Defining moments of 2010

Written by  //  December 29, 2010  //  Philosophy, Religion, Culture  //  1 Comment

As one can imagine from the title of this piece, the contents are going to be a bit farfetched. Simply because, in the set of subjects that comprise our area, nothing much really happens. In fact, one could argue that they are defined by their timelessness. If something radical changes in a religion every single year one might have cause to ponder whether it is a religion at all. Furthermore, most of our subjects are characterised by their historical context. It is Ancient Indian Philosophy or Post Medieval Christianity or Pre Industrial Culture. In these sort of subjects, by implication, nothing at all would have happened between 2010 and 2011.

The best we can do therefore, while compiling a year end list to highlight events of significance over the past year, is to follow an extremely eclectic approach and pick out those events which resonate with the past -but only do so in their continuity. These events are not significant for being radical departures, but rather for being notable instances which remind us (very very indirectly) of certain aspects of Indian history. As it must be very clear to everyone by now, the examples below are extremely eclectic and owe their mention on this piece purely to them being my pet obsessions. Anyone else drawing up a similar list would have safely ignored all the entries below.

Dasashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi

In the beginning there was the name. When I heard this name being mentioned on prime time news, I paused and paid attention. This was the site of the blasts earlier in the year in Varanasi. Literally translated, it means the ghat where 10 Ashwamedha yagnas were performed. Though, historically it appears to be of a much more recent vintage (given its final form as recently as 1774 ), mythologically, as is always the case in India, it is of a much grander pedigree – ten horses were sacrificed by Lord Brahma to allow Lord Shiva to return from a period of banishment.

But regardless of history, actual or mythological, what really stands out is the simple beauty of the Ganga Aarti performed on this Ghat every night. This is what made the images of the bomb blast even more discordant. Such destruction in a site of such majesty. It surely is one of the most beautiful spiritual sights one can come across in modern India.

1000 years celebration at the Brihadeeshwara Temple, Tanjore

It was 1000 years ago that one of the greatest achievements of Indian sculpture and architecture was consecrated. The Big Temple at Tanjore, as it is informally known was built by the Chola king Rajaraja Chola. But while it is justly famous for the scale and grandeur of construction, people forget that in a certain sense every Indian temple is a big sculpture rather than a building. It may require an entire book to relay the anecdotes about this temple, but my favourite is the one that relates to the building of the dome at the very top of the Tower which is made of a single massive granite stone. Archaeologists were puzzled as to how such a massive stone was hauled so far into the sky without any modern crane technology. The answer they found lay in a the remains of a hill tens of miles away from the site of the temple. An artificial hill was constructed up to the top of the tower and the stone was literally walked up to the top!

This year, it was also the sight of a great festival organised by the Tamil Nadu government to commemorate the occasion. Though the rendering of the Oduvars (traditional Tamil singers who sing the songs of the Saivite saints like Manickavasagar etc.) was soul stirring, the Bharatanatyam performance by a 1000 dancers resembled more of a chaotic mass drill practice.

ASI’s  Superintendent Archaeologist K K Muhammad

Humayun’s tomb is a monument that was in many ways a precursor to the Taj. It is as grand in scale and ambition and it is in the middle of Delhi. But few people had visited it till Obama decided to include it in his agenda. The person who was photographed along with the Obamas in the Humayun’s tomb was Superintendent Archaeologist, Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI) K K Muhammad, a man who represents the best tradition of Indian multiculturalism. He is also the biggest hope for the urgent cause of conservation of the archaeological treasure of India. He is a scholar in Sanskrit, effortlessly quoting from a number of Kalidasa’s classics. His greatest achievement to date has been  the restoration of more than 100 temples/shrines that lay in ruins at Bateshwar complex, about 40 km from Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. These shrines were built between the Gupta and Pratihara eras around 1300 years back and faced great damage from dacoits. He has worked tirelessly to restore them to at least a measure of their former glory.

The idol Ram Lalla

Ram Lalla, infant idol of Lord Ram of Ayodhya has had the  most unexpected second lease of life this year . In a judgment that was analysed and critiqued extensively elsewhere in this blog (here, here and here), the idol of the infant Ram or Bhagwan Shri Ram Lalla Virajman of Ayodhya, was held by the Allahabad High Court to have certain rights in the disputed property at the centre of the Ayodhya dispute. Inter alia (which is lawyer speak for amongst other things), on this basis, the High Court proposed a novel three way partitioning of the site. The judgement is in appeal in the Supreme Court but surely there cannot be a greater instance of continuity in the midst of change in modern India. A divine infant, being manifested in an idol and actually successfully asserting its property rights in a secular British style judiciary. For sheer novelty this is hard to beat!

One Comment on "Defining moments of 2010"

  1. Aritra December 30, 2010 at 10:05 am ·

    That was indeed an interesting piece.
    I remember that a few years back, I had seen a very interesting documentary on the Brihadeeshwara temple. Going by some of the archaeological remains of what is left, historians and archaeologists believe that the 80 ton piece of stone was moved to the top by a very unique way. The ancient masons of tamilnadu had constructed a ramp, which was almost 6 miles long, to the top of the temple. Elephants were used to carry the monolithic stone which was later carved on the top of the temple itself !
    This truly speaks of the architectural and masonic prowess which the ancient people had!

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