Art & Culture, Mountains

Chortens and their chores…

Chortens are one of those religious structures that are universally revered, a harbinger of constructive contemplation – one that leads towards inner peace through reminiscent journeys – these trapezoids stacked over one another and topped with a crown are but Buddha posing himself they say… a structural representation of different stages of his mortal journey… looking up to the sky through spires yet tethered to the ground through prayer flags… spirituality through geometry

Chortens in Ladakh, India

They also serve as memorials to other holy men, stuffed with jewels and treasures at times, put in there to keep temptation away from the lesser mortals maybe… while many of these are structures beam with grandeur, in high mountains they can still be found in a more crude form, one that seems more approachable and earthy, unassuming in appearance yet losing none of the profundity…

Chortens in Ladakh, India

Dotting mountain landscapes akin to rock structures, one looks at these chortens and wonders if they are nothing but translators of sorts… for ‘tis almost always impossible for us to ‘talk’ to the natural landscapes surrounding us… even if we try to unravel the ‘meanings’ and ‘purposes’ of existence inspired by the sights, sooner than later we hit the wall that is mortality and its back to square one … animals to some extent are still able to ‘talk’ to nature… they smell, claw, trot and sustain themselves solely upon their habitats… but then they don’t seem to delve too much into ‘higher’ thought… survival for the sake of it is good enough for them… us, the screens that shield us from the elements end up alienating us…

Ladakh, India

Maybe this is what these chortens do, they ‘talk’ to their surroundings and translate the inanimate for us… the wind speaks through fluttering prayer flags, one follows their line of sight towards icy summits, the crusty earth rests lazily at their base… inside, bones and gemstones, free of economic evaluations, compete on an equal pedestal for devotion… water and fire, the other two elements the square base is supposed to signify, are translated in a subtler form, innate to human imagination and emotion rather than external environs…

Chortens in Ladakh, India

The concept of ‘zero’ is a tough nut to crack from the lens of any religion, yet all of them eventually lead us to this idea of an existence that is not dependent on any other creature or element around it… what is termed salvation… an emptiness that is ‘nothing’ but from that ‘nothing’, ‘everything’ emanates… most of the space is vacuum, to cite an analogy… yet there was an atom that created everything within this vacuum and despite the enormity of space, everything can still dissolve into this one single atom…

Chortens in Ladakh, India

A chorten, in a sense, is this microcosm, summarizing the Buddhist philosophy… through geometry, it relates to nature… through the artifacts, it holds morals and values… it negotiates with the elements on a community’s behalf to protect their dwellings and crops… in large, desolate landscapes with sparse human populations, it gives hope to a tiring wayfarer…

Chortens in Ladakh, India

Musings on chortens around Leh and Stok, Ladakh

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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