Friday, November 05, 2010

Powerful

Over the course of a week of telling people about my Nepal trip, I found myself returning over and over to this spread of photos. It's from pages 66-67 of Kevin Bubriski and Keith Dowman's Power Places of Kathmandu: Hindu and Buddhist Holy Sites in the Sacred Valley of Nepal (Thames and Hudson, 1995) - a book recommended by my Rough Guide which I was happy to find in a used bookshop in Thamel - and shows a Parvati and a Hanuman from temples in Patan. (I didn't see them in situ.)
The book is remarkable for showing the places worshipers would focus on - there are few architectural shots, and no overviews. Most pictures instead, like these, take you right up close to figures of power - which you realize have been the object of much devotion. Hindu devotion can be seen as it takes the form of libations, pouring, smearing, sprinkling. The Parvati makes a gorgeous photograph, blissfully unaware of the residues of brightly colored powders and drops of water ... or is she aware? The Hanuman, by contrast, makes a disturbing image, his monkey features long since worn away by devoted hands. And yet, I've been telling people, that's what power looks like. A figure untouched by the needy ministrations of puja is just a figure. A figure transformed, even unto shapelessness, by these ministrations is a clearly a god.

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