A forest spirit and rushing clouds

Source : THE HINDU

The creatures in the forest told him about the Jakhu and where to find him

In the heart of Shimla was the presiding deity Shyamala Devi, the dark one. A British officer had once tried to dislodge her but his sudden demise convinced his successor that she was a force, to be installed in a temple. And around this temple, the city later grew.

Temples and small shrines abounded in the ravines, on mountain peaks, next to a golf course, where even the Army let her be.

A visit to the temple of the Hatu Mata atop the Hatu peak, almost 12,000 feet above sea level, is really unavoidable for any tourist.

My decision to visit Hatu Mata was made on the spur of the moment. The weather seemed perfect. The cab driver, Chandrakanth, was from these parts and in his late 30s. He wanted to start with the Jakhu Temple, which I declined, a bit too firmly perhaps.

Everyone seemed very excited that a film star had recently made an offering there. But I was a bit wary and insisted we head straight to Hatu Mata.

As we climbed higher, apple orchards came into view. Chandrakanth predicted a poor crop. The cherry trees had done better. Sloping vegetable gardens dotted the landscape.

The drive was taking longer than I thought and when we reached the foothill from where the steep climb was to begin, Chandrakanth pointed to the tourism department hotel and said I could have lunch there. We decided to rather have it on the way back.

Cloud cover

As we started the climb the clouds began moving in. The road was narrow and winding. When I looked out of the window the gorge was so deep I shuddered. As we moved further up slowly I was tempted to shut my eyes tight.

Chandrakanth added to my cowardice by graphically describing the wildlife that roamed the forest. I looked straight ahead. As we neared the peak it started to drizzle.

The drizzle turned to rain. The car stopped, and I could barely see the colourful wooden structure. “Run carefully,” said my considerate driver. Leaving my footwear in the car, I charged. I could not see much but the drumbeat and voices of women singing propelled me towards the temple. I entered soaked but strangely refreshed.

The tension of the climb had drained away. A group of women were in a frenzy of song and dance, unmindful of everything around them.

The goddess and the lion were both made of dark wood. In the reverberating refrain of the frenzied women calling out ‘Oh maa sheraawali, oh maa sheraawali’ both the mother and the beast came alive. It was mesmerising.

The dance ended just as the rain eased. I wanted to stay on a bit more but Chandrakanth said we had to leave. He must have sensed something. And then it happened.

The clouds sank and enveloped everything. Nothing was visible. Car tail-lights came on and we were crawling. This caravan stopped and moved. When it finally poured, it was torrential. I wondered if the road would just disappear, swallowed by the torrent of water.

Daring descent

But the weather cleared up as we descended. I asked Chandrakanth to find a place to eat. Over a vegetarian meal, for me by choice and for him because it was Tuesday, we spoke about family and children. He confessed he had been worried about the drive down. He brought up the Jakhu temple again. It was a bit late but it was also when I realised he probably wanted to make a thanksgiving to Hanuman.

What is Jakhu, I asked. It could not be a name for Hanuman. ‘Jaku’ is ‘Yaku,’ he replied. “Yaku is not a god,” he said. “He is a forest spirit.”

“Yaksha,” I said, the Yaksha of the enchanted pool. Hanuman was looking desperately for the ‘Sanjeevani buti’ needed to bring Lakshman back to life, but had no idea where to find it. The creatures in the forest told him about Jakhu and where to find him.

The Jakhu sat in meditation and Hanuman waited patiently. The Jakhu pointed in the direction of the mountain. Hanuman did not wait to hear more. He hurried to the mountain, uprooted it and carried it to Ram. The deity of the temple was Hanuman but it was called the Jakhu temple.

Chandrakanth went on to offer his thanks to Hanuman. Considering the devastation caused by the cloudburst and floods in the same area just a week later, I have often wondered if it was a kind Jakhu who guided us down the narrow mountain road.

The writer loves words, those of others as well as her own. She publishes for a living and writes to give herself a life.

Different strands

Source : THE HINDU

A stunning range of the exquisite tie-and-dye craft will be on show between September 1 and 16 at the World Ikat exhibition in Delhi

Ikat is a craft that tests the skills of two sets of craftsmen — tie-dye experts and weavers — to create some stunning masterpieces. They drawfrom the cultural nuances of different regions. It is a celebration of this tradition across the world at the World Craft Council Asia Pacific Region exhibition in New Delhi. Aptly titled ‘World Ikat Textiles… Ties that Bind,’ it opens today at Bikaner House.

Edric Ong, who wears several hats as advisor World Craft Council Asia Pacific Region, co-curator of the exhibition, designer and artist, says, “The technique of ikat is practised in at least 28 to 30 countries across all the continents. It is therefore global and stretches across the five regions of the World Crafts Council.”

To put it in perspective, it is done in Asia-Pacific (China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan ), Latin America (Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina ), the Middle East (Egypt, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Yemen), West Africa and Europe (Italy and Spain). In each country, there are regional differences, historical and cultural significance.

Manjari Nirula, vice-president World Craft Council Asia Pacific Region and co-curator of the exhibition says, “It is amazing how the entire world comes together with this one fabric. The process of tying and dyeing and weaving is the same everywhere. What changes is the yarn (cotton, silk, wool, banana fibre, grass) together with the colour combination and the formation of motifs that gives ikat from each country a distinctive touch .”

That is the beauty of the craft. Despite similar technique, the Patola of Gujarat is different from Telia Rumal of Telengana, Iban of Malaysia, Ulos of Sumatra, Kasuri of Japan and so on. Ikat weaving, especially double ikat (where both the warp and weft threads are tie/dyed), is amongst the most complicated. The process of weaving can be described as one wherein both the warp and weft are tie-and-dyed in colours as required in the final product. The tie-die is done so cleverly that once the weaving starts, the colours on the warp and weft fit in beautifully to create exquisite patterns. In single ikkat, only the warp or weft is tie-dyed.

The journey to build the exhibition lasted a year and the culmination of it was the exhibition in London last year. “In researching for the exhibition, I discovered African ikat textiles (Ivory Coast); and also ikat ponchos in Argentina; double ikkats in Guatemala and the beautiful ‘rebozos’ in Mexico. I also discovered variants of the ikat in the Victorian era which were woven in France known as chine a la branche and famously used as silk ribbons. We have some beautiful samples at the exhibition. Then there is the Meissen ikat kimonos of the Edo period. These are actually stencilled patterns on the warp threads before they were woven on the loom.”

This exhibition is for a passionate textile enthusiast. There are over 120 exhibits with 40 from India. The rest are examples of ikat across the world. What is significant about this exhibition, as Nirula points out, “Is its growth and evolution. There is something new at each one of them. In London, it had a European flavour with the inclusion of a French weaver, Claude Demas. The Indian one has some unique pieces. We found beautiful ikat in Guatemala and Peru at Santa Fe, which is part of this exhibition. The Indian ikat, of course, will be under the spotlight. The next exhibition at Kuching Sarawak, Malaysia will have a distinctive local flavour .” Thus, unlike a travelling exhibition with a fixed set of acquired pieces, it is presented more as a living tradition and heritage.

Main attraction

The title piece of this exhibition is the Shrikar Bhat Patola — of two large elephants in procession with a Jain monk. This piece was woven by a Salvi family in 2009. Brothers, Rohit and Rahul Salvi, will be present in Delhi. Another equally stunning piece is the Telia Rumal by Gajam Govardhan. It is amazing how so many beautiful motifs can be fitted into one piece. And then there are Jayadeva’s Gita Govind saris woven by the legendary Surendra Patra and Kalidas’s ‘Ritu Samhar’ by Pitabas Meher. Yes, the verses come alive in ikat on the weaves.

In the international section there are Victorian era ribbons. There is Miyako Kawahito, renowned designer and revivalist, from Japan. Miyako is known for indigo-dyed creations that are wearable art. In Japan, the technique of ikat is known as Kasuri and pursued in several regions. This includes both the single and double ikat. The Indonesian double and single ikat will be well-represented too.

In China, Li people of Hainan Island are experts in this technique, which is woven on back strap looms. Here again, indigo dyeing stands out. Alfonso Guinoo, the Czar of the Philippines fashion, has done remarkable work with the natural fibres of tribal groups. His creations seamlessly merge tradition with contemporary. This includes the famous tinalak weaving done using abaca fibres which are dyed with vegetable colours. This is a rare form of weaving practised in Southern Mindanao, Philippines.

Asst. Prof. Sitthichai Smanchat, research-scholar from Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand, has worked extensively with the Thai ikat called Mudmee Mudmee. He saw a resurgence following a direct patronage from Queen Sirikit. “The traditional Mudmee textiles of ethnic groups have transformed into fine textiles favoured by the style-conscious,, so that Thai weavers can keep the traditional hand-woven techniques in contemporary textile productions.” The Central Asian textiles is well represented from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan as also examples from Laos, Cambodia and African countries.

The line-up

The exhibition will be inaugurated on September 1, by Dr. Ghada Hijjawi Qaddumi, president of WCCAPR, which will feature a fashion show with Edric Ong, Sittichai Smanchat, Gunjan Jain, Aizhan Bekkulova, Alfonso Guinoo, Lucia Cantes and Myra Widiono amongst others.

The symposium organised by Craft Revival Trust in collaboration with India International Centre, on September 2 will begin with a homage to David Baradas, a university professor, writer and cultural official, who worked extensively to preserve the craft, textiles and tradition of the Philippines.

The speakers include Jasleen Dhamija, Dr. Sittichai Smanchat, Edric Ong, Lucia Cantes, Gajam Govardhana, Rohit and Rahul Salvi, Ritu Sethi, Dr. Vandana Bhandari, Surendra Patra, amongst others. Weavers Amanda Speer and Dain Deller from Española Valley Fiber Arts Center will also be a part of it. There will also be a Bazaar by Delhi Crafts Council.

Chicago to vibe with Indian music

Source : THE HINDU

Bharatanatyam will also feature in the two-week World Music Festival beginning on September 8

The multicultural nature of the U.S. is evident in every field of activity in the country. The 19th Annual World Music Festival, Chicago, is an illustration of this. To be held from September 8 to 24, the fest will showcase diverse art forms from across the world.

Billed as the largest of its kind in the U.S., this festival is produced by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and held at 23 venues in the city. The best part is that the events are open to all. This is in keeping with the democratic tradition of the U.S. and Chicago's own reputation as a culturally vibrant and inclusive society. Since it began in 1999, the Chicago fest has presented over 600 artistes and ensembles from over 80 countries and attracted over six lakh art-lovers.

From ultra-funky sounds to sacred chants, and folk to classical, there is a rich spread on the festival menu. A close look helps one understand how wide the scope is with the variety of genres represented. Since the Indian community is an important part of the economic and cultural fabric of the country, there are several events featuring the Indian classical arts. In fact, one of the opening events is titled ‘Ragamala: A Celebration of Indian Classical Music’; it will be held in Preston Bradley Hall at Chicago Cultural Center. This is an all-night event following the tradition of early Indian classical music concerts that began in the evening and went on till daybreak and sometimes even a little beyond that.

Actually, such all-night classical performances are becoming rare in India. So it is heartening to see this tradition being honoured in a far-away land. Among the interesting line-up of events for Ragamala are: Bharatanatyam by Priya Venkatraman and her troupe. She will perform ‘Stories of Ahimsa: Non-Violence’ with music by Shiv Subramaniam; a tabla duet between the father-son pair Anindo Chatterjee and Anubrata Chatterjee; Mythili Prakash’s Bharatanatyam with Aditya Prakash’s vocals; Abhang music as well as a santoor concert by Satish Vyas.

Young artistes Alam Khan and Ambi Subramaniam will perform their first-ever jugalbandhi to commemorate the collaboration between their fathers — the late Ali Akbar Khan and Dr. L. Subramaniam — about 25 years ago.

It’s not all Indian classical dance and music. Cinema gets its due too in Ragamala with a programme titled, ‘The 85 Year Evolution of Music in Indian Films.’ Fittingly, the sun will rise to the chants of Sri Venkateswara Suprabhatam. How can an India-theme programme not feature yoga? So, there is a Yoga + Gong Meditation Lab too.

What's more there will be a special event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Indian Independence with the world premiere of Bharat Symphony, especially written and scored by Dr. L. Subramaniam. Later at the Chicago festival, audiences will get a taste of the energetic, rousing Bhangra with the Bhangra Blowout plus Dhol presented by Kalapriya.

Mexican IDay

There is yet another country whose Independence Day will be commemorated. To celebrate Mexican Independence Day, the festival will present the well-known Mariachi Flor de Toloache from New York and Los Hijos de la Montaña. Salif Keita, legendary African artiste from Mali, will be a star attraction as will be a performance by singer and saxophonist Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 from Nigeria.

The Hyde Park Jazz Festival is on the same day as the latter. Music-lovers can also look forward to well-known singer Betsayda Machado and her Afro-Venezuelan music. She is slated to perform with La Parranda El Clavo. Audiences will also be treated to Lunasa from Ireland and La Tribu de Abrante (Puerto Rico) besides Yao Ye (China). Two interesting inclusions are The 606 Walk + Global Peace Picnic with Juicebox Concerts; and Chicago Gypsy Jazz Festival and Caravan Art Festival.

It is not just entertainment, the festival aims to educate audiences about the complexities of the instruments that are used to make the music. So, there are sessions on instrument making with South Korea’s Hong Sung Hyun's Chobeolbi.

The World Music Festival Chicago is in keeping with the One Chicago campaign (a multimedia representation) recently launched by the City of Chicago which believes and asserts that Chicago is a city of promise and that it welcomes everyone.

Steeped in history

Source : THE HINDU

The temple was an expression of queen Sembian Mahadevi’s devotion to Siva

For a Carnatic music buff, Tiru Nallam, better known as Konerirajapuram, will conjure up images of the great Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan, composer of the grand 72 Mela Ragamalika, who belonged to this place. But then the temple town of Konerirajapuram is rich with spiritual and historical elements that would be of interest to those who care for heritage.

Rhythmic chanting of Lingashtakam by a group of local youth in unison, welcomed those who entered the Sri Uma Maheswara temple, on Guru Purnima. A 10th century edifice, it was built by the devout Chembian Mahadevi, grand mother of Rajaraja Chola. The temple has a humble entrance which leads to the main shrine of the Lingamurti, a form that combines both Siva and His consort, worshipped as Uma Maheswara and Mangalanayaki.

In the glow of Deepa arati, one could see a line passing vertically through the centre of the Lingamurti, which, according to the priest, depicts the union of the two forms. This swayambhu murti has been musically propitiated by the Nayanmars in the Thevaram verses, thus making Konerirajapuram Paadal petra sthalam.

Separate niches

The sanctum sanctorum of the lingam faces west while that of the Devi, hailed as Dehasoundari-Angavalanayaki, faces east, as though the divine couple are waiting to exchange garlands. Here, devotees pray for marriage and a prosperous life. Inside the temple, there are separate shrines for Brahma and Vishnu. There is a set of six Vinayaka idols. Legend goes that Yama, God of death, is said to have worshipped Durga here to relieve himself of the stress after his struggle at Tirukkadaiyur.

Tripura Samharamurti, who vanquished the three worlds by His mere laugh, is also seen in a separate niche. He is worshipped to remove fear of death and calamities. Vaidyanathaswami, the healer, is enshrined in a separate altar. Nandi, the Lord’s vehicle is said to have offered his prayers here and hence Pradosham is special.

An unusual sight is Lord Saniswara in white. Lamps are lit with the oil of white til. There are marvellous pieces of bronzes situated inside a separate enclosure that feature different sizes of moulds of Siva-Nataraja (said to have been created by a sthapati at the command of the king who disapproved them), and a beautiful piece depicting Siva-Parvati’s marriage with Vishnu performing the Kannika Dhanam, and sage Agastya witnessing the divine scene. Also one can find the figures of the four Saint singers here. In the front mandapam there are beautiful paintings of different deities and five faces of Siva among others. The outer prakaram has several miniature sculptures, each of which speaks volumes of the craftsmanship of the artiste.

Magnificent idols

The most striking feature of this temple is, however, the magnificent nine ft tall bronze idol of Siva-Nataraja, with His consort Sivakami standing gracefully beside Him. Story goes that the sthapati struggled to complete the images much to the chagrin of the king. The divine couple approached the sthapati and asked for water. The man asked them to drink the panchaloha mixture, which they did and turned into beautiful images.

The idol of Sivakami draped in a nine-yard sari, is a visual treat. “The Sabha or the hall, where this bronze statue is situated, is called the Rudraksha Sabha,” informed the priest.

One can find strands of rudraksha bundled into balls to form the garland adorning the Lord as well as the vidana of the hall. The leaves of the unique Panchadala Bilva (of five-petals) tree,(Sthala vriksham) is offered in the daily worship to Nataraja.