Mahalakshmi Temple, Goa

Opening Pic: Maha Mandap (Great Hall) at the Mahalakshmi Temple, Goa

The Mahamandap (Great Hall) at the Mahalakshmi Temple in Bandivade, Goa provides a therapeutic escape from many of Goa busy attractions. It is a perfect place to sit undisturbed and commune with the divine. On this early morning, regular devotees went about their prayers silently and tourist laden buses had not yet arrived.

In front of the Deul (Konkani for Temple, also Devasthan), notice the Deepa Stamba (Light tower), a characteristic of Goa Konkani temples. Around the temple are guest rooms for traveling devotees at nominal costs.

photos of Mahalakshmi Temple in Goa by Arun Shanbhag
Deepa Stamba (Light Tower) in front and the Tulsi Vrindavan on the side

History of the Temple: Continue reading “Mahalakshmi Temple, Goa”

Ganesh Chaturthi

Picture Ganapati Ganesh Chaturthi painting by Arun Shanbhag

vakratunda mahaakaaya kotisurya samaprabhaa |
nirvighna kuru mae deva sarvakaaryeshu sarvadaa ||

With a curved trunk and generous form
Whose splendor matches ten million Suns
Remove obstacles Deva!
In all that I do!

_____
Ganapati Bappa, Mowrya!
M & A

Ganesh Vandana – Tribute to Ganesh

The light of the Sun imbues our existence with life and summons our gratitude and reverence. Daylight breaking over the horizon is a very auspicious time for all Hindus, and heralds the start of a new day. A time for new beginnings, new hopes and possibilities. A pristinely beautiful time to thank the Supreme Being for our good fortune, to pray for the courage and fortitude to face old and new challenges; and to uncover our kinder and compassionate souls in dealing with his children.

What better way to start the day than by appealing to Ganesha, the elephant-headed God of Beginnings. Ganesha, the pot-bellied darling of children all over, is also identified as Vignesh, the Remover of Obstacles, and Vakratunda, One with the curved trunk.

Notes are excerpted from my book, Prarthana: A Book of Hindu Psalms, from the prayer Ganesh Vandana. © Arun Shanbhag 2007


Earlier Ganesh Chaturthi Posts:

Ganapati Flower Sellers:

Great Penance: Descent of the Ganga

Photos of the Great penance descent of the Ganga Mamallapuram by Arun Shanbhag
Mamallapuram, about an hour south of Chennai along the East coast, hosts India’s largest and most dramatic relief-sculpture. It represents the celebrated myth of the descent of the river Ganga from heaven to earth. The Great Penance, is carved on a giant granite rock wall 27 meters wide and 9 meters tall, and was believed to be initiated during the reign of the Pallava King Mahendra Varman, ca 7th century ce.

While a traditional sculpture (or other work of art) would memorialize a climactic scene, this Great Penance is depicted as a “continuous narrative,” wherein multiple scenes from a series of events are portrayed on the same canvas, permitting the observer to focus on different parts of the work and recollect different scenes in the narrative. The more details one observes and associates, the more richer the experience.
Continue reading “Great Penance: Descent of the Ganga”

Krishna Mandap @ Mamallāpuram

photos of Pallava Krishna Mandap in Mamallapuram by Arun ShanbhagPerspective of the interior of the Krishna Mandap, Mamallapuram; larger version

Earlier you saw the Varāha Gudi (Varāha Mandap) from early in the reign of Pallavā, Mahendravarman (571-630 ce). In addition to other fabulous caves, he commissioned carvings into the side of mountains, combining creativity and artistic excellence.

In this Krishna Mandap, devotionally carved reliefs pays tribute to Krishna lifting Mount Govardhan. The shallow cave-like slot cut in the mountain is infused with warm light, bringing to life the villagers of Gokul huddled under the mountain.
Continue reading “Krishna Mandap @ Mamallāpuram”

Varaha Mandap at Mamallāpuram

Mandapas or Cave shrines of Mamallapuram.

Pallava art Varaha Mandap at Mamallapuram by Arun Shanbhag

The Pallavas (4th – 9th century ce) were the first dynasty to rule over large tracts of present day Tamil Nadu. Their capital at Kanchipuram was at the cross-roads of the North-South trade in spices, gems and silks. Their thriving port at Mamallapuram was the export nexus for trade with the distant lands of Java, Sumatra and Cambodia. The prosperity of the Pallavas, permitted their artistically minded King, Mahendra Varman (571-630 ce) to be a patron of the arts, focusing on sculpture and replicating in stone, temples which were previously built in wood, brick and mortar. Their dynastic reign thus oversaw the initiation and development of temple architecture in South India. Their work influenced temples as far away as Ellora and across the bay in Cambodia.
Continue reading “Varaha Mandap at Mamallāpuram”

Kānchi Kāmākshi

pics from Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham Sri Kamakshi Ambal by Arun Shanbhag
Kanchi is verily the City of Temples. Poems composed in the 2nd century ce refer to a shrine dedicated to the love goddess (Kamakshi – eyes of love). The current Kamakshi temple (Sri Kanchi Kamakshi Peetham Sri Kamakshi Ambal) was built by the Pallavas in the 8th century.
Continue reading “Kānchi Kāmākshi”

Varadaraja Vaikuntha Perumal, Kanchipuram

pavilion at the Varadaraja (Vaikuntha) Perumal Kanchipuram by Arun Shanbhag
(click image for larger version)

After immersing ourselves in Shaiva philosophy at the Kapaleeshwara Temple in Chennai, we journeyed for darshan to the Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram. This temple was commissioned by the Pallava King Nandivarman II and built circa 770 ce. Then Kanchipuram was the capital city of the Pallava dynasty and at the cross-roads of the North – South trade within India. Through their port city at Mammalapuram, trade and Indian civilization were spread across the bay into Thailand, Cambuja (Cambodia), Shrivijaya (Malaysia, Sumatra and Java) and present day Vietnam. The thriving Kanchipuram was also a seat of Sanskrit literature and Buddhist, Jaina, Vaishnava and Shaiva philosophies.
Continue reading “Varadaraja Vaikuntha Perumal, Kanchipuram”

Tirth Yātra: Temples of Tāmil Nādu

Pics of Kapaleeshwara Temple in Mylapore Chennai by Arun Shanbhag
Even as a child, I enjoyed visiting temples. The prasad was certainly a big draw. I’d stop by random SatyaNarayana Pujas, just to receive of the nectarine prasad. Aarti bhajans were equally soothing. At annual Wadala GSB Ganapati celebrations, while we were enticed by stalls selling bhajiyas and bondas, we first paid our respects to Ganapati, our friend and confidant, with whom we traded future visits for good performance in exams. Continue reading “Tirth Yātra: Temples of Tāmil Nādu”

Uma: Quencher of Thirst

It was a blazing hot summer afternoon in Hampi. As I walked out of the magnificent Vithala Temple, my throat was parched. Even my sweat had dried in this arid North Karnataka summer. The sight of this woman under a bright red umbrella, tending a cooler with drinks was an oasis of bliss to a weary traveler. I ambled over and quickly gulped two bottles of my favorite: Limca! Aaaah! I bought a few more bottles for M and the driver.

She charged me 12 rupees for each. I gave her the money. But ever eager to practice my kannada and engage in conversation, I asked here only jokingly, why it was 12 rupees here, while it was only 10 rupees in the city. She must have been surprised by my heavily accented and rudimentary kannada, and realizing I was joking, she started giggling. I could not keep a straight face and started to laugh too.

I made small talk, asked her name and generally how many drinks she sold in a day. Her name was Uma and she sold about a crate (of 12) each day. I estimated she made 4 rupees profit on each bottle, netting her about 50 rupees a day (slightly more than a dollar)! And for that she had to stand in this heat all day! And some one had to drop her here and pick her up in the evening. And she has not yet eaten! Life is tough! But she had a certain calm about her and I think this pic radiates her inner peace. And her confidence!

As I prepared to leave, I asked her again why it was 12 rupees for each drink: yaakae hutnerdu rupaiya?
Now she really burst out laughing, and I laughed with her. After a few moments she composed herself, then lifted the lid of the cooler, pointed inside and with a twinkle in her eyes mouthed a single word: Ice!

On this blistering hot day, she knew the magic word. For that thirst-quenching ice cold drink, I would gladly have paid twice as much!



I was gifted this small, yet well done bronze of Uma by my cousin brother Ramnath. He has a good eye for art work.

This is Uma (Parvati) as Shivakami – the beloved of Shiva, in a classic tribhanga pose. This is purported to be a late 18th century reproduction of the 11th century piece from the Kulottunga I era. I have had this for several years and I never tire of admiring it. It is small and fits nicely in the palm of my hand. I am drawn to her graceful pose. I am drawn to her exceptional beauty. I am drawn to the inner calm she radiates! And I am drawn to the confidence she exudes!

The craftsmanship is exquisite for so tiny a piece and we have no idea where this statuette resided for the last several centuries. The sharp features suggest she was not used for any puja. Prolly stayed in a noble household.

It is said that the easiest way to reach Shiva is to appease Parvati (or Uma) and have her champion you to Shiva! Perhaps it is that restlessnes in my heart that draws me to her. I certainly thirst for her grace! And every time my eyes fall on Uma, I know my thirst will soon be quenched.

Ten Tips to Survive Saree Shopping

Photos of Kancheevaram sarees from Nalli Sarees Chennai by Arun Shanbhag

Yes guys, that day will surely come. You’ll have to accompany the wife or significant other for saree shopping. How you respond to the not-so-subtle hint is going to mark you for ever.

In the good old days of the joint (or extended) family, you were safe. She may go saree shopping with her MIL, SILs, or other relatives. You could simply hand over the money and safely curl up with a book. With modern nuclear families, no such luck. You will have to man up and go saree shopping.

On our trip to Chennai last month, M & my mother both conspired on the research and planning for saree shopping. They planned such that we arrive at the airport, check-in at the hotel and go straight for saree shopping, of course. I softly recommended shopping at the end of the trip. My argument: “you won’t have to carry the sarees around for the entire trip” did not go far. “We’ll just put the sarees in the car, which will be with us the entire trip,” was the quick rebuttal. I resigned and with a big smile, went along. I survived, and you will too.

Here are Ten Survival Tips!
And pics from our shopping extravaganza at Nalli’s (Nalli Chinnasami Chetty), Chennai. Apparently THE place for sarees. Don’t fret, all cabbies know the place.

Photos of Kancheevaram sarees from Nalli Sarees Chennai by Arun Shanbhag

  1. When you hear the first hint of going saree shopping, be enthusiastic and jump to it
    Wives and elephants have great memories in this regard. If you try to dodge your way out of this one, she will remind you when you want to purchase that new camera or phone. Eventually she’ll get her way, so might as well get it over with and be enthusiastic.
  2. Plan, Plan, Plan. For whom? How many?
    Talk to her and identify who the sarees are for. What event are they for? What general color (s)? This may all change once you get to the store, but get her to start thinking. It will save a lot of time and indecision later. It also gives the impression you are really interested. In Nalli’s they have four (or five) levels of sales areas with different pricing and styles. They must have about 25 sales people on each floor. As soon as we approach a counter, the salesman would bring out and unfurl 20 – 40 sarees in a matter of seconds, blinding you in a color cacophony. Completely overwhelming. Even her head will be spinning. My mother’s vast experience in saree shopping was apparent. She quickly honed in on a style and finalized her picks within an hour. Poor M was still darting from counter to counter, and floor to floor, in a daze.
  3. Photos of Kancheevaram sarees from Nalli Sarees Chennai by Arun Shanbhag

  4. Get a Price Estimate
    Then double it, and consider yourself lucky. You didn’t think this was going to be cheap, did ya?
  5. Plan at least half a day.
    Anything less and you are only asking for a grumpy shopper. And you will have to do it all over again. Don’t try to plan any activities after the shopping. You will be exhausted and may have a splitting headache. When it comes to saree shopping, you will be surprised at the energy reserves women have. This same girl who wilts in 10 seconds in a camera or book store, can shop sarees for days.
  6. Photos of Kancheevaram sarees from Nalli Sarees Chennai by Arun Shanbhag

  7. Take a Pill for a Headache – before you go
    The wide array of bright colors, and the faint aroma of new fabric will overwhelm your senses. And constantly having to make comparisons, and opine which saree will look good on which relative, is sure to induce a migraine. Remember to take your headache pills before you head out.
  8. Go on a Full Stomach.
    I get cranky when hungry and it shows in my demeanour. She will interpret it to mean you are being skittish on accompanying here, or worse, spending money. So eat well before you go.
  9. Photos of Kancheevaram sarees from Nalli Sarees Chennai by Arun Shanbhag

  10. Don’t say, “OMG! That much for a piece of cloth?”
    No, my friend. That would be sacrilegious and never uttered in this temple. You will look cheap AND be ridiculed in front of all relatives – for evah! Remember the elephantine memory?And one more thing my friend, there is no such thing as an ugly saree. At least not that guys can tell. She may point to some as hideous, and you should simply nod.
  11. Helpful phrases:
    That is a beautiful color! Look at the delicate embroidery;
    Yes, it is expensive, but definitely worth it for you;
    I think everyone will love this saree of yours;
    Don’t worry about the money, just get what you really like!
    Memorize a long list of such phrases and you will be a chum.
  12. Photos of Kancheevaram sarees from Nalli Sarees Chennai by Arun Shanbhag

  13. Buy Lungis for yourself
    Not that I wear any, but they were cheap. I splurged on two. At Nalli’s the most expensive lungi was about 125 rupees. What asymmetry. How come they don’t have Kanjeevaram silk lungis with elaborate gold jaari?
  14. Carry a Credit Card.
    Yes, you could get a back ache carrying that cash. And bring out the card in a flash. No hesitation here. And smile widely the entire time you see the bill and sign for it. Don’t even think of that nice D-SLR you could have purchased for that money.
  15. Bonus. Be thankful the day is over.
    At the end of the extravaganza offer to carry the heavy saree bags and remember to say: “What a great day! We should do this again!” (just kidding!)

Photos of Kancheevaram sarees from Nalli Sarees Chennai by Arun Shanbhag

So go ahead and smile. Go saree shopping and splurge. And after this extravaganza, we headed to Murugan Idli, another Chennai tradition.

Cave Temples of Badami – Cave 4 of 4

See my previous posts on the 6th century Cave Temples of Badami, in Northern Karnataka:
Cave One is dedicated to Shiva as the impressive Nataraja; and Devi as Mahisasuramardini.
Cave Two honors Vishnu and his avataars Varaha and Vamana.
Cave Three is also dedicated to Vishnu, and holds some of the most impressive works of art of his avataars Narasimha.

Cave Four is dedicated to Mahavir and the 24 Tirthankaras.

As you step on the front porch, the pride of place on the immediate left is taken by an imposing sculpture of Mahavir.
Jaina Cave 4 of the Cave Temples of Badami

The craftsmanship of his facial features is exquisite and so elegantly portrays the experience of bliss. Gaze at this crop! Continue reading “Cave Temples of Badami – Cave 4 of 4”

Cave Temples of Badami – Cave 3

I previously shared pictures of two cave temples of Badami. These represented the zenith of the Chalukyan cave temple architecture from the 6th century. Cave one was dedicated to Shiva as the impressive Nataraja; and Devi as Mahisasuramardini. Cave two honors Vishnu and his avataars Varaha and Trivikrama (Vamana).

Cave Three is also dedicated to Vishnu and his avataars, and holds some of the most impressive works of art.

As we approach the caves, they appear as narrow slits in the sandstone mountain side. As you walk up and step onto the verandah that the true beauty of the sculptures becomes evident. Note that these caves are ‘open’ and have no doors or other forms of protection from the weather. Yet their grandeur has survived nearly 1,500 years.

Cave 3 of the Cave Temples of Badami

As you walk up the stairs, you step in between a row of beautifully carved pillars and on the right is the larger than life-size carving of Vishnu, as avataar Narasimha (man-lion). And what a majestic Narasimha it is. On the lower left is Prahalad, whose entreaties caused Vishnu to take this form to alleviate suffering of his devotee; and on the right is the cruel king Hiranyakashipu, who Narasimha disembowels on the threshold.
Continue reading “Cave Temples of Badami – Cave 3”

Celebrating Gokulashtami – Tribute to Krishna

RadhaKrishna Sculpture in White Wood for Gokulashtami Krishna Janmashtami

Wishing you all a
Joyous & Enlightening Gokulashtami!

M&A


Notes excerpted from my book, Prarthana: A Book of Hindu Psalms;
© Arun Shanbhag 2007

Krishna Vandana – Tribute to Krishna
Krishna is the most beloved of Hindu Gods and a popular avataar of Vishnu, the eternal soul of the Universe. While other incarnations of Vishnu crystallize divine traits in ordinary beings, Krishna’s life and experiences on earth symbolize the humanness of the divine.

Continue reading “Celebrating Gokulashtami – Tribute to Krishna”

Cave Temples of Badami – 2

Badami in Northern Karnataka, was the capital of the Chalukyan empire. During the 5th to the 8th century, skilled artisans cut caves in the mountainside and decorated the insides with stunning craftsmanship.

The four caves are dated to 578 CE. The first cave is dedicated to Shiva and you saw some impressive high relief figures of Nataraja and Ardhanareshwara in my earlier post. I hope you did not miss the cute Ganapati providing mridangam support for Shiva’s dance! In a prominent niche in this cave, is also housed a beautiful sculpture of Durga Devi in the form of Mahisasuramardini, which I previously used in a Dussehra greeting.

Cave two is dedicated to Vishnu. Near the entrance is an impressive carving of Varaha Murthy representing the avataar of Vishnu. He is accompanied by the king Naga (lower right). He is holding goddess Prithvi, representing the earth, which he rescued from the deluge.
Vishnu as Varaha Murthy, Cave Temples of Badami
Continue reading “Cave Temples of Badami – 2”

Cave Temples of Badami

Cave Temples of Badami

The Cave Temples of Badami in Northern Karnataka are part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. They are well maintained, and the sculptures are mind blowingly exquisite. Highly recommended. The above is an image of Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance. Apparently, his 9 arms on each side create the 81 combinations of Bharatnatyam poses.
Continue reading “Cave Temples of Badami”

Yoga and Vaastu Workshop

Over the weekend I attended a fabulously enriching workshop on Yoga and Vaastu at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA. It was taught by Sashikala Ananth a noted Vaastu practitioner from Chennai, India. She is also a yoga instructor trained under the legendary Krishnamacharya.

Going into this workshop, I knew zilch about both, but by the end of the weekend I was thoroughly enlightened. I have always done Pilates to help with my running and I find that it is nothing but yoga with the Hindu aspects of breathing and saying AUM erased. 😦

Shashikala Ananth is a wonderful teacher, very patient, full of energy and imminently qualified in all aspects of practical yoga and its integration within our lifestyle. Here is a little blurp from her website:

In the ordinary every day existence of the householder amidst his (and her) commonplace concerns there must be a quality of transcendence and an inner unfolding. Dharma must be discovered and lived in the family and the market place in the midst of a community, in the here and now.

and, she continues:
In a recent interaction with some Feng Shui experts, I was asked this question ‘why do Indians let go of all their traditions without adequate study?’ I was forced to accept this about us – that we do not respect our own past without assurances and encouragement from our colonial masters. Perhaps this is a necessary residue of being a conquered people, or a lacuna in our own psychical makeup.

I was disappointed that I came to learn of this so late in life. Well, its never too late. So, we are planning a two week personalized course with Sashikala Ananth in Chennai, India. In addition to yoga, she will also take us on a tour of the Tamil Nadu temples. With her grounding in Vaastu and general architecture, she will be the perfect guide. We are planning this for early December, in Chennai, India.


And here: M walking leisurely during our hike from Grindelwald in the Swiss Alps (2006). A blissfully wonderful time!

Pandit Birju Maharaj: Another Master Dazzles

Pandit Birju Maharaj
We are indeed fortunate. Soon after being mesmerized by the musical genius of Pandit Jasraj, we were spell bound by another master: Pandit Birju Maharaj and his troupe.

I attend these concerts not because I know anything about these classical arts, but because I don't! I didn't have the foggiest idea who Pandit Birju Maharaj was, or even what “Kathak” as a dance form meant. I attend these concerts to learn. The concert was part tutorial, part demonstration. Panditji and his disciples, Saswati Sen and Mahua Shankar, took great pains to explain each piece, and then demonstrate the rhythms and dance forms. And what a learning it was! An exquisite joy to learn from such a master!

Panditji found the beauty of rhythm in the mundane everyday events you'd encounter anywhere: a mother bird feeding her chicks; the simple sounds of the ghungroo as he walked backstage, a hesitant guy courting his beauty, and even the playing of ball and field hockey. Topics I would not have thought were worthy of dance. But that was the mastery of Panditji. In a sense he reminded me of the works of Claude Monet in his later years. As a youngster, he had painstakingly detailed each bud and leaf from his water lily garden. In his later years, as his eyesight faded, a mere dab of paint here became a bud, a flourish there became a leaf and a squiggle below became the glint in the pond. I for one, thought those later works showed the confidence of a master – confidence in communicating with his audience, without the noise of details.

Rather than write anything more of the performance, I point you to this excellent review by , who attended the concert on the West coast. She is an Odissi dancer and would know what to look for.


But I do have a few pics to share. Note: No flash was allowed and we were a good ten rows back. Color lights shone intensely on the dancers, which played havoc on the digital sensors. And the dancers were spinning like crazy! 😛 With these words of caution, here are a few noisy pics!

A collage of Mahua Shankar.


A blur of Saswati Sen! I told you, she spins fast!!!


Mahua Shankar performing under the approving gaze of Saswati Sen


Pandit Birju Maharaj with Saswati Sen.


I loved the footwork and the twirl of Mahua's ghagra, so I made a few icons. Borrow if you like.

Custom Google Page


Thank you Larry Page and Sergey Brin for making a Google Home Page for MEEEEE! 😛

A little narcissism never hurt anybody! Indulge yourself. Get one here. Thanks to David Pogue (NYTimes) for the link.

A Few Good Movies

Good does come from icing sore knees. As my knee cools, I get to watch a movie; am finally catching up on my to-watch list. Here are a few of the excellent ones I recently enjoyed. All have my highest recommendations. Feel free to recommend movies to my queue.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Another of Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece. Superbly done, great graphics and a very nice story. Like this better than Spirited Away. Planning on buying Nausicaa …, just so I can share with visiting kids. Now his other works are moving up the queue – fast!

Children of Heaven: Saw this Iranian movie based on an excellent review by Ratheesh here (caution, spoilers galore!). A simple yet heartwarming and uplifting story of two children rising above poverty. The child actors did a fabulous job. Reminded me to enjoy the simple things in life. Loved the little girl's name – Zahra. Heavenly. Don't miss this one. Also queued a couple of other movies by the same director.

Parineeta PosterParineeta: Another fantastic adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's classic. The sets are not as opulent as Devdas, making it more realistic. Loved the song – piyu bole jiya dole. Sarat Chandra does a masterly job of subtly, yet firmly portraying the steeled determination of the bharatiya naari. Wish the director had taken a few more scenes to develop it further here. BTW, Vidya Balan looks stunning. Next time in India, please do not let me run into her.

Turns out to be quite an international collection here.

Degas: Of Dancers and Bathers

pics of Edgar Degas ballet dancers and bathers at the Harvard Art Museum by Arun Shanbhag

If you get a chance to see the works of the French Impressionist Edgar Degas, traipse over. That's what we did recently, at the Degas at Harvard Exhibition. This was only the second, one-man show for Degas. Coincidentally, the first one was also here in 1911, when he was still alive. Since then the collection has mushroomed. His study of ballet dancers is well know and I looked forward to seeing them. On previous visits to the exhibit halls, I had seen the bronzes Arabesque(s) and Little Dancer. Seeing the above painting “The Rehearsal” here was a complete surprise! Continue reading “Degas: Of Dancers and Bathers”

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