Reflecting Back On India

 

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.

Bibi Ka Maqbara
Sunset at Aurangabad
Overhead view of Kailasanatha temple
Sunrise in Mumbai

Reflecting on What I Have Learned

After leaving India, I knew I had learned a lot about Indian art — that was the goal of the class after all. I wondered, however, how much I had actually retained about India itself. I wondered about how much I had come to understand the culture, the people, the food, the languages, the geography, etc in just nine days. Nine days is not very long, as I realized boarding the plane to leave. For every question answered in those nine days, I gained two more than remained unanswered. In such a religiously diverse, socially unique, and geographically broad country, there was so much left to learn.

I sought to answer some of my questions and learn more about India, so I switched my Core Communities and Identities class to Core India once I returned home. Last night I finished the first reading from the class from the ancient Indian epic The Mahabharata and began to uncover how much I had truly observed, learned, and retained while traveling in India. So much of the texts resonated with the customs and Indian history that I had learned while in India and in our class. I was able to understand the usage of the word boon, understand the way time is considered cyclical in the text, and understand how the religious nature of the text relates to some of the art we viewed. As I observed the rest of the students in the class begin to wrap their minds around these understandings, it became clear all that I had retained. I really do know quite a bit about India from our trip. While I trip was quick, it was also completely immersive. I learned a TON and it has already made me a better student and a more informed person. Our trip to India was truly amazing and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity. I’m hopeful that someday I will be back and visit the incredible streets of Mumbai and the beautiful landscape of Aurangabad.

 

The beautiful busy streets of Mumbai. My favorite image captured from the trip.

The Naga King at Ajanta

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.

Ajanta

On Wednesday Jan. 11 I was able to present in front of the class about my research topic about the caves at Ajanta. Unlike the presentations we gave during the fall semester in class I was able to present at the actual site of Ajanta which was something that was unimaginable. My research on Ajanta largely focused on the economic aspects of the caves. Much like Connor’s research, I also looked at the caves not only as site for religious worship but also one of economic importance to the region because the caves sat on a trade route. Some of the researchers I looked into heavily discussed the amount of power donors had over the creation of the caves. Most of my sources focused on the exteriors of the chitya halls since they look very regal and kind of palace like to support their claims that the caves at Ajanta were to be built in a grand way to kind of be built for a king.

 

 

Here are some great sources to look at that I used for my research:

Brancaccio, Pia. “The Cave as a Palace and the Forest as a Garden: Buddhist Caves and Natural Landscape in Western Deccan,” Paper presented at the annual Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium, Washington D.C., November 14, 2014.

Singh, Manager and Babasaheb Ramrao Arbab. “Architectural History and Painting Art at Ajanta: Some Salient Features.” Arts (2013): 134-150. Accessed December 3, 2016. Doi10.3390/arts2030134.

Spink, Walter M. “Patterns of Patronage.” in Arguments of Ajanta, vol. 2 of Ajanta: History and Development. Leiden: Brill, 2006.