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.

Wishing I was Still in India

It’s kind of surreal to think that two weeks ago I was living carefree – no Trump – nearly 8,000 miles away in India. If I were to describe my time in India with two words, it would be too short [see what I did there?]. When people ask me about my trip, I struggle to find a place to start: should I talk about the awesome 500 caves we visited, or the monkeys that stole Fjordi’s naan; should I talk about the bougie hotels, or the fact that the only Indians in them were the workers; should I talk about the beautiful, expensive houses in the streets of Mumbai, or the polluted slums on the opposite side?

At first, I was struck by how much it reminded me of home [Guyana for those who don’t know], yet it was distinct; India had its own uniqueness. I felt like I was transported back to being a 12-year-old kid again. However, it was weird because I was not living that reality but just witnessing it from a different perspective. Being back in the US, I couldn’t help but think about the little things we take for granted, like clean water [or at least water clean enough for us to drink] and WiFi. Even though there were poverty and pollution on every corner, there was this sense of liveliness in the streets. Everywhere you turn a different scent catches your nose: food, food and more food! The streets are loud: people talking, music playing, cars honking, a lot of cars honking [and a rickshaw waiting to hit you]. Man, I miss India!

There would have been no India trip without the amazing caves we visited. Magnificent and grand, worthy of the experience; the pictures do not tell the whole story. My favorite site being [sorry Elephanta] the Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora. Visiting this temple with a mass of people, chatter, laughter and screams engulfing the structure was truly awesome! I didn’t think this place could get any better, but then we hiked to view the temple from above. *Jaw Drops*

Just as how one picture does not give the complete story of Kailasanatha, only talking about caves would not paint a complete picture of Mumbai/Aurangabad. All of the different elements combined to make the experience truly unforgettable. Also, I will never forget being lost in Mumbai with Mykel and Enrique…good times!

Visiting India was one of the most exciting and humbling experiences I have had as a part of the Colgate community, and I am grateful that I shared that experience with my SRS class. Thank you, Professor Kaimal!

Kailasanatha from above
Ajanta groupie
Samira excited for Elephanta
Gateway Arch of India
Bollywood on fleek
Re and Jesse are there in spirit
Modern yogis

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.

Looking Back

When people ask me about my time in India, I find I keep giving them different answers. It usually starts with “it was fantastic!” but then diverges into “I realized time isn’t real”  if they catch me at a time I’m still jet lagged, or “we saw a ton of caves” if I had just come off of Facebook, or more often “a monkey stole our naan!”. So much happened during those ten days thats its difficult to place a single label onto the trip.

It was ten days that challenged us both physically and mentally. We were forced to face early mornings, daunting hikes and even more daunting spicy foods. We saw poverty like it doesn’t exist in the states, stark in contrast to our shiny hotel and thats something I’m still trying to wrap my head around. We got the chance to see caves that had been carved 2000 years before us, got to walk and climb through the same spaces as the monks and worshippers that lived there. We got to spend hours staring out bus windows and see miles of country and people and animals and colors pass by. Every minute of the trip there was something new to see, to hear, to smell. It’s an experience I still haven’t fully deconstructed, and is something I know I’ll keep understanding the repercussions of as I continue to go through life. Right now I am just so thankful that I had the opportunity to have these ten days to discover and grow and learn.

 

Stray dog escort to Elaphanta

Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora!

One of the sites that I found most interesting and impressive was the Kailasanatha temple at Ellora. It was absolutely enormous and so detailed! The panels on each side depicting different stories were so artistic in the way certain parts of the story were presented. The temple itself is full of messages of power, protection, and perseverance. From lions and elephants fighting at the base of the temple to the powerful Durga slaying the buffalo demon, the themes of dominance and force are emphasized in this temple. Around the temple are large reliefs sculpted into the rock surrounding the temple. It was so fascinating to walk around and hear Professor Kaimal and Professor Ganvir explain the stories behind each relief. We recognized some of the stories from class and from other temples, however some of them were new and equally as exciting. The fact that the sponsor of the temple went to such great lengths to demonstrate his power and ability to care for his people shows the loyalty leaders had to their people and also shows the importance of religion in their everyday lives. Kailasanatha is definitely a temple in which one can feel the power of the gods and of the rulers of the time which for me makes it so remarkable.

Garden in front of the Kailasanatha Temple
One of the panels on the side of the temple
Durga fighting the buffalo demon
Elephant and lion fighting on the base of the temple
Ravana trapped under Mount Kailash
Part of the hall of reliefs wrapped around the temple
The Kailasanatha Temple

Elephanta!!!

Being able to finally see Cave 1 at Elephanta was so helpful in understanding all of the plans I came across in my research. I was interested in understanding what art historians were discussing in regards to circumambulation in Cave 1. This topic struck me as interesting because we understand circumambulation as a clockwise motion around a temple in which the deity is always at the center; however, at this cave, devotees circumambulate counter-clockwise and the deity is off-centered. This motion is opposite of mangala, meaning auspiciousness, which confused me further. One scholar that I believe provided a strong argument for this unusual motion is Charles Collins. He gave detailed descriptions of each relief and explained how certain ancient texts and stories supported the understanding of the reliefs in a counter-clockwise manner.

Another scholar who studied this cave is Hirananda Sastri. Sastri created a plan of the cave in which he labelled the reliefs in a counter clockwise fashion however didn’t explain why he did this. In this plan, Sastri wrote “pradakshina patha” and “circumambulatory passage” around the main linga shrine in this cave and the smaller linga shrine to the east, but didn’t include either of these phrases around Cave 1. Other scholars I came across explain the reliefs at each entrance and how they relate to each other. For this reason, I concluded that devotees can circumambulate anyway around the cave and find ways in which each relief relates with the one before and/or after it.

After seeing the cave, the size of the cave was way larger than I thought. The reliefs were so tall and the columns were colossal! I also hadn’t realized how set back the sculptures are in the niches they are carved into. This allowed the sculptors to add much more detail and really bring the stories to life. I wish we had more time to explore the cave because I wanted to take Professor Hingorani’s advice to look closely at each of the sculptures and see if there are any signs of continuity or discontinuity in the artists’ depictions. Despite the lack of time, it was amazing to see the skill that these artists had. They were able to see this masterpiece in the face of a rock! We think we are so much more “advanced” in our technology today, but after seeing such artwork and detail, I think we have back tracked. Elephanta was so much more than I expected.

You can find out more information about the scholars’ research that I studied here:

Collins, Charles. “Elephanta and the Ritual of the Lakulīśa-Pāśupatas.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, no. 4 (1982): 605-617

Sastri, Hirananda. A Guide to Elephanta. Dehli: Manager of Publications, 1934.

Arriving at Elephanta
North entrance to Cave 1 at Elephanta
East entrance of Cave 1 at Elephanta
Shiva in a yogic posture, left side of north entrance
Shiva, Lord of the Dance, right side of north entrance
Samira, Ravendra, and I standing next to a lion guarding the linga shrine to the east.

Back In The States !

Im back, back to the old routines, back to the same scenery, back to the same feelings. There was something about being in India where words and pictures do no justice in explaining. It was just a feeling of peace, that may be because I did not have to do class work or maybe its because the people there I understand a little bit better but it was something about being over there that gave me peace. As I continue to think about it, my smile was so natural over there. Its cold here in Hamilton, extremely cold here and I am not just talking about temperature. The feeling of being back at Colgate, as excited as I am to start back being productive, just feels lifeless. It may have been because I was so excited to try something different. But now that I am back, I understand how much a gain this experience was. The caves and monuments were special but the people and the food made me feel at home, even the vegetarian food. I miss it. My family and community is proud of me. It makes me feel good to have experienced something that my family hasn’t and to bring it back to them, not to show off but to share what I have learned, thats why I asked so many questions. India is much more complicated in my head than the way life probably is for them, or maybe they just make it look flawless, India is something really special and I hope to visit again within the next ten years.

My Time At Elephanta

 

Walking up the huge uneven steps, with the excitement sitting in the back of throat, I anticipate ancient greatness. I am not going to lie I was exhausted going up those stairs but it was great exercise. When I finally reach the top of the stairs, I see beautiful women in extravagant clothing, carrying the heaviest bolder on top of their heads. I sit back in awe because they walked those steps with the cut bolders on their head. WOW! When I entered the cave the Ardhanarishvara carving sits in the back left corner, rewarded with more light than the carvings that lie directing in the back of the cave down the middle.

Ardhanarishvara was the piece of work I decided to study at Elephanta. Ardhanarishvara represent Shiva as a half man and half God. While at the site, I was initially amazed by the size of the carving, compared to the size of the cave. While my understanding of the cave was not waiver, my ability to describe the cave definitely did. My main focus for the carving, to help understand the meaning of my research, lies in relation to other scholars, such as Betty Seid and Ellen Goldberg. I focused on whether or not the carving focused on balance and equality. Two subjects that were raised about Ardhanarishvara was the number of arms Shiva has compared to the woman side and the slight backward step of the woman’s foot. What does that signify if, anything? The number of arms vary depending on the location of the Ardhanarishvara and many researchers say that the number of arms signify a higher being or celestial creatures. I was able to show the students that the woman’s foot sags behind Shiva’s foot, while being at the sight better than when I was presenting through pictures in class.

As I reflect back on my presentation I believe I did a good job explaining the main points of my research with the support of the previous scholars. Below I have posted pictures while being at Elephanta.

 

Goldberg, Ellen. “Ardhanār?Śvara: What we Know and what we do Not.” Religion Compass 2, no. 3 (2008): 301-315

Seid, Betty. “The Lord Who is Half Woman (Ardhanarishvara).” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 30, no. 1 (2004): 48-95.

Kailasanatha

Kailasanatha MM

Out of all the caves that we visited, Kailasanatha was the most overwhelming. It’s outside appearance was very deceiving, for it did not allow me to properly gauge the size. Unlike most of the other caves that we visited, Kailasanatha was more of a wide open space and was not what came to mind when I thought of a cave. Furthermore, after seeing the large amount of people that were present there at once, I can only imagine that it must have been a very busy place of worship in comparison to the other caves of Ellora and the Elephanta caves. What first caught my attention at Kailasanatha was the large detailed figures of Hindu gods, but ultimately, I found the smaller carvings most interesting. I remember standing in awe as Professor Kaimal told the story depicted in one of the freezes as after a friend and I completely misinterpreted it. It was amazing how such a small part of the cave could tell such a detailed story. This visit made me wonder just what I should be taking away from these temple visits and if it would even be possible during my short stay in India.

Another important takeaway that I got from this temple visit is that the celebrity life is not the life for me. Though it would have been ideal to walk about the cave in peace, we were constantly stopped by children, couples, and families requesting to take a photo with us. I did not realize until that day how much we stood out as foreigners. I had to keep reminding myself that not everyone is from a country where people are expected to look different, so their actions were pretty reasonable. Also, these encounters were some of the best opportunities for me to freely socialize with Indian citizens in an environment where it was acceptable to discuss our differences.

Pitalkhora

Pitalkhora was the last of the cave sites we visited in India, and I found it to be a refreshing anomaly. The caves are the oldest of those we visited, and the only ones in which we had to descend rather than climb to reach. When we arrived, I was relieved to find the site was located on a nature preserve and not a crowded tourist site. It was the only cave we were not harassed to buy geodes or take selfies.

The caves themselves were in the last stages of decay. Much alike glaciers, our children would likely not have the chance to see them. Due to their location and composition, water had been seeping in for years to eat away at the stone. Bats and mice and bees occupied the the caves that had once held monks and worshippers. It was fascinating to see that this flaw in geography had been realized centuries earlier, but instead of abandonment of the site, ancient people had come up with creative solutions. You could follow drainage pipes which led to a Naga king carving, a physical and spiritual bandaid to reroute water. Inside caves, bad stone had been removed and replaced with bricks, pillars had been added 500 years after the first carving and painted over again. But still the site crumbled. It made me wonder how many sites like this have been lost back to nature, or what of our own lives would endure into the future. Despite these cheesy questions, I am so glad we got to experience Pitalkhora before nature transforms it back into another bald cliff face in western India.

Pitalkhora Caves
View from watchtower, caved located in valley
Graffiti on a pillar