A doc film on the Mahadeva temple at Uliyannoor near Aluva, Kerala is in the works; the Optimist within hopes it would be a useful successor to “Poo viriyunnu, Poo kozhiyunnu” (now on Youtube, albeit in a somewhat unfinished form). Here is a picture from the Uliyannoor temple - the inside view of the roof of the ‘Namaskara Mandapam’ – 36 kazhukkols (rafters) radiating from the central ‘aaroodham’ (hub). A neat feat of medieval Keralan structural engineers, it is credited by Legend to the Master of them all, Perunthachan.
But the above aaroodham comes only a distant second to the circular inner sanctum of the temple which has no less than 68 rafters meeting at the central hub (no pictures here). From the outer tips of some of these rafters hang some tiny cradles with Barbie dolls – poignant votive offerings made by couples praying/hoping/waiting to become parents…
A curious specimen of modern residential architecture - a composite column with a leafy Corinthian 'neck' and scrolled Ionic capital with a Vijayanagar-style 'stalactite' attached. It is part of the facade of a bungalow in Poonithura, Cochin.
Of course, the above pic was taken in stealth and so is not very good, even by my standards!
A quick visit to Bangalore happened and I checked all the usual boxes – aimless tramping around the IISc campus, pub-hopping (Pecos felt, sadly, rather tired and tepid) and some more tramping among the booksellers around MG Road… The coffee was excellent everywhere and the tea, as served at a joint in Yeshwantpur, even better. And I saw the following remarkable modern temple dedicated to ‘Kanyaka Parameswari’
– the lady looks quite like Laxmi (minus the shower of gold) but is accompanied by a parrot, more associated with Meenakshi. One gathers that this goddess is a noblewoman’s daughter who immolated herself to avoid marriage to a lascivious, middle-aged king, deified; a trajectory shared by so many popular goddesses all over the country.
Here is a dual image – a slightly damaged stone sculpture from Indus valley depicting a mouflon (at least 40 centuries old, now with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and a slightly unfinished stone sculpture by Prof. C S Jayaram showing a bull (less than a generation old, now in Subhash Bose park, Kochi); do they look uncannily alike!
I overheard two young fellows talk while admiring a rich photograph of a glorious sunset sky:
F1 – “Hey, this kind of visual reminds me very strongly of the classic song ‘akale akale neelakasham’ (literal meaning: “far away is the deep blue sky…”)
F2 – “Fiddlesticks! Such a red twilight, and you talk of a BLUE sky!”
My sympathies are firmly with F1. The song does give a feeling of vast space, but, set in ‘Charukesi’, it also has such a powerful synesthetic association with the color of sunset that BLUE ought to be marked as a clear discordant note.
Quiz: Here is a lovely impressionistic ‘Cheenavala’ (Chinese fishing net) by an up-and-coming artist named Justin. Can you spot a serious technical mistake therein?
Answer: The picture shows 4 brasses, which is how things are. But all four corners of the net ought to hang from the tips of the brasses but here only two are shown thus. The other two corners of the net are shown fixed to the kalasanji – an error. And the two brasses which ought to be supporting the rede seem attached to the savayam instead – a bigger error.
It is very likely several of those words sounded very alien; and they indeed are. Most parts of the cheenavala have (Mallufied) Portuguese names. Some historians say the Portuguese learnt this remarkable bit of technology from China and added several of their own innovations while setting them up in our backwaters (Thanks to Gyani who spent a long while searching for cheenavala in Needham's 'Science and Civilization in China'; remarkably, this multivolume work fails to say anything about these nets). While the most glamorous specimens continue to be active at Fort Cochin, cheenavalas are most numerous (to my knowledge) and most photogenic ( in my estimate) in the Periyar delta around Thanthonni Thuruthu – to see them in strength, all one needs is a drive down the Container Road from Cheranalloor to High Court.
The wider picture: In an earlier post, I noted that the Portuguese have a largely negative image in our history (piracy, religious fanaticism, colonialism….) - and that the Dutch have a very different image. Thinking of all Portuguese who came here as uncivilized scum (Vasco Da Gama and some other prominent Parankis certainly were) would be a mistake akin to thinking all Mughals were Jihadi fanatics (as Aurangzeb was to a big extent). The sheer number of Portuguese loan words in Malayalam – apart from the esoteric domain of cheenavala structure and dynamics, they are especially numerous in carpentry - shows how rich and varied our Iberian visitors’ contributions were. More on all that in a future post – and hopefully a future doc film! And let me also note here that Camoens's classic 'Lusiads' has recently received a long overdue translation into Malayalam.
And let me sign off with a picture of bright sunshine and dark shadow in an inextricable mix.