Monthly Archives: June 2013

Cochineal Red: The Bright Red Dye

In the ancient world of the Aztecs, red dye was considered more valuable than gold. The dye is made from the dried female cochineal beetles. Beetles were collected by hundreds of subjects combing the desert in search of its source. A pound of water-soluble extract required about a million insects, just as back in the days of the Roman Empire, a pound of royal purple dye required four million mollusks.

After the arrival of Cortez in the 1500s, the Spaniards traded the dried remains of this insect as a colorant that dyed items a brilliant crimson. Cochineal red was a stronger dye than ever before – and a color that no one could duplicate. Europeans used it for fabrics and illumination in addition to cooking since it is natural dye.

In the years that followed, great painter Michelangelo used it in paintings. The British used it for redcoats and the Canadians for their Mounted Police coats. It is thought that the first U.S. flag made by Betsy Ross had cochineal red stripes.

With the advances in chemistry of dyes, nowadays synthetic dyes have replaced almost all the natural dyes which were very labor intensive and involved growing of particular plants like indigo plant in India and insects. Synthetic dyes have more shades and are cheaper.

English: Breeding of the Cochineal (Dactylopiu...

Today, less expensive aniline dyes have replaced it, but it is used as a food coloring and is approved by the FDA as a natural colorant for food, drug and cosmetics. In fact, some brands of fruit juice use this red bug juice as a colorant.

The story of Cochineal red is even more fascinating. Europeans were never told of its insect origin. In reality, the insect looked so much like a seed, that the Spaniards traded it as grain.

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The Hindu Calendar

In this calendar, the basic unit was a thithi or lunar day. Approximately 30 of these made a Lunar month. This was about 29 and a half solar days. This month was divided into 2 halves of fifteen thithis each. Each half is called paksa. The paksa beginning with full moon is called purnimavasya and other beginning with new moon is called amavasya. The fortnight beginning with new moon is called bright half or shulkapaksha and dark half is called krishnapaksha. In most of North India, the new month began with full moon.

The year normally contained 12 lunar months. These are given below:

Chaitra (March-April), Vaisakha (April-May), Jyaistha (May-June), Asadha (June-July), Shrawan (July-August), Bhadrapada (August-September), Ashwin (September-October), Karttika (October-November), Margashirsa or Agrahayana (November-December), Pausa (December-January), Magha (January-February) and Phalguna (February-March). The year began with Chaitra.

In earlier times the names of these months were: Madhu, Maadhva, Shukra, Shuchi, Nabhas, Nabhasya, Isha, Urja, Sahas, Sahasya, Tapas and Tapasya. These names were used in poetry.

The lunar year was thus 354 days long thus creating a discrepancy between lunar and solar years. 62 lunar months are approximately 60 solar months. So every 30 months an extra month was added generally inserted after Asadha or Shrawana and called second (dwitiya) Asadha or Shrawana.

A group of every two months formed a season or ritu. The six seasons are Basanta (Spring, March-May), Grishma (Summer, May-July), Varsha (The Rains, July-September), Sharad (Autumn, September-November), Hemanta (Winter, November-January) & Shishira (Cool Season, January-March), This shows how in comparison to European or American continents, Weather in Indian continent changes throughout the year. This gives rise to a variety of crops, fruits and uncertainties and literature.

Uttrakhand Floods: Shall we learn any Lessons

English: Temple at Badrinath, Uttarkhand, Indi...

It has become a tragedy of epic proportions. The loss in terms of precious human lives, property and environment is bigger than suffered in many wars. The floods which occurred in June 13 coincided with an event called “Char Dham Yatra” in which many hundred thousands have gone to the religious places in the Himalayas falling in Uttrakhand like Badrinath, Kedarnath. Thousands died and many thousands were trapped as the floods smashed many roads to smithereens blocking the way to return.

English: Kedarnath Temple, Uttarakhand

So many hotels and guest houses fell like house of cards. As can be seen clearly in the video footage shown on TV channels these were built on the edges of the river banks without taking any precautions about safety into consideration. They fell into deep trenches and furiously flowing water and were washed away.

The cloud bursts are a common phenomena in the region causing great distress and loss of property and lives. One of the reasons may be that roads have been built in an unplanned manner. The number of vehicles carrying heavy loads of pilgrims or tourists have increased very heavily putting the pressure on these roads and weakening them. They were thus unable to withstand the onslaught of the flood fury.

Why people go in so many numbers to these places? This region is the home of many Gods and dotted with several temples. Most famous of all  these belong to the Shiva the God who is the source of dynamic forces of birth and deaths. By bringing end or death to physical form or pain or unhappiness, He transforms and purifies the things and since in Hinduism, soul is immortal, death is the way forward to life.

Also many of our saints like Kabir emphasized that there is no need to search for God outside in temples, Mosques or Jungles because the God is within us. But human beings are frail and gullible and choose the method which is visible or apparent like visiting a temple. Not only that, auspicious dates are announced by the priests and people in thousands begin congregating towards the said places.

This tragedy has caused great setback to the progress of the area. It has incurred losses of billions of rupees to the Government. So many army men, helicopters and road builders have been pressed into day and night service to rescue the people. Many families have lost all the members. It will take numbers of years to bring back the normalcy.

There are entry points which can regulate the entry of people into the region. It is a very sensitive issue to stop people from going en-mass for the fear of curbs on religious liberty, it is therefore for the people to think and learn the lessons. Since last some years, the weather is becoming very unpredictable and it is better to not to risk the adventure and be at home and worship the God at home.

Clothes in Vedic Times

The garments worn in Vedic times onwards did not fundamentally differ from those worn by Hindus in later times. A single length cloth draped around the body, over the shoulders and fastened with a pin or a belt. This was a comfortable dress to be worn in a hot and humid climate which prevailed in India in comparison to the weather from where these people migrated.

Lower garment was called paridhana or vasana. It was usually such a cloth fastened around the waist with a belt or a string which is called mekhala or rasana. Upper garment was called Uttaiya and worn like a shawl over the shoulders. This upper garment was usually discarded at home or in hot weather especially by the people belonging to lower strata. Third garment called pravara was worn in cold season like cloak or a mantle.

This was general garb of both sexes and varied only in size and in the manner of wearing. Of poor people, sometimes the lower garment was a mere loincloth, but of rich was up to feet. In many sculptures, the lower cloth is pleated in front and held with a long girdle. Sometimes the girdle appears to the end of cloth itself. This might have been the precursor of the modern sari. Sometimes the end of the cloth was drawn between the legs and fastened at the back in the manner of dhoti.

Stitching was not unknown as is evident from the depiction of women in jackets and bodices. Invasion of Sakas and Kushanas from Central Asia led to the introduction of trousers at least in the upper classes in the Gupta times. In fact, Kushana kings have been shown in the coins and a headless statue of Kanishka wearing long quilted coats, trousers and boots of typically Central Asian style.

Clothes used for preparing these clothes varied from wool worn in North India in winters, diaphanous silks and muslins which were transparent and showed the limbs of the wearers. Clothes were often dyed or otherwise patterned with gay stripes and checks.

Foot wears were generally worn to protect the feet from scorching heat of earth in Indian summers.

Darkness

Darkness I said. But you may say light only acquires meaning thanks to darkness. Contrary to my expectations, it has turned out to be the opposite. The things which shone from afar turned out to be dark. Darkness was hidden behind the light, lies sugar coated with sweet talk were forced down my gullet.From the great distance, things looked prettier like they say that grass looks greener on the other side of the fence. I don’t blame the ones who gave me wrong impressions. what was the need to do that? Guided by this wrong impression, I came.

From the time of setting my first foot in this place, reality began to unfold. Coverings began to lift and fade away to reveal the dark truths. For some time I thought that it may be my false doubts but as the time went by, everything begun to become clear like water in a pool which became turbid after a stone was thrown begins to again become clearer. I have been shown the flip side, or the underbelly of everything. My hopes soured. I became even more distanced sitting nearer. When I was physically miles away, I was more closer than when I am closer physically I am miles away mentally.

Forest Research Institute, India

Dehradun is the capital of Uttrakhand State in North India. It is situated in valley surrounded by Himalayas in the North and Shiwalik Hills to its south. Due to its salubrious climate and greenery and moderate weather, during the pre-independence days, British officers used to retire to cold climes of Mussoorie which is hill station beyond Dehradun and established many institutions in Dehradun. One of them is Forest Research Institute.

Established as Imperial Forest Research Institute in 1906, Forest Research Institute (FRI) Dehradun, is a premier institution under the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE). Styled in Greeko Roman Architecture by C.G. Blomfield, the main building is a National Heritage which was inaugurated in 1929The Institute’s history is virtually synonymous with the evolution and development of scientific forestry, not only in India, but over the entire Indian sub-continent. Set in a lush green estate spread over 450 hectares, with the outer Himalaya forming its back drop, the Institute’s main building is an impressive edifice, marrying Greco-Roman and Colonial styles of architecture, with a plinth area of 2.5 equipped laboratories, library, herbarium, arboreta, printing press and experimental field areas for conducting forestry research, quite in keeping with the best of its kind anywhere in the world. Its museums, in addition to being a valuable source of scientific information, are a major attraction for tourists.

I stay very near to this institution. Many times I visit this institute in the morning for morning walks like so many others. You will find many people in the morning coming for walks. Over the years, the trees have become very mature and some of them are so huge that you cannot snap a photo of them. Trees of every variety can be found here. There is also a Botanical Garden. It is very beautiful but over the years casual attitude has caused decay in the maintenance.

So many tourists who visit Dehradun make it a point to visit the place. Here are some pictures.

Flowers in front

Flowers in front

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Botanical Garden

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Botanical Garden

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Side Entrance to main building

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Side Entrance

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Pink Flowers Tree

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A Palm Variety

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Rill

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Officers guest house

Our Body is a Wonder Machine

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants make two essential things on which the very survival of animals is hinged. These are namely a sugar called Glucose and oxygen. In the beginning oxygen was a poison to many microbes. But since it was a question of survive or perish, slowly they adapted to respiration using oxygen. Those which could not change receded to great depth where oxygen cannot reach.

Glucose is a like a charged battery which stores energy. Where does this energy come from? Obviously it is the Sun on which the life on the Earth is based upon. Plants use carbon dioxide and water and a mediator called chlorophyll to make glucose and oxygen. Anyone familiar with thermodynamics knows that this reaction is not favorable as its overall Gibbs free energy is positive. Second law of thermodynamics requires that only those reactions are spontaneous for which this energy change is negative. In simple words the energy of products should be lower than that of reactants. Here the energy content of the products is higher by 2880 Kilo Joules per mole. It is the Sun who provides this energy and plants store it in the glucose.

Many of the reactions that take place in living organisms require a source of free energy to drive them. The immediate source of this energy in heterotrophic organisms, which include animals, fungi, and most bacteria, is the sugar glucose. Now reverse reaction that is the oxidation of glucose to carbon dioxide and water takes place when animals consume glucose and oxygen. Thus 2880 KJ/mole energy is liberated.

Of course it would not do to simply “burn” the glucose in the normal way; the energy change would be wasted as heat, and rather too quickly for the well-being of the organism! Effective utilization of this free energy requires a means of capturing it from the glucose and then releasing it in small amounts when and where it is needed. This is accomplished by breaking down the glucose in a series of a dozen or more steps in which the energy liberated in each stage is captured by an “energy carrier” molecule, of which the most important is adenosine diphosphate, known shortly as ADP. At each step in the breakdown of glucose, an ADP molecule reacts with inorganic phosphate and changes into adenosine triphosphate ATP

The 30 kJ mol–1 of free energy stored in each ATP molecule is released when the molecule travels to a site where it is needed and loses one of its phosphate groups, yielding inorganic phosphate and ADP, which eventually finds its way back the site of glucose metabolism for recycling back into ATP. The complete breakdown of one molecule of glucose is coupled with the production of 38 molecules of ATP according to the overall reaction

For each mole of glucose metabolized, 38 × (30 kJ) = 1140 kJ of free energy is captured as ATP, representing an energy efficiency of 1140/2880 = 0.4. That is, 40% of the free energy obtainable from the oxidation of glucose is made available to drive other metabolic processes. The rest is liberated as heat.

Monsoon in Mumbai

Indian continent experiences a number of weathers. Even there are vast differences in the weather along the length and breadth of India. Unlike Europe, the weather changes are rapid and during the year one can experience biting cold and searing heat at one place. This is particularly true in the Northern plains.

The weather along the sea coast remains humid and moderate. During summers, the humidity and heat becomes unbearable.  In Bombay, everyone prays the rain gods for being benign and lash the city with rains to cool the heat and bring succor to people, animals and trees. The hot summer months climax to monsoons in the end of June.  First place which comes to mind is the otherwise serene Marine Drive. marinedrive

It is the favorite of tourists all round the year particularly in the evening with lights like necklace in the Malabar hill. It is beset by the sound and fury of a monsoon high tide. Tides beat against tetrapods and embankment in beautiful patterns. Then there is picturesque Gateway of India looking hazy in the mist of water and boats standing near the Gateway with rain beating the sea water.

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If you are an outsider, then you will be intimidated by the rains and rains can harass. The rains usually are accompanied by strong winds which throw your umbrella heltor skeltor. If you happen to be at a railway station, you will see the sea of umbrellas jostling each other. Clothes are drenched with water.

Worli Seaface faces straight across the Arabian Sea, with no land between it and Oman. Rows of bungalows and expensive apartments overlook the sea. In the late afternoons, this is a place for daydreamers. The sun is coming down and the day looks as if it is just beginning, as people take their evening walks and rendezvous with friends. There are amusement rides for children, streetside eateries for teenagers, and benches for seniors. During the monsoon the most coveted seat is the one right next to the statue of the Common Man the creation of famous cartoonist R K Laxman.

Haji Ali is the popular dargah constructed in memory of the Muslim saint Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. The dargah is connected to land by a narrow causeway. Even in the day, the path is submerged in the water during high tide. So in the rains, the journey becomes a project to be attempted with care.

hajiali

The Mumbai monsoon is an experience, but monsoon weather is often unpredictable. What begins as a mild rain may suddenly turn into a heavy downpour. Then it is no longer safe to be near the sea. The tide is strong enough to pull a person into the sea and away from the shore. During the worst weather, a hot, sweet cutting chai and crunchy, salty, home-made bhajias complete the monsoon experience. They are best enjoyed in one’s own home.

During last few years, however, due to building activities, the drainage system has come under a severe pressure. There is flooding, water logging and train disruptions due to submerging of tracks. Life for poor becomes very difficult. With a large population living in the shanties along the train tracks, there are hardly any civic amenities. In fact, during 2005 monsoons, flooded the city, paralyzing it and warning the greedy builders to stop poaching the natural networks of sea drainage.

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We were living in a place called Panvel when the 2005 flood strike the Mumbai and Panvel. Panvel is on the way to Pune and Goa from Mumbai. It is in the Konkan region and every year experiences strong rains. Near by Panvel is a dam which overflowed and its gates were opened causing a flash flood in Panvel and near by areas. We are witness to the harrowing experience people underwent. The experience is described in Floods in Panvel.

Ganjifa: Playing Cards

Original Ganjifa was brought to India by Moghuls. There is a district called Sawantwadi in Maharashtra. This touches the Goa state. When you travel by train to Goa from Mumbai, it is the last station in Maharashtra. Whole area which is adjacent to Arabian Sea is dotted with unending rows of Coconut palms. Ganjifa was popularized here by the ruler Khem Sawant Bhosle, who heard of it from scholars of the Telengana region. The Chitari community in Sawantwadi, known for their skill in shellac ware and wood craft, learned  to make these cards

Ganjifa are circular playing cards made from paper that is covered with a mixture of tamarind seed powder and oil, painted and coated with shellac. Darbari cards have decorative borders and Bazaar cards are without borders. It used to be a popular pastime at the Indian courts. The classic Mughal Ganjifa with its 96 cards and 8 suits penetrated into the social milieu of India and the Deccan that later, with its themes and characters from Hindu mythology, gained widespread acceptance. The most popular was the Dasavatar with ten different circular pieces depicting the ten incarnations of Vishnu. These form a set along with painted cards of Vishnu`s weapons. They are no longer used to play games but used as gift items and educational aids.

Dasavtar: Means ten incarnations of Vishnu. These are depicted in these cards

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Box for packing these cards

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Fabled Rumals of Chamba Himachal Pradesh India

Himachal Pradesh is a beautiful hill state in India. It is nestled between Shiwaliks and Lower Himalayas and due to cool weather have so many hill stations like Shimla, Kasauli, Kulu, Manali. Chamba is old city in the state. Situated on a mountain ledge overlooking the River Ravi, the town of Chamba was established in the 10th century when Raja Sahil Varman relocated his capital from the neighbouring Bharmour region, now the homeland of semi-nomadic shepherding Gaddis. The city is believed to have been named after the king`s favourite daughter, Champavati, who legend says, sacrificed herself to provide water to the parched city. To this day, women and children sing her praises in the town temples on the occasion of the annual Sui festival. The ornament carving of the Laxhmi Narayan Temple Complex, the Chamunda temple and the Madho Rai Temple provide ample testament of the consistent art patronage provided by Raja Sahil Varman and his successors. The hill state was rulded by a single dynasty in continuous series of accessions and consequently, it enjoyed a remarkably stable political environment in which the arts could be actively cultivated by the rulers. In the mid 18th century, a number of artists fleeing religious persecution were given refuge in the Pahari states; notable among the courts in which these artists found avid patrons was that of Raja Umed Singh of Chamba.

Although practiced throughout the region that comprises erstwhile princely hill states, the craft has come to be associated specifically with Chamba owing to the patronage afforded it by rulers of the area as well as to the quality of the local craftsmanship. Traditionally,the Chamba rumals were silk embroidered square pieces of hand spun and handwoven unbleached mulmul (muslin), fine cloth that were used to cover dishes of food,gifts to significant persons and offerings to a deity, or exchanged between the families of the bribe and the groom as a token of goodwill. The embroidery was done in a double satin stitch technique known as dorukha, which ensured an exact replication of image on the
reverse of the fabrics.Although practiced by women from all strata of Pahari society,the embroidery style developed by the women of the upper classes and the royalty has now come to be exclusively related to the craft.Both the folk and the court styles usually rendered the popular themes of the Raaslila, Raasmandal (depiction of dance in relation to Krishna and devotees), Ashtanayika ( a depiction of various types of heroines in their distinctive moods and environments),hunts and chaupad, dice game; the styles and colour schemes, however, were vastly different. The folk style made generous use of brilliant colours including pink, lemon yellow,purple and green while the court form evolved a more sophisticated colour palette that consisted of pale shades of ochre,dark green and blue. The court style reflects the popular pastimes of Pahari men and women from royal and noble families through the addition of details such as the smoking of the hookah, women shown talking to parrots, playing with a ball or dice or listening to music. It also derived its compositions, border motifs and floral ornamentation from the wall paintings of the Rang Mahal of Chamba and the Pahari miniature tradition. Often, trained miniature painters from the courts were called in to draw the compositions onto the fabric and to provide colour schemes. It is due to this close relationship with the painting tradition that the Chamba rumals have been called “paintings in embroidery”. In recent years, artisans have been encouraged to reproduce earlier masterpieces in order to sustain the craft. Simultaneously,efforts have also been made to diversify the craft products to include a wider range of items such as caps,hand fans, blouses and bedspreads. Below are some examples of Motifs.

Below: In the depiction of the Raaslila, Krishna multiplies himself in order to dance with four of his devotees, the gopis, while Vishnu witnesses the scene from his seat on a lotus.

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Below: Radha and Krishna are seated in the upper floor of the pavilion; the musicians, ladies-in-waiting and strolling peacocks in the garden reflect what was the lifestyle of the court.

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Below: The deity Lakshmi Narayan sits in the central quadrangle of a game of chaupad as three male figures sit in the four corners of the composition with sets of dice laid out before them. The dense stitching is believed to be based on the bagh (garden) embroideries of Punjab.

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Below: Godhuli, literally the “hour of cowdust”, when cow herds come home,depicts Krishna and his cowherd friends bringing the cows back at dusk.

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