Adalaj Vav (Stepwell)


Step well(Vav) is a common sight in the semi-arid regions of Western India like Gujarat and Rajasthan that are in the desert proximity. The kings and wealhty built them for villagers’ water needs during dry summer. Besides utilitarian, they come with architectural embellishments.

This Adalaj Vav was built in 1498. An inscription in Sanskrit establishes the history of the stepwell,found on a marble slab positioned in a recess on the first floor. Its construction was started by a Hindu ruler Rana Veer Singh, but he was killed in a war with neighboring Islamic king Mahmud Begada before the completion of the well. As was the wont those days when an Hindu state fell for an Islamic ruler, the royal women would jump in the fire before they were captured, raped and converted. When the widowed queen Rooda, said to be a beauty, was about to jump in the fire, she was stopped by the conqueror Begada and proposed for marriage (Great, murder the husbad and propose for marriage !). The queen agreed but on a condition that the well be completed. On completion, she is said to have circumambulated the well and jumped in the water. She’s said to have requested the saints to purify the well after her death.

Built-in sandstone,the Adalaj stepwell is five stories deep. It is octagonal in a plan at the top, built on an intricately carved large number of pillars. Each floor is spacious enough to provide for people to congregate.It was dug deep to access groundwater at that level, accounting for seasonal fluctuations in water level due to rainfall over the years. The air and light vents in the roofs at various floors and the landing level are in the form of large openings. The openings also served water collection during monsoon. From the first story level, three staircases lead to the bottom water level of the well.

The motifs of flowers and graphics of architecture blend very well with the symbols of Hindu and Jain gods carved at various levels of the well.

The temperature inside the well is about five degrees lower than the outside hot summer temperatures. This encouraged the women who came to fetch water to spend more time in the cool climes here and socialize. They stayed to worship the gods and goddesses,gossip and bring water home in their pots. I too had to seek shades inside when I visited and indeed found to be much cooler.

Garba Galore……once again


After a gap of few years, I was once again on my way to Gujarat to take in the kaleidoscopic colors and twirls of Garba during Navrathri festival. This time around, I was able to check out a few more venues, as one can never get enough of it. The costumes, colors, lights, live music, huge arena with thousands of people in dance, diverse persona, steps and moves are simply out of the world. One could watch swaying and twirling as far as the eye can catch for as long as one wants. No wonder these 9 nights are tagged as the “largest dance party” in the world !

Gujarat is indeed the place to be during this pan-India festival. Nav (9) Rathri (Night) in Sanskrit is a celebration of feminine energy/goddess/shakti/motherhood with all pomp and glitter. There are thousands of venues all over the state and beyond and even across the oceans. Chaniya Choli, specially made costumes in mind-boggling designs and colors are on show. Kediyu for men and Gagra Choli are also on display.

Both men and women usually wear colorful clothes while performing garba and dandiya (with sticks). The girls and the women wear Chaniya choli, a three-piece dress with a choli, which is an embroidered and colorful blouse, teamed with chaniya, which is the flared, skirt-like bottom, with intricate work and dupatta, which is usually worn in the traditional Gujarati manner. Chaniya Cholis are decorated with beads, shells, mirrors, stars, and embroidery work, mati, etc. Traditionally, women adorn themselves with jhumkas (large earrings), necklaces, bindi, bajubandh, chudas and kangans, kamarbandh, payal, and mojiris. Boys and men wear kafni pyjamas with a Ghagra – a short round kurta – above the knees and pagadi on the head with bandhini dupatta, kada, and mojiris. In Gujarati, these clothes worn by men is called ‘Kediyu’. Over the years, the interest in Garba has only increased. There is a huge interest in Garba among the youth of India and in particular, the Gujarati diaspora. Traditionally, this dance is performed in concentric circles and the entire group performs one step in sync, with the beat starting slow and slowly catching on speed.

Garba means “garbh” (womb) in Sanskrit. In earlier times, the dance was performed in circles around an earthen oil lamp called “garbhadeep”. The lamp represented the fetus while the circle represented the garbha, the womb of the mother. The image of the goddess is also placed at the center.

Traditionally, Garba was seen as an occasion for people to come together in the open air, before the end of the day and celebrate the circle of life, the power of motherhood, of Shakti.


One day on my way to the hotel, stumbled on this market called Law-garden market, where all the paraphernalia for Garba was on sale. The dress price range from $30 and up and the street-side market was quite a dazzle-dazzle. Sure, the price must be lot higher in popularly known shops.


Video Clips

National Tribal Dance Festival 2019


India’s diverse tribal culture was on display at this festival.  This was only a fraction of rich tribal presence across the country. Over 1350  artists from 25 states participated in this 3 day festival in the city of Raipur in Chattisgarh. From the village square to an urban stage, it must have been a huge shift for the artists, but a smogasbord of colourful delight under one-roof for the atendees. I have been planning to visit these tribal communities in their villages to catch them perform in their natural settings, but for now, happy watched them under city-lights !

Slides below –


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Videos –





More than five dozen tribal communities reside in Odisha. Duruva tribe lives in Koraput district.

Koya share similarities with the Dandami maria of Chattisgarh. Their dance is called Kummu Koya dance

Above dance is also known as Bison-horn-dance for the headgear made of bison-horns, feather and cowrie shells

Siddi tribes trace their roots to the Bantu community of Africa. They inhabit the western states of India. They are said to have been brought to India by the Portuguese and the Arab traders.  They perform this dance in worship of their deity Babagore.










Bot or Boto people of Ladakh perform the above

Thaiyyam is a highly elaborate ritualistic dance of the Malabar region of Kerala. It is mainly held in temple surroundings. It is mostly performed by the Adiya community.




Todas live in settlements on the slopes of Nilgiri mountains. The settlements are called Mund. 5 to 7 houses in each Mund. The half-barrel shaped traditional houses are built from grass, bamboo and cane. They are of only 3000 in numbers. Their shawl called puthkuli has extensive embroidery work by their women.


Singari is performed by the Kutia Kandha tribe of Odisha



Tadapa is made of Bamboo and palm leaves.

FIWA 2019 – Rhythms in the bush, the making of an African village festival


The story was carried in a national daily –


I have long been looking for a chance to visit musically and culturally rich Mali ever since my first time there over 16 years ago. That time it was primarily for the Festival au desert in the Sahara and to travel around the country covering other attractions. Having known Oumou Sangare for over 25 years, from the time she started making huge splash in the world music circuit, I have been asking her if she was planning a lavish wedding for her only son when I came to know of the engagement. I was thinking that would make up for the lost opportunity on the day I flew out of Mali on my earlier visit when she had a family wedding and sang herself too. Eventually, her son settled for a simple register-office ritual, momentarily ending my Mali dream and of indulging in an African wedding. But I couldn’t ask for more when Oumou organised her own festival this year, from the sands of Sahara last time to the bush this time around was well worth the wait.

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About three years ago, Oumou Sangare decided to do something special in her parched ancestral village. She started planning to hold her own music festival by bringing musicians of international repute. This is to provide entertainment to the villagers and more so to inspire young talents in the villages who otherwise have limited means to get exposed to opportunities. With a huge fan base worldwide, she needed to have a place of comfort for the visitors. The first edition of the festival had a successful run, right next to a sprawling encampment of 40 roundly huts fashioned on an African village. About 150,000 people had a blast in the bush for two days.

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Sharq Taronalari on the Silk-road



Words like silk-road and Samarkand had always conjured up a sense of antiquity in my mind and many a time have I seen the picture of a beautiful standing structure that almost looked like Taj Mahal, not knowing it was called Registan Square. I have been wanting to travel there one day and what better time to do it than Sharq Taronalari, a music festival that I heard about only a few years ago. The 5-day biennale of traditional Asian music is being organised at the Registan Square in Samarkand since 1997. And the city of Samarkand is under the UNESCO world heritage list.





2019 festival featured artists from 31 countries. The performances were evaluated by a jury consisting of musicologists and composers from different countries. On the closing day, awards were presented to the winners under various categories for three places besides a Grand-Prix winner.












Museums, handicraft centres and hotels in Samarkand hosted exhibitions that presented the history of the festival in photographs, products of national handicrafts and musical instruments. Within the framework of the festival, an international academic and practical conference entitled “Prospects for the development of traditional musical art of the peoples of the East” was held during the day. Musicologists from more than 10 countries did the presentations while the musical performances were slated for the evenings.

The closing ceremony saw hundreds of local musicians and dancers perform at the sprawling square with the Registan madrasas as the backdrop.

Teams from Tajikistan (the “Badakhshan” collective) and from Russia (the “Ayarkhan” collective), as well as representatives of Uzbekistan – Azizjon Abduazimov and Ulugbek Elmurodzoda, were awarded third place diplomas, a cash prize of 2 thousand USD and gifts.
The second place was awarded to “Archabil” from Turkmenistan and “Hatan” from Mongolia. They were awarded a cash prize of 3.5 thousand US dollars, diplomas and gifts.
The duo Komuzchilar from Kyrgyzstan and Parviz Gasimov from Azerbaijan won the first place and received a cash prize of 5 thousand US dollars, diplomas and souvenirs.
By decision of the jury, Uzbekistan’s Mekhrinigor Abdurashidova was awarded the Grand Prix of the XII Sharq Taronalari International Music Festival.


On the Pallava trail in Kanchipuram



The following piece was written for an ancient history encyclopedia in Europe –




Mali – Encore


Guess the title is apt for a country that’s known more for its music than any other. Though music was indeed the reason that drew me to Mali some 30 years ago, the interest has since then stretched out to other entities such as its ethinic diversity, culture, the colours, markets and of course the people and their hospitality. In general, I don’t travel to a country more than once, but had to make an exception for Mali too among a very few other places. This time around, it was after a gap of 16 years and the living-colours and rhythms could be seen and heard below  –

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Mali’s ethnic diversity is among the most colourful and  facinating. Following offers a glimpse into the ethnic wear of Bamanan, Bobo, Bozo, Peul, Dogon, Khassonke, Senouto, Soninke, Songhai, Toureg, Jogorame and Maure ( not in that order)

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Rhythms galore –





Affable Massambou below has worked with some of the leading musicians of Mali including Ali Farka Toure and Oumou Sangare –





Kaziranga National Park, Assam


The world heritage park is a vast expanse of lush green tall elephant-grass and numerous water-bodies. There are 5 types of Rhinos occur in the world – white & black (2 horned and African), Javan, Indian (1 horned) and Sumatran( 2- horned), the last 3 being Asian. 2/3 of Asian (about 2000) occur in India and though poaching occurs for the prized ‘aphrodisiac’ horns, there’s a strong anti-poaching unit in place. Besides, Wild Buffalo, Elephants, Three types of deer, Monitor lizard, Tiger, the park is home to numerous species of migratory and endemic birds.



Hog deer                                         Ruddy Shelduck

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There is more to Assam than the one-horned Rhinoceros. Of the 1000+ orchids occur in India, a major of them are found in North-Eastern states including Assam. Kaziranga National Orchid Park houses more than 500 of them. And of course, the tea from Assam are sold world-over.

Orchid                                               Tea

Folk arts of North Eastern India


The horn played above in the beginning is called Penpa

The seven sister states of North-Eastern India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura) are rich in folk and tribal traditions for centuries. Though largely converted to Christianity by the missionaries during the colonial times, one could still find native traditions alive. The state of Assam alone accounts for some 90 tribes and over 220 ethnic groups in all states. Each group has their own attire, dialect and culture. Handicrafts of bamboo and cane, wood-carving, hand loom-weaving are common.


A Karbi girl in pekok(top) and pena (bottom)





An Ahom girl in chadar (top) and mekla (bottom)





Bihu being Assamese, notice all the men wear ‘gamocha’ as a head-band. It’s a cotton towel woven out of white thread with intricate embroidery in red at the ends. This piece of cloth is highly revered and serves as a cultural identity in the state of Assam.

The cymbal played above in the band is called Bhortal




Nritya Parva – annual Sattriya Dance Festival


The following piece on the festival by yours truly was carried in a national daily – please click the link –


Slides –

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Video clips –

















Flamenco Bienal at Sevilla



There’s nothing like watching an art form at its place of origin, where it packs every single ingredient without fail. Having watched Flamenco elsewhere and enough times on Youtube, really wanted to lap up all its flavor at its place of birth, Andalusia ! What better time to do it than the Biennial organized by the city of Seville. And Flamenco received UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage tag in 2010.

Though a month-long festival that spans many venues featuring top artists, there isn’t much fuss in town other than a few posters stuck here and there. But the halls get filled up as it draws a select audience from world over, in addition to locals. Speaking of world-audience, Japanese tops the list as this dance form has a huge following back there. At the halls, besides Spanish and English, announcements are made in Japanese too. Tickets sell out months in advance. It’s common to hear encouraging ‘Ole’ from enthusiastic aficionados from the sidelines at the shows. And a strict No,No for photography is a dampener.


revolutionary dancer Carmen Amaya

As with any other evolving art form, Flamenco comes in both, traditional and modern flavors.  Gypsies or the Roma people are said to be the creators of this art during their misery days in the past centuries, combining what they inherited from their roots, said to be north-western parts of India, with other musical and dance traditions existed in their midst, like Andalucian folk, Moor, Berber, Arabic and Jewish. The music and dance also evolved as a way of venting their real-life struggles and sorrows in sensuous laments, giving the art form a strong and intense character. Though the Roma community is still a marginalized ethnic group throughout Europe, Flamenco has acquired a national symbol in Spain and helps a great deal in promoting tourism.

Besides the month-long festival, there are permanent, smaller and more intimate venues in town called Tablaos, where one can experience Flamenco anytime during the year. And for  those interested in taking classes, workshops to sing, dance, clap and guitar-playing can be found around the town.



Finally to say a few words on the city of Seville itself, the Arabic, Jewish, Christian and Roma confluence of the past has given this city a fascinating amalgamation in its aura. The massive and ornamented Cathedral stands tall, as if to emphasize the domineering Christian faith of the state of Spain. The state owes much to Christopher Columbus, though his expeditions were sponsored by the ruling Catholic monarchs, it was he who paved the way for bringing the riches to Spain, by way of colonization of the Americas that involved darker period of slavery, genocide, looting, destruction and Christianisation of locally rich indigenous cultures. Rightly so, there is a tomb for the man himself at the Cathedral, where his remains said to have been buried after several moves.


the Cathedral

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Dangs of Gujarat




Dang dance is performed by Dangi tribe of Dang region of Gujarat. This dance is usually performed during Holi and other festivals, also at fairs, ceremonies and rituals connected to worship. It is quite swift, vigorous and highly rhythmic. Musical instruments used are percussive Kahaiya and Dholki  besides short shehnai. Men and women stand alternately in a circular form and dance by going round and round, creating various choreographic patterns. They may have their arms around the shoulders or waists of the neighboring dancer. The movement builds gradually and reaches a fast tempo before winding to a halt. The women climb on the shoulders of men and form a human pyramid. The two and three tier formation moves clockwise and anti clockwise.


The Dangs live in the rocky, hilly forests of western central India. They are primarily located in the Dangs district of Gujarat State.

They have always lived close to nature, depending on it for survival. Animals are respected and treated as equals. For this reason, they are often called the “children of nature.” The Dangs district contains many protected forests that the Dangs are allowed to use for cultivation and residence. They live in one-room bamboo huts made with thatched roofs.

Despite their poverty, the Dangs enjoy singing and dancing. The villagers are skilled in creating objects out of stone, wood, and clay. Hindu artisans often help them with such crafts. Tattooing has also become an art among the Dangs.

The majority of the Dangs practice ethnic religions, and all of them are involved in ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors). Their lives revolve around rites, rituals and folk beliefs. Many are animists, believing that all objects have spirits. Trees, animals, demons, serpents, and spirits are worshiped through magical rituals. Wagh-Dev, the tiger god, is their sacred animal god and their emblem of worship.

The Dangs believe in magic, witchcraft, and sorcery, along with their many tribal gods and Hindu deities. They believe that the supernatural world contains both good and evil. Their constant fear of the spirits keeps them revolving around a circle of prayers, rituals, offerings, and sacrifices. The Bhagat (priest and medicine man) is thought to be the ultimate “good man.” He is believed to be a spiritual man who communicates with the gods. He is considered a friend, a philosopher, a guide, and a healer.




Folk dances of Mizoram





Chheihlam is generally performed over a round of rice-beer and it reflects joy and exhilaration. While a pair of dancers dance in the middle, others squat around, clap, sing to the beat of a drum. Those sit around take turn to join in the middle


Cheraw is one of the popular folk forms of Mizoram, also found in other north-eastern states of India. I recall watching a similar performance done by an ethnic group from Taiwan. It is as well found in other far-eastern countries such as Philippines.

Men sitting face to face on the ground tap long pairs of horizontal and cross bamboo staves open and close in rhythmic beats. Girls in colorful Mizo costumes of Puanchei, Kawrchei. Vakiria and Thihna, dance in and out between the beats of bamboo. This dance is now performed in almost all festive occasions. The unique style of the Cheraw is a great fascination everywhere it is performed. Gongs and drums are used to accompany the dance.

The bamboos, when clapped, produce a sound which forms the rhythm of the dance. It indicates the timing of the dance as well. The dancers step in and out to the beats of the bamboos with ease and grace. They need to keep up with the timing with high focus and concentration, as they jump in and out alternately. A misstep by a single dancer may throw the entire set off and may result in injury too.

The origin of this dance form dates back to 1 CE

Chawnglaizawn is a popular form of a community called Pawi. It is performed by a husband to mourn the death of his wife. The husband would be continuously performing this dance till he gets tired. Friends and relatives would relieve him and dance on his behalf. This signifies that they mourn with the bereaved.
Chawnglaizawn’ is also performed in festivals and to celebrate trophies brought home by successful hunters.





Thol Bommalattam – Shadow Puppetry



This is an ancient form of entertainment and story-telling that continues to this day, though sparingly. It uses articulated cut-out figures made of thol (leather) that are made to dance, act, fight, nod, laugh so on between  a source of light and a screen. This art form is still found in many countries across Asia, notably China, India and Indonesia have always been major players.





European merchant ships played a role in importing this art form to parts of Europe.












Puppets are held close to the screen and hands and legs are manipulated with attached canes. I took a peek behind the screen while the women work and hundreds of puppets strewn across the floor. The team members were scurrying around to pick the right characters for the scenes to follow.






Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata form the repertoire, used to be performed by itinerant artists on temporary platforms during temple festivals. It is believed puppet-theater dates back to 3rd century BCE. The puppets in general are three to four feet tall.





Songbird of Mali – Oumou Sangare


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Oumou performs in the Sahara desert along with Ali Farka Toure


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With Salif Keita in Bamako


With self right after a show in Paris



In the hotel room in Fes, Morocco

A leading female act in the world-music circuit for over two decades and an awardee of the ‘WOMEX artist of the year 2017’, here’s a tribute to this remarkable lady by yours truly in an Indian publication. This is probably the only time an article on this artist appeared in this part of the world as her music waves yet to find its way here.

Please click below –

 Oumou Sangare.pdf







Slithery Encounters


This story was published in a national daily – Please click below



Wielding flash lights we walk into open fields that are still swathed in early hour hush and darkness. Two young men, Raja and Sekar of the Irula ethnic community lead us, carrying canvas bags, a crowbar and a scythe. The flash lights help us search for what we have come after and avoid stepping on anything wriggly on our path that might result in agony. We are into an hour of walking and nothing exciting just yet. The day is starting to break and the Irulas have left us behind. Just as our zeal starts to ebb, a meek call from a distance, viola, they have caught a snake !

After the African safari circuit, tiger sighting and an Amazon expedition, a snake-walk has remained unchecked in my wild-wishlist and what better place to do it than in our own ‘wild Chennai’ ! Having long heard about the Irulas and their ability in tracking and handling snakes, now is an opportunity to see them in their elements. Their international foray into Florida swamps to catch pythons drew much attention in the news media early this year.



The first catch of the morning is an Indian Rat snake, which is about 5 feet long and looks beautifully streamlined. We get a short lesson on its characteristics as it is being held by its tail. The Rat snake is pale brown in colour, can grow up to nine feet long and preys on rodents. Known as ‘Sara pambu’ in Tamil, it is non-venomous. On release, the snake vanishes into the bush in a flash.





The first sight gives us a sense of justification for giving up a few hours of sleep this morning and now we are pumped up for more. With the day well awake by now, we walk on across the fields punctuated by bushes and thorny plants. Again, we hear the familiar voice of Raja from afar. The two men walk toward us in their calm demeanor with a catch on hand, and call out in a subdued voice ‘Spectacled Cobra’ – a prize catch indeed ! Cobra is among the big-four of south Asian venomous snakes. With deadly venom as artillery, this one is no pushover and means business with a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude. With the hood well spread in threatening posture and in typical cobra-stance, the snake surveys around like a filmy action-hero surrounded by gangsters. All the while, he keeps a watch on the handler squatting by. A short lapse of concentration could make the difference between life and death for the Irula men. Now, Raja gently eases his hold on its tail, but the snake holds its ground and doesn’t make a dash to get away as we expect. ‘If I get up, he will run away’ he says. Finally, the Cobra slips back into its fortress, a nearby bush.



The spring is high in our walk yet the men are out of our radar again. Thanks to overnight rains, the breeze is pleasant and the clouds that still float hide the Sun, making the walk far from tiring. We track down the men and find them furiously digging into a burrow, sliding their bare hands in and out periodically to feel for snakes. As the wait stretches, doubts start to creep in and the impulse to move-on grows. Again, the men catch a snake out of thin air, this time it is a Sand Boa. For its proportions it is hard to believe the snake could gulp down a bird like the Nightjar. The snake is easily identifiable by its small head, thick body, pointed tail and lethargic movement. Though slow-moving, the snake constantly looks for an escape route from its captors. After a long look at it, Raja gently places it back at its rat-hole home. ‘When I was younger, I used to walk with family elders into the fields and watch them catch rats and snakes. Now, the acquired skills help us catch snakes for venom-extraction, which is a crucial antidote for snake bites’ he reminisces as we walk further.


We end the morning with one more find, a long and slender creation in the reptile family, a bronze-back tree snake. This has a bronze stripe running from head to tail, found in the open and are arboreal. They are fast-moving and navigate branches with an elegant ease. Aside from Cobra, all the snakes we sight are non-venomous, yet they are often mistaken to be dangerous and killed. An educational outing like this helps dispel the myth about these exceptional creations of nature and also helps understand their role in the overall scheme of things. Snakes keep a check on exploding rodent population and thus help farmers a great deal. Finally, not to forget the fringe attractions along the way of various species of birds, beetles, geckos, scorpions and other critters.

Forest Scorpian

Where to find snakes around Chennai

In spite of the city mushrooming into a concrete-jungle lately, according to MCBT, snake sightings and rescue, both venomous and non-venomous, are constantly reported from Adyar, Vadapalani, KK Nagar to many other parts of the city. Snakes thrive along Cooum river and in Pallikaranai marsh, Guindy National Park, the fields off of the East-coast Road to name a few.

Spectacled or Indian Cobra

Distributed throughout the Indian sub-continent including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal but does not occur in high altitudes and desert regions.

Venom Type: Neurotoxic

Characteristics for identification: Easily identified by broad hood and ‘spectacle-mark’ behind the hood. Colour of Spectacled Cobra varies from yellow, brown to darker shades based on geographical areas. Commonly found in dense forests, grasslands, wetlands, human habitation and agricultural lands. Hides in holes, mounds, caves, piles and cracks. Always raise hood on provocation or to threaten its enemy. Grows upto 5.5 feet in length. Scales appear oval-shaped and the belly colouration range from grey, tan, yellow, brown to reddish or even black. Though terrestrial in general, can climb if needed. Wide range of diet include frogs, toads, lizards, rodents, birds, small mammals and other snakes.

It is one among the four deadly venomous snakes occur in our country. Highly revered in mythology and culture and the cobra idol is worshipped in temples across India particularly during Nag Panchami. Hindu gods, Shiva carry one coiled around his neck while Vishnu recline on one with multiple cobra-heads. Snake-charmers with their cobras in wicker-baskets were a common sight until recent years but now the snake is protected under Indian wildlife protection act (1972).

Snakes around Chennai

Non-venomous :

Common Sand Boa

Red sand Boa

Common Vine Snake

Buff-striped Keelback

Checkered Keelback Watersnake

Common Bronzeback Tree Snake

Common wolf Snake

Indian Rat Snake

Venomous :

Spectacled Cobra

Saw Scaled Viper

Russell’s Viper

Common Krait


a youtube video by MCBT –

web-page –

book – Snakes of India by Romulus Whitaker

Dholavira – an Indus valley site


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Indus Valley site (believed to be 3300–1300 BCE; mature period 2600–1900 BCE – Dholavira is located in Rann of Kutch of Gujarat. It is relatively a new discovery, excavated in 1990s by a team led by R S Bisht.The excavation brought to light the urban planning and architecture and unearthed large number of antiquities such as seals, beads, animal bones, gold, silver, terracotta ornaments, pottery and bronze vessels. Archaeologists believe that Dholavira was an important centre of trade between settlements in south Gujarat, Sindh, Punjab and Western Asia.

One of the unique features of Dholavira is the sophisticated water conservation system of channels and reservoirs, the earliest found anywhere in the world, built completely of stone. The city had massive reservoirs, three of which are exposed. They were used for storing fresh water brought by rains or to store water diverted from two nearby rivulets. This clearly came in response to the desert climate and conditions of Kutch, where several years may pass without rainfall. A seasonal stream which runs in a north-south direction near the site was dammed at several points to collect water. An elaborate system of drains to collect water from the city walls and house tops to fill these water tanks. One of the most important findings of Dholavira has been a signboard with Indus Script. When visited, I could still see large number of fossils and sherds scattered all around the place.

Folk Traditions of the states of Bihar and Haryana





Haryana has rich tradition of music and dance for various occasions such as wedding, festivals and so on and for seasons such as harvest, sowing of seeds, monsoon and so forth.The music in general falls into two categories, classical such as songs for Teej, Phag and Holi and rural or country music that narrates legendary tales.


Phag is a seasonal dance by the farmers, expressing the joy of bounty crop.
















Here the folk songs deal with various events in the life of a common man.

The following songs called  Sohar that are performed during childbirth









The influence of Bihari music is seen in countries such as Mauritius, South Africa and the Caribbean islands where a large number of Bihari indentured labourers were taken by the British during the nineteenth century.

Beats in the wilderness





The piece was carried in a national daily




And here is the unedited version with pictures and video clips –

Music in the Forest

Lush green forest cover and peaking Santubong mountain form a glorious backdrop to annual Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia. Though music has travelled in the form of festival from confined concert-halls to various open-air venues, at this unique setting of 17 acres of forest land, the festival has taken a quantum leap since its beginning 20 years ago. The 3-day long festival held in the month of July hosts renowned musicians, both indigenous and international besides medley of activities.



A couple of hours flying from Kuala Lumpur lands me in Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak and the base to get to the festival. Shuttle buses are organized from the city-centre, with the focus on reducing carbon emission, for the 35km ride to Sarawak Cultural Village, a ’living’ museum and the venue for the festival. People show up in droves at the gate in the opening hours of the morning but an efficient entry system in place keeps the wait-time to minimal.



All-day events begin in the morning and wind down well past midnight. There is something for everyone to keep the zing going. To sustain the energy-level for such a long stretch at the festival, it is better to kick-start the day with one of the Wellness-programmes that focus on mental, spiritual and physical through yoga workshops, meditation sessions and Tai-chi. Yoga enthusiasts can get to choose from various types such as hatha, budokon, vinyasa and yin but ‘bring your own yoga mat’ is the norm here. For movement-oriented, Zumba, Bodycombat, Tai-chi, Capoeira and traditional Malay art of self-defence called Silat are the choice.







The festival ground is designed such, a boardwalk around a water-body would make sure catch all the sights and sounds. Talks on wealth of plants in the rainforest, personal-care oil extraction, soap-making from natural ingredients are at Sarawak Biodiversity centre. Cheering kids holding mothers’ arms lead me to Pustaka Bookaroo, where children get initiated into arts, crafts and music, justifying the festival claim that it is family friendly. There is a heavy emphasis on Sape, a local ‘boat lute’ of 4-strings made of hollowed-wood, through history and exhibition, art of making and playing workshops, to preserve and promote local musical heritage. Rainforest World Craft Bazaar is an alluring stop over for souvenir hunters as it spreads a wide range of arts and crafts of indigenous people from garments, pants, batik, beadwork to tapestries for which the raw materials are sourced from the forest. Indeed, tree-bark clothing are also up for grabs. Inking the skin with an ethnic tattoo here would stay indelible even after returning home.





The festival aims to showcase music and dance rooted in cultures from around the world. Two stages, ‘Jungle and Tree’, aptly named for they are flanked by forest trees, are the focus for the prime-time mega acts. This year, over 25 bands from South Africa, U.K., Guinea, Cape Verde, Columbia, Belgium to Tahiti are featured. The bands play back to back, alternating the stages with no breaks, creating a seamless musical transition though the sounds are distinct as they cover a range of genres. When the venue live up to its name and the skies open, revellers literally ‘dance away the evening in the rain’ as they come all prepared to slide on the muddy ground.

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As Sarawak is located just north of the equator, it is hot and sweaty. The only air-conditioned refuge at the grounds is the Theatre stage that hosts afternoon shows that are chamber-style, intimate and classical for seated audience. The music here is soothing and help unwind and take a break from all the walking done.




Then there are ‘Mini Sessions’ that host over 20 sessions in 3 days featuring lecture-demos, interactive dance workshops and thematic performances on ‘percussion’, ‘wind’ ‘strings’, ‘keys’ and so on by bringing together musicians, based on the theme, from various bands. Each musician gets to demonstrate his instrument individually and the session ends on collective synergy with them all play together to enthral the now informed audience. These shows are held in the replica of traditional houses and halls of the Sarawak ethnic communities that are part of permanent exhibits at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

Participatory and free-style Drum Circle in the afternoons draw an exuberant gathering where some 100 percussion instruments are handed out to pound out the rhythms.




A wide choice of Asian cuisine is on the platter, from scrumptious fried snacks to savouries and ice-cream to fresh juice to beat the heat. But for growing number of vegetarians and vegans, the options are very limited and that is something the organizers need to pay attention in the future years, as part of their green initiative like tree-planting, recycling and food-waste management. Food marts are equipped with seating area and entertainment zone for the buskers and clowns to stir up the appetite. Cooking demonstrations, workshops and food-tasting satiate the culinary drive in those who choose to explore beyond the dining tables.


From a modest 300 music lovers in 1998 today the festival attracts over 20,000 from across the continents and has become an eagerly anticipated event in the annual musical-calendar. “I have been coming here for many years and the music offered used to be lot more traditional but now that has taken a turn and attracts more of young and hip dancing crowd” says Kumar, a Malaysian resident. Taking advantage of being in Borneo, I hit the forest trails to catch the sights of two well-known endemic species, Orangutan and Proboscis monkey, to cap off my sojourn.




Both Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines fly to Kuching

stay – 3 resort hotels, a hostel and a campsite near the festival grounds,

plenty of hotels in the city-centre

website –

Momasar – a Rajasthani village festival


Stage for home-grown folk arts

As my taxi changes gear from highway to village-dirt-lane, a street dog barking furiously runs along for it finds a foreign moving object in its neighbourhood in this early hour of the day. We outdo the dog by a long way, and I could hear strains of music wafting in through morning stillness. I ask the driver to head in that melodic-way. Musicians belong to Islāmic faith singing Hindu bhajans in the courtyard of quaint Hanuman Dhora temple at dawn opens the festival. Villagers sitting cross-legged on the blanket are taking in the bliss. White-clothed and turbaned elders walk in at their pace while head-covered women in bright red Rajasthani sarees gather in a corner on the blanket. A few SUVs to my left and camels inside house walls to my right. Desert sand underneath my feet and peacocks trot at higher elevations looking for breakfast, this hour is indeed sublime !


A village 160 miles north-west of Jaipur in Rajasthan is hosting the 6th edition of Shekhawati Utsav, organized by Jaipur Virasat Founndation that works to keep and promote traditional art forms of the state. The festival runs for 2 days, staging 200 artists from various regions and attracts a few thousand crowd to this remote hamlet, mostly from nearby villages and also a handful of die-hard fans from abroad.

We break for tea and simple refreshments at a local temple-hall. I meet up with a group who come from US and various European countries. “Marc and I chanced upon this festival last year and this year we are here to play. Yes, we were suggested city gigs but we settled for this unique village one” says Markus from Germany. In a first, this edition would feature a non-Rajasthani band in Marc Sinan and Iva Bittova. Energized by tea and with the help of a local guide, we stroll through the maze of lanes for local attractions such as temples and century old charming havelis that are painted with frescos, belonged to wealthy merchants of yesteryear.

Music at rural settings

I enter Patwari ki Haveli, an exquisite heritage building of Momasar, for ‘Music in the afternoon’. A group of women sing welcome-songs at the massive door. An array of activities in the courtyard include men spinning yarn from drop-spindle, rope-making demonstration and young students of wood-craft display their creative works. “This reflects the motive of our Foundation – preserve and encourage tradition in all forms” says Vinod Joshi, Director of JVF and the force behind this festival, which also serves him as a pay-back to his birth place. Along the wall, Kathodi performers present a unique image as two men blow into a mouth-piece of a vertical wind instrument, a man on scraper and another rubs a thin metal rod placed over a brass plate to produce the drone effect. “They live in the forest and make their own musical instruments” says Joshi. A flight of stairs in the haveli brings up a compact hall that is open to the skies where the 80 year young Safi Mohammed sings with gusto often tossing and turning the tanpura on his hand, more than strumming on it.

A quick stop for snacks at the temple hall and as the light starts to fade, we head to a farm. Though it is dark, I could get a sense of the expanse of the place and feel my respiratory system is more at ease now. As the wind blows across under starry sky, a dimly lit make-shift platform offers space for more folk art traditions. A red-turbaned, white dhoti clad man with anklets thumps his feet and waves his arms around to the beats and singing of two men playing on maante drum, a large clay-pot – their silhouette leave a surreal feel. While Marc and Iva sounds are a novelty in village-ears, the day ends at Taal Maidan, an open-air ground, at midnight with “Kuchamani Khayal”, a folk-theatre tradition from the Nagaur region of Rajasthan and is very much on the decline.

Curtain downs with a bang

Second day begins with ‘Baal Mela‘ that features a few thousand young boys and girls from 13 different schools in the village to get them re-acquainted to their rich roots and help them understand that tradition and progress could go hand in hand. “This is very crucial for the future of what we are now involved in” says Joshi, who sounds keen on covering the entire spectrum in his quest. The children get to see artists who do not make it to center stage this year, yet perform amid children’s’ competitions and workshops.

On the grand finale evening, hoards of villagers stream in one direction, young girls giggle their way in, boys bond with arms around shoulders while women look in unwind-mode with their day chores done with. Now my taxi struggles its way through this mass in this otherwise no traffic zone. As I reach brightly lit Taal Maidan, the place is buzzing, children play in sand chasing each other, flies and bugs have a field day around high wattage lamps and even crawl on people, excited in their sudden-found-illuminated-lives. The stage that exudes Rajasthani decor is all set for the show. An endless kaleidoscope of folk forms that include Dhol-thali, Kalbeliya, Gair, Bhapang, Kachhigodi, Sahariya Swang dance unfold on front that last well into the wee hours.

Though a comfortable hotel stay is some 25 miles away, the festival affords to experience folk art at its provenance. While Langa and Manganiar musicians are hot invitees on world stage, JVF aims to bring the world to their homes.

















This piece by yours truly was carried in India’s national daily –