Bhairava’s birthday – a dog’s favourite day

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What’s this?

After taking this photo I found out about Bhairava, a Hindu God whom I hadn’t previously heard about. I write about him today because it’s Bhairava Ashtami, a Hindu holy day commemorating Bhairava’s birthday.

Bhairava is a terrible and fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva, the creator and protector of the universe. He destroys fear and is himself beyond fear. He’s also the protector of women and people who are timid. Sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, he’s worshipped in Sri Lanka and Nepal as well as India.

I’ve read several versions of how Bhairava came to be but one of the most popular is that one day Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma were talking and comparing their powers. Brahma, who had 5 heads, became a little too boastful and egotistical for Shiva’s liking. Shiva threw away one of his fingernails which turned into Bhairava, who promptly cut off one of Brahma’s heads and with it his inflated sense of ego.

There are actually 64 Bhairavas – 8 groups of 8 – which control the 8 directions of the universe. Overseeing them all is Kala Bhairava, the supreme ruler of time. Kal means time in Hindi.

In this image you can see that Bhairava, with Brahma’s severed and bloody head in one of his four hands, is accompanied by a black dog, his vahana (mount). On Bhairava Ashtami dogs get worshipped too, and are given milk and sweets which any dog, particularly the millions of hungry dogs that live on the streets, is sure to appreciate!

As you can see, as well as a dog in this image, there’s a tiger. I asked my friend why a tiger is represented and he told me that Bhairava and the Goddess Durga often appear together, and, if you’ve read my post from October about Durga (read it here: Navratri – nine nights of the Goddessyou’ll know that her mount is a tiger.

Are you interested in the red swastika that you can also see in my image? You may want to read my post from 7 months ago: The swastika – as it was intended

Where’s this?

Udaipur, Rajasthan

 

 

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Camels bought, sold and made beautiful -the Pushkar Camel Fair

decorated camel - Pushkar, Rajasthan, India

What’s this?

This demurely decorated camel might feel under-dressed compared to other camels at the annual Pushkar Fair (or Pushkar ka Mela in Hindi)! The fair has just started, and it will end on November 4th on Katik Purnima, the full moon of the Hindu month of Kartik. 

Usually a small town, Pushkar’s population will temporarily swell to hundreds of thousands of people (and at least as many animals) as traders from all over Rajasthan and even other states of India arrive and set up camp to buy and sell camels, horses, cattle, goats and other livestock at one of India’s largest livestock fairs. The usually bare sand dunes that surround Pushkar will be covered as far as the eye can see by make-shift camps, turbaned Rajasthani men and many, many camels. 

They will be joined by pilgrims who come to Pushkar during the festival to bathe in the holy Pushkar Lake and to visit Pushkar’s Brahma Temple, perhaps the most important Brahma Temple in India.

Adding to this interesting mix of people are thousands of tourists, from other parts of India and from around the world. Accommodation will be hard to find and prices will quadruple! 

To entertain the throngs of visitors in between sessions of bartering, worshiping and sight-seeing are rides in hot air balloons and on ferris wheels, never-ending shopping and eating opportunities and competitions for the most beautiful bride, the best decorated camel and the longest mustache (well over 2 meters, by the way)!

I was actually part-owner of a camel called Krishna a few years ago. You may remember my post when I talked about his sudden death: Goodbye Krishna the Camel

Where’s this?

Pushkar, Rajasthan

 

 

 

Repost – because it’s his birthday! AMITABH BACHCHAN– A MEGA, MEGA, MEGA, MEGA MEGA, MEGA STAR

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As Amitabh Bachchan turns 74 today I thought I’d re-post from December 2016. Happy birthday Amitabh! 

What’s this?

In my post about the sport kabaddi here a little while ago I mentioned a mega, mega, mega, mega, mega star of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan. Here’s another mega Bollywood star, Amitabh Bachchan – although he deserves another mega! I’m not sure that there’s anyone bigger in Bollywood! Amitabh Bachchan has worked as an actor, film producer, playback singer and television presenter in India in the last 4 decades.  Rising to fame in the 1970s and 1980s in a series of hugely popular Bollywood movies, he’s now 74 and has starred in over 180 films! Staying with a friend in India who loves old Bollywood movies, I’ve seen Amitabh hundreds of times.

One of his most recent movies is Pink (2016) in which he plays a lawyer who comes out of retirement to defend a woman who’s charged with prostitution and attempted murder when she defends herself against sexual assault. The movie received universal critical acclaim and was apparently screened for police in Rajasthan to train them to be sensitive and sensible about women’s rights and dignity, things which are often severely lacking for many women in India. 

Here’s a few other things about Amitabh Bachchan:

  • He briefly entered politics in the 1980s in order to support his friend Ranjiv Gandhi from the Congress Party who was the Prime Minister of India from 1984 to 1989, after his mother Indira Gandhi, was assassinated 
  • He’s supported and donated large sums of money to many charities in India
  • The Government of France awarded him their highest civilian honor in 2007 – the Knight of the Legion of Honor – for his contribution to cinema
  • He was in his first Hollywood film in 2013, The Great Gatsby, directed by the Australian Baz Luhrmann – I didn’t know that!
  • His daughter-in-law is another mega Bollywood star, Aishwarya Rai (now Rai Bachchan), who non-Bollywood watchers may recognise as a face of cosmetics brand L’Oreal and winner of the 1994 Miss World pageant 

Where’s this?

A little roadside restaurant in a little village in the Kutch district, on the road to the Great Rann of Kutch, Gujarat. My friend (the aforementioned Bollywood lover) and I took a rickshaw out to the Rann from the city of Bhuj, and stopped at a few villages along the way.  My friend was absolutely delighted to know that we were eating lunch at the same place that the great Amitabh Bachchan had once eaten!

The blues and the greens of the Chitra Shala – a heaven of minature paintings in Bundi

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What’s this?

Here is just a tiny portion of one of the many gorgeously beautiful frescoes on the walls of the Chitra Shala (picture gallery), a room in Ummed Bhavan. The Ummed Bhvan is an 18th century palace built by Rao Ummed Singh, who ruled the South Rajasthani city of Bundi from 1749 to 1804. 

Just as an aside, it was this palace that Rudyard Kipling (who wrote some of his book ‘Kim’ in Bundi) was referring to when he said “such a palace as men build for themselves in uneasy dreams – the work of goblins rather than of men”!

Bundi is the home of the Rajasthani miniature painting that flourished between the late 16th and 19th centuries, and where Mughal painting influenced the typical Rajasthani painting style. The frescoes in the Chitra Shala were probably painted between the late 1700s and the early 1800s.

Imagine walking into a room and being surrounded by hundreds of images like this one – painted in vibrant blues and greens (I hear they were made from crushed precious stones)! The paintings here (I’d say that the portion in my photograph here is more-or-less life-size) are absolutely exquisite and I’ve come back to see them several times. The detail is incredible – in this section alone we can see a camel, 2 peacocks and 3 other birds, several different types of trees and flowers, an entranceway and glimpses of 2 women. There’s so much to look at! Depicted in the frescoes are scenes of daily life, including warfare and love stories and everything in-between. The handsome God Krishna is a favourite feature, and the story of him as a mischievous teenager stealing the clothes of a group of young women bathing in a river is shown on the walls of this very special place.   

Where’s this?

Ummed Bhavan Palace (Bundi Palace), Bundi, Rajasthan

Navratri – nine nights of the Goddess

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What’s this?

It’s currently Navratri (meaning nine nights) in India, a major Hindu festival that in 2017 is celebrated from September 21st to the 30th.

There are actually four Navratri festivals during the year, but the post-monsoon Sharad  (autum) Navratri is most the celebrated and important. It honors the divine feminine devi (the Sanskrit word for goddess). The nine nights of Navratri celebrate the nine forms of Durga, one of the most revered and popular forms of devi. Durga is the warrior goddess, and she fights against evils and demonic forces which threaten peace, prosperity and the natural order of goodness in life. 

In the East and North East of India, Navratri is called Durga Puja (prayer ritual), which celebrates the killing of the buffalo demon by Durga. During Dussehra (the final day of Navratri), statues of Durga are immersed in bodies of water such as rivers and lakes in order to purify her. 

In the North and West of India Navratri is known as Ram Lila, which celebrates the killing of Ravana, a powerful demon-king, by the god Rama. During the festival effigies of Ravana are burned.

Although celebrated differently all over India, Navratri shares a common theme of the battle and victory of good over evil based on the Ramayana, an ancient Indian text which tells the story of how Rama rescues his wife Sita from Ravana. 

You’re probably going to be wondering what the foot of a tiger statue has to do with Navratri. Unfortunately I don’t have a photograph of the goddess Durga that’s good enough to show here, but you can see in these images of her here that she’s often depicted with 8 arms, holding a symbolic object (many of which are weapons) in each hand, and sitting astride her mount, a lion or a tiger. I love the idea of a goddess going out to battle evil and I especially love it that she does so on my favourite of big cats, the tiger!  

You may also want to read my post about Navratri from 2016 Navratri – Shakti power!

Where’s this? 

Udaipur, Rajasthan

Mumbai’s tiffin delivery service – the world’s biggest food delivery service

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What’s this?

You may have already heard about Mumbai’s famous tiffin delivery service. A tiffin is a cylindrical container, often made out of aluminium, that’s used to hold and carry food. Each tiffin will have four or five round compartments and might hold, for example, dal (a lentil dish), curry, subji (vegetables), rice and chapati (unleavened flatbread). Each of the containers in the photograph above holds a tiffin.

Every day in Mumbai, approximately 5000 dabbawallas (tiffin carriers) deliver around 200,000 tiffins, full of freshly cooked food, to workers in offices and workplaces all around Mumbai, in time for lunch.

So how does the system work? Wives and mothers of Mumbai workers freshly cook meals in the morning and pack them into tiffins (this might also be done by a worker’s favourite restaurant). A local dabbawalla collects the tiffins from the workers’ homes (for a fee, of course), usually by bicycle.  He takes them to a sorting place where they’re sorted into groups, and marked elaborately with codes according to their collection point, destination, and pick-up and drop-off train stations. The grouped tiffins are then loaded onto special carriages of local trains and unloaded at the train station nearest to their destination, to where they’re delivered, again by bicycle, by another local dabbawalla. The empty tiffins are then collected after lunch or the next day for their return delivery back to the workers’ homes.  

When I take a meal to work, it’s usually leftovers from the night before that I eat after heating it up in the microwave so the thought of opening up a container full of food that has been so freshly cooked that it’s still warm is very appealing! 

The system is so well-known not only because of the vast numbers of tiffins that are delivered in Mumbai each year, but also because of the incredibly small number of delivery mistakes that are made. It’s been estimated that only 1 mistake is made in every 6 million deliveries, which is quite extraordinary!

A lovely film to watch about what happens after a particular errant delivery is The Lunchbox, starring Irrfan Khan whom you might have seen in The Life of Pi.  You can watch the trailer for The Lunchbox here, but it’s likely to make you hungry!

Where’s this?

Lower Parel West Railway Station, Mumbai, Maharashtra

Bougainvillea in hot pink – my favourite!

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What’s this?

The flower of the bougainvillea is my very favourite, especially when it’s in this incredible shade of hot pink, which also happens to be one of my favourite colours. There is no hotter pink than that of a hot pink bougainvillea flower, except, perhaps, the hot pink of a gharghra (long, flared skirt), choli (fitted blouse) and odhni (long shawl worn with one corner tucked into the skirt and the other over the head) of a Rajasthani woman!

One of the many small things that I love about India is that bougainvillea, its papery flowers in many glorious shades of pink, purple, orange, yellow, red and white, is everywhere. It grows in my country Australia, too, and also in parts of Africa, Asia and South, Central and North America, as well as the Indian subcontinent – it even grows in Switzerland.

Here’s an interesting story about the first European discovery of the bougainvillea that I read about in Wikipedia: it’s possible that the first European to notice these plants was a woman, Jeanne Bare, an assistant of the botanist who was accompanying the French navy admiral and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville in the late 1700s. Miss Baré was an expert in botany herself, but because she wasn’t allowed on a ship as a woman, she had to disguise herself as a man to make the journey, and so became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe! Of course the Bougainvillea really should have been named the Baré…

Where’s this?

Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh