Monthly Archives: October 2016

Best Books on Creativity

Inspire Greater Creativity

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Beauty and Majesty of Gagan Mahal in Bijapur, Karnataka

Gagan Mahal, Bijapur

Bijapur in the Deccan plateau of south-western India was the capital of a Muslim kingdom, founded by the Yadava dynasty in the 12th century. It fell under the jurisdiction of the Bahmani Muslims in the 14th century. Its era of independent magnificence was from 1489 to 1686 when the Adil Shahi sultans made it their capital and were in charge for Islamic architecture of exceptional quality. In 1686, the Mogul emperor Aurangzeb defeated Bijapur, but was powerless to exercise firm control and the region soon fell under Maratha sway, from which it elapsed into East India Company hands in the early 19th century.

Ali Adil Shah I ascended the throne and aligned his forces with other Muslim kings of Golconda, Ahmednagar and Bidar, and jointly, they brought down the Vijayanagara empire. With the loot gained, he instigated ambitious projects. He built the Gagan Mahal, the Ibrahim Rauza (his own tomb), Chand Bawdi (a large well), and the Jami Masjid.

The Shah was supreme power but in real practice, the Jagirdars, who acted as his counsellors or advisers, regulated his sovereignty. If the ruler possessed personality and keen intelligence, he could maneuver the chiefs by playing off one against the other, but if he was a minor, or did not fully devote himself to the affairs of the state, they dominated him. With the growth of the territories of the state after 1565 and the resultant increase in the Shah’s prestige and powers, he began to conduct the business of the state with the help of ministers who were placed in charge of various departments of the administration. These ministers held office during his pleasure only. However, whenever the Shah’s authority was weak, they assumed larger importance.

Spandrels of the Gagan Mahal arches in Bijapur, decorated with fish-like and other creatures Gagan Mahal, so called because of its tallness almost touching the sky, was built during the Adil Shahi Sultan Ali Adil Shah I who ruled from 1550 AD., to 1580 AD. In keeping with his victories and wealth that he amassed, he planned to make his capital Bijapur a beautiful and imposing city with many elegant buildings. Gagan Mahal is one such building.

Gagan Mahal was built in 1561 AD., at the order of the Sultan Ali Adil Shah as his palace as also for his durbar. Thus, it served the two fold purposes of Sultani residence and royal court hall. The greatness of the building lies in the fact that it is a congruent combination of both these purposes. The private residential area was on the first floor just above the royal assembly hall. Two massive wooden pillars supported its wooden floor. It had wooden projecting balconies from where the family members of the Sultan, particularly the ladies could watch the spectacle in front, be it royal assembly or sports or any other royal event, including watching the Sultan seated on the throne. Staircases were provided on the back wall for going up or coming down. The staircases also led the inmates to the living rooms, bathrooms, kitchen, and other parts of the residence without being watched by outsiders. Thus, it provided safety, refuge, and privacy to the royal family.

The description of a city in Persian language is one of its fascinating characteristics. For poets and writers, the subject matter gives the occasion to admix poetic imagination with historical realities as well as the actual existing features of the buildings, such as, gardens and water bodies. A beautiful description of Devgiri or Daulatabad in the works of Amir Khusrau is illustrative of the point. There are plentiful descriptions of the beautiful city of Hyderabad, Bijapur, and Aurangabad in the south, Kashmir, Lahore, Kangra, Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Lucknow, Narnol, Hissar and others in the north. Notwithstanding the abundance of material on cities in Persian literature in various libraries and museums, neither the works are well known nor were they used to reconstruct the cityscape.

Beauty and majesty of the Gagan Mahal in Bijapur

The beauty and majesty of the Gagan Mahal structure is the vast central arch, which has a span of over sixty feet. On its both sides were two smaller spanned arches thus giving a rare spectacle of three arches in a row of superhuman magnitudes. This was indispensable because it faced the Durbar hall and the Sultan and his ministers had to have full view of the happenings in front such as sports, wrestling, music etc. Thus, it served a convenient purpose and added majesty to the building. There is a great deal of woodwork in Gagan Mahal. The complete ceiling of the main hall was of wood being supported by heavy beams, wooden window frames and projecting balconies and eaves and pillars. Most of them were painted and gilded to give a royal effect. This palace had its significant periods also. When Mughal emperor Aurangazeb defeated the last Adil Shahi ruler Sikandar, Aurangazeb sat on the throne at this palace and Sikandar was brought before Aurangazeb in silver chains as a captive.

Regrettably, most of the Gagan Mahal is in ruins today except the three main majestic arches symbolizing the strength and glory of the Adil Shahis.

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Zen: A Religious and Philosophical Tradition

Great Buddha of Kamakura, Zen Buddhism

Zen is the concept that enlightenment may be realized through quiet meditation.

Zen is a religious and philosophical tradition established by Myoan Eisai (1141-1215), who studied Chan Buddhism in China and founded Japan’s first Zen temple in 1191.

The Chan School traces its own origins to Bodhidharma, the legendary Indian monk who brought Mahayana Buddhism to China and founded the Xiaolin temple. Mahayana Buddhism began to incorporate elements of Daoism, which led to the simplified, experience-driven approach of first Chan, and then Zen.

Like Indian Mahayana Buddhism, Zen asserts that suffering in the world comes as a result of our ignorant attachment to false ideals, particularly the concept of a permanent self. The true nature of reality is engi, or interdependent arising, in which everything is part of a dynamic, interrelated web of being. All things are impermanent and nothing exists apart from the natural and social context in which it is embedded.

Through meditative practices, a person can experience the truth of engi and gain satori (enlightenment), which is characterized by mushin, a state of “no-mind” that perceives things as they truly are without abstraction.

Zen training involves the cultivation of two main virtues: chie (wisdom about the true nature of reality) and jihi (compassion for all sentient beings).

The two most dominant schools of Zen are

  1. Soto, which focuses upon seated meditation
  2. Rinzai, which emphasizes the contemplation of koans, or paradoxical riddles.

The cultivation of mushin results in a type of hyperpraxia in which a person’s performance of any task is greatly enhanced, and many artists since the samurai era have studied Zen to augment their abilities.

The Japanese-Buddhist author and lecturer D. T. Suzuki once said, “Zen … turns one’s humdrum life .. . into one of art, full of genuine inner creativity.”

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Om Mani Padme Hum: The Essential Mantra of Tibetan Buddhism

Om mani padme hum, the great mantra of Tibetan Vajrayana

A mantra is a powerful and significant set of syllables, repeated in worshipping incantations. The most famous is ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ (Sanskrit, ‘Om, jewel of the lotus, hum’), an essential mantra of Tibetan Buddhism.

Om Mani Padme Hum: The Essential Mantra of Tibetan Buddhism The great Tibetan mantra, Om mani padme hum, engraved on metal and rock. It is also frequently printed on prayer flags and written on slips of paper and stuffed into the heart of a prayer wheel, so that with each flutter of each one of the flags and every turn of the prayer wheel, the vibrations of the mantra are sent out into the atmosphere. The purpose might be to create a positive force field around oneself and one’s community, and of course, to expand one’s merit.

The great mantra of Tibetan Vajrayana is Om mani padme hum. Inscribed on prayer wheels that are kept continuously turning and on multi-colored prayer flags that flutter benedictions in all directions, this mantra is central to the Tibetan way of life. Although the words mean “Hail the Jewel in the Lotus”, the mantra is believed to have consequence beyond the literal.

The great Tibetan mantra, Om mani padme hum, engraved on metal

At one level, the jewel and the lotus can be seen as the dharma and the Buddha. At the tantric level, the mantra represents the intercourse of the Buddha with his feminine sakti, or Avalokiteshvara with Tara. While mani and padme share a grammatical association, om and hum are syllables that cannot be straightforwardly translated.

At a solely syllabic level, the six syllables of the mantra have been interpreted as corresponding with the six paramita (perfections) of the bodhisattva. These are generosity, patience, meditation, morality, energy and wisdom. One way or another, the mantra has also got absorbed with the idea of accumulating merit in the form of good karma, and part of the spirited turning of prayer wheels and the constant chanting with prayer beads is geared towards the end of notching up as many Om mani padme hums as possible. This reverberation is an important part of the Tibetan laity’s life of dharma. Centuries of being regulated to suit diverse human breathing and speaking patterns has rounded the edges of the mantra, so that it no longer has the clear-cut edges of the original Sanskrit, and has settled more or less in the comfortable groove of being Om Mani Peme Hung.

The great mantra of Tibetan Vajrayana Om mani padme hum inscribed on prayer wheels

Dr. Filchner offers us here a general talk about a remarkable expedition that he carried through, notwithstanding immense difficulties, in Tibet for the purpose of cartographical surveys. He gives us a diary exemplified by fine photographs and interesting little sketches, and in this way offers us a most valuable supplement to Sir Charles Bell’s account. The expedition discussed is between Lanzhou and Ladakh along the north side of the Hedin Mountains or Trans-Himalaya. It is only within fairly recent times that the Trans-Himalaya has been evidently documented as a range, thanks largely to the investigations of Dr. Sven Hedin. It is therefore particularly interesting to have an account of a journey along this northern flank, and we look forward with interest to the publication of the scientific results.

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Architecture of the Famous Srikanteshwara Temple in Nanjangud, Mysore

Srikanteshwara Temple in Nanjangud, Mysore

Nanjangud located 25 kilometers from Mysore Nanjangud is a famous sacred town about 25 kilometers from Mysore. It is famous all over Karnataka because of the Srikanteshwara or Nanjundeshwara temple and people throng the porticos of this temple daily in large numbers. Fairytale has it that the sage Gautama stayed at Nanjangud and offered puja to the Shiva Linga, known as Srikanteshwara or Nanjundeshwara. The town attained holiness because of the “sangam” where the Gundlu and the Kapila join. The spot is called Parusharama Kshetra where the sage Parushurama is said to have been recompensed for the sin of decapitating his mother.

Nanjangud, also called as “Dakshina Kashi” (Southern Kashi)

Enclosed within a gigantic prakara its Dravidian stucco gopura is impressive. The small square garbhagriha with its cylindrical pillars in the antarala were built in the Ganga period of about ninth century. The mandapa in front of the original sanctum has lathe turned Hoysala pillars of 13th century. The dancing Ganapati is also a Hoysala sculpture. To the left of the main shrine is a shrine of Narayana and behind is a shrine for Chandikesvara. To the northwest of this is the Parvati shrine with a pillared sabhamandapa. The Parvati and the Narayana shrines as the gopura are the creations of the Vijayanagara period. To the right of the main shrine is a small shrine of Subramanya seated on the back of a peacock with seven-hooded Naga. The main shrine has a stucco sikhara of the Vijayanagara period. Mysore Wadeyars also made additions to the temple. The nine storied tall gopura of the Dravidian type was built by queen Devajammanni, queen of Krishnaraja Wadiyar III in 1849. Opening to the courtyard is a shrine for Nandi that is about 6 feet in height, donated by Dalavoy Vikramaraya. Another attraction is the huge stone bull which is 8ft in height. This was established by Dalavayi Vikramaraya in 1644. In its front is the Tulabhara mantapa. The ritual of weighing the devotees against any commodity is done here. Commonly people balance themselves against rice, jaggery, sugar etc.

The Maharajas of Mysore used to be illustrious devotees of Nanjundeshwara. Jayachamaraja Wadiyar was a celebrated believer and used to visit the temple on Mondays. In actual fact the Srikantadatta Wadiyar seems to be a favor from this God. The sanctified Sivalinga which is more than a thousand year old continues to fascinate devotees from far and wide.

Devotees of Nanjundeshwara, Srikanteshwara Temple

In addition to the main deity, there are many shrines for goddess Parvathi, Ganesha, Nataraja, Sharada, Subramanya, Navagraha etc. The twelve-monthly fair (Jatre) takes place during March–April which attracts thousands of devotees. Half-a-century ago, there used to be a dining hall called Shivakuta, opposite the temple kitchen. The devotees used to be served prasada here. Many old women used to take prasada here daily. Some of them had taken a vow not to use a plate or a leaf but to eat on the floor. This Shivakuta is not there today; today we have a luxurious dining hall.

Srikanteshwara Temple in Nanjangud, Mysore The vast prakara has decorated niches that house 122 images in all including Dikpalas, Virabhadra, Dakshinamurti, Tandavesvara and Shiva in various aspects, Ganapati, Saptamatrika etc. The linga in the main garbhagriha is about three feet in height, to which worship is offered. The Parvati image is about five feet in height and it is a beautiful sculpture of the early medieval period. Thus, the whole temple has a history of over thousand years starting from the tenth century. Krishnaraja Wadeyar III was a great patron of this temple and his statue with his queens is found in this temple. Traditionally this place is connected with Gautama and Parashurama and is on the banks of the sacred river Kapila. Even Hydar Ali and Tipu Sultan are said to have made some grants to this temple. According to popular belief, Tipu’s elephant got afflicted by an eye-ailment and no doctor (hakim) was able to heal it. Somebody suggested that he should pray to Sri Nanjundeshvara which he did. A wonder happened and the elephant’s eye was cured and impressed by this, Tipu called the god Hakim (doctor) Nanjunda. He gifted an emerald green Linga to the deity.

Architectural Highlights of Srikanteshwara Temple in Nanjangud

Architectural Highlights of Srikanteshwara Temple

A persistent idea in Indian philosophical, theological, and mythological systems is that of a cosmos expressed through a succession of emanations. Diverse traditions of dogma and practice share this vision of the advancement from the one to the many. Temple designs repeatedly exemplify the same kind of pattern. Within the diverse traditions of Indian temple architecture, an binding format is noticeable both in the formal structure of individual temple designs, which express a dynamic sequence of emergence and growth, and in the way in which temple forms develop right through the development of such edifying—often regional—traditions.

Another exclusive feature of this temple is the large number of Saiva sculptures made of stone and metal. On the left side of the prakara are found the stone sculptures of puratanas (Saiva saints) and of Siva himself in different forms and actions, such as Chandrasekhara, Andhakasura, Dakshinamurti etc. These were prepared during the period of Krishnaraja Wadiyar III. Thus it is a fine gallery of saiva sculptures. Another attraction is the stone sculpture of Krishnaraja Wadiyar III with his four wives. He gifted two wooden chariots (1819), silver horse, elephant, Nandi etc.

Brick and mortar gopura of Srikanteshwara Temple in Nanjangud

The Nanjundeshwara temple is one of the vastest in Karnataka. It is a temple complex of various periods. No less than four periods of its composition can be traced. It is a Dravida type structure. It is 385 ft long and 160 ft wide. The small sanctum (garbha-griha) was the earliest and built during the period of the Gangas or the Cholas (about 11th Century AD). The anterior mantapa in which the devotees sit was a later addition during the Hoysala period of the 13th Century AD. The next stage of construction took place during the Vijayanagara period. During this period, brick and mortar sikhara was constructed over the shrine. In fact, there is an inscription of Krishnadevaraya in this temple. The next stage of development took place during the period of Mysore Wadiyars, Dalavayis (Chiefs) of Kalale and Dewan Purnaiah. Actually most of the new constructions took place during the period of Krishnaraja Wadiyar III.

Most prominently, the brick and mortar gopura was built in 1845. This massive gopura is 120 ft high and is built in seven tiers. At the top of the gopura are seven gold-plated Kalasas, each about 10ft in height. Another attraction is the huge stone bull which is 8ft in height. This was established by Dalavayi Vikramaraya in 1644. In its front is the Tulabhara mantapa. The ritual of weighing the devotees against any commodity is done here. Generally people weigh themselves against rice, jaggery, sugar etc.

Rathotsava Chariot Procession

Rathotsava Chariot Procession of Srikanteshwara Temple in Nanjangud

A distinctive feature of this temple is that it has devotees from both Vaishnava and Srivaishnava sects. Srikanteshwara is a family deity of thousands of families in Karnataka and these families visit this temple regularly either or before performing major functions at their homes. The annual rathotsava or the chariot procession at Nanjanagud is a renowned religious ritual that attracts thousands of people from far and near. People turn out in droves for the yearly Panchamaha Rathothsava. The central Car Street was occupied by believers and pilgrims from Mysore and the nearby regions converge at the temple confines to get a peek of the recitation event which climaxed with the drawing of five chariots devoted to various deities. Rathothsava is preceded by an extravagant set of rituals at the Srikanteshwara temple with consecrated hymns accompanied by the conventional ensemble of musical instruments. After the rituals and special prayers, the first of the five chariots called the ‘Ganapathy Ratha’ is drawn by the devotees and this was followed by the ‘Chandikeshwara Ratha’, the ‘Gautama Ratha’, ‘Subramanya Ratha,’ and lastly the ‘Parvathi Ratha’. The cynosure of all eyes was the ‘Gautama Ratha’ which practically equals the height of the main tower of the temple and is supposed to be at least 90 feet high. Government authorities and law enforcement make exceptional preparations to transfer the chariots and to ensure that the chariots did not veer off the road anyway stationing cranes and other heavy machinery to cope with emergencies.

Dip in the Kapila river at Srikanteshwara Temple, Nanjangud

On Mahashivarathri festival, devotees show up on Nanjangud at daybreak to take a dip in the Kapila river before having a darshan of Lord Srikanteshwara. Special prayers began with the abhisheka and chanting of the Rudra Chamakam that continue right through the day. Chants of “Om Nama Shivaya” reverberated throughout the day. Rudra Chamakam, which is drawn from the Yajur Veda and is a description of Lord Shiva in his myriad forms, is considered significant during Mahashivarathri.

Mahashivarathri festival devotees in Nanjangud Thus, Srikanteshwara Temple in Nanjangud is one of the holiest of Shaiva pilgrim centers in Karnataka. Large Hindu temples are chiefly centers of learning, repositories of artistic and cultural relics, and sites for ceremonial endeavors.

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Pythagoras’s Philosophy of Vegetarianism

Pythagoras Advocating Vegetarianism (c. 1618-30) by Peter Paul Rubens

Vegetarianism is a conscious decision not to eat meat and other animal products.

Vegetarianism is the principled refusal to eat meat. The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras (c. 570-c. 495 BCE), who required members of his philosophical society to abstain from eating meat, is often viewed as the first important vegetarian. Before the word “vegetarian” was coined in the 1840s, non meat-eaters were often called “Pythagoreans.”

What is wrong with eating meat? Vegetarians have offered various criticisms for the practice, contending that eating meat is cruel (often, from the twentieth century onward, citing the methods of industrial meat production), unethical (often citing recent work in practical ethics, particularly by Peter Singer), unhealthy (often citing the fact that vegetarians tend to be less obese and less likely to die from ischemic heart disease), unnatural (often claiming, wrongly, that prehistoric humans subsisted on a vegetarian diet), environmentally unfriendly (often citing the relative inefficiency of meat production), and in conflict with the tenets of religious faith (sometimes citing reincarnation, as with the ancient Pythagoreans and several modern Hindu sects).

There are also different degrees of vegetarianism: for example, ovo vegetarians will eat eggs, lacto vegetarians will eat milk, and ovolacto vegetarians will eat eggs and milk, whereas vegans forego all products derived from animals and fruitarians furthermore forego all plant foods that involve killing the plant, eating only fruits, nuts, and seeds. Vegetarianism is typically associated with a similar refusal to use products derived from animals, such as leather and wool.

The modern vegetarian movement is dated to 1847, when the Vegetarian Society was founded in Great Britain. In Western countries, vegetarianism has been increasing since the 1960s, and due to continuing and intensifying ethical and environmental concerns, it is likely to flourish in the future.

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