Seeking The Blessings Of Lord Agni During This Trying Time – Against The Covid-19 ‘Coronasur’
Something I’ve often been quite warmly regarding of, is the manner in which Hinduism has managed to move with the times and make use of traditional and ancient practices in a modern context. For a good example of this in action, check out the way in which Indian armed forces carry out Astra Puja weapons rites with their decidedly contemporary equipment, in much the same manner as their ancestors did with their swords hundreds, even thousands of years before.
Now, this can occasionally go off in some rather curious directions that may on the surface seem like they displace the ancient essence – rather than simply reconnecting it with elements from a modern context. Updating the ‘connection’, not the essential concept. Which is what I genuinely believe is actually going on in many of these cases – the veneer of different appearances under the veil of modernity only concealing it if you don’t know where and how to look.
I have meant for some time to speak about this in more depth and detail in a dedicated series on what is occasionally derisively referred to by Tristan as my “Techno-Theology”; so we’ll leave much of the actual exposition on that front for the future.
As for what’s going on in this image … it’s a shot from the recent Holika Dahan observance in Mumbai, which precedes Holi every year. At these occasions, it’s customary to engage in what a mythographer would perhaps term an Eliadian ‘eternal return’ – a ‘mythic recurrence’ or re-enactment in miniature, in which key elements from the Myth are repeated by men with the goal of helping to re-immanentize the Myth and its message out here into this immediate and localized world of ours.
As applies Holika Dahan, the mythic element being re-enacted is the expurgation by fire of a particular demon, which takes place as the result of divine intervention to protect a particularly pious devotee.
Hence, on Holika Dahan itself, it is customary to create effigies of the demonic to be burned away in cleansing flame – thus helping to purify the community and its surrounds at large in anticipation of the next day’s Holi proceedings.
So in terms of the the thing that’s on fire in the image, it may help to note that the plaque upon its torso reads “COVID-19”; and that the organizers dubbed the demon in question, the “Coronasur”.
Now, I do not for a moment mean to attempt to suggest that burning a demonic representation of a disease in effigy is in any way a full-scale substitute for the proper mechanisms of pandemic control presently being put into place around the world (including in India, which has thus far had a thankfully low number of confirmed cases of the virus – 76 at time of writing, of which 17 are foreigners); and it’s also worth considering that the traditional manner of observance for Holi the next day was also considerably scaled down or suspended as part of these, as well.
Yet at the same time, there is something about this that feels appropriate. A community has identified a threat against it that is, in its own way, powerful and pervasive; and which moves amongst us in a manner that is not easily controllable by the common, individual man. And it has taken symbolic, rallying action against same.
Not only via the more mundane and material disease-control imperatives instituted by civic authorities [And there is no doubt a further piece that could be written about how various Hindu customary practices, including inbuilt quarantine protocols and the lack of hand-shaking, are pretty useful in this]; but also in the mythoreligious sphere.
Continuing to re-immanentize and re-enact the ancient and traditional elements … but also updating a part of the ‘application’ or ‘expression’ – the ‘targeting’, you might say – without subverting, still much less actively supplanting or replacing, the actual, integral, core.
Enfolding within the emblematic concept of the ‘Demonic’ that is represented in the older myth, a decidedly more recent manifestation of evil. And then setting fire to it, hurting it so badly that it knows not to come back.
“We Are Seeking The Blessings Of Lord Agni During This Trying Time”, as we say – conceptry resonant with Terry Pratchett’s excellent maxim that “Sometimes it’s better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness” … which we have since developed into the concept of what somebody termed #FlamethrowerNationalism – Krinvanto Vishvam Aryam through superior fire-pehwr, the spreading of divine light through the illumination and cleansing potency of Holy Flame. [Agni being both Conduit and Conveyancer to the Upplands, also, you see – hence why Havans, inter alia, work]
Ancient Flame, Modern Targets. What a concept.
Although it should probably be noted that the notion of disease to be warded against through pious petition is not a foreignly modern concept for Hinduism – there are an array of Vedic hymnals upon this subject, as we took a look at some weeks prior in “Beating Disease Over The Head With The Serpent-Staff Of The Storm Wind – Rudra, Odin, Shiva, Hermes, Mercury, Maruts As Healers”.
Cognizant of … several elements (including the prominent Vedic linkage of Agni and Rudra); it would therefore be appropriate to broaden the scope of our earlier maxim:
We Are Seeking The Blessings Of Lord Agni (-) Rudra, And Modern Science/Medical Knowledge And Practice During This Trying Time.