Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A celestial marriage fancied in stone and words

Hindu scriptures narrate tale of a demon known as ‘Tarakasura’, who was blessed by Gods that he would never be killed by anyone except son of Lord Shiva. This was almost an impossibility because Lord Shiva had killed the God of Love, ‘Madan’. Meanwhile, Uma, a daughter of Mountain Himalaya,  fell in love with Lord Shiva, who would not even look at her. To change his mind she carried out a long spiritual penance (तप), because of which Lord Shiva changed his mind and agreed to marry her. This marriage of Gods, which eventually took place according to this story, has been a great source of conjecture for poets and carvers in stone of ancient and medieval India.
We find scene of this celestial marriage, carried out according to Hindu Vedic traditions, depicted at least in two rock cut temples of in Maharashtra (Elephanta and Verul or Ellora). In cave no. 29 of Verul caves near Aurangabad city, this scene is depicted towards the east end of the great hall of this cave. The two main figures in the mosaic are Shiva and Parvati or Uma, each with a flower in their left hand. Uma wears heavy earrings and slightly inclines her head as if bashful. Below, to the right, kneeling by the sacrificial fire, is Brahma, with three heads, acting as priest; to the left are Mena and Himalaya, the mother and father of the bride, with a flower and a coconut. Above are the gods and goddesses; on the left are Vishnu, Yama, Vayu or Soma, Agni, and perhaps Varuna; on the right is Indra on Airavat.
Verul caves are believed excavated between seventh and eleventh century CE. We however cannot exactly pinpoint the century when this particular mosaic must have been sculptured.  Yet, since this mosaic is in cave 29, which is located towards north end of the caves, it must have been done in later periods as earliest caves in rock cut temples are always located towards the center. We can therefore place this cave (no. 29) as excavated in eighth or ninth centuries approximately.
At least three centuries before these stone carvers would  start their work with the chisel, a famous Sanskrit poet ‘Kalidasa’ had already conceived an epic poem, which he named as ‘Kumarsambhavam’ or ‘Birth of Kumara’, based on the theme of this celestial marriage. The ‘Kumrasaṃbhavam’ is widely regarded as one of Kalidasa’s finest works, a glowing example of his poetic genius. The style of description of this poem would set the standard for metaphors that pervaded the Indian literary tradition for many later centuries.
Kalidasa describes the marriage ceremony in these words.

प्रदक्षिणप्रक्रमणात् कृशानोर् उदर्चिषस् तन् मिथुनं चकासे ।
मेरोर् उपान्तेष्व् इव वर्तमानम् अन्योन्यसंसक्तम् अहस्त्रियामम्॥७.७९॥
तौ दम्पती त्रिः परिणीय वह्निम् कराग्रसंस्पर्शनिमीलिताक्षीम् ।
तां कारयाम् आस वधूं पुरोधास् तस्मिन् समिद्धार्चिषि लाजमोक्षम्॥७.८०॥
सा लाजधूमाञ्जलिम् इष्टगन्धं गुर्ऊपदेशाद् वदनं निनाय ।
कपोलसंसर्पिशिखः स तस्या मुहूर्तकर्णोत्पलतां प्रपेदे॥७.८१॥
तद् ईषदार्द्रारुणगण्डलेखम् उच्छ्वासिकालाञ्जनरागम् अक्ष्णोः ।
वधूमुखं क्लान्तयवावतंसम् आचारधूमग्रहणाद् बभूव॥७.८२॥
वधूं द्विजः प्राह तवैष वत्से वह्निर् विवाहं प्रति पूर्वसाक्षी ।
शिवेन भर्त्रा सह धर्मचर्या कार्या त्वया मुक्तविचारयेति॥७.८३॥
आलोचनान्तं श्रवणे वितत्य पीतं गुरोस् तद्वचनं भवान्या ।
निदाघकालोल्बणतापयेव माहेन्द्रम् अम्भः प्रथमं पृथिव्या॥७.८४॥
ध्रुवेण भर्त्रा ध्रुवदर्शनाय प्रयुज्यमाना प्रियदर्शनेन ।
सा दृष्ट इत्य् आननम् उन्नमय्य ह्रीसन्नकण्ठी कथम् अप्य् उवाच॥७.८५॥

The original Sanskrit poem was aptly translated by Ralph Griffith in 1853 in a beautiful free flowing manner. Here is the translation of the verses quoted above.

“Around the fire in solemn rite they trod,
The lovely lady and the glorious God;
Like day and starry midnight when they meet
In the broad plains at lofty Meru's feet
Thrice at the bidding of the priest they came
With swimming eyes around the holy flame
Then at his word the bride in order due
Into the blazing fire the parched grain threw,
And toward her face the scented smoke she drew,
Which softly wreathing o'er her fair cheek hung
And round her ears in flower-like beauty clung.
As o'er the incense the sweet lady stooped,
The ear of barley from her tresses drooped,
And rested on her cheek, beneath the eye
Still brightly beaming with the jetty dye
This flame be witness of your wedded life:”
Be just, thou husband, and be true, thou wife!
Such was the priestly blessing on the bride.
Eager she listened, as the earth when dried
By parching summer suns drinks deeply in
The first soft droppings when the rains begin.
Look, gentle Uma, cried her Lord, afar
Seest thou the brightness of yon polar star”

We can easily agree that the beauty of these words equally projects out of the stone carving at Verul, leaving us in a quandary as to which one is more beautiful, the mosaic or the poetry of Kalidasa?

07 February 2018

Friday, November 24, 2017

Arab historians and the legend of Padmini

A new controversy over Padmini, the legendary queen of King Ratna Simha of Chittorgarh, is raging in media these days.The trigger for the controversy  has come from a film, yet to be released, that is themed on this legendary queen.  The legend of Padmini, as we know it today, is based on an epic poem ‘Padmavat’ written in year 1540 by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in the Awadhi language. It is the oldest extant text among the important works in Awadhi and is considered a famous piece of Sufi literature from the period.
According to this legend, King Ratna Simha of Chittor married princess Padmini after a quest. After hearing about her beauty, Sultan of Delhi Allauddin Khalji, invaded Chittor to obtain Padmini. King Ratna Simha was captured by the Sultan’s forces, but his Rajput warriors rescued him on Padmini's request. While he was in captivity, his Rajput neighbour - Devpal of Kumbhalgarh - sent a marriage proposal to Padmini. Ratna Simha fought with Devpal to avenge this insult, and the two Rajput kings killed each other in a single combat. Allauddin then invaded Chittor, but before he could capture the fort, Padmini and other women immolated themselves.
I thought that it would be an interesting exercise to find out, whether, Arab historians, who have provided detailed narratives about Delhi Sultans, mention this legend and if so how they describe it? The outcome turned out to be quite interesting.
The earliest historian, who describes Allauddin’s campaign against Chittor is Amir Khusro (1253-1325), a Sufi musician, poet and scholar, who accompanied Allauddin on this campaign. He narrates this battle in his book “Tarif-i-Alla” or “Khajanau-al-Futuh” in this fashion.
On Monday, the 8th Jumda-al- thani, AH 702, (28th January 1303) the loud drums proclaimed the royal march from Delhi, undertaken with a view to the capture of Chittor. The author accompanied the expedition. The fort was taken on Monday, the 11th of Muharram, AH 703 (27th August, 1303 A.D.). The Rai (Rajput King) fled, but afterwards surrendered himself”. Amir Khusro comes up with a strange narrative here that is very difficult to explain. He says. “And (the Rajput King) was secured against the lightning of the scimitar (curved sword). The Hindus say that lightning falls wherever there is a brazen (Brass) vessel, and the face of the Rai had become as yellow as one, through the effect of fear”. This comment perhaps can be explained in this fashion. The battle was fought in such ferocity that the sunlight reflecting from the blades of the curved swords, flashed like strikes of lightening. The intense battle was so fearsome that the face of the Rajput King turned yellowish. Khusaro compares this with the Hindu belief that brass vessels attract flashes of lightening. This denigration of  Rajput Kings, who are generally known for their bravery and courage appears, far removed from reality and an exercise in sycophancy to please Sultan Allauddin.   Khusro continues further," After ordering a massacre of thirty thousand Hindus, he bestowed the Government of Chittor upon his son, Khizr Khan, and named the place Khizrabad. He bestowed on him a red canopy, a robe embroidered with gold, and two standards—one green, and the other black—and threw upon him rubies and emeralds. He then returned towards Delhi”.
According to Khusaro’s description, the battle appears to have been a fought in a decisive way, in which thirty thousand Rajput’s were massacred but he makes no mention of any loss on other side. . Perhaps we can excuse him for not having described the losses suffered by Sultan, because, after all, he himself was part of the expeditionary force.
Writing a few decades later, Ziauddin Barani (1285–1357) disposes off the battle in just one line. He says. “The Sultan then led forth an army and laid siege to Chittor, which he took in a short time, and returned home”. However, more important are his further comments. He says. “New troubles now arose on account of the Mughals in Mawaru-n nahr (Transoxiana, region north of Oxus River). They had learned that the Sultan had gone with his army to lay siege to a distant fort, and made but slow progress with the siege, while Delhi remained empty. The Sultan now returned from the conquest of Chittor, where his army had suffered great loss in prosecuting the siege during the rainy season. They had not been in Delhi a month, no muster of the army had been held, and the losses had not been repaired, when the alarm arose of the approach of the Mughals. Affairs were in this extraordinary position; the Sultan had just returned from Chittor, and had had no time to refit and recruit his army after his great losses in the siege”. This narrative gives us a better insight about the battle of Chittor as it tells us that and even though 30000 Rajputs were killed, Allauddin’s losses were also probably much higher.
We find another mention of this battle in the work of Mahomed Kasim Firishta, who compiled his history book by end of Sixteenth century. He writes. “Allauddin about this time sent an army by the way of Bengal to reduce the fort of Warangal in Telangana, while he himself marched towards Chittoor, a place never before attacked by the troops of Mohamad. After a siege of six months, Chittoor was reduced in the year AH 703. Year and the government of it conferred on the King's eldest son, the Prince Khizr Khan, after whom it was called Khizrabad”. Fisrishta’s account tells us that the siege of Chittorgarh had lasted for six months, which must have taken a heavy toll on Allauddin’s army.
Surprisingly, none of these accounts even mention the name of Queen Padmini, which possibly means that either the entire legend is imaginary or secondly, the most likely possibility is that the Padmini episode was a kind of defeat or slap on face of Sultan, and any mention of it was to be avoided.   
There is no romantic angle in the story of life of Sultan Allauddin. He was a cruel and whimsical despot, who took pride in abducting wives of kings defeated by him, adding them to his harem. In 1892 he defeated Karan Deva II of the Vaghela dynasty, the main ruler of Gujarat. His queen, Kamla Devi, fell into the hands of the invaders and was sent as booty to Allauddin. Karna Deva himself, along with his very young daughter Deval Devi and other surviving followers, fled to the Deccan.  Much later, when Deval Devi had come of age, she was captured and was sent to Delhi, where she was reunited with the mother (Kamla Devi), who she had not seen since childhood. Shortly afterwards, at the insistence of the mother, Deval Devi was married to Allauddin's eldest son Khizr Khan (her mother's step-son)
Amir Khusro found the story of Deval Devi, a fit subject for “Ashiqi”, a kind of epic or historical poem, having for its main subject, the loves of Deval Devi, and Khizr Khan, eldest son of Sultan Allauddin. From the historical account mentioned above, Amir Khusro’s  “Ashiqi” appears to be only an imaginary work with no historic basis.
Amir Khusro, in spite of being a poet, was a staunch Sunni Islamist. He writes. “Praise be to God that he so ordered the massacre of all the chiefs of Hind out of the pale of Islam, by his infidel-smiting sword, that if in this time it should by chance happen that a schismatic should claim his right, the pure Sunnis would swear in the name of this Khalifa of God, that heterodoxy has no rights”.
Sultan Allauddin was no hero. At the time of the battle for Chittorgarh, he was 37 years old, an age that was the average lifespan of Indians at that time, and had a grown up and married son. He was bad tempered, obstinate, and hard-hearted. He was a man of no learning and never associated himself with intellectuals. He could not read or write a letter even. He was however very fortunate. His plans and schemes were generally successful, which made the world smile upon him. As a result of his success, he became more and more reckless and arrogant. It would be very wrong to make an attempt to give him a romantic or awe inspiring look.
Sultan Allauddin was a staunch believer of Islamic tenets as proscribed by the prophet. He hated any heterodox principles of religions. He was very harsh on Hindu subjects from his territories. He asked  the Kazi and other wise men from his court   to come up rules and regulations by which  he  could ground down the Hindus, deprive them of that wealth and property, which according to him, fostered disaffection and rebellion. The Hindu was to be so reduced as to be left unable to keep a horse to ride on, to carry arms, to wear fine clothes, or to enjoy any of the luxuries of life. No Hindu could hold up his head and in their houses, no sign of gold or silver or money was to be seen.

References: -

1. The History of India by its own historians: By Sir H.M.Elliot: Volume iii: pp. 76, 189, 549
2. History of rise of Mahomeden power in India: translated from original Persian of Mahomed Kasim Ferishta: By John Briggs: Vol i: pp. 321 ff
3. The Imperial Gazetteer of India: The Indian Empire: Vol ii: pp. 430-31

24th November 2017

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A time warp

These days, I have started developing a feeling that I am stuck in some kind of a time warp. Let me elucidate. Time warp can be thought of as the idea of a change in the measurement of time, in which people and events from one part of history are imagined as existing in another part. In simple words, time warp could also mean that I am rather old-fashioned in my behaviour or opinion. I can see that this feeling is nothing unique or new. Each and every generation in the past, present and future (including mine naturally), must have acquired it or shall be possessed by it sometime or other. If that is so, it should have been natural to assume that our generation’s time has come and it is just our turn to grumble, whine and complain about young people, how they behave, dress, work and do things?  Things, we think as incorrect or as most inappropriate. If being in a time warp is such a natural feeling that comes to every generation, sometime or other, shouldn’t we (that includes me) , though grudgingly, accept it and keep feeling grumpy and disgruntled all the time? Why then do I get this feeling of being stuck?
The plain reason for this kind of ‘locked up’ feeling suffusing my mind is my gut perception that the changes happening around me are not necessarily unwelcome and given a second chance, I would rather whole heartedly welcome and enjoy them. Or speaking frankly, I rather envy the young generation of today for having and enjoying all the good things that people of my generation only thought in dreams.  Let me make an effort to list down a few things at which I have this feeling of resentful longing.  But, before I do not, I should also list a few customary things we enjoyed in our youth, but no longer can hope to indulge in them. The first and foremost is the clean, fresh air that we breathed and how things including water were unpolluted and fresh.  However my list of good things cannot be stretched much further.
I am a product of the socialistic India of the Nehru era, when that happy feeling of being freed from the yoke of British Empire was all pervading. In a nationalistic fervour, our elders decided that we should be educated in our mother tongue and need not acquire any knowledge of English, with the unbelievable result that I learned my ABCD, while in 8th standard. The other day, I watched my granddaughter (age 9) speaking on mobile phone, with a total stranger. Her confidence and expression was so amazing. I remembered that I could not even speak on a telephone (landline) till I was fourteen or fifteen. Speaking confidently in English, I could do, only much later.
But, that was just the beginning. Slowly for us, all windows opening out to outside world closed.  Leave aside foreign travels and goodies; even books published outside of India, became so expensive that very few could afford them. The only link that kept us informed about the world outside India were the Hollywood flicks with their peculiar way of projecting family and society values.
When I graduated, it was the time of Indigenization and saving foreign exchange. Nobody thought of free trade and things like that. India was always short of foreign exchange and it always beats me, how suddenly, after the decade of nineties, the same country could collect a stockpile of more than 300 Billions of US Dollars. As Engineers, we were supposed to find local substitutes for everything, with the result that we produced things that were too expensive, shoddy and did not perform as expected. Obviously, after imports opened up, no one would touch them with a bamboo pole even.  Our indigenous small industries died their logical and natural death around time, when a new millennium began.
Anyway, let us leave things of the past and come back to present. Other day, I travelled on the expressway between my home town Pune and Mumbai in a plush car. On the road I saw a plethora of car brands, which, in my youth, I had seen only in photographs in glossy magazines. Obviously, these magazines were subscribed by a rare few. No common person could afford them.  With all those BMW’s, VW’s and Audi’s zooming past me, I remembered my old rackety fiat and our ultimate luxury product, the Ambassador.  I reached Mumbai in two and half hours flat in air conditioned comfort, a far cry from those six or seven hours in sweltering heat and dust. Yes! I do envy the young generation for their swanky cars and expressways, something, that we had seen, in our youth, only in Hollywood films.  The same can be said about two wheelers. I remembered my old 150 CC ‘Lambretta’ and how it broke down often embarrassing me on the road. The list is almost endless. I remember the old vinyl record player now being replaced by ipods and so called old box cameras with black and white films (colour films were too expensive then) replaced by digital cameras. The blue coloured inland letters that we wrote to communicate with friends and relatives, slowly getting replaced, first by SMS and then by ‘Whatsapp’.
But, it’s not the materialist things enjoyed by today’s young people that I envy much.  When I managed to get admission to an engineering college, my options were civil, mechanical, electrical engineering or electronics. Civil engineers worked on construction projects, mechanical engineers worked on shop floors with dirty, oily hands. Electrical engineers took up jobs with state electricity boards and finally ones, who chose electronics worked either with all India radio or overseas communications centres, again Government departments. Those, who could not get admission to engineering or medical colleges, faced even bleaker prospects. Commerce graduates became clerks and remaining graduates became lowly paid school teachers or at the most lecturers in colleges. Compare this with the wide spectrum of fields that are available today. My granddaughter even with a very high score chose the arts course. She told me that today arts graduates have wider choices available for future careers than their counterparts choosing science.
When I landed upon my first job, everyone advised me to stick to it, throughout my working life. That was the norm then.   Today, I see people changing jobs as if they are changing clothes. This is possible just because jobs are available in plenty. A person, who is a miserable failure in academics, unable to get any further than tenth or twelfth standard schooling, can easily get a job paying reasonable salary in a call centre or data entry  job and do extremely well later.
Perhaps the most envious aspect of the life of today’s young generation is the freedom they have. Young couples decide to remain childless on purpose. In earlier times this was just impossible. People can give lots of time to their hobbies like trekking. They also have their individual spaces even in martial life with no interference from the partner at all. Today’s young generation can freely travel to any country of the world
Perhaps my readers would now realise that today’s young generation have the best of opportunities and every possibility to lead a great life. The older generation can only sit quietly and watch. Neither their bodies nor capabilities fit enough to cope with exacting requirements of today’s world. My case is not any different.  During decades of seventies and eighties, of last century, I did have a few golden opportunities to visit foreign lands. I remember myself wandering along the avenues lined with shops with big window show-cases. I would often look at the goodies like cameras and television displayed there. All I could do was window-shopping as I had no foreign money because Government would never sanction it and secondly even if I had managed to buy a thing, it would be subject to a huge customs duty, while entering in India.  As a bystander in a time warp, I have exactly same feelings, as I watch the young generation enjoying their life. Only thing that I can do is to envy them.

18th November 2017