Our second day at Ellora was one of the highlights of this trip for me, for several reasons. For one, they were Jain caves, rather than Buddhist and Hindu which were the primary sites we’ve been looking at. Though I think these three religions were undoubtedly intertwined, Jainism has always intrigued me. I’m not an intensely religious person, yet if I were I think something like Jainism would be fitting. It has a lot to do with meditation and self reflection in order to reach enlightenment, which, in theory, sounds pretty cool. The other thing that inspired a lot of my writing while I was there was the fact that they were all unfinished. As you walk around, you can see finished stupas, surrounded by rock that was clearly intended to be a part of the site, but that never got crafted into the full bodies or designs that surrounded it. To me, that emphasized the humanity behind these sites. It made the idea that people made them more real. It’s hard to think about the fact that people came to these sites to pray, worship, etc, and the unfinished stone made me realize that these things didn’t just appear. There was a level of cooperation and community and camaraderie that went into each site. There was a common purpose that connected people and brought them together to make such a magnificent piece of history. I could probably write a book about just this one day and the emotions I had and tried to grapple with throughout the time at these sites, and I hope that one day I have the opportunity to come back and explore more while they are still intact.
Presenting at Elephanta was a pretty intense experience for me. Researching something without having seen it in real life, though significant, can’t quite compare to seeing it in person. As I walked into the first cave I was overwhelmed at seeing how large the Trimurti sculpture actually was. In my mind it was much smaller, something tucked away in a corner that I would embarrassingly tell my classmates I couldn’t find. Yet as you walked in that was the first thing I saw. Maybe it’s because I spent weeks and weeks researching it that I have more of a connection to it, but I think Elephanta affected me most as I walked in. The size of everything, the power that each sculpture demanded, it all kind of hit me at once and it made being in India feel suddenly very very real. It was like, holy crap, I am in this different country, on an island, in this ancient cave that I have been studying all semester. It’s hard to convey what I felt with words, and I’m still trying to figure it out myself. I am by no means an expert on art history, yet I don’t think you need to be to get something out of these caves. Though the site had a lot of meaning for me having studied it all semester, I think you could walk into any of these sites with little knowledge about the history and still appreciate the artistry behind it, the fact that real life breathing human bodies built these spectacular sculptures. That being said I think context is important and should not be ignored, and I am pretty satisfied with how our class allowed me to place a lot of these sites in a larger framework.
“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really…How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems so limitless.”
-Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
Though the idea of stepping onto a plane in Newark, and stepping off of it in Mumbai is still an abstract and somewhat illusory concept to me, I can’t help but think of this quote from The Sheltering Sky. A post colonial story about an American couple abroad in Africa, I think it is a must read for anyone traveling to an unfamiliar place. Some may find this quote to be a little cynical, possibly pessimistic, and I wouldn’t completely disagree with you. Yet the realist in me recognizes and resonates with the idea that everything has a limit and therefore an end. Our trip is ten days long, an insignificant amount of time in the grand scheme of things, a story we tell our kids about,”that one time when I was in India….” I don’t mean to take away from the thrill of travel. As this is my first time out of the country I can’t quite formulate the anticipation I feel into a coherent sentence, yet I find myself more focused on the presentness of everything. My last week at home with my family until the summer, my last night with friends who are very rarely all in the same state and/or country at one time, my last night binge watching a Netflix show in my bed that I’ve had since fifth grade. And soon, my last night in Mumbai, my last day taking in the wonder that is Elephanta, my last night in India. I’ve become very aware of how my time is spent and I hope it follows me to India, forcing me to take in everything as if it is my last time there, because it very well might be. And ultimately I share the same feelings as everyone else, pure and unfiltered excitement at the thought experiencing something new.