Between 1997 and 1998 Dr. Raman Srinivasan of Chennai and I collaborated to build, theorize and install a virtual temple on the Internet. The Temple was built in VRML in Chennai and located on a server in Sarawak. It was presented to the international interactive arts community in a paper titled Sacred Art in a Digital Era: Or the Internet and the Immanent Place in the Heart at the 2nd Consciousness Reframed conference at the University of Wales College in Newport (not available online).
The VRML temple was based on sketches of the Hridayaleeswarar temple, an existing physical structure in Thirunindravur about 20 miles from Chennai. According to the Sthala Purana or founding legend of the temple, it was in fact erected by the great King Kadavaraja based on the proportions of what was initially a virtual temple built in devotional meditation by the sage Poosalar. Some years after our project ended and the website was taken down, I returned to the VRML model to make a 3D print of its central Icon, Lord Shiva Nadaraja. This image was sent to Chennai from Vancouver where it was consecrated by Srinivasan’s father and used in domestic worship.
At the heart of this project was the integration of the traditional and the technological relationships of the real to the virtual. There was first, in the sthala purana, a movement from myth to physical architecture and then, in our VRLM/Internet project, from the actual architecture to the virtual model and, finally moving from the VRML model to the physical 3D print. This work was grounded in the belief that as the World Wide Web makes the Internet globally accessible, it must become a medium for the living sacred traditions of the world.
I went on to develop a framework for the rapprochement of digital technology and sacred tradition in papers like the following –
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.
It was a happy return for the Koboi, when on the 28th October 2016, I presented my Koboi Balik Lagi performance as a Biennale artist at the Singapore Art Museum. This is where I had cut my teeth as a Southeast Asian theorist and as a curator in the 1990s. Compared to my previous appearances at this venue, my mango myth presentation was a bit more of an enactment and less of an exposition. Still, for me, there is little difference between the two modes of performance. In fact, in the oral, tradition all speech acts are performative. In the mindful recounting of myth, the diegesis is inherently mimetic. The world is enacted in the telling and within this enactment, stirs the moment of its its very creation. Such are the workings of the oral tradition … the universal sacred tradition. Indeed, as Ananda Coomaraswamy has explained, ‘a myth is always true’.