25 December 2015

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

Roman Imperial repoussé silverdisc of Sol Invictus (3rd century), found at Pessinus (British Museum)
The birthday of the unconquered sun marked the end of the Saturnalia since 274 AD when Aurelian apparently wanted to revive a much older cult of the Sun in Rome.

Saturnalia was originally a holiday created by Emperor Augustus to celebrate Saturn, on 17th December -- my birthday! It then developed into a week-long festival, the craziest week in ancient Rome, where people made merry with food, wine and more and even slaves were allowed to indulge in excesses that would have been punished by death at any other time.

The date coincides, closely enough, with the shortest day of the year (which the Romans believed to be 25 December whereas we know it is 21 December). Light prevails over darkness and days start getting longer again, an occasion to celebrate indeed.

Then the Christians took it over during the reign of Emperor Constantine, who had accepted Christianity as a religion of the Empire. The Church decided that Christ had chosen to be born on the shortest day of the year, after which light again starts to prevail, to symbolize his contribution to the rebirth of humankind.

I feel it's too bad that the ancient tradition of Saturnalia is gone. Not so much for the sake of Saturn, of course. But rather for what it symbolized: fun and naughtiness for a week but strict rule of Roman law for the whole year!

01 December 2015

Film review: Earth (1998) by Deepa Mehta, ****


Earth, the second film in Deepa Mehta's controversial trilogy is an emotionally devastating love story set within the sweeping social upheaval and violence of 1947 India. As her country teeters on the brink of self rule and instability, 8-year old Lenny, an innocent girl from an affluent family, is in danger of having her world turned upside down. As the simmering violence around them reaches a boiling point, Lenny's beautiful nanny Shanta (Nandita Das) falls in love with one of Lenny's heroes, the charismatic and peace-advocating Hassan. Love, however, can be dangerous when religious differences are tearing the country apart, and friendships and loyalty are put to the test. Building to a shattering climax, Earth is a devastating human drama in which desire unfolds into a stirring tale of love and the ultimate betrayal.


This is a good movie about the dramatic partition events of 1947. It show the conflict between Muslims and Hindus though the eyes of a parsi family. Parsis are a Zoroastrian community that constitutes a substantial minority in the Mumbai area and were often caught between their two large neighbors. No happy ending, and indeed the history of India and Pakistan since then sadly shows that beyond doubt.

The movie is harrowing, Mehta does not refrain from showing horrific violence, if indirectly but not less shockingly for that. The question of identity in India is addressed in depth, with friends and neighbors who shared a lifetime finding themselves on the opposite side of the fence.

It's probably my least favorite movies among the three of Mehta's trilogy because it relates to well known events, while the other two address much less discussed issues in Indian society like child abuse, family violence and homosexuality. Aamir Khan is great as usual.  Aamir Khan is great as usual. I take one star off because compared to Fire and Water this is just a bit predictable.

See my other reviews of films on India in this blog.

In the UK buy it here

Available from Amazon.us