Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mamallapuram, India

Upon entering Mamallapuram, you are leaving behind the modern world. It takes us nearly two hours to make the 30 mile drive from the city of Chennai to this fishing village situated on the Bay of Bengal as driving is an exercise in frustration. Passing thatched huts and one-story houses, clouds of dust swirl into the air as honking buses dodge a series of barefoot pedestrians, rambling cows and skinny goats munching on roadside debris. Black flies flit in and out of the bus windows, undeterred by the heat. It is here that stone monuments from the 7th and 8th centuries sit beside tin-roofed stores and homes, a place where wide-eyed children run barefoot alongside tourists, making the international sign for food by placing their skinny hands to lips, their mothers verbally encouraging them from several yards away. A man walking on all fours begs for change near the monuments drawing little reaction from the locals. The abject poverty, lack of good sanitation and medical care is upsetting, and I wonder what the government is doing, if anything, for these people who geographically are so close to one of the largest cities in India, yet so removed from the opportunities and modernity just miles away. Yet there is still beauty here – the landscape is filled with women wearing sherbert colored saris – the lemon yellows, tangerine oranges and blue-tinged berry cottons and silks glimmering through the heat, their long black hair in braids. Men lounge about in lungis, selling leather sandals, carvings and small bongo drums, easily chatting with each other and the tourists that pass by. At Arjuna’s Penance, a stone panel measuring 90-feet in length, life-sized carvings of Arjuna and Krishna tower over those who have come to see these wonders. Pancha Rathas is perhaps even more impressive, with its enormous intricate temples and giant animals carved from single sandstone boulders. To be in the presence of art thousands of years old is to be humbled by your place in the world and staring at these models I feel as a grain of sand might on an enormous beach, an insignificant speck in the story of the world.

1 comment:

Heather said...

I love your eye for the complexity of life and self...one of my favorite things about you!