Sunday, July 15, 2012

Architecture and the art of being breathe-taking

There are moments in your days where something will cause you to stop. Be silent. Retreat into that thoughtful place in your mind that pushes everything else out and leaves you with a question.

Mine is usually simple: How?

For me, Ellora was one of these spaces. One of those spaces where life pulls off the blindfold and you stand there desperate to make sense of the flood of sounds, images, smells, emotions and things going on around you. There was an added element of fear for me in this occasion: when I had my first view of the temple in the man-made cave I was standing 3 ft away from a sheer cliff. (for those of you who dont know, I have an intense fear of heights. All drops 10 ft or higher cause something resembling a fight or flight response to kick in)

The site is unbelievable. Made only more so by the fact that all of it was carved from the top down. Out of a sheer rock cliff. While no one is certain as to why it was done this way, there are many stories and rumors that people are happy to share with you if you ask them.

The closest experiences I have to spiritual moments usually take place in buildings. I realize that doesnt sound very glamourous -- what I mean by that is that I love architecture and art and all places where human talent can be shown off and admired in an approachable way. I love sculpture and working in 3D forms because you can experience a piece from different angles and see it totally differently. How it manipulates shadows, how it interacts with you and the space, and most importantly, how you in your most instinctual self react to it.

Most importantly I love buildings where the talent of the architects and engineers that worked together to create masterpieces. Where so many talents and minds come together to design and build a space and a living sculpture that becomes more than just a piece of art to be seen. It loses that elitism attached to formal art galleries and art spaces because everyone is interacting with the piece in a space.

I think first of the church in Ulm, Germany, where I was an exchange student 6 years ago (it's interesting to me how much I have been thinking about that time while I've been here. In truth, it is more than I have ever thought about it before. I guess it's the same episode of feeling out of my element, then slowly learning to adapt, and finally finding a corner for myself). I remember walking into the huge doors of the church into the central cathedral space and being stunned. It was like I was enveloped in peace. I know that doesnt make much sense, but that was what I experienced. It was a sense of calm like the last sigh of tension left my shoulders. A pretty magical experience for a control freak like me :)

This space in Ellora has a different feeling attached to it. One of awe. and Mystery. And seeing how much more there is to the world than we can ever begin to comprehend. This space was built so long ago with tools less technically advanced that we have now. It was built on the backs of countless slaves on an empire so rich that they could create this sort of masterpiece. The details and use of the space is not comparable to anything I have ever seen before and my photos cant begin to do it justice.

For me, it was a moment of accepting that I will never completely understand the space, what it was meant for and everything that was pouring into creating it. I came to experience it in that short-tourist-feeling-attention based way, while so many others spent there lives here in these caves exploring their purposes and adding to the color and history of its years in use.

It helped as we walked through the darkness of its passage ways, dodging the bats and pot holes carved into the stone, I had time to think through a few questions I've had lately. Namely about my majors and my final theses in each of them. I needed that time.

I was only brought back out of my hiding place in my mind when we entered the central temples and stood without our shoes in complete darkness. The first room had pillars with ornate patterns carved into them. The most important space, however, was at the end of this great hall and it was decoration-less. There was just a stupa sitting in the middle of the room, drawing all of your attention to these basic shapes. Our guide referred to it as the "womb" of the temple, which was fitting. It was warm and dark anyway...

I think I'll probably have more to say about this later, once it sinks in, but I wanted to update this now before this next week goes crazy. I only have 3 more days here because I leave really early Thursday morning and arrive in Boston on the same day. Pretty wild, no?

So for now, I'm going to tie up a few more lose ends and pack before our closing dinner this evening.

But I'm sure I'll be back soon :)

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