Saturday, November 28, 2015

Building Hitler's SuperGun


V-3, Remarkable Weapon – Afflicted with Technical Difficulties

It is said that the V-3 was intended to win the war for Germany and for the first time in 1943, since the World War II began, Hitler was on the back foot. Big guns had shattered German cities and the Fuhrer was upset. The V-3, his proposed cannon would be the largest gun that the world had ever seen. However, the remarkable weapon had never been test fired and afflicted with technical difficulties.

The working of the German supergun was also a mystery since much of it was destroyed with only a few photographs and documents that survived. The V-3 had been built in a massive bunker that was buried deep in a chalk hill in northern France.

Millions of tonnes of rock had been excavated by hand and among the workers there were hundreds of slave labourers as well.In its original conception, 25 barrels were to point at London around 100 miles distance, delivering up to one bomb each minute, developing an atmosphere of fear which would turn the course of the war back in favour of Hitler.

It was said to be a destined secret `drone’ mission to end the V-3 which led to the death of Joe Kennedy, Junior, who was a pilot and the older brother of the future US president, John F. Kennedy.

Trouble in Achieving All-Important Timing

It was estimated that a missile reaching London should achieve speeds over 1,500 metres per second and each barrel of Hitler’s gun was said to be 130 metres long and inclined at 50 degrees that was worked out that this would be the perfect angle to reach London, which they seemed to have got it right.

The missile was said to be accelerated through a means of a sequence of charges along the barrel and accurate timing of these extra charges was an important element. This was presumed that this was done electrically. In a study for a TV documentary on Channel Four, PBS Nova and National Geographic International, no evidence was found for this.

Photographs from that time showed no signs of electrical wiring or triggering devices. From their experience it was recommended that the charges were triggered due to heat of the advancing gas behind the missile. The engineers of Hitler had great trouble achieving the all-important timing and it was presumed that it was due to leakage of hot gas past the seal behind the missile.

Project Anvil Ended as a Failure

They also faced various other issues with their design, especially to perfect a shape of missile which would be aerodynamic at supersonic speeds. It had to be steady without the assistance of spin. However, in the initial tests, the projectile was found to tumble uncontrollably and the issue never seemed to be solved.

The Partners had not known about the supergun till the Canadian forces had invaded the site after D-Day. However, they were aware that for the Germans to be spending that many resources on the site they were surely of no use. It was not easy to imagine how to destroy the supergun.

 The Americans had planned to attack the installation with a drone that was controlled remotely by heavy bomber packed with 12 tonnes of high explosives. The idea was to crash the unmanned aircraft directly into the site at Mimoyecques near Calais. However, the mission, code dubbed Project Anvil ended as a failure.

Monday, November 23, 2015



Yakshi – Female Earth Spirit - Symbol of Fertility

Yakshi is female earth spirits which is considered as a symbol of fertility by the Hindu, Jain and the Buddhist faith and are portrayed as wide-hipped voluptuous women with narrow waists, broad shoulders who caused a tree to bear fruit by simply touching it with her foot.

Here the figure is depicted smartly unified in the form of a column, the centre of which takes the shape of a leafy tree. The yakshi is generally depicted with her upper hands holding a branch of the tree with a graceful pose which is a traditional gesture in sculptures of yakshi. The ashoka tree is closely linked with the Yakshini mythological beings.

Yakshi with her foot on the trunk and her hands holding the branch of anartificial flowering askoka or less often other tree with flowers of fruits, is one of the frequent elements in India art that is found at the gates of Buddhist as well as Hindu temples.The sculptures of yakshi are generally perceived in intricate architectural motifs on the porticoes of temples as well as stupas.

These types of figures recognized often as mother-goddesses date back to the Indus Valley civilization which is the earliest known Indian urban culture.

Female Counterpart of Male Yaksha

Yakshi or Yakshini or Yakkhini are mythical beings and the female counterpart of the male Yaksha who are attendees of Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth. He rules in the mythical Himalayan kingdom of Alaka. They are considered to be guardians of the treasure that is hidden in the earth, resembling fairy.

 Thirty six Yakshinis, in Uddamareshvara Tantra, are described which include their mantras as well as ritual prescriptions. In early Buddhist monuments, Yakshis were considered important as decorative element and are found in several ancient Buddhist archaeological locations.

One will find an identical list of Yakshas and Yakshinis in the Tantraraja Tantra which states that these beings are givers of whatever is preferred.

 Though Yakshinis are generally generous, there are other yakshinis with spiteful characteristics in Indian folklore. In pre-Aryan days, the folk goddesses were protective deities in Indian religions and yakshis were worshipped by the rural folks with the expectations of boon or protection from evil.

Main Indian religions of later day considered these goddesses to attract the rural folks, making them accept these religions without reservation. Importance to yakshis in Jainism is seen from the fact, that there is a yakshi of each of the 24 tirthankaras and is the tirthankaras of the guardian deities.

Yakshis Have Special Place in Art History of India

Five out of these 24 yakshis, are celebrated in sculptures, terracotta figurines and bronzes, the popular ones are Ambica, the yakshi of Neminatha, the 22nd tirthankara. The others are the Jwalamalini, Padmavathy, Siddhakkiya and Chakreswari, the protecting goddesses of Parsvanatha, Mahaveera, Chandraprabha and Adinatha, respectively, the 23rd and 24th - the last, the eighth and the first tirthankaras.

Yakshis have now become folk deities again due to the decline of Jainism. Retired senior epigraphist, V, Vedachalam, of Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department who has done perceptive research on the origin and the growth of the yakshi cult has commented that `yakshis have a special place in the art history of India’.

From the fourth century B.C. during the time of the Mauryas, the Kushanas – second century B.C. and the Guptas – fourth century A.D. right to the 13th century A.D. yakshi has been celebrated in hundreds of standalone sculptures, terracotta figurines, bas-beliefs and stunning bronzes. Nonetheless, yakshis worship was recognized in a regular manner from the Gupta era. In Tamil Nadu one will find separate shrines for them dating from the 12th century.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Harem of the Mughals


The Mughal Harem – Sphere of Women, Men Prohibited

The Mughal Harem had been the harem of Mughal emperors of South Asia and the term was initiated with the Near East which meant a `forbidden place, sacrosanct, sanctum and was etymologically linked to the Arabic harim – a sacred inviolable place, female members of the family and forbidden, sacred. It meant the sphere of women which is generally a polygynous household and their set apart quarters were prohibited to men. Harems comprised of wives, female relatives, concubines and male infants.

Harems were not only a place where the women folklived; there were babies as well as children who grew up there. Within the confines of the harem, there were bazaars, markets, laundries, kitchens, school, playgrounds and baths. The harem had a hierarchy and its chief authorities were the wives and female relatives of the emperor and after them were the concubines and scullery slaves.

The mothers, step-mothers, grandmothers, aunts, step-sisters, sisters, daughters and the other female relatives also lived in the harem. The confines of this absolute city of women was so large that the lowest of these slave never lay eyes on the emperor Besides these, there were the ladies-in-waiting, maids, servants, cooks, women official and guards.

Guarded by Three Lines of Defence

The harem of the Mughal Empire is said to be guarded by three lines of defence, namely the trained Tatar and Uzbek women deadly with spears and bows and then the eunuchs who maintained discipline in the harem. Some of the eunuchs had been recruited as children locally or received as gifts from Ottoman and North African kings.

Several of the women in the Mughal Harem were the native girls from South Asia. Most of the local rulers belonging to vassal states had sent their daughters to the Mughal Harem to strengthen political relations with the Mughal Empire. Central Asian, Afghani and Persian girls were preferred by the Mughals who were the chief wives and concubine while the Persian girls included Georgian and Armenian girls who had been part of Persian Safavid dynasty.

The lives of the harem ladies were administered by strict rules of purdah and the ladies generally did not have the freedom of moving out of the harem as they desired. If they would go out, their face had to be covered behind a veil.

Lived in Great Comfort/Luxury/Materialist Pleasure

However, within the harem they could move around as they pleased. Moreover they were also provided with different kinds of luxuries and comfort and they life in the harem was full of fun and laughter. The image portrayed by foreigners like Bernier and Manucci who had the opportunity of accessing the harem as physicians showed that they lived in great comfort, luxury with materialistic pleasure.

 The ladies resided in grand apartments which were luxuriously furnished together with beautiful gardens, fountains, tanks and water channels attached. They were attired in expensive clothing made from the finest material, adorning themselves with jewellery from head to toe.

 They seldom went out and when they did go out, most of the high ranked ladies travelled in style and comfort in richly decorated howdahs on elephant backs and palanquins. Their daily requirements of the emperor as well as his harem inmates were satisfied by the royal departments

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The slumdog Princess: Descendant of India's Last Emperor


Descendants of India’s Last Emperor – Confined to Life in a Slum (Kolkata)

The descendant of India’s last emperor would have lived in luxurious palaces when they ruled over a huge and wealthy kingdom. However the lifestyle of Sultana Begum is far from the luxuries enjoyed by the rulers during the Mughal times.

It is said that Sultana Begum has been confined to a life in a slum which is on the outskirts of Kolkata and the 60 year old is the great grand daughter-in-law of the last emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar. She had to face difficulties to make ends meet on her basic pension inspite of her royal heritage. Since the death of her husband Prince in 1980, Mirza Bedar Bukht has been leading a life of poverty.

 This Mughal heiress has been compelled to reside in a miniature two-room hut in Howrah which is a slum area in Kolkata and shares a kitchen with her neighbour, washing in the street, utilising the water coming from public taps. Inspite of the fact that she is related to the 19th century royal family, she goes about her daily life on the pension of just about £60 each month. She has informed that her other daughters and husbands being poor are unable to help them.

Contributed to Architectural Legacy to Indian

The £60, according to Indian currency amounts to 6,000, by way of pension covers the expenses for herself, her six children, five daughters and a son. Her predicament, in recent years has been emphasized by several campaigners who had pushed authorities in providing more care for India’s royal descendants, most of which were left in the lurch after the British rule had ended the Mughal dynasty.

 Sultana has descended from the Mughal dynasty which had contributed to a great extent the architectural legacy to the Indian sub-continent from the 16th, 17th and the 18th centuries. The Taj Mahal is one such example of some of the finest monuments built by the Muslim emperors, though the Mughals had also built the Red Fort, the Agra Fort and the Lahore Shalimar Gardens most of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

It is said that Sultana had spent years, appealing to the central and state government for help for basic living provision and a pension but till date the government has only provided her grand-daughter Roshan Ara with a job and a salary of £150.

1858 - Exiled to Rangoon

However, the other members of the household who seemed to be illiterate had failed the basic government test when they had been offered jobs. Sultana had spent several years running a tea stall before it was closed down and she then focused her attention in producing clothing for ladies. Sultana narrates that she is grateful to some who had come forward to support her.

Her husband, the late Muhammad Bedar Bakht, the son of Jamshid Bakht and the grandson of Jawan Bakht had informed her that they had come from respectable royal families who had never begged for a living. She stated that she had always asked governments to provide her with what her family deserves.

In 1837, the great grandfather of Sultana’s husband, Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar had been placed on the throne and was the last of the Mughal emperors who had ruled India for three centuries. Towards 1857, when the Indian soldiers had amalgamated and rebelled against their British master, Bahadur Shah Zafar was their commander-in-chief. In 1858, when the revolution was crushed by the British, he was exiled to Rangoon, where he lived there for five years till his death at the age of 87.

He had been accompanied by his wife, Zeenat Mahal during his exile together with some of the remaining family members. He had died in exile on 7th November 1862 in Rangoon, presently Yangon, and the capital of Burma.

Mughal Empire – Dominant Power In Indian Subcontinent

He was buried at the site which was later known as Bahadur Shah Zafar Dargah. Towards 1991, in the event of a restoration work-out, the original brick-lined graved was identified and he was honoured as a saint by the Burmese Muslims natives. Zeenat Mahal, his wife who died in 1886 and the granddaughter Raunaq Zamani were also buried alongside his burial. Though several of the children and grandchildren of Bahadur Shah had been killed as a result of the failed Indian Rebellion in 1857, the descendants of his surviving children had lived in Detroit Michigan in the United States and in various areas of India and Pakistan. The Mughal Empire which originated in Persia was the dominant power in the Indian subcontinent in the mid-16th century and the early 18th century. It ruled at its highest point, for around a quarter of the population of the world. Under the Mughals, the Indian economy was prosperous due to the development of road system and a uniform currency as well as with the union of the country. Town and cities grew under the Mughals, though for most part, the military and political centres had not been dedicated to commerce or industry.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Naachtun- A Lost City of the Maya


Ancient City of Naachtun – Heart of the Maya Region

Mayan civilization of Central America was very much advanced and flourishing during the period when Europe was yet in the dark ages. Some suggest that the climate changes could have been responsible for the collapse of the Mayas though several experts tend to disagree.

The Maya of the Classic period started around 250 AD and lived in the area in the Guatemala, Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, towards the western area of Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. The ancient city of Naachtun is located in the heart of the Maya region, a kilometre south of the Mexican border towards the far northern area of Guatemala.

This Naachtun city was rediscovered by the western archaeologist Sylvanus Morley of the Carnegie Institution Washington on May 3 in 1922 and is one of the most remote sites of Maya location. Morley had heard of the site from a chiclero, one who collects sap that is used in making chewing gum from chicle trees, by the name Alfonso Ovando.

 He was the first who saw the site in 1916. Morley together with Filipino photographers, Juan Sopena had spent around seven days at the site wherein they explored several of the standing buildings and discovered 19 of the Naachtun’s 40 plus stelae.

Calakmul/Tikal – Superpowers of Classic Maya World

The city has also been the subject of only a few fleeting visits for the past 80 years. Inspite of its current isolation, Naachtun seems to be very much in the thick of things during the Classic era where the site lie around 44 km south-south-east of Calakmul and 65 km north if Tikal. These are the two superpowers of the classic Maya world.

Located directly between these two powerful entities, Naachtun besides holding a strategic position was also vulnerable during the frequent wars of that time and control of the city had been seen as an essential prologue to any effort by Tikal or Calakmul to attack the other.

Morley had named the huge Maya city Naachtun due to the site’s dangerous unapproachability where naach means `far’ and tun means `stone’ in Mayan. Naachtun till date is one of the most remote sites in the Yucatan peninsula as well as one of the least known among all the major Classic Maya centres.

Next Western Visitor – Cyprus Lundell

Cyrus Lundell was the next western visitorto Naachtun, who had reached the site on January 5 and spent three days mapping and exploring it with Garcia, a chiclero guide. In the process he also discovered eight new stelae and though Morley and company had reached Naachtun form the south, Lundell had reached it form the north and had mistakenly presumed that he had found a new site of around 20 km north of the Mexico-Guatemala border.

 He had named the apparently new site as `Nohoxna’. Towards 1933, presuming that Lundell had found a new site, the Carnegie Institution of Washington had sent an expedition to southern Mexico to find and document the same with members comprising of Karl Ruppert, John H. Denison Jr. and JP O’Neill who spent 12 days in May 1933.

 They discovered several new stelae together with other new buildings. O’Neill completed the map of the site which is being utilised till date. When Ruppert, Denison and O’Neill returned from their field and had compared their photos with those of Morley’s earlier expedition, did they realise that Nohoxna and Naachtun were one and the same place.