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When Hurricane Sandy Pounded USA, I Was in Ellicott City, Maryland!


By T. V. Antony Raj


When Hurricane Sandy, unofficially known as the “Superstorm Sandy“, devastated the United States in October 2012, I was in Ellicott City in Maryland.

Hurricane Sandy was the second-costliest hurricane in the history of the United States. It was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. It all began on October 22, 2012.

A Timeline of Hurricane Sandy’s Path of Destruction
Monday, October 22, 2012

Developing in the southern Caribbean Sea off the coast of Nicaragua as a tropical easterly wave causing areas of cloudiness and thunderstorms, The depression strengthened and six hours later becomes Tropical Storm Sandy, with maximum winds of about 40 mph. It moved slowly northward toward the Greater Antilles and gradually intensified.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On October 24, Sandy became a  Category 1 hurricane, moved northward across the Caribbean and made landfall near Kingston, Jamaica with winds of 80 mph.

Although Hurricane Sandy’s eye does not cross the Dominican Republic and Haiti to its east, the storm dumped more than 20 inches of rain on Hispaniola. More than 50 people died in flooding and mudslides in Haiti.

A few hours later, it re-emerged into the Caribbean Sea and strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane. Off the coast of the Northeastern United States, the storm became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record as measured by diameter, with winds spanning 1,100 miles (1,800 km).

Thursday, October 25, 2012
Detailed map compiled by NOAA on October 25, 2012, that shows the track of Hurricane Sandy (Source: gowally.com)
Detailed map compiled by NOAA on October 25, 2012, that shows the track of Hurricane Sandy (Source: gowally.com)


Sandy strengthened as it moved from Jamaica to Cuba and made landfall in the historic city of Santiago de Cuba with winds of about 110 mph as a Category 3 hurricane.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sandy caused more devastation as it crossed the Bahamas and made a slight turn to the north-northwest.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sandy moved away from the Bahamas and made a turn to the northeast off the coast of Florida. Sandy weakened for a brief period to a tropical depression and then restrengthened to a Category 1 hurricane.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sandy continued moving northeast on a track parallel to the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. As it approached latitude 35 degrees north off the coast of North Carolina, the hurricane’s eye stayed well offshore. Even then, the storm still a Category 1 hurricane with peak winds of about 80 mph sent powerful tsunami-like waves onto North Carolina’s Outer Banks washing out some places in NC Highway 12.

Due to an unusual configuration of converging weather factors, meteorologists warned that the storm as it churns northward would likely morph into a powerful, hybrid super-storm.

A high-pressure cold front to Sandy’s north forced the storm to turn to the north-west toward major cities such as Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York. And the meteorologists expected that in conjunctions with the effects of the full moon Sandy’s storm to surge up to 11 to 12 feet in some places and a little higher as it made landfall.

Sandy expanded into a huge storm covering about 1,000 miles with strong winds.

Monday, October 29, 2012
This satellite image from NOAA shows Sandy on the morning of October 29, 2012 as it was about to begin its approach to the coast of New Jersey (Source: voices.nationalgeographic.com)
This satellite image from NOAA shows Sandy on the morning of October 29, 2012 as it was about to begin its approach to the coast of New Jersey (Source: voices.nationalgeographic.com)


At 12:30 pm, Sandy made its expected sharp turn. It curved west-northwest (the “left turn” or “left hook”) and then moved ashore near Brigantine, New Jersey, just to the northeast of Atlantic City, as a post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds. The storm also has started interacting with other weather systems, gaining energy in the process. The storm dumped heavy snow in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

During the afternoon, Sandy brought high winds and drenching rains from Washington, D.C. northward, toppling trees and power lines and cutting off electrical power for millions of people. The storm eventually affected more than 50 million people on the Eastern Seaboard.

At 8 pm, Sandy’s centre came ashore near Atlantic City, New Jersey. The storm was no longer considered a hurricane but classified as a post-tropical Nor’easter. But the storm’s unusual path from the south-east made its storm surge much worse in New Jersey and New York.


The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel is flooded after a tidal surge caused by Hurricane Sandy, on October 30, 2012 in Manhattan, New York. The storm has claimed at least 39 lives in the United States, and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel iflooded after a tidal surge caused by Hurricane Sandy, on October 30, 2012, in Manhattan, New York. The storm has claimed at least 39 lives in the United States and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)


A high storm surge, a coastal flood or tsunami-like phenomenon of rising water occurred in New York City with a high tide of 14 ft (4.2 m),  a new record for a storm surge in the harbor, flooding streets, tunnels and subway lines and cutting power in and around the city. The surge tops the sea wall at The Battery Park in Lower Manhattan and floods parts of the city’s subway system. The surge also floods the Hugh Carey Tunnel, which links Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.


Spooky gray NYC skyline
Spooky gray NYC skyline


The wind, rain and flooding from the huge storm pounded New Jersey and New York throughout the night and through three cycles of high tides and low tides.


Tanker John B Caddell beached on Front Street, Staten Island (Photo: Jim Henderson)
Tanker John B Caddell beached on Front Street, Staten Island (Photo: Jim Henderson)


Staten Island also was hit very hard by the storm. The Seattle Times later reported that towns such as Oakwood Beach, Midland Beach, South Beach and Tottenville — which lost many residents who were police and firefighters during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — were among the hardest-hit communities.

When I look back, I remember posting several times on Facebook on 29th and 30th October 2012 about Hurricane Sandy to benefit my friends and readers in the United States and to assure my kith and Kin in India that my family was safe:

7:00 am EDT:
From the Carolinas to Maine, Hurricane Sandy will affect 50 million people.

Hurricane Sandy is churning off the East Coast and is expected to join up with two other weather systems to create a huge and problematic storm affecting 50 million people. Here’s a snapshot of what is happening or expected, state by state.
The storm lashed barrier islands off North Carolina and rendered several homes and businesses nearly inaccessible. About 90 miles off the coast, a tall ship carrying 17 people was in distress; the Coast Guard was monitoring.

The number of power outages increased quickly in a state where utilities’ response to past weather-related failures has become a political issue. Connecticut Light & Power says hundreds of customers are without power. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asked a task force to make sure fuel suppliers are fully stocked. Many residents along Long Island Sound heeded warnings and evacuated.

Hundreds of people fled to shelters as the rough surf pounded the coast. Water covered some roads.

Snow is expected in mountainous areas.

Officials predict coastal flooding and beach erosion, and utility crews have been brought in from Canada to handle anticipated power failures.

Baltimore is opening six shelters; several city intersections are closed because of flooding threats. Early voting, which began Saturday and was to run through Thursday, was canceled for Monday.

Utilities brought in crews from as far away as Texas and the Midwest to cope with anticipated power failures. Most schools and colleges have canceled classes. The Boston transit authority said it would continue to operate as long it was safe.

Gov. John Lynch put 100 National Guard soldiers on active duty to help with preparations. Two shelters are being set up, and some schools have closed.

Sandy’s center is expected to make landfall in New Jersey late Monday. By daybreak, more than 5,000 homes and businesses were without electricity. Thousands of people evacuated low-lying areas, and many inland towns hit by flooding from storm Irene last year issued evacuation orders.

Many residents left low-lying flood evacuation zones, and the subway system shut down Sunday night. A storm surge of 11 feet is possible, the highest of all coastal areas being hit by Sandy. The New York Stock Exchange and other U.S. financial markets shut down for at least the day. Thousands of flights were canceled at the city’s major airports.

Residents of low-lying areas and along Lake Erie were told to watch for flooding; utilities are anticipating high winds that could blow down trees and poles. Snow is forecast in some areas.

Many schools closed. Philadelphia shut down its mass transit system, and hundreds of flights were canceled at the city’s airport. Dozens of people took shelter at evacuation centers. Thousands of members of the National Guard have been told to be ready for deployment.

Several communities have ordered mandatory evacuations and many schools closed for the day. Big waves are expected to cause flooding along Narragansett Bay, which bisects the state. Authorities told people to be prepared for long periods without power.

Snow is expected in higher elevations, where a freeze warning has been issued. High winds are expected in many areas.

About 2,000 customers lacked power, and a utility said as many as 1 million could ultimately lose electricity. Many residents of Chincoteague Island, popular with tourists, shrugged off the idea of evacuation.

Gov. Peter Shumlin declared a state of emergency to provide access to National Guard troops in a state still recovering from the devastating effects of the remnants of Hurricane Irene. Culverts and storm drainage basins in some spots have been cleared of debris.

The capital area’s transit system shut down rail service for the first time since 2003, and the Smithsonian Institution closed for the day.

As much as 2 to 3 feet of snow were forecast in mountainous areas, and flooding was possible in some areas. Several shelters were put on standby, and power crews were mobilized to handle potential failures.

3:30 pm EDT:
Here in Ellicott City, Maryland, the wind speed is 41 mph NW. Not menacing at the moment.

3:40 pm EDT:
Landfall for Sandy within 3 hours time near Atlantic City, New Jersey shore with a wind speed of 90 mph in the center. The system moves at 18 mph.

8:40 pm EDT:
In Ellicott City, Maryland, the wind speed has risen to 49 mph WNW.
8:54 pm EDT:
Sandy landfall in Cape May, New Jersey around 8 pm.
9:00 pm EDT:
Battery Park in New York City is now inundated with 11.87 feet high. Water might enter NYC subway. Trains and buses won’t run on Tuesday (tomorrow).

9:30 pm EDT:
Waters from Hudson river has breached the Manhattan Broadwalk. Battery Park in New York City is now inundated with 13.7 feet high. MTA confirms that the subways are flooded.

1.5 million homes experience power outages in many states. In Maryland, 195,000 homes are without electric power. We have still not been hit by a power cut.

9:45 pm EDT:
Power surges, outages and flashes being experienced in the New York City area. Everything is dark over there. Manhattan is in darkness as well as the Statue of Liberty.

10:47 pm EDT:
All bridges were closed for traffic. Chesapeake Bay Bridge that connects Baltimore-DC area with the northern parts of Maryland such as Kent Island too was closed for traffic around 4 pm.

10:55 pmEDT:
Sandy is still on its way towards us playing havoc with everything in its path.

Sandy had its landfall in Cape May, New Jersey around 8 pm. Ellicott City, MD is about 210 miles from the landfall area. The system is moving around 20 to 25 mph and I expect it to come here on Tuesday (tomorrow) morning around 6 am EDT.

Tuesday , October 30, 2012

2:10 am EDT:
Hurricane Sandy plays havoc: Widespread Power outages have occurred in all the north-eastern and eastern states. In Maryland, 391,005 homes are experiencing power cut.

2:15 am EDT:
Sandy is 10 miles southwest of Philadephia, PA.

10:50 am EDT:
Sandy has passed us. We did not incur any damages. We did not lose any power.

I thank you all for praying for us.

However, my heart bleeds for those who have suffered and are undergoing hardships due to the havoc created by this “Frankenstorm” called SANDY.

11:00 am EDT:
Sandy: The loss to properties has been assessed between 10 and 20 billion dollars.

11:30 am EDT:
Sandy slammed New Jersey last night and early morning today. At least 16 deaths reported. Massive flooding, high winds, and widespread power outages hit the East Coast as Sandy moves inland.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy dissipated over western Pennsylvania, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its final advisory on the storm: “multiple centers of circulation in association with the remnants of Sandy can be found across the lower Great Lakes.”


Click on this line or the photo below to see photos of the effects of Hurricane Sandy. 

People scavenging for food in a dumpster where a Key Food supermarket has discarded spoiled food, due to power outages after Hurricane Sandy hit New York (Photo: Mr. Choppers)
People scavenging for food in a dumpster where a Key Food supermarket has discarded spoiled food, due to power outages after Hurricane Sandy hit New York (Photo: Mr. Choppers)



The Tao Te Ching and Its Many Translations


By T.V. Antony Raj


Sage Laozi (or Lao Tzu, Chinese: 老子) literally meaning “Father” or “Old Master” wrote the Chinese classic text, Tao Te Ching (道德經;) or Daode jing (道德经), translated as “The Classic of the Virtuous Way.”

According to tradition, Laozi wrote the Tao Te Ching around 6th century BC, although the oldest excavated text dates back to the late 4th century BC, leading to the true authorship and date of composition or compilation of the text under debate.

Although a legendary figure, Laozi is usually dated to around the 6th century BC as a record-keeper at the court of the Zhou dynasty.  He is also reckoned as a contemporary of Confucius (September 28, 551 – 479 BC), the  Chinese teacher and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. However, some historians contend that Laozi actually lived during the Warring States period of the 5th or 4th century BC.


A painting of the Daode Tianzun ('the Heavenly Lord of Dao and its Virtue'), the deified Laozi, one of the supreme divinities of Daoism. (Source: eng.taoism.org.hk)
A painting of the Daode Tianzun (‘the Heavenly Lord of Dao and its Virtue’), the deified Laozi, one of the supreme divinities of Daoism. (Source: eng.taoism.org.hk)


Laozi deified as the Daode Tianzun (道德天尊 – “Moral senior” or  “the Grand Pure One”) and venerated in traditional Chinese religions as “the Heavenly Lord of Dao and its Virtue” founded Taoism, an ancient tradition of Chinese philosophy and religious belief profound in Chinese customs.

Throughout Chinese history, various anti-authoritarian movements embraced Laozi’s work. As a central figure in Chinese culture, the emperors of the Tang dynasty and modern people of the Li surname claimed Laozi as the founder of their lineage.


A part of a Taoist manuscript, ink on silk, 2th century BCE, Han Dynasty, unearthed from Mawangdui tomb 3rd, Chansha, Hunan Province, China. ( Source: Hunan Province Museum)
A part of a Taoist manuscript, ink on silk, 2th century BCE, Han Dynasty, unearthed from Mawangdui tomb 3rd, Chansha, Hunan Province, China. ( Source: Hunan Province Museum)


In 1973, archeologists unearthed a large number of silk manuscripts from Mawangdui tomb 3rd, Changsha, Hunan Province, China. Among these were two versions of the Daode jing by Laozi, dated to around 200 BC. The two silk books are part of the Cultural Relics from the Mawangdui Tombs collection at the Hunan Provincial Museum.


The Guodian Chu Slips (Source: terebess.hu)
Th(Source: terebess.hu)


In 1993, archeologists discovered three bundles of 71 bamboo strips with the Daode jing text written on them in a tomb in Guodian in Hubei province (east central China). The “Guodian Laozi” that has survived intact since 300 BC, is by far the earliest version of the Daode jing ever unearthed.

The Tao Te Ching is a short text of around 5,000 Chinese characters in 81 brief chapters or sections composed of  two parts, the Tao Ching (chapters 1–37) and the Te Ching (chapters 38–81).

The ideas in the Tao Te Ching are singular and the style poetic. The rhetorical style combines short, declarative statements and intentional contradictions.

Many western scholars with a foundation in the Chinese language and Chinese philosophy have attempted to translate the Tao Te Ching into their own native languages.

The Tao Te Ching written in classical Chinese relies in essence on allusions.  For many non-Chinese scholars, it can be difficult to understand the verses completely due to their inherent semantic meanings, nuances, subtexts and many words are on purpose vague and open to more than one interpretation.

In Laozi’s period, people  memorized this work. They reinforced the allusions by using  them in their writings. Today, even among the modern Chinese translators, there are only a few who have a deep acquaintance with ancient Chinese literature and many have lost sight of the many levels of subtext.

As there are no punctuation marks in classical Chinese, it can be difficult to determine where a sentence ends and the next begins. Moving a full-stop a few words forward or back or inserting a comma would completely change the meaning of  passages. So, it is for the translator to determine where the divisions are and the meanings.

Some editors and translators say that the original texts of the Tao Te Ching written on one-line bamboo strips linked with silk threads are much corrupted, and it is difficult to understand some chapters without moving sequences of characters from one place to another.

Many popular translations are less erudite. They give an individual author’s interpretation of the Tao Te Ching that deviate from the original text and incompatible with the historical thoughts of the Chinese people.

Holmes Welch (1924-1981), an American scholar of Daoism and early 20th century Chinese Buddhism remarked: “It is a famous puzzle which everyone would like to feel he had solved.

Today, the perseverance of non-Chinese scholars to preserve and bring out the original meaning of the Chinese text  in every respect has spawned hundreds of versions of the Tao Te Ching in western languages that in certain instances even contradictory. To prove my point, I have quoted below a few attempts by some authors to translate Chapter 74 of Tao Te Ching:

Example #1

If people do not fear death why attempt to frighten them by capital punishment?

Supposing the people are made constantly afraid of death, so that when they commit unlawful acts I arrest them and have them killed, who will dare [afterwards to misbehave]? For then there will always be yiusze, or civil magistrates, to execute them. Now the execution of men on behalf of the inflictor of the death-punishment [by those not legally qualified to do so] may be compared to hewing on behalf of a master carpenter; and people who [attempt to] hew instead of a master carpenter mostly cut their hands.

– Translated by Frederic Henry Balfour, 1884

Example #2

It is futile to threaten people with death. If they are not afraid to die, they cannot be frightened by the death penalty; and if they are afraid to die, why should we kill them?

Only Nature knows the proper time for a man to die. To kill is to interrupt Nature’s design for dying, Like a blundering apprentice judging himself to be wiser than his master.

Whenever an apprentice thinks he is smarter than his master, he is very likely to hurt himself.

It is futile to threaten people with death. If they are not afraid to die, they cannot be frightened by the death penalty; and if they are afraid to die, why should we kill them?

Only Nature knows the proper time for a man to die. To kill is to interrupt Nature’s design for dying, Like a blundering apprentice judging himself to be wiser than his master.

Whenever an apprentice thinks he is smarter than his master, he is very likely to hurt himself.

– Translated by Archie J. Bahm, 1958

Example #3

It is not the leader’s role to play judge and jury, to punish people for ‘bad’ behaviour. In the first place, punishment does not effectively control behaviour.

But even if punishment did work, what leader would dare to use fear as a teaching method?

The wise leader knows that there are natural consequences for every act. The task is to shed light on these natural consequences, not to attack the behaviour itself.

If the leader tries to take the place of nature and act as judge and jury, the best you can expect is a crude imitation of a very subtle process.

At the very least, the leader will discover that the instrument of justice cuts both ways. Punishing others in punishing work.

– Translated by John Heider, 1985.

Example #4

If people don’t love life, they won’t fear death, and threatening them with it won’t work.

If people have lives worth living, then the threat of death is meaningful, and they’ll do what is right to avoid it.

But killing itself should be the province of the great executioner alone. Trying to take his place and kill is like cutting wood in the place of the master carpenter: The odds are you’ll hurt your own hand.

– Translated by Ren Jiyu, 1993.

Example #5

When the people are not afraid to die
Why then threaten them with death?

Even if they normally are fearful of death,
For worst offenders, we may seize and kill them.

But who dares to execute?

There is always an expert executioner who kills.

Substituting for an expert executioner,
Is like hacking wood in place of a master carpenter.

Whoever substitutes for the master carpenter,
He seldom escapes injury of his own hand.

– Translated by David Hong Cheng, 2000.

Example #6

The people do not fear death,
Why threaten them with death?

Suppose the people always fear death,
One who does strange things (ch’i),
I shall seize and kill,
Then who dares [to do strange things]?
Killing is carried out by the executioner.

To replace the executioner and kill,
Is like chopping wood in place of the master carpenter.

To chop wood in place of the master carpenter,
Rarely one does not hurt one’s own hand.

Tao Te Ching: A New Translation with Commentary by Elen Marie Chen

Example #7

If people don’t love life, they won’t fear death, and threatening them with it won’t work.

If people have lives worth living, then the threat of death is meaningful, and they’ll do what is right to avoid it.

But killing itself should be the province of the great executioner alone.

Trying to take his place and kill is like cutting wood in the place of the master carpenter:
The odds are you’ll hurt your own hand.

The Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu by Brian Browne Walker

Example #8

If the people do not fear death,
For reasons of extreme poverty or suffering,
What is the point of threatening them with death?

If the people fear death,
And if the outlaws are captured and killed,
Who will dare to break the law?

Yet, the act of killing should always be
The exclusive province of the Great Executioner.

Therefore, to kill in place of the Great Executioner is
Like hewing wood in place of the master carpenter;
Few, if ever, will escape cutting their own hands.

– Translated by Yasuhiko Genku Kimura

Example #9

If people don’t fear death
How will you frighten them with death?
If people always fear death
And I seize and execute
Anyone who does anything new,
Who will dare to move?
There is a public executioner who kills.
Killing on behalf of the public executioner,
Is called cutting wood on behalf of the carpenter.
In cutting wood on behalf of the carpenter,
There are few who escape hurting their hands.

– Translated by A. S. Kline, 2003.

Example #10

If people are not afraid of death,
how can they be threatened by it?
But if they always live in fear of death,
and still continue in their lawlessness,
we can arrest and kill them.
Who then would dare?
And yet there is a Lord of Death whose charge it is to kill.
To take his place and kill would be like carving wood in place of the master carpenter.
Few would escape without injuring their hands.

– Translated by Tim Chilcott, 2005.

For more translations of the Tao Te Ching by other authors visit Terebess Asia Online (TAO) .



Paintings of “Along the River During the Qingming Festival”


By T.V. Antony Raj


The era of Song dynasty (宋朝) that succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period in Chinese history began in 960 and continued until 1279. There are two distinct periods in the Song dynasty  – Northern and Southern.

During the Northern Song (北宋) period from 960 to 1127, the dynasty controlled most of China proper with the northern city of Bianjing (now Kaifeng) as its capital.

During the Southern Song (南宋) period from 1127 to 1279, the Song dynasty lost control of northern China in the Jin–Song Wars to the Jurchen Jin dynasty.

The Song dynasty was the first in world history to issue national bank notes or true paper money, the first Chinese regime to establish a permanent navy, and the first to use gunpowder. It was during the Song dynasty that the Chinese found the true north using a compass.

The Qing Ming Shang He Tu (simplified Chinese: 清明上河图; traditional Chinese: 清明上河圖) or “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” is a scroll painting created by the famous Chinese painter Zhang Zeduan (1085 – 1145) alias Zheng Dao who lived during the transitional period from the Northern Song to the Southern Song and was instrumental in the early history of the Chinese landscape art style known as shan shui.

This painting considered the most renowned work among all Chinese paintings dubbed as “China’s Mona Lisa” has a theme of the worldly commotion and the festive spirit during the celebration of the Qingming Festival. It encapsulates the landscape of the capital, Bianjing, today’s Kaifeng and the life of its people.

This scroll painting is 9.76 inches (24.8 cm) in height and 17.35 feet (5.287 metres) long. It depicts the bustling and lively life and beautiful natural scenery on both sides of the river that meanders through Kaifeng, the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty during the Qingming Festival. The two main portions in the painting are the countryside and the market in the densely populated city. It has more than 170 trees, 30 buildings, 814 humans, 8 sedan chairs, over 60 horses and other animals, 20 vehicles, and 28 boats.

The painting reveals the lifestyle of all levels of the society from rich to poor in successive scenes and offers glimpses of the architecture and clothing of the Song period.

For centuries, the scroll painting was a pride of the personal imperial collections of the Chinese emperors.

Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the Last Emperor (Source - Japanese magazine 'Historical Photograph,' March 1934 issue published by Rekishi-Shasin Kai)
Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the Last Emperor (Source – Japanese magazine ‘Historical Photograph,’ March 1934 issue published by Rekishi-Shasin Kai)

The original Song dynasty painting “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” was a favorite of Puyi (February 7, 1906 – October 17, 1967), also known as Henry Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China and the twelfth and final ruler of the Qing dynasty. At the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, he took it along with him when he left Beijing. It was then re-purchased and kept at the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City.

The following video describes how the original “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” painting showcased the best of life in the Song Dynasty – one of the golden ages of China.



Remakes of the painting

Revered as a work of art, the scroll painting “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” inspired the creation of several works of art during subsequent dynasties. Court artists made re-interpretive versions of the painting by reviving and updating the style of the original. Even though each of these later paintings follow the composition and the original theme, they differ in details and painting techniques.

The Yuan version
Zhao Mengfu (1254 - 1322)
Zhao Mengfu (1254 – 1322)

During the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322) made a remarkable remake of the original,

The Ming version

Another notable remake painted during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) is 22 feet (6.7 metres) long and is longer than the original Song version.

Based on contemporary fashions and customs the Ming version replaced the scenery from the Song dynasty to that of the Ming dynasty with the costumes worn by the people updated and the styles of vehicles (boats and carts) changed.

The bridge scene in the original Qing Ming Shang He Tu painting - An oncoming boat is in danger of crashing into the bridge.
The bridge scene in the original Qing Ming Shang He Tu painting – An oncoming boat is in danger of crashing into the bridge.

In the original Song painting,  the crew of an oncoming boat have not yet fully lowered their sails and are in danger of crashing into wooden the bridge.

Men ashore guiding a boat by pulling ropes tied to it in the Ming version.
Men ashore guiding a boat by pulling ropes tied to it in the Ming version.

In the Ming version, a stone bridge with a taller arch replaced the Song wooden bridge, and men ashore guide the boat under the bridge by pulling ropes tied to it.

The Qing version

On January 15, 1737, the Qianlong Emperor received a present of a version painted by five Qing dynasty court painters (Chen Mu, Sun Hu, Jin Kun, Dai Hong and Cheng Zhidao). This Qing remake is much larger – 36 feet (11 metres) long and  1 ft 1.68 inches (35 cm) high – and has over 4,000 people in it.

While in the original Song version, the leftmost side contains images of the busy city, the leftmost third of this Qing version depicts life within the palace, with buildings and people appearing refined and elegant. Most people within the castle are women along with some well-dressed officials.

The Qianlong Emperor in his study, painting by Giuseppe Castiglione, (1688 - 1766).
The Qianlong Emperor in his study, painting by Giuseppe Castiglione, (1688 – 1766).


In April 1742, a poem composed by the Qianlong Emperor was added to the rightmost end of the Qing remake.  The poem reads as follows:

蜀錦裝金壁   – A wall of gold has been mounted on Shu brocade.
吳工聚碎金   – Craftsmen from Wu collect spare change
謳歌萬井富 – To pay tribute to the abundance of a myriad of families.
城闕九重深  – The watchtowers of the city rise to great heights.
盛事誠觀止  – The bustling scene is truly impressive.
遺踪借探尋 – It is a chance to explore vestiges of bygone days.
當時誇豫大 – At that time, people marveled at the size of Yu,
此日歎徽欽 – And now, we lament the fates of Hui and Qin.

In 1949, the National Palace Museum in Taipei received the Qing version along with many other artifacts.

Over the centuries, many affluent Chinese treasured the original Qingming scroll. Eventually, it returned to public ownership.

The original Song dynasty painting now kept at the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City and the Qing version in the Taipei Palace Museum, are both considered national treasures and are exhibited every few years for brief periods.

The following video with narration in Chinese shows the different versions of the remakes of the “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” but uses the Ming version to explain the life of the Chinese then, in the near past, and now.



Digital version

Logo of Shanghai World Expo 2010.

From May 1 to October 31, 2010, China hosted Expo 2010, a major World Expo,  officially known as the Expo 2010 Shanghai China in the tradition of international fairs and expositions.

A 3D animated, viewer-interactive digital version of the original “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” titled “River of Wisdom“, screened for three months was the primary exhibit at the China Pavilion. This elaborate computer animated mural about 30 times the size of the original scroll had moving characters and objects that made the painting come to life. It presented the scene in a four-minute day to night cycles. Those who reserved in advance had to queue up to two hours to see the 3D animated version.

After the Expo, the digital version was on display at the AsiaWorld–Expo in Hong Kong from November 9 to 29, 2010; at the Macau Dome in Macau from March 25 to April 14, 2011; and at the Expo Dome in Taipei, Taiwan from July 1 to September 4, 2011.

From December 7, 2011, to February 6, 2012, a digital reproduction was exhibited at the Singapore Expo titled “A Moving Masterpiece: The Song Dynasty As Living Art“.






Do Soft Drinks Contain Pesticide?


By T.V. Antony Raj


People just fall prey to attractive images carrying false information on Facebook and other social media. They, in turn, copy those images and become accessories to propagating the untruths.


Pesticide in soft drinks?
Pesticide in soft drinks?


For example, in the above image which I came across on Facebook today, the caption in Tamil says:

The amount of pesticides in the soft drinks you consume.

I have my doubts about this post. I don’t think these soft drinks have pesticide in them as depicted in the image.

But some soft drinks do have harmful chemicals that may impair our health.

Within the European Union and Switzerland, substances used as food additives are coded with E numbers. The “E” stands for “Europe”. The E numbers on food labels are common throughout the European Union.

Benzoic acid and sodium benzoate

Benzoic acid and sodium benzoate are widely used as food preservatives, with E numbers E210 and E211 respectively.

Benzoic acid (Source - Wikipedia)
Benzoic acid (Source – Wikipedia)


Benzoic acid (E210) has the chemical Formula C7H6O2 (or C6H5COOH). It is a simple aromatic carboxylic acid. It is a colourless crystalline solid and occurs in nature at low levels in apples, cinnamon, ripe cloves, cranberries, greengage plums, and prunes.


Sodium Benzoate (Source - Wikipedia)
Sodium Benzoate (Source – Wikipedia)

Sodium benzoate (E211) has the chemical formula NaC7H5O2. It is the sodium salt of benzoic acid and exists in this form when dissolved in water.

Most soft drinks have added sodium benzoate in permissible amounts that act as a preservative which are in most cases harmless.

However, it is advisable to drop from your diet all benzoates if you have any health problems, especially if you are suffering from: any Cancer, any autoimmune disease or disorder, skin diseases & disorders like: psoriasis, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, acne, folliculitis, KP, any Intestinal disorders like Ulcerative Colitis, constipation, Crohns Disease, IBD, IBS, Candida, SIBO, body odour,  Allergies, Asthma, etc.

Acids in soft drinks

All citrus flavoured and grape flavoured soft drinks have organic acids found in nature to provide the characteristic fruity tang. The citrus flavoured soft drinks contain citric acid (E330) and grape flavoured soft drinks have tartaric acid (E334)..

Citric acid (Source - Wikipedia)
Citric acid (Source – Wikipedia)


Tartaric acid (Source - Wikipedia)
Tartaric acid (Source – Wikipedia)
Phosphoric acid

According to many studies, what is harmful is phosphoric acid added to cola drinks.

It is true that Phosphorus-containing substances occur (0.1%-0.5%) in foods such as milk, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, and egg yolks. But phosphoric acid per se is harmful.

Phosphoric acid (Source - Wikipedia)
Phosphoric acid (Source – Wikipedia)


Phosphoric acid is a mineral (inorganic) acid having the chemical formula H3PO4. It is also known as E338, orthophosphoric acid, and phosphoric (V) acid. It is a clear, colourless, odourless liquid with a syrupy consistency.

Food-grade phosphoric acid is a mass-produced chemical. It is available in large quantities at a low price.

Studies on phosphoric acid

Due to the use of phosphoric acid, cola is actually more acidic than lemon juice or vinegar! The vast amount of sugar acts to mask and balance the acidity.

In some epidemiological studies, phosphoric acid, used in many cola drinks has been linked to chronic kidney disease and lower bone density. A study by the Epidemiology Branch of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, concludes that drinking two or more colas per day doubled the risk of chronic kidney disease.

Between 1996 and 2001, a total of 1672 women and 1148 men took part in a study using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. To collect dietary information, the study used a food frequency questionnaire with specific questions about the number of servings of cola and other carbonated beverages.  It also differentiated between regular, caffeine-free, and diet drinks.

The results, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition provide evidence to support the theory that women who consume cola daily have lower bone density. Though the total phosphorus intake was not significantly higher in daily cola consumers than in nonconsumers, the calcium-to-phosphorus ratios were lower.

However, in  1998, a study titled “Increased incidence of fractures in middle-aged and elderly men with low intakes of phosphorus and zinc” published in Osteoporosis international: a journal established as result of cooperation between the European Foundation for Osteoporosis and the National Osteoporosis Foundation of the USA 8 (4): 333–340, suggests that insufficient intake of phosphorus leads to lower bone density. The study does not examine the effect of phosphoric acid, which binds with magnesium and calcium in the digestive tract to form salts that are not absorbed, but rather studies general phosphorus intake.

In 2001, a study by R. P. Heaney and K. Rafferty titled “Carbonated beverages and urinary calcium excretion” published in The American journal of clinical nutrition 74 (3): 343–347 states that using calcium-balance methods they found no impact of carbonated soft drinks containing phosphoric acid on calcium excretion.

The authors conducted their study among 20 to 40-year-old women who drank three or more cups (680 ml) of a carbonated soft drink per day. The effect of various soft drinks (with caffeine and without; with phosphoric acid and with citric acid), water, and milk on the calcium balance was compared in the study.

Heaney and Rafferty found that, relative to water, only milk and the two caffeine-containing soft drinks increased urinary calcium. The calcium loss associated with the consumption of caffeinated soft drinks was about equal to that found previously for caffeine alone. Phosphoric acid without caffeine had no impact on urine calcium and did not increase the loss of urinary calcium related to caffeine.

Because studies have shown that the effect of caffeine is compensated for by reduced calcium losses later in the day, the authors  concluded that the net effect of carbonated beverages—including those with caffeine and phosphoric acid—is negligible, and that the skeletal effects of carbonated soft drink consumption are likely due to dietary milk displacement.

Other chemicals such as caffeine (also a significant component of popular common cola drinks) were also suspected as possible contributors to low bone density, due to the known effect of caffeine on calciuria.

Remove rust with phosphoric acid

By the way, phosphoric acid can be used to remove rust from articles.

The following video shows a person removing rust using Coca-Cola. Many prefer the Diet Coke instead of regular Coke because the former is not sticky like the latter.


Dave Whitlock Has Not Showered for 12 Years!


By T.V. Antony Raj


David Whitlock - the man who has not showered for 12 years. (Source: dailymail.co.uk)
David Whitlock – the man who has not showered for 12 years. (Source: dailymail.co.uk)


In early December 2014, I wrote a six-part series of articles titled  “To Bathe, or Not to Bathe“.  Then, I was not aware of the existence of R. David Whitlock, a chemical engineer and a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who had not showered in the past 12 years.

Whitlock claims that he has not taken a shower in over 12 years because soap and bath gels affect and deplete the natural balance of the skin microbiome.

Justin Sonnenburg, a microbiologist at Stanford, regards the human body as “an elaborate vessel optimized for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants.”

According to Published research for every one human gene, there are 100 associated genes within our microbiome. And so, more than 100 trillion microorganisms live in and on our body. They live in our mouths, tongues, guts, mucosal surfaces and on the surface of our skin.

These microbes perform various beneficial functions relevant to supporting life. They help to digest food, prevent disease-causing pathogens from invading the body, and synthesize essential nutrients and vitamins.

Changes in the microbiome can trigger changes in human cellular activities, resulting in disease or contribute to its progression.

Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB)

In the late 1990s, when David Whitlock went on a date with a young woman, she asked him why her horse liked to roll in the dirt.

Horse Rolling on its back (Source: Durk Talsma/flickr.com)
Horse Rolling on its back (Source: Durk Talsma/flickr.com)


Unable to answer her, Whitlock read books on biology. He gathered soil samples and grew bacteria in his basement. After reading hundreds of papers, he concluded that it must be important for the horses to roll in the dirt.

He learned that sweat of the horse is abrasive to its skin and causes equine acne that starts as a small, oily black plugs in the skin and may develop into red, itchy inflamed bumps.

He found ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) in the soil. He realized that ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) in the soil must be helping the horse to clean itself by converting urea and ammonia found in sweat into nitrite and nitric oxide.

Nitrite fights most bad bacteria while nitric oxide has anti-inflammatory properties.

In the following video, Dr. Larry Weiss, MD, a Key Member and Chief Medical Officer of AOBiome LLC talks about AOB.



From his study of the behavior of the horses, Whitlock concluded that useful bacteria once colonized on human skins too, and with the advent of knowledge in Chemistry and modern hygiene, humans eradicated them by sterilizing their bodies with soaps, lotions, and antiseptics, leaving our skin more susceptible to challenge.

Whitlock believed that by restoring the appropriate AOB levels, a range of human health conditions could be impacted.

In 2000, to test his hypothesis, Whitlock began adding AOB to water and dousing himself daily. He avoided using soaps because they kill the microbes.  For the past 12 years, Whitlock did not shower. He found that the bacteria kept him clean and odor-free. His skin looks fresh, and he smells nice.

Though Dave Whitlock does not shower, he  takes an occasional sponge bath to clean off  the accumulated grime on his skin.

Patent US7820420

On August 10, 2001, Dave Whitlock presented his application papers for obtaining a patent for compositions, including ammonia oxidizing bacteria to increase production of nitric oxide and nitric oxide precursors and methods of using same. He obtained the patent US7820420 for same on October 26, 2010.


A method of enhancing health through the generation in close proximity of a surface of a subject, nitric oxide and nitric oxide precursors using bacteria adapted to oxidize ammonia and urea derived from perspiration is described. Local and systemic effects are described including a reduction in vascular disease, enhancement of sexual function, improved skin health, and reduced transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

NitroCell BioSciences LLC

In 2012, Dave Whitlock co-founded NitroCell BioSciences LLC as a pharmaceutical company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company focused on getting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for bacteria-based prescription therapies for acne, eczema, rosacea, wound healing, and more.

In March 2013, NitroCell BioSciences LLC changed its name to AOBiome, LLC.

Now, AOBiome, LLC develops skin products based on ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB). The company’s products are used to restore the natural balance of skin microbes that have been lost due to modern living practices, including the use of soaps and shampoos. It also develops AO+ Refreshing Cosmetic Mist, a cosmetic product to improve the look and feel of skin.


Jasmina Aganovic, AOBiome's general manager for consumer products (Source: bizjournals.com)
Jasmina Aganovic, AOBiome’s general manager for consumer products (Source: bizjournals.com)


According to Jasmina Aganovic, an MIT graduate and AOBiome’s general manager for consumer products, as humans, we need to reconnect with our environment. “We’ve confused clean with sterile. … We’ve taken the dirt out of our lives. We don’t spend as much time outdoors as we used to — even as little children.

So, AOBiome, LLC has created and launched “Mother Dirt” to add a little dirt back into our lives. AOBiome is the first cosmetics company to market a product that contains live bacteriaThe company claims their products do not cause illness, even if ingested.

The Mother Dirt products set themselves apart from all other scientific skincare items that have flooded the market in recent times.

The new skincare line Mother Dirt has a new way of looking at clean. (Source: fashionnstyle.com)
The new skincare line Mother Dirt has a new way of looking at clean. (Source: fashionnstyle.com)


The Mother Dirt AO+ mist specifically contains live ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) that’s sprayed on the skin twice a day. It has no odor and feels like water. There’s a Mother Dirt shampoo and cleanser that doesn’t contain bacteria, but Jasmina Aganovic says it won’t interfere with it either.

Though Dave Whitlock still doesn’t shower, he uses Mother Dirt every day and hopes the rest of the world will join him. He said: “I would like a billion people a day to use this.

Aobiome officials believe in the health benefits of these live bacteria. They are not making any scientific claims right now, but they will soon begin clinical trials on inflammatory skin conditions like acne.






The Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe


By T.V. Antony Raj


In the 13th century, the Mongols invaded Europe. General Subutai, a Mongolian general, and the primary military strategist of Genghis Khan and Ögedei Khan was the mastermind behind the invasion. Batu Khan and Kadan, both grandsons of Genghis Khan, the first Khagan of the Mongol Empire commanded the Mongolian forces.


Mongol Empire, 13th century.
Mongol Empire, 13th century.


The Mongol invasion caused the severe and rampant destruction of East Slavic principalities and major cities, such as Kiev and Vladimir. The invasion also affected Central Europe. The Battle of Legnica on April 9, 1241 that caused the fragmentation of Poland and the Battle of Mohi on April 11, 1241, in the Kingdom of Hungary threatened to cast European Christendom under the rule of Ögedei Khan, the 2nd Khagan of the Mongol Empire.

Realizing they had to cooperate in the face of the Mongol invasion, warring princes of central Europe suspended local wars and conflicts until the Mongols left their lands.

The myth of Prester John

The early missionaries to the East and Far East countries were inspired by the myth of Prester John (Latin: Presbyter Johannes). The popular European chronicles and traditions from the 12th through the 17th century abound with various accounts about this mythical personage.

One such account depicts him as a Christian patriarch, a descendant of the Three Magi, ruling a kingdom full of riches, marvels, and strange creatures.

According to some early chronicles, Prester John, a Patriarch of the Saint Thomas Christians, resided in India. But after the Mongol invasion of eastern Europe, some accounts said he ruled a “Nestorian (Church of the East) Christian nation somewhere amid the Muslims and pagans of the Orient in Central Asia. The authors of these chronicles must have assumed so from works like the Acts of Thomas, one of the apocrypha of The New Testament. This apocryphal work has documented the tales about Thomas the Apostle’s subcontinental travels and the evangelistic success of the Nestorian Christians. The Acts of Thomas inculcated in the minds of the Europeans an image of India as an exotic country. It described the earliest account of Saint Thomas establishing a Christian sect called the “Saint Thomas Christians“. These motifs were instrumental for the later accounts of Prester John.

It was a time when ethnic and inter-religious tension prevailed. The European Christians saw Prester John as a symbol of the Church’s universality, transcending culture and geographical bounds to encompass all humanity.

Thus, the kingdom of Prester John fired the imagination of generations of adventurers and became the object of a quest that remained out of reach.


"Preste" as the Emperor of Ethiopia, enthroned on a map of East Africa in an atlas prepared by the Portuguese for Queen Mary, 1558. (British Library)
“Preste” as the Emperor of Ethiopia, enthroned on a map of East Africa in an atlas prepared by the Portuguese for Queen Mary, 1558. (British Library)


Portuguese explorers of the time thought that they had found the king in Ethiopia, which had been a Christian kingdom since the 4th century.

Alberic de Trois-Fontaines, a 13th-century chronicler, recorded that in 1165 several European rulers, such as Manuel I Comnenus (1143 – 1180), the Byzantine emperor, and Frederick I Barbarossa (1122 –  1190), the Holy Roman emperor received a letter sent by Prester John.

The Letter had a tale of wonder about the richness of the Nestorian Kingdom. The contents of the letter suggest that the author was aware of the Romance of Alexander and the apocryphal Acts of Thomas. The many marvels of the richness of the Nestorian kingdom captured the imagination of Europeans.

For centuries, the letter translated into many languages circulated accruing more embellishments with each copy. Today, more than a hundred examples of the letter still exist. The invention of printing perpetuated the letter’s popularity during the Age of Discovery. The essence of the letter was that a lost kingdom of Nestorian Christians still existed somewhere in Central Asia. It is presumed the author of the Letter was a European though the purpose served by the letter remains unclear.

The credence given to the reports about Prester John  was such that on September 27, 1177, Pope Alexander III sent his physician Philip to Prester John with a letter. The physician never returned with a reply from the mythical Prester John, who never existed!

Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine

While some scholars argue the Age of Discovery began in 1492, others point toward earlier dates. I would place the Age of Discovery to the mid 13th century, when the  65-year-old Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine led the  first formal Papal mission to the Mongols in April 1245 after the Mongol invasion of eastern Europe took place

With the dread of the Mongols still on the mind of the people in eastern Europe, Pope Innocent IV, sent the first formal Papal mission to the Mongols. The Pope chose 65-year-old Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine to head this mission. The aim of this mission was in part to protest against the invasion of the Christian lands by the Mongols, and also to gather trustworthy information about Mongol armies and their future intentions.

The mission left Lyon on Easter day April 16, 1245. Friar Giovanni bore a letter “Cum non solum” dated March 13, 1245, from the Pope to Ögedei Khan, the Mongol Emperor. Another friar, Stephen of Bohemia, accompanied Giovanni, broke down at Kaniv near Kiev. Another Minorite, Benedykt Polak, appointed to act as interpreter joined Giovanni at Wrocław.

After their perilous journey the Papal legate wrote that they were, “so ill that we could scarcely sit a horse; and throughout all that Lent our food had been nought but millet with salt and water, and with only snow melted in a kettle for drink.

Friar Giovanni and his companions rode an estimated 3000 miles in 106 days. Only when they reached their destination, they came to know that Emperor Ögedei Khan had died nearly four years before they undertook their journey.

On August 24, 1246, Friar Giovanni and his companions witnessed the formal enthronement of Güyük Khan as the Third Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The new emperor refused the invitation to become a Christian, but demanded that the Pope and rulers of Europe should come to him and swear  their allegiance to him.

When Güyük Khan dismissed the expedition in November 1246, he gave them a letter to the Pope, written in Mongol, Arabic, and Latin. It was a brief imperious assertion of the Mongol emperor’s office as the “scourge of God.”

Later on, other Catholic emissaries followed. In the 1250s, William of Rubruck, traveled east on a quest to convert the Mongols to Christianity.



The Silk Road


By T.V. Antony Raj


A 15th-century copy of Ptolemy's Map of the "Old World" by Jacob d'Angelo.
A 15th-century copy of Ptolemy’s Map of the “Old World” by Jacob d’Angelo.d’Angelo.d’Angelo.d’Angelo.


Archeologists and Historians use the term “Old World” in the context of, and to contrast with, the “New World” (North and South America). The Old World, also known as Afro-Eurasia, consists of Africa, Europe, and Asia. Most countries of the Old World in the area of the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Persian plateau, India, and China are in the temperate zone, roughly between the 45th and 25th parallels.

Herein emerged the cultural, philosophical and religious developments that produced the Western (Hellenism, “classical”), Eastern (Zoroastrian and Abrahamic) and Far Eastern (Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism) religious and cultural spheres.

The Qin Empire

Qin was an ancient state in China during the Zhou dynasty. On May 7, 247 BC, Ying Zheng assumed the throne of the Qin state at age 9. Upon his ascension, Zheng became known as the King of Qin or King Zheng of Qin.

The Qin state had a large, efficient army and capable generals. They utilized the newest developments in weaponry and transportation and had a superior military power than the other six warring states. By the 3rd century BC,  the Qin state under King Zheng of Qin emerged as one of the dominant powers of the Seven Warring States.

Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China.
Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China.


Instead of maintaining the title of king borne by the Shang and Zhou rulers, Ying Zheng created a new title of “huángdì” (emperor) for himself. This new title combined two titles – huáng of the mythical Three Sovereigns (三皇, Sān Huáng) and the dì of the legendary Five Emperors (五帝, Wŭ Dì) of Chinese prehistory.

Ying Zheng ruled from 220 to 210 BC as the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty bearing the name Qin Shi Huangdi.

After the death of Qin Shi Huang in 210 BC, the Qin empire became unstable. Though the Qin empire was short-lived, it had a great influence over Chinese history.

The Han dynasty

Within four years after the death of Qin Shi Huangdi, the Qin dynasty’s authority collapsed. In the face of rebellion, the empire fissured into 18 kingdoms. Two rebel leaders, Xiang Yu of Chu and Liu Bang of Han, engaged in a war to decide who would become the next person to exercise hegemony in China. Each of the 18 fissured kingdoms claimed allegiance to either Xiang Yu or Liu Bang. In 202 BC, Liu Bang defeated Xiang Yu at the Battle of Gaixia.

Liu Bang assumed the title “emperor” (Huangdi), known as Emperor Gaozu after his death. Thus, Emperor Gaozu found the Han dynasty, the second imperial dynasty of China. He chose Chang’an as the new capital of the reunified empire under Han.

Spanning over four centuries, the Han period was a golden age in Chinese history. To this day, China’s majority ethnic group refers to itself as the “Han people” and the Chinese script as “Han characters”.

To the north of China, the nomadic Xiongnu chieftain Modu Chanyu conquered various tribes inhabiting the eastern part of the Eurasian Steppe. Towards the end of his reign, the Xiongnu chieftain controlled Manchuria, Mongolia, and the Tarim Basin, subjugating over twenty states east of Samarkand.

Chinese merchants sold iron weapons to the Xiongnu along the northern borders. Emperor Gaozu imposed a trade embargo to stop the illicit sale of arms. Although the embargo was in place, the Xiongnu found Chinese traders willing to supply their needs. Chinese forces then mounted surprise attacks against the Xiongnu who traded at the border markets. The Xiongnu retaliated by invading what is now Shanxi province and defeated the Han forces at Baideng in 200 BC. After negotiations, the heqin (“peace marriage”) agreement in 198 BC held the leaders of the Xiongnu and the Han as equal partners in a royal marriage alliance. Yet, the Han was forced to send large amounts of items such as silk clothes, food, and wine as a tribute to the Xiongnu.

Emperor Wu of Han


Traditional portrait of Emperor Wu of Han of the Western Han dynasty from an ancient Chinese book.
Traditional portrait of Emperor Wu of Han of the Western Han dynasty from an ancient Chinese book.


Emperor Wu of Han (June 30, 156 BC – March 29, 87 BC), born Liu Che, was the seventh emperor of the Han dynasty of China. He reigned 54 years from 141 BC to 87 BC. His reign resulted in the vast territorial expansion. By reorganizing the  government, he developed a strong and centralized state.  He promoted Confucian doctrines. Emperor Wu, known for his religious innovations was a patron of poetic and musical arts. During his reign, cultural contact with western Eurasia increased.

As a military campaigner, Emperor Wu led Han China through its greatest expansion.  At its height, the Empire’s borders spanned from modern Kyrgyzstan in the west to Korea in the east, and to northern Vietnam in the south.

In 133 BC, Emperor Wu launched a series of massive military invasions into Xiongnu territory and captured one stronghold after another. The Chinese assault ended in 119 BC at the Battle of Mobei. The Han commanders Wei Qing (the half-brother of Emperor Wu’s favorite concubine) and Wei’s nephew, Huo Qubing expelled the Xiongnu from the Ordos Desert and Qilian Mountains and forced them to flee north of the Gobi Desert and then out of the Gobi Desert.

The Silk Road.


Statue of Zhang Qian in Shaanxi History Museum in Xi'an.
Statue of Zhang Qian in Shaanxi History Museum in Xi’an.


Zhang Qian was an imperial envoy to the world outside China under Emperor Wu of Han. He played an important pioneering role in the Chinese colonization and conquest of the region now known as Xinjiang. He was the first official diplomat to bring back reliable information to the Chinese imperial court about Central Asia. This helped the Han sovereignty in territorial acquisitions and expansion into the Tarim basin of Central Asia. Today, the Chinese revered and consider Zhang Qian as a national hero for the key role he played in opening China to the world of commercial trade.


Main routes of the Silk Road/Silk Route. Red is land route and the blue is the sea/water route. (Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)
Main routes of the Silk Road/Silk Route. Red is land route and the blue is the sea/water route. (Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)


The Han sovereignty established the vast trade network known as the Silk Road or Silk Route, which reached as far as the Mediterranean Sea. The Silk Road or connected the various regions of the Old World. Extending 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers), the Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in Chinese silk carried out by Chinese merchants along its routes during the rule of the Han dynasty.

Around 114 BC, the Central Asian sections of the Silk Road routes were expanded. The Chinese took great interest in the safety of their merchants and their products. To ensure the protection of the trade route, Emperor Wu reinforced this strategic asset by establishing five commanderies and constructing a length of fortified wall along the border of the Hexi Corridor, colonizing the area with 700,000 Chinese soldier-settlers.

The Silk Road helped  establish political and economic relations between the various nations. Besides economic trade, the Silk Road served as a major factor in the development of the civilizations of China, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Arabia, the Horn of Africa, and Europe and carrying out cultural exchanges among the nations along its network.

The main traders during antiquity were the Chinese, Persians, Somalis, Greeks, Syrians, Romans, Armenians, Indians, and Bactrians. From the 5th to the 8th century the Sogdians joined the bandwagon. After the emergence of Islam, Arab traders became prominent users of the Silk Routes.





The Iberian Peninsula: Part 2 – The Reconquista


By T.V. Antony Raj


Many ousted Gothic princes and nobles took refuge in the unconquered north Asturian highlands. From there, they aimed to reconquer their lands from the Moors. This war is known as the Reconquista, the Spanish and Portuguese word for Reconquest.

Many ousted Gothic princes and nobles took refuge in the unconquered north Asturian highlands. From there, they aimed to reconquer their lands from the Moors. This war is known as the Reconquista, the Spanish and Portuguese word for Reconquest.

Co-existence and alliances between Muslims and Christians were prevalent, so also were the frontier skirmishes and raids.

At the end of the 9th century, the ideology of a Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula started to take shape. The Christian Chronica Prophetica (883-884), a document stressing the Christian and Muslim cultural and religious divide in Iberia set a landmark by stressing the necessity to drive the Muslims out of the Iberian Peninsula. Even then, it was common for the Christian and Muslim rulers to become divided and to fight amongst themselves. Also, the mercenaries from both sides fought for whoever paid the most.

As time wore on, the idea of the Reconquista seems to have faded in the minds of the Christians. The 10th and 11th-century documents are silent on any idea of a reconquest.

By 1172, all Islamic Iberia was part of the Moroccan Berber Muslim Almohad Caliphate. Between 1146 and 1173, the Almohads wrested control of the Moorish principalities from the Almoravids and transferred the capital from Cordoba to Seville.

In the late 11th century, when staunch Muslim Jihad ideology in Al-Andalus confronted the Christians, the religious ideology of a Christian reconquest sprouted once again in the minds of the Christians and they started the Crusades. Later, military orders like the Order of Santiago, Montesa, Order of Calatrava and the Knights Templar fought in Iberia.

The Almohad Caliphate dominated Iberia until 1212. At that time, the Christian princes of Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and Portugal formed an alliance and defeated Muhammad III, “al-Nasir” (1199–1214) at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in the Sierra Morena. Soon after, the Almohad Caliphate lost all their Moorish dominions in Iberia.  In 1236, the great Moorish city of Cordova fell to the Christians. In 1248, the Christians  conquered the city of Seville.

Gradually, the Christian kingdoms to the north retook control of the Iberian peninsula, and by 1300, the Moors controlled only Granada, a small region in the south of present-day Spain.

The Catholic Monarchs

“The Catholic Monarchs” (Spanish: Reyes Católicos) is the joint title used in history for Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. They were second cousins from the House of Trastámara. Since both descended from John I of Castile, Pope Sixtus IV gave a papal dispensation for their marriage to deal with consanguinity.


Queen Isabella I of Castile and León with her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon.
Queen Isabella I of Castile and León with her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon.


The marriage of 18-year-old Isabella and 17-year-old Ferdinand took place on October 19, 1469, in the city of Valladolid. This marriage helped to unite the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon under the same crown. Isabella became the Queen of Castile in 1474 and Ferdinand became the King of Aragon in 1479. Though their marriage united the two kingdoms, what later became Spain, it was still a union of two crowns rather than a unitary state. They ruled independently and their kingdoms retained part of their own regional laws and governments for the next few decades.

The Spanish Inquisition

In the twelfth century, Pope Lucius III  created the Inquisition to fight heresy in the south of what is now France and constituted it in some European kingdoms. In 1478, the Catholic Monarchs requested the assent of Pope Sixtus IV to  introduce the Inquisition to Castile. On November 1, 1478, the Pope published the Papal bull Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus, to establish the Inquisition  in the Kingdom of Castile. It was later extended to all Spain.

The Spanish Inquisition targeted forced converts from Islam (Moriscos, Conversos and secret Moors) and from Judaism (Marranos, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews) who came under suspicion of either continuing to adhere to their old religion or of having fallen back into it. Thus, Spain modeled its national aspirations as the guardian of Christianity and Catholicism.

The Granada War

The Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand set a goal to complete the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by conquering the Moorish Sultanate and Kingdom of Granada. They launched a series of campaigns known as the Granada War. Pope Sixtus IV helped the Granada War by granting a tithe and implementing a crusade tax to invest in the war.

Two Andalusian nobles, Rodrigo Ponce de León and Diego de Merlo led the Castilian forces. The Granada War began in 1482 with the seizure on the strategic town of Alhama de Granada, in the province of Granada, about 50 km from the city of Granada.

The war proved to be a long, drawn-out campaign. The 10-year Granada War was not a continuous effort, but a series of seasonal campaigns launched in spring and broken off in winter.

In 1491, the Catholic Monarchs summoned Abu Abdallah Muhammad XII, the twenty-second and last Nasrid ruler of Granada to surrender the city of Granada, besieged by the Castilians.

After 10 years of fighting, the Granada War ended on January 2, 1492. Muhammad XII surrendered the Emirate of Granada, the city of Granada, and the Alhambra palace to the Castilian forces.


The Capitulation of Granada by F. Pradille y Ortiz, 1882.
The Capitulation of Granada by F. Pradille y Ortiz, 1882.


Six days after the event, an eyewitness wrote a private letter to the bishop of León:

The Moorish sultan with about eighty or a hundred on horseback very well dressed went forth to kiss the hand of their Highnesses. According to the final capitulation agreement both Isabel and Ferdinand will decline the offer and the key to Granada will pass into Spanish hands without Muhammad XII having to kiss the hands of Los Reyes, as the Spanish royal couple became known. The indomitable mother of Muhammad XII insisted on sparing her son this final humiliation.

Though the Granada war was a joint project between Isabella’s Crown of Castile and Ferdinand’s Crown of Aragon, the bulk of the troops and funds came from Castile. So,  Castile annexed Granada. Apart from the presence of King Ferdinand himself, the Crown of Aragon provided naval collaboration, guns, and some financial loans.

The  traditional Spanish historiography  considers the Granada War  as the final war of the “Reconquista“.

The aftermath of the Granada War saw the end of “convivencia” (“live and let live”) between religions.

Between 1480 and 1492, the Christian Monarchs forced all Muslims and Jews to convert to Christianity or face expulsion. Many Jews and Muslims fled to North Africa and the Ottoman Empire.

The Alhambra Decree issued in January 1492 forced the Jews in the Iberian peninsula to convert to Christianity or be exiled. In 1501, all of Granada’s Muslims were obliged to either convert to Christianity, become slaves or be exiled. By 1526, this prohibition spread to the rest of Spain and the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula was complete.


← Previous: Part 1 – Conquest by the Muslims







The Iberian Peninsula: Part 1 – Conquest by the Muslims


By T.V. Antony Raj


Greek geographers used the ancient Greek word Ιβηρία (Ibēría) to refer to the land mass known today as the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal). Hecataeus of Miletus (c. 550 BC – c. 476 BC), an early Greek historian  was the first to use this term during the time of the first Persian invasion of Greece which began in 492 BC.

In Europe, after the Scandinavian and Balkan peninsulas, Iberia is the third-largest peninsula, located in the southwest corner of Europe.


Hispania in 418 AD
Hispania in 418 AD


Hispania was the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula. The modern name España derives from Hispania.

Roderic, the last king of the Goths

In 711, an army of Muslim Moors composed of North African Berber soldiers with some Arabs, under Tariq ibn-Ziyad and other Muslim generals, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and landed at Gibraltar. The Islamic army began its conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania ruled by King Roderic, known in the legends as “the last king of the Goths“.

According to the Chronicle of 754, a Latin-language history in 95 sections composed in 754 in a part of Spain under Arab occupation, Roderic immediately upon securing his throne gathered a force to oppose the Moors raiding in the south of the Iberian peninsula.

Since there were just a few freemen among the Goths, Roderic gathered together an army of unwilling slave conscripts. He made several expeditions against the invaders led by the Berber general Tariq ibn-Ziyad.

The early modern historian al-Maqqari, in his “The Breath of Perfume,” places the following long sermon to the troops in Tariq ibn-Ziyad’s mouth before  the Battle of Guadalete:

Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy. Remember that in this country you are more unfortunate than the orphan seated at the table of the avaricious master. Your enemy is before you, protected by an innumerable army; he has men in abundance, but you, as your only aid, have your own swords, and, as your only chance for life, such chance as you can snatch from the hands of your enemy.

If the absolute want to which you are reduced is prolonged ever so little, if you delay to seize immediate success, your good fortune will vanish, and your enemies, whom your very presence has filled with fear, will take courage. Put far from you the disgrace from which you flee in dreams and attack this monarch who has left his strongly fortified city to meet you. Here is a splendid opportunity to defeat him, if you will consent to expose yourselves freely to death.

Do not believe that I desire to incite you to face dangers which I shall refuse to share with you. During the attack, I myself will be in the fore, where the chance of life is always least. Remember that if you suffer a few moments in patience, you will afterward enjoy supreme delight. Do not imagine that your fate can be separated from mine, and rest assured that if you fall, I shall perish with you, or avenge you.

You have heard that in this country, there are a large number of ravishingly beautiful Greek maidens, their graceful forms are draped in sumptuous gowns on which gleam pearls, coral, and purest gold, and they live in the palaces of royal kings.

The Commander of True Believers, Alwalid, son of Abdalmelik, has chosen you for this attack from among all his Arab warriors; and he promises that you shall become his comrades and shall hold the rank of kings in this country. Such is his confidence in your intrepidity. The one fruit which he desires to obtain from your bravery is that the word of God shall be exalted in this country and that the true religion shall be established here. The spoils will belong to yourselves.

Remember that I place myself in the front of this glorious charge which I exhort you to make. At the moment when the two armies meet hand to hand, you will see me, never doubt it, seeking out this Roderick, tyrant of his people, challenging him to combat, if God is willing. If I perish after this, I will have had at least the satisfaction of delivering you, and you will easily find among you an experienced hero, to whom you can confidently give the task of directing you. But should I fall before I reach to Roderick, redouble your ardor, force yourselves to the attack and achieve the conquest of this country, in depriving him of life. With him dead, his soldiers will no longer defy you.


The weakness of the Visigothic kingdom was displayed in Roderick's stunning defeat at Guadalete / Río Barbate, (July 19, 711). It is believed that Roderick and much of the Visigothic nobility was killed in the battle and aftermath. (Source: histclo.com)
The weakness of the Visigothic kingdom was displayed in Roderick’s stunning defeat at Guadalete / Río Barbate, (July 19, 711). (Source: histclo.com)


On July 19, 711, Tariq ibn-Ziyad defeated Roderic at the Battle of Guadalete / Río Barbate. Roderic and much of the Visigothic nobility were killed in the battle and aftermath.

Facing no further strong resistance, Tariq swept north toward Toledo, the Visigothic capital.

Al-ʾAndalūs, the Islamic Iberia

In an eight-year campaign, the Moors brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic control. In 719, they crossed the Pyrenees and took control of Septimania, the last province of the Visigothic kingdom. In 721, the Moors tried to conquer Aquitaine from their stronghold of Narbonne, but suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Toulouse.

At no point did the invading Islamic armies exceed 60,000 men.

The invading Moors gave the Arabic name Al-ʾAndalūs (الإندلس) to the region under their control, maybe to mean “Land of the Vandals“. The Islamic rule lasted 300 years in much of the Iberian Peninsula and 781 years in Granada.

From their stronghold of Narbonne, the Moors launched raids into the Duchy of Aquitaine, a fiefdom in western, central and southern areas of present-day France to the south of the Loire River.


Al_Andalus & Christian Kingdoms (Source: en.wikipedia.org)
Al_Andalus & Christian Kingdoms (Source: en.wikipedia.org)


After establishing a local Emirate, Caliph Al-Walid I, ruler of the Umayyad caliphate, recalled many of the successful Muslim commanders to Damascus including Tariq ibn Ziyad, the first governor of the newly conquered province of Al-Andalus. Musa bin Nusair, his former superior replaced him.

Governor Musa’s son, Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa, married Egilona, Roderic’s widow. He established his regional government in Seville. Under the influence of his wife, Egilona, he wanted to convert to Christianity. He was then accused of planning a secessionist rebellion, and Caliph Al-Walid I ordered his assassination.

By the year 1100, local Iberian converts to Islam, the so-called Muladi formed the majority of the Iberian population. The term ‘Moor’ was the generic term used to refer to the Islamists that composed the initial Arabs and Berbers and the converted Muladi. The Iberian Peninsula transformed from a Romance-speaking Christian land into an Arabic-speaking Muslim land. However, pockets of Arabic and Romance-speaking Christians called Mozarabs and a large minority of Arabic-speaking Jews survived throughout Al-ʾAndalūs.

In the chronicles and documents of the High Middle Ages the Christians used the terms Spania, España or Espanha derived from Hispania in reference to Muslim controlled areas. King Alfonso I of Aragon (1104–1134) says in his documents when in 1126 he made an expedition to Málaga he “went to the lands of España.

During the Middle Ages, the Iberian peninsula housed many small states, including Castile, Aragon, Navarre, León and Portugal.


The five kingdoms of Iberia in 1360.
The five kingdoms of Iberia in 1360.


Towards the end of the 12th century, the whole Muslim and Christian Iberian Peninsula became known as “Spain” (España, Espanya or Espanha). The term “the Five Kingdoms of Spain” referred to the Mussulman Kingdom of Granada and the Christian kingdoms of Aragon, Castile, Portugal and Navarre.

The Muslim caliphs competed with each other in the patronage of the arts. From the 8th to the 15th century, the Iberian Peninsula incorporated into the Islamic world became a center of culture and learning, especially during the Caliphate of Cordoba. It reached its height under the rule of Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III.


Next → Part 2 – The Reconquista





The Awesome Monolithic Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora, India.


By T. V. Antony Raj


The village of Ellora lies 18 miles (30 km) north-west of Aurangabad in the state of Maharashtra in India. It is an archaeological site well-known for its monumental caves that are an epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture.

Historians and archaeologists conjecture that the Rashtrakuta dynasty built the temples found there. Ellora is also known as Elapura in the Rashtrakuta Kannada literature.


Map of the 34 Ellora Caves (Source: wondermondo.com)
Map of the 34 Ellora Caves (Source: wondermondo.com)


There are 34 caves at Ellora, excavated out of the vertical face of the Charanandri hills, extending more than two kilometres. There are 12 Buddhist caves (1–12), 17 Hindu caves (13–29), and five Jain caves (30–34). All the caves are in proximity revealing the religious harmony that prevailed in the region during this period. Now, the Ellora cave complex is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India and is a World Heritage Site.

Unlike Ajanta, the Ellora caves due to their close proximity to the trade routes were never lost to oblivion. From numerous written records, we learn that travelers from outside India visited the Ellora caves regularly. The 10th-century Arab historian, geographer happens to be the earliest recorded visitors. In 1352, prior to the visit of the founder of the Bahmani sultanate, Majumdar Muzaffar Ala–Din Bahman Shah, whose original name was Hasan Gangu, the approach roads to the caves were repaired. The Sultan camped at the site and visited the caves.

The other historical visitors were: 

  • Persian historian Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah (1560-1620) known as Firishta or Ferishta
  • A French traveller in the East, Jean de Thévenot (June 16, 1633 – November 28, 1667), a linguist, natural scientist and botanist who wrote extensively about his journeys,
  • An Italian writer and traveller, Niccolao Manucci (April 19, 1638–1717) who worked in the Mughal court in the service of Dara Shikoh, Shah Alam, Raja Jai Singh and Kirat Singh.
  • Sir Charles Warre Malet, 1st Baronet (December 30, 1752 – January 24, 1815), a diplomat who served in the British East India Company as a Resident in the court of the Peshwa Mahrattas.
  • John B. Seely, was a Captain in the Bombay Infantry, and later in the military service of his Highness the Raja of Nagpur. In 1824, he published the book, “The Wonders of Elora; Or, the Narrative of a Journey to the Temples and Dwellings Excavated Our of a Mountain of Granite, and Extending Upwards of a Mile and a Quarter, at Elora, in the East Indies by the Route of Poona, Ahmed-Nuggur, and Toka, Returning by Dowlutabad and Aurangabad; With Some General Observations on the People and Country”.
The Kailasanatha temple


The Kailasnatha Temple, Ellora (Source: rediff.com)
The Kailasnatha Temple, Ellora (Source: rediff.com)


Among all the cave temples at Ellora, the unrivalled centrepiece is Cave 16 – the Kailasanatha temple, designed to recall Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. It is also known as Kailasa temple. It is an unrivalled work of rock architecture, a monument that has always excited and astonished travellers.

Some historians and archaeologists believe that the majestic Kailasanatha temple was created before any other temple in the Ellora cave complex.

Fragment of Old Kannada inscription (765 AD) from Hattimattur village of Rashtrakuta King Krishna I (Source: Epigraphia Indica and Record of the Archæological Survey of India, Volume 6).
Fragment of Old Kannada inscription (765 AD) from Hattimattur village of Rashtrakuta King Krishna I (Source: Epigraphia Indica and Record of the archaeological Survey of India, Volume 6)..


As attested in Kannada inscriptions of 775, King Krishna I of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty who ruled from 756 –774, responsible for building 18 Shiva temples, commissioned the building of the Kailasanatha temple.

The temple encompasses Dravidian architecture. It does not contain any of the Shikharas common to the Nagara style. It was built similar to the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal in Karnataka. King Krishna I employed architects from the Pallava kingdom in South India. The walls of the temple have marvellous sculptures from Hindu mythology, including Ravana, Shiva, and Parvathi while the ceilings have paintings. At first, white plaster covered the walls of the Kailasanatha temple to simulate the snow-covered Mount Kailas in Tibet.

Though the Kailasanatha temple looks like a freestanding, multi-storied temple complex, it is, in fact, a monolithic structure carved out of one single rock.  It is the largest monolithic human-created structure in the world. It covers an area of over 42,500 square feet (3,948 square metres). The Kailasanatha Temple is 276 by 154 feet (84 by 47 metres) wide. It has a larger area than the Parthenon temple on the Athenian Acropolis, in Greece. Measured at the stylobate, the dimensions of the base of the Parthenon are 228 by 101 feet  (69.5 by 30.9 metres) or 23,030 square feet (2,140 square metres).

The Kailasanatha temple is notable for its vertical excavation. Carvers started at the top of the rock and excavated downwards. In all the other temples and caves in the rest of the world and even in Ellora, the carvers hewed out rock from the front and carved as they went along using the rock cutting technique called “cut-in monolith“.

It was only at Kailasanatha temple the architects used the exact opposite technique called “cut-out monolith“. They worked downwards and hewed out all the unnecessary rock. After that, the sculptors chiselled the sculptures and intricate designs. This work would have required extreme planning and precision work to avoid damage to the completed work. Just imagine the colossal amount of rock removed to create this pillar.


Ground plan of Kailashnatha Temple at Ellora Caves, India. From "A handbook for travellers in India, Burma, and Ceylon." Author John Murray (Firm)
Ground plan of Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora Caves, India. From “A handbook for travellers in India, Burma, and Ceylon.” Author John Murray (Firm)


All the carvings on the Kailasanatha temple are on more than one level.

The temple structure begins with a two-storied gopuram or gateway. It serves to screen the sacred temple from the outside world.


Columned arcade at the Kailasanatha Temple carved out of the surrounding cliff face punctuated by sculpted panels, and alcoves. (Source: campoamor-photography.com)
Columned arcade at the Kailasanatha Temple carved out of the surrounding cliff face punctuated by sculpted panels, and alcoves. (Source: campoamor-photography.com)


On entering the temple premises, we come to a U-shaped courtyard edged by a columned arcade three stories high, punctuated by huge sculpted panels, and alcoves with enormous sculptures of deities.

In the middle of this courtyard are two hewn out two-storied monolithic temple structures, each about 23 feet (7 metres) high.

The first structure is the Nandi Mandapa – the traditional Dravidian Shivaite shrine housing the bull “Nandi“.


One of the dhwajasthambhas, obelisk-like monolithic carved pillar at Kailash temple (Source: wondermondo.com)
One of the dhwajasthambhas, obelisk-like monolithic carved pillar at Kailash temple (Source: wondermondo.com)


Two 50-feet-high dhwajasthambhas, obelisk-like monolithic carved pillars that dwarf the humans standing beside them, flank the Nandi Mandapa. Decorated with frieze carvings, it would have taken years of work to create such huge structures.


Shiva lingam at Kailash temple - (Source - Sanjay Acharya - Wikimedia Commons)
Shiva lingam at Kailash temple – (Source – Sanjay Acharya – Wikimedia Commons)


Then comes the central main Shiva temple housing the lingam, a symbol of the energy and potential of the Hindu god Shiva.

The vimanam (steeple), that crowns the Garbhagriha, the Sanctum sanctorum of the temple rises to a height of about 90 feet., and about 120 feet (36.6 metres) high.


Life-size elephants carved on the base of the Shiva temple (Source: wondermondo.com)
Life-size elephants carved on the base of the Shiva temple (Source: wondermondo.com)


Elaborate illustrative carvings decorate the lower storeys of both the Nandi Mandapa and the Shiva temple. Life-size elephants carved on the base of the Shiva temple give us the impression that the elephants are holding the structure aloft.

In the early days of construction, stone flying bridges connected these galleries to the central buildings, perhaps to remove the debris chiselled out from the columned arcades, galleries, the central buildings, etc. Those flying bridges must have collapsed or removed after constructing the temple.

Most historians and archaeologists presume it took 26 years between 757 and 783 to build the temple, during the reign of King Krishna I and nine years after his death.

There are no records of the monstrous task of hewing out a colossal amount of rock, about 400,000 tonnes, to construct the Kailasanatha temple. Some writers state the amount of hewed rock as 200,000 tonnes.

To find out if historians could be right about the 26 years of construction of the temple, let us do a simple arithmetic calculation. Let us just focus only on the removal of rock from the site. We will assume the workers toiled 12 hours per day, for 26 years to remove 400,000 tonnes of rock as the historians claim. So, 15,384 tonnes of rock removed every year. This means the workers removed 42 tonnes of rock every day, which gives us 1.75 tonnes of rock removed every hour. An impossible task which no groups of humans could have done at that time.

From the chisel marks found on walls of this temple, archaeologists assume that the carvers used three types of chisels pointing to three different periods of the Rashtrakuta dynasty.

Inscriptions on the Kailasanatha temple itself range from 9th to 15th century. So, we can conclude that it would have taken not 26 years but centuries of human labour to create the Kailasanatha temple.

Click on this line to view 155 photographs of the Ellora Caves.