We had a full day today exploring the very nice city of Mysuru with a population of approximately 18 lakh. 1 lakh=100,000 so there are about 1.8 million people in the city. Our driver, Iyyappan wasn’t too familiar with the numerous sites to see in and around the city so we picked up a local (his name escapes us so we’ll call him Toor) who is affiliated with his company and we headed to our first stop, Chamundeshwari Temple located on the top of Chamundi Hills, about 13 km from Mysuru and about 3,000 feet above the city. The original temple was thought to have been built in the 12th century and it’s tower in the 17th century. Leading up to the temple is a huge Nandi, the bull mount of Shiva. Carved from one piece of granite it is 15 feet high and 24 feet long and around its neck are exquisite bells. Impressive and reminiscent of the Mahabalipuram rock carvings.
Chamundeshwari Temple and views of Mysuru
So today is a school holiday in nearby Kerala state, the Hindu temple is a revered site so us and what seemed like about 1,000 busloads of students ascended the hill to be met half way with a major traffic jam. It was utter chaos (seems to be the buzzword so far in India) so we did a u-turn and headed back down with the plan to visit again later in the day, Once we hit flat ground Toor suggested we stop in for a visit to a sea shell art emporium. How exciting! We relented and paid 50 rupee each admission ($1 CAD) and went inside to what turned out to be an amazing display of sea shell art and art created out of everyday waste and garbage. There is a huge Ganesha ranked in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest sea shell created statue in the world, a giant model of the Taj Mahal using only the natural colors of the shells and an amazing array of other art made from shells, twist ties, hair, paper, used wooden match sticks, pistachio nut shells etc. We were fortunate to meet the artist who created all of the wonderful pieces of art and through conversation she showed us a beautiful flower and in her heavy Indian accent said it was made from what we understood her to say, “blister skin”. What? Yes, blister skin. Joyce didn’t take a picture of this work of macabre art unfortunately but we both wondered, how do you collect blister skin? Do people volunteer to burn their skin then peel it off of the blister in a nice oval piece of skin? Very weird but the flower was beautiful and she was an artist so, whatever. We continued to go around the museum admiring the truly incredible works of this woman until we came upon another work of art. This one was labeled ” made from pistu skin”. It looked a lot like the blister skin piece we saw earlier then it hit us. This piece and the other was made from pistacio shells. Pistu is an Indian term for pistacio and they call the shells skin. I know, pistu doesn’t really sound like blister but with a heavy accent it did. We nearly peed ourselves laughing. It was a typical lost in translation situation but man was it funny! We hadn’t had a good belly laugh like this for a long time. It reminds me of a situation in Durban, South Africa. I was at a local bar (really?) and I asked the white bar tender how he liked Durban. What I thought his reply was “it’s too white” was in fact “it’s too quiet”. Best to apologise and ask several times if necessary if you’re not sure what was said.
Sea shell art
It is interesting to note the swastika on the above picture of Ganesha. The swastika is an ancient religious icon used in the Indian subcontinent, East Asia and Southeast Asia where it has been and remains a sacred symbol of spiritual principles in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that it became stigmatized in the West due to its association with Nazi symbolism as an emblem of Aryan race identity.
Next stop was Mysore Palace. Built on 72 acres for a total cost of 40 lakh, 4 million dollars, because there wasn’t corruption back then we’re told, and is still home to and the official residency of the Wodeyars dynasty. The architect was British and the design incorporates Indian, Indo-Islamic/Arab, Neo-Classical and Gothic styles. Only a small portion of the palace is still in the hands of the Wodeyars, the rest we’re told was taken over by the government due to back tax issues. It is hard to ascertain the exact details on this but the government-owned portion holds a lot of beautiful artifacts which were gifts presented to the royal family over many years from many foreign dignitaries and countries. Me thinks the government got more than was due. The most up to date info I could find dates back to 2013. ” Govt wants the palace, so does the Royal Family”. Oh the challenges of the royal!