Saturday, March 30, 2019

Flight of Deities, by Meenakshi Jain

Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples: Episodes from Indian History, by Meenakshi Jain

One-line review: a wrenching tale of the destruction of Hindu temples across the land, the crushing of a culture, the desperate and often doomed attempts to save deities from desecration and destruction, and the tentative, sporadic, diffident shoots of revival - more heard of than seen - point to a once-great civilization in the last throes of its inevitable end.

Short review: Meenakshi Jain's latest book chronicles the destruction of temples, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain, over the centuries at the hands of mostly Islamic invaders, and the attempts made, where possible, by the faithful to preserve the deities by ferreting them out of the temples before the marauders came to destroy temples and idols. These attempts succeeded sometimes, and it would take years, decades, or sometimes, even centuries, for those idols to be retrieved and returned to their rightful place. In many cases, however, the idols were lost forever. Wherever temples were destroyed, there were consistent attempts to resurrect them and to revive the practice of worship there, but the scale was always diminished, the spirit subdued, a pall of fear hovering the faithful like a shroud, the prospect of a second, third, fourth round of destruction never far away. In some cases, like Kashmir, even the memory of temples destroyed has faded. While the rise of British colonialism would wreak further untold havoc on the economy and the spirit of the nation, the one good that seems to have come out from colonialism was the work done by British archaeologists in uncovering and documenting scores of accounts of temple destruction. After independence, any hopes of a revival of a faith suppressed for a millennia would soon be cruelly crushed. Between the criminal apathy shown by the Archaeological Survey of India, a rapacious state that took over the control and management of Hindu temples, starving them of funds and looting their lands, and an educational system that instills a deep sense of hatred of Hinduism among Hindus, it may not be an exaggeration to state that the final nail in Hinduism's coffin, in a manner of speaking, has been planted.

Long review:
Out of sight, out of mind - goes the adage. The same could be said about Hindu temples also. As the temples of the Hindus were destroyed across the land, so did the memory about places that had once been sacred for centuries or more fade. Adherents did what they could to sustain their faith, but even that diminished over the years as their numbers themselves diminished. Eventually, memories of sacred places and temples would live on only in oral traditions and sometimes written accounts. Meenakshi Jain's book is an account of the destruction of Hindu temples, their deities, the flight of some of those deities, and the sporadic and desperate attempts to revive those places of worship and return the deities to their original abode.

Multan was first referred to its modern name by the Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang, who came to Multan in 641 CE, and called the town Mulasthanpura (city of the frontier land). Tradition held that Multan was founded by the sage Kashyapa, father of the twelve Adityas. Kashyapa's son, Hiranyakashyipu, was killed by Vishnu's incarnation, Narasimha, at Multan. The Sun temple at Multan was supposed to have been constructed by Samba, Krishna's son, who initiated Sun worship in the town. Another temple at Multan, the Prahladpuri temple, was where the festival of Holika dahan commenced. To say that Multan was an important and sacred city in the geography of Hinduism would be an understatement.