Dasara Doll Festival – IV

A brilliant display of dolls depicting Putrakameshti Yaga, a scene from the Indian epic Ramayana, is grabbing eyeballs at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. The heirloom dolls all of them more than a hundred years old belong to the family of Anu Vishweshwar, a relative of Sir M. Vishweshwariah, the Diwan of Mysore from 1912 to 1918.

img_3022

Many, many, years ago during the Treta Yuga, the kingdom of Ayodhya was ruled by King Dashratha. He had three wives, Kausalya, the senior-most, Kaikeyi and Sumitra. The king was sad that none of the queens bore him any progeny and because of that the kingdom was without any heir.

On the advice of the royal priest Sage Vashishta and another sage Rishya Shringa, the king performed the Putrakameshti Yagna, a ceremony performed by childless couples to beget children.

After the ceremony was completed around a holy fire, there appeared Agni, the God of Fire with a golden bowl filled with Payasam, a sweet. King Dasharatha was asked to distribute the sweet to his three queens. In due course, the queens bore him children. Kausalya gave birth to the King’s eldest son who was named Rama, Kaikeyi’s son was named Bharata and Sumitra bore him twins Lakshmana and Shatrughana.

img_3018-2

In the picture, seated on the throne are King Dashratha and Queen Kaushalya, on the left is Queen Kaikeyi with her maid and on the right is Queen Sumitra with her maid and a member of the royal family. Agni, the God of Fire, is in between the sages. In his hands is the golden bowl containing Payasam. The sage with grey hair is Rishya Shringa and the other sage is Vashishta.

img_3021

Anu Vishweshwar and a relative took almost 2 hours to dress up each of the dolls. The toughest part was wrapping the sarees all of them being Kanjeevarams. The full-length heavily brocaded sarees had to be folded to a suitable size to fit the dolls. Transporting them from her home to the venue was another task. She had to take care to cover them and avoid them getting shaken as that could disturb the dress and the jewellery. The pandal or ramp was created at the venue from scratch. The glittering jewellery was purchased years ago from Raja Market and the vicinity.

The dazzling display is on till 10th/11th of October and worth giving a visit.

Happy Dasara!

A Trip Through Nagarthpet

It had been almost a year since I have been for a heritage walk and I was yearning to go for one. So when tour and heritage walk company Bengaluru By Foot announced a walk through Nagarthpet, a small pocket in Bangalore known for the annual Karaga festival and umpteen handloom silk units, I decided to go. “It’s a very congested area. I couldn’t walk on those roads even in the 1960s”, complained my father not happy with my decision. But my enthusiasm got the better of me and I went ahead with my decision.

I started from my house rather late on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Mercifully, the weather gods were kind. There weren’t any clouds and the sunlight wasn’t too harsh. I couldn’t have asked for more! Just as I reached the bus stop I saw a bus approaching. The hardly there traffic made it that much easier for me to cross the road. In no time I was on the way to my destination. It was a bus to Majestic and I had to alight at the Corporation Stop.

The organiser had provided a Google Map to help walkers get to Badami House, the meeting point of the walk. But my old faithful the Nokia 2300 was ill-equipped to help me here.

A traffic jam at Richmond Road had me panicking. It took a good 15 minutes for the bus to get past the bottleneck. Not surprisingly, I reached the Corporation Stop at 4pm when I had to actually be at Badami House. I flagged down an auto and told the driver to take me to Nagarthpet. He readily agreed. En route, I told the driver that I had to get off at Badami House. He seemed confused and asked me if I knew the place. When I replied in the negative, he assured me that we could find the place easily.

Late as I was, I was surprised that I hadn’t got any calls from the organiser. In no time, I was at the Dharmaraya Swamy Temple Street which is where Badami House is located. The auto driver promptly asked one of the passers-by, “Anna, Badam House (he conveniently left out the ‘i’ much to my amusement) elli anna?” [“Brother where is Badam House?”] .  The other man who was busy chewing ‘paan’ was not in a position to speak. So he very energetically moved his hand as if to say “please go straight”. It was at this juncture that I got a call from the organiser asking me where I was. I replied that I was almost there.

The drive through Dharmaraya Swamy Temple Street turned out to be slower than a bullock cart ride. The road was little broader than silk yarn and there was an unending array of vehicles of all kinds meandering through dense crowds and in some places cows who were ruminating and enjoying the attention they were getting! The bovines refused to budge in spite of loud honks and attempts to shoo them away failed.

img_2856

The auto driver was increasingly getting restless. He asked another man where “Badam House” is. The man at first did not respond because he was fully engrossed in a mobile game. When the auto driver repeated his question, the man as if he was woken up from a slumber animatedly answered, “Seedha hogi swamy” [“keep going straight”], and then turning to me said, “madam, alli thumba badam mathu dry fruits sikkathe, adhey Badam House” [“madam, you get a lot of almonds and other dry fruits there, that is Badam House”]. He said that quite straight-facedly and that made us believe him. The auto kept moving. But Badami House continued to be elusive.

A little while later the auto driver decided that enough is enough and asked me to alight and find the destination myself.  I alighted and got into a market which had a lot of jewellery shops all owned by Marwaris. I asked one of the shop-owners where I could find Badami House. He asked me to go in the opposite direction and that the place in question was at the beginning of the road (the same point where all the drama had begun  😦 . What!!!! My jaw dropped. I thought I had better take a second opinion and walked out of there to another shop. My worst fears turned true when this man repeated what the other had told me. Even as I stood there not knowing what to do, I got another call from the organiser and I had to explain that I had lost my way and it would take me a while to get there. The time was 4.30 and the walk had begun (sob sob).  It was impossible to run back through the road congested as it was.  I walked as fast as I could because that was all I could do.

cow-art

My walk back turned out to be as dramatic as the journey on the auto. I had to dodge past so many obstacles. A little ahead there was a people jam on the thread-like footpath.  A cow was waiting to cross the road and no one wished to go anywhere near her. I made my way through the crowd as I couldn’t afford to lose time. In the process, I almost came face to face with the bovine and darted across. The traffic on the road continued to be slow as can be. There was an instance when I missed having ‘paan’ stains all over my shoes by a whisker. Someone in one of the autos didn’t think twice before spitting on the road (eew!).

img_2784-2

I met up with the walkers when they were almost done with the second destination, a dargah. It was the resting place of Astana-E Hazrath Khwaja Syed Shah Sharfuddin Khadri Shaheed – Ra. The valiant soldier, one of the many Sufi followers in the army of Tipu Sultan, died fighting the British army in the 1791 Siege of Bangalore. That is why the title ‘Shaheed’ (martyr) in his name.

img_2783

img_2778-2

img_2780-2

I went inside to explore the place which was enveloped by quiescence. The few people inside were all saying prayers with their heads bowed. Among them was this man who seemed to be a mendicant. He kept counting beads as he said his prayers.

img_2781-2

img_2782-2

The interiors were spick and span. Further inside in the room which housed the tomb, the marble walls were adorned with rich inlay work. The high glass ceilings which also had intricate work and Urdu script glistened in the filtered sun light that came in through the glass. The lovely chandeliers and lamps added to the charm. It was heartening to note that the tomb is being so well maintained.

img_2787-3

img_2821-2

img_2798-2

Top of picture: Silk yarn left to dry after being dyed.

 

img_2801-2

The dyeing process.

 

img_2802

Men rinsing the yarn.

 

img_2812

img_2810

One of the workers suspends damp yarn on a pole. The pole will then be hoisted up and placed below the roof and left to dry.

 

A quick walk from the dargah took us to the next stop, a small-scale silk dyeing unit the outer hall of which is used to store sacks of yarn and also to dry dyed silk yarn. The inner hall houses the furnaces and the urns used for dyeing and rinsing dyed yarn. The workers were sweating it out in the inner hall dyeing and rinsing the yarn. It was sultry and suffocating in there. I kept wondering how these men work in such sweltering heat! Phew!

img_2826-2

Inside the weaving unit. Men operating handlooms.

 

img_2827

Panels of Jacquard cards (all of which are perforated). The cards are attached to the looms and are used to create myriad designs.

 

img_2829

img_2831img_2830

img_2835

img_2836

img_2837

img_2844

img_2846

Strategically located outside the dyeing unit is a handloom unit. We walked in amidst the rhythmic sounds of looms all of which were hand operated and marvelled at the almost complete silk sarees.

img_2860

After a pit-stop at Sri Ramavilas Sweets (also known as Gundappa Hotel) we were off to the age-old Dharmaraya Swamy Temple, the only temple of its kind which is dedicated to the Pandavas.

img_2870-2

img_2876-2

img_2879-2

The principal deity here is Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandavas. Known to exist earlier than the times of Kempegowda, the founder of Bangalore, and the architect of the erstwhile Pete area of Bangalore of which the Nagarthpet area is only 1/4th, this temple is also referred to as the Karaga temple. Every year during the Karaga festival, thousands of devotees throng the temple to pay their obeisances to Goddess Draupadi and celebrate her marriage.

img_2867-2

img_2875

When we reached the temple, our eyes caught hold of the Ganesh pandal at the entrance of the temple which had Ganesh in Santa Claus avatar! As we explored the temple we were followed by three inquisitive young girls who couldn’t contain their curiosity and doubled up as additional guides.

img_2898

The first Hindi school in the Nagarthpet area.

 

img_2909img_2910

img_2914

As we made our way to our next pit stop, I spotted a couple of other temples in the vicinity. A quick eat later we continued with our walk this time thorough a labyrinth of roads all of which were again little broader than silk yarn.

img_2918img_2919

By now darkness had enveloped the area and the absence of street lights lent a ghostly element to the walk. The only sounds we could hear besides our footsteps were the sounds of handlooms that were being operated within closed doors of the many tiny units that lined the streets. I must say there are plenty of them in this region. We stopped at a mosque called the Tara Mandal Pet. It was here that a mosque constructed by Qasim Khan, a commander in the army of Tipu Sultan, once stood. The old mosque has since made way for a newer version. It is unclear whether any remnants of the old building were used in the construction of the newer one.

Tucked in Cubbonpet in the vicinity of Nagarthpet is a small market named after Sir Mark Cubbon,  the commissioner of the erstwhile Mysore state in 1834. This was our next destination. It seemed to be a vegetable and grocery market. A lot of customers that come here are from the Marwari community that reside in the neighbourhood. The arrival of unfamiliar visitors made the vendors in the market nervous living as they are in the constant fear of the market getting razed by the corporation. One of them even asked us if we are from the corporation. I only hope the corporation repairs and renovates the market instead of bringing it down. Heritage structures define the character of a place and need to be preserved for posterity.

img_2946

img_2949

The dargah of Hazrat Hameed Shah.

We next entered a complex that houses the twin tombs of Hazrat Hameed Shah and Hazrath Muhib Shah Khadri both Sufi warriors who died fighting in the Third War of Mysore. The dargah of Hazrat Hameed Shah is a beautiful white and green edifice with a green dome. While the tomb seemed to be in good shape the same was not the case of the graveyard adjacent to it where the bodies of all the other martyred soldiers are buried.

img_2958

img_2955

The dargah of Hazrath Muhib Shah Khadri. Don’t miss the cradle at the entrance where childless women tie wishes.

 

The body of Hazrath Muhib Shah Khadri was found headless on the battlefield hence his dargah is without a dome and his name is prefixed with the text ‘Besar Aulia Shaheed’ which translates to ‘headless martyr’. His dargah is frequented by childless women who come here and pray for a child. A cradle at the entrance of the dargah is where women tie their wishes.

The walk ended at the Badami House which stands opposite a statue of Kempegowda which was installed in 1967 after razing down a cenotaph which stood in memory of the British soldiers who died during the Third War of Mysore. Another landmark just close to Badami House is the Halasuru Gate Police Station which was originally one of the gates of the Bangalore Fort.  It is here that the British army made a breach and got into the fort taking  Tipu Sultan’s forces by surprise.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: “Rare”

At a folk arts festival, I had this rare opportunity of witnessing a group of boys, dressed as girls, performing the Odissi dance, a classical dance form of India. I didn’t realise they were boys till someone told me!

11816129_10207537232974791_7363250995366090698_o

At another event, I had another rare opportunity of witnessing a male dancer dressed as a woman perform Kathakali, another classical dance form of India:

IMG_8707_c

Painter Extraordinaire

IMG_1655 (2)

Attending an exhibition of lithographs by the great Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma Koil Thampuran (29th April 1848– 2n October 1906) turned out to be an enchanting experience. I chose a Saturday (16th July) to attend the premier event because on that day there was a gallery walk conducted by the curator of the show Ganesh Shivaswamy.

IMG_1707 (2)

Raja Ravi Varma (Pic courtesy: NGMA)

Raja Ravi Varma is a household name in Kerala and most of South India. His stunningly beautiful paintings of Hindu Gods and Goddesses and scenes from the epics adorn the walls of most homes here. So mesmerising are his works that when people pray to any of the deities, the picture of the deity that appears in their minds are the ones painted by Ravi Varma. And the many calendars that have his paintings are not discarded; the pictures are framed and hung on the wall for posterity.

 

IMG_1715 (2)

Sudhanva and Prabhavati (pic courtesy: NGMA)

 

Born into the royal family of Travancore, Raja Ravi Varma’s talent with the brush was noticed very early in life. He trained at Madurai in water colour with Rama Swami Naidu and then in oil painting under Dutch painter Theodor Jenson. He made the best of his training and some of his paintings bear the influence of his European stint.

 

Contemporaries of the painter and the generations born after him can consider themselves blessed because most of his paintings were replicated by the process of lithography and made available to one and all. For this purpose, Ravi Varma had set up a lithography press in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1894. The press was later moved to Malavali near Lonavla. In 1901, steeped in debt, Ravi Varma had to sell off the press to his technical supervisor Fritz Schleicher, a German. Unfortunately, the flourishing press was gutted in a fire in the 1970s in a suspected sabotage. Remnants of the press can be seen at the location.

One-hundred and twenty-eight of the 131 lithographs that are on display are from the collection of Hema and Ganesh Shivaswamy, one from the collection of Aniruddha Haldipurkar and another from the collection of Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village, Manipal.

The exhibits have been classified into seven groups – Ramayan, Mahabharat, Krishna, Divinities, Rishis and Rajas, Mythologies and Plays, and Damsels and Nymphs. In addition to lithographs, the exhibition has on display a few original sketches by the artist.

Divinities

There are more than 30 works in this section starting with the story of how River Ganga came into being.

There are paintings of eight of the Dasha Avatars in unique perspective. The Dasha Avatars are the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu. Particularly brilliant is the painting of Varaha Avatar, a boar, which is seen holding Mother Earth on his tusks.

Lord Ganesh is depicted as Shakthi Ganapathi posing with his consorts Ridhi and Sidhi.

There are two paintings of Goddess Lakshmi:

-As Gajalakshmi seated in Padmasana.
-As Lakshmi. This painting adorns many calendars and is one of the artist’s most popular works.

IMG_1710

Goddess Lakshmi (picture courtesy: NGMA)

 

There are three paintings of Goddess Saraswathi:

IMG_1706

Goddess Saraswathi (pic courtesy: NGMA)

 

-An 1894 painting of Goddess Saraswathi playing the veena alongside a peacock.
-Another picture of the goddess with a deer in the frame.
-The goddess astride a peacock.

There are two paintings of Lord Subramanya:

-Astride his vehicle, the peacock, along with his consort Devasena.
-Subramanya along with his two consorts Devasena and Maha Valli.

There is a painting of Tara Devi, a tantric deity, ferrying across the ocean of suffering! Tara Devi is popular in India, Mongolia, and China.

A painting of the Hindu pantheon of Gods is stunning. The painting has a) Shiva and his consort Parvathi, b) Ganesh, c) Devi or Shakti, d) Lord Vishnu and e) Surya.

Ramayana

The section has 18 scenes from the epic Ramayana:

IMG_1708 (2)

Ahalya (pic courtesy: NGMA)

 

A very striking painting is that of the story behind Ahalya’s curse: Lord Indra is seen ascending the earth astride his vehicle a horse. Enchanted by Ahalya’s beauty, Indra, disguised as Sage Gautama (Ahalya’s husband), enters the ashram. Ahalya is fooled into thinking Indra is her husband. When the sage returns to the ashram he is enraged to see his duplicate and curses Ahalya turning her into a stone. Later, he cools down when he learns about Ahalya’s innocence and proclaims that she can be relieved of the curse only by Rama.

Another painting “Ahalya Shaap Vimochan” shows Ahalya being released from her curse.

In “Sita Swayamvar”, Sita is shown as a mere six-year-old! That was supposed to be her actual age when she got married to Rama.

The “Dashratha Kaikeyi Vilap”, a highly appreciated painting, shows Kaikeyi lying sprawled on the floor and King Dashratha trying to mollify her.

IMG_1667 (2)

Ravana disguised as an ascetic and Sita (pic courtesy: NGMA)

 

In a painting of Ravan and Sita, Ravan disguised as an ascetic looks sleazy.

Also in the series is “Jatayu Vadha”, one of Ravi Varma’s famous paintings depicting the tragic scene where Jatayu, a huge bird, who comes to the rescue of Sita when she is being carried away by Ravan, getting killed by the demon king.

There is a painting of Sita in a forest of Ashoka trees surrounded by Asuris Ekajata, Harijata, Vikata and Durmukhi.

It is hard to take off your eyes from a painting showing Rama vanquishing the ocean even as Varuna tries to cool him down.

IMG_1657 (2)

A scene from the Ramayana (pic courtesy: NGMA)

 

Mahabharat

There are around 10 paintings in this series.

The painting of Shantanu and a bare-breasted Matsyagandha will take you by surprise. The painting has been placed alongside an original sketch of another painting of Shantanu and Matsyagandha which the artist has painted in another perspective. The sketch is easily more beautiful than the painting because Matsyagandha’s face looks angelic.

The painting showing Bhishma’s oath stands out. Here the astonishment on the face of a royal representative on hearing Bhishma’s oath has to be seen to be believed.

There are four paintings of Damayanti:

-Damayanti is shown waiting to hear about her beloved Nala.
-In the painting “Hamsa Damayanta Samvad”, a swan is seen bringing in a message to Damayanti from Nala.

IMG_1709

A swan tells Damayanti about Nala’s virtues. (pic courtesy: NGMA)

 
-In another painting, a swan is telling her about Nala’s virtues.
-The fourth is a sad scene showing a boa constrictor and Damayanti. The boa constrictor swallowed her when she was lamenting about Nala leaving her.

There is a work showing the infamous Draupadi Vastrabharan.

Krishna

There are around 17 paintings in this series.

Adorable is the painting showing Yashoda milking a cow with an infant Krishna hugging her. Also in the series is an 1896 picture of Yashoda and Krishna with embellishments. In the same picture are a cow and a calf. Also adorable is a painting of Yashoda with infant Krishna sitting on her lap.

It is hard to miss a painting of Krishna looking oh-so-cute and feigning innocence after tearing off a gopika’s saree.

“Krishna Leela” is a naughty painting which shows Krishna hiding the clothes of Gopikas and refusing to give them back.

IMG_1713 (2)

Yashoda with Krishna on her lap. (pic courtesy: NGMA)

 

Rishis and Rajas

There are around 23 paintings in this series:

IMG_1678

Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (pic courtesy: NGMA)

 

Significant in this section is a painting of the Maharaja of Mysore Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar and another of the Maharaja and the Maharani on their wedding day. The monarch was a great patron of Raja Ravi Varma’s works and commissioned him to do a series of works at the Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore.

Other paintings of rulers that are show in this section are that of the Nizam of Hyderabad Mahbub Ali Khan Asif Jah II; Goverdhan Lalji of Nathdwara, a holy place in Rajasthan famous for a temple of Srinathji; and Chatrapathi Shivaji.

The paintings related to Rishis include a series on Shakunthala. The painting “Vishwamitra Tapobang” shows the European influence on Raja Ravi Varma’s works. Here Kama, the Hindu God of Love is portrayed like Cupid. The birth of Shakunthala shows her being abandoned by her mother Menaka; Shakunthala was later adopted by Kanva rishi. Another painting shows Shakunthala and her sakhis (or friends) Anusaya and Priyamvada. There are also paintings of Shakunthala and Dushyanta and Shakunthala and Menaka. “Shakunthala Pathralekhan” shows Shakunthala penning a letter on a lotus leaf to Dushyanta.

Also in this section is a painting of the great Advaita philosopher and saint Adi Shankaracharya and his disciples.

Damsels and Nymphs

IMG_1711 (2)

Mohini – the heavenly temptress. (pic courtesy: NGMA)

 

Women were undoubtedly Raja Ravi Varma’s favourite subjects. The women in all his paintings are extremely beautiful. You can see lot of them in this series: Mahashwetha, a Malabar lady in traditional mundu; Parsi ladies; Indira, a Marathi lady; Tara, a Tamil Brahmin lady; Mandodari, a Tamil Brahmin lady; Kadambari, a young woman playing a sitar [this was Ravi Varma’s last painting before he died in 1906]; Sharada, a Malabar woman; Madri, a Marathi lady; Rambha, an apsara; Tillotama, an apsara, depicted as half-nude; Urvashi; Vasantasena.

IMG_1656 (2)

Madri – a Maharashtrian lady (pic courtesy: NGMA).

 

The three emotions of women are depicted in Susheela (modesty); Manini (arrogance) and Manorama (introspection).

The section on women also has a series on nymphs. Here, Padmini or the lotus nymph and Varuni, a bare-backed beauty, stand out.

Mythologies and Plays

I found it rather difficult to spot this section. If I am not mistaken, this one has only three paintings:

-Rathnavalli, a beautiful woman, who is the principal character in a play of the same name.
-Usha’s Dream: Usha, daughter of King Banasura, dreams of her prince charming who turns out to be Aniruddha, son of Pradyumna who is the son of Lord Krishna and Rukmini.
-Chitralekha, Usha’s companion, in response to her dream sketches pictures of various princes.

The exhibition which is organised under the patronage of the newly formed Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation is on till the 14th of August 2016.