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

Friday, May 04, 2018

A Teenaged Gathering

1. Historian M G Sasibhooshan has written several popular and useful accounts of traditional Kerala visual arts. He has also written essays on some of the lesser known aspects of Kerala (and occasionally Indian) history from a firmly right-of-center viewpoint. Here is a curious quote:

"The decline of Indian Civilization began in the 10th and 11th centuries. Royal priests seriously took up Tantrism. They often took the five Makaras of Tantrism (meat, fish, parched grain, liquor and copulation) too literally. Incorporating them into religious practices could lead to the attainment of some special powers but they also led to the country losing its manly valor. This emasculation led to determined enemies easily taking over India.

Indeed Shaktism has a sinister aspect; and one sees an overdose of it at the Konark and Khajuraho temples. It is not enough to view the (erotic) carvings there as works of art alone. Indeed such a perspective can lead to dangerous oversimplifications; some of the carvings might be explained as depicting the Siva-Sakti union but there are others which show ritual practices. I am of the opinion that these temples mark the decline into decadence of a great civilization."

2. At a Tamil-owned restaurant on a highway near Cochin, a shelf of Malayalam books were put up for sale - a smart move directed at car travelers. Here is a glimpse - Mein Kampf and Anne Frank's diary sit on either side of a children's novel by 'Painkili Master' Muttathu Varkey:

The cover of the Mal Mein Kampf clearly says: "For each word in this book, 125 lives were lost. Every page herein killed 47000 people..."

3. The 'Makara' is a mythical beast - half terrestrial animal and the other half fish or bird. It has an all-Asia presence. Even the Greek Capricorn - half goat and half fish - is usually identified with the Makara.

Among the many adornments and attributes our Tradition endows Vishnu with, the strangest are the 'Makara Kundalas' - Makara earrings. I had not even a ghost of an idea as to how earrings could have anything to do with such fantastic beasts - until I saw the grand 'Anantasayana' mural on the inner wall of the Western Gopuram of the Ettumanur Siva temple. Here is a detail. Look at those earrings, Larry!

4. The paintings of Willam Adolphe Bouguerou may be formulaic; and they may fall way short of transcendental greatness; but they have charm (by way of analogy, a Bouguerou is more mellifluous and sweetly amorous film song than profound Pancharatna kriti). And I am a fan. So I was much pleased to see in a glass and picture frame shop, a freshly done painting of Krishna and Rukmini dreamily afloat among iridescent clouds. As shown in the diptych below, it is a very desi adaptation of the Frenchman's 'Psyche and Eros' (the changes made go well beyond the clothing) and represents to me, kitsch at its nicest...

5. As a teenager long ago, I read the following remarkable passage on Indian jewelry in Britannica (1980s edition) - the article 'Dress and Adornment':

"Extensive documentation on ancient jewels is provided by Buddhist statues and the cycles of wall paintings in the Ajanta caves (5th century AD). The great variety of types of jewelry indicates the high degree of development attained by the art of jewelry-making in one of the most magnificent of ancient civilizations, the Indus, and the wealth and variety of deposits of precious and semiprecious stones to be found in India. Indian women were thus the first to decorate themselves with huge quantities of jewels - so many that they were almost fully clothed without wearing any real garments. The clothing of these lovely Indian girls consisted of tiaras, necklaces, earrings, armlets, bracelets, belts, cache sexe (serving the same function as a loincloth) anklets and toe rings, worn on their bare skin and complemented by (practically nothing else)... a woman's belt found at Harappa (3rd millennium BC) used to be worn on the bare body of the woman extending down from the waist for but a few inches..."(*)

What made me recall and then search and find this passage after all these years was seeing this Dwarapala sculpture on the Vyttila temple Gopuram:

Note: Last year, I wrote here: "in his Nataraja form, Siva is almost always shown wearing cycling shorts-like breeches. The Dwarapalas (guardian figures who flank doorways in temples) too usually wear them".

One guesses that a recent repainting/overpainting activity took away the Vytila dwarapala's breeches. Let me also mention that the same treatment has been meted out to some (even more heavily ornamented) female figures on the same gopuram as well.

6. Among the hundreds of hefty DK volumes is the hulking 'Millennium: 20th Century Day by Day', 1500+ pages and 7+ kilos of 'the lazy pleasure of erudition' (to borrow a phrase from Jorge Luis Borges). The tome is also a source of serious wisdom: for instance, I discovered in this book that many more political leaders and other luminaries were assassinated in early 20th century than in the early 21st (for instance in Czarist Russia in Feb 1905, a certain Grand Duke Sergey had a bomb filled with nails dropped in his lap). Even the hoi polloi seem to have had it somewhat worse in those days than now - the long and painful path taken by the Suffragette movement in England is a case in point.

And consider this entry from 1910: "A Chinese army occupies and loots Lhasa forcing the Dalai Lama to flee to India. He returned from exile in Peking only two months back, having fled there when British troops arrived in Lhasa in 1904". Note that we are not reading here about the present His Holiness. Isn't it actually reassuring to note that History is essentially cyclic - but for the World actually getting a wee bit better over a few turns of the Old Wheel?

7. There is something unique about Kochi's traffic jams. Everyday I see many city buses among the hundreds of vehicles stuck at each bottleneck; and practically every single such bus has empty seats. One is tempted to guess: if only Kochiites switch to their old way of commuting by bus from the present preference for cars or taxis or mobikes, the city's traffic woes would largely melt away (in other words, Kochi's traffic congestion seems more life-style disease than inevitable byproduct of economic growth).


(*) While the titillation it offers is very real, this Britannica passage fantastically mixes Harappa and Ajanta (which lie almost 3000 years apart!) and from that cocktail, conjures up a (somewhat virtual) India teeming with bejeweled and unclad maidens.


Post a Comment

<< Home