Thursday, 27 October 2011

Konark Dance Festival: Classical Dance & Music Extravaganza

The sun temple in Konark is famed as a world heritage site. The exquisite 'Natyamandir' or the 'dancing hall' of this 700-year old shrine is an architectural wonder with well-adorned sculptures in Odissi dance poses. The Natyamadir or the dancing hall of the temple is extremely famous for its wonderful interior. Constructed a way back in the 13th century on the beach of Chandrabagha, this temple and its dancing hall today stand as the evidence of Indian culture’s age old amalgamation of dance and devotion.
 The Konark Dance Festival is organized annually in the month of December at the open air auditorium in the temple premises with the temple as the back drop. Many celebrated dancers from all over the country perform at this pious venue. Since 1989, this festival has been organized in the state jointly by Orissa Tourism and Odissi Research Centre to promote the diverse Indian dance heritage as well as the popularity of Konark Temple and Orissa as a tourist destination.

Konark Dance Festival

Celebration of different dance forms at one place
 Konark Dance Festival is held in December in the beautiful backdrop of the Sun temples in Konark, Orissa. The enthralling Konark Dance Festival is held every year, from 1 to 5 December. The festival has made the famous tourist destination that the Konark is even more attractive in the eyes of the tourists.

Konark Dance Festival at the backdrop of famous Konark sun temple

Odissi Dance Form

Bharatanatyam Form

The Konark Dance Festival is organized annually in the month of December at the open air auditorium in the temple premises with the temple as the back drop. Many celebrated dancers from all over the country perform at this pious venue. Since 1989, this festival has been organized in the state jointly by Orissa Tourism and Odissi Research Centre to promote the diverse Indian dance heritage as well as the popularity of Konark Temple and Orissa as a tourist destination.

Craft Mela at Konarak Dance Festival

With the setting of the sun, the open air auditorium put on life in the variety of musical beats and rhythmic actions under the star lit sky. In the midst of the poem in stone at the background, the festival proves to be a proper cultural feast. A carnival of Odissi, Bharathnatyam, Manipuri, Kathak and Chau Dances.The festival truthfully comes as a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears. The sound of bells of Ghungroo, flute and Pakhauj append to the festive atmosphere. There is also a crafts mela, with a variety of handicrafts and tasty cuisine during the festival. The festival is jointly organised by Orissa Tourism and Odissi Research Centre. This mela affix more excitement to the festival thus making it an ideal venue for a family gathering on a holiday in India or a blissful experience to the tourists. The festival is a prospective platform for the performing artiste and the dance connoisseur both. It in addition comes as a right occasion for the potential artists of India who are yet to make their occurrence felt on the international level.

Konark Dance Festival takes place in an open-air auditorium against the backdrop of the floodlit temples that reverberates with the beats of 'Raga' and 'Tala' to fill the air with the sounds of classical music. The classical extravaganza is a journey through eternal ecstasy. Thus, Konark Festival gives one to have an experience of life time to witness a cocktail of art, craft, music, dance and food, all at the same place.

Fort Of Kumbhalgarh: The Place of Royalty and Chivalry

Kumbhalgarh Fort is the second most important fort of Rajasthan after Chittorgarh. Kumbhalgarh is a famous 15th century fort at a distance of around 84 km from Udaipur in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan. The fort city is well connected to the other parts of Rajasthan by road. This unconquerable fortress is secured under the kind protection of the Aravali ranges. Kumbhalgarh Fort was built by Maharana Rana Kumbha in the 15th century. Kumbhalgarh is also the place where the great king and warrior of Mewar, Maharana Pratap was born.

I visited Kumbhalgarh fort on my trip to Udaipur and I was amazed to see the beauty and serenity of the place. The fort is hemmed in by three mountain peaks which add more charm to it. Standing tall at an altitude of 1100 m, the fort has walls extending up to 36 km in length which makes it the third longest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China and the Great Wall of Gorgan in Iran. The huge complex of the Fort has numerous palaces, temples and gardens making it more magnificent.

On our way to Kumbhalgarh fort, a few kilometers before, we found ourself on a zigzag road going through deep ravines and thick forests.  It was a a great experience. This road took us to  the Arait Pol, where we traced  the watch-tower and then Hulla Pol, Hanuman Pol, Ram Pol, Bhairava Pol, Paghra Pol, Top-khana Pol and Nimboo Pol also followed in that track.

Our guide told us that in Kumbha's time the kingdom of Mewar spread from Ranthambore to Gwalior, including vast tracts of present-day Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Mewar's rulers became patrons of all that was best in Indian martial and fine arts, architecture, and learning. Of the 84 fortresses defending Mewar, 32 were designed and built by Rana Kumbha. Of these, Kumbhalgarh with its 36-kilometer long wall and soaring towers is the most impressive. Kumbhalgarh stands on the site of an ancient citadel dating back to the second century AD belonging to a Jain descendant of India's Mauryan emperors. It defined the boundaries between Mewar and Marwar and became a refuge for Mewar's rulers in times of strife. Its steel gray ramparts encircle the fertile Shero Mallah Valley, with ancient monuments cenotaphs, ponds and flourishing farms. Kumbhalgarh fell only once in its history, to the combined forces of Emperor Akbar, Raja Man Singh of Amber, and Raja Udai Singh of Amber, and Raja Udai Singh of Marwar.

The impregnable Fort boasts of seven massive gates, seven ramparts folded with one another with designed walls toughened by curved bastions and huge watch towers. The strong structure and solid foundation of the Fort made it unbeatable till date. The hefty walls of the fort are broad enough to stand eight horses side by side. There are not less than 360 temples inside the complex of the Fort. Amongst all of them, Shiva Temple is worth visiting that comprises a huge Shivalinga (Phallic form).

There is an octagonal room in which Rana Pratap was born, apart from, the hall in which his grandson Prince Karan entertained the future Mughal Emperor Shahjahan, the beacon tower from which a flame summoned Mewar's chieftains to war. The austere chambers, the vast reservoirs kept full by elephant relays, the simple garden court for the royal ladies, the easily defendable narrow staircases all declared that this was primarily a warrior's hideout, not a palace for princely pomp and show.

 The imaginatively designed Aohdi nearby belongs to a descendant of one of those great warrior families, the Rathores of Ghanerao, who enjoyed the distinction of having the only hereditary seat among the premier nobles of both Mewar and Marwar. The Aohdi's castle-type cottages provide comfort and privacy for those seeking a peaceful retreat, plus a base for horse safari and trekking enthusiasts.

The Fort is also known for its famous palace that resides on the top of structure. This beautiful palace is known as 'Badal Mahal' or the Palace of Cloud. It is also accredited to be the birth place of great warrior Maharana Pratap. This palace has beautiful rooms with lovely color combination of green, turquoise and white presenting a bright contrast to the earthy colors of the Fort. This place gives the appearance of being wandering in the world of clouds. Cloud Palace also offers a fantastic panoramic vista of the down town.

In the late 19th century, Rana Fateh Singh once again took the initiative to rebuild this remarkable palace. In the times of dissension, the fort also offered refuge to the rulers of Mewar. Even, the baby king Udai Singh was kept here safe during the time of battles. The large complex of the Fort offers ancient remnants to explore and one can spend a pleasurable evening while strolling through the ravines of Kumbhalgarh Fort.
How to reach:
Air – Udaipur is the nearest domestic airport. One can take flights to other important tourist destinations of the region like Jaipur, Jodhpur, Aurangabad, Mumbai, and Delhi. The nearest international airport is in Delhi.
Rail – Udaipur is also the nearest railway station from Kumbhalgarh. There are trains for Delhi, Chittaur, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Ajmer, and Jodhpur from Udaipur.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Havelock Island - A Romantic Gateway!!!

I always go to Andman Islands once in a year as my parents stay in Port Blair. This time my parents suggested me to visit Havelock Islands which is 54Km from PortBlair. I reached Havelock by a helicopter at 8:30 am after 20 minutes of flight from PortBlair. It was an awesome view from helicopter which was quite different from normal airplane. The guide told me that Havelock Island, is known for its pristine beaches, lush green rain forest and exotic marine life. The island has become a major tourist destination these days with many Indian & foreign nationals thronging in.  

Havelock View from Helicopter
With not much expectation we check in to our Dolphin resort. Wow!! What a view of sea from that resort!! Total crystal clear water with different shades of blue. The color of the seawater ranging from azure blue to turquoise green spoke volumes about its unpolluted nature. The waiter told me that this beach is known as Vijay Nagar beach and there are 7 beaches in Havelock Island. The most beautiful one is RadhaNagar beach.

Govind Nagar Beach

Different Shades of color in sea water
I was thrilled by the view and eagerly getting ready to much famous Radha Nagar beach which  was 7 Km from our resort.  As soon as I reached there, I was mesmerized by the view. It’s silky white sand surrounded by a forest that provides welcome shade looking out over turquoise waters, some stretches with a sandy bottom good for swimming and some with excellent coral reefs that are great for snorkelling – a great combination indeed. It was a treat for eyes. We spent our whole day in Radha Nagar beach until the sun had set behind the clouds, we felt dog-tired and deserved some sleep after a long day.

RadhaNagar Beach

White Sand Beach of Radha Nagar Beach

Full Moon View from Radha Nagar Beach

Next morning we went to our own Vijay Nagar beach (DolphinResort’s Beach), there the sun rise view was so pristine. The beach was strewn with large pieces of driftwood, dead corals and shells. We saw many hermit crabs homing into colourful shells befitting their sizes. The waves were gentle almost lulling into one’s feet.

Sunrise view from Govind Nagar Beach

Govind Nagar Beach
At 9 :00 am, we checked out from the hotel after the breakfast, dumped our bags at Nala Restaurant near the jetty and carried the towels & costumes with us…we were all set for the famed Elephant beach, the snorkeling haven of Havelock. Elephant beach, located at north-western part of the island, is best approached by a boat from the jetty sailing along the eastern & northern coastline as otherwise one has to traverse through a thick rain forest without a good motorable road. I and my husband  boarded quite a rickety wooden boat fitted with an outboard engine...two lanky juvenile boatmen looked very confident of giving us a taste of adventure!

On the Way to Elephant Island

The boat sputtered on its way to Elephant beach and bounced & tossed a little for us to sit stiff!  It took good 30 minutes to reach the destination where groups of families had already gathered for the novel experience of snorkeling. Beach was awesome with some uprotted trees lying and adding beauty to it.

Ferry tied at Elephant Beach

Elephant Beach

Elephant Beach

The initial process of using snorkeling gear, getting used to breathing through the mouth and floating on the life-belt with our heads below the water took us some time.Our boatmen, who also doubled as our snorkeling guides, took turns to push us into the deeper & calmer zones of the sea. But the view down below was simply breathtaking, really worth all the troubles...colourful live corals, sea anemones & sea urchins with more colourful fishes wafting by…we were in nature’s garden with bounties of beauty!

Snorkling at Elephant Beach
As we returned from Elephant beach, our guide told us that near by there is a beach called Kala Pattar beach which is worth seeing it. As drove in our Jeep,  I realized that the drive towards the beach looked very much like a marine drive, but with a tropical fragrance to it. There were hardly any people around. The emerald seas, the tropical forests on one side of the road, the kalapathars (black rocks) that decorate the coastline, the silken smooth silver sands and the sheer solitude make this beach a great place to relax. I was very happy that no tourist infrastructure was available here and nature was left as is. But, if you happen to go here, do exercise caution while entering the waters as the locals warn of the sharp rocks and the strong currents beyond.

KalaPattar Beach In Havelock Island

Kala Pathar Beach
Finally, all good things must come to an end...we returned to harsher reality to Havelock, savoured the South-Indian buffet lunch at Nala restaurant and waited for the return ferry to Port Blair. The voyage by MV Strait Island leaving Havelock at 4.30 in the afternoon.  Gradually the dusk approached with all its hues of paint brushing the clouds and the sea. We spotted the North Bay lighthouse near Port Blair from a good distance and soon after the town appeared prominent in the horizon bedecked with its string of lights beckoning us to its folds!

Sunset in Havelock

Another view of sunset from cruise

Mackruzz- Havelock to PortBlair Cruise

Way to PortBlair

The quaint beaches of Havelock  island almost deserted are perfect cocoons of comfort and solace ideal for one’s romantic holiday.

 How to Reach Havlock Island:
  1. Ferries are the major way on or off the island. 2-3 arrive daily from Port Blair (2-4 hours) and one from Rangat, one of which comes via Neil Island. Schedules vary according to day and season, so enquiry locally.
  2. There is also an air-conditioned catamaran ferry from Port Blair to Havelock. Tickets are 700, 800 or 1100 (which gets you a leather seat and your own tv). As the ferry is more expensive it is less likely to be full, and its schedule meets incoming flights. Tickets can be booked from a dedicated ticket booking window at Port Blair, thus avoiding the queue barging.
  3. The other option is to fly in. Pawan Hans (+91-3192-233601), which until 2011 operated sporadic helicopter flights to Havelock, now flies an amphibious 8-seater Cessna seaplane from Port Blair to Havelock and back every day except Sunday, covering the distance in about an hour. The standard price is a steep 4100 rupees one-way, but discounts may be available.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Chhath Puja: ThanksGiving Festival To Sun God

Thou by whose luster all the world of life comes forth, and by thy beams again returns unto its rest,  O surya with the golden hair, ascend for us day after day, and still bringing purer innocence – Rig Veda.   

View of lake at night
 Chatt is a key festival celebrated in Bihar, Jharkhand and the Terai regions of Nepal, India. Chhath is a festival of prayer and purity observed with somberness and strict discipline, an important Puja dedicated to Sun god. People pray to Sun god for their well being. There is a popular belief that worshiping Surya (Sun) will help in curing diseases and also ensure longevity and prosperity of the family. Chhath Puja is performed to thank Surya (Sun) for sustaining life on earth. The devotees believe that their wishes are always granted.

Devotees are ready to perfom evening puja

Ladies worshipping Sun God
During my childhood days, I use to visit my maternal grandparents house to attend this festival. Chhath Puja remindes me of my childhood visits to talabs to witness the merriment in the air. My friends, my brother and I would team up with families observing the puja and we’d collectively proceed to the talab. We would watch the puja patiently, waiting for it to get over while our mouths would water for the delicacies. Today when I see it in TV, I smile while remembering the struggle that used to ensue as kids amidst my group of friends to get a better glimpse of the devotees offering the puja and, on days that followed, amongst my siblings and cousins for grabbing as many sweets as possible.

Chhath Puja in Mumbai sea beach

Chhat is dedicated to Lord Surya and Lord Karthikeya / Subramanya. The festival is celebrated for four days in the Hindu month of Karthika. October – November according to Gregorian calendar. Chhath Puja (Dala Chhath Pooja) is observed on the sixth day of Kartik Month.

Early Morning Puja
The first day is known as Nahai Khai (bathe and eat), second day is Kharna, third day is Chhat Sandhya Argh , and the last day is Chhatt Suryodaya Argh. Chhat Puja is an important festival for the people of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, Chhat is observed as Surya Shashti.
The occasion is almost a carnival. Besides the parvaitin, there are friends and family, and numerous participants and onlookers, all willing to help and receive the blessings of the worshipper. Ritual rendition of regional folk songs, carried on through oral transmission from mothers and mothers-in-law to daughters and daughters-in-law, are sung on this occasion. The folk songs sung on the evening of Chhath reflect the culture, social structure, mythology and history of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Carnival scenario in Bihar during Chhath Puja

It is believed that ritual of Chhath puja may even predate the ancient Vedas texts, as the Rigveda contains hymns worshiping the Sun god and describes similar rituals. The rituals also find reference in the Sanskrit epic poem Mahabharata in which Draupadi is depicted as observing similar rites.
It is also believed that Chhath was started by Karna, the son of Surya Putra Karna who ruled over the Anga Desh (present day Bhagalpur district of Bihar) during the Mahabharat Age. He was a great warrior and fought against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War.
Its yogic/scientific history dates back to the Vedic times. The rishis of yore used this method to remain without any external intake of food as they were able to obtain energy directly from the sun’s rays. This was done through the Chhath method. This has been stated in the book Sri Chhath Mahaviggyaan (The Science of Chhath) by Yogishri Oumkaar.

Puja started at Dawn
Folklores and hymns are sung with somber hues on the banks of the Holy Ganges or any fresh watery body. Lamps are offered to the Ganges upon which millions of lamps are seen lit and thousands of hands are seen with offering of ‘Arghya’ till the late night. Following this the devotees return home and have grand celebrations with singing and feasting. Special pujas with sugarcanes are conducted in home for Agni deva (god of fire). Then fast is broken by eating ‘Prasadam’ or sanctified food.

A Dip for Faith

People pray to the Sun god for their well-being. They have ardent faith that by observing Chhat puja one gets his wishes fulfilled. They also believe that this vrat helps in curing diseases and ensures longevity and prosperity of the family.
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