Architectural Marvel: Thanjavur Brihadeeswar Temple

A must-place to visit in any tour of South India.


Brihadeeswarar Temple is 1000 years old, in Thanjavur. The amazing architecture of this temple makes it unique and stupendous. This video tells us about the facts of how this magnificent temple was built” – from Madras Trends

Duration 3.27 mins with subtitles in English:


PS: There many other videos on the net, small and big, on this temple and its features. This one from Madras Trends is vide Vidya Dwarakanath.

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Mosaics in Jordan


My familiarity with mosaics till date is limited to them – made from ceramic tiles broken up into chips – used to pave terraces of old residential buildings in Mumbai to reflect away the heat from the sun boring down onto the roof. Haven’t been to the top of any new building to know if the practice continues today.  Of course, I have also seen some large panels in some likely and unlikely public places, often sore on the eyes, while travelling abroad.

Now I know better😊

Mosaics are pictures made from arrangements of small fragments of stone or glass. Among many ancient peoples they were the primary form of architectural decoration. They date back to the dawn of civilization at Mesopotamia where architects used small colored objects to decorate the temples in Uruk in the fourth millennium B.C.

Roman Mosaics

The Greeks and Romans used pebbles and shells to make pictorial composition around the fourth century B.C. Early Greco-Roman artisans began making mosaics with pieces of colored glass broken off in different shapes from thin sheets baked in a kiln. The Romans developed the mosaic as an art form, a tradition that was carried on by the Byzantines.

Generally, only the wealthy could afford them. Some have also been found on public sidewalks, walls, ceilings and table tops and at public bathes. In some rich towns, it seemed as if every upper-class house contained mosaic pavements. They decorated entrances, halls, dining rooms, corridors and sometimes the bottom of pools. Mosaics in dining rooms were sometimes found with contained bits of discarded food! Usually frescoes were used to adorn the walls.

Only the floors of the servants’ quarters were left bare.

Aside from the prestige value, mosaic floors helped cool interior temperatures in an area of the globe that could be relentlessly hot – an efficient floor covering, waterproofed, durable and easy to walk on

Early Roman mosaics, made mostly of finger-nail size stones, many of which were naturally colored, contained monochromatic designs. As the art form developed they used increasingly smaller pieces to create increasingly more elaborate designs in an increasingly wide variety of colors. The human figures have flesh tones, shading and musculature made with a wide variety of pebbles gathered from the sea and local quarries.

Typical Roman mosaics contained simple geometric designs to breathtaking complex pictures – battles scenes with charging cavalries, mythical scenes with romping gods and goddesses, accompanied by nymphs and satyr, still-life’s of seashells, nuts, fruit vegetables and advancing mice and gladiators. A mosaic from Pompeii showing Alexander the Great battling the Persians was made from 1.5 million different pieces, almost all of them cut individually for a specific place on the picture. Mosaics uncovered at a 1600-year-old Roman villa near the Sicilian town of Piazza Armerina showed women in bikinis exercising with dumbbells. In Pompeii “beware of dog” signs were turned into elaborate mosaics.

Many scholars believe the best mosaics were made in the provinces of North Africa. Portrait of Neptune, made by an anonymous artist in the 2nd century A.D., found on coast of Tunisia is believed to be one of the best.

Did we see any Roman mosaics in our tour? Frankly, don’t know. This piece exhibited in the dimly-lit hall by the side of the Roman Theater in Amman  might be one by reason of its location . But the text on the placard indicates it’s Byzantine. The text uncannily reads like the oft-quoted parable of Two Birds On A Tree from the Rig Veda/Mundakopanishad!


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Byzantine Mosaics

Wall mosaics began to catch on in the late Roman period but it was the Byzantines, dominating eastern Europe and Asia Minor from the A.D. 4th century to the 15th century, who raised mosaics to expression of high art. Romans built mosaic floors while Byzantine Empire as the symbol of Christianity assembled its mosaics in a way to suit religious purposes – it was the translation of Christian theology and political authority into artistic terms. They made mosaic ceilings and upper walls to glorify God and heaven, using teensy-weensy tiles in contrast to the Roman, and often contained a lot of gold and precious and semi-precious stones. No surprise then they were placed on walls, where people couldn’t walk on them. They were made to both dazzle and instruct the people who came to the church, the majority of whom were illiterate. The exterior of the churches that housed the mosaics were usually drab and monolithic.

The Byzantine art of mosaic making reached its zenith in A.D. 5th century. In Ravenna (Italy), artisans used 300 different shaded of colored glass – broken into square, oblong, tesserae and irregular shapes – to compose pictures of landscapes, battle scenes, abstract geometrical patterns and religion and mythical scenes. The glass made it possible for these pieces of art to be glittery in effect and translucent at the same time. However as methods evolved, glass tesserae, known as smalti, was used. They were made by mixing minerals with melted glass in furnaces. Smalti were cut from thick sheets of colored glass which had small bubbles throughout and a rough surface. They were supported with a gold leaf or a reflective silver. This brought patterns to life with the enhanced glimmer they yielded.

We know virtually nothing about the artisans who created the great Byzantine mosaic masterpieces. they didn’t sign their names and scholars are not even sure whether they were Romans or Greeks. That lets me out😊

Sadly, majority of Byzantine mosaics were destroyed or badly damaged due to armed conflicts. Luckily, some still remain and are being preserved.

Luckier than lucky, we managed to see some of them at Mount Nebo and in the church of Saint George at Madaba,

Byzantine Mosaics of Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo is a site that is home to some Byzantine churches.  On the highest point of the mountain, Syagha the remains of a Byzantine church and monastery were discovered in 1933. The church was first constructed in the second half of the 4th century to commemorate the place of Moses’ death, believed to be buried on the mountain. The church design follows a typical basilica pattern. It was enlarged in the late fifth century A.D. and rebuilt in A.D. 597. The church is first mentioned in an account of a pilgrimage made by a lady Aetheria in A.D. 394. Six tombs have been found hollowed from the natural rock beneath the mosaic-covered floor of the church. In the modern chapel presbytery built to protect the site and provide worship space, remnants of mosaic floors from different periods can be seen. The earliest of these is a panel with a braided cross presently placed on the east end of the south wall.


This one included here shows men and animals divided into four scenes. The first two depict hunting scenarios, unusual for a place of worship. The other two represent a more harmonic relationship between animals and humans. Reminds us of the zen story of  the tree, the elephant, the monkey, the rabbit and the bird? As for the boundaries of the mosaic, they have a chain-like pattern. How did they achieve the perfect repetition? Did they use some templates?

Try here for a little larger and clearer image.

Curiously, in the first scene, the man on the left faces the lion with a mere spear and the man on the right handles a tiger with a spear and a shield, both men are on their feet, all by themselves. The lion is seen realistically deflecting the thrust of the spear with its paw. In the second scene, both men are mounted on their horses against an elephant (calf?) and a wild boar. Are those hunting dogs accompanying them?  Closer look shows them to have antlers. The spears are long enough to put safe distance between the men and their preys. The shepherd in the third scene is an old man resting on a stone.  No stick in his hand to herd his flock. And, the fourth shows men attending to animals on tether, one of them racially different. It is tempting to speculate the valorous men in the first scene are from high social status until we find the two men on the right in the first and the fourth scene, the latter handling the camel, are dressed almost alike.

The flora and the fauna do not appear well-proportioned. The trees have their main trunk cut! The second one from the right seems to have its branches and leaves upside down. The blooms are pointed in all directions (So, where was the sun exactly?). Why is the camel shown spotted? No grass or pasture plants on the ground for the sheep to chew.

Flaws? No, I would like to think it is stylized representation combined with abstraction yielding a beautiful and riveting mosaic.

Unfortunately, the inscription at the bottom is all Greek, literally and otherwise, to me.

This large piece on the floor, quite like the Roman practice, was uncovered undamaged from under another mosaic of beautiful geometric patterns because of Iconoclasm prevailing from 726 to 846 AD, which decreed that the depiction of humans in icons and mosaics as sacrilegious. Another similar piece nearby may (not) be seen left intact even today, under its cover of a geometric mosaic, for the fear of damaging it in the process.

Much as I wished, I could not keep this one out; for it was not in our itinerary:


The nearby Church of Saints Lot and Procopius, we learn, has an extravagantly tiled floor portraying grape harvest. Does the grape harvest symbolically relate to the wine component in the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist? Shows men stomping on the grapes in wine making! And what’s the man on the right doing? Playing music to the vines or to entertain the men on the left in their arduous task?

Mosaics in the Church of St George, Madaba

The modest looking 19th century St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Madaba, built in the Byzantine-era style, sports a rich collection of mosaics. And, is best known for the spectacular mosaic preserved in the floor of the church. The mosaic dates back to the 6th century, and it consists of around two million differently colored individual pieces of stone. Interestingly, the mosaic doesn’t only depict the local area. Instead, it’s basically a detailed map that includes Palestine; the entire Nile Delta, as well has the Holy Land (Byzantine Jerusalem). The amount of detail is astonishing, complete with landscapes, mountains; livestock and etc.

Not into the geography of the region (what about history, you ask?), I was not able to appreciate its true worth. For the interested, a lot is written about it in the net.

Inside the church, I found this one interesting for a reason:


Unfortunately, the picture is lopped off on either side. So much for my photography☹

This panel shows Jesus on the ground being comforted by his disciples on his side. The minor detail that caught my attention was the depiction of the internal organs as you can see, showing a glimpse of the knowledge of human anatomy prevailing in those times!


In my googling, came across this bewitching mosaic of an anonymous lady famously known as the Mona Lisa of the Galilee from Sepphoris (Israel). This was found on the floor of the dining room of a palatial mansion built in 3rd century AD.  I’m sure you wont fault me for including it here though we went nowhere near.




Sources: Collated from, Wiki,,,,, and


Revisiting Padmavati, One Last Time

PSri's Book Blog

(Readers of my blog who aren’t interested in Indian cinema, history and folklore may safely ignore this post and avoid bemusement)

In the legend of Padmavati (to resurrect a dying controversy but move beyond the controversial dream sequence), her husband Ratansen is captured by Allauddin Khilji, who demands Padmavati as ransom for releasing the king. Instead of Padmavati, some brave Rajput soldiers led by the heroes Gora and Badal dress up as Padmavati and her maidens, and are carried into the Khilji camp in veiled palanquins. Once inside, they take the guards by surprise, rescue Ratansen and flee the camp, though a few of them die in the attempt. It’s a very unique story, you’d think, until you hear another story that is startlingly similar, one that supposedly took place 920 years earlier, a story we know purely as legend. It makes you wonder about repeating themes in legend and…

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No One Is Alone With A Friend Like…Another Akbar-Birbal Episode


Emperor Akbar was known to come up with whimsical questions that he would expect to be satisfactorily answered. This time he put this question to his court and asked Birbal to conduct the proceedings and find an answer:

‘Who is a man’s best friend?’

After a long silence and much encouragement from Birbal to speak up, a voice from the assembly set the ball rolling:

‘Well, I would say ‘Money’. If you’ve money, you’ll live comfortably.’

‘Is that money never leaves you or you never?’ Birbal posed.

‘Surely you have it to spend and if you spend, it goes.’


A young man ventured next: ‘It’s my horse. It’s always with me. I take care of her and she takes me everywhere.’

‘If you come across a river too deep for the horse and you need to get to the other side?’

‘Simple. I’ll get off my horse, secure it to a tree, dive into the waters and swim across.’

‘There you’re.’

This time it was a man of action: ‘To me, my sword is my best friend.’

‘Well, what do you do with the sword in times of peace as it mostly prevails in our Emperor’s reign? Of course, you could cut fruits. And still no help in getting to eat them – a spoon does better.’

A round of muted laughter.

Then a man of god got up, puffed out his chest as he claimed: ‘My faith is my ever-abiding friend.’

Everyone was keenly looking at Birbal to see his response.

Birbal grabbed a walking stick from an old man as he slowly walked up to the man of god.

In a not-so-sudden flourish he swung the stick bringing it down on the man’s head.

There was enough time for the man to break the blow to his head with two hands. No harm done.


Birbal returned to his seat and with an exaggerated bow towards the man said: ’Thanks you, Sir. You alone got it right. Your friend truly stood by you in the face of danger. I apologize for the little bit of drama.’

The man of faith regained his composure once again puffing out his chest feeling vindicated.

Birbal summed up for the expectant court and a more-than-keen Emperor:

‘What stays with a man through all times, protects him from many a danger, helps him earn a living and eat his roti (bread), would you all agree that would be man’s best friend?’

The court saw no reason to disagree and chorused a loud ‘Yes’. Many already had their answer.

‘Of course it would be his hands!’

There was a flutter in the court ending in most nods than nays.

Needless to add the Emperor was mighty pleased with Birbal’s verdict.


Pls see here for an earlier Akbar-Birbal episode:
Credit: for the image

An Akbar-Birbal Episode Never Told Before!


Emperor Akbar was known to come up with whimsical posers for his court to find answers.

So it was this time too and his question was: ‘What is the most ‘beautiful’ sound?’ ‘Beautiful ‘ meant a sound that one has heard and would like to hear over and over again.

On the appointed day, the court assembled to discuss the Emperor’s question and seek the best answers. Besides the members of the court, the common folks too turned up in good number to watch the proceedings.

Once the question was announced, the responses came in fast and thick:

‘A mountain brook in frolicking flow.’

‘The call of a koel in thick of a mango orchard.’

‘The happy gurgle of a baby on sighting the mother after her absence.’

‘The jingle of gold pieces (currency).’

‘The early morning call of the temple bells.’

‘The tinkle of the anklets of a bashful bride withdrawing behind silk curtains.’

’The prattle of the Emperor’s grandson.’

The suggestions were wild, poetic, philosophical, romantic, humorous, fawning and some bordering on the ridiculous.

However the Emperor did not appear to be happy with what was coming to him.

One of the courtiers observed impatience writ the Emperor’s face and made an appeal: ‘My lord, we see you’re not pleased. May I make a submission?’

‘Go ahead.’

‘Your Highness, we observe Birbal hasn’t spoken a word. Perhaps he could address the question?’

The courtiers were jealous of Birbal’s standing in the court. They did not miss an opportunity to show him in poor light and cause him discomfort.

Akbar turned to Birbal: ‘Yes, I do see you unusually silent today. Would you know what is the most beautiful sound?’

Birbal was cautious: ‘Jahampana, clearly you’ve something more in mind than what you’ve heard here today. I request for some time to find and present it before you.’

‘Birbal, you’ve seven days and we meet again.’


In the following days, Birbal was seen to be busy more than ever. He scoured the city, met people at their houses, visited temples, gardens, palaces and markets and went to all places where people gathered.

When the court assembled again, it was a much harried looking Birbal taking his seat.

Akbar: ‘Birbal, we’re ready for you. And, hope you’ve not returned empty-handed.’

Birbal: ‘I seek your permission to present it before you, my lord.’

Akbar nodded his assent.

Birbal took a bow and turned to the footmen standing at a distance.

On cue, they marched a diffident looking young man right up to the front. Birbal held him by his shoulders seemingly to assure him everything was okay and the man had nothing to fear.

On seeing this piece of drama, a frown appeared on Akbar’s face: ‘My dear Birbal, we are here to hear your response to the question we had posed and you bring a man here

The courtiers perked up to see Akbar pulling up Birbal.

Jahampana, this man here lives in our city at the outskirts and is a carpenter by profession.’

The entire assembly went silent for a few moments feeling quite unsure of what would happen next.

The deep voice of Akbar broke the silence: ’We hope you’re not going to trivialize the subject or be flippant about it.’

‘No, I would never be emboldened to do so, my lord. I assure you this man knows what is the most beautiful sound. And if you kindly permit him to tell us

Barely concealing his impatience and fixing both of them in his stern glare, Akbar allowed him to proceed.

Thereupon Birbal in a slow soothing voice posed the question to the young man.

The young man bowed before the court, paused nervously for a moment and said:‘Sirs, the most beautiful sound I regard is my mother’s snore.’

The entire court was aghast at what they had heard. Birbal must have surely gone out of his mind to produce this man before the Emperor. The courtiers were secretly overjoyed to be a witness to Birbal’s certain fall from favor.

Akbar was visibly annoyed at Birbal: ’If this is some kind of a joke, Birbal, you know we’re not amused.’

Birbal in an assuaging tone: ‘My lord, please bear with me for a minute.’

Turning to the young man Birbal asked him to explain his strange response.

The young man said: ‘Sirs, my father passed away a few years ago. There are only two of us now – my mother and I. Unfortunately for several months now my mother contracted some unknown ailment that no vaidya is able to cure. I’ve called any number of them home to treat her, but to no avail. She has this intense pain in her stomach that does not let her do any work in her waking hours nor does it let her catch a wink of sleep. I’m unable to provide any palliative care besides helplessly watching her suffer. Occasionally out of sheer exhaustion she falls into sleep. And those are the moments I thank the almighty for and her snore at this time is the most beautiful sound to my ears.’

For a perceptibly long time the Emperor could not find his voice, nor the court.


About Akbar and Birbal

Abu’l-Fath Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar also known as Shahanshah Akbar-e-Azam or Akbar the Great (1542 – 1605), was the third Mughal Emperor. He was of Timurid descent; the son of Emperor Humayun, and the grandson of the Mughal Emperor Zaheeruddin Muhammad Babur, the ruler who founded the Mughal dynasty in India. At the end of his reign in 1605 the Mughal Empire covered most of northern and central India. He is most appreciated for having a liberal outlook on all faiths and beliefs and during his era, culture and art reached a zenith as compared to his predecessors (Wikipedia).

Picture: Akbar receives an official sent by Queen Elizabeth

Raja Birbal (1526 – 1586) was the Wazīr-e Azam or Grand Vizier or the adviser of the Mughal court in the administration of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. He was one of his most trusted members along with being a part of Akbar’s inner council and most valued of nine advisors, known as the navaratna (Sanskrit: meaning nine jewels). Birbal’s duties in Akbar’s court were mostly military and administrative, but he was also a very close friend of the Emperor, who appreciated Birbal for his wit and wisdom, often involving humorous exchanges. These stories have become part of a rich tradition of folklore and legend. ,It also lead to the jealousy of other courtiers., they often trying to put him down in Emperor’s eyes (Wikipedia).

Credit: for the image

Man’s Scheme Of Things

Here’s another one on ‘Garden’ – four over hundred words.

‘Look at the chinar-lined vistas, blooming flower-beds, shallow terraces, smooth sheets of falling water, and wide canals studded with the stepping stones. Beautiful! Breath-taking! If only man had created this world…’

‘Well, our four-legged friends, also the finned and the winged ones, would be very nervous about it. They would want to be more than ending up as garden curios, gawked at in zoos, farmed for meat, or reared as house-pets, assuming they don’t figure in circuses or in labs anymore.’

‘Animal rights, eh?’

 The stray dog behind them morosely thought, ‘Forget it, he wouldn’t have another man around to share his world and women.


The Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar was built by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir for his wife Nur Jahan, in 1619, and later, extended on the order of Emperor Shah Jahan. ‘Shalimar’ meant ‘Abode of Love’ or ‘House of Joy’.

On sighting these Gardens, the Emperor was believed to have recalled Amir Khusrau’s farsi couplet:

‘Gar firdaus bar rue zameen ast / hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast’
If ever there is Paradise on Earth / It is here! It is here! It is here!

More at

The Untold Story About A Rearing Horse (contd.)

Part 2

The story begins here:

It was the year 1509 when the King Krishna Deva Raya was crowned – this is vouched by an inscription in the Pampapati temple at Hampi. He celebrated his accession by erecting the great tower at the entrance of the temple, and another large tower shortly afterwards.

Domingo Paes, the Portugese traveler, may have seen him in person; for in his account he describes the King at length: ‘The King was physically strong in his best days, and kept his strength up to the highest pitch by hard bodily exercise. He rose early, and developed all his muscles by the use of Indian clubs and the use of the sword; he was a fine rider, and was blessed with a noble presence which favourably impressed all who came in contact with him. He commanded his immense armies in person, was able, brave, and statesmanlike, and was a man of much gentleness and generosity of character. He was loved by all and respected by all. Gallant and perfect in all things.’ All southern India was under Krishna’s sway, and several quasi-independent chiefs were his vassals. These were, according to the Portuguese chronicler Fernao Nuniz, the chief of Seringapatam, and those of Bankapur, Garsopa, Calicut, Bhatkal, and Barkur.

At the beginning of Krishna’s reign, Almeida was the viceroy of the Portuguese settlements on the coast, but at the end of the year 1509 Albuquerque succeeded him as the governor. When he suffered a severe reverse at Calicut, Albuquerque dispatched a priest Fr. Luis as ambassador to Vijayanagar, asking Krishna to attack Calicut sultanate, promising himself to assault simultaneously by sea. The governor declared that he had orders from his master, the King of Portugal, to war against the Moors (Mohammedans), but not against the Hindus; he offered his fleet to assist the King of Vijayanagar in his conquest of the place; that as soon as Calicut was captured the Moors would be driven there from, and that afterwards the Portuguese would assist the King of Vijayanagar against his enemies, the Moors of the Dakhan (Deccan). He promised in future to supply Vijayanagar alone with Arab and Persian horses, and not to send any to Bijapur.

There is no record of the King’s response. The sultanate of Bijapur was then ruled by Ismail Adil Shah of Adil Shah dynasty.

Albuquerque next attacked Goa, then under the Adil Shah, and captured the place in March of 1510. Immediately afterwards he dispatched his emissary on a mission to Vijayanagar, renewing Almeida’s earlier request for a fort at Bhatkal for the protection of Portuguese trade. Krishna Deva Raya was courteous, but did not specifically grant the governor’s request; the reason, it was speculated, was that the King had then made peace with the Adil Shah, his arch enemy! Presumably this peace was made in order to enable the Adil Shah to retake Goa!! In fact the King in his congratulatory message to Albuquerque on their conquest of Goa, promised to help them against Adil Shah. But this aid, however, does not appear to have been given when the Mohammedan troops successfully attacked and regained Goa in May after a severe struggle.

Reminds you of the coalition politics of today?

In November of the same year, Adil Shah’s attention drawn away by internal dissension at Bijapur, Albuquerque attacked and retook the place in December.

So much action over Goa and the swing of fortunes within the first two years of Krishna Deva Raya ascending the throne!

Krishna Deva Raya was desperate for the imported horses, a key piece in his plans for the campaign against Adil Shah. In 1514 Krishna Deva offered Albuquerque 20,000 pound sterling for the exclusive right to trade in horses, but the Portuguese governor, with a keen eye to business, refused. A little later the King renewed his proposal, declaring his intention of making war against the Adil Shah; and Adil Shah, hearing of this message, himself sent an embassy to Goa. Albuquerque was now placed in a position of some political importance, and he wrote first to Vijayanagar saying that he would give the Raya the first right of refusal of all his horses if he would pay him 30,000 cruzados per annum for the supply, and send his own servants to Goa to fetch away the animals, and also that he would aid the King in his war if he was paid the expense of the troops.

The wily governor did not stop there. He called in Timoja, a Hindu who had befriended the Portuguese. Through him, he promised the Sultan of Bijapur also the first right of refusal of all horses that came to Goa if he would surrender to the King of Portugal certain parts of the mainland opposite the island. It was at this time Fr. Luis discovered Timoja was in secret liaison with Krishna Deva Raya for him to take Goa before the Portuguese could fortify their possessions therein; and he declared Timoja to be a traitor. A furious Albuquerque set an assassin on Timoja’s heels. The latter escaped from a botched-up attempt on his life and alerted Krishna Deva Raya to the Portuguese governor’s friendly overtures with Adil Shah behind his back. Though, soon afterwards Timoja succumbed to his injuries.

Krishna Deva Raya wished to honor Timoja suitably in public for his loyalty and courage. When he funded the work on Sesha Raya mandapam he had it done in stone to last until eternity. It is Timoja that you see here attacked by the assassin. Sir, look at the serene face of a dutiful Timoja and cowardice and deceit writ large on his assassin’s. Please notice how the dagger is awkwardly plunged into Timoja’s thighs, not killing him immediately.

It’s another matter that the governor Albuquerque died even before the matter could be resolved and…

At this point, a rude interruption – a voice from behind us – brought the story to a halt and us back to the terra firma.

End of Part 2

(To be contd.)