Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Hanuman, the legend of the monkey god

As a child growing up in Old Delhi (India) in early 1960s, for me sometimes the people from the ancient Hindu stories were as real, or perhaps even more real, than the actual people around me. Children's magazine Chandamama, Ramlila performances in the DCM grounds and recitations of Ramayana by visiting brahmins in the street-square near our home, had all contributed to make me familiar with the characters of Ramayana, including that of Hanuman ji.
 
Hanuman is one of the most loved Hindu deities in India. He is considered the symbol of valour, loyal service and self-control. For adolescents and young men, he is considered as the patron of Brahmcharya (celibacy) while reciting his prayer called Hanuman Chalisa is suppose to provide the believers with courage and overcoming of fears.


In this post, I want to present some of my favourite images of lord Hanuman from different parts of India, along with different stories linked to this god. The first image presented above is from Karol Bagh in Delhi, where the giant statue of Hanuman rises next to the metro line, juxtaposing the old mythologies with the modern India.

Hanuman stories in ancient Indian texts

The oldest mention of Hanuman is in Rigveda, where he is called Vrishkapi, the Vrish monkey. Besides the Hindu texts, he is also mentioned in Jainist and Buddhist texts. The stories of Hanuman can traces their origins to the ancient prehistorical oral traditions of India. Along with the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism in the far east, the legend of Hanuman also spread to countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The figure of Sun Wukong (monkey king) in Japanese mythology is very similar to Hanuman's story. The same Sun Wukong myths had also inspired the recent Chinese film "The Monkey King", in which Sun Wukong takes birth from a divine crystal which falls on the mount Huaguo.

The second image of Hanuman is unusual since it presents a giant green coloured statue from the Trimurthi temple in Kanakpura on the Bangalore-Mysore road in Karnataka.


Legends about the birth of Hanuman

There are two main stories linked to the birth of Hanuman. In one, he is the son of the wind god Vayu and thus, is called Vayuputra, and is born with the gift of flying. In the second story his father is an ape called Kesari (Saffron). Even in this story, Vayu, the wind god plays a role in Hanuman's birth and is thus considered his guardian.

Another legend about baby Hanuman is that once he thought that sun was a fruit and wanted to catch it and eat it. Sun allarmed, asked for help from the god Indra, who used his Vajra (thunderbolt) to stop the baby. Because of the Vajra, baby's jaw became more prominent, giving rise to his name Hanuman (prominent jaw).

The next image has Hanuman as a chimaera, a combination of different human and animal beings expressed through his five heads and ten arms.


Hanuman and the stories of Rama of Ayodhya

In the popular imagination, the figure of Hanuman is closely linked to that of Rama. Most statues and images of Hanuman present him as a Ram-bhakt, like in the image below where he is shown holding a tiny statue of Rama in his hands.


In both Valmiki's Ramayana and in Gosain Tulsi Das' "Ram Charit Manas", Hanuman first appears in Kishkindhakand chapters of the story, when the two brothers, Rama and Lakshman, searching for Sita, reach Rishyamook mountain where the Ape king Sugriva lives. When Sugriva sees them, he gets afraid, and asks Hanuman to go and find out about their intentions.

In Valmiki Ramayana, the whole episode is longer and is written in Sanskrit, while In Ram Charit Manas, it is much shorter and is written in Avadhi. In Valmiki Ramayan, Hanuman is presented first as Sugrivasachiva (सुग्रीवासचिवाः), Sugriva's commander. The next verse presents him by his name, Hanuman:
ततस्तं भयसंविग्नं वालिकिल्विषशडिन्गतम्
उवाच हनुमान्वाक्यं सुग्रीवं वाक्योकोविदाः
(To Sugriva who was afraid of Bali, the clever and articulate Hanuman said.)

In Ram Charit Manas, Hanuman is introduced in the story when Sugriva speaks to him:
"अति सभीत कह सुनु हनुमाना, पुरुष जुगल बल रूप निधाना
धरि बटु रूप देख तहँ जाई, कहेसु जानि जियें सयन बुझाई"
(Afraid Sugriva said: Hanuman, they are two strong men, go to them dressed as a Brahamchari (celibate) and try to understand about them)  
Gosain Tulsi Das is also credited with the prayer of Hanuman Chalisa (literally, "forty verses of Hanuman"), which is supposed to infuse people with courage and remove their fear. Below is another figure of Hanuman showing Rama and Sita in his heart.


Hanuman as the patron of healing herbs

During the war between Rama and Ravan in Ramayan, there is an episode where Lakshan is injured gravely and to cure him Sanjeevani booti (life-giving herb) is needed urgently.


Since Hanuman has the gift of flying, Rama asks him to go to Meru mountain and bring the herb. Hanuman, unable to identify the herb, decides to bring the whole mountain. This episode is also very popular in the Hanuman statues as shown in the image above (from Tezpur, Assam) and below (from Gangtok, Sikkim).


Metaphysical meaning of Hanuman

 In Hinduism, meanings can be understood at different levels. Thus, for common people, Hanuman is a deity, whose help they can ask for. At the same time, often the old stories have deeper metaphysical meanings in Hinduism.

For example, according to the Vedbhashya blog which looks at correlations between Quantum physics and ancient texts of Hinduism, the original story of Vrishakapi (Hanuman), is a metaphysical description of an atomic force binding the central nucleus to the sub-atomic particles moving around.

Personally, I love the way different animals and plants play a central role in different stories of Hinduism. Apart from Hanuman, a Garuda eagle called Jatayu also plays an important role in Ramayana. Two gods, Ganesha with an elephant head and, Narsimha, a half lion and half human incarnation of Vishnu, are other examples of animal-human relationships in Hindu mythology. I think that this way of looking at nature is important to promote ecological sustainability of all life on earth.

The image below presents another unusual Hanuman, where he is shown older and with a rudraksh-mala around his neck, like an ascetic giving his benediction to his followers.


Conclusions

The image below presents a tiny temple of Hanuman along the banks of Ganges in Varanasi, which has an unusual sleeping Hanuman statue.


To conclude this photo-essay about Hanuman, the last image is from a Ramlila procession in Chandani Chowk in old Delhi. The image shows the carriage of Hanuman with his Vanar sena (monkey army). The person who plays the role of Hanuman is Mr Ram Chander, a devout follower of Hanuman who has been playing this role for more than a decade.


To write this post I went through my huge image archives. I was surprised that I had so many images of Hanuman and it was not easy to choose the images for this post. I had great fun in selecting these images and in writing this post.

Do tell me which form of Hanuman ji out of the ten images presented above, did you like most?

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Friday, 8 December 2017

Mario Converio and his iron sculptures

Italian sculptor Mario Converio is known for his sculptures in wrought iron. Though iron has been known to humanity at least for a few thousand years, its use for creating sculptures is not very common as it is difficult to work with. Mario manages to creates poetry with the metal.


Recently an exhibition of his works, "Metal Fantasies" was organised in Schio (VI, Italy), where I had an opportunity to talk to Mario. This post presents the artist Mario Converio and some of his sculptures from this exhibition.

Mario Converio

Mario lost both his parents early - his mother died when he was 2 and his father, when he was 12. His artistic journey started when he was 14 and decided to make a sculpture of his father (in the image below, Mario Converio with the bust of his father).


Mario did not attend any art academy. He was interested in art and started learning it by himself, experimenting with different materials and techniques, starting with clay and stone. He visited different parts of Europe and was inspired by ice-sculptures, after which for a period he worked with ice and glass, and participated in many international art events. One of his first metal sculptures was that of a female-butt made from a grass-cutter. Since then he likes to experiment with butts and this has brought him fame.

In 1976 he was one of the founders of artists' group of Schio. The group organises street events in which he demonstrates his wrought iron sculpting skills. They had also started some art courses.

Over the past decade he has participated in different events about wrought-iron sculptures in Italy and in different parts of Europe. He has won awards in some of them. He feels that this has been a great learning opportunity for him to see the techniques others were using and sharing his own experiences. Apart from iron, he sometimes also uses bronze and stones in his works.


He told me, "Making art is a process of trial and error. Some times, it works and I am happy with my creation. Other times, I feel that it was a mistake and it did not come out as I had imagined it."

Working with iron is hard and tiring work. Mario said, "I am 73 years old and I start to feel that I can't go on doing it for very long. It requires strength and energy of a younger person. When I was younger, I didn't use proper protections like using gloves to protect from vibrations, so that has created some complications for me."


About the sculptures in the exhibition, Mario explained that some of them were things that he had made many years ago, while others are more recent. Making of these sculptures requires time. The simple ones can be completed in a couple of weeks while big sculptures, require months of work.

Creating sculptures in wrought iron

To create the sculptures, the artist needs to choose the iron sheets which then have to be forged at high temperature. While a sheet is red hot, its shape can be molded. The iron cools quickly and thus time for shaping it for creating sculptures is short.

Mario first creates a model of his sculpture in clay, which is much easier to work with. This allows him to think of the shape he wants to create in iron and plan the process.

Though iron is a difficult metal to work with for an artist, Mario's long experience and ability makes him bring out a kind of dynamism in his sculptures, making them come alive. Beaten iron can assume different hues, from a cold bluish grey to a warm burnt sienna. These chromatic variations add to the beauty of his work.


Apart from working with sheet metal, Mario has also experimented with metallic nets for creating his sculptures. Creating a sculpture with such nets, requires additional care as it needs to be shaped delicately. Some of his most suggestive works have been created in this way.

Now, let me briefly present some of his works from his "Metal Fantasies" exhibition.

Nature sculptures

Mario likes to sculpt animals and birds, with an occasional flower or a plant. Among his animal sculptures, I especially liked animals frozen in action. Among these, my favourite was a running dog, its whole body lifted in air with only a paw touching the ground. I loved this dog's expression and I could almost see its saliva drooling down its mouth.


Female form

Mario's sculptures of the rounded female buttocks are famous. He had a large number of them in the exhibition. I liked the ones where the metal's shape suggested the roundness and the female form, rather than the more explicit ones showing genitals.


My favourite among his female butt-sculptures was the one shown in the image below, made from a thick iron-net sheet. Compared to the legs that are lateral, the upper part of the body is turned forward at an impossible angle.


Another of his sculpture, which is well known, had a nude woman wrapped around an old TV set.


Among his full body female nude sculptures my favourites were those where the body was shown frozen-in-action, like the girl doing acrobatics with a ribbon in the image below. Like the frozen-in-action animals, in all these sculptures, only small parts of the bodies were anchored to the base while most of the sculptures were in the air.


Male form

There were occasional sculptures of male nudes, buttocks and genitals among his work but they were not a prominent part of his work. Among these, my favourite was one in the image below, of a guy with a six-pack abdomen and once again, frozen-in-action body.


Conclusions

I loved Mario Converio's sculptures. I liked the way he combines abstract unformed metal, as if being torn away from its roots, and how it gently transforms into a shape, hinting at something instead of being explicit. I also liked his ability to freeze a moment in time in the metal, catching the dynamicity of an action-charged moment. They are full of drama and emotions, something which you do not expect to be so strong in a metal sculpture.


To conclude, below you will find the thumbnails of some other sculptures by Mario - click on them for a larger view. Do tell me which of Marios's sculptures presented in this post did you like the most and why!



Note: Some of the images of his sculptures presented with this post, have been modified with photo-effects and are therefore, different from how those works actually appear.

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Monday, 4 December 2017

The beautiful fort of Orchha

Forts were built since ancient times as citadels to resist the enemy attacks. Inside, the forts were like small cities. They had royal palaces, temples, armories, treasuries, and also water supply systems and granaries to resist long sieges. Orchha fort from the 16th century India is a beautiful Jal Durg (fort surrounded by water).

Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The Orchha fort has some of the most beautiful palaces, examples of the Bundeli architecture, amalgamating traditional Indic influeces with those from Mughal, Persian and Rajasthani styles. The image above shows the entrance of Jahangir Mahal in the Orchha fort.

Forts in Bundelkhand and Orchha

Bundelkhand is an ancient land. Since 7th century CE, the area was ruled by Chandels, initially under the Pratihara kings. They were succeeded by the Bundels. Though the region must have had more ancient forts, most of the existing forts date back to the Chandel and Bundel periods.

Different kinds of forts have been described in the ancient Indian texts - Dhanva durg (desert fort), Mahi durg (mud fort), Giri durg  (Mountain fort), Nar durg (fort protected by men), Jal durg (Water fort) and Van durg (forest fort).

Adhwar river, outer walls and Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Orchha became the capital of Bundeli kingdom in 1530 when king Rudra Pratap started the construction of a Jal durg, close to the river Betwa (image above).

Construction of the Orchha fort

The first palaces for the king and the queen inside the Orchha fort were built between 1531 to 1539 under the reign of Bharati Chandra. This construction was continued by his brother Madhukar Shah. Many important constructions took place under Bir Singh Deo. For example, he was responsible for completing the Jahangiri Mahal.

The most significant construction after Bir Singh Deo was Sheesh Mahal (glass palace) adjoining Jahangir Mahal, which now hosts a hotel - it was built in 1763 under Udait Singh.

The fort is polygonal in shape with its longer side in the north-south axis. The moat separating it from the town was built by the deepening of Adhwar river, a tributary of Betwa river, which surrounds it from south-east. A terah-khamba (13 arches) bridge connects the fort to the city. Inside it has two main palaces - Raja Mahal and Jahangir Mahal, built along an east-west axis and many other imposing buildings.

Terah Khambe bridge, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The main gate, known as Kanteela Darwaza (Thorny gate), makes a sharp turns first to the right and then to the left, before it leads to the entrance gate of Raja Mahal. The sharp turns of the passage were built to slow down the entry of the invading enemy. A second passage, to the left after the main gate, leads directly to the main entrance of Jahangiri Palace at the back.

Bridge and main entrance, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Raja Mahal (King's Palace)

This palace has three main parts (1) the 3-storied entrance gate (Northern entrance) leads to the Deewane-Aam (Hall of public audience); (2) behind the public court, there is a multi-storey building that includes Deewane Khas (hall of private audience) and (3) the residential part of the palace (shown in the map below).

Layout of Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Deewane-Aam is built on a platform, with three parallel pillard halls and is open on two sides. An elegant, two-sided staircase with a wrought-iron balustrade leads to the halls.

Deewane-Aam, Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Steps separate the three halls. The third and the inner most hall is raised on a platform for the sitting of the nobles along with a second higher platform at the eastern end for the king, as shown in the image below.

King's seat, Deewane-Aam, Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

All the walls and roofs of this building are decorated with wall paintings. The two common themes in the wall paintings are religious (mostly Krishna with gopis and cows) and nature (mostly water birds and fighting or hunting eagles).

Krishna, gopis and cows in wall painting, Deewane Aaam, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Water birds and eagles in wall paintings, Deewane-Aam, Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

There is a Shiva temple in front of the Deewane-Aam, behind which you can see the Sheesh Mahal (Glass palace) which was built two centuries later.

Shiva temple and Sheesh Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Behind Deewane-Aam is the eastern gate of the palace leading to Deewane-Khas (Hall of private audience). This hall is actually an open courtyard with the king's terrace in front and two raised platforms on the north and south ends for the nobles.

Deewane-Khas, Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Arched entrances from Deewane Khas lead to the inner residential part of the palace which has a central square-shaped courtyard and a small raised platform at its centre. In the middle of each of the four sides around the courtyard, on the first floor, there are four heavily decorated rooms along with jutting terraces. On the third floor, there is a second level of four terraces. From the terraces you can have a good view of the other terraces, as well as of the central courtyard below.

Residential part of Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

All around the palace, there are arched open window-spaces resembling the Gothic style of architecture that was common in Europe in this period. This palace is supposed to have many secret passages. It was inhabited till 1783.

All the rooms and corridors of this part of the building are decorated with wall paintings, mostly showing women and the scenes of the royal life with horses and elephants. The chhattris along the top of the building are decorated with tiles in different shades of blue, probably added during the Bir Singh Deo's reign.

Wall paintings of women and hunting scenes, 2nd floor, Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Jahangir Mahal

The construction of this palace was started in late 15th century under the reign of Rama Shah and Indramani Singh. It was completed in 1606 under king Bir Singh Deo. He gave it the name of Jahangir Mahal to honour his friend and ally Mughal emperor Jahangir, who had destituted Rama Shah and made Bir Singh the king of Orchha. The palace has 136 rooms.

It is a three-storied square shaped building with bastions at the corners, very similar to the residential part of Raja Mahal in its architecture but with greater embellishments. It has a square shaped central courtyard with 5 fountains in the centre. The first floor has beautifully decorated rooms in the middle of the four sides along with terraces from where you can look down at the courtyard. Just like Raja Mahal, the second storey also has slightly receding terraces in the middle on the four sides.

Courtyard, Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

It has more carvings, sculptures and chhattris compared to the Raja Mahal. For example, underneath the terraces, there are stone elephants supporting them.

Elephant supports under the terrace, Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

One important difference from Raja Mahal is the staircase that leads up to the western terrace from the central courtyard. The doors are also heavily carved. For example, the door leading to the western entrance has carvings of inverted kalash and elephants on it.

Sculpted door-beams, Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Another example of embellishments in this building are the groups of smaller and bigger chhattris, that were decorated with blue coloured tiles. The ribbed central domes of the bigger chhattris are similar to those at Hampi in south India. Octagonal domes (chhattris) and the figures of lotuses and elephants abound in the construction.

The southern end of the palace has an imposing and majestic main entrance gate with carvings of elephants on the two sides. This is a five-storied structure, a chhajja marking each storey.

Main entrance, Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Its construction have traditional Indic elements such as trabeated entrance doors with horizontal beams. At the same time, Mughal and Persian influences can also be seen, for example in the arcuate structures, specially inside the building. These are amalgamated into Rajasthani architecture, giving rise to the Bundela style. However it lacks the surrounding walls with numerous arched windows inspired from European Gothic architecture that can be seen in the Raja Mahal.

Hamam khana adjoining Jahangir Mahal was also built in 1606. It is made like a Persian hammam (bath house) with a decorated water pool. The roof of this building has a water reservoir.

Roof of Hammam Khana, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - images by Sunil Deepak

Parveen Rai's Mahal

This palace was built during the care-taker reign of Indrajit Singh in late 16th and early 17th century, while his brother Rama Shah stayed at the court of emperor Akbar. You can read more about the beautiful courtesan Praveen Rai and her love story with the king in my post about legends of Orchha.

Raveen Rai Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Oonth Khana (Camel house)

This square shaped building is located to the east of Jahangir Mahal. It is located on a raised area. Originally it was a baradari built in 16th century but in late 17th century a raised corridor was built all around it with arched gates on each side.

Oonthkhana, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Its name suggests that it was a stable for camels. From outside the building looks plain but it is decorated from inside. The rings on its roofs suggest that swings were fixed there. Thus, many persons believe that originally it was a pleasure pavillion from where the royals could relax and look at the Betwa river and surrounding forest while enjoying the breeze on the swings.

Temples, gardens and noble houses inside the fort

During the reign of Bir Singh Deo, many local nobles and royal associates had built their kothis and havelis (villas and big houses) inside the fort including those of Balwant Daua, Champat Rai, Bakasrai Pradhan and the poet Keshav Rai. These buildings (Dauji's kothi, Himma Hamir kothi, Fasiyane ki Kothi) are in ruins. If you do not have the time to go out and explore the grounds of Orchha fort, these can also be seen from the windows of the Jahangir Mahal.

Ruins of old kothis, havelis and temples, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

There are also many temples inside the fort such as the Vanvasi Ram temple near the Oonth khana. The fort also had many gardens.

For lack of time, I did not visit the vast grounds of the fort, that are covered with trees and plants and paths leading to the river. Ruins of noble houses and old temples dot the whole area. For the archaeology enthusiasts, this area offers hours and days of exploration and discoveries.

Conclusions

Orchha fort with its beautiful palaces and rich history requires many days for a proper exploration of all its wonders. Even in the one morning that I spent there, I came back with wonderful memories of its beautiful courtyards, wall paintings, symmetries of delicate terraces and chhattris.

Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The fort is also linked with different legends about which I had written in another post. If you want to know more about Orchha, you may also check my following posts on this theme:

(1) Exploring the many splendours of Bundelkhand

(2) Discovering the beautiful architecture of Orchha

(3) Legends and stories of Orchha


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