Hinduism

Like a Tiger

You are like a tiger, compelling in your beauty,
yet terrifying in your strength.

You are like a honey-comb on the branch of a tree.
I can see the sweet honey, but the branch is too high for me to climb.

You are like a goldfish swimming in a pond.
Only an arm’s length from the bank: yet if I try to catch you in my hand,
you slip from my grasp.

You are like a snake.
your skin dazzling in its bright colours.
Yet your tongue able to destroy a person with a single prick.

be merciful to me, O Lord. Give me life, not death.
Reach out to me, and hold me in your arms.
Come down to me, and lift me to heaven.
Sustain my feeble soul with your power.

Manikka Vasahar (8th century), India.

From: Marcus Braybrooke, ed., The Bridge of Stars: 365 Prayers, Blessings, and Meditations from Around the World (London: Thorsons, 2001), p. 172.

Darsan / 2007

I have retrieved a set of images and videos from my years living very close to the large Sri Venkateswara Temple at Helensburgh near Sydney, Australia. I feel great love for that time, and the Temple was literally our place of worship during those years. We saw the community there building one shrine after another, working on the architecture and the gardens, cooking fragrant Masala Dosas under the gum trees, fighting off terrifying bushfires - and doing Poojas (ceremonies of offering) to protect against bushfires. We participated in very long Mantra recitations lasting hours; some were 1008 repetitions accompanied by ritual actions involving fire, oil, milk, immersion, music, veiling, unveiling and dressing the statues of the Gods. And the Temple ebbing and flowing in its cycle of life, from placid afternoons with the Gods being gently tended and oiled in slow motion, to searingly loud, raucus and colourful festivals with parades, fire, chanting, flower decorations, ritual sacred foods, and the wonderful, dedicated community swirling all around. We got to know the priests and the musicians. At the time (2005-2010) the Temple had in its congregation some of the finest South Indian musicians that we’d ever heard. One of those musicians, Mr Moorthy, could wail on the Nagaswaram (long oboe-like reed instrument) like no other; he was literally a spiritual descendant of John Coltrane (to our ears, anyway). We followed the cycle of the devotional year. There is a great build up to the Ganesha Festival, mirrored all over the world where there are Hindu Temples - and at this location the elephant god is paraded and hurled into the sea with ecstatic crowds - as all negativity is washed away and a new cycle can begin again. It is not allowed to photograph in Hindu temples, but on big festival days the cameras would come out and I got in a few photos…. here are some below from 2007. I also have wonderful (and crazy) videos shot on the beach during Ganesha immersion; those to follow. A note: the loving attention in the eyes of the worshippers is part of the act of Darsan, or Sacred Seeing…. devotees make contact with the gods through sight, and I can only assume, the gods in return contact the human devotee. It is a beautiful thing to witness. For more on Darsan see the seminal book Darsan: Seeing the Divine image in India by Diana Eck. https://cup.columbia.edu/book/darsan/9780231112659

Enjoy the photos. Videos will follow.
All photos by Catherine Schieve / Ganesha Festival, Sri Venkateswara Temple, 2007. Click to zoom.

Darsan for Ganesha, as the Nagaswaram is played. Ganesha statue is in the shrine just out of sight.

Darsan for Ganesha, prostrating on the floor, musical offerings

Making fire offerings with oil lamps, and circumnabulating the shrines with hands clasped in prayer

Emerging from the Temple with Ganesha statue on a bier, full accompaniment of Nagaswarams and drums

Table of food offerings, lamps, flowers and music

Heading toward the sea, crowds chanting

Ganesha heading toward the sea, final Poojas with fire before the joyous rush to immersion and destruction in the ocean’s waters.

Enjoy the Silence

NYEPI, OLAFUR ARNALDS, AND OVERLOOKED RUBRICS…

Nyepi

Last night, at Olafur Arnalds’ concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre, the Icelandic musician introduced the song Nyepi from his latest record Re:member. The song is named after a Hindu tradition he encountered whilst in Bali, Indonesia. (The same tradition is known as Ugadi in India.) Nyepi is a Day of Silence, when usually busy roads and beaches are empty, houses are quiet—and the internet is switched off—lights are kept low, and people are encouraged to spend their time in reflection and fasting in preparation for the new year.

Here is the song, performed in Berlin…

Lag fyrir Ömmu

Interestingly, the concert was full of silences, most notably at the very end, when the song Arnalds played as an encore, Lag fyrir Ömmu, from his Living Room Songs, subsided into a long time when nothing happened. The song, he explained, was written for his grandmother, just after her death. At the end of his performance of the song last night, the however-many-hundreds of people in the concert hall sat totally still, absolutely silent, for three/four/five/more? minutes. It was unusual, strange, rich…

Unlike in this video, filmed when he played the song at London’s Royal Albert Hall, in Melbourne the audience fell into silence…

The great silence / The sermon of stillness

Many liturgies invite experience of silence. For example, here’s the note from the Church of England’s Morning and Evening Prayer:

https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/common-worship/daily-prayer/general-notes

https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/common-worship/daily-prayer/general-notes

But in the age of personal computers, and the possibility of orders—or sequences for screen— being put together locally, notes like this, and rubrics that enact them, are easily lost. And even where present in books where books are still used, they are widely ignored. To great loss.

Here are two lovely examples. First, from the (Anglican) Church of Ireland’s Book of Common Prayer of 2004. After communion, “the great silence”:

Then, from the Uniting Church in Australia’s Uniting in Worship 2 of 2005, Service of the Lord’s Day 3, with its “Sermon of Stillness”. After the reading of scripture:

Screen Shot 2018-12-04 at 4.48.35 pm.png

(Note the suggested length of time—”at least five minutes”—and encouragement of posture “conducive to meditation.” And note above the sermon of stillness itself, a “bluebric” (right-hand side historical or source note to accompany the red choreographical rubrics) commending the kissing of the Bible—a practice approved by Zwingli, a Protestant Reformer often cited for his bare ceremonial sense!)

We need artists to remind of the beauty of these practices which religions prize.

A review of Arnalds’ concert at the Sydney Opera House last week: https://www.abc.net.au/doublej/music-reads/features/olafur-arnalds-sydney-opera-house-2018/10567250