Travel: Hinduism and Peace

The one thing about traveling in a foreign country whose citizens are predominately one ethnicity or skin tone, is the complete incapacity for me to blend in. Much like a blonde friend of mine who studied abroad for a semester in Hong Kong, I am a curiosity to the locals. More so an anomaly, because it seems that East-Asians do not often visit India.

image

Credit: Juthani1

It is a little strange to feel eyes on oneself everywhere I go. This was best exemplified today when we went to visit the Akshardham. A toddler baby pulled my hair as we were going through security, and an entire school trip of boys all shouted hello and goodbye as we walked past their orderly line. One even ran up to me to shake my hand.

 

. . .If only they had been a few years older, it would have certainly been a major ego boost. ūüėõ

The Akshardam is a massive complex with a Hindu temple, devoted to Swaminarayan as its central focal point. Swaminarayan is the founder of one of the sects of Hinduism. Originally born in Chhapaiya, Uttar Pradesh, India in 1781, he began a 7-year pilgrimage across the country on June 29, 1792 at the age of 11 after the death of his parents.

image

Credit: Juthani1

He traveled across India and Nepal in search of an ashram that practiced what he considered to be the correct understanding of Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, and Pancaratra, the four primary schools of Hindu philosophy.

 

 

Finally, in 1799, Swaminarayan’s travels as a yogi concluded in Loj, where he stayed as a disciple of Ramanand Swami, and took over leadership as guru¬†after Ramanand died. Swaminarayan passed away on June 1, 1830.

The Akshardham, although a more recent structure that was just completed in 2005, is designed according to ancient Vedic text, and features a blend of architectural styles from across India. It is not supported by steel nor concrete, but is constructed entirely from Rajasthani pink sandstone and Italian Carrara marble. Pictures can’t even begin to illustrate the ornate detail and craftsmanship that was invested into each microscopic niche of the temple. It’s truly an awe-inspiring piece of architecture.

image

Credit: Stanislav Sedov and Dmitriy Moiseenko

 

To quantify, the main monument is 141 ft high, 316 ft wide, and 356 ft long. There are 234 intricate pillars, 9 domes, and 20 0,000 murtis and statues of Hinduism’s sadhus, devotees, and acharayas. It also contains 148 scale-sized elephants. This total building weighs a massive 3000 tons.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

In stark contrast to the elaborate and jaw-dropping Akshardham, Raj Ghat is understated and simple, as one would expect of the burial place of Mahatma Gandhi.  Its difficult not to be overwhelmed by the legacy this great man left behind.

 

 

Not only did he free his nation through peace, but he also inspired countless movements across the world. You can see his influence span from the American Civil Rights Movement to the Occupy Wall Street Moment. So many of the leaders we admire today have used Gandhi as there guiding light, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama are but a few.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

Our last stop of the day was Humayan’s Tomb, the inspiration behind the Taj Mahal, and the resting place of Emperor Humayan.

 

 

 

I shall leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“Be the Change ¬†you wish to see in the world” ~ Mahatma Gandhi.

Advertisements

Travel: Ancient India

Today, Nick and I learned the true meaning of IST ‘Indian Standard Time.’ We went to Vodaphone with the intent of acquiring pre-paid SIM cards. Needless to say, 2.5¬†hours later, we finally had our SIM cards, however, neither of us have managed to get service.

imagePart of the challenge was that regulations for foreigners to acquire SIM cards are much more stringent than it has been previously due to the 2008 Mumbai Attacks – 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting over four days by the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

With our errands over for the day, we were finally able to explore part of Delhi’s ancient past. Delhi has been home to a total of seven previous dynasties, and as a result, retains unique heritage structures that illustrate the diverse differences between each kingdom.

 

As we cut our way through the bazaar of Connaught Place, one of the largest commercial, financial, and business centers of New Delhi, we went from the Inner Circle, Rajiv Chowk, to the outer ring, Indira Chowk.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Nick managed adopt a little girl along the way. We were both confused and laughing at the time, because we simply did not know how to react. Truthfully, it was heartbreaking. She couldn’t have been more than 5 years old, and she just latched onto the corner of Nick’s polo, and followed us for a few blocks.

 

It was at this moment that I understood why some are proponents of Child Labor. While it may seem like a travesty against human rights, it does provide a means for children in developing countries to earn an income, and provide essentials for their survival. It’s a sad reality, but a necessary truth.

Outside the Rajiv Chowk, lies the Jantar Mantar complex. Built in 1724, it comprises 13 astronomical instruments. This site is one of five built by the Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur, after he was given the task of revising the calendar and astronomical tables by the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah.

image

 

The Mughal Empire lasted for over 300 years, and spans the timeline from 1526-1857. Babur, the founder, had turned to India to satisfy his political ambitions after being ousted from his ancestral domain in Central Asia.

 

The towering instrument that greets us as enter the grounds is the Samrat Yantra, a giant triangle that is essentially a massive sundial. The 128-ft long hypotenuse is parallel¬†to the Earth’s axis and points toward the North Pole. Each side has a quadrant, with graduations that indicate hours, minutes, and seconds, turning the basic instrument, into a precision tool.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

We next came across the Jayaprakesh Yantra; A hollowed out hemisphere with cross-wires stretching out between points of the rim. An observer at the center, could align the position of a star with the various ribs.

 

 

Then, we came across the Misra Yantra, a tool used to determine the shortest and longest days of the year in addition to the exact moment of noon in cities and locations worldwide, regardless of geographical distance from Delhi.

imageDescending even deeper into time, the Qutab Minar is the 2nd tallest Minaret in the world at a total height of 73 meters. It is made of red sandstone and marble, and has a diameter gradient that begins at 14.3 meteers at its base before narrowing to 2.7 meters at its peak. This sprawling tower has five layers, and despite construction beginning in 1192, was not complete until 1368.

You will often see minarets as an iconic feature of muslim mosques. It is from these spires that Adhans, the call to prayer, are issued five times each day.

imageIf you look closer, you can see the islamic influence in the shape of the Muqarnas that encircle each tier of the tower. Remniscient of stalactites, they take the form of small pointed niches stacked in radially symmetric tiers that project outward. The number of unique tiles is limited by N-gonal symmetry, or the equation N = N/2 -1.

imageWe then stopped by the Dilli Haat, a market that hosts unique handicrafts from each of India’s 29 states, and snacked on some Momo’s, which are essentially dumplings. This makes sense, given that this ethnic food is from north-eastern India near the Chinese border.

 

.

Travel: New Delhi

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

After checking-in to our rooms, we took some time to scour off the travel grime, and prepare for our day. We arrived at the hotel around 7 AM, and had decided that taking a nap would basically just serve to encourage our jet lag.

New Delhi is the capital of India, and the seat of its executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Although the capitol was originally in Calcutta in the early 1900s, the British, formally decided to migrate the seat of their power to New Delhi in 1911.

It is not difficult to feel the british influence when one walks along the kingsway.

 

Master-planned by the architect Edwin Lutyens, New Delhi is centered around two central promenades call the Rajpath and the Janpath. The streets are wide and tree-lined, a design that was both ambitious and forward thinking in its hey-day.

imageOur first stop, was the India Gate. It sits along the eastern edge of the ‘ceremonial axis,’ and is a towering memorial that evokes an architectural style akin to the Arch of Constantine in Rome, or the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

 

It calls for the remembrance of the 82,000 soldiers of the undivided Indian Army who lost there lives between 1914 and 1921 during the First World War and in the Third Anglo-Afghan War.

Below this towering structure, is an understated black marble plinth that bears a reversed rifled, capped by a war helmet, bound by four urns, each with a permanent jyoti¬†(light) from flames. Inaugurated in 1972, this is the Amar Jawan Jyoti, India’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

At the opposite end of the Rajpath, lies the secretariat, home to some of the most important ministries of the Cabinet of India. Much of the buildings of the North and South block are classic in style, but it is not difficult to see the Mughal or Rajastani motifs that have been incorporated.

 

They are visible in the form of the perforated screens which shield from both the scorching sund and the monsoon rains. Another feature is the dome-like Chatri, which provided shade to travelers in ancient times.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Our last stop of the day was the Lotus Temple. This location serves as the Mother Temple of India. The¬†Bah√°’√≠ Faith, has roots dating from 19th-century Persia, its founder,¬†Bah√°’u’ll√°h died a prisoner when he was exiled to the Ottoman Empire for his teachings.

 

 

Three core principles are emphasized in the¬†Bah√°’√≠ religion: (1) The unity of god, (2) ¬†The unity of religion, and (3) The unity of Humanity.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Inspired by the lotus flower, a symbol of purity, the Lotus Temple is composed of 27 free-standing marble clad “petals” that form nine sides of three clusters each. Each of its nine doors open into a central hall that is more than 40 meters high, and can hold a total capacity of 2,500 people.

image

 

The engineer in me was completely awe-inspired by this building. Not only is it remniscent of the Sydney Opera House in Australia, but its a challenge to grasp the depth of shell-stresses and structural analysis involved in the fabrication of each monstrosity of a petal.

 

imageWe finished our day by savoring a snack of Pao Bhaji (Bombay street food, very similar to the American Sloppy Joe, except vegetarian) and having Tea, before retiring to our rooms to pass out.