Ganjifa: Playing Cards

Original Ganjifa was brought to India by Moghuls. There is a district called Sawantwadi in Maharashtra. This touches the Goa state. When you travel by train to Goa from Mumbai, it is the last station in Maharashtra. Whole area which is adjacent to Arabian Sea is dotted with unending rows of Coconut palms. Ganjifa was popularized here by the ruler Khem Sawant Bhosle, who heard of it from scholars of the Telengana region. The Chitari community in Sawantwadi, known for their skill in shellac ware and wood craft, learned  to make these cards

Ganjifa are circular playing cards made from paper that is covered with a mixture of tamarind seed powder and oil, painted and coated with shellac. Darbari cards have decorative borders and Bazaar cards are without borders. It used to be a popular pastime at the Indian courts. The classic Mughal Ganjifa with its 96 cards and 8 suits penetrated into the social milieu of India and the Deccan that later, with its themes and characters from Hindu mythology, gained widespread acceptance. The most popular was the Dasavatar with ten different circular pieces depicting the ten incarnations of Vishnu. These form a set along with painted cards of Vishnu`s weapons. They are no longer used to play games but used as gift items and educational aids.

Dasavtar: Means ten incarnations of Vishnu. These are depicted in these cards

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Box for packing these cards

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Lascars: Indian Sailors on European Ships

Lascars were sailors on the European ships mostly on the British ships when the European powers were locked in great tussle for taking control of the routes and spices found in India. The British finally ousted all others and took control of India, first as East India Company and from 1857’s mutiny onwards for almost 100 years as British India Empire.

The term “Lascar” is derived from Persian word “Lashkar” which means army or a group of soldiers. They worked on the foreign ships under Lascar agreement which gave the owners more powers under which lascars could be shifted from one ship to another and also to work continuously on a single ship.

Lascars were mostly drawn from Silchar in Bengal, Goa and Gujarat coastal areas. The number of Lascars increased sharply on the ships because of their being better adaptability and sturdiness than their European counterparts. So much so that the British Government was alarmed and passed a law according to which a minimum of 75% crew should be whites.

Many of these Lascars settled in England where they intermarried white women despite the scorn shown by many British people. Many of them went out of job and became very poor and lived in squalid conditions.

The ranks of Lascars were different from their counterpart Europeans. For example equivalent of Bosun on the deck was Serang in Lascars, quartermaster’s equivalent was seacunny,  carpenter was mistree, Lascar cook was called Bhandari. Over the years, Lascars developed a unique language of their own.

Lascar’s life has been described most elaborately  by the writer Amitav Ghosh in his great novel “The sea of poppies”.

Some more memories of Ratnagiri

Although now I have gone far away from Panvel from where Ratnagiri was not far, the memories never die. Many times I have been to Goa where my son was studying, Ratnagiri was on the way and train halted there for sufficient time. I read about the city and particularly about the King of Burma Thibaw Minh who was confined to this place by the British after he lost the to battle to them and Burma was annexed to British empire. I don’t know how they thought to bring him and his family at such a distance away from his home. He was not old and his whole life was spent in Ratnagiri in a palace called Thibaw Palace. He was very much respected by the local people. Since his palace is located at a lofty place, he would sit with his binoculars and watch the Arabian sea and boats coming and going to the various landings. Area being the coastal, the main occupation of people was and is fishing. They waited for the fishing boats coming home. The king would announce the arrival of the boats as he was able to spot them through his binocular and people would then make for the landings.

English: Thibaw Palace, Residence of Burmese K...
English: Thibaw Palace, Residence of Burmese King exiled in Ratnagiri (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also it was the habit of the King to visit the Bhagwati temple which was located on another hill. Only for this activity he went out. All this information excited me to visit the place and see for myself. So once we decided to visit the place while returning from Goa. This has been described in another entry. From here we went to see the Ganapati Pule which is religious place as well as a beautiful beach. In fact whole area possesses breathtaking beauty. There is blue Arabian sea and coconut groves. There are cashew trees growing in the wild and the world famous Alphonso mango tree orchards. Here are some beautiful pictures.

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English: Alphonso mango tree in a dense cultiv...
English: Alphonso mango tree in a dense cultivation orchard at Kotawade, Ratnagiri distirict, Maharashtra state, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Goa and Ratnagiri

If you go to Goa from Mumbai,  you have to cross Ratnagiri. It is big historical town located on the coast of Arabian sea. The area still is not polluted because there are few industries. The area which is full of craggy hills and beautiful beaches is an treat to eyes. Arabian sea on the west coast of India is adjoined by the hilly area which is full of forests and rare birds and animals. At a distance of 25 kilometers from Ratnagiri is a place called Ganapatipule which has a historic Ganesha temple. There is a beautiful beach in front of the temple.

Beach with its blue waters is a favorite place for tourists. In the evenings, there is great crowd of bathers who also witness the setting Sun and watch the coppery Sun diving into the sea. The road from Ratnagiri to Ganapatipule crosses hills and winds like a snake. There are trees of Kaju (cashew nuts) growing in abundance. Coconuts trees adorn the coast. Most of the people in the area are fisher folks. The sea when you look from the lofty heights looks like a heavenly place.

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Ganapatipule & Ratnagiri

Ratnagiri as everyone who loves mangoes knows is famous for fabled Alfonso mangoes.It is the coastal district of Maharashtra in India. At the time of our recent visit in January, the trees were in full bloom and the fruits will be ready by March end and April. The tree though does not give any impression that it yields such delicious fruits, it seems very modest.There are hundreds of varieties of the mango on India. This mango is not the original inhabitant of India. It was brought here by Goa’s Portuguese governor .

The Alphonso Mango is named after Afonso de Albuquerque. This was an exquisite and expensive variety of mango, that he used to bring on his journeys to Goa. The locals took to calling it Aphoos in Konkani and in Maharashtra the pronunciation got further transformed to Hapoos. This variety then was taken to the Konkan region of Maharashtra and other parts of India.

Ratnagiri has beautiful sea coast dotted with rich coconut trees, mangoes and cashew nut. Fishing is the main occupation of people here. When you enter the city from jetty side, the streets reek of fish smell. The fish is spread over large area for drying. You can see the big storage houses for the fish with special trucks standing outside them for taking the fish to ports for export.

In Ratnagiri, we went to see the Ratangarh fort which is built atop a hill and very tortuous road leads up to the entrance of the fort. There is temple inside the fort. It is called Bhagwati temple. Outside the temple gate is a bust of the great sea commander Kanoji Angre who ruled the Indian ocean and the British were so frustrated by him that they labeled him a pirate. The people in the coastal Maharashtra think otherwise and he is held in great esteem. From the ramparts of the fort, one could see the blue Arabian sea sprawled over a vast area and there is a jetty in which small ships were being loaded with cement. This is the same temple where the exiles Burmese king Thibaw Minh used to come and pray with his family.

From there, we went to visit the Thebaw palace where the exiled king was confined by the British along with his wife and daughters. My interest to see the place had arisen after reading the “Glass Palace” novel written by Amitava Ghosh. The story of the king occupies many chapters in this book. That how the British had their eyes on the vast teak forests and crude oil in the Burma and when they failed to convince the king into agreeing for the exploitation, on some pretext or the other defeated the king and arrested him and his family. That how they were shipped to Madras and then finally to Ratnagiri, thousands of miles away from their country.

The palace is now a museum containing art pieces from around the Ratnagiri and other districts of Maharashtra. There is only one room in the first floor building where king’s effects like his bed, a few photographs, and few other objects are kept. The area around the building is now completely filled with houses. In the novel, the time period  is is way back in the past, the area around was vacant and the king used to sit in the first floor verandah and watch the Arabian sea with binoculars. The people of the area respected the gentle king very much and depended on him for the information about the arrival of fishing boats into the jetty. He was also the first to announce the arrival of monsoons in the area with the clouds coming from the sea. I felt that people does not give this place much thought. May be it is not on their visit schedule. In fact, there is not much to see in the city. Surroundings are most beautiful.

Ganapatipule is famous for beach and Ganesh temple. From Ratnagiri the place is about 25 kilometers from Ratnagiri and most of the time the road runs along side the sea coast and there are troughs and peaks all along the way. From my experience, it seems to be an odd combination because two mutually diverse activities are juxtaposed. I saw the liquor shop just outside the temple. Most people from cities like Bombay and Pune come here for enjoyment and to unwind. Temple visit is a bonus. The beach is very beautiful although sand is deceptive because it slips from under your feet. The MTDC cottages are just adjacent and rooms are good. Food though is just average. There is nothing else to see. It is a beautiful sight at the sunset when the sun becomes a progressively reddish colored disk and slowly and slowly it is going down and down to sink in the Arabian sea.

Here are some pictures of breathtaking beauty of the place.

A Visit to Goa

We went to Goa, once upon a time Portuguese dominion, and now a state within Indian Union. It is admixture of Konkani and Portuguese cultures. Everyone knows that alien powers came to India for its resources like fabled spices of Kerala where Vasco da Gama set his foot and set the process of rat race for the natural wealth of India. Spreading the Christianity was the another motive, although it was never their intention to treat the converted locals as their equals.

The inhabitants of a region who are content and happy with whatever the nature has bestowed upon them. They are not adventurous. This was what the people in different regions of India were. The outsiders easily took control of the resources and subjugated the original people. All the European adventures came in search of spices, minerals, cotton and so many other resources available in India. Goa was taken by Portuguese.

But Portuguese also carved the Goa which is now a days entirely different from other places in India. It is a favored destination of tourists from Europe and USA. Many places in Goa do not give you any indication of being in India. For example, Palolim which has a very beautiful beach, is full of white people. They live entirely a life of complete abandon.

They also gave the world a unique cuisine which is blend of Portuguese  and Konkani food. Usually everything is cooked in the coconut milk. Coconut which grows in abundance in the region. While traveling in the train, one can see a solid wall of coconut trees. Another item on the food menu is sea food consisting of dishes made from prawns, crabs, fish and mollusks. Many dishes are prepared using pig meat.

The cashew nut trees are also another abundant commodity. Portuguese invented an alcoholic beverage from the cashew nuts called “Feni”. Although it does not tastes great and generally not liked by most Indians outside of Goa, I found it to be good. I gargled my mouth with it and my toothache was soothed. It also seems good for body in moderate amounts.

We started for Goa from the Panvel near Bombay by train in the early morning. The train is called Satabadi Express and runs quite fast. It takes about 7 hours to cover a distance of about 700 kilometers. The track is a single track meaning trains running in both the directions run on the same track. The trains which are ordinary coming from the opposite end have to wait on the spare track on a railway station till the faster train crosses that station. Thus the time taken becomes inordinately long.

Konkan railway is a marvel of technology. The track has been made by cutting through the hills, making numerous tunnels and bridges on the many rivers emptying themselves into the sea. All around are lush green woods, dotted with fields and houses. There are coconut trees, some of them bending towards the river waters as if to touch the river. There are hills. Some tunnels are so long that it seems that train will never come out of them. Suddenly you see the light and train is out in the open but only to enter another tunnels. From this pattern, it is clear that there are parallel rows of hills and track is running across them. The trend continues till the train reaches Madgaon station.

We had a training institute located at Betul. It is situated on a hillock. Because we had booked the rooms there, we took a pre-paid taxi for traveling a distance of about 20 kilometers to reach the place. The road is very narrow and sinuous and it seems that people live only along the roadside. There are churches in every locality. Also there are small statuettes of Christ and Saint Xavier encased in the glass boxes. Taxi crossed many rivers small and big and then began the steep rise of 1.5 kilometers leading to the hostel. We checked in and being exhausted waited for evening tea time and after taking the tea and snacks, rested in the rooms and took the dinner at nine o’clock in the evening and retired for the night.

Next day after taking the breakfast, we went out to the gate of the institute and guards told us that there are buses available for going to Betul or Madgaon. There are some shops serving snacks nearby the gate. Strong smell of liquor Feni were issuing behind these shops. Toddy in bottles was kept on the wine shop counter. Bus arrived after a short while and we boarded it. The bus made great noises as its windows were loose . Loud music blared inside the bus. There were passengers inside the bus who made signs of cross every time the bus passed a church or Christs statute. The must be the Christians. Since they don’t resemble the Portuguese people, their forefathers must have adopted Christianity during the Portuguese rule.

After about an hour the bus reached the bus stand in Mudgaon. By this time at about 11 o’clock, it became very hot. We again boarded a bus to go to Palolim beach which is in the extreme south of Goa bordering Karnataka. This bus was very slow because as soon as it left a stop the bus conductor blew a whistle to stop for another. Interestingly we saw the bus waiting for passengers to come out of house and lazily board it. So after 2 hours it reached the beach. The beach was full of foreigners and women attired only in undergarments were lolling on the beach. They were soaking there sun starved bodies lying on the sand. Along side the beach, there are shops offering wooden platforms for lying down in the sun and watch the beach. The steamers owners pester you and tell for taking a ride in the boat. After bargaining we boarded a boat propelled by an diesel engine. The pilot took us into the deep blue sea surrounded by the rocky mountains. He had promised to show us the dolphins which he did and we could see three four of them diving in and out of water. Then he took us further away to a place called butterfly mountains so called because of its shape resembling a butterfly. There we saw a kite which was holding a snake in its talons and flying away to a tree in the rocks where its chick was waiting for the food. The guide also pointed to a very small beach  in front of the rocky hills and told us that it is called honeymoon point. Eventually we returned and somehow jumped out of the boat on the shore. After this we searched a shop for the lunch. In Goa if you order vegetarian fare, it will take a long time since most people eat the sea food. We return by similar kind of bus we had come in. Again it took 2 hours. Then again we caught the bus to return to hostel at Betul. Since it was evening and night fell soon, the bus was crammed with people. The bus conductor see to it that not a single corner remains unfilled. Again the loud music. There were fancy lights every where on the way as if some festival is permanently on. We reached the hostel tired and exhausted. After taking the dinner, went to sleep and rejuvenating for another tiresome day.

Next morning we left for Madgaon by the same bus and reached Madgaon bus stand. There is a bus service called Shuttle bus service to Panjim, the capital of Goa, which is really very good. No standing and no stops on the way. The road is NH-17 which goes to Bombay via Panjim. There are hills on the way running parallel to each other and bus road crosses each across each of it. The route is very beautiful. There are fields of paddy dotted by coconut palms. As such there are dense palm groves. Bus passes through an industrial area. The bus arrived in bus stand of Panjim. From there we caught a local bus to market and alighted in front of the Mandovi river. There were barges ferrying the huge amounts of sand from the old Goa side. It was pleasant. We tried to hire a self driven car for visiting the interesting place near Panjim but the plan did not materialize. It was lunch time so we entered a hotel which was doing extremely good business and we have to wait for 1/2 an hour for the table. We took the Goan thali which consisted of prawn curry in coconut milk, mussels, crab in coconut curry and a big piece of fried fish called surmai (king fish)and rice.

After this we roamed around and visited the local vegetable market. On the walls were sketches made by the Goan painter Mario Miranda depicting the life of Goa vividly. As he is a cartoonist, he does not draw the figures exactly but exaggerates the points he wants to emphasize. For example, there is a fisher woman carrying a basket of fishes. One of the fishes is trying to jump out of the basket with its open mouth with teeth visible. Crows are sneaking in and pilfering the smaller fish. Similarly there are women with elongated breasts.

We sat on the banks of Mandvi river. Sun was shimmering in the water. There was a partial moon hanging in the sky and it seemed to waiting for the Sun to hide away in the West. It did not know that by the night will be there, it will also have traveled away from the sight. There were three or four ships which have been converted into Casinos. They come alive in the night.

After this we decided to go to old Goa to see the Basilica of Bom Jesus. It is about 10 kilometers from the Panjim. The roads runs along the river with small ships faring on the water ways. It was all in haste. First we went to the side of museum but it was closed that day. But we saw the big hall where the large sculptures of saints are placed. There is a artillery piece of olden times outside the museum building. So we took few photographs and proceeded towards the church where the body of the saint is kept. So many people kept clicking the cameras. The church has been declared World Heritage Building by UNESCO. It deserves to be the one. Credit goes to the Goa government for keeping the place in spic-n-span condition. In many states of India many heritage buildings are in the ruinous condition and may be lost forever.

The saint who spread Christianity in the Goa performed many miracles. The local people were awe stricken and many of them adopted the christian religion. He died in 1552 at Sancian from fever. His body was brought back to India. One of his arms is displayed in a reliquary in Rome and other was intended for Japan but was kept at St. Joseph’s Seminary and the Sacred Art Museum of  Colane island. The saint is called “Goencho Saeb” by the local people in Konkani language.

The saint is accused of heading the Goa inquisition which was established to punish the heretics especially the new converts which were believed to be reverting the practicing their old faith customs.

In a hurry to go to Madgaon and Betul we left the place and followed back in same route buses. Next day, we called a taxi for which we have to inform the receptionist a day before, for going to railway station for catching a train for Ratnagiri. Again, there were sketches by Mario Miranda at the station. The train rolled out of the station and I was left with a sense of unfulfilled desires because I could not see many places of interest in the short time. If you go to such a place as Goa where things are spread across a large area and you have a short time then you have to buy the time with money otherwise most of your time will be wasted in the journey only.

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Bats

I live in a place called Panvel which is about 50 kilometers away from Mumbai. I am serving in ONGC and am not the original inhabitant of the place. But I have lived in this place for the past 16 years. This place has rich history. Its municipal corporation is the oldest in the Maharastra. It is a junction for going to Goa, Pune, South India. It is full of geographic features. Hills dot the panorama all around. There are many rivulets. It is on the sea coast. The soil is hard and rocky and is not fertile. Once upon a time, Shiva Ji, the great Maratha King, had a jetty and naval unit here. The express highway going to Pune crosses this city.

Today, when I was on my way to home from my office, it was getting almost dark but still it was twilight. Street lights have not come up yet. It is November and the weather is getting slightly cooler in the mornings and evenings. By the standards of North India this cannot be called cool. For some reason, I was not feeling like going to home.

What a person do in such settings? I was looking towards the heavens. There were stars here and there. If you continue to look longer and concentrate at a particular location in the sky, the stars seem to being born like the seeds sprouting. Soon the whole sky will be covered with the crop of stars.

Anyway, leave aside this poetical musings. I noticed a very strange phenomena. Huge bats, the size of big crows, were heading towards the colony from Panvel city side. Some of them were flying so high and crossed the colony trees which are in plenty. Though I was quite sure about the identity of these creatures, I for a moment confused them with crows. Also, I thought that they may be some stray animals. But they kept coming. As I reached beneath the big tress-again I am sorry I don’t know the name-some of the them were landing on the branches of these trees. Some were making sorties between the trees. There were sounds of nibbling and falling of the partially eaten fruits which these trees bear. These fruits are not palatable to humans, but they are favorites of parrots in the day time and bats in the night. You will always find the partially eaten fruits beneath the trees.

These bats were not of the small size usually found in the cities which were also there in few numbers in the trees.  These might be Indian flying fox variety which gorge themselves on fruits. It is known that these bats live in the coastal areas which are many here because the Panvel is coastal area. I suspect that these bats must be sleeping inside some holes of older trees or rocks and visiting for food in the night on the trees in our colony and beyond where there are more trees in the rural areas. Because our night is day for them and our day is night for them.

The bats are true flying mammals belonging to chiropetera order. Forelimbs have developed into webbed wings making them unique mammals capable of sustained flight in contrast to flying squirrels, possums which don’t fly but glide in air for short distances as the distance between two trees. I have seen the squirrels in Assam jumping a distance of about 8 feet from one tree to another.

Bats are awe inspiring creatures and frequently mentioned in literature especially mythology. There are vampire bats whose diet is blood. They suck the blood from the animals like buffaloes during night time. Bats locate their pray through the echolocation technology which is also employed by dolphins and whales.

There are certain moths, tiger moths to be precise, which also emit ultrasounds  by clicking warning the bats that they are chemically protected and thus fool them and avoid being becoming the food of bats.  I think I will look for them again tomorrow to confirm there activity.