Masked

Earlier in the year, a friend and I headed to Jodhpur, Rajasthan for a weekend trip. I have always been fascinated with Rajasthan. Being in close proximity to Delhi, I’ve visited this state a lot. Each trip has left me with a different experience and each time I’ve wanted to return to Rajasthan. The state has so much of tradition and culture to soak in. Add to that the beautiful Rajasthani colours. I cannot explain how much I love all things Rajasthani. A lot of my love for Rajasthan can be attributed to the Rajasthani people, the ones I’ve met are warm and kind people who really believe in ‘Athiti Devo Bhav’. Last year I made three visits to this state; the annual Jaipur Literature Festival visit, a weekend visit to Pushkar and a trip to the Shekhawati region. These trips showed me different aspects of Rajasthan, from the intellectual to the historic to the religious! And the amazing shopping and food options makes Rajasthan one of my favourite holiday destinations.

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Beautiful Rajasthani colours and designs!

Judging by how much I love all things Rajasthani, you can guess how psyched I was to go to Jodhpur! I have been to Jodhpur before when I was much younger but this visit was going to be different as my friend and I wanted to really really explore Jodhpur on foot through the many lanes. Our itinerary included visiting the desert in Osian, having dinner at the fancy Indique hotel (overlooking the beautifully lit fort), visiting Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Bhawan Palace and walking through Jodhpur hogging on street food and admiring the blue houses. I wanted to write a travel blog but on this trip something else caught my attention for almost all of the visit and ever since I’ve wanted to write about it.

 

The Mehrangarh Fort is a majestic beauty that stands tall, towering over the city from its throne 400 feet above. It was built in the 15th century by the then ruler, Rao Jodha, after whom the city was named Jodhpur. This fort is an architectural marvel with so much history attached to it. The fort’s history is pretty bloody considering that it was built by laying the foundation over a live man. Yes, you read that right! The story goes that Rao Jodha displaced a sadhu from his home on this hill to build the fort. The angry sadhu placed a curse on the hill that could only be lifted if a man was buried live under the foundation of the fort. A brave man volunteered his life (this is what the folk tale says but I find hard to believe) and was buried under the foundation of the fort. There is a memorial for him at the entrance to the fort. This is part one of the bloody history. Ofcourse, the major part of the bloody history is all the people who died during the many glorified wars of that period but a small but significant part of it lies right after Loha Pol, the final gate of the main fort.

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The hand prints of the queens of Maharaja Man Singh, ruler of Marwar (1803-1843)

 

Two sets of hand prints on either side of the walk welcome all tourists as they enter the fort past the Loha Pol. The story behind these hand prints broke my heart. These are the hand prints of the wives of the ruler on their way to perform the brutal Indian custom of Sati. In 1843, after the death of Maharaja Man Singh, his many wives joined him on his pyre as a part of this custom, 14 years after the British government banned this gory practice. Under this practice, the wives (of the ruler in this case) dressed up in their wedding attire and decked up in jewellery would pass through the fort along with the funeral procession, stopping at this gate to leave their mark in the form of these hand prints before following the procession to the funeral pyre of their husband. This practice was wildly practised in India propagated by religion and promoted by the rulers. The extent of it impression was that the last recorded sati in Jodhpur was in 1953. It has been one of the many ways in which Indian women have faced oppression.

It was no shocker for me to learn about the fate of the wives of the rulers. What angered me was what I saw next. In the museum archives were a whole lot paintings, centuries old, mostly depicting war.

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If you closely look at the photos, you will see a common theme – depicting the strength of female Goddesses! The varied paintings on display showed the kings praying to various forms of Devi for their support during wars. In the paintings depicting victory, it showed Devi fighting alongside the kings. In some paintings, epic battles between asur (evil) and Devi (good) showed that Goddesses are as strong as Gods. Yet, women during the same period of time were kept under ghoonghat (veil) and married off at a young age with the only goal of their lives being to birth sons to take their family names further. Rulers married multiple times when their wives were unable to give them heirs to their thrones. It angered me to see how two faced the society was and still is.

On the one hand, we were taken to a beautiful ancient Devi temple in Osian while on the other hand some local people seemed amused that two girls were planning on roaming around on their own. While tales of Goddesses are told and retold, women still follow the ghoonghat practice. This theme just stuck with me, the two faced society that we all live in. In India, the sex ratio is horribly skewed because girls are considered a burden. Yet, at the end of Navratras, a nine day pooja fast for Devi Mata, people look for young girls to feed prasad to, else the pooja isn’t complete. On one hand people curse the girl child for being a drain on their pockets, while on the other, they pray to Goddess Laxmi to bless them with wealth. We live in the 21st century and things have improved a lot for girls. We can work, we can party, we can be friends with the opposite gender, we can travel; yet if something goes wrong the society takes less than a second to blame the girl.

I wonder, is it a mere mask behind which the two faced society still lingers?

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