Thursday, January 5, 2017

Burmese Girl with Thanaka Paste on Her Cheeks

Photo: A Burmese girl with thanaka cosmetic paste applied on her cheeks and a straw hat

This girl wearing a conical straw hat and wearing a coat of thanaka cosmetic paste on her cheeks was seen selling jade necklaces to tourists at Mingun Pahtodawgyi (incomplete stupa in Mingun), northwest of Mandalay in central Myanmar (Burma) in February 2005.

Thanaka is a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from any of the thanaka trees growing in central Myanmar. These are perennial trees, which include Murraya spp (thanaka) and Limonia acidissima (wood apple). They must be at least 35 years old to yield good quality cosmetic paste. Generally, cut logs are sold in the market from which buyers make the paste, or thanaka can be bought as ready-to-apply paste or in powder form.

Thanaka cream can be prepared from the powder of the bark, wood or even roots of a thanaka tree, mixing it with water. It is has a sweet fragrance, and looks like sandalwood paste.

For over 2000 years, Burmese women (and even children) have been using thanaka to apply on their faces (or even the whole body), and now the culture has spread to the neighboring countries such as Thailand.

Apart being a type cosmetic, thanaka imparts a cooling effect and is a good shield against sunburn, and also an antifungal. It is believed to be a cure against skin infections, acne, blackheads and also lightens the skin.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Love Locks at Namsan Park, Seoul

Photo: Love Locks at Namsan Park, Seoul, South Korea

The Namsan Park covers Mt. Namsan and its surrounding areas in central Seoul, South Korea. The N Seoul Tower, a radio and TV communication tower, doubles up as an observation tower too because it offers panoramic views of Seoul's skyline.

Interestingly, the tower’s observation deck attracts a lot of lovers who believe that locking padlocks to the railings there as a symbol of their loves can make their loves everlasting. The padlocks that you see in the picture are locked by lovers who may be visiting the spot only for this purpose.

The tradition of love locks has its origin in a failed Serbian love story of World War I vintage. The location is the bridge Most Ljubavi (the Bridge of Love) in Vrnjačka Banja. Nada, a schoolmistress, fell in love with an officer named Relja, who too committed to her love. But soon Relja had to go to Greece on war duty and eventually he fell in love with another woman there. Nada, who came to know of her lover breaking off, could not recover from the blow and soon died due to heartbreak.

After this sad incident, the local young women started writing their own names along with the names of their lovers on padlocks which they locked on to the railings of the Bridge of Love where Nada and Relja used to meet.

In early 2000s, love locks started appearing in the rest of Europe, including in France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Gradually the tradition caught up at various locations in several other countries such as Algeria, Australia, Canada, United States, Taiwan and Uruguay.

A Bunch of Raw Mango Fruits

Photo: Raw mango fruits from Brazil

The photo shows a bunch of purple colored raw mangoes in a mango orchard in a commercial mango farm in/near Petrolina in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil. Petrolina is the largest producer of fruits such as mangoes, grapes and guavas in Brazil.

The variety/species of this mango cultivar is unidentified, though the mangoes look like Tommy Atkins.

Though there are many cultivars of mango, the "Indian mango" or the "common mango", Mangifera indica, is the only mango most commonly cultivated in several tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

Though many people in Southeast Asia consider the durian as the "king of fruits" for its large size and strong odor, many others call the mango the "king of fruits" for its taste, color and nutritional value.

Ripe fruits of mangoes are generally sweet, although the taste and texture of the flesh may vary from one cultivar to another. The commonest use of the mango as a food is to consume it uncooked as a fruit when it is ripe.

Unripe mangoes are generally sour, and the best for the preparation of pickles, chutneys, side dishes, or eaten raw with salt and/or chili, or any other ingredient according to individual tastes.

Ripe mango fruit jelly/pulp is used to prepare fruity drinks, mixing with other ingredients such as sugar, milk, etc. They may also be used as a flavoring and major ingredient in ice creams, fruit bars, pies, milkshakes, desserts, jams, juices, etc.

IMPORTANT: If you look carefully at the right hand side of the photo, you can see an Indian peacock hiding among the green grass/small bushes. Enlarge the photo, if needed, or just save it to your computer and look carefully.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Citadel of Aleppo

Photo: steps leading to the inner gate of the Citadel of Aleppo in Northern Syria, photo take in 1996

The Citadel of Aleppo is a fortified palace in the centre of the old city of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is one of the oldest and largest castles in the world, which suffered extensive damages as a result of the ongoing Syrian civil war; the above photo was taken in 1996, well before the civil war began.

After the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, the Syrian government forces used Citadel of Aleppo as a shield and convenient location to fire at the rebel forces who retaliated because of which some parts of the citadel were damaged in 2012. Further, the photos released in February 2016 revealed more extensive damages to it.

With a recorded history since the middle of the 3rd millennium BC, the citadel hill has been occupied by several civilizations including the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ayyubids and Mamluks. Some of them built or rebuilt the ancient structures on the citadel mount. But most of the structures seen presently were built during the Ayyubid reign.

The citadel was one of the major tourist destinations in Syria before the civil war began, both for domestic and foreign travelers. The upscale Carlton Hotel, which stood directly opposite the citadel and popular among foreign tourists, was obliterated in an explosion in 2014.

According to a UN report, 22 heritage sites in Aleppo have been completely destroyed. To the north of the citadel, the Agha Jeq Mosque was hit by airstrikes and shattered, as photos published on 12 January 2016 reveal.

As per reports, six UNESCO World Heritage sites in Syria have been extensively damaged or totally destroyed and a good number of historical artifacts have been looted and they eventually found their way in the gray international art market.

The Libyan Sibyl on Sistine Chapel Ceiling by Michelangelo

Photo: The restored Libyan Sibyl, fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michelangelo

The image shows the restored Libyan Sibyl fresco painted by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which was painted by Michelangelo incorporating various Bible stories between 1508 and 1512. These frescoes are considered the masterpieces of high renaissance art.

According to Greek mythology, the Libyan Sibyl (sibyl = prophetess), named Phemonoe, was the daughter of Zeus and Lamia, and the first woman ever to chant oracles. She is believed to have divine powers even after death, giving oracular prophesies through voices and omens.

Phemonoe was the priestess presiding over the Oracle of Zeus-Ammon in the Siwa Oasis in the Libyan Desert, and the name Sibyl was given to her by the Libyans.

According to Plutarch, the founder of Alexandria, Alexander the Great, was told by the Libyan Sibyl that he would be the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Viktor Vasnetsov: Ivan Tsarevich and the Firebird on a Magic Carpet

Photo: Ivan Tsarevich and the Firebird on a Magic Carpet (1880), oil on canvas painting by Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926), 165 × 297 cm, State Art Museum of Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

The painting shows the popular Russian folklore hero Ivan Tsarevich along with the firebird travelling on a flying magic carpet along with the Firebird. The painting was created by the Russian revivalist movement artist Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926).

Ivan Tsarevich, one of the most popular heroes of Russian folklore, is often portrayed as the youngest of the three sons of a king or a peasant in different stories. As he has to be a superhero in each story, having no straightjacket character or origins, his personal history may vary in each story. But he is always shown fighting treacherous villains and finally winning the hands of his beloved Tsarina.

The name itself has two defining components; Ivan the commonest of the Russian names, and Tsarevich which means ‘the Tsar's son’. And he is sometimes attributed with magic powers. The antagonists also may be deathless characters having devilish powers. His friends may also have magical powers. His animal helpers can be a bird, a lion or a magical horse.

In one of the most popular folktales, ‘Prince Ivan, the Firebird and The Gray Wolf’, he was helped by a magical wolf as he captured the Firebird, after which he won the hand of the Tsarina.

Indian peacock perched on a tree stub

Photo: A peacock in the morning sun in Wasgamuwa National Park, Sri Lanka

The photo shows an Indian peacock (Pavo cristatus) sitting on the dry branch of a tree and enjoying the morning sun in Wasgamuwa National Park in Sri Lanka.

As you can see, this is one of the best shots of a male peafowl that shows its real shape and beauty when sitting on a perch. You may take note of its tail (train) and compare its length with the rest of its body.

The Indian peafowl can be found in most regions of India, Sri Lanka and across South Asia as resident breeder, but in areas below an altitude of 1,800 meters from the sea level. They can be seen in forests, grasslands, cultivated areas and even around human habitations.

Apart from its original habitats, the peafowl has been introduced to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Guyana, Honduras, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Reunion, South Africa, Suriname, United States, Uruguay, and many more countries.

Portrait of Grigori Rasputin by Klokachёva EN

Photo: Portrait drawing of Rasputin, signed and dated in 1914 by Elena Nikandrovna Klokacheva, colour pencils and pastel on grey card, 81.5 x 56 cm, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia

The history of fine arts has an interesting artist, Elena Nikandrovna Klokacheva, who is still remembered and taken seriously just for one of her many works. That is the drawing that you see above. It is one of the prized possessions of the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Klokacheva (also spelt as Klakachova and Klakacheva), was born on 25 November 1871 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. But historians are not sure about the date or year of her death excepting that it was ‘not before 1943’. This computation is based on the fact that Klokacheva had made charcoal portraits of some of the Spanish military physicians who were on assignment the Spanish Blue Division, participating in the Siege of Leningrad, had a field dressing station in Pavlovsk in 1942 and 1943. Their families still have two of the portraits in Spain.

And the value of this portrait of Rasputin by Elena Klokachёva may hit through the roof just because it is one of the few surviving portraits of Rasputin.

Perhaps no other historical figure from anywhere in the world have lived so long through various media as much as Grigori Rasputin since his death in 1916. Ever since then, till the present times, he has been appearing continuously as a popular character in dozens of films, books, TV productions, theater, comics, music and many more media.

Rasputin is reported to have prophetically said, “Without me everything will collapse”. And the outcome of the Bolshevik revolution proved he correctly predicted the future of Russia.

In yet another case, he is said to have predicted his own murder and warned in a letter written to the emperor Nicholas II that if the Russian nobles would do it, it would be the end of the monarchy. Just to prove he was right, following the February Revolution of 1917, the emperor and his family were imprisoned, and eventually executed by the Bolsheviks on the night of 16-17 July 1918.

A curious and interesting observation of life imitating art can be seen in the death of Bobby Farrell, the male member of the music band Boney M. One of the hit songs of the band is “Rasputin", loosely based on the life of the Russian mystic. Farrell had even dressed up as Rasputin in some of the stage performances of the song by Boney M. On 30 December 2010 Farrell died of heart failure in a hotel in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Reportedly, it occurred in the same city and on the same date in December as the death of Rasputin.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Kandahar Lady of Rank, Engaged in Smoking

Image: from the lithograph on plate 29 of 'Afghaunistan' by Lieutenant James Rattray, 1848, source: British Library

The subject of this portrait, Begum Jan, had been described by James Rattray only by a vague reference as a 'Lady of Rank in Kandahar', giving no further information about her real identity, and leaving much to speculation. As the title indicates, and as the other images of Afghan ladies in the other plates show, the woman is seen with a hookah for smoking tobacco (or sometimes cannabis).

However, Rattray followed it up with unrelated references to historical Afghan ladies such as Wafadar Begum (or, Wafa Begam, the favorite and senior most wife of Shuja Shah Durrani, the ruler of the Durrani Empire), and "the brave widow" of Muhammad Akram Khan (1817-1852), the powerful chief of Zamindawar, a historical region to the south of Kandahar.

According to Rattray, many of these Afghan ladies attained historical status because of their "conjugal attachment and devotion" to powerful rulers and clan leaders. For example, he refers to the "the brave widow" (unnamed) of Akram Khan, who was executed in 1842 after he refused allegiance with Shah Shuja. The bereaved widow threw off her burqa, organised his tribesmen and led them to battle with the forces of Shah Shuja, riding her husband's horse, though she was driven back after a desperate battle.

Saturday, December 31, 2016