Religion- Nature- Culture- Design


Ambrosial Junctures- Serotonin and Ethylene

When the sun wrapped itself up and melted into the sea after a day’s work, birds and animals knew that energies were shifting. Like clockwork, at about 10 minutes to 6pm, sitting in my balcony you could hear the mass flutter of wings as the flock moved from one tree to another, and after a heightened chatter, and when the lights shifted and faded, with one quick final sweep they all disappeared into the bamboo cluster. There they would embrace the night’s emptiness until dawn. All of nature knew, and so did man. So one man lit a lamp and the other a candle to mark the various moments of transformative transition he noticed in nature. From dawn to dusk, noon, and dusk to dawn. He called it Raahu kaal, he called it Brahma Muhurta, Gulika, Abhijit… (One is reminded of Bifurcation points and E-mergence of a new order. “Spontaneous emergence of order at critical points of instability is one of the most important concepts of the new understanding of life. It is called self-organizing- Emergence.” (Fritjof Capra)


A curious mind asked, why? What’s going on at these junctures? He couldn’t answer in words what could only be sensed and felt. But he didn’t say I don’t know, we’ll have to feel and sense it. Instead he answered it with a story. Stories within stories. With characters that aid to unravel the innumerable mysteries of the universe. Gods and goddesses, demons, jinns, fairies, gnomes and asuras became symbols of spaces that humans were capable of being. They represented various virtues, symbols of power and identities. Shiva represented the perfect ascetic and Parvati the perfect householder. Extreme opposites. Coming together, they debated, quarreled, loved and fought like mere mortals. One is the sea and the other the wave. Inseparable. One. All of them, potential energies, possibilities in nature. Symbols.
You see them play when season’s shift, when spring flowers, and when winter renews itself. Between three and four in the morning when you’re neither here nor there; in the twilight zone, when the mind is not fully awake and engaged In matters of the world. Hindu mythology is full of stories of the existence and relevance of such spaces in the human body. You have a Narasimha avatar- neither man nor animal which kills an asura neither inside nor outside but at the threshold of the room. Not by day or night, by steel or stone or wood, not on earth or in sky. Lord Shiva kills Tripurasura during the Abhijit muhurtam. In fact all the gods kill all the asuras only at the right time where dualities seem to be successfully eliminated. Spaces we visit when our gaze temporarily dwells beyond duality- between the subject and the object, or when the subject becomes the object, as in J.Krishnamurti’s words. Between the seer and the seen. In the language of yoga, the pause between an exhalation and an inhalation. Shambhavi Chopra calls it Kali’s mystical moments in which we can experience intense energy. “You will be looking at the still point of balance from which great energy arises and holding on to which can cause great transformations. It is at these auspicious points that spontaneous healing occurs, or there may be an influx of grace for no apparent reason.”


Look at the parallel occurrences in nature- On Makar Sankranti, the sun is north bound and transiting into Capricon. It marks the arrival of Spring and is the beginning of the harvest season. A flower, fruit or leaf ripens at the right time when the right enzyme ripens it. In Autumn, nights must get longer and cooler for ethylene to be produced. Ethylene and Pectin, masters of transitional moments! Same is true in the functioning of the human body. Hormones, enzymes and a miraculous feedback mechanism that keeps the cycle going, at the right time at the right place.

Think of the transformative moments in your life, when perhaps a completely new idea or thought occurs to you suggesting a closed chapter in your life or a new beginning. Recall those intuitive moments and it is clear that it is impossible to put a finger on it and name it, or logically explain or conclude the experience.

Made in India Gods
We’re talking spaces. The innumerable spaces we occupy on this tiny planet called earth. About one in a million identities that we occupy in the cities we inhabit, and narrowing down, we’re also talking about spaces within our houses, our bodies and in our minds. And finally to mindless spaces. Our attention and energies are flickering now, lighting up and loving right now; and focused and penetrating a little later, as we traverse our emotional- mental landscapes. Fearful and doubtful now, valiant and courageous then. Insightful and compassionate, shallow and weak. A Hanuman- unwavering and steady in devotion, a valiant Uthama Purusha Ram- a dependable giver, and a Purushottama- Vishnu- pure consciousness. All residing within us. A raw earthy awareness called Ganesha, the king of all species- insects, animals, man; both gross and subtle beings. The king of all elements- fire, air, water, earth, ether. We respect these elements, the panchabhoothas that make up our bodies and our universe. Without the body, how do you realize the soul? Sure, it sounds practical, logical, and down to earth.

All you need is a dysfunctional thyroid gland to visit some of these absolutely unreal and yet real mind sets. A visit and back can change your perspective, can give you a glimpse of the wonders of serotonin and dopamine in our bodies. You might appreciate mindlessness and peace, be rooted in the ordinariness of life. You might have a glimpse of the stories within stories that we live in, like in the 101 tales of the Arabian Nights.
If the many gods/symbols are viewed in the right perspective you cannot but be filled with awe at the insight and wisdom propounded by our forefathers. The mind is a moving breathing protoplasmic train. Just because we choose to board s1 compartment doesn’t mean that s2 and b6 do not exist. We choose our compartments, our spaces, and each space is respected and anointed with a god that works for you! At the same time one can never forget that the Buddha chose to keep quiet on the subject of god. He never ever mentioned the word.

I was born a Hindu, and practiced more of Christianity as a child. Found myself kneeling at a pew, rather than chanting mantras. I never had to do anything to be a Hindu. No Gita reading, no chanting, no jumping, no rolling, no nothing. This religion gave me the freedom to be. To choose my path. To choose my favorite god- symbolizing various aspects of human growth, and to explore my inclinations and decide what works for me. And this magnanimity cannot be degraded and categorized under a divisive, closed frame called religion. Surely this divine, compassionate perception has the fragrance of plurality, of secularism, inclusiveness, equality, freedom, respect, humanity, spirit actuality.

Art and life- parallel lines

Art and Life are parallel lines. But art is not greater than life. It informs, instructs, and unveils the hidden aspects of life. Society sometimes understands, sometimes does not. Truths spoken at the right time in an evolving society is fruitful, and spoken prematurely becomes wasteful energy. Real change will happen by spreading awareness of ones and others cultures in the right way. If artists consider themselves cleverer than the rest they will till the soil, water the seed, and enable its growth first. And then and only then, will the hard work bear fruits of understanding in the society. Freedom of expression cannot become an excuse. Misguided youth, blind hoodlums of the Ram sena or the Islam sena can do great harm to a most beautiful way of life. To the moderate voice. The moderate voice must be heard, of all religions. Let the moderate practicing Musalmaan speak out against the cold blooded murders conducted in the name of Islam and the prophet, like Hassan Suroor said. If not the rest of the world shall poorly conclude that this is truly what Islam stands for. Their voices might not reign in hard core brainwashed zombies, but it will definitely help prevent new recruits. The terrorists, the moral police, the Hindutva groups, all have been stripped of their sense of value and are dying to regain their self-worth and be of value to someone. And if he’s recruited by god himself what better cause can he fight for? As a society we do not value the god of small things anymore, and therefore what you sow you shall have to reap. No religion can justify and breed violence, or in our times, only religion does!

The temple-river-forest-man-myth design
Every little temple was part of a larger cultural design that was prevalent. Our ancestors knew that nature and its systemic network had to be preserved come what may. Its flora and fauna, rivers and mountains, insects, fish, reptile, mammal, man. They had the far-sight to see that mankind is the only species which could possibly tip the fine balance of nature. Many centuries later, today, they have been proved right. The mind of man has evolved into an extremely dangerous weapon on a rampage and impossible to reign in. What reigned it in was either fear of god or love of god. And if you didn’t understand why trees that gave you the oxygen that you breathe needed to be preserved, you were also given the option of using fear as a tool to respect nature. If you didn’t see the network of rivers, mountains and its creatures within which we live, we were fed on myths and legends. We had folk songs and deities that resided in the trees, rivers, mountains and animals ensuring that nature was revered and protected. The angry goddess who presided over a tree or dwelt in the temple would weave a curse upon you. Hopefully that will suffice, and it did, then.
Perhaps most people responded well to fear of god as a tool that aided to exercise restraint over unbridled thoughts. A belief in an anchor, a final authoritative word one could channelize and focus one’s mind upon and get on with the business of living. And those who preferred to look at god as love, perhaps had no need for the temples and its rituals. They loved nature anyway and would preserve it. All is well.

The painting that wants to make the painter
Times now are such that we don’t believe in these anchors anymore, in god. We have spent lifetimes in the service of this god and we haven’t got what we asked for, and we have lost trust in this entity. The more we roam outside in his search the more we get lost. His voice became so feeble we are not even able to recognize it when we hear it. The lucky uncivilized lot still heard him in trees, mountains and animals. The civilized googled for him. And now that things have ricocheted out of control there is an attempt to deify the old and bring back some sanity. But that simple old culture is not there anymore. It’s buried deep, and the sands of time continue to shift, weaving still more intricate patterns. We will have to strive to recognize and anchor ourselves in our own inner temples instead of seeking in the temples outside, which is probably a sane story to live right now.

A culture of temples and gods, art and architecture, stories and parables, music and drama, all started in good faith as a warm protective embrace of the sacred within and outside us. A means of sustainable, intelligent, harmonious living has now turned upon itself and has become a curse to society. We cannot stop the continuous roll of time. Each tick of the clock erasing and leaving behind the ruins of a past culture. This massive grinder chews on our cultures and its rituals and spits newly fashioned ones for our continuous consumption. And we aid and abet that. What does it matter if one culture replaces the other as long as the sacred core remains? And how can it not remain. How can it be possible for one puny mind to devour its very source? Wouldn’t that be ridiculous? Like a painting trying to create an artist! Like an artist trying to capture the sacred in a piece of cloth or paper! We fear not for the sacred, it can protect itself, but fear for our fickle minds which might get lost in this carnival of sorts and lose touch with the core.


Transitional transformative moments

We have to overcome our dependence on these socio cultural religious props. If we can just see the cycle and untangle ourselves from this mess, if we can just see that nothing is lost by our going or not going to the temple. These crutches have rusted and they are eating into our flesh and bones. We have to let go and remember the fact that our bones were never brittle. That it was just a well-intentioned intelligent cultural design, and a precaution woven by our forefathers that we took part in. Too seriously though. And the good part is that this will become one of those transitional transformative moments where we finally touch upon the sacred dwelling within us without the outer prompts.


I would keep in mind that there’s no getting ahead of oneself. If going to a temple or mosque works for one at this point in time, one must, but with awareness. We are headed in that direction with emphasis on environment, art and culture.The Supreme Court verdict against the mining company Vedanta granting rights to the Dongria Kondh tribals in Orissa to protect their land and culture, their Niyamgiri hills (Niyam-raja) and the rap on the Central pollution control board over discharge of pollutants into the Ganga are all moments of hope and sanity.