Once we got back to Colgate, the first thing I did was I got on facetime with my mother to tell her how incredible India was. I told her everything from the naan stealing monkeys to seeing one of the oldest caves. I now realize that recounting the stories to her was my way of coping with the fact that I wasn’t in India anymore. Through storytelling, I was able to relive all the memorable moments I was describing. This is why I didn’t mind consistently telling the same stories about my experiences abroad.
I didn’t want to accept the fact that the trip was over which is what made adjusting back to being at Colgate extremely difficult. I would subconsciously compare the food, the weather, etc. to India and then have a sense of yearning to be back there. As the semester began, I fell into my normal routine of going to classes, hanging out with friends, going to work, etc. The longing that I had in the beginning of being back in the United States slowly dwindled since India was not always on the forefront of my mind.
There are plenty of memories that left an impression on me. One of which occurred when we were on the bus passing by impoverished communities. All the mosques and temples in the communities were extremely beautiful in contrast to its surroundings. It looked as if the members did everything they possibly could to make sure these places of worship were perfect (even if it meant donating what little they had). I remember being left in awe because I admired how much selflessness these people had and how strong their faiths were. Memories such as these have left a huge impact on my life which is why I am so grateful to have been a part of this wonderful opportunity.
I loved seeing the sculpture Ardhanarishvara in person at Elephanta. I enjoyed seeing the unity and balance between male and female first hand. I was especially captivated by the specific parts of the sculpture where you could clearly decipher the male versus the female because it seemed really exaggerated. Examples include the jutted out hip, difference of earlobes on both ears, etc. It was like the artisans clearly wanted you (the audience) to know exactly what it was they were trying portray in this relief.
A point that was brought up about the sculpture that completely stuck with me was that, besides unity and balance, this piece can represent how inseparable the female and the male are. This point was further explained with the example that both the male and the female are needed for creation to occur. I found this piece of information completely shocking because I had never thought of the relief in that light before. Another part of the relief that was further talked about was we know that Shiva is the male counterpart of the figure, but we do not know who the female is. However, people tend to always assume that the figure is Parvati. I had been one of those people who assumed that the female counterpart was Parvati. I loved realizing my mistake in that moment because it raised so many questions for me and made me wonder. The most powerful part about seeing Ardhanarishvara was all the new information I acquired from people who were more familiar with the sculpture.
Presenting my research in front of the reliefs that I have read for months about has been an out of body experience. It was amazing seeing the Shiva and Parvati Seated on Mount Kailash and Ravana Trying to Lift Kailash in person because I could see a lot more details in the work that the pictures I have been looking at didn’t pick up. Being there enhanced my understanding of the reliefs because I could clearly see the evidences scholars used to support their works and ideas. My research focused on which myth variations can be seen on the reliefs and how these different myth interpretations illustrate the power dynamics of Shiva and Parvati’s relationship.
The most popular variations in interpretations of the reliefs either depict Parvati as Shiva’s equal or gives Shiva all the power in the relationship. There are many scholars that support either side with clear evidence which makes it hard to clearly state which interpretation of the myth the artists portrayed in their work. On Shiva and Parvati Seated on Mount Kailash,you can see Shiva cheating while gambling with Parvati. In the relief, Parvati has her back turned away from Shiva and is using her right hand to hold a servant as support for standing up off of the ground. Neema Caughran interprets Parvati’s back to Shiva as an action of disdain. She is fuming with so much anger about Shiva cheating and not owning up to it that she can not stand to be in his presence. Ravana Trying to Lift Kailash shows Parvati embracing Shiva while he roots the mountain with his toe, trapping Ravana. George Michell states that she is clinging onto him because she is terrified and he assumes the role of the protector by pressing down the mountain. In this interpretation, despite Parvati being a powerful deity herself, all the power is seen in Shiva as he protects her from Ravana.
There are many more interesting points from the reliefs that scholars use to prove that the reliefs are either meant to glorify only Shiva or portray Shiva and Parvati as equals. Seeing the reliefs in person reignited my passion for this topic. I would love to continue researching the topic by starting to compare interpretations said to be depicted in these reliefs to others with the same myth, such as Ravana Shaking Kailash at Ellora Cave 16.
Recommended readings for more information include:
Neema Caughran, Shiva and Parvati: Public and Private Reflections of Stories in North India (American Folklore Society, 1999), 514-526.
George Michell, and others . Elephanta, the Cave of Shiva, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983).
Don Handelman and others, God Inside Out : ‘Siva’s Game of Dice, (Cary, US: Oxford University Press, 1997).
I want to start off this post by stating that I hold the same excitement that many of my classmates have previously shared about going to India. However, the way I have been dealing with this excitement has been somewhat obsessive.Over the past couple of days, I’ve spent most of my free time looking for anything relating to India online. I have looked at everything from youtube vlogs to random photographs people took on their trips. The purpose of this was to gather as much information as possible so that I would be prepared for all the things I could see and do once I actually get there. I feared that I would miss out on experiencing something incredible because I didn’t do enough research on the places we would be staying.
My case of “fear of missing out” put an overwhelming pressure on me that I did not know how to deal with. After exhausting myself with endless researching, I realized that the only way that I would be able to genuinely enjoy being in India was to not rush from place to place with the goal of seeing all that I possibly could. Instead, I should leisurely bask in all the sites, sounds, and tastes around me. With that in mind, I can not wait for all the amazing memories I am going to make in an breathtaking environment alongside such wonderful peers.