Saturday, July 12, 2008

Speaking of chariots

Since we're on the subject of temple chariots, this is me at the Crafts Museum in Delhi. This chariot is really beautiful. It stands in an open courtyard, exposed to the sun and the rain. The wood has a weather-beaten look that I find very attractive.

The Crafts Museum (the official name is National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum) was designed by Charles Correa. The collection was largely put together in the 50's and the 60's (the year immediately after Indian independence).
The design of the Museum displays a rare sensitivity and empathy with the objects displayed - everything seems to "belong". The buildings are low-lying, the scale is appropriate for a display of rural arts and crafts. When I walked into the museum, I felt like I was in a real village, witnessing a local fair. If you go anytime after October 1st, you'll find live demonstrations of several crafts.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Rath Yatra in Old Delhi Friday July 4 '08

Last Friday, some American guests of mine went on a Delhi Magic tour - the Bazaar walk through Old Delhi. They were right on time to witness the annual Rath Yatra of Jagannath (Rath = Chariot, Yatra = Pilgrimage).

During the Rath Yatra, tall gaily decorated chariots carry idols of Lord Krishna through the streets, so that people may have darshan (a holy viewing), and obtain blessings. The carts are pulled by volunteers; there is devotional music.

Yatra or Pilgrimage is an integral part of Hindu religious life. After you have fulfilled your duties as a householder, you turn your attention towards a spiritual life, and go on a pilgrimage to holy places. The Rath Yatra is actually the pilgrimage in reverse - instead of believers seeking out the deity inside a temple sanctum, here the deity appears on the streets, to mingle with the people.

The biggest Rath Yatra is in Puri on the east coast, at the beautiful Jagannath Temple. Idols of Lord Krishna, his brother Balarama (Balabhadra) and sister Subadhra are taken through the streets in a grand procession of three chariots. The chariots at Puri are huge and colourful, and it takes several people to pull them. Once set in motion, the chariots trundle on almost with a life of their own and cannot be stopped even if someone falls accidentally in the path (that's where the English word juggernaut comes from). The chariots come to a stop two miles away, at the Gundicha temple. After a week's stay at Gundicha, the deities then return to Jagannath Temple.

Beyond the colour and drama, the Rath Yatra also has a philosophical meaning. The Kathopanishad says:

Atmanam rathinam viddhi sareeram rathamevatu
Buddhim tu saarathim viddhi marah pragrahameva cha.

The Body is the Chariot and the Soul the Deity within.
Wisdom is the Charioteer, directing the Mind onwards.

(Photos courtesy Robert Taylor - thank you!)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Zeenat Mahal - Palace of Beauty

Spotted at Lal Kuan, a once-beautiful house named Zeenat Mahal.
The brick-work is gone, the beautiful latticed balconies are lifeless.
The carved arched entrance is hidden by a grey tarpaulin and a red board.
Old Delhi is a mess, we all know it.
But I am still saddened every time I see it crumbling like this.