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Decohesion, the new hexalogy by Luci Sher is soon to be published. The six books in this series explore the sophisticated architecture of the Hindu temples of northern India through the lives and conversations of people whose worlds are in some way related to them. These buildings are poorly understood outside the Hindu culture of India and its fascinating, wider cultural sphere. Luci Sher takes the puzzles presented by these buildings and presents them as a rich fabric of human relationships and individual strengths and frailties. Expect a challenging and fulfilling read!

 

The six books are soon to be published in sequence – the first is Parvati’s Footprint, the Imprint of Innocence, LB Cunningham. More information will be shared as we rapidly approach launch date. In the meantime, we are releasing weekly snippets on this platform. The first of these is offered here for your enjoyment:

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Parvati's Footprint
Part 1

RBDS Publications
eBook :
soft/hardback + eBook :
Amazon
Waterstones
Blackwell
Foyles

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29

‘Yes, lots of variants – the same number as the number of temples,’ emphasised Blake with a certain, measured intonation. ‘Ignoring the arachnidic suggestion - which has its place, incidentally, assuming the temple is like the tagmata of the spider’s body, the mandapa being akin to the prosoma with its legs, and the prasada the opisthosoma with its heart.’ ‘Bravo!’ cheered Pranavi subversively, delighted by the incorporation of the light-hearted interjection into the stream of thought. ‘Pranavi, please,’ was all Ashoka could manage, to give Blake some space – space he didn’t desire in any form. ‘And perhaps some connection between a spider’s web and a yantra, in shape?’ put in Pranavi. ‘There are differences in expression from the north to the south of India and, to a lesser extent, from the west to the east. Sadly, the prasada of the great temple at Konarak in Orissa is no longer, and the present structure is now sometimes perceived as the entirety, which, of course, it is not and almost certainly never was, if the remains of the deul are to suggest a complete building at some time in the past. ‘There are confusing ideas in the design of the buildings, at least for me. These are to do with what the original builders were trying to express in the design. Everything is so explicit but the language is not clear, well to me at least.’ ‘Give it a try,’ Pranavi encouraged. ‘The two main parts are always on a main axis or relate to the main axis. There always appears to be water involved, but this can seem random in terms of the plan. I’m also not that clear about where the lines of sanctity are drawn and who can reach the inner sanctum – the inner space always seems to be reserved for the priests, perhaps a sole person, but the intermediate boundaries are not that clear. At the still-operating Śiva temple just outside the compound at Khajuraho, the priest seemed happy for anyone to walk up to or walk around and touch the lingam. By contrast, the Dilwaras at Mt Abu were strictly protected by armed men who looked like police.’ Pranavi’s responses to the various uncertainties ranged from agreement that the answer was obscure to suggestions on what the answer could be, based on her experience. Blake received her input deferentially and responded to each idea as if they were building a small edifice of understanding. After a short pause in which Ashoka uttered that expectant sound suggesting he was on the point of rounding off the session, Blake carried on: ‘Usually, there is a numinous atmosphere when you reach the garbhagriha – please excuse my pronunciation. This seems mostly to derive from the basic lingam-yoni coupling, not, incidentally, confined to Śaivite temples.’ ‘No?’ enquired Ashoka. ‘Even at the Mt Abu Dilwara group, the object of veneration in the various holy of holies is an upright, ornate sculpture with niches and stupas and the image of Mt Meru, but all of this is as a single object rising through the unadorned yoni. From what I remember, this appears to be widespread, except for the Vaishnavite related temples. I wish to travel more, if circumstances allow…’ ‘Insha’Allah,’ proferred Ashoka, ecumenically. ‘As you say. To visit more temples and to think more on this subject. I want to study the interior decoration of many garbhagrihas to see whether there is any connection between the external manifestations of the prasada and the internal surface treatment of the sanctified space. From what I have seen and can recall, there is not very much. The interior is frequently relatively plain, sometimes with carving of a few corbel figures or a ceiling lotus perhaps, often with shelves on the walls, presumably used for the paraphernalia required in the rites.’ Pranavi observed, almost as an invitation to Ashoka to resume his protective role: ‘So you are saying that the disporting couples on the temple walls are merely an expression of what the two parts of the building are doing, or in some cases, not doing, but creating a tension of potentiality. Do you mean that the temple is the unification of two distinct opposites?’ Ashoka didn’t take the bait, but his eyes scanned her face critically and flashed to Blake. ‘Part of me is alluding to that. I actually think you may be right but I have a long way to go before I can reconcile some problems with it. For example, what the opposites are.’ He laughed at himself, ‘In about ten years I think I may say what you have just said, just as categorically, but I have to work through simplistic problem areas first and resolve a few issues of redundancy in the architecture.’ ‘Like the consummate form of the prasada on its own?’ ‘Yes, like that for starters,’ replied Blake. ‘As if I didn’t know you would say it before I did.’ ‘What?’ queried Ashoka. ‘We’ll clear it up soon, Ashoka. Give it ten years. Anyway, in the first place, we are told and can see with our own eyes, that the Śaivite temples of India have the male phallus in a state of sexual union with the female yoni as the ultimate object of veneration. The yoni has a drainage channel surrounding the lingam which cantilevers to one side. Liquid issuing from it drops from the end and into a channel that then extends through a small aperture in the side wall of the temple to the outside – genuinely to the outside: not just to the pradakshina path. The channel collects and discharges liquid I said. What I meant was the libations of ghee or milky water, or cooling liquid of one kind or another, and flowers laid onto the dome of the lingam. All this everyone knows.’ ‘I don’t think everyone knows it; I don’t think those people sitting over there do,’ suggested Pranavi, indicating a group of businessmen at one of the tables. ‘Perhaps not everyone,’ agreed Blake, flashing a smile at the impish (Ashoka worried that Blake thought her impudent) guest, then continued, ‘When in the garbhagriha, therefore, one is supposed to be inside the sacred womb, as the name suggests, witnessing the god’s part penetrating the goddess. As you alluded, it is almost normal in Indian temple architecture that the external surfaces are adorned with sculptures, some of which depict males and females performing sexual acts.’

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28

‘What is it with you two?’ chipped in Ashoka, who returned to hear the last volleys, bewildered by the repartee, almost forgetting that Pranavi and Blake knew each other. She smiled deftly at her guardian and replied to Blake, ‘If you mean lunch, then I would very much like to accept your kind invitation, assuming my guardian has the time.’ ‘And inclination. Is it to be lunch Ashoka?’ ‘Why yes, if that is alright with you.’ ‘Lunch is what I can offer and it gives me the greatest pleasure that you will join me: let us go through to the courtyard where they have set up marquees for the summer.’ They ordered light lunches, sparkling water and Alsatian white wine for its headiness. During the course of the conversation, Ashoka mentioned he had talked to Pranavi about what Blake had said to him and Rachana on the architecture of Hindu temples. Blake was gratified he should have remembered; it had not happened before. He had proffered his westerner’s take on the underlying form. Rachana said he should write down his ideas or lecture on them. ‘Have you made progress?’ ‘We are where we are,’ responded Blake. ‘And it could be worse,’ reacted Pranavi. ‘Yes, Blake, we talked a lot about it last time but do tell us about your theories. Or should I call you “Blakers”?’ ‘My grandfather used to say you can call me, that is him, anything you like as long as it’s not “Late-for-Dinner.”’ Pranavi made an appreciative blurting sound and Blake continued, ‘Sorry. A bit infantile.’ Pranavi laughed at the innocent good-naturedness of it and said, ‘Or Lunch?’ and waving her hand while covering her mouth, occupied with a fresh charge of salad, with the other, ‘but certainly not Breakfast!’ ‘Why would anyone call you “Late-for-Breakfast”? Uncivil to be called for breakfast at all,’ responded Ashoka. ‘Exactly,’ said Blake. ‘Unless you have a bus to catch.’ ‘So, my ideas on temples. Prepare to be numb-skullingly bored.’ ‘Skulls, mmmmmm,’ Pranavi interjected. ‘Pranavi, listen. Blake is going to expound on the architectural foundations of the Hindu temple and we should both listen,’ commanded Ashoka with feigned importance. ‘Sahib, do me a favour, would you. Ahem. I’m going to give this a try but my thoughts aren’t really connected on this subject yet. Now then. ‘When we perceive an object, that object takes on its own character. Think of a saucepan for example. It has a handle and a receptacle. If you remove the handle, it becomes a bowl and no longer a saucepan. Although there are two different parts or items which create the saucepan, it is perceived as one object. When you see a saucepan with its handle, you cannot imagine the bowl that is part of the saucepan. Well, not without some effort.’ ‘Cognitive, or associative, psychology. Good start,’ chirped in Pranavi. She and Blake had been much deeper into the subject and she wasn’t sure about running through it simplistically, just for Ashoka. ‘That’s true. Do you know, a handle came off a saucepan of mine recently and I saw it and did not recognise it, until I saw the marks where the handle had been welded or glued on or whatever?’ said Ashoka attempting to paste over Pranavi’s quip. He was feeling very slightly protective of Blake. ‘A temple is like a saucepan. So far, so good,’ remarked Pranavi, her chin leaning on her hand, her mind ready for another parry. ‘In the same way that a saucepan is only seen as a saucepan when it has its two parts, the religious structure is composed of two primary parts – and a third being the place for the observer. There, by and large, the similarity ends. I’m sorry to use such a banal illustration, Miss Kapoor. Well actually, I suppose you could drive the analogy further, but not today! What I am trying to do is to break down the connection between the word “temple” and the building type, because the temple is actually a collection of buildings and most specifically, two or even three buildings, put together. ‘The two buildings are sometimes held in close union, possibly held one inside the other, and occasionally held apart, but in close proximity. The two buildings are generally expressed in different tectonic languages, one marked by an emphasis on verticality and closedness, the other marked by an emphasis on horizontality and openness, evidenced by openings; these two expressions could suggest that one is the marker, shrine of the statement of purpose, or object of value and that the other is the disseminator of that purpose, the mode of expression for it, the medium through which the valuable object is made available to the world and the means that the world uses to pay its dues.’ ‘Or the place for formalised veneration? This is interesting,’ returned Pranavi. ‘We pretty much covered the ground last time, but this fits with so much of what I have been reading in some of the early texts. The texts are not connected with the buildings themselves because the commentary isn’t really there at that time. I have heard the relationship between Rama and Sita being described as the relationship between the sun–’ ‘And the moon, by any chance?’ interrupted Ashoka. ‘Well not actually the moon…’ suggested Blake. ‘Then what?’ teased Pranavi. ‘It would be more likely to be the rays. The sun being the source but the rays the emanation, or, in a strange way, the homage, the two being inseparable but distinct parts of the same thing,’ suggested Blake thoughtfully, his train of thought coming from immersion in the subject rather than the cues coming from the conversation. ‘Have you read about this?’ asked Ashoka, not having really connected with the idea, but feeling the significance of it. ‘No, not specifically. It’s just a feeling,’ Blake replied without defensiveness but tentatively none the less. ‘Of course, there are ten thousand variants…’ continued Blake, unperturbed. ‘Not 10,324 or 10,729 or 9,654 or…?’ came the interjection from Pranavi without a smile. ‘Pranavi, calm down. You’ll throw Blake off his thread.’ Ashoka took rather too seriously his role of guardian. ‘Like a spider?’ she queried.

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