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The Da Vinci Code mania

THE DA Vinci Code ? both the book and the film based on it ? has generated an enthusiasm unprecedented in the literary and cinematic history of the West in recent times..

india Updated: May 30, 2006 14:46 IST

THE DA Vinci Code – both the book and the film based on it — has generated an enthusiasm unprecedented in the literary and cinematic history of the West in recent times..

What is the Da Vinci Code (Code hereafter) about and why has it caught the imagination of the West and therefore the rest of the world?

The narrative begins with the assassination of the curator of the Louvre museum, Jacques Saunierre, the protector of the secret of the Holy Grail. Before dying, Saunierre leaves clues laden with Leonardo Da Vinci’s works that would enable Harvard University symbologist Prof Robert Langdon and French police cryptographer Sophie Neveu (played by Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou respectively in the film) to decipher the secret of the Holy Grail (according to

Christian belief the Holy Grail is the cup used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper while Dan Brown suggests that it is a metaphor for Mary Magdalene’s tomb and other documents associated with her and Jesus’s life.

Undoubtedly, Brown has shocked the West by presenting an alternative and intriguing tale of Jesus Christ’s marriage with Mary Magdalene and having a child by her whose descendants are alive even today. But what has equally fascinated the West is that the narrative of the Code deals with real places and organisations that an educated Westerner is familiar with.

The Code’s first murder (when curator Saunierre is killed) is set in the Louvre museum – a former Renaissance palace in Paris, it is situated between river Seine and the Rue de Rivoli and is said to be the longest building in Europe. It has now become the most famous art museum in the world and in 2005 alone it attracted nearly 75 lakh visitors, mostly westerners.

The Church of Saint Sulpice (the place where the Code’s second murder is committed) was built by the parish priest Jean-Jacques Olier in the 17th century.

The church is said to have the most-weird history of any building in Paris. Almost matching Notre Dame architecturally, the church was built over the ruins of an ancient temple of the Egyptian goddess Isis and was once the clandestine meeting hall for secret societies.

Brown uses the church as the venue where the fictional Sister Sandrine is murdered by the albino monk, Silas – a fanatical member of a real organisation, Opus Dei (literally work of God in Latin);

a Christian outfit that belongs to the Catholic church and works directly with the Pope. Founded by the Spanish priest Josemaria Escriva in 1928, it is one of the fastest growing and most financially secure Catholic organisations in the world.

Later, chasing the secret, Langdon and Sophie reach the temple Church. Located between Fleet Street and river Thames in London, the church was consecrated by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, on February 10, 1185 AD. The church is believed to have been the venue of negotiations leading to the Magna Carta and had survived the Great Fire of London and the First World War.

Subsequently, the chase takes the fictional duo of the Harvard symbologist and the French lady cryptologist to Westminster Abbey – a Gothic church in London built by King Edward around 1045-1050 AD. It has witnessed the marriage of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson and the funerals of Henry V, Queen Elizabeth I and Lady Diana.

Brown also takes the grail-pursuing fictional twosome to Rosalyn Chapel – a 15th century church in village Rosalyn, Scotland. Called the Cathedral of Codes. The chapel was built by the Knight Templars and is engraved with an array of Christian, Jewish, Masonic and pagan symbols. By challenging the familiar story of Jesus’s life through a tale involving real places and organisations, the Code has

struck a chord with the educated westerner. Imagine a tale involving the great Buddha with places like Bharat Bhavan, Benares’s Vishwanath temple, Sabarimala’s Ayyappa temple and a sinister member of the Bajrang Dal thrown in – wouldn’t it have excited an educated Indian? Clearly, there is some method in the West’s madness for the Da Vinci Code.

The writer is Assistant Professor, National Law Institute University, Bhopal