Thursday, September 30, 2010

Temple carvings, Kailasanth Temple

As with many of India's ancient Hindu temples, the Kailasanth Temple is a feast for the detail lover's eye. Dedicated to the god Shiva, one can see this revered god in a lyrical, dancing pose, with equally jovial scenes around him. Above is a small carving of Ganesh, the elephant god who recently celebrated his birthday.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Inspirations for Kanchipuram Saris

Above the devilish-looking figures at the bottom of a wall at the Kailasanth Temple were some patterns. These have become some of many designs incorporated into traditional Kanchipuram saris. More about Kanchipuram saris to come...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kailasanth Temple, Kanchipuram

The Kailasanth Temple is the oldest temples in Kanchipuram. Dedicated to the HIndu lord Shiva, This Pallava style temple was built during the early 8th century. Here one can see the developing South Indian temple style including gopuras, plastered walls, a pyramidal shikhara, and a wall enclosing the entire complex. The soft limestone material, weathered over the years, gave this site a soft, worn look. Recent renovations have been undertaken to restore this ancient site.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Procession Figures, Ekambareshvara Temple

In a neutral colored stone environment of the temple, these colorful figures really stood out. The winged figure particularly fascinated me. I presume that they are used in some processions, but exactly what is their significance? How do they fit in Hindu mythology?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ekambareshvara Temple Mango Tree

 In the center of a temple courtyard, one can see a smallish mango tree whose origins supposedly dates back 3,500 years. Its branches are said to yield four different types of mangoes, some of which are sweet, sour, and even bitter. It's not mango season, so I couldn't verify that tidbit of temple trivia.
Loading image
Click anywhere to cancel
Image unavailable

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lotsa Lingams

 Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, it's no surprise that the Ekambareshvara Temple of Kanchipuram is resplendent with lots of lingams.  Along the edge of the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam, one can see nearly cookie-cutter lingams. Although I didn't count, there are 1,008 lingams at the temple.
These non-iconic representations of Shiva are used for worship in temples. Flowers are commonly draped or sprinkled over the top portion. Some say that the Shiva lingam is a phallic symbol, but this is not widely agreed upon.
According to TempleNet: The Lingam is a symbol. It is a symbol of that which is invisible yet omnipresent. It is hence a a visible symbol of the Ultimate Reality which is present in us (and in all objects of creation ).
The Shivalingam denotes the primeval energy of the Creator.It is believed that at the end of all creation, during the great deluge, all of the different aspects of God find a resting place in the Lingam; Bhrama is absorbed into the right, Vishnu to the left and Gayatri into the heart. The Shivalingam is also a representation of the infinite Cosmic Column of fire, whose origins, Vishnu and Bhrama were unable to trace.

A Long Night's Catch

A Long Night's Catch, originally uploaded by melissaenderle.

A watercolor painting of a fisherman sitting on his catamaran on Elliot's Beach in Chennai, India

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pillared Hall, Ekambareshvara Temple

A main feature of the Ekambareshvara temple is the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam, meaning “hallway with a thousand pillars.” It was built by the Vijayanagar Kings. Most of these pillars contain relief carvings, of which Shiva is a popular subject. Nubile maidens, animals, and other deities also graced the stone pillars.

Ekambareshvara Temple, Kanchipuarm

Mandapam structure
This past Saturday, a friend and I took a day trip down to the town of Kanchipuram, located 75 km southwest of Chennai. The first place we visited was the Ekambareshvara Temple. This active temple was originally constructed around 600 AD by the Pallavas  The original structure was torn down, rebuilt by later Pallava kings, and later received additions by the Chollas. It is one of the five major Shiva temples, with this one representing the element Earth. (The other four temples represent water, ether, fire, and wind).
 At a height of 57 meters (187 feet), the gopuram is one of the tallest in South India, and is of much more recent construction. Unlike many of the gopuras of Tamil Nadu, its surface with its many carved figures is not embellished with brilliant colors.
Cows and figure on roof

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ganesh Parade

Upon completion of the puja, several eager devotees took hold of the long log handle of the float to begin the procession. Nadaswaram horn players and some Mirdangam drummers led the parade, followed by some devotees (mostly men). The priest continued to perform pujas along the route. 
As it was getting late and the procession rather repetitive, I decided to escape the mosquitoes and humidity and enjoy my air-conditioned apartment.

Ganesh Revealed

At around 9pm, the veil was lifted off of Ganesh's head. A priest began performing the puja in front of an anticipatory crowd. The floodlights from the platform of the float cast an eerie mixture of light and shadow on the priest. At one point, the lamp the priest was waving around was set down, with items near it catching fire. In typical Indian style, he calmly doused the fire and continued on as if nothing happened. 
Coconuts, flowers, and some liquid within this shallow bowl were offered to Ganesh. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Setting up the Ganesh Sculpture

Finally around 8:30 the statue of Ganesh was placed onto the float. I had expected it to be the same one that I saw in the temple, but it wasn't. Instead of a plump figure, this one had slender legs and four golden hands. Imagine how many flowers it must have taken to form the outer decorations! 
Note the Sri Ganesh restaurant to the left. I've eaten at the very local eatery a few times. This night, I was treated to some Tamil coffee by an elderly gentleman. Local people are so kind!
A cloth was placed over Ganesh's face until the start of the festivity when the priest came onto the float. Considering the loud music and the vibrations it caused, I'm surprised I got a clear photo!

Loading image
Click anywhere to cancel
Image unavailable

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Electric Elephant

All around Chennai, scenes such as this were common. These large lit images were a sure sign that some important festivity was taking place at that place. Here we see an image of Ganesh, towering over the band blasting their music below.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Worshipping Ganesh at the temple

During the evening of Ganesh's birthday, people dressed in their best and visited the temple. Some waited in line to enter the temple. Others stood around the makeshift railing, catching a glimpse of the decked out Ganesh inside. Some kids appeared almost giddy, viewing their favorite god on his auspicious day. Priests walked on the plank, giving people powder to make marks on their forehead and to wave the lamp around the person for a blessing. Devotees then placed money on the plate the priest was carrying. Next to the temple, a large bag of coconuts was brought out, each coconut smashed one at a time. Later they the pieces were collected. To the sides, women were busy stringing garlands of jasmine and other flowers, hot sellers that night, some of which were placed on the statue of Ganesh.

Loading image
Click anywhere to cancel
Image unavailable

Monday, September 13, 2010

Creating the Ganesh Float

Having arrived well in advance of the start of the procession of Ganesh through my former neighborhood, I had the opportunity to observe some of the preparations. Here we see several men adeptly inserting skewered flowers into place. This large piece was then attached behind the throne-like structure where Ganesh would be placed.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ganesh puja

Yesterday I visited my former neighbor's apartment. She proudly showed me her puja closet, of which her clay Ganesh figure took the place of honor. Fruits, drinks, and sweets were prepared here for the enjoyment of the plump Ganesh. Note the obligatory umbrella over Ganesh, floral garlands, and my neighbor's jewelry decorating the clay sculpture. Some families immerse the clay figure the next evening, while others wait until later in the 10-day festival.


On the day of Ganesh's birthday, this artisan was still busy cranking out clay Ganesh figures. Local clay was pressed into a two-sided mould, seams smoothed, and as a final touch - red & black beads applied for eyes, both for Ganesh and the elephant at the bottom. Although not as ornate or colorful as the plaster ones, such clay idols are much more environmentally friendly when the pieces are immersed into the ocean or other bodies of water.

Friday, September 10, 2010

It's Ganesh Time Again!

On the way home from school, I noticed quite a few of these little fellas lined up for sale. Tomorrow is the start of Ganesh Chaturthi. During this 10-day festival which starts tomorrow, it is believed that the beloved elephant-boy god comes to earth and bestows his blessings on Hindu devotees. Thankfully, most of the Ganesh sculptures I saw today were made out of clay. At least those won't cause the environmental impact to the rivers and oceans like the plaster of paris ones do. At the end of the festival, devotees release their idol into the water to help Ganesh onward to his home in Kallash, also symbolizing the washing away of a person's misfortunes.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Picnic with Rice

Picnic menus in India are quite different than those in the US. You won't find any sandwiches, chips, or potato salad here. This family is enjoying  typical meal of  - what else - rice. In the tiffins, one can probably find some sambar, dal, or other South Indian vegetarian specialty.

Jesus Loves Idlis

I spotted this sign hanging above a small place that was selling local food near the Velankanni Church in Chennai. Just looking at the picture, it would seem that Jesus is a fan of Tamil food such as idlis (steamed rice dumplings), vadas (fried lentil doughnuts), thayir saadham (curd rice), and some various chutneys.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Mass at the Velankanni Festival

Already at 7:30 in the morning, this space at the Velankanni Festival was the scene of Catholic Mass - one of many that would occur throughout the day. Mass is conducted in English, Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, and perhaps other languages. At the main Velankanni Church in southern Tamil Nadu, Mass is conducted in eight different languages. Participants number in the thousands.

Blessings at the Velankanni Festival

This flag pole proudly waves a flag of Mary and baby Jesus in front of the Velankanni Church in Chennai. Much like I've seen at the golden pole at Hindu temples, these people are touching the pole and looking up, as if the pole and sacred image above will bring some sort of good luck. The Velankanni Festival attracts Christians and people of different faiths, many of whom are seeking to be amongst the recipients of a miracle.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Not into My House

People in India are pretty good at fixing things that we'd normally throw away in the US and they're also quite adept at jerry-rigging. I kinda doubt that this mess of tangled wires was installed by the utilities companies. While the building's inhabitants might think they're getting a good deal, I sure wouldn't trust my electronic equipment to be hooked up to such connections....

Decorative Hand Stamp

At the Velankanni Festival this woman set up a small business on the sidewalk. Hand-carved stamps normally used to make block-printed cloth was repurposed. The girl chose a few stamps she liked and then the woman pressed the stamp into some burgandy-colored ink, then onto the girl's hand and smaller ones onto her fingers. I own several block print outfits and would like to purchase a few of these stamps, which are artforms onto themselves.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Mischevous Footprints

The blue Krishna boy is at it again this year, leaving his footprints as he enters homes of his foster caregivers. The day of Janmashtami celebrates the birth of Krishna, an avatar of the Hindu lord Vishnu.

These photos were taken last year in my old apartment. I did see some special kolams and footprints in front of some homes this morning, but I didn't bring my camera. Read more about Janmashtami.