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.

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”

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”

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.

Mesmerized by the Master, Pandit Jasraj

Pandit Jasraj in Cambridge
A few weeks ago, we attended a concert by the maestro Padma Vibhushan Pandit Jasraj! And what an evening! He started with a beautiful raga. Then, for the rest of the evening he mesmerized us with Krishna bhajans! In a live concert, he would take a four line bhajan and make variations to it for 30 minutes. I was on the edge of my seat! And this went on for more than three hours, and we were still not ready for it to end. When it did end, we hung around him, got his autograph and chatted with him (more like he chatted and we listened).

What a stellar performance. His command and control of his vocal chords was phenomenal. Panditji was accompanied by Sougata Banerjee, an accomplished vocalist in his own regard. But supporting Panditji, he came across as a tongue tied novice. Panditji would lead him through variations of a phrase, and in only a few cases Sougata could keep up. Many a times, Panditji would shake his head and repeat the phrase; and repeat again and again!

Anuradha Pal provided tabla support and was one amazing player. She was billed as the only female professional tabla player. Certainly the first I had even seen. And, she was super talented. She read, no sensed, Panditji's mood and development of the bhajan and changed the beats accordingly. And every time she read him correctly, he would turn to her andnod his appreciation. He nodded at her a lot, that evening.

This collage will give you a gist of Panditji's incredible repertoire! Can anyone tell what instrument the Panditji is playing?

You can tell M was enraptured by the maestro. Not only for the wonderful evening, but for the unique autograph he signed for her!

Panditji signed for everyone. Then, when M nudged forward the back of the announcement poster, he paused and his pen hovered over the paper. Then he started to scribble. As the words were imprinted, M's eyes grew wide, and a chorus from the others rose, “Panditji, please write like that for us too?” Panditji replied, “No more autographs.”

Bharatnatyam: Rohitha Eswer & Rashmi Srinivasan

Rashmi Srinivasan and Rohitha Eswer during a bharatnatyam performance of Dashavatara, – ten avatars, or earthly forms of Vishnu. Here Rashmi is acting out Narasimha the man lion killing Hiranyakashipu. A beautiful performance by the talented husband and wife team from the Raasavrunda School of Dance, Mysore, Karnataka.

The choreography was exquisite. The first three avatars representing the fish, tortoise and the boar were superbly performed, considering the dancers had to represent water with their movements. Pleasantly, Rashmi played most of the Vishnu avataars, while Rohitha provided the supporting role: water for eg in the fish avatar and Ravana in the Rama avatar. The score for this piece was MS Subbulakshmi's Dashavatara recitation – which added to the joy of this performance. We both enjoyed and felt fortunate to see such talented artists. And support the indian arts!

The pair, dashing around stage!

I forget what piece this is from, but I love the pose!

Madhavi Mudgal: An Odissi Dance performance

After a glowing recommendation, we attended this dance performance by Padmashri Madhavi Mudgal and the Gandharva Dance Ensemble on Saturday. It was such a stunning performance. The dancers were graceful in their movements and made it seem so ridiculously simple. Certainly, grace comes from decades of practise. Their movements were well coordinated and also had the force of conviction. No hesitations here, by her younger colleagues either. The costumes were exquisite and perfectly matched. In the pic above, Madhavi and her niece Arushi Mudgal performed this nritta piece called 'Dvidha;' more like a friendly jugalbandhi between dancers. Simply superb! I was fortunate they stopped for a split second as my shutter opened 🙂 And, I had the best seat. In row 2, at center stage! Since the seats were staggered, we had unobstructed views. And more amazingly, my eyes were level with the floor of the stage.

They performed 6 pieces, and as they announced the last dance, I was saddened: what? this is the end? I could have watched them perform all night. The lighting and music were very well done, thanks to their lighting specialist who accompanied them from Delhi!

The organizers arranged a nice dinner and reception and we got a pic with Madhavi Mudgal as well. I spoke to some of the dancers, and they have been in training for 16 years! No doubt, they make it look so easy. Check the link above, they have a performance in Flushing NY (Sept 16) and in Houston, TX (Sept 17).

The end.

Camera Lessons Learn't!
What worked: I did not want to use the flash and distract the dancers. So I selected the 50mm/1.8 lens with the D70. The widest aperture in my lenses and the most compact. Also, this lens is tiny and as I shot from my seat (with no flash), my shooting was unobtrusive. Great seats!

What did not work!
(1) Not Normal-enough lens: The normally normal 50mm gave me an effective 75mm on the D70, and being so close to the stage, I could not capture all the dancers, particularly if they were at the front of the stage (see pic 3 for eg.). Perhaps a more normal effective lens (35,f/2) would have been better? Or sit a couple rows further back.

(2) White Balance: White balance was on Auto 😦 With the strong incandescent lamps directed at the dancers, I should have switched appropriately!

(3) Higher color saturation When upgrading the D70 firmware, I changed the picture setting to “Vivid,” yielding a more color saturated picture, comparable to the Reala or Velvia film shots. This has yielded spectacular portraits during our recent travels. But here, coupled with the incorrect white balance, resulted in the intense yellows, particularly in the first pic.

(4) Higher proportion of pics had shake: To shoot the pics, I had to sit-up in the seat, which made me very conscious that I was obstructing the view of the folks behind me. Thus I was not completely relaxed while taking the pics and prolly the reason for camera shake! Oh Well. There will be other days.

Any suggestions/tips for photographing such performances?

Reading Girl

She basks in the morning light, atop a pile of books.
As I leisurely browse tomes, she lazes across pages too.

During this last visit, my cousin-sister Asha gifted it to me. This is Dhokra art and made by tribals in Western Orissa. She bought it at an exhibit where various tribal groups were selling their crafts.

Elements Part II: Metal

Continuing my response to 's Friday Five Photo Project (F2P2). The topic was the five Elements of nature: Earth, water, metal, wood and fire. Here's the second – Metal. Fire was the topic of my previous post.

During this visit to India, my cousin-brother Ramnath gifted me a beautiful bronze of Uma (Parvati) as Shivakami. This is a late 18th century reproduction of the 11th century piece from the Kulottunga I era. Notice how graceful her pose is.

In my living room, the morning light illuminates it nicely, casting the primary shadow accentuating the sensuous curve of her hips. Thank you Ramnath!


Here is a baby Krishna statuette I was gifted received during a recent visit to the Balaji Temple in Chicago. I was pleasantly surprised at the fine detail and the vibrant colors in this piece. It is made of a polymer (thus very light) and Made in China (of course).

Hare Krishna!

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