Wednesday, December 22, 2004

bubble baths for gods

in jaipur’s infamous “monkey temple”, the sadhu who’s speaking a flawless english explains: “we’re not just sitting and praying here. it’s also our responsibility to take care of our gods. you get up in the morning and brush your teeth – the gods also have such needs. they need to eat. similarly, they need to take a bath every day.”

“you wash the gods?” asks someone, totally fascinated with the idea.

“of course”, he says. “they have their own bubble baths. we wash them first. and then we can take a bath in the same water.”

they look quite shiny and clean indeed.

this sadhu looks more like a tour guide to me. he’s very concerned about trying to tell “something interesting” to curious tourists who probably don't know much about his religion. he knows what these people, tourists, particularly those “india type of tourists” who’ve spent an afternoon hiking those hills to reach his temple, are likely to be looking for. he knows that they are probably there to appreciate his beliefs, and they value the diversity it brings to their world. they would probably be the types who would be happy if they once more confirmed that his religion and theirs do not clash, but in fact are pieces of a whole.

he needs to adjust his messages to cater the needs of his “target segment”. after the “interesting part” about washing the gods – something he knows would never be acceptable in the religions the members of his target audience are likely to be following (or at least are familiar with) – he needs to switch to another dimension and talk about another feature of his product, and this time tell something that they’d more likely be confirming rather than simply being fascinated with. like reciting some carefully written advertising copy, or maybe a passage from “hinduism for dummies", he goes on:

“there’s only one god. each culture, each religion, has created different names or icons for it. we have three gods in this religion: brahma (the generator – the one who generated, created the universe), vishnu (organiser, the one who organises and preserves everything), and shiva (the destroyer) – Generator Organiser Destroyer – take their initials and what you get is GOD.”

then he talks about the financial status of his temple; how it is a private one as opposed to many of them supported by the government, and that one of the main sources of revenue is coming from the sale of photography and filming permits.

i’m certainly not implying that hinduism is less friendly or accepting to other beliefs than the sadhu claims it to be, but i also can’t believe that they’re among the matters of primary importance to him. i'm also not convinced that “washing the gods” part was there because it was significantly important. his explanation about charging 30 rupees for a photo permit is likely to give a pleasure to the tourist, knowing that he contributed to the preservation of something (or make him feel bad, knowing that he got away without paying – which was true in my case). the sadhu, a knowledgeable person likely to be knowing a lot about the modern world only a rickshaw ride away, does know a lot about marketing.

this temple is in jaipur, one of the most tourist attracting spots in entire india. we often talk about how "more real” or “more authentic” or “more unchanged” things will be when we travel in the north to himalayas – but by itself it’s such a badly made comment. being the ones who push the change, we do not have much right to complain. like baudrillard’s ethnologists destroying their own material once they start working on it, we are destroying the authentic once we go there to appreciate the authenticity. authentic itself is a term that would not exist without such change taking place – some things change, leaving the unchanged or little changed to be defined "authentic” – which will then attract even more attention and prepare its own end. the tourist does not necessarily need to be demanding “tourist stuff” – hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops to drive a change. his presence is more than enough, considering their ever increasing numbers in today’s context where concepts such as discovering, experiencing the diversity, facing the unfamiliar etc. are valued and promoted more than they ever have been. [arda]

the place reminded us of the ghost city in "spirited away".
by the way, the gods in the movie needed to take baths as well.

more about the monkeys of the monkey temple coming very soon.

gods are always clean.

payahari baba drank milk all his life.


Blogger zeren said...

gercekten spirited away'dekine benziyor ve 'tanrilarin banyo yapmasi' da cabasi. bu arada 'yeni turizm' anlayislari, 'authentism'in paradoksu'yla ilgili yazdiklarina da katiliyorum, sanirim baskalarinin tepkileri-gorusleri ile olctugumuz surece ki bundan ne kadar kacilabilir bilmiyorum,(sanirim insanin ozune kadar kovalar bu adami) bu boyle yuvarlana-buyuye gider. ama kacmak imkansiz degil.

biraz acarsam; dedigim insan kendi yaptigi seylerin degerini ya da, rengini, herneyse, tanimlarken, baskalarina bakmadan bunu yapabilirse, bu da sorun olmaz, ama tabii zaten bu durumda zaten 'otantik'lik ve benzeri kelimeler gereksiz kalir. yani o 'otantiklik pesindeki turistler'in sonucta cikis noktasi yanlis oldugu icin, sonsuza dek deneyimlerinin biricikligini bosuna aramis olurlar.

12/29/2004 5:55 am  

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