Imagine producing all the energy the world could ever need: it's a simple idea –just churn the oceans. Find a very stout pole and place it on the ocean floor. It must be long enough to rest on the seabed and still protrude above the sea's surface; this will be the churning stick. Now loop a gigantic cable around the stick near its top. Having constructed two enormous, powerful machines, anchor them to the ocean floor and attach one end of the rope to each. The machines pull on the rope in turn, twisting the pole back and forth, churning the sea. The agitation of the water thus produced would provide an unlimited amount of energy.
The Ganges River is ablaze this full moon festival night. Numberless candlelit leaf cups full of flower offerings float on the river, now a twinkling carpet of flame. Tiny oil lamps cover the vast flights of steps leading to the river's edge. The temples and palaces lining the riverbank are covered in cascading colored lights. All this light welcomes the gods back to the city of Varanasi for another year of well being and prosperity. From our boat, one among hundreds on the river tonight, we watch streams of celebrants passing along the steps between the rows of flames — a flickering vintage film with a soundtrack of temple bells and sacred chants rising from the city's innumerable temples and shrines. Indians still live in the company of their gods; every detail of their lives is sacred.
At first glance, India looks like a pendant triangle dangling from the mainland of Central Asia, but in fact it is shaped like an irregular rhombus.
The hanging triangle is lapped on the west by the Arabian Sea and on the east by the Bay of Bengal, both of them parts of the Indian Ocean.
The northwestern border was traditionally the Indus River; and it is this river which gave India its name—Indus or Sindhu is a Persian word, and India is the land lying to the east of that river.
India is a palimpsest consisting of layer upon layer of history, culture and spiritual speculation and practice. It is as if you have a blank page in front of you and while writing your story you notice that words and phrases, seemingly welling up from the very page you are writing on, appear amid your words; and when you read all of this together, your words and the words that appeared as if by magic on the page seem to make sense but tell a story very different from the one you thought you were telling, one in which your story plays only a very small part or perhaps is eclipsed altogether.
In the summer of 1993, Carol and I traveled in the Kinnaur and Spiti districts of the north Indian State of Himachal Pradesh. Among the most isolated regions of northern India, it was opened to foreigners only the year before, but the bureaucratic hassles involved in obtaining permission to enter this world were so formidable that few travelers managed it, and of those who did most received permission to stay for only a week; others were required to take a police escort with them. Luckily, we were granted a two-month unrestricted permit from a small district headquarters simply because we had struck a friendly note with the officials in that office. Such is the way things work in India.
Jaipur is Rajasthan's biggest city, a fantasy in pink, actually a shade somewhere between pink and ocher, with which the facades of all the buildings within the old walls and the walls themselves and the majestic gateways are painted. Mark Twain, who visited in the 1870s, thought of it as the color of "strawberry ice cream," but I think he took more than a little literary license with that description.
Indian images, whether paintings or sculptures, should not be understood as self-sufficient, independent objects, but rather as links in a chain of spiritual, ritual procedures.
In order to get a better grasp of this, contrast Western and Indian sculpture: the Western classical ideal is, to use Winckelmann's famous phrase, “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur.” Indian sensibility is as far from that ideal as can be.
There is a stillness in the space surrounding an Indian sculpture; and this is true even where a figure is shown to be in great movement. A tranquility radiates from the figures. And Indian sculptural figures do not encourage enjoyment, the viewer's enjoyment, that is; they do not encourage anything. They live in worlds of their own. They are not there for us to examine and judge them. They do not address themselves to us or draw our gaze, as Classical Western figures do, almost forcing us to follow the play of their forms.
Everyone can pick out India on a world map, that distinctive pendant triangle floating on the Indian Ocean and attached to the Asian mainland by what is undoubtedly the earth's most awesome necklace—the Himalayan Mountains.
India's geography is so vast and varied that it is a subcontinent in its own right containing the world's highest mountains and largest alluvial plain, its driest desert and wettest place, and impenetrable tropical jungles. It is home to exotic animals from the tiger and elephant to the king cobra, and to more species of birds than any other country.
India is the name of a modern nation state having a population of more than a billion people (one of every six people in the world is Indian) of a huge number of races, ethnicities, religions, languages and customs.
The name is derived from the river Indus and was conferred upon the region by the Persians: for them, it was the land across the river.
India is the only truly ancient civilization that still exists today, and it confronts us with an altogether other conception of reality than the one we take for granted. India challenges the idea that all humans are essentially alike or that they share the same reality or mentality or desires or values.
To take a trivial but pregnant example, India confronts us with a sense of light entirely different from that of the West: here beauty is of a glowing radiance full of enigmatic shadow-play rather than the clear, shining, blinding yet shadowless, “objective” light of the West.
A group of Brahmins who live by the sea do their meditations and ascetic practices each night on the shore. But each night demons come out of the sea and onto the shore and disturb these pious men; so the sage Agastya swallows the sea in order that the Brahmins be left in peace.
But now all of life, denied water, is in danger of perishing. But another sage, Bhagiratha by name, performs austerities, for he needs water to perform rites to honor his ancestors. He begs the god Brahma to let the Ganga (Sanskrit for the Ganges), who is in the Milky Way, fall to earth. Brahma counsels him to seek Lord Shiva’s help, for if the river were to fall directly onto the earth it would shatter the land in a great cataclysm, and only Shiva is powerful enough to break the river’s fall.
After Bhagiratha performs tapas (austerities) for countless years, Shiva finally allows Ganga to fall on his head and then run gently down the mountain slopes and fecundate the earth.