Geneva Diaries#68*

Letter To Forrest, Journeying From England to Japan,The Cult Of Mithras


Asian Art Museum San Francisco AAM

Dear Roger,

It seems like ages since i last heard from you, how have you been? I know you are most probably globe trotting but would appreciate a postcard, one liner, now and then so I may follow you from my armchair.

I returned from all my travels mid April and am now staying put in Delhi through the brutal month of May, as I’m determined to finally put pen to paper and come out with my magnum opus!

June and July are going to be an adventure as we are planning a trip across Austria ending in Geneva where the kids will return with me to reminisce our old haunts, the lake, the old town and all our favorite parks and patisseries. I look forward to sharing those stories as you know those places well.

In the mean while, you would be pleased to hear that I have been following my passion and have been in close touch with Forrest at the Asian Art Museum and have informed him that I would be very keen to get involved with the museum in any capacity. I specifically mentioned my interest in connecting cultures and people across Asia (as the museum is intending to do so through the Ramayana exhibit in 2016). See below the AAM SF Ramayana exhibit showcasing the Rama Epic written by Valmiki and retold for 2,000 years from India to Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and beyond:

See below the Indonesian shadow puppets (Wayang) at the AAM in San Francisco used to tell the epic tale of the Ramayana in Indonesia (and my puppet of Hanuman The Monkey God from the AAM SF):

Sculpture of Hanuman, The Monkey God from North India

I have actually proposed in my letter to Forrest to extend this idea of connectivities and building bridges westward to connect Europe to Asia, Japan to Great Britain, in my mind there could be no better place to do so than at the Asian Art Museum of SF. 

Roger, as my dear friend (and guide) I am keen to continue to keep you in the loop and to share with you the essence of my correspondence with Forrest. Now despite there being no apparent “eureka” moment in his response to the same, I strongly sense there is a novel in the offing, do you see Dan Brown in the excerpt from my letter to Forrest below? It’s certainly an epic in the making!

The email sent to Forrest at the AAM is pasted below:

In continuation of our chat in March at The Asian Art Museum where you had mentioned that I should inform you when I would be returning to the Bay Area, I wish to re emphasize my deep interest in being involved with the Asian Art Museum, and specifically the pan Asian Ramayana exhibit that is scheduled for 2016, and would be open to relocate to the Bay Area within the next six months if there is any opportunity for me at the Asian Art Museum. 

I can envision my involvement on multiple fronts, both at the research end of setting up the exhibit (even though I have no prior experience, I am confident I would be able to contribute positively), as well as reaching out to the extended Indian community in the Bay Area, involving them in the project and bringing forward potential funders for the same.

Since I was on my international travels across Asia during the Ramayana exhibit, I compiled a personal, audio visual chronicle which I believe would dovetail perfectly with the above mentioned AAM SF Ramayana exhibit. See Purnima in Ellora, Maharashtra, India, at The magnificent Kailasa rock cut temple, (the largest rock cut structure in the world, a temple carved from top to bottom out of a entire rock cliff attributed to the Rastrakuta king Krishna I, 756 AD) in front of the intricate carved reliefs of the great Indian epics, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata below:

Purnima at The Kailasa Temple in Ellora, Maharastra, India-Scene from The Mahabharata
Purnima at The Kailasa Temple in Ellora, Maharastra-Scenes from The Ramayana

I am most excited about weaving a thread and connecting diverse cultures, through the Ramayana across Asia in this instance, and can think of numerous other overlaps and connectivities between people across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. As I had briefly mentioned during our chat at the Museum Cafe, the role of building bridges between peoples and cultures, connecting diverse people from nations across the globe should be squarely in your hands, a prominent American museum representing the various immigrant groups (a large Asian population) that form your community and the changing face of the United States. I have to admit, this excites me tremendously as I can see myself in a unique position to contribute through my time and experience.

See below a frieze from Cuttack, Odisha: A Scene from The Ramayana with Rama, Laxmana and Hanuman, with Rama giving hanuman his signet ring to take to his wife Sita who is being held captive by Ravana the demi-god

See Purnima in Mahabalipuram, India riding one of the five rock cut chariots, Pancha Rathas, attributed to the chariots of the five Pandavas from the Mahabharata) of this incredible complex in the south of India hewn out of boulders by the great Pallava king Narasimhavarman II, in 690 AD.

Purnima with the Pancha Rathas or Five Chariots of The Pandavas in Mahabalipuram, India

If you remember, during our chat, as you were drawing the thread connecting the cultures of Asia through the Ramayana, I mentioned another network of connections through East Asia and then onto Europe. Once again reiterating, that culture cannot be contained and is not the proprietary right of one person or group, in fact all these great cultural expressions have found their way onto these shores (US shores) on the backs of their people. I had also mentioned to you that I was most fascinated by the Japanese 7th century Nara hollow lacquer standing figures of Brahma and the Vedic deity Indra at the Asian Art Museum ( See below Nara Lacquer standing figures of Brahma and Indra at the Asian Art Museum San Francisco:

This fascinated me because apart from the fact that few Indians would believe that their Rig Vedic deities are a core part of the Japanese pantheon and culture, Indra and Brahma being a central part of the Buddhist story, they might be surprised to know that Sanskrit also travelled to Japan and forms a part of their grammar, that Ankor Wat has the largest Brahma temple, and all of South Asia as we discussed have their interpretations of the Ramayana and Mahabharata unique to their people and culture.

Moving away from the East to the West, I had also briefly mentioned the Mitanni kingdom in Northern Syria and Southeast Anatolia that thrived between 1500-1300 BC. This kingdom with its extensive trade and marital relationships with Egypt during the reign of Ahmenotep and Akenaten, all codified in trade treaties, inscriptions, letters and even a horse training manual, shows us a fascinating culture which composed its texts in Akkadian (oldest Semitic language) but invoked Vedic deities like Indra, (the same deity Indra that formerly graced the Japanese Nara temple and now stands proudly at the Asian Art Museum), along with Varuna, Mitra and Nasatya (ashvins). In addition to this the horse training manual once again though written for the indigenous Hurrian population in their script referred to the Sanskrit numbering system, movements and colors.  These are clearly Proto-Indo-Persian, and perhaps could help shed light on the unique connection between Sanskrit, Latin and Greek, once again a thread connecting people and cultures.

On the topic of global connectivities, see below The Amarna letters where (for me) it’s almost mind blowing that the Sanskrit words for chariot “Ratha” and horse “Asva”, and the Vedic deities mentioned above were first written in the cuneiform script, possibly using the Akkadian dialect.

The Amarna Letters in Cuneiform Script – Public Domain,

Finally, I would like to take you to Europe and connect my final thread with the Cult of Mithras. Mithraism was the dominant culture/ religion of Europe just before the coming of Christianity, and was spread geographically over an extensive area from Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and north Africa to parts of East Asia. Mithraism was a secretive cult and it was practiced in underground caves and hollows with the figure of Mithras, holding and slaying a bull. See below relief of a Tauroctony (bull slaying) found near Rome, now displayed at the Louvre from the Roman Mithraic Mysteries.

Tauroctony from The Roman Mithraic Mysteries- By Jastrow – Own work, Public Domain,

Here Mithras is also surrounded by numerous other objects and animals that according to a theory depict the constellations and other astronomical subjects. Mitra in the Rig Veda is one of the deities which symbolizes the sun Once again, this cult of Mithra (Persian) or Sanskrit Mitra (from the Rig Veda) is found in these secretive setting across Europe connecting Europe with Asia. Please see pasted below a very interesting article about the possible symbolism of Mithras depicting the precession of the equinoxes (the recognition that the earth was in motion as were the skies and the constellations, dislodging traditional beliefs of the constancy of the firmament) and the cult of Mithras:

See below Roman Britain and The Cult of Mithras in Britain from The British Museum:

Though the cult of Mithras is still shrouded in secrecy, and little is known, there are many challenges to the Persian connection. However, I must admit that the Cult of Mithras with the slaying of the bull, the focus on the solstices, the very name Mitra seems very proto-Indo-Persian  appearing to invoke the hymns in the Rig Veda. I absolutely do not subscribe to the Out of India theory but believe that perhaps an indigenous group occupying the southern Caspian all the way to the Caucasus had a set of beliefs, deities, practices, and language, and as it is with the journey of man, one group set out one in the easterly direction making its way to the Indian subcontinent (and developed the Rig Veda en route), and perhaps the other group made its way through East Asia (Mitanni), another to Greece (giving birth to the Mycenaean civilization) and yet another journeyed towards Europe. We do know the languages are connected (with Sanskrit and its close connection with Latin in Europe, and Greek), it’s a matter of connecting the peoples and the cultures. 

I do hope I have fully expressed my enthusiasm in Art, Asia and connecting the dots. I do look forward to hearing from you soon.

So Roger, what do you think, could we all be connected at an ancient stage and then spend the rest of our existence highlighting our differences? I would love to hear your thoughts.

 The one thing that jumped out at me while I was researching the above mentioned cult of Mithras was that all the reference material call The Cult of Mithras (which is scattered all over Europe) a Persian cult, and the Mitanni, an Indo-Persian tribe. However, in the Persian Pantheon Indra was not a god but a demon, and Mithra, or the Vedic Mitra, Indra, Varuna and Natsatyas are all together only found in the Rig Veda, which predates the the Persian references, thus is not Persian but proto-Indo-Persian (or as I call it Rig Vedic) with Mitra being adopted by the Persians as Mithras, as by the secret cults of Europe. The Rig Vedic roots appear completely unknown!

Look forward to hearing your response.

Big hugs


Purnima Viswanathan

Disclaimer 😛

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Published by Purrnima

Travel Writer - Art Blogger - CyberSmurf

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