Madhubani painting

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Madhubani painting on handmade paper

Madhubani painting or Mithila painting is a style of Indian painting, practiced in the Mithila region of Bihar state, India, and the adjoining parts of Terai in Nepal. There are paintings for each occasion such as birth, marriage, and religious festivals. The origins of Madhubani painting or Mithila Painting are shrouded in antiquity and mythology.

Traditionally Madhubani painting/Mithila painting was done by the women of villages around the present town of Madhubani and Darbhanga and other areas of Mithila, and was done on freshly plastered mud walls and floors of huts. Madhubani painting has remained confined to a compact geographical area and the skills have been passed on through centuries, the content and the style have largely remained the same.  Madhubani painting has been accorded the coveted GI (Geographical Indication) status.

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Madhubani painting of a wedding

Now Madhubani painting are also done on cloth, handmade paper and canvas. The paints are made from the paste of powdered rice with colours derived from plants, and natural ochre and lampblack (soot) are used for reddish brown and black respectively and tools include fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens, and matchsticks.

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Madhubani painting featuring animal, birds, humans and forest

Madhubani paintings mostly depict  humans and their association with nature and the scenes and deities from the ancient epics. Natural objects like the sun, the moon, and religious plants like tulsi are also widely painted, along with scenes from the royal court and social events like weddings. Generally no space is left empty; the gaps are filled by paintings of flowers, animals, birds, and geometric designs.

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A visit to a temple and a near death experience

On the second day in Deogarh, Sandeep took me for a visit to the ancient Baidyanath Jyotirlinga temple, one of the twelve most sacred abodes of Shiva, not far from our lodgings. More than a million pilgrims visit this shrine every year and we inflated that statistic by two. We walked the tiny cobbled laneways lined with shops stocking everything a devout Hindu needs for worship: brass prayer accoutrements, prasad ( holy sweets which are used as offerings and then eaten or given to beggars) sellers, bangle shops and more. We left our IMG_0986shoes and socks for safe-keeping with prasad shop near the temple and headed off barefoot on the cold, wet and muddy path to the temple. Continue reading

New taste sensations

 

Taste sensation #1
nameen-sandwhich_thumb2On a very cold day after our return from Ballia, Sandeep and brother Asheesh made lunch of fresh tomato soup for me in their rooftop kitchen. I contributed a loaf of bread and some bhujia – those great spicy Indian nibbles. The local bread is thin and white and slightly sweet, and I didn’t really like it much until the guys introduced me to The Bhujia Sandwich! Suddenly, the sweet white bread made sense when wrapped around the namkeen, and it has become a guilty pleasure in moments of hunger when there is nothing else in the kitchen. May all the gods of all things wholemeal forgive me: I have learned to like white bread! But I have also found a great little baker who not only makes wholemeal bread covered with seeds but also preservative free jam, hummus and peanut butter.

Taste sensation #2
The other new taste sensation is a hot drink whichoney ginger lemonh has been a comfort and a medicine in the very cold winter we are having here. Did I mention that my high ceilinged rooms are made from concrete, totally unheated and that there is a large ventilation hole in my living space – 2 metres x 1 metre – in the floor and a matching hole in the ceiling allowing all air, smells and sounds to flow freely from the rooms below and the chilly air from the rooftop to invade my space and my bones? Thus the need for a warming drink every now and then. The said beverage is made from ginger, lime juice and honey. Of course, many of us have made something similar, but this one has a special punch that I think comes from the local ginger: it is very green, strong and cheap and plentiful in the market. I first tasted this brew in a local restaurant and have managed to emulate it with this formula: grate a large knob of ginger and place in glass. Squeeze most of a lime or lemon on top, add a teaspoon of good honey (mine comes from Kashmir) and top with boiling water. This is so good, that one is not enough: I usually have to make a second cup. Keeps the hands warm too! As most of the ginger’s punch has been infused into the water, the grated leftovers are nice to munch on afterwards.

Getting out of town

It’s still January and I have already had a busy year, having arrived in India this time in October (2012). I have travelled on three trains across Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand for a total of 24 hours, visited the International School of Yoga at Munger in Jharkhand, survived the crush of very enthusiastic worshippers at the  Baidyanath Jyotirlinga Shiva temple in Deoghar, appeared in the local Ballia newspaper, ‘The Daily Awakening’, was fed great food by many lovely people, gave a lecture to college students with less than 10 seconds notice, visited a very impoverished village school, felt so cold I had to buy a very heavy woollen coat and gloves to ride on a motorbike, saw the Dalai Llama at close quarters, met some wonderful women, discovered a couple of taste sensations, celebrated kite festival of several rooftops, cooked dinner for a saddhu and a swami, went to Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, was confronted by a fake naga baba who wanted money to show me his stuff, taught English classes in Mehndiganj village and watched a cricket match in the middle of farmland. So many adventures that I have split them over several missives.

Getting out of town
Just before Christmas, my friend Sandeep told me he was  visiting Jharkhand to go to a special prayer celebration over two days at the International School of Yoga and asked if I would like to go with him. Having nothing else planned, I said “sure, why not.” He then suggested we also visit his home town and  family in Ballia – something I have been wanting to do for some time. Being handy around the mysteries of the India Rail ticketing system, Sandeep arranged all the tickets and on Boxing Day, we found ourselves hurtling at the average speed of 40kph in a south easterly direction to Deogarh in the state of Jharkhand.

Sandeep feeling the coldWe arrived two hours late at our destination, thankfully as it was still only 4am, Continue reading

The taste of tomatoes

In the street where I temporarily live there are many fruit and vegetable sellers.  That should read fruit OR vegetable sellers, as for some reason unknown to me, the two do not mix: one either sells fruit or vegetables, not both. They fringe the borders of this dusty road every day from dawn til late at night. There is a hierarchy: the more prosperous looking sellers with two or more workers – maybe a family group – dominate with several tables veg barrowladen with their wares arranged artfully in shining colourful layers in wicker baskets. Large plumply glossy eggplant or small and slender snuggle close to bundles of greens and bunches of long crisp white radish; fat smooth-skinned beetroot, reddish carrots, tiny but perfectly formed cauliflowers, tomatoes, bitter melons, purple onions, tiny-cloved garlic (so hard to peel!), the ubiquitous chillies and lots of veggies I don’t recognise share the display. Continue reading

Oh dear!

Not all of India is as progressive as it would like to think!

According to a small article in the Hindustani Times this week, the local grovernment of a village in Uttar Pradesh has put a total ban on women under the age of 40 from visiting local markets, using mobile phones and being seen in public without their heads covered.

In addition, in their opinion consumption of fast foods contributes to rape: Chowmein in particular has been singled out as it “leads to hormonal unbalances evoking an urge to indulge in such acts”.

Rape food!