Indo-American Interconnected Overtones: Nucifera and Lutea

I stumbled upon one more connection between India and America last year but it took me a while to note it down here – the divine and royal lotus. Have always fancied lotus since a little girl starting with the golden lotus in “pottramarai kulam” of Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai. Goddess of wealth is supposed to have her residence in lotus, rather the scared lotus. I never knew something like lotus could create a beautiful link until I read about the yellow lotus of America.

Nelumbo nucifera, a perennial aquatic is the national flower of India also known as the “bean of India”. It is native to hot Asian tropics. With roots deep in the muddy soil, lotus shoots up its leaves over the surface area of water on an average of about three feet. Showy leaves and flowers captivate the eyes and is a staple of water gardens. Lotus can live over a thousand years. Lotus being associated with divinity is used in prayers. Different parts of lotus such as stem, rhizome are used in cooking and herbal medicines.

Nelumbo lutea, commonly known as American lotus or yellow lotus is native to North America. The distribution of the species ranges from Minnesota to Florida, Mexico, Honduras, and the Caribbean. It was distributed to the North by Native Americans as a food source. The tribes also treated the American lotus as a sacred plant with mystical powers, and used parts of the plant for medicinal purposes.

Indian Lotus

Indian Lotus

American Lotus

American Lotus

Indian Lotus American Lotus
Kingdom Plantae Plantae
(unranked) Angiosperms Angiosperms
(unranked) Eudicots Eudicots
Order Proteales Proteales
Family Nelumbonaceae Nelumbonaceae
Genus Nelumbo Nelumbo
Species N. nucifera N. lutea

 

One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water. — Bhagavad Gita 5.10

 

Are Sunflowers Nerdy?

Sunflowers are one of the species that originated in North America. They were probably one of the first cultivated crops by Native Americans around 1000 B.C.E. Europeans took the sunflowers around the world during 1500 C.E. Otherwise called helianthus, are adored for the bright and cheery disposition, also a food source to bees, squirrels, birds, and humans. They are the great inspiration to the impressionist painters, especially Vincent Van Gogh. Have spent hours staring at Philadelphia Museum of Art. Later bought a stained glass replica from the gift shop. In 2013, read that they are wilting and out of whim painted one.

Sunflowers Painting

Sunflowers Painting

I can never get enough of sunflowers. When this spring arrived, I sowed and it bloomed.

In My Garden

In My Garden

I finally understood why I’m fascinated with sunflowers. Did you know that sunflowers has a perfect geometry based on Fibonacci sequence? Golden Angle in geometry is the smaller of the angle created by sectioning the circumference of the circle according to the golden ratio – that is if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities:

a+b        a
—–   =  —
a            b

This theory plays a significant role in phyllotaxis – the arrangement of leaves on a stem. The most notable golden angle is the angle that separates the florets on a sunflower. They are just as nerdy as I can get.

Evening on the Wissahickon

I came not from the old world but from the ancient world, India. I was indeed captivated by the cityscapes, the feats of man-made structures and the exploits of architectural niches in the new world. When I could get past those magnificent cities, I’ve felt “world is big” all the time. Cities make me claustrophobic. American charm doesn’t end in cities. It is true soul lies in the great wilderness. I’ve been to only 5 states so far – fascinated by nature in each one of it. Colossal Niagara falls, giant Saguaro cactus, red woods touching the sky, I’ve lost words… pondering nature, creation, and God.

It has been only 6 months in Philadelphia – getting to know the history and culture. I’ve no idea how I landed in the article about “The lost gold mine of Wissahickon” from Google. Eventually found about Friends of Wissahickon and registered for the history trail along the Forbidden Drive. Trial guide Sarah West is very knowledgeable and patient in answering our questions. My American husband, who was born in Philadelphia, had not ventured past the Historic Rittenhouse Town until last weekend. When we pulled in the parking lot heavily shielded under trees with the creek running alongside, both of us didn’t know what lay ahead of us.

Wissahickon Creek

Wissahickon Creek

Wilderness

Wilderness

Wissahickon Creek runs 23 miles passing thru northwest Philadelphia, joins Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Wikipedia says its name come from Lenape word “wiessahitkonk”, for “catfish creek” or “stream of yellowish color”. Mills of Wissahickon were producing paper to gun powder making it the first industrial area of North America. The first paper mill in America was built by William Rittenhouse during early 18th century. Benjamin Franklin noted without the mills, Wissahickon can supply pure water to Philadelphia. Eventually Fairmount Park Commission acquired 1,800 acres of the Wissahickon Valley in 1868 and demolished all the mills along the creek. Wissahickon turnpike was permanently closed to automobiles making the turnpike, “Forbidden Drive”. When the rest of America continue to become industrialized, Wissahickon slowly returned to original wilderness.

Bridge History

Bridge History

Bridge

Bridge

It is not just history that makes stop talking and hones other senses tingles with enthusiasm. Wissahickon valley is Wissahickon schist, prime bedrock underlying the Philadelphia region. This is Precambrian to Cambrian stone, has flecks of glittery mica, small garnets, and many-toned shadings of gray, brown, orange, and blue. I was jumping in joy as I started to spot mice and garnets in the schist. We loved the history walk and the region in general. My husband and I resolved to trail in the 1800 acres as much as we can and to bring our kids in the future for a practical hands on lesson on geology, history, and nature.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy

Schist with Sparkling Mica

Schist with Sparkling Mica

To me, after all these years, I can feel “Evening on the Wissahickon” is still close to “Morning on the Wissahiccon” 🙂

To Strive, To Seek, To Find, & Not To Yeild

How could I’ve possibly got Ulysses to read today? I was searching for my old notes, and to surprise and goosebumps… this reflects exactly my mood searching for continuity between past and future…

Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles!

~ Ulysses, Lord Tennyson

Goodbye, Motherland!

The first thing I remember “learning” in school apart from generic language and math during the first few years in school is “India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and sisters. I love my country. I’m proud of its rich and varied heritage…” My voice still echoes in my head during the school assembly on Monday mornings that includes Indian National Pledge and National Anthem. I have said those words with much gusto even though I could not understand the depth of its meaning those days. These words have the magic of making heart filled with love and courage. Anytime I leave India, I would start longing to come back. Of course there were times I just wanted to get the hell out of here. Disgusting politics, lack of governance, hypocrisy, and total chaos everywhere makes me squirm with anger. Leaving the politics and hypocrisy aside, there is some kind of harmony in that chaos. I came from this chaos, it’s my roots. I can be at peace with this chaos and its freedom. Leaving all that for the love of my life is resolutely romantic – no doubt! Life sure is going to be more colorful in the land of dreams where anything is possible but I’ve trouble of letting it go. Change is massive – whiff of curry masala that tickles brain cells to release ghrelin on the street from the chaat or dosa stalls to not-so-smell intensive salty pretzels, luscious green paddy and sugarcane fields to questionable GM corn and soy fields, colorfully less appealing milk and rice sweets to vibrantly colored cakes with artificial colorants, mango trees protected by its natural warriors – the marching red ants to simple apple trees, giant, gnarly, majestic figs and teaks to sequoias and red woods, friendly pomegranate and gooseberry to maple and cherry trees, currency notes that has the big toothless smile of Mahatma Gandhi to stern face of Benjamin Franklin, peacocks to eagles, lotus to rose… I’m dreading the day of leaving India. Poraale Ponnu Thaaye song catches my mood perfectly and here is my bad translation…

Golden girl is leaving, crying incessantly
Leaving the land that gave water and food
Leaving the cows that gave milk
Leaving the birds on their cage
This girl leaves her country…

What kind of flower is she?
Dainty marigold that reaches God?
Or the one that goes unnoticed on a dirty shrub?
While people yearn for her in homeland,
She leaves like lifeless cargo on a hayride…

All her affection, all her bonds
Speaks the language of dumb hearts
Southern winds are blowing in wrong direction
Monsoon clouds are running away
A living crop is withering…

It’s been long since my throat went dry
This soul is dangling between home and far away
All saved treasures have become unusable
Untold words are weighing heavy
There is a distance between food and relations
Just wait, there is a good life for this poor girl tomorrow …

Indo-American Interconnected Overtones: Nannari Sherbet and Root Beer

I had my first root beer on our country trip to Lancaster, PA after Jay’s assurance on the non-alcoholic clause. Jay had his nannari sherbet at a chettinad restaurant this February in Bangalore. We both enjoyed our drinks without realizing another connection.

Nannari Sherbet

Nannari Sherbet

Root Beer

Root Beer

Wikipedia says root beer was first commercially introduced in Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition by Charles Hires in 1876 under the name “root tea”. However was changed to “root beer” to attract the coal miners of Pennsylvania. FDA banned a key ingredient sassafras root in 1960, as it contains a carcinogen, safrole. Sassafras is a species of a deciduous tree native to northeastern America. Sassafras root is replaced by artificial flavoring or the natural extract after removing the carcinogen safrole. The other main ingredient of root beer is sarsaparilla that got its name from Spanish words “zarza” – bush, “parra” – vine and “illa” – small – hence the name sarsaparilla or zarzaparilla. It is a trailing vine native to Mexico and Central America. It is considered to have medicinal properties by native Americans. Medicinal uses can range from gout, syphilis, gonorrhea, rheumatism, wounds, arthritis, fever, cough, scrofula, hypertension, digestive disorders, psoriasis, skin diseases, and cancer.

Indian Sarsaparilla

Indian Sarsaparilla

Sarsaparilla

Sarsaparilla

Nannari sherbet is a popular Tamil drink during all hottest summers of India. Extracts from nannari roots, with a hint of lemon juice, and palm sugar helps to keep the body cool. The root has a pleasant odor. Nannari is a species of slender, twining, prostrate or a semi-erect shrub. It is known as Indian sarsaparilla or false sarsaparilla. Indian school of medicine calls it as Ananthamoola or Ananthamul. Studies have proven its anti-diabetic effect. Its medicinal uses are listed from skin diseases, asthma, bronchitis, diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhoids, and fever.

Nannari Sarasaparilla
Kingdom Plantae Plantae
Unranked Angiosperms Angiosperms
Unranked Eudicots Monocots
Order Gentianales Liliales
Family Apocynaceae Smilacaceae
Genus Hemidesmus Smilax
Species indicus ornata
Binomial Name Hemidesmus indicus Smilax ornata

There are similarities and differences but if we look deeper our roots share common instincts.

Indo-American Interconnected Overtones: Kolam and Iikaah

Another Indian and American link that fascinates me is kolam and iikaah, sand painting of both the cultures.

Historically it is believed that Navajo learned the art of sacred painting from the Pueblo Indians. Ancestors of Pueblo Indians were the prehistoric Anasazi, Mogollon, and Mimbres. Iikaah is the Navajo name for Native American sand painting. It translates to “place where gods come and go”. They are made using anything between colored sand, corn meal, flower pollen, to powdered barks and roots. They are created to heal a person during a ceremony. For colors they use crushed gypsum for white, yellow ochre, red sandstone, charcoal, and a mixture of charcoal and gypsum for blue. More hues can be obtained by mixing these colors. Iikaah contain the images of yebichelli or the Holy People. Images in the iikaah will signify what kind of healing is required. There are more than 600 such patterns and images. During the ceremony the medicine man will ask the yebichelli to come into the painting and help heal the patient. Sitting on iikaah will help the patient to absorb the spiritual power of the yebichelli and eventual healing. Iikaah must be destroyed within 12 hours of creation. Women are not supposed to chant for yebichelli as they could be either pregnant (possible harm to unborn) or the taboo of menstruation.

Iikaah

Kolam tradition in India dates back to Indus Valley Civilization. Great epic, Mahabharata says that gopikas or the shepherd women drew exquisite kolams to forget the pain when their beloved Krishna is travelling. Kolam drawing is also listed as one of the 64 forms of art to be learnt in Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra. Kolams are drawn every day in the morning before sunrise on temple floors or on the doorstep of homes by women to signify “welcome” of anything auspicious and Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. Kolams are created everyday either with rice flour so to attract ants, birds, and other small insects for a meal – a harmonious coexistence with man. Patterns in kolam are drawn with dots and the lines that go around them forming intricate designs or they could also be free-hand motifs of fish, birds, and other animals. They are also drawn with chalk powder, limestone, red brick, turmeric or sandalwood paste. “Rangoli” form of kolam is made with riot of colors. “Athapookalam” of Kerala uses fresh flowers for kolam. Pregnant or menstruating women are barred from this drawing kolams.

 Kolam

These interconnected overtones tell one thing – we are so different yet alike – across linguistic, religious, cultural, physical, social, political, ideological and national boundaries, there is some core commonality that links us all. Both the similarities and differences bring us together. Love and travel can bring this wide, universal outlook 😉

E pluribus unum!

Indo-American Interconnected Overtones: Krishna and Kokopelli

When I visited Phoenix, AZ for the first time last October, first thing to caught my attention was the saguaro cacti that are standing taller than me. It is not that I’m tall standing at 5’3” but was deeply fascinated by those giants. When I called my brother after reaching hotel, I blurted out “America means ‘big’ – even the cactus is big here”. Shortly after that Kokopelli, one of the most easily recognized figures found in the petroglyphs and pictographs as early as 800 AD, walked into me playing flute. Kokopelli symbolizes American Southwest, usually depicted as a humpbacked flute player with eagle feathers on his head. He is a trickster god, representing the spirit of music and presiding over both childbirth and agriculture. He is often depicted with animal companions like rams and deer. His dominion over agriculture is brought by chasing away winter and brings spring with his flute music. He dances with women all night and gives babies to them.

Krishna worship in India can be traced back to 4th century BCE. Krishna, the very name in Sanskrit means “black”, is often portrayed as a kid, a prankster, romantic hero, and the Supreme Being by Hindu scriptures. He wears peacock feathers in his head and plays flute that could entrance every living being on earth and above. He is depicted in art with cows. Another famous Krishna art is rasa-leela, where He dances and makes merry with the gopikas or shepherd women. He had saved the entire village from wrath of God Indra, who unleashed heavy monsoon rains. Krishna protected all living beings in His village by lifting a mountain as a shelter to protect everyone. In the form of Santana Gopala, He is the giver of children. He spread happiness around him and wherever he went.

Kokopelli

Kokopelli

Krishna

Krishna

Apparently, even today occasional visitors may be referred as ‘Kokopelli’ when they bring news, stories, and trinkets from the outside world to share with the villages. Maybe Krishna travelled all the way up to America and fell in love or He could have reached America thru early human migrations. Jay’s mom introduced me to early human migrations theory and my profound connection to America begins with her. It is thrilling to make these connections that boggles our mind and ignites passion in our hearts. It is Krishna who led me to Kokopelli and they are one and the same to me.

“I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas, I am to be known. Indeed, I am the compiler of Vedānta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” ~ Bhagvad Gita 15.15

Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum!

Making of Tanjore Paintings

Tanjore paintings (தஞ்சாவூர் ஓவியம்) are a traditional Tamil art works that dates back to 1600 C.E. Nayaks of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu of the bygone era were the chief patrons of this art. Tanjore paintings have a rich gold work with semiprecious / precious stones, vibrant colors, and a devotional composition. The themes of these paintings are usually limited to Hindu gods and goddesses, and saints. Bigger composition of these art works habitually includes a central figure for the core theme and episodes from Hindu mythology sprawling around that central deity. They are also referred as “palagai padam” (palagai – wood, padam – picture) as they are made in solid wooden planks. They involve various stages:

Sketching

Plywood is used as the base which is covered with a fine cotton cloth by a water soluble adhesive. This will be followed by a thick coating of chalk powder or zinc oxide and Arabic gum. Base is allowed to dry well and mild abrasives are used to make a smooth base. After this, preliminary sketch is traced on to the base. Images need not be traced in detail to the board. The outline of the figure and layouts like the pillars and mandapams are enough to proceed. Details such as the ornaments and jewel are added in the next stage.

Relief Work

This stage is called as “muck work’ or “gesso work”, where the artist accentuates the details of the painting. Mix of chalk powder or zinc oxide and Arabic gum is used again for this stage. This mix could be liquid, semi liquid, or thick as dough for rotis. Based on the designs, artist would choose the type of the mix to be used. Inlay of stones and pearls can be decided now. Semiprecious Jaipur stones are stuck to the board at this stage. Precious stones and pearls are marked clearly and left for the final stage. Abrasives could be used to soften out the surfaces of the embossed reliefs. Threads or laces could be used to augment the effect of jewellery and the others.

Gold Foil

24 carat or 22 carat gold foil is used to ensure that the painting is a collector item and that it lasts for generations to become family heirlooms. Press the gold foil to take the impression of the relief works and are cut into that shape. These leaves will be glued to the reliefs with Arabic gum. Remove the gold foil pasted over the semi precious stones with a pin. After that black engineering pens are used to highlight the relief works over the gold.

Coloring

Set of poster colors are used for the painting. The depiction is motionless often. First the base colors are done followed by light and shades of it. The key figure gets painted first in skin tones as visualized by the artist. The colors of the background are vivid with a striking blue, red, or green. Sometimes dark brown is also used. Once coloring is dried, precious stones and pearls are stuck at the required places.