aurangabad: remnants of a despised emperor and his iranian queen

Aurangzeb. The very name evokes revulsion in Hindus and Sikhs alike throughout India. The butcher. Defacer of India’s rich Hindu cultural heritage. Murderer of Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur. These are but a handful of epitaphs the country’s populace remembers Aurangzeb, India’s 6th Mughal emperor by.

His path to power was no less callous—he shed no tears when conniving the cold-blooded execution of his three brothers or when placing his old, frail father under house arrest.

It is 312 years since Shah Jahan’s fanatic son, Aurangzeb (1618 – 1707 AD) has died, but the hatred has not abated one iota. Stories of his cruelty fill school text-books. Nearly every major temple in India has either been mutilated or had a mosque built over it on his orders. The shudders are still there on the mention of his name. I have seen instances of all of these with my own eyes. Continue reading

the painted and sculpted caves of ajanta

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If you were ever of the opinion that Buddhist art was all about asceticism and restraint, think again. The caves at Ajanta, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, are a lavish statement to the contrary as I discovered earlier this month on a five-day trip exploring the region in and around Aurangabad. But then, isn’t that what travel is meant to do? Break perceptions. 🙂

Imbued with sensuality borrowed from its sibling, Hinduism, ancient Buddhist art in its parent country is filled with nudes performing graceful mudras, figures wrapped in erotic embraces, and faces marked with raw emotion. Interspersed in this human carnival are serene, silent, meditating Buddhas, perfectly at peace in their company.

The mix of spiritual with secular, ordinary with sublime are common traits in Indian aesthetics. Why then should Buddhist art have been any different! Continue reading

global travel shot: lonar crater, a meteorite’s shot at earth

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“That’s where the meteorite came hurtling from,” my guide Mahesh points towards the Gomukh Temple perched on a slight dent in the rim.

“When was this?” I ask, breathless, as I slip over rubble and step gingerly down boulders, trying hard to look where he is pointing to and not go tumbling down in the process.

“Some say 52,000 years ago, some say 570,000 years ago.” Continue reading

rajgir, the ancient capital of magadha

To find a place not steeped in history, heritage or culture in India would be an anomaly. After living for eight years in the country I should be used to the cultural avalanche that typifies most things Indian by now.

After all, we are talking about 2 million years, 29 states, 7 union territories, and 9 practiced religions. But nope. Every time I come across a place, either firmly established as the country’s top sights or obscure and unknown on the road-less-travelled, I am overwhelmed. 🙂

Take for instance my recent travels to Bodh Gaya. On doing my travel research one specific name kept popping up—Rajgir. It came highly recommended. Unsure of what exactly to expect, I added it to my itinerary with an overnight stay, but alas, I wish I had stayed longer.

Known in ancient times as Rajagriha, which translates to “house of king” or “royal house,” Rajgir, located between Bodh Gaya and Nalanda, was the first capital of ancient Magadha up until the 5th Century BC. But what was Magadha? Continue reading

temple-hopping in bodh gaya: from tibet to japan

Auto-rickshaw driver: Which temple would you like to see? Tibet or Japan? Or Thai? [All the rickshaw drivers in Bodh Gaya, I realise by now, speak impeccable English.]

Me: All of them. Oh, and yeah, Sujata temple too. 😀

I see his eyes light up. I can almost read his mind: This woman will pay me well. She is the wandering types.

Auto-rickshaw driver: It will be Rs. 1,000!

I bargain my way down to Rs. 500 plus a hundred-rupee tip. We shake hands and embark on a six-hour camaraderie which survives through the rattling by-lanes to Bodh Gaya’s far corners, in search of Buddhist temples and monasteries from Tibet to Japan. I say “search” because some of our stops I had merely wisps of information of, and he was completely clueless about. Continue reading

buddha’s bodh gaya: the sacred hidden treasures of mahabodhi temple complex

“Is there some festival or special event taking place here today?” I whisper to the Buddhist monk seated next to me.

I am confused, and overwhelmed.

The entire Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Bodh Gaya, in the Indian State of Bihar, is draped with marigolds, lotuses, and roses. Hundreds of ochre and red-robed shaven-headed Buddhist monks and nuns prostrate in prayer in the grounds, and around the main temple. A handful of tourists quietly join the circumambulations around the main temple. I see pilgrims from Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Tibet, and Sri Lanka in deep prayer. Most are dressed in their traditional attires. I see a few pilgrims from the West as well, no less in the purity of their faith. Groups chant with micro precision around me, not one voice out of sync, their mantras punctuated with the crescendo beats of rattle drums.

“No. Nothing special. It is like this every day all winter.” And he goes back to his meditation.

Nothing special. Just the extraordinary experience of being part of, and witnessing Buddhists from all corners of the world come and pay homage to the place where Buddha received enlightenment. 🙂 Continue reading