Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Flame of the Forest

"Flame of the Forest" might be a romantic sounding name, but don't forget, it's also called Bastard Teak, lol.

The beauty of the dry deciduous forests of India reaches the peak when most trees have dropped their leaves, and the Flame of the Forest is in its full bloom.

Some of you might be interested to know that spoons made of this tree are used for ghee-oblations, and in the days before matchboxes, the bark of this tree was lit and used to start the daily agnihotram at sunrise and sunset.

Because the tree is indigenous to India, it finds mention in many literary sources, from vedas to love poetry.

If you've heard about the Battle of Plassey - where the English defeated the Nawab of Bengal - that comes from Palash, the Bengali word for this tree.

Tagore chose the Palash to celebrate the basanta ustsav at Santiniketan. See that little curved hook on the flower? Like Santhali women, you too can use the hook to tuck the flower behind your ear as you walk the lanes of Santiniketan.

Photo clicked by yours truly, in Ranthambhore. You can also spot these trees in Delhi, in the Central Ridge, or at Qutb Complex, or near the Kalkaji temple.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bhil art at the Delhi Magic office

About 6 months ago, I went to the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya in Bhopal, which in my view is the best tribal art museum in India. I was admiring the work in the Bhil art section, when I met the artist himself, Ram Singh Bhabor. We got chatting and I eventually talked him into coming to Delhi, to do a mural in our office.

Ram Singh Bhabor is from the Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh, which has many tribals. His work has been displayed in many major government museums and folk art galleries including the Manav Sanghralay in Bhopal, Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, and also in the tribal museum in Mysore. He has exhibited his work in Dehradun and Bhubaneswar as well. He is in fact, the grand-nephew of the famous Bhil artist Bhuri Bai. Ram Singh has been interested in drawing from a very young age, and has been painting on canvas since 2010.

Here are pictures of the work in progress in our office.
Each painting is composed of thousands of dots, creating different patterns. The dots are arranged to make patterns of animals, trees, birds, deities, daily life, and mythological figures.






Waiting to see what else he does. I think it will take at least one more day to finish it.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jain manuscript at the National Museum, Delhi

This Jain manuscript was commissioned in the 1400's at Mandu in Madhya Pradesh, under the reign of Sultan Mahmud. This folio is from the collection at the National Museum. It shows a Tirthankara figure turning beads in meditation. Devotees flank the main figure.

It is an illustration from the Kalpa Sūtra, a Jain text containing the biographies of the Jain Tirthankaras, notably Parshvanatha and Mahavira, including the latter's Nirvāna (liberation from cycle of rebirth). Bhadrabahu, a Jain Acharya (guru), is considered the author of the Kalpa Sutra. It is traditionally said to have been composed somewhere in the 3rd century BCE.
http://www.nationalmuseumindia.gov.in/prodCollections.asp?pid=92&id=10&lk=dp10
Jaina manuscript painting is likely a very old tradition, but currently there is physical surviving evidence only from the 1100's onwards. Originally it was done on palm-leaf, because paper had not yet arrived in India. After the arrival of paper somewhere in the 12th century (paper came to India from Iran), the Jain monks starting using it.

By the end of the 1300's, deluxe manuscripts were produced on paper, brilliantly adorned with gold, silver, crimson and a rich ultramarine derived from imported lapis lazuli. The photo I posted above is one of those.

The Jains are even today, a book-loving community, placing emphasis on documentation in their bhandars (monastery libraries). We have to thank the Jain Chalukya kings who ruled Gujarat, Rajasthan and Malwa for their patronage of Jain libraries. One of them, Kumarapala, who ruled in the 1300's from his capital city Patan in Gujarat, commissioned and distributed hundreds of copies of the Kalpa Sutra. Can you imagine hundreds of such handmade painted books? What a sight it must be! Kumarapala founded 21 bhandars in Patan.

The major centres of Jain manuscript production were Ahmedabad and Patan in Gujarat. Other centres included Jaisalmer, Gwalior and Delhi. There were also manuscripts written in Kanarese and Tamil in south India. Illustrations were traditionally painted both on the wooden cover (patli) and on the folios. The patrons were Jain merchant communities, who considered the commissioning of illustrated books and their donation to libraries to be an important merit-making activity.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Kos Minar (distance markers)

We are on the old Delhi Agra highway. Here's the Kos Minar we photographed.

These were originally laid in the mid-1500's by the Pashtun ruler Sher Shah Suri along the Grand Trunk Road. Subsequently the Mughals also made a practice of erecting them.

Kos Minars served as important milestones to help measure distances in the Empire. Agra was the Mughal capital,  and from there the Kos Minars radiated outward, towards Ajmer, Lahore and Mandu (Madhya Pradesh).

All along these highways, there were forts (qilas), fortified towns (shehrs), resting places for travellers (caravanserais), stepwells (baolis), postal system (dak chowkis), and many shady trees.

The word Kos itself is confusing, because there exist in India different measures of what a Kos actually means. Kos comes from the Sanskrit krosha, and has many references in traditional Sanskrit texts. Alexander Cunningham, a British engineer, who went on to found the Archaeological Survey of India in the mid-1800s wrote about the kos measurement system in his book The Ancient Geography of India. He says that in North India, there were three widely accepted types of kos:
- the short kos, or the Padshahi kos, about 1.25 miles, used in north-west frontier and Punjab
- the kos of the Gangetic provinces, which is about 2.25 miles
- the long kos, which is used south of the Yamuna, in the Bundelkhand region, which is about 4 miles (and also used in Mysore)

Cunningham says the first two are actually part of the same system, that the Gangetic kos is just twice that of the Padshahi. Jahangir built his sarais (inns) every 8 kos, that is about 10 miles. The British, who also understood the importance of the Grand Trunk Road, chose to maintain it just like the empires before them. They  built dak-bungalows, resting houses used by officers and for postal communication, every 10 miles.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Would you like to help our students?

If you are a foreigner coming to Delhi, or a local with overseas visitors coming to Delhi, we would like your help.

We have a new batch of guides being trained for our offbeat and fun Delhi by Metro tour. This is a tour we are doing in partnership with the non-profit Manzil. The guides are from low-income families and this is an upskilling program for them to earn money while they are in college.

They are currently being formally trained to do the tour, and we want to give them some trial tours for practice. Our guides need to practice understanding foreign accents and helping foreigners getting comfortable with Delhi. They need to practice how to explain apparently simple and obvious things about our culture to a foreigner. They can only do this by actually taking foreign tourists on the tour.

If you have overseas visitors coming to Delhi in the next few months (Jul-Aug-Sep) we would love to offer them a free tour. There will be one or two trainee guides doing the tour. If you have a large group, we will also assign a fully trained guide.

As I said, there is no charge for the tour. We just want our kids to have some practice.

We will pay for the local travel expenses on the tour (Metro, autorickshaw, cyclerickshaw). The only thing guests need to pay for is their own meal (we will stop at a restaurant for snacks).

Tour description is here: http://delhimagic.com/metro.html It's a great tour, lots of fun.

Please email deepa@delhimagic.com if you want to help. I will only be keeping this free offer open for a short while, in the off season, for a limited number of free tours. So please write soon.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Building the Delhi Magic team

Yesterday, we went to visit the non-profit Manzil in Delhi. We were trying to recruit the next batch of students. We want some students to join our office operations team, and some to be trained as guides for our Delhi by Metro tour.
Four girls came for the meeting, each with their own constraints and dreams. One of them got married early, and has a baby; she has returned to studies and is now in Std 11. One wants to become a teacher. Another wants to grow her craft business. Yet another is graduating and wants a chance for a better life. They all have one thing in common: they need some form of income right now.

We explained how our flexi-time and flexi-location work model can help them earn and finance their dreams. We hope this model will give them the ability to get started on a career even if they have constraints and challenges.

We also explained that we don't want to keep them with us forever; what we want is to give them that initial break, that initial income cushion for 3 or 4 years, which the poor find difficult to get. Then they can fly high, charting their own path.

I have learnt that if you truly want to build a successful social enterprise, it has to start from what the other person needs. We cannot go into these types of meetings saying, oh, here's what we want, and now you girls must adjust your timings and personal commitments to suit us. The insensitive and difficult nature of the 9-to-5 environment, combined with commuting time, makes it impossible for women from disadvantaged backgrounds to find a way to become economically independent. Some sort of middle path has to be created.