In the Presence of the Past – Ancient Caves of Odisha
March 26, 20132 min read
Just outside Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, India monks carved out a cave complex from the stone mountain and made it their home.
Today, I am here, in the same point in space but separated from the monks on the 4th dimension ‘time’ by a few hundred years.
As I enter the cave, I first take time to experience the cave with my senses – my eyes take in the carvings, my ears take in the echoing silence and my skin can feel the drop in temperature. And after my senses have had their fill, I shut them down, close my eyes, tune out the sounds of the few tourists around, and allow my mind to take me on a journey across time. My imagination skills are strained to create visuals of what might have been. But as I keep my eyes closed and breathe very softly to cut out the sounds of my own breath, I begin to ‘sense’ the life that might have been. The hum of chanting, the naked frugality of their chosen monkhood and their passionate belief in their ideology all come to me as inexpressible feelings. It feels like I am surrounded by them – all them going about their business ignoring me. I wonder whether, in our attempt to glorify them we have completely forgotten the challenges of their lives. I wonder if they were faced with doubt, and squabbles of the unique form of their community living. I wonder what was done to calm their individual desires and their conflicts.
The spaces they have left behind deliver evidence of their lifestyle to us. But they reveal nothing of their souls. I wish more than ever that these walls could speak.
A view of the caves that left me so dreamy….
The back of the cave is raised in a slope to act as a pillow
Channels for water drainage
I left the 2nd century Udaygiri and Khandagiri caves feeling wistful … and couldn’t shake off that experience of being immersed in an era, a lifestyle that I was so far away from.