Lepakshi is a small village in the Anantapur District in Andhra Pradesh, India. It is about 9 miles (15 km) east of Hindupur and about 75 miles (120 km) north of Bangalore.
This village is historically and archaeologically significant. It has three shrines dedicated to the Hindu gods Shiva, Vishnu and Veerabhadra built during the period of Vijayanagara Kings (1336–1646).
The famous 16th-century Veerabhadra stone temple constructed in Vijayanagar style has about 70 pillars, but only one of these pillars is best known as the Aakaasa Sthambha (Hanging Column). It is a tribute to the engineering genius of the temple builders of medieval India. The pillar does not rest on the ground fully.
A cloth can slide smoothly underneath this Hanging pillar.
During the British era, a British engineer tried to move it to uncover the secret of its support. His attempt was unsuccessful and the pillar got slightly dislodged from its original position.
It has a lot to do with the juxtaposition of opposites: the sense of being underground with the light streaming in; the intimacy of being in a cave, yet the columns end up very large, sometimes thirty to forty feet high. – Ra Paulette in an interview, 2014
For the past 25 years, 67-year-old Ra Paulette, an American cave sculptor based in New Mexico has been carving out caves from the sandstone hills of New Mexico. He digs, shovels, scrapes, and bores into hillsides. He then sculpts elaborate artistic spaces inside these caves. He turns the underground sculpted spaces into works of art. And, his caves attract visitors worldwide.
Ra Paulette grew up in La Porte, LaPorte County, Indiana, United States, along the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1985, he moved to the small town of Dixon in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, near the Rio Grande about 35 miles north of Santa Fe.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Ra Paulette began creating underground art. When he roamed the rugged terrain of the remote backcountry and found a promising spot on the side of a sandstone cliff he would start digging with his pickaxe. He works with rudimentary hand tools such as shovels, pick axes, and scrapers. Paulette never studied architecture, sculpting or structural engineering in a formal school. He is self-taught.
In 1987 Paulette finished his first cave using a shovel and buckets and a wheelbarrow. He called the “Heart Chamber.” Later on, he described it to a historian as “a secret place for me, a private place, a hermitage.” The Heart Chamber had many visitors and it almost developed into a public shrine. The cave was on public land and he had dug it without permission from the authorities. Fearing it might collapse on a visitor, he buried the chamber and sealed it off.
The Jemez Mountains are a volcanic group of mountains in New Mexico, United States. Located in the rural Ojo Caliente River Valley, approximately halfway between is the Rancho de San Juan, the 225-acre Relais & Chateaux Country Inn and Restaurant. David Heath and John H. Johnson II, the owners of the ranch had moved to the area from California to open the elegant Resort.
In June 1994, Ra Paulette approached the owners of Rancho de San Juan. He showed them pictures of the Heart Chamber and asked them if they would like to commission him to dig a shrine on their property. At first the owners were reluctant. After several months 0f persistence by Paulette, they relented. They wanted their guests to have a view of the surrounding impressive landscape from their ranch. They commissioned Ra Paulette to open the interior of the natural butte. Heath and Johnson paid him between $10 and $16 per hour for his work.
It took two and a half years for Ra Paulette to create the “Windows in the Earth Shrine.” It is a chamber with lofty arched ceilings and imposing columns. Long windows fill the chambers with light. The windows provide a spectacular panorama of the magnificent Jemez Mountains. Inside the sandstone cave, one can enjoy the art created by Ra Paulette. He has carved all sorts of shapes on the interior sandstone walls: scallops, molded curves, smooth ledges, inlaid stones, narrow pods and crusty ledges. There is space to meditate and write. Even high desert weddings take place there.
Later on, Ra Paulette created more than a dozen caves. He spent months and in some cases he toiled for years on each of them.
Needless to say, the work of Ra Paulette was backbreaking. He carved out rooms, connected tunnels, created alcoves and arches, benches, steps, pillars, etc. He decorated the surfaces with sculpted shapes and chiseled ornamental patterns. He broke through walls and ceilings to create windows and skylights to bring in sunlight to the dark underground spaces.
Martha Mendoza, a reviewer in the Los Angeles Times described the caves of Ra Paulette as hallowed places and as a sanctuary for prayer and meditation. Many connoisseurs of art describe the caves of Ra Paulette as works of art.
There are so many wonderful stories and legends associated with the churches we photograph in France, but none is more pleasing than that of Saint Menulphe and his friend, the Simpleton of Mailly-sur-Rose, a town in the Allier.
Menulphe was the son of an Irish king and very devout. He traveled to England, Brittany and France and was recognized for his sanctity. When the Pope heard of this and asked him to come to Rome, Menulphe walked the route in poverty, a mendicant with no possessions. On his return, he stopped in Mailly-sur-Rose, exhausted with his journey. During that time, Menulphe took pity on an innocent named Blaise who was the scapegoat for local children. One day he intervened as the young urchins threw stones at Blaise. He chided the boys and took the young man under his protection. Blaise was described as a simpleton, one who could barely speak, and never left Menulphe’s side. He couldn’t pronounce his protector’s name and “Menulfe” became “Menoux”.
When Menoux died, Blaise thought that the holy man was asleep. He spent his days and nights at the grave, conversing with his friend. One day visitors to the cemetery saw that the coffin had been dug up and that there was a hole in the side. They discovered Blaise laying on his stomach, with his head in the hole, talking to someone. The local people were scandalized but the curé said, “Poor Blaise, he is a better and more faithful friend than we are. Perhaps he is the least crazy of all.”
The Curé placed Menoux’s remains in a sandstone sarcophagus and had an opening cut into one side. Blaise spent the rest of his life conversing with his friend, and miraculously, the troubles of his mind faded to the point that he was able to serve mass. At the time of his death, Blaise had the reputation of being a simple, faithful man, as sensible as anyone.
Thereafter, in memory of the miraculous healing of Blaise, parents led the bredins, the simple-minded, before the tomb of Menoux and placed their heads carefully into the sarcophagus – the débredinoire – hoping for the same healing that Blaise experienced. Eventually the site received such a number of pilgrims that the Benedictines built an abbey on the site under the direction of the Abbess Adalgasie and placed the sarcophagus with Menoux’s relics in the choir. They also changed the name of the village from Mailly-sur-Rose to Saint Menoux. The fairs held by the abbesses attracted vendors and buyers which led to the expansion of the village.
The church gives an idea of the importance of this abbey and the monastics who resided there. It was built in the classic Cluny style in the early part of the twelfth century. The nave has three tall, narrow bays with ogive arches covered with groin vaults.
The side aisles are, as usual, visually stunning. We see the long, uninterrupted flow to the ambulatory in the distance.
The north side aisle, however, has a unique feature. Just to the west of the transept arch is a rather clumsily executed structure that contains a stairway leading to a defensive tower on the exterior. Poking up through the roof, that tower looks almost like a minaret.
The raised apse is perhaps the finest element of the church. The choir has two elegant high bays topped with clerestory windows while the chancel features a seven bay hemicycle with an arcade of windows leading to the oven vault.
The débredinoire of Saint Menoux is found centered behind the altar in the chancel. These reliquaries have been placed between the pillars of the central hemicycle arch and the tomb can be seen just behind.
The oldest part of the church, built in the eleventh century, is the narthex on the west end of the church. This antechamber has beautiful arcades supporting a short barrel vault. Some of the pillars are topped with capitals, but it is clear that the restoration was not complete. Fragments of some of the original statuary are rather casually displayed in the arcades.
Today, the abbey is gone – only the church remains after the destruction of the French Revolution. The town of Saint Menoux is quiet and peaceful for its 1,009 residents. The church is not well tended; there are rat droppings and cobwebs throughout. Dust cakes the benches and the chairs, but pilgrims still frequent the Église Saint Menoux in order to use the débredinoire for relief from feeble-mindedness or headaches.
Lest we think that credulous in the Middle Ages were alone in these workings, look at this passage in “The Invisible Architecture” by George Prat (2000).
“For more than forty years I made fun of the débredinoire which I considered an example of public credulity … My surprise was great to see that the débredinoire works and is not a gimmick. Thedébredinoire is placed at the geometric center of the apse …. and is located at the junction point of thetelluric current and four streams of water. … When one realizes that this is a machine from another age and can be activated by an ‘acupuncture point’ located nearby, we are amazed at the electrical energy released … The débredinoire is actually an instrument of care-giving; when used correctly, the equivalent a high intensity shock is given to the user. This is certainly very effective in the case of some nervous breakdowns.” People will always find a reason to believe if the need is great enough.
Our daughter Sarah suffers from debilitating migraines and PJ placed her own head in the sarcophagus in hopes of helping. I guess it doesn’t hurt to try! But you must be careful not to touch the tomb while inserting your head. You run the risk of absorbing the feeble-mindedness and headaches of all who preceded you!
If you are interested in seeing some other churches in this region, follow this link.
In recent times many Indian artists have turned to sculpting images on sand. Sand sculpturist Sudarsan Pattnaik, 35, hails from Puri, nearly 60 km from Bhubaneswar, the capital city of the State of Orissa, India. At the recently concluded Solo International Sand Art Contest in Marbella, Spain held from July 9-17, 2012 he won two Gold medals for his sculpture of Ganesh, the Hindu god of wisdom and good health.
The theme of the competition was “Secrets of the Sea.” Pattnaik`s 3.5-metre sand sculpture (see above photo) bearing the message – “SAVE THE SEA LIFE” – won medals in “People’s Choice” and “Best Positive” categories.
He learned this form of art by himself without any guidance – by persevering practice. He started sculpting images on sand since the age of seven. Till now he has designed hundreds of sand sculpture.
He has won many national and international awards for his creative designs. His name is recorded in the World records for sculpting the tallest Santa Claus. Using 1,000 tones of sand, Sudarsan Pattnaik and his team carved a moving image of Santa Claus at Orissa’s Puri beach, measuring 100 feet, 30 feet wide and 15 feet high-which sets the record for the Tallest sand sculpture of Santa Claus.
Sudarsan Pattnaik has also won the accolade for most Santa Claus images sculpted on sand. He won the People’s Choice Prize at the first Moscow International Sand Sculpture Championship.
Sudarsan Pattnaik beat stiff competition from nine participants to win an international sand sculpture championship in Denmark in end May this year, making India proud at the first such event in Copenhagen. His 2.5 metres high sand sculpture of a mermaid pleading for human effort to save the oceans was declared the winner of the championship.
Below are a few photographs.of his sand sculptures.