Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tagore: Unlocking Cages

I thought you might enjoy Tagore: Unlocking Cages, an audio overview (15 minutes) of the great Bengali writer, Rabindranath Tagore, by Sunil Khilnani at the BBC as part of their Incarnations: India in 50 Lives series.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Kali (Kaalii) the Goddess and Kali the Demon

One of the problems with transliterating Sanskrit names into English is that the English alphabet has fewer letters than the Sanskrit alphabet: 26 letters in the English alphabet compared to 47 letters in the Devanagari script used for Sanskrit. One of the reasons for the difference is that in Sanskrit there is a system of long and short vowels reflected in the writing system, but not in English. That's what leads to confusion with the word Kali:

Kaalii (long a, long i) is the name of a goddess: काली. You will often see her depicted with her tongue sticking out, as here:

Kali (short a, short i) is the name of a supernatural being: कलि. This is the Kali who gives his name to the age of the world we live in now, the Kali Yuga. In this age, Vishnu will return in his Kalki avatar to do battle with Kali, as you can see in this depiction of Vishnu as Kalki riding on his horse while Kali battles him from on the ground:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Snakes and Ladders

Did you ever play the game "Chutes and Ladders" when you were a kid?

Well, this game has its origins in India! You can read more at Wikipedia:
The game was popular in ancient India by the name Moksha Patam. It was also associated with traditional Hindu philosophy contrasting karma and kama, or destiny and desire. It emphasized destiny, as opposed to games such as pachisi, which focused on life as a mixture of skill and luck. [...] The ladders represented virtues such as generosity, faith, and humility, while the snakes represented vices such as lust, anger, murder, and theft. The morality lesson of the game was that a person can attain salvation (moksha) through doing good, whereas by doing evil one will inherit rebirth to lower forms of life. The number of ladders was less than the number of snakes as a reminder that a path of good is much more difficult to tread than a path of sins. 
Here is a 19th-century board from India:

This one is circa 1800:

This example is from the late 18th century:

And this one is also late 18th-century:

I don't have a date for this board:

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Flowers in Ancient Indian Literature

This is a lovely site that provides information about flowers that figure in the ancient literature of India: Flower of India.

You'll find a list of the flowers included below; one of my favorites is the legend of the "blue lotuses" in the story of Rama and Durga:
Before starting for his battle with Ravana, Rama wanted the blessings of Devi Durga. He came to know that the Goddess would be pleased only if she is worshipped with one hundred 'Neel Kamal' or blue lotuses. Rama, after travelling the whole world, could gather only ninety nine of them. He finally decided to offer one of his eyes, which resembled blue lotuses. Durga, being pleased with the devotion of Rama, appeared before him and blessed him.

Ashok अशोक (Saraca indica) -- Sita Ashok
Pārijāt पारिजात (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) -- Hār-Singār
Kadamb कदम्ब (Neolamarckia cadamba) -- Kadamb
Kamal कमल (Nelumbo nucifera) -- Lotus
Karnikār कर्णिकार (Pterospermum acerifolium) -- Kanak Champā
Vakul वकुल (Mimusops elengi) -- Maulsari
Mālatī मालती (Aganosma dichotoma) -- Mālatī
Mādhavī Latā माधवी लता (Hiptage benghalensis) -- Mādhavī
Ketakī केतकी (Pandanus odoratissimus ) -- Kewdā केवड़ा
Neel Kamal नील कमल (Nymphaea nouchali/stellata) -- Blue Waterlily
Kund कुंद (Jasminum multiflorum/pubescens) -- Star jasmine
Akund अकुंद (Calotropis gigantea) -- Crown flower
Champak चम्पक (Michelia champaca) -- Champā
Yuthikā यूथिका (Jasminum auriculatum/molle) -- Juhī
Kumud कुमुद (Nymphaea lotus var. pubescens) --White waterlily
Japā kusum जपा कुसुम (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) --China Rose
Vat वट ( Ficus bengalensis) --Banyan
Tamāl तमाल (Garcinia xanthochymus) --Mysore Gamboge
Punnāg पुन्नाग (Calophyllum inophyllum) -- Sultan Champa
Kovidār कोविदार (Bauhinia purpurea) -- Purple orchid tree
Pātal पाटल (Stereospermum chelonoides) -- Paral
Gunjā (Abrus precatorius) -- Gunj
Atasi अतसी (Linum usitatissimum) -- Flax
Bandhook बंधूक (Pentapetes phoenicea) -- Midday Flower

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Today's Featured Author: Sunity Devee

There are two reading options based on Sunity Devee's book, Nine Ideal Indian Women: Epic Women and Sita and Promila.
Sunity Devee, the Maharani of Cooch Behar in West Bengal, India, was born in 1864, and she died in 1932. In addition to being an author, she was also an educator and women's rights activist. You can read more about her life at Wikipedia, and you can also read her autobiography:  The Autobiography of an Indian Princess.

Here are two portraits of her, both from Wikimedia Commons:


Nine Ideal Indian WomenThe women that Sunity Devee included in her book of "ideal women" are Sati, Sunity, Shakuntala, Savitri, Shaibya, Sita, Promila, Damayanti, and Uttara.

Here are some of the illustrations:

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Author of the Day: Saraswati Nagpal

One of the reading options in Indian Epics is Saraswati Nagpal's graphic novel entitled Sita: Daughter of the Earth, the first Indian graphic novel to be shortlisted for the Stan Lee Excelsior Award.

Nagpal has also written a graphic novel about the heroine of the Mahabharata, Draupadi: Fire-Born Princess.

Although these two graphic novels are written by the same author, they are illustrated by different artists, so that will give you a great opportunity to think about the contributions that the author and the illustrator both make to your experience of a graphic novel.

Saraswati Nagpal was born in 1980, and I have copied below a brief biography which I found at her Amazon Author page:
Since she can remember, Saraswati has been in love with words. As a child, she used to read books everywhere, anywhere and all the time. Her first published work, the graphic novel 'Sita, Daughter of the Earth' is the first Indian graphic novel to be shortlisted for the Stan Lee Excelsior Award (2012). She is working on more graphic novels for young adults, as well as on her first fantasy fiction novel. Saraswati is also an educator who believes in a fun classroom and joyful learning. All the children she teaches and meets inspire her to re-tell old stories and make up magical new ones.  Other than writing, she adores dancing, animals and the colour purple. She currently spends her time between mystical India and beautiful South Africa. In Hindu or Vedic lore, Saraswati is the serene goddess of speech, art and wisdom. Saraswati is very glad to be named after her.
This photograph is from The Serene Swan, a musical project by Saraswati and her brother, Sai Ganesh Nagpal.

Here is their performance of the Gayatri Mantra, and you might also enjoy this article that Nagpal wrote for The Atlantic magazine:  Princesses Can, in Fact, Be Role Models for Little Girls.