Sunday, September 14, 2008

The dichotomy of smell

The Orthodox Christian tradition believes in the use of the five senses for worship. Sight, smell, touch, hearing and tasting all come together to act on the aesthetic sensuality of the worshipper. Worship in that sense becomes a 'whole being' act of participation. Without being one with one's body one cannot participate (Specially abled people though are discriminated against as they may lose out in this sense and the church sadly does not take cognizance of this fact.).

India is the land of smell, albeit the smell of the opposites. On the one hand we can find the affluent in their homes filled with the fragrance of manufactured aroma therapy products and fresh and expensive flowers and on the other hand you can find people living in their huts with the fresh smell of cow dung (even though the affluent see this as disgusting, the truth is that cow dung has special qualities of being an insect repellent and a thermal insulator for walls) spread on their walls. The even more unfortunate are those who have to bear the smell of the combined by-product of a consumer society, i.e., it's waste (Large numbers of people live in places which are the dumping grounds for various municipalities and corporations. The waste interestingly is produced by the rich but dumped on the poor!.).

What for one is beauty is for another a dream. What for one is bad is for another a reality. Which smell should the church go after? The smell of the affluent few or the smell of the vast majority? The scented candles and fragrant incense or the fresh earth and the water puddles? What then is aesthetics and what is beauty? What is smell?

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