The Maṇḍala Of Text And Temple


Madurai MT 

Meenakshi Temple,
Madurai, South India: an entrance corridor


Sanskrit Sacred texts are Apauruṣeya, a word routinely and literally interpreted as ‘Not authored by human’, that is, like the Koran or the Bible, it is the direct ‘Word of God’. That is not what the word is meant to suggest.

Apauruṣeya denotes something not ‘Man-Made’, that is not a creation of a Modeled-Interpretation, a delineation extended in the Sruti/Smriti distinction below.

The Kanchi Paramacharya [1894-1994], a modern authority on the subject, explains that the proper name for Hinduism is simply as the ‘Nameless’. Vishnu has a thousand names [Sahasranāmam] precisely because Vishnu is Nameless.

The word ‘Nameless’ is simultaneously a name and a noun and an adjective about itself as a name and a noun. A meta-statement, a self-referential swivel.

Is ‘Nameless’ a name? Or is it not a name? [Try it.] ‘Nameless’ is a Self-Eating Expression. And the Symbol ‘0’ is the paradigmatic Self-Eating Expression.

Sanskrit sacred text expands from a center of ferociously absurd verse in concentric circles of increasing sensibility. 

It moves; it moves not. It is far; and it is near. It is inside [all]; and it is outside [all]’ pronounces the Isha Upanishad.

Esoteric religious texts typically began as written down versions of privileged oral teaching.  Upanishad is Rahasya: ‘Secret Transmission’. The core is unsaid and ambiguous; the interpreted periphery, explicit and sensible.

The core texts are Sruti, unfiltered; at the periphery are the Smritis, Slokas and Sastras, the qualifiers and footnotes, the rules and rituals of orthopraxy.

At the peak of Vedic intent, Brahman is Nirguna Brahman (without attributes). As Sahguna Brahman, (with attributes) all names are in absurd phrase: Being-Becoming; Sonant-Silent; Eternal-Temporal; Explicit-Implicit.

Lower still and in increasing familiarity are the Myths, the Epics, the Folk-Tales, the Proverbs, the learned Bon-Mots.

You can drop the bar as low as you like. It is up to you.

This Maṇḍala of cryptic center simplifying in stages to a comprehensible and conventional perimeter is repeated in the architecture of the classic South Indian Temple.

The Garbha Griha [‘Womb-Abode’] resides at the center of the complex, recessed within corridors of diminishing light and crouching access. The deity is minimalist in extreme, a stone-erect.

As the devotee moves outward from ‘Womb’, the pillars and ceilings and walls of the temple becomes discernible, domestic. Myths, Gods, Goddesses and semi-divine figures.

At the outer walls of the temple, all cover is dropped. Life depicted in full bounce. Men and women, child and animal, angle and color, festival and ritual; life as Panorama.

The temple parallel, the three-dimensional analogue of sacred text.

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