Agniteertham in Rāmeshwaram

photos from Agniteertham in Rameshwaram by Arun Shanbhag
Devotees throng Rameshwaram to take a dip in the sanctifying waters of Agniteertham

Just in time for Ram Navami


Visiting the island of Rameshwaram is considered a most auspicious pilgrimage; here Hindus pay their respects to Ramnathaswamy (Shiva) and it is one of 12 sacred Jyotirlingams. Continue reading “Agniteertham in Rāmeshwaram”

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.
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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.
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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”

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.

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