A (Re)Treat Unexpected At Swamimalai (K4)

Continued from here.



These deer appear well-fed and healthy. File shots show children holding them up and petting.

Free roaming peacocks. Every morning, grains are strewn for them to feed. Their ‘screams’ are distinctly identifiable. When this one flew in and landed overhead, it sounded like the roof was coming down crashing.

A good number of ducks, big and small, spotlessly white and hued. A few turkeys too. They are not known to stray out of the resort perimeter despite the paths open to them!

(a file shot)

One wakes up in the morning to a chorus of calls of birds of many kinds. The show is repeated for our listening pleasure in the evening hours too!

At times snakes have been sighted emerging from the bushes though there’s no record of anyone, human or animal, suffering bites anytime.


What really makes this place unique of its kind besides re-creating the rural ambiance of the past are those hundreds of objects/artifacts, small and big, painstakingly collected over the years, on display. Would do proud to any respectable museum.

It would take days and weeks just to look at them (many inside glass cases). And to think each one has a story to tell about its life!

Here’s a very small selection for you to sample the flavor.

Gone off the road long since:

A manually pulled rickshaw. These were last seen on the roads of Kolkata? File shots show guests taking a ride.

A bullock cart, still in use in some parts of the country. I recall riding a more common mono version of it when young in Srirangam. Years ago one of our premier institutes of management even researched on bettering the wheel design to make it easier on the animals.

No idea where these were used. Perhaps the forerunner of the modern day ‘cages’ used to ferry children to school? Though looks a little fragile for the rural roads.

A deliberate design for lovers in the park? On the left are grinding stones used in kitchens.


Creative Designs:

Actually a rain water drain pipe!

A space-saving folding chic looking crib! Uses a pantograph like link mechanism.


Now, for the stories:

Story 1:

This is ‘Chola Boy’ napping in his own bed. Notice something? He lost his forelegs two years ago in an accident. Now he is cared for at the resort.


Story 2:

This is an icon of Ardhanari, a male cum female form of Shiva. Will let the placard tell the story below. Info about the icon and its making is in the last para preceded by explanation on the concept of male cum female. A metalurgical marvel – the flawless icon, a SEAMLESS composite of half bronze and half copper! Incidentally Swamimalai even today sustains the art of bronze iconography. The iconographer of this piece is no more, we learnt, but his son is active today carrying on with the art.

The male and female face and crown, Observe Shiva’s flaring braids.

The male and female lower torso. Look at the different embellishments.

A close-up of the female torso.


Story 3:

A strange but true story below, in their own words, lightly edited:

‘’…A miraculous translocation of a worthy heritage monument, The Mint Palace, from Chennai to its present location in Swamimalai. 42 trucks, 120 conservation student volunteers, 40 craft masons, 30 labour persons and about 35 days of labour, a couple of crores of rupees and a few persuasive minds doubled with tons of passion and pride. Here is the story:

An oil wick lamp, placed on the roof of the officers’ mess, which was also the then Exchange Building (now the Fort Museum), served the vessels coming into the Madras port during the 17th and 18th century for the East India Company. As technology improved, a new flashing light consisting of argand layers and reflectors were ordered from the Chance Brothers, Birmingham, UK. This was to be placed in the lighthouse tower being constructed in the present high court campus. Interestingly, even before all this, the East India Company officers were looking for a tall building along the shores of the then Madrasapattinam within their territory to embed a traditional wick lighthouse to guide their cargo carrying sailboats.

One of their suppliers and minter, by name Bhansi Lal Rai Bahadur, owned the interesting tall building near the black town. While the consideration to fix the wick lamp here was on, the British officers arrived to reject the idea of the company men and position the same within the officer’s mess along the shore.

The said house was, at that point, known as the Mint Palace, for the simple reason, the street led to the government mint. In 1742, the second mint of the Madras Presidency was established in Chindadaripet, which was shifted into Fort St. George in 1792, alongside the existing mint established in 1695. These mints were finally closed down in 1869 to make way for the Government Press. But Mint Street once known as Thangasalai remains until this day housing several gold and silver dealers.

Even though the idea of positioning the wick lamp on top of the Mint Palace failed, the provisions created on the roof for this lighthouse was left behind and not removed. The good relationship between the East India Company and the owner of the house resulted in giving him the title of Rai Bahadur. The last owner was known a Bhansi Lal Abheerseth Bahadur.

Sadly, this beautiful building was razed to the ground in 2010 to make way for sale of the land and erection of another multi-storey complex; a real-estate compulsion…the resort acquired all the pieces of this beautiful building with the deep desire to erect it at a suitable location where it would live forever. Interestingly, unlike many other buildings in Chettinad, every pillar, jali frames and woodwork has been singularly edged in Rajasthan and transported to Chennai for this unique creation. No two columns are of the same dimensions…’’


Story 4:

A cell where Subhash Chandra Bose was held captive in erstwhile Madras is dismantled and transplanted here. The placard tells the story (above and below)


Look how spacious…fit for some of today’s politicians!

Observe the redundant bolts in the locking mechanism.


So it goes on…stories waiting to be uncovered!

May be it’ll be you to…

This is all we could cover in the short time – an hour here an hour there over the two days we stayed – we could steal from the hustle and bustle of a traditional marriage.

The website here provides a glimpse of what the retreat has to offer besides boarding and lodging – an amazing range of participative activities in local art and culture. Also has shots of select objects and collections.

A further incentive to visit: Swamimalai is close to Darasuram, Ganga Konda Chozhapuram and Thanjai Periya Koil (Brihathiswara Temple, briefly covered here), three World Heritage Sites, treasure houses of Dravidian art and architecture.


PS: While the resort with its rooms, ameneties and service are plain commerce, the collection, in my view, should also get due attention with the support of trained and committed staff even if minimal.There’s room for organizing the objects better with informative placards. The general upkeep could also be tightened – saw here and there broken/damaged artifacts piled up carelessly. Some need unobtrusive touch-up. Of course it’s not easy to maintain such a large collection on daily basis without employing an army with attendant expenses. Also a nagging question: It would be sad to let the collection atrophy. Is it live and growing? Is it still a one man’s – Steve Borgia, Chairman and Managing Director, INDeco Hotels –  passion?

A Home To Two Artists!

These are from V, residing in Chennai, a self-taught first-timer, having a go at Warli – a tribal art from Maharashtra – with left-over paints!

The art form, simple in its elements and color, acquires in composition an undeniable charm of its own evident in these panels.

Unfortunately, not offered for sale, not available for even public viewing – for they are painted on a wall at the back of their house!

The second artist remains unnamed, unacclaimed, prolific, the wide world his/her canvas cum gallery. Titled ‘Exuberance’ this is his/her handiwork – perhaps the palette board – in a patch tended by V herself in their front yard:


At Chennai International Airport

As we deplaned at the international airport at Chennai – it was a domestic flight from Mumbai – and made our way to collect our baggage, on both sides of the long walk we were treated to some delightfully eye-catching high-quality art-works – panels in relief, paintings, icons carved in wood…all drawing upon the rich cultural motifs of Tamil Nadu.

And that’s when our good old Murphy’s Law kicked in. Even if the gentleman had not said anything on the subject, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean. Here was art decked out in all its splendor pining for attention and adulation, and for crying out loud, my camera-cum-cell-phone rides in my wife’s handbag, about fifty feet in the lead. Lumbering along with a particularly heavy piece of cabin baggage, I had to be content merely ogling at these art pieces, telling myself may be next time…

Finally, caught up with the lady waiting for me to join at the entrance to the baggage hall.

I set my load on the floor and told her by gestures there was a pressing matter to attend that cannot keep..

Inside the toilet, I finished the business and then by sheer chance looked up.

And saw this:

The poster art, a civic initiative, by itself made sense as the city is presently reeling under severe water shortage this year. But its juxtaposition

May be it’s a brilliant move: Where/How else a message could get undivided attention for even up to a minute or more smack in the face of an audience helplessly glued to their station and at the same time in a relieved frame of mind 🙂

Retrieved my camera and took a shot of the art to ponder over the ways of those creative minds that worked on it – a perfect brain-food 🙂

And a small compensation for not ‘capturing’ those enchanting art pieces?


Intense Impressionism

A Wonderful Night
Dreamy Paradise Point
Notre-Dame At Dusk
Rainy Autumn Afternoon
A Corner Of Florence
Impressions Of Hawaii
Merry Christmas


It isn’t WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get…

It’s WYGIWYDS What You Get Is What You Don’t See!

Rather it’s what the Russian artist Gleb Goloubetski sees! And how!

Here we go:


Even Cityscapes Could Be Beautiful

Larung Gar in Tibet

Source: CockTale \ Prakash Vora

Venice, Italy (a painting?)

Source: Tirutoraipoondi


Pleasing Asymmetry

Kolam is an ubiquitous art form widely practiced in the south of drawing patterns of dots, lines and curves laid just outside the main door of the house, every morning, welcoming ‘gods’ and visitors to the house. Unlike the welcome-mat, the kolam is never stepped on. Usually simple, on festive occasions, it gets more flamboyant and even embellished with flowers.

Every morning the area is first cleaned by splashing water out of a bucket by the maid or the housewife marking the start of the day for the entire household. An energizing sound, not annoying in the least unlike the strident alarm clocks, announcing the arrival of a new dawn and all is well with the world. A sound that I wake up to even today when we visit my sister-in-law’s place in Chennai, to the accompaniment of an orchestra of bird-calls – it meant Thaayamma, an illiterate old lady and a ceaseless wonder, at work pulling off in a breeze a non-repeat elegant design on the wet floor with no shake or break in her kolam.

The white flour – no artificial colors – used to make the kolam up is intended to be food for ants, insects, etc. – unfortunately these days in many places powder from pulverized pebbles, by no means edible, is used for reasons not known to me yet. Infrequently, flour paste is used if the kolam is needed to last longer and not easily blown away.

The ‘canvas’ on the floor also lets the womenfolk to show off their artistry and creativity, with houses trying to outdo each other during festivals. The women learn it largely from their families when young though books are available these days.

In general, it may not be too wrong to say the kolam on the outside often reflects in some ways the state of well-being on the inside.

Kolam‘s are also drawn inside the house in the pooja room where gods are worshiped.

My wife’s doing today, more as a ‘welcome’ gesture than food for non-existing insects, a simple traditional flour kolam, with two leaves instead of the usual four, generating a pleasing asymmetry:





PS: In the north the art takes the form of Rangoli that is far more elaborate and filled with colors especially during festivals.

Beautiful Japan

Found these ‘urban’ pictures  of Japan as beautiful – what, ‘urban’ and beauty? yes, it is – as those of cherry blossoms (see the source below):


Late Night SceneNeonfantaji (Neon Fantasy)After the Rain20 YearsFuturismYoasobiMidnight NoirNight StrollStore Front





Source: Sent by Deepak Punjabi along with a video from Gabriel Traveler on     funonthenet.





The Women Knew About It All Along!


The Ramappa Temple near Warangal so uniquely named after its architect was constructed in the 13th century during the rule of Kakatiya’s. Its richly embellished sculptures rival the feast laid out by the Hoysala’s in Belur (12th century).

Here are just a few snaps of the icons and panels available on the net:

Musicians and Dancers in ecstatic postures:


A long chain of 523 elephants walking around, sculpted all differently on the base of the temple:

520 elephants walking around all different

And here’s our lady wearing high-heels!

HighHeels Ramappa Temples

Unfortunately, there are no video clips I could find in English explaining the sculptures and their intricacies.


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Secret Inside

How often we have stood before a painting and wondered about the artist’s intent! Here is a beautifully simple piece and the artist’s take, no less beautiful.

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
While the secret sits in the middle and knows.
– Robert Frost

“…This is a new painting, in size about 11″ square on paper…I call this piece Secret Inside.

I really didn’t know what to think of this piece after I painted it. All of the elements fell into place strictly from a compositional standpoint, without a lot of rumination over meaning or intent. They simply worked in the context of the scene. It wasn’t until I had time to step back and study it for a bit that it started to reveal its meaning to me. Or at least what it means to me. You might see it differently.

I began to see the interior scene as the secret self, the part of us that we seldom expose to the outer world, which is seen out the window. The guitar represents our hidden self-expression and creativity. The painting on the wall (looks suspiciously like one of mine) represents the desire for beauty and the book on the table, the desire for knowledge. The empty bottle symbolizes our weaknesses, our vices. Perhaps the desire to forget.

The table shows what might be seen illuminated in a glimpse from the outside and the overall darkness of the interior reveals itself as that dark part of us that is never visible to the outer world. Or which we hope is never visible.
As I’ve said many times before here, this is only my personal take on this. You might see something completely different, perhaps something much less symbolic or you might see it as something darker, more sinister.
It all depends on your own secrets inside…”

It’s GC Myers again working his magic with amazing simplicity! Check it out at http://redtreetimes.com/2011/06/27/secret-inside/

Many thanks to him for kindly letting me carry it here and spread the joy!