Review of Prof. Meenakshi Jain’s book “The flight of the deities and the rebirth of temples”

An account regarding the destruction of our ancient temples and their revival is being put forward in an almost fascinating way by one of the greatest historians of our time Dr. Meenakshi Jain in her new book “The Flight of the  Deities and the Rebirth of Temples”. The book is an unbiased narration of the events that took place in the medieval era particularly, in relation to the dismantling of our places of worship so creating horripilation on the skin of the readers when they come across accurate facts as to what happened to our glorious cultural legacy in the form of temples.  Simultaneously it also makes the readers aware of the tremendous efforts that our ancestors did to maintain and preserve the sanctity of the idols present in these temples restricting these deities to be fallen in to the hands of Islamic marauders.

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” George Orwell

The aforementioned quote suits very aptly to the state of affairs in our country where persistent efforts are being made to let our younger ones get uprooted from their identity by not telling them what is true. Thus Prof. Jain’s endeavour is in the direction of resuscitating the history that is lost into oblivion. She begins her chronicle with the description of the splendid sun temple in Multan, present day Pakistan. She tells in a very lucid way the sequence of events that took place as a result of the Islamic invasions and its aftermath and their impact on the prosperity of the temple. Here Meenakshi Jain very pertinently tears apart the theory that has been propelled generally by the Marxist historians that whatever loot and plunder by the Islamist that India has borne was due to their greed for their wealth thus obliterating the severe iconoclasm in the name of religion that was perpetrated at that time.

In this way, we see that this is a paradox of our history writing where under the impact  of some particular ideology, the narratives are floated from time to time  which very successfully conceal  the true facts of history.

In this sense, Prof. Jain’s work has been exceptionally  unprecedented which delineates the impeccable details of the temple desecration beginning from the northernmost tip i.e. Multan and finishing with the extreme South. While going through the interesting journey of reading the book, the readers comes across that Dr. Jain completely discounts an important bluff that our Marxist Historians generally does is that temple destruction did not only restrict to the Islamic invaders but it was even done by the Hindu Rulers with respect to the fellow Hindu Kings whom they had defeated. She tells that what the Muslim invaders did was Image Desecration and what the Hindu Kings did barring a few exceptions was the practice of Image Appropriation, in order to substantiate this she gives various examples viz. the idol of Kalinga Jina, Vatapi Ganesha etc. A new insight is provided by Prof. Jain in this context where she refers to a verse in the Purva Karana Agama which mandates upon the triumphant ruler to arrange for the worship of the deities from the vanquished kingdom.

Besides the account very eloquently tells the tale of the hiding of the idols under the ground or well or forests etc. to protect them from the savagery. Sometimes the idols could be successfully found later on at the same place where they were buried but many a times with the passage of time their relocation could not happen as the persons who originally hid them died and so the exact burial sites were no longer remembered by the people afterwards. Similar is the fascinating story of the loss and recovery of the Alagiyamanavalan image which was  hidden in the forest by the  temple servants who died in the process of protecting the image and when the head temple priest fails to find the image again consecrates fresh image and resumes worship but subsequently the story takes twist and the original image is reinstated . Prof. Jain’s book is the storehouse of such amazing stories.

The tale of the protection of the Madurai temple is a tale of courage and wisdom where the trustees of the temple made a kilikkundu for the Swami in the Garbhagriha ,raised earth mounds to block the entrance of the Garbhagriha and built a stone wall to defend the original lingam. A replica was put in the Ardhamandapam.

The book at last puts in detail the resurrection of the Deities in the various parts of South India viz. the Svetaranyesvara temple (Tanjore District), Sri Svarnamukhisvara temple, Bhimesvara Shiva Temple etc.  The author also discusses in detail the trend of the theft of these sacred idols in the recent times particularly after independence where very revered or venerated idols have been stolen of which some have been found and some lost forever.

In this series of tale telling of desecration of the precious idols, one heartrending incident which occupies space in Jain’s account is the destruction of Lord Ganesha’s idol in the Bastar region of Chhatisgarh State by the Maoists though  later  reinstalled by the local villagers. This incident of the current times is the ultimate symbol of destruction and recreation  of our holy and sacred places of worship that we have gone through in the course of our history for the last thousand years.

Therefore, due to the incorporation of all these accounts, this book holds a very significant place for all of us. In my view, the book can turn out to be a triggering point for bringing a new revival or renaissance of our ancient culture amongst our youngsters. The book needs to be a part of all the Indian households so that the new generation value and respect the sacrifices of their ancestors for the protection and sustenance of Dharma. Had it not been their vigorous and prudent decisions, we would have certainly faced the terminal decline of our culture and civilization.  Kudos to the painstaking efforts of Prof.Jain who did a wonderful research to bring out these niceties in the quintessential manner.

Written by:
Dr.Nidhi Mishra.

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