Darling, even this is India!
India is just the right flavour sprinkled all over Germany, writes Varupi Jain.india Updated: Sep 27, 2005 17:04 IST
In a state of Trance
A photo exhibition called 'Trance' is running until the end of this month at the Museum of Ethnology in Leipzig. The exhibit focuses on Indian folk and tribal tradition with regional flavours of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Orissa and Karnataka.
Take for instance a woman clicked in Karnataka wearing Margosa-leaves, which give her the power to heal diseases and infertility. Another picture captures another Kannada woman 'in trance', possessed by Goddess Marikhamba. A Kodak-moment from Sirsi in Karnataka shows the annual procession of the same Goddess through the city and tens of thousands of devotees almost losing their senses in prayer.
Over to Madhya Pradesh. In villages around Bhopal in MP, the 'panda' personifies all Gods and Goddesses. God chooses its representatives on Earth by appearing in their dreams. The panda is not supposed to accept any gifts - which might deprive him of his holy powers.
In Bastar district in Chattisgarh, 'Sirha' is the medium of God. The chosen person, completely piercing his tongue and cheeks, sits on a chair full of nails. His ability to do so without undergoing any pain is a proof of his being possessed by God.
Another picture captures the procession of Mallanna alias Danteshwari - the famous Goddess of Deccan - leaving behind her signature clouds of haldi-powder, which the devotees spray on her abundantly.
I reach the exit of the exhibition hall and see sleek statuettes of horses and elephants in bronze and silver. I am reminded of plush drawing rooms in Delhi, where these statuettes find their way through the State emporia.
On leaving the Ethnology Museum, familiar strains of the organ from the Cathedral nearby pierce through the fumes of haldi-powder enveloping the green-brown Deccan landscape still in my mind. "Living Gods on Earth"- the caption of the Trance exhibition flashes through my mind as I pass by a wall full of Second World War graffiti. Concepts, ideas, histories and human traditions - so distanced from one another on the scales of both time and latitude seem to converge in that cobblestone street.
I wonder if I can claim to relate to these emblems of culture - to a Kannada woman in trance anymore than I can relate to organ music. I walk back in the rain wondering what we mean when we think we know something as conceptually intangible as a nation. Of course, we know the India of Radio Mirchi, Shoppers Stop, Jet Airways, Dilli Haat, Habitat Centre, Nariman Point, Hindutva and HSBC. But I cannot claim to know the India I just waded through at a quiet exhibition in a happening East German town.
I hop into the tram smiling, almost rejoicing - at least at the awareness - of how we often cushion ourselves carrying around our baggage of half-knowledge and manufactured truths.