This is a fresco from a temple in India. The temple is in Varsana, in the Vrindavana area, the place where the goddess Srimati Radhika is said to have grown up, during her pastimes in this world. Yesterday I spent some time with a group of friends, there in the temple, discussing this piece of art. The intriguing aspects of this fresco are so many, the discussion it provoked so lively, that I am compelled to present my perspective, for posterity. I will try my best to do this in language resembling that found in art history books, with a few weird breaks from that form.
Firstly, and overview of what is occurring. This painting shows Vasudeva Maharaja carrying the child Krishna across the Yamuna, from Mathura to Vrindavana. He did this to bring Krishna beyond the reach of the cruel Kamsa, lest that tyrannical king should smash the baby, as he did many others before. In the upper right, Krishna is appearing to Vasudeva and his wife Devaki. He manifested initially in the form of four-handed Narayana, before transforming into Baby Krishna, at the request of Devaki. It’s a deep and intricate pastimes, and here we (I?) am just touching on it. Below that, Kamsa is shown smashing one of Vasudeva and Devaki’s previous children. On the left are Vasudeva and Devaki praying, or possibly Nanda Maharaja and Mother Yashoda awaiting the arrival of Krishna, as one local sadhu asserted.
First of all, the relative size of the people and things in the painting is completely relative to their importance to this instance of the pastime. Western figurative art tends to mimic the camera (well, the laws of perspective preceded the camera). Western abstract art is, in this author’s humble opinion, mostly terrible, and not worth writing about.
But what we see in this painting is different. Compared to what a camera sees, it is completely wonky. Vasudeva is taller than a building. A palace isn’t much taller than Nanda Baba would be if he were standing. But the entirety of the pastime could not be conveyed in one frame if the artist limited themselves by imitating a camera’s view. Instead, the size of the elements is relative to their importance. Vasudeva carrying Krishna is what this picture is mainly about, therefore they are the largest. The palaces are just there to give context, so they’re small. The personalities inside the castles are important (but not as important as Vasudeva Maharaja) so they are quite large. The trees and so on are also there for context, so they’re small, whereas the jackal upstream from Vasudeva is large (it showed him where he could cross). This is all absurd from the point of view of visual perspective, but that’s what’s so great about it.
Temporal dispersion within a single instance (not a bad section title, eh?)
Furthermore, not all the events in this painting took place at the same time. Kamsa is shown killing a baby on the right, something he did previous to Vasudeva Maharaja crossing the Yamuna river. Narayana is shown appearing to Vasudeva and Devaki, which happened earlier that night. On the left hand side, one local sadhu told us, Vasudeva and Devaki are shown praying, before the birth. I’ve seen a picture of Lord Rama where He crosses the Ganges River. In one picture, He is shown there with Sita and Lakshan on one bank, and on a boat in the middle, and offering respects to a sage on the far side. It was a bit like if someone shot pictures with a camera for an hour or, then put everything they capture into one frame. Except very different from what a camera sees, but that we covered.
So in this one picture of Vasudeva Maharaja crossing the Yamuna River, we have events happening at different times, and size relative to importance.
Intriguing stuff. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.
Hi. B.T. Lowry here, fantasy author and videographer. Welcome to the first story developed from the scene-of-the-week series.
The scene which got the most votes was the short film, “Ghosts from 500 Years ago,” so I went right ahead and developed it further. I added more footage and brought in a ghost-king from ancient India and some deep thoughts. If the first part seems familiar, jes’ keep watching.
Here it is:
My special thanks go out to Erothyme, with Biomigrant and Emma Staarbird. Their excellent music is featured in the latter part of the film, the song “Pines and Leaves,” from the album, “Sound in the Living Current.” The whole album–and all their work, really–is excellent. You can find out more about them at these sites:
Also, thanks to unnamed temple musicians of South India and Orissa, whose celebratory sounds also grace this film.
Thanks for watching and listening and reading. Feel free to look around the site, btlowry.com, for more scenes and such. You can also read my novel, Fire from the Overworld, and sign up for the new scenes in your mailbox each week, along with guest posts and thoughts about living, loving investigation and creation. Or you don’t have to do any of that, and we can still be friends.
This week the scene-of-week is in a video. I recently went to the magical land of Hampi in South India and was inspired to make this video about the ancient culture there, which was conquered, which has morphed into the people and customs found here today. I recommend you watch it and listen to it, but if you’d like, the transcription is below.
I look at these old ruins from above, this extensive temple which is crumbling in many places. The courtyard, now empty, must have been filled for celebrations. Deities would have been brought out on procession, accompanied by priests fanning them, offering them food, water, incense and flowers. People must have sang in the procession, beat drums and blown shehnais. Feasts were offered to the deities, then given to rich and poor alike. A king held ceremonies here, for good children, a long reign, and to please God. These dusty ruins were whole and alive. People lived here, they worshipped here. Some of the priests must have served in this temple for years, perhaps decades.
How can I just pass through this place when it had so much significance for them? How can I not stop to mourn their tragedies, and to wonder at the intricacies of their lives?
Each week, I’ll give you a scene from a story, maybe from the beginning and maybe from somewhere in the middle. These stories will not be fully written, just the scenes. You can vote for which ones you want to have made into a full story in the comments section. 🙂
You can listen to this being read to you here:
The family’s old, crazy auntie held one finger to her mouth, glanced around as to indicate all the others in the house, and gave me a look could only be described as ‘extremely conspiratorial.’ She pushed her taped-up glasses up on her nose, adjusted the sari on her frail, skinny frame. Eyebrows raised, eyes wide. Grinning like a little girl.
She spoke to me in Bengali, still glancing around and grinning. I sat by my computer, listening. I couldn’t understand her, but it was eminently obvious that she was revealing her plan to me, telling me the whats and the hows and the whens. She’d carried out some trickery, somewhere in the house. Maybe she’d mixed ingredients in the larder. Maybe she’d stolen something. Maybe she’d said something to one person, something else to another. I didn’t know, but it was mischief, and I was in on it.
This is part of the Scene-a-Week series. Each week, I’ll give you a scene from a story, maybe from the beginning and maybe from somewhere in the middle. These stories will not be fully written, just the scenes. You can vote for which ones you want to have made into a full story in the comments section.
Photo: People from all over the world coming together for unusual and diverse spiritual, cultural and personal reasons
Here’s a question for all you thinkers out there: is there anything at all which cannot be contained in a story?
I say no, and here’s my case.
All types of people can populate stories
Characters can be theists, atheists, violent, philosophical, young at heart but old of body, young of body but old of heart, proud, humble, talented, foolish… you name it. The variety of people out there in the world and universe is the same as the potential variety of characters.
All knowledge can be contained in stories and characters
There are stories about math, arts, engineering, space travel, astrology, astronomy, mysticism and folklore… Indeed, the evolution and devolution of these subjects over time is also a grand story.
All places both real and imaginary can be settings in stories
You can set a story anywhere on earth, or under it, or in the oceans or in the air, or a combination of all of these. A story can take place between planets, on other planets, in a black hole, in an alternate dimension, or in a place transcendental to all dimensions.
We swim through stories all our lives
The newspaper is a collection of stories, with characters, settings and events. When we ask a friend, “How was your day?” their answer will be a story. Even if they just reply, “It was good,” or “It was bad,” that still tells us something about or friend and what they’re really going through. That’s part of their expression within a larger story. Our guesses about what’s really happening with them are stories.
Stories aren’t all fictional, but they’re all subjective
What?! How can real stories be subjective? Well, because they’re experienced by subjects–by people. A person’s personal experience, as well as their retelling of events will always be from their point of view. Someone may be rational and truthful, or may not even tell events according to their own experience. But we’re all subjects, and so whatever we experience is subjective. We’re in stories and we tell stories. It’s what we do. All fictional stories are based on real-life stories, even the really far-out ones. We don’t really create anything new–that’s my understanding. We recombine ideas in amazing ways.
There are stories everywhere, but in some places they’re denser
I’m in West Bengal now, in the village of Nabadwip by the river Ganges. I’m staying with some of my god-family who run a school for underprivileged kids. I’m learning a bit about how the different kids came to the school here. We’re working on a video series, with spotlights on a different child each month. Stay tuned for that, but in the meantime I’ll say that their stories are both extremely tragic and extremely hopeful.
I spend a lot of time in India, and for some years have been going back and forth between India and England, in particular. Now there are stories in England too, but not like in India. I think of stories like threads in a tapestry. England has its tapestry, with its colors and density of strands. There is the history of the British Empire, there’s Christianity, there’s science. There is medieval England, and the pagans and druids in the ancient past. So there’s some great, diverse stuff going on. There’s no doubt about it. Canada has its story, the United States has its story. All places do, and they’re amazing.
Then you come to India. It’s also a tapestry of stories–of lives weaving together–but it’s extremely dense and colorful, and parts of it are very, very ancient. Here’s a short story I wrote, about reincarnation, poverty and brother-sister love.
I’m not the only one who thinks this way about India. Check this out:
A Rough Guide to India: “It is impossible not to be astonished by India. Nowhere on Earth does humanity present itself in such a dizzying, creative burst of cultures and religions, races and tongues. Enriched by successive waves of migration and marauders from distant lands, every one of them left an indelible imprint which was absorbed into the Indian way of life. Every aspect of the country presents itself on a massive, exaggerated scale, worthy in comparison only to the superlative mountains that overshadow it. It is this variety which provides a breathtaking ensemble for experiences that is uniquely Indian. Perhaps the only thing more difficult than to be indifferent to India would be to describe or understand India completely.”
It’s a land of extremes. Extreme wealth and poverty. Extreme depravity and saintliness, horror and beauty. Schools of thought which aim at total annihilation of the self, and others which aim at realization of one’s spiritual form and eternal relationship with a personal Godhead. There’s a history going back–depending on who’s story you take–thousands or millions of years.
Keith Bellows, National Geographic Society : “There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won’t go. For me, India is such a place. When I first visited, I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds… I had been seeing the world in black & white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor.”
Stories stories stories!
Here in India, you might meet a man in a loin cloth with no shoes, living in the mountains. He’s studied computer programming in Bangalore, but left that to become a yogi. His grandfather practiced yoga for decades and, at the time of his death, his soul left his body out the top of his head with a small explosion.
One of the kids here in the school was separated from his mother for a long time by an abusive father. He become very introverted, but with the care of the teachers he’s become an excellent actor and helps all the other kids learn. His family are refugees from a war in Bangladesh which took place before his birth. It was, ostensibly, a religious war, but seems to have been more about land and power, unsurprisingly. He’s living now in Nabadwip where, the Vedic scriptures describe, a form of Krishna appeared about five hundred years ago, named Caitanyadeva. People from all over the world come here to worship Caitanyadeva. How they learned about Him is another story, how His teachings fit in with the vast array of teachings in India is another story. All these stories mix together in a way that I’ve never heard of anywhere else.
Nine Lives by William Dalrymple has one chapter for each of nine very diverse people here in India, from a prostitute to a divine dancer. I recommend it.
Really there’s just one big tapestry of stories
Do you disagree? Have you traveled around India, stayed with some families, learned about the history and philosophical/religious groups within the country? Let’s talk. The way I see it, there are threads of stories running all over the globe, but there seems to be a real nucleus in India.
Mark Twain, American author: “India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”
I’ll end with a few quotes about this land.
Will Durant, American historian: “India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all”.
Romain Rolland, French scholar : “If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.”
If you disagree with me, please say so in the comments. If you agree with me, please debate respectfully with those who don’t. You can subscribe by giving your e-mail in the top right part of the screen. You’ll get a free mini audio-book/e-book too. And be sure to click the relevant links to share this around!
I’m publishing once every two weeks.