Malana: A Himalayan village shrouded in myth

India’s Parvati Valley is well known among travellers for its psychedelic parties and free-flowing hashish that originates from the ancient village of Malana in North India’s Himachal Pradesh region. But if you look beyond the haze, you’ll find a treasure trove of legends, intrigue and unanswered questions.

Nestled in the peaks of the Himalayas, Malana is surrounded by steep cliffs and snow-capped mountains. Travellers have long been drawn to this village of nearly 1,700 inhabitants, staying for days on end amid the cold gushes of wind and rows of dark green deodar trees to consume what locals consider the holy herb and what outsiders see as a way to free the mind: the famed and award-winning Malana cream. This cannabis resin or hashish is renowned both for the hand rubbing-technique used to produce it and for its reportedly remarkable intoxicating effects. But I’d come to Malana to try to make sense of the myths surrounding the village.

The ancient village of Malana in India’s Himachal Pradesh is known to outsiders for its hashish (Credit: Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

The ancient village of Malana in India’s Himachal Pradesh is known to outsiders for its hashish (Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Legend has it that some of Alexander the Great’s army took shelter in this isolated village in 326BC after they were wounded in a battle against Porus, a ruler in India’s Punjab region. These soldiers are often said to be the ancestors of the Malani people. Artefacts from that period have been found in the village, such as a sword that reportedly rests inside the temple. However, genetic ties to the soldiers have not been studied or established. In fact, many of the locals I spoke to had no idea where this myth originated.

“The big claim that Malani people have descended from Alexander the Great’s army has become a widely accepted truth, but I have not found any real backing to it. There are some weapons and other things that can be found that have raised these links, but I am certain that there is no evidence to this story,” said Amlan Datta, a filmmaker who has spent a decade working in Malana.

But these theories are fuelled by locals’ noticeably different physical features and their language, which are unlike that of any other local tribe, adding to the enigma surrounding the Malanis and their identity. They speak Kanashi, which is considered sacred and is not taught to outsiders. It is also spoken nowhere else in the world. During my visit, I referred to some of the men I met as ‘Bhaiji’ (a polite way of saying brother), which is a fairly common way to address men in Himachal. Though locals understood when I spoke to them in Hindi, their responses in Kanashi were incomprehensible to me.

The residents of Malana are said to be descendants of Alexander the Great’s army (Credit: Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

The residents of Malana are said to be descendants of Alexander the Great’s army (Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

A study of Kanashi is currently being undertaken by Uppsala University in Sweden, led by professor of linguistics, Anju Saxena. “Kanashi qualifies as a definitely endangered, as an unwritten and almost undescribed language,” Saxena told me. “It belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family, and in all the surrounding villages, Indo-Aryan languages are spoken, which are completely unrelated to Kanashi. This raises interesting questions concerning its prehistory and its linguistic structure.”

Even getting to Malana was a journey into the unknown. There are no motorable roads to the village, and it took me about four hours to trek there from the village of Jari at the bottom of the Parvati Valley. The approach was steep yet breath-taking. It wasn’t long before I started passing Malani people – distinguishable by their light brown hair, light brown eyes, long noses and a distinct wheatish or a golden-brownish complexion of skin – most of whom were traditionally dressed in light brown robes, caps and hemp shoes. To me, they looked more Mediterranean than Himachali.

Malanis speak Kanashi, a language that is considered sacred and is not spoken anywhere else in the world (Credit: Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Malanis speak Kanashi, a language that is considered sacred and is not spoken anywhere else in the world (Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

As I entered the village, I came to a group of teenagers who casually inquired whether I was interested in buying some hashish. Though cannabis has long been the backbone of this small village’s economy, it has led to a host of socio-cultural issues, such as young children being involved in the drug trade. This is perhaps why, one year ago, the village deity Jamdagni Rishi – who is locally nicknamed the Jamlu Devta and is a great sage in Hindu mythology – decreed through his spiritual spokesperson (the Gur) that all guesthouses across the village would be shut, leaving the village open to outsiders only during the day.

Jamlu Devta is an important figurehead in village governance, a political set-up that has long baffled researchers and visitors who cannot comprehend how such an advanced form of governance exists in this quaint and remote Himalayan village.

Malana’s unique democratic system is said to be among the oldest in the world, and, similar to the Ancient Greek system of democracy, it consists of a lower house and upper house. However, it has a uniquely spiritual twist to it: ultimate rulings rest on the upper court, which includes three important figures, of which one is the representative of the local deity, Jamlu Devta.

“Devta is the ultimate word and we have a set-up of a council and three political figures of sorts, one of whom – the Gur, or the vessel who is possessed by Jamlu – communicates to us the decisions of Jamlu Devta,” explained Rohan, one of the hashish-dealing teenagers.

Malanis’ distinct physical characteristics are reminiscent of those seen in Mediterranean populations (Credit: Credit: Jenny Matthews/Alamy)

Malanis’ distinct physical characteristics are reminiscent of those seen in Mediterranean populations (Credit: Jenny Matthews/Alamy)

Datta had told me about a local legend that said Jamlu Devta once inhabited Malana, which he was gifted by the Hindu god Shiva. There are two temples in the village, one dedicated to him and the other, to his wife, Renuka Devi. As I walked through the narrow passageways of this ancient village, dotted with wooden and brick houses, I entered the large courtyard, where the lower court gathers, and a temple dedicated to Jamlu Devta. It was sight to behold against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

The temple, with wide wooden pillars, intricate doors and a host of bones, skulls and other sacrificial animal parts on one wall looked intriguing. But there was a warning sign outside demanding INR 3,500 ‘On touching of this holy place of Jamdagni Rishi’.

This sign is an outward demonstration of another tradition that is very apparent in Malana: a quest to preserve the ‘purity’ of the village. People across Himachal Pradesh will tell you that the Malanis are known to restrict contact with outsiders, particularly in terms of direct physical contact. I personally had been warned to keep my distance by the driver who had brought me to Jari earlier that day.

Malana’s unique democratic system is said to be among the oldest in the world (Credit: Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Malana’s unique democratic system is said to be among the oldest in the world (Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Although I did see some of the younger generations hugging or shaking hands, most people here still strongly hold the taboo of touching outsiders. When I went to pay for a bottle of water, the shopkeeper asked me to leave the notes on the counter instead of handing them to him directly. I also learned that marriages must take place within the village; transgression of this norm invites social boycott.

Well aware that outsiders aren’t welcome here, I felt like an intruder as I kept probing people to find out more information about the village. Himachali people in general are warm and chatty, and they love to share stories and meals with visitors; in Malana, however, long conversations with locals were rare.

Malanis are known to restrict contact with outsiders (Credit: Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Malanis are known to restrict contact with outsiders (Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Descending from the hills and coming down from this otherworld, I acknowledged my position as a traveller who would forever be on the outside of this mysterious Himalayan hamlet. Whether I liked it or not, the locals hadn’t taken me in, and I needed to respect their culture.

But now, weeks later, as I look back on my quest to unfold the legends of Malana, I have come to the realisation that the very beauty of my experience was based on the essence of mystery, the unknown. Cherishing that very quality of Malana finally has led me to a newfound appreciation of this strange, cold land of enigmatic people.

By Mehk Chakraborty 22 August 2018

Ibn Baṭṭūṭah MUSLIM EXPLORER AND WRITER

Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, in full Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Lawātī al-Ṭanjī ibn Baṭṭūṭah, (born February 24, 1304, Tangier, Morocco—died 1368/69 or 1377, Morocco), the greatest medieval Muslim traveler and the author of one of the most famous travel books, the Riḥlah (Travels). His great work describes his extensive travels covering some 75,000 miles (120,000 km) in trips to almost all of the Muslim countries and as far as China and Sumatra (now part of Indonesia).

Early Life And Travels

Ibn Baṭṭūṭah was from a family that produced a number of Muslim judges (qadis). He received the traditional juristic and literary education in his native town of Tangier. In 1325, at the age of 21, he started his travels by undertaking the pilgrimage(hajj) to Mecca. At first his purpose was to fulfill that religious duty and to broaden his education by studying under famous scholars in EgyptSyria, and the Hejaz (western Arabia). That he achieved his objectives is corroborated by long enumerations of scholars and Sufi (Islamic mystic) saints whom he met and also by a list of diplomas conferred on him (mainly in Damascus). Those studies qualified him for judicial office, whereas the claim of being a former pupil of the then-outstanding authorities in traditional Islamic sciences greatly enhanced his chances and made him thereafter a respected guest at many courts.

That renown was to follow later, however. In Egypt, where he arrived by the land route via Tunis and Tripoli, an irresistible passion for travel was born in his soul, and he decided to visit as many parts of the world as possible, setting as a rule “never to travel any road a second time.” His contemporaries traveled for practical reasons (such as trade, pilgrimage, and education), but Ibn Baṭṭūṭah did it for its own sake, for the joy of learning about new countries and new peoples. He made a living of it, benefitting at the beginning from his scholarly status and later from his increasing fame as a traveler. He enjoyed the generosity and benevolence of numerous sultans, rulers, governors, and high dignitaries in the countries he visited, thus securing an income that enabled him to continue his wanderings.

From Cairo, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah set out via Upper Egypt to the Red Sea but then returned and visited Syria, there joining a caravanfor Mecca. Having finished the pilgrimage in 1326, he crossed the Arabian Desert to Iraq, southern IranAzerbaijan, and Baghdad. There he met the last of the Mongol khans of Iran, Abū Saʿīd (ruled 1316–36), and some lesser rulers. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah spent the years between 1327 and 1330 in Mecca and Medinaleading the quiet life of a devotee, but such a long stay did not suit his temperament.

Embarking on a boat in Jiddah, he sailed with a retinue of followers down both shores of the Red Sea to Yemen, crossed it by land, and set sail again from Aden. This time he navigated along the eastern African coast, visiting the trading city-states as far as Kilwa (Tanzania). His return journey took him to southern Arabia, OmanHormuz, southern Persia, and across the Persian Gulf back to Mecca in 1332.

There a new, ambitious plan matured in his mind. Hearing of the sultan of DelhiMuḥammad ibn Tughluq (ruled 1325–51), and his fabulous generosity to Muslim scholars, he decided to try his luck at his court. Forced by lack of communications to choose a more indirect route, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah turned northward, again passed Egypt and Syria, and boarded ship for Asia Minor (Anatolia) in Latakia. He crisscrossed that “land of the Turks” in many directions at a time when Anatolia was divided into numerous petty sultanates. Thus, his narrative provides a valuable source for the history of that country between the end of the Seljuq power and the rise of the house of Ottoman. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah was received cordially and generously by all the local rulers and heads of religious brotherhoods (ākhīs).

His journey continued across the Black Sea to the Crimean Peninsula, then to the northern Caucasus and to Saray on the lower Volga River, capital of the khan of the Golden HordeÖz Beg (ruled 1312–41). According to his narrative, he undertook an excursion from Saray to Bulgary on the upper Volga and Kama, but there are reasons to doubt his veracity on that point. On the other hand, the narrative of his visit to Constantinople (now Istanbul) in the retinue of the khan’s wife, a Byzantine princess, seems to be an eyewitness record, although there are some minor chronological discrepancies. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s description of the Byzantine capital is vivid and, in general, accurate. Although he shared the strong opinions of his fellow Muslims toward unbelievers, his account of the “second Rome” shows him as a rather tolerant man with a lively curiosity. Nevertheless, he always felt happier in the realm of Islam than in non-Muslim lands, whether Christian, Hindu, or pagan.

After his return from Constantinople through the Russian steppes, he continued his journey in the general direction of India. From Saray he traveled with a caravan to Central Asia, visiting the ancient towns of BukharaSamarkand, and Balkh, all of those still showing the scars left by the Mongol invasion. He took rather complicated routes through Khorāsān and Afghanistan, and, after crossing the Hindu Kush mountain range, he arrived at the frontiers of India on the Indus River on September 12, 1333, by his own dating. The accuracy of that date is doubtful, as it would have been impossible to cover such enormous distances (from Mecca) in the course of only one year. Because of that discrepancy, his subsequent dating until 1348 is highly uncertain.

Time In India And Later Journeys

By that time Ibn Baṭṭūṭah was already a man of some importance and fame, with a large train of attendants and followers and also with his own harem of legal wives and concubines. India and its ruler, Muḥammad ibn Tughluq, lived up to Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s expectations of wealth and generosity, and the traveler was received with honours and gifts and later appointed grand qadi of Delhi, a sinecure that he held for several years.

Though he had apparently attained an easy life, it soon became clear that his new position was not without danger. Sultan Muḥammad, an extraordinary mixture of generosity and cruelty, held sway over the greater part of India with an iron hand that fell indiscriminately upon high and low, Muslim and Hindu alike. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah witnessed all the glories and setbacks of the sultan and his rule, fearing daily for his life as he saw many friends fall victim to the suspicious despot. His portrait of Muḥammad is an unusually fine piece of psychological insight and mirrors faithfully the author’s mixed feelings of terror and sympathy. Notwithstanding all his precautions, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah at last fell into disgrace, and only good fortune saved his life. Gaining favour again, he was appointed the sultan’s envoy to the Chinese emperor in 1342.

He left Delhi without regrets, but his journey was full of other dangers: not far away from Delhi his party was waylaid by Hindu insurgents, and the traveler barely escaped with his life. On the Malabar Coast of southwestern India he became involved in local wars and was finally shipwrecked near Calicut (now Kozhikode), losing all his property and the gifts for the Chinese emperor. Fearing the wrath of the sultan, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah chose to go to the Maldive Islands, where he spent nearly two years; as a qadi, he was soon active in politics, married into the ruling family, and apparently even aspired to become sultan.

Finding the situation too dangerous, he set out for Sri Lanka, where he visited the ruler as well as the famous Adam’s Peak. After a new shipwreck on the Coromandel Coast of southeastern India, he took part in a war led by his brother-in-law and went again to the Maldives and then to Bengal and Assam. At that time he decided to resume his mission to Chinaand sailed for Sumatra. There he was given a new ship by the Muslim sultan and started for China; his description of his itinerary contains some discrepancies.

He landed at the great Chinese port Zaytūn (identified as Quanzhou, near Xiamen [Amoy]) and then traveled on inland waterways as far as Beijing and back. That part of his narrative is rather brief, and the itinerary, as well as the chronology, presents many problems and difficulties, not yet surmounted, that cast shadows of doubt on his veracity.

Equally brief is his account of the return voyage via Sumatra, Malabar, and the Persian Gulf to Baghdad and Syria. In Syria he witnessed the ravages of the Black Death of 1348, visited again many towns there and in Egypt, and in the same year performed his final pilgrimage to Mecca. At last he decided to return home, sailing from Alexandria to Tunisia, then to Sardinia and Algiers, finally reaching Fès, the capital of the Marīnid sultan, Abū ʿInān, in November 1349.

But there still remained two Muslim countries not yet known to him. Shortly after his return he went to the kingdom of Granada, the last remnant of Moorish Spain, and two years later (in 1352) he set out on a journey to the western Sudan. His last journey (across the Sahara to Western Africa) was taken unwillingly at the command of the sultan. Crossing the Sahara, he spent a year in the empire of Mali, then at the height of its power under Mansa Sulaymān; his account represents one of the most important sources of that period for the history of that part of Africa.

Toward the end of 1353 Ibn Baṭṭūṭah returned to Morocco and, at the sultan’s request, dictated his reminiscences to a writer, Ibn Juzayy (died 1355), who embellished the simple prose of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah with an ornate style and fragments of poetry. After that he passes from sight. He is reported to have held the office of qadi in a town in Morocco before his death, details of which remain uncertain. It has been suggested that he died in 1368/69 or 1377 and was buried in his native town of Tangier.

Legacy

The claim of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah to be “the traveler of Islam” is well founded: it is estimated that the extent of his wanderings was some 75,000 miles (120,000 km), a figure hardly surpassed by anyone before the age of steam power. He visited, with few exceptions (central Persia, Armenia, and Georgia), all Muslim countries, as well as many adjacent non-Muslim lands. While he did not discover new or unknown lands, and his contribution to scientific geography was minimal, the documentary value of his work has given it lasting historical and geographical significance. He met at least 60 rulers and a much greater number of viziers, governors, and other dignitaries; in his book he mentioned more than 2,000 persons who were known to him personally or whose tombs he visited. The majority of those people are identifiable by independent sources, and there are surprisingly few errors in names or dates in Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s material.

His Riḥlah, as his book is commonly known, is an important document shedding light on many aspects of the social, cultural, and political history of a great part of the Muslim world. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah was a curious observer interested in the ways of life in various countries, and he described his experiences with a human approach rarely encountered in official historiography. His accounts of his travels in Asia Minor, East and West Africa, the Maldives, and India form a major source for the histories of those areas, whereas the parts dealing with the Arab and Persian Middle East are valuable for their wealth of detail on various aspects of social and cultural life.

On the whole, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah is reliable; only his alleged journey to Bulgary was proved to be invented, and there are some doubts concerning the East Asian part of his travels. A few grave and several minor discrepancies in the chronology of his travels are due more to lapses in his memory than to intentional fabrication. A number of formerly uncertain points (such as travels in Asia Minor and the visit to Constantinople) have since been cleared away by contemporary research and the discovery of new corroborative sources.

Another interesting aspect of the Riḥlah is the gradual revealing of the character of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah himself; in the course of the narrative the reader may learn the opinions and reactions of an average middle-class Muslim of the 14th century. He was deeply rooted in orthodox Islam but, like many of his contemporaries, oscillated between the pursuit of its legislative formalism and an adherence to the mystic path and succeeded in combining both. He did not offer any profound philosophy but accepted life as it came to him, leaving to posterity a true picture of himself and his times.

Ivan Hrbek

The future is streamlined locomotives, welcome to the 1930s

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It’s hard to grasp now how much the introduction of railroads and railway services during the late 18th century and early 19th century forever changed the way we commute, travel, and transport our stock and goods.

It was a grand leap of faith into a new future, similarly to how the picture changed decades later with the introduction of commercial flights. In both cases, the world went faster, stronger, better.

Depending on the decade, different combustible resources such as timber, coal, or oil helped power the locomotive machinery.

During the 20th century, the appearance of the first streamliner locomotives, which are now the epitomes of the era, was of utmost importance.

Of the thousands of streamliners that entered services across America, only a small fraction were employed for passenger train operations. Their sound boomed from the one end of the continent to the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Streamliner Trains – America’s Beautiful Locomotives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hudson 4-6-4 locomotive is now recognized as a classic of the New York Central Railroad. (4-6-4 refers to it’s wheel arrangement of four leading wheels, six driving wheels, and four trailing wheels.) Its design was out there by the mid-1920s but the new machine had to wait at least a decade before it officially started operations.

The Hudson model developed because the New York Central was in dire need of a stronger and more powerful steamliner, one which could more efficiently move the ever-growing number of travelers from the east to the west. Devising the Hudson was no mistake by any means and the company added almost 300 in its inventory. They hauled the railroad’s flagship trains including the 20th Century Limited and the Empire State Express.

With the supersonic trains we have today, the Hudson locomotives may seem to be of little use. Except they treat us with their beauty and allow us to muse on everything they symbolized back in the day: progress, faith in technology, civilization, and new journeys.

 

 

 

 

 

Model trains on display at Red Mountain Library

 

 

 

 

 

There were other models that were introduced by the New York Central Railroad after the Hudson, such as the 4-8-2 Mohawk steam locomotive. This one looked as if it were a twin of the 4-6-4 type and it was also initiated.

The Milwaukee Railroad was widely praised when they introduced the first Hiawatha streamliner in the spring of 1935. The Hiawatha became the Milwaukee Railroad’s success story, and dozens of these were employed for its services. The machine was able to maintain an average speed of 80 mph.

The streamliners snaked across the country, fast enough that they are even credited with helping the Allies win World War Two. Their usage continued well after the war.

 Alex .A

Roopkund is a lake in India famous for the mysterious ancient skeletons that float in its waters

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It is rather unnerving to stand over a lake and see a huge pile of skulls and bones tangled up under the water’s surface. You’re left wondering who are they, and most importantly how they got here in the first place, for this lake is 16,000 feet above sea level with nothing but ice peaks and frozen glaciers surrounding it.

This frozen, shallow lake, tucked away deep in the Indian Himalayas, offers such a sight every year when the ice melts and reveals the human remains of more than 300 unfortunate individuals who rest at the bottom of Roopkund, better known as Skeleton Lake.

This “splendid” view is available to any trekking enthusiast who would dare to walk the steep route that climbs out from the heart of Lohajung’s dark forest in Uttarakhand, India, and pursue the five-day trekking adventure up to the glacial lake that sits frozen for most of the time in a small valley high up in the Garhwal part of the Himalayas.

However, for one month, when the temperature is friendly enough, the ice starts to melt and the surface starts to be see-through. Then, the bottom of the lake that is six feet at its deepest point shows what lies beneath this small and seemingly typical natural wonder. It’s a death pit full of skeletons and not just that, but hair, nails, spears, knives, and jewelry, preserved by the frost as if it was only a few years since these souls met their demise and mysteriously found their way to the bottom of this lake.

Scientists, anthropologists, and historians have tried to unravel this mind-boggling mystery. In 1942, when the lake’s contents was first discovered by a British forest ranger, they were believed to be recent humans remains of unfortunate Japanese soldiers passing through the mountains. The ranger stumbled on a human skull peeking through the snow just outside of the lake, so based on how it was preserved with a full set of hair, he simply assumed the most likely scenario. When he shortly found more bones nearby and skeletons below the frozen surface of the lake, he filed a report.

 And at first his assumptions seemed logical. But no investigation was made about the bones and no one knew who they were, how long they had been there, nor what had happened for that matter. So clearly, in times when a war was still raging, the authorities shared the same initial belief that these were the remains of a military battalion passing by through the mountains toward India. But after a more thorough investigation on site, when spears and all kinds of different ancient weapons and trinkets were found lying right next to the bones, all those first impressions went down the drain and it was clear that a full study of the remains needed to be done.

For a time, the mystery remained unsolved and many theories about what had happened were set in motion. Landslides, epidemic, and ritual suicides were only a few of them. People even went as far as to accept a local belief about an ancient goddess laying waste to a group of people who defied her. According to the legend, this goddess was so infuriated by a group of travelers who dared to pass and tarnish her intact sanctuary up in the mountains that she flung iron-like hailstones over these petty disrespectful humans, killing them on the spot.

Which was actually not so far from the truth, for recent studies found clear marks of round-shaped blows to the skulls and their shoulders as if they were struck from above.

An expedition led by a team of Indian scientists with a couple of Europeans went to the lake in 2004  in order to take samples and investigate. With the advancement of DNA testing, it was now possible to examine the bones and some of the preserved human tissue. The popular opinion was that the skeletons were the remains of individuals who died from harsh weather and sudden storms over the years on the mountains and slid with the snow into the lake, which prevented the natural process of decomposition.

However, while they found the bodies differentiated in terms of height and body type, the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit in the United Kingdom found almost all of the remains to be from the same time, around 850 A.D. Moreover, they found two distinct body types with similar DNA. One group of shorter individuals with smaller and thinner bones, and one completely the opposite. Which led them to believe that it must have been a group on pilgrimage or some kind of expedition in the mountains that hired some local guides. Unfortunately for them, trapped in a valley and with shelter nowhere to be found, a baseball-size hail storm killed them on their way. At least, that is according to the latest scientific research.

According to the traditional Himalayan legend of the ancient goddess, a king was traveling with his pregnant wife, his family, their servants, his musicians, and several others who wished to join them on a pilgrimage to the Uttarakhand’s Nanda Devi Raj Jat festival in India that only happen once every 12 years.

They hired locals to help them get there, but along the way, and despite locals telling them otherwise, they angered the goddess Nanda Devi with their loudness and were punished for it. But most of all, within the group there was a pregnant woman who allegedly gave birth on the goddess’s sacred land. According to local customs, a newborn was the greatest sin of all, so she sent out a storm of hailstones “hard as iron” and killed them.

While we don’t believe this was the wrath of a goddess, it certainly was the fury of something that killed these hundreds of people.

A legend at least in part explained the mystery long before science did. That is, until further notice and more investigation shows something entirely different. A scientific or academic institution should pursue this, for unfortunately every trekking passer-by picks up a bone or two as a souvenir, and very shortly there might be nothing left to be studied.

 Brad Smithfield

Scientists discover a Jurassic-era skeleton of a scary 16-foot-long “top tier” sea predator

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The fossilized ichthyosaur. Credit PLOS ONE, 2017

Paleontologists keep discovering remains of creatures that lived in the Jurassic era, which was 199 to 145 million years ago. But the recent unearthing of a particular ichthyosaur, a sea creature, has the science world buzzing, both because of the site’s location, India, and the creature’s condition, which is of an almost completely intact skeleton. Both are rare.

Indian paleontologists found the skeleton south of Lodai, a village in India’s western Gujarat province, in 2016. It was a grueling challenge to excavate the bones, because they were encased in dense, sedimentary rock. The workers had to extract the skeleton in 100-degree heat.

These types of bones have usually been found in the Northern Hemisphere. “Vertebrate fossils are rare from the Kachchh region, and we were expecting only bone fragments from this area,” Guntupalli V.R. Prasad, a researcher who participated in the excavation, told PLOS News. “So to find a near-complete skeleton is surprising as well as exciting.”

The scientists’ study of the ichthyosaur, detailed in a journal article published on October 25, 2017, reveals a sea monster patrolling dark seas that possessed ferocious skills, one that could prompt extreme fear were it to have appeared in Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg’s film of the Michael Crichton classic of cloned dinosaurs run amok.

The ichthyosaur skeleton led scientists to the conclusion of an adult length of 16 feet. The species is from a “highly successful group of marine reptiles,” according to the study. “Although India hosts extensive marine Jurassic deposits both in the Himalayan and peninsular Indian (Kachchh, Jaisalmer) regions, until now no ichthyosaur remains have been documented from this time interval.” A massive seaway is believed to have once existed through land now covering India, Madagascar, and South America.

 Some of the teeth discovered are in “very robust” condition, the study says. Based on tooth analysis, the ichthyosaur fed on “abrasive food that may include bone.” The creature’s diet consisted of  fellow creatures of “hard exterior, such as armored fish, crustaceans and thick-shelled ammonites.”

The study authors say, “The animal was feeding on a very hard, abrasive prey and might have been a top-tier predator.” Or as National Geographic put it: “These animals were the dolphins or whales of their time: svelte fish eaters with huge eyes, narrow jaws, and cone-shaped teeth.” Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, said, “This new skeleton has the potential to reveal many secrets about ichthyosaur evolution and biogeography.”

The find was made during an ordinary field campaign in January and February of 2016. Scientists who were astonished to find a sea creature in India now believe that part of the reason is that no one was looking. According to the study, “The relative scarcity of marine reptiles from the Jurassic deposits of India seems to be an artifact of sampling bias rather than of preservation potential of the fossils as these marine sequences have not been prospected in the past with a focused objective of recovering vertebrate fossils.”

 To excavate the skeleton, embedded in hard rock, took 1,500 hours of digging. The ichthyosaur’s backbone was still in a continuous line after at least 145 million years, and one of its forefins had retained its shape. Its state of preservation indicates that the animal landed on the sea floor vertically on its snout, while the rest of the body later fell on its side.

“This helps to show how globally widespread ichthyosaurs were during the time of the dinosaurs,” Brusatte told National Geographic. “They seem to have lived everywhere in the oceans, all over the world, at the same time as the dinosaurs were thundering across the land.”

The ichthyosaur became extinct in the Late Cretaceous era, but no one knows why.

Prasad said the team plans to intensify its field exploration in the Kachchh region. Perhaps more ichthyosaur fossils and other marine reptiles will come to light.

https://www.thevintagenews.com

The Laxminarayan Temple, inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi, was the first large temple built in New Delhi

The Hindu temple Laxminarayan, or Birla Mandir as it’s otherwise known, is a major attraction in New Delhi. It was inaugurated by Gandhi and is dedicated to the goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth, good fortune, health, and prosperity, and the god Vishnu, also known as Narayana, who is a principal deity of Hinduism.

The architect Baldeo Das Birla (Birla Group of Industries) was in charge of the construction, and together with his sons, he finished the temple in 1939. Because it was constructed by this architect, who was the leading business tycoon of India, it received the name Birla Mandir.

It is situated on Mandir Marg, which is near the place known as Connaught in Delhi. The Mandir is surrounded by other, smaller side temples dedicated to other important gods and idols, including Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva, and Lord Buddha. The Laxminarayan was the first large temple to be built in the city and it is spread over 7.5 acres and has many little temples, several amazingly sculpted fountains, and a large garden filled with sculptures crafted in Hindu shapes.

It is the first large temple of this type built in New Delhi. Author: electro_n1k. CC by 2.0

As a major attraction, the temple draws in many tourists and devotees, particularly at the time of the Diwali, and Janmashtami festivals. It also houses Geeta Bhawan, dedicated to Lord Krishna for discourses, where visitors can learn about Hindu mythology and educate themselves about this beautiful culture. During the festivals, the place is crowded with devotees who come from all over India to pray to the Hindu Gods and receive their blessing.

It was built by the Birla family. Author: PIVISO. CC BY 2.0

The construction of the temple was under Pandit Vishwanath Shastri’s guidance. Swami Keshwa Nandji performed the ceremony at the opening, and the foundation stone was laid by Maharaj Udaybhanu Singh. It was inaugurated by Gandhi in 1939, who had just one rule, that people from all religions would be allowed to go inside. This temple is the first of many built by the Birla family. They designed temples in cities throughout India, and almost all of them have the name Birla Temple.

As a major attraction, the temple draws in many tourists and devotees, especially during the festivals. Author: Geoff Stearns. CC BY 2.0

The layout of the temple is similar to the buildings designed in the Orissan style, which makes it look very exotic. It has three tall towers made of red sandstone, and the tallest one dedicated to the main gods is 16 feet high. The walls inside are decorated with magnificent carvings depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.

The Towers of the Temple. Author World8115. CC BY 3.0

There are also numerous symbols and quotes written on the walls from the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. More than 100 artists from Benares worked on the carved icons of the mandir. There are many guest houses near the temple and inside for visitors and international scholars who want to gain knowledge about the Sanskrit religion. The small temple dedicated to Buddha in the compound is filled with fresco paintings in which his life and deeds are described.

One of the carvings on the walls of the temple depicting a scene from Hindu mythology. Author: Geoff Stearns. CC BY 2.0

The shrines of the goddess Lakshmi and Narayana are in the highest tower, standing in the middle of the temple, and is the most visited of them all. The statues in the mandir are made of marble by the most prominent artists, brought from Jaipur. The premises of the temple were made by Kota stones, which were brought to Delhi from Kota, Agra, Jaisalmer, and Makarana. The temple is open to the public the whole week, and it is most visited between February and April, when the weather in the city is at its most pleasant.

One of the Hindu symbolic fountain statues at the temple. Author: Geoff Stearns. CC BY 2.0

It is built facing east, which is the most important direction in the Hindu religion, connected to the sunrise. The many sculptures and statues add to the beauty of this amazing place.

The well done artificial landscape and cascading waterfalls make the Laxminarayan Temple a perfect place for solitude and contemplation.

By Marija Georgievska