Monday, November 30, 2009

A Bit Tickly, Perhaps

Noticing that this young monkey was deftly picking up items and rapidly eating them, I leaned in closer to see what the tasty morsels were. Ants.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Yesterday market the Muslim festival of Bakr-Eid, commemorating the day on which Abraham was asked by Allah to sacrifice his son Ishmael. When Abraham attempted to do this, Allah instead placed a lamb on the altar, content that Abraham would have obeyed his command. On this day, Muslims purchase a lamb and slaughter it, roasting the tender meat and sharing with family. I recall when living in Tunisia seeing huge flocks of sheep and lambs by the roadside for sale just before the Eid, then seeing these same fluffy creatures tied up by neighbor's homes. Then on the day of the festival, the streets became awash in blood. The last year I was in Tunis, I was invited to the home of one of my Muslim colleagues and enjoyed some of the tender meat.

Here in Chennai, the Muslim population is rather small and lacks the physical presence around my neighborhood - unlike the majority Hindu population. While in a rickshaw in northern Chennai, we went past a mosque from which males were exiting. No doubt they were heading home to enjoy the feast. So no lamb meat, guts or blood to show you - just a picture of the people.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Granaries, Gingee Fort

These granaries were part of the complex at Gingee Fort, a nice day trip from Chennai. Imagine the amount of foodstuffs that would have been needed to fill one of these! When I look around the area these days, rice is the dominant crop. What other items were grown in the area back then?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Up to Rajagiri Temple, Gingee Fort

The steps began leading us around the hill and slightly down, only to rebound and move upward once again. Nearing the top, I had a great view of the surrounding countryside. In the rice paddies below the colorful saris of women bent over in the fields created a curved line. In another, a farmer herded his yoked pair of cattle through the brown earth.

After walking over a wooden bridge through a natural moat and then through a mandapa (pillared hall), I was now at the top of the hill. Here one could find the main citadel, a Hindu temple and several related structures, granary, and several smaller buildings. Compared to the buildings on Gingee Fort’s Krishnagiri Hill, these were very plain. Hanging from a tree were some colorful rags as well as some rocks tied to the tree. Some bangles were also attached. Our conjecture was that these were fertility-related. Just down a small path from the citadel was another canon. From here, I had a panormaic view of the Kalyana Mahal and other structures at the foot of the hill, Krishnagiri Hill and the wall snaking up the rocky hill, Chandrayandurg Hill with its smaller structure on top, the modern town in the distance, and of course lots of paddy fields. I could hear the Call to Prayer, a reminder that some of its citizens are descendants of the Mughals who once dominated the region. 

Overhead, the dark clouds began to form. Occasionally a few sprinkles cooled us. After a quick look inside a granary at the base of the hill, we drove over to the Venkataramana Temple and then proceeded towards Chennai. Our day trip had drawn to a close.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Temples on the way up Rajagirini Hill, Gingee Fort

The beginning of our hike alternated between paths and narrow stone steps of uneven heights. Monkeys stayed close to the path, waiting for an opportunistic moment. Others whiled away the time by grooming each other and eating the lice. A baby monkey was off by itself, looking vulnerable and lonely. Through a tiny break of the tall growth along the stairs I saw a gopuram of an old Hindu temple. As we were on a timetable, we decided to instead press forward towards the top of the hill. I did follow one short path, which led me to a canon at the top of an outcropping, pointed towards the direction of the Kalyana Mahal and other buildings below.

About partway up, we met an elderly man sitting in the shade opposite a tiny temple. With his shaky hands, he held a tray of colored saffron and sandalwood powder and spread a small amount on our forehead. A fair amount of the powder floated onto the camera dangling from my neck, but luckily it was easily cleaned later. In front of temple was a 3-pronged trishula, from which colorful bangles were hung. Also on the grounds was a linga and Nandi statue. Behind the tiny dark temple was a mural painted on stone. Sadly it had been defaced.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary

Each winter South India becomes temporary home to migratory birds from places as Canada. During this time, there may be over 75,000 birds and over 115 different species. Located about 90 km from Chennai, the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary is an easy day trip. First recognized as a sanctuary in 1936 and formally declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1972, Vedanthangal is the oldest bird sanctuary in India.

In the early November morning, the lake was just beginning to awaken. A thin veil of haze still enshrouded the acacia and low trees, like sleepy eyes slightly obscuring one’s vision.  At first glance, the predominantly white bird population might lead one to conclude that there are only a few kinds. With the aid of binoculars or a large zoom lens, many types can be observed.  In one area, the Open-billed storks dominated, with a few Grey Herons (also from Bangladesh) interspersed. Higher in the trees, one could see Grey Pelicans (Australia). Painted storks from Siberia flew from some treetops back to their nesting spot, carrying some twigs in their beaks. Spoonbills took an early morning swim in the distance. Egrets of varying sizes were present in large numbers, their white feathers gleaming bright. In the rice paddies on the other side of the path were some Indian Pond Herons, holding ever so still. Egrets gathered around the ground just ploughed by the farmer and his two cattle. As the season progressed, more types of birds would join the party, adding splashes of color and size variances.

Just as we arrived, a large group of sari-clad women emerged from several large buses. They seemed to be on a much tighter schedule, so we let them go ahead of us. We still met up with some of the older ladies at the first two observation points. Some pointed at our binoculars camera, requesting to look through the lenses. Giving my camera to one lady, it soon was passed on to many more before I was finally able to get it back. It was obvious that many of them had never looked through a viewfinder before, but they obviously enjoyed the experience. A short while later, most of the group was gone. With the sanctuary largely to ourselves and a few others, the sounds of nature dominated. Different birdcalls were heard, all contributing to the informal symphony.  Thankfully, the annoying whine of mosquitoes was not heard, thanks largely to the pest-eating birds. Between the pleasant temperatures and lack of pests, our visit was unfettered. Reluctantly, we decided to move on, heading towards our second destination – Gingee Fort.

The Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary is largely successful due to the commitment and cooperation of the local population that has a symbiotic relationship with the birds. In turn for keeping the surrounding area free of noisy activities, banning bird hunting, and not boating in the lake, the villagers receive many benefits; naturally fertilized land (no need for artificial fertilizer or insecticide), far fewer insects, pests & rodents, and high crop yields.

Gingee Fort - Kalyana Mahal

After a late breakfast meal of traditional South India eats such as idly, dosa, and sambhar, we arrived at Gingee Fort by mid-morning. The landscape had changed from nearly all flat land to one punctuated by large hills of rocks. Some looked like collections of large rocks piled by giants, interspersed throughout the otherwise flat land. Green paddy fields dominated the rural landscape, nearly glowing with the recent monsoon rains.

It was my second time visiting this fortress complex – one of the few remaining forts in the state of Tamil Nadu known mostly for its temples. Last time we had visited the Krishna temple and Durbar Hall on Krishnagiri Hill. Now our goal was to climb the second of three hill citadels – Rajagiri Hill. Whereas Krishnagiri Hill had a gentler slope, the top portion of Rajagiri Hill appeared to suddenly erupt vertically from its base.

Several groups of children were also visiting the fortress, clad in their school uniforms. Some of the older boys enjoyed swinging from the hanging roots of the immense banyan tree, completely trusting that the vines would sustain their weight.

Located at the foot of the Rajagiri hill amongst green-landscaped grounds is the Kalyana Mahal and related buildings, constructed between the 15th and 16th centuries. A square hall built for the ladies of the court, it has a white pavilion with seven stories capped with a pyramidal roof.  Also present were rows of enclosure for the royal staff, the King’s audience hall and private chambers for holding meetings, a palace complex, and a massive tank named Elephant’s Tank. Traces of natural springs and tanks that supplied the citadel with an abundant supply of water were still evident. Also on the grounds were several granaries and the 17th century Venkataramana Temple complex.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mukteswar Temple

By the time we arrived at the Mukteswar Temple, the warm glow of the sun had disappeared. No matter, as the 10th century temple was something to behold in and of itself. Slightly below eye-level on the main temple were sculptures of graceful female figures, with expressive faces and careful attention to hairstyles, and jewelry. Like the Lingaraj Temple, the deul (10.3 m high) had vertical ribs. One of the more notable elements of the complex is the beautiful torana (gateway).  Two female figures gently reclined on the gateway appearing to smile at those who entered through the opening. On each side was the head of an elephant-like creature, its trunk appearing to trumpet and announce the arrival of visitors. The ceiling of the jagomohan (assembly hall) was most unique, carved into a lotus with eight petals (most ceilings are plain). It reminded me more of the Jain temples I had seen in India. A bit of light still shone through the diamond-shaped latticed windows. Once again, time quickly sped by and we were asked to board the bus. Our day trip had come to an end. For me, this was the final day of my travels in Orissa. That next evening, I would be back in Chennai.

See more photos of Mukteswar Temple on my Flickr page

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lingaraj Temple, Bhubaneswar

The sun now getting heavy, we arrived at our second-to-last destination – the Lingaraj Temple. It is one of more than 400 temples remaining in Bhubaneswar, part of the 7,000 that once stood here. Like the temple in Puri, non-Hindus were not allowed entrance. This magnificent 11th century temple dedicated to Lord Shiva represents the pinnacle of the Orissan style. Towering high above the surrounding wall is the 55m high deul (spire), its surface textured with vertical ribs and a few bulbous creatures. According to our guide, it is the tallest temple structure in the world. Other details described in the guidebook must have lay further down; female figures, animals, and friezes of ceremonial processions. The pyramidal rooftops of a few of the 100 shrines could be seen. In structures closer to the wall, I could see one of its common themes – a lion pouncing on a cowering elephant, believed by some to be a royal emblem.

Nearby was the large Bindusagar temple tank that is believed to have water from every sacred river in India. It is here where the main deity of the Lingaraj temple is brought for an annual ritual bath. The sun was now very low, silhouetting some structures and casting a warm glow onto others. Outside the walls of the complex women sold baskets of marigolds. Garlands of orange and yellow marigolds were strung in garlands, also to be used for performing religious ceremonies. Beggars parked themselves on blankets made from rice sacks, their aluminum bowls extended for donations. A thin-limbed sadhu with its dreadlocks appeared lost in meditation, perched cross-legged on a wall. A shawled older woman placed before a young cow a bowl of food, folding her hands together as she paid respect to the animal. Alas, the hour had quickly gone by. We had to move on.

See more photos of Lingaraj and other temples of Bhubaneswar on my Flickr page

Friday, November 20, 2009

Orissa State Museum and Nandan Kanan Zoo

One of the negative parts about going on an organized tour is going to places you would have otherwise skipped. One such spot for me was the zoo.  Perhaps it’s because of prior experiences in foreign zoos where the animals are kept in tiny fenced in areas, emaciated and pacing back and forth. Or, worse yet, the pens were empty, the captive animal dead. This zoo was surrounded by a thick forest, with many of the animals in a rather natural surrounding. Most of the animals were those found in India, including some rare species. Unfortunately, many of the white tigers and other famous animals were taking their mid-day snooze. Others were pacing back and forth at the far end of the pen, making it difficult to photograph. Our guide took us through a bushy path and pointed out a large spider web, identifying its creator as a Black Widow spider. I found the Indian Gharial Crocodiles rather curious, with their narrow snouts ending in a bulbous protrusion by the nostrils.

We also stopped at the Orissa State Museum. Unfortunately, much of the museum was closed for renovations, including the Buddhist and Jain sculpture rooms. We did see some beautiful palm leaf manuscripts, coins, musical instruments, and collection of rocks & minerals.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dhauli, Battle Site and Peace Pagoda

Located amidst lush paddy fields just a short 8 km from Bhubaneswar is Dhauli, the site of a bloody battle in 260 BC. The emperor Ashoka won the war, but his remorse over the injury and death around him caused the emperor to give up military conquest and embrace Buddhism. One of his rock edicts promoting non-violence, justice, and compassion is at the base of Dhauli Hill. At the top of the hill is the stark white Shanti Stupa “Peace Pagoda,” built in the early 1970’s by Japanese Buddhists. From here, one had a great view of the surrounding rural landscape and the banks of the Daya River where the bloody battle occurred.

National Toilet Day

You may be wondering why I have a picture of a beach to illustrate the reason for this post.  For fishermen and fishing villages along the shores of India, this is their toilet. Every morning, the men squat in a horizontal row parallel to the shoreline, carefully spaced apart as they do their "daily functions." Obviously with the strong waves, it doesn't take much for the solid waste to enter the ocean, polluting both it and the shoreline. Away from the beach, men take a leak anywhere they feel like it. Women have it harder, as it is culturally not acceptable for them to be seen doing their functions. The privacy of darkness is often used, with the women sometimes having to hold it throughout the day. Urinary tract infections are a common result.
Why are they doing this, you may ask? For more than 50% of India's homes, there are no toilets. In the overcrowded slum areas, there may be few or none. Worldwide, nearly 40% lack access to this basic right. Even some schools here lack toilets; others are so gross and unsanitary that children refuse to use them. Students in our elementary school's "Roots & Shoots" program created posters highlighting the problem and placed them on the doors of our many bathrooms at the school. Today at lunch, I walked past one and saw a worker reading it. "Does she have a toilet in her house?" I wondered. Then I thought about my apartment - 3 toilets, only one of which is used on any regular basis. And I felt a bit ashamed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Udaigiri and Khandagiri Caves

On my day tour of Bhubaneswar, our first destination was the Udaigiri and Khandagiri caves. These twin hills located just 6 km NW of Bhubaneswar were naturally honeycombed, providing great places to create retreats for Jain monks already in the 1st century BC. Although there are a series of caves on both sides of the road, the most impressive one is the Rani Gumpa or “Queen’s Cave.” The top corridor was particularly beautiful, with relief carvings of figures and animals adorning the upper portion of the walls and around the arched doors. Whereas carvings in some places looked rather static and figures separate, the frieze here was highly animated and fluid, with the interactive figures nearly melding into each other; musicians, dancers, royalty, elephants, monkeys, and more. Nearby is the Chhota Hathi Gumpha “Small Elephant Cave” with its six sculpted elephants guarding the front of the cave. Perhaps the most creative cave is the Bagh Gumpha, shaped like a tiger’s head, its mouth wide open and beckoning (or daring) those to enter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Saliasahi Tribal Village

Before finishing our journey, the taxi driver took me to a nearby tribal village. Just driving up the tiny dirt road to the village, I could tell it was going to be a poor village. Homes were small and simple, many made from mud brick and thatched roofs. Many of the villagers were not quite sure what to make of me; I suspect that many (particularly the kids) had not had much if any contact with white people. I didn’t feel comfortable in taking photos of the village itself and I could tell many of the villagers weren’t the type who would want their photos taken either. A few were willing though. I wished that they would have looked more “tribal,” but I couldn’t ask them to dress into something that wasn’t part of who they were. Alas, I wouldn’t see the colorful tribal people so famous in other parts of Orissa. As I walked past a rather high wall, one woman poked her head out and gestured for me to take her photo. A rather wild-looking woman who appeared to have cataracts joined her, both eager to see their photos. I did get some smiles and giggles, some curious onlookers, and those who excitedly showed off their photos to others. That in itself is worth it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ratnagiri, Udaigiri, Lalitgiri- Buddhist Sites

For a state now at around 97% Hindu, there is little in present-day Orissa that remains from its Buddhist past. The triplet Buddhist sites of Ratnagiri, Udaigiri, and Lalitgiri are some exceptions. Located about 100 km from Bhubaneswar, the drive to these sites is a pleasant day trip. The drive to the Jajpur district of Orissa was both pleasant and beautiful. Encircled by lush paddy fields and rivers, this agricultural region was both peaceful and bustling at the same time. Women were carrying large bundles of grass or firewood on their heads, men were ploughing in the small fields with oxen. Along the sides of the narrow road, cut grass was being dried; a nearly impossible obstacle for vehicles. Cow dung cakes were also being dried right on the roads. Cows, water buffalo, goats, and sheep also competed for road space, sometimes accompanied by herders.

My first destination was Ratnagiri, was a major Buddhist monastery and university dating back to 5th century AD. It is located on a small hill overlooking vast plains and distant green hills. Excavations, first done between 1957 and 1960 reveal two large monasteries, one of which holds beautiful doorways, a cella sanctum, large stupa, Buddhist shrines, sculptures, and a massive Buddha. Rather plain-looking from the outside, the interior walls of the monastery revealed some beautiful carved statues. Some were carved into niches. Others were on large slabs, propped up against a wall in the central courtyard. Tiny monk’s cells also contained decorations. My favorite part was the superbly carved entrance doorway. Like the Surya Sun Gods at Konark, the doorway was of a contrasting stone – perhaps the same greenish chlorite stone was used. Decorations were organic and fluid, interspersed with some figures. While many of the small rooms were empty, one revealed a treat – a 4m high image of the seated Buddha, accompanied by other Buddhist divinities.   Walking on the grass around the many stupas, one could see pieces of carved rock everywhere. Peaking through the ground was the curled hair of a Buddha head. How much more must be below the surface!

The taxi then took me to Udaigiri “Sunrise Hill,” 6 km south of Ratnagiri. It still is being excavated, currently containing a rather large brick stupa with a rather intact form, two monasteries, and a number of carved sculptures. The carvings date back from between the 2nd century BC to the 10th century AD. The brick buildings were likely built around the 7th century AD. The layout of the monastery was very similar to that in Ratnagiri. Once again, my favorite was the carvings around a doorway. While peeking into one of the roofless rooms to make sure no sculptures were to be seen, I was surprised by the presence of a yellow snake.

Our last destination was Lalitgiri “Hill of Grace,” about 10 km south of Udaigiri. It is believed to be the oldest Buddhist complex in Orissa, dating back to the 1st century AD. Here, one can find a huge brick monastery, remains of a Shaitya hall, and quite a few stupas. The walk up to the main site was quite pleasant, the dirt road shaded by trees on both sides. Overall, less remained here of the walls, in some places only the foundations remained. A few slab sculptures and one seated Buddha sculpture was left amongst the ruins, while the majority of excavated items were housed in an on-site museum. Also on the property was a large stupa with a series of steps leading up to the top. From here, one had a great view of the green, countryside. As we left the site, we passed by some stone carvers, keeping alive the great tradition.

See more photos of the three Buddhist sites on my Flickr page

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Puri and the White Pagoda

After a brief visit to the beach at Puri, we entered the pilgrimage town, located about 60 km from Bhubaneswar. Puri is one of India’s most important pilgrimage centers and is vibrant throughout the year. Like all four-wheeled vehicles, our bus had to park a distance away from the Jagannath Temple- the main attraction of the city. Auto and bicycle rickshaw drivers enjoyed the extra business of transporting visitors right up to the temple entrance. Of course, cows lazily meandered the street, seemingly not bothered by the huge crowds. On the main street known as Bada Danda, stalls were set up selling scores of items catering to pilgrims; cotton wicks for lamps, puja items, flowers, framed images of Hindu gods, snacks, jewelry, and much more.

This 12th century temple, nicknamed the “White Pagoda” by sailors to distinguish it from the Sun Temple, was also an important landmark. Its main spire rises 65 m high, dominating the skyline. Non-Hindus are not allowed inside, so I had to be content with any views I could capture by walking around its 6m high wall. As the rest of the tour members walked through the main gate guarded by a pair of colorful stone lions, I began my circumnavigation around the outer walls of the massive complex. At certain points I was able to get a better view of the main spire and three smaller shrines with pyramidal roofs. I passed by three other entrances to the temple, each with a different type of sculpted animal guarding them.

From the rooftop of a nearby business, I had a view of the Bada Danda and part of the temple complex. The temple kitchen area was pointed out to me, the largest kitchen in India. I imagined what the scene must look like during the annual Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival), in which the three main temple deities are hauled on huge and elaborately decorated chariots. The normally busy streets become densely packed with people, with excitement reaching a fervor pitch. Just imagine if chaos erupts during this time!

See more photos of Puri on my Flickr page

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Konark Sun Temple - part 3: Wheels and Bhogomandir

Perhaps the most distinctive symbol of the Sun Temple is the wheel, an official symbol of the Government of India and present on some rupee currency notes.  There is a pair for each month of the year. The 24 wheels can also represent the hours of the day. Within each wheel are eight spokes, signifying prahars (3-hour periods) of a day. Each spoke contains a medallion with a different figurative carving. The protruding central axle also contains a decorative medallion. Our tour guide told us that one could tell the exact time of day by reading the wheel.

Next to the Sun Temple is the Bhogmandir – the “Hall of Offerings.” The stairs leading up to this now-roofless structure is framed by monstrous lions leaping over smaller, cowering elephants. Complementing the Sun Temple, the Hall of Offerings columns and platform contain richly decorated carvings of dancers portraying poses still used in classical Odissi dance. This structure is now used as a stage for special annual dance festivals.

See more photos of the Konark Sun Temple on my Flickr page

Friday, November 13, 2009

Konark Sun Temple - part 2: Surya Sun God

Taking the stairs up the 3.9 m platform, one can get an even closer look at the large Surya – majestic images of the Sun God surrounded by his wives and other deities. Three life-size statues of Surya on the back and two sides of the temple, made of a greenish chlorite stone, are positioned so that the sun’s rays fall on the Sun God’s face alternating at dawn, noon, and sunset.

Even the three-tiered roof is resplendent with carvings. My favorite was the sculptures of women playing woodwind instruments and the cymbals. Their poses were so highly animated, it would be easy to imagine them actually moving with the music. The interior of the temple has been completely filled in, an attempt to keep the structure from collapsing. Scaffolding covers one side of the structure. The temple once had a huge tower that was visible far out at sea, but it collapsed in the 19th century. One can still see the original iron beams above the doors. The temple’s soft khondalite stone was also seriously eroded by seawinds and sand. Much of the structure lay buried for centuries under sand and was only excavated in the early 20th century.

Melissa's Art Exhibition "My Neighbors & Me"

Last night was the opening night for my art exhibition in Chennai, India at the Apparao Gallery. Considering it was a Thursday night, it was well attended. Our school was well represented - a great support. A few newspapers and one TV station did interviews. Here is one article. For the event, I wore my (only) sari, a purple silk/cotton sari from Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu. The show appeared to be well-received, with visitors commenting on the capture of personality, quest for details, use of materials, and portrayal of the common person. Here are a few photos:

You may preview the pieces at the show at Pieces are for sale.
The show continues at the Apparao Gallery through the end of the month.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Konark Sun Temple - part 1

The highlight of the trip was the Sun Temple in Konark. Located about 60 km from Bhubaneswar, this 13th century temple is deservedly on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Dubbed the Black Pagoda by sailors who had frequent shipwrecks along the coast, the temple is in the shape of a massive chariot, pulled by seven galloping horses (one for every day of the week) whose mission is to carry the Sun God across the sky. Only parts of the horses remain, but the twenty-four wheels each of which are 3m high are in remarkable condition. The horses and other parts of the many structures at Konark were victims of a Muslim army sacking in the 15th century.

A long walkway leads up to the temple, emphasizing the importance of the scene and causing increased anticipation as if one was coming to visit a king. Reaching the temple, the wait was not in vain. Here before me was a structure with a profusion of carved images and scenes of varying sizes and subject matter, all seemingly wriggling with life. The sheer volume of images could easily cause one to become overwhelmed and lose focus on anything, but for those that take the time to actually look and see, the details are a treat for the eye. You could close our eyes and snap away with your camera and get a wonderful picture no matter where you photographed. Here one will find dancing figures and those playing instruments, whose details give us a glimpse into the jewelry, clothing and hairstyles of the day. Throughout the temple one can see vividly erotic scenes based on the Kama Sutra including sexual acts – sometimes between a man and woman, one man and several women, with animals, and more. One theory is that the erotic art was meant to symbolize the ecstatic bliss enjoyed by the soul when it unites with the divine. Just next to some of these erotic scenes are more calm carvings of snake goddesses.  Other scenes are more of everyday life – a woman leaving for pilgrimage, another washing her hair, playing instruments, and fondly caressing a bird. Others are more religious, including images of various Hindu cults – an indication of religious tolerance at the time for different sects. Our guide pointed out the court scene – a relief carving depicting the king being presented with a giraffe – an indication of the maritime trade with Africa. Another shows a king seated on an elephant, leading a discussion to nobles & priests whose elephants and horses stand below. Lining the base of the temple platform are friezes of hunting scenes, military processions, elephants uprooting trees, attempts to capture elephants, rows of athletes, ladies cooking, and other everyday life scenes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pipli, Appliqué Village

Back in a tour bus (this one was new and air-conditioned), our first destination for the day was Pipli, a village of artisans about 15 km south of Bhubaneswar. This village is famous for its colorful appliqué textiles, a craft that originally served temples. Using some of the same techniques and vivid color combinations, Pipli artisans create garden umbrellas, wall hangings, bags, and hanging lanterns/wind socks. Common motifs include the wide–eyed face of Lord Jagannath, peacocks, birds, flowers, animals, children, flowers, and radial designs. The style and subject matter depiction on some of the wall hangings and bags reminded me of Hmong Story Cloths, with a rather “folk art” style, combination of appliqué and embroidered enhancements to the village or animal scenes.

We arrived there rather early before some of the shops lining the road were open. Stacked on tables and shelves were piles of finished pieces. If you expressed any interest, the shop person happily opened up one piece after another, tossing it into a “maybe” or “no” pile. With less than half an hour total time at the village, this wasn’t a very efficient way to see things.  In a couple of shops, one could see sewing in action using old-fashioned treadle sewing machines so common in India.

See more photos of the appliqué arts of Pipli on my Flickr page