A fine rendering of a Shiva Murti, with an important message to convey. And yes, I do say that it is a ‘fine rendering’ regardless of the physical damage which has been wrought upon it in the image.
Indeed, in much the same manner that it is rather difficult to perceive the constellation of Orion during the daylight hours, it is largely *because* of this damage to the Murti’s ‘outer form’ that the starlight of its ‘inner message’ is able to be perceived by us.
It would thus, in a curious way, not be nearly so profound a message nor a Murti were it depicted entirely intact.
Confused? Affronted? Allow me to explain.
Earlier this week, one of our number shared this image, attaching to it the legend:
“Your body was bruised, your temples were raided, your idols were crushed, O Hindu!
Was the silence worth it?”
It’s a poignant sentiment, and definitely an understandable one.
Yet that wasn’t at all what conjured to my mind when I looked upon it. Which was quite the opposite. Rather than a leitmotif of lamentation, I took it as an emblematic instance of Hope.
That Mahadev Murti … it is true that the sculpture has been seriously damaged; yet what is indicated in the smoke is that the essence ‘invested in’ and underlying the statue (that which made it a Murti, a ‘Living Statue’, rather than some empty and lifeless ‘idol’/’idle’) has not been – and is pointedly still there [might even be winking – or perhaps ‘one-eyed’ like His Nordic appearance].
What this suggests is twofold.
First, that the actions of ordinary people seeking to engage in iconoclasm and suchlike .. are not necessarily going to be as injurious to the Divine as we might perhaps be otherwise affeared of. [Although ‘Injurious’ and ‘Insulting’ are not entirely coterminous terms, it should definitely be noted. It is highly unlikely that an ordinary human is going to wound a God through damaging a Murti. The insult-value thus conveyed, however, means that the *converse* is not also the case. An Angry God, often working through natural phenomena or guided devotees, is certainly capable of wounding or worse an impertinent and impious ordinary human who carries out such an act of iconoclasm – and c.f several of my previous works this past year for examples and instances of just such occurrences in action.]
Does not mean such things should either be encouraged or go unpunished, of course – but in a veer-y real sense, the act of seeking to attack a Murti like this is akin throwing “molotovs against Poseidon”.
Now having said *that*, it is also important to note something else – namely, that what is showing that the ‘essence’ within the Murti is still there, significantly unharmed , and even still smiling in something more than ‘defiance’ …
… is the smoke from the incense being burned with the offering.
And that is really quite important. It is showing us that the mere [and I mean that as the Proto-Indo-European pun value also] existence of the Murti as an artefact, the ‘inactive’ preservation, is not so important as the active, *performative* and ‘actioned’, ‘operationalized’ piety in some ways.
And that it is *both together* which makes things whole.
There is a more involved point around Prakriti & Purusha here, but I digress.
In many of my previous writings and other such pontifications, I have touched upon the attempted plot of the demon Durgamasur to gain a decisive advantage in his war against the Gods via the elimination of the processes of piety, the rites and rituals, knowledge of the Vedas, from the minds of mankind. In this, he was almost successful – and therefore, almost successful in his overarching and horrendous aim.
So what does this tell us?
That it is the wiping out of *piety* in the active and performative sense, rather than the simple smashing of statuary which strikes a worrisome blow against the Gods.
And it is all too easy, if we are over-focused upon the statuary side of things to let our Faith, too, become ossified .. indeed, “fossilized” would be closer to the mark. “Embalmed”, even.
So as it is important to feel aghast that somebody has smashed up that Murti, and as it is good to feel relieved at the *enduring* Spirit which is shown nevertheless therein [something something ‘Sanatana’ means *what* … ; A’Mrit, indeed, Mritunjaya, Avinashi, etc. ]
it is important – vitally important – to reflect upon the action of piety demonstrated within the image, and how that is re-making, ‘making whole the world’ [something something ‘Krinvanto Vishvam Aryam’ something something, if I might be permitted to over-indulge in the sweet, comforting waters of cliche, at 03:11 in the morning as my mind whirrs more slowly than most usual]
Or, phrased another way … you may have seen this as an image to get angry about and lament a loss.
I see the other side of it. A glass, or in this case a vessel of stone, which is neither half full nor half empty [except in terms of stone] – but veer-y much alive and ‘unconquered’, despite all that has been thrown at it thus far.
In no small part because somebody else has not been so over-focused upon what has been lost [the bodily integrity of the Murti in the physical form] that they have stopped carrying out the proper offerings in front of and To Him.
For then it really *would* be a problem!
Gods don’t die just because somebody attacks a Murti or destroys a Temple. (Which does not, of course, mean that these should be anything less than defended with all the vir-tue one would expect an effort to protect literal Holy Ground]
But what kills *our connection* with The Gods is the *forgetting*; the act of letting something like this sadly smashed-up Murti lie as a pile of sculpture and nothing more simply because it was ruined.
Still, the wyrd thing about such a ‘connection’ is that it is just – like Fire. And I do not simply mean that Agni is actively engaged as the conduit ; but that sparks and embers thought long since extinguished ‘midst the ash [‘Vibhuti’, indeed] can blow up into towering pyres – especially if carefully preserved and nurtured by us acting in their service. And also, that as the relevant Vedic mythopoetic metaphysics describes Fire as the on-Earth manifestation of the same energy as that which comes down through the Skies as Lightning, hailing ultimately from the Sun – well, that too is the ‘connection’. And in just the manner of Lightning Bolts and Sunlight, it never *truly* leaves the broader World.
So sometimes, that act of ‘remembrance’ which I have earlier illuminated – well, it is sticking up, or even *becoming* the lightning rod.
And what was thought lost, was thought faded, was thought irrevocably damaged beyond repair, like this fine Mahadeva Murti – well, just as Lord Shiva is subtly implacable, it can be revealed in the rising smoke of the sincere expression of faith , that what was thought missing and sought after, has been there the whole time just *waiting* to be remembered, re(un)covered, re-found.
The physical form of the Murti, as with other such representations, is important. It should be protected, upheld, respected, and properly regarded – especially via the propitiation of active use.
Yet it is what we see shining there ‘midst the sanctic smoke, one eye ever open and Spear that is Righteousness and Order well in blessed Hand, as the Damaru sounds out the Rhythm of the Universe …
*that* is what it is *most* important to never allow ourselves to forget.
Pictures and other such depictions can be beautiful – but the Map is not the Territory.
Those who are over focused upon the physical are often the kind who confuse in their love of Temples a love of architecture for a love of Faith. One can be a good server and housing for the other, but the former in the absence of the latter is merely ‘housing’ and not truly a ‘home’ nor ‘homa’.
Take heart from this image and its guidance – and remember, that it is what you *do*, not simply what you look at, no matter how sublimely pretty it might be, which re-immanentizes the Holy out into the world around.
As a certain Christian theologian once said – “Faith without Deeds is Meaningless”.
This is not *quite* true, but even a fully intact statuette, dust-covered and forgotten somewhere makes for a poor second to a shattered Murti where the Faithful gather in their throngs and in their multitudes to make it whole through their righteous, pious conduct, day by day.
ॐ नमः शिवाय