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. ❤

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

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

art focus – fold/unfold – sonia khurana

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Folding:
Fold, repeat, fold
folding—or doubling—of my thought into yours.
“The inside is nothing more than the fold of the outside”
: announces the fold.

The above lines and a cacophony of text, word, image, and thought spanning nearly 20 years meet me as I walk into the dimmed art gallery in a quiet bylane in Mumbai’s historic Fort district. The halls are shrouded in darkness with jewel-like LCD screens emitting video art of unabashedly personal, intimate, narcissist, and at times erotic conversations of the artist with herself.

I find myself thinking out aloud: this is what it must be like to step into one’s innermost recesses—where demons and angels reside. Where battles are fought between our limitations and desires, and the uncrowned unvetted winners bask in themselves. Continue reading

about me: in a bit more detail

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Compliments of the New Year! 🙂

It is already the 7th of January, and it seems just yesterday that I was contemplating the closure of yet another year and what all it had meant for me even as it paved the way for a sequel. There was a sense of déjà vu in the air.

Except for one thing—a chunk of my holidays was taken up in finalizing my personal site. Tweaking it and polishing it to ensure it was perfect, for me at least. You could call the site my fancy online business card, for a better word. But why a personal site, you may ask? Is a blog not enough? Continue reading

3 reasons why the bdl tops as mumbai’s most lovely museum

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Do you like museums? I do. Not all of them though. Just those that stand out, whether it be in scale or the splendour of its exhibits, recount a tale which draws one within its folds, or is so darned quaint it looks like it stepped straight out from another world, another time.

I spent this past Sunday at one that fit the last bill.

One does not often relate Mumbai to museums. And when one does, it is invariably the grand Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya which comes to mind. The name itself is a mouthful as is its repertoire of treasures. But there is another that is just as inimitable, albeit in an altogether different way—reminiscent of a large Victorian doll house brimming with charm and pretty things. It is the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla.

Three things set the second one apart and place it firmly as Mumbai’s most lovely repository: Its restored stunning Victorian edifice, a bevy of vibrant clay models which transform the place into a magical fantasy, and its exquisite collection of decorative arts which showcase India’s rich heritage. Quite a heady mix!

Read on to know more. 🙂 Continue reading