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Kathakali is a very formal visual art which takes years of study to perform correctly. Here, a Kathakali actor prepares his make-up (which can take well over two hours) from all natural, handmade preparations just as they have done for hundreds of years. this was for a special festival performance at the palace of Nilambur in Kerala, a place largely overlooked by travellers.
This elephant was being fed and rested prior to a huge, night-time temple procession as part of Nilambur's Patutsav festival celebrations. Up to 40,000 people come to visit Nilambur for the festival. The procession takes place between two Hindu temples in an area of Nilambur that is sacred to Hindus - the old Royal Palace is also situated here; only hindus are permitted to live in the houses in this compound and visitors are required to be respectful and not eat meat whilst in this precinct. The elephant, whose name I sadly cannot recall, is also the star of numerous Mollywood (the Kerala equivalent of Bollywood) movies, and is in his mid-forties. All the elephants used for the procession, three this year, are males -introducing a female would allow certain urges to take over the proceedings and it would all be a lot less solemn than it is supposed to be. Feeding the elephants is fun too - getting a football sized ball of sticky, masala-spiced rice and pushing it elbow deep into the elephant's mouth is slightly nerve-wracking at first, but the elephants are gentle. They get about 12 kilos of rice, several bunches of bananas, whole pineapples, quarter kilo cakes of coconut jaggery (a non-processed sugar), mangoes, etc. as well as feeding all day long on greenery from palms, etc. It's no longer legal to catch wild elephants, and most of those that were caught from the wild are now in the care of temples who rely on donations for their care.
I attended my friend Sumi's wedding in Nilambur this year. The Hindu wedding takes place on a stage at the front of a huge hall which is filled completely. Much payasam is consumed, fed to each of the happy couple by numerous family members as a blessing, amongst many other rituals to seal their marital bond. The stage is also rammed with photographers and videographers galore, all with studio flash setups and what looked like builders lamps for the videographers, which between them meant that the thousands of people watching in the hall didn't see all that much - they were highly intrusive, but all normal procedure it would seem. These coconut oil lamps that ran across the whole of the front of the stage provided an element of serenity to the proceedings. After the ceremony, the guests from the hall are allowed into the dining area - everyone is fed a traditional meal called Sadya, a variety of vegetarian preparations with rice, papadums, savouryu dried banan chips, salt-filled dried chillies, yoghurt, rasam (a type of soup), and payasam for dessert. It's delicious, and a favourite of most Hindus in the area, but I wasn't prepared for the cattle run when the door was opened, middle-aged women in beautiful saris who normally carry themselves with such stately calm were pushing others out of the way and climbing over each other to get through the door and get a good seat, and with about a thousand per sitting, you can imagine how that goes. I tried to get a shot, but was barged out of the way by the aforementioned ladies before I could get a shot I was happy with. I prefer to remember the calmer moments anyway.
Boatmen getting ready for the morning at the Ghats in Varanasi. The Boatman and his Boat Has Been a significant and interesting subject of myths. In Greek mythology, Charon or Kharon is the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron That divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. The ancient Egyptian myths of boatmen ferrying both - the living and the dead in the Nile is well Documented. There is Noah and his Arc in the Old Testament, not to forget the Boatmen in the Sea of Galilee who were associated with one of the first miracles of Jesus .... Here, one can not imagine Banaras now: Boats in the Ganges .. .. Its metaphoric overtones are a strong part of the vibrant canvas that is inseparably interwoven with this ancient City.
A few of the major "Ghats" are seen from afar. The Panchganga Ghat, the Shitala Ghat, the Lalita Ghat, a side view of the Manikornika and the Scindia Ghat is visible here. However the moat significant image is of the Alamgir Mosque. It is also called the Gyan Vyapi Mosque. The Gyanvapi — the well of knowledge — is situated between the temple and the mosque. This "well" of knowledge is believed by Hindus to be on the location where the sacred Shiva 'linga' icon of the temple was hidden, before the temple was razed by Aurangzeb. Material from the destroyed temple was reused by Aurangzeb while building the Gyanvapi Mosque.The mosque shows evidence of original Hindu temple in its foundation, columns and rear. The old temple wall was also incorporated as part of the walls of the mosque. The deliberately retained remnants of the temple are described to be "a warning and an insult to Hindu feelings". The facade is modeled on the Taj Mahal's entrance. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple was rebuilt in 1780 by the Hindu Maratha Queen Rani Ahilya-Bai Holkar besides the mosque and the two structures have existed in harmony since then, separated by a barricade of iron staves, wire and a number of baton wielding policemen. The Mosque was destroyed by the floods in 1948 and was rebuild thereafter. Visible here are also the multitude of 'budget hotels' - all fighting for space with a view of the river and the sunrise.
This is "Ram Ghat" and the buildings surrounding it. It is located near the Harsiddhi Temple and was built by the Raja of Jaipur. The ghat comes alive during the Ramnavami Mela held on the 9th day of Chaitra. Hindus take a bath early in the morning and worship Lord Ram in the neighboring temple. There is a very interesting thing that I would want you to note. You will notice in the photograph that a large number of buildings - especially in the upper tiers - have broken walls. These are the rudimentary but creditable efforts by the municipal officials to control unrestrained and unauthorized construction in the Ghats. In many instance, old architecturally significant buildings have been altered and changed by the builders to build more and more hotels for tourists. After-all, tourism is the major money-spinner in Banaras. The municipal officials in one go had 'brought down' a few hundred illegal and unsafe constructions or reduced to size many unauthorized 'extensions' that many hotels had made.
Just inside the Kote Gate of the old city of Bikaner sits this little shop, it's keeper and his meagre wares. As you can see by his little feathered friends so close to him that there is not a lot of action going on
Just after 5am on the banks of the Ganges this little awning is filled with people awaiting blessings from the self styled representative of one of the myriad Hindu deities
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