Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pune Street Scenes, Part II: Tulsibag, Saswad, Lakkundi

It is difficult for any true Puneite not to visit Tulsibag (written differently as Tulsi baug or Tulshi-bagh) and having gone there not to have spent a few minutes relaxing in the ambience of the Ram Mandir. I somehow managed to spend nearly nineteen years in Pune without visiting the Ram Mandir although I have been to Tulsibag and its environs shopping for various indigeneous produces in its herbal medicine shops and around the mandai vegetable market. I wonder why I did not go there. Probably I have an allergy to “Bhagwan” (of the living or imagined or mythological types) Ram (maybe because of Bengali youth) .

Tulsibag is a crowded street (Fig 1; click to expand) typical of the shopping alleys that lead to important places of worship all over the world. Unlike other places, however, this tulsibag lane has almost anything you wanted to buy and will want to buy each time you visit the place. Unless you are like me, you also will not find anything cheaper any where else than what you pay for in Tulsibag. It is busy all the time and in the afternoon sun you may suddenly think that you are surrounded by a bevy of smartly dressed girls --- maybe a typical affliction of old age.

It is also difficult to associate a Ram Mandir with the Marathi manoos and his Shiv Sena inclinations. The Ram Mandir is probably a creation of the Poona Brahmins who were, at the time of construction of the Tulsibag temple, surviving defenders of the hindu religions after the political power of the previous Hindus (shivaji?)had declined. The Poona Brahmins, including the famous Balshastri Jambhekar, gave guidance in religious matters to outsiders and meetings were held at the temple to decide on various religious issues such as the holding of purification rites for those who had strayed to other religions and wanted to be re-admitted to the Hindu fold.

One may enter the Ram Mandir complex from the Tulsibag shopping street side or from the another busy road with heavy traffic which takes you to vishram bag wada. I will write about this later (I hope). On entering from the shopping street side you first encounter a rather dilapidated structure with a crude iron staircase seeming to lead nowhere (not even only for show). There are remnants of what could have been a magnificent wooden structure made out of thick wooden blocks that could have lasted forever. They reminded me of the more-than-2000-year-old wooden structure on top of the Karla caves near Pune and you wonder from where the wood in Karla came and what kind of wood. There does not seem to be local trees of that type remaining in and around Pune. I guess the wood in the Ram mandir is of the kind used by the Deccan Sultanate for their structures although I have not seen any sultanate-type structures in Pune. The temple is not very old (by Indian standards)having been built in 1761; I suppose access to teak and mahogany would have been possible.

The maintenance of the place has not been kind to it. The right-hand side of the wooden structure has broken off (Fig 2 left; click to expand) and has been kept from falling away by a thin wooden strip iron-nailed (!!!; this must be sacrilege because old temple structures did not use nails of any kind) onto the wooden structure. In this particular structure there are one-foot wide wooden planks which have been joined together. I will have to learn more about carpentry to comment on it properly, even though I will continue to make comments simply because it is my wont?

If you happen to look behind you after you enter you will see (Fig 2, right; click on photo to expand) a red-colored building with Hanuman painted (native Waarli style?) on the top right-hand (facing the building) corner and Garuda on the left. The way the window is constructed with its hinges and metal strips indicates > 100 years vintage. There is a daily life being led behind these walls. For example, if you look through the window on the left hand side of Fig 2 (right, click to enlarge the picture) you see probably the red cloth of the altar of a family deity. You also see a blanket- or carpet-like object with floral design inside the room. These floral designs are similar to what you see on the roof of the temple (see later).

If you go to the other side of the temple (Fig 3, a sketch of the view of the temple from the front is given in the inset on the left; click to enlarge the picture), the structural framework is better maintained. One notices the planks of wood used to make the structure. More interestingly there is an intricate “grill work” in the woodwork on top of the arch. At first glance one would think it is a metal grill. On looking closer (click to expand picture) one finds that there is a prominent crack line in the grill that coincides with the point where the joints of the planks in the main structure have been made. So, one could think that the “grill work” carvings were made on the planks after they were fitted together. But there is another crack line below the main crack-line which does not coincide with the plank-joints! So, was the grill-work made separately and then fitted into its slot? And, what super-adhesive kept the "grill work" attached to the main frame so that it would rather crack than detach (if you get what I am getting at)?! If you look closely at the other un-filled slots, there is no evidence at first sight (or even my closer examination) that there is any evidence for the inlaid work to have been chipped away or broken away.

Other than this piece of wood-work there is hardly anything of instant admiration as far as the wooden sculpture inside the temple is concerned. The temple inside has the usual green and orange and brown-coloured pillars and arches as well as some glass lamp jars (not seen here). The hall in front of the sanctuary does not look like much but it is a nice place to sit and meditate and rest --- even if you are careful with your belongings.

The ceiling of this hall and the adjacent slanted roofs hold surprises (for me, at least). There is a mosaic of engraved work which is uniform over long distances. A floral motif has fallen off in the centre (Fig 5, right; click to enlarge) so that the decoration must have had a Lego-set approach. The work is typical of Muslim (deccan sultanate?) or Christian architecture (European artists?) although I wonder whether the Poona Brahmins, so concerned about conversion and re-conversion, would allow meat-eaters into their temples --- unless they felt white is right, in which case the artists may have been Europeans. Similar ceiling designs are found in the cathedrals in Goa (if my memory serves me right). Actually, the temple is known as a Peshwa temple. The Peshwas built Pune including Shaniwar Wada. There are painting of the Shaniwar Wada (in the British Museums, where else?) in which there are Englishmen who are obviously being treated well. It is not typical (in my opinion) of Hindu artists to repeat their art in a mosaic. They have such a vibrant and multifaceted artistic temper (so many gods!) that it is very unlikely they could repeat art over and over again in the same area. I am at present not aware of whether the engraving was made in plaster or wood and what kind of paints was used. The roof on the left had cracks (see right hand corner) and there is sign of collapse at the center.

Before we become too concerned with the rights of Indian ladies in western dresses in pubs and bars that is being highlighted (highlit?) these days in the Indian media, it may not be too much of a moral policing, if some attention was paid to maintaining the work of these artists if not our culture. On the other hand, it is perhaps a blessing, in some way, that no maintenance was attempted as it is very likely that the corporation would have gone about the job thoroughly in the way they only can.

The borders (Fig 6, left; click to enlarge the picture) of the work on the inside of the slanted roof were different from the main work. The work on one border (to the left facing the sanctum sanctorum) has a slight variation of the floral arrangement while that on the right is very different. The one on the right has work that resembles the “grill work” of the structure in front (Fig 3). The engravings on the borders were on wood. For comparison with other pre-Mughal art I have included a panel from the temple at Deogambe near Kittur which has early Hoysala architecture. The floral motifs here at (Deogambe) could be related to the ram-mandir motifs at least for the border of the left roof.

If I am to believe what is said in “The New Cambridge History of India” authored by > 20 writers, 3 of whom have Indian names, there were no temple building traditions available at the time the Ram Mandir was built. Hindu religious architecture in Deccan was effectively brought to an end by Delhi conquests by the end of the seventeenth century with no living tradition to draw from. According to this book, Maratha temples relied on sultanate and Moghul architecture for techniques and decoration from mosques and tombs. There is no dipamala in the ram Mandir complex, which is characteristic of maratha temples associated with Shivaji (my observation).

The idols of the Mandir (made of white marble) are placed on a square sanctuary made from huge rocks. There are no figures carved on these rocks except for a carved grill work which had some resemblance to the motif on the ceilings.

There is a decorated brick and plaster twelve-sided tower which is nearly 150 feet tall and which rests on the square sanctuary (Fig 7, left). It is perhaps the tallest temple tower in Pune. The style of this tower (click to enlarge picture) resembles in my mind to that (Fig 7, right)of a temple in the Gadag-Lakkundi region. A characteristic of the Ram-mandir tower in Tulsibag is the number of golden finials on the tower (fig 7 left; click to expand). In the comparison of the two styles I have marked the finials in the Gadag-Lakkundi towers by a yellow dot (fig 7 right; click to expand).

The ram mandir at Tulsibag is supposed to be similar in style to that in nearby Saswad. This is sometimes interpreted as being the influences of carried-over skills from the 11th and 12th century Yadav traditions that built Saswad. Both these places (Fig 8; click to expand) have large and small towers; I have not yet familiarized my self with the gods that live in the sanctuary beneath these towers. The temple at Saswad has prominent dipamalas which the ram mandir in Tulsibag does not have. The smaller temple in Tulsibag has different geometrical patterns in the niches of the tower (two shown in the inset of Fig 8, left inset; click on figure to expand) while that in Saswad has human figures. This could attest to the absence of Hindu temple skills in Pune at the time the ram mandir was built.

Finally, in the last set of pictures below, I have compared (fig 9, click on figure to expand) the way various niches in the towers are populated by gods and humans in the temples at ram mandir (left), Saswad (center) and at Gadag-Lakkundi (right). Detailed comments on these figures are not possible at this stage (if only for the sake of brevity). It is true that at the times of the Saswad revival of temple building, the figures of local patrons (made from plaster and without stone) with their typical head-gear were introduced into the towers. This aspect continues, for example, in the shape of the two photographs hanging in the common hall in the ram mandir (fig 4, left). The shape of the head gear has undergone little change between these photographs and the figures on the tower. It is clear that there is a continuity of tradition from the Gadag-Lakkundi times (any where between 6th to 10th century AD) through the Saswad times (after 12 th century?) to the ram-mandir times and which continues to the modern times in the towers of new temples being built in and around Pune. This continuity could be discussed in a future blog. The Gadag-Lakkundi-like temples could have strong Buddhist-like influences especially when one considers the peepul-leaf-shaped niches of the minor figures (fig 9 right).