Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Urban Art: Clement Town

It is a mercy that I did not insist on secular art for the Urban Art Project. Most of what I find in Dehradun is linked to some place of worship or the other- like the Stupa at Clement Town.

Said to be the largest stupa in the world, it is linked to the Mindroling Monastery. Its size means that it does not have the exquisite jewel-box feel of the monasteries I visited in Sikkim. However it suits our purpose well, as now the rooms have the feel of an art gallery with the space and people walking by the murals on the walls. The paintings are beautiful and I wish I had photos to show, but photography is not allowed within the stupa, and quite right too. I did wish that there was some information about the murals and the stories they told. As it is, I looked at them with a kind of morbid fascination- some of the scenes are pretty gruesome.

I lost my objectivity when I came across the Yab-Yum images. These show the deities copulating with their spouses. When I first saw the paintings, I thought there was a sad disconnect between the individuals in each couple. In most images, the women are straddling the men, who are sitting in a padmasana or standing. Passion and yearning is visible is every line of the female deities. Each woman embraces her man, back arched, eyes closed, lips pursed, straining towards him till my own back tensed in sympathy. The men, on the other hand, are calm. Seated erect, they stare straight at the observer. They are serene, detached, seeming not to notice the love that is being offered to them.

I saw this and felt a rush of pure rage against this mindless seeking of perfection for the self. What use is enlightenment, I thought, if it does not enable us to recognise the joy that could be ours. But then I noticed that each of the male deities had a hand curled around his spouse’s waist. I blinked, and the picture changed.

What I had earlier read as aloofness now seemed to me a quiet strength. This strength seemed be what made it possible for the women to be consumed with passion the way they were. The erect, yet reposeful, posture of each male deity seemed now to support his lover through her orgasm. I was comforted by this, and moved on, only to stop at the next mural.

This was also a yab-yum image, but of the wrathful deities. I stared for a long time at Mahakala and his consort. The wrathful deities- both male and female- are demonic in form. Mahakala’s lover was depicted warts and all, but still exhibited uninhibited passion in every twisted line of her deformed body. She is angry, bristling (literally!), pot bellied, fang toothed, and clawed; even so, Mahakala’s arm is wrapped protectively around her. This image made me feel a surge of real love and admiration for Tantric Buddhism.

Mary, Victor, and all the rest of you, look at this and learn. It is a beautiful world when even the ugly are permitted to love and be loved.

1 comment:

wendigo said...

this is a great idea. don't think i've seen any urban art in indian cities actually... post more pictures!