The Mango Icon


For the Cowboys and Indians performance at burning Man I shall present an antique terracotta icon of the infant Krishna. The icon was is a ritual object that would in its time have been used in domestic worship. It presents the infant Krishna bearing fruits. In his right hand, he bears a small purple fruit, perhaps a navel pazham or jambul fruit (Syzygium cumini) which is linked metaphorically to the Lord’s dark skin. In the crook of his left arm he holds a large ripe mango. This terracotta indexes the metaphoric equivalence of the Mango and the Jambul as attributes or representations or indeed flavors of the Lord Krishna.

In the myth of Krishna and the fruit seller, an old hawker woman selflessly satisfies the god’s desire for her ripe produce, even though he seems to offer her practically nothing in return. In folk representations of this allegory of desire (kama) and devotion (bakthi), as exemplified in the terracotta icon described above, the sublime mango often stands, metonymically, for the cornucopia of fruit in the old woman’s basket, which in turn represents the desires and delectations of the material life. This kama is redolent, or indeed ripe, with soteriological promise in that it can be transmuted into the bakthi of a selfless offering to the Lord.

The mango also appears in some versions of the Mahabaratha where, the now mature and more worldly, Lord Krishna miraculously materializes a ripe mango from a seed, while the fruit is out of season and then, turns it to ashes, thereby revealing both the illusory nature of reality (maya) and the complexities that underlie the idea of truth (satyam) itself. There are also variations of this mango of truth narrative in which, the mango is replaced by the jambul fruit (Syzygium cumini). A case in point is the Jambul-Upakhyan which is a contemporary expression of the Marathi folk tradition developed by the renowned folk story-teller and performer Shahir Vitthal Umap.  Here the jambul which stains the tongue demonstrates the ubiquity of outward falsifications of inner truths.​

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