Saturday, June 29, 2013

Feroz Shah Kotla

In a chamber under the Feroz Shah Kotla Mosque. 

The ruins of Firozabad, the fifth city of Delhi, stand tucked away next to a giant cricket stadium, just south of the former line of the walls of Old Delhi. It's not on most visitors itineraries, and even people I've know who have been living in Delhi for quite some time haven't gone there. The reason for this is, I think, relatively simple: Firozabad, otherwise known as Firoz Shah Kotla, is not pretty. Rather, it's scary, immensely atmospheric, and is generally considered one of Delhi's primary centers of supernatural activity....It's not for the faint of heart. Visiting the ruins on a Thursday afternoon, when people come from the surrounding area to petition disembodied spirits for favours and forgiveness in dark, dungeon-like chambers in the sad remnants of a once grand, but now almost totally destroyed, 700 year old city, is one of the most intense experiences that Delhi, a city that is nothing if not replete with intense experiences, has to offer. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Day Out From Badami

Nataraja, in the Ravana Phadi cave temple in Aihole, flanked by Ganesh. Nataraja is the form of Shiva whose dance of cosmic destruction will obliterate the old universe in preparation for the new. The Ravana Phadi Cave, dating back to the 6th century, is one of the very earliest Chalukyan monuments, predating the cave temples at Badami. Though Chalukyan architecture would develop a great deal between the this period and the 8th century, their skill at sculpting appears to have peaked rather earlier. For my money at least, the very greatest Chalukyan carvings, which certainly include this Nataraja, are in Aihole...Aihole is actually pronounced "Aye-oh-lei," and frankly I wish that whoever decided to render the name into English had gone a more phonetic route...talking about it actually presents exactly the same problem as bringing up the name of the planet Uranus...oh well....

My second day in the Badami area was one of the very best purely travel days I've ever had in India. In the twelve hours I spent on my feet, I wound up visiting roughly three quarters of the core of the ancient Chalukyan Empire (something which I can't say I do every day.) 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Frieze of Varaha, the boar-headed incarnation of Vishnu, holding his consort Bhudevi in one of the cave temples of Badami. The story behind this carving is that the demon Hiranyaksha, the beheaded corpse of whom Varaha is standing on in this depiction, kidnapped the Earth, as personified in Bhudevi, and took her to the bottom of a cosmic ocean, whereupon Vishnu sent his boar incarnation to slay the demon and take her back.

So, this is back in Karnataka, during the trip I took in October of 2012.

For me, visiting Badami was a trip into Terra Incognita: Whereas most of the historical sites that I visited in Karnataka were from a period that I was at least nominally familiar with, the great cave temples and temple architecture of Badami were mostly from a much earlier time, before the advent of Islam in South India. What's more, though I had been to a number of old Hindu sites before, most were in Assam, a place extremely culturally different from Karnataka. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mehrauli Archaeological Park

The sixteenth century Rajon ki Baoli, or Well of the Masons. Built in the final years of the Delhi Sultanate, it's  Delhi's most ornate step-well, and one of the main attractions at the Mehrauli Archaeological Park.

The Mehrauli Archaeological Park is perhaps Delhi's best kept secret. Containing ruins which, if one counts the foundation of the Hindu Rajput fort which underlies the whole area, date anywhere from the 8th to the 19th century, and encompass virtually the whole history of Islamic Delhi and then some, the park is among the very most fascinating places in the whole city. What's more, it's practically unknown.