Wednesday 18 May 2016

The Stunning Paintings of the Gifted Jesuit-Artist Antonio Moscheni.

Inside the St. Aloysius Chapel. 
During our visit to Mangalore, on the way back from green Sullia, we visited the St. Aloysius chapel. I was so awed and inspired by the paintings inside the Chapel that I think it warrants one post dedicated to the master artist- Antonio Moscheni, the man behind the stunning art.
The Chapel from outside. 
Let me begin by talking a bit about the Chapel. The St. Aloysius Chapel was built in 1882. The southern wing of the building was reserved as a Chapel as a place of prayer for the students. The Chapel has a large prayer hall with 2 aisles on the side. There are paintings on the ceiling of the main hall, the arches and also the ceilings and walls of the aisles. The paintings on the ceilings are done on canvas and the ones on the walls are fresci.
On the ceiling are oil paintings and the walls have fresci. 
The central rows of paintings on the ceiling depicts the life of St. Aloysius to whom the Chapel is dedicated. The paintings depict his childhood, his first communion, seeking admission to the Jesuit order, his service to people during plague in Rome and so on.
The borders that you see on the walls and around the paintings are all painted. 
The sloping part of the ceilings depict the Apostles. Antonio’s love for flowers can be seen in his paintings, as each panel has a different variety of flowers, and very much life like.
The upper arches of the main hall also depict the lives of the Saints of the Church. The life of Jesus is portrayed on the paintings in the aisle. The largest painting in the Chapel is on the rear wall, opposite the main altar. It shows Jesus with a group of children and is considered the best of Moscheni’s work. Due to seepage of rain water the painting was damaged due to fungus and calcium carbonate crystals but has been now restored, excepting the right hand bottom corner to show the difference between the damaged and restored part.
The largest painting in the Chapel, of Jesus with children is considered as Antonio's best work. 
The stones or bricks with which the whole Chapel is paved were brought from Bergamo in Italy. It gives the illusion of steps.
The tiles for the flooring were brought from Bergamo which gives the illusion of steps. 
It was in 1899, that Brother Anotnio Moscheni was called from Italy to infuse colour and life in the walls  of the Chapel. Brother Antonio was born in Stezzano in Italy on January 17, 1854. He attended the famous Academia Carrara in Bergamo and went on to study in detail and contemplate the master pieces in the Vatican as well for a year. He had also earned a great reputation as a master painter decorating the Sanctuary of Madonna Del Campo in Bergamo. His recognition as a world class painter came during the official exhibitions of his paintings in Milan and Turin in 1883 and 1884 respectively. But he chose to enroll himself as a lay brother in the Society of Jesus in 1889. The senior Jesuits recognized his talent and lest it go waste, after his novitiate,  deputed him to paint churches in Albania and Piacenza.

The statue of Brother Antonio Moscheni. 
He was then asked to go to the then little known place in India, called Mangalore, to paint a Chapel. He readily took up the offer.  He came to Mangalore in 1899 and completed the painting of the Chapel in over 2 and a half years, single handedly.
Notice the intricate flowers and every other detailing.

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As a Jesuit, he had his religious and spiritual duties to perform, after which he would spend long hours suspended on the scaffolding, painting the walls of the chapel all alone and in climate hard on a European.   Working with the fumes of the oils and varnishes, in low light conditions (there was no electricity in those days) and in the high humidity and sweltering heat was taking toll on his health. After sunset when it was too dark to paint, he would return to his room to plan the next day’s work. In his spare time he would illustrate scenes from the scriptures and at the time of his death he had drawn 10 volumes of illustrations.
The pillars which look like marble were actually painted that way by Antonio to give that effect. 
The paints he was accustomed to in Italy were not readily available in India and it would have been very expensive to import them, so he made his own paints using vegetable dyes. He achieved an incredible feat of painting the Chapel in 2 and half years, whereas the restoration work by the INTACH team itself took 4 years by 7 specialists. It is worthy of note that Moscheni did not have any models to base his work on. He relied solely on his imagination, honed by meditation to conjure up the pictures which he translated into paintings. Moscheni shared a deep love for Nature which is evident in his paintings which abounds in fruits and flowers. Painting garlands of local flowers seemed to be his specialty. His ancestral house in Italy still has flowers from his earlier work as an artist. Nowhere on his paintings has he used his initials, dedicating his work solely to God. Moscheni single handedly painted every inch of the Chapel, a total of 829 sq. meters within 2 and a half years.
This looks like a statue, doesn't it. It's actually a painting in monochrome. Unbelievable, right? 

Every inch of the chapel was painted by Antonio. 
The paintings are now 115 years old and are restored every 25 years. It takes around 4 years for the restoration, during which time the Chapel is closed to visitors. The last restoration was in 1991-94 by the INTACH-Lucknow team lead by Dr. O.P. Agarwal.
This metallic thing in the centre is a painting too, as are the pillars.

The statues on either side of the altar are paintings in monochrome. 
After completing the painting in the St. Aloysius Chapel, Moscheni was invited to Mumbai, then known as Bombay, to paint the interiors of the Holy Name Cathedral, which, in spite of the challenges of the vaulted ceiling he painted in one and half years. He was to return to Italy after that but was requested to come to Cochin to paint another Church. He took that up although he was ill due to the humid and tropical climate. This along with the difficulty that no one spoke his language and he did not know the local language. Then there was an outbreak of plague in Mangalore in 1902, when the Father in charge of the hospital asked for volunteers and Moscheni signed up as one in spite of his own health issues. Realizing that his days were numbered, he worked harder to finish his assignment in Cochin, which he did in a span of 5 months. His body eventually gave up and he had to be admitted to the Carmelite Hospial in Magnamey, where he breathed his last at the age of 52 on 15th November, 1905. 
You guessed's a painting, not a statue, as are the cherubs. 
The Chapel is open every day from 9 am to 6 pm.  A Guide is available to explain the paintings and the Art from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 1.30 pm and 2.30 pm to 6 pm. The service of the Guide is free although people may make a contribution towards the maintenance of the Chapel. Photography is strictly prohibited inside. I requested the Guide inside to send me these pictures, so that I could use them for this blog post. My gratitude to him. 

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Saturday 14 May 2016

In Love with Indian Summer!

I am a person with a very low threshold to bearing the heat of the sun. So, it’s needless to say how much I dreaded the Indian tropical summer every year.  But since the last year, I don’t know what has come over me, I love the Indian summer and have even started romanticizing it.
I've realized that as long as you keep yourself hydrated and stay in the shade when the sun is right overhead, it’s totally possible to love summer. In fact, this summer, I have been braving the heat to go to the Pune market almost every week, and just take in the sights, colours and the beauty in the chaos. Call me crazy! Summer brings along a burst of colours, varieties of fruit and a spread of food like none other.

Let me begin with the visual treats that Nature offers us to mitigate the summer heat. Roads in cities are lined with benign Gulmohar trees offering shade and infusing energy by way of colours to commuters. Gulmohar blooms in red, yellow and blue too. You must have surely seen these. 
The Red Gulmohar. Picture taken from here

Peela Gulmohar. Picture taken from here. 

Neela Gulmohar. Picture taken from here.
Not only roads, even housing societies have gulmohar trees. In fact as I type this, I am smiling back at the gulmohar tee in full bloom, which is almost hanging into my balcony. I don’t even have to travel. Beauty is all around me. 
The gorgeous gulmohar saying Hi to me from my balcony.
There are many other trees too which flaunt their colours and blooms, the names of which I may not know. But there’s one, the Indian Laburnum, which is sure to warm any heart with its yellows. I remember walking down a lane in Pune lined with these in full bloom, and I was in paradise for some time at least.
Indian Laburnum. Picture taken from here
Some of my favourite fruits grow only during summer, because that is the kind of temperature required for them to ripen well. I saw this cart full of indigenous Indian summer fruits. I don’t know their English names but have eaten them all and they are delectable, each with their unique taste and nutrients to nourish the body for the summer season.

A colourful cart of indigenous summer fruits I saw in Pune. The white round ones are ice apples and taste like tender coconut (tadgola), the bright yellow ones are star fruits. 

Such a happy riot of colours. 
Who doesn't love mangoes? India is blessed with a hundred varieties of mangoes thanks to its soil and climate and yes the summer! Some other fruits available only during summer are the jackfruit and the jamun, both of which I eat in plentiful.
Varieties of mangoes. Picture taken from here.
The black ones are jamun, rich in anti-oxidants. 
Now to talk about the food preparations which are made out of the summer produce. On top of the list would be pickles- mainly the raw mango pickle. Every state in the country, every district, every village and every family has its own recipe for pickles which is passed down from one generation to the other. The pickle is prepared during summer because the hot sun rays are required for maturing the pickle and it is consumed during monsoon, when most vegetables are not easily available and the spices and the oil in the pickle is good for gut health when digestion becomes weak during the season. 

Avakkai or the mango pickle. Picture taken from Jeyashri's Kitchen
I recently visited Lalbaug, in Mumbai where there were several shops selling a 100 varieties of red chillies by the sack, mainly for pickles and masalas which are made during summer. 
The jaw dropping varieties of red chillies in Lalbaug, Mumbai. 

A shop dedicated for grinding spices, in Lalbaug, Mumbai. 
Of course that doesn't stop people like me from devouring pickles in summer too, mainly because this time it was my first attempt at pickle making and it turned out so delicious.
Talking of food, there are preparations that make me nostalgic like the chakka varatti or jackfruit jam and chakka payasam, a pudding made of ripe jackfruit and coconut milk.
The lip smacking chakka varatti or jackfruit jam. Picture taken from Palakkad Chamayal. 
The delectable chakka payasam or jackfruit pudding or kheer. Picture taken from Palakkad Chamayal.
There are also a variety of beverages to beat the summer heat and Nature in her infinite intelligence provides fruits and vegetables in a particular season that provide nutrients and nourishment required for that season. Take the Kokum for example. Its fruit is made into a refreshing summer drink which keeps the body cool and the digestive system working fine. 
A refreshing glass of Kokum sharbat. Picture taken from Myjhola
In some places in India  people drink copious amounts of buttermilk and lemonade to keep themselves hydrated. How can I forget the aam panna, a beverage made with raw mangoes and slightly spiced? It’s an appetizing drink which balances the salt and sugar levels in the body which are lost dues to perspiration and what a wonderful way to keep the body cool.

The copious quantities of buttermilk that was served in Kutch

Aam panna made with raw mangoes. Picture taken from Chefinyou.
On my recent visit to Uttarakhand, I was delighted to taste the juice of the rhododendron flower, which grows only in high altitudes. Locals say that the juice keeps the body cool in the Himalayan summer. I bought a litre of it back home to savour and share with family and friends.
The rhododendron juice. 
Other childhood memories I have of summer are my grandmother making papads at home and drying them on the terrace. They are consumed during the monsoon when fresh vegetables are scarce.
Women drying Pappads. Picture taken from Economic Times.
If summer comes, can Monsoon be far behind? India has been suffering from a severe drought so I hope to God that we have a good Monsoon this year and every year. But till then, it’s time to enjoy the grand and beautiful Indian Summer.

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Monday 11 April 2016

Haridwar- A Photo-essay

On the way back from the Deoriataal-Chopta-Chadrashila peak trek, I had a few hours in Haridwar in the evening. So I decided to attend the grand Ganga aarti at Har ki Pauri ghat and explore the markets at much as I could. Markets, because I love the riot of colours, shapes and fragrances in Indian markets and that is a great indicator of the culture of the place too. 

Read my posts on the Mahabaleshwar market and the Juna Bazaar in Pune. 
The Ganga aarti at Hari ki Pauri ghat. 
The Ganga aarti begins at 6.30 pm and lasts for around 20 minutes. But the crowd starts gathering much before that. The day I had visited was the eve of the 'maha-snaan' or main dipping ritual in the Ganga since it was the time of the Ardh-Kumbh, the religious Hindu congregation that happens once in 6 years ('ardh' meaning half). So I was mentally prepared for the crowd. But I needn't have been petrified of the crowd, sine the local Police, the Army and ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) were doing a commendable job of managing the same. I went to the Har ki Pauri ghat at 5.45 pm to secure a good place from where I could view the aarti. There are 2 options. One is you go to the Har ki Pauri ghat itself where the aarti happens. The second one, which I chose, is to stand right opposite the Har ki Pauri ghat to get a clear and direct view of the ritual. The crowd gathered, the priests assembled and the chanting began. One thing that I liked was that before the aarti all the people gathered are asked to raise their palms to take an oath that they will not pollute the river and will help maintain its sanctity. 

Let me allow the pictures to do the talking :-) 

The sun sets on the river Ganga.
People gathering for the evening aarti. 

The aarti in all its grandeur. The place looked ethereal with the lights of the lamps. 

Since it was the 'Maha-snaan' the next morning, everything was lit up. 

The crowd dispersing after the aarti. 

I was hungry after the aarti and headed to the first shop outside the Har ki Pauri ghat to devour some aloo-puri. (fried bread and potato curry). The quantity was huge as you can see and was served on a leaf. The eatery has no seating arrangement so I had a hard time balancing the food on my left palm, pulling out the puris from under the bowl of curry and eating it..:-) 

Look at the crowd outside Mohan Ji Puriwale, from where I bought aloo-puri. Even Tripadvisor gives it a high rating. 

The neighbouring shop Prachin Mathurawale was quieter and he asked me to stand next to his shop, fearing I would be trampled by the crowd outside his competitor's shop. 

I washed down the heavy dinner with some much need salted Punjabi lassi. Burrp!! 

As I started exploring the market, I spotted several other eateries with their wares stacked interestingly. 

Haridwar, being a religious place, there has to be rosary beads and crystals for the devout. 

Lamps of different shapes and sizes. 

Dupattas and cloth pieces to drape one's shoulders, inscribed with holy names. 

Flower sellers. 

I saw a decent crowd lined up outside this shop. He was selling Basundi (thickened milk) from the big cauldron and pedhas (milk based sweets). Seeing me take a picture, he offered me a free sample. Seeing the delighted expression on my face after tasting it, he asked me if I wanted to buy. I so wanted to eat that, but did not because the aloo-puri had occupied all the space in the stomach. I just bought some pedhas to take back home. 

Making of a pedha. 

In another shop there were colourful bangles. 

And conches to herald the start of a prayer. 

And other offerings to the Gods such as puffed rice, and sugar balls and incense sticks. 

This shop had a collection of walking sticks and damarus, the 2 sided drum used by Lord Shiva. This was the last interesting shop I saw before I arrived at a street with shops stocked with cheap plastic goods.
I was glad I could at least walk around and explore the market in the 4 hours I had in Haridwar. May be I will come back to spend some more quiet time by the river, on a less crowded day. 

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