Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thought of Food 7; Malpua as dessert- Italian Upvas

This blog was to coincide with the Diwali festival when making very sweet dishes is a national obsession. Despite Cadbury company's efforts to target the IT (Information technology) leisure class, the average purely mixed blood pure Indian loves his traditional sweets simply because of the possible romance associated with the thoughts about them....

I could not finish the blog because I found that I could not get my scientific papers published in the journals I had targeted. That is another story, but I missed my Diwali blog...

Then came my seventieth birthday and the impact of no impact on society at large ,,, Never matter ....

At the age of seventy, when you are toothless (literally) but otherwise healthy for most things -- except being regally young -- one of the easily accessible sensual pleasures must remain those involving the taste buds --- especially those associated with loved events involving loved ones.

One of these must be that involving food cooked on festive occasions. My mother with five children, and a budget just sufficient for one, spent all her useful time doing things for her children that would make up for the finances she lacked. We did not ever feel the lack of anything as children simply because there were five of us and the only catching-up-with-Jones's that we had to do as children was with each other. Usually, this was about how much we could indulge ourselves in straight from the pot when mother was cooking.

Among the sweets she love to make was malpua. The time I remeber best was in 1970-1971s when I had finished typing up my Ph. D. thesis. I was at a loose end without a job, I had decided to be in love and marry the girl I married eventually, and I was singing at that time (I think) "Tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree" ( ... the only one on Youtube and which had a comment "It's good when you're a teenager and still love classic rock. I wish more were like me" ... I guess I remained a teenager). I remember popping in fresh malpuas in my mouth, singing yellow ribbon, and being very much in love with the world.

Since that time I have been trying to eat or make malpua the way my mother made them. I have not had the luck so far. I guess the circumstances of her presence and, therefore, the flavour of her cooking cannot be repeated.

So ... we have to go the written word, a poor compensation for the living word?

Among the books on bengali cooking that I have on my booshelf and that was bought after the first flush of my marriage, is "Delicious Bengali Dishes" by one Aroona Reejhsighani (now quite an achiever if one reads We find the following on the internet:-
Aroona Reejhsinghani started writing when she was still a child. At the age of ten, she won the first prize in an All India writing competition, organized by the leading American magazine Spectator. She has now to her credit 150 titles and has achieved the rare distinction of writing 125 books on a single subject - cookery. In 1998 she won the 2000 millennium award for being the most memorable personality of the century by the American Geographical Institute. Femina has called her The Culinary Goddess of India. Eve's Weekly has called her "The real cookery queen of India". Above all she is one of those authors who has been featured in the Limca Book of Records.

I had picked up this book in the late 70s just after my marriage for Rs 6.00 (Jaico Books) The book on Bengali cooking could have destroyed my marriage like a Bengali mother-in-law could have destroyed a Tamila wife. My Bengali mother and my Tam btahm wife were different personalities altogether, however. Besides, we rarely used the boodk. Reejsighani describes malp[ua as malpura. In this recipe for malpura she mixes maida with milk, fries it and then dips into sugar syrup. Most others (including sanjeev kapoor) use thickened milk with maida. They all call the sweet malpua. When I searched the internet for malpura I found a recipe which uses rice flower which is mixed with jaggery and fried. It is not dipped into a sugar syrup after frying. In its basis essence the malpura seems to be closer to the adhirasam that Tamil ladies like to make (including my mother-in-law) for Diwali. The punjabi equivalent of this dish is perhaps the Poora/Pooda/Puda in which maida is mixed along with saunf (fennel seeds) with sugar and fried just as adhirasam or malpura. Another recipe on the internet is the Shahenshahi Malpura which (in keeping with its Persian king connotation) is malpura soaked in thickened sweet milk with saffron, and coarsely ground almonds, walnuts and cashewnuts.

The way my mother made the malpua was more in line, I think, with the maida-condensed-milk-fry-dip-in-sugar-syrup kind. Now that we are aware of the energy crisis and the probems with maida (made from the white of the grain and whitened by bleaching agents that are banned in sensible countries including China --- and which introduce alloxan that destroys beta cells of the pancreas thereby producing diabetes mellitus --- which I have --- one could not write a blog on making malpua without getting conscience pangs --- especially if you want to live long enough to see your children married or, at least, to see your grand children.

I am therefore writing a blog on a slightly more virtuous version of the malpua. This recipe should gladden the heart of fasting Maharashtrians --- because it has delicacies that one is allowed to eat when one is fasting. It is also a little a la mode --- because it has fresh cheese in it --- perhaps for the uppity IT-like crowd.

The idea of using the cheese is because I am a little bit enamoured by the possibilities one could find with our (subcontinent) own paneer phool. "Paneer phool" has been used from unrecorded time for making cottage cheese from milk, except that we called it paneer. The paneer that "... is used all over India to make delicious dishes ranging from curries to desserts" usually uses lemon juice or vinegar. The modern chefs co not seem to know that their forefathers used "paneer phool" that is available in the wild in India!

What one really uses (bottom left inset, picture below) is the dried seed of the size of coffee beans of the plant which has vegetable rennet.

It is interesting that in a report by Sheridan Lea of the Trinity College, Cambridge from the Proceedings of the Royal Society of 1884 entitled A "Rennet" Ferment Contained in the Seeds of Withania Coagulans the first paragraph has the following to say:-
The Report of the Royal Gardens at Kew for 1881 contains abstracts of correspondence in which it was pointed out that, in order to introduce a cheese-making industry in India, some vegetable substitute must be found for the ordinary animal rennet, since cheese made with the latter is unsaleable among the natives. In response to the above "Surgeon-Major Aitchison brought to the notice of the authorities at Kew that the fruit of Puneeria coagulans (The genus Puneeria is now reduced by botanists to Withania.), a shrub common in Afghanistan and Northern India, possesses the properties of coagulating milk;" and experiments showed that an aqueous extract of the seed-capsules of the above plant does somewhat rapidly coagulate milk..

The milk coagulating property is due to an enzyme withanin The interesting part of this paneer phool is that it has antidiabetic effcts besides other miraculous properties. The seeds of fruits are crushed and extracted with water for two days. I usually soak the seeds overnight and drink the extract first thing in the morning. Once I forgot and left the seed in the water for about three-four days when a mold-like fungus was found emanating from the seeds which might have made a pretty (if not appetizing) picture(see main image above) if one is not scared of molds.

Why an Indian cheese industry based on "paneer phhol" did not develop may have been due to the same reason that Indian (sub-continental) processes --- such as the indigo industry or the dhakai xaree weaves --- were killed for the benefit of the Imperial fatherland. This is no great surprise? Our own fatherland is doing it to us now? Maybe we require a motherland!

The "paneer phool" knoweledge requires being propagated in some way?!

It must come as a surprise (even to me) that one must introduce so much food for thought when all one wants is a plain and simple recipe when one thinks of food.

So here goes...

One starts with milk, of course. We cannot get fresh milk now. We don't even know whether there are enough number of cows for the amount of milk we consume. That's not unusual in India. After all there is the holy cow, Annapurna, which gave all the milk required. And we are not talking of synthetic melamine plus chalk plus what not (see the blog of Sunday, October 19, 2008; Milk sans Human Kindness; or why is the Iyer yogurt so gooey?) we could get in packaged milks. The packaged milk is also pasteurised which is not the best thing for getting good fresh cheese. Besides we dont know the origin --- buffalo, or cow or whatever. If you want to be alarmist about it, there is a Food and health Safety report which says that if you are not in Goa or Pondicherry, "... the first cup of morning milk, one is having a lot of things with milk, like starch, detergent, salt, glucose, urea and water, which also contains pesticides and other heavy metals". Moreover, the nouveau-riche youngsters from IT industries3and thereabouts, prefer to have the western equivalents of milk labels such Standardized milk (buffalo milk plus skimmed milk, 4.5% fat), Whole milk (3.5% fat), Reduced-fat milk (2%), Low-fat milk (1%), Skimmed milk/non-fat milk (as much fat removed as possible; good for humans but tasteless; that is why sensible Indians such as Gujaratis use butter milk). Because of this we do not really know whether we are really getting pure cow's milk in milk packets. So given all this, as well as the fact that milks is sometimes a pooled resource from different farmers with different cows or other milk-producing devices, we do not know have a standard milk. The failure of a milk recipe can always be attributed therefore to the quality of the milk. So different packaged milks from different sources can give different results.

I soaked 10- 12 paneer phool buds overnight in about half a cup of boiled water (tap water has its chlorine and bacteria)and soakedit overnight. I then crushed the seeds and strained out the mother liqueur into the milk. I took one litre of a popular packaged milk. I kept the milk with the paneer phool overnight and then filtered it through a muslin-like cloth (Figure below, left). I waited for the whey to drain to give a very smooth cheese (Fig below centre). I mixed the paneer with two heaped tablespoons each of shingara (water chestnut) powder and kuttu (buckwheat). I added one tablespoon of the whey and beat up the mixture to a fine paste (picture below right). It helps if the mixture is allowed to stand for an hour or so and then whisked again.

My first efforts to make the malpua was some sort of a disaster. When I put a slightly heaped teaspoon of the dough into heated oil it just burst into balls of a few milimeter sizes. Thee was nothing I could do wtih those sputtered balls. I thickened the dough a little bit more and lowered the temperature of the oil y putting off the gas. I slowly increased the temperature by putting on the gas. It did not help too much (Figure below left). With little more perseverance, things became better (figure below middle). The fried stuff tasted quite okay even without adding salt or using any sauce. Maybe the fried pieces could have gone well with something like Worcester sauce if you would prefer a Western taste or simply leave out the anchovies and garlic and onion and have the fries with good old imli chutney (tamnrind in jaggaery and the five spices). I dont know what to call the fries I made, so I wont try. My grandchildren, if they come at all, may call it later as "Dadu's folly".

I changed the frying pan to a flat one. I poured about 8-10 mm thick oil. Heated it on a low flame and then slowly poured in a level tablespoon of the dough and waited (Fig below, left). I waited for a few minutes for it to turn golden at the bottom after which I flipped it over (figure below, middle). After it had turned golden on both sides, I picked out the fried pieces and soaked them in a sugar syrup I had made. The syrup was made with with sugar and water in 60:40 proportion, boiled with a few cardamoms and cloves. After soaking for a little time (few minutes) I took them out (Fig below right).

I must say, that when Itook them out they looke dlike rather authentic malpua. The Shingara (water chestnut) and kuttu (buckwhea) added an extra dimension to the malpuas I have had in recent times. Shingara and kuttu are ingredients that are allowed when making foods for fasting. So it could be a fasting food for the gourmet of certain kinds.

The Italians (and others perhaps, though I suspect the French would not have) would have loved the cheesy aspects. The malpuas were not soggy and broke well. They also looked alright (Figure below left) and tasted good enough. They did not stay long on the plate and was finished quickly, depite my diabetes status.

I would call it a success as a "Happy Diwali+" sweet.

So "Happy Diwali" (Figure above right) even if it may be a little late.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thought of Food 6: October Fest with Kumro (pumpkin) and Kulmi (water spinach) Shaak

October in Pune is usually one of the warmer months. This year, because of the global warming, or Anna Hazare Movement,or whatever,and in the midst of the Occupy-Wall-Street Movement, and the hunting down and execution of another "dreaded" Arab terrorist that only the kick-sand-in-your-face bullies can justify doing, the southwest monsoon rains had delayed its departure until it was pushed out with parting thunderclaps and heavy showers by the untimely north-easternly winds.

The long sentence above was only to sey that Pune was unusually green even in October and green creepers were all over your garden. The markets were full of greens and the most excited of these were the Bengalis in the Pashan Market, picking up the seasonal pumpkin flowers, and stems and leaves of pumpkin creepers (kumro shaak) and pui (Malabar spinach or basella alba) shaak and kulmi shaak (water spinach). The advantage with kumro shaak that I rememebr my mother making, is that the stems are hollow and if a proper fluid-gravy can get into the stem with just the right kind of spice, then sucking on the stem and then chewing on it can lead effectively to a pleasurable heights of gastronomic ecstasy just as a very few other ecstasies can do for you. It is much more than what a non-vegeteranian fells after sucking on a bone marrow., because bones dont have juicy flowers and leaves.

The kumro shaak I found in the Pashan market two sundays ago was particularly interesting (see picture to the left below, click to enlarge) as there was a fairly large baby pumpkin and fe other pumpkin flowers attached to almost embryonic little pumpkins. This is a very rare privilege even in the month of October. I imagined how the baby pumpkin would cook and so I went ahead and bought the pumpkin stem and leaves. The lady selling the greens by weight was happy since the wreight of pumpkin effectively doubled the price she would have got.

Preparing the kumro shaak is another matter altogether since there is considerable cleaning and picking to be done. When the greens are not really fresh and tender, the stems can be rather hard and fibrous which is not always acceptable. So one has to remove the fibrous part of the skin of the stem delicately without breaking the stem since the stem has to be intact. So one does that over a half-hour period, if you are a novice and do not have very dexterous hands. Part of what one throws out is on the right of the picture above. I split the flowers along with the attache embryonic pumpkin in half, the leave were cut roughly as one inch strips if they did not look tender enough, the baby pumpkin was amazing to cut (I had not done it in my seventy earlier years!). It looked like a giant tender zucchini after cutting. I cut it into roughly one inch quasi-cubes, keeping the skin of the pumpkin (Fig above middle).

I kept the cut vegetables under (left of figure below) turmeric powder and granular sea-salt (rare getting it nowadays thanks to the ridiculous gimmick of iodized salts and the fear of goitre religiously advertised into your head from people with nano-sense). Like a good Bengali I fried "panch phoron" ( half a tea-spoon of cummin, fennel, black-mustard, fenugreek, and what we call as onion seed or kalonji seed or Nigella sativa). The kalonji seed cures everything it seems including cacer, so muh so that the word panacea which means in old latin a 'cure-all' is actually the name given to kalonji in the Western world (see my blog "Thought of Food 4: Steamed Wild Rice and Watermelon").

The paanch phoron was fried in mustard oil (one table spoon) in a thick (concession to my Iyer wife) wok (what else?) with five longitudinally split green chillies, till the seeds started popping. I think traditionally one uses dried red chillies. I had to grind coriander powder if I remembered the flavour right. I would have liked to grind it on a stone but my wife carefully kept it far away in our home-on-a-hill as she is always afraid that I will dirty the kitchen. I ground the coriander seed (two table spoon) in a coffee-seed grinder (picture above middle). I allowed the greens to stir fry along with paanch phoron for about three minutes on a high flame. I then reduced the flame, added the coriander powder and one table sppon of powdered jaggery. I added about two table spoons of water, covered the wok and lt it simmer for about five minutes. Put off the gas and let it cool under cover.

The final product looked (picture above, right) okay. The cut pieces of the baby pumpkin turned out exctly the way I thought it would, The hollows in the stem had (I imagined) the taste that I remembered. Like a good Bengali we had it with steamed rice of the white nutrition-less kind. No regrets about the rice that I used because the flavour of the kumro shaak came out much stronger.

Kulmi shaak
As I wrote in the beginning, I bought the kulmi shaak (water spinach) just because the Bengalis were buying the stuff very enthusiastically. I had no idea how to cook t after I brought it home. So I rang up my sisters. The one in Allahabad had heard of the kulmi shaak but had never cooked it. She said that she had eaten it somewhere, She remembers simply that it was stir-fried in "paanch phoron". The other sister had not heard of kulmi shaak. She guessed that one could probably cook it like any other shaak. She kept insisting that one has to blanch it (that was something new for me, it mean one had to dip it in boiling water for a second or so, to get rid of bacteria and insects and their eggs, I guess). Then she suggested that one puts brinjals, and onion and garlic and potatoes. It reminded me of Chitrita Banerjee's mother's recipe that I had looked up at After 33 years of marriage to an orthodox Iyer, I did not like garlic in my fresh vegetables. My Patna sister's house-help had however heard of the kulmi shaak. She recommended just stir-fryng in paanch phoron the way the chinese cook them (see

I had my doubts about how much of the stem I could use. The stems were hollow but they did not look too tender. Moreover the kulmi shaak that I got from the market would not have been kept very hygienically. Both my sisters had no idea how to handle the hollow stems. I just felt with my fingers what I thought would cook soft (middle of above figure) and not too chewy and threw away the rest (right of above figure). I cut them up a bit .
I cooked it almost the same way as I did the kumro shaak. Instead of coriander seeds for the flavoring, I used dried mango powder, a wonderful invention. As an inspiration of the day I used a raw green bannana (kaanch kola to the bengalis) which is very different from the unripened green bananas that make good fruits. The Chinese and the Indonesians and the Filipinos ad dried prw, or crab meat or pork slices, bengalis add pieces from the head of their favorite hilsa fish. I took kaanch kola in thin slices along with the skin.

So, i fried the paanch phoron with five longitudinally split green chillies, added the thinly sliced kaanch kola and sauteed for a little while (picture above) after which I threw in a tea-spoon or so of dried mango powder and the cut kulmi shaak. It was stir-fried on a high flame for a few minutes and was ready for serving. It looked nice. So nice that we sat for lunch immediately and consumed it before I could take a photograph for the blog!. That's how nice it was!
PS. The kaanch kola should have been a little more deeply fried.
PPS. This blog was posted on Diwali day. It added to the October Fest.

Happy Diwali

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Just Pontification 5: Occupy an Occupation, not Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) campaign is a curious campaign which has grown spontaneously in a way that one should have anticipated but did not. Just as one should have anticipated the real-estate bust and did not.

There is an inevitability in the way the disparities have grown. If one is not old enough one has to be reminded that Karl Marx predicted that disparities between the wealth of capitalists and the impoverishment of labor would grow continuously. Karl Marx put it in the language of the big fish swallowing the small fish till ... . Eventually the disparities would generate class conflict and finally to the triumph of a workers' revolution.

OWS may simply seem to be a natural outcome of what Marx had predicted. The Capitalists do not disregard Marx. They only dont allow Marxism to be popular.

OWS has no real aim to set up a communist society that Marx predicted to be the ultimate outcome. OWS only expresses a swarm-like dis-satisfaction over the way economic disparities have gone up.

OWS has set up a swarm cloud that is still looking for a common demand. The latest is Adbusters, the left-leaning Canadian magazine responsible for igniting the Occupy Wall Street protests, is encouraging the international movement to define one ultimate demand -- a 1 percent tax on all financial transactions and currency trades, better known as a "Robin Hood" tax.

This blog is not to support any of the arguments expressed in Marx's "Dielectical Materialism". At the end of the blog it will try to say that the fault is within when one depends on others for their occupation. After all the Bible (King James' version) had said
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye (Matthew 7:3-5).

Strong words these.

Advantage Obama

It is quite possible that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Campaign is candidate Barack Obama's counter to the Tea-Party strategy of the republicans.

As an aid to his campaign, Obama has been trying to pass what he calls the American Jobs Act. He describes the Act as:-
The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed. It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. ... This isn't political grandstanding. This isn't class warfare. This is simple math. These are real choices that we have to make.

Obama took all care for the message to be accepted by the general public. He timed his speech so that he (and the Republicans' response) could finish before the opening of the NFL season on the same night!

As part of the ploy of winning the majority poor man's vote, Obama has been insistent on taxing the rich. " From of september 2011 one gets:-
"Obama is proposing to set a minimum tax on people making $1m or more in income. They would pay the same overall tax rate as other taxpayers. It would prevent millionaires and billionaires taking advantage of lower tax rates on investment earnings than the rates middle-income taxpayers pay on their wages. White House is calling this proposal the “Buffett rule,” after billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Last month Buffett wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in which he pointed out that he has the lowest tax rate in his 20-person office, and he urged Congress to “stop coddling” the super-rich."

This (coincidentally?) was in the middle of September 2011 about the time Occupy Wall Street started.

I guess the OWS stir is all advantage to Obama in the sense of the American Presidential Election. Obama may have learnt from the Congress response in India to Anna Hazare's face-book inspired anti-corruption revolution. Unlike Manmohan Singh's Indian government, Obama now has the anti-rich (made synonomous with anti-corrupt) revolution on his side with the Tea Party proponents seemingly isolated.

Will the American Congress dare oppose Obama now?

Obama has the cunning and the deviousness to do this as his pre-Presidential record shows.

Marx is not a four letter word now, nor is Engels

I should have welcomed the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement just as I found in my youth a lot of heroism in the Bolsheviks and the communists in the first part of the last century. These revolutionaries were in turn citing the work of Marx and Engels. As the new-fangled industrial machines dispensed with human skills phrases such as "the suffering of the proletariat" started appearing (I learnt from Friedrich Engels' 1844 book on "The conditions of the Working Class in England").

In the Appendix to the 1886 American Edition of this book Engels gives a view (now very similar to that used in the OWS campaign) of the genesis of the employer-employee conflict.
"The wage-worker sells to the capitalist his labor-force for a certain daily sum. After a few hours’ work he has reproduced the value of that sum; but the substance of his contract is, that he has to work another series of hours to complete his working day; and the value he produces during these additional hours of surplus labor is surplus value which costs the capitalist nothing but yet goes into his pocket. That is the basis of the system which tends more and more to split up civilized society into a few Vanderbilts, the owners of all the means of production and subsistence, on the one hand, and an immense number of wage-workers, the owners of nothing but their labor-force, on the other."

Lenin would note "Engels was the first to say that the proletariat is not only a suffering class; that it is in fact, the disgraceful economic condition of the proletariat that drives it irresistibly forward and compels it to fight for its ultimate emancipation. And the fighting proletariat will help itself. "

Engels would quickly qualify on this in the 1886 Appendix to the American Edition. He would write
The revival of trade, after the crisis of 1847, was the dawn of a new industrial epoch. The repeal of the Corn Laws[1] and the financial reforms subsequent thereon gave to English industry and commerce all the elbow-room they had asked for. The discovery of the Californian and Australian gold-fields followed in rapid succession. The colonial markets developed at an increasing rate their capacity for absorbing English manufactured goods. In India millions of hand-weavers were finally crushed out by the Lancashire power-loom.

Engels would not mention, what we Bengalis believe: that the English cut the thumbs of the Bengali (Dacca) weavers so that they could not make the fine weaves that was so superior to the Lhat from the Lancashire Mills.

Engels would continue:- China was more and more being opened up. Above all, the United States — then, commercially speaking, a mere colonial market, but by far the biggest of them all — underwent an economic development astounding even for that rapidly progressive country. And, finally, the new means of communication introduced at the close of the preceding period — railways and ocean steamers — were now worked out on an international scale; they realised actually what had hitherto existed only potentially, a world-market. This world-market, at first, was composed of a number of chiefly or entirely agricultural countries grouped around one manufacturing centre — England which consumed the greater part of their surplus raw produce, and supplied them in return with the greater part of their requirements in manufactured articles. No wonder England’s industrial progress was colossal and unparalleled, and such that the status of 1844 now appears to us as comparatively primitive and insignificant.

Much of this is now applicable to the modern world if, say, we replace England by USA and the indistrial revolution by the digital revolution and 1844 by, say, the hippie revolution of the 1960s.

The language of that time appears now in the OWS movement in a slightly different garb than that used by Engels, for example.

The times have changed in the US of A. Marx is no longer a four-letter word! People with long beards are not Fidel Castros now. They are Talibans.

The Tea Party must be wondering how to find something evil in this now that the threat of communist nations have gone.

In an article that appeared in Lea, John and Geoffrey Pilling eds. (1996) The Condition of Britain: Essays on Frederick Engels. London: Pluto Books, John Lea, Professor of Criminology at Middlesex University,and a "left realist" writes:-
"What appears refreshingly new and relevant for us today about Engels is his method, his understanding of the suffering masses as not just objects to be studied and helped but, in the last analysis, as acting subjects, the bearers of the solution to their own problems through a historical transformation that only they can achieve. Even if his predictions of revolutionary transformation were premature and, even if we understand that today there are new and different obstacles to their realisation, Engels' perspective appears increasingly less dated as time passes. This is underlined by a second feature of the present crisis: the combination of rising poverty and misery, with a collapse, not just of traditional welfare state policies but, at a much more fundamental level, of popular confidence in the ability of politicians and political parties, of the left as well as the right, to actually do anything about it. The supposed passivity of the poor is a distorted reflection of the impotence of the politicians."

The above was written in 1996. Since that time things have only gone worse. Schemes such as globalization have succeeded at best in making costs of production still cheaper and making more profits for multinationals than for the resident USA-ians and other so-called first-world-ians. At the same time it has helped credit-card cultures to flourish in essentially third world countries such as India if not China. It keeps the so-called affluent young permanently indebted to a debted-ness. There seems to be a runaway prosperity that is accompanied by high levels of inflation. People who could not afford a good meal are now buying aerated drinks, and Instant Noodles, and milk (synthesized to meet the demand).

Despite all this, who would have said that communistic slogans are making an apppearance in a country which is considered to be wealthiest in the world has among the highest GDP in the world! The poverty line in USA is nearly 5000 dollars per year, which is about five times more than the average annual income in India!

Revolution is an idea for the Idle Mind?

Poverty must be a relative thing. You are considered poor judging from what you don't have relative to what your neighbours have. The advertisement industry as well as the communists and other socio-political industries exploit this comparison. I don't think that there is a great love for the advertisement industry among the ordinary people.

The current Anna 'revolution' in India is diligently bolstered by the advertisement of the muultimedia who have little else to worry about except the province of the idle mind --- gossip, games and glamour. It would be a great thing if team Anna and his anti-corruption stance is extended to advertisers, the real corruptors.

I am a little contemptuous of the communists who survive in official party-leadership now. Just as I remain contemptuous of most other leaders of political parties anywhere in the world. They have usurped the privilege of shepherding the underprivileged for the sole purpose of occupying their privileged position to protect (and partake of) the privileges of the privileged.

Here privilege for the politician would mean ''advantage', 'favour' 'benefit'.

For the ordinary man it is a privilege to be free and happy that is the more cherished.

One does not man by this that one is free to do what one wants as most advertisement-driven people, especially the face-lessened face-book young, think it should mean. Its a democracy they say and so they can party wickedly the whole night without savouring any joie de vivre; they have the right to drink liqueur as they want as a fundamental right they say if they can vote as they want.

Maybe they should increase the voting age?

Freedom here means to feel free within the confines of the society one lives in, protecting this freedom even if it should mean restricting one's individual limits of freedom for the greater free-spiriting of the greater society.

It certainly does not mean --- as advertisers would like to have us believe --- that one is happy only after acquiring what others have.

Happiness comes from the spirit of liberty. It includes being able to protect what one has.

Above all one must have an occupation.

An occupation by which one spends time and that is preferably useful to society. This should include music, telling stories, ploughing the land, treading the mill, weaving the cloth, stitching the dress, making the food, kneading the dough, lighting the fire, gathering the harvest, tending to ill, exchanging helpful gossip. An occupation , not as a personal property that can be bartered for profit especially of the cash kind, but of the kind that you would not barter for anything because it is your artisan life.

These are the artisans that were replaced by machines during the Industrial Revolution that Engels worried about. I suppose these artisans had little time for wasteful gossip that became the occupation of the leisured clsss and their conspicuous consumption.

The Simple life of Noah Dearborn

Some years back, on a return flight from Europe, I saw the movie "The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn". I liked the movie not because of the acting or directing but because it had a simple but bold message that made the ordinary viewer feel good about the way they live their life.

Such a viewer is usually confronted by greedy sharks (in the movie it is a developer) who want his little possession and are willing to threaten him for it. This ordinary viewer is usually a simple pop-corn-eating person depending on the cinema in a a dark public hall resonating to or basking in the feel good swarm response of others in the audience. They love to spend their time as others in the audience do, crunching gas-filled, nutrition-less, popcorns watching most of the time equally virtue-less virtual-life movies.

I liked the movie because it seemed to say that if you love your work you do not have the time to grow old. It reminded me of the Nat King Cole song (
You will never...
never grow old.
For with my love in your heart, my darling,
You will never grow old.

I think one should watch this movie for only the bold assertion that if you love your work you dont have to worry negatively about the occupation of others. I have read some of the reviews of this movie. I include some excerpts below.

There is something about this unique simple movie which is really charming and will just draw you in. It makes a really great change to the usual rubbish movies that are dished out from Hollywood. ... It was almost like reading a good book for me rather than watching a movie - it had that special charm to it.

The film is very effective in showing how love, friendship and understanding is so much more important than money, career and greed.

Sidney Poitier plays a 91 year old local carpenter and legend, Noah Dearborn who is still in good health and is always working. Developers try to buy him off his land, including up-and-coming lawyer Christian Nelson ... . He brings his girlfriend and psychologist ... to try to prove Dearborn isn't of sound man in order to get him off his land.

Also, the film would've been more believable if they'd actually casted someone who was actually 91 years old - at least it would give some credibility to the film. Of course, there is no actor that old who isn't in as good mint condition as Dearborn. (Poitier was born 1927, almost 20 years younger than the character he plays.)

It's a simple movie about a carpenter who lives alone in solitude without using electricity or modern machinery. He's 91 but looks younger because of his years of hard work and dedication. His life takes a turn when a company wants to forcefully buy his land.

Sidney Poitier portrays Noah, who at 91 ... stays busy every waking hour and has virtually no life outside his daily labor. He keeps potential friends at arms length, but goes out of his way to be a good neighbor.

"When a man loves his work... truly loves it... sickness and death will get tired of chasing you."

Here ... is a carpenter touched by his tough life, which taught him to work as much as possible without hurting anyone. But one day some people wanted to take him away of his land and the tragedy started for him. However he took it as part of life and fought against it with patience and showing himself calm.

And that's another thing. The mixed messages abound in this film. The land developers are evil because they want to work his land in their way, and they will bring jobs to the small town, but that's evil; however, Mr. Dearborn's work, done with his hands and without electricity, is apparently what has given him such a long, healthy life...and yet he's been unable to touch anyone for decades. Hmm, doesn't sound so healthy after all.

A story that told the truth for so very many people in this country

That said, I think the movie is propaganda from Mother Earth News for self sufficient and back to the country friends and I were joking about this for the first half hour of the movie, but we think the hypothesis was tested when the lawyer quit to start a vineyard.

I realize today's nihilistic generation calls simple wisdom and gentle goodness by such epithets as "sappy morals" and "hackneyed lines", "platitudes" and - it is as if the only innovative plots and topics are those that have to deal with sex and drugs, satanism and destruction. If these topics are what today's maturity is all about, I want no part of it.

Is it still OK for a man to love what he does? Is it still OK, in this age of families who uproot every few years to move to the next city that provides a rung up in the career ladder, in this age where books like "Who Moved My Cheese" now mock those who have decided to stay where they are, in this age of consultants and temp workers, is it still OK to anchor down? ... I'll take Noah's world anyday.

These are the movies that we as a people would have return to our screens. If not completely, then at least several times a year. At least they offer hope and faith...something that this planet is at this time so very short on. To The 'Simple Life of Noah Dearborn' we say thank you and BRAVO!!!!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spotted Munia's nest-building: Dont save only the Tiger

An article in Nature (Krebs et al vol 400 August 1888) on The Second Silent Spring begins with this sentence:-
The drive to squeeze ever more food from the land has sent Europe’s farmland wildlife into a precipitous decline.

The birds in the picture above must have felt like Colerdige's Ancient Mariner
Food, food everywhere, not a grain to eat

The authors then ask the question How can agricultural policy be reformed so that we have fewer grain mountains and more skylarks?

How and Why, indeed?

Some would say, Ours is not to reason why. Should Monsanto also die?

I am not a great bird-watcher, even if I may have been a great bird-fanatsizer at my appropriate age many decades ago.

There is no special reason for me to write a blog on birds except that two members of this particular bird species started building a nest on the kitchen window sill of our apartment in this very bird-unfriendly, twin eleven storey apartment complex. The builder of this apartment complex had started his french-wise unique Mont Vert complex hoping to entice otherwise french-ignorant and many other-ignorant self-fancied elite middle class with image of green hills.

Why I noticed these birds was that they had built their nest on the neighbour's window the last year and left, what I thought, an ugly nest behind. It did not have the compactness of the sparrow's nest even if the bird at first ignorant glance may have registered itself as a sparrow in your mind. The nighbours had change and a newly married couple rented out the apartment and probably cleaned out the nest as it was being built.

We already had our paint brushes and varnishes and other painting equipment on the sill. I had every intention to paint our kitchen shelfthe very next day for the last three months or so. What my preparations for painting did was that we did not notice the nest being built till it was almost ready.
Then one morning (2nd August the nest-building time) when making my porridge I noticed the bird with a leaf several times its size with its beak. My attempts to get an appropriate still photograph failed and so I took a video. It recorded an interesting event. There is a mechanical pendulum clock hung on the kitchen wall and it provided the tick-tock of the back-ground noise.

This activity progressed with a leaf being brought every ten minites or so. Maybe they had to go some distance, avoid other predator birds and nuisance men and children. A second video two hours later saw a partner bird emerging after some nest-building activity within the nest and sorting out again. The squawking background noise towards the end in the video is not that of a crow, or goose,or peacock or donkey having fun or a pig being slaughtered but that of the electronic warning noise of a car backing out of its parking space below.

A few days later the nature of the grass being brought had changed. The stalk of the grass was thinner (Fig 1 left and video below) and the top of the stalk had dried grass flowers probably to provide a softer wall-lining.

The camera was not with me for the next month or so, having gone to the Himalayas with Vasishta. When I got back to using it, it was near the middle of August. The green grass of the nest had dried to straw colour (Fig 1 middle and right)

The next day I saw a bird examining the rear end of the nest (Fig 3 left). Within an hour some thick-leafed new grass had appeared (Fig 3 middle)and very soon there was a couple examining the rear (Fig 3 right) with more grass being added.

I could not understand the appearance of fresh grass at the back of the nest. I thought that maybe the babies were having some problems and they had to build an antechamber to expand their nest. These birds were supposed to lay several eggs and if all qhe eggs were hatched, the space would certainly have been too small.

I got some angry looks (Fig 4 left) from the birds but the building of the nests continued with thick grass leaves (Fig 4 middle) more than a month after the first nest building. Within two days a sizeable nest had formed (Fig 4 right).

The next day the nest towards the end had been completed (Fig 5 left).I had thought that there were four birds but photographing them together proved elusive. I finally got them together in somewhat acceptable focus hanging from a broadband cable (Fig 5 right). They could have made a better picture. They looked, however of the same adult size. They actually looked like two pairs and the second pair had built the new addition to the nest.

The next day (17th september) quite late in the evening I think I saw the baby birds out of their nest (Fig 6 left and middle). I did not see these birds for the next few days while the other pair continued busily with their new nest-building. Three days later I thought I saw the the baby birds briefly getting into their nests for the evening (Fig 6 right). The bird seemed to have grown to its full responsibility. Only time will tell.

It is nice to see now five or six birds fly out of the nest into the world. I have not figured out just how many little ones there are. This morning I think I saw at least three among the birds that flew out. A last young one was a little late when she (she must have been a she) scurried out of the nest on seeing my approaching shadow, ruffling a few of her feathers and tripping on the wire-net.


I know that Munia is a common nickname in Bengal and I know at least two nieces who are called munia. I dont think that the name munia is associated with the span style="font-style:italic;">Lonchura punctulata species is derived from any Indian language.

A 2007 blog by one Fahima Bintee Jamal (a muslim) nicknamed munia because of her father's fondness for the bird, has some nice secular things to say:-
One of the interesting things about my name (Munia), was that it was always unique in the British and American standard schools abroad, no one could definitely say whether I was Hindu, Muslim or Christian! Then of course there was the downside, most of my classmates would repeatedly inquire: "You are named after a BIRD????' (emphasis on the 'bird'). If only they'd ever met my maternal uncles. One of them is called 'Golap' (Bangla for 'rose', yes, the one that's a flower), while another distant uncle is called 'Angur' (Bangla for 'grape'-the fruit.). Sometimes I can't help wondering whether their parents gave them such names out of love, or malice. I mean, why name a guy after a flower, or worse, a fruit???

I learnt from the net that in Arabic Munia means "great anticipation". I also learnt that "... the term municipality is derived from municeps and must be formed from munia (sing. muni) the basic meaning of which is obligations or duties … the root meaning of munus was gift ...

The name munni is the common name for girl (munna for boy) made perhaps unnecessary sinful by the vulgarly (in the sense of commonly) exotic item (implying sizzling) dance routine Munni badnaam hui, darling tere liyeSee (see for example) that could probably come from an ancient culture (I am not talking about Vedic culture, but rather the adivasi culture that gave buddha?) that cradled the kamasutra!

I like the name munia to mean a simple little girl when I think of the munia variety of birds. My knowledge of birds is less than minimal. I love listening to birds and give them in my mind fancy names that I have read about and that I do not recognise. I love the names such as finch and warbler and thrush and lark and the munia and the chidiya and the kuruvi. Given my awareness of the birds, I guess I can be forgiven if the lark and the munia belong to the same species (see figure below) in my imagery, even if the lark, I am told is nearly twice bigger than the spotted munia.

It seems a pity that while it is fashionable to save the tiger like NDTV claims 24x7 it is doing with the help of such great crowd-pullers as cricket-playing Dhoni. One does not think cricket the game eliminates crickets the Gryllidae along with their cricketing noise (; see also Nityananada and Balakrishnan's article in from bushes that gave way to levelled playing fields and were replaced by beer-swelled IT-invigorated mobs and other otherwise limp (microsoft) human imitators (see

The tiger can only remain if the cricket and the swallow and the munia are allowed to survive.
These creatures in turn depend on the survival of other species. We know that but we do not care (?). Such "other species" include the invertebrates such as earthworm, which depend on wet clay-like soil preferably under a canopy of forest trees with its own ecology. We need trees and animal shit and creepers and insects.
So save the tiger if you want but please save the frogs also.
Maybe you should also save the septic tanks!?

Rohini Balakrishnan writes "The dawn chorus of birds, owls swooping down on their prey in total darkness, military formations of ants moving their eggs and larvae to new locations, bees foraging for nectar in brightly coloured flowers, hawks hovering overhead looking for prey that freeze into immobility on detecting them:..." This is poetry. She cites ethologist's views:- "Every behaviour of every individual of any species is brought about by causal physiological processes that may be influenced by the current and immediate environment, the ontogenetic history of that individual, its evolutionary history and by the survival or adaptive value of that behaviour."

She and other learned communities are then constrained by eliciting "... the science of animal behavior

In the meanwhile, it seems that the populaion of these bird species has reduced to 10-40% of what it was 30 years ago.

What has happened in the last thirty years to have caused such a decline?

India and China have become richer adding to population/food pressure
microwave communication devices have increased throughout the world

Parsee-eating vultures have become extinct

Fertility of IT and computer-related professionas have decreased.

Consumption/Cultivation of seedless fruits and vegetables has increased. One seed produces another?

Globalisation has changed food eating and cultivation patterns

Exceessive chemical fertilizers have reduced the number of earthworms in the soil; these invertebrates serve as food for the early birdlings so that reduction in population may be due to the loss in the survival rate.

There seems to be a seven-fold increase in the use of chemical fertilizers as compared to the use of organic fertilizers in the last thirty yars. The decrease in bird population would correlate statistically well with the decrease in use of organic fertilizers.

Grain spillage after harvesting has reduced.

Monsanto and related families entered the scene aggressively

Has anybody recorded the reduction in the number of grandchildren for people above sixty?

Is there a necessity to stop the invasion of IT culture and its parasite, the mass-media advertisements, to eventually save the tiger?

In his Ode to a lark Shelley has written the unforgettable lines that make you feel like soaring

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

During my Anglo-Indian school days when I first heard this poem, I thought as a school child that the British were superior because they had thee larks and they soared like them.

Shelley would continue
What objects are the fountains
Of thy happy strain?
What fields, or waves, or mountains?
What shapes of sky or plain?
What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?

The sparrows would have been happy as a lark in those days.

They would also have bebn happy in Tagore's times when Tagore wrote in his Stray Birds:-

The sparrow is sorry for the peacock at the burden of its tail.

Do we now require being more alert in saving the s sparrow and the munia and the earthworm if we have to save the Tiger.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thought of Food 5: Multi-Grain Bread for Desis

Very often one is influenced by favourable images that could make one long to be on the scene. One of these is the image of a bakery and the scent of fresh bread wafting in the environment. The early morning scene when the bakery opens in the movie "As Good as it Gets" is one such scene simply because there is always something romantic in catching your favourite bakery when it opens. In India it could be a Tiffin room, such as Vaishalis in Pune or MT tiffin room in Bangalore. The whiff of freshly baked food from bakeries in Pune is perhaps more closely associated with the baking of (what are called) "Patties" although they are very different from the patties that are placed in hamburgers (see Wikipedia). What we call patties in India is perhaps similar to what are called turnovers in which a filling is placed in dough (usually layered) turned over and sealed. The Kharagpur shingaras is another unique gourmet specialty which is probably of the turnover variety. Hot milk and jalebi on a misty winter morning (say, in IIT Kanpur sitting with the newspaper vendors and maalis and sweepers) is definitely another memory for morning food in India that certainly does not involve a bakery.

The bakeries I know which send an appetite-whipping aroma over its neighbourhood are the Santosh Bakery (Apte Road), Shree Samartha Sweets Snacks (Sinhagad Road),Just Baked Bakery (Dhole Patil Road) or the Kayani Bakery (East Street). None of them have people lining up outside their shop for their bread.

The only people who wait for the sounds of the morning bread seem to be those living in dwellings meant for construction workers. In the morning the salesmen from the nearby bakeries will be carrying their baked products and making noises with classic bicyc;e horns, thereby signalling their presence. Theire more popular item is the brun bread, a sort of crusty bun, which tastes like the french baguette and are usually made by wood-burnt furnaces because of the requirement of steam during baking for forming the crusty bread. This bread, we found, goes very well with cheese and wine. The brun became popular in Mumbai and Pune because of the Iranian restaurants. The partaking of brun with thick dollops of butter spread on it and dipped into thick sweet milked tea (chai) is the way the Iranians taught Mumbai and Pune to begin their day with.

A description ( of life in the Iranian restaurants would go like this:-
"Bun-maska is a bread bun (called ladi paun/pav) served with a liberal helping of butter (maska). Chai is tea - strong and brewed in boiling milk (or even sweet condensed milk). Both tea and bread are served fresh, the bread being freshly baked several times a day. Patrons sometimes dip a piece of buttered bun in their tea before placing the morsel in their mouth. With this practice, a thick oily layer of butter soon floats on top of the tea - something resembling an oil slick on the ocean. The more uppity Zoroastrians condemn the practice as being uncouth and that which tanga-wallas (horse-cart drivers) use. But this writer found great joy in the plebeian practice despite his mother's admonishments. In his household, the bun was often substituted with gutli / brun paun (paun, or pao / pav, meaning bread in Gujarati).

Brun paun has a much harder crust than bun paun - so dry that unless cut correctly, the crust shatters and scatters all over the table. A buttered slice of brun paun holds up better than bun-maska (maska=butter) when dipped into the cup of steaming tea. With brun, bun-maska-chai becomes brun-maska-chai - and for this writer, a more authentic version of the Irani tradition, but one that is (and please forgive this) not everyone's cup of tea."

Another discussion on the brun-bread lif is a description ( of the city bakery in Mumbai. Such restaurants also served masala bread and other flavoured breads which better appeal to the India or desi palate than the very proper Western-styled breads.

This blog is about making a more traditional bread, that are usually meant for health-conscious people of western inclinations. They have been told that multi-grain breads are good for their health and they would like it to be so. So recipes for whole grain breads are the rage, especially for the recently anglicised, successful Indian of the erstwhile properly Indianised, so far marginalised, very middle middle class.

I have not had much success in making this bread the way I imagine it should be made. Personally my famoily is against taking bread as something they should have breakfast with. There is also little conviction in arguments regarding the healthiness of such foods when one knows that the chappathis, and fulkas and idlis and uppamas and pongals are so much easier to make and substantially so much tastier to eat when accompanied by all those curries with all their spices and ingredients. In Maharashtra we have integrated the simple taste-less bun or pav made from the supposedly very unhealthy maida (white wheat) with the very spicy misal with a very spicy gravy ( called sample for some reason), or as pav-bhaji or as the very ubiquitous vada-pav. A true Maharashtrian is judged by the speed with which he gets his first vada-pav when he returns home from some other state.

Still ... there is this multi-grain bread to be made which has to compete in taste with the local allotropes of pav. One is truly handicapped to begin with.

I had been trying to make whole-wheat and multi-grain bread for some time and I have been reasonably unsuccessful most of the time. Last week I had been to Bangalore and sspent a day or two with my co-out-law Sangeeta (my brother-in-law's wife). She had made a multigrain bread, which was soft, and well-behaved in taste, and comparable in looks to any multi-grain bread available on the shelf anywhere in the world. She attributed her success to the dry yeast she had sourced from Thailand. She had not obtained good results with the Indian yeast (wet or dry) that as available in Bangalore.

Our earliest source of fresh yeast in Pune was from Chandans supermarket on MG Road at the corner where ABC Farms outlet was located. Later I begged the local bakery for bits of fresh yeast from packets they had stored in the refrigerator in bakeries in Pashan, which they sold to me at extortionist rates depending on their whim and my need. Later I realized that the yeast is available off the shelf at Dorabjees. I keep it in deep freeze and it is good forever.

On return to Pune, I had to check out the performance of the "fresh" yeast as compared to Sangeeta's "imported" yeast. This blog is about the bread that I made on return.

The success of a bread, I realize is the wayyou coax it to rise and form rather than the way you bully the dough into submission and command it to rise and perform. Sangeetha must be having those persuasive powers par excellence. Anyway, this is what I did.

Recipe for a Multigrain Bread

A cup size here is a largish cup
Freshly ground (Punjabi style) whole wheat flour (two cups)
Buck-wheat flour (quarter cup)
Sprouted ragi (african millet) flour- quarter cup
Barley flour (quarter cup)
maida (quarter cup)

water (one cup). Parts of this water was used at various stages of the preparation. I sometimes make cheese at home. The whey after the cheese was made could be used instead of water.

One heaped tea spoon of whole seeds (whole seed are used to give a crunch of the flavour unexpectedly when eating the bread) of
Flax (no anti-cancer health property is expected from flax seeds after the baking)

One large dried chilli chopped

amaranth seeds (akka rajgeera) three teaspoons

Mustard Oil (One table spoon) (bengali bias)

sugar (one table spoon)

sea salt (one tea spoon) dissolved in water.

a pickle of choice. In this case I used a salt pickle made by soaking wild Indian gooseberries, see picture below. The seeds were removed and the amla cut into 5mm or so pieces. It could be pedatha's chilly-hot gongoorra (Rozelle) chatney (see "Cooking at Home with Pedatha" (Best Vegetarian Book in the World - Gourmand Winner) also.

The Yeast.
Little chunks of the frozen yeast was taken in a small cup (Fig 1 left cup is roughly 3* dia, to give an idea of the yeast used; maybe a little excessive). Water to roughly fill the cup was added to the yeast. In another bowl a tablespppn or two of water was take, sugar added and dissolved with a little heating. The maida was added to this solution quickly stirred. The yeast with water was then added and stirred (middle of Fig 1). It was set aside when a frothy dough was formed witha near tripling of the volume (Fig 1 right).

The Dough
The flour ingredients were mized with the spice seeds and chilli, mustard oil, salt dissolved in water, the pickles.
They were mixed by hand thoroughly.
the remining water was added in three or four stages kneading the dough all the time. The technique I used is very different from that usually in the web ( or in the bible for bread baking, Edward Espe Brown's the Tassajara : Bread Book (1970 edition, presented to us as a wedding gift by David, which we could have read earlier, had it not been a bible). The dough was not soft with a plastic flow like a loose mudbefore kneading. Actually with kneading the dough became softer. I kneaded the dough in a bowl, pressing it down, then rolling it over truning it and then pressing it down again for about thirty minutes. It was rolled in to a ball on a board (left of Fig 2) and then allowed to rise for an hour when it nearly doubled in size (right of Fig 2). One usually recommends wetting the dough lightly from outside and covering it with a cling wrap to prevent the outside from becoming too dry. I just covered the bowl with a plate.

The proof of a dough is supposed to lie in the way it springs back when pressed. A video of what happens when I do so is shown in the video below. It did not rise back fully. This was about the best rise-back that I got.


the sides of the baking tin was lined with mustard oil. The dough was kneaded again for another 20-30 minutes. Rolled on a board till it was nearly smooth outside. This is the tricky part. I really get the bread to be seamless before baking. The results are better if I add water but then the baking schedule becomes very demanding,sometimes collapsing after rising leaving gaping holes inside. One has also to know at what temperature of the oven to put the bread inside and whether to cover it with an aluminum foil. I did not use any foil.

I allowed the dough to rise in the baking tin for 40 minutes The dough had become dry and the folds were not smoothened out. On rising these fold increased in size. I thought it gave it a rustic look. The amaranth seeds, red-chillies and other grains popped their heads out. The dough had nearly doubled in size befor placing in oven. It collapsed a bit after baking (Fig 3 top right). It slipped out easily from the tray (Fig 3 bottom left) and sliced well (Fig 3 bottom right).

Later in the evening we had the bread making a baked crostina rustica with ginger and garlic pickle, sun-dreid tomatoes, and mushrooms, and parmesan slices along with a green salad. We also had it with a home-made cheese and red wine.

The spice seeds crackeld in the mouth, the bread was deemed a success, by Bella my french bull dog although she would have preferred it with Camembert.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bedsa Caves : Speculations on Bedsa symbols and pillars

I have reached this stage of life where I have to think about harmless things to do for whiling away the time, preferably for a common "good", especially when I am stuck in my science. I recently visited the Bedsa caves (see the previous blog). I found some aspects that were puzzling to me (no surprise). I researched the internet and came up with some conclusions, that could be a little interesting although I have no idea how it will interest the scholar. This blog is about these conclusions.

It could be imagined that the culture that gave Bedsa, what we now call the culture of the followers of Buddha or of enlightenment, has been adopted only by what is known in India as adivasis or indigeneous people. They are aometimes classifed as dalits by people who are not indigenous to the land. We have to follow the dalit culture if we are to regain a semblance of national pride. We have to sit at the foot of their enlightened ones, their Buddhas.

This blog is meant as a quick reference to issues at hand in understanding the reason behind Bedsa. There is no need to come to a definite conclusion, moreover. There does not seem to be a QED (quod erat demonstrandum if not quantum electro-dynamics) requirement in such matters. The fun, as they say, is on the speculation.

The blog is long, perhaps far too long. It is about the remnants of the life of an "enlightened" soul, whom they call Buddha and whose people have left behind some indelible imprints on rock in the form of cave 'temples'. I have found it very difficult to complete in a truly integrated sense. It has taken me much time and it could take many sittings for a reader. I hope it serves a purpose of enlightenment on Buddha.

However ...

An aside on Anna

There are some disturbing background noises from the mass-media on corruption that is distracting. There is a distinct cry/screech from a humorless middle class morality (a few lakhs from thousand millions). I am worried about the "good"ness of "good'.

I am not an Anna Hazare who does 'good' by rooting out corruption, even if it is only of the kind indulged in by public servants for making financial gains. I have no idea what corruption means precisely or even roughly. Thesaurus tells me that 'corruption' could mean dishonesty, bribery, fraud, sleaze, vice. Anna's corruption issue is only of a limited kind. If I was Anna Hazare I would have never imagined that I could have even thought of rooting out corruption in its entirety. We would also not recognize saints without it.

In Anna's vision the corruption issue is straightforward. very limited in scope and blinkered. There are government-proscribed rules to be followed in financial dealing and those government servants who do not follow these rules are corrupt. Simple. If there were no rules there would be no corruption to fast for and no 'good' will be done.

I find that Anna's goal is a bureaucracy-multiplying malaise. I sincerely wish that Anna would apply his vision of corruption to other countries such as China and USA who are in competition with us.

Having said that I must go on with this blog. It turns out that (among other things) most of our recently recorded history are written following rules of history set by people who wrote history for recording their gains after wars of spiritual or material kind. It does not become history worth recording otherwise. There are therefore rules for interpreting history set by rulers.

The Indian historian is a slave of the English language because their grammar is dictated by the statements of English-speaking 'authorities'. D. D. Kosambi, among others, tried valiantly to break these shackles. He has many followers, but not enough evidently.

The analysis of historical remains is for me the last bastion for understanding the lives of past giants. It may not be the same thing as reviving dinosaurs from their DNA imprints. But it may help in reviving the less directly visible impact of a lifestyle that we think is worth following and that dealt with liberation from corruption in the mind itself.

The Google invention of searching by images liberates the searcher somewhat. I am therefore using images mainly as the basis for deliberation and for harmless conviction of the blog kind.

Carved Symbols of Bedsa

The main concern that I will have is to understand the carved symbols (see figure below) remaining on the walls using the benefits of Google image search. Another concern that I will have, and that I will quickly dispense with, is the possibility of the use of plastering or stucco work on the walls after the initial carving work was done (see pictures on the right of the figure below).

A major problem in understanding the inner caitya is that there has been paintings on the walls and ceilings as well as wood work which must have been an integral part of the theme of the place.

One of the common descriptions about the Bedsa caves that is found one several sites is that "These caves are 1000 years old, There is a strange story told by villagers about these caves that the details about the caves and the entire history of the caves was painted and carved on the walls of the cave. But it so happened that a Senior British Officer was to visit the caves, hence a local officer painted the entire caves and the details were lost behind the paint. The truth of this story is not yet known but still it is an interesting story to listen." Since the exact passage is repeated so many times by various sites on the net, it may not be true, especially since they all say that the caves are 1000 years old instead of 2000.

A photograph of Bedsa caves by Henry Cousens around 1880 (see previous blog) shows the pillar structure to be quite white in colour as if it has indeed been freshly white-washed at that time, discarding the possibility that the photo was taken early in the morning and may have been touched up.

The more reliable GBPP on Bedsa would write
All the wood work has disappeared though the pegs that kept it in its place may still be seen. [The wood work would seem to have disappeared within the last twenty years. In 1844 (Jour. Bom. Br. Roy. As. Soc. I. 438) Westergaard describes the cave as ribbed, and about 1861 a writer in the Oriental Christian Spectator (X. 17-18) found fragments of timber lying on the floor.] On the pillars, as late as 1861, could be clearly traced portions of old painting chiefly of Buddha with attendants; but the caves have since been whitewashed and no trace of the painting is left. [About 1861 the roof had traces of indistinct paintings. The pillars were richly and elaborately painted on a ground apparently of lime.

The use of stucco coatings on sculptures are known to have been used on Bamyan Buddha sculptures of Afghanistan (recently blown up by Taliban).

The mention by GBPP about the pillars in the caitya being covered with lime is suggestive. Among my problems about the caitya is that the wall-space above the pillars seems to have been freshly (in century scale) chiseled out (fig above, right top; click to expand). It is suggestive of the removal of a plastered layer which had become an ugly white by some restoring agency such as Archaeological Survey of India. The carvings on the wall were so sharply chiselled (see right brelow of figure above; click to expand) that it reminded me of stucco or plaster work that I had blogged about earlier (see Tuesday, February 17, 2009, Pune Street Scenes III: Pune Trishundiya Ganapathi Temple Exterior; Tuesday, March 31, 2009 Bhuleshwar on a Hill: Exterior). In the latter blog I had written :- "The minarets and other parts of the domes are covered with stucco as sculptural and artistic puroses as well as a base material for paints. Such use of stucco work perhaps predate its use in Baroque and Rococo architecture, which is the hallmark of European nobility. ". I think it started with the culture of people who gave us the Buddha.


A major puzzle (as far as my limited knowledge goes) among the symbols in the caitya is the nature of the six-handed spiral on one of the columns (top left corner of figure above).Usually the spiral is single-handed in all the images of rock art that I could find on google search. It could be clock-waise or counter-clockwise. For instance the spirals on the two ends of the toranas of the north gate of the Sanchi stupa are single-armed but mirror images of each other. Its origin could come from a spiralled tail of a sea crocodile on the Torana of the Bharhut stupa that I discuss later.

The post-buddhist pre-Christian pagan Celtic spirals are also single-armed as are the spirals carved out on the rocks in New Mexico and Arizona (middle row left). It is interesting that the set of three spirals from Ireland (middle of middle row in figure above) has the same sign of rotation. According to physics of magnetism it is frustrating to have opposite orientations on a triangular lattice.

One wonders whether the six-armed spiral became an important religious symbol because of a celestial event. An important event that happened in the skies as a celestial phenomenon is the "Norway Spiral" of 2009 (top right of figure above). The net has very speculative discussions on the spiral. An officially accepted version is that the spiral is due to the spiral of a nozzle of a Russian rocket launch that failed in the upper atmosphere. According to the net (see, for example) the brightness of the Norway spiral is much too perfect to be due to missile exhaust. Instead they suggest that it is due to charged particles being formed. Applying the physics of the "right hand rule" the site suggests that the beam that caused the ionization had to be from ground up. Such sites suggest that the spiral is due to Ionization heating carried out by HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Programme). The international high-energy EISCAT programme which broadcasts powerful micro-wave energy into space and causing side effects in the ionosphereis located just over the hill from which the beam seems to be directed. The spiral occurs naturally in creepers (Middle row fourth from right in figure above). The direction of the spiral would change when one looks at the spiral from top or bottom.

The nature of the Bedsa spiral is like those of the spiral galaxies or the spirals in hurricanes and cyclones (bottom row of figure above) and is also akin to the image of the core of a daisy flower (Fig above middle row wxtreme right). One then wonders whether the early buddhists identified spiral galaxies using their dark Tibetan nights and evenings or their own version of a telescope made, say, from bamboo? The M33 spiral galaxy that appears in the constellation Triangulum (see bottom left of picture above) is known to be seen with the naked eye under appropriate condition. It seems to be a six-armed spiral to the untrained eye.

Outer Pillars
Outer Pillars
The outer pillars of the Bedsa caves are thought to rise from pot-shaped round objects. I first thought that the entire pillar was made out of the stone-walls of the cave. At least one of the pillars (the demi pillar on the left facing the cave) was clearly made from assembled stone bricks as shown in the right of the picture below. It must have been plastered over to give it a smooth finish. The "pot" of the full pillar on the right also had such stone work. The full pillar on the left (facing the cave) had some impressions (see left of picture above) and could give the impression as if some plaster had scaled off. It has often been said that the early Buddhist pillars of the Asokan period had Persian/Assyrian influences. A name commonly mentioned is Persepolis. I have extracted below some images from THE SEVEN GREAT MONARCHIES OF THE ANCIENT EASTERN WORLD; GEORGE RAWLINSON, M.A., VOLUME II. The pillar base from Pasargadae, the capital of Cyrus the Great from Persia (Plate L of the image below), show the Greek/Persian influence.

Vidya Dehejia in Early Buddhist Rock Temples" would write
The early slanting octagonal column (of Buddhist rock temples) was followed by the straight octagon, which the acquired a base consisting of a waterpot (ghata) on a stepped platform .... The fully developed pillar in the caityas was achieved when an elaborate capital was added consisting of a ‘bell’, an enclosed amalaka, a stepped abacus and crowning animals. ... In the first phase the ‘bell’ is noticeably incurving, almost ‘waisted’ and has distinctly depicted petals. The Bedsa capital is of this type and seems to follow the earlier Asokan tradition which may also be seen at Sanchi stupa II and at Bharhat

Greek and Assyrian influences on the design of the pillars are well acepted by historians of the western mould. Thus according to "THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF INDIA - I - ANCIENT INDIA XXVI THE MONUMENTS OF ANCIENT INDIA" (see we have the following:-

Long ago M. Senart pointed out that the decrees of the Achaemenian monarchs engraved on the rocks of Bahistan and elsewhere furnished the models on which the edicts of Ashoka were based. It was in Persia, also, that the bell-shaped capital was evolved. It was from Persian originals, specimens of which are still extant in the plain of the Murghab at Istakhr, Naksh-i-Rustam, and Persepolis, that the smooth unfluted shafts of the Maurya columns were copied. It was from Persia, again, that the craftsmen of Ashoka learnt how to give so lustrous a polish to the stone a technique of which abundant examples survive at Persepolis and elsewhere. Lastly, it is to Persia, or to be more precise to that part of it which was once the satrapy of Bactria and was at this time asserting its independence from the Empire of the Seleucids, that we must look for the Hellenistic influence which alone at that epoch of the world's history could have been responsible for the modelling of the living forms on the Sarnath capital.

Little more than two generations had passed since Alexander the Great had planted in Bactria a powerful colony of Greeks, who occupying as they did a tract of country on the very threshold of the Maurya dominions, where the great trade routes from India, Iran, and Central Asia converged, and closely in touch as they were with the great centres of civilization in Western Asia, must have played a dominant part in the transmission of Hellenistic art and culture into India.

The description of the pillars themselves that is given by GBBP expresses the unwillingness to believe that such ancient works of sculptured art did not have Greek, Persian or assyrian influences. Thus it is written in GBPP the following:-
A passage five feet wide has been cleared between the blocks and the front of two massive octagonal columns and two demi columns which-support the entablature at a height of about twenty-five feet. Their bases are of the lota or water-vessel pattern from which rise shafts slightly tapering and surmounted by an ogee or fluted capital of the Persepolitan type, [The pillar and pilaster to the west are much closer fluted and more like Ashok pillars than the pillar and pilaster to the east. The top of the pillar below the capital is clearly Assyrian.] grooved vertically and supporting a fluted torus in a square frame over which lie four thin square plates each projecting over the one below. On each face of the uppermost plate crouch elephants horses and bulls with beautiful and well proportioned groups of men and women riding over them. On the pilaster to the right of the entrance are two horses with a man and woman seated on them. The whole is finely carved especially the mouth and nostrils of the horses. The posture of the animals on the capital at Bedsa is similar to those of the Bulls at Persepolis (Fig 3 of Plate XLIX, see figure above).

The Greek Influence in the western Deccan region of Maharashtra is usually implied in the term yavana from Ionia or Saka from the Scythians. Gopalachari's 1941 thesis on "An Early History of Andhra Country" provides a rich internet source for yavana history in the Western Deccan. There is evidence for a large element of yavanas in the western Deccan about from about 250 BC which is about the same time as the time of the Bhaja and Bedsa Caves. These yavanas were thoroughly "Indianised" , (if that is the word for that time), adopted Buddhism and Hindu family names. There was a Yavana settlement in a place called Dhenukakata in the vicinity of Karla which is close to that of Bhaja and Bedsa Caves.

Twenty years ago, while trekking upto Bisapur fort from Malavalli station near Bhaja caves, we passed through a village where most of the inhabitants had clear blue eyes. Their dress and custom were otherwise very Maharashtrian and very different from the features of the Konkanastha Chitpavan Brahmins (Ko-Bras) who are descended from people who were shipwrecked off the coast of the Konkan region of Maharashtra.

The point that I am trying to make is that there is believable evidence for a strong Greek/Ionian influence around the time the caves in Bhaja/Bedsa were being built. Similar crafting expertise from the builders of Persepolis/Xerxes complex seems to be evident in these caves at least as far as the outer pillars of Bedsa caves are concerned. The petal-like structure, of the capital, many times described as an inverted lotus flower, is found sometimes at the base of pillars at Persepolis (see Fig 4 of Plate XLIX of the Persepolis figure above, or the oneby its side). Vidya Dehejia would call the enclosed fluted torus-like sphere on top of the 'bell' as an enclosed amalaka, which is an ellipitial and fluted crown that is supposed to resemble the fruit amlaka or aamla the Indian gooseberry. The aamlaka feature on Hindu temples is uually on the top of the highest tower and the main or presiding deity is housed under the aamlaka. The petalled capital of Bedsa has an enclosed aamlaka which is unusual and probably has no religious significance. Such influences were short-lived and by the time the rock-cut caves in Nashik were made after the first century A.D., the 'bell'-shaped inverted Lotus flower with petals form of the Bedsa caves (with Sanchi influence) had become just an inverted 'pot'.

It has been noted that the influence of the Sakas and Yavanas in the western Deccan had completely diminished after the second century A.D. when it was replaced by the Satvahana dynasty. It seems that a Satvaahana Andhra king Gotamiputa SirinSatakani, of the second century AD, to whom the epithet Saka-Yavana-Palhava-nisudanasa applied, drove out these casteless foreigners from his newly rebuilt empire. He also preserved the purity of the four castes by stopping mixed marriages between them. In the context of this blog it would mean that the skill of the immigrant labourer was lost. The petalled 'bell' of the capital at Bedsa became an inverted pot.

As an aside, I can't help adding that the elimination of these foreign Ksatrapas of the Khakharata-vasa is reminsicent of Parasuram's destruction of the Kshatriya caste and one wonders whether the legends have been mixed. At the same time we have been told that Parasuram was iustrumental in introducing the Konkanashtha Chitpavan Brahmins (Ko-bras). A lot of tying-up remains.

To get back to the theme of the outer pillars of Bedsa it is clear that these pillars with its near-Sanchi 'bell' capital came to being briefly in the region around Bedsa. The style of the 'bell' at Beda is close to the 3rd century BC lion capial at Sarnath although it as no sign of a boxed amalaka. The shape of the 'bell' is also close to the Ashoka Pillar at Kolhua, Vaishali known as Bhimsen-ki-Lathi. The 'bell' at Bedsa is perhaps an improvement on the virtual pillars of the earlier Bhaja caves (see figure above). The style of the 'bell' has already started deteriorating towards that of the 'inverted pot' in the pillar at Karla.

A well-recognized puzzle of the Bedsa cave is the larger width of the verandah compared to the caitya and the unfinished nature of the front with a narrow passage leading from the outside to the verandah. "Those who did the preliminary stine cutting knew the exact number of large blocks to be left standing for later conversion to pillars. They knew the number of blocks to be left on an aapsidal plan, and the exact height and width of the roof. An accrate system of measurement must have been employed to have resulted in the alignment of the columns. It could have been no easy task to excavate into a mountainside, keeping the row of pillars in line, maintaining them of the same height, and seeing that the pillars on the two aisles corresponded with each other. At Bedsa for example, there was first the cutting of a passage which was then expanded into a veranda, and only then could excavation of the cave itself commence." (Vidya Dehejia, Early Buddhist rock temples, p 135).

The description of the cutting of the rock suggests a long-drawn process. there was no early demand on specialized skills. Such caves were built from the top downwards. Initially the hillside was cleared of vegetation and debris. Then there was made a pair of tunnels inside the rock up to the desired depth. Timber wedges were driven vertically in the rock and moistened. As the wood expanded cliff was fractured, forming large chunks of rock. This rock was carefully removed and the exposed walls of cave chamber levelled and polished. After the main body of rock was removed, more exquisite sculpting was done.. From

The allocation of skilled work at various levels had to be done. Skill of the type used to make the earlier Bhaja cave interiors were perhaps more readily available and work began on th caitya and the verandah perhaps first. The construction of the pillars outside required a different amd more specialized skill, which were probably associated with the yavana-saka-pahlava people. It is likely that while all this work was going on the excavators lived in villages below while the merchants and the priests lived in the vihara. The vihara had to come first without the yavana-saka-pahlava influence on them. This cave must have been the place for living and cooking and lighting a fire for the night. GBPP writes:- The whole cave has been plastered and was probably painted, but it is now overlaid with a coating of smoke. In the back wall of the cave in a niche is a figure of the goddess Yemmai (seen on expanding Fig 8, right, of previous blog) thickly covered with red paint. A sati stone lies against the wall, a little to the right.

I have no estimate of the time taken to make the caves. I imagine that it could have taken one or two generations of steady daily work involving a few laborers and artisans (of the order of hundreds?). The narrow passage would have been sufficient for access to the inner parts. The inner caitya and verandah must have been finished quicker while the outer pillars perhaps took a longer time because of the lack of the required alien skills. The destruction of the Ksaharatas perhaps led to the loss of the specialized skills required for the outer pillars and they were probably finished the slowet even if the inside excavations were completed.

The function of these caves have been taken over subsequently by the local influences. The non-Buddhist deity Yamai. is thought to be worshipped by the Kolis when a palki (palanquin) ascends up to the shrine of Yamai in Bedsa. A similar procession goes up to the goddess Ekaveera housed in a cave at Karla on Chaitra Poornima. The names Yallammma, Mariamma, Yamai, Ekaveer are the names given by the cult of Mother Goddess to Renuka, and who is symbolized by an ant-hill and is believed by some to be of Dravidian origin. Yellamma is a patron goddess of rural folk of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The devotees of Renuka or Yellama worship her as the Jagadamba, "Mother of the Universe" and is of Shaman origin being thought to be an incarnation of Kali. As we shall see later this mother goddess worship could be important in understanding some of the symbols in the Bedsa caves.

Lalitha pointed out to me that one of the exterior mini stupas outside seemed to resemble a shiva lingam as there were some signs (different coloration) of something being scooped out of the bottom of the cave surrounding the stupa and a drain seems to have been excavated to the outside to form the yoni for the lingam. The different coloration is also seen during dry summer days. Since what remains is really a slab, the conjecture on the shivling is incomplete. Near Dehu on the Pune Mumbai road one sees a flight of steps which go up to what has been called an ancient shiva temple. These are the Ghorwadeshwar Buddhist caves built around 300-400 AD that is now dedicated to Shiva. The blog on these temples by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha ( suggests that the original caitya has become the main temple dedicated to Ghorawadeshwar viz.Lord Shiva.

Three Other Symbols

The three other symbols on the pillars are well recognised Buddhist symbols and one should not have any problem in identifying them. There is the dharmachakra or th Wheel of the law with its eight spokes representing the eight-fold path. Then there is the Srivatsa which in my mind is usually represented as an endless knot as in the inset of the top row, centre in the figure below.

After a search for images and the literatture on the net I came to the conclusion that the symbol labeled Srivatsa could be the ancient Buddhist or Jain representation of it. The representation of Srivatsa as an endless knot could be due to later Celtic pagan influences. A search for images similar to the symbols found on the pillars in the Bedsa caves led me to, what I thought, to be that of the Srivatsa gave me a Jain connection from a facade (see top left corner in image below)on the Udaygiri-Ratnagiri Jain caves in Orissa built during the Chedi Dynasty between 100 BC and 100 AD. One may therefore jump to the (unnecessary) conclusion that --- at least as far stone carving is concerned --- the making of a stone image of Srivatsa has a Buddhist pre-history.

The interesting part of the image of the top left corner is that it was obtained from an internet image-search for the nandipada or hoof of a bull. The third symbol (left symbols from first figure on top)is thought to be a Nandipada . It is also called a triratna or the three jewels. Some of the other images similar to that of the Nandipada that I thought is relevant is given in the figure above. The most interesting of these is the set of images fond on abench in immersed ruins found in Godi-pavata pattana on the southern tip of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) that used to be a harbour used for trade during early Buddhist periods. Quite significantly this image is accompanied on the bench by (what I think, at least) is the Srivatsa image in the Bedsa caves.

The image of the nandipada or the triratna is very similar to that in the Bedsa caves. The one in the Bedsa caves has its top U-shaped tip ending conically like the like the tip of an arrow (for instance). The triratna at Sanch N gate is triply forked. The one at Godi-pavata pattna is bent outwards. Among other images (se figure above) one may think of the shape of Tibetan thokchas, the tibetan symbol of the khyung (Garuda) or the laughing Buddha, or the symbolism of the Mother Goddess(Jagadamba). One could have included as well a more primitive religious symbol such as that of Tendulkar waving his bat and helmet to his father in heaven after a century. There is a little more discussion on this aspect later.
The Triratna, the Dharmachakra or padma (Lotus) and the Srivatsa are integrated together on the top torana of the Sanchi North Gate (Figure below,top). The symbols on the pillars at Bedsa include these three Sanchi symbols. The Udaygiri facde (figure above) may also be imagined to have these three symbols. The padma or dharmachakres

The association of the symbols in the Bedsa caves with the triratna or Nandiapada requires more consideration. In his book on the "The Dvāravatī wheels of the law and the Indianization of South East Asia", Robert L. Brown writes
There are no texts or inscriptions that tell us how the triratna was represented. The identification of the trident as the three jewels came simply on the basis that nineteenth-century scholars (for example, Cunningham, Fergusson, Burgess, Indraji, Senart) felt there should be a plastic representation and looked for a possible symbol; the three points of the trident, in their number, suggested the three jewels. Furthermore, there was no name for the Buddhist trident-shaped symbol, which allowed for various interpretations. The ancient name is still not known today.Benisti goes through the various names that have been used by scholars --- trisula, nandipada, vardhmana, nandydvarta --- showing that none of them can be proven to apply to the Buddhist version of the symbol. The trident as representing the triratna appears to be completely a scholarly fabrication.

Lessons from the Bharhut Stupa

The search for pre-sanchi description of stupas and buddhist legends and history led me to Cunningham's book (1879) on the Stupa of Bharhut which could be 300 BC or before. Cunningham's description of the Stupa includes the line that ... the same huge bricks (that) are found all over this space, which is quite true, but they were no doubt all originally taken away by the people themselves from the great brick Stupa ... indicates support for the possibility that the carvings found in or near the Stupa are a product of the lifestyle of the people at that time.

The Eastern gateway at the Bharhut stupa as described by Cunningham (Plates VI and VII) have only the triratna and the dharmachkra (or padma) with no direct evidence for the Srivatsa of Sanchi. The U of the triratna is doubly forked. The lack of a Srivatsa symbol in Bharhut stupa suggest therefore that the stupa predates the Sanchi stupa. Other carvings as illustrated in Cunningham's book also suggest the lack of a definitive evidence for Buddha worship.

The scenes of ordinary life as illustrated in the top row of figure above suggests an emphasis on tree worship with very little direct evidence for the worship of other symbols of Buddha or Buddha himself. There seems to evidence for the worship of the deer (top left of figure above) although there is someone aiming an arrow at the deer. It could be a happy coincidence that the images of men with arrows in Fig 4 of Plate LVII in the figure above titled Perspolis Influence (click to expand) resemble that in the top left of the figure above.

The scene of the Jetavana monastery of Plate XXVIII of Cunningham's book (bottom leftof figure above) has revealing scenes from the village life that I did not know about (not a surprise). For instance, there is a scene that looked at first glance of a lady carrying a baby which turned out to be a lady carrying something like a tea-kettle. There is also a man who seemed to be (figure above bottom left top corner) a man whistling using his finger in much the ame way as, say, audiences in movie halls do when expressing appreciation for the item-girl, for instance. The hut has the same "peepal-leaf" form of the facade of the caitya of the Bedsa caves.

The bottom right of the figure above is the only one I could find iu Cunningham's book of disciples listening to the sermon of an enlightened person. This is different from an worship of an enlightened person. There could have been many such enlightened persons and this could have been a typical scene instead of being the Buddha-enlightenment scene. The left portion of the panel in the bottom right of the figure above looks like the precedent to a srivatsa (see later)

The gateway of sanchi lays emphasis on previous buddhas by having seven stupas on its torana. The worship of a stupa would just mean the worship of an enlightened person. There is a stupa on the end of the torana of the stupa of Bharhut (see bottom left ogf fifure above.

The Torana endings at the Bharhut (bottom right of figure above, Plate IX of Cunningham)have been described by Cunningham as as ... composed of open-mouthed crocodiles with curled tails by which he meant tails spiraliing inwards. The crocodile's mouth reminded me of the makara or the sea elephants described elsewhere. The emphasis here would then be on the makara and not on the spiral.

According to Cunningham "The principal Buddhist Symbol is the Tri-Ratna, or " Triple Gem " Symbol, which is found in all the countries wherever Buddhism has prevailed. Mr. Beal calls this " the sacred Symbol of the Mani, or threefold gem, indicating the all supreme Buddha ;" and in another place he describes the Symbol as " the triple object of their veneration, Buddha, the Law, and the Church." * This triple Symbol was a very favourite form of ornament for the pinnacle of a gateway, or the earrings of a lady, and for the point of a military standard, or the centre piece of a necklace.^ In the Bharhut Sculptures the Tri-Eatna Symbol is placed above the thrones of the Buddhas Yiswabhu, and Sakya Muni.^

It is beyond my very limited scholarship to comment on Cunningham's extensive first-hand experiences and the basis of his conclusions. In the bottom left of figure below the two-forked triratna of Cunningham, is place below a "peepal-leaf" hut which in turn is placed below a tree with what appears to be a "peepal" tree. Amusingly, the two men on either side seems to be whistling with their fingers. Maybe they had no technology for using trumpets and horns at that time?

In the top left of another selection of images of carbvings from Cunningham's book in the figure below, the bearers in the coping panel takes, in my mind, a shape that could resemble that of the triratna. The elephants also bow in homage to the peepal tree.

In the top right of the figure below the five-headed serpent makes its appearance without seeming to protect or to be worshipped by anyone. A figure holding what seems to be a flower could be an enlightened one rising above the rest.

Perhaps the most important aspect in the figure above is that the capital on thich the lion is placed (bottom right of figure above) has two inverted petalled (padma?) flowers;; the one on the left (facing the figure) has close-spacing between the petals while the other on the right has .a larger spacing. Such differences in spacing is seen on the inverted lotus shapes on the pillars at Bedsa. Although the spacings between the petals is not seen on the samle pillar, t.The petals on the left full- and half-pillar are close-spaced while those on the right are wider spaced. I have not found an eplanation on the net for this left-right distinction. Nature makes such distinction; it includes the structure at meso-levels such as those of .ribosomes which our own Venky helped in resolving as we know so well. Persepolis structures did not make such deliberate differences in the fluting of their pillars.

There is a happy scene from a coping (Cunningham's Plate XLVII, top right corner of figure below) of an Eve or a Gopi looking down from her prech on a tree at a sleeping boy surrounded by what seems to be pigs (!?) which are looking up at the lady. In the same coping there is also an intriguing panel in which the triratna or the nandipada symbol is placed in an inverted position and covered by a lotus flower (?). The whole could give an impresion of a srivatsa?

In the top right of the figure below there are mangoes. If this indicates worship/appreciation of these fruits it is well deserved even if it comes before apoos was known. In the same panel there is to the right a scene of a (noble?) man who seems to be admonishing another person (a priest or from a different class or tribe) in front of a hut with a different non-peepal-leaf shapes that seemed to be holding acow or bull down holding it by one horn and pressing it down with another. It could be a cow-slaughter scene.

Evidence for yavana influence (probably from pataliputra?) seems to be there inm the shape of figures (bottom right, figure above). There ar also hints of a monkey "army" using an elephant (bottom right of figure above).

Aum in the Caves

It is difficult not to feel the resonance of your voice inside the caves. The caitya with its stupa could have easily served the physics of resonanting echoes. One is tempted to chant in the caves as Lalitha did with aum for a brief while.
It is perhaps natural to wonder whether these caves had anything to do with the symbolism of aum or even the letter ma itself. In the Pallavi or Brahmi script of those early days the script for ma resembles the image for the triratna or nandipada (second from right in the first figure of this blog) does not have a protruding circle within the lower circle. It is hollow like the ma in the pallavi or Brahmi script (see left of figure below). No other script for ma in other languages bear any resemblance to the triratna or nandipada. The scripr for aum (figure below top right) has no resemblance to the script for ma in any language.

The symbol of the triratna or nandipada with a circle in the centre resembles that in the Buddha-pada (bottom right of figure above). It is in this sense one may consider the nandipada image to be derived from Buddha-pada. Praying to the feet of the enlightened one (sometimes also a older person) is a tradition that persists even today. One wonders whether the ma symbol represents its sound for testing the resonance within he caves before events in the caitya.

I prefer to interpret the triratna or nandipada symbols in the Bedsa caves as arising from the Buddha-pada symbol.

I should stop here (finally).

There are other possibilities though.

The triratna or nandipada symbols could be derived from the garuda symbol. It is indicated in the Amravati symbol shown in the figure above with an inset (click to expand) taken from fig 5 of plate XL in the figure above illustrating Persepolis influences.

The symbol which is second from the left in the bottom line is in all the coins from Malhar (Magha or Megha dynasty in South Kosala (present day Chhattisgarh) being used upto the 4th century AD (from This blog concludes that "... we could assume that, to begin with the Magha ruler used his initial letter ‘Ma’ for stamping the coins of the erstwhile rulers to indicate his suzerinity and used the same device for his own issues for smaller denominations.".

This would take the aum out of the ma symbol. On the other hand a P. N. Subramaniam would write in his blog "A friend of mine, after examining my coins, was in favour of calling it a religious symbol – a Fire Altar. This can not, however, be ruled out. The rulers could have been fire worshippers".

The outlines of the Bhutanese Bull mask also resembles the Brahmi script for ma. Bhutan is the last bastion of Mahayana Buddhism which has recorded history before 100 BC in India.

The zodiac symbol for the Taurus constellation is almost exactly the Brahmi script for ma. Why one should find the bull (nandi?) symbol in the Bedsa caves is another matter.