Category Archives: Arts and Crafts

Chemistry Behind Cleopatra’s Beauty Products

Everyone has heard about Cleopatra. She is said to be most charming seductress and willy woman who became the queen of Egypt. She was very conscious of her looks and knew the value of being beautiful and always looking young and alluring. It was Cleopatra, who popularized skin care treatments in her book titled “Cleopatra Gynaeciarum Libri”. There, she recorded recipes for making cosmetics and perfumed ointments. She was so interested in spa treatments and perfumes that her lover, Mark Antony, gave her the gift of a spa and perfume factory that had been built by Herod the Great at the south end of the Dead Sea.

Although Egyptians may not be knowing the chemistry behind the ingredients used in the spa treatments but still to date many ingredients used at that time are in use but in the synthetic forms. Synthetic ingredients have low manufacturing cost and avoid lots of labor involved in extracting these from natural sources which only a royal person can afford. For example, Indole is a organic compound present in the jasmine flowers as well as the feces of crocodiles and other animals. In high concentrations, this has a repulsing odor but at very concentrations it exudes fragrance. If you extract the chemical from the Jasmine flowers, you require millions of flowers for obtaining 1 Kg of oil costing approximately $10000. So these days synthetic oil is prepared from Indole and other ingredients at a low cost. Cleopatra used the excrement of crocodiles to clean and embellish her complexion.

She bathed in the milk of Ass to keep her skin soft and supple. This milk has an important ingredient Lactic acid which being an alpha hydroxy acid breaks down the dead cells of the skin. Even today’s many skin care products contain lactic acid. Cleopatra painted her eyes with green and black pigments to protect her eyes from those ever-present flies and to enhance her appearance. On special occasions, she may have added glitter made from crushed beetle shells mixed with her eye paint. And she would have cleaned her teeth with natron, a natural form of baking soda, and freshened her breath with spearmint.

Egypt is an hot country and there is lots of perspiration which imparts body odors. So for Cleopatra, perfumes were important not just for masking the smells of skin treatments but to cover offensive body odors. Cleopatra would have carried small containers of her perfumed ointments and powdered perfumes that she would have reapplied several times a day to keep her complexion looking fresh and her skin sweet smelling. Chemists have reconstructed a number of ancient perfumes using Cleopatra’s own recipes and analysis of perfume residues found in jars from Cleopatra’s spa. They discovered that Cleopatra favored perfumed ointments made from Moringa oil or horseradish oil (Moringa pterygosperma or M. aptera). Those ointments would have disappeared into her skin quickly and left no greasy feeling behind. Moringa oil is still used in Persian perfumes today, and chemists at L’Oreal have recreated ancient Egyptian perfumes using Moringa oil.

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Sanjhi: Almost forgotten Festival of North India

When we were small boys, every year ten days before the festival Dussehra, our mother would choose a small area on one of the mud walls and make a crude image of a woman, stars and moon and bullocks with the cow dung. We lived in the village. Almost everyone has some land on which agriculture was done. Also there were plenty of animals like cows and buffaloes. Houses were made of mud and walls and floors were plastered with wet cow dung. We did not understand all this and thought this as some folk art. It was called Sanjhi. Now this ritual has almost vanished like many other rituals which were observed in the rural parts of the country. The images slightly resembled the Warli art. Both were drawn almost in the straight lines meeting to form triangles and squares.

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Sanjhi images in my sisters home at a village in chandigarh
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The image is called Sanjhi and established on the first day of the nine days of   Durga Puja or Navratras. In fact, a common thread runs throughout India and festivals have the similar philosophy behind them. Only the style varies from place to place. Even days coincide. The images of Sanjhi are suggestive of Durga, Uma and Katyayani. And just like Durga Puja in which the idols of the deity are immersed in the river waters, Sanjhi festival also ends with the immersion of Sanjhi on the day of Dussehra.

The festival is observed mainly in Haryana and Punjab. The girls offer prayers and food to the goddess everyday.

These shapes including stars, moon, sun, face of the goddess etc are given different colors. The star-studded collage is fixed on the wall of a dwelling, facing south, in the later half of the early October or late September months. In some places, the image of Sanjhi is painted on the wall. The art of Sanjhi is quite native and simple.

Apart from the various forms of Sanjhi created on the first day of the moon in Kartika, there are some other rituals observed by girls during the Navaratras. Devotional songs are sung just after dusk. Lighted earthen lamps are held by adolescent girls who assemble around Sanjhi. They sing chorus songs, that are centuries old, to please the goddess. The girls, who sing these songs are rewarded by their elders with token money.

Sanjhi on Wall

The girls believe that by appeasing Sanjhi they will get a good husband. In one of the songs, Sanjhi is asked about her basic needs — what would she like to wear or eat. In another song, the girls promise to appease her by offering presents. This low key group activity is held every evening for nine days in front of the Sanjhi image put up on walls. On the tenth day of Dussehra, the images from the walls, along with the cow dung used as an adhesive, are scratched and removed. Only the head of the figure is securely contained inside a small earthen vessel whose belly has been ridden with several holes. In the evening, the girls with their respective earthen vessels float their lighted pots in the village pond.

The vessels are hit with cudgels by the village youth to stop the bowls from reaching the other end. A legend says that none of the bowls should float across the pond and touch the other end, otherwise misfortune would fall on the village.

Recently I heard a song women used to sing in areas around Chandigarh. It goes like this.

ਜਾਗ ਜਾਗ ਸਾਂਜੀ ਜਾਗ ਤੇਰੇ ਮੱਥੇ ਲਾਵਾਂ ਭਾਗ I

ਤੇਰੀ ਪੱਟੀਆਂ ਸੁਹਾਗ

ਅੱਗ ਬਲੇ ਦੋ ਲਕੜੀਆਂ ਦੀਵਾ ਬਲੇ ਚੁਬਾਰੇ ਮਾ

ਉਠੱਣ ਬੈਠਣ ਝੋਟੜੀਆਂ ਤਰਲੋਚਨ ਤੇਰੇ ਬਾੜੇ ਮਾ

ਮੱਖਣ ਮੱਖਣ ਖਾਂਦੀ ਜਾ ਨਣਦਾਂ ਦੇ ਸਿਰ ਲਾਂਦੀ ਜਾ I

Basically it translates to

O’ Sanjhi mother wake up, I worship thee , There is a fire in the hearth and lamp is lit in the upper house. There are milch buffaloes in the courtya

Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier!!!

Sounds strange title!! This is the name of the most expensive still life painting. Since the artist Paul Cezanne was from France which was the heart of the world famous art and paintings, the name is in French language.

Painting photo is taken from Wikipedia with thanks

It translates to Jug, Curtain and Fruit Bowl which aptly described the painting. A curtain hangs from top on left side of painting and partially rests on a wooden table. There is a large jug and fruits like apples and oranges are scattered on the cloth.

Paul Cezanne was the master of still life painting. He also created another version of this painting. He is considered as the transitional bridge between his predecessors and new art form called cubism.

The painting was auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York in 1999 at a record price of $60.5 million. It is now owned by an individual.

World’s Biggest Hockey Stick

Recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records is a hockey stick 205 feet in length weighing a staggering 28118 kgs. It got this recognition in 2008. It was built in 1985. After taking part in an EXPO in Vancouver it was dedicated to Cowichan Community Centre in 1988.

It is 40 times the actual hockey length. It’s Shaft and blade is made in sections with steel reinforcing Douglas Fir beams.

Rhinos: On the Verge of Extinction

Rhinos or more accurately Rhinoceros are in the danger of becoming extinct. They are hunted for their horns due to their supposed healing and aphrodisiac properties. The horns were sold as trophies and also used in Chinese medicine. Handle of ornamental daggers called Jambiyas are made from the horns.

There are 5 species of Rhinos

  1. Black Rhinos: 5055 left
  2. Sumatran Rhinos: 100 left
  3. Javan Rhinos: 35-44 left
  4. Northern White Rhinos: 2 both females
  5. Southern White Rhinos

Major areas where the Rhinos are found are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya

These animals are herbivores. They are often accompanied by oxpeckers who sit on the Rhinos back and eat the harmful bugs hanging on the skin of rhino.

Koh-I-Noor: A diamond with troubled history

Koh-I-Noor
Size: 105.602 carats (21.1204 g)
Colour: Finest white
Cut: Cushion
Discovered: Date unknown in India
The name means” Mountain of light” in Persian language. Once known as the largest diamond in the world. It is believed to have originated in Andhra together with its double called”Darya-ye-Noor” meaning “Sea of light”.
It was originally owned by Kakatiya Dynasty which installed it in a temple as the EYE of the goddess. It has had a troubled history having been stolen, confiscated or taken over as war loot by various invaders.
Presently it is a part of the Crown of Queen Elizabeth having been confiscated from its owners in 1850 by imperial powers.

The Fabled Jand (prosopis cineraria) Tree

There are many references to “Jand” tree in Punjabi literature. Foremost it is connected to a place called Danabad the village of Mirza in the legend of “Mirza-Sahiban”. After getting Sahiba from her home on the day of her marriage to someone else, and sneaking on his mare-called Bakki in local language, he decides to take rest under the cool shade of Jand tree. He was overconfident that even after taking rest for the summer noon, he will make it easily to his native place before the end of the day. Rest is well known. He was killed by Sahiban’s brothers who came chasing them.

Then there is a famous Gurudwara called “Jand Sahib” in Bathinda Punjab where Guru Gobind Singh is said to have rested under a Jand tree. And and there is one tree located behind Kiran Cinema in Chandigarh which I saw today. This is said to be very old and indeed it looked like that as only skeleton was there. Many people worship it.I always thought about how this tree must look.

I found a very beautiful video describing the beauty of this tree by Mirza. it is in Punjabi language but brief summary of the meaning is “Mirza describes the cool shade of Jand tree, the branches are touching the ground, you shouldn’t say no to sitting under the shade of it. And why to stress the mare in the hot sun because it is not rainy season. You don’t worry, we will reach Danabad (his native village) before the sunset.

Before Chandigarh came into existence, there were villages here. People lived mostly rural life based on agriculture. They worship female goddesses which is attested by many temples in the area. Like Hindu culture they worshipped trees and idols. The Jand tree is one such tree which was worshipped in the area.

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There are not many trees of this species in this area nowadays. I was curious to know how this tree looked like and other details. I found an article in the English daily “The Tribune” which gives the good information about the tree.

The tree known by scientific name of “prosopis cineraria” is endemic to dry areas and is found mostly in Rajasthan and adjoining areas of Punjab and Haryana. It is known by is known as “Jand” in Hindi and Punjabi, “jandi” in Haryanvi, “khejri” in Rajasthani, and “sami or samri” in Gujarati. The tree plays an important role in ecosystem of arid and semi-arid areas. All the parts of the tree are useful, it is called kalp taru or wish fulfilling tree.

During Vedic times, khejri wood was used to kindle the sacred fire for performing yajana. There are references of it in Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Lord Rama worshipped khejri tree known as Sami  Pooja, which represents the goddess of power, before he led his army to kill Ravana. The worshipping of this tree is referred to as samipuja. Pandavas also worshipped this tree and hid their weapons in it during their agyatavasa.

Khejri tree provides shelter and protection to animals and birds in desert areas. This tree is home to many large birds like kites, hawks and vultures.

Many Rajasthani families use the green and unripe pods (known as sangri) in preparation of curries and pickles. The importance of the medicinal value of samitree has been highlighted in our ancient literature. The bark of the tree provides immediate relief to a person bitten by snake or scorpion. Its leaves and fruits are used in preparing medicines for curing nervous disorders. The medicines prepared from its bark are also used for treating diarrhoea, dysentery, piles, worm infestations and other skin problems. The bark is also used to cure leprosy, bronchitis, asthma, tumour of muscles and to improve concentration. The gum of the tree is nutritive and good in taste and is used by pregnant woman at the time of delivery.

Ganesh Chaturthi in Chandigarh

The other day I was searching for the bicycle shops in Chandigarh area. The name of one shop was “Bhonsle Cycle”. For a moment, I thought I was in Mumbai because of the Maharashtrian title of the name. Similarly, there is A jewellery shop in Manimajra, a large town in Chandigarh territory. Today there was an article in the newspaper about the upcoming festival of Ganesh Chaturthi being scheduled for celebrations by large population of Marathis in Chandigarh.

Connection began to clear up. The third battle of Panipat came to my mind. Marathas then ruled many parts of Haryana and Punjab. Although they lost but Marathas being so brave and aggressive to reach Punjab is a fact. But the present population of these people is due to the proximity of head quarters of Northern Command of Army. Many army persons must have settled here. Also, due to the great improvements in the transportation systems mobility of people within the country has increased a great deal. People who work on central government offices also are posted in different parts of the country. I on my part have spent 22 years in Mumbai.

This year marathi people here have begun gearing up to celebrate 50 years of the Puja. It all started in 1962 when first Marathi play was staged. In 1964, first Ganesh Chaturthi was celebrated in the Tagore theatre and idols were immersed in Sukhna Lake. In 1965, the festivities were cancelled due to breaking of India Pakistan war. Many of the people taking part in arrangements and plays were from defence and went to perform their duties. In 1966, Air Force provided a spacious vehicle called “queen Marry” for carrying the idols for immersion. In the year 1967, Mandal was established officially and besides this festival others like Kojagiri, Sankrant and Gudi Padva began to be celebrated. In 1968, Utsav was celebrated in Government technical college premises. In 1970 the Mandal was registered officially. In 1978 Maharastra Bhavan building was inaugurated in sector 19. Since then it is a regular affair. People of Chandigarh also participate with great zeal.

Since idol was not made here earlier, it was brought from Maharastra. It was the most difficult task since train connection is poor and also handling of the idol is a delicate matter. Once even, Air Force brought the idol by air lifting it from Mumbai.

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Rehearsals

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Beginnings

This year, there shall be a performance by renown artist Abhya Devare from Satara. Krishan  Leela will be performed by Pallavi and Kanhari Pinge. In the Anand Mela, there will be Si Khand, Puran Poli along with Kari. Marathi women have become good punjabi cooks here and cuisines shall be prepared by them.

Custodian of the Past

One is surprised and awestruck at the single minded passion of the person. His name is Narinderpal Singh Panesar. He is 43 years old businessman and belongs to Ludhiana district in Punjab. He has the mind boggling collection of antiques which include rare coins, antique cameras, international currency notes and other materials. These are mostly related to Sikh history but in addition to all sorts of antiques. He has collected these in 30 years. He wishes to set up Sikh museum which shall have no parallel.

His collection includes 55000 coins which belong to ancient, medieval, British India, Sikh misls of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Patiala, Nabha, Jind and Malerkotla.

He has rare stamps. Oldest stamp is of golden temple which was released in 1935 on the silver jubilee ceremony of George V. Also stamp issued by Pakistan in 2008 on martyrdom day of Sikh Guru Arjan Dev. Many stamps have gold, silver, silk, Khadi, tin, chocolate and Swarovski on them. Some are perfumed and embroidered.

Manuscrpits are from Gurumukhi, Sanskrit, Persian Arabic or Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam. There is Adhyatam Prakash Granth  dating back to 1668 AD. Also there are paintings belonging to Mughal, Sikh, Pahari, Kishangarh and East India Company.

There was the news that due to financial problems in setting up the Museum, he has decided to sell the antiques which are non-Sikh category with heavy heart. He is disappointed over the attitude of Government and SGPC.

Here are some of the sample photos taken from the article in Times of India.

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Unesco World Heritage tag for Rani-ki-Vav

Rani ki vav or the Queen’s Stepwell at Patan, Gujarat has been bestowed with this honor a few days back under criteria i and iv which say. First criterion is the structure represents a masterpiece of human creative genius and second criterion says the item under consideration is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stages in human history.Rani-ki-Vav (le puits à degrés de la Reine) à Patan, Gujarat

Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Step well) at Patan, Gujarat is located on the banks of the Saraswati River and was initially built as a memorial to a king in the 11th century AD. Rani or the queen Udayamati commissioned this vav or step well, in 1063 in the memory of her husband King Bhimdev I of the Solanki dynasty. Rani-ki-Vav was built at the height of craftsman’s ability in step well construction and the Maru-Gurjara architectural style, reflecting mastery of this complex technique and great beauty of detail and proportions. Designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water, it is divided into seven levels of stairs with sculptural panels of high artistic quality. The vav was later flooded by the nearby Saraswati River and silted over until the late eighties, when it was excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India, with the carvings found in pristine condition. Rani Ki Vav is among the finest step wells in India, and one of the most famous legacies of the ancient capital city.

Rani-ki-Vav (le puits à degrés de la Reine) à Patan, Gujarat

The vavs of Gujarat are not merely sites for collecting water and socializing, but also simultaneously hold great spiritual significance. They were originally constructed quite simply, but became more intricate over the years, perhaps to make explicit this ancient concept of the sanctity of water by carving it out in stone deities thus representing a subterranean temple.

The steps begin at ground level, leading you down through the cool air through several pillared pavilions to reach the deep well below. There are more than 800 elaborate sculptures among seven galleries. The central theme is the Dasavataras, or ten incarnations of Vishnu, including Buddha. The avatars are accompanied by sadhus, Brahmins, and apsaras (celestial dancers), painting their lips and adorning themselves. At water level you come to a carving of Sheshashayi-Vishnu, in which Vishnu reclines on the thousand-hooded serpent Shesha, where it is said he rests in the infinity between epochs.

The fourth level is the deepest and leads into a rectangular tank of 9.5 by 9.4 meters, at a depth of 23 meters. The well is located at the westernmost end of the property and consists of a shaft, 10 meters in diameter and 30 meters deep.

For more pictures visit the Unesco page.