Theme by Kota Neelima

Remains of Ayodhya, Places of Worship

By Kota Neelima

The self undertakes two kinds of journeys in a lifetime, the sensory and the spiritual. Like in any journey, points of reference mark the progress towards the destination and also help to find meaning in the landmarks crossed on the way. For the self, such points of reference could be a place, a symbol, a practice or anything that might be externally representative of its internal journey. Temples, mosques, shrines are places of worship where the lines of the sensory and the spiritual journeys intersect. These places are points of reference that provide context to the mind’s spiritual and sensory search. Through rituals and prayer, the sensory journey is achieved while through contemplation the spiritual journey is accomplished. And yet, although ritual and tradition could enlist each place of worship to a sensory journey under a particular religion, the spiritual journey defied such fixation. For this reason, the identification of places of worship with a religion must remain a mere functional aspect of the sensory journey. But, when the purpose of the sensory journey is to seek a spiritual destination, a place of worship must facilitate this transition by undermining its own relevance. Places of worship, thus, are temporary points of reference on the sensory journey of the self to its spiritual destination.

Religion seeks to assign permanence to places of worship for the purpose of god-making through arguments that are mythological, historical, philosophical, temporal, traditional, among other. The question, therefore, arises on whether the places of worship are restrictive towards the natural quest of the self to be spiritual. If so, what contours demarcate a place to be occupied by the religious symbols and un-demarcate it to return it to the whole?
What, for instance, would occupy the space left behind by the removal of a place of worship?
Will the space still serve as a point of reference and if yes, would it be a sensory point of reference or a spiritual point of reference?
If the point of reference were derived only from rituals and traditions of religion, then the ceasing of these would end the tenure of the place of worship. If, on the other hand, the points of reference were spiritual, it would continue to be such a place even without the religious rituals and traditions. The space left behind by a place of worship must relocate itself in the mind of the traveler on the sensory and spiritual journey. The space cannot be territorialized like a landmark or a structure, or demarcated like a nation or a household, but must be reimagined in every place that sought a spiritual destination.

Ayodhya as a permanent place of worship might have been a sensory point of reference towards a spiritual destination. Ayodhya as an absent place of worship may now be a spiritual point of reference. The paintings in the series, Remains of Ayodhya, Places of Worship, seek to reconceptualise Ayodhya in the mind of the travelers of various religions and unshackle it from its ritualistic territorialisation and traditional demarcation. The absence of the point of reference secularizes the space and equalizes it with other absences that must guide the spiritual journey. Ayodhya symbolizes the elevation of every ritual and tradition to its meaning, and of every place or structure to an empty space. The hegemonic appropriation of the space as a point of reference in any religion is further evidence of the sensory journey that seeks only the sensory destination. On the other hand, the lack of a point of reference in Ayodhya is sufficient for the spiritual journey that seeks the spiritual destination.

The paintings represent the absence of the point of reference in Ayodhya that equates it with any place of worship of the spiritual journey. In that, Ayodhya today could be compared to places that did not have temples, mosques and shrines. It is the space between religious structures, and is represented by non-ritualistic places of worship, like symbols of nature, trees, sky, the day and the night. This space is depicted through 23 works of oil on canvas that free Ayodhya from its perceived boundaries and find it the way it always has been, without form that belonged to any one religion and without tradition that belonged to any one faith