Steven Hopkins: Science Cafe
Professor of Religion Steven Hopkins was the first speaker for this semester's Second Tuesday Arts & Humanities Cafes. Hopkins, who is also the coordinator of Asian Studies, has received many awards and fellowships for his research and translation. His major academic field is South Indian devotional literature in Sanskrit and Tamil, with special attention to the work of a medieval (14th century) South Indian saint-poet Veṅkaṭanātha, best known by his honorific title Vedāntadeśika or "Preceptor of the Vedanta."
Second Tuesday Arts & Humanities Cafes are a monthly series that highlight the intellectual relevance of humanities approaches to arts and culture, on topics ranging from visual narratives in Japan, to reflections on life and death in South Indian religions, to current intersections of theater, dance, and music performance in the United States. Events are geared for individuals with no formal background in the Arts & Humanities. The only requirement is curiosity.
Steven Hopkins: Thank you very much again, Yvonne, for this, and thanks to the Aydelotte Foundation for sponsoring these wonderful events. I look forward to the Humanities year, as well.
I suppose I could have done a talk, rather more technical, on my new book, which would have to do with translating 14th-century Sanskrit poetry and the work that I did, but I thought I would do something for everybody and for myself and for others, actually, a little bit more personal and certainly less formal. What I chose to do this morning is really take you on a boat ride on the Ganga, a boat ride that people do. Tourists do it, but pilgrims do it, too, going from the shores of life.
As we all know rivers are ambivalent, aren't they? Rivers are also about life and they're also about death. Symbolism of water in world religions is a very complex thing and multivalent. It's a series of images that I took when I actually ... The setting of this is the time where I was the faculty advisor for Swarthmore Alumni College. We were taking, I was the faculty lecture person on that trip, a bunch of 70 and 80-year old very active, very intense, very demanding, and very alive, Swarthmore alums. It was a great trip; it was a really great trip. You guys are really awesome, I have to say. I'm just a professor here. I didn't graduate here, from Swarthmore, but anyway, I think I thought I would do this.
Part of it also is the connection of the Humanities study with aspects of our lives, aspects of life and death. I actually put this basic boat ride thing together on the weekend my father died.
Now, I spent about four months in LA with my own illness, the illness of my parents and the death of my mother, but I wasn't present for the death of my father. I was actually here, teaching. I think he died on a Saturday of the weekend, and on Monday, I was set to give a lecture on the goddess Kali through reading the Bengali poems of the saint-poet Ramprasad.
Ramprasad is famous for praising Kali and emphasizing Kali. This goddess Kali is a goddess of death, a goddess of suffering. Suffering and death has a divine face. I thought to myself, "Egads! What an incredible subject matter that I'm given intellectually, that I could sort of do this," and that's the spirit in which this was done.
If you've taken a boat ride, contemplating aspects of life and death, actually encountering a liquid form of a deity that you cannot only go and see, but you can bathe in, you can go into, you can swim in. A liquid form of Shakti, which is what Hindus call, "The Goddess," in her form as Ganga. As the boat ride goes, generally speaking, you go from ashore and you, as we see, will encounter Manikarnika Ghat, a very famous Ghat, or Tirtha, or watering place, where folks are cremated and their ashes are spread into the river.
It's thought that those pious Northern Hindus, I study in Tamilnadu, so, in the South, it's different, and, in certain ways, better, but anyway, those people in the north feel that the Ganga at Varanasi in Banaras that you'll see, dying there, you will immediately be released from the world of birth and death. It's a powerful thing. People go there to die, and they certainly seek to be burned at Manikarnika Ghat. It's a place of death, but it's a place of liberation, too, and that's where Kali the goddess likes to hang out. She likes to hangout in cremation grounds.
Ramprasad, and, later, Saint Ramakrishna, used to be able to visionarily hear her laugh and cackle, throwing entrails into the air, rejoicing over the fact of death. This idea that, even in life and death, there are deities. It's that spirit that I want to give you a sense of things today. Hindu goddesses of life and death.
I also want to dedicate this talk, these formal remarks to my colleague, Alan Berkowitz, who passed away in July.
Like with my father, I suppose this would be my way at least of doing what the Hindus do by the river, is to pinda pradaana, or, rice ball ceremony for ancestors for the dead and helping them in the netherworld. It's part of an imaginary honor to Alan, in his memory.
I do literature, actually. I start off with this image in most of my classes. It's a column. It's made with rice, powdered between the fingers of women in a household. Columns really should be right there in the threshold. In their elaborate design, and this is a very fancy one that's [Deepavali 04:46] one in front of a jewelry store in the city of Tiruchi, but, nonetheless, in their complex or simple forms, they're meant to consecrate a space, to open up a space through the image in the doorway that invites auspicious powers in and dis-invites inauspicious or negative powers.
I always do this to start anything. It's a way of inviting auspicious things into our presence. I don't wonder whether, do you feel smarter as you walked in? Do you feel smarter? More acute? More aware? Hungry for the arts? As you walked in, I played Saraswati Raga, a Saraswati Raga of sitar play, a day of breath, a [mishra 05:30], fantastic player, invoking the spirit of the goddess of the arts and of poetry, Saraswati. She's good for Swarthmore. You can put Saraswati under your pillow the night before an exam, and she's there for you.
All these things are part of my imaginary. I do literature, I do poetry, but the poetry I study and translate is poetry that is in the Tamil context, linked to temples. The poetry that I work with, primarily, has been composed in honor of temple images. Temple images is living bodies of god. The poet will often do a visionary [inaudible 06:05] of the image from foot to head, describing the beautiful powers and glories of the body of the god in the temple. It's a way to make a literary Darshan. People go to a temple not only to see a deity, but to be seen by a deity. There's an intimate exchange of devotee and god, an intimate, almost material, exchange through the eyes.
This isn't something that's very much a part of my life when I go to India, and so I study and read poetry, but poetry that has been composed in particular temples. I go to temples. I love temples. I love the sense of this material exchange and worship at the places. These are devotees honoring and giving puja, or honor, at Kapalee Temple in Madras, where a form of Shiva lies.
The intimate connection of touch and being touched by a god, the god Hanuman here. This is the temple at Mandurai. This material connection of temple images ... Now, a temple image represents the deity, whether it's Shiva or a goddess, this is the poet-saint I write about. The room has to be actually quite dark in order to see him, but the image, actually, when it's consecrated, it is the full presence of that deity, though, it doesn't exhaust that deity. Every single temple place, the idea here is you have, some writer has called it a "cosmic implosion." The whole deity is present in the image, though, never only there, and that also interests me.
At a certain point early on in my project, for instance, some Brahmin friends, [varglay 07:42] Brahmin friends, for whom the poet-saint I study is like a saint or even an aspect of god, took me to a side shrine, to an image made of the poet that I study, and I was allowed to take a photograph. Why this is a bit blurry was like a fourth of a second on a handheld camera with just a light bulb, but I was able to take a picture of [inaudible 08:05], an image that he is said to have made himself, of himself, interesting, so he would bless my project.
This sort of tactile connection with images is something that I teach about, it's something that's very important to me. I had to include it. [Jeff Lott 08:23] took this. Now, I did another alumni trip some years ago to Cambodia in Vietnam, and that sorta encapsulates my strange madness. He took a picture of me. I do have a memory of the wall being very warm. This is at Angkor Thom. I seem to be communing with a 12th century temple dancer of sorts, but that kind of tactile connection is something that means a lot to me in my work. I've taken photographs since I was in my teens. The idea of the photograph or the image, somehow, in a teaching vehicle, being some kind of a medium, to articulate that to students, to people.
For goddesses, let me talk a little bit about a few goddesses to lead us into Kali. Goddesses are very ancient in India. This is an Indus Valley little figurine in a religious tradition we know very little about. There's thoughts that, probably, [kanyadana 09:21] worship was very early in India, and in the Indus Valley period, pre-Aryan period, that is the worship of virgin goddesses. Things that go on in Nepal these days with Kumari worship, of little prepubescent girls as images of the goddess, but no one knows very much. It's probably pretty certain that goddess worship goes back very, very far in the Indian subcontinent. Also, sacrifice, animal sacrifice to goddesses.
This is Saraswati, the goddess of music and art and literature. The goddess of the Humanities year. Again, Hindu goddesses. Devi is one, whoever Devi is, the goddess. Shakti, the female power, but she takes also infinite manifestations and divisions of labor. In every aspect of the Hindu deity, the whole is somehow presence, but the whole is present in a particular part, and that part has a role to play.
The idea, you know, many a people wonder about all the various arms on Hindu deities. Well, they indicate a variety of things, depending on context, but, in many case, they indicate various powers this deity has. The more arms, the more splendid. The more powers. There is an idea of unity here, but the idea of many-ness and material splendor is also part of the magnificence of a deity, how they manifest their power.
This is Durga. Durga is a great goddess. Durga combines images of the domestic wife, properly saried, in this calendar poster, but also, she's never seen with a consort. She has independence, also. She combines the potential wildness and power of a female undomesticated by marriage, though she's dressed up as a married woman. She also is, in her story, interestingly enough, she is the power of all the gods. In her story, what happens is there's a terrible demon on the earth, Mahishasura, "buffalo demon," which has taken over the Earth, and none of the gods can deal with demon, and so, the choice is, "Well, we'll just get Devi. We'll give Devi all of our powers, and then she can destroy the demon." The demon is both a rival suitor and an enemy in stories that talk about Mother Durga.
All those arms represent a deity. Surya, Vishnu, Shiva, all the different gods give her their implements in order for her to come down and destroy a demon. "Durga" means fortress. She's a warrior goddess. It's about strength and power and auspiciousness.
My last trip to Rajasthan, it's really great. You can see Durga shrines in the countryside, everywhere, and actually, when you're on the road, the Durga shrines, really, what you do see is her lion. Every Hindu deity rides something, has a vehicle. She has a lion. You're driving down the road, and Durga shrines you can see, because the lion's peaking up over the thing. Durga is a very powerful goddess of auspiciousness, strength.
Here she is. I love the lion. I love the lion. Here she is with Ganesha. I can't talk about so many of these gods, but this is a wonderful, domestic picture of Ganesha as a kind of child of Durga, and Durga, also here, has elements of the deity Vishnu. She, in a sense, bodies the male gods in female form. This is Durga as India, Bharat Mata. She has a very strong association with a female of power. The Mother. Mother India.
Another goddess who represents [inaudible 13:03] is Lakshmi. Lakshmi is not a warrior goddess, Lakshmi doesn't go to war with anybody. Lakshmi is the housewife, the domesticated person, but underneath every goddess, as domesticated as Lakshmi seems, there is that Shakti power. I do a lot of work on the goddess Sita and the Rama Sita cycle. Sita seems like an obedient wife on the outside, in terms of the narrative, but you just poke under the surface and there's power. There's power and strategy.
This is also Lakshmi, although, it's my friend, [Shoba 13:36]. Where does Lakshmi appear? Where do gods and goddesses appear? In human persons, too, in the life cycle. Life cycle is a very important thing. This is my friend, Shoba, who is a lawyer in Bahrain, with the birth of her first child. In the third trimester, a woman's body is thought to heat up to such an extent, where there is, in Tamilnadu, there's something called a Bengal Protection ceremony to cool the heat down. She's worshiped here for the only time, there's a lot of jokes about this kind of thing, by her mother-in-law, as Lakshmi.
The goddesses and gods come into our lives in the life cycle and I think, primarily, profoundly, in female life cycle rites, the goddesses come and go. Our human lives are porous to deities. These are forms. This is a wonderful family portrait of Shiva and his wife, Uma Parvarti, who is a form of Devi, but this here, you would have the goddess as a domesticated wife, as the servant, as a consort goddess, but many different forms. This is a great form, too. This is the god who has for his other half, the female. An image of the god and goddess, the godhead, divided in one, but divided. This is Shiva and his Shakti, your goddess.
The goddess you will encounter at Manikarnika Ghat, very briefly, is Kali. Kali is an interesting goddess, deity, with a lot of different, very complex traditions. Some of them very esoteric and tantric, and others, popular in bhukti, associated devotionally, associated with the goddess Kali.
She has many different stories. One of her main stories is she is the embodiment of the wrath of Durga's left eye. Kali represents everything that is abject. It's rage, it's anger, it's suffering, and it's death. What I love to do in my classroom, one of the great poets of Kali is Ramprasad Sen, a Bengali poet, who praises Kali along in another part of the [Ganga Morin 15:33] in Bengal. Nonetheless, for him, he really appeals. He's a low-cast poet who suffers, suffers in the body. The world is made up of suffering. He's a devotee of Kali. She's the one who causes the suffering.
The other aspect of Hindu theology, which, for me, is quite fascinating, profound, is the deities who have some division of labor, like Kali, to be about death, to be about violence. Those deities can take it away. The one who causes violence, death, suffering, is the only one who can take it away, and that's this wonderful rhetorical moves in Ramprasad's poetry. The idea of death, and this is great, I love this. So, Kali is on a rampage in the battlefield. I mean, think about the violence of our contemporary wars. I mean, really, it's almost a limit case in the religious imaginary to imagine all the presence of Kali in war, in violence. Nonetheless, this is a series of images that describe ... Actually, see? There's Durga, and Durga is sending her Kali off to massacre all of her enemies.
Kali gets a little extreme in everything. There's a famous episode of a dance contest between her and Shiva, and it goes on for hours, and then Shiva starts to get tired, and she gets more and more crazed, dancing. What happens, in the icon, what you have, supine husband and sure on top is that what he finally does is, basically, he lays down on the ground and she steps on top of him and realizes, "Ooh!" You know, the feet pollution, "Here I am," and that tongue's stuck out signifies various things, but it's often a sign of modesty, going "Ooh! Sorry." Anyway, that's the frieze there, the balance between wild female goddess and supine male figure who doesn't move. Movement and stasis in a balance, in an icon. You get to see the richness.
One of the more moving examples of a goddess is the god Shiva's first wife, Sati. Sati actually immolated herself out of shame over her father's rejection of her husband, Shiva. Shiva's a whole other ballgame we could talk about. He's originally a deity of the wild. He likes to hang out in cremation grounds, too. He's an aesthetic god. He has a wildness to him, but he grieves over the death of Sati. He grieves to the point where he becomes almost disconsolate.
He kinda has her on his trident, here, kind of on a skewer, it's kind of strange. Vishnu, his friend, another deity, out of compassion, it's an odd story really, shaves off one part of the goddess at a time. Leg drops here, breast drops there, tongue drops there, and all through the subcontinent, you have things called the Shakti Peethas, or "seeds of the goddess." Basically, all of India are pieces of Sati. Every piece evokes the whole, but the whole of Bharat Mata is the goddess in her pieces, but all those pieces are wholes. Once again, you have this idea of singularity and multiplicity.
The last little image here, and I will address her, too, when we take our little boat ride, is the goddess Shitala. Shitala's very interesting. This is another vivid case. Shitala is the goddess of smallpox. Smallpox goddess. Smallpox still exists in corners of India and corners of the world, but Shitala's cult is very active and very vibrant. The interesting move among rural in India, with regard to goddesses of affliction, is AIDS-amma, goddess of AIDS. Sometimes, Shitala's been associated with being an AIDS goddess, too. That is, the goddess who is a certain form of pestilence, but, again, devotions. How do you get rid of smallpox? You pray to Shitala. She is smallpox. She does it, so only she can undo what she has done. It's sort of a homeopathic notion of a deity.
In Banaras, as I show you, the Shitala Shrine is one of the most popular places where people go. Again, that idea of death and suffering not being something other than the province of a divine, but then this transactional relationship with forces both positive and negative.
This is just a brief slide. This is a slide of a woman going to possession, of being possessed by Lord Murugan in Kapalee Temple in Madras. Again, this possession phenomenon is where are the deities in human persons?
In the life cycle, like my friend Shoba in her Bengal Protection ceremony and very much a domestic life ritual, but also an extraordinary person is people who become possessed, and then, after they are become possessed by the deity, they are worshiped as a living icon of the person, the deity. So far, so goddesses and notions of materiality.
Let me take you on a little boat ride. There's two little parts of this slideshow to meditate on things and it's gonna be strange. I guess I can actually see mine. I just got new lenses in my eyes. It's the most curious thing. I can't read the notes. I'd have to do this, but everything, actually, this has a really nice focus to it.
Anyway, what one does when one goes to the Ganga. This is Dashashvamedha Ghat, the ten horse sacrifice Ghat, or Tirtha or watering place or shrine along the Ganga in the city of Varanasi, one of the biggest ones. In the evening, you go for evening Darshan of the what? Of the river. As if the river was something in a shrine. I want that gym vest, actually, but, anyway, and again, all along the streets, the one thing about India, these are the backstreets leading to the river in Banaras.
Banaras is a city of thieves and mercantile power and crowds, and it's a sacred city, it's a temple city. The Ganga itself as an image, and there are religious shrines everywhere, but I guess the point I want to make, too, is we're about to head into a goddess and worship there in the river itself.
At night, now, there are a variety of rituals that have been started that are more or less nationalistic. This is Manikarnika Ghat, and you'll see this later. I did take a ride at night, which is a wonderful thing, too, when the lights are ... This is the cremation Ghat. We'll return there.
What has happened in recent years, particularly with this association, the Ganga Seva Nidhi, are these great nationalistic Hindu displays of what's called puja, to the river itself. They're splendiferous affairs with guests and politicians. It's a culture show that happens in the evenings. Some people, this is sort of upsetting to purists, who like to encounter, in a very deep and private way, the river, but it's public, it's political, and it's all about Hindutva, all about Hindu-ness and contemporary Hindu self-consciousness. It is pretty elaborate and wonderful. That is, offering different elements of fire, air and fragrance to the river, as you would an image in a temple.
While we're on images, I couldn't resist. Mannequins are great, too. Mannequins, images, people. Anyway.
The thing that one does, and that I'll reflect on, is the dawn walk. The dawn walk is watching, actually. The dawn walk is to go to the river, but also, to witness the rising of another god, Surya. Surya worship is very, very important, particularly to women, for sources of fertility. Surya is the sun, the sun rising over the river. You have the river as the goddess, you have the sun as a god, rising, and so the idea of going at dawn. Believe it or not, and it's very strange, the sun hasn't risen yet. I find it so bizarre that the sky turned out to seem so bright in these images, but, nonetheless, you walk towards the river before the sunrise.
The one thing that marks something like this, of course, is the extent of different kinds of people that one meets along the banks of the Ganga. There is lines of the poor, who are fed as a form of [seva 24:18] and worship by local temples that line the Ghat. There are also various forms of sadhus, or "holy men" or "renouncers," that hang out around this area, too. I'll talk a little bit more about this aspect a bit later, but you're sort of moving towards the river.
These are puja thalis. What you do is you buy ... Now, puja or worship in the Hindu tradition is, basically, often, it's a balance of hot and cold. There's [manjal 24:52], which is turmeric, which is cool, and then there's kumkum root, which is red, which is hot, so a puja's keeping a balancing act between hot and cool. Part of your little puja thali, and I had more than one, as we'll see, you buy that. You think of places in the medieval period in Europe, and there's a whole mercantile affair that goes on around sacred and holy places.
This is a shrine to Ganga. Let me see if I can do this without screwing everything up. There we go. It's a shrine to Ganga! That's an image of the Ganga, Gangamma. It actually is better on my retina display than on this. This is the priest for the little shrine that has an image of Ganga. Ganga, as one of these long, wonderful sort of doll-like figures in North Indian images, they're so bewitching and beautiful, but he's looking while he's facing the river. The river is Ganga, that's Ganga behind him, and, of course, the sun is about to rise, too. Again, at any given time or place, there's no problem with the sort of multitude of forms of the "same deity," the multiplication of Ganga in different places and forms.
Again, like any holy place, you have sadhus or [mehndikins 26:19], who beg for their food, so-called holy men. Very famous are the Banaras barbers. You can hang out and get a shave near the ... and we'll return to this guy. He's an interesting example of a sadhu, or holy man, and as the sun is just starting to rise. The light changes in very strange and bewitching ways, actually, as one approaches the river. Bright and dark, bright and dark, depending on the angle.
Again, the shores of Dashashvamedha Ghat, they're stone slabs, there's the river, and what happens here is puja. Is puja and worship to the river, like you would do in front of an image in a temple. It's the liquid form of Shakti. It's the form of Shakti in which people go in and bathe and do their worship right on the edge, and they also enter the water.
This is a puja with a, you can't quite see it, but there's column underneath it. There's an auspicious space being created and offerings, actually, this is really the essence of hospitality of a guest in a home. Part of also Hindu puja is the gods and goddesses are treated like guests. Really, puja or worship is a hospitality right, and this goes back very far into Indian tradition, too. What it is to worship a god, it's actually very much about the table. It's to invite a god to your table and to welcome them as a guest, to wash their feet, and to offer them all that great stuff, like batel leaf and things that's called [pon 27:48]. It's a sweet thing that makes your teeth red and it's really wonderful. Makes you a little high, too. They're offering the goddess some pon.
Again, the heavily-marked edge here is the river we're about to enter. It's a very powerful thing. I've done this over the years, and I don't know. There's just something that goes on. I don't know ... to describe. Later on, I'll come back to what these men are doing, too. All along the edge of the Ganga, there are panda priests. P-A-N-D-A. Panda priests, who do the pinda pradaana rites for people. What you do when you go to the Ganga is you also go there to do these rites for your ancestors, for the dead, for the family dead, who are thought to be in various realms just before rebirth. Again, the line between the living and the dead, literally on the edge of the river, is one where the living have a responsibility to care-take the dead.
Like in Chinese spirit religion, I mean, this is one of the most common forms of religiousness that human beings do in the world. It's managing the dead. It's their obligations, [samilia 28:53] obligations, that continue. The dead die. They don't go away. The dead continue to need to be fed, to need ritual prostrations from the living, in order to progress in the afterworld. This, again, the edge of the Ganga is one of the most powerful let's say places of that encounter between life and death, and ritual life and death.
It's very common, again, for people to do the pinda pradaana rite, to pray for their ancestors, and then to take a dip in the Ganga. I haven't done a full-on dip. Adrian and I generally go and we stay at a place called [Usi Ghat 29:35], farther north of the crescent of the Ganga. It's a more quiet spot. I've gone, I've immersed up to ... Well, like women in the story, I've gone up to my waist, but Adrian did a full-on gone.
As we leave the side of the river, this is the side of life for life exchange. There's Ganga, there's Shiva. This is Dashashvamedha Ghat. You go onto the river. River symbolism, of course, in the Indian tradition, is one rife with the notions of life and death. Crossing the river, the farther shore being death. The death and rebirth symbol of a river. Rivers are also identified in Hindu mythology with the menstrual blood of goddesses. It's the idea of fertility and flow from the goddess's body. All this idea of life, but life that's also entwined with living and dying, the actual borderline between living and dying.
One thing that impresses me, and my son took photographs a couple of years before I was here at this particular time, my son loves to hang out at this place and befriended one of the sadhus and contributed to a sort of a pilgrim's water stand along the edge of the city, along the edge of the river, but what mystifies me is the surface of the river, too, as we'll see. You move from this incredibly vivid shoreline onto the river. Looking back, sun has risen.
Here is the Shitala Shrine. More people flocked to this place than to any other shrine along the edge of the Ganga River. That is Shitala, our smallpox goddess. The goddess who actually causes a disease. People seek out Shitala for a variety of very intense afflictions. Shitala means "Cool," actually. She seeks coolness, but when she's heated up, she causes disease. Again, interesting complex paradox here between coolness and heat with Shitala.
Once again, the Ganga is an amazing thing. Of course, it's a terribly polluted river. There's some enzymes and things. Scientists have studied this river, but there's ways in which the Ganga river oddly, from Gangotri all the way down, seems to avoid a lot of stuff, too. Of course, the unfortunate idea is it's Mother Ganga, so she'll absorb anything, so factories just up the road still just, like, all the crap goes into the river. There's a religious idea that the Mother will embrace all impurities, right, because, you know, it's a complicated issue of women and impurity.
You can absorb impurities, and there's a sacred power in that, but, egads, there's environmental degradation of the Ganga. This is an ongoing thing, but the surface of the river is extraordinary. These are puja boats I put in the water for my mother and for my son. All this becomes very profound and very immediate. It's like a skin, it's a living skin.
One of the things you can do is you can swim from shore to shore. That's a way of actually being a pilgrim on the Ganga. Again, the way the water absorbs and reflects the light of the boats.
Now, this is pretty cool. What better way to do your yoga in the morning from the top of the [Araj 33:00] Ghat. Anyway. Now, I don't want to ... there we go.
Their side of the river, these are dhobis. There's dhobighat, where all of the washers of the people's clothes. There's a couple of Japanese tourists that are having enjoyment of the rising sun. It's a very vivid place of life. There's all kinds of things that float around, too, unfortunately, and one wonders what exactly is floating around one, and there are a lot of different things in, but could be carcasses of various kinds floating by, but, nonetheless.
Then we had, basically, your boat ride, as your head towards Manikarnika Ghat. This is where Kali is rejoicing. If I had visionary eyes, I'd see Kali dancing. I'd see her throwing up the ashes and going, "Thank God, you're dead. Now, you can be liberated from this miserable life." Death is a kind of grace in the devotion latitudes towards Kali, but, nonetheless, bodies are burned here, people are cremated 24 hours a day at this place, and thrown into the river. It's a very profound place to encounter. It is a place of death, but, I guess in terms of the city, with the kind of ideology of Banaras, is you die here and you're liberated. The encounter with Manikarnika, and then back to the shore.
It's a kind of progression from life to death and back to life again. Again, the profound dynamic of the shore, and I'll go through these quickly, just pulling up on the boat. This is a place of worship, it's a place of encounter with a kind of image, but the image is a river, and you can bathe in it. You can enter her body. Her body can cover you and bless you. Reminds me a little bit of ... I had experience in Lord. This actually goes many, many years ago, but the idea of getting the sacred springs at [Lord 34:56] to be healed, you have to take all your clothes off and put on these leather things or something, but you get wet, and you're not supposed to dry off the blessing at Lord in the Catholic tradition.
Back on the shore, these are the little panda stands, where people do pinda pradaana. This is an edge, a dynamic edge. An edge where you encounter the dynamic between life and death, where you can actually ritually encounter your dead and bless them. There's a connection between life and death. We slowly move back.
One particular thing about sadhus and holy men. Actually, gentlemen like this, who have actually performed, he's a renouncer of the fourth stage. He performed his own funeral ceremony. He's actually a dead man. The idea of death is defiling, normally, but sadhus are holy men, are kind of, you would say, the defiling sacred, or the sacred that defiles. This sort of otherness that is also charismatic. The sadhus represent a kind of walking dead, but also, they're already ideally spiritually headed to that other shore beyond death, but they really are the walking dead. They've taken new names and they've actually ... If you do the fourth stage, you're literally with a kind of a clay image of yourself. There's an elaborate funeral ceremony where you die to yourself, you are a different person. You're actually, still, you're a dead person, so the defiling power of death.
We head back to street. Future cricketer. I mean, you know. That's life. Life and gods. Narrow streets. Breakfast is happening. I'm getting really thirsty. It's morning tea. People selling all through the streets, selling things for pilgrims to go and encounter the river, but then, as the day comes, it's that special moment of encounter, and then the day. The mercantile day. Food, eating, shopping. School.
I like to end with this slide, because, actually, Banaras is not only a Hindu city, but it's a Muslim city, to. Muslims have their own stories about Banaras, and it doesn't have to do with the River Ganga, but it's a place of mosques, and it used to be a place of shared shrines, though, in recent years, this has not been the case. So, our day begins. That would be the last one. I just wanted to do that for Alan, and to give you a sense of this, of a journey like this, so, thank you.