DAILY PHOTO: Ajanta Sanctuary

Taken on November 19, 2014

Taken on November 19, 2014

There are two types of caves at Ajanta; chaitya-grihas (a.k.a. sanctuary, prayer hall, or meditation hall) and sanghārāmas (a.k.a. vihāras or monasteries.) This is an example of the former, of which there are only a few. In fact, it (cave 26) is the most ornate of the Ajanta sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are distinguished by domed roofs and the presence of a stupa, which is a monument that is typically dome-shaped but need not be so flashy as this one–sometimes they are simply mounds. The sanctuaries also have fanlights (like a transom) that bring in more light than the monasteries.

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Cave 26 also houses the carving of the reclining Buddha that I’m presently using for my header image.

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DAILY PHOTO: Red Horns

Taken near Aurangabad Caves on November 18, 2014

Taken near Aurangabad Caves on November 18, 2014

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BOOK REVIEW: The Hindu-Yogi Science of Breath by William Walker Atkinson

The Hindu-Yogi Science Of BreathThe Hindu-Yogi Science Of Breath by Yogi Ramacharaka

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

I got this book as a Kindle freebie. It’s made available for free because it’s in the public domain, not necessarily because it was so bad that the author couldn’t even get people to pay $0.99 for it. It was written by an American named William Walker Atkinson, who also went by the pseudonym of Yogi Ramacharaka. Atkinson was an American who lived in the latter 19th and early 20th century, and authored more than 100 books. If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of an author this prolific, it’s in part owing to his love of nom de plumes and the fact that he dodged the spotlight.

This book is short—less than 100 pages—and is organized into 16 chapters. The early chapters provide background for an audience that would’ve been fairly unaware of yogic practices, and the latter chapters are more along of a how-to book—giving instructions on various yogic breathing techniques. The first part of the book also tries to discuss the science of breath in terms of anatomy and physiology, but in layman’s terms. All in all, the book’s organization is logical.

This book’s readability is not bad, considering its era. However, it is 19th century writing, and so sentences can be long and tortuous by present-day standards. In the instructional parts, he uses bullet pointing to explain sequences.

The book runs into some problems, in my opinion, by trying to explain breath both in terms of modern science and yogic physiology. Imagine the story of the creation of the universe being told simultaneously in terms of the big bang and the Biblical account. These explanations are at odds, and any attempt to merge them into an integrated explanation will convolute the principles of one system or the other. Furthermore, explanations of respiratory and nervous system operations from Atkinson’s day are a bit out-of-date.

I would recommend this book for someone who has a scholarly interest in yoga and how it came to be introduced to the West. I can’t say that I would recommend it for its originally intended purposes of putting pranayama (breathing techniques) in the context of Western medical science or teaching the techniques of breathing. There are better books for the former (e.g. Coulter’s Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, chapter 2—though this is a much more technical account), and a teacher is needed for the latter. If one is an intermediate (or above) student of pranayama, then experimenting with Atkinson’s methods may prove interesting. However, from what I could read, it’s not clear where Atkinson learned pranayama. The fundamentals (e.g. abdominal, thoracic, and yogic breathing) seem sound, but there are other techniques that are unfamiliar to me and seem a bit unconventional. I can’t vouch for whether these are things I haven’t learned or whether Atkinson got them wrong. However, mostly there is just not enough information to communicate the fine points of the practices, and practicing pranayama is not without its risks.

View all my reviews

DAILY PHOTO: Disappearing Ganesha

Taken on November 23, 2014 at Somaiya College in Mumbai

Taken on November 23, 2014 at Somaiya College in Mumbai

DAILY PHOTO: Bibi Ka Maqbara: or, Aurangabad’s Mini-Taj

Taken on November 18, 2014 in Aurangabad

Taken on November 18, 2014 in Aurangabad

From a distance, Aurangabad’s Bibi Ka Maqbara bears a striking resemblance to the Taj Mahal. Besides the superficial similarities, it was also build in memoriam to the wife of an important Muslim leader. However, according to my guide, the Bibi Ka Maqbara is only about 60% the height of the Taj Mahal (I suspect its width is an even smaller proportion, as it looks “skinny” in comparison to my memory of the Taj Mahal.) Also, while the Taj is done entirely in white marble, only the dome and pedestal of the Bibi Ka Maqbara are white marble. The rest is plaster. Whereas the Taj has a  great many floral scenes that are formed by inlaid semi-precious stones, at the Bibi Ka Maqbara similar scenes are painted onto the plaster in colorful paint. Aurangabad’s mini-Taj opened a mere 13 years after the Taj Mahal.

 

There are a couple of ways in which the Bibi Ka Maqbara surpasses the Taj. Most notably, the view from the back is much better. Aurangabad’s site has a garden at the back that rivals the front garden in size, and there are beautiful mountains in the background. (The rear of the Taj overlooks the Yamuna river bed and beyond that is not much impressive.) Second, no craftsmen were intentionally injured in the making of this monument.  (There is a tale–treated as suspect by many historians–that the Taj craftsman were crippled in various ways after the completion of work so that they would never again produce something as lovely.)

DAILY PHOTO: Aurangabadi Vendor Carts

Taken in Aurangabad on November 18, 2014

Taken in Aurangabad on November 18, 2014

I’m back from a week-long trip to Maharashtra, where I visited Aurangabad, Ajanta, Ellora, Daulatabad, and Mumbai. That’s why I’ve been delinquent in posting. However, I’ll resume by posting pics and commentary from this trip.

LSNED: The Many Faces of Gypsy Dance

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FYI: LSNED = Learn Something New EveryDay

My wife, some friends, and I went to a dance performance at the KalaRasa Art House in Jayanagar last night. The dance was performed by a duo (made trio for the evening) called The SaraLuna Project, who demonstrated three dance forms with Gypsy roots: Kalbeliya Dance of Rajasthan, Egypt’s Belly Dance, and the Spanish Flamenco. I had no idea that these dance forms were connected (hence the Learn-Something-New-EveryDay [LSNED] segment,) and that they are but three styles along the long trail of Gypsy migration–though I have seen other Gypsy dance forms in Hungary.

This promises to be the first installment of a series that will cover other dance forms in this long and rich cultural heritage. The dance was sensational and it was a learning experience (complete with slides and graphics) as well as an entertaining evening. So if you’re in Bangalore and enjoy dance you should follow The SaraLuna Project.

 

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DAILY PHOTO: Old School Rickshaw

Taken in October of 2013 in Agra.

Taken in October of 2013 in Agra

You don’t really see bicycle rickshaws in Bengaluru, but up north they’re common enough. This was taken in Agra, the town most famous for being home of the Taj Mahal. In some places these are called pedicabs. That best distinguishes them from autorickshaws (in India often called “auto” and in many other places called by the presumably onomatopoeic Thai designation of tuk-tuk) as well as from the original pulled rickshaw (where the puller walks or runs to propel the vehicle.) I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen a pulled rickshaw being used as a real means of transportation anywhere I’ve been in the world (though maybe in Cambodia.) You do see them as tourist photo ops in the same way one sees Hansom cabs and horse-drawn coaches in many US and Canadian cities.

DAILY PHOTO: The Bone Room

Taken in October 2012 in Phnom Penh.

Taken in October 2012 in Phnom Penh.

These display cases of skeletal remains are at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. Just one of the many horrific legacies of the Khmer Rouge.

Seeking Expert Answers About A Possible Bengaluru Ratzilla

This fake rat is kind of large, but if you asked me   how it differed from real Indian rats, I'd have to say the bling. Indian rats aren't ostentatious, and rarely wear jewelry.

This fake rat is kind of big, but if you asked me how it differed from real Indian rats, I’d have to say the bling. Real Bengaluru rats aren’t ostentatious, and rarely wear jewelry.

Occasionally, I will see a rat–usually the carcass thereof–that makes me exclaim… Duh-uh-AAAaaammmmm! They often look like beavers, sans the distinctive paddle-tail, but with a whip-like, hairless rat tail in its place.

 

These sightings have raised some intriguing questions:

 

The first question is for any biologists or geneticists who–quite improbably–might read this post. Is it possible for the offspring of an English Bulldog and a Norwegian Rat to survive? If so, I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen one. If I find out where it lives, will they name it after me? Can I pay them not to?

 

The second question is for statisticians–particularly bio-statisticians. Let’s say that 95 percent of rats successfully live their lives underground, in walls, and out of sight. Let’s further say that I’ve seen a rat that was 1.5 feet long and 0.75 feet wide. Is it possible to calculate how large the biggest statistically likely rat would be. I’m thinking, lurking somewhere in the sewers, there is a three-foot long and foot-and-a-half wide ratzilla–probably chomping on a cigar and belching occasionally.

 

The third question is for an ecologist.  I know that cats and other predators will attack–often successfully–prey that are larger than they are. However, given the freakish disparity in sizes that we are seeing, will the existing ecological order be overturned, and to what effect? Bangalorean cats are about the same size as American cats, but Bangalorean rats are about the size of American pigs–not the cute little pot-bellied variety but rather the kind that take a blue ribbon at a 4H County Fair. I know humans were once primarily prey, and only quite recently became dominant predators. This worries me because I know that humanity’s prey-like predilection to be scared of everything, combined with its unprecedented predatory weapon set, has fucked up the world but good. I can only image what a rat would do with a hydrogen bomb.

 

The fourth question for a rat neurologist. Are rats really that much smarter than turtles? I know the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles follow their Rat Sensei unquestioningly. I googled it. Rats live about 1 year and turtles can live to be about 40. So Splinter must have learned much faster in addition to being much smarter.

 

OK, the last one was not a serious question (but it’s a serious plot-hole for TMNT), but I do have one last question for the general public.

 

Which do you find more disturbing: a.) when you see a single mammoth rat? or b.) when you see an elaborate Vietcong-style series of tunnel openings and you know there is a billion rat army wriggling all over each other just centimeters below your feet?

 

Please don’t think I’m anti-rat. I know that, while we fear the plague-infested rats, it was really the fleas that gave us the Black Plague. I also know there are places like Karni Mata Temple in Rajasthan where rats are treated deferentially. There are an estimate 20,000 rats living on the temple grounds.

Source: Wikipedia entry on Karni Mata Temple in Rajasthan.

Source: Wikipedia entry on Karni Mata Temple in Rajasthan.

I guess this raises one more question for a rat nutritionist. How come these rats, which are fed and cared for, don’t get huge like the one’s lurking in the back alleys of Bengaluru.

 

 

 

 

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