Saturday, December 1, 2012

New Jaggery, Old-time Sweets, Kolkata

Since winter is here, let's talk about nolen gur  The subtle fragrance and taste of nolen gur — or new jaggery — is unlike any ingredient used in traditional Bengali sweets. And if the winter is as cold as it should be, the richness of the date palm juice and the consistency of the gur produced from it increases. My favourite blogger Sayantani has a wonderful article here about winter sweets made with nolen gur. Her photos, like the one here, are gorgeous as usual. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Of Weddings, Fish and Turmeric, Kolkata

Turmeric is not only auspicious, it also has healing properties. In the gaye holud ceremony, the bride and groom are bathed in turmeric and gifts are exchanged. Among the gifts given to the bride is fish dressed up as a couple.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Glory of Modhera and Patan

-By Deepa Krishnan

These are images from a long day trip to two major cultural centres, Modhera and Patan. 
Modhera is about 2.5hrs northwest from Ahmedabad. It is famous for its spectacular Sun Temple, built in the early 11th century by the Solanki dynasty. Solanki rule is said to be the golden period of Gujarati architecture. 
Patan is much older than Modhera, having been founded in 746 AD. It is one of the largest structures of it's kind, majestic with statues of gods and apsaras adorning its pillars. 
The spectacular Rani ni Vav stepwell is entirely an underground structure, with seven storeys, each carved with amazing sculptures. 

(Photos courtesy Vandita Pant and Gujarat Tourism)

If you'd like to check out more pictures of this excursion, check out our Facebook page at the link below:

Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary

By- Deepa Krishnan

The Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary is 1.5hrs drive west of Ahmedabad. Spread over 120 sq.kms, it is the largest wetland bird sanctuary in Gujarat.
The huge lake and the extensive reed beds and marshes support rich aquatic life and plants, and thus provide the perfect habitat for birds. Over 225 species of birds have been spotted here, of which 140 are water birds.
The best time to visit Nal Sarovar is in winter when migrant birds appear from various parts of the world. Thousands of migratory waterfowl flock to the shallow areas of the lake and the ponds on the outer fringes of the lake. Birding is usually done on foot as well as by small hand-punted boats.
Popular waterbirds include flamingoes, cranes, ducks, gulls, terns, kingfishers, shovellers, cormorants, egrets, herons, ibis, etc. Apart from waterbirds, you can also see birds of prey, bee-eaters, rollers, doves, lapwings, coucals, parakeets, fly catchers, starlings, mynahs, bulbuls, sunbirds, wagtails etc.

Photos courtesy Gujarat Tourism

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fort St. George in Chennai

The ‘white-town’ of Chennai, like the white town of  Mumbai and Kolkata, was the part of the city where Europeans lived and worked. These parts of the city were often better planned and cleaner than the ‘native-town’.

Officially known as Fort St. George, this white-town was the first English fortress in India, founded in 1644. The city of Chennai grew around this fort. Today it is the administrative headquarters for the legislative assembly of Tamil Nadu state.

The first building to be seen on entering the Fort through the sea Gate is the Neo-Classical Secretariat, which is today the seat of the Government of Tamil Nadu. Behind it lies the Legislative Council Chambers. With their handsome Classical lines and facades embelished with gleaming black pillars, these impressive buildings, built between 1694 and 1732, are said to be among the oldest surviving British Constructions in India.

Photo source: Wikipedia

The Red Palace

Lal Mahal, the Red Palace is where the Maratha hero Shivaji grew up. The original Lal Mahal fell into ruins and the current Lal Mahal is a reconstruction of the original (although it's architectural veracity is not established because very little is known about the original Lal Mahal).
This place has many stories associated with it, mainly the story of Shaista Khan, whose fingers were cut-off by Shivaji. Shaista Khan was a Subhadar of the Mughal army, who occupied Lal Mahal, and Shivaji made a daring guerrilla raid to recapture his childhood home. Shaista Khan escaped by jumping through a window / balcony, but lost four fingers in the process.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Yakshagana performer, seen in Chennai

What you see below is a Yakshagana performer in costume. 
Yakshagana is a theater form that combines dance, music, dialogue, costume, make-up, and stage techniques with a unique style and form. The art form is popularly performed in the Malnad district of Karnataka. This performer was in Chennai, perhaps at the invitation of the people at Dakshina Chitra. 

Traditionally Yakshagana is performed at night, from dusk to dawn. Its speciality lies in the fact that the music is considered to pre-date classical "Karnataka Sangeeta". In recent times however, there has been a growing voice of complaints against the 'distortion' of the Yakshagana traditions. Some people disapprove of the imitation of popular-cinema dances, playing new percussion instruments, the display of commercial banners on the stage, and the colloquial language that is sometimes used.

As always, the question is - should the art forms change, to appeal to new audiences, or should they stick to the traditional format? Should we think of this as the evolution of the art form, or death of tradition? 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Archaeological Museum, Varanasi

Archaeological Museum at Sarnath - an absolute must-see place with Ashoka's Lion Pillar as well as several other findings from the site. This is the very first ASI museum in India.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Skanda, The Warrior God, Thanjavur Brihadeeswara Temple

This sculpture shows the warrior god Skanda in a temple carving at the Brihadeeswara temple in Thanjavur. Here he is shown riding his mount, the peacock, with his two wives flanking him. In other common representations he often has six heads, and holds spears or bow and arrows. He is also called Kartikeya, Subrahmanya and Murugan in south India.
Skanda in the centre, with his wives Valli and Deivayanai

In south India Skanda is also known as Murugan. However, it is conjectured that Murugan was originally a separate Dravidian god who has been later assimilated into Shaivaite mainstream. Murugan is a chief deity of the ancient Tamils of South India. Murugan is not only a very popular god among South-Indians, but is also reverred by Sri Lankan Hindus and Buddhists.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Taj Mahal at dawn

A popular myth is that Shah Jahan had planned on building an identical monument in black marble on the opposite bank of the Yamuna. Before he could do so, he was deposed by his son, Aurangzeb. Wouldn't that have contrasted particularly well with this luminescent Taj at dawn? In this photo you can see the early morning soft light as it touches the cool marble.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wood carving and painting, Varanasi

These oklhis are for placing in weddings. Deepa bought three of them for our Mumbai office.

A lot of decorative and religious stuff, necessary elements of weddings. Deepa had half a mind to sit down there and ask questions about every one of these things!

Arati, Varanasi

Arati at Dashashwamedh Ghat

Evening Arati organised by the Annapurna Temple.

If you hire a boat at this time, you can float diyas on the water.

Varanasi through Deepa's eyes

Dawn on the River Ganges. Truly sublime. 

Walk through the lanes of the old city.


The Association of Barbers in Varanasi.

Sculptures, Varanasi Market

Sculptures for sale in the market - the murtikars all associate themselves with Jaipur, which is a big centre for making these things. There are probably trading and family ties to Jaipur.

Monday, July 2, 2012

San Thome Basilica in Chennai

The Santhome church in Chennai.

The word Santhome or San Thome is derived from Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. South Indian Christian belief is that the apostle came to India in A.D.52, was martyred in A.D.72 at St.Thomas Mount in the City and was interred in Mylapore. A church was built over his tomb and this is known as the San Thome Basilica.

It is believed that it was St. Thomas who first brought Christianity to India. Certainly south India saw the establishment of the religion long before the European traders after Vasco da Gama began their proselytising activities in the subcontinent. There are only three basilicas in the world that are built over the tomb of an apostle, the other two are St. Peter's in Rome and St. Jame's in Spain.

Here is a picture of Jesus, with two peacocks, in San Thome Basilica.
This kind of Indian Christian iconography is quite common, especially in south Indian states. Garlands and peacocks will adorn statues, and Mary may appear in a Sari.

Sri Ramar Pattabhishekam at Thanjavur

These carvings on the walls of the Brihadeswara Temple depict the coronation of Lord Rama, after 14 years of exile and a war with the demon-king Ravana. The event is known as Ramar Pattabhishekam in Tamil.

To Rama's right are his 3 brothers Lakshmana, Bharata and Shratughna. Two female (?) attendants with fly-whisks stand behind Rama.To Rama's left is Sita, in a green blouse. Behind Sita is Lakshmana's wife Urmila I think. The monkey and bear troops who assisted in the battle are in attendance on the right. Next to Sita is Hanuman (standing), the numero uno monkey. The troops to the left in attendance are also monkey and bear army, but led by Vibhishana? Not sure.

A (translation of the) description of the scene from Valmiki's version of the Ramayana describes the crown with which Rama was coronated:
"With which crown, long ago, Manu the emperor was adorned while he was consecrated and with which, the kings who followed in his line were successively adorned while they were coronated, that crown, studded with precious jewels, fashioned by Brahma at the beginning of creation and dazzling with splendour, being kept according to practice on a throne adorned with many kinds of precious stones in the council-hall, studded with gold, graced with abundant riches, decorated and shiningly made with most charming jewels of various kinds"

Brihadeeswara Temple layout, Thanjavur

Temple architecture in south-India is highly developed and diverse. However, the shastras (sanskrit for treatises, and scriptures) have articulated specific rules on temple architecture, and one will see these underlying similarities based on these rules.

Dravidian temple architecture usually has four parts:
  1. The principal part, the temple itself, is called the Vimanam. It is always square in plan and surmounted by a pyramidal roof of one or more stories; it contains the cell where the image of the god or his emblem is placed.
  2. The porches or Mantapams, which always cover and precede the door leading to the cell.
  3. Gate-pyramids, Gopurams, which are the principal features in the quadrangular enclosures that surround the more notable temples.
  4. Pillared halls or Chaultris—properly Chawadis -- used for various purposes, and which are the invariable accompaniments of these temples.

Besides these, a temple always contains tanks or wells for water (used for sacred purposes or the convenience of the priests), dwellings for all grades of the priesthood are attached to it, and other buildings for state or convenience.

In the Brihadiswara temple seen over here, the central Vimana (housing the sanctum) is taller than the entrance gopuram. This is seen in only four of the Chola dynasty temples. After experimenting with this, they reverted to the usual style of very tall entrance gopurams and only a smaller temple in the middle.
You can clearly see the Gopuram on the left, and the Vimana on the right in this temple layout.

In the foreground you have the Vimana.
In the foreground you can see the tall Vimana, and in the background you can see the smaller gopurams.

Entrance gopuram of Brihadeeswara Temple, Thanjavur

This is the entrance to the grand Brihadeeswara temple in Thanjavur. The temple is a part of the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

In the photo you can see the upper half of the Gopuram, a pyramidical structure which marks the gateway to the temple. Right on top, in the centre, is the face of the Kirtimukha, the demon who ate his own body (until only the face remained) at the command of Shiva and was blessed that he would always be placed at all Shiva temples. In this small section of the gopuram, you can see at least 14 Kirtimukhas.

As the story goes, Shiva, one of the main Hindu Gods, was confronted by a demon named Rahu. Rahu had been sent by the giant-king Jalandhara to abduct Shiva’s bride Parvati. When Shiva realized this, infamous his anger knows no bounds. His furrowed brow gave birth to a strange creature with glowing, bulbous eyes and the face of a lion. Shiva then ordered this creature to devour the demon Rahu. With nowhere to flee, Rahu himself bowed down before Shiva and began to beg for forgiveness. Shiva took pity on Rahu, and asked his lion-faced creature to desist. At this the ravenous creature protested, saying “But I am hungry! Now what am I supposed to do?”

Shiva then instructed the creature to eat its own limbs, which he did. The creature did not stop at his limbs, but kept eating his whole body, until only his face remained. At this point Shiva realizes that the creature was one of his greatest creations, and thus named him Kirtimukha where ‘mukh’ means face and ‘kirti’ means glory. Shiva apparently promised him that he would find a place in every one of Shiva’s temples, thus living up to its given name. 

Despite regional variation in other features, the Kirtimukha always has bulbous eyes.

The Kirtimukha is often considered symbolic of the destructive powers of Shiva Mahabhairav ( An avatar of Shiva that is known as the destroyer of demons.) Shiva’s power is often considered to be the source of destruction but it is this destruction which brings about the cycle of birth and regeneration. In Buddhism, Kirtimukha has been appropriated as a symbol of impermanence.

The glory of the Kirtimukha has indeed spread wide and far- it is visible in temples all over south-east Asia, including India, Cambodia and Thailand.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Amer Fort, Jaipur

Cara, Rosh and Judith in Jaipur. In this photo you can see the restoration work at the palace of mirrors in Amer.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mangeshi Temple, Goa

The beautiful Mangeshi Temple is in the Ponda area of Goa, about an hour's drive south-east of Panjim. 

Originally, the deity (a form of Shiva) was installed in a temple at Salcette. When the Portuguese began their depredations and conversions in 1543, the idol was brought to its current site for safety. It was installed at its present site in 1560. Although the Ponda area also fell to the Portuguese in the 1700's the temple stayed unharmed because the Portuguese had become less fanatic by this time.

The temple is primarily associated with the Saraswat Brahmin community of Goa.

Update as on Apr 4, 2014: There is a dress code in place, applicable to both locals and overseas visitors. The basic requirement is that you dress modestly / respectably, and avoid shorts, swimwear, etc. Please note, the Wikipedia entry for this temple is wrong. It says foreign visitors are not allowed, but this is not the case. You are only required to dress and behave appropriately.