Friday, April 8, 2011

Delhi – Places of worship

Probably the best known Hindu temple in Delhi is the Birla Mandir on Mandir Marg between Connaught Place and India Gate. Built in the 1930’s in the north Indian “Nagara” style and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi the temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi.

Birla Mandir photos:

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There is a large temple complex near Gurgaon on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon road at Chatturpur that is the second largest in India.

The Chatturpur Mandir is a modern temple complex built in south Indian style and the large Hanuman statue dominates the MG Road so with my frequent journeys from Gurgaon into Delhi in 2004 I had to take a look!

The main temple is dedicated to the Goddess Durga and is set in extensive gardens.

Chattarpur Mandir photos:

The Baha’I movement built an impressive temple here in the 1980’s with the roof designed to look like a lotus with large concrete petals clad in white marble. The “Lotus” temple sits in a large well maintained garden that has nine large ponds and water channels that run under the temple to provide cooling.

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Near Kashmiri Gate in Old Dehli is the Anglican St James Church. Built between 1826 and 1836 it was commissioned by Colonel James Skinner. Skinner was an Anglo-Indian who formed his own irregular horse regiment and led a colourful military career mainly serving the British Army in the Mahratta Wars.

The Church is set in a small cemetery that includes a memorial to the victims of the 1857 Mutiny.

The church is built in the Renaissance style in a cruciform pattern with three porches fronted by columns and a central octagonal dome.

There are some nice stained glass windows particularly above the altar and when I visited in 2004 the vicar, Reverend Paul was very helpful and made a quick sale on a copy of the memoirs of Colonel Skinner and the history of his Regiment. I had tried to find the church in 2001 but had no luck in the back streets of Old Delhi despite the church being located on Church Road!

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The main mosque in Delhi is the Jama Masjid that was built on Shah Jahan’s instruction between 1650 and 1656 and is the largest mosque in India. There are East, South and North entrances to the mosque compound the main entrance at the North side having a flight of 39 red sandstone steps.

The mosque complex has three gates (although the East Gate was closed on my visit in 2004), four small towers and two 40+ metre high minarets.

The mosque is constructed with open arched colonnades opening onto the large courtyard and is around 80 metres in length rising on a andstone platform. The roof has three domes that are striped in black and white marble with some gold applied at the top.

The Minarets are striped in red sandstone and white marble and the South Minaret can be climbed (for a fee), but is 130 VERY large steps and my trip up resulted in severe thigh strain!

The view across the top of the mosque to the North Minar gives a clear indication of just how high up the platform at the top is. It was also very precarious as the platform is marble and with half the space at the top being taken up with the stairwell it is a bit disconcerting as it is rather slippery due to it being required that you leave your shoes behind before ascending!

The view from the South Minar of the courtyard illustrates the scale of the mosque complex and the courtyard is said to hold up to 25,000 people.

The mosque lies at the end of one of the busiest streets in Old Delhi that passes through the Chawri Bazaar.

The centre arch is in the form of a large gateway, with tablets of white marble inlaid with inscriptions in black marble. The centre arch states “The Guide” while the flanking arches have the history of the building of the mosque and praise Shah Jahan.

The arches running the length of the mosque are impressive and form the large prayer hall. The chambers are mainly in red sandstone but over a marble base up to head height.

The Central chamber has a large marble centre piece with black marble inlay while the floor also has white and black marble inlay to imitate the Muslim prayer mat.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Delhi – Museums

In the centre of Delhi on Janpath is the excellent National Museum that was built in 1960.

The exhibits start outside the main entrance in the courtyard with a large Temple Chariot housed in a glasshouse. The chariot is octagonal and made up of five tiers in a number of traditional woods including teak, sandal and acacia. Built in Tamil Nadu in Southern India in the mid 19th Century it is dedicated to Vishnu.

There is also a large cast of an Asoka “Rock Edict” from the Gujarat. Carved during Asoka’s 3rd Century BC reign there are 14 edicts covering the banning of slaughter of animals, the importance of the teachings of Dhamma and how he will protect the welfare of the people.

The museum houses a collection of over 800 sculptures with lots of statues (mainly Hindu gods) from the 3rd Century BC onwards and a remarkable bronze section.

In addition to the Archaeological galleries the statues are displayed in the access corridors around the museum building.

The collection includes displays of sculptures in stone, bronze and terracotta from across the whole of India.

There are some good displays of early Harappan archaeology and finds of pottery, tablets, jewellery and terracotta figures. There is also a collection of copper tools and instruments and an example of a Harappan burial.

There is an extensive collection of arms and armour from the Mughal era but also with examples from the Maratha, Rajput and Sikh armies. There is some particularly ornate 18th Century Rajput armour. Many of the later examples are extensively embellished with enamel work and studded with semi-precious stones and includes examples of animal armour such as this 19th Century Elephant armour.

The museum also has a large art collection particularly of Indian miniature paintings. There is a broad range of styles dating from around 1000 AD up to 19th Century including a number of versions of naughty Krishna stealing the clothe of the girls who are swimming. Strangely the only reference to British influence was in the maritime history section.

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Also on Janpath is the Delhi National Archive where the documents include the East India Company treaties and letters concerning the mutiny, including some about the sepoy’s execution that started the troubles. There are also lots of legal petitions and agreements going back to the Mughal period, all in very ornate Muslim script. Also a collection of old hand inscribed copies of the Mahabharata etc. Although well worth the visit the opening times are restricted and it took a lot of “abortive” visits in 2001 before I could finally get in!

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The Railway museum is spread over some 10 acre of land at Chanakyapuri (the diplomatic district) and is unique in that there is no extra charge for foreigners! In addition to the extensive grounds that are rammed full of ageing locomotives and rusting carriages there is an indoor display hall with model exhibits and other rail related memorabilia although most of the displays have clearly seen better days. Amongst the collection is the Fairy Queen which was built in 1855 and is reputedly the oldest running steam locomotive in the world.

One curious item is the Patalia State Monorail that has been restored to running order and runs around a small section of track in the grounds, Built in 1907 it ran until 1927 between Bassi and Sirhind.

Among the other more unusual exhibits is an armoured train and carriages that saw service from the 1880’s though to the end of the First World War. The protection is of two layers of armoured plating sandwiching a thick layer of felt.

There are a number of luxury carriages on show including the “Prince of Wales” carriage that was built in 1875 for the visit the following year to the durbar of the future King Edward VII.

There are many grand early 20th Century locomotives, mainly built in the UK, like the 1909 Vulcan Foundry’s HGC 1598.

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On the outskirts of Delhi at the Palam airfield is the Air Force museum. There are lots of interesting planes from World War II through to the 1970’s conflicts with Pakistan. The collection includes an excellent Spitfire “Supermarine” and Hurricane, but also rather incongruously a Japanese Kamikaze plane (it didn’t say if it had ever been flown – LOL!). There are also a lot of “remains” of shot down Pakistani fighters with detailed descriptions of how they came to be shot down, sadly none of them mention the pilots who presumably came to a rather painful end in each of them.

More on the Indian Air Force museum, Palam:

Near Purana Qila at Praghati Bhawan is the Craft Museum which has both indoor and outdoor displays from across India. Outdoors there are examples of traditional buildings from the different regions of the country and different religious shrines.

There is a large Aiyanar shrine of mainly terracotta figures this being a Tamil Nadu (South Indian) cult of the potter caste.

The Gadaba Hut originates from Orissa and is of a design not unlike that which can still be seen even in the villages of North India today. In addition to the range of building there is a craft market operating most of the time in the museum grounds.

In the museum courtyard there is a massive relic cart that seemed impossible to photograph properly at ground level in the cramped space. So a little trip to a rooftop was necessary to get a decent shot.

Indoors the first gallery on my visits was the Tribal and Rural Craft Gallery with a large collection of Bhutas from Karnataka, tribal bronzes, masks, puppets and carvings from different parts of the country. The Bhutas are an eerie collection of wooden idols and with the lighting kept low for preservation and tribal music playing in the background is a quite strange experience.

One of the halls includes a full-sized traditional Haveli from the Gujarat.

There is also a large Textile Gallery that cover the development of the industry through India and a special section on marriage customs including an example of the decoration of a traditional Brides chamber.

Delhi Craft Museum photo collection:

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Part of the residency development near Rashtrapati Bhawan is the former official residence of the Commander of the British forces at Teen Murti Bhawan that now houses the Nehru Memorial Museum. This became the official residence of the first Indian Prime Jawaharlal Nehruand is dedicated to his memory containing a large photo-library exhibition and other displays related to the early days of independence. Historical note:

Post Gandhi, the Gandhi’s of India are actually Nehru’s.

Next door to the Nehru Memorial Museum is the Nehru Planetarium in a building designed to look like a pile of stones! There are a small number of displays related to the Indian space programme the most interesting piece being a 1980’s Soyuz capsule. More on the Nehru Planetarium:

There is a small Gandhi Museum near the Raj Ghat memorial to him of Gandhi’s personal belongings, sculptures, photos and paintings. There is also a history of his Satyagraha (non-violence) movement and the bloodstained clothes that he was assassinated in. The most striking aspect for me was his clear dislike of modernisation and “luddite” mind set.

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At the opposite end of the India Gate “complex” to Rashtrapati Bhawan is Jaipur House which houses the National Gallery of Modern Art. There are indoor art galleries and a large collection of outdoor sculpture.

More on the National Gallery of Modern Art: