Madhu Bazaz Wangu | Blog
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Day Five: Jellybeans and Temple Towers

In the temples of South India, the dominant architectural feature is gopura, (gateway towers)  that mark four directions in the enclosure wall built around the main temple. Gopuras of   Ranganathaswamy Temple in Tamil Nadu and Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai are painted in brilliant jellybean colors that shimmer under the tropical sunlight and dominate the landscape for miles. The basement of the gopuras is constructed of stone but their multiple tiers are made with brick and plaster that minimizes the weight of the superstructure. A barrel like structure called sala caps each gopura. Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu The main structure of Ranganathaswamy Temple culminates in a gold pinnacle. Surrounded by seven concentric walls, each wall has four gopuras facing the four directions. The farthest from the gold-topped sanctum sanctorum is largest in size. Sari Shops, restaurants, and flower...

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A Hymn in Granite & A Golden Sphere: DAY FOUR

DAY FOUR Heavy rain was pouring when we reached Brhadeshwara Temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, a UNESCO world Heritage Site. Behind the veil of shower the commanding grandeur of this granite monument allured me, like an eloquent hymn in stone. An expression of the wealth, glory, and artistic sensibility and expression of the emperor Rajaraja 1 (King of Kings) of Chola Kingdom, it took seven years to build. (1003-1010 AD. The temple complex is considered the foremost architectural creations produced in the world prior to the twentieth century. The central temple including its subsidiary shrines and gateways (gopuras) are testimony to the greatness of Rajaraja 1. Preceding the temple are two gateways. The temple tower is the highest reaching 216 ft (66 m). A bulbous structure at the top is carved out of a single...

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Virgin Mary Dressed in Sari: DAY THREE

Virgin Mary dressed in a sari! Jesus Christ standing on a fully blossomed lotus flanked by peacocks! A wonderful surprise! On the morning of our third day, we were in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Our first stop was Saint Thomas’ Basilica in Mylapore. This minor basilica was built in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers over the tomb of Jesus’ apostle, St. Thomas, and rebuilt in 1893 in Neo-Gothic style by British. A beautiful building in which a surprise awaited us. In the apse stood culturally befitting image of Jesus and outdoors an image of Mary. An unexpected pleasure! After a sumptuous lunch we were driven to the rock-cut monuments of Mamallapuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the shores of Bay of Bengal the monuments were sculpted by Pallava sculptors during...

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Aboard the Luxury Tourist Train: DAY TWO

After twenty-four hours R & R at the West End Taj, the following late afternoon we were driven to the railway station to board our train, the Golden Chariot. I have traveled extensively by people’s trains in India. Most Indians choose train as the mode of long distance transportation because a network of trains criss-crosses the whole sub-continent and the fare is low. The country has one of the world's largest railway networks that were introduced by British in 1853. Since then new routes have been added and steam engines replaced with diesel and electric engines. Indian Railways introduced the luxury tourist trains as recently as 1980s. The first luxury train, Palace on Wheels was launched in 1882. These trains were inspired by the comfort and décor of personal railway coaches of the...

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Fifteen Fabulous Days in India, DAY ONE

Dear Friends, Recently, I had one of the most exhilarating and emotionally fulfilling holiday in India with my husband Manoj. We visited many places we had never seen before, and a few we had seen more than once. We met close family members and made new friends. This time our journey was rather lavish compared to our previous trips to India, except the one in October 2013. Then we travelled by the luxury train called Royal Rajasthan on Wheels visiting exquisite palaces and magnificent temples in Central India. Unforgettable! So we decided to travel again this year by another train named Golden Chariot. During the night we chugged from one city to the next and during the day a bus drove us to various monuments and awe inspiring locations in the Southern States of Tamil Nadu and Kerela. From Pittsburgh we took a flight to Bengaluru. Before boarding the train we stayed overnight at the Taj West End. The hotel is...

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Journey Through Indian Peninsula

[caption id="attachment_40796" align="aligncenter" width="200"] Interior of the Bedroom of a Mansion, Alsisar, Rajasthan. 2013[/caption] I’ll be in India until November 10 traveling by train via Tamil Nadu and Kerala visiting their respective capitals, Chennai and Thiruvanathapuram. We’ll see the rock cut temples of Mamallapuram and the magnificent ones of Trichy, Thanjavur and Madurai. The train will take us by way of enchanting Pondicherry (once a French colony) and backwaters of Alleppey in Kochi. After disembarking the train in Bangalore we will go to Agra to see Taj Mahal and Red Fort, then Old and New Delhi and finally to Chandigarh in Punjab. I’ll keep you posted. At this point I would like to ask you: If you have never been to India, what is your cherished fantasy about the country and what is your...

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Mindful Writers 2nd Fall Retreat

The wondrous Mindful Writers 2nd Fall Retreat (17-20 September) was even better than the previous year. From Thursday to Sunday, we practiced Writing Meditation Practice that includes mindfulness meditation, walking meditation, and writing in journal and laptop to our heart’s content. Our personal writing time was most productive and our time together filled with deep affection, light heartedness and laughter. We practiced mindfulness mediation outdoors, in a gazebo visible behind the group picture. Guided body, heart and mind meditations helped us explore our minds. With deep and long inhalation and exhalation we calmed the mental chatter that seems to always keep us company. We were present and focused, ready to receive intuitive ideas and insights. We untangled our emotional knots and let the creativity and imagination flow freely. Lori Jones led the...

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Meditation and Mindfulness Workshops at Art Museums

Last week, I attended Meditation and Mindfulness Workshop at Freer Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. with seventy to eighty other participants. The workshop meets every Thursday from 12:15 - 12:45 and will run until mid December. Lead by charming Philip Bender, meditation (raja) and yoga (hatha) teacher, the session ended with such restful calm that for a few more minutes we continued to sit in pin drop silence. A feeling of peace, well-being and fellowship was palpable. After the workshop, I chatted with Phil. He said as far as he knew there were only two art museums in the country that offered mindfulness workshops: Freer Gallery and Hammer Museum at UCLA. I thought to myself, Why not offer a meditation and mindfulness workshop at Carnegie Museum of Art? I am trying to get in touch with the museum's media coordinator, Lucy Stewart to start the ball...

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Homesteaders in Trapper Creek, Alaska

In Trapper Creek, Alaska, we spent a morning with homesteaders. The charming mother Jeanne and her equally charming daughter Jenny. They both narrated their stories from their respective points of view. [caption id="attachment_40761" align="alignleft" width="200"] The Pioneer Mother[/caption] In 1959, this charming elderly lady was a young wife and mother of three. She and her husband got this crazy idea of selling everything they had in South Dakota and heading to the wilderness where the federal government had allotted them land. Upon arrival they found themselves in the middle of nowhere. They chopped down trees and built a one-room home; it’s roof no taller than the height of her husband. In winter the family melted water to drink and in summer hunted caribou and moose, and grew vegetables and fruit. Within the...

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Madhu Bazaz Wangu

An Educator Turns to Fiction

For me, there are so many lessons learned and heartfelt moments that have come from writing stories about culture through different characters' perspectives. It has given me the chance to learn from myself and my past and to share in other's lessons and traditions. Today, I am grateful for the opportunity to share this article written in the Pittsburgh City Paper about Chance Meetings. Here is a quote from the article, Though "Cadmium and Crimson" is set in what Wangu calls a romanticized rural India, most of these 13 stories take place in present-day India and America. "Secret Healer" details the harrowing, Dickensian journey of a poor rural boy who becomes an indentured servant in the city. Wangu drew on experiences with friends and family in India. "They have these helpers they...

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