Monday, May 26, 2008

I've been away from the blog for a while now-- so sorry! -- but I have a few pieces to share tonight.

The next day after seeing the fortune teller, we traveled through the countryside. Pretty soon we came to a very small village and pulled to a stop slightly outside of it.

We approached an inauspicious-looking dirt road on foot. Not until we got closer did we see a most beautiful sight of hundreds of folk-art animals lining the road on both sides.

Most of the ceramic sculptures stood between four and six foot in height, I would guess. Horses were primarily represented, with some cows, some elephants and a few other miscellaneous animals. Apparently the horses were created an installed here for good luck in battle (of some kind). They were in various states of repair-- many no longer had paint; some were broken; and other, newer ones were in stellar condition. The paint patterns, expressions, sizes and shapes were greatly varied and entertaining!

The men (I presume they were men) who made these large ceramic pieces are older now, and the art of them is being lost as the men die. Additionally, the 'need' to petition for blessings on a horse for battle is not as great these days.

At the end of the road, which must have been almost one-half mile long, a huge tree served as the temple to which these offerings had been made. The base of the tree (and moving up the trunk) had hundreds more sculptures, mostly small and many quite naive. These pieces depicted children, animals and all other sorts of things, all in the hopes of having blessings--perhaps for a child to be born, or for an animal that had taken ill.

As we left, we saw some children playing with a stick & a tire... one of the oldest games in the world.

Later, on the road to our next adventure, we passed a river where an enterprising soul was doing quite a bit of laundry-- perhaps for her family, but it looked as if she may have been doing it as a business. Naturally, I could not resist the colors.....

Continuing down the small country roads, we see people taking goods to market...

... and our guide tells us that our bus is passing between mango groves on our right and cashew trees on our left. I think I could live in a neighborhood like that!

We stopped to see a family who shelled and roasted cashews by the side of the road. This is the father, who is doing the shelling (not an easy task).

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Indian Travels Continue

The musicians' village was situated along a river, of course, and, as usual, we saw several women washing their clothes that morning. Though every village has a water pump like the one you see here in sketch at the right, the pump supplies potable water to small villages like this only once a day for two to three hours in the afternoon. (The sight of children playing in the water was singular-- I never saw it but once, since water is so precious.) Villagers must cart their water back to their homes in containers, being sure to have plenty to last them until the next afternoon.

Thus the washing and bathing must take place in rivers.

We headed back into town to see a large temple complex at sundown--the perfect time for this temple, as the low sun backlit it perfectly.

We also visited a museum and continued our education of the Hindu religion by studying the centuries of art produced to depict the gods and their activities. Outside the museum, I found my first Indian phone booth....

... while, in town, we found a fortune teller. As you can see from the sketch, he had a parrot (and parrots are one of my interests). The parrot is essential to his fortune telling. It resides in or on its cage throughout the day until someone asks for their fortune to be told. At that point, the client shuffles the stack of thick cards. The fortune teller sets the cards out on his blanket. The parrot walks over to the stack of cards and starts to remove one card at a time, setting them aside. Finally, the bird pulls a card which he sets closer to the teller. The teller turns the card over and reads the client's fortune!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Signs of Pongal

We are traveling in the month of January, 2008, and we're now deep into the state of Tamil Nadu. Now we start to see signs of Pongal as we go.

Pongal is the celebration of the new year, or, more specifically, happiness that the sun is coming back. Pongal consists of three days (plus or minus): a day of preparation, the day of Pongal itself, and the cows' day.

The woman you see at the right is carrying dry but unbaked Pongal pots. We passed her family as we were on our way to one place from another, and the whole family worked. The father and a kid or two were stoking the fire, while the woman and a girl carried pots she'd made over to be bisqued/fired. There were dozens of these pots, which are used on the day of Pongal; families take a handful of the first rice harvest of the year and boil it in one of these pots until it boils over. More about this later....

We headed off to a small village off the beaten track. This is a musicians' village, and a group of four men and four women who simultaneously play instruments and dance to the music (plus a few other musicians, too) are regularly hired to play for various celebratory occasions everywhere in Tamil Nadu.

The people of this village have rarely been visited by tourists, so far fewer of the children rush up to you, begging: "Pen! Pen!" as in some of the other locations we'd been to. In fact, many of the people in the village don't go to see the celebrations where their musicians & dancers play & dance, so they enjoyed the show, as well.

Another sight one sees during the preparation for Pongal is the decorative patterns many women draw on the ground in front of their homes. The designs are drawn with white chalk-like material; then sections are colored in as the artist likes. Some women draw more than one. As the days go on, the designs wear off under the feet of the people passing, until next year's Pongal season. Below you see some kids in the musicians' village, surrounding a large and more "naive" version of the many, many designs we saw:
After dancing us around the village, the musicians and we took a break for a cup of tea with others for a few minutes. Upon return, to begin dancing again, the musicians had to warm their drums to ready them for playing. They built a small fire off to the side...

....then started to play and dance again.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Moving on

Next, we drove to Pondicherry, an area that was French for a while, with the colonial qualities that the French loved reflected in the architecture, foods (of course!) and, as you can see from the gendarme at right, some less expected areas....

We visited a church within walking distance of our hotel. Across from the gate, a man slept on the sidewalk. I gathered from another man nearby that both of them regularly spent their days there.

We traveled next to Chidambaram. We got there in time to witness a morning service which, in this case, involved the offerings of what appeared to be a wealthy family (as evidenced by the amount and quality of the offerings poured on the altar). Many priests were present to participate at the ceremony; these are men of the Brahmin class whose lives are devoted to their temple.

Here (to the right, above) I've drawn the main ceremony, but there were several other, smaller scenes at play, too, such as the body language of the priest to the left and the flower offerings for sale, should a visitor wish to participate in the proceedings.

Friday, February 29, 2008

More sights

Getting back to our travels, we went to Mahabalipuram, part of a 7th century dynasty, with massive rocks and rock cliffs. As you can see from the photo at the right, artists spent some serious time carving figures in the stone. I liked the little elephants under the big ones...

so I drew them.

This wall represents only a small fraction of the amazing carvings located here. Whole temples with bas reliefs and pillars and inner rooms were carved out of the huge stone cliffs. As we left, we saw a stone boulder with cruder, unfinished carved figures in no particular pattern; the guide said this was a "practice" stone, perhaps for evaluating a carver's talent.

Here's a photograph of some of the bas reliefs we found inside the temples. Very sophisticated work.

Our first glimpse of monkeys came as we climbed steps here to see a temple carved on top of a hill of stone. Not having drawn monkeys before, I was working out their shape in my mind, as you can see here.

We headed out & over to another complex of unfinished temples. There, the grounds were being weeded by several women, two of whom I drew. As usual, the clothes presented a kaleidescope of pleasure.

This complex included some gigantic stone sculptures of several animals, one of which was the elephant shown below. You can see a couple of tourists taking advantage of his shadow-- the day was quite hot.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Let's talk about driving

I think the difference between countries can be summed up in one word: driving. Every country has its style.

We spent a considerable amount of time driving from one area to another on a variety of roads. Many of them looked like this one, out in the country.

This is actually an unfinished sketch. My intention was to fill it with the many vehicles and creatures that one encounters on a given road. Here, one sees a public bus, a woman carrying a load, a bicycle loaded with plastic pots for sale, a motorcycle and a somewhat strange checkerboard on a tree trunk. Frequently many other types of vehicles shared the road with us besides what's here.

The strange checkerboard pattern is a variation of the tree decor indicated below. Every tree along every road we traveled had red & white paint on it. Paint is cheaper than reflectors, and, in the dark, India doesn't want drivers wrapping themselves around trees any more than we do.

Drivers in India are in a continual game of passing each other. To do so, they use their horns as signals. The passing car approaches the vehicle to be passed until it is very close on his/her tail. Then the passer honks. He keeps peeking to the right (India drives on the left) to check oncoming traffic; if it seems clear, he pulls out and offers two big honks. As he's actually passing, he honks one very long honk. The vehicle being passed courteously slows slightly, or at least does not speed up, while the passing vehicle is moving ahead.

Needless to say, heavy traffic leads to a LOT of honking.

As this sign indicates, however, honking is outlawed in some areas.

Or, possibly, some neighborhoods don't like horn quartets.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


To get a sense of the lively nature of every village and city, one must keep in mind that the whole of India is approximately one-half the size of the continental U.S. but holds 1.3 billion people-- almost a billion more than the entire U.S. Though that conjures up a vision of no square foot of ground ever being visible, the areas we traveled through were very agricultural, with rice as a major crop. When stopping or driving through towns, however, the numbers of people were between large and very large, everywhere. The sense of 'personal space' is wholly different, as a result, and it is reinforced by a cultural commitment to community, starting with the extended family.

Many people sell their crops on the street near active areas, such as the temple I talked about a day or two ago. Though the number of vendors is staggering, the amount of foot traffic is so large that it must work out, somehow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Still in Madras, we went to the first of several temple ceremonies we were privileged to witness on our trip. Walking through town, we looked down an alley and saw this sight-- which looked rather like a straw hat to me. In fact, it is a palm-leaf scaffolding that covers the top of the entry gate to a temple. The gate is being re-stuccoed and re-painted to restore it to the lively and colorful sculpture it has been in the past-- you can glimpse a bit of its glory in the lower center, underneath the palm fronds. Imagine the entire tower looking like that.

We removed our shoes and entered the temple complex. People were starting to stream in, in anticipation of the ceremony. In fact, the ceremony itself, done within the sanctum sanctorum, was so crowded that we could only glimpse the swinging, flaming chandelier-like object being flung about from over the shoulders of many people--no mean feat for someone as short as I.

Afterward, the temple resumed its usual tempo, a place to be with one's family... which included the priests being with their families, as the priest is here, playing with his toddler.

And men and women congregate to gab, gossip or perhaps commiserate, as people are wont to do....

Friday, February 8, 2008


I have a particular fondness for laundry lines, so naturally I drew the first one I saw in Madras, a colorful line hanging near a couple of palm tree-frond shacks in the middle of a busy traffic area.

Better yet, we sped by a young man on a tall ladder, whitewashing a huge wall. I promise that my drawing is not exaggerated!

We visited a small church, then drove over to the beach (the Indian Ocean!). The beach was a long and wide stretch of sand. As we continued to drive along, we started seeing the gorgeous, colorful boats of the local fishermen. It reminded me of a classic Van Gogh painting... and later I found cheap reproductions of that same painting in various hotels we visited.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Inda, continued

We arrived in Madras (India) after dark, at about 9 p.m., if I remember correctly (which is suspect). Aside from the vague recollection of many, many people waiting at the airport to greet arrivals, the first thing I noticed was the festive artificial palm tree at left. Lights that blinked in succession enlivened it. Needless to say, one has to wonder why a place with so many real palm trees... well, never mind.

The hotel was the Taj, a lovely old place with fabulous food and a beautiful garden and pool. New birdsong greeted us the next morning, though there were still some familiar bird sights....

We started out, in our half-conscious, jet-lagged state, visiting a museum so as to familiarize ourselves with Hindu sculptures (the country is 80% to 85% Hindu, still, today) and the artistic progression of artists through many centuries, starting with the 4th century (or thereabouts).

More later...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The missing blogger

For those who've visited and wondered what happened to me, I've been away-- to India, specifically, for most of the month of January. It's a bit dusty in the blog, so I've brought a sweeper with me to help with cleanup.

What a rich cultural experience India is! The difficulty in communicating even a small part of the experience is daunting. I assimilate by sketching, so I've got quite a few pieces to share. I imagine pictures will get added a bit slowly, and at some point I'll be able to offer a link to a scroll or two.

This is a woman who came with a group of people doing a pilgrimmage to a temple by the ocean in Southeast India. (The temple was wholly underwater during the tsunami.) It was a beautiful day, and she gazed so longingly out at the ocean as the rest started to move away...