A tryst with Modern Art

The other day at a prominent gallery, I came across a painting titled ‘ Shades’. One half of it was sketched in a dark color while the rest was painted a shade lighter. It was priced above 20000 Rs. And I idly wondered -I could have done such a painting too.  As I walked ahead, I stumbled upon a beautiful  Mysore styled painting of a goddess. The rich colors, deep hues,intricate brush strokes – each detail was depicted to perfection and managed to convey a deep sense of divinity. The gold and silver works on the artwork further accentuated this feeling.  I was stunned for a moment and I realized I was standing in front of a masterpiece. This is what I would call ‘true art’ was the feeling I came away with.

A painting at Chitrasanthe

However a few days later I had an interesting conversation with a hobby artist- a senior citizen who had been dabbling in art for years. And he changed my perception on art.

Modern Art – a new perception

“Modern art by itself may not invoke any form of awe. It might not inspire you with its beauty,richness or take your breathe away,” he said. “However if it makes you pause,ponder and invokes feelings, then the piece has done its job.” he explained further.

I went back to the gallery and looked at ‘Shades’ again. I noticed a series of dark lines slowly growing a shade lighter , thinner, finally attaining a lighter tone. The  painting that I had previously dismissed as a smear job now took on meaning. It was the artist’s way of conveying that each person had a dark side but with effort he could move towards his positive side. Did the artwork inspire me now? You bet, it did!

Modern Art defined:

Just to put things in context, art created during the period 1860-1960s is called Modern art. It does not stick to any boundaries, styles or themes. The art forms during this period tried to break free from the traditional art practices and tried to create something new. The goal was to build something original, to challenge the existing norms, to depict reality as is. Sometimes it made you uncomfortable striking you with questions that had  no answers.


Paintings by Saikat Chakraborty

Or the visuals may have a deep underlying social and political message. For instance the ‘White on White‘ abstract art form by Malevich ,a Russian painter. The painting was done during the  1918s  – one year after the Russian revolution. The abstract talks about hope, freedom, change, the birth of a new society. In a sense it takes you back to the Russian revolution and the society then.

So while the classic pieces like Mona Lisa and the paintings by Vincent Van Gogh can evoke a different sense of emotions, the Modern Art with its abstract paintings, Impressionism etc takes a different voice. So as a lay person it makes sense to see these master pieces in that light and not compare and think- just a painting by a con artist. It might just have a deeper meaning, you never know!


Photo credit- Usha Hariprasad





My article, titled, ‘A Temple Replete With Many Legends and Myths‘  was first published in Indian Express on  Nov 13, 2014. The article is presented here as a blog with some more photos.

Kadu Malleswara Temple

Kadu Malleswara Temple, Malleswaram

Set in a busy market-like area, just off the popular Sampige Road is Kadu Malleswara, a centuries old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Set on a top of a hillock in a forest, this simple temple is a kshetra (a pilgrim centre) for Shaivites.

If legends are to be believed, this is a place where sage Gautama is supposed to have meditated. However, there was no temple then.

An elderly man who visits the temple often had a few more legends. The story is set in 17th century when a betel leaf merchant rested near a stone on the top of a hillock. He kept another stone next to it and created a fire to boil rice. But the rice turned red with blood spilling out!

On seeing this, the merchant fell unconscious. Lord Shiva then appeared in front of him and explained that he was the stone (lingam) and that it was a holy place. On the lord’s direction, the merchant built a temple in the typical Dravidian style of that era.

The historian in me could not keep quiet and I told the man about a 17th century inscription (that still stands) that states that a grant was given to this temple by Venkoji, the famous Shivaji’s step-brother, when he ruled Bengaluru. As we exchanged notes, what struck us was the period in which the temple received the grants. Whether it was the merchant or the local ruler, the temple’s structure as it stands today dates back to the 17th century, while its legends and myths precede the date.

The architecture of the temple is quite simple, no highly carved pillars or huge audience halls. Clearly, this temple was a place of worship for a village or a small settlement that lived near this kadu (forest). The lingam is very simple, rising just off the ground with no pedestal. There’s a small nandi in front of the lingam. A bigger nandi built outside the temple must have been an addition made later.

Apart from Shiva, Ganesha and Parvati are also worshipped here. The inner sanctum sanctorum leads to a small passage that goes to the devotees’ hall (navaranga). The hall is supported by simple carved stone pillars.

Beyond the hall, as we come out is the mandatory nandi. A small girl whispers into the ears of the nandi to make her wish come true. A tulsi plant and small shrines are set around the main temple within its compound. A separate temple for Subramanya is situated next to the main temple complex. A lone bilwa tree stands in between these two complexes.

As we sit by the shade of the tree exchanging stories, the vast garden in front of the temple with the many trees, including the huge peepal that gives shade to the many naga stones, and the chirping of the birds still created the ambience of a forest. The lord who gave the area its name ensured that at least a part of it still looks like a kadu or at least a well-maintained garden.

Author: Poornima Dasharathi 

Of a chieftain and his dreams

My article on Ulsoor, Bangalore, titled ‘Of a chieftain and his dreams‘ was first published in Deccan Herald, Spectrum, in September 2012. It is reproduced as a blog here.

Mention Ulsoor and the immediate associations are those of the Someshwara Temple and the lake. The famed temple still stands proudly in  the bustling locality. The lake, said to have been built by Kempegowda, the Yelahanka chieftain who founded modern Bangalore, continues to be one of Ulsoor’s major attractions, writes Poornima Dasharathi.

A king, tired, after a long enjoyable hunt, lies under the shade of a tree. His eyes close and soon sleep overpowers him. As he slips into the world of dreams, the mighty Lord Someshwara appears before him in all his glory. 

Even as he marvels at his luck, the Lord smiles as he gives the king a task. “Erect a temple here in my name,” he commands. To aid the king, the Lord reveals the location of a hidden treasure. As the vision fades, the king opens his eyes, wondering about the truth of the divine experience.

But to his amazement, he discovers the treasure at the very location as told by the Lord himself! The king is convinced now. He has work to do. He employs a sculptor from Belur, a descendant of the famous Janakachari himself and constructs a temple dedicated to Lord Someshwara.

Soon the king, who has a penchant for building cities, creates a small hamlet around the temple for the Brahmins who maintain it. A royal decree is made – “From all the thirty three villages surrounding the Someshwara temple, one kolaga for each kandaga of grain would be given as endowment for the maintenance of the religious services at the temple”.

The narration (slightly dramatised) is a colourful medieval tale on how Ulsoor was founded. The king is none other than Kempegowda, the Yelahanka chieftain who founded modern Bangalore. The Someshwara Temple is the temple which stills stands proudly in the bustling area of present day Ulsoor. Kempegowda is also credited with building Ulsoor lake for irrigation and water for the surrounding villages, thus making it one of the oldest water bodies in the City. 

Much older than thought?

Though the area, the temple and the popular Ulsoor lake are credited to Kempegowda, historians believe that the area was older than his times. As evidence to this, they point to the architecture of the Someshwara Temple, which dates back to the Chola period.

S K Aruni, historian, ICHR, classifies the construction to three different periods – the Cholan period (inner most sanctum sanctorum, inner hall and its enclosing wall), the Vijayanagar period (outer pillared hall – mukhamantapa and early colonial period (Kamakshi Amman temple, the nandimantapa and balipeeta). The inner hall (navaranga) has beautiful Vijayanagara columns with sculptures and the outer bigger mantapa contains the popular yali pillars of those times.

On the inner wall of the temple complex that encloses the shrine, there are many reliefs; one of them in a cloak holding a stick is believed to be that of the Bangalore founder. The huge gopura of the temple, built in the typical Dravidian style, undoubtedly makes one marvel at the art of temple building.

As we come out of the temple and skim the pages of medieval history, we see that Lord Cornwallis first camps here while mulling over methods to overpower Tipu Sultan. 

As new lands are conquered by the British, the area transforms into a Cantonment; the lake is spruced up and becomes a water source for the troops. Post the colonial period, the area transforms into a residential area, the lake becomes an entertainment spot, a lung space. Boating, regatta events take place.

Pages from history, even as recent as 35 years back, describes Bangaloreans watching in awe the fireworks held by TTK in the islets of the lake.

Today the villages are gone, the jackfruit orchards that might have given the area its name (Halasuru) have also vanished, but some foundations of the story of Ulsoor remain. 

The temples are still revered, the lake still used, albeit for leisure, the area has still got a thriving economy and is a commercial hub. 

The British history remains through the names – Murphy town, Kensington Park and, of course, the MEG that embodies the military station.