Religion as Art

I was reading a while ago about the Ban-Yatra, a Hindu pilgrimage which is performed in the Braj region of northern India.  Unlike many pilgrimages the ban-Yatra isn’t focused on reaching a sacred locale or the place of Holy Relics but rather is about uncovering the sacred in the profane as the pilgrimage progresses.

Braj is believed to be the birthplace and playground of Krishna.  Many of the stories of Hindu literature mention places and land forms here as sites where Krishna performed his miracles, cavorted with his cowherd friends and engaged in love-play with the Gopi’s and his beloved Radha. The pilgrimage involves circumambulating Braj, visiting shrines and temples and partaking in various rituals.

Unlike some eastern religious philosophies the worship of Krishna isn’t about renunciation of this world-denial of desire, but quite the opposite: realizing desire in the beauty of nature and celebrating the love of Krishna as being non-different from it. In order to do this the pilgrim cultivates bhava, an emotional and imaginative energy that allows him or her to see beyond the mere commonplace and experience the presence of Krishna in the natural surroundings.

One scholar suggests that in achieving bhava the pilgrim becomes like a poet creating meaning in the landscape as he or she passes through it.

Wow!  What a great observation. The artist certainly creates alternative worlds through imaginative emotive means; a significant parallel to the creative religious practice of the Ban-Yatra pilgrim. Maybe the difference between the two lies in just how literally one believes in the existence of this other world and its inhabitants. The artist, I suspect, is less likely than the pilgrim to embrace his/her imaginings as factually existent.

It seems to me religious practice in general could profit from a bit more creative play and a bit less dogmatic belief.

Krishna and the Walking Dead3