Assimilation

R.S.Chauhan

The Pratihara dynasty was an Imperial power in North India from the Mid-7th Century to early 11th Century. The name "Pratihara" means "the Doorkeeper", as they defended North India from the Muslim invasion which began in the 8th Century CE. Pratiharas ruled over a large kingdom from Sind in the West to Bengal in the East, from the Himalays in the North to the Narmada River in central India to the south. As a large empire, they had to assimilate different peoples, different cultures, and creeds. 

The Indian civilization is a civilization of assimilation and not of extermination. While the West believes in exterminating those who hold a different point of view, we merely assimilate those views and move on. Our ability to accept different philosophies, different cultures, traditions and communities is our strength.

Lord Harihar
Pratihara Dynasty
10th Century CE
Bhopal Museum.
Lord Harihar is a prime example of this innate quality. The post-Gupta period (5th-7th Century CE) saw the resurgence of Hinduism. But Hinduism was divided into two sects, the Shaivites and the Vaishnavites. While the former claimed Lord Shiva to be the supreme God, the latter, Lord Vishnu as the Supreme deity. Often, the two sects would clash trying to prove the superiority of one sect over the other. In order to overcome this division, we combined both the Gods to create a half - Shiva, half - Vishnu image. Lord Harihar was born. Although he is not a very popular god today, perhaps due to our unipolar thinking, but He is still worshipped in the Lingraj temple at Bhuveneshwar. 

In Hindu iconography Harihar is easy to recognize: he is divided vertically into two equal halves. While the right side represents Lord Shiva with his trident, or drum, or Nandi the Bull (his vehicle or Vahana), the left side represents Lord Vishnu with his conch shell (as in this sculpture), discus, or lotus, or with Garuda (the Eagle, his vehicle or Vahana, as in this figure shown in the human form).  Lord Harihara combines the quality of the intellect (Shiva) and the quality of the heart (Vishnu). Here He holds the trident and the rosary of Lord Shiva --the ability to control the mind through meditation. He also holds the 'Sudarshan Chakra' and the conch shell of Lord Vishnu--the ability to cut through difficulties and to sustain things. 

The debate within Hinduism is also between the ascetic and the householder, between the pure intellect (Shiva) and the emotions (Vishnu), between the one who abandons the society (Shiva) and one who incarnates to save the society (Vishnu). But we did not waste too much time trying to annihilate each others' sect. We assimilated. And we have thrived as a 5000-year-old civilization. 

Perhaps Harihar holds the solution to the problem of "clashes of the civilizations ". On the one hand we are in the globalization age, yet there is war all around us. We over-react to every statement; we fight over the silliest issues only trying to prove that our Gods are superior to theirs. Today the issue posed by Galib, the great Urdu poet, is relevant:
 
Goddess Vajratara
Pratihara Dynasty
12th Century CE
National Museum, New Delhi

Gar tujh bin nahi koi maauzood/ phir ye hangamma e-Khuda kya hai? (If there is no one but One God, then what is this fight about?).

Time has come to revive the concept of synthesis, of peace, of prosperity.  For the path of confrontation leads to total annihilation.

Although the Pratihara dynasty patronized Hinduism, they were equally respectful towards Buddhism. But by the 12th Century CE, Buddhism was declining in India. Though Buddhism had spread to other parts of Asia by the 12th Century CE, it was breathing its last in India. But sculptures like the above one still testify to its vigor and strength. 
In the Buddhist pantheon, Goddess Tara is the goddess of compassion; Goddess Vajratara , the goddess of power and protection. She holds a curved knife and a skull in her hands, besides holding other weapons (not seen in this statue as the piece is a damaged one). She protects the people from natural calamities like floods and earthquakes, from internal disturbances and illnesses. Similar to Kali, in Hinduism, She is the manifestation of the Mother goddess who protects the universe from evil.  

This beautiful image speaks about the popularity of Buddhism even in the 12th century. It is also a testimony of diversity of religion as Buddhism was peacefully co-existing with Hinduism and Jainism. 

Diversity and plurality are part of our cultural gene norm. 

Goddess Durga
Wooden Sculpture
15th Century CE
Thiruvananthapuram Museum, Kerala
In the land of matriarchy, Kerala, the concept of the mother goddess is a strong one. This beautiful sculpture of Goddess Durga is a unique piece from the Thiruvananthapuram Museum.  
This sculpture is unique for three reasons: firstly, wood is not as popular a medium for sculpture in India as is stone. But there is a continuous tradition of wood carvings in India. Bengal, Gujarat, Karnataka and Kerala are centers for exquisite wood work and wood sculpture. This statue of Goddess Durga shows the dexterity of the sculptor in depicting not only the fine jewelry, but also in portraying the fierce expression of the face in wood. 

Secondly, it does not depict the Goddess riding the lion, but shows her standing on a lion.  From the benign Goddess of the North, she has become the dynamic "tribal" Goddess of the South. 
Thirdly, the ornate jewelry, the mask like face, the flamboyant headdress seems to show the influence of both Kathakali, a classical dance from Kerala, and of the folk dances of Kerala. Here one can see the impact of folk culture on the classical tradition. The artist has to speak the language of the common man in order to drive the story home. The sculpture, thus, testifies to the fusion of the classical tradition of Brahmanism or Sanskritization of the south, and the strong undercurrent of the local community.
 It is a proof of our ability to assimilate different cultures and communities, traditions and philosophies, both within our society and within our artistic tradition.  

Lord Vishnu (Chola Dynasty)
10th Century CE
National Museum, New Delhi
This is a fine example of Chola sculpture in stone. Although the Chola Dynasty is world famous for their bronzes, but being great builders of huge temples, the Chola sculptors excelled in the art of stone sculpture. Granite is a hard stone to carve. While the Pallava artists had difficulty in carving the stone, the Chola sculptors had mastered it. From Pallava dynasty to Chola dynasty to Vijayanagar period   we move from simple carving to more ornate to the most ornate sculptures in South India. 
Here Lord Vishnu sits quietly looking down at the devotee. He sits in the regal posture of a King: one leg touching the ground and the other leg bent and on the pedestal. He holds his conch shell and the discus. The conch shell is not horizontal, but vertical. A vertical conch shell implies that it is ready to be used to smite evil. Lord Vishnu sits as regally as a Chola Emperor. 
Lord Vishnu is the preserver of the universe. He teaches us to preserve the civilization through assimilation, through compassion and love. Instead of antagonism, he teaches us harmony in relationship, in doing our duty, in accepting even those who are different from us. Did Lord Ram not accept Sugrive and Hanuman--both said to be monkeys? Did Krishna not accept Sudama--a poor friend of his? If we wish to thrive and prosper, we have no option but to accept assimilation as our philosophy. Those who believed in annihilation, like the Greeks and Romans, they are in ruins. Choice is ours!

Lord Buddha Returns to Kapilvastu
Ajanta Caves. Fresco
Gupta Period. 5th Century CE

The news has spread that Prince Siddharth as Buddha was returning to his native city, Kapilvastu. His wife, Yashodhara decided to take their son, Rahul to the Buddha. She taught the child to ask for his inheritance. The Buddha says, "I have only my alms bowl which I can give to you as your inheritance. " Both the mother and child look at the Buddha. Yashodhara had decked up herself with the hope that she would be able to induce the Buddha to stay back and become a householder. But all in vain. Buddha left Kapilvastu in order to preach the Dharma to the people. 

Although greatly damaged, this fresco is considered one of the most poignant paintings of Ajanta Caves. Siddharth 's family meets momentarily and parts ways. The dilemma is between the life of monkhood and of a householder. Which is more appropriate? The issue is between the right of a wife and a child to have the husband and the father back, and the right of a man to be free to preach his Dharma. Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism emphasised the life of a monk over the life of a householder. Perhaps this was one of the reasons that Buddhism declined. If everyone becomes a monk, how would the society survive? 

Society is a mixture of the intellectuals and the laborers, of the ascetic and the householder, of the industrialist and the agriculturalist. It is a composite of different communities, different philosophies, different life - styles. To impose one philosophy or brand of thinking is to tear the social fabric. The middle path of assimilation is the right path. Too many monks also spoil the stew!

Lord Ganesh with Siddhi
Pratihara Dynasty
9th Century CE
Bhopal Museum
Goddess Parvati was worried as to who would marry her elephant headed son, Ganesh? She went to Lord Brahma. He said he would give his two daughters, Riddhi and Siddhi, in marriage to Ganesh. That is how Lord Ganesh has two wives.

 While Riddhi stands for spiritual wisdom, Siddhi stands for intellectual wisdom. Since Lord Ganesh is the God of wisdom, He has to have the two sides of wisdom with Him. While Riddhi stands on His right, Siddhi, on His left. Here we see Lord Ganesh with Siddhi. She sits on Lord Ganesh 's thigh ( a usual convention to show the God and his Shakti together). Siddhi holds a mirror. One has to reflect on things, on different subjects before one becomes wise. 

Wisdom is cherished in Hinduism as Hinduism speaks of introspection and assimilation. Since wisdom can solve every problem, Lord Ganesh is the remover of obstacles. Hence, in every function, religious or secular, He is worshipped as the first god. When we pray to Him, we merely invoke our inner wisdom. 

His very form, half - man, half - animal, points to the ability of the Wise to accept the diversity of Nature. Since every particle in the universe is created by divine power, every particle contains the divine light. To discriminate between objects or people, to be exclusivist, is to deny the oneness of Nature. Such senseless discrimination is not only irrational, but is a crime against the divine power. It is unwise.

(The author retired as the Chief Justice, Uttarakhand High Court. His other great passion is Indian art. Ed.)

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