Beauty Of Mandu

Jahaj Mahal

Jahaj Mahal

Ever since I read the love stories of Roopmati and Baaz Bahadur, I had been yearning to visit the small town of Mandu. This small fortress town, a part of Dhar at an altitude of 2000 feet is perched in Vindhya ranges of Malawa. It is believed to be fortified first by  Raja Bhoj in 10th century A.D. The town got importance and prominence during reign of Afghan governor of Malwa, Dilawar Khan and even more during the tenure of his son Hoshang Shah, who shifted the capital of Malawa from Dhar to Mandu in 15th century. The fortified wall around Mandu ran for over 37 km and had 12 gates. The famed love story of Mandu took place in Mandu in 16th century. Rani Roopmati was a not only outstandingly beautiful but was a melodious singer too. Baz Bahadur, the ruler of Mandu fell for her charm. They married and Baz Bahadur got built a Rani Roopmati pavalion from where she could watch a flowing Narmada. The love story ended unfortunately when she poisoned herself after an invading Mughal army led by Adham Khan conquered Mandu and she was told that Adham Khan was interested in her.

The town of Mandu is spread over a large area and the prominent buildings inside Mandu, include Jahaj Mahal, Jama ,Masjid, Tomb of Hoshang Shah, Asharfi temple and Shri Ram Temple. The most prominent one of these is the Jahaj Mahal. The Jahaj Mmahal was conceptualized by Ghayasuddin Khilji(1469-1500) and was so built between two lakes that it looked like floating in water. It was primarily used to house, scores of beautiful wives and concubines of Sultan. Some say there were more than a thousand ladies living in this beautiful harem. Our guide explained to us in detail the intricacies of Jahaj Mahal. The intricate pattern of water harvesting and water storage was one highlight of this 15th century building.

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Jahaj Mahal

Jahaj Mahal

View of Lake from Jahaj Mahal

View of Lake from Jahaj Mahal

The other prominent structure is Jami Masjid. It was started by Hoshang Shah but completed by Mahmud 1st. The masjid with its raised platform was also used for dispensing royal justice for some time.

Jami Masjid

Jami Masjid

Pillars Of Jami Masjid

Pillars Of Jami Masjid

The Hoshang Shah’s tomb built entirely of white marble is also one fine architecture of 15th century and predates very well the white marbled Taj Mahal of Agra. Just besides the tomb there is a Dharamshala compound having hints of some Hindu architectural style.

Hoshang Shah Tomb

Hoshang Shah Tomb

The Tomb

The Ashrafi Mahal of Mandu is bang opposite the Jami Masjid and has a big courtyard in front. There is a staircase and the legend says that a King placed an Ashrafi each on the step, her queen could ascend. The queen could make a maximum of 160, leading to collection of 160 Asharfis or gold coins, distributed later as alms among poor, thus the name Asharfi Mahal.

Asharfi Mahal

Asharfi Mahal

Mahakaal

Mahakaal, Ujjain

Mahakaal, Ujjain

Recognized as one of the most prominent Jyotirlingam in India, the temple of Mahakaal situated in India’s Greenwich, Ujjain is one of it’s kind in world. The temple devoted to Lord Shiva is known specially for sacred daily ritual of Mahabhasma Aarti. The ritual starts at 4 am daily and carries on for two hours every day.

I had heard about this special ritual from many sources and decided therefore to be part of it, in my recent trip to Ujjain. You have to pre-book the slot in online Aarati, as there is huge rush to be there. To take part in Aarati which starts at 4 am sharp, we woke up at 1:30 am. It was tough to get up at this time and specially for the kids, but determination to be a part of unique Mahabhasm Arati was a big motivator for every body. We took bath etc and wore a dhoti for the occaison. Actually its mandatory for women to wear saaree and for men to wear a dhoti to enter sanctum sanctorum or gribha griha of the temple. I was helped by my wife to wear a dhoti. It was awkward initially but once done, I realised this Indian dress is really the most comfortable one for Indian climate and yes it looks more graceful both for men and women.

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Waiting before Aarati at 3 am

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All decked up in traditional Attire

We reached the temple complex by 3 am and after security check, sat in the waiting area. Even at this early hour of the day, the area around temple was all full of activities. The shopkeepers outside were offering flowers and prasadam. The dhoti was also available for hire and for outright purchase. It is very interesting to see people helping each other at this time of the morning in tying the Dhoti of each other. Gradually a decent crowd built up around the main gate of main temple. There were more than a 1000 devotees, who had queued up to witness the Mahabhasm Arati. The whole environmemt was charged up really. The freshness of an early morning in the Brihma Mahurat was rejuvenating and very pleasing.

We were allowed to go inside, a little before 4 am. I went in along with my family to offer water to Lord Shiva. It was a very auspicious occasion for my entire family. I prayed for my family and vasudhaiv kutumbkam. After that we came out to take our position in Nandi Hall to witness the Mahabhasma Aarati. I sat besides the Nandi idol to have a clear view of entire Mahabhasma Aarati.

During Aarati an elaborate sequence is followed to please Lord Shiva. The Jyotirlingam is first bathed with holy waters of Narmada. It is followed by bathing with milk and offering curd, honey and other pious materials to lingam. It is followed by decoration, by making paintings over lingam with removable materials.  Various forms and shapes of Lordshiva are drawn over Jyotirlingam every day. The most unique procedure however is bathing the lingam with bhasma. It is said that the ashes from the fresh burning pyres are procured every morning from specified Hindu crematoriums. In no other Jyotirlingam this ritual is done in India. The entire process continued for for than 2 hours. We were really feeling elated and charged up. Finally the ceremony came to end and we were ushered out to the courtyard outside.

After Aarati

After Aarati

The morning light had broken in when we came out. A gentle breeze was also blowing there and we all were very hapy. We purchased the prasadam of Mahaakal and distributed among ourselves and saved for our families back home.

The Lord Shiva's favorite flower(madar) garland

The Lord Shiva’s favorite flower(madar) garland

Ahilya Bai Ghats of Maheshwar

Ahilyabai Ghats

Ahilyabai Ghats

The ancient town of Maheshwar is situated on the banks of river Narmada. This present day small town(part of district Khargon in Madhya Pradeah) was once the capital city of Maratha Holkar Kings till 1818. The town was known as Mahishmati in ancient times and was capital city of Southern Avanti. King Sahashrarjun or king with 1000 arms, is said to have ruled from here in ancient times. Great Maratha Queen Ahilyabai Holkar also ruled from Maheshwar for 30 years. The town presently is also famous for it’s Maheshawari Sarees.

View of Ghats from Fort

View of Ghats from Fort

I got a chance to visit the city on my recent trip to Madhya Pradesh with my friend and his family. As we reached Maheshwar in the evening, we decided first to visit the famed Ahilyabai ghats of Maheshwar. The path to ghats goes via many temples like Rajrajeshwar. We took steps downwards from there and reached the ghats soon. The ghats here are quite wide and you can relax by sitting on the ghats. The gentle breeze that blows towards ghats in the evening is really so soothing and de stressing that you will feel rejuvenated just by sitting there.DSC_5540

We decided to take a boat ride to glance closely towards the ghats in the lights of late evening. The sun had just gone down the horizon and the electric lights were just then put on. While I was looking at Ghats from boats, I found the ghats so enchanting and illuminating that I got hold of my camera and clicked few pictures to preserve those moments for ever. It was a bliss actually to be at Ahilyabai Ghats that evening.FullSizeRender_2 (5) DSC_5568

Ellora Caves:The Jewels of India

IMG_5891After alighting at Manmad junction on busy Delhi-Mumbai circuit, I moved on to the small town of Ellora, located on Manmad-Chalisgaon road, as a part of my long overdue Ajanta-Ellora trip. The 34 famous and magnificent caves carved out of basaltic rocks are divided between Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious traditions. The cave no 1 to 12 belong to Buddhism; cave no 13 to 29 to Hinduism and caves no 29 to 34 are devoted to Jain Gods.

Before visiting Ellora, I had only a faint idea about Ellora caves and was aware that these caves are part of UNESCO world heritage sites. However, looking at caves, I realised soon that I was seeing one of the most extraordinary structures in my entire life. The scale and magnitude of the effort that has gone into shaping these caves is no less than impossible. One can only be dumbstruck at the first sight of these magnificent caves. These caves were hewn out sometimes between 5th and 8th century. The Rashtrakuta King Dantidurga (753- 757 AD) and his sucessor Krisna 1 (757 TO 787 AD) are known to be big patrons of these caves. The famous cave no 16 having World’s largest monolithic temple was carved out in later’s regime.

The caves 1 to 10 and cave 21 are believed to be older and hewn even before Rashtrakutas arrived on the scene. It is also noteworthy that the abandoning of Ajanta caves and establishing of Ellora caves coincided to some extent. It is also important to note that unlike Ajanta, Ellora caves were never abandoned and this may be attributed to the fact that Ellora is on an ancient trade route. The reference to caves comes in writings of Arab traveller Al Masudi who visited the place in 10th century AD.

Cave 21

Cave 21

I started my journey of these caves from famous Rameshwara cave 21. Its amazing and has big halls with huge pillars, all carved out of the cave itself. The statues of various God and Goddesses are there and there is a seasonal waterfall too on one side of the cave called locally as Sita ki Nahani or bathing place of Goddes Sita. The cave no 29 is also prominent for it’s sculptures. The sculpture of Ravana lifting Kailash Parvat while Lord Shiva and Parvati are sitting atop is really impressive.

Rvana Lifting Kailash

Ravana Lifting Kailash

The most famous cave however is cave 16, having temple Kailash. Carved out of a single stone, the magnitude and beauty of Kailash is such that you would have to bow your head to those who made it possible. This temple still in decent shape was carved out in 8th century and is a real gem. The sculpted elephants, dhwajstambhas and whole temple complex is simply extraordinary. The temple was designed to replicate Mount Kailash and few of walls were painted with limestone in such a way so as to get an impression of snow atop the mountain. The temple has been carved at many levels the galleries are decorated with most beautiful sculptures of various Gods and Goddesses. The central structure or Nandi-Mandapam houses Lingam and the idol of Nandi is outside. The temple simply is unbelievably beautiful.FullSizeRender_2 (3) FullSizeRender

Kailash Temple

Kailash Temple

Among the Buddhist temples, the one at cave 10 is most impressive with the huge sculpture of Buddha. The prayer hall has huge columns and a courtyard. The ceiling of the temple is carved out to replicate the wooden beams in Buddhist style and matches with few at Ajanta too. When I was there few Buddhist followers reached there in synchronous queue and I clicked the following picture. The color of rocks and white robes presented the perfect contrast in morning light.FullSizeRender_2 (2)

FullSizeRender (3) Cave no 29 to 34 are devoted to Jainism and these too have some most intricately carved floral patterns and sculptors of Gods and various angles as per traditions. Despite being carved almost 1500 years ago, the sculpture are usually intact and impressive. The cave 30, Chhota Kailash, and Cave 32, Indra  Sabha, are most impressive. The Indra Sabha has two levels and has beautiful carving

Jain Cave

Jain Cave

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Indra Sabha, Jain Cave

After visiting to all the caves, I realised that these caves were not possible to be hewn without the devotion and commitment of the sculptors who would have lived there for years before dedicating this to posterity. This commitment after gelling with human vision and intellect can do wonders and while may feel happy to have the progress in science and technology, the scale and magnitude of Ellora caves will always remain an humbling experience for me.

Ajanta

Ajanta Caves from View Point

Ajanta Caves from View Point

Ever since I read about Ajanta caves in history books, I was eager to see the place. It has been a world heritage site as well and has all the ingredients to be on my to do list. However the comparative inaccessibility of the place and just an outside knowledge of it, led to delay in actually seeing this place. Meanwhile I had seen Rock cut temples of Mammalpuram thrice and was impressed by the efforts of ancient Indian, down south. However only when I actually reached out to Ajanta this month, I realised that what a great gem it was. Its simply unbelievable that humans could do it over thousand of years ago. I was not only awestruck but was humbled by the experience. It actually gave me one more reason to be proud about my cultural heritage.Ajanta_Caves_Map

Lined along river Waghora, Ajanta caves are situated in Aurangabad district of Maharshtra and is at 100 odd km from the world famous caves of Ellora. The Ajanta caves can be accessed easily from Aurangabad and Jalgaon. The caves, in all 30 and collectively lined in a horse shoe shape have been carved out of volcanic basalt rocks of Sahyadri hills over a period of 800 years. While the cave no 10 believed to be oldest, was hewn out in 2nd century B.C. The caves individually were linked to river flowing there by flight of steps. The last of the caves were done around 6th century A.D. The caves no 9,10,26 and 29 were Chaityagrihas or worship places while the rest were used as Vihars or living places. The caves can be broadly divided into categories of Hinayana and Mahayana. The earlier ones were associated with Hinayana where the stupas were worshiped, the later ones can be linked to Mahayana, where the Images and idols of Buddha were worshiped.

While the caves started before Christ, it got one big push during the Vakatak rulers, a contemporary of Gupta rulers. The Vakatak ruler Harishena (475-500 AD) and his minister Varahadev patronized the caves in their time. Their mention comes in cave 26 in form of an inscription in Pali. Hieuntsang too mentions caves in detail in his memoirs though he did not visit the place himself. However from 7th or 8th century onward, the caves were abandoned and got covered with trees and jungles. This continued till next 1000 years.DSC_4850

The chance discovery of caves was due to a British army officer John Smith, who while hunting in Sahyadri hills, saw the opening of cave no 10 from a viewpoint and reported the matter to then ruler, Nizam of Hyderabad in 1823. The Nizam had their own archaeology department and therefore worked for next tediously to unearth the caves in next few years. Archaelogical survey of India took over the protection and preservation of the caves after independence.

At the Entrance of Caves

At the Entrance of Caves

I reached the cave along with my friend and his son few weeks ago. The access to cave is controlled with only few devoted buses allowed to ferry the passengers up to the caves. After buying Rs 10 entrance ticket and Rs 5 light ticket (it authorizes you to carry a low glare torch to see inside the caves), we hired a guide Mr Sheikh to know about the place. The caves are little up the hills but still are easily accessible for even medium fit person. The cave no 1 is of later age but named as no 1 due to its location. It is the most famous one as it has best paintings left even after 1500 years.  The most famous is one of Budha where is holding a blue lotus and is in contemplative mood. This picture is called as Padmapani Buddha. The expressions on face of Buddha are just amazingly done.

Padmapani Buddha

Padmapani Buddha

The paintings of the caves were done with all natural elements and colors.  First, the grooves were made in the rock surface and then a plaster of sand and vegetable and paddy husks was applied to make it smooth. Then the 2nd coat was done with mud and ferruginous earth followed by a coat of lime wash. After that, out lines were drawn boldly and they were filled finally with colors made from flowers and other vegetation available locally. As per our guide, the lapis lazuli, used for blue color was sourced from Central Asia. The paintings done are based on Jataka stories, based on previous births of Lord Buddha.3339-050-84E7B2E8

Seeing these paintings you can not but let you eyes and mind, eclipse to the glory of Indian art and heritage of those times. And when you realize that these paintings were done after decades and centuries of rock cutting to create a hall just by chisels and hammers, you can not but be mesmerized. I had my notions about beauty of Ajanta but seeing them actually was initially shocking and when you realize that this was all done by devoted monks and painter over years, decades and centuries sans any technological advances of 21st century, you feel humbled.AJANTA_CAVES_-_C.SHELARE_(4) - Copy DSC_4828

I went to cave after cave and just continued to be bowled over by the magnitude and beauty of these caves and the work inside them. The cave no. 10 has this huge rock cut stupa structure so beautifully done that you will be only amazed to see this art form. In fact, every cave showed us one more aspect of outstanding skills of Indians sculptors cum monks of those times.

Cave No 10

Cave No 10

Entrance Panel of Cave 10

Entrance Panel of Cave 10

Its unbelievable actually that human beings would have toiled this hard to cut rocks and then to paint in to express their devotion and commitments. I am at loss of words to say more about them and I feel really privileged and lucky to see this one more unmatched Gem of India through my own eyes.

Maha Parinirvana Buddha

Maha Parinirvana Buddha, Cave 26

Actually after this journey, I am now even more proud to be an Indian.

I Got Sketched

As student of High School in 1986, I got red faced literally many times by my Biology teacher, Mrs. Anjana Guraha. She was hopelessly frustrated by my persistent failures to sketch a a decent and healthy frog as a part of my mandatory project file. When ever I was given this task, I knew that sooner rather than later, I would be slapped for my poor drawings. Art and sketching was certainly not my forte. While my home work projects got helped by my sister, the class work always exposed me. With this handicap, I have always been appreciating anybody and everybody who can sketch something on a paper.

I had been seeing many artists sketching faces in many fairs and markets and had an inherent urge to get myself sketched, sitting idly in a pose with an almost zero hands-eyes movement. I got this opportunity recently while visiting Delhi Haat, where I met one Dharam ji. He had set up just a small kiosk inside the Haat and had put up sketched ads claiming to draw anybody in 15 minutes flat and that too at Rs 400 only. I was enticed by his offer and after some hesitation decided to approach him. This gentleman of almost my age with thick hair and a pointed nose seemed to be an ordinary human being but his eyes hinted that he was an artist and had an eye for the things. He was sitting on a chair idly and waiting for those who would appreciate his art and pay to be sketched.

Dharam Ji at Work

Dharam Ji at Work

I approached him and without any bargain on prices requested him to sketch me. He looked at me and smiled. I was probably his first customer(patron of his art) of the evening and offered me a chair just opposed to me. He asked me to sit straight with a slight tilt towards me and asked me to adjust my chin according to his eye level. He told me at the outset thatt I would have to sit for atleast 15 minutes without any movement with eyes looking onto a sketch nearby. It was initialy embarrassing to sit like a statue in a Haat where tooo many people keep on passing by you and few of them looking at you with amusement. I don’t know, if they themselves would have loved to get sketched, but they were smiling at the state of affairs. I settled however in my pose after some time and focused on the painter and his instructions.

He kept on looking at me with his sharp eyes and at the sketch board at regular intervals. He was concentrating on me as a subject and did not look at any other thing while sketching. His focus and concentration was really high. After a while, I got comfortable and followed his instructions with more ease.  He appreciated my cooperation and continued to draw the sketch. Few people stood by in between to look alternatively at me and my painting. It was an interesting experience to feel the presence so many persons around and still not deviate from your focus. This continued for around 15 minutes. Then a moment came when he said my job was over and I could move my eyes etc, but not stand up. I had a deep breath and loosened my body. Sitting in this much attention even for 15 minutes was not an easy task really. Dharam Ji was gave final touches to the pictures meanwhile.

Finally with a confidence and satisfaction of an artist, he showed to me my own sketch. I was really happy to see my exact sketch in just 15 minutes. It was really a great piece of work by this little known artist. He had done it in flat 15 minutes and that too for less than the price of a Pizza! I was really happy to see his art and thanked him profusely for his great work. He thanked me in return and before I could talk any more, another boy cajoled by his parents who were standing nearby seeing his work, occupied the seat vacated by me. Dharam Ji started giving him instructions to sit in the specific pose and started his work again with same precision and same commitment.

His Work of Me

His Work of Me

I thanked him once gain before leaving his place and got the sketch framed there itself. It now occupies a place on the walls of my bedroom. It reminds me of Dharam Ji every day, who toils every day to earn his bread by sketching persons in streets and fairs. I wish one day he could one day become very famous and sell his painting for good.

Good Luck Dharam ji.

Chhatar Manzil : Past, Present and Future

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It took me almost three decades to enter into the building I continued to watch as a passer by during my school and college days in Lucknow in 80s and 90s. Riding past this building complex in the heart of city in normal days, to me it was a magnificently built premier scientific institution of India known as Central Drug Research Institute or CDRI in short. It dawned upon me a little late that this drug research institute was actually set up in this almost 150 years old building after independence in February 1951 by the first Prime Minister of India, J L Nehru himself. My inquisitiveness finally was satiated only recently when as a part of my official duties i got a chance to see the building complex and a few of almost 200 rooms and halls built on the right bank of river Gomati.

Designed by General Claude Martin(1735-1800), the construction of Indo-Italian styled Chhatar Manzil was started by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan (1798-1814) around 1800 A.D., in the memory of his mother Chhatar Kunwar and hence the name, Chhatar Manzil. It got completed during the reigns of her son Nawab Ghazi-ud-din Haider(1814-1827) and was further improved by Nawab Nasir-ud-din Haider(1827-1837). In fact there were two Chhatar Manzils, big one or Badi Chhatar Manzil and smaller one or Chhoti Chhatar Manzil within the same complex. These two were in fact preceded by the Kothi Farhat Bux(pleasure-giving) built by General Claude Martin as Martin Villa for his own use in 1781. It was purchased by Nawab Asif-ud-daula (1775-1795) but was used by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan (1798-1814) for recuperation after an illness. Nawab Wazid Ali Shah too lived here and even after shifting to Kothi Kaiserbagh, many members of the royal family continued to live here till the mutiny or first war of Indian Independence in 1857.

Darshan Bilas and Chota Chattar Manzil - Lucknow 1860's

At its peak it was a four storied building with two underground basements. The basements so close to the river Gomati were done to provide relief to the Nawabs from heat during summers. It was also characterized by a dome, crowned by a golden pinnacle, followed up as a style subsequently by many later constructions. The building had square designs in Gothic style and had a pillared balcony for panoramic views of river Gomati and around. Its front doors and windows faced river Gomati and its terraced gardens touched the river. There was a walking pathway also called as thandi sadak or cool path between the complex and the river. The underground chambers and the front portions were extended up to the river edge. It had large terrace on the upper floor with the chamber having a cupola or Gumbad, at the corner of which rose a pair of octagonal turrets with conical heads. Lakhori bricks with Lime Surakhi(plaster) were used as the building material in tune with the times. The rooms were richly furnished with imported persian carpets, silk curtains, chandeliers and mirrors. The halls like Durbar hall had walls and ceilings with beautiful paintings. The complex had a beautiful garden too which was enclosed with a boundary wall for privacy and safety. It was known as of the most opulent and modern architecture building of the times.

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The decline of this building started during the turbulent times of first war of independence in 1857. Its boundary wall was demolished by General Havelock and almost all precious artifacts were virtually plundered and the British who had annexed the Oudh kingdom quoting questionable grounds, used it as the premises of United Services Club. There was a library too now. The Chhoti Chhatar Manzil was demolished in 1917 A.D. The building after independence was used for setting up CDRI under the aegis of CSIR. It was declared as a protected monument in 1968, but CDRI did a lot of modifications in the entire structure to suit its purpose including installing a lift ! The complex now had new blocks built in modern style. Adjacent to an impressively huge banyan tree an area was segregated to house many animals including monkeys and rabbits etc, used for experimentation. What a contrast it was ! From the sound  of music and thumari and bhairavi to the noises of lab experiments and sometimes even shrieks of animals on whom experiments for drugs would been tried. This out of the original purpose usage continued till 2013 when it was formally handed over to U P State Archaeology Department in a really dilapidated condition.

The future of the building now lies in the hands of the department of archaeology of U.P., which in right earnest has proceeded to involve INTACH in restoration and reuse of this magnificent and strategically located building complex. The INTACH is in the process of developing a detailed project report in next 4 months to chalk out a detailed plan to restore its glory. The restoration of almost 244 years old building would be a mammoth task. The plan is then to use it a showcase of Awadhi culture in its full glory. The tentative plans include creation of a museum depicting the nuances  of Oudh culture through the music, dance style(kathak), calligraphy, cuisines and  handicrafts like Chikan work and even social events like pigeon and kite flying. There may be much more to show about Oudh and Lucknow and its unique Tehzeeb(culture)right from ancient times to Lakhanpura to medieval and  to the times of Nawabs upto 1857 and beyond and upto 1947. These efforts, implemented properly on the ground level along with the beautification of banks of river Gomati may give back to Lucknowites, what they deserve to inherit actually.  It will perhaps also give a relief to the spirit of General Claude Martin and to the souls of Nawabs of Oudh. I may also cherish more this heritage hinged to my memories.

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(This article draws from the write up on the topic by the department of archaeology of Govt. of Uttar Pradesh. Its Director, Mr P K Singh was a rich and authentic source of knowledge on the subject. My own spot visits and participation in few discussions were of immense help too.)