A photograph of a sacred cow was the stimulus for SSOA’s weekly creative writing exercise recently. These are some of the responses the scene elicited, not all limited to Indian religious practice:
One man near the front of the store was looking slightly away from the camera. Rajiv’s thoughts flew away from the cold, white-washed clothes store, where a dysfunctional air conditoner stood, as mute as the outlandish blond boy-mannequin. Rajiv needed the warmth of Siva’s spirit to fill him – but the spirit was absent or frozen.
Copyright Gabriela Dimitrova
A huge Brahmin bull sits placidly on the floor in the middle of a clothing store, cooled by the fan which stands in the corner. A mannequin of a little boy wears a sample of the salwar kameez tunics and shirts they sell.
Like a mirror on the back wall, a poster shows Shiva, in all his sartorial glory, riding a bull, echoing the scene in the shop.
Store assistants sit around, gazing blankly, unperturbed by the presence of the bull as if it were a normal, natural occurrence – which in India it is. Holy cows and bulls roam freely and safely without the fear of the butcher’s knife; protected from the cleaver by the Hindu faith.
After all, why should we be surprised? It isn’t even a china shop!
Copyright Helena Ameisen
How special does worship have to be? In Australia we forget that in many countries, worship and the sacred live side by side with everyday life: the little monument at the side of the road with holy water ready for you to give and take blessings; the sacred cow in a cafe; churches and holy groves in the middle of a field, or in little laneways as you trek your way across town.
Lately, on the way to the train in the mornings, I have been stopping off for a few moments at my local Greek church, entering the darkened temple arching up to its high-domed ceiling, cloaked in dim lights and glowing with gold everywhere. And I’ve been lighting several candles. In a Greek church the candles are set up at the entry of the church in a sand pit of sorts (safety first), and you place a few coins in a box and help yourself. A candle for each thought, or each person you want to pray for, but not before you run the gauntlet of having to kiss several icons.
I know this will seem strange to many Australians, but Greeks love icons. They are handed down for decades, painted with holy intent and lots of gold paint. And it used to be that it was hard to actually see the bottom of a saint’s picture behind its plates of glass, because of the lipstick marks caked on by those fervent kisses. These days things are a little more civilized. I noticed that people don’t actually kiss the icons anymore. Worshippers have become like eastern suburbs socialites, so that as they come in they air-kiss the icons. But those few moments – of sitting in the dark, having humbled yourself before images, kneeling before images which have been prayed to by so many others – set mind and heart at peace.
Copyright Maria Issaris
Copyright – photos by John Davies & Christine Williams; texts by Gabriela Dimitrova, Helena Ameisen and Maria Issaris
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