Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja (Jam Sahab) – Indian Schindler

German’s combined armed forces of Heer (Army), Luftwaffe (Air Force) and Kriegsmarine (Navy) during World War II, was termed as Wehrmacht, which meant “Defence Power” in German.

Wehrmacht committed systematic war crimes included massacres, mass rape, looting, forced labour, murder of three million Soviet Prisoners of War and extermination of about 6 million Jews.

Wehrmacht attacked Poland on September 1, 1939.

A group of about 600 Polish children and 40 women were rescued and put onboard small ships, which travelled from port to port – in Scotland, Ireland, Africa, but were barred from entering. Finally, they arrived in Bombay.

Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja, King of Navanagar in Gujarat, was an Indian representative on the Imperial War cabinet in London, chaired by Winston Churchill.

Hearing of the children’s plight from the Polish Prime Minister-in-exile – General Wladyslaw Sikorski, he flew immediately to Bombay. He first went to the ships, saw the dreadful condition of the kids, spoke to the captains and went to meet the Governor. British Governor also refused entry, saying he did not have permission from the home office in London, and that they came from enemy territory.

Maharaja went back to the ships and asked the captains to move to Navanagar’s Rosi Port. He took them all off and put them in tented accommodation.

Viceregal Office in Delhi objected to him taking in foreigners. Maharaja said they were part of his family, and even produced an adoption certificate.

Later a camp was set up in Balachadi, about 15 miles away from the Capital City of Jamnagar. The camp existed till early 1946; subsequently, the children were transferred to Valivade camp in Kolhapur. To educate the children, a school was also set up.

While the Red Cross, the Polish Army in exile and the colonial administration jointly helped set up the camps, it was the Maharaja who played the crucial role in the children’s welfare.

Maharaja told the children, “You may not have your parents, but I am your father now.” The children, in turn, called him “our Bapu” (“father”).

United Nations-assisted repatriation began in 1946.

Poland has shown its gratitude to the Maharaja in various forms. Warsaw has a “Good Maharaja Square” named after the Maharaja. Poland also named a school after the Maharaja, who was passionate about children’s education. The Maharajah was awarded the President’s Medal, Poland’s highest honour.

Rani Abbakka Chowta – The Fearless Warrior Queen of Tulu Nadu

“She could ride a horse, fight with a sword and was a seasoned diplomat. She also had bloody battles with the Portuguese and was the last person to use agnivanas or arrows tipped with fire”

Chowtas were the Jain Kings who had migrated from Gujarat in 12th Century to Tulu Nadu, a province consisting of present-day Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, portions of Udupi and Kasaragod district in Kerala. Ullal was the capital of the Chowta king Thirumala Raya III.

As the Chowtas were a matrilineal dynasty, the king’s heir was his young niece, Abbakka. The fiercely independent princess had been trained in sword fighting, archery, cavalry, military strategy, diplomacy and all other subjects of statecraft from a very young age.

Before his death, Thirumala Raya III had arranged a strategic marriage alliance for Abbakka with Lakshmappa Bangaraja, the ruler of Mangalore. As the ruler of Ullal, Rani Abbakka continued to live in her own home even after marriage and the couple’s three children stayed with her. However, the marriage broke down when Bangaraja compromised with the Portuguese.

Since the 7th century, maritime trade (in spices, textiles, war horses, etc.) had flourished between the communities of India’s western coast and the Arabian Peninsula. With an eye on this lucrative trade, several European powers had been trying to discover the sea route to India. The Portuguese finally became the first Europeans to find a sea route to India when Vasco Da Gama reached Calicut in 1498 after a long voyage.

Five years later, the Portuguese built their first fort at Cochin. This was followed by the establishment of a ring of forts in the Indian Ocean region – in India, Muscat, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, even as far as Macau in China. This, along with its superior naval technology, put the control of all the spice routes to India into the hands of the Portuguese within twenty years of Da Gama’s historic voyage. For the whole of the 16th century, Portuguese dominance in the region remains unchallenged by any other European power (the Dutch, the French and the British reached India only at the start of the 17th century).

Trading in the Indian Ocean, which had hitherto been a free trade zone for Indian, Arab, Persian and African ships, now required a paid permit from the Portuguese. The naval superiority of the Portuguese meant that they invariably won against local rulers who rebelled.

In 1526, the Portuguese captured the Mangalore port. Their next target was Ullal, a thriving port town that lay nestled between the verdant peaks of the Western Ghats and the cerulean blue waters of the Arabian Sea.

With an eye on Ullal’s trade (that had flourished under the Queen’s able leadership), the Portuguese had been trying to exact tributes and taxes from Rani Abbakka. Incensed and exasperated at the unfair demands, she refused to accede to the Portuguese demands. Her ships continued to trade with the Arabs despite attacks by the Portuguese. From Mogaveeras and Billava archers to Mappilah oars men, people of all castes and religions found a place in her army and navy.

Infuriated by her effrontery, the Portuguese began attacking Ullal repeatedly. The first battle took place in the year 1556, with the Portuguese fleet being commanded by Admiral Don Alvaro de Silveira, and ended in an uneasy truce.

Two years later, the Portuguese attacked with a larger force and were able to ransack the settlement at Ullal to some extent. However, Rani Abbakka’s masterful battle tactics and diplomatic strategy (she collaborated with Arab Moors and Zamorin of Kozhikode) pushed them back once again.

During the next battle, the Portuguese army under General Joao Peixoto attacked Ullal and managed to capture the royal palace. However, Rani Abbakka escaped before they could capture her.

Along with 200 loyal soldiers, she raided the Portuguese in the dead of night and killed the general along with 70 of his soldiers. Frightened by the ferocity of the attack, the remaining Portuguese troops fled to their ships

By this time, the Portuguese had become alarmed about Rani Abbakka’s growing reputation inspiring other rulers. When repeated frontal attacks didn’t work, they resorted to treachery. A series of edicts were passed to make any alliance with the defiant queen illegal. Her husband, Bangaraja of Mangalore, was also warned against sending any aid to Ullal under the threat of burning his capital.

Yet, Rani Abbakka continued to dismiss these rulings with contempt and scorn. The stunned Portuguese now decided to send Anthony D’ Noronha (the Portuguese Viceroy of Goa) to attack Ullal. In 1581, 3,000 Portuguese troops supported by an armada of battleships attacked Ullal in a surprise pre-dawn attack.

Rani Abbakka was returning from a visit to her family temple and was caught off guard but she immediately mounted her horse and rode into the battle, leading her troops in a fierce counter-offensive.

Her piercing battle cry – “Save the motherland. Fight them on land and the sea. Fight them on the streets and the beaches. Push them back to the waters”, echoed through winds as she and her soldiers fired flaming arrows at the Portuguese ships.

While many of the ships in the Portuguese armada burnt that night, Rani Abbakka was wounded in the crossfire and was captured by the enemy with the help of a few bribed chieftains. Rebellious till the very end, the fearless queen breathed her last in captivity. However, her legacy lived on through her equally fierce and brave daughters who continued to defend Tulu Nadu from the Portuguese.

She was an immensely popular queen and even today she is a part of folklore. Her story has been retold generation to generation through folk songs, folk theatres and local ritual dances.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa – Fiercest Warrior in Sikh History

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa - Fiercest Warrior in Sikh History

Hari Singh Nalwa was born into the Uppal family to Sardar Gurdial Singh and Dharam Kaur in Gujranwala, Punjab’s Majha District. His father, Sardar Gurdial Singh, followed the profession of his father and took part in various campaigns of Sukarchakia Sardars – Charat Singh and Mahan Singh – in the capacity of Deradar. He expired in 1798 when Hari Singh was only seven years old. He was thus looked after by his maternal uncle.

Hari Singh joined Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Khalsa army at the tender age of 13 and at the age of 18, led the first victory. He subsequently became the right hand of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

An incident took place in Hari Sing’s early days of service in the Khalsa army. During a hunting expedition, Hari Singh was attacked by a tiger. The attack was so subtle and unexpected that he did not have enough time to pull out his sword. Young Hari Singh faced the crucial situation with such boldness that he managed to catch hold of the jaw of the beast with his hands, forcefully pushing it away before killing it with his sword. Noted historian Baron Charles Hugel says, he was called Nalwa for ‘having cloven the head of a tiger who had already seized him as its pray’.

Hari Singh fought 22 battles in his carrier, without losing one. He was the longest serving Great Commander in Chief of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army.

Between 1804 and 1837, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa fought many battles against the Afghans, quickly earning himself the reputation of the only man who struck terror in their hearts.

Legend has it that Afghan mothers used to quieten their children by taking Nalwa’s name and for young Afghans, his name was a terror spoken in hush hush. Even American Generals used to tell Nalwa’s story to motivate their troops when US-Afghan war was in its thick.

Hari Singh Nalwa is almost entirely credited for the Sikh empire’s expansion beyond the Indus Valley and up to the Khyber Pass.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa is considered to be one of the few men to have ever totally dominated the Khyber Pass, starting with the battle of Kasur in 1807 and ending with the capture of Jamrud in 1836. Despite the fact that the odds were stacked against him in each fight, it was his wit and superior knowledge of fighting tactics that won him his victories.

Hari Singh Nalwa’s first significant military campaign was that of Kasur in 1807. Along with his fellow commanders, Hari Singh Nalwa marched on to Kasur to subjugate its Afghani owner Kutab-ud-din Khan. Sikhs laid siege for three months after which Kutab-ud-din Khan surrendered. Hari Singh Nalwa was the first to march inside the city gate of Kasur with his division.

Battle of Mankera in 1822, battle of Nowshera in 1823, battle of Sirikot in 1824, battle of Saidu in 1827 and the seizure of Peshawar in 1834 are major battles fought and won by Nalwa.

In 1836, soon after Dussehra, Hari Singh Nalwa conquered Jamrud, a fort at the mouth of the Khyber Pass. This victory meant that the Sikhs could launch offensive against Kabul anytime. Dost Mohammed Khan of Kabul was alarmed with this victory. But the marriage of Nau Nihal Singh, the Maharaja’s grandson in 1837, changed the equation and troops were withdrawn from all over Punjab to put up a show of strength for the British Commander-in-chief who was invited to the wedding.

Dost Mohammed Khan was also invited to the great celebration, but he did not go. Instead, he chose to take this opportunity to seize Jamrud. Hari Singh Nalwa anticipated this and did not go to Amritsar, stationing himself in Peshawar.

Dost Mohammed ordered his army to march towards Jamrud together with his five sons and his chief advisors, with orders not to engage with the Sikhs. Instead, it was more of a show of strength to try and wrest the forts of Shabqadar, Jamrud and Peshawar. Hari Singh was also told not to engage with the Afghans till reinforcements arrived from Lahore.

Hari Singh’s lieutenant, Mahan Singh, was in the fortress of Jamrud with 600 men and limited supplies. Hari Singh, who was in Peshawar, moved to rescue his men who were surrounded from every side by the Afghan forces, without water in the small fortress. Though the Sikhs were totally outnumbered, the sudden arrival of Hari Singh Nalwa put the Afghans in total panic. In the melee, Hari Singh Nalwa was accidentally grievously wounded.

Before he died, he told his lieutenant not to let the news of his death out till the arrival of reinforcements, which is what he did. While the Afghans knew that Hari Singh had been wounded, they waited for over a week doing nothing, till the news of his death was confirmed. By this time, the Lahore troops had arrived and merely witnessed the Afghans fleeing back to Kabul.

Hari Singh Nalwa had not only defended Jamrud and Peshawar, but had prevented the Afghans from ravaging the entire north-west frontier.


“India had a good number of freedom fighters who fought to secure the country’s independence from British rule, and among the well-known personalities was Chandra Shekhar Azad. Today, July 23, marks the birth anniversary of the fearless man who chose to make the supreme sacrifice by taking his own life to escape imprisonment and torture at the hands of the British”. PM Modi

Born in Allahabad, I have a special place in my heart for Chandra Sekhar Azad. Just opposite my school, St. Joseph’s High School, is Company Bagh, in the outskirts of which he shot himself to death in February 1931, after he was ambushed. It was said that he was waiting for a secret and a crucial meeting with a colleague Virbhadra Tiwari, who turned traitor and informant.

I was born in December 1950, 29 years after he died. I moved to Delhi in 1984.

Whenever we had relatives visiting us, I would religiously take them to the place where he died and relate the whole incidence. I left Allahabad in 1984, till then the whole place was intact in its original form. I would show them the tree where he shot himself. I would take them around the moat which surrounded the area and explain how the whole battalion of armed force silently and secretly using the moat approached Azad, shooting bullets from their rifles, nonstop. Even then they could not kill him. Hundreds of bullets were fired. Azad retaliated with his gun and shot himself, when he was left with only one bullet. Even after Azad killed himself, the battalion was scared to go near him. They did so surrounding him with rifles loaded and with bayonets pointed at him.

I would describe the whole event as though I had witnessed it, with tears in my eyes and goosebumps.

Born as, Chandrasekhar Tiwari in the village Bhabhra, Madhya Pradesh on July 23, 1906, he went to Kashi Vidyapeeth, Banaras to study Sanskrit.
When Gandhiji launched the Non-Cooperation Movement in December 1921, Chandra Shekhar Azad, who was then 15 and still studying, joined the movement.

Chandra Shekhar Azad was arrested for joining Gandhiji’s movement and as punishment was lashed with a whip. It is said that when he was brought before the magistrate, he gave his name as Azad (“The Free”), his father’s name as Swatantrata (“Independence”), and place of residence as Jail.
After Gandhiji suspended the non-cooperation movement in 1922, Chandra Shekhar Azad joined the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), a revolutionary organisation formed by Ram Prasad Bismil, Sachindra Nath Sanyal and others.

Chandra Shekhar Azad took charge of HRA after Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Rajendra Lahiri and Thankur Roshan Singh were sentenced to death in the Kakori train robbery case.

As a freedom fighter, Azad was also involved in the Kakori Train Robbery of 1925, in the attempt to blow up the Viceroy of India’s train in 1926.

After the capture of the main leaders of the HRA, Chandra Shekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh secretly reorganised the HRA as the HSRA (Hindustan Socialist Republic Army) in September 1928.

When Lala Lajpat Rai died in 1928 due to the grievous injuries he suffered at the hands of superintendent of police James A Scott, members of the HSRA vowed to avenge his death. But due to a case of mistaken identity, Assistant Superintendent of Police John P Saunders was killed.

I would like my children and grandchildren to bow their heads with respect whenever they hear the name of this great Hero of India, who at the raw stage of 15 jumped into the freedom struggle. Heroes like him were instrumental in getting India’s independence.

Rani Karnavati – The Forgotten Warrior Queen

In India, the valour of many kings and queens have been buried under the sand of time, often deliberately. One such queen was Rani Karnavati from the Garhwal Kingdom, which like Mewar could never be captured by the Mughals. The queen was known for her ruthless bravery which earned her the title of ‘Nak-Kati-Rani’ which means the queen who cuts the nose.

In Himalayas, in 16th Century there used to be a Garhwal Kingdom, presently known as Tehri Garhwal of Indian State Uttarakhand. Mahipati Shah a Rajput, was the Ruler of the Kingdom. The capital was Srinagar, which got shifted from earlier capital Dewalgarh. King Mahipati Shah had ascended the throne in 1622.

The king was known for his fierce bravery and his stiff opposition to any invasion. When Shah Jahan was crowned on 14th February 1628 at Agra, rulers all across the Northern India went to pay a personal visit to the new emperor. The king of Garhwal decided to avoid this ceremony which enraged the new emperor. The emperor was also told about the Gold Mines in Srinagar region, which increased the determination of the new emperor to plan an invasion. The King Mahipati Shah suffered fatal injuries during the battle of Kumaon and his short reign ended in 1631.

His son Prithvipati Shah was coronated at the age of seven. Mahipati Shah’s wife, Rani Karnavati ruled the kingdom on behalf of her very young son. She ruled till the time her grown up son Prithvipati came to the throne and started ruling.

When the Delhi emperor came to know about Mahipati Shah’s demise, he ordered an attack on the Kingdom of Srinagar in 1640. His general Najabat Khan, along with thirty thousand men marched towards the Garhwal Kingdom.

The queen allowed them to enter the kingdom but held them at today’s Lakshman Jhoola. The men could neither move forward nor retreat. Unknown to the terrain and food supplies running low, the men were losing morale. Najabat Khan sensing defeat sent a peace message to the queen which was rejected.

The desperation in the Mughal army ran high and queen toyed with them like a seasoned predator. She finally came down heavily on them and captured them only to release them after cutting off their noses.

Rani Karnavati resorted to psychological warfare by sending a message to the Mughal court that if she could chop off their noses, she could also chop off their heads. The sultan was embarrassed and enraged. He ordered another attack under Areej Khan who met the same embarrassment under the hands of the brave Rani and her generals.

The drubbing scars of the lost battle were left on the face of the Mughal Empire. Later the Garhwal army regained their lost land and the anecdotage of Rani Karnavati’s victory became popular in the whole region and created a rich history of Garhwal.

The drubbing scars of the lost battle were left on the face of the Mughal Empire forever.

Walk and Talk with My Friends Elephants


Aristotle said of elephants: “The beast which passeth all others in wit and mind“.

I know elephants since I was an infant. My maternal grandparent used to live in a quaint town called Moulmien, in Burma. During summer holidays me and my siblings would to go there with our mother, spending close to couple of months every visit.

My grandfather had a large timber factory there. Since cranes were not known in those days, elephants were used for movement of large trunks. My grandfather also owned an elephant. I always believed that he could talk to elephants. He handled his elephant very aptly and treated him like a son.

My grandfather taught me about elephants, their intelligence, emotions and how to communicate with them.

Last year I shifted to Dehradun, capital of Uttarakhand, a state in India. Before that, I spent two years in Parmarth Ashram in Haridwar. From Haridwar, I frequently visited Rishikesh. All these three towns are surrounded by Rajaji Forest. Rajaji Forest is extensive and is connected to Himalayas, Holy River Ganga and many small rivulets.

Rajaji Forest is a habitat of elephants and they are the original owners of the area, including Dehradun, Haridwar and Rishikesh, which has now been encroached by humans. Present population of elephants in Rajaji Forest is about 1800.

Remembering and not forgetting what my grandfather taught me about elephants, I thought of getting in touch with them. It was not easy. Elephants do not like us human beings and prefer to keep away. They do not trust humans. Whenever the elephants and humans cross in forests, there is always a clash.

It took lot of time getting friendly with a herd of elephants. Once I did, we started meeting often. This herd was quite large with one head, five males, six females and four calves.

Most of the talking was done by the herd head. When I asked him about them in general, he said that, we are capable of a range of emotions, including joy, playfulness, grief and mourning. In addition, we are able to learn new facts and behaviours, mimic sounds that we hear, self-medicate, play with a sense of humour, perform artistic activities, use tools and display compassion and self-awareness. We have 400 words in our elephant vocabulary.

He said that, we are amongst the most intelligent creatures on earth. In fact, our intelligence rivals that of human beings. Our weakness is that we are not born with survival instincts and need to learn these during infancy and adolescence.

Our capacity for memory and emotions is remarkable. This is also the area responsible for emotional flashbacks and is the reason that elephants experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

He explained that we mourn our dead. We give our deceased burial ceremony. The burial ceremony is marked by deep rumblings while the dead body is touched and caressed by the herd member’s trunks. Those who are already reduced to a skeleton are still paid respect by passing herds.

Self awareness is yet another indication of the vast capacity for thinking and intellect that exists in us, said the elephant. We can, in fact, recognise ourselves in a mirror, something that is extremely rare in the animal kingdom.

I read about elephants getting killed by fast moving trains at night, when they are crossing railway tracks. Though there is a defined speed limit for train drivers when they pass Rajaji Forest during night or in early morning, they seldom adhere to it.

Poachers kill elephants for tusks. We humans have encroached on to their habitat and kill them by accident or on purpose.


We fail to realize that there is a purpose for which Nature created elephants.

Elephants are among the most intelligent of the creatures with which we share the planet. Elephants with complex consciousnesses are capable of strong emotions. They are also keystone species, playing an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live.

During the dry season, elephants use their tusks to dig for water. This not only allows the elephants to survive in dry environments and when droughts strike, but also provides water to other animals, that share harsh habitats.

When forest elephants eat, they create gaps in the vegetation. These gaps allow new plants to grow and create pathways for other smaller animals to use.

They are also one of the major ways in which trees disperse their seeds; some species rely entirely upon elephants for seed dispersal. Wherever they live, elephants leave dung that is full of seeds from the many plants they eat. When this dung is deposited the seeds are sown and grow into new grasses, bushes and trees, boosting the health of the ecosystem.

In the Jungle Book movie, when elephants are passing, Baloo says to Mowgli “Bow down and show respect to the elephants. They are the one who have created forests. It is because of them the animals live, mountains and rivers are there”.

In the areas where the elephants live, humans need to learn to avoid conflict with them. Obstructions should not be created on the paths in which they move.

After all, to survive, we need them more than they need us. We exist if elephants exist.


Tea with Monkeys


Every day early morning, after coming from walk, I have a set ritual to follow, on the balcony of our house in Dehradun. Mornings of Dehradun, due to proximity to Himalayas are pleasantly cool, when it is warm and hot in Plains.

On the balcony I go thru a sequence of yoga regime, followed with a cup of hot detox tea, which is a concoction of Green Tea, Lemon Grass, Hibiscus, Ginger, Tulsi, Lemon and Honey. Sipping this tea and reading a newspaper on the balcony is heavenly. Whenever I am away from Dehradun, I miss this morning ritual.

Every day as a routine, a troop of monkeys, come jumping on the massive tree, which we have right in front of our house. After monkeying on it for some time, they take a round of the neighborhood, obviously hunting for food. Their routine is as fixed as mine. Number of monkeys in the troop are 9, five adults and four kids. Kids are as naughty as they could be. Running and jumping playfully. Adult are a serious lot.

Since they are regular visitors, as a general courtesy, I thought of inviting them over for tea, which the head of the troop readily agreed to. Date and time were mutually agreed upon.


The family of nine came over on the date and time as agreed. Nobody from my family participated and chose to abstain from the event. The family though, helped me in laying the food on the table of the balcony.  Choicest of bananas, peanuts and biscuits were spread. Main door of the house was shut. This is as far as the Indian hospitality goes.

Guests seated and helped themselves with the food. Obviously they did not believe in rituals and formalities. Once the supper was over, we started talking.

I asked the troop leader why they venture so far away from their habitat and what is their story.

Troop leader gave me a very sad and also an annoying look. He said that the onus is on your race. You do not know how to contain yourself and are greedy. You keep on destroying forests, rivers and fountains and keep on constructing. There is no end to it.

You do not realize that you are destroying and compromising on future of your race as well, along with that of ours and our fellow animals. With destruction of forests, rivers are drying up. Mountains are going barren, which is causing more and more landslides and earthquakes. The whole cycle is getting disturbed. Glaciers are melting. With the melting of glaciers, flow of water in rivers is weakening day by day. You will have no water to grow your own food or to drink. Forest fires have become a frequent thing.

With reduction in forests, we are losing our homes, so also our friends like leopards, tigers and elephants. They have no choice but to come to your habitat to look for food. Here, as you now say: man and animal conflict begins.

Today we just look for food outside your house and in the neighborhood. In future who knows, more monkey troops will join us and we will start attacking you and forcefully enter your house. After all, we must have food for us and our family. If it is not available in forests naturally, we will seek from you. So will the elephants, tigers and leopards. Already it has begun.

As one of your famous writer once said ‘You stole our homes; we steal your pastries’.

Being a representative of the human race, I kept my head down, accepting as truth, what was said, and ashamed.


For my grand children: Manya, Vrinda, Unnati and Sarthak, expecting them to be good human beings.

India – Glory that was!

India - Glory that was

Mark Twain, an American author, said that “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great-grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”

Another Yorkshire-born American Unitarian Minister, J. T. Sunderland, said that nearly every kind of manufacture known in the civilized world, nearly every kind of creation of man’s brain and hand, existing anywhere and prized either for its utility or beauty, had long being produced in India. India was a far greater industrial and manufacturing nation than any in Europe or any other in Asia. Her textile goods – the fine products of her looms, in cotton, wool, linen and silk were famous over the civilized world; so were her exquisite jewellery and her precious stones cut in every lovely forms; so were her pottery, porcelains, ceramics of every kind, quality, colour and beautiful shape; so were her fine works in metal – iron, steel, silver and gold.

He further said that India had great architecture – equal in beauty to any in the world. She had great engineering works. She had great merchants, great businessmen, great bankers and financers. Not only was she the greatest shipbuilding nation, but she had great commerce and trade by land and sea which extended to all known civilized countries. She was the India the British found when they came.

Empress Josephine, wife of Emperor Napoleon, was a connoisseur of Indian shawls and textile. Similarly, royalties the world over used to patronize Indian textiles because of its high quality. Indian spices found its way into the royal kitchens. The list was endless. Traders from down South and West used to navigate international waters on India-made ships.

Singapore was discovered by Vijaynagar Empire, which also helped set up modern administration system, in now called Malaysia.

Empire of Ashok was the world’s largest and he was instrumental in exporting Buddhism, now the world’s third largest followed religion.

Despite weakening of Empires and their getting fragmented; despite continuous attacks of looters from Middle East and beyond; despite Moslem and Mughal Rulers becoming more powerful, wealth and skill of India was such that, it remained a global leader in trade. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, as the British economic historian Angus Maddison has demonstrated, India’s share of the world economy was 23 per cent, as large as all of Europe put together. By the time the British departed India, it had dropped to just over 3 per cent.

It is quite visible, as quoted by Shashi Tharoor, the Politician and Author of ‘An Era of Darkness’ that, the reason was simple: India was governed for the benefits of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India.
In present times, in last few decades you could see further deterioration in form of growing outsourcing, erosion of entrepreneurship in India’s Business Community. Sadly, the new generation prefers working in BPOs, IPOs, Call Centres, again serving the West. You see large factories getting shut down. Even India’s greatest and historical brands of textiles, ceramics, etc. are being outsourced from other countries.
My forefathers used to say, that if you are serving as an employee, you are feeding your family. If you are an entrepreneur you are feeding 200 families.
I look forward for the old glory of India to come back, in form of rise in entrepreneurship, growth in M&SME. Pre-British era, India was a global leader in trade because of traders and small entrepreneurs.
I would like to end with a statement made by Albert Einstein, American scientist: “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”



In the medieval era, Rajasthan stood divided into five large and several smaller principalities. The big 5 were Amber (Jaipur), Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur (Marwar) and Udaipur (Mewar).

The founder of Shekhawati region was Maha Rao Shekhaji, a descendent of the Kachhawaha Rajput Clan which held Amber-Jaipur for centuries. The chieftains of Shekhawati were the descendants of Baloji, the third son of Raja Udaikaran of Amber, who succeeded to the throne in 1389. Shekhawati, named after its founder, meant ‘Garden of Shekha’.

As the Mughal Empire fell into decline after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the descendants of Maha Rao Shekhaji, who had already spread themselves in the east of the Aravalli, began to encroach the west and north through the Udaipurwati and Sikar gaps in the hills. Shekhavat Rajputs wrested land from the ruling Muslim Nawabs (governors) to expand their fiefdom. By 1730, the Shekhavats grew very powerful and Shekhawati was flourishing.

Shekhawati comprised of towns like Jhunjhunu, Bikaner, Sikar, Ramgarh, Fatehpur, Sujangarh and Sardarsahar. It also had within its fold many large and small villages.

From the turn of the 19th Century till about 1822, a vast amount of trade was diverted through Shekhawati and more and more merchants got attracted into this region. This was a meeting point of the camel caravans from the Middle East, China and India.

Trade in opium, cotton and spices flourished. The merchant community that grew then were called ‘Marwaris’. These Marwaris built palatial havelis (villas). They also financed and built temples, baolis (step wells), schools and Dharamshalas (inns) in their home towns and villages.


The flourishing cross desert commerce wilted away as the British political set-up grew stronger. More and more stress was being laid on the ports of Bombay and Calcutta instead, to establish monopolies for the East India Trading Company. By the 1820s and 30s, it became obvious that the future of trading did not lie in the sands of Rajasthan.

The Marwaris of Shekhawati would not be so easily put down. Leaving their native land, the menfolk migrated all the way to Calcutta, the colonial capital. They also migrated to East Bengal (now Bangladesh), Assam, Burma, Bombay, Surat, Hyderabad, Chennai, etc. Here too they flourished and inspired their brethren to join them.

When Shekhawati started flourishing, words went around and my forefathers also decided to move into that region. They chose Sardarsahar as the place to settle down. They moved from Hissar, which now is part of present day Haryana. A rough estimate is that it happened in late 1700. I am the ninth generation.

Chowdhary’s of Rajasthan was a highly respected name in Sardarsahar as apart from being rich, they had done a lot for the society. They had built a school, a baoli and a Dharamshala. School and Dharamshala were later converted to a Guest House. Baoli still continues and provides sweet water to about 100,000 citizens, in old part of the town. A family trust operating from Calcutta looks after the maintenance of these facilities. There used to be a street which had haveli’s of Chowdharys lined up and was named after my great grandfather, Surajmull Chowdhary Street.

When trade started wilting away from Sardarsahar also, my great grandfather decided to set up a base in Calcutta. Elder brother of my grandfather was mandated to move their and set up a base.

My grandfather was directed to a place called Barisal, in Bhola of East Bengal, which in present times is Bangladesh. This place was chosen as it had vast cultivation of Areca Nuts (Supari). From what I had heard, this was inhabitable, full of mosquitoes and flooded during monsoons. Hardly any food was available, except coarse rice, lentils and some vegetables. Malaria was rampart. Business was to buy areca nuts, process, grade, pack them and ship to Calcutta by steamers. There was no banking system. Money used to come in gunny bags.

Travel time one way to Barisal from Sardarsahar was about six months, using modes like camel, camel carts, bullock carts, trains, bus, steamers etc. Minimum stay time was 8 years for all male adults.

As infrastructure improved a base was set up at Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) where Areca Nuts were transported. Couple of Munims (accountants) were stationed there to trade and collect money. Munims as per the Marwari traditions were considered members of the family.

My father, after completing his graduation from St. Xavier’s, Calcutta also moved to Barisal to assist my grandfather. He was later joined by his younger brother.

The story does not end here. Post partition East Bengal became East Pakistan and my family decided to shift to Allahabad, where they already had a small trading post. In this migration, my grandfather boarded the last train out of East Bengal and was nearly killed. When the train reached India, it was full of copses. My grandfather’s life was saved by a Bengali Muslim who knew him. He was also in the line of migrants whose heads were being cut off. Luckily one of the killers knew my grandfather as he had received some help from him. He placed my grandfather along with the corpses and covered him with a bloodied cloth.

Taking into account my grandson, we are eleven generation connected to this history, which saw the best and worst of times.

In Sardarsahar, I have stayed in the beautiful haveli couple of times, which my forefathers built. It was like a small fortress, with Rajasthani Murals painted all over and carved doors and windows. Sadly, just a decade back it had to be sold off, as most of the family members were not interested in holding it. It was destroyed and a mall was build there. Members of our extended family still have their Havelis on that Surajmull Chowdhary Street. Baoli still provides water to residents of the old city. Guest house is available for marriages at a nominal token amount.

Property in present Bangladesh is lost. In Calcutta, part of our family continues using the original Gaddi (office) we have in Burra Bazar.

Memories remain and will remain till my generation.

Allahabad side of family, except few, have migrated to Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, USA, UK, UAE and Luxemburg. Most members of the Chowdhary family reside in now called Kolkata. A family tree in print is maintained which has all the names of male members of ten generations.

Princess of Ayodhya, who Became a Queen in Korea


In my last visit to South Korea in 2009, my old time friend Ian Lee took me for dinner to a newly opened upmarket Indian Restaurant. Chatting over drinks and food, I happened to mention about an Indian Princess, who traveled all the way to South Korea to get married to a King. I asked him if he knew about this story. He simply jumped up from his seat and remarked “How do you know about this? You are talking about my great, great, great grandmother.”

Next day he narrated this incidence to all his staff in his office and took me to the grave of this Queen located at Kimhae. He said that all her descendants gather here on a particular day to pay respect to her. He said that most of the Kim and Heo and a few of Lee are descendants of this Great Queen.


King Suro and Heo had 10 sons together, 8 of them were given King Suro’s last name – Kim of Kimhae, but 2 of them were given their mother’s last name to honor her – Heo of Kimhae. Kimhae is the name of the region where Gaya was located. About thousand years later, one of Heo of Kimhae branch became Lee of Incheon. So, Kim of Kimhae, Heo of Kimhae, and Lee of Incheon are all related – in the old days, they couldn’t intermarry.

The holy city of Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India plays host to hundreds of South Koreans every year – who come to pay their tribute to their legendary Queen Heo Huang Ok. The Queen, also known as Princess Suiratna, was the Princess of Ayodhya before she went to Korea and married King Kim Suro of Karak Clan in 48 AD.

It is because of the presence of her monument in Ayodhya that around 6 million people of Karak Clan consider the city as their maternal home. The memorial was inaugurated in 2001 in Ayodhya. Six million Koreans representing the Kimhae Kim Clan, Heo Clan and Incheon Lee Clan, trace their ancestry to the Royal Union.

An analysis of DNA samples taken from the site of two Royal Gaya tombs in 2004 in Kimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, confirms that there is a genetic link between the Korean ethnic group and certain ethnic groups in India.

Back in 42 AD in South of Korean Peninsula, there was a kingdom called Gaya. The founder of the kingdom was King Suro.

In Ayodhya, parents of Princess Suiratna had a dream, in which the Heavenly Lord told them to send the Princess to King Suro in Korea who had been chosen as the King of Gaya. The dream showed that the King had not yet found a Queen. Princess’ father told her to go to King Suro.

The journey took two years by sea. It is said that the Princess, during the sea journey, carried a stone tower which allowed the Princess to safely travel the perilous sea voyage from India to Southern Korea. It’s named “Calm Wave Sutra” and is now part of the Queen’s tomb.

According to the legend, the courtiers of King Suro requested him to select a wife from among the maidens they would bring to the Court. However King Suro stated that the selection of a wife would be commanded by the Heavens.

He commanded his senior courtiers to take horses and a boat to Mangsan-Do, an island in the South. In the island, one of the courtiers saw a vessel with a red sail and a red flag. He sailed to the vessel and escorted it to the shores of Gaya (present day Kimhae or Gimhae). Another courtier went to the palace and informed the King of the vessel’s arrival. The King sent nine clan Chiefs, asking them to escort the ship’s passengers to the royal palace.

Princess refused to accompany the strangers. On King’s orders a camp was pitched on the slopes of the hills near the Palace. The Princess then arrived at the tent with her courtiers and slaves.

The twenty slaves carried gold, silver, jewels, silk brocade and tableware. Before marrying the King, the Princess took off her silk trousers and offered them to the mountain spirit. King Suro told her that he knew about her arrival in advance, and therefore, did not marry the maidens recommended by his courtiers.

When some of the Queen’s escorts decided to return home, King Suro gave each of them thirty rolls of hempen cloth (one roll was of 40 yards). He also gave each person ten bags of rice for the return voyage. A part of the Queen’s original convoy, including the two courtiers and their wives, stayed back with her. The queen was given a residence in the inner palace, while the two courtiers and their wives were given separate residences. The rest of her convoy were given a guest house of twenty rooms.


Today the population of South Korea is 51.25 million, out of which the percentage of Indian Princess’ descendants is 11.70%. A large percentage of the country’s politicians, businessmen and intelligentsia have been and are descendants of the majestic Queen of Korea hailing from Ram’s birth place Ayodhya, in India.