She works for a public library in the U.S. But her love for the sculptures keeps bringing Katherine Brobeck back to India.
Katherine Brobeck's curiosity about India was aroused while watching the early Korda film, ‘Elephant Boy,' with Sabhu playing the main role. Her first trip to India was in 1986 with a church group and this December marks her 13th visit. And each time, she visits a new place.
“‘Ripley's Believe it or Not' has been like the Bible to me”, she says. When she was eight she saw in ‘Ripley's,' sadhus meditating on the banks of the Ganges and “…that extreme quest for God inspired me”.
During the winter of 1993-94, she worked in Child Haven, a small orphanage in Bilimora, Gujarat, for three months. It was run by a Canadian family on Gandhian principles. This experience motivated her to travel all over India - to ancient, obscure and sacred places - from Dwaraka to Sundarbans and Delhi to Madurai. At Ramtek (near Nagpur), during a visit to the Jain temples, a monk advised her to give up eating meat.
Katherine, 67, was born and brought up in Berkeley, California. She went to college to study music but dropped out in 1963. She also took a course in Art History. She has been working in a public library as a clerk in Massachusetts, U.S.
On one trip to Badami and Mahabalipuram with friends, she was struck by the sculptures. Since that time such works of art have become her passion.
Katherine prefers sculptures with minimal ornamentation and smooth, graceful bodies. The powerful Vishnu of Mathura at the National Museum, Delhi, is one of her favourites. She finds the sculptures in the South more graceful while those of North, massive and powerful. Among the ones she likes are the Karthikeya (in Varanasi) and the Somnath Buddhas.
Unlike the average tourist, Katherine is attracted by Khajuraho's friezes of animal forms such as elephants and horses. The ‘Mother and Child' from the Maitraka Dynasty reminds her of the Madonna.
“I have a few mystery temples”, she says, which have been gleaned from ‘Ripley's' book and are unknown to even the local people. These are the Dwarapalakas and the Ganas under the eaves at Kizhiyur near Ariyalur (the Ganas particularly, she thinks, are charming and riotously happy), the Narasamangala temple in South Karnataka (belonging to the 10th century Western Ganga dynasty), where the ceiling has the figures of Nataraja, the Dikpalas and the tall Saptamatrikas that fascinate her. The third set of mystery temples are in ruins and are located at Talagaun in Chhattisgarh near Bilaspur. The gigantic Rudra is made up of animal forms. All over the site are strewn pieces of sculpture. One particularly interesting item is a pillar with the figure of a rat. On either side of the door are Simhamukhas, composed of different types of leaves.
Katherine looks for personality in the figures. She likes the Ganesha in Badami and also some of the pieces at Aihole; she finds the face of Siva in the Adampur Museum, compassionate. According to her, the sculptures after the 10th century are usually rigid, lifeless and without grace except for the ‘Mohini' of Belur.
Apart from sculptures, what interests her in India? “The princely states, their history and the places of pilgrimage in ‘Mahabharata.' Harle's ‘Art and Architecture of the Indian Sub-continent' is another ‘Bible' for me,” declares Katherine.