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Who hasn’t heard of Kalidasa’s opening verse from Raghuvamsha that shows how inseparable Shiva and Shakti, that goes as follows?

वागर्थाविव सम्पृक्तौ वागर्थ प्रतिपत्तयॆ |
जगतः पितरौ वन्दे पार्वती परमेश्वरौ ॥

 

Uma-Maheshwara  (9th century) Currently in Chicago Institute of Art

Uma-Maheshwara (9th century) Currently in Chicago Institute of Art

(Picture taken from : http://satyamshivamsundaram.blogspot.com/2010/10/art-indian-but-not-in-india.html)

vAgarthAviva samprktau vAgartha pratipattayE
jagataH pitarau vandE pArvatI paramEshvarau

(Veneration to the parents of the world, Parvati and Parameshwara
Who remain inseparable as the word, and it’s meaning )

Here is the Kannada translation of the same verse, which I had written a while ago:

ತಲೆವಾಗುವೆ ನಾ ಶಿವಶಿವೆಗೆ
ಜಗದಲಿ ಎಲ್ಲರ ಹೆತ್ತವರ;
ಬಿಡದೊಡಗೂಡಿಯೆ ಇಹರಲ್ಲ!
ಮಾತಿಗೆ ಬೆಸೆದಿಹ ಹುರುಳಂತೆ

When I was thinking about this verse, I was also reminded of couple of earlier translations about Shiva and Shakti which I had done(You can find them here and here). Then I ended up reading a few more verses about Shiva in the subhashita compilation called “Subhashita Ratna Bhandagara” (This is available on Google Books for those of you interested! Yay! )

Among the verses, I found the following verse very interesting:

च्युतं इन्दोर्लेखं रतिकलहभग्नम् च वलयं
द्वयं चक्रीकृत्य प्रहसितमुखी शैलतनया
अवोचद् यं पश्येत्यवतु स शिवः सा च गिरिजा
स च क्रीडाचन्द्रो दशनकिरणापूरिततनुः ||

chyutAm indorlekhAM ratikalahabhagnaM cha valayaM
dvayaM chakrIkRRitya prahasitamukhI shailatanayA |
avochad yaM pashyetyavatu sa shivaH sA cha girijA
sa cha krIDAchandro dashanakiraNApUritatanuH || (Vidyakara: 47)||

(Original source of the shloka is likely Vidyakara’s compilation called Subhashita Ratna Kosha – who in turn may have taken it from another earlier source )

Here is my translation of this verse in Kannada:

ಇರುಳಿನಪ್ಪುಗೆಯಲೊಡೆದ ಕಡಗವನು ಉರುಳಿ ಹೋಗಿದ್ದ ಎಳೆಯ ಚಂದಿರನ
ಜೊತೆಗೆ ಸೇರಿಸುತ ಬಳೆಯ ಮಾಡುತಲಿ ಗಿರಿಜೆ ಶಿವನೆಡೆಗೆ ನಗುತ “ನೋಡಿಲ್ಲಿ”
ಎನುತ  ಬಾಯ್ದೆರೆಯೆ ಅವಳ ಹಲ್ಲುಗಳಕಾಂತಿಯನ್ನೆಲ್ಲ ತನ್ನ ಮೈದುಂಬಿ
ಹೊಳೆವ ಚಂದಿರನು ಜೊತೆಗೆ ಶಿವಶಿವೆಯ ಸೇರಿ ಕಾಪಿಡಲಿ! ನಮ್ಮ ಕಾಪಿಡಲಿ!

(Although it is not a verbatim translation, I hope I have captured the essence of the verse)

The musician/composer G.N.Balasubramaniam, popularly known as GNB passed away on May 1st, 1965. And on this day it is quite appropriate that I am thinking and writing about Shiva-Shakti! GNB was an innovator, and he composed in some ragas that he brought to life. The raga Shiva Shakti was also one such raga. He has a very catchy composition this rare raga:

You can listen to this composition by Smt P Ramaa here in this YouTube video link.

Sometime ago, I had composed a swarajati in this raga, and I thought it was appropriate to share it with the readers on this day of remembering the great GNB:

Please listen to this composition!  Feel free to post your thoughts about the composition either on this post or on the MixCloud track.

-neelanjana

Halebeedu is a little town in South Karnataka, famous for it’s twin temple- popularly known by the name Hoysaleshwara temple that enshrines two Shivalingas, called as Hoysaleshwara and Shantaleshwara. The town was the capital of the Hoysala dynasty that ruled parts of Southern Karnataka and parts of Tamil Nadu from 10th to early 14th century AD.

The old name of the town was Dorasamudra (ದೋರಸಮುದ್ರ / दोरसमुद्र). Although popular legend says the name came because of the enormous man made lake (tank) at the entry of the town (ದ್ವಾರ,dwAra), inscription evidence seems to point in another direction. The lake is actually from pre-Hoysala times, and was erected during the Rashtrakuta king Dhruva‘s reign. Dhruva is referred to as Dora (ದೋರ) in many inscriptions. The lake erected by King Dora was naturally called Dorasamudra. The name seems to gone out of vogue, and this place is known as Halebeedu (Old Place, literally). Right now it is not on the UNESCO list of places of world heritage, but  may be nominated to the list soon.  I consider this to be one of the Seven Wonders of India, nothing less!  The temples are maintained rather nicely by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

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However, we don’t see any relics of Rashtrakuta times in Halebeedu today. Inscriptions have long gone into some museums! But luckily we are left with several temples of the Hoysala times of which Hoysaleshwara is the largest and grandest. It is quite natural being the capital of the Hoysala country that this site was selected for this magnificent temple.  The temple is said to have been damaged during Malik Kafur’s invasion in the year 1313AD.  In spite of the damage, it is still the best Hoysala temple, and probably one of the best temple in terms of architecture.

Oh well, today I’m not writing much about the temple architecture – but would focus on the musicians of Halebeedu.  The town being close to my hometown, I have visited this place several times and when I was looking at one of the pictures taken during a visit few years earlier, I was surprised to see a specific type of musical instrument in there and was rather intrigued by the looks of it.  I wasn’t sure if the picture I had was one of the mutilated sculpture, and hence I could not come to any conclusion  based on the picture. So when I revisited the temple few months ago, I made it a point to look at all those instruments and musicians from Halebeedu carefully.

Many of the sculptures that we find on the temple walls are of various Gods and Goddesses – and there are many that depict earthly, regular performing musicians. Hence we can make many inferences about the types of musical instruments being played in South India during those times.  Of course, we have descriptions of various musical instruments in different texts of those times, but a visual representation is much better than a text describing anything , Right?

Here you can see a sculpture of Saraswathi – the Goddess of learning. She is normally depicted in a sitting posture, playing a Veena. Veena is a generic term for string instruments and there are different types of Veenas depending on their structure. In this sculpture,  you can clearly see how Saraswathi is using the middle and the ring fingers on her right hand to pluck the strings and the fingers of the left hand to play on the fingerboard – which are true to this day on several Veenas in vogue.  Due to the angle, we can’t see whether the fingerboard has frets or not. All this very well matches with how a Sitar or Saraswathi Veena is played today ( discounting the fact that these days Saraswathi Veena is played more laying flat rather than being at an angle), but for one important difference. I’ll come to that point when I comment about another sculpture down below. Oh, I forgot to mention that Saraswathi Veena is one of the types of Veenas played today. Other Veenas include instruments such as Sitar, Rudra Veena, Chitra Veena (also called Vichitra Veena) and Mohan Veena ( actually a modified sliding guitar).

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I’m not sure if the following picture depicts an earthly musician or a celestial one, but you can seem him playing a Dhakka  or a Muraja (a  Damaru-like drum instrument). Anyone who has heard any of DVG’s songs on the beauties at the Belur temple ( another Hoysala marvel, I should say) would definitely recall the song ‘naTanavADidaL taruNi’ (ನಟನವಾಡಿದಳ್ ತರುಣಿ ) about the sculpture called murajAmOde (ಮುರಜಾಮೋದೆ ) refers to a danseuse playing this drum in one of the charaNas.   This instrument is used even now with Kathakali music, in Kerala  and it is called by the name Idakka . (I got this reference from my good friend Sankaranarayanan, Thanks Sankara!)   The way the instrument is held by the player in the sculpture almost matches with how the Idakka  is played these days. The sculpture is so life-like that you fail to notice that it is made of stone, can easliy take the  twisted ropes to be real!

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Now the following brings a few important points – Most Hoysala  temples are built on a multiple-point star patterned basement.  This type of structure provides a very large surface area for a given size of the temple.  Apparently individual sculptures were made elsewhere, probably at the sculptor’s workshops and were set in place at the right places in temple walls.  Here is one such corner where you see a musician ensemble.  The lady on the left is playing a Veena , this time held in a different positon. It is now in a vertical position and you can see the frets clearly. This matches with the position how the Veena was played even as late as early 18th century.  Indeed the construction of  RudraVeena  and the way it is held while playing today, almost matches with what is depicted in here, although the resonator in the sculpture seems to be much smaller than what’s used in these days. The lady on the right is playing a Dhakka – So together they form an ensemble, may be supporting a dancer.  Incidentally, on the left side you can see part of another sculpture, which I take it to be a form of Shiva, or a gaNa of Shiva – which also holds a real Damaru, which you can notice is much smaller than the Dhakka,  in it’s hand.

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Here is another Veena player.  The fret-board is depicted very clearly.  The way she holds her instrument is very similar to how a Sitar player holds the instrument. Click here to see a picture of maestro Pandit Ravishankar playing his Sitar.  Are you surprised?

Another thing I noticed in the Veena in this sculpture and Saraswathi’s sculpture earlier in this post is that the resonator is not seen at all. Now, how such an instrument would sound? I have no clue, but may be I’m missing something.

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Here is another interesting instrument. This is called the Naga Veena. Notice the snake like end of the instrument that gives its name. But notice the right hand of the player.  He seems to be using a bow of some sort, effectively making it somewhat like a violin. We know that the violin as used in Indian music today was due to Western influence during the early 18th century at Fort St George. But this instrument tells us although the form of Violin may have been new for Indian music, the structure and concept were not.

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The following group of sculptures may represent performing musicians of Hoysala times, accompanying a dance.   One of them is playing a bell, essential for providing the dance syllables, one is playing a damaru providing the rhythm and one is seen playing the flute, which might have been the oldest musical instrument, not only in India, but for the whole mankind.

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With that, let me stop my rant and let you take a good look at these beautiful sculptures once again –  Don’t you agree temples such as these are indeed time-capsules of history that help us recreate and appreciate history?

-neelanjana








Most ancient civilizations flourished in river valleys and flood plains. So when the digging for construction of a railway line in Northwestern British India revealed remains of an ancient civilization, archaeologists were not very surprised! Since the first two sites found were Harappa, and Mohen-jo-Daro, in the vicinity of the river Indus (Sindhu) and it’s tributaries, the civilization came to be known as the Harappa civilization or the Indus valley civilization.

Detailed excavations at these sites revealed that these indeed were huge cities with remains of several layers of city living, with the latest layers dated from around 2000 years before Christ, and the oldest, to about 3500 years before Christ.

A View of Mohen-jo-Daro

A View of Mohen-jo-Daro

Detailed excavations at these sites revealed that these indeed were huge cities with remains of several layers of city living, with the latest layers dated from around 2000 years before Christ, and the oldest, to about 3500 years before Christ.

The cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, as well as other smaller sites that were found later on, were very well planned with streets running at right angles, and laid with burnt bricks. The cities and had a sanitary system of well connected drains to carry the waste from every house.  The sites from this civilization occupied a vast area spread across in an area that now corresponds to parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.  19th century Indologists and archaeologists postulated that invading nomads from central Asia brought this civilization to an abrupt end, since most the sites showed a decline around about 1800-1500 BC, with no continued habitation in those locations.

indusmap

As more sites were found by  archaeologists, they observed something strange found more and more sites, they found a strange thing.  A vast majority of them were in the area that now comprises of the Thar desert, far from the Sindhu (Indus) river system of Punjab, but along a dry river bed, what is now called as the Hakra or Ghaggar river. The Ghaggar is a seasonal stream which flows for a few months and which ultimately dries up in the desert without reaching the sea! This was a perplexing indeed.

For the solution of this problem, we have to go to ancient Indian texts called Vedas. Veda means Knowledge, derived from the verb, vid – to know, are the oldest poems in this world that are still extant. The Vedas, instead of talking about the five rivers of Punjab, spoke about “sapta sindhu” or the seven rivers, and the most important river among the seven was Saraswathi. The Rig Veda called Saraswati the “ Most beloved of mothers, the mightiest of all rivers, and the best among Goddesses.” It is also described as a river flowing from the Himalaya mountains to the ocean.  But today, the Saraswathi  river is  a small tributary to the seasonal Ghaggar.

As early as during early 1800s,  archaeologists who  had found parts of a dry river beds in the desert  had postulated a great river must have flown there. interestingly this river bed they had found  is the continuation of the Ghaggar, into which the current day Saraswathi river flows as a tributary.

The width of the dry riverbed is generally more than a mile wide, and at places it is as wide as 7-8 miles. But what was the source of the water to fill this huge river?  The current source of river Saraswathi could not have provided that vast amount of water!

Now science comes to the rescue: The satellite imagery from the late 20th century has ascertained these earlier observations. These have also confirmed the existence old river beds   belonging to two other major rivers, Yamuna, and Satluj which are now part of the Indus andSarasvati Ganges river systems, that once flowed into the old bed of now dry Ghaggar.

So what caused the drying up of Ghaggar or the historic Saraswathi? Sometime between the 6000 and 4000 years, due to tectonic movements the rivers Yamuna and Sutlej that were the main feeders for Saraswathi changed course.

The glacier fed Sutlej  moved westwards, and started flowing into the Indus river. The other glacier fed tributary of  Saraswati, the Yamuna started flowing eastward, into the Ganga river instead of Saraswathi. These events thus deprived Saraswathi a perennial water source.

Probably to support this movement of Yamuna  is the common belief held in India even today that the river Saraswathi flows as an invisible river, and joins the Ganga and Yamuna at their confluence at Prayaga (Allahabad).

With this river migration understood, we can easily understand  why there are far greater number of archaeological sites in the desert along the dry Saraswathi river compared to the Indus river valley. When the rivers migrated, the people living in the Saraswathi river area had to move to newer locations, and they did so.  There is no need to bring  in any fictitious “nomads from central Asia”  to describe a bloody and sudden ending to the civilization. Indeed a study of later archaeological sites shows that several aspects of the these sites were adapted there as well.

22-235-1-PB

22-236-1-PB

Today, the river Sarswathi may flow from the Himalaya all the way to the ocean. It may have become just a small monsoon rivulet. Or if you go by the  popular mindset,  the river Saraswathi might have become invisible.  But the culture of the people lived on it’s banks is still alive and well! For example, its very easy to find  artwork from this civilization, that looks almost the  same as some of the artworks created by current day craftsmen and artists!  This is but one of the many aspects where such parallels can be drawn.

Given all these facts, it truly befits to call this as the Saraswathi-Sindhu civilization rather than Indus Valley civilization or the Harappa civilization!

-neelanjana

(All photo credits belong to their respective copyright holders)

(p.s: Enough material is available on the Internet about the Saraswathi-Sindhu civilization. Then question may arise why this post :) This was a speech I gave at my Toastmasters Club as part of the “Speaking to Inform” advance speaking manual. The project was : The Speech to Inform)

Who hasn’t heard President Obama’s 2008 electoral pitch – “Yes, We Can”? Although I’m not planning on contesting an elections any soon,I firmly believe in the power of the “Yes, We Can” attitude – Yes, We can, but only if we want it; Yes. We can, only if we persist. Yes. We can, only if we strive for it..

I am reminded of a Samskrta subhashita of Bhartrhari which classifies people into three categories -The people in the lowest rung, who never try because they are scared of failing. The mediocre people who start off with their task, but stop when faced with hurdles and finally those excellent men and women, who despite of being hunted and haunted by troubles and hardships, do not stop in their endeavor, and work towards achieving their goals.51kmxl9EkjL._SL500_SS500_

On March 8th, the world celebrated the International Women’s Day.That day, I remembered, Nagamani, a very remarkable woman. Nagamani was born about a century ago in a middle class family in village in south India. As a young girl, she was trained in Indian classical music along with regular schooling. However she wasn’t encouraged to be a performing musician and was married at an young age. To her sorrow, she wasn’t allowed to take the Veena, the musical instrument she was trained on with her because it was considered a family heirloom, one that could only pass to a son. Nagamani moved on to join her husband. Since her husband was a forest officer, that meant she would now live in extremely remote locations, surrounded by the wild and the beautiful but without the music a town life could offer. As a remedy, Nagamani decided to make some of her own, got herself a harmonium and taught herself playing it. She played hours on end, just for herself, and perfected the art.

Life wasn’t a bed of roses for Nagamani: 12 childbirths out of whom 4 did not survive; one of the children became a victim of brain fever and ended up being disabled and needing constant care. But Nagamani did not let go of her music. As the children were growing, she kept playing the harmonium, for herself, and for her kids, and to instill the love of music among them. Years rolled by, and some of her children indeed become performers, something she herself could not do earlier. And her addiction to Indian classical music was passed to many of her grandchildren and great grand children too. She was an example of the “Yes, We can” spirit to engage in activities that are close to our hearts even if there are obstacles on the way.

It’s almost three decades since Nagamani passed away. I was very young then, but I still remember glimpses of her mastery over the keyboard that created wonderful music; and I still carry the love of music that she made a family heirloom. Nagamani, was my grandmother.

41vTXr-7OaL

Now, let me switch gears to something more contemporary. Susan Spencer Wendel, a journalist left her job as a legal reporter when she was diagnosed with a serious condition called ALS in 2011. The disease left with her muscles dying and now she can barely talk and move her fingers. With her health fast deteriorating, she decided it was time to live the last couple years to the fullest. Last year, she went to the Yukon territories up North to see the northern lights with her best friend. She started writing her memoir typing only with her index finger on her iphone as that was the only functioning finger by then. This memoir, titled “Until I say Good Bye” goes on sale today, March 12th, 2013. Susan is a living example of the “Yes, we can” attitude doing things that we love to do, about in spite of the most grueling hardships.

How many times have we told ourselves that we don’t have time for things we wanted to do or wanted to do better, and blame external factors? “Only if I have more time” – “only if I had more money”, “only if the weather was not so cold” , “only if the neighbours dog didn’t bark so much” – Oh well. I made that last one up. But you get the idea!

Come on, let’s stop making lame excuses and move on! To do things that we really love. To do things that we care about. To do things we enjoy. And to say with pride and satisfaction , “Yes, We Can”.

-neelanjana

(This is the text of a speech I gave at my Toastmaster’s club contest today: March 12th, 2013)

Who hasn’t heard of the Agatha Christie whodunit “The Mousetrap”? It’s running in a London theater for about  60 years. So when I came to know that there was a production of the play being staged at Altarena Playhouse in Alameda,  I was really excited. Quite natural, considering that I’m a true Agatha Christie fan.

When I booked the tickets, the lady on the phone insisted that there wasn’t a bad seat in the theater, and there was no need for assigned seating. I took it with a pinch of salt.  On the day of the show, I did not want to take any chances, and left early enough to take care of the 40 minute drive with sufficient margin for the mad Friday evening traffic.

Alameda is a town on an island in the San Francisco bay, just across a bridge from Oakland, CA.  The moment we entered the town, we were greeted by houses with an old time feel.  Not much traffic on the street.  When we reached Altarena theater, to my surprise, there was no parking lot for the theater! I parked on one of the side streets and went to the box office to collect our tickets.

The theater is located where where a grocery store operated back in time, when big box stores weren’t the norm. That explains the absence of a parking lot. It seats less than 200 people, and there is no stage! The set in in the middle of the theater with a few rows of seat set on three sides! As I was told, there is not a single bad seat in the theater!

The stage(!) was set in the center or the auditorium. The set depicted a day in 1952. Six guests arrive to a guest house, Monkswell Manor, in rural England.

Unfortunately, the weather Gods are playing bad, and there is a snow storm.  And there is a murder in the house!  The play deals in events that lead to the murder, and then deciphering the crime to reveal the identity of the killer. And if you’re new to Agatha Christie’s writing, you’d be very much surprised. And you’d be surprised if you had read the original story, “Three Blind Mice” as well, because Agatha Christie has slightly altered the plot, to make things more suitable for stage in this play.  Just like in the London version of the play, the audience was asked not to reveal the identity of the killer :)

Although I’d read  the short story, Three Blind Mice , and it’s play version,  The Mousetrap before –  I enjoyed every moment of this play! The set, costumes, music – everything took us to a different part of the world!  Because of the way seats are laid out, I felt being a part of the play, rather than being in the audience!

This was very well produced, to say the least .

 

Looks like this place puts on excellent plays, an hopefully, I will catch some of the future show’s at Altarena. If you’re a theater buff in the San Francisco bay area, I suggest you to watch their page, for a very different theater experience.

Did you ask if there is a movie version of this play? No there isn’t. Originally when the play was produced, the contract said it could not be made into a movie until 3 months after the last stage show. Well, the stage shows haven’t stopped since 1952, and it might be a long wait if you want to see the movie version, looking the way it’s still going strong. So what’s your next best bet? Keep checking local productions, to see if anyone is staging  The Mousetrap in your area!

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Ramaprasad K V

Ramaprasad K V

ಕನ್ನಡಿಗ. Musicphile. Bibliophile. Astrophile. Blogophile. Twitterphile.

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