Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pride of Rajasthan - The Great Indian Bustard

The great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) is the protected bird of Rajasthan. It is also known by the name Maldhok. Once found almost throughout India, it is basically on the verge of extinction. Now they are possibly found in the Desert National Park (Jaisalmer Distt.) in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Almost 90% of its former range has become extinct.

Now a day this species is found in India and probably in Pakistan. It generally lives in a habitat having arid and semi arid grasslands, open area with thorn scrub with tall grass scattered with cultivation. It avoids irrigated areas. It is omnivorous in nature and takes the diet according to the season. The food includes seeds of grasses, insect, rat, groundnut, millet etc.

It is a large, brown and white bird with long neck and long bare legs like that of an Ostrich. The male is about 122 cm in length weighing 8 kg-14.5 kg and female is about 92 cm in length and weigh about 3.5 kg-7 kg. Both the sexes have similar appearance. The under-parts and neck are white. A black crown is present on its forehead and upper body is brown. The wings are marked black, brown and grey. Male have larger black and crested crown, long hind crown feathers as compared to female. It also has a black band across the breast. In female the head and neck are not pure white.

Shy and timid by nature, the bustard keeps away from humans, preferring open scrublands where it lives in small groups. This spectacular bird undergoes a complete transformation at courtship when the gular sac in its neck inflates to the size of a balloon and hangs between its legs. Strutting majestically before its harem of hens, the bird utters a far-reaching call. The breeding period is during March to April. During this time the white feathers of male gets fluffy and inflated. The male raises its tail and folds it on its back. It periodically produces a resonant and booming sound. First breeding in male occurs at 5-6 years and 2-3 years in female.

They build their nest generally in an open ground and do not live in birds therefore the eggs are at risk of destruction from other animals. Female usually lays single egg once in a year and its incubation period is 27 days. Male do not contribute in nourishing or looking after its developing young ones. Although it has wings, the bird is slow in take off because of its 16 kg weight. But it is a swift runner. The hunter can easily spot and shoot the unsuspecting bird from his vehicle because of its long white neck, which is visible from a distance. The bustard is hunted for its meat, which is a food lover delight.

This bird has been declared as an endangered species due to its continuous decline. Hunting, poaching, conversion of land for agriculture, greater use of pesticides and loss of habitat are the main causes of its precipitous decline. The Desert National Park of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan is considered as its largest protected area with a population of about 500 bustards. Here the ecology of the bird is studied minutely and efforts are made to protect this beautiful species. Now a day government is planning a number of projects to raise awareness and save this species.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Looting of the Deg – Urs fair

Dargah Sharif at Ajmer, in central Rajasthan, is the most popular pilgrimage of Muslims. It is the place where the mortal remains of Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chisti lie buried. He is popularly known as Garib Nawaz (protector of the poor) due to the devotion of his entire life in the service of mankind. The largest muslim fair of India called Urs (the death anniversary of Khawaja Sahib) is celebrated at the tomb of this sufi saint every year. This fair is organized during the seventh month of the Islamic calendar. More than five lakh people of almost every community from all over the world gather here to pay their homage to the Khwaja.

It is said that he embraced death in solitude when he was withdrawn to his cell for six days. He directed everyone not to disturb him. These days are celebrated as the days of Raj The pilgrims who are visiting here to seek the blessings of Khwaja offers rich offerings called ’nazrana’ at this holy spot. These include rose and jasmine flowers, sandalwood paste, perfumes and the most important Chadar, Ghilaph and Neema. The devotees bring the ‘nazrana’ on their head and inside the sanctum sanctorum it is handed over to the khadims present there.

The fair begins when Sajjada Nashin (successor representative of Chistis) hoists a white flag at Dargah. The fair begins with the ritual called ‘Ghusal’. According to this ceremony on the 1st of Rajab, the tomb is washed with rose water and then covered by embroided silk cloth. On the last day of the sixth month the Jannati Darwaja (gateway of heaven) is opened early in morning. It is believed that crossing this gate seven times assure a place in heaven so people cross this gate seven times.

The other interesting ritual is the looting of the Kheer (a sweet pudding of milk, rice and sugar). It is a unique practice during Urs at the Dargah Sharif. The Kheer is cooked in two large cauldrons called degs, gifted by Emperor Akbar, which can hold 4,482 kg or 2,240 kg of Kheer. This is then distributed amongst the pilgrims as ‘blessed food’.

This ceremony is also performed on the fulfillment of a wish. If any of the wishes of devotees get fulfilled, they offer rice here. When enough rice has been donated, Kheer (a sweet pudding of rice, milk and sugar) is prepared in one of the two cauldrons or degs. It is cooked the whole night. In the morning, professional looters empty the cauldron with lightning speed even jumping into the boiling pot to scrape it. The Kheer is then distributed among the pilgrims.

Many other programs are organized to create a festive mood such as Mehfils (religious assemblies) and Qawwallis (songs in praise of the saint) are sung each night. More than five lakh devotees gather here during this fair. The fair ends with Qul (end-all) on the 6th of Rajab. As Dargah is located at the middle of three markets so a wide variety of articles for shopping, as carpets, rosaries, textiles, prayer mates could be found here. Besides this a number of restaurants and guesthouses for residing purpose are also available.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pilgrim Center of Muslims- Dargah

Ajmer, which is situated in the heart of the Rajasthan is well known all over the world because of the presence of tomb of Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti, which is well known by the name of Dargah. Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti was a sufi saint who lived in Ajmer from 1191 till his death in 1236 A.D. Through his message of love and devotion to the mankind, he came to be known as Khwaja Garib Nawaz (the protector of the poor). Beggars even today plead for alms in his name.

The Dargah Sharif is considered as a wish-fulfilling shrine. It is believed by the followers of the saint that seven visit to Dargah is equivalent to one visit of Mecca, which is considered as the most auspicious destination of Muslim pilgrimage. The great Mughal Emperor Humayun in the honour of Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti built up the tomb in 16th century at the place where his last remains lay buried. It is said that Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti, settled down in Ajmer in 12th century when Prithviraj Chouhan lost it to Mohammad Gauri. He started preaching here, due to which he gained a number of followers. Till now the followers have great faith in his teachings.

The Mughal Emperor Akbar twice walked all the way on foot from Agra to Ajmer in thanks giving for boons received. Humayun’s son Akbar and grandson Shah Jahan also added a mosque to the place. Although pilgrims come here throughout the year, yet during the Urs (death anniversary) of the saint, countless number of devotees converges upon the shrine from India and abroad for six days.

The saint’s tomb is fenced by a silver railing and surrounded by a marble lattice screen. Devotees offer cloth or Chaddar(flower coverlets), incense and rose petals as a token of gratitude or to ask for a favour. All night Qawwalis (devotional songs) sessions are held during the Urs.

On the seventh day, when the Urs is over, all those present, rich and poor, participates in the ritual cleansing of the Dargah- a labour of love for their Khawaja.

Though it is basically a Muslim shrine yet people from all over the world could be found here paying their obeisance to the saint. Not only Muslims but also people of all religions have great belief in its genuineness.
Thus Ajmer got an important place on India’s map due to the fact that along with Dargah the great Pilgrim of Muslims, the city lies close to the town of Puskar that is again a famous Pilgrim destination of Hindus. Thus it represents the integrity and unity of Indians and their culture.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Palace of Winds- Hawa Mahal

The Hawa Mahal of Jaipur is one of the unique monuments of the world. The Hawa Mahal literally means Palace of winds. The Hawa Mahal has become a landmark by which Jaipur and often the whole of Rajasthan is represented. It is such a beautiful sight that cannot be described in words but its beauty could only be felt if seen live. Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh built this unusual structure in 1799 for the royal ladies so they could see all the activities going on in the streets below while remaining unseen by the Public. The windows served both as a screen for privacy as well as to provide ventilation and to allow the cool air to circulate.

It looks like a huge beautiful palace but all it has are passages and balconies. It’s a pyramid shaped structure, having five storeyed building with number of small windows and screens and arched roof with hanging cornices. These are elegantly carved and decorated. The front part of the building is intricately carved as compared to rear side, which lacks much ornamentation and is very plain and more is a mass of passages and pillars.

The broad pyramidical facade comprises five storeys of semi octagonal overhanging windows with perforated screens, domes and spires. This five storeyed façade has artistic view with 953 pink delicately honeycombed sandstone windows called ‘Jharokas’and covered balconies behind pink sandstone jails. The first two storey are backed by a basement but the three storeys above it have just passages and windows. It becomes clear from its view that this building has not been constructed for residential purpose. There is a total lack of ornamentation on the inner face of the building. This honeycombed building was made to facilitate women.

The monument was built at the time when veiled system (‘Purdah’ system) was strictly followed in the royal families. Thus it was built so that the ladies could watch the activities taking place on the street and enjoy the sense of freedom. It offers women of the court a vantage point behind stone arched screens.

The building proves its name true as one climbs up to balconies, is almost swept away by the cool breeze. It’s a great example of Rajputana architecture, which was strongly influenced by Mughal architecture. Hawa Mahal is admired not only for its architecture but it also offers an astonishing view of Jantar Mantar that is another tourist attraction of Jaipur. Hawa Mahal provides the traveler a wonderful feeling of satisfaction of seeing a unique monument of the world, so one should not miss to travel the place.