29 September 2015

Church of St. Joseph and St. Philomena, Mysore, Karnataka


“A good traveler is the one who does not know where he is going to, and a perfect traveler is the one who does not know where he came from.”
– Lin Yu-tang, Chinese writer (1895-1976)

Soon enough, in slightly less than a month from now to be precise, it’s going to be the four-year anniversary of “Pixelated Memories”. It really is tremendously hard to believe that it has been such a painstakingly long, long time travelling and writing. Equally difficult is the dazzling comprehension about the numerous gorgeous places I’ve been to, the infinite number of fascinating people I’ve encountered, inexplicable emotions felt, colorful souvenirs and photographs collected, and most importantly, bewitching memories cherished. As mentioned once previously on this blog, the journey hasn’t always been easy – I’ve often been utterly frustrated by the lack of inspiration (writer’s block!) or the paucity of sufficient funds and enthusiastic companionship. There have been n number of times when I had to grudgingly ask myself if I wanted to eat better or drift further – and more often than not, travelling triumphed – it is somehow unreservedly preposterous to stay at one place and miss out on wandering around and admiring the magnificent landscapes that nature benevolently studded this country with and the hundreds of spellbinding colossal edifices that mankind constructed in his persistent zeal for unparalleled renown and architectural immortality. Of course, there is also the considerable pressure of maintaining a thoroughly-detailed memoir, a journal of all my sojourns and musings which I can refer to when I’m old and senescent and incapable of pinning names on the photographs I’m clicking now. Or perhaps not trustful enough to accept that massive Gothic palaces and outstanding cathedrals – like the unbelievably beautiful Church of St. Joseph and St. Philomena – could exist in this part of the world as well.


Singular - The Church of St. Joseph and St. Philomena


Inspired by the Cologne Cathedral of Germany and constructed in 1936 in the Neo-Gothic style of architecture, St. Philomena’s Church (as it is popularly referred to) can unarguably be regarded as one of the defining landmarks of the magnificent city of Mysore. Capturing brightly illuminating rays of sunshine in its numerous painted glass windows and stretching its painstakingly carved, 175-feet tall twin towering spires in a remarkable attempt to touch the sky, the handsome church dominates the beautiful city’s skyline and generously reflects upon the extraordinary amalgamation of different faiths, cultures and architectural styles that the Wadiyar/Wodeyar Dynasty (reign AD 1399-1947 over most of Karnataka and parts of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala) impressively achieved. The present edifice, an exceptional epitome of Gothic architecture and its fascinating visual impact especially in an undeniably foreign setting, is located at the site of an earlier wooden church that was consecrated in AD 1843 and was commissioned by the then sovereign H.H. Maharaja Sri Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar III (reign AD 1799-1868) for the British Catholic soldiers posted at nearby military town of Seringapatnam to pray at. The legend inscribed on the foundation stone of the original church read –

“In the name of that only God – the universal Lord who creates, protects, and reigns over the universe of Light, the mundane world and the assemblage of all created lives – this church is built 1843 years after the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Enlightenment of the World, as man."


Exemplar!


Upon the request of Father Cochet, the second church was commissioned in 1933 by H.H. Maharaja Sri Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV (reign AD 1894-1940) to house the sacred relics of St. Philomena of Greece that his personal secretary T. Thumboo Chetty had obtained in 1926. The designs were prepared by a French architect remembered only as Daly (next to nothing is known about him and his credentials) and the construction was overseen by Bishop Rev. Rene Feuga (Parish priest, 1831-41). The structure was consecrated in 1936 and dedicated to St. Philomena (lived AD 291-304), the martyred Greek princess who had committed her life and love to God and took a vow of consecrated virginity at the tender age of 13 years (soon thereafter, the Roman Emperor Diocletian cruelly threatened to destroy her father’s kingdom, relented only after he inconsiderately decided to marry her on a whim and, unnervingly infuriated at her continued refusal, had her barbarically tortured and mercilessly decapitated). Numerous churches and cathedrals have been commissioned throughout the world since after the discovery of her sacred remains in the year 1802 in Rome and her cult remains particularly strong in the Indian state of Karnataka where several charitable institutions and hospitals are financed and managed by religious organizations associated with her name. On the fronts of faith and belief however, recent archaeological developments and historical literary records and practices have cast deep doubts over whether the hallowed relics brandished throughout the world as the martyred child’s are actually hers – the hollowed rock mausoleum where they were found bore the Latin inscription “pax tecum Filumena” (“Peace with you, Philomena”), however placed deliberately in an incorrect manner which was generally accomplished by medieval clergy and church functionaries to indicate the reuse of a mausoleum for a second burial.


Sublime!


This, and the numerous scientific papers questioning the veracity of the accounts of St. Philomena’s life and the Vatican’s refusal to venerate and canonize her as a saint, of course do not in the slightest deter the faithful nor do they erase the honorific “Saint” affixed preceding her name. Be that as it may, the church in Mysore is definitely unique, not merely because it is a singularly focused entity in terms of its architectural inspiration in a visually heterogeneous city otherwise renowned for its eclectic edifices conceived to blend in numerous styles and symbolic motifs, but also because it is a rare example of the cultural and architectural synergy that is becoming so drastically threatened to extinction in these troubled times – commemorating a Greek saint, financed by a Hindu King and designed following German architectural ethos by an unknown French architect for British soldiers to worship in!

The colossal church is built in the shape of an enormous cross and its two remarkably gorgeous towers pierce the sky towering over the peaceful green crowns of surrounding trees and the roofs of the neighborhood houses and can easily be recognized from rooftops around for several kilometers. The immensity of the soaring towers however do pose the often encountered (and immediately sympathized with!) extreme difficulty involved in attempting to photograph the entire massive structure justifiably well – I too was forced to click most of the photographs in portrait orientation despite my near aversion to. It need not be mentioned that Gothic edifices are always a source of wide-eyed fascination given that very few exemplar specimens were ever built in the vast subcontinent – the church here is definitely an epitome of the same.


Graphic!


The entire vertical immensity is finely balanced by stone buttresses, as is common with most Gothic structures, especially cathedrals, of such grand proportions. The massive structure is flanked on either side by two large sculptures (although visually dwarfed by the towers’ gigantism) composed of flawless white marble. The first is that of St. Philomena, appearing immaculate celestial and depicted with a substantially heavy anchor by her side and a small arrow clutched in her hand (proclaimed symbols of her unflinching martyrdom since she was repetitively tormented (and miraculously saved) by being fired upon with arrows and drowned tied to heavy anchors). The second portrays a bearded and robed St. Joseph, the husband of Mary (Jesus’s mother), triumphantly holding in his arms a baby Jesus – for some mysterious reason, and puzzlingly so, everybody omits St. Joseph’s name from the church’s when referring to it. The expansive grounds adjoining the leviathan church building also house the offices and residential quarters of the Order’s clergy and a school run under their aegis. Photography is prohibited within the church (and the housekeeping staff does very strictly implement the same), however the Father there generously, and quite instantaneously, granted me the requisite permissions and even had a caretaker show me around and point out the consecration stones and commemorative tablets pertaining to the Bishops interred herein and the gorgeous, vividly multihued stained glass windows. The devotees being very much Indian here, one does notice the practice, same as one would in a mosque or a temple, of leaving one’s footwear outside before stepping into the premises.


Hallowed!


Apart from the numerous dexterously carved sculptures and bewitching scenes from Jesus’s life and tribulations and the twelve most significant occurrences in his short life painted on small wooden panels, one cannot fail being impressed by the numerous colorful, brilliantly-lit dioramas, painstakingly crafted sculptures (wreathed with flower garlands and fairy lights!) and the overall striking symmetry and immediately noticeable gracefulness of the architecture. The perspective unity introduced by the handsome Corinthian pillar shafts culminating into gorgeous bouquets of Acanthus blossoms before converging into soaring pointed arches no doubt spectacularly contributes to the effect. Numerous captions painted on wooden tablets adorn the walls to create a rather crowded mishmash of wooden boards and plastic fixtures, among them –

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
Amen.”

Closer to the altar is a narrow staircase leading down to a small subterranean chamber harshly lit with fluorescent lights – here, in the likeness of a beautiful blonde damsel lying prone within a glass and wood case, surrounded by numerous flower vases are contained the remains of St. Philomena – legend goes that soon after the discovery of the bone dust remains, the same multiplied to a large amount and could therefore provide for hundreds of deeply venerated repositories throughout the world! Hoping for spiritual blessings, financial prosperity and physical and matrimonial well being, devotees leave offerings of coins and currency down a large well-like opening adjoining the highly realistic casket.


Tragedy!


On either side exist very dimly-lit narrow passages lined with black-grey stone slabs engraved with the names of hundreds of thousands of faithful who chose to be buried in crypts in the vicinity of the saint’s mortal remains – among them the Maharani of Bajang (Nepal) who lies interred so very far from her kingdom! Sadly though, visitors have vandalized these too with grotesquely etched love letters and hieroglyphs. Walking through the cool, dark passages is definitely a strange experience full of strange morbid sensations – the uninterrupted loneliness, the sudden intense feeling of walking subterranean amongst the dead, the deeply evocative darkness intermittently punctured by shards of orange-yellow light emitted by low-wattage incandescent bulbs – at the same time one does not wish to walk into the blinding illumination outside and is also inexplicably afraid to stay. But walk back to the sunshine one does. The dead are not going anywhere. For the rest, life must go on.


Spooky!


Open: Everyday, 5 am – 6 pm
Mass timings: Monday-Saturday: 5.30 am, 6.15 am, 7 am and 4 pm; Sundays: 5 am, 6 am, 7 am, 8 am, 9 am and 4 pm
Nearest bus stop: Suburban sto
How to reach: Walk or avail a bus/auto from Suburban bus stop (850 meters away) or City bus stop (1.8 kilometers away).
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil. But prohibited within the church.
Time required for sightseeing: 1 hr
Relevant Links -
Other monuments/landmarks located in Mysore - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Mysore Palace
  2. Pixelated Memories - Seringapatnam (Mandya)
  3. Pixelated Memories - Sri Chamundeshwari Temple
Suggested reading - 
  1. Wikipedia.org - Philomena
  2. Wikipedia.org - St. Philomena's Church, Mysore

23 September 2015

Madhi Masjid, Mehrauli, Delhi


“Delhi: delirious city, city of the tense present, future imperfect. Yes, it’s easy to criticize. It is sprawling, aggressive, authoritarian, water-starved, paranoid, and has had so many facelifts that you can get lost on your own street.. It’s frequently tasteless, materialistic, immensely inegalitarian, environmentally destructive, and full of faintly lecherous men. Its weather is diabolical, it can be ludicrously expensive, and often it smells. Oh, and its monkeys occasionally carry out savage and unprovoked attacks, just to liven things up.”
– Elizabeth Chatterjee, “Delhi: Mostly Harmless” (2013)

Out of sight, out of mind, so the saying goes. Located in the very shadow of the immensely renowned World Heritage Site of Qutb complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex) and then too immediately opposite the perennially crowded Qutb Minar metro station adjacent the arterial, heavily traffic-clogged Mehrauli-Gurgaon highway, one of Delhi’s most ornately ornamented and enigmatic medieval edifices is miserably relegated to a forgotten existence in the forlorn realm of dejectedly stunted wilderness, governmental hypocrisy and cultural indifference.


Madhi Masjid - Delhi's forgotten monument


Gracefully seated upon its immensely high plinth in far-flung urban village of Mehrauli and chronologically dated to the architecturally outstanding short-lived reign of the Lodi Dynasty (ruled AD 1451-1526), little is known about the commissioning and construction of the beautiful Madhi Masjid which seamlessly and singularly fuses the characteristics of both a wall mosque (“qibla”) and a covered mosque (“mihrab”) through the employment of a short span of beautifully decorated wall mosque flanked symmetrically on either side by two identical stretches of low rectangular buildings functioning in the capacity of miniature covered mosques. The entire bewitching facade is profusely adorned with tiny ornamental alcoves, a strip of vivid blue glazed tiles that till date retain their spellbinding brilliance, small serrated star-shaped depressions, slender elegant minarets, exquisite plasterwork medallions inscribed with Quranic calligraphy and geometric patterns, finely-described “kangura” patterns (battlement-like leaf motif ornamentation) and a line of slightly slanting eaves (“chajja”) supported upon seemingly heavy stone brackets. Each rectangular chamber is pierced by three arched entrances and their roofs, though externally perfectly flat, are marked corresponding each squat entrance by three concave domes along their interiors which are supported on rudimentarily simplistic honeycomb brackets. Towards the rear, the corners are fortified with immensely thick conical towers.


Simplicity!


The entire structure and the enormous open-to-sky congregation space adjoining it (peppered by two immense rectangular protrusions, possibly grave markers) stand on a massive platform accessible via an impressive perfectly-proportioned cubical gateway adorned with an identical smattering of detailed embellishments – traces of vivid blue glazed tile patterns, exquisite plasterwork medallions inscribed with calligraphy, finely-described “kangura” patterns and overhanging windows (“jharokha”) surmounted by melon-like fluted domes. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has done a remarkably commendable job in conserving the monument, restoring its numerous ornamental features and maintaining the tiny grass-covered space abutting its gateway, though sadly, in the absence of any visitors, the entire plot wears an appearance of heartbreaking desolation and deafening seclusion interrupted only by the occasional sojourns of the devout locals who sprinkle the courtyard with large lumps of sugar and jaggery for the resident swarms of insects and terrifyingly large hornets to consume – possible owing to some belief originating from superstitions regarding the mosque’s benevolence in return for offerings for its thousands of tiny inhabitants.


Sophistication!


Sadly though, nobody ever leaves fruits and sweets for the menacing local monkey who has in vengeful reciprocation begun to resort to ferociously mauling the visitors. Thankfully, the ASI guard with his (seemingly useless!) bamboo stick does look over the occasional visitor enthusiastic about climbing the mosque’s roof and observing the panorama of the vast green forest extending all around this tiny oasis of permanent rubble, forgotten religious consecration and new found superstitions.


Eeeks!


Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Location: In the narrow lane immediately opposite Qutb Minar metro station across Anuvrat Marg (Mehrauli-Gurgaon highway) (Coordinates: 28°30'53.8"N 77°11'06.7"E)
Nearest Metro station: Qutb Minar
Nearest bus stop: Qutb Minar metro station
How to reach: The mosque is located immediately across Qutb Minar metro station. One can also walk from Lado Serai crossing if coming by bus from Badarpur side.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Relevant Links -
Other monuments/landmarks located in the immediate vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Ahinsa Sthal
  2. Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb
  3. Pixelated Memories - Balban's Tomb
  4. Pixelated Memories - Chaumukh Darwaza
  5. Pixelated Memories - Dargah Dhaula Peer
  6. Pixelated Memories - Jamali Kamali Complex
  7. Pixelated Memories - Khan Shahid's Tomb
  8. Pixelated Memories - Mehrauli Archaeological Park
  9. Pixelated Memories - Metcalfe's Chattri
  10. Pixelated Memories - Qila Rai Pithora
  11. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
  12. Pixelated Memories - Settlement ruins

16 September 2015

Sri Chamundeshwari Temple, Mysore, Karnataka


“Into the bosom of the one great sea flow streams that come from hills on every side.
Their names are various as their springs. And thus in every land do men bow down
To one great God, though known by many names.”
– Tikkana, late 12th-century Telugu poet

Venerated as a “Shakti Peetha” and dedicated to Goddess Chamundeshwari (aka Chamunda), a fiercely destructive manifestation of the primordial universal feminine energy who was adoringly worshipped by the famously affluent Wadiyar/Wodeyar Dynasty of Mysore (reign AD 1399-1947), the mesmerizingly beautiful Sri Chamundeshwari Temple situated as a glorious crown atop the crest of the towering Chamundi Hills some 13 kilometers from the charming city of Mysore is so exceedingly renowned that no visit to the city is considered complete without a trek (or a bus ride like in my case!) up to the revered shrine. Identical to the folkloric and historically chronological development of the attributes and mythologies associated with most of the Tantric Hindu Goddesses, the fearsome aspect of Goddess Chamundeshwari – often portrayed as a terribly emaciated, horribly deformed, frighteningly fanged feminine deity who roams about graveyards and battlefields with packs of ravenous jackals and fiendish goblins, feasts on the blood of the horrible demons she recently slayed and adorns herself with ornaments conceived from decapitated skulls, live scorpions and slithering serpents – is said to have its origins in tribal Goddesses who were assimilated into Hinduism and Jainism and associated with primal all-encompassing mother Goddesses who are in their entirety considered an embodiment of the combination of the all-pervading life force, the unimaginably diverse aspects of matter and relentless, boundless time.


Heartwarming yellow! - The fierce Goddess' abode


Like the famously notorious Kamakhya Temple of Assam and Kali Ghat of Calcutta (refer Pixelated Memories - Kamakhya Temple and Pixelated Memories - Kali Ghat Temple), this ancient shrine too has its mythological roots in convoluted Hindu legends which recall the ritualistic sacrificial worship (“yagna”) commissioned by the mythological emperor Daksha in which his own angelic daughter Sati (Shakti) and her husband Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction, were unwelcome. Sati, though requested not to go by Lord Shiva but persuaded by an unremitting love for her father and maternal family, nonetheless reached her father’s abode only to be faced with an unrelenting onslaught of merciless abuses and insults heaped upon her all-powerful husband, as an anguished consequence of which she committed suicide by jumping into the ceremonial fire. Dangerously enraged and unnervingly grief-struck, Lord Shiva picked up Goddess Sati’s lifeless body in one arm and his frightening trident in the other and began the frenzied “Tandava Nritya” (“Dance of  Universal Annihilation”). The entire world was on the brink of irrevocable destruction when all the Gods and deities collectively invoked Lord Vishnu, the Hindu God of life and preservation, who used his “Sudarshana Chakra” (serrated spinning disc weapon) to cleave Sati’s body into 51 parts since an infuriated Shiva had vowed not to stop his terrible dance till Sati’s body existed. Each of the sacred spots where these 51 hallowed parts fell came to be sanctified as an auspicious “Shakti Peetha” (“Seat of Power”) where an intent worshipper would be endowed with immeasurable intellectual and spiritual prowess. Sati’s hair are said to have fallen at Chamundi Hills and a small shrine was constructed eons ago in the city’s ancient history to commemorate the mythological event and its bequest of sacredness to the city’s frontiers. It was later expanded and exquisitely adorned by the formidable Hoysala Dynasty sovereigns (reign AD 1026-1343), especially Emperor Bittideva Vishnuvardhana (ruled AD 1108-52) whose reign also saw the construction of two of Karnataka's most renowned temples at Belur and Halebidu (refer Pixelated Memories - Sri Chennakesava Temple and Pixelated Memories - Hoysaleswara Temple); the shrine's massive towering gateway, surmounted by an intricately ornate elongated-pyramidal spire (“Gopuram”), was a later addition financed by the courtly cultured Vijaynagara Empire sovereigns (reign AD 1336-1646) and was extensively repaired during the reign of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar III (ruled AD 1799-1868).


Enigmatic sculptural art - Vijaynagara Dynasty's finest legacy


True to its fame, the marvelous sunshine-yellow shrine is not just an excellent epitome of the hundreds of fanatically worshiped and patronized religious heritage sites scattered throughout the country, but is also a fascinatingly detailed study of the assimilation of several exhilarating mythological tales and mythical folklores into religious and sculptural art as well as the evolution of architectural features chronologically appended to numerous edifices by the historical dynasties that lorded over the beautifully-endowed state of Karnataka. The temple’s surroundings, overly crowded with humans and animals and frequented by hordes of often excessively pestering vendors, though are an altogether different picture which might leave a sour taste in one's mouth – functioning as an extensive, poorly-managed parking lot, a feeding space for dozens of cadaverous cows sniffing through mounds of rotten, scandalously foul-smelling garbage and leftovers accumulated around courtesy of the thousands of devotees who throng to the shrine every single day of the year (that’s Indian religious hypocrisy for you!), and a commercial zone lined with makeshift shops, food carts, trollies and cross-legged vendors squatting on the ground offering everything a visitor could possibly desire (crudely sculpted stone souvenirs, plastic framed photographs of the shrine, offerings of sugarballs, sacred red thread, brilliant orange marigold flowers and ripe coconuts for the deities, colorful bead necklaces, several kinds of eatables and streetside food like samosas (deep-fried, spicy potato-filled triangular parcels crafted from corn flour), pakoras (deep-fried lentil and vegetable fritters), bananas, sugarcane juice and steamed/roasted corn garnished with lime juice and rock salt). The magnificent shrine itself rises through the sheer surge of humanity and proudly flaunts depictions of mythological creatures and mythical anthropomorphic deities conceived in all their artistic splendor through hundreds of years of human imagination and replicated here in an extensive extravaganza of enthralling sculptural art.


Unarguably the most iconic of Hindu deities!


The two sides of the soaring gateway tower that are parallel to the sanctum possess in their centers highly realistic, thoroughly detailed sculptures of celestial guards and the other two sides portray each of the “Sapta Matrika” (the group of seven divine mother Goddesses to which Chamundeshwari also belongs; the other six – Brahmani, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi and Indrani – are each considered the feminine aspect (“Shakti”) of a male deity and resemble him in their physical appearance as well, but Chamundeshwari is unique in that she is generally associated with the supreme mother Goddess Durga herself and therefore is depicted seated at the very apex of the tower). The excellent representation of Goddess Chamundeshwari at the tremendously well-conceived crown of the tower is unbelievably spellbinding! The mythological symbolism is so vividly portrayed and each individual feature so seamlessly blends into the next that the depiction is unparalleled, both in the scope of the visual description and composition of the demons and mythical creatures involved, as well as the overall placement and juxtaposition of the elements – the crown literally transforms into an unforeseen rococo of numerous mythical creatures, divine entities and delicate scrolls of floral foliage and firmly delineated geometric patterns – thus there is the voluptuous, four-headed, four-armed Goddess Chamundeshwari in the center, painted flawless white and exuding divine tranquility, seated upon a symbolically unyielding divine throne surrounded by three semicircular rings composed respectively of beautiful swans, formidable elephants and divine followers and servants of the Goddess symbolizing in their turn insurmountable strength, elegant grace and unbending faith – this whole scene emanating on either side from the wide-fanged mouth of a lumbering mythical “Makara” (entities possessing the body of a fish, the face and tusks of an elephant, the limbs of a lion and the tail of a peacock) and surrounded by a resplendently beautiful bouquet of delicate flourishes of foliage before eventually culminating at the very apex into the vicious jaws of a massive “Kirtimukha” (the ferociously wide fanged, lion-like face of an all-consuming demon conceived and originated out of thin air by Lord Shiva, the God of death and destruction, to destroy other, mightier demons) who is flanked on either side by another “Makara”, these however very different from the earlier ones in that these are physically composed of the body of a tortoise, the face of a fish, the teeth of a lion, the tusks of an elephants, the wings of an eagle and the extremely long curved tail of a bird of paradise!


Monumental!


But the vivid blossoming of poetry in stone and plasterwork does not cease here – punctuating the monotony of the brilliant yellow walls are tiny alcove shrines inset with miniaturized sculptures pertaining to numerous mythological aspects and incarnations of the Goddess, each bearing in her numerous arms numerous destructive weapons (mace, swords, battleaxes, tridents, lightening thunder and so on) and astride a beast (an elephant, a bull, a mythical Makara etc) – each an exemplar not only of unparalleled sculptural art, but also of tremendously excellent ancient mythological fables. And then there is a large, brightly colored, multihued sculpture of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed, pot-bellied God of auspiciousness, good beginnings and knowledge, embossed over the massive front entrance. Lastly, facing the temple building and a score meters or so away from it stands its immensely renowned, instantly recognized, dark-humoredly comical, massive 16-feet tall representation of Mahishasura, the buffalo-demon warlord whose illustrious story is retold time and again in epic scriptures in order to stress upon the ever-fruitful power of redemption and the generously forgiving nature of the mother Goddess. It is said that Mahishasura was born from the copulation of a demon and a woman cursed to exist as a buffalo (“Mahishi”) and thus could easily transform to either appearance; moreover he possessed immense physical and meditative strength that was a result of extreme penances that he undertook to impress Gods into granting him boons, thus ensuring his near invincibility. In his arrogance, when he challenged and vanquished the Gods from heavens, the unparalleled rage exhibited by the trinity of Hindu deity pantheon – Brahma (the God of universal creation and knowledge), Vishnu (the God of life and nourishment) and Shiva (the God of death and destruction) – merged together to invoke the primordial sacred feminine, all-consuming, universal energy from which emerged the splendidly radiant Goddess Durga (another divinely interconnected sister-form of Goddess Chamundeshwari) who was then equipped with battle gear and weapons by all the chief Gods and Goddesses so she could take the field against Mahishasura’s massive legions which she did with such inconceivable fury and armed with such terrible weaponry in each of her numerous arms that all three worlds shook with her rage and many demon chiefs dropped dead with fear.


Comical!


She and her fierce lion annihilated the entire demon army including mighty Mahishasura himself, but tradition holds that before his death, the demon king worshipped the Goddess and impressed her into conferring the honor of having him present everywhere where she is prayed to – thus even today, every Durga idol is depicted in the “Mahishasuramardini” (“Mahishasura slayer”) form with the Goddess's lion straddling a prostrate/dead buffalo and her glittering trident piercing the demon’s muscular body – here of course, instead of the ubiquitous “Mahishasuramardini”, we have the sword brandishing, serpent-whirling, flamboyant Mahishasura himself in his full mustached, slick-haired, hilariously colorful glory. This of course has to do with the beyond-belief interesting fact that somewhere down the line implausibly far-fetched mythology incredibly merged with emotionless history and an exciting legend originated that stated that the demon lord Mahishasura, also otherwise spelled as Mahishasuru, actually reigned from a fortified capital located at Mysore which derives its original nomenclature “Mysuru” from the former!

Apart from the shrine’s impeccable mythological associations and the unrelentingly strong faith that millions of faithful devotees have on the Goddess’ ability to shower blessings of health, auspiciousness and prosperity (despite the very fact that symbolically she is actually the personification of death, degeneration, disease and pestilence!), the place doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of visual compositions and/or observation and learning – besides being a testimony to its far-flung renown, the very fact that there are always several hundreds of devotees literally spilling through the seams of the complex’s peripheries also proves that one can be assured of an absurdly long time spent miserably lined up in an extremely long slowly slithering queue along with the combination of perspiration, frustration, pushing and shoving that comes along with it free of cost (unless of course one pays for a moderately long or an immediate (well, almost!) “VIP” queue – the two cost Rs 30 and Rs 100 per person respectively).


An enduring testimony to the skills of the craftsmen of yore


The bus ride to the apex of the hill does offer some pretty thrilling, greenery-enthused scenes overlooking the entire landscape of Mysore; moreover the 1,000 meter ascent through the curving snaking road at considerable speeds does leave one breathless and apprehensive about toppling down the hill side, besides the surprising ear-popping sensation often otherwise experienced during flight landings – definitely reason enough to prefer a bus ride over climbing the 1,000 steps leading to the summit. But then again, the climb up does take one past the 5 meter tall, 7.5 meter long ornately carved, devotedly deified, monolithic granite sculpture of the bull Nandi, the mount of Lord Shiva and a patron of spirituality and religious dedication.

I had expected the magnificent shrine to be a rather simplistic affair vis-à-vis the grand, opulently decorated exemplars of south Indian temple architecture that I have previously visited – in fact, the journey to the shrine was little more than an effort to tick off another “Shakti Peetha” off the list of edifices, religious and otherwise, that I intend to visit across the entire country (hopefully in this lifetime!) – little did I know that not the shrine but its superlatively graceful entrance tower will steal my heart instead! What surprises me the most is the fact that despite its centuries-old architectural and symbolic heritage and millennia-old religious customs, the shrine is not untouched by the all-consuming winds of modernization and global connectivity – it has begun to offer sixteen religious services, including the worship of the deity, online to millions of devotees throughout the world, of course for a cost! The ubiquitous “ladoo prasad” (the offering of excessively sweet, clarified butter drenched corn flour balls) would afterwards be delivered to the devotees home via mail. Instant religious gratification! Sadly Cash on Delivery is not applicable.


Religion and silver - A combination as old as either


Location: Chamundi Hills
How to reach: Regular to and fro bus service is available from different parts of the city for the hill summit.
Open: All days, 7.30 am – 2 pm, 3.30 – 6 p.m and 7.30 – 9 pm
Free meals for devotees from 12.30 – 2.30 pm.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: Depends on the queue preferred (Normal/VIP/VVIP). The VIP queue (costs Rs 30/person) takes approximately 30-40 min to reach the sanctum from the peripheries on a normal day.
Note – The shrine being a place of worship, visitors are advised to dress conservatively. Footwear are to be left behind at one of the numerous makeshift shops/counters across the road for the modest sum of Rs 5 per pair.
Relevant Links -
Other monuments located in/around Mysore -

  1. Pixelated Memories - Mysore Palace
  2. Pixelated Memories - Seringapatnam
Other Shakti Peethas located in the country -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Kalighat Temple, Bengal
  2. Pixelated Memories - Kamakhya Temple, Assam
  3. Pixelated Memories - Kankalitala Shaktipeetha, Bengal
Suggested reading -
  1. Chamundeshwaritemple.kar.nic.in (Official website of the temple)
  2. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Chamundeshwari temple of Mysore offers 16 sevas online" (dated Sep 01, 2013) by Lawrence Milton 
  3. Wikipedia.org - Chamunda

10 September 2015

Adham Khan's Tomb and Mehrauli PHC, Delhi


“Through me the way is to the city dolent; Through me the way is to the eternal dole;
Through me the way among the people lost;

Justice incited my sublime Creator; Created me divine Omnipotence,
the highest Wisdom and the primal Love;

Before me there were no created things, Only eterne, and I eternal last.
All hope abandon, ye who enter!”
– Dante Alighieri, 13th-century Italian poet, “Inferno”

Regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited area in the entire city, Mehrauli can be unquestionably considered as an unbelievable visual confluence of unimaginably desolate medieval monuments and a rapid groundswell of burgeoning urbanization and shimmering modernization engaged in a mighty clash so extraordinarily slow progressed that compared to the rest of the cityscape this entire area literally appears to have been transformed into a photographic frame struck in time eons ago allowing viewers a brief, uninterrupted glimpse into the idyllic life that was without any pretensions of relentless concrete and cement development, obnoxious pollution and miserable deforestation.


Behold enormity! - The mausoleum of Maham Anga and Adham Khan


Scattered around the area are hundreds of monuments – some exceedingly beautifully ornamented, some painstakingly perched upon high near-unpassable eyries, some quite humiliatingly submerged underneath an onslaught of years of accumulated stinking sludge and everyday excreta, some unassuming edifices relatively well-maintained either by the government or a religious organization as a ruin of heritage importance or a sacred shrine or a commemorative edifice, and lastly, a few depressingly decrepit monuments taken over by the local community which, like the dedicated memory of ancient days, continue to function as community centers where locals would everyday converge and share gossip of daily business and happenings occurring in the neighborhood. In this part of the country, opposite Mehrauli bus terminal, different facets of everyday life, the different modes, the different professions can be discerned in the very streets – anticipating business and cursing the sweltering summer heat or the biting winter cold, there are the fruit and vegetable sellers, the flowers and garland sellers, the plumbers, laborers, electricians, masons, the cigarette and betel leave sellers, the beggars, the eunuchs, the rickshaw drivers, the street cleaners, the garbage collectors, the prostitutes, the pimps, the policemen and the pickpockets, the unemployed, the old and the disabled, the ear cleaners, the car washers, the laundrymen and the newspaper men – one can see each of them, attired and arrayed in the bustling, perennially crowded marketplace.


Painted perfection!


Magnificently protruding from the ground like a massive towering overlord, overlooking this continuous flow of people and professions for the past half a millennium, is the visually prominent enormous cream-white mausoleum of Mirza Adham Khan, a foster brother of the Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Akbar (reign AD 1556-1605), whose life seems so incorrigibly entwined with that of numerous other protagonists interred in different parts of the graceful city that his tale, despite its emotionally disturbing and barbaric overtones, is unarguably one of the most frequently heard. Adham Khan and Quli Khan (also buried nearby, refer Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb) were the adored sons of Maham Anga, the favored foster mother of the Emperor. Much to Maham Anga's undisguised chagrin, the Emperor immensely respected Shamshuddin Atgah Khan, the husband of his other foster mother Jiji Anga, sought his opinion in all important decisions and in AD 1562 raised him to the coveted position of “Wakil” (“Chief Minister”) thereby allowing him to investigate and document the military excesses and financial embezzlement perpetrated by Adham as an army General – infuriated, the latter brutally murdered Atgah Khan in cold blood and then, blinded alike with fury and fear of the consequences of his unsavory actions, burst upon the bewildered Emperor with his sword unsheathed, prompting the infuriated Emperor to immediately have him arrested and thrown down the ramparts of his fortress in Agra, twice for good measure – several historians argue that the incensed Emperor, thus provoked and yet grievously confused since Adham was his own esteemed milk-brother, himself threw him down to ensure his immediate demise.


Sigh! When will this city ever learn?


This however wasn’t the first time that the uncontrollable Adham had got into administrative and disciplinary troubles with the Emperor – legend has it that it that when the Emperor’s armies led by his valiant generals were furthering his expansionist policies and annexing small kingdoms in different parts of the country, Adham would capture a territory for him and enslave all the women in the captured land to add them to his own harem – such was his terror that women in the conquered kingdoms preferred to commit suicide rather than face him. Predictably, he invaded the kingdom of Malwa in central India under the Emperor’s banner, massacred its armies and killed the king Baz Bahadur (literally “Brave Hawk”) – however, before he could touch their Queen Roopmati with whom he had fallen in love, she committed suicide (“Jauhar”) by jumping into the pyre lit for her husband’s cremation – furious and desirous of vengeance, Adham unleashed a vicious pogrom and killed hundreds of innocent inhabitants of Malwa until the Emperor was forced to himself march to Malwa with a large army led by Azim Khan, another of his numerous mighty Generals (also buried nearby, refer Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb), to subdue Adham who was then defeated, ordered not to lead any military campaigns in the near future and his territorial and executive powers curtailed for a period of time. Killing Atgah Khan however was to be the last indiscretion on the part of Adham – neither filial love nor the unmatched influence of his ambitious mother could save him from the Emperor’s wrath.


Dominating Delhi's skyline - Qutb Minar


Bereaved beyond measure and consolation despite putting up a brave front (she notably exclaimed to the Emperor “You have done well” when he recounted to her the events leading to Adham’s gruesome execution), Maham Anga, whose health was already failing for the past several months, too died mere forty days later pining for her treasured son and the guilt-ridden Emperor was therefore prompted to order the construction of the enormous mausoleum that was to entomb both mother and son. Atgah Khan, of course, was posthumously bestowed with the title of “martyr” and interred in a delicately beautiful mausoleum close to the Dargah of the 14th-century Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and the breathtaking magnificent mausoleum of Emperor Humayun (refer Pixelated Memories - Atgah Khan's Tomb, Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah and Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb complex). Adham however was labelled an unfaithful traitor and buried in far-flung Mehrauli in an octagonal mausoleum reminiscent of the architectural style of the numerous dynasties of Delhi Sultanate who preceded the nearly uninterrupted 330-year Mughal reign – the close proximity to the Dargah of the 13th-century Sufi saint Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki was to be his lone concession (refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki's Dargah).


A touch of ornamentation


The whole structure rises from an immense plinth delineated at the corners by octagonal bastions with enough space within them for several people to stand in shoulder-to-shoulder. The fortified walls of the thick-set plinth and the bastions bear traces of exquisite ornamentation, primarily strips of red sandstone sculpted into scrolls of floral patterns and flourishes which have somehow survived the ravages of time and nature. The octagonal mausoleum, vertically exceedingly prominent relative to its architecturally similar predecessors, is externally very minimally ornamented with just the bare minimum of traces of adornment – plasterwork medallions composed of inscribed calligraphy and floral decorations, unaesthetically thick tapering turrets protruding from the corners of each of the sides of the octagonal structure as well as the sixteen-sided drum (base) of the colossal dome, decorative “kangura” patterns (battlement-like leaf motif ornamentation) and an unusually pointed, highly polished glittering red sandstone finial crowning the apex. The cream-white thick walls, plastered over in tatters wretchedly revealing the layers of red-grey bricks underneath (despite being very recently conserved and restored (re-plastered) on the occasion of the 19th Commonwealth Games (CWG XIX 2010)), are buttressed for structural stability and surrounded on every side by an exceptionally wide colonnaded passageway that visually lends the entire structure a discernibly squat appearance despite its perpendicular towering existence. The interiors are unbelievably straightforward – a single, unprepossessing narrow gravestone, positioned thus sometime in the last century itself (on the orders of the Viceroy Lord Curzon who initiated restoration and conservation of numerous monuments throughout the country during his viceregal reign (1899-1905)), marks the location of Adham’s mortal remains, nothing however indicates that Maham Anga too was buried here – overhead, an ethereally beautiful painted medallion in blues, reds and blacks scatters an otherworldly artistic luminescence.


Symmetrically ungainly! So unlike the other Mughal edifices!


In every other direction, the local vandals have resorted to beautifying the mausoleum by inscribing it with nonsensical chalk pattern designs and heartfelt love letters. From past the limitless sea composed of the crowns and tresses of hundreds of thousands of vibrant green trees comprising the ridge forest extending immediately beyond the mausoleum’s peripheries, the richly illustrated towering Qutb Minar (refer Pixelated Memories - Qutb Minar) sternly overlooks the cruel desecration of the punitive sepulcher of the equally ferocious General. Legend goes that before her demise, Queen Roopmati had thus cursed Adham Khan that never a woman shall visit his grave or risk being harshly rendered devoid of conjugal happiness throughout her life – the mausoleum is however conspicuously distinguished today as a fascinating exemplar of a local community center regularly frequented by hordes of schoolchildren lolling their time after school, near-continuously chattering girls gossiping in rapid-fire Hindi amongst themselves, old men and women dressed in flawless white mumbling to themselves and the occasional camera-toting tourists – the curse and the numerous assertions of the monument being terrifyingly haunted seem to have been irreversibly forgotten, remembered only in folktales and contemporaneous historical accounts – perhaps a consequence of the burial of the doting Maham Anga with her cherished, although often wayward, son? Locals nonetheless do warn visitors to not stay overnight inside the mausoleum.


Serving the dead and the living - Mehrauli Primary Health Center


In vernacular parlance, the mausoleum is referred to as a “Bhool Bhulaiyya” (“Impenetrable Maze”) – some say it’s because its thick walls possess unfathomably convoluted passages amongst themselves, especially along the first floor, others say it’s because members of a marriage retinue explicably lost their way in the forest beyond its extremities never to be found again – though somehow I seem to have missed witnessing these passages, I’m nonetheless more inclined to side with the second opinion since the first seems too unbelievably far-fetched and also one has to take into consideration that at one point in its history, early 19th-century to be exact, the mausoleum was desecrated and converted into a country residence by Major Blake of the Bengal (British) Civil Services who had, enchanted by the subdued magnificence and unperturbed by the macabre stories pertaining to the personalities interred within, demolished the graves and installed comfortable beds and dining tables in their place. Incredibly afterwards, the structure bewilderingly served in the unusual capacities of an army guesthouse, a police station and a post office! Of course, Major Blake wouldn’t have chosen to reside in a labyrinthine maze, nor could have been a guesthouse/police station/post office run from such perplexing a premises.

Interestingly enough, this was not the only monumental edifice thus violated and recycled for worldly purposes inherently different from those that it was originally conceived to serve – couple of meters from the mausoleum exist two small monuments – a miserably crumbling pink-red mosque possessing a very finely-proportioned onion dome and a curious yellow mausoleum that from its distinctive appearance is discernible to belong to the short-lived Lodi Dynasty reign (AD 1451-1526) – while the former, wretchedly decrepit and thoroughly ruined, has been converted to a residence, the latter officially functions since the early 1930s in the governmental capacity of Mehrauli Primary Health Center (PHC) managed by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD)!


Commemorating forgotten history?


Additional chambers have been constructed around the original structure of the PHC and drenched in coats of blindingly brilliant yellow paint; verandahs shielded from the elements by wide corrugated iron sheet eaves (“chajja”) and lined with stone benches for patients and their relatives to sit on run around it and its exterior walls have been faced with grotesque white bathroom tiles – in its entirety, the picture of a shameful transformation and more significantly an unabashed contempt for architectural heritage and landmarks. Like the medieval monument, the desolate walls encompassing it were also once painted sunshine yellow like the structures they enclose, but presently reveal almost a rainbow spectrum of multicolored flourishes – yellowish-orange where the paint is still retained albeit discolored and darkened over time, green-grey where it has been entirely obliterated and compelled to reveal the layers of cement underneath, brown-red where the bricks peep through and bluish black-green where strands of moss have colonized the surface. A marble memorial tablet embedded in the wall notes –

“From the Zails of Mehrauli and Badarpur, 1261 men went to The Great War (1914-1919). Of these, 92 gave up their lives.”

(Zail – A revenue unit employed to demarcate areas during the British reign (AD 1857-1947))

So unsettlingly ironic is the British concept of historicity and commemorative remembrance that they had the temerity to inscribe an epigraph to themselves and their wars on the walls of a monument they unflinchingly overtook and mutated thus. This then is perhaps the “Kali Yuga” (“Age of Decay and Obliteration”) the Hindus refer to!


Squalor and decay!


Location: Immediately opposite Mehrauli bus terminal
Nearest metro station: Both Qutb Minar station and Saket station are equidistant.
Nearest Bus stop: Mehrauli
How to reach: Take a bus from the either of the metro stations to Mehrauli. Adham Khan's tomb is opposite the bus terminal and the PHC monument is barely couple of meters away.
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Relevant Links - 
Edifices in Delhi associated with Adham Khan and his family -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Khair-ul-Manazil Mosque (built by Maham Anga)
  2. Pixelated Memories - Tomb of Azim Khan (who defeated Adham Khan at Malwa)
  3. Pixelated Memories - Tomb of Quli Khan (Adham Khan's brother)
Edifices in Delhi associated with Atgah Khan and his family - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Tomb of Atgah Khan
  2. Pixelated Memories - Tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan (Atgah Khan's son-in-law)
  3. Pixelated Memories - Tomb of Mirza Aziz Kokaltash (Atgah Khan's son)
Other monuments located in the immediate vicinity of Adham Khan's Tomb -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Ahinsa Sthal
  2. Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb
  3. Pixelated Memories - Gandhak ki Baoli (only couple of meters further away)
  4. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Kaki's Dargah
  5. Pixelated Memories - Mehrauli Archaeological Park
  6. Pixelated Memories - Moti Masjid
  7. Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb
  8. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
Suggested reading -
  1. Columbia.edu - "The punishment of Adham Khan by the justice of the Shahinshah"
  2. Hindustantimes.com - Article "Healthcare in the lap of Lodi-era history" (dated June 23, 2013) by Nivedita Khandekar