Idols: Unearthing the Power of Murti Puja. Amish and Bhavna Roy. HarperCollins India. 2023. Pages 271. Rs 339.
And self-understanding leads to internal transformation. Our Ishta Devatas can help us with this. But first, we need the blessings of a Greek God. Have you heard of God Kairos?’
Anirban: ‘The Greek God of the Right Moment!’
God Chronos/Cronus, the Titan God of Time and Space, is married to Goddess Rhea, mother of the Olympian Gods. But Chronos does not wish to have children. He is afraid that history will repeat itself and they will overthrow Him, just as He had once overthrown His father, Uranus. So, whenever Rhea gives birth, Chronos swallows the child immediately. Feeling helpless, Rhea finally gives birth to Zeus and takes control of Her child’s destiny. When Chronos approaches Her to take the new-born away, She hands over a rock wrapped in a cloth to Her husband. Chronos immediately swallows the piece of rock, imagining it is His new-born child. Rhea then hides Zeus on the island of Crete where Her son is nursed by Amaltheia the goat.
One day, Zeus learns about His father and returns. He tears open the stomach of Chronos and releases His brothers and sisters: Poseidon, the God of the Seas; Hades, the God of the Underworld; Demeter, the Goddess of Agriculture; Hestia, the Goddess of the Hearth; and Hera, the Goddess of Marriage and Family.
Zeus, the God of Thunder and Lightning, marries Hera and becomes the king of the Gods and Goddesses, presiding over Mount Olympus, the home of the Gods. He has many children with Hera: Ares, the God of War; Hephaestus, the God of Fire; and Hebe, the Goddess of Youth. He also has children from other women: the Gods Apollo, Hermes and Dionysus and the Goddesses Artemis and Athena (His favourite child).
His youngest child is God Kairos. If Chronos is the God of Sequential Time, then Kairos, His grandchild, is the God of Breakthrough Time — the right moment.
Kairos is young and good-looking, with a single lock of hair that falls dramatically over His forehead. The back of His head is bald and smooth, suggesting that He is ‘un-grabbable’ from behind — you can only seize Him from the front. He has wings on His feet as well as His back, implying that He is fleet-footed. Often, He’s depicted as standing on tiptoe: now you see Him, now you don’t. The opportune moment stands on a knife-edge, and so He holds a knife in one hand.
Kairos and Tyche, the Goddess of Fortune and Luck, are lovers. They belong together, because they create a ‘magical moment’ — union of the right moment and good fortune.
The Ancient Greek poet Posidippus wrote some evocative lines on this elusive God, represented in a statue sculpted by the classical sculptor, Lysippos:
‘Who and from where is the sculptor? From Sicyon. And his name? Lysippos.
And who are you? Kairos, the all subduer.
Why do you stand on tiptoe? I am always running.
Why do you have a pair of wings on your feet? I fly with the wind.
Why do you hold a razor in your right hand? As a sign to men that I am sharper than any sharp edge.
And why is your hair over your face? For the one who meets me to grasp at, by Zeus.
And why is the back of your head bald? Because none whom I have once raced by on my winged feet will now, though he wishes it, take hold of me from behind.
Why did the artist fashion you? For your sake, stranger, and he set me up in the portico as a lesson.’
Nachiket: ‘Wow! That’s neat. The God of the Right Moment. What does he do?’
Lopamudra: ‘He’s the God of that mystic moment in communication when the speaker’s words are received by the listener without distortion or misunderstanding.’
Gargi: ‘Is that really so rare as to merit a God? Miscommunication occurs occasionally, I agree, but everyone talks all the time. And messages still get across.’
Dharma Raj: ‘It is rare. Very, very rare, and you know that. Of course, the speaker must choose the right words to communicate what he or she wants to say, which is a challenge, especially when emotions are involved. Emotions can ambush conversations. But, more importantly, the listener must listen to the words honestly, unfiltered by their own biases and prejudices and implicit agenda, which is almost impossible. No wonder the Greeks put a God in charge of it.’
Gargi: ‘Communicating with whom exactly?’
Dharma Raj: ‘Anybody, everybody. Especially with those who are closest to us. But the most important communication is the one inside our head. We delude ourselves all the time. Our self-talk is often an agenda-led conversation with ourselves, without us being conscious of our underlying motives. We want to feel good about ourselves, come what may. And this is where idolatry can play a subtle role.’
Lopamudra: ‘Self-understanding doesn’t come easily. We need guidance, or at least signposts of some sort. And that’s how the Gods can help us. And for this, they must be saguna (possessing qualities).’
Nachiket: ‘Unlike the Nivruttic path where “Godhood” would be nirguna (without qualities). Right?’
Dharma Raj: ‘And niraakar (without form). Each God or Goddess has distinct qualities, just like we possess different qualities. We need that resonance, that harmonic motion.’
Anirban: ‘Interesting that you say “harmonic motion”. That’s a concept in physics.’
Lopamudra: ‘Yes, but here the concept is applied to the emotional body. My quality then becomes louder, clearer, as a result of reinforcement from the reflected vibration.’
Gargi: ‘Ma, can you explain that? I did not follow it.’
Lopamudra: ‘Gargi, when soldiers cross a suspension bridge, they break step. They do not march in unison over the bridge. Do you know why?’
Gargi: ‘No. I don’t.’
Lopamudra: ‘Because, when soldiers march in step, they generate one common frequency. And if that frequency matches the frequency of the suspended bridge, then the mechanical resonance amplifies the natural vibration of the bridge greatly, and it comes apart.’
Gargi: ‘Aah. And you are applying this concept to emotions. When my emotions resonate with the symbolic resonance of a deity, they get amplified and rise to the surface. They become recognizable.’
Nachiket: ‘Therefore, different Ishta Devatas for different people.’
Lopamudra: ‘Sorry, Raj, but I can’t help making a small political point here.’
Dharma Raj smiled. ‘If you insist. You do have a penchant for it.’
Lopamudra smiled back. ‘Thank you. Life is diverse, we all know that. And we must experience that real inclusive unity and love towards everything and everyone that religious and even moralistic people love to talk about. Practising inclusion with a large heart is different than with the mind. Without involving the heart, if we are told that there is only one God, then that God becomes mine and my people’s. We set ourselves up for intolerance and disharmony with this selective inclusion. If “I” or “my people” are right, then “you” or the “others” must be wrong. This is inevitable.’
Anirban: ‘How do you come to this conclusion? Intolerance and disharmony will happen regardless of any “experienced understanding”. Aren’t you generalizing too much?’
Lopamudra: ‘Anirban, I’m making a distinction between understanding with the mind, through thought, and understanding with the heart, through experience and feeling it. A truly kind heart cannot be intolerant and disharmonious towards anyone. And I’m not talking about kindness towards one person or some people. I’m talking about a heart that feels kindness. Always.’
Anirban: ‘So, this intolerance would happen even if the message of love and fraternity was delivered by a prophet who experienced oneness with everyone and everything? Who felt no otherness?’
Lopamudra: ‘Yes, I would assume so. Unity and respectful inclusion are the prophet’s experience, not that of his followers. He felt them, not his followers — not even many of his first followers. For them “one God” is a belief. They think it. And they receive the message in the form of exclusivity or separateness. Selective inclusion. It makes them special, the “chosen ones”. The message of unity and respect for all is almost completely lost at the first point of exchange.’
Gargi: ‘He is their experience. His experience is not their experience. It is their belief.’
Nachiket: ‘Communication is not a simple process. Often, we talk at cross-purposes, don’t we, Gargi?’
Gargi: ‘You twist what I say.’
Nachiket: ‘I don’t do it deliberately, I assure you.’
Gargi: ‘Okay then, I admit I am sometimes unable to say things the way I want to with you. Emotions get in the way, right? I must spend more time trying to understand myself and then gain mastery over my emotions.’
Nachiket: ‘So must I.’
Gargi: ‘Not too much, though. It will take away all the fun!’
Dr Adarsh: ‘So, God is an experience, not a belief. Self-understanding too is an experience and not a belief. A feeling and not just thoughts.’
Nachiket: ‘Gods, Adarsh. I agree. Experiencing something, and thinking or believing it, are different things sometimes. When we think about something, we can either understand it or be unsure about what we are thinking. We either reach a conclusion, or not. But when we feel something, there is no scope for uncertainty. We know…’
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