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St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art: Demonstrating Hindu Deities in Scotland

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By Shubhi Mangla

The St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow, Scotland represents the major religions of the world through famous artworks and religious objects. It is known to be the sole public museum in the world which is entirely dedicated to its subject. The museum displays the importance of religion in the lives of people across time. It is reported to host religious talks regularly.

The St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art Glasgow, Scotland Image: Wikimedia commons
 St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art Glasgow, Scotland
Image: Wikimedia commons

The museum is situated in the heart of Glasgow, in Cathedral Square and was built in 1993. The main floor of the museum holds the Gallery of Religious Art which has artworks related to different world religions ranging from stained glass windows of churches to sculptures of Hindu deities to a Turkish rug. The next wing holds the Gallery of Religious Life, consisting of items related to faith and duties. It includes Egyptian sarcophagus and monastic robes of various missionaries. The second floor is devoted to the history of Scotland itself. It focuses on six major religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Judaism and Islam). Outside the museum, there is Britain’s Zen Garden.

The Museum is named after Glasgow’s patron Saint Mungo, who brought Christianity to Scotland in the 6th century.

Displaying Hinduism

The museum has a good collection of artifacts related to Hinduism. It has a total of 207 religious objects (dating from 1200 BC to present) pertaining to Hindu deities. They comprise of paintings, clothing and textiles, statues, works on paper, plaques, door handling, a scroll, a mask, offering tray and other related objects. There are five large and vested clay paintings of Goddess Durga with her four children which were donated by the Glasgow Durga Puja Committee. There are bronze paintings of Lord Krishna, Vishnu and various mother Goddesses. It also has small miniature paintings depicting the life of Krishna and Goddess Radha. Other items include a large cast bronze image of Shiva, a bull deity Nandi, a stone embossment of Surya (the Sun God) and a small portable sculpture of Hanuman ( the monkey God).This sculpture of Lord Shiva (main image) dates back to the 1970s. It depicts Shiva as Natraj or ‘Lord of Dance’. It is originated in Southern India.

Related article: Santa Barbara Museum showcasing Hindu gods

According to collections.glasgowmuseums.com, “The sculpture is hollow cast using a lost wax casting technique. The composition of the metal alloys used in Southern Indian casting varies but Glasgow’s Shiva is made of a mixture similar to that of gunmetal. In contrast to the smaller solid cast icons destined for temple worship, the Shiva as Nataraja in St.Mungo’s Museum does not have incised pupils and as a hollow cast image made in the 1970s was probably created for ornamental use. However, it is still regarded as a religious icon to Glasgow’s Hindu community who asked that the statue be raised on a stone plinth as a mark of respect”. This sculpture was brought to the museum for display in 1993, just after a month of the opening of St. Mungo Museum. A person intentionally caused damage to the sculpture by pushing it over. Till 2008, Shiva was displayed behind a protective glass barrier but the restoration work was done and it is open for display once again.

Lord Ganesha Image: collections.glasgowmuseums.com/
Sculpture of Lord Ganesha
Image: collections.glasgowmuseums.com/

The sculpture of Ganesha is carved from wood and then painted. It was imported from India in 1992.

Baby Krishna Image: collections.glasgowmuseums.com/
Baby Krishna
Image: collections.glasgowmuseums.com/

“Bronze baby Krishna in crawling position holding a butter ball. The head is raised and the eyes are inlaid with bone. It is marked with the tiny foot of Vishnu, has a belly button, genitals and long ears”

Ivory carving of Goddess Durga Image: collections.glasgowmuseums.com
Ivory carving of Goddess Durga
Image: collections.glasgowmuseums.com

This Indian artifact was purchased at the Glasgow International Exhibition, 1888. It is depicting Goddess Durga conquering Malushashura carved in ivory.

Sun God, Surya Image: collections.glasgowmuseums.com
Sun God, Surya
Image: collections.glasgowmuseums.com

This articfact represents Surya, God of Sun with his wives and attendants. It is an ancient stele, probably from Bihar and made in the 10th century. It is carved from black chloride.

Commending the efforts of the St Munto Museum of Religious Life and Art in promoting and showcasing Hindu artifacts, Hindu Statesman, Rajan Zed said that art had a long and rich tradition in Hinduism and ancient Sanskrit literature talked about religious paintings of deities on wood or cloth.

Reference: 

Glasgow Museum Collections

Shubhi Mangla is an intern at Newsgram and a student of Journalism & Mass Communication in New Delhi. Twitter @shubhi_mangla

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Shankaracharya: A remarkable genius that Hinduism produced (Book Review)

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

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He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita
He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita.

Title: Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker; Author: Pavan K. Varma; Publisher: Tranquebar Press; Pages: 364; Price: Rs 699

This must be one of the greatest tributes ever paid to Shankaracharya, the quintessential “paramarthachintakh”, who wished to search for the ultimate truths behind the mysteries of the universe. His genius lay in building a complete and original philosophical edifice upon the foundational wisdom of the Upanishads.

A gifted writer, Pavan Varma, diplomat-turned-politician and author of several books including one on Lord Krishna, takes us through Shankara’s short but eventful span of life during which, from having been born in what is present-day Kerala, he made unparalleled contributions to Hindu religion that encompassed the entire country. Hinduism has not seen a thinker of his calibre and one with such indefatigable energy, before or since.

Shankara’s real contribution was to cull out a rigorous system of philosophy that was based on the essential thrust of Upanishadic thought but without being constrained by its unstructured presentation and contradictory meanderings.

He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita. He wrote extensive and definitive commentaries on each of them. Of course, the importance he gave to the Mother Goddess, in the form of Shakti or Devi, can be traced to his own attachment to his mother whom he left when he set off, at a young age, in search of a guru and higher learning.

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.
Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess.

Against all odds, Shankara created institutions for the preservation and propagation of Vedantic philosophy. He established “mathas” with the specific aim of creating institutions that would develop and project the Advaita doctrine. He spoke against both caste discriminations and social inequality, at a time when large sections of conservative Hindu opinion thought otherwise.

Shankara was both the absolutist Vedantin, uncompromising in his belief in the non-dual Brahman, and a great synthesiser, willing to assimilate within his theoretical canvas several key elements of other schools of philosophy. He revived and restored Hinduism both as a philosophy and a religion that appealed to its followers.

Also Read: Hinduism: The Nine Basic Beliefs that you need to know

Varma rightly says that it must have required great courage of conviction as well as deep spiritual and philosophical insight for Shankaracharya to build on the insights of the Upanishads a structure of thought, over a millennium ago, that saw the universe and our own lives within it with a clairvoyance that is being so amazingly endorsed by science today. The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara’s philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess. The added value of the book is that it has, in English, a great deal of Shankara’s writings. Unfortunately, most Hindus today are often largely uninformed about the remarkable philosophical foundations of their religion. They are, the author points out, deliberately choosing the shell for the great treasure that lies within. This is indeed a rich book. (IANS)