Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Mylapore – revisited from afar

As I sit here in my office at temperatures hovering above freezing in the unseasonably mild (yes, it’s true!) winter weather I cannot believe it was nine months ago that I was traveling to Chennai (Madras) in India. I first wrote about that trip here and in subsequent posts that week, but  it was only today that I finally got around to processing a few more images from that trip, starting with the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, now a district of the sprawling city.

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As I go through more images I will upload them to my art site and may include a few more here too in other posts.

~Richard

52 Week Challenge: Week 32

WEEK 32: Landscape: Colorful – Shoot a landscape that packs as much color as you can find into the scene.

This was an interesting challenge. I haven’t had the chance to get out this weekend so I went through some of my recent images to see which would provide the most colorful compositions. In the end I have settled for this mixture of landscape and sort-of street scene that I took at the beach in Mahabalipuram, in Tamil Nadu Province, India a few months back. The beach activities don’t really start up until much later in the day but even so the place is full of bright color.

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~Richard

Arjuna’s Penance – Mahabalipuram

Approximately 60km south of the large city of Chennai (Madras) in Tamil Nadu, is the historic town of Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram). This was a bustling seaport since the first century and is best known now for the wonderful carved monuments from the 7th century which have earned the area the classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of the most spectacular carvings is the huge relief known as both Arjuna’s Penance and Descent of the Ganges. Carved over two rocks and occupying an area of 30m length by 15m high, this is a wonderful depiction of the journey of Arjuna in order to obtain Shiva’s weapon (Pasupata) and so allow him to challenge the gods. The detail on the 1400 year old figures is exquisite with many animals and figures, both human and godly, large and small. There is even humor in the carving, with a cat depicted as mimicking Arjuna’s one-legged fasting penance to a crowd of watching mice (look just in front of the elephant).

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Between the two rocks is a cleft filled with snake spirits (Nagas) and down which water was poured to represent the Ganges’ descent from the heavens. This is the second tale that is said to be depicted by this carving.

Whichever story you like, the rock is an amazing and enduring architectural testament to an ancient people. I wonder what will remain of our 21st century artifacts for our descendants to regard with similar awe in the 35th century?

~Richard

 

Rules of the Road and the Culture of Driving

OK I admit it, I’m a bit of a driving snob. This is largely due to having spent the first four decades of my life in the UK, with one of the most difficult driving tests, strictly enforced rules and, consequently, very low road death and accident rate. Then we moved to California and I had to take my California Driver’s “test” which involved driving about 2 miles, making a few stops and turns before I was handed a license. I thought it was a joke until we moved to Pennsylvania where the same test consists of reverse parking a vehicle into a space large enough for an airplane to park and then driving through a parking lot and approximately 100 yds of road.

I still find it astonishing that that a 16-year old can take this “test” of their driving competency and then hop into a Hummer and drive it across country. And not only drive it, but do so in such an aggressive manner. It’s as if every US driver thinks the road is theirs and theirs alone, with little concept of braking distance and the dangers of tailgating.

So, that being said, I have been amazed this week by the driving in and around Chennai, India. The roads are chock full of mopeds, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks), cars, buses, trucks and of course people and the odd cow wandering through. It is fascinating to watch how this all works. And work it does. Many vehicles have a “sound horn” sign on the rear and it is quite expected to drive along and, when obstructed, simply press the horn to warn the other rider/driver/pedestrian that you are there. Amazingly, the other road users all heed the warning and move over, which is useful as road markings seem to serve little purpose here leading to 3 or 4 vehicles occupying 2 lanes.

I am unsure how it works, but it is truly a demonstration of collective teamwork on a huge scale. Unlike in the US or Europe the car horn here does not seem to be used aggressively and other road users seem to just “get on with it.” As I sit in my car I am somewhat awestruck by how my driver navigates his route (no, there’s no way I am going to drive myself here!) with relative ease. Yesterday we came face to face with several trucks in the middle of the road (and more cows) as we heading from one town to another and yet it all seemed to work smoothly.

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I cannot imagine this sort of holistic driving approach working elsewhere and conversely, I wonder how Indian drivers find the driving in the US or Europe?

~Richard

Ethical tipping?

Giving small gratuities or tips to people for providing a service is part of many cultures whilst being considered offensive in others (e.g., Japan).In some cultures a tip is expected for certain activities, and indeed is factored into the expected income even by the tax authority (e.g., waitresses in the US), whereas in others a tip should be given only for exceptional service above and beyond the expected level.

I used to travel a lot on business from the UK, which does not have a particularly strong tipping culture outside of certain roles, but having lived and worked in the US for several years I now always made a point of tipping cab drivers, bell hops, maid service and waitresses. However, on my recent trip to India I was faced with another dilemma – how much to give as a tip when there is such a discrepancy between local and tourist wealth?

I don’t want to be mean, but on the other hand I don’t want to offend by appearing brash and giving the impression I think that the local currency is of low value. To be honest it’s all rather confusing

For example, I asked at the hotel reception how much would be a good tip for a taxi driver, as was told that it is 65 rupees to the dollar so about 60-100 rupees would be a good tip. So, when the driver dropped me off in town in the early morning I handed him a 100 rupee note and he then said he would wait for me to return, even though I wasn’t coming back to be collected for nearly 4 hours! I don’t know if this was what he planned anyway or whether it was because of the tip, and I admit I had mixed feelings about having him wait that length of time just for me.

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A check on the web revealed that an IT business Analyst earns somewhere between $3,500-$14,000 per year, an IT Project Manager $9,500-$25,000 and a Customer Service Manager $12,000-$18,000; while a waiter may earn $1,500-$2,500.

So, to my dilemma: there seems to be no issue with the hotel in which I am staying charging Western-style prices to foreign guests for room and restaurant ($180/night and about $40 for dinner + taxes) yet clearly the staff is not paid western-style salaries.

If someone is earning under $10 per day is it appropriate for me to tip them 20-30% of their daily salary for cleaning my room? I really don’t know. So, I went with my conscience and left 100 rupees ($1.50) the first day and it was accepted. However, on the second day it was left untouched. I don’t know why. I left 50 rupees for the next few days and it was accepted, even though it seems mean to me…

I remain confused and if anyone has any suggestions or comments I would welcome them.

~Richard

PS: since writing this post I brought up the issue of tipping with some Indian colleagues and they told me that tipping is not generally expected in India, thus adding to my confusion as i had read that is was expected… sometimes… !

Gods above – Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Mylapore

Hinduism, the major religion for the Indian subcontinent, has thousands of gods that are worshipped. These myriad deities fall within the trinity of major gods, Shakti (Devi), Vishnu, and Shiva.

Shakti, or Devi, is the creator and changer; Vishnu is the preserver, or protector; and Shiva is the god of destruction. Of course, each god has many other minor deities associated with them. Too many to list, in fact as some can be very specific indeed. This makes Hinduism a very personal religion, whilst existing in a larger framework. There are many temples throughout the city of Chennai dedicated to various deities and they are usually very colorful.

One of the oldest is the Kapaleeshwarar (Kapaleeswar) temple in Mylapore, which is dedicated to Shiva and his related deities.

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As colorful as the carvings are the stories surrounding the creation of many of the gods: tales of rage, redemption regret and rebirth proving that even gods have to take the consequence of their decisions!

The carvings on the various temple buildings and smaller shrines are kept bright through regular maintenance and ensure that you really do get the impression of being overlooked from the heavens as you walk though the Temple complex in a clockwise pattern.

Keep on the white path though or your bare feet will burn in the searing Madras heat!

~Richard

Shopping Locally

Chennai is a bustling, modern city in many ways, with many well dressed locals walking with cellphones attached to their ears like any other urban scene. But there are also many locals who cannot hope to afford the western lifestyle and for whom the local stalls and stores are an essential part of life. It is quite odd to see bill boards advertising a new shopping mall that will contain GAP, and other corporate retail outlets alongside the more modest stores, many of them on carts or in the front of people’s houses. These stores have been giving service to the locals for generations and forming an essential part of the community – something that is lost by the corporate giants with their never-ending quest for growth.

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~Richard

Waiting for a bus, paradoxically

As I was being driven back my hotel through the crowded streets of Chennai in the evening rush hour, I couldn’t help but think of the paradoxes that seem to surround India. People wait for crowded, dented buses on tired, broken streets to enter the erratic, noisy traffic whilst many others (locals and foreigners)  can indulge in opulent gestures.

‘Twas ever thus.

This composite image captures some of my thoughts from today’s journey.

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~Richard

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