Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Makar Sankranti – Bhogi!

March 27th, 2011

We arrived in Hyderabad at a rather ungodly hour of the morning. It wasn’t yet dawn when we arrived at our guest house but the inhabitants of neighbouring houses were outside, making small fires at the entrances to their dwellings, talking, and drawing in chalk upon the ground. Children were out on the streets barefoot, gathering twigs and small logs for the fire.

After an all too brief rest, we headed out to our meeting – the reason I was in Hyderabad. Turns out it was the first day of the Makar Sankranti festivites. Makar Sankranti (also known as Pongal) is a harvest festival celebrated in large parts of India.

It currently generally takes place on the 14th of January,some 21 days after the winter solstice. It commemorates the beginning of the harvest season, the end of the monsoon in the Southern parts of India and is regarded as the beginning of an auspicious phase of the year.

In Andhra Pradesh, the province of which Hyderabad is the capital, Makar Sankranti is celebrated over a four day period. The first day is called Bhogi and it marks the day when people discard old things and concentrate on the new. The disposal or burning of old things at dawn symbolises the lack of attachment to material things, and the embrace of a virtuous way of life.

Seems our arrival coincided with Bhogi.

Later that day, I had the chance to take a closer look at some of the chalk drawings. Below are some pictures.

More coming soon!

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Temples

December 18th, 2009

Architecture is the most enduring of all of mankind’s different forms of cultural expression. Paintings and drawings may fade, paper and papyrus may crumble to dust, day to day items may vanish,  – architecture outlasts them all. Think Petra, or the great pyramids of Egypt or of the Mayan and Incan cultures. Think the Roman ruins in Baalbeck, Lebanon, or the Angkor Wat, or the Great Wall of China, or the Sacre Coeur in Paris, or the countless other reminders of cultural heritage.

It seems to me that some of the most striking examples of cultural expression in architecture often tend(ed) to appear in structures of religious significance. You may say this approach largely no longer applies to our modern, perhaps more secular, times where you could argue that extraordinary expressions in architecture are now almost exclusively the domain of the private sector – high-rise, hotels, office and residential buildings (Burj Dubai, anyone?). But that’s a discussion for another place between more qualified people than I.

I can certainly say that the most striking examples of architecture that I saw in the short time I was  in Bangalore were the Hindu temples I visited, or glimpsed hear and there while on the road. I was less impressed by the only other architectural standouts like the Bangalore Palace or government buildings such as the Vidhana Soudha or the bright red Attara Kacheri (High Court).

All the temples I saw seemed to be of the Dravida (featuring towers with progressively smaller storeys of pavilions) variant prevalent in the South (see here for more info on Hindu temple architecture). These temples are some of the most beautiful structures I have yet seen. The brightness of the colours and the intricacy of the carvings – very striking. I wish I had the time to learn more about them and the culture behind it. I intend to, at some point.

I only managed to visit three temples. I’m using visit in the loosest of ways, of course. I glimpsed quite a few more peppered here and there all over the place. If only there had been time to visit them all.

Temples were hidden in the most unlikely places. You might turn a corner on a tiny side street and suddenly see a beautiful multi-coloured tower rising invitingly in the distance:

An Invitation (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f3.5, ISO 200, 1/500sec)

I came across one very small but beautiful temple while exploring side streets behind Commercial Street. I daren’t enter for fear of offence and thus only saw what was visible from the gate. A few pictures appear below:

The Golden Gate (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 100mm, f5.6, ISO 1000, 1/50sec)

Stones (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 112mm, f5.6, ISO 500, 1/60sec)

The Trident (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 60mm, f4.8, ISO 1000, 1/80sec)

The only temple I had the chance to properly visit and explore was the ISKON temple. The temple site is massive, and the temple itself is a sprawling wonder. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed inside, so the pictures below are a sample from those very few I took from outside (time was the big limitation here).

Two things stay with me from that visit.

The first thing is the privilege of observing people expressing their faith in little big ways. One lady with her young son humbly made an offering at one of the smaller shrines on the granite steps leading up to the main temple. I, along with some friends, stopped at these shrines a while to discreetly watch. And learn. One man I met at each of the shrines. The first time I saw him he was prostrated on the ground before the first. When he had completed his prayers there, he proceeded to complete 108 revolutions around each of the shrines, chanting as he went.

The second thing is the extremely … dare I say, commercial, approach the guys at the ISKON temple took to everything. Entire sections, collectively bigger than the main temple shrines, were dedicated to selling all sorts of stuff, from ISKON approved books to scarves, posters, trinkets and all manner of foodstuffs.

I can understand the need of a non-profit organisation to raise funds, so that bit there isn’t on its own what struck me as odd.

It was that coupled with what one of the guys said at a counter we were led to behind the main shrine after the blessings. He started by requesting donations – telling us about the impressive Food for Life program. But then he showed us sketches and renderings of a new, bigger temple and grounds they were planning to build somewhere in Bangalore.

He lost me at the point where he said they wanted to make it like Disneyland. As in, rollercoaster rides and everything.

He was serious.

I’m confused.

The Sprawling Complex (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f3.5, ISO 200 - HDR)

The Tower (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 82mm, f5.3, ISO 200, 1/1000sec)

This temple here below I glimpsed from a bridge as I was heading to the airport with some of my friends. The car stopped by the side of the road to allow the other vehicle in our convoy (the one with the luggage) to catch up with us. I asked the driver if he could go back so I could take a closer look. He duly obliged, reversing some 200 meters on the highway.

The temple was about 50 meters in, away from the main road, hidden behind lush green trees. It appeared to be completely abandoned. I’m not sure if that really is the case, or if people only use it occasionally.

The Abandoned Temple (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 36mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/160sec)

I don’t know why the entrance features very prominent fangs in the gateway. But that doesn’t strike me as particularly inviting.

The Toothy Entrance (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 38mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/160sec)

The Figures (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/160sec)

To finish, I leave you with this shot, taken from a car whisking us off to a wedding-related event:

The Brightly Coloured Tower (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 34mm, f8, ISO 200 - HDR)

More pictures coming soon!

However , I can’t promise the next post may not be in two days. I’m going to be travelling for a bit and my access to the internet is likely to be erratic. 🙂

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