Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pastel painting - Young Girl, Jaisalmer

I just completed this pastel painting of a young girl from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan (India). She was part of the Ganguar Festival. See all my India paintings on Flickr.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pimp up my Rickshaw

These guys are all set for the Ayudha Puja of local drivers' auto rickshaws. Drivers take their ubiquitous yellow vehicles and get them spotless and transformed into moving decorations, complete with banana stalks, flower garlands, and puja marks made from sandalwood, vermilion, and turmeric paste. This extra TLC treatment is the drivers' way of paying homage to the tool which gives them their livelihood. Have you ever thought of doing this to your car?

Navatri Kolu - A different store display

The colorful display near the checkout counters at a local grocery store here in Chennai caught my eye. The multi-tiered display is part of the Navatri Kolu festival. In South India (particularly in Tamil Nadu) these displays of dolls are set up in homes (and sometimes businesses), with friends and families invited to stop by and see the creations of the mother and daughter(s). Of course, the sharing of sweets are a part of the visit as well. This display has various gods and goddesses as well as ordinary-looking people. Aesthetically I don't find most Kolu dolls very attractive, but that's the prevailing style.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ayudha Puja - the decorations begin

The festival of Ayudha Puja is one of my favorite Indian celebrations. Its name literally means "Worship of Implements." On this day, people pay homage to the tools of their trade. Items such as implements, machines, weapons, books and musical instruments are venerated. 
In preparation for Ayudha Puja, all the tools, machines, vehicles and other devices are cleaned and  then painted or well polished after which they are smeared with tumeric paste, sandalwood paste in special marks/splats, and Kunkum (vermillion). The objects are then decorated with garlands of flowers. One can see these yellow garlands adorning the fronts of vehicles of all sizes, business signs, cement mixers, and fronts of businesses. Banana leaves/stalks, other leaves, and braided palm fronds are also hung or attached. All of this transforms ordinary-looking items to rather whimsical, colorful objects.

Getting Ready for Ayudha Puja

 The streets of Chennai were lined with more impromptu businesses than usual. People were busy buying and selling items for the Ayudha Puja celebration. Some popular purchase items included banana tree stalks, banana bunches, apples, yellow flower garlands, braided palm fronds, and puffed rice. Large piles of green "pumpkins" were also ready for sale, either plain or with a demon-like face already painted on.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sell em where you can

In Chennai, sidewalks are for setting up businesses - ironing clothes, the tailor, and selling produce. Since there is no sidewalk here on this street in Georgetown, these women have laid out their goods right on the pavement. A bit of competition, I would think. It's a good way to avoid paying a fee for a stall. I wonder how much of a problem ants and other crawlies are though.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Decorative Tiles, Mint Street

While it's not uncommon to see symbols of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity placed next to each other, I'm not quite sure what the rest of these tiles have to do with the respect of these Indian religions. Look close at this water tap off of Mint Street and you will see pandas, tigers, cats, clipper boats, birds, hunting dogs, roses, steam trains, and much more. A good exercise in trying to find commonalities.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mint Street Architecture

The architecture on Mint Street and neighboring streets in Georgetown is an eclectic mixture of styles, some of which dates back to colonial times. Nestled in between two ordinary (and rather dingy) buildings was this beauty, with some stylistic similarities to the Senate House and other Indo-Saracenic buildings of Chennai. It would be great to see this one getting a restoration job such as the Senate House. Perhaps that is what these guys on the balcony are doing.
Chennai needs to do more in preserving its architectural past. This booming city is tearing down "old" buildings and single dwellings, putting up multi-storeyed structures in its place. Nothing with this sort of charm.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


In addition to the plethora of auto rickshaws, motorcycles, motorbikes, cars, etc. that cram the typical Chennai street, the old area known as Georgetown also has a large representation of bicycle rickshaws. Looking rather out of place, this one has a painting of an American cowboy playing a guitar. I can just picture the rickshaw peddling its way through the Montana open plains....

Shopping for Saris

These women are participating in a global practice for females - clothes shopping. In small stores such as this one on Mint Street, fabric is neatly folded and piled from floor to ceiling - forming a rainbow of colors. Want to see one? The store clerk pulls it out and unfolds it. Don't like it? The cloth is dumped on the floor or counter. Soon a large pile has accumulated. Perhaps that's why there are so many workers in the typical clothes shop - some needed just to refold the huge mound of viewed fabrics!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shree Gujarat Swetamber Temple

Located on the bustling Mint Street in Georgetown is the Shree Gujarat Swetamber Temple. Having visited the impressive Jain temple in Ranakpur, Rajasthan, I was eager to see the carved masterwork of this white marble Jain temple as well. It is the first Jain temple in South India and was built by workers from Rajasthan. Figures of women with hips swaying and flutes playing adorned parts of the fa├žade. Balconies graced the multi-leveled structure. Marble stairs led up to the structure, with the music plainly audible from below. I had to check in my bag & camera, so I was unable to capture the beautiful scenes inside. Stepping over the threshold and past the ornately carved wooden door, I saw some women seated on the floor with a low table in front of them. Using rice, they had created some patterns & designs including a swastika. Further on towards the front of the temple were the men, seated in a semi-circular formation. In the middle was a huge kolam-like design all created out of legumes, seeds, etc. With such loud music, I wasn't quite sure how anyone could mediate or even think here. A total contrast to the Ranakpur temple, where silence was enforced.

Not wanting to disturb their worship, we headed towards one of the doors. One of the priests saw us and motioned for us to come in and see the altars, pointing out some of the deities (including a green god made from quartz). Walking up the stairs, I saw more colored inlaid marble and beautiful glasswork. Even the windows were carved from marble, light pouring in between their flowing lines. Due to the smaller size of the structure, the gopuram ceiling didn't feel quite as high and spacious, but it still was enjoyable to look up and enjoy the carving. Young children moved between the upper levels, performing some rites before returning downstairs.

I would love to visit the temple again, perhaps at a quieter time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mint Street in Georgetown, Chennai

Located in the old section of Chennai known as Georgetown is Mint Street. In 1841 gold coins were produced here for British and various local rulers. Today its rather narrow streets are clogged with cycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, carts, and other vehicles all vying for space. Vendors set up veggie and fruit stands along the street edges. Cows amble along, eating garbage. Mobile phone shops are situated next to rustic-looking jewelry shops. Worshippers spill into the street in front of HIndu temples. Music from the Jain temple trumps the sound of honking horns. People stop us asking if we could take their pictures. Women look through piles of brightly colored fabric, choosing the most colorful, glitzy ones for a new sari. It is chaotic, vibrant India in its glory.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Madras High Court

These decorative domes belong to the Madras High Court buildings, located on Rajaji Salai in Georgetown, Chennai. Built of characteristic red brick, it was designed by Chisholm, the same architect for many of Chennai's Indo-Saracenic constructions such as the Senate House and the Egmore Railway Station.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

St. Mary's Church - Oldest Anglican Church in Asia

Located on the Fort St. George grounds is St. Mary's Church, the oldest Anglican church in Asia. Actually, the sign boasts of being the oldest Anglican church east of the Suez. Dating back to 1680, the church's exterior seemed in rather good condition. This still-active church was the place where Elihu Yale was married. Yale began his career here as a clerk with the East India Company and later founded Yale University using his amassed fortune.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fort St. George

Established on a banana grove owned by a farmer named Madrasan, Britain's first bastion in India was completed in 1640. Sloping ramparts with battlements framed the Sea Gate entry. Once inside, the first building we saw was the Neo-Classical Secretariat and the Legislative Council Chambers. Built between 1694 and 1732, these buildings are amongst the oldest surviving British constructions in India. Today the Secretariat is the seat of government for Tamil Nadu. Considering its current status and historical importance, it was a bit disappointing to see signs of neglect and disrepair. Aside from a church and a museum, there was little else of interest - unless you happen to like army barrack-style buildings.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Aboard the Chennai Suburban Railway

Exploring my options (vs. taking auto rickshaws or taxis) for getting around, I decided Sunday would be a good day to try out the city's railway system. Another colleague and I walked to the local train station which was rather deserted. Our 6 rupee (12 cents) cardboard ticket in hand, we walked up the steps to the platform. At first the platform was also empty, but after a bit we were joined by some others also waiting to head northward. Aboard the no-frills train car, passengers were busy texting, snoozing, and reading the Sunday paper. Fifteen minutes later, we were at our destination - Fort St. George.
On the way back, we boarded an all-women's train car. It was quiet and had plenty of seats.
The ride was comfortable, cheaper, and much faster than trying to take transport on Chennai's crowded roads.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Hangin' Around at School

The school has traditionally been a hangout spot for parents (typically one is a stay-at-home-parent), but in the last few days, we've spotted some other visitors. These three bats have huddled in one of our courtyard trees close to picnic tables. Surprisingly, they don't seem to be bothered by kids passing by.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Senate House, Architectural Marvel

Near the Marina Beach is the Indo-Saracenic Madras University, one of the oldest universities (1857) in India. Amongst the numerous red-brick buildings all jumbled together here is one that stands out for its stateliness and beauty. It is known as The Senate House. Designed by Robert Chisholm, it is a mixture of Byzantine and Saracenic styles. Recent restoration has paid off; one can marvel at the high ceiling, chiseled granite pillars, pointed archways, and beautiful stained glass windows. Tracery on large rounded windows reminded me of an Islamic rose window. I snapped this first photo before finding out that photography was not allowed. A man in the office told me that permission was not possible, but that I was free to take photos of the building off grounds. From just beyond the iron fence around the periphery, I took the second photo and many others. With my zoom lens, I was able to capture the decorative domes which reminded me a bit of Moorish architecture.
I still hope that I can somehow get permission to take photos of this impressive building, up close and taking the needed time. I'm not quite sure what the big deal is for prohibiting photography, but I do know that this building deserves to be shared and seen by the public.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

St. Andrew's Kirk, Chennai

In viewing distance from the Egmore Railway Station is St. Andrew's Kirk. This magnificent example of Neo-Classical architecture was modeled after St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in London. The stately Corinthian columns, white tapering steeple rising 50 meters (164 feet), and shallow masonry dome are just three of its distinctive features. Sitting in the rich mahogany pews, my eyes were immediately drawn to the arched stained glass windows above the altar. Its rich colors, ornate details, and depictions of the subjects beckoned a closer look. The dark dome contrasted with the cream-colored circular interior. Not visible but important engineering-wise is the solution to dealing with the sandy soil and flooding: A series of 150 wells made from curved bricks were sunk from 4-15 meters (13-49 feet) into the ground, thus allowing water to rise within them and protect the church structure. That would be cool to see!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Chepauk Palace

I had seen a photo of the Chepauk Palace in a guidebook and knew approximately where it should be, but that didn't prevent me from almost missing it. As the taxi drove by a clustered bunch of buildings, I caught a brief glimpse of the tower, nearly obscured from view. When the Chepauk Palace was built in 1768, the area was quite wide open and spacious. Now, the small driveway with an unpretentious entrance, tiny grounds (actually, a pathetic stubble of grass along with dirt) and no signage seriously underscores the significance of the building in the history of Indian architecture. It is considered to be the forerunner of the Indo-Saracenic style which spread from Chennai to the rest of the Indian subcontinent. The tower had a Mughal feel to it, reminiscent of some of the buildings I had seen in Delhi. Its stripes reminded me of some of the Islamic architecture I had seen in Sarajevo. Sadly, there is a feeling of forgottenness and abandonment, the buildings and grounds in disrepair. Still, if you are in the area, it's still worth a visit to see this still-beautiful building.

Egmore Railway Station, Chennai

Since I had to run an errand in northern Chennai, I decided to hire a taxi and take along my camera. This is the Egmore Railway station, an early 20th century building constructed in the Indo-Saracenic style. Note the unconventional flattish domes and narrow, pointed arches. As the main station connecting Chennai with the rest of Tamil Nadu and the south, you can imagine that it's a rather busy station. Of course, what India railway station isn't?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Pookkalam and Lamps

Here is another pookkalam design, photographed in Adayar, Chennai. That evening, the streets were limited to pedestrian traffic only - and for good reason. With the lamps aglow, the atmosphere was both tranquil but festive. So simple, and yet intricate.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

More Pookkalam Designs

Here is another pookkalam design, made to celebrate the Kerala harvest festival of Onam. I love the small oil lamps lighting the center of this particular design. Note the flower petals in the center, lamp in the middle, and the symbols of the lit lamps around the circumference of the design.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Happy Onam

Today marks the festival of Onam, a harvest festival originating in the South Indian state of Kerala. Nowdays Onam is celebrated in other states of India as well, particularly in Tamil Nadu, as it is the place of origin for many currently residing there. During Onam, multicolored floral decorations are laid out in ornate patterns on the ground in front of one's home. Due to reduced availability (and higher cost) of such flowers here in Tamil Nadu, colored powders supplement the more pure pookkalam designs. A lamp is traditionally placed in the middle of the pookkalam pieces.

Temporary, Beautiful Art

Sunday was an auspicious day on the Hindu calendar, with many different festivals and celebrations overlapping on this day. For the special day, women in this Adayar neighborhood "went all out" and made some impressively large, beautiful kolams. Such kolams covered nearly the width of the streets, with very little room in between the next kolam. Virtually all used colored powder and most incorporated at least a bit of fresh flower petals. That evening the rains came, washing away any powder remaining after being walked on during by passers-by. I still find it amazing that such time and effort is devoted to something so temporary. At least I have the photos to enjoy it after the rains wash away the works of art.