Kim H. Veltman

Cultivation, Culture, Meditation and Eternal Youth, Naples, 2008.


The etymological links between culture, agriculture and cultivation are well known in the West, where they have inspired a tradition of pastorals and visions of bucolic, Arcadian idylls. This essay explores parallel links in Sanskrit beginning with a nexus of words connected with the letter K and the stems kR, KRR, kRT, KRSNA, and KRSTa. It explores how metaphors of seeding, sowing (sewing) and ploughing became intertwined with procreation, with improving and perfecting, such that weeding out applied also to the moral realm. In this context, the Hindu god of war, Karttikeya, was originally concerned with a spiritual war: a triumph over lower tendencies. In this early version, the triumph of light over darkness in the annual cycle became linked with a daily, annual and eternal triumph of virtue over vice and the key battles were with oneself.

These wars and battles led to more than moral victories. They were seen as fundamental to life itself. Accordingly, the soul was seen as a divine breath and life itself was interpreted as an indwelling of the soul and a search for eternal life. Three solutions evolved: one sought the answer within (inner alchemy); a second hoped for help from above to below (descent of the Spirit), while a third used images of gates, bridges, passages and crossings to explore how those living on earth below could be reunited with the source of life above. These solutions inspired quests for both outer and inner elixirs of life. The short term results were typically called medicine. The long term results had a sacred side in religion and a secular dimension in mythology and literature (e.g. the grail, fountain of youth). Hence, both East and West developed etymological connections between culture, agriculture and cultivation. In the West, one strand tended towards pastorals, and Arcadian idylls, which could be seen as an early version of entertainment through escapism. By contrast, in the East, these metaphors inspired religion, philosophy and literature by focussing attention on inescapable truths of death and lifeeath.

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