Sunday, August 20, 2017

Rahu, The Eclipse Demon

In honor of the solar eclipse visible in the U.S. tomorrow (Monday, August 21... also the first day of classes!), I wanted to write up some notes here about Rahu, the eclipse demon of Indian mythology.

Rahu is a head that is rolling through space, but he was once an asura (a supernatural deity) known as Svarbhanu. During the great Churning of the Ocean of Milk to extract the amrita, elixir of immortality, Svarbhanu was pulling on the snake Vasuki with the other asuras, while the gods were pulling in the opposite direction.

(British Museum; illustration circa 1820)

When the amrita finally emerged from the churning, the gods and the asuras began to quarrel, so the god Vishnu took the form of a beautiful woman, Mohini, who said she would distribute the amrita to both the gods and the asuras... but she started with the gods, having no intention of sharing the amrita with the asuras.

The asura Svarbhanu realized what Mohini was up to, so he joined the gods, inserting himself between Surya (Sun) and Chandra (Moon), and that way he got a taste of the amrita.

When Mohini found out from Surya and Chandra what Svarbhanu had done, she manifested as Vishnu and used Vishnu's Sudarshana Chakra to slice off Svarbhanu's head. But because Svarbhanu had tasted the amrita, he did not die. Instead, his head became known as Rahu ("The Grabber"), and his body became known as Ketu, and in both forms he journeys through space.

Rahu is angry at the sun and the moon for having betrayed him to Mohini, so he chases after them. When he catches the sun, he swallows it, but the sun rolls right out his throat. The eclipse happens in the time that it takes for the sun (or moon) to vanish into Rahu's mouth and then come out his throat.

Here is a terra cotta sculpture of Rahu from India (LACMA); it dates to around the year 500:

The story of Rahu is known throughout South Asia; here is a statue of Rahu swallowing the sun from a temple in Thailand, Wat Srisathong: this Rahu has a body instead of being just a disembodied head:

And here is an image from Cambodia that shows Rahu swallowing the moon:

You can find out more about the mythology of eclipses in this National Geographic article: Solar Eclipse Myths From Around the World.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Maati Baani on the Folk Musicians of India

I am a huge fan of the Indian duo Maati Baani, especially the wonderful videos they have made featuring the folk musicians of India. For example, see their tribute to India's farmers below. Today at their Twitter, Maati Baani shared this article about their work with folk musicians, and it is very much worth reading: Life of a Folk Musician in India.

And here is Saccha Mitr - A Salute To Our Farmers.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Project Ideas Index

Here's an idea at random... press reload for more:

Below is a list of the Project Idea posts with research tips and links, and these ideas are just a few out of the infinite possibilities! You are not constrained in any way by this list; in fact, one of the most exciting things that happens each semester is when people do projects that no one has ever done before.
  1. The Gods / Devas
  2. Devi: The Goddess
  3. Vahanas of the Gods
  4. Weapons of the Gods
  5. Divine Iconography
  6. Creation Stories
  7. Vishnu and Lakshmi
  8. Shiva Mahadeva
  9. Ganesha, The Elephant-Headed God 
  10. Indra, The Thunder God
  11. Surya, The Sun-God
  12. Ganga, The Goddess of the Ganges
  13. Kamadeva, The God of Love
  14. Avatars of the Gods
  15. The Avatars of Vishnu
  16. The Ramayana Told Your Way
  17. Dasharatha and his Family
  18. Women of the Ramayana
  19. Loving Couples of the Ramayana
  20. Sita
  21. Rama
  22. Rama and Sita
  23. Hanuman
  24. Ravana
  25. Supernatural Characters of the Ramayana
  26. Animal Characters of the Ramayana
  27. Geography of the Ramayana
  28. Krishna the Hero
  29. Epic Heroes
  30. Epic Battles
  31. Epic Brothers
  32. Women of the Epics
  33. Sages and Gurus
  34. Valmiki
  35. Vishvamitra
  36. The Chiranjivi (Immortals)
  37. Animals, Natural and Supernatural
  38. Horses
  39. Elephants
  40. Rakshasas
  41. Yakshas
  42. Apsaras
  43. Nagas and Naginis
  44. Birth Stories
  45. Death Stories
  46. Reincarnation
  47. Love Stories
  48. Nala and Damayanti
  49. Swayamvaras
  50. Karma
  51. Dharma
  52. Maya
  53. Yoga
  54. Traveling India
  55. Temples
  56. Food
  57. Music
  58. Festivals and Holidays
  59. Jataka Tales
Plus you can get project ideas just from looking at random books with Indian stories and random artwork... there are hundreds more project ideas just waiting for you to discover them. Press reload for more:

Browse all the images at the Epic Images Gallery:

Browse all the India books at the Freebookapalooza:

Project Idea: Apsaras

The apsaras are divine nymphs, and you will find them in both of them epics and in other Indian legends.

Research Tip: Start with the Wikipedia article about apsaras, and then start exploring the articles about famous apsaras like Rambha (who curses Ravana), Hema (mother of Mandodari), Menaka (mother of Shakuntala, and thus ancestor of the Bharata who gives his name to the Mahabharata), Urvashi (who curses Arjuna), Ghritachi (indirectly the mother of Drona), and Tilottama,

Project Idea: Vishvamitra

Vishvamitra, who plays a key role in the Ramayana as Rama's guru, is one of the most famous sages in the Indian tradition, with an unusual life story: he started out his life as a king, not a sage.

Research Tip: Start with the Wikipedia article about Vishvamitra, and also the article about what it means to be a Brahmarshi. There are also good articles about other characters who are involved in Vishvamitra's life and adventures: Vashishtha, Harischandra, Trishanku, and Menaka.

Plus, you might also enjoy this comic book on Reserve in Bizzell: Vishvamitra: The King Who Became an Ascetic.

Past Projects:

Project Idea: Valmiki

Valmiki is both the author of one of the most famous versions of the Ramayana, and he is also a character in the story himself, with a fascinating life history of his own.

Research Tip: Start with the Wikipedia article about Valmiki, which tells the story of how he was the first to discover poetry, and how he then went on to compose the Ramayana. You can also read about his earlier life as Ratnakar, the robber.

You might also want to read about Tulsidas, the later poet who was considered by some to be a reincarnation of Valmiki. You can get a comic book version of Tulsidas's Ramayana in Bizzell: Tulsidas' Ramayana, and there is also a comic book about his life: Tulsidas: The Poet Who Wrote Ram-Charit-Manas.

Here is an image of Valmiki with the sons of Rama in his hermitage:

In Valmiki's hermitage, 
Lava and Kusha recite the Ramayana,
while Shatrughna listens.
(British Library: Mewar Ramayana)

Project Idea: Divine Iconography

The Indian art tradition is rich in iconography, and you could use those details in the depictions of the gods as prompts for the stories in your project.

Research Tip: Each of the Wikipedia articles about the major gods and goddesses will provide information you can use: Vishnu iconography, Shiva iconography, Brahma iconography, Lakshmi iconography, Parvati iconography, Saraswati iconography, Ganesha iconography, etc. There's even an article on the 32 popular forms of Ganesha.

Here is one of those Ganeshas: Vīra Gaṇapati, the Valiant Ganapati:

Armed with Bhetala, the weapon of power (shakti), arrow, bow, wheel (chakra or discus), sword, club, hammer, mace, hook, nagapasha (serpent noose), spear, plough, and the shining axe.