Peddie in Mumbai and South India: King Elephanta Crab Caves

A group of 15 Peddie students and their faculty chaperones are spending a portion of spring break in Mumbai and South India. This post by senior Mike Coiro describes a visit to the King Elephanta Crab Caves and the power of witnessing art firsthand.

Today I learned once again the power of viewing art in person.

It's one thing to be sitting in the library of your elite east coast boarding school's library looking at your MacBook's screen while sipping on some tea in order to skim over endless readings on some dark caves in the middle of nowhere India, and it's a completely different thing to be swallowing the humid air and hearing the monkeys screech as you are sitting in those dark caves in the middle of nowhere India. I took a brief pause after exploring the main cave of Elephanta in order to jot down some of my thoughts, and my brain was running at a mile a minute with theories, ideas, and plain old thoughts about the cave.

The cave we explored today on Elephanta Island is a temple dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Shiva is simultaneously the God of Creation, the God of Preservation, and the God of Destruction (seen in the picture below).

Therefore, he is a largely popular choice of worship for Hindus. The cave was carved completely away from the mother rock of the stone, and it is truly awe inspiring to imagine the dedication put into carving these caves in the 600s.

Without a doubt the best part of my visit was seeing the temple being used not only as a tourist attraction. In one of the side caves that branched off of the main cave, there sat a small and dark room. The only object in the room was a lingam, which is a phallic representation of Shiva. After writing for quite some time, I closed my journal to the sound of men holding a very long and very low tone. This singing reverberated throughout the entire cave, and I struggled to look for it until I stumbled upon the room holding the lingam.

After taking off my shoes and entering, I felt quite awkward standing there and listening to their rituals. After the two men in the room circumambulated (this is a common method of prayer in Hindu and Buddhist practices where the worshippers walk in a clockwise circle around the figure), one asked me why I wasn't singing. When he saw I didn't really have a response, he quickly motioned to his stomach and instructed me to sing the "oooom" from the pit of my stomach. 

After thanking the two men as they left, I was joined by Nick in the room. I showed Nick the process for the singing, and he immediately bellowed out a very low E. Luckily for me, I was able to reciprocate this with a slightly less powerful yet still mostly in tune E. What resulted was Nick and I enjoying a deeply meditative and peaceful experience. I realized afterwards we focused all of our energy on creating the perfect syllable and in tune "om", thus taking our minds off other worries.  

After a long downhill hike and an hour long ferry ride, the 15 antsy and sweaty teenagers transformed into antsy sweaty and hungry teenagers. Luckily for us, we were treated to a delicious seafood lunch at Trishna's in Mumbai. We were informed not to get any crab unless they had live crabs in the restaurant, and after informing the waiter we were interested, the maitre d practically threw a very large and very alive crab at us. What followed was a pure spectacle and battlefield of prawns, crab claws, and somehow chicken chowmein. What mattered most is that we were together and very grateful for the privilege and opportunity to splurge on a wonderful meal.