The magnificent Rajini Sir seems unable to avoid being the embodiment of mythology. Recently, he has been equated to the Trojan Horse from the Odyssey, suggesting that his appealing Dravidian cinematic persona may be packed with a BJP / Arya Samaj political intent, waiting to be let in past the Dravidian gates of Tamil Nadu governance. Now, with his own Mahabaratha reference in the context of the Modi government’s move to revoke Article 370, he has been equated to Abhimanyu the warrior son of Arjuna. In an open letter to Rajinikanth Arun Ram, Resident Editor, of the The Times of India, Tamil Nadu, writes, ” I am happy that you have found your Krishna and Arjuna in Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, though you are not sure who is who. That’s fine, as long you realise that you are the Abhimanyu the BJP badly needs in Tamil Nadu.”
Abhimanyu is the son of Pandava champion Arjuna and nephew of the Lord Krishna himself. At the tender age of 16 he was the most powerful, and perhaps vainglorious, of warriors. But despite wreaking havoc on the Kauravas in the battlefield he is killed and his role in the plot of the Mahabaratha seems to be much more as a catalyst of victory than as a victor. You see, his father Arjuna is ambivalent about using his powers to destroy the enemy. The Kauravas are after all the cousins of the Pandavas! With the killing of his beloved son, however, Arjuna is personally afflicted and is open to the martial wiles of the masterful Lord Krshna.
Abhimanyu was a dispensable element in the plot of the Mahabharata. I hope Rajini Sir will avoid the pitfalls of personifying such figures from Indo Aryan mythology as the dissembling Trojan Horse and the tragic Abhimanyu, on the political battlefield of Dravida Nadu.
After a meeting of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, Home Minister Amit Shah announced the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution ending the special status and relative autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir and the division of the territory into two. While his friend and fellow traveller in movie stardom and in politics, Kamal Haasan has criticized this BJP policy as an assault on democracy, Rajinikanth has, sadly, approved. Taking the spiritual allegory of the Mahabharata, quite literal, to the contemporary battlefield, the fledgling politician is reported to have said that Modi and Amit Shah were like Krishna and Arjuna.
In my own view, this is an epic political fail for Thalaiva. I was, from some of his earlier pronouncements on religious and cast politics, envisioning a more humanistic and inclusive application of the traditional Hindu ethos in contemporary Indian Politics. Indeed Rajinikanth should be wary that he does not become a ‘wooden’ politician, particularly in the sense of becoming the Trojan horse that secrets BJP’s RSS/Arya Samaj saffron remix into the black atheist heart of the Dravida polity. Such an autocratic gesture from this second term Hindutva government bodes ill for the diversity that has characterized Indian politics since independence in 1947.
As far as Thalaiva’s entry into Tamil Nadu politics is concerned, I had hopes that Thalaiva would usher in a fresh spiritually motivated universalism to the tired atheist and ethnocentric Dravidianism that has shaped the modern state. I regret to note that, as his star glows with an increasingly saffron hue, my hope of Thalaiva becoming an exemplary post-traditional politician is fast reducing to just another fan-boy’s fantasy! Come on La … Thalaiva!!!
In the myth of Krishna and the fruit seller, an old hawker woman selflessly satisfies the god child’s desire for her ripe and aromatic produce, even though he seems to offer her practically nothing in return. In folk representations of this allegory of desire (kama) and devotion (bakthi), such as 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. To return to the story … One day a fruit seller came to Vrindavan, the village that is young Krishna’s abode. She was a simple woman, old and poor. Little Krishna heard her call and he ran out to her with a handful of grains to trade for his favorite mango. As he was running, the grains fell out between his little fingers and as he made his offer to the fruit seller, there were hardly any left in his hands.
The poor old lady was, however, so charmed by Krishna’s beauty that she freely gave him all the fruits he desired. On the way home she noticed the basket was heavy and when she arrived she found that the lord had filled it up with celestial jewels. Thus it is shown how love (bakthi) of the greater self (Brahman), recognized metonymically in the more tangible beauty of the young Lord Krishna has great soteriological effect. It is this salvation by selfless giving that is both the theme and the message of the myth of Krishna and the fruit seller.
So we did it! My fellows at The Camp With No Name, my family and I – we realized the image I had visualized for Cowboys and Indians at Burning Man. We did one performance on the evening of the 31st August at camp where I presented the Krishna icon, the Thalaivar banner, and the Indian Cowboy image and 40 perfectly ripe mangoes. I told Krishna stories of love and truth to the gathering. Tara played an improvisation on the melody of Joe Ely’s Indian Cowboy on the Cello and Jane read her Poems on the Megaphone. Durga took photographs for future editions of the Koboi Project. The next day on the 1st September, Jane, Tara, Durga, Lucas, Guy, Saren and I took Cowboys and Indians onto the playa. This time we distributed 80 mangoes and interacted with burners as they came by on the their vehicles, their bikes and on foot. We shared love and truth … and mangoes till the sun went down on the Playa.
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.
The Mango of Truth Performance will be carried out twice during the Burning Man event, once at camp and once on the playa. At the heart of this performance is the presentation of an antique terracotta icon for Lord Krishna and the gifting of mangos at the end of each performance. The performance will take place beneath thePazham Neeyappa (You art the Fruit) banner of SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth. The Krishna icon will be shown to the audience along with a ripe mango. The Koboi will narrate the meaning of the mango within Hindu worldview, in terms of the Hindu concept of knowledge,and in terms of ideas of love and truth. The narrative will be centered on the exploits of Lord Krishna. These ideas and allegories will lead to a reflections on the ‘image’ (Superstars, cowboy, etc.) and on the nature ’truth’ (false news, post-truth, etc.) in our contemporary reality. Jane Frankish will read poems from her Jane And The Library MonkeysBlog on a Megaphone. Tara Rajah will play short improvisations of Joe Ely’s Indian Cowboy on the cello andDurga Rajah will photograph the performances for future Koboi Project editions.
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.