Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Is seeing believing?

During the early years of my high school, I was fortunate to secure through close family connections a job as an electrician's assistant, despite having no more knowledge about the subject than flicking on a switch. The job paid well and while the title seemed glamorous, the the work was anything but: more like several levels below an apprentice sanitary engineer. Beyond the pay, the job had benefits: working using some physical skills, with brick and stone-masons, mostly friendly Italians, who took pity on my meager lunches and shared their giant coolers filled with sandwiches, fruit, desserts and mandatory wine, which was a godsend to an underage teenager. None of these benefits could hide the fact that I was the low-kid on the totem pole. We were working on new schools and my job consisted mostly of using a hammer and chisel to knock pre-designated rectangular shapes in cement blocks to accommodate light-switches and electrical outlets, with an occasional junction box thrown in. Despite cement blocks being relatively soft, and making the openings precise required some concentration, most mistakes could be disguised by cover plates, and if the opening was entirely too large, by groveling to the brick-layers a little mortar would fix my errors. Still, hardly a day went by without the hammer finding the soft-flesh of my knuckles or fingers, and by the end of the summer I had well-pronounced scabs attesting to why I did not rise in rank with experience.

This long winded introduction is by way of establishing my bona fides for the use of and admiration for a hammer and chisel as instruments of construction. These recollections came back to me after seeing and marveling at Kailasa Temple, one of 34 cave temples in Ellora, India, designated as a World Heritage Site. Prior to our arrival in Ellora, we had seen some magnificent cave temples in Badami, and Aurangabad but somehow the scope, size and audacity of Kailasa, has me seeing but still not believing in this creation.

To be clear, cave temples are carved out of massive rock formations, using only a hammer and chisel. These vast temples are not made of soft, sedimentary rock formations but of solid granite, far harder than the soft cement blocks I experienced in my youth. My respect for this instrument is enhanced by the knowledge that most of the other art forms are essentially applying replaceable elements: a canvas can accommodate lot of paint and brush strokes and cover up lots of mistake. Buildings of brick, stone and marble also have tolerance and the ability to cover up errant pieces.

Hard stone, unlike my over-sized electrical cut out boxes, cannot be covered up with a plate, or mortar and a coat of paint. An errant strike of a hammer and chisel leaves a lasting testament and would ruin the entire entity. As such, I try to imagine the mind set of King Krishna 1, in the year 735 who started the construction and all the labour that took to complete this undertaking, two hundred years later, Seeing the results still seems incredulous.

The work began at a cliff top and the entire temple complex is carved out of a giant rock face. Estimates suggest that about 3,000,0000 cubic feet of rock was chiseled out and from which an integral sculptural masterpiece created, some calling it the greatest monolithic sculpture in the world. The footprint of the complex is double that of the Parthenon in Athens, is half as high; about 276 feet long, 154 feet wide and about 107 feet high. Within this giant space are temples, immense monolithic pillars, monasteries, chiselled staircases, elaborate archways, life sized elephants and galleries, all covered with thousands of remarkable and prodigious sculptural statues and decorations on virtually every surface, each of which, is a stand-alone work of art.

One guide book description: "Here is rock cut architecture at the apex of technical skill of eight and ninth centuries. ..it combines immensity with grace, energy and superb genius. Its conception and planning are matched by the jewel-like execution. Hundreds of architects and sculptors created this grandeur out of living rock in an inspired period of the country's art history."

This is our fourth day Ellora. We looked at and passed on staying in two of the only rated hotels in the modest village. Fortunately, further down the road we found a sign advertising "Ellora Heritage Resort" opened only a few months ago.

Our cottage is set in a beautifully landscaped, serene garden perfect for contemplation and viewing the caves from a distance, as if to give a different perspective. Our host Imran, a charming man of the world, does everything to make our stay comfortable, including a surprise birthday cake to celebrate Alison's milestone. And yet, no amount of quiet contemplation has me convinced that "seeing is believing". I still marvel at who ever designed the master plan, how did that first strike of the hammer on a simple chisel resulted in the marvel. Despite the tranquil setting or perhaps because of it, The Kailasa Temple, remains unbelievably inscrutable.

Happy contemplations

after writing the above, I wanted to attached some more details,perhaps some independent photos and descriptions, and like most of us, turned to the Google gods, and the second search item is the video which lends some credence to my own musings?



Paul said...

that video - first one king caused it to be built, and then another to have it destroyed. such is man. all that concentration of effort in one area - layers of human energy. - lovely to have all this in the context of youthful andrew with (soft) concrete blocks

Lazar said...

I can't help wondering how long this enterprise would have taken if all the carvers were unionized. Lazar.

rollingbicycletours said...

I might also have added how Virtual Reality, VR, completely captures a person's attention to the exclusion of anything else, including participating in the real world.