Wishing I was Still in India

It’s kind of surreal to think that two weeks ago I was living carefree – no Trump – nearly 8,000 miles away in India. If I were to describe my time in India with two words, it would be too short [see what I did there?]. When people ask me about my trip, I struggle to find a place to start: should I talk about the awesome 500 caves we visited, or the monkeys that stole Fjordi’s naan; should I talk about the bougie hotels, or the fact that the only Indians in them were the workers; should I talk about the beautiful, expensive houses in the streets of Mumbai, or the polluted slums on the opposite side?

At first, I was struck by how much it reminded me of home [Guyana for those who don’t know], yet it was distinct; India had its own uniqueness. I felt like I was transported back to being a 12-year-old kid again. However, it was weird because I was not living that reality but just witnessing it from a different perspective. Being back in the US, I couldn’t help but think about the little things we take for granted, like clean water [or at least water clean enough for us to drink] and WiFi. Even though there were poverty and pollution on every corner, there was this sense of liveliness in the streets. Everywhere you turn a different scent catches your nose: food, food and more food! The streets are loud: people talking, music playing, cars honking, a lot of cars honking [and a rickshaw waiting to hit you]. Man, I miss India!

There would have been no India trip without the amazing caves we visited. Magnificent and grand, worthy of the experience; the pictures do not tell the whole story. My favorite site being [sorry Elephanta] the Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora. Visiting this temple with a mass of people, chatter, laughter and screams engulfing the structure was truly awesome! I didn’t think this place could get any better, but then we hiked to view the temple from above. *Jaw Drops*

Just as how one picture does not give the complete story of Kailasanatha, only talking about caves would not paint a complete picture of Mumbai/Aurangabad. All of the different elements combined to make the experience truly unforgettable. Also, I will never forget being lost in Mumbai with Mykel and Enrique…good times!

Visiting India was one of the most exciting and humbling experiences I have had as a part of the Colgate community, and I am grateful that I shared that experience with my SRS class. Thank you, Professor Kaimal!

Kailasanatha from above
Ajanta groupie
Samira excited for Elephanta
Gateway Arch of India
Bollywood on fleek
Re and Jesse are there in spirit
Modern yogis

Pitalkhora [Dying] Caves

Although getting to the Pitalkhora Caves was a bit of a hike, the site was worth the sweat. It was fitting that we visited these caves at the end of the trip so as to make it easier to locate important features and methods of preservation by comparing it to other caves – mainly the Ajanta Caves. Though in ruins, these early Buddhist caves are grand and awe-inspiring. Remnants of chaitya arches are visible above the chaitya caves, while others had a vihara layout, with the foundation of dwelling rooms still preserved.

For me, it was amazing to see the effects of time on a site that appears to be  timeless. The damage on the cave was quite evident from the outside, however, there are features such as the painted pillars in the massive chaitya hall and row of elephants in front that gives this site its own magnificence. With the ongoing damage caused by water and other factors, measures were taken to preserve the oldest known rock cut caves in India. Modern pillars were erected in the chaityas to help with holding up the structure. This is why the chaityas were less damages compared to the viharas, where I can’t recall any structural support was built. Further down the mountain, stupas were reconstructed to preserve the little that was left from the original.

By visiting the Pitalkhora Caves, I think that I was most taken aback by the fact that a site so grand and awe-inspiring will cease to exist in the near future. It allows you to pause and appreciate these magnificent structures even more.  

Gangadhara @ Elephanta

Learning about the reliefs at Elephanta in class was one thing, but being there and experience it puts you in a different state of mind. Just the impressive size of the sculpted figures was enough to leave me in awe. The stories behind each sculpture brought the piece to life and it was nothing short of extraordinary!

My research was focused on the Gangadhara relief which depicts Shiva receiving the river Ganga in a lock of his hair [link to the myth]. This dynamic relief also featured Parvati – Shiva’s wife – along with Vishnu, Indra and other celestial beings and ganas. I was trying to demonstrate the physical evidence to support claims made by Wendy Doniger and George Michell stating that the positioning of Parvati is indicative of her jealousy of Shiva receiving Ganga. With close inspection of Parvati’s posture, you can actually see that her feet are carved from different stones which give her the ‘uneasiness’ that Doniger points out. Seeing this in a photograph is almost impossible to understand, it is something that much be seen firsthand to draw the connection. Other indications of her apparent jealousy are quite evident in the relief: her body tilted, looking downward, and Shiva’s consoling touch on her right shoulder. By viewing the sculpture up close, it was very noticeable that Parvati’s unusual posture reflects her feelings towards Shiva receiving Ganga.  Familiarizing yourself with the following references will give you a better understanding of Parvati’s anger/jealousy and appreciation for the massive Gangadhara sculpture at Elephanta.

Berkson, Carmel, Wendy Doniger, and George Michell. Elephanta, the Cave of Shiva. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Michell, George and Bharath Ramamrutham. Elephanta. The India Series. Bombay: India Book House, 2002.

Countdown to India

It’s kind of hard to believe that in a week I will be on a 15 hr flight to Mumbai. Never did I thought I would be going to Indian until I got accepted into this class. To say that I am excited about this trip is an understatement. Learning about those impressive architectures and figures in class was one thing, but I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to stand there and experience them in person. I cannot wait to get to Newark and get on that plane to begin this journey, and I am excited to share this experience with people I know. Like a true tourist, I will have my camera ready to document all the magnificent sites we visit. Elephanta, here I come!