We had experienced a torrential downpour on the drive back from Agra and now the seasonal monsoon had belatedly arrived in Delhi. It is quite impressive to see the absolute ferocity of an attack from the dark skies.
The cycle rickshaw guys I pitied the most as they had nothing to protect themselves but luckily it was still warm so perhaps they appreciated a dowsing. The streets did need a good washing down and for a while the temperature dropped and Delhi became a cleaner cooler city for a few hours.
We had a couple of days in Delhi before Laurence returned back to France for work and I headed off to Varenesi and the capital still had many things to see.
The National Museum of India was opened in 1960 and the building is architecturally functional with the galleries around an internal circular garden. Although not one of the World’s great National museums it is however a very good space and an excellent introduction to India’s past with a great selection of sculptures and paintings, and no better way to spend a morning.
The roots of the National Museum begin with an exhibition of Indian art and artefacts at the Royal Academy in London in 1947 and it was decided to display the same collection in Delhi India before returning the artefacts to their individual museums.
The number of sculptures of both Hindu gods and statues of Buddha in the museum sculpture rooms is mindboggling…and with the possibility of 33 million Hindu gods according to the Gita or the Mahabharata (or even 330 million according to some) after an hour you wonder whether they are all here and you will be obliged to see them all…
As I travelled around India I visited many small museums and everywhere there were gods I hadn’t heard of before. Now I understand why there is reincarnation..You need many lives to get the hang of the Hindu or Vedic pantheon.
I was nearly as lost about The Hindu system of Gods after 2 months as I was when I arrived. Briefly ..
The way it’s explained is that in order to keep the universe running, Krishna, the supreme being, has put into place individuals that oversee different parts of the material universe. These individuals are powerful beings that have been appointed by Krishna and have been bestowed with the necessary powers and abilities to manage and govern their area of creation. They can be referred to as demigods. For example, there is someone responsible for the sun and his name is Surya. The goddess Saraswati is the overseer of knowledge. The creator of the material universe is known as Brahma. The destruction of the universe is overseen by Shiva and Vishnu serves as the maintainer. There are individuals overseeing the oceans, the wind, and practically every facet of creations. When seen from this perspective, 33 million is not that big a number.
The Ethnography section of the museum is particularly interesting, with many of the masks and utensils of everyday life and ceremonies from the tribal areas of mainly the North East of India, Nagoland and Arunachal Pradesh.Apparently life is very much unchanged for the moment but this North East area is pretty much off limit to ordinary tourists and permission and passes have to be obtained.
We took a TucTuc from outside the mueum and the driver was lost by the end of the road. With a map I tried to show him where to go but that confused him more. Many drivers it turned out share a TucTuc, and cousins of partowners clamour at the chance of earning a few rupees without knowing the city. When he stopped to ask another driver the way I took the opportunity to transfer to the other tuctuc..Laurence thought that I was now ready for India !
The craft shops in Delhi are amazing and from the Central Cottages Industries Emporium I could have filled a container with beautiful furniture, textiles and crafts from all over India. With it’s small cafeteria one can spend hours here, and we did. We had already bought some interesting textiles in Rajasthan and had little space left fortunately.
The restaurant at the Gulnor hotel has a good reputation and it was often full
That evening a young, slightly precious, self confident but serious young Indian asked if he could join us. He was very charming.
He explained he was in Delhi to visit the Turkish Embassy for a Visa to play the Sarod at the Konya Mystic music festival the following month.
It was a coincidence that only a few weeks before in a rush to finish writing about Turkey I had written about Konya and the festival and as I had recently sorted my photographs of the city the place was still so vivid in my mind.
Atish Mukhopadhyay it transpired is a renowned Sarod ( a stringed instrument ) player who had recently played at festivals in St Petersburg and in the US.
Watch him at
Gandhi spent the last few months of his life at Birla House in New Delhi and since his assassination it has come to be known as the Gandhi museum, or the Gandhi Multimedia Museum.
It has the feel of supreme calm and reverence and is more like a temple to Gandhi than a museum. Apart from his room with only a bed, small desk and spinning machine it has only photographs of his life.
All his possessions are in one frame on the wall.
The attraction of such a simple life in an age of frightening consumerism is very seductive.
His evident sincerity is so honourable that he will be forever respected, the hunger strikes and non violent protests are so admirable in an age when the state and protesters move so quickly to violence.
He was a Hindu nationalist though and through, and looking back from today, perhaps to the point of where in fact some pragmatism would have been better. This intransigence led him to positions on the future of the Indian state, partition, treatment of muslims and his declaration one day to his wife that he was now chaste, rather took the shine off his saintly persona.
The writer and activist Arundhati Roy, ‘The God of Small Things’ has recently challenged the myth of Gandhi claiming his doctrine of non-violence was based upon his acceptance of the brutal caste system. Gandhi’s views on caste, a linchpin of the Hindu faith, have long been a running dispute among historians.
Ambedkar a low caste Dalit but educated at Columbia and the LSE, and India’s first Law Minister, who basically wrote the Indian Constitution was opposed to Gandhi’s fixed ideas on caste, and called for the destruction of the system that Gandhi, although as an appeasement called Dalits the children of god, through his strict interpretation of Hinduism wanted to keep.
Because of Hinduism and it’s relation to caste, Ambedkar became a Buddhist and encouraged the mass conversion of Dalits to follow him.
India has entered a new era of Hindu Nationalism with the recent election of the BJP and Modi as president.
After Laurence had left I had one day before my train to Varanesi.
The Red Fort dominates the eastern part of the old city with it’s
imposing severe redstone fortifications that hide the beautiful subtle marble buildings inside surrounded by green flower decked gardens.
Security since the Bombay terrorist attacks is especially high and there were many gun emplacements around and in the entrance to the fort. Inside there were many groups of Indian children, families and the usual lovers in the grass under the trees.
The Red Fort, constructed by Shah Jahan the creator of the Taj Mahal, was built as the fortified palace and to be the ceremonial and political centre of Mughal government, also housing the Emperors and households in a series of stunning marble pavilions connected by a channel of water known as the Stream of Paradise.
This year the Hindu nationalist Modi, according to tradition had to give his Independence Day speech from the monument of Mogul power.
The road running from the Metro station is packed with tourist hasslers but just one street away in the warren of narrow streets is the India of an earlier age where all businesses spill out onto the street and one can wander and no-one to bother you.
That evening I took a TucTuc to the station and the night train to Varanesi ..Now India on my own !