Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Indian National Library


National Library – Largest Library in India

The well-known National Library is one of the largest libraries in India and an institution of national importance under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. The library is located on Belvedere Road, Kolkata and is known not only for its collection of books but is also known to be the haunted houses of Kolkata, a former residence of former Lieutenant Governor of Bengal. The library was designated to collect, disseminate as well as preserve the printed matter produced in the country which is situated on an attractive 30 acres Belvedere Estate in former Calcutta – Kolkata.

The Ministry of Culture, the owner of the library, decided to get the library building restored by the Archaeological Survey of India – ASI, in 2010. It was while taking stock of the library building, that a previously unknown room had been discovered by the conservation engineers. The ground floor room, the size of around 1000 sq. ft. did not have any kind of an opening. Search from the first floor area, forming the ceiling of the room, was carried out by the ASI archaeologists for a trap door, but they were not successful.

Mysterious Chamber Untouched for Over Two Centuries

Restoration of the building would be incomplete without being able to assess inside this enclosure according to Tapan Bhattacharya, deputy superintending archaeologist of ASI, stating that they had come across an arch on one side of the enclosure that had been walled up and speculations were common as per another archaeologist. Some speculated that the room could have been used as a punishment room used by Warren Hasting and other British officials or a place probably to store treasure.

It was a common practice with the British to `wall up’ offenders in death chambers and according to some sources, this enclosure has the same look and feel of such chambers. Besides this the British were also know to hide their riches in such type of blind chambers. It is said that the chamber had lain untouched for more than two centuries. After Independence, the National Library, then in Esplanade, had been shifted to Belvedere House which is of great architectural and heritage value and all the treasure of books were shifted to the new building on the 30 acre campus while the old building was getting restored

Historical & Cultural Importance

The building being of historical as well as cultural importance, ASI director D.V. Sharma informed that they bore a hole through the wall instead of breaking it to peer inside with searchlight. National Library authorities had written to the ministry of culture for permission. The director of National Library, Swapan Chakravorty, had commented that `the ASI cannot drill into a building of such great historical significance as this, without permission and assisted this as caretakers of the building.

Matter on the enclosure had been raised in a recent meeting of the committee of experts which had been formed by the Centre to advise the ASI on the restoration with regards to the National Library. Historian Barun De, chairman of the committee had commented that `the ASI raised the issue of the enclosure in the last meeting of the committee and were anxiously waiting for the first look inside.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Delos Birthplace of Artemis


Delos – Birthplace of Offspring of Zeus/Leto

According to the Greek mythology, Delos seemed to be the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo, the twin offspring of Zeus by Leto. Zeus jealous wife Hera had banished Leto from the earth when she found that she was pregnant. However, it was Poseidon who had taken pity on her and had provided Delos as a place for her to give birth to her offspring in peace.

The island of Delos near Mykonos towards the centre of the Cyclades archipelago was one of the most important mythological archaeological as well as historical sites in Greece. The excavations in the island is said to be the most extensive in the Mediterranean.

The excavations under the direction of the French School at Athens with several of the artifacts discovered are put on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos as well as the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Delos holds a position as a holy sanctuary for millennium prior to Olympian Greek mythology. The horizon portrays the two conical mounds from its Sacred Harbour which have known landscapes sacred to goddess in several other sites, one of which retains its pre-Greek name, Mount Kynthos which is crowned with a sanctuary of Zeus.

Festival Hosted in Honour of Apollo/Artemis/Leto

The Greek island of Delos was a major sacred site for the ancient Greeks, second in importance only to Delphi. The Sacred Island at its height was covered with various temples and sanctuaries which were dedicated to various gods and presently it is a captivating site placed two miles from Mykonos.

The island was considered so sacred that at one point of time, that no one was permitted to be born or to die there and those about to do so were rushed off to a nearby islet of Rinia. As described in Homeric Hymn 3, the festival, Delia had been hosted here in honour of Apollo, Artemis and Leto.

Delos by the 7th century became the political capital of the Amphictionic League and the Athenians joined the league gaining control. This led to trouble for the Delian daily till around 315 BC when the Egyptians became rulers over the Aegean Sea.

Prosperous in Late Hellenistic/Roman Times

Deloswas said to be prosperous in late Hellenistic and Roman times, when it had been declared as a free port becoming the financial as well as trading centre of the Mediterranean. Towards 100 BC, the island had a population of 30,000 including foreigners from places as far as Rome, Syria and Egypt. Each individual group had its own shrine and lived in harmony inspite of their differences.

However in 88 BC the attack of Mithridates, the king of Pontus, on the unfortified island revolted against the Roman rule. The entire population of 20,000 were killed or sold in slavery while the sanctuary treasures were burgled and the city had been razed to the ground.

The Roman had partly rebuilt the city but restoration had been prevented due to continuous pirate attacks. In 66 BC, a Roman envoy built defensive wall around the city but by then Delos was onits way out and was slowly abandoned. By the 2nd century AD, Pausanius recorded that it was occupied only by the temple guards.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Singing Sand Dunes


Various Theories – Singing Sand Dunes

There are various theories regarding the singing sand dunes mechanism and it has been suggested that these sound frequency has been controlled by the cut off rate. Others indicate that the frequency of vibrations could be connected to the thickness of the dry surface layer of the sand.

The sound waves tend to bounce back and forth between the surface of the dunes and the surface of the moist layer. This gives rise to resonance which increases the volume of the sound. The sound could be generated by friction between the grains or it could be due to the compression of air between them. Some other sounds which are produced by sand have been described as roaring or booming.

Certain note which is produced between 60 and 105 hertz by the dune has been controlled by the rate of collision in the cut off band splitting the avalanche from the static area of the dune. For impulsive avalanche, frequency tends to be controlled by gravity as well as by the size of the sand grains and the entire length of the landform is around 185 km.

Sound – Roaring/Squeaking/Song of Dunes

Some sand dunes tend to make strange low frequency humming noise which may sound like a drone of a distant propeller aircraft. This sound could be quite loud and in some incidents, it could be heard from a distance of several kilometres.

Singing sand dunes an example of the phenomenon of singing sand, tends to produce sound which has been described as roaring, squeaking or the `Song of Dunes’. This is a natural occurrence of around 105 decibels which tend to last for several minutes.

It occurs in about 35 desert locations all over the world. It is said that the sound seems similar to a loud, low pitch, rumble and originates from the crescent shaped dunes or barchans. The sound which is produced is accompanied with a slumping or avalanching movement of the sand, generally activated by the wind passing over the dune or by someone probably walking near the crest.


The sound could be somewhat unusual and eerie significant to a bass musical instrument due to its relative purity and the drone is caused by the synchronised avalanche of the sand grains. The pitch of the note that is produced could be based on the size of the grains and each singing sand dune may have its own typical sound pitch.

One study had discovered that different notes created by the sand depended on the size of the grains as well as the speed at which they whistle through the wind and scientists have no clue as to how the flowing grains of sand tend to sound like music in the first place.

However, the precise reason for the grain synchronization is yet debated among various scientists and more research needs to be done and understood as to why a few of the dunes boom while the others tend to remain silent. Examples of singing sand dunes are in California’s Kelso Dunes, Eureka Dunes, sugar sand beaches and Warren Dunes in South-western Michigan, Sand Mountain in Nevada and much more.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why do We Dream?


Research of Dreaming - Oneirology

The research of dreaming is known as oneirology and is a field of inquiry which tends to span neuroscience, psychology as well as literature. The reason why one tends to dream is a mystery. However, it has not stopped scientist from researching and coming up with some great hypothesis. Science has made tremendous progress in the understanding of `dreaming’ but tend to speculate on `why do we dream’. Many theories have been explored and while some of the scientists speculate that dreaming does not have any direct function, but is a consequence of other biological processes which tend to take place during sleep. Several who study sleep and dreams are of the belief that dreaming serves a primary purpose. And theories of dreaming cover scientific disciplines from psychiatry and psychology to neurobiology. Some of the theories recommend that dreaming is –
  • A form and component of memory processing which aids in the consolidation of learning and short term memory to long term memory storage
  • Extension of waking consciousness, reflecting the experiences of waking life
  • A means by which the minds tends to work through the difficult, complicated together with unsettled thoughts, emotions and experiences, in achieving psychological as well as emotional balance.
  • The brain responds to biochemical changes as well as electrical impulses which may occur at the time one sleeps
  • A form of consciousness which combines past, present and the future in processing information from the first two and prepare for the third.
  • A protective act by the brain in preparing itself to face threats, danger and the challenges.

Dreams Susceptible to Disturbance

Similar to sleep, dreams are susceptible to disturbances from problems with the mental and the physical health and there are various conditions which could affect dreams and that would make dreams quite disturbing and difficult. Anxiety and depression often go together with nightmares and the occurrence of nightmares could be a sign of the harshness of depression. According to research, with patients with Major Depressive Disorder, the presence of regular nightmares is connected with suicidal tendencies. Those with depression or anxiety are more likely to have stressful, frightening or disturbing dreams and at times in the form of recurring dreams.

Drugs & Alcohol Affect Dreaming

Drugs and alcohol could also affect dreaming where alcohol tends to disrupt the normal, healthy sleep cycle leading to disjointed sleep. Heavy consumption of alcohol too close to bedtime could alter and diminish time spent in Rapid Eye Movement - REM sleep. Studies indicate that alcohol dependency is connected to dreams with more negative emotional content. Marijuana also tends to disrupt and reduce REM sleep and with withdrawal from marijuana and cocaine, it is said to induce strange dreams according to studies. Certain sleep disorders could be supplemented by altering dreaming. Insomnia tends to heighten dream recall, leading to more stressful as well as disturbing dreams.Dreaming is an enduring universal aspect of being human and is something which we tend to do often. Evidence recommends that dreams could assist in daytime functions as well as performances especially when they tend to relate to creativity and in solving problems. Dreams provide some insight about what could trouble us, what could be occupying our mind, our thoughts and emotions and tend to shape use and show who we are.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa – `Mound of Shards’

The catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa which means `Mound of Shards’, a historical archaeological site is situated in Alexandria, Egypt and considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. The name comes from heaps of broken pottery in the area and archaeologists presume that they could have been left in ancient times by the relatives who visited the tomb with food and drink with them.

Those visiting the tombs were against the idea of taking the vessels back home and would shatter them, leaving them behind in piles. Archaeologists are of the belief that the Catacomb of Kom el Shoqafa started in the second century AD and was utilised to confine the dead for the next 200 years.

This was an era in the history of the city of Alexandria when there was a mixture of various cultures and there was the ancient history of the great Egyptian kingdoms of thousands of years back. In 332 B.C. Alexandria the Great who had conquered the land, established the city and began the dynasty of Greek rulers who brought in their own culture to the metropolis. Eventually, in 31 B.C. the Romans gain control of the city and added their traditions.

Paris of Antiquity

All this made Alexandria which was the capital of Egypt by that time into what according to some was known as `The Paris of antiquity’. The elements of all three great cultures were combined by the people and though much of this seems to have disappeared from modern Alexandria, deep in Kom el Shoqafa catacombs, the intellectual blend of those times seems to be still apparent.The catacombs does not seem to be the only ones constructed in ancient Alexandria and such structures were part of a Necropolis – city of the dead which were perhaps constructed towards the western area of the town.

 Rest of the Necropolis, were probably destroyed over the centuries by new construction or earthquakes. Archaeologists presume that Kom el Shoqafa initially began as a tomb for a single wealthy family though expanded into a bigger burial site for reasons unknown. Probably the facility was ultimately run by a corporation which was maintained by members who could have paid regular dues.

Funeral Hall – `Triclinium’

In ancient times on the surface above the catacombs there was perhaps a large funerary chapel and from the remains of this structure is an 18 ft. wide, round shaft that descends into the underground structure. Running around the exterior of the shaft though separated by a wall is a spiral staircase having windows into the shaft enabling light coming in from the surface which illuminates the stairs.

It is probable that the shaft was used in lowering down the bodies of the deceased to the deeper levels through a rope and pulley system instead of being carried down the steps. There were seats caved into the stone where visitors could rest at the intersection of the uppermost undergrounds level and the stairs.

From here a small passage leads to the rotunda room that overlooks a round shaft and continues down to the lower level. Towards the left of the rotunda room is the funeral hall known as the `Triclinium’ and it is here that the relatives participate for annual ceremonial feast in honour of the dead.