Gerda Taro – A Talent Born to Blush Prematurely

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dinamiteros_Taro

Wilfred Owen’s proverbial question, ‘Was it for this the clay grew tall?’, echoes through Gerda Taro’s life and work. She was one of the first female photographer to report events from the frontline. Eventually, she succumbed to the perils of war only when her career is starting to blossom.

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When I will Cease to Stand in Your Way …

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I saw you last week. Or, rather I saw the top of your hat. You walked past me without saying so much as “hello” to me. Was I surprised? No. Was I offended? Well, may be a little bit, deep down. No, I shouldn’t say I was offended. You see, when you expect someone to behave in a certain way and your assumptions turn out to be correct, you do not generally take any offence, however insulting one’s behaviour turns out to be. But you do not become overjoyed either, because you have been proved right. It is a strange kind of feeling. It accepts the fact, but continues to be sad nonetheless. It is a strange kind of pain too. It does not make you mad with anger. You do not seek revenge, because the object of it is too dear to you anyway. But this negligence gnaws at your heart nonetheless. In accepting the fact it feels defeated and yearns to cry out in desperation.

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When you appeared out of that grove this morning I could not help feeling how handsome you looked. You were surrounded by your friends. You may have failed to recognise me, but I have seen you growing up since a small boy. You often used to come here with Mr & Mrs ___ . You see, my relationship with you runs longer and deeper than you would care to admit, now that you have become such a big and successful person. But, blame it on my age, memories decades older than now seems to be so fresh to me. And, the past hour? I have forgotten already.
I vividly remember the days when you used to come here to gather flowers, chase that hapless butterfly or simply sit here awhile under the shade. To me it seems to be still only yesterday. In fact, I will let you out a little secret. Mr ___ too acted much the same way as you did when he was a child, though he did not admit it to you later on.

Then when you were a little older you managed to escape your nurse’s sleepy eyes to come to sit here. We talked and talked and talked. Or should I say, you talked and I used to listen. If I have ever intervened, you hardly used to take a notice of that. You used to tell me every story Miss ___ has read out to you on the day and weeks before. You used to narrate in minute detail what happened at home since the morning, why you are angry with your dad and mom and how you ran away without taking your breakfast. I remember once you revealed your mischievous idea of frightening little ___ by hiding a toad in her lunch box. You made me swear before revealing your plans of cheating at your homework to me. We had a long discussion on that and in the end you gave in to your conscience. But you did bind me in an oath nonetheless, so that I would not let this out to anyone. I never did because I knew we were friends for life. And, I never will because nothing will alter this truth for me, not even your perceived ignorance of the time gone by.

I could not help but see you talking with Mr Palmer the other day. I came to know about your plans of clearing this area up for a new guest house. Perhaps, you have big plans for your new found friends some of whom seem to be considering this house their own residence! Of course, it is your land and you will use it the way you please. I am counting my final few days on earth anyhow. You know, I have stopped giving those beautiful blossoms for years now. You mentioned that during your discussion with Mr Palmer.

I was caught in a reverie thinking of how you so loved collecting the scattered petals of those pink flowers. You used to heave them on little ____’s head. You two were such cherubs. All my neighbours here, including me, used to see your performances with such delight. You two hardly used to be conscious of that. Such is the beauty of childhood. It accepts life unconditionally. For children the whole world is nothing but a plaything. That is why so easily could we bind ourselves in sacred threads of friendship. That is why you never failed to understand my language. My silence never offended you. We became so close to each other that only best pals could possibly be. We knew how to be happy in each other’s joy. We knew how to keep each other’s most intimate secrets safely locked in the inner most chambers of our hearts.

Thirty years on, you became skilled in many languages, you accomplished many things to be a proud member of your family, you also gained worldly possessions. But the one language closest to your heart became lost irretrievably. My words became foreign to you, my feelings unintelligible. You no longer run towards me or any of my neighbours to embrace us with your big hands as you once were so much in a habit of doing. You have become too grown up for that. Perhaps you will say, “Like every child I was a tad foolish.” I beg to differ, my friend. You have become stupid now.

I will not stand in your way for very many days now. If not by Mr Palmer’s ingenuous machines, I will succumb to Mother Nature’s ways. So, will be the fate of many standing here alongside me today. Together, we carry the history of this land that is worth hundreds of years. Perhaps, that is not worthy enough for you as an individual, but it is priceless for “you” collectively. And what will be your loss? You, my dear friend? Your loss will be dearer than the bittersweet nostalgia of an old friend who once used to cover this land with the torn petals of blushing pink blossoms.

 

Image Courtesy:

Noric Couderc

Shubho Nabo Barsho – Happy New Year

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Today marks the onset of another Bengali New Year. The day is known as Baishakhi, the first day of the lunar calendar month Baisakh. According to the lunar calendar, followed on all festive occasions in this part of the world, yesterday saw the culmination of vernal season. The occasion is celebrated with much delight not only in Bengal, but across many regions of India. In other parts of the world too, like in Thailand where Songkran is being celebrated at the moment, this period does not go unnoticed. The word Songkran was derived from Sanskrit word Sankranti meaning culmination or transformation of one season to another.

Nabo anadey jago aji, nabo rabi kiraney,
Shubra sundar, preeti ujjal, nirmal jibaney …

Rabindranath Tagore

Wake up to a new joy, the exuberance of early morning sunshine,
To be touched by the beauty, splendour and tenderness of life … (roughly translated)

In earlier time, this period used to bring additional joy because it coincided with the harvest season. It used to bring friends and families together. Young members of the family paid respect to the older members. Pujas (worshipping) were performed to show gratitude for the time elapsed and prayers offered for everyone’s well-being. Nowadays, the program has undergone changes and is only a curtailed version of what it used to be. Gifts, mainly dresses and jewelleries, are exchanged. People throng restaurants for the taste of good food and drinks. They no longer have the ‘time’ or intention of cooking a fine meal consisting of traditional dishes at home. I intend to be an exception here and so does my brother. So, we are off to prepare a sumptuous dinner for our family members and a few other close friends. Here is the menu – pulao (a delectable rice dish), prawn malai curry (prawn cooked in mustard paste, poppy seed paste and cream, i.e. malai), pigeon pea curry and tomato chutney. You are cordially invited to join in.

Of Friendship between Men of Eminence

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To Big–Hearted, Big–Souled, Big–Bodied friend Conan Doyle” – these were the very words mentioned on the front page of the Novel Notes, penned by Jerome K Jerome. A name made famous by his character Mr Sherlock Holmes, and not the other way round, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life is a well documented one. Jerome K Jerome is no stranger to literature lovers either. Yet, I don’t think that too many people are aware of this enduring friendship between Conan Doyle and Jerome K Jerome.

It seems that the camaraderie between these two men existed for greater portion of their lives. Arthur Conan Doyle, an avid skier, travelled to Norway with Jerome K Jerome in the winter of 1892. The latter was one of the invitees present during Conan Doyle’s wedding with Jean Elizabeth Leckie in 1907. This small party also included such prominent names as J M Barrie and Bram Stoker. It is quite possible that Jerome K Jerome travelled to Switzerland at least once to meet his friend and be a part of his ski excursions.

Theirs were a friendship that aptly defines what Alfred Tennyson had to say on the matter,

So, friend, when I first looked upon your face, our thoughts gave answer each to each. Opposed mirrors each reflecting each, although I knew not in what time or place, methought that I had often met with you, and each had lived in other’s mind and speech.

Their companionship lasted during a particularly difficult phase of Conan Doyle’s life. Charles Altamont Doyle, Arthur Conan Doyle’s father and a talented illustrator himself, gave in to excessive drinking early in life. He soon succumbed to severe bouts of delusions which resulted in permanent insanity. More than a decade of his life was spent in an asylum. Charles Doyle passed away in the autumn of 1893. Arthur Conan Doyle’s first wife Louise was diagnosed with tuberculosis the same year. Conan Doyle planned a change of weather for his wife. This paved the way for his first visit to Switzerland. It does not come as a surprise, that Conan Doyle conceived The Final Problem, which indicated the assassination of Mr Sherlock Holmes much to the dismay of his fans, the same year.

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Holmes & Watson, Illustration by Sydney Paget

Friendship between kindred spirits may not be that difficult to spot, but such alliance during hours of crisis is not something so common. Another example that darts into the mind is the concord between Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Oscar Wilde. During one of his visits to London, Toulouse Lautrec, already an established artist by then, befriended Wilde. He painted Wilde’s portrait several times during their acquaintance. The most noteworthy of them all is certainly the one depicting a visibly exhausted but defiant Oscar Wilde during the final day of his trial. Toulouse Lautrec raised voice against Wilde’s imprisonment. The artist used his name and prominent position in the society to garner considerable support for Wilde from across the Channel. Though, Wilde escaped the execution he could not evade the sheer fatigue resulted from back to back trials. His health suffered breakdown and he eventually succumbed to a cerebral attack. Nonetheless, the friendship that existed between them stood the test of time.

Self-caricature & Portrait of Oscar Wilde by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

The Spark of Opals

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The fiery play of colours, in black, blue or red backdrop, has a hypnotic effect enough to mesmerise even the most disinterested spectator. It is one of the very few gemstones which is coveted both in its faceted and cabochon form. The gemstone derived its name from Sanskrit word upala which means a precious stone. Like many other gemstones, it was first mined in India before being transported by seafarers and merchants worldwide. I am talking of opals and its many coloured spellbinding beauty, to describe which it is better to borrow George Eliot’s words,

These gems have life in them: their colours speak, say what words fail of.

Though known for ages for its radiant form, opals only received recognition as a gemstone of worth since 19th century. Its relatively wider availability (opal deposits have even been discovered even on mars) may have an impediment in appreciating its exquisiteness.

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Availability of Opals

Australia

Australia mines world’s 95% gem quality opals. Opal is also the country’s national gemstone. Since its establishment in 1915, some of the biggest and most gorgeous opals were mined in Coober Pedy. The 17,000 carat sized Olympic Australis is one of the many famous opals that originated from here. It is indeed ironic to consider the amount wealth that lay hidden under Outback’s arid surface. Though not as glamorous as Coober Pedy, but Andamoka, Yowah and Koroit too are well known for mining quality opals, particularly the highly treasured black ones.

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Miners and fossickers join hands to organise many opal exhibitions every year in this part of the world. One of most notable such exhibition is the Lightning Ridge Opal Festival. Besides rough gemstones and a variety of opals mined in the region, the show also displays stunning pieces of opals jewellery. This year it is going to be organised in late July – August. Yowah Opal Festival is scheduled to be held mid – July. Coober Pedy’s centenary celebration has already begun over the weekend. So if you happen to be in the region do drop in. And, don’t forget visiting The Underground Art Gallery and Umoona Opal Mine & Museum.

Peru

While Outback has proved to be a rich bed for opals, Andes harnessed very few yet unique variety of this beautiful gemstone. Such is the charm of Peruvian opals, that early inhabitants of the area believed, and not unjustifiably, these to be gifts from Mother Earth, Pachamama. Peruvian opals come in rich blue, turquoise or rubicund hues – pastel shades characteristic to the region. Due to their softness, these opals are cut into cabochons.

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Peruvian opals are also highly valued by alternative healers. These stones are often used to address restlessness, sleep depravity and other mental and physical ailments.

Mexico

Mexican fire opals are highly valued by gemstone connoisseurs and jewellers alike. The bright red flash that gives Mexican fire opals such fine lustre is the primary reason behind its popularity. Being a rare variety, these fire opals are sold at a higher price than usual. However, fire opals are not the only variety that is mined in Mexico. Cantera opal, nestled into the matrix itself, is another one of the Mexican specialties.

Rest of the World

Opal deposits in Ethiopia have only been discovered in early 1990s. Within this short period of time, Ethiopian opals earned considerable repute. Opal mines along Yita Ridge in Mezezo are renowned for producing opals of significant amount and sometimes of most brilliant quality. When it comes to opals, every region seems to be having its own peculiarities and Ethiopia is no exception. The famous prase opal, otherwise known as African Jade, is Ethiopia’s gift to the world’s treasure chest. The dark red to brown variety is also highly adored by the jewellery and gemstone industry.

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Tanzania is another African nation known for producing opals. Besides, opals are mined in Brazil, Honduras, USA, Czech Republic and Slovakia in varying quantities.

Play of Colour

This hydrated amorphous silica is often valued due to its unusual play of colours. Depending on this characteristic, opals can be divided in the following four categories:

  • Rolling Flash – In this type, the play of colour seems to shift along the axis if the gemstone is turned.
  • Pinfire – This indicates small of patches of set pattern.
  • Flame – As the name suggests, this signifies the presence of sweeping dazzling red tone across the gemstone.
  • Harlequin – Often the most expensive variety, harlequins showcase a checkerboard of gleaming patches of many hues.

Opals for Gemstone Aficionados & General Buyers

Gemstone and jewellery lovers collect opal attracted by its splendour and quality. But like purchasing any other precious or semi–precious gemstones, buying opals require a considerable amount of research and care from the buyer’s side. For the beginners here are my suggestions,

  • Do decide on a budget and stick with it. But do not fall for gemstones that are extra cheap.
  • Always insist on a certificate of authenticity provided by reputed international gemmological research units like GIA, AGI, EGL or AGS. For more detailed information on this please refer to my article here.
  • Never opt for synthetic opals, available aplenty in Japanese and Chinese markets, unless you have specifically decided to own those.
    Whether you are buying a cabochon or faceted stone, don’t opt for lustreless ones. Avoid opals with ugly black patches or other kinds of marks that obstruct its beauty.
  • It is preferable to buy loose opals and have them set in a piece of jewellery. It gives you a greater chance of evaluating the gemstone.
  • It is highly recommended that you shop for your gemstones using traditional methods, instead of buying online. It helps in having a greater clarity of the quality of your gemstone. Besides, colours seen on screen sometimes differ from the actual tone due to limitation of screen resolution, availability of light while capturing the photograph etc. But I must admit, I have bought gemstones from reputed dealers online and never found myself dissatisfied with my purchases.

If handled with care, opals are reasonably tough to withstand general wear and tear. A piece of precious opal can be an asset for your family for generations and it won’t lose its lustre along the way.

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Opals for Collectors & Investors

It is not surprising that what buyers find so attractive, investors would find lucrative too. Investment in Australian opal mines have slowed down due to stringent government regulations. This was also fuelled by some misleading information possibly spread by competing miners of the same area. But at the same time newer markets like Ethiopia opened up. Collectors collect rough opalites and investment quality opals to exhibit for sometime before selling off at a higher price, often succumbing to a newer fancy.

Opal in Art

Even artists find themselves deeply influenced by the charm of opals. Beautiful sculptures are made using rough opalites. Small gemstones are set together into intricately designed mosaics. Few years ago, artisans of Kashmir created a carpet studding painstakingly detailed floral motifs with 400 black opals. Though not for sale, this stunning piece of craftsmanship was valued at USD 100,000.

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Opal has been a centre of much devotion and superstition for ages. Earliest civilisations worshipped its beauty as well as its talismanic quality. In recent times, superstitions stemmed from misleading information spread by competitors willing to have commercial gain based on this. While opal’s metaphysical benefits are still hotly debated and will continue to be so for some time to come, don’t become a victim of such advertising gimmicks as opals are only fit for people born in a certain month or zodiac sign. As we have seen, opals are available in many colours. So select the one that suits you most aesthetically, astrologically or metaphysically and adorn yourself. Alternatively, you may consider gifting this beautiful gemstone to someone you love. Remember, Romans considered this gemstone fit for offering to God.

 

Image Courtesy:

Opals-On-Black.com, James St. John, John Hritz, Duremi, Gery Parent, Tim Evanson

Let Nature’s Peace Flow into You

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There is a world that is lying just outside your window. Pull up the blinds of your inner being and experience it. Let the sunshine plant a kiss on your forehead, allow the gentle breeze to caress your face, permit the butterflies to play with your hands. If you are cursing the cacophony of your urban existence, then don’t be disheartened. We are taking a trip around the world to visit some of the most surreal landscapes and experience nature in its purest form. Join us on this journey.

Keukenhof

As the name suggests, Keukenhof was Countess of Hainaut’s Jacqueline kitchen garden. She was a great admirer of nature. In her brief lifespan of 35 years (1401 – 1436), the countess collected many samples of flowers, fruits and vegetables from her many journeys. She brought them back to plant them in her garden. Situated in Lisse, the Netherlands, Keukenhof is not only a piece of heaven on earth but a living history. Famous architects Jan David Zocher and his Louis Paul Zocher gave Keukenhof a makeover in 1857. The flower parade of Keukenhof is scheduled later in the month. Don’t miss the opportunity of participating in the flower parade, celebrated every year in this old Dutch town.

The highest joys spring from those possessions which are common to all, which we can neither alienate ourselves nor be deprived of by others, to which kind nature has given all an equal right – a right which she herself guards with silent omnipotence.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Villa d’Este

Villa d’Este is part of UNESCO World Heritage list. Besides, the mannerist architecture and huge collection of masterful artworks, the villa is renowned for its baroque garden. The project was ensued by Ippolito II d’Este who was ably assisted by such architects as Pirro Ligorio (1514 – 1583) and Alberto Galvani. But it really flourished during Cardinal Alessandro d’Este’s (1568 – 1624) tenure. The parkland, decorated with most ornate sculptures, served as a prototype of many a garden of Europe, both famous and not so famous. . In its heyday, the garden hosted frequent concerts of noted musician and composers like Franz Liszt. As you stroll under its century old trees, you will still hear music playing incessantly in the gentle breeze, rustling of leaves and gushing of fountain water.

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Parc Floral de la Source

Parc Floral de la Source is spread on the banks of Loiret in Orleans, France. Created in 1963, it is a relatively new construction compared to the other famous gardens of the country. It boasts of elaborate rock garden, grassland, butterfly greenhouse, special areas designated for dahlias, irises and vegetables. But it is most famous for its rose garden. This rose garden is indeed one of the prime attractions of Loire Valley which you should never miss on your trip to this region. After all, there is nothing more enticing than spending an entire afternoon breathing into the fragrant atmosphere of Parc Floral de la Source’s rosarium. If you are still harbouring some doubt, see what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has to say on the matter (courtesy his famous character Mr Sherlock Holmes),

Our highest assurance of the goodness of providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.

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Powerscourt Garden

Powerscourt Garden existed since early 18th century in Enniskerry, Ireland. However, it took its present form more than a century later. Daniel Robertson, a 19th century British architect, integrated all his experiences of travelling in various gardens of Europe to create this ethereal piece of landscape for Vicsount Powerscourt. Subsequent members of the family took great care of the garden and even remodelled certain portions of it according to the prevailing fashion. “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” – What Cicero said hundreds of years ago stands true to this date.

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At this point we will take a long flight across globe to land in our next destination.

Okayama Korakuen

Okayama Korakuen is another place where you can really enjoy being a part of resplendent nature. Tsuda Nagatada, a local bureaucrat during the reign of Ikeda Tsunamasa, took orders from his master to start construction of this beautiful garden in 1687. It was completed 13 years later. Since then, the garden acts as one of the most gorgeous place to be during any time of the year, but more so during spring – summer months. Besides, fragrant flowers and trees you will also have many cranes for your company. It is situated in Okayama Prefecture of Japan.

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Nong Nooch Botanical Garden

Since 1954, Nong Nooch Botanical Garden has been a place where you may experience the joy of being one with nature. Additionally, it also a acted as a conservation area for many rare plant species. Among other species of flora, Nong Nooch is most acclaimed for preserving several cyclads species. It maintains a gene pool for this tropical plant species.

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I am aware that I have omitted many noteworthy names from this list. Though I intend to cover some more in my future posts it will still be insufficient for covering them all. At any rate, this is not meant to be a list of ‘world’s best gardens, ‘top gardens’, ‘famous gardens’ or ’10 gardens you must visit before you …’. Certainly, the patch of greenery you create at your own backyard or patio, through your own sweat and meticulous planning, remains the dearest place for you to be in.

This post intends to showcase what beauty we can create on earth if we only collaborate with nature just a little bit. And, what we will soon lose if we continue our mad rush of creating concrete landscapes. My experience also says, while we take a trip, closer to home or somewhere in the distant land, we often ignore visiting such places as gardens and museums or remain in a mad rush to just go through them. The wealth of any place, natural or cultural, can be found in these locations only.

Slowing down to soak in the charm of the perfumed atmosphere, holding a silent conversation with that century old tree and join in the merriment with birds and butterflies may just prove to be an experience you have never considered indulging in all your life. Besides, it will also be a wonder drug for rejuvenating your body and mind.

Footfalls echo in the memory,

Down the passage which we did not take,

Towards the door we never opened

Into the rose–garden.

T S Eliot

 

Image Courtesy:

Robert Lyle Bolton, Börkur Sigurbjörnsson, Esther Westerveld, Matt McGee, Neo_II, Katrina, Zoe Goodacre, SteFou!

Poetry on Sardonyx Conch

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The azure depth of ocean hides many fascinating secrets in its bosom. It is such a place where the boundary between reality and lore often gets blurred. Artists, poets and metaphysicists often take an advantage of such a world shrouded in mystery to create pieces of art, literature and hypothesis that sometimes are equally enigmatic and age defying.

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One such piece of work is this cameo crafted from a conch shell. This beautiful creation is a prized possession of the jewellery museum of Ascione, Italy. Created in 1925, it is one of the finest pieces of cameo ever produced. But without the tide of deep and dark blue ocean which handed this sardonyx to man where would his art be?

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.

tanjoredance

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.

tanjorecraft

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.

tanjoremusicians

 

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.

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