“Seeing the Divine Image in India” by Diana Eck

The word ‘Darsan’ has a more in-depth meaning. It could mean to behold an auspicious deity, person or object. The author Diana herself says that the act is a visual exchange between worshipper and deity. The devotion or bhakti leads to puja. This book is written as a companion for those who want to see something of India. She writes this book for Christianized Europe. She quotes from ritual texts and Upanishads. The way Eck has dealt with the religions of India is very thorough and detailed.

While considering Hindu philosophy and Hindu worship the word ‘Darsan’ has a more in-depth meaning than just, see. It could mean to behold an auspicious deity, person or object (darshan). Diana herself says that the act is a visual exchange between worshipper and deity occurring via the medium of the eyes. In this book, she makes an opinion that not only is seeing a form of touching, but a form of knowing (Sanzaro). She elucidates that Bhakti is a form of devotion and it is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘bhaj’ which means to share, to be devoted and to love. It is the heart’s attitude of devotion. The devotion or bhakti leads to puja. Pujas are the different forms of worship done at home or temple by special priests called pujaris. She says in the last line of the preface that this book is written as a companion for those who want to see something of India, in the hope that what catches the eye may change our minds (Eck, p48).

She writes for the Christianized Europe, who were fascinated as well as repugnant of what they saw when they first came to India. This emotion still lingers on. She feels that Hinduism is a visionary culture and that the idea of an invisible God would be foreign. Hinduism is no more and no less than the ism of India. In this image-making imaginative tradition, the visible world encloses the sacred too. To Diana Eck, the images or the murtis are visual languages that need to be interpreted. This was the reason why even people like Mark Twain was dissuaded by the varied pantheon he saw in India during his times. He thought it to be haunting. As a student, one should learn to read what India has written in its icons.

She quotes from ritual texts and Upanishads to say that the murti is the embodiment of the divine. It is from these texts, that the practice of treating murtis as embodiment of the Lord, finds its origin. God becomes accessible through not only avatars or incarnations, but also in images. So the murti is the object of puja for the devotee. An iconic image means those that can have an idol or has an anthropomorphic form. The word idol or ‘vigraha’ (vi + grh) comes from a verbal root which means ‘that which can be grasped’ or which is solid (Eck,p70). This may be contrasted with anionic images like that of Agni, which cannot be grasped or is beyond the grip. But it is central to all the pujas and rituals which are conducted. The footprints of Buddha are treated as representing Buddha by Buddhists (Darsan). The svayambhu images are exceptions in the craft shown by Hindus in making icons. They are found in situ, or they were obtained in the middle of a field or from the banks of a river. These are not considered, as indicated by their nature of finding them.

The icon is made very carefully along with a lot of rituals connected with the process of consecration. If the icon is of wood, the quality and type is given specifically. Even the time of cutting down the tree for the icon is specified. Silpin or the artist enters a trance like state through yoga and visualizes the completed icon in his mind’s eye. After ritual purification and prayer, he starts the work of the image. The special rites of consecration take place, outside the temple itself. First the icon is purified using ghee, dharba [a type of grass] and honey. A rite called the nyasa follows it by which several deities are established in different part of the image. Then the icon is established by the central rite called the pranapratishta. In this rite the breath of life is infused into the idol. Finally, the priest, a Brahmin, opens the eyes of the image with a golden needle, breaking the crust of honey and ghee.

The navakalevara done by the daitas of the Puri temple is a good example of consecration. They go into the forest, conduct numerous rituals and even a homa along with the Brahmins. After offering oblations and prayer to the tree spirits they cut the trees, carry them down to the temple and start to carve the images. Meanwhile the Brahmins start the works of consecration with a piece of wood taken from the tree used for carving the icons. This plug of wood serves for nyasa. Then the oldest of daitas with his eyes blindfolded and hands covered with cloth takes out the Brahma Padartha out of the chests of the old deities and place them in the cavity carved in the new deities. The New Embodiment [navakaelvara] culminates with the Brahmin priest painting the eyes of the new deities. The old deities are interred and mourning observed for some time. Then the new deities are painted and a rathayatra is conducted by the daitas.

The way Eck has dealt with the religions of India is very thorough and detailed. She talks about the Buddhist stupas and Christian comparisons found throughout India, which is a multi ethnic, multi religious country. Even the local deities and local practices like the use of Kumkum by the rural villagers are dealt with carefully and in believable detail. This book contains the details and pictures, and ritual descriptions which even the average Hindu is not familiar. The common practices and common procedures have been examined closely and made into the most extraordinary by Diana Eck. I should say that she has seen India (Eck,p 55).

Works cited

Darshan or darsan. 2009. Web.

Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India. 2009. Web.

Eck,Diana.. Seeing the Divine Image in India.Delhi: Motilal Banarasidas, 1981. Print. p48-70.

Sanzaro, Francis. 2008. Darshan as Mode and Critique of Perception: Hinduism’s Liberatory Model of Visuality. Web.

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