Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Padmavati, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and History

Was Rani Padmini of Chittor romantically inclined towards Alauddin Khilji? We do not know. Sanjay Leela Bhansali who is making the film Padmavati would not reveal his story. This has infuriated Karni Sena of Rajasthan. Karni sena vandalised set of Padmavati, man handled Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In the end, Sanjay Leela Bhansali decided to take his shooting crew out of Jaipur.

Assault on Sanjay Leela Bhansali is condemnable. I think Karni Sena should have taken legal recourse, if they had a genuine grievance. This assault also brings to focus the issue of artistic freedom. Are creative people not allowed to take liberty with established facts and create a fictional account based on their interpretation? More so with the character of Padmavati, whom historians / history do not consider to be a real person. According to history, the first written account of Padmavati emerged from the writing of Malik Mohammad Jayashi, who penned Padmavat in 15th century, nearly 200 years after original Padmavati was believed to have died.

Much concerted effort is being made to project Hindu icons, including Rani Padmavati, as mythical figures. It is even suggested image of a brave general, that is Alauddin Khilji, is being sullied by branding him as a person enamoured by beauty of a Hindu queen. It is important to consider a few points : 

  • First written account has come from Padmavat penned by Malik Mohammad Jayashi. In the poem itself all principal characters remain intact. Namely Alauddin Khilji, Rana Rattan Singh and Rani Padmini. In Padmavat of Malik Jayeshi, all principal characters were included. There was Alauddin Khilji, Rana Rattan Singh and Rani Padmini. If Padmini was fictional, then so were Sultan Alauddin and Rana Ratan Singh. But history states otherwise.
  •  Wikipedia documents history of Suryavanshi Sisodiya dynasty from 1326 onwards. Alauddin Khilji invaded Chittor in 1303 for the second time. It is evident that a kingdom existed before 1326, a king was there and an invasion happened. Tracing Suryavanshi genealogy  lead us to Bappa Rawal, who conquered Chittor in 8th century. Several generation later Rana Rahapa started Sisodiya dynasty. Rulers before 1326 do not find mention in regular history books. Does that mean, these people never existed?
  • A concerted attempt is being made to project Rani Padmini / Padmavati did never exist.  It has been argued that Padmini is a figment of right wing Hindutva imagination. As early as 1820, British writer James Todd had compiled the Legends of Rajasthan. He presented Padmini as a historical figure. Later on, Abanindranath Tagore presented Padmini as a historical figure in his novel Rajkahini. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru also wrote about Padmini in his book "The Discovery of India". All these people were not right wing fanatics. 
  • Jauhar is an act where women sacrifice their lives by jumping in burning fire. A Jauhar kund still exists in the palace of Chittor. In the history of Chittor, Jauhar has been performed three times. When Rajputs lost to Sultan Alauddin Khilji in 1303, Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat in 1535 and  emperor Akbar in 1568. 
  • History is the interpretation of events as seen and interpreted by victors. Historians that travelled with Alauddin Khilji, namely Amir Khusrau and later Barani, have not endorsed the view that Alauddin Khilji was enamoured by Padmini. That interpretation can be that of victorious Sultan not necessarily that of vanquished Rajputs. In Britain, children are not taught how Britain treated Indian people during their 300 year rule. Does that mean, British never came to India? Also, can we neglect work of James Todd on The Legends of Rajasthan?
  • Much history in India used to be conveyed by word of mouth by bards. Because it was an Indian cultural tradition of Shruti. Events may be embellished based on who is narrating the story. Yet, the story of Rani Padmini, that has survived over seven hundred years and spread across length and breadth of a vast country, in the absence of any modern means of communication, must have some element of truth. 

Many in India have grown up listening tale of bravery of Rani Padmini. A queen who sacrificed her life rather than surrendering to invading army. If such an act bravery is trivialised by potraying that queen had a romantic inclination towards invading general, in the name of artistic freedom, then it is natural that people may get angry. 

India is a continuing civilisation. It is possible that people from Suryavansh dynasty may be living in present day. Indians are emotional people. In the face of repeated onslaught to show anything from Indian past is a myth and cooked up history, we may not react in a very rational manner. It was  imperative that film company had quashed any false rumour by being open and upfront and by talking to protestors.. 

1. Who Is Rani Padmini? A 10 Point-Guide To The Padmavati Row www.ndtv.com › All India

Assam Trip : Assorted Photos

Fishing Eagle

Snake Bird


Turtle Soaking Up Sun

Wild Boar Minding Its Business

Wild Buffalo Cooling Self

Loan Buffalo

Rhino Posing for Picture

Rhino Family

Live Life Together

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Assam Trip : Kaziranga Part II

On our final visit to reserve forest in the afternoon, we entered Kaziranga through the Bagori gate, on the western side. 

Forest Office

Armed Guard Accompanying Tourists

We were told, this side of the park had mostly rhinos. Elephants stayed mostly on the eastern side of the park. We saw one lonely elephant at one point. But the herd was absent.





Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Assam Trip, Kaziranga Part I

Kaziranga park is spread over an area of 858 square kilometres. The park has five entry points. One is northern gate on the other side of Brahmaputra. The side we were on, had four gates. One central gate known as Kohora gate. On the eastern side there is Agoratali gate. On the western side, there is Bagori gate and Burha Pahar being the western most gate. In this trip we availed two jeep salaries. In the morning we entered the park through Kohora gate. In the afternoon we went westward and entered the park through Bagori gate.

Though famous for one horned rhino, Kaziranga has a variety of other animals. Which include elephants, wild buffalo, tiger, sloth bear, deer, badger, civet and a variety of different monkeys. Ofcourse there are snakes, a variety of turtles and birds. In our trip, in the areas we visited we saw mostly rhinos, buffalo herd and some deer. I think, one should try out all the four gates on the southern side of Brahmaputra.

As we entered through Kohora gate, I was asked to pay 800 rupees as entrance fee. For the second visit on the same day, I paid 400 rupees, as our guide carried the morning receipt. As it emerged, our park entry fee was included in the package. So travel agency returned my money later. Unlike in few other parks I visited, Kaziranga allows only gypsies to move inside the park. On a given day nearly 300 gypsies go inside the park through different gates. Most households, along highway that passes through the forest, have olive green gypsy parked. It appears ferrying tourist is a way of supporting family in the area.

Kohora Gate

Forest Office

Gypsy Waiting to Get Entry Permit

Kaziranga forest has big grass lands with tall elephant grass growing. In between grass lands, there are water bodies. The place is ideal grazing ground for herbibhores like rhino, wild buffalo, elephant and deer population. 

Elephant Grass
Tall Elephant Grass

Water Body and Grassland

As we entered the park, we saw this rhino. The animal was probably engaged in a fight and had a deep wound on its body. An animal with such thick skin, which other animal can inflict such serious wound? May be another rhino, who knows? Apparently, the animal is carrying its injury for a week at least.  

Injured Rhino

Wild Buffalo


A herd of wild buffalo is seen in the recording below. A water body separates buffalo herd from a rhino grazing on the grassland.



After spending close to 3 hours in the park, we returned to our lodge for lunch.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Assam Trip : Manas National Park Elephant Safary

Morning after jeep safari at Manas National Park, we were booked for an elephant safary. In elephant safary, three tourists ride on elephant back. Elephant takes them to areas of the park where jeep cannot go. Usually a safary is for one hour duration. Tourists are asked to go up the launching post, a raised area. Elephants are trained to come close to the elevated structure and stand still. A pad is strapped on elephants back, tourists are asked to ride elephant seated as if on a horse back.

Our elephant was called Lakshmibala. She was fifty year old. She was a private employee. Each day she consume 10 kg chana, a few banana tree, and any tree or shrub she feels like eating while on safary. After we were seated on elephant back, Lakshmibala started moving at mahouts prodding. Her move was slow paced with body swaying like a boat on choppy sea. 


Meanwhile, the wild inhabitants of the park sniggered at government employed elephant. We heard their neigh from a distance. But they' did not reveal themselves. Laxmibala also let out an elephant grunt every now and then. I am not sure if it was because of discomfort of carrying three urbanites or she was actually talking to her freelancer cousins.

Meanwhile, my thigh muscle started getting cramps. So it was an uncomfortable slow ride on elephant back. Forget about taking photo, I somehow managed to remain seated and hoped the ride would end soon. We captured the shadow of elephant with three tourist on top. 

By the way, from the speed at which elephant moved, I wonder how people would go to war riding an elephant? Ofcourse, I understand those were battle trained elephants. Still it was not a comfortable ride. I was glad when it ended. Coming off the elephant back with cramped tight muscle was another ordeal.

Assam Trip : Manas National Park

Manas National Park is situated by the side of Manas river. This river originates from Bhutan and merges in Brahmaputra. At the gate of Manas, one has to pay entry fee and show necessary documents for identification. In our case, this process was taken care by travel agency. One  guard armed with a 0.303 rifle accompanied us.

A road runs through the reserve to Bhutan. From gate of Manas, Bhutan border is probably less than 40 km. Cars and jeeps regularly ply on the forest road. However, if you get a flat tyre, as our vehicle did, then you are in trouble. 

We went all the way from gate of Manas to Matanguri, the last Indian habitation. Mathanguri is a very scenic spot. Bright sunlight, tall mountains, flowing river and all. One can spend whole day lazing by the river side.

Compared to her famous cousin Kaziranga, very few people outside Assam probably know of Manas. The park is a biosphere reserve, world heritage site according to UNESCO. Park is part of Chirang Ripu elephant reserve. It is home to many endangered species. Which include wild elephants, rhinos, wild buffalo, gaur bison, tiger, a variety of simians including , wild hog, hispid hare, civets, etc. According to many observers, Manas has seen bad days. During insurgency in Assam, many animals were killed / poached. Now it is believed animals are coming back and reserve is bouncing back.

Though forest in Manas is very dense, we found forest to be very quiet. We did not see langurs, monkeys and deers. From a very long distance, our guide pointed to a herd of wild buffalo by the side of river. I do not know if these animals had moved on that day to other part of the reserve. As we reached grassland area of the reserve, it was nearing dark, we saw two rhinos strolling. 


In the same spot a forest guard told us in a nearby area a python (ajgar) had swallowed a monkey. So animals were there in some other part of the forest. Then our guid directed us towards a herd of elephants. We also saw a wild buffalo.

It was around 4.30 pm in the evening. Manas National Park was getting dark. We were moving on the trails around grasslands. Our guide pointed in one direction. We saw this herd of wild elephants grazing on the grassland. I recorded their movement using my camera.


By five in the evening, darkness descended on the park. It was also becoming very cold. We did not have permission to stay on the park beyond our time limit. We returned back to Birina Lodge.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Assam Trip : Towards Manas

After encounter with langurs and after taking a fall on paddy field,  we were on the national highway number 37 moving towards Manas from Kakoijana. We moved through Barpeta town. Barpeta is a typical Indian small town. It has grown on either sides of Barpeta railway station. It is chaotic, it is unregulated, there is no traffic rule. Come to think of it, it is not different from Muzaffar Nagar in UP or Kurukshetra in Haryana. I asked driver, why it is called Barpeta, is it because grooms (bar) are beaten up (peta) in this town. After a hearty laugh, the driver said there are enough room for beating up grooms, but Barpeta is named after big (Baro) peti (peta) of fruits and vegetables that are dropped in the town. True to his statement, there was a big sabzi mandi, full of trucks and big stacks of vegetables on one side of railway satiation.

Road from Barpeta to Manas run by Manas river. Road is mostly broken. We were told damage was done by overflowing Manas river. No repair has been done since monsoon? More so, so many visitors from Delhi were to visit in early part of the year. Well it was not done. 

On this road to Manas, we realised our promised AC car did not have a functional AC. So India remains essentially the same, be it Punjab in north or Assam in east.  We also realised drivers also remain essentially the same all through out India.  Callous, impulsive and lack training on basic driving practice. Driver of our car would open pan masala sachet while driving at high speed. Then, he would spit out pan masala juice from his mouth, opening car door while driving at high speed. Driver would check his phone message, without slowing down. Even approaching heavy trucks, from the opposite side on an undivided road, would not instil fear of god in him. Repeated request to stop by road side and complete his business yielded a derisive laugh but no change of behaviour.

 We covered 20 km distance between Barpeta and Mansa in an hour and reached Birina tourist lodge beside a tea garden. 

Lodge was fine. Room had three beds and an attached bath. Breakfast was complimentary. Lunch, dinner, tea and snacks we had to pay for.

After a brief rest, we set out for jeep safari into Manas National Park.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Assam Trip : Jogigopha and Naranaryan Setu

After lunch at Nigambhola tribal village, we left for Jogigopha town. This is the place where Naranaryan Setu connects Pancharatna town of Goalpara district to Jogigopha town of Bogaiganon district. Tourists visit Jogigopha to watch sun setting on the western horizon over Brahmaputra river. 

The name Jogigopha comes from "Yogi" pronounced "Jogi" in local language and "gopha" which means cave. In the past, ascetics used to live and meditate in the caves by the side of river Brhamaputra. These west facing caves still exist. Archeological society of India protects these caves as national monument.

Brahmaputra is one of the mightiest rivers in India and may be in the whole world. I am not sure, but it certainly looked to be very wide. The bridge that connects districts of Goalpara and Bongaigaon, Naranarayan Setu, is 2.2 km long. 

Naranaryan set is a double decker bridge. Road transport moves on the top deck. Rail carriage moves on the lower deck. Double decker bridge is not uncommon. In Delhi, the old Jamuna bridge is a double decker. Trains lines are above the road. I took this video of a train passing through the bridge. One can see cars and buses speeding on the top bridge. A boat can be seen plying on the river. At some point, the train and setting sun comes on the same line.


Tourists like us also visit the bridge to watch sunset. I clicked  a few pictures of setting sun at different time keeping the bridge at foreground.

We returned to Astha lodge to prepare ourselves for next journey.