Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hot-air Ballooning in Jaipur

Have you been hot air ballooning in Jaipur? That's the gorgeous Amer Fort underneath, and the Aravallis behind the Fort. What a great view. You can book tickets for the balloon ride here:

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi

Manikarnika Ghat, where cremations take place. This is the "Maha-Smashaaana", the Great Cremation Ground.
 Here is an older photo from 1922; there is encroachment in the area since then with modern-style buildings.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Karnataka's Bellada Acchu

Sweets play an important part in Indian life, and Karnataka is no exception. Many of our sweets are used in religious ceremonies as well.
"Bellada Acchu" is one such sweet. It’s basically made up of jaggery, moulded into squarish shapes. The jaggery is made from sugarcane, which is a major crop in Karnataka. Around 30 million tonnes of sugarcane is produced annually. In Karnataka sugarcane is planted and harvested in three different seasons. In addition, after harvest, generally a "ratoon" crop is cultivated from the regrowth.

Traditionally, the Mandya district is described as the sugar bowl of Karnataka, but in recent years, Belgaum and Bagalkot districts have become leaders in terms of sugar factories.

This particular batch was clicked in Jayanagar 4th block market. It's one of the local shopping hubs where everything from vegetables, house-hold items to other knick-knacks, are available.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Munshi Ghat and Darbhanga Ghat, Varanasi

Munshi Ghat is named after Sridhara Narayana Munshi, a finance minister in the estate of Nagpur, who built this ghat and part of the palatial building.

In 1915 the Brahmin king of Darbhanga (Bihar) purchased this ghat and developed/extended it further, giving it the name Darbhanga Ghat.

The Darbhanga Palace is one of the more impressive buildings on the waterfront, but mired in controversy over its redevelopment by the Clarks Hotel group.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sparrows in K R Market, Bangalore

When I went to K R Market, I saw a sparrow visiting a heap of peas.
There were many chirps and when I looked around, I found many more sparrows nearby.

I wondered why there were so many sparrows and then I saw that the vegetable vendors have placed old cardboard boxes with hay to provide nesting for the birds.
Life is strange. Sometimes it is cruel, but sometimes you find kindness when you least expect it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

'Rafu' work in Varanasi

This is "rafu", fine darning work on a new sari. He is mending a tear or possibly adding an extra panel. It is a skilled job, because the sari will be worthless if the darning is obvious. So he is using the same colour thread and lots of patience!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Krishnanattam, Cochin

Krishnanattam - a temple dance form - covers the story of Krishna in eight parts. The first part is his entry to earth as an avatar of Vishnu, while the last covers his ascension to heaven. The intervening parts describe the world-changing events that his heroics wrought. 

His righteous defeat of the corrupt and his love of dance and music – sounds like the perfect man, tough yet tender, all-knowing yet silent, serious yet fun-loving.

That should explain the reason for a dance form dedicated to him.

The costumes are elaborate, with face paint in green or orange and for some roles, black. The elaborate head dress (called kiriitam) and masks denote characters based on their importance.

The performance is conducted over nine nights at the Guravayoor temple site with a huge lamp in the foreground. On the eighth night, Krishna's death is shown and the ninth night, his rebirth. After all, the story can't end with his dying can it?

This rare art which formed the basis for the more popular, Kathakali, continues to thrive in the region only due to the support of the temple trust.

Photo credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Krishnanattam_2.jpg

Leather-work Artisans in a village near Ajmer

For well over 300 years leatherwork has been the primary occupation of a particular group of artisans in Rajasthan, India. This group is adept in the preparation and tanning of hides and few could match their skill in the making of saddles, harness or tackle. In the past they were sought after to furnish the leather armour for the cavalry. Historically, they have also produced containers for gathering and storing water. They also make shoes (juti) and the ornamented neck belts and face decoration of herd animals.

Modern India has little need for these items however, and the traditional skills of these artisans are vanishing. In 1976, as an initiative of Ravi J Mathai of IIM Ahmedabad, and the National Institute for Design, a leatherwork co-operative was formed in Jawaja. Jawaja had two goals: eliminate toxic or ineffective stages in production and design a new line for the contemporary market based on traditional strengths and skills. Now these products are exported widely.

Jawaja is in the Ajmer district, about 3.5hrs drive from Jaipur, on the way to Jodhpur. The cooperative through which the leather production is managed is called the Jawaja Leather Association.

Photo credit: http://www.jawajaleather.com/about-jla/about-us.html

Friday, October 18, 2013

Banglore's Seshadari Iyer Memorial Hall

This is the Seshadri Iyer Memorial Hall. Its foundation stone was laid in 1903 by the British Resident of Mysore, Donald Robertson. Notice the classic European style; supported by Tuscan columns, and porticoes.
Since 1915 it has been a library, and in 1966 it became the State Central Library. There are 265,000 books in the library.

Another view of the Hall; from the back
The hall is named after Sir K. Seshadari Iyer, who was the Diwan of the State of Mysore from 1883 to 1902. He is credited with numerous initiatives like the electrification of KGF and Bangalore from the Shivanasamudra Hydro-Electric power project (first in Asia), critical measures taken to save plague-afflicted Bangalore (in 1898) and starting off Victoria Hospital in 1900. 

Seshadri Iyer came from a family of lawyers (both his father and his brother were vakils in Calicut). Strangely, Seshadri Iyer did not attend school until the age of 11. Maybe to make up for lost time, he went to mutiple schools at Calicut, Cochin and Trivandrum, passing his exams with distinction. He enrolled in Presidency College Madras, and obtained a Bachelor of Law degree from Madras University.

He joined the Mysore kingdom's administrative service in 1868, and rose quickly through various appointments, to become the dewan in 1883. He administered Mysore for a span of eighteen years. He focused on building infrastructure for transport, irrigation and mining. It was Seshadri Iyer who developed the residential extensions of Malleswaram and Basavanagudi in Bangalore. He constructed the famous Glass House at Lalbagh and set up the Victoria Hospital in 1900. He drew up plans to establish what is now called the Indian Institute of Science (although he did not live to see this plan fructify).

When he died in 1901, Lord Curzon, the viceroy and governor-general, supported the move to build a memorial to him (The Seshadri Iyer Memoria Hall at Cubbon Park). There is also a statue of Seshadri Iyer in the garden.

The marble carvers (murtikars) of Jaipur

In the mid-1700's, Sawai Jaisingh II invited artisans and sculptors to settle in the newly planned city of Jaipur. You can still see them at work.

The photo below is of a murtikaar's assistant cleaning marble in the walled city. In the bottom left corner of the photo you can see "geru", that is powdered red stone, mixed with water. This is used by the assistant to highlight or mark areas of the sculpture which need more finishing or more detailed work.

The murtikars and their descendants continue to work the traditional way, and as their fame has grown, demand for their sculptures comes from all over India. Many sculptures for temples outside India also are made in Jaipur.

The themes are usually statues of gods and goddesses, such as the ones you see in this photo. But they also often make busts of political leaders, educators, etc, based on custom commissions.

Originally the murtikaars were Brahmins; but many other communities have joined this profession.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Chaat in Varanasi

Tamatar Chaat at Kashi Chaat Bhandar 

Photo credit: http://beingdesh.com/2012/09/episode-i-what-to-eat-in-varanasi/

Monday, August 19, 2013

Doddapatre Tambuli Chutney

This is a traditional chutney made from the leaves of Plectranthus amboinicus, often called ‘Indian Oregano’. The leaves have many traditional medicinal uses, and have been used for treatment of everything from malarial fever to epilepsy. In many Indian households it is commonly used to treat cough and colds.

I have a small potted plant in which I grew these leaves; they are very aromatic.

For the Doddapatre Tambuli Chutney, the leaves have to be roasted until they wilt completely, otherwise they irritate the mouth. In the bottom left photo you can see the wilted leaves mixed with coconut and green chillies.

There's a traditional recipe here, which you can follow: http://www.manethindi.com/2011/03/doddapatre-tambuli-chutney.html

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hilltop View of Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad

View of section of Ajanta caves from hilltop opposite. The caves are cut into the rock-face. The river Waghora, not seen in this photo, flows down below. Originally, each cave had steps cut into the rocks, going down to the river below, so the monks could get water and also enter/exit the caves.

When they started excavating these caves, they threw grappling hooks into the stones above and suspended themselves, chiseling away with just basic tools into the hard black mountain.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Padmapani Avalokiteswara, Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad

The most famous painting from Cave 1, Padmapani Avalokiteswara, the Boddhisattva of Compassion. The mural tradition of Ajanta, spanning a whole millennium lasting up to the 8th century, occupies the walls of 27 caves.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Nagapushpam in Mylapore, Chennai

Nagpushpam/ Nagapoo / Nagalingapoo (literally, snake flower, from the Cannonball Tree) is said to be the favourite flower of Lord Shiva. It gets its name because the flower has a hood, resembling a snake (naga). Because it is often offered to Lord Shiva in prayer, it is also known as Shivalinga poo.

This particular bunch of flowers was photographed in the bazaar at Mylapore in Chennai. Mylapore has always been the religious and cultural epicenter of the people of Chennai.

Mylapore was once a great port, with a great shore temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. When the Portuguese arrived in the mid 16th century, they destroyed the temple, and pushed Myapore inshore, where it still stands today. The temple to Lord Shiva was rebuilt 300 years ago and is today known as the Kapileeswara temple. Naturally, the flowers are quite popular in this market.

Funnily enough, the tree is not native to India; it originates from South America. It is not clear when the tree arrived in India, but it is widely cultivated, especially near Shiva temples, both in north and south India. I am told that even for worship, the flowers are picked from the ground; instead of being plucked from the tree. That is unusual in India. 

There are some blogposts about the Buddha actually dying under the cannonball tree; but those writers seem to have mixed up this tree with the sal tree or shala tree, shorea robusta. The Buddha reached a grove of sal trees in Kushinagara, and asked to be laid down there, between two trees; and that's where he died.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Stacked ghevar, Jaipur

You can see stacks of the popular Rajasthani sweet, Ghevar at Jaipur's popular sweet mart, LMB.

It is a disk-shaped sweet, normally prepared from oil, flour and sugar syrup. Sometimes eaten plain, and sometimes it is topped with malai (cream) or mawa (dried full-fat milk). You can also eat it with milk, or the milk based sweet, kheer.

Ghevar is traditionally associated with the festival of Teej, where women pray for the well-being of their husbands, and raksha bandhan, that celebrates the bond of between a sister and brother.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Crafts of Rajasthan - Kundan and Meenakari

In 1735, the Surana family of jewellers came from Delhi to Jaipur, at the invitation of Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II. They remain one of Jaipur's most renowned jewellers, offering both traditional and modern styles of jewellery. Today they are the 7th generation of jewellers!
A typical combination of meenakari (enamelling) and jadai/ kundan (embedding) work.
What you see above is a restored, traditional piece, called 'Aad' (neck choker). It would require inputs of 5 skilled specialists:
- the designer (chitera)
- the goldsmith (sunar)
- the engraver and enameller (meenakar)
- the gemsetter (jadiya)
- the stringer (patua)

Often, opposite sides of a piece of jewellery will be decorated with Meenakari work and Kundan work respectively. The ornament then can be worn either way.

The art of "kundan" or "jadai", i.e. the art of embedding, was introduced into India by the Mughals. Gold foil is used as the base, and precious stones (diamonds, rubies, emeralds etc) are embedded into it. The glittering effect is fabulous, because the foil enables more light to reflect off and through the stone. Try wearing kundan and standing near candle-light or any kind of lights. It looks brilliant.

Meenakari (enamelling) is the art of decorating a metal surface by fusing colourful mineral substances to it. The technique also came to India from Persia during Mughal times. The salai (pattern) is engraved/carved onto the gold object with a steel stylus, creating walls or grooves that will hold colour. The meenakar then fills colourful enamel powder into the grooves - cobalt oxide for blue, copper oxide for green, etc. They apply each colour seprately and melt the powder in the heat of a furnace, so that it becomes liquid and spreads evenly in the groove.The heat-resistant white is applied first, and red is applied last. Finally, the object is cleaned in a tamarind solution and polished.

In the 16th century, Raja Man Singh of Amber invited master enamellers from the Mughal palace at Lahore to Jaipur. Today Jaipur is the center of Meenakari production. Flower, foliage and animals are the most popular motifs, and traditional Mughal colours like red, green and white are dominant in Jaipur's meenakari work. Meenakari work though is not limited to jewellery. You will find it being used in everything from palace decoration to regular shoe-pieces. These beautiful meenakari elephants are a great option to take home.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The famous blue pottery of Jaipur

Look at these colours! This is Jaipur's famous blue pottery, which came to India from Persia, via Kashmir, in the 14th century. The Mughals also began using them; primarily in the form of tiles to embellish monuments. Through the Mughal influence, it travelled to Jaipur. The rulers of Jaipur were partial to blue-glazed ware. Blue tiles were used in the building of the city of Jaipur, but they disappeared soon after. 

 In the 1960's, Kripal Singh Shekhawat of Jaipur revived the art of blue pottery which had become dead. Kripal Singhji, a trained artist, researched and brought back the methods of creating blue glaze. He created innovative designs and also came up with new shades of green, yellow, brown, black etc. For his tremendous contribution to blue pottery, he was conferred the “Padma Shri” in 1974 and was also honoured with the title “Shilp Guru” by the Government of India in 2002. His family continues the tradition at Kripal Kumbh, and you can purchase pottery from them if you visit Jaipur.

The photo below was taken in a workshop in Sanganer, a crafts village near Jaipur. Sanganer famous for its paper factory, block printing workshops and for some pottery workshops.