India: 3

In India on September 16, 2009 at 4:29 pm

India 3

To complement my play, Chai, performing this week at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, here is an essay I wrote about India for InPittsburgh in 2000. These photographs were taken during my five-day sojourn in Chennai and Mamalapuram. Chai is produced by the Theatre Factory and is directed by my esteemed colleague Christine Pini. See for details.

I follow Naresh along the baking sandstone, past the huge boulder that he calls “Krishna’s Butterball.” “Krishna throw this rock at the earth,” he explains, “and it sticks. The British try to use elephants to move it, but it do not move.” He seems particularly proud of this rock – the one monument that resisted British rule, and succeeded.

We negotiate the smooth escarpment until we reach the intricate pillars of a Hindu temple. The entire construct is carved into a single enormous stone. “It is monolith,” says Naresh proudly. Around each pillar looms a god – the elephant-head of Ganesh, the multi-armed Shiva, dancing Vishnu.

I study the mandalas etched into the ceiling. Back in the seventh century, every nook and relief was brightly painted. After the fall of the Pallavas, we see only the naked sedimentary grain.

“This is the temple for Shiva,” says Naresh, pointing at a series of marks on the promontory. “It was not finished.” Neither was the temple built of imported stone blocks, we soon learn. Nor the statue of Arjuna.

“Why did these projects stop?” I ask.

“The Moguls,” he replies. That is, the Muslim hoards who, centuries ago, conquered and subjugated most of India.
People are scattered throughout the monuments, meditating under trees, staggering along the crags. Some grab my arm and show me their painting portfolios and jade statuettes. Ragged men huddle along the ruins, watching me from afar. Down below I see farmers tending their salty rice paddies, sloshing past smaller temples, also half-built, half-ruined.


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