A month ago, photographed at Petit Palais, in itself an architectural delight. Add to that le Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, which permitted entry — gratis. I did not have time (nor the inclination) to look at the Oscar Wilde Exhibition which was also on display at the time, and for which you need a ‘billet‘. No doubt, I saw all the showcased art, and art hanging on the walls – paintings, tapestries, etc – and furniture, and sculptures… speaking of which…

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I saw some interesting nouveau art displays by contemporary artists – a stack of empty cartons piled up, a line up of coal-filled burlap ‘gunny sacks’; water pouring out of a hosepipe sticking out of something like a Sintex water tank... etc. All of these in such opulent settings had been both comical and a marvel. It was, after all, ART. “Why should art always have to be beautiful!”, I heard one student say to me. That was the artist’s viewpoint she had shared with me. 😉 What was interesting were the young students of the history of art — note, not students of Art, but of the history of art, patiently asked what we, as visitors thought of the “sculpture” (examples I cited above); and then they shared the artist’s perspective, viewpoint and purpose for creating such “ART” for display in the palace. During which time I also met one young German student – she said she was working on her Master’s thesis on temple architecture of South India. She planned to do a doctorate.

In turn, I shared with her my brief experience of studying temple architecture for a presentation to a group of young students in Toronto. I gave them a compare/contrast on temples of the north versus those of the south in India. The Kodak carousel projector did not work for some reason, so instead of projecting slides, I had shown them a bunch of large size photographs I had shot in Hampi, Badami, Pattadakal, Aihole. Those photos are now packed up and sitting in crates in my closet, with nowhere to display. The digital era has brought to light millions of such images in the public domain, especially since those sites were recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. You’ll think I’ve gone from Paris to Pattadakal! Well, that’s just me… 😉

Remembrance (2011): My Take

Last evening, I watched this foreign film, “Remembrance”.

It is the story about a Jewish woman, Hannah Silberstein, who struggles to break free from the dark memories of her past life in the Auschwitz concentration camp during Poland’s SS occupation.

Young Hannah falls in love with an inmate, Tomasz Limanowski. Together, after they escape from the camp, he returns home, introducing Hannah – his fiancée – to his mother. Instead of warmth and joy, they face Mrs. Limanowski’s wrath. Circumstances compel Tomasz to leave his too-ill-to-travel fiancée in maternal care — for just a couple of days. 30 years later, Hannah catches a glimpse of him on TV. Truly, was this the same Tomasz who had rescued her? Where did he go? Did his mother reconcile? Now, what?

Remembrance2011Film2

An interesting story set in the mid-’70s, the film’s narrative moves back and forth spatially and temporally, transposing audiences from Brooklyn, NY, to a tiny village in Eastern Europe. Paced perfectly, you will savor the romance and anticipation, while feeling the pain of separation when two people are in love, the circumstances notwithstanding.

The older Hannah – played by Dagmar Manzel – plays a fine role of an anguished woman battling her demons during her 30 year old marriage to an affluent businessman. Based on the true story of Jerzy Bielecki, a Polish social worker born in the early 1920s, and Cyla Cybulska, a young Polish-Jewish woman, the only one to have survived after her family was murdered. Played poignantly by Alice Dwyer, you will see glimpses of defiance and determination even during her stricken youth. Mateusz Damięcki and Lech Mackiewicz, as the young rebel Limanowski, and as the older Tomash, respectively, both portray the character deftly, and with just the right portions of passion and aggression.

Remembrance2011Film

Director Anna Justice has delivered a fine film, with the entire cast in tune with the story. In 105 minutes of the film’s duration she has unfolded the characters at a pace that holds your attention, while developing every one of them – short, or tall – as a strong presence – whether brief, or long. Hannah’s husband, their adult daughter, Tomasz’s brother and his wife, Janusz – a family friend… every character is memorable.

This German film was released in late 2011, so NetFlix aficionados are fortunate to be able to watch it now… before they pull it off from their drama and foreign film categories. Original title: “Die verlorene Zeit”.

Explosions at Bodh Gaya!

My tympanic membrane is tired, and hardened from the continual onslaught of explosive news. Not only tired of the terrorism, I’m sickened by the endless rapes that women suffer mercilessly. Add to that the helplessness one feels, reading about the pointless deaths of hundreds, thousands – en masse!

Now, worse, am defeated by the mindless attempt at destruction of something sacred… not merely from a religious perspective; but it’s the sanctity of a brick structure that withstood the test of time, and weathered the elements for over two millennium – The Mahabodhi Temple! By using explosives, miscreants shook the foundations of an edifice that is symbolic of ‘ahimsa’, non-violence, and is sacred to millions of people across the globe.

A while back I posted photographs from a visit to the ruins of Nalanda, not far (56 miles) from Bodh Gaya in Bihar; also an institute of higher learning in Ancient India, particularly for Buddhist monks. I dread to think of the damage that depraved minds are capable of doing… and shudder at the thought of the pain they are causing those who are perhaps the few among the peace-loving people remaining in this world.

Buddhist Monks at Nalanda


Buddhist Monks at Nalanda
by chitralekhan

Modern day monks… at the ancient center of learning, in Bihar, India.

When I visited Nalanda in November of 1996, it was the Chinese Year of the Monkey… 4694 Bing-Shen! So, “What’s the context?” you may well ask… well, among the Buddhist Jataka Tales, is also a delightful but profound story about The Monkey King, stressing upon the importance of self-sacrifice.  🙂

Much of what we know today about Buddhism can also be attributed to the accounts written by renowned Buddhist monk, Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang)… scholar & traveler sans camera! 😉 🙂

The Ruins of Nalanda University


The ruins of Nalanda University
Originally uploaded by chitralekhan

The excavated remains of an ancient center of learning… from over 2000 years ago!

I may not be able to visit Taxila (now in modern-day Pakistan) in this lifetime, but was very fortunate to be able to walk around on the very same grounds of Nalanda where, at one point in history, Buddhist monks and scholars had meditated. Steeped in history, this site is truly fascinating!

Soaking under the blazing hot sun – even in early November ’96 , with a basic camera loaded with 35 mm Extachrome slide film (alas, transparencies in this digital era are now relegated to photography history), I clicked as many pix as possible in a matter of a couple of hours.  Oh yeah, at the time,  it was fun… even without Flickr… 😉  Just a low-end camera, with amateur photography skills, but the joy of travel surpassed all other pleasures… the pix were so I could view them at leisure… even much later!

(Oh no, no plagiarizing… besides, in the pre-internet, pre-broadband era you’d have to contact a photo stock agency, and they’d charge what seemed then like an arm and a leg… I know, we used a lot of those in our ad campaigns!) 😉

Plan of excavated ruins: Ancient Nalanda University


Plan of excavated ruins: Ancient Nalanda University
Originally uploaded by chitralekhan

Layout of Nalanda University, (Bihar), India: one of the ancient higher-learning institutions, particularly for Buddhist monks from near & the Far East… think 5th & 6th centuries B.C. Alas, it still remains among UNESCO’s tentative lists of designated World Heritage sites:  Excavated Remains at Nalanda

I took this photograph in the pre-digital era, in November 1996… while on a tour of Jain & Buddhist pilgrim centers in Bihar… Samed Shikharji, Pavapuri, Rajgir, Kundalpur, etc.

A story of human resilience… and society’s humaneness!

Tales of compassion, resilience towards life’s adversities, and stories of hope in the face of unthinkable challenges are always so fascinating… I just finished reading one such story, “The Hard and the Soft“, brought to us by op-ed columnist, David Brooks, of The New York Times. Speaking of Norway’s winnings at the recent Winter Olympics, he states that “This was no anomaly. Over the years, Norwegians have won more gold medals in Winter Games, and more Winter Olympics medals over all, than people from any other nation.” He cites the story of Jan Baalsrud, a young Norwegian in 1943, from the book, “We Die Alone” by David Howarth. (I should read this book.)

A while back we watched Akira Kurosawa’s epic-like film, “Dersu Uzala“, an Academy Award winner from 1975. Again, this was a riveting film, and I’m reminded of it today!

Returning to the spirit of Norwegians, is yet another compelling story of Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian zoologist — and later in 1922, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize — who ventured to go “Farthest North” to the North Pole… way back in 1893. This is the adventure narrative of a man who struggled with the most extreme forces of nature.

Undoubtedly, we hear, read, and watch stories of human survival through man-created atrocities and challenges. But those are for another day. For now, I silently congratulate not only those who succeeded and won medals at the Winter Olympics, but also those who toiled to make their way to the West Coast, Canada, this year. Kudos to you all!

Getting nostalgic… about New York City

Soon it will be a year since I left New York!  As spring creeps up here, I’m beginning to miss those day-long trips to NYC!

Aching for a change from the wintry whites and suburban life on Long Island, my escape to Manhattan with its urban cityscape used to provide me with all the forms and colors I needed to satiate my visual senses! Here are some random images from my ramblings in the Big Apple.

What jumps out from my tag cloud?

Chitralekha vs Chitralekhan… the distinction.

On a Google search for ‘chitralekhan‘, I always encounter this question: Did you mean chitralekha?

NO! I meant what I typed… gee, doesn’t Google get it! The following popped up as one of the search results… it’s fascinating. So I’m reproducing it here for my own future reference. (Not plagiarizing, please.) Incidentally, juggernaut , derived from Lord Jagannatha, holds a special place in my life.

Thank you, harekrsna.com; thanks, Wikipedia… and thanks, Google. 😉

Scroll Paintings in Lord Jagannath’s Orissa

BY: ASIS K. CHAKRABARTI

Pataua Folk Painting, West Bengal

Feb 20, KOLKATA, WEST BENGAL (SUN) — A two-part review of the tradition of scroll paintings with special emphasis on Lord Jagannatha.

Folk art is an indivisible part of folk culture. The study of folk culture in the subcontinents of India dates back to the 19th century. Some eminent personalities or connoisseurs began to study folk culture absolutely to quench their personal interest. In this respect, the names of Dinesh Chandra, Sen. Reverend Lalbehari De, Ramendrasundar Trivedi, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore and Gurusaday Dutt should be always mentioned. Of them, Gurusaday Dutt is the foremost pioneer in the field of collection, consequation and deliberation of folk art and culture in Orissa.

As quoted by the famous Bengali historian Nihar Ranjan Roy, Gurusaday Dutt had revealed the origin and flow of folk art and culture with the insight of an expert jeweller, who can easily identify a real stone.

Folk art has been defined in various ways and words. A thorough observation of the social, historical, geographical and cultural remains of the Indian subcontinent suggests that folk art is the art form created by the rural people for the rural people, which is centered round different kinds of folk and tribal religious rites, customs and festivals. The creation of folk art needs no grammatical norms set up by any ancient author of folk art and culture. The art form that is created by the spontaneity of a rural artist in the simplest possible way with the help of natural colours and ingredients may rightly be termed as folk art.
Antiquity of Scroll Painting: Historical Backdrop

Generally speaking, ‘pattachitra’ refers to an art form or painting created on paper or cloth. The literal meaning of the works ‘pattachitra’ or ‘drawing of a patta’ seems quite absurd, and this term might have been added later on, which is why, we find even in Tagore’s songs – the words –

    Tumi Ki Kebol-i-chobi,
    Shudhu Patte likha”
    “Are you just a painting written only on a scroll?”

The word chitralekha has been in use for a very long time. In ancient India, the word ‘chitra’ signified hand-drawn pictures and inscriptions or sculpted out images. In that age, to differentiate hand-painted pictures from smeared or inscribed pictures, these were called written or “lekhya” pictures, and the practice of drawing was known as ‘chitralekhan’. In spite of being unaware of the grammatical authenticity of the word ‘chitralekha’ (writing of a picture), the Patuas have coined the term ‘pattalekha’ (writing of a scroll). The word ‘lekha’ suggests a link of the Patuas with the ancient scroll painters.

According to the concept of folk paintings being executed by the folk painter, scrolls are written rather than drawn or painted by them. In Sanskrit, ‘patta’ means ‘a cloth’. According to the history of Indian art, in ancient ages, pictures were ‘pattachitra’. The creators of ‘pattachitra’ were introduced as the ‘patuas’. On the basis of regional differences, the Patuas are classified as – pattikar, patkere, pattidar, mistry and so on.

However, the Patuas claim to have descended as a class belonging to ‘Chitrakara’, who had taken birth from celestial parents – the celestial artist, Vishwakarma and the celestial dancer, Ghritachi. Nowadays, art formS are not created on cloth, rather all the creations are produced on paper. Gazi Patta and Yama Patta, collected by Gurusaday Dutt, were made on cloth. These are now conserved in the Gurusaday Museum of Bratacharigram, Joka, Kolkata.

The Chitrakaras, or the scroll-painters, were mentioned in the 10th chapter of Brahmavaivarta Purana, written in the 11th or 12th century A.D. At a certain time, the celestial artist Vishwakarma descended from heaven and took birth in a Brahmin family. Simultaneously the celestial dancer, Ghritachi, took birth as the daughter of a gopa (milk producer) family. They got married and gave birth to nine sons: Malakara, Karmakara, Sankhakara, Kundibaka or Tantubayee, Kumbhakara, Kangsakara, Sutradhara, Chitrakara and Swarnakara.

According to the story, Vishwakarma and Ghritachi were the original parents or ancestors of the Patuas or Chitrakaras. In this regard, they are as honourable as any other artist or artisan of the Hindu society. In reality, however, Patuas are considered to be untouchable and ostracized. There is a myth behind this ostracism. An ancestor of the present day Patuas once drew the portrait of Mahadeva, the Great Lord of Hindu religion, without seeking His permission. After drawing the portrait, the artist was naturally very much annoyed and afraid as to what would happen if the Lord were to get angry with him. Incidentally, Mahadeva was just then coming by.

The painter hid the paint brush inside his mouth. Mahadeva asked the artist why had he made the brush unclean by keeping it inside his mouth. The Patua replied that he had done it out of fear. Mahadeva got angry and said that the Patua could have thrown it away. Instead he had made it unclean, so he had to accept the punishment. Then Mahadeva imprecated that from then on, the Patuas would be ostracized from the society. They would neither be Hindus nor Muslims. They would have to perform Muslim rites and work like the Hindus, i.e., they would draw pictures and read or sing.

As far as history is concerned, this is the reason behind the ostracism of the Patuas due to the imprecation of Mahadeva. So the Patuas now go to Mosques like the Muslims and draws the pictures of Hindu deities, sculpt out their images and sing the praises of Hindu deities presented on the scrolls.

The reason for the ostracism of the Patua community has been mentioned in the Brahmavaivarta Purana. Since they had violated the rules of painting directed by the Brahman, the Brahmin society cursed them. As a consequence, they have been outcasted. So, both history and folklore suggest that violation of set up norms led to the ostracism of the Patuas. This fact is further supported by Parasurama’s sloka:

    “Vyati Kramena Chitranang Sadyashchitra Karashtta Patito Brahmo shapeno Brahmonanancho kopata”Deviation from the normal art form has led the Patuas to be outcasted by the curse of the Brahmin society.

Regarding the ostracism of Patuas, Gurusaday Dutt pointed that the form of Bengal’s generalized Hindu religion is quite separate from the scriptural religion devoted only to Brahma. The eternal, independent imaginative Bengali soul could not conform to a fixed regulation set up by the scripture while performing religions rites and creating images of deities. Rather, the Bengali Patuas have formed and moulded the images of deities according to their own imagination and expression. As a result, Bengal has its own forms of Rama, Sita, Laksmana, Shiva and Durga. They bear little similarity to their original historical forms.

The generalized form of Bengali Radha-Krishna does not conform to their corresponding historical or lila form. Bengali Patua’s Sita-Rama are different in appearance and nature from their counterparts, mentioned and portrayed by Valmiki or Krittibasa. To reach the masses and to fulfill their heart’s desire and imagination, the Patuas were courageous enough to violate the rules set up by the dominating Brahmin society even at the cost of their identity and existence. They have been bold enough to reflect Bengali sentiment and spirit in their songs, on their pattas and in the moulding of images of deities.

(Reproduced from HareKrsna.com)

Trick the eye… wait, this is no scam!

A few days back, I blogged about scams that have ruled the better (or, in this case, worst) part of 2008. But today, as this year draws to a close, I’m referring to trickery of a pleasurable kind… visually pleasing, this art technique involves creating extremely realistic images in two-dimension, but they give you an illusion of 3-D paintings!

“Yeah!” as 15th century Dae Jang Geum would say with wonder-filled eyes and a beautiful smile, if she were to see 21st century chalk artist Julian Beever’s pavement art. The Belgium-based English artist paints murals and oils but is most famous for his anamorphic paintings created with a uniquely distorted perspective. I haven’t had the opportunity to see the original work of the old masters like Masaccio or modern masters like Salvador Dali who utilized this technique in some of their paintings, but I do recall seeing wall murals in old Quebec City with the same stunning effect that Beever conjures through his art on the streets of cities worldwide.  Thanks to the internet, email “forwards” and “virtual” images, (even if one hasn’t had the opportunity to see his ‘real’ work) he is perhaps best-known for pavement artfrom Birmingham to Buenos Aires; from New York to Australia.

Sad to say, though, a three decades old mural on 112-4 Prince Street in SoHo, NY, painted by architectural muralist Richard Haas, was vandalized with graffiti on it, earlier this year.

Here’s an image of what I saw a few years back and then again more recently last summer in Place Royale, Quebec. You can see other examples of  trompe-l’oeil art even in Italy, France, Germany, the US and even in Cuba!

Wall Mural
Place Royale, Old Quebec City, Canada: Wall Mural