Thursday, January 27, 2011

Royalty to Rags - Mysore Dasara

Dasara of 2010 was the first time I got to see the ‘Nada Habba’ so closely. While others saw the grandness of the royal family, all the cultural programmes, streets glittering with lights, government offices all lit up, I saw the other side of this ‘great’ festival – the richness and rags of the royal family.
See this supposed to be white horse?
Royal Horse !!!!
It is called the pattada kudre (royal horse). In olden days pure bred white horses with not a single speck of black was chosen specially for puja purposes. Only that horse which had a swirl on its forehead would be selected – not just any white horse. But see this poor pony. First look at it reminded me or Lady Gaga and so we named it the same. if that is how it looked originally, see how it looked after being dressed for the puja!
Say cheese
 Observe the tattered saddle and clothes.
Lady Gaga... see the torn saddle
Colourful Gaga
And its not just lady gaga but even her keepers are in rags.
Next were the pattada aane or royal elephants. Even they gave company to gaga by getting groomed in torn and faded clothes. 
Royal elephants.... Different shades of faded red

Royalty in rags
Keepers in tattered clothes

But just take a look at the royal family…
'His highness' Srikantadatta Wadiyar

'Her highness' Pramodadevi Wadiyar
If the Wadiyar family is so great and dasara is our Nada Habba then why are these animals, which play an important role in the puja process so poorly kept? Cant the government or the royal family give them better clothes or is it that they just don’t care?
If at all you haven’t seen all this ‘grandeur’ during this dasara then don’t miss it next year. For all we know it will still be the same.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Purpose of an artiste is like a lone individual"

A product of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, G.S. Bhaskar has been an ace cinematographer of this country. He has worked on movies like Ijjodu (2010), Accident (2008), Hyderabad Blues 2 (2004), Saaz (1997), Nagamandala (1996) and Disha (1990). Presently, he is heading the Bangalore-based Lakshmisurya Academy for Cinematographic Excellence (LACE), an organisation consisting of an informal group of enthusiasts who aim to evolve sensible  cinema. We had an informal chat with him about his views on cinematography and India's journey in the same. Excerpts:

How has Indian cinematography evolved over years?
G.S. Bhaskar: We are technically a derivative of German technicians. As they spread all over the world, a few of them came to our country also. And then there was Dadasaheb Phalke who came to be known as the Father of Indian Cinema. We were greatly influenced by Hollywood as at that time movies from    England weren't being screened here. Hence, our style greatly  reflected the techniques used there.
Next was Subrata Mitra. He has worked a lot with Satyajit Ray and his 'Pather Panchali' gained Indian cinema a global recognition. Even westerners felt that this film was a step ahead of  Hollywood movies. At the same time in Bombay, V.K. Murthy was working with what you call augmented reality. It was neither glamourisation nor reality, something like enhanced glamourisation. He went on to shoot India's first 75mm movie 'Kaagaz Ke Phool.'
Somewhere between 1955 and '65, the foundation for Indian cinematography was laid. The establishment of Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, in 1960 provided training in various aspects and fields related to cinema. A lot of importance was given to positioning India on the world map. We then started speaking the language of Europe than just Hollywood.
By 1970, we were directly absorbed into the industry. In a matter of just two decades, the industry was flooded with technicians from the Institute.
Technology has improved with time, but movies these days are becoming meaningless. In that case wouldn't the efforts put into cinematography be wasted?
Machines don't make movies. It is the brain behind them which should bring meaning to the work. If people are not creative then however  advanced the technology and machines may be, it will be useless. Even a single camera with a good lens is enough to make a meaningful movie with lasting impact. So it is important for an artiste to express what he wants to, effectively rather than just making movies for commercial purposes.
Kaagaz Ke Phool was not a great hit at the time it was released, but now it is considered as a classic. Success should not be measured by the amount of cash collected. It should inspire you to a higher thought.
Art movies do touch individuals. But these days we rarely get to see them…
If art film-makers had made an effort to open theatres in every place around 20 years back, may be this would not have been the situation. However, there is still a ray of hope. Doordarshan telecast art films on every Sundays but later they stopped. Now Lok Sabha Channel has taken over. It is also up to the people to develop interest and make it a point to watch them.
"Success shouldn't be measured by the amount of cash collected. It should inspire you to a higher thought."
Cinematographers are like bass players in a band. They play a very important role but usually go unnoticed. Are they getting the importance that has long been due to them?
Bhaskar: That is very true. The Dada Saheb Phalke Award-2008 to V.K. Murthy is a sign of improvement. Irony is that it took such a long time for cinematographers to get recognised. It is the same in Hollywood also. The room at the top is small and people who are already there are scared that someone else may occupy it (laughs)! However, you don't need an award to tell the audience that a movie is good. They can judge for themselves.
Having worked with so many Directors, who do you feel is the best?
Bhaskar: Every director has his own speciality and I liked working with all of them. It is not the question of best but I enjoy working with Sathyu because he himself is a technician and he can understand what exactly a technician goes through. Also, for me it does not matter if it is an art movie or commercial. The meaning conveyed by the movie is what matters most.
You have worked with a youngster like Nagesh Kukunoor in 'Hyderabad Blues 2.' He made very different movies like Rockford and Iqbal which was much appreciated by audiences. How was it working with him?
He is disciplined and is always ready with a well-prepared script. He is very organised in his work unlike many other directors. Being both an actor and director is quite challenging and poses a few difficulties. But it was great working with him. However, an artiste should stick to what he does best. He has carved out a niche for himself with some of his earlier movies like Iqbal but later he destroyed it by jumping into commercial movies. People like Benegal and Sathyu have not let down their audience as they have stuck to what they do best. Whether or not the movie is a hit, they have constantly done what the audience always look forward to in their works. This is what makes them great and stand out from the rest. Purpose of an artiste is like a lone individual.
Which work of yours do you consider a masterpiece?
Bhaskar: More than a masterpiece, there was this movie which we had to shoot in Nagpur forest which was the most challenging task I have faced. The vehicle carrying generator and lights met with an accident. So we were left with no lights except for two portable ones I had carried along with me. The Director left the decision to me as to whether we should continue or go back. It was a tough and risky call but I chose to continue. While shooting a campfire scene, one of the lights I had fused out and we were left with just one light. Also in those days we didn't have high speed films. So we got 6 petromax lights from the local officials and with the one remaining light along with a jeep headlight we finished the shot. It was a risk any cinematographer would never dare to take. I won't call it a perfect shot but it was like a batsman scoring 4 runs in one ball at a crucial point in the match. And today I can proudly take credit for it. It shows that things can be achieved with minimal resources.
Currently I am working on two films — one mainstream and the other is a Sanskrit film. My masterpiece is yet to come along.
A few last words…
Pursue your passion, whatever it may be. There is always a great joy and satisfaction in doing what you like.

Silhouette Of Troubled Souls

According to the National Crime Records Bureau's Crime Clock for 2005, India reported crime every 17 seconds of which there was one case of crime against women every three minutes. And these figures are drawn by only recorded incidents of crime, meaning, a number of incidents go unnoticed and unrecorded. ‘Sexual harassment of women at workplace’ forms a major part of crime against women.
In search of a life with dignity
Every newborn child opens its eyes to discrimination: at first, if it's a girl or boy and then, on its colour, looks; at school, on its marks, parents’ financial status, school's name; in college, again its marks, dresses and 'coolness'; at work, it will be company's name, mode of transport, salary and what not.
Everyone is discriminated by everyone else in almost every walk of life and it seems as though humans can discriminate even without a reason. People have started to look for ways to prove themselves superior to others by any means possible, even if it is a matter of least significance. But there is one area which remains common regardless of birth, school, college or work — GENDER.
From the time one can remember and has been recorded, women have always been looked down upon and discriminated against the ‘superior male’ at home and workplace alike.
Many things have changed in the past few years, in terms of education, technology, science, etc., with everyone speaking of modernisation and development. In contrast to earlier days, women have now started to work, becoming financially independent and supporting their families, standing equal and in ways going ahead of their opposite sex. Sadly however, the society’s thinking towards women still remains same. Women are still being mistreated at home, society and at workplace.
Home apart, why are people so bent upon harassing women at work too? Aren't they too humans and have equal right to lead a life with dignity? Cases of higher officers and subordinates, in one way or the other, harassing women at work have come to light from time to time and many are yet to see the light.
The government, however, showed some signs of improving the situation with the 1997 verdict of Vishaka & others Vs State of Rajasthan & others. The Supreme Court defined sexual harassment as 'any unwelcome gesture, behaviour, words or advances that are sexual in nature' and passed a set of guidelines, some of them being:
  • It is the onus of the employer to include a rule in the company code of conduct for preventing sexual harassment.
  • Organisations must establish complaint committees that are headed by women.
  • Initiate disciplinary actions against offenders and safeguard the interests of the victim.
  • Female employees shall be made aware of their rights.
But even after this, very few cases were voiced out with few having knowledge of the existence of such a judgement. Our country still does not have proper laws to curb sexual harassment and hardly any organisation has implemented the guidelines or established committees to fight against this crime.
Few social organisations along with support from media are playing their part in working towards its implementation and creating awareness among women about their rights, giving a voice to their problems. Again, it is a very small section of our country's vast population.
Now, 13 years after the Vishaka verdict, 'The Prohibition of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill' has been approved to be presented in the Parliament. Even though it got over-shadowed by all the political drama taking place in our country and with the Parliament not having any successful session till now, a section of the society did spare a thought to this Bill (with the rest either unaware of it or just not bothered). It evoked mixed responses from both the genders, each trying to justify their points on whether the bill is necessary or not and about its effectiveness.
This is what a senior lady Advocate in city had to say: First when the Vishaka guidelines came out, there were a number of awareness programmes and speeches organised across the country. But it ended there and not much action was taken either by the organisations or government. On paper everything looks good. When a woman reads the Bill, she may feel happy seeing the provisions under it. However, when it comes to practically implementing a law, a lot of problems arise.There is much confusion in parts of the Bill and it seems incomplete. Maybe that's the reason why not many have taken note of it.
Any Act or Law can be used and misused. But how are you going to prove in cases pertaining to this Bill? If a girl is going through mental or physical harassment, no person will be kept as witness. Only circumstantial evidence and the background of the accused will be considered.
There is an example of a case wherein a girl complained to a committee in her office, reporting harassment by another employee. The committee heard what the accused had to say and conducted a departmental enquiry. The company however went in support of the accused and suspended the girl from work. When the girl went to court, the court ordered summons to the accused and he asked for a revision. The case is now pending in the High Court.
If a woman complains to her higher official regarding harassment at work and the complaint is not acknowledged, she can always file a private complaint, both against the person who harassed and the head of the organisation stating that the head, by not having a committee in the organisation, instigated the other person to do such an act. She can also file a suit to restrain the head from removing her from the job. But how far is all this practically possible? These cases may go on for years. It's not just enough if the woman stands up; she has to be supported by her co-workers.Also a parallel law has to be brought out which provides such women with alternative employment in case they are suspended or dismissed. Only then can they boldly voice out their problem, because in many cases the women will be the sole bread earners of their family. What we are speaking of concerns the urban parts, but what about rural women? At least women in city are becoming stronger but the rural women are not aware of the laws protecting them. Even if awareness programmes are created, attendance will be just for head counting. It has very little impact. There is a major lack of support, regardless of urban or rural society. Effective social and medical counseling has to be imparted at every level. Only then can some changes be seen. Facts apart and whether or not the Bill actually comes into action, there are a few questions regarding the above issue which have to be addressed by the public and the government.
People from various sectors gave their opinion regarding the matter. A few excerpts follow:
At University of Mysore
The University of Mysore has a Women Harassment Complaints Committee which started functioning in 2006 with an aim address harassment problems faced by students/ faculty. The Committee has 12 members including a lady Chairperson, a member from an NGO, lawyer, two male members, etc. and also an Enquiry Committee comprising 5 members. The Committee has the reputation of being very effective and has won praises at many workshops. The Secretary of the Committee spoke about the procedure followed and problems faced by the Committee in taking right action:
“Students are made aware of the Committee during orientation programme. First when any faculty/student comes to us with a complaint regarding harassment, we take down a written statement and call in the accused person to see what he has to say. If the accused accepts his mistake and we land in a suitable solution with the discussion, the case will be dropped. Else if the complainant wants further action, we probe into the case and see if the accused is really guilty. Out of the 25 cases (5 were anonymous) most have been proven and the accused has been found guilty. But the major problem we face is we do not have enough power to take action.
“Even though we submit a report about the guilty person we are not informed about the action taken. If this is the case how will the student feel safe to come and complain to us? After all it's their career which is at risk. Only with speedy enquiry and strict action against at least two accused, women will get confidence about our work.”
Another member of the Committee is from an NGO ‘Samatha’ and here is what she said: “The committee is very effective up to the level of enquiring into the case and finding the guilty. But once we submit the report it is the duty of the University to take necessary action. We have been told that the statutes of the University do not support necessary action. We have sent the revised statutes for approval which has been forwarded to the Governor. However there has been no response from the Governor's office.
“Beyond enquiries even our hands are tied. It's like Lokayukta, we have proved the crime but don't have power to take action. Apart from the University, not many colleges have such Committees. The University has to act responsibly in this matter and cooperate with the Committee. The government has to take serious action in this regard. Even the younger generation is not showing interest in such cases.”
An employee of a top IT company in city: “The Bill seems like a step forward. Even though I have personally never faced such problems, a few girls working with me have. We have an Internal Committee which works for causes related to the problems faced by women. They also conduct awareness programmes for the employees. However, many are not ready to stand up for themselves and complain. They should stop getting scared about their job security and approach the Committee with their problems.
“Action has been taken regarding such issues and one doesn't have to worry if they will have to face isolation. If each company has a Committee which will address such issues, then I guess half the problem will be solved.”
However, another employee of the same company remarked: “The committee does function but it is not easy for us to complain. The moment we do, the higher officials are informed about us and then we face isolation and get targeted by office members. All we get after complaining is mental harassment and it's difficult to work in such an environment. That is the reason many choose to remain quiet.”
A higher official at another company got into defensive mode when he was asked for his opinion by saying when a Committee does exist in their company it's upto the female employees to make use of it. It is assured that they will get justice and won't face any isolation. This was said when at least three out of five workers in the same place were hesitant to complain about the problems they were facing.
A young girl working in a small organisation: “My first few days at work were fine until I got to hear stories about the male employees of my organisation. Hearing stories apart, after some time even I had some bitter experiences. We don't have any committee to address problems faced by women. On one side I am feeling very uncomfortable with the behaviour of men towards me, but, on the other side, a few of the women have no problem with such inappropriate remarks and physical contact. Vulgar jokes and inappropriate touching are just some of the problems I face almost every day. When reported, I am told that it is ‘fatherly/brotherly behaviour,’ and not to mind it. I want to know which father would treat his daughter this way and also there is no need for the male employees to show any affection towards us as they are expected to behave professionally at work place.
“Even if I raise my voice and try to change things, nothing is happening. Will such a law be effective in an organisation like ours where people, men and women alike, just get along with such issues instead of addressing and solving them? I can always quit this place and move on. But situation may be the same in other places also. I want to stay here make a change. If the Bill is passed, I may get some help.”
A city college student: “We have a lecturer in our college who is a known offender. All other staff including the Principal know about him and it has been going on for years now. Recently a student was molested by him during an exam. She was bold enough to give a written complaint against him. Enquiries were conducted and reports have been submitted. Still no action has been taken. How will other girls get confidence if this is the situation? What more are we supposed to do?”
Contrasting voices for the same problem: A few top notch companies have taken effective measures to prevent harassment at work. But what about the smaller companies, organisations, students, research fellows, house maids and all those women who go to an office to get work done and have to face such unruly behaviour? Also, it is not enough to just have schemes and laws which protect harassed women, but the harassment itself should be stopped.
All the voices had one common solution — to change the system. Clean the society from grassroot level. The teaching should begin from home. Schools and colleges should take time out from the ‘race for marks’ and educate and inculcate morals in the students. They should have effective awareness programmes in a way which will interest and affect the mentality of the youth. If this is effectively done, problems may reduce at workplace along with the companies taking necessary measures to curb this filth which has haunted our country for ages.
Such a change may not happen overnight. But the start should be made now and at this very moment. Else, no matter how much our country may advance, if its people don't learn to respect Mothers, it is doomed to remain backward forever.

Story behind the Vishaka judgement:The Supreme Court guidelines in the case of Vishaka & others Vs. State of Rajasthan & others was brought out owing to the gang rape of one Bhanwari Devi by a group of Thakurs as she attempted to stop a child marriage in their family. Bhanwari Devi was a social worker at rural-level in a development programme initiated by the Government of Rajasthan, aiming to curb child marriages.
As part of her work, Bhanwari Devi tried to stop one Ramkaran Gujjar's minor daughter's marriage. The marriage, however, took place but Bhanwari Devi was not forgiven for her efforts to stop the same. She was subjected to social boycott, and in September 1992 was gang raped by five men including Ramkaran Gujjar in front of her husband. The only male doctor in the Health Centre refused to examine her and the doctor at Jaipur only confirmed her age without making any reference to rape in his medical report.At the Police Station, the women constables taunted her throughout the night. Past midnight, the Policemen asked Bhanwari to leave her lehenga behind as evidence and return to her village. She was left with only her husband's bloodstained dhoti to wear. Their pleas to let them sleep in the Police Station at night were also turned down.
The trial court acquitted the accused, but Bhanwari was determined to fight and get justice. She said that SHE HAD NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF AND THAT THE MEN SHOULD BE ASHAMED FOR WHAT THEY HAD DONE.
Her spirit inspired fellow saathins and women groups countrywide and they launched a campaign for justice to Bhanwari. On December 1993, the High Court said, “It is a case of gang rape which was committed out of vengeance.”This provoked women groups and NGOs to file a petition in the Supreme Court of India, under the name 'Vishaka', asking the Court to give certain directions regarding the sexual harassment that women face at the workplace. The result is the Supreme Court judgement, which came on Aug. 13, 1997, and the Vishaka guidelines.

Salient features of the Bill:
  • Sexual Harassment: Unwelcome sexually determined behaviour such as physical con-tact, advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography or making sexual demands, whether verbal, textual, graphic or electronic or by any other actions, which may contain — promise of preferential treatment in that employee's employment (or) threat of detrimental treatment in that employee' employment or an implied threat about the present or future employment status of that employee and includes the creation of a hostile working environment (or) the conduct interferes with an employee's work or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment (or) such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem.
  • Every woman shall have a Right to be free from Sexual Harassment and the Right to work in an environment free from any form of Sexual Harassment.
    No employer or any person who is a part of the management/ownership/supervisor/co-employee shall, sexually harass a female employee at the workplace, where she is employed/seeking employment; whether the harassment occurs in / at the workplace, or at a place where the said person has gone in connection with the work. Every employer/management of the workplace shall take all necessary and reasonable steps to prevent and ensure that no woman employed in the establishment is subject to Sexual Harassment by any third party during the course of employment.
    In cases where an employer-employee relationship does not exist it shall be the duty of the head of the body/institution to ensure that — No student or any person seeking admission to any such institution /professional body or a client is subjected to sexual harassment. An aggrieved woman shall have the Right to claim compensation from the defendant for any Sexual Harassment to which she may have been subjected to, in an appropriate Court of law.
    The court may for reasons impose a fine of not less than Rs.10,000 on any workplace which has failed to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)or opted to have been governed by the Local Complaints Committee (LCC) or failed to initiate action within a reasonable time. It shall be mandatory for every workplace to constitute an ICC as prescribed under this Act. The Committee shall be headed by a woman as Chairperson. It shall be the responsibility of the District Officer under this Act, to constitute a LCC, at the district level which will consist of at least four persons and a woman as Chairperson.
(Published in Star Of Mysore dated Nov. 27, 2010)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jungle Fever @ Sunkadakatte Forest Reserve

Ever since I watched Jurassic Park, I’ve been fascinated by dense, tropical rainforests which are full of surprises at every turn. I’ve always wondered where I’d find a place like that, closer to home, and it so turned out that such a forest is much closer than I imagined.
Sunkadakatte, a lesser known range of Nagarahole National Park and by far the best I have been to till date, is my Jurassic Park. Nagarahole is one among India’s best wildlife parks having many ranges under it, and Sunkadakatte is one among them with restricted access to public. The range is located close to the Kabini Reservoir, situated about 225 kms from Bangalore and 90 kms from Mysore. From Mysore, it can be reached by taking SH-17D (Mananthavady Road) to Antarasante via Chattanahalli and Hampapura.
Guest house
We were put up in a very beautiful solar powered guest house, about 4-5 kms into forest. A single-floor cottage with sloping roof having 3 suites, each of which had 2 spacious rooms and a big bathroom. A cosy and pretty dining shack put up about 50 ft away from the guest house serves up tasty food the cook is ever ready to provide us with.
The best thing about the location of the guest house is that at dawn and dusk, several animals are seen in its vicinity. We woke up early morning to be greeted by hundreds of chital deer, wild boar, gaur and the trumpeting of elephants. We were also lucky to get a glimpse of a pack of wild dogs (dholes) which are very rare to spot. At night, wild boars can be heard snorting and circling around the cottage with jumbled sounds of other animals. Several wildlife photographs are on display in the guest house, many clicked by M.N.Jayakumar, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests.
There is no official safari in this reserve but a forest employee, who patrols the forest for poaching activities, was asked to take us around on his jeep. We started the safari at 4 pm on the day we arrived, taking the trails typically used by employees for surveillance. The foliage on either side of the path is cleared to a minimum distance in order to prevent forest fires from spreading across the path. We were barely minutes into the jungle when it started pouring heavily. Our guide informed us that it was going to be difficult to spot animals, since they disappear into the heart of the forest when it rains. But we were far from disappointed. The forest itself looked magnificent when drenched in rain.
The paths leading into the jungle are narrow, sometimes very steep, and almost impossible to navigate in the rain. We skidded, got thrown off our seats several times, and got stuck right in the middle of a puddle as darkness approached — all adding to a perfect jungle experience. We were not that unlucky with animals either, as we spotted several hundreds of spotted deer and many sambhar, all huddled under the foliage against the rain. We also saw lion-tailed macaques near them, which are said to signal the deer of any approaching predators.

The drive along the backwaters of Kabini reservoir had much more in store for us. We saw many elephants, some with the calves running underneath the mothers for shelter whenever it rained, and adults flinging mud on their backs. There was also a massive group of about a hundred wild boars scattered along the bank of the backwaters. We also spotted a herd of gaur, one of the largest we had ever seen. On our way back, the sight of a large lone tusker got us both thrilled and scared. We moved quickly since it was getting dark as well. The experience was so novel and exhilarating that we requested our guide to take us out again the following morning.
And so we headed off at 7 am the next day, with all our senses feeling every bit of the fresh forest, still opening its eyes to the warm rays of sun. It had stopped raining the previous evening and the morning was a perfect setting to watch birds. We spotted several peacocks, peahens, kingfishers and kites. There is also a pond called Tiger Tank in the forest, named so as it is frequented by the big cats. Unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to spot one. Nonetheless, an action-packed and unforgettable five-hour jungle safari spread over two days made this a trip we’d never forget. What we did miss though, was a stay in the Kabini River Lodge nearby, and a boat trip around the backwaters.
A must for photo enthusiasts if you are staying overnight is to fully charge your camera batteries as there are no sockets in the guest house. One can get really close to nature at Sunkadakatte, with its untamed forest and abundant wildlife. But do keep in mind the rules of forest, and follow them to the last word, since we must conserve to the best possible extent, what is left of our forest cover.

(Published in Star Of Mysore dated Nov.16, 2010)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Seven wins and still counting…

The vajra mushti (diamond fist)

Vajra mushti kalaga at Mysore Palace during Dasara 2010
First blood
One among the many rich traditions of our country is Kusti (wrestling) with its homeland being Mysore. In olden days, every village had a Hanuman temple and an akhada. Kusthi was not just a sport but an art used for self defense and for protection of the empire.
M.R. Madhava, son of M.R. Sudarshan of the Jetty family whose name is synonymous with the ‘vajra mushti kalaga’ (a varied and special form of wrestling) and kusti, is very humble and modest person. He shared his experience in the palace, about his family and community.  Excerpts from the interview:

Your whole family is very well known for wrestling. Can you tell us about your family tree?
Madhava: My family traces back to the times of Tippu Sultan. Kari Jatappa, my great great grandfather was a Raja Vastadi in Tippu’s court. Story goes that when Tippu told he can kill a tiger, Kari Jatappa killed a tiger by hitting it with his bare hands. During the time of Mummudi Wadiyar, Rama Jatappa was famous. People would say “Aakashakke eeni ella, Rama Jatappange kustili sati ella” (there is no ladder to the sky, same way, there is no equal to Rama Jatappa in kusti). Next was my grandfather, M.R.  Jatappa. He used to supply agarbatti to the palace durbar. It was famous all over India. My father was M.R.  Sudarshan. He was conferred with the titles Mr. Body Builder Mysore and with Mr. Olympics title in Madras. We are five brothers: Ramji, Basavanna, Tiger Balaji, Arvind and me (Madhav). All five were into wrestling in our earlier days, but now most of them have quit.  Balaji is very famous and has wrestled in the kalaga and at the Chennaiah akhada. I specialise mainly in blood-fighting.
When and from where did the Jattis originate?
Madhava: We have heard stories from our elders that our forefathers were in Akbar’s courts in Delhi. The Jetty family had around 3,000 houses there. For various reasons our clan migrated from Delhi and spread to different parts of India. They say that the origin of Jattis dates back to as early as the time of Lord Krishna and that it was the Jattis who taught Balarama how to wrestle. But since the practice of sati was predominant with our people, there were very few descendents of the Jattis. 
Members of your family have taken part in the well-known ‘vajra musti kalaga.’ How is the kalaga fought and is it practiced anywhere else?
Madhava: This form of fighting takes place only in Mysore and that too on the last day of Dasara. Nowhere else in the world will you get to see it.
First we keep the red mud and offer prayer to our home deity Nimbuja Devi to take her blessings. Later we shave our head leaving only a pony like those of pujaris and wear the kusti dress. In the palace we will be given the vajra musti which we need to wear for the fight. It is usually made of elephant tusk or the horn of a gaur.  
After the Maharaja is seated, there will be a referee who will conduct the fight. Four fighters, 2 from Mysore-Chamrajnagar and 2 from Bangalore-Chennapatna are called and divided into two pairs. Both the pairs fight simultaneously and it lasts from around two to ten minutes. Whoever draws first blood will be declared the winner and the fight is immediately stopped. The sight of first blood is considered to be a good sign to start Vijayadashami. Later the king proceeds to offer puja to the Banni tree.  
Do you practice regularly for the kalaga?
Madhava: We usually start training one or two months before the event. There is a strict training routine and we need to practice breathing control. Also we need to follow a proper diet for maintaining fitness. It is like training for a war.
Who selects the fighters for this event?
Madhava: There will be about eight heads called Kalipha, Ustad, etc, who select the fighters. One person cannot fight for two years in a row. It is usually every alternate year or more. Nowadays we give chance to juniors also if they want to fight, so that even they can improve. Only those from the Jatti community can take part in this fight. I started when I was 18-years-old and have participated and won seven times at the palace. There is no age limit for taking part. One can fight until he has the strength to.
It is a very dangerous art form. Has anyone got severely injured while fighting?
Madhava: Many people have got injured till now. I know a person who lost his eye around thirty years back and one who has a hole in his face. You are supposed to hit only the head. However sometimes you miss and hit the opponents face. A slight miss can cause severe injury. But we feel the pain only for some five minutes, later its gone. Doctors will also be present during the fight to provide first aid to those injured.
Will the training be given from childhood?
Madhava: It all depends on daring. If the kid has the guts and dare to fight, only then can he face his opponent. In that case they train for around half an hour during evening tying a towel to their hands.
What do you do for a living other than the kalaga?
Madhava: We rear cows and whenever asked for will go for duty to the palace. We have agarbatti and other small businesses also.
Will your kids continue the family tradition?
Madhava: It is up to them if they want to practice. Like I said, they can fight only if they have the dare to. But we will see that the next generation will keep up the tradition of our community.

(Published in Star Of Mysore dated Oct.15, 2010).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bassist Exprezzion....

Naresh Kamath
Bass guitarist is the most unattractive option of a band. Very rarely do you see a bass player get the same popularity as a lead guitarist or a drummer. But that hasn’t stopped many like Naresh Kamat of Kailasa band to master it and love it.
“You should always follow your dreams and do that work which gives you happiness. It’s not the money which counts but the amount of satisfaction you get,” said Naresh, who is also a Bollywood playback singer. A very polite and soft spoken person, Naresh shared his opinions and experiences before going to perform at the Manoranjana Dasara on Oct.11, 2010, held as part of Dasara celebrations in Mysore.
How did music start for you?
Naresh Kamath (NK): Music was in our house. We grew up listening to various types of music. However the most influencing part was when my brother and I joined a boarding school. We started writing our own songs and singing. We would also to record songs using tape recorders. Later my brother started learning guitar in 10th std, and then there was a guitar at home, so it became inevitable. And music came very easily to us. It wasn’t difficult. Also, we never stuck to one genre of music but kept on learning new styles.
But why did you choose to play come bass guitar?
NK: Well, I used to sing in a band earlier. After sometime however only the drummer and I were left. So I planned to learn bass guitar. I wanted to learn something different.
Kailash Kher
When can we expect Kilasa’s next album?
NK: We are working on it. Nowadays there is a problem that not many buy music CDs. The companies are trying to find ways to sell what we make. If we work for a movie you get to see the videos and the song gets promoted. But very rarely do you get to see an album song. We can make music. The question however is how will it reach to the audience?
In fact, I am working on music of my own, but, again the question is how to market it. We have to find the best, the cheapest and the most efficient way to promote it and get it to the people.
Band members of Kailasa
How often do all you band members jam?
Honestly, we don’t jam on a regular basis. When we are working on an album, we get together and start coming up with different ideas. Also, when we have a big concert coming up we practice. Luckily we have a studio in Mumbai were all of us can jam.
What did you feel about Mysore? It’s the second time you are performing here.
Mysore is a great place. We look around and see so much of greenery which we miss in Mumbai. The people here are also very simple and relaxed. Makes one feel like getting a house or a cottage and settling here! 

(Published in Star Of Mysore dated Oct. 12, 2010)

Reminiscences of a Former Sawar

The history of the Mysore Lancers whose daring in battle is celebrated every year in Haifa, Israel, trace their roots to First Mysore Horse, an Imperial Force raised by the Maharaja of Mysore.The dash and panache of the Mysore Lancers were seen in the early Dasara processions of the ‘50s when the splendidly attired men and their horses marched in the famed Jumboo savari. The Mysore Lancers then maintained by the Maharaja consisted of one regiment of Lancers, one squadron of Mysore Field Infantry and three Infantry battalions. Sept. 23, 2010, is the 92nd anniversary of what is reputed to be the 'Last great cavalry victory of the Mysore Lancers.' It is celebrated in Haifa, Israel, and during war reunions of the great Cavalry regiments of the world. But unfortunately not so in Mysore where the Mysore Lancers took its birth.

Eshwar Rao Chavan, aged 77 years, is still sprightly and looks ageless as he recounts, “We would be on guard duty, astride our horses and the Maharajah would drive by. Sometimes he would tell his driver to stop in case he wanted to speak to one of us, “Aa goobe na kari.’’ (Call that owl!) He would say so with a lot of affection. He was the kindest man I have ever seen.”
Eshwar Rao Chavan is reminiscing his life as a Sawar with the Palace Body Guards, descendants of the famed Mysore Lancers. Plainly dressed, he carries himself straight; even when he is sitting down, he sits erect the way he would sit astride his horse.
He is one among the proud breed of cavalry men around the world about whom there is even an immortal poem, “Into the valley of death rode the gallant six hundred….”
Born in 1933, Eshwar Rao joined the Palace Body Guards in 1951 along with his three brothers after their father retired as a Guard. He retired in 1991. He spoke to us regarding his experience and life in Mysore in the years gone by.
An upright Body Guard: Eshwar Rao in his early years.

After seeing Dasara during the time of Wadiyars, what do you think about the celebrations being carried out now?
Eshwar: Dasara has become a ‘Gombe Aata’ (puppet show) now. In those years, the King would sit on the throne at 7 am on all 9 days of Navratri or 10 days of Dasara. Beautifully printed invitations would be given to dignitaries who in durbar dresses – black coat, white pyjama, peta and valli – would be present with the king. During the procession, horses, Guards, 3rd infantry, Palace Infantry, Whole Infantry, etc would take part. The procession would go around the city and return to the Palace, despite rain or shine. Men in uniform carrying oil lamps and multi-coloured footlights were a feast to the eyes. It’s not the same now and my children and grandchildren take it as a joke when I describe the Dasara that I have witnessed.
How did Jayachamrajendra Wadiyar treat you and the other guards?
Eshwar: We never interacted directly with the king, but he was very kind to us. The king treated all as equal and none were considered inferior.
Eshwar Rao Chavan
During those days, two pure white horses were kept especially for puja purposes. What happened to them and those rituals?
Eshwar: They were called ‘Pattada Kudure’ (royal horses). These horses were selected carefully after considering the stars and the ‘suli.’ They were brought from Kunigal Stud Farm and raised and trained from a young age. These horses would not have even the smallest black spots and were of pure white up to their legs. There were also ‘Pattada Aane’ (elephant) and ‘Pattada Hasu’ (cow).
Now the tradition is gone. They bring a white horse for the puja which may not be pure bred.
What changes do you see in Mysore now?
Eshwar: The city and its people have changed a lot with time. Earlier, two guards mounted on horses were stationed at the Palace gate. People would flock in to see them in particular. Now they have stopped that practice. Mysore Lancers were incorporated into the regular Indian army. Some are seconded to the President’s Guard, others to the Indian Remount Corps and some of us to the Mysore Police.  
Your life - then and now.
Eshwar: There were not many cars or bikes and people had to travel by rackety buses, but life was comfortable then. Once we received the salary, three to four neighbours would take a cart and go to the market for buying monthly ration. After retiring from Palace duty, I have also worked at Jaganmohan Palace. We were getting a decent salary. And above all we were respected.
Now no one cares who we are. I am getting pension from State Government now, but that is not really sufficient [shows his father’s pension book, with Rs.7 written in it !].

(Published in Star Of Mysore dated Sept. 18, 2010)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lesser Known Temples on Chamundi Hill

Mysore is the only city in the country to be named after a rakshasa. Mysore was originally called Mahishupura (Mahishasurana uru) as it was said have been the home of an asura (demon) named Mahishasura.  Myth, legend and history surround not only the City but also its historic locations.
One such place is the Chamundi Hills, located 13 kms from the heart of Mysore city. Earlier, the main God of this hill was Mahabaleshwara (Eshwara/Shiva) and the hill was called Mahabaladrigiri. The self-manifested Shiva Linga found here came centuries before Chamundeshwari was installed. Later, it is said that Goddess Chamundi killed the Mahishasura and got the name Mahishasuramardhini (‘She who slew Mahishasur’a). When the Wadiyars came into power, Chamundeshwari became their family deity and regular pujas started here and hence the name Chamundi Hill stuck.
courtesy Google Maps
Chamundi hill is also known as Trimukuta Kshetra or three-peaked hill. The Hill is said be like the middle bud of a lotus surrounded by eight holy hills (see map: A. Chikkadevammana Betta in HD Kote, B. Gopalswamy Betta, C. Biligiri Rangana Betta, D. Malemadeshwara Betta, E. Kunti Betta, F. Yadugiri in Melkote, G. Mallayana Betta in Pandavpura and H. Karigatta in Srirangpatna.) like petals, hence the name Ashtadala Parvata (hill surrounded by eight petals). Another interesting aspect of this hill is that River Cauvery flows along north and Kapila along south, with Lord Shiva in between.
Wandering about and away from the main temple there are several little known temples on this sacred hill....
Mahabaleshwara Temple:
The original name of the hill, Mahabaladrigiri was derived from this temple. It is said that Shiva Linga here is self manifested and called as Aarsheya Murthy, meaning that the date of its establishment is not known. But some sources also state that the temple has been constructed in Chola style, and that it came into existence during the time of Hoysala King Vishnuvardhan.
The main deity, Lord Mahadeshwara, is located inside the temple in the form of Linga, along with subordinate deities Kashi Vishwanatha, Sapta Matrukeyaru (seven forms of Devi), Nataraja and Utsava Murthy Chandrashekara Swamy. Outside the temple are the five avtaras of Shiva – Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha and Eeshana, installed by Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. There are also three small shrines dedicated to Dakshina Murthy, Chandikesha and Durga inside the temple complex and an idol of Prasanna Ganapati adjacent to the main entrance of the temple.
Every year, there is Giraija Kalyana held sometime in Nov-Dec at this temple. An event called Andhakasura Samhara is also celebrated in Dhanur Masa, during which a rangoli is drawn in front of the temple and the Utsava Murthy of Shiva is taken procession on it, indicating the slaying of demon Andhakasura. The idol is made red by applying vermillion powder to indicate the fury of Shiva. Next day, the idol is taken on procession again to the same place indicating that Shiva is going to confirm whether the giant is dead or not. At this time, the idol of Shiva’s wife Parvathi is taken behind showing that she is trying to convince her husband that Andhakasura is dead and calling him back. Other rituals of this temple are the Shiva Deepa during Karthika Masa and Uyyalotsava.
Narayanaswamy Temple:
This temple is located behind the Mahabaleshwara temple and is west-facing. Inside the temple, there is an idol of Narayanaswamy, Sridevi (Lakshmi) and Bhudevi (Mother Earth), all of which have been carved from a single stone. However, the idols of Sridevi and Bhudevi are very small and usually covered. The Utsavamurthy is facing north, and the idols of Ramanujacharya and Nammalvar are facing south. There are also idols of Ganapathi, Shiva Linga, Anjaneya and Kurma (turtle avtar of Vishnu). The temple compound houses a unique structure of Hanuman. It is said that a self manifested stone in shape of Hanuman has been growing here for the past 90 years. This idol is not clearly visible during the day and can be seen after dark in the light of a lamp. Legend has it that when Krishnaraja Wodayer came to this place, he asked the sculptor to break this idol thinking it was an ordinary stone. The sculptor hit it a few times with a hammer but was able to make just a hole. Later that night, Lord Hanuman appeared in his dreams and asked him not to break the stone and said that he was growing there. Maharani Tripura Sundari Devi, second wife of Jayachamarajendra Wodayer got silver Kavacha made for this idol. It has now been put up inside the Narayanaswamy temple and dates back to December 2, 1963. Another speciality of this idol is that while normally Hunuman idols face south, this particular idol faces north.
One noticeable feature of this temple is that it has no Dhwaja Stamba, the reason for this being that no three temples in the same place should have one, as it will come in the way of prosperity of the land. Since Mahabaleshwara and Chamundi Temples both have a Dhwaja Stamba, this temple was excluded.
The main rituals carried out in this temple are Vaikunta Ekadashi, Vishnu Deepa in Kartika Masa, Uyyalotsava, and special puja on all four Saturdays of Shravana Masa. During Udupotsava, the Utsava Murthy is taken on procession to various mantaps located on the hill where mahamangalarathi is done, and then taken to Devikere after which the idol is brought back. Four months, starting from Shayanekadashi (time when Lord Narayana goes to sleep) till Utthana Dwadshi (when Narayana wakes up), is of great importance to this temple.
Nandi (Dodda Basava):
The 16 feet high and 24 feet long monolith Nandi was installed by Dodda Devaraja Wodeyar in 1659. The significance of this Nandi is that, while Nandi everywhere faces Shiva, here and only here, Shiva faces east and Nandi faces south. There are said to be around 10 different Nandi idols around the hill installed by the Maharajas as protectors of their empire. Few of them are Neerkal Hatti Basava, Ulluri Basava, Kodi Basava and Kere Bali Basava.
Special pujas are done here during the Kartika Masa.
There is also a small Cave Shiva Temple adjacent to the Nandi which houses a Shiva Linga.
Jwala Tripura Sundari:

About 5kms from Chamundi Hills, there is a place called Uttanahalli which houses the temple of Jwala Tripura Sundari, sister of Chamundi. The idol of the goddess, said to be an avtar of Lakshmi is located little below the ground. Both the sisters are sitting facing each other with Chamundi facing east and Tripura Sundari facing west. The hillock on which this temple is located is called Ramanathagiri as the temple also houses the self-manifested idol of Ramanateshwara (Shiva Linga).
Every year, a festival known as Kanna Kannadi Utsava takes place here. In January, Mari Habba is celebrated in which animal is sacrificed to ease the temper of the goddess. Also, special pujas are carried out on all four Fridays of Ashada Masa.
On the way to Uttanahalli one also comes across Markandeya Ashram. It is a small and quite temple set in the middle of forest. Markhandeya is knowned to have worshiped Mahadeshwara here.
Deva Gange / Devikere:

On the way to the top of Chamundi Hill a board indicating way to Devikere leads to the Deva Gange. Story goes that once Ganga had gone to meet Brahma. Ganga is originally of milky white complexion but seeing her dark and ugly, Brahma asked what the matter was. Ganga explained that everyday people who have committed great sins come to her to wash off their crime and that she did not know what to do to wash it off from her. Brahma asked Ganga to offer prayer and serve Shiva situated here between Cauvery and Kapila to get eternal purity. Hence Ganga created Devikere here to worship Lord Shiva.
Every year during Dasara, Teppotsava takes place here.
Chamundi Temple:
Now the main temple of the hill, Chamundeshwari was the family deity of the Wodeyars and all the rituals carried by them have been retained till date. The Mahagopura in front of the temple was constructed 300 years ago by Mummudi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. It is said that the power of this Goddess is so immense that the areas in the direction faced by Chamundi gets very scanty rainfall but those behind have proper rainfall and water resources.
During Ashada Masa in Revati Nakshatra, the Maharajas installed the Ustava Murthy of this temple. Hence every year, on this day Vardhanti of the Devi (birth anniversary) is celebrated.
Mahishasura Statue:
As one reaches the top of the Hill, they can see a 16ft statue of the buffalo demon Mahishasura which was installed by Krishnaraja Wodeyar. It is this very Rakshas that Chamundeswari killed before being established here. Usually, a sculptor gives eyes to his creation at the very end of his work. The sculptor of Mahishasura statue gave eyes to it the day before the inauguration was to be held. But tragedy was that he died the very night this was done. Such is the power of the statue it is said.
Other places of interest:
Kuntikallu Gudda – it is located to the North East of Nandi. When the Pandavas were banished to the forest, they passed through this hill for darshan of Shiva. When they all had gone out and Kunti was alone, it is said that she would play dice with stones here and hence the name.
Konanare- this is a place where Mahishasura would tie his buffalos and where Chamundi and Mahishasura duelled. The stones here are red in colour indicating stains of blood from the duel.
Chidambareshwara Templethis temple is seen on the way to the top of the hill. A flight of steps lead down to the 100 year old temple. It houses the idol of Chidambareshwara and Chitkalamba and is open during Abhisheka, on Fridays and during Dasara. The temple was closed for about 20 years and was reopened very recently.
Kodi Linga – Earlier, when there would be plenty of rain, Devi Kere would overflow and form a lake near Uttanahalli. On the way there is a Linga which would drown due to the excess water. This Linga is called Kodi Linga. However, such rain has become an event of past now.
Nagatheertha – it is located inside the forest to the west of Nandi between Mysore and Nandi. Story is that, Nagaraja (King of Snakes) came and did penance here tor Matru Shapa Vimochane (deliverance from Mother’s curse) as Brahma had advised him that only Lord Shiva can relieve him from this curse.
Arkaleti Basava – this basava resides a little distance down from Nandi, between South and West. In olden days, if there was no rain on the hill for long, people would fill the well located here with stones and immerse Nandi in it and it would rain on the immediate next day.
On the way to the top of the hill one also comes across a Mantap. This was built in memory of Jambulingam Dwepa who made roads on Chamundi Hill and offers a panoramic view of Mysore city and the surrounding hill.   
Pujas offered at Chamundi Hill during Dussera:
During the very famous Mysooru Dasara (Navratri) there will be nine alankaras for the Devi on each of the nine days. These avtaras are – Bramhi (Bramha’s wife Saraswathi), Mahaeshwari (Shiva’s wife), Vishnavi (Vishnu’s wife), Kaumari (Subrahmanya’s wife), Indrani (Indira’s wife Shachi), Chandi and Varahi (Narayana’s wife). The eight day will be Durgashtami and last will be Kalaratri. On the last day, the Devi will be dressed in white sari with red border with her hair completely scattered. Smoke from dhoop will be filled inside the temple giving only a partial view of the goddess. Earlier, a thread would be tied to the toe of the Devi with the other end tied to a goat kept outside the temple. It is said that as the screen of the goddess would be opened, the goat would die instantly. However this ritual is not being carried out now.
This is the story of the places located only on Chamundi Hill. To get to know the stories behind each of the places in Mysore, it may take even a lifetime. It is the only city in the country where a Khasa Durbar takes place (during Navratri). Such is the speciality of the Royal City of Mysore.
(Published in Star Of Mysore dated Sept. 4, 2010)