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263 CH APTER NINETEEN The Divine Presence in Space and Time Mūrti, Tīrtha, Kāla A Hindu is he . . . who above all addresses this land, this Sindhusthan, as his punyabhū, as his Holy Land—the land of his prophets and seers, of his godmen and gurus, the land of piety and pilgrimage. —Vir Savarkar, “Essentials of Hindutva” That space and time are permeated and filled with the presence of the Supreme is not a mere theological idea with the Hindus: it is a tangible reality in India. Countless temples, quite many of impressive dimensions, many also of very recent origin, manifest the presence and power of Hinduism in all towns and villages. Numberless images—artistic creations in stone, metal, and wood and cheap prints on colored paper—reveal the intensity of devotion of the Hindus. A great number of centers of pilgrimage attract a continuous stream of pilgrims , and an unbroken string of festivals impress the foreign visitor as much as the indigenous worshipper with a sense of the sacredness of time. It is doubtful whether the original Vedic tradition knew temples and images . In the Vedic texts the focus of worship was the vedī, the sacrificial altar, built according to precise specifications on a preselected site, which for the time of the sacrifice became the place where devas and pitṛs shared with humans the gifts offered for sacrifice. The constantly maintained fire in each home, too, was considered to be a divine presence—as were the more striking natural phenomena like thunderstorms and the celestial bodies. We do not know whether it was a deeper conviction that the divine could not be captured in finite forms, a lack of artistic expression, or sectarian rivalry that made some Vedic texts pour contempt on image worshippers and temple builders, who probably were present in India since times immemorial. Excavations of SindhuSarasvat ī Civilization sites include what have been interpreted as sacred tanks 264 PART III: THE STRUCT UR A L SUPPORTS OF HINDUISM and sacrificial sites housed in buildings that may have been temples. Also liṅgas and goddess figurines were found that probably served as cult images.1 If this early civilization was contemporary to, or even part of the ancient Vedic civilization , we will have to revise the notions of an aniconic Vedic religion, held in traditional scholarship. In and around Mathurā, an ancient center of trade and religion, as well as in many other places, terra-cotta figurines of mother goddesses have been found, dated around 500 bce. Figurative representation reached a first peak in the Indo-Greek art of the golden time of Buddhism.2 Individual specimens of Hindu sculpture can be traced to the second century bce.3 The great theoretical development, according to which temples and figures had to be fashioned, belongs to the fifth century ce. In all probability there was an early Hindu art and architecture that used wood and other perishable materials.4 Even now a number of temples and statues are fashioned of wood and several famous temples give the impression that they are copies in stone of more ancient wooden models.5 With regard to the size and number of temples and images, Hindu India has no equal in the world; compared with temple cities like Śrīraṅgam, Madurai, Kāñcī, Khajurāho or Bhuvaneśvara, Western religious centers and even medieval cathedral cities look modest and poor. And we must not forget that what we admire in India today is largely that which the Muslim invaders either did not destroy or allowed to be rebuilt.6 A great many temples also of considerableproportionsarebeingconstructedinourtime—templesassociated with modern Hindu movements as well as temples funded by pious individuals and families. Indeed, during the last fifty years, since India’s independence, more temples have been built than in the five hundred years before! MŪRTI: THE EMBODIM ENT OF THE DI V INE For Hindus the most important of all the spatiotemporal manifestations of the Divine is the mūrti.7 Mūrti means literally “embodiment”; technically it designates the images of the divinities, made of metal, stone, or wood but sometimes also of some perishable material for special purposes. Though the first impression is that of an infinite variety of figures and poses, a more thorough acquaintance with the subject reveals that each artist has to follow very definite rules with regard to proportions, positions, gestures.8 The Purāṇas, the Āgamas, Saṃhitās, and Tantras contain...


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