|Image 2.1 Reawakening of Narayan|
Hindu mythology abounds with fascinating gods, goddesses and characters whose visual representations - through calendar art - are equally colourful. Hindu calendar art may seem fantastic and kitsch, but it is in fact the most democratic expression of mythic imagery that was once restricted to temple walls and palm leaf manuscripts.
These portraits of Hindu pantheon of gods and the stories that surround them can be found on the walls and puja rooms of almost every Hindu household in India. Rich in symbols, each image is a piece of an ancient metaphysical jigsaw puzzle. In his on "7 Secrets from Hindu Calendar Art", Dr Devdutt Pattanaik, India's renowned mythologists, decodes these symbols to reveal a wisdom that has nourished India for thousands of years. Some of the excerpts from the book is reproduced below.
Narayan's SecretImage 2.1 shows Narayan waking up. It is the moment the world comes into being. Just as our world does not exist when we sleep, the whole universe does not exist when God is in deep slumber. Narayan is God. His deep slumber marks the dissolution of the world. Before he slept, he must have been awake and the world must have existed then. Thus, image 2.1 marks the rebirth of the world exists and ceases to exist cyclically, with Narayan's waking and sleeping states.
The Greeks did not believe in rebirth. Neither do Christians and Muslims. There is only one life and hence the sense of urgency for the Greeks to be heroes, for the Christians to be saved y God and for the Muslims to surrender to God. It;s an urgency that does not exist for Hindus. This life is one of the many lives we are supposed to live. This world is one of the many worlds that have come and gone.
Narayan sleeps on an ocean of milk
Narayan sleeps on an ocean of milk. This ocean has no shore. It is made of milk, but the milk is still, without ripples or waves. All things will emerge from it when Narayan awakes, just as butter can be drawn out when milk is churned. The ocean of milk thus represents possibility. When Narayan is asleep, the world entropies; there is no form, no identity -- just a homogeneous mass of matter, waiting to be churned.
The serpent on whom Narayan is sleeping is called Sesha, the remainder, that which remains when all else is destroyed. Some say that makes him a representation of time. No one is sure, for when one is in deep slumber, how does one know what is left behind? Time moves. But Sesha is hooded and coiled, indicating he is static. Narayan sleeps on the coils of Sesha; in other words when Narayan sleeps, time is still. One is not clear when happened first -- the stilling of Sesha or the sleeping of Narayan -- or if they both occurred together?
Sesha is either called Adi Sesha, the primal remainder, or Ananta Sesha, the endless remainder. The name draws attention to the fact that while Narayan is asleep, the world still exists around him. But no one is aware of it; hence, for all practical purposes, it does not exist.
According to Vedanta, without the observer, there is no observation. Narayan is the observer. When he is asleep, he observes nothing. He is in deep slumber. He does not dream. He has no sense of either the real world or the dream world. Without the observer observing, the observation cannot exist. Hence, no world exists when Narayan is asleep. This is the end of the world.
The best way to understand this idea is to ask ourselves does our world exist when we are in deep slumber? Yes, it does. But do we experience it? No, we don't. Thus, the world exists but not my world. Without us, our world does not exist. Without the observer, there is no observation.
Image 2.2 shows the awakening, or the re-awakening of Narayan. This is creation. The artist is visualising this as the moment when he wake-up -- become conscious -- but have not gotten up from the bed. When Narayan's eyes open, his senses become sensitive to the world around. Inputs rush in from the eyes, the nose, the ears, the tongue and the skin. What is sensed is identified and classified and even judged based on memories. Consciousness, which was like an uncreased piece of paper, has now started to crumple. The world ceases to be pure: it has colour and shape and value, some things we like, some things we don't. This crumpled consciousness, not as pure as Narayan, is visualised as Brahma, seated on a lotus that has sprouted out of Narayan's navel.
Rising from the navel, with a lotus stalk for an umbilical cord, Brahma's lotus is like a placenta that nourishes an unborn child in the mother's womb. So one wonders: who is the creator? Did Narayan create Brahma, or is Brahma the womb that nourishes Narayan? Does the observation create the observer? or is it the observer who creates the observation? Are we constructs of the world around us or is the world constructed by us?
Narayan's awakening is a moment of celebration. It marks the creation of the world just as our world comes into being when we awaken and become aware of our world. Angels, visualised as flying women, shower flowers. From an academic point of view, it is interesting to keep in mind that the notion of flying heraldic angels came to India only after exposure to European culture in the sixteenth century.
|Image 2.1 Reawakening of Narayan|
At Narayan's feet in Image 2.1 is his consort, Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth shown in more detail in Images 2.3.
She nourishes mankind. She is also portrayed as a cow. She is Go-mata, the cosmic cow who contains the whole world within her. Narayan is her cowherd. Hence, when awake, Narayan is called as Gopala, the keeper of the cow. The cow is the world and whenever the world is in trouble Narayan rushes to her rescue. Narayan awake is called Vishnu, the guardian, the protector, the preserver.
Also seen in this picture is Shiva, the hermit who destroys the world by shutting his eyes to it. But Shiva here is not a destroyer. His eyes are open. And with him are his two sons, the six-headed Karthikeya and the elephant-headed Ganesha, representing physical and intellectual capability respectively. Thus, the waking of Narayan and the resulting creation of the world are associated with Shiva, the indifferent hermit opening his eyes, marrying and producing children to become Shankara, the attentive householder.
In Image 2.1, there are two men holding lutes on either side of Narayan, shown in greater detail in Image 2.4. The one at his feet is Narad and the other, with the head of a horse, is Tamburu. The two men are rial musicians. Narad is a Rishi or sage, while Tumburu is a Kinnara or a celestial musician. They often vie to marry the same girl in several mythological stories, and turn to Vishnu for help. Vishnu does help, but in such a way that the girl -- always an avatar of Lakshmi -- ends up marrying him. Narad and Tumburu yearn for the earth-goddess but do not get her. They want to possess her like a prize and are unworthy suitors; Vishnu loves, adores and protects her and is, thus worthy suitor.
|Image 2.4 - Narad muni|
Narad-muni showed no interest in the material world and so was cursed that he would wander in the material world from the moment Narayan awoke till the time he went back to sleep.
Narad was created from the mind by Brahma. On his birth, he had no interest in the world and encouraged all creatures not to marry or reproduce. The world, thus,did not grow. The angered Brahma, who cursed Narad that he would move around the world restlessly and live till it was time for Vishnu to sleep once more. A restless Narad, therefore, is the cause of many troubles. He constantly compares people and thus spreads anger and ignites quarrels. He fills the mind with jealousy and insecurity.
|Image 2.5 - Guardian gods|
Hanuman, the monkey, is a popular guardian god renowned for his celibacy, intelligence and strength.
Garuda, a hawk, is a popular guardian of god who is associated with the Sun.
Crouching on either side of Narayan are the monkey Hanuman at his head and the hawk Garuda at his foot, shown in greater detail in Image 2.5. Whenever possessiveness, restlessness, insecurity and jealousy threatens the world, Vishnu goes about setting things right. Gardua serves as his mount and carries him to the troubled spot.
|Garuda, a hawk, is popular guardian god who is associated with the Sun.|
GarduaHawks and serpents are natural enemies. In the presence of a Hawk, a serpent cannot afford to be still. It uncoils itself and starts to slither and slip away. Thus Gardua provokes the world to move. Vishnu's association with both serpent and hawk, the still Sesha and the flying Garuda, represents consciousness in both sleeping and waking states.
Sometimes Vishnu transforms into a human to set things right. In one of his avatars, he was Ram, lord of Ayodhya and it was at this point that Hanuman became his companion, helping him regain his lost queen, Sita. Hanuman is called sankat-mochan, the trouble-shooter. His presence implies that when the world awakens, troubles also begins, but it is possible for the mind that creates the problem to come-up with the solution as well.
When Narayan awakens to become Vishnu, the mind starts organising the world (Brahma) using definitions, classifications and judgements. Withdrawal (Shiva) gives way to participation using one's physical capability (Kartikeya) and intellectual capacity (Ganesha). There is the desire to enjoy and possess the world (Tumburu). There are also negative emotions like restlessness and envy (Narada). But all these problems can be solved by the mind when it is willing to fly like Garuda and be disciplined like Hanuman.
Thus Image 2.1 is rich in symbols and attempts to capture creation. Hindu scriptures repeatedly refer to creation as the result of awareness. Things are born when we become aware of them. Thus creation is not an objective construction -- it is a subjective realisation. Thing are created every second and, with each creation, something is destroyed. Creation is like a wave. Hence destruction is visualised as a stormy ocean where ideas collapse and dissolve as new things struggle to churn their way out.
Source excerpts from the book on "7 Secrets from Hindu Calendar Art" by Devadutt Pattanaik.