The sacred in the Indian tradition is more an experience than a concept and goes much beyond the narrow confines of an organized temple or even a shrine. The gods of this tradition, as well as those who hold them sacred, are simple and unpretentious yet dignified and self-assured. Whether it is a tree that is held sacred or a naturally occurring stone that is revered, a river that is the embodiment of divinity itself, an ancestor that is worshipped, a fabric that is simply draped, a road side shrine on a busy street or a votive terracotta horse that is lovingly made and offered, a narrative scroll that holds it audience spell-bound; here is religion at work that is as spontaneous as it is intense, charged with faith, fervor and commitment; now private and now shared, that forms an internal part of the lived lives of these common people, be they rural or urban, tribal or traditional. The rituals and practices for these deities are neither scripted nor canonized, but what they may lack in grandeur, erudition and ceremony, they more than make up in the faith and feeling that they generate. In a civilization which has encountered majestic truths and erected grand temples, these sacred manifestations and expressions of the ordinary people tend to be sidelined or dismissed by scholars as well as the world at large, as minor or lesser gods worthy of curiosity but not of serious study, but it is important to remember that they have a beauty and presence of their own in the pluralistic Indian tradition.
Harsha V. Dehejia leads an international group of scholars to explore this idea which in many ways defines the spirit of India.
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