Archive for May, 2014

During a recent trip to Mexico City in May 2014, I found myself with a couple of days to spare and I set off to the Coyoacan neighbourhood of Mexico City to have a look at the Frida Kahlo Museum, otherwise known as the Blue House. Another interesting spot in the area is the house where Leon Trotsky spent his last days and I planned to visit that as well. I had read a bit about Frida Kahlo and was curious to see her house and works and so preferred that over other attractions like the National Gallery.

The house looked plain enough from outside though it was apparent how it got its name.



Thankfully, they allowed photography inside the house and had an audio guide as well. The moment I set inside, I felt that I am at a place with a different feel to it. The colours were bright and it felt as if you yourself were in the frame of a painting! I do not know whether it was because of the reading I had done on Frida, which made me understand her as a very intense person, I could feel a strange energy in the house and even in the grounds.





This was where she was born, lived most of her life and died. She had a bad accident when she was quite young and that affected her mobility in her later life and she was often sick as well. She married the famous artist Diego Rivera and they had a tempestuous relationship. Each had various affairs on the side and separated once but remarried after a short while. The house had actually been bought by Diego Rivera to help Frida’s father tide over some financial difficulties but the house is quintessentially Frida. After she died,  a grief stricken Diego decided to make it a museum for her and even though he himself was a famous and important artist in his own right, the place has been maintained as a memorial to Frida Kahlo.

As one set foot inside the house, the first sight is a beautiful fireplace designed by Diego Rivera. Both Frida and Diego had a deep interest in the folk art of Mexico and the design of the fireplace brings out this aspect. The flooring was of a bright yellow, in keeping with the rather bright blue outside. I was wondering how it would be to be surrounded by such bright colours all the time, especially when I contrasted with the pastel shades that I am used to at home.


Various finished and semi-finished paintings were displayed in the room. Frida was always deeply unhappy about her inability to be a mother and that often affected her works. For instance, the wife of the Mexican President commissioned her to do a painting and she did a still life. However, it was done on a specially made frame the shape of a womb and the fruits were also representative of female genitalia. The President’s wife reportedly refused to pay for the painting!



There is another unfinished work titled “Frida and the Cesarean”, which also depicts the deep frustration she had on this matter.


Frida’s father was a photographer and was a big influence in her life. There is a painting in the front room itself.



Both Frida and Diego were taken up by Marxism and invited Trotsky to Mexico. Trotsky and his wife stayed with them at the Blue House initially and the later on shifted to another house nearby. The photograph below shows Trotsky with Frida and Diego.



After Trotsky’s death, Frida and Dieg became Stalin’s followers. There were a couple of works that showed her involvement with Marxism.

DSC_0405                                                                                     “Marxism will bring health to the sick”



DSC_0418                                                                                                                    “Stalin and Frida”

Frida was emotionally quite high strung and was physically unwell as well, many a time. Yet she had a strong will and fought to overcome her adversities. Many of the luminaries of the time were frequent guests of Frida and Diego and they had affairs with some of them as well. Diego’s affairs were all very public whereas Frida was more discreet. I read that Frida was always tormented by Diego’s unfaithful nature but I was a bit amused by that as by all accounts, she herself had enough affairs on the side (supposedly she even had one with Trotsky) as well!

There were many finished and unfinished paintings and sketches all around the house and even the unfinished works held some sort of attraction for me. Overall, I felt strangely drawn to some energy that this woman had left in the house and her works even after sixty years of her death.

DSC_0470                                                                                                                   “Long Live Life”


DSC_0475                                                                                                              “Colour Palette”


DSC_0458                                                                                                          “Pedregal Landscape”


DSC_0468                                                                                                                  “The Brick Kilns”


DSC_0424                                                                                       “Portrait of Arija Muray” (Unfinished)


DSC_0455                                                                                                                           “Ruin”


DSC_0449                                                                                                                              “Head”

The house is full of bright colours and beautiful objects. There were many traditional utensils and in the kitchen, they used traditional methods for cooking.





Frida’s studio is on the first floor and I heard in the audio guide that Frida was so unwell many a day that she had to be carried up. The studio itself is brightly lit with sunlight streaming in from all sides.




Her bedroom is filled with many objects and there is a small ante-chamber that had a day-bed.




Inside the bed room is an urn designed in the traditional Mexican tribal style. This contains the ashes of Frida and to me it somehow was a bit strange and unsettling to think that her ashes were there inside that urn.


There were a few of Diego Rivera’s works also in the museum.

DSC_0527                                                                                                                “The Porter”

DSC_0510                                                                                                                  “Landscape”

DSC_0514                                                                                             “Landscape with Locomotive”

DSC_0519                                                                                                      “The Seated Woman”

DSC_0523                                                                                                           “The Alarm Clock”

I stepped out once again in to the garden for a final look around and spent a few minutes contemplating on the life of this very gifted artist and wondered whether she would have been happy in her life. Intense people are often quite unhappy when they are down and reasonably high when they are feeling happy. In the house is a photograph of Frida Kahlo and I felt it captures her intensity very well.



Perhaps, these extremes are reflected in her work and in the house itself!




With these thoughts, I bid adieu to the Blue House and walked to the Trotsky Museum, which is quite close to the Frida Kahlo Museum.

If Frida’s house is painted blue, Trotsky’s is all painted red from the outside.


There is a small but nice garden in the house and the house itself is quite small and very modest. One would never expect that a man like Leon Trotsky, who was a key actor in an event that changed the course of the world – the Russian Revolution – would have lived here.




In 1929, Trotsky had a fall-out with Stalin and had to leave Russia. Stalin, was of course, in a drive to remove that could be a potential threat to him and his hold on power. Trotsky and his wife lived in different parts of Europe till 1937 and they went to Mexico on the invitation of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. They even stayed with them will 1939 and then moved to another house in 1939. In May 1940, an attempt was made on Trotsky’s life, but he survived. The bullet holes from that assassination attempt can be seen on the walls even today. However, a second and successful attempt was made on August 20, 1940 and Trotsky was killed while he sat working on his desk.

DSC_0604                                                                                          Photo of Trotsky reading a book

DSC_0639                                                                                                               Dining room

DSC_0625                                                                                                                           Kitchen

DSC_0654                                                                       Trotsky was working on this desk when he was killed

DSC_0638                                                                                                                    Office

DSC_0665                                                                             Bullet marks from the first assassination attempt

DSC_0667                                                                                                            Trotsky’s clothes

DSC_0681                                            Trotsky and his wife (who passed away in 1982) are buried in the grounds of the house.


In these very humble surroundings, lived a man who dedicated his life to the uplift of the working classes. He was the founder of the Red Guard and I thought about what I had read in John Reed’s “Ten days that shook the world”. In those days when the revolution was actually carried out, two men stood out as the key leaders who made a difference. Without them, the Bolshevik Revolution would definitely have failed. They were Lenin and Trotsky. It was evident that Trotsky had the same impact as Lenin and it must have been true because the book was written in 1919, well before any propaganda regime took over. Stalin is mentioned only twice in the book (and one is just in a list of members in some committee) whereas Trotsky is a presence throughout. Sure enough, Stalin banned the book and any mention of Trotsky soon became anathema in Soviet Russia.

There is a large painting just at the entrance of the museum and it depicts a meeting as part of the VIII Congress of the Soviets of Russia that was held in December, 1920. Lenin and Stalin are both present whereas Trotsky is absent, quite curious as Trotsky would definitely have been present, given his stature in the party. However, a closer look shows an empty chair with a green cap on it – just the one that Trotsky used to wear!


To me, this painting captured all that went wrong with a noble Revolution. Ultimately, man is greedy and power corrupts; even Stalin, who was a participant in the Revolution himself, was not above it. How right was George Orwell when he wrote in “Animal Farm” – “All animals are equal; bust some animals are more equal than others”.

1 May 2014

I had been intending to visit Lepakshi for a few months but had not been able to make the trip. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to make a visit even though it is not very advisable to visit this location in summer as the mercury will climb over 40 degrees and since it is a stone temple, it can become a fire-walking exercise. I left early in the morning to beat the heat and as it is only 125 kilometres from Bangalore and along very good roads, I got there in about an hour and a half.

My interest to visit the place had been fired up because of some of the stories I had heard. The village itself is very small and the temple was not crowded at all when I arrived. The temple itself is on a small hill and the entry does not look very imposing or grand, unlike some others that take your breath away at the first sight itself.


This temple falls under the purview of the Archaeological Survey of India and as usual, they have limited their information providing to one small board at the entrance. It is a matter of constant frustration for me that ASI has never bothered to provide more information to help the tourists. This temple was constructed in AD 1538 and is a jewel cast in stone. Yet, ASI feels it only merits a badly written board. In contrast, even a very small monument is so well projected by westerners. They provide so much information about the place, audio guides etc. Here, we are left at the mercy of the local guides and their colourful and fertile imagination to learn anything about such wonderful monuments.

I think I was a bit early as I could not locate any guide and I wandered around the temple taking random pictures. I could not locate any of the marvels that I had read about, in the internet. The temple itself is gorgeous with wonderful stone carvings, but for me, the stories make a place come alive. Fortunately, just as I was about to lose hope, I was able to get a guide. As is the case with these local guides, they are rely more on their beliefs, myths and what they think will impress the visitor, rather than facts.

The main deity here is Veerabhadra, who was created by Shiva from locks of his hair, in anger, to slay the king Daksha – his father-in-law. Hence Veerabhadra is considered to be a god in an angry mood so, unlike in many temples, you cannot see the idol from the entry point. The door is set a bit to one side so that the angry gaze of Veerabhadra may not fall at the entrance. The temple was finished in AD 1538 and the construction was overseen by Virupanna, a Treasurer of the King Achutharaya of the Vijayanagar empire and the architect concerned was a person by name of Jakkanna Hampanna. There are three enclosures (prakaras) to the temple – the first has lodging quarters for guests and in the second is the dance hall and the innermost one houses the sanctum sanctorum. The guide told me that there were seven prakaras originally but there is no evidence of that currently.


As soon as I entered, what I noticed were the long corridors that stretched on the four sides of the temple. This was where people who visited the temple stayed. Today, these long empty corridors present a nice sight with wonderfully carved stone pillars in neat rows.


The dance hall is a very beautiful structure with 70 stone pillars that have wonderful carvings and some very nice murals on the ceiling.

Natya Mantapa

The actual space for dancing appeared to be a very small space set between 10-12 pillars. On one of the pillars, the apsara, Rambha is dancing and on the other pillars, various gods and other celestial beings are carved out as musicians and on side, slightly hidden, Bhringi the three legged dance teacher of the apsaras is shown. The carvings are all very nice and beautifully done.



Drum Player


There is also a carving depicting the “Bhiskhatana” – Shiva’s begging to atone for having cut off Brahma’s fifth head. The guide had got this story totally wrong and mixed it up with the Daksha-Sati story and left me confused. I had heard the Dakhsa story from my grand-mother who was very knowledgeable in all the epics, when I was very young. Fortunately, a quick search on the internet cleared up the matter for me.


All the pillars in the natya mantapa have beautiful carvings and the roof in the central space has a beautiful flower with 100 petals. Of the 70 pillars, one pillar does not rest on the ground and is a “hanging pillar”. Supposedly, a British engineer tried to find the secret of the hanging pillar and damaged it a bit in the process with the result that one corner touches the ground now. Fantastic structural engineering from the days gone by!

Hanging Pillar_1

Hanging Pillar_2

The roof has many beautiful murals and they look good even today. There were pictures of Shiva, Parvati and also Virupanna (the figure on the right in the first mural below) and various other stories from the epics. Overall, it is a very ornate and rich hall with beautiful sights everywhere.




The main sanctum sanctorum or garbhagriha has many other deities in addition to the idol of Veerabhadra. The guide was insistent that some of these were commissioned by Sri Rama himself in Threthayuga, which would mean that those idols predate human civilization as we know it! The air inside was very smelly and when I asked, the guide said it was because there was no air circulation inside and hence the smell. To me, it looked like more of a matter of cleanliness as it smelled of animal waste and I did see a couple of cockroaches crawling over one or two idols. There is a nice mural of Veerabhadra here but since no photography was allowed inside this place, I could not capture any images.

Outside and behind the sanctum sanctorum is a huge statue of a seven headed snake protecting a sivalinga. The serpent faces the room that was used as a kitchen by the mother of the sculptor. The story goes that one day when the sculptor came for lunch, it was not ready as his mother had been engaged in some poojas, as it was an auspicious day. The mother asked her son to wait while she prepared food. The sculptor did not want to sit idle and this statue was what he made while he waited for lunch – must have been some superman sculptor to finish such a huge statue in such a short time. In any case, his mother came out, saw the statue and was very impressed by the beauty of it. However, her “evil eye” caused the statue to have two vertical cracks on the coils of the snake and the sculptor was quite saddened by it saying no one would ever notice his work. However, she advised him to put a sivalinga in between the coils of the snake and said people would then pray to it and supposedly that is the story behind this beautiful work. In any case, it is a very impressive statue and is one of the most commonly reproduced images of Lepakshi.



Right behind the snake is a huge idol of Ganesha, which is slightly pinkish in colour. When I asked the guide whether this was made of some different stone, he said that people had been applying vermillion and oil on the idol and hence the colour change. This practice has been stopped by ASI now.


Just beyond the Ganesh is the site of the unfinished kalyana mantapa (marriage hall). There are many pillars strewn about the place with fantastic carvings.

Kalyana Mantapa_2

Kalyana Mantapa_5

The theme of the kalyana mantapa is the wedding of Shiva and Parvati and the images of all the main guests that attended have been carved on pillars that form a rough square, in the centre. The guests depicted are (left to right in image below): Viswamitra, Eeswara (Shiva), Shiva in wedding attire, Maina Devi (Parvathi’s mother), Parvatharaj (Parvathi’s father), Devendra, Agni, Yaman, Vasishta, Varun, Bruhaspathi, Dattatreya, Vishnu, Vayu and Kubera. The guide also told me that some of these people did not particularly enjoy the company of some others in attendance  (for instance, Viswamithra and Vasishta) and hence, has been placed opposite to each other in the square. It was curious that the sculptor did not feel a need to bring in Parvathi into this mix.


Now comes the most interesting part of the Lepakshi legend. It seems that some vested interests convinced the then king that Virupanna was squandering the resources of the royal treasury and the king, angered by this, ordered for him to be blinded. Virupanna was standing at the site of the kalyana mantapa when he heard this news and he himself plucked out his eyeballs and threw them on to a nearby wall. On that wall, there are marks with small holes and long stains, to be seen. Supposedly, the eyeballs pierced the stone and the stains were caused by blood. The guide was adamant that recent tests have shown that it is indeed blood and all efforts by the British to wash it away with acid had proven futile.

Blood Stains

On one side of the kalyana mantapa is the “latha mantapa” which has about 36 pillars and each of these pillars have a unique design on each face of the pillar, thus making up 144 unique designs. Supposedly, Lepakshi is known for sarees and it is these designs that have inspired those saree designs.

Inside Temple_9

Folklore in these parts say that Lepakshi actually is “le pakshi”, which means “rise bird” in Telugu. Supposedly, this is where Jataayu (the legendary bird) fought Raavana as he was kidnapping Sita. Ultimately, Jataayu lost the battle and fell here. When Rama was searching for Sita, he found Jataayu, who told him the whole story and which direction Raavana had taken. Rama is then supposed to have asked Jataayu to rise and hence the name “le pakshi” for the place.

Right beside the kalyana mantapa, on the rock, is a huge footprint. Supposedly, this is Sita’s footprint. Going by the size of the footprint, she must have been at least 25 feet tall as this one was more than four times bigger than my size 10 foot. The foot print always has some water in it and according to the guide, no one knows where it is seeping from and tis aspectt must add to the mystique and attraction of the whole story. I saw several women touching the water to their foreheads and eyes, in prayer.


Another interesting sight is a lunch plate (thali) shaped sculpture carved into the rock. The guide said this was the lunch plate of the builder and when I pointed out the plate was at least four times larger than a normal plate, his replied that the builder was a man who was 16-18 feet tall as no ordinary person could have built such a temple! His argument being that if we need huge machines like mechanized excavators to demolish big buildings, how could they have built such a big temple and that too on rock, if they were not superhuman size, as they had no machines. It was an amusing thought and I overheard another guide tell his group the same story but he had cut the builder down to 9 feet!

Inside Temple_11

The sun was starting to get hot by this time and the fire-walk experience was looking like a real possibility. Even though I had spent about three hours in the temple complex, I was not in any hurry to leave. The place is so beautiful with so many rich carvings that it is such a visual treat!

Inside Temple_1

Inside Temple_4

Inside Temple_6

Inside Temple_5

Inside Temple_13


Within a kilometer or so of the temple is a huge bull (Nandi) carved out of a monolithic rock. It is 15 feet tall and 27 feet in length and beautifully carved. It faces in the direction of the seven headed snake with the sivalinga. I am not sure when it was made; to me, it looked a bit more recent than the temple.


That was my final stop at Lepakshi and I started my drive back, satisfied and happy about a day well spent.