24 October 2012

Namma Metro celebrates ayudha puja

Yesterday was Ayudha puja (the 9th day of Dasara), and the day when tools and machines which are used to carry out everyday work and make a living are worshipped and blessed. I love the way Hinduism reveres and sees the divine in not only its many gods and goddesses, but also animals, and even inanimate objects!

When I stepped out yesterday, I couldn’t help be reminded that it was Ayudha puja because many of the cars on the roads were decorated with banana leaves and flowers. Later on when I took the metro at Trinity station, I noticed that the entrance to the station was decorated with flower garlands. As I put my bag through the scanner, I saw that the computer screen on which the scanned objects appear was smeared with kumkum and decorated with flowers. When I reached the turnstiles, a small yellow flower had been placed delicately on each one!

I then came across a group of Namma Metro employees celebrating this important puja day. They had made a beautiful and elaborate rangoli on the floor with flowers. A purple-shirted employee offered me prasad of fruit and sweets. Another offered me puffed rice.

A makeshift altar was set up with pictures of deities, garlands and balloons. Notice that their log books and walkie-talkie have been properly blessed!

And they didn't forget the cleaning machines! I had to get a few shots of this celebration. I didn’t have my DSLR with me, so I apologise for the bad-quality photos taken with my phone!

22 October 2012

Royal Mysore Walks

While in Mysore, I had the chance to take in a city walking tour with Royal Mysore Walks. This was a unique way to see the city, guided by locals who know Mysore inside out and all it has to offer.

Vinay Parameswarappa (the founder), Vinay Nagaraju and Manu Bharadwaj of Royal Mysore Walks describe themselves as ‘corporate dropouts’: each of them left a high-flying but soul-destroying job in Bangalore to devote themselves to promoting the cultural heritage of Mysore, a city which is close to their hearts.

For close to three years, they have been sharing their passion and knowledge with visitors by taking them around their city, sharing interesting facts about this former kingdom, and showing them not only the many majestic palaces and monuments, but also offering fascinating glimpses into local life that many on the typical tourist trail often miss.

This being Dasara and Mysore’s most important festival, the Royal Mysore Walks team have planned a series of special Dasara walks during the 10-day festival.

Vinay P, our guide for the Dasara Royal Walk, was all decked up in traditional ‘Durbar dress’. He explained that the city’s menfolk used to wear turbans (called ‘peta’) in the Maharaja’s day, and that the way the peta was worn indicated the person’s social standing. Vinay P was dressed up the way a minister would dress if he was invited to the Maharajah’s private durbar. Of course, no one dresses like this anymore, so a lot of research went into assembling the costume. His black overcoat had a high neck and was collarless, with six buttons running down the front. He wore a silk sash over his left shoulder. The most important part of the costume was of course the peta. The Royal Mysore Walks team managed to find someone from a family which was specialised in tying these elaborate turbans during the days of the Mysore kingdom, who gave them a crash course in turban-tying for ministers. The elegant period costume was completed with a walking stick. As our dapper guide led us through the streets of Mysore, he got quite a few curious looks and questions from the locals!

The Dasara walks also generated a lot of media interest. Journalists from local television and newspapers showed up to interview the team. They were featured in all the major newspapers the next day, as well as on television.

During the Royal Walk, we witnessed the preparations for the Mysore Dasara, which was the topic of my previous post.

Here are a few glimpses of other things we saw during our walk that day:

Guru Sweet Mart, located just outside Devaraja market, is famous for its Mysore Pak which was invented by this man’s great grandfather, Kakasara Madappa.

Pomegranate sellers and other colourful scenes from Devaraja market, a bustling 125-year-old market with more than 700 stalls.

Artisans doing inlay work in the neighbourhood of Mandi Mohalla, the home to many artists specialised in this intricate handicraft.

Sculpture students busy at work at Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts (CAVA)

Vinay N. and Vinay P., part of the passionate team at Royal Mysore Walks.

To learn more about their walks and other activities, visit their website.

17 October 2012

Mysore Dasara

I arrived in Mysore just before the start of the Dasara celebrations. There was a feeling of anticipation in the air as the city was busy getting ready for its most important event of the year.
(Above: the city is freshened up for the big event.)
Dasara (also called Navaratri) is an important 10-day festival which celebrates the victory of good over evil – this is when the goddess Chamundeshwari killed the demon Mahishasura.
(Above: a statue of Maharaja Chamarajendra Wodeyar is garlanded with lights.)
The Mysore Dasara is an elaborate festival which has been celebrated with much pomp for the past 400 years. This is a city of palaces and the former seat of the Mysore Kingdom.
(Above: Cultural programmes are held every evening at Mysore palace.)
The Mysore Palace is the centre of festivities. During each night of Dasara, the palace is lit up with colourful lights, as well as each important monument and square, including the streets where the Dasara procession takes place on the last day of the festival.

Many of the city's important buildings, monuments and squares are lit up specially for Dasara.

The Dasara procession is led by elephants. I happened to see them rehearsing for their big day. The lead elephant carries a golden palanquin called a ‘howdah’. This weighs 750kg and is made of 80kg of gold. The Maharaja used to ride in the howdah during the procession but for the past 40 years an idol of the goddess Chamundeshwari has been given this place of honour.

On Vijayadashami, the last day of Dasara (which falls on October 24th this year), the elephants will lead the procession through the streets of Mysore.

It's hard not to be impressed by the majestic beauty of the elephants.

Once Dasara is over, the elephants will go back to their respective homes. I found some interesting information on the Dasara elephants on this page.

Later on today, I'll go see my landlady's puja room which she decorates every year specially for Dasara.
Happy Dasara to all my readers!

08 October 2012

Another bandh

I like bandh days. This is the only time India goes to sleep and gets really quiet. I woke up on Saturday morning to almost complete silence. No traffic noise. No electric saw noise coming from the marble works. No calls of ‘paper’ from the paper collection boys, and no ‘tarakari’ from the walking vegetable vendors. No one was around.

I had to step outside to get a glimpse of the deserted streets, a rare sight in India. There were a few people walking around, and police officers stationed here and there. But no buses. A few motorcycles. Very few cars. A few auto-rickshaws.

One of my very first blog posts was about the bandh which took place during my first weeks here. As I had mentioned in that post, bandh (strike) was one of the first words I learned after coming to India! Since then there have been many other bandhs – this is not something which happens on a very regular basis in Bangalore – but at least once or twice a year.

But recently there have been two bandhs in the space of a little over two weeks. On September 20th there was a national bandh against ever increasing petrol prices. The bandh that happened this past Saturday was a state-level bandh, called in Karnataka. We saw this bandh coming. Every day the newspaper would report on the protests happening regarding the Cauvery water issue. The first bandh I had experienced in Bangalore was about the same issue. Water. As I had mentioned in that blog post, whoever said that future wars will be waged over water was so right. Water is a precious commodity and this is something you cannot overlook when living in India.

Growing up in Canada, I took water for granted. We had the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls – lots of water! Drinking clean water from the tap is something I miss! In this post about water, I explained that we get our water delivered by a tanker. Knowing that water is limited, I’m more aware about how I use it. Before I do a load of laundry I go up to the roof, open the water tank and check to see if there’s enough water in it. If the water level gets too low, the pipes will get blocked with air and water won’t run through the taps. So I have to be careful. If there isn’t enough water in the tank, I ask the landlords to switch on the electric pump which will pump the water stored in the sump up to our tank. Sometimes they say there is no water and that they’re waiting for the tanker to arrive. In that case, I have to wait and hope they don’t take too long! Sometimes they do. And you never know when they’ll show up. The other night it was at 2am!

Back to the bandh… Since Karnataka shares the Cauvery river with Tamil Nadu, water supply has been a very contentious issue for a very long time. Under a Supreme Court ruling, Karnataka is obliged to release a certain amount of water to Tamil Nadu daily. Recently there have been fierce protests against giving water to Tamil Nadu because this year the monsoon rains have not been sufficient and many farmers in Karnataka have been struggling with drought-like conditions. A precise summary of recent events can be found here. The bandh lasted only a day, but the issue is yet to be resolved. In the meantime, traffic and noise levels have gone back to ‘normal’.

02 October 2012

After Ganesh puja

Scanning the huge water tank at Ulsoor lake on the last day of Ganesh Chaturthi, I saw many murky shapes and shadows just beneath the surface of the water. This is where Ganesh idols of all sizes, some so huge they need to be lifted by crane, are submerged at the end of the 10-day festival.

Floating on the surface were flower garlands, plastic bags, chunks of plaster, pieces of wood and clumps of earth.

I also saw blotches of colour rising up to the surface. The municipality recommends that only idols made with natural colours be used, to avoid pollution of lakes with toxic metals used in paints.

Flower garlands and decorations are removed from the idols at the gate before they're carried in to be immersed in the water.

The effigies are made of clay or soil and dissolve easily once in contact with water. Here the BBMP workers are fishing out some of the bigger idols from the tank.

The job wasn’t easy. This statue seemed to be very heavy.

A mess of limbs, the stripped straw skeletons of the idols are piled up next to the water tank.

People come here to scavenge for firewood.

The authorities try to sensitise people to the environmental effects of this festival by issuing guidelines.

This blog post talks about the environmental aftermath of the Ganesh festival in Bombay where 100,000 idols are dumped into the sea every year!