Saturday, August 25, 2012



Durga the warrior- Bhabotosh Sutar,2011

DurgaPuja occupies a very special  space in a Bengali's heart - and I am no exception. The problem is that I do not have a big bag of photos to fall back upon to enliven my memory. The earliest memory of Puja in Calcutta I have is that of a visit to Kumortuli with my grandfather when I was 4 or 5 years old, of the crowd of Sanghasree,Calcutta and  the impressive Durga idols of 23 Pally, crafted by Jiten Pal.

In the past also, I have written about Jiten Pal, one of whose work now stand at a permanent pavilion of  23 Pally/Harish Mukherjee Road. The one which is etched in my memory is of Devi turning away from beheaded Mahishasura , carrying his head in her hand, much like that of the concept of Candika, her face angry yet triumphant.Jiten Pal could create a dynamic posture in a confined space which no one could in his time. That brings me to Bhabotosh Sutar whose 'Durga' at Naktala last year, (i.e. 2011)  had tremendous pace, one of the finest I have come across.

Traditional Durga , slightly heavy face, eyes angry , ornate headgear.

 It will be endevour during months ahead to find out photos of Jiten Pal's work and post them in internet. Let us now return to 2011. 2011 has been a remarkable year for  at least two major artists in the scenario - Bhabotosh Sutar and Sanatan Dinda.

Very unconventional Durga at Barisha Sristi (Behala) , 2005.
Idol of timber by  Bhabosh Sutar.

Bhabotosh Sutar  is quite an innovative artist - I recall his  good work on timber at Barisha in 2005. Those were the days of  early digital camera. Hence the photos were of smaller sizes. Another word of apology - I did not keep a note.Hope, I am not mixing up the artists ! If we compare this idol with what he did at Naktala, his growth will be clear.

Durga vanquishes Mahishasura (in buffalo form - exuding his animal prowess) .  Her sword is her spear. 
What momentum captured in this brass&mahogany idol! 
Bhabotosh Sutar,2011.

 I have a photo of another idol from Tollygunge area , taken during 2008. A typical 'putul-putul thakur' -  doll-like appearance -  of the present decades. Artists around Calcutta have exhausted the possibilities of this type of craft - short hands, static posture, big eyes,soft colour , face directly towards the viewers. Except for .... there is a big 'BUT'. This has a big similarity to the 2011 idol of Bhabotosh Sutar.  When a  scholar will study the transition of  style of depictions in 'Baroyari Puja' of Calcutta over the decades, s/he will dig into such details and chronicle the same.

Long curved horns of Mahishasura ( in buffalo form - here his animal power squashed) split the imagery in two equal vertical parts !   Tollygunge area -2008.

 I have seen the trend of Santan Dinda's evolution as an artist in creating a niche for him in Durga Puja in Calcutta. I have heard that before he started working for Hatibagan Sarbajaneen, he worked in a smaller way in a lane in Kumartuli. I am trying to get a photo of that Puja. But, from whatever I have in my HDD and what are available in internet, one can see Sanatan evolved over the years. He studied  Buddhist and Hindu Tantrik Iconography and assimilated well before he reached the level of 2011. I shall give an example - in 2010, he used the motif of lotus with long vertical stem at Nalin Sarkar Street before making this symbol  a major decoration item  in 2011 at Chakraberia.

 Nalin Sarkar Street, 2010 and Chakraberia Sarbajanin,2011.
Sanatan Dinda evolving .

The white big eyes with black dots as pupils are similar to Sanatan's work at Nalin Sarkar Street in 2004. But, clearly, as an image-maker, Sanatan is evolving every year - a gain for Puja revelers , a path to trail for chroniclers !

Sunday, August 19, 2012



NOTE - Those have aversion to erotica of Indian temples and are below 18years of age are requested to stay from this post.

A holy  man and his disciple.

After I posted  photos from our collection on King NarasimhaDev I , as depicted on the walls of Surya temple, Konark, I started to look for depictions of  holy men  . I found quite a few of them - male sages with shaven head, matted hair , old and middle-aged.  I found one photo where he is instructing a disciple - not a very delicate work.  There is one among existing work in  'chlorite' - sages in meditation. Rest are so very different !

Sages in meditation with disciples in attendance.

Male sages on this temple's wall covers many sects - naming my guesses will be somewhat delicate.  Quite a few are shown in grotesque postures. A  good number of them have been shown in active or passive acts of coitus and various stages of excitement . Blow-ups of the faces and torsos make interesting viewing.

Here I start with a bald holy man who has - not one or two - but three companions . He holds a  bag in his left hand, lifted beyond the reaches of  women around him - glee on his face, sculpted centuries ago still make this wall-relief  stand out.

This wall-relief tells us a tale !
(The 3rd woman, kneeling in front of this holy man, not in this frame).

 A holy man with shaven head !

 I shall cite one specific example which is a large  composite. Two questions regarding this sculpture : First - Does this signify  ritual of slaughter of  some  sect ? The composite here has a man's face.Round eyes, matted hair, glimpse of fangs. His lower portion is that of a lion. He tramples a hunter, smaller in size . The hunter's features,ornaments and hair style have  similarity with those of the composite. He holds a hunting knife and shield. Specially noticeable is the chain around the waist of the hunter. Second - Is this at all a face of a holy man ? We  find identical waist-chain in another sage, being coaxed by a courtesan.

Man-lion Composite,attacking a hunter on an ornate pedestal . 
A camouflaged secret practice of sacrifice or a scene from a drama ?

Sage with matted curly hair and beard - noticeable similarity between this figure and the ones above.

Watch the waist band.

The artisans of Surya temple have depicted holy men of various sects without reverence.  I have seen  not-so-serious depictions elsewhere, but not so noticeable as Konark !   In some areas , we find grotesque figures - I would guess that the artisans chose appearances of some of these figures  based on holy men moving around those days  ! Anthropologists and Sociologists who are expert in Kalinga's social situation of 12th century AD can throw more light on this fact. But, in whatever literature I have come across, I did not find any reason of this irreverence.

I have  here photos of one wall of the famous 'Nata Mandira' and a couple of blown-up figures .

 Dancers and sages as grotesque abandon the walls of 'Natamandir'

 Grotesque figures of holy men standing on decorated pedestals.
While one is skeletal, others are well-fed. One is stark naked, wearing different ear-rings. Does that point to a specific sect ?

I have  in my HDD   many more photos to convey to the readers of what we found at the Sun temple at Konark. But, one has to stop somewhere. I shall end with one full-frame of erotica with a holy man at the the centre of activity.  As  persons familiar with this temple are aware of,there are numerous wall-reliefs with erotica of sages - but closer scrutiny will lead a discerning viewer to categorisation.

 A holy man, with his matted hair placed high on his head,in accompaniment of two women, one tall and other short, standing a crude pedestal, under the near-mandatory tree of life.

Sunday, August 12, 2012



Prayer being offered in a temple - both JagganathaDeb 
and MahisasuraMardini are being worshiped.
In the lower tier, we note waiting elephants.

 We have an excellent wall-relief , theme being similar  , executed on 'chlorite' stone in Konark's Museum. Photography is prohibited within the gallery. Ruby , based on her sketch and a photo of this piece of art in an ASI  publication has drawn the following drawing of the same :

Among the Hindu kings/emperors  who built  the greatest landmarks of Indian Architecture , two persons stand out in my heart and mind. The 1st one is : NarashimhaDev I Langula who completed the  Surya temple around 1275 AD. The other is : Devaraya II, whose town planning and temple building activities attract thousands of tourists every year to Vijayanagara ( Hampi) which became a jewel in India during his tenure ending in 1446 AD.

These two wall-reliefs have same thene - King bids good-bye to his Court before departure for a long campaign. 
Here, in the upper tiers of  the wall-reliefs, King fondles his child.
In the lower tiers, we find horse/elephant/palanquin and attendants.

 I have not yet found much about the great Ganga king NarashimhaDev I in regular history books. Nor I have found any story or novel written on his exploits though Devaraya II have been featured in at least two. Saradindu wrote a historical novel  'Tungabhadrar teere' - literally meaning on the bank of Tungabhadra. The second book is by  SreeParabat , title being  'Vijaynagar' . I have to find more from books dedicated to Orissa's history. Till such time, my tribute to him is through this post where I present photos of some of  scenes of his  court and his life, as depicted on the walls of  Surya Temple, Konark .

Erosion damaged this wall-relief of THE valiant rider ! Who can be this rider - other than King NarasimhaDev I ? In this symbolic wall-relief, King is seen trampling enemy. Lower tier has palanquins.

The scenes on wall-reliefs of this temple I have chosen are often having two tiers - the larger ones in the top have the monarch in the centre of the depiction. Lower portions often show  conveyance  of those days - horses, elephants and palanquins.

A court scene.
In 2nd tier, a favour-seeker requesting a guard for entry inside.

 Is it King hurrying out of a temple - attendants and priest around ? Possibly a favour-seeker on his left.
(Enlarged from a small wall-relief.No 2nd tier here)

I shall end this Post with two famous wall-reliefs of  king NarashimhaDev I. In one , we find a giraffe - it is assumed that a group of visitors came to King's court from Africa. This wall-relief is very popular among tourists and photographers. We find King  sits on a elephant during this meeting which is taking place under a very large tree with peacocks sitting on the branches.

The second has a courtier reading out a plaque ( Is it an appeal by a favour-seeker ?) to King - those who have gone through reference  books on Surya temple of Konark are familiar with this wall-relief.

In this huge temple,whose walls are kind of space for exhibition , there are numerous warriors,hunters and valiant riders depicted, who are probably fashioned after  King NarashimhaDevI ! But, we have no way of ascertaining if my hypothesis is correct.

Saturday, August 11, 2012



Coochbehar Palace. 
The 2-storied building stands on a 1.5 M high basement, extends 120 M from north to south and 90 M from east to west.

During 1960s, when India was waking up to the needs of a good neighbourly relationship with Bhutan, my father was deputed to Bhutan Roads Project. He was stationed for quite a few years at Phuntsholing - a little-known & small habitat on the bank of the Torsa river with just a  few 'pucca' houses . We had to get down at Coochbehar station or fly to Coochbehar airport to reach Bhutan. I remember the outskirts of a small town  vaguely, but, I never had an opportunity to visit  the township. So, when I received an invitation to represent our group 'AISHEE' in a seminar on conservation arranged by 'Coochbehar Heritage Society', I felt happy as I  looked forward to a visit to supplement my boyhood memories. I also looked forward to adding  dozens of photos  to my HDD of the famous palace , Madan Mohan Bari and  Sagardighi - the well-decorated water-body accross the District Court which is so prominent in Internet.

 Sagar Dighi - a very well-kept water-body encircled by Coochbehar's Govt. Offices and District Court building. 
The railing around this water-body is lit up at night , thus making it quite a sight. The railing proudly displays a chronological history of the royalty of Coochbehar.
Far end - DM's Office along the line of big trees.

Coochbehar was the seat of power of kings of 'Koch' dynasty who ruled over a state of ever-changing boundary. I need not go into the details as enough is available in wikipedia. Raja Nripendra Narayan got  the now-famous palace built in 1887 .  Influence of European architecture is very apparent in its design. Two features are the unique points of this palace - its two wings  across the 'Durbar Hall' are not equal and the view of the dome above the 'Durbar Hall' keeps  a visitor spell-bound. The dome is  fashioned after Italian Renaissance  architecture.   Very pleasing aesthetically, in spite of being a copy. This palace was originally 3-storyed. Earthquake of 1897  damaged the building severely. Now, after repair, it stands as a 2-storyed building.

 Dome height 38 M. 
Supported on 4 columns, decorated with Corinthian design.
Chandeliers illuminate the Durbar Hall below.
An elegant balcony with 12 windows  add to the beauty of the layout. The Inner curve of this Dome has 12 segments tapering to the top.

 The palace has 50 rooms, reportedly covering  4768 sqM. Some of these rooms  have a few  galleries  open to public. A few cater to ASI Office and a Guest House. Rest of the rooms are locked away. I could not find any display of royal clothing or weapons , standard displays in many  Museums attached to other Indian palaces.

 Poor maintenance & tasteless selection of colour have robbed 
Palace facade of the appeal of excellent Corinthian design columns.

The roof ceilings of the Ball-room and Billiard-room have painted  roof-ceilings.  Two big rooms have a big display of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures of 7th to 12th centuries - excellent and interesting.  Lighting around the sculptures was not adequate. I noticed a remarkable work  - 'Sadyojata' - and several Vishnu and NabaGraha depictions which I would have liked to capture in a camera. But photography inside the galleries was strictly prohibited.

The huge garden with  flowering plants  withering among tall grasses in front of the palace is unkempt because of a continuing labour dispute and litters thrown by visitors. The water-body which is prominent in many photographs of this palace we find in internet is largely covered with water-hyacinth. The palace facade with red & white paint, a large part fading and/or turning  black with accumulated dirt, did look bad. In fact, I wondered aloud why this palace had to to painted like Writers' Building or a railway station !

 A view of the Dome from the rear side of the Palace.
ASI   offers a better colour combination at this portion of the Palace.

The rear side of the palace was just the opposite. Soothing colours on the walls, no over-grown grass on the ground - a tidy look in contrast with that in the front ! This happens only in India !

During the 2nd morning of my stay, I walked along a 'Bandh' in the fringe of the town to reach the bank of the river 'Torsa'. Her memory  was  etched  in my mind during my stay in Phuntsholing - a young river which  was joyfully running towards Bengal from Bhutan.  What I saw here has no similarity to the one in my memory - Torsa was full , wide and slow. 3 diesel-powered boats were ferrying people constantly on a Tuesday morning.  People were coming to Coochbehar with their mobikes and cycles  and rushing through a make-shift bridge over a parallel canal towards the town.

A temporary bridge on  canal parallel to the Torsa river serves 
as the connection between the lane 
from the town-end to the ferry-ghat.

Much to my disappointment, I  found Town Municipality has built no shelter for people rushing in on the shore of the river . Perhaps they felt vagrants will occupy such shelters,if built. Vast stretch of the shore shows no effort of beautification. It could have been a nice spot for residents of this town to move around and relax . Those in charge of tourism in North Bengal can do  much more to make Cooch behar a more attractive place - an immediate task would be to improve Torsa's shore area in terms of access,lighting and landscaping.

 A river bank used for ferry & grazing ! 
No shelter, no promenade, not even one lamp post !

I went to Madan Mohan Bari next. It was also built by Raja Nripendra Narayan between 1885 and 1889. Its upkeep is quite good. All the temples inside the complex and the gateway to the pond across the road are painted in bright white . The central building has a flat roof and a hemispherical dome.The central room is devoted to Krsna. The room on the LH belongs to goddess Kali . The one on the right is shared by goddesses Annapurna, JayTara and  Katyayani. A small temple at far right is devoted to MahishasuraMardini of unconventional imagery,said to be  revealed to Raja in his dream.Here, the goddess rides a tiger and is accompanied by Jaya-Bijaya.Except for goddess Kali, the idols are remarkably small in size !

Main portion of Madan Mohan Bari with 3  'Puja' rooms. 
Famous for its attraction during 'Rasa' festival.

 Well-maintained gate-way to the water-body on  opposite side of Madan Mohan Bari.