Single strand Persian wool; double strand Appleton wool; lace wool, partly Kashmir;
silk yarn; rayon yarn; cotton and viscose yarn; cotton, silver and gold thread on
18 mesh canvas, 18 x 26 1/2"
Continental stitch in all four directions
Approximately 154,548 stitches, January 1996 - August 2001

In North Indian Classical music, a Mukhra is a short introductory piece on the tabla, ending in a tihai. A tihai is a compositional ending element repeated three times. A Tukra, which also ends with a tihai, is played later in a performance. A Chakradar can be similar to either of these compositions and the whole of the composition is repeated three times. Swapan Chaudhuri's Mukhra, Tukra and Chakradar, which I have chosen for this piece, all use the same bols (drum strokes) but vary in their patterns. All three are shown in the needlepoint in Tintal. The Tukra is also shown in Rupaktal.

Using this kind of repetition and variation, which is also basic to needlepointing, I wanted to explore musical "color" and patterns as well as light, shadow, and transparency. With gradations of color as well as the shimmer of rayon, silk, gold and silver the designed-in "directional light" would, I hoped, give the finished work a certain incandescence -- a visual equivalent to the transcendent luminosity one feels hearing a great tabla player in concert.

Beginning at left center, both the Mukhra and Tukra compositions read down (a purely decorative way of writing tabla bols, not used to notate compositions) -- first a line of the Mukhra in dark red followed by a line of the Tukra in brighter red. Each small dark square within the center portion contains one note or bol, or a pause (more commonly called a "gap").

The Mukhra (in Tintal) reads:

dha dha dha di di di na na na
ka te te dha -
dha dha di di na na
ka tete dha -
dha - di - na -
ka te te dha - - -
ka te te dha - - -
ka te te dha

A total of 49 beats: three cycles of Tintal, plus the first beat, sam (pronounced "sum"), of the theka.

The Tukra (in Tintal) reads:

dha dha dha - di di di - na na na -
ka te te dha -
dha dha - di di - na na -
ka te te dha -
dha - di - na -
ka te te dha ka te te dha - -
ka te te dha ka te te dha - -
ka te te dha ka te te dha

A total of 65 beats: four cycles of Tintal, plus the first beat, sam, of the theka.

The Mukhra "fore-shadows" the Tukra -- as if it were the shadow of the Tukra cast by a light coming from the right. This refers to the light and beauty of rhythm and melody as, momentarily illuminated (audible), it falls toward the "darkness" of silence. The "fore-shadow" differs slightly from that which "casts" the shadow.

In the center, the backgrounds of the notes contain blue if the bol is played with both the left hand and right hand. If only the right hand drum is played the backgrounds are entirely in reds. Toward the lower right of center, written in larger letters, are the names "Mukhra" in dark red, and "Tukra" in brighter red.

The background for the center portion of the composition is done in diagonal stripes that fall from right to left, emphasizing the fall of the light. These stripes are based on the 16 beats of Tintal and originate from the Tintal pattern at the top. The stripes for the 7 beats of Rupaktal originate from the Rupaktal pattern down the right side. Though all are red in color, they are stitched in a great variety of pattern and shades of red to suggest the endlessly elaborate variations that may be played within the bols of the theka.

The pattern bordering the top, from which the stripes originate, as well as the bottom of the center shows -- 32 beats, i.e. two cycles of the theka of Tintal:

dha dhin dhin dha|dha dhin dhin dha|dha tin tin na|tete dhin dhin dha

The pattern bordering both sides of the center show three cycles of Rupaktal's seven beat theka, i.e. 21 beats. The bols of the Rupaktal theka are written:

tin tin na|dhin na|dhin na

The narrow border next to the "nine" stitch thekas, also represent the thekas. Khansahib, Ali Akbar Khan, often admonished his students to never practice the same way twice. "If you are practicing Sargam, say, Sa to Re, Ga to Ma, Sa to Pa, do it differently each time." (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa are the notes of the Sargam, i.e. the Indian music scale, similar to, but not quite the same as, Western Solfege.)

Next is a border of golden sand on which camels walk. I started the camel border along the top then realized as I began the lower border that the sand would be around the camel's ears unless I turned them upside down. Therefore, the camels all walk in relationship to the center -- a precedent, one might note, set by the Pazyryk Carpet, the oldest (circa 500 BC) known Persian Carpet. As I was a little pressed for space where the two images joined, I stitched in the center camels on each side with slightly shorter legs. Then I used some blue to imply the upper camels were standing in water, thus suggesting the lower camels are a reflection. Such are the delights of necessity.

Why camels? Many talas of North Indian Classical music are based on the sounds heard in nature. Tradition has it that the rolling rhythm of Rupaktal is based on the walk of the camel. Note that each of the camels carries a pack, covered with a decorative carpet as usually would have been the case, as they walked along the Silk Road through the deserts of Asia.

At the center of the top stands the blue Lord Krishna with his flute, leading the camels. Next to him sits the drummer. The background of the camels contains repetitions of a stylized version of the Gordian Knot, a reference to Alexander the Great who, presented with the original Gordian Knot, sliced through it with his sword. The Gordian Knot's inclusion here alludes to Alexander's 4th century B.C. incursion into India. (An event un-noticed in Indian history -- until Westerners began to write that history.)

The camels proceed in groups of seven, echoing the beat of Rupaktal. Crossing the lower camel border to the left, is a great OM referring to the original sound. In the middle, Shiva as Nataraja dances the world into existence, a damaru (drum --the symbol of creation) held in his right hand.

The next border is formed by the Tukra as played in Rupaktal. One complete Tukra runs up the sides and along the top, and one runs down the sides and along the bottom. Here the letters of the Devanagrai script are not only in red to indicate the right hand, but also in blue to indicate the bols played with the left hand only. The red and blue squares indicate which strokes are played with both hands.

The Tukra in Rupaktal reads:

dha dha dha di di di na na na
ka te te dha -
dha dha di di na na
ka te te dha -
dha - di - na -
ka te te dha
ka te te dha
ka te te dha

Directly below Nataraja, the word Chakradar is written in Devanagari over the outermost border. The border is designed with 256 beats to represent the three cycles of the Chakradar (86+86+84 beats respectively) starting along the bottom, just below the OM, and running up the left side, across the top and down the right side and part way back across the lower edge.

Each of these "dha dha dha di di di na na na" compositions was given me by my teacher, the great tabla master, Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri: the Mukhra and the Tukra in Tintal to practice; the Tukra in Rupaktal because I had heard him teach it to others and asked for it specifically when I began to think about this needlepoint; and the Chakradar was an unexpected gift. Just a few days before I left the Ali Akbar College of Music to hang my show at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, Swapanji gave this composition in a class I was auditing. I laughed with delight, for I realized at once that I could incorporate it into the design as the outermost border. Thus MUKHRA/TUKRA/CHAKRADAR suggests the infinite possibilities of North Indian Classical music which, in improvisational range, is analogous to the improvisational range available within the seemingly unyielding grid of needlepoint. Pranesh Khan, Khansahib's son, and a fine tabla player in his own right, helped me a good deal in working out the mathematical relationships and with my Sanskrit spelling.

Going through my papers recently, I found a notation of the dha dha dha di di di na na na composition dated 1993 -- before I even began to practice tabla. I remember one of Swapanji's students telling me about the composition. (At that time I was too shy about my lack of potential musicianship to even sit in on his classes.) She said it was one of Swapanji's favorites. Even then, totally without instruction, I, too, could see the delight of the "diminishing" bols. Most thrilling of all, I "saw" the pattern, the design, in my mind's eye for I had already began to think of transposing music patterns into needlepoint -- an art I did understand, and had already practiced for some twenty years.

Thus, in a sense, I "chose" the composition nearly three years before I began to work on it. In the interval, I completely forgot about it. When I was taught the composition, I was not aware I had "chosen" it before. I had no idea it would become my, so far, largest and most elaborate work in Textile Art.

One might call it the most "planned" of my needlepoints. For it has taken a good deal of calculation to make sure everything counted out accurately. I began these calculations in Marin County in late January, 1996, put in the first stitches at my Aunt Florence's in Sacramento, and have kept a log noting the dates for the introduction of various design element.

I noticed, as I began assembling the pages of the "musical needlepoints" into the Sketches and Designs notebook that I keep as a record of my work, that I had far fewer sketches for these musical ones than my other works. I had many sheets of calculation and, of course, the actual notations of the bols and their transposition into design patterns, but almost no graphing. The grid is such a powerful support and so natural to both music and stitching, that, as in North Indian Classical music, once you begin to think in its terms, you have no need for notation. It gives me hope that I will, one day, actually come to know where the invisible notes of music "live."

Photographers Craig Kolb and Judith Bang-Kolb, known for their exquisite photographic series "Light of India," have helped me realize a twenty-year dream: to record the evanescent patterns as they appear and disappear during the creation / improvisation of a needlepoint. Soon I will post a few of these in-progress photographs (and some subsequent snapshots, taken of the MTC-in-progress after leaving Marin County). They may help you to visualize how a needlepoint evolves from a (usually) single design element toward the elaboration of the finished piece.

On February 11, 1997, I began putting in single lines of gold thread slanting in from the right as the first indication of the design in the background in the central section. And on February 24, I began the red background stripes in the center.

By September of 1998 I had filled in about three quarters of the red background in the central section, and just about finished the camel border. My needlepoint work went slowly in the next two years for I had, by then, been ensorceled by cyberspace as I created this Website, as well as the 21st CENTURY ART, C.E.-B.C., A Context Website. Websites being among the Grid Arts, how could one resist!

By 2000, I still had not finished this piece because, year by year, over the next four years I went on to elaborate this website into all the areas of my passions: poetry, essays, fiction, music, travel, etc. -- and while doing so, studied everything that interested me (i.e. everything under the sun and out in space and cyberspace) at the University of Washington. However, in July of 2000, I again began serious work on MUKHRA/TUKHRA/CHAKRADAR.

By October, I completed the larger border, just inside the Chakradar border, which contains the Tukra in Rupaktal. Then, still having the empty spaces between this border and the central design within the camel border, it suddenly occurred to me that, though I had a number of figures in this needlepoint, I had no women in it. Therefore, I added the woman at the upper right (with my initials in her skirt) leading the camels, and another woman at the upper left (with '00 in her skirt) pushing the camels. Then I added the dark blue background at the sides to set off the central medallion. Then suddenly, I realized it was already late November, and I might not finish the needlepoint in '00 so I added another woman pulling the camels with '01 in her skirt. All these women, I think, are aspects of Kali;the stitching, an invocation for her blessing. In October I also visited Ruth Gilmore in South Fallsburg where I decided on the incorporation and contents of the two "ears", making the camel-bordered mid-section suggestive of a bhupura -- it was to be Nada Brahma, a name for Indian Classical Music which means "The Language of God". Ruth introduced me to a Sanskrit speaker who helped me to spell it correctly. Then I went on to visit Lenore Tawney, and for a number of delightful days I worked a bit more on the "women border," before I returned to Seattle, where I returned once more to prepare myself to spend a winter in the snow of the east.

The Nada Brahma ears, I completed just after November 4, when I first arrived in Chautauqua to spend the winter.

Then I was given the great boon of the Presidential Election Debacle of 2000, with lots of stitching time as I listened to the purchase of the presidency by the Shrub and his brother in Florida and the Partisanly committed Justices of the Supreme Court challenge the rule of law in the United States -- and succeed. With this Soap Opera running for more than a month (Nov 7 to Dec 13), I had time to complete all the actual bols for both the Mukhra and the Tukra, and almost all the diagonal stripes (the tala) that fill in the background of the central portion. By December 17, 2000, I had only the camel border to complete. However, driven out of Chautauqua by various factors, not the least of which was the relentless, though mystical, Lake Effect Snow which came down so endlessly that we had, in one month, 13 feet of snowfall, where in an ordinary winter Chautauqua has 13 inches.

Then, of course, it still took much longer than I thought it would. The actual stitching, I completed, by adding several more bordering rows, about August 11, 2001. And the washing, stretching and mounting I completed on October 7, 2001 -- the day the U.S. bombed Afghanistan, probably the opening salvo in the Third World War. I was bang bang banging with my electric stapler to tack the blue bordering band, and didn't know about the war until several hours later.

So now, after five and a half years, it is finally completed. Soon I will post some of the intermittent photographs and snap shots, praying, of course, that the world and the NET still exists.

Jan Haag
Seattle, Washington
Updated -- September 13, 2003

Below is the unfinished canvas of MUKHRA/TUKRA/CHAKRADAR as it was shown as a work-in-progress at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in 1996.

Copyright © 2010 through 2015 by Jan Haag

Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail:

The Needlepoints

I The I Ching

II The Unicorn

III Green Pillow

IV Armrests

V Narcissus

VI Chinese Chair Pillow

VII Great Grandmother's Legacy


VIII Octagonal Beanbag

IX Flora and Fauna Beanbag

X Asian Diary #1, Kundalini

XI Asian Diary #2

XII Tibetan Yantra Beanbag

XIII Kalachakra

XIV Eye of Horus Amulet

XV Erika Sachet

XVI Needlepoint-Cattipoint

XVII Palimpsest

XVIII Cantalloc



IXX Tintal Coin Purse

XX Kaida, Tabla Covers

XXI Tukra, Tabla Covers

XXII Mukhra-Tukra-Chakradar

XXIII The Ten Thats

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21st CENTURY ART, C.E.-B.C., A Context