Thursday, November 8, 2018

A visit to Parasnath

The Parasnath hill is the highest in the Parasnath range in Jharkhand and it is known for the Parasnath temple on top of it. Many of us would know that the hill is extremely sacred to the followers of Jainism, for as many as twenty of the twenty four Jain Tirthankaras are said to have attained liberation here, of whom Parasnath was the twenty third. The last of them, Vardhman Mahavir was a contemporary of the Buddha (5th century BC) and is generally known as the founder of  Jainism. This will give you a general idea of the antiquity of the place. Fortunately, the Parasnath range and forest has to a large extent been protected so far. 

            Now that the office has decided to shift me to Delhi, I decided to visit the Parasnath hill and temple one day before starting to gag on the noxious Delhi air and I would have really missed it, as I found out. From afar, the sheer height of the Parasnath hill was quite intimidating (4484 feet) and I started to wonder as to how I could make it to the top and back, since I also had some official duties in the nearby town of Giridih. 

Even from about 20 kms away, the temple at the top is distinctly visible. The road to Shikharji, or Sammed Shikhar, as the hill is known among the devout, starts from a fork in the road to Giridih and it is 14 kms of winding roads from here.

The road ends at Madhuvan, a village largely consisting of Jain monasteries, temples, guest houses and the like. As you can see, the trek to the top is 9.65 kms from here, of which the last 4 kms are nothing but stairs. It takes at least four hours for the able bodied to tackle the hill and the path is strewn with numerous temples and streams. Many are carried by dolis, a chair like contraption carried by four people, or mules. I simply did not have enough time, for it was almost 11 a.m, four hours from Ranchi.

Precisely at that moment, some of these youngsters on motorcycles rode up, offering to carry one to the top. Not quite the top of the hill, the last 500 metres had to be done on foot. After some haggling, I settled for Rs 500/- and mounted the pillion while the fellow in the chequed shirt started the bike.

Almost immediately, I had to hold my breath for the fellow vroomed straight up the ramp and the narrow, winding path meant for walking. Soon, however, he veered off to a dirt track which, I was told, is 16 kms and takes a different approach.

The dirt track had some precarious bends and turns and since the earth beneath the tyres was loose and strewn with pebbles, one could hardly enjoy the climb. As we started ascending, the temperature started to drop noticeably

Soon, we came to a small mountain stream. One could take the opportunity to wash hands and feet, as one should, for the place is considered holy to so many people

The view became spectacular from now on but the temple was still some way away. 

Before long, my rider Hiralal dropped me to a place called Dak bungalow which has got an armed police camp and telecom tower. One has to walk up about 500 metres or so, arriving at a little cluster of fruit stalls and the stairway to the temple 

Having finally come to the top of the hill around noon, decided to look around at the world below and the view was unreal, not to mention the shivering cold for those less accustomed to the mountain air 

These are actually pictures with zoom and edited for clarity. To the naked eye, in the sudden chill, one truly felt rather unworldly, as if suspended between the earth and the heavens. 2600 years ago, it must have been an awesome place for the monks, immersed in their meditation

After one circumambulation, I entered the temple and found people chanting from booklets in front of them. The sanctum contained nothing but the footprints of the seer and one could offer a few sticks of incense and light a lamp 

The first surprise was that I was allowed to take pictures. The second surprise was that there was an inner sanctum below, which enclosed the piece of rock where the seer is supposed to have sat and meditated. 

Just stop to think for a moment. This place is no less holy than the Western Wall in Jerusalem or the contentious birthplace of Rama but there are no guns, no protection regime and no priestly class in evidence. 

I could only tarry a moment, touch the piece of rock and offer silent prayers for peace.  

Friday, August 3, 2018

Monday, February 5, 2018

Handmade Tales

It was my son who informed me of Naya village in the West Midnapore district of West Bengal, a village inhabited by traditional chitrakars, those who have adopted painting narrative scrolls as a way of living for many generations now. These narrative scrolls are called pata chitras and I remembered the Kalighat school of such paintings which used to flourish a hundred years ago or thereabouts in Calcutta. Essentially, folk art. So one fine morning we took the express train to Kharagpur junction and from there a suburban local to Balichak. Buses and trekkers were available to Naya and this is how we found the village - 

As you can see, it appeared to be a painted village! We also learnt that the colours used in painting the narrative scrolls were all vegetable colours sourced locally from leaves, roots, flowers and fruits. 

In the olden days, these people used to roam different places with these scrolls and when invited, exhibited these scrolls with accompanying songs. Kind of a primitive bioscope! Usually, these were about mythological figures and folklore. At some point of time, morality creeped in, with stories of waywardness and consequences, with accompanying panels. Reminds one of Dante's hell ...

The house of Shyamsundar Chitrakar and Rani, his wife came first. He was quite eager to show us his paintings as well as the source of his colours. He also explained that the artwork on T shirts and fabric is done by using synthetic acrylic colours but the colours on the scrolls, paper or fabric, were invariably vegetable colours. And I bought that picture of Ganesha, have had it framed and put up in my home 

Here is Shyamsundar Chitrakar unrolling one narrative scroll and singing along  - 

Next door, Mousumi and her younger sister were busy painting umbrellas and dupattas (stoles & scarves) and I bought some knick knacks from them, a T shirt and some miniature pots. Painted pots

Many of these people have visited countries like Norway, Japan, the UK etc with their wares, supported by NGOs. Two of the artists in the village are National Award winners and we had the good fortune of meeting Anwar Chitrakar, one of them. His mother was very kind to show us some of his works which were truly awesome and I was told that his works are hanging in several museums abroad. But first, the seeds of the latkan tree, which gives a vibrant orange as you can see on my palms

Here is Anwar (rudely woken up from his siesta) and some of his paintings. If I had Rs 6000/- in my pocket, I would have definitely bought one of them and I will, one of these days ..

Anwar's elder brother showed us some entirely hand painted sarees, which must have taken a lot of time and patience! And we were grateful for the black tea with a pinch of lemon

Bahadur Chitrakar has converted his house into an exhibition. He was not at home, but his family members welcomed us to have a look see

I just had to get one of those aluminium kettles, painted with folk motifs, a cousin sister in mind. It appears the stream of visitors to this unique village is increasing, and the West Bengal State government has built a permanent museum in the village itself. Sadly however, the museum is almost always under lock and key.

The children of the village were very friendly and were extremely adept at striking a pose for the camera, as you can see!

I wish we had more of such villages, more of such people devoted to traditional crafts and conscious of the environment around us. Truly, the salt of the earth!