Petrozavodsk–Shades of the Soviet Era

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Sep 122014

98737581_large_0_1b358_ea9119a8_XLPetrozavodsk is the capital of the Republic of Karelia extending along the western edge of Lake Onega. It is one of Russia’s thriving cities with many green parks and inviting squares flanking its broad, tree-lined avenues. With a university, the city has a large energetic student population and its proximity to Finland lends a markedly European atmosphere.

Literally meaning “Peter’s Factory”, the city was founded in 1703 to establish an iron foundry to manufacture and supply anchors for the Baltic Fleet during the Great Northern War between Russia and Sweden. Today the local economy is based on timber and paper manufacturing with some metal working. Employment rate is high and well paid jobs are prevalent.


Petrozavodsk is a blend of Russian and local Karelian culture evident in the local cuisine and language. As the capital of Karelia, it is a local hub for nightlife and shopping, with several new shopping centers opening in recent years. Architecture of the city is mainly neo-classical, however some traditional wooden buildings can be found off of the beaten track.

Our day ended with a quite wonderful Karelian performance of folk dancing and live music.

More to Mysore than a Palace…Much More

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Apr 192012

Today started early with a temple visit. We are developing more practiced eyes for distinguishing the different styles, schools of architecture and periods.

Somnathpur Keshava temple is an hour drive outside of Mysore. This less-visited temple is a remarkably well-preserved example of Hoysala architeture. Built in the 13th-century It is a symmetrical star-shaped building, carved of soapstone both inside and out with ornate images of Hindu legends and gods. Each of the six points of the star were carved by a different master carver, his apprentices and family so each is a distinctly different interpretation of the same themes. it was only used as an active temple for 100 years because India was over run by the Mogul armies who defaced many of these exquisite carvings just like the Christians did in Egypt.

The drive was almost as interesting as the monuments. A local farmer gave us a tour of his village in his bullock cart. We chatted with local women headed to the river to take their bath and we saw how a local entrepreneur could set up his own temple and promote himself.
Lunch was in a castle, the distinctly European Lalitha Mahal Palace. Built by the last raj in 1915 to house his other raj buds or visiting international dignitaries, it is an attempt to emulate British or European royal palaces.

In the afternoon we took in the ornate, pink marble-domed Mysore Palace, the former residence of the local maharaja’s family The term “Mysore Palace” specifically refers to one within the old fort. The Wodeyar rulers first built a palace in Mysore in the 14th century, it was demolished and constructed multiple times. The current palace construction was commissioned in 1897, and it was completed in 1912 and expanded later around 1940

Intricately carved rosewood doors and ceilings some with inlaid ivory work, marble figurines, collections of caskets, paintings of the members of the royal family and other objects of personal use exude opulence, though age has deteriorated most with fading and discoloration. An abundance of ancient ceremonial objects like glittering gold and wooden frames that once composed an elephant’s train for carrying royalty and other persons of distinction throughout Mysore’s ancient streets.


 Southern India, UTube links  Comments Off on Kerala
Apr 142012

Although leaving the state of Tamil Nadu and entering Kerala seems in many ways like going from Arizona into California with all the requisite inspections, the differences are more dramatic. Kerala is lush, green and mountainous region/state whose government places a huge emphasis on environmental impact for all political and business decisions. The absence of litter, garbage and signage is astounding in comparison to the majority of Tamil Nadu. Population in the ghats (mountains) is less dense than in the cities and so litter is not as big a challenge as in the population centers like Kochin.

Tourism is Tamil Nadu’s major industry attracting both Indian and international visitors. Heavy taxation supports many social programs and one the highest literacy rates in India. As we were driving up into the mountains, we passed a small convoy of bullock pulled carts that our driver explained were smugglers who have ancient rights that allow them to circumvent the laws particularly those pertains to interstate transport.


In part because it is such a pleasant and comparatively tranquil area, Kerala is a mecca for traditional India arts including dance.  A recent Sunday New York Times Arts article explained that India has at least eight schools of dance that have been officially labeled classical (as well as innumerable folk forms). India’s 20th century of complex political and social history brought most of these forms close to extinction by the 1950s.

Schools of dance in the past were connected to female temple dancers known as devadasis. This legendary caste was surrounded in moral controversies (some were concubines, some were vowed to chastity, some dwindled into prostitution) and now are all essentially defunct. Classical dance forms today are revitalized and well established;they’ve been extensively reconstructed—and inevitably altered—during the last century. Odissi, which came the closest to total oblivion, evolved in the state of Orissa on India’s east coast.

Undergoing a renaissance, Odissi currently is strong. What’s special about Odissi? Its most distinguishing features are its sensuous shifts of weight (creating a series of S-bend curves primarily at knee, torso, and neck), its rhythmic phrasing and its connection to ancient sculptural depictions of dance. Like many of the traditional dance forms of Southeast Asia it derives from the Natya Shastra, the treatise on the performing arts written between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200. Many of these bas-reliefs bear a point-for-point resemblance to the way today’s Odissi dancers move. Yet this ancient form is also a new one. Though once its greatest exponents were the devadasis, their art had dwindled largely to music making by the early 20th century. A separate Odissi lineage was (and remains) that of the gotipuas, boys trained until puberty to dance women’s roles and to perform acrobatic feats and tableaus (it was startling to see two of these troupes rehearsing in Orissa), and a third Odissi strain was a folk tradition. Core features have been codified only in living memory and are still subject to debate. Certainly Odissi’s range and rich beauties deserve to be called classical. Like several other classical forms in India, it has large capacities both for pure form (nritta) and for poetically dramatic expression (abhinaya). At Nrityagram it’s spellbinding, in the abhinaya sections, to watch the dancers’ facial mobility and rapt gestural communicativeness.

Making Tracks to Madurai…

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Apr 092012

A travel day with stops at a Dalit village and women’s’ cooperative, a Dravidian temple and a Chettiara town, we continue to Madurai, the second-largest city in the state of Tamil Nadu.





Madurai has been a major settlement for two millennia. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. An important Hindu pilgrimage site, Madurai is a temple city that draws streams of worshippers to prayer ceremonies everyday. Madurai’s recorded history goes back to the 3rd century BC and the city is mentioned by Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to India. It was annexed by the British East India Company in 1801.

Meenakshi temple complex in Madurai is one of the largest and certainly one of the most ancient. According to legend Madurai is the actual site where the wedding between Shiva and Meenakshi took place. The gigantic temple complex,the statues exploring the entire range of human emotions,everything here is larger than life. The structures that are standing today date mostly from the twelfth to the eighteenth century.

We take tuktuks to the bustling marketplaces in the evening. All streets merge concentrically like lotus petals around Sundareswarar Meenakshi, the glorious fortress-like Hindu temple in the center of the city. Meenakshi’s is vividly colored and the labyrinthine grounds are dedicated to the Hindu Lord Shiva who, as legend has it, descended on Madurai to bless the city during its first days, and showered divine nectar down from his locks. Thus Madurai’s original name was the “City of Divine Nectar.”

Chennai Morning…

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Apr 042012

Perched upon the ancient clay where the Cooum and Adyar rivers snake through their last miles toward the Bay of Bengal, Chennai (formerly Madras) is one of India’s largest cities. Chennai is also the center of Tamil film industry; A.R. Rahman, composer of the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, calls this city home.

Modern Chennai had its origins as a colonial city and its initial growth was closely tied to its importance as an artificial harbor and trading centre. When the Portuguese arrived in 1522, they built a port and named it São Tomé, after the Christian apostle St. Thomas, who is believed to have preached there between the years 52 and 70. The region then passed to the Dutch, who established themselves near Plicat just north of the city in 1612.

The present day city of Chennai started as an English settlement on a piece of waste land to be known as Fort St. George. It grew into a fortified settlement of British merchants, factory workers, and other colonial settlers. Expanding upon this settlement, the English colony grew to include a number of other European communities, new British settlements, and various native villages, one of which was named Madraspatnam. All were combined into the city Madras. However, it is widely recorded that while the official centre of the present location was designated Fort St. George, the British applied the name Madras to include areas which had grown up around the Fort including the “White Town” consisting principally of British settlers, and “Black Town” consisting of principally Catholic Europeans and allied Indian minorities.

We arrived in Chennai on the first night of a marathon worldwide cricket event (56 days). Celebrity and VIP opening night plus widespread highway construction combined for a monumental traffic jam. We are off to explore Chennai for an all day experience tomorrow.

Today was intense and totally engaging! Soon after breakfast we were out walking Chennai’s distinct districts. Neighborhood boundaries still seem defined by early colonial influence. One of our first stops was to have our left palm intricately hennaed by a young man recently come from Delhi seeking entrepreneurial opportunity here. What fun and amazingly intricate design. Lots more photo ops of historical sights right next to enormous slums next to exclusive neighborhoods. The shifts are startling and abrupt.

We next visited an enormous sari store that carried everything from inexpensive acrylic work and uniform saris for employment in hotels or businesses to exquisite intricately embroidered silk for weddings or other festive occasions plus every thing in between. The rich and varied color combinations were truly “eye candy” and help explain how the cities’ vast throngs of women at EVERY walk of life could all be so colorfully arrayed.

The afternoon was consumed by participating in the festival. Check out my separate festival blog on this adventure.