India bound

20 10 2010


1922 photograph of Varanasi


Suresh and I are heading to India for the next week for a part art research, part vacation, part religious pilgrimage trip. I’ll try to post along the way but that might be unlikely to happen. We’ll spend a few days in the sacred city of Varanasi, also known as Kashi or Benares and situated on the Ganges River. As many of you know, my art focuses on water and images of water, making Varanasi a must-see. It’s one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus, and according to many sources, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world.

While we’re in Varanasi, we’ll visit nearby Sarnath, where Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Deer Park. Sarnath has an archeological museum containing the Lion Capital of Emperor Ashok (the national symbol of India and one of the images MMU Intro to Art students learn about in class). Next, we’ll spend a couple days in Bodhgaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment sitting under a Bodhi tree. Supposedly, the Bodhi tree there is a sapling from the original tree under which Buddha sat. Bodhgaya, as well as Sarnath, are major pilgrimage sites for Buddhists as you can imagine. Another major site is Lumbini in Nepal, where Buddha was born. Hopefully we’ll get to Lumbini next month because it’s very near my husband’s ancestral village.

Then it’s on to Allahabad for more watery art research. Sangam at Allahabad is the confluence of two visible sacred rivers and one invisible sacred river, thought to run underneath the other two. Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi’s right-hand-man, was originally from Allahabad and there’s a Nehru Museum there as well.

Lastly, before flying back to Varanasi, we’ll visit Khajuraho, known for it’s medieval Hindu and Jain temples covered with erotic sculpture. I’m sure you’ll be eagerly awaiting the photo uploads from Khajuraho. The eroticism depicts the sacred union of the gods and goddesses as a metaphor for the spiritual love and union believers should have with their god(s), so keep your pants on!

Stay tuned for trip updates.




15 responses

23 11 2010
Mallory Singbeil

I see that you are researching watery art. That is very interesting. What are some keys points that you have come to realizing while studying art in India? Since you are into watery art do you prefer to paint with watercolor or does it matter for you?

23 11 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Mallory,

I do like using watercolors, but mostly use them for sketches instead of completed or large-scale works of art, especially since I’ve been involved with photography more and more over the years. However, I’ve been trying to get back into some of my earlier loves such as traditional printmaking, and was hoping that this sabbatical would give me a chance to reflect on my past work in a new way. The experience of being here has been overwhelming (in a good way) and I almost feel like I need another long period of reflection in order to come up with some key points. Of course, I’ll try to have some key points by the time I speak about my Fulbright on campus in March. I hope you can come see my talk in person!

11 11 2010


You say that Varanasi is a must-see for you. Are you going to take, or have you taken, some photos of Ganges River yet? If so, what kind of photos are you taking? What do you focus on? Do you want your photos to be beautiful and/or do you want to tell the viewer something?

(By the way, I haven’t told you that I am a international student from Sweden. I remember my teacher in Swedish showed us a lot of pictures of her trip to India and Varanasi, and pictures of the Ganges River).


23 11 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Anna,

I hope you saw the example I posted of my in-process splash photography on the first India post. I’ll direct you to my bio page or website link for info on the content of my work since I don;t have enough room to answer that in this comment field. “Beauty” is almost a dirty word in the artworld these days because the word carries so many connotations. However, I do want viewers to respond to my work in a meaningful way and many people do find my works beautiful, which is okay with me.

8 11 2010
william allen

any response on my previous post about symbalism?

8 11 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi William,

I knew I’d be posting other info on fluids so I thought I’d wait to respond to your message. You read the “Festival of Lights” post and the reference to menstruating women. The blood of women is seen as dangerous somehow because it represents the powerful cosmic energy of Shakti manifested as Durga/Kali (destructive goddesses). Women are also forbidden (menstruating or not) from attending cremations since their tears, another fluid, are considered dangerous to the soul/spirit of the dead. The most diplomatic explanation I’ve heard is that because women have soft hearts, their tears may compel the deceased to stay on this earth and not be reborn and/or achieve the ultimate state where they never have to be reborn again (moksha). In Hinduism, water has the power to both spiritually and physically cleanse people. As Muslims are obligated to make the journey to Mecca once in their lives, Hindus strive to bathe and/or drink the water of an important river at least once in their lives because the water can alleviate all past sins. If a person cannot visit a holy river in their lifetime, they may request that their cremated ashes be deposited in the river so that they may achieve moksha.

In my current research on Nepal and India’s water sites, I try to respond to the site’s history/power. This is somewhat different than what I was doing before, although I was personally/creatively influence by each site. For example in my recent trip to Bodhgaya India, I photographed at the site where Buddha supposedly threw a golden bowl into the river asking that if the bowl floated upstream, he would succeed in attaining enlightenment. Long story short, the bowl floated upstream and pointed the way to the tree of knowledge, where he meditated and attained enlightenment. For me, it’s extremely meaningful to be photographing splashes at a site where Buddha created a splash that changed the world.

27 10 2010
Michelle Fiester

Hi Kathryn!

If I understood correctly, you said there are the 2 sacred rivers and one invisible, sacred river. How did come about? Who is it that originally thought there was an invisible river beneath the other two?
Thanks and be safe,

28 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Michelle,

This whole invisible river business probably began thousands of years ago so it’s really hard to say who thought of it or why. I don’t know if there actually is an underground water source or if this is a symbolic myth. To ask devout Hindus might be an insult to the faith so we may never know. I’m sure there is information out there somewhere on the accuracy of this assertions, but I’m going with the flow (sorry for the cheesy cliche, but it fits here).

On a related note, where the two visible rivers come together you can see the difference in them because of their color, which is probably due to sediment content, water temperature and flow patterns.

24 10 2010

The picture of Varanasi in 1922 makes it look like a beautiful place to be, I was wondering if it still looks like that or if they have made many changes?

28 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Kayla,

I wish I could load some pictures already but I haven’t found wireless internet anywhere here and my access to cyber cafes has been limited. The city looks different now, but just as romantic looking along the ghats as in the 1922 photo. I’ll load some images when I return in a few days. I’m still in Varanasi now.

24 10 2010
william allen

I understand that art has symbalism and water symbalically means different things to different cultures. What or does, water mean to the culture your currently staying in and do you incorperate water symbalically in your pieces and do you have a certain symbology for water that you use over and over?

21 10 2010
Ben Kromminga

Hey Kathryn!
You mentioned that you really like water within art. Do the people of Nepal, or even India for that matter, use any kinds of water colors or water-based colors in their art?

28 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Ben,

In Nepal, many of the paints used are water-based. Tibetan thangka paintings (there are many Tibetan refugees in Nepal) use a type of tempera paint. Many of my students and other contemporary artists I’ve talked to use acrylic because it’s cheaper, but some people use oil paints. Watercolors are easiest and cheapest to come by, from my experience shopping in Kathmandu art supply stores.

India has a larger number of big cities with a wider variety of imports since it has both land and sea access, so art supplies are a little easier to come by in India than in Nepal (Nepal is land-locked). The Indian miniature paintings dating back to the Mughal period incorporate gouache, which is an opaque watercolor paint. Contemporary artists in India use just about anything you can imagine to create their work, just like you find in the United States and the types of modern works you’re studying in Intro to Art. Indian art is a very hot collectable right now and prices have skyrocketed. The bad economy has downplayed some of that, but Indian art is still very big with modern art collecters right now.

20 10 2010

Can’t recall if we’ve ever asked–do you mind if the Times posts your blog (along with other MMU blogs) on its’ web site?


23 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Joe,

I think you did ask but go ahead!


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