Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Hermit and the Nymph

I chanced upon this delightful tale of Indian mythology that seems to demonstrate Epicurean hedonism in much less dry terms. Exerted from the Star Online by Dr Devdutt Pattanaik:

Life on earth, he began, was created with a great churning of primal waters. First to spring forth from this was Laxmi (or Lakshmi) - the joy of life incarnate, the goddess of beauty, plenty, health and wealth.

Where a beautiful woman goes, prosperity follows. This is why Hindu brides are decked in such finery. They represent diminutive doubles of Laxmi herself, and as wealth follows them into their new homes, so they bless them.

Out of the waters also came the apsaras, beautiful water nymphs (from the Sanskrit apsa for water), embodiments of human emotions, or rasa, who danced for the delight of heaven.

Everywhere the apsaras went, sparkling water flowed, feeding life, generating bounty, laughter and pleasure. But water did not come without its dangers, as the tale of Gajendra at the lotus lake exemplifies.

While idling by the lake with his herd, Gajendra, King of Elephants, was attacked by a crocodile that clamped its jaws around his leg and attempted to drag him under. Gajendra implored Vishnu for aid and was saved in the nick of time. “The water that gives us lotuses also gives us crocodiles,” was the King’s verdict.

Yes, the same water that creates lush, lusty, sensual life can also destroy. And so began asceticism, a rejection of beauty, riches, and other such water-derived hedonism. Shortly after which began the eternal struggle of the dry and dusty holy hermit and the wet, voluptuous nymph so celebrated in Hindu imagery.

One holy man in particular mastered rejection so well that drought followed in his footsteps. Heaven’s response? “Let’s send women to him, beautiful women, and remind him of the joys of life.”

For the key to life is not dry abstinence nor watery excess, but a wise and harmonious balance - a beautiful balance - between the joy and sorrow water brings

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