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Thoughts On Nature And Holy Spots In Hinduism

If nature is a work of art, God is a unique artist. According to Ananda Coomaraswamy: ‘That God is the first artist does not mean He created forms, which might not have been lovely had the hand of the potter slipped, but that every natural object is an immediate realization of His being. This creative activity is comparable with aesthetic expression in its non-volitional character; no element of choice enters into that world of imagination and eternity, but there is perfect identity of intuition-expression, soul and body.’

If the universe is an expression of the imaginative creativity of the Divine, then human myths and legends are attempts to capture that imagination within that very creation. ‘The teerthas’, writes Diana Eck, ‘are primarily associated with the great acts and appearances of the gods and the heroes of Indian myth and legend. As a threshold between heaven and earth, the teertha is not only a place for the “upward” crossings of people’s prayers and rites, it is also a place for the “downward” crossings of the gods. … Considering this vast corpus of Indian mythology, which recounts the deeds of the gods and heroes, it is not difficult to imagine that the whole of India’s geography is engraved with traces of mythic events. It is a living sacred geography.’ The seven ‘liberating cities’, the fifty one devi peethas, the twelve jyotirlingas, the seven great rivers, the five Kedars and Kashis, the seven Badris, the five sarovaras (lakes), the twenty four prayagas (river confluences), the innumerable sites associated with the legends of the Ramayana and Mahabharata,…the list is endless.

Natural beauty, however, has evoked a singularly distinct response from the Indian mind, says Sister Nivedita: ‘Beauty of place translates itself to the Indian consciousness as God’s cry to the soul. Had Niagara been situated on the Ganges, it is odd to think how different would have been its valuation by humanity. Instead of fashionable picnics and railway pleasure-trips, the yearly or monthly incursion of worshipping crowds. Instead of hotels, temples. Instead of ostentatious excess, austerity. Instead of the desire to harness its mighty forces to the chariot of human utility, the unrestrainable longing to throw away the body, and realize at once the ecstatic madness of Supreme Union.’