Friday, 30 March 2012

Gujrati Africans: Lost in Maze of Legends

India plays a host to numerous tribal cuture. One of its vibrant state Gujarat has nourished a very unusual tribal community “Siddi”. Siddi Tribe- an African tribe that is settled in the nearby town of Junagadh. The quaint village of Sirvan is inhabited entirely by Siddis who were supposedly brought here as slaves 300 years ago from Africa, by the Portuguese for the Nawab of Junagadh. , Siddi Tribe of Gujrat is also reckoned as the lost tribe of Africa.

Siddi Tribe
Woman of Siddi Tribe

Members of Siddi Tribe in Gujrat
The fascinating culture and history of the Siddis was unknown to the world beyond their small communities. The origins of the Siddis in India are lost in a maze of legends and historical calculations. According to belief, “the kings and rulers of small territories along the west coast of India, bought hordes of African slaves from Arab slave traders. They used the women as servants in their places and the men as hunters. Many people are also of the opinion that Indian merchants with establishments abroad, brought with them Siddi slaves from Abyssinia.”
In the western Indian state of Gujarat - where most Sidis live - the community has lost touch with its roots. The village of Jambur, deep in the Gir forest, is one of two exclusively Sidi settlements. It is miserably poor. Their forbears came from Africa. But they have lost any knowledge of African languages, and don't know where exactly their ancestors came from or why they settled in India. The only remnant they retain of their African lineage is their music and dance.

Folk Dance of Siddi Tribe

History of Siddi TribeIn the period of 11th to 19th century, the ancestors of these Siddi tribes have migrated to several places of Gujrat. To be specific, knowing the strength and power of these Siddi tribes, all the royal kings of India hired most of these Sidditribes and there was a huge infiltration of the Siddi tribes from foreign lands. It is an ethnic group having Black African descent. It has been said that African ancestors of this tribe community came along to India during the 10th century with Arab merchants.In spite of their reputations as fine fighters, several of these Siddi tribes worked as domestics servants ans as labours in the farmlands. In order to create their own separate communities, a handful of these Siddi tribes also took refuge in the interiors of the forest area. Much later in the beginning of the 20th century, in the provinces of Jnajira and jafrabad, small Siddi lands are formed. This Janjira Islands was also called Habshan, implying to be the land of the Habshis.

Dhamal Dance By Siddi Tribe
Siddis have largely assimilated into the local populations where they live, adopting local religions, languages, food habits and clothes. The only remaining cultural traits from their African origins are their music and dance forms. The dance form that they are most famous for is called Dhamal.
While they are culturally assimilated, there has been little, if any, intermarriage between tribals and others in the areas they live in and hence they have remained a distinct community. They have also faced discrimination and isolation. In Saurashtra, they are the only tribal community and are at the bottom rungs of the social hierarchy. They are an extremely impoverished community and either live off the land inside forest areas or are employed as agricultural labourers.

The numbers and status of the Siddis – the only known group of African descendants has been dwindling rapidly. Though the government has made some attempt, but their long term survival is a question.
In sum, the Siddis constitute a unique element in the diverse society that is India.While facilitating the preservation of their unique culture and allowing them to retain whatever level of distinctiveness they wish to retain, it is incumbent upon our Governments and socieites at large to help this community develop and gain access to modern education and employment.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Shani Shinganapur: A Lockless village where God is Guardian

In the modern times where, together with the technology advances, crimes too become more sophisticated and the concerns for more and more security measures gains priority, is it possible to imagine a place where people live in harmony in no-door-no-locks-houses ? It may seem unbelievable but as a matter of fact, true! There is indeed a tiny hamlet where houses and other buildings like shops have no doors, and that place is in the country of countless legends and myths – India.

Shani Dev Idol
That peculiar place is ‘Shani Shingnapur’, a village located in Maharashtra state about 350 kilometers away from the state capital Mumbai and 60 kilometers from the popular pilgrim place Shirdi.

Entrance of Shani Shinganapur
The place where many go to get blessed by the Lord Shanishwara, the presiding deity of the temple at Shani Shingnapur is Lord Shanidev or Lord Shanishwara who is believed to be the personification of the planet Saturn. He is respected and is worshipped with a lot of devotion by his devotees. Millions of people from across the entire world come to Shani Shingnapur to get spiritual benefits. The deity is of black stone and this sight sends many devotees into frenzy.
In Shani Shingnapur village, people live in houses with no doors for generations! Here one can find only curtains (that is also rare) in the place of doors. The only temporary guard is barriers – that too to keep off stray animals. Here villagers get to their daily routines without bothering about their house’s security or fear of thieves. For them, everything is dedicated to the Lord Shani. The belief is, whoever steals anything from this place will incur the wrath of Shani God and will have to pay for his/her sins very dearly. When Shani Shingnapur natives go outside their village, they don’t ask their neighbors to keep vigil on their house & belongings. There is no Police station in this village too. They have no role here!

No Doors in Homes
In the 156-year history of village Shani Shingnapur in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra, residents have never installed doors to their houses. Nor do they have a fettish for keeping things locked. Even new constructions such as police stations, guest houses, resorts, telephone exchange and other government buildings follow the rule. The post boxes too have no doors, wire meshes with open designs stop the letters from tumbling out. In case residents want to hang curtains on the door openings it is mandatory that they should be transparent. Despite the changes in the intervening years, the estimated 6500 residents in this village live with the singular belief that Lord Shaneshwar (Saturn) protects them from thieves and other ills. Surprisingly, there is no such bar for those living outside the parameters of Shani Shingnapur. Visit any part of this village and even the most  plush bungalows follow the stated rule.

No Doors & No Locks in Home
Shani Shingnapur village is famous in all over India due to Shani Dev. There are some legends about the village. The Legends are
"There is God, but no temple."
"There is a home, but no door."
"There is a tree, but no shade."
"There is fear, but no enemy."

Shani Dev

Legend has it that Suryadev was the son of Brahma and he was married to Sandna the daughter of Daksha Prajapati. They had two sons Shri Shaneshwar and Dakshinadhipati. Tapti, Kalindi, Savitri and Bhadra were their daughters. Sandna could not bear Surya’s harsh heat and so created her duplicate form Sanvarna and asked her to live as Sandna with Suryadev. Sanvarna started doing all the duties of a wife and lived with Suryadev. She told Sanvarna she would reveal this to Suryadev when time comes. Sandna went to her father Daksha’s place and Daksha did not accept her. Sandna started penancing in dejection. She turned herself into a mare. In the meantime, Sanvarna lived her life and had children of her own. One day Lord Shanidev was hungry and asked her to give something. Shanidev went on nagging her and kicked his mother in the frustration. Sanvarna cursed that his leg should break. When Shanidev complained about this to Lord Surya, he realized that a mother couldn’t talk this way. Soon he found out what Sandna had done and mellowed the curse on Shanidev and promised that he would be worshipped by people. Thus Shanidev has a lame leg due to the curse getting milder and the temple is at Shani Shingnapur.

Shops selling Puja  Items
In January 2011, the United Commercial (UCO) Bank opened a 'lockless' branch in the village, the first of its kind in the country, taking note of the near-zero crime rate in the region. The local police were reported to be unhappy over this development and that it amounted to a breach of conditions, because the Central government of India has made it mandatory for all banks to have high security.The bank has doors,but they will always remain open. However, it was reported by the local legislator and the bank officials that adequate precautions were being taken for the safety of lockers and important documents.

Unique Features of Shinganapur:

1. No shelter over Shani Maharaj - As per the instructions received from Shani Maharaj himself, there is no roof or temple built over his idol.
2. No doors or locks in houses - The most unique feature in Shingnapur that differentiated this village from any other place in the world is that there are no doors or locks to houses. The villagers firmly believe that Shani Maharaj protects them from thieves and wrong doers and they only have door frames and curtains in the place of doors and locks. There are several stories narrated by local villagers about how nobody in the village would dare to make an attempt to steal other's property and also about how when some outsiders have made an attempt to steal they have been punished by Shani Maharaj.
3. No branches grow over the Moolasthan - There was a neem tree that grew near the Moolasthan but everytime a branch grew near Shani Maharaj it would automatically break and fall down. Few years ago, this tree fell and another fig tree has grown there. This too does not extend its branches upto the idol.

4. Water poured over the idol is cure for snakebite - In case of any incident of snakebite in the village, all that the villagers do is to bring the person in white clothes to the temple. A male relative in wet clothes performes abhishekam to the idol and the water is given to the person to drink. In a couple of hours, the person regains consciousness and is not affected by the poison.
5. Shani Maharaj's palanquin- Devotees worship Shani Maharaj's palanquin placed closed to the Moolasthan which has a huge wooden slipper in it. Several shops sell miniatures of this wooden slipper that people buy and take home as talisman.
6. Lamp that burns 24*7 - There is a lamp that burns through day and night in front of the moolasthan.

About the Temple: The shrine of Shani Bhagwan is open to the elements of weather and the idol is kept on a raised platform, where the devotees themselves used to touch and perform abishegam to the deity earlier. But now, they can only circumambulate the image and offer the oil for abishegam in a tank kept for the purpose near the platform from where the oil is sent continuously to a dripping vessel hanging above the image of the deity.

Shani Bagwan is a gurdian of this village and people live peacefully without any fear.

Location:  Shani Shiganapur is in Ahmednagar District of Maharashtra state. It is about 35 km from Ahmednagar and 84 km from Aurangabad. Shinganapur is well connected by Road and Rail. The nearest airports are Mumbai, Aurangabad and Pune. From any of these airports, one can hire a cab or van to Shani Shinganapur.
The nearest airport is at Aurangabad, which is 90 km  from Shani Shinganapur and the nearest railway station is Srirampur.
Distance from Mumbai is about 330 km by road. It can also be accessed from Shirdi, another important religious place in Maharashtra, and is about 65 km by road.

A travel tip: Generally people visiting, Shiidi or Shani Shinganapur combine Ranjangaon also in their trip. where there is a temple for Maha Ganapathi (Ashta Ganapathi) is situated.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sand Sculpture: Uniquness of Orissa's Sand Art

I have spent most of my childhood in capital city of Orissa i.e. Bhubaneswar. Whenever Dad use to get time, we use to visit Puri which was 60Km from Bhubaneswar. Puri is famous Lord Jagannath temple and being a kid after visiting temple me and my brother’s aim use to be go to beach where we can play with sea water and construct our own little castle. Once when we went to Puri beach, I saw a person doing a similar stuff (making something with sand) like us. I and my brother got curious and started looking at this person. By 20 minutes, I can see a beautiful mermaid made of sand in front of our eyes. I was speechless with his creativity. That was my first encounter with sand art of Orissa.

Sand art in Orissa is one of the famous art forms of the state. Sand Art is a distinctive type of art form of Puri in Orissa, which is usually depicted at the seashore. This form of art, is unique to the state. It is actually a type of sculpture, which is practiced on sand. It can be compared with stone sculpture. pture. To carve a sand sculpture, the raw material is the only clean and fine grained sand mixed with water . With the help of this type of sand and with the blessings of God and by the magic of fingers , an artist can carve a beautiful and attractive sculpture on the beach.

Knut bear
Buddha Sculpture
Sculpture on Terrorism

AIDS Awareness

No War Campagin
The lineage of this art dates back to a long time back. One can find the mention of this art in the life story of Balaram Das, one of the most well known poets of Orissa. This poet was a prominent literary figure of the 14th century AD. The sand art was, therefore, one of the prevalent art forms of 14th century Orissa. There is an interesting mythical story associated with sand art in Orissa. According to popular belief, Balaram das wanted to climb Lord Jagannath's chariot to pay homage to him, but he was not allowed to do so. He went to the sea beach and started carved the images of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra out of sand. He then prayed to this image of Lord Jagannath. It is said that his dedication was so strong that the statues of the deities were later seen on the beach where Balaram Das offered his prayers and not on the chariot.

Global Warming Campaign
Lord Ganesha Sculpture
One of the famous artists of Orissa who is involved in this art form is Sudarsan Pattnaik. His works are mostly based on current world issues, ranging from climate change to world peace.

Lokpal Bill Issue
Help for Tsunami Victims

Appealing for the release of two Italian tourists, on a beach in Puri, Orissa

Famous Rajnikant
Time has changed, people have become more aware and respect this form of art. Whenever I visit Puri beach, I am always curious to know which sculpture will be depicted in seashore today. It’s always a treat for eyes to see such beautiful sand Sculpture.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Blissful Bihu: Assam Celebrates Harvest Season With Bihu Tune

India is a country having plenty of festivals and all the Indians celebrate it in a grand way. There is a lot of preparation before every festival and the enthusiasm amongst people is really surprising. Assam has a festival called Bihu. Bihu is the Biggest Festival of Assam, one of the most beautiful states of India, known for its tea gardens, lush green forests and the mighty Brahmaputra river.It is the celebration to welcome seasons and it is vital for a farmer’s life in Assam. Although this festival retained its originality it incorporated specific characteristics of the city life. The origin of the word ‘Bihu" is said to be from the Sanskrit word ‘Vishu’. There are three such festivals in Assam: in the months of Bohaag (Baisakh, the middle of April), Maagh (the middle of January), and Kaati (Kartik, the middle of October). The Bihus have been celebrated in Assam from ancient times.
Bihu Festival
Each Bihu coincides with a distinctive phase in the farming calendar. The Bohaag Bihu marks the New Year at the advent of seeding time, the Kaati Bihu marks the completion of sowing and transplanting of paddies, and the Maagh Bihu marks the end of the harvesting period.

Assam Girls dressed up in Traditional Attire

Rongali Bihu or the Bohag bihu: The new year of Assamese calendar usually falls on April 15. The new year starts with the month 'Bohag'. This is the reason why Rongali Bihu is also called 'Bohag Bihu'. The word 'Rongali' is derived from 'Rong' which means Happiness and celebrations. So this festival represent happiness of the society. During this Bihu people exchange gifts and the elderly people are gifted Gamucha the traditional towel of Assam to show respect. People wear new clothes marking the beginning of the New Year. It is celebrated by singing folk songs associated with the Bohag Bihu called Bihu geets or Bihu songs and the folk dance called the Bihu dance. The type of celebration and rites vary among diverse demographic groups.

Dancing on Bihu Tune

Performing Dance during Bihu Festival

Kati Bihu is the most quiet Bihu of the three without any funfare unlike the other two. Held in the beginning of the Kati (7th month of the Assamese calendar) (middle of October), the Bihu marks silent prayer in the form of lighting of earthen lamps in the paddy fields and also near Tulasi tree for the success of the crop.

Bhogali Bihu or the Magh Bihu is celebrated in d middle of January. Immediately after the traditional paddy cultivation is harvested. An overnight community function is held in temporary thatched houses (made with thatch and dry plantation leaves/ trunk) known as Bhela Ghar or Meji Ghar) specially erected for the purpose mainly in the barren paddy fields from where the crop has already been harvested. A Community feast is one of the main features of this Bihu which is held near the Bhela Ghar. People spent the night of the community feast in the Bhela Ghar. The next morning people take bath and gather in the field early in morning to burn the meji and also put pithas and betel nuts and leaf in the fire. They offer prayers to the God of Fire marking the end of harvesting year. Various sports are organized like Bull-fighting, cock-fighting, egg- fighting, tug-of-war, running race etc. It is another festival marked with merrymaking and feasting.

Bihu festival with bonfires

Of the three Bihu festivals which are secular and non-religious, the Bohaag Bihu ushers in the period of greatest enjoyment and marks the arrival of Spring.  Bihu isn’t complete without Bihu dance and Bihu songs. The folk here play some really catchy tunes and the lovely dance steps encourage everyone to join dancing. General camaraderie gets sprinkled everywhere with reverence which is unmistakable and atmospheric becomes electric. The folk songs associated with the Bohaag Bihu are called Bihugeets or Bihu songs. The Bohaag Bihu lasts for several days during which the young people in the vilalge may be seen moving about in groups gaily dressed or forming circles in the midst of which the prettiest girls dance, singing songs of love and romance. The songs are very popular among all sections of the people. Bihu songs involve various indegenous Assamese musical instruments like pepa, gogona, dhol, toka, taal, hutuli, etc. The Bihu dance is related to rich colourful attire of the Assamese culture.
Another item which forms an integral part of the Bihu celebrations and is also symbolic of Assamese Culture is the Japi – a traditional Bamboo hat with colorful designs. A more simple bamboo Japi is normally worn by the farmer while cultivating in the field protecting oneself from the sun and rain.

Bihu Festival surpasses all the barriers that might exist between the people here. This festival was started by Dimasa Kachari and it quickly became popular all over. Brai Shibraj is the god of agrarian group. Bi means asking and Shu stands for peach and prosperity. Bishu slowly evolved in to Bihu over a period of time.

Festivals are occasions for celebrating together and for feeling happy. Bihu is a festival which brings all the local people together.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Khajjiar: Emerald of Himalayas

Khajjiar is officially proclaimed the mini-Switzerland ofIndia. Khajjiar  is arguably one of the most picturesque places in India. The landscape is chocolate- box perfect.At an altitude of 6450 ft, this saucer shaped green meadow, ringed by Devadar Trees has a lake in the middle complete with floating island. The charm of this place is a large meadow land that would come at sight while moving towards Chamba town. It has a rare combination of three ecosystems: lake, pasture and forest, all in one place.

Khajjiar View

Khajjiar is a wonderland midway of Dalhousie and Chamba. Just a bus/taxi-drive away from Dalhousie through a bus/taxi-able road winding through some very narrow and steep roads and dense dark emaralds covers of green forests spanning pines and cedar, the magical paradise Khajjiar sets you free in a different world of peace and enjoyment, as if untouched, innocent in its charm, nascent in its feel, and you simply don’t want to leave. No wilderness in Himachal is as easily accessible and beautiful as Khajjiar.

Khajjiar Top View

The snow - line appears above its lush woods, and at the very centre of this divine glade, is a lake fed by countless streams that criss - cross the area. Glacier lake of Khajjiar has spongy earth owning to the week Vacha and is surrounded by tall Deodar trees and is fed by the streams from the Himalayas. Shaped like a saucer, this huge bowl of 7 emerald-turfed meadows, 1.6-km long and 0.9-km broad, lies embedded beneath a dense pine forest surrounded by high mountains, and fringed by gigantic deodars.

Snow line on the top of Khajjiar

Along its fringes, amidst the thick forests above the woods and in the centre of the glade, is a small lake fed by streams that traverse the green carpet. The thick forests and ambience of the place can be best viewed near the majestic rivers of Chenab, Beas and Ravi. It is incredibly beautifully and justifiably famous for its magnificent splendor. One can sit for hours and hours together at the small hut-isle at the center of the lake, where you can reach with the help of a wooden bridgeway, and admire the lake as well as the lavish natural surroundings, breathing in the wet fragrance of a wind that flows through the pines and deodars. A camera can hardly capture the enticingly captivating & mesmerizingly thrilling experience that the eye of a visitor meets.

Famous Khajjiar Lake

Khajjiar in Winters

There are countless spots with nature beauty where a tourist can spend their time, and Khajji Naga shrine is one of them. A little away from the lake is the temple of Khajji Nag belonging to 12th century A.D. In the mandapa of the temple one can see the images of the Pandavas and the defeated Kaurvas hanging from the roof of the circumambulatory path. The sanctum of the temple has been beautifully carved from wood.

Khajji Naga shrine

Adding to the charms of Khajjiar, which also hugs a golden-domed Devi temple, is a golf course set in the midst of the idyllic surroundings. The golden spire of the Devi's abode beckons one to the fringe of the lake.

The history of khajjiar is linked to the rulers of chamba. The local Rajput rulers ruled chamba valley in the 6th century and made it their capital city. This region become the part of the Mughal Empire in the medieval period and later came under various Sikh kingdoms, finally, it was taken over by the British, and it became a part of the state of Himachal Pradesh when it came into being on April 15, 1948.

Reaching to Khajjiar: Closest airport from Khajjiar is Gaggal also known as Kangra. This airport is situated at good distance of 134 kms from Khajjiar hill station. Nearest railhead to this place is Chakki Bank. Experts identify this place as Pathankot too. The station is just 80 kms away from Khajjiar. Train from big city of India is connected to this hill station

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Bhangarh: A Ghost City With Tantric Stories

India, with its rich and long history, is full of mysteries. Perhaps none is as puzzling as what happened hundreds of years ago at a royal city in Rajasthan, now under excavation. At the edge of the Sariska forest in Rajasthan lies the town of Bhangarh whose haunted status is attracting scores of tourists. Bhangarh is a place between Jaipur and Alwar in Rajasthan state of India. Bhangarh is known for it's ruins,and it's interesting to note that entry to this "Ghost town" is legally prohibited between sunset and sunrise.

Bhangarh Ruins
Archaeological Survey of India Board
Such is the town's reputation that even the Archeological Survey of India doesn't have an office here though government rules state that every historical site must have an office of the ASI. The nearest one is a kilometre away — enough distance between officials and the spooks. A signboard by ASI (Archaeological survey of india),specially specifies these instructions,which further adds to the mystery of this town.
This Board Welcomes you to Bhangarh

Bhangarh Myths

It is said that the city of Bhangarh was cursed by the Guru Balu Nath, causing the towns evacuation. Balu Nath sanctioned the establishment of the town but said: "The moment the shadows of your palaces touch me, the city shall be no more!" Ignorant of such foreboding, one ambitious descendant raised the palace to such a height that its shadowed Balu Nath's forbidden retreat and thus the town was devastated as prophesied. The small samadhi where Balu Nath is said to lie buried is still there.
The other myth is as follows: The story goes that this sixteenth century town, 80 km from Alwar in eastern Rajasthan, was home to a tantrik (a magician well-versed in the occult) named Singhia. The tantrik fell desperately in love with the kingdom's beautiful princess, Rani Ratnawati. Knowing that he would never be allowed to go near her, Singhia decided to use his dark powers to seduce her. He spotted the princess's maid buying oil and cast a spell on the oil. If the spell worked, on touching the oil, the princes would surrender herself to him.
Bhangarah Fort
Locals say that the princess, who was proficient in the occult herself, soon sensed his evil plan and foiled it. She threw the flagon of oil away, whereupon it fell on a stone. As soon as the oil touched the stone, it started rolling towards the tantrik and crushed him. But before dying, Singhia cursed the palace with the death of all who dwelt in it, without the possibility of rebirth.

Night View
That might be more legend than fact, but Bhangarh is still a charming ruin to visit. Even today, a walk to the palace through the remains of what once used to be a bustling town is a fragrant affair with the aroma of kevda wafting in from a nearby grove. Bhangarh was also a well-laid out town and could serve as an excellent model for present-day town planners.
Each shop along the route still has a vacant space for an idol. But what is strange is that there are no roofs on the houses, shops and even the palace. Locals say that whenever a house is built in the vicinity, its roof collapses! And in the village closest to Bhangarh, people have made roofs over their heads — but only those made of straw!
Route to Bhangarh
The local people say that the whole place was vacated overnight due to a curse. They also say that as per the curse the city will vanish and if at all it is exposed, there will be no memories of the place except for the temples.
Large banyan trees and several temples dot the landscape. The beautifully carved temples of Gopinath, Shiva (Someshwar), Mangla Devi and Keshava Rai have survived the passage of time and are a must-see for visitors. There is also the dancer's haveli, the ruins of homes and scattered boulders with carvings. On a nearby hilltop stands a chhatri that is believed to have been inhabited by the tantrik. Most of the temples belong to Lord Hanuman. Lord Hanuman is said to save people from Ghosts and evil Spirits.

Whatever the truth, a visit to Bhangarh isn't for the faint-hearted.


BY ROAD | Bhangarh is a 47-km drive from the Sariska Tiger Reserve in Alwar, Rajasthan. From Delhi, visitors need to first get to Alwar, which is about 150 km away, and then drive 34 km to Sariska. There are no luxury buses on the route, so the best option is a taxi
BY RAIL | Shatabdi runs from Delhi to Alwar every morning. From there, visitors can take a taxi upto Sariska
THE RTDC PACKAGE | Delhi-Sariska-Bhangarh-Siliserh-Alwar-Delhi 3 Nights/4 Days: Rs 19,000 Own transport: Rs 12,000
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