The Taj Mahal, one of the world’s most beautiful and best known architectural wonders was also a favourite haunt for the Indian vulture.
It was a seeming contradiction, even, profanity, the sight of those vultures circling high above that tomb and its high towers, there in that human representation of Paradise with its gardens and waters and its architectural wonders …..a bird of carrion, a scavenger….yet it was richly symbolic of the splendid contrasts and contradictions of India.
Eight centuries ago, the armies of Mohammed had invaded the subcontinent but failed to convert the majority of the population who remained Hindus and surely the most graphic example of this failure was the Hindus worship of the vulture.
For over two thousand years, the vulture was a sacred bird for the Hindus.
And then a time came when they ceased regarding it as an object of worship and it was a portent of trouble ahead, of dark and pungent clouds gathering over the Taj Mahal….and also the human race….and you and me.….
How did this happen? How did this metaphor of our collective crisis unfold?
Until May, 1940, Rotterdam was an elegant city of canals and stately historic houses in the Amsterdam style. It was a fine example of the Dutch genius for constructing beautiful cities where once, there were only water and swamps.
Then the Nazi bombers appeared in the skies, like a plague of buzzing wasps and demolished Rotterdam within a few hours.
Only one building survived: the St Laurens church near the city center. Built in the time of Erasmus, the St. Laurens church is portrayed in many fine old sketches and paintings done in the time of Rembrandt (copies of these can be seen today on a touch screen in the restored church). The St. Laurens church with its single, tall tower was badly damaged but it was still standing after the aerial blitz was over.
The ruins of that church serve as a powerful symbol of the horror of the new era of aerial bombing which began on that day in 1940; the era of The Devastated City…….
No one ever wondered about the reasons for this worship. Everyone did it. You grew up with it. It was normal.
The Great Leader was a God, a Prophet; a Helmsman, a Brother No. 1; Father of the Nation, etc.
Often you heard people on the street saying: ‘I’m so glad I was born under the reign of this magnificent Leader.’
No one could criticise the Great Leader or those who profited from his regime.
The military ran the country and the Great Leader was at the top of the hierarchy of dictatorship. Because the universal worship of the Great Leader was a given, he never did anything for his people. The idea never occurred to him. In his own mind, he did more than enough for his people by existing. Hence it didn’t matter what happened, how poor the people became, how badly they were exploited, how corrupt and greedy the politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen; how unfair, how inefficient, how brutal the nation became, the Great Leader reigned supreme and nothing ever changed.
It was really quite incredible. This Great Leader worship wasn’t something which was only happened centuries ago. It was happening now, in the 21st century. It was happening in one or another form in many nations all over the world.
How was this possible? This blind worship of a despot in a time of modern communications and globalism, the lightning transference of ideas and images?
Once upon a time there were people who predicted that this modern, high-tech age with its communications revolution, would give power to the people, unleash a wave of democratisation across the globe. The net would change history forever.
Wonderful if it had been true. – but it wasn’t.
Modern communications made tyranny easy. The TV, the internet and the social media were censored. Everywhere you went, everywhere you looked, there were images of His Highness, video clips of him as boy and a youth and a general, waving to the people and granting them his blessings.
There was censorship on the one hand, and propaganda on the other. The modern era offered unprecedented opportunities for thought-control.
All over the world, where ever you looked, there were nations where the people were held in bondage, like in ancient times – more, there were people who fastened the chains of oppression on their souls with smiles on their faces.
Who revelled in their submission.
Whatever the Great Leader did or said was sacred. Even if it meant collective suicide……