118 years of Trust THE TRIBUNE

Sunday, January 17, 1999
modern classics
Bollywood Bhelpuri


Living Space
Garden Life
Wide angle

A tale of two seas
By G.K. Sharma

Bahrain is an archipelago of 33 sun-spangled islands glimmering on the turquoise blue waters of the Arabian Gulf. Though hardly 25 km off the coast of Saudi Arabia, and measuring only 707 km from one land to the other, Bahrain is a charming country with so many unique attractions to offer.

Bahrain in Arabic means "two seas". So, Bahrain, in a nutshell, is a tale of two seas. The first is the Arabian Gulf itself, and the natural deep spring waters flowing underneath is the second sea.

In ancient times, Bahrain was known as ‘Dilmun’ (meaning noble), the legendary land of fresh water and the flower of immortality. Some of the legends about ‘Dilmun’ were told in the clay tablets of Mesopotamia, in centuries around 2000 B.C. The earliest tablet tells how Enki, god of sweet water sea beneath the world and Ninhursag, goddess of the earth, dwelt in Dilmun. And Enki blessed Dilmun with sweet water and all the fruits of the earth:

"The land of Dilmun is holy
The land of Dilmun is pure
In Dilmun the raven does notcroak... the lion does not kill....
No one says: ‘My eyes are sick, my head is sick’....
No one says: ‘I am old man, I am an old woman’....
Let the sun bring sweet water from the earth......
Let Dilmun drink the water of abundance.
Let her springs become springs of sweet water.
Let her fields yield her grain
Let her cities become the port of the world".
Funtime in Bahrain
Another popular story about ‘Dilmun’ establishing that ancient civilisation flourished on the islands of Bahrain, is the ‘Epic of Gligamesh’. Gligamesh, the mighty hero from Sumeria (Iraq), came to Dilmun in his quest for immortality.... in the land where old age is unknown. He learnt to dive the seabed and pluck the flower that restores youth; and with it set forth for his homeland. But, while he was resting, a snake came up from deep and stole and ate the flower, whereupon it cast off its skin and regained its youth. Thus the snake cheated Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and through him, mankind of eternal life, and won the prize himself.

Strategically located at the cross-roads between the east and west, Bahrain has over the centuries been the key to the trading life of the Arabian Gulf. In the beginning, it was a watering place for merchant ships with copper and tin to trade. But the abundant sweet water in the seas made it an ‘oasis’ of Arabia and gave birth to the fabled pearls of Bahrain. The wonderous pearls from the seas around Bahrain have been prized since antiquity. The double-shelled oysters living at the bottom of the springs, produced the clearest and largest pearls. Bahrain’s pearls were internationally famous for their brilliance, clearness and beauty. Pearling the principal source of revenue till the beginning of the current century, led to flourishing trade — Bahrain building its own boats and having its own trade from India to the Mediterranean.

As a child, I had heard ancient tales about the pearls of Bahrain. The tall sculpture at a prominent roundabout now epitomises pearls’ past glory. Present Bahrain is a picture of progress, prosperity and persistent pursuit of overall development.

What strikes a visitor most is the openness, peace and tranquillity prevailing all over Bahrain. Bahrainis are a congenial, gregarious people with a rare understanding of foreigners. Add to this a calm, relaxed lifestyle and a pollution-free atmosphere which makes a visitor’s stay enjoyable and memorable.

Today, Bahrain has everything a man could wish for — a happy living or holiday. It has modernity and antiquity; discos and dancers; plenty of food, fun, comforts and conveniences of an affluent society. Past mingles with the present in a happy blend of monuments and museums; archaeological sites and art centres; sun, sand and sea.

You can satisfy your wanderlust ‘on foot’ all over the island on beaches, deserts or manicured pathways running in either Pythagorean geometrical shapes, curves or rectilinear straight lines. Water sports and starlit boat rides are a bonus at an affordable cost.

The Bahrain Fort (occupied by the Portuguese for a century) and the Barbar Temple give us a glimpse into the country’s past. Masjid Al Khamis (Twin minaret mosque) dates back to the late 7th century, making it one of the oldest mosques in the world.

Caravans from all over Arabia used to gather at the mosque area which was also a vibrant social centre. Al Fateh Mosque is another famous mosque. It was built by the Amir at a cost of a million dollars to accommodate large numbers of worshippers.

Souks or market places, selling ittar (rose water), Arabian spices, sweets, dates, traditional fabric and baskets and gold thread (zari) are situated not far away from Babal-Bahrain (the Gateway of Bahrain).

A visit to the Zallag beach is a must for a heavenly experience of sand, sun and sea, particularly in rich, resonant, bright winter days. The breathtaking sight of the setting sun makes you linger on to look at its shimmering reflection in the sea.

Something all visitors to Bahrain should see (though it is lamentably little known) is the Tree of Life which stands majestically in a desolate, stark barren desert area. The Tree of Life has a solid trunk, stout branches and luxuriant green leaves sprouting all around.

It stands on top of a 25-foot-high sandy hillock which is surrounded by land which is flat and plain. It has continued growing-despite the extremities of the climate- and is at present 32 feet in height and 10 feet in diameter.

The secret of the tree’s survival has always been a matter of conjecture. The source of water supply to the tree is a mystery which baffles visitors and scientists alike.

The tree has been there for over 500 years, according to botanists, who have studied rings on its trunk but some say it is over 1,500 years old and that it has been standing as a lonely sentinel for this long. They say that the green tree is nature’s gift to Bahrain.

Bedouin travellers, believe that Enki, the god of water, had showered the tree with blessings. Botanists say that the tree belogns to the acacia family. Probably its roots go very deep and wide to fetch water from the sweet springs which are some kilometres away.

The tree’s survival is even more inexplicable when one sees how it has been treated. Names and scribbled dates of visits are there on every branch. To add insult to injury, you are told that the tree was used as an observation post in the past!

Local authorities should preserve this unusual tree from the onslaughts of human beings and animals! And let there be signs and marked tracks so that visitors can reach it easily.

The Quran House (Beit-Al-Quram) is built according to Arab architectural principles and serves as a repository for ancient manuscripts, books and artefacts connected to the Holy Quran. The Quran House is a tribute to the lifelong effort of Dr Abdul Latif Jassim Kanoo, who heads the Bahraini Housing Ministry.

In pursuit of his dream of having a centre for Islamic history in Bahrain, he roped in wealthy donors and philanthropists and also organised lotteries. In addition, he gave his own personal collection of documents and artefacts which was worth a fortune to the centre.

The documents on view have been gathered from all parts of the Islamic world and reflect the history of Islam. Among the items stored there are three rare and complete Quarans from Islamic Spain and the first printed Arabic Quran from Hamburg, which dates back to 1694. One of the rare exhibits here is the single grain of rice which has been decorated with excerpts from the holy book.

Two exceptional and rare holy Quranic manuscripts in the form of a circle and octagon, respectively (the first 6 cm and the second 4.3 cm in diameter), steal the show. As you enter the main hall, a pair of celestial globes from Mughal India greets you. Amongst the 65 Qurans on display, nine are from Islamic India (16th-18th century).

Inside the domed central courtyard, with its Italian marble floor and wooden "mashrabiah" windows, hangs an embroidered cloth which once covered the Holy Ka’aba in Mecca.

Though Islam is the state religion and 85 per cent of Bahrainis practise it, there is complete freedom of religion and worship for others.

There are churches all over the island. Christian marriages and worship in churches are a common sight — a clear proof that other religions definitely have freedom. There are hardly any restrictions placed on the followers of other religions. Places of worship exist for Hindus, Buddhists, Parsees, Jews and even Bahais.

There is no nook or corner in Bahrain where you don’t find an Indian at any time of the day. ‘Saree’, salwar’ ‘lungi’, ‘skirt’ or ‘jeans’ or any other Indian wear is commonly seen all over.

Out of a total population of 5.5 lakh, Indians alone number 1.20 lakh — the majority being from Kerala. Bahrainis jokingly admit that their country is a mini-India (humour goes further to call it mini-Kerala as 10 out of the 34 clubs belong to Keralites). The older Indians of Bahrain speak Hindustani and some of them even know South Indian languages. The Indians in general come from all strata of society and provinces of India. Housemaids and labourers form a majority. Even though there are many prominent professionals like doctors, engineers, managers and bankers, the majority is the labour force — the ‘unsung heroes’ who toil and sweat and contribute millions of dollars annually to their nation’s exchequer. Indians have not felt any special ‘clamps’ although there are problems of a general nature.

Home Image Map
| Interview | Bollywood Bhelpuri | Living Space | Nature | Garden Life | Fitness |
Travel | Modern Classics | Your Option | Time off | A Soldier's Diary |
Wide Angle | Caption Contest |