Thursday, July 26, 2007

Six Water pots of Cana


In the system of thought which arose from the “suma theological” of Sri Ramanuja (12th cent), who based his whole spiritual movement (known as Sri-Vaishnavism) on the basic premise that the Earth, or Creation, is the Body of God, led to the notion that there are in fact six interior landscapes. These landscapes are not only geographic—they also constitute a kind of journey of the soul towards and experience of the Divine.
The six landscapes could be summed up simply in the following way:

1. The Landscape of the Sea: This landscape of the sea shore is related also to a sense of separation from the Divine, which is the essence of the idea of Viraha, the human experience of being without God.
2. The landscape of the desert or “land of the dead” (maru bhumi). This is a kind of no-mans land where the soul begins the slow painful journey in search of the Divine.
3. The landscape of the River, or cultivated land. Here there is to be found the whole world of human settlement, and the cultivation of the land, which is basic to what we understand as the human economy, and use of the resources of the land.
4. The landscape of the Forest Wilderness. This landscape invites the seeker after inner wisdom to leave the world as a wandering ascetic, to find God in the wilderness.
5. The landscape of the Mountain. This is a higher level of the ascent of the Soul towards the Divine Presence. It is here that the union of the soul with the Beloved is finally realized, and that sense of alienation from the Divine felt on the sea shore, is resolved.
6. Finally the Landscape of the Temple. Many temples can be found on the summit of mountains. The Temple becomes another world—the world of the Holy Ground. Here the Divine Kingdom is mirrored in the human world.

The purpose of an art retreat could be an imaginative journey of the pilgrim starting on the sea shore, and gradually finding the way up to the Holy Mountains, where the source of life comes down to meet the Earth. This is also the myth of the Descent of the River Ganges, which is magnificently depicted in the sea shore temples of Mahaballipuram on the Tamil coast between Chennai and Pondicherry. These carvings on the rock face that were transformed under the Pallava Dynasty (6th-7th Cent) represent the basis in a way of Hindu iconography and temple architecture. It was here, as seen in the series of rock carved shrines, that the very concept of the Hindu temple was first conceived and elaborated on, derived from earlier wooden constructions, which were probably the forest shrines of wandering ascetics. In fact the name given to the ancient Tamil poets of this period is “Sangam” which means “meeting.” Perhaps we can understand this meeting as the coming together of different cultures, or the meeting of the inner and the outer worlds. The very notion of pilgrimage implies this meeting on the spiritual path.

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