In my performances at the Singapore Biennale 2016/2017, I made an offering to of cut mango to Murugan and to Rajinikanth. This was the second of a series of performances in which I have made post-traditional ritual offerings – coconut at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, mango at the Burning Man Festival, Mango Dango (dumplings) in , Courtyard Hiroo, Tokyo and Black Grass Jelly in Bangkok and limes and kueh pauh dilayang in Lumut. Amongst the deities and spirits invoked Lord Murugan, Lord Krishna, Momotaro San, Phra Rahu, Phra,Hanuman and all manner of Sial Jambalang.
Once upon a time, an eternity ago, in their heavenly abode on Mount Kailash, Lord Shiva, Mother Parvathy and their children Ganesha and Muruga were all together in a moment of family bliss. The Sage Naradha, who is notorious in Hindu mythology, for creating dissension among the Gods, paid them a visit. Holding a mango in his hand, Naradha addressed the boys, “Lord Ganesha, Lord Muruga, this is the mango of knowledge or enlightenment (nyanam) . It is sweeter than amirtham or the divine nectar, elixir of immortality. It must not, however, be shared or divided. It must be consumed whole, by one person of course!” Shiva and Parvathy were perturbed by this divisiveness, but nevertheless Lord Shiva set the boys a challenge, “This mango, this Nyana Pazaham (fruit of enlightenment), goes to the person who is the fastest in circumnavigating the world.”
Knowing he must win, Muruga bestrode his glorious vahanam (mount), the peacock, and flew swiftly round the world. The ungainly Ganesha, God of Wisdom, thought for a moment before setting off. Ganesha pondered on his own gait and girth, and on his modest vahanam – the homely mouse, and asked his parents a question, “Amma, Appa, is it not true that the parents are the world for a child?” “Yes”, the puzzled but glowing parents replied. Ganesha continued, “Is it not true that the whole universe is but a reflection or manifestation of your Lordly selves?” “Well, yes of course, it is!” It was the only possible reply. Ganesha simply circumambulated Shiva and Parvathy, his father and mother, his whole world – the whole world!
Sure enough Ganesha won the mango. When Muruga came flying back expecting to win, he saw Ganesha with the prize. Feeling cheated by his parents, he flew into a rage and pierced Ganesha in the belly with his vel (spear) a symbolic attribute of the Lord Murugan (This unusual variation of the myth comes via my mother and grandmother). Disenchanted, he abandoned his family and discarded all his jewels and princely clothes. He left his abode in Heaven and went south to stand on Mount Palani in his loin cloth. To this day he stands there as a youth, as Palani Aandi or the Mendicant of Palani, a form of the Lord, dear to the hearts of the Shaivites of South India and the diaspora.
The mango also appears in an episode in the Oriya poet Sarala’s rendition of the Mahabaratha where, the now mature and more worldly, Lord Krishna performs a miracle with the fruit. He 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.
As it is written in the Mahabaratha … Nine years pass after the Pandavas go into the forest having lost their kingdom in a game of dice. Duryodhana the leader of the Kauravas sends Gouramukha to locate the Pandavas. Gouramukha would find them by posing as a sage and asking for the gift of a ripe mango out of season. Only the Pandavas, aided by their ally Lord Krishna, could produce such a miraculous mango. When Yudhisthir, the lead Pandava, came upon Gouramukha in the forest disguised as a sage, he asked with great humility what food he would accept as an offering. The false sage said he would accept only a ripe mango. As expected, the needy Yudistihira asked Krishna for help. Krishna was, of course, able to oblige but an out of season mango was a ‘mango of truth’ and that it could only be produced if each of the Pandava brothers and their common wife Draupadi spoke their innermost truth.
Krishna called for a dry mango seed and breathed the potential of life into it. One after another the Pandavas each spoke their truth – Yudhisthira said he was a man of integrity and that he intended to fight to get back his kingdom … a shoot emerged from the seed; Bhima said he was a man of greed and he would kill anyone who insulted his mace … the plant grew into a tree; Arjuna said that he was brave and pure and that he was unbeatable in battle as long as he held his divine bow … the tree blossomed gloriously; Nakula said he was a man of conscience and that he was loyal to Yudhisthira … small unripe fruits appeared; Sahadeva said that he had the knowledge of the past, the present and the future but that he would not volunteer unsolicited advice to anyone … the mangoes grew to full size. Finally it was Draupadi ’s turn and she said that although the five Pandavas equal as her husbands, she had the greatest affection for Arjuna. The other brothers were hurt and angered but the mangoes were ripened by this truth.
Gauramukha swiftly departed to give Duryodhana the news that the Pandavas were indeed alive in the forest but Krishna intervened disguised as a Brahmin. Pretending to be surprised at the sight of a ripe mango in autumn, he suggests that it can not be ‘a real mango’ as a mango ripening in autumn was an anathema to the nature of things. ‘Truth’ could not produce such a mango. When Gouramukha protested, Krishna said that he would like to utter some truths as a test of this mango of truth. He said he had seen that a stone was floating on water, and a lotus was blooming on a mountaintop. The moon rose in the day and the sun arose at night. He continued in this manner and in no time the mango was burnt to ashes.
By Krishna’s ‘lies’ the falsehood of the ‘mango of truth’ ripened out of season was revealed and it was destroyed. Krishna symbolically destroys the very possibility of absolute truths in the relativistic flux of maya (our everyday reality), which is sustained by ambiguity. All things that one takes to be true are mere illusion – false mangoes of truth that reveal their falsehood beside Krishna’s apparent lies, which are at a deeper level, Krishna’s truths.
The Koboi and family are off to Burning Man festival 2017 in Black Rock City, Nevada. This year’s theme for projects at Burning Man is Radical Ritual, and I propose to present a special edition of Cowboys and Indians. In keeping with the theme, this work will exemplify how, even traditional rituals are constantly being revivified and radicalized. This presentation consists of two images – Pazham Neeyappa and Indian Cowboy, as well as the Mango of Truth performance which will be carried out at the [The Camp with No Name] on the Black Rock City Playa.
The Koboi Project will be at Burning Man 2017 in the Nevada dessert. In keeping with the burning Man theme of Radical Ritual this work will exemplify how, even traditional rituals are constantly being revivified and radicalized. Earlier this year the proposal for Cowboys and Indians: Special Burning Man Edition was presented at RECHARGE which is an event organized by The Greater Vancouver Interactive Arts Society (GVIAS). What seemed to strike the brightest chord with burners, was the gifting of mangoes on the playa. The understanding of art as a gift and its presentation as the occasion for conviviality are central to my art. These values are also at the heart of Burning Man. The Cowboys and Indians project will articulate a rapprochement of tradition and its other, in a manner that is germane to the present post-traditional moment.