It’s been a couple of weeks since we left India. Classes have started again, and I’m much busier. But sometimes I take a couple of moments to reflect back on the incredible journey that this SRS class had together. We did a lot together and I believe that everyone grew as a person as a result of it. We went a lot of amazing places in India, and this required lots of long bus rides, which I didn’t actually mind. The bus rides were when I saw the most. We spent hours traveling through farm fields and small towns outside of Aurangabad. The region seemed to be somewhat equivalent to where Colgate is located in New York. This ‘equivalency’ gave for interesting thoughts while riding. India is an incredibly over-populated country, and poverty is ever-present. Unfortunately poverty is also incredibly present in Madison County, where we live. This fact is something that we at Colgate tend to gloss over. Colgate is obviously very wealthy, and most students here are wealthy too. Despite our incredible financial privilege as an institution, we do not do all that much to make the area around us better. When you compare this to India the United States is kind of like Colgate; it has incredible resources, but does not use them, all that much, to promote welfare around the globe. These feelings that I have toward this topic come from many experiences in India, but one in particular, that I know we all remember. While we all remember, I’m sure that some of us would like to forget. I would urge us to remember that experience and to use that memory as motivation to do what we can to make a difference in the lives of others, in the U.S. and around the world.
The Jain Temple at Ellora was Jesse’s site of study. At this point in the trip we were all used to being mobbed by people at every site we visited. Immediately this site was different. The small entryway hid from view the large temple carved out temple behind it. Once we walked through the gate, however, we entered a space surrounded by four high cliff walls, and defined by a large temple in the center. We were alone. We all scattered running around to see all the different parts of the temple. The carvings were as beautiful as any that we saw and it was very peaceful. After a few minutes some of us noticed that there were stairs around the back of the temple. Naturally, we climbed up. It wasn’t a perfect stairway, and at the end you had to shimmy across a small ledge to reach the roof, but we made it. On the roof there was another room built into the ascending roof over part of temple. There was a small door about three feet high. Inside we found another small temple, directly over the main one beneath our feet. This struck me as funny at first, but then I realized why I liked it; the designers of the temple wanted you to interact with it. It was not just a temple to be visited and worshipped. It was more like a holy play ground to be interacted with and climbed on. This realization gave me a better appreciation for the site as a whole and highlighted an already beautiful temple.
The caves at Ajanta are an incredible testament to the abilities and devotion of ancient Indian people. These caves are not only beautiful, but incredibly complex. While many of the caves contain monastic cells the primary purpose of the caves is contested. This is what my research focused on. During my research I discovered that there is some debate as to who the caves were meant for. Were they carved for Buddha? monastic retreat? or something else? While the caves are clearly Buddhist shrines the presence of another deity is also clear. The Naga King is a local water deity that was worshipped in the region long before the Buddha. The hillside that the caves are cut into was thought to be the home of the Naga King. Because of this the people that carved the caves saw it as incredibly important that the Naga King be represented and welcomed in the caves as well. There is an inscription on the entry way to cave 16, which states that the this place was the home of the Naga King. This inscription is just a few stairs above a small cutout in the rock, which contains a statue of the Naga King. This small cutout is actually believed to have been the home of the Naga King. Through my research I found that while the Buddha is the primary focus of the caves, his worship and presence in the region is done with the blessing and protection of the Naga King.
Below are some sources for more information about this subject:
DeCaroli, Robert . “”The Abode of the Naga King”: Questions of Art, Audience, and Local Deities at the Ajaṇṭā Caves.” Ars Orientalis 40 (2011): 142-61. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23075934.
Weiner, Sheila L. “Ajantā Iconography and Chronology.” East and West 26, no. 3/4 (1976): 343-58. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29756316.
Spink, Walter M. “The Caves at Ajanta.” Archaeology 45, no. 6 (1992): 52-60. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41766316.
As I sit here waiting to board, I am thinking about the upcoming trip. Trips like this don’t come along everyday and I am so excited for this one. Whenever I go somewhere new I am always struck by how different it is, but at the same time I always realize how similar all people are. This distinction manifests itself differently in all places and cultures, and I am interested to see it in India. I am also very excited to eat delicious food and to see Mumbai.