Instinctive empathy

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When a natural disaster strikes, like the recent earthquake in Nepal, news and images are immediately beamed out to the world thanks to technology.  From shaky photographs taken on mobile phone cameras to live coverage, the vast human tragedy quickly reached television and computer screens around the world.  As it unfolded, many watched and prayed, many watched and were driven to help.  There were few who saw the images and remained unaffected.
When we see suffering human beings, even with whom we have no personal connection, isn’t empathy our first instinct ?  For many of us this INSTINCTIVE EMPATHY rises for animals and birds, as well as the earth and ecosphere.
Feeling empathy is the first step towards the mental and emotional processes that lead to actual action, like compassionate giving and altruism.  Why do we need to think about this? Because ever since Charles Darwin propounded the theory of evolution in the 19th century, where natural selection was considered to function on “survival of the fittest”, there has developed a view that selfishness is the basis of all nature.  Theories of “social Darwinism” trace the rise of laissez faire capitalism, racism and, to some extent, imperialism, to an innate selfish and “me first” view of what it meant to be human that arose from the “survival of the fittest” mind-set.
painted-hands-clasping-empathyThis 19th century notion that human beings are somehow “hardwired to be selfish” lingers on in popular culture.  Biology itself has moved far beyond simplistic explanations of Darwinian thought, and in fact the discovery of “mirror neurons” in the 1980s and 1990s holds out the possibility that we might be actually be “hardwired towards empathy and altruism”.
Here is how “mirror neurons” work.  If a ball hits me on the head, signals are sent to my brain that enable me to feel pain.  If I watch a ball hit another human being on the head, something happens in my brain that is not a direct sensation of pain, but is an experience of pain nevertheless.  It could be called “empathetic pain”.  A certain type of neuron in my brain “mirrors” the pain of another, so that I can feel what the other is feeling.  THIS IS THE SEED OF EMPATHY.
Neuroscientist V. S. Ramchandran, who has extensively researched “mirror neurons” and their implications, credits them with enabling human beings to develop an “allocentric” view, which means being focussed on others, as opposed to the “egocentric” one, which means being focussed on oneself.  According to him, “At some point in evolution, this system (mirror neurons) ……. allowed you to create an “allocentric” view of yourself.  This is, I claim, the DAWN OF SELF AWARENESS.”
So, not only are we “hardwired” to be kind, we actually benefit from it.
——- Swati Chopra

Diocletian’s palace

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DIOCLETIAN’S PALACE is an ancient palace built by the Roman Emperor DIOCLETIAN at the turn of the 4th century on the bay of ASPALATHOS, and it today forms the centre of the city of SPLIT.
While it is referred to as a “palace”, because of its intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, the term can be misleading as the structure s massive and more resembles a “large fortress” : about half of it was for Diocletian’s personal use and the rest housed the military garrison.

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Diocletian built the massive palace in preparation for his retirement on the 1st of May, 305 AD.  It lies in a bay on the south side of a short peninsula running out from the Dalmatian coast, 4mls from Salona, the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia.  The terrain slopes gently seaward and is typical “karst” consisting of low limestone ridges running east to west with “marl” in the clefts between them.

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After the Romans abandoned the site, the Palace remained empty for several centuries.  In the 7th century, nearby residents fled to the walled Palace in an effort to escape invading Slavs.  Since then the Palace has been occupied, with residents making their homes and businesses within the Palace basement and directly in its walls.  Today, many restaurants and shops and some homes can still be found within the walls.
After the Middle Ages, the Palace was virtually unknown in the West, until the Scottish neo-classical architect Robert Adam had the ruins surveyed and, with the aid of French artist and antiquary Charles-Louis Clerisseau and several draughtsmen published “Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia”.

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Diocletian’s Palace was an inspiration for Adam’s new style of “neo-classical” architecture and the publication of measured drawings brought it into the “design vocabulary” of European architecture for the first time.  A few decades later,, in 1782, the French painter Louis-Francois Cassas created drawings of the Palace, published by Joseph Lavallee in 1802 in the chronicles of his voyages.
This Palace is today, with all the most important historical buildings, in the centre of the city of Split.  Diocletian’s Palace far transcends local importance, because of its degree of preservation.  The Palace is one of the most famous and complete architectural and cultural features of the Adriatic coast.  As the “world’s most complete remains of a Roman Palace”, it holds an outstanding place in Mediterranean, European and World Heritage.

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In November 1979, UNESCO, in line with the international convention on cultural and natural heritage, adopted a proposal that the historic city of Split, built around the Palace, should be included in the register of World Cultural Heritage.  In November 2006, the City Council decided to permit over 20 new buildings within the palace (including a shopping and garage complex), despite the fact that the Palace had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Monument.  It is said that the decision was politically motivated and largely due to lobbying by local property developers.  Once, the public in 2007 became aware of the project, they petitioned against the decision and won.  No new buildings, shopping centres or the underground garage was built.

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The World Monuments Fund has been working on a conservation project at the Palace, including surveying structural integrity and cleaning and restoring the stone and plasterwork.  The Palace is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 500 kuna bank note, issued in 1993.
The ground plan of the Palace is an irregular rectangle (approx. 160m by 190m) with towers projecting from the western, northern and eastern facades.  It combines qualities of a luxurious villa with those of a military camp, with its hue gates and watch-towers.  The Palace is enclosed by walls, and at times, it housed over 9,000 people.  Subterranean portions of the Palace feature “barrel-vaulted” stonework.

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Only the southern façade which rose directly from, or very near to, the sea, was “unfortified”.  The elaborate architectural composition of the “arcaded gallery” on its upper floor, differs from the more severe treatment of the 3 “shore facades”.  A monumental gate in the middle of each of these walls led to an enclosed courtyard.  The southern sea-gate (the PORTA AENEA) was simpler in shape and dimensions than the other 3, and it is though, that it was originally intended either as the Emperor’s private access to the sea, or as service entrance for supplies.
The design is derived from both “villa” and “castrum” types, and this duality is  also evident in the arrangement of the interior.  The transverse road (decumanus) linking the eastern gate (the SILVER GATE or PORTA ARGENTEA) and western gate (the IRON GATE or PORTA FERREA) divided the complex into two halves.  In the southern half were the more luxurious structures —- i.e. the Emperor’s apartments, both public and private and religious buildings.
The Emperor’s apartments formed a block along the sea front and were situated above a sub-structure, because the sloping terrain demanded significant differences in level.  Although for many centuries almost completely filled with refuse, most of the sub-structure is well-preserved and indicates the original shape and disposition of the rooms above.

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A monumental court, called the PERISTYLE, formed the northern access to the Imperial apartments.  It also gave access to Diocletian’s mausoleum on the east (now Cathedral of Saint Dominus) and to 3 Temples on the west (2 of which are now lost, the 3rd having become a baptistery, originally being the Temple of Jupiter).  There is a Temple just to the west of PERISTYLUM called the Temple of Aesculapius, which has a semi-cylindrical roof made out of hand-carved stone blocks which did not leak until the 1940s, and was then covered with a lead roof.  The Temple was restored recently.
The northern half of the Palace, divided into 2 parts by the main north-south street leading from the Golden Gate (PORTA AUREA) to the PERISTYLE, is less well-preserved.  It is usually supposed that each part was a residential complex, housing soldiers, servants and, possibly, some other facilities.  Both parts were apparently surrounded by streets.  Leading to perimeter walls there were rectangular buildings, possibly storage units.
The Palace is build of white local limestone and marble of high quality, most of which was from BRAC marble quarries on the island of BRAC, of “tuff” taken from nearby river beds and brick made in Salonitan and other factories.  Some material for decoration was imported Egyptian granite columns, fine marble for revetments and some capitals produced in workshops in the PROCONNESOS.  The Palace was decorated with numerous 3,500-year-old granite SPHINXES, originating from the site of Egyptian Pharaoh THUTMOSE -3.  Only 3 have survived the centuries.  One is still located on the PERISTYLE, the 2nd sits “headless” in front of Jupiter’s temple and a 3rd is in the city museum.

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Water for the Palace and the whole of Split area comes from the JADRO RIVER near SALONA.  Along the road from Split to Salona, impressive remains of the original Roman aqua-duct can still be seen.  They were extensively restored in the 19th century.  Today, the Palace, along with adjoining areas to the west, forms the very heart of Split.  Many shops, restaurants, bars and apartments for tourists can be found within the Palace.
DIOCLETIAN’S PALACE is being used as a location for filming the 4th season of the HBO series ——- GAME OF THRONES.   

World Dance Day

Gaudiya Nritya

Dance has existed for as long as the human has been around.  It was used to pass on stories from one generation to the next, but over the years, it has been transformed and is used for everything from fitness to therapy.  Here’s a look at a few ways in which dance is employed in modern times.

Gaudiya Nritya performance


(1) TRADITION :  Bharata Muni’s NATYASHASTRA, which literally translates to “the text of dramaturgy”, is one of the earliest texts on the subject.  Dance has many forms in India, with each state having its own unique style.  From the popular Bharatnatyam to Kathak, and the not-so-known Sattriya of Assam, dance has been a way to tell stories and bring people together.  These dance forms have survived centuries and still find eager learners today, with the addition of Salsa, Ballet and Jazz among others.

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(2) FITNESS :  Almost all gyms in the city offer dance classes.  Zumba, which fuses dance and aerobics, is extremely popular in the city.  Apart from this, people are also opting for Latin dance workouts.  Hip Hop, Jazzercise ( a combination of Jazz and exercise) and Bollywood dance to shed those extra kilos.  Feeling a little adventurous ?  Then you can try your hand at pole Dancing, Burlesque and Belly Dance.

Kathakali


(3) THERAPY :  There are institutes in Bengaluru that offer dance therapy, for those suffering from diabetes, obesity, pregnant women, those in high-stress environments and for IT people among others.  Dance therapy merges psychotherapeutic dance moves with holistic therapy which helps support emotional, intellectual and motor functions.  It also improves flexibility and strength.

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(4)  RAISING AWARENESS :  Dance is also more and more being used to spread awareness.  Although plays that employ dance and music have been used in India to spread social messages, it has got a international makeover of sorts.  Taking a cue from the West, city folk have adopted flash mobs to raise awareness on everything from environment to voting.

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(5) DANCE DRAMAS :  What’s better than one art form ?  Dance dramas are steeped in Indian history, but are lately finding a lot of takers in modern theatre.  Several plays off late have been using contemporary dance forms to help actors emote and help the audience understand a character better.  While plays in India would usually bank on traditionally native dance forms, theatre today has gone a step further by incorporating dance forms and stories from across the world.
——– Dhwani.Desai.
Dance when you’re broken open.  Dance if you’ve torn the bandage off.  Dance in the middle of the fighting.  Dance in your blood.  Dance when you’re perfectly free.———Rumi (13th century Persian poet and scholar) 

Nataraja Gangasagar

What’s unique about Bhutan?

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The first thing you can’t help miss, as soon as you land in Paro, the international airport in Bhutan, is the SMILING FACES OF THE PEOPLE THERE.  If you ask someone why it is so, they will immediately tell you that BHUTAN is rated THE HAPPIEST PLACE IN THE WORLD.  Can you imagine in today’s day and age, a place that has positioned itself on happiness ?

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Bhutan is non-commercial and unspoilt.  They practise Buddhism and love their King, who believes that while it is good to be “modernized”, it’s not good to be “westernized”.  Government rules dictate that all buildings, palaces and monasteries need to conform to the traditional architectural style and everywhere you look, you know that you are in Bhutan.  People are trustworthy and friendly, and most importantly, honest and simple.  While every place has its “unique quotient”, there were a few that surprised us about Bhutan :

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(1) NO DESSERTS :  There is no culture in Bhutan to have “desserts”.  One can’t think of any other country in the world where that is the case.  Their menus, thus, have no option of “dessert” listed on them.
(2) NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS :  There are no “traffic lights” throughout Bhutan.  One, the traffic is low, but even when there is traffic, they are disciplined and manage beautifully without traffic lights  The only semblance to a traffic light is a police booth at the junction in Thimphu which ahs a policeman giving directions that everyone follows.
(3) NO SMOKING :  SMOKING is officially banned and while some youngsters may smoke secretly, it is not allowed.
(4) TEA WITH SALT (SUJA) :  The only country where people have their TEA WITH SALT in it.  Called SUJA, the Bhutanese love its taste.  For a non-Bhutanese, you would need to acquire the taste, otherwise you may not like it. (Kashmir also has salted tea called SHEER chai)

Thimphu Government Architecture Bhutan


(5) TIGER’S NEST :  Bhutan practices Buddhism.  Perched on the side of a cliff, 900-m above the Paro Valley is the TIGER’S NEST (TAKTSANG) one of the most famous Buddhist pilgrimage places in the world.  Bhutanese believe that once in a lifetime they must visit this sacred place.  It is a 6-hour rugged trek up and down hill, but every bit of the pain taken is worth it when you reach the place and see Buddha in so many of his avatars. Here is my earlier post on Tiger’s Nest
(6) NO NEWSPAPERS ON SUNDAYS :  Bhutanese are relaxed as a community and work on fixed hours without any sense of urgency.  Sunday is a complete day off, so much so that there are NO NEWSPAPERS ON SUNDAY.

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(7)  DIVORCE IS SIMPLE :  Bhutan has a “no-dowry culture”, as a result of which if a boy and girl like each other, they just go to their parents, buy them food and drink, move out of their house and get married.  However, if they don’t get along with each other, they can move out of the marriage, thanks to an easy divorce that they can get within a month.  As a result of this culture, most people have multiple marriages, and many children.  But, as a community, they are happy and peaceful, and domestic violence is treated with utmost severity by the law.  The good news is that Bhutanese food is very simple to make and thus, boys don’t have much expectations on the kitchen front from girls ( the most popular dish is EMA-DATSHI, a dish with a lot of chilli and cheese, the two most popular ingredients of Bhutanese cuisine).

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Much like in India, Salman Khan is the much sought-after star there.  And, finally, for Indians, there are no visas required and the Indian Rupee works exactly the same way as in India, as the currency in India is equal to the Bhutanese currency.  The only issue in planning travel that you may face is to book your flight tickets from Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata to Paro, as there are very few flights, and so, booking, changing or cancelling tickets is an uphill task.

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All in all, its worth one visit to Bhutan  —— THE SMALL BUT BEAUTIFUL, PEACEFUL AND ALMOST SILENT COUNTRY.
 


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——– Priya. Gupta

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

SVETITSKHOVELI CATHEDRAL, in Georgian literally means the LIVING PILLAR CATHEDRAL.  In Georgian “sveti” means “pillar” and tskhoveli” means “life-giving” or “living”, hence the name SVETITSKHOVELI.  This is an Orthodox Cathedral located in the historical town of MTSKHETA, Georgia, 20km north-west of the nation’s capital TBILISI.

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SVETITSKHOVELI CATHEDRAL, known as the burial site of Christ’s Robe has long been the principal Georgian Church and remains one of the most venerated places of worship to this day.  It presently functions as the seat of the Archbishop of MTSKHETA & TBILISI, who is at the same time Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.

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The current Cathedral was built in the 11th century by the architect Arsukidze,, though the site itself is older dating back to the early 4th century and is surrounded by a number of legends associated, primarily, with the early Christian traditions.  It is the 2nd largest Church building in the country, after the recently consecrated —— Holy Trinity Cathedral of TBILIS, and is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site along with historical monuments of MSKHETA.

1. Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mtshekta, Georgia


The original Church was built in the 4th century AD during the reign of Mirian -3 of Kartli (Iberia).  Saint Nino is said to have chosen the confluence of the Mount Kvari and Aragvi rivers as the place of the 1st Gregorian Church.  According to Georgian “hagiography”, in the 1st century AD, a Georgian Jew —- Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified.  He bought Jesus’ Robe from a Roman soldier (it was a seamless one) at Golgotha (also known as the “place of the skull”) and brought it back to Georgia.  Returning to his native city, he was met by his sister Sidonia, who, upon touching the Robe, immediately died from the emotions engendered by the Sacred Robe, which could not be removed from her grasp and so she was buried with it.

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The place where she was buried, with Christ’s Robe is preserved in the Cathedral.  Later, from her grave grew an enormous cedar tree.  Ordering the cedar tree chopped down to build the Church, Saint Nino had 7 columns made from it for the Church’s foundation.  The 7th column, however, had magical properties and rose by itself into the air.  It returned to earth after Saint Nino prayed the whole night.  It was further said that from the 7th column a sacred liquid flowed and cured people of various diseases.

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SVETITSKHOVELI CATHEDRAL, portraying this event can be seen on the 2nd column on the right-hand from the entrance.  Reproduced widely throughout Georgia, it shows Sidonia with an angel lifting the column in Heaven.  Saint Nino is in the foreground : King Mirian and his wife Queen Nana are to his right and left.  Georgia, officially adopted Christianity as its state religion in 317.

Georgia Svetitskhoveli Cathedral Zodiac


SVETITSKHOVELI CATHEDRAL has been damaged several times during history, notably by the invasion of Persians and Timur.  It has also been damaged by earthquake.  During the restoration of 1970-71, the base of the Basilica was built.  During the early years of Gregorian Church building, the Basilica was the dominant type of the Gregorian Church architecture, before the “cross-dome” style emerged.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral inside


In the 11th century, the present SVETITSKHOVELI CATHEDRAL was rebuilt (from 1010-1029) in the “cross-dome” style by Arsukidze.  The Cathedral is surrounded by a defensive wall, built of stone and brick during the reign of King Heraclius in 1787.  The top storey was designed for military purposes and has gun emplacements.  The entrance to the cathedral, from the wall, is located to the south.  The wall has 8 towers : 6 of them “cylindrical” and 2 of them “square”.  Archaeological expedition in 1963, found the house of the Patriarch of the 11th century at the southern part of the wall.  Inside the churchyard, the remains of the 2-storey castle of Patriarch Anton —- 2 were found.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral top


The base of the 3-storey Church, is supposed to have been built by Vakhtang Gorgasali after Saint Nino’s original Church has been found by archaeologists during the restoration of 1970-71.  The architecture of the present Cathedral, which dates from around 1020, is based on the “cross-dome” style.  The characteristics of the style is that the “dome” is placed across all four sides of the Church.  The structure of the Church is intended to ensure “good acoustics”.  The dome of SVETITSKHOVELI was re-constructed several times over the centuries to keep the Church in good condition.

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The basic stone used for the Cathedral is a “sandy yellow” with trimmings, while around the apse window a red stone was used.  The green stone used in the drum of the cupola is from the 17th century.  The “curved blind” arcading throughout is “unaltered” from the 11th century.  A large window occupies most of the western side of the Church.  The decorations show Christ sitting between two angels.  The original sculpture, on the external wall, has not survived, but was restored several times, most recently in the 19th century.

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The interior walls are painted with frescoes, most of which have not survived in their original state.  The decorations on the Church’s stonework features ” carved grapes”, reflecting the country’s ancient wine-making tradition.  On the south side, there is a small stone Church built into the Cathedral.  This is a symbolic copy of the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  It was built between the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th centuries, and it was erected here to mark SVETITSKHOVELI as the 2nd most sacred place in the world (after the church of Jerusalem), thanks to Christ’s Robe.  Remains of the original “life-giving” or “living” pillar are also here.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral inside


The cathedral was not only the site of the coronation of the Georgian Kings, but also served as their burial place.  Ten of the Kings are known to have been buried here, although only 6 tombs have been found, all in front of the altar.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral long view


A 2010 UNESCO report has found that structural issues threaten the overall stability of the cathedral.

Pearly gates

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Looking back across the years I see how important dogs have been in my life.  I had been an ordained minister only a few weeks when I received a call from an eight-year-old boy.  His dog had ben killed by a car.  “Mr. Turner,” the lad sobbed, “do you do funerals for dogs ?”  I didn’t quite know how to respond, but I recalled the scriptures’ affirmation of God’s knowing when even a sparrow falls.
I replied, “Why not ?” and I conducted a little ceremony for the boy’s pet.  He was very pleased and then asked, “Is my dog going to heaven ?”  I wasn’t prepared for that question, but my love for animals got me through it.  I’m sure I made the child feel better.
Several years later, I had my own personal experience that provided the answer I had never been sure of.  Our wonderful dachshund, Greta, died, and we were eager to bring another dog into our home.  We went to the pound to get the dachshund whose photo had appeared in the paper.  By the time we arrived, he had been claimed.  Another puppy, sensing our mission, poked her nose through the wire fence.  The look in her eyes seemed to say, “Please pick me.”  We did and we named her Pick.
Whenever I came home, Pick was there to greet me.  I’d say, “Pick, you’ve got it made.  Other animals work for their keep.  A canary sings, cows give milk, chickens lay eggs, but you don’t have to do anything but hang around.”  After 14 years, Pick became very sick, and there was nothing to be done except put her out of her misery.  With a heavy heart I drove her to the vet’s, who did what had to be done.  I then went back to my study and wept for hours.  A few days later, a parishioner who knew of my grief sent me this poem.  It healed my sorrow.  Perhaps it will help others.  I’d like to share it : —–

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I explained to St Peter
I’d rather stay here
Outside the Pearly Gates
I won’t be a nuisance
I won’t even bark
I’ll be very patient and wait
I’ll be here.
chewing on a celestial bone
No matter how long you may be
I’d miss you so much
if I went in alone
IT WOULDN’T BE HEAVEN FOR ME.
—–Dan Turner.

Tiger’s Nest

Tiger's Nest

PARO TAKTSANG is the popular name of the TAKTSANG PALPHUG MONASTERY and it is also known as TIGER’S NEST.
According to the legend related to the Taktsang (which in the Tibetan language is spelt “stag tshang”) which literally means TIGER’S LAIR, it is believed that Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambahva) flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress from Khenpajong.  This place was consecrated to tame the Tiger Demon.

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An alternative legend holds that a former wife of an Emperor, known as Yeshe Tsogyal, willingly became a disciple of Guru Rinpoche in Tibet.  She transformed herself into a tigress and carried the Guru on her back from Tibet to the present location of the Taktsang in Bhutan.  In one of the caves here, the Guru then meditated for 3yrs, 3mths, 3wks, 3dys and 3hrs in the 8th century, and emerged in 8 incarnated forms (manifestations) and the place became holy.  Subsequently, the place came to be known as the TIGER’S NEST.

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The popular legend of the TIGER’S NEST is further embellished with the story of Tenzin Rabgye, who built the Temple here in 1692.  It has been mentioned, by authors, that the 8th century Guru Padmasambahva had reincarnated again in the form of Tenzin Rabgye.  The corroborative proofs mooted are :  that Tenzin Rabgye was seen (by his friends) concurrently inside and outside his cave ; even a small quantity of food was adequate to feed all visitors ; no one was injured during worship (in spite of the approach track to the monastery being dangerous and slippery) ; the people of the PARO VALLEY saw in the sky various animal forms and religious symbols, including a shower of flowers that appeared and also vanished in the air without touching the earth.

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On the 19th of April, 1998 a fire broke out, due to an electrical short-circuit, in the main building of the monastery complex, which contained valuable paintings and statues.  The restoration works were undertaken at an estimated cost of 135 million ngultrum.
The monastery is located 10km to the north of Paro and hangs on a precipitous cliff at 3,120 metres about 900 metres above PARO VALLEY, on the right side of the PARO CHU ( “chu” in Bhutanese  means “rivers of water” ).  The rock slopes are very steep (almost vertical), and the monastery buildings are built into the rock face.  Though it looks “formidable”, the monastery complex has access from several directions, such as the north-west path through the forest, from the south along the path used by devotees, and from the north (access over the rocky BUMDA, which is called “Hundred Thousand Fairies” )  A mule track, leading to it, passes through pine forest that is colourfully festooned with moss and prayer flags.  On many days, clouds shroud the monastery and give an “eerie feeling of remoteness” —On the approach path, to the monastery, there is a LAKHAN (village level monastery), a Temple of URGYAN TSEMO, which like the main monastery is located several 100ft over the valley.  From this location, the monastery’s buildings are on the opposite ravine, which is known by the name “Copper-Coloured Mountain Paradise of Padmasambahva”.  This is the view-point for visitors, and there is a cafeteria to provide refreshment.  the trek beyond this point is very scenic, with the sound of the waterfall breaking the silence.

inside tigers nest Bhutan


Along the route, blue pine trees, prayer-flags and kiosks selling paraphernalia for worship (such as prayer-wheels, temple bells and skulls ) are seen.  The route has many Temples.  On this path is a large waterfall, which drops 60mts into a sacred pool, is forded over by a bridge.  The track terminates at the main monastery, where colourful paintings are displayed.  Guru Rimpoche’s cave, where he meditated is also seen.  This cave is opened for public viewing only once a year.

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The monastery’s buildings consist of 4 main Temples and residential shelters, ideally designed by adapting to the rock(granite) ledges.  Out of the 8 caves, 4 are easy accessible.  The cave where Guru Rinpoche first entered, is known as THOLU PHUK and the original cave where he resided and meditated is known as PEL PHUK.  The monastery is so precariously perched, that it is said : “it clings to the side of the mountain like a GECKO”.

tigers nest Bhutan


In a small cell, adjoining the main cave, the sacred scripture is placed, the importance of this scripture is that it has been scripted with “gold dust and the bone powder of a divine Lama”.  All the buildings are inter-connected through steps and stairways —— made in rocks.  There are a few rickety wooden bridges, along the paths.  The Temple at the highest level has a “frieze” Buddha.  Each building has a balcony which provides lovely views of the scenic PARO VALLEY down below.

Flower power

Every zodiac sign is associated with a flower in God’s garden.
HoneysuckleARIES : The honeysuckle ——— Bees never resist the lure of the honeysuckle, its sweet scent and its honeyed nectar.  ARIES too tend to be the centre of attention, given your magnetism and charm.  But the honeysuckle is also a vine that clings to those around it and asks you the same this week, are you entwining yourself to persons and issues that aren’t your business ?  Choose your battles wisely.  The aroma of honeysuckle offers discrimination, it allows you to decipher the difference between true and false.  Honeysuckle also transforms anger into love and everyone knows how fiery the Ram’s temper is.
Poppy flowerTAURUS : The Poppy ——— Poppy as in popular : steadfast and devoted, you may not be sultry like Scorpio or fashionable like Aries but you are who everyone counts on as a true friend.  Your winning attributes are your simplicity, honesty and loving nature.  This week poppy asks you not to be stubborn or fixated on certain ideas but to go with the flow.  Certain concepts you are holding on to have become outdated and you need to change with the times.  TAUREANS can be tough.  The poppy seed (khus khus) has traditionally been used in Indian kitchens as cooling food.  Poppy oil is a natural painkiller.
LavenderGEMINI : The Lavender  ——- Like lavender landscapes green meadows with flecks of psychic purple, your creativity and intellect  contributes to the ideas of those around you and offers unique solutions.  Lavender asks you to make your health your first priority this week as you are ignoring aches and pains to get work on time.  Procrastination is bad in itself but with regards to health it can be fatal.  GEMINIS usually suffer from insomnia and stress-related ailments.  Sipping lavender tea diminishes hyperactivity and lighting a lavender-scented candle in your bedroom will help you to sleep better.
Iris flowerCANCER : The Iris —— Named after the Roman Goddess of the rainbow due to its iridescence, Iris is a flower that symbolises  majesty and royalty.  CANCERIANS too despite their initial introverted approach rule maternity and cardinal leadership.  This week you will feel threatened by some malice and spite but Iris reminds you that your position expects you to respond in a dignified manner.  Be practical, not emotional.  The perfume of Iris opens up your soul and your third-eye, encouraging the shy Cancer to come out of its shell.  Iris helps you seek out inner beauty and be true to yourself.
Marigold flowerLEO:  The Marigold  ——- Marigold is heady, rich and luxuriant.  Like LEO, it suggests a love for the finer things in life.  It is often wreathed into garlands offered to Hindu Gods.  Marigold gifts you  with the skills of extroversion and natural leadership.  The flower also reminds you to be gracious with those who are less fortunate than you this week.  You will have to walk that extra mile to help an acquaintance through troubled times.  You may feel selfish but your kind heart will get the better of you.  LEOS are more susceptible to rashes and skin breakouts and a tea made out of the petals of marigold can cure most skin ailments and oily complexions.
ChrysanthemumVIRGO :  The Chrysanthemum  ——– The Chrysanthemum is one of the most common and overlooked flowers in the Indian garden but it also has a simplicity and a durability that make it a popular choice among gardeners.  Like the chrysanthemum it is your resilience and your practicality that are your strengths.  VIRGO is called the virgin because you are not easily swayed by the lures of this world.  This week, Chrysanthemum urges Virgo to avoid complicated tactics to solving situations.  You will find easy answers if you keep it simple and minimalistic.  The Chinese steeped chrysanthemums, rock sugar and wolfberries in a kettle and sipped the tea as an antidote to heart attack.
Rose flowerLIBRA :  The Rose  ——- Renowned for its beauty, the rose is lesser known for its other virtues.  Its scent helps you to find balance which is especially beneficial  to LIBRA as you’re constantly confused.  Rose promotes artistic ability and encourages the sense of aesthetic.  It is also graceful and helps us to overcome the sense of awkwardness that a teenager experiences during adolescence.  Rose aske the LIBRAN to put themselves first this week rather than get involved in other’s dramas and get rewarded with ingratitude.  Have a hot bath with rose petals immersed in warm water.  It will balance you inner scales and help the perpetually lost Libran find a sense of direction.
Hibiscus flowerSCORPIO : The Hibiscus —– The SCORPIO perceptiveness is profound and intense but its energy can often be overwhelming and self-destructive, which is why Scorpio is represented by venom.  The antidote to calming your own vices can be found in the soothing Hibiscus.  Its scarlet petals represent your vitality and passion.  Hibiscus has been used in Ayurveda to aid digestion and provide cooling in summers which is ideal for the SCORPION constitution.  Hibiscus asks you to be gentle on yourself this week, to focus on your beauty and not on your flaws.  Hibiscus juice tastes almost like red wine and is used as a medicine to combat alcoholism.  Of all the signs, Scorpions are most susceptible to addiction.
DandelionSAGITTARIUS :  The Dandelion  ——– Horses love to snack on dandelion. They are an equine eatable.  Life is never boring around a SAGITTARIAN they are wacky and fun.  The dandelion is equally quirky among flowers, it looks like a fur-ball.  Strife can make the zany SAGITTARIUS boring and dandelion urges you to not to get too staid.  Stop taking things too seriously or get overly philosophical.  Embrace your inner child and let go of your worries.  Live freely.  Sagittarius often gets the sniffles, and dandelion tea naturally contains anti0allergens that can clear respiratory passages and offer relief to nasal blockages.
Jasmine flowerCAPRICORN :  The Jasmine  ——- CAPRICORNS are very competitive and take themselves too seriously.  Jasmine is light and floral., relieves stress and is renowned as an aphrodisiac.  This makes Capricorns and Jasmine the perfect combination, because jasmine negates all the Capricorn flaws.  Jasmine is the exotic flower of potency and tells Capricorn to  stop having doubts in their love-life and to be more trusting in their romantic relationships.  The Capricornian skin is most brittle to the effects of age and wrinkles.  Steep jasmine petals in sesame oil to make an exotic anti-aging oil.  Dab this on your face before you sleep and you will never grow old.
Orchid flowerAQUARIUS :  The Orchid  ——- The orchid is an aerial plant. It does not grow on soil like most plants but dangles off the bark of other trees and absorbs moisture from the air through its roots.  The orchid looks down on other blossoms and is a perfect representation of the AQUARIAN intellect and lofty thoughts.  However, orchid asks Aquarius not to be too haughty this week as you may rub a loved one the wrong way.  Accept that everyone has the right to choose their path and not everyone ascribes to your ideas.  Orchids can mimic other plants like vanilla, citrus and rose and their scents.
Lotus flowerPISCES : The Lotus  ——- The Lotus bears the secret knowledge of watery depths beneath much like PISCES.  It represents the Piscean intuition and sensitivity and the enlightenment that can be acquired from meditation and stillness.  This week, Lotus reminds Pisces that purity and perfection may seem unattainable to most but not to you.  Your watery constitution requires many nutrients that terrestrial foods do not provide.  Include lotus seed and water-chestnuts in your diet.
 ———–Nolan Lewis

Blood falls

Blood Falls

This is an amazing sight ——— a 5-storey waterfall that gushes from a fissure, spills down the rocky shore into Antarctica’s LAKE BONNEY.  This waterfall pours bright-red water right out of the white TAYLOR GLACIER.  Its “shocking colour” and “gory appearance” are “alarming”, but, of course, this isn’t really blood.  Its red colour comes from “iron”.
BLOOD FALLS is iron-rich, with hyper-saline water leaking out from a salt lake underneath the TAYLOR GLACIER.  When the “iron” in the water comes into contact with the air, it oxidises and essentially rusts.  This is what lends, the water, the “blood-red” colour that one sees when it spills down the glacier.  The reddish discolouration, seeping out of Taylor Glacier, is due to iron oxides and some very old sea-water trapped during the MIOCENE PERIOD some 5 million years ago.

Blood-Falls-from-above


The Taylor Glacier is about 54km long, flowing from the plateau of Victoria Land into the western end of Taylor Valley, north of the KUKRI HILLS, south of the ASGARD RANGE.  The middle of the glacier is bounded on the north by the INLAND FORTS and on the south by BEACON VALLEY.
The glacier was discovered by British National Antarctic Expedition (1901-1904) and, at that time thought to be a part of FERRAR GLACIER.  The Western Journey Party of the British Antarctic Expedition (1910) determined that the “upper” and “lower” portions of what was known as FERRAR GLACIER are “apposed”, i.e. joined in Siamese-twin fashion north of KNOBHEAD.  With this discovery, Scott named the “upper” portion for Griffith Taylor, geologist and leader of the Western Journey Party. —-The Taylor Glacier has been the focus of a measurement and modelling effort carried out by researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas at Austin.

Blood falls


Like the glaciers in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, this glacier is “cold-based”, meaning its bottom is frozen to the ground below.  The rest of the world’s glaciers are “wet-based”, meaning they scrape over the bedrock picking up and leaving obvious piles of debris (moraines)  along their edges.  “Cold-based” glaciers flow more like putty, pushed forward by their own weight.  “Cold-based” glaciers pick up minimal debris, cause little erosion and leave only small moraines.  They also look different from above.  Instead of having surfaces full of “crevasses”, “cold-based” glaciers are comparatively flat and smooth.

Taylor glacier


Perhaps at a time, when this valley resembled a “fjord”, some sea water was trapped in the lower portion of the valley.  When the Taylor Glacier eventually advanced over the top of that lake, the sea water was essentially “freeze-dried” and “trapped”.  The glacier moved forward and down through the valley, it captured some of the deposit and forced it up into the body of ice.  The hyper-saline water fortuitously, through a “crack” in the ice, was “oxygen-free” and rich in sulphate and ferrous ion.

Be earthy

muladhara___2011_by_karmym-d4e42s4Connecting with the earth helps us draw energy into our body.  The immense healing power of the earth is available to us all the time.  By nature, we are drawn towards earth, for instance, children always crave to play in mud.  But our own inhibitions take us away from its healing powers.  The consciousness of earth becomes more powerful along with its metallic wealth, water bodies, woods and deep-buried lava.
It is said that earth carries the goodness of the upper realm or heaven and evil from the lower realm or hell.  So, its vibrations are harsh as well as calm, yet strong in nature.  Earth is a wonderful mixture of positive and negative, black and white, “yin” and “yang” energies.  That makes earth a learning institute for a soul to evolve, as all these extremities are important for growth.  Without black, the importance of white will never be known.  Only earth provides such opportunities.
Being connected with earth helps in balancing our lower “chakras”, which are important for our graceful stay on the planet.  These “chakras” are related with our survival and existence on earth.
root-chakra-paintingROOT CHAKRA :  A balanced “root” chakra or “muladhara” chakra gives us a sense of belonging and emotional stability.  it helps us in removing worries related to survival.  A sense of not felling at home, incurring more expenses than your income, switching from job to job and being in unequal relationships are symptoms that your “root” chakra is not balanced.  Also. a weak “root” chakra always keeps us worried.  Making connections with the earth helps in balancing the “root” chakra and that further keeps us grounded and emotionally stable.  A weak “root” chakra can be “karmic” and also can be “related to lifestyle”.
symbol-jumbo-sacral-chakraSACRAL CHAKRA :  The “sacral” chakra or “swadhisthana” chakra is related to our emotional wellbeing and vitality.  It is related to all our senses.  An imbalance in the “sacral” chakra can block our emotional welfare and can keep us cut of from our senses and results in lack of self-respect, self-esteem and confidence.  Regular conflicts in all aspects of life and constant boredom are signs that the “sacral” chakra is not balanced.  Healing with earth energy can balance the “sacral” chakra in a wonderful way.
Making small changes in lifestyle are important.  We can be connected with earth energy by following some steps :
** Touching the earth, even for a short time, helps in drawing earth energy into our system.  Walking barefoot on grass is a good way to get connected with the earth.
**Allow children to play safely in mud.  It is a good foundation to balance your lower chakras.
** Include one or few earthen pots either for cooking or storage of food or water in some way.  It keeps sending earth energy into your system.
** Communicate with the other children of Mother Earth —— plants and animals in your own unique way.  This helps in balancing both lower chakras and gives us a sense of belonging.
** Dried grass contains lots of powerful energy of earth.  Keep it in an earthen bowl in a corner of your home and the workplace.  It will absorb the negativity of the environment.
** Wear stones and metals found in the earth.
** Earth colours are green, white, orange and red.  Wear them often if you feel your lower chakras are not balanced.
** Use of eco-friendly goods and recycled things are other ways through which you can express your gratitude towards your temporary abode — EARTH.
The constant rotation of the earth brings changes in climate and in the cycles of harvesting and migration.  It reminds us always that every phase of life is temporary in nature, and bound to pass.
——————–Rama Awasthi.