Category Archives: India

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!

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Homeless, but owns a Washing machine?

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Washing machines made their entry in India around the mid 80’s giving relief to maids who until then washed clothes by beating them on a washing stone!The first washing machines were the semi-automatic ones with separate washer and dryer and was replaced many years later with the fully automatic one. Today, every middle class household in India boasts of owning a washing machine, though the poor still use the traditional method -washing by hand.

So, I was mighty surprised when I saw this lady (coming out from my sons’s basketball class), who lives in  a shack in a corner of a playground, but owns a washing machine! Times are a changing?

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Frizztext’s Story Challenge : Letter W

The Evergreen street vendors

Street vendors are a common sight in India. You can find them in every nook and corner peddling anything from books, CDs, clothes, home and clothing accessories to vegetable and fruits. Most of them set up shop illegally and usually scuttle away at the sight of the law enforcers.

But some have made a place for themselves on the roads and in the hearts of local people. In Malleshwaram,one of the oldest areas of the city of Bangalore, one can find these vendors, come rain, sunshine or cold. Their  fresh produce , mainly fruits , vegetables and flowers ,piled up  carts, boxes and plastic tubs can put any supermarket to shame.Be prepared to haggle though and be wary that the price they quote varies depending on your attire!

For decades now, these vendors have been the pride of our city. Only time will tell though if they can continue to retain their place as the city and its people bear the brunt of change and construction in the name of development. (The city development authorities plan to reconstruct the main Malleshwaram market -not shown here- into multistoreyed building).

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Frizztexts Story Challenge: Letter V

Unconditional

The last week has been a hectic one – with family events and commitments taking precedence. First up was the younger one’s birthday party (which these days require weeks of meticulous planning!).Thankful to have survived the party, managing a group of  boisterous 8 year olds, I then began preparations for the next big event – a classical dance performance for storytelling week in my son’s school. After months of practise and rehearsals with 2 other moms, and last minute shopping for accessories, the D-day finally arrived – with a painful, swollen and sprained shoulder.

Opting out on the D-day was out of the question and as they say, ‘the show must go on’. And so it did- smoothly, without any hiccups. In fact, a whole bunch of mothers came together to put up different shows, some taking time out from work to rehearse, another  in spite of a hamstring injury, came to be a part of the show. Not for any gain or fame- purely for their children’s sake.

It’s the unconditional love for a child or a partner that pushes us out of our comfort zones; bear discomfort or make time for seemingly insignificant things. While doing things unconditionally for a loved one comes naturally to most of us, there are very few who do so for others, and fewer who even risk their lives unconditionally.

Yesterday, our country paid tribute to the martyrs and victims of the 26/11 tragedy on its 4th anniversary. Some have become symbols of bravery and sacrifice. Mumbai’s Hemant Karkare, chief of the Anti-terrorist squad, his colleagues, Vijay Kamte and Ashok Salaskar  who went down fighting  in a narrow lane just yards away from the office of the crime branch. Bangalore’s Sandeep Unnikrishnan , Major in the National security guards,  put his life on the line at the young age of 31 . Taking on the terrorists at the Taj Hotel on that fateful day, his last words to his men were, “Do not come up, I will handle them.” And there are others like him, many unsung heroes, who regardless of their own safety, lay down their lives, unconditionally, to keep our country and the citizens safe.

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Frizz Text’s Story Challenge: Letter U

Soft and New

I’d been missing Ailsa’s Travel theme for the last few weeks by a whisker . This week, I decided to combine it with Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge to make it on time! Cee’s challenge is to post something new while Ailsa’s theme for the week is ‘Soft’.

Here are a few new and soft photos taken on our latest trip to Kerala.

The soft morning light falling on the lotus leaves (Pookote lake, Wayanad district, Kerala – pic taken yesterday)

We just celebrated Diwali over the last 3 days. The soft glow of a firecracker – chakra or spinning wheel.

No festival is complete without sweets. In addition to the hordes of Indian sweets, we also had freshly baked (by me!) soft brownie cake !!

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)

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Frizztext’s A-Z story Challenge: Letter S

Road Trips

No stop signs, speed limit
Nobody’s gonna slow me down
Like a wheel, gonna spin it
Nobody’s gonna mess me round

Everyone loves a good road trip once in a while! Wind in the hair; sun in the eyes, maybe some dust too; engine at full throttle; listening to ‘highway to hell’!!

There are movies dedicated to road trips (Thelma and Louise and Road trip) and road trippers too who pursue the hobby very seriously.

My road trips haven’t really been road trips in the true sense, more a method of travel to get to a destination. I’ve travelled by road in many countries, but the most memorable ones have been here in India.

My earliest memory of a road trip was as a child of 10 or 12, travelling with my father’s extended family to the temple town of Tirumala for a wedding. The drive through 7 hills with hair-pin bends , steep roads and deep gorges on one side was a challenge for even an experienced driver. Halfway up, it started raining cats and dogs and visibility reduced to almost zero. The driver continued driving; the relatives started chanting bhajans (prayers). Whether it was divine intervention or the driver’s acumen, we reached the summit in one piece!

Delhi to Dharamshala  was another eventful , never-ending journey with 2 flat tyres and an un-cooperative driver intent on driving way below the speed limit. The only  consolation  was that the extra hours helped to catch up with old friends with beer and tandoori chicken!

Others trips were memorable for their scenic landscape, such as Ladakh for its stark mountain ranges and steep winding roads; Rajasthan for the dry, sandy and rugged topography.  Our recent trip to Chikmagalur was also dotted with some lovely rustic scenery.

Ladakh
Ladakh
enroute Chikmagalur

Driving on Indian highways requires more than just admirable driving skills. You will encounter partly constructed or non-existent roads, dodge villagers, chickens and goats trying to cross the highway (not their fault if the highway cuts right through the village!) and mistake a single beam of light for an oncoming bike(more likely to happen when there is no separation between traffic going in opposite directions) which in reality will be a speeding truck , probably carrying unsuspecting animals.

Enroute to Chennai
On the Chennai to Bangalore Highway

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Frizztext’s A-Z Story Challenge: Letter R

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