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HC takes up PIL seeking protection of the Majuli island

The largest inhabited river island in the world, the Majuli island, located in the Brahmaputra River of the Jorhat district in eastern Assam has been under a serious threat due to river erosion since the past few decades defying all the protective measures taken by the government agencies concerned to safeguard the landmass of the island.

Due to its unique socio-cultural and natural environment, the Majuli island is now a contender for the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage tag. The Majuli island is integral to the Vaishnavite culture and religion and is inhabited by several ethnic communities. Treating the problem of erosion as serious, Manoj Kumar Borah, an inhabitant has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Gauhati High Court seeking court’s intervention in protecting the Majuli island and its people.

The PIL (84/2010) has been taken up by a division bench of the High Court comprising of Chief Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice K Meruno. The petitioner has stated that the various authorities responsible for building an embankment to prevent flood erosions have failed miserably despite the huge expenditure incurred on it over the years.

The petitioner said the actions of the respondents were arbitrary, illegal unfair, unreasonable and unconstitutional. As many as 12 parties have been made respondents, including the Central Water Commission.

The petitioner has mentioned has mentioned that the root cause of the soil erosion in the island has been the 1950 earthquake that affected Assam and changed the course of the east-west flowing Bhramaputra River. This changed course has subjected the Majuli Island to continuous flood erosion.

The erosion has reduced the area of Majuli Island to 450 sq km from its 1950 area of 1256 sq km. Many Vaishnavite monasteries (satras), villages, government establishments and vast agriculture lands have been eroded by the river.
 

1 October 2010, The Tribune

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J&K tribals want restoration of Gujjar monuments

The tribals of Jammu and Kashmir have issued a nationwide appeal for joint community efforts to restore the pristine glory of all historic monuments (in SNS photo) related to the Gujjar Partiharas period, which spanned from 6th century AD to 11th century AD in the northern states of India.

Dr Javaid Rahi, secretary, Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, a frontal organisation of Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir, said that hundreds of prestigious historical monuments from the Gujjar period are lying in a shambles and are on the verge of extinction in different states of Northern India.

“The Gurjara-Pratihara kings (6th to 11th AD) were great builders. One of the main rulers of the Gujjar clan Raja Mihir Bhoj, was an outstanding patron of architecture.

A numbers of forts, buildings and temples of North India which were built under his patronage are now in pathetic conditions,” said Dr Rahi. Notable sculptures of this period, which are now in a shambles, include Viswaroopa form of Vishnu and the Marriage of Siva and Parvati from Kannauj.

Besides, the beautifully-carved panels on the walls of temples at Osian, Abhaneri and Kota and the female figure ~ Sursundari ~ exhibited in Gwalior Museum.

He said it was shocking to see the deteriorating condition of various ancient architecture including buildings, forts, sculptures, temples built by the Gujjar-Pratihara kings.

He appealed to the community members, organisations, trusts, government and non-government organisations to join hands together to restore old monuments of their ancestors which are endangered but still portraying vibrant picture of the Gujjar era in India. Communications in this regard were also sent to chief ministers of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and other states with a plea to start restoration of all historic buildings of Gujjar period, he said.

His organisation has also written to the Union minister of culture to declare the main forts, temples and other structures built by Gurjara-Pratihara kings as “Protected Monuments of India” and has also sent a list of most threatened monuments of the Gujjar Period to the government of India with an appeal for immediate steps for their restoration.
 

1 October 2010, The Statesman

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Shiva’s abode

Brihadeeswara temple, built about 1,000 years ago by Chola ruler Raja Raja I, showcases the best of temple architecture not only in Tamil Nadu, but also across the nation, says V Shanmuganthan

About 1,000 years ago, Chola king Raja Raja I built a majestic temple for Lord Shiva in Thanjavur (Tanjore), Tamil Nadu. Called by different names — Peruvuidayar Kovil, Brihadeeswara temple, Rajarajeswaram — it is on the rolls of the UNESCO heritage sites as part of the circuit called “Great Living Chola Temples”.

The Tamil Nadu Government recently organised a grand function, spanning over five days, to celebrate the millennium of its consecration. A scintillating Bharatnatyam recital by 1,000 artistes, led by eminent danseuse Padma Subrahmanyam, left the audience spell-bound. A host of events, including exhibitions, cultural shows, seminars and deliberations, were also organised to mark the occasion.

Tamil Nadu remains the last resort of classical India, whether it’s temple architecture, dance, or even vocal and instrumental music. It hosts the oldest living temples in the country, which remained unaffected from the attacks of Turks, Mughals and Bahmani invaders.

Temples in ancient India were not merely centres of religion, but also art, culture, literature and vocational training. The Brihadeeswara temple stands as a reminder of our great culture, art, architecture, religion and language. It is also a symbol of the prosperity and prowess of the Chola dynasty, which expanded its empire across the Indian Ocean.

The construction of this temple began in 1003 AD and was completed in six years, before being consecrated in 1010 AD. The archaeological feature of the temple is its vimana (temple tower), standing 216 feet tall. The summit stone weighing about 80 tonnes was dragged on to the top through a slope path from a distant village, Sarapallam. It rises over the sanctum, on a square base about 100 feet, and dominates the whole structure. Its shadow never falls on the ground.

Raja Raja, who reigned between 985 and 1014 AD, was known for land and naval conquests. He found peace at the feet of Lord Shiva. The construction of the Brihadeeswara temple coincides with a visible shift in his policies from military expansion to internal administration. He, however, neglected external and internal security.

The distinct feature of the Brihadeeswara temple is magnificent monolith Nandi bull, facing the temple tower. The shrines of Goddess Brihanayaki, Ganapati, Subrmanya, Dakshinamurty and Nataraja are finely carved. The corridor surrounding the sanctum is a treasure chest of Chola painting and sculpture. The walls of this cave-like corridor were plastered with lime and used as a large canvas for the paintings. The paintings, which have survived time and a 17th century coat of paint, are beautiful in colour and accuracy.

The story of Sundaramurthy Nayanar reaching Kailash on a white elephant is depicted on another wall. Karuvur Thevar, the guru of Raja Raja, is portrayed in an impressive manner. While the sculptures of Shiva in this corridor are imposing, a series of 81 dance poses are superb illustrations of the Natya Sastra.

There is a story about the personal interest that the king evinced in the construction of the temple. It is said that one day, when the chief sculptor was deeply absorbed in chiselling the huge Nandi, Raja Raja went and stood by his side. The sculptor, thinking that it was his boy attendant, ordered him to prepare a pan (betel leaf with araca nut and lime). The king calmly obliged, folded a couple of betel leaves and handed it over to the sculptor, who received it without seeing the hands. Chewing the pan, the sculptor started uttering words of praise, appreciating the king who planned this monument. Later, he asked his attendant to bring the spittoon near him. The king silently obeyed. When the sculptor raised his head after spitting the chewed betel leaves, he was shocked to see Raja Raja standing in front of him. Immediately, he touched the feet of the king with tears and made an apology in a voice choked with emotion. The king, with a smiling face, lifted him up and consoled him by saying that it was a rare privilege for him to serve the sculptor whose hands chiselled the works of the magnificent temple.

Raja Raja, though a worshipper of Shiva, was tolerant towards the members of other faiths. He endowed and built temple of Maha Vishnu. He also granted a village to the Buddhist vihara in Nagappattinam.

The Brihadeeswara temple was not act of royal fancy. It is iconic of the glory of Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta. Among the two principal schools of the Bhakti cult in south India, Shaivism has a larger following. In Tamil districts of Sri Lanka as well, Shaivism holds sway.

In Shaiva Siddhanta, Shiva is believed to exercise the functions of creation, protection, destruction. These functions He is said to discharge with a view to release the struggling souls from the bondage of karma. The goal of individual souls is to realise that it is made of Shiva-tatva (element of Shiva), and though not merging in Shiva, remain at its feet like beloved child.

The icon of Lord Nataraja is most symbolic of Saiva Siddhanta. Temple worship is an indispensable part of Saiva Siddhanta. That might explain why Tamils have an image of orthodox and scrupulous temple-goers.

Raja Raja’s period saw the flourishing of Shaivism. This had been made possible by the presence of Nayanar saints in previous centuries. The heart-melting hymns (devaram) to Lord Shiva by Sambandar, Appar, Sundaramurthy and Manikkavasagar made the difference. They were the pioneers of the Bhakti movement that later swept other parts of the country.

3 October 2010, The Pioneer

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Delhi heritage glows in Games glory

For heritage lovers in Delhi, the Commonwealth Games have brought along the golden opportunity to revisit its world-famous monuments, especially after sundown. About 17 monuments under Delhi government's Department of Archaeology and another 11, protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), have been illuminated in time for the Commonwealth Games.

The Delhi Archaeology Department completed work on 17 monuments earlier this week, including several lesser-known structures like Bara Lao Ka Gumbad in Vasant Vihar.

After much delay, the India Tourism Development Corporation finally completed lighting in the remaining ASI monuments, with Minister for Tourism Kumari Selja presiding over the inaugura1 function at the Khan-e-Khanan tomb at Bhogal, Nizamuddin.

As the night progresses, the lighting makes the illumination sharper," said Ravi Pandit, ITDC vice-president (Engineering).

However, as against the promised 'entry at night' to view monuments from the inside, the ASI would not be opening up any of its monuments to visitors during night.

Surekha Narain, who leads Heritage Walks in Delhi, pointed out: "They close down the monuments at sunset. How do we access the insides?"

Director General (ASI) Dr Gautam Sengupta said: "In view of the directions from the Delhi Police and keeping in view security concerns, we are not allowing visitors inside the monuments during the Games. The decision on timings after the Games would be taken later."
 

3 October 2010, Hindustan Times

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UNESCO team to visit Visva-Bharati varsity

KOLKATA: A United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) team will be visiting the Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, this week to consider the possibility of declaring it a world heritage site.

The Ministry of Culture, through the Archaeological Survey of India, sent a dossier to the UNESCO earlier this year nominating Santiniketan as India's official entry for World Heritage Sites.

A review committee from the UNESCO would examine the proposal and visit the premises including Uttarayan, the complex where the residences of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore were located, the archives and museums and various other buildings which house murals, frescos and paintings, said a senior varsity official.

The team would also meet officials, cultural personalities and experts after which would consider the proposal and see whether the Vishva Bharati can be declared a heritage site. They would also see which areas of the University's sprawling 150 acre campus could be included.

Santiniketan was nominated as the official entry in 2010 keeping in mind that the country is celebrating the 150 th Birth Anniversary of the National Poet this year.

If the nomination is accepted Santiniketan will become the 30 th site in India to be declared so and the third in West Bengal. The Sunderbans National Park and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, popularly known as the “toy-train” were declared World Heritage sites in 1987 and 1999 respectively.

Officials say that the 150-acre campus can be divided into the core area which consists of the Ashram, Uttarayan, Kala Bhavan, Sangeet Bhavan and the Rabindra Bhavan and buffer area around it.

What began as a school in 1901, started by Rabindranath Tagore transformed into a unique experiment in education. After he won the Nobel Prize in 1913, the school was expanded into a university. It was renamed Visva-Bharati defining the poet's vision as a place “where the world makes a home in a nest.”
 

4 October 2010, Hindu

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Gateway to the past

Anegundi is happily a medley of the ancient, the mythological, the holy and the historic

A couple of langurs greets us, as I listen to my guide Virupaksha gush about his hometown. “Anegundi is older than Hampi — in fact, this is the mother kingdom.”

It's a medley of the ancient (cave paintings of prehistoric men), the mythical (it's said to be the Kishkintha of The Ramayana), the holy (the Pampa Sarovar flows here), and the historic (ruins of forts, palaces, temples and gateways…). But, most importantly, Anegundi is a lively settlement that opens its doors to most tourists who visit Hampi.

A fisherman and his wife are busy making nets near the Tallarighata Gate, as we sip tea in a small shack, talking to a few old women, lost in the passage of time. “You will find another gate in Hampi,” says Virupaksha, and explains that during the Vijayanagar dynasty, it was at these gates that toll or taxes were collected from people entering from other kingdoms.

For a prayer

An auto driver decides to take us on a whirlwind tour of Anegundi. We see the village, the palace, the main entry gates, and then climb up the old Durga fort listening to more stories. “The Vijayanagar kings used to pray here before every battle. Then, they went to the Pampa Sarovar and the Lakshmi temple there,” enlightens Virupaksha. We climb further to see an ancient entrance to the fort, the ruins of a palace and tombs.

“Kishkinta means a forest where monkeys lived,” explains Virupaksha, about the Hanuman Temple atop the Anjanadri Hill, which takes 400 steps to reach.

As we lose ourselves in the green fields below, bordered by the boulders, Virupaksha says the last coracle will leave for Hampi soon.

A few minutes later, sitting precariously on the coracle that's carrying two bikes and a dozen people, I cross the Tungabhadra. My thoughts move to a passage in the book “A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagar” by Robert Sewell which narrates observations by a 16th Century Portuguese traveller Domingo Paes.

He mentions that the coracle was used even then to carry “fifteen to twenty persons and even horses and oxen can cross in them if necessary”. Paes adds: “People cross to this place by boats which are like baskets, inside they are made of cane and outside of leather… and the boats are always turning round, as they cannot go straight like others; in all the kingdoms where there are streams there are no other boats than these”.

It is interesting, I think, as we reach Hampi, that the coracle lives along with the monuments from the Vijayanagar days…
 

4 October 2010, Hindu

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Where the Sarus thrives...

Sarus cranes abound in landscapes dominated by crops. K S Gopi Sundar, a Bangalorean who is developing a new programme called ''Sarus Scape'', has sought to understand factors that maximise persistence of birds in the rice-wheat belt of Uttar Pradesh, writes Sunil Kumar M

To say K S Gopi Sundar is interested in cranes would be an understatement. Hailing from Bangalore, he spends most of his time trying to save cranes and their habitats across south Asia with governments, NGOs, scientists, naturalists and anyone else who cares. He has been selected for a project on Sarus cranes at the Wildlife Institute of India. Gopi discovered hitherto unknown facts about this elegant species, and was subsequently invited by the International Crane Foundation (ICF) to continue his work on Sarus cranes.

Gopi is an invited member of several IUCN specialist groups, author of scientific papers and popular-science features. He is currently developing a new programme ‘Sarus Scape’ for ICF to be housed in India.

Explaining the relevance of saving the Sarus crane with reference to India, he says, “The Sarus crane is unique in having most of its population occurring outside of Protected Areas in India. The primary breeding population of this species occurs in paddy fields in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. This means that a conservation ethos limited by protected areas would be wholly inadequate for the Sarus crane and species like it.”

Impact on other species

He points out that work focusing on Sarus cranes has led to important findings on other species. For example, he says that it is now fairly well-established that the maximum population of the declining and near-threatened black-necked storks also occur in landscapes dominated by crops. This is based on previously published information on this species that said that relatively large and undisturbed wetlands are required for the species.

Gopi Sundar’s research throws light on the importance of semi-wild patches near agricultural fields. Northern India, his research shows, is one of the four most intensively cultivated landscapes globally. Most of the landscape has been converted to croplands in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, and most of the fields produce multiple harvests each year.

Pointing out that these systems are not your classic locations for wildlife, he explains that they are still performing amazingly well as landscapes that provide food to humans and retain concentrations of globally threatened species like Sarus cranes.

Studies in Uttar Pradesh have revealed the importance of non-crop patches – like wetlands, woodlands, grasslands and scrub – in helping maintain populations of Sarus cranes and other species. Sarus crane numbers mirror the amount of wetlands – more wetlands mostly mean more cranes, particularly when the primary crop during the monsoon is flooded paddy. Areas with more non-crop patches invariably have more number of bird species and more birds per se.

Sundar’s studies show that a combination of favourable farmer attitudes and their habit of retaining some non-crop patches have helped conserve over 300 species of birds. Most non-crop patches are commonlands, especially wetlands and grasslands useful for grazing cattle and collecting natural products like lotus, reeds, clay and silt. These patches are used greatly by the needy, leading to panchayat-level institutional mechanisms that disallow conversions of these areas to private crops.

Linked to high human populationn

Ironically, a high human population and use of such patches by humans have led to improving the landscape for birds in these areas. Attrition of these non-crop patches, however, continues in part due to corruption and due to changing climatic conditions that sometimes force farmers to expand croplands into these erstwhile common lands.
Gopi Sundar’s current work seeks to understand factors that maximise persistence of birds in the rice-wheat belt of Uttar Pradesh. His work has improved understanding of the distribution and habitat requirements of over 200 species of birds. Species previously regarded as being largely “woodland species” such as the Bluethroat, were seen in good numbers in rice and/or wheat fields suggesting a much wider ability by some species to adapt to changes in land use. Some species previously not known to occur widely in Uttar Pradesh were found to be widespread. For example, the Grey-headed Lapwing, Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Brown Rockchat and Red-headed bunting occur throughout the Gangetic floodplains in the winter.

The Sarus crane (Krauncha) is revered in Hindu mythology. Is this helping its conservation? Explains Gopi Sundar, “The Ramayana begins with the story of the sage Valmiki walking along the Ganga and encountering a pair of Sarus cranes dancing. One was shot by an arrow of a hunter causing anguish to the sage who cursed the hunter in verse.

“This is an example of the human emotions that this species evokes. A pair of Sarus Cranes is thought to bond for life – in the event that one dies, the other is supposed to die in grief. These and other similar stories in rural India have helped in farmers developing great reverence towards the species.”

5 October 2010, Deccan Herald

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Many new species found in Indian Ocean

The blue ocean encircling India from both sides has revealed many new species, including two deep-sea sponges, as part of the world’s most exhaustive marine life survey that revealed close to 2,50,000 new under-water varieties.

The Census of Marine Life, which has taken years, also indicates that there may still be 7,50,000 more new creatures in the ocean. And the Indian Ocean remains virtually unexplored.

“The Indian Ocean is poorly explored scientifically when compared to other oceans. According to available literature, over 24,000 marine species (plants and animals) are recorded from the region. But it is based on very limited surveys.

“A detailed coastal as well as deep sea study have to be initiated by India, if we are concerned in knowing ‘what is available where’ in our EEZ and beyond,” Baban Ingole, a scientist from the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Panaji, told Deccan Herald.

Ingole and his colleagues at the NIO are part of a team that contributed to the global Census, results of which were released in London on Monday.

The NIO team recorded four new species, including two deep sea sponges, from the Andaman Sea. One of the sponges was found in a volcanic sea mount at a depth of 705 metre near the Andaman Islands. The team is working on establishing the novelty of two other new species. “In addition, we do have many new species which are reported for first time from the Indian Ocean region. They include deep-sea brachiopods, spongen and small lobstor. Also, there are many species such as nematode worms, a spider, hipe corals, deep-sea brittle stars and gorgonian and crustaceans, which are yet to be identified,” he said.

More than 2,700 scientists have helped to compile the census, with more than 540 expeditions to visit all of the world’s oceans. The new species discovered include the blind lobster with a long, spiny, pincer, which were found 300 metre below the surface in the Philippine Sea. “This inventory was needed as marine species suffered major declines—in some cases 90 per cent losses—due to human activities and may be heading towards extinction, as happened to many species on land,” said Mark John Costello, professor at the University of Auckland.

For every marine species, Census scientists estimate that at least more are yet to be discovered. Scientists believe more than 70 per cent of fish species have been discovered, but for most other groups likely less than one-third are known. Scientists believe that the tropics, deep seas and southern hemisphere hold the most undiscovered marine species.

With India’s exclusive economic zone all set to increase, discoveries of economically important species are certainly considered significant, said Ingole.

5 October 2010, Deccan Herald

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Colours of Haveri

Haveri district has many surprises. Ancient temples, a peacock sanctuary, a black buck sanctuary and old tanks all add up to the rich culture and heritage of the district. But many places are yet to become major tourist attractions owing to inadequate information about these spots.

Haveri district is known for its rich culture and heritage. It is well-known for its contribution to literature, folklore and communal harmony. The Haveri region also has several places of tourist interest.

The district headquarters, Haveri, is home to the 12th century temple called Purasiddeshwaraa. The temple was constructed during the time of Armadi Vikramaditya in 1109 AD. The brilliant architecture of the temple is difficult to describe in words. The Ugra Narasimha temple in the town is also known for its beautiful sculpture.

The historic Heggeri Kere is just two kilometres away from Haveri. The tank, spread across 100 acres looks like a sea, when one spots it from the National Highway-4. The tank attracts several migratory birds during winter.

Travel 40 kms from Haveri, and you’ll find the Galaganatheshwara temple built at Galaganatha village. The temple has been built in the style of the Kalyana Chalukyas. The star-shaped foundation, the huge Linga all draw attention. The temple has the idols of deities such as Vishnu, Saraswathi, Janardhana, Ganapathi, Surya and Mahishasura Mardhini among others.

The famous Someshwara temple that has been built on the banks of the Tungabhadra in Haralahalli of Haveri taluk is also an important tourist attraction. The temple has a mix of Hoysala and Chalukyan architectural styles. The temple has three sanctum santora, but a common navaranga.

The Nagareshwara temple in Shiggaon taluk is housed in a big fort spread across 139 acres. The main draw of the temple, built in the Chalukyan style, are the huge pillars, sixty in number. A huge storage tank carved out of a single stone is another attraction in the temple.

Forty five kilometres from Haveri is the Ekakutachala Tarakeshwara temple at Hanagal. It has a multi-angular shaped foundation. There are pictorial descriptions of episodes from the Ramayana, Mahabharatha and Bharatha around the temple. The sanctum sanctorum houses a linga.

Chowdadanayyapura, 35 kilometres from Haveri is the birthplace of 12th century Vachana composer Ambigara Chowdayya. The ‘seat’ of Chowdayya has been built on the banks of the river Tungabhadra. It is said that Palegars who belonged to the ‘Gutta’ clan built the Mukteshwara temple in the village. The Shanteshwara temple (in nearby Satenahalli), Balambida’s Rameshwara temple, Ratti halli’s Kadambeshwara temple and Chinna Mulgund’s Chikkeshwara temple all mirror the rich architectural legacy of the region. All these temples are in excellent condition, and are well-maintained.

Home to peacocks

Shiggaon taluk’s Bankapura, 22 kilometres from Haveri, is home to a rare peacock sanctuary. The bird sanctuary spread across 134 acres, is home to over 2,000 peacocks.

You can get to watch flocks of them everyday before 7 am or after 6 pm. Bus facilities are available from Haveri and Shiggaon.

Kanakadasa’s home

Twenty six kilometres away from Haveri and ten kilometres from Shiggaon is Bada village, the birthplace of the great Kanakadasa, a sixteenth century devotee, poet and composer.

There is a temple dedicated to the great man here. In the excavations that were conducted nearby, remains of a palace belonging to Kanakadasa, and other artefacts of those times were found. The Kaginele Development Authority is overseeing the development of this region.

The Authority was formed by the government in 2007 with the aim of converting Kaginele into a tourist centre of international importance. Kaginele was where Kanakadasa is said to have spent his years, and is 15 kilometres from Haveri. Kaginele houses the Keshava temple, where Kanakadasa is said to have prayed.

The tomb of another famous mystic poet Shishunala Shariff is situated 42 kilometres from Haveri. His spiritual mentor Guru Govind Bhat’s samadhi is also nearby. The state government has given the go-ahead to construct a Yatri Nivas for tourists at a cost of Rs 50 lakh here.

Sarvagna’s birthplace

Then, there is the birthplace of Sarvagna. Abalur, which is in Hirekerur taluk, 40 kilometres from Haveri, was once a Jain centre, and then a Shaivite place of worship post-12th century. The birthplace of the medieval composer Sarvagna is home to many temples. The government installed the statue of Sarvagna here, some years ago.

Black buck sanctuary

There is a black buck sanctuary near Ranebennur, spread across 125 acres belonging to the forest department. This protected sanctuary has over 6,000 black bucks.

The district is a treasure for every tourist, but thanks to a lack of publicity and inadequate information, it has not quite become a major tourist draw.

5 October 2010, Deccan Herald

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A wealth of weaves

With the onset of Commonwealth Games, the National Museum is entertaining tourists with impressive merchandise and Indian handicrafts from across the country, says Ila Sankrityayan

With dazzling shelves, elegant designer knick-knacks and collectables, Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation at the National Museum is the best bet for those looking to buy unique and elegant souvenirs.

Thanks to the tourist traffic due to Commonwealth Games, the shop has been renovated with black coloured painted walls and attractive shelves. The renovation took a total of three months. “We approached HHEC and advised them to make the store more beautiful and well presentable as hundreds of foreign tourists are expected during CWG. We gave special attention towards the proper display of everything,” Nishee Kumari, the marketing executive of the shop. On the front wall of the shop is a traditionally designed red coloured wall hanging and on the right wall a maverick painting depicts Purana Quila, Qutub Minar, Jama Masjid, autoswalas and gardens.

Below the painting stands a wooden shelf showcasing inlay work on marbles from Agra and paper mache potteries with golden carvings from Kashmir. “All these works depicts different styles from Kashmir, Agra and Gujarat. For instance, this round pot is called moss agate and comes from Gujarat,” Kumari says, pointing at the pot.

There is also an interesting amalgamation of daggers with silver koftgari inlay work from Jaipur and bindri craft from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka including black coloured bowls, bangles, flower vases, surahi and kettle.

The shop also boasts of shirts with Dara Shikov and Jahangir paintings, scarves and shawls using crape with miniature paintings. Kumar explains, “All these items are designed by Vivek Sahni and the use of Mughal art is very evident on these fabrics.”

Potteries and shivling made of clay, bronze statues of Ganesh, Vishnu, Shiva and other religious gods designed by artist Narsimahan from Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu also make a part of the collection. notepads, diaries and books on art and literature, woolen and miniature painting shawls, chandi thal from Jaipur and statues made of fibre glasses that are museum reproduces.

The shop has exotic range of bracelets, ear rings, neck pieces and rings made up of semi precious stones and silver with gold plating. “Most of these jewellery pieces come from Jaipur except the rudraksha and silver beads,” reveals Kumari.

Looking around the shop one can see magnificent Madhubani art on window panes. Other collectables of shop include cushions with Mughal coins and well decorated woman over it, funky hand bags and laptop bags and a wall-hanging with cow motifs designed by Delhi based designer Vikram Goel. “This wall hanging is based on Pichwai art in Rajasthan around Shrinath temples in Udaipur, being a avatar of Lord Krishna cow motifs are used as Krishna loves cows,” concludes Kumari. The price range starts from 100 rupees and goes upto one lakh fifty thousand.

 
5 October 2010, The Pioneer

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Wildlife Resources in Orissa Face Doomsday

Massive urbanisation and industrialisation in Orissa is now taking its toll on the wildlife resources. This apart, the alleged apathy of the state government also threatens the very existence of the wildlife.

Although it is mandatory that the State Board for Wildlife must meet every six months to oversee implementation of the wildlife conservation programmes, the high-power body, chaired by the chief minister Naveen Patnaik, has not met even once in the last two years. Similarly, there has been no meeting of the honorary wildlife wardens for the last two years, according to wild life experts.

“During the ongoing Wildlife Week celebrations, poachers are busy hunting endangered wildlife in Orissa’s forest areas. The forest department, which has a constitutional mandate to protect wildlife, has some misplaced priorities in place as it has turned into a contractor executing various works like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), tourism projects and tribal livelihood projects. With a state obsessed with mining and industrialisation, wildlife has little chance to survive in face of rapid loss of habitat,” said Biswajit Mohanty, secretary, Wildlife Society of Orissa, on Monday.

Orissa is unique in many ways in the country’s wildlife. About 19 species of amphibians, 110 species of reptiles, 476 species of birds, 86 species of mammals are reported from the state. The country’s largest migratory fowl (more than 700,000) congregation is found at the Chilka lake and the world’s largest mass nesting site for sea turtles is at Gahirmatha.

Similarly, the presence of Irrawaday dolphins in the Chilika lake is unique in the world attracting international attention.

But the wild animals are under threat from greedy poachers. “Way back in April 1996, on the basis of our information, the forest department seized 21 leopard skins exposing rampant illegal trade in big cat body parts. In 2005, eleven leopard skins and a pistol were seized from various traders and poachers in Phulbani and Gajapati district,” Mr Mohanty lamented.

Official reports say that 231 elephants were killed by poachers, 166 died due to accidents and 173 died to natural causes in the last 19 years. In the last decade, at least 155 elephants have died due to electrocution. The recent mass killings of elephants in Simlipal Tiger Reserve, a protected area exposed the nexus between poachers and the local official, who even destroyed bodies of dead elephants.

“From 226 tigers in 1993, we have now about 50 in 2008 (All India tiger census done by Wildlife Institute of India) in Orissa. Due to active operation of poachers inside Simlipal, the local tiger population is believed to be almost wiped with the WII census reporting less than 20 tigers in 2008,” Mr Mohanty added.

Thousands of endangered Olive Ridleys turtles perish every year due to illegal trawling and non-use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TED). More than 1,40,000 turtles have been killed during the last 14 years. “Crocodiles, water monitors and snakes are regularly trapped and killed for skins. More than 700 juvenile gharial crocodiles were released in the Mahanadi river Satkosia gorge during the 1970s and early 1980s. Only two survived since most of them have been killed for their skins,” Mr Mohanty informed.

6 October 2010, The Asian Age

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Fire destroys Nainital heritage bldg

A major fire apparently sparked off by a short-circuit swept through the century-old Collector's Building in Nainital on Tuesday morning and reduced the heritage building to ashes.

No casualty was reported, the police said, adding the blaze lasted about five hours. All the 16 spacious rooms of building housing Uttarakhand government offices were gutted, sources said. The Collectorate Building, built in 1898, is located at Tallital area of Nainital.

Nainital District Magistrate Shailesh Baigauli said while the exact cost of the property is yet to be ascertained, the overall losses could be to the tune of several crores.

6 October 2010, The Times of India

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British shame fetches cash in Britain

A British auction house today sold for £769,250 a series of 24 rare paintings commemorating almost the worst defeat suffered by the British in India.

The sale price was “very near the top estimate for the lot” — £650,000-850,000 — that had been predicted by Sotheby’s in London.

In the Battle of Pollilur, which took place on September 10, 1780, Tipu Sultan and his father, Haydar Ali, of the kingdom of Mysore, inflicted a heavy defeat with many casualties on the forces of the East India Company commanded by Colonel William Baille.

Pollilur is near the city of Kanchipuram in present-day Tamil Nadu.

The 24 “preparatory” paintings, which were done on rice paper shortly after the battle — “the colours are so vivid they emanate the noise and fury of battle”— were originally part of two long scrolls, each 7ft by 30ft.

They were included among 400 lots that went under the hammer at Sotheby’s biannual “Arts of the Islamic World” sale, with the auction house expecting to realise more than Pound10 million.

Following the Battle of Pollilur, Tipu commissioned a mural which was duly installed in the Daria Daulat Palace, Seringapatam in1784. The preparatory paintings, almost certainly the work of an Indian artist — or possibly a master working with his pupils — were used to draw the mural.

While the British lost this particular battle, Sotheby’s points out, they went on to defeat Tipu Sultan at the Battle of Seringapatam on May 4, 1799 — “the final confrontation of the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore”.

In 1791, the mural had been painted over following the Treaty of Mysore, when Tipu was forced to surrender his two sons as hostages. It says much for the British that the mural was subsequently restored, even though it featured a British defeat. The restoration was done using the preparatory paintings for referencing.

The British love of Indian art got the better of them, according to experts at Sotheby’s.

The restoration is attributed to one of the commanding officers who attended the siege in 1799, Colonel Arthur Wellesley, later 1st Duke of Wellington, “one of the most celebrated and renowned figures in British military history”.

The scrolls with the preparatory paintings were chopped up into 24 paintings which have survived in remarkably good condition.

The paintings were acquired by Captain John William Freese in approximately 1802. Freese was a member of the Madras Artillery and played an important role in the siege of Seringapatam in 1799; in 1802 he was appointed Commissary of Stores at Seringapatam.

7 October 2010, The Telegraph

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Arunachal language ‘found’, doubt creeps in

A previously unknown language has been uncovered in the far reaches of Arunachal Pradesh, researchers have said.

Koro, a tongue apparently new to the world and which is spoken by just 800 to 1,200 people, could soon face extinction as younger speakers abandon it for more widely used Hindi or English.

Koro is unlike any language in the various branches of the Tibeto-Burman family, a collection of 400 related languages used by peoples across Asia, according to the two National Geographic researchers who announced the discovery on Tuesday.

The findings will be published in the journal Indian Linguistics.

The researchers, linguists K. David Harrison of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Gregory D.S. Anderson, director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Salem, Oregon, said they were not sure yet how old Koro was or how it developed.

Anderson and Harrison, along with Indian colleague Ganesh Murmu, came across Koro by chance in 2008.

(However, the Assam chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) has disagreed with the report, saying Koro was not an unknown language in the region and linguistic experts were aware of existence of the language, adds our Guwahati Bureau.

Dinesh Baishya, the convener of the state chapter of Intach, told The Telegraph that an international conference on endangered languages of India last year discussed the language.

“I attended the conference. Uday Narayan Singh, a professor of Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, and former director of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, presented a paper on ‘Sense of Danger and Overview of Endangered Languages’ during the conference. Among other languages of Arunachal Pradesh, the paper talked about Koro language,” Baishya added.

Baishya said although Koro might have few speakers, one could not claim that the language was “discovered”. He, however, said efforts should be made to preserve and protect the language.

Educationist Tabu Ram Taid, who is closely associated with the preservation and development of endangered tribal languages namely his mother tongue Mising, said he had not heard about Koro. He said a language became extinct or died when it was not spoken by the people.

“Koro might have met the same fate. But the point is now to preserve Koro. Apart from speaking, one must develop writing the language to prevent it from vanishing,” Taid said.)

Harrison said the speakers of Koro had remained invisible to outside observers because their bright red garments, the rice beer they made and other details of their lives seemed no different from that of the speakers of Aka, the socially dominant language in the region.

“There’s a sort of a cultural invisibility; they’re culturally identical in what they wear, what they eat, the houses they live in.... They just happen to have a different word for everything,” Harrison said.

Koro also blends in because its speakers frequently marry Aka speakers (who number 4,000 to 6,000) and people who use another tongue, Miji (who number 6,000 to 8,000).

And because the villages had been largely cut off from the outside world for so long, the languages in the region remain poorly studied. “I expect that there are many such hidden languages around the world,” said M. Paul Lewis, who edited the 16th edition of Ethnologue: Languages of the World. “The lesser-known languages quite often are overlooked and understudied.”

The researchers had been told about the so-called dialect of Aka. But when they sat down to record the words of a villager they assumed to be speaking it, they were surprised by the unfamiliarity of the words and could tell this was no mere dialect. “We noticed it instantly,” Anderson said. “We started with a body part word list, and there wasn’t a single word in common.”

7 October 2010, The Telegraph

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Lighting up Lodhi history

A glossy little marker — part stylish, part nothing special. Gol Gumbad, the 15th century Lodhi dynasty tomb at the intersection of Lodhi Road and Lal Bahadur Shastri Marg, has become one of Delhi’s must-see monuments. Last month, the unremarkable tomb, tucked in a corner of Centenary Methodist Church, got a new look. In a project funded by the Ministry of Tourism, and executed by INTACH, Delhi Chapter, the monument was set up with night-time illumination. The effect is pure magic.

Reach after sunset. Rows of tube lights are fitted on the floor; the domed roof is bathed in a bright orange glow. As you enter from the side gate (on Lodhi Road), the white light falling off the tomb’s wall shows you the way. A few trees are lit subtly; others are left in darkness. Inside, the chamber is washed in a deep-gold shade; strobe lamps are arranged artistically at several vantage points. Someone outside the complex could mistake this blaze for fire. Delhi hasn’t seen anything like this.

Actually, there is no reason to dislike the unlit, ignored, even abused ruins. It is thrilling to mess around in an abandoned tomb; the overgrown grass, the damp walls, the musty smell, the bird droppings on the floor and bats flapping their wings on the roof. You may not know about the ruin’s history but you feel it in the air. Civilising the savage, however, runs the risk of losing his wild streak. The unwise placement of a single lamp could have rendered Gol Gumbad soulless. Then it would have merely been vulgarly lit; its secrets sucked out and its sad romanticism smashed. No such mishap here.

The tomb is a passion statement — a new way to look at monuments. The electric lights have not diminished its mysteries. The radiance coming out of the recessed arch on each of the four sides is intense. There are many Lodhi-era tombs in Delhi and all are alike: stone flooring, walls of random rubble masonry and locked stairways. The uniformity and the fact that we have no clue of the buried men make these structures banal. But the beamy atmosphere in the chamber of this tomb is beautiful.

The light rays cast melancholic shadows on the austere niches. The dome’s artwork catches the eye easily. In the night, standing alone inside the illuminated tomb, you spin into a roller-coaster ride of longing, love and regret — just what a ruin should do.
 

7 October 2010, Hindustan Times

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US linguists find 'hidden' language in Arunachal

WASHINGTON: Say " kaplaye" to a hidden language that's emerged from remoteness of India's famed diversity – the word means "hello" in Koro, a previously unknown language that linguists say they have identified and recorded in Arunachal Pradesh.

At a time of rapid globalization, when languages are dying at the rate of one every fortnight, Koro could be the latest addition to the 6909 known tongues recorded in Ethnologue, a journal that chronicles languages of the world. The hitherto unrecognized vernacular, initially mistaken for a dialect of a language called Aka because of the cultural similarities of its speakers, was identified during a 2008 expedition conducted as part of National Geographic's Enduring Voices project.

In a conference call in Washington DC on Tuesday, researchers who stumbled on the latest hidden language said Koro, spoken by only 800-1200 people, could soon face extinction in the same way as Bo, the Andamanese language whose last speaker died earlier this year.

Younger speakers are abandoning Koro for more dominant and widely used languages such as English or Hindi, the researchers said, citing the example of a father, Katia Yame, who was a torchbearer for the language, while his son, Sunil Yame, had taken to Hindi.

The researchers, linguists David Harrison of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Gregory Anderson of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Oregon, recounted how they came across Koro by chance during an expedition with their Indian colleague, tribal language specialist Ganesh Murmu, to Arunachal Pradesh, a state with some 120 languages which they had previously identified as a linguistic hot spot.

They were initially led to believe Koro was a dialect of the more dominant Aka (spoken by 4000-6000 people) because speakers of both languages dressed similarly, had similar dietary preferences, and they intermarried.

But when they sat down to record the 'dialect' they found it had a different word for everything. "It is a distant sister language but quite distinct... like English and Russian," Harrison, who has documented dying languages in his book The Last Speakers, said.

In terms of classification, Koro belongs to the belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language family, a group of some 400 languages of which more than 100 are spoken in India alone.

The researchers said Koro had not been included in the Indian census or in any study of languages in India. In part, this may be because the area is isolated and not much linguistic work has been done here; even Indian nationals need special permits to visit the region.

The researchers said they will be publishing their findings in the journal Indian Linguistics and hope to have it listed in Ethnologue, which continues to document new hidden languages even as half of the world's 6900+ languages are considered endangered and expected to die in this century.

"We hope it will be accepted in Indian and international charters," Anderson said, adding that the demise of Bo had highlighted the fragility of languages and identified India as a language hot spot.

An area is considered a language hot spot when it has a high degree of language diversity with high endangerment and low level of scientific record.

The researchers said endangered languages need technological support (they plan to put it Koro on You Tube) for their survival, so that the knowledge base on everything from medicine to cuisine passed down through the language could be preserved. Koro, incidentally, only has an oral tradition; no script.

"New languages are noticed and documented from time to time; it is rarely considered to be newsworthy," Dr Harrison said. "But we are in the middle of a language crisis... Unless the trend is reversed, we will lose our diversity in the next century."

"Preserving languages contributes to human history," he added.

 
7 October 2010, The Times of India

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Out of a Picture Book

Stately deodars, sprawling meadows, picturesque trails, friendly people... all the reasons why you should holiday at Chakrata, roughly 300 km from Delhi

Cantonment towns change over the years, becoming noisy and overcrowded. I hoped that wouldn’t be the case with Chakrata, a place I had visited several years ago. Pretty and pristine, it had woven a spell around me and I knew I would go back some day. I did. We left Delhi at six one morning and were soon on NH 58 that would take us, via Meerut, Roorkee and Dehradun, to Chakrata. Crossing the crowded township of Modinagar, the road led us to Meerut bypass.

Further ahead, the Dehradun-Chakrata stretch became confusing. There was one route directly from Dehradun to Chakrata via Vikasnagar, but my guidebook suggested we take a detour from Mussoourie. From Library Point at Mussoorie, we were to turn towards Chakrata via Kempty Falls. As it turned out, we hadn’t taken the right decision. The road was so crowded that it made Delhi’s Chandni Chowk seem deserted. Large tourist buses were negotiating hill tracks that were meant for one-way car traffic. After an hour of frustration, we managed to leave the crowds at Mussoorie and Kempty behind,and head towards Yamuna Pul.

BUMPY RIDE

The Yamuna at the Yamuna Pul Bridge was sparkling clean;and as we climbed again, the views got even more spectacular. The route to Chakrata from Yamuna Pul is dramatic, with rugged, bare mountains, deep gorges, and a glint of the river below, through a quiet, uninhabited region. However, the narrow road condition is pathetic, and road signs conspicuous by their absence. There was also a surprising lack of villages. The 50-km journey took two and-a-half hours. We reached Chakrata by good guesswork slightly the worse for wear by seven. The evening had closed in, but directions to the Forest Rest House (FRH) were easy to come by.

The 100-year-old FRH stood at a vantage point and afforded splendid views. The generous verandah with two chairs and a table hinted at a time of grace and leisure. Unfortunately, the interiors of the rooms needed some maintenance and cheering up, but I was told that renovations were to begin shortly.

CATING A SPELL

Our vehicle disgorged its luggage, including bed linen (The FRH provides bed sheets and blankets though), comforters, a lamp, books, and a two-in one, and within an hour, I was home and dry, and ready to enjoy Chakratas charm over the next three days. The sleepy hill station was set up by Colonel Hume and other officers of the British army 125 years ago. It is located atop a ridge, which means there are plenty of great walks among oaks, rhododendron and deodars. As I walked to the Chakrata bazaar, I noticed plenty of evidence to suggest that it was a cantonment town. Along the three-kilometreodd walk, we saw many officers.

Chakrata bazaar consists of a row of shops on both sides of the road selling basic vegetables, grocery and general merchandise. There were a number of tea stalls, but only a few eating joints. We tried the most promising of these Sher-e-Punjab and continued our patronage of this dhaba all through our stay in Chakrata. The simple dal-rotivegetable-chicken fare suited us well.

The 13-km road to Deoban was not in good shape, but the scenic splendour of the destination made it worthwhile. Located at a height of 9,400 ft, Deoban is a pristine meadow surrounded by deodars, the stillness broken only by the harsh call of the Himalayan crow. The FRH, more than 100 years old, was atop a crest, and under renovation. The chowkidar brought us tea that refreshed us. The simple lunch, which we had on the verandah, was made special by the magnificent snow views, the fragrance of the pine and the whistle of the wind.

Next morning we were headed for Kanasar. The 28-km drive showed us scenes straight out of a picture book. Colourful patchwork of green wheat and yellow mustard was interspersed by red fields of mudwa. We also got glimpses of the lifestyle of the Jaunsars, the tribe that inhabits the region in and around Chakrata. Whether herding their sheep and goats, sitting by the roadside or spinning wool, they were ever ready to give us directions.

To get to the rest house, we had to weave our way around a hill. At the top stood the stone structure. Almost hidden by the tall deodars that surrounded it, the rest house was like a childs hiding place. Utterly quiet, except for the sound of the wind, it was hard to believe that this oasis of solitude was less than 300 km from Delhi.

BACK TO BASICS

There was no electricity here, no cooking facilities either; a fact we had been told in Chakrata. So we had picked up alu-paranthasand pickle, along with chutney, specially made at a bus-stop dhabain Chakrata. It was a spicy blend of onions, garlic, green chillies, coriander leaves and salt, coarsely ground together and garnished with fresh lime juice. The picturesque settings served as the perfect foil to this simple meal, which we rounded off with dry fruit and oranges.

After a post-lunch laze in the sunshine that filtered through the trees, we decided to walk down the hill to a really large clearing by the road, where a group of young boys played cricket. At one end stood a small temple dedicated to Goddess Durga. Tiny red flags fluttered in the wind as we paid obeisance. On the other side of the road were giant deodar trees including the one reported to be the largest (6.5-m diameter) in Asia. Although we were impressed by the statistics, it was really the hamlet that made Kanasar a must-revisit destination.

The next day was our last in Chakrata. The sleepy hamlet is not for those who love to do things on holiday. But if you are looking for tranquillity, you know where to head.

TIPS

Trek to Deoban. The views en route are fantastic and worth capturing in your camera. Take a walk to the local bazaar in the evening. If you fancy military coats, caps and jackets, check out Har Mohan Anands shop. You also get good quality walnuts in Chakrata. Sit under a clear sky late evening and admire the stars. If you have plans to travel beyond Chakrata, carry your own food. There are practically no places where you can get a decent meal. Since there are several military installations in this town, dont be surprised if you have to go through several checkpoints. Ask your hotel for an east-facing room. The sunrise is worth dying for. If you want to see natures tapestry of colours, visit Chakrata in the monsoon. Or else in winter, when a white sheet covers the landscape.

TRIVIA

Chakrata was set up as a military base by Col Hume of the 55th Regiment of the British Indian army in 1855, but it was only in 1869 that troops and officers started occupying the cantonment. The checkpost at Kalsi allows visitors to enter only at specific timings in the day based on the season in which they are travelling. If you miss one timing,it could mean a wait of at least 2.5 hours before you can go in. From October, the gate opens at 7.30 am. The Special Frontier Force, also known as Establishment 22,is based in Chakrata. It is the only traditional Tibetan unit of the Indian army after the Indo-China War of 1962.In spring, the landscape is a riot of red with the burans flower beginning to blossom. The juice extracted from the petals is used to make gulal for Holi.

8 October 2010, The Times of India

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Monuments adorned to present Delhi’s heritage

A number of monuments have been conserved and protected, apart from being illuminated.

The work was taken up under the department of archaeology, Delhi government, to present an aesthetic view of the rich heritage of Delhi during the Commonwealth Games (CWG), said Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

Dikshit had visited a few monuments along with a media team last evening.

She had visited the Mutiny Memorial or Fateh Garh at Northern Ridge, Turkman Gate, Asaf Ali Road, Gole Gumbad near Lodi Road Flyover, Tomb of Bijri Khan, R.K. Puram, Sector-3; Bara Lao Ka Gumbad and Baradari, Vasant Vihar; Tomb near M.B. Road crossing, Lado Sarai. Other monuments illuminated by the department are - Mosque of Darwesh Shah, Gulmohar Park, Tomb of Muhammad Quli Khan, Mehrauli Archaeological Park near Qutab Minar, the tomb behind National Stadium, Phuta Gumbad, adjoining Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Maqbara Paik, GTK bypass, Turret near Gate number.3, Lodi Garden, Mosque near Butterfly Park in Lodi Garden, the mosque and four walls of an enclosed garden with its entrance gateway near Rose Garden in Lodi Garden and Munda Gumbad, inside Deer Park, Hauz Khas.

The conservation of monuments involve material like -- lime, surkhi, badarpur, brick-zeera, gur, belgiri and curd among other things. These were used in a traditional way like -- preparing lime mortar and special surface finish given by providing lime punning which involves specific preparation of materials. The chemical preservation has also been carried out by applying specific chemicals to remove the soot, dirt, moss and lichen deposit that have collected on the surface of monuments.

Some monuments have been beautified by landscaping.

8 October 2010, The Tribune

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India's sporting heritage on display at National Museum

Indian wrestlers, weightlifters and archers are doing India proud at the ongoing Commonwealth Games. While everyone's cheering not many may know about the history of these sports. An exhibition at the National Museum is giving you a unique opportunity to know about Indian sports such wrestling, weightlifting, archery and chess through the centuries.

The exhibition titled 'Games and Sports in Indian Art' which was inaugurated on October 4 and will continue till November 4, showcases history of Indian games through various styles of paintings such as Kangra and Pahari.

A painting called Ragaputra Nat depicting both male and female acrobats is part of the exhibition. The painting is based on Indian classical music dating back to 1790s and depicts the harmony between sports and art. An interesting fact that emerges from the paintings is that a lot of women are shown participating in various sports.

"The exhibition is meant to showcase the best of Indian art and culture. Growth and development of games practices with regional variations are captured through various mediums such as paintings, stone, wood and metal sculptures," said CV Ananda Bose, administrator, National Museum.

Apart from paintings depicting wrestling, polo, acrobatics, weightlifting, archery, swimming, talwarbazi (fencing), kite flying, kabutar bazi (a game with pigeons), few other eye-catching objects such as terracotta and wooden toys, rattles, dolls, yo-yos, a silver top, chessmen and different shapes and forms of chaupar (dice game) are on display as well.

To ensure that visitors can see the exhibition after office hours the museum authorities have extended the timings till 9 pm. Also adding colour to the exhibition are performances of the regional dancers from various parts of the country at the lawns of the museum.

After the Games are over, the National Museum plans to organise trips and competitions for city schoolchildren so that they can learn from the various exhibits on display.

 
9 October 2010, Hindustan Times

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Colours of Ramayana

Themes from the epic have remained a favourite subject in works of art over the centuries, writes Kanwarjit Singh Kang

The Ramayana has had tremendous influence on the Indian culture. Themes related to Rama have inspired innumerable poets, bards, dramatists, painters, sculptors, muralists and craftsmen through the ages, not only in India but also in several countries of South-East Asia.

The Ramayana tradition found visual representation in art since an early time. Although a complete sequential representation of the Ramayana is rare, collectively taken, the whole of Ramayana is covered. There is, however, a decided precedence for themes having dramatic content as we see in popular folk drama, the Ram Lila. Nevertheless, Rama is invariably seen as a god and themes about him are always suggestive of divinity.

A second-century terracotta from the archaeological site of Kausambi, preserved in Allahabad Museum, depicting the abduction of Sita by Ravana, is considered the earliest representation of a Ramayana theme in art. From about the 4th century, sculptural depiction of popular episodes of the Ramayana have been found in abundance. Terracotta plaques from Shravasti and Chandraketugarh show scenes from the Ramayana and several panels from the earliest temple at Deogarh pertain to this epic. A stone sculpture of the 4th-5th century in the Archaeological Museum, Mathura, shows Ravana shaking Mount Kailash.

Sculpted panels in numerous temples throughout India depict various episodes of the epic, notably in the temples at Pattadakal, Aihole, Ellora, Badami, Nachna, Khajuraho, Bhubaneshwar, Helebid and Belur.

The Ramayana theme has remained a favourite subject in miniature paintings, which are scattered in several museums and libraries in India and abroad, as well as in private collections. A significant illustrated Ramayana manuscript of the Rajasthani school was executed in the 17th century at Udaipur during the reign of Rana Jagat Singh and his successor Rana Raj Singh. Four of its seven volumes are in the British Library, London, having been given by Maharaja Bhim Singh to James Tod, the famed author of the Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan. The painting work is ascribed to Sahib Din, the principal artist working in the Udaipur court-studio in the 17th century.

Mughal emperor Akbar had the epic translated into Persian and one of its outstanding illustrated manuscript is to be seen in Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum at Jaipur. In Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, there is another Persian Ramayana with 130 paintings and this copy of the epic was made for Akbar’s general Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khana. A profusely painted manuscript of Ramcharitmanas, executed in the 18th century at Mahishadal in Midnapore is preserved in the Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art, Kolkata. The Guler set of the same period by painter Pandit Seu in the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh, is of equal significance. The National Museum, New Delhi, possesses a group of Ramayana paintings done in Kulu bearing the influence of Basohli style. In Bharat Kala Bhavan at Varanasi is a unique set of the early 19th century Ramayana drawings drawn by a Kashmiri painter named Sudarshana. The list of such works is too numerous to mention here.

Mural paintings depicting themes from the Ramayana can be seen throughout India. Although regional variations in style and technique are apparent in these murals but so far as the themes are concerned, there is complete homogeneity. Most popular themes illustrate Rama killing ogress Taraka; breaking the bow at Sita’s svayamvara; going in pursuit of the golden deer; fighting with Ravana and killing him and assuming his position as the king of Ayodhya. As compared to other themes the scene of fierce fighting between Rama and Ravana in the murals cover more space on the walls and the painters, at different places, had conceived differently the vast armies engaged in the dreadful combat. There are several edifices in Punjab and Haryana, where murals, based on the Ramayana themes, were painted in the 19th century. Some of these have obliterated due to natural causes and very many due to coats of whitewash on the walls.

Prominent edifices where murals related to the epic stories were painted include the temple of Palkiana Sahib in district Tarn Taran; thakurdwara of Daryana Mall in Katra Mohar Singh and the temple of Maya Nath in Katra Doolo, both at Amritsar; temple of Raja Sahib Dayal at Kishankot and Dera of Baba Lal Ji at Dhianpur, both in Gurdaspur district; Bairagi thakurdwara at Ram Tatwali in district Hoshiarpur; Samadhs of Lala Balak Ram and Jamuna Das at Jagadhri and Haveli of Rani Chand Kaur at Pehowa.

The Ramayana and the visual arts depicting themes from the epic, transcended the geographical limits of India to reach Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. In these countries, each culture has interpreted the Ramayana slightly differently and this process is referred to ‘indigenisation of Ramayana’, but the core of Rama legend remains unaltered.

 
10 October 2010, Tribune

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Delhi showcases its heritage & history

This is the best chance to understand your city. With several exhibitions, which put Delhi's rich past in focus, being part of the ongoing celebrations for the Commonwealth Games, people have a golden opportunity to take a peek into our cultural heritage.

Exhibitions like 'Historic Delhi' at the National Gallery of Modern Art or 'Dillinama' at Red Fort and Habitat are all all part of the Games celebrations.

Early images of Delhi's monuments like Sacred Heart Cathedral, the statue of John Nicholson, who played a significant role in the 1857 Mutiny and whose statue was removed after the Independence, Flagstaff Towers, Jama Masjid, Jantar Mantar, Chandni Chowk and Purana Qila are all on display at the 'Historic Delhi' exhibition.

Aninditha Srivastava, an amateur photographer and student, said: ''I go to as many exhibitions as possible to be able to understand photography better. Some of my favourite photographs here are those of Old Delhi and what it used to look like all those years ago.''

The exhibition also shows images of places inside monuments where visitors do not have access like the hamam (king's bathing room) inside Red Fort or the interiors of Moti Masjid. Images of the tomb of Jahanara, the begum of Bhopal, at the homage ceremony at Delhi Darbar etc are catching viewers' attention.

Andrea Wales, a UK national and freelance photographer, had come with a large group of tourists to see the exhibition. She wants to capture similar images in Delhi while she is here.

The exhibition, which draws from the extensive Alkazi collection of photography, was inaugurated on October 1 and will remain open till November 7. According to officials, photography was introduced in India in the 1840s. Gradually various photographic societies were set up in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras.

Officials from the culture ministry said modern Delhi started taking shape after the Uprising of 1857. ''Most of the sites therefore captured by photographers during that period are those affected by the Mutiny.

Similarly, the transfer of power to the British Crown and the Durbars of Delhi in 1877, 1903 and 1911, conducted under the supervision of the three Viceroys, led to Delhi being visualized as an imperial capital,'' said officials.

Another exhibition showing Delhi's history, Dillinama, organized by Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) in Red Fort, is yet to find too many visitors, most likely because of inadequate publicity and awareness for the public.

At Habitat, however, officials said the response was comparatively better. The four-week long exhibition here traces the history of Delhi from the early settlements to a modern metropolis through images, maps and other archival findings.

10 October 2010, The Times of India

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Athletes at Village miss out on Delhi heritage trip

Though most events are over, security concerns, tight schedule & poor guide facilities mar plans of foreign delegates to go on shopping and sightseeing tours.

Aweek into the Games and many of the 7000-odd athletes from the 71 participating nations have neither been able to explore their host city nor experience its rich culture. And with several competitions already over, some of the athletes might just have to return without any souvenirs for family and friends back home. Security concerns, tight schedules and lack of information seem to have kept the visiting athletes from going around town.

While Agra's Taj Mahal continues to the most favoured destination, Delhi's own World Heritage Sites — Qutub Minar, Humayun's Tomb and Red Fort — are yet to host international visitors. Many athletes complained they were not being guided on the city's popular tourist destinations and also, where they could go shopping.

A group of Malyasian athletes, who wanted to pick up some souvenirs, looked extremely disappointed. Curiously, the group had been told that they could go to Noida's Sector 18 market and Palika Bazaar. "The market in Noida had no souvenirs and Palika Bazaar was closed on Sunday. No one had informed us about that," complained one of the athletes, Nataliya Sinkova. A Malaysian athlete, who was advised to take the Metro, recalled his horror. "The train was so crowded that I could barely find space to stand," said Onn Kwang Tung.

Moreover, to prevent any untoward incident, most athletes have been advised not to step out of the Games Village in their uniform. "We were told we should not venture out in our uniform only at the last moment and I hadn't packed any other clothes. It seems I will have to buy some clothes at the Village stores to be able to go out," said Joanna Parker from England. Tamisha Gittens fromBarbados added, "Security is one of the main concerns so we've been asked not to go out in large groups. But I really want to visit Red Fort and see some of the markets to buy present for family."

Delhi Police, meanwhile, maintained there is no specific threat to athletes leaving the Village in their uniforms. "There is no threat to athletes going out in their uniforms; Delhi Police has not given out any such advisory. The tours and programmes are all handled by the organising committee for which we are providing security," said Rajan Bhagat, Delhi Police spokesperson.

Time constraint is proving to be another hassle. "I definitely want to pick up souvenirs. But I can go shopping only after my competitions are over," said Durly Emmanul Lucas, an athlete from Trinidad and Tobago. Anna Rita Strydome, a team official from South Africa, said, "Most of us still do not know where we should go. Many athletes opted for Akshardham Temple because it's right next door. Several of our team members are now returning home without getting the chance to explore Delhi."

The biggest attraction for visiting athletes has been the Akshardham Temple. Entire contingents from the participating countries are being taken there on guided tours even as many of them are completely unaware that the temple is right next to the Games Village.

The temple administration has set up a counter at the Games Village to facilitate movement of people to the temple. "We wanted to ensure that athletes see the very best of India and go back with a good feeling. Since the Village was coming up right next door, we decided to start free guided tours for foreigners and give them a glimpse of Indian architecture and culture," said Girish Patel, a temple volunteer who has come all the way from England only for the Games.

Several volunteers from around the world are volunteering at Akshardham to guide tourists to the main mandir area, three exhibition halls and fountain show.

On Sunday, over 70 athletes from England, Canada, Bahamas, Scotland, Jersey, Malaysia, Forkland Islands and South Africa visited the temple.

Till now, over 500 athletes have been to Akshardham.

 
11 October 2010, Times of India

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Illegal mining threatens Sarisk

Despite crores being spent in the name of conservation and Project Tiger, illegal mining activity is back in full gear in the protected area of Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary.

"Rampant mining is going on at Jaisinghpura, Malana, Goverdhanpura, Palpura and Jamwa Ramgarh, in spite of the Supreme Court's 1991 order banning mining in the area. After SC's order, 215 mines were closed. But recently, some of them have restarted activity in the middle of the sanctuary," said Rajender Singh, the waterman of Rajasthan, whose NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh had filed the writ petition in the apex court.

Singh added that these villages fall in the protected area and are a rich reservoir of dolomite. "Nearly 30-40 mines have begun operation again, some of them run by leading names in the industry," he said. According to Singh, mining had picked up in Project Tiger area's buffer zones and was causing irreparable damage to tiger habitat and the sanctuary's ecosystem. "Mine owners' money and muscle power has made officials and politicians turn a blind eye to the illegal activity," said Singh who claimed he was attacked thrice by the mining mafia.

Confirming Singh's statement, Delhi-based Tarun Kanti Bose, who has done extensive research on mining in Rajasthan, said, "While public sector mines remain closed as per the apex court's ruling, many mines in the unorganized sector have again started mining marble in the belt, which has good deposits."

In villages like Tilwad and Tilwadi in Alwar, marble mining operations are taking place right in the middle of the villages on private agricultural land. Many large landholders in the villages are today keen on selling their agricultural land as they are getting high returns for it, he said. "Mining is expanding rapidly in an area which has some of the most fertile lands with plenty of water," said Tarun.

Tarun said in all the big mines operating in Sariska, local people seem to be playing the roles of contractors and middlemen. They are also employed as cashiers and administrators. "Ranges in Sariska are covered with densely forested slopes, home to the tiger and other wildlife and an entire ecosystem. But it is fast dwindling with mining and other commercial activity," he said.

12 October 2010, The Times of India

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When all of Mysore is aglow

With the consolidation of power in 1610 under Raja Wodeyar, the Dasara celebrations and the Vijayadashami procession became a constant feature of the Mysore kingdom. This year marks the 400th year of this great tradition, writes Vikram Sampath

Come September-October, India begins to sway to the chants of the Mother Goddess as the country gears up to celebrate the second Navaratri of the year.

This is the Dakshinayana Navaratri that is celebrated in the inauspicious period of the Hindu calendar, the one that marks the Southern movement of the sun resulting in shorter days and longer nights. Dasara is among the most widely celebrated Hindu festivals and reinforces the pre-historic idea of the worship of the Mother Goddess as the symbol of valour and fertility. But perhaps the roots of this cosmopolitan appeal for the festival come from the edicts of the Bhavishya Purana, the eleventh of the Puranas which states: “Goddess Vindhyavasini Durga should be worshipped by people everywhere- in cities, houses, villages and forests, by joyful and orthodox Brahmins, as well as by Kshatriyas, kings, devoted Vaishyas, Shudras, even the mllecchas (foreigners), dasyus (outcastes), people from Anga, Banga, Kalinga, by Kinnaras and Sakas (Scythians).”

Dasara has thus assumed a pan-Indian appeal and almost consequently each of these groups invoke the Divine Feminine through their own distinct modes of worship, be it animist or pure.

The most potent symbolism of the festival however comes from the Devi Mahatmyam in the Markandeya Purana where the Goddess as Chamundeshwari or Durga, armed with weapons from all the celestial beings, devours the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura after a fierce seven day battle. She has thus been an inspiration for royal military conquests and victories thereby, but also for the ultimate triumph of good over evil which remains the cornerstone of Hindu philosophy. Mythology has it that Yudhistira worshipped Goddess Durga after the incognito period that he and his brothers had to undergo, reclaimed the weapons hidden atop the sacred Sami tree and waged the fierce Kurukshetra war against his tyrannical cousins, the Kauravas. It was the benediction of the Goddess that ultimately secured victory for the Pandavas.

Roots in the Vijayanagara Empire

The Dasara tradition in Mysore has its roots in the Vijayanagara Empire. The accounts of the visiting foreign travellers like Nicolo Conti, Domingo Paes and Abdur Razzaq clearly indicate the predominance of this tradition. Krishnadevaraya had the famous Mahanavami Dibba platform constructed in 1513 after defeating the Gajapatis of Orissa. This became the focal point for festivities on the 10th day of Dasara, Vijayadashami.

Royal processions, musical soirees, dance performances, wrestling bouts, fireworks and animal sacrifices marked the ten-day long festivities. Along with the ritualistic worship of this benefactor of success, the Goddess, Dasara also became an occasion for the Emperor to re-assert his power, display the splendour of the Empire to his citizens and send a message of warning to potential errant rebels.

With the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire, the hitherto feudatories of the Empire like the Nayakas of Tanjore, Madurai, Ikkeri, Ginjee and the Wodeyars of Mysore slowly began asserting their political autonomy in the Deccan.

The Wodeyars inherited several of the cultural traditions of the glorious Empire and Dasara was certainly one of them.

Raja Wodeyar’s contribution

With the consolidation of the Wodeyar power in 1610 under Raja Wodeyar, the Dasara celebrations and the Vijayadashami procession became a constant feature of the Mysore kingdom. Accounts of the times detail the several rituals followed in the Palace on each of the ten days. Govinda Vaidya’s Kanthirava Narasaraja Vijayam sketches a graphic account of the celebrations under the chivalrous Ranadhira Kanthirava Narasaraja Wodeyar.

Quite intrinsically linked with the Dasara tradition of Mysore is the worship of Amaladevathe, the manifestation of Rani Alamelamma.

After being persecuted by Raja Wodeyar for her jewels, Alamelamma, the wife of the Viceroy of Vijayanagara, had ended her life in the Cauvery at Talakad with a terrible curse on her lips condemning the Wodeyars to childlessness. Raja Wodeyar is said to have repented for his misdemeanor and got a bronze stature of hers installed which is worshipped to this day on the Mahanavami. The priests tie a white cloth on their mouths as a symbol of shame and repentance and seldom make eye-contact with the idol.

During Dasara, the swords, the war chariots, royal arms and ammunition, the State horse, the State elephant are all seen as representatives of the Goddess and as being bestowed with Her energy. Hence a worship of all of these as part of the Ayudha Puja was an important ritual.

The Vijayadashami procession on the tenth and last day of the festival was symbolic of the Seemollanghana or crossing of the borders of the Kingdom to acquire new territory. Seated atop a bedecked elephant on a golden howdah, the Jamboo Savari of the Maharaja of Mysore through the thoroughfares of the city was a sight for sore eyes. Music bands and military marches added a dash of colour to this glorious procession. It culminated at the Banni Mantapa with the worship of the Sami tree, once again linking back to the Mahabharata tradition.

The importance of the festival in the cultural psyche of the people of the State could be gauged by the fact that both Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan allowed its continuance, even during the Interregnum period when they usurped Mysore from the Wodeyars. The titular Wodeyar was permitted to carry out the rituals in a low-key fashion.

Post-Independence, the Government of Karnataka too has adopted Dasara as a naada habba or a State festival. But apart from the Palace festivities, true to the edict of the Bhavishya Purana, Dasara has always been a people’s festival, one that resonates with their aspirations and beliefs.

The installation of dolls in all houses and creating decorative scenarios for them has been an un-dated tradition. It perhaps links up to the worship of the Goddess as Kannike, the virgin.

Hence children and their entertainment too form a vital component of this Gombe Puje or dolls worship. Be it the Saraswati Puja to propitiate the Goddess of Learning or the ayudha puja in each home, Dasara continues to be an occasion to thank the eternal life-giving energy of the Mother Goddess and invoking Her in Her many manifestations.

12 October 2010, Deccan Herald

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Discovery of language questioned

Barely a week after two US linguists claimed they uncovered a hidden language in Arunachal Pradesh, an academician based in the frontier state said his post-doctoral work in 2008 dealt extensively with the issue. But Gibji Nimachow would rather not stake any claim to have discovered Koro, which he says is a dialect and not a language as Americans K. David Harrison and Gregory DS Anderson announced.

"To say one has uncovered a language known to many in our reasonably educated state is a bit too much," Nimachow told Hindustan Times. "That is half as ridiculous as turning a dialect into a language."

Anderson is director of Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Salem, US, and arrison is a linguist at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. They said they uncovered Koro during a trip to Arunachal Pradesh in 2008. Their findings will be published in the journal Indian Linguistics.

Nimachow, assistant professor of geography at Rajiv Gandhi University near state capital Itanagar, belongs to the Aka tribe, which is divided into two sub-groups — Hrusso and Koro. Besides, he had researched various aspects of his tribe for his thesis.

Arunachal Pradesh Director (Research) Tage Tada agreed. "I don’t think Koro, or for that matter any dialect or language of Arunachal Pradesh, needs to be discovered," he said.

13 October 2010, Hindustan Times

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250 monuments identified for conservation

The Delhi Government's Department of Archaeology has identified 250 monuments across the Capital for its conservation plan under which it will not only protect these places of historic and tourist interest, but also illuminate them properly to make them centres of attraction. As part of the first phase of the plan, work has been undertaken on 17 monuments.

According to the Department of Archaeology , these monuments have been conserved, protected and illuminated ahead of the Commonwealth Games and as a result have already started attracting a large number of tourists. Work related to the illumination and conservation of these monuments is being personally supervised by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit who has also been visiting them occasionally.

“The monuments have been illuminated by using pre-dominantly metal halide for greater efficiency and long life with lesser electricity consumption. Special care has been taken to avoid visual clutter and for highlighting the architectural details,'' said an official of the Department.

The conservation of these monuments has been done through use of traditional materials like lime, surkhi, badarpur, brick-zeera, gur, belgiri and curd. “Besides, traditional techniques have been used for preparation of lime mortar by grinding it in the lime mortar mill, and for providing special surface finish by providing arayish/lime punning which involves specific preparation of materials,'' the official said.

The chemical preservation has also been carried out by applying specific chemicals in order to remove the black soot, dirt, moss and lichen deposits which had accumulated on the surface of the monuments over time. Some of the monuments have also been beautified by suitable landscaping and lying down pathways to enhance their ambience.

Among the 17 monuments where work has been undertaken in the first phase are Mutiny Memorial/Fateh Garh in Northern Ridge; Turkman Gate at Asaf Ali Road; Gole Gumbad near Lodi Road flyover; Tomb of Bijri Khan at R.K. Puram; Bara Lao Ka Gumbad and Baradari in Vasant Vihar; and the tomb near M.B. Road crossing and Lado Sarai.

The other monuments that have been illuminated by the Department are Mosque of Darwesh Shah, Gulmohar Park; Tomb of Muhammad Quli Khan, Mehrauli Archaeological Park near Qutab Minar; tomb behind National Stadium; Phuta Gumbad adjoining Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium; Maqbara Park at GTK by-pass; turret near Gate No.3, Lodi Garden; mosque near Butterfly Park inside Lodi Garden; mosque and four walls of an enclosed garden with its entrance gateway near Rose Garden inside Lodi Garden; and Munda Gumbad inside Deer Park, Hauz Khas.

According to the Department, the conservation and illumination would highlight that Delhi is a confluence of many visions and dreams, magnificent forts and palaces, splendid temples and mosques, grand mausoleums and lofty towers, all of which are meshed in a unique blend of beauty and design.

The Department officials point out that to protect and conserve the monuments of local importance, the Delhi Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 2004, was enacted by the Delhi Government.

The list of 250 monuments to be conserved or protected in a phased manner that has been prepared by the Department primarily pertains to lesser known monuments. However, they have great historical significance. Since they have deteriorated and were in a dilapidated condition because of lack of preservation and encroachments, the need was felt to restore them to their past glory.

13 October 2010, The Hindu

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Back in time to Ashoka's India

The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library is hosting a special photo exhibition, “Ashoka and the Making of Modern India”, at its Teen Murti House premises here these days.

Highlighting places associated with the Mauryan emperor on the subcontinent, the exhibition has widened its ambit by organising visits to these sites.

A glimpse into Ashoka's life is being presented through half-day heritage tours in the Capital on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The tour is designed bearing in mind domestic and foreign tourists that have flocked to Delhi to watch the Commonwealth Games.

“Our tour titled ‘Afsana-e-Ashoka' covering various locations connected with the Emperor has so far received an overwhelming response. The Ashokan edict at East of Kailash, the in-situ rock edict along an ancient trade and pilgrim route, the Ashokan pillar at Ferozeshah Kotla and the Ashokan pillar at Bara Hindu Rao are being covered. We plan to have these heritage tours every weekend from next week onward,” says Library Director Mridula Mukherjee.

Curated by Professor Janice Leoshko of the Department of Art History at the University of Texas, the exhibition acknowledges the ongoing dialogues of the past with the present, particularly its significance for the newly-independent India.

The exhibition highlights many significant messages of Ashoka that have been found inscribed through South Asia. The King of the Mauryan dynasty was synonymous with the inscriptions that are not simple records. Among the earliest writings in India, the epigraphic texts emphasise Ashoka's views on dharma. They shed light on how he crafted and promoted an ideology of dharma that transcends religion.

Most of the inscriptions have been written in Brahmi script in the eastern or western (Gandhari) dialects of Prakrit. “Although some time after Ashoka's reign these messages could no longer be read, they continued to attract attention, and sometime later rulers added their own inscriptions,” say Museum authorities.

The two-month-long exhibition is being hosted by the Museum in cooperation with the American Institute of Indian Studies and the Center for Art and Archaeology.

13 October 2010, The Hindu

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It’s destination Taj for athletes

They might have been one of the most vocal critics of arrangements in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games but now, the Aussies, the Kiwis, the Scots, and the Canadians can't get enough of “Incredible India”. These countries have been in a majority in the groups of athletes and officials from 71 countries visiting the Taj Mahal on the free train ride to Agra arranged by the Organising Committee with the Indian Railways.

After a lukewarm response to the daylong trip to the Agra in a special train prepared by the railways, the athletes are warming up to the “Taj experience”.

Of the 1,645 athletes that have so far made the trip, almost 1,000 went only in the last two days. And at 113, the Australians have formed the major chunk of visitors from one country.

The Kiwis, the Canadians and the Scots, too, have sent around 70 each of their athletes through the week. The booking list for the next two days also consists of athletes mostly from these countries.

“The monument is awesome, nothing like we have seen anywhere. We also enjoy the scenes on the way to Agra,” said an Aussie athlete at the Commonwealth Games Village.

Officials from smaller countries such as Papua New Guinea, Falkland Islands, Bangladesh, Trinidad and Cyprus have also been taking part in the journey. The trip begins at Safdarjung station at 7 am and culminates and returns at 8 pm after a day-long tour of the historical monuments at Agra.

“The Taj is one of the best brand ambassadors of India. Athletes who are aware of the beautiful monument are keen to experience it. We expect maximum rush now that most of the events have ended,” said Priya Singh Paul, head of Communications at the Organising Committee.

On its part, the railways have give the train a Games look. Consisting of one executive chair car, eight AC chair cars and two luggage and generator car coaches, the Taj Commonwealth Express has been modelled on the Shatabdi Express with new coaches.

“Being the lead partner of the Games, it is a great honour to be taking the athletes to our country's pride — the Taj,” said Manish Tiwari, Northern Railway spokesperson.

13 October 2010, Hindustan Times

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Anatomy of Expression

Dance and temples have an undefined bond; the aesthetic commonalities between temple architecture and the architectures of Indian dance are many. How dance originated, with the incorporation of the immortal sculptures that have designed the pattern of dances, is well known. In dance, of late, the architecture of the temple and ritualistic explorations of its spaces add a third dimension to the dance, for this is something that is worked upon extensively. With many dance productions exploring the aspect of dance and architecture, it seems like we are going back to our roots to find an entirely new meaning to dance.

Temple architecture deserves a holistic view — it is the source of movement in dance. Moving beyond the convention of the temple standing as a symbol of faith, it speaks much more of culturally rich traditions that define myriad movements and signify the various postures, movements and repertoires.

The temple is primarily a structure that stood as a living example of the social, political and economic situations that prevail in society. S. Jayachandran, a Bharatanatyam dancer and assistant professor at Kalakshetra Foundation, Chennai, says there are multiple ways of correlating temple architecture and dance. “Any architectural structure is meant to serve a purpose. Temples have served multiple utilities from being a university (a case in point is Kanchi University) to apartment structures and melting points of exchanging ideas,” says Jayachandran. In this scenario, he places dance with a societal background and explains the role of the dancer as sociological. “Every temple has a ritual specialist. The male ritual specialist is the priest who performs the daily puja while the female ritual specialist would be the dancer. She shows her devotion through dance and music and her body becomes an instrument of communication. She treats God with utter devotion and becomes his female consort. Devadasis would ward off the evil eye from the precincts of the temple and that was one of the core rituals. They would simply dance for God, facing the deity inside the temple,” he elaborates.

Dance is endowed with very different meanings when its history, context, and the times in which it evolved are understood. The movements get a new significance and more than accepting it as pure, rigid tradition, one can decode the pattern easily. “I simply felt more confident as I went about exploring the relation between dance and temple architecture. The historical aspects help you understand the choreography of traditional items in a much easier way. I wanted to investigate further and discover why some movements are designed in a particular fashion and the cobwebbed perceptions about such aspects were brushed away when I went back to the temples,” says Jayachandran.

The placement of dance matters the most and plays a significant role in the way movements are structured. The mandap or the stage where a dancer performs makes much of a difference. Earlier the king would sit at a height above the ground and watch the dancer perform from there. And the dancer would be in centre watched upon by the audience on three sides. But the dynamics are different today. The stage that a dancer performs on is at a greater height above the audience and most of the times the dancer only has to face the audience from one side. Earlier one would have a dancing arena where the dancer would face audience from three sides or all the four. The dancing courtyard in a king’s palace would be surrounded by audience from three sides. “Temple space goes much beyond the metaphysical aspect. I feel it is the best form of a codified, planned management organisation,” says Jayachandran.

Surupa Sen, an Odissi exponent who conceptualised and choreographed “Sacred Space”, a dance production that explored the journey from outside of the temple to inside. Along with an architect Surupa studied the spaces of the temple, inside and the outside. “A temple for me stands as a foundation for human body. It stands as a journey of an individual. The outer space of a temple is ornamental with elaborate décor and sculpted beauty and as one proceeds to the most divine, one realises the purity and sheer contrast of the inside and outside. It’s shedding about all inhibitions, all ego and gaining pure consciousness,” says Surupa.

She draws an analogy with the traditional repertoire in Odissi by starting off with an invocation and moving onto a lyrical piece and tracing the journey of architecture. The last piece is Moksha invoking the Gods and surrendering oneself to the Lord. “Hinduism is an inclusive religion and it incorporated Jainism, Buddhism and all of these religions. And Indian architecture is a repository of all these traditions and faiths,” says Surupa. “For me personally the temple represents a person’s journey as a symbol of faith and expression. It is the physical expression of the inner aspiration to merge with the infinite,” she adds further.

A research by British architect Adam Hardy looks into the correspondence between a temple and dance, which is a form of artistic expression. He studies how temple goes beyond an expression of movement and seems to be progressing on the patterns of growth in multiple directions. One of the common grounds is bringing about a thought process and understanding the significance of traditional choreography which can channelise into innovative forms of creativity.

Madhu Natraj, well-known Kathak and contemporary dancer choreographed a piece for the Purana Qila festival by studying the iconographical aspect of the Persian and Hindu culture. She says, “I look at the philosophy of the space by studying its architectural meaning which is then conceptualised and interpreted through dance. Dance for me would be an architectural extension in this context. The geometry and the foundation of a temple space is an extremely important aspect,” says Natraj.

14 October 2010, The Asian Age

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CM infuses life... in lesser known monuments of Delhi

The glorious 5,000-year-old history of Delhi is best testified by the numerous monuments which adorn the landscape of the city. These architectural wonders are the real legacy of the past and give a glimpse of the architectural grandeur and artistic excellence achieved during the glorious history of Delhi. Several of these historical monuments have been given a facelift and illuminated for the Commonwealth Games, giving tourists a glimpse of our rich cultural past.

The rich cultural heritage of Delhi gets best manifested through the beautiful monuments that have been dotting the landscape of the city since ages. Delhi's historical monuments give a glimpse of the architectural grandeur and artistic excellence achieved during the glorious history of Delhi. Each heritage building has its own story to narrate as one walks down the city roads. From the ruins of Indraprastha to the architectural marvels constructed for Commonwealth Games, Delhi has inherited a rich legacy in terms of art, architecture and culture. Jama Masjid, Turkman Gate, Lodi Garden, Mutiny Memorial, Tomb of Bijri Khan, Gol Gumbad, Safdarjung Tomb, Quli Khan's Tomb, Mosque of Darwesh Shah, the list is endless and their popularity immense. Many of the beautiful monuments of Delhi have been declared world heritage sites also. These include Humayun's Tomb, Qutub Minar and its monuments and the Red Fort complex.

The glorious 5,000 years old history of Delhi is best testified by the numerous monuments which adorn the landscape of the city. These monuments have on one hand witnessed the many bygone eras and now they are ready to see the ever-increasing stature of the city. These architectural wonders are the real legacy of the past. Throughout the chequered history of Delhi many kings and emperors came from outside and established their own townships giving rise to the composite culture of Delhi. The ruins of these ancient and medieval cities can be seen at Indraprastha, Lal Kot, Quila Rai Pithora, Siri, Jahanpanah, Tughlakabad, Firozabad, Dinpanah and Shahjahanabad. The remains of the buildings prove that Delhi has always been intrinsically identified with power and imperial sway throughout its history. And now as we compete to make a mark in the world, these souvenirs come as our biggest advantage. What has further enhanced the popularity of historical monuments are the cultural events that are being organized here from time to time. Purana Qila, Qutab Minar Complex, Red Fort are known for their musical evenings and light and sound shows. Infact Qutab Minar is the second most visited site in the country after Taj Mahal. Several historical monuments have been given a facelift and illuminated for the Commonwealth Games, giving tourists a glimpse of our rich cultural past.

Undoubtedly, being a repository of diverse cultures Delhi is truly a city with rich legacy, vibrant future and mysterious eternity.

 
14 October 2010, The Times of India

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Heritage bodies ensure city’s monuments shine on

The Capital’s monuments, specially illuminated for the ongoing Commonwealth Games, have been silently attracting foreign and domestic visitors. This, thanks to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the state Department of Archaeology efforts to light up the heritage structures.

The ASI and Archaeology department have illuminated 28 monuments that fall on the routes of the Games venues. The Lodhi Garden tombs, Gol Gumbad near Lodhi Road, Purana Quila, Sher Shah Gate and Sabz Burz in Nizamuddin, to name a few, have attracted the attention of most passersby. The ASI had roped in the India Tourism Development Corporation to illuminate a total of 14 monuments, while the Archaeology department commissioned the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to conserve and illuminate 14 others.

The 14 monuments (which include 18 heritage structures) illuminated by INTACH use softer LED lights highlighting the features of each monument. A G K Menon, convenor, INTACH told Newsline, “The lighting has been sensitively designed so that the features of the monuments are highlighted. The colour of lights is different for different monuments and in keeping with the old stone used in the monument.”

The INTACH has roped in lighting expert Manav Bhargav, who runs Mandala Designers, for the project. A look inside the monument’s structure through the ‘jaalis’ will reveal interiors highlighted with a different shade. “We have used loud as well as cold lights to match the look of the monuments’ structure. The LED lights are softer on the monument and instead of falling flat, carefully highlight the features well. They also consume less electricity,” Menon added. The ASI on the other hand, though initially running behind schedule, managed to light up 14 significant monuments. They are Purana Quila, Sher Shah Gate and Masjid, Khairul Manzil, Subz Burz, Shakri Gumti and Chhoti Gumti in Green Park, Dadi Poti in Green Park, Khan-e-Khana and Barakhamba in Nizamuddin, Safdarjung Tomb, Najaf Khan Tomb in Jorbagh and Kotla Feroz Shah, all of which feature prominently on the venue routes.

The monuments will continue to be illuminated even after the Games are over and with the surroundings of the heritage structures also being specially landscaped, these are expected to continue to attract attention. “A lot of money has been invested to arrange special fixtures and now the monuments lend a different look to the entire city. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, in a meeting, has rightly said she chose to work on the monuments as they are the best example of public art installations in the Capital,” Menon said.

14 October 2010, The Indian Express

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India's freedom struggle told through puppets & shadow

Turn the pages back. There are tales of courage, sacrifice and heroic death in our freedom struggle. Depicting the lives of some unsung heroes Madam Bhikaji Cama, Matangini Hazra of the Indian independence movement is a docu-drama using puppets and shadow, recently performed by the Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML).

Kuch Unkhule Panne: Some Unopened Pages is part of a host of activities, including nature walks, exhibitions and cycle walks organized by NMML to run along with the Commonwealth Games.

Commissioned by Sangeet Natak Akademi for the celebration of 150 years of the First War of Independence in 1857, Kuch Unkhule Panne was first performed in 2008. "The idea was to talk about the unsung heroes of the freedom movement, those who don't feature much in our daily lives,'' says director Anurupa Roy.

Different factors influenced the choice of freedom fighters for the show. "We chose Bhikaji Rustom Cama because there's a huge office complex called Bhikaji Cama Place. We take the Ring Road all the time but many people we asked had no clue who she was,'' says Roy.

For the show they use an interesting combination of puppets, shadow and projections. They also use rare photographs from the NMML archives for the biopics. The hunt was quite a job. There were plenty of photos of Bhikaji Cama at the archives for she came from a wealthy family and had her photos clicked on many occasions.

"For the others, there were either 'wanted' photos or 'dead' photos,'' says Roy. They went with rare photos of marches and rallies and every freedom-movement chronicler's last resort images of Gandhi. Madam Cama would hoist the Flag of Indian Independence red, yellow and green in 1907 in Berlin.

Matangini Hazra was included because she was old in her 60s when she joined the freedom movement. As the show informs, Matangini was called Gandhi Budi or Budi Gandhi Mahila by folk. And finally, Roy and her team chose Surya Sen as they wanted a true-blue revolutionary who wasn't a Gandhian. "His trial is very famous as it was completely fudged and we wanted to show the torture he faced in jail,'' explains Roy.

Sen's time in jail is probably one of the longest parts in the entire show; on stage, the scene of Sen having his tongue pulled out with a set of pliers for constantly repeating Vande Mataram is performed in shadow but is no less disturbing for that a quiet hiss goes around the audience. For the biographies, they use a mix of narration, photographs, shadow play, reading from documents and newspaper clippings.

Show over, one girl in the audience shouts "very well done'' and most of the audience a bunch of kids and their guardians crowd to the stage on Roy's invitation to inspect the puppets. She uses a string-puppet for Bhikaji Cama, a rod puppet she herself operates with two others for Matangiri Hazra and another rod puppet for Surya Sen except, in this case, it is used as a dummy and that only for a few seconds as it suddenly shoots up vertically to nearly touch the stage's roof depicting a hanging.

14 October 2010, The Times of India

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Lucknow becomes new destination for memorials

Lucknow famous for culture, etiquette and literature in the entire world, besides being Capital of the State is now known as the new destination for memorials in Independent India. A large number of tourists used to visit Lucknow for Imambaras built by Nawabs. But, a new transformation is becoming apparent in Lucknow today. A new skyline has emerged here, which has created a niche in the world.

Chief Minister has constructed memorials, museum, statues and parks in the memory of saints, gurus and great men who sacrificed their lives to establish society based on equality changing the unequal social system. These memorials, museum, statues and parks are unique examples of architecture, which reveal the soul of Indian culture and different dimensions of construction art. Besides, several projects are being completed in a speedy manner with a view to developing infrastructure facilities in Lucknow, owing to which the Capital of the largest State of the country has been transformed. Such an example is difficult to find throughout the country.

At present, a large number of people visit Lucknow in order to see the memorials, museums, parks etc. from the different corners of the country. These memorials constructed in the honour of great men who took birth in Dalit and backward sections of the country from time to time, have become the symbol of faith and self-pride of crores of people of deprived sections of the country. The people of Sarvjan Samaj feel pride on visiting these memorials. Besides, these memorials and parks have emerged as the new centres of attraction for other tourists visiting the historic buildings of Nawabi age. People in large numbers visit these memorials daily.

It may be recalled that Hon'ble Chief Minister had dedicated to the people Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal Dwar, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar Vihar, Samtamulak Chowk, Samajik Parivartan Gallery, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar Smarak Drishya Sthal, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Pratibimb Sthal, Samajik Parivartan Sangrahalaya, Manyawar Shri Kanshiram ji Smarak Sthal on June 25 last year.

All of these memorials are unique from architectural point of view. The dome of Manyawar Sri Kanshiram ji Smarak Sthal is the largest dome of country, the construction of which is a unique example of engineering. Similarly, both domes of Samajik Parivartan Sangrahalaya are recognised as the specific achievements of engineering and architecture today.

Besides, Bauddh Vihar Shanti Upvan was also dedicated to the people on June 25 last. All of these places have become important destinations of faith and tourism today.

The citizens of Lucknow were continuously feeling the necessity of a large and magnificent green eco-garden at the central place of Lucknow. Keeping this in view, the development of Manyawar Sri Kansiram ji has been started in the midst of Lucknow city. After the completion of green eco-garden, it would be a unique, splendid and magnificent garden not only in the country but the entire world.

Now, Lucknow is ready to welcome the tourists with its new identity.

14 October 2010, The Pioneer

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Cursory Glance

In the essay, “Temple Terracottas of Bengal”, published in the Illustrated Weekly of India(November 25, 1951), the artist, Mukul Dey (1895–1989), writes, “Thousands of Siva, Vaishnava and Kali temples are scattered all over Birbhum. They are built of brick, sand and lime plaster.... Most of these temples lie in ruins. But in many of them still remain beautiful specimens of baked clay terracottas depicting figure compositions in decorative panels.”

A student of Santiniketan during Rabindranath’s days, Dey was one of the earliest documenters of Birbhum’s temple architecture, much of which is still unknown. Dey took photographs of the temples he visited. Since many of the temples no longer stand, these pictures are the sole reminders of an architecture that was becoming derelict even in Dey’s time. It is good to know that the Santiniketan Chapter of the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage has taken up the task of documenting the archeological sites of Birbhum. MONUMENTS AROUND SANTINIKETAN (Shubhi, Rs 995), edited by Pialee Mukherjee, gives a “cursory glimpse” of some of the sites documented between 2001 and 2004. The short write-ups accompanying the colour and black-and-white plates give readers a fair idea of the legends associated with the sites, as well as of their historical importance.

Part one of the book, entitled “Santiniketan: Abode of the Poet”, is about the buildings in Santiniketan that carry the imprimatur of Rabindranath’s vision. Top right is “Shyamali”, that stands beside the Konarka at the far end of the Uttarayana complex. This house, on which Rabindranath had composed a poem, was one of his favourites. It is unique in its mud walls, its façade reminiscent of Buddhist chaityas, and the reliefs, three of which were made by Ramkinkar Baij.

Top left is the Gauranga Mahaprabhu temple in Hattala, Illambazar. The 24 columns and the octagonal roof give the temple an unusual appearance. The outer wall of the temple is decorated with terracotta plaques depicting scenes from the Ramayan and Krishnalila. The panel on bottom left, featuring long-robed Arabian Muslims and European Christians wearing high hats, is from the Hatakali temple in Itanda.

Bottom middle is the famous black stone Durga of Deuli. In 1560, Kalapahar, the Hindu general of Sultan Suleman Karnani, had broken the nose of the figure and demolished the temple, which was later reconstructed. On bottom right are two of the four Char temples of Panchra that have white and black Shiva lingas.

While Intach should be lauded for its efforts to document, and so, in a way, preserve the sites, it could have paid better attention to the design of this book. Most of the pictures are of poor quality, and have been cropped badly. Notwithstanding space constraints, photographs placed side-by-side that eat into each other’s space cannot quite add to a book’s aesthetic appeal.

15 October 2010, The Telegraph

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Desert extravaganza

From folk music festivals to plush resorts, Jodhpur is about a magical experience, says Amrit Dhillon”

There have always been good reasons to visit Jodhpur — the spectacular Mehrangarh Fort, the desert, and the Walled City. But in October there is another: the Jodhpur RIFF or Rajasthan International Folk Festival celebrating Indian and international folk music.

This annual festival is timed to coincide with the brightest full moon of the year in north India. The combination of a full moon and the venue of Mehrangarh Fort, voted Asia’s Best Fortress by Time magazine and called ‘the work of giants’ by Rudyard Kipling, cannot be beaten for beauty and atmosphere.

For five glorious days from October 21-25, 150 musicians and performing artists will bring the fort alive, the sound of their music wafting down the cliff to the city sprawled out below. You need to book rooms fast, though, because the city’s hotels are filling up.

Fortunately, as I saw during my visit in September, there are some fabulous new additions such as Raas, located inside the Walled City and Mihirgarh, an Arabian Nights-style fantasy fortress a short drive away in the ‘desert’. I use apostrophe marks because, thanks to this year’s bounteous monsoon, the land has turned from usual dry scrub into a lush green.

Like a doctor delicately inserting a stent, one of Jodhpur’s gilded youths, the former polo player Nikhilendra Singh, has tucked Raas, a luxurious boutique hotel, into a crevice of the Walled City. Singh bought a 150-year-old haveli lying in ruins at the foot of Mehrangarh Fort, restored it and added rooms, restaurants and a pool using local materials that mesh perfectly with the original structures. It’s a striking juxtaposition of international chic with antiquity.
From the entrance, you approach a narrow, high walled passage that reminded me of the long narrow gorge at Petra that opens out into the famous Treasury.

At Raas, the passage opens out onto a Mughal garden and there, right in front of you, is the fort standing on its rocky escarpment. The balcony of every room has this spectacular view and it’s a view that made my heart dance with delight.

Right outside the hotel is the Walled City which hums with life. In a five minute stroll around the sprawling bazaar under the famous Clock Tower, I saw a pile of bulbous clay pots that artist Subodh Gupta would be proud of, a bangle maker using hot coals and tools dating back five generations, an ‘Elephant Man’ striding along challenging anyone to stare at him, and a man selling antique locks whose side business — his roadside stall displays two hand-painted smiles — is dentures.

The fort is the greatest of India’s desert forts and is probably one of the best-maintained monuments in India. The Museum has a gift shop and a café and there is plenty to see inside — gilt palanquins and bejewelled daggers. Avoid a guide and take the excellent audio tour. The Museum not only displays elephant howdahs, weapons, costumes and rare textiles but also some of the world’s finest miniature paintings. Children will love the armouries and dungeons.

The view of the city from the fort is sublime. Jodhpur’s name, the Blue City, comes from the blue houses of Brahmins that shimmer in the sunshine following a monsoon shower. Standing high above the city, I could see children on the rooftops flying kites. From the mosques came the haunting sound of the azan.

In the horizon stands Umaid Bhawan, an art deco palace of red sandstone that can rival the greatest of European cathedrals in its lofty grandeur. Staying here is only for the super-rich but if you can afford a meal in the restaurant Pillars, it’s worth it for the views of the immense gardens.

The other great appeal of Jodhpur is that, after a mere 10-minute drive, you can be out in the countryside having tea with members of the Bishnoi tribe.

Known as ‘the world’s first environmentalists’ owing to their love of wild animals and protection of the environment, the Bishnois are now famous. Any number of travel agents will be able to organise tours to Bishnoi villages where you can ride on camels and see black buck antelopes.

The antelopes (now a protected species) trust the Bishnois so much that they stay close to their villages knowing they will come to no harm. Arjun Ram Bishnoi and his splendidly bejewelled wife Devi, showed me a black buck antelope grazing near their hut.

As we chatted later, drinking masala tea, the laconic Arjun stroked the goat which lives inside his hut with his family and remarked: “Some animals give you more love than your own children.”

Drive another 30 minutes from the Bishnoi villages and the desert proper begins and this is a magical experience. The sense of a raw, rugged, dusty vastness is thrilling. The Rohet Garh Wilderness Camp is run by Sidharth Singh who owns Rohet Garh, the palace where the late writer Bruce Chatwin spent six months writing The Songlinesin1985 before this feudal estate was turned into a hotel.

Madonna and Guy Ritchie were more recent visitors. Singh, an accomplished horseman, was impressed with Madonna’s stamina; she rode 30km a day on the Marwari desert breed of horse, which Singh is working to protect against extinction. The Wilderness Camp is six tents on a sand dune in the Thar Desert. At night, there is nothing but silence, moonlight, infinity, stars and a soft breeze.

Singh and his wife Rashmi have just opened another resort, a fortress made of mud on a high sand dune at the desert’s edge from where, as far as the eye can see, there is no human or animal life, just a vast open plain stretching into the horizon.

Mihirgarh, or Sun Fortress, boasts all the accoutrements one expects of a luxury establishment but also celebrates the crafts of Jodhpur. Virtually every single object in the nine palatial suites has been hand-made by Jodhpur artisans. It is part rustic Rajasthan with its divans and cushioned niches carved into the mud walls in the rooms, courtyards, terraces and balconies, and part ultra-cool contemporary chic.

Reclining by the pool on the terrace, I watched the sun set over the wilderness. All was tranquility and stillness. It felt like a dreamscape. Then, as an attendant appeared to replenish my Darjeeling and Madeleine, I realised it was real. What a relief.

READY RECKONER

Getting there: From Calcutta you can fly to Jodhpur via Delhi. The nearest railhead is the Jodhpur Railway Station. Jodhpur is about 589km by road from Delhi.

Staying there: Accommodation is available to suit all budgets. Expect to shell out Rs 15,500 per night for a double room at Raas. Mail to reservations@raasjodhpur.com

16 October 2010, The Telegraph

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Dredging on to restore glory of Dal Lake

A dredging project was carried out in the Dal Lake as part of the state government’s efforts to restore its pristine glory, a spokesman said here today.

About five hectares inside the water body was dredged by sophisticated machines this year. Also nearly 2.56 lakh square metres skimming was cleared by two water masters and three other machines, he said. The manual cleaning of the lake, a star attraction for tourists visiting the Valley, was badly affected due to the unrest.

The spokesman said Minister of State for Tourism Nasir Aslam Wani took stock of the cleaning and dredging of the lake yesterday. He also directed the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) to speed up the manual cleaning by engaging the maximum number of labourers in shifts.#

The minister also called for activating the technical wing of the LAWDA to take the maximum work from the deweeding machines round the clock to clear the worst patches of the lake, the spokesman added.

16 October 2010, Tribune

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An ancient story carved in stone

For over two years, traditional artisans from Dholpur in Rajasthan — with knowledge of an art passed down through the ages — have been working at Humayun's Tomb

Sixty-year-old Atar Singh no longer has to go around supervising over the other artisans as they polish, cut and carve intricate designs on the red sandstone. The light drizzle or even the visitors at the Humayun's Tomb are no distraction for the stone-cutters as they work tirelessly under blue plastic tents. Over the last two years, the stone-cutters — traditional artisans from Dholpur district in Rajasthan — have been working at Humayun's Tomb, taking only a brief break during the harvest season, when they go back to their villages.

At a time when Indian conservationists are arguing in favour of reconstructing crumbling heritage structures instead of preserving them as ruins, artisans like Atar Singh have been their strong point in this debate. While most countries across the globe no longer have traditional workers left to reconstruct and restore heritage structures, India still has people whose forefathers worked on monuments and passed on the knowledge to them.

But, says Singh, today the youth in Singh's village, Donari, and also neighbouring villages--Saipu, Santnagar, Sehejpur, Badi--want to learn how to work on computers in air-conditioned offices than on stone out in the open. “But the knowledge of this art will never be lost. There are still a large number of young boys in the villages who are being taught to work on stone. There were a few elders in the village who taught us, and now we teach the next generation,” says Singh.

But the stone work taught in the villages is mostly crude, and it is only here that experts from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture conduct training workshops to polish their traditional skills before they start replicating the jaalis and pillars, using traditional tools and building techniques that were used 500 years ago while Humayun's Tomb was being built.

It is a straight eight-hour work schedule, after which the workers usually hangout at neighbouring markets, the weekly Bhogal bazaar being their favourite haunt. Bishnu, 20, from Ganeshra village and Ajay, 19, from Dholpur, the youngest in the team, say they don't really miss home. “It has been just a year that we came to Delhi and we quite like it here. We are trainees and are learning to cut and carve the stones,” says Bishnu.

The work is not easy. Though some designs are similar, the size and shape of each slab or pillar is different. The measurements are given by on-site architects, while the practised hands of the stone-utters are quick to draw and carve out.

Singh says it is not easy to find work that calls for such skills. The project at Humayun's Tomb has been a steady source of income and also an opportunity to keep the art alive. The AKTC conducts special workshops during the summer months for the younger children and family members of the artisans.

17 October 2010, The Indian Express

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In the heritage hot seat

From agriculture to culture is a long haul even for a battle scarred bureaucrat. But CV Ananda Bose who took the hot seat as the first administrator of the long-forsaken National Museum, says he means to take it one day at a time.

"My mandate is to get the museum back on the rails and I have a wealth of recommendations from experts on what needs to be done," says Bose who has set himself a target of 100 days, starting Friday, 15th October, to spruce up the housekeeping.

There are problems galore. A staggering 109 posts lie vacant. Given its size and treasures — 20,000 artefacts, of which only some are on display for lack of manpower — the museum could do with all the staff it can get. Twenty of the museum's 27 sections are open to the public. The building has structural problems, especially leakage. For a long time now, the museum has been headed by a joint secretary in the ministry of culture. The last bureaucrat to head the institution was Dr V S Madan, a joint secretary in the ministry who held additional charge as the director general of the National Museum. The lack of a dedicated head has meant no long-term vision for a long time.

The effects are there to see. Digitisation, which is absolutely imperative for the conservation of rare and precious manuscripts, has yet to happen.The signage is old and unhelpful. Visitors pretty much have to fend for themselves. There are issues of humidity and temperature control that need looking into.

However, what is perhaps most depressing is the museum's take-it-or-leave-it air. It simply does not reach out and engage with visitors. "The museum has to become a focus for cultural exchange and we definitely need outreach programmes to interest people in its activities," says Bose. Recently, it tried to do so during the just-concluded Commonwealth Games with an exhibition of artefacts that dealt with sports.

The ministry of culture, of which the prime minister is in charge, had been looking for a professional museologist to head the institution. Having drawn a blank, it appointed Bose, with sole charge of the museum, and as an administrator. The search for a professional continues in the meantime.

Bose says he is not rattled. "I refuse to get intimidated by any assignment. I take a while to understand how I can get it done in the shortest possible time and then proceed to do it. I am open to advice from domain experts," he says.
He is no stranger to controversy. His last posting as managing director of the corruption-prone NAFED was fraught with confrontation. Just months ago, he was arbitrarily sacked by the federation's boards, which are mainly made up of politicians. He was accused of misusing funds. The agriculture ministry reinstated him barely a week later, clearing his name and reaffirming his mandate to clean up the NAFED stables.

"I seem to be the obvious choice for problem posts," quips Bose who continues to head the Kochi based Coconut Development Board. But the bureaucrat is not all that alien to the world of heritage. With a doctorate in habitat technology and environment from BITS, he had steered the low cost housing project in Kerala, Nirmitee Kendra, using vernacular architectural techniques.

17 October 2010, The Times of India

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World Heritage tag for nine locations?

Nine locations of the Western Ghats region in the State are being proposed to be declared as World Heritage Sites.

The river valleys of Bhadra, Sharavati, including Jog Falls are being proposed to be included in the list prepared by the Western Ghats Task Force. Also on the list is Kudremukh-Agumbe-Somes- hwara cluster, Bedthi and Kali river valleys in Uttara Kannada district and Khanapur forest region of Belgaum.

An effective policy will be promoted aiming at the conservation of bio-diversity in all these regions along with participation of local communities, who would have responsibility and as well as share in financial benefits emerging out of eco-tourism and any other eco-friendly activities in the region.

18 October 2010, Deccan Herald

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Remains of the day

Nidgal, once called Kalanjana Giri, Kalanjana Durga and Neelavathi was a prosperous town and a capital under the Gangas, Nolambas, Hoysalas, Cholas, Mysore Wodeyars and Sultans, writes M B Sadashivaiah

Nidgal Betta, with its relics and ruins including many crumbling structures, has much to offer to historians, researchers, tourists, trekkers and archaeologists. Also, it is home to some rare species of flora and fauna.

This hill with a lot of historic significance is at a distance of 25 kms from Pavagada, labelled as a backward taluk, in the district of Tumkur. The Nidgal Fort area, once called Kalanjana Giri, Kalanjana Durga and Neelavathi was a prosperous town and a capital under the reign of the Gangas, Nolambas, Hoysalas, Cholas, Mysore Wodeyars and Sultans. Following the decline of the Vijayanagara empire, the Amara Nayakas or Palegars who came to prominence ruled this province either as independent chieftains or as tributaries till 1798 with Veera Thimmanna Nayaka as the last Palegar.

Architectural beauty

Standing tall in the midst of a nearly 60-km radius of mountain ranges, the hill with its unique fort, makes for a grand picture. The huge fort, built with heavy-sized stones, has seven portals with stone idols of door keepers (dwarapalakas) carved on either side. The rest houses and the stone mantapas all reflect the military readiness of the then rulers. The citadel has innumerable caves and underground passages for safety. Nidgal is home to many architectural marvels with carvings on stone pillars which portray wild animals like lions, wolves, elephants, bears, serpents etc. You can also spot engravings of rishis in meditative postures, chariots in a drawn position and other innumerable designs which all tell tales of yore. At every hundred yards, you will spot a temple or a basadi with many stone edicts inside them that speak about the builder or the donor of the same. Nidgal is a land of countless number of temples of multiple gods and goddesses of Shaiva and Vaishnava sects.

Apart from architectural wonders such as temples and forts, the region also has Jain basadis and masjids, all in a dilapidated state with moss growing all over and haunted by bats. A few prominent places of worship that have been renovated with prayers being held even today are the Lakshminarasimha Swamy temple, Veerabhadra Swamy temple and Parshwanatha Jaina basadi. On the last Monday of Shravana, the entire hill is full of pilgrims and tourists who throng every temple and make a beeline to the peak of the hill.

However, mutilated stone idols of Nandi, the peetas of Shivalinga, Hanuman and other snake stones strewn across the thorny bushes on either side of the paths make for a sorry spectacle. At every hundred steps that lead to the summit, you can spot water bodies, some small, some large, some dried up and some with stagnant water covered with bushes, plants and creepers. Today’s Nidgal area has two tiny hamlets where people still follow the traditional type of agriculture and cultivate ragi, jowar, flowers and vegetables on small plots. Water is supplied to these fields from the century old wells by way of the picotta system. Cattle and sheep rearing provide another means of livelihood to poor farmers who find themselves answering curious questions from travellers and passers-by about local history.

Panoramic views of landscape

While scaling the hill, at every step, you will be treated to beautiful panoramic views of the landscape below and the hill scape around. The ruined fort palace with eroded granite structures, rusting canon that remain at the top have all seen better and glorious days. The rich flora and fauna of the deciduous forest here presents another attraction to the visitor. Though rain dependent, the region has large, tall trees of many varieties making it a region of dense vegetation. The landscape is interspersed with wild flowers of myriad colours making it picture postcard pretty. Wildlife like the cheetah, wolf, bear, rabbit, peacock abound in this forest. In spite of centuries of enemy invasions in the past and decades of aggressive treasure hunters raiding the area, Nidgal Fort still stands. It is an area of immense tourist potential, and need to developed along the line of Hampi.
 
19 October 2010, Deccan Herald

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Open up our treasure chests

It is heartening to see that the Ministry of Culture, presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and administered by Secretary Jawahar Sircar, is actively considering amending the 1972 Act on Antiquities. Few laws have borne such bitter fruit as the Indian Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972, ushering in a Dark Age for the heritage it sought to protect. What prompted the then Government to enact this legislation was to prevent smuggling and help develop public interest in our heritage. The time has come honestly to appraise its effects.

The Act has destroyed legitimate domestic trade in antiquities, thereby making smuggling an attractive option. Its onerous provisions for registration (requires registering of objects more than 100 years old, 75 years in the case of textiles, with details of the purchaser, seller, price, origin of the piece along with photo documentation) and licensing have made antiquities a no-go area, to the extent that even scholarship and research into our heritage has gone into sharp decline. The chickens are now coming home to roost. The Government cannot find scholars of repute to head its museums and their specialised departments. More than 50 per cent of all our public museums (including the National Museum), home to the bulk of the nation’s artistic patrimony, are headless.

Art and art scholarship depend on patronage and a lively market place. It requires a network of collectors, dealers and scholars to authenticate individual pieces, guide collectors and educate the public. The Act destroyed this network, the complexities of registration and possibility of prosecution deterring collectors. No collection of any significance has been formed since 1972, in sharp contrast to the numerous collections between 1947 and 1972. The licensing of dealers and the requirement of a detailed inventory for each object drove the trade underground. I am told there are only two dealers who ever took a licence.

The study of antiquities also withered. The story of the two auction houses which attempted to revive domestic trade in Indian antiques is well-known. Sotheby’s in 1992 and Bowring’s in 2004 were auctioning registered pieces. The CBI and Archaeological Survey of India hounded them, forcing them to close shop. Bowring’s case is still under adjudication after it won in the High Court but the ASI chose to file an appeal in the Supreme Court.

The Antiquities Act was flawed in its scope and ambition. No distinction is made between humble art objects and works of art of high value. In the event, only a small proportion of the total was actually registered. The registration papers are scattered all over the country, often misplaced, requiring owners to re-register their collections.

The Indian contemporary art scene is fuelled by the new rich. Galleries, curators and auctions have mushroomed while prices have been benchmarked. The trading value of contemporary art runs into thousands of crores. There is, however, no means of evaluating the price of an Indian antique.

China, which destroyed its own priceless heritage during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, has realised the importance of its inheritance. We, who are envious of its economic track record, should be equally so of what it is doing to protect its heritage. Its museums are now world-class. Though it has a ban on antique exports, China has opened up its domestic market. Chinese antiques are being sold to China’s new rich at prices higher than in Western salerooms. Foreigners owning valuable Chinese artworks are increasingly selling these through Chinese auction houses. India’s new rich, like their Chinese counterparts, have the appetite and resources to buy heritage art. My estimate is that benchmark valuations will grow exponentially once the competitive urge to acquire takes hold of rich Indians.

The Indian Antiquities and Art Treasures Act was passed during the heyday of the licence raj, an era brought to its end by none other than Dr. Manmohan Singh. It would be in the fitness of things if he could now free antiquities from the clutches of the bureaucracy with similar beneficial effects. Antiquities must once again become objects to cherish, not shun.

Suresh Neotia is Chairman, Ambuja Cement Foundation and art collector. The views expressed by the author are personal
 

20 October 2010, Hindustan Times

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Booklets & brochures hardsell Delhi delights

The Commonwealth Games proved to be a watershed moment for tourism in Delhi. Recently introduced booklets and pamphlets like Metro map, tourist guide, bed & breakfast directory, hop-on-hop-off guide and monument-specific literature are not only helping foreign tourists but also making it easier for Delhiites to know their city better.

Introduced by the tourism department during the Games, over two lakh copies of the booklets have already been printed. The information brochures and booklets have been made available at the airport, hotels, Metro stations, monuments and at over one hundred tourism kiosks.

''We want to tell about Delhi to as many people as possible. We gave over 15,000 brochures to OC so that they can reach athletes and dignitaries,'' said Delhi tourism MD Reena Ray.

Encouraged by the initial response, the tourism department is planning new brochures on the flora and fauna in Delhi and specific guides for popular monuments like Red Fort and Qutub Minar. ''Soon, we will give out information guides on parks in Delhi. They will have information on bio-diversity rich areas and Delhi ridge. A detailed series on how to explore monuments is also in the offing,'' added Ray. Officials said the booklets will be updated regularly.

International cities like London, Paris and Rome are known for distributing informative pamphlets for tourists. ''The feedback we've received told us that the literature from these cities are considered the best in the world and we wanted something like that in Delhi. The Games gave us an opening to introduce these brochures to the public,'' said an official.

A major objective of these booklets is to make visitors at tourist destinations independent and not fall victim to touts. ''Touts are a problem especially at monuments, but they are there because most visitors generally require guidance. It is the same in the case of tour operators, they will take you for shopping and eating only where they earn a commission. Family based tourism is our objective and through the information brochures, you can make your own decisions on where to eat, visit and shop,'' said tourism officials.
 

20 October 2010, Times of India

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ASI's objections delay three parking projects

There seems to be no end to the city's parking woes. Out of the three new multi-level automatic parking lots that were to come up in the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) area before the Commonwealth Games, not even one is ready. To make things worse, the much-publicised, multi-level parking lot on Kasturba Gandhi (KG) Marg might not take off at all, according to sources.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has still not granted approval to the KG Marg parking lot, even though the NDMC has provided the ASI all the approvals required for granting permission.

While two multi-level parking lots were supposed to come up at Baba Kharak Singh (BKS) Marg and KG Marg, the other one was to be constructed in Sarojini Nagar.

The ASI had refused to grant permission to the NDMC for the proposed automated multi-level parking lot at KG Marg, as it falls within 300 metres of a centrally-protected monument - Agrasen Ki Baoli.

Besides, ASI had raised objections to the parking site's height too.

"We had got all relevant clearances from concerned agencies, including the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC). The digging work had also begun,” said a senior NDMC official.

“But after the government passed an amendment, envisaging a total ban on construction in the prohibited area of ASI-protected monuments, the ASI has now asked us to stop construction work," the official added.

After completion, the 6,219-sq ft parking lot was to hold 1,582 cars.

"In view of the recent amendment to the Act, we have not given permission for the multi-level parking on KG Marg, as it falls within 300 metres of the ASI-protected Agrasen Ki Baoli," said a senior ASI official.

As per the amendment, a National Monument Authority is to be formed, which would give requisite permissions.

The NDMC is now worried that the project might be scrapped, as the ASI will take a final decision on the matter.

"We have been continuously asking for permission to go ahead with the construction but nothing has come about," said Anand Tiwari, NDMC spokesperson.
 

20 October 2010, Times of India

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Tourism at crossroads

Adventure. Heritage. Wildlife. Cost-effective healthcare. From jungle lodges to Ayurvedic massages, from tiger trips to hang gliding, India is eyeing a new future in tourism. And not just for dollars anymore. As the economy grows at 8 per cent and middle class Indians hunt for exotic holidays and unwinding opportunities, be it for weekends or long summers, the promise has never been as great as it has been for India.

“God’s Own Country” — Kerala, and the orchids of Sikkim are matched by heart surgery carried out in Bangalore or an eye surgery in Chennai. The variety and the opportunity are breathtaking and yet, India has a long way to go.

It is still only a fringe player on the global tourism circuit, with a mere 0.58 per cent share of international tourist arrivals, which the country expects to double its share to around 1 per cent by 2020. In absolute numbers it means close to 16 million tourists, strongly up from 5.1 million in 2009.

With 35,000 hotel rooms expected to be added over the next four years, and roads, airports and promotions on the rise, things could get better.

“We earned $9 billion last year through the sector and the numbers will grow much more but favourable conditions need to be created. We only need to promote our self,” said S.M. Shervani president Hotel & Restaurant Association of Northern India.

But that reveals only part of the story.

Consider this: India has only 120,000 hotel rooms in all inspite of its huge size, which is far less than even city zones such as Las Vegas, Dubai and Bangkok.

“The shortage of hotel rooms leads to higher room rates that adversely affects our competitiveness and deters tourists from planning a visit to the country,” said P.R.Srinivas, leader, travel, hospitality & tourism, at consultancy Deloitte India.

Sudeep Jain, vice president at consultancy firm Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels said that lack of infrastructure status to the industry means debt at higher rates for developers of hotels.

The recent Commonwealth Games in Delhi failed to deliver tourists despite the build-up, showing that hotel rooms alone are not the issue.

“The fact remains that tourist arrivals did not materialise as expected and bookings were at an all time low. Otherwise, October is a vacation month and industry celebrates the month," explained Shervani, underlining the irony of the situation.

Even Indians who travel abroad far outnumber the influx of tourists in India.

Around 8 million Indians go abroad and 5 million come into the country. In 2008, 10 million foreign tourists were targeted and the hospitality industry actually faced a shortfall of 130,000 rooms in all categories across India. In Delhi and NCR alone there was a shortfall of 40,000 hotel rooms.

As compared with other Asian countries like Thailand India still is looked upon as a costly destination,” said Srinivas. Despite this, medical tourism, religious tourism, heritage tours and adventure packages were growing in India, though on a small base, he said. Industry officials say even domestic tourists who travel abroad can be wooed to stay back and tour within India if the industry gets its act together. For instance, in the US, as much as 87 per cent of the tourist traffic is domestic.

 
23 October 2010, Hindustan Times

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An equal music

It is that time of the year again when the deserts of Rajasthan come alive with strains of sarangi and soulful folk renditions. The fourth edition of the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) is underway in the blue city of Jodhpur, drawing together stalwart performers and music connoisseurs from all over. The sprawling Mehrangarh Fort is alive with the thumping of dholaks, the sound of khartals, guitar riffs and well, murmurs about the presence of Mick Jagger. The legendary grand old man of Rolling Stones is the patron of the festival, along with the Maharaja of Jodhpur, but he is nowhere to be seen.

So far, at least. The first day of the festival, that began on Thursday under a moonlit zenana courtyard, was not as delightful as one has come to expect of the festival. Last year, for instance, folk artiste Bhawari Devi’s stellar opening concert had set the mood for a spectacular festival. This year though, the Maand performance by Ali Mohammad and Chironji Lal was sedate, but hardly inspired. The only redeeming factor was the beautiful sarangi rendition by Zaffar Khan.

The second performance of the day began with a classical recital by Ashwini Bhide, who sang a couple of bhajans, a maand and a khayal. Her maand could be called the highlight of the day as it drew the maximum applause from a house which was far from being packed. “I belong to the Jaipur Atrauli gharana. However, I have no connection with the beautiful desert state. My maand is a tribute to this city and the good old folks of Rajasthan,” said Bhide, who performed at the venue for the first time. The final performance of the day had a group of Polish dancers from Warsaw who showcased the Polish country carnival. Not many stayed on to cheer for this one though.

Lacklustre performances aside, the opening day also saw some organisational crises. To add to the woes of the organisers— Jaipur Virasat Foundation— popular Pakistani rock band Mekal Hasan members have been denied visas. “We will have Delhi-based band Advaita play in their place on the second day,” assured the festival director, Divya Bhatia. But Advaita’s guitarist Abhishek Mathur says the band never confirmed their participation. “We wanted to play at a prestigious festival like this, but nobody figured out our travel arrangements. They merely assumed we will be playing there,” he says.

Day two however, began on a more promising note, with devotional recitals at dawn by Maali Devi and Jamuna Devi at the Jaswant Thada, the royal burial ground near the Fort. The intimate gathering swayed to the lilting melodies, as the musicians sang tributes to divinity. “We are used to doing jagrans all night. It’s God’s service,” said Jamuna Devi, who belongs to a community where women are not allowed to perform in public.

The first day may not have begun at its best, but over the next few days there are some engaging performances, including an interesting collaboration between guitarist Sam Mills, Susheela Raman, an acclaimed British musician of Indian origin, and local folk percussionists. There is also a flemenco and Kalbeliya collaboration and a finale with multi-percussionist Pete Lockett. Living up to its reputation might not be so difficult, after all.
 

23 October 2010, Indian Express

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Believe it or not!

Our might not find them in glossy tourist guides or Google maps. But they could be located in your city, underneath a bridge, in a cramped mohalla or on a college campus. They're the memorials, relics and structures you probably wouldn't expect to see in your city because hardly anyone knows they're there. Here are a few we found:

Benaras ki Rani

Varanasi: Leaping across slushy puddles and dodging stray dogs in downtown Varanasi, one wouldn't bet on coming across anything even mildly interesting. But then, India is the land of the unexpected. If you happen to be in Bhadaini mohalla in the Assi area, keep your eyes peeled for a small plaque on a dilapidated wall. The inscription reads "Kashi ki kanya, Jhansi ki Rani." This then is the birthplace of Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi.

It's easy to miss because nothing marks the spot other than the plaque and its bald announcement. But the district gazetteer records that "in the city of Varanasi in 1835 was born to Moropant Tambe (a Maratha scholar) and his wife Bhagirathi a girl whom they named Manu Bai and who later came to be known as Lakshmi Bai." Manu Bai reportedly lived here for four years. In 1839, Peshwa Chimmaji Appa died. Tambe was at his court so he took his family away from Varanasi to Bithoor, the court of Peshwa Balaji Bajirao.

But the Rani of Jhansi was really a Benaras girl. Her story is the stuff that legends are made of. Married to the middle-aged king of Jhansi when she was just seven, she ruled the kingdom after his death, challenged the British on the battlefield and died in 1858. She is venerated for her role in the 1857 revolt and her exploits have been immortalized in Subhadra Kumari Chauhan's poem "Khoob Ladi Mardani..."

But for the last 153 years, this brave queen's birthplace has known nothing but official apathy. Broken concrete slabs, a forlorn hand pump, dilapidated walls hardly make for a royal memorial. Rajendra Pratap Pandey, secretary of the Maharani Lakshmi Bai Nyas, says the state government had once provided money to create a fitting memorial here but it was diverted to other projects.

The queen's 175th birth anniversary is on November 19 and historians say they hope attention is lavished at last on Varanasi's hidden historical gem.

A Madrasi Yale

Chennai: Scores of students walk past the narrow tombstone in the Government Law College's leafy campus, never giving it a second look. "It looks like a masoodi (mosque)," says third-year student Madan S, on being invited to look at it critically.

He is way off the mark but then hardly anyone in Chennai — and even fewer outside it — know that the obelisk has a profound Ivy League connection. Here lies buried David, son of Elihu Yale who later became a benefactor of a Connecticut college that went on to become Yale University. Also buried alongside is Joseph Hynmer, a British East India Company official who was the first husband of Elihu Yale's wife. Yale married Hynmer's widow Catherine. Their son, David died young and was buried under the obelisk in 1688. Elihu set up the Madras Corporation and became governor of Fort St George. By the time he left the East India Company, he had amassed considerable wealth. It was a part of this that he bequeathed to the college that went on become famous as Yale.

But there is more to the obelisk than its Ivy League link. It is one of the last relics of a burial ground used by the French as they fought the British for control in the 18th century. In "Vestiges of Old Madras", Henry Davison Love writes, "The great cupolas and obelisks which filled the burial ground in old black town afforded so much cover to the French during the siege that it was resolved (by the British) to dismantle them". A new town came up and everything was consigned to the dustbin of history till excavations for a law college in the 1890s unearthed bones, says Love. The cemetery was rediscovered.

The Mystere-ous bird

Delhi: This bird of war lacks a nose, its sheen has gone and its wings are sometimes used to dry the laundry. But there's still no denying the faded majesty of the Mystere Mark IV fighter-bomber that sits in the compound of the Rajya Sainik Board (RSB), across the road from the Tis Hazari courts.

Hardly anyone knows it is there and the supplicants who throng the courthouse never glance across the road at the plane that incongruously sits there. Visitors to the Jammu and Kashmir State Tourism Board office can hardly fail to see the plane parked in the forecourt, but there is nothing to explain why it is where it is.

It was one of the 110 Mystere IV-As that the Indian Air Force bought from French firm Dassault in 1957. In May that year, squadron leader Dilbagh Singh, who went on to become Chief of Air Staff, flew a Mystere Mark IV to demonstrate the first official supersonic bang over India.

The Mysteres performed exemplarily in both the 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan. They were instrumental in immobilizing enemy armour during the battle of Chawinda in 1965 and the routing of the Pakistan Ist Armoured Corps' 67th Infantry Brigade at Fazilka in 1971. After the war, the Mysteres were decommissioned and sent off to different institutions.

Sources said the aircraft arrived at its unlikely location "from Hindon air base sometime after 1987 when the RSB set up base here." The single-pilot plane sits on a platform in the RSB compound but remains unmarked and unregarded in every other respect. Those in know say it more than money is needed to showcase the plane. "It's the right attitude that's missing".

The IAF washes its hands off the whole matter, reportedly offering to do no more than dismantle it and take it away because it would cost at least Rs 80,000 to refurbish it. IAF PRO, wing commander T K Singha points out, "Once these planes are given to institutions etc, they become the guardians."

So a war veteran of the skies now rusts in the shadows, even as the shiny Delhi Metro streaks by right above it.

Ole for Pele!

Bangalore: A soccer-crazy slum and it's not even in Kolkata. Gowthampaura seems an aberration in the heart of Bangalore — almost every child here aspires to be, not an IT professional, but a footballer. At the entrance to the slum, which is known as 'Little Brazil', stands a five-foot statue of a football legend — not Bhutia — but Pele. He wears Brazilian colours.

Early in 2002, when the locality decided it wanted a footballer for a statue, the question was who?

Gowthamapura has produced a clutch of football stars of its own, including P Kannan, known as 'Asian Pele'; the 'Indian Pele' Ulaganathan and Olympian S A Bashir. So it was a delicate diplomatic task to avoid upsetting one or the other. This is how the Brazilian legend became the unanimous choice. Of course, Pele never came to pose; they had to rely on posters and photographs to create the statue.

Football jersey is the area's dress code. It has a team too, Bangalore Mars, which competes in the 'A' Division. Team manager Divyanathan says, "Football is everything to us. We make sure all youngsters in our locality play it, boy or girl. The only thing that gets us moving is football whether we are watching or playing." The beautiful game is the only thing orderly in the local chaos. Ole!

On Curzon's trail

Guwahati: The 110-year old building seems to stand tall in defiance of long neglect. Its courtyard is used as a parking lot for the city corporation's pushcarts. But that cannot dim the grandeur of the Nabin Chandra Bordoloi Library, formerly known as Curzon Hall, in the very heart of the Assamese capital.

It was built when Lord Curzon, then viceroy of India, visited Assam in 1900. Locals reportedly pooled about Rs 14,000 to build something they thought would indicate the warmth of his welcome. They weren't to know that he would go on to partition Bengal just five years later.

The Hall fairly bustled with the life of British officialdom till 1947. In 1969, the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) took it over and it was renamed after the Assamese freedom fighter in the 1980s.

Bhaben Das, who works at the library, says it is popular and "the visitors keep it alive". But few know what it once was and why it was built. Perhaps not even the GMC, complain conservationists, who are appalled at the Corporation's demand that the land be used for other development schemes.
 

24 October 2010, The Times of India

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$1bn World Bank aid for Mission Ganga

The World Bank has agreed to provide $1 billion for the Mission Clean Ganga being implemented by the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for restoring the “wholesomeness” of the river system by minimising its pollution level, the Centre has informed the Supreme Court.

The first meeting of the authority decided to ensure that no untreated municipal sewage and industrial effluents would be allowed to flow into the Ganga by 2020, Attorney-General and Additional Solicitor-General Mohan Jain informed a three-member Bench headed by Chief Justice SH Kapadia on Friday.

The meeting, chaired by the PM, also approved an action plan to achieve the objectives of the mission that would restore the purity of the Ganga system and improve its ecological health, according to documents submitted to the apex court by the AG and ASG.

Importantly, the mission would use both scientific application of modern tools and technologies and “traditional wisdom”. For this, a joint team comprising postgraduate and doctoral students of all seven Indian Institutes of Technology would prepare a comprehensive river basin management plan. An agreement has been signed recently between the Environment Ministry and the IITs, the SC was informed.

The NGRBA has set up a standing committee headed by Pranab Mukherjee to take quick decisions and periodically review and assess the work. For better coordination and implementation of the conservation activities at the state level, the empowered State Ganga River Conservation Authorities has been notified for all the NGRBA states, Uttarakhand, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
 

25 October 2010, The Tribune

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Andhra, too, has a Shravanabelagola

A new place in South India is gaining importance as a pilgrim centre among Jain devotees, apart from the famed Shravanabelagola in Karnataka.

About 100 km from Hyderabad at Kolcharam in Medak district is the temple of Parsvnath, the 23rd Jain Theerthankar, which is being visited by community members from not only Andhra Pradesh but also from the adjoining states.

Legend says the idol installed in the temple was found at the site where villagers were trying to construct a colony. Efforts to build houses on the deserted piece of land was getting repeatedly affected, as the half-built houses used to catch fire.

A 11-foot-tall black basalt rock idol of Vighnaharaneswar Parsvnath was then unearthed from the site. It was only after this that the villagers could build the houses. During excavation, the idol was found hidden deep into the soil and it took a large army of men to dig it out.

The villagers first took the idol to be Lord Shiva’s, as it was of a man with a seven-hooded serpent over his head, and began offering prayers accordingly.

But a Jain traveler passing though the area noticed the idol and identified it as the 23rd Theerthankar’s.

He informed the community members in Hyderabad about it, who sent experts to confirm that it was indeed that of Theerthankar Parsvnath.

ASI permission

The Jains tried to take over the idol but failed as they needed permission from the Archaeological Survey of India. In 2000, the All India Jain Digambar Theerthsamrakshani Mahasabha took initiative and purchased the land for construction of a temple there.

A temple and a dormitory were consequently built after which devotees from different parts of the state started arriving for darshan, particularly on Sundays.

Bathing of the idol in milk or Ksheerabhishekam is done to the idol as in the case of the monolithic structure of Gomateswara Bahubali, the first Theerthankar, at Shravanabelagola.

Much like the idol of Gomateswara gets completely bathed after the Mahamastabhisheka or the bathing of the statue from its head, here, too, the milk poured from the top travels through the seven hoods of the serpent, the shoulder of Parsvnath and finally touches the feet of the statue.

The locals, meanwhile, believe Parsvnath to be a deity that brings a good harvest. Even after the idol was handed over to the Jain community, they still offer prayer at the beginning of the agriculture season.
 

25 October 2010, Deccan Herald

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Throwing light on Big Temple

Almost two decades ago, the Government of India funded-IGNCA launched an elaborate project to study the Brihadisvara temple at Thanjavur. It planned to bring out a series of publications, including a multilingual bibliography and a compendium of epigraphs, to disseminate the findings of the study. However, only one comprehensive publication saw the light of day. Pierre Pichard's excellent work on the temple architecture was the first book to be published, and that was in 1995. Nagaswamy's book under review is the second one in the promised series. The millennium celebrations of the Brihadisvara temple probably provided the impetus.

There are more than 600 sculptures ranging from the large wonderful ones found in the niches of the vimana (temple tower) to the smaller ones in the cornices of the temple. The book, which identifies almost every one of them, describes them elaborately, and explains the associated legends, should serve as a useful compendium for the scholars as well as others interested in the subject.

An equally important feature of the book is the exhaustive explanation it offers about the ‘form' of the temple in terms of its plan and structure. Nagaswamy strongly disagrees with earlier studies that see the form and sculptures as an expression of personal power. At the core of his contention is the point that the architecture and the sculptural layout of the temple are manifestations of liturgical ideas and that they were not driven by the “temporal ambition” of Rajaraja I (985-1014 CE). Take, for instance, the several identical sculptures seen in the vimana featuring persons with long bows and arrows. Drawing support from the descriptions found in the religious texts, he identifies them as Sata Rudras, rejecting the commonly held view that they represent Tripurantaka, Siva as the vanquisher of three cities. This interpretation is significant since the alternative theories cite these sculptures as important evidence of royal symbolism. Temples emerge at the intersection of many factors and any deterministic viewpoint — whether political or religious — will only tell a part of the story.

Agamic aspect

On the strength of some architectural and sculptural evidences, Nagaswamy concludes that the Brihadisvara temple was based on the Makutagama, a Saiva agama (liturgical text) that invokes ‘Paramananda-Tandava-murti' (the dancing aspect of Siva).

However, there are places where the book suggests that the temple was not exclusively based on any one agama but combined in itself aspects of several agamas. For example, the sculpture in one of the niches of the vimana identified as ‘Aghora murti' — an important factor in establishing the core concept of the temple — is from ‘ Aghora-Sivacarya-paddhati', not Makutagama. Also, some key aspects of the temple such as the shape of the linga do not entirely accord with the tenets of Makutagama.

Interestingly, the Brihadisvara temple, which boasts a large number of inscriptions that speak of a wide range and variety of things related to it, has none that throws light on the agamic aspect. This is in contrast to the Sundaravaradaraja temple in Uttiramerur (Kancheepuram district), where the inscriptions contain specific references to the use of liturgical texts. The inclusion of a chapter dedicated to a discussion on the dates and chronology of agamas would have helped in clarifying their role. Its absence is conspicuous and acutely felt particularly because the premise on which the book is based and the alternative view are text-related.

The section on karna (dance postures) sculptures is quite appealing. Brihadisvara is the earliest temple that has 81 of the 108 karnas depicted. Over 400 dancers had dedicated themselves to the service of god. Apart from providing a detailed description of the panels, the book cites ancient commentaries to explain and locate the sculptures within the history of Indian dance tradition. It also establishes that the temple followed the southern recension of Bharata's Natyasastra and the panels were carved before Abhinavagupta's commentary reached Thanjavur. The layout of this section and many others could have been more reader-friendly. For example, placing illustrations alongside descriptions would have made it easier for the reader.

Based as it is on newly found inscriptions, many of them discovered by the author himself, the book offers refreshingly new insights into the history and sculptures of the temple. Going by an inscription datable to the Rajaraja's period, Nagaswamy adds seven more metal images deified in the temple to the 60-plus which historians have listed so far. He thinks it is possible a few more had existed.

One of the most interesting, but intriguing, finds is an inscription, somewhat damaged, in the inner gopura (entrance tower). Nagaswamy is of the view that it suggests the entire vimana had been covered with gold. Does it? Or, could it be a case of poetic liberty wherein a simple offering of gold is romanticised as a lavish covering of the entire tower? The book is certain to provoke constructive debates on this and many other questions.
 

26 October 2010, The Hindu

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Sikh Heritage award for Vikramjit

Delhi resident and Padma Shree awardee Vikramjit Singh Sahney was presented with the Sikh Heritage award for leadership at a gala evening in New York public library. Sahney is the international president, World Punjabi Organization.

He has been working on enriching the Sikh history and culture.

The award was presented by Hardip Puri, Indian ambassador to the United Nations in presence of Prabhu Dayal, Indian consul general; hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal and Teji Bindra, president, Sikh Art & Film Foundation.

 
26 October 2010, The Tribune

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Municipal Corporation seeks temporary accommodation

With the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approving Rs 20 crore for restoration of the historic Town Hall building along with beautification of the Mall, the local Municipal Corporation (MC) has written to the government to provide them with an alternative building.

The MC office housed in the British-time Town Hall will have to move out to facilitate restoration of the building on the lines of the Gaiety Theatre. With the MC providing several public services, the alternative accommodation provided to them will have to be centrally located so that people do not face inconvenience.

“We had earlier written to the government to provide us the US Club accommodation from where the Public Works Department has moved out to its own office, Nirman Bhawan, so that we can start preparing for the restoration project to take off,” said AN Sharma, Commissioner, MC.

With the government giving the US Club building to the Tourism Department for setting up of a museum and club for public, it is not certain whether the accommodation can be provided to the MC.

He said with the money likely to be released next month, they would have to look for alternative accommodation at the earliest. The MC has also suggested that the building housing the DIG office on the Kali Bari road can also be given temporarily to them, he added.

The conservation project of the Gaiety Theatre was completed last year after almost a decade-long work commissioned under the strict supervision of conservation architects and experts who had undertaken conservation of stone structures, especially of the British era.

The Town Hall being a landmark of the British era is a heritage structure which has started showing signs of crumbling and is in the need of major restoration and conservation work. The ADB team during its last visit had inspected the Town Hall building as well as the Ridge area which had developed major cracks due to sinking.
“We intend to undertake restoration of the Town Hall as well as stabilisation of the Ridge along with beautification works in and around the Mall,” said Sharma.

He said the experts from the Geological Survey of India (GSI) were also of the opinion that a lightweight structure would have to be erected to stabilise the sinking portion above the Tibetan market.

 
26 October 2010, The Tribune

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Artists, corporates join hands for tiger conservation

Contemporary Indian art is conveying powerful messages. One of them is concern for environment and tigers.

A unique public art initiative, Artiger, is bringing 57 renowned artists, 50 corporate houses, 52 public spaces and the Ranthambore Foundation, the non-profit development groups and the common men under one umbrella to work for the cause for conserving tigers.

Conceived by curator and gallerist Aparajita Jain, art collector and promoter Swapan Seth and Delhi-based youth activist Nandita Kathpalia Baig, the project will facilitate dialogue between the common people and the stakeholders about tiger conservation with display of tiger art in public spaces.

The four-month project will be launched early December with the unveiling of '57 life-size fibre glass tigers' at locations across the capital.

Billed by the team as one of the largest public art displays in the country, it will feature prominent artists like Anjolie Ela Menon, Arpita Singh, Chittrovanu Mazumdar, G.R. Iranna, Jayasri Burman, Manu Parekh, Satish Gujral and several more.

Some of the corporate sponsors on the list include Abhishek Dalmia and Deepali Dalmia, Ambuja Realty, Apollo Tyres, Apolloindia (Raaja Kanwar), Artemis Hospital (Dr. Katariya), DLF and Borosil.

Announcing the project Friday, co-organiser Aprajita Jain said: 'Art in public spaces is a highly potent awareness tool in a diverse country like India as it transcends boundaries. The overwhelming response that we have received proves we will make a difference.'

The project will be implemented by Saath Saath Arts, an NGO that uses art to generate funds and awareness about public issues.

Commenting on the initiative, Swapan Seth, managing partner of art house Henry S. Clark, said: 'Artiger was a remarkable testimony to the coming together of artists, corporates and government to leave behind an imprint on public spaces. It is often felt that Indian art has never received a collective corporate or governmental blessing.'

The 57 fibre glass sculptures have been booked by corporate organisations. The funds raised from the corporates will be donated to Ranthambore Foundation, one of India's oldest and most well-known organizations working in the field of tiger conservation.
 

26 October 2010, The Pioneer

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Huge amber deposit discovery in western India

Hundreds of prehistoric insects and other creatures have been discovered in a large haul of amber excavated from a coal mine in western India. An international team of fossil hunters recovered 150kg of the resin from Cambay Shale in Gujarat province, making it one of the largest amber collections on record. The tiny animals became entombed in the fossilised tree resin some 52 million years ago, before the Indian subcontinent crunched into Asia to produce the Himalayan mountain range.

Jes Rust, a paleontologist at Bonn University, said the creatures, including ancient bees, spiders, termites, gnats, ants and flies, were in remarkably good condition considering their age. In total, the team has identified more than 700 arthropods, a group of animals that includes insects, crustaceans and arachnids.

Well preserved with details

“They are so well preserved. It's like having the complete dinosaur, not just the bones. You can see all the surface details on their bodies and wings. It's fantastic,” Rust told the Guardian. The remains of two praying mantises were also found.

Insects and other small animals may be trapped in resin flowing down tree bark, or as it covers their dead bodies on the forest floor. The resin hardens into a translucent yellow material that preserves them.

The amber is the oldest evidence scientists have of tropical forests in Asia. Tests linked the amber to a family of hardwood trees called dipterocarpaceae, that make up 80 per cent of the forest canopy in South-East Asia.

Fossilised wood from these trees was found alongside the amber deposits. Rust said that much of India may have been covered in forests at the time the amber formed.

The trapped insects give a revealing snapshot of life in India before it collided with Asia. India was once attached to Africa but separated some 160 million years ago. For the next 100 million years, India's landmass moved towards Asia at around 20 cm a year.

India was isolated for so long that it could have evolved unique flora and fauna, but the encased insects suggest this did not happen. Writing in the U.S. journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describe life forms in the amber closely related to those in Asia and Europe. As India moved towards Asia, the encroaching continental plates may have created an arc of islands that connected the two landmasses like stepping stones long before 50 million years ago, said Rust. This would allow species from India, Asia and Europe to mix.

“We think that, before the final collision between India and Asia, some sort of island arc was established. Our findings suggest that the mixing of fauna was already so strong, that it was already happening for several million years,” said Rust. Once species from India had crossed into Asia, they could have spread further, eventually reaching Australia.

Michael Engel, curator of entomology at the University of Kansas, said: “What we found indicates that India was not completely isolated, even though the Cambray deposit dates from a time that precedes the slamming of India into Asia. There might have been some linkages.” The team has so far recorded 100 different arthropod species, but Rust said they expect to find more, some of which are likely to be close relatives of animals in Africa and Madagascar.
 

27 October 2010, The Tribune

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To beautify Walled City, DDA ropes in help from Barcelona

In a bid to ensure development of the Walled City, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Barcelona Strategic Urban Systems, AIE, Spain who represent the Barcelona City Council.

The MoU, signed at Raj Niwas on Tuesday afternoon, looks to “initiate cooperation in the fields or urban planning, especially in the areas of heritage conservation, public spaces and urban renewal of the Walled City, and its extension,” said Lieutenant-Governor Tejendra Khanna.

As per the MoU, the DDA and Barcelona City Council have also decided to undertake “joint research activities”. “The Walled City — Shahjahanabad — needs special treatment to conserve its heritage value while retaining the residential character,” read DDA’s statement. It also listed redevelopment of government-owned and private properties in Shahjahanabad.

The move will, however, put the Authority in direct confrontation with the already existent Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation, whose objectives are almost the same.

The MoU also holds that the two parties will also strive to “formulate a policy for integrating historical monuments and precincts in the layout plans and formulating building controls in relation to height material for the buildings in the vicinity of these monuments.”

Barcelona’s public squares are globally renowned and DDA’s ambitious plans include setting up similar squares in the Capital, for which it hopes to seek advice from experts in the Barcelona City Council.

Microbrewery at IGI

The Delhi Development Authority, in its meeting held on Tuesday, also approved the plan to bring in a minor amendment in the Masterplan 2021 to allow for setting up a microbrewery at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. The microbrewery proposal has already been approved under the Excise Policy and by the Central Pollution Control Board. DDA’s technical committee has now forwarded the proposal for clearance to the Ministry of Urban Development.

Housing maintenance policy

With the DDA ready to announce its biggest housing scheme ever — with 15,000 houses to be sold — in November, the land owning agency also approved its new housing maintenance policy on Tuesday. Under this policy, common portions, and exteriors of DDA flats will be maintained by the DDA for a period of 30 years, and an amount for this service will be included in the cost of the flat at the time of allotment. The special maintenance includes “grit wash every 10 years, stairwell plaster and whitewash once every 3 years, flooring once every 5 years, and sanitary line drainage once every 3 years”, among other things.

27 October 2010, The Tribune

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ASI pulled up for illegal demolition

The ASI has been fined by Delhi high court for forcibly entering private properties situated near an ancient monument in south Delhi and demolishing some parts of them.

Justice S Muralidhar gave two weeks' time to ASI to restore ownership of two adjoining properties in Kotla Mubarakpur area to its owners who had been forcibly evicted and to compensate them by paying Rs 10,000 each.

"The action of ASI on December 23, 2003 to enter both properties in question, demolishing the constructions and forcibly taking over possession are held to be without authority of law," the court noted while ruling in favour of petitioners 'Nahata Traders & Builders' and 'Nahata Group of Builders & Financiers', who approached HC against the demolition followed by eviction.

The petitioners informed HC that they purchased land in 1982 after which it was mutated and numbered by the MCD.

27 October 2010, The Tribune

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Promoting tiger conservation through art

As the need to conserve tigers in the country becomes imperative, more and more individuals and organisations are coming up to support the cause. This coming December, 57 renowned artists, 50 corporate houses, the Ranthambhore Foundation and non-government organisations would come together to present a public art initiative for tiger conservation called Artiger.

Conceived by art curator Aparajita Jain, art house Henry S. Clark's managing partner Swapan Seth and NGO Youthreach board member Nandita Kathpalia Baig, the four-month project would see installation of 57 life-size fibreglass tigers at 52 locations across Delhi. The initiative is aimed at promoting public awareness about tiger conservation through art.

“Art in public spaces is a highly potent awareness tool, especially in a diverse country like India as it transcends all boundaries. The overwhelming response that we have received from all ends allows me to believe that together we can and together we will make a difference,” says Ms. Jain.

Participating artists include renowned names like Anjolie Ela Menon, Satish Gujral, Jayasri Burman and Chittrovanu Mazumdar. Implementation of the project would be carried out by Saat Saath Arts, an NGO that uses art to generate funds and awareness on public issues.

Among the corporate sponsors are Apollo Tyres, DLF, Fortis Hospitals, Jindal, Patni Computers, Punj Lloyd and Borosil who have already booked the tiger installations.

Funds raised through these corporates would be donated to the Ranthambhore Foundation, an NGO that works for tiger conservation. The funds raised from Artiger would go towards empowering women, educating children in villages surrounding Ranthambhore National Park and working with local “poaching tribes”.

Talking about the initiative, Ranthambhore Foundation chairman Bharat Kapur said: “The tiger gets talked about. The issue of the very urgent need to actively engage in the tiger's survival in the wild gets ‘aired' and through the application of the resources generated, there is direct intervention on the ground with work to save the tiger in India's wilderness areas.”

28 October 2010, The Hindu

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Humayun's Tomb integration plan may miss UNESCO’s Dec deadline

Archaeological Survey of India's (ASI) plans to re-integrate the 16th century Neela Gumbad with World Heritage Site Humayun's Tomb could be put on hold for six years. Sources say the extension plans for India's world heritage sites have to be submitted to Unesco by December as part of the six-year periodical review. But with ASI yet to get an official consent from Northern Railways, though the matter has been pending for nearly three years, there seems little chance of the deadline being met.

The Railways has to officially sign on an agreement it reached with ASI earlier this year to hand over 34 metres of land on the north and south of Neela Gumbad to ASI and allow the road bifurcating the two sites at present to be shifted to the structure's eastern side. However, while the Railways has agreed to the plan in principle, ASI officials allege that it has since then been resorting to delaying tactics and signing the agreement.

"I have written to ASI with draft agreements on the plan over six months ago but not received a signed copy from them," said Mohit Lila, a senior official of the Railways. ASI officials, however, claim that they have sent signed agreements to the Railways on at least two occasions. "Plans for linking Neela Gumbad and the Humayun's Tomb complex have been in the making since 2007. It is critical as Neela Gumbad was originally a part of this complex and now it's inaccessible to visitors. But getting the Railway's cooperation for this has been a mammoth task," said a senior official.

Integration plans aside, ASI officials alleged that the Railways has been using the area around Neela Gumbad as a dumping ground and the area has become a complete eyesore. Garbage and filth, besides track material of the Railways, can be seen all around the site. Officials said Railways has also constructed temporary labour huts in one corner.

"In the last few months, more construction material has been dumped next to this monument. The matter has now been taken up by secretary, culture, with the railways board," said an ASI official. ASI has already lodged two complaints against the railways for unauthorised construction around Neela Gumbad.

A spokesperson for railways said they were facing a "peculiar" problem. "There is no other entry/exit point for material to be taken in and out of Nizamuddin railway station. There is Millenium Park on one side which is sealed and Barapullah Nullah on the other. So, we have to use this one access. But we try to ensure our material is not left in the open," he said.

28 October 2010, The Times of India

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Adivasi affair with nature

With the deep green, bright red and soothing blue, each painting here brings out the connection of nature with human beings. If you are a nature lover, then the paintings will not only be a visual treat but will also offer you to be a part of the thought process of some of the contemporary Gond artists. The exhibition titled Jangarh Kalam - a Contemporary Art of the Adivasis by Pardhaan community displays the brilliant work of some of the contemporary Gond artists Durga Bai Vyam, Ram Singh Urveti, Bhajju Singh Shyam and Mayank Shyam who skillfully play with various colours to give life to their imaginations on the canvas.

Gond tribal paintings are the tribal folk art paintings. They are extremely popular among most tribes in Madhya Pradesh.

The Gond paintings are the living expressions of the people of the tribal village that are deeply linked with their day to day lives. Horses, elephants, tigers, birds, Gods, men and objects of daily life are painted in bright and multicolored hues in these paintings.

One of the paintings titled Jad Chetan by Ram Singh Urveti brings out the life cycle of a tree and through the painting the artist tries to convey how a small effort by the human beings can help the tree flourish. “Jad Chetan brings one closer to the reality of origin of life. It depicts the efforts being made by the couple of people to bring life to nature and how the nature rewards them in return,” says Urveti and adds that besides this painting, the other one that compares a life of a bird with that of a human is his favourite. “The painting is titled Baniya Pakshi and I have used my favourite colours to depict the life of a bird since its birth, how it learns to fly and finally reaches the sky. In the same way humans learn to walk and for their entire life they are running to get success in various fields of life. The idea is different and it compels anyone to think about the life of human beings which is mostly wasted in running after materialistic things,” adds Urveti.

The other painting tiled Tithi Pakshi too describes the life of birds. Conceptualised by Bhajju Singh, the painting brings out the efforts of the mother bird to save its eggs from the clouds. The way the artist has used the mix of colours and the perfection with which he brings out the emotions reflected on the mother bird’s face is commendable.

After birds, even fishes are a part of this exhibition. The fishes are used as a symbol to showcase life under water in the form creatures and plants. “The painting shows a fish with a tree painted in its womb. I thought nothing could be better than this idea to showcase the life that exists under water,” says Singh.

The other artist Ram says that as his works are just based on nature, it is the elements of nature that give him the inspiration. “I take an inspiration from the elements of nature and use different ideas to put across my thoughts on the canvas,” says he.

28 October 2010, The Times of India

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Frescoes survive municipal apathy

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Summer Palace

Officials and conservationists have been pleasantly surprised by the discovery of some resplendent frescoes found on the terrace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s summer palace here. The only room on the terrace had been out of bounds for the visitors and had remained locked for several decades. But when it was opened at last, they were captivated by the frescoes painted on the walls.

The wall paintings display intricate floral patterns and episodes from the ‘Raas Leela’ of Lord Krishna.

The palace, built during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1801-1837), used to be the office of the Deputy Commissioner during the British period and was later used by the Municipal Committee. It was converted to a museum in 1975. But the frescoes remained largely unknown. Even Prof Balwinder Singh, a city based conservationist who has been visiting the museum since 1992, is surprised to see the photographs. He was not aware of the existence of the frescoes, he admits.

While much of the ground floor was turned into the museum, the terrace inexplicably was neglected. Frescoes however have survived official indifference and the colours still remain bright. There are rough edges though and callous attempts at creating windows have damaged several parts of the paintings.

Now that the heritage building is being restored under the supervision of the Punjab tourism department, officials hope to get the assistance of the Archaeological Survey of India and conservationists to restore the art work.

The priceless frescoes are an invaluable part of Punjab’s heritage and experts are both dismayed and baffled at the finding. They are dismayed because of the criminal negligence of the MC which paid no attention to restoration or preservation of the artwork. They are also baffled at the absence of similar frescoes in other parts of the palace.

“ The presence of frescoes on the terrace indicate a strong possibility that similar frescoes were painted on other walls also in the palace,” says Prof Balwinder Singh, an expert in conservation and former Head of the Guru Ram Das School of Planning, GND University. The only conclusion, he says, is that paintings on other walls were mindlessly destroyed during the British period. But then why were frescoes in this room spared ?

He recalled that the period of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a rennaisance period in Punjab when art and architecture flourished under the patronage of the ruler. “The restoration should be carried out on a war footing,” he said.

The summer palace underwent several changes during the British period and new walls were put up between pillars to make rooms that destroyed the aesthetic structure of the Darbar Hall, said Balraj Singh, Tourism Officer. Attempts are now being made to restore the Darbar Hall as it originally was.

29 October 2010, Tribune

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