Tuesday, October 27, 2009


A collage from my collection of photographs
Source : Panels on temples of Bengal and Rajasthan

Many of the surviving temples of India , built during medieval ages , are adorned with sculptures and panels . There is one common point : gods , goddesses, ‘yakshas’ and ‘yakshees’ are positioned at a height and the devotees have to look up to view them. Most of them are in static postures .

At the lower level, are panels, often overlooked by the tourists in a hurry, where one can view portrayals from scenes from life . In many of these panels we find the incumbents frozen in time, yet dynamic in postures.These panels are often not done to artistic perfection, but, most of these panels tell viewers stories about lives of common people and aristocracy of those days. A serious student of terra cotta art would have read Zulekha Haq's book where she has made a powerful presentation on social scenes in terra cotta temples of Bengal.

There is another reason why we were serious about these panels, While the sculptures at the higher levels are regal and beautiful, the postures are often static and can be monotonous. Artists created the eventful panels in lower level where often we found energy and the flow of life.

Here is a selection from photographs of such panels Ruby and I have taken during our trips to temples of Hooghly and Bankura districts of West Bengal as well as of Rajasthan and created 'albums' during last 3 years.

‘HUNTERS’: View the dynamics of all the human and animal figures of this panel. One of the oldest from my collection. 1648 AD. ’Jor-Bagla’ temple, Bishnupur, West Bengal.

‘MARCH TO THE BATTLEGROUND’: Movement of human and animal figures depicted with careful details. The Foot soldiers have differing strides. ’Sameedheswar Shiva’ temple, Chittorgarh, Rajasthan.

‘TRAPEZE’ : A wonderful collage of 20 persons in various postures of acrobatics,The ‘zamindar’, in a crouching posture (LH bottom-most corner) watches the show. 1786AD.’RadhaGovindjiu’s temple, Aantpur, Dt –Hooghly, West Bengal.

‘COAXING’ : Woman sulks and looks away from his lover while their friends are in a mood of joyous revelry.1652 AD. ’Jagdhish’ temple. Udaipur, Rajasthan.

‘FESTIVITY’ : Ecstasy and abandon .11th (?) century. ‘Aadinath’ temple, Ranakpur, Rajasthan.

‘FERTILITY’ : Queen Devaki rests on a upturned cane container (‘dhaamaa’ in Bengali) as her attendant helps her to give birth to infant Krsna. In the neighbouring panel, Mahamaya looks on while the lone sentry of Kansa’s prison dozes off. Vasudev will escape the prison in a short while with infant Krsna to take him to Vrindavan. 18th century .Krsna temple, Bahirgarh,
Dt.- Hooghly, West Bengal.

‘SAILING ON THE BROOKS OF LIFE’ : 18th century. Temple at Kotalpur, Dt.- Hooghly, West Bengal.

The top panel has two parts from a well known sequence of Krsnaleela.Many songs....'kirtan' and folksongs...have been written and sung for centuries on the same. Secondly, according to Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyaya, a renowned scholar of Bengal , 'boat' has special significance in 'Caryapada',the earliest mystic poems in Bengali and repeated appearance of 'boat' in 'Krsnaleela' in terra cotta temples of Bengal has influence of 'Caryapada' theme too.
On the left-hand side, we find 4 milk-women of Vrindavan, stranded on the shore of Mathura,since Krsna has managed to disperse all the boatmen of the Yamuna river.2 women are seen to persuade Krsna to take them to take them to Vrindavan while the other two enliven the scene by song and dance.On the right-hand panel, we find Krsna in multiple manifestations.He is at the stern as well as at the centre of the boat,embracing Radha and another milk-woman.
On the lower level,we can see a large see a large boat, very European in its appearance. Damaged it is ..... but, it is not difficult to imagine how magnificent the panel was. Rows of sailors and revelers adorn the panel.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009



Skyline of Chittorgarh.On the extreme left , Rana Kumbha' s palace. On the extreme right, 'Jayastambha'.

4th of the seven gates of Chittor's fort. In local language,fort's gate is known as 'Pol'.The first gate is known as Ram pol, named after Rama of Ramayana! The other gates are called : Padan Pol, Bhairon Pol, Hanuman Pol, Ganesh Pol, Jodla Pol and Laxman Pol .

My first visit to Chittorgarh was in 1971. A very memorable trip. My mother accompanied me to Udaipur and Chittorgarh and we together had a very memorable unhurried trip through the land of Mewar's glorious past. Before my visit , I did a bit of home work . Some of the monuments of Chittor's fort moved me in a way I still remember, even after lapse of 38 years.

For example, in the empty temple of Meeraa, a lone, old singer was singing Meeraa's 'bhajan' .....the melody still haunts me. I have visited this temple on several occasions during later years, but, never came across another singer like her.Now-a-days , Meeraa's 'bhajans' are played in a CD player and that old-world charm is lost.

122' tall 9-storied 'Jayastambha'( Victory Tower') was built by Rana Kumbha between 1458 and 1468 to celebrate his victory over Mohd. Khilji, ruler of Malwa in 1440. The tower sits on a 10' high pedestal and is 30' wide at the base. The tower is adorned with figures of gods and goddesses from Hindu mythology.

Rana Kumbha's 'Jayastambha (' Victory Tower') stands as glorious as ever. His dilapidated palace is now a site for soni-lumiere show. As I entered the Padmini's palace , I wondered if a time machine would tranport me to the fateful day in 1503 when Ala-ud-din Khilji was escorted by Rana to view the reflection of his beautiful queen Padmini in a mirror.

Queen Padmini sat on the steps of this building. Ala-ud-din sat in a hall on the 1st floor of a building opposite to this one, with his back towards a window through which a mirror caught her reflection . The lustful Sultan waged war to snatch away Padmini from Rana Ratansing, laid siege of this fort .... at the end, the soldiers of Rana fought to death and the women chose self-immolation to avoid capture .

A sculpture from the dilapidated temple on the west of 'Jayastambha'. The goddess has 4 hands, a 'chakra' and a string of beads on her right hands and a very likely a written page on her upper left hand while the lower left hand is stretched to offer blessing.She is fully clothed, wears ornaments and has her feet at right angles to each other. Is she a Jain goddess.

Ruby and I found time to take photos of 'Jayastambha', Samiddheswr Shiva's temple and of sculptures on a nearly broken temple in the western side of 'Jayastambha'. We could spend time inside the Shiva temple, marveling at the three faces of Shiva (I came across term 'Adbhutananda Shiva' in a blog on Iconography by Ms Kavitha) .Thanks to the priest, we could capture the deity's faces in nos of shots.

The three faces of Shiva. The front face has extra-ordinarily large eyes, often used in Jain sculptures ( Aadinath and others), side faces depicting 'Shantarasa' and 'Adbutarasa' (emotions : calm and queer).

What I regret is that I missed out taking a photo of the side faces from different angles. Outside, the sun was about to set. I could take much less photographs than I would have liked to as the light started to fade. When we visited Meera's temple and the Jain temple, it was quite dark.

A view of the skyline of Chittor beyond the 'Gopuram' of 'Samidheswar' temple.

The western sky was bright orange when viewed through the 'Natmandir' . The city of Chittor lay ahead of us, under the deep blue sky , bright after a shower and turning red as the sun started his climb down.We had to hurry as Kalika, Meeraa and Jain temples were yet to be visited before it turns dark.But, eventually , we were late. We knew we have come back at least once more for the son-et-lumiere show, a climb atop 'Kirtistambha' ( this 72' tower was built in 12th century) , a walk down the stairs of 'Gomukh' reservoir and another trip down the memory lane.

A poor shot of 'Kirtistambha' , taken from a distance. At its right, Digambar Jain Temple.

Sunday, October 4, 2009



Aadinath temple at Ranakpur , Rajasthan.Built in 1439 AD.Basement area 48,000 sq.ft.It has 1444 pillars.

Ranakpur is 98 km from Udaipur…. In many ways, our visit to Ranakpur was a revelation.
The journey through the meadows and hills was, as I have mentioned in the 1st part of my travelogue, enchanting. Ranakpur is a beautiful valley. The Temple complex is a large compound, dotted with trees, set up across a rivulet , with no shacks around the compound, very much unlike many other places of tourist interest in India. There are four temples within the compound, an Administrative Block, with two Dining Halls attached to it and living quarters for the men who work there and Guest rooms. The rooms are very affordable @ around Rs 100+ per night. Quite a Spartan accommodation , a large bedroom with two cots and a fan, plug-points for mosquito repellent, laptop and charging mobiles, a Store room and a court-yard with Indian WC, a big bathroom with western WC and shower. There is a large car park and moderate facility for the driver too.
Ranakpur has four temples. Principal deity of the main temple is Jain saint Aadinath . It is a huge temple, with no sculpture on the exterior. Inside this temple we find a treasure of rich and intricate carvings, statues of Jain gods and goddesses and Yakshis. A feast for the eyes and our cameras.

A view of one of many corridors created by 1444 pillars the Aadinath temple has.

Arabasque and knots created by snakes. Saraswati in centre.Knots are spreading concentric circles. The three circles have 8,8 and 16 knots one after the other.

The main temple was build around 1439 AD by Dharna Sha, a Jain businessman . The name Ranakpur has reportedly been derived from Rana Kumbha , who gave the plot of land to Dharna Sha. The basement of this huge temple covers 48000 sq feet. It has 1444 pillars . But, the beauty of this temple lie beyond such statistical data.

Sculpture in the Aadinath temple.The smiling male figure has 6 hands..His consort stands on his right and carries a small spherical container.

Aadinath's mother Manjudevi rides the elephant. A very prominent sculpture in Aadinath temple.

Yakshi , with a sword-like item in her right-hand.The sculptor has done a very bad job.Errors in proportion,shape of limbs. The combat-cum-dance posture,however, makes her unique!

Camera is allowed inside the main temple only after we buy a ticket from the ticket counter outside the same . Photography is allowed between 12.00 noon and 5.00 pm . Security personnel are quite strict about the timing. I arrived late and could not use the camera for more than 35 minutes , which was quite inadequate . We missed a good part of the work we would have loved to capture . Since the sun was to set in an hour’s time, we left for the other temples where photography was without restriction. Two of them were quite captivating . But, after the sun-down , the interior of the main temple was quite dark , since, no electric bulbs are allowed. Priests perform their duty in candle light only. So, we missed out viewing a part of the finer portions of this temple during this visit.

The visitors are looking at the ceiling at the entrance.... a motif that I missed out during my photography session.

The five senses of a human being. Figure on the ceiling near the entrance of Aadinath temple.

When I was sitting on the steps of the temple after the evening prayer ( sandhyarati) , the chamber and the pathway in semi-darkness, glow coming from the rays of the few lamps and candles lit, a priest and the wife of another struck a conversation with me . Sensing my disappointment at not being able to savour the work for longer hours, I was taken around to view the major work in candle light. This is an experience which words cannot describe. The bright eyes of Vairab and his Consort on the RH wall of Adinath’s chamber, the arabesque on the ceiling and couple of other plaques, the corridor with intricate work on the pillars, glow of a lamp in a far-away window-like opening. I carried the impression in my heart ……

View of Parshvanath temple , as photographed from the rear.The walls are full of sculpture and plaques.

This stone lion stares at the viewers and pilgrims , from his eternal crouching pose !

A four-handed Jain god , with very interesting details,in Parasvnath temple. His face shows no emotion.He is naked ( an enlarged view reveals more details!, ) , yet has ornaments dangling on his thighs.He is ferocious - somewhat like Hindu 'Rudra', with sword and a head of a dead man in his hands.His other two hands carry a small tabor and a contraption held between two fingers.He has a small moustache, a prominent beard and a snake worn as a necklace.He has a star in between the two nipples.

While the goddess in the centre sits with a child in her lap, very likely in a symbol of Fertility, couples around her are engaged in acts of coitus.

A couple engaged in coitus in standing position, the hands of these persons showing the extent of their engagement!.

I have little knowledge of Jain Iconography. Jain scripture has many gods and goddesses. Saraswati, Chakreswari Devi , 24 Lord Tirthankaras with 24 Yakshas amd 24 Yakshis,

We shall visit Ranakpur again , for peace and de-tox , for more of photography and enjoy the evenings of prayer amid the glow of candles and lamps and ringing of the giant bells..
A few important info. :
  1. Nearest railway station is Phalna, which is 35 km from Ranakpur.
  2. Airports of Jodhpur and Udaipur are nearly equidistant, but, the journey from the later is more rewarding.
  3. Nearest town - Sadri (8 km).
  4. Phone no of the Admin Office @ Ranakpur – 02934 285019.
  5. Avoid being in a hurry . You must relax to enjoy the spirit of Ranakpur.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Durga 'Puja' in Calcutta has been highly commercialised, specially through hype in TV. Days' count starts blinking on the screen 90 days before 'Mahalaya'.Endless advertisements and talks and reports on what minor celebrities plan to do during the 'Puja' spoils the celebration's mood because of over-exposure. Gradually, DurgaPuja is turning to be a carnival.

Yet, artistic decoration and the height of workmanship of the artisans toiling for weeks attract lakhs of people who stream through the PujaPandals for 4/5 evenings.The rush allows just a glimpse , because , there is a constant push to move and make room for the next person. I normally cover a few of the famous ones in South Calcutta during early hours of the morning or noon.In the evenings, I enjoy the shows of TV channels. Much to my chagrin,in 2009, TV channels, who did cover the Puja crowd a lot, were very particular about not showing the details of award-winning images and pandals !There must have been requests of Puja Committes about not showing the details so that curiosity attracts larger and larger crowd,which in turn means,bigger support from sponsors.

Weather was a spoil-sport this year. September weather is, as such, humid.Calcuttans had to brave a few showers too. are a few photos capturing the moments of joy :

Tired face of a priest. 'Evergreen' pandal @ Ballygunge, against the backdrop of the knees of Mahisasur .

Durgabari @ Ballygunge Place. Notice the bright red garlands on Devi's body.

The best performer in a competition of impersonating DeviDurga among local children @ (Behala) Airport 'More' near Parnasree.

Seeking the blessing of the Goddess, after the priest performed 'Arati'.@ (Behala) Airport 'More' near Parnasree.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Udaipur, the White City of Rajasthan.Viewed from the hill of Sajjangarh.

My wife is from Rajasthan.Therefore, I have visited Rajasthan on many occasions during the 3 decades of married life. I have visited Udaipur and Chittorgarh , among other places, more than once. I have always been influenced deeply by the splendour of these places offered to the visitors.

A visitor of Rajasthan looks forward to views of historical monuments, lakes (of Udaipur) and hills ( Araballi) and desert. This trip added a new chapter to our previous experiences.During this trip, we discovered the beauty of the Ranakpur valley , lush green after monsoon. As our car travelled through winding roads of this valley , cutting through the green hills dotted with small hamlets and rolling meadows, we soaked in the tranquility of nature.

View of Lake Palace on Fateh Sagar Lake @ Udaipur, as viewed from top of Sajjangarh.

We visited quite a few places and monuments we have missed out so far. We visited Sajangarh @ Udaipur, offering wonderful view of the city and lakes below) , Eklingji's temple (30 km from Udaipur), Snaolima temple ( on the way to Chittorgarh), Ranakpur's temples and Bikaner's forts.There was one problem we faced throughout this tour - that of cloudy sky, often coming in the way of photography.Nevertheless , we clicked a lot of photographs of the places,events and monuments, some of which are quite interesting.

Jagadishji's Temple @ Udaipur. Built by Rana Jagat Singha(1st) in 1652.The temple's front was extensively damaged by Aurangzeb's army in 1736. Rana Sangram Singha(2nd) restored the temple to its glory in 1780.

A hermit stands unperturbed while a couple is engaged in sex on his right and two women dance on his left. Jagdishji's Temple @ Udaipur.

The entrance of 'Jayastambha' compound @ Chittorgarh, just before the sunset .

The ones I liked most - three faces of Shiva(Chittorgarh),oblique rays of the sun lighting up a plaque showing Palidana's temple, 'jhoroka's of Bikaner, private collection of paintings @ Bikaner ( some of you may have heard/read of 'RasikPriya' series.... presumably the better paintings are in the private displays in the confines of the palaces, still a clutch of interesting ones in display @ Lalgarh Museum), sleepy pregnant camels in the Camel Farm.

Three faces of Shiva.LH - solemn.RH - Rudra. Temple @ Chittorgarh.The details will show lots of emblems .

Monkeys abound the premises of 'Jayastambha' @ Chittorgarh. A view of a monkey sitting on the head of a Lion @ 30' height .

Temples of Rajasthan are opulent. The silver facades, gold ornaments, exquisite clothes make a visit to Rajasthan's temples an experience out-of-the-ordinary. It is a pity that for security reasons, photography is strictly prohibited in most of the temples. For memory, one has to depend on framed photographs sold outside these Temple complexes.As a positive fall-out of this practice, I found artists of Rajasthan create paintings of Srinathji some of which are work of art.The price, including framing, can be Rs 10,000/- or more.But, the display of artistry is awesome.

I shall end this introductory part of my 'visit report ' with a few photos from my repertoire.

Friday, July 17, 2009

STAGE GETTING READY for Durga Puja_2009

My wife Ruby and I have been invited by a local Puja Committee to their 1st meeting for 'Durga Puja_2009.'.The enthusiastic group invited us to their favourite joint from where they have so far got the idols for Durga and Kali Puja.

It was an opportunity to rub shoulder with the artisans and get free access for photography. My photofeatures on Durga and Mahisasura have enjoyed large nos of visits . Here ,I got an opportunity to get a few snaps of the clay-covered initial phases of the Idol-making.

A drive 7 km away from the city and reached the Workshop, lined with idols. The head of the team, Tapan Pal was very open and forth-coming. We avoided the financial part of the idol-making and discussed mostly the way the images have been visualized and being created. Durga idols are in a 35’X40’ covered space , getting ready for being painted. Fighting and cowering figures of ‘Mahisasura’ were in my eye level.

But, capturing the colour of clay , in inadequate space is a problem for the photographer. Use of flash was unavoidable, yet kills the appeal of the shots. The 2nd shed has lots of Ganesha, Saraswati and Kali idols in the making.

The viewers who have enjoyed this photo-feature may please view the following blogs/photos :

  • http://cshyamal.sulekha.com/blog/post/2008/10/a-photo-feature-on-durgapuja-in-calcutta-2008-part.htm
  • http://cshyamal.sulekha.com/blog/post/2008/10/a-photofeature-on-durgapuja-in-calcutta-ii-nabami.htm
  • http://cshyamal.sulekha.com/blog/post/2008/09/tragedy-of-mahishasur-a-king-who-crossed-his-limit.htm
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/cshyamal/1659208496/

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Sita's happy hours in Ram's court in Ayodhya, before
her exile to Sage Valmiki's hermitage.


‘Wait for me .I shall return in a short while’ , Sita told Soudhanya as she got down in front of the door of Ram’s court.

Soudhanya, the charioteer, who brought Sita from Valmiki’s hermitage to Ayodhya, was surprised : Why Sita would return to the chariot? Would not she move into the palace after her meet with Ram and return to the empty space in Ram’s throne, refreshed and in queen’s attire?

Sita knew her husband much better than Soudhanya and the ardent readers of Valmiliki’s chronicle. This morning, when she saw the chariot from Ayodhya without the usual royal entourage, she knew her foreboding of last evening was correct. She knew she would have to return to ignominy. She was determined to handle the situation, this time, her way.

* * * * * *

Her last evening in sage Valmiki’s hermitage.

This was her dwelling for more than fourteen years…..nowhere else she stayed longer than this in her adult life. A simple cottage , nothing like the palace where she should have been as the queen of Ayodhya. She would bid farewell to this dwelling of hers next morning. She would not return to Sage Valmiki’s hermitage ever in her life !

Sita sighed as she stepped into her cottage and sat in the favourite corner of her own room. From here she could have a glimpse of the ground where Lav-Kush used to practice archery. A small garden across her room filled her cottage with a fragrance she would miss from tomorrow.

Tomorrow , a chariot would come at her doorstep from Ayodhya’s palace. Ram had sent an invitation to the mother of Lav-Kush , an invitation to be present in the royal court of Ayodhya. This afternoon, this evening be would her time for reminiscences.

Her time for decisions.

The three men in her life!

Ram, the handsome young warrior in her father’s court, quiet determination and self-confidence in his body language , easily lifted the bow of Lord Shiva , put the string across and pulled it so hard that it broke. While her father JanakRaj and others applauded, Sita looked at Ram with a pride in her heart . She also sensed that her friends were looking at her with envy. Later, after her marriage with Ram, when she was melting in his embrace, Ram asked her when Sita fell for him : before or after he lifted the bow. She kissed Ram ,first ever kiss from her side, but, did not reply. She was not sure herself.

She could recall vividly all the moments of affection and passion she shared with Ram while she traveled with him through the forests during the period of Ram’s banishment. And also his anxious look when he went out from their cottage in that fateful day to catch the golden deer .

She never found that ‘Ram’ later when they were together after her rescue from Lanka. The boyish charm, the deep, deep love of nature, his joy in sharing the small pleasures of life with Sita. Sita remembered Ram’s attitude when she met him for the first time after Ravana was dead. His face had deep lines and his eyes did not smile. He was rude in front of Lakshman , Hanuman and other characters she never met earlier. Sita decided not to think about the other details of those traumatic moments of her life.

Later on, when in Ayodhya, Ram was a busy King, occupied with the task of running his court .He had a load of social obligations too, commitments to his seniors and dependents. Ram had no time ….and no intention…. to make her forget the humiliation Ram inflicted on her through Agnipariksha.. Though Sita did not realise at that stage, but, now she felt : when alone in their palace, even in the most intimate moments, there was a thorn in Ram’s heart. She never shared this feeling of hers with Valmiki . She thought : let Valmiki write the chronicle his way. She would not influence him at all. The morning of to-morrow would tell the world if she could read Ram’s mind rightly.

JanakRaj, the man who shaped her life. His affectionate smile, the brush of his beard as she hugged him as a child when he returned from the day-long work in the field and in the court. His teachings had been with her in all her difficult moments : interpretation of scripture , telling her about godliness, explaining what ‘OM’ meant . JanakRaj took care that his foster daughter would learn social skills and grace : how to behave in presence of sages, in royal court , among aristocracy and common people. JanakRaj firmly believed that Sita was destined to get married to a great royal family of Aryabarta and that her life would not be that of an ordinary queen. JanakRaj found her companions who were well-versed in the ways of life, possessed superior intelligence and elegance. But, she was not taught how deal with abduction and tackle libidinous Rakshasha Kings.

That brought the memory of the third man of her life to her mind : Ravana.

Strong, sophisticated yet impatient, lustful. Eloquent he was , talking about his triumphs, his wealth, his invincibility and his virility. Ravana thought he was the most desirable man in the universe and would become abusive when ignored. She witnessed that proud and arrogant person losing the treasures of his life ….one by one….. because of his infatuation , his blind desire to possess her. In spite of his knowing that Sita was beholden to Ram for ever. During the last few dark nights at her Ashokban cottage, Sita would realise that Ravana was facing defeat and very likely death in this battle which was raging beyond the boundary of that city of palaces. Shrieks and sobs of women, who lost their sons and husbands and brothers, would stab her ears , her heart , her cocoon every night. How hard it was to live in hope of early end of her captivity yet among the people whose nemesis she was, waiting for the death of her captor.

Long after the sunset, Sita sat in her room without getting up to light a lamp. Her mind was wandering, perhaps in a vacuum, when Shruti, a young girl from the hermitage brought a tray containing a few lamps and flowers. Deferentially, she bowed to Sita, placed the flowers and a lamp in the corner where she meditated daily after sunset. Then, she proceeded to leave a lamp in each of the other rooms and spaces . She then noticed a blank look on the face of Sita. She enquired ,’ Devi, is everything alright?’ Sita replied, in her composed voice, ’Yes ,my dear. Why do you think it is otherwise ?’

Sita got up , washed herself, changed her dress and mediated. She chanted the mantras Janakraj had taught her for a long time. Then she asked herself : what would happen to-morrow in the court.

Sita believed she could guess the answer. Sita believed, Ram would stand, once again, on high moral pedestal. His climb to this pedestal started when he killed Ravana. Or perhaps, when he signed a treaty with Sugriva and agreed to eliminate Bali , without an encounter. To Ram , royalty and his public image were very important .

Sita decided that she had suffered enough for a lifetime She had suffered . the horror of abduction and anguish of a life of isolation in Ashokaban of Ravana’s palace. And the humiliation of suspicion of her husband and a section of his subjects till the other day !

Another question or even one dark hint about her character in the royal court and she would move away from Ayodhya , far from her dear sons, Sage Valmiki’s hermitage and Ram’s court.

Will Ram be able to conquer the shadow of Ravana during her lifetime ?

* * * * * *

The meet was disappointing. And, in line with Sita’s premonition .

Next day, as Ram said, ‘If Sita is pure, let my affection for her be blessed’, Sita , inspite of all the mental preparation she had, she felt crestfallen. What a cold and impersonal address, devoid of emotion, spirit of welcome ! Ram did not meet her eyes, he did not convey one word of regret about her sufferings or her raising their sons single-handed!!

All the kind words of Valmiki, Agastya and other honourable persons present in the court did not reach reach Sita’s ears. Time to go away far from Ram’s life, from royal court and palace of Ayodhya was here. . She folded her arms and asked Ram, Oh King! I have but only one submission.’

Ram was surprised by the tone of this question . He replied : ’You have just to mention it.’

Sita stared at Ram’s face. She found age, power of royalty and politics le ft a mark on his personality and posture. She was calm and composed, her voice dignified : ‘I know you do not disappoint a person who comes to this court with a wish. My wish is a life away from this court, in the lap of Mother Earth from where I emanated. I would request you to grant me a chariot, bare essentials and two guards to escort me to the boundary of your kingdom. Please do not ever try to invite me to your court , your life. ‘

Sita then turned to Lav-Kush : ‘Bless you, my sons. I will not hug you. Then I will be weak. When you grow older , you will understand what I went through in my life. You will realise why I am walking away, without giving you two the last hug .’

As the court heard her in stunned silence, Sita looked at Valmiki, her eyes red yet dry , very much unlike the many descriptions of her penned by him. ‘You have penned me as a soft woman, always tearful. From to-day, I shall not shed any more tears. Oh great Poet, let that Sita face her end at this court. Stories about the other Sita would be written by future generations beyond this ‘Treta Yuga’. Please bless me from your heart !’

Sita raised her head , looked around the court taking in , absorbing all the details , murmured ‘Adieu’ when her eyes met Ram’s for the one last time and then walked away……into a legend .

And …..into our heart.

Saturday, May 30, 2009



Ravana in his court:
Radheshyam Temple,Bishnupur,WB,India.

This was the afternoon of an autumn day millenniums ago. The ground was littered with dead bodies of soldiers and carcasses of elephants and horses. Scattered were the skeletons of chariots which carried proud heroes of those days. Sunset and the dark night of new moon were a few hours away.

Yet, Ravana realized another kind of darkness was descending from the sky, slowly, to envelope his chariot and his being . He noticed, far off , Matali, who was driving Rama’s chariot at the behest of his master Indra, the king of the gods, turned back to whisper something to Ram. Ram nodded and then picked up a deadly weapon from his quiver and aimed at him.

Ravana now knew his end was near. He would not give up….he searched for the harshest arrow from the few he was left with and waited for Ram to decide on the course of the projectile his weapon would take. All this while, snatches from his life floated in front of his eyes….

His mother Kaikasi, talking to young Ravana, then known as Dasagriva, about his half-brother Kubera’s wealth, thus kindling the first fire of ambition in his heart which propelled him to this position of strength and wealth ….. The anger of Lord Shiva , when he disturbed His privacy when He was with Parvati in His abode at Mount Kailash and the crushing pain he was subjected to by Shiva as punishment …….. Indra’s humiliated face as his soldiers took away the prized possessions from the Heaven to Lanka……His first night with Mandodari, the woman from far off land with rare grace and beauty……..Young Indrajit, his dear son who left this world because of his own obsession with Sita…… and Sita whom he could not win over ……

Ravana suddenly realized Ram had released the weapon of Death towards him. Its bulk was propelled by the Lord of wind .It was emitting fire and there was a silence among his soldiers, as if they were wondering if a countermove by him would be possible and more importantly effective. Ravana’ lips muttered ‘Oh!Lord Shiva’ as he released his arrow, determined to go down fighting…. .

Ravana did not watch the feeble resistance his arrow offered to the projectile of Death that was approaching his chariot He had a dark canvass in front of his eyes, with Sita in its centre, as beautiful and desirable as he saw her for the first time in Dandakaranya , repeating the curse of Vedabati .As he extended his hands ….asking for an embrace or forgiveness….we shall never know, Death struck his chariot .

History would commemorate that moment of victory of Ram and end of the life and regime of King Ravana as victory of good over evil. In parallel lore, however, Ravana would be remembered as a great, scholarly and valiant ruler. All the women of his life, except for Mandodary and Sita, would go into oblivion.

After suffering the horror of abduction and anguish of a life of isolation in Ashokaban of Ravana’s palace, Sita had to suffer humiliation of suspicion of her husband and a section of his subjects till the end of her life. Ram would not be able to conquer the shadow of Ravana during his lifetime too .

Ravana in his chariot:

Ramchandra Temple,Guptipara,WB,India.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


A few days ago, I was reading the reaction of Veronica Lario to the ‘roving eyes’ of her husband Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy. I searched the internet for a bit more of details regarding the background and came across the stories linking Mara Carfagna with the Prime Minister of Italy and the painting made by Filippo Panesca. depicting Berlusconi as an almost naked angel in company of bare-bodied Mara C. (http://www.artknowledgenews.com/files2009a/Panseca_Berlusconi_with_wings.jpg)
Veronica Lario now retaliated by having a painting of her, similarly clothed, in an exhibition and the Internet……she too appears as a beautiful angel. (http://www.galloimmenso.com/images/blog/lario_quadro.jpg)
The matter did not end there. Veronica will very likely divorce her husband,19 years her senior , since she has run out of patience with Berlusconi’s ways with beautiful women, whom she calls ‘the emperor’.
Yet, Berlusconi is very popular in his country as well among the neighbouring states because of his capability and charisma, which is aided by his ‘high libido’. Our society and history have idolized Rulers and Kings who had insatiable thirst for expansion and at the same time, kept a large harem engaged. We do not have emperors any more, but, we have our John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Berlusconi.
History has not been kind to one such King, whose testosterone level was his nemesis. He is Ravana , a King who was learned, a good ruler, well-respected by his subjects and possessed excellent military skill. As we find from the laments of his wives and other women whom he brought into his bed and his palace, after his fall at the hand of Ram , he was loved by his women. Among the major negatives of his character, his uncontrollable sexual urge was the single largest cause of his and his regime’s downfall.

In a way, Valmiki Ramayana and many other version of this epic story have not been fair to this great King. His positives have been mentioned in passing while his negatives have been highlighted. But, there are others in South India, Michael Madhusudan in Bengal and presently several historians/Internet communities in Sri Lanka, who have viewed and portrayed King Ravana in positive light. I am not aware if anyone doubted about his over-active libido.

Had he remained satisfied with the women he married and later on ‘conquered’, his life would have been different. But, he raped Vedabati and forcibly took the paramour of his step-brother Kuber’s son to his bed ( strictly speaking, this is not incest, but, very nearly so). I found there is at least one more high-profile woman’s rape and complaint have been recorded in the chronicle. There must have been many more ! Finally, his death came because he abducted Sita , a woman whose beauty and sexual attraction kept his mind engaged for months while the consequent string of tragic events devastated his family and regime.

Someday, a poet , as great and capable as Michael Madhusaudan, will write a ballad on Ravana’s fatal attraction for Sita.