Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sigur Center Grant for Field Research Summer 2012: Girls' Education in Rural India

Greetings from India! My name is Nora Shetty, and I am a M.A. student in the International Education program at GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Due to the generosity of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, I am spending five weeks in Karnataka state, studying non-formal education and its impacts on female students. In order to better understand the language and culture, I arranged to stay with a host family for the duration of my visit (more on this in a future blog!) and am currently residing in Mysore city.

Mysore is the second largest city in Karnataka state and is known as the “City of Palaces.” The largest attraction is the Maharaja’s Palace, which was home to the Wodeyar maharajas. The majority of the original wooden palace was destroyed by fire in 1897 and was replaced in 1912 by English architect Henry Irwin. The palace is open for visitors during the day where one can peruse the intricately tiled rooms, examine military weaponry, and view the metal howdas, which sat on the backs of elephants and carried the royal family during processions.  The best time to visit is Saturday and Sunday evenings when the exterior of the palace is lit with nearly 100,000 bulbs, and visitors can wander the gardens, eating chat, a traditional South Indian snack.

My host family was eager to introduce me to this site, of course, but this did not prove to be easy. While my visit to the see the interior went smoothly, I had to make three journeys to view the lights. The first attempt entailed standing at the gate with other visitors wondering why the lights were not turned on at the scheduled time, and my second visit, the following night, had us dodging scooters, horse-drawn carriages, and massive crowds of people in order to reach the gates before 8:00pm, when the bulbs are turned off. Just as we approached the gate to purchase our tickets, the lights turned off without warning. It was 7:34pm.

The following weekend, after visiting the beautiful Bindavan Gardens outside of Mysore, we made one last effort at viewing the bulbs. Unbeknownst to us, the palace was holding a special program on the history of the palace and Mysore city. Green and red lights were projected on the palace and alternated along with the storyline and musical soundtrack. The spectacular event culminated in the illumination of the bulbs and was well-worth the minor frustrations experienced the week before.

In addition to the palace, my host family suggested visiting the Mysore Zoo, which opened in 1892. The zoo houses a wide range of animals, including rhinos, elephants, primates, snakes, and birds. Based on visits to U.S. zoos, I anticipated seeing the lions and tigers from behind bullet-proof glass but was quite surprised by their accommodations. A simple fence separated visitors from the enclosures, consisting of large ‘islands’ of grass and trees surrounded by an 8-foot wide pit. While I’m sure the distance was carefully calculated to avoid escape, the signs posted around the zoo did little to ease my worry.


After a walk through the zoo, we piled into the car and headed for Coorg, where my host mother lived as a young girl. Coorg is best known for its lush landscape of tobacco fields and coffee plantations and is covered in a cool mist, making it an excellent escape from the dust, heat, and crowds of Mysore.

On the way home, we stopped at a Tibetan colony named Bylakuppe. The main tourist attraction in this area is a temple complex with an active monastery. During my visit, several of the smaller temples were being utilized for prayers, and the young monks’ chants echoed throughout the complex.

After depositing our shoes by the door, we entered the largest and most ornate temple of the complex, the Golden Temple. The walls are adorned with colorful paintings depicting gods and demons, and three beautiful golden Buddha statues, Padmasambhava, Buddha and Amitayus, look down at visitors. This place is surrounded by landscaped gardens and provides a wonderful contrast to the traditional Hindu attractions in the area.

With several ‘to-do’ items checked off my list, it was time to start research! I was off to rural Bangalore the next morning to visit schools and begin to better understand the issues facing girls in India.

Nora Shetty
M.A. International Education, 2013
Sigur Center 2012 Field Research Fellow
Karnataka, India


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