Having read the posts of those who have already reflected on our travels, I mirror many of the sentiments expressed. After having been asked about my time in India innumerable times since our return, still find myself unsure of how to sum up the trip. My first instinct is to show the few pictures I have on my phone and make a note to myself to finally go through all the other pictures that are still on my camera, or comment on the amazing food or many many caves we saw, or about the way people drive in Mumbai or my difficulty of contextualizing the proximity of poverty to wealth and how much this truly differs to the US. At about this point my descriptions devolve into confused mumbles and I wrap up with recap of all the things I would categorize as “dope” (food, Deepa, Depak, auto rickshaws). I often explain my motives in life as seeking out opportunities to scare myself. While whitewater kayaking and skiing are the easiest ways for me to this, I’ve found that anytime you can push yourself to the point of being uncomfortable, you can learn immensely about yourself and the people around you. Travel is another place I’ve been able to derive this experience. It comes when you least expect it but also at the point that you can let yourself live on terms other than your own. For health and safety reasons and not causing Padma too much stress, this was difficult but at the most basic, 10 days is too short a time to approach anything at much depth and 20 people too many to be anything but conspicuous. In the end, experiences for me are defined most importantly by people and I was able to get to know each of you better and spend time together outside the bubble of Colgate. Seeing the windows into different corners of India provided the impetus to hopefully return to continue my exploration and reflections from this trip.
The most striking visit of the trip for me was our time spent at the Kailasanatha temple on our first day at Ellora.
Its size, as shown in these pictures from above is immediately awe inspiring. After that shock wore off, it was equally impressive considering the manner in which the cave was constructed-chiseled from the top down.
It is hard to fathom with the size and level of detail on all parts of the structure how this would have been planned and executed. The Kailasanatha encompassed the whole class for me, and incorporated ideas that I had previously only considered in isolation, and in the classroom. Here, architecture, iconography, school children, and good food came together to form an unforgettable experience. And while I think nothing will match standing in front of the massive rendition of Mt Kailash, pictures can portray such an experience better than words
My presentation at the Chota (small) Kailasa Temple at Ellora focused on my research on the importance of the Jain structures in the Ellora complex. We acknowledged Ellora in our studies as a tri-religious site, but learned it as a Buddhist and Hindu dominated place. To an extent, all the metrics support this: there are only 5 caves attributed to Jains, they were completed in the last periods of construction, they are smaller than what we saw yesterday (on our first day at Ellora), and some scholars see the Jain imagery as repetitive and unoriginal. As seen in this interpretation of the Jain caves, the importance of an academic following is clear for the perceived importance of a site. We see with Walter Spink the number of man hours that can go into creating educated conclusions on a single cave let alone a whole complex. And so the Jain caves lag or are left out to a certain extent, especially in colonial era work. The Chota Kailasa gets its name from its resemblance to the Kailasanatha Temple. It is however smaller, and unfinished which adds to this diminutive name. This shows the lense through which those studying it were seeing it through- the majority of references to it noted it as a “poor” imitation of the Kailasanatha. And while the similarities are important, it’s also important to see the intentionality of the cave. Jainism is similar to Buddhism and Hinduism in its focus on achieving enlightenment. The 24 Tirthankaras or Jinas are those who have reached this level of enlightenment and serve as teachers to those still seeking. The Chota Kailasa is a space that houses these figures. They all are portrayed in the perfected form they reached which means that all 24 figures look similar if not identical to the untrained eye. These Jinas, in turn look similar if not identical to figures of the Buddha and later figures of Shiva. The function of the Jinas is to show the ideal form, which does not require a complex image. Instead the beauty of the imagery is in the lesson it teaches about the state of meditative reflection. Add in the standing position of several Jinas and a galaxy of other gods and you’ve achieved a complex and interesting iconography but when you looks for Shiva in everything, you can find it.
In seeing the Chota Kailasa, and the other Jain caves in person, it was even more evident the separation between the colonial-era readings I found and the few more recent Jain scholars. Although Owens and Cort especially described the way that the imagery and the layout interact, there is no replacement to seeing it in person. It also left me a little more divided on my critique of previous scholars for attributing too much of the Jain caves to the “possibly Shiva” category. On one hand, the imagery looks very similar, and the inference that is necessary when dealing with aging and decaying works. On the other hand, much distinction has been drawn between the similar iconographies of the Buddhist and Hindu caves, showing the ability to deal with separateness among similarity which is not afforded as equally to Jainism, as shown and propagated though fewer active scholars.
Some suggested readings:
Owen, Lisa N., “Relationships between Art, Architecture and Devotional Practices at Ellora.” In Living Rock: Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain cave temples in the Western Deccan, ed. Pia Brancaccio, 127-37. Mumbai: Marg Foundation, 2013.
Owen, Lisa N. Carving Devotion in the Jain Caves at Ellora. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2012.
Cort, John E. Framing the Jina : Narratives of Icons and Idols in Jain history. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.
With the holiday season safely over and our trip almost upon us, I feel a similar sentiment to many of my classmates: excitement and disbelief. I have been looking forward to this trip all semester and the prospect of seeing the sites that we have studied made learning about them even more interesting. Even so, I still cannot fathom the fact that I will return to Colgate on Friday to begin our travels to India. As I often feel while traveling, be it to ski destinations, a whirlwind month around Europe after senior year, or flying to London for a long weekend this fall, it takes waking up in the new location for it to feel real. No amount of preparation, day dreaming, packing, or even travel makes it sink in quite like waking up in an unfamiliar place does.
Building on my research, it will be interesting to see some of the Jain sites that I learned about and saw through opposing perspectives of magnitude and importance as well as many of the places we spent more time on in class and examined closely.
With that I should start to think about packing and prepare to wake up on our first morning in Mumbai ready for a great experience.