That Feeling Again

One of my courses this term is a class on the art and architecture of India.

When we got to a discussion of the Chaitya Hall at Karle, I had the distinct feeling I had seen these carvings in person once.  That feeling has occurred multiple times throughout the course.  However, any thoughts that I’d had an earlier life in India were tempered by two things.

First, I realized that the various Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim structures we’ve covered are mostly ruins now, and that they somehow look “correct” that way.  I cannot picture them in their heyday, painted brightly and festooned with flowers as they would have been.  Even with photographs of more recent temples in India I still picture myself among ruins.

Second, I came to realize that the way I feel when I see Indian architecture is as a perpetual outsider to that culture, even when I nominally understand what the religions behind these buildings believe.  I even catch myself with negative feelings about these structures sometimes.  It took me a while to realize but the familiarity I feel is more like that of a British colonist than as a native.  I find myself struggling to maintain objectivity in the face of an incredibly strong orientalist impulse.

I now think I may have traveled to India during my mid-19th century life.  At least, that’s the most likely time to have done so since John was unlikely to have been there (though his battalion certainly was there early in the war).  My recollections are not clear but I did seem to recall ladies with parasols standing around the Lad Khan temple and a general atmosphere of exuberance and perhaps slight apprehension as a tourist in an exotic land.

Still, such a feeling is out of keeping with the objective studies of an art history major.  I’m not on an elephant safari in 1855, why do I keep thinking like someone who is?  It’s irritating.

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