January 01, 2013

Ahinsa Sthal, New Delhi

Some 800 years ago, when Islamic armies led by Shihab-ud-din Muhammad Muizuddin bin Sam (Muhammad Ghuri) first appeared at Indian borders threatening to conquer the country, the Hindu Rajput ruler Prithviraj Chauhan assembled a huge army to face this new challenge. Valiant & indefatigable, he defeated Muhammad’s forces, administering them a crushing blow in the First Battle of Tarain (1191 AD) & even capturing Muhammad himself. Magnanimous in his victory, Prithviraj treated Muhammad with all respect due to a king, & against the advice of his foreseeing ministers freed him & gave him safe passage to return to his kingdom in Afghanistan. A year later, Muhammad again amassed an even mightier army & marched once again against Prithviraj. This time around, he vanquished & chased the army of Prithviraj & his 150 brethren Rajput rulers. Prithviraj himself was captured & later killed. One by one, all the provinces in India including Tibet, Bengal, Bihar & Deccan (Central India) fell to Muhammad’s marauding army looking for loot & treasure. The entire country was ravaged, its wealth & women carried away by the Afghans, a large part of the population either killed or converted to slaves, its foundations demolished & rulers humiliated. Prithviraj himself was immortalized & lionized in folklore & bardic tradition. But the country he left behind bore the brunt of the war. After converting India into his fief, Muhammad retired to his kingdom leaving his favourite slave & army commander Qutbuddin Aibak in-charge of the unruly lands of India. A fanatic Muslim & a loyal slave, Qutbuddin decided to forward the name of his master & his religion in this new land by constructing mosques & felling temples that already existed here. He fell 27 Hindu & Jain temples in Mehrauli in South Delhi & established the gigantic mosque Quwwat-ul-Islam (“the Might of Islam”). 800 years later, though the scars of this temple destruction & religious bickering are yet to heal completely, most of the citizens of this holy land have accepted, although uneasily, a life of mutual understanding & co-existence. The Jains, believers in peace & non-violence, instead of demanding that the Quwwat mosque be fell to make way for a temple of their denomination like some Hindus did, built a temple for themselves nearby. The Ahinsa Sthal (“Abode of Non-Violence”) was established in 1980 close to the Qutb Complex (where the Quwwat Mosque is situated).

To peace & tolerance..

Boasting of a large statue of Mahavira (599-27 BC), the last Tirthankar (spiritual guide) of the Jain faith, seated atop a high hill & surrounded by landscaped gardens, Ahinsa Sthal comes as close to a peaceful & uninterrupted spot in Delhi as possible. The stone statue, 14 feet tall, seated on a lotus placed on a pedestal & flanked by statues of lions & ornaments-clad attendants, presents a glorious picture. Glimmering in the bright sunshine, Mahavira sits meditating about the human life & preaches a lesson of religious tolerance & universal brotherhood (Ironic after Qutbuddin’s actions, right??). As one enters the compound, the guards motion one to take off their shoes & place them underneath any of the several benches placed within the garden complex. Though a notice board proclaimed that “Photography is prohibited”, the guards said one can take photos as long as they do not disturb anyone else in the park. I wasn’t there to disturb anyone!! Perambulating the lawns of this not-so-large garden, I noticed statues of apsaras (divine maidens) placed underneath trees & among bushes, many of them holding musical instruments, others offering tributes to Mahavira. Large painted boards, arranged alongside the larger trees along the walkways, threw light on Mahavira’s life & teachings, & also the tenets & ethics of the Jain faith. I also noticed a few couples engrossed in talking to their partners seated close to the edge of the park, of course maintain their distance from each other. It is the first time I saw couples flocking to a religious spot in search of isolation & privacy. A few families, apparently in picnic mood, sat sprawled in the lawns, chatting & sharing light snacks. Eating & running about the lawns is prohibited. In the centre is the hill, visible from some distance outside the complex, but more or less hidden behind the surroundings. Of course, I saw the statue already from the heights of the adjacent tomb of Azim Khan. I climbed up the stone stairs, again marveling at the clever placement of the apsara statues (& a small, white marble cow too!!) to blend them with the flora.

Goddess amongst the bushes

The green cover is very well maintained here – ancient Indians believed that the presence of holy men could induce fertility to everything around them & make even barren land & rocky plateaus lush with plants, many people still believe that it was the Mahavira statue that actually made the hill sides go green. On the first level of the hill, one faces a clearing, stairs projecting upwards on either side & the Jain flags visible fluttering towards the top. The portion towards the opposite side of the hill (behind the stairs) is forbidden for tourists. A large bell hung from a blue nylon rope in front of a cavity in the opposite wall where a huge stone monolith & a photograph of some man were placed. The man gazes sideways as people kept coming to ring the bell. Its loud sound actually hurts the ears if one stands as close as I did!!

Level 1

The monolith was sculpted to show a lioness & a cow drinking from the same vessel, while the lioness fed its milk to a calf & the cow fed a lion cub. It must have been representing justice (the weak & the strong existing together & partaking the same resources) & equality (both feeding each other’s kids) - again an irony in the country. Lions were also part of the insignia of the royal family to which Mahavira belonged. He took the pledge of a solitary existence & gave up his kingdom & all his comforts when he began on the path to seek enlightenment  I climbed up the stairs to reach the summit where the Mahavira statue was kept. There wasn’t much to do here – a few families sat on the mats placed near the statue, again chewing chips & snacks, a few Jain pilgrims prayed near the statue, a few lighted incense sticks. More lions in the form of stone statues, & a lion head carved out into the plinth over which the Mahavira idol rested. The plinth itself is carved with certain couplets describing Mahavira’s ideology. The thing that certainly put me off were the names of the patrons who contributed financially for the erection of this statue inscribed on Mahavira's seat. Seriously, why do you have to be such a show-off??

Stunning, right??

A guard looked bored sitting in the small compartment built near the rear of the level. I spent some time around, thinking what to do, photographing the statues, the people, the environs & of course standing near the railing & gazing down at the visitors coming & going. Nah, there wasn’t anything much to do. I left, sort of bored & disappointed. This is a charming place no doubt, perfect for contemplation. The Jains were successful in creating a place, silent, tranquil & sacred, where meditation is possible despite the noise & fumes from the highway that passes next to it. But if you are not one up for meditation or sitting around idly, this isn’t the place for you. It is more like a normal park where people go in the evenings for walk, except that there is a huge idol instead of the swings & the merry go-rounds. Off I go somewhere else then..

In service of the Lord..

Location: Mehrauli
Open: All days, Sunrise to Sunset
Nearest Metro Station: Saket
How to Reach: After getting down at Saket Station, one can walk to Lado Serai Bus Stop. Buses are available from different parts of the city for Mehrauli & one can alight from the bus at Lado Serai stop itself. The Lado Serai stop is situated at a crossroad & at one side, one can see a large domed-structure seated on a high hill (Azim Khan’s Tomb) rising high behind the trees & the traffic. Walk towards the tomb. Ahinsa Sthal is enroute & marked with large signboards & a huge gate.
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: About 30 min
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