Monday

Taj Mahal - Elusive Illusions

Taj Mahal, synonymous with the 7 wonders of the World and symbol of love, you can never appreciate it's charm and beauty until you see it in person. Seeing Taj Mahal in a picture or a video doesn't give you a clue of what it is in reality. You need to walk in through the Royal Gates to experience and appreciate the sheer beauty. 

We hired a professional guide and a photographer too (so that we can get those classic couple shots, without attempting crude selfies). I carried my DSLR to capture my own angles. In this post I have attempted to show how I saw the Taj through my lens. 

From afar, through the arch of the Royal entrance, white marble arches of the Taj looked so close. Take a look at the collage to get an idea of what am trying to say.

Royal Entrance on the left and first glimpse of Taj on the right
But as we kept walking towards the Royal archway, we felt that the Taj Mahal was slowly receding. It felt as if the Taj is taunting us to come closer to see her. The minute we entered the arch, the elusive marble wonder came into full view.  

It was nothing like what I have seen in photos or in the movies. I was spellbound and I think I was holding my breath in awe and realized that I was blocking someones way, until my husband tapped on my shoulder and asked me to move along. 

Multi tasking mind some how had stopped functioning and only my visual sense was working, in fact overtime! For the first few minutes, I was just gaping, without even taking any pictures. When I tried to focus my lens, something felt odd. Now, I noticed that the minarets were shrouded with safety nets and construction ladder. Restoration work was going on. 

Our world

While walking towards the Taj, I was wondering how nice it would be to view Taj without any scaffolding around the minarets. The guide was quite informative and with great passion he told how the Taj looks at different times of the day and during different seasons of the year. He recommended that we should come during Jan to Mar, that too plan for the exclusive Full Moon night view. 

Then the guide jovially said that, now Taj is getting a face scrub with a pack of multini mitti. It is true that the Taj is severely affected by acid rains and pollution, and the white marble is tainted. So, the archaeological department of India takes restoration initiatives once in few years by applying mud pack made of multani mitti, which is a popular Indian face pack!  

After wrapping our footwear with covers, we finally entered the Taj. The more you look at it the more you wonder how they would have made it without any modern machinery. The exquisite floral carvings and engraved marble inlaid with semi precious stones is a royal treat!
Jali Work and Marble Inlay with semi-precious stones

Marble Engravings

Marble Inlay work
The Taj is made of translucent white marbles from Makrana, Rajasthan. Seeing is believing. So, our guide promised us to show how it glows when light penetrates. We entered the mausoleum. It was dark. Our guide suggested that all we had to do was tip the volunteer, who was standing guard next to the restricted area, with just Rs 10. We agreed. The volunteer had a pen torch and he lit it against the marble wall. To our excitement, the wall was glowing like radium! He slowly moved the torch light around the walls and pillars, everywhere it was glowing! 

Photography is not allowed inside the mausoleum, but no one is there to stop one from taking pictures. Encouraged by people clicking around, I too dared to capture the inner beauty.
Jali Work made of single piece of marble!
On the way out, our guide showed us the beauty of honeycomb structured wall. Take a look at the collage.
Honeycomb structure
The top part of the collage shows the general view and when you peep in through a honeycomb, it acts like a wide angle lens and you get a beautiful view!

After stepping out of the mausoleum, our guide asked me to count the sides of a pillar. I counted it obediently and said 6. He denied, took me closer, oops it was a 3 sided pillar. I was caught off guard by yet another optical illusion.  
Optical Illusion
I guess I will be visiting the Taj several times in the next few years as we have relocated to this part of the world and pretty sure that I will discover something new every time.     

Friday

Somana Kunitha - A Folk Dance Celebrating Spirits and Village Deity

Every time we drive past DakshinaChitra on ECR, Chennai, we used to think, one day we should go there. Over a long weekend, finally we made it and the experience was very rewarding. 

Nowadays, DakshinaChitra is also becoming a prime location for wedding photo shoots! However, this is a heritage museum. Those who wish to get a glimpse on art and architecture of southern states of India, DakshinaChitra, is a must go destination. Trust me you won't be disappointed. Check their events calendar when you plan for a visit. Usually over the weekends and public holidays they have live performances. 

The museum is housed in 10 acres on ECR, facing the Bay of Bengal. We knew there was going to be a performance at 4 pm on that day. We were quite early, so we were exploring traditional houses of Kerala, which was near the performance ground. By 3.45 pm, we were exhausted and wanted to get a drink, so we were heading out of the ground and...suddenly we heard vibrant music from behind. We turned around to look. 

We were mesmerized by the huge colorful masks that were fast approaching towards the ground. That's it! We forgot about heat, thirst and just rushed back and found a perfect spot to watch the performance. At that time we didn't know about the name of that folk art. 

The musicians filed towards the stage area. The artists who carried the mask on their head slipped it on their faces with deft moves. The one who looked like the leader was carrying a whip, he came center stage and announced that they were going to perform Somana Kunitha, a folk dance native of Tumkur, Karnataka. 


As the lead was narrating in Kannada, I had to do the guess work and all i could get was that the performance had something to do with Godess Chamundesweri. Let me share the visual treat:



After the performance, we approached the group and thanked them for the wonderful performance and had a chat with the lead. We learned that the dance was to celebrate victory of good spirit over the bad one. Soma means mask and Kunitha is dance. The red mask represented good and the yellow the bad. The lead was actually the priest who invokes Godess Chamundesweri to support the good spirit! Had a chance for these close ups too. 

 
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Wish DakshinaChitra can arrange for translators for all the performances, so that non-native speakers of that particular folk art too can get a better understanding!
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