Exploring India's Ellora Caves

Exploring India's Ellora Caves

One of India's must-sees are the 34 caves in Aurangabad, cut completely out of rock.
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In January, 2014, I was fortunate enough to study abroad in India under the direction of two CSULB professors, Dr. Norbert Schürer and Prof. Tim Keirn. One of the most memorable experiences during this trip was seeing the Ellora Caves in Aurangabad. A huge tourist site, the 34 caves were cut out of rock to create Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu temples and monasteries, and were built between the sixth and ninth centuries.


On my trip there had been extremely hot weather, but the drive up to the caves was comfortable enough in our little van, passing by fields of mustard seed.

The heat was uncomfortable, and I remember feeling in a sort of heat-induced relaxed state; excited, but definitely less sociable and outwardly peppy. The day before we had been to the Ajanta caves, where we saw multiple caves with a guide explaining each and every thing we saw; at the Ellora caves, however, we proceeded on our own in groups, deciding to regroup after less than an hour or so.


I can’t remember the exact number of the first cave we went to, but I remember the two enormous elephants inside of its entrance, and going into the separate alcoves and marveling at the various stone statues and carvings. It was interesting being able to draw the parallels between the caves at Ajanta and the ones at Ellora, and silently recognizing what was Buddhist and what was Hindu, which was really all I knew how to do on my own. I kind of wandered off on my own often, not too far from a friendly face from the trip, but with enough distance that I could look at everything at my own pace and really enjoy what I was seeing.


When we gathered together again, we stopped quickly for some popsicles at a stand outside the caves to cool down from the heat, and the sugar helped wake me up a little bit before we continued on further away to Cave 16, one of the famous Hindu caves of Ellora that was carved from top to bottom out of one single rock. We were given a few hours’ time to explore, and like before, I wandered off a little on my own – not exactly the smartest thing for the youngest woman on the trip to do, but it was hard not to want to get away from the bustle of the groups’ agenda and see things by myself for once.

It was absolutely breathtaking walking up the steps to the mosque and fully realizing how much time and effort went into building this particular cave, let alone the countless others built out of the mountain’s rock that surrounded Cave 16. I loved running my fingers along the edges of the carved walls, and looking down at the different people walking below and wondering if this was a holy place for them, or just another stop on the World Heritage Sites Grand Tour.

A few Indian families and men asked for some pictures (not an uncommon request for a white woman tourist, as I’d come to realize), which I awkwardly posed for. I didn't notice until later that my lips and teeth were stained bright red from my popsicle I had finished off earlier.

The sun was bright and emanating so much heat, but escaping into the sides of the cave, I found it was much cooler. I climbed up to a solitary spot, where bats were hanging in corners and screeching every few minutes, reminding me that this was their holy place, now.

It was just me and no one else in the dark recesses of a cave, with idols I couldn’t name or recognize carved out of cool mountain rock, with a view of the whole Cave 16 from above. The stench of bat guano was not enough to ruin the feeling of peace I could feel run through me as I looked down at people posing for pictures, couples laughing, groups of young Indian men walking fast and excitedly, pointing at all the elephants and enjoying some inside joke. It was nice to be able to enjoy a piece of India’s history alone. Content in my solitude, I climbed back down, wondering if anyone from the group would run into me and force themselves into my personal exploration, and hoping I could think of some way to avoid them.

Around the perimeter of the caves was an open walkway carved into the mountain, with enormous idols carved into the walls. I saw a few of the CSULB college kids, all broken up into twos and threes across the cave taking pictures, some laughing. A few waved from across the way, but didn’t come over, and kept on exploring with each other. I felt comforted in the fact they didn’t feel the need to come join me.

After deflecting a gaggle of Indian boys’ endless photograph requests, I ran into Soo, a member of my group, going the opposite direction of me. I noticed she was also by herself.

“You exploring alone, too?” I said.

“Yeah,” Soo replied with a smile. “I love you guys, but sometimes we all just need some time to be without each other. And this is my time.”

We laughed and walked past one another. I looked at the idol on the wall in front of me, and I had no idea what it might have represented. It was definitely Hindu, but was it a God? Was it Vishnu? What era was this cave from again? I had no real idea. But I didn’t mind being alone and without a mile-a-minute talking guide, not exactly knowing where I was going or what I was looking at.

I guess I really like not knowing.


Want to study abroad in India this upcoming January 2016? Learn more about the upcoming trip by looking at the program here.

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I'm A Christian And I Have A Tattoo

Stop judging me for it.
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Like most people, I turned 18 years old during the course of my senior year of high school.

I'll never forget the months prior to my birthday, though, because I spent hours making a decision that would be with me forever, the decision of where I would go to get my first tattoo and where that tattoo would go, and of course I spent a lot of time deciding on the font, the colors, and all of the other aspects of the tattoo I wanted.

Throughout this time, two things stood firm 1) the fact that I was going to get a tattoo, and 2) the six letter name that it would consist of.

Now, three years later, I'm 21 years old and I still get the occasional dirty look at church on Sunday or in line at Walmart, and more often than not this look is accompanied by the following words: “Why would you do that to your body when God says not to?"

A few weeks ago at a new church, a woman came up to me and said, “How can you consider yourself a Christian when you have that blasphemous thing on your foot?", I simply smiled at her and said: “God bless you, have a good week." I let it roll off of my back, I've spent the past three years letting it “roll off of my back"… but I think it's time that I speak up.

When I was 8 years old, I lost my sister.

She passed away, after suffering from Childhood Cancer for a great deal of my childhood. Growing up, she had always been my best friend, and going through life after she passed was hard because I felt like even though I knew she was with me, I didn't have something to visually tribute to her – a way to memorialize her.

I, being a Christian and believing in Heaven, wanted to show my sister who was looking down on me that even though she was gone – she could still walk with me every day. I wanted it for me, for her. I wanted to have that connection, for her to always be a part of who I am on the outside – just as much as she is a part of who I am on the inside.

After getting my tattoo, I faced a lot of negativity. I would have Leviticus 19:28 thrown in my face more times than I cared to mention. I would be frowned on by various friends, and even some family. I was told a few times that markings on my body would send me to hell – that was my personal favorite.

You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks on you: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:28

The more I heard these things, the more I wanted to scream. I didn't though. I didn't let the harsh things said about me and my choice change the love I have for the Lord, for my sister, or for the new precious memento on my left foot. I began to study my Bible more, and when I came to the verse that had been thrown in my face many times before – I came to a realization.

Reading the verses surrounding verse 28, I realized that God was speaking to the covenant people of Israel. He was warning them to stay away from the religious ways of the people surrounding them. Verse 28 wasn't directed to what we, in today's society, see as tattoos – it was meant in the context of the cultic practice of marking one's self in the realm of cultic worship.

26 "You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying. 27 You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. 28 'You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. 29 'Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land will not fall to harlotry and the land become full of lewdness. 30 'You shall keep My sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the LORD. 31 'Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God."
Leviticus 19:26–31

The more I have studied my Bible over the past few years, the more I pity those who rely on one verse in the Old Testament to judge and degrade those, like myself, who made the decision to get a tattoo for whatever reason they may have for doing so.

This is because, you see, in the New Testament it is said that believers are not bound by the laws of the Old Testament – if we were, there would be no shellfish or pork on the menus of various Christian homes. While some see tattoos as a modification of God's creation, it could also be argued that pierced ears, haircuts, braces, or even fixing a cleft lip are no different.

24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."
Galatians 3:24-25

In Galatians, we read that the Old Testament law was created to lead people to Jesus. However, we know that Jesus has come and died on the cross for our sins. He has saved us, therefore we are no longer held to this law in order to have a relationship with the Lord. Our relationship with Him comes from believing that Jesus came to Earth to die on a cross for our sins, and repenting of our sins – accepting Jesus as our Savior.

I am a Christian, I have a relationship with the Lord that is stronger than it has ever been, and - I HAVE A TATTOO.

I have a beautiful memento on my left foot that reminds me that my sister walks with me through every day of my life. She walked with me down the red carpet at my senior prom, she walked with me across the stage the day I graduated from high school, and she continues to be with me throughout every important moment of my life.

My tattoo is beautiful. My tattoo reminds me that I am never alone. My tattoo is perfect.

Stop judging me for it.

Cover Image Credit: Courtney Johnson

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The Pulse Affect

Where do we stand 2 years later?

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It's been 2 years since the infamous Pulse shooting and everyone, including myself, is still affected. I remember so clearly how I was too scared to go to any pride events afterward. I knew that's what the shooter wanted, was for us all to retreat back into the closest we so bravely came out of, but still, I couldn't bring myself to leave the bed.

The news had hit me harder than any of the previous shooting. While it was still a mass shooting such as what was happening at the schools, the target was more specific. He went in there with the mind of not just killing people, but people associated with the LGBT community. The scene was so horrible, that some of the first responders have even mentioned having PTSD still from the scene.

The news had sunk everyone's heart and many flocked to social media just to find out if friends were there or not. The toll was 49 innocent people who had lost their lives to a despicable individual I refuse to name. I feel he received too much attention in the media as it was.

It also didn't take long for the focus to switch from the victims to the "how could we prevent this"—which isn't a bad question, but the two sides who seemed to differ on opinions so much just turned it into yet another screaming match. That being said, those who weren't on the extreme end of it found themselves seeking comfort from each other. For many people, this attack did scare them, but I think within the horrifying event came a new sense of community.

For those who had family or friends that were victims of such an attack, my heart goes out to you. The mourning doesn't stop, and while I know there are no words that can be strung together to bring closure, I can show my support and continue to fight for equality and help educate whoever I can. The tragedy isn't something I wish on anyone, and the wound stills fresh to me despite not having any personal connections to anyone.

To end this story on a hopeful note, today people are doing positive things in honor of the victims of the pulse attack. One article writes about a couple who spends their time cleaning up the area of litter and mentions others donating money, objects, or their own time in hopes to help anyone in need. One direct quote from this article is "Last year, more than 2,500 people volunteered their time in support of Acts of Love and Kindness, and while there was no official tally yet for this year's outpouring, it seems likely that many will go uncounted."

I encourage people today to reach out to one another, no matter orientation or identity. Love one another and don't let things strip others of their human qualities. We are all human and have the ability to do good. The shooting was tragic, but we should not let it keep us from celebrating who we are and embracing each other with open arms. Don't let the worlds hate scare you or stifle your creativity. We will not let anyone push us back into the dark, no better their best effort. Live on and keep your heart open to love.

Cover Image Credit:


https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-gathered-near-building-holding-flag-at-daytime-919194/

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