Category: Artwork




By Sharon St Joan


Centuries ago, as today, travelers waited at crossing points to go across the Tungabadra. Nearby are stone platforms no longer in use where the heat of the Indian summer was broken by leaves overhead as they rested in the shade waiting for their turn to cross the great river. Round boats called coracles would carry them to the island just across the way.




A few yards downhill was a small shrine to Ganesha where they could ask the God’s blessing for their trip.


From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, Hampi was the great capital of the Vijanagara dynasty, which ruled all of south India. Many of the citizens had leisure time; they were well off, and their city, estimated to be three times the size of Paris at the time, may have been the largest and wealthiest city in the world.


The British economic historian, Angus Maddison, has described India as the richest country on earth for well over a thousand years, possessing from one quarter to one third of the entire global wealth – until the advent of the British.


How short our memories are that some of us do not even think of the ancient lands of Asia, Africa, and South America in any way other than as “developing” countries struggling to catch up.




The Tungabadra is a broad, pale, blue-gray river, wide, as many Indian rivers are, nearly a mile across, it winds its way along the border of Hampi, narrowing and deepening, as it runs through a gorge with spectacular huge boulders on either side. These boulders, scattered throughout the area, are a distinctive feature of Hampi. Some are as big as houses; looking for all the world as if a giant hand has swept them up and dropped them again in great heaps; they line the roadsides, as well as the horizons, in towering piles.



4Tundrabhadri photo


A beautiful river with many small green islands, the Tungabadra, along with the amazing boulders, forms natural defensive barriers that helped protect the city for hundreds of years — reasons that this site was originally chosen to be the capitol of south India.


The line of the Vijayanagara kings who ruled this area began with two brothers, Harihara I and Bukka Raya I. It is said that, as boys, they were enslaved and forcibly converted to Islam, in 1327, when their father was taken prisoner by advancing forces.


The two boys grew up, took back their freedom, and in 1336, they set up their capitol city at Hampi, and spent the rest of their lives staging a firm resistance to the Moslem intruders who were sweeping down the western regions of India from the north. The line of rulers and the empire they established held its ground against repeated incursions for around two hundred years.


Even though the city of Vijayanagara, or Hampi, was eventually overrun, the brave centuries-long stand of the Vijayanagara kings and their people meant that regions of India’s far south, like Tamil Nadu and Travancore (which was divided up later in the twentieth century), were able to retain their freedom, and unlike the central and most of the northern states, were never taken over and ruled by invaders.




Since the sacking of Hampi in 1565, the city has never been rebuilt. No one lives there now, but the area has many people all the same. Tourists visit, especially from all over India. Guides offer their services, there are cold drink stands, and young boys, some clearly destined to be future entrepreneurs, sell guide books.




No small family houses remain at Hampi, but hundreds of fascinating stone structures still stand in the approximately two mile by three mile area south of the river, which is a UNESCO heritage site.




Many of the temples have been excavated in recent years, and archeological work is ongoing. One can walk up sloping rock hills to visit palaces, giant sculptures, and beautiful sites of worship, peering into the windows of the past. Long stone bazaars now stand empty – once they thronged with crowds where merchants sold diamonds, rubies, and gold; others fruits and vegetables, or simply trinkets and bangles.


An impressive 162 feet high dam has been built on the Tungabadra River to provide electricity and irrigation to the region around Hampi. Completed in 1953, it creates a large reservoir and the dam itself is lit up at night with colored lights. Despite the dam and the seemingly huge quantities of water, the area is suffering from a severe drought.


Trees dot the hillsides, some with leaves faded from the lack of rain. There are many date palms too, not originally native to south India.




In the fading light of the sunset, one can sense the presence of ancient spirits among the immense sculptures and temples; in them the glory and majesty of this great empire lives on. There is a gentleness in the beautifully carved sculptures and a lingering memory of the heroic strength of those who fought well to defend their land.


Top photo: The Tungabadra river where people can cross by boat to an island.


Second photo: A Ganesha shrine.


Third photo: Huge boulders, a natural feature of this region.


Fourth photo: The Tungabadra where it widens.


Fifth photo: Boys selling guide books.


Sixth photo: Tourists and a toppled pillar.


Seventh photo: This used to be a row of shops.


Eighth photo: Palms around a little shrine.



© Text and photos, Sharon St Joan, 2017









By Sharon St Joan


To read part one first, click here.


All of the above is not in any way to downplay the dedication, heroism, and lifelong work of the many who have fought to protect our wild lands. Though this is a struggle against an overwhelming force, there is no doubt that this brave work has held back and delayed the deluge of destruction.


It is not simply greed that is at fault here, though clearly that plays a large role. But even more basic is the notion, pervasive throughout our culture, that all of nature is subservient to human beings, and ultimately that nature is an “it” not a “who.”


Some level of sentience is accorded to animals, but in the common view and the commonly accepted norms of science, no level of sentience or consciousness is accorded to plants, let alone to rocks, cliffs, mountains, the oceans, or the earth. This perspective is so fully embraced by science, and science has now taken such a lofty place of authority, that suggesting that the beings of nature have their own lives, as well as their own awareness and intrinsic value, is considered so farfetched as to not be worth a passing glance.


(I do understand, and I agree, that science can play a vital, much-needed role in combating climate change and the destruction of species. It remains true, however, that science is a double-edged sword. Science also ushered in the industrial revolution and many of the ills that are now destroying our planet. Science, like any tool, can be used for harm or for good.)




There is a counterforce to the drive to destroy nature – a simple one – many people the world over are distressed and protest vociferously when great old trees are cut down to widen a city street. They see a tree as a living being; in a way, as a person. People feel the same reaction when they see the ocean clogged with garbage or watch any aspect of nature being treated with disrespect or disregard. There is an underlying sense among most of us, not always articulated, that Mother Nature is being harmed, and this deep love for the earth lingers on in the human psyche despite all the centuries of propaganda promoting dominance and destruction.


There are two forces within human nature. At the moment, and cumulatively over the centuries, the powers of hatred and the drive to kill the wild, are winning. We need to become aware of these two forces within us and around us.


If we are ever to have any hope of re-connecting with the earth and with the natural world of which we are a part, we will need to go out into nature, in respectful silence, to once again come to know and to acknowledge the sentience of all of nature, the spirits, and the beings that our most distant ancestors knew so well. We are not separate, as we believe. We are they, and they are us.




One way to re-affirm this bond with nature is through art and music, which tend to value the spiritual and the spirit. There are mystical realities far beyond the prosaic, assumed certainties of the linear mind. We must get to know nature once again – revere and worship the trees, the cliffs, the moon, the stars, the great bears, the cottontails, the eagles and the red-winged blackbirds. Without this deeper perspective and reality, we are doomed to destroy the planet, all living things, and ourselves as well. In the interests of our own survival, physical and spiritual, and in the interests of the sacred lands and sacred beings all around us, it is time for us to do this.


It may, or may not be, too late to save this world, but nature is not just physical, it is spirit. It is eternal and transcendent, recurring and recurring, again and again, always present in the greater cosmos that lies beyond. So this effort spent to re-connect with the beings of nature will bring a clearer, mystical reality; it will bring inner peace. It will help the beings of nature and ourselves, and, whatever the outcome, it will not be in vain.


© Sharon St. Joan, 2016.


Top photo: Sharon St Joan / Pine trees in the Kaibab Forest, Arizona.


Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Juniper tree in Kane County, Utah.


Third photo: Vitornet / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported / Bald eagle. 










One of the pillars at Gobekli Tepe.


By Sharon St Joan


In his remarkable book, Gobekli Tepe, Genesis of the Gods, Andrew Collins paints a portrayal of the possible cosmic significance of these great mysterious circles of stone pillars, in southeastern Turkey, whose origins go back nearly 12,000 years into the past, to the time of the ending of the last great Ice Age. They are believed to be the oldest megalithic structures in the world.


Obviously, no one today can know for sure what the builders of Gobekli Tepe intended or what they were thinking.


On some of the stone circles, imaginative depictions of animals are carved on the right sides of each of the great pillars – only on the right side, with no carvings on the left. Andrew Collins makes the point that these seemed to be designed for circumambulation – as devotees would have walked clockwise around the great circle, they would have been able to view all the carved animals; whereas, if they walked counterclockwise, they would have seen no carvings. In Hindu and Buddhist temples today, circumambulation is always clockwise. In Islam, on the other hand, during the hajj, pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba in a counterclockwise direction. Collins notes that sun dials, and later clocks, were designed to reflect the movement of the sun, and to go clockwise.


A century or so ago, it used to be thought that the Greeks invented the zodiac, dividing the sky and the seasons into 12 segments. There were many much earlier cultures, however, who used this division of the sky into 12 segments.


Andrew Collins states that, by at least 2400 B.C.E., and probably long before, the Indus Valley civilization had divided the celestial horizon into 12 parts, and they were using an instrument made of shell to mark off 360 degrees on the horizon. Some of the great enclosures of Gobekli Tepe are divided by their pillars or columns into 12 parts, though there is no evidence that these ancient builders were thinking in terms of a zodiac. Perhaps they were, or perhaps they weren’t. We may never know.


The placement of two large pillars in the center of the Gobekli Tepe enclosures suggests an axis mundi or world axis – portrayed in spiritual traditions throughout the world.



A Hopi kiva showing a sipapu.


Seen as the cosmic tree or the cosmic mountain, the world axis is the line linking the earth, the heavens and the underworld – or the many worlds or levels, depending on the views of the particular culture. In Hopi and other southwest Puebloan traditions, the sipapu is the point of connection between the worlds and the point of emergence from the previous world into this earthly world. It is not a mountain, but a straight line, with openings from world to world. It is believed by many Hopis to be located in the Grand Canyon, the place of creation, where people emerged into this world from the previous world which was underground.



Ma’rib, ancient capital of the Sabaeans, in modern-day Yemen.


Collins points out what seem to be a number of celestial correspondences between the stone pillars and the stars, and he mentions that the Sabaeans, who were star worshippers living in the city of Harran, right near Gobekli Tepe, are known to have held an annual celebration, the Mystery of the North, during which they revered the northern direction as the source of life. These people, living around 8,000 BC were most likely the direct descendants of the people of Gobekli Tepe, who may have passed on to them their worship of the direction North.


They are not unique in their reverence for the North. Apparently, the Yazidis (or Yezidis) – the much-persecuted people who were in the news two years ago, stranded on a mountain top, in imminent danger from Isil forces, also turn to the north in prayer, as do the Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran. The Brethren of Purity, an Ismaili sect, do the same. All these peoples may have had their cultural views passed down to them from their Neolithic ancestors.



The constellation Cygnus, showing the former pole star, Deneb


Deneb is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus. Though the name Cygnus means swan, the constellation is perceived just as often to be a vulture, as a swan. During the years prior to 9500 B.C.E., the time of Gobekli Tepe, Deneb was a circumpolar star that never set; it was the North Pole star, the position that Polaris occupies today.


Perhaps the builders of Gobekli Tepe were archeoastronomers who aligned their tall, elegant structures to the heavens, possibly with a particular worship of the northerly direction and the North Pole star.


© Sharon St Joan, 2016


Andrew Collin’s book, Gobekli Tepe, Genesis of the Gods is available on Amazon, click here




Top photo: Erkcan / Wikimedia Commons / “I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.” / The sculpture of an animal (perhaps a fox) at Gobekli Tepe, close to Sanliurfa.


Second photo: Wvbailey / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / “Image of sipapu (small round hole) in floor of ruin of kiva at Long House ruins in Mesa Verde.”


Third photo: Bernard Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / Ruins of ancient Ma’rib, the capital of the Sabaeans, in present-day Yemen.


Fourth photo: Torsten Bronger / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / The Cynus constellation



By Sharon St Joan


In 1963, when archeologists first went to southeastern Turkey to investigate Gobekli Tepe, they found the surrounding hills littered with stone tools, remnants left by ancient hunter-gatherers, just on the verge of transitioning to a new age of pastoralists and farmers.


Andrew Collins writes about Gobekli Tepe in his very fascinating book – Gobekli Tepe – Genesis of the Gods. It must have been an extraordinary place for archeologist Klaus Schmidt to see when he visited there in 1994.


Who could explain these elegant, enigmatic columns – tall, well-finished and beautifully carved with animal forms – going back many, many thousands of years to around 9,500 BCE, thousands of years earlier than any other known megalithic structures? What language did these early people speak and what was their culture? What gods did they worship? What were their lives like? And what was the meaning of these great, eerie, magnificent, mysterious columns inscribed with such strange art and symbols?


There was certainly a meaning to these great creations in stone, and these are our ancestors – one way or another – over 12,000  years their descendants must have spread both east and west, across the earth.




Back in 1963, when a joint Istanbul/Chicago team of archeologists visited Gobekli Tepe, the importance of the site, which had not been excavated, was not immediately apparent to them. Instead they focused on a site about one hundred and fifty miles to the north, Cayonu Tepesi. Cayonu Tepesi is a few miles from modern Diyarbakir, an ancient city first identified in Assyrian writings from around 1300 BCE, as being an Aramean or Aramaic city. (It’s a very long and very complex history.) This whole region in southeast Turkey lies not far north of the Syrian border.


Cayonu thrived between 8630 BCE and 6820 BCE, or about one thousand years later than the beginnings (unless there are earlier beginnings not yet excavated) of Gobekli Tepe. The people were using beaten, though not smelted, copper. They had domestic pigs, and had developed linen as a fabric. The site is near Gobekli Tepe and may well have been the same civilization.


The floors in the Cayonu buildings were extraordinary, in one case the flooring was composed of polished limestone slabs over six feet in length. In another building, the flooring, a hard polished surface of crushed lime and clay, was 16 inches thick.


In the interior of the rooms were stone posts and tall stone pillars.


Another Pre-Pottery Neolithic site, Nevali Cori, stands on a hill overlooking the Euphrates, thirty miles (forty-eight kilometers) north/northeast of Gobekli Tepe. Its heyday was between 8500 BCE to 7600 BCE, around the same time as Cayonu.


One of the rooms at Nevali Cori featured twelve columns, with the stone at the top of each column forming either a T or an L shape, like those at Gobekli Tepe. A separate elongated stone head was found, with a long ponytail. A pillar ten feet (3 meters) high, that still stands, was carved into a stylized human form, showing two hands around the body. The way that the hands are carved, with long narrow stylized fingers and no visible thumb, and their placement, is very reminiscent of the hands on the great stone statues, called moai, at Easter Island. The Easter Island heads are mostly not just heads, but can be seen to be torsos once they are uncovered from their burial under the earth. Many have hands just like this.




When German archeologist, Klaus Schmidt stood on the slope of Gobekli Tepe and looked across the scattered bits of sculpture strewn on the ground, he reached an alarming conclusion. He realized that if he did not leave immediately, he would feel compelled to devote the rest of his life to excavating this site. Fortunately for us, he did spend his remaining years at Gobekli Tepe. This was good because the entire hillside had been about to be turned into a giant quarry, from which to dig up stones for the construction of a new highway. Without Klaus Schmidt’s intervention to save the site, the world would never have glimpsed any of Gobekli Tepe, now believed to be the world’s oldest known megalithic structure.




Top photo: Teomancimit / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / A Gobekli Tepe pillar; the carved animals are believed to be a bull, a fox, and a crane.



Second photo: Krahenstein / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Cayonu Tepesi, the Skull Building.


Third photo: Ordercrazy / Wikimedia Commons / This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. / Klaus Schmidt.


Andrew Collin’s book, Gobekli Tepe, Genesis of the Gods is available on Amazon, click here.


© Sharon St Joan, 2016











mysore paintings

handloom exhibition April 23


By Sharon St Joan


In his book, Vellore Fort and the Temple through the Ages, A.K. Sheshadri writes extensively about the Jalakanteswarar Temple.


Tracing the history of temple building in Tamil Nadu, he mentions that during the early Sangam period, many temples were built of brick and wooden beams, and that this method of building continued until the time of the rock-cut temples – those dug out from the solid rock of hills. The rock-cut temples survive to the present, but the early brick and wooden temples mostly do not.


During the post-Sangam period, up to the seventh century CE, many of the Gods known locally came to be identified with more widely known Sanskrit Gods. Mayon came to be seen as identical to Krishna or Vishnu. Likewise, Koorravai was seen as Durga – and Seyon or Murugan came to be known as Karthikeya. This was a synthesis which took shape between the eighth and the thirteenth centuries.


During this time, Tamil Nadu was gaining recognition as the land of many temples. The Cholas and others carried on this great temple building tradition.




Later, from the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries, temple building in south India burst into a major expansive phase during the reigns of the Vijayanagara kings, who ruled from their capitol in Karnataka. The imposing features associated with Hindu temples today; such as large gopurams (entrance towers), long corridors, and mandapams (pillared halls) were added. Across the Indian south, many hundreds of temples were expanded, some were entirely rebuilt, and new temples sprung up.


In the view of the author S.K. Sheshadri, who spent decades excavating the fort in Vellore and the temple within it, the first stage of both the temple and the inner fort was constructed by one of the Sambuvarayar kings, Vendrumankonda Sambuvarayar, in the early fourteenth century CE. An inscription with the date 1274 CE, though not quite consistent with the dates of this king, places the temple construction at around the same time as the Sambuvarayars.


Vellore lies in the region once known as Tondaimandalam, which was ruled by the Sambuvarayar chieftains. Today there exist inscriptions in and around eight towns near Vellore. These give the old name of the deity of the temple, who is Shiva, as Jwarakantesvara, which means the God who destroys “jwara” or “vyadhi,” that is “fever” or “disease.” Today the temple is known as the Jalakanteswarar; however, S.K. Sheshadri points out that “jala” means “water” in Sanskrit, and “destroyer of water” doesn’t make much sense. It makes more sense for God to be the “destroyer of fever,” or “healer,” as the original name “Jwarakanteswarar” suggested.


The Jalakanteswarar Temple stands in the northern area of the massive Vellore Fort. The ground level of the Fort has actually risen by more than nine feet, and the original level of the Temple was much lower than it is today. This is all rather complicated, but the effect of the difference in levels was that the original drainage system was covered up by earth that was added later, and without proper drainage, during the rainy seasons, water accumulated inside the temple, causing damage to the structure. When the Archeological Survey of India undertook the systematic excavation supervised by S.K. Sheshadri, they uncovered the original ground level and restored the drainage system to proper working condition.


Beautiful early structures and shrines were discovered that had lain covered in mud for centuries, along with a lovely square tank (pool) reached by descending steps, to the east of one of the wedding halls, and also a ring well in the inner courtyard of the temple.




The temple complex covers two acres. The main gopuram is rectangular, with the base constructed of granite blocks. Near the top of the tower are sculptured yalis, who are mythical lions.


Beyond a second gopuram lies an inner courtyard. There are traces of paintings on the ceilings of both gopurams.


In front of the shrine to Akilanteswari, are located nine burning oil lamps for the nine planets. Akilanteswari is one of the major forms of the Goddess Parvati.


There are two large wedding halls for the sacred marriage of Lord Shiva, as Jalakanteswarar, and the Goddess Parvati, as Akilanteswari, which takes place anew every year.




The Nataraja Shrine is a pillared hall, containing beautifully carved sculptures of the ten incarnations of Vishnu – although this is a Shiva temple, not a Vishnu temple. (Nataraja is the dancing form of Shiva.) It is thought that the temple was originally dedicated to the worship of both Vishnu and Shiva, and that this shrine within the temple may have earlier enshrined Ranganatha, or Narayana, the God who rests on the divine serpent Adi Shesha, while drifting on the cosmic ocean. There is also a double set of kitchens indicating that the temple was for the worship of both Gods, as is the case for the Chidambaram Temple, further south near the coast of the Bay of Bengal.


With its intricately carved, graceful sculptures, and its lovely architectural forms and shapes, the Jalakanteswarar Temple transports one gently into the magical presence of the eternal and the sacred.


 Photos: Nanditha Krishna