Ladakh-The land where Indus flows

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Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast
.

Amir Khusrau (13th century) wrote this farsi couplet, though for Kashmir, is equally appropriate for Ladakh, the heaven on earth.

The Land of Monasteries

A visit to Ladakh was the surfacing of a dream long hidden under the piles of many unfulfilled desire. But it became real; the rugged and serene captivating beauty of Ladakh enchanted the soul and left the craving for more alive. Every turn, every corner of this paradise has its own tale to tell; some of hardship, combating with the extreme climate, poverty, and some filled with patriotism, martyrdom and pride for being the watchmen of the nation. Historically proven the geographical location of this ethereally beautiful strip of land has always been hunted by the encroachers. The paradise is never left at peace.

The mountain, the green and the stream

The summer of 2011, almost a decade back, me and my family decided to visit Leh-Ladakh and Kashmir. After completing a trek in Gongotri -Gomukh-Topobon my husband met us, me and my daughter, in Delhi. We took a early morning flight from Delhi and by 7 am we set our foot in this scenic city flanked by the Himalayas and the Karakoram range. The plane flew past the majestic Karakoram range and we were awestruck by the grandness of the range. The morning flight always makes me feel dozy and this time it was no exception; I was jerked from my sleep by my husband and once awaken I looked out of the window and the majestic range with all its regal grandeur was greeting us . I was spell bound and my obeisance , I felt was accepted. The moment has been imprinted in my mind forever.

We landed at the Late Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, a small airport, with few flights. The sky was overcast and the chill in the air in mid summer was obvious: The city wrapped in nebulosity was yet to wake up. The ride from the airport to our scheduled stay was only 20 minutes drive. We were strictly advised to be inside the room for 24 hours to get acclimatised to which we adhered to and idled the day. The time spent well listening to the trekker of our home, sharing stories of his experiences in the hilly terrains and forests in the foothills of Himalayas ; from Gangotri to Terai his travel and trekking stories were absorbing and kept us on the edge.

Leh with it’s beautiful landscape have so much to offer which can never be covered in a week, lest a day. The monasteries, the prayer wheels, the ancient palace, Indus, the confluence left a lasting imprint on our mind. After a decade while putting in my travel journal all the memories came flooding in, all so vivid and clear.

Our journey of exploring Ladakh began with unfurling the mystery hidden in every nook and corner of Leh, the capital city. After breakfast we set off to get to know this city which was once a bustling trade centre and an important stopover of the trade routes between India China and Tibet for centuries. The early morning brume gradually dispersed and the journey through the barren rustic roads with blue clear sky above and the freshness of pure mountain breeze was mesmerising . Our first destination was almost an hour drive from Leh, situated in the western banks of Indus, the Hemis monastery.

The Rusticity
Hemis

The main entrance to the monastery is through a large gate reached after climbing few stone stairs. One can feel the placid solemness of the place. It has its own aura. The colourful prayer flags fluttering in the wind calms the mind. The walls are decorated with paintings of religious figures and the architecture of the monastery is Tibetan. The walls of the main building are white and this 17th century monastery has two assembly halls, a rich library, a prayer hall and the golden statue of Saktamuni and also the statue of Guru Padmassmbhaba. Numerous mystical and mysterious stories are heard of this monastery. A Crimean Jewish traveller Nicholas Notovitch wrote a book in 1894 claiming that Jesus had spent some of the unknown years in the Hemis monastery. The researchers are yet to come to an consensus.

Hemis Gompa
Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava

Our next stop was the largest monastery in Ladakh with a rich history, the Thiksey Gompa It is often called mini Potala because of its structural resemblance to the Potala palace in Tibet. The gompa was known in the earlier times as Yellow Temple as its founders belonged to the yellow hat sect or Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. They followed the teachings of the great reformer Tsonkhapa.

Thiksey Gompa

This 15th century structure was originally made of mud, brick, wooden beams overlooking Indus and gives the feeling of a fortress with its strategically high altitude location and the peripheral walls. The twelve storeyed gompa complex has ten temples, an assembly hall, a nunnery and also a house to many lamas. The magnificent structure is painted in mustard yellow , red and white.

The stairway to the assembly hall
The residential building

The gompa is a treasure house of Buddhism. It is the house of important manuscripts; rare statues stupas, thangkas, swords are found in the monastery. The temple of Tara and the 40 feet Maitreye statue of Future Buddha in the Maitreyee Temple is astounding. The statue was installed in 1970 to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama in the gompa. According to legend the Maitreye is at present residing in the Tushita heaven waiting to attain Buddhahood and therefore is addressed as Maitreye Bodhisattava. He will descend to our world in the future. The two storeyed high statue dons a celestial crown and not having a shaven head.

Maitreye Buddha

Leh is blessed with Monasteries, palaces and gompas and their brilliant architectural designs, rich history, staid atmosphere are great attractions for tourists from all over the world.

A ruined monastery in Leh
Namgyal Tsemo Monastery

After Hemis, and Thiksey gompas we visited the Shey palace and monastery . The magnificent 39 ft statue of Sakyamuni Buddha covered the three floors of the monastery. The top storey’s wall is decorated with paintings and in the lower storey there is a library containing old Buddhist manuscripts. Butter lamps are lit in the shrine and offerings of grain, foods are made. The gompa is situated in a hillock in Shey, which is only 15km from Leh. It was once the capital of the upper Ladakh region.

Stupa at Shey Palace
Balcony of Shey Palace
Sakyamuni Buddha
White Chortens in the Shey Palace

The nine storey Leh palace was on our ‘must visit’ itinerary. It was once the abode of the royal family who in 19th century moved to the Stok Palace. An almost 360 degree view of the Leh can be seen from the palace roof. The dilapidated condition of the palace can be an eye sore though the museum has a rich collection of paintings , ancient thankas, ornaments, Jwellery, ceremonial robes and dresses. The inner and outer walls of the palace is adorned with medieval murals. The corridors, the entrances are fascinating. This ruinous monument of medieval time is grand in its own regal way and is an important centre of Buddhist religion.

Leh Palace
Sculpture on the entrance of the Leh Palace
View of the Leh City from the Leh Palace

The river Indus always felt like an enigma, a river flowed from ancient time, once gave rise to one of the oldest civilisation of the world, the Indus Valley civilisation. We decided to spend a quiet afternoon sun on the riverside. It was a thrilling experience to watch Indus flowing carrying tales of woes and wars, misery and happiness; the bliss and curse of civilisation hidden deep in its current as a subterranean river.

Indus

Our day ended with a visit to Shanti Stupa. The magnificent white dome Buddhist shrine was built by Japanese and Ladakhi Buddhists. It emanates a feeling of calm and peace. The two storeyed stupa features the dharmachakra and the birth and mahaparinirvana of Buddha and depicts the life and philosophy of the great teacher. It was built in the 1980s and inaugurated in 1993 by Dalai Lama to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism and also to promote world peace and prosperity. The stupa contains the relic of Buddha. Apart from its religious importance it is a tourist attraction spot as from the upper storey a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape can be seen. Viewing the setting of the sun in the western horizon from there is an amazing experience.

Shanti Stupa

The day ended with a sense of joy and tranquility. The true essence of Ladakh was gradually unfurling before us. We awaited the next day as it promised to be another milestone in our journey- to be on top of the highest motorable road- the Khardungla pass.

We started early next day to avoid the mid morning traffic. Our destination was the land of double humped camel, the cold desert of Ladakh- the Nubra valley. Though the Ladakhi meaning of Nubra is land of flowers, our rendezvous was with a barren desert land whose rustic chill infatuated us. The valley is the meeting point of two rivers – Shyok and Nubra. While the Shyok is a tributary of Indus, Nubra river is a part of the Siachen river. The Siachen glacier lies to the north of the valley while in the north west lies the Karakoram pass. The valley separates the Ladakh and Karakoram range. To reach the valley we had to cross Khardungla pass, the highest motorable road. The pass is the gateway to the Nubra-Shyok valley and is strategically important as it carries supply to the Siachen Glacier. The almost 40km drive from Leh was arduous as road repair and construction was going on. The ride through the beautiful landscape surrounded by white mountains was breathtakingly beautiful and left us spellbound. The pass whose elevation is more than 18000 ft can cause discomfort to some because of the high altitude. We spent some time there, had tea, clicked some moments and created a memory to stay for the life time.

Highest cafeteria and souvenir shop @Khardungla

The downward journey from Khardungla to the valley was through the rocky mountain roads, barren fields and occasional huts alongside the road. We also visited a monastery, the Samstanling Gompa in the Sumur village on our way to the Nubra valley. This century old monastery is majestically situated amidst picturesque surroundings and is adorned in traditional red, golden and white hues.

Samstanling Gompa
Nubra Valley
The sand dune at Nubra
The two humped camel

Before sunset we reached Hunder, the place we were to spend the night. The sand dunes was a few metres walk from our guest house. The two humped Bactrian camel and riding on its back was the major attraction in that somewhat barren remote village. The homely atmosphere and warmth of our host and his family made our stay quite memorable. In dinner we were served local cuisine which though simple was very fresh and refreshing. Next morning in breakfast we had Ladakhi bread, khambir with honey jam and butter. It still is one of my favourite dish made from fermented wheat to be accompanied with homemade honey. The size of a roti was huge and enough to keep us full till evening. On our way back to Leh from Hunder we visited the 108 ft Buddha Maitreye or Jampa situated below the Dikshit monastery. The statue of Buddha on a hilltop, a sacred site for the Buddhists, is primarily of red and gold colour which highlights its magnificence and face the Shyok river. The folding hands of Jampa facing Pakistan give the hope of peace not only in the valley but all over the world. The journey back to Leh was long through the picturesque valley drained by the two most important rivers, mountain roads and clear blue sky felt heaven like .

Dikshit Monastery
Buddha Maitreye
Shyok River

Pangon Tso , another beauty of Ladakh was our next destination. The 134 km long but somewhat narrow lake is situated at an elevation of almost 14000ft. It falls within the territory of both India and China. The blue turquoise colour of the lake dazzles in a bright sunny day. It is one of the most beautiful lake in the world and is sacred to the local people. We reached around 2 o’clock after a almost six hour drive. The chilly windy weather, overcast sky dampened our spirit, but only for a while. By evening after a quick splash of shower the haze was cleared and the beauty of the lake and the surrounding landscape was enthralling. Ladakh, and particularly Pangong Tso should top the list of every wayfarer. The rough road, the rubble infested path, the arduous journey felt puny once the lake was viewed. The water body is the breeding ground of different migratory birds. We were excited to see storks, gulls and many more unknown avian species. We lodged in a guest house near the lake for the night. The temperature dipped after sunset and the freezing cold made us stay indoor. A bright sunny blue sky greeted us the next morning. We roamed around the lake, had homemade fresh meal and bade farewell to this long, narrow enchanted lake. I often wonder how can such a beautiful nature’s gift turns into a gory battle ground. But unfortunately it is hard reality. The lake is in a disputed area and the line of control between India and China passes through it. Since 1962 on and off skirmishes between two country’s army occur. In recent past, in May 2020 the Indian and Chinese troops fought in which casualty from both sides happened. We hope the presence of Maitreye Buddha will retrace the path to peace and non violence.

On the way to Pangong Tso
Pangong
The migratory birds
The greenery on the way back to Leh
The wetland

The last lap of our journey was the road trip from Leh to Srinagar via Kargil and Dras. We hired a big car and took National Highway 1 for Srinagar quite early morning. We decided beforehand to reach Kargil before dusk and rest the night there. On our way we visited Gurudwara Shri Pathhar Sahib, revered by Sikhs Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists. The gurdwara symbolises the syncretic philosophy of both Sikhism and Buddhism. The 16th century Bhakti stain Guru Nanak is revered by the Tibetan Buddhist and is considered saint by them. Hi is known as Guru Gompka Maharaj. In the peaceful surrounding we prayed; after having kraha prasad, bundi Prasad and tea once again we hit the road. Our next stop was the Magnetic Hill where we stopped for a while, got down from the car. The driver asked us to watch the car after he shut off the engine; the car was moving upward side of the sloping road. The magnetic affect of a hill can be seen nowhere in India other than here in Ladakh.

Shri Pathhar Sahib
Magnetic point

After leaving the hill within a few kilometres ahead we came across the confluence of Zanskar and Indus. Both the rivers meet in the Nimmu valley and is a landmark spot for Ladakh and magical for the photographers. The colour of Zanskar river is blue while that of Indus is a shade of green. The difference in the colour make the confluence fascinating. After clicking photos to the hearts content we once again resumed our journey. Colourful Chorten, pagodas are found throughout the path upto Buddhist Ladakh. On the way we took a detour and visited one of the important monastery, the Alchi Gompa. The wall paintings of the monastery depicted the artistic and spiritual teaching of Buddhism. The monastery is structured like a complex and is located in the south bank of Indus.

The confluence
Chortens
The mustard field.. on the way from Leh to Kargil
Prayer wheels at Alchi monastery
Lamayaru Monastery

The entire path from Leh to Kargil is beautiful. The rustic beauty of the land encapsulated our senses. We came across the Moonland region which got its name from its resemblance (!)with the surface of moon is a natural wonder. The region is in the Lamayaru region.

Moonland region

The national highway 1 was often rendered with potholes, rubbles and slowed the speed, but the scenic beauty of Ladakh compensated all the sufferings. The more we were heading towards Kargil the rusticity increased; not only geographically but also the facial features, attire of people, languages were changing. We were entering the western part of Ladakh, bordering Pakistan and the Mongolian feature of people were being replaced by more sharp and rugged features. The number of lamas in the streets as well Buddhist chortens and pagodas were diminishing. The sharp difference between the Eastern and western Ladakh could be perceived well; while the former shares its boundary with Tibet the latter with Pakistan and these geographical location left a lasting imprint in the people’s habit, garb, religious practices and naturally in their culture. The Indo-aryan features become prominent in the region approaching Kargil. After almost eight hours journey we entered Kargil and booked a hotel room for the night.

Alarm was set at 3AM in the morning as our driver warned us if we don’t leave early before the military convoys we will be stuck on the traffic and cannot reach Srinagar before evening. We left before dawn cracked and entered Dras with sun rising in the eastern horizon. We visited the Dras war memorial honouring the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the 1999 Kargil war. Few soldiers were seen some of whom who were cleaning the steps of the memorial at such an early hour which showed the honour and reverence for their martyred colleagues. We paid our respect, visited the war museum, and spend some very emotional moments there. The one hour we spent at Dras memorial was the most memorable one in our trip and I have never or will ever forget it.

Dras War memorial

The rest of our journey to Srinagar was fascinating. The snow clad mountains, the lush green-lands, grazing horses, migration of the nomad clans, occasional streams and waterfall have once more fascinated us.

Dras
The snow lad mountains and the green
Grazing
The lush green field
The flock
The shepherd

We crossed Joji la and continued our journey through Sonmarg to Srinagar. I strongly believe nothing can be more beautiful than the path from Leh to Srinagar we travelled. I looked back with a heavy heart. The parting was sad but I made a promise that to be back at least once more to the land of eternal and divine beauty, the heaven on earth.

Photography courtesy: Apangsu Bhowmick

Jampui Hills

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Tripura’s highest point is Jampui hill, bordering Mizoram in the east and populated mostly by Mizo community. The orange orchards of this hill is famous and boost the economy and almost every family have their own plantation, for domestic as well as for commercial consumption. The state’s economy gets a lift also from betel-nut, cultivated in this area and quite a great amount go for domestic consumption. In certain portions of the hill, people practice jhum cultivation and the organic produce are quite in demand. The history of settlers in Jampui are the history of migration of various Mizo tribes from neighbouring Mizoram since 17th century. It is their homeland. The locals speak Mizo, English and Bengali.

One fine morning we started for Jampui in a Bolero. My brother-in-law and his family happily agreed to join us. It is a half day ride from Agartala to Jampui, in North Tripura.The day was warm, and we, in a picnic mood, decided beforehand that the path to destination should be enjoyed and not hurried. We breakfasted on our way, had traditional Tripuri lunch of rice, dal, curry and their delicacy, shutki, dried fish prepared in rich spices and chillies. We passed through Dharmanagar and before dusk started uphill. The weather started changing. The dip in the temperature was not much from the plain land, but was enough to grab our jackets and shawls. Watching sunset, the changing colour of the twilight, from the hill top was beautiful.

We stayed at Eden Tourist Lodge, in Vanghmun village, a very decent place overlooking the Valley. Next morning the view of sunrise from the roof top was amazing and so was the hazy surrounding villages through the early morning mist.

The lush green forest surrounding the hill is perfect to relax. The tranquil silence plays soothing music to ones mind.

We felt delighted to visit this orange orchard. The Tripura Mizoram border and the vast forest is viewed from the Betlingshib Watch tower. The tower itself is not either easy to reach or a good sight to look at but the view from its tower is sure to create a spell. The rustic roads lined with Mizo tribal huts with enchanting green forest in the slope of the hill and occasional sound of church bell felt wonderful.

Jampui gave us a feel of hilly tribal life in Tripura. The Mizo community leads a predominantly peaceful life. In the early 1960s orange plantation as for self consumption started; but later it attracted the market and gave a boost to market economy. Later on ginger coffee and betel nut plantation helped in the growth of economy in this region.

Tripura is a beautiful place and in every nook and corner has a mystery waiting to be unravelled; her rich ethnic culture, diverse climatic regions, an enriched historical background,yet to be explored extensively, must top the bucket list of the enthusiast travellers. I end today with the promise to revisit this peaceful serene hilly terrains of Tripura, the peeth of Tripura Sundari.

Gajan-Charak

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Festival of Penance & Pray: Celebration in Nadiha, Durgapur.

Nadiha, a growing village in West Bengal falls in the Rarh area in Bardhaman district; its proximity to India’s once ‘Ruhr region’, Durgapur, the industrial town, boosted its economy. The young generation got employment, ancillary businesses grew and the ‘township’ developed a cosmopolitan culture. The surrounding villages, Nadiha, Birbhanpur, Sogorbhanga, Anandapur got their share of urban taste. But the true essence of indigeneity is found in its festivals, in the rituals. Nadiha’s Durga Puja dates back to some few hundred years; but the most famous festival the village boast of is the GajanCharak.

The ancient pipal tree

Gajan is a Hindu festival and part of Shakta and Shaiva culture where Shiva or Dharmaraj (the lord of justice) are worshipped. This folk festival is celebrated in the eastern part of India, in West Bengal, particularly in the Rarh region, in the districts of Bardhaman, Birbhum, Bankura, Medinipur. Each district, each locality have their distinct way of celebration. Participants are mainly from the marginal community and are called sanyasis or bhaktas and be from any gender. Shiva’s Gajan is the celebration of the lord’s marriage to his consort, Durga. In Puranic tradition there is a clear distinction between the Brahmanical Shiva-Shakti and the folk deities. The Brahman priests, tend to stay away from performing the rituals of the latter. The marginalised society embrace the Shiva as their own and he becomes their protector. A different myth is constructed for such divine powers. The word Gajan actually means garjan, roar that the sanyasis emit during the festival. Another theory is that as it is the festival of the people(jan) of the village (gram or ga) it’s is called gajan. Whatever may be the theory, the festival is chiefly the celebration of people belonging to all sections and the ritual of priesthood conferred on the low caste is to mark the concept of no distinction in the brotherhood of Shiva devotees. The bhaktas endorse the role of the priest, the chief devotees and the upholders of the tradition. The festival starts in the last week of Chaitra, the last month of the Bengali year. and is celebrated with pomp and splendour.

My ancestral home is in Nadiha and we, the Mukherjees, with many ramifications from many generations, are quite a number here. In my childhood I was bemused to meet so many with whom we happened to share the same gene, the same root. They were our agnates, some nearest and some distant. In fact our family tree seemed to be a twisted Methuselah. It felt weird as most of them I hardly knew or I remember now. But my parents did. The closeness, the bond till date is strong because of many reasons, of which one is the the festivals we enjoyed together. We never ever missed neither the Durga pujo nor the Gajan mela, the famous in this region of west Bardhaman. I have come across many articles, write ups, blogs on this particular folk festival but no where did I find the name of Nadiha or the worship of Bhubaneswar Shiva. So I take up the privilege of jotting down the celebration of this famous festival in my village as I remember from my childhood days, and my cousins, who are stuck to the charm of our ancestral place and refused to tear away from their roots, have helped me immensely in rekindling those memories. I dedicate this write up to them whose ubiquitous presence in my life have enriched me.

The calm Damodar

In Nadiha, Shiv-Gajan is observed. The puja takes place in the Bhubhaneswar Mandir, the temple of Shiva. The village along with this temple has two Durga Mandir. In addition there are few other Shiva temples, all single-shed shrines.The main Shiv Mandir, the Bhubaneswar Dalan, as is locally called, is small and rectangular shaped and simply decorated. It has one square hall, (sabhamandapa), from which the dalan word evolved, an inner sanctum (gorbhogriho) with a linga; it is a smooth cylindrical stone, the representation of the aniconic image.The sanctum is square in shape with no window. The temple is surrounded by an open circumambulatory path, (pradakshinapatha). The Shiva Linga, worshipped in Nadiha is considered as swayambhu, self born. An interesting story revolves behind the temple.

The inner sanctum-gorbhogriho

As legend says that the temple was ordained by the Lord himself. While clearing the forest land a ryot’ hit a stone with red stains, and considered it to be of divine being. The stone resembled a linga, the representing symbol of Shiva. Another legend is that the king of Bardhaman, was asked in his dream by Mahadev to built a temple in the land where he is lying concealed. Later the linga was excavated from the present location and the shrine was established. The Maharajadhiraj appointed a priest, granted lands for the maintenance of the temple and the priest and his assistants. Regular worship of Shiva began. Legends say that a snake is the protector of the sanctum, and during festival time it disappears but later returns to drink the milk poured on the idol. The myth is a strong belief among locals and they never try to look out for the snake, or even if someone see one, it is left alone. Bhubaneswar is widely accepted as the lord (Ishwar) of the world (bhuban). His shrine is a pilgrimage site and devotees come from distant places during Gajan and Charak.

Bhubaneswar Dalan

The mela or fair is a part of the festival, the festival of penance and pray. Noboborsho, the Bengali new year marks the completion of this three day festival of Gajan and Charak. The spring, the summery heat and often a sudden spell of shower followed by seasonal storm, the kaalboisakhi, is most common during this time. Preparation is essential for the festival. Persons celebrate the festival, the Gajan sanyasis have to sanctify them from a week before.They shave their beards, moustache, cut their nails, wear the sacred thread and eat only vegetarian meals. The morning they fast and in the evening they have only fruits.They live in austerity for a month.The devotees, the bhaktas, dress up as Shiva, Parvati, Kali, Krishna and go to houses and get food. Some even dress as tiger and they are called bohurupee, polymorphic.They sing Gajan songs, rhyming Shiber Gajon, bhakta nachon (Shiva’s Gajan and the bhaktas dance).The bhaktas, who perform the puja, fall in two categories, Patbhakta and Rajbhakta. The former, is the main devotee and enjoy the prime position and the Rajbhaktas help him in the puja. After taking a dip in Kamla Pukur, the pond adjacent to the temple, the Patbhakta immerse the ritual pot (ghot) and fill it with water from the same pond, and that water is used for the puja. He is also responsible for dispersing the sacred thread and the pot on the last day of the festival. Two days before Gajan, the Patbhakta carries baneshwar ( a wooden plank studded with iron implements, of different shapes and sizes) on his head and goes walking to the neighbouring villages. After circumambulating the temple with baneshwar, the Patbhakta enters the shrine and offers puja. The first two days baneshwar visit the neighbouring villages and the third day the Patbhakta performs the baneshwar puja in Nadiha. Baneswar is the constant companion of the bhaktas and a major element of Gajan. Another painful (for the spectators) ritual followed by the bhaktas are dhanuk seba: two tree trunks are selected side by side between which a wooden platform is created and the bhakta’s legs are tied in a noose and are hung upside down. Underneath fire is lit and they swing, completely oblivious to the heat.

Baneshwar

On 13th April, generally every year, two days before the Bengali new year, Gajan is celebrated-and in the same day Neel Puja is performed. Both pujas are offered in the name of Shiva. The puja begins in the morning and continue till evening. The entire village takes part, the married women pour milk over the linga. The adults of the village, irrespective of gender, fast until puja is over. People stand in que, waiting patiently, for their turn to come. Fruits, flower, trifoliate or the leaf of marmelos are offered to the God and those who fast pour milk and Ganga Jol (water of Ganges) on the Shiva Linga. Many devotees as a gesture of devotion or after the fulfilment of manat (wish) to God, circumambulate the temple rolling (গোর দেওয়া) themselves in the ground. Another way is prostration (দন্ডি কাটা). The devotee will move in prostration the entire road – from a certain point till the temple- as promised to god before making a wish before him. Amidst the sounds of drumbeats and gong the worship continued for the entire day, from dawn to dusk. In the evening when the flower offered to the Lord, slips down from the linga, (probably because of the vibration caused by the roaring sound of drum beats), it is considered auspicious and the priest takes Baneshwar along with the flower for bath to the river Damodar, near the barrage. The devotees after drinking water, brought from the adjacent pond, Kamala, break their daylong fast.The custom continues for generations.

In the Gajan, epic and myth are present in fragmentations. But their significance cannot be overlooked. The saying goes that the rituals followed in Shiva’s Gajan were originally performed by the deities themselves. According to one myth once a asura, a demon, through religious austerity, worship, self mortification pleased Shiva, who conferred son-hood on him and granted him the boon of the right to rule heaven and earth. The gods and goddesses were apprehensive of the consequences which was justified. The asur in his smugness humiliated the deities who waged war against him; but it was not easy to overpower the demon. Gods of heaven in their last bid of effort tried to break Shiva’s meditation by performing pujas, laying in front of the lord, rolling around him; they even tortured themselves by laying on thorn bushes, pierced their tongues and walked on fire. Their pray and penance risen Shiva from his meditation and he found the wounds inflicted by the deities on themselves appeared on his own body. Shiva defeated the demon and ended the distress of the divine beings. In the Gajan the bhaktas actually play the role of Shiva’s army. The mythical theme is followed as an allusion. The village strictly follow the rites and rituals without hardly delving into the significance of them. The demon is the the Asura Baña or Banasura, ancestor of Hiranyakasipu and Prahlad, the latter was a great devotee of Vishnu. Banasura or the Demon of Arrows is a Puranik character and Shiva Gajan, though being a folk festival follow this tradition. Gajan is a local religious cult where the lord belongs to the common marginal people, rather than to the high class Brahmanical priesthood. The Gajan bhaktas are referred to as “sons of Shiva” to honour Bana’s attainment of son hood of the Lord and the roar he emitted during his war against the deities might be behind the etymology of the name Gajan.

An important feature of Neel Pujo.. circumambulating the temple rolling in the ground

Aftermath of the puja, another major performance take place in the midnight. It happens not in the premise of the temple but a nearby field. Many stalls are set up, where one can buy bangles, earrings, purse, pieces made of terracotta, flute, ektara (one stringed musical instrument) etc. Most of the artefacts are not very expensive, and are sold by the artisans themselves. Midnight snacks, fritters, jalebis, and tea are the major attractions. Huge number of people come to see the perforation of rods, arrows and carrying earthen pots of fire in the head. Banfoda, piercing of arrows in tongue or shoulders by the bhaktas are the major ritual in this midnight festival.

The midnight feast
Touching feet… habits are hard to die
Transcendence

The Rajbhaktas consider themselves privileged as they initiate the ritual of piercing and their Ban or arrow or the rod they pierce is called Shaktishel. There are different types of piercing arrows, like Jib ban, bai ban, dhekhi ban etc. It is a wonder that not a single drop of blood ooze out of the wounds. Ghee, turmeric are used to prepare the flesh and the rod or the iron implements for piercing; this helps in sterilisation as well as no blood loss. The same elements are rubbed over the hole when the arrows, ban, are taken out of the flesh to stop the bleeding. A group of women, from the nearby areas’ tribal communities take part in a most dangerous ritual. These devotees of Shiva, called sanyasini march in procession towards the temple carrying fire pots in their head. The flames, if died down, are rekindled by pouring oil, dry leaves, coal etc. The fire cannot be doused till it reaches the temple. These women are revered and their march to the temple is followed by all devotees. Their path is steered clear to avoid any danger of them falling down with the pots of fire. After reaching the temple the sanyasinis are ushered in the temple where they offer prayers and throw away the pots. We follow the procession and after a long day of celebration and festivities decide to be back home in the wee hours of morning.

Fire March
The flame must go on

Charak is the final celebration of the festival. It is equally important and involves the rites of hook-swinging. Charak is the name of a tree and the trunk of the tree, submerged in the pond, are brought out by the principal sanyasi, the Patbhakta, with the help of other bhaktas. The long trunk with no branch or stem is brought to the Charaktala, and is placed on the ground perpendicularly with the help of bamboos.

The tree trunk –Charak
Charak tala

The field where the mela is organised, the Charaktala, in the village is adjacent to the cremation ground. In the evening people start flocking there and the Charak sanyasi begin the performance.The Rajbhakta is taken to the Charaktala, walking backwards.The priest, the Rajbhaktas and the the other devotees, in this order get the chance to fly in a circular motion by tying one end of the rope to the Charak tree and the other end to the hook.The bhakta sanyasis wear garlands and smear their foreheads with vermillion. It is a joyous celebration for them. None of their eyes show fear or anger; they shone belief, curiosity and love for the god. They are accustomed with these customs and for generations are are performed by their forefathers. While performing the rituals a sense of pride and privilege bestow upon them and the divine power overpower their senses. In our childhood days the priest of our village, whom we called Balai Dadu, was the first to fly. After his demise his son became the flag bearer. He, and later other bhaktas, pierce a hook in their back and hang themselves on the Charak tree. Experienced with years of piercing, no blood comes out from the holes. Some bhaktas fly for a while and others one or two rounds. There are no fixed times or stipulated number of circle one has to take. The performances continues for three to four hours. The village gets lots of visitors from distant areas as well from neighbouring districts.

The hook and the bhakta
Merrily going round

Next day is Naboborsho, Bengali new year. The day marks the end of a week-long festival of folk culture. The Gajan Charak sanyasis days of austerities are over. They and the banfod sanyasis or devotees though tired, feel satiated. After a week long frugal eating the village invite them to a sumptuous meal of fish and rice. It is the day we all wear new clothes, greet each other, exchange good wishes and hope for a new bright year of happiness, free of pain and distress. The bhaktas wait for another year to worship their debta, Shib thakur, with utmost reverence and seek his blessings and forgiveness through inflicting pain on themselves. However brutal it sounds but the age old tradition of pray and penance goes on and the connection between the people’s God and the Brahmanical god is established. Somewhere, the folk culture and folk religion gets the upper hand; the marginal community get their share of worshipping from the same platform and the society breaks free, though temporarily, from the shackles of casteism.

Photo courtesy: Apangsu Bhowmick & Anupam Mukherjee

Silence

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The midnight clock struck one. Sleep was nowhere to be found. The night still and silent has its own sound. One can hear continuously to cricket, the occasional flapping of the pigeon lofted in the bay window or the shrill call of the flying fox. The sound of drops of water in the stark midnight breaks the silence of solitude. The siren of the ambulance through empty night streets pierce the ears and the resonance breaks the silence of peace. I was wondering, dead in night, insomniac, how sounds can affect people in different positions. The bursting of crackers in the name of celebration deafen the silence of the vulnerable. The roaring sound of aeroplane flying over the head break the chain of thoughts. The silent floating clouds, a poet’s muse, condense into a solid mass and disperse settled lives in the ground. The roar, the splutter create havoc, tranquility is lost amidst unwanted sonic waves. The comfort in privileged silence is gone. Poor man’s silence is bought. But people, whom sounds bring hope along with despondency, have altogether different stories to tell.

The sound of water drops is music to those who walk miles to “fetch a pale of water”. When every drop counts, silence of solitude is a luxury. The siren of the ambulance brings comfort to the keens whose dearest is wheezing; it is a rescue squad for them. Food and shelter are insured if crackers are sold handsomely in times of jamborees. A good monsoon assure the farmers of good harvest; in absence of rain cloud, the god is worshipped.
Allah megh de pani de, chaaya de re turama megh de
shyama megh de
allaah megh de, pani de, chaaya de re tu
rama megh de
. The sound of the fighter planes and bombing in war time assure safety and security, while the family of the fighter apprehensively awaits the news of his being alive. It might bring the the warrior back home, in person or in coffin. Silence of guns and canons are wished while sending off. The martyrs are honoured with a moment of silence; the gun salute drown the overwhelming grief of the bereaved.

Human nature is dichotomous while nature is full of mysteries. She is equally revered and feared. Her vexatious wrath and fury, her flora and fauna, balance the human sanity. The forest boast of abundance of wildlife and the ocean maintains the climate of the earth. The majestic silence of a mountain or the sound of the waves crushing on the shores, the quietness of the forest dispersed by the chirping of cricket and occasional howl of the predator are equally frightening to a lone wanderer. In the blue planet every movement is measured, accounted for and cross-checked. Any deviation, and placidity, tranquility, calm is dispersed.

Rudali, the professional weepers, and their mourning howl breaks the silence of sorrow. When the social status prevents family members to express the grief , the service of Rudali is required. The pain of loss is similar everywhere , but finds different ways of expression-either silent drops of tears or crying the heart away. Here again with social position silence and noise shift centres. Silence is no longer comforting.

The homecoming of Ma Durga is marked with Mahalaya, the beginning of Devi paksha and the end of Pitri paksha, performing sradh of forefathers. The day began by listening to the holy verses and songs transmitted through radio before the breaking of dawn. The silent autumn early morning air is filled with enchanting voices reciting slokas and singing. With sunrise festive mood set in and sound of drums set the tenor and tone of the Bengali life for a week.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace. The birth of Jesus is celebrated all over the world. After the midnight mass on the eve of Christmas the celebration, enjoyment, cheerful, colourful gathering keep all pains and sorrows away. The carols and the hymns reassure peace and tranquility.

The festivals of Hindus, Christians, Sikh, Muslim and all religions are marked with celebration, not in silence but amidst sounds- sounds of joy, of drums, of bursting crackers, music, dance, chanting. Silence in time of celebration is for the loners and not welcome or comforting. But then comes a time; waves recede, celebrations over, biding farewell to the festivities, we find solace in the aura of silence. We snuggle, nestle in the orb of quietness, our comfort assured. Rich and poor, urban and country town, polished and rustic, it’s like a wave. Finding comfort is essential, ways are different. So far it is civil, not jeopardising others is not questioned.

Silence and sound are like waves; the duration can often not be prognosticating, but like musical notes, even if a beat is missed, it will fall in intermezzo.

Sikkim–The Cloud’s Abode

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Placid

My tryst with hills and mountains seems for ages;I presume it has something to do with my toddlers day spent in the picturesque Darjeeling and in tea garden based, vast fertile Terai region, Jalpaiguri, in North Bengal. The fresh mountain air, the waterfalls all along the uphill road, pagla jhora, as described by baba (my father) are the memories I cherish most. My idea of a getaway from the hustle bustle of a stressful city life is holidaying in the hills. Wandering in the woods, the misty morning, trekking in rough, steep roads, wintry evenings, the smell of hilly wild flowers, serene atmosphere is the idyllic image of a perfect vacation. Sikkim encapsulate all that I covet and over the years has become the perfect sojourn.

It was the summer of 2013 we, a group of six, ventured to the wild mountain.This time our destination was North Sikkim, the Yumthang Valley, Zero Point and Gurudongmar Lake. We started off from Gangtok in a hired private car and the distance to cover was 124km. The path covered unfurled its beauty at every bend; the mountain springs, the many waterfalls were sure to keep one’s camera busy clicking. Teesta is a loyal muse who never leaves one alone. Yum thang valley and Zero point are definitely the beautiful picturesque place in the world. Once the journey start uphill beauty enthrals ; one is sure to be bitten by the charm of Sikkim.

One of the many waterfalls

At Chungthan, a small town few km from Lachung, is the confluence point of the two rivers, Lachung Chu and Lachen Chu before meeting Teesta. The Chungthan Monastery has a impressive collection of Buddhist paintings and is surrounded by stone houses. The place is worth spending a day because of its landscape, lush green forest and grand waterfalls. The footprints of Guru Padmasambhava is embossed in the sacred stone which is near to this place and thus has a spiritual aura and is nature’s abode.

May Peace be with all

Lachung , the small pass, 25 km from Yumthang, is a small mountain village, nestled in the rugged bank of the river Lachung and close to the Tibet border. The village is the home of Lachung Monastery, popularly called the ‘gompa‘. After a long drive repose for the night in the the small mountain village seemed to be the right choice. After staying overnight we started early to avoid the long queue at the check post. It was a journey of roughly one and a half hours and the barren road was sided with beautiful rhododendron flowers.

Valley of rhododendron

Across the warm night’s dusk,

Where linger yet the purple light

And perfume of the wild, sweet musk,–

So softly glowing, softly bright,

Tremble the rhododendron bells,

The rose-pink rhododendron bells.

“The Rhododendron Bells” as it appears in Ella Higginson’s When the Birds Go North Again (1898).
Ice-capped Peak

The serenity of the place surrounded by mountains and lake rekindle my childhood memories and slipped into reverie of living in a place, waiting for the end.

The entire stretch was rugged, terrain was uneven but the rhododendrons in bright hues, mostly crimson, spread its magic. Yumthang means the Valley of flowers. The entire area is under army control and requires prior application to be filled for visiting both Yumthang and Zero Point The tour operators generally take care of the procedures. After checking the papers at the check post we were allowed to traverse in the wide vast rocky hilly pad with green patches hither and tither we set off for exploring the valley and towards the Zero Point.

The Valley

The valley is perched between the two peaks Pauhunri and Shundu Tsenpa, and majestic Teesta cut its way through the valley. After so many years when I shuffle the pages of the album of North Sikkim, the smell of foamy ripple of the river, the images of the wintry morning transcends me to that day. Zero Point, or Yumesamdong in local language, the snow clad plateau was the extended version of the valley, with the disclaimer that it might cause discomfort because of the thin oxygen level. It is 15km away from the valley and is close to the China border. It is nature’s paradise, white land with no tree line and herds of Yaks grazing in snow. The place and the road leading to it resembles Tsomgo Lake, known as Changu lake, another famous tourist spot in East Sikkim.

Yak’s field

Lachen, the big pass, forms the base of the famous Gurudonmgar Lake as well as of the Chopta Valley. The village, a small sleepy town with its vibrant ethnic culture, flavoured with different flora and fauna, nestling in the lap of snowed mountain and nearest to the sacred lake, Gurudonmgar, is a busy tourist destination for many holidayers.

The Sacred Lake

Sacred to not only the Buddhist but also to Hindus and Sikhs, the lake is a famous tourist spot. The drive through the Tibetan plateau is extremely rough, rocky, and the danger of wild dogs prevents one to get down from the car. the extreme biting cold, and the miles and miles of barren land with almost no tree, only few thorny shrubs, exemplifies the phrase terribly beautiful.

The deserted path

The Gurudongmar Lake, named after Guru Padmasambhava, founder of Tibetan monastery, visited the lake in the 8th century AD, is at the height of nearly 17,100 ft. can create breathing problem because of high altitude. We visited quite early in the morning and the were rewarded with a quaint, serene, ripple free lake. The crystal clear water and a mirror reflection of the mountain was captured through lenses, etched in my memory as well as in the 32GB memory card, and a life size print is framed and hung above my bed stand, reminiscing the magic we experienced. After the rugged terrain, the cool breeze from the lake was magical.

Gurudongmar Lake

Maiden Lake, fathomless lake,

Stay as you were once, overgrown with rushes,

Idling with a reflected cloud, for my sake,

Whom your shore no longer touches.

By Czeslaw Milosz

Padamchen, a small quaint village in East Sikkim, was where we spend two days before setting off for our last destination of the tour, Zuluk. The ride through the narrow hilly roads, through rain soaked green forests, drive through small mountain villages, waterfalls was beautiful. The village nestled in the hill slopes at 8000 ft high is surrounded by green forests. A walk through the hilly roads, the quaintness, the cloud hung over the head and the starry starry night sky kindle deep inside the dream to built a cottage and spent the rest of the life in a mountain-village .

The empty lane

Padamchen is on the Silk route circuit and only roughly 10 km from Zuluk. The weather in the month of May was cold, but the chill was not biting, the sky was clear and variety of birds, various species of butterflies, quite gigantic in size can be seen and the forest in this part of sub-Himalayan region is home to Red Pandas. The place is haven for ornithologists and nature lovers.

The Twilight

The 44 km journey to Baba Mandir and Nathu la through winding roads sided with trees rhododendrons and the morning mist makes it most memorable. After a few kms drive you come across the sunrise point from where you get to see the panoramic view of Mt. Kanchenjunga range. The spot suddenly emerge and the open crude space by the side of road mellows you down with its offering of the breathtaking view of the majestic mountain. The small village of Zuluk Village, 10 km from Padamchen, is retreat of few families and serve as a base for Indian Army. This beautiful hamlet is protected by mighty Himalayan ranges. After driving nearly one hour, with few stopovers for lensing beautiful landscape and mountain, we reached the old Baba Mandir.

A hamlet

Nathu la, one of the strategically important military zone with no permanent residence for civilians, is the bordering point between India and China and requires permit to visit. It is 54 km from Gangtok and 430 km from Lhasa, Tibet. It is on the Old Silk route connecting Tibet with Bengal and was an important trade point during the colonial occupation. After 1947, Sikkim being a protectorate nation allowed Indian troops to man her borders and trade continued between Indian and Tibet through Nathu la. Post 1962 Sino Indian war the pass was closed for more than four decades and reopened for trade again in 2006. The rain and fog made the farthest point to the Nathu la incommunicable. We were compensated with the breathtaking views in our journey. The war memorial, the new and old Baba Mandir,(a shrine for the most revered 1968 war-martyr Baba Harbhajan Singh) are places to visit and pay homage to the martyrs who laid their lives defending their motherland.

Faraway

The Kupup lake, the high altitude lake, a gleam waterbody welcomed us at a turning of one bend. Around 5km from the Baba Mandir, the lake, popularly known as Elephant lake because of its shape, is surrounded by mountains and in a bright sunny day the lake water seems blue because of the reflection of the sky. The lake at an altitude of more than 13000 ft is on the way to the Jelep la, which segregate India from China. The trail from the Kupup lake to the Jelep la can be seen from the top.

The Elephant Lake

We continued our journey and viewed the beautiful Menmecho Lake flowing below the pass; trekking required to go near the lake but because of time constraint we waved her bye from afar. The drive through the zig-zag road with more than 30 hair-pin bends is an extraordinary experience; the beauty of the route is saborear. A clear blue sky ensure the view of the path from the pass.

Lake Menmecho

The journey rather than the destination was captivating. The zig-zag path, the hair pin bends, the sudden appearance of lakes, waterfalls, springs, short splash of rain, the hilly flowers on the side bends, foggy view and occasional side- stopping to capture the scenic beauty were intoxicating. The vacation was over but the memories are treasured.

Zig-zagging

Photo courtesy :Apangsu Bhowmick

   

Sri Lanka-A Serene Land

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The year 2019 has its bag of mixed feelings; it was a year of loss and, responsibility to be taken care of; it was also a year of relations to be cared of, to be secured of. The year I lost my father, my biggest support. Months went by and the grief just refused to part away, rather was taking possession. I was feeling claustrophobic, couldn’t shed a drop of tears; life was going on, and I was just living. My family could sense my desperation, desolation and my longing to remain in that cocoon I created for myself. They forced me to get out of it, to remember my father not with despair but with joy, to remember the days he was with us. My husband held the passport to this free world; he decided us a trip to the lush green breathtakingly beautiful land of Sri Lanka. The tear-drop shaped island country captivated us and will remain in the hippocampus area forever.

Puja time was the time we decided to take the trip as my brother could come and stay with my mother. We logged in google and came across the name of one tour operator, based in Sri Lanka, Olanka, whom we zeroed on to take care of our trip; and we got lucky. It was an amazing experience with them; from the moment we set foot in the country to the moment we flew back we marvelled at their professionalism. We planned to visit all the places we read about in our schooldays history book and later while graduating and teaching, in the reference books. Anuradhapura was the place we are never going to miss for the world.

Let me start from the beginning. On 7th October, in the morning of Nabami, the most auspicious day of Durga Puja, we bade goodbye, to our friends, family and Kolkata. It was a long journey as we took a detour flight via Bangalore. We landed at Bandaranaike International Colombo Airport, at 10.40 PM. After immigration formalities over, Nipuna (his name and contact number were emailed to me) our driver and tour guide, drove us to Negombo, our destination for the night. Though happened to be only a halting place for us, Negombo is worth visit again and again. Only thirty minutes’ drive from Colombo, it is famous for its long sandy beaches and  fishing industry. The Dutch canal flows through the heart of the city. Dominated by Roman Catholics, people speak both Tamil and Sinhalese. The lagoon’s shallow waters provided safe shelter for seafaring vessels and became one of the key ports for the Sri Lankan external trade in earlier times.

We checked in Hotel Amagi Aria at 12.45 am and as the room service was not available at that hour we had no other options but to satisfy our hunger with the biscuits and cakes  we had with us. Our emergency ration which we carry while travelling since our daughter was born, saved us the very first day. Next morning the proximity of our hotel to the lagoon amazed us and for a while  pondered on the idea of spending a day or two there .

From the hotel deck
The lagoon

But being practical has its own advantages and disadvantages. We buried our longing and compensated  with some beautiful photo sessions. After  devouring a sumptuous breakfast we headed to Sigiriya, our gateway to some gorgeous historical places of the country. On the way we stopped at Pinna Wala, the Elephant Orphanage, a home to hundreds of elephants. It homes some tamed, some wild, yet to be tamed, and are a elephant lover gets the opportunity to feed them fruits. My super excited daughter made us bought a bowlful of fruits to feed one, but typical of her, she backed out the last moment and I got the opportunity and the life time experience of feeding a young elephant. The video captured by my daughter brings joy and smile to me till date.

Pinnawala Orphanage
The Care giver

Leaving the orphanage and a trail of emotions we headed to Sigiriya. The journey itself was amazing. The green fields , the smooth roads and the no honking, no overtaking  Sri Lankan discipline just mesmerised us. After a long but not so tiring drive we finally reached Sigiriya, late in the afternoon.

Healthy Tasty Platter —- Lunch on the go

Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress in the central province of Sri Lanka, located near the town Dambulla. It  is a site of historical and archaeological significance. According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle Culavamsa, King Kashyapa selected this site for his capital in late 5th century AD. He built his palace on top of this rock and decorated the sides with beautiful frescos, some of which still can be seen. On a small plateau he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion and the site Sigiriya or Sinhagiri gets its name from this structure, the Lion Rock. After the kings death both the capital and the royal palace was abandoned and today it is a UNESCO listed World Heritage site. Once you get past the steep stairs and reach to the top of the hill you will be gifted with breathtakingly view of the valley down and the soft chill breeze whispers in your ears the tale of abandonment. The site is well preserved by the Govt. and very much secured. We reached at 3.30 in the afternoon and after buying the ticket we rushed towards the rock. We are determined to catch the sun before it departs from the top of the hill. It was a steep journey with lots of stairs and occasional bends and small landings to catch your breath. We were joined in our way up by a couple and a bunch of young boys. The entire surrounding was serene, calm and the chattering of these young children only brightened up the journey.

The Lion Rock

After spending almost two hours in the Lion Rock we headed towards our hotel amidst heavy downpour and reached Amaya Lake Resort, our  home for the next two days. The warm reception with a more appealing welcome drink we were infused with energy and a gust to drench in this beautiful

The Stairs to the Rock

land of green.

The Paw

After having a delightful and delicious meal we resigned for the night. The chirping of birds woke me up in the morning and I decided to take a stroll outside my cottage. I was bewildered. The night before failed me to get a view of the area. The hotel, nestled on the shores of Lake Kandalama, surrounded by thriving green trees, lush green grassy land, sprawled across a few miles. The hotel staff were busy with their daily chores but whenever we met were greeted with a warm smile. The golf buggy took us to the main lobby of the hotel for breakfast, and after satiating ourselves with a elaborate spread, at 9.30 AM, we started for Anuradhapura, the historical town I always dreamt to visit.

Lake Kandalama

After a two hours pleasant journey, we reached the capital city of North Central Province of Sri Lanka, one of the ancient capitals of the country. It lies 200 km from Colombo, the present capital city of Sri Lanka and is now a World Heritage site, famous for its well-preserved ruins.  The city is  the Centre of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries and is home to many revered Buddhist philosophers, including Buddhaghosa. It is worshipped  as a sacred place  and a famous pilgrim Centre for many Buddhist. It has a long history, dating back to iron age. Anuradhapura came to glory in 377 BC when it became the capital of the kingdom of Upatissa Nuwara. Famous Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hien left a detailed account of the practice of Buddhism in this royal capital and his account of the 5th century AD is the only other authenticate source besides Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa written by the monks. The Chola conquest and annexation of the north of Sri Lanka to the vast Chola Empire in 1017 AD by the Chola King Rajendra Chola I brought an end to the mighty glory of this magnificent capital city, once the citadel of the majestic Sinhala Kings. The monuments, the architectural grandeurs, the ruins of ancient palaces struck me with awe and wonder. I travelled the rocky stairs of the ruins, and was trying to feel the aura of the bygone era; the scorching heat was burning my feet, but the magnificence of the heritage was keeping my senses at bay.

Kuttam Pokuna, Anuradhapura

The first site we visited was the twin ponds, Kuttam Pokuna, which is a hydrological engineering marvel of ancient Sri Lanka. The architectural and artistic sense of the ancient Sinhalese artists are quite evident  in their creations.   The two ponds, one a little bigger than the other, is connected through an underground pipeline. The ponds were constructed for the monks probably for bathing purpose. The entire area is well guarded by police.  The scorching heat of mid-morning forced us to take our leave from this architectural beauty and we drove to our next destination, the Ruwanwelisaya stupa. This hemispherical structure containing relics is a  sacred site for the Buddhists. Built in 140 BC this 103m tall with a circumference of 290m Mahathupa, also revered as Solosmasthana, is the world’s tallest ancient monument; it was renovated by many kings. The structural beauty of the stupa is magnificent. The white colour depicts its grandeur, purity, magnificence and serenity  altogether.

Mahathupa

Within a stretch of 2 km of this stupa in the Mahamevuna Uyana or Mahamevnawa Park lies the great Jaya Shri Mahabodhi Tree. The road leading to the sacred temple was sided with big  trees providing shades and shelter, to both humans and monkeys. The sacred fig tree is protected from wild elephants by high walls constructed around and is surrounded by golden fence. As stated in the Mahavamsa and other Sinhalese chronicles and believed by Buddhists all over the world, the king of trees, endowed with wisdom and powers, the Bodhi tree or the fig tree was planted from a branch of the original tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment; it is the world’s oldest human planted tree. It is an annual custom  for the Buddhist pilgrims, expecting parents, as well as the farmers to come from all over the island to offer prayers, pay homage to the sacred tree, for the wellbeing of their family, for the new born and as well for a golden harvest. As narrated in Mahavamsa, the tree branch was brought to Sri Lanka by Sanghamitta Theri, daughter of Emperor Asoka in 3rd century BC and was planted inn 288 BCE by the then Sinhala king Devanampiya Tissa.

The ruins of an ancient hospital on the way to the Mahabodhi Tree temple in Anuradhapura

The every bends, corners of the Anuradhapura is adorned with Buddhist shrines, relics, stupas. At another part of the royal garden is situated the Samadhi Statue of Budhha in Dhyan Mudra.

Samadhi Statue

The meditation posture is associated with Buddha’s first Enlightenment and has similarity with the Gupta period Buddha images. The statue is dated to about the 4th to 6th century AD and is believed to be one of the four statues surrounding the Mahabodhi tree which has survived largely intact. The original statue was gilded and had eyes studded with precious gems. We paid our homage to the lone statue and left with a heavy heart.

Abhayagiri Vihara, a vast sprawling ruin, and the largest among the Sri Lankan Viharas, was historically a great monastic Centre. The Vihara is encircled by great walls, elaborate bathing ponds, carved balustrades and moonstones, a crescent shaped stone platform, and the focal point of this architectural ingenuity is an ancient stupa, the humped shaped Abhayagiri Dagaba. It is the signature site of Anuradhapura architecture. Built in the 2nd century BC it is not only a complex of monastic buildings, but also a fraternity of Buddhist monks. With the passage of time the Vihara has grown into an international institution, attracting scholars from all over the world, and upholding all branches of Buddhist philosophy. Alongside the entrance of the stupa is situated a Hindu temple where regular pujas are offered by Hindu worshippers. The reclining statue of Buddha and depiction of the Jataka stories engraved in the walls of the domed stupa calms the mind and persuade one to stay a while, meditate and sense the divinity of this ancient place. An entire day well spent  in this  magnificent historic capital city, amidst the remains of Buddha we whispered  adieu to Anuradhapura, with a promise to visit again. We had not seen enough of the once citadel of powers’ bygone eras heroes’ tales of  might and majesty.

Abhayagiri Dagaba

The next day on our way to Kandy, which is a 100km drive  from our Resort,  we visited the historic Dambulla Cave complex. Statues and paintings in these magnificent caves dates back to 1st century BC, built by King Valagamba, and the magnificence lasting till date is due to repair and repaint done by rulers in different times.. Dambulla Cave Temple complex is the largest in Sri Lanka. The cave site is 520 ft over the surrounding plains and requires a climb of nearly 350 stairs to reach the gateway to the caves. As in every Buddhist temple there is a dress code. Shoulders and knees were to be covered and wearing hats are not allowed.

Dambulla Cave Complex

The complex contains five caves and a small pond. The caves are filled with statues and paintings depicting the life and times of Buddha. There are 153 buddha statues, 3 statues of the Sri Lankan kings and four statues of Gods and goddesses, of which two are of Hindu God Vishnu and Ganesh. Temptation of Buddha by demon Mara and Buddha’s first sermon are theme of the murals depicted in the walls. The golden hue of the statues creates a divine aura encompassing the interiors of the caves, particularly the third and fourth caves. The vast space and murals in the roofs and walls are magnificent.

The statues and murals in Dambulla cave No. 4

The touring of the caves took us some two hours and after some souvenir shopping, we hit the road, heading to Kandy, the last capital of the ancient era kings of Sri Lanka.

The Reclining Buddha

On our way we took a short trip to an herbal garden, hundreds of which are scattered all over the country. The smell of cinnamon, spice of Sri Lankan mace, nutmeg, pepper, cardamom which once drew the European and Asian traders to this part of the southern part of northern hemisphere overwhelmed our senses and lighten our wallets. A close insight into the age-old industry of spices amazed us. 

After a long ride we reached the administrative and religious city and the capital of the Central Province, Kandy, just before sunset. The reflection of the golden rays of the setting sun in the  City lake was brilliant. The Kiri Muhuda or Sea of Milk is an artificial lake created by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinha in 1807. The lake was originally was a paddy field with a pond in midst of it. The lake was named after the pond, Kiri Muhuda, and is situated in front of the Tooth Relic Temple. The city, a plateau in the midst of hills  is the home of the Temple known to the Sinhalese as Sri Dalada Maliqawa, and is one of the most sacred places of worship to the Buddhist. Later in the evening we enjoyed an hour long national cultural programme organised by the Red Cross Kandy Branch. The Kandyan dance form is traditionally performed to percussion only and a small pair of cymbals, Thalampota, is also used to assist the dancers to keep the rhythm. The dancers fully dressed in their dance costumes were energetic, rhythmic and gave a brilliant and dazzling,(bright colourful costumes must also be credited), performance. We checked in Hotel Tourmaline, a beautiful hotel with all the luxuries craved after a daylong drive; the reception, the food, the room, the ambience were perfect and the welcome sign they put up in the lounge  with our names felt like home coming.

Kandy Lake
The City

The next morning after breakfast we left the hotel for our visit to the famous sacred temple of Tooth relic. The artefact symbolises Sinhalese pride and identity. The temple is the haven of refuge of Buddha’s tooth and according to tradition the custodian of the relic is the rightful holder of power to rule the country and therefore it is his responsibility to safeguard the relic. Every day the temple is visited by thousands of worshippers clad in white, offering lotus blossoms and frangipani to the enlightened. The tooth is hidden within a gold casket, and visitors and worshippers just have a peak at the jewelled casket kept at the well protected inner shrine.

The Temple of Tooth Relic
The Sacred Shrine

The temple is situated adjacent to the royal palace of the former Kandyan King overlooking the vast lake. Sri Dalada Maligawa Kandy established  International Buddhist Museum is a treasure trove. It is the only museum in the world solely dedicated to the history of Buddhism; it displays objet d’art representing Buddhism, demonstrate the journey of the religion, not only in Sri Lanka, but all over the world. There are separate galleries for each and every Asian countries where Buddhism is a prominent religion.  While the architectural marvel of Amaravati, Gandhara school as well as of Gupta period are displayed in the India Gallery, the  images of Indus valley civilisation sites and the silk route are portrayed in the Pakistan gallery; the Thailand gallery gives a rich display of the influence of Buddha and his teaching in their country. India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Japan, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Laos and Malaysia are given different gallery to revere Buddha and the expanse of his teaching. a rich  while the museum.

The Dalada Maligawa honoured the great tusker, Raja, which carried the Sacred Relic Casket for more than half a century by establishing a museum preserving the dead animals skin and tusks. The walls are adorned with photos of the tusker photographed with dignitaries, and the museum, located in a small building adjacent to the royal palace is visited by the tourists and pilgrims. The temple and museum tour took almost three hours.

Kandy has an interesting market place to dig for souvenirs. We shopped for various memorabilia like fridge magnets, tea, soaps, essence, stone jewelleries and many more such things. We took a round trip around the city, taking a look at the clock tower, the stadium, the gem store, the bends and corners and nook and drove toward our next destination, the hilly town of Nuwara Eliya.

At Ramboda, we took a short break. Amidst a heavy downpour we watched the famous Ramboda waterfall from the veranda of the Tea Factory while sipping freshly brewed tea; we were given a tour of the tea factory and watched the Ceylonese  tea making process; bought tea for family and friends back home The short break rejuvenated us and we resumed our uphill journey.

Lake Gregory, Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya, is a quaint landscape and has a temperate climate. It is the coolest area in Sri Lanka and is called the city of light. It is suspended in its  colonial era and the new buildings, hotels are built and furnished in the colonial style. Queen’s Cottage, General’s House, Hill Club, Town Post Office are the nostalgic reminder of the past era. Our hotel was in the neighbouring area of the Gregory lake and the vast reservoir Lake is a popular water sports arena and a place for romance for teenaged or young couples.

On12th October, on the 5th day of our holidaying, we started for Galle. On our downslope journey we were infatuated with the views of numerous tea gardens,  river rafting. The journey to the plain land took two hours, and we took the southern expressway from Matera. The 95km distance to Galle through the E class expressway was covered in an hour; it was a journey, with no turning, no stopping, a smooth bump free ride.We were amazed at the decades long civil-war torn country’s development, the high quality road transport technology, the discipline of the transport riders.

Galle was a complete surprise package for us. It is a sea side white sand beach city situated in the southernmost tip and we stayed at a hotel, Long Beach Resort, in the Karugga Matara Road, looking over the vast expanse of the Indian ocean. The city once devastated, thousands killed by the massive tsunami caused by Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004, have rebuilt itself, though the remains of the damages can be seen  hither and thither. We arrived in a full moon day and the sea looked ethereal in the full moon night.

Galle was a seaport from ancient period and traders from European world came here for spices. Historical evidence suggest the presence of Ibn Batuta in the 14th century. Long before the western arrival, Galle was the port of trade for Persians, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Malays, Indians, Chinese merchants. Proximity to the Indian Ocean exemplifies its flourishing maritime trade. It reached the height of its development in the 18th century, during the Dutch Colonial period. Prior to the Dutch overtaking, the Portuguese fortified the city which later the Dutch extensively fortified during the 17th century. The Galle Dutch fort is a world heritage site and the most enthralling tourist point. The events of the day, strolling through the narrow lanes of the white Portuguese fort town, posing in front of the old post office, High Court, Church, watch tower, indulging in cold ice creams, devouring pure Sri Lankan meal and the cool sea-breeze in the scorching heat are etched in the memory forever. The name, Church Road, Hospital Street, Pedlar Street, Rampart Street retained the flavour of old Portuguese and Dutch colonial period. The narrow streets were sided with beautiful one or two storied houses. The fort town is an ideal place for pre-wedding shoot.

The Ocean from the fort
Sleepy Waves

Galle is home to the famous picturesque Galle International Stadium which witnessed numerous cricket test matches. The stadium is clearly visible from the fort. Other prominent landmarks are the city’s natural harbour, the National Maritime Museum, St. Mary’s Cathedral. Walking down the sandy beaches, listening to the waves, posing in front of the surf, letting the soft waves kiss my feet; romancing the sea like this never happened before. The memories of this tranquil, breezy town with a European history are unforgettable and left a lasting impact on us.

The abandoned harbour in Dutch city

In our driving down back to Negombo we passed through Bentota, another sea side town, many herbal spice gardens, and reached Colombo amidst heavy shower in the evening. The evening shower is a very peculiar feature of Sri Lanka. In our week-long stay there was not a single day we missed the rain. The mornings were sunny with clear blue sky, the evening shower soaked the heat of the day. We drove around Colombo, experienced the hustle-bustle of a busy business capital city before driving off to our hotel Vaya, a villa hotel by the side of a lake, at Negombo. It was our last night in Sri Lanka. Next morning we took the morning flight from Bandaranaike International Colombo Airport and bade farewell to this beautiful, picturesque land of Buddha.

The Ocean and the shore


Photo courtesy: Apangsu Bhowmick (husband) clicked in Canon 6D and Aparajita Bhowmick, (daughter) clicked in iPhone X

2020: Year of the Phoenix


“Hope” is the thing with feathers-

That perches in the soul-

And sings the tune without the words-

And never stops-at all-



Emily Dickinson (1891)

Year 2020 can be best described as the time of the biggest challenge of the century, the challenge to stay alive. As human we are inured to challenges-but the COVID19 pandemic have clogged the rational being in us. The unpredictable tomorrow, the uncertain today and the memories of yesteryears have made people restless; endless messages received with no promise of a better tomorrow, makes us feel helpless. Though our today is lived with apprehensions, the urge to stay alive for the days to come is growing stronger. The biggest challenge is to keep our near ones safe. The life for all has turned into a battleground and we are amidst a guerrilla warfare. The spring has lost its merry, the heat is unmerciful, the monsoon unpredictable. Nature is trying to mend the wrongs of the humans. We cherished her blessings and ignored her warnings; she has unleashed her wrath. The curse befall us.

The brighter side of the today is it had helped in redefining relations. It has taught us nothing comes free; we need to learn to nurture, to cultivate. A sapling blossoms with proper sunlight, water and care. A green thumb is the greatest boon one can have; giving life is a privilege, not offered to everyone. The nature as well as relations, need to be tended, to be loved. The time has taught us the value of nature, of a pollution free world. A world which we see in fantasy films, in Alice in Wonderland, in the Disney World movies, and even in the folktales; a world full of goodness, purity and free of rancour, malice and spite. We call it an utopian dream where forests are green, sky is blue, ocean is calm; where animals roam freely, and man is their best friend. Lives in the time of lockdown unfurled before us a slice of that impossible dreamland. We have seen the pristine verdant lands, the white clouds gliding in blue sky, the calm ocean and the animal world reclaiming their lands. We have seen the elephants, reindeer, peacock, roaming freely in the city streets; the inter-state migration of elephant herds, the increase in the numbers of the endangered Olive Ridley Sea turtle. The playfulness of the dolphins and proximity of the whales to the shore have bemused us. The swans in the Venice canals in place of the gondolas were a great sight and photographers delight. The COVID-19 pandemic has a positive impact on the animal world, on the environment. The lockdown undoubtedly affected the industries, the economy, because of the initial lockdown of and later closures of factories, less use of transports; but it proved to be a boon for the environment. The pollution in air, the nitrous oxide emission has decreased considerably. Transport is not only restricted in roads and air, but also in waterways. Due to the absence of boats, steamers, ship the quality of water in seas, oceans and rivers have improved. The clear and clean water helped the thriving of the marine life; and they are now happily merrily living their fairy tale lives. Less fishing will definitely increase the fish biomass and certain endangered fish species are sure to thrive. The oxygen level has increased due to more vegetation and more greenery is a prerequisite for a better balance in the environment. But the question that haunts the environmentalists is how long this boon is going to sustain; because lockdown cannot be a permanent solution and neither a logical one. The devastation in economic sphere has already started showing its claws; rise in unemployment, salary cut, decrease in governments income will bring the economy to a shuddering stop. There is a severe drop in income in almost half of the nation’s households. A great number of people lost their jobs and many more to receive only a percentage of their salary. The worst sufferers are from the informal sector and daily wage earners. The pandemic exposed their vulnerability, both physically and economically. The virus cost their lives and if survived the situation left them to die, out of hunger. It is a paradoxical situation where the lockdown which was meant as a survival kit left the poor to die, either from the virus or from no income. Fear of contagion has forced people to stay indoors and resulted in depriving them of their daily wages. The pandemic left the daily wage earners, the migrant workers as has been identified, with no job, no security. The transport system observing lockdown forced them to take to the roads to head back home from their distant work place. They walked miles after miles before they fall asleep forever or, were fortunate enough to reach their destination. The pandemic, our society, our government, us, proved that they are the Children of a lesser God.

The empty streets of the most populated metro cities all over the world have sent an uncanny chill down our spine; it give us an eerie feeling. The silence feel deafening; the cacophonies of a busy bursting city life is missed. We are scared; scared to think what awaits in the days to come or will we live to perceive it ever. The question haunts every single soul. The social distancing theory has redefined the social relations. To maintain distance from the loved ones during quarantine is depressing, an empty ache fills the heart. In order to maintain physical distance we have been indifferent to the relations adored and nurtured so far; friends, relatives are no longer invited, persons infected are cursed; looked down upon and treated with not empathy but are mercilessly blamed for spreading the virus. This is almost an universal picture. We are dangerously treading between sanity, logical thinking and fear psychosis. One simple mistake the entire social infrastructure created will fall off like house of cards. The future telling crystal ball or the clairvoyants’ claim is not trusted even to true believers. Science has triumphed once again; the doors of the religious institutions are closed and borrowing, the common sayings of today, I feel good in reiterating the phase that people have seen their gods working in hospitals, dressed in white robes, mostly, and their presence is the greatest assurance. The world of today is blessed by the doctors, the nurses and the midwives. In this hour of crises they make wonders happen, but the unpredictable today and tomorrow have put the human world in a desperate situation.

The COVID-19 pandemic have raised many questions, much of which should have raised much before. The most compelling question, the question regarding the future of the youth have made us uncomfortable, it made us shift our gaze to the crisis of our young generation, the guiding light of our tomorrow. Is it a safe haven for them? Mankind have wronged in the past, the future will have to pay with interest. The payment is an economic recession, crashed economy, unemployment, poverty; distribution of wealth will again be tossed, health, physical as well as mental, will be compromised. Sanity will be hard to find and tension, stress will be the most common used vocabularies. Certain businesses and industries, like tourism, transport, hotel have taken a back seat. The denouement is yet to come, the future apprehended is very bleak. Today’s youth are faced with an unstable future where there is no security in the job market, way of imparting education is changing. The biggest concern is how to make the larger population beneficial in this situation and system. The issues of social base, the economic security, aspirations, all are entwined and none can be dealt separately and calls for the use of the demographic mapping technology. The retirement policy and the employment issues are to be taken into consideration parallelly. The promise of a habitable world to the new born can be achieved only through generating a better environment, stable economy and a war free world. We await for recovery, an U,V or W shaped one, which is important for the growth of the economy and hence for our sustainability. The only ray of hope in this bleak time is love; Love in the times of lockdown. The family bonding has grown strong; eating out habit died down. Stay safe, stay healthy became the motto. It cost the food industry dearly, but helped to build up good habits. Social network sites are filled with netizens busy posting pictures of their creating magic either with spices or with paints and pens. With the health clubs closed and people are lock downed, various sites are flooded with workout regimes. With theatres, Movie Halls shut the virtual world has drawn people together. All events are celebrated, music, movies are released through online platforms. The print media, the paper industry is facing crisis and the alphabet E as prefix is in demand nowadays; E-Journals, E-Certificates, E-mails, E-Mags, E-Courses are now very common phrases. Work from Home concept is not anymore the prerogatives of the IT industry. Academic discussions are organised through different social network handles. Seminar is now defined as webinars. The year 2020 brought a tremendous change in our thinking process; perceptions towards life has taken a sharp unforeseen turn, some of which have undeniably positive impact. People are coming up with unique ideas. Even marriage vows are taken and witnessed through this virtual media. Man has not forgot to dream of a better world, of a bright future. Amidst such recession, depression, anxiety, apprehensions life is still celebrated, promises to reborn from the ashes, like the Phoenix, are made, and here lies the beauty of the creator’s wonder, the mankind.



Will live to dream

Will wait till the end

My eyes will rest in peace

The day

The world is free.



Will live to dream

The day father sheds tears of joy

Watching his new born cry

Will wait till the end

When the ashes of Chernobyl, Hiroshima’s weep.



Will live to dream

The day Children of lesser God

Remove lesser

Will wait till the end

To see the rainbows

In the field.

I will dream..


Article written in July 2020 .

পিঞ্জরের পাখি

ইতিহাসের পরিপ্রেক্ষণে নারীর অবস্থান খুব আশার আলো জাগায় না। যদিও শতাব্দী প্রাচীন পাথরের গুহায় মন্দিরের গাত্রে নির্বাক নারীর প্রস্তর মূর্তি আমরা খুঁজে পেয়েছি। নারী তুমি কবে কথা বলতে শিখলে? নাকি আজো ছড়ার সেই কথা কও না কেন বউ’ হয়ে তোতা পাখী আতা গাছের সঙ্গে একাকার হয়ে থাকবে। নারীর ইতিহাস আছে: নারী ইতিহাসের অংশ ( Women have a history; Women are in history.” Gerda Lerner) ইতিহাস সাক্ষ্য বহন করে চলেছে আবহমান কাল থেকে তার বঞ্চনার, তার প্রতি বৈষম্যের। প্রজননে,প্রহারে আবার একই সংগে পূজার্চনা করাতে সে হোল চরমভাবে কাঙ্খিত। মাটির কর্ষণে, অগ্নির লেলিহান শিখার থেকে যার উদ্গম তাকেই আবার আগুনে পরিশুদ্বা হতে হয়। সীতা থেকে রূপ কানোয়ার- সতীত্ব প্রমান থেকে সতী হওয়ার দুরূহ যন্ত্রণা তাকেই সহ্য করতে হয়। ঢাক, কাঁসর, ঘন্টার আওয়াজ তার আর্তনাদকে স্তম্ভিত করে দেয়; পূজোয় যে সকল ধব্বনিকে আমরা শুভ বলে মানি তাকেই অবলম্বন করে সমাজের মাথারা মানবী দেবীর আশা আকাঙ্খার, জীবনের বলি দেয়। শিক্ষার থেকে দূরে সরিয়ে রেখে , সমাজের গতির প্রবাহ থেকে তাকে বঞ্চিত রেখে এ কোন সভ্যতাকে মানুষ বরণ করে যাচ্ছে! জন্মমুহূর্তের প্রথম স্বর যার দান তার ধব্বনি কেন তবে রুদ্ধ!! ব্যতিক্রম অবশ্যই আছে তবে  প্রসরের নিরিখে তা নগন্য, আর কথায় আছে নিয়মের ব্যতিক্রম।

খুব পুরোনো সময়ে ফিরে যাবার প্রয়োজনে নেই। এই কলিকালেরই উনবিংশ শতাব্দীর সময় রক্তাক্ত হয়ে আছে অসামান্যা কয়েকজন নারীর স্বীকৃতি ও অস্তিত্ব প্রতিষ্ঠার প্রয়াসের লড়াইয়ে তাদের রেখে যাওয়া ধুলোমাখা পদচিহ্ণে। কখনো সমাজে তারা সম্মানিতা পারিবারিক কারণে, কখনো সমাজে তারা ব্রাত্য আবার সেই পরিবারের কারণেই। তাদের আত্মজীবনী তাদের যণ্ত্রণাবিদ্ধ জীবনের আয়না। পুরুষের রচিত জীবনকাহিনী আত্মজীবনী হিসাবে প্রকাশিত হলেও নারী তা প্রকাশ করে স্মৃতিকথা বা স্মৃতিচারণ হিসাবে। ১৮৬৩ সালে কয়েকজন ব্রাক্ষ যুবকের প্রচেষ্টায় প্রতিষ্ঠিত হয় বামাবোধিনী পত্রিকা; এক ইতিহাসের জন্ম হয়। বাঙ্গালী নারী তাঁর মননের চিন্তনের বহিঃপ্রকাশের একটি মাধ্যম খুঁজে পায়। পিঞ্জরাবদ্ধ পাখীর জীবন নির্বাহ করতেন যে সকল উচ্চ ও মধ্যবিত্ত হিন্দু ও ব্রাক্ষ পরিবারের মহিলারা তাঁরাই ছিলেন মুখ্যত এই পত্রিকার রচনার মূল বিষয়বস্তু। রাসসুন্দরী দাসী তাঁর জীবনী “আমার জীবন”এ তার দুঃখের কথা লিখে গেছেন “…….তখন মেয়েছেলের এই প্রকার নিয়ম ছিল, যে বৌ হইবে, সে হাতখানেক ঘোমটা দিয়া ঘরের মধ্যে কাজ করিবে, আর কাহারও সঙ্গে কথা কহিবে না, তাহা হইলেই বড় ভালো বৌ হইল[1] কৈলাসবাসিনী দেবীও দুঃখ করে বলেছিলেন যে বাঙ্গালী মহিলারা পশুর ন্যায় জীবন যাপন করে এবং যে অন্ধকার তাদের আচ্ছাদিত করে রেখেছে তা সম্পর্কে তারা একেবারেই অজ্ঞ।[2] পত্রিকায় মহিলা লেখকদের রচিত প্রবন্ধগুলি পিতৃতান্ত্রিক মনোভাবকেই প্রকাশ করতো। তৎকালীন এর অন্যথা মানেই তাকে ধরে নেওয়া হত দুরাচারী, অবাধ্য, নির্লজ্জ, বিলাসপ্রিয় যৌথ পরিবারের অনুপযুক্ত নারী হিসাবে যার মূল লক্ষ্যই স্বামী নিয়ে একক সংসার করা। এই চিন্তাভাবনা প্রকাশ দেখা যায় কুলোবালা দেবীর লেখায়; তার মতে নারী শিক্ষার প্রয়োজন একটি দায়িত্বশীল, যুক্তিবাদী মন গঠন করা, সংকীর্ণ মনোভাব ও কুসংস্কারের থেকে মুক্ত হয়ে যা একটি স্বাস্থ্যবান পরিবার ও সমাজের সৃষ্টি করবে।[3] কিন্তু তিনি মনে করেন যে বর্তমানের নারী তার সেই মহান আদর্শ থেকে বিচ্যুত হয়ে কেবলমাত্র নিজের আরাম ও বিলাসব্যসনের প্রতি অনুরক্ত হয়ে উঠেছে। ঐ একই পত্রিকায় অমৃতলাল গুপ্ত বক্তব্য রাখেন যে শিক্ষিত পুরুষের দায়বদ্ধতা বৃহত্তর সমাজ গঠনে দেশের কাজে, কিন্তু নারী-বধূ,মাতা ও স্ত্রীর দায়িত্ব অতি নিষ্ঠার সহকারে পালন করবে। সন্তানকে সঠিক শিক্ষা দেওয়ার প্রয়োজনীয়তা থেকেই নারী শিক্ষার প্রতি অমৃতলালবাবু সহমত পোষণ করলেও একই সঙ্গে তিনি বলেছেন সম্পূর্ণা নারী হওয়ার অর্পিত কর্মভার থেকে যদি কেউ বিচ্যুত হয় তবে শিক্ষার আলোকে আলোকিত হওয়ার সুযোগ থেকে তিনি বঞ্চিত হবেন। সন্তানের প্রথম শিক্ষাগুরু যে মা একথা অস্বীকার না করলেও যে সম্মান তাঁর প্রাপ্য তা অর্পিত হয়েছে অত্যন্ত কৃপণতার সঙ্গে।

নারী সমাজের পাশ্চাত্যকরণ সম্পর্কে উনবিংশ শতাব্দীর নারীকেন্দ্রিক  সাহিত্যে  উদ্বেগ প্রকাশ  পায় এবং নারীকে প্রচলিত রীতি নীতি মেনে চলার উপদেশ দেওয়া হয়। গৃহ ব্যতিরেকে বিশ্বের দরবারে তাকে মাতা,দেবী ও দেশমাতৃকা হিসাবে পুজো করা হয়। বিখ্যাত চিন্তাবিদ ও লেখক ভূদেব মুখোপাধ্যায়  পাশ্চাত্যের ধরনে স্ত্রীকে বন্ধু, সহচরী হিসাবে গ্রহণ করার প্রবনতাকে নস্যাৎ করেন ও বিশ্বাস করেন স্ত্রী ভারতীয় সমাজে দেবী(!)হিসাবে গৃহিত।

স্বামী বিবেকানন্দ বিশ্বাস করতেন যে সতী, সীতা, সাবিত্রী,কুন্তি, গান্ধারী, দময়ন্তী ভারতীয় নারীর আদর্শ এবং তিনি উপদেশ দেন সীতার পদচিহ্ন অনুসরন করতে। মাতৃত্ব ভারতীয় নারীর প্রকৃত পরিচয়ে।

নারীর স্বাধীনতা ও মর্যাদার প্রশ্নটি উনবিংশ শতাব্দীর সাহিত্যকারদের উদ্বিগ্ন করে তোলে। নারীর বক্তব্য নিয়ন্ত্রিত ও নির্দিষ্ট হতে শুরু হল পুরুষতান্ত্রিক সমাজের বেঁধে দেওয়া গতে; নারী নিজেও তার দুর্দশা সম্পর্কে ওয়াকিবহাল ছিল না। তার জীবন দর্শনের নিয়ন্ত্রক সে স্বয়ং নয়। প্রচলিত নিয়মাবলীর থেকে বিচ্যুতি কেবলমাত্র পুরুষ সমাজের রোষ নয়, মহিলাদের মধ্যে থেকেও তার বিরুদ্ধে অসন্তোষ মাথা চাড়া দিয়ে উঠত।

রাসসুন্দরী দাসীর ‘আমার জীবন’ তৎকালীন সামাজের মানসিক গঠন সম্পর্কে এক জীবন্ত দলিল। ১৮০৯ সালে বর্তমানের বাংলাদেশের পাবনা জেলার পোতাজিয়া গ্রামে তাঁর জন্ম। মাত্র বারো বছর বয়সে বাংলাদেশের ফরিদপুর জেলার রামদিয়া গ্রামের সীতানাথ সরকারের সঙ্গে বিবাহ ও অতঃপর সর্বগুণসম্পন্না বধূ,মাতা, পত্নী হয়ে ওঠার নিরলস সাধনায় নিজেকে হারিয়ে ফেলা। সাধারন তিনি নিঃসন্দেহে ছিলেন না ; তাই যে সময় মেয়েদের লেখাপড়া শেখা পাপ বলে,  বৈধব্যের কারণ বলে গন্য করা হত, সেই সময় সম্পূর্ণ স্বচেষ্টায় রাসসুন্দরী রান্না করার ফাঁকে ফাঁকে, ঘোমটার আড়ালে  লিখতে ও পড়তে শিখলেন। চৈতন্য ভাগবত পড়ার বাসনা থেকেই  তিনি সমাজের বেঁধে দেওয়া নিয়মের ব্যতিক্রমী হয়ে ওঠেন।  কুসংস্কারের থেকে মুক্ত এক যুক্তিবাদী মানসিকতার পরিচয় আমরা পাইকার লেখনীতে। আঠারো বছর বয়সে তার প্রথম সন্তান বিপিনবিহারীর জন্ম এবং একচল্লিশ বছর বয়সে তার শেষ সন্তান মুকুন্দলালের জন্ম। এগারো জন সন্তানের জননী সর্বগুণসম্পন্না বধূ, মাতা, পত্নীতে নিজেকে রূপান্তরিত করার পাশাপাশি নিজের এক বৌদ্ধিক জগৎ গড়ে তোলেন যা তাকে এক অপার আনন্দের সাগরে ভাসিয়ে দিয়েছিল। রাসসুন্দরীর স্মৃতিকথা দুই অংশে বিভক্ত; প্রথম অংশটি তার জীবনী ও দ্বিতীয় অংশটি ঈশ্বরের প্রতি উৎসর্গিত গান। চরম ঈশ্বরভক্ত হওয়া স্বত্ত্বেও তার চিন্তাধারার মধ্যে বিচারবুদ্ধির পূর্ণ পরিচয় পাওয়া যায়। সামাজিক নিয়মের পালন করলেও তাকে ব্যথিত করত মেয়েদের শিক্ষার সুযোগ না  দেওয়া; জীবনের সায়াহ্ণে এসে নারী শিক্ষার প্রসার তাকে তৃপ্তি দিয়েছিল। উনবিংশ শতকের পরিবর্তনশীল সময়ে, পুনর্গঠনের যুগে রাসসুন্দরী স্বয়ং নারী মুক্তি ও মর্যাদার প্রতিভূ হলেও তা অলক্ষিত থেকে যায়; এমনকি সাম্প্রতিক কালেও  উনবিংশ শতকের পরিবর্তনশীলতাকে উপলব্ধি করার অমূল্য সম্পদ হওয়া স্বত্ত্বেও ‘আমার জীবন’গবেষকদের  কাছে  তার যথাযোগ্য মূল্য পাইনি। অবগুন্ঠনের অন্তরালে রুদ্ধ কন্ঠস্বর অনেক সময় বাধ্য হত পুরুষের জবানিতেই কথা বলতে, কিন্তু যে আগুনের সলতে রাসসুন্দরী কৈলাসবাসিনী জ্ঞানদানন্দিনী সরলাদেবী ও ঠাকুর পরিবারের অন্তর্বর্তিনীরা জ্বালিয়ে দিয়েছিলেন তার আঁচ দীর্ঘ সময় ধরে বাঙ্গালী নারীর মনে আশার ভরসা জাগিয়ে দিয়েছিল।

উনবিংশ-বিংশ শতকের ইতিহাসের অনেকটা অংশ জুড়ে মহিলাদের অবদান ছড়িয়ে আছে। ঠাকুর পরিবারের মহিলাদের আধুনিক মানসিকতাকে তৎকালীন সুধী সমাজ ‘ঠাকুরবাড়ির নতুন ঠাট’ বলে ব্যঙ্গ করলেও যে খোলা হাওয়া তারা প্রসারিত করেছিলেন তার সুবাস বাঙ্গালীকে আজো সজীব রেখেছে। এছাড়াও উল্লেখযোগ্য উনবিংশ শতকের বাঙ্গলায় গানে মহিলা শিল্পীদের অবদান । পারিবারিক কারনে ব্রাত্য কিন্তু সুরলোকে সমাদৃতা ভারতের প্রথম গ্রামাফোন শিল্পী, গহরজান কলকাতার ঠুমরী তথা ধ্রুপদ সঙ্গীতকে এক উচ্চতর মার্গে উপস্থাপিত করেছিলেন। অনুরূপ ভাবে ও প্রায় একই সময় বাঙ্লা থিয়েটার জগতে বিপ্লব এল মহিলা শিল্পীদের হাত ধরে। ‘পুরুষ অভিনেত্রীদের’ বর্জন করে মহিলা অভিনেত্রীদের মঞ্চাভিনয়ের সঙ্গে পরিচিত করা হল সমাজপতিদের রক্তচক্ষুকে উপেক্ষা করে। গোলাপসু্ন্দরী, এলোকেশী, ক্ষেত্রমনি, জগত্তারিনী, বিনোদিনী মঞ্চে তাদের সাবলীল অভিনয়ের মাধ্যমে বাঙ্গলা থিয়েটারকে সমৃদ্ধ করলেও তাদের অবদানের স্বীকৃতি তারা তাদের জীব্বোদশায় পান নি।[6]

উনবিংশ শতকের বাঙ্লার এই নতুন নারীদের অধিকাংশই তাদের অনুচ্চারিত বেদনাকে রীতিনীতির নামে সর্বংসহা হয়ে সহ্য করেছিলেন; কেউ লেখনীকে আশ্রয় করে এই ব্যথা ব্যক্ত করার স্পর্ধা দেখিয়েছিলেন এবং তাদের এই স্পর্ধাই আগামী প্রজন্মের মনে আশা জাগিয়েছিল।

মৌসুমী ভৌমিক


[1] বামাবোধিনী পত্রিকা

[2] বামাবোধিনী পত্রিকা

[3] বামাবোধিনী পত্রিকা

Unakoti – A Marvel of Myth and Art

A Travel to the Past

Indian mythology is full of stories of Gods and Goddesses, communicable, humane and occasionally enraged. Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwar, the prime gods are the creators. They and their avatars brought peace and justice to people in despair, sermoned the true meaning of life in times of war and peace and are worshipped. Wonders happened at the blinking of their third eye, rivers streamed from braid, and they set the motion of the earth. Shiva’s Rudratandav dance, the dance of destruction, was to avenge the death of his wife Sati who immolated herself to protect her husband’s honour against whom her own father Daksha hurled abuses and insult when she, uninvited came to attend his yagna ceremony. The denouement was catastrophic; to bring sanity back to Mahadeb, Vishnu threw his Sudarshan Chakra, and body parts of Sati, cut into 51 pieces were scattered and 51 pilgrimage sites formed. Sanity returned, the creator, the regenerator of the universe restored peace and harmony. Dichotomy is the divine feature of the 33 crores deities, and they all contain almost the same magnitude of power. The belief in their powers are deeply embedded in every Hindu mind (of course, I don’t mean the atheists when I said belief) wherever they are. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh, the temples with fascinating stories and myths, tend to calm and purify the minds of the devotees and capture the imaginations of the non- believers who just pay a visit to enrich their travel albums.

A walk through the Greens

Being tied, by marriage to a family rooted in Cumilla in present day Bangladesh, neighbouring Tripura naturally frequents our visit to Agartala, its capital city. A family branch of my in- laws with their own ramifications, for generations, are settled there. It is the land of many temples, pilgrimage sites, nature’s boon and the place is photographer’s delight. The region with its diverse topography, religious sentiment, tribal ethnicity and moreover their hospitality is enthralling. The cuisine, equally unique with the hint of chilli and hot spices, are nostalgic for people who has roots in Bangladesh. Tripura, the land of the Goddess of beauty, Tripura Sundori is nature’s adored one; blessed with green forests, hilly mountains and river streams, inspires many to create magic, either through ink or brush or just freezing her in stills. We are privileged to get to know Tripura as almost an insider and not only as tourist.

Unakoti Hill

In December 2015 with the sole determination of visiting one of the marvel of Tripura, Unakoti, we landed at Agartala. The place is located in Jampui hills in north Tripura and is protected by Archeological Survey of India. The distance from the capital city is almost 160 km and takes a little more than 4 hours to reach. The road, with occasional pitches and potholes, the ride through the tea garden, passing rivers and canals, the view of the border with Bangladesh in Khowai, made the journey memorable. Tripura shares not only international borders with Bangladesh, but have distinctly similar socio-cultural habits and food tastes and of course, the language. Bengali, or the Bangal Bhasha,, spoken by the Bengalis here, are completely different from the language spoken in West Bengal. Being a Ghoti (unlike my in-laws, having roots in west Bengal) myself, often I fail to follow the conversation.Though not always comprehendible, the tone of deliverance infatuates me and it keeps the persevering student in me to learn the language, in which I failed miserably, as it is extremely difficult to to muster the tone if its not one’s mother-tongue. My in-laws are exceptionally considerate people, they consciously try to speak in normal Bengali with me, to protect me from messing with the bhasha.

The pleasant ride slowed us down and as it was almost late afternoon when we reached Kumarghat,few kms from the mysterious hill of faces. We dropped the idea of driving directly to Unakoti hill and, instead we spent the night there in a tourist bungalow. Next day we set off early in the morning and reached there within 15 minutes . The last few yards we walked down the path and came across the majestic place. The soft sun ray flooded the valley beneath and Kal Bhairav’s stilling stare was captivating. His gigantic statue and the gravity struck me with awe.

The Lord in his hill

Unakoti is not a temple, but can be called a complex for the deities to reside. In Bengali, the name denote one less than a crore. Exciting stories and fables rally behind this extensively spread temple complex, and the first look to this architectural and structural marvel is magical. Rome was not built in a day, but Unakoti was, if legends and fables are to believe. The laying of bricks in every hour was like carving the image of a deity every moment.

Vishnu- A resident deity

The name Unakoti carries the story behind. As narrated in fables once Shiva along with Parvati and the entourage of one crore deities were travelling to Kailash from Kashi. They reached the Raghunandan hill at night and took shelter for the night. But exhausted from journey the gods and goddesses, save Shiva, couldn’t get up early at the dawn break to leave. Enraged and furious Shiva cursed them and returned to Kailash alone. Since then, the cursed, stone turned, the deities but one less from the crore, are residing in the hill, now called Unakoti. Each and every legends behind the name are equally interesting. According to a different narration, Kalu Kamar, a sculptor of the region wanted to accompany Shiv-Parvati to their home, in Mount Meru. Mahadev knew Kalu was not yet qualified to accompany the divine ones, let alone reside in the celestial city. The Lord reticently approved to take him on the condition that he had to sculpt images of one crore deities, overnight. The master potter worked the entire night but at the breaking of dawn he chiseled ninety nine lakhs, ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine deities and failed by one; hence the name Unakoti. Promise broken, Mahadev left for his heaven abode leaving Kalu behind. Another legend is that the local potter and sculptor Kalu Kamar, in dream was commissioned to sculpt the images of one crore gods. He failed to comply as he sculpted his own image and thus out of one crore images ninety nine lakhs were of divine powers and one of his own. The ego of Kalu to carve his identity and immortalise his name cost him dearly. The moral of the story, not to be overcome by own pride is pronounced loudly in these fables. The legends act as great addendums in spicing up beauty of attraction but Unakoti, the lost hill of faces has its own magical charm to spread spell.

Nandi Bull

The history of Unakoti travels few centuries back; to the 8th-9th centuries, when Tripura was part of Eastern Bengal and Samatat, which was ruled by the Pala dynasty. As in Tripura mythology, once the formidable powers of the asuras who ruled the magic land of Tripura was destroyed by Shiva’s single arrow. The almighty lord was revered and the worship of power is embedded in the belief of Tripura people. Rajmala, the chronicle of Tripura kings claim that since ancient time Shiva is worshipped as the supreme being and the creator and destroyer of the entire universe. The images in the hill was the creation of Saivite disciples is acceptable without a single iota of doubt. The architectures and structures, whether rock- cut or stone images, are primarily of Him.

Ganesha

The images of Ganesha, the elephant god, Vishnu, Hanuman and Ravana, adorn the hill. Parvati, Shiva’s consort, the legendary company of the Lord, the Nandi bulls, are also carved with precision. The sculpture of five faced Shiva and of the divine couple, Uma-Maheswar, the Mahishasurmardini Durga, the massive gigantic figures, the reliefs chiseled in the hill slopes reached through stairs are works of marvel.

The Cavern

Sitakund, the pond formed by the sparkling spring, dancing down the hill and through the cavern reach the plain. The pilgrims take holy dip in the Sitakund during Makarsankranti and Asokashtami, the two main festivals celebrated.

The sanyasi chilling with his chilam

The exactitude of the name Unakoti is yet to be proved; the entire region is not fully excavated till date. Fiction is always fascinating than reality and for me while delving into boring past it’s always better to add a pinch of mystery to it. The truth is not lost, but the story gets interesting.

Mythological Relief

Unakotiswara Kal Bhairav and the gigantic Ganesha figures deserve special attention; it’s hard to miss the structures because of their massivity and positioning in the central area. With a hint of tribal art the sculpture of Kal Bhairav is located at the entrance of the complex. The head itself is 10ft in height and make one to perceive the significance of the meaning of rock-solid. The entire structure is 30ft in height and it’s immenseness can’t be comprehended from the the top. Group of Shiva-lingas and Ganesha structures are found everywhere. The relief structures of Shiva are only of faces and the largest in the country. The image of Parvati as well as of other female deities are carved in the slopes.

Face relief

Numerous idols of Gods and Goddesses, in various sizes and shapes are scattered all over the hill. To cover the entire region in one day is bit tiresome for people with knee problems as lots of stair climbing are required. The hill is shielded with thick green and divine images carved in the rocks are proofs of stone worshipping of the Hindus. Devotees come to offer pujas regularly; the presence of sadhus and vermillion smeared in Kal Bhairav’s forehead confirm that the lost hill is not lost anymore;

Idol worship

Ashokastami Mela in April is a famous festival in this region thronged by hundreds of pilgrims. The artistic marvel of the ancient artists are worshipped by devotees and infatuated by many more. The solidity of the rock structural architecture, hidden from hounding tourism has a mystic aura. The small streams flowing across the valley, the holy spring, the lone gods lying in disdain, the marshy lands, the ancient stone images, the bas-reliefs is a paradise for any nemophilist and the lens-lover and need not be left unattended, unloved.

Unakotiswar Kal Bhairav

Photo Courtesy: Apangsu Bhowmick