October 30, 2012

Iron Pillar, New Delhi

This post is part of series about Qutb Complex, Mehrauli. The integrated post about the complex and the monuments within can be accessed from here – Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex.


As a testimonial to the technological skills of ancient Indians and substantiating their artistic and scientific ambitions, the world-renowned Iron Pillar of Delhi’s Qutb complex has been standing erect for over 1500 years without displaying any major signs of corrosion. That the ancient blacksmiths were capable of conceiving and generating such pure forms of iron, hand-forge it to craft such large columns and shape it according to their whims speaks of their unparalleled dexterity with metalwork and metallurgical sciences.

Historians and researchers conclude that the 7.2 meter tall ancient pillar (of which 1.12 meters is underground) was in all probability integral to a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu (the Hindu God of life & nourishment), and was intended as a standard to support a figurine of Garuda (hawk-faced, winged deity said to be Vishnu’s carrier) which fitted in a deep socket embedded on top of the pillar. The pillar is pinned to the ground by means of lead and iron projections emerging from its buried portion. Another theory is that the pillar itself portrayed Lord Vishnu’s mace (“gada”) while an external appendage in the form of his serrated disc (“chakra”) surmounted it, thereby representing Vishnu’s chief weaponry. 

The curious case of Delhi's rust-less wonder (Photo courtesy - World-mysteries.com)

An eloquent six-line three-stanza Sanskrit inscription in Brahmi script inscribed on the pillar refers to its erection in a temple then known as Vishnupada (proved, by means of literary, archaeological, numismatics and geographic sources, to be the temple caves of modern-day Udaygiri, Madhya Pradesh) by a certain Emperor Chandra, a devotee of Lord Vishnu, as a standard (or banner, “Dhwaja Stambha”) for the Lord – it has been contended that the said position of the pillar in Udaygiri was guided by advanced astronomical studies and it was erected either as a sundial or as an astronomical instrument involved in indicating the summer solstice (June 21) since its shadow would fall at the base of a panel dedicated to Lord Vishnu only on this particular annual occurrence – the pillar thus also highlights fairly well-developed astronomical knowledge, besides metallurgical brilliance that existed during the period of its erection. The inscription goes on to valorize and praise the said Emperor Chandra –

“He, on whose arm fame was inscribed by the sword, when, in battle in the Vanga countries (Bengal), he kneaded (and turned) back with (his) breast the enemies who, uniting together, came against (him); He, by whom, having crossed in warfare the seven mouths of the (river) Sindhu, the Vahlikas were conquered; He, by the breezes of whose prowess the southern ocean is even still perfumed; 

He, the remnant of whose energy – a burning splendor which utterly destroyed his enemies – leaves not the earth even now, just like (the residual heat of) a burned-out conflagration in a great forest; He, as if wearied, has abandoned this world, and resorted in bodily form to the other world – a place won by the merit of his deeds; (but although) he has departed, he remains on earth through (the memory of his) fame; 

By the king, who attained sole sovereignty in the world, acquired by his very own arm and (possessed) for a long time; He who, having the name of Chandra, carried a beauty of countenance like the full moon, having in faith fixed his mind upon Vishnu, this lofty standard of the divine Vishnu was set up on the hill Vishnupada” 

The Gupta-Brahmi Sanskrit inscription, inscribed by the process of die-striking

Though the origins of the pillar remain an enigma, it has been proved beyond doubt that the mighty King Chandra mentioned in the inscription is the fourth century Emperor Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (reign AD 375-414), the foremost of rulers of the erstwhile Gupta Dynasty – thereby making this inscription one of the oldest in the subcontinent since the practice of marking structures through embossed/inscribed inscriptions originated during the reign of Chandragupta II’s father and predecessor Samudragupta and became a widely prevalent art form around the end of Chandragupta’s reign. Incidentally, Gupta Emperors styled themselves as “Parama Bhagwats”, or the foremost of Vishnu’s devotees, and Garuda figured in the regal insignia and several coins of the dynasty.

The argument about the pillar originally being erected away from Delhi and its transfer, much later, to its present location is further validated by the absence of relics from the same period around the Qutb complex. Several bard songs too speak of Anangpal, the Tomar Dynasty ruler who governed the territories presently falling under the states of Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan, as establishing his majestic citadel at Lalkot (“Red fortress”, surviving as vast ruins in the vicinity of Qutb complex) and transporting the coveted pillar to his capital “Dilli”. It is said that Emperor Anangpal, on the occasion of his grandson’s birthday consulted the great sage Vyasa about the propitious hour to establish his citadel; Vyasa advised him that if he did so immediately, the foundations of his dynasty would go deep enough to strike the head of the serpent Sheshnag (a mythical gigantic snake, according to Hindu mythology, that lives deep underground and supports the entire planet on its head) and be embedded perennially in the country. The unprepared and doubtful Emperor decided to delay and the sage, taking offence, took an iron spike and drove it so deep into the earth that when he pulled it out it was splurged deep crimson red with the serpent’s blood. Bardic tradition (most notably, Chand Bardai’s “Prithviraj Raso”) goes that the spike was the pillar itself and the enraged sage prophesied –

“Killi to dhilli bhai, Tomar bhaya mat hin” 
(“The pillar has become lose, and thus the Tomar shall lose his realm”) 

Accordingly, the dynasty came to an end and Anangpal’s grandson (daughter’s child) Prithviraj Chauhan inherited the reign from him and sometime later lost it to Muhammad Muizuddin bin Sam “Ghori” whose Muslim armies ravaged the land in AD 1192. The legends do not speak of who refitted the pillar back in the ground; but interestingly one theory regarding the origins of Delhi’s name states it as having been derived from “Dilli” which has roots in the couplet’s “Dhilli” (loose) – thus interconnecting both the ancient pillar and the older still city. Several leading archaeologists, however, are of the opinion that the pillar was brought to Delhi as a trophy by the Slave dynasty Emperor Shamshuddin Iltutmish (ruled AD 1211-36) following his conquest of Deccan (AD 1234).

The Iron Pillar and the screens of Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque on an Indian stamp (1987) (Photo courtesy - Stampsbook.org)

Archaeologically, the inverted bell-like appendage surmounting the tapering cylindrical pillar is a feature of the artistically glorious Gupta period temple architecture – thus it can be conclusively proved that the pillar was originally part of a Vishnu temple built by Chandragupta II and was shifted to the Vishnu temple that Anangpal built at the site where the Qutb mosque exists today – later when Qutbuddin Aibak commissioned the magnificent Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque that was to be built from the remains of Hindu and Jain temples destroyed on his command, the pillar was allowed to remain at its position even though the temple around it was demolished.

Chemical analysis of the pillar undertaken by Sir Robert Hadfield (1912) yields its composition to be 99.72 % iron with Carbon, Silicon, Phosphorus and other metals making up the rest. Such high purity and almost nil rusting (the little rusting that does occur is in the portion underground) is a testimony to the metallurgical prowess of those who built it. It has also been confirmed that the temperature required to construct such pillars cannot be achieved by coal combustion and consequently the ancient Indian smiths had developed very complicated methods of raising temperature and metal forging. Modern day metallurgists and scientists are often confounded by the pillar’s properties and are at a loss to explain why the pillar doesn’t rust despite being exposed to the natural forces for more than a millennia and have proposed numerous theories to the effect – the claims cite causes that are often absurdly fantastical, one such being rust prevention as a result of the (holy) pillar being regularly anointed with clarified butter (“ghee”); perhaps inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s wildly imaginative science-fiction novels, several naive believers also claim that the pillar was carved out of a large meteoroid that made impact somewhere in Central India – others go a step further and claim that aliens themselves embedded it in Mehrauli’s landscape! It has been proved that the high phosphor content of the pillar leads to formation of an extremely thin iron oxyhydroxide layer along the surface interface that offers resistance against corrosion – the portion in contact with the atmosphere rapidly develops into a passive iron hydrogen phosphate hydrate layer only a fraction of a millimeter thick that protects the underlying metal from rust. The primary reason for the pillar’s corrosion resistance has been explained by a combination of several factors – extremely high degrees of purity besides a high proportion of phosphorus and negligible amount of sulphur and manganese, the dry, less humid climate of Delhi and less exposure to industrial pollution as a result of the isolated setting of Mehrauli, the mass metal effect where an enormous bulk of metal absorbs surrounding heat and releases it slowly when the temperature drops (at night) thereby ensuring dryness and relatively less dew formation. Referring to the pillar as completely corrosion-free would be wrong since it derives its overall resistance from the passive oxide layer which is essentially rust – but compared to ordinary metal that would begin crumbling following corrosion, the pillar has been intact in existence for over sixteen centuries!

The inverted bell atop the pillar - A large figurine of either the deity Garuda or the discus ("chakra") of Lord Vishnu used to be embedded atop it; four smaller animal figurines would be embedded on each side along each side of the cuboid on the top.

Structural analysis of the pillar reveals that it wasn’t cast but fabricated in a daunting process of forging and hammer-welding lumps of hot pasty iron, each weighing 20-30 kgs, in a step-by-step process. The surface of the pillar retains some of the hammer marks.

The Archaeological Survey (ASI) was forced to encircle the pillar with a fence in order to protect it from visitors intent on touching it with respect to the belief that states that an individual’s wishes will be fulfilled if s/he could embrace the pillar with their arms around their back – thus unintentionally damaging it as a result of sweat’s corrosive action. Who could have guessed that despite all the technological skill and scientific rationale that went into its construction, the pillar would become a subject of absurd superstition millennia after its conception!

Another view of the inverted bell with an intricately chiseled stone arch in the background (Photo courtesy - World-mysteries.com)

Location: Qutb Complex (Coordinates: 28°31'28.9"N 77°11'05.8"E)
Open: Sunrise to Sunset
Nearest Metro Station: Saket and Qutb Minar stations are both equidistant.
How to reach: Taxis, buses and autos can be availed from different parts of the city. The complex is quite a walk from the metro stations and one should avail bus/auto services from there on.
Entrance fees: Indians: Rs 10; Foreigners: Rs 250
Photography charges: Nil
Video charges: Rs 25
Time required for sightseeing: 20 min
Facilities available: Wheelchair access, Audio guides.
Relevant Links -

Alai Minar, New Delhi

After having made substantial additions to the Qutb Minar & the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque within the Qutb Complex, Alauddin Khilji (AD 1296-1316), one of the foremost sultans of the Khilji Dynasty perhaps felt the need for his own magnum opus within the complex. He embarked on an ambitious project that would dwarf all other structures in the entire country, even the mighty Qutb Minar that Qutbuddin established a almost a century earlier as an axis of Islam. Sadly, Alauddin met his creator before he could create another mammoth structure to awe & behold his subjects & the coming generations. His project – the incomplete Alai Minar – still stands in one corner of the Qutb complex, its unfinished exteriors dressed with rubble & stone showing off its unabashed ugliness to all who care to spare a glimpse. Perhaps if this minaret would have been finished, it might have been a new paradigm of architectural magnificence & superiority of skill & taste. But who knows?? Alauddin left behind only the first floor of his minaret (single floor 24.5 m high, compared to the Qutb Minar’s five-storied 72.5 m), & that too tilting to some extent & sans any ornamental work or calligraphic decoration. His descendants did not care to complete his work, even though he raised Qutbuddin’s minaret to new heights. He would certainly have tossed in his grave which lies nearby the Quwwat mosque, but then the incomplete minaret is perhaps the least of his worries now. The roof of his tomb, his final resting place, fell down a long time ago leaving his grave to the mercy of nature. Fate has certainly played hard on this ruler after his death – now he might be dead & under earth, but when he was alive the whole earth was under him!!

The Alai Minar

Location : Qutb Complex, Mehrauli, New Delhi
Open : Sunrise to Sunset
Entrance fee : Indians - Rs 10, Foreigners - Rs 250
Photography charges : Nil
Video charges : Rs 25
Nearest Metro Station : Saket Metro Station & Qutb Minar Station are equidistant.
How to reach : Taxis, buses & autos can be availed from different parts of the city. The structures are quite a walk from the metro stations & one will have to take bus/auto from there on.
Time required for sightseeing : 30 min
Facilities available : Wheelchair access, Audio guides.
Relevant Links - 

  1. Pixelated Memories - Alauddin's Tomb & Madrasa Complex
  2. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Minar
  4. Pixelated Memories - Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque

Iltutmish's Tomb, New Delhi

Shamshuddin Iltutmish (AD 1211-36), aka Altamash, was one of the most important rulers of the Slave Dynasty that ruled over Indo-Gangetic Plains from late 12th century onwards. When Muhammad of Ghur invaded India (1192 AD) & defeated the mighty forces of the Rajput ruler Prithviraj Chauhan, his slave & army general Qutbuddin Aibak decided to build the Qutb Minar as a victory tower & the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque as a symbol of the might of Islam. Qutbuddin went on to establish his own rule on the Indian plains after the death of his master. When Iltutmish ascended the throne, he made significant additions to both the Qutb Minar & the Quwwat mosque. In 1235, he decided to build his own tomb alongside the extensions he made to the Quwwat mosque. Until now, the Muslim rulers of India depended on the pillaging of Hindu & Jain temples for construction material, Iltutmish’s tomb marked a shift from this aspect. His tomb is built from material sourced entirely from quarries & carved & adorned with calligraphy by skilled artisans according to the ruler’s specifications. It is important to note that only five years earlier, Iltutmish had buried his son at the nearby complex called Sultan Garhi, which too was constructed using material plundered from pre-existing temples. This was a result of the stability that the Slave dynasty brought to India to some extent, & hence the rulers could spend considerably more time & capital on construction works rather than wars, & could even bring architects & artisans from regions as far as Uzbekistan & Persia. But the tomb does show various Indian motifs & architectural features since most of the artisans working on it were Indian & not foreigners.

Iltutmish's Tomb

Iltutmish started the tradition of tomb-building in India – first building a tomb for his son, then for himself. Hindus had no such system as they cremated their dead, & it was an odd architectural (as well as religious) practice for them to bury the dead in such decorated & ornamental enclosures (This tradition finally culminated into what can be called as India’s most majestic tomb – the Taj Mahal).

A close up of the engravings on one of the walls

A square enclosure, which looks very simple from outside, the mosque is a very delicate example of craftsmanship. On the outside, only a portion of one of its walls is inscribed with Quranic inscriptions & geometrical patterns. However on the inside, the tomb is very intricately carved, all its walls filled with such patterns & intricate calligraphy. The white marble sarcophagus rests on a plinth in the centre, now facing the open sky since the dome that surmounted the tomb has not survived. The Hindu architects of that period had never used domes since most Indian palaces & temples featured flat or pyramidal roofs. Some accounts also talk of a second dome that was built by Feroz Shah Tughlaq (the guy who built the mighty city of Kotla Feroz Shah, see Pixelated Memories - Feroz Shah Kotla), but even that dome has not survived the ravages of time & weather. Either of the dome was perhaps constructed by placing huge concentric rings on top of each other, this has been ascertained by pieces of circular masonry found nearby.

Hey, turn back!!

The red sandstone tomb stands on a raised platform & is reached by a small flight of stairs (or a walk up a ramp – one of the best things about the Qutb Complex is that it is very disabled friendly, & there are ramps next to every structure for wheelchair access). It is pierced on three sides by arched gateways, while the third serves as a mihrab for indicating the direction of Mecca to the faithful for prayers. The mihrab is ornamental, featuring three arches – the central one made of white marble, while the two side arches are composed of red sandstone, Fine patterns & borders mark these arches & speak greatly for the skills of the Hindu craftsmen who carved out this fluid poetry in stone.

It is more stunning than what it looks in the pictures

Iltutmish’s Tomb is the first structure in India that employed the use of squinch arches. The question that architects of that time faced was how to convert a square structure into a circular one so as to surmount a dome on top of it. They decided to add small arches on the chamber’s upper corners as a means of converting the corner into a two-sided structure, & thereby converting the square chamber into an octagonal one towards its roof.

So this is the Squinch-arch

Iltutmish’s Tomb (& the Qutb Complex by extension) is a place simply worth visiting, if not for its historical & monumental value, then to witness the catatonic shift in Indian architectural designs & planning. The accuracy of the patterns & the calligraphy are stunning enough to leave one flabbergasted, I don’t think many of us would even be able to replicate those same geometrical patterns on paper, but the artisans worked them in hard stone. Salute to their skills!!

The central mihrab

Location : Qutb Complex, New Delhi
Open : Sunrise to Sunset
Entrance fee : Indians - Rs 10, Foreigners - Rs 250
Photography charges : Nil
Video charges : Rs 25
Nearest Metro Station : Saket Metro Station & Qutb Minar Station are equidistant.
How to reach : Taxis, buses & autos can be availed from different parts of the city. The structures are quite a walk from the metro stations & one will have to take bus/auto from there on.
Time required for sightseeing : 30 min

October 23, 2012

Ravana making in Tatarpur, New Delhi

In continuation with the previous post introducing Dussehra and other associated festivals (Pixelated Memories - Navaratris)


In the well-tucked heart of the affluent south Delhi sits an unheard of, little urban village literally known as Tatarpur but popularly referred to as Titarpur, whose only claim to fame is the two-month period preceding the advent of Navaratri worship and Dussehra celebrations when it comes alive with brilliant colors, boisterous designs and sparkling glitter – Dussehra, one of the most important festivals of north India, cannot be completed without the ritualistic incineration of the effigies (“put-le”) of the evil lord Ravana and his associates – and it is in this small locality that all the effigies are constructed for supply to almost every part of north India. Not many people are aware of this heritage activity that begins in the narrow lanes and winding alleys and gradually spills out in the major streets and arterial roads around Tagore Garden-Subhash Nagar areas (amongst the most developed and modern places in the entire state – and yet not untouched by religious fervor and colors).

The colors of Tatarpur 

Couple of days before Dussehra, one can spot parts of the effigies – huge heads with glistening teeth set in perpetual grin, gigantic skirts and torsos composed of cardboard, paper and bamboo and adorned with sparkle work and glistening paint – scattered throughout on roofs, streets and pavements in the area. Travelling in the metro during this time of the year is particularly delightful – the overhead view of rows upon rows of large, multi-hued effigy heads and blackened limbs stacked together is heartwarming – and often one comes across unusual scenes, for instance, several feet long, jet black and curved moustaches decked on rooftops, or newly-painted torsos hanging from balconies to dry. The craftsmen start working on the effigies at least two months in advance of the festive season, many leaving their day jobs during the period in order to prepare these exquisite pieces of art. And though money is a factor guiding them to this business, most do it in order to show their faith in Rama, an ideal king-son-husband-warrior-statesman (“Purushottam”) and supposedly an incarnation of Vishnu, the Hindu God of life and nourishment. Nonetheless, the artists feel remorse every time an effigy made by them is “killed and set ablaze” in any part of the country. Confesses Subhash Raavanwala, one of the most prominent master-craftsmen functioning in the area, that though he has been making effigies for the past 30 years, he has never himself set foot in any of the numerous grounds where these symbols of arrogant evil and misdeeds are ritualistically burnt since it pains him to see his efforts go up in fire and smoke. One of his most beautiful works bore on its colossal moustache the legend “I am Ravana. I am evil hence considered worthy of being burnt every year. But if not for me, what of the hundreds of artists and craftsmen who earn their meager livelihood of two square meals only because they create my imitations”.

One of the master craftsmen

Colorful and covered with glistening sheets of myriad-hued paper – blue, orange, green, black, golden, silver, pink, red, yellow – the effigies are certainly a visual treat. Constructed from a skeleton of thin bamboo strips that are tied together to form body-like frames (limbs and torsos that more or less look like tapering cylinders), then pasted over with thin sheets of cloth followed by thick sheets of brown paper and finally repeatedly painted and adorned with patterns and facial features by skilled and experienced painters and craftsmen; final touches are added with slender strips of colored paper, gold and silver foils, sparkle paint decorations and serpentine pattern work in silver paint. Once completed, these parts are left to dry on the pavements and traffic dividers, propped against metro stations and in public parks, before being joined and prepared to be transported on trucks and cars to different parts of the country where these are stuffed with an immense quantity of fireworks and erected in community grounds in anticipation of Dussehra, the tenth and final day of Navaratri worship. Often when the effigies have to be transported over long distances, the patrons prefer to purchase and transport individual parts instead of an entire body put together and have it assembled by a team of laborers in the community ground itself.

Towering amidst apartment buildings - A completed Ravana effigy

Since the effigy and the fireworks are a costly affair and not everyone spares time and money for the same, most of the killing and burning (“Ravana Dehena”) of Ravana and his relatives is accomplished by local drama committees and teams that collect donations from throughout a particular locality for the purpose. Usually, a small ensemble team of actors portray Rama, his brother Lakshmana and the vanaras (simian followers and friends of Rama) – entering the ground on a decorated chariot and firing the symbolic flaming arrows towards the effigies of Meghnaad (Ravana’s son), Kumbhakaran (his brother) and Ravana himself, in that particular order, indicating that the demon lords have been killed and should now be set on fire. On a deeper level, the act of burning the ten-headed Ravana is symbolic of eliminating the ten evils from one's mind (lust, anger, attachment, greed, pride, jealousy, selfishness, injustice, cruelty and ego). Often the residents welfare associations (RWAs) collect the stipulated amount and place orders for the effigies on behalf of the population of the locality under their aegis, and eliminate the whole play-acting and costume-dressing before the incineration by requesting one of the prominent citizens/guests or the RWA president himself to set the effigy/effigies ablaze. What follows is a cacophony, the effigies are burnt in the order mentioned and the crackers blast off with great light and noise often amidst the regular shouts of “Jai Shri Rama” (“Victory to Lord Rama”). Though the massive crowds gathered to watch the fearsome spectacle are kept at bay from these towers of fire by enclosures made of ropes and bamboo poles, there is nothing preventing the onslaught of hundreds of devotees towards the spot where the smoldering ashes and afire bamboo frameworks drop. Belief is that keeping under one’s pillow or suspending over the bedside the ash and remains left over after the annual cremation of Ravana, who also happened to be an extremely learnt sage-philosopher-writer-musician, helps increase one’s knowledge and intelligence. Hence, the rush to gather the ashes. Unbelievable, right?

Now we know why Tatarpur is jocularly referred to as "Lanka" (Ravana's citadel)

The whole Ravana making business started some 50 years ago when a man from Sikandarabad (Uttar Pradesh) migrated to Delhi and set up a small-scale business of funeral and cremation materials. One particular year, when the business was exceptionally slow and the festive season upon him, he used the bamboo logs and fine cloths, that would have been otherwise sold to people for cremation purposes, to make a small effigy. Everyone liked it and it was burnt with a grand ceremony during the Dussehra celebrations – motivated, the man, by now being referred to as “Ravana Baba”, began making effigies every year during the festive season and few years later even started getting up to 10 orders from affluent patrons and festival organizing committees. The local children would sit around him and see him at work and often intern for him too for some quick cash – after his demise, these children took the business forward and now they all are the master craftsmen training new workers and painters under their tutelage. The business has grown to hundreds of effigies manufactured each year, yet the craft is characterized as a dying art since, despite putting in months of back-breaking toil and efforts, the profits are extremely low and most craftsmen/workers do not prefer to have their children in the same business. Harassment by locals and policemen are also a factor, though in recent years many newspapers, blogs and photography clubs have photographed, written about and highlighted this alluring heritage activity. And the saddest thing of all is that nobody, not even the generation of craftsmen-artists whom he trained, remember “Ravana Baba” or know his real identity – though one claim is that his actual name was Ustad Chuttan Lal, but many of the older craftsmen disagree.

Brilliant blue! - Am sure Ravana never looked so amusing!

The effigies can be brought – big or small – depending on your budget from Tatarpur. They are priced according to the skill of the craftsmen who made them and the additional features they sport (light bulbs for eyes, large horns, moustache, snake motifs, weapons and accessories etc). The quoted price is Rs 300/feet, but most artists and craftsmen confess that they are able to sell a 50-feet tall effigy (the most common size available here) at an average of Rs 12,000 only – the total price for making it from scratch pegged somewhere around Rs 8,000. Some patrons order even more magnificent effigies – often measuring over 80 feet and equipped with several features like headgear and weapons – such effigies require 24X7 hard work worth several days and usually fetch relatively heftier profits. But one can also spot miniature effigies, just over a few feet tall with a little head mounted atop, thin as sticks and conical in shape, but layered with lots of glossy paper and decorated with fluorescent sheets and sparkles. These are usually bought by individuals who prefer to celebrate Dussehra at their own home and with only their near family instead of indulging in the community carnival that the festival turns into in the local parks and grounds. The best part, other than the riot of colors, are the long moustaches of the Ravanas – many a times the patrons request the craftsmen to make excessively large moustaches or scribble words on these. The craftsmen, nonetheless, think the demons look “beautiful”. 

Subhash Ravanawalla, with some of the effigy heads he commissioned

Interestingly, amongst the rows upon rows of effigy figures lying around, one can spot the artistic modifications creatively introduced by different artists – foremost amongst these are the facial expressions – while one effigy might be depicted looking sad, others might appear happy, and many even sport an expression of unbridled amusement with their large uneven teeth glistening in the sun, nonetheless all of them seem to be contemplating their “fiery” end and laughing at the human vanity of claiming to burn the mighty Ravana. The vibrance of so many shades of colors and glitter, combined with these hundreds of modifications and the different stages of completion in which several effigies sit next to each other makes for beautiful compositions beckoning enthusiastic photographers and impressed onlookers alike. Over time, this sacred craft tradition too has started sporting modern touches – many organizing committees have started burning four effigies – the last one portraying some relevant social/national issue such as female foeticide or corruption; the effigies are increasingly being composed of natural products and avoiding toxic substances like paints, glues, plastics and metals; the creativity has been further enhanced by inscribing slogans on the moustaches or pasting large stickers of fire-spewing dragons and silver jewelry.

That moustache, those teeth! This one at least is spooky!

The workers toil from early dawn to dusk to make these “art pieces” (that’s what they consider them) more elegant and stunning and the impeccable craftsmanship shows in the form of the decorative designs and motifs added when giving final touches to the effigy, just before being shipped off to its destination. Scores of workers cohabit here under the guidance of the master craftsmen during these few months to create hundreds of effigies in a span of two months, every master craftsman commissioning 30-35 effigies each – obviously, the competition to sell earliest while also cornering some profits is high. Yet often, the craftsmen are forced to indulge in distress-selling to even procure part of their investments; many find themselves unable to sell all their product at the end of the festive season – the effigies are then broken down and their constituent material put to more lasting uses – bamboo is utilized for making chairs and stools while paper and glossy sheets are converted into posters. At the end of their two-month employment, each of the workers/carpenters/artists/painters is paid approximately Rs 6,000/month for the services rendered.

A Ravana and his torso. He seems to be grinning perpetually and stupidly 

Walking through the streets of Tatarpur is a wonderful enriching experience where one gets to witness craftsmen and artisans hard at work, converting seemingly simple pieces of bamboo and thin sheets of paper and cloth into towering effigies and masculine heads with astonishingly large moustaches. But one also observes another side of this labour-intensive business – often small kids, not even ten years old, frail and thin like the bamboo sticks they join, can also be seen working with the elders. Every time I have visited the village to click the work in progress, most of the kids stop in the middle of whatever they are doing to jovially interact and pose for me, only to be scolded by the elders – and it is heartbreaking to see them work and questions like shouldn’t they be studying or playing around bubble up unintentionally. Most of these workers, living impoverished lives and often not earning enough to spend on quality food (leave alone proper education, housing and health), face harassment from locals. Couple of years back, they were especially threatened by biker gangs who had taken to stealing the effigy heads and body parts – nowadays, as a preventive measure, most of the heads are kept tied through the nose to walls/railings by means of long strips of cloth – it eliminates part of the photographic composition, but is definitely a necessary measure. The craftsmen also face an uncooperative police force and are often derided for blocking roads and covering footpaths with these huge effigies – for some people, unappreciative of the toil these artists put in for the sake of their patrons and the people who come to see Ravana Dehena, this entire show turns is a nuisance, and they often argue for the removal of effigies from arterial roads. But for most, viewing these brilliant colors, funky shapes and blinding glitter is simply an ethereal experience. Having so many large heads flaunting strange moustaches and headgear strewn around makes for amusing street furniture and compelling photographic perspectives. Scattered all around are not just some pieces of paper-covered wood, but hard toil of workers worth several months, experience worth several years, and a ritual continuing since several decades!

Two's company, three's crowd? Not at Tatarpur where hundreds of effigies jostle for space everywhere one can see. 

Location: The effigies are lined on all the pavements, road side and flanking parks on the stretch connecting Tagore Garden and Subhash Nagar metro stations.
When: From mid-August till Dussehra (early October). The best period is couple of days before Dussehra when the effigies are near completion.
Suggested timings: Early morning, specifically 6-9 am since later the traffic chokes the main street rendering photography extremely difficult.
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Suggested reading - 


The festive season is here again. Navratris have already started, a few days from now it would be Durga Puja & Dussehra, & soon it would be time for one of my favourite festivals, Diwali. & sadly, like the past two years I would not be in Delhi to celebrate Diwali, but would be struck in Durgapur where Diwali (or any other festival except Durga Puja) is never celebrated with much pomp. But I am in Delhi right now, & shall be here for a week more, spending all my time travelling & writing, much to the anguish of my parents & friends who think I spend more time on the road than I do at home!! That’s not true, just so you know. I decided to halt the series about Durgapur (why write about Durgapur when you aren’t even in Durgapur) & write about the celebrations in Delhi. I shall try to incorporate more of festivals & celebrations in this blog. Just for the sake of some of those who don’t know anything about these Indian festivals & for those who would like to learn more, here is a small gist about these celebrations & their significance to let you know what is to follow on this blog’s posts in the coming few days–

Literally “Nine nights”, Navratris herald the beginning of winter festivities, each of these nine nights is dedicated to a form of the Hindu Goddess Durga, the consort of Lord Shiva (the God of Destruction). Although the festival of Navaratri is traditionally celebrated five times/year, the most important of the celebrations are reserved for the advent of winter (September-October) & summer (March-April). It is said that the festival of Navratris is being celebrated since way before the time of the ancient Hindu king Rama. Rama, an ideal son-husband-brother-friend-king-warrior-who-knows-what-else, invaded Lanka (many believe the Lanka in scriptures is the present day island of Sri Lanka) to rescue his wife Sita who was abducted treacherously by the demon king Ravana, the lord of Lanka. Unable to get an upper hand in the long war that followed, Rama prayed to Goddess Durga for several days & she finally blessed him on the eighth day. The eighth day is called “Ashtami” & is celebrated in every household by inviting young girls & a young boy & worshipping them with the belief that Goddess Durga & Lord Shiva reside in each of these girls & the boy respectively. This ritual is called "Kanjak". The women of the house wash the feet of these girls with water & tie red-coloured threads (“Moli”) on their hands & place a small vermillion mark on their forehead. They are then fed with puris (unleavened Indian bread, made after deep-frying wheat flour batter), chole (chickpea), boiled rice, halwa (confection made with flour, condensed butter & sugar), coconut & occasionally chocolates & soft drinks & given small gifts & money. The festival has gained so much popularity in north India, especially Delhi & Haryana, that hordes of impoverished girls & young boys from villages visit the cities early morning in anticipation of the food & money they would collect – many can be seen returning home in the evening carrying large polybags filled with puris. Women wake up very early in the morning to prepare all these delicacies, & toil hard for the blessings of these little living Goddesses. I for one love this festival as I too get to eat these delightful dishes that my mother cooks, & then I can bargain with her for the amount of money I shall be getting!! When I was younger, I used to be called to my neighbors' houses for the prayers & the procedures, & it used to be amusing for us kids to count & boast about the total money we collected that day. It usually continues till noon, since not all ladies can feed the kids early morning, many working women even tend to give fruits & eatables to the kids in the evening.

The Kanjak fare

On the same evening, the Bengali communities celebrate Durga Puja (“Pujo” as Bengalis call it, literally “worship”). Huge idols of the Goddess are bought & established several days (usually on the sixth day of Navratris - Shashti) in advance in the households, or community buildings, & temples. Prayers & prasad (ceremonial offerings of sweets, milk, occasionally fish & meats) are offered every day to this seated Goddess, the places where these idols are housed are covered with tents (“pandals”) & stalls selling all sorts of eatables & mini-idols, devotees gather in large numbers, especially in Delhi’s CR Park locality, for prayers, dances & idol-shopping, making it one of the best nights for gourmets, photographers & heritage-lovers. & of course, you get to see so many beautiful girls all night long in the pandals!!

The Gujarati community too celebrates Navaratris with great pomp & gaiety - the people take part in communal meets & perform the traditional "Garba" dance with each other, irrespective of any social or economic distinctions.

Durga idol - 2012, Janakpuri Kalibari (Kali Temple)

The tenth day “Dashami” is also called “Vijay Dashami” or “Dussehra”. It is said that Rama killed Ravana on this particular day. Hindus believe that Rama was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the God of Life & Preservation. In full disclosure, I don’t actually believe that Rama was an incarnation or Ravana was a demon (I am an atheist) – Rama may be a model king, but not a God. Ravana may be a villain, but not a demon, just a man blinded by his lust & power. Ramayana, the book of the story of Rama, composed several millennia ago, talks of Ravana as one of the most learned men in the world, son of a mighty sage, himself a sincere devotee of Lord Shiva & blessed with several boons & weapons, a composer of spiritual texts & also a mighty warrior capable of bringing his foes to their knees. But there is no stopping the believers, since eons they have been burning effigies – big or small, depending on their budget – of Ravana (& his brother Kumbhakaran & son Meghnad) in almost each & every community ground & park (refer Pixelated Memories - Tatarpur, New Delhi). This burning of effigies is seen as the symbolic act of destroying the evil from the world, but I won’t get into a discussion about the merits & demerits of this effigy-burning ritual, or the qualities & character faults of Rama/Ravana – somewhere deep down I too like these festivities – a mode of passing along the stories & belief systems of the ancient culture down the next generation via prayers, singing, dramas & communal gatherings, that’s what Dussehra is about. The Bengalis celebrate Dashami by drowning the ceremonial idols of Durga down some source of flowing water – such as a river or some small stream.

Ravana Dehena - The ritualistic burning of effigies of Ravana & his relatives

October 19, 2012

Damodar River Barrage, Durgapur

Perhaps the only place in Durgapur that can be both disappointing & entertaining at the same time, the Barrage is one of those few places in the city that I have visited several times & will perhaps continue to do so in the near future. The times spent at the Barrage can be considered bitter-sweet experiences – at times I had great fun & enjoyed myself to the hilt, at times it was boring being there with nothing to do except gandering around – either case it is the company of friends that made the experience awesome or shitty. The Barrage, like the rest of Durgapur is not very mesmerizing, or visit-worthy on its own – however the open spaces it affords at certain times of the year, along with the people you get to meet in its immediate vicinity, certainly make it one of the best tourist-spots in the city, despite the fact that there isn’t much to see here – just a medium-sized reservoir to restrict the flow of (not so mighty) Damodar river. Infact the Barrage, though officially controlled by Damodar River Valley Corporation that builds dams & produces electricity, is actually regulated by the West Bengal Government. May be that is the reason why the dam hasn’t been maintained properly & its landscaping & tourism potential allowed to go down the proverbial sink.

Durgapur Barrage

On either side of the Barrage are large basins where water flows through, & at times when the sluice gates have been closed for some considerable time (for flood control & irrigation purposes) & one side of the Barrage is devoid of much water flow, the basin on that side dries up to reveal layers upon layers of sand – dry & patterned by the movement of waves that passed over it, & inscribed with shoe (& foot) prints of people who take to these “newly formed” grounds like fish to water. & that is the best time to visit the Barrage – you can run in the sand (though it will fill your shoes & you won’t be able to run fast because of the sinking effect), you can take photographs – especially of the structure as it starts glowing up at dusk, or of the people – you can get some interesting silhouettes with the setting sun as the background, or you can simply wander around, adoring the entire built structure.

Sands of time..

The sluice gates are large & the stones that flank them have been rounded & given a semi ziggurat-like appearance. Since the Barrage was built way back in 1955, the stones do show signs of decay & erosion, & at some spots they have been too blackened with who-knows-what accumulating on the surface for so many years. The Barrage doubles up as a bridge with heavy vehicular flow at almost all times of the day, & when the water flows underneath, you can observe reflections of the vehicles & their headlights – not such a great scene either, but then who told you to come to boring Durgapur, eh?? From the top of the structure or the adjoining roads, one can also observe the fast flow of the river & the eddys formed in the water. More often than not, the flow appears dangerous & one tends to shirk back with apprehensions of falling over.

“Did you ever wonder if the person in the puddle is real, and you're just a reflection of him?” (Bill Watterson)

Also when the reservoirs are full, policemen tend to prevent people from going down the bridge (large stairs & rock-&-sand make up the walls of the basin) as many people often tend to fall in the waters due to recklessness. I have been told many have died here too. Spooky right?? To think I was walking over the same river floor some days back!! Vendors line the small kiosks that have been built on either side of the Barrage, selling roasted corn cobs, phuchkas, ice creams (not the real ones though, these were mostly flavored water with who-knows-what added to impart an odd graininess) & jhal muri. Some families with little kids always kept the vendors busy, buying one eatable or the other. When the Barrage is full with gushing waters, one can spot local men with fishing rods sitting on the rocky edges of the basin, some sold what they caught nearby, others carried their catch home. Either way I had fun photographing these fishermen & fish-sellers. When the Barrage is almost empty, the same men can be seen with their fishing rods in small boats in the middle of the small streams emanating from the Barrage gaps. OK, I agree the streams aren’t that small either – after all boats ply over them – but they aren’t so large either, just some deep pools accumulated here & there.

Lets catch some fish!!

A visit to the Barrage can at times turn into an exhilarating joy ride – for instance the last time I visited the Barrage with some friends, we had no knowledge that there are no facilities for public transport near the Barrage at night (err..that is Durgapur night, 6 pm in the evening!!), & since it was already 7 & we let the last bus go as it was overcrowded (we did not know it would be the last bus either) we had to walk a considerable distance after which we were able to flag a passing taxi & somehow some seven people & a driver squeezed into a car!! But it was more or less fun, walking down a road without any streetlights & no barricades separating us from the gushing waters of a canal that parted from the Barrage & flowed perpendicular to it. The sound of fast flowing water & occasional croaks of frogs was music to our ears.

I wish I too could fly!!

Also by overcrowded buses around the Barrage, I mean way too overcrowded buses, with as many people sitting on the roof of the bus as inside it - & then there are those who keep standing in the bus – I mean it doesn’t even look humane, but then that’s how Durgapur (& the rest of India in extension) is. I read on the internet that the Barrage is also home to several species of colorful birds & the Govt. is considering a special “wildlife sanctuary” status for it – sadly I have to debunk this supposed “fact” – I have so far been unable to spot any especially different or beautiful bird around the Barrage despite being there several times at different times of the day & in different seasons too. May be they did not like me flashing a camera around – another supposed “fact” is that photography is not allowed the Barrage – there wasn’t anyone to stop me, or my friends, from taking pictures of or around the Barrage. In fact, the last time I was there, some of my friends agreed to do a bit of modelling (to be honest, just some poses) for me, & despite the presence of a few policemen, no one stopped us from taking any pictures. Whatever it may be like, I am awaiting my next trip to Barrage with friends – for more photography & modelling of course, but this time around we will visit the place in the afternoon & stay there till night (Durgapur night I mean!!). It ought to be fun.

Clicked it when I myself was sitting on the roof of another bus!!

Open : All days, Sunrise to Sunset
How to reach : Taxis & buses can be availed from different parts of the city. However the public transport systems can't be trusted for showing up after 7 p.m.
Entrance fee : Nil
Photography/Video Charges : Nil (Though it has been claimed that photography/video making is prohibited here, but I was never stopped from taking any photos.)
Time required for sightseeing : Although you can recce the entire area in 45 minutes, you are free to stay as long as you wish to.

October 15, 2012

Ram Temple, Durgapur

On the behest of some friends, I finally decided to write a series about the religious & tourist spots in Durgapur, the city where I am currently living – one of the sleepy semi-urban cities that dot the entire Indian landscape, in fact it can be said that Durgapur is an analogy for the rest of the country – underdeveloped, poor & mostly illiterate. The posts about Durgapur were due for a long, long time, I have been living here for almost two & a half years. Although the city boasts of a large Government-administered steel plant (one of the largest & most advanced in the entire country), it has nothing else to show for (except perhaps the college I am studying in, National Institute of Technology, as mentioned in one of the earlier posts). To be honest, I do not like living in Durgapur – to a Delhite, the entire city appears to be like a village, or rather, a civilized forest, even though it is one of the most developed city of Bengal. Except for 5-6 spots that tourists & locals frequent, there are no other options for sight-seeing in Durgapur.

In my opinion, Ram Mandir (“Mandir” is temple in Hindi/Bangla) is one of the most beautiful places in the entire city. Located far away from the central part of the city & reached through a series of roads & alleys (many pot-holed, others lacking proper street-lightning, & almost all interspersed with speed-breakers that guarantee a roller-coaster ride), the temple is set in a large garden. Its pillared hall, large bells & exquisite stone carvings on its white marble walls appears mesmerizing. A lone guard looks after the premises, sitting next to the entrance gate & the rack where the visitors have to remove their footwear & socks. At the far end corner of the rack are taps to wash one’s hands & feet after removing the shoes. Several trees & grassy grounds flank the pathway leading to the temple. Tall lamp posts throw light on the temple & its immediate surroundings. The temple stands on a high pedestal, led to by milky-white stairs, its roof surmounted by several pyramids, each pyramid is further decorated by triangular protrusions. The design & grace of the temple speaking for the belief & reverence of the artists & laborers who carved it.

The Ram Mandir

Four priests administer the prayers – all of them tall, well-built & extremely handsome, with massive, trimmed moustaches, beards & sideburns. The prayers were just starting up when we reached the temple – the prayers were a heavenly experience, with the mantras (invocative chants) resounding from ancient scriptures. The sanctum was small, bathed in reddish light from small incandescent bulbs, there were idols of King Rama & his wife Sita (Rama - a Hindu king, believed to be the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Hindu God of preservation & life). A small idol of Hanuman (the monkey God, a follower of Rama) stood reverentially near their feet. A board next to the sanctum decreed that photography is not allowed.

The sanctum ( I have been told it has never been photographed before!!)

I asked the junior priests, the ones who sat outside the sanctum singing prayers for permission to take photographs, but they directed me to the head priest, the one who performed the ritualistic acts inside the sanctum. The head priest was an old man, with a balding head & a tuft of long hairs on the back of his head (called “Choti”), yet strong & well built. While he presided over the prayers, I strolled around in the gardens, taking photographs from various angles & perspectives, while also listening to the invocations & bell-ringing.

Another view..

At the end of the prayers, the head-priest was surrounded by devotees who crowded around him for blessings & “Prasad” (ceremonial offerings of sweets & sugar nibbles to the Gods, distributed to the devotees after the prayers). A polite & soft-spoken man, he quickly granted permission to photograph the sanctum, & then started talking on his mobile phone in a corner.

I could not find any details of the temple or its construction on the internet, nor did the friends who accompanied me to the temple know much about it. However after several hours of internet searching, I did stumble on the fact that the temple is owned by the Goenka Group of industries, & the priests performing the prayers here are specially brought from Varanasi. Each group of priests stay here for a few months, a new group replacing them when they return.

Looking back..

Done with the photography & strolling around, we moved ahead, pleased that Durgapur too has at least one beautiful spot to boast of. Outside rows of vendors selling phuchka (crispy, round dumpling filled with spicy-sweet water), jhalmuri (puffed rice mixed with mustard oil, coriander, onion & spices) & egg rolls looked at us with eyes that seemed to ask why we weren’t feasting on their products. The vendors stood alone, sans any customers, so unlike the rest of Durgapur where people flock in hordes to the sellers of phuchkas & jhal.

How to reach : The temple is located in Bidhan Nagar. Buses & taxis can be availed from different parts of the city for reaching Bidhan Nagar.
Open : All days, Sunrise to sunset (Prefer visiting in the evening at around 6:30 p.m., in time for the evening prayers)
Entrance Fee : Nil
Photography/Video Charges : Nil. However photography is prohibited inside the temple complex.
Time required for sight seeing : 30 min

October 10, 2012

Secretariat Blocks, New Delhi

Often considered to be the Indian version of Mordor (“Lord of the Rings” fans would know what I am talking about), the stretch of land housing the Secretariat Blocks, the Parliament House & the Presidential Estate in New Delhi remains out-of-bounds for most visitors at all times of the year. Although people are allowed to visit the place in order to witness the grandeur & pomp with which the Indian democracy is conducted, yet most tourists – foreigners & Indians alike seldom visit the area, except for long drives across the wide & traffic-free roads. The Secretariat consists of the unimaginatively named North & South Block buildings standing facing each other on either side of the Raj Path (“Royal Way”), the former housing the ministries of Finance & Home, while the latter houses the ministries of Defence, External Affairs & the Prime Minister’s office. The mighty India Gate (refer Pixelated Memories - India Gate) & the President’s House are visible on either side of the Secretariat Blocks. The high profile of these ministries & the visitors that grace the premises can be gauged from the presence of army & police personnel, as well as personnel carriers & armoured cars at all times of the day. The structures were designed by Herbert Baker, who in association with Edwin Lutyens designed the British capital of new Delhi – in fact, it was during the construction of the Secretariat Blocks that Herbert & Lutyens, good friends once, fell out with each other.

The North Block

Standing on the traffic post in the centre of the road that leads to the Secretariat Blocks (this spot is called “Vijay Chowk” or “Victory Square”), one can see the Presidential House in the background (refer Pixelated Memories - President's House). One also notices the sharp incline of the road, cutting through the walls of the structures, since both these buildings stand atop a small hill called Raisina. As I mentioned in the Presidential House post, this construction atop the hill was what led to the dispute between Baker & Lutyens – Lutyens wanted to have his masterpiece, the President’s House (or palace, as many prefer to call it), atop the hill so that it might be visible from quite a distance, but was forced to shift it back to accommodate the Blocks since Baker wanted them to be at the same level with the President’s House. As a result, only the dome of the Presidential House was visible from the mentioned traffic square. Realizing his folly at a later stage, Lutyens ran from pillar to post to get the blocks either scrapped or shifted elsewhere, but to no avail, leading to festering grudges between the two. Lutyens even went as far as considering this a war & called it his defeat at “Bakerloo” in his private correspondence.

Later the Parliament House was also constructed nearby. It was also designed by Baker, but because of the time lapse between the building of the Parliament & the structures atop the Raisina Hill, it does not share a common axis with the rest of the structures. Do read the post Pixelated Memories -Parliament House for more details about the Parliament House Complex & its construction.

Secretariat Blocks - View from Vijay Chowk (visible in the center  background is the dome of the President's House)

Completed in 1929, the buildings show an amalgam of the Victorian & Indian styles of architecture – the most prominent features (& the most visible too) being the pillars, Mughal-style perforated stone fretwork ("jalis"), imposing domes, small chattris (circular umbrella-like structures surmounted on thin pillars) & the eaves (locally called “Chajjas”, to protect the residents of a building from harsh sunlight & slanting rain). Together the buildings boast of a thousand rooms spread over four floors, long corridors, courtyards, decorative stone elephants & fountain pavilions. Modelled on the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, which were also designed & constructed by Baker, the Blocks & surrounding decorative structures are built largely of red & cream sandstone sourced from Dholpur. The four 41-feet tall columns, each surmounted by a ship sailing towards east, two in front of each Block, are called “Dominion Columns” & represent the then British dominions of Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The large gateways of either block are decorated with red sandstone medallions, while the gateway of the North Block is inscribed with the words "Liberty will not descend to a people: a people must raise themselves to liberty. It is a blessing which must be earned before it can be enjoyed". In both the buildings, one can see tablets affixed in wall niches built close to the base of the hill, inscribed with the names of the engineers & artists who helped construct these magnificent buildings. Also located within the Blocks are identical chambers called Yaadgar (“Memorable”) Chambers that store the foundation stones that were used when the capital of British India was shifted from Calcutta to New Delhi in 1911 (Reference - Times of India article "City's foundation stones forgotten, lie in locked halls" dated Dec 27, 2011).

I got rather close to one of the buildings, prompting the police guards to chase me!!

Such is the aura & grandeur of these Blocks that even those officials & ministries that have been allotted office spaces elsewhere prefer to have their bosses sitting here. The officials of the Army & Defence Ministry & External Affairs Ministry prefer to have their offices in the Secretariat rather than the nearby located “Sena Bhavan” (Army Complex) & “Jawahar Lal Nehru Bhavan” (External Affairs Ministry complex, named after the former Prime Minister, J.L. Nehru).

The symbols of Indian bureaucracy - One of the Blocks & Cars (Ambassador!!) with the Tricolor on the hood 

One should especially visit the Secretariat Blocks on the national days – Republic Day & Independence Day – when the structures are beautifully lit with lamps & bulbs. The “Beating the Retreat” ceremony also takes place at the Vijay Chowk square on January 29th every year, & witnesses the presence of dressed army soldiers, guards, camels & horses, & army band platoons in full regalia. A must visit spot in order to witness the Indian democracy & its nuances in its various colors & (often not so) charming people & guards. & if not for anything else, the place is full of photography options with its mix of old, regal buildings & modern complications.

Sparkles - The view on national days (Photo courtesy - jpaudit/flickr)

Fun fact - While the North Block has a small red board with "North Block" written on it, the South Block has a red letter box outside it. This can be used to distinguish photos of the two blocks.

Nearest Metro Station : Central Secretariat
How to reach : One can simply walk from the metro station. Taxis can be availed from different parts of the city. Public transport doesn't ply here & it is better to take a tour on a private car. Also stopping for more than two minutes at a single place is prohibited. Forget parking.
Entrance Fee : Nil. But entry is through prior permission only
Photography charges : Nil. But try not to head too close to the Blocks as the policemen here can get a bit stingy.
Video Charges : Prohibited
Time required for sightseeing : 30 minutes
Relevant Links - 

  1. Pixelated Memories - India Gate
  2. Pixelated Memories - Parliament House
  3. Pixelated Memories - Presidential House