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Visible India - Darsan (Excerpts)
By Diane L. Eck

Hinduism is an imaginative, an "image-making, religious tradition in which the sacred is seen  as present in the visible world – the world we see in multiple images and deities, in sacred  places, and in people. The notion of darsan call attention as students of Hinduism, to the fact that India is a visual and visionary culture, one in which the eyes have a prominent role in the apprehension of the sacred. For most ordinary Hindus, the notion of the divine as "invisible" would be foreign indeed. God is eminently visible, although human beings have not always had the refinement of sight to see. Furthermore, the divine is visible not only in temple and shrine, but also in the whole continuum of life – in nature, in people, in birth and growth and death. Although some Hindus, both philosophers and radical reformers, have always used the terms "nirguna"(qualityless) and nirakara (formless) to speak of the One Brahman. Yet the same tradition has simultaneously affirmed that Brahman is also saguna (with qualities) and that the multitude of "names and forms" of this world are the exuberant transformations of the One Brahman.

India presents to the visitor an overwhelmingly visual impression. It is beautiful, colorful, sensuous. It is captivating and intriguing, repugnant and puzzling. It combines the intimacy and familiarity of English four o’clock tea with the dazzling foreignness of carpisoned elephants or vast crowds bathing in the Ganga during an eclipse. India’s displays of multi-armed images, its processions and its pilgrimages, its beggars and its kings, its street life and markets, its diversity of people – all appear to the eye in a kaleidoscope of images. Whatever Hindus affirm of the meaning of life, death, and suffering, they affirm with their eyes wide open. Many westerners, for example, upon seeing Hindu rituals observances for the first time, are impressed with how sensuous Hindu worship is. It is sensuous in that it makes full use of the senses – seeing, touching, smelling, tasting and hearing. One "sees" the image of the deity (darsan). One "touches" it with one’s hands (sparsa), and one also "touches" the limbs of one’s own body to establish the presence of various deities (nyasa). One "hears" the sacred sound of the mantras (sravana). The ringing of bells, the offering of oil lamps, the presentation of flowers, the pouring of water and milk, the sipping of sanctified liquid offerings, the eating of consecrated foods- prasad – these are the basic constituents of Hindu worship, Puja.

For all its famous otherworldliness, India is a culture that has also celebrated the life of this world and the realms of the senses.

Source: Darsan - Seeing the Divine Image in India
Anima Books. Page 10 - 12



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