Tag Archives: history

The Great Wall and Time

The sun’s heat is scorching. We walk at a steady pace, completely awed. 

We are at the Great Wall of China.

 Before we reach the starting point, our guide briefs us about the Wall and its history, and loads us with many interesting nuggets of information.  We agree on a time to meet, and proceed on our long walk.

The valleys on either side watch us in silence, as we walk, stop and marvel. How was this feat even possible!

At every turn, the wall winds up and down into the rugged terrain, an off-white line that stretches away into places that the eye cannot see. 

We feel humbled.  We walk up steps, climb down others, pausing for breath, pausing to take pictures, wondering, only wondering.

We can picture the soldiers at their viewing decks, and the invading armies. 

My son and I sit down, as we wait for the others. There is a deep silence. Except from two crows that caw on and off, all is quiet.  Our hats give us some semblance of protection as the sun’s hot rays reflect off the stones.

I look up at the clear blue sky and smile. A merry little jet is whizzing importantly across the sky, leaving behind a fluff of white lace. 

Time seems suspended between history and the future. 

The Wall is unchanging, a witness to thousands of years of history, culture and human development.  The jet is too busy to stop, it is after all, busy carrying people to appointments and meetings.

The word ‘time’ as I know it seems pointless, as I sit on the Great Wall, knowing that even after we are all gone, this architectural wonder will still remain.

A Century-old tradition

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Today is Vishu, our New Year. The specialty of this celebration is the way we ring-in the New Year.

On new year’s eve, after the kids are asleep, elders in the family set-up an altar, whose centre-piece is a mirror. The mirror is decorated with a garland of flowers and a gold chain. Around the mirror are kept small bowls with raw rice, lentils and yellow-coloured fruits like lemons, mangoes, papaya and a yellowed cucumber. A seasonal yellow flower is also considered auspicious.

In addition to all these, old coins that have been in the family, crisp new currency notes and new coins are also kept at the altar.

In the morning, the oldest family member, walks with closed eyes and positions himself before the mirror and looks at himself in the mirror, with all the essentials in life like food and money, hoping that the new year will bring the family happiness and prosperity.

Each member of the family is brought to the altar, with their eyes closed and then asked to view themselves in the mirror.

Family elders give cash gifts to all others in the family. Then the whole family sits down to a sumptuous meal comprising more than 15 dishes spread out on a banana leaf.

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Last night, as we decorated the altar, I observed the old coins given to us by my parents-in-law. I was surprised to see that the coins were dated 1904, 1912, 1916, 1917 and 1918. 

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Wow, a century has passed. I wonder how many women have used these very same coins, to ring in the new year, over the last ten decades. Who were these women, what were they like? I will never know these things.

But I draw comfort from the fact that these traditions have outlived people and continue to bind us across time.

For my children, the excitement is more from the gifts they receive rather than from the traditions we follow.

But they watch us every year and when the time comes,  I am sure they will treasure these coins. Both for the allied memories of their childhood and to revel in the ancestral love that has been passed down through these coins.

A feeling of timelessness – Siem Reap, Cambodia

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We are in Siem Reap, Cambodia, drinking in the beauty of a thousand years.  As we ride on the tuk-tuk from one ancient temple to another, a feeling of timelessness grips me.

The volcanic rocks that the temples are built from, stand proud and tall, one above the other, rising into the skies, majestic and filled with exquisite detailing and engraving.  The Sun beats down on us mercilessly.  The same Sun that beat down on the stone carvers a thousand years ago.

Some of these temples are being renovated. Some others are partly disintegrated, with huge slabs fallen in sudden piles, now here, now there, as we stroll across, taking in the legends and stories that are showcased on the walls; and imagining our own stories about the craftsmen and their craft.

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We take a breather after the long walk around Angkor Wat.  We sit close to a long wall.  The grandeur of the temple has to be seen to be believed.  I cannot put down in words the various emotions that surge through me.  As we stretch our legs and fan ourselves with our caps, tour-guides come in with groups of tourists from around the world.

The wall behind us has elaborate carvings from one of India’s greatest epics – The Mahabharatha.  Earlier in the day, when our guide showed us these panels, we were awestruck!  Awestruck by the fact that the stories we grew up reading, had been so beautifully frozen on stone, a thousand years ago, in a country far away from India.

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Japanese and Korean guides explain the Mahabharatha in rapid bursts, to their tour groups, who nod their head in understanding. I catch a familiar word here and there.  It feels good. That feeling of timelessness envelopes me over and over again.

“We are all connected, in some way, at some place, at some point in time maybe in the past or maybe in the future.”

The afternoon is spent at the Ta Prohm Temple.  As we walk around, we see the long tentacle-like roots of the silk-cotton, and strangler-fig trees.  The roots have taken over the temple.  In some places, the roots look like they are embracing the temple, while in some others they look like they are taking back the temple into their womb, to hand them over to Mother Earth.

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Our guide points out to a small ‘apsara’ (celestial damsel of great beauty), who is almost hidden by the roots of a tree. She peeps through the roots, smiling at humanity, as she will very soon be engulfed by this tree.  One last smile, till time takes over another bit of history.

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