India Reflection

Coming back to Colgate from India was a very hard transition. I loved the time in India and it went by way too quickly. I loved being able to travel and experience new sites, new foods and new culture. It was my first time getting to truly experience all of this and it was such an amazing time. The snow and the constant routine of waking up and just going to class has been hard to adapt to. One of my favorite parts of being in India was just having the ability to look out from the bus and see all of the beauty that India possesses. However, the poverty that we witnessed was truly heart-wrenching. I have spent quite a bit of time brainstorming how our class could create some kind of campus wide activity that would allow for us to raise awareness about the poverty we witnessed and also collect some money to give to an organization that works to help people in those situations. I have not been able to come up with any super solid ideas yet, but I think a party at 100 Hamilton would be a fun, inclusive event that anyone could attend as long as they donated 5 dollars!

I cannot wait to go back to India and spend more time exploring and experiencing everything!

Thoughts on India

When people ask me about my trip to India, I don’t feel like I can really tell them what it was like to be there. They’ll ask me what my favorite part was, or what the food was like, or how it was different than other places I’ve traveled to. But I always find it difficult to express in words what it really felt like to be in India. I think it’s an experience that you can’t really know until you’ve had it yourself. Nevertheless, there are things I want to tell people about my trip. I want them to know that it wasn’t the sites or the food that will stay with me the longest – although the caves and the curry were all amazing – but rather the differences I observed between the lifestyle in India and the lifestyle I am familiar with. Overall the pace of life in India felt slower; it felt like people were enjoying their time with others or alone, going about their daily lives. Even in Mumbai I observed people walking down the street, often talking to people. I rarely saw phones; instead I saw people interacting with each other and the space around them. Seeing this made me think about what it would be like to live without a constant agenda – without having to always be rushing off to the next activity, checking items off a to-do list, or doing things just for the sake of being busy. From what I observed in India, it must be pretty nice. The people there may not have as much material stuff as we do here, but I think their lives have just as much meaning as ours do. If anything, our trip to India got me thinking about what really matters – maybe it’s not cramming as much as possible in 24 hours, but rather choosing what’s important and remembering to stop and look around once in a while. Our ten days in India were short but packed full of amazing experiences. I can’t wait to go back.

The Caves at Pitalkhora

After visiting Ajanta, Ellora, and Elephanta, where there were crowds of other visitors and modern buildings nearby, the stillness and solitude of Pitalkhora was refreshing. I was most intrigued by these caves because they provided a departure from the other monumental palace-like cave temples we visited. Originally they were most likely similar to the grandiose temples at other sites, with high arches and large sculpted elephants. But because we saw Pitalkhora at a moment during its decay, what we saw did not represent what it once was. It was interesting for me to see Pitalkhora in this state of decay because it reminded me that all these caves are made of living rock that will not stay around forever. But even as they begin to crumble they still provide a striking sight and a meaningful experience.

My Experience In India

I feel as though those ten days passed too quickly. Before I knew it, we were already back on a plane to the USA. We experienced so many new things and although I was always a bit disoriented, I was eager for more. For the first time in my life, I was able to see such magnificent ancient caves and temples at Elephanta, Ajanta, Ellora, and Pitalkhora. The only thing I was disappointed in was the fact that we were not able to travel more and visit the many other grand sites of India. Not only was our sense of sight engaged, but so were our taste buds. For 3 meals a day, every single day, we ate numerous unfamiliar foods. There was so much to try that after the first few dishes, I stopped asking about names and ingredients. Instead, my priorities were on eating the delicious cuisines and simply enjoying them. Our adventure in India was great but something I’ve been thinking about for a while is that we were only able to have the experiences that we did because of our privileges. While in India, we saw less fortunate people everywhere we went. The divide between the wealthy and the impoverished was as clear and distinct as high rises on one side of a street and slums right across on the other side. I could never shake off the guilt of having to reject the men trying to sell souvenirs to tourists or children begging for money on the street. It was extremely difficult to see people of all ages struggling to make a living but something that we needed in order to force us to reflect back on our own selves. It may have been unpleasant but the people we saw while in India were so hardworking and always striving for better. I felt that reminded us of the immense gratitude we should have for the kinds of lives we were blessed with.

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 back on our time in India

Thinking back to our time in India brings a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts. From the absolutely breathtaking sites to the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty on just one street, I realized how little I actually know about the world. As I said before, this is trip was my first time outside of the country for an extended period of time and it opened my eyes to the much larger bubble that is the rest of the world. India is so lively and animated. It seemed chaotic at first, but after spending some time there, I realized that it is actually quite organized and in sync. India is historic yet youthful in that it is teeming with ancient stories and peoples yet it is full of energy and life. Driving through the city and seeing everyone spending time with each other reminded me of Puerto Rico. I remember taking nighttime walks with my family around where my grandparents live and seeing families sitting on their porches together, talking about the day’s events and reminiscing about “the good ol’ days”. India was different, however, in that this sense of community was seen at all times of the day. It’s something I wish I had more of back home.

I will never forget the people who helped us along the way and the people we interacted with. Deepa and Depak were so helpful, caring, and funny! Our trip would not have gone as well as it did without their guidance. I am extremely grateful for all that they did for us to make our time in India unforgettable. Professor Hingorani and Professor Ganvir shared much of their knowledge with us. Their passion and excitement made our trips to the caves so enjoyable and allowed us to see the caves in ways we wouldn’t have without their expertise. I am very grateful for the time and knowledge they shared with us. One part of the cave experience that I will never forget is the children who were also visiting the caves. It brought me much joy to see their faces light up when we took selfies with them. Their laughter and excitement was contagious. All of these people, and the many others who helped us along the way, made this beautiful and exceptional trip so memorable for which I am so thankful!

Although the food was quite tasty, I was ready to come home when we did and have some food that didn’t start a fire in my mouth. 🙂 This trip was definitely a privilege that I was blessed to be a part of. For this, I must thank Professor Kaimal. Thank you so much for selecting us to learn about your passions and allowing us to be on this journey with you! I’m not an art and art history major or minor, but I’ve definitely learned to appreciate the work that scholars like yourself do. Your work helps us gain a better understanding of the past which helps us understand our current lives. Thank you so much for an experience like no other!

Delicious lunch!!!
Beautiful mornings in Mumbai
Bridge to Pitalkhora caves
Excited baby monkey at Ellora!!!
Lunch at Ellora (with the naan-stealing monkeys 🙂 )
Beautiful view of the Ajanta caves

Reflecting

It’s been a couple of weeks since we left India.  Classes have started again, and I’m much busier.  But sometimes I take a couple of moments to reflect back on the incredible journey that this SRS class had together.  We did a lot together and I believe that everyone grew as a person as a result of it. We went a lot of amazing places in India, and this required lots of long bus rides, which I didn’t actually mind.  The bus rides were when I saw the most.  We spent hours traveling through farm fields and small towns outside of Aurangabad.  The region seemed to be somewhat equivalent to where Colgate is located in New York.  This ‘equivalency’ gave for interesting thoughts while riding.  India is an incredibly over-populated country, and poverty is ever-present.  Unfortunately poverty is also incredibly present in Madison County, where we live.  This fact is something that we at Colgate tend to gloss over.  Colgate is obviously very wealthy, and most students here are wealthy too.  Despite our incredible financial privilege as an institution, we do not do all that much to make the area around us better.  When you compare this to India the United States is kind of like Colgate; it has incredible resources, but does not use them, all that much, to promote welfare around the globe.  These feelings that I have toward this topic come from many experiences in India, but one in particular, that I know we all remember.  While we all remember, I’m sure that some of us would like to forget.  I would urge us to remember that experience and to use that memory as motivation to do what we can to make a difference in the lives of others, in the U.S. and around the world.

Differences at Ellora

In our class, we had only focused on the Kailasanatha Temple at the Ellora site. I wasn’t aware that there were actually many more caves at that site. Just like Ajanta, there were caves dedicated to multiple religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. What I found extremely interesting was the fact that the art and architecture of some caves could be used by different religions. I was made aware of this by Gabby’s research and presentation. Cave 15, was originally an unfinished Buddhist cave that was later repurposed for Hindu worship. Another interesting thing about this cave was that many of the reliefs told the same stories as the ones present in the Kailasanatha Temple. However, these carvings were slightly different which lead to multiple interpretations of the story being told. For example, a common story depicted in Hindu temples and caves is about Shiva suppressing the demon Ravana under the mountain. At the Kailasanatha temple, Parvati seems to be clinging to Shiva in fear while a maid at the side runs away. At Cave 15 though, Ravana is sticking his left leg out and seems as if he is putting all his strength into breaking out. Despite this, Parvati looks much more relaxed and is simply resting her hand on Shiva’s leg. It was interesting to see the same story depicted in different ways even at the same site.

Ravana trapped under Mount Kailash at Ellora Kailasanatha Temple 
Ravana Shaking Mount Kailash at Ellora Cave 15

Elephanta’s History

After weeks of research I was finally able to see the Elephanta Caves with my own eyes. Since we were only ever able to view images of this cave on a screen, we were never able to truly grasp how large the sculptures and reliefs were. When I saw it for myself, I was in awe.  The focus of my research was on the possible candidates for patron of the caves. I also attempted to narrow the time range for when the caves were constructed. The majority of the scholars’ whose work studied, agreed that the most likely patron of the cave was King Krshnaraja I of the Kalachuri Dynasty. The time of construction was probably between 550 and 575. The second possible patron is his son, King Sankaragana, who ruled from 575 to 600. Unfortunately, it is difficult to confidently claim which ruler was the patron due to the lack of physical evidence. Something interesting that I discovered later on in this trip, was that there was a very similar cave at Ellora. At this site, the earliest constructed caves and monuments were the Hindu ones followed by the Buddhist and Jain ones. Cave 29, which was the second earliest constructed here, was a Hindu place of worship. It seemed to be a larger, more refined echo of the Elephanta Cave and displayed many similar stories and reliefs. It was constructed only a few decades after Elephanta and the most intriguing thing is that this cave, along with other early Hindu caves at Ellora, is thought to have been constructed under the patronage of the Kalachuri Dynasty as well.

Collins, Charles D. The Iconography & Ritual of Siva at Elephanta. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1988.

Michell, George. Elephanta. Mumbai, India: India Book House Pvt Ltd, 2002.

Ardhanarishvara at Elephanta
Ravana Shaking Mount Kailash at Ellora Cave 29

In Reflection

Having read the posts of those who have already reflected on our travels, I mirror many of the sentiments expressed. After having been asked about my time in India innumerable times since our return, still find myself unsure of how to sum up the trip. My first instinct is to show the few pictures I have on my phone and make a note to myself to finally go through all the other pictures that are still on my camera, or comment on the amazing food or many many caves we saw, or about the way people drive in Mumbai or my difficulty of contextualizing the proximity of poverty to wealth and how much this truly differs to the US. At about this point my descriptions devolve into confused mumbles and I wrap up with recap of all the things I would categorize as “dope” (food, Deepa, Depak, auto rickshaws).  I often explain my motives in life as seeking out opportunities to scare myself. While whitewater kayaking and skiing are the easiest ways for me to this, I’ve found that anytime you can push yourself to the point of being uncomfortable, you can learn immensely about yourself and the people around you. Travel is another place I’ve been able to derive this experience. It comes when you least expect it but also at the point that you can let yourself live on terms other than your own. For health and safety reasons and not causing Padma too much stress, this was difficult but at the most basic, 10 days is too short a time to approach anything at much depth and 20 people too many to be anything but conspicuous. In the end, experiences for me are defined most importantly by people and I was able to get to know each of you better and spend time together outside the bubble of Colgate. Seeing the windows into different corners of India provided the impetus to hopefully return to continue my exploration and reflections from this trip.