Saturday, August 8

Of Temples and Twitter

Long years ago, when the trials of my Tentative Teens had not yet become an amusing memory, a family trip got me to the Royal land of Rajasthan. The architectural delights were a dime a dozen, almost too many, as one tried to take in those majestic forts, intricate carvings and imposing columns. Yet, apart from the breathtaking grandeur and wonders of craftsmanship, the hearty hospitality (apparent even in our largely sarkari arrangements) stood out. Equally, this sunny neighbourliness was in flagrant contrast to the fractious infighting whose undercurrents were implicit in every one of Rajputana's numerous tales of valour.

Nowhere was this enigmatic paradox of gallantry and fratricidal discord more manifest than the indomitable fortress of Chittorgarh. Its remarkably well preserved ramparts were a live monument to the doughty challenge Rajput kings had posed to numerous invaders, while often felled by the enemy within. One artefact in particular held my imagination for more than a moment. The king's bed, literally, was one of most unflatteringly modest dimensions - one that no self respecting modern day hotel chain would proffer under similar name. Truly, even assuming some inaccuracy of magnfication typical of heroic myth-building, it was difficult to imagine the imperial bulk measure up to five foot nothing! An explanation was called for - and readily provided. It turned out that the royals preferred a smaller bedstead in order for their feet, knee downwards, to stay unfettered in combat. And a joust was much in order, the awakening from slumber having been caused and accompanied by their being tied to the couch by one of the family's over-ambitious black sheep!

If the threat within sounded surreal, its external cousin was a lot less so. Mind you, this credibility rating was not on account of any reduced lethality in its consequences. Simply put, its higher probability made it appear commonplace! The most potent of this deadly-but-discounted-as-way-of-life enemies through Rajput history was the advancing Mughal empire. (On a related note, the singular alacrity with which a majority of their progeny, their might much depleted and xenophobia strangely muted, accepted British subjugation a few score years later, is a curious and educative quirk of history.)

In Chittorgarh, like many other parts of Rajputana, one of the relics of the original struggles was a partially ravaged Hindu temple. Now this was the 90s - with Ayodhya-Kashi-Mathura movements still a dominant influence in national politics. Naturally, despite a frown of obvious disapproval from the pater, one could not but ask our escort for some additional pearls in clarification of this common strand in Medieval history. He had many and, surprisingly for one in quasi-judicial employment, was voluble in disseminating them (especially after the others in our entourage had moved ahead) including some reasonably controversial theories! Of these the one which struck a chord from its incipient logic and pertinence, was the importance of the temple as a theater for organized dissent.

In a nutshell this hypothesis went thus: The harried minions, once the victorious had left, would by ritual congregate at the temple - to mourn the dead and pray for their deliverance, but equally to bemoan their own plight, seek camraderie in numbers and ultimately the strength to fight from the Heavenly. On the contrary, with the shrine pillaged, the first efforts would go towards its rebuilding, setting organized resistance back a few years in terms of raising funds, foot soldiers or impetus. The symbolic value of domination, hence, was perhaps only an added bonus over this bondage of resources - a true masterstroke of Machiavellian genius.

Of course, apart from realpolitik, there may have been other theological drivers for such plunder. The flagbearing specimen of this ilk (and certainly its most lambasted member) was Aurangzeb. Piety aside, the missionary zeal and state sponsorship he provided to the task of temple destruction had no parallel. This is not to suggest his predecessors were beacons of benevolence: history (even in its recounting under as heavy-handed a Marxist influence as ours!) is never that black and white. For instance, Shah Jahan gave us the Taj, Incredible India's radiant icon, but its pristine glory is indelibly soiled by the sweat of millions who paid for it via taxes. In fact extracting such a price in human suffering was hardly a preserve of the Mughals - it is embedded in similar Wonders of the World across ages.

In any event, Aurangzeb the Austere remains the most reviled of all Mughal monarchs. True, other counts have been cited to bolster his Islamic bigot credentials. For instance, scholars have highlighted his adoption of the Arabic Lunar Calendar over the more popular and practical Solar one used hitherto. More telling arguments have come via his order to replace holy verses and imagery of the Caliphs in coin inscriptions lest they get tainted by kaffir touch or use in unworthy places. Yet, fact remains that it was his ostensible promotion of temple demolition under a policy of prohibiting practice of 'idolatrous forms of worship' that is the focal point of anti-Aurangzeb charge. In either case, his reign and actions wrote the preface, if not the first chapter, in the eventual transition of theological dialogue into incendiary political arena. Skim through later history and it is easy to discern elements of this kitsch: razing places of worship as a secular tool of War, a part of debate on primacy of schools of Faith, or an emblem of high voltage Politics. In short, therefore, divisive agendas carry a rich pedigree and it should little surprise us that they remain a sorry but inherent facet of our lives to this day.

Insurgency exists for other reasons too. Among its more notable modern-day players, one must count the Establishment itself, often going overboard in reprisal, lending a new lease of life to many dying rebellions. My closing postulate however is not so much about them or sundry proponents of the kind that actively participate in (and often foment) Mandir-Masjid and other variants of social strife. Instead, spare a thought for temples where the will of a silent majority, retreating in face of high decibel onslaught of instigators on either side, gets an opportunity to strike back.

Technology today presents us with some such modes. Films, for instance, may help a generation awaken: Jessica Lal, BMW hit-and-run et al bear testimony to its pulling power. TV chips in to provide a cause celebre TRP and hence expanded pressure group. Yet, more than these relatively high entry barrier (and arguably plutocratic natured) media, it is the low-cost, easy-to-use (and someday ubiquitous) Mobilephone-Internet combination that holds most promise. True, the Twitter-enabled Iranian voice of dissent died without daunting the world, and guns beat phones hollow even in an RTI-enabled world, but peer to peer information sharing will change many lives yet - mostly silently, but sometimes in the theater of visible discontent!


Anonymous said...

"Na Teerath Mein, Na Moorat Mein
Na Ekant Niwas Mein …
The insightful reminiscence of Ekoham is yet again compelling me to get a bit acrid... I remember the time when an obligatory item of our menacing Holiday Homework used to be 'An Essay on a trip to - XYZ destination'. North Indian kids didn't have many choices you see and most of the comprehensions were" My memorable trip to Nainital / Simla / Haridwar / Vrindavan" etc:. The point I’m trying to make here is what and how will our Children narrate their experience about, say a visit to Haridwar or Vrindavan … God! I need to make a better choice while selecting a destination, as I don’t want my kids to write - “My most memorable moment from this vacation was when my father bargained with the priest and bought the annual Temple membership for just 25k. Now we will get the prasaad by courier every quarter” … it may sound vague but that’s what is happening in our sacred house of worship … my recent accidental trip to one of these religious hubs left me in shock … I made the head priest angry, who possessed great Sale acumen, by refusing to donate 5000/-(the price tag soon came down to 2100/- then to 501/- and final bid was offered for 101/-)and in lieu sign up for an annual membership, in which, during all the major Havans my parent’s name would be announced, some part of the offering would be sent to us in courier and a Calf would get fed(for how long and on what … I couldn’t dare to ask)...
“ Na Mandir Mein, Na Masjid Mein,
Na Kabe Kailas Mein, Mein To Tere Paas Mein Bande
.... Kahet Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho ,Mein To Hun Viswas Mein"


Too good and one of those for the common people like me to understand.. Easy to understand bigger the Impact..

Anonymous said...

Kahan gayab ho guru - nothing in September? I would think you have more to share now!


Aparna said...

Undeniably domination has had been an unexpected positive fallout that has had an all pervasive and sustained chain reaction in shaping India's destiny.It was this common cause of overthrowing the shackles of domination & bondage that triggered the dynamic centripetal magnetic field of unity in the erstwhile abominable diversity.
Was the political doctrine of chanakya forgotten that Machiavelli was brought in?? jokes apart...
However the present paradigm has become increasingly disruptive in the face of high speed and low cost communication that has made the task of subversive forces much easier.

Anonymous said...

So much is happening, so much just happened and there is so much that Echohum has in store for the unenlightened lot… nothing is tempting enough to get quoted… how so?

Haughty MNS’s irrational crusade; Drunken Farmer strike; Totalitarian China and its mystic powers; Our imminent end in 2012 and things one should do before that; Terror debutant of the year Hadley and his famous accomplices; 30, 000 runs and the Man who scored them; MJ’s demise and ‘This is it’ – so what he was not a rocker... he was famous and he died; … why after August 8th the current affairs have lost its static and the erstwhile occurrences have become rusty… brush it up and show us some light.

“ …Aao hum sab pehan le aayeeney, Saare dekhen ge apna hi chehra, Sab ko sarey haseen lagey ge yaha…
Hum ko Ghalib ne ye dua di thi, Tum salamat raho hazaar baras, Ye baras toh fakat dino mei gya …
Aise bikhrey hai raat din jaise motiyoon wala haar tut gya, Tum ne sab ko piro ke rakha tha”.

Anonymous said...

Content , language and style are slightly above my comprehension but I am impressed like I am with the Nazka Lines...awed by something I don't completely understand so I would say keep up the good work for the more evolved of our species, all the best with newer posts.
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