Museum Treasure: Vaikuntha Kamalaja

The Dr. Ramnath A. Podar Haveli Museum at Nawalgarh in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan was built in 1902. Originally a residence and known as Podar Haveli, it was converted into a museum after major renovation and restoration works were undertaken of the frescoes and murals that cover every inch of its exterior and interior walls.

The Haveli Museum, which is over 100 feet long, is supposed to have 750 frescoes on its outer walls, passages, two courtyards and all the rooms in the lower level. Every fresco/mural is detailed and covers themes from mythology to local folk tales to whimsical depictions of everyday life.

Though there were many stunning works of art at the Haveli Museum, there was one that caught my eye — more for the unusual subject than for the quality of art. It was like an Ardhanareeshwara, but instead of the composite image of Shiva and Parvati, it was one of Vishnu and Lakshmi.

Vaikuntha Kamalaja, Vasudeva Kamalaja, Vasudeva Lakshmi, Composite form of Vishnu and Lakshmi Ramnath Poddar Haceli Museum

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The temples of Kiradu

About 180 km south-west of Jaisalmer, where the Thar Desert meets some isolated outcrops of the Aravalli mountain ranges, lie the ruins of the temples of Kiradu. It is believed that there were around 108 temples on this site, but today only 5 temples remain — 4 of those are dedicated to Shiva and 1 temple is believed to have been dedicated to to Vishnu.

I first heard about the temples at Kiradu when I received an invitation from Suryagarh. The itinerary attached with the mail included a visit to these temples. I was intrigued enough to look up for more information on the internet immediately — even before I accepted the invitation. To my surprise, I found little substantive information online. This only made the temples more intriguing and mysterious for me and I couldn’t wait to see them for myself when I visited Suryagarh in July 2016.

And after lunch on my last day at Suryagarh, we set off to see the Kiradu temples. It was a beautiful, but long, drive through the Thar, through dramatic changes in the landscape from desert to hilly.

It was around 6 pm when we arrived at the Kiradu temples, which meant I had an hour or so before sunset and before the light faded. The next hour saw me racing from temple to temple, pumped with adrenaline, trying to take in as much of the details as I could and photographing whatever I thought was interesting or significant.

Temples of Kiradu, Kiradu Temples, Cursed Temples, Barmer, Heritage, Rajasthan, History,

A nritya (?) mandapa with elaborately carved toranas and pillars. One of the pillars has been reconstructed as part of the restoration work undertaken by the ASI at Kiradu

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Travel Shot: After the film shoot…

It was around noon when our blogger group we reached Khaba Village near Jaisalmer city after a morning spent exploring the Thar as part of the Desert Exploration Trail organised by our hosts Suryagarh. The sight of cool drinks and light refreshments laid out for us at the village was a welcome sight in the heat.

I picked up some juice and walked over to explore what looked like an old temple nearby. It seemed to be an ordinary looking temple and not in use. At least that is what it seemed like until I peeked into the garbha griha of the temple where I saw the strangest-looking shiva lingam I have ever seen — one with its innards spilling out !

Khaba, Shiva lingam, Khaba village, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, this happens only in India

A shiva lingam with its “innards” spilling out !

The shiva lingam appeared to have been fashioned out of mud and hay, covered with some kind of a plaster or clay layer and then painted over to give the finishing touches of a lingam. It may have looked like the real thing when ‘freshly made’, but looked like something out of a horror show then.

The ‘what’, how’, ‘where’, etc. of the strange lingam would have remained a mystery, if not for the Suryagarh staff who told me how this came to be.

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Sifting through the sands of time in the Thar

The mid-day sun in July is hot and harsh as is the landscape around. I am somewhere in the Thar Desert — about 30-40 km west of Jaisalmer city — and the ground is hard, dry, and stony in most parts with some sandy patches. It is the end of summer in this region and I scan the skies for signs of monsoon clouds, but there are none to be seen.

All around me are limestone and sandstone ridges with the meanders of rivers and streams that once flowed here cutting through the rock layers. In the distance, cenotaphs and memorial stones to the dead can be seen. The occasional pops of green from the desert flora provides visual relief (and shade !) in the otherwise arid and barren landscape (see photograph below).

Desert Trail, Thar Desert, Suryagarh, Jaisalmer, Geology, Travel, Rajasthan, Silk Route

Millions of years in this one frame !

It is a sight that leaves me awestruck for this one frame encapsulates millions of years of history of the region — natural as well as human. A history that is as rich as it is varied and one that has changed and evolved through space and time.

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The Suryagarh experience… Revisited

To say I was surprised when I received the invite from Suryagarh to visit them in July 2016 is an understatement. The reason? I had already visited them in 2013 as part of a group of bloggers and was puzzled as to why I was being invited again. My first reaction was that the invite had been sent to me by mistake, and I re-read the mail just to confirm!

The invite brought back memories of a visit of many firsts for me. Suryagarh was my first invite as a travel blogger; it was also my first stay at a luxury hotel — a memorable, if somewhat overwhelming, stay. Like many firsts, the Suryagarh experience also set a benchmark for many things — the attention to detail, the hospitality, the warmth, the music, the celebration of all things local, and the food.

Curiosity soon replaced the surprise over the invite. A curiosity about whether Suryagarh had changed in the three years since I’d been there or if it was still the same. Added to this curiosity was the tempting itinerary sent with the mail that included a visit to the temples of Kiradu near Barmer, about 160 km away. This ‘deadly’ combination of curiosity and temptation was enough to make me accept the very gracious invite.

And on the 20th of July, after a flight from Mumbai to Jodhpur and a road journey from there to Jaisalmer, I reached Suryagarh where familiar faces and a traditional welcome by the Manganiyar singers and dancers awaited me. The chandan ka tikka and the fresh, chilled watermelon juice followed. The Suryagarh experience began. Again. 🙂

Nothing seems to have changed, I thought to myself happily. I was both right and wrong about this as I was to find out during the course of my stay at Suryagarh.

Suryagah Jaisalmer, Desert Exploration, Rangeela Rajasthan, Luxury Boutique Hotel, Travel, Rajasthan, #StayWell

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Travel Shot: The Pandava Temple at Lohargal

Around this time last year, I visited Lohargal in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan in search of a stepwell. I found the stepwell or Chetan Das ki Baoli, And along the way also stumbled upon a temple dedicated to the Pandavas, with a very interesting story attached to it.

The Pandava temple (shrine would actually be a more appropriate word) is on one side of the narrow pathway that leads to the main and ancient temple, dedicated to the sun. I would not have given this shrine, whose walls are covered with subway tiles, a second look if the priest hadn’t called out to me and told me to stop. I did out of politeness and was glad that I did for I had never seen or heard of a Pandava temple in worship till then.

Lohargal, Shekhawati, Rajasthan. Travel, Pandavas, Mahabharata

Krishna flanked by Yudhishtra and Arjuna

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