The Charminar in Hyderabad was built in 1591 under the direction of Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. The structure was built to commemorate the city’s deliverance from a plague and was sited at the centre of his recently moved capital with approaches to it from the four cardinal directions. This view is from one of the upper levels of the Charminar and is looking south. To the right of the road is the Makkah Masjid, also built by the 5th Qutb Shahi Sultan. The whole area is a buzz of bazaars, jewellery shops and street food stalls – aided and abeted by the equally loud buzz from the hundreds of tuk-tuks patrolling the area, as you can also see in the photo
Tenganan is a traditional ‘Bali Aga Village’.
Inhabited solely by the original Balinese pre-Hindu settlers, run in accordance with traditional customs and untainted by any other outside influence, it remained essentially isolated until the 1970’s. Since then, tourists have begun arriving in increasing numbers to observe their many unique festivals, ceremonies and handicrafts. The men of the village are traditionally skilled in making etched drawings on dried bark and parchment; the women are even more proficient at ‘geringsing double Ikat weaving’. Whilst some of the most restrictive ancient practices have been relaxed, this is still (just) a community run along extremely traditional lines. Strict rules on marriage, for example, still mean that should a villager marry an outsider, they must leave the village for good. These same rules, however, have for centuries prevented problems of interbreeding and have maintained a somewhat diverse gene pool. With a population of some 500 families and the lure of modern society, how much longer this can be maintained is questionable.
As we arrived, a pig was being slaughtered in the main street for that night’s festival and there was a busy and excited air about the place. Crafts were on display and for sale everywhere and I was curious as to how an essentially rural community could afford to spend so much time and energy on craft production and ceremonial observance. How did they feed themselves for instance?
Our guide provided part of the answer with a mythical story…..”Based on folklore, once upon a time, a Bedahulu King lost one of his favourite horses. The people looked for it to the east and the horse was finally found dead by Ki Patih Tunjung Biru, the King’s right hand. For his loyalty, the King finally gave Ki Patih Tunjung Biru an authority to govern the land as far as the aroma of the carrion of the horse can be smelled. Ki Patih was an intelligent person, so he cut the carrion into pieces and spread it as far as he could. Thus he received a quite large area.”……The Tenganan are wealthy land owners!!! To this day, they rent out areas of the surrounding land to the poorer immigrant societies of Bali and exact a price of a portion of their produce in return. Later in the day we were to hike the surrounding hills and see this modern medieval practice in action. With their food needs satisfied by their land tenants, the Tenganan could divert their energies to more cerebral activities.
The lady in the photograph was born in the village and had already reached teenage years before the village started to ‘open up’. She must have seen enormous changes in her lifetime, but seemed completely unphased by them; the fact that she spoke English as at least one of her foreign languages (even Bali Aga language is different to Balinese, or Indonesian) was a total non-issue for her. Her skill was the gerinsing double Ikat weaving and what a skill this is. All the cotton is grown locally (by the land tenants obviously) and each strand is individually hand dyed to a pre-planned pattern using natural colours (red being the hardest and most costly to master) To avoid colours mixing at this stage, each colour is applied separately, with the strands identified for other colours being covered by a kind of tape. Just to reach this stage in the process takes about a month. At the bottom left of the photo is the cotton at this stage of production (the colours are those of the tape, not the underlying dyed, or un-dyed cotton) The weaving of the geringsing double ikat cloth is done entirely by hand on a basic wooden loom as you see in the photo. The level of skill, patience and experience required to produce a first-class piece is staggering. Depending on the final size of the piece, this stage can take between one and three months and we calculated that a month’s worth of dying and weaving would produce in the order of US$100-200. This may be a significant income for this generation of villagers, but we were not surprised to hear from this woman that neither of her daughters had continued the tradition – they had neither the patience to learn the skill, nor the desire to reap their relatively meagre returns. It is certainly difficult to imagine this skill and tradition being retained for more than a few generations into the future, but for the meantime, these cloths continue to be sought after for their beauty and sacred and magical qualities; the cloths are used at all significant rituals in an individuals life and are thought to offer protection against danger, impurities and ‘baleful influences’.
Captivated by the village, the traditions, the beauty of the textiles and the character of the woman herself, we bought ourselves a small piece of this potentially vanishing culture and it now hangs in our home. Has our purchase helped preserve a culture, or did our mere presence help destroy it? I’m not sure what is the true answer.
A Sunday in Mumbai and my plans for visiting the UNESCO World Heritage listed caves at Ellora over the next couple of days are in tatters as all the trains to Aurangabad are sold out. Whilst mulling over my options with a cup of tea, I stumble upon an E-book on my iPad that I bought a while ago, but had since forgotten, and start reading. It’s called ‘How to Teach Quantum Physics to your Dog’ and I’m entranced. I can’t claim to fully understand the concepts of the physics involved, but I can just about follow and believe in the example experiments that are described to support the concepts. I can also understand that out of these concepts and experiments mankind has developed highly useful applications; the silicon chips that are driving whatever device you are reading this on, and quite possibly the fibre optic cable that all this information is travelling on before it gets to your device are all products of Quantum Physics – it’s bloody clever stuff!
Later in the afternoon I go for a walk with my camera to take some photos. I know that around the corner there is a well known church at St Mary’s Mount and, this being a Sunday, there ought to be a lot going on and consequently some good photo opportunities. Indeed this is the case; families and friends are out in force and the church is very busy. Now I am not a religious person. In comparison to the paragraph above, I can understand the concepts this time, but now I can’t believe in any of the examples that are put forward to support the concepts. In terms of the practical positive outcomes of religion, I can accept that a lot of good derives from it, just as is the case with science. However, again just as with science, it is not a one way street; both have ‘blotted their copy book’ on many occasions in the past. But that is me. From my observations of the lady in the photo, it was apparent that she had absolute faith in her religious beliefs and I fully respect that. However, it did get me to thinking…..
Quantum physics is all about really small stuff; photons, electrons, ions and the like. At this level, things behave very differently from how we observe things behaving in the everyday spectrum of life. At any one time this small stuff can be behaving like a particle or a wave, and, until we measure or observe it, it could be in any particular state, with almost infinite possibilities of how, or where, to present itself. Now, if, as has been demonstrated to be true, the function of the human brain is driven by the activity of such small stuff (brain waves, neurons, call it what you like) what does that tell us about the function or potential capabilities of the brain. My brain and the brain of the lady in the photo are made of fundamentally the same organic matter, so how come she can so obviously believe in a concept that I cannot? Is it because our brains are behaving in a Quantum manner? How can a theoretical Quantum physicist comprehend and order their thoughts so as to be able to truly understand the concepts, when I cannot? A classical music composer……I cannot! An out of body experience……I haven’t! ‘Seeing’ ghosts, aliens or the future…….I’ve no wish to. The powers of an Indian Mystic……am I being influenced by my current location? For sure upbringing, culture, expectation, education, past experience etc can all have an effect on what the brain causes you to believe, or perceive to be true. However, is this just because of the act of concious observation, or expectation being forced upon the brain causes the brain waves/neurons to behave in a certain manner? Indeed Quantum Theory could very well be central to the very idea of consciousness itself, but at this point I’ve done quite enough phylosophizing for the day and I can’t quite get my neurons into the right quantum state to be able to express myself lucidly!