Monday, 27 September 2010

Day 194- Illuminations Fom the Bhagavad-Gita

Last Saturday, after breakfast with mum and a 2 hour facial treatment which put me in a most heavenly mood, I walked into a book flea mart. These sale happen quite often near my facial shop and I love them. Some of my best loved books on craft , dolls' houses (once) and India. are from these marts. I struck gold again this time when I found Kim and Chris Murray's "Illuminations From The Bhagavad-Gita". 

The Bhagavad-Gita, a scared Hindu scripture has been described  as one of the most important texts in the history of literature and philosophy. The Murrays have so titled this book both for the way the manuscripts are illustrated and for the illuminations one gains from reading the text.

The Gita is actually Book 6 of the Mahabharata and is written as a dialog between Lord Krishna and the hero, Arjuna, taking place in a timeless moment on the battlefield before the climactic struggle between good and evil. 

Like most life changing literature, the Bhagavad Gita is told as a story. It is a story of 2 warring royal families of cousins descended from 2 brothers. The cousins were all brought up together in the same household and even had the same teachers. Alas, one family of 5 boys were endowed with knightly traits like righteousness, self-control and nobility while the other family of 100 sons embodied qualities of evil and were cruel, unscrupulous, greedy and lustful. 

When it came time to crown one of them as king, war became inevitable as the eldest from the evil could not accept that the good would be crowned. Both sides sought help from Lord Krishna and so the Lord made them choose: either his vast army or Krishna himself as a charioteer and counsellor. Arjuna who was the middle child of the Good , picked the latter.

On the morning just before the battle, Prince Arjuna was torn with self doubt and remorse as he realised that his enemies were his own relatives, beloved friends and revered teachers. And so began  the Bhagavad Gita (songs of God)  as Lord Krishna counselled and guided Arjuna on  the principles of life, love and duty in his conduct of the war.

Thanks to the universal theme, the Gita has had a significant influence far beyond Hinduism.  I read that Robert Oppenheimer recited the verse (from Chapter 11)  'I [have become] Death, Destroyer of Worlds", just before the first test of the atom bomb. I have also read and re-read Chapter 11 and found no such sentence. Perhaps one of you can enlighten me?

That has always been my problem with epic literature and that's why I always love them abridged, illustrated and retold for children. I have no qualms in confessing that my copy of the Mahabharata was found at the Children's Section.

Apparently, the Gita can be found in hotel bedstands throughout India, much like a copy of the bible. Although I just checked with my sis, SuZ on MSN and she told me the only book she found in her hotel at Chennai was the in-room dining menu. I told her she can read my copy when she is back. I am always very excited when I get to share books like this with SuZ because she is even more of a visual person than me. She may also be able to identify with Arjuna being a middle child like him.

So do I recommend this book? Absolutely! 

I believe this book was first printed in 1999 but my copy (a huge book) has the following details: 

Artist: Kim Waters Hardbound / 80 pp Size: 16.5 x 24" Weight: 2.3 lbs  ISBN: 1-886069-21-2 . 
40 color plates and more than 50 black-and-white drawings,. A selection of essential verses is lavishly illustrated, incorporating both Eastern and Western classical illumination styles. The authors worked on the illustrations for over five years, inspired by the timeless wisdom of the Gita and their personal association with A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, the translator of the book's verses and poems from Rabinranath Tagore.  Artistic inspiration from Renaissance, Pre-Raphaelite and Celtic art.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Day 187- Life Imitating Art-The Rolla Story

They first appeared here on 8th March 2009. It was  Day 35 and I was showing off my palace dolls and inviting my friends to help contribute to my palace stories . Back then, the Rollas were nameless and toured my always-under-construction-palace as part of 8 Banjaran gypsies. 

 As some of you may have known already, I  habitually  named my dolls after some of the friends I made in blogland and then spun stories around these characters as a tribute to their talents and generosity.  I exercised immense "artistic licence" with these stories and of course,  my characters  live very different lives from their namesakes. I was unrestrained and since I had yet to meet any of my blog friends, my stories became weirder and wilder as I got to know my friends better. This was because I knew they would be quicker to forgive me for some of the liberties I took.

My Rollas were the first of these characters. This was their debut on Day 52 (9th April 2009) when I told the story of Rosanna's magical pillows and how these pillows could induce sweet dreams of your love one if you fall asleep on them. 

A month and a half later, they appeared again on Day 68 when they brought Sissy to say hi-ssssssssss.

Here they are again on Day 84 (13 July 2009) with Rosanna's miracle nursing chair where you have a 50-50 chance of having a boy if a pregnant wife sits on it. This chair was given to Ranjit, the evil Maharajah in exchange for a new house. Yes, the very same one that is now being built by Sans!

This is Rosanna on Day 88 when her baskets were used as fashion items...

and when some of her girls went a tad too far.

Them on Day 93, also the opening day of their shop, Rolla and Ro.

A most momentous moment when my Rollas were planning their trip to Italy.

In Genoa, in a Back-to-the-Future paradox when the 19th century Rollas confronts the 21st century sexier and more daring couple.A turning point, or rather , the starting point of The Merger.

On Day 131,  in a post titled "Our Gondola, The Trishaw" (obviously a parallel to the gondolas in Venice"), Hassan and Suri were created. The trishaw was a gift from MarG, who had also travelled with the Rollas to Europe to meet Rosanna and Walter. 

And on Day 187,  here is Rosanna and  Walter playacting Hassan and Suri,

playacting The Rollas...?

 Or are the Rollas playacting them?  

And that was how the world I created merged with the real world I lived in. When these 2 worlds collide, sparks fly and magic happens. Now who say we can't live in our mini world ? The best part is you don't even need to shrink yourself.


It happened one night when MarG could not sleep and she had the brainwave of using Rosanna and Walter as models for the brochure of her new Trishaw route in Little India -while they are visiting us in Singapore, of course.  Rosanna and Walter were to play tourists, acting as themselves and I guess, occasionally as Hassan, Suri and the Rollas. 

They got to  pick their own salwar kameez which I swear, mimiced the ones the Rollas are wearing.  Tell me if it isn't so.  I think subconsciously, they really want to be the Rollas, at least for the day. Actually, now they can be the Rollas anytime they want because the clothes went home with them. 

More pictures of our super models can be seen at The Trishaw Uncle website. Today, Singapore, Tomorrow, The World. Now when you are famous, Rosanna, don't forget Sans! 

And for those of you who are coming to Singapore, don't miss the trishaw uncle for an exciting  time in Little India. The Rollas swear by it.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Day 191-192-A Quilter's Cupboard

If you are a master quilter, where will you store your delicate quilts with their embroidered mirror work and painstaking stitches?

This cupboard perhaps? A gift from Mercedes more than a year ago, it came with the Buddha for whom The Temple of Heaven was built. The cupboard is of the perfect length i.e. 4" and has a good height- 2" excluding the legs. It is so ideal that it does not really matter that none of the doors and drawers open, right?

Because all it takes is for one to say "Open Sesame" with a good chisel and lo and behold, one door opens as if by magic and it even creaks like something ancient. 

With the right colourss, one can even make it look like it sounds.  There are the exotic colours like Portrait Pink , Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna and the ever reliable ones like Black and White. Don't forget to sand off the previous varnish and spray paint the base Brown first, of course.

It is not long before the transformation takes place. This time, thanks to the sanding, at least the cupboard does not look like it has been out in the rain for decades . Poetic though that about 2 seconds after the cupboard was out in the open for this picture, it started to drizzle. 

You can see that this cupboard is made mitchy matchy with the shrine because of the knobs and pullers.

Now, because my Banjaran women are also good with Indigo dying and mud resist block printing, there must be space in the cupboard for these creations as well. 

For those of you who are not sure how you can fit bales of indigo dyed and printed  materials in a tiny space, the trick is hair spray. Fold each bale and fasten with a pin and then spray and spray, front, back, everywhere UNTIL

they behave like rows of neat, not-a-hair-out-of-place children. Pile them on top of one another (I separated them in this picture because I was so fascinated with the single striped piece that look exactly like my real life dhurrie from India) and then tweezer their way into the cupboard.

This is a view that you cannot see in real life so I am making this picture extra large. 

Here is the very stingy real life view which sometimes make me wonder why I go to such lengths especially as half a can of hair spray was used up to make this possible. What about the quilts, you asked? 

Well, if they are truly magnificent masterpieces, then  I guess we should just pile them on top of the cupboard and proudly display them. See the basket of white cloth next to the cupboard? That's more material waiting to be indigo dyed.

Thank you, Flora for the basket of material and Ira for the curtain.


I found this post in Once Upon a Tea Time on these wonderful workshops  on embroidery and indigo dying.  

having tea on a palace lawn in the pink city of Jaipur 
with masters and artisans imparting to you, secrets of the stitches of the deserts
making a trip to the local bazaars to source for materials and
gather inspiration from a fabulous 4 story haberdashery emporium 
that sells cottons and silk, mirrors, sequins, beads and ribbons, 
delving into old archives rich with traditional embroideries
gaining hands-on experience of the extensive range of decorative stitchery typical of the region
with the help of local embroidery ladies demonstrating their skills.

understand the complexities of the mud resist process 
experiment with the magic of woodblock printing

learn the ancient art of indigo dying

I want. I really do.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Day 189-190-A Sacred Place

Namaste, my dear friends and welcome to the beginnings of a sacred place, a quiet corner devoted to meditation and spiritual contemplation. 

Sign for OM
It is typical for a Hindu home to set aside a space strictly for devotions, no matter their status. If a home is too small for a separate shrine room,  an altar in a corner of the kitchen or on a closet shelf is built. 

Present from Rosanna, Ganesha bracelet
In my tribal house, the quiet corner is in the living room. Here, a grotto houses Ganesha, the God of wisdom and the remover of obstacles, son of Shiva and Parvati. As the remover of obstacles. Ganesha is invoked when beginning worship or starting any new venture. It is said that almost every Hindu home has at least one statue of Ganesha, especially the homes of merchants, like our Rollas.

It was no walk in the park trying to figure out how to build such an important part of a home that has a severe space constraint.  It only became apparent to me when  I found this picture in Taschen's "Indian Interiors".

Picture from "Indian Interiors" published by Taschen
This is a picture of an old painted cupboard from Gujarat, placed under a niche housing earthern water pitchers and used as a household shrine. I knew then that here is my solution and so began  too, many nights of staring at this picture wondering how to start. 

I knew I did not want to build my cupboard from scratch mostly because I haven't the faintest idea how. Despite good suggestions from Rosanna, Cindy and Asuka, I knew I should really just bash something I already have. So out came this unfinished cupboard which was sitting collecting dust and spider web in the Alison Jr.  I think it was a S$2.00 hutch from Daiso. The scale is not 1:12 for a kitchen cupboard but it is perfectly sized for my shrine. I forgot to put the drawer back when I took the picture on  the left but it has one. 

I don't know why I wanted to modify the legs when I didn't have the tools but I guess I was so irked by the fact that it would not be realistic otherwise that I just threw caution to the wind. Anyway, this is how I cut the legs without a jigsaw. Chisel, saw and then break with brute force. I didn't even have the right chisel because I broke it after I finished cutting the holes for the alcoves.  In the left picture, you can see the one below was already done. That alone took me almost an hour.

As the cupboard will be displayed open, I am more concerned with the inside so I worked on that first. I fashioned the facade of the shrine from small laminate samples (top part and shelves) with spindles  and metal beads for the "columns". For those of you who have access to laminate samples especially if they come in small sizes, I strongly recommend working with them for realism and ease. I cut the pieces easily with scissors. I stopped for the day after I finished the parts. Everything else was done today.

This morning, I began with changing the knobs of the door and drawers. Here are the close up shots:

These are the same copper beads as the ones for the columns. Two of the knobs have additional metal pullers which are really sequins.

As you can see, I even painted the glass panes to look like old wood as glass was too expensive then to be used in a tribal home.  I added some pictures of Hindu gods on the 2 panels like how I imagine my gypsy would do to beautify her shrine. 

Here is the drawer with the paraphernalia necessary for some worship rituals. There are candles, incense sticks and dipa dishes for small oil lamps.

I laid some old floral papers on the shelves as liners and then placed an old stupa  that I bought in Chinatown a while back as the centerpiece on the top shelf. The Ganesha was from a broken temple bracelet. On the second shelf are 2 halves of a coconut placed as offerings  to the deities. A golden bowl made by Carolina sits in the last one.

And with the final placement of my goddesses of lights and a Carolina bowl of scented flowers,  I humbly present my household shrine. 

For some soul searching, gratitude and worship...

And some peace and quiet too...
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