Birds of Sirpur, Indore authored by Bhalu Mondhe (freelance artist/sculptor and photographer), Abhilash Khandekar (professional journalist of 30 years standing in print media + a wildlife and nature enthusiast) and Kaustubh Rishi (Engineer + ornithologist + wildlife photographer by passion) is a collection of crisp colourful photographs and concise text of some 130 birds found at Sirpur Lake (Indore). I am indeed very grateful to Devji (Mr. Dev Kumar Vasudevan) for introducing me to this gem of a book.
(With two obvious exceptions: that of the legendary "Birdman of India" Dr. Salim Ali and the evergreen Ruskin Bond) one rarely comes across someone who appreciates nature and her many bounties, including such beautiful creatures known as birds... as deeply as Devji. He shares his birthday with the great Swami Vivekananda... and I am sure many people do so too. But not everyone has such love for the environment, trees, flowers, animals, birds, and our culture, et al.
Muchas gracias Devji - for this wonderful avian treat. :)
A delightful field guide on a variety of birds - water birds, wetland birds and tree birds - Birds of Sirpur was launched on 1st October 2012.
It acquaints us with 23 types of water birds, 41 types of wetland birds and 66 types of tree birds; each of them neatly accompanied by the following: their Common Name, Scientific Name and Local Name; besides their Call, Status (whether migrant, winter visitor, residential or residential migrant), Sighting Month, Details, Habitat, Food and Nesting habit. [Due to the freezing lakes and dipping temperatures in their native lands, a large number of (migratory) birds from Central Asian lands and Europe make Sirpur Lake their temporary home with the onset of winter. Thousands of birds nestled on tree branches and in the water, creating various sounds with their chirping and flapping, is a view, perhaps, no bird lover would like to give a miss.]
There is also a small write-up re: the topography of a bird (complete with illustration). It is not filled with highly technical or detailed plumage descriptions (which would have confused any lay wildlife and nature enthusiast). Instead: it consists of the correct names (along with a labeled picture) for the exterior parts and feathering of a bird. Knowledge and familiarity with these terms will (no doubt) lead to sharper field observation and (also) help in making accurate notes about a bird... that one may have seen or handled. It will be very useful for beginners.
- Total bird species in Madhya Pradesh: 496
- Total bird species in India: 1031
- Total bird species in the World: 10,451
- Large birds like Greater Flamingo and Sarus Crane both visit Sirpur Lake
- Besides birds, Sirpur has 3 species of turtle, 8 species of butterfly and 7 species of reptile.
All the images used in this book are of those birds found in Sirpur Lake (shot by various photographers from time to time). One must linger over the pictures... to admire the colourful plumage of each bird and to marvel at nature's artistry, diversity and bounty. Besides: to know just how few of them we are familiar with (whether seen firsthand, in pictures or heard about).
Though there are a number of books on birds, ornithology, field guides and so on, Birds of Sirpur is indeed very special. Simply because this book is the outcome of a Herculean effort to first conserve their habitat (Sirpur Lake) against various odds, then to lure the avian visitors back (to the Lake). Only thereafter has this book been compiled. It truly is a labour of love. The authors and their associates have an abiding interest in saving our environment and conserving nature. Their commitment shines through.
The book jacket cover is well done. Three Sarus Cranes adorn the front cover while a picture of the now-rejuvenated Lake is at the back. Birds and Sirpur is prominent in red amidst a mellow shade of yellow. The fonts gel well with the overall look and feel of the book. It feels good to hold too. There are a few editing errors though, which should have been pruned out, not that they interfere in any way. So, maybe, we can simply ignore them and focus on the birds instead.
Thanks to Devji, my copy of the Birds of Sirpur came along with a bunch of picture postcards (containing the images of a few of our avian friends). And since I am a fledgling collector of picture postcards, this put an even bigger smile upon my face.
I am still marveling at the many species of dove, ducks, heron and crane there are! [Picture of Common/Eurasian Coots @ Sirpur Lake.]
As to: why the "White Wagtail" (Motacilla alba) is called "Dhoban" locally or why the "Oriental White Eye" (Zosterops palpebrosus/ Baboona, Motuchur) is called "Motichur" - I have not a clue. And "Motichur" looks like as though it's wearing a round pair of chasma. [Must be a very studious bird, what say?! :)]
And while the Purple Moorhen (Gallinula Chloropus) is a nice-and-colourful-looking bird, it's many local names: Kaim, Kharim, Kalim, Khima - fail to do justice. Even remotely. [Humph! Not fair.] Pic: The Purple Moorhen among the reeds somewhere inside the Lake.
I had heard and read about the Pan-kawri (pan kowwa)... but never seen it. It is called Great Cormorant in English and Pankowri in Bangla. Scientific name: Phalacrocorax carbo. [Sounds like some species of dino-croc. :) These scientific names... I tell you!] Pic: Cormorant on a Babool Tree.
But I wasn't aware that there is a "Little Cormorant" (Chhota Pan-kawwa/ Phalacrocorax niger) too. [Pic: Little Cormorant in flight.]
The "White-Breasted Waterhen" is called Jal murghi, Dawak, Dahak, Dauk, Panpaira. Scientific name: Amaurornis phoenicurus. It is called Dahuk pakhi in Bangla. [Pakhi = bird, the Bangla equivalent of the Hindi "pakshi".]
While the "Bronze-Winged Jacana" (Metopidius indicus) is Dal Pipi, Jal Pipi, Karatiya and Pipi. Delightful, isn't it?! A leggy swamp bird somewhat like a Moorhen, with glossy black head, neck and breast, metallic greenish bronze back and wings, and chestnut-red stub tail, the Jal Pipi has a broad white stripe from behind eye to nape. [Pic: The Bronze-Winged Jacana pottering about somewhere inside the lake.]
As for the "Greater Flamingo": it is known as Rohit or Agnipankh (probably due to its rosy-white colour. Rozy-hued or reddish is Rohit/Rohitah/Lohitah in Sanskrit). Its scientific name is: Phoenicopterus rubber. [And that kinda makes it sound like an extinct rubber helicopter, what? :)]
The Sarus Crane (in pic), on the other hand, is (methinks) responsible for the term "Apsara". Here's why:
Contrary to popular belief, Apsaras were not celestial beings but female Gandharvas. Saras = lake or water-body, besides being a reference to the lake-bird - the Sarus Crane. [This lake-bird (Sanskrit: Sarasa) is much-venerated in our culture and is also associated with Maharshi Valmiki.] The Sarus Crane (also: Saras Crane) performs territorial and courtship displays that include loud trumpeting, leaps and dance-like movements. The female Gandharvas, as we know, were adept at the performing arts, and these may have included leaps and energetic dance-like movements (much like the Ballet and the Flamenco) - to the accompaniment of gay music. Hence, (probably) over time, the female Gandharvas first came to be associated with the Saras Crane, and then (gradually) began to be referred to as the "Ap-Saras" (possibly: 'saras-like') - which later gave way to "Apsara". They were also regarded as possessors of great knowledge, be it in the fine arts, performing arts, medicinal herbs, flowers, perfumes, and the like. Urvashi, Menaka, Rambha, Tillottama et al are legendary Apsaras.
Also: the name "Flamenco" may have been derived from Flamingo. And the Saras and Flamingo (of another era/yug) may have been related. It is worth noting that the Flamingo is a mix of bright and lighter shades of pink, while the Flamenco dancers wear red. [So, where do you think have the Ballet and the Flamenco originated? :)]
[The Gandharvas may have been an offshoot/sub-clan of the Sura/Deva clan/people. The name Gandharva is of Sanskrit origin, and is very likely derived from the Sanskrit word gandha, meaning perfume, odour or smell. These people were renowned for their great knowledge of flowers, aromatic herbs, plants and birds. Hence "Gandharva" is a reference to the spices and aromatic herbs that they [the inhabitants of ancient Northwest South Asia, including Bakthria and possibly also the people using the Kharoṣṭhī script] traded and with which they anointed themselves. They were also well-versed in music and dance besides being expert players of a variety of musical instruments.]
However: one mustn't confuse the Flamingo for the Sarus Crane and vice versa... on account of their long-legs and brightly-coloured plumage. They are otherwise quite different.
But let's not digress. Let's return to the Birds of Sirpur.
Apparently: "Dubdubi" is Little Grebe. [But I am only familiar with Doob Doob - the simple-minded crocodile from the Tinkle comics (and a friend of the wily Chamtaka).]
The "Wire-Tailed Swallow" (Hirundo smithii/ Abadil, katij, totki) - on the other hand - is a sight to behold. Glossy steel blue above, with a chestnut cap, it is readily distinguished from other swallows by its glistening white under-parts and two long, fine tail 'wires'. [What amazing architecture!]
Even the "Paradise Flycatcher" (M.P. State Bird): Rufous plumage: Shah bulbul, Husaini bulbul, (White plumage: Sultan bulbul, Dudhraj) is quite eye-catching. One word: Mr. Majestic.
But yours truly is somewhat confused by the "Bluethroat" (Nil kanthi/ Luscinia svecica) and the "Indian Roller" or Blue Jay (Coracias benghalensis/ Tas, Chas, Neelkanth - meaning: Blue throat).
Especially: since both their call is a chack sound. [Though the Indian Roller also makes a variety of other sounds, including metallic boink calls and may occasionally attempt fishing from water. However, this bird (Neelkanth/Indian Roller) is one of my favorites. In flight, it displays the most magnificent of all blues. To me it is: Mr. Monarch.]
One can mistake the "House Sparrow" (Passer domesticus/ Gauriya, Goura, Charkalpe, Garhwa, Ginjishki) for the "Zitting Cisticola" (Cisticola juncidis/ Ghas-ki-Phutki, Kali phutki) and vice versa - especially in the wild or from afar. The former though is (until now) a familiar sight... despite the relentless massacring of our trees. [House Sparrow = CharAi pakhi in Bangla. In Bangla pronunciation: "a" = first vowel (in Sanskrit/Hindi/...) (awe). "A" = second vowel (long) (far).]
But given how fast the green cover is shrinking... none can say for how much longer. And once the green cover almost vanishes, the "KAthh-thhokrA" - the "Lesser Golden-Backed Woodpecker" (Dinopium benghalense/ Son pathi sutar, Maramkothi, Tachchan kuruvi) will not have any more "kAthh" (wood) to peck on. :(]
The "Red Vented Bulbul" (Pycnonotus cafer/ Bulbul, Guldum) too can be mistaken for the "Sykes's Crested Lark" (Galerida deva/ Chinna chandul) - from afar or in the wild. [Pic: Red Vented Bulbul, clicked at Sirpur Lake.]
[Bulbul: Bangla = Bulbuli pakhi.]
While the "Sykes's Crested Lark" can even pass off as a sparrow - from afar. Here's the "Sykes's Crested Lark". Hello Mr. Elvis!
While the "Sykes's Crested Lark" can even pass off as a sparrow - from afar. Here's the "Sykes's Crested Lark". Hello Mr. Elvis!
Apparently: the "Pied Crested Cuckoo" (Clamator jacobinus) is called Kala bulbul (besides: Chatak, Papiya and Kala papiya). [Its call goes: piu-piu-pee-pee-piu-piu-pee-pee-piu. So, probably: this bird and its call have inspired a whole bunch of songs!] Pic: The Pied Cuckoo (clicked at Sirpur Lake). A summer visitor from Sri Lanka and South India (where it resides and breeds) to North and North-East India.
[According to Indian mythology/legend/apocryphal stories: the "Pied Crested Cuckoo" is associated with a bird known as the chātak and is represented as a bird with a beak on its head. It waits for rains to quench its thirst. The well-known naturalist, educationist and intellectual, Satya Churn Law, however noted that in Bengal, the bird associated with the "chātak" of Sanskrit was the Common Iora (Fotik jol/Aegithina tiphia) unlike the Pied Crested Cuckoo suggested by European orientalists. He further noted that a captive Iora that he kept drank water only from dew and spray picked up from plant leaves... suggesting that it may have been the basis for the idea that the "chātak" only drank raindrops. Pet Birds of Bengal: Link.]
BTW, even the "Brain Fever Bird" (Hierococcyx varius) is called Papiha, Papiya, Kapak and Upak.
On the other hand, the Kajol pakhi or "Brown Shrike" (Lanius cristatus) is called Karkata and Karkheta. [Reminds me of one of the players from "Chak De! India".]
Mr. Artist - the "Coppersmith Barbet" (Magalaima haemacephala) is called Katphora, Thathera Basanti and Chota Basanti. [Sholay, anyone?!]
However: why the "Crested Bunting" (Melophus lathami) is called Patthar Chiria - I know not.
But the "Jungle Crow" (Corvus macrorhynchos) - Kala kowwa, Pahari kowwa, Jangli kowwa (with a deep and hoarse 'caw') instantly reassures me about my fledgling ornithologist status. [It is called "DaANd Kak" in Bangla and has a shiny raven-coloured plumage. [Chamtaka's nemesis: the very smart "Kalia - the Crow" is an ordinary crow though. You know, the House Crow (Corvus splendens).] Pic: Large-billed (Jungle) Crow (clicked at Sirpur Lake).
The "Egyptian Vulture" (Neophron percnopterus/ Safed Gidh/ Kal kurgh) is quite noble looking. Also called the "Pharaoh's Chicken," it is a small Old World vulture and the only member of the genus Neophron. [Imagine: 'Flight of the Pharaoh's Chicken'!]
Among all aves, our National Bird - the "Indian Peafowl" (Pave cristatus/ Mor, Maura, Manjur) - stands out. Obviously! [Peacock is "Mayur" in Bangla.]
I have seen the "Yellow-Wattled Lapwing" (Vanellus malabaricus/ Zirdi, jithiri, laori) a couple of times or so... but I am quite familiar with the Machhraanga - the "Small Blue Kingfisher" (Chhota Kilkila, Nika machhrala, Chhota tont). I have seen it quite a few times... diving at lightening speed and with precision - a brilliant bluish-orange blur - and then taking off with a fish... to savour for breakfast or for lunch. [Umm, since it is a fish-eating bird, I take it that it possess high IQ. Though may not be in the same league as Jeeves. Yet. But God's painting it is.]
"Plum Headed Parakeet" (Psittacula cyanocephala/ Tuiya tota) - I have yet to see. But the guava-eating "Rose Ringed Parakeet" (Pisttacula krameri/ Tota, Lyber tota, Popat, Keera) - is fairly common. [Bangla = Tia or Tiye pakhi.] Pic: A pair of Rose Ringed Parakeet. Clicked at Sirpur Lake.
As for the "Purple Sunbird" (Nectarinia Asiatic/ Shakar khora, chumka) - it is known as Moutusi in Bangla. [Moutusi... nice name, no?]
The "Baya Weaver" or Babui Pakhi (Ploceus phlipinus/ Baya, Sonchiri, Suyam, Sugahri, Bijra) and the "Tailor Bird" (Orthotomus sutorius/ Darzee, Piddi) - are two of nature's greatest wonders. 'Coz despite being the "most evolved of all species," the Homo sapiens sapiens cannot weave or stitch like these tiny creatures.
[However: that still doesn't help me understand... why the "White Wagtail" (Motacilla alba) is called "Dhoban". "Weaver Bird" and "Tailor Bird" - I can understand. But "Dhoban"?!!]
And the Tailor Bird - one of the most difficult birds to photograph - is none other than Upendrakishore Raychoudhuri's "Tuntuni Pakhi"! It is difficult to photograph... not because of its tiny size, but simply because it cannot sit still for more than a few seconds and cannot decide which direction it wants to look! It is always super-excited!! But we all love this energetic little bird immortalized in our folk tales (by legends like Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury and Rudyard Kipling). A Tuntuni bird weaves neat little nests by folding a leaf and sewing it by collected fiber. Truly a tailorbird!
[Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury was Satyajit Ray's paternal grandfather. Upendrakishore - Sukumar Ray - Satyajit Ray (+ the latter's cousin, Leela Majumdar). So many geniuses within a family!]
The "Oriental Magpie-Robin" or Doyel pakhi (Copsychus saularis/ Dhaiyal, Dhaiyar, Daiyad) - I first got to know via "The Castafiore Emerald" - a Tintin comic.
The "Koel" (Eudynamys scolopacea/ Koel, Kokila) on the other hand - we are very familiar with. Kokil (Bangla) or the Cuckoo Bird is known for its melodious ku-hoo, ku-hoo, ku-hoo. [However: the Cuckoo bird is also an "outsourcing pioneer" - the female bird has been laying its eggs in the nests of crows since time immemorial. This shows that although the crow is universally regarded as a wily bird it certainly is naïve when it comes to counting chicks before they hatch. It is probably when the young koels are ready to fly away to an absolutely different tune, that the stumped foster parents realize the goof-up. Even the Pied Cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other birds.]
The Brahminy mynah (the black-headed myna) or "Brahminy Starling" (formerly, Sturmus Pagodarum; now: Sturnia pagodarum/ Kalasir Myna, Puhaiya, Pupaiya Myna) is quite neatly groomed, while the "Common Myna" (Acridotheres tristis/ Myna, Hor, Gulgul, Salik, Shale) is a tad unkempt. ["Common Myna" is Shalik pakhi or Moyna in Bangla. It is also the "two-for-joy" mynah.]
The Brahminy starling's specific name, pagodarum, is presumably in honour of this species' fondness for perching on buildings and temple pagodas in southern India.
The "Pied Starling" (Sturnus contra/ Ablak, Ablaki myna, Siroli myna) - strikingly marked in black and white with a yellowish bill and a reddish bill base - is "Gobore Shalik" in Bangla.
The friendly "Black Drongo" (Dicrurus macrocercus/ kolsa, bhujanga, karanjua, kalkalachi) or "Fingé pakhi" was a common sight... until a few years ago. Not any more. :(
Ditto the "Scaly Breasted Munia" (Lonchura punctulata/ Telia munia, Seenabaz). These tiny birds were a delight to watch. One wanted to learn all about them. One wanted to say: Fly high, little guy, fly high.
The Hoopoe (Upupa epops) is a colourful bird notable for its distinctive 'crown' of feathers. It is called Mohan Chura (in Bangla). Why? Well, just as Gulmohar is known as "Krishnachura" or 'crown of Krishna'. Or just as peacock feathers adorn the crown of Krishna. Similarly, the Hoopoe is admired for its 'crown' of feathers, which is compared to the 'crown of Krishna'. Clearly, Hoopoe is the King. [Krishna is also known as Mohan.]
As for the "Indian Robin" (Saxicoloides fulicata/ Kalchuri) - I first discovered it on packets containing "Neel" - most likely, Robin Blue - the fabric whitener with pedigree.
Umm, have seen the Chil or "Black Kite" (Milves migrans) and the "Large Egret"/Great White Heron (Casmerodius albus) with long slender head and neck, pointed bill and all-white plumage - many a time. The Great Egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet. [Bangla: Sada Bok. Sada = white.] [Pic: Large Egret, clicked at Sirpur Lake.]
"Egret" has originated from the word "aigrettes", since long, delicate, and ornamental nuptial plumes, called aigrettes, appear on the back of these birds during the breeding season.
[The Chil or "Black Kite" (in pic) is not to be confused for the Shankhachil or "Brahminy Kite" (since both are about the same size and have a typical kite-flight, with wings angled). The latter is distinctive and contrastingly coloured, with chestnut plumage except for the white head and breast and black wing tips. In India, the noble-natured Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) is considered as the contemporary representation of "Garuda," the sacred bird/'vaahan' of Shri Maha Vishnu. [The Brahminy Kite (often referred to as the Singapore Bald Eagle) is called Shankhachil in Bangla. Shankha = conch. 'Coz the white plumage of this bird is similar to the white of a conch shell.]
The "Common Babbler" (Turdoides caudatus/ Chilchil, Sor, Genga, Dumri, Heddo, Lailo, Saat Bhai) has an interesting English name. And so does the "Jungle Babbler" (Turdoides striatus/ Saat bhai). But why they are called "Saat Bhai" - my guess is as good as yours. Also: why "Common" is prefixed to one while "Jungle" is prefixed to the other - no clue. But both are Babblers... apparently. [The Jungle Babbler is called Chhatare in Bangla.]
The "Grey Francolin" (Francolinus pondicerianus/ Safed teetar, gowjal hakki, kawanga, chittur) is quite different from the "Painted Francolin" (Francolinus pictus/ Kala teetar, Kakera kozhi). Their names suggest as much. But the "Grey Hornbill" (Ocyceros birostris/ Dhanesh, Dhanel, Lamdar) - Dhanesh pakhi - appears to be quite serious and focused. [Pic: Grey Hornbill, clicked at Sirpur Lake.]
But why the "Small Bee Eater" (Merops orientalis lathem/ Patringa, Harrial, Pateri, Banspati) is called "Banspati" - I know not. ['Coz "Banspati" ghee or "Banspati" refers to Dalda, right?!]
There are many more species of birds in this book. And given the times... it's a veritable treat. 'Coz we are just left with crows, pigeons/doves, some chil/kites, common myna and sparrows + the occasional parrot or two.
My twopenceworth: Botanical names of plants or scientific names of birds (in Latin) are very cut and dry: devoid of logic, imagination, philosophy, spirituality, or emotion. E.g., the scientific name for "Indian Roller" or Blue Jay is Coracias benghalensis. And I'm sure whosoever named it thus - have used some reference point(s). But does it appeal to us?
On the other hand, we know the same bird as "Neelkanth". This, I would say is logic blended with imagination, and it appeals. It is poetic too, isn't it?
Mere cut and dry logic holds no charm. Logic devoid of imagination and/or philosophy and/or a bit of spirituality - will remain incomplete. [What say you?]
Greats like Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose and Aryabhatta were able to effortlessly merge logic with imagination and/or philosophy and/or spirituality. The results are there for all to see. Aryabhatta's way of explaining and presenting complex theories and phenomena is very unique. I'm not aware whether the much-vaunted Greek astronomers came any close. While the pioneering botanist and physicist, Acharya J.C. Bose was great in every sense of the word. His was a phenomenal mind. He demonstrated that plants too have life when everyone else thought otherwise [and this "everyone else" included the scientific community too, and they (surely) employed 'logic', or their version of "logic" - so as to arrive at such a conclusion, right?]
Acharya J.C. Bose's explanation of what is "living" and what is "non-living" is a true eye-opener. It could not have happened without the seamless blending of imagination and spirituality. And this, he would have imbibed from our ancient heritage. Therefore: in my humble opinion, he enriched logic. He infused life into logic.
In the absence of imagination, philosophy, spirituality or a wee bit of emotion, logic loses its appeal, it remains incomplete: whether vis-à-vis humans or with respect to intangibles or abstracts. Logic cannot exist on it's own. It needs humans. And therefore: imagination, philosophy, spirituality and/or a wee bit of emotion are inseparable from logic. Is it not?
Now, take the example of botanical names or the scientific names of birds - in Latin. They may have perfect logic behind them - but do they appeal to us? And even if we remember them, isn't it like a chore, laboured?
However, the same logic, if paired with imagination and/or philosophy and/or spirituality and/or a wee bit of emotion - transcends many barriers; it appeals to our hearts, minds and soul, and remains with us - forever.
Just like "Neelkanth," Indian Roller and Coracias benghalensis.
Here is a bit about the Sirpur Lake and how this Lake and its avifauna were salvaged: A lovely, natural bird habitat until the 80s, the rain-fed Sirpur Lake was almost forgotten. This over a 100-year old, once-beautiful Lake, situated on the Indore-Dhar highway, was the Royal Holkar family's gift to Indore. It was later taken over by the Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC). The foreword by Mr. M. N. Buch (Padmabhushan, Chairman, NCHSE, Bhopal/ Former Civil Servant, eminent environmentalist and urban planner) talks of a time when the Khan River was actually a river and not a sewer and the Palace, Manik Bagh (Nahar Bhandara), was used for boating. The Sirpur Lake was the jewel in the crown and a nature heritage of the historic city of Indore, once ruled by Devi Ahilyabai. Mr. Buch talks about the myriad bird population of Sirpur and its environs (when he was a young Sub Divisional Officer of Kannod in Dewas District in 1960). He had (then) visited Sirpur Lake because it was one of the well-known constituents of the nature heritage of Indore city. But as the city grew the Lake soon became a victim of unplanned urbanization: Trees were hacked, sewage and garbage polluted the Lake (whose area shrank and as the Lake became smaller and dirtier, aquatic life and avifauna both suffered).
The Lake owes its re-birth to the untiring efforts of Madhya Pradesh's famous photographer, Bhalu Mondhe. The citizens of Indore, originally in small number, too joined him and Abhilash Khandekar... and they became a two-man army to fight for Indore's heritage. Out of Mondhe's resolve: to save Sirpur Lake and its flora and fauna - was born The Nature Volunteers (TNV) - "an informal pressure group of environmentally restless people" - a not-for-profit body. [Bhalu Mondhe, Abhilash Khandekar along with Dilip Phadke, Sudhir Sone and Salil Tambe founded The Nature Volunteers in 1994.]
Later, experts like Kaustubh Rishi joined them and together they created an awareness of the Lake, the dangers it was facing and the need to conserve it. Existing trees were preserved, new trees came up, bird life made a come back and the Lake water underwent a gradual recovery. Suddenly, Sirpur is alive again. It indeed is a remarkable achievement (though much remains to be done).
The Nature Volunteers (TNV) did everything possible in the last 15-20 years to see the lake regain its pristine glory. Among various environment movements of the country, Sirpur is a well-known success story... made possible by a handful of energetic people who passionately love Indore and its environment - whatever is left of it now.
Let us hope Sirpur Lake's success story is replicated throughout the country, especially since (unfortunately) human interference in bird habitats (encroachment on water banks, uncontrolled fishing, increase in use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers) is becoming a big obstacle in the conservation of our avian friends. We must understand that birds help maintain a balance in our ecology. This awareness needs to spread. Also: a large number of plastic bags, junk litter, immersion of plaster of Paris and other degradable and non- degradable garbage have been posing a threat to the wetland habitats. This needs to change too. And soon.
Here is a bit about Sirpur: Ensconced in the lush-green vicinity of the Barnawapara sanctuary, Sirpur is located on the beautiful banks of the river Mahanadi, about 50 kms from the capital, Raipur. It was a happening place 1300 years ago. The excavations undertaken by the Archeological Survey of India has unearthed important Buddhist sites (the Anandaprabhu Buddha Vihara, the Swastika Vihara, and the Tivaradeva Mahavihara - the largest and most ornate of all the viharas), besides the remains of 100 Buddha Viharas, 4 Jain Vihara, 200 mounds and other smaller temples, apart from the 6th century Laxman Temple and a host of idols belonging to that period. Standing on the banks of the Mahanadi in Mahasamund District, atop the ruins of the capital of Dakshin Kosala or Chhattisgarh (as it was then known), Sirpur was Shripura (or Sripura).
Sripura or Shripura was the old name of this town (as is evident from many grants and inscriptions). Some traditions translate this Sripura to 'the City of Wealth' as Sri is a reference for Sri Sri Lakshmi Devi, the goddess/deity/symbol/devi of wealth, wisdom, prosperity, happiness and good health - in the Indian pantheon. Sri is also the consort of Shri Maha Vishnu.
This region was once a bustling and flourishing trading centre - that witnessed a constant flow of merchants from China. Abounding monuments and structures (that were - until recently - buried under layers of sand and earth) add to the treasure-trove of information and architectural beauty that was once Sripura. [It is surmised that this is perhaps the biggest temple town of the sixth and seventh centuries to be discovered anywhere so far. However, excavations have yielded a number of beautiful sculptures, many stone inscriptions, and pottery dating back to the 2nd century B.C. indicating that Shripura/Sripura flourished right from 2nd cent. B.C. Apparently, Shripura had once been blessed with the arrival of Bhagavan Shri Gautam Buddh himself.]
It is also conjectured that Sripura must have been an important settlement/civilization in Central India and that it was a major Buddhist study centre, at least four times as vast as the great Buddhist University at Nalanda. This is perhaps gleaned from the Chinese traveler, Hiuen Tsang's travelogue (that mentions Sripura/Shripura as having over a hundred Buddhist monasteries inhabited by over 10,000 monks - belonging to the Mahayana sect). Recent excavations in the region have revealed some conch bangles, giving rise to the opinion (amongst a section of archeologists) that Bhikshunis or female monks too probably inhabited the monasteries.
A two metre tall monolithic statue of the Buddha touching the earth (seated in the lotus position) and belonging to the 6th century is one of the largest finds at this site (in the current/21st century). There are also the ruins of a Shri Ram temple, though a few stone foundation structures are all that remain of what must have once been an important temple. History records that the shrine here was the earliest example of star-shaped temple of South Kosala region.
Among the loose sculptures, one finds idols of Devi Chamunda, mahishAsuramardinI (Devi Durga/Parvati), Nataraj and Uma-Mahesvara, besides the Trimurti and the Navagraha. But layers of whitewash have hidden most of their features. There is also an 8 ft tall monolithic image of Sri Bhagavan Mahavir Jain. However, many rare idols (such as the idol of Goddess Tara - a form of Devi Chamunda/Kaali) can now be found in foreign museums.
The marvelous Laxman Temple mesmerizes with its sheer size and magnificent work. This temple is believed to be the first such place of worship in India to be built solely of bricks. Although named after Shri Ram's younger brother (Lakshman), the temple is a Lord Vishnu shrine and has stood the test of time. The temple stands on a six-foot high platform and its entrance is adorned with several figures carved in stone. The doorframe is of stone and a figure of the reclining Vishnu on Sheshnag is seen on the Lintel. The panels of the doorway are embellished with statues of the incarnations of Shri Vishnu and his devotees. The high brick roof ends in an imposing shikhar or temple dome, the passage of time clearly written on it.
[Alexander Cunningham reports of a Vishnu idol lying outside the temple that was similar to the idol found at Eran. He suggests that it might be the main idol of the sanctum.]
The Vishnu/Lakshman temple was (supposedly) built in the 8th century: by Vasata - the daughter of King Suryavarman of Magadh and the mother of Mahasivagupta Balarjun. The latter was a Shaivaite ruler and is credited with building the city of Shripura, the City of Wealth, as the capital of the kingdom of Maha-kosala. It was during his reign that Sripura attained the pinnacle of religio-cultural conviviality (extending its warmth as much to Hinduism as to Jainism and Buddhism). The noted Chinese traveler Hieun Tsang has testified to this in his travelogue after visiting Sripura in 639 AD.
[The Sirpur stone inscription (found in the debris of this temple and now in Raipur Museum) begins with invocatory prose to Purushottam (Vishnu). The next few verses are dedicated to Shri Narasimha, the Lion-Man incarnation of Shri Vishnu. King Mahasivagupta, his mother and two ancestors are mentioned. Chandravamshi (moon-worshipping, moon-flag-bearing/Chandradhvaj, Somavamshi) king Mahasivagupta was the son of Harshagupta. The inscription further mentions that his mother, Vasata, was the daughter of Suryavarman, the king of Magadh. And that: after the demise of her husband, she constructed a temple dedicated to Shri Hari (Vishnu). The next seven verses praise her acts.]
Some copper-plate inscriptions and a Chinese coin unearthed at Sirpur point towards the fact that trade was buoyant during the period of Mahashivgupta and this brought along with it exchanges of learning/knowledge from neighbouring countries. Shripura/Sripura became an established centre of Buddhism between the 6th and 10th centuries... during which period Hiuen Tsang is believed to have visited the city.
Theories abound on the emergence of Sripura as a flourishing town and its subsequent decline. Probably a "samudra-manthan" ensued between the Buddhists and the Shaivites of the region... resulting in the rulers leaving their capital to make Orissa their home. Yet others attribute the decline of Shripura to the decline in trade. While some historians believe that floods alone caused the decline/demise of Shripura, yet others say everything vanished underground after an earthquake. [Pic: the ruins at Sirpur.]
Present region, most part, of Chhattisgarh was known as Kosala/Maha-Kosala or sometimes Dakshina-Kosala (in ancient times). The boundaries of these three ancient regions overlapped - from time to time.
Maha-Kosala - as the region comprised of the whole of the upper valley of the Mahanadi and its tributaries - from the source of the Narmada at Amarkantak on the north to the source of the Mahanadi at Kanker on the south and from the Valley of Wen-Ganga River on the west to the Hadsa and Jonk rivers on the east. [Huien Tsiang visited India in seventh century CE and he mentions the kingdom of Maha-Kosala comprising an area of 6000 li or 1000 miles. He did not mention the name of the king but states that the king was a Buddhist but Kshatriya.]
The earliest inscriptional reference of Maha-Kosala comes from the Allahabad Pillar Inscription, which mentions that the Gupta king, Samudragupta (335-375/6 CE) defeated King Mahendra of Kosala, which lies in Dakshinapatha. As many as six different dynasties witnessed their rise and fall in Maha-Kosala. The earliest dynasty is known from its copperplate charters found at Bilaspur, Raipur and Raigarh. [These dynasties - that ruled over Shripura/Sripura - probably had accepted the suzerainty of the Imperial Guptas.]
Local tradition mentions Savaripura as the original name of (modern) Sirpur 'coz this was (apparently) the region associated with Savari/Shabari [of the Ram-Shabari story.] According to the Ramayan, Savari resided on the banks of the river Pampa to the west of the Rishyamukha Parvat. And if we are to accept this local tradition, then Mahanadi should be Pampa and the hills on the east would be Rishyamukha. Cunningham, however, is reluctant to identify Mahanadi as Pampa. He felt that identification with Suktimati is more appropriate.
The capital of Chedi or Maha-Kosala kings was at Manipura on river Suktimati as mentioned in the Mahabharat. The river originates at Suktimal Mountains, hence the name: Suktimati. Though this mountain range is among seven main mountains of ancient India, its identification is yet to be done. Most ancient inscriptions are found at Sirpur, Rajim and Aarang in Chhattisgarh, hence these are the places of antiquity. Sirpur is situated on the banks of the river Mahanadi, which makes it appropriate to be identified as Manipura. And if this is correct, then the river Mahanadi and the river Suktimati (of the Mahabharat) are one and the same. Suktimal Mountains will then be the range of mountains to the south of Sehoa from where Mahanadi, Pairi and Seonath rivers originate.
Even Siya-Ram's twins: Kush ruled from Southern Kosala, while Luv ruled from Northern Kosala. Shri Ram set up the city of Kusha-vati (near the Vindhya ranges) - for Kush, and the city of Shravastipur - for Luv. [Sravasti is also closely linked with Bhagavan Shri Gautam Buddh.]
Lakshman and Urmila had two sons: Angada and Chandraketu. Shri Ram (as per the advice of Bharat) founded the kingdom of Karupada (in the Western regions) - for Angada and the kingdom of Chandrakanti (in the Northern regions: Malwa country) - for Chandraketu. [Urmila was Sita's sister and daughter of Sheeradwaj - Raja Janak.]
Taksha and Pushkala were Bharat and Mandavi's sons. Mandavi was Sita's cousin and daughter of Kushadwaj (younger brother of Sita's foster-father, Sheeradwaj). [Sheeradwaj is best known as Raja Janak. But "Janak" was actually the title assumed by the kings of Videha, also known as Janakpur.]
Yudhajeet (Kaikeyi's brother) and Bharat (Kaikeyi's son) conquered the kingdom of Gandhara and built the city of Taksha-seela (named after one of Bharat's sons: Taksha.) Bharat built yet another city - Pushkala-vati or "Lotus City" (named after his other son: Pushkala.) Pushkala-vati is modern Peshawar. [It was also known as Purusha-pura. Purusha = Supreme Spirit. Purusha-pura = the abode/city dedicated to the Supreme Spirit.]
[Taksha-seela: to the east of the river Indus, was known to Alexander and the Greeks as: Taxila.
Pushkala-vati (meaning: Lotus City): to the west of the river Indus, was known to Alexander and the Greeks as: Peukelaotis.]
Later: the sons and descendants of Bharat ruled this region from Taksha-seela. [Thus: Taksha-seela, the place where the famed university existed, gets its name from Taksha (son of Bharat).]
Shatrughna had two sons, Suvahu and Shatrughati (with his wife Shrutakirti). The former became king of Mathura, and the latter ruled in Vidisha. [Shrutakirti was Sita's cousin - daughter of Kushadwaj and sister of Bharat's wife, Mandavi.]
Even Shri Ram's mother - Kausalya - was the daughter of the King of Dakshina Kosala Kingdom. She hailed from the royal family/clan of (Dakshina) Kosala, hence her name: Kausalya (meaning: 'of Kosala' or 'hailing from the ruling family/royal clan of Kosala'). [Dakshina Kosala or Southern Kosala was a colony of Kosala kings... identified to be Chhattisgarh state and western Orissa region.]
The fall of the Yadavas of Devagiri and the Kakatiyas of Warangal at the hands of Ala-ud-din Khilji was an event of extraordinary historical significance. In the aftermath of the fall of these two once-mighty kingdoms, Devagiri and Warangal, the Gonds of Candrapur seem to have made their rise as a political power.
According to the local Gond traditions, there arose among them a hero known as Kol Bhilla (the possessor of great strength and wisdom). He rallied the scattered Gond tribes and united them into a sort of nation. We also find one Bhim Ballal Sing, who is said to have established a Gond kingdom with Sirpur as its capital.
[The original seat of the Gond kings of Candrapur is considered to be Sirpur, twenty miles to the south-west of Candrapur proper, on the southern bank of the Painganga river, also known as Wardha. From here they shifted their capital to present Ballarsah and finally to the historic Candrapur.]
Thus: Sirpur (ancient Shripura/Sripura) has a long and chequered history dating back to our pracheen itihasa. At the centre (of it all) is the river of dreams, Mahanadi, flowing with abundant stories of past and present, reliving the golden age of centuries or perhaps millenniums ago.
Details of the book: Birds of Sirpur Indore/ Authors: Bhalu Mondhe | Abhilash Khandekar | Kaustubh Rishi/ Published by: The Nature Volunteers (TNV), Indore/ Binding: Paperback/ Publishing Date: 2012/ Genre: Non-fiction/ Pages: 176/ Price: INR 250.
Pictures: Courtesy TNV, Mr. D.K. Vasudevan and Outlook.