Art of Hindu Worship at Sackler

Article excerpt

In the middle of the main lobby of the Arthur Sackler Gallery, surrounded by the curious eyes of onlookers, stands an abstract object: a group of 11 linga (male) made of crystal, set into a colored, marble-based yoni (female).

Some look confused, trying to figure out the image's symbolism; others pass by without a second glance. Perhaps this is the purpose of "Puja: Expressions of Hindu Devotion," an exhibit of 125 works that examine various objects of Hindu worship, in media ranging from bronze to granite, from wood to shell. The works date from the ninth to the 20th century.

Puja is the act of showing reverence to a god through rituals, songs and dance. The spiritual connection between the devotee and the god is facilitated

through an object or a deity. Pujas are conducted in shrines located at temples, in homes or outdoors.

Amit Chibber, 21, blushes as a friend asks him if the object in the main lobby symbolizes male and female sexual organs.

"Use your imagination," he says, red-faced.

Linga, shaped as a male sexual organ, represents Shiva, the Hindu god, surrounded by serpents or sperms. Yoni, shaped as a female sexual organ, represents his wife, Parvati. This abstract image represents the omnipotent force of the Hindu god. The 11 linga, referred to as "Ekadase Rudras" or 11 primal forms of Shiva, represent a powerful cluster of cosmic forces that emanate from the god.

Richa Chander, a student at Cornell University, visiting with her parents says, "Sex is not merely looked at for procreation or indulgence, but as energy. In energy there is god, so in sexuality there is god."

Another section examines these various shrines and the three principle deities: Shiva (the creator and destroyer), Vishnu (the preserver) and the goddess Devi (the protecting mother). Visitors watch a video to learn how pujas take place in different places.

Jyoti Chandler, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point says, "There is no clear-cut thought behind Hinduism. There are three different ways to get close to the god, she says. One can pursue the god intellectually, through good actions or devotion.

"Most people start by worshipping deities because a lot of people don't have higher intellectual capacity to look beyond that," Ms. Chandler says. "One starts with the basic denominator, then moves on to a higher level of thought and the deity becomes unnecessary."

A retired clergyman, William Wegener, says Hinduism, unlike Christianity, is not institutionalized. …