Pilgrim Portraits

Pilgrim Portraits

 The  alluvial mud plains of the river Ganges allow,  for a matter of months,  a magical canvas city to be fashioned which attracts up to 100 mllion visitors over its short lifespan.  Following the visitors’ departure the river swells again with monsoon rains and the city returns to its natural subterranean landscape,  all traces of human occupation swept aside in the currents.  At the heart of the temporary festival-city-landscape is a confluence of rivers where the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical underground Saraswati come together in a flourish of colour and energy.   This is the spiritual heart of Prayag,  today known as Allahabad.

(more…)

Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men

The notion that a whole city can exist on a spiritual fault line where the boundaries between the secular and spiritual worlds are almost indivisible can surely only occur in India. Varanasi, the city of Shiva and considered by Mark Twain to be older than time itself, claims to be such a city.

Pilgrimage is not only common in India, the Hindu faith itself requires its followers to make long journeys to temples, mountains, river confluences and religious gatherings. These journeys not only serve as acts of worship but also assist people on their spiritual pathways to Nirvana. Many of these end points of devotion and pilgrimage are considered to be tirthas, a term denoting an auspicious location where the dimensions between the temporal and the spiritual world are in constant collision,  as if two inter-continental tectonic plates are incessantly rubbing up against each other. The whole city of Varanasi is considered such a location.

(more…)

Belchite : Franco’s Ghost Town

Belchite : Franco’s Ghost Town

I am travelling to Spain in early September to assist with an archaeological dig featuring a previously undisturbed Spanish Civil War site. Arranged through the International Brigades Memorial Trust of which I have been a member for a number of years, a group of Spanish archaeologists, volunteers and students from across the world will be working with Dr. Alfredo González-Ruibal, archaeologist, to excavate a ruined house in the ghost town of Belchite. It is a house which has not been excavated before, although the same organisation has undertaken research at Belchite on a number of occasions previously.

The Spanish Civil War was a prelude to the 2nd world war. Starting in 1936 when a group of army generals rose up against the democratically elected government the conflict lasted for almost 3 years until the Spanish Republic’s forces were finally defeated in 1939. The generals essentially represented the traditional values of a society where the Roman Catholic church, rich landowners and other associated organisations had long dominated but were feeling undermined by a liberal, progressive and modernising Republican government. General Franco was unlawfully appointed by his peers to lead the coup, supported initially by his African Army troops from Morocco, and eventually strengthened by logistical support from Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany.  Both ground troops, armaments and air support were provided, and strategies were practiced and developed which were later to be used to maximum impact in the global conflict to follow. The Republican Government received support from Russia, troops from it’s own political movements, including the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo anarchist movement and, importantly for propaganda as much as for military reasons, from the International Brigades.

(more…)