Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Searching for the past in Chennai

During a recent visit to Chennai, a walk along the Marina beach took me to the ancient Parthasarthy temple and to a search for a long lost childhood friend. This post is about that walk and my search.


My childhood friend

Nani used to live in a multistory building inside the area known as NPL, while we were living in Double Storey flats in New Rajendra Nagar in Delhi. His family home was in Chennai, which I had visited a couple of times.

The last time I had met him was probably around 2001-02 when I had come to India. He had just shifted back to Delhi. Since then we had lost contact. Partly it was my fault - I had not looked for him during my visits to India. I didn't have his email. I looked for him on facebook but didn't find him. Every now and then I wondered about him.

A memory from the past

Few weeks ago, I was back in Chennai after more than 20 years. One afternoon I was looking at the Google Map when I noticed "Parthasarathy temple" that was not very far from my hotel. The last time I had visited Nani's house in Chennai must have been about 30 years ago, but I was sure that it was right in front of the Parthasarathy temple. I remembered the name of the temple because it was also his father's name.

Parthasarthi temple is the oldest temple of Chennai, built around 8th century CE. Nani's family house in front of it, also looked very old. Once I had stayed in that house for a couple of days and remembered its intricately carved wooden doors and a wooden balcony around the central courtyard.

As I remembered my old visit to that house, I decided that I will go to that temple and see if I could find his old house. Perhaps some neighbours will be able to give me news about him, I thought.

The walk at Marina Beach

I took an auto to the Gandhi statue on Marina beach. It was sunset time and the beach was crowded with people.


I started my walk towards the Parthasarathy temple with the help of Google Map on my cellphone. I passed in front of the Vivekanand house, the house where he had stayed for some time after his return from the US.


I am an admirer of Vivekanand and would have liked to explore that place and its museum but it was becoming dark, so I decided to continue my walk.


A short walk brought me to the Anne Besant street with her statue in a small park at the street corner. Parthasarathy temple was nearby according to the Google Maps.


Reaching the Parthasarathy temple

A small side street brought me to the temple pond. Though I had visited that place and even stayed there right next to that pond, I had no memory of it. I even had difficulty in recognising the temple. The Gopuram of the temple seemed much taller compared to how I remembered it. All the area in front of it, including an long entrance with a row of pillars was surrounded by an iron grill. There were small shops all around and it was full of devotees and visitors.


In my memory that was a quiet street, there was no long covered entrance in front of it. At that time, there were no shops, but just old houses on the two sides. I went all around a couple of times, but could not recognise anything. I tried asking to some older looking shopkeepers, but no one could tell me anything.

After about 15 minutes of looking around, I was almost ready to give up. I visited the temple and even it seemed different from how I had remembered it.

While coming out of the temple, I had a flash of memory about the address of the old house. It was hiding somewhere there in my head. I checked the numbers on the houses. Number 25, my friend's house, was there but it was a marriage hall. It looked completely different from the house of my memories.


Outside the marriage hall, I saw a board on the side with a telephone number. I thought that I will talk to the hall owner and ask him, perhaps he would know about the previous owners of this house. However, my call went unanswered. Dejected, I thought that it was time to go back to my hotel.

Call from the marriage hall owner

I was near the temple pond, looking for an auto, when my telephone rang. It was the hall owner calling me back.

"When did you buy that house?" I asked him.

"Who are you? Why do you want to know?" He asked me suspiciously.

So I explained that it was the house of an old friend and that I was looking for him.

"I have Nani's telephone number, he lives in Delhi", the hall owner told me.

"Wow!" I had found my friend, I was overjoyed, "Can you please SMS me his mobile number?"

The man promised to send me the number and then while closing the phone casually mentioned, "Nani's father still lives in that house, there is a small residential part on the side, he has a room there."

"What? Uncle is still alive?" I was flabbergasted. Uncle had retired in the 1980s, so he must be more than 90 years old, probably closer to 100 years.

Meeting Nani's father

The hall owner had explained and this time I had no difficulty in finding the small grilled door on the side, leading to a corridor and to a few rooms. My heart thumping with excitement, I went to uncle's room. His door was open and he was sitting near the TV, busy watching it. I knocked on the door, went inside and touched his feet. "Uncle, you remember me? I am Sunil, Nani's friend."

He looked at me and smiled, "Yes, I remember you. Come sit here."

He remembered me! Suddenly I was laughing and crying at the same time, feeling like a child once again.


We talked about old times. Nani has a son and a daughter. I had seen his son as a baby, but I had never seen his daughter. My friend's elder brother, Cheenu, was no more, he had died six years ago. Cheenu's wife and daughter live in Hyderabad.

Uncle called Nani on his mobile and we spoke. He lives in NOIDA. When I go back to Delhi, I am going to see him.

Finally

Some times crazy ideas lead to good things. I am so glad that on that day when I saw Parthasarathi temple on the Google Map, I decided to go and search for my friend's old house.

***

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Shiva icons across the centuries

As a child, I was always fascinated by the figure of Shiv ji (Lord Shiva), because of his ash smeared body, and the drunkards, drug addicts and the bhoot-pret among his followers. When he dances Tandav in anger, he is a god of destruction. These were all unusual and "bad boy" characteristics for a god. This post is about the Shiv (Shiva) icons in the archaeological section of the national museum in Delhi.

After a few decades, recently I was back in the National Museum and was pleasantly surprised by all the changes. Instead of the dusty glass cases holding poorly labelled objects, it has now much better exhibition spaces, similar to some of the better museums in Europe. Thankfully, now you are also allowed to photograph. If you haven't been to National Museum, I recommend visiting it!

Let me start with the image of the delicate and graceful bronze dancing Nataraja sculpture from the 12th century Chola empire, which symbolises destruction and the new creation. Among his flowing hair, on the right side, you can see the river Ganga (Ganges). The centre of his forehead has the third eye, while a snake is wrapped around his right arm.



Shiva icons in archaeological section of the national museum

One of the most common representation of Shiv is as Shivling (Shivalinga).

Shivling is a round or cylindrical form (male principle) placed on a circular base that represents Yoni, the female principle. While some see it only as a phallic symbol, for the believers, it has different metaphysical meanings including a union of Purusha/body and Prakriti/mind. Some people see the trinity itself symbolised in the Shivling – the circular base represents Brahma, the octagonal stem represents Vishnu and the round top represents Shiv. Often people may choose a smooth and round stone from a river bed and worship it as Shivling, these are called Saligram.

The image below has a very special Shivling - it is Chatturmukhi (four faced) with representations of Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh (Shiv) and Surya on its four sides. It is from the 6th century Gupta empire period.


Shiva in Harappan culture

The cult of Shiv goes back to much older period in India, during the Middle Stone Age (Middle Palaeolithic). Michael Wood, in “The story of India” has written: “The stone lingam and yoni (male and female principles) – that are found in the worship of Shiva come out of the deep past … These aspects of the indigenous culture of India are part of the givenness of the deep past, which is shared by all Indians, whatever their ancestry, language or religion.

Wood has also mentioned the Shiv figure depicted in prehistoric cave paintings of Bhimbetka: “… looking at the dancing deity at Bhimbetka with his bangles and trident, one can’t help but recall the image of dancing Shiva seen on pilgrim posters today …

Thus, while the Shiv cult is much older, the earliest Shiv icons in the museum are from 2000-2700 BCE, from the Indus Valley civilisation. These include the famous Pashupatinath seal from Harappa, which shows a person sitting in yogic posture along with different animals (Shiv is also known as Pashupatinath or the lord of the animals).



However, the national museum also a number of Shivlings from Indus valley civilisation found in places like Dholavira and Rakhigarhi, like the large Shivling shown in the image below.


Early Icons

Among the early icons is another Chatturmukhi Shivling - it is from 2nd century CE, when Kushans from central Asia were ruling the Indus valley and parts of north India. It is less well preserved and has a rougher quality. A special feature is the chain motive sculpted on the top third, thus effectively dividing the Shivling into three parts.


Another early icon is an Ekmukha (one faced) Shivling, with the head of Shiva (recognised by the third eye in his forehead) on one side. It is from 5th century Gupta period.


Shiv icons in medieval India

The next icon is an Uma-Mahesh sculpture from 9-10 century Pratihara period in north India. Khajuraho was a part of Pratihara empire, before the Chandelas (under the Chandela, the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho were created). This Uma-Mahesh sculpture has a clear erotic/sexual component. 


Another representation of Shiv with his consort and family is from 10th century Chalukya period in south India. It touches on sexuality in a different way. In this, Shiv is shown holding a snake in his right hand - snake is seen as a representation of desires and sexuality.


The erotic art of Khajuraho has been seen as a part of Tantrik traditions, in which Shiv and Shakti are together and sexuality is a part of the path for the search of divine. The next image is from 11-12 century Khajuraho under the Chandela period, showing women devotees praying to a Shivling.


Composite icons of Shiv

Shiv is also part of some composite icons. Two examples of these icons from the national museum are presented here.

The first is a Harihar icon, combing Hari (Vishnu) and Har (Shiv). This 12th century statue is from Gahadval in Rajasthan.


The second is an Ardhnarishiwar icon - Ardh (half) Nari (woman) Ishwar (God), representing Shiv and his consort Shakti in the same statue. This 15th century bronze sculpture is from Vijaynagar empire in south India.


Recent icons

Among the more recent icons, there is a striking ivory sculpture from 19th century from South India. It has all the attributes of Shiv - snake, damru (small drum) and the third eye, however the hair style and face seem more similar to representations of Buddha.


Followers of Shiv

Apart from Shiv icons, national museum also has some icons of his more famous followers. The next image presents one of them. It is a bronze statue of saint Manikkavachkar, a Tamil poet from 9th century, famous for his songs about lord Shiv. The sculpture is from 12th century Chola empire in south India.


Conclusions

I love visiting museums and I am glad that I decided to visit the National Museum in Delhi. It is a wonderful place to learn about the rich culture and traditions of India. There is so much to see.

In an article of Devdutt Pattanaik, he had written about the lack of appreciation of the temple art depicting Indic icons among modern Indians and asked, “How many parents actually take their children to museums or to temples and play the game of ‘Let us identify this god’… Our icons have been reduced to ‘property’, possessing them is more important than appreciating them.” I hope that this post will stimulate you to visit national museum and other museums.

Let me conclude this post with another kind of Shivling - it is called a Lingudhbava, it has Shiv appearing (udbhav) inside the Shivling. This 12th century sculpture is also from Chola empire in south India.


***

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Pink Boy and Tom Girl, the world of fluid genders

When BJ, his great aunt and adopted mother, asks Jeffery, "What would you like to be when you grow up?", he thinks hard and says, "I think that I want to be a girl." BJ, her companion Sherrie and the boy Jeffery, are part of a short film on gender fluid children called "Pink Boy".

A still from the short film "Pink Guy" - Films on Gender fluidity

This post is about some short films on gender fluidity, about persons who are not sure about their genders. You can look at it as a kind of free film festival on gender fluidity - all the films mentioned here can be watched free on YouTube.

Gender fluidity - some concepts

Majority of children are born with male or female genitals. Most of the time, children born with male bodies think of themselves as male and most of children born with female bodies think of themselves as females.

However, sometimes, the bodies and feelings do not match. Thus, a child with male body may feel that he is a girl and a child with female body may feel that she is a boy. Often during childhood, such feelings can be fluid, in the sense that these feelings are not fixed, and they can change. For example, some children born as boys, who may have thought of themselves as girls for a certain period, as they grow up, finally decide that they prefer to be boys, while others decide that they are girls. Some can even decide that they would prefer to be some times girls and some times boys or none of the two.

These children (persons) who are not sure about their gender are called "gender fluid".

We human beings are incredibly complex and some of us do not fit into any label. My explanations about gender fluidity are only a simplified version of this complex reality.

Short film 1: Pink Boy

It is short film (15 minutes, 2016) directed by Eric Rockey. It looks at the challenges faced by a lesbian couple in raising up a gender-fluid boy. The film is told mostly from the point of view of BJ, a masculine lesbian woman. Jefferey was the son of her niece and she had adopted him when he was 2 months old.

BJ explains her initial difficulties in accepting that Jeffery wanted to dress like a princess and to play with barbie dolls. Then she decides to provide acceptance and support to Jeffery, in whatever decisions he is going to make about his gender identity. Aware that he would have to face bullies, discrimination and violence, she decides to enroll him in a martial arts training so that he can defend himself.

You can watch Pink Boy on the Vanity Fair YouTube channel and you can also check the film website for more information about the film and its background. An interview on the Vanity Fair website explains that Jeffery has now become Jesse.

Short film 2: Tom Girl

"Tom Girl" (14 minutes, 2016) is by director Jeremy Asher Lynch. It is about a seven year old boy called Jake. It has his mother and father, as well as some other persons from his life, including a psychologist, talking about what it means to have a gender fluid child and how important it is to accept the child as he is. Jake himself is incredibly clear about what this means for him.

You can watch Tom Girl on YouTube.

In the film, at one point, Jake's mother says that probably there are many other children like Jake, but we as society force them into specific gender roles.

I think that our process of guiding our children towards specific gender roles starts very early and in unconscious ways. When a one year old son is taken to a shop and if he points to a doll or a pink cap, his mother or father, just shake their heads and instead nudge him to another kind of toy - that boy is already learning that he is not supposed to like dolls or pink caps.

However, having said that, I do not think that all stereotypical ideas about male and female preferences are only a result of cultural influences, at least some of them of them are in-born.

Short film 3: It is a stereotypical day

The 4 minutes long film (2015) by Alex Harrison can be a good introduction to understanding your feelings about some of the issues surrounding gender fluidity.

The film is about 3 mornings. On the first morning, the adolescent hero wakes up, goes out and meets some people on the way to school. On the next day, he sees the same persons but some switch has been flipped and people are behaving contrary to their expected gender roles. On the third day ... you can watch it on YouTube to find out the surprise ending.

Short film 4: I am Oliver

The 4 minutes long film by Moustache Geek (2015) is about being a transgender teenager. The film looks at the life of an adolescent facing problems in school, her desire to be boy and the sympathy s/he gets from a classmate. All these things are shown through the role played by social networks and internet in our lives. The film is a personal testimony.

Short film 5: I am a boy

The 11 minutes long film by Just Sammy (2016) is about a transgender boy and his journey to accept himself. The film starts with Sammy dressing up as a girl, putting make-up, and not feeling happy about it. She does not want to be a girl. She considers cutting the vein in her wrist and committing suicide. Her family has not been supportive and has asked her to not to talk about her desire to be a boy.

Instead, Sammy decides that he is a boy and to live like a boy. He uses an elastic wrap around his breasts to hide them and puts a sock in his pants to camouflage genitals. He talks about his daily struggles with his peers, and his fears and desires about his gender identity. This film is also a personal testimony.

Short film 6: Trans guy problems

The 10 minutes long film by Isaac Eli (2017) is a wonderful film to get a glimpse into the lives of transgender boys/men (persons born as girls who feel that they are male). It is also a personal testimony.

It is a simple film - just Isaac sitting in front of the camera and talking about his problems, like what it means for him to have monthly periods; the difficulties of using public bathrooms and how he wishes for gender-neutral bathrooms (which can be used both by men and women); the difficulties of going to a swimming pool and not being able to go open chested like other boys; the love/hate relationship with binders to hide his breasts; the endless waiting for everything from top-surgery (to remove breasts) to the treatment with testosterone; and his disgust when someone talks to him as if he is a girl or is talked about with a female pronoun.

I liked this video very much. Compared to the other films, this film made me think of so many different ways our genders influence everything we do in life and how that can create challenges for persons like Isaac. I also liked it because Isaac has a very nice dog and I love dogs!

Conclusions

I hope that you will watch the films I have included in this list. If you do, please make constructive and supportive comments under each of these videos. To be an adolescent is tough, to be an adolescent who does not fit and conform, can be heart-breakingly tough.

Persons with gender fluidity issues have high rates of depression, suicides, alcoholism and substance abuse. Often they face rejections from their natural and adopted families. They also face a lot of emotional, physical and sexual violence. If you are a parent or a relative or a friend of a person who does not conform to his/her gender, be accepting, be loving and be supportive. They will have to fight the world for a life with dignity, at least make sure that they don't have to fight their families as well.

You can also read more about this issue. For example, the Gender Spectrum website has lot of good advice and information for parents and families on this subject.

GLBT fashion show, NE Pride Parade, Guwahati, Assam, India - Image by Sunil Deepak

All the films mentioned in this post are from Europe and USA. I looked for similar films from India, Asia and Africa but did not find any. Perhaps there are but they are in other languages! If you are aware of any good short films on this theme that are available on YouTube, please tell about them in the comments below.

For a long long time, in the developing world it was difficult to get any information about trans issues. Now, thankfully technology is changing the situation and hopefully more persons will be able to share personal testimonies, find strength in sharing their stories and experiences with others and build supportive virtual communities that can one day spill over in the real world.

***

Monday, 1 January 2018

The year that was - 2017 in 10 pictures

For the new year, I want to remember through pictures my most beautiful moments of 2017. So join me in discovering my most exciting and unforgettable memories of the year gone by.

Venice carnival, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Actually the first and most important memory of 2017 is the birth of my grand daughter in June 2017. However, I am a little superstitious that way and I don't want to put her picture here. I am sharing my memories regarding the places I visited during the year.

Moments from my Japan trip

Finally in 2017 I visited Japan for the first time. I had had opportunities for visiting Japan in the past, but I had to decline them, so I am glad that this year I could visit it. I didn't go to the well known cities like Tokyo or Kyoto, instead my visit was in the south-west part of the country.

The first image is of the atomic dome from Hiroshima, memory of the atom bomb explosion that had devastated this city during the second world war. I remember standing near this building, feeling my heart palpitate with emotions.

A-dome, Hiroshima, Japan - Images by Sunil Deepak

The second image is from the Shinto temple of Ako, remembering the legend of the 47 samurais who became ronin to avenge the honour of their lord. Keanu Reeves had made the film 47 Ronin on this legend.

47 Ronin, Ako temple, Japan - Images by Sunil Deepak

The third and last image of my Japan visit is of a traditional drum dance in Osafune. I can say that the Japan visit gave me an opportunity to admire nature, a journey in history and legends, and a glimpse of art and culture in Japan.

Traditional drummers, Osafune, Japan - Images by Sunil Deepak

Moments from my India visit

In 2017 I also visited Kerala as a tourist for the first time. I had been to Kochi in the past, but it was always for work and without any possibility of going around and visiting places.

This time, I was able to spend some days in Fort Kochi and even visit the Kochi Biennale.

Fort Kochi, Kerala, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

I was also able to visit Munnar and Thrissur and could go for a small backwaters tour. I wanted to go to Kannur but could not manage it this time.

Munnar tea gardens, Kerala, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Passing the days of Holi in Gurgaon with my sister's family was a joy. It was also an opportunity to enjoy the rich winter calendar of events in Delhi including some talks organised by Sahapedia and a Holi Kathak dance programme by students of Shovana Narayan.

Shovana Narayan's group Kathak dance, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Moments from my life in Italy

I live in Schio in the north-east of Italy. Venice is just one hour train journey away from my home. This year I was able to go back to the carnival in Venice. I chose a day when they didn't have any famous events in the carnival so I could avoid the big crowds, which make me feel sick. The picture from Venice carnival is at the top of this post.

I was back in Venice for visiting the Venice Biennale. It was huge and I visited only the Biennale buildings in the garden, thinking that I will go back to look at the Arsenal part of the exhibits on another day. Unfortunately I could not manage to go back and thus missed out on the Arsenal part, still I am glad that I could see works of so many different artists that I liked.

Venice biennale, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

The next image is of Thai dancers from the Orient Festival in Padua. It was an exiciting visit, an opportunity to see dances, art, theatre and taste food from different Asian countries.

Thai dancers, Orient festival, Padova, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

The last image of this post is from a motorcycle rally in Schio. It was my first time in a motorcycle rally and though I was only a spectator, I found it very exciting.

Motorcycle rally, Schio, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Conclusions

I hope that you have enjoyed some of the highlights from my memories of the year gone by. I know that I have not managed to put all the significant things in the ten images presented above. Like the birth of my grand daughter and the visit of an old friend from Assam.

2017 was also a good year for my blog writings. In the past, I was dividing my blog-writing time between 4 blogs including 1 in Hindi and 2 in Italian. Now I am focusing only on this English blog, also because it has most readers.  Started 12 years ago, hopefully next year it will reach a total of 1 million readers. This year I wrote 60 posts, mostly about travels and arts. Thanks to all those who come here to read my posts.

2017 has been a good year to me and to my family. I hope that 2018 will also be a good year. I am keeping my fingers crossed. Best wishes for the new year 2018 to all of you.

***

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Discovering John Latham's art at Venice Biennale

Books, both as physical as well as conceptual objects, can be a part of an art installation, and can express ideas about different things including memory and knowledge. A Zambia born British artist, John Latham (1921-2006) is known for his art installations in which books played a central role. In Venice Biennale this year, different installations of Latham were brought together in a special exhibition.

Art of John Latham at Venice Biennale, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

This post is about the art of John Latham, as well as a few other art works related to books from Venice Biennale 2017.

Art and books

Books have been around us for a relatively short time but they have deeply affected and changed the way we think about and understand the world. Art was a precursor of writing and became an integral part of the books, as can be seen in a medieval manuscript in the image below (from the medieval art museum, Bologna, Italy).

Art in a medieval manuscript, Medieval museum, Bologna, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Democratisation of reading books occurred mainly in the 20th century with increases in literacy. Thus books were seen as repositories of knowledge, memories, histories and cultures, leading to the consolidation of languages and loss of "dialects". In the 21st century, technological advances have completed this circle and we seem to be going back towards a world dominated by visuals (video along with virtual realities and artificial intelligence), as primary medium of human expression.

It is possible that in the human future, with increasing spread of videos, reading books may again become a marginal activity, no longer necessary for learning or communication. But for us old timers, books still continue to be an important part of our communication. 

John Latham's art installations

Latham became known for his use of spray-paint as his primary art-medium in the 1950s. In the 1960s, he started using books in collage art works. For these collages, he tore books into pieces, cut them into different shapes, burnt parts of them, creating specific objects which represented shapes and colours, as well as our ideas and feelings about role of books in the society.

Art of John Latham at Venice Biennale, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Together with other artists, he created events of "Performance Art", during which they brought together art, creativity and the sensibility of theater performances.

Art of John Latham at Venice Biennale, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

His use of books and related materials in the art works was called "Skoob" (Books written backwards). From creating collages, he moved to creating book-structures such as towers, which were then burnt during performances, creating a transitory art which could evoke deep feelings in the audience because of the way they perceived the sacredness of books.

Art of John Latham at Venice Biennale, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

In 1966, Latham invited a group of art students to chew the pages of an art book taken from the library. Later all those chewed pages were put into a phial and returned to the library. This exercise was supposed to express the concept of "destruction is an equal and opposite process of creation". Such "performance art" created his image as a firebrand revolutionary artist. Latham's influence can be seen from the 2016 album of Pink Floyd, which had a previously unreleased song titled "John Latham".

Art of John Latham at Venice Biennale, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Among all the works of Latham presented in the Venice Biennale, I personally liked the round ball like sculptures hanging from the roof, in which books or parts of books were placed/collated in different ways. They made me think of books and knowledge as a new born bird, breaking out of the egg and growing up as an independent and interconnected idea.

Art of John Latham at Venice Biennale, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Among Latham's ideas, I find intriguing those on the "flat time" and moving away from "space-based art" to a "time-based art".

Other book-based art works

Near the John Latham exhibition, around the Venice Biennale library there were some other art works in which books played a central role. For example, there were different paintings by the Chinese artist Liu Ye such as "Books on books" shown in the image below.

Art of Liu Ye at Venice Biennale, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Then there were the works of Romanian artist Ciprian Muresan, who had used all the art works from a book to create his collage of sketches on a single sheet. His work shown below has a collage of sketches from all the paintings from a book on Tretyakov Gallery.

Art of Ciprian Muresan at Venice Biennale, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Finally there was the installation "Al Saadi's diaries" by Abdullah Al Saadi from United Arab Emirates. This installation had 39 metal boxes, each containing a canvas with drawings, notes, pictures.

Art of Abdullah Al Saadi at Venice Biennale, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Conclusions

Venice Biennale had a lot of stimulating and interesting art works. Among them was the John Latham exhibition. I have a long-standing interest in different uses of books in art and art-installations, thus it was wonderful to discover his works. It was a wonderful opportunity to see the different works of John Latham in one place.


*** 

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Around the world with 80 cows

Cows are considered sacred by a large number of Indians. They are a popular theme in sculptures and a source of meat in other parts of the world. In this post I am bringing together some of my favourite images of cows and cow-sculptures from different corners of the world.


Let me start this post with a beautiful green cow with black dots from the 2015 World Expo in Milan. The popularity of cow-sculptures can be understood from the "Cows in Parade" initiative - it was one of the biggest public art events ever organised and between 1999 till 2015, has been held in about 15 countries so far.

In this post, I am devoting more space to cows in India because it is here that we have such a complex relationship with them and because they evoke so much passions among Indians unlike any other animal.

Cows in India

As in almost every aspect of life, India has multiple and contradictory approaches to the cows and their sacredness. On one hand, people offer food and prayers to them, build Gaushalas (cow homes) for them, and put up their statues in the temples. The beliefs about the sacredness of cows, though more predominant among Hindus,  are shared in different degrees between the different Indic religions. On other other hand, ill nourished cows can be seen looking for food in the garbage dumps, eating plastic bags and sitting abandoned in the middle of the roads while the traffic passes around them. My images of cows from India bring together some of these contradictions.

Let me start with some images from the north-east of India. The first image is from Ambubashi festival in Guwahati. One of the Sadhavis near the Kamakhaya temple asked me to click her picture with the Gaumata (mother cow).


The next two beautiful images of the cow sculptures are from the entrance of the Shukreshwar temple on the banks of Brahmaputra in Guwahati. These include a statue of the mythical Kamdhenu cow.



The fourth image is about the worship of a young cow during the Rongali Bihu celebration in Assam.


The fifth image is from Bellary district in Karnataka, showing a cattle market, especially for the sale of cows.


The next image is also from north Karnataka, showing a centre for protection of indigenous varieties of Indian cows.  It includes services for sterilizing and making medicines from the cow urine according to the Ayurveda traditions.


The next Indian image is actually from the V.A. museum in London, showing an antique sculpture of the mythical Kamdhenu from south India. Kamdhenu is the cow of the gods, which can fulfill all the wishes of those who pray to it.


The next image is from a Garbage dump in Boragaon (Assam) showing cows searching for food.


The final image from India is from Nagaland, showing the cow/bull horns decorating the entrance of a house. Different parts of India, especially in the north-east and in Kerala, also have wide-spread traditions of eating cow meat.


Cows from other parts of the world

While in India the cow sculptures are almost always linked with Hindu temples, in the rest of the world, cows do not have a sacred significance. Instead, as mentioned earlier about the "Cow in Parade" initiative, cow sculptures are mainly about art. Let me start this part with a cow sculpture from Brazil, which has a huge cow meat-eating culture. This beautiful sculpture is from Goiania in central part of the country.


The next cow sculpture is from Vienna in Austria. It is designed like a bar for drinking beer.


The next two images of multi-coloured cows were clicked in the World Expo 2015 in Milan (Italy), but they are a part of the "Cows in Parade" initiative.



The final two images of cows are from the Novegno mountain near our home in Schio in north-east of Italy, showing two varieties of local cows placidly grazing in the green mountain pastures. Under the pressure of globalisation, specific high milk-yielding species of cows are replacing the indigenous species of cows all around the world. In this scenario, some groups are fighting to conserve their indigenous varieties of cows.



Conclusions

I hope you have enjoyed this world tour of the cows and cow-sculptures. These were not exactly 80 cows (there are around 40-45 cows in these images) but I liked the title so much that I had to use it.

When I thought of writing this post, I did not realise that I had so many pictures of cows from different parts of the world. In the end, I had to leave out many of those images, but I had fun selecting the images and writing it!


Let me conclude this post with an image of blue cow sculpture with the European flag from the World Expo in Milan.

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