Jantar Mantar – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

22.10.2017:

11.15 hrs – The place started to get crowded as more and more tourists are venturing out to have a look at the City Palace. I headed towards yet another important structure in the heart of the city which is in contrast with the intricate carvings and the ornate pols or gates of the City Palace – The Jantar Mantar. The entry ticket costs Rs. 50/- for Indians! Grabbing my ticket, I walked towards this most impressive and fascinating astrological marvel, which is an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of medieval India. In 2010, Jantar Mantar has been granted the UNESCO World Heritage Site Status.

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II who is fond of astronomy and used to study works of celebrated astronomers all over the world constructed a range of astronomical observatories throughout North India in between 1724 and 1730, called the ‘Jantar Mantars’. Out of the five Jantar Mantars in Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Ujjain and Mathura (which no longer exists), the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is the largest one. In fact, it is said that some of the instruments here in Jaipur are constructed by him and he constructed it so near to the City Palace so that he can make all the observations by his own!

The term ‘Jantar Mantar’ is derived from the Sanskrit terms ‘Yantra’ and ‘Mantra’ meaning ‘instruments’ and ‘formula’ respectively. I hired a guide here who knows a lot about the instruments present here. Jantar Mantar is a collection of 19 fixed architectural astronomical instruments that offer precise measurements of time, the azimuth, declination of the sun and the positions of constellations, along with several other astronomical phenomena.

I came across the Nadivalaya (the equatorial instrument), the Krantivritta (the ecliptic circle instrument) used to measure the longitude and latitudes of the celestial bodies, the Laghu Samrat Yantra (Small sundial), Shastana Yantra (sextant instrument) with which the variation in the sun’s diameter can be accurately measured and many more. But the centre of attraction here is the Vrihat Samrat Yantra (the ‘Supreme Instrument’ or Large Sundial), which is 90 ft high and measures time to an accuracy of two seconds is the world’s largest sundial.

My guide explained me about each and every instrument with perfect examples and I was awestruct when he explained me about calculating the time on Laghu Samrat Yantra and asked me to check the time he told on my watch and to my sheer surprise, it’s accurate! So far, I found Jantar Mantar as the most significant, comprehensive, and the best preserved of India’s historic observatories. And people who are interested in astronomy, here is your best bet if you want a scientific holiday 😉

Amber Fort – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

21.10.2017:

09.00 hrs – I was on my way to Amber or Amer Fort. The tuk-tuk ride was not bad at all; in fact, am enjoying it! 🙂 Whenever we hear the word Rajasthan – the first thing that comes into our mind would be the courageous Rajputs! It is also simultaneously known for another thing – its hill forts which bears testimony to the power of the Rajput princely states that flourished in the region from 8th to 18th centuries. Can you just imagine that six of Rajasthan’s hill forts have made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List? I got the first glimpse of the mighty structure while I was still some 2 kms far from the magnificent Amer Fort.

Amer Fort is situated in a town called Amer, the old capital of the Kachhwahas, and is located at around 11 km from Jaipur. The fort is set amidst picturesque and rugged Aravali range hills and was constructed during the 16th century. My tuk-tuk was stopped at the pathway that leads to the fort. Just beside the path is an artificial lake called the Maota Lake, whose original name was “Mahatva” and is spread in an area covering around 80 thousand meters. And the pathway is through a beautiful Mughal style garden known as “Kesarkyari Garden” or “Mohan Bari”.

There are two options to go upto the fort from the foothill. Either you can comfortably mount onto an elephant, and the beast would do the climbing for you or simply climb up by yourself 😉 I chose to climb by my own! It’s not a tough climb, but the sultry temperature truly drained my energy out of me 🙂 Though the temperature dropped due to the onset of winter, it was still hot and humid! Lots of Indian and foreign tourists, vendors selling caps, souvenirs, food stuff, and the mighty beasts cutting through the thronging tourists – it was a hell of activity!

After 15 minutes, I was at the main entrance of the fort called the Suraj Pol or Sun Gate as it faces east. This fort was divided into four divisions and each division is called as a courtyard. The Suraj Pol leads us into the courtyard called Jaleb Chowk, which is a huge open ground and was used by the armies to hold their victory parades. The original palace was built by Raja Man Singh and the additional extensions were built by Maharaja Mirza Raja Jai Singh and Sawai Jai Singh II who shifted his capital to Amer in 1727. Here we have to buy a ticket in order to enter the other courtyard and for Indians the ticket costs about Rupees Fifty.

I moved towards another gate called the Singh Pol or the Lion Gate leading to the second courtyard called the Diwan-i-Aam or the Hall of Public Audience. This is the place where the Raja gave audience to his subjects and met his officials. This building was constructed on the orders of Mirza Raja Man Singh in red stone and marble. The striking feature of this structure is the pillars. They support the roof by two rows of columns. The outer ones, in coupled pairs which are of red sand stone and the inner ones are of cream marble.

I moved towards the Ganesh Pol or the Ganesh Gate, which provides access to the inner and private chambers of the palace. Ganesh Pol is an architectural marvel with its exquisitely painted and carved walls. Amber Fort is known world over for its artistic Hindu style architecture influenced by the Mughal architecture. Constructed of red sandstone and marble this massive fort is remarkable for majestic grandeur and is a sight to behold! Just above the Ganesh Pol, is the Suhag Mandir used by the royal ladies to witness the functions held in Diwan-i-Aam.

 

Ganesh Pol leads us to one of the main attractions of the Amber Palace called the Diwan-i-Khas or the Hall of Private Audience. It was constructed during the period of Mirza Raja Jai Singh and was also called as Jai Mandir after him. This is also called the Sheesh Mahal or Glass Palace as the ceiling of this structure was filled up with convex-shaped mirrors. The other prominent structures are the Sukh Niwas (Pleasure Palace), where the king used to retire for sleep, the hexagonal shaped Mughal style garden constructed by Raja Jai Singh I.

 

The last or the fourth courtyard is the Zenani Deorhi or Ladies’ Apartments in which the queen-mothers and the Raja’s consorts lived and it also housed their female attendants. Jas Mandir is the temple where the royal women worship. Architecture lovers, photo enthusiasts and historians – here is something which you should not definitely miss! 😉 Before moving onto the next place, I charged myself up with a glass of iced-tea from the Cafe Coffee Day located in the palace itself which also offers a beautiful view of the town behind it! 🙂

The Black Pagoda – Konark Sun Temple

The Konark Sun Temple, originally built on sea shore is also called as the Black Pagoda due to its dark color. Though the temple is dedicated to the Sun god, the legend also has it that after slaying demon Gyasur, Lord Vishnu left his belongings at several places to commemorate his victory – conch in Puri, disc in Bhubaneswar, mace in Jaipur and lotus in Konark. The most important part of this temple apart from the legends and myths around it, is its exquisite architecture! The temple was built in the form of the celestial chariot of the Sun God being pulled by seven galloping horses on 12 pairs of wheels towards east; and hence the main entrance of this temple is on the eastern side.

The seven horses pulling the temple eastwards towards dawn is symbolic of the seven days of the week; the dozen pair of wheels represent the 12 months of the year and the eight spokes in each wheel symbolize the eight ideal stages in a woman’s day.  The entrance of the temple is guarded by two huge lions, each killing a war elephant (represents pride) and beneath the elephant (represent wealth) is a man. This symbolizes the conquest of spiritual power over worldly power and the symbol of ignorance conquered by knowledge. The temple consists of a vimana (main temple) for housing the deity, Jagamohana, which is a praying hall and the natya mandir wherein which the dances are performed.

The most unique feature of this temple is its design which ensures the rays of the Sun fall on the image of the Sun God at equinoxes. Also this temple is known as pancha-ratha-dekha deul with each of its façade broken by five small projections, which as a consequence produces the effect of light and shade on the surface and creates an impression of one continuous vertical line called rekha. A guide here told us that there used to be a magnet at the top of the temple and every two stones of the temple are sandwiched by iron plates, and as a result the idol was said to have been floating in the air – no idea how far this is true!

During the medieval times, this temple was used as a navigational landmark by ancient sailors to Odisha and it is said that the magnet placed on top of the temple have disturbed the compasses of these sailors leading to shipwrecks and hence it was removed on a later stage. There are two raised platforms on the right side and behind the temple which are also in ruins. The walls of the temples are adorned with rampaging elephants, military processions, hunting scenes, as well as a few erotic figurines here and there. We spent about 2.5 hrs sitting here and there in the complex listening to various stories and legends shared by the gatekeepers, some old men who are frequent visitors to this temple and of course an old guide too 🙂 Yes, Eshwar hired one!

It was this guide who told the fascinating story of a 12 year old boy called Dharmapad who had sacrificed himself for the sake of the 12000 craftsmen who worked for 12 years to complete this temple. The legend is that Bisu Maharana, heading the group of craftsmen was unable to finish off the construction even after 12 years and the king Narasimha announces that all would be beheaded if the construction wouldn’t be completed the following day. Dharmapad, son of Bisu Maharana who studied Odiya temple architecture finds out the fault lay and erects the final stone or the Kalash on top of the Konark temple. But, Dharmapad had to end his life by jumping off into the sea as he knew that the king won’t accept the defeat of his craftsmen at the hands of a 12 year old boy and definitely beheads them.

While sharing this heroic story with us, I could see the old man taking pride in Dharmapad and remembering him so fondly and as a source of inspiration! As truly remarked by the great poet Rabindranath Tagore, “Here in Konark, the language of stone surpasses the language of man” 🙂

 

Konark – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

25.06.2017:

Odisha is popular for its architecturally celebrated temples like the Lingaraja temple in Bhubaneshwar, Lord Jagannath’s shrine in Puri and the Sun Temple at Konark and many more sacred shrines and heritage monuments along with the famous Odissi dance, fairs, festivals and exotic handicrafts. The first thing that comes into everyone’s mind when heard of the state’s name is either the famous Rath Yatra or the Konark Sun Temple. This itself proves that how heritage has become an integral part of Odisha!

As I reached the entrance, I could see the Kalinga architectural marvel standing as a living sonata in stone! This 13th century temple dedicated to the Sun God, is built in black granite during the reign of King Langula Narasimhadeva – I of the Ganga Dynasty around 1250 AD. This is one of the most important temples dedicated to the Sun God in India and is a leading Hindu pilgrimage centre. This place is now under the maintenance of Archaeological Survey of India and the entry fee is Rs. 30/- per person.

There was a queue of tour guides behind us by the time we entered the temple complex and we politely rejected their services! 🙂 The first structure we encountered upon entering the complex is the Natya Mandir (the Dance Hall) where the temple dancers once performed. A stone staircase flanked by seated lions led us on to the platform from where we can get a better view of the Sun Temple. Once upon a time, the temple dancers used to perform here as a ritual offering to the God, but now this ritual is no more!

The Natya Mandir had exquisitely carved pillars with various mythical figures, floral motifs and human creatures etc. I can imagine how the musicians might have seated there with their drums and other instruments and the temple dancers performed in front of the God here 🙂 , would have been good if I got back to those days 🙂 . Nevertheless, we can have the same experience now too; by attending the annual Konark Dance Festival which is held in every December, dedicated to the classical Indian dance forms. Why late, grab the tickets now! 😉

We walked towards the main temple which is visibly in ruins, corroded by time and sea air. Yet the temple shares the brilliance and dazzle of the sun with its fascinating architecture, exotic sculptures and intriguing social history of Odisha; which was also a beacon to mariners in medieval times. Konark has got its name from two Sanskrit words – Kona, meaning corner and ark implying the sun. And this temple which was dedicated to the worship of the Sun God holds the sun as the soul of whole manifestation, primal cause of this universe and its different cycles of manifestation and annihilation. The Suryopanishad – a scripture on the Sun God asserts that the Sun is the creator, protector and destroyer.

Though in ruins now, this place retained its rustic charm and serene aura. The mighty sculptures, beautiful lawns and gardens around the temple attracted me the most and I instantly fell in love with this place!

Christmas @ Goa

25.12.2015:

It’s Christmas and how can we miss the celebrations in the Capital of Christmas? @ 13.45 hrs, we started our journey back to Goa from Dudhsagar. The south sojourn wiped our minds to a fresh blank state and they were waiting to be rewritten with new experiences! But before that, we have to fill our stomachs with something, we were damn hungry. Our cab driver told us that good food will be available on our way back.

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By the way, the Christmas destination was The Basilica of Bom Jesus, which is on our way back. But before that, we halted at a restaurant in Ponda and ordered our food. The food is not that great nor that bad, but the quantity is too bad, I think it hardly fills anyone’s stomach. Content after our meal, we resumed our journey to the Basilica. Goa lies at the convergence of cultures and civilizations: Konkani intertwined with Portuguese. This is visible in her heart, the by-lanes of Old Goa.

Our cab stopped just in front of the Basilica which is filled with people. I think there was a mass going on at that time, not a bad timing at all 🙂 . Goa is literally synonymous with churches. They are living testimonies of the rich historical past of Goa. During the early days of the Portuguese rule in India, church building was the primary concern and occupation in Goa.

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A fine example of Baroque architecture, the foundation of The Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was  laid in November 1594. It is dedicated to Bom Jesus meaning good or infant Jesus. Its intricately designed altars and paintings are an exquisite artistic expression for lovers of art. Murals and marble floors inlaid with precious stones add charm to the interiors, while the un-plastered exterior appears at first glance to be inferior as compared to the sparkling facades of other churches.

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As we entered the church, we were able to see a wooden carved statue of St. Francis Xavier as well as the Altar of St. Anthony. Here, the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier, who died in 1552 and which are believed to have unbelievable healing powers, are kept in a glass case ensconced in a silver casket since 1624. His body was buried in three different countries; each time it was exhumed, it was found to be incorrupt! We lit some candles and had a small pray and went around the church which is too good to have some real good photos.

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Just opposite to the Basilica is the Professed House of the Jesuits, which is a two storey building covered in lime plaster which was completed in 1589. There is some legend behind this too, but couldn’t know it as we were running of time 😦 . No probs, next time 😉 . There is also a modern art gallery with paintings depicting various biblical scenes adjacent to the Basilica. We took some photographs here too. And that was the best Christmas ever in my life 🙂

Vivid colors from Portugal and narrow cobbled streets emanate an old-world charm, perfect for busy souls on a quest for quietude!