Documentation of Jejuri

[Photoset on Flickr] These are the moments when Facebook comes in handy. I got a notification that one of my undergrad juniors had tagged me on a photo album. Generally when this happens my heart sinks as my retro ugly mug is broadcast to everyone on my current friends list (that’s why Tag Review rocks) but this time it was a pleasant surprise. Back in, what seems another lifetime, architecture college I led a team of my classmates in the Louis Kahn Trophy for the National Association of Schools of Architecture (NASA) annual conference. The brief is to document a historical structure in its entireity notably from the perspective of architectural drawings. This was seen as a way of creating architectural records for structures that potentially didn’t have any including laying them out from perspective of their historical, social, and cultural context.

Although Jejuri has tremendous significance among those living in Maharashtra, even the Wikipedia doesn’t have much information online let alone detailed architectural drawings. So you can imagine the enormity of our task when we picked Jejuri…in early 1998. As we expected, there were no drawings on record so we made couple of visits to the temple town, stayed for a week each time, and literally measured every square inch of the temple complex. We were the source of puzzlement and wonder among devotees who often mistook us for a film crew thanks to our large circular measuring tape and hippie-like tattered jeans. We brought those measurements along with thousands of sketches back to our college where, with the help of a large team of classmates, stayed overnight after college hours for more than a month creating these drawings. Of course, we receive no college credit for this work and was done purely for altruistic and architectural cred reasons.

There are many memories associated with this project that made me friends among my college mates that I wasn’t close to before and helped me learn many things about architecture and historic preservation. More importantly, the camaraderie that we enjoyed either during the visits to this rural part of Maharashtra or the long sleepless nights we spent in our studios listening to hard rock and old Hindi songs in equal measure crouched over the drawing boards was the thing I remember the most. Now, I regret being a teetotaler at the time.

Our efforts were rewarded in part that we won a special mention at the national level for our work; the first accolade for our 8-year-old college that led to several national trophies at subsequent NASA competitions.

Wedding at Bhubhaneshwar – Part Eight

Bhubhaneshwar, Konark, and Puri form a neat triangle in a travel itinerary (much like Mumbai, Pune, and Nashik but smaller) and can easily be visited in a day. But only if you manage your time well and are given strict time limits wherever you stop at. Given the famed Indian habit to linger and add to that, the different priorities of every individual in the 40+ tourist group and eagerness of the locals to show the best that the state has to offer within a span of 18 hours, you can imagine the frustration of the organizer. Ash’s dad was trying desperately to keep the schedule on track and apart from the occasional diversion and lingering, we seemed to do quite well. My dad is known to be a hard taskmaster and stickler for punctuality so the poor guests were being herded around from both sides. However, I don’t think they really minded it all that much; most of them were oblivious to any care and were throughly enjoying themselves.

Roads in OrissaAfter our brief stop at Pipili, we headed toward Orissa’s flagship monument, the Konark Temple. I must say that the roads are especially nice and even in the rural parts that we traveled through, we never experienced the moon surface-like experience that you normally associate with Indian roads. We passed along plenty of rice fields, flowing rivers, and villagers threshing grains on the roadside. Since I was seated right behind the driver, I indulged in what can be best described as windshield photography (perhaps I should start a Flickr group). We arrived at Konark at around noon and the crowds and profusion of commercial hawker stalls gave a fair indication of the popularity of the place; being a Sunday didn’t help either. All the vehicles were supposed to be parked a mile away and we could either walk it or take a rickshaw. Along with few people, I was game to walking while the majority choose the lazy rickshaw way. Well, they ended up missing the cool coconut water that we stopped for while walking through the bazaar. We joined our group near the entrance.

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Wedding at Bhubhaneshwar – Part Seven

Although the wedding was over, the trip to Bhubhaneshwar wasn’t and everyone was looking forward to Orissa darshan. Like other Indian states, Orissa has a rich history dating back to the BC era and famously to the Ashoka-Kalinga war that is still remembered as one of history’s dramatic conscience-pricking events. You definitely cannot take what Orissa offers in just one day so we decided to stick to the top two tourist spots – Konark and Puri – while stopping on the way at the Dhaulagiri (Dhauli) Stupa and Pipili. Going through the whole day might make for one long blog post so I’ll split it up with the Konark and Puri experiences in later posts.

antakshariAsh’s dad had arranged for a mini bus along with two SUVs for the trip and we were also accompanied by her aunts and cousins. It was a boisterous group of more than 60 people especially in the mini-bus. As with any desi troupe out on a day picnic, we instantly started on the all-time favorite antakshari. Later in the day where we grew tired of Bollywood songs, we switched to Marathi songs. Of course, not the bhav-geeta types but those typical bilanchi nagan nighali nagoba dolayla lagla types i.e. ones that involves much foot tapping, clapping, and raucous chorus. One of Ash’s aunts who was with us in the bus regaled us with an Oriya song while taking pains to even translate it for us.

Dhaulagiri (Dhauli) StupaOur first stop was at Dhauli Stupa built atop a small hillock on the banks of the river Daya. The area around this hillock is considered to be the battlefield for the Kalinga war. It is rumored that the river Daya flowed red after the war with the blood of those killed. When you climb the hillock, you get a 360-degree view of the region around and I can only imagine the state of Ashoka’s mind as he cast his eyes on the consequences of his dastardly actions – the river flowing red, tattered and bloody bodies scattered all around, and the question of a old woman who came looking for her son if he indeed was worthy of being called a king. Man can be a brutal animal and the only species on this planet who kills for reasons other than food and self-defense but thankfully we also have individuals like Ashoka who realize their folly and hasten to make amends.

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Wedding at Bhubhaneshwar – Part Two

On day two, our wedding party at Ginger had only ten people in the morning and the rest were due to arrive later that afternoon. We had arrived a day earlier just to be on the safe side and avoid the vagaries of the airline industry (one of my dad’s planning characteristic). The haldi ceremony which would kick off the wedding rites wasn’t due to start until evening which left us the entire morning and early afternoon free for a quick Bhubhaneshwar darshan. Getting ten people ready and out in the cars by 8am is a lot easier than doing so for 30 more as we would find out later. Unfortunately, a little miscommunication ended up making us wait for yet another hour before we could proceed to the older parts of the city. Although we were expressly told by Ash’s relatives not to go to the temples on our own, we decided to head out on our own only to be called frantically by one of her aunts asking us to please wait outside before entering the temple.

GanpatiI had heard horror stories from Ash of pondas or rogue priests who whack people on the head if you don’t cough up money so I insisted we wait outside. The Lingaraj Temple is one of the more traditional temples in Bhubhaneshwar and also one of the most worshiped. As the name suggests, it is a Shiva temple. Actually, it is a temple complex that hosts nearly 108 smaller temples with little deities and even more vociferous priests who in a business-like manner try to lure you to their respective deity. We were lucky to have Ash’s aunt with us and quickly realized the importance of her advice of not entering the temple complex on our own. She quickly admonished most pondas and drove them away which in turn got a few curses hurled at us. Since most curses were in Oriya, I didn’t care and even if I had understood them, I would have laughed back. As Mehmood (in Bombay to Goa) retorts to “main tumko shraap detaa hoon” with a “main sharab nahi peeta“. Also, I failed to mention earlier that this temple is off-limits to non-Hindus and you are strictly forbidden from carrying your cellphone or camera and anything made of leather. So unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures. I am not sure how exactly the non-Hindus rule is enforced. Poor foreign (white) tourists are clearly kept away whereas Muslims theoretically could easily get in if they didn’t carry Islam on their sleeve (or head). But I wonder if you would want to go to a place where you aren’t welcome.

Orissa Temple Shikhara (Deul)The temple architecture as in any traditional Indian state is breathtaking. Although the brittle sandstone is being rapidly worn away by the salty coastal air, the remnants are enough to help you imagine the grandeur of the place in its heydays. The shikhara or as it is called here, deul is uniquely shaped and arcs gradually to host a round beveled disc sometimes wide enough for a bullock cart to go around at its top (don’t bother worrying about how you would get them up in the first place!) Ash’s aunt gave us a quick history lesson regarding the temple’s origins and method of construction. Although my parents and other relatives went inside the garba griha, one whiff of the interiors and I stayed away. The place stank to the high heavens, no pun intended from the rotting of the milk and ghee offerings not to mention the thousands of sweaty people crammed in a small unventilated sub-basement. I wish tradition and customs would allow for modifying this mystifying aspect of temple architecture. I’m sure plenty more people would visit temples if this experience was a whole lot pleasant. I maintained my newly-found atheism by not joining my hands to the gods although later I would flout this rule in the countless wedding rituals and pujas.


The other temple we visited, Mukteshwar was much more tourist friendly and completely devoid of worshipers. We even spotted the occasional white tourists who were being strictly warned to stay away from Lingaraj. I could photograph this temple to my heart’s content and we could better observe the finer details of the temple architecture here than we could at Lingaraj. The temple strangely lies nestled amid modern urban civilization and borders an apartment complex so it seems just like another other neighborhood temple. I tried hard to avoid those ugly urban characteristics from my photographs. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go to the Raja Rani temple which is also another beautiful temple that most tourists to Bhubhaneshwar visit.

Back at our hotel, we expected the arrival of the rest of our guests. There was much chilam-chili when they arrived. Backs were patted and hands were shook vigorously as everyone settled down to a noisy lunch narrating tales of the flight and first impressions of Bhubhaneshwar. The ladies, of course, were sharing secrets on shopping expeditions and the men were more interesting in the availability of spirits. Generally everyone seemed to be in vacation mode and looking forward to the festivities.

More on the haldi ceremony later.

The Sri Mayapur Vedic Temple and Planetarium

“The Sri Mayapur Vedic Temple and Planetarium will be built in Mayapur in the province of West Bengal, India, and is expected to reach the height equivalent of 35 stories and making it only a smidgeon shorter than the Great Pyramid of Giza” [source].

What makes this temple project interesting is that it will be built along with a planetarium. Mayapur is already known for being the headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON). The planetarium is supposed to be more than just a visual delight center but in fact purports to be a research base that would be staffed with ‘top level space researchers’.

I am not sure of this claim and if they would genuinely encourage scientific research. But as a structure, it is truly spectacular and eye-catching. As some folks on Digg and Reddit remarked, it looks something out of Star Wars. But for us who have seen truly remarkable temples in Thanjavur and Mahabalipuram, this traditional form of temple architecture is nothing new if not completely familiar. They are planning to complete the project by 2010 and if it is anything like the picture above, it should be a major tourist attraction.

The Swami Narayan Experience

Following a bit of good news, Ash and I made a quick sojourn to the nearby temple that we had been planning for a while. Not overtly religious, we like to visit temples for that occasional connection to the desh and relieve the supposedly spiritual environs that I associate with places of worship. The Disneyland-ish temples in the US however leave a lot to be desired and after having moved away from my overtly-religious friends, I hadn’t visited a temple in a while.

The Swami Narayan Temple in Stafford gave an instant feeling of opulence and grandeur at least at first sight. I actually missed bringing my camera along as the light was perfect and the marble-carved outline of the temple complete with fluttering pennants made a pretty picture. It was a welcome change from the South Indian style temples that have tall gopurams that no one walks under (the entrance is always through some side door). But when something looks too good to be true, it usually isn’t. The separation of men and women for removing the footwear should have rung a bell or two.

But the height of it all came when men and women were separated by a velvet rope during the aarti. I kicked myself later for not walking out then but not having been to the Swami Narayan temple before, I was curious to see who resided behind those closed doors. I was disappointed to find out that ordinary swamis are worshipped in this temple and frankly I am no fan for god-men. There might be a case made for those who worship other ‘gods’ that they after all exist in human form as well e.g. Ram, Krishna, and to an extent Ganpati. But personally, these ‘gods’ are merely human forms that manifest certain qualities that we worship and as long as you do not literally worship these ‘gods’, you can be excused for giving in to the ‘god delusion’.

But praying to swamis and god-men is something that me and the rest of my family cannot digest and I might add that the rest of my family is much-more god-friendly that I am lately. To me, these individuals may have proven to be spiritual gurus for certain people who had the fortune of being wealthy and influential. Perhaps these ‘swamis may not have even preferred the temples that are built in their name but now they exist and they have literally replaced gods. But I guess, to each his own and of course, I will exercise my displeasure by never visiting the temple again. To make matters simple, the temple seemed to actively support gender discrimination that I vehemently oppose. It is an aspect of Hindu religion that I have always disagreed with and thankfully, in most temples that I have visited it doesn’t exist. So the temples that choose to indulge in Middle-Age behavior will not receive my respect. And that’s that.

Shored Up

shore temple mallalapuram

(via Kiruba and Visithra)

One of my favorite temples, the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) purely for its fantastic location is safe after the latest tsunami attack. After visiting nearly 6-7 temples in Tamil Nadu as a part of my architecture study tour during my 2rd Year B.Arch, this temple remains my all-time favorite (although Thanjavur comes a close second as a functional temple). Listed by the United Nations as a World Heritage site, this temple stands in solitude against the slow ravaged of time and the sea. The sudden onrush of water didn’t deter this temple’s steadfastness. I am glad that future generations of architecture students will witness the same joyous experience that I did several years back.

I hope the Bas Relief and Pandav Rathas are safe too. Read the article at Hindu (via Kiruba)

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