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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Inside Taj Mahal: Seeing replica of Shah Jahan-Mumtaz Mahal's graves as entry to original 'mazaars' blocked: My journey to Agra, travelogue Part-4

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Seeing the Taj Mahal in photographs or movies you can never imagine its grandeur until you see it in front of you. The mausoleum totally overwhelms the visitor with its imposing structure and majestic beauty.

After the first glimpse of Taj Mahal and the tips for travellers, the optical illusions, mysteries and secrets of the mausoleum and the unique facts about the tomb's pinnacle, this is the fourth part of the travelogue in which I'd focus on the the final resting place of Shahjehan and Mumtaz Mahal--their graves inside the Taj.

At the gate, there was a board on which it was written that photography is not allowed once we step inside the tomb. Till now, I had clicked enough photographs on the premises, platform and around this masterpiece of world heritage, marvelling its beauty and architecture.


In the central octagonal room, one could see the graves through the marble screen [jaali]. However, these are not real graves but decorative ones. Surprised. How can that be? As per Islamic tradition, the 'qabr' or grave has to be below the ground--buried in the earth below. [Arrey bhai, qabr zameen ke niche hi hoti hai.]

Naturally, the graves couldn't be up there at such a height. This is the reason that the original graves are at the lower chamber, the entry to which was stopped some years ago. The imitative graves are similar to the real sarcophagi located in the basement.

The dimensions are same but not the craftsmanship. Though there is lot of security but when you see people still writing their names and making graffiti on the milky marble--damaging the structure, without any concern for our national heritage, you feel that restrictions are necessary.

At the Humanyun's Tomb [Humayun was Shahjehan's ancestor, great grandfather to be precise] in Delhi, which was built long before Taj Mahal, there is similar arrangement at the sarcophagus--decorative grave at ground floor, real grave in lower storey [underground chamber].

Due to these cenotaphs in the middle of the upper chamber, those walking around won't have their feet over the real graves. So there is no disrespect to the graves that are directly below this chamber. In the upper chamber, where visitors are allowed, you see light filtering out through screens and glasses.

The final resting place of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal
Shah Jehan was later buried here and hence his grave is situated a bit towards the left.

As usual, the graves of male and female can be distinguished when you see the top of the 'qabr'. Shah Jehan's has a 'qalamdan' [pencase or quill box] on  it.

In Archaeological Survey of India's (ASI) book on Taj Mahal, the royal sarcophagi is mentioned in these words:

"...The arches of this central octagonal hall amidst which lies the exquisite eight side marble network, are made of the finest marble. In fact, so chaste that when the rays of light scooping through the double perforated marble screens fall on it, a sort of miracle occurs, because it seems that this marble has been thinly coated with sang-i-tila or gold stone, the precious particles of which have been set in its smooth texture", writes Dr WH Siddiqui, the former Director of ASI.

"The front of arches apart from masterly calligraphy comprising quotations from Holy Quran are embellished with the most gorgeous ornamentation in the form of plants, bouquets, buds opening and closing, blossoms partly blown or in full bloom, and leaves bent by the breeze. They are so natural and true to life that unless observed closely it is difficult to discern that they are composed of pieces of precious stones so firmly and elegantly embedded in the marble".

"It is amazing but true that an ornamented marble panel depicting a bouquet of flowers contains several hundred pieces to form the mosaic work, and in a single flower there may be as many as fifty pieces of valuable stones of bright and natural colours, what is more, these pieces are closely and accurately embedded that it is impossible to pass a needle in the parting", the book further says.

The real graves in the lower chamber of the tomb
There is a lot to see once you are inside the tomb but you should have the eye to note the intricate details.

Always remember that when you get inside such structures, have a look at the ceiling, you must have the eye for details, the inquisitiveness of a traveller and must ask the guide about the artwork.

Surprisingly, here also the visitors were throwing coins--at the mazaars!

The then Emperor of Hindustan who commanded unprecedented wealth must not have ever imagined that a few centuries later people would throw metal coins at his 'qabr'.


In fact, there is Urs also in memory of Shah Jehan, just like Sufi saints' are remembered and the Urs is held to mark their anniversaries. Once a while, a person tries to take a snap of the graves inside the Taj, but the security personnel inside are alert and immediately stop them from photography.

More about Mausoleum

There are interesting aspects about the reflection of light and the sound affects inside the tomb. You may spot   the signature of the master calligrapher, in case, the guide tells you and if you can read a bit of Perso-Arabic [Urdu script]. You may as well find the word 'Bhola' written in devanagari somewhere there.

There is the story about the lamp, a gift from the British lieutenant governor who visited the tomb in 1909 and many other tales. We have skipped a lot including the death of Mumtaz, how she had died and buried first in Burhanpur and later the body was brought and buried here.

Exquisite art, workmanship at Taj amazes even after 400 years
We haven't even talked about the Char Bagh garden, the mosque, the Basai tower, the turrets, the waterworks--all that formed part of this mausoleum complex which was made on lines of a paradise for Mumtaz Mahal on earth, before her final destination--the heavenly paradise.

I have earlier mentioned a few of the illusions in the structure but I forgot to write about the optical trick about Taj's size when you see it from the main gateway--its getting bigger suddenly in a matter of few steps.

But the travelogue continues. Next on when Taj was just saved by a whisker.

Shah Jehan [formerly Prince Khurram] birth 1592, death 1666
Mumtaz Mahal [formerly Arjuman Ara Begum] birth 1593, death 1631 

[Taj Maha's construction began in 1631, completed in 1653]

Earlier parts of this travelogue on my recent visit to Agra
1. First glimpse of Taj Mahal: Suggestions, Top Ten Tips and Advisory if you are planning to visit Agra
2. Mysteries, Secrets and Little-known facts about Taj Mahal
3. Have you seen the finial on the Taj's dome, know its height? Taj Mahal taller than Qutub Minar.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Have you seen the pinnacle on the top of Taj Mahal's dome, know its height! My trip to Agra, travelogue Part-3

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If you have seen the Taj Mahal, have your ever paid attention to the pinnacle [finial] on top of this magnificent monument's dome?

The finial is more than 30 feet high [surprised!] though the height at which it stands, makes it appear smaller to us.

In fact, if you walk on the platform of Taj Mahal, you will see the exact shape of the drawing of this finial made on the floor just on the right side of Taj [towards jamat-khana].

It is because of this brass finial [weighing nearly 4/5th of a tonne] that the height of Taj Mahal is slightly more than the Qutub Minar, as I mentioned in the second part of this travelogue.

However, because Taj is a wide structure, one doesn't immediately get a feeling that it is so high. The exact height of Taj Mahal's pinnacle [up to finial tip] is a little over 73 m above the garden or ground.

This is up to the pinnacle on the top of the dome that is higher than its four corner minarets. The height of Qutab Minar is 72.5 metres.If you look closely you will find 'iron rings' on the entire dome. You will have to make an effort to locate them.

But do you know how big are they? Large enough for a labourer to sit. Each of them is around 1 feet though due to the imposing structure when you look from the ground, you feel that they are much smaller.

Design of the finial on top of the dome, is drawn on the floor of Taj Mahal.
In fact, when the ASI gets the dome cleaned, it is these iron rings which are used by workers engaged in the restoration job, to go upwards and do the cleaning.

You must have heard the Taj looks different at different hours of the day.

It is said that it reflects pinkish huge in the morning, milky white in the evening and golden in moon light.

Indeed, Taj changes colours with the day--the effect of sunlight and the river.

Inside the Taj Mahal, one can see the real effect of the mosaic of semi-precious stones.

The mosaics are created with tiny coloured stones set into marble.

The artisans shaped them with great precision and skill.

The flowers are carved into marble, creating the space for setting a precious stone. After delicate correction, the stones are set in with the use of glue. These precious inlays sparkle.

Earlier guides would throw light on the gems and these semi-precious stones would emit light, for example: red shining like bright ruby.

One of the minarets of the Taj Mahal
Twenty eight different type of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into sang-e-marmar [white marble] to build this magnificent octagonal tomb.

Its not just the delicate carvings that surprise visitors to the mausoleum, but there are other aspects too.

Optical Illusions, sense of proportion

There is enough of Optical Illusion in Taj Mahal's construction. Stand anywhere and look at the Arabic calligraphy--the verses from the Holy Quran inscribed on the walls.

The size of the Arabic alphabets look the same all along the vertical height.

Imagine how the letters written in the line visible in front of you look the same size as the one on a height of nearly 25 metres!

This amazing feat was achieved by the extraordinary calligrapher Amanat Ali Khan Shirazi.

Shirazi somehow knew how the size of words had to be increased gradually so that the normal human eye the font is same for the lower line as well as the topmost line.

One can only marvel at his understanding of angles and how human eye functions apart from the finesse in calligraphy.

This master craftsmanship--combination of science and art to achieve the perspective and proportion of balance is one of the major reason that Taj Mahal is unrivalled and unparalleled. It is a monument that stuns even those who have more scientific bent of mind but have little aesthetic interest.

Inspiration for the tomb

Letters in front of your eye are as readable as the ones at the top!
The architects, designers of Taj Mahal, achieved absolute perfection in almost everything they accomplished.

More optical illusions continue as you see the building and the four minarets. The inspiration for the Taj Mahal came from four different 'maqbaras'.

First, Hoshang Shah's tomb in Mandu [Malwa, MP], Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanaan's tomb in Delhi, Humayun's mausoleum and Itimad-ud-Daula's tomb in Agra.

The finest and best of all was combined and the minarets added when Ustad Isa made the layout plan.

The central dome is called Gumbad-i-Amroodi because of its shape. The four minarets are shorter than the middle dome.

The Four minarets of the Taj Mahal

Interestingly, the Taj's minarets have a feature that distinguishes it from other towers or minarets of the era.

In Taj, minaret's third story is the tallest. But the middle-one is shortest. As a result, when you see them, you feel the minarets have three storeys of equal proportions.

Hence, the top most storey doesn't look smaller. The staircases are closed for years now and one can't go to the top of these minarets.

Apart from calligraphy, there are abstract geometric elements and floral motifs that decorate the structure.

If you look at the walls of the building, you will see the patterns that create an illusion.

You feel that that there six or more sides but when you touch the marble, you realise that there are just three faces.

In fact, the patterns are such that without touching the walls you can't figure out the number of facets of a corner.

There is no dearth of fascinating facts, architectural and structural fine points about the Taj Mahal. After all, its not for nothing that Taj is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. [Thanks to Agraonline.co.in for the inset photo of the finial]

Hats off to Ustad Ahmad Lahauri and Mir Abdul Karim, the two main architects behind the building of this magnificent structure. This was third in the series of posts after the First part that was about first view and tips for a visitor, second part that focused on the Secrets and mysteries of the monument.

This long series on Agra travelogue continues. If you have enjoyed the travelogue so far, wait for the next post. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mysteries, Secrets and Little-Known Facts of the Taj Mahal: My visit to Agra, travelogue Part-2

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You may have heard how Taj Mahal changes its colours but do you know from where you can see the precious stones on the monument sparkle?

The gems in fact dazzle your eyes, each of them reflecting sunlight just like a mirror does.

We wouldn't have known this until the guide told us about it and showed the place from where we could see the affect of the light on Taj.

We had just taken off our shoes inside the premises and had climbed the stairs to reach the platform of the mausoleum. On the left side is the mosque made of red stone and an exact replica of it--the jamatkhana [also called mehmankhana] is on the right.

It was from near the Jamaatkhana, we were seeing the Taj, when the guide told us to look at the top of the structure. The sun rays early in the morning create this magnificent spectacle. We took a few more steps and were now exactly between the jamatkhana and Taj, when we saw the gems shining.

The shine kept on growing. First we saw one or two stones reflecting light. Then more and more. It was an amazing experience. A lady with us was so excited that she began shouting in joy that how her eyes were bedazzled with the 'chamak' [shine]. 

WAY TO SECRET UNDERGROUND CHAMBERS OF TAJ
The use of white marble inlaid with semiprecious stones in construction is a unique aspect of Mughal architecture [and civil engineering] during the reign of Shahjehan who promoted it. This is known as pietra dura.

Had we come a bit earlier we might have seen the real impact. Also, had we been late, we wouldn't have seen the phenomenon at all. 

The guide says that the effect of moon is also similar and the 'stones turn into bulbs emitting moonlight', also termed the 'pearl effect'.

From here we moved towards the Taj Mahal. We saw the amazing drainage system--star shaped holes on the floor and the 'parnalas' (spouts) on the building that aren't so easily visible unless someone draws your attention towards them.

It was breezy in the morning. The view of Taj with Jamna [Jamuna, Yamuna] river flowing behind was spectacular. The guide told us about the foundation of Taj. That there were wells dug below on which Taj Mahal was built.

WAY TO THE UNDERGROUND CHAMBERS OF TAJ

This was what we had earlier heard and also read. But now we were told the reason. One really marvelled for the wisdom of architects and engineers. Close to the boundary from where one could see the Jamna, there was the entry to the 'secret chamber' on the floor.

One could see the stairs going somewhere down into the basement. But it was locked. The passersby were throwing coins into it. Thousands of coins had gathered on the stairs which we could see through the mesh. The policemen who were present nearby looked at us and said, 'Ye hamara ATM hai'.

Taj Mahal overlooks the river Jamuna [Yamuna now] 
Another cop now said jokingly, 'ye sara collection hamare liye hai' [the money is being collected for us'. But why people throw currency here, I asked.

They just do because they see others doing and hence follow it. [Later I saw coins thrown even inside the tomb at the mazaars' replica*].

And everyone has seen someone throwing the coins here just like they throw it from trains into the rivers while crossing over the bridges.


These secret chambers are closed and only the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officials open it. They take out the coins on a regular basis but how far they go down these stairs is not known. I consulted books on Taj Mahal and later found that these were termed as 'sub-terranian chambers', which were intrinsic part of the structure.

This is one of the two rectangular openings [10.5 feet x 4 feet] which is surrounded by a red standstone lattice rail. Each opening goes to the series of mysterious underground subterranean chambers whose total length is 120 yars. A tunnel like corridor runs rimmediately south of these chambers.

TAJ MAHAL taller than QUTAB MINAR

Surprising it may seem but the Taj Mahal is taller than the Qutab Minar. The height of the mausoleum from the ground level [including platform] is around 240 feet [over 73 m*] while the Qutab Minar is around 237.8 feet [72.5 metre] high. I will explain it more in the next post [Part-III].

But because of its design [its too wide and large horizontally as well], the Taj Mahal doesn't look as high compared to a lone minaret [Qutub] with nothing high nearby. The dome of Taj and its top are higher than its four minarets.

In fact, even the height of minarets of the Taj can be discerned only when you reach close to the structure. Just because there are four minarets and the main structure in the midst being equally high, the visual impact of the combined structure is different, and one doesn't think of it in terms of just elevation.

MINARETS WITH 2 DEGREE TILT, TAJ MAHAL STANDS ON WELLS

The four huge minarets were constructed with such finesse that they tilt 2 degree away from the building. This was to ensure that in case of earthquake, they would not fall on the tomb. This is just one of the innumerable amazing engineering feats which the makers--engineers, architects, designers and masons, accomplished.

Due to the tomb's vicinity to the river, the foundation had to be kept strong. Else, the structure could sink in mud or washed during the flood. Also, while the construction was going on, to keep the water away during monsoons, the conduits were built.

Series of wells were excavated in which bands of sal wood and masonry were stuffed. This is the first and last such example of hydraulic foundation anywhere in the world. Flowing river is must to survival of Taj. With Jamuna drying, the system [wood in the foundation rotting as it gets dried] would be affected.

The massive weight of the structure is distributed on this amazing foundation that has the wells beneath it. The Jamuna and the dampening effect is necessary to keep the foundation stable. Hence, it is being planned now a days to construct a dam so that the river stream could be kept at a level so that the monument's foundation remains strong.

(* The real graves are underground and were closed long back. Now only people see the replica of the mazaars above) 

[This is second part of the ongoing travelogue. The first part was more about suggestions for travellers and tips what would help visitors to the Taj Mahal. The series of posts on Taj Mahal continues after this post as well]

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

First glimpse of Taj Mahal: My visit to Agra, travelogue-Part 1

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I recently visited Agra, the City of Taj Mahal and the former capital of Hindustan. It was my first proper trip here with the sole aim to admire the beauty of the magnificent mausoleum, which has enchanted the world for almost five centuries now.

It is going to be a long travelogue with list of dos and don'ts apart from suggestions and tips. For a lay visitor, it could be an experience to watch the Taj Mahal. But if you have even the slightest interest in history, archaeology or architecture, then you will be truly astonished with the Taj complex.

First an advisory if you are planning a trip to see Taj Mahal. List of ten 'Dos and Donts' that would help visitors:

1. Plan the trip in advance and at least stay in Agra for two days. A daylong visit will not only exhaust you, it doesn't do justice with the monument and other structures in Agra. You should at least, spend two days in Agra.

2. Taj Mahal remains closed on FRIDAY [Juma]. On this day only the faithful--mostly people in Tajganj, go to the mosque on the premises of the tomb, for prayer [Namaz]. So plan your journey accordingly.

3. In summers, it can be really hot. So try to get as early as possible in the morning. The ticket is just Rs 20 for Indians and there is no entry fee for those below 15 years. We had the ticket in our hand at 7 am and were inside the premises for almost 2-1/2 hrs on the first day.

4. If you are taking kids along. Then go after a proper breakfast, as you are not allowed to take any eatable--not even toffee inside the premises. You just take the water bottle. So children may feel tired as it is a really huge comlex.

5. While you spend thousands of bucks on the trip, don't be a kanjoos [miser] when it comes to getting a GUIDE. Yes, you may not choose the man who demands Rs 1,000 or Rs 350 but do get a guide for Rs 200-300. Without a guide, you will simply go around the structure marvelling at its beauty but would not be able to see the real magic.

The guide will tell you things that you won't be able to spot. There are mysteries, illusions and unique aspects and in order to know them, the guide is a must. When the guides start approaching you from outside the entrance, you can choose one, but tell him that you need a patient person who can show the structure without hurry.

6. Of course, you should book the hotel through a well-known tourists' website, when you plan the trip. Prefer a hotel that is not far from the Taj. That will save you a lot, not in terms of just money or time. But if you are tired after going to Agra Fort or Hazrat Salim Chishti' dargah at Fatehpur Sikri, you'd realise how good it is to stay near the Taj.

7. If you want to take gifts for your family members, relatives and friends, find yourself a showroom of 'UP Handicraft'. Here, they won't tell you exaggerated prices. In fact, you will get a lot to choose from at reasonable price.

8. If you have sometime before going to the Taj Mahal, its a good idea to buy a brochure. Tourism department's booklets are also nice. They will give you insights and then you will be able to truly enjoy your visit. In fact, you will have a few questions for the guide then. And he will also take his job more seriously.

9. Normal cameras and cell phones are allowed. No laptops. Leave them in hotel room or at the cloak room [locker] at the main gate or in your hotel. Don't take other goods. Its better if your handbag has fewer things because it will make the security check easier.

10. You are allowed to take pictures, as many as you want. Normal cameras including the digital cameras are allowed. There is extra charge if you are carrying a  big video camera'. That means a camera which looks like 'video camera' [big ones].

Normal digital cameras that can do recording are allowed and not an eyebrow raised at them. It is only in the inner part of the tomb that the photos aren't allowed. And yes, don't worry, on the premises, there is toilet.

The Agra Cantt [Cantonment] or Agra Chhaoni railway station.
The advisory for travellers to Agra will continue in later posts also.

Right now coming back to the TRIP:

It was evening when our train reached the Agra Cantt railway station.We didn't have much luggage.

But from the platform itself, a teenaged boy began following us. He was asking us about our destination. Then, he wanted to know which hotel we were going to stay in and which auto or taxi we would like to take and our budget.

First we gently asked him to go away but he persisted. Walking with us on platform, the staircase, then the bridge and then to the platform number 1 until we came out of the station. He wanted to forcibly take us along to his taxi at the stand. We even shouted at him but it had no impact.

Once outside, there was a crowd of auto and taxi walas. For a while, it seemed they would fight among themselves as to who would take us. The prepaid booth was also empty. Fortunately, we spotted the policeman soon.

He was busy chatting with a group of auto-walas nearby. Compared to policemen at other cities in UP, he was clearly more 'tamiz-daar'. He shooed away the mob and we finally managed to take a taxi to the hotel, which we had booked through a travel website [and got a good discount due to online booking].

On way, I noticed that the road were now wider. Unlike other North Indian (UP) cities, there was no chaos here. Traffic was much better and less pollution. Clearly, the large number of tourists arriving here and the investment, had finally prompted local authorities to improve the infrastructure.

The hotel looked much better than we had imagined. It was less than a kilometre from Taj Mahal. The next morning, we woke up soon after the crack of the dawn. All of us rushed to the roof of the hotel room, from where we had been told that we could see a morning glimpse of the Taj.

There was light breeze when reached the top of the building. It was breathtaking experience to see the Taj in its full glory. It was clearly out of the world. Taj Mahal or the 'Crown Palace' in Urdu--a Wonder of the World. I remembered how legendary Bangla poet Rabindrathan Tagore described it in these words:

You know Shah Jehan, life and youth, wealth and glory,
they all drift away in the current of time.
You strove therefore,
to perpetuate only the sorrow of your heart.
Let the splendour of diamond, pearl and ruby vanish.
Only let this one teardrop,
this Taj Mahal,
glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time,
forever and ever.

We all know it was Mughal emperor Shah Jehan, who had commissioned to build the most beautiful tomb in memory of his beloved wife Arjumand Bano alias Mumtaz Mahal. But apart from this how much do you know about Taj?

It's mysteries, it's magic! Keep reading the next posts under the Agra Travelogue series on this blog. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Poetry on Vehicles: Reading a Ghazal painted on auto-rickshaw on Indian street

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You may have often seen couplets or rhyming catch-lines written behind heavy vehicles, particularly, trucks and buses on the roads.

Sometime back I had seen this loading auto with almost a 'ghazal' painted on its back.

I was in a hurry and didn't have camera.
But I took out my cell phone, chased for a while and managed to take a snap of the loading auto that had these Urdu couplets written in Hindi [devnagari] script.

The quality of photo taken from cell phone camera is perhaps not too good. Still, its readable:

Aye mere ham-nashiiN kahiiN aur chal
is chaman meN apnaa guzaara nahiiN

This is the first couplet or opening lines of the Nazm. Quite an emotional line and you marvel at the auto-wala sahab's literary taste. The second couplet has the same 'qafia' and 'radeef' and it goes like:

baat hotii phuuloN* tak to sah lete ham
ab kaaNToN pe bhii haq hamaara nahiiN

Hmm. Janab appears to be a 'choT-khaye' person. After all, this sentiment comes when you ladylove breaks your heart and goes away. Only then you get so bitter. Then comes the third she'r:

tadbir se bigDii huii taqdiir banaa le
apne pe bharosa hai to ek daaoN laga le

Till now, it appeared that everything was lost. But now, it seems there is still hope. Let's make a fresh move.

Try your luck and perhaps, you may still win. Who knows! The feelings are intense. He has taken pains not just to remember but also get the words painted from an artist, it shows how important are these lines to him.

By now the verse has taken the format of Nazm. The last and lone line says, 'laDegii taqdir, banega muqaddar'.

Hmm. Is this the line from poetry or the auto wale uncle's own emphatic line! His own conviction reflected in this line. Later I found, the ghazal has a few more couplets. I am not sure who wrote the lines.

There may be one or two mistakes in writing here. However, it is just an example. For many auto-rickshaw or truck drivers, their life revolvers around their 'gaadi'. The way they get it painted or have catch-lines painted on them, reflect their personality.

A newspaper has a Sunday column where readers send interesting catch-lines written on the back of trucks or buses. An auto I often spot has this line written 'Zakhmi Sher'.

Another auto-rickshaw of which I am posting photograph here has this written, 'Sher ka peechha bachche nahiin karte'.

Similarly, there are caste-specific, regional and religious assertions also on auto-rickshaws. Some have names of 'deities' painted in bold, others have 'Jai Mata Di'. Chalo Vaishnav Devi' or 'Namaz ki Pabandi karein' printed on them.

Similarly, there are messages like 'Jai Bhim' or other messages with socio-political meanings. In our own little way, everybody wants to share what they feels strongly about and express themselves.

That's true for everyone--from the street to social networking sites. I have written posts on auto-rickshaws and road-rollers in the past. Expect more on auto-rickshaws in future as well.

[*guloN in original]

Monday, March 04, 2013

Beyond the Deccan: Urdu in Tamil Nadu, South India

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Injustice is done to South India, whenever there is a discussion about Urdu. The focus is mostly North-centric [especially Uttar Pradesh or UP] and to such an extent that the contribution of regions in South is generally ignored.

Apart from Hyderabad (AP), there are vast regions in Karnataka and even Tamil Nadu [yes, TN], where large number of Urdu speakers live. In Tamil Nadu, the region around Vellore has contributed most towards Urdu literature.

Surprising it may seem but there are towns in Vellore where Urdu magazines still sell more than many North Indian towns viz. Agra or Allahabad. 

But the focus remains disproportionately on UP. And this is to such an extent that even contribution of Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra are ignored.

Even Gulbarga [in Karnataka] is one of the most important centres for Urdu in contemporary India but it is always ignored. This happens despite the fact that Karnataka has thousands of Urdu medium schools, compared to nil [zero] in UP.

Renowned litterateur Aleem Saba Navedi wrote his landmark 'Tamil Nadu mein Urdu' ie Urdu in Tamil Nadu, which not only throws light on the Urdu speaking populace and culture of Muslims in this region, but also the literary contribution here.

Muslims here largely speak Tamil but there is a region where they do speak Urdu, with a slight Deccani tinge in their accent. The book tells us that if the first ever Urdu newspaper Jam-e-JahaaN-numa was published from Calcutta in 1822, the second Urdu paper Jama'ul Akhbar was published from Madras.

So Urdu journalism took root here much before Lucknow or Delhi! In fact, it was long after the Urdu paper Jama'ul Akhbar began publishing here in 1823, that the first Tamil paper began publishing [in 1855]. Interestingly, that Tamil paper was brought out by missionaries.

The book also deals at length with Urdu poetry and literature in Tamil Nadu viz. the ghazal, rise of Nazm, masnavi, other genres and art of calligraphy apart from discussions on role of madarsas in popularising Urdu in South India.

Aleem Saba Navedi, himself an eminent writer, has experimented with different genres of Urdu poetry. In this book, he has also mentioned important Urdu poets of Madras, Vaniamadi, Vellore, Krishnagiri, Madurai, Umrabad, Nellore and even those around Bengalore.

Though Urdu ghazal is being penned in Tamil Nadu for almost three centuries now, the book mostly focuses on the period 1824-1986. Readers may be amazed to know that Tamil Nadu has certain towns were Urdu is commonly used as script along with Tamil.

But it is not astonishing you if you realise that the state had around 1 million [10 lakh] Urdu speakers as per last census, much more than the number of people who consider Urdu as their mother tongue in a vast North Indian state, Rajathan [just 6 lakh or 0.6 million].

Urdu was lingua franca for ages and stills transcends regions. It is not a language of 'shumal' [North] alone but 'junoob' [South] as well. Isn't it time, Urdu-walas stop being excessively North-centric and obsessed with Uttar Pradesh in matters of Urdu?