Director’s Anecdote I

Draupadi’s horse

Draupadi's Horse  / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Director's Anecdote / Project 365 PUBLIC archives
Draupadi’s Horse / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Director’s Anecdote / Project 365 PUBLIC archives

White horses (which are rarer than other colours of horse) have a special significance in the mythologies of cultures around the world. They are often associated with the sun chariot, with warrior-heroes, with fertility (in both mare and stallion manifestations), or with an end-of-time saviour, but other interpretations exist as well. Both truly white horses and the more common grey horse, with completely white hair coats, were identified as “white” by various religious and cultural traditions. From earliest times white horses have been mythologized as possessing exceptional properties, transcending the normal world by having wings (e.g. Pegasus from Greek mythology), or having horns (the unicorn). As part of its legendary dimension, the white horse in myth may be depicted with seven heads (Uchaishravas) or eight feet (Sleipnir), sometimes in groups or singly. There are also white horses which are divinatory, who prophesy or warn of danger. The Book of Zechariah twice mentions colored horses; in the first passage there are three colors (red, dappled, and white), and in the second there are four teams of horses (red, black, white, and finally dappled) pulling chariots. The second set of horses are referred to as “the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world.” They are described as patrolling the earth and keeping it peaceful. Islamic culture tells of a white horse named Al-Buraq who brought Muhammead to Hannah during the Night Journey. In the New Testament, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse include one seated on a white horse and one on a pale horse – the “white” horse carried the rider Conquest (traditionally, Pestilence) while the “pale” horse carried the rider, Death. However, the Greek word chloros, translated as pale, is often interpreted as sickly green or ashen grey rather than white. Later in the Book of Reveleation, Christ rides a white horse out of heaven at the head of the armies of heaven to judge and make war upon the earth. White horses appear many times in Hindu mythology. The Vedic horse sacrifice or Ashvamedha was a fertility and kingship ritual involving the sacrifice of a sacred gray or white stallion. The Ashvamedha is described in detail in the Yajurveda and the pertaining commentary in the Shatapatha Brahmana. The Rigveda does have descriptions of horse sacrifice, known as aśvamedha, but does not allude to the full ritual according to the Yajurveda. As per Brahma Vairvarta Purana, the Ashvamedha is one of five rites forbidden in the Kali Yuga, the present age. The Ashvamedha could only be conducted by a king. Its object was the acquisition of power and glory, the sovereignty over neighbouring provinces, and general prosperity of the kingdom. A historically documented performance of the Ashvamedha is during the reign of Samudragupta I (died 380), the father of Chandragupta II. Special coins were minted to commemorate the Ashvamedha and the king took on the title of Maharajadhiraja after successful completion of the sacrifice. There were a few later performances, one by Raja of Kannauj Jai Chandra Rathod in the 12th century, unsuccessfully, as Prithiviraj Chauhan thwarted his attempt and later married Rathod’s daughter. The last known instance seems to be in 1716 CE, by Jai Singh II of Amber, of Jaipur. Performances of the Ashvamedha feature in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharat. In the Mahabharata, the sacrifice is performed by Yudhistira, his brothers guarding the horse as it roamed into neighbouring kingdoms. Arujuna defeats all challengers. The Mahabharata says that the Ashvamedha as performed by Yudhishtira adhered to the letter of the Vedic prescriptions. After the horse was cut into parts, Draupadi had to sit beside the parts of the horse. Similar rituals may have taken place among Roman, Celtic and Norse people, but the descriptions are not so complete.

This photograph of Draupadi with her horse vahana (vehicle) is taken in the ancient Draupadi temple, Tiruvannamalai. Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Project 365 public archives / 2014.

Photographer Abul Kalam Azad is one of the foremost exponents of art photography in India. He started photography at a very young age. He is noted for his maverick, protean approach to photography and his experimental photography works are widely discussed. His works have been exhibited in India and abroad. He predominantly uses analog photography. During the past ten years, he has been digital technique as well. He lives and works in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. He is the Director of Project 365 –  a PUBLIC PHOTO ART project that takes art to the rural India. In Director’s anecdote, Abul Kalam Azad contributes visual anecdotes that forms part of Project 365.

Project 365 is a PUBLIC PHOTOGRAPHIC ART PROJECT initiated by EtP to photo-document the fast changing ancient culture and contemporary lifestyle of the ancient Tamilakam territory. During the first phase, forty photographers will be documenting the multi-cultural aspects of #Tiruvannamalai, South Indian heritage town over a year period (Aug 2014 – July 2015). This Project is led by contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. FOR MORE PROJECT 365 IMAGES, see #etpproject365 In the next five years, EtP will document the Sangam period ports Muziris, Tindis, Korkai and the Cauvery basin culture and lifestyle.

Disclaimer: All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of the author and belongs to PROJECT 365 PUBLIC ARCHIVES. Text (C) Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi / EtP. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and EtP (PROJECT 365 public archives). Prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing. For more information about Project 365, contact EtP at {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405 / / FACEBOOK – Project 365