Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Complete Guide to Sugandhesa Temple, Pattan



Kalhana tells us that King Avantivarman (AD 855 – 883 AD), the first king of the Utpala dynasty had a foul mouthed son who didn't have taste for high poetry. He tells us S'amkaravarman (Shankaravarman, A.D. 883-902), son and successor of Avantivarman founded a new town called S'ankarapurapattana and built two temples at the place dedicated to Shiva. The new king named one of the temples after his wife Sugandha as Sugandhesa. After early death of her two boy kings, Sugandha too got to rule Kashmir from 904 to 906 A.D. 

Kalhana mentions that just like a bad poet steals material from other poets, a bad King, plunders other cities. S'amkaravarman plundered the nearby Buddhist site of Parihaspora to build his new town. The stone of the temple came after the ruin of Parihaspora, that happened just around 150 years after it was founded by Lalitaditya (697-734 A.D). According to Pandit Kalhana, it was the evil deeds of the King that lead people to forget the real name of this town and instead have them call it simply as Pattan [Stein, 'the town'. Cunningham, pandits wrote it as 'Paathan', 'the path' as it falls on the important route to Varahmula]. Kalhana mentions that the fame of the town rested not on the temples but "what gave fame to that town was only what is still to be found at Pattana, — manufacture of woollen cloths, trade in cattle, and the like."

In 1847, the two temples at Pattan were identified by Alexander Cunningham (1814-93) as the ones mentioned in Rajatarangini. Based on the fact that one of the temples was smaller and less decorate that the other, he marked it as Sugandhesa temple.

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16th November, 2014

At a distance of about 25 kilomoters from Srinagar, this is the first major historical monument that one runs into while on way to Baramulla on national highway NH1-A. 



Sugandhesa Temple, 1868.
Photograph by John Burke for Henry Hardy Cole's Archaeological Survey of India report, 'Illustrations of Ancient Buildings in Kashmir' (1869).
Ram Chandra Kak in his 'Ancient Monuments of Kashmir' (1933) provides the basic description of the structure:

The shrine is 12' 7" square and has, as usual, a portico in front. It is open on one side only, and has trefoiled niches externally on the other sides. These niches contained images. The temple stands on a double base, but it seems probable from the flank walls of the lower stair and the frieze of the lower base, in which the panels intended for sculpture decoration have been merely blocked out, but not carved, that the temple was never completed.
The entrance to the courtyard is in the middle of the eastern wall of the peristyle, and consists, as usual, of two chambers with a partition wall and a doorway in the middle.
Among the architectural fragments lying loose on the site, the most noteworthy are (a) two fragments of fluted columns with their capitals, (b) two bracket capitals with voluted ends and carved figures of atlantes supporting the frieze above, (c) a huge stone belonging to the cornice of the temple, bearing rows of kirtimukhas (grinning lions' heads) and rosettes, and (d) a stone probably belonging to the partition wall of the entrance, having (1) two small trefoiled niches in which stand female figures wearing long garlands and (2) below them two rectangular niches, in one of which is an atlant seated between two lions facing the spectator, and in the other are two human-headed birds.
The cornice of the base of the peristyle is similar to that of the Avantisvami temple. The cells were preceded by a row of fluted columns, bases of some of which are in situ while those of others are scattered about in the courtyard.
The attention of the visitor is called to the slots in the lower stones of the jambs of the cells. These are mortices for iron clamps which held pairs of stones together. Pieces of much-corroded iron are still extant in some of the mortices.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Why is Madin Sahib locked?


On way to the place I was narrated the old tale. Somewhere in 1980s, news spread in Srinagar that a miracle had been witnessed at the shrine of Madeen Sahib. People were saying a lot of things. It was heard that the mausoleum's outer wall was dripping blood. Shias as well as Sunnis started gathering at the place. They did see something. Some said, the spot on the wall seemed liked someone had focused the beam from a laser pointer, a device which were in vogue back then as a source of amusement and harassment. Soon the rioting and violence started. When the violence was over, the mausoleum had been shut for public access.

Near But Kadal in Zadibal, Srinagar, is a 15th century monument known as 'Madin Sahib' named after the tomb and mosque of Sayyid Muhammad Madani who came to India with Timur in 1398 and moved to Kashmir during the reign of Sultan Sikandar Butshikan (1389–1413 CE). The monument comprises of a Mosque and a Tomb, with the mosque dating back to around 1444 which first came up during the reign of Zain-ul-Abidin, incorporating elements, pillar and base, from an older Hindu monument.

In 1905, archaeological surveyor W. H. Nicholls (1865-1949), during his pioneering study of Muslim architecture in Kashmir, was the first to notice the uniqueness of the art of this building among all the Muslim monuments in India. The mosque had glazed tiles of a kind unlike any other building in India and some tiles was painted a mystical beast not seen anywhere on any other mosque in India. [Read: Beast at Madin Sahib]


Madin Sahib 1905. From the report by Nicholls for 'Archaeological Survey of India Report 1906-7'
Via FB: Khursheed Qadri who was involved in the present round of renovation of the monument.
Although the architecture and its beauty was documented only in 1905, the place Zadibal is in fact mentioned in one of the earliest western travelogues. Godfrey Thomas Vigne who visited Kashmir in 1835, mentioned in his book 'Travels in Kashmir, Ladak, Iskardo, the Countries Adjoining the Mountain-Course of the Indus, and the Himalaya, north of the Panjab with Map' (1844), that Zadibal witnessed rioting in the year 1830 when the place was inhabited by Persian traders. The trigger was Muharram procession (something still now allowed in Srinagar. And the note by Englishman Vigne places the blame on Shias. A piece of writing that still can be used to incite violence). In the aftermath of the rioting, the Persians who were mainly into Shawl trade and numbered about 200-300, left Kashmir for Iran.

The place again witnessed rioting in 1872. In 1870, the Franco-Prussian war between France and Germany lead to the decline in Shawl business. The Shia of Srinagar were primarily into paper mache and shawl business. In fact, one of the richest man in the city back then was a Shia named Mirza Muhammad Ali.  The Shias in Kashmir follow either of the two influential families, Moulvi or Aga. Most also falling into two contrasting income brackets: rich and poor. It in not hard to follow that in this part of the world, economic disturbances eventually lead to sectarian and religious violence . All they need it a trigger. Shia at the time were about 6000 in the city and for every 1 Shia there were 10 Sunnis. On 19th September 1872, on the Urs (death anniversary) of Madin Sahib, Sunnis gathered at the place, and so did Shias. Claims over the right to own the place were exchanged. Soon, a wave of violence was unleashed that lasted about three days. In the madness, the ancient monument was damaged in fire that raged all over Zadibal.  In fact much of Srinagar was in flames. 

The violence of 1872 is recorded in report published in a Munich based paper, where it is titled 'The Grauel in Kajhmir' (The horror in Kashmir). In an interesting observation, the report also mentions that Shia women and children were given refuge in Pandit households.  [Read: Allgemeine Zeitung Munich]

Madin Shib in around 1979. Before renovation that started in 1983.
Raghubir Singh.

More than hundred years later, in 1983, just when the work on renovation of the shrine had started, the place again suffered rioting. June 1983 was going to be the year for state assembly election.  It in not hard to follow that in this part of the world, economic political eventually lead to sectarian and religious violence. Zadibal, the Shia majority area was considered a stronghold of Congress I, the party headed by Pandit Indira Gandhi. The violence started around June 14th, and after raging for around three days, left around 700 injured and many shops and houses, and a mosque, burnt. [News Report]

Madin Sahib in 1983 when the renovation started.
 Prataap Patrose, Aga Khan Visual Archive, MIT

source

A more lasting impact of the riot was that the Astaan of Madin Sahib went behind locks, out of bound of common man who might be just interested in art and architecture. And it has been like that ever since.

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The light was falling fast. Bilal climbed atop the high iron railing that now forms an ugly fence around the monument and asked me to follow him.  Across the monument, sitting on the window was an old man enjoying the last hours of the day. There was hardly anyone of the street. We could have climbed in. If I didn't know the history of the place, I would have climbed on and broken into the monument. Knowledge of history and not just history, creates our sense of boundaries. I told him I can't climb over the wall. In addition, there was one more major concern, I didn't want to impale my precious organ just trying to get into an ancient forgotten monument.

Just then a young guy walking along stopped and asked what were we doing. Bilal explained. The guy said there was no need to climb, there were men inside the shrine on guard duty. To get in, all we had to do was knock on the iron padlocks. Bilal asked the man why the placed was locked. The man didn't know. Bilal asked him where was he from. He was a local of the area. In Kashmir such questions aren't asked directly. If you are Sunni, you don't ask the other person directly if he is Shia.

We banged on the railing. But there was no response. The guards were probably watching television somewhere inside. Finally, after about half an hour of knocking, two men appeared sleep walking from behind the shrine. As they approached, Bilal in an insidious tone asked me to keep my mouth shut and just follow his lead. Bilal had a stratagem up his sleeves for getting me in. The conversation that followed is one of the weirdest and most comic I have had in Kashmir.

The men asked Bilal about nature of the visit. Bilal's explanation, 'This here with me is a Sahib who has come from very far to see the monument.'

One of the men asked, 'Where has he come from?'

'He has come all the way from Germany.'

A hysterical laugh almost escaped from my throat, that on reaching my lips converted into an awkward smile.

The man stared at me.

'Germany?'

'Yes, from Germany. To write a book. Like the foreigners do.'

I tried to look as German as I could and hide what I though what was my obvious Kashmiriness. My smile disappeared and I looked glum and serious, like a man ashamed of past. That should have done it. But the next query from the man foiled Bilal's plot and had me stumped.

'Is he a Christian or a Jew?'

I burst out laughing when I heard the question. I exclaimed, 'But, I was a local'.

The man looking terribly confused and turing to Bilal asked, 'You said he is foreign.'

In a last-ditch attempt, Bilal tried to explain it away, 'He is foreign. But living here. Like lot of foreigners do. Please let us in. Just for five minutes.'

Stratagem fell apart.

'You need to get written permission from the trust that runs this place.'

The plot was obviously flawed from the beginning. Even Bilal with his copper hair had a higher chance for passing off as German.  But apparently, it is the most obvious method that tourists try at this place to get in. I was told you had a higher chance of getting in if you are not a Kashmiri. You may get in if you are foreigner, or even if you are from some other part of India, but not if you are from Kashmir.

I looked at the iron railings more carefully. Some of them had their lower ends bent to create sort of a holes in the wall. The holes had obviously been made by random tourists so one could stick a camera lens in and get a clear shot of the shrine. Walls that history creates is often accompanied by holes that people create to subvert the walls

I too took my camera stuck it into one of the holes.


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15th November, 2014



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Beast at Madin Sahib


Near But Kadal in Zadibal, Srinagar, is a 15th century monument known as 'Madin Sahib' named after the tomb and mosque of Sayyid Muhammad Madani who came to India with Timur in 1398 and moved to Kashmir during the reign of Sultan Sikandar Butshikan (1389–1413 CE). The monument comprises of a Mosque and a Tomb, with the mosque dating back to around 1444 which first came up during the reign of Zain-ul-Abidin, incorporating elements from an older Hindu monument.

In 1905, archaeological surveyor W. H. Nicholls (1865-1949), during his pioneering study of Muslim architecture in Kashmir, was the first to notice the uniqueness of the art of this building among all the Muslim monuments in India. The mosque had glazed tiles of a kind unlike any other building in India and some tiles was painted a mystical beast not seen anywhere on any other mosque in India. The beast could be seen in the tile work on left spandrel of arch at entrance. 

Nicholls wrote in a report:

"a beast with the body of a leopard, changing at the beck into the truck of a human being, shooting apparently with a bow and arrow at its own tail, while a fox is quietly looking on among flowers and cloud-forms. These peculiar cloud-forms are common in Chinese and Persian art, and were frequently used by Mughals - by Akbar in the Turkish Sultana's house at Fathepur-Sikri, Jahangir at Sikandarah, and Shah Jahan in the Diwan-i-Khass at Delhi, to mention only a few instances. The principal beast in the picture is about four feet long, and is striking quite an heraldic attitude. The chest, shoulders, and head of the human being are unfortunately missing. The tail ends in a kind of dragon's head. As for the colour, the background is blue, the trunk of the man is read, the leopard's body is yellow with light green spots, the dragon's head and the fox are reddish brown, and the flowers are of various colours. It is most probable that if this beast can be run to earth, and similar pictures found in the art of other countries, some light will be thrown upon the influences bearing upon the architecture of Kashmir during a period about which little is at present known."

Nicholls supposed the figure like the main building too came up in 1444, which would make it pre-Mugal. However, John Hubert Marshall (1876-1958), superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India, in his introduction to Nicholl's report mentions that a Persian text at the site indicted that the present entrance was added during Shah Jahan's time (1626 to 1658), that would make it from 17th century and not 15th century. [More recently inceptions have been found from the time of Dara Shikoh too]

Beast as drawn by W. H. Nicholls in his
Muhammadan architecture in Kashmir by Mr. W. H. Nicholls
for 'Archaeological Survey of India Report 1906-7' [uploaded here]
 Digitally distorted copy as made available by Digital Library of India 
Although the figure was unique and the description by Nicholls was repeated verbatim often when talking about architecture of Kashmir. The mystery beast wasn't explained till recent times in obscure journals. And even then there is much confusion. 

Using Google Image search, it took me just five minutes to figure out that the image stands for the Islamic astrological figure representation of eclipse happening in Sagittarius or centaur (ai-qaws), the bow man represents the planet Jupiter, while the dragon is al-jawzahar, the devouring pseudo planet. The concept of 8th planet coming after the 7 planets (the sun, the moon, saturn, jupiter, mars, venus and Mercury), is supposed to reached Sasanian Empire from Indian Astrological concept of Rahu (head) - Ketu (Tail), the two (but 1) pseudo planet(s), a giant dragon that occasionally devours planets, a concept that made its way into all major schools of eastern astrology.


In case of Sagittarius, the eclipse is a weak, hence the Bowman is shown defiantly shooting into the mouth of the dragon (Rahu).  

Such figures could be (and can still can be found) from the time of Abbasid Dynasty could be found in region as wide as Iraq (Abbasid calip Abu Ja'far al-Mansur (r. 754-75) is said to have built his capital at Baghdad under the astrological sign of Sagittarius) to Iran (where it is very common, particularly Isfahan, a place whose symbol is Sagittarius, something to do with the year the city came up in 16th century around 1591 with defeat of Uzbeks, Sagittarius meant realm of Persia around this time.  The building with Sagittarius in Iran mostly came up in 16th century). However al-jawzahar showing up on a building in Indian sub-continent is unique. It is interesting that the monument falls in the Shia locality and is claimed by them.

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