Walking Chitrakoot, home of divine exile


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The allure of Chitrakoot is both the beauty of the city and its ancient legacy. Called the a town of ‘holy wonders’ , Chitrakoot is edges the Vindhya ranges and the bank of the Mandakini river.

For me, the town is full of fascination. It is here Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshman spent eleven of their fourteen year exile. Inspired by the local serenity and holy legacy, Tulsidas wrote his epic poem of Ramas life, the Ramacharitramanas.

According to surveys Sita Devi is the most popular divine heroine, yet NGO’s paint her a model of the oppressed female. For me, she exemplifies the power of quiet female resistance. She was Gandhi’s symbol of passive resistance and non violent struggle.

I see Rama as the divine loving, but disempowered, husband under the absolute authority of a father king submissive until he can assume the throne.

Turn to Rajasthan or distant villagers, and women do not moan of oppression but sing of a quiet but protesting Sita, with lyrics at times directed to remind themselves of their own female strength within the home.

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At Ramghat devotees dip in the Mandakini at sunrise to invoke divine blessing, constantly Rama bhaktas meditaté on the Ramas life in Rama-lila. In the evening Each evening, sadhus line the ghats offering arotika, while devotees bathe.

Above the ghat steps leap to the Matha Gajendranath Shiva Temple where Brahma performed penance and offered a shivaling considered a kshetrapal or proector of the area.

Like Varnasi, long stretches of steps line the Mandakini River. South of the main bathing area at the Raghav-prayag ghat is a confluence of the Mandakini, Payaswini, and Gayatra (or Savitri) Rivers, not visible to the eye. This is why the Mandakini is sometimes called the Payaswini.

It is here that Rama performed pitra tarpan, or offerings to his father, King Dasarath, who departed after Rama went into exile.

Gorge from where the Mandakini flows

Gorge from where the Mandakini flows

The Mandakini River originates from an ancient gorge 50 kilometres to the south.

Beside the Raghava-prayag ghat, but to the north of the Ramghat, is Bharat Ghat, where Sri Bharat bathed.

Ramaghat is also famous for the poet Tulsidas who it is claimed kindly applied sandal paste to the foreheads of Rama and who had appeared as children. With Hunuman’s help he hen recognised Rama’s identity.

After bathing in the Mandakini, devotees perform parikrama around Chitrakoot dhama, which begins with darshan of Lord Kamtanath. Devotees perform parikrama around the complex of tirthas, collectively known as Puri.

Be sure to visit the Mattgajendreshwar Swami mandir, Parna Kuti, and Yagya Vedi. The King of Panna, Raja Aman Singh, built the Mattagajendreshwar Temple where, the Puranas claim, Brahma offered penance during the Satya yuga, and installed a Shiva-linga, known as Mattgajendreshwar Swami, as Kshetrapal, or the protector of this tirtha. Later, Rama performed Rudra abhisheka here.

But don’t just stay in Ramaghat, A boat ride upstream is the Janaki Kund where Sita bathed

Barat Milap Sthal where foot prints are engraved  inside

Janaki Kund where Sita bathed

A wooded hill five kilometres away is a white fortress shine approached by approximately 360 steps before seeing the five faced panchmukhi idol of Hunaman cooling water gushing from under a rock named Hanuman Dhara.

Kamadgiri, the hill that fulfils all desires is said to embody rama. Pilgrims circumambulate the hill , or perform parikrama. The path passes numerous shrines and temples including the Bharat Milap Temple where Rama’s younger brother met Rama to try and convince him to return to Ayodhya.

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A boat ride upstream from Ramghat leads to Janaki Kund where Sita is said to bathe during their exile, decorated by her footprints. Further on, a boulder called Shaatik Shila is a footprint impression claimed to be of Lord Rama.

Sixteen kilometres from Chitrakoo set in forest is Atri Anasuya Ashram dedicated to the sage Atri and his wife Anusuya.

Gupt-Godavari has two caves with two natural throne like rocks which locals believe were where Rama and Lzakshman held court. In one is a a shallow tank fed by a stream called Sita Kund.

sitas footprints

Sita’s footprints?

A Free Trade Deal In One Year? I dont think so


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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Tony Abbott depart the House of  Representatives. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Tony Abbott depart the House of Representatives. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In 2007, when Kevin Rudd and Barack Obama were elected they over promised an under delivered. The Euphoria for Australia and US change led to disappointment.

The most popular prime minister in Australian history was ousted by his own party.

As Australia and India now promise a Free Trade deal in a year I wonder if both Prime Ministers are making the same mistake.

I am sure they are well intentioned.

From Bhopal, I watched Indians display their inked fingers as they voted for change. The old order was worn out and is retired; at least for a while. I also read of the reviews and critiques of Mr Modi’s first 100 days in office.

I appreciate Mr Modi has achieved much in Gujarat as Chief Minister. Gujarati’s are known world over for their natural business acumen. But now, like Obama, the weight of expectation will weigh on the Prime Minister long after the euphoria has died.

After Independence, to get Princely States to join the Union, law makers ensured powers still rested in India’s states. With its complicated democracy even Prime Minister Nehru complained it was easier in centralist China than in India.

Yet, it took China and Australia nine years to reach a Fair Trade Agreement. Six of those were under a labour government that was for part of the time led by an Australian Prime Minister who spoke fluent Mandarin. I sincerely hope both governments will succeed, but It seems unrealistic to me that the complicated democracy of India can be so quickly tamed.

Mr Modi has great public support. He is a master of shaping his speeches to his audience. I saw this in listening to his speech in the Australian parliament compared to his words to the Indian Diaspora in Sydney. From Brisbane, I watched with interest the G20 Summit.

Both Prime Ministers have extensively travelled on the world stage but little reform has been achieved at home.

Indian politics is described as a game within a game. However, Prime Minister Abbott, swaggers into the diplomatic ring hoping to land a knockout punch. Its long term gain not short term promises that will be revealed in the detail over time.

I hope PM Modi’s popularity will allow him to power through his reforms, but I do not the signs of real change are good. For example, the Union Government has promised to cut corruption and red tape, yet India’s trade minister continues the same legislation leaving things as they were.

I think former PM Singh must be remembered for reforms that opened india’s to economic prosperity. With rapid social change came increased corruption that destroyed his governments legitimacy and unrealistic expectations of continued high growth during global financial decline.

Without active family connections[1] I hear hopes that PM Modi will push reforms unhindered by family demands for favours. But what favours will states demand as India modernises?

The hug made this Austro-Indian feel embarrassed

The hug made this Austro-Indian feel embarrassed

In India when a person is doing well his sins are ignored. But any sign of decline and you are quickly abandoned.

Both Prime Minister s have crafted a Pro business image. Mr Abbott lost credibility for breaking major promises and Mr Modi exaggerated Gujarat’s considerable growth. Undeniably, Gujarat is now more investor and Industry friendly. Investor Summits promoted Gujarat’s business readiness.

However, many state have surpassed Gujarat in growth and investment with far less publicity. In 2013 four states (Odisha, Maharashtra, Punjab and Andra Pradesh) received more investment. In 2013, Odisha received 27% of all India’s investment Rs.53,000 crore), Gujarat received only Rs.10,600 crore.

From 2006 to 2010 Chattisgarh and Odisha signed Memorandums of Understanding worth Rs. 3.61 lakh crore and Rs. 2.99 lakh crore more than Gujarat. Gujarat’s own Soco-Economic Review 2011-12 indicated that of 12,39,562 lakh crore proposed investment from the 2009 Vibrant Gujarat Summit only Rs. 1,04,490 materialised and Rs. 2,81,629 were in progress.

Gujarat has the seventh highest growth rate in India manufacturing, behind Uttarkhand, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jammu Kashmir. Gujarat ranks fifth in the services sector.

I intend no disrespect of Mr Modi and his considerable success, or to denigrate Mr Abbott. Both have achieved much. However, while Democracy requires part rule and part advertising, ultimately, results and not hype, will last.

Unless India’s ragged criminal justice system is repaired, its jaded institutions rejuvenated and made truly free and social stability ensured, tinkering with economic reforms and giving stentorian pep talks alone will not help.
Soutik Biswas

I hope for both India and Australia both governments’ trade hopes are more delivered than over promised. I hope the results will match the advertising.

[1] Mr Modi was married as a child but at puberty refused the union. They are still legally married but have never lived as husband and wife.

Mount Meru: A Mandala of my mind


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Mount Kalaish

Time and space are more nebulous in the Hindu world. The Sanatana Dharma, “the eternal law”, preceded the religion that followed. The stories of Krishna and the Mahabharata are in the distant past because they are archetypes outside of time, but played out in our world to teach us the subtleties and complexities of dharma.

Dharma with its multiple implications of virtue, morality, religion, justice, eternal law, and cosmos described their religion. The term Hindu, was later imposed. Hindh” is Persianfor the river “Sindh“,the Indus river which has shaped the people for generations.

For the pattern of life along the Indus civilization was shaped by forces outside of oneself.  A mud house could be cooled by the sprinkling of water, or warmed by the sun to keep out the night chill.

History and economics have added their presence to nature. Fifty-five centuries of civilization -traditions and precedents moulded into concrete realities over a hundred and seventy generations – are sometimes an unmovable weight.

Now with satellite imagery, Science positivist masculinity – like modern media – simplifies life in terms of black and white. That which is not understood is all too easily dismissed as myth. Narratives don’t like complexity and conquerors usually recreate the past.

With its four facades facing north, east, south, and west, Mount Kailas looks like an enormous diamond. Seventy-five percent as high as Mount Everest, the mountain is one of the tallest peaks in the Himalayas. Nearby is the source of the Indus, Sutlej, and Brahmaputra Rivers. The source of the Ganges is not far away. On its southern face, a vertical gash crosses horizontal layers, creating the image of a swastika. The word comes from svastika, Sanskrit for well-being and good fortune. Buddhists regard the mountain as a mandala -— the sacred circle from which the sacred rivers flow like the spokes of the eternal wheel.”
– Colin Wilson[1]


At 6714 metres it is dwarfed when compared to Everest, but hidden behind a sea of Himalayan mountains, and seen from a distance, its isolated snow capped beauty, overlooks the blue-green emerald of lake Mansarovar and the Rakshas TaI, in the south, evokes a sense of the infinite cosmos that embraces our minute world. It   brings men to their knees as if before divinity in solid form.

Each face has its own moods: snowy splendor to the south, compassion and benevolence to the West, stark foreboding to the north, and distant, inaccessible mystery to the south.  Within 100 kilometres, flow Asias four largest rivers:  the Indus flows to the north, the Brahmaputra to the east, the Sutlej to the west, and the Karnali to the south, leading to the Ganges.

The Jains believe Rishabhanatha, the first of our ages twenty-four saviors, was enlightened on  Kailash,. Nearby, Shenrab, the legendary founder of Bon, taught and meditated. Sikhs revere Hemkund, a mountain lake near the source of the Ganges, as the place where Guru Gobind Singh, the last of their ten principal teachers,  meditated in a previous life. Here, the Tibetan yogi Milarepa, attained enlightenment.

Colonial politics of the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas have since shaped the public narrative. Now the Tibetan Plateau is world confused by ideology: West vs communism, when India was “non aligned” and the Dalai Lama had fled to India.

In the 17th century it’s mystery was whispered to in the West. Herodotus had written about  gold digging ants, others spoke of haunt of the yeti or the one footed Theurang, wind horse and snow line, magical saddhus, and the Dalai Lama. From the mystical north, the theosophist Madame Blavatsky claimed she encountered monks capable of telekinesis., Himmler tried to find proof of Aryan supremacy and James Hilton set his Shangrila.

Throughout this distant land  were rumors of lost Christians, that the Jesuits discovered were Tibetan Buddhists, the Dutch were ‘Red Hairs’ the Spanish ‘shape shifting foreigners’ t the Chinese who under a circular heaven that had corresponding place above for every place on earth.

Mount Lalaish

There are also universal themes:

Metaphysical Meru, or Tise, was believed manifest on earth as Kalais (the crystal), or Kang Rinpoche (Jewel of Snows).  Claimed the navel of the earth ( a term used by Jews of Jerusalem, and Olympus by the Greeks), axis of the universe, and source of Asia’s four great rivers, the hidden source of the Ganga, Sutler, Indus and Brahmaputra were revealed behind the ramparts of the Himalayas.

Four great rivers?  From Eden is said in the Hebrew texts to have had a river that broke into four heads, and historians like Josephus tried to maps the Ganges, Nile, Euphrates and Tigris to a central point.

 So as I look at this mandala of the world, I see Meru, not mapped with cartographic  precision, but by a code of meaning. It cannot be described as “wrong” because we have not figured out it’s code.

In that world, the myths of religion are outside of time and space, unable to be touched by science, and so should not criticise or be criticised by the different world views.

The Mandela of Meru offers a profound reflection on the possibilities and perils of pursuing cross cultural understanding.

From a top this world perhaps we can view the world of soul as did James Hillman:

Let us imagine the anima mundi [world soul] neither above the world encircling it as a divine and remote emanation of spirit, a world of powers, archetypes, and principles transcendent to things, nor within the material world as its unifying panpsychic life-principle. Rather let us imagine the anima mundi as that particular soul-spark, that seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form.

For myriad myths and fantasies shape the polytheism of our psychic lives, just the constellations astrologers have fantasized onto our maps of the heavens.

The conquest of science, a noble pursuit as it is, is fuelled by positivist masculinity, as well as creativity which too many seems feminine. Aren’t we both masculine and feminine, right and left brained?

mount_kailash_4Let us for a moment travel back in time before Industrialisation replaced natural rhythms of faith.

Kalais appears the Olympus of the East and seemed to improbable to believe in. So the Western world preferred Ptolemy’s cartography.

Tibetans claim a compassionate Bodhisattva cut an outlet through the Himalayan peaks to form the Tibetan plateau. Geologists claim the plateau preceded the mountain wall forced up from clashing continental plates and eroded down over eons.

The lofty peaks  can easily be imagined a home of the gods. The Aryans described the abode of snow, Himavant, Himachala, or Himalaya. In the cosmology of Meru, it is a mountain of blazing appearance. In the Mahabhrarata the ranges  are “kissing the heavens by its height” “shining like the morning sun and like a fire without smoke, immeasurable and unapproachable by men of manifold sins.”

A top Meru is Swarga,  the heavenly city of Indra, Vedic god rain and storm, “a paradise “furnished with heavenly flowers and fruit and covered everywhere with bright gold dwellings[2]

“According to ancient religious texts, the abode of creator Brahma is called Brahmaloka, the abode of Lord Vishnu is called Vaikunta ad the abode of Lord Shiva is called Kailash. Of the three, one can only go bodily and return in this life from Kailash having experienced divinity.[3]

Navel of the earth, and the axis of the universe, from where water flowed into a mountain lake, four rivers flow. The Himalayan was to south, and west  deserts of Takla Makan to and Gobi to north and east.

The world made of seven continents with seven oceans. From centre island rises Meru “like the pericap of a lotus’ that sits between three mountains to the north and three to the south, claims the Vishnu Purana.

Eighty- four thousand leagues high, with four faces like crystal, ruby, gold and lapis lazuli. From the big toe of Vishnu’s left foot comes ‘the  stream that washes away all sin, the river Ganga, embrowned with the unguents of the nymphs of heaven, who sported in its waters.’ After washing the inner orb, circling the mountain, it divides into for mighty rivers t each corner of the earth: Sita, Alaknanda, Chaksu and Badra.

The first, flowing upon the tops of the inferior mountains on the east side of Meru, flows upon their crests and passes through the country of Bhadrashva to the ocean: the Aleknanda flows south, to the country of Bharatha and, dividing into seven rivers on the way, falls into the sea: the Chaksu falls into the sea after traversing all the western mountains and passing through the country of Ketumala: and the Badra washes the country of the Uttara Karus and empties itself into the northern ocean.’

This image is mirrored in the Jain swastika mantra, the tantric mandela of Tibet, the Hindu yantra  and the  upturned bowl of Sanchi’s great stupa, crowned with its symbolic tree. The yogi mentally places himself within the image his spinal column at one with meru, deepened into an earth consciousness. He achieves union of opposing forces of earth water, male and female,, light and dark,what Taoists call , yin and yang; Tibetans call yab and yum, and the Shaivite Tantra calls Shiva-Shakti .[4]

Modern scholars suggest that as the Aryans pushed eastward the Ganges became the most vital and sacrosanct of rivers. As the form of mother goddess Ganga Mai , she provides for 1/3 of India’s population.  The Jaganmatri, or Divine Mother has so many forms: Parvati, with smooth and clear skin under her veil. Ouma is also called Parvati, daughter of the Himalaya, literally “abode of the snows”. She can also turn into Kali for victory.


The dwelling place of God Siva, the Supreme Yogi, naked and smeared with ashes, sits on a tiger skin, matted hair coiled o his head in meditative bliss.  Though the supernatural power of his third eye he calmly surveys the illusion of life’s and is able to destroy the illusion binding us to the cycle of death and rebirth. j When He rises to dance, He takes on the functions of Brahma and Vishnu and creates and preserves the universe itself.

Here, the King of the mountains, Himalaya,  lives with his queen, the Goddess Mena, in a palace of gold, attended by divine guardians, maidens,  and  magical beings.

It is hard to imagine a more potent symbol of inspiration. he Himalayas stretch 1,500 miles rising from the monsoon- drenched jungles north of Burma to sweep its great arc along the borders of India and Tibet, through Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal, up to the  glaciers of the Karakoram on the remote desert between Pakistan and China.

Millions of years ago the summit of Mount Everest lay beneath an ancient sea, called Tethys, separating Asia from India. Over eons the tectonic plates collided to fold and thrust up the peaks of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, The fractured crust filled magma, and glacial action, formed walls and peaks of granite and preexisting rivers have cut through the range  creating the deepest valleys in the world. The Kali Gandaki Valley between Annapurna and Dhaulagiri in central Nepal is nearly four miles deep.

 “The Earth’s most dramatic features, mountains are to Hindus the abode of Gods, the haunt of holy sages and the supreme pilgrimage destination.

Viewed through the eyes of a Buddhist or Hindu, mountains are mystical realms of Gods, heavens, spirits and spiritual masters.

– Edwin Bernbaum


The ancient poets and sages regarded the range as an earthly paradise sparkling with streams and forests set beneath snowy beautiful peaks. Above this earthly paradise lie the heights of heaven..

To die on her banks and be caste in her waters is to be delivered to heaven. Dip 3 times under the waters is to be cleansed of all sins.

As devotees bathe, change into a  a clean dhoti , they are for at least that moment changed into a new person , who has completed a turn in the wheel of life, death and rebirth.

High caste Hindus in 4th final stage of life begin their final pilgrimage from Ganga – Dwara. So inaccessible are holiest of places a pilgrim places their life in the lap of the gods and to free them self from the cycle of rebirth.

They  shave their head and beard,  conduct their own funeral and take on pale ochre robes symbolising their purification in a funeral pyre.

“One of the greatest and most austere pilgrimages, Mount Kailas, Himalayan abode of Lord Siva, is sacred to five religions. Pilgrims perform a three-day, 33-mile circumambulation of the peak. At the foot of Kailas lies Lake Manasarovara, symbolizing a quieted mind, free from all thought. Kailas is the Mount Meru of Hindu cosmology, center of the universe. Within 50 miles are the sources of four of India’s auspicious rivers.[5]



Meru as a model of the unconscious mind and healing

Religion imbues meaning to space: think of Jerusalem, Mecca, Rome, Karbal, or Kailas. For place is an idea, consciously and deliberately constructed, then propagated in an ordered fashion an imposed on the physical landscape .

We also map these values onto our bodies and on time: certain body parts are purer, certain times more auspicious, so some places are charged more with energy.

Kalais is mapped for great meaning as a mandala for the souls pursuit of enlightenment.

The Buddhist mandala of Demchog on Kailas portrays the universe as a circle of mountains, oceans and continents arrayed around a  mountain Meru at its centre. Called Sumeru by Buddhists and Meru by Hindu’s.

As the divine access of the cosmos, it is important to both Hindu and Buddhist thought. Brahma is said to live on its summit with other deities surrounding him.

In the early texts, Kalais and Meru are separate peaks bt later traditions merged them into one idealized peak.

Some devotees say the Kailash is the Shivalinga; others that it is Mount Meru, the presence of eternal in time.



Today both there are Tibetans and Indians view Kailas meeting of earth and divine, where the heavenly Meru  meets the earthly plane. A pilgrimage to Meru is a journey to the center of the universe, where all begins and ends.

 “As dew is dried up by the morning sun so are sins of men dried up by the sight of the Himalaya, where Shiva lived and whee the Ganga falls from the foot of Vishnulike the slender thread of a lotus flower. There are no mountains like the Himalaya, for in them are Kalais and Manasarovar.”

Astonished travelers, passing below that inaccessible peak, view afar a vast snow formation resembling a palace, with icy domes and turrets.

The Kailas peak full of dark black rocks with head adorned with glittering white snow stood like a leader amongst the long stretch of black mountains. “My body experienced horripilation and my mind immersed in the ocean of bliss was overcome with joy” – Sri Swami Tapovanam

The yantra to circle Kalaish can be performed in three days, a walk of around 50 kilometers, paying homage to  Siva or Demchog, makes contact with something deep within themselves to a vision of the  supreme reality that infuses our cosmos.  Every step is rich with prayers and praise of those who have walked the way for eons before them .

 Tibetans make three, five, or thirteen circumambulations of Mount Kailash, or even more. Sometimes they prostrate themselves, rising to walk the length of one prostration only, then once again falling to the ground. To circle the mountain in this way may take up to four weeks of patient and meditative movement. These pilgrims may then turn and return, rapt in their awareness of the eternal. The way has no beginning and no end.”
– Jennifer Westwood[6]


Hence, to many Hindus and Buddhists, the pilgrimage to Kailas is is the most ardous and sacred journey in the pursuit of enlightenment.

Many believe at Kalaish, the Ganges, holiest river of all, cascades from heaven to first touch the Earth and course invisibly through the locks of Siva’s hair before spewing forth from a glacier 140 miles to the west.

Lake pilgrims manasarovar

Source: Thetrellingworld.com


Nearby is Lake Mansarovar, Lake of the Mind .  Hindu myth claims the lake was first created in the mind of the Lord Brahma.  Myths claim it was the summer home of swans, considered sacred and wise. Buddhists link it to Anotatta Lake, where legend claims Queen Maya conceived the Buddha.

Annually during the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra the hardiest of Hindu pilgrims take the dangerous journey over high passes to bathe in Manasarovar’s icy waters and cleanse their minds of sins by ancient monasteries, like Chiu Gompa Monastery built into a hill as if carved from the rock.

Interestingly in South India, the Tamil Sangam  spoke  of a legendary continent Kumari Kandam, named after a gentle maiden, the Divine Feminine. So perhaps we imagine our collective  mind and its archetypes, not as an iceberg, but as the Himalayan plateau, eroded by Yugas of time.

Making Life A Sacred Experience


Source: Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia


India and the river mirror each other bubbling ever changing and like India the river is impossible to grasp entirely. India’s elusive deep eddies and currents  are like game within a game of her politics.

Surface shines clear but a river can also prove dangerous to strangers

To many the Indus and Ganges are the cradle of life. We could say India’s great gifts are her five great rivers that cradled life to civilizations.

From mountain abodes of eternal snow along the long Indus, carry mineral sediment and the rites of mourners from Tibet, to the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. As environmentalists battle over what is sacred, I am struck in in grief for the earth

Is our environmental pain a blocked grieg denied by emotional block of disconnected logic? We need to recover the sacred masculine, the spiritual warrior, the father and beat the  drum in prayer lest our addictive grief turn to anger and violence.

If clouds be the calligraphy of god, then the earth is a Mandala that connects us through our first chakra. Meru asks us to connect earth to heaven, and we beneath are a caterpillar do we know deep inside us to become a butterfly.

Faced with a problem  African singers that sing back and forward dance imagine, evoke, strum and sing the issue and see what happens. They go into an inner state of being something they incarnate the essence of the challenge.

Similarly, a Mandala offers us a focal point for the power of ritual.

Making Ritual builds community. India and Tibet have their own rituals, as does the West, with festivals that bring art to the streets, psychoanalysis and politics. To often they are more show than transformational and  economics overpowers sensitivity.

Let us look at the ancient mandala, not as a map, but a cosmological, geographic, historical divination and psycho-spiritual puzzle.

Kalaish is said to be the naval of the world reminding me of the cosmic Purusha, the cosmic man.

The disciple leads the prana until Mooladhara.
The air thus inspired awakens the lower Fire which was asleep, meditating on Pranava that is nothing else than Brahman,
And concentrating his thought, he rises the breath until to the lower Fire, until the navel and beyond, within the subtle body.
On the top of the body, over the head there is the lotus with thousand petals, shining like the heavenly Light.
It’s that which gives the liberation. Its secret name is Kailash, the mountain where Shiva abides.
The one who knows this secret place is delivered from samsara.
– Amritananda Upanishad

In india, life was  accepted as it is, a child knew not to reach under a tablecloth, or into an unlit cupboard in case there  lay a coiled cobra. The Night guards thump stout lathes into ground warning would be thieves keeping innocents awake . Meanwhile, deep in the jungles and atop the Himalayas, yogis sit so still that in the forest jungle a predator ignore them as part of the fauna.

Most may still walk from the village to the field with a bullock or buffalo cart, but now the modern incarnation in the city has pneumatic tyres. Millions on cycles and a growing number of motor bikes

The world is changing and the problems in one culture can be solved with the solutions of another

Whatever choice India makes requires deep contemplation of opposing yet complementary forces.

The four rivers said to flow from meru, like the rivers from biblical Eden, remind me of four elements medieval metaphysics:, water, air, fire, and earth, match the four qualities of  warmth, dryness, wet, and cold[7]. The feminine the waxing, moist, and cold moon and the warm dry sun are balanced when coupled like a woman open to her husband. 

Even the very first alchemists said not to think that this was meant concretely, that it was just a way of introducing order into our ideas” wrote psychoanalyst Marie-Louise von Franz. “which means you see clearly an image of totality through the four qualities projected onto matter; even in those days it was simply a symbolic network which the human mind projected onto matter to bring order into it.

So what do I see in Meru?

Paramahansa Yogananda[8] reminds us “Mythological tales in the Purana say that the Himalayas are the abode of Shiva …” explaining “Parvati, Kali, Durga, Uma, and other goddesses are aspects of the Divine Mother of the World, variously names to signalize particular functions. God or Shiva in His para or transcendental aspect is inactive in creation. His shakti (energy, activating force) is relegated to His “consorts,” the productive “female” powers that make possible the infinite unfoldments in the cosmos.

The duality of sun and moon, ireinds me of the bridge between heaven and earth. A scientist knows particle, energy, time-space, and electro-magnetism are interwoven, they are useful as separate concepts. Similarly, a man sees in his lover the feminine in himself, as the moon reflects the sun and on earth the divine finds a reflection of our own personal experience of heaven at Meru.

Women emphasize process, inner world connectivity inner weaving are as important the fullness not just the outcome. Men seem outcome driven.

India, like her ancient rivers have a beautiful feminine quality, and how will it merge with the overpowering masculinity of economic demand?

The coniunctio as a harmonious balance between heaven and earth, like the moon and sun, and man and woman. What is unknown in our self is found in completeness of union of the other in love. Meister Ekhart called it the marriage of the sacred masculine and divine feminine.

Meru offers devotion and contemplation of divine love.

It allows us, in the words of poet Mary Oliver  “to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

To look deep within and find what we know from somewhere deep within. To love, and to let go, in the cycle of life.


[1]Colin Wilson, The Atlas of Holy Places & Sacred Sites, Penguin Books Ltd., 1996 p. 119.

[2] Charles Allen, A Mountain in  Tibet: 18.

[3] Dr. Sethumadhava Mount Kailash, Where the Heaven meets the Earth

[4] Charles Allen, A Mountain in  Tibet: 21-23.

[5] Hinduism Today, May 1997

[6] Jennifer Westwood, Sacred Journeys , Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1997 p.78.

[7] In the ancient scheme there were five, as there are in Ayurveda and TCM. Ayurveda and Western schemes list fire, earth, water, earth and more other worldly ether. The Chinese system replaces ether with metal.

[8] Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi, Self-Realization Fellowship, 1974, p. 194-95



Bhopal: Why build a toxic factory in a city?


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“I offer up a thousand thanks to the all-powerful God who has granted that Bhopal enjoy the signal protection of Her Imperial Majesty so that the brilliance of Western science may shine forth upon our land …” proclaimed Bhopal’s Begum Shah Jahan had declared. It was November 18, 1884, when Bhopals railway station was inaugurated with fireworks.

When Begum praised the promise of science, it was inconceivable mismanaged science would causes its greatest shame.  Yet, 100 years and 16 days later, Bhopal’s KaIi grounds, close by a rail junction, would witness one of the world’s worst industrial accidents.

But why was a fertilizer plant built in the middle of Bhopal city?  The running commentary of Media often fails to analyze the decisions of distant memory that lead to disasters, amplifying trivial risks and obfuscating serious ones.

For many, the factory seemed to offer hope. The rush to industrialize India and the end of poverty promised by the Green Revolution, and a project at first touted for its safety and science were a potent mix.


A little economic history

With Independence, Nehru had promised complete self sufficiency, built on heavy Industry, steel production and large reservoirs.

However economic growth was slow, “the Hindu rate of growth” as it was nicknamed of 3.2% from 1952 to 1980 was slightly above the population growth. Apparently slow, it was still higher than the 1% experienced under Britain during the first half of the 20th century.

And a self sufficiency that seemed blessed by the British Labour government at Independence.  But Nehru’s plan performed poorly. Overwhelmingly rural , only 16% of Indias rural 320 million in 1952 could sign their name. The average life expectancy was only 32.

In ages past, perhaps India’s youth saluted the sun in prayer, their crops sprung from her new-formed soil, spreading freshness in a primal impulse of gratitude. India needed land reform, but local Congress Big wigs blocked his efforts.

In a land where 4/5th of the people were on the land, the rural budget declined from 1/3rd during the 1952 five year plan, to 1/5th in 1957.

The failures of Nehru’s socialist Swadeshi  was apparent when in 1967 Indira Gandhi, appointed Prime Minister the year before,  dependent on food aid to feed her people, was forced by the USA and IMF to devalue the rupee. It was hoped increased exports would bring India foreign exchange[1].

Indira had promised that the eradication of poverty should be India’s first priority. Criticism of  her failures  later  revealed her dictatorial streak to a legal challenge resulting in the Emergency, when Democracy was suspended and social reforms such as birth control  forced on the populous.

While we mourn the loss of Bhopal, let us remember that the Green Revolution has seen Indias average life expectancy rise to 66 years.

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The Rush of Industry

Carbide India Ltd. (UCIL) was founded in 1934, an produced batteries, carbon products, welding equipment, plastics, industrial chemicals, marine products  and chemicals. In 1966, Union submitted a proposal to the Indian government for “erection of facilities for the manufacture of up to 5000 tonnes of Sevin Carbaryl insecticide”.  Unacted on, in  1970 Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) revealed a new technology using Methyl Isocyanides (MIC) that halved the production cost of the pesticide Sevin.

30 years on I have talked with an ex Carbider, who with her husband continues noble charitable work in Bhopal, while recognizing the company’s responsibility, questions why the government should not take responsibility for allowing people to live near the plant.

It is a good question.

In 1975, M. N. Buch, a top bureaucrat respected throughout India for his efficiency and integrity, had asked Union Carbide to move the plant away from its present site because of the rapid growth of residential neighborhoods around it.

Mr. Buch was transferred from his post.

Had there been no disaster, corruption may have been seen as necessary to power India’s Green Revolution.  But it did, contrary to assurances of safety.

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Government Collusion?

When journalist journalist Rajkumar Keswani discovered irregularities in the allocation of industrial licenses and discovered collusion between Carbide and the local government. Since then, Wikileaks has confirmed the Government of India allowed Union Carbide, USA to bypass the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, and obtain loans from American Exim Bank instead of an Indian financing agency. This was supported by the USA. Diluting the FERA allowed Union Carbide to retain majority ownership . In the 1970’s UCIL managers were in constant contact with the US embassy to lobby for exceptional terms favourable to the company.  Then US ambassador has since confirmed moneys been paid to Congress officials.

A fire in 1978 there had been a fire and in December 1981, Mohammed Ashraf died after inhaling phosgene. After collecting witness statements and was smuggled into the plant by a dismissed trade union leader Bashir Ullah, Keswani accused Carbide of violating its own safety standards. In May 1982, three American engineers from the USA had “uncovered over sixty breaches of operational and safety regulations” which were cited by Keswani.

Keswani wrote three articles of warning of the serious risk of disaster in 1982, and a fourth in June 1984. He also wrote a letter to Chief Minister Arjun Singh was ignored, and the minister assured the Assembly that he personally inspected the Carbide plant and nothing was wrong.

Meanwhile, plant manager Warren Woomer, left India believing all the problems revealed by the safety review would be resolved and Sevin would help India’s peasants. He also strongly recommended his successor keep a strict minimum of dangerous materials and MIC always be rigorously refrigerated.

Warren may have  “belonged to a breed of engineers for whom one single defective valve was a blight upon the ideal of discipline and morality[2]” but drought cut sales. Under the series of future mangers cut backs followed.

As the son of an employee said “Plant medicines are great when things are going well. But when there’s no water left to give the rice a drink, they’re useless.”

Carbide flooded the countryside with posters of a Sikh holding a packet of Sevin proclaiming “My role is to teach you how to make five rupees out of every rupee you spend on Sevin.” Only  2,308 tons, half the production capacity,  were sold in 1982, and 1983 looked worse.

Even as staff was halved, many still believed that Carbide would ride hard times and always remain for Bhopal and India.

Carbide wasn’t just a place to work. It was a culture, too

“Carbide wasn’t just a place to work. It was a culture, too. The theatrical evenings, the entertainment, the games, the family picnics beside the waters of the Narmada, were as important to the life of the company as the production of carbon monoxide or  phosgene” stated mechanical engineer Arvind Shrivastava.

“The management created cultural interest and recreational clubs. These initiatives, which were typically American in inspiration, soon permeated the city itself. The inhabitants of Bhopal may not have understood the function of the chimneys, tanks and pipework they saw under construction, but they all came rushing to the cricket and volleyball matches the new factory sponsored. Carbide had even set up a highly successful hockey team” wrote Lapierre in Five Minutes past Midnight in Bhopal.
“As a tribute to the particular family of pesticides to which Sevin belonged, it called its team “the Carbamates.” Nor did Carbide forget the most poverty stricken. On the eve of the Diwali festival, …an official delegation of Carbiders hand[ed]  out baskets full of sweets, bars of chocolate and cookies. While the children launched themselves at the sweets, other employees went around the huts, distributing what Carbide considered to be a most useful gift in overpopulated India: condoms.”

Sadly, the loyalty it inspired could not last.

As Keswani observed  “I have published a report in the state as to how many of the relatives of the politicians and bureaucrats were employed by Union Carbide. And apart from that, the guesthouse had a beautiful guesthouse which was being used by several people like Arjun Singh and Madhav Rao Scindia. At one instance, the Congress party held a convention in Bhopal and used it as a place of stay for several ministers. That only shows what kind of clout they had. Those were the times when a multinational company coming to India was greeted with open arms, they were given all kinds of concessions and treated like demigods. There was absolutely no question of anybody going against a powerful corporation like Union Carbide. The company was one of the biggest chemical companies in the world.”

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A lesson for the new India?

I often walk past the guest house gate, abandoned besides the Bharat Bhavan, just as I have walked through the Union Carbide site. As I read of the mismanagement of disaster funds, of the poor health management that followed and the incredible delay to undertake a study of the effected I wonder if the the then government has as much to be ashamed off as Union Carbide.

Perhaps, that is why justice is so long in coming.

As the 30th anniversary of the disaster approaches, I am reminded of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. world hopes of technological progress were mortally wounded when the by an iceberg and along with confidence in Britain’s social class structure,  killed off by World War I.

The forces that held back Indias economy in Nehru’s time have changed by information technology. In contrast to China’s labour intensive economy, India’s economy is capital intensive, under utilizing hundreds of millions of unskilled labourers, many leaving the land.

Bhopals disaster is not loudly discussed in the City of Lakes, but its presence is always felt.

150 television channels now allow the poor to see a the glitter of good they are supposed to want but can never afford. Bhopal reminds me that long term India must involve the rural poor, or risk the discontent of the underclass left behind by the new India.

… and justice?

Wikileaks revealed that as late as 2007 the USA threatened to link investments in India to the country’s stand on Dow Chemicals, one of that nations largest corporations that bought out Union Carbide.

[1] Writer Edward Luce (In spite of the God’s, p. 32, Abacus, London 2011) the death knell to this dream followed the loss of India’s foreign currency reserves when Iraq torched Kuwait’s oil fields at the Gulf War.

[2] Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro, Five Past Midnight in Bhopal: The Epic Story of the World’s Deadliest Industrial Disaster, Grand Central Publishing, 2009.

Traffic as Indias psychosocial mirror?


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Today I was hit by a motor bike. Nothing serious, but I was knocked off my cycle and gifted a few grazes.

“I am so sorry. Listen to me. I’m so sorry from the bottom of my heart!”

I admit to few Australian adjectives, as I picked myself up adding “sorry isn’t good enough.”

He had just began passing me on my right then cut left across my path clipping my front wheel.My ankle was bleeding and the indent of my wallet into my leg left a painful bruise in my thigh.

“No listen to me. I’m so sorry. From the bottom of my heart.”

My unflattering thoughts included ‘why do people cut across the front of you, why not go round behind?”

“No harm done” says an old man in white Nehru jacket. Our eyes meet, and I nod in agreement. A young woman, (clearly anxious for future husband was smiling nervously), He had cut across the street to Bhopals Rainbow Treat to his future in-laws company.

Again: “Listen. I am sorry from the bottom of my heart. What can I do for you? I will do anything.”

“I don’t want you to do anything for me. I want you to be careful next time, so you don’t hurt anyone.”

I was about to cut into statistics: 1.5 lakh die on Indian roads, 20% are cyclists and pedestrians.

Its  worse if they're driving a car or motorbike

Its worse if they’re driving a car or motorbike

But why?

I chose silence and left. The day before I had another near miss, cut off this time by a man cell phone jammed into the crook of his neck in mid conversation as he swang round a round about nealy collecting me as I walked across it.

I ask again why?

People simply don’t look. They pull out then take a glance. They pull out and expect people to stop for them.

The constant cutting across paths means no one ever picks up much speed – that means plenty of scrapes but few seriously hurt.

I’m assured its because of traffic congestion. “Yes” I conceded, the madness of Bangkok and like cites any traffic space is fair game, so tailgating is a national port. If you don’t someone else pushes you back down the queue.

  • But this doesn’t explain the bus driver parking his bus in the middle of a round-about.
  • It does not explain the woman in who pulls up besides the line of parked cars infront of the subze wallah’s , stopping in the right lane that is bordered by a concrete , blocking all traffic behind her.
  • It does not explain the truck driver that, stops in the right lane to change a tyre, never considering it would be kind to pull over off the road to let other cars by.
    I have seen all three examples and more.

But does that say something of India’s psyche?

You can never really get ahead of the crowd. Those who do must break away and stay clear of the pack and the social norms that constrain others.

Indians are not oblivious to the world, but rather oblivious to what is of no direct interest to them says Pavan Varma in his book Being Indian. At first it made me angry. This single minded focus has helped Indians succeed against adversity.

However, every strenght has the potential to become a weakness. In excess, it may become Adadha, or disregard of others. Pushing the envelope of law unfortunately parallels variable law enforcement.

For every social action there is an equal and opposite reaction. India is very conscious  of molding community> Within each group indiviidial voices are screaming to be heard.

Then I discovered, there is beauty in the madness.

Yes, at times this outback loving Aussie, used to 1 person every 5 square kilometres, finds the noise over reaching and stressful.

But it is in this madness that I have had my greatest breakthroughs.

I know what I am about to say may upset some of my Indian friends, so I ask you to hear me out before you judge. Here goes:

India has had so many luminaries and spiritual giants because India is not spiritual.
Each Indian has a spiritual yearning, that collectively is destroyed by the samsara of the crowd.

1. There are two way to get ahead: switch off and run ahead of the herd. Some  corruptly ignore the rules and cheat.
2. Or those who look within so profoundly they are unaffected by the chaotic road kill of Indian life.
Life is balanced equally of good and bad, chaos an order. Where there is focused y public attention to a few masters, the equal but opposite disorder is scattered amongst the crowd.
Sometimes the power is focused on spiritual giants, sometime dictators of ill will.
These few can help give direction to the chaotic crowd.

Can I see myself in the mirror of Kali?


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Mirror Idol of Mother Goddess by Balan Nambiar

Mirror Idol of Mother Goddess by Balan Nambiar

Even as a mirror stained by dust, Shines brilliantly when it has been cleansed, So the embodied one, on seeing the nature of the Self, Becomes unitary, his end attained, from sorrow, free
– Svetasvatara Upanishad

“The Mother Goddess is worshipped in the form of a polished mirror in certain shrines of Kerala. The mirror can be used to examine the soul, not only the physical body. “ states artist Pushpamala N.

Those words have haunted me for months. But what does it mean for me?

Consider this scene:

Passing storefronts as we walk down the street, we glance sideways to catch our reflection in the glass.  The urge to reconcile self-awareness and self-deception comes naturally to us, and we respond innately to the lure of the mirror.  While there is undoubtedly a measure of vanity in gazing at one’s own reflection, we look more to become oriented with the elements of our countenance.  We look to see the physical matter of our face and body and assess how we appear to the world, to confirm that our form and distribution of features are as we believe them to be in our minds, and to ensure all is as it was the last time we looked.  We look for signs of our hidden carnal nature and to see if the wicked secrets and sinful desires we harbor have emerged from deep within to belie our observable moral surface.  Subconsciously, perhaps, we look for assurance of our continuity and existence.

Artist Balan Nambiar has a tribute to the mirror symbolism in Devi worship. It is a cross cultural symbol, especially in Kerala and West Bengal where a mirror is placed behind Kali or Durga. For Bengalese looking at the goddess directly is inauspicious.  Even in Japanese Shintoism the mirror symbolises the Mother goddess.

However in Kerala, in consecration rituals for the goddess Bhagavati the kannati – bimbam , or mirror image, and the idol are identical.

Called Kannati Bimbam, Malayalam for mirror-image, Nambiar’s image of surgical grade, stainless steel explores the mother goddess rituals of Kerala.

The val-kannati or mirror with long handle is auspicious in the rituals that are part of Vishu, the day when farmers sow the first paddy of the season or when the auspicious mirror is held by girls during the coming-of-age ceremony, weddings, pregnancy, and the naming ceremony of girls.
Traditionally, cast in bronze alloy, a val-kannati is about 15 to 20 cm in diameter, with a long handle of equal length, round-edged, and a flat polished surface with mirror finish.

The most important event in Vishu is the Vishukkani, meaning “the first thing seen on the day of Vishu after waking up”. This ritual includes an arrangement of auspicious articles such as rice grains, lemon, cucumber, betel leaves, arecanut, metal mirrors, the yellow konna flowers, and a holy text and coins in a flat vessel called uruli.

Nambiar discovered that in Kerala’s ritual art — Theyyam, Bhuta, Patayani, Nagamandala and Titambu Nrittam — it is one among eight auspicious objects used in pujas. The other seven are the kuthuvilakku, ritual lamp; kindi, vessel with spout; changala vatta, oil lamp with handle; thalika, plate; dhupathattu, incense-holder; uruli and nira-para, the paddy measure.

With the passing of Diwali, again the concept of Goddess as mirror, of seeing divinity mirrored within ourselves, has become a very personal quest me. I am fascinated by the self sacrificing yet scary image of Chinamastra.

The Mother Goddess  has always been a cross cultural symbolic place where opposites could meet.  A symbol of nature she gives birth to the opposites of male and female, of birth and death, violence and protection, order and disorder, dark and light.

A symbol can be defined as something that connects any given reality to its constant representation within a certain culture.

Intimate relationships are a mirror of our shadow, or unexpressed selves. A woman finding in her man a masculinity for her own developing actualisation; a man must learn the art of surrender of his inflated need to conquest that offers sovereignty to the woman whose life he shares.

Are we to see divinity in a mirror, as if some Jungian sense that reflect back our hidden shadow, can we learn to see the God within? Relationships often mirror our shadow and religions claim sacred texts force us to see face our unpleasant truths.


Artist Kali-Maa gets ready as Lord Shiva showing her mirror during the Shri Ram

Artist Kali-Maa gets ready as Lord Shiva showing her mirror during the Shri Ram

Is the Hindu pantheon is a psychic mirror?

“The mirror allows us to see our own facial features and to apprehend its own body’s unity in a way which is different from  that which is available from interoceptive, proprioceptive and exteroceptive sources. The subject  becomes a spectator when it recognizes its mirrored image: seeing itself in the mirror is seeing itself as  others see it. Therefore, mirror self-recognition exemplifies a troubled form of self-knowledge, since the mirror facilitates the subject’s alienation into its double. The decisive and unsettling impact of mirror self-recognition is the realization that the subject exists in an intersubjective space”
– Giovanni B. Caputo  Archetypal-Imaging and Mirror-Gazing, [1]

Hinduism beautifully expresses the range of experience, even taboos, in its pantheon.

Mirrors also reveal much of our own psychic distortion.

Look at your face in a mirror at low light. After a few minutes the dysmorphic illusions may appear  explains researcher  Giovanni  Caputo.

The meaning we give these shadowy distortions  is “psychodynamic projection of the subject’s unconscious archetypal content”.

“Healthy observers usually describe huge distortions of their own faces,  monstrous beings,  prototypical faces, faces of relatives and deceased, and faces of animals.  Schizophrenics show a dramatic increase in their number, including the “perception of multiple-others that fill the mirror surface surrounding their “strange-face”. Schizophrenics are usually convinced that strange-face illusions are truly real and identify themselves with strange-face illusions.” Healthy people do not.   “Patients with major depression do not perceive strange-face illusions, or they perceive very  faint changes of their immobile faces in the mirror, like death statues.”

So, as I gaze into the face of a Kali, I experience a whole range of questioning associations.

When I first passed Bhopal, it was Diwali, and moving here I realise that we give life meaning based on our past. I was travelling by train,and new nothing of the city other than the Union Carbide disaster. My whole experience off the beautiful diyas on Bhopals train station was immediately spoiled. I realised, that from birth, perhaps a past life. Rarely do we see life as it is.

Life is always a tension between self and other, mainstream and marginal. I would suggest that the pantheon is also a mirror projection – a healthy one that allows believers to admit the taboos they hide within their shadows with harmless psychic release.

To discover themselves in the pursuit of purification.

As Nambiar. Stated of his divine art.:

“Venerating the kannati-bimbam is one of the highest forms of worship in northern Kerala. It is the visible symbol of ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ — ‘I am Brahmn’ — and this state of realisation is achieved through dedication and intense contemplation. The seeker looks at the kannati-bimbam, observes his own image reflected in the mirror, and meditates upon it.”

The artist quotes from the Svetasvatara Upanishad:

‘Even as a mirror stained by dust, Shines brilliantly when it has been cleansed, So the embodied one, on seeing the nature of the Self, Becomes unitary, his end attained, from sorrow, free’

“The Sri Chakra, for example, combines mathematical principles and symbolism, and I find it fascinating. Its meaning has universal appeal, as it is beyond religion, even. I try to recreate the symbolism associated with ritual performances of Kerala and Tulu Nadu.”

“While I was working on a 3.5 metre sculpture of the mother goddess as depicted in Theyyam, I instinctively started chanting the Devi Mahatmya stotram. It was as though I was in a trance.”


[1] Giovanni B. Caputo , 2014, Archetypal-Imaging and Mirror-Gazing, , DIPSUM, University of Urbino, via Saffi 15, 61029 Urbino, Italy; Behav. Sci. 2014, 4, 1-13; doi:10.3390/bs4010001, behavioral  sciences <www.mdpi.com/journal/behavsci/ >


The power of Gandhi’s passion Hindu and Christian


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Gandhi was a passionate man. As an ascetic he channelled his sexual creativity beyond immediate gratification.

His pursuit was partly inspired by his reading of the Sermon on the Mount. Unable to assist theosophists’ in London who hoped he could translate Sanskrit, so he read the Bible.He also tapped into a tradition 2000 years older than Jesus with renewed vigour.
Shiva, lord of the Dance and Beasts, is depicted a yogi from the 3rd millennia BCE.  Like Jesus fasting 40 days among the wild beasts, yogi’s reflected of in nature learning the meaning of breath, mind,  and   tapas  or suffering.

Tapas is used in the Vedas of the creative heat of Tad Ekam, That One, Later tapas refers to the laser like power of focused yogic concentration.

In Christianity the suffering of Jesus crucifixion is called the Passion and in mystical Christianity personal transformation is attained through the burden of carrying our own cross.

Gandhi’s own passion for selfless service courted violent contempt by those unable to grasp his determination to give up wealth and comfort to break the evil of injustice. Each prison cell he proclaimed a “temple” or “palace”, the yogic self sacrifice of fasting had a “delicious taste” and pleasure was found in pain suffered for the common good.
He gained congress admiration, eve as Gokhale thought his methods impractical,  and radicals despised his cal for non violence.

He was passionate in his Satyagraha campaigns against the injustices in Gujarat and Bihar. He transformed Congress moderate reform agenda of Congress into a mass movement for freedom. Critics may point to his Spartan simplicity, ruder in many cases than the poor endued,  as publicity. His simplicity of dress made him one of the world’s most recognised figures, alongside Charlie Chaplin and Hitler.  His insistence on third class train travel turned carriage into a mobile office, unless he was on foot or in prison.

Gandhi was a contradiction: He rejected the sensual and acquisitive realm of this world, and shivered naked in winter like the poorest. He retreated fro power on the brink of victory and suffered the summer heat without complaint.

Offered complete control of Congress, he declined, grooming younger men to wear the “crown of thorns.” He would abandon his own party when it lost its ideals to might, money and greed.

Gandhi recreated in himself a passion for the pain of the masses of poor, who saw in him the”Mahatma” or Great Soul.

“The purer the suffering (tapas) the greater the progress. Hence did the sacrifice of Jesus suffice to free a sorrowful world. .. If India wishes to see the Kingdom of God established on earth, instead of that of Satan which has enveloped Europe …we must go through suffering.

He would march his own Via Dolorosa” to freedom along with the poor who followed not a warring Maharaja but a yogi who mirrored their own suffering.


Creatively he subjugated his own suffering transforming Western passion and Indian tapas into a force against Empire. He turned himself into a cauldron of suffering that radiated an aura of compassion and goodness that magnetised the oppressed to his cause.

Just as the words tapas and passion express contradictory opposites, Gandhi’s own expressed passion is  equally ambivalent.

Sensitive to the potential of sexual brutality Gandhi sought of return to Brahmacharya, the first stage of upper class life, or studenthood, before initiated into the sexual life of marriage. For four decades Gandhi struggled passionately for total conquest of desire.

He devoted his life to seeing God, perfecting his life to live in harmony with divine attributes.

“Truth (satya) is God” he wrote, and elsewhere he equated God wit Ahimsa, or non violence, which he called Love.

His embrace of tapas paced him at odds with society’s norms and demonstrated it was possible lo liberate oneself from self imposed shackles, as well as the shackles of tyranny. As a young man he had already been excommunicated from his caste for the act of travelling over the seas to London.

He knew rejection early in life, excommunicated from his caste for travelling across the ocean to study..

However, Ahimsa, Satya and tapas empowered him with a divine conviction beyond his physical body.  He openly wrote of personal failings, or for the “Himalayan blunder” of prematurely launching his 1905 Satyagraha campaign. More importantly he learned from them transforming mistakes into stepping stones to success.

He had sought “purity of means” but sadly this legacy was not retained by India or by the Congress Party that he left, disappointed that power and money spoke more to politicians than selfless service.

Did I find the worlds smallest mosque?


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Passing the Shaukat Mahal, I am seeking the tomb of Bhopals founder, Dost Mohommad Khan.
The Shaukat Mahal across from the Iqbhal Playground, where budding cricketers in white qurta and knitted skullcaps practice. Post Renaissance and Gothic, it’s design blends occident and orient in a style conceived and designed by a decadent Frenchman who claims decent from the French Bourbon Dynasty.
Next door, the entrance of the Sheesh Mahal seems more parking lot for cars Sadar Manzil Gate.

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The delicate beauty of the past now houses the Bhopal Municipal Corporation.A fountain past the entrance catches my attention as I ask a a guard for directions. They invite me in for a look. I am saddened that nearby Taj Mahal is a closed deteriorating shell while this beautiful building is a business hub that few tourists can be entered within to experience.

However, my goal is slightly farther, within the campus of Gandhi Medical College, besides the tomb of Dost Mohammad Khan and his wife Fateh Bibi . I am even more interested finding on the campus the worlds smallest mosque.

tomb Dost Mohommmad Khan

Panoramia.com I was not permitted to photograph inside the mosque tomb

the tomb of Dost Mohammad Khan and his wife Fateh Bibi

I quickly found the asjid Dost Mohammmad Khan as I wound past  a temple and mosque inside the entrance. Within to the side are the tombs.

I had first to negotiate a barrage of personal questions. “Foreigner? Which country””Mai Bhopal main rahta hai), and offering profuse assurances I would not photograph inside the mosque or tomb, I was checked several times to ensure I did not take photos within.

Built by son Yaar Mohammad Khan in the year 1742 the tomb sits on a raised square platform, the tomb is surrounded by a 3 metre  high wall with corner minars and three entrances.

Eight arched pillars support a dome, which typical of the early Bhopal rulers, is not proportionate. Beautifully, amalgam horse shoe and lotus shaped brackets  in between the pillars are proportionately balanced multifoil arches. Lattice marble screen surround the tomb.

Dost Mohammad Khan was a complex man. Brutal in conflict, he enlisted under Mir Fazlullah, Emperor Aurangzeb’s Keeper of Arm and led forces during in the final brutal years of collapsing Mughal rule.  A risk taker, who broke military conventions, often at great risk to his own life.

However, he had earlier learned to appreciate culture when he fled Afghanistan after he killed a man in self defence. In Delhi, There he met his old  Mullah Jamali of Kashgar. For a year, Khan studied Quran and witnessed the culture and  tolerant ideals of Shah’s Akhbar and Jehan.

A mercenary during the wars of Mughal Succession, he married Kunwar Sardar Bai, who later converted to Islam and adopted the name Fatah Bibi and established a small mustajiri (rented estate) near Mangalgarh, called Berasia.

Khan was invited by Bhopali Ghond Queen Rani Kamlapati to revenge her husbands death. Bhopals upper lake was then inhabited by around 1000 Gond and Bhil tribals.,and Khan usurped her kingdom then invited her to join his harem. She refused, choosing suicide.

He decided to fortify the town with a wall with six gates and built Bhopal’s first, and the worlds smallest, mosque so fort guards could perform namaaz.

The fortified city of called Sher-e-khas enclosed 1.5 sq kilometre by a wall 10m high 2 to 3 m thick included  hammams, with windowless chambers for public bathing,  hathi khannas to house elephants and their mahaots , serias to house  travelling merchants, and mosques. Buildings, three or four floors high, enclosed narrow streets, a few 4 metres wide at the most,  matched each other as children played on pattias or raised platforms to sit out the front of a house.

Ironically, after chai with my new – still inquisitive – friends, they did not know where the worlds smallest mosque was! Overhearing, another man pointed me a few hunnded metres around the bend.

 Dhai Seedhi Ki Masjid, the Mosque of two and a half steps

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Russia’s World Smallest Mosque

“Er …. where is it?” was my first reaction, reading the sign, sadly aware that unable to find the watchman I would not see inside. The padlocked gate also prevented me from climbing the steps.

Dhai Seedi Ki Masjid sits atop a watchtower, at one of the cities highest points it offers a commanding view of a city built in turbulent times. Initially a makeshift mosque for the prayer of the guards,  the mosque of 2 and a half steps was built during the construction of Fatehgarh fort begun by  Dost Mohammad Khan.

But  the words smallest mosque? Daniel McCrohan paced  the floors interior dimensions to 16 metres square, smaller than another “world’s smallest mosque” of 25 metres square in built in 2002 at Naberezhnye Chelny, in honour of those who fought Ivan the Terrible.

Harar Ethiopia Tree Mosque [Travelod.com]

In Harar it is claimed the smallest mosque is in a tree!!

For me, the Dhai Seedhi ki Masjid, built for the defenders of Fatehgarh Fort, is a reminded that we have a spiritual yearning that needs to be answered even when defending our kingdom.

As I wandered the grounds hoping for a better a photographic angle, I found this more worldly reminder of the modern world.

Mosquetwohalfsteps no ragging res(8)

Yes, we must live in this modern world. First we must transform ourselves if we are to transform the planet. After visiting the Mosque, I found that Lonely Planet had made the same trek with better success finding the watchman.
Hence, complements of lonely Planet I present the inside of the Dhai Seedhi Ki Masjid.

4x4: The main prayer hall of Dhai Seedi Ki Masjid. Image by Daniel McCrohan / Lonely Planet.

4×4: The main prayer hall of Dhai Seedi Ki Masjid. Image by Daniel McCrohan / Lonely Planet.

The mosque was perched on top of an overgrown stone turret, which formed a corner of an old ruined fortress wall. The hospital, it turns out, was built inside the grounds of the 18th century Fatehgarh Fort, so that soldiers deployed as guards could perform their daily prayers. And, according to an old city tourism sign standing outside the locked gates, this was the first mosque built in Bhopal, a city that now boasts more than 400.
– Loney Planet

Tribal India has an extensive Pharmakia


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India’s Bhil Tribals believe disease is caused by the displeasure of the Gods. A cure may require a gayan lasting 24 hours to exorcise the offending illness. However, tribal India also has an extensive Pharmacia of much quicker cures.

From the Ethnomedical knowledge of plants used by Kunabi Tribe of Karnataka, the 40 most important herbs used by the Korku of Betul District, Madhya Pradesh,  tribal medicine is simple to prepare and convenient they are affordable by tribal’s and rural poor.

In Satna district, Madhya Pradesh, plant medicine cures gastrointestinal problems that western medicine only relieves[1].

Loose stools are prevented by 20 mil of fresh Arjun bark juice in 400 ml of curd water. For infants  the leaf extract of chotti dudhi is used.
Garlic is antiseptic and excellent for intestinal inflammation.
Four or five fruits of Shivalingi are fried in fresh cows butter and taken twice a day for  colitis.
Four or five teaspoons of saunf are bought to boil and steeped for 15 minutes. It is cooled and strained then sipped to relieve colic.

Not just a random collection of herbal cures, ancient Indian medicine goes back to the Vedas.


For example western trained Darshan Shankar was amazed to how Maharashtran Thakar, Mahadev Koli and Katkari tribals enhanced the breast milk of lactating mothers with Ipomoea mauritiana, reduced swollen testicles with Calantropis gigantean and could draw out deeply imbedded thorns with a latex from the same plant.  Dry cough was cured with the fruit of Terminalia bellinica roxb, dysentry by Holarrhena pubescens, uterine bleeding was stopped by Minosa pubica.

The range of Indian medicinal skill , both tribal and Ayurvedic, is inspiring. It is also a little angering to realise that the futuristic deal f heath in your hands is already promoted in the village. However, the migration of youth to city opportunity risks the loss of  great body of knowledge.

There are many Indian centres seeking to preserve these ancient skills.  For example, Madhya Pradesh promotes commercial herbal production. The methods of preparation are extremely diverse and sophisticated.

Badwais and Bhils confirmed that they use different parts of the same plants for different diseases and mixture of several parts of same plants or different plants for different diseases. The different parts of plants used as medicines are whole plant (usually in herbs), leaves, flowers, fruits, roots of herb, shrubs, trees, climbers, stem, root, root bark, resins, and latex, rhizome, tuber, bulb, tender, seed, petiole and latex. In some cases only one part of the plant has medicinal value. Usually the different parts of plants were made into paste, juice, powder, decoction and raw form. In most of the cases people use fresh plant as a medicine. The doses of the medicine depend upon the form in which it is used. The dose differs with different plants.

Generally, the ‘Badwai’ are very secretive about the medicinal uses of herbs and it is almost impossible to extract information, but by developing closer contacts they revealed certain vital information about the indigenous system of medicine practiced by them.

Folk traditions are not only rooted in the community but usually community supported. Traditional Birth Attendants are paid through rural communities.

Folk medicine knows over 8000 plant species, several hundred animals, minerals and metals. There are an estimated traditional formulations, knowledge of drugs, diagnostic and therapeutic techniques both physiological and mind-body based.

But unless the tribal communities and their plat based ecology, are revitalised we may lose the opportunity.  Shankar observed that outside of the tribe, respect for the vaidu tradition was low. He observed that the self confidence of vaidyas, hakims and siddhas was also low.


It seems the forces eroding these traditions are not medical inefficiency, but result from economic, cultural and political pressures.  These included reduced demand, and the irrational lexpectation that all tribal ideas must match western parameters.  Because, the indigenous Adivasi system of medicine has been handed down orally from generation to generation, there are no written records. As youth rush to the cities in hope of opportunity, traditional knowledge is not being passed on.

I find it sad that the while Western science criticised religion, especially the Western church, for disrespecting human diversity , science has unwittingly an undermined respect for traditional medicine.  Also, I have previously written of IGRMS efforts to keep medicinal traditions alive .  In  Ponicherry. Guruji P. Srinivasaraju  and a group of Adivasi have been spreading the word  of traditional medicine.

Because“Bhils believe that illness is caused by the displeasure of the spirits, they are indifferent to practitioners of modern medicine. That being said, there are a number of allopathic dispensaries that have been established by the State Government and people are encouraged to avail of the services provided by trained Medical Practitioners and auxiliary nurses.”

Traditional and Western medicine are complimentary not enemies. Most tribals know the bhopa cannot cure all disease. Many herbs are remarkable, others cure only partially. At times custom ignores the importance of hygiene for maintaining good health.  So together the availability of Western and eastern cures have space for each other.

[1] S. N. Swavedi, Sangeeta Swavedi and P. C. Patel ,Medicinal plants used by the tribal and rural people of Satna District, Madhya Pradesh or the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders and diseases,Department of Botany, Janata,, P. G. College, APG University, Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Bhopal and the world: What is landscape in the modern world?


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Capitalism does not want you to stay content. That new fangled item you were sure you needed is useless and needing to be replaced.

Unfortunately the beautiful malls we thought we needed will last a lot longer. Sometimes as deteriorating concrete frames.

So why does Bhopal, with all of its small population need the biggest Mall in India? Besides DB Mall, and Ashima there is the collection of faded concrete arcades scattered everywhere.

What happened to the meditative reflection of the Ashram? There is the headlong rush of food courts, with the hype and hustle of 24-7 sales pitch. Turn on pay TV and the same add will be repeated four times in a row just to be sure you didn’t get the McPoint that you need to McPurchase McRubbish you didn’t McWant.

Chasing fame, wealth, and power can prevent us from the truth of our personal and world challenges. Addicted to more goods and a hectic life only bandages our gaping spiritual wounds and compels us to greater loneliness and unhappiness.

Of course, there is a need for development. Bhopal has developed beyond the BEMAC label. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shiraj Singh Chauhan has an enviable 3 term record for getting thing done. (In a recent visit to Brisbane Australia I met a BJP official who praised him from afar).

But why rip up good farmland on Bhopal outskirts for town houses in a state that is spending money on giving infrastructure for agriculture?

Hinduism and Islam ritual respect natures rhythms. So if nature is construed as at least a little closer to the divine then surely our push for consumerism and commerce has become the architecture of evasion and deception. The unquestioned desire to consume an ever proliferating arrays of unneeded, commercial products seems a soul-defying measure of happiness that is damaging the planet.

India’s national politics has become slogan driven ideological wasteland, where cunning is praised and compassion a weakness. Politics is a cultural construction of media mirages, communal division and an ecological mess.

Osho Anhad Ashram, Bhopal

Osho Anhad Ashram, Bhopal

What is landscape?

Britain bought the Enlightenments idea 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.

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.

2014-10-07 11.27.27res

Landscape is memory

In W J T Mitchell suggested landscapes are part of a ‘process by which … identities are formed[2]

Sometimes landscapes remind you of childhood, meeting the love of your life, a concert at the Bharat Bhavan, or – heaven forbid – loss, pain and sometimes the fracture society experiences in a riot or the Bhopal’s Dow chemical disaster.

Princes, Priests and Politicians have shaped India’s landscape. But now it seems the rush to consumerism is rubbishing the scenery. In India where landscape is so often associated with linked to the gods must this also be true. The vibrant, textured colour of India has assimilated many marks of invasion.

In the village the Banyan tree is never trimmed or removed from the middle of a road. Even palaces and temples have sprawled organically without the geometric perfection of Grecian ideals that were borrowed by Islamic designers. Islam also espouses garden designs inspired by paradise.

Now, India is a secular democracy, and the issue of land use and economic progress for the poor transcends state lines. But, I hope India will not fall to the Western trap of market driven morality. Business interests tend to place profit over human life and biodiversity.

By amir taj (Flickr.com, Khattak Dance) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By amir taj (Flickr.com, Khattak Dance) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Dervish dance of modernity

The modern world, is constantly moving described well by the word raqs.

Raqs is “the state dervishes enter when they whirl. It also means dance” wrote Elena Bernadini in Raqs Media Collective: nomadism in art practice. “In Urdu and Hindi it indicates a temporary home for travelers, a place where travellers meet, a caravansary, an inn.”

She links ‘hypermobility,’ ‘nomadology,’ ‘space-time compression,’ and ‘hybridity’ as key words for modern space. Modernity is, in Donna Haraway’s terminology[3], “about vulnerability.”

The excitement of modernity is the very cause of our vulnerability because personal and social identity is a process. Landscape is also a process, though moving much slower, offering us a psychic anchor. But even the landscape is increasingly fluid in our increasingly urban world.

It contrasts with culture as embodied genealogies of “blood, property and frontiers”. Culture “rooted societies and their members: organizations which developed, lived and died in particular places.”

While people yearn for a modernity that allows them their memories.

“The past lives on in art and memory, but it is not static: it shifts and changes as the present throws its shadow backwards. The landscape also changes, but far more slowly; it is a living link between what we were and what we have become.

This is one of the reasons why we feel such a profound and apparently disproportionate anguish when a loved landscape is altered out of recognition; we lose not only a place, but ourselves, a continuity between the shifting phases of our life.[4]

India needs both modernity and nature, just as she equally needs both men and women.

At times the balance is lost and along with it, India’s uniqueness. The sprawling village gave us that. But cities require structure to function. Cities work when their infrastructure allows for movement and social expression.

We are torn between the masculine fixation on structure and feminine fluidity of mind and nature that resists the politics of closure, but is insatiably curious about the webs of connection.

The Laxmi Narayan Mandir or Birla Temple, Bhopal

The Laxmi Narayan Mandir or Birla Temple, Bhopal

Before the Commonwealth Games, ‘What will foreigners think?” seemed to drive a need to make Delhi a modern megacity that moved the chai wallahs to the outskirts and ignored the ‘nomadic sensibility’ still apart of Indian psyche.

If we are not careful the interconnectedness promised by technology can build a social apartheid of inclusion and exclusion. We observe national borders increasingly “thinned” and “doubled,” “multiplied” and “reduced” creating border zones, regions of residence suggests Etienne Balibar[5]. The dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘others,’ insiders and outsiders is not something which is drawn necessarily at national borders, but also within the very space of the city itself.

Cities can be both a breeding ground of natural beauty or of confrontation. A relaxed user friendly city can help keep the peace.

Bhopal is beautifully green built around a 38 hectare lake, with other smaller water bodies. But the landscape and psyche were scarred by a promised economic growth from a defunct fertilizer factory.

What have we learned? Will Bhopal will be turned from a lake garden to a beehive of prefab poorly maintained concrete? What do Bhopalis want as their cities cultural landscape?

As Ken Taylor expressed it: “The character of the landscape thus reflects the values of the people who have shaped it, and who continue to live in it. Culture itself is the shaping force. Landscape is a cultural expression that does not happen by chance but is created by design as a result of human ideologies.”

So what type of landscape of memory do we want? Heritage site give us pride, but walk outside and look. Where is the rubbish? Even if it is put properly aside more often than not rubbish collected may find its way in an empty field.

Is this the message of authenticity and integrity we want to leave for our children?

[1] Ken Taylor, Landscape and Memory: cultural landscapes, intangible values and some thoughts on Asia
[2] Mitchell WJT, (1994) ‘Landscape and Power’, Chicago University Press, Chicago.
[3] Donna Haraway as quoted in Irit Rogoff, Terra Infirma. Geography’s Visual Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 25.
[4] Margaret Drabble in A Writer’s Britain: Landscape in Literature referring to Virginia Woolf’s sense of loss of a loved place. Drabble M, (1979), A Writer’s Britain: Landscape in Literature, p.270; Methuen, London
[5] Etienne Balibar, “The Borders of Europe,” in Cosmopolitics. Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation, ed. Peng Cheah and Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 220