Before moving to India, I studied as if I were to pass the entrance exam to the rest of my life. I read everything I could get my hands on, almost indiscriminately. And it pretty much paid off. However, there are a couple of subjects I avoided, such as caste (I don’t think a foreigner can grasp this concept and its implications in a few years), politics (though arriving during election campaign was interesting) and art (with the exception of cinema of course, and contemporary literature).
I already don’t know much about Western art, so I wasn’t going to claim to understand Indian art. Our main works of art are deeply engrained in our Judeo-Christian culture, with a smidge of Greek mythology, and similarly, Indian art is steeped in Hinduism, and Islam.
I don’t know the first thing about Hinduism. Well, not quite anymore! We bought little kiddie books on some of the different gods, and I now know that Ganesh, the god in the shape of an elephant, rides a mouse. Yes, his transport is a mouse! It’s a good thing to know, because when you go into the tourist shops looking for a statue of Ganesh and ask (nicely) for one that features his mouse, they will smile at you believing (half rightly) that you know what you’re talking about!
India has tens of thousands of temples. And, I almost shamefully admit, we have visited almost none of them. There is a reason for that: we don’t understand. We have no clue what we are supposed to be looking at. We have nothing to ground this knowledge into. We have to assess what we see based on feelings. Our connection to temples is mainly emotional: does this look good to us? Is it pretty? Is it funny? Does it create an aura of peace? Does it stir our soul somehow? Aside from that, what we see, or hear from a guide is purely mechanical, technical. We understand that it was built in the 7th century, but its cultural significance escapes us. Sometimes they provide written guidance on the site. I feel stupid stating that the following means nothing to me.
However, the Shore Temple is beautiful, my favorite so far, probably because of the proximity to the Sea of Bengal. A temple on a beach, how cool is that?
We will visit more. But our idea of traveling is not a long list of pre-approved sightseeing places to cross out. It’s about connecting to a place, and to people.
So, there, my favorite: more photos of people, all taken at the Kamashi Temple in Kancheepuram.