Sunday, 8 January 2017

Mumbai series - St. John the Baptist Church, Thane

St. John the Baptist Church is one of the oldest churches in the Mumbai- Thane – Vasai region. The Portugese city of Vasai / Bassein was the base from where the missionaries branched out to Thane for their proselytising efforts. The Portugese were Catholics and several denominations like Fransicians, Jesuits, secular clergy etc. were active in the Thane region.

 The parish dates to 1579 however the current building was not the original one of the St. John the Baptist church. The building that we see now was the St. Anthony church, the only surviving one after the Marathas raided and destroyed all the other churches in Thana and Vasai region in the 1730s.

 The parish has been the one of largest and most important ones since inception. The church was painstakingly restored under the conservation expertise of Vikas Dilawari the highly-acclaimed restoration specialist. Now the church looks absolutely stunningly beautiful and the conservation work ensured its original look was restored to perfection.

19th century references to the Thane Christians (Gazetteer of Bombay Presidency Vol 13 Part 1, p.206/7) state that the Christians of Thana (Thane was called Thana then) were an independent respectable class and were known to be mild, amiable, clean and tidy in their habits, besides known to be hardworking and orderly. The majority of the Christian population fell under the overall administration of the Archbishop of Goa, under whom were the Vicar Generals of Bombay, Salsette and Bassein.

Travel notes: The Church is prominently located in the Talaopali area of Thane, now one of the most populated busy areas of the bustling satellite city. Thane is a completely different city than Mumbai (and with a history of its own), however for purpose of touristy convenience I have clubbed this post under the Mumbai series.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Mumbai series - Statue of Progress

Progress, under the themes of Agriculture, Commerce and Science and/or Engineering was associated with the Victorian age both in UK and in the Indian Empire. The four huge, beautifully carved status on the Victoria Terminus highlighted these themes symbolically. 

The 14 feet high statue of Progress, carrying a copper gilt flaming torch and a winged wheel, was sculpted by the famous sculptor Thomas Earp, for the grand new building of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. It stands on top of the grand dome. 

Stevens placed Urbs Prima De Indis the allegorical figure representing the commercial and marine character of Bombay populace, opposite the CST, on the BMC. The statue of Engineering was placed on the grand edifice of the head office of what is now the Western Railway (opposite Churchgate station). Thus the theme of Progress is to be understood in its entirety. The Victorian age was marked by relative political calm given the new political order of Maharajas / Rajas falling in order in the Imperial structure and resulted in reduced localised/regional battles. The resultant prosperity, buttressed by the first ever institutionalization of an universally applicable, secular criminal law, the establishment of modern judiciary (High Courts being established and founding of modern judicial process), the legislation supporting "modern" banking/commerce (the Negotiable Instruments Act), and railways, was actually a leap forward in the Indian milieu. Infrastructure and administrative developments like Bombay Municipal Corporation, set-up of mills, expansion of docks and urban areas all happened mainly in the Victorian age in Bombay.  

So next time you pass by CST, please remember the spirit she stands for; from Victorian concept of Progress to eternal spirit of Progress of an average Mumbaikar in current context ! 

Incidentally, the actual statue of Queen Victoria, which was placed on the facade wall,  under the clock, disappeared a few decades ago without trace or any record. 

Bombay, even over a hundred years ago, signified a city of Progress, and of marine, commercial and industrial effort and the resultant prosperity. 
I am sure Mumbai based readers of this post would agree that even now this is a city, where we not only dare to dream, but also a place where our dreams come true!

Reason I never put up this post earlier was that I believe this is common place information for history and art enthusiasists. However in the recent past I came across a few well educated people who were ignorant on history aspects, confusing this statue for a depiction of the Queen herself. Hence I thought of putting this post up for benefit of the city audience. 

Travel notes: It is on top of the CST building itself.

Mumbai series - The Urbs Prima de Indis

She is an allegorical figure that represents the progressive and mercantile aspect of the city, and adorns the monumental Bombay Municipal Corporation building as part of its original design by Stevens. 

The Municipal Corporation was created in the High Noon of the Victorian Age, where a lot of commercial progress, industrial investments and significant expansions of the marine and railway connections were made, for expansion of trade and commerce. 

Notice the ship held aloft in her hand. The sculptor was Hems, and it represents the motto devised by the visionary governor Sir Bartle Frere and later adopted by the BMC. (BMC was completed in 1893)

This innovative sculpture faces the traveler tumbling out of the train at CST local hence it is understandable that it gets missed in the chaos of local travel. 

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Nashik Caves

Nashik caves, popularly known as Panduleni are in Ambad area which is an industrial township just outside the city area. The fastest way for any site to be made popular is to link them with either Mahabharata or the Ramayana, and in Nashik one finds example of both; the Panduleni and the Sita Gumpha. The caves are in no way related to the epics but a popular disposition.
These caves represent a phase of continuity in the overall spread of Buddhist monastic establishments between the 2nd century BC and the 5th century CE, when the great cave habitations spread far and wide in the Indian subcontinent were carved. Within the Mumbai and nearby regions itself we find Kanheri, Mahakali, Jogeshwari caves, and nearby are Karla (Lonavala) and Nashik caves. So these need to be viewed in holistic perspective as an art and civic infrastructure form common to the spread of Buddhism.
I have attempted to take pictures of the caves which highlight the artistic aspects. The caves also have good water retention reservoirs and hence suited to long term habitation. Dwelling in one place was advised to the monks during the rainy season, and the caves would have served thesir simple needs adequately.

More on the descriptions of the pictures once the second set also gets appended here.

Travel notes: Nashik caves are in Ambad area which is on the Mumbai Nashik highway, and if one is travelling from Mumbai, they fall on the right side of the road, necessitating an U-turn at one of the traffic intersections. It takes about 2 hours 10-20 minutes of drive from the Thane area. The nearest famous landmark is the Gateway Hotel (still commonly known as Taj Hotel given its parent brand). There is a modern stupa on ground level which is in no way related to the caves; however, as a result of the institution of the park around the stupa, there is reasonable tourist interest in the area. The walk to the caves takes about 12-15 minutes of walk on an incline that includes broad and convenient steps. It is an ASI protected monument.
The common websites say it is north facing but it is more east facing is what I concluded after my trip. Hence it is advisable to go there by 9 am if one wants good photographs in natural light, because by 11 am the zenith sun light is adversely positioned to allowing good photographs.
Place of my stay: Gateway Ambad (Taj Group), Nashik
Mode of transport: Private car. Other modes like public buses are also available.
Time spent in site: About two hours.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Vasai Fort - a photo blog

INTACH Greater Mumbai Chapter had organised a tour of Vasai Fort in November 2016 and these pictures were taken by me on the tour. The tour was led by the subject matter expert historian Mr. Pascal Lopes, who has done a significant amount of research on the fort, its specific sites, its culture and the history around it. Since the tour content was shared by him specially for the group participants, I ethically refrain from copying from it directly for my personal blog. 

I will update the write up for the blog in a few weeks. Till then, please enjoy only the pictures.

Vasai is a key fort in history of western India. Being a Portugese city it was part of a greater area of their empire. The constant battles between the Portugese and the Bijapur forces in initial stages of their colonisation, and the subsequent battles with the Marathas, both were important factors in the political expansion and the ensuing cultural footprint of the Portugese.

Vasai is important from a regional history perspective, since winning Vasai was one of the greatest victories of the Marathas. Chimmaji Appa's statue, aa recent installation inside the fort marks the great heroic event. Very ironically, the significant defeat at hands of British, and the beginning of the end, also was formalized in the Treaty of Bassein (Vasai) between the Marathas and British. 

Thus, in 1802 the fort was taken by the British and after a series of subsequent wars, the Maratha empire itself was brought to an end in 1818.

Vasai is a city by itself, not just a fort, so anyone desirous of seeing it in entirety must set out early in the morning and plan the entire day out there. Vasai fort has two main entrances, the sea side gate and the land gate. Being on the waterfront on one side it had easy access to boats bringing in munitions and trading goods, as well as a natural defence. The Marathas had taken two years to conquer it, and did so after conquering the outpost Arnala fortress which had acted as first line of defence for the Portugese occupants of Vasai. 

There are multiple churches in various states of disrepair, vast areas of residential ruins, and battlemented thick walls. It is a space surrounded by, and occupied by natural forest-like greenery and I hope it remains that way for the future generations. Given the deforestation in all other parts of the Mumbai region, I fear this too may be occupied by multi-storeyed residential tenements soon. But for now, it is a space in a different time and age. 

Travel notes: Vasai fort is half an hour by local transport (auto) from the Vasai Station of the Western Line of Mumbai suburban railways. It is about an hour and half by train from Churchgate, and by road, it is about an hour from the point where Greater Mumbai ends and Vasai-Virar Municipality starts.