Hinduism captivates us, kicking and screaming! Its heady heights are incredible.
We read it’s a polytheistic religion (poly=many, theos=gods). But, behind these many gods there stands a single extreme power (Brahman). So the many gods we see are simply physical expressions of this formless spirit. Dare, we draw a parallel with saints or gurus or prophets? Maybe; but not here and not now.
Hinduism is 4000 years old! And, today there are a staggering 330 million deities! Gods and goddesses have extended families. They take on different forms. And ride a crazy array of vehicles; a chariot, a crocodile, a bull. They protect, they prod, they guide, they provide, they comfort. Shrines bloom everywhere. Look about! Vishnu jumps out, Rama whispers, Shiva bellows, Devi reprimands.
A goddess of learning sits upon a swan. From the feet of the goddess of wealth the Ganges River flows. Vishnu, the preserver of good has four arms and holds a lotus flower. Shiva, the destroyer of evil, rides a bull with snakes around his neck. Lord Rama calls on an army of monkeys. And dear ol’ Ganesh, with an elephant head, is a god of good fortune. Together and apart, they battle demons and dark forces, for our sakes.
Imaginations run wild. Fascinating stuff! It’s story telling at its best.
There is a festival every other day. And it’s loud and it’s riotous. The streets scream with rasping speakers. Crackers explode in your face. Coloured smoke settles at your feet. No half measures! If nothing else you know you are alive.
The most incredible example of Hinduism resides in Khajurabo, in the centre of India. Here there still stand temples that the Chandela dynasty builds from 950 to 1050 AD. The temples tower, 30m high, like giant 3D jigsaw puzzles! Dry-stacked sandstone puzzle pieces fit perfectly. Stories wrap around the girdles of these towers. They appear outward then disappear inward. The characters are deities, celestial nymphs, composite figures (half god / man / animal) and erotic couples. Harry & I reckon that artistically, they reach the Height of the Himalayas!
Yes. This spiritual backdrop is incredible!! But the physical hardship in the forefront is just as incredible. Every single day shocks Harry and I with a new ghastly hard. Tents and single rooms house families. A square meter becomes a business. Litter feeds cows, dogs and pigs. Picked-clean rubbish is set alight in the streets. Sewerage spills, water reeks, streets snarl up, horns blare, air is thick with pollution. Dogs are skinny, but people are skinny too. It occurs to us even the wealthy can’t escape the screaming stinking streets.
Yes. Bring down that lavish curtain of mind-blowing gods. Rally around, gods and goddesses. Please all, 330 million, of you. Lighten this daily load. No less a heady height will bear this bodily heavy. The title of Milan Kundera’s novel ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ jabs me. Probably because its antithesis; ‘The Bearable Heaviness of Being’ feels true too. I wonder if religious indifference, agnostics and atheism, is the preserve of the ‘haves’?
We have loads of heart breaking photos of life in India. But they don’t belong here. Why indeed come down from these heady heights!
A Note: Khajurabo is best known for its erotic positions; which make up less than 15% of figurines. They should however be seen in their totality; with the deities, celestial nymphs, composite figures. Hindu and Buddhist meditation practitioners use sexual union as a metaphor for weaving together (tantra) the physical and the spiritual: man to woman, and humanity to the divine.
Here is a short video clip of a small local scene we catch. It celebrates the defeat of Ravana, the demon king, by the mother goddess Durga. The effigy of Ravana parades before us. These heights take some getting used to!