Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TEMPLES OF GOA – FUSION IN PORTUGUESE AND HINDU ARCHITECTURE

Nageshi Temple
Nageshi Temple


Kamakshi Temple Gate

Kamakshi Temple Gate

Kamakshi Temple

Kamakshi Temple

Mangeshi Temple Gate

Mangeshi Temple

Mangeshi Temple Deepstamba

Mangeshi Temple

Mangeshi Temple

Mangeshi Temple

Christ

Shiva

Shanta Durga Temple

Shanta Durga Deepstamba

Shanta Durga Temple

Shanta Durga Temple

Shanta Durga Temple


Fusion in Architecture - Goan Temples

Goa, the erstwhile Portuguese colony, is known for its remarkable heritage buildings, especially the Roman Catholic Churches. These relics have been dated from 16th century onwards, and were influenced heavily by the architectural styles then prevalent in Europe, the Baroque, the Manueline, and the classical.

Manueline or the Portuguese Late Gothic shows the composite Portuguese style of ornamentation incorporating the maritime elements and representations of the discoveries brought from the voyages of Portuguese explorers. The construction of churches and monasteries in Manueline was largely financed by the lucrative spice trade with Africa and India. The features of Manueline Architecture are elements used on ships (spheres, anchors, anchor chains, ropes, cables), elements from the sea, such as shells, pearls and strings of seaweed, various botanical motifs, symbols of Christianity, elements from newly discovered lands (Islamic Jali and arches from India), columns carved like twisted strands of rope, semi circular arches (instead of Gothic pointed arches) of doors and windows, multiple pillars, eight sided capitals, conical pinnacles, bevelled crenulations, ornate portals with niches or canopies.

Baroque had evolved in Europe around the beginning of the 17th century with the demand of 'new art' in the Roman Catholic Churches. The 'new art' movement was to speak to illiterate rather than the well-informed intellectual masses. Baroque art was direct, simple, yet dramatic. Groups of figures assumed new importance and there was a dynamic movement and energy of human forms.

Both Manueline and Baroque had no doubt strong influence over the churches of Goa, but little is known about their influence over the temples of Goa.

Goa had been ruled by various Hindu dynasties before it was brought under the rule of the Deccani Sultanates, followed by the Portuguese. Some of these dynasties were the Chalukyas of Badami, the Silaharas, the Kadambas, the Rashtrakutas and the western Chalukyas of Kalyani. In 1469, Goa passed under the Bahmani Sultans of Gulbarga. Following the landing of Vasco da Gama at Calicut in 1498, the Portuguese established their trading station at Cochin. The opposition they met from the Zamorin of Calicut combined with the competition in trade offered by the Arabs, compelled the Portuguese to look out for a new base from where they could control the seas. Goa was the natural choice owing to its strategic location with harbours and navigable rivers. With the advent of Portuguese, both public and private buildings began to be erected. Churches of lofty dimensions attached with equally large convents were built by the various religious orders who settled down in Goa under royal mandates.The temples built in Goa from 17th century onwards also showed combining aspects of Islamic and Portuguese architecture. The domed roofs are a Muslim trait, while the white washed octagonal towers and balustrade facades have been borrowed from Portuguese Church architecture.

One of the unique features of Goan temples is the deepastambhas of two to four storeys high – the lamp towers, an influence from the Maratha temple traditions. The deepsthambhas of Mangeshi and Shanta Durga temples with their white washed pillars and baroque decoration show unique synthesis of Hindu and Portuguese styles.
Another distinctive part of the Goan temples where the Portuguese influence is found is the curvilinear roofs of the mandapas. One may ask why in a Hindu temple, which is to be built as per the Hindu canonical text, was influenced by the Portuguese architecture.
The answer lies in the artisans and craftsmen who were building both temples and churches simultaneously. They incorporated the Portuguese style into their temples, giving rise to a unique blend, the Indo-Christian style of architecture. For example, instead of traditional sikharas that usually crown grabhagriha, in the 18th century, temples were octagonal drums crowned by tapering copper domes and over the rest of the temples is the red tiled roof in houses everywhere in Goa.

The arched entrances, niches and pilasters that feature in most of temples of this period display a distinct European influence. Inside the temple too the, the mandapa often had a carved ceiling with columns. Sometimes the mandapa or garbhagriha would be decorated with cusped arches, flying angles and bunches of grapes as in Christian churches. The temples were often embellished with baroque-styled balustrades. Traditionally, it was graffito art that decorated the walls but the recent trend is to have the walls painted in bright colours. The motifs commonly seen were lions, peacocks, rosettes, or simple heart shaped papal leaf borders.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

JODHAA AKBAR – A REVIEW






Each of us has studied Akbar as a great king in our history textbooks. But that was all in the textbooks, and in some boring history classes. Today with the release of the magnum opus ‘Jodhhaa Akbar’ we are taken back to our childhood days to retrospect our history learning.

Jodhaa Akbar is a beautifully made period movie with an emphasis on fusion of two cultures, Islam and Hindu. The war scenes were great and realistic. The royal Mughal and Rajput palaces, the costumes and attires were no doubt the most spectacular so far in Hindi film industry. There were some beautiful moments in the film.

One was when Emperor Akbar emphasizing on religious tolerance and matrimonial alliances with the Hindus. He questions, why none of the Sultanate and Mughal Kings prior to his rule could not achieve a longer and stable rule in Hindustan, because they lacked the vision in fusion of Islam with Hinduism. This transformation of the emperor moulded our history, which later produced certain brilliant synthesis of Hindu and Persian cultures, remarkably the Tajmahal, the Mughlai food, the Kathak dance and the miniature art.

Another touchy moment was Akbar going through trance after the song Kwaja mere Kwaja sung by the Sufi singers in the praise of Ajmer Sharif. The most beautiful moment was yet while Akbar giving freedom to Jodhaa to break the marriage if she wished and how Jodhha reacted, saying that according to Hindu customs once married the relationship continues for seven lives. This was a true reflection of melting of cultures.

The movie has certain un- researched elements. One such is the depiction of cauliflowers, potato and tomato while Jodhaa was cooking for her husband. These vegetables were very much unknown to India during Akbar’s time.

The film was also made too lengthy with some unnecessary scenes. Overall, it is a movie worth watching and introspect the importance of fusion in our own life.

SACRED COW AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF HINDU NATIONALITY IN BRITISH INDIA

The production of cultural meanings and social practices fosters the historical formation of national identities. Religion is one of the principal purveyors in this custom. Mass produced religious images in British India had a wider implication in the construction of Hindu nationality. Many of these images had explicitly anti-British political agendas. One of such images is a popular painting with theme 'Chaurasi Devata Auvali Gay (the cow with eighty four deities). The image was produced in Raja Ravi Varma Press in c.1912.

Cow has been sacred to Hindus since the remote past. However, other religious communities like Muslims and Christians don't consider cow as sacred. Robinson writes: Hindus revere the cow, whereas Muslims eat it. Worse the latter are butchers by protection and sacrifice (qurbani) cows at the times of certain religious festivals, namely during Bakhr – Id which commemorates the sacrifice made by Abraham. Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, had formed Gaurakshini Sabha (Cow protection association) in 1882 and published a book. The purpose was to rouse Hindu feeling against Christian and Muslims on account of killing of cows, and to present a monster petition to Government, begging that the practice might be prohibited.

The cow, an enormously potent and sacred sign, was to emerge as a symbol of the nation and these visual symbols were to play a vital role in the organization as well as the ideology of the cow protection movement. In numerous lithographs, cow became a proto-nation, a space that embodied a Hindu cosmology. In most of these visuals the cow encompassed all the gods, but was also depicted as succoring all the diversity of India's communities. The political message that was spread through these images was to represent a Hindu identity and nationality that required protection from non-Hindus.

The movement for cow protection corresponded to a mobilization which reflected a multiplicity of interests, both economic and political. It covered a diversity of urban ruler and rural actors, maharajas or minor government officials, large land owners or landless peasants, traditionalists, reformists or agitators for independence. Its development responded to the need for unity of a Hindu community, which its organizers found excessively fragmented.

In the district of Azamgarh, in the 1890s, the organizers of a gathering of 600 persons had circulated the imposing image of a cow, the body of which contained (nearly) all the gods of Hinduism. Placing various ritual implements before this image, the sacrificer exhorted the participants to protect the cow. Everyone present received a little milk, but only after a calf had been satisfied. After the milk had been drunk, the cow was solemnly proclaimed 'universal mother'. It was declared that the killer of a cow was matricide. A new image reinforced this idea: it represented a cow flanked by a Muslim drawing a sword.

The Ravi Varma painting shown here was visualized to convey these images. Hindus, a Parsee, a European and a Muslim are accepting milk from the milkman with the slogan 'drink milk and protect the cow'.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

NEOLITHIC ASH MOUNDS OF SOUTH INDIA - WONDERS OF EARLY HUMAN CREATIONS

Kudatini, the most photographed ashmound (since it is cut by the highway), and the largest ashmound

Toranagallu Ashmound

Toranagallu Ashmound

Choudammagudda hilltop

Sanganakallu

Rock Art

Velpumudugu Anantapur - Granite boulders with rock art

Palavoy Ash Mound - Artificial platform at base of unexcavated Ashmound 2

Palavoy Ash Mound

Palavoy Ash Mound, Anantpur District, Andhra Pradesh

Utnur Ash Mound - one of the earliest excavated sites

Kupgal Ash Mound

Kupgal Ash Mound - Sections
Kupgal Ash Mound - Closer View

The best preserved Kupgal Ash Mound

Around the beginning of second millennium BC when parts of northwestern India was under a thriving civilization with cities and towns of Indus Valley, the other parts of India had been inhabited by distinctive rural folk cultures, either Neolithic or Chalcolithic. These cultures were unique owing to their specific regions reflecting several manifestations of local belief and customs.
In South India, in the central part of Deccan comprising parts of modern Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh archaeologists have discovered several of such settlements which together are classified as South Indian Neolithic. One of the unique manifestations of these sites is the occurrence of a strange formation which for centuries has attracted both natives and visitors alike. These exist here and there among the farmers' fields and atop conical granite hills. These are mounds of varying sizes and shapes with uneven surface either covered with soil or grass. When we approach nearer to them they reveal a slag like appearance, when cut trough the mounds divulge alternating layers of hard glassy and softer ashy material of various hues. Most of these mounds are unrecorded and being destroyed. These are known to ustoday as Neolithic ash mounds of South India by archaeologists.
These curious looking mounds had first drawn attention around the beginning of the 19th century. According to some of the early colonial records the locals had a believe that the mounds to be the burnt bones of giant demons who once inhabited the region. Some colonial records also suggested that the mounds were the natural limestone or volcanic formations. A few other interpreted that by products of some sort of industrial activity such as glass making, iron or gold smelting, brickmaking were the ash mounds. Some others claimed that the ash mounds were produced from the mass funeral pyres of communal sati performances.
The serious scientific investigation into these mounds began after India's independence. After a careful study of the chemical components of the formation, associated archaeological material, existing local lifestyle and culture, these mounds were proved that they were of Neolithic origin. These ash mounds were resulted from the accumulation and burning of cow dung in periodic rituals that were performed by Neolithic pastoralists.
The Central Deccan landscape in which the ash mounds of South Indian Neolithic are concentrated has large stretches of flat or gently inclined plains interspersed by dramatic outcrops of granite rock and small conical hills. Many of these hills have now been quarried away. The undisturbed ones provide a glimpse of the strange and some times awe-inspiring stone formations that the herders and farmers of the Neolithic period chose to settle amongst. The most substantial evidence of Neolithic habitation is found among the hill tops, suggesting the way that Neolithic people located sites and activities, and understood their place in the world. They certainly benefited from the commanding views these sites provided over very large stretches of terrain. According to environmental historians the climatic condition of this part of India was almost similar to today's climatic condition. Therefore, the terrain was devoid of any large tree covers. Thus, as today, hilltops would have provided clear views of the activities and movement of both people and animals in the wide area of the surrounding plain, as well as in some cases, on nearby hilltops. From the plains the hilltops would have been clearly visible. Fuller, an archaeologist also is of the opinion that the fires that took place at ash mound sites would have been evident to inhabitants who remained at distant hilltop sites, thus suggesting a medium of recognition and articulation of intercommunity level. Some ash mound sites are also located in visually stunning landscape. These are ritually used sites located to provide to proximity to, orviews of, unique and visually stunning landscape feature, perhaps insuch a way as to allow people to tap into the power that such siteswere understood to hold.
We all are acquainted with Stonehenge of England as a classic exampleof Neolithic innovation and symbols, yet are ignorant of our own heritage. The ash mounds of Neolithic South India are a rich legacy ofIndia's past, yet we do not know about their brilliance and significance in the context of world humanity. The result of our ignorance has been causing the destruction of such wonderful relics.
The photographs are from http://ashmound.googlepages.com/home
For more information on Neolithic Ash Mound of South India see http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/%7Etcrndfu/web_project/home.html

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

NAGALAD – WONDERS IN VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE








One of India's most colourful states is Nagaland, located on the eastern margin of the Himalayan range in Northeast India. Nagaland is home to a range of colourful tribes, such as Angamies, Tangsas, Chakesangs, and so on.

Nagas have a hoary past, which is reflected in the village patterns, locales and house constructions. Nagas are hill dwellers and their settlements are highly inaccessible as they are located on hill slopes or the highest possible points along a hill slope. This settlement pattern is largely a result of the custom of head hunting, formerly prevalent throughout the Naga cultural realm. The Nagas believe that a person has several different 'souls'. One 'soul' travel to the realm of the dead, while another remains associated with man's head, or skull. It is for this reason that Nagas were one keen on returning home with their victim's head. Head hunting is a legacy of past now, but the isolated location of villages still take us back to the time when Nagas indulged in their favourite sport 'head hunting'. In the past, inter-village feuds being frequent, it was necessary to situate villages out of reach of raiding parties. Climate was yet another factor which influenced Naga settlement pattern. Below 500 m the climate is hot and unhealthy; above 1500 m it is unpleasant – cold in winter, and during monsoon, cloud is perpetual. Abundant springs are infrequent above 1500 m and water tends to be scare. Due to these climatic factors most of the Naga villages are located along the hill slope.

Naming of Naga villages are also shrouded in mysteries. For example, the name of Rengma village of Tesophenya derives from when the jungle was cleared to build the village and a great number of black ants (teso) appeared. The Rengma took this as a favourable sign.

Naga village patterns differ from group to group, ranging from disperse, terrace to linear arrangement of houses. Ao and Lhota arrange their houses along regular streets. Tuensang with its four village quarters is built along winding, stone-paved lanes. Stone paths are unique feature of some Konyak villages. Constructed for the monsoon period, they divide village quarters, or lead to important village sites and often have magic symbolic associations.

No two villages are alike. In some, houses are grouped in a compact block and enclosed by a fence, in others, houses are scattered, interspersed with vegetable plots and bamboo groves. In the absence of levelled surfaces, some time groups of dwellings stand at different levels, even separated by gorges and broken ground. The Tagas build their houses on hill slopes, one above the other in an orderly manner. Angami and Chakhesang houses, though irregular, are generally built in two rows, the fronts facing east, the gable ends of each row of houses projecting towards a street. This is prompted by the traditional belief that after death the soul wanders westwards to the land of dead. In many southern villages houses are surrounded by stonewalls forming compounds where cattle are kept at night. Among the Zeliangrong of Cachar, it was a common practice to move village every four or five years because of difficult terrain and limited workable land.

Most Naga houses contain a central living space, an entrance area. In the living space the family sleeps, eats and lives and in the entrance area the guests are greeted and entertained. Porches, anterooms and storage areas supplement the living space. There are three basic types of houses found in Nagaland – earth floor, earth and raised floor and raised floor only. The first style extends to almost all southern groups and also occurs among the Lower Konyak and Wancho tribes. The second style, where the living area or a portion of it is raised above ground level, is found among all the central Naga groups. The Lhota, who may have adopted this from the Ao, cover the raised floor with earth, while others use woven bamboo slats and mats. The southern groups also favour a simple layout with a barn-like double-pitched roof and plain gable end. In houses where the floor is earth and raised, the each part is normally located at the front where the rice plunder is kept; the living quarters are raised and extend to a platform at the rear where tasks such as weaving are performed.

The interior of Naga house is 3-5 m from floor to ridge. A large part of this height, specially the space above the fireplace is used for storing provisions in swing like racks that hang from the ceiling.

Naga houses having no windows, the only light in an otherwise pitch dark interior come through the cracks in the bamboo walls and from the fire. Nor are there any chimneys or ventilation holes for the smoke to escape through, no soot gradually covers the entire interior; this, naturally, makes the dwellings seem even darker; it also contributes to the inhabitants' relatively low life expectancy. Houses often catch fire. The spirit responsible for a fire must be appeased by the shaman in a ritual during which the family shelters in a neighbouring house.

After the erection of the main posts and beams it takes two or three days to complete a building. The owner gives every worker a free meal each day, serving rice beer at regular intervals. Before the house is complete its owner is anxious to move in, mainly to avoid the evil spirit. It is a common practice among the Maram – when the house is partly complete, the owner enters the house with a spear, a shield, a live cock and burning wood to chase away any evil spirits. A man assists the owner in lightning the first family fire at the three-stoned hearth to the right of the door. The fire is kept for five days. The family enters the house on the first evening and would prepare a meal from the sacrificial cock.

In the past, if the house to be constructed was of a chief then the rituals and taboos among the Maram were more elaborate by far – a freshly hunted human head from an unfriendly village had to be procured. Customs have changed now, yet the sacrifice of a wild animal is still required. Among the Tangsa dog sacrifices were customary.

While a chief’s house is being built the entire village is genna – no one may work in fields, and commodities like rice, vegetables, cattle or poultry may not enter or leave the village, whether sold or as gifts. As soon as the main pillar and beam are up the chief starts a three-stage ceremony spread over a year. In the first stage he kills three cows and distributes the meat to every household. One of the cows is black procured from outside the village. It is killed first and specific rituals meaning attach to certain of its bodily parts. The right leg is sacrificed to Sarai, wrapped up and doused in rice beer before being hung in the back of the house. Similar offerings are made to the village ancestors. Stage two of the ritual takes place in September. The chief gathers as many men as possible to collect firewood with him and entertains them with special rice beer. The third stage takes place at harvest time, when the chief once more entertains the people with food and drink, this time also feeding the villagers.

Naga villages are usually divided into two or more khels (quarters, wards), depending upon the size of population. In some villages a khel is inhabited exclusively by members of a particular clan claiming descent from a common ancestor and naming their khel accordingly. Inter-clan rivalries were frequent. A clan inhabiting a certain khel was often closer to another village than to its immediate neighbours. Circumstances like head hunting game in the past have led villages not only to be defensively situated but also fortified with stone walls, bamboo spikes, wooden gates and a perimeter ditch. In general village attachments are strong, particularly towards main or parent village, and generally people only live the latter when available land is insufficient for the population.

The centre of the village is morung, called differently by different tribes (Wancho calls it pa, Phom calls is bang). This remarkable and most prominent house in the village gives visual, institutional and architectural expression to the solidarity of clan members. Morung architecture is as diverse as the house architecture. Morungs are known for the woodcarvings, size or any other special decoration such as front rafters from which fronds of grass or can are hung. Apart from serving as guard houses and as storage for all the village’s weapons, it was here that males from around eight years of marrying age dwelt. Here boys were educated by older housemates in everything of importance for personal and communal life in a village society. Even though Christianity has transformed Naga culture to a great length, still the morungs function as the village community centre where arts of weaving, costume adornment, dancing, oral traditions are carried out. Morungs are also the village theatres where hunting skills and techniques of traditional warfare are passed onto society’s younger members. They are still meeting places and reception and entertainment houses for guests. Important decisions are often taken there.

In the past morungs were ideal focal points for attackers. Those who controlled the morung controlled the people. Christian missionaries understood this and destroyed them to erect churches on the sites, bringing a great loss to the Naga culture.
There are morungs also for girls. However, they lack elaborate decoration. Girl morungs are traditionally the places where girls learn everything to do with household and agricultural affairs, as well as the arts of singing and dancing, while publicly speaking, they function mainly as meeting places for young couples, married and unmarried. Admission to girls’ morung takes place when a girl reaches puberty. There are two basic category of members – those with official love affairs with whom they associate and sleep in the dormitory, and those who have no official boyfriend, consorting with any morung boys they please. Each couple sleeps side by side under a rug. As long as the sexual art is not seen, decency and decorum are not considered to be violated. Only unmarried girls can have such relationships. However, pregnancy among unmarried girls is regarded as a severe offence, rendering to a heavy fine.