Season of Crows

a childhood in India, 1956-1972

Last Days – The Idea of Ladakh

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In May 2011 the India International Centre Quarterly published a special issue called A Tangled Web on Jammyu and Kashmir. A wide selection of writers and experts wrote articles on various aspects of this remarkable and much fought over region. The publication, aimed at decision makers, was designed to try and stimulate fresh thinking about a region which has become bogged down in conflicts and fought over by strategic powers in the region, especially China, Pakistan and India. I wrote a 5000-word article about the cultural value of Ladakh to India for this special issue and also produced this pen and ink sketch. As it is a symbolic sketch, I produced a gloss to make its point clear. Below is the text of the gloss I sent to Ira Pande, Editor-in-Chief of the journal, on 9 January 2011. The picture was not published; instead, they used a splendid photograph by Prabir Purkayastha, an outstanding Indian photographer with a deep love of Ladakh who has produced one of two definitive photo books about the region. However, I am free to use my sketch now and the gloss so I putting it here in my blog. Below is the text of my explication : You will notice that the stupa (chörten) and the eagle /hawk are very large and completely out of proportion to their position in terms of perspective. This is deliberate, to create a dreamlike symbolistic effect, and intellectually, its purpose is to establish that the cultural importance of Ladakh elevates its cultural / religous manifestations and the eagle as a symbol of both physical and spiritual freedom, to equal significance with the landscape, which obviously is physically much larger in reality. The black silhouette of a wild yak in the foreground suggests a mystic awareness in the wildlife of the region. The yak ‘knows’ what is being done to its habitat and is looking at the viewer, demanding that the viewer faces its responsibilities. It is a silhouette because the viewe does not ´know´the yak, but merely sees it as a product, to be adapted, consumed or discarded at will. The chörten / stupa contains a deliberate omission at the top of the structure which is symbolically enlarged to gigantic form. The levels of the stupa represent the levels, from bottom up, of Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Aether (Void). The level of Aether (Void, Space) contains the crescent Moon supporting the Sun, and forms the uppermost ornamental feature of the classic chörten. You will notice that the Sun is missing and the Crescent Moon sits on top on its own. This signifies two things. Firstly, the absence of the Sun means that something crucial is missing. This is the spiritual harmony of Ladakhi culture, broken by the impact of modern life. Secondly, the absence of the Sun turns the symbol into that of Islam which implies that Buddhism is on the retreat in the region and Islam is gaining the upper hand. At the far right foreground, the Head of Buddha (the Buddha in Khrig-rtse / Thigtse monastery in Ladakh) looks at the viewer, apparently serene. But we notice that both the Bud¡dha and the Wild Yak are looking at the viewer. Are they together? Are they asking the viewer for something, challengin the viewer in some way? Are they witnesses to what is happening in Ladakh and inviting the viewer to get involved, to notice what is needed to be done, and to do it? Arjun


Author: Arjun_L_Sen

Born in India in 1956. Grew up in London, Calcutta (Kolkata) and Delhi. Studied history at university in Delhi and completed a sub-doctoral research degree in Social Anthropology at Oxford University. Interested in creative writing, art and animal rights. Art website at Has lived in Spain since 2003.

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