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Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Vistas of Bharat: Celebrating Kathak, North India’s Only Classical Dance

In today’s chapter of ‘Vistas of Bharat’, we enlighten you on the exuberant and reverent classical dance form of India, Kathak.



Vistas of Bharat Kathak

Adorned with interactive theatrics and exuberance of the Kathak performers, Kathak is the most popular classical dance form of India and the only one prevalent in north India. Incorporating the word ‘Katha’ (story) in its name, it emerged as an art form for narrating stories from great mythologies. Kathak performers were mostly found in the north Indian courts.

Kathak bloomed during the Bhakti movement by the nomadic ‘kathakars’. The dance mainly narrated the stories of Hindu Lord Krishna. This type of dance is known as ‘nritya’ or expressive dance. On the other hand, pure dance is known as ‘nritta’. Feet synchronizing with the rhythm of tabla, splendid hand movements, interactive expressions along with sarangi and manjira running the cycle of the tunes of ‘Dhrupad’ music are put together in performing a splendid Kathak performance. Hindu culture has maintained the practice of dance as a form of worship and thus the performance is started with an invocation or ‘vandana’ followed by ‘nritta’ or ‘nritya’.

The costumes vary with the gharana but most commonly the female dancers drape a saree around waist, wear choli to cover the chest and add to the magnificence with an odhni. The male dancers wear a dhoti and often leave the upper body bare. Historical traces of Kathak date its origin by around 400 BCE, likely in Banaras. With the augmentation of the popularity of Kathak, it migrated to other cities like Jaipur and Lucknow. This resulted in formation of different ‘Gharanas’ (etiquettes). Although they had a common origin, each gharana maintained the idiosyncrasy. The Lucknow and Banaras gharana focuses on the narrative expressions and hand movements while the Jaipur gharana on footwork.

The evolution of Kathak during the Mughal Era added the element of ‘eroticism’ to the form. In the colonial times of British Raj, it fell under the criticism of ‘anti-dance movement’ along with the other dance forms. Serious accusations like equating dance with prostitution surfaced. Nevertheless, after independence, Kathak reemerged vivaciously in Indian culture. It is a combined skill of expertise and excellence flowing through the current of culture and demands a bow in its respect. Dance forms, as Kathak, are an eminent part of our cultural heritage. Their preservation, in the times when such cultures are on the verge of getting buried in the pages of history, is our duty.

Therefore, here we present you some contemporary Kathak Performers, sprinkling the beauty of this classical dance form in all of its authenticity and reverence!

Vande Matarm Eshani Sathe

Eshani Sathe’s Kathak Performances opens a window to how her heart and soul are connected to this art form so intricately. The myriad of Kathak performances by her creates a serene and peaceful atmosphere for the viewers. Similarly, in this performance, she delivers respect to India on its 75th Independence through Kathak. Eshani performs a humble and soulful Kathak dance, which captures India’s diversity and love. Her dance easily reaches out to the viewers’ hearts.

Credits: YouTube Eshani Sathe

Garaj Garaj – Shivangi Dake

Shivangi’s YouTube channel featuring a multitude of her kathak performances will leave you stunned. She has imbued Kathak in every festival celebration of India, be it Holi or Diwali, and in other aspects of our daily life. The ‘Garaj Garaj’ Kathak performance is one example of this. Shivangi summons the tranquility and vigour of rainfall through Kathak. Self-choreographed by Shivangi, adorned in a blue sari, she leaves the viewers mesmerised by her rain like movements. Through this, she also sprinkles the relationship she has with the Kathak art form, as she uses it to convey an aspect of nature.

Credits: YouTube Shivangi Dake

Draupadi SankalpDamini Bisht

The episode of Draupadi’s sexual assault by the brothers of Kauravas in the male dominated sabha is one of the most prominent scenes from Mahabharata. Damini, with her eloquence, dexterity and great rhythm, narrates the entire episode with the art of Kathak. She doesn’t play one or two roles, but simultaneously, multiple roles, and in that midst, fluently narrates the whole scene without uttering one word. That is on Damini and her deep understanding of the with this reverent classical dance form of India.

Credits: YouTube Damini Bisht

Shesh PhanaShruthi Gupta

Through Shruthi, a Kathak performer and choreographer, we experience yet another proficient Kathak performance, this time narrating an excerpt from Ramayana. Shruthi brings to life the complex characters, Lord Ram, Ravana and Ravana’s wife Mandodri. Excelling in grit and expressions, she paints angst, agony, love and revenge through her performance. 

Credits: YouTube Shruthi Gupta

Shiva … Rudrashtakam Composition – Mohit Shridhar

Mohit Shridhar, an expressive and exquisite Kathak performer, delivers a passionate kathak performance on Rudrashtakam composition. Rudrashtakam composition is a devotional Sanskrit composition on Lord Shiva. Mohit’s powerful yet elegant Kathak movements light up the stage! His strong presence is felt as we watch Mohit devotedly lose himself in reveries of Kathak.

Credits: YouTube Mohit Shridhar

Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Travellers’ Tales: Rediscovering Medieval Indian History Through Persian Literary Lenses

The foreign travelers who documented Indian history also delved into the analysis of Indian cultures and traditions in their works, providing valuable insights into the intricacies of this ancient land.



Al Beruni, India, Abdur Razzak, Persia, history

India has long been a center of exploration for various foreign travellers, leading to the creation of a vast body of travel literature that we are familiar with today. These literary works, often considered factual accounts of Indian history and culture, have been written in numerous European and Asian languages, reflecting diverse perspectives on India’s rich heritage. The foreign travellers who documented Indian history also delved into the analysis of Indian cultures and traditions in their works, providing valuable insights into the intricacies of this ancient land.

Persian travellers made significant contributions to the understanding of Medieval Indian history and offered unique socio-cultural perspectives during their extended stays in the country. The medieval period in India witnessed remarkable developments in cultures, languages, religion and art. A large number of Persian records of the medieval period also contain varieties of information on economic development, agricultural production, trade and commerce, etc. Two renowned Persian travellers played a pivotal role in contributing to the understanding of the flourishing of Indian history during this era.

Al Beruni (1024-1030 A.D.)

Al Beruni was born in 973 AD in the Khwarezm region, which is located in Kath, the capital of the Afrighid dynasty of Khwarezm in Central Asia (present-day Uzbekistan). He dedicated twenty-five years to studying and excelling in astronomy, mathematics, chronology, physics, medicine, mineralogy and history. Additionally, he was proficient in several languages including Turkish, Persian, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic. In AD 1017 Mahmud of Ghazni traveled to India with a group of scholars. This group included Al Beruni when he was forty-four years old. During his thirteen-year stay in India, during this time, Al Beruni devoted himself to observing, questioning and conducting detailed studies about Indian culture and science.

During his time in India, he produced the monumental commentary on Indian philosophy and culture known as Kitab fi tahqiq ma li’l-hind. He read the major Indian religious and astronomical texts, highlighting parts of the Gita, the Upanishads, Patanjali, Puranas and the Vedas, as well as scientific texts by Nagarjuna and Aryabhata. Additionally, he documented some of Mahmud of Ghazni’s most egregious plundering incidents at Mathura and Somnath. While he couldn’t explicitly denounce these actions in his text, a definite sense of lament is evident. He wrote that Mahmud “utterly ruined the prosperity of the country…”. 

Beruni’s Kitab al –Hind

Beruni’s Kitab al-Hind is a respectable and valuable source of Indian culture even today. Although the data provided is generally accurate, the compilation data of his work from around 1030 A.D. is still subject to doubt. This is because Beruni rarely makes mention of where his visits took place or when they did and secondly his book, Kitab al-Hind is lacking in positive evidence. Moreover, due to the insurmountable texts written on this figure and his life, difficulty arises in distinguishing the historical events from the legendary ones.

In his book, Al-Beruni mentioned several obstacles that he incurred while understanding India. The language was the one of the most important of these. He found Sanskrit highly different from Arabic and Persian so much so that the ideas and cultural aspects of each could not be inter-translated. He also found religious beliefs and practices to be different from what he was familiar with. The third challenge he faced was the local community’s self-centeredness, which resulted in isolation. Knowing these challenges, Al Beruni derived his knowledge from the Brahmanical works such as Vedas, Puranas, Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali, Manusmriti, etc. to understand Indian society as a whole.

Al Beruni’s Views on Hindu Lifestyle 

Beruni’s book is an in-depth exploration of Hindu religion, science, literature, philosophy, social organization, geography, astronomy, life, customs, festivals, etc. He touched on almost all the aspects of Hinduism. Based on his studies and observations in India between 1017 and 1030, his book provides a comprehensive survey of Indian life. It can also be said that his work was perhaps the first major exposition of Hindu thought and life by an Islamic scholar. 

It also sheds ample light on the Hindu society which was otherwise facing an existential challenge from Muslim invaders. Al Beruni was also aware of the deep differences between Hindu and Islamic lifestyles. These differences were all over the languages, manners and customs. In his work, he also defended the natural aversion Hindus had against Muslims due to the atrocious activities of Mahmud.

However, Beruni also wrote about how Hindus were narcissistic in many ways. They believed that “there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no king like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs.” He also stated that Hindus were so arrogant that they simply considered foreign scientists and scholars liars if they were to excel better than Hindus in any way. Although he critiqued the arrogance of Hindus, he also mentioned that this could be improved if Hindus started intermingling with people from foreign lands. He believed that this would change their perspective.

Issues In Indian Society

During his time in India, Al Biruni extensively studied the caste system or varnas. He concluded that the Brahmana were the highest caste, followed by the Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. Al-Biruni sought to explain the caste system by identifying parallels in other societies. However, he also observed that within Islam all men were considered equal, differing only in their observance of piety. Despite accepting the Brahmanical description of the caste system, Al-Biruni disapproved of the concept of pollution. Moreover, only the Brahmans had the right to attain salvation. Al Biruni found the Brahmanical system highly misleading. He believed that Indians possessed rich knowledge but succumbed to superstitions within this system, thus diluting their wisdom. 

He also criticized various harmful practices in Hindu society. These were child marriage, prohibition of widow marriage, ‘Sati’ and ‘Jauhar’. Additionally, although he did not mention the dowry system specifically, he wrote about Stree Dhan. Stree Dhan was similar to dowry which was presented by the relatives of the girls to her in-laws. Furthermore, Al Biruni observed how the entire country was divided into small states that frequently quarrelled among themselves with jealousy and constant fighting. Prominent states like Malwa, Sindh, Kannauj and Kashmir engaged in regular conflicts. Overall, there was a notable absence of nationalism among Indians at that time

Abdur Razzak (1443-1444 A.D.)

Abdur Razzak, born on November 7, 1412 in Herat (Afghanistan) to Jalaj-ud-Din Ishaq was another important Persian traveler in medieval India. His father, Jalal-ud-din Ishaq was the qazi and imam of Shah Rukh’s court who was the ruler of Persia. After his father’s death, Abdur was appointed as the new qazi of the court. During his tenure as the Qazi, he prospered as a legal courtier, trustee and ambassador. His ambassadorial missions brought him to various places across Asia, including his most important mission in India.

Abdur Razzak’s Observations of India

Upon arriving in the Indian subcontinent, Razzak’s first stop was the court of the Zamorin of Calicut in southwest India. His initial encounters with the natives of Calicut left him unimpressed, as he found them to be scantily clad and practising polyandry, which differed from his own customs. Later on, he received an invitation from the Vijayanagar King to visit his kingdom. To reach Vijayanagara, Razzak passed through Mangalore and Belur before finally reaching his destination.

During his time in the court of King Deva Raya II, Abdur Razzak’s accounts provide a grand and opulent depiction of India. He describes the vast reach of Deva Raya II’s dominion, stretching from the shores of Ceylon to Gulbarga and from Orissa to Malabar. Additionally, he mentions the monarch’s majestic attire and lavish aesthetics. Razzak himself was also graciously accommodated with lavishly provided amenities by the king’s court, highlighting the grandeur of India. Furthermore, he notes that Vijayanagara was a prosperous land with significant military strength. This was evident through bustling markets, fortified walls and a formidable force comprising thousands of warriors.

Hampi Through The Lenses of Abdur Razzak 

Razzak was truly impressed by the Royal Center of Hampi. He especially found the network of rivulets and streams flowing through channels of cut stone remarkable. He considered it a true testament to the engineering skills and architectural genius of that time. Despite all this grandeur, Razzak’s journey was also quite risky and challenging. After a whole year of adventure, going from Mangalore to Kalahat in India and facing a tough seventy-five-day journey by sea, Razzak had to leave India. However, his trip was full of amazing experiences and difficulties he had to overcome. It was a fitting conclusion to an adventurous year.

Issues Faced By Abdur Razzak During His Travel

Razzak’s journey was filled with wonderful sights, but it also had its share of perilous moments. After a year-long travel from Mangalore to Kalahat in India, he embarked on a challenging 75-day sea voyage across the Arabian Sea. Unfortunately, personal tragedy and political upheaval cut short his exploration aspirations. His brother passed away at sea due to an illness, and he narrowly avoided getting entangled in political turmoil sparked by local unrest. These events led him to make a solemn vow never to embark on another trip again. This highlighted the risks associated with venturing into new territories.

Cultural Outlook of Medieval Indian Society

The presence of Turkish rulers and Sufi saints in India brought about significant cultural and socio-economic changes. New establishments like madrasas, karkhanas, dar al shifas and thānās played a crucial role in shaping medieval Indian society. This information is extensively recorded in Persian sources from the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire.

Along with political accounts, there are non-political literary works such as poetry, mystic records, geographical accounts and autobiographies that provide insight into this period. The Persian archives contain a wide range of documents including royal orders (farmans), imperial decrees (parwanas), deeds related to personal property, hortation, wakf properties/live stocks/produce, gift etc., commands nishans that are well-maintained across various archives in the country.

Economic Condition of Medieval Bengal

A wealth of historical texts written in Persian is a lasting legacy of Muslim rule in India. Over three centuries, Muslim power extended across Bengal. The port towns of Satgāon, Sunārgāon and Chittagong were pivotal in connecting Bengal to distant parts of the world through sea trade. During this time, these ports were bustling centers for maritime trade with several parts of the world. These included China, Sumatra, Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Middle East and East Africa. They traded primarily in pearls, silk, muslin, rice, bullion and horses. 

Bengal was self-sufficient in agricultural produce and also rich in non-agricultural products manufactured to meet local needs. Some surplus items were exported. Contemporary literature, both Persian and Bengali, as well as accounts of foreign travellers, shed light on the quality and demand for non-agricultural products within India and abroad. Bengal had a long tradition of textile manufacturing, with Persian chroniclers and foreign travellers praising the quality and quantity of cloth produced there. During the Sultanate period, Bengal was one of the three major textile-producing regions along with Coromandel and Gujarat.

Other prominent occupations in the region were centered around metal works, including blacksmiths and goldsmiths. These occupations had a long-standing tradition and high regard. Abul Fazl noted that iron-miners were located in the sarkār of Bazuhā. The goldsmiths of Bengal were renowned for crafting various utensils, jewelry and ornaments from gold and silver. These were highly sought after in both local and foreign markets. Pre-Mughal times saw Bengali ships playing a crucial role as a mode of communication and transportation. They carried out trade activities with distant lands as well as within Bengal itself.

This prosperous province maintained strong economic and cultural ties with other parts of the world through its flourishing maritime trade. Agriculture was not only essential for livelihood but also supported industries rooted in agricultural practices during this period.

Summing Up

Exploring Medieval Indian history through the Persian lenses offers a multifaceted perspective on the rich Indian history and culture. Their accounts provide insights into various aspects of Indian society. These include religion, philosophy, socio-political structures and architecture and enrich our history. Despite facing linguistic and cultural challenges, these travellers meticulously documented their observations. These allow us to gain a deeper understanding of India as a whole. Their writings enhance our appreciation for India’s diverse heritage. Additionally, they highlight the lasting impact of cross-cultural encounters in shaping historical narratives.

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Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Exploring The Golden Age of Tamil Literature: The Sangam Period

Sangam Literature is the oldest form extant Indian Literature. It shapes the rich Indian cultures and society present today.



Sangam Literature, Tamil literature, Indian literature, three sangams, indigenous, endemic, literature, Indian History

The vast Indian literature marks Indian history. When we think about literature, what inherently comes to our attention is English and its various literary eras. In this bias, what we’ve left behind is the richness of Indian literature and its historical descent. This literature is the leading force of the evolved Indian society today. 

Tamil, one of the oldest languages to exist today, has vast literature dating back to the 3rd century BC. The Sangam period spanned 600 years from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. Historians and scholars regard it as the golden period of Tamil literature. 

Sangam Literature

Literally, “Sangam” means confluence. In Tamil literature, the term “Sangam” refers to a school of arts and letters. It was founded and patronized by Pandya, Chola and Chera, the three crowned monarchs of the Tamil land. The Pandyan monarchs, who had a deep appreciation for literature and the arts, specifically fostered this. Both history and Tamil traditions recognize The Pandyan capitals as the academy’s permanent home.

The Sangam academy was pivotal in defining the Tamil people’s literary environment throughout the Sangam period. The academy had a unique role as an educated community of literary critics. The critics mandated that any new literary work, regardless of the author’s social rank—prince or peasant— be subject to clearance before publication. The academy enforced stringent rules and guidelines, requiring every book to obtain approval before publication and ensuring that only highly regarded works received acknowledgment as authoritative. Due to this meticulous procedure, the academy was able to reject subpar works and instead provide the public with literary masterpieces of the greatest kind. 

These writings which were considered the first examples of Dravidian literature, not only reflected the rich cultural diversity of the era but also laid the groundwork for the long history of Tamil literature. According to Tamil legends, the Sangam initially acquired members through co-option. However, thereafter, Lord Siva accomplished membership through a miraculous scheme.

The Three Sangams

Tamil tradition states that three Sangams, known as Muchchangam, joined together in ancient South India to mark the beginning of the Sangam period. According to the ancient stories presented in Iraiyanar Ahapporul, there were three Sangams that existed for an amazing 9990 years at different times, with participation from 8598 academics. The sage Agastyar is considered the literary tradition’s founder.

The Pandya capital hosted all three Sangams, with Old Madurai functioning as the first Sangam’s centre. A gathering of ancient sages and gods is said to have taken place in Old Madurai during the First Sangam. However, no works of literature from this Sangam survived.

Kapatapuram hosted the second Sangam. The only surviving work from this era that deals with Tamil grammar is Tolkappiyam. Unfortunately, both the first and second Sangams were drowned by seawater during repeated deluges.

There is a more material legacy of the third Sangam, which is located in present-day Madurai. Several Tamil literary works from this era have survived and are important resources for piecing together the Sangam era’s history. The Sangam poetry, the oldest collection of Tamil poetry to exist, is said to have started during the third Sangam.

Given the circumstances, it is more probable to determine the date of the third Sangam. According to scholars, it happened somewhere in the first two centuries of the Christian era—possibly even the century before. This period corresponds to both the trade with the Indo-Roman world and the modern Imperial Rome. Greek writers at the time offered proof of offshore commercial activity between the Mediterranean area and the Tamil peninsula. This is also documented in Sangam literature. Consequently, the third Sangam era saw the prolific production of a great number of works that are still in existence. This exhibited a literary and cultural shine amid a time that witnessed significant political and commercial exchanges.

Tolkappiyam: The Second Sangam

Tolkappiyar’s Tolkappiyam is the first known literary classic and a seminal work in Tamil literature. Tolkappiyam is mostly a work on Tamil grammar, but it also provides insightful information on the social and political climate of the period. The Royal Academy’s careful study of this highly regarded work serves to highlight its relevance. Adangodu Brahman was sent by King Nilandaru Tiruvira Pandya to evaluate the work, according to the introduction of Tolkappiyam. However, Tolkappiyar showed his expertise by emphasizing the significance and relevance of the works contained in the Tamil Sangam.

Literature In Verses: The Third Sangam

As we go into the present day, academics refer to the poetry included in the Ettutogai (eight collections), Pattupattu (ten songs), and Patinenkilkanakku (the eighteen minor works) as Sangam Literature. According to historians, these pieces date back to a time between 150 and 250 A.D. The poem’s duration served as a critical foundation for its categorization into three major categories. The lengths of the poems in the “Eight Collections” vary from three to thirty-one lines, and the poems in the “Ten Songs” range from 103 to 782 lines. The ‘Eighteen Minor Works’ comprise didactic and ethical literature, such as the well-known Tirukkural, which is mostly arranged in stanzas with two to five lines each.

The ‘Five Epics’—Jivakachintamani, Silappadikaram, Manimekalai, Valayapathi, and Kundalakesi—have an established place in Sangam literature. Sathanar and Ilango Adigal’s Silappadikaram and Manimekalai, are notably referred to as the “twin epics”. This is because they narrate the continuous story of Kovalan, Kannagi, and Madhavi. With an emphasis on Madurai, Puhar, Vanji, and Kanchi, Silappadikaram, a poem written by Ilango Adigal, and other poetry works depict the social, religious, political, and economic circumstances of Tamilakam. These literary works capture the spirit of the Sangam age and present Tamil history and culture.

Sangam Literature Vs. Sanskrit Literature Vs. Tamil Literature

Academics find the Sangam period controversial due to its historical significance, primarily because the dating of the Sangam works’ writing remains unclear. Establishing a consensus on the age of these works is a challenge since they are essential to understanding the Sangam era. Various scholars have presented opposing viewpoints. 

While some suggest the influence of Sanskrit grammarians on Tolkappiyar, others contend that Tolkappiyam was influenced by Katantra, a Sanskrit grammar work written by Sharvavarman under the Satavahana dynasty. Due to the lack of conclusive proof, many scholars also suggest that the similarities between Katantra and Tolkappiyam may indicate mutual influences between Sangam and Sanskrit writers.

The term “Sangam” originates from the Tamil translation of the Sanskrit word “Sangha.” The term “Sangha” refers to any kind of organization or group that adheres to a shared interest, but the Tamil Sangam has a particular purpose. The religious connotation connected to Buddhism and Jaina Sanghas is completely different from Sanghata, a kind of poetical production by a single author on a certain selected theme. 

The aim of the Tamil. Sangattamil, a unique compositional style distinguishes Sangam Literature from Tamil Literature. This style has its derivation, interpretation, and distinctive syntax, meter, and grammar. As a result, it is regarded as a classic.

Contemporary Relevance of Sangam Literature

There are 2279 poems in the present Sangam collections, ranging in length from 3 lines to over 800 lines. Some poets have contributed to certain works, like the Naladiyar, while a single author has written other works. 473 poets—about half of them women—wrote more than 30,000 lines of Sangam poetry, along with 102 anonymous authors. As an example of the Sangam period’s historical impact and cultural significance, the Sangams are comparable to contemporary European establishments. This includes the French Academy as they both share a dedication to upholding language purity and literary standards.

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Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Aranmula Kannadi: Your True Reflection

Discover the exquisite Aranmula Kannadi mirror, a rare handmade gem from Kerala, reflecting tradition, legends and the threat to the craft.



Aranmula Kannadi, Mirror, Metal mirror, Kerala, Indian culture, Indian heritage

“Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” A question asked by many. From the Evil Queen in Snow White & The Seven Dwarves to Poo in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham to every one of us who check ourselves in front of the mirror before heading out, the mirror is an integral part of our life. According to Sylvia Plath, a glass mirror gives the most accurate reflection of one’s identity, but perhaps her famous poem Mirror would have gone slightly different had she known about Aranmula Kannadi, a mirror that reflects only the truth.

Aranmula Kannadi: Process

Passed down from generation to generation, this mirror is a rare gem from Kerala. “Aranmula” refers to the place this mirror originates from and “Kannadi” basically means “mirror” in Malayalam. Aranmula Kannadi stands out from its contemporaries because of the way it’s made. It’s a metal mirror that is entirely handmade from scratch. Typical glass mirrors reflect light through the back of the mirror leaving open possibilities for distortion while Aranmula Kannadi reflects light on the surface of the metal giving a rather accurate reflection. The tiny imperfections that you find on the mirror are never concealed but rather highlighted with pride as just like human fingerprints they are what makes each piece unique.  

Made using a tedious process that includes melting the right amount of both tin and copper and pouring the metal alloy into clay moulds and then cutting and polishing it before finally attaching it to handles, it is truly one of a kind. Given the uniqueness of the article, the proportion used to make the metal alloy is never revealed to outsiders and has been kept in the family of certain artisans for generations. Considered a craft suited only for a man, Sudhammal J and many other modern women are trying to reverse this popular notion.

Aranmula Kannadi: Origin

With its origin being linked with the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple, it is considered sacred by the people of the region. According to legends few artisans came to Aranmula from Sankaran Koil near Tirunelveli at the King’s order to help in building Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. While working with different metals to help in the construction of the temple, the artisans by mistake discovered the reflective property when they mixed a certain amount of tin and copper together. 

According to another tale, the high priest of Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple found the crown of the deity had cracked which urged the local King to order the Bronze Smith clan to make a new crown in just three days. The chief of the clan worried that they didn’t have enough material or time to get the project done on time. In his dream, the Goddess appeared and told him the exact proportions of tin and copper that needed to be used to make a metal shine like a glass.

Taking inspiration from his dream he told his wife to gather all the ladies in the village and ask them to bring their gold as they would sell it all to buy enough copper and tin to make the crown as ordained by the Goddess herself. And the result of it was the makudam of crown known as Kannadi Bhimbom an artistic marvel that was preserved in the temple till 1946. 

Aranmula Kannadi: Significance

Though very expensive owing to the materials used and the manual labour expended, it is a popular gift item during weddings because of the auspicious connotation attached to it. The mirrors are considered one of the eight auspicious items or “ashtamangalyam” that are used in weddings during the bride’s entry. It is a first-surface mirror in which no gap exists between the object and the image, eliminating the possibilities of secondary reflections and aberrations commonly found in glass mirrors. The uniqueness and rarity of this mirror have made it an item worthy of receiving a GI (Geographical Indication) tag in 2004-05. 

Aranmula Kannadi: A Dying Craft

Although it is one of a kind, the manual labour required to make even one Aranmula Kannadi is a lot and hence it discourages today’s generation from learning and keeping the craft alive. The constant flood and COVID-19 have only made the situation worse for Aranmula Kannadi artisans. As they hope and pray for their ancestral art to be kept alive, let’s do our part and spread the word about this rare gem from Kerala.

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Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Exploring Medieval Indian Temples and Their Reflection on Society

Medieval Indian Temples were developed as the reflection of the contemporary society. Let’s explore their architecture and cultural impact.



Medieval Indian Temples

Medieval India holds a special place in Indian cultural history due to the extensive impact it had on society. This included architecture, literature, music, social engagements, etc. As for architecture, temples across the Indian subcontinent saw a massive change due to Bhakti. Initial simple rock-cut cave shrines gave way to vast, elaborate temples that spanned the Indian subcontinent and beyond as Hindu architecture developed over the ages. This design is now followed in contemporary Hindu temples all over the world. 

When we look at the detailed intricate carvings and magnificent sculptures that adorn the medieval temples of India, a colourful tapestry of society unfolds before our eyes. These temples are visual storytellers that have captured the essence of the society that birthed them. Indian Temple Sculptures intertwine art, history and culture, calling us to delve deeper into their symbolic language.  Let’s explore the impact medieval temples had on society and culture in India.

Indian Temple Structures

The Emergence of Indian Temple Sculptures

For us to truly understand and appreciate the societal reflections in Temple Sculptures, we have to first understand their historical evolution. The Gupta period which lasted from the 4th – 6th century CE marked the beginning of temple sculptures in India. During this time, spiritual devotion and artistic mastery came together, resulting in sculptures that radiate grace and divinity. Depictions of deities and celestial beings were the prime focus of the art of this time, which highlighted the religious and spiritual inclination of the Gupta society.

One can find such sculptures in the Dasavatara temple at Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh. It is the first North Indian temple to have a shikhara, though now part of it has disappeared and curtailed. Originally, people stated that the shikhara was around 40 feet. The temple depicts the ten avatars of Vishnu.

Medieval Indian Temples, Culture, Architecture, Medieval, Indian
Dasavatara temple at Deogarh (Credits:

Transitional Phase

Spanning from the 6th to the 8th century, Indian Temple Sculptures witnessed a mix of fusion of local and foreign influences. The Pallavas and Chalukyas have marked their legacy not just through their glorious reign but also through their extraordinary art and architecture. The Pallavas, currently a part of Tamil Nadu, are considered the pioneers of Southern Indian Architecture, as they gave us the single rock temples in Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram. The Chalukyas gave us the “Chalukyan Architecture ” or “Karnataka Dravida Architecture ”, in the form of the rock-cut temples of Pattadakal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Medieval Indian Temples, Culture, Architecture, Indian
Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India (Credits:

Their sculptures blended local elements with foreign influences which resulted in a unique visual language. They often were expressions of royal patronage and regional pride that showed the interconnectedness of art and power.

Such a stunning visual of that era can be found in Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram, in the Kancheepuram district of Tamil Nadu. The Chariot or Ratha Style temples there are a UNESCO site and are one of the oldest monolithic rock-cut structures. The Pallava kings constructed 5 of these marvels, each cut from a single stone. One of them is “Arjuna’s Penance” or “Decent of the Ganges” which is at a height of 96 feet and 43 feet long.

Medieval Indian Temples, Culture, Indian, Architecture
Arjuna’s Penance / Decent of the Ganges (Credits: Wikipedia)

Mature Phase

During the reigns of the Cholas and the Hoysalas, from the 9th to the 13th century CE, the mature phase of the Indian Temple Sculptures unfolded. The Chola temple sculptures distinguish themselves through their grandeur and intricacy, presenting a rich canvas of mythological stories and religious symbolism. They were also the ones to pioneer the art of bronze sculptures, whose narrative style captured the viewers’ imagination. The Hoysala introduced distinctive decoration and intricate detailing in their sculptures which highlighted their artistic finesse.

One can witness a marvel created during this time at Modhera, Gujrat. The Sun Temple there, dating back to the early 11th century, was constructed by Raja Bhimdev I of the Solanki Dynasty. The massive rectangular stepped tank called the “Surya Kund” in front of this temple is the captivating aspect, where each year, at the time of the equinoxes, the sun shines directly into the “Surya Kund.”

Medieval Indian Temples, Culture, Indian, Architecture
Sun Temple, Modhera, Gujrat (Credits:

Emergence of Bhakti and its Effects on Medieval Indian Temples

As the Bhakti movement had a great impact on Indian society, it also affected their ways of worship. People had replaced traditional and old Vedic gods with popular deities like Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Brahma and Devi. People made temples dedicated to each deity. These temples included various sculptures influenced by mythological happenings and adventures of their time. There were also specific places for activities such as devadasis dancing, performing various rituals and bathing. 

The temples were considered the home of a particular god, and therefore, its maintenance held utmost importance. For this, priests looked after temples, ensuring their condition. The maintenance of temples was ensured by land offerings and contributions from the ruling elite because, as many temple inscriptions indicate, they were the centerpiece of a community.

History of The Architecture of Medieval Indian Temples 

Indian temples saw a significant aesthetic and structural transformation during the medieval period, combining innovative architectural styles with symbolic religious symbols. This change is a direct result of early Buddhist buildings like stupas, which had a profound influence on the evolution of Hindu temples. In the Indian subcontinent, temples were originally carved out of ancient caves. 

However, the introduction of Gupta architecture in the 4th or 5th century CE was the turning point. It was around this time that the first Hindu temples to stand alone developed. The Dashavatara temple in Deogarh, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is a notable example of this era. Cave temples were important architectural and religious marvels during the Middle Ages. One such example is the Udaigiri cave temple in Malwa, which dates to the fifth century CE. 

Medieval Indian Temples, Culture, Indian, Architecture
Udaigiri Cave Temple in Malwa (Credits: Wikipedia)

The temples were built around the garbhagriha, also known as the womb-chamber. This closed chamber, with no windows, held an emblem or picture of a particular god. The garbhagriha was thought by devotees to exude a strong energy that had an all-encompassing effect on the surrounding architectural features. The architecture of the temple often featured blind entrances on three sides to represent this flow of divine energy, letting the deity’s power expand symbolically.

The garbhagriha was the main element of the early temples. But by the 10th century CE, new architectural features like the sikhara, mandapa, and ardhamandapa had been added. The temples were changed and given a more intricate structure by these modifications. Many temples look like silhouettes of mountains from a distance, especially when seen from above because of their many towers. Notable examples of these temple constructions are the 11th-century Kandariya Mahadeva temple in Khajuraho and the 12th-century Rajarani temple in Bhubaneswar.

Temple architecture evolved regionally, as seen by the various features of temples in Orissa, Kashmir, and Bengal. Nevertheless, people widely acknowledge the Nagara and Dravida architectural styles as the two main architectural forms.

What Do Medieval Indian Temples Depict?

Depiction of Society in Temple Sculptures

Temple sculptures give us a visual representation of the socio-political hierarchies in medieval Indian Society.Royalties wear regal attire and strike sophisticated poses that symbolize their authority. The courtiers and nobility assume poses that demonstrate their homage or assistance to the royalties.

The clothes worn by them further depict the hierarchies. The ruling class adorned themselves with elaborate clothing and heavily detailed jewelry that set them apart from the rest of society. With close examination of these sculptures, we gain insights into the divisions of power, privilege, and status that shaped medieval Indian society. We get a visual understanding of social fabrics and hierarchies that were present at that time.

Representation of Daily Life

Temple sculptures give us a look into the routine and occupations of people during medieval India. Artisans, farmers, traders, and other members of society actively engage in their roles and responsibilities to the community. These sculptures capture not only the aspects of daily life but also the essence of the norms, gender roles, and cultural practices. From depictions of agricultural labour to busy bazaars, the sculptures bring to life the everyday existence of medieval India.

Religious and Mythological Narratives

Temple sculptures are storytellers, presenting religious and mythological stories in a physical form. They depict gods, goddesses, and epic tales from Hindu mythology, giving us a visual representation of the cultural and spiritual traditions of medieval India. Sculpture panels show us the stories of creation, the war between gods and demons, and the victory of good over evil. These stories convey morals, ethics, and philosophical aspects, providing us with lessons and inspiring devotion. These sculptures are not only objects of worship but also powerful conduits for spiritual enlightenment and cultural preservation.

Social and Political Commentary in Sculptural Narratives

Going beyond just religious and mythological stories, Temple sculptures give us a glimpse of social and political commentary. They tell us stories from historical events, legends, and power dynamics. Sculptures show us war, conquests, and political alliances, showing us the bravery of warriors and the ambitions of rulers. They show us the patronage of art by kings, spotlighting their authority and cultural influences. In addition, these sculptures highlight religious and cultural practices such as pilgrimage sites, rituals, and ceremonies. Sculptures further illustrate the diversity of regional customs and distinct traditions and rituals.

Impact of Medieval Indian Temples on Society 

In earlier times, temples were more than simply a place of worship. Education was fundamentally religious, and temples had the primary role in it. People went to temples to learn religious and moral teachings about society and life. They also learnt dance, music, other fine arts and social behaviors at temples. As these temples were central to society’s functioning and sheltered students and scholars, they also acted as a place for the needy. These temples had enormous wealth and it was used to help the society’s betterment in all aspects. As times changed, temples also started garnering medical facilities to help the sick. It also acted as a court of law as people started discussing concerns and conflicts in this central space. 

Eventually, a feudal system became attached to the temples. People began to consider temples the home of their particular deity and started giving their financial offerings and other resources to God instead of the priest. The king of the particular area claimed these offerings, and even the society considered him entitled to this. While Brahmans had their exclusive advantages, they did not appreciate this shift and held deep opposition against this system. However, due to the pressure of kings and local people, the system prevailed. 


As we end our journey through the corridors of time, we must appreciate and preserve these cultural treasures. Medieval Indian temples witnessed a considerable architectural shift, becoming hubs for social services, education and culture. As a reflection of shifting social and religious forces, they were crucial in forming Indian society and culture. Temples developed from simple rock-cut caves to elaborate buildings. Their impact went beyond religious practices to include the arts, education, social services and even the legal system. This historical heritage, which still has an impact on modern India, exemplifies the complex interplay of medieval culture, architecture and religion.

The legacy of medieval Indian Temple sculptures continues to inspire and captivate. When we delve into their beauty and deep symbolism, we create a deeper connection to our heritage and get an understanding of the vibrant tapestry that is Indian society. It gives us a larger picture of the complexities of Indian society and the forces that have shaped it over the course of time and influenced by various reigns and dynasties.

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Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Indian Textile Prints to Jazz Up Your Wardrobe

Indian textile prints are as varied as they can be, both because of designs and the different techniques that they employ.



Indian textile, Indian print, batik, kalamkari, leheriya, ikkat, dabu, bandhani, ajrakh, indian heritage

There are three very visible markers of any place that defines it. First is language, second is their clothes and third is their food. Among these three, it’s clothes that are most easily adopted by people from different cultures as they often add more vibrancy and life to one’s look without giving their taste buds the sometimes unpleasant aftertaste or their brain a numbing pain from remembering the word structure and formation in another language. In India, cloth has been a symbol of freedom and resistance since colonial times and today it stands the testament of time and is the face of our national heritage. The different handloom technique that is used is one way to distinguish the different textiles in India. The different prints and printing technique is also a major distinguishing element. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular Indian textile prints:    


Popular in Odisha, Gujrat and Andhra Pradesh, this print is surely an acquired taste. Made by tying and dyeing sections of the yarn before weaving the fabric which leads to the iconic blurring effect. The symmetry and beauty of this print are bound to leave you spellbound. It is common to find motifs of flowers and animals like fish, parrots, etc. in this design.



Started by the Khatri community of Gujarat, it is known for its different dot-sized prints on a colourful backdrop. Created using a tie-dye technique wherein the cloth is tied in several tight small knots with a sealed thread and then dyed. If you’re a lover of bright colours this print is for you.



Another popular print from Western India, Dabu follows a hand-block printing technique. In this a mud-resisting agent primarily made up of calcium hydroxide or chuna, naturally pounded wheat chaff (beedan) and gum (gond) is used to apply it on the fabric before and during an indigo bath. After the indigo bath, the cloth is washed to remove the mud and it leaves behind the beautiful motifs of flowers and plants. Getting its name from ‘dabana’ meaning ‘to press’, this technique creates beautiful patterns that have re-emerged as a trendy pattern in the fashion scene today.



Using a wax resistance dying technique Batik is a very intricate design technique which involves covering certain areas of clothing with bits of wax and then dyeing the cloth. This leads to the formation of patterns in those areas where the bits of wax were originally laid. This creates an intricate and repetitive pattern consisting of motifs which may be floral or ornamental.



Very popular in Sindh, Pakistan; Kutch, Gujarat; and Barmer, Rajasthan in India, Ajrakh follows a hand-block printing technique that gives it its rich and vibrant look. Using only natural dyes design stamps are created which are then applied to a piece of clothing to create the design. The print usually uses indigo or deep red colours and white or black outlines to define the design. It consists of symmetrical geometric elements that give it its intricate look.



Heavily inspired by Hindu mythology, and using motifs from Ramayana and Mahabharata it uses block or hand printing to achieve the famous intricate design. Kalamkari literally means “pen art”. In earlier days poets and singers used to paint Hindu mythology characters and their tales which ultimately led to the generation of textile printing Kalamkari.  



Leheriya is another traditional tie-dye technique that hails from Rajasthan. It is a rather simple technique that uses resist-dyeing to create the signature flickering wave-like patterns. In Rajasthan, waves are called “Leheriya”, and hence the technique is named after the pattern it creates. Printed on bright-coloured fabric, this print will surely add colourful zest to your wardrobe.   


These are just a few prints among the array of prints that give Indian textiles their unique flair! 

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