Project In the summer and early autumn of 2013, naturally split obsidian nodules ranging roughly from two inches to six inches in diameter were inscribed on their exposed “inner” surfaces with the Lalita Sahasranaman (The Thousand Names of The Divine Mother) and Mata Amritanandamayi Astottara Sata Namavali (The Hundred and Eight Names of Mata Amritanandamayi). The Lalita Sahasranaman was inscribed in Sanskrit using Devanagri script and in an English translation. 36 stones were required for the Sanskrit, 106 for the English translation. The Mata Amritanandamayi Astottara Sata Namavali was inscribed in Sanskrit using Roman character transliteration and in an English Translation. It required 23 stones and most of the verses had transliteration and translation on the same stone.
Sanskrit from a Lalita Sahasranaman stone
English translation from a Lalita Sahasranaman stone
The 142 Lalita Sahasranaman stones were uniformly “planted” around the edge of a roughly elliptical space naturally free of vegetation, which is characterized by a uniquely patterned surface. This place was “discovered” about a year ago and there are more pictures of the remarkable surface in the post titled “Church.” The 23 Mata Amritanandamayi Astottara Sata Namavali stones were distributed around the same elliptical space but about 10-15 feet further from the center, in the surrounding sagebrush steppe.
In addition, one stone without text was placed in the “center” of the elliptical space. This stone with its empty bindu and “thousand” radial fracture lines seemed remarkably appropriate for this purpose. Placement of the Lalita Sahasranaman stones began and ended by verse 1 and verse 1000 both referencing the eastern-most point of the ellipse. The stones’ placement moved clockwise and were roughly uniform in their distribution around the perimeter. The 36 stones containing the 1000 verses in Sanskrit are farther apart than the stones with the English translations with about three stones for every 30 degrees of arc. The 106 translation stones are appropriately interspersed depending on the number of verses on each stone with an average of three to four being placed between each pair of Sanskrit stones or 9 for every 30 degrees of arc. In the case of the 23 Mata Amritanandamayi Astottara Sata Namavali stones, they also move clockwise around the perimeter with about 3 stones every 30 degrees of arc. Verses 1 and 108 both reference the eastern-most point of the ellipse.
Distinguished by their reddish color, one can see six of the planted Lalita Sahasranaman stones.
This is a single planted Mata Amritanandamayi Astottara Sata Namavali stone. Because these 23 stones were planted further from the center in among the sage, mosses and grasses it is not possible to see more than one at a time.
Why? The project emerged out of a desire to become more deeply familiar with the two traditional texts. The Thousand Names of The Divine Mother is an ancient document that is recited in its mantra form by spiritual aspirants of many traditions. The Hundred and Eight Names of Mata Amritanandamayi, which is similarly recited, is of relatively recent origin as Mata Amritanandamayi, or Amma, is a living Mahatma. It seemed that the intense focus on making each letter of each word of each verse would help one to better understand and assimilate the sound and meaning. Fortunately, my daughter whose education includes a reading and writing familiarity with Sanskrit and Devanagri joined me for three weeks. During this time, she paced herself and etched the 1000 names in Devanagri on 36 stones. I spent a somewhat longer time with the English translations and transliterations. Both of us increased our understanding of and appreciation for these two texts and have found the value of their recitation enhanced.
What are obsidian nodules and where do they come from? Various forms of obsidian are likely to be found wherever there has been volcanic activity. The name obsidian is a few thousand years old and comes from the Greek meaning “found in Ethiopia.” It seems that the rounded and irregularly rounded nodules used in this project are the result of repeated heating and cooling of lava. This process allowed the molten silica-based material to collect, coalesce and later, to cool into nodules. Millions of years after the deep lava flows, subsequent inland seas covered this country and finally as the seas receded, exposure to wind, sun and precipitation, weathered the lava substrate and pockets of the nodules were left behind. Over the years, I have run across these pockets of nodules and have been attracted to them particularly because of their sometimes virtually perfect spherical and elliptical forms and unique surface textures.
A fresh pocket of nodules – undisturbed for who knows how long.
How they got broken is an unanswered question. Finding two halves that fit together separated by a fraction of an inch or possibly several feet does not help answer the question. It seems there has been impact at some point or perhaps, the stresses induced at the time of cooling have
finally caused them to split open.
Given that obsidian was a raw material used for making tools for hundreds if not thousands of years by Native American people, one wonders if those nodules that are split might be pieces left behind after forays to secure new supplies of good flaking material. Occasionally, we have found pieces of nodules at places where Native Americans camped as evidenced by obsidian chips. These camps are ten or more miles distant from nodule sources.
We gathered several apple boxes of nodules and brought them back to camp to sort and clean.
Before inscribing, the nodules were washed. An unexpected thunderstorm helped conserve our supply of fresh water.
The storm also produced an evening sky that made one wonder what it might have looked like millions of years ago with the lava flowing and the sky full of gasses, smoke and ash.
Sometimes the color of the volcanic glass changes from black to reddish–brown, The black and red variegated is called mahogany and produces lovely organic, even fractal, patterns. These patterns and the evening sky in the above photo seem to have something in common.
Obsidian, unlike man-made glass, is not of uniform hardness or texture. We learned very quickly to avoid dull gritty material and select high gloss surfaces.
This was a gritty piece but it was hard to resist because of the beautiful banding. Even in the best pieces, the motion of the fine diamond tip is frequently interrupted by impurities in the glass or dramatic changes in hardness or topography caused by fracture lines. After a few days of inscribing, finger, forearm and shoulder muscles were far stronger because of our attempts to control the diamond point. Toward the end, we both had more control of the diamond point.
Every now and then, we’d get an exceptionally uniform surface and writing would be a joy with the diamond cutting as if through butter. This one, even though curved came out to be a real beauty.
As time went on it became increasingly difficult to resist those stones with complicated fractures as they offered challenges to beginning and ending verses in different ways.
As the number of inscribed stones began to increase, we started keeping track to avoid later confusion. Once there were about sixty stones keeping track in a spiral got confusing.
Labeling with masking tape ended up the simplest solution.
Next, we made a simple map to determine where they would go to be properly distributed around the perimeter.
After determining the exact cardinal points with the GPS function of a cell phone and placing markers at 30 degree intervals, the marked stones were appropriately placed.
When their positions were determined, planting began.
The soil where we planted the stones of the Lalita Sahasranaman was probably completely free of organic matter. It was almost as hard as mortar and had to be chipped and scraped with an awl and spoon. In most cases, the stones were planted deep enough so that just the top-most portion was above the surface.
After those in the hard alkali were planted, the stones were packed in with some of the removed dirt and the smaller surface stones, some of which had growing lichens on them, were carefully replaced.
The last thing was to sprinkle a few of these tiny stones. We collected them where they were thrown up on the surface by ants who remove them from their underground passageways.
Watering to seal the alkali was the final step. From here on the natural elements will take over.
The pleasure of planting quickly became evident as we responded to the challenge of installing each stone in such a way that it appeared as if it had been there forever. In many cases, the stones became so well integrated that they are now very difficult to find. This is especially the case with those that are well aligned with the surrounding rocks or planted in among the sage, moss and grasses. Below are some before and just after planting.
10 – 15
10 – 15 planted
273 – 297
273 -297 planted
326 – 354
326 – 354 planted
In the case of the stones of the Mata Amritanandamayi Astottara Sata Namavali, they were planted in soft, loose soil full of organic matter. Their holes could be dug with the fingers alone and the stones nestled easily down into the accumulated duff.
31-35 (108) planted
95-97 (108) planted
86-87 (108) planted
76-80 (108) planted
58 – 61 (108)
58 – 61 (108) planted In this case, by mistake I skipped a verse on the stone on the left and so made a second stone with the omitted verse so they could be planted together.
Views of some of the things that live around the edges
These mosses grow on the some of the rocks. The greener ones were photographed after a light rain. They seem to grow very slowly and some may be quite old.
Lichens are also common here. These seem to like the intense sun and grow where there is maximum exposure. Their colors are consistent with that choice. They also grow very slowly.
This is moss under sagebrush after a light (.05 inches) rain. The green chlorophyll formed in the night to be ready for the morning. (There are also lichens growing on the bark)
By afternoon, everything is brown again. They are quick to take advantage of any moisture and equally quick to shut down when intense light, heat and dryness return.
More after-rain mosses. When they are green they are another world that hardly seems like the high desert.
This is the home of a black-tailed jackrabbit. It is on the edge of the ellipse and overlooks the 50-60 series of verses of the Lalita Sahasranaman. When one considers that the winter temperatures get to -20 F and and in summer go up above 100 F, one realizes how warm and also cool rabbit fur must be. This shelter doesn’t seem like a lot of protection for raising baby rabbits but like all the life forms here, they seem to manage.
The next morning, after a 20 degree night and clear skies, a few hours of sun melted much of the snow that was not shadowed.
The above three are from the 108 and therefore in the sage where it is more shady.