Look What’s Here!

Stone reliefs with some unusual element in them, observed during recent trip to the South:

Look at his feet!

Three faced Yaali (the mythical creature)

A female goddess with Shanku and Chakra!

The signature motif of Vijayanagara architecture – here the bearded shepherd (?) is not hooded as customary. Look at his pajama-like garment (a dhoti?). What is he holding besides the usual stick? A piece of cloth tucked under his arm?

A more common depiction of the shepherd. His stick has a hook at the top!

It’s not often a full panel is assigned to a dog! He carries a collar (more likely, an ornamental chain) around his neck? The turning down of the tail tip is so un-dog-like (at least the usual breeds). May be it’s not even a dog.

A loving Krishna has his arm around a gopi’s shoulder. Not a very common pose to find.

One more of the kind.

A man resting and so is the woman in green sari in a near-identical posture!!


Source: Temples at Srirangam, Triplicane, Srimushnam, Kumbakonam and Thiruvaheendpuram

Romance On Rails (Updated)

A Vignette

Thirupparaithurai, our village, flanked by an endless roll of lush rice fields on one side and by the river Cauvery on the other, is some miles (<10) from the town of Trichinopoly (Trichy) – a place we spent some part of our annual school vacation (the rest in nearby Srirangam).

At the back of the sprawling house, some 100 meters away, ran a single train track, straight as far as we could see, to/from Trichy from/to Kulithalai/Erode (for some reason the track is not doubled even today and the station, sadly, stands decommissioned, overrun by weeds and vines, for want of traffic).

The track served a few long-distance trains and a couple of local trains for office-goers from villages around.  Standing out among them, even today, is the Pilot that fetches the commuters to Trichy in the morning and returns in the evening.

In those days it was widely rumored how the powerful bus operators were pressing on the railways to schedule the Pilot in a way it did not draw the crowd away from them during the busy hours! It may not be out of place here to mention the state has excellent network of bus services – you could go from anywhere to anywhere any time of the day (of course, some restrictions apply!).

It was for us an eagerly awaited daily experience to hear the whistle of the Pilot in the distance. We ran through the back-door of the house , past the long and full cow-shed, huge hay-stacks, the water-well and the toilet – yes, in those days toilets were located far back outside the house – to reach the back-door of the property. Beyond, the ground dipped into a grassy ‘valley’ to rise on the other side bearing the track, all within about 15 feet.

Standing at a safe distance from the track, we kept our eyes peeled and hands free and ready. First it was the dadak-dadak rumble of the wheels on the rails, soon followed by the puff-puff smoke-belching steam loco, slowing down as it neared a road-crossing and then immediately the station. As the loco passed us, we would frantically wave and shout to the driver to get his attention; he always stood on the side and leaning out to look ahead for safe passage – there were always people footing it across the tracks in a hurry even when the gate at the crossing was down barring road traffic and the train was almost there.  

For a few seconds, he would take his eyes off and look at us, return our greeting with a wave of his hand, his coal-blackened face breaking into a smile – enough to get us thrilled high!

We wouldn’t move until the train, after a halt of a minute or so, whistled and slowly pulled out of the station. A sad moment it was for us as it slowly receded from our sight and we trotted back to the house wordless.

Of course it was all forgotten soon as other distractions kicked in…until the next morning.


For some reason, a railway train, particularly its steam, diesel or electric loco has been and is even now a sight that fascinates many, evoking awe at the machine and its brute power and speed. An enduring romance.

The Mumbai artist Biswas captures it on his canvas like it is!

From his profile:

Kishore Pratim Biswas lived near a locomotive workshop in Kolkata when he was a child. It was very easy for one to spot steam locomotives every now and then, and as an enthusiastic 5-year-old kid, he loved to run out and watch them go. He would then come back home and sketch what he saw. A giant locomotive surrounded by steam – the aura of that scene attracted him tremendously, and inspires him even today. The firemen and drivers at the workshop became his friends, and they would usually gather around to look at his sketches. He remembers listening to their stories and trying to sketch all their emotions on a piece of paper…

He graduated in Fine Arts from Government College of Art & Craft, Kolkata, spent a few years in his hometown, and then moved to Mumbai in 2009.

Here we go:


After Kannan’s idyllic description of the scene near IIT, Guwahati (see in Comments), I had requested him for a few snaps. He kindly obliged with the following:

Here’s the strange thing with Agthori, perhaps unique in the vast railways network: the lone platform – seen in the pic – is some 300 mts away from the main station and its entrance! It seems the Station Master’s office and the entrance would be moved nearer to the platform once the land needed nearby is acquired.

Also if the train were to stop in front the present Station Master’s office, it would be required to go back a good 200 mts at least before moving forward and picking up enough speed to go over the slope ahead.

A view of the Station Master’s office at the entrance 

A view of Agthori railway station from the road over the bridge near IIT entrance gate.
A view of IIT staff living quarters

The locals n and around prefer to commute the distance of 20 kms to the city by road and, yes, a ferry across the mighty Brahmaputra!


Source: thebetterindia.com/42929/locomotives-paintings-by-kishore-biswas/

On The Streets Of Srirangam

It isn’t easy to capture all the charm of this temple town in a few snaps. All the same…

Selling Spinach’s – have you ever seen so many of them?
A typical house

Most houses have a kolam done in front.

A cow on its daily call steps in asking for vegetable left-overs!
Now going to the market for picking up more!
East Chitra Street on a quiet morning

The tallest of the innumerable gopurams
Another view of gopurams towering over the narrow shops-lined main street

What is late Shri Vajpayee doing on a market gate?
Many didn’t know who he was!


Stories In Stone!

An artist playing percussion (look at his face, eyes and cap)!

A Fibonacci spiral?

An elephant on rampage!

A celestial minstrel (wears a crown):

Like many other figures, anklet on only one leg!

Can’t make out what is the unusual piece around his cheeks and chin – does not appear to be a beard.

A female minstrel:

A vaanaram (monkey), tail up (an aggressive posture?), bending at knees, carrying aloft a heavy boulder? Or it is Hanuman with his tail on fire all set to torch Lanka? (the tail gets thicker with wads of combustible cloth towards the tip?)

Is this the maya maan, the magical deer, coveted by Sita?

On some, even a paunch can look good!

A picture of devotion:

Florals good for contemporary apparel design!

Mythical yaali?
Mythical yaali

Krishna and gopi’s on the left. Adjacent is a kama-sutra panel. Surely these panels are bunched together for a good reason – wonder why!


Srirangatthu Devathaigal (Damsels Of Srirangam)

A lady with an elaborate headgear (a deity?)

A cute pose! Is she standing under a palm tree?

Fertility goddess:

Their charms to no avail on this sage in penance!

This time it is four-faced creator Brahma himself doing penance!

The proceedings watched by a shepherd with mild interest (is he a way-farer?) – look at his protection against the elements!


PS: The story connecting the reliefs is fictional!

Srirangatthu Devathaigal (Damsels Of Srirangam)


The Untold Story About A Rearing Horse (contd.)

Part 3

‘So, there you are, just as I thought, wasting your time as well as Uncle’s.’

I turned around to see the voice belonged to a comely young lady clad modestly in a salwar-kameez. Her dupatta in disarray, locks of hair jumping their braid and playing on her forehead, the exasperated look in her kaajaled eyes – and she appeared to be addressing my master story-teller.

A moment’s silence – we all looked at each other. He was quite calm like he didn’t hear her or the words were not spoken to him.

‘I must be mad in my head to have fallen for him. Uncle, please tell him.’

She paused to catch her breath.

‘He doesn’t work anywhere, doesn’t earn a rupee. He does just three things – imposes himself on people like you, reads books or disappears for hours into some Internet Café. So how are we going to pull on? Doesn’t bother him a bit. I’ve even threatened him, one day I’ll just leave.’

For the first time since the arrival of this typhoon, I got my turn and I rushed to his defense: ‘You’ve with you an invaluable gem, a storehouse of immense knowledge, and you don’t see it, my friend.’

‘Uncle, tell me, how do we generate cash out of this invaluable gem? Sell him? Pawn him? Who’ll buy him? All in my fate. Now, come, let’s figure out for tomorrow.’

She took him by his hand and pulled him away.

‘Hold for a minute. I immensely enjoyed listening to him for the last hour and it cannot be for free. He said he won’t accept money. Please keep this. I wish I had more on me.’ I thrust the three hundred rupee notes into her reluctant hands.

‘Thanks very much, Uncle.’

In a few winks, they were gone by the nearest exit, the Vellai Gopuram.

Days later on returning to my base, I scoured the Internet high and low for corroborating sources. Surprisingly couldn’t find much. Came up with ‘A Forgotten Empire: Vijaynagar’ by Robert Swell, an oft cited classic, I learnt. It was mentioned by my master story-teller too, I remembered. Large parts of his amazing story were supported by this source.

Was the whole thing a clever scam? An incurable romantic, making it up? I don’t want to think so. If it was made up what then is the real story?

I regretted I did not find out more personal and contact details of him, not even his name, much less a snapshot; and fondly hope I run into him again in Srirangam or anywhere else.


The post, partly inspired by ‘The Miracle’ of Fredrick Forsyth, is not entirely fictional.

The photographs are taken with thanks from Wiki and http://richardarunachala.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/sri-ranganathaswamy-temple-trichy-tamil-nadu/.

Thanks to Ms. Prema Srinivasan, my m-in-l, a post-graduate in History, for pointing me to Swell’s work, the chief verbatim source for Part 2.

The Vellai Gopuram has its own poignant story, a story of high courage, deceit for a noble cause ending in a heart rending sacrifice, with social overtones. The Kamban mandapam again in the same prakaram to the north has witnessed historic events of a different kind. More on these in subsequent posts.