Something Sacred

Sacred places, sacred objects, sacred rituals. Sacred symbols. Even sacred ‘roles’. ‘Mother’. ‘Bhartiya Naari’.

We have all seen these, heard of these, been part of the interactions that happen around them. Today I got wondering anew about the meaning of what it means to us, and what it does to our thinking, when something is considered ‘Sacred’. And what is the relation of the sacred to the mundane and further, to that realm of things considered ‘profane’.

Things we often hear in relation to the ‘Sacred’ are a whole lot of ‘don’ts’ a lot of barriers, a lot of distance. Taboos. Forbidden in part or fully. Or approached only through a mediator, a complex ritual or with loads of fearful  consequences in case of a breach of protocol. The Sacred is all very admirable and good and pure, but not quite part of our concerns in a real, here and now way. Maybe it is this way because what is put out there as Sacred is perhaps all the messy stuff that we have no way of figuring out? Best to treat it from far, with kid gloves and some sophisticated denial?

Things we can touch, feel, enjoy, interact with, be our natural selves with, use our force over, control and direct to our wishes, are usually not seen as  ‘Sacred’. There is a distance, a gap between us and the ‘Sacred’ , a gap not always of higher and lower perhaps, but certainly one of difference and separation. And in that gap lies a sense of ‘don’t mess with me’ perhaps? Cut that gap out and it gets to be open season for everything and everyone.

The mundane is what is necessary .

The Profane is again something I can cut off, suppress, reject and refuse to deal with. From a position of power. Unlike the Sacred, which carries some power over me.

Thoughts of this kind were specifically triggered today by a conversation I had about the portrayal of women in Hindi cinema. I have begun to wonder if by making a woman character a somewhat regular, ‘Mundane’  persona and not an exotic, idealized ‘Sacred’ being, movie makers have pricked a hole in the aura of Sacred that enveloped the image of the feminine in the Indian psyche? By making her more real, have we also made her more vulnerable to the fears and attacks of those who do not understand or wish to engage with her as an equal?

To me it seems that some in the audience have clearly made the leap to her being seen as ‘Profane’ once the Sacred pedestal was knocked off. The Sacred is beyond tampering, but when the mundane is a complicated mess I have no wish to deal with, and perhaps more critically, no skill sets of thought and attitude and action, to cope with, It is easier to push things to the Profane and then deal with them?  Is that how the human mind works?

This line of thought started from an exchange today with a film script writer who said to me that she was disturbed to note how today the portrayal of women in Hindi films was so objectified, (read Profane) when in real life women had more freedom and more power in worldly matters (Mundane?) than some decades ago. But in those times, when the movie world was considered taboo for decent women, the portrayal of women in movies was in fact rather noble, strong and inspiring (Sacred?).

The writer said the shift in the depiction of leading women characters could be attributed to the fact that while today women had come a long way, men still had not truly adjusted their sensibilities to the changed reality. So the dominating male had to get his kicks out of subduing or objectifying the woman on screen, in his art (making Profane).

Does that somehow imply that the visible, the in-your-face reality can hardly be handled by the overall sensibility of our society? Does it mean that engagement, involvement, negotiation and debate, which are hallmarks of an alive, healthy interactive – and therefore ‘mundane’ – relationship, are not part of the man-woman equation in mainstream Indian culture and arts today? Pretty much seems so, sadly. Why do we give no space to the vital and life supporting ‘Mundane’ in our discourse and in the play of gender relations? What would make for a changed equation then, an equation of respect and a constructive engagement with the other?

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