As I have mentioned in my previous blogs that I am a great history buff and anything related to history , I cannot keep away from it .In the past ,I have restricted myself to Indian history as relating to it was easy but the book I am going to share with you today is a travel book with its unique historical back drop .
William Dalrymple , one of my favorite authors is an authentic historian , who I have been following for the last so many years .He is of Scottish descent and has won numerous awards for travel writing and extensively researched history .
Author has an intimate connection with India and his affection for the country is real .He has embraced India more than many of us could and through his eyes we have rediscovered New Delhi and India many times over .
His first published book ”In Xanadu- A Quest “ is my most favorite , till date and I have a personally signed copy of the book , when I got it autographed from him at a Mini lit fest in New Delhi ,a couple of years back .I am sure, I would share this book “In Xanadu -A Quest “ in my future blogs ,where he retraces the steps of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Inner Mongolia in China .It is a travel writing full of interesting incidents and anecdotes and is written in a lighter vein and that’s what makes it all the more enjoyable .
In the book “From the Holy Mountain “ we take both an inward and outward journey of the Holy land which was taken by an Orthodox Monk ,John Moschos in 587 AD with one of his young students ,Sophronius .
Author Dalrymple took us on this journey almost 1500 years later .
John Moschos later compressed the journey into a book called “Spiritual Meadow” . John Moschos ,in the book ,mentions about his personnel experiences with other monks ,the various miracle stories ,the ecstatic vision and other practices of Eastern monasticism .Interestingly ,Author Dalrymple ,during his journey found that so many of those practices were still prevalent even today , may be in some modified version .
Dalrymple began his journey in Greece and then via Istanbul in Turkey ,Syria ,Lebanon , Israel and then concluded in Egypt .The journey included a part of Byzantine empire ,of middle ages ,which was considered eastern Roman empire, under Great King Constantinople ,who in his later life embraced Christianity .
Christianity has been historically a middle eastern religion with its origin in Judaism .In the initial years it was practiced in secrecy as it had conflict with Judaism and early Pagan Roman practices .Then the church meant gathering or community , rather than a building or structure .Such teachings or churches were founded by early disciples of Jesus as they travelled to the various parts of the world .
It became legal to practice Christianity under Emperor Constantinople in Roman Empire around 313 AD .His vision was to bring the whole Roman Empire together .But the practices of the Christians in the eastern parts of the Empire were very different than that of the western counterpart .Orthodox Christianity or the Eastern Christians gave more stress on physical and mental ascetism .Such practices also mirrored in Sufism , Vendantic mysticism and Buddhist psychology .
Whereas the head of the Western counterpart is Pope , Eastern Christianity is spread out under various religious heads with individualistic teachings ,in various parts of the World .
As author visited these ancient monasteries, he gave us numerous accounts of how the orthodox monks competed against each other in physical and mental deprivation for a divine connection .It was interesting to note that such practices overlap among the various religions of those times . As per author’s comments, rules for practicing religions were more porous as compared . Even today , people in the rural area of the land of different faiths, during their difficult times , prayed at the shrines of these orthodox monks and performed animal sacrifices .
In ancient days people with money, commissioned important buildings and works of art to give them a societal presence .Similarly ,in Emperor Constantinople’s time the concept of Basilica was gradually taking shape and churches were being built , where people would come together and stress on inner transformation rather than outer ritualistic Pagan practices.
Author has a keen eye for architecture as we have noted in his past books and he describes the monasteries in great details whatever he could as most of them are in states of great dilapidation secondary to antiquity ,violence and no maintenance . But it was amazing to know that few of those which are still in one piece and functional are practicing the faith exactly what they did 1500 years earlier .
In the book “Spiritual Meadow “ ,John Moschos described about the practices of miracle healing by the Saints of those times . Author presented many such instances in his usual tongue in cheek fashion where present day monks are preaching about the Saints .
As we travelled with the author through the modern day cities and onto the remote places of worship ,we noted the political turmoil ,unrest and a constant fear of persecution among the minority residents .Christianity has systematically been routed out from its place of origin and more and more people are moving west wards for a better and secure life .
These areas from time immemorial has been under great strife .Cradle of three great religions of the world ,Christianity ,Islam and Judaism has always been a socio politically disturbed region. Peace never returned to these areas and this journey itself seemed like a challenging adventure .
Amongst the many other present days ironies of the Modern World ,The Holy Land ,has not witnessed a lasting peace for the last two centuries and we really pray for a miracle when the true essence of Humanity and Religion would prevail.
Wishing you all a happy Easter weekend .
4 thoughts on “FROM THE HOLY MOUNTAIN -A journey in the shadow of Byzantium-Author William Dalrymple”
Well analysed and thought provoking review of a great work by a well traveled and gifted author. The difficult subject of origin of Christianity and it’s spread and internal turmoils of the region of it’s roots is so well put by the reviewer. Unique phrase as one always find in her review is “ The Holy Land ,has not witnessed a lasting peace for the last two centuries and we really pray for a miracle when the true essence of Humanity and Religion would prevail”.
Thank you for your encouraging comments
Worth a read again. Entices you to read the main novel.