Oct 25, 2012

Finding Ravan in Madhya Pradesh

This article usually makes an appearence in media during the times of Dussehra

Ravan Idol at Ravangram
 (as per the  news paper article)
"They don’t regard Ravana as a negative figure. On the contrary, some people in four Madhya Pradesh districts worship the Hindu god Rama’s arch rival on Dussehra when all across the country, his effigies are burnt to mark the victory of good over evil.In some places of Vidisha, Mandsaur, Ratlam and Indore districts, the effigy of Ravana is not burnt but people welcome the 10-headed demon king. So much so, a village in Vidisha district is even called Ravangram. Earlier, Ravana was worshipped during marriages only in the village but for the last few years he is being worshipped on Dussehra as well. “I know that villagers of Ravangram worship him. It is a village that has a population constituting of  90 per cent Brahmins. But so far I know that they only worship Ravana during marriages,” Congress leader Prabhat Bhanu Sharma of the district said. “The bridegroom seeks blessings from Ravana. He is worshipped as a local god in the village,” he added. In Mandsaur, Ravana is hailed as a son-in-law by Namdeo Vaishnav Samaj, a sect which believes that Ravana’s wife Mandodari belonged to the town." 
Being the arm chair intellectual, had been trying to Google this since three years, without much success.  People in Bhopal also did not appear to have any clue. As probably is the case with people of this generation, failure to find useful information about this Ravangram on Google (and laziness) started putting doubts in my mind about the very existence of this village, and had started wondering whether this is just another story or myth propagated by media. Escalating efforts further also posted on Facebook page and Twitter asking for information, drawing a blank, and there by strengthening mistrust of media.

Suddenly, during the fifth day of Navratri an aquantance casually mentioned about a Ravangram where there is supposed to be an idol of Ravan ! I predictably pounced upon the poor soul with web researched accumulated questions of three years. Dazed, he called up his friend from who he had heard the story, and came up with a place called Berasia. "Go to Berasia, and from there Ravangram is on bus route to Nateran". So the dice was cast, and I decided to have a rendezvous with Ravan on Dussehra. 

Off I went at about eight in the morning on the Dussehra day (25th October 2012) from Bhopal. Being on unknown territory, I decided that public transport would be an ideal choice. So I took a bus to Berasia from Sindhi Colony near Bhopal Talkies. 

The distance to Berasia was 40 KMs and took me about 2 hours to cover, so I was at Berasia Bus stand at about 10.30 AM. However, to my disappointment Ravangram enquiries again drew a blank ! After talking to multiple people, I changed track and started asking about Nateran instead. 

On which I was redirected to Mahaneem, a place some 30 KMs from Berasia, which turned out to be an intersection of roads to Berasia, Sironj, Samsabad and Kareria. 

After arriving at Mahaneem about one and a half hours later, asking about Ravangram still drew a blank. While wondering what to do, I latched on Nateran instead.

Suddenly the bus conductor had an 'Eureka moment' and asked whether I wanted to go to Ravan Bamoria. I was eager enough to go to any place which at least had some Ravan in it, suffix and prefix not with standing. So promptly I was packed off to a bus to Vidisha with this genius bus conductor (of a bus to Sironj) personally going and instructing the driver of Vidisha bus to drop me at Kareria Chauraha.

The road was painful, single lane with tar barely existing and interrupted now and then by tractors and villagers carrying idols of Goddess Durga for immersion. The bus itself was over crowded with families returning from their vacations. So eventually I was dropped at Kareria chauraha after about two and a half hours. Again I started inquiring about Ravan Bamoria, Nateran. However to my delight, the first person I asked conter questioned whether I wanted to go to Ravan or Bamoria. He said I should go to Nateran and from there Ravan (and not Ravangram) is just 2 kilometers. So I took a bus to Nateran, about 10 kilometers from Kareria square.

Found out that Nateran is a Sub division town of Vidisha District, with government offices and lot of political posters, stacked up sound boxes blaring latest film music while the young turks decorate the tractor for immersion of Goddess Durga. It was about 3'O clock in the afternoon and still no trace of Mr. Ravan. The young folks were so busy that I could not raise my voice enough to ask them about Ravan. After walking for about five minutes, I ended up at a temple on the outskirts of the town. On inquiring about Ravan he simply pointed to a board across the road.

Now, how to cover these seven kms, on foot? No transport from Nateran to Ravan, this was confirmed. There were motorbikes going towards the direction of Ravan, but had two pillion riders already. So I walked for sometime and reached a small village. On asking about the name of the village I was told it was Chameria. After some time, one bike with just the rider came along and agreed to give me a lift to Ravan. 

On road the young lad asked me what I was upto, and said he had been to Ravan temple many times. So finally a confirmation of Ravan temple. Suddenly he stopped in front of a yellow colored room and said this is the temple.

Ravan temple - First look

Jai Ravan Baba was written inside and outside the place, and a stone idol was lying inside. Also some broken old pieces of sculpture were standing on one side. A Shivalinga was also to be seen. In front of this very recently (about 12 years old) constructed room is a water body. There were vistors in a Maruti Van in picnic mood, but no priests of the famed Kanyakubja community who according to the news paper article claim Ravan to be from their sect. While waiting for some authority about the temple to appear, I started to chat up with the picnic family. They were from Visidha, and had come to thank Ravan Baba as a family wedding passed off peacefully with his blessings ! Amazed, I asked how come they asked Ravan for help and are they from the village community? They were not from the village and it has been a tradition in their family to ask for help remotely and promise some offerings. They had come to fulfill the promised offerings -which being some flowers, sweet 'chironji' and coconut - after some four months. They were very convinced that 'Kuch to baat hai' about their Ravan baba.

Look from the entrance

Broken sculptures
Outlined in flower

After much waiting the temple authority still did not turn up. So I caught up a child playing around and asked him to take me to his home. This guy was called 'Pradhan' (Village? Temple? Do not know) and was sleeping at his home. He came out and said that he is running a fever after the fasts of Navratri. I asked him about Ravan Baba. 

He said that he had seen the idol like this since his childhood. The room was constructed recently. The village families prays to him on occasions like marriage, house warming etc. If any family which has moved away from the village does not promise their offerings before any "Subh Karya" it is never fulfilled and their are many obstacles. So this Ravan Baba appears to be remote sensitive.

On being asked how come Ravan is here, at the middle of no where, he had a legend to tell. Pointing at the hills visible in the background of the temple, he said that their are huge caves in that mountain, In those caves one Rakshash dwelled, who could not find any worth while competitor in the area. So used to go to Lanka to have a fight with Ravan. However on seeing Ravan half his strength would be gone, and he would come back. After two three times Ravna himself asked this rakshash what was his purpose of visit. On explaining the problem to Ravan, Ravan suggested that he start praying his idol every day, which will enable him to retain his strength against any opposition. I asked him about the small sculptures lined against walls, to which he said only the black stone idol and the sword in the pond were original.
Sword in the pond ?
Yes there is a sword of stone in the pond.

They use the usual mantras and puja rituals for their prayer to Ravan, he said, sounding almost apolagatic of being different from the surrounding aryan culture of Ram.

The idol, shivlinga and sculptures
Ravan face - The head marks of  Shiva

Another head above the head ?

Holding something above the head by both hands

Another face on left side of main face
Dogs are allowed, shoes are not

Was the idol standing at some point of time ? Unlikely, from the looks of the feet
I went back temple to try and locate the stone sword. There was a stone projection in the water body in front of the temple, which might be the sword he was talking about. Meanwhile another family in Jeep had arrived to pay their promised offering to Ravan Baba from Bhopal on their Jeep ! On asking the head of the family said that even his father used to come to Ravan Baba, and their family has been helped since generations by him. 

On being asked what they thought about the origins, they came up with another story. They said that Ravana was flying above the place when he was shot by an arrow and fell down at the spot, with his sword thrown out of his hand. As the curse of gods would not fulfilled if he was thus killed, Ravan was resurrected and sent off to his path by the gods. The stone body was left behind as was the stone sword. 

What ever the past, I was the wrong person to unearth it. In a growing circle of Aryan culture, the non-aryan past, if it existed at this small hamlet, has been completely wiped away. There might be some old construction some where in the vicinity, from where the small broken stone sculptures have been kept in the temple. The shape of a stone lying outside the temple, which used for breaking Coconuts for offering, looks like the base of an old temple pillar.

This stone is used for breaking coconuts
Hoping that the village will survive long enough for it's turn for an archaeological survey by government, I started back for my journey to Bhopal. This time however the journey was surprisingly smooth. I took a lift on a tractor passing by to Nateran, and got a bus from their to Vidisha. The Durga immerisons had started at Vidisha Betwa river, so the bus could not go to the bus stand.

On asking the police man on duty for directions to the bus stand, he waved down a very scared young boy on bike, and asked him to drop me to the square. Barely had I stood there, A private Nano car asked whether I was looking for a lift to Bhopal? Within two hours of leaving Nateran, I was in Bhopal. 

The Ravan Baba Magic working? 

Oct 13, 2012

Illustrated London News - May 16th 1863

Oxblood Ruffin (@OxbloodRuffin ) has curated some "Antique And Vintage South Asian Artifacts". 

Much goodness about our Bhopal, Nawab Secunder Begum, the order of the star of India and Saugar bridge built by English commisioner using native ore (iron ore in Saugar ?), local people and without any foundaries can be found in this "The Illustrated London News" dated 16 May, 1863 .

Don't miss the fascinating photograph at the bottom of the page of Upper Lake, with the identifiable Taj-Ul-Masjid. 

As far as the tears and "firmly attached to English" sentiments mentioned in the article is concerned, she is believed to have said, when asked by a close confident what she would have done if the British had lost in the mutiny of 1857, replied "In that event, the Bhopal army had made sure that the British garrison was neutralized"! 

Read details here  and details of the Nawab hereself here

Oct 4, 2012

Tiger Tourism And A Prayatna From Bhopal


Over the past two years, a simply dressed, soft-spoken man from Bhopal has almost single-handedly managed to rattle India’s powerful tiger tourism industry.

When Ajay Dubey, a 36-year-old activist, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Madhya Pradesh high court in September 2010 to promote the conservation of India’s dwindling tiger population, he had three demands.
First, Madhya Pradesh’s six tiger reserves should notify their core and buffer areas— core denoting critical habitats for the tiger, and buffer referring to areas where human settlements are allowed to coexist with tigers.

Second, tourism should be banned in the core areas in line with the Wildlife Protection Act.

And third, that the tiger conservation plan specified by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) should be implemented in Madhya Pradesh.

The court rejected Dubey’s second, and most provocative, suggestion in January 2011, although it is still considering the others. Undeterred, Dubey filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court six months later. His persistence paid off. On 24 July, the apex court issued an unexpected and unprecedented interim ban on tourism in the core areas of all 41 tiger reserves in India. The tourism industry reeled. Dubey says it was a turning point in his life. “My main concern is to make sure that tigers in this country get their rights back,” said Dubey, whose activism has extended beyond the welfare of jungle cats over the past 10 years. “Just like people fight for human rights, I am fighting for tiger rights.” There were around 4,000 tigers in the wild in the 1990s, according to government estimates. Their number has now come down to 1,706, according to the tiger census conducted by NTCA. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court pulled up the government for the decrease in the number of tigers in the country from 13,000 to 1,700. They might have been referring to the number of tigers in the country in early 1990s.

The tiger tourism industry in India is worth more than Rs.1,000 crore, and many of its representatives, vehemently protesting the ban, have now turned on its instigator. Dubey said he has been receiving hate SMSes, phone calls, emails and Facebook messages from various people. “There’s a page on Facebook called ‘tiger ban’, which calls me an enemy of the tiger,” he said. Though mild mannered, Dubey is capable of extreme focus and he knows how to dig his heels in when necessary. A year after completing his Masters in business administration from Bhopal University in 2000, the young graduate started his own non-governmental organization (NGO) called Prayatna, which translates as effort. His interest in activism overwhelmed everything else, he said. Although Dubey had never been very interested in family life, he eventually married in March last year at the insistence of his mother. Dubey now lives in Bhopal, the city of his birth, with his mother, wife and a three-month-old daughter. His wife Rupali, a PhD student in Sanskrit, said Dubey was a workaholic and often away travelling. But as the daughter of a police officer, Rupali said she’s been used to erratic work schedules since childhood. “To win some, you have to lose some,” she said, adding that her husband’s work will always have priority over his family. Dubey’s own father was a government official and a nature lover. “He always believed that you don’t need to be a part of the system to bring a change in society. Being an alert citizen helps as much,” Dubey said. His own journey as an alert citizen got a boost in 2005, when he started using the Right to Information Act to obtain facts on issues such as which police officers were being transferred on the basis of recommendations by politicians in Madhya Pradesh. He campaigned against plastic waste, illegal mining and industrial pollution. Dubey’s NGO filed its first PIL in 2005, but it was the one against illegal mining in the Madhya Pradesh high court that made him famous in the state. In 2008, the court ordered that all mines that did not have the requisite environment clearances, and air and water consents should be shut until they could obtain them. “The state government also benefited and they were able to collect the revenue which had been pending for years from these mines,” Dubey said.

Still, Dubey worried that people might question his credentials. “I still remember that I sold off a portion of our farm...to have enough funds to start the NGO,” he said, referring to his family’s ancestral home in Chhattisgarh. The NGO now runs on money donated by private parties, he said, but background checks are done on donors before any money is accepted. “We have around 500 people working with us for various causes in MP (Madhya Pradesh), but most of them are part-timers and volunteers. We only have a full-time staff of 14,” he said. Dubey admits that his new role as a tiger crusader has not gone down as well with some of the more prominent tiger conservationists in India. “A lot of them have claimed that I am a newcomer in the field of environment and wildlife, and I don’t understand the issues well enough,” he said. “These senior tiger activists don’t want anyone new to enter in their domain and they are upset because their inability to conserve tigers in the country is now being exposed.” Vishal Singh, managing director of Delhi-based Travel Operators for Tigers India lobby group, which is fighting the case against Dubey in the Supreme Court, called him a “publicity monger”. “Ajay Dubey will be responsible for the loss of livelihood of 10,000 people in just Madhya Pradesh,” Singh said. In his defence, Dubey argued it is the city-based tour operators and not the forest dwellers who earn the most from the resorts around tiger reserves. “I have seen cases where tribals living in a reserve do not even have drinking water, and these resorts change the water in their swimming pools every day,” he said. He dismissed well-known tiger conservationists such as Belinda Wright and Valmik Thapar, who have declared themselves to be against the ban.

“Had they been genuinely concerned about tigers in the country, they would have also raised the issues that I have now raised,” Dubey said. “I don’t understand how the tiger numbers in the country have gone down if there are so many conservationists in the country.” Sushil Levi, Dubey’s childhood friend and co-worker at Prayatna, was not surprised that his colleague has found fame. “Since childhood, we wanted to do some  positive work so that the whole country knows our name and recognizes us,” he said. Raka Arya, an assistant professor at the National Law Institute University in Bhopal, said the biggest advantage for Dubey has been that he used legal advocacy in the right way from the start. Arya has known Dubey for around four years now and said he would regularly recruit student volunteers from their law school to help him with his work. “Even now, one of the lawyers fighting the tiger case in the Supreme Court is a graduate of this law school,” she added. Dubey said legal advocacy has helped him wage battles against many powerful people in the country, including the mining mafia of Madhya Pradesh. “But the tiger tourism case is more of a war,” he said.  

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