The Maharaja’s Palace, built in 1907, is a huge building in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture in Mysore, India. It was the seat of the Wodeyar maharajas until the creation of the modern Indian state. One fabulous but gaudy area of the palace is the Public Durbar (Audience) Hall. The repeated granite columns and stucco ceilings provide a stunning sense of harmony and near symmetry. It was built to impress and it does. As Mel Brooks said in History of the World, Part 1, “It’s good to be the king.”
We visited Bangkok, Thailand, earlier this year and walked down a street in Chinatown where articles for daily use are made and sold in tiny shops. We looked into a shop where sheets of aluminum on the floor were being formed into large cooking pots and then stacked high on the sidewalk outside, passed a glass case of dried pig’s ears at the front of a shop selling smaller cooking pans inside, and suddenly were looking inside a shop with a puzzling assortment of merchandise. Around the inside of the shop, floor to ceiling, were cases and racks of common, yet mysterious (to Western eyes) goods. Small areas of the shop were devoted to musical instruments, which seemed to be the real purpose of the shop.
Two men were hard at work in the narrow shop. A seated man near the back was working with small pieces of wood, putting them together in his hands like a puzzle, while the floor around his bare feet was covered in small wooden shapes. As we looked at our pictures when we got home, we recognized the bits of wood as part of the instruments hanging on the wall, the Chinese string instrument erhu. Other names for this solo instrument are the Chinese violin, the Chinese two-stringed fiddle, and the spike fiddle.
The seated man in the front of the shop was working on something that was hidden by the stool in front of him. When we expressed interest in the simple bamboo flutes for sale in a rack near the front, he immediately demonstrated how to play them, entertaining us with a lovely tune.
Harmony is a fundamental principle in traditional Chinese culture. The Chinese character for harmony (hé) is made up of two characters, of which one character was originally derived from yuè, the name of an ancient Chinese flute-like instrument. Our flute player was also demonstrating harmony.
These photos were taken on March 3, 2017. Specs for the second photo are: