Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Celebrate Saraswati - Geek Girls Unite

Another excuse to close the office

January 31 is Sree Panchami, the day to honour Sri Saraswati, goddess of learning and wisdom. (Last year it was February 8.)

Wear yellow and bring yellow flowers to the Saraswati shrine (if you need one, you can borrow one of mine...they are all over Kathmandu.) It's considered the most auspicious day to begin learning anything, especially to read or write a new language.

The following prayer is recited on this day:

Yaa Kundendu tushaara haaradhavalaa, Yaa shubhravastraavritha|
veenavara dandamanditakara,
Yaa shwetha padmaasana||

Yaa brahmaachyutha shankara prabhritibhir Devaisadaa Vanditha|
Saa Maam Paatu Saraswatee Bhagavatee Nihshesha jaadyaapahaa||

--English Translation:

"May Goddess Saraswati,

who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon,
and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops;
who is adorned in radiant white attire,
on whose beautiful arm rests the veena,
and whose throne is a white lotus;
who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect me.
May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance."
Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and arts, represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness.

--Saraswati painting courtesy
Exotic India.

Saraswati's archetype appears elsewhere in world culture. For instance, Lisa Simpson represents very much the same archetype (Goddess of learning, wisdom and knowledge).

In the western pantheon (we actually do have one), she would be Athena, goddess of learning and wisdom; though Athena is also equated with war, which both Lisa Simpson and Saraswati would emphatically disown.

And I have heard that the Tibetan version of Saraswati is Tsering-Ma.

Strange days indeed

Take the quiz
In Kathmandu

I have taken the Which Rock Star Are You? quiz, with the result John Lennon.

I'd like to thank you all on behalf of the band, and I hope we passed the audition.

Monday, January 26, 2009

All over the map

Fragmented attention span reflects reality; film at 11
In Kathmandu
Yes, this blog is schizophrenic, or at least inconsistent. One day I am blogging about an ancient dance form I am trying to learn and help preserve. The next, it's murdered journalists and civic unrest. A few days previous, it was Vedic Astrology.

That's just life here, at least for me. I came to get a visa, I stayed to study Charya Nrtya and in between translating the Sanskrit Giti and memorizing mudras I can't help but notice that the erstwhile Kingdom is falling apart. So every once in a while I collect a month's worth of such "real world" observations and throw them together.

I might write more often on such things, but there's really jack-all I can do about them, except cobble together such reports and share them here. After some recent correspondence with BFF Darkhorse in Nashville, I realized that the full picture of what's going on here in Nepal is not emerging in the MSM - even for observant internationally-conscious fellows such as my friend. Not for any nefarious reason, just that we're small, obscure and complicated. People tend to confuse us with both India and Tibet when in fact, we've never been either.

For instance, how many people heard about the new "secular" government's attempt to forcibly appoint their own priests at the most sacred Hindu temple in the country? (and yes, I am sure the Indian media has its biases - but who else reported on it??)

--or, the fact that we now have a Ministry of Cultural and State Reconstruction? (ominous, or what?)

I feel more optimistic, however, about my ability to learn, codify and transmit the Newar Charya dance. Not to turn my back on realpolitik, but my life has involved primarily arts and culture, and I don't like the writing on the wall (even if it is in Ranjana script).

No more king = no more royal patronage for the traditional arts and rituals (here the arts have always been intertwined with religion).
No foreign investors = no private money either.
No electricity = Nepali businesses are shutting down, so they can't contribute either.
Constant state of "emergency" = ordinary Nepalis have no time and energy for such things.
And direct government intervention in rituals and traditions = Cultural Revolution.

Living here, one begins to wonder whether anyone realizes there are precedents for all these things, in a number of countries just next door. Cambodian classical dance, for instance, is currently being revived after the Khmer Rouge's efforts to destroy even the dance masters. Now it is recognized by UNESCO as part of humankind's living intangible heritage. I hope that we can achieve the same status for Charya.

What does all this dance stuff have to do with the price of tea in China, Cambodia, Tibet or Nepal? A convenient answer comes from, of all places, Bob Dole (or at least his speech-writer).

"... We can know through the universal language of dance when we are moved, and when the quality of a people's art has touched our common humanity. That is the case with the Khmer classical dancers...there is something hopeful here in that dance. From the very presence of past holocaust, we take some comfort in these dancers and their renewed dedication to all that is good and noble and beautiful and lasting in the culture of Cambodia. Your grace inspires us. Through you, your nation and its traditions will live on after the barbarians of the recent past are remembered only in the nightmares of your brave people."
Robert Dole - U.S. Senator
(Remarks on the Khmer dance troupe performance, Cannon Rotunda, May 10, 1983)

Way past time to go. Internet prices here have gone up and I've already spent 400NRs on posting today.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Where are we going? and why are we in this handbasket?

Garbage in, garbage in.

Nepali Immigration just got its first-ever computer of any kind (at least, that my friends and I have ever seen in four years of going there, a lot). They are still keying in records from the early 90s. I guess it will be another five or so years till they get around to finding the tie-dye bearded guys who have been holing up here for better part of a decade.

At least, they are keying old records the 4 hours in a working day there is electricity. No, government offices do not have battery or generator backup. What, me work?

Beneath the cute little 'Nana Republic stories of inconveniences and "ke garne"* attitude is some sinister stuff being shut up. Well-meaning liberal friends dismiss things like garbage-mountains with "it's a developing country, after all." But when front-page newspaper stories start with lines like this:

"It all started with the Maoists hacking off the legs of UML activist .... near the waste landfill site at Tinpiple three weeks ago,"
-you know there is a whole lot more going on than you can comprehend, and a lot more than just, in NGO-speak, "capacity building issues."

"It ALL started." You would hope that would be the dramatic horrific climax to a story. Nope, that's just how it all started.
A kind of triage
Not having electric power is a great way to shut up the media. Radio (verrry important in a country with only 28% literacy), TV and newspapers are facing extra expenses to maintain production schedules; some have cut back on-air hours. Staying open 24 hours the way a media outlet should requires costly diesel backup generators and fuel. This also necessitates making choices (you can't run computers, photocopy machines, printing press and lights and everything on the backup alternates...not all at once...just certain things. A kind of triage).

That would seem to work out great for the Commies who have launched four major violent attacks on media in as many months. The latest evidence of the lawlessness here was the brutal murder of young (26), strong, principled radio reporter Uma Singh. Her photo now stares out of tribute pages and posters uncannily like Benazir Bhutto's; the beautiful vessel of tragedy and terror.

(Before my friends and family freak out: there have been no foreign writers targeted, and this happened in the southern town of Janakpur near the Indian border.)

A simple pistol to the temple as usual (there have been other journo murders, but none this spectacular) wasn't enough; they really made an example, 15 men dragging her from her rented room and knifing her to death in front of neighbors. One of her crimes was to have reported on the disappearance of her father and brother by the Maoists, 3 years before. An international account (they were scant) focused on Singh's reportage of dowry and bride-burning, but I don't
think that was a motivation in her murder. Latest papers indicate she and her family were involved in a land-dispute, the kind that often turn murderous here.

Already, though, the newspaper notices "Bring Uma Singh's killers to justice - End Impunity" have been shifted to the second page. Media Ennui is relentless, even for its own children.

Other than Singh's murder, there have been at least 4 major attacks on media houses in the past as many months. The most notable was that on Himal Media (publishers of Nepali Times) - thugs (sorry, "youths") broke into their offices, attacked journos and workers and trashed equipment and broke windows, as a warning not to go to press with their expose of the Thug Culture that's been created by Red Brigade-like "youth wings" of political parties.
Other attacks on media have included delivery vans accosted and fresh papers destroyed en route to subscribers and newsstands.

Oh, and here's a photo of the garbage piling up....
*Ke Garne is a Nepali expression meaning "what to do?," trans. somewhere between "It's not my problem" and "Life goes on."
--Photo of Uma Singh memorial from by Chong Zi Liang from Nepali Times.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Charya for ya

Writing from Kathmandu
Okay, here (embedded below) is the dance I just finished learning - the Manjushri Gita. Now I am polishing it and starting on the sloka for Vajrayogini.

My friend Rene said, "then you can have a recital!" No, little kids have recitals. Grownups have performances.
The video below shows the Majushri gita performed by members of Dance Mandal at a German Sacred Arts festival.

My first question was about the dancer's 'ardhamundi' or knee-bending posture. They don't seem to have much ardhamundi; but then coming from Bharatanatyam I am used to extreme knee bend and foot turnout.

Also, my teacher and I plan to alter the costume so that one can see more footwork and angika abhinaya (body expression). These jama costumes are nice, but a bit too Tibetan (ie, robelike and concealing). The priests in temple wear such voluminous gowns (albeit in white colour only), but the traditional sculptures and thangkas do not. Something more along the lines of the Odissi costume (right) is more flattering and more in keeping with the Newari artwork.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hindus, Hin-don'ts

Temple of doom
News from Puri

I'm not taking sides in this...I know better. Just stating the obvious; that this is going to keep on till somebody or a bunch of somebodies (probably in
south India) holds a referendum to "officially" redefine or define in the first place, since it was never defined in any scripture, what is a "Hindu."

It's not the first time the guardians of Puri's purity have been asleep the switch. Last year an Australian (I think) got in - which precipitated a ritual cleansing of the grounds - and around the same time there was a diplomatic faux pas when some Indonesian (presumably Balinese?) Hindus were not allowed in (guess they did not look Hindu enough...?).

At the time of the Indonesian incident, I read an Indian news report that such a conclave was being held, but never heard results.

Now I read of an incident involving the Thai Princess (--are Buddhists part of Hinduism? depends on who is counting, and why. In my experience, when it's to Hindu advantage, Buddhists are part of the "Om Kar Parivar") and another where a Bhubaneshwar temple was cleansed after a visit by someone - government minister in fact - from a "low caste." (not enough to be Hindu - you need to be the right kind of Hindu.)

The temple cleansing episodes remind me of the old story about Buddy Holly's family. Holly, the Texas rock legend, was very adamant about integration and socializing with Blacks. (It's okay to call them Black again...) This happened in a small town in the 1950s. Holly insisted on inviting some Black musicians in to his parents' house for dinner. After they left, he said, his parents "scrubbed the dishes five times with extra soap."

And why doesn't anyone fuss at the Parsees about the same issue? Well, for one thing, the Parsees are consistent!

Hey Balinese guys, next time "dress like a sadhu."

According to police, the foreign visitor, Sebastian, dressed like a sadhu. That made it difficult for security guards at the entrance to make out whether he is a Hindu or not. “He looked like a sadhu. He was wearing ochre robes of Hindu monks and yellow kurta with a shawl. He had also anointed sindur on forehead,” Singhadwar police station inspector-in-charge Arun Dalai.

Fearing more tension, the policemen escorted Sebastian out of the temple and detained him at the office of the Jagannath temple for hours.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Southern Slumdog

Southern exposure

Today, after visiting my new landlords at the Lazimpat flat (I am SO excited at the prospect of buying dishwashing liquid, rubber gloves and coffee mugs...you think I'm kidding??), I went to my favourite Bengali sweet shoppe Trishna Mitai and pigged out on Sambar Vada, Uttapam and Idly
in honour of Pongal. Here's a fun story about Tamils celebrating Pongal in Sri Lanka.

That Slumdawg won't hunt
Last time, I wrote something about the widespread defensive attitude (not 100%, mind you) of Indians toward the success of Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. I also left some rather impatient comments on another blog.

In case you've been asleep for a few weeks, lotta folks are huffing and puffing about Slumdog's portrayal of Indian slum life, mostly because it's too accurate. (Wonder what the slum dwellers themselves think, has anyone asked them? All the comments I have read are from upper crust writers.)

I can't write with authority about what it's like to be Indian and see a film that shows so much of the country's dark side to the world. But I have a comparable experience. I do know what it's like to be an American Southerner and see Hollywood films, famous ones, award-winning ones, represent my "country" (we almost were another country, fought a war over it, remember) to the world.

There were lots of , and still are, negative sterotypes about my country (the South). When I moved to New York in 1981, I was asked derogatory questions like "Do you even wear shoes down there?" and "where do you live, a trailer park?"

And even,
"Did your ancestors own slaves??"

"Everyone down there belongs to the Klan, right?"

...and from an Indian girl, "If you wear your bindi down there you'll get shot at." (There actually were, in fact, at least 2 "dot-head" murders...I think they were both in Canada.)

The vast majority of Hollywood films about the south - which is where people get these ideas - were made by either Yankees or Californians (same thing, ha). Outsiders.

Some were romanticized epics (Gone with the Wind), some consciously tried to redress such romanticism by showing an uglier side Cold Mountain).

Others retold true stories in a condensed, dramatized and only partially "true" way so that important but largely unknown eras in American history would not go unknown by a new generation (ie,
Mississippi Burning).

There's loooots more (Glory, Matewan, Birth of a Nation, To Kill a Mockingbird, Sling Blade, Deliverance, Mandingo, Roots, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Streetcar Named Desire, Forrest Gump.... ). Most of the above are full of slow-witted, slow talking hicks and obligatory Klan meeting scenes.

Don't forget television like Andy Griffith Show, Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, Alice, Designing Women, Hee Haw and so on.

My point is this: the vast majority of this media was made by "outsiders." Some of it (especially the romantic stuff) Southerners appreciated; most of it, they did not. Some of it I personally enjoy, a lot I have mixed feelings about.

But even when I didn't think they got it right, I usually felt the topics (mostly race history) needed to be discussed.

Usually they didn't cast Southerners in the parts; since pretty much anyone can "do" a southern accent, right? Just sound real dumb. (Marlon Brando's accent was dreadful in Streetcar and he was nominated for the Oscar.) And Black Americans are all sort of considered by casting directors to somehow be Southern by default.

Seeing your homeland represented worldwide, by an outsider, is a sensitive thing. The point is, no one ever, ever questioned the outsider's right to make such films or shows, whether we liked them or not.

Why do Indians think that they and they alone can give "permission" to someone to discuss or represent their country in media ? Besides which, the book on which Slumdog is based was written by an Indian (as Streetcar and Mockingbird were based on books written by Southerners).

I certainly hope no one ever questions the "right" of an NRI or Indian visitor to make a film about an America they perceive, however derogatory or partially-representative that may be.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Eppady sugam?

Ivite nalla sugam
In Kathmandu

It's time for the annual Pongal-Makar Sankranti photos!

Something about the light in south India makes photography there very special.

I haven't been far enough south to celebrate Pongal (or to learn any new Tamil phrases) in several years; that makes me sad.

But I can still taste the Ghee Pongal from my last visit to Saravana Bhavan!

Is that your final answer?

Who wants to be a superpower?

Q: Are you angry or "protesting" at
Suketu Mehta for writing Maximum City?

A: No.

Q: Then why are you upset and defensive at Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire?

The other part was protesting.... wildly protesting.
I hated Boyle's portrayal of Mumbai .... felt protective, felt betrayed.... but also felt the truth. Which is why it hurt.

A: --I will answer that for you. Because Boyle is a foreigner.

Next question:

Q: Why doesn't Hollywood "recognize" any Indian filmmakers besides Satyajit Ray and possibly Deepa Mehta?

A: Because they are big and mean and prejudiced against us!!!!!

Sorry, wrong answer.

It's because by Hollywood standards, most other Indian films are no good. The same reason Bombay does not give awards to American films - they don't meet the standard. They have different production values. Ray and Mehta made films western film critics can relate to.

The fact that a billion-plus people like Bollywood does not oblige Hollywood to "acknowledge" it.

Okay, we're done now.
Thanks for playing.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tamaso maa jyotir gamaya*

The business of Buddha
News from Karnataka

Buddhism is a growth industry. In India, where most people are Buddhist for business purposes (catering mainly to foreign Buddhists), an astonishing
number of new structures, complexes and facilities are always going up in the name of the Tathagata.

I think it's mostly great; all the statue-carving (shilpas) and icon-painting gives employment to traditional artisans. And though religious conversion (even from Hinduism to Buddhism) is still a fiery topic in India, it definitely promotes good will toward the Dharma and its exponents.

One of the latest is Gulbarga, Karnataka, according to this Deccan Herald report. Hey, even HHDL will be there on January 19!

I think Gulbarga is better known for some Sufi Muslim tombs, and a fort. But Buddhist remains and relics and ruins are all over India, and continue to be revealed and revitalized.

Gulbarga offers a rich history of the earliest Buddhist settlement of Satavahana period, [2000 or so years ago]. One of the ancient sites here is in Kanaganahalli near Sannati, a famous Buddhist heritage site on the banks of river Bhima in Chitapur taluk.

The remains of stupas, major rock edicts of King Ashoka, mounds, slab inscriptions and statues are all found scattered in a small area within the revenue limits of Kanaganahalli. About five to six stupa remains are found in and around Sannati.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch
In the meantime, in case there was any doubt, Nepal now officially sucks. We only have power for 8 (eight) hours A DAY.

With all the chaos facing the nation, the dominant political party has occupied itself invading the Inner Sanctum of the nation's holiest shrine and trying to replace the 260-year-old traditional priests, who as per tradition came from south India, with Nepalis. One of whom just happens to have the same surname as the Prime Minister himself!

Lighting oil lamps is no longer a charming Hindu and Buddhist custom...it's a necessity.

*Sanskrit slok that means "Lead me from the darkness into the light"

Related reading:  
Buddhist Goddesses of India 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Only For Hindus

Get lost, injee
Jan Bahal, Kathmandu

Today at the Seto Matysendranath Buddhist temple (S. M. is a Nepali version of Avalokiteshwara, the 1000-armed god of compassion) I was told that I couldn't stand in front of the deity because it was "only for Hindus."

"What?" I retorted. "This is a Buddhist temple, this is Lokiteshwara!" (his nickname)

Someone appeared and explained that it was arati time and in fact, no one could stand in the mandap during arati. Well, now, that's different.

Then I had a good conversation with some Newar locals who spoke English. It seems that "only for Hindus" is just a phrase people have learned that they now use to cover even Buddhist situations!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Songs the Lord Taught Us

Googling the Giti

It's such a struggle to get on line, half the time I can't remember what I came here for. Oh, that's right, I was going to post something about the Manjushree Charya dance.

In answer to your question, yes, this IS my idea of how to spend a Friday night. (Manjushree is pictured below.)

Obviously, to learn a dance one must know the music intimately. Charya Giti has some uncommon rhythms, even for someone accustomed to the many and varied talas of south Asia.

A quick Google of Charya Giti (the songs accompanying the dance) doesn't reveal much in the way of sources. Evidently there are some old (ancient) Bengali texts, some still found in Bangladesh, that are called Charya Giti.

Also, from the Google front-page there appears to be something in Oriya (Orissa state) with the same name. This would make sense, as Odissi is the "major" classical dance Charya most resembles, and Bengal as well as Assam and Orissa had Tantric Buddhist and Hindu practices at one time (and in some form, still do).

One of the only references to Charya Giti is from Bangladesh. Encylopedia of Modern Asia says in its Bangladesh - Music section:

Twelfth-century Buddhist poems called charya-giti (religious observance songs) and the thirteenth-century Gitagovinda (Songs of the Cowherder), a cycle of songs by the poet Jayadeva, bear the names of the specific melodic modes assigned to each song. Hindu and Buddhist kings in Bengal commissioned poets to compose raso, epic poems, in their honor, which were chanted by the poet-composers themselves.

The Dictionary of Indian Literature says:

Charya Giti aka Charya Pad: 1050-1200...earliest available relics of old Bangla discovered in a manuscript in Nepal in 1916 by Hariprasad Shastri....

Another fascinating section details how the Charya poets, at least in India, wrote under pseudonyms because their work was "much hated by the Brahmins and the elite," and how Charya giti were translated into Tibetan.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Four people from Fiji

According to the Sitemeter, a total of four people from the South Pacific island of Fiji have tuned into this blog.

Why? What were they looking for? Did they find what they were looking for? and how did they come across this blog?

The Blogosphere makes strange sitefellows.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Five sisters

Dancing down the dakinis

People get excited (or maybe they are just being polite) when I tell them I am learning sacred Buddhist dance of the Newars. The actual classes are pretty mundane. It's like piano practice - not so much fun to watch.

Raju and I go up to the 7th floor rooftop terrace where the solar panels and newly-potted plants are kept. Invariably, someone has been partying up there so we have to sweep the concrete terrace of dust and cigarette butts. I wear black exercise pants and a black t-shirt. Raju wears street clothes (jeans and sweatshirts). The winter sun glares down on us, but in current temperatures (highs 64F) is welcome. In three months' time, we will be hiding from it.

On a relatively clear day, we can actually see snowcapped Himalayan mountains. Unfortunately, most days are hazey (even in winter) with pollution and we see only the green rolling hills of the valley.

From the 7th storey, Swayambhunath Temple on its legendary hill is clearly visible. So we turn toward Swayambhu's spires and recite the Padmanrtyeshwor prayer. I still haven't got this part down. In this part of the world, as in India, classes allow no time for warm-up exercises; you are expected to have already done that on your own.

If Raju has had time to stop by the ancient Patan Buddhist HQ, the Golden Temple (Kwa Bahal), he brings a pair of "tinchu" or ritual cymbals.

The strict sacred geometry of Kalakshetra-style Bharatanatyam is still (despite four or so years of running from it) in my muscles, brain and veins. It's kind of like having learned Hindi first, then trying to learn Nepali and constantly comparing Nepali to Hindi mentally.

In Charya, I'm supposed to emulate the watery, transitory Buddha nature of "anitya" (impermanence) as epitomised by the placid Buddha faces of local statues. Instead I keep overextended my legs and doing rigid mudras (hand gestures).

Everything in
Charya is more rounded and feminine ("lasya"). And after six years of keeping my hips in a straight line centered over my feet, now I must shift them endlessly back and forth like waves of the ocean. My teacher, who is male, looks a great deal more feminine and gentle than I while dancing.

For now we are both content with the idea that "you're still memorizing the steps,
" but I will have to transition into more gracefully flowing movements.

There is a place for
"tandava" (thunderous) movement in Charya -especially when depicting wrathful figures such as the Vajrayogini. Above is a photo of Lianne T. Hunt dancing the role.

The Vajrayogini is a sort of queen of the Dakinis. Last week I learnt four of her postures, all of which involve imbibing 'blood' from a 'skull-cup' and a lunging stance called "pratyalida." Most wrathful deities are always pictured in such a stance. These stances and postures can be seen dozens of times a day all over Kathmandu, in the windows of countless Thangka and statue shoppes.

Long before I came to Nepal or India, the Vajrayogini was in my life (found her in some book and the image really stayed with me). I have always felt the concept of Dakinis to be strangely familiar, and now am trying to learn more. Evidently everyone belongs to one of the "five families" of Dakinis which each relate to a particular klesha, or affliction. If you read this web page you will know about as much as I do. I have narrowed it down a bit, though- I am definitely not Padma. (Not enough interest in worldly things, for one.)

The drawing of Ratna Dakini is by Phyllis Glanville.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lush life


Always suspected this, but then I have a definite tendency toward idealizing the wild and remote. Now a study confims it....

Fifty-five percent of plants - that's a lot of greens that aren't just goat fodder.

[KATHMANDU] Nepal may have more plants of medicinal importance than previously estimated, according to new research

The researchers found that up to 55 per cent of plants in the region had medicinal value compared to an average of 21–28 per cent described in the articles. The study — published online in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine last month (2 December) — was supplemented by four field trips to the western districts of Nepal in 2006–2008, to verify the data.

You may know the Hindu myth (story, legend, Purana - don't beat me up for using the wrong word, please) about Hanuman going to the Himalayas to fetch a special herbal medicine for an ailing Lord Ram. When he couldn't locate the exact plant, Hanuman (with his incredible strength) lifted the entire mountain and carried it back to south India where Lord Ram was in battle.

The story is usually pictured with Hanuman ferrying the green gumdrop mountain in one hand, like a waiter with a tray of iced tea. (In the other hand he holds his mace.)

As though getting to the plants and getting them down from the mountains weren't challenge enough, the socio-political situation, with all the work and transport stoppages, in addition to lack of electricity, should make it near-impossible to get these plants from their homes down to the plains and do anything with them. The Abode Of Snows will hold its medicinal secrets a bit longer.

Had a cute picture of Hanuman and the mountain, but they're not adding today. ? Another Himalayan Mystery.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Sixteen graces

The available texts and source materials for Charya Nrtya are few. One given by my teacher, Raju Sakya of Nepal Dance Mandala, has Sanskrit text in Devanagiri script, as well as English translation; but strangely, no transliteration so that one can read the Sanskrit in English script. I say strangely, because the book's explanatory text is in English, and one must recite the Sanskrit lyrics in order to learn the dance.

Since I can read the Devanagiri, I decided to transliterate the lyrics. I haven't seen them written down anywhere else. Raju was quite delighted with my work and said "you must type up everything you have transliterated." I wonder if this is available elsewhere. With the state of traditional art forms in Nepal, perhaps not. Surely, the American students of the Portland (Oregon) Dance Mandal must have translated it in such a way, but it's not available elsewhere.

Anyway, the opening item everyone learns (after the Refuge Prayer, which Raju always calls the "Refugee Prayer" ) is the Sixteen Graces. Each item represents a principle as well as a manifest physical offering made to the gods during puja.

Om vajra vine hum....Lady of the Diamond Veena. (a veena is a sort of south Indian lute, related to the better- known north Indian sitar)

Om vajra banshe tra....Lady of the Diamond Flute. (a bansuri is the bamboo flute as played, for instance, by Lord Krishna)

Om vajra mridange hrin...Lady of the Diamond Drum. (Mridangam is the two-headed south Indian drum)

Om vajra muraje ah....(Muraje is a simple one-headed drum, like a snare)

Om vajra lasye hum...(Lasya literally means 'grace' but in this case indicates the Tin Chu, or simple cymbals used to keep time in the dance. In Bharatanatyam we called them Nattuvangam)

Om vajra male tra....(The mala is a garland of flowers. The same word, mala, is also used for a necklace of prayer beads)

Om vajra gite hrin....(Gite is song; in this case, the offering of sacred liturgical song or Charya Gita)

Om vajra nrtye ah....(nrtye is Dance itself.)

Om vajra pushpe hum....(pushpe is offering Flowers. The first Bharatanatyam item I ever learned was Pushpanjali, or flower offering)

Om vajra dhupe tra...(offering incense, or Dhoop)

Om vajravalokite hrin...(offering light; in India it is called Arati or removing darkness)

Om vajragandha ah....(offering perfume)

Om vajra darpane hum....(offering the mirror. This tradition has always intrigued me; mirrors are such a part of south Asian ritual but there are various explanations). First the mirror is shown to the audience, then the dancer looks into it herself with the Bhava of "Adbhutam" or Wonderment.

Om rasa vajra tra....(literally the "diamond taste." This is the classic Vajrayogini pose in which the dancer lifts the "skull cup," symbolically filled with blood, to her mouth)

Om sparse vajre hrin (the Diamond Touch. in this case, touching the Earth as in Bhumisparsa mudra)

Om dharmadhatu garbha ah. (the Diamond Womb-of-Mental-Events; this is shown by
"drawing" a circle with hands and feet. I do know that the Dharmadhatu Mandala is the basic mandala drawn ritually before any Newar house or building is established).

Translating and transliterating is always fun...but now it's time to go physically practice (spirit is willing, flesh can be weak).

Friday, January 02, 2009

Competitive spirit

If you participate in Flickr (the best photo-sharing service there is), log in now and go vote for my photo here.

My photo of the Tibetan nun protestors ("Snow lions of peace") is one of the final 10 selections for the Lonely Planet Publications challenge, "Events."

Thanks for playing!