Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

Textual and visual odds and ends from India, Tibet, and around.

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Location: Kolozsvár/Cluj, Budapest, Oxford, ibi ubi

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More from Bombay

The garden of the Museum is very nicely kept, as indeed most of the city. On your right you can see the booth of 'check-ticket-again-and-apply-metal-detector-again-and-look-mean' guy.

This exquisite Chandela Mahiṣāsuramardinī is unusual (at least for me), because it does not have the trident nicely plugged into the buffalo as is seen on other images. Although this was not made clear in the exhibition, the bit on the picture below seems to be the lower part of the same statue (note the absence of the triśūla).

This is more like it. Yet, this is an old image as well, since the little man-demon is not peeping out of the buffalo (experts tell me that's important). A touch of comedy here (maybe unintentional): Caṇḍī's lion is biting the, well, you get the picture.

As a bonus:

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Angry archaeologist

I must apologize in advance, some of you may find this post a bit vulgar. Nevertheless, I'm sure that many more will actually enjoy this fine piece of Hungarian cultural history.

It so happenned that during the hot summer of 1903 in an obscure corner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire some good people found a spur. Since in the legendary bureaucracy of the aforementioned empire nothing went undocumented, the find (who knows, it could have been the spur of king Attila!) was referred to the local archaelogical authorities. They were puzzled. Shunning responsability in good bureaucratical fashion the matter was forwarded to the capital. Dr Réthy (pictured on the right), eminent linguist (i.a. learned Sanskrit in Vienna!) etc., in charge at that time, gave them this kind answer:

Tekintetes kultúrmérnöki hivatal

Tegnapi póstával érkezett 1090/1903 sz. hivatalos okiratukra,
melyben azt kérdik, hogy a Nagy-Berki község
határában lelt régi sarkantyúval mi történjék?
hivatalos tisztelettel azt válaszolom, hogy
basszák meg az urak a sarkanytyújukat, mert
35 Reaumur höségben ilyen szarságokkal
nem foglalkozhatunk.

Budapest 1903 aug 18.
Teljes tisztelettel
lófasz a seggükbe
Dr. Réthy László

m. n. muz. érem és régiségosztályi

A XIV. ker. m. kir. Kulturmérnöki hivatalnak

[To] the honourable department of cultural engineering
[In] the city of Pécs

With reference to the official document no. 1090/1903 which I received in today's mail and in which you enquire about what is to be done with the old spur found in the outskirts of Nagy-Berek, I answer with due official respect that the good gentlemen should f**k their spur, since in this heat of 35 Reaumur [= 43.75 Celsius = 110.75 Fahrenheit!] we cannot be bothered with such s**t.

Budapest 1903 August 18.
With the utmost respect,
[and wishing] a horse's c**k up your a*s
Dr. László Réthy
Department of Coins and Antiquities, H[ungarian] N[ational] Mus[eum]

[To] the department of cultural engineering of the King[dom] of H[ungary], district XIV
[In] the city of Pécs

If you have ever tried working your way through Hungarian official documents the question you must be asking is: gosh, whatever went wrong?

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Worn or nicked?

The link above will take you to the highly interesting report submitted by Haraprasād Śāstrī to the relevant authorities in 1911. This paragraph on page 5 caught my attention:

When the manuscript [of the Haramekhalā] was first shewn to me, the unusual thickness of the last leaf roused my suspicions. I dipped it in water, and with a little manipulation found that two leaves were glued together into one. The glued pages contained a panegyric on Pratāpa Malla. The inference was irresistible that some one stole the manuscript and, to prevent detection, glued together those pages which would reveal the name of the real owner.

Let us consider another irresistible inference: sure, the first and last folios are the first to go on account of wear and tear, but how come the rest of many manuscripts are in a surprisingly good condition? Could it be that the last folio was sometimes conveniently lost together with the name of the scribe/owner?

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

The empty plantain tree

asārāpi kadaly amṛtopamaṃ phalaṃ sāraṃ phalati yathā, tathā niḥsāramantradevatābījādikaṃ bhāvyamānaṃ saṃbodhyādilakṣaṇaṃ sāraṃ phalaṃ phalati. (Bhavabhaṭṭasya Catuṣpīṭhanibandhe)

Virūpa incognito in Bombay

The Prince of Wales Museum of Western India (now Chatrapati Shivaji "Vastusaṃgrahālaya") in Bombay (now Mumbai) has a small but rather exquisite collection of Nepalese and Tibetan art. Sadly, the identification tags of many exhibited items are off the mark. Above is one example. I am no expert, but this jovial fellow with his hands raised (to stop the sun, or so they say) seems - to me at least - more of a Virūpa than a Kṛṣṇapāda.

That said, the place is still worth a visit if you are in town. Flash a student card at the entrance and you get in for 10 rupees as opposed to 200 for simple phirangs or 15 for locals. Photography costs 200 moneys and flash is not allowed by order. After all, sudden bursts of light could damage stones irreparably.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Madan Mohan, the pawned deity

Bishnupur (Viṣṇupura for you and me) in Bankura district boasts one of the finest collections of terracotta temples in West Bengal. Amongst them Madan Mohan may not be the most spectacular, yet it has a curious little story attached to it.

When this image greeted me at the entrance I instantly knew that I was going to like this place.

Madan Mohan was perhaps some kind of local divinity who later became incorporated into/conflated/homologized with Kṛṣṇa. The strangest thing was that I already knew a Madan Mohan temple in North Calcutta. It turned out that this is not a coincidence at all. Early into the last century the temple in Bishnupur was in dire need of money and they pawned (!) their central deity to the wealthy and mighty Mitras of North Calcutta. The Mitra house still stands, although the owners have been evicted for some reason. One of the upper floors, obviously a former living room, is now converted into a place of worship. Every evening devotees come and sing bhajans in front of the image (this is a Kṛṣṇa playing the flute accompanied by Rādhā by the way). Presumably the Bishnupur temple is not interested in honouring their debt anymore, since now they have a perfect copy of the original enshrined in their Madan Mohan.

And here is the inscription (in śārdūlavikrīḍita) on the Bishnupur temple:

śrīrādhāvrajarājanandanapadāmbhojeṣu tatprītaye |
mallābde* phaṇirājaśīrṣagaṇite māse śucau nirmmale |
saudhaṃ sundararatnamandiram idaṃ sārdhaṃ svaceto'linā |
śrīmaddurjanasiṃhabhūmipatinā dattaṃ viśuddhātmanā ||

*The Mallas of Viṣṇupura had an era of their own starting with 694-5 CE, the coronation date of their first (legendary) king. The date is written with numerals at the bottom (1000 Malla era), that is 1694-5 CE. Phaṇirāja is of course Śeṣa, who is a thousand-headed serpent, hence: 'In the year of the Mallas numbering the head of the Serpent Lord'. I'm not sure I understand ceto'linā.

Here are a couple of images from the Mitra house, now known as a 'temple'. These pictures were taken two years ago just before Durgāpūjā, hence the clay idols in the making in the courtyard of what must have been a very imposing residence in its time.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

No prinagi

Seen on Ramakrishna Lane, North Calcutta. The series of metatheses should give a hefty headache to linguists who will discover this door as an artefact in two-three hundred years' time.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bad-tempered ghee

Best and testy. (seen on B. B. Ganguly Road, South Calcutta)

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Friday, January 02, 2009

gaṇā iti– mikimūṣādaya iti subodham

Panchugopal Sadhukhan is a relatively unknown artist. In fact, this is the first (and probably last) time I heard of him. I spotted his work today, in a small lane just off Bag Bazar Road in North Calcutta, on a building which was some kind of religious establishment.

The panel has the following: on the left a perfectly respectable Harihara (half-Viṣṇu, half-Śiva), on the right Kṛṣṇa minding his herd (not portrayed, you have seen this already). Below a band of gaṇas being merry, beating drums, the usual business. However, they are sporting the heads of the phirang deities (usually worshipped by children, but not exclusively): Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and what looks like Goofy. I guess this is what anthros call 'cultural translation'?

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