On the Seemantham celebration

The ‘Seemantham’ function is a common traditional South Indian (Tamil, Telugu and Kannada) ritual celebrating the arrival of a couple’s (usually) first child. The function is performed in the odd months of pregnancy (3rd, 5th, 7th or 9th).The idea is to invoke various Hindu gods to bless the couple and baby with trouble-free delivery and a prosperous long life.

There are three components to this function:

  1. The Valaikaappu (lit. valai = bangle + kaapu = protection) function is first performed by the mother-to-be’s mother (or in-laws if convenient). The mother-to-be is given several bangles (made of either glass, gold or silver) to wear on her two wrists. It is believed that the sounds of these bangles clinging onto each other will reach the womb and make the baby happy.
  2. The Udakashanti (lit. udaka = water + shanti = peace) function: This is a common Hindu ritual that is performed to invoke various nature gods. It begins with an invocation to Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity, who is considered to be the remover of obstacles. This is followed by a puja (prayer) involving a kalasam (a vessel containing water and decorated with flowers and mango leaves) and chanting of hymns from the Krishna Yajur Veda. The water in the kalasam is symbolically meant to represent water from the river Ganga (in India) which is one of the most holy rivers for the Hindus. Varuna (the god of the oceans and waters) is invoked to purify the parents-to-be and help them with a trouble-free delivery. The water from the kalasam is then sprinkled on the couple by guests, symbolizing their good wishes. The deity Vishnu (considered the preserver of the universe) is finally invoked to bless the couple with good health. Following this, a small homam (type of puja) is performed with offerings to Agni, the god of fire and light. The couple is then considered to have attained the goodwill of Agni so that they are filled with confidence and courage on this new journey.
  3. The seemantham is the final ceremony wherein the water (considered to contain the blessings of the water god Varuna) is poured over the mother-to-be. Finally, the goddesses Lakshmi (goddess of prosperity) and Saraswati (goddess of wisdom) are invoked to bestow the child with both prosperity and intellect.

The entire ceremony lasts about 2-2.5 hours. Traditionally, the Seemantham function was performed for all children, but it is nowadays common to perform this function only for the first child.


WhollyZootopia #2

Big cats at the zoo. Jaguar (left) and Indian leopard (right). Casein in a watercolor journal 5″x8″.

Quick sketch (~2 hrs) of two big cats at the zoo. The Jaguar (left) and Indian leopard (right) look nearly identical. The main difference between them is in the spots on their coats. The jaguar has a ring with a dot in it while the leopard has only rings.

The wrath of rAma


Rama’s wrath. Watercolor on paper (7″x10″). 

rAma, the hero of the great epic the Ramayana,was a prince in the kingdom of koshala (modern day Uttar Pradesh/ Bihar). He was once summoned by the mighty sage vishwAmitra (also called Kaushika) to help him defeat some troublesome demons. One such was the terrible thAtaka, a female ogress with the strength of a thousand elephants. She tortured the people of the forest and prevented the sages from performing their austerities. Such was rAma’s prowess with the bow that he loosed a single shaft and pierced thAtaka in the chest to end her life.

The episode occurs in the Bala Kanda book of the Ramayana (Sarga/ Chapter 26).


Indra and Vritra

Indra and Vritra. Studies (Top row) in ink and gouache, about 9″x12″ each. Painting (bottom row), oil on paper, 11″x15″.

The episode of Indra fighting the demonic vritra that appears in the rig veda has numerous parallels in other ancient cultures (Hittite, Eastern European).The serpentine vritra swallowed all the waters, causing draught to the land. Seeing this, the king of the devas Indra, brimming with confidence and the soma drink, takes him on with his divine weapon (the vajra or thunderbolt), astride the mighty airAvata (the king of elephants). The fight lasts long but vritra is utterly vanquished in the end.

This aspect of Indra and the very form of vritra have undergone significant changes over the millenia, to attain the foms they have in modern Hinduism. Nonetheless, they refer to an ancient time when songs of valour and courage occupied the minds of the common-folk and battles with mighty enemies captured their imagination.

From the jungle…

Path to the forest. Casein and gouache on paper 10″x14″.

Forest scene showing two male deer. The first stage was a quick watercolor-esque gouache application (left). The gouache can be treated just like watercolor, this consists mostly of wet-in-wet washes of burnt umber, yellow ochre and cobalt blue. For this, transparent gouache pigments are essential since many manufacturers add titanium white or filler in their gouache.

Even though gouache ‘lifts’ with water, addition of thicker casein paint on top of the first stage can be done with minimal lifting (Right). This shines through, particularly in the dry brush effects with the grass. Some brown ink was added later for fine lines in the fur.

Head studies

Head studies. Casein on paper 2.5″x2.5″ each.

Head studies of works by two (nearly) contemporary artists – James Gurney (left) and Rien Poortvliet (right). The attempt was to recreate their working styles in the course of this study.

James makes a pencil sketch, fixes with acrylic matte medium, then goes from transparent to opaque paint application. Rien starts with a permanent brown ink drawing with semi opaque paint application over the top.