On a recent trip to India, I was walking along a beach in Gokarna (historically known as an important Hindu pilgrimage destination). I was observing whilst some Hindus were making offerings of fruits and coconuts to the sea, as well as committing the ashes of a deceased relative to the waves. It was interesting to watch the ceremony and I was told by the person I was with, that Hindus believe that all holy rivers join the sea, and that by throwing the ashes into the sea, they will be mixed with all the holy rivers of the world. There were also a huge amount of coconuts washed up on the beach which had been offerings. As well as coconuts and bundles of fruit, I came across some wooden body parts of what I think must have been deities – a tiger’s claw and the forearm of a woman.
Now with London not being a tropical destination, it may seem odd that it was the coconuts strewn on the beach that day in India, which reminded me of the River Thames, where the evidence of many different religious beliefs is also found washed up along the foreshore. We have found many religious artefacts over the last couple of years, including an awful lot of coconuts in varying states of being - from plain hairy ones to beautifully painted ones adorned with coloured silk or sequiny bling, or carefully wrapped in cotton. So this blog entry is dedicated to these discoveries. Please do forgive my ignorance of some of the official meanings behind them. Any extra knowledge or comments would be greatly welcomed and I apologise in advance if I have made any mistakes in interpreting these religious objects.
In India, the most sacred river is the River Ganges, and many offerings are thrown into the Ganges as an offering to Godess Ganga. For the large community of Hindus in London, The River Thames has become a substitute for that holy river, and indeed all rivers are seen as holy by Hindus so I have been told.
It is not just Hindus though that consider the Thames a holy River. Hereafter is range of the statuettes of deities we have found in the Thames, along with other objects of religious significance. We have found artefacts belonging to Hindus, Muslims and Christians. I should add that we have left most of these objects which were deliberately thrown into the river as offerings, where we found them, out of respect for those who threw them in. Below is a statuette of Ganesh, Hindu God of Knowledge and Remover of obstacles. Also, Shiva, who is one of the most important gods in the Hindu religion.
This calendar below, depicting the Hindu holy trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma was found on the foreshore near Greenwich.
This photo was found on the foreshore. Was he someone's guru once upon a time?
This offering was found near Rotherhithe and I believe it is Chinese
There are also many icons and statuettes of a Christian origin to be found in the River Thames. Some thrown in and some almost certainly lost in the River. Below are just a few of the items we have found. This statue of Madonna and Child was found near Greenwich, although the River has worn away poor Jesus! And the little bottle of the Virgin Mary once contained holy water from Lourdes.
Below are other items with a Christian connection, including a St Christopher's medallion, a pendant from the Guild of St Helena, a Catholic icon and what I think is a very old Pilgrim's badge possibly from the 17th Century, depicting a dragon.
I have found a few of these little purses on a string (an amulet called a Ta'wiz, and on this occasion, I opened it to see what was inside). From what I have been told, I think that it is of Muslim or Sufi origin.
I found it under a stone at low tide, and even though it had clearly been in the River for a long time, the accompanying text on paper was so well wrapped up in wax paper, that you can still read it (well you can see the writing, but I can’t actually understand what it says – so I did send it out on twitter to see if I could get some enlightenment). Someone kindly came back to me explaining that it is some verses of the Quran, and one of the reasons it would have been worn would be to ward away evil spirits. There is an explanation on wikipedia here: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta'wiz
This message in a bottle, contains foreign text and again, through twitter I was told that it contains verses from the Qoran
I also found this mysterious folded paper during a mudlarking expedition,bound with red thread, and it contained a very lengthy prayer about a forthcoming court case.
Each one of these religious objects had a meaning for the person who offered them to the River, or who lost them in there. What a River of Mystery runs through our City, and what a lot of secrets, prayers, dreams and hopes it keeps underneath those swirling currents. Every religion and faith is represented within it! I will continue to be fascinated with each and every one of these finds. By the way, if any of what I have written is completely inaccurate, please let me know!!