Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tales of Ind - Panchapakesha Ayyar

Mr. Murthy of Select bookshop was very possessive of this book. Clutching it with both hands he said he was not planning to sell this one and naturally I pleaded him to sell it to me. After reading the book however, I had to call him up and ask him why he had been so reluctant to sell it!

This book happens to be a work of an ICS officer by name A S Panchapakesha Ayyar, published in 1944, He was supposedly one of the best in ICS, those days. Someone in Kerala happens to be collecting all his works and would have liked to possess this one. Therefore Mr. Murthy was reluctant to part with it.

This work is a collection of short stories, varying in length between half a page and 2-3 pages. I would not call it interesting or delightful but perhaps it would be of interest to someone outside India trying to study/understand the Indian psyche, social customs of this land and of course, the ‘Tales of Ind’.

They are the simplest possible stories, mostly with a simple learning.

Tales of Ind is a book you will be able to appreciate as long as you are not looking for tales.

The book gives you an idea about the product of thinking of yesterday's men that have become the instruments of our thinking of today and therefore appear very obvious, needing no explicit theorization or expounding.

I have marked a few of the stories as is my habit while reading. The two stories below are here because they are really short and therefore easy for me …

An Indian girl who had married a husband three times her age, met an English girl who had also married like that. The English girl asked the Indian, "why did you marry your old man?"

"Because my father had no cheque book to write out a fat cheque for a young man" said she. "Now why did you marry your old man?"

"Because when you get a cheque for a million pounds, you don’t care to look at the date" was the reply.


"All good things are alike and deserve the same treatment", said a philosopher. "Not at all", said another, "a good man requires a word and a good drum requires beating to produce the desired effect."

Some quotes…

George Bernard Shaw's statement - many men are only machines for converting good food into bad manure.

The Gita wants renunciation in action, not renunciation of action.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monsoon Sky in Mysore

Mysore. 14th September 2009. Monday. The day after Janmashtami Aarti.

It is the season of Monsoon. For the past few days, it has been drizzling sometimes, raining sometimes and pouring other times. But all the time, it has been cloudy. I love the cloudy weather.

Most of the people I know cannot endure the cloudy weather for more than a few minutes or hours. When someone says the weather is sloppy, they mean that it is cloudy.
I, for one would be happy never to see the Sun. Well, almost!

I love the clouds. Especially when they are dark, black and thick. Such an atmosphere uplifts my spirit! It has such a soothing effect.
There have been times when my soul was tormented. Then, as if someone were watching me from above, the sky turned dark. I suddenly felt better. And grateful to the clouds! They gave me such respite!

This evening, I was packing in a hurry. I felt heavy at heart. I had to return to Bangalore after 3 days of festivity and celebration in Mysore. My father shouted to me, “Hurry up! It will start raining anytime. The sky is frighteningly dark.”

I stole a moment to run to the terrace with my camera hidden in my fist carefully and flung the terrace door open.

Even as I took these pictures, the sky changed. The clouds were closing in. There was only a small patch of light blue, some white clouds and shafts from a sun that they were hiding. The rest of the sky was dark grey. Soon, more and more grey dissolved in the painting, subduing whatever blue there was. Fruit laden guava branches swayed gently in the breeze that sang the arrival of rain.

Truly life is full of magical moments...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ladakh - Day 3 - Thikse

We drove from Hemis back on the same road.
It was the most beautiful drive of my life.

We drove by the Sindhu River that flowed in a canal for quite a distance. I cannot say I had my fill but did look at it all the time, as if looking for something. I wished I could get down and touch the water. I told my driver about this and he assured me he would take me to a place where my wish would be granted. This man was very cooperative, stopping wherever I asked him to, sometimes driving back and forth, allowing me to take as many pictures as I wanted.

We turned right from the main road and lo!
We were before the Thikse monastery!

We drove up to the parking lot below the monastery courtyard.

(I was very very hungry. We entered this restaurant and had lunch – banana pancake, aloo parantha, both of which were bad.)

We then proceeded towards the monastery...

The following has been said of the Thikse monastery

“Rarely, aesthetically has man so improved on nature. The hill over which Thikse gompa sprawls was a near perfect pyramid before the monastery came up, striking in proportions but not attracting a second look. With the lamasery on it, however, the hill seems dressed to kill. There is no gompa in Ladhak quite as stunning or picturesque as Thikse.

Thikse belongs to the Gelugpa order, the most dominant of the four Tibetain Buddhist schools and of which dalai Lama is the pope. There are some 120 lamas residing in the onastery besides 40 odd novices.

The monastery was founded in 1480 by Palden Shesrab Zangpo."

As you enter the monastery courtyard, you face a towering fa├žade of deep yellow and maroon.

The courtyard has an arcade with superb murals.

Straight ahead, up a flight of steps is the dukhang (the main assembly hall)

When I entered, the assembly was in progress. There were 40 or more lamas and the tourists mostly foreigners. The lamas were chanting the hymns aloud. I could understand nothing of it but it sounded very funny.

Butter lamps...Some symbolic artwork made of sand I think...

As you go further inside, you enter a door that leads to an adjoining rear chapel. Inside, you find a series of statues Sakyamuni Buddha, Manjushri (the bodhisattva of wisdom) to his right Maitreya on his left. Further to the left are Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) and Tsongkhapa.

You come out of the Dukhang, descend the stairs and climb another flight of stairs diametrically opposite.

This will lead you to the Chamkhang, housing Thikse’s greatest attraction, the immense and beautiful gilded Maitreya.

The 40 feet high statue of the future Buddha (Maitreya), made of clay and painted with gold, dominates the chamber. It was completed only in 1980 with the Dalai Lama consecrating the temple. You enter the temple at the upper floor and are level with the shoulder of the statue, which rises from the ground floor, usually kept closed. Peering down, you will see Maitreya sitting cross legged in lotus position, an unusual posture since he is normally depicted as sitting on a chair.

This statue was created by Ladhak’s greatest contemporary sculptor, Nawang Tsering.

You come out of the chamber to enter this one. I think this is called Dolma Lhakhang, a small shrine on the left with 21 gilded images of Tara; a large central figure of the female deity flanked by 10 smaller versions of her on each side.

There are several other images in this shrine including Avalokiteshwara and Tsongkhapa.

I missed the Gonkhang – the shrine of the fierce protector deities.

From such an elevated position, the view is breathtaking. Panoramic, varied, vast, stretching to eternity and incredibly still.

As you descend down….

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ladakh - Day 3 - Hemis

Day 3
1st June 09

I woke up really early and reached the bus stand (I walked some distance and then hitch hiked) where I expected to board a bus to Hemis, one of the well known monasteries to the south of Leh. There were four places to the south of Leh that after much enquiry and reference of the travel guide, I had decided to tour; Hemis Monastery, Thikse, Shey Palace and Stok Palace. They were all located a few kilometers from one another along the same route, Hemis being the furthest from Leh, and I hoped to cover them all in one day without difficulty. I am usually optimistic!

It was a ramshackle old place full of dilapidated looking buses and vans and SUV’s and smaller vehicles. The faraway snow mountains and poplars, though obstructed by the omnipresent electric wires, compensated for the ugliness of my immediate surroundings.

I found out soon that I had been misinformed. There was either no bus to Hemis on that day or it would start really late and I would lose much time.

Hungry as I was, I entered this small Dhaba in the bus stand and had chai and bread toast. I enquired with a few people who were most helpful, one of whom was a taxi driver (Tashi) and decided to consider the option of taking a taxi and I was assured I would cover all the places. The farthest place Hemis, was just 43 kilometers away and it would cost 1100 after haggling! Private transportation in Ladhak is very very expensive!

We started. Me and Tashi.

This day and this journey would reveal Ladakh to me in all it’s glory and splendour.

The roads are maintained by the army and they are in excellent condition. You sometimes feel you are sailing. We sailed for a short while and as we left Leh behind, we were ‘in the open’. There were vast sandy stretches for miles and miles away and from them arose the mountains, brown, reddish, jagged and rugged. And above them, was the clear blue sky, made pale by the golden wash of an unusually strong sun. The landscape took my breath away. I got down every 5 minutes and stood in awe of what was before me.

Hundreds of white stupas, strewn in the midst of what seemed like a no man’s land stood out in contrast against the brown sand…

As I turned to take a panoramic 360 degree view, what I saw was a landscape that changed every 30 degrees.

Some distance away, I stopped to take another picture. A lone Buddhist establishment in the middle of a vast desert was attractive.

So deep rooted was my belief that I loved greenery and water and that alone of all the landscapes!

I had never imagined that I would ever like a landscape that was barren, sandy, dry and completely devoid of water and greenery! Now, I was breathless at this strange beauty!

Layers of mountains… who ever conceived such a design?

And just when you are sure this will continue forever, you are surprised by a monastery and a picture perfect village of neat houses perched on a hill at the next turn with a smooth black winding road leading up to it.

And soon after you have passed the hill, you find yourself once again in the vast empty desert and no footprints on the sand as if the monastery and the village were a dream, a hallucination…
A magician’s work…

While all this was on one side of the road, there were on the other side, poplar grooves and snow on distant mountains

The pattern of the stripes and lines on the mountains were no less artistic or enchanting than temple carvings

The Sindhu … a name that had brought me all the way.

We crossed the river to the other side and found ourselves closer to the mountains

Ours was the only vehicle on a lone road with stretches of space, sand and mountains all around, no trace of civilization anywhere within sight and only the strong winds to speak to us. What a feeling it was!

My excitement reached the crescendo as we drove close to this mountain. The ridges, the carvings became clearer. What was brown all this while suddenly burst forth into different shades and hues that distance had so far hidden

At the next turn, we were really close to the mountain

First view of the Hemis monastery

Hemis is Ladakh’s most well known monastery. Hemis Gompa or at least it’s oldest sections were built in 1630’s under the aegis King Sengge Namgyal. This has long been Ladakh’s wealthiest monastery.
Hemis currently has some 200 lamas attached to it.

As we entered,

I first entered the Dukhang or the prayer hall.

Climbing the steps to the Dukhang, you first see the fierce guardian deities painted on the walls of the entrance portico.

Stepping in, you see the vast chamber; a total of 36 wooden columns hold up it’s roof, with the central four supporting a clerestory (a portion of an interior rising above adjacent rooftops and having windows admitting daylight to the interior).

The light is mostly inadequate and the hall, dark and antique is very atmospheric.

On one of the Dukhang’s wooden columns near the back wall is hung a frightful mask with silken scarves about and a small altar with butter lamps and sculptures. The mask represents Pehar Gyalpo, revealed as the protector deity of Hemis.

Some of the murals in the dukhang have been repainted but most are old faded originals.

Here is where the rows of monks are seated facing one another during prayer

Statues in glass chambers

Preserved in the Dukhang is a gigantic Thangka (painting on a rectangular cloth) embroidered with an image of Padmasambhava; unrolled only once in 12 years during the annual festival. Unfortunately it was not the time of unrolling it when I visited the place.

Hemis’s oldest temple is the Dukhang Nyingpa (Nyingpa means old) dating back to 1630’s when the monastery was established by Stag-tsang Raspa.

It is the image of Stag-tsang Raspa sitting cross legged the dominates the rather bare temple. Made of silver, the statue bears the expression of a man about to speak, hence it is called Stag-tsang Raspa Sungjon, Sungjon meaning speaking.

The only other statue in the chamber is that of the White Tara.

A passage leading to the upper level of the building brings you to the Som Lhakhang, a temple built in the early 19th century. An 8 feet tall silver stupa dominates the shrine which also has other statues – Hayagiva, Vajrapani, Sakyamuni…

Continuing up the steps , you reach lhakhang Kachupa(Kachupa means 10 pillared), along rectangular low roofed chamber, that is a sculpture gallery , its glass fronted shelves displaying a host of divinities.

The Guru Lhakhang, further to the east of the terrace, is Hemis’s newest temple. It houses a giant statue of Padmasambhava in a wrathful aspect, his eyes glowing, created by Nawang Tsering, Ladakh’s most famous modern day sculptor, best known for carving the giant Maitreys in Thikse.

Murals in the chamber

In the front courtyard, Lamas were dancing…

The lama at the centre was the one who took me to all the shrines and chambers

It was time to leave… I took the last pictures of Hemis