When you enter the sculpture gallery at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) at Mumbai, look to your left. You will see a towering slab of ‘stone’, about 11-12 feet in height. If you stand in front of the slab and position yourself a few feet away from it, this is what you will see.
Your eyes will be drawn to the central standing figure and the 6 figures who surround him. Two figures emerge from his shoulders and one rises from behind him. You will notice three more figures emerging from the middle figure — two from his sides and one from behind him. In addition to these 7 figures, you will notice five more figures grouped around the legs of the central standing figure.
Now move closer to see the finer details on the relief.
The cow looked up coyly at me through her false eyelashes. Her golden horns glinted with the light of Surya on her forehead. The various gods and sages on her flanks looked stonily at me — Brahma, Hanuman, Saraswati, Agni, Ganesha, Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi… Only the sage Narada had a cheerful smile for me.
The fact that she was boxed in a transparent cage and leg deep in money did not seem to affect the cow at all. And as for me, I stared at the cow with a touch of disbelief. You would have done the same if you saw a cow like this.
Did you know that there is another dargah near the world-famous Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai? By near, I mean as the crow flies or perhaps in this case as a seagull flies, for it is across the sea at Mahalaxmi to Worli. This dargah is known as the Worli Dargah or the dargah-with-the-blue-dome. Of course, if you are aware of this dargah’s existence then you would know that its full and official name is Saint Ma Hajiani Dargah.
I didn’t know any of this. I can’t even say that I have seen the blue dome of the Worli dargah. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed till a friend told me about it. And that too, when she first mentioned it, I thought she was talking about the Haji Ali Dargah. As did the cab driver taking us there resulting in both of us being corrected by my friend and us, in turn, being reprimanded by the cab driver for not knowing the right name of the dargah or giving him the right directions.
Anyway, we reached the entrance gate leading to the Saint Ma Hajiani Dargah only to be confronted by a suspicious and surly watchman whose inquiring look made me feel like a school girl. When I mentioned the dargah he only pointed the way and motioned us in with a ‘finger-on-the-lips’ gesture.
We followed the direction pointed to us, went past a mosque on one side and some living quarters on the other side and came out into a little clearing with these steps going up.
It is mid-morning on a December day in 2013 at Daulatabad Fort. I have been climbing for about an hour or so in an attempt to reach the top of the hill Fort, pausing only to take photographs or sips of water to keep myself hydrated. It has been a never-ending climb; every time I think I have negotiated the final set of steps and reached the top, another set appears almost as if by magic ! It doesn’t help that the access way is built in such a way that only part of the route is visible !
When I spot a dome as I negotiate yet another set of steps (see photo on the left), I think I have reached the summit. I am so happy and relieved that I run up the “last” few steps.
But no ! Another set of stairs looms ahead ! I am so breathless and winded by then that I can’t even cuss in frustration.
I decide to take a longer break before resuming with the climb and move to the shade of some trees. I notice a middle-aged woman sweeping the area outside the domed structure.
Before I can ask her about the structure, I get distracted by the antics of a squirrel, and then by the requests of a group of school children who want their photographs taken, when they see my camera.
“Would you like some water? It is from a spring close by and very refreshing, ” a soft voice asks.
It is the woman who had been sweeping earlier and she is holding a bottle of water. Even though I have water, I don’t want to offend her by saying no. The water is as refreshing as the woman promised and surprisingly sweet as well.
“What is this?” I ask, pointing towards the domed structure.
“It’s a Ganesha Temple.”
“I saw you cleaning the temple and its premises. Are you the caretaker?”
Fanatic, religious zealot, intolerant, temple destroyer, orthodox, ruthless, insecure, unscrupulous, treacherous, impetuous, brother killer… are just some of the words that come to my mind for Abul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Mohammad Aurangzeb, better known as Aurangzeb Alamgir, the 6th Mughal emperor, or just Aurangzeb.
As the Emperor of Mughal India, Aurangzeb ruled for nearly 50 years, much of it with public opinion against him due to many discriminatory measures against the Hindus, like imposition of the jizyah, differential taxation for Hindus, etc.. In fact, such display of Islāmic orthodoxy by Aurangzeb gave strength and purpose to the resistance movements of the Marathas, the Jats, the Bundelas and the Sikhs. His constant wars to consolidate or expand territory nearly bankrupted the royal treasuries. When he died in 1707, he left a crumbling empire, a corrupt and inefficient administration, a demoralised army, and alienated subjects.
Aurangzeb never used the Royal Treasury for his personal expenses. Instead, he used the money he earned from making caps (sold anonymously in the market) and copying the Quran. He saved the money earned from this to pay for an open-air grave at Khuldabad, located about 27 km from Aurangabad.
The grave I’m standing before on that December evening in 2013 with all these thoughts running around in my mind, and some more.
You know what they say about saving the best for the last? Well, Ellora Caves doesn’t believe in that !
The first thing that visitors to Ellora Caves see on entering the complex is its most famous monument. It is the monument that writers have written paeans about, the monument that is a photographer’s delight, the monument that leaves visitors awestruck, and the monument that everyone knows as Kailasa Temple, but is officially known as Cave 16.
When I walked in after buying my entry ticket and saw the richly carved entrance to the cave, familiar from so many photographs, I actually rubbed my eyes in disbelief !
My impulse was to explore Kailasa first, but better sense prevailed. Tempting as it was to explore Cave 16, I decided to begin with Cave 1, which was a short distance away. It turned out to be a good decision for if I had explored the Kailasa Temple first, I would probably not have seen any of the other 33 caves at Ellora!
Once again, as it happened at the Ajanta Caves and then at Daulatabad Fort, no guides were available when I arrived at the Ellora Caves at noon, one day in December 2013. There was also no literature on Ellora available at the ticket office. But, as I found out later, the information boards placed outside each cave provided adequate information.