Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mount Rushmore and Rushmore Caves

After the adventure at Wall Drug, (Click here to read about "Wall Drug")  we moved to Rapid City and then drove on to Mount Rushmore. The half an hour drive from Rapid City to the Rushmore memorial was beautiful with great scenery of the famous Black Hills on either side. Mount Rushmore is the site of the National Memorial with the carvings of the four famous Presidents of the United States of America – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. It is one of the largest pieces of sculpture ever created on the earth.

Gutzon Borglum Historical Center is located two miles before Mount Rushmore. It is advisable to first visit this museum before visiting the monument itself. A visit to the museum would give an insight into the multi talented sculptor's life and work. A full sized eye of Lincoln, a replica of the eye on the mountain, towers over the children looking at it. 
The idea of carving a National Memorial took shape in the year 1923 and in the mind of historian Dome Robinson who was the Superintendent of the South Dakota State Historical Society. The idea was to carve a monument of a leading personality of the province in the South Dakota's Black hills. Gutzon Borglum, already famous sculptor and painter was assigned the job of carving the monument. Borglum studied in Paris and had excelled in many fields. However, a desire to create something great that would stand for ever was latent in him. The invitation to carve a monument in the Black Hills naturally attracted him and he took it as his mission in the remaining years of his life. His thinking that the monument should be a model and reflect the achievement of the country during its 150 years of history received wide approval and carving of the four presidents received wide support. The four presidents chosen to be carved in the monument represented the foundation, consolidation, preservation and continental expansion of the United States. The birth of United States was guided by the vision and courage of George Washington. Thomas Jefferson always had dreams of a greater, more perfect nation, first in the words of the Declaration of Independence and later in the expansion of the nation through the Louisiana Purchase. Preservation of the union was paramount to Abraham Lincoln, a nation where all men were free and equal. At the turn of the Twentieth Century Theodore Roosevelt envisioned a great nation, a leader on the world stage, a nation changing from a rural republic to a world power. The ideals of these presidents laid a foundation for the United States of America as solid as the rock from which their figures were carved. Each president possessed great skills and leadership of the brand the nation needed for the times they represented.  However, there was opposition from the environmentalists who questioned as to how man can improve anything on the God made mountain. All the difficulties were overcome due to perseverance and Borglum selected the sound granite mountain at Rushmore as the rocks were free from fracture. The place chosen was facing southeast and hence receives sunlight for most of the day.

President Calvin Coolidge's holiday in 1927 in the Black Hills area came in handy for getting approval of the project and six holes were drilled symbolically to start the work on August 10, 1927 on the 5,725 feet high mountain. The work continued in stages by blasting the rocks with dynamite and carving the finer parts from hung cables. The work started in the year 1927 took 14 years and cost one million dollars at that time. Washington's head was completed in 1930, Jefferson's in 1936, Lincoln's in 1937 and Roosevelt's in 1939. Borglum was 60 years old when the work started and he spent the next 14 years of his life working on the monument, till he died in 1941. His son Lincoln Borglum, named after President Lincoln since the sculptor was very appreciative of his life and work, supervised the completion of the work. Gutzon Borglum's original idea was to carve the monument up to the waist but he died before completion of the work and the monument was completed as it is today on 31 st October 1941 under the supervision of Lincoln Borglum.

The enormity of the work involved can be understood to some extent by the size of the monuments: Each face is 60 feet high; the head of statue of liberty is only 17 feet tall. George Washington's carving is as tall as a six storey building; had the full body been carved, it would have been 465 feet tall. Eyes are 11 feet wide, length of the nose is 20 feet and the mouth is 18 feet long. 4,50,000 tonnes of rock was removed from the mountain while carving the monument and 90 per cent of it was by blasting. When considered that no addition to the rocks was possible and entire shape of the monument was to be given only by carving, the enormity and precision of the work can be gauged. A photograph of the monument (obtained from the internet) given above gives an idea about the monument.  In order to ensure the precision of the monument Borglum had made a model of the monument in plaster of Paris and one inch on the model was equal to one foot on the rock. 400 local workers were involved in making the monument – none of them had any idea of what they were working on. They started working for wages, and as the work progressed, they realized that they were creating something historic and unique and were emotionally involved with the project. Safety record was excellent considering the quantity of dynamite used and rock removed – there were no deaths and only minor injuries to some workers.

The monument can now be seen from the roadside 24 hours a day. Developed area is opened to the public according the seasons. Entry to the monument is open on most days and visitors get a good view from the "Grand View Terrace". Visitors can go along the presidential trail up to the base of the monument. The information centre provides valuable information to the visitors. Lincoln Borglum Museum below the grand view terrace provides an insight into making of the monument and sculptor's studio houses the tools and models used for construction. A 13 minute film about carving of the monument is sown throughout the day. Reasons for selection of the four presidents, what they stood for and their achievements are highlighted in the museum. The monument is illuminated during nights; Cultural programs in the evening and Light and Sound show entertain the visitors.     

Maintenance work to keep the monument in good condition is done round the year and the earnings from the gift shop located in the monument is used for making further improvements in amenities to the visitors.  The monument on Mount Rushmore stands as a permanent testimonial to the dream of Doane Robinson, dedication of Gutzon Borglum and the unparallel work of over four hundred workers and invites millions of visitors every year.  

We entered the monument by climbing the 35 steps from the entrance to the monument and viewed the 13 minute film on carving the monument, in the auditorium. We passed through a corridor in which the dates on which the states became member of the United States are carved. We had a view of the monument from the Grand View Terrace, from the base of the terrace and other different angles. Photographs were taken and visited the Gift shops to buy some souvenirs. We returned to our car and proceeded to the " Beautiful Rushmore Caves".

The "Rushmore Cave" was accidentally discovered by adventurous placer miners in 1876. The miners were digging a flume into the mountainside to carry water to the gold mines below when they found the cave opening. The cave was opened to the public in 1927, just before carving of the monument on the Mount Rushmore began. The cave is now a major tourist attraction. Visitors are taken on a cave tour by experienced tour guides to show icicle-like stalactites hanging from the cave ceilings, while spires of stalactites rise from smooth rock floor. The formations dating back to 60 million years are in many shapes and sizes and fascinate the viewer. Beauty of the formations is to be seen and experienced and cannot be put in words and the guided tour of about one hour is a wonderful experience. Temperature inside the cave remains around 58 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. Many of the caves are said to be still unexplored due to the small openings and tunnels through which it is difficult for a man to pass.

It was a wonderful day's sight seeing covering the Badlands, Rushmore Monument and the beautiful caves.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Family Tree

What is your name?  Or, what is your good name?  This is the first question many of us frequently face or receive when we meet someone in a gathering.  A child's nursery school teaching starts with the same question. Parents are thrilled when the child answers that question.  "What is your Father's name?" would be the next question the child has to answer. "What is your Mother's name ?" is likely to follow.  Name of grandparents is generally not asked.  Name of great grand parents?  Forget the child, many times the parents themselves may not be able to answer that question.  Third or fourth generation? Fifth, sixth and seventh generations?  Better not to ask these questions.  Some may even argue about the purpose and usefulness of asking such questions!

Some are fortunate to know and live with their parents. Some others know and also lived even with the grandparents. There are many who have not seen their parents.   Some of them do not even know their names. Many films, especially Hindi films, have this as their theme. "I do not know who my parents were.  I am an Orphan"  is the common dialogue.

When I was in Gaya (Bihar) some ten years ago, I was observing the shraddalu persons offering "Pindas" (offerings to ancestors) near "Gadadhara's Temple" and below the "Peepul Tree" (Akshaya Vata Vruksha, as it is called).  The person performing "Shraadh" is required to recite the names of at least twelve persons, comprising three generations from both father's and mother's side.  Many of them could not go beyond grand parents.  Of course, the system provides for a "Default" option - it is "Yagnappa" for males and "Yagnamma" for females.  If one does not know the "Gotra" (Family name) of any ancestor or relative, then it is "Kashyapa Gotra" because all Gotra Purushas have descended from Kashyapa Rishi.

During my visit to the "Valley forge Historical National park" on the outskirts of Philadelphia, I found an interesting computerized device exhibited there through which any American visitor could find out about his/her ancestor who participated in the 1777-78 War of Independence under the leadership of George Washington. "Society of the Descendants of Washington's Army at Valley Forge" has made this possible and an ancestor who took part in the war over two hundred thirty years ago could be traced.  I am told there are similar arrangements in some other places to trace ancestors.

"Family Tree" was one of the documents handed over by a father in our country to his sons when he realized that his end was nearing.  Needless to say that this practice was in educated families.  If there was more than one son, the instruction would be to make copies of the document so that each one had one such "Family Tree" in his house.  This document would be referred for performing annual death ceremonies or "Tarpanas" on prescribed occasions.  This practice has slowly lost its importance and now nearly forgotten.  One of my cousins took extra pains to extend this practice and even prepared a beautiful document covering our earlier three generations as well as the next three generations.  This document has even the photos of all the persons of six or seven generations, with spouses. One such document is held by me as a prized possession.

Some time back I visited a family in Bangalore during a function.  While talking to a member of the family I came to know that he is from a Gotra called "Haritasa".  There are many families with Haritasa Gotra in Bangalore and Kolar districts.  As I knew some families of this group, I made further inquiries. One "Annadana Bhatta" was a common ancestor for these families. Annadana Bhatta or Annam Bhatta is the author of a Logic Primer by name "Tarka Sangraha".  In response to my further questions, my host brought the Family Tree from his collections and showed it to me.  It is a beautiful document and it is shaped as a tree itself!  At my request he graciously gave me a copy of that tree.  I have photographed it and included it here (picture shown above).  The document is in Telugu language and is made with commendable efforts.  The tree shaped document starts from  "Adi Narayana Moorthy" and "Brahma" and continues through "Gotra Purusha".   There are many Annadana Bhattas in the tree and names like "Narayana Bhatta", "Äccham Bhatta" and others are repeated.  This is in line with the practice of naming the grandson after his grandfather.  The hard work and sincere efforts of the artiste (he should indeed be an artiste to produce such a document) in faultlessly preparing such a document is to be really appreciated.  It is, indeed, a Family Tree!

As regards Annam Bhatta's "Tarka Sangraha", that is a topic for another day.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The door opens Inside!

In the post of August 15, 2012 titled "Knock on the door" (Please click here to read it)  I had made a mention of the Bengal famines of 1943 and 1770.  Some friends from the younger generation have desired to know about these famines and their intensity.  My recent visit to Patna took me to a monument that reminded the horrors of these famines.  I saw a structure called "Gol Ghar" that was never put to actual use due a small defect in its design and construction.  It has remained as a monument and tourist attraction only.  It is also a huge building that keeps reminding every visitor about the horrors of the devastation that a famine brings.

The "Big Bengal Famine" of 1943 is estimated to have consumed 4 million (40 lakh) human lives besides a big catch of animals.  Bengal at that time was reckoned as the entire eastern part of India comprising of the present West Bengal, Bangladesh, Bihar and parts of Orissa. Burma was a major supplier of rice to parts of India and Ceylon. Following the Japanese occupation of Burma, this source of rice supply dried up. Food items became extremely scarce.  Many able bodied men were directly and indirectly involved in the war.  Whatever income and resources that were available with the families were diverted in full for meeting food needs.  Small time traders, artisans and rural workers were deprived of their livelihood.  Diversion of large volumes of food items to the war front put additional strain on the already dwindling supplies.  Failure of rains and the resultant crop failure compounded the problem.  A severe cyclone that hit the area destroyed whatever standing crops that were left.  Economists like Dr Amartya Sen have argued that the famine was more a result of the hype created by World War II rather than shortage of food.  This famine gave birth to voluminous literature on the horrible effects of the famine.  Many plays and novels were written with the famine and resultant suffering as their theme.  British government  even confiscated a play by one Chittroprasad on the suffering in Midnapore district.  Well-known film maker Satyajit Ray's movie "Asani Sanket", based on Bibuthibushan Banerjee's novel by the same name, deals with this famine and its effects on the poor rural folk.  Bibuthibushan Banerjee is also the author of "Aparajito" and "Pather Panchali", two other Satyajit Ray's films.   Asani Sanket graphically depicts a character, a girl by name Chutki, who is forced to go with a scar-faced (burnt-faced) man whom she utterly dislikes, only because he has some rice with him and that is her source of survival through famine.  In fact, Asani Sanket ends with the message on the screen reading "Over five million died of starvation and epidemics in Bengal in what has come to be known as the man-made famine of 1943."

The Bengal Famine of 1770, that struck between 1769 to 1773, was perhaps even worse.  It is estimated that one out of  three living persons died in the famine taking the toll to an astounding One Crore (10 million) lives. Birbhum and Murshidabad in Bengal along with Champaran and Bettiah in Bihar were worst hit. This famine was an indirect contribution of the East India Company and its unimaginative and exploiting tax policy.  Land revenue tax was increased in several doses, taking it from a mere 10% of the agriculture produce to as high as 50%!  Reminds us old-timers of the 97% income-tax slab in the 1980s.  Insistence on growing of Opium and Indigo (for dyeing of cloth) left lesser and lesser lands for food crops.  The incidence of high land revenue led to more areas becoming depopulated and growth of jungles. Bands of decoits and thugs ruled the area making the common man's life even more difficult.  All the factors contributed the Great Famine of 1770 that killed 10 million people.

Warren Hastings was appointed as Governor of Calcutta in 1771, during the days severe famine.  He became Governor General of India in 1773.  Having understood the seriousness of the problem, before he resigned and left for England in 1784, he ordered the construction of a beehive shaped structure for the purpose of storing grains for the British Army.  A plot on the western side of Patna known then as "Patna Lawns" (presently known as Gandhi Maidan) on the banks of the river Ganga was chosen for construction of the granary.  Captain John Garstin, an engineer with East India Company, was entrusted with construction of the granary.  A picture of the granary taken from the internet and given above shows the "Stupa Architecture" used for its construction.  The 29 meter (95 feet) high structure has a base of 125 meters (410 feet).  Its storage capacity is as much as 1,40,000 metric tons!  It is a fantastic structure without any pillars supported by walls of 3.6 meter (12 feet) thickness at the base.  The 300 step spiral stairway that can be seen in the picture was to facilitate passage of laborers carry grain bags to the opening at the top, deliver the load through a hole at the top and descend the stairs.

What is the startling and funny about this structure is that it was never filled to its capacity and never used!  The main reason was a structural defect; while designing the structure, the doors were designed to open inside.  When the granary was filled, the doors could never be opened.  The structure, known as "Gol Ghar", meaning the "Round House" in Hindi, has just remained a tourist attraction and a specimen of how a minor flaw in designing can render a great structure totally useless.

Our mind is very similar to this Gol Ghar.  The Lord has designed our mind and brain like this Gol Ghar.  But he has allowed us the freedom to open its doors either inside or outside, as we deem fit.  When it opens only inside, it remains an empty monument like the Gol Ghar.  If we let the doors open outside, it is the most wonderful piece that has ever been designed by anybody and it can be put to unlimited use!