Friday, December 24, 2010

Celebrating Christ's Birth

Wishing all of you a most blessed Christmas as we celebrate Christ's birth. 

This photo was taken at a church in Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu in India.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Immaculate Conception Church, Christmas Eve

In true Indian fashion, even the churches are lit up for festivities. Here we see the Immaculate Conception Church in Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu.

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Decorations in Tamil Nadu

Going through Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu at this time of year, one can find decorative stars illuminated at night. These are typically hung in front of homes and businesses of Christians (although I'm sure others have gotten into the decorating spirit as well). I have seen fake trees for sale, but they look, well, "made in China-ish." The stars are rather pretty though.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Photos from 2010

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Here are some photos from 2010 - India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka
Happy Holidays and a Blessed Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tourism to Chernobyl?

Been to Timbuktu? The Hindu Kush Valley? Kayaked down waterfalls? If you're looking for a place to visit that will shock others, try taking a tour to Chernobyl. Yup, visitors can now tour inside the 50 km exclusion zone around the site of the world's largest civilian nuclear accident. You can visit the power plant and ghost-town villages such as Pripyat eerily left as it was when it was abandoned in 1986.

As for me, I think I'll pass...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Education: Extra Obstacles for Indian Girls

Girls in India, particularly in rural India, face extra obstacles that make it not only challenging to go to school, but to stay in school. Rural families, unable to afford the cost of educating all their children, choose to send their sons instead. For those girls that do make it to school, puberty brings with it extra problems. In many schools, toilets are either dysfunctional, inadequate in terms of numbers, lack water, lack privacy, or don't exist at all. In a survey of 80 schools  conducted of a district in the state of Andhra Pradesh (north of Tamil Nadu), 52 had no drinking water facilities, 57 had no toilets, and five had toilets but without doors or water. In the latter case, children had to use the open space behind the school, and since that was used by boys, social norms meant that girls did not feel comfortable using the same space. Girls sometimes deliberately dehydrated themselves to avoid relieving themselves at school. For those living in dormitories also without adequate facilities, girls sometimes skip the evening meal hoping to avoid going out in the dark and defecating.
When such basic needs are not being met, how can we expect India's girls to stay in school, particularly for those whose home issues already makes it challenging? 

Last year, our elementary school's Roots & Shoots program raised money to build toilet facilities at several schools in Tamil Nadu.

Note: More information from the survey can be found in the Hindu Newspaper, Dec. 12, 2010.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Syrian Christian Kerala Home

A marked contrast to the homes of Tamil Nadu, Kerala homes have steep roofs and employ wood and laterite, both of which are abundant in this neighboring state. Such long, sloping roofs help protect the walls from the heavy monsoon season. The ornate gables, so prevalent in Kerala homes, are not only decorative, but also serve as vents, enabling the house to "breathe" and stay cool, particularly in the summer. The gable in the Christian home above had some vents in the shape of crosses.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wooden Temple Chariot

I love the wooden wheels on this temple chariot, located at the Dakshina Chitra ethno site. No information was given about it, but I presume it's rather old, considering its all-wood construction. Now rather plain, only remnants of of color remained. With vibrant color and decorations of flowers, this chariot must have looked grand as it paraded the Hindu gods around the town.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Lamp Niches, Brahmin House

These niches, located throughout the Brahmin house (originally from Ambur, in Tirunelveli district in the south of Tamil Nadu), once housed lamps. The small clay lamps with either ghee or oil were lit in the morning and evening for ritual purposes. Such lamps (or diya) symbolizes knowledge and removes darkness, which represents ignorance.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Courtyard, Tamil House

Courtyards were often an integral part of homes in Tamil Nadu.  They helped promote airflow, give light, and sometimes cooking or other daily functions occurred here.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Chettinad Woodwork

My favorite element of the Chettinad house was its elaborately carved woodwork. Made from Burmese teak, the door, entryway, mantles, and columns exuded richness. Particularly beautiful was the decoration near the top of the door frame. Upon closer inspection, one can see horses and riders, elephants, and various figures.

Purple Labryinth

Purple Labryinth, originally uploaded by melissaenderle.
Another monsoon day in Chennai enabled me to work on this pastel painting of a tulip.

See Melissa's Artwork page on Facebook

Monday, December 06, 2010

Word of the Week: Rain

More in the tail end of the normal monsoon season, the rains of the past week have been a bit unexpected.
 In just a 24 hour period, parts of Tamil Nadu received nearly 7 inches (17 cm) of rain. In Chennai, it rained nearly nonstop (and quite heavy at times) from late Saturday morning through Monday night. Normals for the Oct-Dec Monsoon season are about 376 mm; during that time, it has rained over 562 mm (22 inches).

My neighborhood fared much better than others, with only large puddles or isolated flooded areas in the next morning. Flooded streets made things miserable for commuters who struggled to find taxis, since most did not show up for work and the few around were in high demand. Many refused to pick up people in areas known to have high water. Auto rickshaw drivers were also hesitant to go through high waters, and those that did charged exorbitant rates.  Cycle rickhaws were in big demand in certain areas.Buses (again, far fewer available since many drivers didn't show up)  operated at a snail's pace through the waters, making commutes time intensive. Downed trees and branches also added to the road challenges.
While the rain was an inconvenience to some, it was potentially devastating to others. Street vendors and flower sellers were particularly hard hit. In rural areas,  rushing waters washed away roads, destroyed homes of simple construction, and submerged paddy fields - with some expecting more than a 50% loss in crop yield. With rice such a staple part of the diet, a combination of decreased supply and likely higher prices will make their already insufficient diet even more meager.

Chettinad Mansion

This mansion was once home to a Chettiar family that made its home in the Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu. The Nattukottai Chettiars were prosperous merchant traders who followed the British Empire into Southern Asia. Their homes combine European and Asian elements. This 19th century structure is now located in the ethno village of Dakshina Chitra, located south of Chennai.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Elderly Man, Agra

Elderly Man, Agra, originally uploaded by melissaenderle.
This is a watercolor painting I just completed of a man from the local streets of "real" Agra. He had such a kind face.

See more of Melissa's artwork on Facebook

Team Fishermen

When a fishing boat comes to shore, a number of men and boys immediately comes to its aid, helping to push the boat farther on the sand and carry the heavy-looking nets to a flat area near the huts for sorting the catch. A real sense of teamwork and community collaboration.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Separating the Rice Bundles

The monsoon weather in Chennai has enabled me to finish this pastel painting of a rural scene in Tamil Nadu.

See more of Melissa's art on Facebook

Direct Look

There's something piercing about the direct look this boy, a son of a Chennai fisherman gave me. Is it confidence? Yearning? Something else?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Pilgimmage Season

Yesterday while going to school, I noticed a couple of men holding fabric on their heads. It jogged my memory of last year when my friends and I spotted people carrying on this act both in Chennai and on our South India trip. These people are on their way to Sabarima in Kerala (in an area bordering Tamil Nadu) for the annual pilgrimage, which lasts 60 days. During this time, Hindu devotees of Lord Ayyappan are expected to perform twice daily prayers, do poojas, and other rituals. For at least 41 days, they must abstain from non-vegetarian food and "carnal pleasures." Pilgrims usually set out in groups under the direction of a leader, with each carrying an Irumudi kettu, a cloth bundle containing ritual items. Those who have made the pilgrimage and climbed the Pathinettam Padi at least 18 times are then known as a Guruswamy.
You can read more about the Sabarimala pilgrimage here

Catamaran Fisherman

These log boats - the original catamarans - are still heavily used along the shores of Tamil Nadu. Fishermen, considering the strong waves and undertow, must have great balance in order to ride so confidently. 

Three Fishermen in a Row

The sun still rising, these three fishermen are relaxing after being out in the boats very early in the morning. Note the typical plaid dhotis they are wearing, which tends to be cooler than pants.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Boats and Bundles

After the morning catch along Elliot's Beach in Chennai, the boats are pulled up on the sand and nets bundled up. Between the boats, bundles, and garbage, it can be a challenge to walk through the area.

Here Cometh the Veggie Seller

Many people cycle through the streets, hoping to sell their goods or perform a service. The coffee man dispenses his sweet liquid in tiny plastic cups to regular customers - who unfortunately promptly throw them along the curb. Milk and newspapers are delivered every morning. Carts of bananas or veggies is another common sight, with the vendor stopping by regular customers. Carrying my veggies purchased from a local store, I walked past a veggie cycle. That man's cauliflower looked better than what I had just bought! Maybe I'll be able to see the man peddling by this weekend and stop him....

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

School: Just a Dream for Some Indian Kids

Today's Hindu newspaper posted some wishes of some kids who for one reason or another, do not have the privilege of going to school. According to the article, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu alone, for over 193,418 children, attending school is just a dream. Reasons often include inaccessibility, lack of facilities, poverty, or general lack of awareness. Village and rural children are particularly affected.
In the words of one child "My mother is the sole bread winner for my family of five. Doing odd-jobs, she managed to put me in school. But my school is more than three kilometers away from home, and there is no public transport. Everyday I had to walk six kilometers. In bad weather it was impossible. So I dropped out of school. For two years I did not go to school. Then Rural Workers Development Society, a community-based organization, coaxed me to return to school. I go to school now but transportation is still a problem."

Another: "We belong to the Irula community. The access to our school is difficult so teachers do not come to our school. The closest school is two kilometers away but it is a Telugu medium school. Our village is located near the Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka borders and we speak Tamil and Kannada. Our parents see no point in us pursuing education in a language that we do not understand and hence ask us to stay back and help them rear cattle. When I grow up, I want to build schools and hospitals for my community."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lightning Strike on Thanjavur's Gopuram

This weekend a storm went through southern Tamil Nadu, with lightning striking one of Thanjavur's gopurams (entryway structures leading into the main temple). This particular gopuram was built during the Chola period (approx 1,000 AD). Unlike most of the structures at this impressive UNESCO site that were made out of stone, this gopuram, known as Rajarajan Thiruvaayil, was built out of brick and lime mortar. Despite lightning rods being fitted in much taller structures nearby within the complex,  lightning still was attracted to the structure's composition and smashed one of the kalasam pointed elements at the top.

The Thanjavur temple is a marvel to see - one of Tamil Nadu's most beautiful temples. Sadly, the majority of visitors to India never make it to South India.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Roma - Europe's Ostracized

I'm making a switch back to Serbia for today's blog post after reading my friend's post and referring article about the plight of the Roma living in Belgrade. While living in Belgrade, I had written about the Roma on numerous occasions. So often I had looked down below the Gazella bridge in Belgrade at the large Roma settlement below while riding across this major bridge in the comfort of a car or bus. Below I saw tiny shacks made out of cardboard, scrap wood, tin, and other recycled items. Mud and garbage was ever present. Smoke often emanated from the shacks, sometimes wafting past satellite dishes. For the Roma living there, it wasn't much, but it was home.

Now it is home no more. Prompted by a planned upgrade of the bridge, the Roma were evicted, with some given as little as 20 minutes to gather their meager possessions and leave. Some were given "alternate housing" of metal containers located outside of the city. For a population that makes its living from recycling what others throw out (as well as other small things such as washing windows of cars at stoplights or playing the accordion/violin on the streets or buses), this was a move that posted major hardships. And that was for the "lucky" ones that actually were given housing.

The over 12 million Roma (otherwise known as Gypsies) of Europe face similar hardships. In addition, they are the continued subject of discrimination throughout the area. Even people who wouldn't consider saying racist remarks about others feel perfectly comfortable saying derogatory generalized remarks about the Roma. For the 500 years that the Roma have been in Europe, they have always been on the outside of mainstream society, with many Roma not learning the local language, going to school, and typically living in separate, squalid communities. Like the Roma living under Gazella Bridge, many don't have the proper identity cards that would make them eligible for the country's medical care and other services. Due to the continued acceptance of discrimination and desire for countries to beautify or modernize, the Roma get pushed farther and farther out of society and what they call home.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tying up the Fish Net

All done with fishing for the morning, this man is tying up his nets. Wonder how much he caught?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Fisherman and His Son

While walking on the shores of Elliot's Beach in Chennai, this fisherman asked me if I would take the photo of him and his child. I loved the way he tenderly held his child - whom I presumed was a girl until I saw  a more frontal view.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Papilionidae Butterfly

Even though this Papilionidae butterfly is not the most brilliant of colors, I found it to be quite striking on this flower. Its long "tail" hung down the flower. The predominantly brown color contrasted quite nicely with the red flame-like petals and green leaves. Another example of God's beautiful creation.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chennai: Growth of Income, Increase in Pollution

Anyone who has lived in Chennai for even a few years can attest to the significant number of changes that have occurred in the city. It is no longer the sleepy fishing village present just 30 years ago. Industries such as the IT sector, automotive manufacturing, and cell phones have contributed to the rise of the middle class. Those with additional income desire to own a vehicle; public transport or bicycles are no longer satisfactory. In April 1998, there were only 975,915 vehicles. Twelve years later, that mushroomed to 2,658,083. From the months of April to September of this year, over 540,000 additional cars joined the already congested streets. 
While this means more Chennaites enjoying the freedoms of their private transport, it also brings with it an increase in pollution - both air and noise. Well over 20 years ago, vehicular emissions tests with certificates were enacted, but it hasn't been enforced. In the average emissions testing center in Chennai, only 200 vehicles undergo the test every month. Traffic police are starting to do some surprise checks, but with the fine of only 100 rupees $2.20, I doubt that such measures will bring much change.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Colombo, Sri Lanka

As if to transition me back into India, the traffic became quite congested when we reached the main part of Colombo, particularly the Fort and Pettah areas. Thankfully there wasn’t as much liberal use of the car horn though. Immediately upon entering the city, I also noticed a very visible presence of army and police security personnel by booths and barriers with stop areas. The driver explained that during the war, one would have to stop every few meters, making any trip particularly in central Colombo take a long time. Hungry for lunch, we went around some blocks several times looking for a parking spot and ended up having to walk a ways. After a last curry meal at a simple eating place, we took a short walk on York Street, enjoying its colonial buildings.

Out of the parking area, we drove a short distance on the road near the sea. The beach on that stretch was mostly grassy, but there still were some people enjoying the sea breeze. Prior to heading to the airport, we drove to the area of Colombo known as Cinnamon Gardens. Here, things were greener and much more spacious, with embassies, fancier stores, and wealthier homes dominating. After a short shopping trip to a handicrafts store, I proceeded to the airport earlier than planned so that my driver could return to Ella for an unexpected funeral. Now in the company of surfboard touting tourists, Chennai visitors, and Sri Lankans, I waited for my wee hour flight back to Chennai. Another successful trip.

Happy Karthikai Deepam, Tamil Nadu!

The fireworks & firecrackers going off tonight are good reminders that it's once again festival time in Chennai. This one, called Karthikai Deepam, is essentially a festival celebrated by Tamil Hindus. It takes place on the day when the full moon is lined up with the constellation of Karthigai. The six stars in this constellation are part of Hindu mythology. In the evening on this day, lamps are lit in rows by homes and along streets. These lamps are said to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to the residents of those homes.

Here is the kolam my former neighbor made in front of her apartment door. A much more serene scene than the firecrackers exploding in front of my apartment this year!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dambulla Cave Temple, Smaller Caves

The smaller third cave contained a yellow reclining Buddha and rows of seated and standing Buddha figures. The ceiling frescoes depicted seated Buddhas with arcs over them, the figures repeated over and over as if decorative in nature. The last cave had a central Buddha figure of a meditating Buddha and a small dagoba with large repaired cracks in it, a past victim of a break-in by thieves who thought it contained royal jewelry. Even though the frescoes here weren’t quite as impressive (or perhaps I was getting overwhelmed), I did enjoy the cacophony of contrasting geometric patterns, figurative paintings, and curvilinear blooming vines.

All total, there are 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings, and four Hindu gods. Murals of the cave cover 2,100 m2 (6,890ft2).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cave of the Great Kings, Dambulla Temple

The second cave is the largest, measuring 52 m (nearly 500 ft) in length, 23 m (75 ft) in width, and 7 m (23 ft) at its highest point. Here, one can find statues of two kings, the main seated Buddha statue once covered in gold leaf, some Hindu gods, another large reclining Buddha, and many more smaller Buddhas. Near the center of the long cave were two vessels that collected dripping water from the ceiling, used in rituals. Some frescoes in this cave depicted Buddhism’s arrival in the country, as well as battles and good deeds done by the kings.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cave Temple One, Dambulla

The first cave had a 15 m (49 ft) long reclining Buddha. Along the length of its body were lotuses and other flowers, all lined up in a row. A lit sign in multiple languages and in picture warned people not to sit down on the religious items. Nearby were smaller Buddhas as well as Ananda, the Buddha’s loyal disciple. Adorning the walls and sloped ceiling of the cave interior were beautiful colorful paintings of Buddha scenes as well as lotuses and geometrical patterns. Many of the caves’ paintings date back to the 19th century. Being totally surrounded by paintings and sculptures was quite inspiring.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dambulla's Cave Temple

Climbing up a series of stairs and rock, I reached the top of the hill. Tucked slightly inward on the overhanging rock was the white colonial-looking arched fa├žade of the cave temples. In front of the cave complex was a Bodhi tree with colorful flags streamed from its branches. A small pond spanning a portion of the cave’s length contained blooming lotuses, adding color to the otherwise neutral color of the scene. The exterior looked smaller than what I had anticipated, but once inside, things changed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Golden Temple, Dambulla

A pleasant 12 km drive from Sigiriya or Kandy is the town of Dambulla. This junction town is known for its cave temples, whose history as a Buddhist place of worship dates back to perhaps the 1st century BC. The 30 m (98 ft) high Golden Temple, located at the base of the hill, commanded attention in all its kitchy glory. Built in 2000 with Japanese donations, entrance to the building was up a series of reddish stairs and into what looked like the tonsils of a lion-like creature. To one side, a large number of orange-clad monk sculptures were lined up like ducks, adding to the cheesiness of the place.