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Monthly Archives: February 2013

‘Qila Mubarak’ – The Queen of Hearts

Razia sat warily sat on the throne of Delhi. The first woman to become a Sultan. The men of the court were not comfortable with that notion. She felt a thousand eyes staring at her. Six months ago, the same people rejected her claim to the throne and made her brother Sultan. They were now bowing before her. Her brother had been a bad ruler. he had spent his days either in his harem or drinking wine. They had assassinated him and reluctantly made her the Sultan of Delhi.

Razia proved to be an efficient ruler. She dressed like a king, wore no purdah and wore a turban. She was wise in her judgments and was loved by her people. She even lead her armies into war, riding atop an elephant. She was also a shrewd politicians. She managed to make the rebel factions fight among themselves to oblivion. She refused to be addressed as Sultana, the wife of a Sultan, but only responded to Sultan Razia.

The nobles and courtiers of the court did not like to bow before a woman. They were waiting for her to make a mistake. Like hyenas in the grass, waiting for the buffalo to slip. Razia was careful not to fall into their hands; but no one can tame the human heart.

She first saw him in the kitchens. A slave. His name was Yaqut. The queen felt her cheeks redden when she saw him. She wished she had worn a purdah so that the others didn’t see her blush. She ordered hat the slave be made her personal servant. The queen and the slave became close, meeting in secrecy at the banks of the Ganges. She even promoted him to the be the superintendent off stables.

The hyenas scented blood. When the nobles and the provincial governors heard about their queen’s affair, they took up arms. She had disgraced the throne by falling in love with a slave. The clouds of war gathered over Delhi. The rebels, lead by Malik Altunia, the governor of Bathinda, clashed with the queen’s army. In the battle, Yaqut, the slave who loved the queen, was killed. Razia was taken prisoner and imprisoned in Bathinda’s Qila Mubarak. To escape death, Razia agreed to marry Altunia.

Razia and Altunia were waylaid by a troop of Jats on their way to Delhi and were killed near Kaithal in Haryana.

Qila Mubarak still stands tall in Bhatinda. In the center of the town,with wide walls and silent courtyards. The queen spent her days in captivity inside here. The gurudwara inside lends an added charm to the calmness of the fort.

The fort was also visited by the Guru Gobind Singh.

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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Punjab

 

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‘Aayi Mandapam’ – A tale of a King and a Prostitute

King Krishnadevaraya, the ruler of the prosperous Vijayanagara empire, ruled over the Deccan. His empire stretched from Karnataka to Kanyakumari. One day, the king set out from his capital at Hampi and went on a tour of his kingdom.

While traveling through Pondicherry, a trading city and a sea port on the eastern coast of his empire, a beautiful building caught the king’s eye. The king looked with amazement at the building’s architecture and it carvings. The religious king thought it was a temple. He knelt on the street and bowed down before it with folded hands.

The people around looked at the king with surprise. There was a stunned silence. The young men and women were hiding behind their elders and giggling. A wise old man walked up to the king and asked him, “Your Majesty, why are you bowing down in front of a brothel?”

The king looked up in horror. He caught the old man by his throat and demanded an explanation. The old man croaked, “Sire, this is a brothel. It is run by a prostitute called Aayi”. The king loosened his grip. The old man collapsed on the street.

The embarrassed king roared with anger. He ordered his soldiers to bring the prostitute to him and tear the building down from its roots. The soldiers got hammers and axes and started demolishing the brothel.

The prostitute, Aayi, was brought to the king in chains. She fell on the kings feet and asked for mercy. She begged the king to spare the house, but the king’s ego was deeply bruised. He did not listen to her. Aayi, in a desperate plea, asked the king, the permission to break down the house herself. The king agreed.

The prostitute broke down her beautiful house and in its place dug a water tank for the people around. The place was known as Aayi Kulam in her memory.

Years later, the French made Pondicherry their capital in India. The French town on the sea shore faced an acute water shortage. All the wells they dug had only salty water. The French King, Napolean III, sent an architect, Monsieur Lamairesse to sort out the problem. The architect built a 5 km long tunnel from Aayi Kulam to a park in the French part of the town. The French king heard about the story behind the water tank was was deeply impressed. He ordered the architect to build a monument for Aayi. The monument was built in French architectural style at the center of the park

The Governor of Pondicherry sent a letter to the French king thanking him for sending the architect, Mon. Lamairesse. The King told him to thank Aayi and wrote that she deserved a monument.

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Aayi’s monument is still present in Pondicherry. It is flanked by important buildings like the French consulate, the secretariat and the Governor’s bhavan. Built in Greco-Roman style, it is located at the center of a circular park. On top of the monument is a French fleur dde lis.

A stone plaque written in traditional Tamil and Latin, pays tribute to Aayi’s deed and thanks her for providing water for the people of the town.

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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Pondicherry

 

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‘Qutb Minar’ – The Slave who became a Sultan

Qutb-ud-din Aibak sat in his canopy, watching his slaves work in the hot Indian sun and laying the foundation of his pet project – the Qutb Minar. He remembered the time when he was one of them, a slave. The Afghan crown on his head felt uncomfortable. It once belonged to his master, but now he was his own master. A wave of his hand and servants appeared before him with fruits and sherbet. He wasn’t a slave anymore. He was the Sultan-e-Hind.

Qutb-ud-din was born to Turkish parents in Turkestan. When he was a boy, a merchant took him to Nishapur and sold as a slave in the local market. He stood there in the hot sun, wearing a sackcloth gown. His back itched but he was unable to reach it because of the chains. A local Qazi, had pity on the young boy and bought him.

The old Qazi was a kind man. He treated the boy with love. He taught him the Quran and provided him military training with his own sons. The young slave’s luck didn’t for hold long. The old Qazi passed away in his sleep on a cold winter night. The Qazi’s sons were jealous of the young slave. They took him to the market in Ghazni and put him on sale again.

A young chieftain bought him from the slave market. Mohammad of Ghor, they called him. The young slave worked hard in Ghori’s camp and rose through the ranks. The military training that his old master had given him helped him in his rise. Mohammad Ghori was a shrewd Emir. He recognized that the slave had great potential and elevated him to the post of an army captain.

After Mohammad Ghori defeated the Hindu king, Prithviraj Chauhan at the battle of Tarain. He made Qutb-ud-din Aibak the leader of his army in Hind. Aibak lead his army to victory after victory over the local Rajput kings. He even captured the legendary City of Djinns, Delhi. Ghori appointed him the viceroy of Hindustan when he went back to Afghanistan to quell an attack from Persia.

Ghori never came back to Hindustan. He was assassinated by the blind Prithviraj Chauhan in an archery contest. Aibak rushed to Afghanistan to mourn his master’s death. He stabbed the grave of Prithiviraj Chauhan in despair and poured sand over his head in grief.

Ghori’s empire splintered with his untimely death. Aibak got the kingdom of Hind. He moved his capital from Lahore to Delhi. He received his master’s crown. He became the first Sultan of Delhi.

Qutb-ud-din Aibak wanted to showcase the Islam might to the people of Hindustan. He built the first mosque in India and named it Quwwat-ul-Islam, the might of Islam. Near the mosque, he started construction of the Qutb Minar, the tallest tower in world at that time.

Unfortunately, Aibak never saw the Qutb Minar completed. Four years into his rule, he had a polo accident and died. His successor, Iltutmish finally completed his pet project. The tower could be seen from miles away, towering over the mystical city of Delhi.

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The Qutb Minar, can still be seen towering over the Delhi skyline at Mehrauli. The five storeys of the tower are all built in different styles. The first three storeys are built with red sandstone and the upper two are storeys are built with marble and sandstone. The inner staircase is now closed to tourists after a stampede that killed many children.

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In the minar’s courtyard, there is an iron pillar which has interested metallurgists for ages. A legend states that if a person can hold his hands behind the pillar the djinns of Delhi will grant him his wish. A fence now prevents people from doing that.

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(The Iron Pillar)

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2013 in Delhi

 

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‘Arcot’ – The Reason We Speak English

The soldiers looked at their young captain with awe. They had not expected twenty-six year old Clive to capture the fortress of Arcot, but he had defied all odds and managed it. He was now standing on top of the ramparts, surveying the fort’s defenses.

Robert Clive was a scribe, a writing clerk who kept records. He had been kicked out of the house for being ‘naughty’ as a child. He joined the East India Company and was sent to the British Fort St. George at Madras to copy texts and tally accounts. But then, destiny had other plans for him.

Muhammad Ali, the Nawab of Arcot and an English ally, was hiding in Trichy. His capital city, Arcot, was captured by Chand Sahib, a French ally. The French army marched out of Pondicherry, to lay seige to the Rock Fortress of Trichy and dispose off the Nawab for good. The Nawab begged the British governor at Madras for help. Trichy was far away. Help would not reach there in time to counter the French army.

Clive, the governor’s scribe, suggested that they attack Arcot and distract the French, instead of sending the British army to Trichy. The governor appointed the young scribe as a captain and sent him to Arcot, with a mere 100 soldiers, 120 sepoys and 3 guns.

The small troop and the lack of heavy artillery meant that Clive’s company could move quickly. He made his troops do forced marches. The garrison at Arcot scattered when the Clive made a surprise attack at night. Clive captured Arcot without losing a single man.

The Arcot fortress was weak. The walls were low, the towers crumbling and the moat dry at places. The mile long wall was too large to be defended by the feeble British force. The governor of Madras promised two artillary guns, but they would take time to arrive. Clive sent most of his force to escort the artillary guns.

Seeing the troop movement, Chand Sahib’s 2000 men attacked the fortress to claim it back. With a mere 70 men and darkness for cover, Clive managed to repulse the attack and hold on to the fort. Chand Sahib’s men fled the next day when the artillary guns arrived.

Clive’s ploy worked in distracting the French from Trichy. The French army turned towards Arcot. Chand Sahib’s men joined the advancing army. Chand Sahib’s son, Raza Sahib lead the army. Clive and his 300 men set to task, strengthening the Fort.

A 4000 men strong French-Indian army lay siege to the Fort. In the night, Clive made a daring move. He attacked the siege force and tried to steal their French guns. The plan almost backfired. Clive barely escaped with his life and lost 15 men in the misadventure.

Clive made no mistakes thereafter. Small British company successfully repulsed the siege for 50 days. A Maratha captain, Morari Rao, was impressed with the British bravery and promised to send them help in return for payment. The payment got delayed in the English bureaucracy. When Raza Sahib heard about the Maratha captain’s offer, he offered Clive terms and promised him a gift if he surrendered. Clive declined. The attackers fell upon the fortress with renewed frenzy, but the British held strong. Raza Sahib’s men fell by tens and dozens at the hands of the British. Chand Sahib’s elephants ran amok in the gunfire, trampling down his own men. The attackers gave up and retreated. They had lost hundreds of men while Clive lost only four. Cheer rang though the British contingent

The French defeat at Arcot signaled the decline of the French presence on India and the rise of the British. The British reinstated Muhammad Ali as the Nawab of Carnatic. The Treaty of Paris signed at the end of the Battle of Arcot gave the British right to most of the Indian territories.

The siege of Arcot made Clive famous throughout Europe. A British scribe with a handful of men had repulsed an attack by the French army. Clive was presented a sword by the British Prime Minister. His military career took off from that point.

Ten years later, Clive returned back to India and lead the British to victory in the battle of Plassey. That established the military supremacy of the East India company in India.

Arcot is now a small town on the Chennai-Banglore highway. Quiet and rustic, scattered with mosques and minarets. People stop over here on the highway for its famous Arcot biryani. The Fortress of Arcot is all but disappeared except for it gates.

(The Delhi Gate, Arcot)

Known as Delhi gate, the broad gate stands at the outskirts of the town. The dry bed of the river Palar lies across it. A forgotten stone plate mentions that it was once a part of Clive’s fortifications.The ground around it is scattered with fallen structures, paying tribute to the fact, that they were the reason we speak English today, and not French. Whether that is a good thing or not, I leave that for you to decide.

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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Tamil Nadu

 

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‘Padmanabhapuram’ – God’s Own City

Some kings are warriors, like lions riding into the battle, making the enemy tremble with fear just by their presence. They are dangerous, but even more dangerous are kings who fight with their minds. The tacticians. They stay behind the curtains and move their pawns one step at a time, always keeping an eye on the big picture. King Marthanda Varma was of the latter kind.

Fate had never been kind to Marthanda Varma, but kings like him controlled their own fate. He was born into the last surviving house of the legendary Chera dynasty. Once among the three great kingdoms of South India, his family now ruled over a tiny kingdom stretching from modern day Kanyakumari to Trivandrum. Even in their kingdom, the king’s title was nominal. He had no army under him. The real power belonged to the madampis, the court nobles and the ettara yogam, the managers of the Padmanabhaswamy temple.

When Marthanda Varma came into the picture, the political and social situation in the kingdom was at the verge of collapse. The heir of the throne according to the matriarchal Travancore system, he had to kill his cousins, who tried to usurp the throne from him. Problems, both internal and external, haunted the king as he sat on his wooden throne at Padmanabhapuram, the city of the god. Even though he wore the crown, the Ettuveetil Pillaimar, the Lords of the Eight Houses, were the true rulers of the land. The Eight Lords had supported the claims of his cousins over the crown and Marthanda Varma had an axe to grind with them for that.The other Kingdoms of Kerala were falling in quick succession to the European powers. The Portugese had taken over Calicut and Cochin was under the Dutch. The spice trade of Kerala was attracting other European powers like flies on a jaggery. The shrewd king wasn’t going to sit around and watch.

The king signed a peace treaty with the rulers of Madurai and the British. The Eight Lords were enraged by the move and hired assassins to kill the king. The king barely escaped with his life. The murder attempt gave the king a golden opportunity. He had the Eight Lords either killed or exiled for treason and took over their property and armies. This move prompted many of the nobles to call for the nonrecognition of Marthanda Varma‘s kingship. Every other person in the kingdom was putting forward their stakes for the crown. In the face of mutiny among his ranks and advancing Foreign powers, the king played a masterstroke. He walked into the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram and crowned the god as the king of the state. He took upon the title of Padmanabhadasa, the slave of the god, a steward who would rule the kingdom in the god’s name. The temple and its management came directly under the Padmanabhadasa. With that one swift stone, the king killed many birds. The king’s relatives who were putting forward their stakes for the crown found themselves competing against a god for the crown and backed down. The temple management which was proving to be a thorn in the king’s flesh was abolished. The temple guards provided an added boost to his army. Kerala is even today known as “God’s own country” because of Marthanda Varma’s coronation of Padmanabhaswamy.

With the internal problems settled, the King turned his eye outwards. He annexed the nearby kingdoms of Kollam and Kottarakara. He then turned his eye towards the kingdom of Kayamkulam. Kayamkulam was under the protectorate of the Dutch. The Dutch ambassador warned Marthanda Varma to leave Kayamkulam alone or the Dutch would annex Travancore. The angry Varma threatened to take his army to Europe and annex Holland if the Dutch interfered in their affairs.

With diplomacy failing, the king prepared for war. The Dutch navy approached the Travancore shores at a fishing hamlet called Colachel. The king made the fishermen from the village to hold their oars and stand on the shore. The Dutch Navy thought they were soldiers and got confused. In a short and swift battle, the Travancore army overhauled the Dutch. The Dutch admiral laid his arms in front of the king and was taken prisoner. For the first time in the Indian history, an Indian king had kicked an European power in its coccyx. Kayamkulam fell to Travancore and all land south of Cochin came under Marthanda Varma. With the fall of the Dutch, the entire black pepper trade was came under the control of the Travancore kingdom.

Marthanda Varma was too clever to be lulled into a false sense of security after his victory over the Dutch. He knew there were other European powers, waiting for him to make a false move. He set the Dutch admiral – Eustachius de Lennoy free and appointed him as the General of his army. The Dutch admiral, in gratitude for the kindness, took up the post. The Dutch General modernized the Travancore army. The king moved his capital from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram. He signed a treaty with the British, which kept the kingdom safe from the British crown till it seceded to the Indian Union in 1947.

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(The Surrender of the Dutch East India Company)

Colachel, the site of the famous battle between the Travancore army and the Dutch is now a small fishing hamlet. It is hard to imagine that the historically significant battle was fought there, among the fishing nets and boats. The only sign of the battle is a victory column, with the Travancore emblem of a conch with two wings on top, stating that Eustachius de Lennoy had laid his arms at Padmanabhadasa Marthanda Varma’s feet at that spot.

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(The Victory Pillar at Colachel)

Padmanabhapuram, ‘The city of the god’ is now a small village on the Trivandrum-Kanyakumari highway. The king’s palace still stands tall in a forgotten majesty.The Padmanabhapuram palace is open to public and is located at Thuckalay. Though the town is now a part of Tamil Nadu, the palace and its complex is under Kerala. The palace is a perfect example of kerala architecture and wood work.

The Gowdiar palace at Trivandrum is closed to the public as the desendants of the Travancore royal family still live there.

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(The Padmanabhapuram Palace)

The Udayagiri fort is situated 1 km away from the Padmanabhapuram palace and used to be the garrison for the Travancore army. It is now under the Forest department and has a small zoo inside it. The tomb of Eustachious de Lennoy is also inside the Udayagiri Fort.

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(Eustachius de Lennoy’s tomb)

The Padmanabhaswamy temple is in the heart of Trivandrum. It was recently declared the wealthiest place of worship in the world after a treasure chamber was rediscovered under it. The royal family still bears the title ‘Padmanabhadasa‘ and runs the temple trust.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Kerala, Tamil Nadu

 

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‘Gangaikonda Cholapuram’ – The City of the Chola who brought the Ganges.

King Rajendra Chola – I sat on the Chola throne for the first time as Yuvaraja, the crown prince, under his father’s rule. He inherited a mighty empire from his father, King Rajaraja Chola – I. Along with the empire, he also inherited his father’s wars. The Chola empire was plagued by wars and rebellions. In the North, they were at war with Kalingas, the Western Chalukas and the Eastern Chalukas. In the South, their arch-enemies, the Pandayas were turning out to be a splinter in the throne. Even in Lanka, which his father had recently occupied, the Sinhalese king was fighting for his freedom. The yuvaraja rose up to the challenge. He took command of he Chola Army. The Chola Army crushed all the rebels under his leadership. The Chola flag, a pouncing tiger, fluttered in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kalinga and Lanka.

When the yuvaraja wore the Chola crown in 1014 AD, he was the ruler over the entire Deccan. His navy held the Islands of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In his treasure chambers were the crowns of the Pandayas and the Sinhalese. The young Chola king was not satisfied. The minstrels sang of his father, Rajaraja Chola, and called him the greatest Chola king. The Chola Temple in Thanjavur was a testament to his greatness. But Rajendra Chola had different plans. Plans to overshadow even his late father’s glory.

The river Cauvery was the Chola lifeline. It flowed through the heart of their empire, through their capital, the city of Thanjavur. The Temple that his father built towered high over the city skyline. Priests, ministers and bureaucrats walked hurriedly through the wide streets of Thanjavur, going about their business. The city was his father’s pet project. The Chola port, Kaveripattinam, was situated at the mouths of the river Cauvery. It brought merchants from all over the world. Fair skinned Romans, bearded Arabs and diminutive Chinese strolled on the dusty the streets, selling their merchandise. Trade flourished under the Cholas. The Chola Empire was at peace. But the young Chola king grew restless. He wanted more. He wanted the holiest of all rivers. The Ganges.

He set his eyes North. The king himself lead the army. Under king Rajendra Chola and his General Araiyan Rajarajan, the Chola army laid waste to the land. The Kalingas, the Vengi and the Odda kingdom fell before the Chola might. The only the Pala kingdom stood between the Chola and the Ganges. In one of the bloodiest wars of that time, Rajendra Chola‘s army defeated the Palas and king Mahipala lay his crown at the young king’s feet. Rajendra Chola, tired from the battle, walked into the river Ganges. The current was strong but the Chola was not bothered. He cupped his hands poured the water of the Ganges as a sacrifice to Lord Shiva, his protector. He took on the title – ‘Gangaikonda Chola’, the Chola who brought the Ganges.

With the Ganges under him, Rajendra Chola looked east. He had heard tales from the merchants of Kaveripattinam of vast lands over the sea, filled with riches. He strengthened his Navy and sent it on a expedition to conquer the lands of the east. The Chola Navy did not disappoint their king. They proved to be the strongest naval force in the Indian Ocean. The kings of Burma, Indo-China, Malay Penisula and the Indonesian Archipelago accpeted the Chola’s as their overloads tribute to King Rajendra Chola, under the glooming naval threat. All land around the Bay of Bengal belonged to the Cholas. During Rajendra Chola‘s rule, the Bay of Bengal was called ‘The Chola Lake‘.

At the height of Rajendra Chola’s power, The Chola Empire held its sway over the Deccan, Bengal, Burma, Indo-China, Malay Penisula, Singapore, Andaman-Nicobar Islands, Lakhsadeep Islands, Maldives and Srilanka, making it one of the largest empires to ever rule India.

(Chola Empire under Rajendra Chola-I)

After defeating the Pala kingdom, King Rajendra Chola came back south, bringing with him water from the Ganges. He built a new city and called it ‘Gangaikonda Cholapuram’ – The city of the Chola who brought the Ganges. He built a Shiva temple in the city, rivaling the one his father built in Thanjavur. He built a 22 km wide artificial lake near the city. He shifted the Chola capital from Thanjavur.

He named his son, Rajadhiraja Chola, as yuvaraaj and sat back on his throne, listening to the minstrel sing of his deeds.

The glory of Rajendra Chola’s city, Gangaikonda Cholapuram is now all but lost. The once mighty Chola capital is now a small village situated on the highway between Neyveli and Kumbakonam. Local people now call the place Jayakondam. The Royal palace, the city buildings are all one with the dust. The only proof that the place was once the capital of one of the might Chola Empire are the Shiva temple and the Lion well.

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(Shiva Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram)

(The Lion Well)

The Shiva temple is built along the lines of the one in Thanjavur. One of the most beautiful sculptures adoring the wall is the one of Shiva placing a crown on the Kings head. Clean lawns surround the temple premises. The place is now a world heritage site and thankfully the city of one of the greatest kings of India is not completely lost in the tides of time.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Tamil Nadu

 

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