Indian Art Forms and their Proponents

Odissi & Sharon Lowen

Sharon Lowen is one of the most popular faces in the sphere of Indian dance art forms like Odissi, Manipuri or Chau and is one of the most internationally recognized Indian Arts performer. Trained by well-known Guru’s, she has taken these art forms to greater landscapes and performed in languages like Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil and Oriya.

She has worked relentlessly in popularizing Chau dance in India and abroad presenting it on Doordarshan’ s National Broadcasts and international diaspora’s.


She has broken many barriers. Being the first woman soloist of a previously all-male form was no mean feat in India. She was also responsible for introducing Mayurbhanj Chhau to the United States at the 1978 Asian Dance Festival in Hawaii and later at the Olympic Arts Festival of Masks in Los Angeles.

Sharon has been trained since 1975 in Odissi by the doyen of the art, Padmavibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra; in Manipuri by Minati Roy from 1969 through 1971 and from 1973 by Guru Singhajit Singh in Delhi and Ranjani Maibi and Thangjam Chaoba Singh in Manipur; in Mayurbhanj Chhau by Late Guru Krishna Chandra Naik and in Seraikella Chhau by Guru Kedarnath Sahoo.

Sharon Lowen was born and brought up in USA and is a Fulbright Scholar with a Bachelors and Master degree in Fine Arts and Humanities, Asian Studies and Dance. However, from the time she has come down to India in 1973, she is more Indian than people born and brought up here.


Details of her performances and achievements are given in her website : www.sharonlowen.com

 

 

The desensitisation of the public in India

The notion of governance always fascinated me. In my early days, I was wide-eyed as I devoured the pages of the Amar Chitra Katha with their resplendent kings and queens who were either benevolent or barbarians depending upon the context of the story. Pretty two-sided characters whom we could identify with earnestness or despise with vehemence.

Modern kings translate to politicians with rather similar sang froid, who are as slippery as an eel in action or at least astute to stay the course.  Quite unlike the erstwhile era, where at least your enemy was defined and there was no unacceptable surprises to twist your logic on pelf, power or prestige, the present-era owners of the government are quite adept at identifying themselves, rather forcefully with the age-old adage that there are no permanent enemies in politics. Today’s opposition leader is tomorrow’s alliance partner. It is dirty and the players revel in it with absolute gusto.

India’s PM, one must admit, has the same sartorial sense as his ageless ancestors in action had, but whether he has inherited anything else is still in question. The demonetisation ogre has, after eating up all of the currency in circulation, steadfastly refused, till date, to either regurgitate or pass out the same in motion.

Nobody seems to have a sense of what was swallowed. Nobody is willing to speak. There is a sense of palpable fear that hangs about questioning the monarch’s diktat. And there is not even a court appointed jester to ease the situation for the miserable public. They have been scammed out of their hard-earned money and the government refuses to let go. The government who, by the way, is answerable to this self-same public. Only the public refuses to question. That is how smartly and conveniently the government has desensitised the public.

The public dance to the music of another orbit, where governance has no role. The presiding gods of those planets deal with much more serious topics. I could detail the topics, but that would be spoiling the fun. Suffice to say that when asked about what the head of the family dealt with in family affairs, he was supposed to have said that weighty matters like “should Israel and Palestine have peace” and “Is Global warming changing global weather patterns” were his domain, while less important ones like “which schools should his children study in” and “Whether the leaking pipe should be repaired now” were left to his wife.

Even today, the ATMs do not either work or do not dispense money. Not even Rs.500/-, forget Rs.24000/-. The truly herculean task of gathering currency for the morning milk is a daily struggle. A change of Rs.2000/- gives respite for a few days. Yet, the nagging prick at the base of the skull of why this situation has developed refuses to leave. I manage, but I keep hearing daily stories of struggle from my peers and friends who work with volunteers in villages just a few kilometres away from the shine of the city.

Every government blusters its way with bravado. But this government has taken it to dizzying heights. A certain tightening of the belt was expected, but it completely boggles the mind that the belt was around the neck. The pincers have clamped down on the soft sensitive skin, but because it has been there so long, the pain is beginning to evolve into a kind of dull sensation that has necessarily to be ignored for the remnants of sanity to remain. And the government revels in this desensitisation.

Rides in Delhi Transport Buses

Travelling in buses has always been a happy experience for me while I was growing up in Delhi. It was difficult, but those close encounters with different kinds of people travelling together, jostling and trying to make it to their destination amidst the cacophony of blaring horns and whirring sounds of buses, scooters and all other vehicles, I learnt what life is all about. It was fun watching how people behaved in different circumstances – there were angry aunties, chilled out grandpa’s, ogling youths, chatty middle aged women, giggling girlies, serious ad purposeful office goers. Some of the routes would have regular people going at regular timings and then they would become friendly and chat their way to their destination.

There used to be such a hurry and scurry of people to get in and grab a seat in the bus. Sometimes it used to lead to shouts and angry fights. As children, it was always fun to see and experience these incidents. It was fun going as a group – laughing and chatting all the way. There were also times when it used to be extremely uncomfortable with smelly sweaty people coming and standing close and grazing your body.


The situation has changed now. Instead of those Green and Yellow DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) buses, there are a whole host of choices in buses. Metros have made life quite easy. But even when it comes to DTC buses, an increase in the number of buses has made travelling very comfortable. There are green low floor buses and red coloured A/c buses for a nominal upcharge in the fares. In extreme weather conditions of Delhi, most of the people prefer taking an A/c bus.

Then there are other buses too – like an Orange bus, Metro Feeders. If you want to really pamper yourself with a ride by yourself, Autorickshaws, Ola’s and Uber’s are always available.

Majnu Ka Tilla near the banks of Yamuna

Off track and off the radar but definitely worth a visit!

Majnu ka tilla – A very odd name for a place! That was my first reaction when I heard about this place. It evoked a different kind of feeling and imagination in my mind. The name Majnu is generally associated with the lover of the Laila Majnu fame. So, I kind of googled around to see how the name came to be associated with this place.

I got to find out that this name came from an Iranian Sufi bhakt who used to stay at this mound near the Yamuna river. He was called Majnu because of his intense love for God. He was a seeker and wanted to find the true meaning of God. In that quest, he met with Guru Nanak at this bank. Guru Nanak also stayed at this place for a few months. He was very fond of this Sufi sant and this place came to be called as Majnu Ka Tilla from that time onwards.  A Gurudwara was later constructed to commemorate Guru Nanak s visit.

However, what this place is famous for today is neither the Sufi Sant or the Gurudwara but a small settlement of Tibetan community from 1960s. There are some monasteries and a thriving market that belongs to this community.

 

The place is small and the lanes narrow, but it has a feel of Tibet when you walk into those alleys. There are shops selling Tibetan handicrafts, paintings, books, jewellery items, beads for prayer, clothes and fabrics that is very very Tibetan in nature and form. It is a little Tibet in all its colours and art forms.

Eating joints of all kinds – street food to restaurants serving authentic Tibetan food is available and you can have your pick. Sha Phaley, Momos and all the other varieties that you might want to try is available at these junctions and joints.

We could also see a lot of monks wandering around, some visiting the monastery here and others who are probably staying in these.

Tibetan Prayer Wheels with mantras written on it was visible around the monastery area.

The Earth Connection

Man is made of dust and to dust he returns. We, human beings are so intimately connected to everything that is about this earth, the soil and the dust but in our utopia of cleanliness and neatness, we make all efforts to keep our pretension of removing them from our life day in an day out without realizing that they are woven into our very fabric of life. Whether it is the food we eat or the vessels in which we eat!!

Earthern vessels were a part of our daily life till some years ago. It has taken a backseat with all the wispy, feathery plastic and glass vessels taking its place in our kitchens and the showcases. But the taste, the aroma and the healthy aspects of earthern pot is still intact. It is rare to see people making and selling these pots now.

It was only a couple of decades ago, we used to store water in these earthern vessels called `Ghada’ in Hindi. In the golden days that were when people used to care about their fellow human beings, big Ghadas filled with water used to be kept outside big buildings and roadsides for quenching the thirst of passersby and the pedestrians. Commercialization has taken over this simple act of charity and converted this tradition to selling bottled water in its place.

 

There were earthern pots to suit different needs. There were pots in which we could cook vegetables and rice. These were used to set our curd and there was no need to hang the curd as all the water would ooze out automatically through the pores of these vessels and one could have a tasty, pure and healthy curd, thick in texture. These pots would also be used to churn out butter using wooden ladles.

Even tea was served in small glasses made from clay called “kulhad” in Hindi. These were made compulsory in Railway Stations some years ago to reduce the usage of plastic disposable glasses. However, it has become a rare sight.

There were other items too, like the little money pots, flower pots, clay diyas widely used around Diwali festival, craft items like elephants, idols of god and other little animals.

 

 

Basant Panchami – The Onset of Spring

February is a beautiful month to be in Delhi when winter starts retreating and the spring season is set to emerge in full splendor.

The indications of a full bloom is everywhere – parks, gardens, busy traffic roundabouts, homes, etc..   Small bushes with budding flowers are waiting to bloom forth in full glory!

It is definitely a season to be out in the open enjoying and experiencing these new beginnings.   It is a sight to behold as the buds are impatient to gush out of their cocoon and show off their beautiful shapes, shades and colors that God has beautifully conferred upon them.

Basant Panchami which initiates the spring festive cycle was celebrated on 1st February.  It literally means fifth day of spring (Basant – spring, Panchami – fifth).   The other festival that people await very eagerly in Delhi to celebrate the spring season is Holi.  It falls right in the middle of the spring season in the first week of March (March 13 this year!) and people eagerly await this festival to play out the different colours to match the natural background.

Some worship Goddess Saraswati on this day.  In ancient Indian literature, this festival is associated with Shringara Rasam which is associated with love, beauty and attraction.   People honor Kamadeva with his wife Rati and his friend Vasant on this day in some parts of the country.

People wear yellow dresses and display or wear yellow flowers to mark this spring festival.  Yellow mustard flowers bloom across the Punjab belt of North India and is a beautiful sight.

 

Sarojini Nagar Market in Delhi

Sarojini Nagar Market is the all-weather all-season market that caters to the needs of the entire South Delhi.   If there is one market that can satisfy Delhiwala’s appetite for shopping, it is this market.

Sometimes I have a feeling that people come here with the sole intention of testing out their negotiation and bargaining skills.   I used to hate bargaining and would simply feel quite magnanimous in handing over the price the vendors asked for.   But some of my visits with my husband, a hardcore bargainer have made me realize that the vendors kind of look down upon people who do not negotiate because as the norm goes, they hike up the price by atleast twice or thrice the original price so that they would still be left with some margin when the deal is finally done.

However, there are fixed price outlets and wares where you can select garments in the same range starting from Rs. 100, 150, 200, 250, etc..

I have been visiting this market from the time I got married about 20 years ago and came to settle down in the south side of Delhi.   From then onwards, if I have anything to buy from children’s clothes to shoes, bags, undergarments, hosiery items, bed sheets, covers or even curtains, etc., I head to this haven.   There are even shops for buying vegetables, grocery items, household items and kitchen utensils in case you need such items.

 
Babu Market is another complex that lies in the same vicinity and has approximately 4 rows of shops that again caters to mostly garments with some jewellery shops and accessories and all women’s stores thrown in.
 
All said and done, this market offers decent products at affordable rates.   You can find things you would not find anywhere else – children’s fancy dresses for their school competition, from paalak to a fairy, these shops can change their personality.  They can even loan you these dresses for a day or two!  What else would you need.
A word of caution though – On Sundays, only those who have some really good patience, focus and crowd management skills should attempt to attack this market.   On Saturdays and Sundays, this market can be so crowded that you just need to stand at one place, the crowd will pull you to all directions.
Recently there has been an addition of a multi-storied parking plaza which has turned out to be semi-modern building in the vicinity with Haldiram’s and other food joints like McD and Subway catering to the hungry public!

An enigma called Jantar Mantar

 

 

Surrounded by huge and towering buildings, this set of architectural structures stand for some long forgotten magical spell as the name suggests!!

Jantar Mantar is the oldest of a set of  unique observatories built by Jai Singh II around 1724.  There are mantras and yantras that Jai Singh created amidst these structures that give accurate tables for study of time and space to give astronomical insights.

The Misra Yantra is believed to be constructed by Maharaj Madho Singh designed to be accurately measuring the longitude of celestial objects like moon and can measure close to the minute of an arc.

One of the main structures is the Samrat Yantra  which is also called as ‘King of Instruments’ that measures solar time or local time of a place and the sun’s declination.

 

    

 

 

The Jaiprakash Yantra (means Light of Jai) is named after the Maharaja Jai Singh who invented and constructed this hemispherical sundial system used both in day and night observations.  The position of the sun was indicated by the shadow of the cross wires inside this hemisphere.

 

It has always been an enigma to me.  I have tried to understand the way these things work, but haven’t got a clue looking at the structures though!!

A video on how the sun moves across different time spheres is given at  http://www.jantarmantar.org/

Connaught Place – The shopping paradise for the rich and wealthy

With all the big brands showrooms occupying the prime space in connaught place, the market is designed for those who are looking for premium products and ambience.   Set in the old buildings built during the British era, refurbished and renovated to suit modern tastes and choices, this place is busy as well as quiet with an old world charm around it.

This place is still called by its old name inspite of being renamed as Rajiv Chowk and Indira Chowk.  It has been one of my favourite haunts and I could roam around alone along the corridors and collonades of this beautiful shopping paradise for hours without getting bored.   There is always a passive humdrum of people around.   When I don’t want to buy anything, it gives me the simple pleasure of looking around and do a bit of window shopping.   There are a variety of things that one could buy outisde of these showrooms too.  Small shops with Indian handicraft items, books, posters with beautiful quotes, little trinkets are all sold along the paths.

Most of these buildings have been built by the Britishers but there are some little buildings from the Mughal and the Indian Rajas also around.   The big roundabout of the Connaught Place covers a circle of multiple layers of buildings.  There is an outer circle, middle circle and inner circle of buildings.  Apart from the showrooms, these buildings houses offices and corporate houses of different organizations.  There are banks, restaurants, panwalla’s, coffee shops, travel agents, etc.

 

 

 

The offices and business houses around this place ensures a regular flow of people into this area from all around Delhi.

It is also the central part of Delhi and all roads from every direction in Delhi come and converge at this point.  In the centre of these circles is a huge round park which has recently undergone a huge makeshift from the park I knew of some 10-15 years ago.   The Rajiv Chowk Metro Station and Palika Bazaar lie below this park.

This park now has a huge big Indian Flag with a small amphitheatre built-in the centre.  People from all around come to take a little break and relax in the sun during winter days.

 

 

On Sundays too, when the market is closed there are people in huge numbers occupying this place.
This has turned out to be more than a shopping place – a tourist attraction, picnic spot and a place where one can just spend sometime with the loved ones!!