Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Portrait of a musician from the Mir tribe, Gujarat

On our Ahmedabad Crafts Tour, we photographed this performer from the nomadic Mir tribe. Look at the wonderful colours on the stringed instrument in this portrait! I have never seen a musical instrument decorated like this. Have you?
Here is a closer look. Look at how the singer has personalised the instrument. The sense of colour and drama is incredible. The text on the left says Jai Khodiyar Maa, invoking the folk goddess Khodiyar, who is popular in Gujarat. There are interesting designs stencilled on the instrument; and even little Chinese or Japanese stickers have been used. I learnt that the word he uses for the instrument is "santaar". I had not heard this word before. Taar means string. I assume santaar means 4-string. Probably this is a variant of the taanpura?
The overall effect is amazing. See the photo below, with his family also nearby. I find so much beauty in this colourful chaos.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Shundorbon (Sundarban) - the Beautiful Forests of Bengal

- by Deepa Krishnan

The Shundorbon (Sundarban) is the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world. Shundorbon means 'Beautiful Forest'. It is easily accessible from Calcutta.

A halophyte is a plant that grows in waters of high salinity, coming into contact with saline water through its roots or by salt spray.
"Shundorbon" is made of two Bengali words: Shundor (beautiful) and Bon (forest). The name comes from the beautiful Shundari tree which makes up more than 70% of the forest.
The Shundorbon extends over Bangladesh and India, covering approximately 10,000 square kilometres. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

India has 3% of the world’s mangroves, of which the Sundarbans comprise almost half of the total area. Apart from the Sundarbans, the other large belts of mangroves are in the Andaman-Nicobar Islands and the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat.

The Sundarban National Park is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger. It is also home to a wide variety of birds, reptiles and invertebrates, including the salt-water crocodile.

Photo credits:
First photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundarbans#/media/File:Boat,_trees_and_water_in_Sundarbans.jpg
The Sundari tree: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritiera_fomes#/media/File:Sundarbans_02.jpg
Map of Shundorbon: Public domain

Friday, October 30, 2015

Araiyar Sevai: Sacred Recitals of the Vaishnavite Faith

Credit: Bharathwaj Thirumalai Ananthanpillai
Although it is 1200 years old, not many people know about Araiyar Sevai, a sacred art form of Tamil Nadu.

Araiyar Sevai is centered on the ritual singing and dance-enactment of the hymns of the Naalayiram Divya Prabandham (The 4000 Sacred Verses).

These verses were composed by the 12 Alvars (Poet-Saints) in praise of Vishnu, and were compiled in their present form by Nathamuni during the 9th–10th centuries. These hymns are still sung extensively today. However the enactment / performance of these hymns by the Araiyars is now increasingly rare.

Araiyar Sevai is usually performed in the presence of the temple utsavamoorty, i.e., the temple's processional deity.

Although temple inscriptions suggest its performance was once widespread, it is today only performed in a few temples in Tamil Nadu. These include the main temple at Srirangam, the Azhagiya Manavala Perumal and Alwar Tirunagari Temples near Trichy, and the temple of Andal at Srivilliputhur.

The performers are known as the Araiyar, and like all such traditions in India, it is a group of hereditary performers, who train from childhood to become proficient in the art. The photo below is from Srirangam:

Credit: http://jaghamani.blogspot.com/2014/11/blog-post_19.html
An araiyar sevai begins with a ritual summons, where the officiating priest calls upon the araiyar to come before the deity. The araiyar replies with a formulaic response and puts on the araiyar kullai (a conical hat) as he approaches. He then sounds a few strokes on the cymbals and begins the performance.

Each verse is performed in three steps. In the first, the araiyar sings the verse. In the second, he dances a few steps which, through a system of ritualised gestures, give expression to the literal meaning of the verse. In the third step, he explains the inner meaning of the verse, as explained in Tampirāṉ paṭi, a traditional commentary on the Divya Prabandham.

In this video you can see a performance: see the high musical quality of the story-recital:

Here is another performance, this one is quite different and I enjoyed watching the slow progress of the dance steps. The mudras and the footwork definitely have similarities with the other classical dance forms of South India, thus establishing their roots in the Natya Shastra.
In this video, you can see how a program begins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zl_9LTxQxkM 

In this video, I was happy to see a young Araiyar, although there is not much happening in the video by way of music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2cPtXHTvtk

The tradition is dying. Why? Because, frankly, we don't reward any of our performing arts. There is no patronage system that will entice a young man to adopt the way of life of his ancestors. We neither know about these arts, nor do we actively encourage them.

Here is the story of 83-year old Araiyar Srinivasa Rangachariyar, which I found on a blog. He has been peforming since the age of 13. I was delighted to see his grandson being trained. But there is simply not enough income! And yet the responsibility of keeping the art alive is on the shoulders of this young man. How will he manage?
Blog by Prabhu S: http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2010/12/araiyar-sevai-saving-rare-art.html

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Odhani dyeing, Jodhpur

Pink and orange are definitely the colours of Rajasthan. In Jodhpur I went to see this community of dyers. They were working with odhanis (scarves / dupattas) that day, laying them neatly in rows for drying.
The colours used to be natural once upon a time, of course. But these days the colours are synthetic, and sustained exposure can harm your skin. The women wear arm-gloves while handling the wet cloth, but their fingers are exposed to the dye. Some of them veil their faces, not from modesty, but to protect it from the harsh Rajasthani sun. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Jnana Pravaha, Varanasi

Baluchari Saree from Jnana Pravaha collection
For those interested in the preservation and documentation of India's great textile legacy, Jnana Pravaha in Varanasi is a good resource.

Jnana Pravaha was founded in 1997 by Bimla Poddar and Suresh Neotia.

Bimla Poddar was born in Varanasi and grew up there, so this institute was set up on the outskirts of the city. She is married into the Ambuja Cements family (this family surname is originally Neotia, there were 3 brothers, one of whom was adopted by his maternal grandfather Poddar). 

The Jnana Pravaha director R C Sharma used to be Director General / Vice Chancellor of the National Museum in Delhi. I don't know who is the person after his death. But Bimla Poddar is active in it. 

Their textile collection has some specialities: Phulkaris, many things from Bengal - excellent Balucharis, and Bengal textile folk art (really good stuff), then they also have a really good set of old Kashmiri shawl examples.

Here is a beautiful old Phulkari from their collection:
Please read about them: http://www.jnanapravaha.org/index.php They are doing a lot more than just textiles. It has a handicraft atelier, as well as a museum. It's very impressive. They organise a lot of lectures, music performances, etc. There is a Mumbai chapter which is also very active.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Granth Sahib - The Scripture for a Universal Religion

- by Aishwarya Javaglekar

The sacred book of Sikhism, known as the Guru Granth Sahib, is venerated by all Sikhs as the highest embodiment of Sikh philosophy and way of life.

At the Golden Temple in Amritsar, every evening, the Granth Sahib is carried in a procession. It is taken from its usual golden shrine (the Harmandir Sahib) to a room upstairs (Akal Takht), to rest for the night. The book is brought back early next morning.
Palkhi Sahib (procession)
The Guru Granth Sahib is a magnificent collection of religious and mystical poetry by thirty-six composers written in twenty-two languages. It incorporates the compositions of Hindu devotees, Muslim, divines and Sufi poets along with the ten Sikh gurus.
The Guru Granth Sahib - the scripture for a universal religion! (Photo credits: www.sikhanswers.com)
The sacred verses in the Granth Sahib are called Gurbani, meaning Guru’s word. Here, guru doesn't mean a particular person. It means the wisdom of the world. Thus, the Granth Sahib isn't meant to be the word of a person. It is the wisdom of the world compiled into a single book. It includes the preachings of all religions, and is regarded as a complete, sacrosanct message from God.
Painting of Guru Arjun Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru, dictating the text of Granth Sahib. He first compiled the book in 1604. It was completed by Guru Gobind Singh in 1705. (Photo credits: www.vismaadnaad.org)
In his final address to the Sikhs in 1708, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru, said:
“Those who desire to behold the Guru should obey the Granth Sahib. Its contents are the visible body of the Guru."

Friday, August 14, 2015

Nachiyar Amman shrine in Chennai

I photographed this gorgeous idol of the folk goddess Nachiamman or Nachiyar Amman on Badrian Street in Chennai. The idol was housed in a little shrine and the flower seller women were offering their prayers to her. 

Nachiamma is one of the benevolent forms of the goddess, said to bestow good health and prosperity on her worshippers. 

I was struck by the alangaaram of the idol (decoration). She is depicted with beautiful dark eyes, with a smiling countenance. Her forehead is smeared with three lines of ash, and the auspicious red kungumam is prominently placed in the middle. Her nose-rings and round heavy olai (ear-rings) speak clearly of her folk origins.

Even though she is benevolent, her power is clearly visible in the sword, axe and trident which she holds. A halo of flames is around her head.  She is dressed in a golden silk saree, with a green border. The flower-sellers in the market have adorned her with fresh garlands.

Below this relatively new idol, there is an old black granite idol - possibly the original one that was established in this shrine. Offerings of flowers, coconuts, neem leaves and lemons have been made as per the usual practice in such goddess temples. In front of the idol is an image of the lion / tiger, which is the mount of the goddess.

I photographed this elderly flower seller as she came out of the temple after offering prayers. To me, she looked like the goddess herself, come to life.

- Photos and text by Deepa Krishnan

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Painted Havelis of Shekhawati (1)

Every once in a while, exotic cliches come alive. Peacock posing against faded wall, in the village of Mandawa.
Photo credit: Gaurav Jain, Delhi Magic
Some of India's most wealthy Marwari business families have their havelis in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. Birla, Piramal, Dalmia, Goenka etc are known to all Indians. Today many of the havelis lie abandoned, making for a surreal walk through what must be the country's largest open-air art gallery.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Evening in the Blue City, Jodhpur

A quiet turning in the lanes of Brahmpuri. Sunset hour. Magical.
Photo credit: Deepa Krishnan

Monday, July 27, 2015

Puffed rice seller, Bangalore

- By Deepa Krishnan

Spicy puffed rice is one of the delights of Bangalore. I was starving at the end of our Vidhana Soudha Walk yesterday, but had no time for a meal. I thought this was the perfect snack to tide me over.
The puffed rice (puri) is spicy. It is called churumuri puri or khara kadele puri. It is sold in paper cones at Rs 10 for a cone. The vendor uses the glowing coals to keep the rice crisp even in the soggy monsoon season. If it rains, he's got an emergency solution - a blue pastic wrap (see photo below).
I reckon he sells about 30-50 of these in a day, so his daily income is around Rs 300 to 500. After expenses (raw material, travel, food), I think he probably earns Rs 200 to Rs 300 a day. I don't think he works every day. Weather, illness, family responsibilities, festivals and other social requirements probably cut into his work time and impact his earning capacity. I would have liked to stop and ask about his family, and where they live, what they are doing, etc. But I was late for a flight, so I dashed off. 

The churmuri was delicious. In many parts of Karnataka it is also served along with other garnishes, like finely chopped tomatoes, onions, green mango, coriander etc.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Marapachi Bommai and Golu

I photographed this antique "marapachi" couple at the Kanchi Kudil museum in Kanchipuram. They were beautifully and simply decorated in traditional cotton weaves.
Marapachi dolls are part of the traditional doll collection of south Indian homes. In olden days they were part of a woman's dowry, given to her by her parents during the wedding, to continue the traditon of decorating and displaying them. Typically they are always found in twos, and they represent prosperity and abundance.

Marapachi dolls are displayed during the annual Golu/Navarathri festival (a 9-day festival that usually happens in Oct-Nov).  During this festival, women make attractive displays of dolls and figurines, arranged in a series of steps (Golu padi). The Golu padi is decorated prettily and women from the neighbourhood visit each other to see the golu arrangement. It is a time for socialising and meeting with friends, exchanging news, and singing songs.

Here is the stepped display that I photographed at the home of my dance guru, Dr. Jayashree Rajagopalan. At the bottom row there is a set of marapachi dolls.
No golu padi is considered ok unless it contains the auspicious marapachi bommai. In some houses, these are the very first dolls to be decorated and placed on the padi. It is a practice to put new clothes for the marapachi bommai each year. Here is the closer look at the bottom row, you can see 3 pairs of marapachi bommai in this photo.
Marapachi dolls are made of teak or rosewood and are not easy to buy these days. In fact it is quite difficult to get large-sized marapachi dolls with aesthetically designed features. I went looking for some in Mylapore but couldn't find them. I have heard that good ones are available in Tirupati. If I go there, I will surely look for some. Meanwhile if you know some place in Chennai or Bangalore where I can buy them, please let me know!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tapioca Chips- Junk food of Kerala

- Trisha George 

While most people know about Kerala's famous banana chips, not many have heard of its country cousin - tapioca chips. Tapioca, or 'kappa' (in Malayalam; pronounced 'cup-pa') is also called 'cassava'. The tapioca plant is popularly grown in the tropics for its edible, tuberous root. Tapioca chips are usually deep-fried and then seasoned with spicy red chilli powder.

Image taken from this video explaining how to make the chips: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5v16Kz5PlsM

Although the chips are rightly grouped as junk food, there are many healthy ways of eating tapioca. It's prepared as a vegetable on its own, cooked with rice, and with fish curry. Sometimes it forms the whole meal and sometimes an appetizer. It isn't uncommon to just eat boiled kappa plain either.

Kappa, with a chicken dish, and white 'patri', a thin and soft roti-like pancake made of rice
If the starchy tuber is too bland, one can dip it in any available gravy. For those of us, who don't have access to Mallu cooks and cooking skills, mass produced chips are the best way to get a taste of this vegetable. Once considered to be a poor man's meal, as a substitute for rice, its position has risen along with demand. However, production in Kerala is still dwindling. The state's high labour wage rate, combined with inevitable rodent attacks do not make this a profitable crop. Let's hope tourist interest comes as aid to the Tapioca plant!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Rumi Darwaza in Lucknow - the grandest gateway in India

- By Deepa Krishnan

What the Charminar is to Hyderabad, the Rumi Darwaza is to Lucknow - an iconic monument that immediately identifies the city. Rumi Darwaza, which translates to "Roman Door", is an arched gateway that was built in the 18th century as the entrance to Lucknow.
Front of the Rumi Darwaza (Photo taken from travelokam.com)
Why would a very un-Roman looking gate in Lucknow be called Rumi? Because of the Turkish connection, of course. 

Istanbul in Turkey became the capital of Roman Empire in 355 AD (it was called Constantinople then). The Romans built walls around Constantinople, punctuated with many impressive gates. The Roman Empire in Constantinople ended in 1453 when the Ottoman Turks conquered Istanbul. The Ottomans repaired the gates in Istanbul which were destroyed during the war, and built new gates as well. 

Perhaps the idea of a grand entry gate came to Lucknow because of the many Persianised Turks who settled in Lucknow. No one knows for sure. Locally, the Rumi Darwaza is also called the Turkish gate. So we presume there was definitely some Turkish influence.

The Encyclopedia Brittanica says that Rumi Darwaza has been modeled on a gate in Istanbul called Bab-i-Humayun. Frankly, I fail to see any resemblance between the two. Maybe it was just the idea of having a grand gate, which came from Istanbul. Here's what Bab-i-Humayun in Istanbul looks like. 
Bab-i-Humayun, Istanbul, photo credit: Panoramio

Before the Rumi Darwaza, there were many other Indian cities with entry gates. Delhi's Shahjahanabad had gates. Ahmedabad had gates. But no one had ever built such a magnificent gate as the Rumi Darwaza. Its architecture is a mix of Turkish, Mughal, and stuff that is purely Avadh in origin. 

Here is the other side of the Rumi Darwaza, which you see after you enter inside the city. I was there on a bright summer day, and clicked these beautiful photos:
Rumi Darwaza - after you enter the city
As the city has grown and expanded, Rumi Darwaza is now no longer the entrance to the city. It is instead, the beginning of a grand ceremonial road, flanked by the impressive Bada Imambada on one side. Here is the second photo I clicked:
Rumi Darwaza at the end of the driveway, with Imambara entrance on the left
Gorgeous isn't it?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Architecture of Lucknow - What is an Imambara?

- By Aishwarya Javalgekar

There are many famous mosques and tombs in India, known for their splendorous architecture and intricate carvings. But an Imambara is different from a mosque, and may not necessarily hold the Friday Prayer. It is also different from a mausoleum, though it might contain tombs. 

An Imambara is a congregation hall built for Shia ceremonies, especially those which take place in Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. Hussain Ibn Ali, the third Imam of Shia Muslims was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE. Shia Muslims gather in imambaras every year to mourn his death on the tenth day of Muharram. 

There are several majestic Imambaras in Lucknow, that embody the the city's royal history and rich heritage. Two of the most popular ones are Bada Imambara and Chota Imambara. The Shah Najaf and Sibtainabad Imambaras are also historically important.

Bada Imambara
One of the most popular sites in Lucknow, it is admired worldwide for its architectural design and grandeur. It was built by Nawab Asaf-ud Daulah, so it is also called Asifi Imambara. 
Bada Imambara (Picture Credits: Wikimedia Commons)
The entire structure is made of special Lakhanui bricks and lime plaster. No wood or metal has been used. The main hall of this complex is considered to be the largest vault chamber in the world. It is the largest hall in Asia without any external support from wood, iron or stone beams. The acoustics of the hall are such that one can even hear the strike of a matchstick across the length of the hall!

Chota Imambara
Also called Husainabad Imambara, it was built by Mohammad Ali Shah Bahadur, the Nawab of Awadh, between 1837 and 1842. This stately structure contains the tombs of the Nawab, his mother, and many other family members.  It is a blend of Indo-Islamic and Persian styles, and has a beautiful gilded dome. The walls are decorated with Arabic calligraphy. The Chota Imambara complex also has a shahi hamam (royal Turkish bath).
"Palace of lights" - Chota Imambara lit up during festivals (Picture Credits: 500px.com)

 To know more about the other two Imambaras, read Part II of this article. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Chariot Festival at Puri

- By Aishwarya Javalgekar

It is July now, and all eyes in Odisha are turned towards the Jagannath Temple, waiting for the grand procession of the Rath Yatra (Journey of Chariots).

Puri Rath Yatra (Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons)
Beginning on 18th July, three chariots will go on a procession from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple, where they will remain for seven days. The chariots will return to the Jagannath temple on 26th July, marking the end of the Rath Yatra.

The Jagannath Temple in Puri is an important pilgrimage destination for Hindus all over India. The temple's origins are mentioned in the ancient Puranas, and several religious gurus and sects have made Puri their home. It is believed that a journey to Puri will free a pilgrim from the cycle of rebirth, and lead him to salvation.  

Jagannath (meaning Lord of the Universe) is associated with Lord Krishna. The legend goes like this: When Krishna was accidentally killed by a hunter, some devotees found his body and stored the bones. Later, Lord Vishnu directed a king called Indrayumna to make a statue and place the bones inside it. Vishwakarma was asked to make the statue. He agreed on the condition that he be given complete privacy till the work was complete. But the king and queen grew impatient and visited the site while Vishwakarma was at work. This upset him, and he left the statues undone. Even today, Jagannath is depicted without hands and feet.

In Puri, Lord Jagannath is worshipped as a part of a triad, along with his brother Balbhadra and his sister Subhadra. 
(From left to right) Idols of Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannath (Picture taken from newindianexpress.com)
Three idols are taken in enormous chariots, built specially for this festival. The chariots are richly decorated, and are drawn by the devotees who join the yatra (journey or pilgrimage). This festival attracts a large number of people, both from India and abroad. There is music and chanting, creating a colourful and euphoric atmosphere.
The three chariots being drawn during Puri Rath Yatra, 2007 (Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons)
Once the ceremony is over, the chariots are broken down and converted into religious relics. New chariots are made from scratch and beautifully decorated every year.They are a reference to the Bhagvad Gita, a sacred text of the Hindus. The festival is steeped in symbolism and carries forth ancient rituals that have remained much unchanged for centuries.

This year, the Rath Yatra will be even more special. The three patron deities will be given a new physical form. This only happens once in 12 to 19 years! The new idols will be carved from the Neem (Margossa) tree and consecrated in the temple.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Make-up art for Kathakali,

- By Trisha George

Kathakali is an Indian classical dance form that originated in the 17th century, in what is today the southern state of Kerala. Kathakali is known for its unique costumes, well-defined gestures and of course - the elaborate make-up. Although it is paint that is applied, the effect is more mask-like!

The colour and type of the paint-job helps the audience identify characters. A green faced performer is likely to be pious, while a red faced performer is probably evil. Female characters (played by men) tend to have yellowish, comparatively realistic faces. 
A female character
The paints are traditionally made of locally available materials: rice from rice four, black from soot, and colours from various stones. Coconut oil is used as a base for mixing these colours.

Nowadays, some Kathakali performances are preceded by the application of make-up for the benefit of the modern viewer or tourist. A performer painstakingly applies colour on his face - a process that may take over an hour.
'Make-up' application in process
 It does add a whole new aspect to the performance!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Road trips in India

One of the best parts about road travel through India is catching glimpses of entertaining road signs. Both, governments and locals are (often unintentionally) entertaining. 
Not sure which advice to take- sound the horn or keep the distance? Best bet would be the latter.
Photos by Sigrid, who travelled through Kerala capturing such tidbits with her camera.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Jews of Kerala

Malabar Jews meet the king of Cranganore.

The year was 70 AD. Rome had attacked Palestine and rent the land asunder. Handfuls of the Jewish people fled in small boats with whatever little they could.

One of the boats landed on what was then called Shingly (now Cranganore or Kodungulloor), a trade center for spices, ivory and coconut along the Malabar coast.

The people on the boat disembarked with gifts forth for the king, who had arrived - all dressed in finery and shaded by a royal umbrella. He permitted the people on the boat to make Cranganore their home. Not only that, he granted them social standing in his kingdom.

The group made the new place their home and came to be called the Malabar Jews. 

Parts of Fort Kochi today have a visible Jewish heritage, from synagogues to 'Jewish Streets' to signs in Hebrew.

Jewish synagogue in Kochi
Years passed and once Israel was formed, many of them opted to return and their numbers in this country dwindled. 

It seems like a part of history - of a time when rulers were inclusive, visitors were grateful and peace reigned for a while.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Santa Cruz Basilica, heritage church in Fort Kochi

- By Trisha George

The Santa Cruz Basilica was among built by the Portuguese in 1505, and was eventually consecrated by Pope IV and raised to the status of a Cathedral.

Strangely enough when the Dutch army captured Cochin, they were instructed to destroy most religious structures. This has been rationalised as a strategic move: "to draw Cochin into a more narrow compass" and reduce the area and structures that would have to be manned by armed guards. Whether or not this is accurate, it is true that the soldiers followed their order to a T. Only two churches from the Portuguese period remain today and Santa Cruz Basilica is one of them.

The original structure was however, demolished and rebuilt by the British in the 19th century and that's what we can visit today! Only one decorative pillars from the original remains, but the rest of the church is unique enough to warrant heritage status.

Ceiling of the church

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The "Hoy" in Hoysala

- By Deepa Krishnan

Ever since I heard how the Hoysalas got their name, I keep saying their name differently in my head. Here, join me, try saying it the way I do. "Hoy! Sala" And put the emphasis on that Hoy! There you go. Hoy!

Those who have visited Belur will know that in Haley Kannada (the old form of the language), the word Hoy means Strike! That that is what Sala, the young man in the statue is doing, striking at the lion which threatened a Jain guru. 
It led to the naming of the Hoysala dynasty, which he founded. The dynasty ruled for 300 years, from 1026 to 1343 CE. The legend of Sala is immortalised in stone in Belur. This is the royal emblem of the Hoysala dynasty, and it is depicted in different artistic forms. Just see the photo above. Look at the variations the artists have come up with. Stunning. The lion, the weapon, the stance, the tail....simply outstanding. It is not for nothing that Hoysala architecture is considered among the world's masterpieces. Go on. Play the "spot the differences" game.

Hoy! Sala. Hoy!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Datun-wali (neem-twig seller) in Varanasi

- by Deepa Krishnan

Varanasi is a city which wakes up really early. Many people visit the temples at dawn. Naturally the city's vendors also begin early. I photographed this datun-wali at 6 am.
Neem seller with cutting implements
Datun is made of neem twigs. The twigs are harvested from trees, then cut into shape (she is using a wooden board and sickle, which you can see in the photo above). Then they are bundled and sold. Datun is the traditional method of cleaning teeth. Chewing on the end of the twig releases the medicinal properties of neem.

Azadirachta indica (neem) has a wide range of medicinal properties and is extensively used in Ayurveda, Unani and Homoeopathic medicine. More than 140 compounds have been isolated from different parts of neem. All parts of the neem tree- leaves, flowers, seeds, fruits, roots and bark have been used traditionally for the treatment of inflammation, infections, fever, skin diseases and dental disorders.
Neem leaves being smoked over charcoal fire to keep away mosquitoes and insects