Critical Paper on The Lotus by Heinrich Zimmer

The Lotus

Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization

By Heinrich Zimmer

Edited by Joseph Campbell

The book unravels important elements in Hindu and Buddhist themes by narrating carefully selected legends and myths of India. The author, Dr. Heinrich Zimmer, sheds light to the Western mind on understanding some profound ideas of eternity and time, guardians of life, cosmic renewal and other equally arcane topics. Such concepts are explained in Hindu mythology through graphic representations and rather riddle-like scenarios for those unfamiliar to Sanskrit literature. Dr. Zimmer inches through selected Hindu iconography linking it with similar symbols pertinent to Mesopotamian history[1] or Greek mythology[2] or Chinese philosophy[3]. In effect, one develops a mind’s picture of interlocking ideas imbued with the same set of universal tenets and values.

Much like India’s history, chapters of the book release a myriad of interesting images and icons of proverbial Hindu deities. All of them are as colourful as they are complex. Under the chapter on Guardians of Life, there’s one particular subtopic which I would like to focus on: The Lotus.

The article sets off with the role of the thousand-petaled lotus during the Hindu creation of the universe to the evolution behind this emblematic water plant pertaining to female deities like Shrī, Lakshmi and Padmā. The ubiquitous lotus has since been the highest feminine symbol personified as Mother Earth. From this towering and exclusive position, Dr. Zimmer notes how this has transformed into a representation of “an enormous democratization”[4]. Taking from the Buddhist philosophy that each being is a reflection of a divine creative essence, the article concludes that the lotus seat[5] and emblem then becomes available to every human ruler.

I am treading this text with a lot of caution as Dr. Zimmer advices that one unfamiliar to Indian culture be diffident in analyzing myths and symbols foreign to one’s own. For this reason, I have chosen to highlight an aspect of this text that is universally identified to the personification of nature.

Mother Earth is called by many names in different cultures. She is the Greek’s Gaia, the Inca’s Pachamama, the Thai’s Phra Mai Thorani[6] and the Hindu’s Goddess Earth, one whose scores of epithets are just as numerous as her attributes and manifestations. In the article, Dr. Zimmer notes that this Lotus Goddess plays the role of Mother Earth. He records that:

The cosmic lotus is called “The highest form or aspect of Earth, also “The Goddess Moisture,” “The Goddess Earth.” It is personified as the Mother Goddess through whom the Absolute moves into creation.[7]

Hindu gods and goddesses are based on the Rig Veda, an ancient sacred anthology of Vedic Sanskrit hymns.  The sacred texts make no mention of any symbol or character equivalent to the Lotus Goddess. This is widely due to the situation of the Aryans, the first Indo-European settlers in India, who were still battling their way through the Ganges. Only in the latter appendages to Rig Veda that the beauty of this flower was made known as the deities Shrī and Lakshmi. Both are connected to being: “lotus-born,” “standing on a lotus,” “lotus-colored,” “lotus-thighed,” “lotus-eyed,” “abounding in lotuses,” “decked with lotus garlands.”[8]  She is also called Padma which literally means lotus. Her other epithets include Loka-Mata (World’s mother); Chanchala (the fickle fortune); Jaladhi-ja (the oceanborn); and Hari Priya (beloved of Vishnu).[9] 

The article fails to mention another epithet of an Earth Mother which was pointed out also in the Rig Veda and the Atharva Veda, a sacred canon collected when the Vedic people have finally settled near the Northern part of India. These Atharva Veda hymns call out to her as Prithvi:

            ‘May Earth the goddess,

            She who bears her treasure stored up in many a place

            Gold, gems and riches

            Giver of opulence, grant great possessions to us

            Bestowing them with love and favour

            Earth… pout like a constant cow that never fails,

            A thousand streams of treasure to enrich me.’[10]

Wangu, author of Images of Indian Goddesses, elucidates Pritvhi’s position as: 

“…the goddess of material and emotional abundance. In other hymns she is considered the luck and light in men and splendid energy in women. She is firm, motionless and wide. She is the one who gives nourishment, wealth and love. She is asked to pour forth milk as a mother does for a son. Her breasts are full of nectar which gives long life, and she is praised as the nourisher of all creatures wicked and good, demonic and divine.”[11]

A variation of Pritvhi is Prthivī. In Goddesses and Sacred Geography, Kingsley gives his insight on the same hymns and her role as Earth Mother to the Hindus and Buddhists alike.

“It is clear that the hymns to Prthivī are grounded in reverence for the awesome stability of the earth itself and the apparently inexhaustible fecundity possessed by the earth. When Prthivī is described, characterized, or otherwise praised, the earth itself is usually the object of the hymn. Prthivī is the earth in a literal sense as much as she is a goddess with anthropomorphic characteristics.”[12]

If Prithvi and Lakshmi share the same role as Earth Mother, then why was the epithet Prithvi edited in the article? Looking at the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses, it is highly likely that some of their attributes would converge. I think Dr. Zimmer just wanted to focus on a single aspect of India’s Nelumbo necifora, the lotus.[13] There is still so much to say regarding the prominent deities who utilize the symbol of the sacred flower. By not expounding on this, he isolates a huge part on the transformation of the lotus-born Lakshmi’s role as goddess of prosperity and fortune vis-à-vis Prithvi’s one-sided element as goddess of Earth.

Narrating on a different myth, Dr. Zimmer made mention of Father Sky and Mother Earth:

“The eagle belongs to Father Heaven, Father Zeus in the mythology of the Greeks. Serpents, on the other hand, attend the goddess Hera, Zeus’ consort, Mother Earth.”[14]

On mention of Greek counterparts for one who has powers on the Earth, this could also be contested. (Uranus and Gaia or Cronus and Gaia perhaps?) There are a number of loose ends that could have been answered. But, I get the point where he is leading to anyway. 

The book narrates a number of myths which Dr. Zimmer meticulously translated. After each myth, he goes into extensive lengths discussing the possible meanings behind the stories through the iconography used. Knowing the making of this book is a story on its own. Dr. Zimmer, a German Indologist, migrated to America in 1940. It was quite abrupt and extremely unfortunate that he died in 1943 while lecturing at Columbia University. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization is actually a tribute to him for all the painstaking research he did on Hindu mythology.[15] With the many spin-offs and manifestations of Hindu deities, this book would just be a good starting point to be captivated in such a multi-faceted religion.


[1] For instance, the serpent pair motif which is a symbol of Ningishzida, god of healing in Mesopotamia. Zimmer, Heinrich. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990. 74. Print.

[2] The same intertwined serpent is linked to Asklepios, god of medicine in Greece. Zimmer 74.

[3] The archetypal characters of Heaven and Earth such as the Hindu lingam and yoni in comparison to the Chinese Yang and Yin. Zimmer 127-128.

[4] Zimmer 102.

[5] The lotus seat signifies that the being seated on it (whether it be a deity or human being) has transcended the material world suggesting spiritual authority. Kinsley, David. “Goddesses and Sacred Geography.” Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Motilal Banarsidass, 1998. 21. Google Books. Web. 27 Aug. 2011. <http://books.google.com/books?id=hgTOZEyrVtIC>.

[6] “Myths About Earth.” Windows to the Universe. National Earth Science Teachers Association, 2011. Web. 01 Sept. 2011. <http://www.windows2universe.org/mythology/pachamama_earth.html>.

[7] Zimmer 90.

[8] Zimmer 91.

[9] Chandra, Suresh. “Encyclopaedia of Hindu Gods and Goddesses” Google Books. Web. 02 Sept. 2011. <http://books.google.co.in/books?id=mfTE6kpz6XEC>.

[10] Griffith, Ralph T.H. “A Hymn of Prayer and Praise to Prithivī or Deified Earth.” Sacred-texts.com. John Bruno Hare, 2010. Web. 02 Sept. 2011. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/av/av12001.htm>.

[11] Wangu, Madhu Bazaz. Images of Indian Goddesses. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 2003. 35-36. Print.

[12] Kinsley 178.

[13] Rhodes, Constantina Eleni. “The Awesome Power of Auspiciousness.” Invoking Lakshmi: the Goddess of Wealth in Song and Ceremony. Albany: State University of New York, 2010. 16. Print.

[14] Zimmer, 73.

[15] Londhe, Sushama. “A Tribute to Hinduism.” Hinduwisdom.info. 28 Oct. 2008. Web. 1 Sept. 2011. <http://www.hinduwisdom.info/quotes101_120.htm>.


Philippine Arts (Integrative Paper)

Imagine the greatest of all masterpieces. Run through a mental record of the paintings you have seen, music you have heard, performances you have watched, books you have read, films you have viewed… And as you reminisce on a surfeit of aesthetic experiences, you realize that a “masterpiece” could mean a lot of things. This is an infinite list of the many possibilities that fall under the world of Art. Never specific, yet ever ambiguous.

AMBIGUITY. One principle which embraces the very definition of art across countries and across time. Inasmuch as it nestles itself in the corners of many a canvas, it also revels in a plethora of melodies which proudly complements specific dance performances. It spans dual worlds of the purely aesthetic to the effectively utilitarian. It extends from differing poles of the physically concrete to the experientially intangible. It covers grounded cultural traditions and evolving contemporary influences. It relies on both the emotional weight of subjectivity as well as the logical power of objectivity. Art examples are so extensive that constraining its definition would be comparable to suffocating the very power of imagination.

Taking into account this semester’s reading selection, art IS a bahay kubo, a katutubong sayaw, a wika, a larawan, a pagkain, an aklat… Just as it presents itself in a myriad of forms produced by the creator, it also breaks itself in a prism of interpretations construed by the viewer. For artists, creating art is a joyous passion where any medium stands as a voice of self-expression and communication. With all these in mind, the only thing certain is that art is a cornucopia of definitions. In its ambiguity lies its greatest strength.

Now, imagine water. In what manner?, you may ask. A raging tsunami unforgiving to neither anything nor anyone blocking its path? A clump of icicles huddling in the freezer? A teapot filled with newly boiled water puffing steam off its snout? Water could take shape in a variety of ways. Its range of descriptions fluidly shifts across states of matter but ultimately, it is in essence: water. This is a visual analogy for Philippine Art. Never constrained to a single form, yet ever distinct of its identity.

FILIPINO IDENTITY. Reflecting on the idea that constitutes Philippine art calls for a reflection of the heart of a Filipino. What makes us truly Filipino? The texts tackled in class gravitate towards traditions, culture and mores that have influenced our thoughts and our way of life. Fr Gorospe SJ expounds on this in his essay Understanding the Filipino Value System. He writes:

“…mankind shares universal human values, it is obvious that certain values take on for us a distinctively Filipino flavor. The Greek ideal of moderation or meden agan, the Roman in medio stat virtus, the Confucian and Buddhist “doctrine of the Middle”, find their Filipino equivalent in hindi labis, hindi kulang, katamtaman lamang.”

Jonathan Malicsi’s article On the Sambal Ayta Concept of Beauty covers neutral terms which fall into such a category. Kapurít, he writes, “is neither positive nor negative in the aesthetic sense, and is probably used when the speaker is not quite sure or does not care how to evaluate the object of his attention.” Outside this ethnic community, one observes that this notion of impartiality is observed also in the practice of pakikipagkapwa.  Keeping one’s feet in middle ground is the best way to interact in social gatherings filled with unfamiliar faces.Even in a familial and friendly atmosphere, one needs to tread even more carefully. Tinitimpla ang pakikipagkapwa tao, we carefully blend in a group, being more sensitive to the needs of others than ours.

Growing up imbibing the values of pakikipagkapwa and pakikisama gave us a sense of shared identity. The Filipino paradigm in art creation came as a response “to promote communal well-being.” Looking back at history, art came to the fore because of necessity. Hand-woven textiles as clothing, basketry as containers, dances as rituals… most of these examples of the traditional arts were created for a purpose.

Of the need to contain food, our forefathers created pottery. Though modernity and foreign influences may have threatened this art form, a number of Filipino restaurants, businesses and households still utilize this invention. The existence of the palayok, a small earthen jar, serves as a container to hold delicious Kapampangan dishes like kare-kare. The idea behind the burnay, a clay jar 10x the size of the palayok, provides Ilocanos with bigger storage space for weeks of vinegar and shrimp paste fermentation. The manufacture of the bangga, sort of similar to the burnay in appearance, functions as a traditional water dispenser for Batangueños and Negrenses alike. Traditional arts hold a wealth of information on a community’s culture, lifestyle and belief. For inasmuch as these clayware were essential tools for food preparation, the same terracotta medium albeit elaborately designed was discovered to have been used as an implement for holding human ashes. As seen in the Philippine 1,000 peso banknote, the Manunggul urn adorned with representations of a banca, two human figures (a soul and a rower) and waves, portrays the concept of faith and belief in the afterlife.

Belief of being a part of a great design by an omnipotent Creator was present even before the Spaniards came to our shores. For an abundant harvest, the Bontocs dance the bumayah – a thanksgiving prayer to the Ifugaos supreme deity Kabunian. Down south in Mindanao, the Manobos have a similar ritual called dugso which calls to the gods of Talaandig for continuous protection. The Subanon have their buklog structure and ritual dancing performed for healing or for prayer. As Christianity spread through the islands, dance has been a major element of religious petition as exemplified in Cebu’s sinulog and Obando’s fertility dance. Decades hence, these rituals have firmly rooted places in the hearts of parishioners and citizens through an ever-evolving tourism ploy of lengthy preparations and grandiose street celebrations. Case in point are the fiestas, a combination of paniniwala sa Diyos, communal festivity and Filipinos enjoyment for revelry.

Filipinos strong paniniwala sa Diyos is reverberated in A Historical Survey of Philippine Theater. Provincial towns around Luzon have adopted the practice of reading the pasyon since the early 18th century. This has since developed into a dramatic performance, the sinakulo.

“The religious dramas, performed year after year by townspeople were supported initially by the church, and eventually by the community at large, who contributed money or goods for the presentation; who wrote scripts, called rehearsals, made props and the stage; and offered time, devotion and panata (vows to perform) to the project. Although at present they may well be more of folk spectacles and community projects than religious observances, it is undeniable that they are part of the rural lifestyle, and reflective of – and influential on – the people’s world view.”

 

As seen in theater also in architecture, the colonial era magnified the church not only as a nucleus of the indios colonial lifestyle but also as the center of a city’s development. In Cartographies of Power in Philippine Architecture, Gerard Lico gives reason as to why the streets were built going toward places of worship while town plazas were erected in front of it. Religion played a colossal role in the physical aspect of the Spanish colonizers city planning techniques. As American colonizers stepped forward, the Philippines specifically Manila and Baguio became two locations where buildings and development mirrored the progress of mainland America. Ours was a hybrid colonial style altered suitable for the tropical weather. Imposing and massive, these new architectural structures dappled Metro Manila as if to physically show power as a government ready for the Philippine Commonwealth. This was 1935. President Manual Quezon had a grand plan to match Juan Arellano’s neo-classical inspired Post Office and Antonio Toledo’s Agriculture and Finance Buildings (currently the National Museum). The scheme for “New Capital City” was never realized as World War II crumbled Quezon’s dream and devastated the city center. At the end of it, we are led to reckon on the obscure façade of Philippine architecture. In the chaos and confusion of these times, Filipinos have held on to the values of pagkakaisa and bayanihan more than ever. Amidst the ruins of war, modernity started settling in. It was a time to open a new chapter. It is in this note that I want you to…

Imagine yourself. Page through photographic memories of your appearance and self over the years. Notice physical transformation and remember significant instances which have shaped who you have become. You continue to build your identity by way of a variety of influences from the people you have met to the situations you have experienced. This is an analogy for Philippine Art. Never stagnant, ever changing.

CHANGE. It exists as the only permanent concept. It is a fundamental idea that binds many thematic angles in the discourse of Philippine art, culture and society. The winds of time have caught on to the dreamweavers of Lake Sebu, the Sulipeña cooking of Pampanga, the sarzuelas around the Tagalog region, the bulol carvers of Cordillera – nary an ethnolinguistic group was left unsullied. Each community had to succumb to the inevitable, and with this, included their clothing, education, rituals, way of life and language.

It is easy to pinpoint how much Philippine traditional arts have changed in the course of history. Before, commercial trade and barter determined the crafting of textiles, potteries, sculptures and such. It was the shift in contemporary economic landscape which necessitated the significance for monetary cash. For as Western influence heavily weighed on the colonial mindset of the fine arts garnering it a value of dizzying proportions, “folk arts or crafts” have plummeted not only in the coinage of the term but also in financial worth. One cannot blame the traditional artist for coming up with innovative ways to earn money such as creating trinkets about their culture, answering to the demand for souvenir items, donning ethnic costumes for a quick photo with the tourist and building curio shops within their indigenous land. This sure constructs for an interesting debate motion.

Change does not wholly imply denigration. In fact, amongst all the class readings, the positive side of constant change falls under that of communication arts specifically Martin Manalansan’s research on Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora. Swardspeak developed in the country out of a need to keep to the company of other gays. Its humorous and witty expressions have become staple adjectives riding on the wave of ordinary conversations. It created a sense of brotherhood or sisterhood for that matter which helped coagulate the third sex. Particularly useful was this gay lingo for Filipino migrant workers aiding them to keep their identity and to acclimatize to new environments.

Filipinos are a particular breed. Molded and shaped to imbibe values of pakikisama, pakikipagkapwa tao, pakikiisa and paniniwala sa Diyos. It is through these primary morals that we get to be malikhain, creative to our fullest potential, the essence of our Philippine art.

 


Rizal’s Invented Patria Adorada

With the Philippines’ many islands, ethnicities, communities and dialects, one can only conclude the obvious. The country is a complex hodgepodge of traditions and an intricate blend of cultures. Yet, there always is a continuous struggle to try to elucidate its opaqueness with cultural symbols that have consciously or subconsciously entered the psyche of a “true” Filipino.

But what exactly constitutes a “true” Filipino? Rather, who would be an ideal example to encapsulate the Filipino identity? Having had celebrated the 150th year of Jose Rizal, one could easily ascertain that having his face engraved in our most reliable piso and his presence sculpted in plaza monuments mushroomed across barangays would definitely portray him as a unifying symbol. This is not to say that every Filipino should be a polymath rather, civics educators would insinuate that every citizen should strive to have the same values which propelled Rizal to accomplish so much in his lifetime. If there would be a specific characteristic each Filipino should inculcate, then it would be one’s ardent love for the country.

Among the many plausible representations of the Philippines, this paper builds on the icon that is Jose Rizal, one so emblematic on the discourse of nationhood and patriotism. It blankets visual exhibitions that have contributed to the layers of edifying a hero. Much to the chagrin of loyal Rizalistas, the paper takes on theories of Ernest Gellner’s Nations and Nationalism, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and Anthony Smith’s History and Modernity which would then position Jose Rizal as a constructed representation of nationalism, a symbol developed as a necessity to create an invented nation.

Socio-anthropologist Ernest Gellner covers clear-cut lines of reasoning wherein, he stipulates that “nations can be defined in terms of the age of nationalism.”[1] He pushes this idea further by stating that “nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist.”[2] Adhering to this train of thought where nationalism is a vital value that spawns nations, one familiar to Philippine history could easily observe that Rizal lived in a time when heroes were a dime a dozen. The waning years of the 19th century called forth courageous characters like Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Marcelo del Pilar and numerous other then ‘ordinary’ people who have been constantly glorified by Social Studies textbooks in the country. As the narrative unfolds, Jose Rizal’s headstrong belief encapsulated in his many writings served as a catalyst and helped spark the revolt of the indios. With two perennially popular novels under his belt, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo enlightened colonized Philippines to the abusive power and ravenous greed of the Spanish colonizers.

The printed word was Rizal’s greatest strength. His poems reveled in the spirit of patriotism, for example Hymn to Labor starts with the chorus:

For the Motherland in war, For the Motherland in peace,

Will the Filipino keep watch, He will live until life will cease![3]

In the same vein, his written correspondence to his loved ones served as a testament of this fortitude. His letter titled “A los Filipinos” dated June 20, 1892 expressed his reaction in anticipation for his death sentence upon returning to the Philippines. He wrote, “I wish to show those who deny us patriotism that we know how to die for our duty and our convictions. What matters death if one dies for what one loves, for native land and adored beings?”[4] One of his last letters records “I have always loved my poor country and I am sure that I shall love her until my last moment. Whatever my fate will be, I shall die blessing my country and wishing her the dawn of her redemption.”[5] If Ernest Gellner dare read Rizal’s many expressions of patriotism, he would question, “why should people be willing to lay down their lives for an invention?”[6]

 

If Gellner’s theory lies on a prerequisite of industrialization, then this does not iron out the process of nationalism in the Philippines. Benedict Anderson rides on a more elaborate wave taking into account other possible factors. His perception of a nation is that of an “imagined political community”[7] created by Rizal and the many players of the 1898 Philippine Revolution. They embraced the idea with conviction pouring time and effort strategizing the best move to conquer more than three centuries of colonized power. In Imagined Communities, Anderson details points on this theory:

“…nations and nationalism are powerful forces in the modern world. They are also modern constructs, the product of an interplay between a technological revolution (printing), an economic revolution (capitalism) and the fatality of linguistic diversity.”[8]

Among these three indicators, it was the utilization of a technological revolution which gave a clear message of nationalism and nation-building. As one of the founders of nationalism studies, Anthony Smith highlights the role of the intelligentsia as “creators, inventors, producers and analysts of ideas.”[9] Inclined also to this perspective is the historian and political theorist Miroslav Hroch. He deviced a:

“three-stage model where dreamers can flourish into a mass movement: phase A is the period of scholarly research, when poets, philologists, archeologists, historians, artists all contribute to the ‘discovery’, creation and formalization of the national culture. Phase B is the period of patriotic agitation. Finally,  phase C  corresponds to the rise of a mass national movement.”[10]

Herewith lies a similar paradigm where Rizal’s novels illustrated characters of deep symbolic meanings entrenched in a plot intended to make known the social ills of his time. Banned, Rizal’s writings ever so strongly rippled through the archipelago and as what historians would speculate as indirectly flaming a passion to fight for freedom. The years spanning the end of 19th century Philippines were tough times and the fight towards independence was one meshed in politics and power. Today, institutions, museums and textbooks have softened the perilous danger during that tumultuous era and have gleamed the spotlight on the positive principles and moral values instead.

It was in essence an epiphany as the burgeoning desire for nationalism grew. Mona Lisa Quizon starts her essay entitled Jose Rizal the Indio Bravo with the lines:

“Filipino nationalism was the end result of more than three centuries of Spanish colonization in the country. Jose Rizal, one of the foremost reformists, led in the awakening of nationalist consciousness in the country.”[11]

 

True that one cannot force nationalism but with power and authority, one can duly influence the other. On June 12, 1956, the Rizal Law was amended by congress as Republic Act No. 1425: “An Act to include in the curricula of all public and private schools, colleges and universities courses on the life of Rizal, particularly his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, authorizing the printing and distribution thereof, and for other purposes.”[12] Principal authors of the law, Senators Jose P. Laurel and Lorenzo Tañada, hoped that succeeding generations will imbibe this same dedication of service towards others and indomitable spirit of nationalism.

 

Following the flowchart of Rizal’s value-laden writings evolve into required textbook readings, this stage gives sense to the idea that the nation is a construct of the literary imagination. Gellner recognizes the “role of mass public education in forging loyal, even ardent, citizens”.[13] Stepping out of the textbooks, institutional galleries around the country have concocted a variety of educational exhibits and talks that have bolstered Rizal’s legacy. Boasting of collections and memorabilia that scream glory to the commemoration of Jose Rizal’s sesquicentennial anniversary, these display spaces have undoubtedly created an ideological invention twice over: Rizal’s fictional idea of a nation and the viewer’s invented image of the hero.

 

This idea is best seen at Rizal Shrine located at Fort Santiago the exact place where Rizal was detained and executed. Inasmuch as it is a museum containing all relevant artifacts, it is in essence a place of homage as the name suggests. In its confines hang an enveloping atmosphere of reverence where noisy children on school tours are compelled to silence. One enters into a room filled with glass cases of Rizal’s belongings and manuscripts. The grand description of a “Renaissance man” abounds through the entire display of sculptures, writings, medical apparatuses and other possessions. But as the viewers are led to the detention cell, Rizal is then transformed into a hero where one cannot help but pause for a moment of reflection. The upper floor aptly called Reliquary room keeps a portion of Rizal’s vertebra[14] believed to have been hit by one of the bullets during his execution. Adjacent to this is the poem “Mi Ultimo Adios” engraved on sandstone where one is reminded of Rizal’s dreams and hopes for the country. The shrine’s objectives pay tribute to Jose Rizal’s label as “National Hero” but the fact that there was no law which proclaimed him as such says a whole lot on this invented image. Note a section of the executive summary of Congress on the Selection and Proclamation of National Heroes and Laws Honoring Filipino Historical Figures:

“Even Jose Rizal, considered as the greatest among the Filipino heroes, was not explicitly proclaimed as a national hero.  The position he now holds in Philippine history is a tribute to the continued veneration or acclamation of the people in recognition of his contribution to the significant social transformations that took place in our country. Heroes, according to historians, should not be legislated.  Their appreciation should be better left to academics.  Acclamation for heroes, they felt, would be recognition enough.”[15]

 

A more pronounced emblematic consciousness was realized in the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum’s exhibition entitled Over Rizal: Monuments to a Hero. For the Filipino resident, Rizal monuments are ordinary fixtures most usually set in a local town plaza fronting the city hall; but the curator’s open call for contributions on photographs of Rizal monuments allowed one to see a virtual gathering of Rizal aficionados the world over. It was on June 17, 2011 where the museum opened its doors to show off an overwhelming number of carefully deliberated submissions.[16] Taking on a pedagogical turn to instruct the viewers on the anatomy of a monument, the display progressed from two thematic concepts that of strategic locations (municipal to international) and varieties of design (simple to elaborate). On these two-pronged ideas, the viewer gathers generalizations on the depth and breadth of Rizal’s influence across nations as well as the amalgamated persona and icon complete with feminine symbols of justice, freedom, education and the Motherland.

Two universities where Rizal studied have also paid tribute to the hero through an exhibition of memorabilia and academic lectures. Ateneo de Manila University’s Art Gallery displayed authentic Rizal artifacts. Appropriately titled Rizal in the Ateneo, the Ateneo in Rizal, one of the objects featured was that of young Jose proudly sporting his Ateneo school uniform.[17] The University of Santo Tomas, on the other hand, held a number of programs and academic talks, one of which showed evidence of Rizal’s grades during his medical school days taken from the university archives.[18] No matter how immense or how trivial the artifacts on Rizal, placing it in a museum and situating it as a crucial part of the curatorial concept adds on to the honor, glamour and prestige of Rizal’s imagined notion of nationalism.

Art spaces across the metropolis have also gone through extra lengths to honor Rizal. Pinto Art Museum at Antipolo gathered a number of artworks depicting the hero in various media. Ciento Cincuenta exhibited last October 16, 2011 presented a point of view where contemporary artists have drawn inspiration from diverse chapters of Rizal’s life: young Pepe, the ilustrado, Gat Jose Rizal, the author, the doctor, the idealist and the hero…[19] a hundred years and fifty years dead but the labels still keep on coming. GSIS Museo ng Sining at Pasay rode on a more educational approach.  Located smack in the middle of the lobby is a vast timeline of heavy text dappled in old album pictures of Jose through the years. At your face, this tells of the life and times of Jose Rizal. After all the barrage of education about Rizal’s writings, one may think that it is never enough.[20]  On a post-modernistic thread, Lopez Memorial Museum chose contemporary artists too but in keeping with the exhibition narrative gravitated towards debatable art pieces.[21] This related to Rizal in such a way that his novels created quite a ruckus during his era. One never thought it too controversial though, for the exhibit that really stole the spotlight during this 150th Rizal celebration was Kulo. Held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Kulo brought together artists who have once in their lives been part of the University of Santo Tomas academe. Above the Rizal theme, all the works attempted to create a discourse on “art and its social context in the Philippines.” [22]

Out of the galleries, this favorite character in Philippine history has turned into a marker for the Filipino commuter. Overused, Jose Rizal’s name has turned into a university, a banking corporation, and countless streets among other things. Pressing on Anderson’s paradigm, a writer could easily sugarcoat these simple nouns as a symbol for excellence, a representation of an ideal economic leader and as pathways of hope. Exceedingly imagined, yes, but then again, gathering our lesson from Rizal’s 150 years shows that everyone loves a good hype.

Jose Rizal’s productive life, headstrong character and invaluable contribution to Philippine independence beckoned suppressed indios to a passion for nationalism. Ours is a modern day struggle, that of keeping the intelligentsia from leaving the country for greener pastures. Nationalism – if this be ‘invented’ or if this be ‘imagined’, then one could only hope that in small ways Rizal’s patria adorada will be felt by millions of Filipinos abroad and be made real by those who chose to stay in its shores.


[1] Smith, Anthony. “History and Modernity.” Representing the Nation: A Reader. London: Routledge, 1999. 48. Print.

   Utilizing Ernest Gellner’s vantage point and linking this to Philippine history, one could then note that the country’s age of nationalism traces back to the Philippine Revolution of 1896 which culminated on 1898 with the declaration of Philippine independence from Spanish colonial rule.

[2] Gellner, Ernest. “Thought and Change.” London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 1972. 169. Print.

[3] Rizal, Jose. “Hymn to Labor.” Http://joserizal.info. Dr. Robert L. Yoder, 2007. Web. 7 Jan. 2012.

[4] Nery, John. “The 10 Most Important Letters Rizal Wrote.” Inquirer.net. 28 June 2011. Web. 7 Jan. 2012.

[5] Ocampo, Ambeth R. “Why Rizal Is the National Hero.” Librarylink.org.ph. Library Link: A Union Catalogue of Filipiniana Libraries, 19 June 2007. Web. 8 Jan. 2012.

[6] Smith 45-59.

[7] Anderson would expound on this idea more by adding that this was imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. Anderson, Benedict. “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.”  Www.juergensmeyer.com/files/Anderson.pdf. Web. 7 Jan. 2012.

[8] Smith 49.

[9] Kaufmann, Eric, and Daniele Conversi. “Ethnic and Nationalist Mobilisation.” Scribd.com. 25 Jan. 2009. Web. 10 Jan. 2012. 14.

[10] Kaufmann 13.

[11] Quizon, Mona Lisa H. “Jose Rizal the Indio Bravo.” Nhi.gov.ph. National Historical Commission of the Philippines. Web. 8 Jan. 2012.

[12] Tanada III, Lorenzo. “Yuchengco Museum: The Rizal Law & Nationalism.” Myrizal150.com. 25 Oct. 2011. Web. 8 Jan. 2012.

[13] Smith 50.

[14] "Rizal Shrine Fort Santiago." Rizalshrinefortsantiago.webs.com. Rizal Shrine, 2009. Web. 8 Jan. 2012.

[15] "Selection and Proclamation of National Heroes and Laws Honoring Filipino Historical Figures." Congress.gov.ph. 16 Jan. 2003. Web. 9 Jan. 2012.

[16] "Over Rizal: Monuments to a Hero." Http://vargasmuseum.wordpress.com. Jorge B Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center, 27 May 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2012.

[17] Lee-Chua, Queena N. “Rizal, the Atenean.” Http://newsinfo.inquirer.net. Philippine Daily Inquirer, 19 June 2011. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

[18] Mutuc, Jonah Mary. “UST Hosts Academic Conference on Rizal.” Varsitarian.net. University of Santo Tomas, 7 July 2011. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.