Saturday, February 2, 2008

Cartosemiotics - Who Knew?

Cartosemiotics tackles the same fields - the math, geometry and the pictures - as chess and other board games - comes from the same roots - but it avoids discussing games - except obliquely. It's not like they don't know about games though - because I found Wim van Bimsburgen's mancala & etc. in the midst of a bibliography and he's pretty goddess friendly. At least he's an open mind. Their problem - like ours - is decipherment - "orientation" - what these maps/games really meant - not just their friggin "historical origins". Not that history isn't useful... BUT - What I mean is - there you have all these references to Ashtapada in Indian chess and no one discussing chess history seems to have a clue or a care what that system meant. It's part of a whole cosmic system, an entire canon, not just a game left dangling out there with no strings attached. It was part of their sacred means of orientation and very scientific too. Chess history is not chess anthropology, nor is it semiotics. It's seldom very comparative beyond the immediate needs of some scholars to jack up a hypothesis - that's for sure. It gives us dates and moments - OK good enough - but mostly, it's like tearing a page out the Bible and saying you know something about the book. Cartosemiotics admits that "imaginary" maps or maps that use just images to explain locations (like games) are valid and there is lots of crossover. Take a look at THIS! The cloak is interesting.. using stones to triangulate location - totally logical. Precedents? Well... Piccione does a spectacular job on the linen folding ceremony in senet and senet cross references the Egyptian 30 day calendar - not to mention the way they regulated EVERYTHING according to the stars. In cartosemiotics stars come first - earth second - maps of the mind - a little later. Remember those old magician's cloaks of stars? Unh huh. Oh yeah! And, when required, you could probably turn the capes inside out so nothing was showing and use the pointy black caps to do a few tricks too. Ptolemy's maps were done in conic section. What ho! Linen! So, when Pirates (or the Pope lol!) showed up on the high seas, or for dinner, you either turn your cape inside out, fold it, ditch it, burn it - whatever... hmmmmmm... This goes hand in hand with the Phoenicians deliberately beaching their ships if they thought the Greeks were following them to the tin and gold mines. The reason cartosemiotics is important to us is that it gets INSIDE the distant past - into the heads of the people who were making these maps - confirms the practical side of hermetic methods of remapping stars into giant earth maps and smaller stuff too - like chessmen and dice. Also, it shows methodology, which means they scoop the goddess stuff right out of the sky and cross reference like crazy. I know we can find some of that in Pennick - but there is nothing much about cupholes and really old starmaps there. Here there is.... Scroll way way down and after you have had your mind blown several times over at Kaulin's blog (I'm still reeling) you'll see the Chinese cup hole map of Ursa Major!!!! Major find for Chinese chess IMHO. Betcha Banacheck thinks it's a game.... Maybe it is (lol!) - but it's other things too - not just more "old games we don't understand". Duh! We already know that the scorpian man of Jiroft was the scorpion lady of Egypt and at least one game of twenty squares takes after that pattern - the one with the "J" attached to a set of 4x4 squares. Instant cartosemiotics! We're already there! a bientot Pimander

Stolen Goddess Recovered in Belgium

From Idol of Goddess Laxmi worth Rs 10 cr recovered Saturday February 2 2008 13:10 IST BELGAUM: The city police have arrested three people and seized an ancient idol of Goddess Laxmi, estimated to be worth Rs 10 crore in Belgaum on Friday. Superintendent of Police Hemant Nimbalkar said that the seized idol is figured to be of Trichy town in Tamil Nadu, and is about 800 years old. He said that the three accused have been identified as Asgarali Mohammadali Tahashildar (35) of Uchagaon, Laxman Balawant Kuri 42) of Kaulge village, Kolhapur district (Maharashtra), and Vilas Laxman Patil(45) of Uchagaon. During the inquiry, it was disclosed that the three accused were attempting to sell the idol to a tycoon in Mumbai, he added. Nimbalkar said that on a tip off, Tilakwadi CPI Mahanteshwar, Market CPI S K Marihal, Camp CPI S M Nagaraj and PSI Vishwanathrao Kulkarni and team kept a watch on the movements of the accused and grabbed them, seizing the idol and two Hero Honda bikes near Hindalga Ganesh temple. There were five of them, but two managed to escape, he said. Nimbalkar said that the idol, weighing about 50 kg, is made of copper and bronze.

If God Isn't a "He," Why Call It a "He?"

From The Cornwall Standard Freeholder (Canada) The God versus Goddess argument Posted By Vakily, Abdollah February 2, 2002 Back in the early eighties, when I was an undergraduate student in Religious Studies, a popular discussion among students and professors centred around whether God was male or female. Those who followed a more traditional outlook argued that God has always presented Himself as male, particularly in Western monotheistic religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Yet those whose feminist tendencies were stronger insisted that God must necessarily be female since a male God is less capable of having the tenderness and loving tendencies necessary for a caring, nurturing and forgiving deity. Since this issue periodically reappears and is discussed here and there, I would like to shed some light on Islam's teachings on the nature of God. To begin with, in the Quran the masculine pronoun is used to refer to God and thus one gets the impression that God is a male being. However, a more precise description of God is given in one of the shortest chapters of the Quran called "Sincerity": "Say God is One; God is eternally self-subsistent; He begets not, and neither is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him." (112:1-4) The word translated as "One" is "Ahad," which has a very peculiar characteristic to it. It is not the kind of "One" that could become two be adding another one to it. Rather it is the kind of "One" that is the only one, better understood as "unique". Another connotation of "Ahad" is unity. God as "Ahad" is a being that has united all contradictions and all opposing tendencies in itself. Just as in Taoism's concept of yin and yang, both female and male dimensions are present, united and in constant interaction with each other. To better understand this issue one should look at the 99 names of God presented in the Quran. Each name represents one of the characteristics of God, with Al-Rahman (the Merciful) being the pivotal one. Another characteristic of "Ahad" is that it cannot have any counterpart. If God were a male, it would necessitate the existence of a female deity, and if God were a female it would anticipate the existence of a male deity. But God, as the Creator of everything, is above the male/female polarity that He introduced into creation. This is what is meant by the fourth verse of the above-mentioned chapter, that rather than being a simple polemic against Christianity, it is a clear statement about the particular uniqueness of God. The question comes to mind as to why the Quran refers to God as "He". It should be understood that the language of the Quran is Arabic, which like French uses feminine and masculine pronouns for everything (lacking the neutral pronoun of "it"). Therefore out of necessity God is referred to by one of the pronouns already existing. Moreover, the masculine pronoun for God already existed in the Arabic language and the Quran had to use that tool to convey its message. If the Quran had been revealed in my native language (Persian or Farsi) we could have avoided this problem, since my language has no masculine or feminine pronouns and everything is referred to as "it" including God. Although the discussion of God versus Goddess will probably continue for awhile, the Islamic perspective is that God is above and beyond male and female polarity, and any use of the pronoun "He" is simply a necessity of language convention. Questions and comments can be addressed to Abdollah Vakily at ************************************************************************************ It should be understood that the language of the Quran is Arabic, which like French uses feminine and masculine pronouns for everything (lacking the neutral pronoun of "it"). Okay then, why not translate the word in such as way that IT does not HAVE a gender - as in "One" or "Ahad"? I think that rendering any concept with a gender specific determinitive is, ipso facto, sexist and a throw-back to patriarchal times when the warrior male god was attempting to overthrow the female goddess. Can't we just get beyond that? Er, evidently, not yet. Language expresses THOUGHT. When the language says HE, the thought becomes HE in the minds of most (if not all) of the hearers and/or readers of that language. If we can just get beyond the HE concept of CREATOR, then we may begin to understand the true depth, awe and wonder of creation, the universe - and - just possibly - chess.

2008 Venezuelan Women's Chess Championships

As reported at The Week in Chess: 1. Ubaldo Suarez, Maria Gisela wm VEN 2078 6½ 2. Hernandez, Zaida VEN 1999 6 3. Han Wong, Irene Estefania wm VEN 2096 5½ 4. Sequeda, Nancy wm VEN 2034 5 5. Otazo, Annyd VEN 1940 5 6. Moreno Garcia, Elizabeth Paola wf VEN 1889 4½ 7. Araujo, Yesmar VEN 2012 4½ 8. Tellechea,Jessica VEN ---- 3 (1886) 9. Rincon Gonzalez,Luzalba VEN ---- 2½ (1845) 10. Rincon, Drina VEN 2059 2½ Great to see two unrated chess femmes participating in the championship, but guess that doesn't say a whole lot about the state of chess for women in Venezuela (Macho, Macho Land, I sure as hell don't want to be in Macho Land, sing the verse again, ladies...)

2008 Armenian Women's Chess Championship

As reported at The Week in Chess: 1. Galojan, Lilit wm ARM 2307 6½ 2. Andriasian, Siranush wm ARM 2228 6½ 3. Aginian, Nelly wg ARM 2308 5½ 4. Gasparian, Narine wm ARM 2172 5 5. Kharatyan, Anahit ARM 2115 4 6. Gasparian, Mariana ARM 2070 4 7. Martirosyan, Lia ARM 2111 3½ 8. Movsisian, Naira wg ARM 2152 3½ 9. Aghabekian, Liana ARM 2191 3½ 10. Karapetyan, Lusine ARM 1957 3

What Happened to Michael Vick's Dogs...

Dogs have been men's faithful, helpful companions for at least 14,000 years, possibly longer. Dogs have helped mankind in untold ways, and yet, how cruel we are to them. Utterly, indescribly and despicably cruel. But why should I be so surprised, when we are so cruel to each other.

From The New York Times

Given Reprieve, N.F.L. Star’s Dogs Find Kindness
Published: February 2, 2008

KANAB, Utah — A quick survey of Georgia, a caramel-colored pit bull mix with cropped ears and soulful brown eyes, offers a road map to a difficult life. Her tongue juts from the left side of her mouth because her jaw, once broken, healed at an awkward angle. Her tail zigzags.

Scars from puncture wounds on her face, legs and torso reveal that she was a fighter. Her misshapen, dangling teats show that she might have been such a successful, vicious competitor that she was forcibly bred, her new handlers suspect, again and again.

But there is one haunting sign that Georgia might have endured the most abuse of any of the 47 surviving pit bulls seized last April from the property of the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in connection with an illegal dogfighting ring.

Georgia has no teeth. All 42 of them were pried from her mouth, most likely to make certain she could not harm male dogs during forced breeding.

Her caregivers here at the Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary, the new home for 22 of Mr. Vick’s former dogs, are less concerned with her physical wounds than her emotional ones. They wonder why she barks incessantly at her doghouse and what makes her roll her toys so obsessively that her nose is rubbed raw.

“I’m worried most about Georgia,” said the Best Friends veterinarian Dr. Frank McMillan, an expert on the emotional health of animals, who edited the textbook “Mental Health and Well-Being in Animals.” “You don’t have the luxury of asking her, or any of these animals: ‘What happened to you in your past life? How can we stop you from hurting?’

“So here we are left with figuring out how to bring joy to her life,” he said of Georgia, known to lick the face of anyone who comes near. “We want to offset the unpleasant memories that dwell in her brain.”

Mr. Vick, once the highest-paid player in the N.F.L., is serving a 23-month sentence in a federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., for bankrolling his Bad Newz Kennels dogfighting operation and helping execute dogs that were not good fighters. Dogs were electrocuted, hanged, drowned, shot or slammed to the ground, according to court records. Two mass graves with the remains of eight pit bulls were found on Mr. Vick’s property in rural Virginia.

Pit bulls seized from illegal fighting operations are usually euthanized after becoming property of the government. The Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals recommended that Mr. Vick’s dogs be euthanized, but many animal rescue organizations urged the prosecutors to let the dogs live.

The government agreed to give them a second chance after Mr. Vick agreed to pay $928,073 for evaluation and care of all the dogs. They were seen by animal experts, who named the dogs, and were eventually dispersed to eight rescue organizations for adoption, rehabilitation or lifetime care in sanctuaries, where they have been neutered. Only one of the Vick dogs was euthanized for aggression against people.

Best Friends, which is caring for more dogs than any other organization, received about $389,000. Many of their dogs are expected to be adopted after they are rehabilitated and matched with the right families. Vick’s 25 other dogs are in foster care all over the country.

“This is a great opportunity to highlight the fact that the victims in the case are the animals themselves,” said Rebecca J. Huss, a Valparaiso University law professor, animal law expert and court-appointed guardian for Vick’s dogs.

Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls, or BAD RAP, which helped evaluate the dogs, has 10 in foster care. Donna Reynolds, the group’s executive director, said, “There are dogs that are able to handle and survive the past with a good attitude, then ones that are going to be shut down and not take it anymore.

“Best Friends got the dogs that pretty much aren’t going to do so well,” she added, noting that those dogs included the known fighters and Mr. Vick’s champion pit bull, Lucas, who, by court order, will live out his days at the sanctuary.

Once Abused, Now Pampered
Life at Best Friends is nothing like it was at Mr. Vick’s property on Moonlight Road in Smithfield, Va., where many of the dogs were found chained to buried car axles. They slept on concrete. Their water, if any, was kept in algae-covered bowls. Most were underfed. Some showed recent lacerations.

Here, they live in a 3,700-acre sanctuary that is covered by juniper trees and sagebrush, and surrounded by canyons and red-rock formations. They have food called Canine Caviar, squeaky toys, fluffy beds and four full-time caregivers. The caregiver on the night shift curls up with the dogs for naps.

They are assigned to an area of the sanctuary called Dogtown Heights, what Best Friends calls a gated community. Vick’s dogs have their own building with heated floors, sound-absorbing barriers and skylights. Each has an individual dog run because, for now, the dogs must remain isolated, for safety’s sake.

Little Red is a tiny rust-colored female whose teeth were filed, most likely because she was bait for the Bad Newz fighters. Handlers cannot explain why loud noises make her jumpy.

Cherry, a black-and-white male, has what seems to be chemical burns on his back. His file at Best Friends says he loves car rides and having his backside rubbed. But like many of Mr. Vick’s pit bulls, he is petrified of new situations and new people.

Oscar cowers in the corner of his run when strangers arrive. Shadow runs in circles. Black Bear pants so heavily that he seems on the verge of hyperventilation.

All but one of the Vick dogs at Best Friends wear green collars, signaling that they are good with people. But Meryl, who arrived with a rap sheet, wears a red collar.

She was aggressive toward the veterinary staff at a previous shelter. When Best Friends evaluated her in November, she lunged at a veterinary technician, snapping at him three times. By court order, she must stay at Best Friends forever.

Mr. Vick paid $18,275 for the lifetime care of each of his dogs here but one. Denzel was deemed highly adoptable, so his fee was only $5,000.

The actual cost for personnel and medical staff to care for the dogs, said Best Friends officials, is much higher at the sanctuary, a no-kill, nonprofit facility for 2,000 animals. For example, Denzel needed a blood transfusion to treat a tick-borne virus. Donations must make up the difference.

Bred to Be Friendly
John Garcia, the assistant dog care manager of Dogtown, which houses about 500 dogs, said pit bulls that are withdrawn or aggressive toward humans break his heart because they are bred to be people-friendly. “With most of these dogs, even Meryl, their actions are based on fear,” said Mr. Garcia, who communicates with the dogs in soothing baby talk. “The biggest job we have with these guys is teaching them that it’s O.K. to trust people. It may take months or years, but we’re very stubborn. We won’t give up on them.”

Because the dogs are still adjusting to their surroundings, it is difficult to predict how many of them will become adoptable. They arrived Jan. 2 from Richmond, Va., on a chartered airplane, stressed after eight months in shelters. In initial evaluations last September, many lay flat and looked frightened. Now, many respond to caregivers by wagging their tails and giving sloppy kisses.

“They have improved by light-years,” Mr. Garcia said, adding that it would take patience and a lot of time for these dogs to be happy and safe in an adoptive home.

Caregivers walk the dogs several times a day and spend time in their kennels, praising and caressing them. It is progress when a dog like Cherry does not need to be carried, because he is afraid to walk on a leash. It is monumental when Shadow approaches them instead of retreating.

“We want to get them to understand that being around people isn’t necessarily a bad thing; that we won’t hurt them,” Mr. Garcia said. “The worst thing we could do is push them too hard, too fast.”

Mr. Garcia, an expert in working with aggressive dogs, said getting some of these pit bulls accustomed to other dogs would be the toughest task.

Initially, 10 were evaluated as aggressive toward other dogs. So far, there has been only one fight. Layla was put accidentally into the same dog run as Ray. She immediately attacked, biting his shoulder in a death grip.

One of their main caregivers, Carissa Hendrick, pried Layla’s jaws from Ray. She said it would take a lot of positive reinforcement to teach these dogs to coexist. “There’s just so much we don’t know about them, and that’s frustrating,” Ms. Hendrick said, adding that she wished she could talk to the men involved in Mr. Vick’s operation to find out what these dogs have endured.

"Oh, Ellen Belly, what happened to you?” Ellen arrived at Best Friends overweight, looking more like a sausage than a fighter. She was a breeding dog but had spent time in the ring. One side of her face droops from nerve damage, but she is still affectionate and loves to offer her belly for rubs.

Lucas was Vick’s champion, a 65-pound muscular brown dog with a face mottled with dark scars. He is so friendly and confident that his trainers suspect he was pampered.

“I bet you ate steak every day, didn’t you, Lucas?” the caregiver McKenzie Garcia, who is married to John, said. “I bet they took care of you because you made them money.”

Every Vick dog here has a Personalized Emotional Rehabilitation Plan. Caregivers rate each dog in several categories. How fearful was Little Red today? How confident was Black Bear? How much did Meryl enjoy life?

Recording the dogs’ progress will help Dr. McMillan, the veterinarian, track their well-being. “DogTown,” on the National Geographic Channel, also plans to follow the progress of several of Mr. Vick’s dogs, including Georgia.

“The successful rehab rate for these kinds of dogs is unknown because nobody has ever studied it until now,” Dr. McMillan said. “You might see an incredibly friendly dog, but does that dog’s personality change over several weeks, over several months, after psychological trauma? Are they hard-wired to be aggressive, or can they change? What’s the best way to work with them?”

The plan is to determine how to keep these dogs happy, even if a real home is not in their future.

Coping With Past Trauma
Whether Georgia will find happiness is a big question. Dr. McMillan said she exhibited behavior that might be coping mechanisms for past trauma.

Georgia gnaws on her doghouse. She flipped her bed over so much that her handlers removed it. When toys are around, she often ignores people.

Georgia, who was called Jane at Bad Newz Kennels, was sold to Mr. Vick in 2001 to help start his dogfighting business. She is thought to be his oldest dog, but her handlers can only guess that she is about 7. Dogs’ ages are usually estimated by examining their teeth, but she has none.

Having those teeth extracted, Dr. McMillan and other vets said, must have been excruciating. Even with medication, dogs are in pain after losing one tooth, which may take more than an hour of digging, prying and leveling to pull.

“These dogs have been beaten and starved and tortured, and they have every reason not to trust us,” Mr. Garcia said as Georgia crawled onto his lap, melted into him for an afternoon nap and began to snore. “But deep down, they love us and still want to be with us. It is amazing how resilient they are.”

Friday, February 1, 2008

Friday Night Miscellany

Ohmygoddess, what a week, darlings! I'm exhausted (what's new, heh?) We got about 9 inches of wet, heavy snow between noon yesterday and noon today - I've been plowed in twice since 5:30 a.m. and every bone in my body aches just from shoveling a narrow path from the front door down to the road and mailbox and clearing off about half the deck out back to put some critter food down. Must feed the critters! The only good thing about this is that the bitter cold has departed (for now), and it got up to 34 F today. The bad news is that this makes the snow even more wet and more heavy. Sigh. This week has been relatively "slow" news-wise - at least, the kind of news I'm most interested in. Conversely, I'm rushing to get into form my next column for Chessville. Sure, I've got all the news here at the blog in more or less coherent parts, but trying to condense everything, add lots of photos (required by the editor), add witty commentary and some games in PGN (forget about analysis, it will NEVAH happen; not only don't I understand enough about the game of chess at that level to make it so, I lack any kind of computer program to do that sort of thing - and I ain't interested in acquiring one either -- or learning how to use it!) Here's a funny story (unintentionally, to be sure, but still hilarious), about a Viking burial site. Not only is the picture NOT of any berzerker I've ever imagined (even the phoney Vikings in the Tony Curtis movie looked more legit than this guy), note the caption under the picture: The bodies may belong to the Vikings from 5000AD. Ha ha ha! 5000 AD is 3,092 years in the future... Tub, the leader of the squirrel pack in Brian Doyle's backyard in Lake Oswego, knows how to use tools... A brief (and very interesting) history of Ground Hog Day... ..night!

2008 Gibtelecom Final Standings

As I understand it from the official website, the top 4 females, who all finished with 6.5/9, divided the prize money among them: Viktorija Cmilyte, Antoaneta Stefanova, Harika Dronavalli and Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant. Stefanova scored a win in her final game to pull even with Arakhamia Grant and Cimilyte. Harika flew below the radar but finished in the money - way to go! I included the performance ratings in this final table. Stefanova performed at a very creditable 2690, reflecting the tough competition she played (tougher than the other ladies): 21 IM Arakhamia-Grant, Ketevan 6.5 GEO 2457 2422 24 IM Cmilyte, Viktorija 6.5 LTU 2475 2578 26 IM Harika, Dronavalli 6.5 IND 2455 2472 33 GM Stefanova, Antoaneta 6.5 BUL 2464 2690 39 GM Cramling, Pia 6.0 SWE 2524 2463 47 IM Muzychuk, Anna 6.0 SLO 2460 2488 48 IM Paehtz, Elisabeth 6.0 GER 2420 2533 50 IM Socko, Monika 6.0 POL 2479 2517 55 WGM Zhao, Xue 6.0 CHN 2517 2477 65 IM Houska, Jovanka 5.5 ENG 2393 2290 68 IM Klinova, Masha 5.5 ISR 2315 2345 71 WIM Makka, Ioulia 5.5 GRE 2186 2236 80 IM Wang, Yu A. 5.5 CHN 2391 2472 84 GM Zhu, Chen 5.5 QAT 2548 2313 85 IM Zozulia, Anna 5.5 BEL 2344 2347 91 IM Dzagnidze, Nana 5.0 GEO 2429 2281 93 IM Foisor, Cristina Adela 5.0 ROU 2412 2360 94 Foisor, Mihaela-Veronica 5.0 ROU 2043 2140 95 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 5.0 ROU 2386 2281 104 WIM Nadig, Kruttika 5.0 IND 2208 2148 106 WGM Ramaswamy, Aarthie 5.0 IND 2322 2172 108 WGM Shen, Yang 5.0 CHN 2429 2422 128 Jorgensen, Line Jin 4.5 NOR 1867 2075 133 WFM Norinkeviciute, Rasa 4.5 LTU 2064 2137 169 Georgieva, Emilia 3.5 BUL 1985 1961 170 WIM Greef, Melissa 3.5 RSA 2025 1876 185 Jacobsen, Maria Pitz 3.0 NOR 1799 1888 197 Mossiaguine, Arina 2.0 SWE 0 * 1277 198 Hansen, Linda Marie 1.5 NOR 0 * 1570 200 Mossiaguine, Anastasia 1.0 SWE 0 * 1669 Cimilyte earned a GM norm, and Shen Yang and Zhao Xue each earned IM norms! Congrats to them! A final note: 204 players were registered in the Masters Event, but players 201 through 204 (all guys) appear to have not shown up for 99.9% of their games. Chess Femme Anastasia Mossiaguine, who finished last of the women and near the bottom of the cross-table - played all of her games and stayed untl the end. Kudos to the lady for a gutsy performance.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

2008 Gibtelecom Final Standings

Hola darlings! I'd like nothing better than to report on the final women's standings after the completion of Round 10 earlier today. However, the Gibtelecom website has not yet updated their final tables. All I can tell you at this point is that USA's own GM Hikaru Nakamura has won the Masters' Event over GM Bu Xiangzhi after sudden-death play-off, and takes home a prize worth 12,000 BPS (not quite $24,000 USD). A nice pay day for 10 days' work. Nakamura earned his pay, particularly since he was not among the early leaders in the event and was written off by many as an "also ran." Ha! According to Susan Polgar's blog, IM Victoria Cimilyte has earned a GM norm for her performance at Gibtelecom Gibraltar. Congrats! Here's the prize structure for the women: Women's Awards in 2008 Gibtelecom Masters Open to all Women 1st Prize £5,000 2nd Prize £2,500 3rd Prize £1,500 Prizes for best relative rating achievement 2250-2349 £1,000 2150-2249 £1,000 Under 2150 £1,000 Rating prizes in each of the three bands will not be added to the main women’s awards. There is also a Best Game Prize: £1,000 • for more information go to the Best Game Prize page at the official website.

Surprising Beauty and Dog Mummies, Too!

Surprise Egypt Tombs Yield Ornate Coffins, Dog Mummies Steven Stanek in Cairo, Egyptfor National Geographic News January 30, 2008 Four ancient tombs containing well-preserved mummies, ornate painted coffins, and mummified dogs have been unearthed in El Faiyum, an oasis about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Cairo (see map). (See photos of the tomb treasures.) One female mummy was found wearing a gilded mask, a rare treasure at the site known as the necropolis of Deir el-Banat. The burial complex is a frequent target for modern-day grave robbers and was thought to have been looted of its riches. "An important point is that these mummies are almost untouched," said Galina A. Belova, a Russian Egyptologist who led the excavation. "There are not so many [well preserved] mummies in El Faiyum at the moment. They are very rare." In a separate tomb, the excavators discovered the first completely intact mummy ever found at the necropolis. The team of U.S. and Russian archaeologists stumbled upon the burials during routine work in a section of the cemetery, which was used from the early fourth century B.C. to the seventh century A.D. Some 150 other tombs from various periods and dozens of poorly preserved mummies were also unearthed, though most of the graves had been plundered during a rash of robberies in the 20th century. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said some of the newly discovered remains are the best yet found from the Ptolemaic era—the span of Greek rule that began shortly after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. "One mummy was beautifully gilded, and another is in very good condition," said Hawass, who is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. "They show some of the best examples of mummies from this period." (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.) Archaeologists also found a strange burial on the outskirts of the site containing the nonmummified remains of a child and a group of mummified dogs, a grave unlike any other yet found in Egypt. Coffins, Mummies, and Masks The four best preserved and largest of the newfound tombs contained human-shaped coffins that were mostly intact. Some showed slight damage near the feet, probably the result of ancient robbers rummaging for riches, experts said. The coffins' exteriors were inscribed with verses and images from the ancient Egytpian Book of the Dead, which Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo (AUC), said were standard decorations "to help you get from this world to the next." Three of the coffins were wooden and lay parallel. A smaller fourth coffin—likely for a child—was made of papyrus or a similar material and was set at a slightly different angle. The shared burial may have belonged to a single family, experts said, adding that it is uncommon to find coffins set at different orientations in this region. Inside two of the coffins, mummies were covered at the head and feet with brightly colored cartonnage—a papier-mâché-like material often plastered over mummified bodies and decorated. One of the mummies bore a cartonnage mask painted in gold, symbolizing eternity. "It was a very sweet little mask," said Ikram, who x-rayed the mummies after the discovery. In a nearby tomb, archaeologists found a completely intact mummified female—the first to have eluded generations of treasure hunters here. The archaeologists said they plan to do more research, including facial reconstructions of the mummies, to determine their origins. Robbers Thievery has damaged almost all the tombs in Deir el-Banat, making it hard for experts to know what the graves looked like in antiquity. "The robbers come in regularly, so it is quite unusual to get intact burials," said Ikram of AUC. As a measure of how widespread the crime is, the excavations even turned up some contemporary digging tools, which were probably stashed away by frightened thieves who left hastily. The shallowness of the tombs—some of which are no more than a meter below the surface—makes them particularly attractive for looters. "Robbers have always investigated cemeteries since the ancient times," Belova, the Russian archaeologist, said. "We have a lot of robbers who want to have a lot of gold." The newly unearthed tombs may have been spared because of their relatively simple exteriors. Belova said her team had to rapidly document and remove the items because of security concerns. She also said she hoped the discovery would change Deir el-Banat's reputation as a site that has been looted clean. "It looks like a robbed area, but robbers cannot do a systematic study of a cemetery," she said. "That's why we still have a lot of chances to find something new here." Mummified Dogs One of the strangest discoveries made at the site was the nonmummified body of a child buried with several mummified dogs. The human remains, which were naturally mummified by the arid climate, were partially covered in a sack, its lower half surrounded by crudely mummified canines ranging from puppies to fully mature animals. "They are put in any which way, with no real sense of orientation," said AUC's Ikram, an animal mummy expert. Ancient Egyptians were known to keep domesticated pets and sometimes were buried with them. (Read related story: "Mummy Birds Recovered From Egypt Factory" [August 9, 2007].) Other animals were included in burials as part of a religious ritual, but this find is unlike any that has been documented, he said. "The kind of deposit [of animals] you have here is neither like a sacred deposit [nor] like a pet deposit," Ikram said. "It really is a very interesting new page in the archaeology of humans and animals in Egypt."

The "8" and the "90"

Two-time winner of the Girls' Under-8 World Chess Championship, Ivana Furtado, went head to head with 90 year old Indian chess icon Bahusaheb Padasalgikar! The Navhind Times Ivana draws with Padasalgikar NT Sports Desk Panaji, Jan 29 Double world champ Ivana Maria Furtado drew with veteran Padasalgikar, who is considered the father of chess in India in an exhibition chess match organised by Taleigao Chess Academy and International Centre Goa at Dona Paula. The battle went for over 3 hours and Ivana could not convert her slight exchange advantage even tough Bhau had a better space advantage. Finally, Ivana agreed for a draw with bishop and a pawn against Bhau’s two separated pawns. “Improve your middle game,” was the veteran’s advice to the world champ. Earlier, ninety-year-old Bahusaheb Padasalgikar from Nutan Buddhibal Mandal, Sangli, released a souvenir entitled ‘The Right Move’ containing articles on chess and education edited by Mr Shrikant Barve. Mr Manish Kamble, President of Taleigao Chess Academy welcomed and Mr Shrikant Barve, secretary of Taleigao Chess Academy proposed the vote of thanks. Street plays on “Changes in our schooling over the years” were presented by Little Lamb Primary School, Taleigao and Vidhya Vikas Academy, Margao was enacted. Dr S S Thigale, director Symbiosis, Pune, spoke on diploma in chess introduced by their institution in a discussion “Chess and Education”. Other panellist included Prof Augusto Pinto, of Dempo College of Commerce and Economis and vice-president, Goa State Chess Association and Prof S U Kamat of Dempe College. Prof Anil Samant of Saraswat Vidyalaya, Mapusa, Prof Vasundhara Varkhedkar of Dempe College, and Mr Ganesh Manerikar interacted with the parents of chess students. Umang Kaisare of Sharada Mandir, Mira Mar played simultaneous games against 24 students and won all games except one. The game against Aniruddha Bhat from Child Care School, Margao ended in a draw. In the lightning chess tournament for eight invitees, Vasant Naik proved his skills against young promising players like Anurag Mhamal, Umang Kaisery and won all four games. The major attraction was the primary school students chess tournament. It was held in eight categories for Std I to Std IV, boys and girls separately. In all, 310 children from 55 schools took part and included one from West Bengal, 3 from Kolhapur, 3 from Pune and 4 from Mumbai. Anurag Mhamal (185 Elo points) and Cyrus Pereira were awarded special trophies for their achievements. Winners: Dempo S S Vidula, Sharada Mandir School, Panaji: Sawant Riya, St Hadkonkar Gauri, OL Rosary School, D Paula; Pandit P Dhanashree, N E SP school, Bhandup, Mumbai; Advait Karmalkar, Mumbai; Parab B Ritviz, Vidya Vikas Academy, Margao; Bhat V Anirudh, Child Care School, Margao; Mohanan Harikrishnan, Ezekiel Methodist School, Bambolim.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ancient Ruins Discovered Beneath Fayyum

Ruins of 7,000-year-old city found in Egypt oasis Tue Jan 29, 3:26 PM ET CAIRO (AFP) - A team of US archaeologists has discovered the ruins of a city dating back to the period of the first farmers 7,000 years ago in Egypt's Fayyum oasis, the supreme council of antiquities said on Tuesday. "An electromagnetic survey revealed the existence in the Karanis region of a network of walls and roads similar to those constructed during the Greco-Roman period," the council's chief Zahi Hawwas said. The remnants of the city are "still buried beneath the sand and the details of this discovery will be revealed in due course," Hawwas said. "The artefacts consist of the remains of walls and houses in terracotta or dressed limestone as well as a large quantity of pottery and the foundations of ovens and grain stores," he added. The remains date back to the Neolithic period between 5,200 and 4,500 BC. The local director of antiquities, Ahmed Abdel Alim, said the site was just seven kilometres (four miles) from Fayyum lake and would probably have lain at the water's edge at the time it was inhabited.

Why Translations Are So Important!

From Salon's How the World Works January 29, 2008 Fragments of the Tocharian Between 1902 and 1914 the German Ethnological Institute sent repeated expeditions into the great Taklamakan desert of Central Asia, in search of ancient manuscripts that had survived destruction due to the arid climate of the Tarim Basin. One expedition brought back fragments of a manuscript written in a hitherto unknown language but employing a familiar North Indian script. Later dubbed Tocharian A, the language was deciphered by two linguists at Germany's Gottingen University, Emil Siel and Wilhem Siegling. The parchment turned out to be part of the Maitreyasamiti-Nataka, a Sanskrit Buddhist work in the Mahayana canon that foretells the coming of the Buddha. In the mid-thirties a budding Chinese linguist, Ji Xianlin, arrived in Gottingen to study Sanskrit with Siel. Before receiving his Ph.D. in 1941, he also mastered Tocharian and a handful of other obscure languages. After the conclusion of World War II, he returned to China and began a long career as one of China's top specialists in ancient Indian languages and culture. In the late '90s, he published his own analysis and translation of newly discovered fragments of a Tocharian-language Maitreyasamiti-Nataka discovered in 1974 in the city of Yanqi in China's Xinjiang province. Only a handful of people in the world can read Tocharian; mastering the language is not a path to notoriety. But Ji, the author of numerous books and monographs, has other claims to fame. Perhaps most amazingly, he secretly translated the entire Indian epic, "The Ramayana," from the original Sanskrit into Chinese, while experiencing the travails that afflicted nearly all Chinese intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution. Earlier this week, the Indian government bestowed one of its greatest honors, the Padma Bushan award, on the 97-year-old Ji, in honor of his contributions to cross-cultural understanding. In the realpolitik of Chinese-Indian diplomacy, the move was immediately interpreted as indicating a positive direction in the relationship between the two countries. Symbolically speaking, the theory has some merit. Ji has long been a believer in the transformative virtue of translation. When he received a lifetime achievement award in China in 2006 for his contributions to the field of translation, he observed that "The reason our Chinese culture has been able to remain consistent and rich throughout its 5,000 years of history is closely linked to translation. Translations from other cultures have helped infuse new blood into our culture." How the World Works applauds such sentiments. And although, to be honest, I had no idea that the Tocharian language even existed 24 hours ago, after becoming curious about it when reading up on Ji, I now see the mysterious Tocharians as prototypical agents of globalization. Why mysterious? Because hard evidence on who the Tocharians were or where they came from is scarce. Ethnically speaking, they are believed to be a Caucasian race that flourished for thousands of years in Central Asia before being swallowed up almost without a trace by their Turkic neighbors, sometime around the end of the first millennium (Recently discovered well-preserved corpses of European-looking bodies have even been cited by present-day Uighur Turk separatists as proof that China has no claim to Xinjiang.) Tocharian belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, but is distinguished by having traveled further East than any other Indo-European subgroup. Intriguingly, it shares some similarities with the most far-western Indo-European languages, such as Celtic. For early 20th century linguists, incorporating the new Tocharian data required a complete rethinking of theories of Indo-European linguistic migration. With a civilization clustered around the oasis entrepots that marked the Silk Road connecting West to East, the Tocharians are thought to have played a major role in spreading Buddhism from India to China. That alone is an earthshaking event. Much earlier, theorized one archaeologist, the Tocharians might have introduced the wheeled chariot into China. The Mandarin words for lion and honey are thought by some linguists to be loan words from Tocharian (The word "Mandarin," incidentally, is Sanskrit in origin.) Much more than that, we really don't know, although we can hope that somewhere in the desert caches of as-yet undiscovered manuscripts hold more clues to how culture and language spread across the globe in ancient times. The more we know about such interflows, the closer the ties that bind us all together. Or, as Ji Xianlin put it: The river of Chinese civilization has kept alternating between rising and falling, but it has never dried up, because there was always fresh water flowing into it. It has over history been joined by fresh water many times, the two largest inflows coming from India and the West, both of which owed their success to translation. It is translation that has preserved the perpetual youth of Chinese civilization. Translation is hugely useful!" -- Andrew Leonard

UN Peacekeepers - Vandals!

This is a sickening story. From The Times January 31, 2008 UN vandals spray graffiti on Sahara’s prehistoric art Spectacular prehistoric depictions of animal and human figures created up to 6,000 years ago on Western Saharan rocks have been vandalised by United Nations peacekeepers, The Times has learnt. Archaeological sites boasting ancient paintings and engravings of giraffes, buffalo and elephants have been defaced within the past two years by personnel attached to the UN mission, known by its French acronym, Minurso. Graffiti, some of it more than a metre high and sprayed with paint meant for use for marking routes, now blights the rock art at Lajuad, an isolated site known as Devil Mountain, which is regarded by the local Sahrawi population as a mystical place of great cultural significance. Many of the UN “graffiti artists” signed and dated their work, revealing their identities and where they are from. Minurso personnel stationed in Western Sahara come from almost 30 countries. They are monitoring a ceasefire between the occupying Moroccan forces and the Polisario Front, which is seeking independence. One Croatian peacekeeper scrawled “Petar CroArmy” across a rock face. Extensive traces of pigment from rock painting are visible underneath. Another left behind Cyrillic graffiti, and “Evgeny” from Russia scribbled AUI, the code for the Minurso base at Aguanit. “Mahmoud” from Egypt left his mark at Rekeiz Lemgasem, and “Ibrahim” wrote his name and number over a prehistoric painting of a giraffe. “Issa”, a Kenyan major who signed his name and wrote the date, had just completed a UN course, Ethics in Peacekeeping, documents show. Julian J. Harston, the UN’s representative of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara and head of Minurso, said that he had been shocked by the scale of the vandalism. After visiting two of the sites, including Devil Mountain, this week, he said: “I was appalled. You’d think some of them would know better. These are officers, not squaddies.” The UN would take action against any officers “kind enough to leave their calling card. We will report it to the troop-contributing countries. We can move them.” The extent of the damage is revealed in a report by Nick Brooks, of the University of East Anglia, and Joaquim Soler, of the University of Gerona, Spain, which was passed to The Times yesterday. It outlines the “severe vandalism”, saying that it “now appears to be an essentially universal practice when Minurso staff visit rock art sites . . . Minurso staff have felt entitled to destroy elements of Western Sahara’s and the Sahrawis’ cultural heritage, despite being aware of UN ethics in peacekeeping, and in breach of legislation enshrined in the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.” It concludes: “Minurso personnel have played a major role in damaging archaeological sites, and such staff are engaged in the systematic defacement of valuable archaeological sites over a large area . . . the recent damage at Lajuad is unprecedented.” The vandalism will reignite the debate about the conduct of UN peacekeepers after a series of scandals. Last January the UN admitted that more than 200 of its troops had been disciplined for sex offences, including rape and child abuse, in the preceding three years; in May it emerged that Paki-stani peacekeepers had been trading weapons with Congolese militia.

2008 Gibtelecom Round 9 Standings

Oh no - Stefanova lost her game today versus German GM Leonid, dropping her far down in the overall ratings and placing her in questionable status for a share of first in the Women's separate standings. Tomorrow is the last game! 15 IM Cmilyte, Viktorija 6.5 LTU 2475 16 IM Arakhamia-Grant, Ketevan 6.5 GEO 2457 27 WGM Zhao, Xue 6.0 CHN 2517 30 IM Socko, Monika 6.0 POL 2479 31 IM Muzychuk, Anna 6.0 SLO 2460 37 GM Cramling, Pia 5.5 SWE 2524 42 GM Stefanova, Antoaneta 5.5 BUL 2464 44 IM Harika, Dronavalli 5.5 IND 2455 48 IM Paehtz, Elisabeth 5.5 GER 2420 51 IM Houska, Jovanka 5.5 ENG 2393 52 IM Wang, Yu A. 5.5 CHN 2391 63 WGM Shen, Yang 5.0 CHN 2429 66 IM Foisor, Cristina Adela 5.0 ROU 2412 68 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 5.0 ROU 2386 72 IM Zozulia, Anna 5.0 BEL 2344 75 IM Klinova, Masha 5.0 ISR 2315 83 WIM Makka, Ioulia 5.0 GRE 2186 86 GM Zhu, Chen 4.5 QAT 2548 112 IM Dzagnidze, Nana 4.0 GEO 2429 114 WGM Ramaswamy, Aarthie 4.0 IND 2322 120 WIM Nadig, Kruttika 4.0 IND 2208 143 Foisor, Mihaela-Veronica 4.0 ROU 2043 152 WFM Norinkeviciute, Rasa 3.5 LTU 2064 156 WIM Greef, Melissa 3.5 RSA 2025 160 Georgieva, Emilia 3.5 BUL 1985 164 Jorgensen, Line Jin 3.5 NOR 1867 176 Jacobsen, Maria Pitz 3.0 NOR 1799 180 Loberg, Jo Kristian 3.0 NOR 0 * 197 Hansen, Linda Marie 1.5 NOR 0 * 198 Mossiaguine, Anastasia 1.0 SWE 0 * 199 Mossiaguine, Arina 1.0 SWE 0 *

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Squirrel News

OHMYGODDESS! Huckabee Ate Rocky the Flying Squirrel! The frigging cannibal! May all the rest of his hair fall out - TONIGHT! Eek! To Cull or Not To Cull? A conservation group launched an onslaught on greys in Northumberland, killing 12,000 - or one third of the county's population, in just over a year. FRIGGING BARBARIANS! Oh yes, that's the typical Anglo-Saxon answer to all problems - KILL KILL KILL. Has it not occurred to anyone that the way to combat the so-called problem of the "grey squirrel" is to beef up the red squirrel? Come one folks - are there no such things as SQUIRREL vitamins in Great Britain??? Well hell, people, then invent some! Geez! Oooooh, here's the civilized way to go, people: SQUIRREL TRAPS. Complete with "nesting material" for those cold winter nights in case the folks don't get out there to the woods to check the traps for a week or two - forget the fact that the squirrel would have starved to death long since. DUH! Things aren't going so well for the squirrels. Sigh.

More Chess Lessons from Ancient History

See prior posts:

August 8, 2007: Chess Lessons from Ancient History

August 9, 2007: More Chess Lessons from Ancient History

September 4, 2007: The Priestesses of Mary

It has been said that chess is a game of archetypes. One of those archetypes is the concept of rulership, as embodied in the throne. The throne is a woman. As far back as we have datable archaeological artifacts, the throne is a woman (more on this later). This isn't a feminist manifesto of uterine power - it's just the plain ol' simple truth. Jan, August 9, 2007

I’m saving a lot of good stuff for an eventual big, long and scholarly (cough, cough) article for Goddesschess, but I realized I owed a post here based on the "more on this later" comment I made in my August 9, 2007 post referenced above.

There is a big gap, time-wise, between the ancient Egyptian Goddess Isis, the Ashdoda, and Mary, Queen of Heaven. In between are many women/throne combination artifacts that have been excavated over the years, all across the Middle East, the Aegean, and Central Asia. By way of example, several thousand years before Isis, there was the "Leopard Queen" discovered at Katul Hoyuk, who is perhaps the oldest representation of a woman upon a throne; the Vinca culture, represented by recent excavations at Plocnik, dates to about 5000 BCE (photo: a headless goddess sits on a chair, with hands resting on rounded belly, perhaps pregnant, Vinca culture, Plocknik); Isis dates to about 3400-3200 BCE. There is a chronological and cultural progression of worship of the Queen of Heaven during all that time, right down to the 3rd century CE, when the Collyridians worshipped the Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven.

Epiphanius states that the "priestesses of Mary" worshipped her as a goddess in her own right, the Queen of Heaven, with rituals far older than Christianity, and "adorn a chair or square throne, spread a cloth over it, and at a certain solemn time, place bread on it and offer it in the name of Mary." The worshippers also partook of the sacred cakes.

In the Bible, this harkens back to reports made by the prophets in the Old Testament regarding worship of a much more ancient Queen of Heaven than the Virgin Mary, who was worshipped in Palestine and Phoenicia thousands of years before Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was conceived. The worshippers of Ashtoreth, Asherah and Ishtar all celebrated their revered Goddesses by baking specially marked "cakes" (various types of flat and risen breads) and consuming them at special feast times. The custom passed all the way down to modern times, in the form of "Hot Cross Buns" which are served on Easter Sunday, the holiday of the Germanic Mother Goddess Eostre.

Despite the Church Fathers’ best efforts to suppress the "heresy" of worship of the Mother Goddess, the Queen of Heaven, they failed. Finally, they capitulated (perhaps in the nature of "if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em…) The Council of Ephesus in 431 CE formally sanctioned devotion to the Virgin Mary as Theotokos, Mother of God, (literally, God bearer), allowing the creation of icons bearing the images of the Virgin and Child. Devotion to Mary was, however, already widespread by this point. Early representations showed Mary as the "Throne of Heaven" with Mary and the Child Jesus both crowned as royalty. These are, though, just a reiteration of the 3000 years earlier representations of Isis with Horus on her lap.

Like Isis with the infant Horus was in her day, Mary as the Queen of Heaven (both crowned and uncrowned) with the infant Jesus on her lap was a particularly popular theme among Medieval and Renaissance artists.

I yet need to provide a link between "Mary, Queen of Heaven" and the game of chess – beyond the rather esoteric and yet ancient concept of " woman as throne" that I previously mentioned. Stay tuned…

2008 Gibtelecom Round 8 Standings

A new chess femme, IM Victoria Cimilyte (Cmilyte as spelled at the Gibtelecom website) has taken over the top women's spot by winning her game today against American GM Varuzhan Akobian. Stefanova drew her game by default - not sure who didn't show up to face her. I'm having a hard time figuring out the official site, darlings! I didn't see her on the list of pairings for Round 8. Arrrggghhhh! As a result of her draw, Stefanova has risen a few notches in the rankings. Evidently there is a special prize for "top woman" and several chess femmes are in the running for it. The competition is bound to continue hot and heavy, although I'm disappointed that Stefanova couldn't maintain her play against the top-notch players and stay in the top 6 overall. 14 IM Cmilyte, Viktorija 6.0 LTU 2475 25 GM Stefanova, Antoaneta 5.5 BUL 2464 26 IM Muzychuk, Anna 6.0 SLO 2460 27 IM Arakhamia-Grant, Ketevan 5.5 GEO 2457 36 WGM Zhao, Xue 5.0 CHN 2517 40 IM Socko, Monika 5.0 POL 2479 43 WGM Shen, Yang 5.0 CHN 2429 44 IM Paehtz, Elisabeth 5.5 GER 2420 47 IM Foisor, Cristina Adela 5.0 ROU 2412 49 IM Wang, Yu A. 5.0 CHN 2391 50 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 5.0 ROU 2386 58 GM Zhu, Chen 4.5 QAT 2548 60 GM Cramling, Pia 4.5 SWE 2524 63 IM Harika, Dronavalli 4.5 IND 2455 67 IM Houska, Jovanka 4.5 ENG 2393 74 IM Zozulia, Anna 5.0 BEL 2344 93 WGM Ramaswamy, Aarthie 4.0 IND 2322 94 IM Klinova, Masha 4.0 ISR 2315 102 WIM Nadig, Kruttika 4.0 IND 2208 105 WIM Makka, Ioulia 4.0 GRE 2186 116 IM Dzagnidze, Nana 3.5 GEO 2429 135 WFM Norinkeviciute, Rasa 3.5 LTU 2064 141 WIM Greef, Melissa 3.5 RSA 2025 148 Jorgensen, Line Jin 3.5 NOR 1867 159 Foisor, Mihaela-Veronica 3.0 ROU 2043 168 Jacobsen, Maria Pitz 3.0 NOR 1799 170 Loberg, Jo Kristian 3.0 NOR 0 * 176 Georgieva, Emilia 2.5 BUL 1985 195 Hansen, Linda Marie 1.5 NOR 0 * 198 Mossiaguine, Anastasia 1.0 SWE 0 * 199 Mossiaguine, Arina 1.0 SWE 0 *

Monday, January 28, 2008

Greek goddess of song dies

A tribute to a goddess of song.

 From The New Hampshire Union Leader
New Hampshire Union Leader Staff
January 28, 2008

PERHAPS IF BETTY GEORGE had died at an earlier age, her obituary might have been front-page news here in Manchester. Alas, she died back in November in her adopted home town of Albany, N.Y., and her passing - at age 81 - only came to light locally when she was buried at the Pine Grove Cemetery.

Such a fate would have been unthinkable in 1945. Back then, Betty George was front-page news in Manchester. She was a stunning beauty and a gifted vocalist, and from the moment she took the stage for the first time - it was for an operetta with the Central High Maskers at the Practical Arts Auditorium - anyone with eyes and ears knew that stardom lay in her future. And maybe it was small-town stuff when her classmates at Central voted her the best-looking girl in the class of '43, but it was another thing altogether when the most famous newspaper columnist in America called her "one of the 10 most beautiful women alive." 

That columnist was named Walter Winchell. I'm getting ahead of myself, however, because if Betty George was going to make it in show biz - let alone come to the attention of Walter Winchell - she had to pay her dues. She started paying those dues as soon as she got out of Central. Just eighteen months after her graduation, Manchester Evening Leader readers discovered that Betty had already landed a premier gig as a soloist for Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra - for you young 'uns, that was a very big deal - but there was a bigger gig just ahead.

"After studying Spanish," The Leader noted, "Betty will accept a new six-month contract with Xavier Cugat, who is under contract to the Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studio, and she will appear at the Waldorf Astoria in New York and at the Frolics in Miami Beach."

All of this came to light when Betty was home visiting her folks. Thomas and Angelia George lived in a tenement at 293 Bell St. - Greek was still the language of choice in their home - and in spite of the excitement that lay in store for her, Betty wanted to talk about the honor of entertaining wounded servicemen.

"The boys were so appreciative," she told The Leader. "We were in the hospitals where they were treating amputation cases and when you see those young boys, so cheerful, you wonder what you have to gripe about."

Betty was never one to gripe. Then again, it's hard to gripe when you're living your dream. By 1948, she had her first role on Broadway. She was cast in the role of Officer Blandings in a play called "Heaven on Earth." The musical ran for all of 12 shows - perhaps Betty did have something to gripe about - but that meant she was available when Milton Berle came calling. Her beauty, timing and sense of humor made her a perfect counterpoint for Uncle Miltie, but her singing was still wowing critics as well. Here's what critic Robert Dana wrote after one of her shows with Berle at the Latin Quarter in New York: "When you hear Betty George sing 'Let There Be Love,' you will agree that there couldn't be a more influential spokesman for a subject of such importance," he noted. "And I daresay every man in the quarter will relish the beautiful brunette's handling of I Wanna Get Married.'"

Betty would remain a part of Milton Berle's repertory company for 16 years, but when Broadway beckoned, she was free to respond. Thus, there were subsequent roles in "As the Girls Go" - that was good for a 14-month run - and a musical called "Ankles Aweigh." "That was a pretty good part for her," said David Allan, who came to know Betty after she retired from the stage and made her home in Albany. "Walter Winchell did a lot to keep the show alive - he even called her 'The Greek Goddess of Song' in his column - and it was just a couple of years ago that they re-issued the original cast recording. "Betty has a big song on the CD," he added. "It's called 'Headin' for the Bottom Blues.' I picked up a copy for her, and she was thrilled to hear it after so many years."

It would take years to recount all of the Betty George stories I've heard in the last week - some bawdy, all hilarious - but as a measure of her personal charm and her circle of friends, consider some of the names of the people who populate those stories. There's Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, Burl Ives and Peggy Lee, Al Hirt and Buddy Hackett and Sergio Franchi and then there was her personal favorite, Liberace, and I couldn't recite that list of names if not for Betty's friends in Albany who still mourn her passing. Come the 1970s, Betty thought she was ending her show-biz career when she moved to Albany to be near her sister, Christine (George) Niles, but her radiant presence would not allow it.

"I had a morning television show in Albany and when someone introduced me to Betty, I heard the word 'Broadway,'" David Allan explained, "so I had her on the show as a guest. She was so funny and so forthright and so charming, and when she came, she brought her little dog named Moo. "It was one of those electric moments," he said. "The phones just lit up. People wanted them back, Betty and Moo, and over time the two of them became major celebrities in the area." 

Inexplicable? Not really. Have you ever tried to explain the allure and charm of the old "Uncle Gus Show" on WMUR-TV? The audience simply knows who to love without conditions, and that was the case with Betty. And Moo, too.

In the last few years, as Betty's time drew near, her circle of friends grew tighter. Since she never married - there were many, many proposals, mind you - Betty decided that her funeral would do double duty. She would be buried in a wedding gown and a veil made especially for the occasion. Moo's ashes would join her in the casket.

Her friends honored her wishes. After she was waked in Albany, those friends - Bernice Shingles and Donna Hausmann foremost among them - accompanied her body to Manchester where Betty was interred in the family plot at Pine Grove, reunited once again with her mom and dad and her sister. The trip to Manchester is one that Betty made every single year since she left in 1943, because she never forgot where she came from. They'll never forget her in Albany. And I thought we should remember her here, as well.

Treasure Hunters in Dispute With Spain

From The Seattle Times January 25, 2008 By MITCH STACY Associated Press Writer The playground legal principle "Finders keepers, losers weepers" is being put to the test in an international dispute over what could be the richest sunken treasure ever found: 17 tons of silver coins brought up from a centuries-old shipwreck. A Florida treasure-hunting company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, found the wreck at the bottom of the Atlantic and argues that the age-old law of the high seas entitles the finders to most or all of the booty, said to be worth around $500 million. But the government of Spain suspects the ship was Spanish and says it has never expressly abandoned any of its vessels lost at sea. The kingdom has made it clear that if the treasure does have some connection to Spain, it wants every last coin returned. The case is being closely watched because there could be more disputes like it, now that sonar, remote-control submersible robots and deep-sea video are enabling treasure hunters like Odyssey to find ships that went to the bottom centuries ago and were written off as unrecoverable because no one could even imagine finding anything so far beneath the waves. "The question is, just because you're the first one out there to get it, should you get to keep it _ especially if it belongs to someone else?" said James Delgado, director of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University and a critic of commercial treasure hunters. For now, the spoils _ some 500,000 coins, enough to fill 552 plastic buckets _ are in Odyssey's possession, tucked away in a warehouse somewhere in Tampa. Odyssey created a worldwide sensation with the announcement of the find in May but has so far declined to identify the wreck, its location (except to say it was found in international waters) or even what kind of coins were recovered, for fear of plunderers. Instead, the shipwreck was given a code name: Black Swan. Soon after the discovery was announced, Spain's Washington-based attorney, James Goold, went to federal court in Tampa and slapped claims on three Atlantic wreck sites to which Odyssey had been granted exclusive salvage rights under maritime law. Spain also temporarily seized the company's ships last summer, and the Spanish media have portrayed the Americans as buccaneers plundering the nation's cultural heritage. On June 6, El Pais, Spain's biggest newspaper, ran an editorial headlined "Pirates of the 21st Century." "Almost as if it were back to the times of corsairs and freebooters, the new pirates of this century continue to besiege our galleons despite the fact they have been lying at the bottom of the seas for centuries immersed in an eternal sleep," it said. "How is Spain to defend itself against such a violation of its archaeological and historic patrimony?" The ship is widely believed to be the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish galleon sunk by a British warship off Portugal in October 1804. That theory is supported by an export document in the court file indicating that Odyssey raised the coins from a site 180 nautical miles west of the Strait of Gibraltar. Earlier this month, a federal magistrate ruled that Odyssey must hand over details of the Black Swan wreck, but that Goold must keep the information confidential. Another hearing is scheduled for March. Odyssey chief executive Greg Stemm said that even if Spain or some other party can prove a claim to the cargo, maritime law dictates that Odyssey be awarded a majority of the haul. Goold said that won't happen unless Odyssey can prove that Spain expressly abandoned the shipwreck, which he says is not the case. Goold pointed to a previous case he argued in which treasure hunters who salvaged two Spanish ships off the coast of Virginia were forced by a federal appeals court in 2000 to relinquish rights to the 100 coins and other salvaged artifacts. The Spanish government eventually agreed to have the items displayed at a Virginia museum. "The established principles regarding sunken ships in which the kingdom of Spain has an interest are that the treasure hunter has no right to salvage them, anything that is recovered has to be returned to Spanish custody and that there is no compensation," Goold said. The Black Swan discovery was timely for Odyssey, whose first big strike was the discovery in 2003 of a Civil War-era steamer off the Georgia coast that yielded 51,000 gold coins and other artifacts valued at around $70 million. Odyssey reported making around $38 million from the haul so far. But Odyssey, the only publicly traded company of its kind, has posted losses over the past three years as it used its expensive high-tech equipment to scour the high seas for the next mother lode. The company signed a promotional agreement with Disney last year and has attracted millions in investment from some of the country's biggest financial institutions. "We have said all along that the legal issues with shipwrecks are complicated and it may take awhile to work them out," Stemm said. *********************************************************************************** The established principles regarding sunken ships in which the kingdom of Spain has an interest are that the treasure hunter has no right to salvage them, anything that is recovered has to be returned to Spanish custody and that there is no compensation. If the legal precedent is that the treasure goes back to the "kingdome with an interest," then all the loot that Spain stole from the cultures of South America in the late 15th and early 16th centuries CE should be returned to the countries of origin, as best as can be determined, should future treasure trove from period ships be recovered from the high seas. Spain is once again trying to cash in on other peoples' blood, sweat, tears and investment without lifting a finger to do anything. There's a word for that - it's call extortion.

2008 Gibtelecom Round 7 Standings

Stefanova lost her game today, she's fallen in the rankings, from 6th place yesterday all the way to 28th today. The official website has her at 5.5/7, but that is not correct. 23 WGM Zhao, Xue 5.0 CHN 2517 27 IM Cmilyte, Viktorija 5.0 LTU 2475 28 GM Stefanova, Antoaneta 5.0 BUL 2464 29 IM Paehtz, Elisabeth 5.0 GER 2420 30 IM Wang, Yu A. 5.0 CHN 2391 39 IM Socko, Monika 4.5 POL 2479 40 IM Muzychuk, Anna 4.5 SLO 2460 41 IM Arakhamia-Grant, Ketevan 4.5 GEO 2457 54 GM Cramling, Pia 4.0 SWE 2524 56 IM Harika, Dronavalli 4.0 IND 2455 60 WGM Shen, Yang 4.0 CHN 2429 63 IM Foisor, Cristina Adela 4.0 ROU 2412 64 IM Houska, Jovanka 4.0 ENG 2393 65 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 4.0 ROU 2386 71 IM Zozulia, Anna 4.0 BEL 2344 72 WGM Ramaswamy, Aarthie 4.0 IND 2322 82 GM Zhu, Chen 3.5 QAT 2548 86 IM Dzagnidze, Nana 3.5 GEO 2429 93 IM Klinova, Masha 3.5 ISR 2315 103 WIM Nadig, Kruttika 3.5 IND 2208 127 WIM Makka, Ioulia 3.0 GRE 2186 140 WFM Norinkeviciute, Rasa 3.0 LTU 2064 149 Jorgensen, Line Jin 3.0 NOR 1867 150 Loberg, Jo Kristian 3.0 NOR 0 * 157 Foisor, Mihaela-Veronica 2.5 ROU 2043 161 WIM Greef, Melissa 2.5 RSA 2025 170 Jacobsen, Maria Pitz 2.5 NOR 1799 190 Georgieva, Emilia 1.5 BUL 1985 192 Hansen, Linda Marie 1.5 NOR 0 * 197 Mossiaguine, Anastasia 1.0 SWE 0 * 198 Mossiaguine, Arina 1.0 SWE 0 *

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Cult of Nania

Or "Give Us Our Nana Back." Rashid suggests that Nania or Nana was imported into ancient Mesopotamia from the Indus civilization, where she was Eanna or Inanna and, to the Assyrians, Ishtar. Perhaps the "unnamed brother" who may be a water god (see article) is Enki, and not a brother at all. From the Daily Times of Pakistan January 25, 2008 Footloose: Bibi Nani —Salman Rashid The cult of Nania, or Bibi Nani as we know her, is thus one of the oldest in the world: it has survived for over four thousand three hundred years. And so over the millenniums, caravans carrying trade and philosophy back and forth between Mesopotamia and the cities of the Sindhu Valley dispersed the name of this goddess across the countries Below a road bridge across a usually dry stream at the bottom end of the Bolan Pass there is a simple grave thickly draped with the prescription green satin of a holy burial. An untidy scrawl on a nearby rock tells visitors that this is Bibi Nani — Venerated Old Lady. For some peculiar reason, Bibi Nani never made it to the stardom of sainthood and remains a rather obscure sort of figure: there are no yarns of the miracles she wrought or the heathens she converted to the true faith. There is just one, rather insipid, tale, however. It was in the time of the Fire Worshippers that Bibi Nani and her brother (whose name remains unknown) came to this country to spread the word of Islam. But the kafir king would have none of that and he sent out his soldiers to bring in the pair in chains. As the holy brother and sister saw the kafir army bearing down, they fled. But at one point, despairing of ever getting away, they decided to split up. The soldiers chased the brother into the Bolan Pass and then when he was but a sword’s length from his pursuers, he calmly walked into the rock wall. Since that day he has been called Pir Ghaib — the Invisible Saint. An ancient spring of copious, tepid and slightly sulphurous water is believed to mark the spot where the saint walked into solid rock. This outflow cascades over a rock wall richly festooned with brown, blue and green lichens and splashes into a limpid pool below. Ten kilometres southwest of Mach, this setting is what any film producer would die for. Muslims attribute the water to Pir Ghaib and the Hindus to Mahadev or Shiva. On holidays adherents of both faiths co-mingle to celebrate their own deities. The nameless brother is celebrated because of the spring and has over time become a giver of sons. A tree outside the domed shrine near the spring is adorned with dozens of miniature cribs donated by parents whose prayers for sons were answered. Bibi Nani, buried under a road bridge some ten kilometres to the south of the spring, on the other hand, has no miracles attached to her. Nor indeed do we know how she died. Her tomb is simple and open to the sky. Only the sheets of green signify its importance. Several hundred miles to the south, on the Balochistan seaboard, there is another shrine once again worshipped by Hindus and Muslims alike. For the former Sri Mata Hinglaj is where one part of goddess Durga is buried; for the latter, it is the last resting place of Bibi Nani. Like Pir Ghaib, Hinglaj too is one delightful little spot on a subsidiary stream of the Hingol River. Here too palm and mulberry trees grow and birds sing in an otherwise arid setting. For the curious mind, there is no legend concerning Bibi Nani at either of the two places: she is simply the Venerated Lady. It is very interesting that both these Nani shrines lie athwart of ancient east-west highways connecting the subcontinent with Mesopotamia. One ran through Moen jo Daro and Mehrgarh, the other along the coast; the ancient precursor of the modern Coastal Highway. These were roads that we now know were in use as far back as the 9th millennium BCE. For the learned mind, the identity of Bibi Nani is no enigma: she is Nana or Nania, the goddess worshipped in ancient Mesopotamia and Persia. Back in the year 2280 BCE, Kudur-Nankhundi, king of Elam (southwest Persia), sacked the city of Erech in the kingdom of Ur (Mesopotamia). Among other treasures the victor carried away from Erech to his capital city of Susa was the highly revered idol of the goddess Nania. This was duly installed in an Elamite temple and worshipped. Such was the esteem for Nania among the people of Mesopotamia that for no less than one thousand six hundred years successive Mesopotamian kings smarting under the humiliation of that defeat and theft, vainly sought the recovery of the idol. It was only in the year 645 BCE that king Assurbanipal, taking advantage of the weakness of the Elamite kingdom, set out to right that ancient wrong. A bitter contest followed and after fourteen Elamite cities had been sacked, Susa fell to the Mesopotamians. The city was pillaged and trashed, but before that came to pass, the idol of Nania was preserved and restored to the temple of Erech. The cult of Nania, or Bibi Nani as we know her, is thus one of the oldest in the world: it has survived for over four thousand three hundred years. And so over the millenniums, caravans carrying trade and philosophy back and forth between Mesopotamia and the cities of the Sindhu Valley dispersed the name of this goddess across the countries. The name persisted in human memory in our part of the world (albeit with a slight modification) while in the west it was confined only to cuneiform tablets. The question then is why it was not forgotten in the Sindhu Valley. Mark Kenoyer, the renowned archaeologist who has worked on the Indus Civilisation tells us of the great traffic of trade, art, crafts and culture between our part of the world and Mesopotamia. And that the Sindhu Valley had some superior arts and culture to transfer to the west. I suspect that long before the king of Elam stole her statue from the temple at Erech, traders and craftsmen from the Sindhu Valley were carrying the cult of Nania westward to Mesopotamia. She was favoured there, became deeply entrenched in their pantheon and around her an entire cult grew. Of the cult we know from the multitude of cuneiform tablets that have been discovered and deciphered. But in her own home, the written word has been so scant as to defy interpretation. I tend to believe that Nania was known by the same name in her original temples in the cities of the Sindhu Valley. Over time as the great cities crumbled and were smothered by dust and a new culture took over, Nania changed form. Her name nonetheless persisted in a tiny corner of the collective human memory. And so the goddess of the unknown name who was worshipped thousands of years ago on the banks of the Sindhu became Nania or Nana to the ancient Mesopotamians and Bibi Nani to modern Pakistanis. As for Bibi Nani’s sibling whose name we do not know, he too seems to be an ancient deity worshipped for protecting sources of water. Eight thousand years ago, caravaners bound for Mesopotamia would have taken the six-kilometre detour off the Bolan Pass road to pay homage to this nameless saint at the spring that has never ceased to spew. Long afterwards the Hindus and then the Muslims appropriated the ancient god to call him Mahadev or Pir Ghaib.

2008 Gibeletcom Round 6 Standings

Stefanova drew her game with GM Wang Hao. 6 GM Stefanova, Antoaneta 5.0 BUL 2464 23 IM Paehtz, Elisabeth 4.5 GER 2420 31 GM Cramling, Pia 4.0 SWE 2524 32 WGM Zhao, Xue 4.0 CHN 2517 35 IM Socko, Monika 4.0 POL 2479 36 IM Cmilyte, Viktorija 4.0 LTU 2475 37 IM Arakhamia-Grant, Ketevan 4.0 GEO 2457 38 IM Harika, Dronavalli 4.0 IND 2455 41 WGM Shen, Yang 4.0 CHN 2429 43 IM Foisor, Cristina Adela 4.0 ROU 2412 45 IM Wang, Yu A. 4.0 CHN 2391 57 IM Muzychuk, Anna 3.5 SLO 2460 60 IM Dzagnidze, Nana 3.5 GEO 2429 64 IM Houska, Jovanka 3.5 ENG 2393 72 IM Klinova, Masha 3.5 ISR 2315 87 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 3.0 ROU 2386 93 IM Zozulia, Anna 3.0 BEL 2344 94 WGM Ramaswamy, Aarthie 3.0 IND 2322 115 WFM Norinkeviciute, Rasa 3.0 LTU 2064 122 GM Zhu, Chen 2.5 QAT 2548 125 WIM Nadig, Kruttika 2.5 IND 2208 141 Foisor, Mihaela-Veronica 2.5 ROU 2043 144 WIM Greef, Melissa 2.5 RSA 2025 155 WIM Makka, Ioulia 2.0 GRE 2186 176 Jorgensen, Line Jin 2.0 NOR 1867 177 Loberg, Jo Kristian 2.0 NOR 0 * 182 Georgieva, Emilia 1.5 BUL 1985 186 Jacobsen, Maria Pitz 1.5 NOR 1799 196 Mossiaguine, Anastasia 1.0 SWE 0 * 197 Mossiaguine, Arina 1.0 SWE 0 * 200 Hansen, Linda Marie 0.5 NOR 0 *

Corus 2008 Final Round Results

Group "A": Polgar, Judit - Aronian, Levon ½-½ (10th place, 6.0. Winners finished 8.0) Aronian shares the win with 17 year old Magnus Carlsen (but actually he was ranked below Aronian). Group "B": Koneru, Humpy - Movsesian, Sergei ½-½ (11th place, 5.5) Krasenkow, Michal - Hou Yifan ½-½ (9th place, 6.0) Movsesian clearly outclassed the rest of the field, winning with 9.5, 1 full point ahead of the next finisher, GM Nigel Short (astonishing - I thought he was all washed up. Just goes to show you, darlings...) A good finish for Hou; I expected more from Koneru. With five players rated above her, she should have done better. Group "C": Braun, Arik - Ushenina, Anna 1-0 (13th place, 4.5) Grivas, Efstratios - Peng Zhaoqin 1-0 (12th place, 4.5) Ruijgrok, Dennis - Krush, Irina 0-1 (5th place, 7.0) Caruana finishes with an outstanding 10.0/13 and shows he's no flash in the pan. Watch out, Carlsen, he's gunning for you... Kudos to Krush, an excellent finish with 7.0/13 and some scalps under her belt.

Wisconsin Chess News

From Posted January 27, 2008 Chess players show their indoor moves 70 kids forego sledding and skating to march their men into battle By Janet Ortegon Sheboygan Press staff On a snowy Saturday morning, with sledding hills beckoning and ice skating rinks waiting, what could be better than huddling silently around small tables and moving plastic pieces on a checkered board? Although the day was ripe for outdoor winter fun, about 70 kids from kindergarten through 12th grade and their parents crowded into Sheboygan Christian School on Saturday morning for the Wisconsin Scholastic Chess Federation chess tournament. "I like how the pieces move and I like how you can capture 'em," said Carson Kaiser, 8, a third-grader at Sheboygan Christian, who won three of his six games Saturday. Children from all over the region, including Sheboygan County, the Milwaukee area and elsewhere, signed up to play in the six-round, all-day tournament. T.J. Johnson, 8, Carson's friend and classmate, learned the game from an instructional DVD, and won four of his six games Saturday morning. "(I like) the strategies, some of the special moves you can do," he said. Scott and Sherryl Sager of the chess federation organized the tournament at Sheboygan Christian and do the same in dozens of schools and communities throughout the region. Players pay an entry fee of $10 and are divided into three groups — kindergarten through third grade; kindergarten through sixth grade and kindergarten through 12th grade. "It really is what you think you can do," said Scott Sager of Whitefish Bay. "There are some young players who are very strong chess players and can defeat a teenager." There are many benefits for children in the game of chess, Sager said. "I see, in today's case, 70 kids who aren't sitting in front of a TV all day Saturday, who are not sitting in front of a video game all day Saturday," he said. "They're sitting across from a live person. It's a social thing … quiet concentration." The increased focus and critical thinking required for chess help kids out in many other areas, said Sherryl Sager. "It teaches kids to take their time and concentrate on what they're doing," she said. "It helps kids with their school work." That's the reason Nancy Wright of Kohler sat in the "skittles area" — chess-speak for the waiting area — all day long while her 11-year-old son, Logan, advanced through his six rounds. "He's involved in physical things, too — he plays ice hockey — I think this is good for his mind," she said. "He did very well for a first tournament, I think. He had fun." After all six of his games were over, Logan was happy with his performance. "I did good," he said. "After round 5, I was in eighth place, but then I lost in round 6, so I'm not sure where I'm gonna be now. I did my best." This was the second year the tournament has been held at Sheboygan Christian, said school administrator Corey Navis. "This year, there's been a lot more local interest," he said. "Last year there were about 10 local kids, excluding our school. This year, we had about 25." The idea, he said, is twofold: provide a venue for kids who love the game and learn from healthy competition, and give the school a way to reach out to the community. Sam Pagenkopf, 11, came all the way from Shorewood to participate in the tournament at Christian. The fifth-grader said he really likes playing chess even when it gets intense. "It's, personally, one of the best one-on-one games you can play," Pagenkopf said. "Sometimes I can just feel the blood rushing through me when I accidentally make a blunder and and I hope nobody noticed." Kim Burge of Plymouth brought her two sons, Logan and Wilson, to the tournament to join about nine other kids from their school, St. John the Baptist. "I don't know the first thing about chess so I'm very impressed that they do," she said. "This is their first tournament. They love it. Even losing, they are proud they've learned something, gone on to the next step and really seemed to enjoy it. It's definitely something I think we're going to keep doing, and find more tournaments and things to go to."

Reviving an Ancient Shrine

The Hindu
January 27, 2008

The restoration of the Sree Vadakkunathan temple in Thrissur is also contributing to keeping alive many other traditional vocational skills.

Ancient and rare architectural techniques and methods, almost forgotten by the building fraternity, are undergoing a revival with the conservation of the centuries-old Sree Vadakkunathan temple in Thrissur.

The conservation effort, based on age-old traditional systems, is of prime importance today as the ancient science of temple architecture is closely related to many rituals and allied sciences like geometry, iconography, astrology, vastu sastra, tantra sastra and mural painting with organic pigments.

The temple, owned by the Cochin Devaswom Board, is protected under the Archaeological Monuments and Archaeological Sites Remains Act – 1958 and it is mandatory to conserve it following the techniques used to build it originally.

According to the Superintending Archaeologist, Archeological Survey of India (ASI), Thrissur circle, Dr. N. Nambirajan, the temple was built between the ninth and the 14th century A.D. and shows a highly evolved tradition of architecture, wooden sculpture and mural painting.

Artistic marvel
Explaining the archaeological significance of the monument, he said, “Most of the other temples in Kerala show one or two of these evolved features but in Vadakkunathan all of them are near to perfect and this makes it unique.”

The outer walls of the main temple enclosure, called vilakkumadom like in other Kerala temples, are lined with lamps. In the centre of this main enclosure is a multi-shrine complex having three principal shrines dedicated to Shiva, Sankaranarayana and Rama. The Sankaranarayana shrine has beautiful 17th century murals delineating graphically the story of the Mahabharata. Two other murals in the surrounding cloisters — Phanivarasayana (Mahavishnu) and Nrithanatha (Nataraja) — are even worshipped regularly.

There are namaskara mandapams (spaces for special rituals and Vedic chanting) with beautifully carved wooden pillars in front of all the three central shrines. The temple theatre, known as koothambalam, has no parallel anywhere else in the world. The shrines and the koothambalam display exquisite vignettes carved in wood. A 41-day special programme of mythological story telling, Koothu and an ancient form of dramatic dance, Koodiyattom, is conducted in this theatre annually.

The temple establishes rich vastu precincts and according to the vastu expert, Kanippayoor Krishnan Namboodiripad, it has all the ingredients of a perfect structure.

The sprawling 64-acre Thekkinkadu maidan encircling the temple, along with the temple itself, plays venue to the famous Thrissur Pooram festival.

According to Nambirajan, the temple has not undergone any major conservation effort for the past many centuries, except for periodic maintenance. The first major conservation work in the temple was started by the ASI in 1997. In 2005, Venugopalaswamy Kainkaryam Trust (VGKT), Chennai, got a standing permission from the Director General ASI, Delhi to take up the overall conservation of the beautiful temple.

Unique process
However, if it was the matter of conserving a mere building, it would have been easy but conserving a centuries-old temple which is also a protected monument was a challenge, explains ASI conservation assistant K.P. Rajan, “The huge size of the monument and the difficulty of obtaining traditional building material make it a very tedious and time consuming work. The climate poses another challenge as six to seven months of rain makes the work difficult,” he further adds.

Prior to conservation the gopurams were in a bad condition, the sculptured pillars and the roof rafters had been eaten up by termites and the roof copper plates were corroded. The roof of the temple complex was leaking at many points during the monsoons.

The wall plaster had peeled off and applying the new plaster was not easy. According to tradition, the original plaster material was made out of powdered shells, nine different herbs and jaggery. The whole preparation, which took 40 days, required skilled traditional craftsmen which are very few. Keeping in mind the hugeness of the temple, a separate workshop had to be established and labour had to be trained to make the special plaster.

The wooden rafters required for supporting the roof are, on an average, 20 feet long and special care had to be taken to procure appropriate sized wood for it. Finding carpenters capable of such mammoth work was difficult as the skill of wooden joinery involved in the ancient temple construction has almost become extinct.

“The rafters on the main Sree kovil (temple) are 30 feet long and those on the gopurams are 20 feet. Often, before laying the rafters on the temple top, we join them on the ground to check if things are perfect,” said the head carpenter, P.K. Thankamani.

The traditional way of applying anti-microbial wood treatment is also unique and laborious. The wood preservative is prepared by boiling seven herbs in sesame oil and bee wax. The entire process of conservation goes in tandem with the rituals mentioned in tantra shastra, astrology and vastu shastra.

The ASI has undertaken the conservation of tidapalli (temple kitchen), murals, wood carvings and the south and west gopurams. The VGKT, which is involved in conserving many ancient temples in the country, has helped in conserving five shrines outside the main temple complex and the south end cloister inside. The trust, currently helping in conserving the remaining parts of the complex, works with a vision to preserve traditional architectural values for the future.

Needless to say, the conservation of Sree Vadakkunathan temple, also known as Thenkailasa (Kailasa of the South) not only helps conserve our rich, traditional architecture for future but also contributes to reviving many extinct traditions and preserving our rich cultural and social heritage.

Classic architecture
One of the largest temple complexes in South India and a classical example of the rich Kerala architecture, the temple is said to have been built by Parashuraman. Legend also has it that Adi Sankaracharya was born after his parents, who were childless for many years, prayed at the temple.

The idol of the principal deity Vadakkunathan (Shiva) is not visible, as it is covered under a 12-foot high mount of ghee, formed by the daily abhisheka (ablution) with ghee over the centuries. It is a wonder that the ghee, in spite of high temperature, doesn’t melt.

The main temple complex is spread over nine acres on a small hillock in the centre of the Thrissur town. The four magnificent gateways, called gopurams, and the lofty laterite wall around the temple quadrangle are an imposing piece of craftsmanship and skill. Each gopuram has beautifully carved out wooden pillars and wooden bracket figures.
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