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

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:


6 people saw a giraffe there.

Some kind of Dinosaur - 4 respondents.

Horse - 5

Dog - 3

Deer - 2

Unicorn - 1

Reindeer - 1

Crane - 1


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 me! 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, let along fangs. So, whoever cast the above object took quite some license.

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.


(*) 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.


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