Panchavadam, a vairety of temple music of Kerela, produced by a combination of 5 different instruments, has gained so much popularity in the West that the performers are frequently invited to perform abroad. Some Westerners come to India specifically to learn it.
- Akbar, the Great Mughal Emperor, never learnt to read or write. When the time for his formal initiation into schooling was fixed, Akbar did not show up for the ceremony. He was busy flying pigeons.
- The holy verses in Arabic inscribed above central doorway of the Taj Mahal are written in such a way that all the letters appear to be of the same size when read from below. Actually the lettters are graduated in size.
- All sun temples were constructed in such a way that the first ray of the rising sun fell on the idols. Temples to the Sun God were built between the 4th and the 13th century.
- The Taj Mahal is so proportionately constructed, one can never imagine that it is taller than the Qutab Minar, the tallest minaret in the world! The Taj Mahal is 243.5ft. in height while the Qutab Minar is only 239ft.
- The 1600-year-old, Iron Pillar in Delhi, is so firmly planted in the ground that a cannon ball fired at it by the invader Nadir Shah, in 1739, could not fell or damage it except for causing a small dent in its smooth surface.
- Bahadur Shah, the last Mughal emperor, who was exiled to Burma(Myanmar) by the British after the failure of the War of Independence in 1857, was burried ini distant Rangoon while the Burmese King, Thiban, was buried in India at Ratnagiri, on the western cost of India.
- Like the great wall of China, India too had a wall about 40 kms long, running up and down the Aravallis. It had 34 fortresses in it. It was built by Rana Kumbha of Mewar, to protect his kingdom from invaders.
- Tuticorin on the souther cost of Tamil Nadu, is nicknamed the Pearl Harbour of India because of the pearl-fishing practised here for centuries.
- Sawai means 'one and a quarter'. Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur was presented with the title 'Sawai' by the Emperor Auragzeb, to indicate that he was superior to other men. This is the story of how he got the title.
- Sufiana Kalam, literally meaning 'decent pen', has nothing to do with calligraphy. It is a type of devotional music sung by groups in Kashmir.
- A simple cotton tablecloth, the yarn for which was handspun by Mahatma Gandhi, was one of the wedding gifts received by Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II), in 1947.
- Nur Jehan would not have become Jehangir's queen, if a rich merchant had not picked her up on his way to Agra. She had been abandoned by her poverty-striken parents. She grew up as Mehrun-Nisa in the Agra harem, where her beauty so captivated Jehangir that she became Nur Jehan Begum, 'Light of the World'
- Several south Indian temples have singing stone pillars. The central part of such pillars is chiselled in 7 to 16 bars which produce distinct notes similar to that of a xylophone, if tapped with a wooden mallet. What is significant is that the different bars are part of the same pillar.
- Milkha Singh, the 'Flying Sikh', participated in 82 competitions and won 79 of them.
- The Hindola Mahal or 'Swinging Palace', in Mandu, is most unusual in design. From outside it looks like a sturdy fort with peculiarly sloping side walls, creating an illusion that the entire structure is swaying.
- A dacoit-fan of the actress Meena Kumari, once made her autograph his hand with his own knife. This happened during the outoor shooting of the film 'Pakeezah', when the unit was stranded in a dacoit-infested area of Madhya Pradesh.
- Jantar Mantar at Delhi has two pillars about 12 ft. in height and 17 ft apart, which determine the shortest and longest days of the year. On December 21, the shortest and longest days of the year. On December 21, the shortest day of the year, the southern pillar casts a shadow on the northen pillar, covering it entirely-starting from the base upwards. On June 21, the longest day of the year, no shadow falls on the northen pillar-absolutely ingenious.
- At the Karnidevi Temple in Rajasthan, rates are worshipped as the deity's decendants. So much so that they are not even referred to as rats. They are called kabas instead, the Marwari word for children.
- Have you ever noticed that only the one rupee notes carry the words 'Government of India' while all other currency notes have the 'Reserve Bank of India' printed on them?
- The Portugese discoverd a variety of plants in the New World which they brought along with them and eventually introduced to India. These include batata(potato), the couve (cabbage, which became gobi or kobi), tobacco, tomato, cashew, ananas(pineapple), papaya, pera(guava or peru). Pao (bread) and biscoito (biscuit) prepared in Portuguese bakeries became popular. Their introduction of green and red chillies revolutinised Indian cusine.
- The Indian wild ass, called Khur, found only in the desert of the Rann of Kutch, runs faster than the horse. In fact, a relay of horses in needed to tire it out before it can be caught.
- Despite its name, Keoladeo Ghana is not in Africa. It is a world-famous bird sanctury at Bharatpur, Rajsthan, Keoladeo is the name of the ancient Shiva temple in the dense (ghana) forest which once used to cover the area.
- A life-sized, rock-cut elephant stands at the site of the Kalinga war, with Emperor Ashoka's rock edicts inscribed in the Prakrit language, written in the Brahmi script. There is something special about these edicts-there is no mention of the Kalinga War(261 BC) in the edicts. The sculpted elephant signified Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism after his Kalinga victory.
- On his visit to England in 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII, the Maharaha of Jaipur took with him in the ship, for drinking purposes, a six-month supply of Ganga water, as it is said to retain its freshness and purity for months on end.
- The priest at the famous Vishnu Temple at Badrinath in the U.P. Himalayas, is always a Nambudri brahmin from Kerala. Badri is one of the four Hindu monastic Mutts-the other three are at Puri, Dwarka and Sringeri, established by Adi Shankara in the 8th century.
- The 400-year-old Jewish Town in Cochin has only 24 elderly Jews living there still-all the rest(30,000) have migrated to Israel(this was the figure in 1994.)
- We salute the memory of a Muslim saint, Baba Buden, for the wonderful gift he gave to India-coffee. The saint arrived from Arabia and settled in the mountainous country of coffee seeds which he planted for his own use. This was beginning of coffee cultivation in India.
- Believe it or not, but India used to get its ice from the U.S.A.! The American speculators made paise(money) from pani(water), when they sent their first consignment of ice from Boston by ship when they sent their first consignment of ice from Boston by ship to Calcutta in 1833. They sold it for two annas a seer(12.5 paise a kilo in modern times). So pleased was Governer General William Bentick, that he presented an inscribed silver cup to the crew.
- Do you know that the word "rupee" was coined from the "rupaiya" of Sher Shah Sur, Sultan of Delhi (who drove out Humayun from India)? He had minted a coin in silver of 178 grams in 1542. When the coin was given to him, he looked at it and exclaimed "rupaiya", meaning "beautiful". It is a different matter that the present Indian rupee coin contains no silver-only copper and nickel.
- Though the exact number of people who speak, read or write English is not known, it is estimated that there are more English-speaking people in India than there are in Britain.
- Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay deservedly received much praise when they were the first to climb to the summit of Mount Everest.
- Despite its claim to fame as the wettest place on earth, Mawsynyram near Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya, has a terrible scarcity of drinking water. In the absence of proper water storage facilities, all the rain water drains down to Bangladesh.
- Believe it or not, Kanirnay is India's largest selling publication. It is a Calmanac, that is, a calender plus an almanac. It also has recipies, household hints and articles on various objects-all rolled into one. Printed in 7 languages and also in Braille, Kalniryana is a household name across the country.
- Do you know that in front of the well known samadhi of Chhatrapati Shivaji atop Raigad Fort, is a memorial to his pet dog, who is said to have jumped into the funeral pyre of his master and died?
- In the largest natural cave in the Himalayas, at a height of 12,729 ft., a Shiva lingam is formed of pure ice between July and August. How it happens-whether from the water dripping from the roof or by way of the frozen spring running underneath-is not known. But the lingam is said to wax and wane with the seasons or the phases of the moon. Despite the arduous jouney, people throng in large numbers to Amarnath for a holy darshan
- The Tirthakanars of the Jains, when shown seated in a cross-legged position, may look identical but can in fact, be distinguished by their mounts-a lion for Mahavira, a serpent for Parasnatha, a bull for Adinatha and so on. These mounts are usually carved in the centre of the Tirthankaras.
- Chindambaram, in Tamil Nadu, is the only major temple where Lord Shiva is worshipped as Nataraja(Lord of Dance), instead of the usual lingam. It is also the only temple where the 108 dance postures described in the Natya Shastra, are carved.
- The wide circular gallery running along the interior of the dome of the Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur, 100 ft. above the ground, is so ingeniously designed that the rustle of paper, the lighting of a matchstick, or even a whisper, is amplified and echoed. No wonder it is known as the Whispering Gallery.
- The world famous Sun Temple at Konark, was designed as a celestial depiction of Surya, the Sun God, who is believed to course across the sky in a chariot with 12 pairs of wheels. drawn by 7 horses. The 7 horses represent the 7 days of the week and each wheel represents one hour of the day.
- Near the famous temple of Somnath, which stands at the seashore in Saurashtra(Gujrat), is a pillar facing the Arabian Sea. The pillar is constructed on such a sport that no land comes between the pillar and the South Pole.
- In the tower of the famous Se Cathedral in Goa, which houses the holy relics of St.Francis Xavier, there is a bell which can be heard in Panjim. And yet, when one stands next to the bell, its soft melodious tones fall lightly on the ear.
- A huge boulder resting on a slender base, and known as Krishna's Butter Ball, fascinates visitors at Mahabalipuram(Tamil Nadu).
It is said, that even elephants cannot move it.
- A unique offering of human hair is made at the Tirupati temple. Men, Women and children, young and old, rich and poor, offer their crowning glory as an act of surrendering their ego and vanity. Two special halls have row of barbers for freecuts. Hair is usually offered as the fulfilment of a vow. The hair is collected, cleaned, and sold in auction, fetching over Rs.4 crore a year.
- Every youngster in Darzeepara in Calcutta, is a tailor! These youngsters, about 15,000 in number, are in fact, descendants of tailor families that moved here in the 1850s, along with the Nawab of Oudh, who was exiled by the British.
- Appropriately called the Rose Garden, the Siachen glacier in the Karakoram Himalayas, has become the highest battlefield in the world-both India and Pakistan spend crores of rupees daily to keep the war effort going.
- Adolf Hitler's gift of a powerful telescope, to a Rana of Nepal, is now at Darjeeling (West Bengal), housed in the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
- On the full-moon day in April, one can see the spectacular sight of moonrise and sunset together, at Kanyakumari, on the southern-most tip of India, where the waters of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean Meet.
- The highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, given to the late Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, was not bestowed at a glittering ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan but was delivered by the registered post to the Maulana's nephew in Calcutta.
- The historic Quatab Minar does not cast a shadow on June 22 every year-a rare phenomenon because on other days, the minar casts a shadow even at noon due to its structural leaning.
- It is for bidden to fly over the Taj Mahal in Agra, as the vibrations of air craft can damage the structure.
- A rare and unexplained phenomenon occurs between August 15 and October 31 on a cloudy, moonless night at Jatinga, near Haflong (Assam). Thousands of birds-little white egrets, hill patridges, pheasants, green pigeons, emarald doves and others- attracted to the lights of petromax lamps, come flying and get killed by people. The birds do not come if the wind is not blowing from south to north.
- The 4,000 ft-long corridor of the Rameshwaram Temple in south India, which has 985 richly carved pillars standing on both sides, presents a breath-taking perspective. The coridor, although the longest in the world, is not dark as light filters into it through occasional openings in the roof.
- Just before noon, two white kites come wheeling down out of the clear sky to the small shrine of Shiva on a hillock near Chennai. It is believed that these two birds are actually two saints who stop to rest and be fed by the temple priest, on their daily flight between the holy cities of Varanasi and Rameshwaram.
- The sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, popularly known as Mahbub Ali Pasha, never wore the same clothes twice. His dressing room had the longest wardrobe in the world - a 240 ft long corridor - like chamber lined with cupboards on both sides.
- The acoustics of the Golconda Fort near Hyderabad are unique because a handclap at the entrance of the fort can be clearly heard at the top-most pavilion, 400 ft. above.
- Bismillah Khan, the great shehnai maestro, is the 'official' shehnai player at the famous Shiva temple of Vishwanath at Varanasi. He sits on a special, elevated platform to play to the Lord.
- The Kailash temple at Ellora is carved out of a single hill. It was excavated without any mechanical aid by digging a 30 metre deep, three-sided trench from above, leaving the block of rock for the temple! Time and labour apparently did not count as obstacles, for it is said that about 20,000 tonnes of rock was chiselled out.
- Have you ever heard of a 'temple transplant'? Well, in a unique salvage operation, 24 temples in the Mahboobnagar district of Andhra Pradesh were lifted, stone by stone, layer by layer, and reassembled at another site several kilometres away. This became necessary to save the temples from inundation by the waters of the Srisailam Dam. This engineering feat is comparable to the 'lifting up' of the Abu Simbel shrines in Egypt, to save them from being swamped by Lake Nasser when the Aswan Dam was built.
- The sacred fire which the Parsis had brought with them from Iran more than 1200 years ago, burns at Udwada, in Gujarat.
- Vernu, a village near Kachch(Gujarat), has been in mourning for over 250 years, ever since its chief died while protecting the village from dacoits. The village people do not celebrate festivals; even marriage parties stop playing music once they enter the village.
- Indraprastha, Qila Rai Pithora, Siri, Tughlaqabad, Adilabad, Ferozabad, Dinpanah, Shahjehanabad, these were some of the names by which Delhi was called at different times before it got its 9th name- New Delhi! Few cities can claim the long continuity and status that Delhi has enjoyed. No wonder it is a city with the largest number of historical monuments - more than 1000!
- Majuli, on the river Brahmaputra, in Assam, is the largest river island in the world, although the turbulent river threatens to wash it away every year. Yet people continue to live there despite the prospect of such a calamity occuring.
- Strange though it may seem, the cricket stadium in Gwalior is named after a well-known hockey player, Roop Singh. This is because the ground was originally used for hockey.
- How many of us know that India leads the world in the varieties of mango, which exceed 1000! For the lay person, a langra is langra, but for the connoisseur; there is Langra Banarsi, Langra Hajipur, Langra Digha, Langra Hardoi, Langra Patna and so on. Mangoes are named after royalty, colour, flavour, taste, shape, precious stones, place and so forth.
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