Side galleries

Until now we’d taken a straight route through the linked courtyards of the main level of Junagadh Fort in Bikaner. I’ve written about the first courtyard, then the one with the fountain and the Diwan-i-Aam, and finally the one with the private court, Karan Mahal. After this we moved to the side galleries. I’ll talk about them in the reverse order of our visit, because they would then come in the same order as the quads.

In the second courtyard, in the galleries opposite to the Diwan-i-Aam is the private royal temple. Niches on the wall contained paintings from the Ramayana. The flat style without any element of naturalistic perspective perhaps indicated that the originals were rather old, perhaps among the oldest that we saw. One alcove held a small but beautiful statue of Vishnu with Lakshmi, another was a statue in the aspect of a warrior, which I could not identify.

In the section with the Ramayana and the statue of Vishnu, the walls and ceilings were painted with rainclouds, corkscrew bolts of red and yellow lightning coursing between them. In the other shrine, the ceiling and walls was painted in the Sonakin style, gold and other colours on a ground of white stucco. All the doors were painted in the Jangali Sunthari style. I think the door that you see above has panels with paintings of scenes from the Ramayana. I can see the celestial elephant, Airavat, in one.

The galleries next to the Diwan-i-Khaas in Karan Mahal have been turned into a small museum, filled with little things from what once may have been a royal treasury. I saw ivory sandals and jeweled buttons. A walking stick had a handle of gold and jade. A little bracket in the wall, quite unremarked, was a wonderful wooden sculpture of a bird eating berries from a tree. Once these barren rooms would have been filled with a hodge-podge of courtly life. We moved on.

Science da kamaal! Posts appear automatically while I travel off net.

Street art in Rameshwaram

Pamban island was a lovely weekend getaway for us, not only the drowned town of Dhanushkodi at its southern end, but also the ancient town of Rameshwaram. The town is mentioned as a place of pilgrimage in the Skanda Puran, which is dated to the 8th century CE. So, it is a reasonable guess that the kernel of the town, the temple, existed already 1500 years ago. On our way out, I stopped the car at this orange house to take a photo of the naive painting of the religious story which the temple celebrates. According to it, Pamban Island is the place where the monkey army of Ram built a causeway to the island of Lanka, kingdom of the demon Ravana, who had abducted his wife Sita.

This other image I had captured in a street right outside the temple. Beautifully executed, the detail that drew my eye is how the drip of the black paint is incorporated into the composition. I loved this piece of art. Naive is the last word that you might apply to it. Look at the beautifully rendered lotus leaves in that delicious blue! Could the woman in the pose of supplication be a personification of a lotus flower? Then, is the goddess a depiction of Lakshmi? Perhaps it is different a religious story, maybe from the Ramayana? I do not recognize this picture. If you do, please leave an explanatory comment for me and other readers.

The Mattancherry Palace

There are many things about the Mattancherry palace of Kochi which one can write about: the integration of European proportions into a traditional Kerala architectural style, the beautifully worked materials used, such as the wood, flooring, and roof tiles, or the artifacts collected in the museum it now is. But every such description is incomplete because the main attraction cannot be shown; you are not allowed to take photos of the glorious murals on the walls. It is a loss in the description, but an opportunity to visit the palace and be surprised. When I stepped over the threshold of the entrance into the long rectangular anteroom, the first detail that I noticed was the intricately carved rosewood ceiling, and, through an arch at one end, the golden glow of the murals depicting the Ramayana that cover the entire wall of the king’s bedchamber

The palace was built by the Portuguese as a reparation to the king of Kochi in the mid 16th century CE, after they previous palace was looted and burnt. The overall style of architecture is traditional, the whole palace being built around a central enclosed courtyard. Visitors can look down at this from a covered verandah that runs around the inside of the upper floor. The materials used are also traditional: dark polished rosewood and fired clay roof tiles. The polished floor is specially remarkable, since it is not stone but a traditional composite material blended from charcoal, burnt coconut shell, egg white, and other ingredients. The arched doors and windows, the elongated rooms, and the external finish of the masonry is European.

The palace museum contains a gallery of several interesting artifacts including European-style portraits of the kings of Kerala. I was specially drawn to the palanquins on display. The alternation of carved and polished plain panels of the covered palanquin, and the ornate brass end-piece to the carrying-pole, were enough to tell us that this was for royals. The seal of the royal house confirms this guess. In contrast, the open palanquin lined with silk cushions would have seated a functionary. We wandered into the coronation room where the murals were being restored. Seeing us spend an abnormally long time examining the paintings, a gentleman from the archaeological survey interrupted his work and gave us a wonderful tour of the paintings in the room. We learnt from him how this room had been whitewashed in the 20th century, and how the underlying paintings are slowly being brought to light again. I can’t wait for the work to be finished so that I can visit this place again.