Om Namah Shivaya

Om Namah Shivaya

Jul 13, 2016

CURTAIN RAISER: Hindu Lit Fest 2017 - In discussion with the founder Nirmala Lakshman (Director - Hindu Group)

I have been regularly writing about Hindu Lit for Life Festival since its inception and immensely enjoy three days of festivity along with thousands of Art and Literature lovers of Chennai. So I was thrilled when our book club  “Sans Serif” proposed to invite Ms. Nirmala Lakshman - founder of Hindu Literary Festival for a discussion on Hindu Lit Fest. Clearly it was an opportunity to get ‘behind the scene’ of this amazing event that has me wondering about how the multiple celebrity authors, prominent literary figures and iconic artist get together to enthral the wonderful audience of Chennai. And all the credit for this lovely interaction goes to our book club’s most enthusiastic book lover - Ms. Devika Anand who some how managed to steal precious time from Ms. Nirmala’s busy schedule.

Ms. Nirmala Lakshman at Sans Serif Book club at Apparao Galleries

In very short span of time, Hindu Lit for Life Festival, popularly hash tagged in social media as well as on twitter as #LFL has become one of the most prestigious literary events, because of sheer passion of Ms. Nirmala Lakshman and her enthusiastic team at Hindu as well as unstinted support and encouragement from Hindu Management. Ms Nirmala also pointed out that the festival’s idea, conceptualization and execution has its root in 20 years of constant caring for arts, culture and heritage through weekly publication of Hindu Literary Supplement. But another thing that I personally believe has added to the creditability of the festival is the fact, as Ms. Nirmala said during our conversation that Hindu Management has had a ‘hands-off’ approach and non-interference in the process of selection of Books, Authors, Artists and awards.

As we finished our book club’s monthly discussion on Paul Kalanithi’s poignant book “When breath becomes Air” (Still going strong on New York Times best seller’s Chart), Ms. Nirmala arrived on the dot.  As the book club members gathered around her to greet her as long time friend, for me as a relatively new member (3 years) to the book club, it was heartening to know that Ms. Nirmala is not only founder of Hindu Lit Fest but also one of the founding members of our book club too.
Among friends (Pic Curtsy T Suresh)

As we settled down, Ms. Nirmala took us to the very beginning of Hindu Lit Fest. From the confines of a five star hotel, 7 years back to its present pristine and natural ensconced venue of artistic and literary activity at Harington Road, it has been quite a journey. From few thousands in the beginning to tens of thousands of footfalls in year 2016, the Hindu Lit festival has become an annual ‘must do’ thing for Chennai Literati, arts and culture aficionados and specially, as she mentioned, for the young student community. 

Pic curtsy T Suresh

Initially Hindu group financially supported the event completely but as the festival grew up in size and attendees, there was increase in costs involved so sponsors were invited and there had been internal talk for introducing some sort of season tickets for certain seats too. Presently the Hindu marketing team does get some sponsors too, but contrary to the popular belief, it is quite hard for even Hindu to get some major sponsors.  Hence the major part of the funding still comes from Hindu Group.  As Ms. Nirmala pointed out, the students group is the main reason that there are still no tickets for any of the events during the 3-day festival.

Another misconception people have about the festival being Hindu Group’s own initiative that it is easy to get the Authors to come to the event. She emphasized that it is actually very hard to get them to confirm. Some of them respond late, or not confirm their joining in till the last moment or don’t even respond. But the good thing is that once they are in the festival, they enjoy themselves a lot. In the festive atmosphere, they like to interact with audience and hang around the venue to talk with people. It was hard in the beginning for them to get going but once they experience the hospitality of Chennai audience and organizers, most respond enthusiastically.

Book Club Members
Regarding the Hindu Literary award, she says the selection process starts months ahead of the event. The consultant team selects books that are on the list, or are talked about as well as recommendations from authors and literary groups. These are passed on after intial screening, to the independent panel of Judges. Hindu has no role in this process apart from the financial commitment and organizing the awards ceremony, which is the culmination of the 3-day festival.

Winner of Fiction Writing over the years...

As the Hindu Lit Team is getting into the 2017 Lit Festival, there are some interesting new things happening too. This time there is a talk about Children’s Festival as well as people from the world over approaching to attend the events. For the first time, few Norwegian Authors will be joining the 2017 Hindu Lit Fest.

One of the members asked about clashing of two of her favorite author discussions held on separate venues at the festival, to which she remarked that it is good to have divided loyalties.

To a question on the value of celebrity delegates, she responded saying that the celebrities are important and our marketing looks forward to it, but we don’t compromise. On a lighter note, she added that it is very hard to manage celebrities and the resulting crowd, but we some how scrape by. At one time, they even had to call police to manage.

The interesting sessions ... our own Sharan Apparao in one of them

But as one of the members pointed out, she agreed that most of the people / celebrities who attend, are impressed with the culture of Chennai and well behaved audience. Many of the delegates have commented that the Chennai is the most amazing place to talk about literature and culture. But yes, there are some peculiar characters, who come to the lit festival, specially barge in on the Q&A sessions, for their 15 seconds of limelight. They are the ones who grab the mike at the word go.  Most of times the moderator or one of the speakers handle them on their own, some times we do manage with our volunteers all around.
Over the years, I have personally gained some good friends
and mentors - Thanks to Hindu Lit Fest...

To one of the questions, Ms. Nirmala responded by saying that best way to ‘kill’ a good session is to have a bad moderator. So selection of the moderators is crucial to the success of each and every session. This selection is done in consultation with festival team as well as from group of her friends and added with a smile, “And yes I have good group of friends like most of you here.”
It was wonderful session to be among friends....

You can visit some of the past Hindu Lit Festival at the following links..

Looking forward to 2017.... Hope you have enjoyed this journey with Ms. Nirmala Lakshman. Please let me know your views..

ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya

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Hindu Lit for Life 2016                                    

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

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