Monday, 20 October 2014

Painted in Burnt Sienna

Siena is a tiny town in the Tuscany region of Italy. It has one of the most beautiful squares in the world - Piazza del campo, that holds the annual bare-back horse race called Palio. This post is about some of my favourite places in Siena.

The 8 minutes long opening sequence of the 2008 James Bond film "Quantum of Solace" was shot in Siena. This sequence was pure adrenaline with shots of the Palio race and a thrilling chase over the dark brown roofs of medieval houses around the square. You can watch this sequence on Vimeo for a quick and exciting tour of the Siena city centre.

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

TUSCANY REGION OF ITALY

Tuscany is considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Famous painters and artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Giotto and Cimabue were born in this region and started here their artistic carriers.

Gentle hills of Tuscany with vineyards and cypress trees, with its painters, sculptors and other artists have been integral to the enlightment associated with the Renaissance period in Europe. Thus, Tuscany was an essential part of "classical learning" in medieval Europe - artists, writers and nobility from all over Europe visited Tuscany as part of their education. Many of them wrote eloquent words about the beautiful light of Tuscany that can not be replicated any where else.

Perhaps it is because of this tradition going back to the last 7-8 centuries, that even today most European heads of states have their holiday houses in Tuscany.

The centre of Florence, the capital of Tuscany, is considered as an open air museum. The region has many other famous cities including Pisa with the world famous Leaning Tower. However, in my opinion, the wonderful central square of Siena is among the most beautiful places in the world and I love going there.

THE EARTH COLOURS OF SIENA

As a child I loved painting and had first heard of Siena as the name of a colour - "Burnt Sienna". The land around Siena provides pigments for four colours that are called "the earth colours" - Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Ochre and Umber. All these colours have Iron Oxide mixed with Manganese Oxide. Ochre is more yellowish, Sienna is a darker yellow, Burnt Sienna is reddish-brown and finally Umber is darker brown.

These earth colours were used by Siennese school of painting in the renaissance period. These are also very much visible in the colours of the houses in the narrow medieval streets and buildings of the Siena city centre.

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

The next group of images is from Salimbeni square in Siena city centre and it shows the different shades of the earth colours. The statue of Sallustio Bandini, an Italian Jesuit priest and an economist, occupies the centre of this square - he was a fervent supporter of capitalism and free trade. Behind him is the building of the one of the first banks in the world.

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

A corner building in the square attracted my attention - I thought that it was macabre with heads of people adorning the area just underneath its roof. However, a closer look showed that these were not just heads but live persons peeking our from round windows, some of them with pronounced expressions.

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Close to Salimbeni square, usually you can find a man playing a "live statue", covered with gold colour, with a gold plated old-style camera shooting a film. I don't know his name but he has also appeared in many films.

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

CENTRAL SQUARE OF SIENA - PIAZZA DEL CAMPO

The central square of Siena called Camp Square (Piazza del Campo), is a huge semi-circular bowl or shell shaped space with gently sloping surface. Narrow, winding medieval streets in the warm earth colours, coming in from different directions, when suddenly open in the large open space filled with light, it is a wonderful moment because it is so unexpected.

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

At the bottom of the square you can see the thirteenth century Republican building with its "Manja tower". When it was built, this tower was the tallest structure in whole of Italy. In 14th century it was fitted with a mechanical clock. Copenhagen city hall in Denmark is inspired by this building. There is a small chapel next to it. Nine traingular spaces branch out from this building, going out towards the periphery of the square.

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

The rest of the square is lined with beautiful noble family houses, all made in earth-coloured bricks. At the centre of the outer periphery is a fountain with beautiful sculptures and a rectangular water pond.

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

CONTRADE OF SIENA

The city is divided into 17 wards or contrade, each with its own symbol. Most houses of a a contrada carry its symbol near their entrance. Each year, 10 out of 17 contrade take part in the annual Palio race that is held on 2 July and 16 August. The images below show some houses from the Chiocciola (Snail), Pantera (Panther) and Tartuca (Tortoise) contrade with their symbols.

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Young horse jockeys have to sit bare-back on the horses during palio, thus often some of them fall down during the race.

DUOMO - THE CATHEDRAL OF SIENA

The cathedral of Sienna was built in the thirteenth century. Its beautiful bell tower is in black and white, the two official colours of Siena. The facade of the cathedral with intricate sculptures is in Gothic style and the complexity of the sculpture and art work is one of the most intricate works in Europe.

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

OTHER PLACES IN SIENA

There are many other buildings and churches in Siena, full of beautiful sculptures and art works.

If you have time you can also go out from the old medieval town to look at the surrounding countryside with its gentle hills, vineyards, cypress trees and beautiful buildings.

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

CONCLUSIONS

I love Siena for the warm earth colours of its buildings and for the sensations of aesthetic pleasure in its central square. I can sit for hours in the central square, looking around and soaking the atmosphere of this magical place.

Most tourists to Tuscany, limit themselves to visiting Florence and Pisa, and do not think of Siena except during the palio horse races. I think that it is a great pity and Siena also merits a visit. Siena is connected to Florence by hourly regional trains - these are slow trains and take about an hour and a half to reach to Siena, but cost little (less than 10 Euro for a journey).

Favourite places, Siena Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2012

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Monday, 13 October 2014

Monsoon in Bilaspur - Wall-Papers

It was September 2014. I was staying at the JSS hospital in Ganiyari village, about 25 km from Bilaspur in Chattisgarh. This year the monsoon was late. One cloudy morning I went out for a walk along the ponds and rice fields behind the hospital. These free high resolution wall-papers are from that walk.

The images of those verdant rice fields and tiny temples near the ponds remain etched in mind. I hope that these images will be also give you the calm joy that I had experienced that morning in Ganiyari. (Click on any image to open the file with the high resolution wall-paper)

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

I think that some of these images will make for beautiful wall-papers! So here are 16 of my favourite images in high-resolution (1920x1280) for your laptops, computers and other appliances.

I want to dedicate these images to Dr Yogesh Jain, Dr Raman Kataria and all the other doctors and staff of JSS for their service to one of the most marginalized groups of persons in central India.

All the images are by Sunil Deepak. If you use these wall-paper images any where, please do remember to give due credit and where possible, link to this page.

My personal favourite among these wall-papers is the last one in this post. So I recommend that you scroll down to the bottom of this post and click on that image to admire its beauty in high resolution. Then tell me if you agree with me that it is the best image of this collection or not!

TO DOWNLOAD THESE WALL-PAPERS

Click on the any image to open a new window with the high resolution wall-paper (1920x1280). Then right-click on the high resolution image and save it in the folder of your wallpapers on your computer/tablet or other device.

Remember that some of the images may even be more than 1 MB in size so if you have old computers with little RAM, you may need to scale down the images before using them.

Finally, if you like these wall-papers, please share links to this page on blogs, Facebook, Twitter ...

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

MY PERSONAL FAVOURITE WALL-PAPER

The next image is my personal favourite among all these wall-papers. So I recommend that you click on this image to admire its beauty in high resolution. Then tell me if you agree with me that it is the best image of the collection or not!

Free High resolution Wall-papers from Bilaspur District, Chattisgarh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Wish you all the best with these free high resolution wall-papers.

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Sunday, 12 October 2014

Deities of the Kullu Valley

In different aspects of life - religion, language, food, culture and festivals - India shows a "unity in diversity".

In the Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh in north of India, every village and hamlet has its own deity, a devi or a devta. This photo-essay looks at some of those deities, their cultural traditions and their links with other streams of Hinduism.

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

FORGING INDIA'S CULTURAL-RELIGIOUS UNITY

Each community in India often has its own ideas about gods and goddesses. All these are usually grouped together under Hinduism. Apart from their own distinctive cultural-religious traditions, they usually share some aspects of religion as explained in ancient texts of Vedas and Upanishads.

Mythological stories about some local events link together villages and cities, near and far, in different corners of India. Thus, often each village temple and sacred-site around trees, rocks, caves, rivers and mountains, invariably has a mythological story about the passage of some god or goddess in that place that provides an explanation of its sacredness.

Drops of immortality nectar (amrit) fallen from Vishnu's vase, pieces of the body of Parvati strewn over different parts of India, travels of Rama and Pandavas across India described in Ramayana and Mahabharata - they all create a network of stories that builds the essential sharing of sacredness, while conserving the distinctive characteristics of each place.

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Diana Eck in her wonderful book "India: a sacred geography" provides a delightful mosaic of this diversity-unity.

DEITIES OF KULLU VALLEY

It has been estimated that there are around 250 devi and devta (gods and goddesses) in the villages and hamlets of Kullu valley in Himchal Pradesh. Local persons call these deities collectively as "Tharah Kardu".

Hidamba Devi, the deity of Manali, is considered to be the most important of these deities as she is the deity of the royal family of the Kullu. The royal family of Kullu believe that Hidamba Devi had gifted the kingdom of Kullu to their ancestor Behangamani Pal. The descendants of the king had established their royal house in Jagatsukh, a small village about 10 km from Manali.

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The original temple of Hidamba Devi was in Chiuni, about 90 km from the town of Mandi. A new temple of this deity has been built in Manali in 2013, that is a replica of the old Chiuni temple with intricate wood carvings.

Hidamba Devi appears as a minor character in Mahabharata, where she falls in love with Bhim, one of the Pandava brothers. Together they have a son, Ghatotkach. Both Hidamba Devi and Ghatotkach also play a role in the legendary war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014
Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014
Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Mahabharata describes Hidamba (Hidambi) as belonging to a "Rakshas" clan - one of the indigenous clans that were usually considered as enemies of the Aryans.

Omchanda Handa in his book "Buddhist art and antiquities of Himachal Pradesh" (Indus books) explains that the figures of ancient Hindu ascetic-sages like Gautam rishi and Lomasa rishi were also linked to Buddhist traditions, and indigenous community traditions of clans like Nagas, Rakshasas, Yakshas, etc. These different traditions all combine together in the mythologies of the Kullu deities.

Phyllis Granoff and Koichi Shinohara in their book "Images in Asian Religions: texts and contexts" (UBC press) explain another peculiarity of the Kullu valley deities - the sacredness is not limited to the statue of the deity but is "composed of different elements assembled together" including the wooden palanquins carrying multiple metal mohras (faces) of the deity, his/her attendants and other things used to decorate the palanquins.

STORIES OF KULLU DEITIES

The blog Tharah Kardu presents a lot of information about the deities of the Kullu valley, including the mythological stories about them. Reading these stories gives an idea of the diversity of origins of these deities.

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

For example, god Shangchul ji originally came from a place called Basu Desh. Shangchul's journey brought him in contact with different significant symbols of Hindu mythology such as Shakti and Kamdhenu. His story involves different small towns and villages of Kullu Valley, binding them together in a unified geographical matrix, linking his story to those of other local gods and goddesses.

This story also includes episodes of discrimination and negative attitudes towards the "lower" castes and the "untouchables". For example, Shangchul had caused a flood which had washed away most of "Marechhas and Tanguls". Marechhas (lower castes) are described as "dirty persons with dirty utensils" and have a "bad way of calling their mothers", so their killing by the Shangchul are justified.

Thus, these stories, while they maintain alive the ancient traditions of the people, they also contribute to continuation of caste hierarchies and discriminations.

DUSSHERA OF KULLU

Dusshera is one of the most important festivals of the Kullu valley. Dusshera is celebrated in different ways in different parts of India. For example, in the north and west parts of India, it celebrates the victory of Rama over the Rakshas king Ravana. In the north-east it celebrates the victory of goddess Durga over the asura king Mahishasur. Kullu has its own variation of the Dusshera celebrations.

The Kullu dusshera starts on the day of Vijaydakshmi, the concluding day of dusshera celebrations in the rest of India. It's main focus is on the gathering of all the local gods and goddesses from all the villages and hamlets of Kullu valley. Villagers carry their gods-goddesses in palanquins and walk to Kullu for this event.

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014
Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

In Kullu, raja Maheshwar Singh, the old king, together with the head-priest of Kullu temple, participate in the daily ritual prayers, while different gods and goddesses come to pay their respects to Hidimba Devi.

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The Kullu deities are also linked to a mythological story - Parvati (God Shiva's wife), was carrying the gods and goddesses in a basket; she had stopped for rest in the Kullu valley when a sudden gust of wind had scattered the different deities all over the villages of the valley.

Kullu dusshera also has the traditional theatre of Ramlila and the burning of the effigy of Ravana. Finally the celebrations are accompanied by different sport competitions and cultural programmes in which young persons from different parts of the valley take part.

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

CONCLUSIONS

The cultural customs, rituals and mythological stories around the deities of Kullu valley, provide a fascinating glimpse into the diversity of Hinduism in India. They also give an idea of how different groups of people and their customs were brought together in Hinduism over a period of centuries, that preserved their specificities and peculiarities, while knitting a common thread of unity through them.

Gods & goddesses in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The continuing relevance of ancient religious customs and mythologies today influences caste hierarchies and discriminations against the "lower" castes. How to bring about social reforms without cancelling the mythologies remains a challenge.

Most persons think of Kullu and Manali only as tourist destinations for their snow covered mountains, rafting, skiing and nature walks. However, Kullu valley also offers wonderful opportunities to understand the richness of India's cultural diversity.

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