Om Namah Shivaya

Om Namah Shivaya

Jun 18, 2016

Key to Sculptures of South India - by Heritage Vigilante Vijay Kumar

A four lecture series by  famous Heritage vigilante - Vijay Kumar, organised by Apparao Galleries

Over the years of my association with Apparao Galleries, specially with Chennai’s leading cultural activist, Sharan Apparao, I have learned a lot about South Indian heritage and culture. Outreach programs of Apparao Galleries connected me with stalwarts of various art and cultural streams of India. I have gained valuable insights with lecture series of Dr. Chithra Madhavan, Dr. Anita Ratnam etc., which otherwise would have taken a lifetime to understand. The lecture series on the Sculptures of South India was one such opportunity, in which Mr. Vijay Kumar - based out of Singapore, took us on an exquisite historical journey among beautiful stone and bronze sculptures.
1000 years old stolen Ardhanareeshwar
Sculpture from Tamil Nadu
Image Curtsy The Hindu

The unassuming Vijay Kumar, whose soft demeanor hides the passion and the perseverance with which he goes after the smugglers of our Art and Heritage artifacts, across the world. You will not even suspect that he is the passionate vigilante, who had worked in close co-ordination with ‘The Indiana Jones’ of Homeland Security Investigation - USA, Special Agent Brenton Easter to bring back home several artifacts along with the Prime Minister Modi on his return from USA recently.  Vijay Kumar, over the period of last 10 years, has been instrumental in creating great awareness of our sculptural heritage through his page on Face Book - 'Poetry In Stone' in addition to being the prime mover in repatriating the stolen sculptures to India, through his online vigilante platform - India PrideProject.

During the four lecture series, spread over two days (11-12th June, 2016), we learned the various methods employed by the smuggling gangs, the subterfuge and the connivance of various dealers and warehouses. But this post is not about that, as they are all widely reported across the mainstream newspapers etc. (You can find few here). I am going to focus about certain keys that Vijay gave us to understand the value of our heritage, the exquisite beauty of our ancient craftsmenship and share some of the keys to know the period of the sculptures we all see, as we go on our pilgrimages, spiritual outings and on meditation trips.

I have been on a lot of spiritual treks in Himalaya, South India, even in North Indian Buddhist circuit and whenever I come across the sculptures, Idols and deities in the dark enclaves of sanctum sanctorum, I always felt them to be enveloped in mystery, beyond an invisible boundary that separated us.  Not to be touched or explored with enquiring eyes, but they were out there, ensconced in devotion and spiritual energy, to be watched from a distance with reverence. I always wandered around the temple premise, keenly looking at the various sculptures dotting the place, trying to figure out what they are trying to tell me in their exquisite but mute postures. I always wonder about the history behind those beautifully carved eyes, or how the standing three-inflexion point pose came to be? Why there is a clear difference between two sculptures standing next to each other? And as the four lecture series came to an end, things begin to fall in place and some hidden insights were unlocked.
So here I am sharing some of the keys to understanding the South Indian Sculptures, I have had gathered from the session. Hope it will also help you to unravel an exquisite past as you walk around a Heritage site across South India.
A) Evolutionary style

Pallava Period sculpture is a free form work of art.
Early Chola sculptures were in a set style, that used to be replicated across the south Indian Peninsula.
Late Chola  period sculptured developed more intricate form of carving and casting. They were more Ornamentally decorated with intricate details and carving, with Karanda Mukuta, Ratha Patta, Kundla, Skand Mala etc.
Image curtsy The Indian Pride Project - Vijay Kumar

B) Attributes of Sculpture
As Vijay Kumar explained, in order to understand an idols identity and /or period it comes from, the first thing to do is to look at the various postures the sculpture displays. See what attributes it has, especially what are the things it carries in the various hands. All these attributes unravel the place, the period and the mythological background it comes from. It is very important to understand that the mythological stories play an important role in understanding and identifying a sculpture, as most of the time a simple panel will depict a full mythological story.

Some of the key attributes and signs to look for in a sculpture.

Image Curtsy The India Pride Project - Vijaya Kumar
a) A head crown is a sign of Gods
b) Matted Locks depicts Lord Shiva
c) If the Sacred Thread goes over elbow is most of the times indication for Pallava Sculpture
d) Usually a single anklet is sign of Kings
e) Deity’s hands are usually shown in Abhaya, Kartari, Simha, Karna, Sukhasana
Dhanur Hasta, Ardha Chandra Hasta forms.
e) Four hands separating at Elbow depicts early Pallava period while, if they are separating at shoulders depicts at Chola period sculptures.
f) Shiva has antelope in one hand.
g) Usually the in the Chola Period, the rings are shown worn in 2nd phalanx of fingers
g) Ajana Bahu i.e. long hands, reaching or crossing knees in sculptures usually a sign of King.
h) Hair curling at the back is often from late Chola period
i) A pot of fire in the hands of the deity was depicted up to 9th century, later it turned into fire without a pot.
j) Concept of triple flexion at the style of standing posture of idols.

C) Height, Eye length and Forehead size of the sculptures.
Image curtsy The India Pride Project - Vijay Kumar
Vijay suggested in the lecture that as the artisans and tools developed of their trade, their sensitivity and expertise also changed toward creating those exquisite sculptures.  Starting from bare stone structures, they moved to creating more artistic and detailed postures. He said that even creating a panel in type of 2 - dimensional structure, they were able to give 3-D feeling, as he gave an example of the feet being fully formed, shown in the panel from the back, unlike the ancient European stone sculptures, where the feet and the body were usually depicted straight and facing forward.

i) Classic Chola deity’s face is long  and thin. The crown is more conical and ornamentally decorated (1000 AD Bronze Idols.)
ii) While Chola period (1200 AD) sculptures have a more boyish face and have small but much more pronounced conical crown.

3) Tell Tale Signs
During the lecture series, I have a small list of some signs that will identify a sculpture with certain amount of surety.

i) Right chest having an inverted triangle, depicts Lakshmi on Vishnu Idols on early periods and a fully formed Lakshmi on the later period of bronze idols. While Shiva gave his half of the body to Parvati
ii) Human deity always have two hands apart from Purushotam Rama, incarnation of Vishnu as the perfect human being.
iii) Lord Shiva is never shown with folded hands as in praying.
iv) Any aspect of Shiva as Bhairava is depicted with fangs, while in rare places as Dakshinamurthy, Shiva has been depicted with fangs.
v) Agni is with three legs, 2 heads and 7 hands

4) How to know that a sculpture is an old idol
Vijay gave us a practical tool to identify authenticity of a sculpture, “if by some miracle the temple priest allows you to do, what I am going to tell you”. He said that the maximum bronzes tend to loose their cherubic charm over the years, so to identify an old sculpture, first wash your hand, pray and then if allowed feel the face of the idols, you will have soft feeling of the face. It is because, as over the centuries of care of the idol by the temple priest, brushing the idols with soft tamarind to anoint and decorate the idols, it gives that ‘soft feeling in the face’ effect.

At the end of the lecture, I realised that the reason Vijay is known in the Heritage circles as a fierce vigilante, is the fact that he has a deep-rooted pride for our ancient heritage and culture in his heart. He abhors the way these gangs are operating with impunity in India. So almost a decade back he set about what he can does best. He started talking about it in various seminar, exposing these people on his social media platforms and online communities, and educating people to know the value of safe guarding our ancient monuments and sculptures. He created and manages a great online community of vigilante’s like him, called “The India Pride Project”. Please do join if you are interested in the same.
Vijay and me at Apparao Galleries - Chennai
When I asked to take a picture along with him, he said that it is quite dangerous to have a picture with him as many ‘not so good’ people watch him all the time. Well this is my one small step to end ‘not so good’ people’s story. Hope you have enjoyed it.

ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya

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Chennai Colors: Dr. Chithra Madhvan                                        

May 17, 2016

Songs of the Mist Book Reading at Leela Palace Hotel (Chennai)

An Evening of Art, Music and Writing
Swetha Sriram - Disciple of Bombay Jayashree opens the evening
with her devotional songs
Leela Palace Hotel and Perspectives along with Apparao Gallery created an evening of “Art, Music and Writing”, on 14th May, 2016. In the program, I was invited to give my readers an interactive experience to my book "Songs of the Mist" - a reading of the Book, accompanied by the music of Swetha Sriram (Vocal), Vittal Rangan (Violin) and Thanjavur Praveen (Mridangam).
The attentive audience

The event was hosted by untiring host Sindhiya from Apparao Gallery, which also included unveiling of the cover page of my coffee table book.
Hostess Sindhiya of Apparao Gallery

In the cross disciplinary evening of Art, Music and Writing my good friend Timeri N Murari - author of 14 books including 'The Taj' as well as writer producer of the feature film 'The Square Circle' introduced my book 'Songs of the Mist', after which we were all transported to the exquisite realm of karnatic music, rendering the Leela Palace Galleria with devotion and melody. The ambience was highlighted by the surreal display of landscapes and soft hues of mist and natural earth colors by the artists - N Sriram (Chennai) and Bhavana (Mumbai)

Timeri N Murari - Introducing my book "Songs of the Mist"

Essence of the Divine Song
The Essence of Divine Song - Cover Painting
by Keshav Sir

This coffee table book has all the 9 songs of the Monk from my book "Songs of the Mist" as well as some of the Haiku and thoughts from the book. The book's cover page is by famous cartoonist of Hindu, Mr. Keshav -one of the finest Krishna Bhakta, I have come across in Chennai. The book is conceptualized by Krishan Kumar Sharma, which includes Photographs by Goutam Chakraborty, Suresh Thommandram and some of my pictures as well.

The team and some of the images from the book...

Here are some of the pictures from the evening…

The invites...

Some of the readers... 
And the people...
Selfie Time...

The Chennai Bloggers and the Family Gang

Media Blitz for the event...
Slides from my presentation... My experience in Himalayas
over the decades...

The book reading slides...

ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya

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Songs of the Mist - Back to the root

Apr 29, 2016

CREATION: The Big Bang and the eternal sound - Om

In the first one, Roman Catholic priest and physicist- Georges Lemaître was following the recession of Nebulae in the night sky. After long and lengthy vigil over time, he came up with the idea that the recession was due to the expansion of the universe. In 1931 Lemaître took another bold step and inferred since the universe is expanding, it is quite possible that if we retrace universe back in time, at some specific moment all the mass of the universe would be concentrated into a single point, which he termed as a "primeval atom". That particular moment and the place where the fabric of time and space came into existence, he believed to be the beginning of our Universe, as we know it now.

He then proposed a theory, which was later developed by George Gamow as the point when the universe started with a big bang. However it was Hoyle who coined “The Big Bang” as a popular phrase in March 1949 BBC Radio broadcast. In the year 1965, the discovery and confirmation of the cosmic microwave background radiation finally made the Big Bang as the best theory for the origin and evolution of the universe, which was confirmed in 1968 and 1970, by Roger Penrose, Stephen Hawking, and George F. R. Ellis by showing that mathematical singularities were an inevitable initial condition of general relativistic models of the Big Bang.
Stephen Hawking holding a public lecture at the Stockholm Waterfront
congress center, 24 August 2015.(IMG:Curtsy Wikipedia)
Now here is the second story. Sages (read priests) and scholars (read astronomers, cosmologists, mathematicians etc.) who wrote Vedas, Upanishads, Purana’s etc. who for centuries wondered about the Universe, Stars, heavenly bodies and searching answers for eternal questions like ‘what is the purpose of life, Who am I and what is the cosmos and who is the creator etc.’ Over many generations, they pondered over the questions and revealed their thoughts about it all, in their teachings, in their compositions of Sanskrit Shlokas which were handed down the generation by verbal memory - by way of shurtis etc. These were later collated in the form of numerous ancient manuscripts of Vedic culture.
Shankaracharya by Raja Ravi Varma
(Curtsy Wikipedia)
Here are some of those inferences and ancient ideas which talk about the process of creation.

MāndūkyaUpanishad starts with solemn proposition with the following…  
“OM! This imperishable word is the whole of this visible universe.”

It was probably for the first time, the sacred Primordial sound ‘OM’ (Read Pranava Naad, which literally means deep sound or The Big Bang!) was referred to as it is. It is believed that in the early Vedas, the word was omitted since it was considered too sacred a sound of immense power and potency to be mentioned by itself.

ChandogyaUpanishad explains the origin of the universe as…

“Space, said he. Verily, all things here arise out of space. They disappear back into space, for space alone is greater than these, space is the final goal. This is the most excellent Udgitha. This is endless. The most excellent is his, the most excellent worlds does he win, who, knowing it thus, reveres the most excellent Udgitha [Om, ].” - Verse 1.9.1-1.9.2

“There was nothing whatsoever here in the beginning. It was covered only by Death (read dark space) or Hirayagarbha - A golden womb” - Verse 1.2.1

Now if you compare these two stories, our sages have said almost the same thing as the Roman Catholic Priest Lemaitre did in early 20th century, 4000 to 5000 years ago. The insightful verses above and many more were based on pure thought experiments. Generation upon generation Vedic scholars, pundits and Gurus meditated upon the cosmos, developed theories about how the Universe was created, who we are, what is the purpose of life etc. But now these thoughts of ancient sages are branded as something obscure and unintelligent mythological babble of primitive idlers. Though here I would like to remind the readers that they were the same people who gave the world, numerical “0”, trigonometry, calculus, Pythagoras theorem etc.

This kind of belittling of our ancient philosophy and thoughts started with the infiltration of Indian culture and heritage by ancient as well as modern invaders. The final nail in the coffin of obscurity for Indian philosophy happened with Aryan invasion theories as well as biased opinions of some European writers and thinkers, who translated these ancient text out of context. Some, in the absence of written history or documentation, even went beyond the usual rhetoric and dismissed it all as heresy, myths or bizarre fairy tales.

Now we all know that Vedic teachers, philosophers did not write their thoughts down on some kind of primitive tablets or on the walls of obscure caves, because they relied on the most enduring tool of the mankind - the mind and the cultivated discipline of Guru - Shishya parampara (Teacher and disciple custom) relationship based Gurukul system of Vedic culture. Vedic culture believed in shruti i.e. learning sholokas and its meaning by heart through listening, through out the ancient time.

Yes, there is no mention of the sacred eternal sound OM (which was later mentioned in the Upanishads) in the early Rg Vedas. But to understand this absence of the pranava naad ‘Om’, we must put it in the proper context. In Vedic culture of ancient India, the primordial sound ‘OM’ was considered the most sacred and holy sound with immense potential energy to be mentioned by itself anywhere. The teacher alone passed it on to the disciple by way of whispering it into his ear. Even today this custom of transferring sacred knowledge is found in many current Vedic rituals like the sacred thread ceremony, or in the ritual of becoming a shishya (disciple) through Guru Mantra, whispered into the disciple’s ear by the Guru.
German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer,
impressed by the Upanishads, called the texts
"the production of the highest human wisdom".
(IMG: Curtsy Wikipedia)
It can be argued whether the ancient Vedic philosophy was a scientific endeavor or just a flight of fancy of ancient Indian student or teacher? But in my opinion, during the times of Vedic culture the young scholar of the gurukul system of learning, learned everything under the sun and continued learning their whole life, thinking and practicing what he / she had learned, refining and consolidating it with every step of knowledge gained. And they shared this knowledge with their disciples through their teachings in various forms of Shruti and slowly it grew to be the Vedic tree of knowledge with the branches of Upanishads, Puranas, and its root firmly planted in ancient Vedas.

Over a period of time, our great sages also realised that the reality of the whole universe is also an interaction between Purush (man) and the Prakriti (Nature) and in this interaction, the duality of the universal consciousness is manifested through spandan (vibration) or prana (light) which act as the eternal energy within every single particle existing the universe.

And this is exactly what the modern world, scientific community as of now, is fighting hard to come to terms with. It was all right for the scientists till the time, Newtonian mechanics had its hold over the progressive world. But as the mankind slowly dug deeper into the depths of elements, quantum particles stared back with its weird quantum phenomenon and stumped the scientific community.

But this duality never had any problems for the Vedic thinkers of 5000 years ago…

Science Vs Spirituality in 
Songs of the Mist...
“Now that light which shines above this heaven, higher than all, higher than everything, in the highest world, beyond which there are no other worlds, that is the same light which is within man”Chandogya Upanishad 3.13.7

“The soul cannot be created or destroyed,” says Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita and this is exactly what most of the scientists of the world say about ‘energy’ too” says Ayan the scientist in my book - Songs of the Mist (Page - 25)

In the end, I would like to say that for a very long time, we have denied the rightful place of our rich heritage, culture and ancient knowledge base. The books like Bhagwad Gita have provided the perfect road map to live the prefect life, even in modern times - A life which is meaningful and is in equilibrium with the nature all around us as well as within our own intrinsic nature. But it is unfortunate that not only others, we ourselves don’t take them seriously, specifically the young Indian generation. The young India does not like to read these amazing books, as they are considered to be archaic, impractical and ancient in thoughts, a position for which we have ourselves to blame. We ourselves have turned the immensely practical treasure trove of our rich heritage of culture and knowledge into a straightjacketed ritualistic customs and practices, hidden behind the closed and crumbling temple walls across the country, through our fanatic religious shortsightedness.
ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya

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Evolution - A Work in Progress...

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