Saturday, 27 February 2021

Masi Maham festival 2021 of Tamil Nadu celebrated with less pomp due to Covid -19

Masi maham 2021, Tamil

Masi Maham, or Maasi Magam, an auspicious day in the Tamil month of Masi (February – March) is celebrated across Tamil Nadu with devotion and this year it began  on 22 February; the main  Maasi Magam event  is on 27 February.  An  important  festival for the Hindus, in particular Tamils, the temple city of Kumbakonam becomes a beehive of activities during the festival season.  Mahm or Makam, one among the twenty seven stars (Nakshatras) in the Hindu astrological system, assumes much importance and the traditional ritual has been the   bathing of Temple  idols - murtis or vigrahams in  any near-by water body - river, sea, temple water tank  or lake. This year .Magam Nakshathram begins at 12.35 pm on February 26, 2021,and ends at 11.18 am on February 27, 2021.

Masimaham festival,- February-March, Tamil

Location map Kumbakonam, Tamil

The temple utchava  mutthis (processional idols)  of gods and goddess  that are  daily worshipped by the devotees   are  reverentially carried in a procession to the water bodies where  Pujas and rituals are conducted by the temple priests in the presence of  thousands of  devotees who throng the temple water tank, etc to  witness the auspicious event and get blessed by the deities. According to the Hindu belief those who take a holy bath on the day of Masi Maham in the temple tank, etc will attain salvation or Moksha - not to under go the rigors' of rebirth and death.  Masi Maham festival assumes the greatest significance every twelve years and the main venue is Maha Maha Kulam (water tank) in the prime location of  Kumbakonam. The next major event will be in Feb-March 2028.. More than one million  devotees  from Tamil Nadu and other states will attend the Mahamahamm festival in Kumbakonam.  The last Mahamaham  took place on 22 February 2016  with roughly  a million  people from various places taking the holy dip in the holy tank (coverings over 20 acres).  In this city twelve Shiva temples or Shivalayas  are connected with  the major Mahamaham festival that has   assumed much importance since the visit of Krishandevaraya of Vijayanagara dynasty during 1445 CE. 

The Mahamaham tank is surrounded by Shiva mandapams,Wikipedia.

1900 Mahamaham festival, Kumbakonam,

During the annual Maham event, at various  Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti temples, special pujas are done to the presiding deities and the processional idols are taken to the near by river bank or sea shore  for abhishekam -bathing, puja, etc.  In  Tamil Nadu, besides Kumbakonam, places like Srirangam, Thiruvannamalai, Erode, Tirunelveli, Rameswaram  etc., are quite known for the Maham festival events.  

On the Maham day 27th February at Kumbaknonam  processional deities from temples such as Adhi Kumbeswarar, Kasi Viswanathan, Nageswarar, etc  along with their  respective consorts  were taken in Rishaba  vahanam - mount to the bank of the Mahamaham tank for traditional ritual. Though a large section of devotees was on the banks of the Mahamaham  tank, they were not allowed to take a dip in the tank.  At the tank the priests conducted ritual  ablutions  with 21 puja materials, etc.   After this event, despite the orders from the district administration not to take bathe in the tank,  lots of devotees took a head bath in the tank. Owing to threats of  Covid-19 -  possible second cycle, the congregation of devotees  was far less than last year. 

Hundreds of devotees thronged the Vaithikuppam beach on Saturday to offer worship on the occasion of the ‘Masi Magam’ festival.‘Theerthavari’ ceremony was held with the participation of Utcha murthis from roughly 100 temple in Puducherry and adjoining areas. Once the puja was over, devotees took a dip in the  beach and paid respect to the deities and also many did tharpanam - paying obeisance to their forefathers.

Ms. Emily Eden, sister of Lord Auckland (former Gov. Gen. of India) and some of her famous paintings mmmmmmmmmm

Ms. Emily Eden, sister of Lord

Ms,,Emily  Eden : (March 4, 1797 - August 5, 1869), native of  London, England; was the daughter of William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland, and Eleanor Elliot.  Educated  privately  tutored by a series of governesses, she remained unmarried through out her life. She  was a poet and novelist of  considerable repute.  and was quit famous for her witty accounts of English life in the early 19th century of  British aristocracy, class vulgarity, etc. and the imperialistic life style oten accompanied by pomp and show  in India. She was also an accomplished amateur artist.

Ms .Emily had flair for writing and paintings (1830s and 1840s)  and they brought out the natural beauty of the Indian subcontinent, the rulers and the hardship being faced by the natives there.  Emily Eden,  the elder of the two sisters  accompanied their brother George Auckland when he landed  in India  (March 1836 - roughly after 5 month long sea travel around the Cape of Good Hope) to take up the highest position in British India as the Governor-General of India. A prestigious, potentially lucrative and responsible  position that required residence in India; the appointment was made by Lord Melbourne, the then prime Minister of England in 1935.   For Ms. Emily, life in the tropical India was a different one - a  'total change from the life they had been used to'....Initially, she faced difficulty in adjusting her life to the hot weather and heat. She wrote, "I have not been able yet to live five minutes, night or day, without the punkah (large ceiling fan manually operated by men)], and we keep our blinds all closed as long as there is a ray of sun." Her persistent loneliness, tropical heat, different life styles of natives resulted in aversion for life in the Indian land. Her initial excitement over  extravagant life style   was slowly overshadowed by boredom and desolation 

She observed: ''The red carpet welcome that was accorded to George Auckland and his two sisters left Emily totally amazed. The grandeur of government house made her proclaim that their residence looked rather like "a palace out of Arabian Nights     ....................Everything is so picturesque and so utterly un-English." "Retinues of servants followed wherever they went, waiting on them hand and foot, and presenting arms every time Emily went out of the room in search of her keys or a handkerchief'' ... "He never stirs without a tail of joints after him." However, it did not take long for them to become accustomed to all the attention, and Emily soon recorded that for his part the Governor-General was "as happy as a king".   An artist of no mean merit, Emily   recorded everything that took her fancy, leaving behind a legacy of splendid sketches and paintings of her alien experiences in India

In 1837, Emily Eden, quite bored by her lonely stay in Calcutta while her brother was on  tour all the time.  she once  accompanied her brother George,  on a two-and-a-half-year tour through Northern India. It is said that to impress on the Rajahs and the natives the power and  glory of British  imperialism, they traveled with large contingent of retinue - a ten-mile-long procession of camels, elephants, horses, carriages, bamboo carts, soldiers and camp followers.  A show of pomp (of course British arrogance) it also included twelve thousand people, this cavalcade could travel only about two hours in the early morning before the sun became too strong. Hailing from Wig family that had political clout,  as a good writer Ms.  Emily Eden, commented wryly on her participation in this gigantic daily parade

Back in England, in 1841 as Lord Auckland's tenure abruptly ended after his debacle in Afghanistan. The sisters   Emily, Fanny lived  along with their brother. Soon after the death of   George and sister Fanny  within a few months of each other, Emily Eden became  chronically ill. She died  at Eden Lodge on August 5, 1869.  In her paintings, she beautifully depicted the grandeur of  imperial life style and her famous paintings  ae a boon for the posterity. She was impressed by the various cultures and costumes of peoples, places and her  published  account of her time in India - Portraits, Princess and Peoples of India got the attention of the British society

Fort of Nahan, 1850s, British India under the EIC.

Above image: Nahan is a town in Himachal Pradesh in India and is the headquarters of the Sirmaur District Aditya is king of Nahan It was the capital of the former Sirmur princely state.

1844 lithograph, Emily, Eden, sister of Lord

Abov image: British India.." Here, the Governor General Lord Auckland (Eden's brother) was receiving the Raja of Nahan in Durbar in his tent.  Nathan  is one of the Himalayan hill-states and now a district of Himachal Pradesh.

This lithograph is taken from plate 24 of Emily Eden's 'Portraits of the Princes and People of India'. During Durbars, or receptions, the Governor General would sit in the Centre, with the visiting ruler immediately to his right. Flanking them were the Government Secretary, who acted as interpreter, and the visiting minister, who acted as spokesman for the ruler. While discussions went on trays of presents were exchanged. Ms.Eden wrote: "The conversation at receptions ... is generally confined to a brief usual routine of questions and inquiries ... mixed with boundless assurances of devotion on the part of the chiefs, and expressions of kindness and goodwill on the part of the Governor-General.

The following are some of Ms. Emily Eden's  paintings

Ms. Emily Eden (1797 - 1869)

Above image:  The Raja of Putteealla(Patiala, Punjab, ndia) on His State Elephant. (b) A Guard of the Rajah of Putteala and Two of His Dwarfs. From the book India Portraits, Princess and Peoples of India published in London by J. Dikinson & Sons 1844 with 24 Lithographic plates.

Emily Eden Voyage to India, album1835–1836

Eden wrote: "The conversation at receptions ... is generally confined to a brief usual routine of questions and inquiries ... mixed with boundless assurances of devotion on the part of the chiefs, and expressions of kindness and goodwill on the part of the Governor-General." Here, the Governor General Lord Auckland (Eden's brother) was receiving the Raja of Nahan, one of the Himalayan hill-states and now a district of Himachal Pradesh.

 Brother of female regent of Gwalior State Hindu Rao.,1844

Above image:  The Raja of Putteealla(Patiala, Punjab, ndia) on His State Elephant. (b) A Guard of the Rajah of Putteala and Two of His Dwarfs. From the book India Portraits, Princess and Peoples of India published in London by J. Dikinson & Sons 1844 with 24 Lithographic plates.

Ms. Emily Eden's portrait

Above image: A portrait of the attendants on the Raja Khurruk Singh, eldest son of Ranjit Singh, by Emily Eden; London, J. Dickinson & Son, 1844 . 1844. Emily Eden; London, J. Dickinson & Son 446 Raja Khurruk Singh.

.Ms. Emily Eden, portrait of an Indian ruler.

Mr. Emily's portrait of an Indian ruler. 1844

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Mairie (Town Hall), an impressive historical French-styled building, Puducherry, India finally restored

Restored structure. the Mairie (town hall), Puducherry, India.

"Memory is the treasure house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved"..............Thomas Fuller.

The union territory of Puducheery (also known as Pondicherry or Pondy), the neighboring territory of Tamil Nadu, South India, was once a well known French Settlement just like Chandanagar (French name Chandernagor) city  near Kolkata of West Bengal and is  well known for buildings and bungalows built in Indo-French architecture. As a matter of fact French India had  five principal (Chef-lieu) communes -  Pondichéry, Chandernagore, Karikal, Mahé and Yanaon.

The well-planned coastal city  of Puducherry was the hub of commerce during the French rule  in the 19th and early 20th century.. When the French left Puducherry  for good, they left behind  a host of French-styled buildings of varied designs. Particularly, in the French quarters, there are many such buildings  that carry the legacy of French rule. The Puducherry state carrying on the French culture  and heritage,  even the police men wear French-styled uniform  in Puducherry, Karikal districts and other territories under its administration. During the British colonial rule, the French   continued to retain the settlement  despite several wars with them. The hostility between these two colonial powers  had  persisted since the time of East India company rule. 

Not withstanding the fact  the French established colonies in India  way back  in the 17th century itself, only toward the end of the 19th century they introduced  civil administration. A French Metropolitan Decree, dated 12 March 1880 adopted a six-year term of office for Mayors (Maire), municipal councilors (Conseil Municipaux) and commune panchayats (Communes). Thus French India has seen a French system of municipal administration. Being an effective administrative machinery in French India, it had several distinctive and efficient  features. The French civil administration stood apart and  served as a role model for hassle-free administration in French India. This city hall (Maiie), considered a symbol of the French colonial power, provided a premise for the registry office, and especially for the mayor. 

Mairie, Puducherry, original building

The Mairie, Puducherry, India. prior to 2014

Mairie in ruins, Puducherry.

Mairie, Puducherry in the early 2010s  prior to 2014

Among the impressive buildings built in French style,  the Mairie (meaning Town Hall in French) on Goubert Avenue (beach road) is worthy of mention. Built in 1870-71, this iconic structure  facing the Bay of Bengal had been in a state of neglect and disuse  for a long time  and collapsed  on 29 November 2014. to the dismay of heritage lovers.  The restoration work actually began in October 2016   when the work was in progress a part of the building that was supposed to be strong collapsed while the workers were away. Because of protests from various quarters over the poor up keep of this and other buildings,  the state government  began the restoration work  in 2017 and   the project  that was funded by  the World bank progressed slowly.  The restoration of this building that served as the  administrative  and political landmark  was  at last completed in 2020 after considerable delay. It was dedicated to the nation by the Indian PM Modiji  a few days ago on his visit to the city.
The Mairie, Puducherry,

Above image: It is a good example how innumerable impressive heritage monuments disappear across India. Reasons: Lack of interest in maintaining  historical monuments  and sheer carelessness on the part of administration both at the state and central levels.. Puducherry,  once  served as a role model for  preservation and heritage conservation in India and across Asia in the early 1960s,  now lost the stature for various reasons, one being political. Many newspaper articles, especially The Hindu and The Times of India, Indian Express   sadly noted that  many buildings, steeped in history,  had been lost through neglect. In the case of Puducherry, despite a UNESCO award,. many such building are slowly dying, one among them is  the iconic French-era Mairie, or Hotel de Ville (Town Hall).  At stake is Pondicherry’s French  Heritage’ and legacy..............................

The structure was  too weak  to face the fury of  incessant  NE retreating monsoon rains in 2014 and  the it caused the collapse.  Very much affected were  central part and major portions on the northern side, including rooms on the ground and first floor of the building. However,  the four walls and southern portions survived  with cracks.  Soon after the collapse of this unique structure, there arose a necessity  for the government agencies to evaluate all the  French heritage structures in Puducherry. Both the heritage experts and the government agencies had  swung into action  and made concerted efforts to save the the town hall building and the remaining iconic structures at the earliest.

Restoration work in progress. The Mairie, Puducherry, India.

The restoration work stalled for a while on account of disagreement over the right   choice of construction materials  for the building. The crux of the matter was traditional construction materials  had to be used in the  new structure to retain the heritage value and splendor. The heritage experts from the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and other agencies and the Government  finally arrived at a reasonable agreement over the use of  conventional method to rebuild Mairie.

The INTACH’ experts gave preference to  lime mortar and ‘Madras-terrace roof’ technique  as the  the traditional methods give better life than the modern RCC structure that may last 40 or 50  years where as the PWD, Govt. of Pondicherry  recommended .reinforced cement concrete (RCC) and cement mortar and cement plaster. Further, the  the INTAH engineers wanted to stick to original drawings to rebuild the structure, using the original materials and construction techniques  as followed in the past.  The  cost of the project  Rs.15 crore  was funded by the world bank.

According to PPH ( The People for Pondicherry’s Heritage, a citizens’ body) , the  Congress-led coalition government was  now  taking steps  to construct a RCC look-alike of the Mairie despite knowing that it  was  possible to reconstruct it using traditional methods. The old features include on the eastern and western façade of the building  arcaded entrance with a verandah on high plinth accessed by a broad flight of steps in dressed granite and   colored galleries on the first floor and a large ceremonial hall with wooden flooring,

One of the biggest administrative buildings for more than 100 years, it was classified under A Grade for its heritage value and B Grade for its architectural, cultural and  streetscapes significance.. Since 1870-71, no major restoration work has been carried out. .It is among the other historical sites like Light House, Customs House and French Consulate on the Beach road  the Mairie  served as the office of the municipality offering services marriage registration, etc. besides holding public functions. It also served as the local assembly in the 1880s, but also saw the first-ever democratic exercise during 1871 to 1900, much before the first general election was held in British India.


Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Nanda Devi, second highest peak, India and the mystery of missing plutonium!

Reproduced from the early post:

Nanda Devi (altitude : 25,643ft /7815m) is the second highest mountain in India, next only to Kangchenjunga, which is higher on the border of India and Nepal. Considered  as the highest mountain in the world before Geodetic computations in 1808,  Nanda Devi is part of the Garhwal Himalayas, and is in the state of Uttarakhand, between the Rishiganga valley on the west and the Goriganga valley on the east. 

Mount Nanda Devi, India.

Nanda Devi, a highly revered peak, is considered as among the most difficult Himalayan climbs by Tenzing Norgay, the man who first reached the roof of the world  Mt. Everest along with Edmund Hillary (29 May 1953). This peak played a vital  role during  an important  clandestine missions in the 1960s. Unlike other peaks, Mt. Nanda Devi became a mysterious peak for decades and was not approachable by many mountain climbers. But for  a few exceptions such as army or IMF sponsored expeditions,  nobody was allowed  either  to climb or explore Nanda Devi. Reason: Supposedly  environmentally fragile place.  Mount Nanda Devi was shrouded in mystery for decades and finally the veil over the  puzzle was removed to let the public know the naked truth.  Read further:.......

In the early 1960s, the sudden and unprovoked war (1962) with India, ended in favor of China. The Communist China's military muscle became a subject of discussion, so it became a necessity to keep a tab on China's military activities.  China's had first successful nuclear tests in Xinjiang province in 1964,  and it made India and other countries to install a device on Nanda Devi to keep track of its military threats.

Route to Nanda Devi,

In October 1965, the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) together  wanted to have a sophisticated nuclear-powered sensing device installed on the summit to keep an eye on China.

Location map of Nanda Devi.

The daunting task is to take the heavy tracking  device uphill  and install it atop the peak. It was a tough  job  considering, the difficult mountainous route, the weight of the device - roughly 56 kg, tall 8 to 10 feet antenna, two transceiver sets,  and nuclear auxiliary power (SNAP) generator. Most importantly, the dangerous job was to set atop the summit the generator’s nuclear fuel, consisting of seven plutonium capsules  safely kept in a special  steel container.

A mountaineering team consisting of  Americans and  four army men was  entrusted with the job of installing the device on  top of Mt. Nanda Devi. The team was led my one  Manmohan Singh Kohli, an ace mountaineer and when the team reached  Camp IV on 18 October, 1965 at over 24,000ft, an unexpected thing had happened. A terrible blizzard and severe cold conditions  hampered the tough endeavor. The blizzard being severe, the leader was left with one choice - either to move up or abandon the mission for the time being. Being a smart leader,  Kholi gave up the assault  to save the lives of his men. Had he not taken the right decision  “many would have been under the snow to day in the eternal grave in the snow-clad mountain.

Expedition Poster: Nanda Devi East. blogger

The nuclear-powered generator, nicknamed Guru Rinpoche by the climbing Sherpas, after the Buddhist god, was already emitting unusual heat and when the porters and others came to know that the heat was due to  radioactive  fuel, they realized the inherent danger and became agitated. Unable to move the generator uphill with them, the team safely kept  it near Camp IV and returned to safety. The crux of the matter is what they left behind at higher slopes of Nanda Devi was  the deadly stock of plutonium, which was “about half the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima”, according to the team leader Kohli.

When the team returned to the mountain in May 1966 to resume their work, to their utter dismay, the container with Plutonium (it is an alloy of Pu-238 with 18 percent Pu-239. Pu-238 gives off far more heat than Pu-239) was missing and they made a vain attempt to find it. Theories and dangers of radiation were thick in the air. Nobody knew what had happened to the nuclear fuel pack. Team leader was of the opinion that the life span of the nuclear fuel was just 100 years and it is likely that the it lay buried in the snow as a result of a snow avalanche,

Nanda Devi temple. Flicker. com

Officer  and ace mountaineer Captain Kholi.

Above image: Captain M.S. Kohli climbed Mt. Everest in 1966 and got an Arjuna award from the Indian Govt.  He also scaled Mt. Annapurna. Captain

Believed to be the  20th century’s dangerous  mountaineering - cum-espionage operation ever  conducted on the slopes of the second highest peaks in the world, the mission tested the limits of human stamina, tenacity  and courage.  The US and Indian team,  as part of the installation of the  surveillance device and retrieval, witnessed as many as one dozen tough ascents, involving countless  daring people between 1965 and 1968, according to Captain Kohli.

Mt. Nanda Devi, India.

Since the fear of plutonium contamination of a vast area, stretching from the terrain of Rishiganga along the river Ganga  up to Kolkata and  the threats to millions of people  along the river became a serious issue,  the US and Indian teams monitored the entire stretch for some period. They continuously checked  the various water resources  and rocks  for any trace of radiation according to Prabhat Kumar Ganguli, the author of Nanda Abhiyatra, a book written in Bengali. Captain Kohli’s 8th Indo-Tibetan Border Police Battalion (from Tapovan) was actively involved in checking the radioactivity in the Rishi Ganga area.   In his 2005 book, "One More Step", Kohli described in detail the scare of nuclear contamination. When a team led by  one Rawat went up to retrieve the device from Nanda Kot in the summer of 1968, the device was very much there with the cover prized and the perpetual radiation made a  spherical cave around it in the ice. What about the plutonium capsules? There was no trace of them!! No body understood the ramification of missing plutonium on Nanda Devi, a perineal source of water  for the Ganga river and its repercussions. Fortunately, there was no calamity on account of this unexpected mishap, and it was a blessing in disguise.

It was only in 1967, the Americans, with the help of Kohli and other Indian climbers such as Sonam Wangyal, H.C.S. Rawat, et al successfully installed a second nuclear-powered listening device on the neighboring peak, the 22,510 ft Nanda Kot. The device worked well almost  for a year before developing a snag. The faulty Nanda Kot equipment  was removed away in 1968 in a helicopter by the Americans,  After reading countless reports and studies made by top Indian scientists, mountaineer Kohli concludes. “According to me, the plutonium capsules will remain hot and melt the snow. It is a mystery whether it formed a cavity or traveled to the bottom of the glacier or got stuck somewhere in between. I see very little chance of radioactivity. No chance,”

The news of  the CIA-IB furtive operation and the missing plutonium broke out  in the international media, for the first time in 1977 in the American magazine 'Outside'.  The sensational  adventure on Mt. Nanda Devi led to  national and international outrage and the then PM Morarji Desai had to admit to the secret mission in Parliament, and further stated that no other device was kept on the Indian soil as the faulty device was already taken away from Nanda Kot by the Americans in 1968.  In 1993 the team that did environmental study had found the steel case in the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. The steel cover had been prised  away because of extreme forces of Nature.

The unfortunate fact is several  Sherpas who carried the nuclear device  up hill later died of cancer due to exposure to radiation. The mystery around the missing plutonium continues to haunt many Himalayan mountaineers and according to one author  Stephen Alter (who wrote Himalayan Journeys In Search Of The Sacred And The Sublime) “There’s a lot of speculation and rumor surrounding those events, but it’s difficult to say exactly what happened.” According to the former VP of IMF Kapadia, the “threat of radioactivity is certainly there”.

American author and climber Pete Takeda, authored the book An Eye At The Top Of The World: The Terrifying Legacy Of The Cold War’s Most Daring CIA Operation.  ...."Some experts will say that the plutonium represents a major health threat. Others dismiss the danger as no more hazardous than an airport X-ray machine. The truth lies somewhere in between,” he writes over messages on Facebook.

The missing plutonium issue that has layers of riddle wrapped around it, is an enigma that  represents the horrible legacy of  CIA tactics in  a clandestine espionage operation. This brings out the recklessness of men to challenge the sanctity  of  serene nature, unmindful of the threats to a vast human population living on the banks of the Ganga river.  In case something goes awry, the consequences will be disastrous. 


Nanda Devi in local parlance means  Blissful Goddess and she is the  the patron - goddess of the Uttarakhand Himalayas. In view of its  religious significance and delicate Eco System, Mt. Nanda Devi sanctuary was closed to climbers and others in 1983. The surrounding Nanda Devi National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

Harish Kapadia  built a small stone temple at the base camp, a place named Chaubata in  memory” of his son, Lt.  Nawang Kapadia of 4/3 Gorkha Rifles. He was  killed in a terrorist attack in Kashmir. The temple is dedicated to the supreme goddess of the region, Nanda Devi -the goddess who has protected the innocent Indian people by way of preventing a big national calamity.

This post is based on the following interesting article.

                                             (corrections made 28 March 2017)

Is there a link between the recent glacier burst on Mt. Nanda Devi and loss of nuclear device set by India and the USA in 1965?

CIA_IB nuclear device installation, Nanda Devi peak, India

It is reported that on 7 February 2021  a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke  away and the glacial melt water, caused the  flooding of Dhauliganga and the Rishiganga rivers. One dam at the Dhauliganga hydropower project at Reni village was destroyed and another suffered a partial collapse. Initial reports said nine people were dead and 140 missing. Water levels on the Alaknanda also rose to a dangerous level.  
The glacier burst tragedy that took place in the state of Uttarakhand, N. India in the recent past  had left behind a trail of destruction, loss of lives and properties and in the wake of this incident, the villagers of Raini in the Tapovan area of Chamoli district were seriously concerned about this unforeseen natural disaster that is said to have been caused by human error committed decades ago.  A strange mood of anxiety and foreboding has settled on the village and in the district. 

CIA-IB installing nuclear device, Mt. Nanda Devi,

Now, the villagers' apprehension about the safety of their future is quite reasonable. The consensus among them and the some of the news media has been that the root cause of this calamity could have been   more due to a radioactive device that  had been  buried somewhere in the Nanda Devi mountain  (at 25,645 feet) since the middle of 1960s. than other reasons.  After a long passage of time - roughly 55 years, its exact  location of burial is still a myth.  With a view to keeping a tab on the  activities of the communist China and its military expansion, the plutonium  radioactive device   weighing around 56kg, including an 8-10ft-high antenna, two transceiver sets system, the remote sensing device which was supposed to keep track of any further nuclear tests by China after 1965, is said to be  have been clandestinely planted during a secret   Government classified  joint expedition in 1965 by  the  Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States  in association  with  the Intelligence Bureau of India.  

The US climbers, undertook this secret, but difficult  mission under the guise of 'The Air Force High Altitude Test Program' (HAT) to cover up this secret mission.  The  main component  was generator's nuclear fuel - 7 plutonium capsules in a special container.  As for the power of plutonium, it  was “about half the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima,” said team leader Manmohan Singh Kohli, an ace mountain climber  in an interview with Live Mint.  There was an urgent need to monitor  China which had conducted a nuclear test  at  Lop Nor in Barren Sinkiang province on October 16th, 1964.  Since early 1960s, China has been a rogue country  and a threat to India's national security.

Location of  Mt. Nanda Devi.

Location Mt. Nanda Devi, India.

China site of nuclear test,

 Already the military regime illegally seized Tibet  and  forced  Dalai Lama, the religious leader of Tibetans to take refuge in India during the Nehru  administration. Later China invaded the border areas of India; the country was not well prepared for a sudden  invasion and had to face defeat. During  the Vietnam War, the Chinese gave the US tough time  and posed  a new threat to the already embattled US intelligence.  At that point of time, the US reconnaissance satellite  technology was not good enough  to spy on China's nuclear capabilities and their clandestine activities. The emerging China factor pushed the USA to get engaged in a covert operation with India which had just begun to strengthen its military capability. 

Mt. Nanda Devi, India

Above image:  Mt. Nanda Devi  or the blessed goddess is the highest mountain peak of India in the state of Uttarakhand. and it is strategically located.  A fine vantage point to keep an eye on arrogant and nasty  eastern neighbor–China, the peak lies just 500 miles from Sinkiang  and presents a challenging ascent  for even the best of mountaineers. CIA's initial plan of planting  the device at 27,000 feet  was changed  as the  inputs suggested that  same results could be achieved at an altitude of  25,645 foot, eliminating the risk levels on the higher slopes.  At places  where temperatures could go down - 40 degree Celsius, the people in charge of installation of the device on the first expedition could feel the heat radiating  from the  thick container that housed plutonium-238..The Nanda Devi South glaciers provide copious supply of water across many Indian  states. .................

"Apparently in October of 1959 it was confirmed that China, with Soviet assistance, had established a nuclear test base at Lop Nor with all intentions of testing a nuclear device. U-2 flights over China were becoming extremely dangerous, so powers thought if they could put a monitoring station on top of some Himalayan mountain with a clear shot towards Lop Nor they could gather all the information they needed. Before a decision was made as to what mountain would be selected, it was a given it would be at a very high altitude." CIA wires.

1965 CIA and IB team,spy mission to Nanda Devi.

 In an extremely cold and glacial environment on the summit of the Himalayan mountain of Nanda Devi, the sleuths decided to install   a nuclear-powered surveillance device  to watch the Chinese To get the device going continuously for years, the source of power  was a problem. In such a harsh environment on the peak neither battery  device nor solar powered device could meet the primary needs - durability  long life and continuous monitoring. Further, such a  device  needed a periodic check which was impossible as  Nanda  Devi peak happened to be one  the most difficult peaks to be accessed by the  expert mountaineers. 

CIA-India secret mission. Nanda Devi,

As ill-luck would have it, despite long preparations and  adequate precaution, the CIA's one of the most difficult and secrets operations  atop the mountain  ended  in a fiasco; it was an abortive mission to set up the nuclear device on the higher slope of the mountain. Reason: In the middle of their  installation operation near  the summit, they were hit by a severe blizzard  and their lives were in danger. With no options open,  CIA and Indian sleuths  abandoned  the  covert mission midway to escape  from near  death-like situation.  When the team  returned to the spot in the year 1966, they could not find the device. The device is said to have a life of around 100 years out of which 45 are still left. However, many  question the veracity of the story put out by the CIA. It is learnt that the radioactive material used in the device is  an alloy of Pu-238 with 18 percent Pu-239 which is considered the most effective combination to prolong the life span of the material and generate maximum energy

The nuclear device  and the equipment were lost  under the piles of ice and  it was an Herculean task to retrieve it.  Now, the villagers and others are being haunted by a long-held suspicion  that the nuclear device that lies buried in the Nanda Devi mountain one day may cause  serious damages to their lives, the placid environment and the water resources in the Indo-Gangetic plains.  The moot question is: Did the  buried  nuclear device due to  over heating  and possible radiation  trigger  the recent glacier  burst and Chamoli flash floods?   Some experts  say that Chamoli flash floods and many other disasters on the Himalayan mountain are  primarily caused by global warming and  climate change.  The floods,  severely damaged  two  Dhauliganga hydro power projects that were in progress and loss of  countless lives, etc.,  at Raini village.  A total of  32 bodies were found to date while 174 were missing and the casualty figure was going up as days went by.   This unexpected havoc brought back fears of old tales and rumors  related to a lost radioactive material in the Nanda Devi glaciers.

Indian nuclear scientists are unable to give proper explanation  on the status of the nuclear device buried in the mountain   in the absence of details. However, way back in 1965  American senator Richard Autier   and famous Russian scientist Arthur Compeleene warned India about the  radio active  device,  saying that lakhs of people might  be affected if there was  leak of  radiation.

Water sources to River ganga, India.

According to one Mohan Singh, a resident of Raini village who took part  part in many expeditions in Nanda Devi glaciers,  the flash floods were not the result of any device. With the passage of time the  buried nuclear instrument  has become a myth eventually.   However, a few people associated with the 1965  expedition  feel "The device is dangerous and may be the cause of these floods  from the meting the snow." It is likely, the melting of glaciers might have taken at close points within in the perimeter of the device and the gushing melt water down the slope  triggered the Chamoli flash floods. 

What's  so surprising is the  half-hearted  interest shown by the  USA and India in the matter of  mishap  due to  damaged  device for various reasons and the  possible consequences on the environment, water resources and millions of people living in the Gangetic plains along the river Ganga and its tributaries.  Such a possibility of  mysterious  emerging scenario is not given serious attention and is  just  ignored. The former India Mountaineering Federation vice-president Harish Kapadia said  long ago in the interview with Livemint, "The sherpas who carried the gadget had a lot of exposure, and the threat of radioactivity is certainly there."   The real  danger  was the  radio-active poisoning of the Rishi Ganga, the river that drains the Nanda Devi  melting glaciers into the Ganga river.  Between 2004 and 2007 tests done d by climber Pete Takeda of samples from the peak area, showed evidence of the Plutonium. The  then union government ignored his  findings.  In 2018,  the state cabinet minister of Uttarakhand Satpal Maharaj  said that he had urged the Indian Prime Minister to take action in this regard.  Several years ago the USA's attempt to clean up the the areas on Nanda Devi slopes  where the plutonium container was lost was met with failure. The plan  was to  use  Rubber hoses to wash away the rubble and dig out the nuclear device. Though theory wise, it was possible, practically speaking, it did not go well because  the mound created by the successive avalanches was almost as big as the Giza pyramid.  

The fear of plutonium contamination of  a vast land, stretching from the terrain of Rishiganga along the river Ganga  up to Kolkata  city on the east and  the threats to millions of people  along the river  is very much there.  In the recent Chamoli flash floods caused by the glacier burst, people along the banks could not bear the foul smell emanating from the gushing  melt water. What is the reason for this foul smell?  No proper explanation is forthcoming. With far better advanced technology in the area of satellite imaging, both the US and India  can work together to  fish out the deeply buried nuclear device buried in the glaciers of Mt. Nanda Devi. Until it is  dug out, we have to keep our fingers crossed with apprehension.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Colonial All Saints’ Cathedral (1851), Nagpur, India

All Saints’ Cathedral, Nagpur,

All Saints’ Cathedral, Nagpur,

The city of Nagpur,  in the Vidarbha region  of Maharashtra  is home to many old churches built during the  early colonial period under the East India company's rule.  Though many of the European missionaries landed in India with a view to  spreading the Gospel of Love as propounded by Christ, a preponderance of them like Stephen Hislop, founder of Hislop college, Nagpur, Fred Schwartz of Thanjavur- Tiruchi of  Tamil Nadu  and a host of other missionaries  focused  more on western education and making it available to the people of  all communities including those from  the lower strata of the society. More than 1200 to 1600 years ago  the Indians were quite  well versed in the areas like  maths, astrology, astronomy, architecture, medicine etc. However, the system of western education was knew to them. The Scottish man who was instrumental in the spread of western education in the Vidharbha area was Stephen Hislop, a young missionary.

Nagpur, Maharashtra, location map.maps of

Entrance.. All Saints’ Cathedral,Nagpur,

All Saints’ Cathedral, Nagpur, MH.

All Saints’ Cathedral of Nagpur founded by Col. Elliot in 1851 was designed by John Harley Maxwell  (1822-1892), a  native of Glen cairn, Scotland. He was with Bengal Engineers and  worked in many places across India like Punjab, Gwalior. Using the church of England as  a model, he followed the Victorian style of architecture for this church.    

Interior. All Saints’ Cathedral, Nagpur, MH

All Saints’ Cathedral, Nagpur, MH, tripadvisor,com

All Saints’ Cathedral, Nagpur, MH, tripadvisor,com

Standing across the VCA stadium, the church forms an important land mark with its unique English style of design in this part of the city.. As there was a growing demand for additional churches in this part,   some churches came up late to meet the demand.   The church has  impressively  designed stained glass paintings depicting .angels. Chandeliers, furniture and church bell - all of them were  imported from  Britain. One of the rooms in the premises has lots of information on the military history of the  English company, visitors to EIC etc.

Monday, 1 February 2021

The Scottish Church (1840) Nagpur's oldest Church, founded by Fr. Stephen Hislop

Oldest Scottish church 1940, Nagpur, India.

 Founded by Sir Stephen Hislop, a young missionary from Scotland  with support from other Scottish missionaries  to fulfill the spiritual needs of the Scots working for the East India company  and others, it is one of the oldest churches of Nagpur.  Presently standing across the Life Insurance corporation (LIC) square in the prime area of this big city, it is not an impressive church. Nor does it have strong Gothic architectural features or tall spires with bell tower as one  would in the early colonial churches.  The  most attractive feature  of this church is its  simplicity, no embellishment.

Nagpur location map,

As racial segregation was adopted in some places across India, this church was built to cater to the Europeans and only after India's independence in August 1947, Indian Christians were allowed to attend the mass, etc.  Because of time factor and ageing this old church was restructured in 1920  and divided into two parts,  so that it could survive much longer and suit the present needs Yet another reason is  the near-by Agnes Henderson Memorial  Church  looked very much similar to this  church;    For unknown reasons, this heritage church 's  altar had remained not  renovated since 1840  that is roughly 180 years.


Scottish Missionary Stephen Hislop, Nagpur

Postal stamp, Sept. 2018 Hislop College,Nagpur.

 Stephen Hislop  (1817–1863), was a Scottish missionary, educator and an earth scientist.  He landed in  Nagpur on February 13, 1845  after travelling  580 miles  from Bombay  on horse back with some camels  to carry his baggage.  His main mission was to concentrate on humanitarian work. He carried on his missionary and educational work for 18 long years in the Vidarbha Region (region around Nagpur)  along with one Robert Hunter, editor of the Encyclopedic Dictionary. Besides, he also studied the coal fields near Nagpur. His  enthusiasm  coupled with motivation led him to start a Boy's school in 1846 in Sukrawara area, old  Nagpur (now in Maharashtra), then part of Central provinces  and later Hislop College in 1883. In 2009, the college celebrated its 125th anniversary. He took the initiative and with other like-minded missionaries  started the Scottish Church. The biography on Stephen Hislop  was published in 1888 by George Smith..