Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mohammad, the Prophet... Shia, Sunni and the dogma

The Prophet has always been traditionally depicted. Such depiction was a normal affair especially in Shia tribes and nations - Iran and Turkic Kingdoms among them.

I, being a photographer and Cinematographer, fully agree with the Islamic tradition of condemning pictorial representations of human (and more importantly, powerful human) figures. Such representations create an aura. That aura is hypnotic in power. Designed images can subvert reality and create myth.

Hitler's pet filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl hit this point. She showed Hitler as demi-god, thus validating the Führer's claims. Careful stitching of shots - Low Angle Führer against Sky + God's Point-of-View of the earth teeming with pure race - created a belief.


Indeed, it was a conscious plan by the future-architect of the World War II to project himself as a Messiah to the war and inflation-stricken Germany through instruments of ideology creation. This film was made in 1934, September, capturing the the Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg.

The film opens out in the cloud, in the plane in which Hitler was going to Nuremberg. The idea of this celestial journey is clear today. Such a film still works, in the days of image overdose and manipulation.

In 1934, this film was the biggest ad on power. Any modern day TV commercial would feel shy in comparison.

This is exactly what the Prophet warned.

The world of glamour is connected to power. Glamour, charisma, leadership  all produce a magnetic aura. Money, sex and power, the three motivations of life, charted out by a Forbes contributor in June, 2013, were also the three motivating factors in the late Vedic culture of North India.

Dharma, artha and kama were the three motivating factors. There was a fourth factor - Moksha. But, that may be a later addition. Nowhere in the Rigveda Samhita, and Aiteraya Brahman, I came across any reference to the liberation from the birth-cycle. Who knows which came earlier - the moksha of the Vedic, or the Nirvana of the Buddhist?

Whatever it was, any figure that radiated success in these three areas of human life was considered a leader. A leader to be adored, to be worshipped.

Nobody knows if the Indus Valley Civilization idols were figurines for religious worship. Major pillars of Hindu revival were almost unanimous before the Harappan discovery that idol worship was not there in the Vedic ages. Swami Vivekananda and Rahul Sankrityayan both explicitly stated that idols came with the Greek. The first recorded idol to be worshipped was Buddha's. Probably some Greek architect built that, in the erstwhile Bactrean Empire. Modern Afghanistan retains part of those echoes from their past.

Gandhara Buddha. 1st-2nd century. Musee Guimet, Paris
Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Buddha never talked against, or in favor of, idol worship. There is no record. That's probably because there was no convention of idol making and worship in India in Buddha's time. Why was that so  is obviously an important question in its own right. But, there is no mention of any pratik or pratima in the early Vedic literature.

I believe Sanskrit scholars like Sukumari Bhattacharya could light this up in a clear way. Maybe Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri and other notable students of her who are involved in popularizing Vedic and Sanskrit literature and ideologies, and connecting them to modern life, could do so.

My Sanskrit knowledge is limited. And this field is vast - just like Newton's ocean of knowledge.

What I understand though, with my ultra-limited explorations, is that people change with ages, with new conveniences of life, with new technologies.

One of my teachers, who accidentally looks like Sakshi Maharaj, believes that human life doesn't change with technology. It remains basically the same. Hence, the stories and storytelling would be the same.

I don't agree.

We eat, sex, love and work in ways similar to what we would do five thousand, or even fifty thousand years ago. But, we don't eat the same food, we use lots of new toys and accessories in sex, we express love through newer means (I am pretty sure some new toy like Oculus would very soon revolutionize the way of distant relationships), and we work in radically different fields.

Although our motivations are still the same,

Yet the ways of appeasing them are not the same.

We need new leadership. We are afraid to take responsibility for the unconnected masses. We fear to take responsibility for ourselves. But, leadership is not so cheap.

Photo Courtesy: Political

A leader like Jesus, or Mohammad, is not born so easily.

So, we create our own leaders, We use the old traditions, old books, and interim sham-leaders to elude the uneasiness in our mind.

We put our own self-interests in their mouth. Doesn't PK say exactly the same thing?

Ironically, Vivekananda wrote similar things in Bhaktiyoga.

When enough people come together, from vested interest, to validate their own word as the word of god, a myth is created.

Buddha knew about this myth-creation process. This is why he encouraged individual explorations, and not blind faith.

Marx knew about this.

Yet, ornate rites have developed around these anti-ideologues.

Coming back to the Prophet, the depiction of demi-gods and the awe for the glamour-world, it is interesting to note that South Indians always knew this. This is why they made temples for Khushbu, Rajini and Amma. This is why filmmakers and actors always felt natural to enter politics.

It is not an anomaly.

This is why, I guess, the Prophet talked against creating divine aura around fellow human beings.

But, the message was misunderstood.

More about that in my next post.

Let's watch an old film on the Prophet and the early rise of Islam, from 1977.