Monday, November 18, 2013

Lakhan Das's Coke studio

Gujarat is not a political statement. It is a state like any other, where you can travel and meet kind people, eat good food and visit memorable places.

रामपदा का लखन दास
(Lakhan Das of Ramparda)

Lakhan Das during his intoxicating performance
The soporific rocking of the Jabalpur Somnath express had put me in a state of drowsiness that is inevitable in a train journey; the sort that dims the light in the mind with soft music in the background. Only here, the music is the clatter of wheels. But if you are lucky, you get to hear Lakhan Das. The mind rests comforted by the fact that your destination is still a good half a day away and there is no chance of you missing your station. The stupor deepens further when yours is the ‘last-stop’. But if you do oversleep, then you get to sleep in the train and save the 200 bucks for the room...and have a couple of beers with it. Oh! But no! Not in Gujarat, No sir. I was always wary of the G-state. Tell me, how is a traveler to rest his wander weary legs, quench his dry throat after conversing with many a stranger; parched as it were from the dust of a thousand miles accompanying many a caravan. OK, you can replace miles with kilometers and caravans with trains. But you get my drift, don’t you?

I have nothing against coffee or tea, mind you. I have spent many a pleasurable hour in office and elsewhere, with a hot cuppa in front and a few friends by the side. But when it comes to weary feet and parched throats, it has to be beer and nothing else. I mean, what a bottle can do, the cup cannot even come anywhere close!
The gentle swaying of the carriage accompanied by the rhythm of the wheels
hurtling over the tracks was again putting me back to sleep, when suddenly the rhythm changed. This was not the mechanical clang of metal on metal; it definitely was the practiced hands of a performer on a drum. And accompanied by a haunting voice, singing what definitely was a sufi song. I woke up from my stupor as the words set to a familiar melody seeped in...

कभी यासे को पानी पलाया नहं
बाद अमृत पलाने से या फायदा

When you did not offer water to the thirsty when they
needed it,
What is the point of giving them nectar afterwards?

He went on to sing the whole song that chided the people for their mindless beliefs and practices devoid of basic human compassion and kindness; the beliefs that make them worship a stone idol while turning a blind eye towards their own parents.

गंगा नहाने ह­र वर -काशी गयी
गंगा नहाने ह मन म$ खयाल आ गया
तन को धोया मगर मन को धोया नहं
'फर गंगा नहाने से या फायदा

I went to Haridwar to take a dip in the holy Ganges
and as I stepped into the waters, it occurred to me
I have always cleaned my body, but never my mind,
What is the point of such futile cleansing?

I had just noticed a station pass by- Ramparda it said. As I handed a 10 rupee note to the singer who passed by, I asked his name. He flashed his teeth from behind the matted beard and softly said, “लखन दास. या मेरा फोटो अखबार म आएगा?” (Lakhan Das. Will my photo come in the newspaper?)
I smiled back and shook my head.
This definitely was coke-studio on wheels. I had just witnessed Gujarat’s version of the train singers. If Odisha had its Mahatir da, then Gujarat had its Lakhan Das. There was something in his voice that made the bhajan sound so divine. Must be all the tobacco they chew. It laces their voice with a subtle intoxication that captivates their listeners. I was to notice the same something in the voice of the lead singer of the next troupe that performed. Yes, there were multiple performers that noon. The next one was more grand; a complete symphony of 5 performers, all on drums!


The Somnath Temple 
A majestic edifice that has seen the ravages of time. Wearing the garb of a temple at times; and a mosque at other. A place shrouded in almost mythical tales of yore; supposedly possessing a stone sculpture – devoutly sacrosanct to one religion, and blatantly blasphemous to another. That is Somnath for you! Located at the southern tip of Gujarat, by the beach, it houses one of the 12 jyothirlingas.

Fishing boats rock in the dock in Veraval
Somnath is a ‘paheli’ (a riddle). While today it is on the religious and spiritual circuit, way back it was on the traders and plunderers path. Located in Prabhas Patan in Veraval on the Gujarat coast, it was a prosperous port with a resplendent temple which supposedly housed a huge Shivalinga made of precious stones. A rich city that Mohammad of Ghazni looted many times and carried back many sacks of precious stones every time! 

You should read Romila Thapar’s ‘Somnatha’ to really get to know of its many myths and mysteries. One of the legends has it that the stone idol present there was not a Shivalinga at all. It claims that Somnath housed the idol of ‘manat’, a goddess mentioned in the Quran; hence the name ‘su manat’. And since Prophet Mohammad had decried idol worship and branded it as
heresy, he had ordained that her idol be sought and destroyed. I guess that is what would be called a fatwa now. And so Mohammad of Ghazni came and plundered the place to uphold the prophet’s fatwa. A nice story to absolve him of his misdemeanors! I don’t know if its true or not, but it does make for an interesting story, As you turn the pages of the book, if you find that you are falling off to sleep, as I did at times, you can just wake up and board a train and visit the place instead.

The temple has been subject to so many annihilations that you won’t quite know where and when the original temple existed. Starting from the one built by the Yadava kings in 649 AD, the temple has been razed and resurrected an unbelievable number of times. It seems like the temple was the ancient version of ten-pin bowling. A reigning Hindu dynasty would set it up, only for a marauding Muslim ruler to come and bowl it over. The Yadava version of Somnath was destroyed in 725 AD by Junayad, the Arab governor of Sind. The Gurjara Pratihara King Nagabhata II constructed it again in 815 AD. And Mohammad of Ghazni promptly dropped by for his (in) famous invasions that left the temple in ruins during his 1024 AD conquests in India. Next it was the turn of Gujjar Paramara King Bhoj of Malwa to set up the tenpins in 1026, and along came Allauddin Khilji in 1296 with a bowling ball in hand. This game continued for many more centuries till finally, the last recorded construction that was left standing undisturbed was the 1783 version built by the consortium of Peshwa of Pune, Raja Bhonsle of Nagpur, Chhatrapati Bhonsle of Kolhapur and Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore.

The version you see today is the brain child of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who wanted to revive the Hindu temple as a symbol of unifying the newly acquired princely state of Junagadh soon after independence. The sepia toned pictures present in the courtyard of the temple narrate the resurrection story as the
Royal Enfield rickshaws
temple was excavated in 1950’s and the magnificent monument in the Chalukyan style took shape. Like the Phoenix, it rose from the ruins of centuries past. In the words of Babu Rajendra Prasad, “The Somnath temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction”.

Of course all this, you can also read in Wikipedia (Somnath) also. But what you won’t get to see is Gujarat’s own version of ‘American Chopper’. The rickshaws made of 350 cc Bullet Engines, atop which the Veraval warriors ride, transporting everything from people to pickled fish.

Shiva and the sea urchin 

- Text & photos by Deepak Gangadhar/Raintree Media Features

Friday, November 08, 2013

Me Tarzan, You Jane - zip lining at Bheemeshwari

The calm Cauvery
The road to the Bheemeshwari Adventure and Nature Camp, about 100 km from Bangalore, took us through the beautiful Karnataka countryside, past villages, ambling livestock and verdant fields, with the Western Ghats peeping from a distance. On reaching the borders of the Cauvery National Park, network coverage failed. With no Internet, GPS or any other form of remote communication, a collective sigh of relief went through the car when we saw the yellow gates of the camp, half an hour later.

Maintained by Jungle Lodges and Resorts, the Bheemeshwari Camp is nestled between the Cauvery National Park and the banks of the river. Home to the giant ‘Mahseer’, one of the largest fresh water sport fish known to man, this camp used to be popular haunt for angling enthusiasts. Due to over fishing, angling and other related activities have been discontinued and a host of other alternatives have sprung up to keep the flow of guests constant.

We had opted for an ‘Adventure Day Package’ which included Zip Lining, Parallel Walking, Burma Loop Walking, Cat Walking, Elephant Walking, Kayaking and a Coracle Ride, along with lunch. Although we had a rough idea of what each activity entailed, nothing had prepared us for the actual task.

Climbing the unsteady rope ladder

First up: Zip Line. Harnessed and fitted with a helmet, I was led to a rickety rope ladder which disappeared up a tree. “How high is this?” I asked the man wearing the Outback Adventures shirt, who was busy attaching a thick coil of rope to my harness. “Not much ma’am, 40 feet.” was his answer. With a shout of “Climbing!” I was left to pacify my rapidly rising heart rate while hanging on to the swaying ladder with all my might.

Zip Lining

The sweeping view of the Cauvery flanked by the verdant Western Ghats had a calming effect. After giving me a few seconds to catch my breath, the instructor hooked me up with the line, gave me a push and I was off! The mountains whizzed past as I zoomed from one tree top to another, the sky an azure blue over my head and a few cables keeping me from plummeting to the river – an adrenaline rush like no other. A severe case of jelly legs when I landed few moments later did not deter my enthusiasm about the next task. Little did I know how high the ante was going to be.

The next set took us to a grove where a network of ropes and cables zigzagged around five adjoining trees, forming a rough circle. The same routine followed, tightening of harnesses, helmets and the ominous shout of “Climbing!” First, I would have to ‘Cat Walk’ across a thin plank to reach the next tree. Second, ‘Elephant Walk’ via a set of wooden discs suspended by ropes. Third, walk across a rope bridge or a ‘Burma Loop’ onto the third tree. Fourth and the toughest, ‘Parallel Walk’ across a thin cable, while hanging on to a thick rope for support.

Elephant Walk

The ‘Cat Walk’ and the ‘Burma Loop’ were easier than they looked. The ‘Elephant Walk was simple too, once I figured out how to distribute my weight. The ‘Parallel Walk’ was a toughie – with the cable swaying dangerously at the slightest breeze. Hanging on to the rope for dear life and praying that my harness holds, I shuffled across, not daring to look below. A special treat awaited me on the other side; hooked to another rope, I was rappelled down from the last tree. What a fitting finale!

Parallel walk
After a scrumptious lunch of rice, dal, and chicken, we were content to laze on the many hammocks on the river bank. Wading into the river, I sat on a partially submerged rock with the sun on my back and the cool water lapping at my feet. Nameless birds and insects flew around, schools of tiny fish swam near my toes. I let my thoughts meander with the river, until they too, disappeared into the horizon. 

Coracles lined up 

The familiar Outback Adventures shirts appeared again, and we were herded off towards the next set. The round, lightweight coracles belie their strengths, carrying five adults with surprising ease. We set off upstream where the current is strong, towards the opposite bank, where ancient gnarled tree roots skim the water. Back on land for a few moments, it was time to get back into the water again, on a two-man inflatable kayak.

Coracle Ride

Kayaking down the river

The sun started to make a move, and so did we. It was a very introspective group of eight who trouped into the car. Soon, we crossed the forest and the first bars of network coverage blinked on our phones. As the forest thinned and city lights became brighter, missed calls, text messages, social network notifications crowded our inboxes. The sounds of civilisation drew us in, horns blaring, phones buzzing, people shouting and dogs barking. Driving on the NICE road, as Deepawali fireworks lit the dark Bangalore sky, I dreamed of flying high above the river, and the sacred silence of the wild.

Bheemeshwari Adventure and Nature Camp

Book online from: or

By Subhalakshmi Roy/Raintree Media Features/
Photographs by Arkaparna Mandal

A peek into 'Karnataka-A Cultural Odyssey': Heritage and Architecture Chapter

The stone chariot outside Vittala Temple in Hampi, photo by Dinesh Shukla

Dravidian,Vesara and Islamic architectural styles of Karnataka dominate much of the architectural landscape of Karnataka, with other noteworthy influences being Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, and most recently Neo-Dravidian architecture. The major dynasties that ruled the state over various periods of history have each contributed unique styles of architecture. With the British, came the colonial influences such as those seen in the Bangalore Palace. In modern times, as the capital of the state became the abode of business and technology firms, the glint of glass and steel in sprawling corporate parks has become a familiar sight. -Naresh Narasimhan

Monday, November 04, 2013

Karnataka A Cultural Odyssey-In The News

Of Evening Ragas and Rasas

A brief spell of fierce rain on the first night of Diwali ushered in the latest Under the Raintree event, a baithak for Hindustani classical concert. Our earlier choice of venue panned out, so did the second. So it was at our residence that Arshad Ali, from Kolkata, came to sing, with the home star Trilochan Kampli, playing the tabla.

Arshad Ali, accomapnied by Trilchan Kampli & Satish Kolli, photo by Subhalakshmi Roy
There was a mélange of aromas in the air – of oil diyas, sandal incense, platters of food, strands of marigold, the perfumes of elegantly attired friends and connoisseurs. As the sky segued into twilight, Arshad, dressed in pristine white, drew us into musical journey. With the opening notes of a vilambit khyal in Marwah, an evening raga, his voice reached out to clutch the hearts of the audience; from there, the powerful yet pure power of his voice held on through a dhrut khyal.
Music runs in his veins; his grandfather was the legendary sarangi maestro, Ustad Shakoor Khan. Arshad has been training from the age of six when he joined the prestigious ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkata as a scholar and received taleem from his maternal uncles, Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan and Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan.
a thrilling tabla solo by Trilochan Kampli
a thrilling tabla solo by Trilochan Kampli, photo by Prateek Mukunda

We had heard of his reputation as a child prodigy, and seen his clips on youtube. While there were never any doubts about Arshad’s masterly technique, the mellifluous nature of his voice was as welcome as a spring of cool water. Strained nerves were magically soothed, the mind free to follow the curves of the music, and soar skyward.

A half hour later, he moved on to Bihaag, a delicately nuanced raga for the night, setting the mood for his final rendition in Bhairavi. “Kab aaoge”, he sang, the poignant longing sounding true and voicing the universal need for love. Eyes that had been closed to absorb the music deeper, opened to traces of tears that had welled up and flowed unbeknownst.
the textured scent of slowly heating oil in a clay diya
the textured scent of slowly heating oil in a clay diya

The audience was in a soporific stupor, and to gently coax them back to the gaiety of the festive night, Trilochan Kampli was urged to give us a solo performance. There were ten minutes of rousing drut teental, the unique Farukhabad gats in a sequence of increasing tempo and chakradars, to the outburst of applause that this artiste always elicits.

The bumps on the road before deciding to host the concert at home turned out to be a blessing in disguise; we had not had a house-warming after shifting into a new apartment a few weeks ago. The magic of music by the gifted young men suffused the place with peace, and the warmth of appreciative friends left us glowing.

A high five from Innovate Publishers

If you needed to meet the most brilliant minds in Bengaluru, well, you had to be at the Innovate Bengaluru Festival on 11/4/19, at WeWor...