Reflecting back on our time in India

Thinking back to our time in India brings a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts. From the absolutely breathtaking sites to the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty on just one street, I realized how little I actually know about the world. As I said before, this is trip was my first time outside of the country for an extended period of time and it opened my eyes to the much larger bubble that is the rest of the world. India is so lively and animated. It seemed chaotic at first, but after spending some time there, I realized that it is actually quite organized and in sync. India is historic yet youthful in that it is teeming with ancient stories and peoples yet it is full of energy and life. Driving through the city and seeing everyone spending time with each other reminded me of Puerto Rico. I remember taking nighttime walks with my family around where my grandparents live and seeing families sitting on their porches together, talking about the day’s events and reminiscing about “the good ol’ days”. India was different, however, in that this sense of community was seen at all times of the day. It’s something I wish I had more of back home.

I will never forget the people who helped us along the way and the people we interacted with. Deepa and Depak were so helpful, caring, and funny! Our trip would not have gone as well as it did without their guidance. I am extremely grateful for all that they did for us to make our time in India unforgettable. Professor Hingorani and Professor Ganvir shared much of their knowledge with us. Their passion and excitement made our trips to the caves so enjoyable and allowed us to see the caves in ways we wouldn’t have without their expertise. I am very grateful for the time and knowledge they shared with us. One part of the cave experience that I will never forget is the children who were also visiting the caves. It brought me much joy to see their faces light up when we took selfies with them. Their laughter and excitement was contagious. All of these people, and the many others who helped us along the way, made this beautiful and exceptional trip so memorable for which I am so thankful!

Although the food was quite tasty, I was ready to come home when we did and have some food that didn’t start a fire in my mouth. 🙂 This trip was definitely a privilege that I was blessed to be a part of. For this, I must thank Professor Kaimal. Thank you so much for selecting us to learn about your passions and allowing us to be on this journey with you! I’m not an art and art history major or minor, but I’ve definitely learned to appreciate the work that scholars like yourself do. Your work helps us gain a better understanding of the past which helps us understand our current lives. Thank you so much for an experience like no other!

Delicious lunch!!!
Beautiful mornings in Mumbai
Bridge to Pitalkhora caves
Excited baby monkey at Ellora!!!
Lunch at Ellora (with the naan-stealing monkeys 🙂 )
Beautiful view of the Ajanta caves

Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora!

One of the sites that I found most interesting and impressive was the Kailasanatha temple at Ellora. It was absolutely enormous and so detailed! The panels on each side depicting different stories were so artistic in the way certain parts of the story were presented. The temple itself is full of messages of power, protection, and perseverance. From lions and elephants fighting at the base of the temple to the powerful Durga slaying the buffalo demon, the themes of dominance and force are emphasized in this temple. Around the temple are large reliefs sculpted into the rock surrounding the temple. It was so fascinating to walk around and hear Professor Kaimal and Professor Ganvir explain the stories behind each relief. We recognized some of the stories from class and from other temples, however some of them were new and equally as exciting. The fact that the sponsor of the temple went to such great lengths to demonstrate his power and ability to care for his people shows the loyalty leaders had to their people and also shows the importance of religion in their everyday lives. Kailasanatha is definitely a temple in which one can feel the power of the gods and of the rulers of the time which for me makes it so remarkable.

Garden in front of the Kailasanatha Temple
One of the panels on the side of the temple
Durga fighting the buffalo demon
Elephant and lion fighting on the base of the temple
Ravana trapped under Mount Kailash
Part of the hall of reliefs wrapped around the temple
The Kailasanatha Temple

Elephanta!!!

Being able to finally see Cave 1 at Elephanta was so helpful in understanding all of the plans I came across in my research. I was interested in understanding what art historians were discussing in regards to circumambulation in Cave 1. This topic struck me as interesting because we understand circumambulation as a clockwise motion around a temple in which the deity is always at the center; however, at this cave, devotees circumambulate counter-clockwise and the deity is off-centered. This motion is opposite of mangala, meaning auspiciousness, which confused me further. One scholar that I believe provided a strong argument for this unusual motion is Charles Collins. He gave detailed descriptions of each relief and explained how certain ancient texts and stories supported the understanding of the reliefs in a counter-clockwise manner.

Another scholar who studied this cave is Hirananda Sastri. Sastri created a plan of the cave in which he labelled the reliefs in a counter clockwise fashion however didn’t explain why he did this. In this plan, Sastri wrote “pradakshina patha” and “circumambulatory passage” around the main linga shrine in this cave and the smaller linga shrine to the east, but didn’t include either of these phrases around Cave 1. Other scholars I came across explain the reliefs at each entrance and how they relate to each other. For this reason, I concluded that devotees can circumambulate anyway around the cave and find ways in which each relief relates with the one before and/or after it.

After seeing the cave, the size of the cave was way larger than I thought. The reliefs were so tall and the columns were colossal! I also hadn’t realized how set back the sculptures are in the niches they are carved into. This allowed the sculptors to add much more detail and really bring the stories to life. I wish we had more time to explore the cave because I wanted to take Professor Hingorani’s advice to look closely at each of the sculptures and see if there are any signs of continuity or discontinuity in the artists’ depictions. Despite the lack of time, it was amazing to see the skill that these artists had. They were able to see this masterpiece in the face of a rock! We think we are so much more “advanced” in our technology today, but after seeing such artwork and detail, I think we have back tracked. Elephanta was so much more than I expected.

You can find out more information about the scholars’ research that I studied here:

Collins, Charles. “Elephanta and the Ritual of the Lakulīśa-Pāśupatas.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, no. 4 (1982): 605-617

Sastri, Hirananda. A Guide to Elephanta. Dehli: Manager of Publications, 1934.

Arriving at Elephanta
North entrance to Cave 1 at Elephanta
East entrance of Cave 1 at Elephanta
Shiva in a yogic posture, left side of north entrance
Shiva, Lord of the Dance, right side of north entrance
Samira, Ravendra, and I standing next to a lion guarding the linga shrine to the east.

Colaba, Mumbai

Leaving the airport in Mumbai was quite an experience. As soon as we were on the road, there was just chaos which I knew was coming however I didn’t know the extent of it. There were multiple times in which I thought that we were going to witness an accident but it didn’t happen. Everyone makes their own path however they are so in sync with each other! It just amazes me. Another part of Mumbai that I didn’t understand the extent of was the slums. The streets are lined with dilapidated buildings housing many people and their businesses. There was one street we traveled down where we saw the polarity between the wealthy and the poor. On one side of the street there were large, well-kept buildings such as hotels, apartments, and car dealerships, and on the other side were the slums. Driving and walking through such areas caused me to reflect on my time here. There were people sleeping on the street outside our hotel where we were treated like royalty. It’s heart-wrenching to be in a country where tourists are pampered to the nines while so many it’s own citizens are struggling for the necessities, which isn’t a unique situation to India. It’s a global issue.

Despite the fact that more than half of the citizens in Mumbai are living in slums, so many people are laughing and smiling. The sense of community within the part of Mumbai we visited is so strong. Leaving the airport we saw so many people hanging out outside and talking with each other. Families were out walking and children were playing with each other. It seemed as if the distractions of the world today were gone and all focus was on each other which is something I really admire.

(Train station in Mumbai)

Before India Trip

Just thinking about the awesome trip we are about to go on makes me more excited than when we first began talking about it. This will be my first time outside of the country for an extended period of time which makes me a little nervous, but I’m much more excited. I can’t wait to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste parts of a culture other than my own. One of the parts that I’m most excited about is physically seeing and experiencing the beautiful temples and caves we discussed in detail in class. There is something special about learning about a place and then visiting it. I took a class at the beginning of this year in which we studied environmental concerns on an island and then went and visited the island, seeing those effects right in front of us. It was an impactful and unforgettable experience which is what I hope this trip is for us!