Of temples & forts

Of temples & forts

Embark upon an incredible journey of the culture-rich regions of Udaipur, Ranakpur, Kumbhalgarh and Nathdwara in Rajasthan with Syeda Hameed & Gunjan Veda.

We had heard that the longest wall in the world, second only to the Great Wall of China, was in nearby Rajsamand. We had also been told about other heritage sites in and around Udaipur. They are our real treasures; if only word could go out that it is indeed Incredible India! It was these sites that we wanted to discover.

The road became winding, as we negotiated our way through the rocky mountains dotted with barren ‘sculpted’ trees. Jain temple ruins were scattered all along the way. We had entered the Pali district. Five kilometres into this district (which is known for its textile industry) was the 600-year-old Ranakpur Temple cluster.

A stone wonder

Built in the 15th century by an illiterate Shaivite architect Deepaji, the main temple of Lord Adinath has 1,444 pillars, all with different designs. This Chaturmukh (four-faced) Jain temple has 84 dungeons and two huge bells weighing 250 kg each.

When the pujari (priest) strikes the bell, its ‘Om’ can be heard in villages five kilometres away. This three-storeyed sandstone edifice, with marble interiors, is spread across an area of 48,000 square feet, and is managed by the 16th generation of the family of Dhanna Seth who had commissioned the project.

This visual feast was followed by another kind of feast. The rasora is the kitchen of this temple complex. Here, we sat down for a simple Jain meal, delicious dal and vegetables beautifully served, minus onion, garlic or tubers. Everything, even the sweets, had been prepared in the rasora. From Ranakpur, we set out on the 65 km journey to Kumbhalgarh, along a single lane road.

As the road turned, there it was, the majestic structure built by Maharana Kumbha. The setting sun had thrown a red-tinted swathe across the 36 km wall which fronted the fort. The width of the wall was enough to take four horses abreast. The fort stood on top of the hill, and overlooked the 610 sq km Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. It appeared invincible; in its entire life, it had been breached only once, that too, not by an armed attack.

The next morning, the Kumbhalgarh Fort had a completely changed garb. The stone structure had taken on a rugged look against the azure sky. A flight of steps took us atop the second longest wall in the world. From here, as far as the eye could see, across 24 sq km of wilderness, there were crumbling yet beautiful monuments and structures.Kumbhalgarh has other attractions as well. For animal and adventure lovers, there is a less frequented wildlife sanctuary spread across Rajsamand, Pali and Udaipur. Apart from animal sightings and jeep safaris, there are a few trekking routes in and around the area. But there is no tourist infrastructure.

Our journey continued. We moved from Kumbhalgarh to Nathdwara, passing en route the lovely Rajsamand Lake. Nathdwara is a temple town; thousands of pilgrims come here every day to seek the blessings of Srinathji. The temple is dedicated to a childhood avatar of Lord Krisna. Every day, 600 kg of ghee and 600 kg of vegetables are used to make prasad (offerings to God), which is then sold to devotees from all over the world.

Birthplace of ‘minakari’

The town of Nathdwara is famous both for its intricate silver minakari and fake Bollywood jewellery. The latter is used primarily in films and beauty parlours. “Our jewellery is used to deck the bride for the camera. It is made for wedding albums and wedding videos,” explained an obliging Sarvesh Modi, whose jewellery workshop was located above his small showroom. The technique of cutting lead into small pieces, polishing it and neatly laying it across metal frames to resemble period jewellery was developed in Maharashtra.

 “There is a great demand for such items. We used to get the pieces from Maharashtra and finish them here. So we decided to make the pieces ourselves. We now get the designs directly from Mumbai and other places. The pasting is done at home by women in and around Nathdwara,” said Mukesh, a young salesman with gelled hair, dressed in a bright printed shirt. Business is good, and each of the 40 families engaged in the trade makes a monthly profit of Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000. Mukesh held the necklace to his chest and flailed his arms in a dance movement. “Madamji, dreams of Bollywood, crafted in Nathdwara!”

Our next stop was Molela, a small village 16 km from Nathdwara, known for its terracotta work. Forty families in this village excavate clay from lake beds and mix it with horse and donkey dung to create images which are embedded in terracotta panels. They tell stories of village life and the world of deities. Mohanlal Kumbhar was one such terracotta artist. His house-cum-workshop had panels in all hues and sizes. Traditionally, the terracotta artists used to make panels only about the life of gods and goddesses. These had a local market, and were used by most households in the nearby villages.
 We watched as one of his artisans began creating a panel telling a story. Sitting on his haunches on the mud floor, the kumbhar (potter) rolled out the day mixture and began to create figures with his fingers. He told us that it took him one day to make one intricate panel. We noticed that the work itself was good but lacked the finish. If the artisans would be trained to give their work the proper finish, and had means to arrange a display, Molela could become a part of the Udaipur-Ranakpur-Kumbhalgarh-Nathdwara-Udaipur circuit, and its artists could find their market at their doorstep.

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