Monday, August 30, 2010

Hamara Karachi

Pakistani donkey carters participate in a race in Karachi. The race was held as part of the Hamara Karachi festival. AFP Photo/Rizwan Tabassum.

Aitcheson College

This is the image of the building where Aitcheson College started in Lahore back in 1891. The building is still there and functional. Can you indicate where?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rohi rang te rutt

The women folk in drab landscape of desert wearing nath (nosegay), katmala (necklace), kangan (big bangles), pazeb (worn on toes), bright color, and vivid pattern lehngas of 20 yards and high cholis may one day become part of history. Maybe not so in near future! Sofi poet Khawaja Ghulam Farid, who spent 18 years of his life wandering about in Cholistan, admiring its beauty and people wrote, "But what tongue shall tell the glory of it, the perpetual strength of it, and sublimity of its lonely desolation! And who shall paint the splendor of its light." The poet was passionately found of desert milieus that are hard, dry and at first repulsive. His fascination for Cholistan was so rich that his poetry has woven melodious aura all around Rohi -- as the desert is called in a local dialect. He has set the standards for desert wanderers. I can tell you something of what I have seen during my intermittent stay - from 1977 till 2000 - in the desert, but I cannot tell you the grander of the desert, nor the glory of colors that wrap the burning sand. The awesome vistas and richness of the desert are beyond description. Cholistan is a land of legends, myths, velor, romance, folk melodies, heritage and regal elegance.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Google Earth Travel

From desert artwork that covers 62 miles, to a family of elephants, to the Firefox logo, Google Earth gives armchair explorers exciting images galore.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dharti Ma

Salman Rashid

It was in 1992 at the shrine of Chanan Pir in Cholistan that I first realised how an ancient belief had been modified to adapt to a new religion. The so-called burial open to the sky, the supplication for sons and wealth and the bringing of their best cattle to do obeisance at the shrine all harked back to an earlier cult. But the best of all was the timing of the Chanan Pir festival: early February to mid-March.

The temple of Dharti Ma must never have a dome above, she gives sons and wealth, she brings fertility and she is celebrated when she rejuvenates the earth after the barrenness of winter. The so-called shrine of Chanan Pir is an open sand dune because the Pir purportedly so ordained. They worship the sand dune in spring to pray for sons, good crops and wealth. They bring their cattle to pay salaam just as their ancestors did three or four thousand years ago when the lost Hakra River flowed and Chanan Pir was simply Dharti Ma.

The insight that this was the conversion to Islam of an ancient Sindhu valley cult led to a search for other sites. I learnt that other than Chanan Pir and Udero Lal (Hyderabad, Sindh), all shrines that hark back to Dharti Ma or a similar earth deity are placed upon high mountain peaks. In June ‘94 I climbed the 4055-metre peak of Musa ka Musalla in Kaghan and four months later the 3447-metre Takht e Suleman in the apex between Balochistan and Pukhtunkhwa. Both summits set my heart racing, and not for the climb but for what they had to show.

On the Musalla (prayer-mat), the snow was still thick and the stone altar, all but covered, could easily have been missed. Only the coloured flags fluttering in the brisk wind gave away its location. It was a platform of rough-cut stones; its corners aligned with the cardinal points and measured about six metres square. Near its base, where the heat of the sunlit stones had melted away the snow, I saw cowpats. Talking to Gujjar herders later I learned that those of their bulls and cows that were due to mate were first brought up the mountain to pay homage to Musa so that the herd would grow. They did not know who Musa was. It could either be the prophet Moses or a Gujjar patriarch from the distant past who worshipped on the summit and gave it his name.

On the throne (takht) of Solomon, I flagged and some way below the summit did not wish to go any farther. My Pushtun guides said it would be a shame if I were to come this far and not raise up my hands in orison at the tomb of Qais Abdur Rashid. That was sufficient inducement. The ‘tomb’ was a six and a half-metre square altar (this time I had a measuring tape) and lay in the shade of blue pines just a short way below the actual summit. Now Qais Rashid is the supposed ancestor of the Pushtuns. But that is all he is: supposed. So when the Pushtuns, having converted to Islam, wished to consecrate the ancient site of Dharti Ma, they turned it into the grave of a fictional ancestor.

The most telling connection with Dharti Ma worship I learned only recently from an elderly Gujjar in Balakot. Once they used to offer Musa streams of milk straight from the udder, but the practice is increasingly being overlooked. Dharti Ma where she is worshipped in India is still similarly appeased with milk. Takht e Suleman on the other hand is utterly desiccated. There are no springs of fresh water making it nearly impossible to take cattle up. Surely before the climate of our part of the world changed and there was greater precipitation, worship on the takht had a different colour.

In June 1999 I was on the peak of Sikaram (4770 metres) north of Parachinar town. This time there was no altar, just a simple grave nearly six metres long. It was supposed to be the burial of some Syed Karam whose name, they said, had been corrupted to Sikaram. Unfortunately for the tellers of this tale, the grave was not the prescription north-south alignment of Muslim graves; it was out of kilter by about forty-five degrees. Once again, the converts’ zeal of the Pushtuns had attempted to expunge the memory of Dharti Ma. The one disappointment on Sikaram was that the shrine was not restricted to praying strictly for sons and wealth.

Exactly four years later, I was slogging up another peak where thyme grew so thick that, crushed underfoot, it filled the air with its lovely bouquet. This time it was Pir Ghal (3515 metres) in South Waziristan. En route my guides and I fell in with a man, a young father of three daughters, who was on his way up to pray for a son. On the summit, a black billy goat was slaughtered as sacrifice. As a good Pushtun he obviously did not accept it was to appease Dharti Ma for that would be sacrilege. It was a simple sadqa, the man said. A sadqa to please God so that He may grant him a son.

Pushtun lore makes Pir Ghal sacred to the prophet Ishmael who is said to have sojourned on it in his time. And because he had been favoured by God by his miraculous removal from under his father’s knife, it was appropriate to invoke him for a son. On the peak they have built a small room for pilgrims to overnight in, but there is no structure to mark a shrine. There is only a low wall behind which pilgrims stand, face west and pray for what they must. Here too they believe it would be bad form (not to mention very difficult!) to raise a building above the spot.

Man has always placed his gods on mountaintops, Kailas in Tibet and Olympus in Greece being two good examples. Even Moses climbed the mountain to receive the commandments. Their loftiness and inaccessibility gave the peaks sanctity. And if man had to commune with the deity he would first have to do penance by undertaking the hard slog to the summit. Then only was the black-haired goat acceptable to the deity; then only was prayer answered. Compared to the alpine deities, Dharti Ma of river valleys was benign.

Monday, August 23, 2010

jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Salman Rashid’sJhelum: City of the Vitasta” is a worthy, lively, and very well-researched book that entertains as well as informs. It richly succeeds in uncovering the truth about the name of the ancient town and smashing unfounded legends while bringing an evolution vividly to life in the process.

Where has the name Jhelum come from? Salman Rashid writes, “Local ‘historians’ were assiduously applied to the task of inventing history. Sometime since the first European historian did his research in the area and the present, ‘Jhelum’ had become the name of Alexander’s horse. I was surprised to discover locally printed histories carrying on and on about famous horse that dies at Jhelum and gave the town its name.

All of these so called histories have been printed in the last thirty or so years which implies that this industry of pseudo-history became fashionable in the recent past.”

From ‘an ordinary village’ Jhelum city came of age during the British Raj. “Two things are evident, One, that Jhelum never matured as a trading town, that whatever scant marchandize could be seen in its bazaars was the leavings of the limited trade transiting through here. Secondly, in the presence of the busier ferries of Jalalpur, Haranpur and, even despite its bitter ground water, Pind Dadan Khan, Jhelum was the less preferred crossing point. Indeed, at the point of annexation in 1849 by the British, the town contained only five hundred houses. That is, its population was not much above three thousand souls. A far cry from a rich and prosperous town,” narrates Salman Rashid.

Jhelum district lies on the route that was taken by all conquerors and invaders coming from the north. Journeying back and forth through history, Salman Rashid narrates the interesting tales the District has to tell from Alexander era, to Mughal period and British Raj.

The book is based upon the study of history of the district and its people, which is then backed upon by field notes and incisive observations. The writer also documents the history woven around Fort Rohtas and Till Balanath (Tilla Jogi) and how important was Jehlum on the Railway Map or for the timber trade.

Salman Rashid is a famous travel-writer of Pakistan. Remember TV Serial Nagri Nagri Ghum Musafar. He is writing in the major English language newspapers and magazines of the country. As a travel writer he has the talent George Orwell spotted in Dickens as a novelist, for details, florid little squiggles. Since 1983 when he discovered his ability to tell a tale, he has written countless articles, and has six books including Prisoner on the Bus, The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau, Gujranwala, the glory that was, Riders on the wind. Sarwat Ali once wrote, “He draws his inspiration from the writers of history who treated their subject as a grand denouement of a dramatic plot with historical personages as characters. He is thus far away from those academic historians who establish a thesis and then laboriously fill in data to prove their assumptions.”

"Salman Rashid is not a historian, neither is he a social scientist; he basically loves to write about places and people with the zest and passion that is more the forte of creative writing. This strength can easily turn into a flaw, but he knows when to stop and puts an end to the surge of passion before it freewheels from the umbilical cord of history into fantasy."
Accompanied by dozens of images, hundred of interviews with those who carry the lore (also myths and legends) and sifting heresy from what are the substantiated facts, and as a result of many visits to the dusty old record rooms, Salman Rashid’s book is much more than a history; it is a heartfelt chronicle that evokes the atmosphere of a Jhelum district that is distinctly ancient.

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta is a mosaic of history, archeology, geography, folklore and travelogue. The book is a must read for those searching for the answers to riddles in history. Jhelum: City of the Vitasta is a smooth and enjoyable trip to the boardwalk, and is densely packed with facts and details for historians everywhere. Well-written and wonderfully presented, the book belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in subcontinent history starting from Alexander’s days. I highly recommend it.

Fellow of Royal Geographical Society, Salman Rashid is author of eight books including The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Hill of the Jogis

At partition, Tilla Jogian fell silent. Those who practiced their creed under its pine trees deserted it on pain of death. For the first time in two thousand years, the monastery stopped humming with the sound of murmured prayer; for the first time there was no one left to repair the walls as they began to crumble

The first ever mention of Tilla Jogian (Hill of the Jogis) is found in the ballad of Puran Bhagat, the prince of Sialkot. His body mutilated and dumped in a well outside the city because of the calumnious accusation by his stepmother, Puran was discovered by the great Guru Goraknath. Miraculously restored to fullness of body by the guru, Puran refused his benefactor’s bidding to return to the palace and apprise his father Raja Salvahan of the truth of the matter.

Instead, he joined the guru’s train and went, in the words of the ballad, ‘to the guru’s Tilla.’ There, under the watchful eye of Goraknath, he practiced the austerities that led to his becoming a great jogi. Now, Salvahan of Sialkot was a contemporary of Raja Vikramaditya of Ujjain, the hero from whose victorious stand against the Central Asiatic Sakas in the year 57 BCE we have our Vikrami era.

We also know that Raja Bhartari, the elder brother of Vikramaditya and the heir to the throne of Ujjain, had abdicated in favour of his brother in order to become a jogi. He too read the discipline under Guru Goraknath at Tilla. That is, the monastery at Tilla Jogian was already functioning in the 1st century BCE.

From other sources, we know that Guru Goraknath, the founder of the Tilla Jogian monastery, also established the Kunphatta (pierced ears) order of jogis. And so Tilla Jogian is sometimes also mentioned in history as Tilla Goraknath.

Referring to the site chosen for the construction of his famed fort of Rohtas near Jhelum, the history of Sher Shah Suri tells us that the fort lay ‘in the vicinity of Tilla Balnath’. Again we hear the same name from Abul Fazal, royal chronicler to Emperor Akbar. In the spring of 1581, Akbar visited the ‘shrine of Balnath’. Abul Fazal writes that even at that time the monastery was ‘so old that its beginning is not known’.

As for Balnath, Abul Fazal says that the man having become an ascetic chose this hilltop ‘in order to mortify his passions’. He also notes that the monastery was visited by people from all over India who held it in high veneration. Twenty-six years later we have Emperor Jehangir taking a detour to visit this hill ‘four kos and three quarters’ from Rohtas. The figure given by the emperor equals twenty-two kilometres, the exact distance between the two places.

But if we are wrestling with the change of name from Tilla Goraknath to Tilla Balnath, we have the civil servants Ibbetson, Maclagan and Rose causing yet another confusion. Compiling their very useful Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of Punjab in the early years of the 20th century, they noted that Goraknath lived in the 15th century.

To begin with, not everything British civil servants wrote was authentic. Here they are clearly far off the mark. Not only does Abul Fazal write of the great antiquity of Tilla, the poet Damodar, the first to preserve in writing the tale of Heer and Ranjha in the 15th century, also tells us of the latter’s sojourn at Tilla. We can be sure that the characters Heer and Ranjha, if they did exist, lived sometime in the 14th century. If, on the other hand, they were pure fiction, the story was nevertheless being told at that time. Goraknath therefore would have pre-dated the period the Glossary assigns him.

As for Balnath whose name replaced, without any explanation, that of Goraknath’s, I have a theory. I believe that Balnath, like his illustrious predecessor Goraknath, was a great teacher of the order of Kunphatta jogis who may have lived sometime in the 15th century. In the eyes of his disciples, his eminence was so great that for a time the ancient hilltop monastery came to be known after him. That was what misled the compilers of the Glossary.

And so we have Tilla Goraknath, or Balnath or Jogian, a solitary hill that rises out of the flat country southwest of Jhelum town. There on its 1000 metre-high top, shaded by ancient wild olive and pipal trees, sit the ruins of Goraknath’s monastery. Here are temples, samadhs and domed rooms where great masters of the past prayed and practiced the austerities of their order.

The ruins sit on a low mound and if one looks carefully, the remains of earlier buildings buried under are clearly discernible. Here a length of wall partially buried and lying athwart of the walls of the domed cubicle above, there an archway poking out of the ground and leading nowhere. And yet again rooms that once looked out on a pretty vista but over which new buildings have grown.

A short way to the southwest lies a large water tank of Mughal design. It is complete with a private bathing room where the ladies of the royal entourage would have attended to their ablutions. A tablet on an outside wall of this facility bears an unmistakable signature of a Central Asian master mason: a double-humped Bactrian camel. This was no simple ornament; it was the mason’s signature. Even if the tablet does not reveal his name, it tells us that the mason was a native of the distant steppe land.

Dhido Ranjha, heartbroken after Heer’s forcible marriage into the Khehras, travelled along the river from Jhang and ended up at Tilla. He too became a jogi with his pierced ears adorned with the prescribed wooden rings and returned home to serenade his lost love. The spot where he spent his time in meditation lies to the north of the ruined monastery right by the side of the path leading up to the peak.

Not long after him, Guru Nanak, then still searching for the truth that was to be the basis of the Khalsa religion, visited Tilla. A ledge on the extreme western side of the mountain overlooking a wonderful vista is where this great man performed his forty days of penance. Much after his time, a tiny domed cubicle was built to mark the site.

After the Raj had established its hold on Punjab, the district of Jhelum found the cool, trees-shaded height of Tilla a handy spot to make the summer headquarter for the Deputy Commissioner. Every year after the Bisakhi festival was over, the DC sahib moved up to Tilla to spend the next five months here.

In those days, the Bisakhi celebration at Tilla drew crowds from all across India. Thirty years ago, there were dozens of elderly men in the villages around the foot of Tilla who recalled the time when they would porter for rich yatris coming for the festival. But with them gone, fewer and fewer now realise the importance of this hilltop monastery.

At partition, Tilla Jogian fell silent. Those who practiced their creed under its pine trees deserted it on pain of death. For the first time in two thousand years, the monastery stopped humming with the sound of murmured prayer; for the first time there was no one left to repair the walls as they began to crumble.

Since my first visit in 1974, I have returned several times. Each time I have seen newer and newer signs of destruction: the handiwork of mindless treasure hunters. Mindless because they know not that those who peopled Tilla Goraknath gave up their crowns to become penniless mystics. They could not have brought any wealth to this pristine hill. But there are no limits to human ignorance and avarice and Tilla Jogian continues to suffer.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

In Shalamar Garden

Have a party with Squirrels at Light Within

Africa in Miniature

Readers at Light Within are familiar with the work of NGOs and how Thatta Kedona (and also SPARC) is making difference in a small village Thatta Ghulamka Dheroka situated on the bank of River Ravi near Gogera. Dr. Senta Siller (mother of dolls) and Dr. Norbert Centre (fondly called by village community as chaudhry sahib) keep toggling between Germany and the remote village with fresh ideas and people of the village keep making new products (dolls, tin toys and other decorative cultural mementos) keep travling from village to the entire world. Now the untiring couple has started another project in Cameroon. Heritage and Appropriate Technology Center is born in Cameroon.

Heritage and Appropriate Technology Center Cameroon is Bamenda - capital of North West Region in the Republic of Cameroon - based NGO. The NGO is focusing on development, presentation on exhibitions and promoting of appropriate technology. Do-it-yourself usage of appropriate technology gives a hope of independence from central technical infrastructure. And handmade dolls, dressed in traditional attires from the different provinces are a means of additional income generation in rural areas. Heritage and Appropriate Technology Center Cameroon involves men, women and also children in different initiatives.

Heritage and Appropriate Technology Center Cameroon has develop active cooperation with foreign NGOs like Technology Transfer and Training Centre in Pakistan, Institute for Planning and Consulting, German Society for the Development of Culture (DGFK) and Bamenda University of Science and Technology (B.U.S.T). This blog, in addition to useful information about Cameroon (one of the most diverse African countries that is called Africa in Miniature and its culture and people, will covers CAT initiatives and projects. [Via]