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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eden And Arcadia

The 'Rani ki Vaav' is a grand step-well situated just outside the town of Patan, north Gujarat (and step-wells are elaborate systems of sculptured pavilions built at stepped levels leading down into a very deep water-well, which is the focus). It was built nearly a full millennium ago and has been proposed for inclusion in Unesco's World Heritage Sites list.

The inner(lower) portions of the Vaav are, unfortunately, out of bounds to tourists - those who venture in are often shooed away by a few very pushy caretakers. Still, even the accessible levels abound in great sculptural wealth. For starters, there is an unusually image of Kalki(?), the horse-rider incarnation of Vishnu - he holds a sword and his other hand holds forth a bowl into which a lady is pouring something. A hefty 'Vamana' stands facing Kalki. Then we saw two Kali(?) images, one showing the Goddess as a rather Mongoloid hag and the other, more Desi, with many arms and brandishing a whole arsenal of deadly weapons. There are further Vishnu Avataras on show - we don't remember seeing any Krishnas though.

Still more interesting were two voluptous damsels. One was a classical 'Abhisarika', getting ready for a secret tryst with her lover - and seemingly unmindful of the threat from a scorpion, shown creeping up her leg. The other maiden had a cobra tangled around her waist. There is a certain ambiguity about what the snake is up to - it looks like the girl is feeding it, say milk, from a small bowl. Although girl+scorpion is a very common theme in Indian sculpture(*), the girl+cobra combo is, to my knowledge, unusual - indeed, the only comparison one could obviously make is to Eve and the Serpent of Eden, where of course, the serpent was the feeder (but, indeed like Eve in Eden, the Patan 'cobra feeder' is unclothed!).

(*) - Just Google with "sculpture scorpion thigh" and one has a whole host of pages describing several ancient and medieval Indian sculptural representations of this very theme; the scorpion apparently was a symbol of lust - it still is, in the North, judging from the 'bichhoo' songs in Hindi movies. And even from Down South, one can mention a (godawful) Mallu film song which began 'Vrischhika penne!' (in translation 'Oh, Scorpion Girl!').


A couple of kilometers from the Vaav is a strange site called 'Sahasraling Talav' ('the lake of a thousand Lingams').

The legend is that, a millennium ago, the place had a thousand small Siva temples around an elaborate lake. Now, the whole area is thick with neem trees; there is no lake; what remains is an elaborate network or pattern formed by several long ditches. Remains of stone pillars stand on their beds. Indeed, the capitals of these pillars now are just a few feet above ground level, implying the ditches were considerably deeper once upon a time.

At the junction of two such long ditches is a big circular depression with stone steps leading down from all around - this spot looks more amphitheatre than pond.

I tried to take in the full sweep of the place by climbing a hillock nearby but nothing much could be made out through the dense tree-cover. A little farther away was visible an ancient (and rather Grecian)-looking pillared pavilion, which, on approach, turned out to be part of a small Dargah+Mosque complex; and a few faithful had been called to their knees ...

The remote location, sylvan setting, uneven terrain and forlorn columns and stone stumps made for a spectacle uncannily reminiscent of the allegorical landscapes of Claude Lorrain, Poussin etc. (see this page: or Indeed, I would like to view Sahasraling as an 'Arcadian Idyll' rather than a picture of 'Desolation'. Missing were the shepherd and his flock, maybe because it was midday ...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Welcome To 'The Loop'

Hi Everyone,

Let me invite you to 'The Loop' , a full-length work of fiction I have been writing (and rewriting) for nearly 3 years. It is now online, complete and unabridged - and free!

Do check out. And if you like the stuff, please forward the link to your friends, asking them to forward to theirs ....

Once, There Was A Techie ...

... who loved Mathematics. He worked for almost a decade with Blue Chip companies, all the time seeking out and pondering - and usually cracking - challenging Mathematical problems. And one fine day, he left money-making and joined a full-time Academic program in pure Math.

A Semester passed. He was asked by an external agent (who is not of interest in this post) to look back at his switch, to reflect and take stock.

and thus spake the (ex-)Techie:

After 9 years, I am happy being at the receiving end again with nobody to answer to but myself ('lightness of being'?). And yes, I'm occasionally over-sleeping, disorganized and all that; but every time I consider the prospect of studying the subjects I had always wanted to, I get pretty energized ( is this state of being called happiness?) and focused. But not for long; invariably some difficult point in some lengthy proof puts me off and my mind wanders...

My concentration has dipped somewhat from undergrad days and I don't seem to persist as long as I used to with problems. This may be, in part, a response to the amount of theory I'm forced to gulp down in one go. Previously, I fed myself with nuggets gleaned from here and there and always relished them; now, profs force-feed me with Theory - pumped thru a fire hose. There is so much to learn that I'm at a loss focusing on one thing. Sometimes I fear I won't learn anything in-depth ... maybe even starve - kind of like the bird that starved to death as it could not decide which worm to eat first when there were so many good ones to eat. Anyways I'm still at it, pursuing this irrational(?) whim.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Divine Menagerie

I have been in Gujarat for a while now but have made no real local contacts; my experiences and opinions on the place are still very 'touristic'. This post is an outsider's take on some aspects of local religion.

The Gujarati pantheon features a rich gallery of Mother Goddesses - Ambaji, Meldi Mata, Momai Mata, and so forth. In popular iconography, most of these Goddesses resemble Durga as she appears in standard. 'calender' images all over the country - many armed, heavily armed, sari clad, with a beatific or heroic facial expression - at least to first impression, hardly any variety.

But each of these Gujarati Goddesses has a very real distinguishing feature - the *mount* she has been provided with (at variance with the lion/tiger which Durga always rides): Meldi Mata rides a black goat (to my knowledge the only goat-rider among Indian divinities, she sits in Victorian style, without straddling the animal). Momai sits in surprising comfort atop the hump of a camel, again in Victorian manner; and still more remarkable is 'Hadkai Mata', who rides a dog! - a 'Google images' search will show several pictures of all these goddesses. And the other day, I saw a goddess riding a huge rooster... and a buffalo rider too - I don't know their names yet.

There are several commercial establishments named 'Khodiyar' in Ahmedabad. During earlier visits, I had guessed these might be owned by Konkani immigrants ('Padiyar', 'Gadiyar' etc. are fairly common Konkani surnames) but have come to know that Khodiyar Mata is actually a very popular Gujarati Goddess. As opposed to the Durga-esque mother goddesses mentioned above, Khodiyar looks like a village girl; she wears ghagra-choli and has only two arms. But she also wields a trident and is always shown with a (!) crocodile; the croc is probably the Goddess's vehicle but she is never actually shown riding it.

Let me also mention another recent discovery - Ramdevji or Ramdev Pir (no, not referring to the Yoga guru!). He is a Hindu-Muslim syncretic deity (maybe comparable to 'Satyanarayana'/ 'Satya Pir' about whom I had written a bit here long back). Although Ramdevji hails from Rajasthan, he is very popular in Gujarat as well; icons show him as a bearded and richly dressed man, riding an elegant horse and holding a flag aloft. I vaguely remember seeing pictures of a riderless horse with a flag planted on its back in a Muslim-run shop in Pune; perhaps that was a popular Muslim way of representing Ramdev Pir (without showing a human figure; in some sense comparable to Buddha being represented by just a pair of sandals or a parasol or a Stupa in pre-Christian Hinayana art). One sees a certain resemblance between Ramdev and Sufi deity Khwaja Khidr, a St. George-like a 'knight-rider' who comes to aid those in distress.

I conclude with a verbatim quote from the Wikipedia article on Ramdevji:

A mystical festival is also held in villages across Kathiawar to worship 'Ramdev' called Mandap. In this festival, a long (almost 30 feet in height or more) wooden log is used called the Khamb. It is given a loose base to the ground. It is decorated and has eight ropes in eight directions attached to it. It is laid on the ground. Several rites and rituals are performed for almost a month or so. The whole affair is funded by villagers and rich folks. At a given time and date, with the utterance of "Ramapir ni jai" meaning Victory to Ram Dev Pir, the Khamb starts to stand up. Very mysterically and strangely, the Khamb stands on its own without any support. The eight ropes are loosely tied in eight nails that are driven in the ground. Lakhs of devotees flock this mandap to have darshan and prasad. The khamb stands there for 24 hours exact and the very next day in the same fashion as it stood up, the khamb returns back to its position. It is believed that RamDev Pir himself appears in the Khamb