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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Bengalis of Amer/Amber (Jaipur), Rajasthan

Few years ago, I had to visit Jaipur in Rajasthan (India) along with my son and stayed there for couple of days. On reaching there we could get some nice accommodation at a moderately priced hotel near the Railway Station. After we freshed up, the Manager of the hotel was kind enough to tell us about the options available for sightseeing. We, however, decided to first accomplish the purpose of our visit and once it was was over, we lunched in a different Rajasthani restaurant and hired an Auto Rickshaw to take us straight to the famous Amer/Amber Palace/Fort which was actually at a distance of 16 kms.
When we were just near the fort the Auto driver stopped his vehicle and advised us to either take the elephant ride or a Jeep to go to the top. The Elephants were lined up waiting for passengers. We preferred a Jeep as an Elephant ride seemed to be too expensive. While travelling in the Jeep, the driver cum guide told us about Lal Bazaar which was on the left and that it is a Bengali settlement. I wondered as to how there is a Bengali settlement here and while I was conversing with my son, the driver also informed us that the Priests of the temple inside the fort are also Bengalis. I remembered that the owner of the hotel, we were staying at as well as the Manager there, were also Bengalis. Very soon we were parked at a place above the top and the driver asked us to visit the fort/palaces and return back to find him at that point.
We entered the complex through the entrance known as Sinh Pol, At right through a flight of steps there was a temple dedicated to Goddess Durga known here as Shila Devi. The main door is made of silver on which images of Durga and Saraswathi were carved out. There were two lions of large proportions as if standing guard to the Goddess. We had the darshan and thereafter started loitering around the marvelous complex.
Back home, in our own complex we have a Bengali friend Shri Subhash Bhattacharya, a DIG with CBI (Central Bureau of Investigations). We knew that he had his house at Pilani, Rajasthan. An animal lover and a staunch environmentalist. We told him about our visit to Jaipur and about the Bengali settlement there. To our surprise he told us that for over 400 years his ancestors were the head priests of the Shila Devi temple in the Amer Palace complex. Even today his eldest brother Shri Mahesh Bhattacharya is the head priest there. He narrated his experiences when as a child he used to beat the drums while his father used to perform the rites (Pooja) inside the temple’s sanctum sanctorum. He also showed us his family album and an important photograph was that of a Raja Chood Singh Palace which was provided to the Bhattacharya’s for their residence. 
It is now their property and is being sought after by a heritage hotel chain. Their family also have their own temple known as “Mansa Mata Mandir” of which Shri Mahesh Bhattacharya is the Trustee. It is believed that all your wishes get accomplished if you pray to the deity (Goddess) there. However, one needs to bow to the Bhairava as well, at the top of the Jaigarh Fort which is visible from that point. It is needless to emphasize that the Goddess alone cannot fulfill your wishes without her better half !.
Apart from the information we received from our dear Bhattacharya, we also made some independent searches and learnt that one Shri Vidyadhar Bandopadhyay, an architect was instrumental in the town planning of Jaipur which was established in 1727. He belonged to a Goswami (Gosai) clan who are the priests in the Shri Krishna temple in the City Palace. One Shri Sansar Chandra Sen, a highly accomplished personality, was earlier the Prime Minister of the Pricely State. A road in the city is named after him. Late Rajmata Gayatri Devi hailed from Cooch Behar (West Bengal) and therefore there was further influx of Bengalis into the city.
The present day Amer/Amber Fort cum Palace was built in 1592 AD by Raja Man Singh, the trusted lieutenant of Akbar, the Moghul ruler. Man Singh was appointed as the Governor of Bengal which included today’s Bangladesh. Man Singh wanted the Raja of Jessore (Bangladesh)to be subdued. However, this was not an easy task. Man Singh understood the perils which awaited him. He is then supposed to have worshipped Goddess Kali (Durga) to help him to win the battle. Mother Kali is supposed to have come into his dreams and instructed him to dig out the black stone slab lying in the river bed which was her own sculpture. She wanted the sculpture to be installed at the Amer/Amber Palace with human sacrifices every day. If this condition was acceptable, he could win the battle other wise not. Man Sinh relented and finally won the battle. The sculpture was traced out and moved to Amer Palace some where in 1596. However there was a need for performing the daily rites. Man Singh got a family of the priestly class identified for the purpose and brought them to Amer with promises of hereditary priesthood to that family as also some villages by way of grants. This is how the Bengali priests arrived.
The Goddess needed a human head everyday. The Prisoners of War came handy. This continued as long as Man Singh was there until his natural death at Ellichpur in 1614. We may well imagine the number of heads that might have been severed out to appease the Goddess. After Man Singh’s death his, son Mirza Raja Bhan Singh is supposed to have prayed to the Goddess to accept Goats instead of humans and some people suggest that the Goddess turned her head away. Even today the head of the deity in the temple remains swayed to the right. Although the sacrifice of a horned goat is carried out everyday, even now, the downfall of the Kachhwaha clan to which Man Singh belonged is attributed to the negation of human blood to the presiding deity in the Amer Palace!.
After the Goat is butchered, the head is kept in a silver vessel and offered to the deity early in the morning at about 5.30 AM. Wine is also a part of the offering which is kept in two silver vessels. The rituals are carried out behind the curtain and a visit to the temple after the rites are over is supposed to be rewarding as the deity is supposed to be in a happy mood after relishing the offerings. The slaughter was being carried out publicly but due to the laws being enforced, it is now done in a separate room.

Photo Credit (except the goat): GIL trotter@sapo.pt

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Most Unusual Churches around the World

Arun Babu (babuarun007@hotmail.com) has sent in an interesting mail detailing the most unusual Churches around the World. It looks as if he has collected the photographs from:  http://www.boredpanda.com/50-most-extraordinary-churches-of-the-world/. This site is more informative and lists  50 churches. One could visit  the above link to relish the contents. 
1. The Church of Hallgrímur, Reykjavík, Iceland

The Church of Hallgrímur is very very unusual, never seen anything like that.
This Lutheran parish church is also a very tall one, reaching 74.5 metres (244 ft) height. It is the fourth tallest architectural structure in Iceland.

It took incredibly long to build it (38 years!) Construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986.

The Architect of this building is Guðjón Samúelssondesign.

More info: Hallgrímskirkja

2. Cathedral of Brasilia in Brasilia, Brazil

This is a very famous Cathedral of Brasília designed by Oscar Niemeyer. It looks really modern but somehow childish to me. These columns, having hyperbolic section and weighing 90 t, represent two hands moving upwards to heaven.

The construction was finished in 1970.

More info: Cathedral of Brasília

3. Paoay Church (St. Augustine Parish) in Philippines

(Image Credits: Storm Crypt)

Paoay Church reminds me of Aztec architecture. It looks very massive and strong. The walls of the church are 1.67 meters thick and are supported by 24 carved and massive buttresses.

Its construction started in 1704 and was completed in 1894 by the Augustinian friars led by Fr. Antonio Estavillo. It is said, that Its construction primarily was intended to withstand earthquakes. And it could test the strength of the walls very soon, because the church was damaged by an earthquake in 1706 and 1927.

The design of the church is a mixture of Gothic, Oriental and Baroque influence.

4. Duomo (Milan Cathedral) in Italy

Duomo looks incredibly tall and majestic. It even has an evil and scary look in this picture. After checking the Wikipedia for more info I found there were more photos of this cathedral, but they don’t look as cool as this photo here. Maybe its just an illusion made by a good photographer that this building is so amazing.

On the other hand, Mark Twain said the following of the Duomo in Milan in his work, Innocents Abroad:

“They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter’s at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands.”

More info: Wikipedia.

5. Church Ruins in Goreme, Turkey

The rock cut ruins of a church by persecuted Christians.

Not sure when it was built, but definitely look very ancient. How did those guys carved the inside of these rocks?

The Cappadocia valley, where this church stands, is very popular for its rocks that the people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out to form houses, churches, monasteries.

There are an estimated 150 churches and several monasteries in the canyon between the villages of Ihlara and Selime.

Those rocks are volcanic deposits, so that means they are soft rocks, making it possible to carve such structures.

6. Green church, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Don’t have info about this church, nevertheless it’s very unusual. I have never seen a church so green, have you?

Michael: “a parish church in Buenos Aires, Argentina known as the “Huerto de Olivos”, or “Garden of Olives,” most likely a reference Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives”

7. Borgund Stave Church, Lærdal, Norway

Stave churches may have been very usual all over medieval northwestern Europe but now you can only find them in Norway. Well ok, there is one one in Sweden, but nowhere else.

Borgund stave church located in Borgund, Lærdal, Norway is the best preserved of Norway’s 28 extant stave churches. This wooden church, probably built in the end of the 12th century, has not changed structure or had a major reconstruction since the date it was built.

Interesting fact: the church is also featured as a Wonder for the Viking civilization in the video game Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings.

8. Paraportiani Church, Mykonos, Greece

I will just cite, what the author of this picture wrote about it:
“Paraportianí Church is one of the most famous architectural structures in Greece. Its name means secondary gate, because it was built on the site of one of the gates of the Medieval stone walls. Some parts of this beautiful church date from 1425 and the rest was built during the 16th and 17th centuries. ”

9. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

I have never seen anything as incredible as this building! Never been to Spain, but if I ever happen to do so, I will definitely include Sangrada Família on the must-see list. I wonder, how does it look in reality?

Sagrada Família is a very massive Roman Catholic basilica under construction in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Construction began in 1882 and continues to this day. A very famous architect Antoni Gaudí worked on the project for over 40 years, devoting the last 15 years of his life entirely to this endeavour.
In the center there is going to be a tower of Jesus Christ, surmounted by a giant cross; the tower’s total height will be 170 m (557,7ft)..

There is so much info on this one, that you should check Wikipedia.

10. St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

Cathedral of Saint Basil the Blessed , is a multi-tented church which stands on the Red Square in Moscow.

This church looks really cool, because It has very unusual onion domes which look playful and colorful. Sometimes people even say, that they remind them of lollypops.

The cathedral was built in 1555 -1561 by Ivan IV (a.k.a Ivan the Terrible) to celebrate the capture of the Khanate of Kazan.

A legend says that Ivan had the architect, Postnik Yakovlev, blinded to prevent him from building a more magnificent building for anyone else. In fact, Postnik Yakovlev built a number of churches after Saint Basil’s..
More info: Saint Basil’s Cathedral

11. Church in Stykkishólmur, Iceland

This church in Iceland looks really weird, like some alien structure. It was built in 1990 and the architect is Jón Haraldsson.

12. Basilica de Higuey, Dominican Republic

Basilica de Higuey is located in the city of Higuey, Dominican Republic. Its unusual look reminds me of a basket.

The church is one of the most respected monuments of the Dominican Republic. The basilica was inaugurated on January 21, 1971, and was built by French architects.

13. Grace Fellowship Baptist Church, Baltimore, MD, USA

This strange building is actually a church. Once it was famous for being “Detroit’s most beautiful Chinese-American restaurant”. Later it closed down and became the Omega Baptist Church and then the Grace Fellowship Baptist Church. Located at 265 Baltimore, MD, USA.

14. Las Lajas Cathedral in Colombia

Las Lajas Cathedral looks unusual to me because one side of it seems to be a part of a bridge across the river and the other side rests on the hill. The overall look is really fascinating.

Built in 1916 inside the canyon of the Guaitara river where, according to local legend, the Virgin Mary appeared.

You can find this church in southern Colombian Department of Nariño, municipality of Ipiales, near the border with Ecuador.

15. Jubilee Church in Rome, Italy

Jubilee Church has very distinctive curved walls which look like sails to me. Designed in 1996 by architect Richard Meier, the church has curved walls which serve the engineering purpose of minimizing thermal peak loads in the interior space.

The walls are made from a special cement, which contain titanium dioxide, so it destroys air pollution.

According to Borgarello “When the titanium dioxide absorbs ultraviolet light, it becomes powerfully reactive, breaking down pollutants that come in contact with the concrete.”

16. St Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church in Chicago, IL, USA

Maybe I’ll better don’t tell what those domes remind me (haha). Very very unusual looking building I must say. Its massiveness and gray color looks like Soviet architecture. I was amazed when I read that it was actually in USA and not somewhere In Soviet Union.

St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic church is a is most known for its ultra-modern thirteen gold domed roof symbolizing the twelve apostles and Jesus Christ as the largest center dome.

It is celebrating its 52 years, so it was built in 1956 (if my calculations are right).

More info on Wikipedia: St Joseph Ukrainian Church

17. Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France

Someone told that the roof of this building looks like Elvis’ hair.

Informally known as Ronchamp, the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut was completed in 1954 and is considered one of the finest examples of architecture by the late French/Swiss architect Le Corbusier.

Most interesting fact to me is that, when it rains, water pours off the slanted roof onto a fountain, creating a dramatic waterfall.

More info on Wikipedia: Notre Dame du Haut

18. Odd Church in Huntington Beach, CA, USA

Don’t have info on that one, only this photo and the location: Huntington Beach, CA, USA.

As far as I understand it must be sponsored by Shell, because it has a huge SHELL logo on it (this statement can be absolutely different from the reality). Looks terrible overall.

19. Chapel of St. Gildas, Brittany, France

This church is really odd one, sorry I have no info on it, only the words of the picture author: “This was on the canal to Carnac. Really odd church in the (seeming) middle of nowhere. ”

Mads: “This is the chapel of St-Gildas, which sits upon the bank of the Canal du Blavet in Brittany, France. “Built like a stone barn into the base of a bare rocky cliff, this was once a holy place of the Druids. Gildas appears to have travelled widely throughout the Celtic world of Corwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. He arrived in Brittany in about AD 540 and is said to have preached Christianity to the people from a rough pulpit, now contained within the chapel.” (from ‘Cruising French Waterways’ by Hugh McKnight p.150)”

20. Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro looks like a Pyramid of Egypt or Aztecs.

It was built between 1964 and 1979. Conical in form it has internal diameter of 96 metres (315 ft) and an overall height of 75 metres (246 ft). The church has a standing-room capacity of 20,000 people.

Four rectilinear stained glass windows soar 64 metres (210 ft) from floor to ceiling.

21. Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe chapel (Le Puy-en-Velay, France)

Perhaps one of the most remarkable sights in France, a chapel perched on a volcanic plug. This is the Rock of Aiguilhe, on the edge of the town of Puy en Velay, in the Auvergne. The Chapelle Saint-Michel has stood there for 1042 years, since Bishop Gothescalk had it built in 962 on his return from a pilgrimage to Santiago del Compostella in Galicia. In 1955 workers found relics under the alter that had been there since it was built.

22. The Wireman Chapel at Eckerd College (St. Petersburg, Florida, USA)

A kid on the tour to Eckerd College once said it looked like a “Jesus spider from outer space.” Inspired by 20th-century architect

Eero Saarinen, the Chapel was designed by the highly respected Chicago architectural firm of Perkins and Will. Its key design features are its octagonal shape and in-the-round seating, the oculus at the center of the roof that directs sunlight to the center of the sanctuary, the lower glass panels which reflect light from the water outside to the interior, and the girders which recall the flying buttresses of the medieval cathedral, instilling a sense of timelessness in a contemporary structure.

23. Chapel in the Rock (Arizona, USA)

This facinating Roman Catholic church is literally built into the rock... The views from outside are unbelievable but the serenity inside is awesome

Some say, that Chapel in the Rock can move even the non-religious.

24. Device to Root Out Evil (Calgary, AB, Canada)

It was too hot for New York City; too hot for Stanford University. But a controversial, imposing sculpture by renowned international artist Dennis Oppenheim finally found a public home in laid-back Vancouver. A country church is seen balancing on it’s steeple, as if it had been lifted by a terrific force and brought to the site as a device or method of rooting out evil forces. In 2008 it was moved from Vancouver to Calgary, AB, Canada.

25. Trendsetters Church (Phoenix, AZ, USA)

Trendsetters Church in Phoenix, AZ, built in 1973 by Neil Frisby as Capstone Cathedral. I’m sure Neil Frisby visited Egypt just before designing this church.

26. Church of St. George (Lalibela, Ethiopia)

Possibly the most famous of Lalibeli’s churches, the Church of St. George is completely carved out of stone in the shape of a cross.

27. Written Stone (Monastery, Romania)

Local tradition confesses that,during the construction of a railway , at the opening of the a tunnel, it was found an icon painted in stone representing the Holy Trinity. The monastery was built at the opening of the tunnel The monastery was built at the opening of the tunnel on the rock.

28. Bruder Klaus Chapel (Mechernich, southern Germany)

A concrete chapel on the edge of a field in Mechernich, southern Germany, built by local farmers in honor of their patron saint, the 15th-century hermit Bruder Klaus,” according to icon.

29. Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, (Cundinamarca, Colombia)

Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral) in Zipaquirá, about 25 miles north of Bogotá, is an underground church built in a tunnel of salt mines deep inside a salt mountain. It is built into a space left by salt mining; everything you see here is salt. As you descend into the church, you pass 14 small chapels representing the stations of the suffering of Christ. The sanctuary at the bottom has three sections, representing the birth, life, and death of Jesus.

The first Salt Cathedral was consecrated in 1954, but structural problems and safety concerns led the authorities to shut down the sanctuary in 1990. The current church was built between 1991 and 1996 about 200 feet below the old sanctuary, again using caves left behind by previous mining operations..

30. Cathedral of Maringa (Parana, Brazil)

This is a Roman Catholic cathedral located in downtown Maringá, Paraná, Brazil, measuring 124 m high. It was completed in 1972 and is the tallest church in South America and the 16th tallest in the world.

Architect José Augusto Bellucci was inspired by the Soviet sputnik satellites when he projected the modern design with conical shape of the cathedral, which was idealized by the archbishop Dom Jaime Luiz Coelho.

31. Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, (Milwaukee, WI, USA)

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956, and completed in 1961. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church is one of Wright’s last works. Its shallow scalloped dome echoes his Marin County Civic Center.

32. The Felsenkirche a.k.a. Church of the Rock, (Idar-Oberstein, Germany).

The Felsenkirche (”Church of the Rock”) , a church built into a natural niche in the rocks, rises high above the houses of Oberstein.. Nicely blends into the mountain, making all this place magical.

33. Catholic Church (Uruguay)

34. Grundtvig’s Church, (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Grundtvig’s Church (Danish: Grundtvigs Kirke) is located in the Bispebjerg district of Copenhagen, Denmark. It is a rare example of expressionist church architecture. Due to its unusual appearance, it is one of the best known churches in the city.

35. Mr. Eko’s Church (The Island)

Architects: Eko and Charlie.

36. Church with an A (Madrid, Spain)

A Parish Church at the beginning of Alcalde Sainz de Baranda St. (Madrid, Spain).

37. Pilgrimage Church(Neviges, Germany)

Pilgrimage church designed by Gottfried Böhm and constructed during the period of 1963-1972. The sunken cathedral in autumn colors. Böhm used the terrain to lessen the impact of the enormous church on its small scale context.

38. San Francisco de Asis Church (Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico)

San Francisco de Asis Church is a small mission in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. Construction on the church began around 1772 and was completed in 1815 by Franciscan Fathers and its patron is Saint Francis of Assisi. It is made of adobe as are many of the Spanish missions in New Mexico. It a few miles south of Taos Pueblo and has inspired among the greatest number of depictions of any building in the United States. It was the subject of four paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, and photographs by Ansel Adams and Paul Strand. Georgia O’Keeffe described it as, “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards.”

39. Church in a Hill(Luxembourg)

This church is built into the hillside on which it perches. One of the reasons the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has survived as an independent state for a thousand years against such powerful neighbors as Germany and France, is that the area is eminently fortifiable.

40. Church Birdhouse (Greer, South Carolina, USA)

A colorful birdhouse, made in the shape of a church, hanging on a fence of someones yard in Greer, South Carolina. The bird living in this church must be a bird-priest raising donations from other birds in a form of seeds.

Alpana Verma from Abu Dhabi has sent in the following photograph of the World"s Smallest Church in Canada which continues to be used. She says it is world's smallest church which is always open and functioning.doors are 10x10 feet.It is situated on the River Road [between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake]