and inside. It was hard put to decide which side was a lovelier sight. Continue reading →
Me: Kotah Palace jaanaa hai. [I want to go to Kotah Palace.]
Auto rickshaw driver: Palace hotel?
Me: Nahin. Sirf palace. Jahaan rajah maharajah rehtey they. [No. Just palace. Where the kings used to live.]
Auto rickshaw driver (confused): Par vahaan toh koi Indian nahin jaataa! Sirf gorey log jaatey hai! [But Indians don’t go there! Only white people do.]
Me: Haan, vahin jaana hai, jahaan gorey log jaatey hai. [My deep gratitude to Caucasians at this point for appreciating the treasures hidden in India’s midst.]
Auto rickshaw driver (laughing): Chalo, aaj yeh bhi dekh letey hai. [Sure, let me see this place too, today.]
It’s chaotic and crowded. I had just got off a rickety bus from Bundi. My train to Delhi, deep into the night, was a good few hours away. The plan was to spend the time in-between devouring the miniature painting frescoes of the Kotah Garh Palace. Continue reading →
A woman looks brazenly across the room. Her perfect profile decorated with jewels is tilted in anticipation. On the wall opposite, a royal damsel is being dressed by her lady-in-waiting whilst a Rajput prince slyly peeps from behind the curtains in blatant lust. Two women on a side wall make erotic love to each other.
The gods and goddesses are no less immune to the dynamics of the room. A series of frescoes have Krishna dancing in gay abandon with Radha and her sakhis in the raas leela. In another, he is perched atop a tree with the stolen garments of the gopikas.
Painted using a palette of turquoise green, black, and white, the colonnaded open-sided hall with private rooms leading out of it, was once the maharaja’s pleasure room. It is befittingly called Chitrashala—chitra meaning picture, shala meaning house or abode. The abode of pictures.
What makes these paintings, and those in Bundi’s other royal palaces unparalleled, is they comprise some of the finest examples of the Bundi School of Miniature Painting. A style normally associated with paint on paper, the Bundi school found its way in its parent city to the walls of the ruling family’s private rooms to create visual extravaganzas of colour and storytelling tipped with gold. Continue reading →
The image above is that of an antelope in a forest, next to a trap waiting to catapult it to its death. Nope. This is not somewhere in the interiors of France or Spain, more commonly associated with prehistoric art, or even in Bhimbetka where India’s prized rock art collection lies.
It is instead on the insides of a cave lining a tributary of the river Chambal in Gararda, Rajasthan, 35 kilometres from Bundi, my base a fortnight ago.
Painted 15,000 years ago in mineral colours, very few people know of it. Just a handful come from the far corners of the world to marvel at its beauty, and timelessness.
And if it were not for a local sweetmeat-shop-owner-turned-archaeologist, we would not know of it either. He discovered the site in 1997 and has passionately been creating awareness of it ever since, unearthing 101 caves festooned with prehistoric art to-date. His name is Kukkiji. Continue reading →
The National Museum, New Delhi makes the herculean task of experiencing India’s monumental heritage spanning 5,000 years—doable. You could always spend 3 minutes looking at each object in its 210,000 piece collection. But that would take 14.5 months with no sleep or meals inbetween. Or you could do an audio tour and spend a day exploring its glorious galleries through 64 masterpieces. And if you have just one and a half hours, then why not feast your eyes on its very best.
Earlier housed in the Rashtrapati Bhawan [President’s residence], the collection has its roots in 1947 when the Royal Academy, together with the governments of India and Britain, decided to hold an “Exhibition of Indian Art” in London. Selected artefacts from museums across India were collected for the showing.
Before returning the exhibits to their respective museums, it was decided to display the exhibition in Delhi as well. What a huge success it turned out to be! The overwhelming response led to the idea of a permanent National Museum being set up in the capital with its very own building by India Gate which it moved into in 1960.
The National Museum has it all. From the iconic Harappan Dancing Girl to elegant Gandharan Buddhas, from exquisite miniature Mughal paintings to luscious Tanjore compositions, from Chola bronzes to 20th Century decorative arts, from medieval sculptures of voluptuous Hindu deities to diamond and emerald regalia of its once-upon-a-time royalty. The Museum has all these, and much much more.
Here are my 15 favourite pieces collated after rambling through its collections and meditating over its audio tour. Doable in 90 minutes. 🙂 Continue reading →