Dec 31, 2006

Fatwa and a happy new year

There appears to be a lot of confusion going around the world at the dying moments of 2006. The Bhopali is confused with his sympathy for a unjust war at Iraq, with a wholly justified hanging of Saddam Hussein , found guilty of mass murder. To confuse matters further, at a time when the government is trying to borrow an idea or two from Pakistan for family planning, Darul Ifta, Muslim religious board under Madhya Pradesh's biggest mosque has issued a fatwa against contraceptive. Adding to the confusion, there is another fatwa against junk food too!

It is time that people started to think for themselves, and not outsource there thinking to some religious buffoons. I hope you will have a great new year blast while there is no fatwa against it, as it is already well known that the RSS is opposing the celebration of English new year and insisting on celebrating the Hindu new year instead. Next would be the confusion over when exactly is the Hindu new year, after diwali, on baisakhi, the bengali new year day or the pongal!

Here is wishing you all a happy new year. Have a great 2007.

Dec 24, 2006

Bourbons Of Bhopal

Update: Balthazar Bourbon recognized as the eldest descendant of French royals
Earlier related post: The French Connection

After Jean-Philippe's death, Alexandre became favorite of Akbar's son the Emperor Jahangir. In 1740 when Nadir Shah sacked Delhi, the Bourborns moved to Gwalior. Salvador-de-Bourbon was made the killedar of Gwalior fort. The Marhattas under Mahadji Scindia captured the fort and imprisoned the Bourbon family. In 1780, Colonel Popham, captured Gwalior fort, and rescued the Bourborn family.

Salvador moved on to neighboring Bhopal, who was welcomed by Mamola Bai and given a grant of land. Salvador de Bourbon was known as Inayat Masih in Bhopal and soon became a leading figure of the Bhopal court. Inayat Masih was a close associate of Wazir Mohammad Khan, who was the defacto ruler of Bhopal during the period of 1812-16. A major seige was faced by Bhopal during this period, and saw Wazir Mohammad Khan, his son Nazar Mohammad Khan, Inayat Masih and his son Shahzad Masih - Balthazar-de-Bourbon - fight side by side. During this sieze, Bhopal saw the ladies of Bhopal led by Zeenat Begum and her 14 year old daughter Qudsia fight side by side of the males. Qudsia was later married to Nazar Mohammad Khan. Nazar was killed in a so called accident at a very early age, which saw Qudsia take over the reigns of Bhopal. Shahzad Masih was instrumental in pacifying the emerging force of the England with his fluent english and royal bearing. Shahzad Masih was a scholar, military strategist and brilliant organoser, his hobby was to dismantle and reassemble clocks. He learnt Urdu and Farsi to the extent that he wrote poetry under the nam de plume of Fitrat.

Vitold de golish, a French traveler and author of books on the Indian princely states, records that Shahzad Masih and young regent, Qudsia, became lovers soon after the young widow assumed power as Regent. After a while the scandal of the romance between Qudsia and Shazad Masih started to reverberate around Bhopal's court circle. During this period, the Bourbons were so powerful that half of Bhopal was under there control. The throne of Bhopal was disputed - and could have been gladly granted to the Bourbons if they had chosen to ask the East India Company for it. However Shahzad Masih chose to remain loyal, and married a a young english girl from Delhi named Isabella Stone, on the advise of Begum Qudsia. Isabella struck up a warm friendship with Begum Qudsia, and bore Shahzad two children - Salvador and Maria. She was given the title of "Sarkar Dulhan" and continued to live on in Bhopal - even after Shahzad was poisoned by the Afghan nobles in the court. A Catholic church, cemetry and and a school are attributed to Sarkar Dulhan in Bhopal's Jahangirabad area, as is also a palace in the Lakherapura area known as Sarkar Dulhan Ki Haweli (now ruined).

The bourbons continue to live in Bhopal , though a downturn in their fortune came during Shahjehan Begum's rule when her consort, Siddiq Hassan - a bigoted Wahabi - persecuted the Christian Bourbons. There has been no substantiation of the affair between Shahzad and Qudsia Begum. The western visitor Vitold de Garish could not fathom the very eastern friendship of these two humans and conveniently categorized it as love.

Update: Balthazar Bourbon recognized as the eldest descendant of French royals
Earlier related post: The French Connection

Dec 23, 2006

The French connection

In the early years of Bhopal's foundation, a branch of the French Bourbon family wandered into Bhopal in 1783. The extraordinary story of the Bourbons of Bhopal begins around 1560 with Jean-Philippe de Bourbon de Navarre, a close relative of Henri IV. A high-born aristrocrat and son of the Constable of Pau in southern France, Jean-Phillipe had the misfortune of killing a Gascon aristrocrat in a duel. Fleeing to portugal, he set sail from a Mediterranean port, was captured by Turkish pirates and sold to Ottoman emperor Sultan Soliman the Magnificient, emperor of Egypt. The Sultan recognised Jean-Philippe as a man culture, employing him in a high ranking position. When Soliman died in 1566 and the Ottoman rule in Egypt collapsed, his successor placed Jean-Phillipe in prison. In the prison, Jean-Phillipe met an old woman prisoner called "Maryam the Sorceress of Ethiopia". She was the dowager queen of Ethiopia, whose son had been deposed and killed by a usurper in a palace coup. Jean-Philippe, Maryam the Sorceress and her grand daughter Madelena made an courageous escape from prison and returned to Abyssinia. Thanks to Jean-Philippe's brilliant strategy, the usurper was defeated at the battle of Debrador and Medelena restored to her father's throne. By now Jean-Philippe and Madelna had fallen deeply in love and decided to get married. Fearing the wrath of her grand mother for marrying a foreigner, the young couple decided to elope to India, Madelena giving up the throneand riches that were hers by right. By the time Jean-Philippe reached Bengal, his beautiful Abyssinian wife Madelna appears either to have died or turned back to her homeland.

Jean-Philippe continued his journey, up the river Ganges and then Yamuna, to Delhi where the Great Moghul Emperor Akbar the great was at the height of his empirial power. The emperor was so impressed by his tales, that he was given charge of reorginizing the Moghul army's artillery and a grant of land with title of Nawab. In the mean time, two young Portugese sisters, Juliana Mascrenhas set sail from Portugal to be betrothed to Potugese military and civilian officers who had reached the zenith of power on the west coast of India, notably Goa. However, a Dutch privateer waylaid the ship before it could reach port. The Portugese girls were sold as slaves at the Port of Surat. One of these girls eventually ended up as the crown queen of Maldives - while the two sisters Maria and Juliana Mascarenhas were taken to the Emperor Akbar's court in Delhi. Allured by their beauty and grace, the emperor made Maria his christian wife in his large harem. Maria soon became a favourite among Akbar's many wives, to the extent that one of the murals in the Emperor's palace in Fatehpur Sikri is adorned by her fresco. Juliana was appointed the doctor to the imperial zenana, and was married to Jean-Philippe by the orders of Emperor Akbar. A large estate south of Delhi, named Shergarh, was granted. They built Catholic church and cemetery for Bourbon family in Agra. A place called Bibi Juliana Ki Sarai can still be found at Masihgarh near Okhla at Delhi.

Dec 21, 2006

Chehra chupa liya hai, kisine hijab mein

Recently, a small controversy erupted on Shabana Azmi’s comments on Burqa being not compulsory in Islam. The mullahs said that the Burqa could never be a hindrance to education and progress, as a Burqa-clad woman can drive a car and also fly a fighter jet. A Bhopali would never have a doubt about that. Bhopali girls are seen nowadays zipping around in their two wheelers covering their faces. This is prevalent among all the female race of a certain age group in Bhopal, irrespective of caste and creed. The reason given for this differs greatly according to the age of the commentator. This is used as an effective sun screen, according to the younger generation, while people on the other side of the fence say that this is used to hide identities while moving around, may-be while pillion riding with characters censored by relatives. Apparently, this also comes in handy while going for movies. An interesting account of the parda comes in this fantastic article from Mohammad Farroqy. Recalling his childhood, he says

Many women walked around with the veil thrown back over their head. (Had the women of his constituency practiced this style, it might have made life easier for Jack Straw!) Especially so when they went to watch films, which they did in huge numbers. Sometimes, when sneaking away for a film, a taboo in my paternal house, my mother deliberately chose to wear a burqa for it would mask her identity. Spotting your woman in a burqa can be an exciting enterprise, the thrill of getting it right is matched equally by the hazard of messing it up, as Rajendra Kumar discovered in Mere Mahboob. Hindi Cinema has always played up the potential of misunderstanding as far as the burqa is concerned. Unless it is a Muslim social, the burqa usually makes an appearance as a device for combustible mix-ups and camouflage. Remember Satish Shah and co in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron.

Sant Hirdaramji

SANT HIRDARAM, known for his philanthropic endeavours in Bhopal and around, died at the age of 101 year at his hermitage in Bairagarh township here on Wednesday. He had been ill for sometime. His mortal remains was placed for public viewing at his Ashram after 9.00 am on Thursday. He was cremated at his ashram later on in the afternoon. The entire Bairagarh township was shut on Thursday and all business activities there remained closed. Sant Hirdaram came from Ajmer in 1962, settled here and took to social work, public welfare, charity and service of poor. 

He worked under the banner of Jeev Sewa Samiti, a registered social service organization based in Ajmer, Rajasthan. With an aim to uplift the poor and needy of the society, he focused his activities mainly on the areas of morality, culture, education and health. Sant Hirdaram founded institutions like Seva Sadan Eye Hospital, Arogya Kendra and a number of schools for learning of poor children. 

As the news of his demise spread in the Bairagarh township, a pall of gloom descended upon the locality and people rushed to the Sant Ashram to confirm the news of his death. Sant Hirdaram had worked tirelessly to establish hospitals, maternity homes, educational institutions and homes for widows in Pushkar and Bairagarh. With his blessings, several eye camps, urological operations as well as mass marriages are conducted on big scale at the aforesaid places. 

In recognition of his work, the Madhya Pradesh Government has officially changed the name of Bairagarh to Hirdaram Nagar.Sant Hirdaram, who was unwell for the past couple of months, passed away last night, ashram sources said. Several dignitaries, including Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Central Minister of State Personnel Suresh Pachauri, paid homage to Hirdaram.

Dec 19, 2006

Dost Mohammad Khan - Founder of Bhopal

Previous Posts: Dost Mohammad Khan - I and II

Rani of Mangalgarh's Rajput neighbors banded together against her and gathered for battle. After several days of war, the Rajputs for the festival of Holi sought a truce. Dost agreed to it. On the night of drunken revelry of Holi, Dost attacked and routed his unsuspecting rivals. A similar meeting was arranged at Jagdishpur, 20 miles south of Berasia, with Narsingh Rao Chauhan a Rajput chief. A tent was pitched on the banks of river Thal. Receiving Dosts signal, his soldiers hiding in nearby thickets rushed the tent, cut it's ropes and murdered the unsuspecting Rajputs. So gruesome was the slaughter that the river went red with blood, and is still called the River Halali. Dost renamed Jagdishpur as Islamnagar, strengthened the fort and made it his headquarters. After the death of Rani of Mangalgarh, Dost plundered the gold coins and jewellery from the treasury, which he was protecting till the day before. He also extended his rule over parganas (districts) of Doraha, Sehore, Ichawar, Ashta and Shujalpur.

Nizam Shah, one of the several Gond warlords, known as the Gond raja, ruled Bhopal at that time. Nizam shah had emerged as the strongest among the warlords, and he ruled from the fort of Ginnor. Located about 46 miles east of Bhopal, Ginnor fort was built on steep 2000-foot rock. Sheer cliff drops on each side and thick forests on all sides inhabited by beasts, left only one thin trail leading to the fort and were easily defended. He had taken for his wife Kamlapati, a woman of unmatched beauty, education, refined and superbly talented in the arts. A charming Gond legend described that on moonlit night she would emerge from her waterside palace and swim in the lake, carried afloat by a lotus flower and attended by 500 maidens following her in rowing boats. A rival Gond-raja Alam shah ruled Chainpur-Bara, and was obsessed by the beauty of Kamlapati. He eventually poisoned Nizam shah, leading an insecure Kamlapati to invite Dost Mohammad Khan to avenge her honour. A sum of Rupees one lakh was promised as the fees. Dost Mohammad attacked and slayed Alam Shah. Rani Kamlapati, unable to pay him the promised sum of one lakh, offered him Bhopal instead. Dost took over and consolidated the Bhopal riasat, thus laying the foundation of Mirazi-khel dynasty of Bhopal.

Several years later in 1723, after the death of Kamlapati, Dost sent hundred of his soldiers dressed as women in palanquins up the Ginnor fort. The unsuspecting guards of Kamlapati's son Nawal shah let the dolis through the gates of impregnable Ginnor fort, where Nawal shahs force was defeated and Nawal Shah was killed

Dost Mohammad Khan - II

Continued from Part I

Dost headed for Jalalabad , and found his kins men at a suburb of Jalalbad, called Lohari (Lohari/Jalalabad are todays Thana-Ghaon in Sharanpur district of todays Uttar Pradesh, about 30 miles south of Sharanpur and 20 miles east of Deoband). The family of Sardar Jalal Khan, the mansabdar (Mughal official) of Lohari, welcomed Dost as the son of a fellow tribal sardar. However, true to his nature, Dost killed one of Jalal Khan's son after a quarrel over a young house maiden. Dost fled to Karnal, 30 miles west of Delhi. By luck he found Mullah Jamali there, who was his Quran tutor at Tirah. Staying with him for an year, Dost became aware of the multi dimensional nuances of India life, allian to him due to his single dimensional upbringing at Afganistan.

Dost finally enlisted with Mir Fazlullah, Aurangzeb's keeper of arms, and steadily rose through the lower rungs. Around 1704, he was given his major assignment, to quell the rebllion of Tardi Beg in Bundelkhand. He was met at Gwalior by the army of Tardi Beg lead by the fearsome general Kashko Khan. The battle went badly for the imperial forces and Dost's forces was in disarray. Gathering all his courage, Dost attacked Kashko Khan, and soon he was ensnared by Kashko Khans elephant in its trunk. Dost wriggled free and mounting the elephant, decapitated Kashko Khan. It is said that the emperor Aurangzeb himself gave him gifts for turning certain defeat to victory. Promotion was swift, and he was assigned to Malwa (todays Madhya Pradesh).

This region of central India, was inhabited by Gonds and Bhils, superimposed by martial Rajputs who had extended control from Rajputana towards Malwa. The Marhattas -equally martial and wilier then the noble Rajputs - had reached out from the Western Ghats with chieftains like - Holkar of Indore, Scindia of Gwalior, Gaekwad of Baroda and Bhonsle of Nagpur - operating under Peshwa of Pune. As Dost had reached Bhilsa, news came of Aurangzeb's death on 20 February 1707. The Delhi and adjoining areas were thrown into bloody and fissparous melee. He and about 50 of his Afghan kinsmen became hired guns or mercenaries, fighting for any body who paid him the money. First attached himself to Raja of Sitamau, then to Governor of Bhilsa, then with mughal deputy governor of Malwa and then Raja of Mangalgarh.

After the death of Raja of Mangalgarh, his mother appointed Dost mukhtar (guardian) of Mngalgarh fort around 1708. Around this time Dost married Fatah Bibi, a Rajput girl, from the Mangalgarh household. Around 1709, Dost took on lease Berasia, a small rented estate, about 22 miles north of Bhopal from Taj Mohammad Khan, for an annual payment of 30,000 rupees. This money was borrowed from Fatah bibi, as was the ranson money that had to be paid to Dosts own mutinous soldiers who imprisoned him during a unsucessful raid on Gujrat. Dost realized that in order to survive, he required his own family members to support and surround him. He contacted his family in Afganistan, and subsequently in 1712 a phalanx of 50 Mirazi-khel tribesmen, fiercely loyal to the young Pathan, togather with his wife, father and five brothers rode to Berasia. They were called the Barru-kat Pathans of Bhopal (literally the shrub dwellers).

Related posts: Bhopal - The early days

Dec 18, 2006

Chalun sidhe ki ulte chalun

Before I could finish writing about the transition from Bhojpal to Bhopal, we are already talking about changing from Bhopal to Bhojpal. The boss, Amit Verma, has his take here.

I think I should blog faster to cover history, before it becomes current affair !

Dec 17, 2006

Dost Mohammad Khan - I

Around 1672 in Tirah, a small village lying in the tribal area on the border of today's Pakistan and Afganistan, a son was born to a pathan noble man Sardar Nur Mohammad Khan and was named Dost. Near the turn of century, Dost, the young pathan had grown to be an expert horseman, hunter and swordsman. In Tirah, as in all Afghanistan, every young man was aware of the glory and riches of the Great Moghul Empire which was ruling India under its sixth emperor, Aurangzeb. The young pathan was always seeking an opportunity to cross the Khyber pass and realise his dream of joining the mughal army. He had heard many generations of Afghan travellers who had found fortune in the service of moghul kingdom carried home images of grandeur, fortune and glory.

Dost was engaged to Mehrab Bibi, around 1697, from neighbouring Orkzai clan. Dost was a brash, dare-devil, bucaneer character, which led the families involved to decide to get Mehraz Bibi to one of Dost's cousin. Insulted, Dost created a rumpus, killed his cousin and forced married Mehraz Bibi. As a result, both families shunned and ostracized Dost for this act of apssion and venganence. Fed up with his tense, brooding surroundings, Dost one night saddled his the strongest horse in the stable, tied his scabbard around his waist, thrust some sovereigns in his pocket and galloped to seek his fortune in the distant land of India.

Continued - part 2 and part 3

Dec 14, 2006

Bhopal - The early days

After the initial days of 640 AD, when Raja Bhoj built his great dams, Bhopal was lost to the jungles of central India. This was a small village on the banks of the river Banganga. An old fort, lying in ruins, lying quietly by the side of the important road connecting Delhi to Deccan plateau. The area was criss crossed by several rivers and was situated in the Vindhya mountains. The local populace, dominated by bhils and gonds, was dominated by a succession of warlords. These were the local chieftains (known as the Gond-raja) or Rajput chiefs or Muslim commanders who briefly governed the region, mainly on behalf of the more powerful overlords and emperors operating from Delhi, Agra, Rajputana or Bundelkhand.

An eventful journey of this ruined and decayed region began around 1707, which saw this village of about 20 families grow to become one of India's leading princely states with a 19-gun salute. After Hyderabad, it was the most important Muslim state of the British India, till the merger agreement was signed with the government of India.

To trace the fascinating story of rise of Bhopal, we will have to start from Tirah, a village in the tribal area on the border between today's Pakistan and Afganistan.

Dec 12, 2006


After the failure of the the 1857 freedom movement, many skilled artisans from Uttar Pradesh migrated to Bhopal, in search of relative calm, from the turmoils of an avenging British army. These artisans were skilled in the mughal arts of jardosi, ari, jari etc. The ladies of Bhopal were being promoted to learn crafts by the then Begum of Bhopal, Sultan Jahan Begum.

The Bhopalis lapped up this craft from the migrated artisans and adpoted it to some local culture. The famous guthka of Bhopal used to be carried in small pouches, called the batua. These artisans started decorating these batuas with there newly learned craft. Overtime a unique Bhopali craft was genereated from the traditional Jardosi. In this, the wires of silver were used to string togather pearls (moti). These hand made silk art works using jari, and different stars was called the Karchob and is widely used till date in Bhopal. Due to efforts of many NGOs working in the field of promoting local handicrafts, this art form has started to make re-appearence in marriage dresses, formal party wares, wall hangings and jackets. The Bhopali Batuas with work of Karchob can also be seen at many shops specially at the railway station, bus stand and state art and craft meuseums

Dec 10, 2006

Boat Club Bhopal

The Bhopal Lake or upper lake had a yacht club initiated by Ubedullah Khan, son of Sultanjahan Begum. 

Many visiting English officials of the British India suggested that this beautiful city be given to British Municipality officials. To avoid this, the yacht club was initiated by Ubedullah Khan, which was continued by his sons Saiduzaffar Khan and Rashiduzaffar Khan after his death. The club was made of wood, which used to stand in the middle of the lake. The English political agent was made the yacht club secretary who used to reside in “Lal kothi”, the present day Raj Bhawan. Many races used to be organized in this yacht club, with teams from Nanital and Pune participating. The races used to start from 8 in the morning. Nawab Hamidullah Khan had two rowing boats by the name of “Nagina” and “Noushaba”, which used to participate in the races.

There used to be parties and at-homes thrown in the evenings in this building of Yacht club. Due to some difference of opinion between the English political agent and the nawab, the nawab is said to have withdrawn from the boats from yacht club and stopped visiting the yacht club. Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma hosted many important parties, during the initial days of Bhopal being made the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh. The announcement to join Bhopal with the All India Radio network was made by Dr Keskar from this building. However, this being a private property of the Nawabs, the inheritors dismantled the building. One can see only some wooden pillars when one visits the modern boat club of today, standing at the point where this old yacht club of Bhopal stood.

The present day boat club at upper lake provides facilities for exciting trips by sail, paddle, motorboats and now even a hugely popular cruise boat. The vast majority of yachting activity is concentrated along the coast, and landlocked Bhopal is therefore breaking ground by bringing this sport virtually into the heart of India. India’s first National Sailing School (NSS) opened its doors here on 8th August 2006 at this historic Upper Lake in Bhopal, with much fanfare and enthusiasm exhibited particularly by the youth. Madhya Pradesh Sports and Youth Welfare Department, Indian Navy and Yachting Association of India (YAI) jointly established the sailing school. 

Children ranging in age from 8 to 21 years will be trained in three major classes namely Optimist, 420 and Laser. NSS will offer three levels of courses certified by YAI & Madhya Pradesh State Sports Department of 12 days, 50 days and one year duration. The South Asian Yachting Regatta 2006 is scheduled at Bhopal during 26 – 30 Dec 2006. The event is to be conducted in the “YAI – National Sailing School”, Bhopal and is supported by the Govt. of Madhya Pradesh, the Indian Navy and the Indian Army. In all 20 competitors and officials are expected each from Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Dec 7, 2006

Tazias of Bhopal

The Tazias (replica shrine of Imam Hussain) are being taken out in Bhopal from the era of Begums. At those times both ruler and ruled, Hindus and Muslims paid their respect and tributes to the martyrs of Karbala. part from its religious importance, month of Moharram has its own significance for Bhopali culture. The famous Gutkha of Bhopal came into existence during this mourning month. Raja of Islam Nagar Vijay Ram also had a Tazia prepared. Besides making Tazias and holding Majlis several other acts of philanthropy are undertaken. They include offering water and Sharbat, feeding poor and have-nots and distributing alms. Mahmood Sikandar, who is great devotee of Imam Hussain has been taking out his Tazia for the last 50 years. He told that in Bhopal Tazias are made of Bamboo sticks and papers of various kinds.

That is why Tazias are lightweight and can be lifted and carried by a few persons. They are eco-friendly as they degrade in water sometime after the submersion. Tazias were mostly submerged in the Upper Lake on the banks of Karbala. But many people lay them to rest in the soil. The biggest and oldest Tazia of Bhopal is that of Mangalwara eunuchs. The Tazia of courtesan Nanhi Bai, which had silver coating, was also a major attraction. But when Nanhi Bai moved to Bombay (Now Mumbai) she took her Tazia away with her. During the battle with Marathas of Gwalior and Nagpur between 1808 to 1812, the condition of people became so bad that they had to eat stones of Tamarind (Imli) and roasted leaves. That battle had started in the month of Moharram and ended in the same month many years later and Bhopal emerged victorious. Though the battle was over but the people of Bhopal did not stop taking Gutkha. Instead they made certain modifications to make the Gutkha tasty. Now Gutkha was prepared with cut beetle nuts and other ingredients. The famous Zari Batua (pouch) also came into existence to keep and carry Gutkha. In Olden times, special Gutkha was prepared for Moharram.

Another very interesting episode is associated with Moharram in Bhopal. In the era of Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum, two of his emirs Tabba Mian and Abba Mian, both brothers, got her permission to divert the route of Moharram procession and Tazias through near their house so that they could have maximum glimpses of it. This was vehemently opposed by the masses. That year the situation became so tense that Tabba Main and Abba Mian could not move out of their houses to watch Tazia procession. The next year Tabba mian added several stories to his house so that he could watch Tazias from there. At that time the palace-like building became the tallest one in the city. The palace still lies in dilapidated condition near Peer Gate.

Dec 6, 2006

Patiyabaazi of Bhopal

People sitting at roadside tea stalls are an intellectually stimulating sight in Bhopal. But patiabazi, as the Bhopalis refer to the evening get-together, is waning in the walled city. In the days of nawabi rule, patias were the hotspots of discussion of topics as varied as politics, hockey and culture. 

Patia is slang for the rectangular slab of stone (4x2ft) placed in front of tea shops. 

During the day, shopkeepers used the patia to display products and seat customers; at night it served as a meeting place. People like late President Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma, former MP K.N. Pradhan and hockey player Aslam Sher Khan would gather at Najja Dada ka patia to discuss politics. "These patias were intellectual diet for Bhopal’s residents," says an old Bhopali. "After dinner, people spent hours discussing the freedom movement and Bhopal's welfare. Sometimes the patias turned into mushairas, where poets recited their poems." 

The debates were so lively that the erstwhile nawabs used to post his men at the patias to know the current hot topic. The nawab had an intelligence officer posted at Najja Dada ka patia to know if there was any conspiracy against him. Patia of Ibhrahimpura was a famous one for discussions on politics and hockey while Maktaba Sharkia patia was known for talks on art, culture and literature. "Hockey players even discussed the team members and the next day’s strategy," says Riaz Sheriff, a resident of Bhopal. 

The patia culture was so famous that novelist Koser Chandpuri wrote an article titled Bhopal ke Patiey, which was published by the journal of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. It has a bit of filmi glamour as well: Riaz Sheriff says the term ‘Surma Bhopali’, popularised by comedian Jagdeep, evolved from a discussion at a patia. 

This tradition of batolebaji is still continued in the old city area. A true bhopali will do a ratjaga (sleepless night) without a blink for a good session of Patiya. Specially in summers, Bhopalis will go to sleep at 3 o'clock in the morning, till which time they would sit in front of closed shops and talk and talk and talk. You can see all street and roads awake till 3 am. Men, women, girls, boys all are sitting and talking. Even the chaats, pakauda and ice cream sellers do a brisk business. Bhopali family like to visit film in night show and it is not unusual to purchase vegetables at 11 pm. 

Do not assume that this is a feature for the males, the ladies are equally active in these ratjagas and patiyas.

Dec 5, 2006

Taj-Ul-Masjid Bhopal

Shahjehan Begum became the ruler of Bhopal in 1868 and initiated the building of a great mosque "Taj-Ul-Masjid" along the patterns of the Juma masjid in Delhi erected by the great mughal emperor Shahjehan. The Taj-Ul-Masjid is the biggest covered area mosque of Asia. The other big mosques of Asia are Sahi Masjid of Lahore, Jama Masjid Delhi, Mecca Masjid Hyderabad and Masjid Tipu sultan Deccan, which are all bigger then Taj-Ul-Masjid of Bhopal only if open area is included. 

The Taj-Ul-Masjid of Bhopal covers an area of 23,312 sq. ft. the height of the minarets touching 206 ft. It was a project of breathtaking proportions with the expenditure touching sixteen lakh rupees during life time of the begum. Crystal slabs, designed for the floor were prepared in England at a cost of seven lakh rupees. Ironically, as their polished surfaces would have reflected the forms of the worshippers, their use in the mosque was forbidden. The mosque could not be completed during her lifetime due to the costs involved. Work on completion of this great mosque started in 1971, through the efforts of donors like Maulana Mohammad Imran Khan. The 4 feet thick roof of the mosque, and other incomplete constructions were completed by donations amounting to about 75 lakh rupees.

Elevated well above ground level the mosque is visible from a considerable distance as also from the palaces that surround the three lakes around which the development of Shahjehanabad was planned. Monumental flight of stairs ascends to the high pistaq octagonal eastern entrance from Kaiser embankment, inspired by the Buland Darwaza. The external eastern facade ends in pavilions at the two ends that are set high on octagonal towers. Like the Delhi Juma masjid, smaller square entrances from the south and north open into the central courtyard for the general public. The large prayer chamber composed mainly of 12 carved sandstone pillars is surmounted by three domes covered with broken tiles and constructed much later. 

Seven entrance arches pierce the eastern chamber's eastern facade, the central one within a high pistaq of red sandstone with marble inlay around the arch. The three arches are framed on either side by smaller arched opening with an entrenched jharokha above. A band of white marble arches with sandstone jail railing crowns the three arches and is finished by sandstone crenellations. Two octagonal minars on either side of the eastern facade go several floors high to provide a vantage point from where the upper lake (several meters away) can be viewed. The domes of the prayer hall are crowned with crystal finials that glitter in the morning sun

Dec 4, 2006

Bhoj Pal to Bhopal

Bhopal was referred to as "Bhoj Pal" in earlier times, Bhoj being the legendary King Bhoj Deva, and Pal being a dam. Raja Bhoj Deva, the most illustrious of the Parmar rulers, was one of the greatest kings of ancient India. He ranks with the legendary Vikramaditya of Ujjayani. In fact, both the names has gathered vast wealth of legend and knowledge around them. Bhoj deva's name has become a household word in India not only as a soldier, but also as a builder, a scholar, an author and a great patron of learning. He ascended the throne approximately in 1010 A.D. and reigned till 1055 A.D as per from the Modasa copper plate inscription. He was a great warrior and carried his sword to the four corners of India. He also enunciated principles of art, architecture and vastushastra in his famous treatise Samarangarasutradhara and navigation, ship-building and marine engineering in Yuktikalpatru.

The famous lake of bhopal known as the upper lake or the "Bada Talab" or "Badi Jheel" has been created by 300' wide wall of dry masonry made of big boulders tapering to approx. 500'at the base. The wall holds the waters of Kolans and Kujhaman rivers to form Bara Talab with a spread of 30.72 sq. km. According to a legend, Raja Bhoj was suffering from a skin ailment which could not be treated by manu learned physicians. One Sadhu (holy men of India) then advised that the king takes bath everyday at an auspicious hour in waters from 365 springs. The location has been chosen to perfection, where a minimum effort would have given the maximum benefits. 

The dam is a circular/cylindrical structure which has been created using dry masonary of huge boulders. Over time, bhopalis forgot that the dam has been constructed by human being, and took it to be natural. However, it was overserved in recent years that the lake is not filling up completely even after good rainfall was received by the catchment area. The Archiological Survey Of India, On entering the tunnel, found that the tunnel was leaking badly and many boulders from this dry masonary work had fallen down. Moreover there were huge trees which had grown over years on this embankment, and the roots of these trees penetrated the tunnel. The floor of the tunnel was filled deep with mud. Water was flowing continuosly from Upper lake to the Lower lake, which was supposed to let out only the spillage water. The tunnel has been fortified using cement, the trees has been cleared and the bigger boulders has been replaced.

Bhojpur, about 28 km from Bhopal, has a magnificient Shiva temple. The incomplete Shiva temple is often referred to as the Somnath of the East, and the ramps for construction are still visible. On the west of Bhojpur temple once lay a vast lake, but nothing remains except the ruins of magnificent old dam by which its waters were contained. The remains of this dam is similar in structure to the dam found at Bhopal, and is attributed to Raja Bhoj.

The site was chosen with great skill, as a natural wall of hills enclosed the whole area except for two gaps, 100 yards and 500 yards in width respectively. These were closed by gigantic earthen dams, faced on both sides with enormous blocks of sandstone, many being 4 feet long, 4 feet broad and 2.5 feet thick, set without mortar. The smaller dam is 44 feet high and 300feet thick at the base, the larger dam 24 feet high with a flat top 100 feet broad. These embankments held up and expanse of water of about 250 square miles. The lake was destroyed by Hoshang Shah (1405-34) who established the near by Hoshang Abad. The water sheet provided for a big range of forest inhabited by dacoits, who entered the territories of Hoshan Shah. To eliminate these dacoits, he order the lesser dam to be cut through. According to a Gond legend, it took an army three months to cut the dam, while it took three years for the water of the lake to flow out. It's bed was not habitable, it is said, for thirty years afterwards. The climate of the region is said to have been considerably altered by the removal of this vast sheet of water.

Dec 1, 2006

Race between justice and death

Death then : Man carries his wife past Union Carbide factory, Bhopal in 1984

Death now : Troubled Sunil Kumar, survivor of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster of Bhopal, which took the lives of two of his brothers, three of his sisters, and both his parents, hung himself in his apartment in Bhopal on the evening of July 26, 2006.

Twenty two years of watching the race between justice and death through the gas effected blurred eyes


Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain, a film on the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, was declared tax-free in Madhya Pradesh by chief minister Shivraj ...