Friday, October 26, 2012

In and around the fabulous Mysore Palace – Some glimpses of nocturnal grandeur during Dasara 2012


My home city of Mysore is featured as a major tourist attraction in one of my earlier blog posts [See: 20) On my home turf - Mysore the City of Palaces - Personal Photo Album Part 6 (Feb 11)], with the accent largely on its numerous palaces.  The most famous of these palaces is of course the one in the heart of the city, called Amba Vilas Palace.  For most people it is just the Palace of Mysore.  As a tourist attraction it is one of the most beautiful sights anywhere in the world, especially when fully illuminated at night, and only the Taj Mahal in Agra seems to attract more tourists in the country.

The city and its palace come alive during the 10-day annual Dasara (grotesquely spelt as Dusserah in some parts of the country) festivities and draw huge crowds from all over the country and abroad to partake of its cultural activities culminating in a grand procession on its thoroughfares starting from the palace on the tenth (Vijayadasami) day.  The central attraction of this procession is a huge elephant carrying the idol of goddess Chamundeshwari seated in a golden throne, symbolically proclaiming the victory (vijaya) of good over evil.  The preceding days are highlighted by numerous cultural and other festivities of different kinds in and around the palace complex.  Nightfall is heralded by the breathtakingly beautiful illumination of the palace complex and prominent places in the neighborhood, turning the city into a veritable dream world worthy of any fairy tale.

The festivities inside the western wing of the palace are marked by the traditional durbar (court) held in the olden days by the ruling maharaja, with the tradition now being kept alive ceremonially by the present descendent of the ruling Wodeyar dynasty.  Special invitees and visitors to the durbar cannot but be enthralled by the magnificent pomp, pageantry and splendor associated with the whole ceremony, again reminiscent of a magical world in a bygone era.

The following pictures, most of them shot in situ with my brand new Canon EOS 1100D DSLR camera by my son-in-law Mr S M Ramesh on one particularly glorious night earlier this week, tell a story of their own.  All of them were taken with the camera hand-held and without flashlight, testifying to his considerable photographic skills and experience.  He was accompanied by Chiranjeevi who also provided me one of the pictures.

[All pictures are in high resolution and can be blown up to their full size by clicking on a picture and opening it in a separate window]

The Palace

The main entrance to the palace complex is through the sprawling eastern gate though this is the least used of the three public gates to the complex, the other two being to the south and the north.  Here is a distant view of the palace seen through this gate, both brightly illuminated, with the unavoidable silhouettes of the spectators in the foreground spoiling the view somewhat:

The next picture takes the viewer inside the complex and reasonably close to the palace to give a better panoramic view of it.

This view is again spoilt somewhat by the temporary structures put up for the ensuing last day procession.  While these may have been necessary, the same cannot be said of the numerous flags that serve only to signal their purposeless presence.

The next picture captures the whole of the palace from a vantage point near the southern gate, one of the best such points in the palace complex.

Inside the Palace

The interior of the palace is indeed a place straight out of one’s dreams, the craftsmanship so unique as to defy comparison with other such great architectural wonders of the world.  Here is a magnificent picture of the interior of the durbar hall, with the rather ugly and large screen at lower left spoiling the view significantly.

The next picture shows a portion of the interior with three of the great doors all wide open and showing the intricate inlay work on and around them.  The middle door is made of pure silver and the other two of wood inlaid with ivory.

The next picture highlights the intricately beautiful ceiling over the fabled gold throne that takes the centre stage.

Here is the spectacular Durbar Hall, with the gold throne at the far end, awaiting the ceremonies to begin:

The next picture shows another view of the Durbar Hall before the durbar began, with visitors filling up the viewing space on either side.  It also captures a close up view of one of the great chandeliers seen so plentifully inside the palace.

The golden throne that the Maharaja of Mysore used to occupy in the (g)olden days of the kingdom is perhaps the most visible symbol of the grandeur permeating the palace.  Here is a picture of it sometime before the present descendant of the royal family ascended it to herald the now purely private and symbolic ceremonies of the day.

The throne is liberally bedecked with flowers and an idol placed in front in keeping with tradition.  It is an even greater visual spectacle without these trappings on any other day.  The next picture is a close up view showing the throne with its overhanging grand canopy.

The next picture highlights the rich architectural splendor of the ceiling of one of the long corridors in the palace.

Here is a picture of another corridor containing a variety of artifacts both along the wall and the floor.  The large one in the foreground accentuates the scene remarkably well.

The next picture is a view of the famous octagonal marriage hall highlighting the pillars and the floor.

The interior walls of the marriage hall are lined with rich tapestry and oil paintings, many of them depicting the last day (Vijayadasami) events just outside the palace.  Here are two such paintings:

Outside the Palace

A number of places and structures surrounding the palace are also brightly illuminated as part of the Dasara festivities.  The following picture shows the richly illuminated statue square just outside the northern gate of the palace, with the palace itself visible in the background.

Further north of the statue square is the clock tower, another enduring, even if ill preserved, symbol of the city.  Here is a picture of it looking towards the palace with a main road and its traffic on the left.  Rather surprisingly it shows the correct time, something I am noticing for the first time.

The next picture captures the whole of another great statue square (K R Circle) on the northwestern end of the palace ramparts from atop a nearby building.

The city municipal corporation headquarters located towards the southwest of the palace complex is a dazzlingly and colorfully illuminated building, captured in the next picture.

Crawford Hall, headquarters of the University of Mysore, one of the oldest universities in the country, is very tastefully and modestly illuminated as can be made out in the next picture.

The next picture, capturing a building to the south of the palace complex, is interesting as much for its illumination as for the signboard on the bus that appears to have come to a halt when this picture was taken.

The last picture of this album fittingly captures one of the numerous illuminated fountains (Hardinge Circle) in the city, a city that erupts into a riot of light and color at night during the celebrated Dasara festivities every year.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Learning and teaching Mechanics at the undergraduate level – Debut of an exciting new textbook


Ernest (Lord) Rutherford, one of the greatest physicists of the last century and the father of Nuclear Physics, may have put his foot in his mouth when he said; “Physics is the only real science; all else is stamp collecting”.  However greatly such  a wild statement may offend non-physicists, the fact remains that physics is really the mother science around which other sciences have grown, ‘generating the fundamental knowledge needed for technological advances that will continue to drive the economic engines of the world’.

If Physics is at the heart of the sciences, Mechanics, which is essentially a study of different types of motion of all kinds of material objects in the universe and the forces acting on them, is really at the heart of Physics.  Whether it is the motion of electrons inside atoms or of atoms and molecules inside matter in any of its states or of the motion of different parts of any machine or of the planets around a star or of the growth of plants or animals on earth, motion of an object with reference to an appropriate frame of reference is perhaps the single most important property that needs to be studied in great depth.  This is the domain of Mechanics, both the classical and quantum varieties.  A real understanding of physics is not possible without a deep understanding of Classical Mechanics where Newton’s laws of motion and their manifold applications play a crucial role.
A deep understanding of Mechanics is therefore essential in any physics education programme at any level, particularly at the undergraduate level where it is a pre-requisite for understanding other disciplines.  Unfortunately, this is not being achieved adequately for a variety of reasons, especially for want of a rigorous mathematical approach to learning Mechanics that is so essential for the application of both in problem solving situations.

The needs of junior college education in physics are met by a variety of good curricular materials and outstanding textbooks such as Fundamentals of Physics by Resnick, Halliday and Walker.  The situation is not so good when it comes to undergraduate and graduate levels, primarily because of lack of textbooks combining a rigorous mathematical approach as stated earlier with a style and substance that captures the learner’s interest and attention, yet not employing discouragingly advanced mathematics.  It is in this context that I find great pleasure in introducing and reviewing a new textbook that has just been published in India and elsewhere by Pearson Education publishers.  The author of this book, simply titled ‘Mechanics’ (it could as well have been titled ‘Classical Mechanics’), is a former professional colleague and a great friend of mine, Professor Somnath Datta.

The Publication

Here is a picture of the obverse and reverse title pages of Dr Somnath Datta’s book that is now available in the market:

Containing 14 chapters, two appendices and running to 630 pages, this paper- back publication was composed entirely by the author himself with the LATEX software package, thus making the task of the publishers quite easy.  A uniquely distinctive feature of the publication is the presence of a large number of excellent figures/drawings/illustrations all of them meticulously designed and generated again by the author, and many of them to realistic scale, using the Gnuplot package in conjunction with LATEX and the Linux OS.  He has explained in some detail how he did this in the second of the two appendices.  While these are of superb quality, many of them deserve to be printed in a larger size and on better quality paper to do justice to the effort put in.
The following is a somewhat randomly chosen example of the richness and quality of the illustrations, featuring the scattering of alpha particles by a gold nucleus plotted precisely to scale.  Incidentally, it is one of the numerous worked-examples in the text and rather coincidentally focuses on the historic work of Lord Rutherford whom I have quoted at the very beginning of this post.

The monumental preparatory work put in by the author, coupled with minor compromises in the quality of production, has made it possible for the publishers to offer the book for sale at an unbelievably affordable price.  One can have it delivered at home for an all-inclusive cost of just Rs. 290 (inclusive of an introductory discount of Rs. 35) anywhere in India by placing an order online at:  I have ordered one to be gifted away to a serious student, having already gone through a complimentary copy given to me by the author very thoughtfully.
The Motivation

In his own words, Dr Datta’s prime motivation for writing this book is summed up by the following statement appearing in its Preface:

My long-standing involvement with teacher-education has shown me the wide gap between the expected standard (of learning) and reality.  I have been concerned about the state of physics education, especially the level of understanding of students and teachers at the secondary and higher secondary levels.  Misconceptions are widespread.  Elementary principles are scarcely understood.  Terms like centripetal and centrifugal forces have played havoc.  Newton’s third law of motion is totally misunderstood and thoroughly misinterpreted.  Even some textbooks have the same mistakes.

The author and I have often shared with each other our serious concern for the quality of learning with regard to the basic concepts of  mechanics and hence of the whole of physics.  I have some empirical data to highlight this in respect of both teachers and students and intend to feature them in a future blog post of mine.  In essence, there seems to be little difference between the contemporary understandings of the concepts and those that existed intuitively during the Aristotelian past, even among many who profess an education in physics.
The Contents

Since vector algebra and calculus are liberally used throughout the textbook, the initial chapters are understandably devoted to an exposition of these topics as preparatory to an understanding of mechanics and the rest of physics as well.  Conservation of linear momentum is dealt with in chapter 4, followed immediately by Newton’s Second Law of Motion and its applications.  Chapter 6 deals with the Law of Gravitation (more on this later) followed by Newton’s Third Law of Motion which the author so rightly describes as ‘totally misunderstood and thoroughly misinterpreted’.  Here he breaks away completely from the normal style of  presentation and develops the concepts though hand-written drawings forming a slide show that he had developed earlier specifically for the purpose.  In the same chapter he focuses strongly on the use of free body diagrams and their problem solving capabilities.
The concepts of work and energy are dealt with in chapters 8 and 10 interspersed with chapter 9 dealing with motion under central forces, drawing heavily upon examples from Astronomy and Space applications.  After describing the properties of fluids, both at rest and in motion in chapter 11, the focus shifts to systems of particles and rigid body dynamics in the next chapter.  As a prelude to the last chapter on relativistic mechanics, chapter 13 deals with forces and motion in non-inertial frames of reference.

The textbook is embellished with 180 illustrative examples worked out in considerable detail and about as many end-of-chapter exercises to be attempted by the student.
Unlike many other books of its kind, this one does not discuss the very elegant Lagrangean formulation of mechanics.  The author justifies this by saying that his principal concern has been to put Newtonian Mechanics on a sound footing and considers such foundation to be of overriding importance.

Newton and Gravitation
For me, chapter 6 dealing with the Universal Law of Gravitation is the centerpiece of the whole textbook because of its wonderful blend of history with the physics of the phenomenon that literally binds everything in the universe, and the universe itself, together.  The author sets the stage for it with the following profoundly simple introductory remarks:

Few greater tributes have been paid to the genius of Newton who drew upon the work of his predecessors – Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and the great Galileo himself – and developed the laws of (classical) mechanics that form one of the greatest and most enduring edifices of science.

The author goes on to make an extensive and masterly quantitative and graphical analysis of the paths of planets Venus and Mars from both the geocentric and heliocentric viewpoints, draws relevant conclusions and shows how they eventually led to Kepler’s laws of planetary motion and subsequently, and even more importantly, to Newton’s law of Gravitation.  The following full page picture represents the analysis of the path of planet Mars that was to lead Kepler conclusively to his second law of planetary motion (the figures look better when enlarged and in the printed version of the book).

For an article titled, “A Brief History of Gravitation: Copernicus to Newton” published in the online version of Physics Education, the reader may refer to:

Other Features

Unlike conventional textbooks on Classical Mechanics, this book draws its examples liberally from other areas of physics such as electrodynamics, atomic and nuclear physics, etc., apart from a distinct bias for astronomy and space science related examples.  This way it promotes a holistic view of physics as a discipline without artificial barriers.  It also brings out the absolutely indispensable role of mathematical methods in solving problems in the world of physics.  The consistent and systematic use of vector methods, often unappreciated by students and teachers, is especially noteworthy.

The following is a figure that may appear to have been taken straight out of a textbook on Electricity & Magnetism, but actually appears under Newton’s Second Law of Motion in chapter 5 of this book on Mechanics.  The motion of a charged particle in an electric field discussed here and illustrated in such meticulous detail certainly merits a place in the book which implicitly doesn’t recognize artificial boundaries or barriers among different areas of physics.  Incidentally, the principle finds an application in conventional TV sets.

The book is not geared to any specific syllabus of any Indian or foreign university system, with its content determined by the author’s perception, based on long experience, of what should go into a useful course on Mechanics in relation to Physics as a whole.  Yet it meets the needs of most university systems and should be welcomed by any serious student of Physics.

The Author

Starting with a degree in Civil Engineering in which he obtained considerable proficiency as exemplified by his technical drawing skills demonstrated in this book and elsewhere, Dr Datta developed a love for physics and obtained his doctorate degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  After returning to India, he joined the Regional Institute of Education (NCERT) at Mysore as a colleague of mine.  He chose to retire voluntarily from his NCERT service and concentrate on teaching of physics at the University of Mysore as a guest faculty in its post-graduate department of Physics.  He has also been involved in the design and fabrication of a variety of teaching aids and the production of video programmes for physics education.  His main focus continues to be on his writing efforts and on honing his considerable artistic talents.
Apart from his numerous contributions in physics and physics education through publications in reputed international and national journals, Dr Somnath Datta is also the author of a book titled “Introduction to Special theory of Relativity” first published in 1998 by Allied Publishers.  He is currently hard at work on another of his major writing projects, a textbook on Electrodynamics.  His numerous friends and I are eagerly looking forward to its early completion and publication.

Dr Datta is as devoted to music and performing arts, especially Rabindra Sangeeth and the great dance dramas of Rabindranath Tagore, as he is to Physics and spends most of his time on both.  One of my earlier blog posts [See: 11) Tagore and Einstein on Music (Aug 10)] makes a pointed reference to his musical talents.

The Triumph

The achievement of writing a book of this high caliber is impressive enough from any person in any situation.  It is much more so when one realizes that Dr Datta has done this against extraordinary odds, fighting a long battle against prostate cancer with which he was diagnosed even before he started writing this book.  It is a tribute to his extraordinary and incredible spirit, courage, and persistence that he has not only carried out his task successfully but also won the battle against such a deadly enemy.  When he visited me last week at my home to give me the complimentary copy of his book, he appeared as cheerful and normal as anyone can be.  Had I not known about what he had been going though I would never have suspected that anything was wrong with him.  To me his achievement is as heroic at the intellectual plane as that of the Marathon Man of Mysore that I recently wrote about [See my blog post: 54) Marathon Man from Mysore and his magnificent obsession – Three monumental feats of endurance and courage (Aug 12)].  I am now pretty sure that it is only a matter of time before his book on Electrodynamics comes out and I will have the pleasure of reviewing it as well.