Moreau’s Europe and the Indian other

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Le Triomphe d’Alexandre le Grand Gustav Moreau

Le Triomphe d’Alexandre le Grand Gustav Moreau

At the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris hangs a mysterious incomplete painting The Triumph of Alexander the Great (“Le Triomphe d’Alexandre le Grand’). Begun by Gustav Moreau in 1880 and left unfinished, it’s incompleteness adds to its dreamlike character and how Europe saw itself in relation to India.

All the features which Freud attributed to dreams are to be found at work here. The ‘temple’ in the background, with it’s ‘idols’, is itself a condensation of all the religious building and images of ancient India (Hindu, Buddhist and Jain), combined together (from drawings of monuments at Elephanta, Sanchi, Ajanta, Mount Abu, Bhubaneshwar, and elsewhere) in a single structure. At the same time, these religions of mysticism and dread are all summed up in the giant, dark statue that stands menacingly in the centre of the picture – he seems almost to levitate – separating the foreground scene of homage, from the temple behind it “ muses Ronald Inden[1] Alexander himself, whose white clad figure dominates the foreground, at right, is the only one seated. His throne, apparently assembled out of available materials, on top of a small Buddhist chaitya, (congregational hall) and surrounded by a Winged victory, must be one of the most undetermined chairs ever painted! The whole ensemble completely dwarfs the figure of the defeated King Porus, who stands, arms upraised in salute, in his chariot before the youthful, new overlord.

The Indian idol can be seen as displaying from within itself the lower, lower emotional depths of the human mind, the imagination that, Indology tells us, dominates in India. The figure of Alexander, can be taken to exemplify the world-ordering rationality of the West. We see in this canvas, the triumph of the latter over the former, There is however, something disturbing about this dream, of the West (as there is in many of his works) that Moreau has depicted. The Kings of India, the instruments of her mind, have clearly submitted; the women of India, the embodiment of her sensuous beauty and riches, have laid themselves to the feet of the triumphant West. Yet the immense monolith hat embodies the mentality of the East, broad-shouldered and standing erect, faces serenely and over this passing moment of conquest, seemingly unaffected by it. We can also see how in Moreau’s notebook and on his easel the metaphor of Indian thought as dream collapses back on itself. Is it his dream image of India that we see or does he simply mirror what is there?

India differs because she survived repeated invasion mostly unchanged.

It is useful to compare how Sinologists describe neighbouring China.

China, say Siniologists reached its fundamental shape under 3rd century BCE Han dynasty and continued to unfold. Until the Sung period of the 13th century then survived attempts of the Moghuls to govern it after conquest. Then remained static and slipped behind the west.

India, say Indologists, begins with the Aryan invasion in 2nd millennium BCE, flowers under the Mauryas 4th century BCE then began to decline exacerbated by invasions of Hellenes, Scythians, and Turks in 1st 2nd cent BCE to 1st cent AD renascence under the Guptas of the 4th and 5th century declined again with the Hun invasion in the 6th and never reversed.

In other words, China fended off but India succumbed[2]. The myth of Aryan speaking conquest of India, Persia and the Mediterranean essential for the myth of an Aryan pure Greek civilization, so inspiring to Europeans. Nor did European mind did not seem to account the glories of Medieval India, such as Khajuraho.

Yet the conquest of India remained incomplete, like the incomplete outlines of captives and elephants centred in the foreground, of Moreau’s work.

Arabs replaced the previous cultures of the Levant, Africa and Persia, Indian civilisation , or an idea of India, remained!

Islam “introduced new forms into some of the principle departments of state” but, said Mill(Mill,1858: II, 165), “it had not greatly altered the texture of native society,”

Nehru agreed with similar observation by Arthur Anthony MacDonnell:

“And in spite of successive waves of invasion and conquest by Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Muhummadans, the national development of the life and literature of the Indo-Aryan race remained practically unchecked and unmodified from without down to the era of the British occupation. No other branch of the Indo-European stock has experienced an isolated evolution like this.[3]

India differs because she survived repeated invasion mostly unchanged. The conquerors come and go, and like Alexander in Gustav Moreau’s painting, they leave a legacy that pays homage to India.

[1] Ronald Inden, Imaginative India, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

[2] P54, ibid.

[3] Jawaharhal Nehru, 1951, p. 71, The discovery of India, London, Mridan books.

Reflections on the Dhammapada

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Knowledge is not knowledge but the appearance of knowledge. Knowledge is only information. It does not transform you, but burdens you down.

The fool is at least innocent in his ignorance. Knowledge is ignorance to protect oneself. You must know what you do not know, else you knowledge is borrowed. You are a parrot. You think you now and go on repeating experts. You have to make knowledge you own and give it your own face. Once you know from within knowledge is not the se when experienced from without.

It is spoken from a personal authority and not from a teacher. Hence the Gospels say Jesus spoke his sermon on the mount with authority and not as the rabbi’s.

My message is transferred in silence said the Buddha: a love affair between guru and disciple.

Knowledge satisfies the ego, but wisdom destroys it: If you know you have an immortal soul you will weep tears of fear as death knocks on your door, in the wasted emptiness of ego.

But wisdom is experienced. Wisdom is not about anything. It is to be tasted. When you experience your past life in the touch of a tree that helps you see.

It is not belief, for belief is the profession of priests.

Wisdom is within you. It is laid down, hidden in the Bible, the Gita, the Dhammapada: if only you are open and ready to inquire, to plunge innocently into your heart.

Every day children experience the meaning of the Fall from innocence: that the fruit of the tree of knowledge corrupts and keeps us from wisdom.

Knowledge in and of itself, knowledge as such, is false: Jesus is right, Christianity is false; Mahavira is right, Jainism is false. Their knowledge is a commodity. You can read it in the Bible, or search the internet, just as you can read Das Kapital, or the writing Mao Zedung.

Drop your knowledge so you can re-enter Eden in innocence.

Be a light unto yourself and then you can be a light to the world. If you seek to light the world, but not yourself, your light is darkness.

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When a Guru asks come be my disciple he does not ask you to be a clone. Look at the saints of the past: so many were excommunicated, ostracized and even crucified. A true master teaches you to be a master to yourself.

So drop your knowledge and then meditate and look within.

When the Buddha was to leave the earth, Gautama asked his chief disciple, Ananda, why he was crying “”Because you are leaving, because our light is leaving. We see, we feel darkness descending upon us.”

Buddha said, “You are crying because you have not heard me yet. I have been telling you again and again: Don’t believe in me — but you have not listened. Because you have believed in me, and now I am dying, your whole structure is falling apart. Had you listened to me, had you created a light into your being rather than becoming knowledgeable through me, if you had experienced your own self there would have been no need to cry.

“”Look at Manjushree! Go and ask him why he is not crying.” he said. The disciple Manjushree was sitting under a tree just close by, with closed eyes, so serene, so quiet, so utterly blissful.

So the disciples asked Manjushree and he laughed.

“What reason is there to cry? Buddha has helped me to know my own light” he said. “I am thankful, I am grateful, but there is no darkness descending. And how can Buddha die? I know I cannot die — how can Buddha die? He will be here. Just as a river disappears in the ocean he will disappear into the cosmos. But he will be here! He will be spread all over the cosmos. It is going to be something tremendously beautiful. Buddha was confined to a small body; now his fragrance will be released, he will permeate the whole of existence. I am tremendously happy that now Buddha will be spread all over space. I will be able to see him rising in the sun and I will be able to see him flying in a bird and I will be able to see him in the waves of the ocean… and I will be able to see him everywhere.

“He is simply leaving his body. It was a confinement. And how do I know it? I know it because I have known my own soul. I listened to him and you have not listened to him — that’s why you are crying.”

The Buddha then said, “Let me repeat again: APPA DIPO BHAVA — be a light unto yourself.”

What is Real India?

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No thanks to Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade I am in India.

“Disgusting” spat a bigots description of Sultan Shahryār’s polygamy. “OK disagree if you wish”, I said defensively. “But why such hate? It’s only music.” His fury extended to a culture he knew nothing about.

I was determined to journey with an open heart. Perhaps I defended what I didn’t know to freely. I came with no opinions.

So what is India? An impossible question, but here goes:

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“Arey dost!” India is thirty rickshaw wallahs demanding your attention in your first hour off the train… and after the 15th time one morning I finally snapped “Ex –Er – Cise!” with exaggerated gestures. I had enough.

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Real India is the mothers cutting subze. The delicious taste chai elaichi or the disgusting sugar tea bag swill served on trains that somehow is called tea. India is the politicians wife who wants prestige and accuses your landlord of renting to “foreigners whoring around.” (I suppose she didn’t know I’m celibate).

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Yes, India confronts you: An outback loving Aussie my nations population sits at Mumbai airports doorstep! Yet half Mumbai is homeless.

Yet in every shock you find a beauty to balance it. Diverse India is a macrocosm of what I now believe is a universal truth: for every good there is an equal challenge. My own life reflected this macrocosmic Indian expression.

The gut wrenching grab of stereotypes is not the real India: of starving beggars child hung limp, women washing at dawn, or children at school 6 days a week.

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The Real India is in the smiles in the side streets. A times at times India is the annoying hunt for foreign cash. But I remember most down by Moti Talab the husband who called me from the street, insisting on chai, with wife and kids, and refusing any offer I pay for it; the soldier who, finding m hopelessly lost in dead end lanes on the Igdah hills, puts me on his bike to a central road; the man who drives me to a bank, or the family who see me, a total stranger, safe from a concert.

Hospitality, that is the real India.

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Empire was an idea, not a geography

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British India 1893

British India 1893

The power of an idea split the USA from a culture similar to its own. and Pakistan from India. Empire was also an idea of the Enlightenment and Christendom.

Experiments on James Cooks Endeavour voyage of 1769-70 demonstrated the life saving power of hygiene and the science of Enlightenment. At first there was grudging respect for Mughal power, but as British men “went native” to marry Hindu and Muslim girls, Britain fought back and hardened its attitude. Sati and child marriage had been campaigned against by the Hindu reformer Ram Mohan Roy as against true Hinduism.
Science and the Enlightenment also challenged religion and tradition.

Rousseau in The Social Contract contrasted civil society and natural existence: instinctual, amoral justice versus justice and morality; .appetite and natural liberty versus civil liberty and Possession based on personal power with secure proprietorship based on respect for the law; and individual strength versus general will.

Order and law defined civilized society. “The mere impulse to appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law, which we prescribe to ourselves, is liberty “wrote Rousseau whose ideas shaped how Europe viewed indigenous peoples: India’s Adivasi and Australia’s Aboriginee.

The British lost more men to disease in India than anywhere else in the Empire: order and science must defeat Indian Chaos.

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But any idea taken to extremes becomes a dinosaur.

Ilya Prigogine demonstrated systems move toward entropy until they either break down or recreate a new system of order[1].

Lutyen’s architectural ambitions intended to surpass Versailles and outlast Rome. Britain’s imperial resolve mirrored a scientific idea that drove a civilisation, but entropy caught up with Britain, and Lutyen’s eternal symbol of empire was handed back to India.

Meanwhile, there was a simultaneous a scientific conquest that created order from chaos.

The first planes were wood, at times flying albatrosses, light and flyable, but wood has its vagaries, Wood was unpredictable and error prone. Wood may hide a treacherous knot, explains Francesa Hughes[2], who contrasts Imperial struggle of order against chaos with science.

Metal could be moulded and was predictable and true. Metal was a pure form and wood its anathema.

The rejection of the organic, remains. We look to predictions as symbols of truth, and not at the natural laws themselves. It is too easy to assume a theoretical cause that does not exist.

“The rejection of organic materials that marked the material tolerance crisis central to modernity didn’t just produce the steel and glass architecture we know so well, but also a generation of newly metalized aircraft that were so heavy they could not fly. These engineered dodos, which resulted directly from architecture’s ideological reconfigurations around predictability and precision, ask of us difficult questions about the role of inference and approximation in instrumental rationalism, and about the exemption from cultural and sociological explanation we reserve for the technological artefact: what if it doesn’t work?”
–          Franscesca Hughes

Until technology caught up, metal aircraft were stuck on the tarmac, uUnable, or when they could fly, so heavy with fuel there was little hope for passengers.

But technology caught up and metal planes now fly. Aircraft became the symbol of metallic rationality and utilitarianism.

Now, technological determinism and instrumentalism, like British need for authoritarian law over “chaotic” India, now controls our lives. We plug the data in the computer ‘black box’ and out comes a decision to guide our moral imperatives.

Like metal plans being better than wood, but cannot fly, being better than wood planes that could, and forced technology o grow.

That is the power of an idea.

roberthookes needle

Lets back track a few centuries

When 17th century Robert Hookes peered at a needle under his microscope he discovered sharp is not sharp at all. The precise edges he expected did not exist.

We now know that precision is not what it seems. The pursuit of the absolute has scientific, as well as artistic and ethical considerations. A small error can evolve into greater crimes say the theologians.

Now nano-science can pursue the microscopic, or Widen our perspective and a spot disappears from our view, but it remains. Return to the microscope and we discover a delirious void and an exaggerated gap between ideal and reality.

Modernity has a heightened fetishing of precision. Out television screens saturate our eyes with slippery resolution; our new metal sculptures are moulded to curves once not possible.

But precision is, as Hookes showed, imprecise.

Two millennia ago Aristotle[3] preached precision is subject to a pure form but matter is subject to error. A concept I find echoed in the archetypal forms taught in mysticism, and the debates of Hindu Vedanta.

Science requires precise specifications lest it slip into sloppiness and ‘bad science’. Its ideology colonised the vacuum of ignorance.

But as we learned more our logical assumptions were found not to be precise. Even scientific institutions like to hold onto models even if discoveries find their exactitude is redundant.

Who drives the need to be so precise? Why the masculine conquest of line, when nature curves in feminine curvaceousness? What we call precise now will be challenged by newly discovered errors.

In the early 20th century the liquid intelligence of concrete allowed us new forms. Before the concrete truck, saw concrete made on site, and without regulations and standards, easily became a hard messy mass.

There was need to control error: regulations and automation followed. The labour force disappeared but the concrete remained. The more we cornered error, the more we feared it.

When once we poured in the slurry and out came concrete forms, we now input data and our computer offers us new design. The linearity of mass production, and the illusion of precision has fear as it’s by product.

Scientific models can be blind. It is people who make cities work, and not mathematic models. Scientific precision need be more intelligent and interactive, democratic, to balance human behaviour versus law, the power of the privileged versus the people.

It requires an artists sensitivity to, as sculpture Barbara Hepworth suggests, hear through the chisel, the shape of stone.

Native Princes Arriving in Camp for the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi, 1877

Native Princes Arriving in Camp for the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi, 1877

Science is shaped by and shapes societies worldview.

Europe had undergone its own shift with nature: Darwin challenged mans aloofness from nature, Charles Lyell, whose book Darwin was reading on the Beagle, aged the rocks eons before Adam was said to walk the earth. On the one hand, Darwin was misused to exploit tribes, on the other people sought to help them.

Historically, how colonists constructed the primitive in reality mirrored their own social problems.

It is appropriate Francesca Hughes examined precision of the micro. Schrödinger’s “What is Life” as an example of life finding order from the error, she said. Schrödinger argued the chromosome was architect and builder of the craft in one: a code that can code itself.

A code unlike a physical form is not subject to matter, and the 2nd law of thermodynamics degeneration of order into chaos[4]. Before Francis Cricks discovery of DNA, the chromosome was a black box of an unexplained mechanism.

Crick went on to claim genetic determinism was the “dogma” of modern biology. We ignored the cytoplasmic evidence to follow a doctrine of causal linearity. We dismissed the ‘white noise’ of genetic error, when even i In the 1960’s the same DNA material could grow a different organ in a Petri dish.

The primacy of the genes shaped science as the primacy of metal shaped fight. We now have flight suits made of polymerised fabrics. We now know genes do change.

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“If yes then A. “If no then B” Are we doomed to live life like a flow chart?

Will the allegory of syntactic connections dodging syntactic secretaries leads us up to our Sisyphusian doom down the corridors of anxiety. The question is mapped out by Georges Perec, in his 1968 novel The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise. Written in a breathless, punctuation free monologue, is anendlessly ludicrous IFTTT loop”” its precision is its undoing. It is an wherein the if-this-then-that logic has completely unravelled, as embodied in t[a] flowchart”.

Are we to be caught in a loop of repetition, or is our humanness found in the error of redundancy? Or are we headed to scientific conditioned control of Aldrous Huxley’s Brave New World, conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to like our social place and dislike what the government decides is bad.

“Is counting safe?” Lichtenstein asks, answering “only if the pieces don’t change.” After all, scientific models are ingenious approximations. They are maps, and the map is not the territory.

Data is like money. Money offers you freedom and slavery, It offers the means of personal agenda and the fear it can be lost.

The symbolic DNA of Britain’s ethical claim to authority was the right to rule. A belief held right up to Churchills time, that Christendom was a political expression of the Kingdom of God on Earth. But politics is prone to the entropy of economics and populous opinion. Life – like prophecy – is not linear and Luyten’s eternal city would be handed back to India.

I am reminded of Alain de Botton’s words in The Architecture of Happiness

“A development which spoils ten square miles of countryside will be the work of a few people neither particularly sinful nor malevolent. They may be called Derek or Malcolm, Hubert or Shigeru, they may love golf and animals, and yet, in a few weeks, they can put in motion plans which will substantially ruin a landscape for 300 years or more.

The same kind of banal thinking which in literature produces nothing worse than incoherent books and tedious plays can, when applied to architecture, leave wounds which will be visible from outer space. Bad architecture is a frozen mistake writ large. But it is only a mistake, and, despite the impressive amounts of scaffolding, concrete, noise, money and bluster which tend to accompany its appearance, it is no more deserving of our deference than a blunder in any other area of life. We should be as unintimidated by architectural mediocrity as we are by unjust laws or nonsensical arguments.”

It is also true of Colonial architecture, even when grand and beautiful. Empire, like its architecture, was inspired by an idea. So is modernity. Will it inspiregreatness or mediocrity?

[1] Prigogine, Ilya (1997). The End of Certainty. New York: The Free Press.
[2] Francesca Hughes, The Architecture of Error: Matter, Measure, and the Misadventures of Precision, MIT Press, 2014
[3] Aristotle Metaphysics
[4] I question this assumption. It is behind the idea that mass less information could theoretically tracel faster than light and time- trave. But code requires energy and E=MC2 means energy is a form of matter.

imperial idea?

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A trip to Delhi is incomplete without viewing the Government Precinct at Raisina Hill. Past the Martyrs Wall, you look across to Parliament, the Lok Sarbha. There stands, the Viceroy’s House, designed by Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869-1944), a landmark of “Imperial resolve” that has been “redeemed” as the Rashtrapati Bhavan, or President’s House.

“In 20,000 years” boasted Edward Baker, “there will be an imperial Lutyens tradition in Indian architecture as there now clings a memory of Alexander.”

Lutyen’s set out to create the greatest city the world had ever known.; a symbol of the precise running of empire against the chaos of India. But like the sinking Titanic, lost the same year Lutyens began his two decades of construction, the Empire would be lost. The Titanic’s claim of unsinkability matched the realities of history. Societies boast in pomp as they begin to decline. The USA economy had already surpassed Britain’s.

Lutyens resolve mirrored a scientific idea that drove a civilisation. So grand was the original scheme, that Lutyens was forced by Lord Harding to reduce the building from 370,000m3 to 240,000 m3.

Yet it remains “the grandest of all the residences that the British built in India, for a brand new capital had 340 rooms, covered four and a half acres and included twelve separate internal courtyards, making it probably the last of the great royal palaces of history” [1].

Perspective View of the South Elevation of the Viceroy's House ( ByWilliam Walcot, 1914

Perspective View of the South Elevation of the Viceroy’s House ( ByWilliam Walcot, 1914

Located for the “road system based on two great roads”, claimed colleague Herbert Baker [2](1862-1946), Satish Sharma[3]  more cynically describes it “an act of imperial cartography”.

“Whether accidentally or by design, Lutyens created the new capital in the exact shape of the traditional Vastu Purusha [the god of construction, whose supine form determines the best metaphysical plan of a building site], whose head is on Raisina Hill and whose feet rest at the Purana Quila [the oldest fort in Delhi][4]

Imperial order sits above the chaotic mass of the Old City.

Meanwhile, delicate India designs hide an Imperial skeleton.

Built of “the same red sandstone that the Moghuls had used at Fatehpur Sikr [the ancient fortified city close to Agra] interspersed with cream stone from Dholpur, Bharatpur and Agra, in brilliant horizontal bands of colour accentuating the horizontal emphasis of the whole edifice” wrote Davies[5]. But the sandstone was reinforced by the fruits of British iron, steel and concrete which Scriver[6] describes as “the utlimate ossification of the provisional ‘scaffolding’ with which the colonial polity had been assembled.”

He adds: “What remained of the aborted project of colonial social engineering was only the hollow facade of imperial authority and system, propped up by the skeletal cage of its own technical superstructure.”

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From Alexander onwards, India has always mollified her conquerors.

The capitals look like Corinthian, but closer they are carved with acanthus leaves and small hanging Indian bells, like temple bells.

Lutyens who never liked Oriental Classicism never admitted that the Byzantine raised copper-clad central dome, with its octagonal turrets encircling a pierced stone drum , had an Indian motif. But look again and see the 3rd century BCE Buddhist stupa of Sanchi that Britain restored from1912 to 1919.

As Thomas Metcalf suggests ,this symbolically “provided a way of evading the communal tangle of Hindu and Muslim[7]

It’s endless arched corridors “seemed to run through the house like sumptuous warrens” wrote Jan Morris . I remember the Mughal designed chuja inlayed in red, that shades a colonnade from sun and monsoon, loggias and jail shade the north east wing.

But the basement floor plan, projected onto a screen as I listened to Francesca Hughes during a visit to Brisbane, that inspired this article. The floor plan revealed precise planning for all culinary contingencies. Ms Hughes was promoting her book, The Architecture of Error[8], to illustrate how the pursuit of precision drove Western science.

Viceroys Floorplan

“Architecture’s already precocious tools “ Hughes said, were used “for managing its unique fear of physical error would redefine precisions relations to the truthfulness.” “These tools, and the fears they barely conceal, intersect in the seminal technological and cultural crises that mark architecture’s twentieth-century and the exponential rise in redundant precision that it witnessed. “

I was immediately reminded that Britain’s imperialism was driven by the Enlightenment. The technology of the sailing ship released men from oars to guns when Muslim ad Chinese ships still rowed.

The question of precision and error has colonised our pursuit of knowledge as a science helped colonise a world periphery to Europe. Joseph Banks, the botanist on Cooks voyage that charted the transit of Venus across the sun, had returned to Britain with unique plant specimens. He would go on to lead the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and Britain’s pursuit of new resources like rubber, and Indigo. He suggested New Holland be colonised and the Aboriginal natives would welcome Britain’s ways to improve their life. He also took Indigo from the Americas because it would be cheaper to produce in India.

As we discuss in the next article, Empire was an idea, not a geography.

[1] Morris, Jan, with Simon Winchester. Stones of Empire: The buildings of the Raj. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.
[2] Baker, Herbert. “The New Delhi.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. Vol. 74, No. 3841 (2 July 1926): 773-793
[3] Sharma, Satish. “Imperial Delhi: Imagined, Imaged, Iconized.” Indian International Centre Quarterly. Vol. 33, No. 2 (Autumn 2006): 27-32.
[4] Buch, M. N. “Lutyen’s New Delhi: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Indian International centre Quarterly. Vol. 30, No. 2 (Monsoon 2003).29-40
[5] Davies, Philip. Splendours of the Raj: British Architecture in India 1660-1947. London: Penguin, 1987.
[6] Scriver, Peter. “Empire-Building and Thinking in the Public Works Department of British India.” In Colonial Modernities: Building , Dwelling and Architecture in British India and Ceylon. Eds. Peter Scriver and Vikramaditya Prakash. Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge, 2007. 69-92.

[7] Metcalf, Thomas R. An Imperial Vision: India’s Architecture and Britain’s Raj. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

[8] Francesca Hughes, The Architecture of Error: Matter, Measure, and the Misadventures of Precision, MIT Press, 2014.

Imagine the power to wake the sun

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SarusDawn

… or ponderings at waking at dawn

Imagine if instead of being woken by the dawn, you have the power to wake up the sun. I do not mean that birds wake up the dawn. But to wake from the night of doubt in preparation for the dawn.

Prayer IS meaningful. Prayer is not empty. Prayer can anchor us to sublime feelings and take us from the doubt that conflicts us with our body.

In NLP we anchor change to powerful intense passions. Prayer is more subtle and sublime.

In sin we are torn from our mother and judged by our father. So follow your heart and expect miracles.

We cannot serve the commandments of the Upper One if we do not know what the creator needs. Inversely, a man cannot serve his wife if she hasn’t told him her desires.

“The dawn does not awaken me, I awaken the dawn” say the kabbalists. It does not mean birds wake up the sun, but in the night of our deeper doubts we prepare for the dawn of a new life.

“We should fight” with Gandhian new age intentions not fight elsewhere in blame of “it’s your fault” with masculine combativeness alone but feminine nurture together, as lovers.

Joined in the middle to find peace within.

We must have a conviction beyond our life. Like Churchill who was convinced he would not die until he finished his World War II mission. I do not encourage the ecstatic religious fervour that leads to violence. Rather the honourable belief that you are here for a reason.

It may seem that life is a smashed vase or an urn. To contain all our possibilities we have to piece it back together. It is like Persephone living with the Lord of death, so she can return and blossom in spring.

For true prayer is not words. Of course, there is great power in personal and communal prayer. The scientist Herbert Benson who described the relaxation response, also discovered its effect is amplified using the chants and prayers of faith over meaningless syllables.

Yes, prayer can offer physical and communal change, but prayer is like incense. Its scent has upper, middle and lower “notes” sensed differently by each individual.

In the Chassidic text Tanya I am reminded of an intrinsic link between spiritual and physical, between the religious world and the body. This not need magic in the sense of controlling the spirits, but alchemy a religion that is socially unifying whereas magic is personally self centred, it is often apart from organised culture.

In Inani Tibb healing may accompany reading averse from the Quran, or even the drinking of water that has washed a Quranic text.

Similarly some Jews recite the Zohar. Chassidism links the spiritual body to the positive and negative commands of Torah, using them to heal.

As above, so below is repeated in the psychosocial healings of Marsilio Ficini, Pico Delqua, Miandola, Paracelsus and John Dee labelled in an arbitrary doctrine of signatures.

Then the Reformation separated the spiritual and physical.

I suggest the breach will be healed more scientifically and by the meanings we give to symbols in our new world. They work by shifting our world view or the messaging triggers of symbolic categories in our unconscious. They trigger child birth ritual ink symbolically to even the Sharman’s chant. Trigger a cultural meaning.
Where earth and land is the “kingdom of heaven”; the emblem of the creator

Then we like the prodigal son who returns, (“return when we find ourselves”, as the Sufi’s say), and discover that darkness was our opportunity to realise our deeper truth.

The India that alienates

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It is in India I first was called a foreigner. I suddenly felt the trauma of new Australians or their children, never really accepted.

“Foreigner?” he quizzed his Hindustani accent giggling, derisive but not mockingly so (“You are not Indian, us you will never understand”.)

There is always a distance, like the man and wife who in public speak with formulistic politeness, never fist name.

You ask someone to translate. But it is never your words. Instead a summary, a question is asked, they answer as if somehow your mind has been read.

But it is never me. I understand enough Hindi to know i said nothing of the sort.

You travel and a friend promises to translate the Hindi speaking guide. Five minutes of talk is condensed to 20 seconds. “He said ….” No requests for clarification or questions allowed. Asking for the details is met with disdain. “You ask too many questions, you are always in your head.”

It mirrors my inability to speak Hindi well.

Of course I don’t understand every cultural nuance.. That’s why I want my words translated correctly. That’s why I want to ask questions.

I want to understand. How can I explain to you that this is my home, the land of my heart. How do I prove to you I don’t feel I belong in Australia that sees me as too India, while you call me too Australian?

I am denied meaning of the experience and without meaning, I have no story – no narrative –that defies me.

I am left rootless in another land, a foreigner.

The Heart of Islam

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Almost all traditions stress a good heart. In Islam neither wealth nor children will benefit anyone on the Day of Judgement, except one who comes to God with a sound heart (QURAN, 26:88-89), free of character defects and spiritual blemishes.

This of course, refers to the spiritual heart, although, like the Heart chakra of Hinduism, it centre’s in the region of the physical organ. In traditional Chinese medicine, the heart houses what is known as shen, or spirit. The Chinese characters for thinking, thought, love, the intention to listen, and virtue all contain the ideogram for the heart.

Now extraordinary research suggests the fist sized 10 ounces of heart, that so marvellously pumps life-giving oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood throughout our bodies, greatly influences our mental, emotional and physical processes.

“The heart is a sensory organ and acts as a sophisticated information encoding and processing center that enables it to learn, remember, and make independent functional decisions,” Institute of HeartMath Director of Research Rollin McCraty wrote in the paper, The Energetic Heart: Bioelectromagnetic Communication Within and Between People.

The heart’s electromagnetic field contains certain information or coding, which researchers are trying to understand, that is transmitted throughout and outside of the body. One of the most significant findings of IHM’s research related to this field is that intentionally generated positive emotions can change this information/coding. Heart Math research suggests the cardioelectromagnetic field transmitted from the heart of people angry, fearful, or depressed take on beneficial energetic influence of others positive emotions.

That care, compassion, or love can be transmitted throughout through our body’s cardioelectromagnetic field suggests the truths found in many ancient traditions.

Metaphors abound. The merciless and unkind are “Hard-hearted”. People are cold hearted or warm hearted. Others wear their hearts on their sleeves, unconcealed. In love someone person “touched my heart” or “touched the core of my being.”

I am not a Muslim but have lived with the Muslim community in India and enjoyed kind hospitality. So I write as an outsider seeking to understand.

The Arabic equivalent for the English word core (which originally in Latin meant heart) is known as lubb, which also refers to the heart, as well as the intellect and the essence of something.

Hamza Yusuf in his Translation and Commentary of Imam Mawlud’s Matharat al-Qulub, points out that “in most ancient Indo-European word for heart means “that which leaps,” which is consonant with the idea of the beating heart that leaps in the breast of man.”

We find this in every day expressions their heart “skipped a beat” when startled, a lover’s “stealing one’s heart.”

Ancient traditions speak of spiritual heart disease.

“And this understanding is certainly at the essence of Islamic teachings. The Quran defines three types of people: al-mu’minun (believers), al-kdfirun (scoffers or atheists), and al-munafiqun (hypocrites). The believers are described as people whose hearts are alive and full of light, while the scoffers are in darkness: Is one who was dead and then We revived [with faith] and made for him a light by which to walk among the people like one who is in darkness from which he cannot exit? (QURAN, 6:122). According to commentators of the Quran, the one who was dead refers to having a dead heart, which God revived with the light of guidance that one may walk straight and honorably among human beings. Also, the prophet Muhammad %£> said, “The difference between the one who remembers God and one who does not is like the difference between the living and the dead.” In essence, the believer is someone whose heart is alive, while the disbeliever is someone whose heart is spiritually dead. The hypocrite, however, is somebody whose heart is diseased. The Quran speaks of certain people with diseased hearts (self-inflicted, we understand) and, as a result, they were increased in their disease (QURAN, 2:10).”

In the Muslim tradition belief is intended to be more than formalism.

Ahmed Mater (b. 1979). Magnetism. British Museum

Ahmed Mater (b. 1979). Magnetism. British Museum

Just as the heart is slightly to the bodies left, the “two sacred languages of Arabic and Hebrew are written from right to left, toward the heart, which, as some have noted, mirrors the purpose of writing, namely to affect the heart.” The importance of the heart on the left side is mirrored in Islamic ritual.

The circumambulation of Ka’ba in Makkah during the Hajj pilgrimage is performed counter clockwise, with the believers left side facing the Ka’ba, “heart inclined towards it to remind us of God and His presence in the life of humanity.”

Beating 100,000 times a day, pumping 100 gallons per hour through 60,000 miles of the cardiovascular system, the heart beats before the brain is fully formed, without control of the Central Nervous System, “it is actually self-initiated, or, as we would say, initiated by God.” Even if all of its connections to the brain be severed as during a heart transplant, the heart continues to beat.

Hence traditional Islamic thought differs from the modern view the brain is the centre of consciousness.

Wayward people who have hearts with which they do not understand (Quran 7:179). It is God placed over their hearts of mockers of the prophet a covering that they may not understand it and in their ears [He placed] acute deafness (6:25).

“Their inability to understand is a deviation from the spiritual function of a sound hear ……. we understand from this that the center of the intellect, the center of human consciousness and conscience, is actually the heart and not the brain. “

With over 40,000 neurons in the heart, brain and heart are in constant communication.

As early as the 1970’s researchers John and Beatrice Lacey found the heart itself has its own type of intelligence that made its own decisions in response to signals from the amygdala, thalamus, and cortex. The amygdala relates to emotions, while the cortex or the neocortex relates to learning and reasoning.

“The Prophet of Islam described the heart as a repository of knowledge and a vessel sensitive to the deeds of the body. He said, for example, that wrongdoing irritates the heart. So the heart actually perceives wrong action. In fact, when people do terrible things, the core of their humanity is injured.”

As Fyodor Dostoyevsky reminds us in his Crime and Punishment, crime itself is the punishment because we ultimately live with the painful consequences of our actions.

To commit a crime, is first against your own heart, which affects your whole human being. Then follows spiritual agitation, which you may suppress.

“The root meaning of the word kufr (disbelief) is to cover something up .. the problems we see in our society come down to covering up or suppressing the symptoms of its troubles” perhaps with drugs, alcohol, sexual deviance or power grabs.

Heedless of their essential nature, we work hard at distracting ourselves fro from our heart and natural feelings. Once connection to the heart is severed we decline further into spiritual malnutrition.

A starved heart is unaware of God and mans ultimate destiny. Refusing to accept accountability for their actions, physical disease manifests before spiritual death.

In Islamic tradition, these diseases fall under two categories:

The first is known as shubuhat or obfuscations, diseases that relate to impaired understanding.

The second category of disease concerns the base desires of the self and is called shahawat. This relates to our desires exceeding their natural state, as when people live merely to satisfy these urges and are led by them.

shubuhat or obfuscations

Consider someone fearful God will not provide for him or her. “This is considered a disease of the heart because a sound heart has knowledge and trust, not doubt and anxiety. Shubuhat alludes to aspects closely connected to the heart: the soul, the ego, Satan’s whisperings and instigations, caprice, and the ardent love of this ephemeral world. The heart is an organ designed to be in a state of calm, which is achieved with the remembrance of God: Most surely, in the remembrance of God do hearts find calm (QURAN, 13:28). This calm is what the heart seeks out and gravitates to. It yearns always to remember God the Exalted.

But when God is not remembered, when human beings forget God, then the heart falls into a state of agitation and turmoil. In this state it becomes vulnerable to diseases because it is undernourished and cut off, Cells require oxygen, so we breathe … the breath of the heart is none other than the remembrance of God. “

This the purpose of divine revelation.

At birth our original state and inherent nature is state is called fipa: disposed to accept faith and prefer morality. Soon we learn from anxiety from others According to the Quran the heart is created vulnerable to anxiety and agitation (QURAN, 70:19). Prayer protects the heart. The highest of people are not diverted from the remembrance of God, whether standing, sitting, and reclining on their sides (QURAN, 3:191).

Shahawat

When led by our desire to satisfy natural urges, our desires exceed their natural state.

Islam claims to be method to make the heart whole and safe again. Centuries of scholarship have gone into examining the human heart.

The Islamic tradition, says Hamza Yusuf, is “in essence is a program to restore purity and calm to the heart through the remembrance of God.”

A major text on the “alchemy of the hearts,” the poem known as Matharat al-Qulub (literally, Purification of the Hearts), which offers the means by which purification can be achieved. Written by the great scholar and saint, Shaykh Muhammad Mawlud alYa’qubi al-Musawi al-Muratani, from Mauritania in West Africa.

A manual on heart transformation, It was written because he observed the prevalence of diseased hearts, neglecting the spiritual condition of the heart.

For example, he often cites the Prophet who said, “Actions are based upon intentions.” All deeds are thus valued according to the intentions behind them, and intentions emanate from the heart. So every action a person intends or performs is rooted in the heart.

Imam Mawlud realized social weakness is weakness of character in the heart, Imam Mawlud based his text on many previous illustrious works.

“If we examine the trials and tribulations, wars and other conflicts, every act of injustice all over earth, we’ll find they are rooted in human hearts. Covetousness, the desire to aggress and exploit, the longing to pilfer natural resources, the inordinate love of wealth and position, and other maladies are manifestations of diseases found nowhere but in the heart. Every criminal, miser, abuser, scoffer, embezzler, and hateful person does what he or she does because of a diseased heart. If hearts were sound, these actions would no longer be a reality. So if we want to change our world, we do not begin by rectifying the outward. Instead, we must change the condition of our inward.

Everything we see happening outside of us is in reality coming from the unseen world within. It is from the unseen world that the phenomenal world emerges, and it is from the unseen realm of our hearts that all actions spring.”

As Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, to condemn injustice people go through four stages.

  1. Ascertain an injustice has occurred
  2. Negotiate, approach the oppressor and demand justice.
  3. If the oppressor refuses, King said that the third stage is self-purification, which starts with the question: ‘Are we ourselves wrongdoers? Are we ourselves oppressors?”
  4. True self-examination, after removing one’s own wrongs before demanding justice from others.

Modern man is reluctant to look at himself. It is easier to condemn.

When terrible things occur Hamza Yusuf suggests we ask “Why do they occur?” And if we ask that with all sincerity, the answer will come resoundingly: “All of this is from your own selves.” In so many ways, we have brought this upon ourselves. This is the only empowering position we can take. The Quran implies that if a people oppress others, God will send another people to oppress them: We put some oppressors over other oppressors because of what their own hands have earned (6:129).

As a non Muslim how this doctrine works out is hard for me to grasp. Because, as Hamza Yusuf notes, 12th century scholar Fakhruddin al-Razi explains the verse to mean the existence of oppression on earth may be caused by previous oppression. Being part Gandhian in my views could this justify retaliation? I recognize that historically it has been true. The great epics of Major religions tackle the full range of human experience: for example cause and consequence fuels the Mahabharata.

A type of social karma, where, by implication, victims of aggression were once aggressors themselves. But could it now justify retaliation?

Not always. People can be tried and God gives relief and victory to those of patience and perseverance, just as the Prophet s community in Makkah won over oppression. Despite their former brutality toward him, the Prophet forgave them and admitted them into the brotherhood of faith.

“Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One above the heavens will have mercy upon you. The womb is derived from the Merciful, so whoever keeps relations with his family then Allah will keep relations with him, and whoever abandons his family then Allah will abandon him.”

Impure people oppress, and the pure-hearted not only forgive their oppressors, but elevate them in status and character.

This requires a truthful heart examination. Self purification changes our life and the lives of others around us.

There are two types of therapy: a theoretical understanding of the disease and the practical prescription we must take in order to restore the heart’s natural purity.

Islam teaches therapy comes from knowledgeable scholars of spiritual purification, the teachings of the Quran and the exemplary model of the Prophet.

Having searched across a vast religious terrain, I feel that in all traditions, in and out of Islam, few people examine their lives and hearts. Religion to easily becomes formalism. Or a good luck charm, designed to buy favour of God.

Few take their spiritual medicine, whatever tradition they choose.

We must turn to a life of spirit, that examines the leadings of our heart.

Adivasi and the fulfilment of life

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"Women in tribal village, Umaria district, India" by Yann (talk) - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

“Women in tribal village, Umaria district, India” by Yann (talk) – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

We all long for fulfilment, we all seek some promise in our life. To enjoy a spiritual transcend our selves.

So religions offer their own answers and paths, but liberation and accomplishment have both sacred and profane dimensions. Adivasi meaning is linked inextricably to the land. Whether racially proto-Austaloid (Munda, Uraon, Ho, Gond, Khond etc, Himalayan Mongoliod, Negroid of Karela or the Andamanese Islands, the Adivasi people long for the land that is both critical for their existence and their spiritual encounter with the supernatural. Without land the Adivasi do not exist. They are linked to the land, and for many tribes state of Jharkhand offered some hope and challenge to make sat-patt- raji a concrete manifestation for their people and the afterlife or parum disum or merkha (heaven). Jharkhand mean “forest tract” and was carved from Bihar, after 50 years of agitation across areas that included districts of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. The Adivasi value simplicity, truthfulness, contentment, hard work, hospitality, generosity, hard work, independence, egalitarianism love of peace and a care free attitude. The agricultural Adivasi see fulfilment in having plenty to eat, drink cattle, crops land and children. Sins is a violation of these priorities. When their connection to the land is threatened they can fight back!

Dongria Tribswoman

Dongria Tribswoman

For Adivasi existential longing is both personal and communal determined by a collective faith experience. Its two dimensions are this word and the other world: relationship with being on this earth and secondly a synthesis of human and divine relationship both personally and for the ethos of the group. Key to liberation is happiness. For happiness in this world is a criteria for the next world. Happiness is collective, and uts achievement gives direction to the individual. For the Oraon tribals, this is measured by Cattle, Crops and Children in the prosperity of the family. Heaven reflects his world. The afterlife has fields to plough, cattle in abundance, and a bumper crop. The more agricultural tribes, the Mundhu, Kharia, Ho and Santhal, long for land and a rich harvest and children to perpetuate the family. The Kharia have a great respect for cattle.

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D.P.D.,A14bCOMMUNITY PROJECT CENTRE, RANCHI (BIHAR)Jitia dance by Oraon Adivasi young boys and girls.

“Without land they simply do not exist. In absence of land, there is no space for their social, cultural, economic and ecological life. Sanjay Bosu Mullick opines that “identity and indigenous peoples rests on two vital elements, space and speech”. Spatial habitat or the geographical territory of their ancestors is their birthright. That part of “Mother earth” has been passed on to them by their fore-parents. Therefore, the rationale for their struggle for a separate land can be justified in terms of three Js, namely, JAMIN (the land), JAL (the water) and JUNGLE (the forest) which belong to them from time immemorial[1].”

The call for Jhakhand was therefore an emotional call for life. “Land is their altar of sacrifice to god and to the spirits” adds Kujur, which is why they protect land and produce.

“A part of the virgin forest is preserved since the settlement of the village as the sacred grove, the abode of the Mother earth, to be propitiated regularly. The spirits of all the natural objects are also propitiated as benevolent ones. The spirits of the ancestors are believed to be residing in the household itself who protect the family from all kinds of evils.” –          Basu Mulllick[2]

In twined with the tribal system and religious life is the preservation of sizable sacred groves that include isolated forest specimens of peepal (ficus religiosa) often without reference to a god. Symbiotic is life’ relationship to nature and performing arts. Earth and water belong to Mother earth. We have their use, but they are not bought, sold or privatised. Adivasi stewardship of the land offered by each tribes respective gods is an open secret challenged by modernity. Since 1970 every major dam and wildlife sanctuary and 90% of National Park, are carved from Adivasi land. 50% of India’s mineral wealth of coal, bauxite and mica is mined from Adivasi land, yet 85% live below the poverty line, and while only 8% of the population they represent 50% of people evicted from their homeland for National Development Projects[3]. No government ever created land so how can they own what god has made? And is an intimate companion, a source of great knowledge to live with harmoniously. In both East and West, as W J T Mitchell reminds us, landscapes are part of a ‘process by which … identities are formed”[4] But Western thought defines landscape in terms of the Enlightenment: landscape controlled and commanded.

“The English word landscape comes from landscaef , an Anglo-German word that meant “a clearing in the forest with animals, huts, fields, fences. It was essentially a peasant landscape carved out of the original forest or weald, out of the wilderness[1]. The English ‘land‘ means earth from the older Gothic for ‘a ploughed field’. Scape implies the shape of similar objects or shaeth , a buncle or sheath of similar plants.”

Landscapes change slowly to our minds, but they erode and shape. To those in the forest daily, their movement is like the breath of lungs. Do we command ecology through the science and technologies of architecture? Landscape is certainly sublimated or modified by mans interference. But now, the ideological imperative to remake the land is losing ground to environmental fears.

Adivaso girl by Scalerman

Adivaso girl by Scalerman

Personhood is rooted in the land. This experience is not only true of the Adivasi, but also the Australian Aboriginee, and other native people. The alienation of the Adivasi so often reminds me of the loss felt by my Aboriginal brothers and sisters. The late Australian naturalist writer Eva Palmwood notes “ in earlier puritan times, nature was pushed away and seen as an evil animal realm in which civilised rules and practices were abandoned in favour of wholesale licence” Nature was wild, feminine and threatening; to be domesticated by “this suspicious, civilizing and crusading culture” into a house garden. So we stay away from the uncomfortable, lock ourselves away from even a mosquito.

“The dualistic Christian/Western framework of alienation and material denial has erased our connecting narratives” she writes. We desperately lack stories that transparently link us to nature. Gaia stories: “the real meaning of ecological literacy, to have stories that speak of the culture/nature boundary and of where the two cultures meet.”

Palmwood touches on what I see in both Advasi India and Aboriginal Australia.

“Our conviction that ‘we’ live in culture and ‘they’ live in nature is so strong that all that is left is a passionate story about consciousness, history and freedom—about us—and another story about fiercely uninvolved causation and clockwork—a story about them.”

To be separate from nature – to be distinct from the pain of animals other humans better In some ways India has grate sensitivity to animals – stray dogs are often de-sexed and not euthanized. However, I suggest Australia fares better in treating other humans. In each action there are exceptions. Australia had a social security system but hides from facing its obligations to refugees and forgets Aboriginals in the outback. A similar argument is made by environmental ethicist and seed saving campaigner Vandana Shiva. Shiva laments the scientific urge since Roger Bacon to conquer rather than coexist with nature. The nature divide is also expressed in our attitude to women. For nature is feminine. A point made by Marilyn Frye “argues that it is necessary to move beyond a concept of woman as ‘deficient male’ to the idea of woman as ‘positively-other-than’.” We see this in Colonial Britain’s criticism of Indians as feminized, over sexed, in reference to early marriage, and weak minded. Then Vivekananda masculinised the Nationalist agenda, and it seems that Hindi nationalist movements have since moved from feminine sensitivity to nature to a post colonial, almost colonization, raping of the land.

Tribal land is to the Adivasi what Mecca is to Muslims and Jerusalem is to Jews. It is sacred. Their cosm-centric worldview is nature-linked. There is no “I”/ “other” dichotomy; nature-human-spirit are an integrated whole.

Land gives dignity, pride and identity. Without land the Adivasi is “helpless, subservient and subjugated like a bonded laborer without any dignity[5].” Which is why peace loving Adivasi can dangerously resist some development projects. It is not my purpose to rehash history, suffice to remember many anti British struggles, mixed with the fire of the Bhakti movement, were agrarian and tribal. Threatened by being overwhelmed by outsiders, others or diku, there was the Santhal struggle of 1860’s and 1870’s, the 1895 Bhagat movement among the Oraons, Madhta Pradesh Gond movement in the 1930’s.

‘Mining happiness’ Vedanta is stripping all that the Dongria Kondh tribals hold sacred. (Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee)

‘Mining happiness’ Vedanta is stripping all that the Dongria Kondh tribals hold sacred. (Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee)

Without land Adivasi truthfulness and simplicity has been lost to indebtedness, alienation, drinking, displacement and migration. The loss of identity finds many apologetic for their race, dropping their clan names. Unlike their caste divided and status conscious contemporaries, economics is secondary in egalitarian villages. Within the Parha, the village confederations that resolved inter village disputes, all have equal standing. Accountability is to the tribe and family offer fulfilment, but Colonial structures still remaining have crushed their land and encourage the biggest obstacles to human fulfilment: greed, pride and disobedience. These vices according the Genesis myths of Oraon, Khartia and Munda cause Rain of Fire and Deluge. Ecological imbalance caused by smelter pollution by the Asur polluted the cosmos stopped by the merciful intervention of the Supreme being sending messages: a crow, crane and then the Supreme himself disguised as a boy.

Damage to the cosmic harmony is hoped to make human defaulters to become aware of life communitarian nature. The tribal dream is always harmony with the other.

In the Oraon Genesis tradition Dharmes made man “in a mold like tiles” and gave food to all creatures. Happiness is the realisation of Gods care for all “sinners, enemies in all” God walks with human beings, he is not aloof in heaven. Fulfilment is this God experience. But the continuation of the cosmos requires rectifying the corruption and injustice. Evil, such as an evil eye is neutralised by the bhakh khandna ceremony. For life is focused on communal prosperity” crops, cattle marriage and children.

Sorice: Bengal Adivasi Blog

Sorice: Bengal Adivasi Blog

Unless there is a radical social change, will they have to accept Singbonga’s will and find liberation with their ancestors in Purom Disum, the afterlife, imagined by the Uraons as ploughing fields?

“This parom disam is looked upon as a world separated from our world by some mighty barrier such as is formed by an impossible chain of mountains or an unfordable river or a boundless ocean “ writes Martin Topno. It is indescribable in terms of height, distance, or depth “for the parom disumreko (those of the world across) are not thought of as living in far away places, since they dwell in the huts of their nearest relatives, in streams, rivulets, field and mountains of their village and Singhonga, the Lord of all, is explicitly declared to be everywhere and to see everything. These two worlds are rather conceived as co-penetrating each other, and yet as not possessed of any means of direct communication.”

The afterlife, and the rituals of death, will be discussed elsewhere, along with the influence of Christian conversion. However, benevolent spirits are guardians of those on earth, but they are not worshipped, unlike Singbonga. In the Mundu region the Christian concept of ‘salvation’ is understood as communion with Singbonga in the afterlife. Singbonga is the centre of life now and in the future and Janau suku, eternal happiness is possible only through Sigbonga and the ancestors, Communion is achieved through sacrificial ritual of Umbul Ader, lirerally entering into spirit, achieved in the abode of Singbonga in Sirma Disum, or heaven. nagesiya-household-kerang-village-in-lohardagga-district-jharkhand-photo-anumeha-yadav1 Meanwhile tribal hopes and frustrations inspired in Jharkhand include liberation from jagirdars, jaminders, money lenders and other exploiters. The reality of poetical life is less promising. While India’s Constitution protects the Adivasi, they continue to be harassed. Adivasi are still looked down on as inferior, pre-literate and vanvasi, or forest dwellers. Perhaps India could learn from them. I agree with Sauros-Prabhu[6] that tribal solidarity with nature and egalitarianism should be an example to modern competitiveness and individualism. [1] Joseph Marianus Kujur, Human longing and fulfilment: An Adivasi perspective, Disputatio Philisophica, and referencing Mullick 1993:13 [2] Mullick S. E. Ed 1993:14 Indigenous Identity: Crisis and its Re-awakening, Nanin Prakashan Kendra. [3] Jaydas, E., 1993, 34 The Adivasis and the Land, in Indigenous Identity: Crisis and its Re-awakening, Nanin Prakashan Kendra. [4] Mitchell WJT, (1994) ‘Landscape and Power’, Chicago University Press, Chicago. [5] Joseph Marianus Kujur: 19 [6] Sauros-Prabhu, G., 1994 85ff Tribal values in India, in Ijeevadhara, 24 (March)85-88

Rann of Kutch: right out of a fairytale

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monsoon-lake

The beauty of the white desert shimmers in the moonlight.  By day, a “desolate area of unrelieved, sun-baked saline clay desert, shimmering with the images of a perpetual mirage.”[1] Equally, there is also a darker side, of salt cured labourers lugging sacks of salt for merchants and vibrant embroidered colour.

During monsoon, the region is covered in water, and over winter, the water evaporates leaving a salty crust that must be seen to be believed.
The salt crunched beneath our feet as we walked on it, and some of the earth gave way beneath us where the water had still not entirely dissipated after monsoon.  Before us we could see nothing but pure white land that melted into the horizon.  There were no people or buildings in sight, it was like we had reached the end of the earth.
In what is one of the most inhospitable places on earth, you can even stay in a tent overnight and wake up to this beautiful sight.

Rakhee Ghelani

walkingsaltplains

One of the world’s largest seasonal marsh lands, once shallows of the Arabian Sea, turn into desert during the dry season. Crossing Gujuruat and Sindh Pakistan, 30,000 square km of encrusted salt between the Gulf of Kutch and the Indus River, it is the only large flooded grasslands zone in the Indo-Malayan region.

Flamingo-City

Perhaps the bleakest, dustiest, and hottest region in India, sitting along the Tropic of Cancer at the end of the at the end of the Luni River, draining the the Aravalli Hills, the Great Rann of Kutch is refuge for the last population of the endangered Asiatic wild ass (Equus hermionus) and supports the one of the world’s largest breeding colonies of the greater and lesser flamingos.

A lake since the Mesozoic, when geological uplift created a vast lake still navigable when Alexander the Great invaded it has since silted into a a vast, saline mudflat.

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Yet, during the full moon in winter, the festival of Rann utsav draws tourists to dazzling white salt encrusted desert plains.  At Dhorodo in the Banni grasslands, a tent village rises from the sand for the festival. Fringing the Great Rann of Kutch, camel carts take tourists to the salt flats. Food is served in the desert wilderness accompanied by Sindhi Bhajans and Sufi songs.

Many seek the deserts of Rajasthan, but comparatively few cross  the Thar desert to witness the magical sunset over salt white sands. Gujrurat’s promotion of Rannustav seeks to change that. Close to the Pakistan order, you will pass several security checks on your visit.

ranofkutchsunset

Stay for sunset – it’s magical.

The silence of salt white sand is almost a spiritual experience. You almost need to pick up a handful of sand o remind yourself its salt. The blinding white desert looks like snow but the weather is hot.

As the sun starts to set, the mountain slowly changes from red to grey to black and you will witness the salt reflecting these changing colours of the sun.  In some parts, the monsoon water can still be seen, creating a little island in the middle of the salt desert. The sun reflected on the edge of the water, in a ring of bright blue.

I have never seen a landscape like this before. Where the Bolivian salt desert looks like a lunar landscape, Kutch looked like it came straight out of a fairytale, the salt flats glistened steely blue, they felt like you could ice skate on them ever so gracefully. As eagles soared above, the view was both spectacular and peaceful. As the sun came down in a brilliant blaze of orange, I reflected on just how large the world was, and perhaps how I had finally seen a part of the world that felt like it was right on the edge, where past the horizon you could almost fall right off.

– Rakhee Ghelani

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oulookIndia.com

 

Near Dhorodo the Dattatray Temple sits in the Kala Dungar, or Black Hills, only 462 metres it is one of the Kutch districts  highest points, but easily climbed. Desolate and bouldered, below is the panorama of salt, you can trek scrub among bulbuls and larks or watch the dramatic feeding of golden jackals at the temple.  As the priests call out “Lo-Aang, Lo-Aang”, packs of jackal come to feast from the temple offerings of rice and jaggary.

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The pastoral villages of the Banni grasslands also produce some of India’s finest hand embroidery.

Loneyplanet.in

Loneyplanet.in

“Suf embroidery is counted on the warp and weft of the cloth in a surface satin stitch worked from the back. Motifs are never drawn. Each artisan imagines her design, then counts it out in reverse, thus requiring much detailing. The craftswomen fill symmetrical patterns with tiny triangles, and accent stitches. Khaarek is a geometric style also counted and precise. Paako is a tight square chain and double buttonhole stitch embroidery, often with black slanted satin stitch outlining. The motifs of paako, sketched in mud with needles, are primarily floral and generally arranged in Riding these decorated camels on the white sands of the Kutch is an unequalled experience With a steady hand, a plain piece of wood quickly turns into a vibrant art before your eyes .

aditirindani.wordpress.com

aditirindani.wordpress.com

The mesmerising  rainbow of colour adorns women exquisitely dressed in embroidery made in their  homes of picturesque mud-plastered round houses called bhungas lovingly decorated with hand-paintings and mirror inlays.

Each village has its own style of embroidery, the colours of culture glisten heavily embroidered attire. Kutch is one of the most colourful regions of India and offers a glimpse of Gujarat at her exotic best.  A rich repertoire of woodcarving, leather crafts and pottery also thrive in the Banni villages.

Bhuj, Indiamike.com

From the walled city of Bhuj, Medieval forts to the the modern city of Gandhidham, majestic palaces, historic ports, temples, monasteries and pretty beach of Mandvi are close by.

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Or visit the sacred lake of Narayan Sarovar, the shore temple of Koteshwar, the Ashapura Mata-no-Madh temple, a number of Jain Derasars, the Gurdvara at Lakhpat and Sufi shrines.

Lakhpat once a port on the Arabian sea at the junction of Kori creek and Rann of Kutch. It was abandoned after the 1819 AD strong earthquake which changed the flow of  Sindhu (Indus) River

Lakhpat once a port on the Arabian sea at the junction of Kori creek and Rann of Kutch. It was abandoned after the 1819 AD strong earthquake which changed the flow of Sindhu (Indus) River

[1] Cubitt and Mountfort 1991

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