Thursday, December 1, 2016

Taj Mahal by Moonlight, painting by Charles William Bartlett

Photo: The Taj Mahal by Moonlight (1923), oil on canvas painting by Charles William Bartlett, now located in Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawaii, USA

Charles William Bartlett was an English artist who settled in Hawaii, USA. In 1913, Bartlett along with his wife traveled to South Asia and the Far East during which he visited the Taj Mahal. The painting of the monument depicts it when it was in a state of disrepair and lack of proper maintenance. However, it had enough splendor to inspire him to paint the monument of love.

Ever since the Taj Mahal was built, it has been able to instill in the visitors a sense of emotional attachment with it. Incidentally, it creates different emotions in different people. This painting invokes a sense of lost grandeur as well as a majestic invincibility. Also there is a mystic, eerie atmosphere surrounding it. As it is the view of the monument lit by moonlight, which is a romantic experience to most visitors, the painting also makes the viewer remember her/his loved ones.

The Taj Mahal is a Mughal period mausoleum, constructed mainly with translucent Makrana marble and decorated with inlays of precious and semiprecious gemstones. It is situated on the south bank of the Yamuna River in the Indian city of Agra.

Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1631 in memory of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to their 14th child, construction of the monument began in 1632. The main mausoleum was completed in 1643, work continuing for another ten years till the rest of the complex was completed.

The monument incorporates the architectural and art traditions of earlier Mughal and Persian buildings. It is considered the best example of Mughal Architecture.

The Taj Mahal complex, which has many other buildings, has esthetically landscaped lawns and magnificent gardens. There are several other mausoleums, including those of Jahan's other wives, and a larger tomb near the mausoleum for the favorite servant of Mumtaz.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the seven wonders of the modern world, and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Rabindranath Tagore described it as ‘the tear-drop on the cheek of time’. For many others it is the monument of love. The imperial court documents describe Jahan's inconsolable grief on the death of Mumtaz as the inspiration for the monument.

Soon after the completion of the monument, his son Aurangzeb deposed Shah Jahan and placed him under house arrest at Agra Fort. On his death, Aurangzeb buried in the mausoleum Jahan next to his beloved wife.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Buddha's Hand, an unusual citrus fruit

Photo 1: Buddha's Hand, closed hand-shaped green fruit on semi-dwarf plant

Photo 2: Buddha's Hand, ripe closed hand shaped fruit

Buddha's Hand is a bizarre citron. Its scientific name is Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis, and is a member of the Citrus genus to which lemons, oranges, grapefruit and limes belong.

It’s called Buddha's Hand because of the shape of the fruits that resembles a human hand with fingerlike projections. The origin of this citrus plant, also known as Fingered Citron, is traced to northeast India and China.

The Fingered Citron is an evergreen, large, fast-growing shrub that can grow to a small tree of 3m to 5m height. It has long thorny branches and oblong leaves. Its white flowers have a purple tint and appear in fragrant clusters.

The plant loves temperate climate, and is sensitive to extreme climatic conditions like excessive heat and frost. It can be reproduced from branch cuttings.

Unlike other citrus fruits, Buddha's Hand fruit, looking like a lemon with fingerlike projections, has a sweet aroma. It contains only a very small amount of pulp and negligible juice, and is seedless.

Admired for its unique shape and aroma, the fruit can be eaten raw. It is mainly used in various recipes for its unique flavor, lemony zest and zing, and also to flavor alcoholic beverages. It can be sliced into strips, or chopped and added as special ingredients in sweet breads, cakes, cookies and ice creams.

In traditional medicine, the sliced, dried peel of immature fruits is recommended as a tonic. The fruit is known to help relieve pain and discomfort due to injuries, swellings and bruises and to relieve discomforts related to respiratory diseases, diarrhea, constipation, high blood pressure, heart problems, menstrual issues, etc. (This is no medical advice, consult a doctor).

The fruit is important as a religious offering at Buddhist temples. Buddha prefers fruits with closed fingers, resembling folded hands symbolizing the act of prayer. Some fruits of this plant naturally resemble Buddha's hand symbol and are specially revered. The fruit is a symbol of good fortune, longevity and happiness in China where it is also a traditional offering in temples and given as a New Year gift.

The Fingered Citron is very fragrant and is used in Japan, Korea and China as a perfume for rooms and clothing. It is also grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and in pots placed on porticos and terraces.