Indian Culture and Traditions - 7

Indian Culture and Traditions


Valentine Love - Indian Ishstyle
By Seema Burman, 

Valentines wait in breathless anticipation to find their posts flooded with greeting cards and phones jammed with messages. Those who have no one and yet wish to participate may say ‘I Love you’ to Krishna who accepts as many damsels in distress as the earth can hold. One such lady in distress wrote a love letter to Him that turns out to be the very first love letter written ever. It so happened………
Petite princess Rukmini had heard about the integrity of dark and handsome cow grazer Krishna whom girls of His village loved deeply but he had shifted residence and since then had been fighting evil kings, releasing his one set of parents from jail, building a wonderful city known for its architect under water in record time.  Rukmini had never set eyes on him but his virtuosity and fame lit a flame in her heart. Gradually Krishna became a passion and she desperately hoped her parents would hear of Him and marry her to him. Her one sided love took a turn when her father king Bhishmaka and queen mother discussed who would be best for their extraordinarily beautiful daughter.
Fame of Krishna had reached them too and they wondered if this most handsome, flute player, full of life yet wise person would be a suitable groom. A princely lineage was not important instead what mattered were a groom’s qualities.  No harm, they thought and decided to invite Him for the swayamvar (occasion where grooms present themselves to the bride) so that Rukmini could choose herself. Heart of hearts they hoped their divinely beautiful daughter with a heart of gold and mind of good judgment would choose Krishna. But son Rukmi rejected the suggestion and warned them of serious consequences if Krishna entered the swayamvar invited or uninvited. He shouted loudly so that his sister could overhear that his friend Shishupala, prince of Chedi would be ideally suited to her.
A horrified Rukmini cried and prayed to each and every God and Goddess. Days of swayamvar neared by and Rukmini’s became pale with fear. Her brother was planning where Shishupala was to be put up and how he, the new addition to the family, was to be welcomed. Shishupala sent word that he was willing to wed Rukmini. The swayamvar was now just a formality for the groom was finalized. Rukmini decided that giving up her life would be the best alternative. In a last bid she called her trustworthy family priest, Sunanda, and asked him to take a letter to Dwarka for Krishna. One look at the crying bride with swollen eyes and the Brahmin knew that he had an enormous role to play in the royal wedding. He hurried to reach Dwarka and fearlessly stood before Krishna with the first love letter ever written and indicated that it was to be read in privacy.
Krishna opened it unsuspectingly and as he read it he was struck with the girl’s surrender, sincerity and extreme love for him. Here was a girl who had never set eyes on Him but by hearing of his actions had loved him so much that she was ready to give up her life if he did not rescue her.  “O the infallible and the most handsome One! Having heard your qualities, which enter through the path of ears and absolve away the pains of life, and having heard about your handsome appearance, which is the only asset of the eyes of living beings with eyes, my heart is accepting you as a consort leaving behind shyness. O Mukunda, the lion among men! Given a chance, which composed girl from a good lineage will not wish for you as a consort; You - Who is the happiness of the minds of people, Who is the happiness of the world, and Who is incomparable from any viewpoint - be it lineage, nature, beauty, knowledge, energy, wealth, or abode. Therefore, O Lord! I have indeed accepted you as a consort and I have submitted myself to you. O lotus-eyed Krishna! Please arrive here and accept me; so that the prince of Chedi, Shisupala does not take away the property of brave — just like a jackal should not take away the prey of a lion.”
Rukmini even gave details of how to get her because her grand wedding would be the most well guarded occasion. There was no time to ask her parents for her hand, she clarified for her brother had conspired with Shishupala and had decided to kill Krishna if spotted anywhere. “Arrive secretly in Vidarbha one day before my marriage. Then after defeating the army-commanders Shisupala and Jarasandha, marry me with the ways of demons by showing your valor and conquering power. If you are wondering that how will you conquer me without killing the women and relatives inside my palace, then I am telling you a way out.
As per an old tradition, there is a grand fair before the marriage, during which the bride goes out to the temple of Girija for prayers”. Krishna knew that time was short and he rushed to get his chariot. The last bit of the letter made him charge with a hurry that left everyone in alarm, “O lotus-eyed Krishna! If I don’t achieve the dust of your feet, which is sought after by incomparable Ones like Umapati (Siva), then I will destroy my life. If the service of your feet is not achieved in this life, then I will take hundreds of birth and do penance; I am sure I will achieve your lotus feet someday.” Realizing something alarming had cropped up Krishna’s elder brother Balarama took his chariot and chased Krishna. The brahmin knew his job was done.
True love always wins. Divine love which is beyond the physical level gets forever etched in human memory. 

TEN Architectural Wonders Of India
By Vimla Patil

The past thousand + years have given India a rich reservoir of architectural designs because of the country’s chequered history. India’s past is a mosaic which mingles design
concepts from all over the world…
The last millennium is a milestone in our history when concepts and ideas of design have flowered in Indian architecture. As a result, India’s celebrated buildings and monuments have become the cynosure of the world’s eyes.
According to many leading architects of India, Indian architecture is difficult to define because so many streams of artistic genius have enriched it.  While Vastushastra and Sthapatyashastra are the original sciences which developed during the early centuries of the last two millenniums, later, building and design styles came from the Mughals, Rajputs, the British, the French, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Moors and many others who travelled to India for trade or to conquer and settle down.  The earliest marvels of architecture in India are the Hindu and Buddhist caves found in the Sahyadri Mountains, which run down the west coast of India like a green ribbon.  In these rocky crevasses, monks, artists and traders carved over 2000 caves, some as temples, some as Buddhist Viharas, some as Jain monuments and hundreds others as just dwellings or workplaces. 
Thus, Maharashtra earned its place in the Guinness Book of Records as the region with the highest incidence of caves in any region of the world.  Cave architecture is said to have been brought to India by Greeks and Romans, who were used to making catacombs in their own countries during the period of dire oppression of Christians. 
In India, however, caves were larger, more open and full of sculptures and frescoes as well as inscriptions. Later, from cave temples and Viharas, the anonymous architects graduated to carving temples out of rocks and stones till the art of temple building reached its zenith in the 8-9th centuries with Khajuraho, Madurai, Chidambaram, Mahabalipuram, Ellora, Gangaikondacholapuram, Tanjore, Vijayanagar, Srirangapatnam and other cities came to be the sites of immortal shrines and temples.
From those early days to this day, architecture in India has presented a colourful mosaic of styles and beauty.  “The 20th century can be divided into two halves for checking out architectural styles,” say famous architects, “In the first 50 years of the century, we were a colony of Britain and heavily influenced by British concepts of life.  Beautiful offices and institutions were built in the Gothic or Indo Saracenic style in India’s cities, especially Madras, Calcutta and Mumbai.  The two main railway headquarters in Mumbai, the University of Bombay, the Government Offices in Madras, Victoria Memorial in Calcutta - all these are the wonders of the 19th century which impacted the first fifty years of the 20th century. 
“Though modern, 20th century architecture seems of immediate interest to us, India has a vast reservoir of architectural styles,”  say other designers, including Shahi Prabhu, who designed the famous modern Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai.  He believes that the history of architecture in India is reflected in nine wonders built during the past 1000 years.
“India is a rare mix of cultures,” says Prabhu, “Indian architecture has been through many overlays of periods and styles. As centuries progressed, there were many invasions which were internalised. Each foreign intervention transformed itself into a new concept and all styles co-existed peacefully in the country. Therefore, following the architectural patterns in India through the millennium becomes a wondrous trail and to choose the ten wonders of architecture in India over the past millennium would be an interesting exercise.
“The earliest monument in this group of nine wonders is the Stupa of Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh.  Built in the 2nd century B.C. It is typically Buddhist in character. The central shrine is encircled by the Pradakshina Path and the railing with its four toranas (gates) which depict anecdotes from the Buddha’s life. This monument is the inspiration for many Buddhist and Hindu structures in the following centuries.
“The Kailasa temple in Ellora in Maharashtra, built in the 8th century, represents a unique conjunction of two dominant styles - Buddhist cave architecture and Hindu temple style.  The temple is an enormous monolithic rock carving in an unusual form.  The main temple has a pillared Mandapa with a unique pattern on the roof top consisting of lions within concentric circles.  Five subsidiary shrines around and two gigantic Deepasthambhas are carved directly out of stone. This temple is a wonder of the world and leaves a lasting impact on every visitor.
“Space is an overpowering concept in Indian architecture and the city of Srirangapatanam in Karnataka is a marvellous example of this theory. The entire city here is an organisation of spaces with the temple as the focus.  Built in 14th century, it is an entire temple city which represents the physical transformation of Vedic principles and concepts of the cosmos.  The city is located on an island in the river Kaveri and comprises the temple and seven concentric walls, each with a Gopuram receding in size. 
“Similarly, the step wells of Gujarat have been cited as an exquisite example of subterranean architecture, lying below the earth’s surface.  The famous step well of Adalaj, built in the 15th century has three entrances which meet in a huge square platform, from which a stepped corridor descends downward. An octagonal shaft terminates in a square pond for bathing.  Sculptural ornamentation is a unique feature of the Adalaj well.
“The period of Mughal rule saw the development of beautiful gardens, palaces, forts, mosques and cities.  From Deccan to Kashmir, urban complexes developed during the rule of Akbar and Shah Jehan. The palace complex at Fatehpur Sikri, built in the 16th century, is a significant example of Mughal urban design. It is one the most sophisticated and grand complexes of its kind and yet not gigantic or disproportionate.  In the complex, there are several series of interlinked courtyards which culminate into the great mosque and the Gateway of Triumph or the Buland Darwaza.  This city is a symbol of the confluence of Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist principles of design and represents Akbar’s philosophy of an egalitarian society.
“The Mughal design of the paradise garden was based on the double axis symmetry and four quadrants or Char Bagh.  This concept reached its perfection in the layout of the fabulous Taj Mahal, where the building itself is placed at the end of the garden as a climax to the plan. Every single element of design is perfected here. The four minarets are intentionally tilted outwards to correct the optical error.  Even today, the Taj commands one’s attention because of its pristine glory and purity of existence.  It is unsurpassed for its visual ambience and the quality of marble ornamentation such as relief carving, lace-like friezes or jalis and exquisite inlay work.
“With European colonisers, came new values and industrialisation. Europe was itself transformed by these winds of change and India was affected by the movements which stirred Britain and Europe. The Victoria Terminus, now known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus of Mumbai, was built in 1878 and designed by F.W. Stevens.  It is the finest Victorian Gothic style building in India which was designed to offer the exhilaration of arriving in the megalopolis to the millions who came to it through this grand railway station.  However, the ornamentation of the exterior and interior surfaces is of the highest standard and combines neo-Gothic features with tropical and Saracenic motifs, forming a style which came to be known as Bombay Gothic.
“Lutyen’s plan for Delhi would undoubtedly be termed the most ambitious of all architectural projects in the history of the British empire.  The Viceroy’s Palace, (Rashtrapati Bhavan) is a strong political statement as was Akbar’s Fatehpur Sikri.  It was the symbol of British supremacy and power in the orient.  Its colonial character was Indianised by Lutyens, thus continuing the process of assimilation and integration.
Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh is the next wonder in post-Independence India. His brief was to reflect the spirit of freedom and he used the bold vocabulary of design imported from Europe to achieve this objective. Chandigarh is the result of India’s new approach to Independence and modern times.  It signifies the constant give-and-take between various cultures in India which is the backbone of the Indian psyche.”
Add to this the Indian Institution of Management in Ahmedabad by Louis Kahn and you have the ten most beautiful examples of the flow of architecture in India.
“Finally, in architectural design, I would say that time is an all-important dimension.  If designers choose continuity, they have to create links between one generation and the next.  If they opt for change, they have to remember the consequences of sudden transition.  Civilisation is a continuous process. All thinkers and designers must bear in mind their responsibility to contribute to this ever-flowing river of human consciousness.”

Om Tat Sat

(My humble salutations to  Sri Seema Burman ji, Vimla Patil ji and hindu samskrit dot com  for the collection)


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