Vintage Indian photography at its best – IV

To mark the month of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, the National Gallery of Modern Art in Bangalore put on display a collection of rare photos of the Father of the Nation. The sepia-toned gems are the works of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal photographer and grand nephew Kanu Gandhi.

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Gandhi on the phone at the Sevagram Ashram (1938). Photo courtesy: NGMA.

Kanu Gandhi (1917-1986) spent a major part of his childhood at the Sabarmati Ashram. His parents Narandas Gandhi and Jamuna Gandhi worked in the Ashram. Narandas was Gandhiji’s nephew.

Later, as per his father’s wishes, Kanu took up residence at the Sevagram Ashram where he served the Mahatma. His daily grind included handling Gandhiji’s correspondence, clerical and accounting work. His devotion to the Father of the Nation earned him the sobriquet “Bapu’s Hanuman”. In 1944, Kanu Gandhi married fellow Ashram worker Abhaben Chatterjee with the blessings of Mahatma  and Kasturba Gandhi.

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Photo courtesy: NGMA

A keen interest in photography followed and Kanu was encouraged by Shivaji Bhave (brother of Bhoodan Movement leader Vinobha Bhave) to pursue his passion by clicking the happenings at the Ashram. Although Gandhiji was initially not in favour of the idea he later relented and asked noted industrialist Ghanshyam Das Birla to fund Kanu’s new passion. The businessman gifted him Rs. 100, a princely sum those days, which was enough for Kanu to buy himself a Rolliflex camera and a film roll.

The strict disciplinarian that Gandhi was, he imposed certain rules on the young photographer:

– He shouldn’t use flash;
– He should not ask him to pose;
– The ashram will not help him with any funds.

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Kanu Gandhi. Photo courtesy: NGMA

As Kanu was among the privileged few who were allowed close access to the Mahatma, his photographs began to gain in popularity. Amritlal Gandhi of Vandemataram magazine began offering him a stipend of Rs. 100 every month. The photographs soon started making their way to various dailies. A lot many of them did not see the light of the day because Gandhi refused permission including one where Kasturba lay dying on his lap.

 

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Gandhi sleeping in a train. Photo courtesy: NGMA

 

When Gandhiji was assassinated in Delhi in 1948, Kanu was not at his side. He was in Naokhali in East Bengal working on one of the leader’s assignments. Gandhi breathed his last on Abha’s arms.

After Gandhi’s death, Kanu lost interest in photography. Instead, he and Abha preferred travelling and spreading Gandhi’s philosophy and ideals most importantly the idea of using Khadi or homespun cotton.

Kanu Gandhi died of a heart attack in 1986 when on a pilgrimage to Madhya Pradesh.

The collection on display includes:

1) Distant shot of Jawaharlal Nehru and others at Sevagram Ashram in 1946.
2) A 1937 picture of Gandhi’s hut.
3) Kasturba massaging Gandhi’s feet (1939).
4) Gandhi in his hut.
5) Mahatama’s rickety van being pushed by Pathans and Congress workers (1938).
6) Gandhi on a phone in the ashram (1938)
7)  A 1938 picture of Jawaharlal Nehru at Sevagram Ashram.
8) A photo with Netaji in Birla House (1938).
9) Kasturba washing his feet  (1939).
10) A picture of Gandhi with Rabindranath Tagore (1939).
11) A 1939 picture of him fasting with this sisters massaging his feet.
12) Picture of a 1941 visit to Jabalpur.
13) A picture of him and Kasturba Gandhi at Aga Khan Palace in Poona, 1944.
14) A picture of his blood stained cloth after being assassinated, 1948.
15) Gandhi on a visit to riot-affected Noakhali, East Bengal, 1946.
16) Gandhi reading a letter at 4am at Khadi Prathistham, Calcutta, 1946
17) Jawaharlal Nehru pondering at Khadi Prathistham.
18) There are quite a few photos of Gandhi on the train journey from November 1945 to January 1946 to collect donations for the Harijan Fund.
19) Picture of Gandhi sleeping in the train.
20) A striking picture of crowds waiting to meet Gandhi.
21) Gandhi standing on a weighing scale.

The entire collection can be viewed in the coffee table book “Kanu’s Gandhi”, available online on Amazon.com. The Nazar Foundation has played a significant part in unravelling the treasure trove of photos.  Had it not been for the foundation, the photos would have faded into obscurity. According to Prashant Panjiar of the Nazar Foundation and co-curator of the exhibition along with Sanjev Saith, Kanu never had copyright over any of his photos. There is a possibility that the picture of Gandhi on Indian currency notes could have been a photo taken by Kanu.

The exhibition is on till the 30th of October.

Photo Challenge: Local

via Photo Challenge: Local

In response to this week’s photo challenge, I am posting pictures of Lal Bagh and Cubbon Park, two popular green spaces in Bangalore, the city I live in.

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The Glass House at Lal Bagh

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On top of Lal Bagh rock with Kempegowda Tower in the background.

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Walkway beside Lal Bagh lake.

 

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Sunset at Lal Bagh as seen from behind Kempegowda Tower.

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The bandstand at Cubbon Park with the Tree of Gold in full bloom in the foreground.

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The Cubbon Park entrance of the High Court of Karnataka.

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The library at Cubbon Park.

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Dusk at Cubbon Park.

Dasara Doll Festival – IV

A brilliant display of dolls depicting Putrakameshti Yaga, a scene from the Indian epic Ramayana, is grabbing eyeballs at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. The heirloom dolls all of them more than a hundred years old belong to the family of Anu Vishweshwar, a relative of Sir M. Vishweshwariah, the Diwan of Mysore from 1912 to 1918.

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Many, many, years ago during the Treta Yuga, the kingdom of Ayodhya was ruled by King Dashratha. He had three wives, Kausalya, the senior-most, Kaikeyi and Sumitra. The king was sad that none of the queens bore him any progeny and because of that the kingdom was without any heir.

On the advice of the royal priest Sage Vashishta and another sage Rishya Shringa, the king performed the Putrakameshti Yagna, a ceremony performed by childless couples to beget children.

After the ceremony was completed around a holy fire, there appeared Agni, the God of Fire with a golden bowl filled with Payasam, a sweet. King Dasharatha was asked to distribute the sweet to his three queens. In due course, the queens bore him children. Kausalya gave birth to the King’s eldest son who was named Rama, Kaikeyi’s son was named Bharata and Sumitra bore him twins Lakshmana and Shatrughana.

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In the picture, seated on the throne are King Dashratha and Queen Kaushalya, on the left is Queen Kaikeyi with her maid and on the right is Queen Sumitra with her maid and a member of the royal family. Agni, the God of Fire, is in between the sages. In his hands is the golden bowl containing Payasam. The sage with grey hair is Rishya Shringa and the other sage is Vashishta.

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Anu Vishweshwar and a relative took almost 2 hours to dress up each of the dolls. The toughest part was wrapping the sarees all of them being Kanjeevarams. The full-length heavily brocaded sarees had to be folded to a suitable size to fit the dolls. Transporting them from her home to the venue was another task. She had to take care to cover them and avoid them getting shaken as that could disturb the dress and the jewellery. The pandal or ramp was created at the venue from scratch. The glittering jewellery was purchased years ago from Raja Market and the vicinity.

The dazzling display is on till 10th/11th of October and worth giving a visit.

Happy Dasara!

A Trip Through Nagarthpet

It had been almost a year since I have been for a heritage walk and I was yearning to go for one. So when tour and heritage walk company Bengaluru By Foot announced a walk through Nagarthpet, a small pocket in Bangalore known for the annual Karaga festival and umpteen handloom silk units, I decided to go. “It’s a very congested area. I couldn’t walk on those roads even in the 1960s”, complained my father not happy with my decision. But my enthusiasm got the better of me and I went ahead with my decision.

I started from my house rather late on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Mercifully, the weather gods were kind. There weren’t any clouds and the sunlight wasn’t too harsh. I couldn’t have asked for more! Just as I reached the bus stop I saw a bus approaching. The hardly there traffic made it that much easier for me to cross the road. In no time I was on the way to my destination. It was a bus to Majestic and I had to alight at the Corporation Stop.

The organiser had provided a Google Map to help walkers get to Badami House, the meeting point of the walk. But my old faithful the Nokia 2300 was ill-equipped to help me here.

A traffic jam at Richmond Road had me panicking. It took a good 15 minutes for the bus to get past the bottleneck. Not surprisingly, I reached the Corporation Stop at 4pm when I had to actually be at Badami House. I flagged down an auto and told the driver to take me to Nagarthpet. He readily agreed. En route, I told the driver that I had to get off at Badami House. He seemed confused and asked me if I knew the place. When I replied in the negative, he assured me that we could find the place easily.

Late as I was, I was surprised that I hadn’t got any calls from the organiser. In no time, I was at the Dharmaraya Swamy Temple Street which is where Badami House is located. The auto driver promptly asked one of the passers-by, “Anna, Badam House (he conveniently left out the ‘i’ much to my amusement) elli anna?” [“Brother where is Badam House?”] .  The other man who was busy chewing ‘paan’ was not in a position to speak. So he very energetically moved his hand as if to say “please go straight”. It was at this juncture that I got a call from the organiser asking me where I was. I replied that I was almost there.

The drive through Dharmaraya Swamy Temple Street turned out to be slower than a bullock cart ride. The road was little broader than silk yarn and there was an unending array of vehicles of all kinds meandering through dense crowds and in some places cows who were ruminating and enjoying the attention they were getting! The bovines refused to budge in spite of loud honks and attempts to shoo them away failed.

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The auto driver was increasingly getting restless. He asked another man where “Badam House” is. The man at first did not respond because he was fully engrossed in a mobile game. When the auto driver repeated his question, the man as if he was woken up from a slumber animatedly answered, “Seedha hogi swamy” [“keep going straight”], and then turning to me said, “madam, alli thumba badam mathu dry fruits sikkathe, adhey Badam House” [“madam, you get a lot of almonds and other dry fruits there, that is Badam House”]. He said that quite straight-facedly and that made us believe him. The auto kept moving. But Badami House continued to be elusive.

A little while later the auto driver decided that enough is enough and asked me to alight and find the destination myself.  I alighted and got into a market which had a lot of jewellery shops all owned by Marwaris. I asked one of the shop-owners where I could find Badami House. He asked me to go in the opposite direction and that the place in question was at the beginning of the road (the same point where all the drama had begun  😦 . What!!!! My jaw dropped. I thought I had better take a second opinion and walked out of there to another shop. My worst fears turned true when this man repeated what the other had told me. Even as I stood there not knowing what to do, I got another call from the organiser and I had to explain that I had lost my way and it would take me a while to get there. The time was 4.30 and the walk had begun (sob sob).  It was impossible to run back through the road congested as it was.  I walked as fast as I could because that was all I could do.

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My walk back turned out to be as dramatic as the journey on the auto. I had to dodge past so many obstacles. A little ahead there was a people jam on the thread-like footpath.  A cow was waiting to cross the road and no one wished to go anywhere near her. I made my way through the crowd as I couldn’t afford to lose time. In the process, I almost came face to face with the bovine and darted across. The traffic on the road continued to be slow as can be. There was an instance when I missed having ‘paan’ stains all over my shoes by a whisker. Someone in one of the autos didn’t think twice before spitting on the road (eew!).

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I met up with the walkers when they were almost done with the second destination, a dargah. It was the resting place of Astana-E Hazrath Khwaja Syed Shah Sharfuddin Khadri Shaheed – Ra. The valiant soldier, one of the many Sufi followers in the army of Tipu Sultan, died fighting the British army in the 1791 Siege of Bangalore. That is why the title ‘Shaheed’ (martyr) in his name.

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I went inside to explore the place which was enveloped by quiescence. The few people inside were all saying prayers with their heads bowed. Among them was this man who seemed to be a mendicant. He kept counting beads as he said his prayers.

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The interiors were spick and span. Further inside in the room which housed the tomb, the marble walls were adorned with rich inlay work. The high glass ceilings which also had intricate work and Urdu script glistened in the filtered sun light that came in through the glass. The lovely chandeliers and lamps added to the charm. It was heartening to note that the tomb is being so well maintained.

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Top of picture: Silk yarn left to dry after being dyed.

 

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The dyeing process.

 

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Men rinsing the yarn.

 

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One of the workers suspends damp yarn on a pole. The pole will then be hoisted up and placed below the roof and left to dry.

 

A quick walk from the dargah took us to the next stop, a small-scale silk dyeing unit the outer hall of which is used to store sacks of yarn and also to dry dyed silk yarn. The inner hall houses the furnaces and the urns used for dyeing and rinsing dyed yarn. The workers were sweating it out in the inner hall dyeing and rinsing the yarn. It was sultry and suffocating in there. I kept wondering how these men work in such sweltering heat! Phew!

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Inside the weaving unit. Men operating handlooms.

 

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Panels of Jacquard cards (all of which are perforated). The cards are attached to the looms and are used to create myriad designs.

 

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Strategically located outside the dyeing unit is a handloom unit. We walked in amidst the rhythmic sounds of looms all of which were hand operated and marvelled at the almost complete silk sarees.

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After a pit-stop at Sri Ramavilas Sweets (also known as Gundappa Hotel) we were off to the age-old Dharmaraya Swamy Temple, the only temple of its kind which is dedicated to the Pandavas.

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The principal deity here is Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandavas. Known to exist earlier than the times of Kempegowda, the founder of Bangalore, and the architect of the erstwhile Pete area of Bangalore of which the Nagarthpet area is only 1/4th, this temple is also referred to as the Karaga temple. Every year during the Karaga festival, thousands of devotees throng the temple to pay their obeisances to Goddess Draupadi and celebrate her marriage.

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When we reached the temple, our eyes caught hold of the Ganesh pandal at the entrance of the temple which had Ganesh in Santa Claus avatar! As we explored the temple we were followed by three inquisitive young girls who couldn’t contain their curiosity and doubled up as additional guides.

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The first Hindi school in the Nagarthpet area.

 

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As we made our way to our next pit stop, I spotted a couple of other temples in the vicinity. A quick eat later we continued with our walk this time thorough a labyrinth of roads all of which were again little broader than silk yarn.

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By now darkness had enveloped the area and the absence of street lights lent a ghostly element to the walk. The only sounds we could hear besides our footsteps were the sounds of handlooms that were being operated within closed doors of the many tiny units that lined the streets. I must say there are plenty of them in this region. We stopped at a mosque called the Tara Mandal Pet. It was here that a mosque constructed by Qasim Khan, a commander in the army of Tipu Sultan, once stood. The old mosque has since made way for a newer version. It is unclear whether any remnants of the old building were used in the construction of the newer one.

Tucked in Cubbonpet in the vicinity of Nagarthpet is a small market named after Sir Mark Cubbon,  the commissioner of the erstwhile Mysore state in 1834. This was our next destination. It seemed to be a vegetable and grocery market. A lot of customers that come here are from the Marwari community that reside in the neighbourhood. The arrival of unfamiliar visitors made the vendors in the market nervous living as they are in the constant fear of the market getting razed by the corporation. One of them even asked us if we are from the corporation. I only hope the corporation repairs and renovates the market instead of bringing it down. Heritage structures define the character of a place and need to be preserved for posterity.

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The dargah of Hazrat Hameed Shah.

We next entered a complex that houses the twin tombs of Hazrat Hameed Shah and Hazrath Muhib Shah Khadri both Sufi warriors who died fighting in the Third War of Mysore. The dargah of Hazrat Hameed Shah is a beautiful white and green edifice with a green dome. While the tomb seemed to be in good shape the same was not the case of the graveyard adjacent to it where the bodies of all the other martyred soldiers are buried.

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The dargah of Hazrath Muhib Shah Khadri. Don’t miss the cradle at the entrance where childless women tie wishes.

 

The body of Hazrath Muhib Shah Khadri was found headless on the battlefield hence his dargah is without a dome and his name is prefixed with the text ‘Besar Aulia Shaheed’ which translates to ‘headless martyr’. His dargah is frequented by childless women who come here and pray for a child. A cradle at the entrance of the dargah is where women tie their wishes.

The walk ended at the Badami House which stands opposite a statue of Kempegowda which was installed in 1967 after razing down a cenotaph which stood in memory of the British soldiers who died during the Third War of Mysore. Another landmark just close to Badami House is the Halasuru Gate Police Station which was originally one of the gates of the Bangalore Fort.  It is here that the British army made a breach and got into the fort taking  Tipu Sultan’s forces by surprise.