Revel into the Spirit of Tanjore

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This is not a travelogue. My trip to Tanjore (also known as Thanjavur) was taken too long ago to write a reliable travel diary on the same. I only had a brief rendezvous with the city and its surrounding. But even during that brief visit, what impressed me most about Tanjore remains to this date its greatest asset. Tanjore was one of the cultural hubs of India. Though much has changed during its millennia old history, Tanjore continues to latch on its artistic legacy. Surprisingly, even with being a UNESCO World Heritage site, Tanjore remains somewhat inconspicuous in international tourist map.

Architectural Marvel’s of Tanjore

The city experienced its biggest flourish during the Chola period, more than a thousand years ago. Its greatest architectural marvel is visible from far away, even before you set a foot on its ground. Brihadeshwara Temple celebrated its 1000th anniversary in 2010. From a distance it may look like just other massive temple structures of the region, particularly to the unfamiliar eyes, but look closer. Its shikhara or vimana (roof), which almost seems to embrace the sky, is decorated with most intricate examples of reliefs and sculptures. The pyramidal shikhara sits on a square base, a uniqueness observable in Chola architecture. It is topped with a giant kalash (pot) located on a lotus equally massive. Lotus symbolises the universe while kalash harnesses the universal energy. The kalash was moulded from a special mixture of metal, including gold and copper, filled with holy water and other consecrated materials. Step in the walled temple complex through any of the gopurams (gateways). The gopurams are made with as much care as the main building and carry beautiful carving depicting age old tales of wisdom. The interior of the temple was embellished with rich murals many of which are hardly discernible now. But the patches of paints and motifs that remain, give us a vivid example of the skilful craftsmanship of the time.

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Every inch of the vast temple complex was constructed following the ancient principles Vastu Shastra and Sthapatya Veda (studies of architecture). Don’t for a moment consider these to be the current phoney version of Vastu Shastra spun out for commercial profit. This knowledge of constructing sacred or civilian buildings, landscaping and planning for an entire town or village is older than 5000 years. Otherwise, these buildings would not have had the capability of withstanding the ravages of time for so long.

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Brihadeshwara Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. He is accompanied by his two consorts – Nandi (the bull, disciple of Shiva) and Mahakala (time). Ancient literature and art often spoke in allegories. Comprehending the underlying significance of the imagery helps greatly in the appreciation of the work. Ananda Coomaraswamy, Indian subcontinents pioneering art historian and curator of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, authored numerous books in this regard. To understand Lord Shiva or Nataraja, as depicted in Indian art, I would suggest a reading of The Dance of Shiva. Shiva paves the way for the new (regeneration) removing the outmoded elements of life (destruction). He pervades time and uproots the bondage of illusion and ignorance. It is here where his association with Mahakala and Nandi begins, the former being Father Time incarnate and the latter an example of supreme devotion and strength. The temple is replete with such remarkable examples of symbolism in art, architecture and literature.

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The second exquisite example of Chola architecture lies somewhat in negligence slightly away from the city, in Gangaikonda Cholapuram. Though comparatively smaller in size, its value in the world of engineering, art and architecture is no less important than Brihadeshwara Temple. The main temple is so constructed that its shadow never falls on the ground the entire year. Innumerable pieces of sculpture decorate the entire premises. Even the water well is covered with a giant statue of lion. Those having a flair for designing dresses and jewelleries will find numerous inspirations here to borrow from.

Airavatesvara Temple is situated 35 km away from the city in Darasuram. Even though it is created during the same period, the structure of the temple differs widely from the other two sacred sites mentioned already. It speaks volumes about the versatility of the artists of the then Tanjore. The mandapam (main temple) is formed as a gigantic horse drawn carriage. Its shikhara, though not taller than Brihadeshwara, thrives on its unique barrel shape. Like the other two, the entire body of the building is decorated with ornate sculptures. The meditation hall boasts of pillars each unique in its design. Interestingly, close observation of the reliefs on the pillars reveal a lot about the socio-economic condition of the time. The inside walls of the buildings are covered with murals. Even the pipelines and water openings are carved with great care and beauty. One of the smaller shrines of the temple has three steps that produce varied musical notes on setting a foot on each of them, such was the ingenuity of creator architect. This is not an isolated phenomenon. Many temple pillars of the region produce sounds resembling the musical notes of various stringed instruments, mridangam, dholak (a kind of drum) and so on.

A visit to Tanjore’s Art Gallery will afford further knowledge of the city’s sculptural masterpieces, particularly bronze figures. There are other palaces and civilian buildings that, though built on a later date, arouse everyone’s admiration. But like renaissance art found greatest expression in sacred paintings and sculptures, here too the finest examples of art lie in the region’s oldest edifices – the temples.

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Broadening of Horizon – Influence on Dance, Music & Drama

Tanjore’s artistic majesty did not limit itself to the city’s temples, palaces or other prominent landmarks. Instead, its influence reached every corner of Tanjore. Local artists and artisans found financial backing from the monarchs. The artistic supremacy of the master figures powered the evolution as well. All four forms of art – painting, sculpture, music and dancing – started observing rapid changes and introduction of new ideas. Classical Tanjore painting (not the Tanjore miniatures as it is seen today, these came into being in late 16th century) received a huge boost. Elaborate panel paintings and murals became more developed. Owing to the superior economic condition of the time, metal craft also saw amazing advancement. The paintings were encrusted with precious and semi-precious stones, gold and silver leaves.

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Bharathanatyam (a dance drama form that is based on the two thousand year old principles of Natya Shastra, i.e., Theory of Drama) too could not escape this artistic resurgence. This dance form thrives on the playfulness of expression (bhava), sentiment (rasa), action (kriya) and music (ragam). Elaborate sculptures depicting various Bharatnatyam postures can still be seen on the Brihadeshwara Temple’s walls. The temples regularly arranged devotional music and dance festivals. Brihadeshwara Temple hosts annual music and dance events even today.
In this atmosphere, vocal and instrumental music could not have remained in lurking in desolation. It duly began its exploration for supremacy. Besides other musical instruments, Tanjore contributed in the further development of Saraswati Veena, a stringed instrument indispensable in Carnatic music.

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Tanjore Today

Following the tradition of the region, the knowledge of painting, sculpting or playing music are still handed down by the gurus (masters) to their devoted shishyas (pupils). Many families of artisans carry these knowledge and skills as a legacy for generations.

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Though greatly fallen from its former glory days, Tanjore and its surrounding still strive on to create that perfect work of art in a much smaller scale. The narrow streets of Tanjore’s Art Village, Swamimalai and other places nearby still produce brass sculptures, miniature paintings and musical instruments all the while fighting the ignominy of modern time.

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Further Reading:

The Arts & Crafts of India & Ceylon by Ananda Coomaraswamy

Early Architecture by S Kak

Image Courtesy:

Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Nagarjun Kandukuru and Arian Zwegers

 

 

The Vernal Foliage that Never Knew Decay

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Hayami Gyoshu - New Leaves

Your vernal foliage never had to go through the anguish of decay. Even hundred years on, your Shinryoku remains a harbinger of hope for everyone who chances an eye on them. And, you Hayami? Even if death nipped the bud of your artistic majesty, you remained defiant. Life triumphed through your art. It continue to do so even today.

When the Carriage Moves Past You

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August Fredrik Schagerström

This is a photograph that feels me with some kind of uneasiness. It was taken by August Fredrik Schagerström (January 20, 1851 – May 9, 1938). One of the early proponents of photography whose photographs have now became valuable documentary for his hometown Uppsala. After reviewing the composition, balance of light and shadow etc one may consider this to be a commendable work of black and white photography for an early amateur photographer. No, the uneasiness does not lie there. In any case this is not meant to be a critical note on August Fredrik Schagerström’s photography. I am not qualified for that. And, the mention of his name here is purely incidental.

My discomfort lies in the way the protagonists of this still drama appear to be in the photograph. Their faces are all hidden from us and their backs turned towards us. “So what,” you may ask, “the carriage was in motion and the photographer happened to be on the wrong side of the road.”

Well, my friend, that exactly is the point. The photograph all too easily gives away one very bitter truth about life. Don’t you see how often the world turns its face away from us exactly the same way? Suppose, you are crying in agony, for a pain that in all probability is skin deep. Don’t you see the world drives away from you just the same way, feigning your mere existence to be a piece of information it has long forgotten? The close ones you thought you knew for so long, turn their faces away from you. Everyone seems to be in a terrible hurry. They cannot be blamed for they have their own living to do. Do you happen to be on the wrong side of the road then? Or, does the road curve away from your way into the distance with you stranded in a blind alley?

The Fair Face of Garden

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And the spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the spirit of love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

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I miss the breaking of the sweet slumbers of the flowers in the garden. The blushing faces of the pretty blossoms touched by the kind rays of the spring sun remain hidden from my eyes. Being a part of tropical country’s urban jungle hardly allows me to view the glorious culmination of winter months into spring and nature’s rapturous mood perceiving this change. Nonetheless, spring remains very close to my heart. I am a child of spring. The vernal equinox brings me messages that my heart is only capable of sensing or deciphering. It is the spirit of spring that I embrace with my whole heart. Like many things in life which remains deep rooted in our psyche, the spirit of spring remains alive in my consciousness even in the middle of winter and I embrace it with my whole heart on its arrival.

 

Image Courtesy:

Faungg’s Photo

Sun Temples — Architectural Marvels of the Ancient World

Originally posted on The Inked Expressions:

From India to Egypt, all ancient civilisations revered sun as the source of primal energy, one of the key reasons for perpetration of life on earth. Rig Veda, the oldest book bearing written compositions on various matters involving human life, is most eloquent in presenting its ode to Sun (Surya),

Traversing sky and wide midair, thou metest with thy beams our days,
Sun, seeing all things that have birth.
Seven Bay Steeds harnessed to thy car bear thee, O thou farseeing One,
God, Surya, with the radiant hair.

Hymn to Surya, Rig Veda (Translated by Ralph T H Griffith)

But it is not only the poet’s mind that saw the beauty in the rising sun. Artists, architects and other similarly creative people of bygone era were equally adept in creating magnificent works of art as their elegies to Sun God. Ancient sun temples around the world boast of engineering…

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Pioneers of the New Thought Movement

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Modern time has brought for us many blessings and almost equal amount of perils. Unemployment, sickness and hopelessness threaten to overpower us every moment of our existence. Increasingly, it feels to make a little money we need to start with a lot of money. But there are ways to lead a fulfilling life. A men and women have proven this and shared their recipes for success more than half a century or so ago. Let us revisit those modern messiah with their prescriptions for success.

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La victoire by Rene Magritte

What All the World’s A-Seeking by Ralph Waldo Trine
Ralph Waldo Trine was one of the earliest of authors to recommend the usage of ‘thought power’ and introduce positive changes in our lives. The book, What All the World’s A-Seeking was published in 1896 and sold two million copies. About 200 pages of this inspirational book are segregated neatly into six parts, each dealing with one specific point. It starts with asking such pointed questions as, ‘how can I attain to a true and lasting greatness?’ and ends with a thorough analysis of ‘Character-Building Thought Power.’
The author, Ralph Waldo Trine (1866 – 1958) started his career as a special correspondent for The Boston Daily Evening Transcript. His wife Grace Hyde Trine, a talented writer herself, shared his passion for writing. For many years they lived at Mt Airy, New York. Trine went on to write many such books and lectured extensively on the subject. Another one of his well–known books that stands the test of time is, In Tune with the Infinite (1910).

Your Forces and How to Use Them by Christian D Larson
Your Forces and How to Use Them was published in 1912. The 350 pages of this book speak extensively on Training the Subconscious for Special Results and The Art of Changing for the Better among other topics. From the very beginning, the author makes his intentions clear declaring, ‘we are here to become great men and women, and with that purpose in view, we must eliminate everything in our religion and philosophy that tends to make the human mind a dependent weakling.’
Christian D Larson (1874 – 1954) is considered to be the father of the American New Thought movement. He even set up a New Thought Temple at his residence in Cincinnati, Ohio! Like Trine, Larson too authored a number of books many of which remain in print to this date. Another one of his famous essays is, Nothing Succeeds Like Success.

The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Delois Wattles
Published in 1910, The Science of Getting Rich is a book that instructs readers on how to overcome the mental barriers and attract a life of prosperity for themselves. Rhonda Byrne, the author of The Secret (2007), credits this book as one of the major sources of her inspiration. The book talks on the subject of creating ‘wealth’ in one’s life in a straight–forward manner. The book continues to be in print owing to its huge popularity.
Wallace Delois Wattles’s (1860 – 1911) had a rather humble beginning to his life. A self–made man, he climbed the ladder of success through his hard work and power of positive thinking. He had written other books covering various topics apart from The Science of Getting Rich.

Creative Mind and Success by Ernest Holmes
Teacher and spiritual writer Ernest Holmes published Creative Mind and Success in 1919. The two–part book deals with a number of important topics which are essential for all–round well being of a human being. It guides the readers on how to control thought, make the right choices, create conducive atmosphere, attract friends and demonstrate success in business. He asserts that ‘money’ is ‘a spiritual idea’ and insists on abolishing negativity that tends to cloud our judgment. By going through this book, aspirants will also learn how to enlarge thought and develop intuition.
Ernest Holmes (1887 – 1960) started a spiritual movement known as Religious Science. He greatly appreciated the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Walker Atkinson.

The Master Key System by Charles F Haanel
The Master Key System (1919) is a book based on Charles F Haanel’s 24-week correspondent course on self-empowerment (1912). It starts with a mini psychological test intended to make students understand how much of ‘mental power’ they are actually using in their daily lives. The final chapter is dedicated to a set of questions and answers on a wide range of topics.
Charles F Haanel (1866 – 1949) was a prosperous businessman, business advisor and author. Post publication of his book, Napoleon Hill wrote a letter to Haanel. Hill stated, ‘My present success and the success which has followed my work as President of the Napoleon Hill Institute is due largely to the principles laid down in The Master-Key System.’

Dynamic Thought by Henry Thomas Hamblin
Dynamic Thought (1923) urges the readers to start walking on the path leading to success, happiness and satisfaction merely by altering the attitude. Twelve chapters of this book center around the fact that, ‘to man, life and the world are reflexes of inward mental states.’
Henry Thomas Hamblin (1873 – 1958) was an author and mystic from England. His own life is somewhat shrouded in obscurity though his books and thought are still preserved, courtesy, the initiative of Hamblin Trust established in 1921.

The Secret of the Ages by Robert Collier
In The Secret of the Ages, Robert Collier asks if it is possible to acquire perfect health, wealth and happiness. He then sets about providing the prescription himself. He frees the bottled up ‘genie’ which is nothing but methods of creating our own world, as desired, by using the latent power of subconscious mind. The book was published in 1926.
Robert Collier (1885 – 1950) was a prolific writer on the subject. Robert Collier Publications, Inc still exists preserving his valuable legacy. More than 300,000 copies of The Secret of the Ages were sold during his lifetime and many more afterwards.

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Robert Collier

The Twelve Powers of Man by Charles Fillmore
Published in 1930, this book is Charles Fillmore’s attempt of making the readers aware of their God-given qualities. Every chapter quotes extensively from the scriptures. It attempts to reveal our divine selves to us. The book also begs to have faith in the power of the ‘spoken word’. It ends with a detailed questionnaire for serious students and followers of the New Thought movement.
Charles Fillmore (1854 – 1948) established Unity, a church dedicated to the ‘higher thought’ and spiritual interpretations of biblical scriptures.

The Game of Life and How to Play It by Florence Scovel Shinn
The Game of Life and How to Play It was published in 1925. The book’s earthly recipes of learning to play the ‘game of life’ well attracted everyone. The examples were all taken from everyday life and Florence Scovel Shinn’s friendly way of approaching the subject made added impression on the minds of the readers. Her book continues inspiring people from every walk of life to this date.
Florence Scovel Shinn (1871 – 1940) was an artist, author and teacher. She wrote other books equally forceful in nature, such as, Your Word Is Your Wand and The Secret Door to Success.

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Illustration by Florence Scovel Shinn

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Napoleon Hill published Think and Grow Rich in 1937. Since then it became one of the most widely read and recommended books on using the power of mind to extract benefits from the universe. Napoleon Hill’s inspiring words, ‘What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve’ went on to become a perfect mantra for everyone and is closely followed even today.
The author was deeply influenced by the life of industrialist Andrew Carnegie. The most striking example of the so called law of attraction was present in front of his eyes. Persuaded by Carnegie himself, Napoleon Hill (1883 – 1970) set about decoding the ‘golden rule’ of having a fulfilling life. In the process he wrote many memorable books including this one.

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Napoleon Hill

From Joy Springs All Creation

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From joy does spring all this creation, by joy is it maintained, towards joy does it progress, and in joy does it permeate.

Upanishad

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Ah! were it worse- who knows?- to be
Victor or vanquished here,
When those confront us angrily
Whose death leaves living drear?
In pity lost, by doubtings tossed,
My thoughts- distracted- turn
To Thee, the Guide I reverence most,
That I may counsel learn:
I know not what would heal the grief
Burned into soul and sense,
If I were earth’s unchallenged chief-
A god- and these gone thence!

Bhagavad Gita (Translation by Edwin Arnold)

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…the wise in heart
Mourn not for those that live, nor those that die.
Nor I, nor thou, nor any one of these,
Ever was not, nor ever will not be,
For ever and for ever afterwards.
All, that doth live, lives always! To man’s frame
As there come infancy and youth and age,
So come there raisings-up and layings-down
Of other and of other life-abodes,
Which the wise know, and fear not. This that irks-
Thy sense-life, thrilling to the elements-
Bringing thee heat and cold, sorrows and joys,
’Tis brief and mutable! Bear with it, Prince!
As the wise bear. The soul which is not moved,
The soul that with a strong and constant calm
Takes sorrow and takes joy indifferently,
Lives in the life undying! That which is
Can never cease to be; that which is not
Will not exist. To see this truth of both
Is theirs who part essence from accident,
Substance from shadow. Indestructible,
Learn thou! the Life is, spreading life through all;
It cannot anywhere, by any means,
Be anywise diminished, stayed, or changed.
But for these fleeting frames which it informs
With spirit deathless, endless, infinite,
They perish. Let them perish, Prince! and fight!
He who shall say, ‘Lo! I have slain a man!’
He who shall think, ‘Lo! I am slain!’ those both
Know naught! Life cannot slay. Life is not slain!
Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never;
Never was time it was not; End and Beginning are dreams!
Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for
ever; Death hath not touched it at all, dead though the house of it
seems!

Bhagavag Gita (Translation by Edwin Arnold)

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I say to thee weapons reach not the Life;
Flame burns it not, waters cannot o’erwhelm,
Nor dry winds wither it. Impenetrable,
Unentered, unassailed, unharmed, untouched,
Immortal, all-arriving, stable, sure,
Invisible, ineffable, by word
And thought uncompassed, ever all itself,
Thus is the Soul declared! How wilt thou, then,-
Knowing it so,- grieve when thou shouldst not grieve?

Bhagavad Gita (Translation by Edwin Arnold)

Durga Puja DSCF1452_mini Goddess Durga

He that abstains
To help the rolling wheels of this great world,
Glutting his idle sense, lives a lost life,
Shameful and vain. Existing for himself,
Self-concentrated, serving self alone,
No part hath he in aught; nothing achieved,
Nought wrought or unwrought toucheth him; no hope
Of help for all the living things of earth
Depends from him. Therefore, thy task prescribed
With spirit unattached gladly perform,
Since in performance of plain duty man
Mounts to his highest bliss.

Bhagavad Gita (Translation by Edwin Arnold)

 

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