Five eyes, four ears: Thai deity Sihuhata

A flower-child Sihuhata with bird decorations and what appears to be a cabbage-leaf face veil. 75 Anniversary and Flag Park, Chiang Rai.
The flower-child Sihuhata that captured my attention in 75 Anniversary and Flag Park, Chiang Rai. Note the cabbage-leaf face veil, trimmed with pink to match the flowered bonnet.

When I first saw the brightly-colored statue of a flower child with five eyes and four ears, little did I know that my curiosity about this figure would lead to a monster who eats red-hot coals and poops gold nuggets, a poor boy who marries a princess and a king whose dying desire is to see his seven wives’ genitalia – all in service of teaching Buddhist dharma.

I began searching and reading around on the internet, and soon discovered that the five-eyed, four-eared figure is Sihuhata, a northern Thai deity worshipped for his ability to bring wealth. Sihuhata translates to “four ears five eyes,” with “sii hoo” meaning “four ears” in Thai, and “ha dtaa” meaning “five eyes.” I’ve also seen the name in reverse – “Ha Ta See Hoo” – in my online wanderings.

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Learning Thai: The babiest of baby steps

Thai for Beginners by Benjawan Poomsan Becker from paiboonpublishing.comWe have started to teach ourselves Thai. As usual, Alan is way ahead of me in our book, Thai for Beginners by Benjawan Poomsan Becker. He tends to focus for longer periods and study more often than I do. The good thing about this is that I can ask him about things that are confusing me.

A few days ago, Alan told me, “You know, Chapter 2 doesn’t teach you any more consonants, only vowels. And sometimes the vowels can actually be consonants.”

“No!” I said. “Don’t tell me this. I don’t want to know yet.”

“Want to hear something else? There are live and dead syllables, too.”

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The old cook

The Old Cook.JPGHe was in his accustomed place every morning: sitting on a stool just inside the kitchen door, cutting up onions or boiled potatoes and dropping them into a huge steel bowl.

Though we usually arrived early at Kirpal Singh’s, it was already hot in this pre-monsoon season, the air in the restaurant thick and close with humidity.  As soon as we entered, sweat would begin to bead up on my face. The kitchen must have been even hotter.

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Street art, museum art: Guwahati has it all

Cows on wall mural in Guwahati

Most cities we’ve visited in India have street art. Sometimes it’s informal – people just grab some space and paint it – while other times it’s clear that an artist, or group of artists, has been hired to beautify a wall.

The wall paintings are not just decorative – they have a practical function, too.  Continue reading

Narmade har: the holy river Narmada and her devotees

Parikramavasis on the ghats by the Narmada in Maheshwar.
Parikramavasis on the ghats by the Narmada in Maheshwar.

We first discovered the pull of the Narmada during our two weeks in Maheshwar last December. It was during our time there that we first met parikramavasis: the devotees of the holy river who make a 2,600-kilometer pilgrimage to circle her entire length. Some start at the river’s mouth on the Indian Ocean, walk along her northern bank, circle her source at Amarkantak and return to the mouth. Others start at Amarkantak and complete their journey there. Wherever they start, all the parikramavasis perform their journey in a clockwise direction, keeping the Narmada on their right.

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Swargadwar: the burning ground in Puri

Sculpture of Kali at entrance to burning ground, Puri, OdishaThe goddess Kali is everywhere in Puri, portrayed in some of the fiercest, wildest, most bloodthirsty forms I have seen in our travels around India. A string of human skulls around the neck is nothing – Odishan Kalis have blood dripping from their mouths, they plunge lances into the chests of the humans below their feet, their eyes are crazed with lust for yet more blood.

Kali is the goddess of the graveyard. She rules the burning ground, the ultimate place of transformation where the body of this earthly life is promptly dispatched, the soul freed for the next stage of its journey.

Today in Puri I saw, right up close – and for the first time in all my travels through India – the details of a body being burned.

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Ahilyabai Holkar: the people’s ruler, the people’s goddess

Queen, warrior, social reformer and saint: I had never heard of Ahilyabai Holkar until we saw a statue of her in a park in Indore. I looked her up on Wikipedia then and there.

Photo of statue of Queen Ahilyabai Holkar in Rajwada Chowk, Indore, Madhya PradeshGlancing up from my phone to tell Alan what I’d learned, I saw a man standing before the statue of Ahilyabai, his hands folded in prayer. I watched as he prostrated, then sat in meditation at her feet. That’s when I understood Ahilyabai is much more than a historical figure, or even a heroine: She is a goddess.

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