Sunday 26 May 2024

The Morality of Loss Aversion

Why do we admire the correction of a wrong more than a hundred implementations of the right? We seem to expect the latter so much that we take it for granted.

Why is that most of our fiction, stories and movies celebrate violence in the guise of punishing the wrong doer far far more than very non-violent acts worthy of appreciation? Is it because fiction exaggerates the rare which is what we like to see, rather than commemorate the good which is somehow boring by frequency.

We see the same in art. A hundred beautiful swans is not worthy of appreciation - they are merely decorative, but one swan among crows or pigeons or ducks is considered worthy?

People go on forest tours to see lions and tigers and rhinoceros and deadly animals in the wild but take no cognizance of cows and sheep and hens and cats and dogs etc which are part of  our daily lives. We enjoy flower shows of rare flowers much more than the dozens of beautiful flowers we use and see all around us daily. In an era of plentiful cheap but still excellent music, vast numbers of us would rather pay a huge amount to see a concert in person. Same with sports. The primary reason is excellence and rarity, obviously; but why do excellent things lose their specialty simply by being common?

I can understand rarity is why we appreciate beauty, why do we appreciate cruelty or ferocity or brutality - simply because it is rare?

This seems to pervade human experience across cultures and across time and across a wide variety of philosophical perception and influence. 

Economics have noted the phenomenon called "loss aversion." The vast majority of people are far more offended when they lose something of even small value than they are delighted when they gain something of much higher value. For example, people feel worse about losing ten rupees than they feel happy unexpectedly getting something worth hundred rupees, even unexpectedly.

What I have described before this seems to be a variation of this "loss aversion" concept, except in other fields. In almost every field of life.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Tiruppudaimarudur Paintings by Prof Baluswamy


TiruppudaiMarudur Paintings by Prof Baluswamy

On May 1, 2016 I attended the launch of a Tamil book titled “Chitrakoodam – Tiruppudai Marudur paintings.” The book was authored by Prof Baluswamy of Madras Chrisitian College, Tambaram, whose earlier books “Arjunan Tapasu” and “Krishna Mandapam” also about famous monuments in Mamallapuram are outstanding works of research. Speakers included botany professor Dayanandan of MCC, artists Trotsky Marudu, Smt of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department, photographer Narasimhan and conservator and documentary film-maker MV Baskar. These are notes from their talks which I posted on Facebook, on that day, which I have now copied and edited for this blog. Prof Baluswamy himself delivered a vote of thanks, which I don’t seem to have taken notes for. The event was the Goethe Insitute auditorium, Rutland Gate, Nungambakkam, Madras.

I first heard of these paintings at the Tiruppudaimarudur temple from Prof Baluswamy himself at the 2012 Tamil Heritage Trust Pechu Kacheri on Paintings of India, which was held in the Tatvaaloka auditoirum, Eldams Road, Teynampet in Chennai. These paintings and the unusual military history they recorded were part of his talk which was about Nayak era paintings of the Tanjavur and Madurai Nayaks. It was recorded along with other talks at the Pechu Kacheri but none of these have been yet edited and made available to the public.

The book was only released last year and was available at the Chennai Book Fair in Nandanam. An earlier book on these paintings by Dr Kannan director of Chennai Egmore museum, was presented to me as a gift around this time, for my talk and guided tour about the Amaravati gallery of the Egmore museum, by the then Director, Dr Kavita Ramu. Dr Kannan who reshaped the Amaravati gallery also undertook a restoration/renovation effort of these murals and has recorded them in his book.

The notes from the talks at the 2016 book launch follow:

Prof Dayanandan, MCC

Lawrence Surendra played a major role in developing this book, "Chitrakoodam - Tiruppudaimarudur Oviyangal", by using MCC as a powerful resource to research and collate.

Baluswamy is our treasure. That others share him invokes jealousy and pride. We had a great asan at MCC in 60s Gift Siromoney, who pulled all of us into several fields. we thought he had reached a peak with Arjuna's penance, but he has breached new barriers with this book on Tiruppudaimarudur paintings. He has a wide variety of knowledge in depth.

Nagaswamy threw a bomb that Rajasimha built everything in Mallai. Gift Siromoney measured all sculptures with scales. We discovered that no male was depicted before 720. Baluswamy went beyond all this. He brought whole new theories to scholarship on Mallai. Using biology, sculpture sense etc. He discovered that the painting in Tiruppudaimarudur depicted the Tamraparni battle between Vijayanagar and Travancore. After the advent of Portuguese. I discussed Columbian exchange with Baluswamy, after which pineapple potato chili etc entered India.

Sangam Era marudu tree would have been lagerstomia. Sthala trees are not more than 200 or 300 years old, opined a botany professor in Madras University.

Baluswamy makes the distinction between mythology and history when teaching. No humans in India before sixty thousand years. So please forget Lemuria etc. When Africans settled the world. The common mother of all living humans lived in Africa 180000 years ago. Based on mitochondrial evidence.

Who ordered the paintings at Tiruppudaimarudur? Did the painters paint what they were ordered to? The book will discuss all these.

Panelists and audience - photo by VK Srinivasan

Trotsky Marudu, artist

I grew up with the Nayak paintings around poRRamarai tank in Madurai Meenakshi temple. All now eradicated. This tragedy bothered for a longtime. Western realism combined with Indian artistic tradition only in the Nayak period. My predecessors like Adimoolam worked at Weavers Institute. Government photographers captured paintings of Alagar Koil, Avudaiyar Koil etc and they used those designs in weaving textiles.

Even Adimoolam has not seen the Tiruppudaimarudur paintings. MV Baskar, Sarangan, myself and Baluswamy had the opportunity to see them after 2000. In 1990s I could not go past the first level and it was too dark to see these paintings. After the Danielles, Europe saw India in pictures. Parsi theater gave another visual perspective to Europeans. Later Ravi Varma printed his own paintings, made with costumes used by Parsi theater, most of which became popular across households in India. Marathi cinema 's look influences films of South India films now, having few Tamil identity. Dadasaheb Phalke Ravi Varma's Contemporary, and the artists who worked in Bombay film studios determined the look of Telugu and Tamil cinema. Film arts, calendar art and magazine art became the defining art of Tamil country (disconnected from the temple art of the Nayak era).

For several decades maps and images have been eradicated from Tamil books as cost cutting measure.

European books for children had paintings from Egyptian temples and pyramids and much less text. Fourteenth century venetian art decorated such books about Egypt and even Hollywood actors. Indian books do such a lousy job. Hyder Ali for example depicts him practically as a beggar though there are wonderful pictures of him. Sadly Tamil culture is mostly verbal. We pay poor attention to visual art.

Thadagam published a very visual book and they are doing this with Baluswamy's book on Tiruppudaimarudur. This is a treasure for the world at large not just Tamils.

Smt Kavitha of HR&CE

Of the thirty eight thousand temples under HR&CE about fifty temples have paintings like Tiruppudaimarudur. We have permitted several people to photograph paintings for scholarly study. Our department is blind to a lot of technology, and have inadequate in situ scholarly talent. We are now restoring temple paintings. INTACH restored kuRRalam Chitra Sabha, then another group complained that INTACH had ruined them by using very bright colors.

There are wooden panels at every level in Tiruppudaimarudur gopuram. Insect infestation and bats were big problems. Water seepage is another problem. We used to use cement, then combination mortar, and now we use lime mortar. We don't touch up the paintings. In ASI chemists do the job. Our sthapathi said Silpa Sastra shows several sources of paint including sand and stone colors, not just vegetable dye.

There are PhDs who have published with no reference to the temple or HR&CE. Why can't you give copies to the temple and our department??

Please cooperate with us. Don't have an antagonistic approach. We find it very difficult to find talent for restoration. A text called "Aalaya nirmana bimba Lakshana" shows us how to restore temples. Materials die, just preserve the monument, not just the materials. Expertise is hard to come by. Maintaining thousands of temples have to be maintain 38,000 temples with income from 2000 temples. It's not our intention to destroy, we do it out of ignorance.

Or by good intentions to save a monument or protect public from collapsing roof etc (one such attempt at Srirangam thayar shrine caused the paintings to crumble).

I hope at least Prof Baluswamy will acknowledge HR&CE

Episodes from the live of Gnanasambandar
- a slide from a PPT

A painting of Portuguese horse trade

Photographer Narasimhan -  Documenting the paintings

Our long time dream is getting fulfilled. I must acknowledge one who has not been acknowledged by other speakers. Mrs Baluswamy approved all the great expenses involved. Two types of people visit Baluswamy, those who go to learn and those who go to plagiarize.

Amutharasan came forward to publish the book. This pre publication is a special effort.

The technology to document was brought to us by Sarangan and Baskar.

Tiruppudaimarudur is a rare temple to still have original Nayak Era paintings. Most temple paintings have suffered great change. We have documented Alagar Koil paintings. They are valuable historical evidence. Baluswamy's effort to understand the paintings has been phenomenal. Investigating the Tamraparni war took four years. Lots of discussions with Sanskrit scholars to understand historical narrations of the war. Retired Supreme Court Justice Ratnavel Pandyan has been wonderfully helpful in this research.

We held several conferences to convey the importance to students and public. We ran a workshop at Srirangam for temple executive officers to our preserve sculptures and paintings.

One of the quite but wonderful servants of the documentation of this book is Mr Uthraadam, a PhD student of Baluswamy. This books is a milestone in tamil history.

MV Baskar - Visual documentation

Thirteen years of Hard labor. Documentation is not mere photography but Archaeometry. Digital cameras of 8Megapixels entered India in 2003. Now we shoot with 80Mp cameras. We composed each photo of A4 size, so a wall painting will be photographed as sixty different shots. Lighting is uneven so the same red may show up in different shades in adjacent shots. We used gray cards to give us color context.

Most people shoot the most photogenic scenes. We shot everything even the missing pieces which had only damaged wall or even graffiti, so we can reconstruct the painting. All paintings tend to be narrative paintings in temples, not pattern paintings. Vasanta mandapam of Alagar Koil has lovely Ramayana depiction. Tirugokarnam has Ramayana as we exit the temple, a structural narrative.

We had two photographers just for paintings and two for all other aspects. Digital tempts them to shoot limitlessly. We threw away two days worth of photos because we could not put them together.

So we had to shoot after planning, by mapping the pictures first. Cameras have no file structure. We had to map and key in advance and then collate photos in that order.

This is scalable vector art, machine readable. I worked with a Kalamkari artist from Andhra. We need pigment analysis and such equipment is only in Aurangabad and Bombay. We picked up all the fallen paint flecks and put them in zip lock bags.

Every painting in every temple has been over painted. They can only be seen with infrared photography. An infrared camera is twenty thousand dollars. Now it is much cheaper. We can rig one. I've shot Ladakh Buddhist monastery paintings with infrared cameras and they are also multi layered over time.

Academically, art and design schools lack tangible programs to educate students. We need multiple accredited programs at respected colleges to do this. Paintings also are accompanied by inscriptions or text.

The paintings depict several musical instruments. We recorded sounds from such musical instruments to create a multi media presentation. History can be far more engaging than only Archaeology. Money shortage is no longer an issue.

I'm delighted Art Painting has finally come to Tamilnadu. This is quite popular in Bombay Delhi etc but so far unsuccessful here. Hotels ask for paintings but haven't paid and ran some people bankrupt. But that is changing

----End of Lecture notes---

Acknowledgement I downloaded some photos of Powerpoint presentations on screen at the lecture, taken by VK Srinivasan during the book release and posted in the comments of my Facebook and added them in this blog. I presume the original photos used in the Powerpoint are by photographer Narasimhan, who was one of the speakers.

Related Links

Prof Baluswamy on Arjuna’s Penance in Mamallapuram

Prof Dayanandan’s lecture on Evolution at Varahamihira Science Forum

MV Baskar on Preserving Ramayana Murals at Tamil Heritage Trust

Index of My essays on Art

Index of  Lecture Notes in this blog