Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Day 227 & 248- Unusual Desert Plants

A long, long time ago, there was a great warrior Emperor known by all  as the Desert King.  An all powerful ruler governing the largest region of desert land, his kingdom stretched  from the Rajasthani Thar to the Great Sahara. 

In the great kingdom of this emperor, hid a well-kept secret known only to two men, the King himself and his Chief Gardener. This was a secret  so guarded that the King could only reveal it once in his lifetime, to his successor, at his deathbed and upon his last breath. Legend  has it that this was how the final conversation between the King and his son went .....

My dear son, 

 Now that you are going to be King,

I can finally reveal to you,

The Mysteries of The Secret Garden.
To the farthest north of our Kingdom is a secret garden where the rarest and most splendid plants are kept. Collected by Desert Kings before you since time immemorial,  all these plants share a common trait. They are all makers of mystical legends.

Like the Yellow Desert Windflower for instance, she was also called Anemone by the Greeks. Anemone was a nymph cursed with a beauty only a jealous Goddess could hate. When Chloris, the Goddess of Flowers found out that both Zephyr, the gentle Spring wind, and Borea, the god of the West Wind had fallen in love with Anemone, she had vengefully turned  the nymph into a flower which was to wither by the time Zephyr arrived. Strangely though, as if in defiance, windflowers now bloom only when the first Spring wind blows, as if to herald his coming with  open mouths ready for cool kisses. 

And then we have the blue crocus or desert saffron which open like little yellow suns in full bloom. When Valentinus, a 3rd century Roman physician and Christian priest was arrested and sentenced to death, he administered his last treatment by handing to the jailor a note for his blind daughter. In the note, was a yellow crocus and the source of one of his healing herbs, saffron. When the blind girl opened the note, her sight was immediately restored and the first flower she saw was the yellow crocus which rivaled the sun in its brightness. The physician had signed off in the note what was  soon to become legendary words ~From your Valentine~. Those words were to be the physician's last but the world's first valentine's day message. That day was February 14, 270 AD.

 The Pink Cactus is really a hybrid of a pair of  young Indian lovers called  Pasancana and Quehualliu who  had run away into the mountains when they found out that Pasancana's father was going to marry her off to another. When the father and his men came looking for them, they both prayed to the Goddess of the Mountain to protect them. The Goddess thus turned Quehualliu into a hardy cactus and Pasancana into the pink flower that grew on it and that was how the pair of lovers stayed together forever.

Finally, we have the most fantastic and wondrous of them all, the prickly pear cactus. Legend has it that the Aztecs wandered throughout Mexico in search of a divine sign that would indicate the precise spot upon which they were to build their capital. The divine sign was an eagle devouring a snake, perched atop a cactus. After two hundred years of wandering, they finally found the promised sign. The Aztecs had found their home at last. As the people gathered and stared in wonder, the cactus grew into an island which the Aztec named Tenochtitlan or "the Place of the Prickly Pear Cactus".

And that, my son is the mystery revealed.

And as the new king watched what he thought was the old King drawing his last breath, the latter suddenly sat up with a jerk and started gibbering like a mad man , scaring the hell out of his son..

Arghhhhh, the old King seemed to say, *mumble mumble.. the ripened green bananas...*grumble grumble..10 years hard work *rumble rumble.. a way of cultivating banana plants in desert, you must ..But before the old King could finish his sentence, he fell on his bed  in a frenzied fit and died. And the new king never knew how his father grew the first bananas in the Secret Garden. 

Nonetheless, this episode did spark off a new mystical legend concerning the old king's  fruits of labour. The term "going bananas" was coined by the new king to refer to someone turning  mysteriously crazy or acting in an inexplicably strange manner and this term is commonly used to this day.

Having continued the tradition of making legends, the green banana's place in the Secret Garden was thus assured and they all propagate happily ever after. Amen..I mean, The End. 


 Materials used for unusual desert plants.

I spent last weekend repainting the 4 pots of desert plants and the ripened green bananas. For some of my old friends, they may remember that I did the bunches of bananas almost exactly a year ago.

As for the plants, I have bashed these 4 pots 4 times. They started life as  original clay flowers in clay pots. 2 years ago, they morphed into ugly cotton flowers  which  then became unruly cotton flowers. In 2010, they were reconstructed into ordinary house plants. Today, they stand before you as unusual desert plants. As you can see, they look nothing like what they purport to be in the story so who knows, maybe in 2012, they may be turned into plants from Mars.

There was however a rather gratifying moment last night when I photographed my mystical, unusual, desert plants. Look up at the right hand corner of this picture. Can you see her, my little Charlotte

Charlotte, my Golden Spider  crawling to the middle

Charlotte played around in the pink cactus for a while and then she whispered to me : I think this place is perfect for Charlotte's Web. 

I told myself, if it is good enough for her, it is good enough for me. At least for now.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Day 236-City Palace of Jaipur

On Day 236, we toured the City Palace of Jaipur and started off with

Palace of The Winds

Picture  taken on the road  opposite Palace of The Winds aka Hawa Mahal 

This structure is not really a palace but a facade much like a gate into the City Palace. It forms part of the City Palace, and extends to the Zenana, (remember this word?  It  refers to the chambers of the harem).  This unique five-storey exterior has been likened to a honeycomb with its 953 small windows called jharokhas decorated with intricate lattice work.

Side of palace where shops operate

Built in 1799 of red and pink sandstone, this palace is situated on the main thoroughfare in the heart of Jaipur’s business centre. The Palace of the Winds  got its name because the niches were constructed in such a way that even in the hottest of months, cool breezes could circulate keeping the royal ladies comfortable. 

Back of Hawa Mahal showing niches

As you may have already guessed from the lattice, the original intention for this building was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen. 953 niches were built behind where each queen and concubine could occupy to also welcome their Maharajah home when he returned to the City Palace on his elephant with his entourage.

Hawa Mahal- One of my must-see when I was in Jaipur

I fell in love with this palace the moment I read about it in a book 2 years back and since then I have been thinking of ways and means to replicate this (not an exact one but a symbolic one , whatever that means) in miniature.  I think one of my havelis will have this spectacular facade but maybe done in a crazier more haphazard manner, like a castle in a fairy tale. Apparently, this palace is particularly striking when viewed early in the morning, lit with the golden light of sunrise.

J A N T A R   M A N T A R

Jantar Mantar Jaipur- the biggest and best preserved, now a world heritage site

Standing right at the entrance to the palace in the old city of Jaipur is the open-air observatory, Jantar Mantar (instruments and formulae). This 5 acre park that looks like something out of a science fiction novel is built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, India’s last great classical astronomer. The Jantar Mantar (meant to read as Yantar Mantar but mispronounced over the years) in Jaipur has taken 8 years (1727-1734) to complete. It now holds 15 instruments, some of which conceived by the Maharaja himself.   

Observation deck of the "samat yantra" or "giant sundial"

This is the Samrat Yantra, also the largest sundial in the world. It is definitely the biggest clock I have ever seen.  At 90 feet high, its shadow moves visibly at 1 mm per second and is supposed to tell the time to an accuracy of about two seconds in Jaipur local time. Its face is angled at 27 degrees, the latitude of Jaipur. The Hindu chhatri (small cupola) on top is used as a platform for announcing eclipses and the arrival of monsoons.

Jai Prakash Yantra, the instrument invented by the Maharaja himself 

My photo shows the inside of one of 2 bowls forming the Jai Prakash (light of Jai) Yantra. The bowls are a reflection of the sky in that every point in the sky is reflected on to a point on the bowl through the centre of a cross wire stretched on the surface of the bowl. The instrument to measure the accuracy of all the other instruments, this yantra co-ordinates the azimuth and altitude of a celestial object, tells local time and also makes other zodiac observations.

Kranti Writta Yantra is used to find the destination and measure the distance between the stars and the sun

All  fifteen astronomical instruments were made with local stone and marble. Six had solar measurement functions, eleven were for observing the night sky, and one was unfinished and I understood none of them. According to a report, these large, architecturally refined devices, capable of achieving much greater accuracy than small brass instruments, were based on Islamic astronomical theories. Most were derived from those commissioned by the fifteenth-century Byzantine ruler Ulugh Begh for the well-equipped observatory built in Samarkand in 1428.

City Palace

Joyce's wonderful photo of the brass door to the City Palace

Finally, we are here, at the astoundingly beautiful home of  Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II,  also the brainchild behind this amazing palace complex. 

 Doorway to quarters outside the palace -possibly a servant's quarters?

I am convinced (because I have seen pictures of the rooms in books and  the film "The Fall") that the best parts of this complex are the furnished rooms  which command a separate  entrance fee of US$50.00 per person. 

Virendra Pol, one of 3 gateway into the palace. Tripoli Pol is reserved strictly for the descendants of the ruling family who still live in the Chandra Mahal, or Moon Palace.

We were also told by our guide that many parts of the main palace, Chandra Mahal or the Moon Palace were closed as these were the lodgings of the descendants of the ruling family. Yes, they still live there to this day.

One of the four seasons gates in the palace courtyard. This one is the Lotus Gate symbolising summer.

Perhaps when I next visit Jaipur, I will  see more of these spectacular rooms.  In the meantime, I stand just as enthralled  in front of the various gates and doorways of the City Palace.

Details of the Peacock Gate representing winter 

Speechless and humbled, overwhelmed with awe. There is no question that these entrances and exits are works of wonder themselves. Every single carving, each piece of tile , a feast for the eye, holding promises of more wonders to come. 

Scene from The Fall of The Green Gate, representing Autumn

 My own The Fall moment after some heavy editing to black out unsightly bulges. Notice I even gave myself more hair?

I really did not want to post this picture but it was the only one of this iconic Green Gate that my camera took.  Just to be able to say-I was here-threw all my caution to the winds. So after a little Hollywood touch up,  here it is for me to announce to the world 

There sat Sans!
I was here.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Day 247-All For A Pail Of Water

GN Rao

Picture by GN Rao - The Hindu 9 Mar 2010 in an article entitled "All For A Pail of Water"

I was googling images of  -A pail of water- when I saw this picture. It was taken by Mr. GN Rao and published in The Hindu, India's national newspaper on 9 Mar 2010 in celebration of International Women's Day. This picture shows a group of tribal women fetching water from an agricultural well at Govind Tanda Karepalli Mandal in Khammam District, Andhra Pradesh. I dug  a little deeper and found out that the Khammam District has a sizable tribal population of the Banjaran people so these women are likely to be Banjaran ladies. No wonder, I thought...

Now, I found Mr. Rao's picture only yesterday and I don't want to sound like a braggadocio (don't you just love that word) or a fanfaronade (and this one too), but when I first saw the thumbnail of Mr. Rao's picture on Google Image, I thought it was mine.

Scene composed for "Fetching Water" a post I did more than 1 week ago (2 posts down) 

Alright, maybe for a split second only (and if Mr  Rao is reading this, he will probably want to shoot me-and not with his camera-for my audacity) but you must surely agree that there is some similarity between my Banjaran girls and the very adventurous ladies in the Khammam District.  I have to confess I was mighty pleased with myself. At first. Art (dare I say it) imitating life without me even knowing. Until I realised of course that Life had taken a leap my art did not manage. The women in the Khammam District were incredibly braver than my dolls would ever be! So kudos to Mr Rao for consigning this special moment to posterity!

And while we are at inspiring pictures, I have to share with you the works of 2 more photographers I have recently found. The one above is by Mr Sami ur Rahman whom I discovered in the same search.  Would you believe that this picture was also taken in March 2010? These ladies were fetching water in the Thar Desert, the world's 9th largest subtropical desert that spanned between Rajasthan in India to the Sindh and Punjab province in Pakistan. 

Picture by Mr Sami ur Rahman entitled "A Helping Hand"

Mr Rahman is a retired government servant living in Lahore, Pakistan and thanks to him, I will never look at a government servant the same way again. Who knows what kind of a giant artist is behind that desk looking at you looking at him, already framing a picture in his head. Mr Rahman has been described as  not only a great photographer but a great gentleman too, with all the qualities that a gentle soul must possess. I believe his work is also a testament to that. I was lost in his Flickr album for what seemed like an eternity on Sunday afternoon. Breathtakingly, I was transported back to various places in Pakistan,  the country where I fell in love and could never forget.

Claude Renault

Picture by Claude Renault entitled "Keta. Ludyia. Gujarat"

The picture above was taken by Claude Renault of a girl named Keta Benesar fetching water to prepare tea in her kitchen. Keta lives in the village of Ludyia in the Great Rann of Kutch. 

Claude is a photographer from Brittany, France. One of his love is India where he regards almost as a 2nd home. One day I hope I will have a chance to meet him when we are both in India so that I can shake his hands and tell him how his pictures have touched me to the core.

This is just one of the many, many pictures by Claude that I love. Thank goodness for these miniature clay water jars or I would never have been able to just pick two of Claude's work for this post. It is impossible for me not to be affected by the photos he took. Aesthetically mindblowing, each picture tells a story I can relate to because of my project here. His blog was left opened at my laptop yesterday at home and also at the one in my office today. I must thank Minka of Minka's Studio who gave me the link to Claude. Somehow she knew instinctively that I would love his work after reading just a few of my posts. 

At this moment, all I want to do is to make miniature scenes of all these pictures by my favourite photographers. I  want to thank you both whole heartedly for allowing me to share these photographs here and for the kind words in your emails.

My Own Pails Of Water

Picture taken last night

This is the reason why I was googling the images of a pail of water. I wanted to make two for my tribal house.

 Pail of cucumber with cucumber skin shavings 

I made this food pail first. When I was in the ashram, one of the chores we did in the morning was to cut the cucumbers and carrots for the garden salad to be served at lunch.

 Pail of cucumbers floating in water 

The vegetables were put into a pail of water like this one and we just cut them with knives and our palms as the chopping boards, slice by slice into the pail of water. These cucumbers were bought in JJ market, Bangkok. The bits of green you see are cucumber skins that I made from tiny flower petals.

I have always tried not to make my food containers look like they have corroded too badly for obvious reasons. I mean who will want to use a rusty crockery for food? Not even the hardiest of dolls, I always say.  It was not easy for this one as I wanted my pail to look used and a little dirty. I didn't do a good job. Verdict: Not pleased but I don't want to waste my cucumbers.

 Just finished "rusting"

When I removed the stem from this pail, there were 2 holes at the bottom so I put a tiny piece of aluminium to cover the holes. That was also why I decided I would rust the inside of the pail as well. 

I thought that once I added water (I used glue for water), the depth and density of the glue would trick the eye into not seeing the aluminum foil. I was right. It even stood up to the scrutiny of the camera in macro.

 Picture taken after I wet cloth and drape it over the pail.
 The other thing I found out was how to style a cloth in a setting. Would you believe it is simply water? Well, of course, just like in real life. Many of you probably knew that already but not me.  I have always had trouble with displaying cloth in my setting, from  a sari over the edge of a bed to  billowing curtains to just putting a blanket over a doll's knees. This time,  I tried making the cloth wet first with just water and true enough, it was easy to drape it over anything.  After the cloth was dried, it stayed pretty much in the position that you left it. This was exactly what I did with the rag over the pail of water. 

 Picture taken 24 hours later . Rag stays in same place, nicely folded.

For this rag, I had also lacquered it with gloss and then a matt varnish but I don't think it is necessary. If you let it dry naturally, it will be even more realistic. Verdict: Happy but may want to make the water a little dirtier and yet translucent enough to still see the rust at the bottom.

The Before Pictures- Big Pail with the "stem". Galvanised pail on a stick for beautifying garden.
Big pail- 1 1/2" high (not including sides) and 1 1/2" at its widest
Small pail- 3/4"tall and 5/8" at its widest

Friday, 8 April 2011

Day 235- The Maharajah's Household


Amer or Amber Fort , in Amber, 13 km from Jaipur

On a hilltop overlooking the Maota lake, in the ancient capital city of the Rajputs (between the 12th-18th century) called Amber, is a fortified complex that has taken two centuries to build. Inside the foreboding exterior housed some of the most beautiful royal palaces, houses and temples of  the Rajput royalty. In the days of yore, this citadel was a palace, an administrative headquarters and a strategic military bastion. 

This is a strip of 2 photographs, badly joined of elephants riding into the palace.

In the past, the return of the Maharajah and his victorious army was usually celebrated with much pomp and music. Drums and flowers accompanied the royal guards on their elephants as they trotted into the King's home, eager to display their war's earnings at the courtyard. This experience is now being offered to tourists at a very affordable price.

Diwan-i-Aam-The Public Audience Hall just outside the palace gate

One of the first hall we see at the courtyard and just before we enter the palace is the Diwan-i-Aam or the Public Audience Hall. Where the king sits, the view confronting him is not only the crowd of his people but also the majestic Aravalli Mountains

Jai Mandir Hall situated just next to the Diwan-i-Aam- Inspiring the dining room of Devi Ratn?

In the movie, Jodhaa Akbar, there  is a spectacular scene where Emperor Akbar had an audience with his advisers and met the public who have come to see him with their grievances. This scene was shot here at Amer Fort. 

Hindu yogis or wandering sadhus(?) walking to the temple and passing both halls

Even after the royal palace and houses of prominent persons shifted to Jaipur in 1724, the priests of the Shila Devi temple in Amber Fort who were Bengali Brahmins continued to live in the fort (to this date).

Ganesh Pol (Pol meaning gate in Rajasthan) leading to the residences of the Maharajah. 
Note the filigree screens on the 2nd floor.

Welcome to my "humble" abode?

Jalli (filigreed) screens to shield the women in the harem from the public

The concept of Harem was brought in by the Muslim rulers who ruled Hindustan for nearly 900 years. The harem and its ethos were imported from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Women of the harem were not allowed to venture outside without being shielded from the public eye. 

View through the jalli

Filigree screens or jallis were built in the palaces to allow these women glimpses of  the world  outside the harem.

Back of Ganesh Pol

Charbagh or Paradise Garden (Bagh means garden in Rajasthan)

To keep the women in the palace happy, their quarters were built mainly to please their senses. Advanced in their civil engineering, the Amer palaces and gardens were cooled and scented ingeniously. For example, perfumes were strategically placed in inlets that brought in the monsoon water. As the water flowed over these perfumes, the room would suddenly be  delicately scented with its soft fragrance. The water would then be led through pipes or drain to flow further down  into the central garden.

View through window inside the palace to Kesar Kyari Bagh at the center of Maota Lake

Kesar Kyari Bagh

Kesar Kyari Bagh means the Garden of Saffron because it was used to grow mainly saffron. Imagine when the saffron flowers bloomed, how their  fragrance would waft up into the private quarters of the ladies for their enjoyment. It was also said that this garden was designed to look like a traditional Persian rug when all the flowers were in full bloom.

Facade :The Zenanas or Women Palaces

The Zenanas is a series of exclusive chambers for the queens linked by a general hallway. Designed very cleverly to give privacy to each queen of the Maharajah, none of the other women was to know when or who the Maharajah visited for the night. 

Chamber of the favoured Queen

To provide ease of visits by the Maharajah, the favoured queen would occupy the most elaborately decorated chamber closest to the Maharajah's apartment. These rooms have frescoes depicting love scenes between Krishna and Leela in the courtyards, much like how the Maharajah and his queens would enjoy their time together.

Ladies taking a break . Simple but effective brooms.  

On maidservants in the harem, this is what was said by one of the Maharanis of Jodhpur:

The newly-married bride never came to her husband's home alone. To add to the staff already provided by her husband, she brought a retinue of her own servant women who had attended her as a young girl and with whom she had close bonds. 'My mother had hundreds of maids, mostly from Osian where she came from,' recalls Padmavati Devi of Jodhpur, Maharani of Baroda. 'Since there were umpteen relatives each with umpteen members of their retinues and then the retinues' umpteen staff, there were hundreds of women in the Jodhpur zanana, but it was like one big happy family. ("Within the Zanana").

 Intricately carved windows

As we near the end of our tour of the Amber Fort Palace, a stroll along the winding corridors leading to the exit reveal what must once be pristine and intricate carvings of windows

but now broken and old. The state of disrepair, I feel,  can only lend more credibility and strengthen their standing in the records of mankind. I have withstood the test of time, they say, I have seen the passing of history through centuries and I have the scars to show for it.

 Stained Glass Window In A locked Room-Picture taken through a broken glass pane in the door.

You shall not view me through tinted glasses. This is real.

Home for a Homing Pigeon?

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