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Red + Blue = Purple (Bruises)

Posted by J Foster on Jan 29, 2017 in Cultural Anthropology, In the Media

A few passing thoughts on the current state of things.

One of the tests of academic criticism is, I think, coming to an understanding that your work is not entirely your own. I don’t mean acts of plagiarism, but that, in all things, you must conform to the standards and expectations of your time. There is an irony in this, of course, as tends to be the case in anthropology; that we critique those who came before us as products of their respective times, but are unwilling or unable to break the mold of our own historical moments. Assuming that we can, of course (many would say not). But we recoil at the very thought, don’t we? Lest we be seen as irrelevant, out of touch, or “fluffy.” It’s an oddly functionalist approach to post-modern, or ostensibly post-modern, social science.

I’m sure this comes across as somewhat overly ponderous for mid-afternoon musings on the third re-write and revision of a four-page dissertation description (for a grant application, as it almost always is), but it got me to thinking about a division I have in my life between my academic endeavors (read: dissertation) and my creative endeavors (sculpture, writing, etc.). In short, I finally came to truly accept that, in the end, my dissertation will never be entirely mine. Rather, it is a chimera of committee and colleague feedback and recommendations, a formulation of scholarship before (a theoretical foundation) and scholarship right now (a conversation), a foregrounding of the voices and experiences of my research participants without whom none of this would be possible, and a little bit of my own experiences and observations. It won’t say all of what I want it to say in the ways that I want it to say it, in the hopes that it will say all that it needs to say and to the right people. In truly coming to terms with this, I realize the need for creativity and for activism. Only there are we king.

When you express yourself in writing or in art or in protest, it says what you want it to say and in the ways that you want to say it. It all comes back down to the same thing over and over again, doesn’t it? Having a voice. One’s own voice. And in the end, it doesn’t even necessarily matter all that much if anyone else is listening, you just don’t want anyone else to have a say in the expression. Ignore me if you like, but don’t change my words.

This might, under some circumstances, come across as a rejection of criticism entirely (and I can understand now a little better those for whom that is the case) but it isn’t. It’s about a deep and visceral desire to keep or discard criticism arbitrarily, at will. But without mastery, or the appearance of mastery (admiration), I’m afraid that only the rarest among us will ever truly get to experience that kind of voice. Public space, you see, always carries a price. The social is economic, as some might argue.

But for those of you who have been watching the last week or so unfold in America, you know that right now, a voice is more important than ever. Trump and his ban on Muslim-majority refugees and non-citizen residents (green card or not). Protests fomenting at major airports and the federal stay. Bills to attack LGBTQ rights on the nonsense grounds of religious freedom to practice/discriminate. Tariffs and taxes to pay for a wall on the US-Mexico border (despite dangers to trade, wildlife, and commerce), executive orders to attack abortion access and reproductive choice, and the looming threat of healthcare repeal. Antagonism of China. Israel pushing forward with illegal settlements, and it’s just the first week of an administration that is already desperately unpopular. The U.S. is gearing up for war; it’s just a question of against who and when. Our own citizens or someone else’s.

In the coming days, I anticipate that more marches will build more momentum, the Republican controlled administration will double-down harder, supporters and dissidents will become more polarized. There will be no “listening,” because the lines in the sand have already been drawn. There is no compromise to be made on choice or no-choice, equality or inequality, rights exercised or rights silenced. A forest fire is coming, and many of the trees will burn. What remains to be seen is what is left and where the new growth will begin.

In the end, though, we had this coming. We gave too much ground to ideology, compromised our own positions when our opponents and adversaries compromised none. A thoughtful revolution questioned itself into obscurity, wondering if the water was hot enough yet or whether or not it was the frog or the pot. We became too post-modern to criticize and as a result, we stopped saying the things we needed to say in the ways that we needed to say them. There have never been two sides to every story, but soon the fires of revisionist history will have you believing that there was only one. We live in a frightened and angry time. But we can never forget, that what comes after, won’t belong entirely to any of us.

 
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Spotlight: Narasimha Shaligram

Posted by J Foster on Jan 22, 2017 in Cultural Anthropology, Fieldwork in Nepal

Description:

As described in the Lakshmi-Narasimha Shaligram, Narasimha, or conversely Narsimha or Narsingh, is an avatar of Vishnu or Krishna who is considered to be the supreme God in certain traditions of Vaishnavism but is also a popular deity in Hinduism more generally. Narasimha commonly appears in early Hindu epics, iconography, and temple and festival worship and dates back to well over a millennium. Narasiṃha’s appearance is particularly distinctive, usually depicted as having a human torso and lower body with the head and arms of a lion. Narasimha is also colloquially referred to as the god of “in-betweens” given his most famous appearance as the ‘Great Protector’ of the devotee Prahlada or as the protector of all devotees in their times of need. For example, when Narasimha appeared to destroy the demon king Hiranyakashipu, he did so in such a way as to circumvent the demon’s boon not to be killed by any living being created by Brahma, not to be killed at night or by day, on the ground or in the sky, nor by any weapon, human, or animal. Narasimha thus appears as the blending of a man and a lion, at twilight, at the threshold of the courtyard, places Hiranyakshipu on his thighs, and disembowels him with his claws.

The general distinction between the Narasimha Shaligram and its more common counterpart, the Lakshmi-Narasimha Shaligram is in the presence of a “mouth” and “teeth” but without the inclusion of the two visible internal chakra-spirals.

For the most part, Narasimha Shaligrams are sought after for their highly protective qualities. As manifestations of Narasimha, the god who defends his devotees in their times of greatest need, Narasimha Shaligrams are said to bestow protection from theft or the influences of evil or impure persons. These Shaligrams are also said to aid in the healing of mental illnesses, especially anxiety and phobias, and to restore spiritual balance to persons caught in chaotic home situations. In some cases, Narasimha Shaligrams are also included in daily puja rituals for the sake of obtaining divine guidance before undertaking an especially challenging endeavor related to household or marital harmony.

In some Shaiva traditions, this Shaligram is interpreted as the deity Bhairava, a fierce and terrifying manifestation of Shiva associated with annihilation.

Vedic References: Praanatoshani Tantra pg. 347-348, Skanda Purana, Nagarekhanda, 244: 3-9, Brahmavaivartta (Prakritikhanda, Ch. 21), Garuda Purana (Panchanan Tarkaratna, Part 1, Ch. 45), Agni Purana; Bengavasi ed., Panchanan Tarkaratna, Saka 1812, Ch. 46

Vedic Description:

Large opening with two circular marks, glittering to look at (BV).

Mark of a mace at center, circular mark in lower middle, upper middle portion comparatively bigger (G).

(i) With a big opening and two circular marks.
(ii) With a long opening and linear marks resembling the mane of a lion, and also with two circular marks.
(iii) Marked with three dot-prints other things being the same as above.
(iv) Uneven in shape with a mixed reddish colour, having two big circular marks above it, and a crack at the front.
(v) Reddish in colour and printed with several teeth like marks, three or five dot-marks and a big circular mark.
(vi) With a big opening, a vanamala and two circular marks. This type is popularly known as Lakshminrisimha.
(vii) Black in colour with dot marks all over his body and two circular marks on His left side. This also is a variety of the Lakshminrisimha sub-type.
(viii) Printed with a lotus mark on His left side. This also is a sub-type of Lakshminrisimha.
(ix) When any of the above types of Narasimha is marked with five dot prints He is popularly called Kapilanrisimha.
(x) Printed with seven circular marks and golden dots and also having openings on all sides. This type is called Sarvotmukhanrisimha.
(xi) Variegated in colour, having many openings including a large one and marked with many circular prints. This type is popularly called Paataalanrisimha.
(xii) With two circular marks inside the main opening and eight others on His sides. This also is a variety of Paataalanrisimha.
(xiii) Aakaashanrisimha: With a comparatively high top and a big opening and also printed with circular marks.
(xiv) Jihvaanrisimha: Big in size, with two openings and two circular marks. He being the giver of poverty, His worship is forbidden.
(xv) Raakshasanrisimha: With a fierce opening and holes, and also marked with golden spots. His worship also is forbidden.
(xvi) Adhomukhanrisimha: With three circular marks one at the top and two on the sides, having His opening at the bottom.
(xvii) Jvaalaanrisimha: Marked with two circular prints and a vanamala, and having a small opening.
(xviii) Mahaanrisimha: Printed with two big circular marks and a few other linear marks one above the other. (P)

 

Narasimha Shaligram

 
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Spotlight: Lakshmi – Narasimha Shaligram

Posted by J Foster on Jan 19, 2017 in Cultural Anthropology, Fieldwork in Nepal

I think it’s time for another Spotlight series…

Description:

Narasimha, or conversely Narsimha or Narsingh, is an avatar of Vishnu or Krishna who is considered to be the supreme God in certain traditions of Vaishnavism but is also a popular deity in Hinduism more generally. Narasimha commonly appears in early Hindu epics, iconography, and temple and festival worship and dates back to well over a millennium. Narasiṃha’s appearance is particularly distinctive, usually depicted as having a human torso and lower body with the head and arms of a lion. Narasimha is also colloquially referred to as the god of “in-betweens” given his most famous appearance as the ‘Great Protector’ of the devotee Prahlada or as the protector of all devotees in their times of need. For example, when Narasimha appeared to destroy the demon king Hiranyakashipu, he did so in such a way as to circumvent the demon’s boon not to be killed by any living being created by Brahma, not to be killed at night or by day, on the ground or in the sky, nor by any weapon, human, or animal. Narasimha thus appears as the blending of a man and a lion, at twilight, at the threshold of the courtyard, places Hiranyakshipu on his thighs, and disembowels him with his claws.

As a variation on the Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram, the Lakshmi-Narasimha Shaligram is easily recognized by the presence of a “fanged mouth” at the apex of the primary opening which also reveals the two internal chakra-spirals typically characteristic of the Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram. This “mouth,” then usually contains a row of “teeth” visible either along the outer edge of the upper part of the opening or encircling a second inner opening through the central column forming the end of the primary opening.

As manifestations of Narasimha, worship of these Shaligrams is said to bestow protections from enemies and from attacks on one’s faith.  As such, Lakshmi-Narasimha Shaligrams are often sought after by those who live in regions where their particular religious tradition is in the political minority or by those who intend to immigrate to a country significantly outside of their usual cultural mores (such as America or the UK). These Shaligrams are also said to bestow confidence, strength, and righteousness more generally and are considered highly desirable for inclusion in daily puja rituals.

Vedic References: Praanatoshani Tantra pg. 347, Brahmavaivartta (Prakritikhanda, Ch. 21)

Vedic Descriptions: Large opening with two circular marks, glittering to look at, with vanamala mark (BV).

Discussion: This Shaligram bears similar resemblance to the Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligram but is identified by the distinctive “mouth-like” structure located at the top of the main opening. This structure is formed by the incomplete wearing of the ammonite shell out of the surrounding shale nodule, which leaves at least one cross-segment of the internal portion of the ammonite still in place as it breaks out of the shell mold.

Lakshmi – Narasimha Shaligram

Lakshmi – Narasimha Shaligram

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