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.

Ardhanarishvara

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.

Ardhanarishvara at Elephanta!

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.

 

 

Elephanta Reliefs in Person

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).

Ravana Trying to Lift Kailash          
Shiva and Parvati Seated on Mount Kailash

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.

Colaba, Mumbai

Leaving the airport in Mumbai was quite an experience. As soon as we were on the road, there was just chaos which I knew was coming however I didn’t know the extent of it. There were multiple times in which I thought that we were going to witness an accident but it didn’t happen. Everyone makes their own path however they are so in sync with each other! It just amazes me. Another part of Mumbai that I didn’t understand the extent of was the slums. The streets are lined with dilapidated buildings housing many people and their businesses. There was one street we traveled down where we saw the polarity between the wealthy and the poor. On one side of the street there were large, well-kept buildings such as hotels, apartments, and car dealerships, and on the other side were the slums. Driving and walking through such areas caused me to reflect on my time here. There were people sleeping on the street outside our hotel where we were treated like royalty. It’s heart-wrenching to be in a country where tourists are pampered to the nines while so many it’s own citizens are struggling for the necessities, which isn’t a unique situation to India. It’s a global issue.

Despite the fact that more than half of the citizens in Mumbai are living in slums, so many people are laughing and smiling. The sense of community within the part of Mumbai we visited is so strong. Leaving the airport we saw so many people hanging out outside and talking with each other. Families were out walking and children were playing with each other. It seemed as if the distractions of the world today were gone and all focus was on each other which is something I really admire.

(Train station in Mumbai)

Before India Trip

Just thinking about the awesome trip we are about to go on makes me more excited than when we first began talking about it. This will be my first time outside of the country for an extended period of time which makes me a little nervous, but I’m much more excited. I can’t wait to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste parts of a culture other than my own. One of the parts that I’m most excited about is physically seeing and experiencing the beautiful temples and caves we discussed in detail in class. There is something special about learning about a place and then visiting it. I took a class at the beginning of this year in which we studied environmental concerns on an island and then went and visited the island, seeing those effects right in front of us. It was an impactful and unforgettable experience which is what I hope this trip is for us!

The Anticipation Begins

First and foremost thank the Gods that the semester is finally over!!! This has been one of the most stressful but yet eventful semesters here at Colgate. With finals finally being over I can finally look forward to going home for a couple of weeks to be with family for the holidays but what I am most excited for is this trip. I am feeling all types of emotions but I am mostly excited for what I believe will be an unforgettable experience. I look forward to surrounding myself in a completely different culture than mine. I am so excited that I have installed a countdown app on my phone to countdown the days leading up to January 7th, ONLY 22 MORE DAYS!!!!!