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Rare exhibits

PRADEEP CHAKRAVARTHY A collection of unusual musical instruments vies for attention with the philately, numismatics, zoology and botany galleries. (This is the fifth and last article on the five-part series on the Government Museum, Chennai.) As part of the anthropology section, the Government Museum, Chennai, has several artefacts of South Indian tribes including the Todas, Chenchus, Lambadis and Gonds. The artefacts include garments, jewellery and weapons. A collection of rare musical...

Where creativity thrives

PRADEEP CHAKRAVARTHY One of the oldest institutions in the city, the Government College of Arts and Crafts is a treasure trove of books on art. It was founded in 1850 by Dr. Alexander Hunter, an eminent surgeon in the British military service, as a private institution and was called the Madras School of Arts. Hunter had a commercial motive as well — of selling artistic wares. By 1852, the Government had acquired the college and moved it from Popham’s Broadway to its present...

MADRAS, land of the LORDS

August marks the founding of Madras and is therefore an excellent opportunity to survey the temples of Madras. Although Madras was the creation of the British with Fort St. George at its centre, the individual villages it slowly subsumed have ancient histories and temples. The temples of Madras can be classified into three categories – ancient, Colonial and later additions. Temples in Mylapore, Tiruvallikeni (that has our city’s oldest inscription from the 9th century),...

Songs of a forgotten genius

O ne of India's few traditions that is still going strong is Carnatic music. It cannot be disputed that Carnatic music as we know it today, owes it to Thanjavur for its birth and Chennai for its current day sustenance. Since the16th century, Thanjavur was the place where the rules of this music were created. It is therefore only to be expected that the finest music was also created in one of India's grandest and most erudite courts. A worthy successor to the Nayak patronage of music was the...

Life beyond the vault

As travellers most of us are aware of the Pyramids of Egypt, the tombs of New Delhi and Agra. But what about the tombs of Tamil Nadu? Among the many monuments that don’t make it to the itinerary of tourists is the Kailasa Mahal or Raja Gori in Thanjavur. Even local guides have little knowledge about it. For those who would like to know of Thanjavur beyond the Brihadeeswara temple, the mausoleum complex of the Marathas are fascinating structures of brick and stucco that take one back in...

A tome on Vishnu

The book bears the title of an exhibition that was opened in North America and coordinated by the First Center for the Visual Arts drawing from at least 45 collections in the U.S. Going by the book, this seems to have been a superb exhibition and the text and the photos of the exhibits do full justice to what seems to be a mammoth and ambitious undertaking. The various images of the exhibits are intermingled across three important and well-written themes that governed the layout of the...

For that spiritual connection

Most devotees are absorbed in prayer when rituals are conducted in temples and the less religiously inclined are not interested. Both miss out a fascinating aspect of temple rituals – especially the shodasha upachara or the offering of 16 items that include garments, rice, betel leaf and flowers, to the deity after the ritual bath. These have symbolic meanings and also serve as an interesting connect between religion and politics. While we do not have the exact century when the 16 items...

Symbols of tradition - Part 2

This is the second and concluding part of the story about the temple rituals, shodasha upacharas, published on April 13. Deepa or waving a lamp lit is an integral part of the upachara, for two reasons - it was the only means of light in the past and because of its symbolism of removing ignorance. As a consequence several types of lamps evolved – those that were stationary (a fine example from the Chola period can be seen in the Government Museum, Chennai), those that were suspended from...

Symbols of tradition

(This is the second and concluding part of the article on shodasha upacharas. The first part was published on April 20) Deeparadhana or the ritual of moving a lighted lamp in front of the deity, is an integral part of the upachara, for two reasons - it was the only means of light in the past, and because of its symbolism of removing ignorance. As a consequence several types of lamps evolved – those that were stationary (a fine example from the Chola period can be seen in the Government...

Beauty of bhakti

Six years to translate 100 poems — each of four lines — seems like an inordinate time even for an academic. But Archana Venkatesan’s translation of Nammalvar’s Tiruviruttam is time well spent. The 255-page slender volume is a must-have for lovers of Tamil Vaishnavite literature and, in general, lovers of metaphor-laden love poems. Among the 12 Vaishnavite saints who sang in Tamil during the Bhakti movement, Nammalvar of Alwar Tirunagari is a favourite for many. His...