Sunday, February 25, 2024

Mutiny Memorial / Ajitgarh

This monument is called Ajitgarh, meaning the Bastion of the Undefeated.

Originally called it the "Mutiny Memorial", it was built in 1863 to commemorate British and Indian soldiers killed in the 1857 War of Independence in Delhi. The government of India renamed it Ajitgarh in 1972 and re-dedicated it to the Indian martyrs of 1857.

Our Mutiny Walk explores the momentous series of events, conflicts and battles that took place in Delhi in 1857 and changed history forever.


Photo Credit - Thangpu Paite on Pexels

Friday, October 7, 2022

Qutb Minar Night Tour

We recently took a group of people on a night tour to the Qutb. Here are some photos. Isn't it beautiful? Do check out the pics, and let us know if you would like to do a guided walk. 

The Qutb Complex (built at the site of Lal Kot, the first city of Delhi) is a UNESCO World Heritage site that marks the arrival of Islamic rule in India. Created by the Slave Dynasty who ruled India for nearly a century, the complex is a grand cultural statement marking the beginning of a new religion that transformed the country.  In the initial phases, the new rulers demolished Hindu and Jain temples, but reused the pillars and stones, creating structures unique in the Islamic world. Please reach out to to arrange a Qutb Night Tour.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Dagger with Nilgai (Blue Bull) Hilt, from the Shahjahani era

This beautiful dagger is dated from 1640, during the reign of Mughal emperor Shahjahan. Shahjahan's rule, based out of Agra and Delhi, lasted for 30 years. It was a period of great cultural and artistic flowering. Some of India's most beautiful monuments belong to this period; but Shahjahan also patronised the arts and crafts. This beautiful nephrite and steel dagger reflects not only the Mughal appreciation of craftsmanship, but also of the natural world. See how wonderfully the grey-green nephrite showcases the delicate ears of the Nilgai!

The dagger is currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The description on the museum website says "Daggers such as this one were sometimes awarded to officers who had distinguished themselves in military victory and were worn at court as dress accessories indicating royal favor. Animal-headed hilts were especially favored, and the realism of their rendering conveys the keen appreciation for nature by Mughal artists.

On this dagger, the hilt portrays a nilgai, or blue bull, one of the most beautiful animals found in India, and terminates at the base with a leafy scroll and lotus flower. Carved from a bluish-green nephrite that approximates the color of the animal, this hilt not only demonstrates the artist's thorough mastery of hard-stone carving, but also displays a level of accuracy and sensitivity that suggest close observation of a model, perhaps one of the captive animals kept in the imperial zoo."

The dagger found its way into the personal collection of Nasli Heeramaneck, a Parsi dealer of antiquities and art objects, who died in 1985. His personal collections were bequeathed to various museums. Around 200 objects from Heeramaneck's Pre-Columbian and Western Art collection was gifted to the National Museum in Delhi, where you can see it displayed even today. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"Study Abroad" Tours in Delhi

Delhi has a lot of interesting things to experience if you are coming on an educational tour. It's a great place for understanding Indian political history; and even more interesting if you want to understand the multiple cultures and faiths that co-exist in India. And of course, there are many museums, workshops, art and music shows, and interesting cuisine experiences as well.

Here's our lovely group of 25 students from Johannesskolen Denmark. They have been touring Delhi with us for the past 4 years. We enjoy their openness to new cultures and willingness to explore. In the foreground you can see the local college students from Delhi, who took them around. The interaction with local students provides very rich opportunities for mutual understanding.

On this visit we arranged multiple experiences for them in Delhi:

- A survey of living conditions in the Ram Nagar area. Ram Nagar in Shahdara is one of the oldest residential areas of Delhi. Students did a survey of residents, with a questionnaire. We taught them basic Hindi to prepare for this : - ) The people were very welcoming of the students, inviting them for tea and being so hospitable!

- An exploration of Old Delhi using the Metro, rickshaw and walking. Students visited and volunteered at the Sikh Gurudwara, learnt about different faiths and cultures of India, saw the Metro in operation, and explored the famous traditional bazaars.

- A look at recycling industry in Delhi, and understanding the education system and daily life in a low-income neighbourhood.

Through interactions with local college students of Delhi, the Johanneskolen students gained a deeper understanding of the realities of modern Delhi. Similarly, our college students learnt about the Danish people.

We look forward to Johanneskolen's visit again next year. 

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.
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.