national museum, new delhi – 90 minutes at the museum

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

the 6 untold treasures of vadodara

Friend: “You’re going to Vadodara. Wonderful idea! There is a lot to see in the city. After all, it is the cultural capital of Gujarat.”
Me: “Nice. So what do you suggest I visit and explore?”
Friend: “The Lukshmi Villas Palace is an absolute must!”
Me: “Ok, will do. What else?” [As I jotted it frantically in my notebook in anticipation of being hit by a barrage of to-do-things]
Friend: “The museum attached to the palace is another must do.”
Me: “Ok, got that down too. And?”
Friend: “Hmmm. Oh well. I don’t know. But there is a lot. Hey, it is the cultural capital. But I don’t know…”

Yes, that is it with Vadodara, earlier known as Baroda. Though it is publicly acknowledged as the cultural capital of Gujarat, its attractions are neither documented nor publicised. At least not enough and one cannot be blamed for wondering if they even exist. Continue reading

champaner—the muslim part of the champaner-pavagadh unesco world heritage site

Fairy tales often start like this, don’t they: Once upon a time there was a fearless, virtuous king who had dreams of conquering an invincible fortress perched on a hill. His father and grandfather had time and again attempted to defeat it too, but to no avail.

The tale I am writing about continues like this: The brave king was Sultan Abu’l Fath Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah I, ruler of the Gujarat Sultanate and great-grandson of Ahmed Shah I, founder of Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 1411. The invincible fortress belonged to the Kichchi Chauhan Rajputs on Pavagadh.

Calling himself “Sultan al-Barr, Sultan al-Bahr” meaning “Sultan of the Land, Sultan of the Sea,” history knows him as Mahmud Begada. The name “Begada” was derived from his winning two gadhs in his lifetime, namely Pavagadh and Junagadh. Continue reading

pavagadh—the hindu part of the champaner-pavagadh unesco world heritage site

I have a book titled Speaking Stones World Cultural Heritage Sites in India which I must confess is my most prized possession. Coming to terms these past few months with some harsh realities on death and the transience of life, I reached out to the hard bound volume on my bookshelf to see what I could add to a wish-list to make come true.

The pages opened, almost as if urged by some mysterious calling, on Champaner-Pavagadh. Truth be told, I had never heard of the place before. But it was nearby and seemed doable over a few days. A friend pointed out the weather was all wrong for the rendezvous: “No one travels for pleasure to Gujarat in May when temperatures are soaring at 43 degrees.” The little voice in me said, “Who cares about the heat. Remember life truths!” 🙂

And, thus, one fine early morning, I found myself boarding a train to Vadodara, my base for my explorations. What I learnt and saw and experienced in the ensuing days far outweighed my expectations. But I run ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. Continue reading

the mythological frescoes of nandalal bose in vadodara

In the heart of Baroda, now called Vadodara, within the royal Gaekwad family’s once sprawling grounds is the Kirti Mandir or Temple of Fame. The gigantic stone cenotaph was built in 1936 to ensure their ancestors’ posterity. A sun, moon, and a map of undivided India etched on a bronze globe are perched on top of its shikhara—a sovereign declaration of the spread and timelessness of Gaekwad rule.

But the cenotaph is weathered now and forgotten. It is visited on the rare occasion when a royal family member passes away and is brought to the adjacent cremation grounds to be burnt and then transposed into a plaster-of-paris bust placed in one of the rooms lining the passageways.

A lone 70-year-old guard, who has spent the last 60 years serving the royal family, with his one-year-old grandson’s arms wrapped around his neck unlocks the large doors should perchance a traveller land up at the temple’s doorstep. But this post is not about the royal family. I will write about them on another date. This one is about the art and artist whose mythological masterpieces decorate the walls inside Kirti Mandir. Continue reading

global travel shot: champaner, a 500-year-old indo-saracenic poem in stone

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“Look up, at the ceiling.” I am broken from my reverie, as I drift through a forest of 172 stone pillars, by my guide Manoj’s voice prodding me to halt in my tracks and raise my eyes, heavenwards.

High up, inside a dome above the main mihrab is the most exquisitely carved sculpture I have seen to date. And I find myself gasping in awe. Is this for real? I am not too sure what stuns me more. Its immense size, the fineness of the swirling leaves, or its incongruous placement—I am in a 500-year-old mosque in Champaner in Gujarat, 50-odd kilometres outside Vadodara, and the sculpture is Hindu-Jain in style and content. Continue reading