Taj Mahal – the tear-drop on the cheek of time



When a grieving Shah Jehan the fifth Mughal emperor, built the timeless wonder of marble as a tribute to his wife Mumtaz Mahal, it was more than just art and architecture it was a great eulogy to sublime love.

Visiting Agra was by chance. I happen to be in New Delhi for a conference and was able to squeeze in a little time for sightseeing. As the distance between New Delhi and Agra is around 200 kms it was nearly impossible for anyone to get back by lunch. But we hired a Taxi and made the journey in the wee-hours of the night to reach Agra by the crack of dawn. There we were hoisting ourselves lazily out of a cramped Alto. It was winter in Delhi – the temperature as low as 4 degrees. Porters and camel attendants were stirring in their lots, waking up, as we stumbled to the ticket counter that had just opened. It was too early to get to know the party, and without much questioning the man at the counter issued us with tickets at the local rate.

The Taj Mahal (meaning the crown of the palace) is a white-marble mausoleum on the South bank of Yamuna in Agra. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jehan to house the tomb of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Described by the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore as ‘the tear-drop on the cheek of time’ the Taj Mahal is universally acclaimed to be one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

The entrance to the Taj Mahal is through a fore-court leading to an imposing red sandstone gateway. Framed by this gateway with calligraphic inscriptions is the beautiful Taj Mahal appearing in the far distance dream-like, a jewel bathed in pink, dazzling and glowing in the soft morning light. An impressive lush green garden is laid out in the front like a Persian Charbargh, with trees, red sandstone pathways, water channels fountains and a marble pond in the middle. The water reflects the Taj in all its glory. Seated on a red stone bench right there we photographed ourselves against the beautiful backdrop.

Beyond the garden the Taj Mahal soars to a height of 75 meters, yet appears to be delicate and fragile. The unusual octagonal tomb stands in the middle of a square marble plinth. The four facades of the tomb are flanked by main arches which are followed by smaller arches. Also adding to the balance of the tomb are four tall and tapering three storied minarets. The crowning glory of the Taj is its ingeniously designed bulbous white double dome nestling among four marble cupolas which lie above the central octagonal.

Directly under the sheltering dome is the main cenotaph chamber, the heart of the entire monument. The tomb stone of Mumtaz Mahal lies in the center of the octagonal hall while that of Shah Jehan is on the right. Both lay side by side enclosed in bejeweled caskets done in exquisite floral designs inlayed with tiny precious stones. The tombs are enclosed with splendid marble screens, embellished with delicate filigree work giving out a fascinating interplay of light and sparkle into the chamber.

As the Mughal rulers were passionate about growing flowers it is natural that there is an abundance of flower motifs in the decorations of Taj. Visitors are overwhelmed by the stupendous decorations all around.

On either side of the Taj standing in contrast to its white architecture are two red stone structures – one on the right is a mosque where prayers are offered every evening at sunset. The identical building on the left is the guest house.

The Taj is indeed a flawless gem, a timeless wonder that has inspired many a poets and artists. As Tagore said – here on this dusty earth, it keeps death tenderly covered in the shroud of memory

Agra, January 2013



Exploring the Amazing Borobudur in Java


Boro-budur meaning great Buddha in local language, is both a shrine to Lord Buddha and a place of Buddhist pilgrimage to Asians.

The monument is placed in the sacred Kedu plains, a high fertile area dubbed as the ‘garden of Java’. This elevated area is between two volcanoes SundoroSumbing and MerbabuMerapi, and two rivers, the Progo and the Elo.

To witness the sunrise at this amazing temple in the heart of Java is to be living a dream. Coming into view of the statue of Buddha seated cross legged inside a perforated stupa I was enjoying that dream. A dozen other stupas scattered in circles on top are identical, but only one has the walls coming up half way allowing us to view the serene face of the Buddha etched in molten rock. Through the diamond shaped openings on the sides of the many stupas I could view the statues found inside.

The views are amazing from the top – large expanse of open plains surrounded by emerald jungles. Volcanic mountains peak and pale blue rivers meander like brush strokes. The mist is rising in thin strands like steam to meet a warm glowing sun.  The dome or peak of the temple is not very large. It sits on top of three circular rings that conforms to Buddhist cosmology and nine stacked platforms.

The temple is in pyramid form closely resembling ancient Mayan temples found in South America. The temple is said to be decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The relief panels demonstrate the influences of Gupta art that reflects India’s influence on the region. Yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian.

I proceeded up following a set of steep steps to reach a different platform. Walking along the corridors I followed the trail of a story the craftsmen had etched. Plump figures in the reliefs sculptured in minute detail show strands of pearls around their necks, thick anklets on their dancing feet, women fanning the royals and men standing guard. The stories are related to the life of Buddha. A few stories are on Javanese royalty belonging to that period and the peasant workers who pleased them.

Reaching about the fifth platform I was pleasantly surprised to find young children flying tiny kites in the wind. Entire families come here on a day outing. I heard that Javanese people journey to Borobudur atleast once in a lifetime.  The elderly with bowed heads and pious hearts make it a pilgrimage in hope of reaching inner peace. The young quick and light on their feet, the children in a playful riot and the seniors helped by others – all reach the dome

The Borobudur has entered the Guinness Book of Records as the World’s largest Buddhist archeological site. Built in the 9th century during the reign of the Sailendra Dynasty, the temple is designed in Javanese Buddhist architecture and laid in the form of a Mandalaya.  Evidence suggest that the temple complex was abandoned in 14th century during the decline of Hindu kingdom.

The honour of discovering this great monument goes to Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, then the British ruler of Java (1814). Borobudur has since been preserved through several restorations. The largest restoration project was undertaken between 1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian government and UNESCO, following which the monument was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Getting into the Game – Success Stories of Girls in Sports


The more active your daughter is now the more active she will be as an adult. That means a healthier heart, stronger bones, less chance of cancer and diabetes. And more fitness, stamina and flexibility.

Did you know that when girls are active their anxiety and depression levels fall? It’s true. Physical activity is a mood enhaner. And playing sports have alot of social benefits too. Besides building good friendships, girls learn team work and how to strive towards goals. Sports provides experiences in leadership, independence and assertiveness. But the best reason for girls participation in sports is to have fun!

The Woman in Sports Foundation founded by the tennis great Billy Jean King reports that girls and women who play sport have and experience higher confidence and self-esteem. They experience higher state of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports.

We spoke to a few girls coming from different backgrounds who have found their joy in games. All three report their favourite sports to be making them feel good about themselves. Those who engage in sports are doing better in their studies, they are found to be more attentive and disciplined in class.

Amala (15) is the eldest of four siblings. She is in the 9th grade and is a passionate player of badminton. ‘I first started playing sports at the Children’s Club. It was there that I developed a keen interest for badminton. Earlier I never had access to equipment or even knowledge on how to play the sport. I lacked the confidence even to speak to a single person. Thanks to the sport I now have the confidence to say – No Dream is too Big

Amala started playing barely an year ago and already she has won a silver medal at the district level. In the next year she is vying for a gold at the district and says will not stop there but go on to the national level.

Kalpana (14) dreams of playing netball for her school. ‘When I saw girls scoring magnificently playing netball and scoring points I became so fascinated and wanted to play. I even went home that day and talked about the game with my mother’

Soon enough Kalpana was on the team and playing as defense. She revels in stopping her opponents from scoring points while she glows at her own team getting their goals.

‘The feeling of self-satisfaction cannot be expressed in mere words’ she claims excitedly about the game. ‘During practices we are never too tired to go through our moves again and again, the shooter working on precision and the runners on passing the ball and those on defense like me flaring our arms wildly to block the efforts of the opponents’ explains Kalpana.

Sadeesha (13) is among the quieter few who have taken up a sport that is still rare in our country. Because of tradition and culture girls don’t expose their bodies. This is one reason why girls participation in sports drop drastically with their reaching age 14 years. However Sadeesha is engaged in Aerobatic Gymnastics and is loving it. ‘I like Athletics too but most of all I like Gymnastics because it makes me move quickly and be very flexible’ she said.

Her school team won the National Championships last year and the girls were overjoyed with the results.’ We all shouted and cheered as our name was called. We just couldn’t contain ourselves. I like participating in competitions it builds my confidence and bring the team closer’.

Don’t miss out on anything girls – go and get into the game – and have fun!

Lion’s Rock in Sigiriya where Kassapa built his Fortress


Sigiriya – Sinhagiri or Lion’s Rock an ancient rock fortress locate in  Northern Matale district close to Dambulla, can be reached by travelling along Colombo-Habarana road.

Even before King Kassapa having usurped his father made it his kingdom, Buddhist monks lived in the caves on the rock base of Sigiriya.

In the plateau surrounded by jungles and lakes is a large column of rock rising to 660 feet in height. Arriving there we passed the fortification by parapet walls and the moat to come to the royal gardens beautifully laid with many terraces, ponds and fountains. The first bit of the climb was easy through the belly of the rock, up neat rows of steps. Then we reached the large terrace which marks the half-way point on the ascent to the summit of Sigiriya Rock. Before continuing, we took a break and surveyed the remaining path in dread and awe. The next flight of stairs was framed by an enormous pair of stone paws. Because of its profile, Sigiriya had long been referred to as the “Lion Rock”, but King Kassapa decided to make the nickname somewhat more literal.

During Kassapa’s reign in the 5th century AD, a massive, 60-foot lion was chiseled out of the rock. The steps which continued up to the royal palace started at the lion’s feet, wrapped around his body and eventually entered his mouth. Today, all that remain are the paws, but they give a good idea of the statue’s scale. It’s hard to appreciate how impressive it must have been 1500 years ago.

The final flight of stairs, hugging tightly to the stone wall, is definitely not for the fainthearted. The wind whipping about madly I clung on to the steel railing, for dear life. If climbing the stable steps of modern steel is terrifying how must they have it been during the time of Kassapa? Notches in the wall indicated where the ancient brick steps would have been placed and the thought of climbing them of all too much for me.

I was relieved clambering up the final bit and having made it to the summit and I thought this to be the highlight of my journey. But I was wrong. The panoramic scenes all around was stupendous – breath holding beauty of lakes and shrub jungles and blue mountains merging into the horizon.  At the top of the rock was layered terraces where the palace once stood, complete with a throne carved in stone. Below the rock ledge are caves where the king’s men stood at sentry points vigilant for enemy troupes.

On the western face of the rock are beautiful frescos of ladies (Apsara) naked up to the waist and adorned in jewelry. The women are picking flowers. Some claim they are the royal ladies and others say they are celestial beings floating among the clouds.  John Still in 1907 suggested the whole western wall had been covered with paintings of around 500 ladies. Although they appear to be paintings done during the Anuradhapura period they also hold close resemblance to paintings found in the Ajanta caves of North India.

When the enemy invaded the rock fortress, the king who thought it to be impenetrable took his life. After the fall of the kingdom Sigiriya was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.

According to historians it was Major Jonathan Forbes who in 1831, discovered the jungle covered summit of Sigiriya on his way back from Polonnaruwa. However serious archaeological work did not begin until 1890s. It was H.C.P. Bell who conducted extensive research on Sigiriya.

Considered the 8th Wonder of the World Sigiriya Rock Fotress was listed under UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1982.

Theo & Layla – Partners in Crime


Tracy recalls bringing up her two lovely daughters in Sri Lanka and dog were always part of their life. She would be the one to feed a litter of stray pups found on the wayside. Tracy would even bring them in a box to her home along with the mother, if she could be found. It is only after the pups are a little fuller and grown-up that they are sent to kind homes. Moving to Australia the family continued their love for dogs.

“We’ve always had dogs growing up and loved their loving, affectionate nature. We feel dogs understand humans and are loyal creatures with loving hearts” says Sarah the younger of the two teenagers. Theo and Leyla are the names we all agreed on- Theo is little male Terrier who is two and a half years and Leyla a female, Husky cross German Shepherd who is just two.

One day Tracy and her daughters were doing their weekend shopping when they happened to spot a beautiful Terrier gazing through the Pet shop window. Tracy stopped by to give him a cuddle and the puppy had her hooked right there. “It was hopeless” says Tracy, “I knew I had to take him home”.

So there was this little ball of fluff just 3 months old when Leyla joined in. Initially we had to be careful how we treated the puppies since Leyla was a larger dog. Later the two got along well – actually they got on very well and became partners in crime. The three of them had to make an attempt to use stern voices to put a stop to their pranks. Chewing the girls’ favorite items was not done! Each time the puppies had to be reminded it was wrong. Through tough training and discipline some authority was regained by the humans.

But then in March, when all had gone out on Mother’s Day they returned to a house of chaos. “It was like snowing inside the living room, the couch and the floor was covered with white feathers. My heart sank” said Sarah. On one hand what the puppies had done is wrong on the other hand it might be the last straw that broke the camel’s back and the puppies will be gone she thought. Holding the remnants of her favourite quilt, Sarah valiantly put on the act and demanded from the two culprits “Who did this?’ Two guilty faces looked up with a few feathers stuck on to their furs.

Even with all these mischiefs we don’t complain says Tracy, they are a good stress reliever. At the end of the day they are always there to greet us at the door. I don’t know what we would do without their company.

“Dogs do speak but only to those who know how to listen”

The long and the short of it all


“Dachshunds are ideal dogs for small children that they are already stretched and pulled to such a length that a child cannot do much harm one way or other” – Robert Benchly

I had to pick a dog that was small enough it could remain a secret in a small house that was refusing to welcome a dog. It was Ruveen my younger son’s birthday who was quickly growing up and turning nine that year. A tiny puppy just 6 weeks old, turned out to be a wonderful gift for the boy. It arrived one Sunday afternoon wrapped in a cardboard box – still a secret. My two sons were overjoyed.

Based on a Just So Story by Rudyard Kipling we name the female pup Taffiana (Taffy for short). The name somehow in a childish way was meaning- a malleable doggy in spite of it unusual length. The puppy was a glossy black, short-haired miniature Dachshund with telltale markings in Tan. As it grew from been a tiny pup that fitted a 2-kilo Marie Biscuit box, to its full height and length it earned its stay in our house as a damsel would with her charming ways. The smallest dog in the neighborhood Taffy was also bossy and loud when allowed to have her say.

Those days my sons were engaged in a myriad of sports. Taffy would wait impatiently on days that they arrived after evening practices. Playfully she would claim him her own (playmate) by grabbing his Hockey stockings and making a quick dash. My son whined and moaned asking the dog not to rip his socks. Many a times using the Hockey stick he wrench it off the mischievous dog, that was hiding beneath his bed. That was Taffy playing under-cover.

Another tactic she reveled in was to jump into the bed with my children. Taffy would urge and implore the boys to get her up there. Since this was breaking the rules of the house she allowed the boys to hide her deep down under the covers until the lights went out. That way she was able to get cozy and catch up on the warmth she missed during the day.

The long and the short of it all is that a dog will teach us many things – its need of our attention, friendship, warmth and tenderness and above all loyalty.

Dachsie, meine dachsie the best canine under the sun; Call you “wiener” or “sausage” or “hotdog”; We know that you are number one!


Never a dull moment with Puma, the lively Labrador


This is the first article in a series based on interviews done with parents who encourage pets in their homes. Puma’s story as  told by Nadeeja…

For Sanjee and Dammika is giving their daughters Mineli (10) and Umaya (7) a chance to grow up with dogs was to give them a piece of their own childhood. When the kids were still small their older dogs died. This was when we decided to allow our girls to choose their own puppy and take up the responsibilities of rearing it.

We live in New Westminster, British Columbia in Canada. It was a long drive from our home to the farm, including a ferry ride to an island, where we found a litter of Golden Labradors belonging to an elderly couple. The children were thrilled that they could pick their own puppy. Instantly their eyes went to a buttery ball of fur who kept leaping at their skirts. I always say it was the dog that chose us and not how it was initially meant to be.

During her early days the puppy was quite a rumpus mischief, getting into the kid’s room and picking on their shoes, crafts and toys. She was very energetic and wanted a lot of attention. She was quick on her heels and soon out of our reach. So we named her Puma for her speed.

Bit by bit the puppy outgrew his mischievous ways and settled down in our home, as a new member. She was easy to train and discipline. Besides Labradors are found to be good natured and fun family dogs, who are great around kids. Three-year old Puma is best pals with my daughters. My older daughter, Mineli said ‘l lost many of my favorite slippers but I will grow out of it the next season. I will always have Puma and we both can grow together …. I love Puma… as much as I love all my other dogs’. The girls sing and play music for Puma, bake cakes and spend lots of time in the backyard playing together. Occasionally Puma get to ride with us out of town. She really looks forward to family outings.

Growing up with dogs has taught my children their first lessons on been responsible for someone else, also to share, to be considerate and caring. Having pets in a household where both parents are working can be an extra load. But in the end its worth the trouble because they add vibrancy to our lives. My children are very cautious about securing the dog inside the house when we go out. They have already learned lessons of safety.

On our return we find Puma lurched on the window ledge, peeping out. She gives us a warm welcome to show her joy. There is never a dull moment in our home with Puma around. Dogs have a way of leaving their paw prints in our hearts.

(Photo credits: Sanjee Ranasinghe)