Monday, 29 January 2018

Vellore: A visit to the historic fort and the resting place of the last Ceylon King

Overview: After our visit to the Armamalai Caves, we decided to wrap up our day with a visit to the Vellore Fort and the Tomb of the last ruler from Kandy, Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
The fort is surrounded by water from all sides, built in such a way to prevent the intruders from entering the area. The fort dates back to the 16th century, probably used by several dynasties including the Vijayanagara, Tipu Sultan and the British. The fort occupies a huge area of around 130 acres and houses a mosque, the St John's church and Jalakantheshwara temple. The mosque dates to the Nawabs of Arcot, the church was built by Robert Clive built in the 1800s. The Jalakantheshwara temple is a massive structure, typical architecture of the Vijayanagara kings. The temple was closed by the time we reached the place so unfortunately we missed the interior architecture of the temple. The fort also has 2 museums, which has artifacts from the entire district.
Also within the fort is the Hyder Mahal and Tipu Mahal, but it is prohibited to enter the area as it is within the defense area.

Vellore Fort

Jalakantheshwara temple

Jalakantheshwara temple

Church built by Robert Clive
 Another interesting place in Vellore is Muthu Mandapam, which has the tomb of Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe, the last ruler from Kandy, the erstwhile kingdom in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The tomb has a upper structure having a plaque bearing the name of the Kandy king and his kin.

Tomb of the Last king of Kandy, Sri Lanka

Food/Accomodation: The town has some eateries for decent food, however, pure veg restaurants are less. Staying options are available in Vellore.

How to reach: Vellore lies along the Bangalore-Chennai highway, around 140 kms before Chennai. The town also has a railway station. 

Monday, 22 January 2018

Ashokan Edicts and Pillar inscriptions in Delhi

Overview: In my recent trip to Delhi, I decided to take a very non-touristy trail. I had heard about the remains of Ashoka's edicts and pillar inscriptions within the city of Delhi.
After the Kalinga war, Emperor Ashoka traveled across the country to spread his message of Buddhism. This is a minor edict in Greater Kailash area of South Delhi, and is protected inside a concrete cage. The writings are barely visible through the bars, and the approach to this hill is through a well laid path. One of the theories suggests that this site was a part of the ancient trade route linking the Gangetic plains to the north western part of India. Such major and minor rock edicts can be seen all across India, from Delhi to Madhya Pradesh to Chattisgarh to Karnataka.
Path way to Ashokan Edict in Delhi

Ashokan Edict in Delhi
Pillar Inscriptions in Delhi: A couple of pillar inscriptions can be seen in Delhi today. These pillars were quarried and polished at Chunar, near Varanasi. The remains of the ancient quarries can still be seen at Chunar. The polished pillars were transported via boat to the workshops near Varanasi.
Somehow, the later ruler discovered the importance of these pillar inscriptions and moved them closer to their own territories. For example, the one pillar I saw inside Ferozeshah Kotla fort was transported from Topra Kalan in Haryana by Ferozeshah Tuglaq in the 13th century. This pillar, erected on top of the Ferozeshah's palace, dates back to 3rd century king Devanampiya Piyadasi's message to hold on to dharma. Along with the earlier inscription, the pillar also records the victories of Visala Deva Vigraharaja IV of the Chauhan dynasty over a Mleccha in Nagari script.
3rd century pillar inscriptions at Ferozeshah Kotla Fort

Another one I saw was in the Civil Lines area, near Hindu Rao hospital. This pillar is also called the Delhi-Meerut pillar as this was originally brought to Delhi from Meerut again by Ferozeshah Tughlaq through Yamuna river.
Delhi-Meerut Pillar

Monday, 15 January 2018

Stepwells of Delhi NCR

Overview: All know that the Delhi NCR is a treasure trove for history lovers and my visit was filled with interesting findings. I had heard about several Baolis, or Stepped wells as they are called, built in a very artistic way, and built by the Chauhans, the Lodhis, the Tughlaqs and later learnt by the Mughals too. We explored Agrasen ki Baoli, right in the middle of the city, close to Jantar Mantar. This Baoli is a three level stepwell, built initially in the 10th century by king Agrasen, later renovated by other kings.
The next Baoli we visited was within the Purana Quila, which is a narrow stepwell, dates back to the 15th century, during the time of Shershah Suri.
Rajon ki Baoli: A very royal Baoli lies inside the Mehrauli Archaeological Park built in the 15th century during the rule of Sikandar Lodhi. Its a pretty stepwell, with a wide walkway surrounding the well, and decorated by beautiful stonework on the windows.
Gandhak ki Baoli: Adjacent to Mehrauli Archaeological Park is the Gandhak ki Baoli. Nothing fascinating about this stepwell, but it is a vast area, with the size of a swimming pool. This Baoli dates back to 13th century.
Ferozeshah Kotla Baoli: A unique circular shaped Baoli is present inside the Fort, however, the Baoli is fenced and there is no way to get inside.
Lodi Era Baoli, Dwarka: Hidden inside the modern area of Dwarka is the ancient stepwell, though recently discovered during excavation by ASI and INTACH. This Baoli is a stylish structure, looks like a miniature version of Agrasen ki Baoli.
RK Puram Baoli: Located inside the locality of RK Puram is the Baoli, also known as the Munirka Baoli. This Baoli, which is one of the least visited, is surrounded by Lodhi Era monuments on its eastern side.
Red Fort Baoli: On the south western end of the Red Fort is the Baoli, a simple structure similar to RK Puram and Dwarka Baolis, and is again one of the smallest stepwells in Delhi.
These are a few Baolis which I have visited, however, there are some more which are present in Delhi NCR waiting to be explored.

Agrasen ki Baoli 
Rajon ki Baoli

Gandak ki Baoli
Dwarka Baoli

Purana Qila Baoli

RK Puram Baoli

Red Fort Baoli

Ferozeshah Kotla Baoli

Monday, 8 January 2018

Armamalai: A visit to the ancient Jain caves

Overview: When I was scanning through Google Maps, I happened to find this amazing ancient Jain caves marked in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu. We quickly planned this trip and started at around 6am from Bengaluru. We stopped at A2B near Krishnagiri for breakfast and proceeded towards Vaniyambadi. We followed the directions towards Vaniyambadi town and crossed a few villages. We visited an old temple at Thennampattu which had a Shiva Linga inside the sanctum, but the temple is now being renovated. The temple is marked as a Jain temple in Google Maps.
We followed Google maps to a non-descript village only to be lost, and even the locals did not have a clue where the caves were. We later turned back and found a small narrow lane leading towards the hill. Luckily, a few people helped us with the directions. We parked out vehicle near a house and started walking as guided by the villagers. Fortunately, a couple of enthusiastic small kids accompanied us till the caves. It is a pretty easy trek and we reached the caves in around 20-25 minutes. The caves had some pre-historic constructions with brick-and-mud fillings. We couldn't date the age of the construction but it looked old. On the ceiling of the cave, we could see some worn out paintings, similar to the ones in Ajanta Caves. The paintings are barely visible, barring a few colours. The caves are locally called as Pandava caves, as it is believed that they stayed here during their exile. Historians have dated the cave paintings to around 8th and 9th century CE. There is another cave a few metres uphill, but is protected by barricades and visitors are not allowed to go there.
On the way, the boys showed us one species of flowers which, when mixed with milk and consumed, would cure diabetes.
Overall, a good visit but feel the need to provide better accessibility and protection to the caves.
View of the hill from a distance

Armamalai Caves first sight

View from the cave

Rahul and his companion provided us the much needed direction
Some ancient construction material

Jain Paintings

Armamalai Caves 
Flower supposedly curing diabeties
Balancing rock

Directions: From Bengaluru, take the Chennai road, and after the Vaniyambadi toll, look out for a left turn towards the town and drive towards Thennampattu. From Thennampattu, follow the road till you reach a rather sharp right turn. Take the left at this junction and proceed towards the village. The roads are very narrow so be cautious if you have a big vehicle. At the end of the road, one can park the vehicle and walk towards the hill.

Food/Accomodation: No options for food at this place, so better to carry water and fruits before starting the trek. Nearest big town is Vellore, around 63kms. Krishnagiri is around 70kms.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Mysore Maharajas’ legacy in Bangalore

In 1686, the Mughals under emperor Aurangzeb won Bangalore after defeating the Marathas. The Mughal General captured all the surrounding areas in 3 years and in 1689, sold Bangalore to the Wodeyars led by Chikka Devaraya Wodeyar for 3 lakhs. In the same year, Sri Chikka Devaraya Wodeyar built the Kote Venkataramanaswamy temple around the mud fort built by Kempegowda. The temple was built in Vijayanagar style with huge gopurams and the victory pillar. Hyder Ali got the Bangalore Fort as jagir in 1758 AD and later expanded the mud fort with stone walls.
His son, Tipu Sultan soon deposed the Wodeyars and proclaimed control over Bangalore. However, the British defeated Tipu Sultan in 1791 AD and captured the Bangalore Fort during the siege of the fort. Tipu was killed in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore war in 1799 AD and the Fort area was returned back to the Wodeyars only as figureheads.
Tulasi Thota/ Tulasi Vana (Chikka Lalbagh)
The temple of Sri Prasanna Krishnaswamy, along with the idols of Sri Rukmini Thayar and Andal Thayar, known to exist much before the Wodeyars built the temple in the Tulasi Garden which is now the Chikka Lalbagh area. The current structure was built in 1844 by Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar. The temple has several special features such as the dancing posture with left leg on the Earth and the right leg on a lotus. In 1908, Saint Tulasi Ramdas consecrated the idol of Lord Rama within the temple and according to a legend, the area is known as Tulasi Thota because of his contributions.
Bangalore Palace was built in 1880s by Rev J Garret, the first Principal of Central High School. This was later bought by Chamrajendra Wodeyar at a cost of Rs 40000. The Wodeyars renovated the Tudor style Palace with exquisite woodwork and wall paintings. The Palace overlooks a vast colourful garden with fountains and trees. The Palace went into a dispute of ownership in 1970 with the Maharaja of Mysore HH Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar sold the property through fraudulent transaction and was under civil suit instituted by Srikanthadatta Wodeyar and some of the disputes are still pending with the Supreme Court. The Palace is built on the lines of Windsor Castle in England. The initial Palace grounds was spread to a vast area of 454 acres. However, the area was reduced when settlements came post-Independence and the areas of Upper and Lower Palace Orchards were formed out of the grounds. The Palace was restored to the Wodeyars in 1997.

Wodeyars were also known for later developments in Bangalore. The land for building the Indian Institute of Science was donated by Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV to Jamshedji Tata in the early 1900s. Some of the prominent landmarks like SJP Park was named after Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV in 1927. The road opposite to the park is named after Narasimharaja Wodeyar. The extension of Jayanagar is named after Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar in 1948. The area of Rajajinagar was inaugurated by Sri Jayachamaraja Wodeyar in 1949.
Close to Mavalli is the Gutte Anjaneya temple, on Hosur Road, adjacent to Lalbagh Gardens. The idol of Lord Hanuman was found behind bushes in the 20th century, though this might have existed for several hundred years. The Lord is known for miraculous blessings to the devotees since the time of Maharaja of Mysore, Sri JC Wodeyar. It is said that once the Maharaja’s car had a breakdown near the temple area and after the Maharaja offered prayers at the Gutte Anjaneya temple, the car started miraculously. The Hanuman statue is carved out of stone on a hillock, hence it is called Gutte Anjaneya temple.
Sir Puttannachetty Town Hall: This municipal building was completed in 1935, and foundation stone was laid by the Maharaja of Mysore, Sri Krishnarajendra Wodeyar. This building is built in classical Roman architecture and named after the first President of Bangalore municipality, Sir Puttanna Chetty. The building was built by Sir Mirza Ismail, the Dewan of Mysore Maharaja.
National Gallery of Modern Art/Manikyavelu Mansion: One of the few palatial Victorian mansions built in 1915, this 2-storeyed building was built by the Wodeyars, which was later sold to Manikyavelu Mudaliar in 1939. This mansion is currently home to the National Gallery of Modern Art. Perched in the middle of beautiful garden and old trees, the gallery has a variety of collection such as sculptures, paintings, graphic prints and photographs of contemporary and modern art.
Mallikarjunaswamy temple: The history of this temple dates back to 1689 during the rule of Chikkadevaraya Wodeyar, who is also credited for his work in building Kote Venkataramanaswamy temple. The temple construction is attributed to Achutaraya in 1710, with the design of the temple done in Dravidian style and a square Sanctum.