Monday, February 20, 2017

Zafar Mahal and the dargah of Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki

A few weeks ago, my friend goaded me to go out, get some pictures. It was already about noon, so I headed for the Zafar Mahal at Mehrauli, which is not too far away and I could not visit this monument earlier. 

We took the walkway through the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, keeping the mosque of Kamali Jamali and the other buildings to the right and came across Rajon Ki Baoli to the left, one of the few remaining baolis or stepped wells in Delhi. There was also a small mosque on the top right hand side on the western wall

Rajon Ki Baoli 

We also came across some new excavations and conservation efforts being carried out by the ASI, a gallery, an unknown tomb probably dating back to the Lodhi period and gatehouses.

Also noticed a lone sparrowhawk enjoying the sun ...

More tombs and pavilions in ancient graveyards along the way, perhaps of powerful noblemen during the Sultanate period whom nobody remembers these days. The ego of men!

An unknown tomb
Then, another baoli, called Gandhak Baoli or the Sulphurous Well! It appears this was dug by Sultan Iltutmish for use of the Sufi saint Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki. The waters are said to have some sulphur content and curative properties. Since there are five floors to the structure, the water is really deep. We were now bang into the middle of Mehrauli village.
Gandhak Baoli, Mehrauli 
The summer palace of Zafar Shah is under much needed conservation for the interiors are all in ruins. Completely hemmed in from all sides by residences, the place is now used by children to play cricket and some older people for a game of cards.

The Zafar Mahal is the last palace built by the later Mughals and the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar installed the gateway to the building. He also lived in this building during the summer season. It is said that people used to salute him when he appeared on the balconies which was not liked by the East India Company, so they diverted the Mehrauli Badarpur road which used to run in front of the building.

We climbed some stairs to get to the top. Some other stairs end abruptly and some areas are quite perilous so they have a guard in place. So these were the rooms of the last Mughal emperor, before he was caught up with the Mutiny and was exiled to Rangoon by the East India Company

There is also a lovely little marble mosque attached to these premises, the Moti Masjid like that in the Red Fort. Between the Zafar Mahal and the Moti Masjid is a small yard containing the tombs of three later Mughals and alongside, an empty space where Zafar Shah would have liked himself to be buried, but for fate which denied him the two yards of earth in his beloved homeland

The dargah of the venerable sufi saint Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki is next door, actually. While you can enter from the Zafar Mahal side, the main entrance is from the Mehrauli village. That shoe rack to the right is where I left my shoes. Washed my hands. Bought a tray of rose petals to offer to the saint.

Made some small donations for charity, bowed my head to the saint and poured a handful of rose petals on his grave, wondering what he said to the masses that gathered to hear him everyday. Including the Sultan, incognito. 

And there are those who sing qawwalis everyday outside the main enclosure, bless them, for the saint was very fond of qawwali music. He also led an extremely austere life, giving away whatever was offered to him the same day.  

Lovers don't finally meet somewhere,
They're in each other all along.

(Jalaluddin Rumi) 

Sunday, January 15, 2017


She was devastated by the death of her pet parrot, the one with broken wings and no tail at all, that she and her mother had rescued from the patch of green while scores of the parrot family screeched  angrily overhead about three years ago. Back from school, when she had to be told, I had to hold her tightly to stop the shivering and the unbounded flow of tears and to feed her in easy morsels ...

And then, she went on the roof, sitting on the parapet wall. Keeping watch from a safe distance, I could almost see the flight path of her thoughts, remembering those moments with the parrot on her shoulders and pecking at the phone screen, the mirror and then, going to sleep with the parrot at a nibbling distance from her head

Finally, she seemed to be reconciled with her loss. Dreamy eyed. 

My daughter, Krishnakali. Tinni

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Another rambling post

If there be the effulgence of a thousand suns bursting forth all at once in the heavens, even that would hardly approach the splendor of the mighty Lord 

(Bhagavad Gita, 11:12)

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life"

(John 8:12)

Light upon light, light upon light,
upon light is light
This majestic light of divine epiphany
penetrates every darkness.
You are here, you are also there
for you are everywhere
this effulgence.
Oh, what magnificent splendor!

(Sufi song)

Prophets and seers down the ages everywhere have always talked of peace. Love, and service. 

Professing to follow in their footsteps, we have somehow, managed to box ourselves in various categories and denominations in such a way that would have surely failed to pass muster in their eyes, for many wars have been waged and the blood of innocents spilled in their name and nations have been torn asunder. 

Prejudices have been cleverly projected as political tools not only in Asia and the Middle East but even in the US of A, where Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard had to face allegations of not being aligned with the constitutional foundation of the US government merely because of her faith and having been compared with the devil, no less!

Let's kindle the lamp within!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Eastern Mysticism

In this rambling post, I am simply citing some verses from the  Upanishads, dating from somewhere in the middle of the second millennium BC, the Bhagavad Gita and the Tao Te Ching, that wonderful book of verses from ancient China which I recently happened to pick up, dating from somewhere in the seventh century BC, without a single word of commentary of my own. For these verses all have come from truly illumined souls and have been contemplated upon by millions of seekers over the centuries. 

There are 108 Upanishads, and all of them contain verses and discourses, fables and parables on the nature of the Supreme Being or the Ultimate Reality. I have included only a few verses from the Kena Upanishad  and Katha Upanishad because they sound exactly the same as several verses of the Tao Te Ching and this common ground is the very reason for this post. 

Citations from Tao Te Ching are from a translation by Jonathan Star.
Citations from the Kena Upanishad are from a translation by Swami Paramananda
Citations from the Bhagavad Gita are from a translation by Swami Swarupananda

Verse 1, Tao Te Ching

A way that can be walked
is not the Way
A name that can be named
Is not the Name

Tao is both Named and Nameless
As Nameless, it is the origin of all things
As Named, it is the mother of all things

Verse 14, Tao Te Ching

Eyes look, but cannot see it
Ears listen but cannot hear it
Hands grasp but cannot touch it
Beyond the senses lies the great Unity -
invisible, inaudible, intangible

Verse 25, Tao Te Ching

Something formless, complete in itself
There before Heaven and Earth
Tranquil, vast, standing alone, unchanging
It provides for all things yet cannot be exhausted
It is the mother of the universe
I do not know it's name
so I call it "Tao"
Forced to name it further
I call it
"That which is beyond the beyond"
"That to which all things return"

Verse 37, Tao Te Ching

Tao does not act
yet it is the root of all action
Tao does not move
yet it is the source of all creation

Kena Upanishad, First Part 

Verse IV
That which speech does not illumine, but which illumines speech: know that alone to be the Brahman ( the Supreme Being), not this which people worship here.

Verse V
That which cannot be thought by mind, but by which, they say, mind is able to think: know that alone to be the Brahman, not that which people worship here.

Verse VI
That which is not seen by the eye, but by which the eye is able to see: know that alone to be the Brahman, not that which people worship here.

Verse VII
That which cannot be heard by the ear, but by which the ear is able to hear: know that alone to be the Brahman, not that which people worship here. 

Katha Upanishad

Verse 18
“This Supreme Knower, vipashchit, is not born, never comes into being at any time, and so has no death.” 

Verse 23
“Not by speech can He be known; not by the intellect, not even by hearing.” 

Verse 9, Chapter 8, The Bhagavad Gita

The Omniscient, the Ancient,
the Overlord, minuter than an atom,
of form inconceivable,
self luminous like the sun,
beyond the darkness of Maya

Verse 21, Chapter 8, The Bhagavad Gita

What has been called Unmanifested and Imperishable,
has been described as the Goal Supreme.
My highest state, having attained which,
there is no return.

Verse 10 - 11, Chapter 9, The Bhagavad Gita

By reason of My proximity,
Nature produces all this,
the moving and the unmoving,
the world wheels round and round

Unaware of My higher state,
as the great Lord of beings,
fools disregard Me,
dwelling in human form

Verse 16, Chapter 9, The Bhagavad Gita

I am the rite
I the worship,
I the offering,
the fire,
and I the oblation

There are also huge similarities between certain verses of the Bhagavad Gita and the words of Jesus as retold by his disciples in the Holy Bible and some of these have also been commented upon by Paramhansa Yogananda in his book, Autobiography of a Yogi. 

The following passage occurs in the Brihadaranyak Upanishad - 

Om purnam adah, purnam idam,
purnat purnam udachyate;
purnasya purnam adaya
purnam evavasisyate.
Om Santih! Santih! Santih!

That is full, this is also full
From infinity, infinity comes forth
After the coming of the full
from the full
The fullness remains as before
Let there be peace!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Midnight blues

Dusk at Nariman Point five years ago

I don't
I'm not

Even then
I can't


Unbreathe me

if you please

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Rambling in Amritsar

It was actually the better half that voiced the wish, and as the world knows, certain wishes are better be fulfilled or else :)

So one fine morning found us in this city which was founded in the 16th century, and is inextricably linked with the Darbar Sahib or Harmandir Sahib, better known as the Golden Temple. The word Amritsar itself means a pool of Amrit, or divine nectar and the Darbar Sahib is beautifully set into the middle of an artificial pond which is fed by the river Ravi. The Darbar Sahib holds the Guru Granthji and is the holiest of Sikh shrines. And yes, it is indeed a place where your mind would turn inward, becalmed and silent, listening to the tremendously moving hymns being sung from the sanctum sanctorum that does not have anything except the book of verses that is the Guru Granthji. Gently, softly, reminding us of our link to the great unknown and the immense possibilities open to humankind...

The walled inner city is accessed through medieval gates such as this one -

The interesting part is that there are no traffic lights. Chaotic but the city has one of the most congenial atmospheres I have ever seen, there are no clashes, no accidents, and everyone is smiling!
The heritage area inside the walled city is now being done up in red sandstone and I hope this frenzy of activity comes to a close before long

And then, a left turn into a small alleyway which leads to Jallian wala bagh. This was a vacant lot, accessed through the narrow alley and closed on all sides by residential buildings. One day in 1919, people gathered there to protest against a draconian law passed by the British government and met their fate when a certain Reginald Dyer, garrison commander, opened fire on the unarmed. One thousand two hundred and sixty five rounds were fired. More than three hundred people died, some trying to escape by jumping into a well which is now known as the Martyrs' Well. Estimates vary upto 1800 casualties, as reported by a British doctor.

This is what the Butcher of Amritsar said on his death bed  -
So many people who knew the condition of Amritsar say I did right...but so many others say I did wrong. I only want to die and know from my Maker whether I did right or wrong.
The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer by Nigel Collett


The well has now been closed from all sides but not covered up

And the Martyrs' Memorial 

The then Governor of Punjab, Sir Michael O' Dwyer, supported the assault and he was later assassinated on British soil by Sardar Udham Singh, who as a boy, witnessed the massacre. A statue of Sardar Udham Singh has been erected in his memory in front of one of the gates to the walled city.

The Jallianwala bagh also has a small museum, with some of the literature that was proscribed almost a hundred years ago, the urn containing the ashes of Sardar Udham Singh, a photo gallery of the martyrs and the like. After coming out of the alley, it was just a short walk to the Darbar Sahib.

Repairs and renovations were on and these boys were obviously enjoying their work.

The Darbar Sahib or the Golden Temple is situated in the middle of a pond which in turn, is surrounded by a quadrangle with gates on the four sides. The Temple is accessed by a causeway with another gate at the entrance. There is no restriction, no discrimination other than the requirement of covering your head with a scarf, handkerchief or turban and leaving your shoes in safe custody outside. Those red minarets rise from the building that houses the Guru Ka Langar, or the kitchen of the gods. The kitchen serves meals round the clock to all, free of cost and all workers in the Langar as well as the Temple premises serve voluntarily as seva, or penance. The degree of  orderliness and cleanliness, hygiene has to be seen to be believed. To top it all, the meals are hot, simple and delicious, perhaps the best that can be had in the entire city. Regardless of the fact that Amritsar has several eateries that are famous for their cuisine, whether vegetarian or otherwise.

You would not notice even the smallest object floating in the pond for it is removed as soon as it is seen by sevaks. Not a single speck of dust on the marble flooring


 The compound has three ber trees (jujube) that are centuries old and are associated with several saints. As you can see, there are minor shines in memoriam

Approaching the causeway, to join in the queue. Photos are not allowed once you join the queue. One of the most orderly queues I have been into, everyone listening to the devotionals in silence, some of them humming along. 

Those volunteers are washing the gold plates of the Temple with nothing other than water. The gold plates were installed by the Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the greatest ruler of Punjab. The other building behind the gate of the causeway, the one with the golden dome, is the Akal Takht, the seat of temporal authority for the Sikhs.

After coming out of the Temple and collecting our shoes, we decided to explore the old city before it went dark. This was again an experience, the narrow streets and alleyways of Katra Ahluwalia and Katra Jaimal Singh that house several bazaars. Each locality had a speciality, some were full of shops selling brass and steel pots and pans, some had jewellery shops, most of them had shops selling woollens and cotton garments.

We rounded off the day with some shopping for the prodigal son and the dutiful daughter :) Decided to explore the Katras the next day, before going on to see the spectacle that unfolds everyday at the Wagah border.
The Katras or narrow markets in the walled city had their own gates and defences. While the lower floors have shops, the upper floors have residences. The jharokhas, or overhanging balconies were made of wood and some of the splendour of the 18th and 19th centuries can be imagined in these structures that remind one of the walled city in Delhi

We decided to break for lunch when we came to Kesar da dhaba, the most famous eatery in the walled city known for outstanding quality. Nothing fancy mind you, just plain and simple vegetarian fare consisting of flat bread smeared in clarified butter, a most delectable dal and a bowl of mixed vegetable curry cooked in butter. A glass of lassi and firni, a sweet dish served in earthenware.

The hired car was waiting and we had to move quickly to be able to see the "beating the retreat" spectacle at the border after a quick visit to Ram Tirath, known as the birthplace of the twins Lava and Kush, children of Lord Ram. But that would be another story :)