About Rama Arya

A communication entrepreneur and capacity builder (thecommunique.co.in); a blogger on travel, contemporary Indian art and giving back initiatives (ramaarya.wordpress.com); a mentor with Mentor Together; and a minimalist. When I am not doing all of the above, I love taking long walks and cook a mean plate of chicken jalfrezi. :)

global travel shot: champaner, a 500-year-old indo-saracenic poem in stone

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“Look up, at the ceiling.” I am broken from my reverie, as I drift through a forest of 172 stone pillars, by my guide Manoj’s voice prodding me to halt in my tracks and raise my eyes, heavenwards.

High up, inside a dome above the main mihrab is the most exquisitely carved sculpture I have seen to date. And I find myself gasping in awe. Is this for real? I am not too sure what stuns me more. Its immense size, the fineness of the swirling leaves, or its incongruous placement—I am in a 500-year-old mosque in Champaner, and the sculpture is Hindu-Jain in style and content.

For those new to the eclectic mix of religion and spirituality which makes up India, Jainism, along with Hinduism and Buddhism, is one of the major religions which developed in ancient India.

Built in 1484 by the Sultan of Gujarat, Mahmud Begada, and abandoned in 1535 with the advent of the Mughals, the medieval city of Champaner [Mahmud called it Muhammadabad] is one of India’s finest representations of this eclectic mix. A mix, however, created more by accident rather than any calculated design to propagate secularism.

So how did this happen? Whilst the orders for the mosque’s construction came from a foreign Muslim ruler [the Gujarat Sultans were of Turkish descent], the masons, sculptors and artisans who gave shape to his architectural vision were indigenous Hindus and Jains. The latter, familiar only with their own art, used their personal artistic sensibilities to embellish the structures. The result is a unique style typical to Champaner, later imitated by the British Raj under the name “Indo-Saracenic.” Hence, we have domes and minarets decorated with swastikas and diyas.

The deserted city is now, together with the nearby Pavagadh hill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its prized centrepiece, Jami Mosque, once the main public mosque crumbles around me under the withering sun, suspended in time, whilst a couple of baboons shriek out at me for trespassing into their home.

With much difficulty, I tear myself away, this time taking a piece of a Hindu-Jain heaven in an Islamic place of worship back with me, promising myself I will blog about it for another kind of posterity. ❤

photo essay: ftii, stories of indian cinema told and untold

What is Pune without the FTII? Okay, one may say “lots” as my previous post 36 hours in Pune blatantly states. But one cannot deny FTII is integral to the city, and historically, even to the country.

Its contribution to Indian cinema through its alumni is legendary. Whether it be the histrionics of Jaya Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, and Naseeruddin Shah or the directorial vision of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, and Prakash Jha, each has added a gem or two in India’s prized entertainment business—Bollywood.

FTII, the Film and Television Institute of India’s history is no less captivating. Christened Film Institute of India in 1960, the autonomous body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and a member of CILECT, was given its current name in 1971.

Though I am no movie buff, to be Indian translates to a love for cinema. But alas, one cannot just walk into FTII’s famed campus in the north-west outskirts of Pune. Closed to the public, the Institute opens its doors to common-folk on rare occasions. One such was for a heritage walk during the heritage week organised jointly by Janwani and Intach Pune. Continue reading

36 hours in pune


Pune youth at the 8th Century Pataleshwar Cave Temple celebrating Pune Heritage Week
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It took me three years to make the journey to Pune, a city nestled in the Sahyadri hills four hours by road and 149 kilometres away from Mumbai.

Every second person I have met in Mumbai has been somehow connected to Pune. It is either through their family or studies [when they were younger] or if nothing else a place they go to chill out. I figured this in itself warranted I see it with a local, and here I mean a Mumbaikar with one foot in Pune. And so I waited. And waited. Till my desire to explore the city out-weighed the comfort of a well-versed, impossible to pin down, human guide.

Clueless about the geography of the city, but armed with a smattering of facts, figures, and stories from poring over books and articles, I found myself one fine morning seated on a bus aptly named Shivneri. For the uninitiated, Chhattrapati Shivaji Maharaj was born in Shivneri Fort on the outskirts of Pune.

But more of that later on in the post. I was headed to Mumbai’s lesser known and lesser glamorous, yet historically and culturally [as I was soon to discover] richer neighbour. It also happened to be heritage week in Pune which turned out to be in my favour. Continue reading

st. mary’s church in camp, the oldest anglican church in the deccan

For some obscure misguided reason, I was under the assumption Camp [the Cantonment] area in Pune would be just one road. To add to it, my rather simplistic imagination envisioned Pune’s famed historical churches, built to serve the then Poona’s British Raj gentry, to be standing sentinel on both sides of it in a homogenous line. I could not be more wrong.

After being driven through a maze of wide, empty streets on a Sunday morning, I found myself dropped outside a poker faced, art deco facade by a cab driver with the announcement, “Old church.” Before I could ask or argue he had sped away, and there was I in the slowly rising heat, wondering, my brows raised towards the heavens, where the hell was I?

Almost, as if in answer, a woman with a beaming smile stepped out and wanted to know what I was looking for. Her name was Sheeba Reuben Deshmukh, a counsellor and committee member of the Oldham Methodist Church, the church I had been dropped at.

I explained to her I was a blogger from Mumbai and exploring Pune that weekend.

“Have you been to St. Mary’s?” Continue reading

kelkar museum: one man’s collection of 21,000 objets d’art

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Chess: Ivory; Maharashtra; 18th Century

“Aapko andar aadhaa ghanta hi lagega [It will only take you half an hour inside],” the auto rickshaw driver tells me with full conviction. A little voice inside of me shakes its head and mutters, “Naaaa, an hour. I need an hour.”

Neither know me well. I end up spending two hours.

Remember when we were little children and the whole world was one fantasy land filled with fantastical objects, much like an Aladdin’s cave? The Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum is a manifestation of that fantasy.

Tucked inside an obscure lane in Pune’s Old City—2,500 pieces of a whopping 21,000 objet d’art collection—are displayed over three floors and 42 sections of what was once Dr. Dinkar G. Kelkar’s (1896 – 1990) home. Though much of the edifice is now a museum the family continues to live in a portion closed to the public. Continue reading

pune heritage walk: lal mahal and shaniwar wada

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Aah, those wondrous figures who live on in the dusty worn out pages of time—the larger than life legends who changed the course of history! I am talking about Chhattrapati [Sovereign] Shivaji Maharaj [top left image] and Peshwa Bajirao I [top right image] of the Maratha Empire.

Though India’s Mughal-centric history has pushed the Maratha Empire to its periphery, it lives on, passionately and firmly embedded in Maharashtra, its founder’s state, and in Pune, the empire’s political seat. Continue reading