India's deities aren't simply represented but incarnate in her temple images and murtis, and they aren't restricted to the confines of her temples but sit out on her streets, hang over her doorways, recline in mountain fields, preside over shops, restaurants and houses and look out from the dark nooks of remote cliffs. Often we would come across a murti no more elaborate than a foil-wrapped stone tucked into the crevice of a wall - and yet even these simple and at times mysterious deities were adorned with flowers, dotted in kum-kum and sindhoor pastes and surrounded by burned down sticks of incense, small, flickering oil lamps and other offerrings.
If the divine exists in everything, then everything is divine.
We discovered this sidewalk Ganesh shrine while wandering on our first day in Udaipur. It was impossible to resist taking a photograph of him but we did so only after bowing in namaskar and touching his little white foot — because as we observe India's murtis and temple images they observe us as well. This is not simply worshipful looking but darshan, a two-way flow of vision in which the observed and the observer become one. This is why the eyes of Indians deities are so prominent in images and on statues and why traveling to pilgrimage sites is an important part of Hindu culture.
Well on this particular day a man came running out towards us from his shop across the street as soon as we'd finished taking photos. Appropriately, he'd been observing us as well.
Oh no! I thought, we've done something terrible. Then I spotted his enormous ear-to-ear smile.
"You have made me so happy today!" he exclaimed, folding his hands at his chest in greeting, "So many tourists come and just take a photo of Ganesh" he waved his hands in the air as to demonstrate how quick they were to shoot and leave, moving on to the next picturesque thing. "But you have stopped here and bowed and offered your respect. You have made my whole day!"
And you have made ours too, I thought as we walked away and J observed that while the murti itself wasn't able to speak, the shopkeeper had quite possibly just delivered a message from Ganesha himself.