Wednesday, October 28, 2015

some photos from Mahatta Studio exhibition


P.K. Mattoo shares some interesting images from the exhibition held in Delhi in August titled "Picturing a Century: Mahatta Studio and history of Photography in India, 1915-2015" [link]




Gandhi at the hospital of Dr. Shamboo Nath Peshin
3rd August, 1947


Nehru in Srinagar with Sheikh Mohd Abdullah (members of NC) and Abdul Ghaffar Khan


Habba Kadal
1932
Hari Singh with trout.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Broadway cinema, 1976

The Godfather and the Kid. 
Broadway cinema, Srinagar. 
Photo by Hartej Singh (1976), formerly a cameraman at Doordarshan
Shared generously by P.K. Mattoo of Doordarshan

Friday, October 9, 2015

Submerged Brokpa village of Bima


Bima is one of the famous Dardic Brokpa villages where tourists are allowed. In the tourist circles it is famous as 'Aryan Village'. 'Brokpa' is the word used in Ladakh for the Dardic people. In fact, Tibetan word Brokpa means Highlanders (herdsmen or shepherds). This community has its own distinct culture and language. The villagers even like to claim that they are decedents of Greek soldiers of Alexander's army. There are also stories that German women would come to Brokpa villages secretively just to get 'Aryan' progenies.

In the beginning of August, a flash flood triggered by torrential rain and cloudburst caused a stream to send heavy boulders and rocks to fall into Indus river at Bima village. The resulting blockage caused the river to swell into a lake and submerge the village.

In September, the waters had receded a bit but I found the village almost empty and under water. After the flood, the only motorable access to the village remained from Kargil side. I was arriving from Leh side and at a point the road just simply vanished into the lake.





To  get into the village had to climb a 15 feet cliff face.





During peak tourist season, you can find around fifty tourists roaming in the village. I found even most of the villagers missing. They have been provided temporary shelter by Army where they get breakfast, and then they leave for towns to work as porters and do other menial work. With their farms under water, there's not much they can do. I was told it would still take couple of months before any form of measure to remove the blockage in Indus can be tried.


The stream that rolled boulders into the Indus
The blockage point. The river here roars like a waterfall.


A Brokpa working in one of the only farms still functional

A Brokpa brewer of 'Arrak'
The village might be under river, but the river of Arrak must continue flowing.
Distilling 'Chang' (local Barley Ale) to get Arrak (Barley wine)


Brokpa woman


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Monday, October 5, 2015

Splendor of Ancient Kashmir in Alchi


In 9th century, Buddhism was in decline in trans-himalayan region due to persecution from Bon Tibetan rulers like Langdarma of Guge (A.D. 836 to 842). The faith was in decline until King Yeshe-Ö (A.D. 947-1024) came to the throne of the kingdom that consisted of the present Indian territories of Ladakh, Spiti and Kinnaur, and Guge and Purang in western Tibet.

To revive the faith, Yeshe-Ö sent 21 young men to viharas of Kashmir and other parts of India where Buddhism was still flourishing. They were to study and translate the texts of Mahayana Buddhism and bring them to west Tibet. Of these 21 men, only two survived the journey and returned home. One of them was Rinchen Zangpo who in 10th century is credited to have built over 100 monasteries all over Himalayan region from Ladakh to Sikkim. Of these building few survive, the best and the most famous remains Alchi about 10,500 feet above sea level in Ladakh, by the side of Indus.



At the entrance of Alchi a contemporary painting representing Lochen Rinchen Zangpo (958–1055) . He is said to have founded the Alchi monastery by planting a pipal tree here. Lochen means 'the great translator'. 

Rinchen Zangpo was a student of Buddhist Bengali master named Atiśa (Born 980, Bikrampur, Bengal, Pala Empire (now in Bangladesh)). Zangpo is said to have spent quite sometime studying in Kashmir. His biography mentions that for building Alchi and other monasteries, Zangpo brought 32 artists from Kashmir. Thus, laying foundation for one of the oldest and the most unique monasteries of Ladakh. It is here, you can see scenes from ancient Kashmir - 900 year old glimpses left by those Kashmiri hands. Kalhana was to offer us such glimpses only some time later in 12th century. The best place to visualize his Rajatarangini is at Alchi rendered in a style mixing Indian, Kashmiri, Tibetan and central Asian artistic traditions.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in Sumtseg temple

The Kashmiri painters at Alchi have drawn these scenes around bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in Sumtseg temple of Alchi. Avalokiteśvara, 'the lord who looks down', the buddha of compassion, is said to live on mythical mountain Potalaka which modern scholars say is in fact Pothigai hills of Western Ghats (Tamil Nadu/Kerala).

Site map of Alchi Chhoskhor
The monastery was abandoned in 16th century for some unknown reasons
It is now run by Likir Monastery, currently headed by the Dalai Lama’s younger brother, Tenzin Choegyal.
Although Ladakhi tradition places the monastery in 10th century and to Zangpo, inscriptions at the temple ascribe the monastery to a Tibetan noble called Kal-dan Shes-rab later in the 11th century. The various temples here are now dated to be between early 12th and early 13th centuries. A period of great religious and political upheaval for the entire region with the coming of Ghaznavid Attacks on the sub-continent, but miraculously, owning to its geographic location, left this place untouched.
Sumtseg/Sumtsek temple
made in stone and mud brick supported by wooden beams


Alchi temples are also the oldest surviving big wooden structures done by Kashmiris. 

Maiteya Buddha

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Parable for Fools


In 2048, Dr. Doomdullah, after years of study, finally understood the true nature of his problem and why the obvious solution wouldn't work. He wanted to know, 'If 90% of humanity is trash, why not just be done with it?' He found his answer in a lost work of parables from Kashmir known as 'Concise Reshinama of Lost Souls'.

Parable 161

'After years of observing the sad condition of the world in which he lived -the depravity of men, the vile and evil, Sanger Rishi came to the conclusion if a stone were to randomly drop from the sky and onto a random person, there is a good chance it would hit the head of someone deserving such divine retribution. To test his theory, one early morning Sanger Rishi started climbing the hillock of Kus-ha-sa-Maraan that overlooked the city. On reaching the highest point, he planned to pick a stone and hurl it down at the city. While trekking up the hill, strangest of thing happened: a stone from nowhere hit him on the head. He died. Mazar of Sanger Rishi came up at the spot. His epitaph read:

From my throne high up on
Parbat
every morning
Down below
I see him make his way to the temple,
the mosque, the shop, the job...
Every morning
I hurl down a pebble at his head
Every morning
my head hurts

Dr. Doomdullah understood the true meaning of the parable: you have to get to the top of the hill before anyone else does; hold fort.


Parable 143

Two men were fighting over truth. Each called the other a lair. Each had a dagger at the throat of other, ready to let the blood run and settle the matter. Prophetess Red Dead, who happened to be passing by, intervened. Taking piety on them, in all compassion, she took the daggers from them and casting a certain spell over the metal blades proclaimed, 'This dagger of truth can now only pierce an untrue heart.' She then returned the daggers to the two men. Divine daggers in hand, the two men lunged at each with a new righteous ferocity. It was over soon.

Dr. Doomdullah understood the true meaning of the parable: Hold onto your truth and let the blood flow.

Parable 157

The crowd gathered in the village square to begin stoning the condemned man. Prophet Yekusinsaan arrived at the scene and told all gathered people, 'He who is without sin among you, let him be the one to throw the stones.' Hearing this a seven-year old girl came forward and threw a small rock at the man. It caught the man's head at a wrong angle, the condemned man died three days later in much pain.

Dr. Doomdullah understood the true meaning of the parable: Stop talking in parables.

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Here hear the battle of Basgo




View of plans of Basgo (Bazgu) village with Zangla castle at top of a hill, about 4 miles further of Nimo, about 42 kilometer west of Leh.


Here was fought the battle of Basgo that ended with Ladakh coming under to sphere of Mughal influence.

Zangla Castle

In the middle of 17th century, Tibet was under the control of Mongol Gushi Khan who supported the 5th Dalai Lama to take control of the region that was seeing quarrels between different sects of Buddhism. This is the Dalai (meaning 'Ocean' in Mongolian) who built Potala (Skrt. Potalaka meaning 'celestial residence') in Lhasa.

Ladakh at the time was under a new Dynasty, Namgyal who had defeated the king of Leh and moved the capital to Basgo. In a dispute between Tibet and Bhutan, Namgyals of Ladakh, given the head of their sect was based in Bhutan, decided to support Bhutan. In return, in the Dalai Lama of Tibet sent Mongol and Tibetan forces on an expedition to Ladakh under one warrior monk Lama Sang (Ganden Tshewangpel Sangpo of Ganden (Skrt. Tushita)) monastery). Tibetans forces also had the support of Kehari Singh (1639-1696) of Bushar state in upper Satluj Valley as he wanted to recover some part of Kinnaur area which had been earlier claimed by Namgyas. 

When Gyalpo Delek Namgyal (1640(5)-1680 A.D) of Ladakh found Tibetan-Mongols on his heel, from Basgo he wrote for help to Kashmir. Kashmir at the time was under Mughal governor Ibrahim Khan (reign: 1678-1885) son of famous Kurdish administrator Ali Mardan Khan. Already, during the time of Shah Jahan, Namgyals and their territorial ambitions in Trans-Himalayas were not unnoticed by the Mughal court. But, Namgyals on being notified, did tender submission to Mughal court. Now, that Namgyals needed help, they looked to Mughals. 

Ibrahim Khan forwarded the request to Mugal Emperor Aurangzeb at Aurangabad (August Hermann Francke mistakenly mentions 'bigot' Shah Jahan). Mughal historian Mir Izzet Ullah (1812) mentions an army of six lakh men from Kashmir was sent and lead by Ibrahim Khan's son Fidai Khan (Alexander Cunningham pegs the number at a more believable 6000, Francke mistakenly gives the name as Fateh Khan). In return for this help, Delek was to become Muslim and promise to give Kashmir monopoly over the pashmina trade. 

Mughal crossed the Indus at Khalatsi (Khalatse) on two wooden bridges and marched to Bargu village. Bidhi Singh of Kullu Kingdom  (Lahul and Kullu tributary were tributary of Ladakh since AD 1125-50 ) supported Mughals but plundered Zanskar valley nevertheless when he entered it. 

The Mongols had taken position on the plain of Jargyal between Bazgu and Nemo. In the battle that ensured, the Tibet-Mongol were defeated and chased till Spituk. 

After the war, Ladakhi source do not mention the conversion of Namgyal to Islam, but Mughal sources do. As was the norm of the time, Fidai Khan took some of the royal family members to Kashmir as 'hostages' while Delek Namgyal changed his name to Akbat Mahmud Khan.

However, after the Mughals returned to Kashmir, the Mongols again came in 1684 and the king of Ladakh had to submit and pay yearly tribute to Tibet. Dalai Lama wasn't pleased with the interference of foreigners in Himalayas. A peace treaty was signed between Tibet and Ladakh which ensured Tibet will never attack Ladakh and among other things ensured Kashmiri Pashmina traders will only be allowed till Spituk.

However, after the battle of Basgo, Ladakh continued to remain in sphere of Mughals, then Durranis, Sikhs and the Dogras.

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*
Based on info. in 'Buddhist Western Himalaya: A politico-religious history' by O.C. Handa. According to the author, the exact year of the event is much disputed and is given as 1650 by Francke, 1680 by Hutchison and Vogel and 1687 by Cunningham. This was also the time when first mosque was erected in Leh in 1699.

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The Zangla castle was where stayed the famous Hungarian Alexander Csoma de Kőrös (1784-1842) and brought out the first Tibetan-English dictionary and grammar book. The castle was renovated by a Hungarian team in around 2006.

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Nimo village, Leh



On way to Nimo, a small village 35 kilometer from Leh at 11,000 feet.


An old woman at Nimo, post morning drink.







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