Tag Archives: archaeology

Naked Men and Peacock Brushes

Sarnath to Buddhists is what Varanasi is to Hindus, but many people forget that Sarnath is also an important pilgrimage site to Jains. So important, that a careful observer can spot some very devoted Jains visiting the Sarnath complex. In fact so devoted that some of them are naked.

What? What do Sarnath, nudity and Jainisn have in common?? Continue reading to find out more.

I had just finished touring the Archaeological Museum of Sarnath (a really fantastic, small museum!) and was drinking water outside the museum entrance when my brain registered something “weird”. There they were, five fully-naked men, walking toward me. They were tanned, I noticed, and they wore absolutely nothing (I had to look twice to be sure). The only accessory each one of these men had was a beautiful, rather big brush made of peacock feather.

peacock-feather brush

It was one of those moments when my brain didn’t register very well everything happening around me. I looked at my husband, wondering if he had seen the same thing but I was also simultaneously asking myself if my water could have been drugged. My husband looked at me, and without hesitation we returned to the museum –partially fascinated by the most amazing appearance of nakedness, partially embarrassed of our brains that were sending signals of “strangeness”.

Indeed, why did we label nudity strange? Why were we astonished while the men seemed so content and at peace? Were our brains too narrow-minded and “western”? 

We followed the footsteps of these men during ten minutes and there was a lot to admire. Their courage to walk around naked. Their muscled bodies that had no tan lines. Their super elegant peacock brushes. Their deep concentration in front of the 2500-year-old statues. Their capacity to ignore people like us who could not take their eyes off them.

Eventually the men left the museum. They could have been transported away by flying peacocks and it would not have surprised me any more.

They left behind peace. We were smiling –no longer at the nakedness but at the beauty of this world and the diversity of India.


Note: Obviously I did not ask these men to pose for a photograph, so instead of naked men you will have to look at my legs!
The peacock fan in the photo is not identical to the one these Jain men had.

India: Top 10 places to visit

This is not your usual guide to India, which directs you to Taj Mahal, the Golden Triangle and Goa. I am not saying these places are not worth visiting -they are- but my goal is to show the richness of India by introducing diversified, less obvious places to visit. Namaste! Taj Mahal

My Top Ten of India (in alphabetical order):

1. Badami (Karnataka). Why? The capital of the Chalukya Kings during the 6th-7th centuries. Stunning cave temples dedicated to Hinduism and Jainism. Badami is also a small, pleasant and rather green town.

2. Chettinad (Tamil Nadu). Why? Chettinad is a region and its capital is Karaikudi. It is the home to Nagarathars, people renowned for their financial and banking skills, who migrated to South and Southeast Asia in the 19th and 20th century. With the money they made abroad, many splendid mansions were built in Chettinad, making the region an architectural pearl. Moreover, Chettinad is famous for its distinctive, delicious cuisine.Chettinad

3. Ellora (Maharashtra). Why? A group of rock-cut temples devoted to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. A UNESCO World Heritage site. The most famous temple Kailasanatha, built in the 8th century, was carved from one rock, hence a true architectural masterpiece.

4. Hampi (Karnataka). Why? Another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The capital of the Vijayanagara empire in the 14th-17th century. Impressive Hindu temples scattered around a huge terrain. Do not miss the Elephant stables!

5. Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh). Why? A crazy, noisy and polluted city. Closest I have been to Pakistan (what I imagine Pakistan to be like). At the same time, Hyderabad is amazing and fascinating!! The world’s Biryani capital. Excellent Biryanis.Hyderabad

6. Kannur (Kerala). Why? Not many people have heard of Kannur, but if you want to see the famous Theyyam performance-ritual, this is the town where you will be based. Theyyam is more than 2000 years old and a definite must see. (Note: I had hard time choosing between Kochi and Kannur, but chose Kannur because Theyyams are less known than Kochi)

7. Mamallapuram (Tamil Nadu). Why? Built in the 7th century by a Pallava King, Mamallapuram is an other fantastic UNESCO World Heritage site. Elements of Dravidianism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Stunning monolithic rock carvings and sculpted reliefs. For elephant lovers. Mamallapuram

8. Shekhawati (Rajasthan). Why? Located on an old trade route, Shekhawati region is another architectural pearl, full of spectacular merchants’ and industrialists’ houses. These houses are real storyboards and their frescoes tell a story of the late 19th century industrialization. Read more: Shekhawati: the Haveli Hub

9. Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh). Why? Tirupati is your base for visiting the Shri Venkateshvara Temple located in the Tirumala Hills. One of the most important Hindu pilgrimage site in India. In the league of Vatican and Mecca in the global context. Talking about the power of religion.

Udaipur10. Udaipur (Rajasthan). Why? The Venice of the East. Probably the most romantic city of India. Sleep in an old palace and you will see why.

What is your favorite place in India and for what reason? And if you haven’t yet been to India, then what would be your top three places to go to?

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Revisiting Angkor

Today was the last day of the exhibition Angkor, Birth of a Myth- Louis Delaporte and Cambodia at Museum Guimet in Paris. Coincidentally, it was almost one year ago that I visited these ancient temples myself. Angkor exhibition, museum GuimetEven if we spent a rather long time (five full days!) in Siem Reap (Eat Drink Sleep Siem Reap (survival guide to Siem Reap) visiting nearby temples, I still felt it was not sufficient to really absorb and understand what had happened in the past. “Who what why when” became more complicated than ever! There were the Hindu Kings, then Buddhism; there were many different empires. To notice architectural details each religion brought to different temples during different times was not always easy, and having a lousy guide did not help. Indeed, it felt very overwhelming to be honest. And maybe this is why I still have not written anything about the Angkor temples (after one year!!).Angkor, museum GuimetHowever, visiting the exhibition this afternoon enlightened me. It was such a great pleasure to see old drawings, photos, maps, paintings, moldings, replicates, etc. that I now feel one step closer to actually being able to write something about this extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Meanwhile, have you ever felt the same about a historic or archaeological place somewhere in the world?

More information about the exhibition: http://culturoid.com/2013/10/angkor-birth-of-a-myth-louis-delaporte-and-cambodia-musee-guimet-paris/ 

Museum Guimet: www.guimet.frMuseum GuimetPS Museum Guimet is an architectural pearl. It hosts one of the best Asian art collections of the world, if not the very best. So pay a visit if interested in Asian art.

The Palace of Knossos and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion

Tourists come to Heraklion to see mainly two attractions: the Palace of Knossos (http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh351.jsp?obj_id=2369) and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum (http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/1/eh151.jsp?obj_id=3327). Internet is full of information about these two sites so I will focus on sharing my impressions and some practical information.

The Bull-Leaping Fresco IMG_2944

Knossos is exactly 7km away from the Old Harbour. Guide books tell you to arrive before 10am in order to avoid the crowds but we arrived at 11am and it was not yet crowded (well, the last time we visited a site like this it was the Angkor Temples in Cambodia and it was VERY busy, so nothing will probably ever feel the same afterwards!) But please notice that we were visiting Knossos outside the peak season.

Archaeological Museum of Herakleion

Prior to visiting Knossos we had heard quite a bit of criticism about the site’s excavation and restoration efforts but we thought everything was pretty well done and clear. The Fresco Gallery was my favorite. It was interesting to hear that the Minoans had taken a special liking to the nature and animals, and beautiful and colorful birds, as well as monkeys, were brought from Egypt to Crete. Many exotic-looking animals are therefore featured on the frescoes and clay jars.


Lonely Planet Crete (2012) provides you with an itinerary how to visit Knossos (starting by the West and the North Court), but the signs at the site tell you to do the opposite. I don’t have an opinion on this; both seem to work. Knossos costs 6€ per person and for 10€ you can buy a ticket that includes the Museum (it is valid during one week), but it is not necessary because the museum ticket brought separately costs 4€ (there is no discount).

We visited first Knossos and the Museum the next day but it is totally feasible to visit Knossos and the Museum the same day. However, I would recommend to keep this order: first Knossos, then the Museum. The Museum wraps up nicely everything that you saw and read in Knossos.

Archaeological Museum of Herakleion

The museum is under renovation and at the moment there are only three areas open to the public: around the corner from the main building you have the main collection with excellent explanations and in the main building there are two room: one for statues and one for the famous frescoes. I was told there will be more rooms open this summer but no details were shared.

I do not consider myself as someone crazy about museums but I fell in love with the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and the history of Knossos. Knowing that this is where the first European city was developing almost 4000 years ago really struck me.