Indians Celebrate Independence Day in NYC

Patriotic Love

Patriotic Love

It didn’t make any difference that NYC celebrated India’s Independence Day a few days late. The turn out was enormous and the mood jubilant. Just as I arrived, the entertainment was well under way. A large stage was erected on Madison Ave., directly behind Madison Square Park.  It was impossible to get near the stage at this point but I didn’t mind as there was so much activity going on behind the stage and in the park too.

It was a charming co-mingling of Indian culture with a dab of Americana stirred up in the ever simmering melting pot of NYC. Things are changing very rapidly in India but for the most part physical affection is not displayed in public. The photograph above, Patriotic Love, captures these rebels embracing the freedom of the West yet also displaying their pride in their roots with the flag at their side.

Proud

Proud

Just like in India, many wore the colors of the Indian flag.

The "Independence" Maidens

The “Independence” Maidens

I got to see many of the different acts getting ready to perform. Their excitement was palpable.

Back Stage

Back Stage

 Attaching the Bells


Attaching the Bells

Everywhere the eye could see were bright swathes of vibrant color, quite unlike the typical drab New Yorker’s penchant for black and muted hues. Truly a fitting tribute to summer’s grand finale with all the flowers in the park in full blossom, mirroring the radiance.

The onlookers were just as interesting as the performers.

On the Bench

On the Bench

I was hoping to treat myself to some tasty Indian snacks but I was very disappointed. There were no snack vendors as in the past. There was free food. It looked like pulau and kulfi but the crowds and lines were too much for me to even consider so I wandered into the park and celebrated Indian Independence Day with a luscious Shroom burger at the Shake Shack, fitting indeed!

The message behind all our independence days is that they came at a very high price and requires cherishing  because in the blink of an eye, those hard-won freedoms can evaporate. Jai Hind! Jai NYC!

 

 

 

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Ringing the Temple Bells at Murdeshwar

Bell Ringers

Bell Ringers

Indians are loud and boisterous. This trait is woven into their psyche; I don’t think they even realize this as everyone is like that. I suspect that it stems from having such an enormous population; with so many speaking loudly at once, they have to raise their voices just to be heard. When a Hindu visits a temple they ring a bell, a large and beautifully crafted and sonorous bell. It awakens the gods, announces the worshiper’s presence to the gods and asks that he be acknowledged and noticed. The sound lasts for a minimum of seven seconds so that it echoes your seven healing centers or the seven chakras in your body. The sound of the bell has the potential to achieve a unity between both the left and right sides of the brain.

Temple Bells

Temple Bells

Within a large temple complex like Murdeshwar, there are numerous shrines that honor various deities, each with its own temple bell. A devotee rings the bell before he offers his prayers and worship begins, inviting the deity to accept his prayers, helping to ward off evil forces.

Ringing the Bell

Ringing the Bell

During my brief visit to Murdeshwar, there were many Ayyappan men on pilgrimage. This sect makes a pilgrimage to Sabarimala, Kerala at specific times during the year. There are many rules regarding what they wear: black or blue lungis, a specific set of beads called a mala with their god, Ayyappa hanging from it and many other requirements about what they eat, how they behave and how they prepare for the pilgrimage. Women between ten and fifty years of age are not allowed on these pilgrimages. This is currently under scrutiny by the High Court but I have little hope that this will change.

As a group, these men are quite foreboding but individually they are just your typical middle class man who probably has a job in technology.

Pilgrims Pray

Pilgrims Pray

The Line Up

The Line Up

Gazing Upward

Gazing Upward

Golden Glow

Golden Glow

Everyone was praying and taking photos with their cellphones, all at the same time. It was a very unusual mix of devotion, holiday makers relaxing, children making mischief and one foreigner trying to capture it all. This is one of those places that I know I will return to soon.

 

 

 

 

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Faith Envy at Murdeshwar

 Shiva the Destroyer


Shiva the Destroyer

When I asked my European friends who also spend time in India about Murdeshwar, home to the second largest statue of Shiva in the world, I didn’t get the enthusiastic, excited reaction that I was expecting. Naturally, I recognize that we all see things differently and no matter what their response might be, I had to see it for myself.

My friends compared Murdeshwar to an Indian Disney Land mentality and complained that it was new and lacked the splendor of antiquity. I enjoy an outing and am not so critical. Feasting visually upon the second largest statue of Shiva in the world was enough for me to want to go there. My friends who hadn’t been there before and I got off to a late start. We were on Indian time and not in any particular hurry. After a few rickety bus rides we arrived at the junction that leads you to the temple town of Murdeshwar, which is one of the many names for Lord Shiva. This area is on a slope, surrounded on three sides by the magnificent Arabian Ocean in the state of Karnataka. The origins of this place is a complicated story mentioned in the Ramayana. I’m not sure that I completely follow what happened here but a piece of the covering of the precious and sacred, Atma-Linga, landed here, where the temple complex and statue now stand.

Raja Gopura

Raja Gopura

Tall was the theme. We arrived in the nick of time as the elevator to the top of this enormous tower was soon closing.  The views of both the all mighty Shiva, the Destroyer and the view of the sea in two directions were spectacular.

Beach Activity

Beach Activity

 

As fantastic as the views were and the Shiva statue impressive, it was the people who captivated my attention. When I studied my photographs from this day, there were very few of the statue and the surrounding buildings.

I love it when I am one of the sole foreigners around. My adrenaline starts pumping with eager anticipation and my eyes take it all in with pleasure.

Shiva Looks On

Shiva Looks On

The mood was a curious upbeat mix of holiday makers and the devout. No one is shy or subtle in the display of their faith, causing me to ponder my Western skepticism that always leads to faith envy.

In my next post I will share with you more of the people I photographed while visiting Murdeshwar, another remarkable and outstanding adventure in India.

 

 

 

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Waiting for the Train

Break Time

Coolies on a Break Time

My journals are filled with pages of tales from hundreds of journeys across India on Indian Railways. There is no such thing as an uneventful train ride there. So it was with great anticipation, excitement and yes, even a bit of trepidation that I arrived at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station in New Delhi on a foggy morning with my usual overstuffed suitcase in tow. I knew about the steep stairs leading up to the platform so I engaged one of the many over-eager coolies at the entrance. Hindered with that heavy valise, I gave up the idea of investigating if the station now had an escalator and accepted that I would have to deal with the shenanigans of the greedy porters. After sending four different coolies on their way for over-charging, I allowed a young, strong man in the ubiquitous red “coolie” jacket with a mischievous twinkle in his eye to take possession of my bag.

It was early, too early to board my train, the Rajdhani Express for South India. The coolie found a place for me on a crowded bench and said that he’d return when my train would arrive. I got a small cup of sweet, milky chai and drank it with pleasure. The sky was gray and there was a hint of a chill  in the air that would spread over the landscape in a month’s time.

This was the fun part: watching the scene and all the people on the platform coming and going from all over India and from all walks of life. I tried as unobtrusively as possible to pull out my camera and capture some of the action.

Morning Fog on the Platform

Morning Fog on the Platform

A cast of distinctive characters passed right in front of me, as if they were auditioning for my movie.

Hobbling Along

Hobbling Along

One Step at a Time

One Step at a Time

Every where I turned was another little scene enacted right on the stage of the theater of life: the platform.

The Honeymooners

The Honeymooners

Hazrat Nizamuddin: the Theater of Life

Hazrat Nizamuddin: the Theater of Life

To avoid going up and down all the many staircases that lead to the numerous platforms, many just walk through the trains, across the tracks.

Taking the Short Cut

Taking the Short Cut

Dressed immaculately in all white, this man avoids the steps and walks through a few carriages to get to the platform.

The announcement for my train crackles through the PA system. Another wave of excitement sweeps over the platform as people jostle into position with their myriad belongings.  My coolie appears, hoists my bag on his head as he leads the way to my carriage while I struggle to keep up with him, knowing that before my train adventure begins, I will have to haggle all over again for the original price that I agreed to pay. My porter will have his own adventure confronting my stubborn persistence!

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Dancing for Joy in Rajasthan

The Joy of Dancing

The Joy of Dancing

In the towns of Rajasthan, everyone takes to the streets to celebrate a marriage. What a brilliant way to eliminate the cost of hiring a hall. The crowd gathers and gradually the musicians take their places and begin to play. At first there is some restraint but after the women encourage the children to join in the fun, the dancing takes a more serious turn.

Kids Get Into the Act

Kids Get Into the Act

It doesn’t take very long for the attention of the children to wane and they wander back to their families. More women step forward and fall under the trance of the music.

Dance of Many Colors

Dance of Many Colors

With all the bright-colored saris sparkling, the women are like a flower garden in summer with red and magenta the dominant hue.

Getting Down

Getting Down

Women of all ages join in the fun, their veils never slipping.

The Men Watch

The Men Watch

The men are more reserved, sitting stoically on the periphery observing. Occasionally one of the young men jumps up and joins in but mostly it is the women who dance.

In the Groove

In the Groove

As the music picks up, the dancers lose themselves. For a moment the women can forget their troubles as well as all the rules that society has imposed on them and allow the power of music and dance to transport them as they celebrate another couple’s union.

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Making Music in the Street

Musical Harmony

Musical Harmony

Sometimes, quite by chance, I am in the right place at the right time. When I came upon this street wedding during the marriage season in Rajasthan, my heart began to pound with excitement. I was not an invited guest but I certainly felt welcomed there. No one minded the intrusion of my camera either which is always a relief. I didn’t have to sneak any photographs. The musicians, in particular, enjoy being acknowledged. This series is about the musicians, without whom, there wouldn’t be much of a celebration.

Waiting to Play

Waiting to Play

I arrived on the scene early enough so that I caught the musicians in a relaxed pose before they went on.

Loud Speakers

Loud Speakers

The sound system, primitive as it is, was in place, ready for action.

Striking It Up

Striking It Up

Finally, the musicians take their places and the band begins. Gradually the numerous onlookers, moved by the music, start to sway and move into the center of the street to dance. I will show you more of that in my next post.

Serious Clanging

Serious Clanging

Musicians at a Street Wedding

Musicians at a Street Wedding

The Band Plays On

The Band Plays On

This musician was watching me and was waiting to capture my attention. When he saw that I was now focused on him, he stepped forward and gladly played for me and my camera. The occasion was joyous and I was so excited to have so many amazing subjects around. Everywhere I looked was someone or something that merited my attention and would make a wonderful composition. I wished at that moment that I could be transformed into one of those many armed Hindu goddesses. I would have had a camera ready from each and every one of those many hands, ready to capture this delightful event!

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Painted Trucks and Head Load Workers

Top Heavy

Top Heavy

There was something about the jungle setting and the task of moving earth and other assorted debris in primitive baskets on to the heads of local laborers that caught my attention in South India. But as I studied the truck where they were depositing the dirt, my delight increased.

Painted Indian trucks are classic examples of folk art at its best and as far as I can tell, not an endangered art like weaving or embroidery.

Truck Art

Truck Art

Protection

Protection

When superstition doesn’t interfere with the rhythm and flow of one’s life; it, too, has its charms.

Final Phase

Final Phase

Once again, life and art coexist side by side in such a comfortable juxtaposition that we hardly notice it. But when we do stop and observe it, the beauty is there for us to behold, enjoy and maybe even smile at and of course feel gratitude that we are watching.

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