ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Friday, June 24, 2016

From Tulu Country



Fishing boats on the Murudeswar beach:



A bright wedding sari being devoured by a sacrificial fire (faint echoes of the practice of Sati there?) - part of the Chandika Homam ceremony at the Kollur Mukambika temple:



A (very modern) Goddess image incorporating attributes of Vishnu(conch and discus) and Virabhadra (staff/trident and sword) from near the Mookambika temple:



A very Keralan looking 'Sarpakkavu' (serpent shrine) from near the Mookambika temple:



An elephant+fowl/peacock composite creature on the spanking new columns supporting the facade of a Matha at Udupi:



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A Royal Vishnu:

The Anantapadmanabha temple is at Ananthapura, just inside Tulunad proper from Kolathunad. In more modern terms, it is in the far north of Kerala - very close to the border with Karnataka. The temple has an 'enthroned Vishnu' (the snake Anantha physically provides both seat and royal parasol) idol, moulded in a material called 'kadu sharkara'. Here is a pic:



Ananthapura is where Vishnu first appeared before Vilwamangalathu Swamiyar, Kerala's principal patron saint (some webpages say he was a Tulu speaking brahmin though; and some sources say there were three separate gentlemen, separated by centuries, who went by that same name) in the guise of a mischievous child; as per legend they had a tiff and the lord disappeared and granted his devotee another 'darshan' only much later at the site where the Trivandrum Padmanabha temple now stands. So, the Ananthapura temple is said to be the 'Srimoolasthanam'of the Trivandrum temple. Let me place on record that I have serious reservations here. Despite its name, the Ananthapura idol does not show Vishnu in the Padmanabha form at all - there is no 'navel lotus'. Indeed, as far as I can make out, the rather tenuous Vilwamangalam connection apart, the two Vishnu temples, separated by a distance of nearly 600 kilometers have very little in common.

However, the Poornathrayeesa temple in Tripunithura, Cochin can claim a much stronger connect with Ananthapura in particular and with Tulunad in general. The 'panchaloha' image of Tripunithura is of an enthroned Vishnu (its differences with the Ananthapura idol are minor) and the lord is flanked by smaller images of his consorts Bhudevi and Laxmi (just as is the case at Ananthapura). And for several centuries, the Tripunithura temple has been recruiting its priests from Tulunad (the reasons for this practice seem lost in deep antiquity). Further, the local tradition of Tripunithura relates how Vilwamangalam himself visited the temple during the annual festival and saw the lord, in the guise of child Krishna, prancing about among the caparisoned elephants. This 'Krishna child' vision is a lot closer to the original vision the saint is said to have had at Ananthapura than the sleeping Vishnu of Trivandrum. And even geographically, Tripunithura is considerably closer to Ananthapura than Trivandrum.

Guess: the putative connection between Ananthapura and Trivandrum (and perhaps the Padmanabha name of the deity at the former site) might have come about only in the 18th century when the royal family of Tranvancore adopted children from noble families in far north Kerala.

In the heart of Udupi, the principal seat of Brahminism in Tulunad, are several temples built around a Nepal-style Darbar Square-ish plaza.



What is most remarkable about the place is a curious confluence of Saiva and Vaishnava streams of devotion. The Krishna temple is preeminent but there is a Siva (Chandramouleeswara) temple right across and then there is the temple dedicated to Ananteswara, a deity claimed to be both Siva and Vishnu. The inner sanctum of the temple has a Sivalinga but above the doorway is a metal enthroned Vishnu image - he sits on the serpent and two of his quartet of arms hold a bow and arrow. The very name Ananteswara is an interesting compound - it could mean "the infinite Iswara" (Siva) or the "lord of (the serpent named) Anantha"(Vishnu).

The present day Siva-Vishnu bonhomie at Udupi quite a surprise considering how vitriolic and nasty, doctrinal disputes between followers of Madhva and Sankara used to be - and occasionally still are.

Note: The Krishna temple at Udupi sometimes arranges the idol in the serpent throne form as in this online picture:



Aside: That the sleeping Vishnu image might owe something to the sleeping Buddha is conceivable. But even the snake-throned Vishnu probably had Buddhist precedents.



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From Kolathunad, the part of Malabar adjacent to Tulunad: a deep perspective at the Subrahmanya temple, Payyannur (it has very fresh-looking laterite walls):



From Payyannur again, a metal peacock bearing the weight of a lamp pillar (deepastambham). In every other temple I have examined the task falls to a tortoise:



And finally, here is the gopuram of the Taliparamba Rajarajeswara temple - lying unfinished for many hundred years (?):

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Witten, Again!



1. We get going with a quiz - Who is the subject of this powerful sculpture? Location: Nellaiyappar Siva temple, Tirunelveli. Thanks to Ram Kashyap, an up-and-coming artist, for sending me this pic.



Ans: If you don't know, Reader, then I too am with you!

And while I have no definitive answer, the guess is: Indrajith, Ravana's son, about to shoot the Naga (Serpent) Astra at Rama and his forces ( this warrior, an equal to anyone else in the Ramayana, is seldom depicted in our visual arts - I recall only the fateful duel between him and Laxmana at the Mattancheri Palace and a quite dull Ravi Varma of him making a present to Daddy Dearest of Indra's consort Shachi).

And as most of us know, Rama and the monkeys had no answer to the Serpent missile and were saved only by a guest-appearance of Garuda, Vishnu's Eagle.

Aside: One gets a feeling that if the sculptural figure above were to stride forward (as he looks poised to), he would do so in the manner of the Tramp.

Another thought: The archer might be about to use the serpent not as a warhead but a bowstring. Siva, as Tripurantaka, had used the serpent king Vasuki to string an immense bow he had hewn out of the Mandara mountain. But while our hero is certainly awesome, he doesn't look much Siva - so my vote stays with Indrajith.

2. Here is a face sprouting from a palm.



As to whose face it is, once again, my guesses (Stan Laurel; or may be Suppandi) are no better than yours are likely to be!

3. Another quiz:



Wasn't that a thoroughly unremarkable looking scene - three random blokes in random conversation at some random place? But, whoever took this picture (he shall remain unnamed) really knows his photography and this is but one of 3 or 4 pics he took of this very scene. I really don't know what prompted him to shoot them; but here is a strangely kindred vision:



That was Piero della Francesca's 'Flagellation', famous among the cognoscenti for its calm and cool feel and perfectly balanced perspective not to speak of the mysterious air about the three figures in the foreground.

4. And winding off the picture section of this post, here is an arrangement of clay figures. They were all crafted by some young artists I happen to know:



This pic of mine is also a sad requiem for the central Buddha figure - it fell apart while being moved around.

5. And yes, I am getting to Ed Witten, World Number One Mathematical Physicist.

Long ago, when I was a struggling student(I even had a post here on that), a certain desi academic bigwig by (false)name Camillo had paid me an unbearably massive compliment by asking: "Shall I compare you with Witten?" (even the mysterious Earl, when he was compared to a "Summer's Day", might not have felt the emotions that surged thru me then). Well, now let me just say Camillo was quite a prophet for I am actually about to get to some kind of comparability with Ed - an Erdos Number of 4 appears to be on my way and his is but 3. And whew, isn't that CLOSE?

As to those of you who don't know what an Erdos number is, please visit Wiki!

6. And an update on the 'Kalavara'/'Óottupura' building in Tripunithura as it is about to face its first monsoon after the partial collapse documented here in an earlier post: The Poornathrayeesa temple 'Devaswam' have taken over the building (the long court case - mentioned in my post too - ended in their favour) and are about to wrap it up in tarpaulin and stuff to protect it from the rains; seems one of the decisions arrived at by the court is that the building has to be preserved somehow. But, as to whether it is at all preservable, I have serious reservations. Watch this space!

7. And a glossy BBC volume lists "100(?) things to do before you die". Among them is "exploring Kerala backwaters by (horror!) houseboat".

8. And since this post has referred to the Bard, let us conclude it with a very modern recreation of himself with one of his characters. Guess who!

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Marching Forward...

After a longish hiatus, we resume our journey with a spread of images, gathered over the month of March 2016. Plenty has happened since the last post here; while most recent events have been unremarkable or ... unmentionable, there have also been exceptions; here are a few!

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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 tiny cradles with Barbie dolls – poignant votive offerings made by couples praying/hoping/waiting to become parents…



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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!

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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.

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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!



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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.

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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 when it suited him). 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.

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And let me sign off with a picture of bright sunshine and dark shadow in an inextricable mix.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Reworking a Hit

I don't really write stories; but am about to attempt to recast the climax of a story that is fast becoming quite a hit in my part of the world - Kerala. As to why I am about to tweak a very successful narrative, I have no answer.

What follows has the names of all principal characters in the 'base story' changed. It proceeds in synopsis manner up to the climax and then, a film script style takes over.

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Johnnie is a regular nice guy. He earns a modest and contented living as a small town photographer. One day, he gets drawn - totally against his intent - into a street scrap and is humiliatingly beaten up by a chap he doesn’t even know. Smarting at the rude assault, Johnnie swears he is going to track down and get even with the bully.

A short while later, he falls in love with a smart young girl named Liz. After a bit of going around, she reveals to him that the fellow against whom Johnnie has sworn revenge is named Dan and he happens to be her own elder brother.

Liz pleads with Johnnie: “my bro is a ruffian. Please don’t get into fistfights with him. Let us simply let things be and be happy together!” Johnnie is far from mollified to hear that – indeed, he appears to be taking her entreaties as an affirmation of his relative physical frailty. Liz understands; she says with resignation: “These Men…, well!”

Long story short, Johnnie accosts Dan at a street corner and says matter of factly: “I am Johnnie, the guy you once thrashed the lights out of. Now I want to return the favor!” and off they go!

The totally rule-free fight soon has the two on the ground, caked with mud and in a terrible tangle. A tight knot of people gather and egg the two men on. Both are now desperate, neither wants to give up. Dan seems to be tightening a vicious hold on Johnnie’s throat and the latter has caught his enemy’s leg in an almighty grip and is twisting it for all he is worth.

The crowd roars in the background, a close up of Johnnie’s face, struggling for a breath of air and yet giving it his all. A briefer close up of Dan's face. He is in unbearable pain and is just about to give up...

Dip to black. It brightens to a vaguely lit hospital ward. Dan laid up with his dislocated leg heavily bandaged. Liz stands by, glumfaced. A smiling Johnnie enters. He has a few scratches on his face but is otherwise fine. He places a bag of fruits and biscuits beside the cot. Dan watches helplessly with great unease.

Johnnie: Look, I am not one for fisticuffs; am no fighter. But I desperately needed to win this one fight. Else I would have basically died... And in case you still don’t know, Liz and I are seeing each other. Hope you are fine with our getting married.

Dan looks at Johnnie, too flabbergasted to reply. Dip to black.

A shot of the fight in its decisive moments thru a forest of legs as the crowd closes in. Close-ups of the faces of both warriors showing extreme strain and pain. Finally, Dan puts up his hand and screams: “I give up. Lemme go! Let me GO!!” The crowd roars joyously and tries to pull them apart. Slowly it dips to black with several voices calling with excitement and then, with increasing despair: “Johnnie! Hey Johnnie! Johnnie!!!”

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Acknowledgements: My gratitude to the authors of the base story is massive. The process of reworking their work into a 'twilight zone' climax has renewed long forgotten contacts with two Hemingway masterpieces: "... Francis Macomber" and "Snows of Kilimanjaro". And even more touchingly, I was transported half a lifetime back to the story of ancient Olympic Champion Arrachion that I read in 'Olympics and its Heroes' by Melwille Demello.

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Another pattern matching exercise: Michelangelo's visualization of Jonah (Sistine chapel) and the sculptural figure of Spartan hero Leonidas, a detail from the Cavallotti monument in Milan by early 20th century sculptor Bazzaro. To make the similarity more convincing, I have mirror reflected Leonidas.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Khasak - A Serpentine Return

Lets begin with some bits of what Wiki has to say about 'Magical Realism':

1. Magical Realist literature portrays magical or unreal elements as a natural part in an otherwise realistic or mundane environment.

2. "MR is what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe."

3. In MR, the author presents the supernatural being as valid as the natural. There is no hierarchy... The ghost of Melquíades in Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude or the baby ghost in Toni Morrison's Beloved ... are both presented by the narrator as ordinary occurrences; the reader, therefore, accepts the marvelous as normal and common(*).

On to our story: Google with "Khasak Magical Realism" and one is hit by an avalanche of pages. Some merely praise 'Khasakinte Ithihasam' as marking Malayalam's arrival on the stage of MR. Some hint, some others state that the author O.V. Vijayan was 'inspired'by Marquez in general and '100 years of solitude' in particular. Till the end of his days, Vijayan had to face irritating Desi queries on the alleged debt he owed Marquez.

Armed with the Wiki lesson, I spent a whole week reading Khasak from the MR perspective. The conclusion was simple: "There is no Magical Realism whatsoever in Khasak!". Khasak is intensely lyrical; its colors and shades are achingly rich, whether bathed in sunshine or flushed with twilight. And when rugged Chethali looms silhueted in moonlight, its crags shaped like turrets and minarets and the wild eastern wind whistles thru groves of dark palms .... the fantastic, the supernatural never seems far. But, the Beyond of Khasak always floats as a separate numinous realm just above the mundane. It never invades reality, never intrudes into the everyday (recall the novel's image of "the cloud-laden monsoon sky hanging just over the village, holding back its immense power").

"In the dark interior of the ruined mosque, in the swamps beyond, among the branches of the tamarind tree, in the crudely hewn serpent images, in the empty wastes, they dwell, the gods of Khasak. They offered him no answers; neither did Ravi seek answers from them. ... Like the endless palm forest, like a twilight marking neither sunset nor sunrise, his Sin enveloped him in an overpowering embrace. And the Gods, those sad sentinels, were mute witnesses of his pain..."

And my above conclusion is in no way original. I sought the views of a serious scholar (who shall remain unnamed) on this business of MR and Khasak and this was the gist of what I was told:

"Literary criticism in India has been, since 19th century, almost entirely about finding Western parallels to Desi literary works - the intent being to locate 'native' literatures in a Western framework and make the former more 'acceptable' - a very colonial enterprise.

And post Freedom, once English fell out of vogue a bit, we discovered the much more happening Latin America. As a literary joke goes, once someone was asked who was the most important writer in Malayalam. And the answer was "Marquez". The game hasn't changed in a hundred years (no pun that)."


But despite all that, the word 'numinous' (**)led me on a tangential search and to someone from the West who gave telling expression - in real, rich color - to much that one sees in Khasak. The name is Odilon Redon, French symbolist painter.

The intense, flamy coloring of Redon's pastel masterpieces (any number of them are available online) remind me very strongly of the Khasak twilight. Only Chethali is missing. An expert told me: "Redon's paintings have a certain looseness about them - as compositions, they are not well organized." And indeed, neither is Khasak. The novel has no taut log line but several narrative strands which merge and meld into something like a succession of diaphanous partitions that Ravi passes thru (akin to those passed by the Diving Fowl in his own journey towards a beckoning mystery)....

Now, let me show two specific parallels between Vijayan's works and Redon's.

Late in his life, Vijayan wrote 'Ithihasathinte Ithihasam', a very interesting meditation on the making of Khasak (***). Here, among many typically lyrical passages, he talks of his fear of spiders. Indeed, spiders appear all over Vijayan's writings. In Khasak, he likens them to Kartavirya Arjuna, the 1000 armed and mostly villainous king of mythology; and Appu Kili, the beloved son of the village, is first introduced as a 'spider freak'(****). Vijayan also tells us how, within him, this very personal spider-phobia merged with the "lush and rich fear that suddenly grips a child when he first discovers the immensity of the night sky studded with those huge stars..." and gives the following passage which he eventually excised from the final version of Khasak:

"Stars, huge, some blue, some red, like immense spiders of timeless Terror; their intense gaze pierced his troubled sleep; then, wrapping him in restless dreams, they whirled away into the dark depths...."

The reason for cutting out these lines was that "they were too strongly colored". But then, Vijayan recalls wistfully, so was the whole of Khasak. And let me add, so is the typical Redon canvas. And here is Redon's take on spiders, albeit in monochrome.



An ageing Vijayan wrote with great poignancy of Ravi's solitary journey and his final tryst with a fanged apparition.

"Often have I found myself walking with Ravi - soaked to the bone by monsoon shower and smothered by its steady, colorless opacity. The journey brings Fatigue to Ravi and it does the same to me... I now rest my aching bones, stretching my numb feet on to sodden clods of earth and I wait for you and your gift of sleep, oblivion and rebirth. O Vishnu, let me behold you in your benign Serpent form!".

Reader, if you think Vishnu as serpent is non-standard imagery, here are two very standard Redons, 'Green Death' and 'Christ(!) manifest in a serpent'.





Afterthought: IMO, the closest Vijayan got to magical realism was in Gurusagaram, when Kunjunni, during a flight, sees the hanged Naxalite Tapas afloat in the sky just outside his window. But even this is was more a hallucinatory vision (Vijayan does not say that the floating Naxalite had a hard, objective reality)than a proper intrusion of the supernatural. 'Madhuram Gayati' is full of strange things happening but I would categorize it as 'fantasy'. And I have not read the scat-fest of 'Dharmapuranam' which might after all have some proper MR.

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(*)In 'Midnight's Children', drops of blood from Adam Aziz's nose harden into rubies and his tears crystallize into diamonds - very naturally.

(**) Let me just mention a phrase encountered online a few days back: "numinous palms". Sadly, indeed scandalously, it was NOT about Khasak!

(***)Some cynics said, it was also a 'Milking of Khasak', with the author trying to exploit the popularity of his masterpiece. But they were dead wrong!

(****)Kili is more of a 'thumbi freak' in the story; but that is another story. And one can't help thinking, "if only Redon had painted dragonflies!"

Sunday, January 03, 2016

A Beast in Steel

Here are two views of the same steel sculpture - neither is a particularly good photograph (I took them) but that is okay. I invite my few Readers to pause and identify the animal depicted and then proceed with the rest of the post.



The sculpture, by Raghav Kaneria, stands in Subhas Park, Kochi. It features prominently in the short doc film 'Poo Viriyunnu, Poo Kozhiyunnu', mentioned in the last post here. K J Sohan, ex-Mayor of Cochin and articulate art-lover, eloquently describes it as a "Marvel, a wonderful creation by a true Master. And its proportions are perfect, flawless!". Well, seeing the above pictures, one might ask, "Did you say, perfect proportions? Er..., of what?"

With some help from certain well-wishers, I carried out a survey, showing just the picture and asking "which animal?". No further info given, no options given, no clues, any answer welcome. And no attempt to analyse the respondents as in a Rorschach test, the intent being just to gather answers.

And here is a summary of the results:

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6 people saw a giraffe there.

Some kind of Dinosaur - 4 respondents.

Horse - 5

Dog - 3

Deer - 2

Unicorn - 1

Reindeer - 1

Crane - 1

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Even with such a limited number of respondents, the drift is clear. There IS something equine or giraffe-like (despite the none too long neck) about the animal. And a bit doggy too - I peronally think it is more dog than anything else(*). And equally personally, I think crane, unicorn and reindeer are anomalous answers (even dino, despite the number of votes it garnered)!

And now for how it looks side on.



And that indeed is one hell of a bull - muscular, powerful,... whatever. And lest I forget, exactly one person had guessed: "I would say, its a bull!".

Now, was it a deliberate decision by Kaneria to make the front view (and only the front view) of the beast so ambiguous as to make it resemble pretty much anything? Or did he plan to make the front view just barely skeletal and focus on the muscular contour of the animal only in side-view - thus implying that at the core, skeletal level there is a basic blueprint every animal is built on? ...

Whatever, I sign off quoting old pal Vitthal's response to the survey. "It looks somewhat like a giraffe. But I was drawn to look closely and I see only a remarkable work of art - even with the photos u sent met! The species did not seem to matter!"

And A Beast in Bronze:

Another quiz. Try to identify this terrible looking creature:



If Reader, you answered "there is no beast quite like this", you would actually be right! But here is a fuller picture:



And what would THAT be? It is the tortoise forming the pedestal of the nearly 30 foot metal deepastambham (lamp pillar) at the eastern entrance to the Tripunithura temple. Quite an Atlas, this chap, and the strain of bearing all that stuff clearly shows in the grimace (Note: only the bottom of the pillar appears above; and to my knowledge, tortoises form the pedestal of most deepastambhams in most Kerala temples)!

But tortoises do not have teeth. So, whoever cast the above object took quite some licence and no fanged tortoises exist.

But we are not done! Strictly speaking, the "no such beast" answer is correct only in a very narrow sense. It applies only if we consider only extant animals. Some 300 million years back(or thereabouts), there indeed were species of tortoises which had teeth (Wiki)! Some might even have looked close to this - maybe minus the huge canines.

Not all such Atlas Torts react thus to their burden. Here is another - rather stoic - specimen, from the Shasta temple at Thakazhi:



Note: some folks who I showed the fanged Tortoise's face said, "it is Hanuman, perhaps!", "Lion!", "A dragon?"...

Update (Jan 4th 2016):

Prof. Jayaram pointed out to me that perspective can actually do crazy things - make things look like many other things. And he observed, very interestingly, that (especially) the skeletal framework of the hindquarters of most vertebrates look quite similar to one another. So, in hindsight(!), the wild variety of answers to the bull survey can be seen to rise from these two factors - (1) perspective effects due to the odd angle from which the sculpture was photographed and (2) lack of much structural variation among vertebrate posteriors.

Similarly, when viewed from suitable angles, all fanged faces might begin to resemble one another and a tortoise with fangs attached can look like a lion or a dragon or anything.

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(*) In a Panchatantra story, some crooks manage to convince a guy that his goat is actually a dog. Here, we have a bull turned into a dog, a bull-dog, if you wish.

Monday, December 28, 2015

"Flowers Bloom... and they Fade"

Just saw this curious aphorism by Kunhunni Master, Mal poet (my free translation):

"Mark every month of the year with an Essay!"

Wonder what made him say that. But here is December...

2015 has been a very eventful year; among other things, it made me a filmmaker of sorts. A very short documentary on the derelict building in Tripunithura that inspired my 'Oottupura' post was put together (thanks Vimal!) and uploaded onto Youtube in July. Titled 'Pazhamayude Naduvodiyunnu', it went mostly unnoticed. And the building has continued to fall apart....



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And then came 'Poo Viriyunnu, Poo Kozhiyunnu'. A far more ambitious project, it has been shot and edited by a group of students with my own creative role limited to writing the raw version of the script. 'Poo...' (translation: "Flowers Bloom... and they Fade") will be screened on New Years Day 2016 at Kerala Kalapeetham, Kochi; it documents the 'Sculpture Symposium', a camp of internationally known sculptors held back in 1990, when Kochi was still Cochin. The 'relics' of the symposium are still among us - in Subhas Park, on the Ernakulam waterfront; some sculptures have been damaged/torn apart but most are largely intact and sometimes put to use thus:



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Here is a brief passage from 'Gotrayanam', a long poem by Ayyappa Panicker - lines I hope to live up to during what lies ahead of my own journey.

"The greatest wealth Man can acquire is a spot of Love.

And the source thereof is Sorrow.

Remember, there are little Sorrows - wipe them clean with fingertips -

And there are those that count, the big Sorrows - let them pierce into the breast and get stuck there!

Add to them a touch of kindness, the odd verse and a few laughs and Life becomes as livable as can be!"

Note: 'Poo Viriyunnu...' incorporates two other passages from this (now not very well remembered) work.

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A fiberglass face cast done by Prof. C S Jayaram and a vision that (to my eyes) is uncannily similar - the severed head of Orpheus drifts by, alongside his forlorn lyre (painted by Odilon Redon):



To emphasize the Grecian angle a bit more, let me include another aspect of the same face-cast and a marble face, salvaged from a 20 century old shipwreck.



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A close-up of Bouguerou's sensual take on the Io-Zeus story; it reminds me of the wonderful lines from 'Gita Govinda' on how love-lorn Radha wakes up from a dream and eagerly reaches out to embrace the enveloping pitch darkness mistaking it to be her rain cloud-like lover.



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The umpteenth rereading of Khasak has yielded a definition of 'Ecstasy': "Ecstasy happens when one is out on a clear night - with just a hint of fog brought by the wild eastern wind - with a friend under a waxing moon on a desolate hillside, bottle of hooch in hand and watching moonshine glitter in moonshine; and when the moon has set and the eastern skies are yet to turn grey, Ecstasy flowers, causing one to stagger to one's feet, look at the stoned out friend and raise a vigorous Aazaan to the Maker..."