I feel as though those ten days passed too quickly. Before I knew it, we were already back on a plane to the USA. We experienced so many new things and although I was always a bit disoriented, I was eager for more. For the first time in my life, I was able to see such magnificent ancient caves and temples at Elephanta, Ajanta, Ellora, and Pitalkhora. The only thing I was disappointed in was the fact that we were not able to travel more and visit the many other grand sites of India. Not only was our sense of sight engaged, but so were our taste buds. For 3 meals a day, every single day, we ate numerous unfamiliar foods. There was so much to try that after the first few dishes, I stopped asking about names and ingredients. Instead, my priorities were on eating the delicious cuisines and simply enjoying them. Our adventure in India was great but something I’ve been thinking about for a while is that we were only able to have the experiences that we did because of our privileges. While in India, we saw less fortunate people everywhere we went. The divide between the wealthy and the impoverished was as clear and distinct as high rises on one side of a street and slums right across on the other side. I could never shake off the guilt of having to reject the men trying to sell souvenirs to tourists or children begging for money on the street. It was extremely difficult to see people of all ages struggling to make a living but something that we needed in order to force us to reflect back on our own selves. It may have been unpleasant but the people we saw while in India were so hardworking and always striving for better. I felt that reminded us of the immense gratitude we should have for the kinds of lives we were blessed with.
In our class, we had only focused on the Kailasanatha Temple at the Ellora site. I wasn’t aware that there were actually many more caves at that site. Just like Ajanta, there were caves dedicated to multiple religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. What I found extremely interesting was the fact that the art and architecture of some caves could be used by different religions. I was made aware of this by Gabby’s research and presentation. Cave 15, was originally an unfinished Buddhist cave that was later repurposed for Hindu worship. Another interesting thing about this cave was that many of the reliefs told the same stories as the ones present in the Kailasanatha Temple. However, these carvings were slightly different which lead to multiple interpretations of the story being told. For example, a common story depicted in Hindu temples and caves is about Shiva suppressing the demon Ravana under the mountain. At the Kailasanatha temple, Parvati seems to be clinging to Shiva in fear while a maid at the side runs away. At Cave 15 though, Ravana is sticking his left leg out and seems as if he is putting all his strength into breaking out. Despite this, Parvati looks much more relaxed and is simply resting her hand on Shiva’s leg. It was interesting to see the same story depicted in different ways even at the same site.
After weeks of research I was finally able to see the Elephanta Caves with my own eyes. Since we were only ever able to view images of this cave on a screen, we were never able to truly grasp how large the sculptures and reliefs were. When I saw it for myself, I was in awe. The focus of my research was on the possible candidates for patron of the caves. I also attempted to narrow the time range for when the caves were constructed. The majority of the scholars’ whose work studied, agreed that the most likely patron of the cave was King Krshnaraja I of the Kalachuri Dynasty. The time of construction was probably between 550 and 575. The second possible patron is his son, King Sankaragana, who ruled from 575 to 600. Unfortunately, it is difficult to confidently claim which ruler was the patron due to the lack of physical evidence. Something interesting that I discovered later on in this trip, was that there was a very similar cave at Ellora. At this site, the earliest constructed caves and monuments were the Hindu ones followed by the Buddhist and Jain ones. Cave 29, which was the second earliest constructed here, was a Hindu place of worship. It seemed to be a larger, more refined echo of the Elephanta Cave and displayed many similar stories and reliefs. It was constructed only a few decades after Elephanta and the most intriguing thing is that this cave, along with other early Hindu caves at Ellora, is thought to have been constructed under the patronage of the Kalachuri Dynasty as well.
Collins, Charles D. The Iconography & Ritual of Siva at Elephanta. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1988.
Michell, George. Elephanta. Mumbai, India: India Book House Pvt Ltd, 2002.
Before this day ends, I’ll already be on a 15 hour flight to the other side of the world. I’ve always wanted to go to India for a semester but since our school didn’t have an official study group, I was slightly bitter. That’s why getting accepted into this program is something I’m so grateful for. Taking an art history course was something I had never done before but I pushed myself to go out of my comfort zone for once. Surprisingly, it was very enjoyable to learn about architecture of temples and caves. Like everyone else, I’m extremely anxious about this trip. I keep repacking my bags and checking if I have everything needed. I’m a bit paranoid that something problematic will happen but hopefully nothing will. Excitement overshadows my feelings of nervousness and paranoia. As I’m writing this, I’m so thrilled that I just can’t fall asleep even though it’s almost 4 am. I can’t wait to experience a new culture as well as see the sites we learned about in class with my own two eyes. I’ll probably be overwhelmed when we first arrive at India and won’t be able to pay attention to anything said so please bear with me. I look forward to spending these next ten days with you guys and making unforgettable memories!