there’s a god in my ear

When religious iconography finds its way into unexpected places, like a crumbling wall in the street, a garment, or Madonna’s collarbone, the results are stunning and otherworldly. The allure lies as much in the actual art- the lines and the colours- as in the unlikeliness of its setting. For example, by itself, a florid calendar from Lakshmi Agarbatti Co. is embarrassingly kitschy, but framed and aged with tact, it could well be the focal point of your decor aesthetic.

This is what I mean:

One of my favourite homes listed on my go to blog for Indian decor inspiration features vintage calendar art in stark black frames. They look beautiful against the white and ivory of the walls. meena1

meena2

Religious art plucked from the sacred environs of the temple or church and planted elsewhere is a common sight in Chennai. Made secular by virtue of placement and context, it is spotted on the outer walls of homes or the boundary walls that line the streets. On my many whirlwind trips to the city, I’ve often wanted to steal time from work and spend it photographing these beauties, as uncorneredmarket.com does. The images below are from the Triplicane neighbourhood, and represent our typically literal approach to secularism. (All gods together = religious unity)

relgions_wall

relgiouswall_2

Gods and their consorts frolic happily on intricately rendered kalamkari dupattas, turning these into elegant accessories rich with detail and tradition. Kalamkari-on-fabric often depicts scenes from the Epics and the Puranas and is thus my favourite Indian art form and haat product.

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kalamkari

Speaking of epics, how dreamy is this Le jardin d’Eden dress from Valentino haute couture (Spring Summer 2014)?

valentino

The Cross is Madonna’s signature accessory, and she wears it big and loud, with all the devotion of a Catholic schoolgirl. Except it only throws her risqué sexuality into sharp relief. A now-grownup woman reminisces thus in The New York Times: “It was my commitment to Madonna, not Roman Catholicism, that moved me to petition my parents for a cross – not a tiny, delicate one that would nestle in the hollow of my throat, but a conspicuous, wards-off-vampires cross. My parents’ response was to buy me a Star of David only slightly smaller than the hood ornament on our Buick.” madonnafrancescoscavullo

madonnacross

I’m trying to get my hands on Finift jewellery from Russia. Pop Culture Russia calls finift ‘..one of the two major forms of traditional Russian jewellery. (It is) a fine miniature painting on enamel and framed in silver, (and) made in Rostov-on-Don. Finift produces boxes, jewellery, pendants, bracelets, rings, earrings and other fine objects. The white enamel base is decorated with a miniature design or painting…that is then embedded in the silver fitting.’ The form usually incorporates pastoral elements (flowers, landscapes, clouds), but it really, truly comes alive with ‘Bible art’. A pendant the size of a big lemon is all you need and you’re done on the accessories front. This is why Finift may just be the most copied style of jewellery in the world, with both near-authentic and plain faux tributes proliferating on global marketplaces like Etsy and eBay.

finift1

fin

My own jewellery comprises pretty and affordable handmade goodies from friends and talented crafters BiiGii’s Little Shop and Funkanatomy, the occasional steal from Dilli Haat, and pricier bits and bobs of handcrafted silver interrupted with painstakingly crafted miniature paintings from Amrapali. Over the years, I’ve managed to hoard a mini-treasure of ‘ironically religious jewellery’, my name for accessories that reference religious iconography but are in no way a testament to anyone’s piety. I wear these with both saris and dresses, and most are so long they brush my shoulder, which is just the way I like them.

Saraswati earrings in silver, Amrapali. Rs 3500. Their considerable heft lends itself well to formal/ festive Indian ensembles, like saris and lehengas. I love wearing these with a classic ivory-and-pink Kerala silk sari from Nalli.

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IMG_5645

Buddha earrings in silver, Amrapali. Rs 2800. I wear these with just about anything- even dungarees. They’re that versatile.

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IMG_5643

Radha Krishna earrings in silver, Amrapali. Rs 2500. The classic dangler shape of these beauties makes them perfect for even non-Indian outfits.

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photo 2

Radha Krishna pendant and earrings in stone, with lac work, Dilli Haat. Rs 1900. Surprisingly light and can be worn with strings in different colours; I prefer it with a triple strand of seed pearls. I love how the painter doesn’t omit the tiniest details- the eyelashes and the little dot of henna on the hand, for example.

photo 1 copy

photo 2 copy

‘Many Gods’ wood beads necklace, Ayesha, Rs 150. The strand is over three feet long so I loop it in multiple messy lines on the front of whatever dress I’m wearing at the moment.

photo 2 copy 2

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Kali pendant in polished stone and silver, Amrapali, Rs 3800. It’s as big as a small egg and is perfect for when you’re feeling lazy about accessorizing and want a statement piece to finish the doubt off.

photo 1 copy 2

 …

This was fun! Hope it inspires you to invest in similar pieces; nothing’s wittier (or prettier) than the Goddess of Wisdom and Learning whispering in your ear. Happy holidays, and happy new year. See you devis in 2015!

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