From Sukhothai, Thailand

Conté crayon, 14 x 17

This could have been a scene from ancient Sri Lanka. The influence of that country’s architectural motifs was unmistakable, from the stroke of the chisel to the slather of the trowel.

I was walking in the central part of the Sukhothai Historical Park when I chanced upon this masterpiece in the deserted shine of Wat Sorasak. It was commissioned to be built in the early 1400s by one monk Nai Inthara Sorasak in honor of the governor.

In awe, I gazed at the parade of 24 stucco elephants that protectively emerged from the bricks holding up the chedi. “These elephants,” my guide told me,“are eternally upholding our great tenets of Buddhism.”

The bricks that made up the base were now worn out by 600 years of exposure to the elements, but the stucco was firmly holding up the line of resolute pachyderms.

I would have liked to wander around here some more, but the mosquito orchestra was getting a bit sonorous and aggressive.  I took a few pictures and later sketched this in the air-conditioned comfort of my room.

 

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From Sukhothai, Thailand

Scratchboard with line tool, 12 x 16,  Time taken: 2.5 hours

Living in Thailand for nearly five years, I had adopted the common mode of transport and took the motorcycle taxi or simply the “motorcy” as it is known in local parlance. Like everyone else I’d weave furiously through the dense Bangkok traffic, clinging to the handlebars for dear life. Several times on Bangkok’s main street – Sukhumvit Road – I had come close enough to tickle an elephant on its leg. But then at some point they stopped these animals from plodding the streets in Bangkok. Now I was back for a brief visit, having lived over fifteen years in Chicago, and I longed to come across an elephant again.

I had desperately called up a well-known elephant sanctuary in Sukhothai. However, they would accommodate only guests who stayed over in their lodgings so that these gentle giants could bond with the visitors. Even if I was able and willing to do that, their location was more than an hour away from the ruins and it wouldn’t serve my purpose given that my time here was short.

Maew, my Sukhothai guide, was eager to help me in my quest. We could, he said, wander the forests of Si Satchanalai in search of elephants that often emerged out of the thickets in search of sugarcane fields. He even suggested the far-fetched notion of lying in wait in one such clearing, from which, he assured me, a trumpeting herd would emerge during the sunset hours. Alas, those forests were more than six hours away, and in such sweltering heat, wasn’t the most appealing of options.

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Out of the blue, we bumped into a mahout by the name of Tong, who was ambling towards a welcome patch of shade with his handsome charge. Tong was headed home, to his village which was located between Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai.

Happy at my good fortune, I took a few pictures of Tong and his pachyderm companion — simply known as Nok. As a token of my gratitude I gave Nok a bunch of bananas I had tucked away in the van.

A month later I recreated this scene on scratchboard, using a line tool to capture the soft yet wrinkly skin.

– Check out www.kvkrishnan.com to get more insights into my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

From San Ignacio, Belize

Scratchboard, 16 x 20
Hiking the densely-forested terrain of the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve in Belize, I had spotted several troops of howler monkeys, gibnuts, white-lipped peccaries and countless exotic birds. Sadly the only jaguar I spotted in that trip had been at the Belize Zoo.

Not content with such an interesting animal parade, upon every rustle in the thicket my ears would perk up for the faintest whistle of that gentle giant. The Baird’s tapir that had once rubbed shoulders with the ancient Maya indeed proved to be a shy creature. A scary herbivore when enraged, I had to be careful lest I stumbled upon an unsuspecting full-grown adult or worse, a mother and its baby. Unfortunately the closest I came to spotting a ‘mountain cow’ – as the tapir is known – was only a set of fresh tracks on a trail leading to a pond.

Mother and Child - A Family Portrait

My foray to the Belize Zoo surprisingly proved futile since the resident tapir had decided to nap out its afternoon, much to my chagrin. Determined, I ended up at the Field Museum in Chicago, picking up where the taxidermist had left off.

Lighting up the fur, and the eyes of mother and child with bolder cuts of the blade, I needed to breathe some life into this rather sterile setting. I used an X-Acto #11 blade, nicking out each strand of fur, hair by hair. It took me several weeks to complete one of my bigger pieces I had ever attempted in this medium.

 

– Check out www.kvkrishnan.com to get more insights into my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

From Mahabalipuram, India – Dispatch 3 of 3

 

In the midst of sand and spume there was only the sound of silence.

I was in ancient Mahabalipuram in South India on a sultry summer day in 1986.

A short walk away from the Shore Temple sprawled a tribute in stone dedicated to the heroes of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata.

 

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Upon an embankment stood fashioned five “chariots” (never understood how these looked like chariots!)  carved in stone – monolithic structures each hewn into its own peculiar shape. From the mighty Dharmaraja Ratha which towers above the rest, to the oblong Sahadeva Ratha and the little hut-like Draupadi Ratha, each monument seemed to share a history of its own.

Only the thrum of the booming sea wafted in the cool breeze as I watched these stone sentinels that had seen thirteen centuries of winds and waves dashing against the ramparts of an ancient sea-port.

Commercial scratchboards weren’t available then – I therefore put my homemade scratchboard of hardboard, gesso and India ink to use, creating this work over a couple of days.

 

– Check out www.kvkrishnan.com to get more insights into my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

 

 From Mahabalipuram, India, Dispatch 2 of 3

Here in the seaside town of Mahabalipuram in South India, master craftsmen of yore had chiseled splendor in stone. Each column, each image, each form came alive with rhythm of ancient architecture.

Facing the turquoise sea stood a 90 foot x 45 feet colossus, one of the biggest stone bas-reliefs in the world. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arjuna’s Penance comprises two humongous boulders with a fissure in between. Around it are carved figures of gods and goddesses, beasts and birds even as, somewhere in the contained chaos of stone figures,  Arjuna, the hero of the Indian epic, Mahabharata, stands upright, praying for victory in war.

It was a balmy day in the summer of 1986. I stood under a sweltering sun, taking a few sketches and black-and-white photographs with my boxlike Rolleiflex upon a wobbly tripod perched on sand. I had fashioned a 12 x 16 hardboard coated with hardened gesso and a coat of India ink. This was my scratchboard before commercially-made products were freely available.

 

– Check out www.kvkrishnan.com to get more insights into my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

 

From Mahabalipuram, India – Dispatch 1 of 3

 

I watched the waves lashing adamantly on the rocks, the hushing foam sweeping the sands. I stood by the Shore Temple, an ancient structure lost in time.

An hour’s palm-fringed drive along the road from Chennai in South India sprawls this once-flourishing sea-port – domain of the mythological vain king Bali, who was humbled by Vishnu, the Protector god of the Hindu pantheon.

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Mamallapuram, as it is popularly known, was once the kingdom of the Great Wrestler or Mamalla, King Narasimhavarman I (630 A.D -668 A.D) who had built the earliest of its monuments.

After a few sketches and photographs with my ancient black-and-white Rolleiflex, I proceeded to prepare my own scratchboard with gesso on hardboard with several coats of diluted black ink.

It was 1986 – one of my earliest pieces of such engraved art.

 

 

– Check out www.kvkrishnan.com to get more insights into my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

 

From Ellora Caves, India

 

“Tell  me  something,” I asked our guide at the  end  of  the tour of the Ellora Caves. “How did three distinct faiths coexist here as one?”

He thought a while.

“The  Ellora Caves are carved in along a gigantic  crescent – just like the moon much past its fulness”  he  replied, poetically. “The moon reflects itself separately on several pots  filled water. But there is only one moon, just as there is oneness in the cosmos…”

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 From Bryce Canyon, Utah

US - UTAH - Hoodos at Bryce Canyon
Serendipitous stone sentinels stretched endlessly as far as the eye could see. The wind fluted through these strange rocks, with every swish microscopically carving yet another mark on the face of Time. The afternoon sun smiled down on these shapely crags, licking them into a pinkish glimmer.

I stood watching the millions of these limestone sculptures arrayed in the spectacular diorama ahead – these were the ‘hoodoos’ of Bryce Canyon – sentinels of a harsh stonescape.

It had been a three-hour drive from my little log cabin in a place called Hurricane in Utah through lush landscape.

I stood by the Bryce Amphitheater, probably one of the most enchanted spots in timeless Bryce Canyon; some would argue, probably one of the most intriguing spots on this planet. I eyed the endless stretch of strangely shaped hoodoos from the loft of Bryce Point, one of the highest overlooks along the rim of the amphitheater. To me this could have passed off as an ancient necropolis, or even an ancient city carved into the mountainscape – replete with shrines and palaces, minarets and turrets – for miles that I could gaze into.

Far into my drive back to my cabin I couldn’t just get those stony wonders off my mind – spectators had seen through millions of years of earth’s moods and watched strange life forms come and go.

Civilizations had sprung forth and had been snuffed out, the sun had set on them a countless times, smoldering their faces into an eerie glow.

 

– In my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

From Melbourne, Australia

That cackle of a kookaburra was unmistakable. Thuds that sounded like a hopping kangaroo were quickly followed by the monotonous drone of a bumblebee and the howl of the dingo as it stalked its quarry in the harsh Australian outback.

Thankfully, I was far away from such a landscape of rugged wilderness. In fact, I stood by a colorful souvenir shop on Swanston Street in downtown Melbourne watching the didgeridoo player perform his musical magic.

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From Ellora Caves, India

We were more than 15 miles away from the colorful township of Aurangabad and 250 miles from the bustle of Mumbai. Our creaky Jeep headed for the renowned Ellora Caves was groaning through a winding ascent.

“Here are 34 caves carved out in a crescent curve on the slope of these low hills,” our guide told us.

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