Why this blog is called "Gallimaufry".

gal-uh-MAW-free\, noun.

Originally meaning "a hash of various kinds of meats," "gallimaufry" comes from French galimafrée; in Old French, from the word galer, "to rejoice, to make merry"; in old English: gala + mafrer: "to eat much," and from Medieval Dutch maffelen: "to open one's mouth wide."

It's also a dish made by hashing up odds and ends of food; a heterogeneous mixture; a hodge-podge; a ragout; a confused jumble; a ridiculous medley; a promiscuous (!) assemblage of persons.

Those of you who know me, will, I’m sure, understand how well some of these phrases (barring the "promiscuous" bit!) fit me.

More importantly, this blog is an ode to my love for Shimla. I hope to show you this little town through my eyes. If you don't see too many people in it, forgive me, because I'm a little chary of turning this into a human zoo.

Stop by for a spell, look at my pictures, ask me questions about Shimla, if you wish. I shall try and answer them as best as I can. Let's be friends for a while....

8 August 2010

By this merit may all attain omniscience. May it defeat the enemy, wrongdoing.

Wander anywhere up, down and around the Himalayas and you are bound to come across wonderful domed structures, made sometimes of clay and wood, at other times of concrete. These wonderful representations of piety called chortens or stupas dot the entire stretch from Himachal in the West, right up to Nepal, Burma and beyond to Thailand. Southwards, you find them in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and in Sri Lanka. It is interesting to note how these, while retaining the fundamental shape and elements of structure, have acquired variations on the theme in different parts of the world. I am not going to make an exposition on the chortens of the world here, but merely share pictures of some I've seen in the wonderful state of Himachal Pradesh.

Khangsar, Keylong.

Gemur gompa, Keylong.

In Sanskrit, ''stupa'' is used to designate a top-knot, one that is created when hair is gathered on top of one's head. This Wikipedia article gives us an interesting and detailed explanation of what chortens or stupas symbolise.

Khardang, Lahaul.

Shashur, Keylong.

A chorten is a sort of equivalent of a reliquary of the Catholic faith, developed from pre-Buddhist grave mounds, serving as the final resting place for saints. These eventually became destinations for pilgrimage, or at the very least, places of worship or meditation.
Pilgrims and travellers circumnambulate chortens as form of respect and devotion. According to my friend Nyema Dhondup, movement along the circular path (Tib. kora) is clockwise, so that the right shoulder is always facing the monument.

Gondhla, District Lahaul

Gemur, near Keylong.

The basic structure of chorten consists of a square base which symbolises the earth; the dome symbolises water; the tapering steps (13 in number) are meant to symbolise fire. These lead up to a sort of stylised furled parasol which represents the wind, topped by a twin symbol of the sun and moon. Made of mud, wood and butter, the perishability of the materials used is meant to symbolise the illusory nature of all objects, including those considered sacred.

Shansha, District Lahaul.

Tayul, District Lahaul

Chortens are revered because they represent Dharma, the body, mind and speech of Lord Buddha. As such, they act as a reminder to all passers-by that they are on the path of enlightement. The structural design of the chorten also asks us our eyes to travel from the base to the dramatic image of the sun and moon at the very top - a reminder of the need to travel from this base existence to a state of enlightenment.
So the next time you pass one of these wonderful domed structures, don't forget to circumnavigate them clock-wise, asking for the well-being of all creatures living and dead.


varsha said...

isn't it amazing that echoes of Sanchi are present in Lahaul??
I remember seseing something like chortens in Bastar as well but must be some tribal totem.
There is no Buddhisim there.

Gallimaufry said...

Yes, Varsha. The grave mounds of Bastar pre-date and inspire the Buddhist stupas/chortens. The continuity is visible and present.

Kamal Sharma said...

I wait for your posts because I know it would be much better than the last one. Thanks for introducing me to the Chortens.

Asha said...

Gorgeous pictures. I must return to Himachal and specifically do the interiors...

Gallimaufry said...

Kamal, thank you for stopping by. Your feedback makes my day :)

Asha, thaks, yaar. Yes, HP has so much to offer.

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