28 December 2013

DEISPI for improving students’ performance

Pragya is piloting DEISPI, a tool to improve learning levels, instructional quality, school infrastructure & management, and educational policy planning.

It generates performance scores for participating schools, teachers, students and target districts based on pre-set performance thresholds and also prescribes remedial actions as required. Teachers, students, school committees recently attended sessions in Uttarkashi as part of the pilot phase across Himalayan district.

20 December 2013

Solar dryers for Himalayan farmers

The farmers of Themgaram and the neighbouring cluster of villages were helped to set up a Solar Dryer as a shared facility to dry their farm produce. These structures are portable and easy to assemble and dismantle. Similar structures are being set up by Pragya across several other Himalayan districts. These sites would also have weather resistant food storage facilities as a comprehensive measure to ensure food security for remote high altitude villages.

28 October 2013

BARC approved filtration technology for flood-affected villages

Addressing the concerns for WASH in post-disaster scenario, Pragya is carrying out significant work in Uttarakhand, India for communities that have suffered damage to their water supply and storage systems or are currently experiencing water stress or those that are identified to be dependent on contaminated/unsafe water sources for drinking purposes. Pragya is installing BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre) approved technology for filtration units comprising activated carbon and 0.01 micron membrane filter that can remove micro-biological impurities to ensure safe water for these communities. The membrane life is 3-5 years with 300 ltr/day output at 10 psi pressure.

(Photographs of Pragya's work in Immediate Relief Phase)

24 September 2013

Innovative health surveillance system for women and infants

As a part of Pragya’s initiative to maternal and neonatal child health (read more), Women’s Care Groups (WCG) have been formed in Himalayan villages. A health & nutrition surveillance program for girls and women has been instituted through these groups. Each group uses the program to watch out for health & nutrition risk signs among the girls and women in the village, take necessary precautions or refer for timely clinical care, provide dietary guidance where required, and liaise with government facilities to access necessary supplements, for example, folic acid supplements for pregnant women.

The groups are equipped with necessary instruments, such as Aneamia detection kits (non-invasive) for haemoglobin monitoring, and trained in the surveillance system; the procedure enables a comparison against norms and ranges for BMI, blood sugar, BP, Hemoglobin, etc., set to high-altitude conditions, for adolescent girls and women. They also collect data on food intake and nutritional levels, with a focus on specific high-altitude deficiencies such as iron, vitamin A, and determine cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM).

22 June 2013

Flashflood hits Uttarakhand

At midnight 3rd August 2012, Uttarakhand was hit by torrential rain following a cloudburst in Siyari Gar and Sangam Chatti in Uttarkashi district. The resulting flashfloods and landslides caused unprecedented loss of property and life in the Garhwal region which had to bear the maximum brunt. Estimates suggests approximately 1700 families have been affected from Gangotri to Uttarkashi; in Bhatwari block itself, one of the worst affected areas, more than 25 villages have been affected including 1188 families. Several areas are inaccessible as road and bridges have been washed away, making relief operations difficult. Extensive damage has been caused to agricultural land, irrigation infrastructures, water and power supply systems, houses and community buildings and many families have lost all their belongings. Surveys and visits are being carried out in the region to get an exact estimate of the damage caused. Relief camps have been set up in several areas in Uttarkashi. (Read more) (Photographs from flood hit districts)

There is a major need of essential supplies in several areas, especially the need to communicate and provide relief to those in the still inaccessible and remote areas. Pragya is presently contributing towards this effort by gathering data in order to get a comprehensive picture of the damages caused with the aim to provide immediate relief materials to the affected in form of hygiene kits, tents, bedding, water tanks and water purification tablets, solar lanterns, food, especially baby food and toilets and for carrying out rehabilitation programs in the long term. (More about Pragya's efforts) (Photographs from the field)

15 June 2013

Pragya India recognised as SIRO

Pragya India is now recognised as 'Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation' (SIRO). The Department of Scientific & Industrial Research (DSIR), under the Ministry of Science and Technology, Govt. of India conferred this status to Pragya for 2013-2016. This is expected to strengthen the research & extension activities carried out by Pragya team in India.

8 May 2013

Community Resource Centre in Humla

A Rural Library was inaugurated for a cluster of villages in Humla district. The resource centre stocked with a wide variety of learning resources for all age-groups, computers and audio-visual learning aids was heartily appreciated by the parents and children present at the event.

(Photographs from Nepal Himalayas)

11 April 2013

Greening the flood affected catchments

The 2010 flashflood in Leh caused unprecedented loss of life and property. After relief operations, Pragya concentrated its efforts in livelihood rehabilitation. The women of Ney, Nang, Umla, Chaksa, Hanu Yogma, Igoolankur, Taru, Stambardo villages under guidance of Pragya’s Thematic Specialists have been working towards rebuilding their lives. Ms. Sonam Yandol, Ms. Dechen Dolma and others have reclaimed over 7 acres of land to set up fodder farms and woodlots in their villages. The early gains have been visible within just 5 months, reducing the physical stress on women. An inspired Ms. Yangdol announces, “next year we will double the area under fodder farm”. Such endeavors have benefited around 200 households in Leh so far.

20 March 2013

Consultations for Citizen-based DRR model

In remote and difficult access stretches of high altitude Himalayas, why do we need a DRR model that can be operated by the community members? As the harsh winters immobilised the transport and communication networks across the Himalayan mountain range, the need and significance of such system became more evident. The need for a decentralised, self-sufficient system for real-time information on local environment to aid community preparedness in remote villages cut-off from mainstream during extreme weather conditions, was stressed time and again, as the Pragya team struggled to gain access in difficult access areas and the stakeholders braved the harsh winter often well below freezing points to come together for the grassroots workshops. Pragya concluded its last leg of consultative workshops with two consecutive events in Tawang and West Kameng in the Eastern Himalayas. Consultations are underway with national level experts, through to pool in knowledge and good practices regarding community based DRR models and relevant ICT technologies. (Read more about this project)

18 March 2013

Advocacy to address violence against women

Pragya submitted a written statement for the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (4-15 March 2013) as a non-governmental organization with special consultative status with UN Economic and Social Council. The document (view here) highlights the concerns regarding violence against women in the Himalayas (South Asia) and in arid and semi-arid lands (sub-Saharan Africa).

14 March 2013

Peer group support for Himalayan women

As a part of Pragya’s initiative to maternal and neonatal child health, the Women’s Care Groups are being created in remote Himalayan villages to cater to health and well-being of women in the reproductive age, both physical and psychological, and health benefits for girls and young children (0-4 years) as well. 120 of such peer groups have been formed so far. Tribal women in the Himalayas display very high MMR; newborns in the Himalayas suffer from the start, with difficult birth conditions and low birth weight; infections and neonatal diseases often follow due to inappropriate practices. The Himalayan region is characterised by remoteness and inadequate health infrastructure. Lack of access to professional assistance and care during pregnancy and delivery is a major cause of maternal mortality for women in the Himalayas. Women’s Care Groups in villages would render wrap-around support and care to women, from the stage of planning their pregnancy, ANC, right through the process of delivery and on to PNC, including care of new mothers and newborn, and childcare. (Read more...)

12 February 2013

Pictorial Embroidery of Chamba Rumals

Chamba – a northwestern district in Himachal Pradesh is particularly famous for its unique and charming embroidered rumals. The word ‘rumal’ means handkerchief, however the Chamba Rumals are not mere handkerchiefs; they play a significant role in various social occasions in the region. This beautiful form of embroidery, done on handspun cloth with silk threads, is greatly inspired by the different pahari paintings (mountain paintings).

The origin of this art form can be traced back to 17th - 18th century in the former Chamba state. Traditionally, it is a custom to gift these beautifully embroidered rumals as a part of the wedding trousseau. Also, these are used for wrapping gifts or covering gifts, placed on trays and baskets, on special occasions as weddings, festivals or fairs. Hence, wedding scenes is a popular theme in the designs. It was considered an integral part of the dowry without which a wedding ceremony was incomplete. Even today it plays an important part of the wedding trousseau and sometimes it is also used for wrapping gifts and presenting during important social occasions. Men and women wear these beautifully embroidered rumals on their shoulders and the more delicate and intricate designs on the rich cloth are seen as a symbol of status.

Creating a Chamba rumal: The cloth used to make Chamba Rumals is mostly unbleached cotton (khaddar) or fine muslin cloth, which is off-white in color; the light-coloured off-white base is important for highlighting the vibrant silk threads used in the embroidery. The artist first visualizes the theme and draws the initial outline of the design with charcoal on the cloth. During this stage the artist also decides the colors that will be used for filling up the designs. The actual embroidery is done by the womenfolk who follow the outlines drawn by the miniature artist.

The designs used are highly inspired by the miniature pahari paintings and consist of vibrant motifs and designs, which include birds, animals, decorative plants and flowers that form an important part of this visual handicraft. The designs and motifs are carefully laid down to form beautiful compositions, which are then filled in with untwisted silk threads, also called ‘pat’. The commonly used colors in a Chamba rumal are purple, bright pink, carmine, deep red, orange, brown, shades of green, yellow, blue along with black and white. In some of the old rumals, silver wire or ‘tilla’ can also be found.

One of the unique features of the Chamba rumals is that the design can be viewed from both sides and there is no backside. For this a unique form of stitching, the ‘do-rukha’ or the double-satin stitch is mainly used. It is usually not found in other forms of traditional Indian embroidery; the ‘do-rukha’ or the double-satin stitch gives an even finish on both sides with no visible knots. A simple stitch with a black silk thread, the ‘dandi tanka’ or the stem stitch is finally used to outline the designs. This is characteristic of the Chamba rumal embroidery. An important part of the pahari painting is the fine black outline; similarly the black silk thread is used in the embroidery to give the effect of a pahari painting. Apart from these, other form of stitches like the buttonhole stitch, cross-stitch, long and short stitch, herring bone stitch along with pattern darning is also used. The result is a flat and smooth finish that gives the embroidery the look of a miniature painting.

This art form emulates the creative expressions and the innermost feelings of the womenfolk in Chamba. This magnificent art and the skill associated with it is slowly fading away and efforts are being made to re-examine their marketing strategy and new markets and methods of distribution, in an effort to promote the artistic, social and cultural worth of this art and revive the culture.

31 January 2013

Health camp in Urgam Valley

As part of its healthcare initiatives in remote high altitude villages, Pragya conducted health camps today in collaboration with doctors from Civil Hospital at Layari and Aroshi villages of Urgam valley, benefitting over 140 individuals. The initiative is striving to address the critical need for reproductive healthcare for women in the Himalayan region and improving healthcare access in remote villages.

17 January 2013

The Fascinating Cave Temples of Ladakh

The architecture of Ladakh and Zanskar has a strong Buddhist influence, most seen and associated with monasteries and gompas dotted throughout the region. Apart from these sacred places there are several cave temples that exist here. The majority of the Buddhist caves in Ladakh and Zanskar are associated with Buddhist monks who are said to have meditated in them at some time. These stunning cave temples also reveal a lot about the mystic Buddhist culture and have centuries of history behind them. 

Here are some of the cave temples that one can find in these regions:

The twin crags of Spituk
Locally known as Brag-khung Kha-ba-chen (snowy hole in the Crags), white – walled buildings on the left bank of the Indus shelter the two caves, near Spituk. The walls of one cave are completely covered with soot and the solitary recognizable part of a mural is a corner of a mandala (a spiritual symbol representing the universe) on the back wall. In the second cave it is easier to recognize the murals. Three mandalas with decorative motifs and several miniature divinities are clearly visible.

Hemis Shugpa in Basgo
Hemis Shugpa, named after the juniper trees that grow there, is situated in a narrow valley lying along the ancient track towards the north leading from Basgo to sTing-mo-sgang through a narrow gorge. The caves along the mountain ridges offer a splendid view of the Indus valley. There are two stucco images of Naropa and Padmasambhava. There are two chortens (stupas) below the cave and a juniper tree, which is believed to be inhabited by a serpent deity.

The Pentad of Saspol
A group of caves are situated above the village - Saspol near the ruins of an old fort. Among the group of caves, the first is dominated by a mural of Sãkyamuni, repainted in unskilled hand in later years. The cave also contains other murals of Sãkyamuni, Avalokitesvara, Akshobhya and Vajradhara, miniatures of a thousand Buddhas and two large murals of Padamasambhava and Maitreya. The second temple has murals of Sãkyamuni and ElevenHeaded Avalokitesvara, of Tsong-kha-pa and five Buddhas. The third cave is the largest in size. The murals are in good condition and represent a variety of divinities. The main murals are of Bodhisattvas, Vajrapani, Amitãbha, Avalokitesvara, Atisa, Chos-kyi-skyabs, and many others. The fourth and fifth temples have murals of preaching Buddha and mandalas but are gradually disappearing as the loose moraines are sliding down hill. The caves are completely open and the murals can hardly be recognized.

Other wonders
Phokar Dzong is situated in a wide valley surrounded by mountain peaks near village Shargola.
Wakha cave temple is situated in a crag above the village with a steep flight of steps leading to the cave. Inside the cave there are block prints of Tibetan canon and images of Avalokiteswara, Sakyamuni and Tsong-kha-pa.

There is a small cave containing images of Tillopa, Naropa and Mi-la ras-pa. According to legend, monk Naropa meditated in this cave and he dried the whole valley, which was a great lake, before founding the monastery.

Go-tsang-pa cave in Hemis is a small cave at the top of a gorge that lies behind the monastery. There are five images inside the cave along with a beautiful mural depicting a hunting scene from the life of Mi-la ras-pa. The walls near the entrance have murals of Mahakala and Remati, a female deity.

Near Nimmo, there is a boulder with a cavity resembling the shape of a human body. According to local legend, this was formed when Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava clung to the rock as he was pursued by a demon during his journey through Ladakh. However, it has become a religious site for the Sikhs.

The Spectacular Rock Carvings
Rock carvings around Ladakh provide an interesting area of study of the local cultural history. The rock carvings are of three types: simple drawings of men and animals, pictures of chortens and written inscriptions. They are found in river terraces near Saspol, Alchi, Khaltse, Nurla, between Leh to Nimmo, also across the Khardung-La pass where Nubra and Shyok rivers meet.

The figures engraved include the usual humans and animals (ibexes, goats, deer) and are presumed to be from pre-Buddhist era. The temple of Alchi has inscriptions in “dbu-can” script. The engravings near Tirith village, are astounding as they are not merely drawings and the themes go beyond commonplace. These are on a rock on the left bank of the Nubra. The carved deities are still clearly discernable, with most of their details intact. One of them has a sword and the second, a rosary.

Unfortunately, in some cases, physical damage from weathering and lack of maintenance has fragmented the texts and sometimes the writers' mode of expression is too oblique to understand the details. The rocks are deeply inscribed to distinguish the drawings or letterings by relief, or scratched away to reveal the letters against the contrasting surface colour of the rocks.

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