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August - September 2006


Spotlight

India - Land of Plenty

by Bajrang Bahadur Mathur


India will celebrate its 60th year of Independence on 15th August 2006 with great pomp and show up and down the country. Many organisations abroad will also be celebrating. The event is marked here through a few sketches and photographs of some of the fascinating and attractive places which illustrate the country’s natural beauty, grandeur and architectural heritage. First, here are some striking and glorifying facts of India – a Land of Plenty, in each and every way:

1. A nation with a civilisation which is 5000 years old
2. India is the second most populous nation with 1.2 billion people
3. It is the largest democracy in the world with thirty States and five Union Territories
4. It has one of the fastest growing economies
5. India has some of the most expensive real estates
6. It is the home to the biggest film industry in terms of the number of movies produced
7. In recent times India has produced some of the most glamorous and beautiful ladies in the world. There have been five Miss Worlds – Reita Faria, Aishwarya Rai, Diana Hayden, Yukta Mookey and Priyanka Chopra; and two Miss Universes – Sushmita Sen and Lara Dutta.
8. The largest numbers of software engineers are of Indian origin
9. The Indian Sub-continent is home to many of the wonders of the ancient and the modern architectural era, including the most extravagant, greatest and timeless monument ever built to express the love of a man for his beloved wife.
10. India possesses natural, wonderful places, from the mighty Himalayas to the tropical sandy beaches and dramatic landscapes.


L: Khajraho - one of the imposing temples consisting of successive waves of higher and higher towers culminating in the soaring shikhara, which tops the sanctum. R: Shree Meenakshi Temple, Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Its enormous gopurams,profusely covered with gaily coloured statues, are very tall and dominate the surrounding landscape.

Naturally, with all these facts, India is a land of vivid and vibrant colourful traditions, exotic mixed cultures, various languages and spirituality. Major cities and towns are bustling, but away from the commercial centres India possesses plenty of areas of rich and spectacular natural beauty: mountains, beaches, deserts and wildlife national reserves.

Let me now take you through this panoramic sketch of the natural and the architectural places of India. Starting with the majestic Himalayas, they stand proud in the North. Nestled in the middle of the mountainous ranges is a divine journey through Yamunotri (source of River Yamuna), Gangotri (source of River Ganges), Kedar Nath and Badrinath. These are popularly known as ‘Char Dhams’. Approach to these places is normally through Haridwar and Rishikesh, both holy cities, which are famous for ashrams to learn meditation and Yoga and gain Nirwana in the process.

Top of the menu of the architectural feast, at least for me is the eighth wonder of the world, timeless and the Jewel of Jewels: the Taj Mahal, in Agra. This magnificent Moghul mausoleum was built in white marble with inlay work of precious stones, by Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. This is the most extravagant and beautiful expression of one man’s love for his wife.


Bahai Temple, Delhi. An iconic modern building with the shape of the roof
similar in form to a lotus flower.

Delhi, an imperial city has been the capital for many rulers and therefore has the fort, palaces and tombs together with New Delhi, planned from India Gate to the Parliament, Presidential Palace and beyond by the English Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. The Bahai Temple and the recently constructed Swaminarayn Temple are amongst important landmarks in the city.

Indian National Flower is the Lotus or water Lily, an aquatic plant.

The name of three major Cities of Rajasthan, incidentally or coincidentally starts with the letter ‘J’ and they are Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. All cities display the courage and characteristics of the rulers who promoted art and architecture to celebrate their successes. Jaipur was perhaps, the first planned city in India. It had everthing needed for the community to survive and it was constructed within the boundaries of the city’s gated walls. Whilst Jaipur is known as the Pink City as it is constructed in red sand stone, many buildings of the historic city of Jodhpur have a light blue hue. Jaisalmer hill fort and town appears to float in the vast Thar Desert. It has become famous in the past few decades for its fort and richly carved and imposing merchant’s houses, popularly known as ‘havelies’.


Kerala - A boat trip across shallow,
palm-fringed backwaters.

In Central India there are many marvellous places of interest e.g the Ajanta and Ellora Caves near Aurangabad, Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks, Bhubaneshwar and Konarak etc. However, there is a special place which may be second to Taj Mahal from the tourist’s point of view, but if considered on its architectural merits it is perhaps on equal footings - it is the complex of temples at Khajraho, a World Heritage Site, in the State of Madhya Pradesh. Out of eighty- five original temples only twenty survive today. These 9th to 12th century temples, of the Chandela Dynasty have elegant proportions, and their construction incorporates intricately and exquisitely carved sculptures as decorations on their exteriors and interiors. The sculptures depict and revel in every aspect of life in particular passion and erotic fantasy. The visual experience of the temples exceeds expectations.
Southern India is now very well renowned for superb sandy palm fringed beaches in particular in Goa and Kerala. In tropical Kerala the extensive network of backwaters, lagoons and rivers with millions of coconut trees on their banks is beautiful, fascinating and tranquil. The Dravidian architecture of South India basically relates to the famous, small and large temples built in various periods. The temples at Kanchipuram, Mamallapuam, Halibid, Belur, Rameshwaram and Madurai are just few to mention. But in Goa there are numerous wonderful, historic, white painted churches built by the Portuguese.

I have been to India many times and have visited many places of interest, either as a tourist or as a pilgrim. All the time I was fascinated and each visit gave me memories which have lasted till today and hope will last for a life time. But there is too much to see and I shall visit some of the remaining parts in due course.

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