Category Archives: Art and culture

Expressive Mudras and Movements to depict a story of good over evil

I recently donned my dancing bells after many years for a performance in my son’s school. It was exhilarating to perform in front of young admiring eyes with the creative juices lending shape to expressive mudras and intricate movements.  It was storytelling week and 3 of us moms came together to portray a mythological story, through the classical dance form, Bharatnatyam.   Hindu mythological stories are generally based on the rivalry between the Devas (Gods) and the Asuras (demons) signifying the time transcending conflict between good and bad. One such story comprising of many sub-stories is the Dashavatar (Dash –meaning 10 and Avatar- form), the 10 forms taken by Lord Vishnu, the protector of the Universe to nurture good and fight against evil.

The first form taken by Vishnu is MATSYA (fish).  Long ago, a demon, Somasuran snatched the holy Vedas from Brahma, the creator of the world and jumped into the ocean to hide the Vedas. Vishnu then took the form of Matsya—a huge fish—and swam to the depths of the ocean, destroyed the asura and brought back the Vedas to earth.

KURMA, the tortoise, is the second incarnation of Vishnu. Once, the Devas and the Asuras decided to get together to bring out the Nectar of Immortality, hidden deep in the ocean. They had to churn the ocean for the Nectar to come out of the water. For this, they used a mountain, Mount Mandar as the churning staff and the King of snakes, Vasuki as the rope. With the Devas on one side and the Asuras on the other, they churned and churned, when suddenly, Mount Mandar started to sink. Vishnu then took the form of a huge tortoise—Kurma—lifted the mountain on his back so that the churning could continue. Of course, when the nectar finally came out, Vishnu ensured that only the Devas received it by tricking the asuras.

VARAHA, the boar, is the third form of Vishnu. Hiranyaksha, a demon desiring to take control of Mother Earth, rolled her into a mat and carried her to the bottom of the ocean. When Mother Earth called for help, Vishnu took the form of Varaha the boar. He dived into the ocean, destroyed Hiranyaksha , picked up Mother Earth between his long tusks,  and put her back in her place in the universe.

NARASIMHA (Nara, meaning man, and Simha, meaning lion) is Vishnu’s fourth avatar. Hiranyakashipu , a demon was blessed with a boon wherein no man, no animal and no weapon could kill him. His young son, Prahald, was a great devotee of Vishnu and always prayed to him. One day, Hiranyakashipu livid with his son asks, “Where is this Vishnu of yours?” Prahlad replies that Lord Vishnu is everywhere; he lives in a grain of sand as well as in a big pillar. Angrily, Hiranyakashipu walks to the nearest pillar and breaks it open. Lord Vishnu appears as Narasimha (half man, half lion) from the pillar! He takes Hiranyakashipu on his thigh and disembowels him with his sharp claws.

VAMANA the dwarf is the fifth avatar of Vishnu. Bali, an Asura king and grandson of Prahlad , had defeated all the gods and became king of all three worlds. During a Yagna (a religious ceremony conducted in the presence of fire) held by Bali, Vishnu appears in the form of a small, holy man. As per custom, Bali promises to grant anything he wishes for. Vamana says that he only wants three paces of land. Bali is amused and grants him the wish.  Vamana then starts growing in size until he reaches the sky! He takes the whole earth with his first stride; heaven with his second. Then he turns to Bali and asks for the third piece.  Bali has now realized that this can be none other than Lord Vishnu, so he bows down and offers his head. Vishnu steps on his head and pushes him to the underworld, where he still rules as king.

PARASHURAMA is the sixth avatar of Vishnu. He was born to the holy sage Jamadagni and his wife Renuka. Though born a priest, Parashurama was a warrior who was an expert in wielding the axe, his favourite weapon, which he received after many years of penance from Lord Shiva. He avenged the death of his father killed by a king of the Surya Vamsha dynasty by destroying the entire dynasty with his axe. He fought evil forces throughout his life and became a symbol of justice.

Virtuous RAMA, the prince of Ayodhya is the seventh form. Rama is considered the ideal man; courageous, respectful, kind, strong, brave, loving, and just. To fulfil a promise given by his father to his step mother, Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana have to spend 14 years in exile in the forest. One day, the 10-headed demon king Ravana, wanting to teach Rama a lesson as he had once spurned his sister Surpanaka, carries away Sita to his kingdom, Lanka. Ram fights a huge war with Ravana with the help of a great monkey army, including Hanuman, kills Ravana and rescues his wife, Sita.

BALARAMA (Bala meaning strength of the arms), older brother of Krishna is the eighth form of Vishnu. In one incident, when Balarama was feeling tired and dizzy, he called out to the Yamuna River asking her to flow near him so he can take a bath. The proud Yamuna refuses angering Balarama who uses his plough to dig trenches around her that reduces the mighty Yamuna into small streams.

Mischievous and naughty KRISHNA is the ninth form of Vishnu. Brought up by his foster mother, Yashoda, he charmed all the women in the village in spite of troubling them with his pranks and antics. His uncle, Kamsa, a terrorizing King, sends innumerable demons to kill Krishna right from his infancy as it is prophesised that Krishna would kill him. Krishna not only destroys all the demons but also fulfils the prophecy, killing Kamsa eventually. Krishna is also the conferrer of the Bhagavad Gita, the spiritual and philosophical doctrine of life.

KALKI, the tenth and the last avatar of Vishnu is yet to appear. It is said that Vishnu will take the form of Kalki in this current era, known as Kali Yuga and will move with ‘great speed’ on a ‘Big White horse with a sword ‘in his hand. He will come finally when evil and immorality at the pinnacle, destroy wickedness in this world, restart creation and restore truth in people’s lives.

For the non-believers, the Dashavatar is also construed as the evolution of life starting from water based creature to more physically and intellectually developed life forms. But in the end, it’s a great story depicting humanity, values of life, andt of good winning over and evil!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Thankful

“Be Thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more…”- Oprah Winfrey

A recent Diwali party organised by the American Chamber of Commerce had the usual cultural events of song and dance .

Usual? Not quite!  The group of dancers ( performing Bharatnatyam- a South Indian classical form) were disabled  – some deaf and some blind.

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I was surprised at first, then impressed and later thankful.

Thankful for what I have –  a lovely family and a healthy normal life to be able to do the things that I love to do – time with friends and family, travel, read and blog!

Visit the Daily Post for other interpretations of ‘Thankful’. Happy Thanksgiving weekend!


Weekly Image of Life: I am Thankful for..

Weekly Image of Life : Create

It’s Diwali here in India- the biggest festival! It’s the festival of lights and firecrackers (hopefully not too many of that!). Traditionally , houses would be adorned with plain mud lamps (diyas) lit with oil and wick.  In the last few years, the plain diyas had a makeover and were reinvented  in the form of beautiful design diyas. Though I still like to light the plain diyas, the designer diyas  also look pretty  as decorative pieces, especially when painted.

Here are a few painted by my mother-in-law, her sister and myself.

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Happy Diwali to all my Indian friends!

Island traveller’s Weekly Image of life is : Create

The one who attained Salvation

The city of Shravanabelagola, about 150 kms from Bangalore, is home to one of the world’s largest monolithic statues. The 57 foot statue of Bahubali (one of the 7 wonders of India), a Jain ascetic,carved out of a single granite block in the 10th century, stands on the Vindhyagiri hill, about 430 ft above the ground.

According to legend, the 2 brothers Bharat and Bahubali (Bahu –arms, bali – strength) sons of a great King, Rishaba, once had a personal contest – a fight for land and power. During the fight, Bahubali suddenly realised the foolishness and futility of the contest and decided to give up his kingdom for ascetic life.

He meditated for months, unmindful of the vines and ant hills growing on him and finally attained salvation.He then began teaching the path to righteousness and is worshipped even today as a siddha, a saint who overcame the human foibles of pride, greed and anger.

Monks belonging to a certain sect of Jainism give up all worldly possessions, including clothes. In keeping with this culture, the saint is shown here in the nude.

The arduous and steep climb up the hill of Vindhyagiri (around 600 steps)

The pond, after which the city is named – belagola  meaning white pond. (Though its no longer white!)

The Jain temple at the foot of the hill.

Halfway up. We had to pause to catch our breath!

Tyagada kambha – An open pavilion with a central carved pillar

The colossal 57 foot statue

The priest offering ‘prasad’ (food offered first to the deity and then consumed)


Frizztext’s A-Z story Challenge: Letter S

Exquisite carvings that tell stories of beauty, valour and life

The Belur– and Halebid temples, proposed UNESCO heritage sites are two of the hallmarks of Hoysala architecture .The Hoysala Empire in Southern India flourished between 10th and 14th century, and spawned an era of artistic exuberance.

The name Hoysala and the royal emblem are taken from a folklore according to which a young man, Sala saved his guru from a tiger by striking it dead (‘hoy’ meaning strike in local language).

Hoysala emblem

Legend has it that the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana and his dancer-wife Queen Shantala, who were Jains (a religion founded by Mahaveer Jain) had a daughter who suffered from an incurable chronic mental illness. She was miraculously cured by a greatly revered Hindu saint (Ramanuja) who was visiting. After this, the King converted to Hinduism and commissioned the creation of over a 100 temple monuments, that to this day are the pride and joy of our state. Most of the temples were in the making for close to 100 years and finally completed during the reign of Vishnuvardhana’s grandson.

The temples are known for their unique stellar design; thousands of embellished figures carved out of soapstone; horizontal Friezes of elephants, lions and horses and many ornate pillars- some of which used to revolve on ball-bearing structures.

The sublime and ethereal carvings transported me into another world and I could almost imagine the lithesome dancers, their bells chiming in unison and their graceful poses which inspired some of the famous filigree idols such as ‘beauty with mirror’, ‘the lady with the parrot’, ‘the huntress’. And hear the rhythmic beating of the mallet on the chisel as the skilful artisans carved the soft soapstone with exquisite craftsmanship into intricate sculptures that depict celestial beings and stories of mythology.

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Weekly Image of Life: Stories and Photographs

P.S. Elephant Procession: It’s Arjuna!

In a previous post about the elephant procession of the Mysore Dasara celebration, I had mentioned the speculation about which elephant would carry the Golden HowdahBalarama, who’s been the lead for the last 12 years or Arjuna. Finally, it was Arjuna. Balarama was relegated to a lessor yet significant role – carrying the royal family insignia.

Elephant Procession

The streets are decorated with colorful lights, women have adorned the houses with flowers and festive ornaments and children are enjoying the start of the 2-week school break. Today is the first day of the ten day Dasara festival in India. (you can find a detailed post about the festival  here)

Mysore, one of the popular tourist destinations in the Southern India, is also famous for the Dasara festivities. The Mysore Dasara, a 400 year old tradition, attracts large numbers of tourists, including foreigners . The major attraction is the  Grand procession that takes place on Vijayadashami, the 10th day. Horses, camels, colorful tableaux carrying music and dance groups and decorated elephants form a part of the procession.

Image from

The elephants, usually 12 in all, play a vital role in this procession. The lead elephant carries the 750 kg ‘golden Howdah’, a wide 2-seater carrier made of gold, which originally  carried the King and Queen of Mysore. Since the abolishment of royalty, the idol of the goddess Chamundeshwari is carried on the Howdah.

The elephants are brought to the city of Mysore from their home base, Nagarhole national park, about a month and a half before the festival. A run through of the 5 km route is performed daily and 4 elephants are trained to carry sandbags weighing 750 kg, the weight of the howdah. At their home base, their staple diet is a mixture of ragi (finger millet) and horse gram. But when they reach Mysore, they are fed a calorie-rich diet of wheat, boiled rice, vegetables, and lentils laced with butter twice a day, apart from coconut, jaggery, and sugarcane for snack!!

This year, there is some speculation as to which elephant will lead the procession. The local favourite and celebrity , 54 year old Balarama, who has been carrying the Howdah since 1999, has got people worried about his fitness as he has lost weight(down to 4,500kg  from 4900 kg last year!) and slowed down considerably. The next in line could be Arjuna, a 54 year old elephant, who was the original choice for the lead elephant, but side lined in favour of Balarama after he trampled a mahout (caretaker) in 1997. He is supposed to be calmer now and is in the reckoning as he is stronger and heavier- by 1000kg- than Balarama!!

On 24th October, Vijayadashami day, all eyes will be on Balarama- will he continue in his customary role or will he have to take a backseat? We have to wait and watch as the final decision can be taken even hours before the event starts.


Weekly Image of Life: October Magic

Official website of Mysore Dasara

Balarama, the Elephant(Wikipedia)

Warli Art

I had always been inclined towards the academics- books, lab, then books and more books. Though I appreciate art, I never attempted anything artisitic as I feared I wasn’t good at it. So, this was something very unique and different for me; I recently tried my hand at making pot murals, which in itself is quite different.

The style of art is called Warli. Warli paintings originated from an indigenous tribe of the same name in Maharashtra.  Though the Warli paintings were discovered around 1970s, historians believe that this traditional art dates back to 2500BC. The art became popular because of its simplicity; the two-dimensional painting is largely comprised of circles, triangles and squares. The Warlis worshipped nature and the circles represent the sun and the moon, the triangles represent the mountains and trees and the square represents a piece of land. The main theme usually revolves around the rudimentary scenes of village life – farming, festivals, trees, animals.

For the mural, first a dough of POP, ceramic powder,corn powder and liquid glue (fevicol) is made. After kneading it well, a little oil is mixed into it to prevent it from drying and cracking. Then a small piece of dough is flattened with a rolling pin and cut with a blade into the required shape which is then glued onto the pot, allowed to dry and then painted in white. A lot more effort and different than an actual Warli painting.

The paintings were traditionally made by women on the inner walls of their hut. The walls made of earth and cow dung provided a ochre red background for the paintings which are always white in colour. The paint is a paste of rice flour with water and gum and the paintbrush is a bamboo stick chewed at the end. As it gained popularity, it began to appear on fabrics, either in painted or embroidered form, besides the highly fashionable wall murals.

A word in your ear has started a new weekly challenge: A word a week. The word this week is ‘Different’.

Kangra Painting

Kangra painting or Pahari painting is a form of art that originated in the hilly regions of the state of Himachal Pradesh in India. It gained popularity between the 17th and 19th century under the patronisation of the Rajput rulers of the kingdom.

A typical Kangra painting depicts the scenic landscape of the region – hills, brooks, verdant greenery with special attention to the foliage- flowering plants, creepers and leafless plants. Painters use cool and delicate colours made of vegetable and mineral extracts.

The most common subject for painting are the stories and legends of Lord Krishna. Later, other subjects such as kings of the Mughal dynasty and other mythological characters were also introduced.

There are many organisations and schools in the region that now offer courses in this form of painting to keep the tradition alive and  to create opportunities of employment among the locals. This particular painting was made by a speech and hearing impaired artist, a member of a self-help group in the Kangra district.


Story Challenge ‘K’

Janmashtami: The story of Lord Krishna

Janmashtami (Jun-ma-shta-mee) is the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna, one of the avatars (forms) of Lord Vishnu. While most of the people (who follow the lunar year) in India had celebrated this festival last month, a few of us (who follow the solar year) celebrated it this last weekend. It is one of the biggest festivals for our community. We keep idols of baby Krishna in a small swing (crib) and decorate with different themes each year, make a large variety of sweets and savouries and invite friends and family over.

According to Mythology, Krishna was the eighth son of Princess Devaki and Vasudeva of the kingdom of Mathura. Devaki’s brother, Kansa, a tyrant, afraid of a prophecy that her eighth son would be responsible for his death, locked up the couple in a prison cell. He killed the first six children as soon as they were born and the seventh apparently was miscarried. In truth, the seventh child was divinely transported to the womb of another wife of Vasudeva and born as Balarama.

When Devaki was carrying her eight child, Kansa reinforced security guards and bound Vasudeva in chains. On the night when Krishna was born, the security guards fell asleep, Vasudeva’s chains came miraculously undone and a divine voice directed him to carry the newborn across the river Yamuna to the home of the headman, Nanda and his wife, Yashoda of the village, Gokula.  It was raining heavily and the Yamuna River was in spate. But as soon as Krishna’s feet touched the river, the waters subsided and Vasudeva was able to cross over easily. Krishna grew up in the loving care of his foster mother, Yashoda and years later came back to fulfil the prophecy.

J is for my Janmashtami, my interpretation of FrizzText’s A-Z challenge