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Elizabeth Brunner







Fairy Tales around

3rd August 1996

Elizabeth and her paintings and 'Nag Panchmi'



Saturday, 3rd August 1996  

Elizabeth with Avril and Advika

            I felt like helplessly surrendering into my fate during this day. The wetness and moisture around me was seeping under my skin. From about eight in the morning onwards it rained and rained and rained. With the occasional dry spell in between. I had spent the morning with my lovely daughter and grand-daughter. And Avril said before going home, she would like to say 'hello' to Elizabeth. So the three of us went and met her for a short time. Elizabeth was thrilled to see the little girl of whom I had talked so much. While Avril went home with her baby, I stayed on with Elizabeth for the rest of the day.

            Mr. Lutoria was also there. This time he was in a very talkative mood. He told us that this Saturday was 'Nag Panchmi' (the festival of the cobras). And Elizabeth got all excited and called Bahadur to please find her snake paintings. Bahadur went grumbling into one of the rooms and handed out three of the most beautiful paintings, one after the other.

            "This is the one because of which they have thrown me out of 'Western Court'", Elizabeth said. Dagmar laughed.  

...'This is the painting because of which they have thrown me out of 'Western Court'...

            It was a painting which showed five snakes, coming out of their basket and dancing. It was painted on the veranda of 'Western Court' and I could almost feel what joy the snakes had dancing in the rain.

            The next painting was the snake-charmer blowing his flute and the snakes in the process of coming out of their basket. This painting Elizabeth painted on the lawns in 'Constitution House'. The background was green and the rest in vivid colours.

            The last one was a very big painting and stunningly beautiful. I could just sit in front of it for hours and meditate. It was fascinating. Snakes on the left side with a beautiful 'Uma' goddess coming out of one snake body and Elizabeth's snake-charmer, a most handsom man. Hovering above was an apparition of a manifestation of the eternal femal energy (Shakti) in form of a huge face with penetrating eyes.

            The snake-charmer was the same one who came and visited Elizabet often after she had painted him. The one with whom she developed a kind of a friendship over the years.

            "This was a vision, you know, and I painted it. In my room in 'Constitution House'. ... The man must be dead by now," Elizabeth sadly said, and she also mentioned, "two/three years ago it was reproduced in a paper, a French publication, by the Indian Embassy in Paris. A lady came and interviewed me and wrote a very nice article."  

... And the snake-charmer in action ... 

            We placed the three paintings with reverence on the floor together and Elizabeth requested a flower vase to be put next to the arrangement.

            "It is a blessing that we should all be sitting here together worshipping the snakes." said Elizabeth smiling. Dagmar thought, worshipping the paintings, rather. And Mr. Lutoria said, "perfect, very auspicious I would say." Elizabeth replied, "yes."

            Mr. Lutoria had more to tell us: "You know, even if we have not the real cobra, we are painting a snake on the wall of the houses to guard against the evil things and hope that it lasts for the whole year. It is not celebrated so much in Delhi, but in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh. For instance, for wrestlers it is a specially auspicious day. But all people will worship this day, all casts, from Brahmin down to Harijans."  

... 'This was a vision, you know, and I painted it'...

            "What a pity, this morning a musician came ...," said Elizabeth. Dagmar asked, "this morning a musician came?" Elizabeth, "hm, this musician used to come every year. But by the time Mary came out and searched for some money, he had gone away. He was my favourite, and he would sing so beautifully."

            Mr. Lutoria carried on, "nowadays there are restrictions. One cannot have these cobras anymore, they come under the wild life protection. These snake-charmers live outside in villages. Now they don't come anymore into town. Their snake-charmer's villages were raided, here near Delhi, I read this in the newspaper. All their cobras were taken away by the zoo authorities. And they cried and cried, this is our livelihood, our age old profession.

            Those who are real snake charmers, they don't kill a cobra. They are talking to the animal saying, we are taking you for five months or one year or two months. They take out the poison and sell it. See, the poison is used for medicinal purposes. Different poison from different snakes. It is very precious. The venom is worth 3000/- or 5000/- Rupees for a tiny phial, very highly priced. So the snake-charmers are not really poor and they are dignified people, often the profession goes from one generation to the next.

            And they are very highly respected also. Whenever somebody had a snake bite, they call the snake-charmer because he knows what to do against it. They know the medicine against snake bites and the mantra (prayers). They will call the snake which bit and make it talk. And in their trance they will ask the snake, why did you bite? And the snake will answer, well I was offended. And the snake-charmer will request the snake, take out your poison from the man who was bitten and make him free. So with a few more mantras it is taken out. The real snake-charmers are respectful men. Now they are helpless and unemployed ..."  


Gandhiji with the colourful circles

             "Elizabeth," asked Dagmar, as she was keen to change the subject, "the other day you allowed me to go into that room over there and I saw that enormous and lovely painting of Gandhiji with those colourful circles around him. Would you remember when you painted that?" Elizabeth mused, "it might be 'Constitution House'. I think. It is true, that time I was so full of Gandhiji's thoughts. Day and night. But I believe, I painted this on the floor because the canvas is so big." Dagmar said, "that painting is most beautiful." Elizabeth, "the circles, they just appeared while I was painting.  

... 'There is one more of Gandhiji ... This and that painting belong together'...

            There is one more. You could go and look at it. In the Blind Institut, in the big hall. This and that painting belong together. Gandhiji is sitting with closed eyes and listening to the songs of the blind children. They made the children sit on the floor. And I could watch Gandhiji as he was enjoying the songs. Perhaps I finished them in my room in 'Constitution House', I don't remember."

            "And that big Buddha painting over there, dearest Elizabeth, where did you paint that," asked Dagmar. Elizabeth replied, "in Thailand. In the temple while they were praying and reciting. And all my Buddha paintings I painted on my knees. In the temple, but on my knees, not on an easel, to show my respect. And not only that, but I painted with my fingers."

Dagmar asked, "why with your fingers?" Elizabeth explained, "because I wanted to give service with my body also!" Dagmar could not help stating, "I believe you painted in the most uncomfortable and awkward positions in your life." And Elizabeth smiled a "yes".

...'And all my Buddha Paintings I painted on my knees... and with my fingers'...


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Copyright Dagmar Barua 1997 Sass Brunner East West Trust, 75, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi - 110 003