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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Experiencing Shiva in the midst of Nature

Guwahati is home to some very holy sites of Hinduism. Everyone is familiar with Kamakhya Temple. And now more and more people are visiting the other temples of Guwahati such as Umananda and Navagraha. But one temple that is still not many people’s knowledge is the Bhimashankar Templee that is situated at Pamohi on the outskirts of Guwahati.

Nestled within the surroundings of trees and flowing streams, the Bhimashankar Temple is perhaps the most unique spot that devotees will find to worship Lord Shiva. This temple is situated on the Dakini hill at Pamohi and situated near to the famed Deepor Beel birds sanctuary. You can take the Pamohi road from Garchuk on NH 37 to reach the temple.

The unique thing about this site is there is no proper temple structure. It is basically an open air temple surrounded by trees and the Jyotirlinga resides among the rocks that has a stream flowing around it that comes up from the nearby hills. Devotees consider this to be the 6th Dwadash Jyotirlinga and is one of the twelve Jyotirlinga temples situated all over India. References to this temple can be found in religious texts like Shiva Purana and Koti Rudra Samhita, where it is stated that the Bhimashankar Jyotirlingam is situated in Dakini.

Legend has it that this temple is situated on the spot where Lord Shiva killed a demon named Bhimasura to save his devotee Kamrupeshwara, the then king of Kamrup. Bhimasura has been refered to as the son of Kumbhakarna, Ravana’s brother from Ramayana, and Karkati, the daughter of the king of the underworld. At the requests of the gods, Shiva transformed himself into a Jyotirlinga at that very spot and made that place his abode. It is said that sweat from Shiva’s body that fell down to the ground formed the Bhimarathi river that flows down through the Jyotirlinga and the surrounding rocks today in the form of the stream.

Apart from the main Jyotirlinga, there are sites for the worship of other gods and goddesses in the area as well. Before you reach the temple site, you reach a Ganesh temple on the hilly road. At the temple site, there are also monolithic manifestations of various gods and goddesses such as Parvati, Ganesh, Durga and others. The river stream which flows from among the Jyotirlinga and its surrounding rocks flows in five different directions and is known as Panchadhara.

It is advisable to visit the temple during the winter months and avoid going there during the rainy season as continuous landslides make it unsafe. Most of the people living around the area of the temple belong to the Karbi and Bodo tribes. Even the main priest is a Karbi and other members of the temple trust are Karbis and Bodos and not strictly Brahmins as is seen mostly with other Hindu temples.

It is a most unique temple that any devotee of Shiva will visit as it makes a beautiful site of religious surrounded by the radiance of nature. The flowing stream and the sounds of its gushing waters make the experience surreal as you sit in front of the Jyotirlinga and pray. Even people who are not very religious will find this place interesting because of its beautiful natural setting. This place is worth paying a visit for anybody who wants to experience peace of mind while sitting on a road amid gushing waters of a stream. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Meet the Rhinos!

The rhino is the pride of Assam. We here have the most sizeable population of the one-horned rhinoceros on the planet. We have a reason to feel pride over this magnificent beast. While we know that rhinos are found in Africa as well, there is a misconception among many of us that rhinos are found nowhere else but Africa and Assam. This is not so. We are hosts to one of the species of the greater Rhinocerotidae family that hold five species in total.

Many of us also think that rhinos are found only in Assam and nowhere else in India. This again is wrong. The Indian one-horned rhino is distributed in the states of Assam, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. In Bengal, the rhino is found in the reserved forests of Gorumara and Jaldapara in the Dooar region and in Uttar Pradesh, they are in the Dudhwa and Katarniaghat reserved forests. But yes, without doubt, Assam takes away the prize in having the highest population of rhinos in India. But again the Indian rhino is not found in India alone and there is a presence of around 645 individuals in the reserved forests of neighbouring Nepal, with the highest number being in the Chitwan National Park. 

Out of India, we are well familiar with the two-horned rhinos of Africa. These beasts are marginally larger than the Indian rhino and often have massive horns in comparison to the smaller ones of the Indian variety, which give them the most majestic look in the rhino family. African rhinos are divided into two species of the white rhinoceros and the black rhinoceros. These two types of rhinos dominate the African landscape and the white variety has the largest population of a rhino species in the world. The white rhino is divided into the northern variety and the southern variety depending on their distribution throughout the African continent. The black rhino is spread all over the continent.

Out of Africa, the continent of Asia houses three species of rhinos. Apart from the Indian rhino, the other two are the Javan rhino and the Sumatran rhino. The Javan rhino is very similar in appearance to the Indian rhino but is smaller in size. It is found on the island of Java in Indonesia and is on the verge of extinction. According to an estimate only about 60 remain, all in the wild. They are single horned and are considered to be a sub species of the Indian rhino, but their smaller size and exclusive availability on the Javan island has given them the distinction of being a separate species.

The last remaining species in the global rhino family is the Sumatran rhino which is found in the jungles of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. This is a unique rhino and has a seemingly different appearance from the rest of the rhinos in the world. It is two-horned but they are not as big as those of their African cousins. This is the smallest rhino species in the world and does not possess an armoured covering but a hide like that of a boar. Also it is the only rhino species that has body hair on it. Also, it beak like mouth gives it a distinct look from the rest of the rhinos in the world. This is also a critically endangered species and about 275 of them remain today.

Rhinos are a fascinating species. They are a force of brute strength and are perhaps one of the most well armoured animals created by nature. Though they may appear peaceful, they are known for being short tempered and are very protective about themselves and their territories. Even predators like lions and tigers do not dare to go up against them. The Sumatran rhino is considered to be the most docile among them and is not very aggressive in nature.

Rhinos have always fascinated me. I have always been awed by the presence of these magnificent creatures during my visits to Kaziranga and Pobitora. They are one of the oldest surviving species on the planet. Having descended from the woolly rhinoceroses of the bygone Ice Ages in the prehistoric era, the rhinoceros was once spread throughout the continents of Africa and Asia. By the end of the 20th century, rhinos vanished from everywhere in Asia except India, Nepal, Java and Sumatra. In India and Nepal, they remain confined to certain pockets of protected forests.

Poaching is the single biggest threat to the rhino today. Kaziranga continues to witness rhino killings by poachers occasionally. Although their numbers have increased over the years, the continuous activity of the poachers is a major cause of worry. The Javan and Sumatran rhinos are on the verge of extinction and if strong steps are not taken to protect them then we might lose them in this century. The illegal trade in rhino horn has been the biggest cause of worry here and it will not be over till the governments of various countries take steps to eradicate this evil trade for good.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Fantastic Desi Dog

There is something unusually fantastic about the desi dog. It’s a dog breed we see daily out on the streets and everywhere else. Many people keep it as pets although it is not really seen as a classy option for a pet. But there is something absolutely fantastic about this breed of dog that makes it different from the rest of the imported breeds that we come across and makes it unique and special in its own way.

Speaking in more professional terms, the desi dog is known among pet lovers as the Indian Native Dog or the INDog. It is a species native to the Indian subcontinent and is a part of the worldwide family of pariah dogs who are the direct genetic descendants of wolves without any hybridisation. The Indian pariah dog is a part of the same global family from which belong some of the oldest surviving dog breeds such as the Canaan Dog of Israel and Dingo of Australia.

Desi dogs are often dismissed as street dogs or mongrels with little value as pets. They are not seen as a viable option by affluent pet keepers and are often ignored in favour of breeds imported from outside. Almost every dog breed in India apart from the desi dog is an imported variety. But desi dogs are unique in their own ways and are perhaps best suited to be man’s best friend as per the standards and conditions of India. They are rarely kept as pets among the rich and affluent but are widely accepted among the lower sections of society as good pets. The thing with them is that they are readily available everywhere and there is no breeding programme for them as is the case with the imported breeds. Anybody can pick up a desi dog from anywhere on the streets and keep it as a pet without having to worry for paying for it.

Nowadays many animal NGOs and pet foundations have organised drives for people to adopt desi dog puppies. This is a more systematic and proper way to adopt a desi dog instead of just randomly picking any one puppy from the street.

The desi dog has many advantages to its credit that the imported breeds do not have. India is a country with a largely hot and tropical climate. Most imported dogs are not suited for such a hot climate and hence extra efforts need to be taken to keep them confortable. This is not so with the desi dog. They are acclimatised to withstand hot temperatures and can easily survive in the hot Indian summer, something which is rather difficult for the imported breeds. The desi dog also has a thin fur coat which makes it a better survivor in a hot country like India. Their thin and coarse fur coats make it easier for their owners to maintain them as they don’t need much grooming. Bathing them just once a week is more than enough to keep them clean and healthy.

Speaking of the health part, these dogs are also sturdily built and are not prone to diseases. They are a hardy breed of dogs as they have the original hunter genes of their ancestors who directly descended from wolves which makes them very energetic by nature. Hence they do not contract many diseases during their lifetimes and live up to a long lifespan of around ten years.

The desi dog is perhaps one of the most intelligent breed of dogs in the world. They are very easy to train and can be very good guard dogs. They learn tricks fast and are ever alert. They have a strong sense of smell and have been very helpful in sniffing out explosives in the Naxal affected areas of the country. I come from a family that has always kept desi dogs as pets and our experience in training them has been very pleasant. They are loyal, level headed and very good when it comes to being watchdogs.

These dogs also make great additions to the family and are comfortable with people around them. They are fun to play with and can become a member of your family in no time.

Desi dogs deserve the love and respect that imported breeds normally get in our country. These are a species of dogs indigenous to our country and we should strive to making them popular among the masses and also globally as pets. They are the best suited pets for India as per climate and other standards. If you are planning to adopt a puppy in the future, go for a desi dog. I guarantee you will not regret it.