Saturday, August 6, 2011

Musings on relics

As a tourist I 'see' places that have been standing for centuries. I often wonder what they mean, these places. Some of them are still used in some form or the other. Others have ended up being just tourist attractions. I wonder about what they were intended for when they were built...and of the subsequent changes they went through, each change transforming their purpose, while banishing that minority of 'users' who still yearned for the place in its previous form....that disowned minority that needed the place in its earlier form...its earlier purpose.

When I see old temples for instance, that is what I struggle with: my urge to preserve warring with the notion that if I do try to preserve the place would lose its purpose and become a relic. Why do we like looking at dead things and not the living? The living in all its energy and flux draws the venerable into its flow transforming it into but another instance of the mundane? Only the dead stay still long enough to be looked at, maybe?

At the Sun temple in Konark - dead to its purpose for a few centuries now - my eyes went straight the architecture and the sculpture. There was nothing else in the way. At the Jagannath temple in Puri though, the energy of the crowd, their singularity of purpose, easily decided the primary focus of my eye: not until I had come out of the temple and talked to my mother did I realise that I had not paid much attention to the architecture after all. I went back a few days later: it was as amazing as at Konark, I just didn't notice it before.

The aura that attaches itself to places: my first view of Ajanta or the Palladium (in Rome) overwhelmed me, so many centuries of history brought together in one place, stories still living in a dead place pressing down on me with the weight of the strength of their claim on me - concentrated as it is in one place - as my past. 

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