On a river trail

Life of Cauvery

On a river trail

Artist Bhavani’s deep bond with nature has resulted in a body of art that represents the meandering life cycle of the sacred river, Cauvery, writes Hema Vijay

She begins inconspicuously, as a slender trickle gushing mysteriously from a patch of wilderness in the beautiful Kodagu region. She then vanishes underground, only to resurface further ahead and gather greater strength and velocity. Then on, the Cauvery sets off on a fascinating journey, past spectacular topography, gurgling and running wild at times, falling down precipices with deafening intensity now and then, settling down to a stately flow occasionally, and finally meandering as a slender stream to meet the seas.

River Cauvery’s journey makes for an intriguing tale in another sense as well, wound as it is with myth and fact, with numerous cultures rising and falling along her banks over time. Now, this river’s journey has been caught on video, painted and photographed by talented artist Bhavani G S into a massive body of art work called Journey with the River Cauvery. It is an art installation that is intriguing, informative and aesthetically stimulating, all at the same time, and has raised enormous attention in national and international art circles.

Bhavani has exhibited her works at various international venues such as for the Whispers of the Woods show organised by the Vietnam Fine arts Association at Hanoi in Vietnam, the Textures from Life and Nature show at Auckland, New Zealand, Seeing To a Distance show at Melbourne, the 2011 Sub-urban show at Rotterdam, Holland, the Pink Night group show in Italy etc.

Emotional journey 

“One of my dream journeys was to follow the Cauvery along her course; the subject had been haunting me for several years. Through the journey, I am exploring my relationship with the river and using my body to navigate the waters and the banks,” states Bhavani. Curiously, this journey took shape as an investigation initially. “I saw a pig being cleaned for cooking in the Cauvery near Dubare — blood running into the river.

Cauvery water is considered pure (madi neeru). The sight of blood running into the river and the idea of madi neeru didn’t go together. I decided to investigate on what and how much extraneous material enters the river water before it reaches me. However, once I reached Talacauvery, this intention of inspection vanished. I just fell in love with the river,” remarks Bhavani. 

Bhavani ended up feeling captivated by the river after taking this journey, having tagged along with the enigmatic Cauvery across wilderness, villages and towns, dams and waterfalls, temples and ghats, finally arriving at Kaveripoompattinam or Poompuhar on the Bay of Bengal, where the Cauvery gently disappears into the sea. That was a tough emotional moment for Bhavani. “As I got closer to Poompuhar, I avoided finishing the journey for a couple of days; I didn’t want to see her off into the ocean, I was scared of that empty feeling that would surely follow,” Bhavani reminisces.

Bhavani had delayed the final moments with the river by staying back at Kumbakonam, spending a few days wandering through the town’s temples, brass workshops and galleries. When she finally arrived at the confluence, “It was like staying behind after the concert is over.”

Site-specific work 

The idea of this video installation was borne from Bhavani’s deep bond with nature and a childhood fascination for Cauvery. Bhavani was born in a Kodagu village where Cauvery is worshipped as kuladevatha (family deity). Growing up to be an artist, she completing her MFA in Painting at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat and went on to do site-specific installations in the wilds using natural-found material, which she arranges to create ephemeral art installation in the wilds, which get a swig of permanence only by photography. These works awaken our sleeping connect with nature. Her site-specific work can be viewed at www.bhavanigs.com.

“I always rely on the natural world for my inspiration — its textures, forms, the myriad smells; insects, animal foot prints, moos, dry leaves, seeds, fungi... I started site-specific works mostly on the forest floor, then in the river. I do enjoy being there listening, talking and communing with trees and mountains. I later began short videos of these works and got carried away by the moving images. When I encountered the river, I felt that video would be a good medium to work with,” Bhavani says.
 So it progressed, from collecting the bright red seeds scattered on the river banks to assembling them in patterns, knotting the grass, making linear arrays with stones etc. In the video, you also get to hear the many moods of Cauvery, from gentle gurgles to deafening roars. She sometimes pits the direction of movement of the camera against the direction of the flow of river, making for interesting visual effects.

Bhavani’s photographs include abstract rock formations that coalesces nature’s aesthetics, as also ones that show the hand of man. For instance, she frames the water released on the concrete floor on one side of Kallannai Dam as a network of lace or crochet work, and captures water drops as glittering crystals. There is also one photograph of the riverfront at Bhavani in Tamil Nadu, which spans a good four feet in its length. How was this managed? “I took three shots and merged them to give the wide view that was available for the human glance to sweep across at Cauvery’s banks by the side of Bhavani,” she shares.

Then, there is the beautiful, blue-hued painting that Bhavani has executed as a collage of 16 frames, one for each of River Cauvery’s tributaries, with the river’s map superimposed on the painting.

Life around the river

Bhavani’s focus extends to the lives touched by the river, from leeches, buzzing bees and butterflies, small fishes and songbirds to velvety paddy fields that waft the smell of tender paddy, people frolicking in the river such as at the Shimsha falls, kids jumping into the river in villages along her banks, boating in the circular theppam boats at the Hogenakkal falls under the shadow of the larger-than-life rockery all around the river at that point, fishermen going about their livelihoods, dhobi ghats with their colourful bundles of clothes, bathing ghats of temples etc. “I counted 1001 Shiva temples alone alongside the Cauvery,” Bhavani mentions.

In the process, besides capturing its aesthetics, Bhavani has amassed an impressive narrative on the river, from art to mythology and geography. She narrates, “Legend has it that at Bhagamandala, where the Cauvery resurfaces after having gone underground, the sages and local kings of the area had stood trying to persuade Cauvery to stay back and not flow away. Legend goes on to say that in a gesture of respect, Cauvery had circled the kings once but flowed away nevertheless. Well, there is a whirlpool at this very spot. If you throw a stick there, you would notice its circular trail.” 

Curious that myth and fact fall in line at times. It makes you wonder, did fact follow fiction, or fiction the fact? That might be open to debate; what beats dispute is the enigmatic journey of this river.

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