Sunday, May 24, 2009

Body, Mind, Spirit

Throughout history, the maintenance of health and the prevention of disease have been of fundamental human concern. In Asia, the wellbeing of humanity has always been interpreted as a balance of body, mind and spirit. This exhibition explored the theories and practices that relate to this harmonious relationship by introducing the great traditions of Asia, which focus on balance in all aspects of life.

Body in balance
The exhibition begins with an introduction to the various medical traditions of the Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist cultures. All stress the importance of the body being in balance and treatment is prescribed on that basis. In order to establish the source of imbalance, complex diagnostic systems are employed.

Common to all these traditions is the principle of vitality, called prana in India, qi in China, ki in Japan and rLung in Tibet. If this force becomes blocked, help is needed to restore the physical, mental and spiritual balance of the body.

Indian anatomical man


This painting bears a close stylistic resemblance to the anatomical drawings of the medieval Persian anatomist Mansur, a examples of which are shown above. The text surrounding the image is mixed Sanskrit and Old Gujarati and mainly describes the mystical body of tantric meditation and the flow of the life force (prana) throughout the body. The image shows the combination of both Unani (based on Greek) and Indian anatomical knowledge.

Harmony with the environment
In Asia, shrines and temples are sited in places where the flow of energy is most beneficial. Such energies are thought to pervade the landscape. Architecture is viewed as a divine science and the construction of buildings conforms to sacred geometric principles.

Pilgrimages are made to these places of spiritual power, to generate merit and to ensure wellbeing. Another way to promote good health is through the ancient Chinese science of feng shui, which deals specifically with creating a positive flow of qi by balancing the elements within the environment.

Homage to Guru Nanak


Indian painting showing kings and devotees paying homage to Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. Guru Nanak (1469-1538) was a Hindu raised under Muslim rule and influence, who combined Hindu and Islamic beliefs to achieve religious and social harmony. Sikhism believes in the unity of the Godhead and preaches a gospel of universal toleration.

Harmony with the world beyond
This section is devoted to how the wellbeing of the body is affected by the cosmic forces of the universe. Astrology, astronomy and cosmology all contribute to an understanding of these forces. The balance between the world of the living and the world beyond is maintained through correct medical treatment, the use of amulets and spiritual practice.

Degrees of the zodiac


Each zodiacal sign is divided into thirty degrees. The opening from this Persian manuscript shows degrees one to twelve (right)and thirteen to twenty-four (left) within the zodiacal sign of Taurus. Each degree is depicted by a small miniature, with an explanatory note above stating the number of the degree and a brief description. For example, degree fifteen seen at the top left of the left page depicts a man holding a sprig of basil, a herb used in healing.

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