Travel: Elephants

imageElephants are creatures that are revered in India. According to Hindu Cosmology, the earth is supported and guarded by mythical World Elephants at the compass points of the cardinal directions. Sanskrit literature even attributes earthquakes to the shaking of their bodies when the elephants tire of their burden.

The deity Ganesh(a) is the god of wisdom, and he is distinctively represented by a human form with the head of an elephant, which was placed after the human head was either decapitated or burned from the body.

imageHowever, this is not how the Elephanta Caves, with origins dating between the 5th and 8th centuries, received their namesake. In the 16th century, the Portuguese named the island “Elephanta Island” in honor of a huge, monolithically rock-cut black stone of an elephant on a mound; this unfortunately has been relocated to the Mumbai Zoo.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 Despite being just 7 miles east of the port, the ferry ride took an hour to get there! Fortunately, I caught some great views of the Gateway of India, the exit causeway through which the last British troops passed through on February 28, 1948, signalling an end to British rule and the beginning of Indian independence.

In each of the caves, Shiva or Mahadeva, “Great God” is aniconically represented by a Lingam, a single rock rounded at the top. Aniconism is the avoidance of using images to represent divine beings, prophets, and religious figures.

However, I happen to find the monolithic rock to be an appropriate manifestation of Shiva.

image 

At his highest level, Shiva is considered limitless and transcendent, unchanging and formless. Why not abstractly represent him as something from nature that also adheres to these characteristics? Are rocks not powerful? Do they not withstand the test of the time?

I may not be Hindu, but even I was moved. I couldn’t help but place my palm against the rock and close my eyes, taking some time to summon my faith, and chant the Buddhist Mantra I learned as a child beneath my father’s wing.

Advertisements

Travel: Modern Jaipur

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

After our lunch break, we decided to cut through the Bazaar on our way to the Albert Hall Museum. I have never seen as much color as I have in Jaipur. Nick says that the handicrafts of Rajasthan are so vibrant to contrast the muted colors of the desert.

 

In truth, the aristocrats of Jaipur were avid patrons of the arts. They often coaxed skilled artisans from around India and abroad to settle in Jaipur and make it their home. I’ve included a few pictures below to illustrate the broadness of their crafts.

imageimage

imageimage

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

imageThe Albert Hall Museum was designed by Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob in 1887, and exemplifies Indo-Saracenic Architecture. This form of architecture originated in the late 19th century as a movement by British Architects to merge elements from native Indo-Islamic and Indian Architecture with the Gothic and Neo-Classic styles of Victorian Britain. Some of the typical characteristics you may see include: Onion Domes, Scalloped Arches, Minarets, and Domed Kiosks. We decided not to meander too long on the exhibits, because Nick isn’t a fan of museums, and I’m still a little museum-dead from my epic Eurotrip.

Our last stop of the day was the Birla Temple. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the preserver, and his consort Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.

imageDespite being a “modern” structure, – completed in 1988 – symbolism is still rampantly prevalent in the architecture of the building. Each of the three huge domes of white marble represent the three different approaches to the religion, and intricately stained glass windows illustrate scenes from Hindu Scriptures. Something that is singularly iconic to Hinduism is the acceptance of all other religions. This is demonstrated by the carvings along the exterior walls that depict import figures from both history and other faiths.

 

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Taking one last glance at the temple as the sunset illuminated it in the background, Nick and I returned to the bazaar in search of a Saree for me. While I don’t typically buy ethnic clothes while I travel, I felt it necessary for this trip as I will be attending a traditional Indian Wedding when we reach Mumbai.

Unfortunately, as is often the case when I am shopping in Asia, we hit some roadblocks in the form of sizing. I found a color scheme and pattern that I loved, but, as Nick would put it, my broad,, manly shoulders made the top a bit too snug. T.T.