Category Archives: India

The Artefacts of Power in The Secret of the Tirthas

In The Secret of the Tirthas, the demons and their followers are desperately seeking to capture the Artefacts of Power. These magical items have gained their power from the devotion of worshippers over the centuries.

Each Artefact in the story is based on a real life sacred object, from a different religious tradition. Here’s a list of them, with the culture or religion they came from:

Nkisi statue – a wooden figure from African shamanistic religion. People drove iron nails in to release the power of the ancestor spirit residing in it.

Nkisi statue

Nkisi statue

Hilili Kachina – a raindance doll with a snake hanging out of his mouth, from Native American culture.

Hilili Kachina doll (image: Creative Commons-BY; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 03.325.4648_threequarter_PS6.jpg)

The Holy Grail – a chalice containing the blood of Christ from the Last Supper, much pursued by medieval knights.

The Damsel of the Sanct Grael

The Damsel of the Sanct Grael, Rossetti

Easter Island statue (maoi) – over 1,000 of these mysterious statues were constructed by the inhabitants of a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. All the statues look inland, away from the sea. It is thought they represented ancestors, guarding over the islanders.

Maoi sculptures

Easter Island sculptures from the original Garden of Rooms in Herefordshire

Venus – the statue is based on the famous Venus of Hohle Fels, found in Germany and believed to be 40,000 years old. She was carved from mammoth tusk.

Venus of Hohle Fels

Venus of Hohle Fels (Image: Thilo Parg / Wikimedia Commons License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

Green Man – a figure from Western paganism, symbolising the regenerative, mysterious powers of Nature.

Green Man

Green Man from a Herefordshire church

Other Artefacts in The Secret of the Tirthas:

Yingarna – a goddess of creation, who carried children from different Aboriginal tribes in her many bags.

Shiva Lingam – a holy symbol of Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, carved from stone.

Buddha’s Tooth – there are several teeth relics of the Buddha, including a very famous one in Sri Lanka.

 

The real City of Light: Varanasi, the most sacred city in India

Kashi - The City of Light Kashi – The City of Light

The city that Lizzie discovers through the portal in her garden in the first book of The Secret of the Tirthas is based on a real city in India.

Kashi is one of the oldest cities in the world. Some estimates put it at up 2,000 years old! It has had several names, including Benares, also spelt Banaras, but it is most commonly known as Varanasi. The meaning of Kashi is the ‘City of Light’. It’s the holiest city of Shiva, the Hindu god responsible for destruction. But Shiva destroys things with a purpose, to ensure there’s space in the world for creation and new life.

Kashi has hundreds of temples and stone steps (‘ghats‘) on its waterfront, leading down into the sacred River Ganges. Hindus believe that pilgrims who die in Kashi are enlightened and achieve instant moksha – that is, escape from the endless cycle of life and birth. Many are cremated at the famous Manikarnika ghat, and their ashes are thrown into the swirling river.

Shiva and the Ganges

The Ganges flowing down from Shiva’s hair

Hindus also believe that Kashi is the centre of all ‘tirthas‘ – sacred crossing places – where the gods come down on to earth and where pilgrims can be transported instantaneously from one holy shrine to another. Now there’s an idea…

Kashi was the first place I visited on a three-month trip to India when I was in my twenties. I remember my first morning, taking a boat out to watch how the early morning sun made the honey-coloured ghats glow. It felt like I’d entered the landscape of a fantasy novel. I realised that there is little need to create imaginary worlds. You just have to visit places and cultures you’ve never been to before.

For more photos and extracts from my journal about the day I arrived in Kashi click here.

 

 

 

St Paul’s School Book Club visit… and The City of Light Cake!

The City of Light book cover cake #cakestagram

It’s not every day you get a cake made of your book…

Thank you so much to the readers of St Paul’s school Year 6 book club for their enthusiasm and fantastic questions yesterday. It was great to talk to them about the inspiration for my books, from a Herefordshire garden, to trips to India, Africa and Disneyland.

And particular thanks to the two members who baked cakes, including this one inspired by the The City of Light!

For more pics, visit the school blog here.

Interview on Pebble in the Still Waters blog

https://i1.wp.com/3.bp.blogspot.com/-mA1RmvCg-8Q/VoO2SvPvULI/AAAAAAAAi_k/NCOnlDOVgz8/s1600-r/1.png?resize=367%2C186

Goodreads is a great way to meet other readers and writers. Last week I connected with the Indian author Jaideep Khanduja, who offered me an interview on his blog, Pebble in the Still Waters – and here it is. Thank you Jaideep!

http://pebbleinthestillwaters.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/steve-griffin-book-of-life-secret-of.html

 

The Cigars of the Pharaoh

Last weekend I handed a copy of The Red Sea Sharks to a cashier at Waterstone’s in Guildford. She went ‘Ah wow, Tintin!’ and immediately asked my son if he knew who their mezzanine statue of the bearded sailor was.

Well, he’s four, so he didn’t have a clue, but I of course mumbled that it was Captain Haddock. How would she know I’d spent a few days ploughing through my recently rediscovered collection of Tintin books – and found this one missing?

It got me thinking just how much Herge (Georges Remi, the Belgian creator of Tintin) had influenced The Secret of the Tirthas. I remember the excitement of getting up before everyone and rushing downstairs to read The Cigars of the Pharoah in the early morning light. I loved the rich variety of the story settings, the good humour and painstaking attention to detail. Trekking and yetis in Tintin in Tibet. Dying of thirst in the desert in The Crab with the Golden Claws. Being chased by an ape in a Scottish castle in The Black Island. Marooned on a raft in The Red Sea Sharks.

When I started working out The Secret of the Tirthas I was thinking about how the world itself can be as awe-inspiring as any fantasy creation, especially when new places are seen for the first time. What better way to explore this than to have a multitude of exotic locations accessible from your back garden?

The Cigars of the Pharoah remains my favourite Tintin book, set mainly in Egypt and India. I read it at something like eight years old and found it exciting and very, very funny, especially the character of Sophocles Sarcophagus. And the first two countries, alongside Nepal, that I went to on my own steam were Egypt and India, so I’m sure Herge’s influence runs deep.

WP_20151005_004

Aswan, Egypt, a long time ago

Get your Tintin here:

 

Kashi

WP_20140720_011The city of Kashi – or Varanasi, as it is more commonly known now – is stunning. Shiva’s city, the City of Light, was the first major place I reached in India, coming down overland by bus from Nepal. Here’s some excerpts from the notes I wrote about it on my first morning (accompanied by some pretty old photos):

“Wake 4ish, head down to the ghats for sunrise – wander through locals and tourists to find an older man who declares himself the ‘boatman not a cheating man’ and we fix a price of Rs 120.

WP_20150620_011

“Row up and down the ghats as sun rises – hundreds of Hindus washing themselves and washing their clothes by cracking them on the steps, praying in little rituals. Puja (worship) at sunrise is made with drums and bells and a ring of fire. Many just chatting too – a place for a bit of a get-together. Stunning views, with temples leaning into the water, mansions built for maharajahs, red stupas…

WP_20150620_013“Cremation being prepared at Manikarnika ghat – bodies wrapped in silver and orange on stretchers – though fires aren’t hot at dawn so mostly takes place at night.

WP_20150620_024

The Ganges, flowing down from Shiva’s hair

“A holy man (Brahma) beckons me on his wooden platform and, reassured by a passerby, I sit shoeless with him and stare into his surprisingly golden hypnotic eyes as he shows me his orange brahma string and paints my head for Shiva, then gives me a marigold necklace and another which I have to throw in the Gunga shrine submerged in the river…”

WP_20150620_012

Clearing mud from one of Shiva’s holy wells, or ‘kunds’

Last year during the Indian general election Kashi was trending like mad on Twitter, chosen by the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, as his constituency. There are many problems in the city, particularly in relation to sanitation, pollution and conservation. But it has since been put on a list of 12 heritage cities to go on a national investment programme, HRIDAY, and there is a campaign to make it into a World Heritage site, which as one of the longest inhabited cities in the world it certainly deserves.

Whilst Mumbai is seen as the financial capital of India, and Bangalore the centre of its massive IT industry, Kashi is considered its heart and soul. For me, the City of Light was the highlight of India.

WP_20150620_020

WP_20150620_021

WP_20150620_009