Art & Culture, Mountains

on dilemmas of divinity — the prayer flag

prayer flag enroute Stok Kangri peak (~6,100 mts), Jammu & Kashmir, India

surprisingly ubiquitous — that’d be how one could sum up the modern day prayer flag, an instrument of purification turned into a static, decorative artefact by the forces of internet and the travel it has induced over the past couple of decades… a codification of beliefs residing in animism mass retailing on Alibaba for half a dollar, the five elements now a set of five… one wouldn’t argue with the fact that spirituality is organic and it’d be unwise to restrict its cognizance to the dominion of a few in the higher echelons of religion… cultural sensibilities thrive on interactive discourses… lending an ear to variety sketches new dimensions on the smithy of one’s own conscience… yet caught up in technology and consumerism, one often ends up scratching that same ear, part sordid, part stymied…

Prayer flag at Stok Kangri summit (~6,100 mts), Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, India
Stok Kangri summit, J&K

mantras and other important incantations apart, I think the prayer flag lends a visual cue to wind, invisible yet one of the most potent elements in the rugged landscapes from where it has emanated… the wind of course forms a part of the five elements, but ’tis again represented by white in that palette, hence one could say ’tis more a lack of colour than resplendence of it… transcribed with animal imagery and chants, it is rather perplexing at times, this transcription in ink refuting its own advocacy of experiencing the present over the rote…

but where the chagrin arises from is that point beyond saturation… in essence, a small sequence of the fabric punctuates the landscape, whether adorning a cairn on the top or signifying the habitable nature of a valley, guiding the wayfarer towards the destination — literally and metaphorically — or even bringing a sense of comfort from the presence of a human footprint before… yet more often than not today, these flags seem to be cannibalising the landscape, their stark colours contrasting, and not complementing, the earthly hues they are supposed to revere… and in large numbers too, feral dogs would be a metaphor apt for the scenario…

Prayer flag at Kalihani Pass, Himachal Pradesh, India
Kalihani Pass, Himachal Pradesh

the modern day prayer flag is not the cyclical process ’twas meant to be… the symbols of birth, suffering and reincarnation are now an opposing reality comprising of printing (in millions), hoisting (in millions) and burning (in millions)… one could point out the striking similarities with quite a few modern day pilgrimages and the associated profligacies, but it’s too obvious even for the most oblivious…

frugality is the essence of these teachings, etched into every building and parable… How much is enough?… the monk sends the question reverberating through the corridors of a world order hinging on consumerism… yet as one muses at the contraption in the rear mirror of the car in front amidst a traffic jam, one wonders if the mirror has ironically been turned back on the monk…

musings on the overuse of buddhist prayer flags, travels across the Himalaya…

Author: Parth Joshi

Allured by the outdoors, the author is made up in parts of that quintessential lost soul wreathing under the pangs of biophilia in a desk job, a wannabe elegist mostly ending up in dungeons of poetasters and an optimist waiting for the senility of the modern world to fade away while sampling shoots and leaves. In saner times, he has a keen interest in areas pertaining to tourism, history, agriculture and climate change, especially with respect to historical interpretations, emerging technologies and future livelihoods. An avid trekker, runner, cyclist, birder and photographer, he is more often than not found gloating over anything hinterland, on foot or over computer monitors, and fantasizing solutions that can foster inclusive growth and sustainable livelihoods for communities at the grassroots.

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