Darsan

Darsan / 2007

I have retrieved a set of images and videos from my years living very close to the large Sri Venkateswara Temple at Helensburgh near Sydney, Australia. I feel great love for that time, and the Temple was literally our place of worship during those years. We saw the community there building one shrine after another, working on the architecture and the gardens, cooking fragrant Masala Dosas under the gum trees, fighting off terrifying bushfires - and doing Poojas (ceremonies of offering) to protect against bushfires. We participated in very long Mantra recitations lasting hours; some were 1008 repetitions accompanied by ritual actions involving fire, oil, milk, immersion, music, veiling, unveiling and dressing the statues of the Gods. And the Temple ebbing and flowing in its cycle of life, from placid afternoons with the Gods being gently tended and oiled in slow motion, to searingly loud, raucus and colourful festivals with parades, fire, chanting, flower decorations, ritual sacred foods, and the wonderful, dedicated community swirling all around. We got to know the priests and the musicians. At the time (2005-2010) the Temple had in its congregation some of the finest South Indian musicians that we’d ever heard. One of those musicians, Mr Moorthy, could wail on the Nagaswaram (long oboe-like reed instrument) like no other; he was literally a spiritual descendant of John Coltrane (to our ears, anyway). We followed the cycle of the devotional year. There is a great build up to the Ganesha Festival, mirrored all over the world where there are Hindu Temples - and at this location the elephant god is paraded and hurled into the sea with ecstatic crowds - as all negativity is washed away and a new cycle can begin again. It is not allowed to photograph in Hindu temples, but on big festival days the cameras would come out and I got in a few photos…. here are some below from 2007. I also have wonderful (and crazy) videos shot on the beach during Ganesha immersion; those to follow. A note: the loving attention in the eyes of the worshippers is part of the act of Darsan, or Sacred Seeing…. devotees make contact with the gods through sight, and I can only assume, the gods in return contact the human devotee. It is a beautiful thing to witness. For more on Darsan see the seminal book Darsan: Seeing the Divine image in India by Diana Eck. https://cup.columbia.edu/book/darsan/9780231112659

Enjoy the photos. Videos will follow.
All photos by Catherine Schieve / Ganesha Festival, Sri Venkateswara Temple, 2007. Click to zoom.

Darsan for Ganesha, as the Nagaswaram is played. Ganesha statue is in the shrine just out of sight.

Darsan for Ganesha, prostrating on the floor, musical offerings

Making fire offerings with oil lamps, and circumnabulating the shrines with hands clasped in prayer

Emerging from the Temple with Ganesha statue on a bier, full accompaniment of Nagaswarams and drums

Table of food offerings, lamps, flowers and music

Heading toward the sea, crowds chanting

Ganesha heading toward the sea, final Poojas with fire before the joyous rush to immersion and destruction in the ocean’s waters.