Category Archives: INDIA

The World’s Second Longest Wall, Kumbhalgarh Fort, is Right Here in India

The World’s Second Longest Wall, Kumbhalgarh Fort, is Right Here in India

We are all familiar with China’s Great Wall, the biggest wall ever constructed. It is a wall with a multitude of tales, including different historical and mythological assessments. In the past, Chinese inmates have been sent to serve their sentence.

It is likely that fewer individuals have heard about the Kumbhalgarh Fort and its adjacent wall, commonly agreed to be the world’s second-largest wall.

Kumbhalgarh is a place nestled in the western portion of India between 13 towering mountain peaks. More specifically, it can be found in Rajasthan State, approximately 50 miles from Udaipur City.

Found among the mountaintops, the Kumbhalgarh Fort is a 15th-century masterpiece built by Rana Kumbha. The site also counts as the birthplace of one of the greatest Mewar rulers and warriors are known as Maharana Pratap. However, this area was considered to be of high strategic importance long before the Kumbha dynasty came to prominence.

The very first fort to occupy the spot at Kumbhalgarh was there as early as the 6th century. Back then, it was King Samprati of the Maura Age who constructed it.

A majority of historians consider him a peace-loving ruler, and a very courageous king. He had managed to establish several Jain centers across different Arab countries, as well as Iran.

Kumbhalgarh is one of the many forts built by Maharana Kumbha (or just Rana Kumbha), under who Mewar had its greatest development
The massive gate of Kumbhalgarh fort called the Ram Pol (Ram Gate).
Many fondly call it “The Great Wall of India.” 

It is not very clear though what happened in the region or with the site of the fort until the beginning of the 14th century. At that point, it was Alauddin Khiljii who occupied the area. He was one of the greatest Muslim rulers by far, running successful campaigns on the Indian subcontinent and acquiring territories that reached the most southern parts of it.

Kumbhalgarh, as it is today, was built and ruled by the Kumbha dynasty, which eventually brought prosperity and progress to the region. Unlike the Great Wall of China, which took more than 1,800 years to complete, the Great Wall of India, as the Kumbhalgarh is often referred to, took just a little less than a century to finish.

The wall extends over roughly 22 miles, while its width varies between 15 and 25 feet, which is still enough to accommodate up to eight horses across it positioned side by side. Moreover, Kumbhalgarh Fort also makes for the second most important fort in the area, coming after the Chittorgarh Fort.

Occupying its spot in the wilderness atop a hill, Kumbhalgarh sits at around 3,280 feet above sea level. The building activities had commenced in 1443 AD and the story goes that at first, it was very difficult for Kumbha to make the wall stand strong and tall.

Kumbhalgarh is also the birthplace of Maharana Pratap, a great king, and warrior of Mewar. 
Aerial view of Kumbhalgarh

Legend has it that a couple of attempts were made to build the wall, but nothing really worked out. That is, until the moment a spiritual teacher supposedly came to give advice, saying that someone had to sacrifice their life in order for the wall to be successfully accomplished.

Several versions of the legend exist, and all of them tell of a different character who happened to sacrifice his life for the fort; either it was a pilgrim or a soldier, or the spiritual teacher and the pilgrim were one and the same person.

A person was chosen and beheaded in ritual practice, and the temple was constructed supposedly at the same spot where his head fell.

Distant view of the Kumbhalgarh Fort walls. 

In remembrance of this significant sacrifice, there is a shrine and a temple named as “Hanuman Pol” today, standing at the main gate of the fortress, which is one of seven gates in total that guard the locality.

The complex incorporates at least 360 temples in its boundaries, including Jain and Hindu ones, as well as a prominent watchtower. The Badal Mahal Palace is certainly one of the most remarkable edifices of all within the complex, standing out with its beautiful green, white, and turquoise colors.

Jain Temples in the fort
Shiva temple inside Kumbhalgarh Fort.

Throughout its long history, Kumbhalgarh parted the kingdoms of Mewar and Marwar for a great period of time, serving as the ultimate refuge of several Mewar rulers.

Over the course of five centuries or more, Kumbhalgarh has been occupied only once, and it took the combined effort of several armies to occupy the locality. The occupation lasted for a mere two days, and apparently, it all happened because all the water resources had allegedly run out back at the fort.

Significant renovation on Kumbhalgarh took its course during the 19th century. At present, the site is opened for visitors to explore, whether that means reaching the most remote parts of the wall, or by just taking a look at the most mesmerizing view that opens from its most accessible point.

Stolen 12th century Indian Buddha statue found in London

Stolen 12th century Indian Buddha statue found in London

In what was held up as an example of India-UK collaboration across all sectors, Britain’s Metropolitan Police recently marked India’s Independence Day by handing back a rare Buddha sculpture stolen from India in 1961.

A bronze Buddha statue of the 12th century stolen from an Indian museum 57 years ago has surfaced in London and is now returning to the country.

The bronze statue with silver inlay is one of 14 statues stolen in 1961 from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) site museum in Nalanda and changed several hands over the years before surfacing at a London auction.

Once the dealer and the owner were made aware the sculpture was the same one that had been stolen from India, the Metropolitan Police said they cooperated fully with the Met’s Art and Antiques Unit and agreed for the piece to be returned to India.

“I am delighted to return this piece of history. This is an excellent example of the results that can come with close cooperation between law enforcement, trade and scholars,” said Met Police Detective Chief Inspector Sheila Stewart, who was accompanied by officials from the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport at the handover ceremony.

“Although this was stolen over 50 years ago, this did not prevent the piece being recognised and the credit must go to the eagle eye informants who made us aware that the missing piece had been located after so many years,” she said.

The statue was identified at a trade fair in March this year by Lynda Albertson of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA) and Vijay Kumar from the India Pride Project, who then alerted the police. Sinha described the return of the “priceless Buddha” as a “wonderful gesture” and a particular honour given his own roots in Bihar.

“I hope it will now go back to where it originally belongs… On our Independence Day, it [return of the statue] highlights the multi-faceted cooperation between our two countries,” he said, after a Tricolour-hoisting ceremony to mark India’s 72nd Independence Day at the Indian High Commission in London.

Detective Constable Sophie Hayes, of the Met’s Art and Antique Unit, said it had been established that there was no criminality by the current owner or the dealer who had been offering the stolen statue for sale.

“Indeed, from the outset, they have cooperated fully with the police to resolve this matter and they have made the decision to return the sculpture via the police,” Hayes said. “We are delighted to be able to facilitate the return of this important piece of cultural heritage to India,” she added.

The Art and antique Unit was founded 50 years ago and are one of the oldest specialist units in the Metropolitan Police Service. The unit prides itself on a “long history of reuniting owners with their stolen property”.

Michael Ellis, UK Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, said: “As we celebrate India’s Independence Day, I am proud to highlight the latest example of the UK’s cultural diplomacy in action.

Thanks to the work of the Metropolitan Police’s Arts and Antiques Unit, we are one of the first countries to recover one of the 14 elusive Buddha statues stolen from Nalanda nearly 60 years ago.

“This underlines how law enforcement and the London art market are working hand in hand to deliver positive cultural diplomacy to the world.”

Valuable artefacts have been stolen from India over the centuries by colonial plunderers. However, the latest case involved a notorious smuggling ring. The model of a seated Indian God Vishnu was one of 14 statues taken from an archaeological museum in Nalanda, eastern India.

It is believed to have changed hands several times before it was unsuspectingly offered for sale and both the owner and the dealer agreed for it to be returned to India, for it to return to the place it was snatched from.

The recovered relic is a delicate artwork that depicts Buddha in the Bhumisparsha mudra —seated, with his right hand resting over his right knee, reaching toward the ground and touching his lotus throne.

The gesture symbolises the moment that Buddha summoned the earth as a witness to his enlightenment, and it is commonly represented in Buddhist iconography.

It was created using the specialist “lost wax” technique, which involves a wax model being made which can be used only once, as the wax melts away when the molten bronze is poured into the mould. This makes the statue an extremely unique piece of art and part of India’s ancient tradition.

The identity of the dealer and fair have been kept under wraps.

Ancient temple found inside a pond in Odisha

1,200 Year Old Temple Found Buried In Odisha Sand

During the refurbishment job of the Bateswar temple close Rushikulya rookery in Ganjam District of Odisha, on the east shore of India, buried artifacts of the 8th century are emerging.

The temple is located on the coastal sand dunes around eight km from the Kolkata-Chennai Highway near Humma.

According to Odisha State Archaeology department superintendent Sanghamitra Satpathy, with the financial support of the World Bank, Rs.1.64-crore renovation work was taken up at the Bateswar temple under the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project (ICZMP).

During the renovation, remnants of a Parvati temple were discovered from under the sand on the periphery of the Bateswar temple.

According to the priest of the Bateswar temple, some idols were also discovered from this newly-discovered small temple.

Steps to preserve the temple

Meanwhile, the State Archaeology department has decided to take necessary steps to preserve the newly-discovered temple.

Senior historian and retired head of history department of Berhampur University, Ashok Kumar Rath, who has researched on the archaeological remains of this region said the Bateswar temple as well as the newly-discovered temple on its premises belonged to the 8th Century.

“The two-chambered Bateswar temple has archaeological resemblance with Laxmaneswar, Bharateswar and Shatrughneswar temples of Bhubaneswar, which were also built in the 7th or 8th Century AD,” said Prof. Rath.

1,200 Year Old Temple Found Buried In Odisha Sand
The recently-discovered 8th-century temple in Ganjam district of Odisha

According to him, this ancient temple was built during the Shilodvhav period of the Odisha history and was linked with the maritime history of this region.

The Bateswar temple also has some stone inscriptions in ‘Devanagari’ and ‘Kutila’ scripts that have become dull with time.

But as per the historians, these inscriptions are of later period, may be of 10th Century during the reign of Ganga dynasty.

During ancient times, ports existed at Palur and Ganjam near the Rushikulya rookery.

It is felt that based on the maritime activity in the region, an urban civilization may have existed in the area and Bateswar temple was part of it.

“More excavation around the Bateswar temple can reveal more information,” said Prof. Rath.

Ancient Indian Temple Finally Uncovered After Decades of Being Submerged in Reservoir

Ancient Indian Temple Finally Uncovered After Decades of Being Submerged in Reservoir

A decade ago, the waters of the Udyasamudram reservoir at Panagal in India’s Nalgonda district engulfed the Sri Shambulingeshwara Swamy temple.

Today, this stunningly beautiful temple, built in the 11th or 12th century AD and dedicated to Lord Shiva, re-emerges as the waters of the reservoir slowly subside.

Archaeologists were pleased to see that the temple is still in one piece, with its magnificent and detailed carvings as beautiful as when last seen. 

The intricate carvings show details as minuscule as the jewelry worn by the dancers and their facial expressions, sure to delight thousands of future visitors.

Sadly, the 23 shrines in the temple have all been stripped of the gems that adorned them, an example of the looting of ancient tombs and shrines that is so prevalent.

The ceilings and walls of the temple show a Perini Dance.  Though the carvings show female dancers, the Perini Dance was traditionally undertaken by warriors before Lord Shiva as they set off for battle. 

The ceremony originated during the Kakatiya dynasty in the area of the Telangana, which corresponds to the age of this temple.  The beautiful carvings inspired the resurrection of this form of dance.

Sambhu Lingeswara-Swami Temple-in-Mellacheruvu.
Sambhu Lingeswara-Swami Temple-in-Mellacheruvu. 

The director of Archaeology and Museums for the Government of Telangana has decided that the entire temple will be dismantled and moved to a safe location at the Panagal Museum before the waters rise again in the reservoir. 

In addition to dismantling and moving the temple, they will also move 12 columns and several loose sculptures found in the same area. 

The sculptures found relate to a Nandi (the bull that served as a mount for Lord Shiva), Lord Vinayaka (depicted with the head of an elephant), and other Hindu deities.

Lord Shiva, to whom this temple is dedicated, is one of the Hindu trinity of Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu.  Lord Shiva is the destroyer and transformer and is most often depicted with the symbols that identify him. 

These icons include a snake around his neck, a third eye on his forehead, matted hair with the River Ganges flowing from it, a crescent moon upon his head, a trishula or trident, and a damaru (an instrument with two beads on leather cords that make a sound against a small hourglass shaped drum when it is swung from side to side).

The temple has a very romantic legend associated with it.  The legend states that before the temple was built, a cow herder saw one of his cows empty her udder over a rock. 

He was very angry and broke the rock into eleven pieces and threw them away.  The next day he found that the rock had been reassembled, so he took his story to the local ruler, who recognized that this was a Shiva Linga, and ordered a temple to be built around it. 

Swamy temple that had submerged under Udyasamudram reservoir a decade ago at Panagal in Nalgonda district.
Swamy temple that had submerged under Udyasamudram reservoir a decade ago at Panagal in Nalgonda district. 

The temple contains a circular hole of around 2 inches across which has water running through it all year round.  This feature denotes this as a Swayam Abhisheka Linga, or self-purifying linga.

The Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri is celebrated annually in late winter–February or March–in honor of Lord Shiva. This “Great Night of Shiva” is celebrated by keeping an all-night vigil at a temple dedicated to Shiva, accompanied by meditation.

Relocating this beautiful temple will save it from being submerged in the waters of the reservoir when they rise again.  It will also bring attention to an important Hindu temple and a stunning example of the work undertaken by Katatiyan artists.

Mehtab Bagh and the Baby Taj Mahal: Mughal Gardens Restored in India

Mehtab Bagh and the Baby Taj Mahal: Mughal Gardens Restored in India

Long overshadowed by the Taj, two neglected spots in Agra have now been restored to their original splendour

The landscaped garden around the Tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah in Agra
The landscaped garden around the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah in Agra

Tourists Christine and Martyn Andrews, first-timers to Agra, would have visited Agra Fort and Taj Mahal and been on their merry way back to their hotel, had it not been for a guide who directed them to what the locals call ‘Baby Taj Mahal’ — the tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah.

The tomb is the marble precursor to its more famous sibling across the Yamuna, and its English-style gardens and charming ivory-tinted facade are a lovely surprise for the rare tourist or history buff who gets here. And now, after four years of dedicated restoration, the monument is slowly finding its rightful place on the tourist circuit, along with the other famous garden here, Mehtab Bagh.

The restoration of the two Mughal gardens was carried out jointly by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the World Monument Fund (WMF) and the Ministry of Culture, under the Mughal Riverfront Gardens of Agra (MRGA) project, and opened up in January this year.

The tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah — loosely translating to ‘pillar of the state’ — was commissioned by Empress Nur Jahan for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg in the early 1620s in the typical Mughal ‘charbagh’ style.

It consists of four equal square-shaped gardens (hence ‘char’ and ‘bagh’) with the mausoleum sitting smack in the middle.

Fruit for monkeys

A typical Mughal garden also meant lush, chaotic gardens, filled with colorful flower beds and trees heavy with fruit for monkeys and birds, says Lakshmi Narayan, ASI’s junior foreman for horticulture at the site.

Imagine a cross between the secret garden of Frances Hodgson Burnett and the exquisite visuals in Lewis Carroll’s literary masterpieces. But that is also an unfortunate comparison because, under the British Raj, the gardens of I’timād-ud-Daulah were transformed to the exact opposite — stately, manicured lawns with not a tree in sight.

The MRGA project aims to correct that. “The idea behind these gardens at Mughal tomb sites was that if the dead were to wake up from their eternal sleep, they would want to stroll in a garden full of flowers and birds, maybe enjoy a fruit,” says Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI-Agra Circle. The British revived what had turned into agricultural land after Nur Jahan’s time, but in doing so they also removed many markers of the Mughals.Trees were removed, walkways were relaid, the ground was leveled.

Very little recorded

Armed with research papers, paintings, and historical records, conservationists took a stab at restoring the gardens to their former glory.

“There is a very little actual record of how the garden looked during its heyday,” says Swarnkar. “But we’ve tried our best with the information we found.”It’s a cloudy, ozone-heavy afternoon when the photographer and I visit. We can hear the cacophony of birds right from the gates. There is a fair number of visitors lining up at the ticket counter, much more than before, says Sonvir, an ASI supervisor.

“On an average, we get about 700 visitors per day,” he says. The walkway from the main gate is lined on both sides with flower beds, while the pathway to the tomb itself, from the inner gate, is lined with cypress trees, in typical Mughal garden style. On either side of the trees are flower beds, hibiscus plants, and pomegranate trees symmetrically planted in order of increasing height. “Beyond that, we’ve planted amla trees, amaltas, mango trees, guava trees, and others like it,” says Narayan.

The tomb’s traditional water system has also been restored. Irrigation systems were modernized in 1958, but they needed more work. “An integrated water management system was designed to address the needs of the project as well as ensure there would be no discharge or waste. Today, clean water is again flowing in the channels and the gardens,” says a statement from WMF.

The project also created an information and ticketing center, an office for ASI, and a toilet for visitors. Just three kilometers away, along with the banks of the Yamuna, lies Mehtab Bagh, the ‘moonlight garden’. This one is quieter, perhaps because of its size.

Even though we’re surrounded by people, we are easily lost within the symmetrically planted trees and pathways. A quick stroll from the entrance and the Taj Mahal is suddenly upon us, breathtaking as always, but even more special when seen from this distance and without the teeming crowds one always experiences.

Mehtab Bagh with the Taj Mahal emerging at the far end.
Mehtab Bagh with the Taj Mahal emerging at the far end. 

Packed with more

The flora at Mehtab Bagh is pretty much the same as that at I’timād-ud-Daulah, only much more. Spread over 22 acres, there are 20 plots packed with flowering shrubs and fruit trees. The trees are laid out with near-military precision, not one of them out of place. Excavations in 1979-80, originally undertaken to confirm whether this was the site of the famed ‘Black Taj Mahal’, revealed a rectangular garden and its foundation walls.

Further excavation in 1993-94 revealed the octagonal pond, the terracotta pipes connecting it, and the 25 fountains around it.“The remnants of the traditional system indicate that water was drawn from the river to a series of wells and carried into the complex via an aqueduct and fed into the pools through a network of underground terracotta pipes,” reads an information slab.

Even though the traditional aqueduct cannot be revived, the idea is to restore the octagonal pool at least so that the reflection of the Taj Mahal can be seen in it. Mehtab Bagh is also in the same ‘charbagh’ layout, but there is one crucial difference, says Swarnkar.

“The Yamuna cuts through the garden, so parts of the charbagh lie on either side of the river,” he says. The garden could be conceived thus because of the unusual layout of the Taj, he says. “Since the Taj is located at the end of the garden, instead of in the middle, the Mughals might have planned a garden across the river.”

At the boundary wall, there’s a mini photoshoot going on. We can’t resist either, what with the Taj in the backdrop. Meanwhile, the Andrews are finished with their tour of the tomb of I’timād-Ud-Daulah and have reached Mehtab Bagh.“I’m glad we came here first instead of heading to the Taj first,” says Christine. Just then it begins to rain and the sky turns a brooding grey. The Taj doesn’t dim one bit though.

Source: cntraveller