by Deborah First-Quao
As soon as we got out of the airport it was clear that we were no longer in Paris anymore, simply by the way each car that surrounded our bus honked incessantly. But the noise was very worth it because it kept us awake long enough to witness some of the most beautiful and rare collaboration of man and nature’s workmanship.
The Mahabalipuram Monuments in Tamil Nadu are listed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. They go way back to the 7th century. They are a masterpiece, each mountain being carved out to represent significant scenes in the Hindu Religion from time past. But they will continue to live on in my heart, imprinted forever as moving mountains.
What makes them so beautiful and moving to see is the majestic way they stand as an example of how man and nature can work together. This is something so rare, in a world of climate change and global warming which has been caused by man’s particularly egoistic quest to prove his mastery over nature.
But we are always humbled when we see things that we cannot explain or take credit for. For example, not far from the temple sits a big boulder that balances on just a tiny surface of ground. One would think that at any moment it will shake loose and roll down, considering that it is situated precariously on a downward slope. The guide tells us that the god Krishna put this “butter ball” there and it has not moved for centuries, despite earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis.
This object is humbling to humanity, who cannot compare any art to that which nature creates herself. This lesson in humility was learned by great kings, such as the one whose story the tour guide recounted to us. The carvings on one of the temples tell the story of a great king who had a great empire and owned lots of wealth. He told people that if they made a wish he would surely have the power to grant it. One of the gods disguised himself as a little boy and told the king that he wanted a portion of land that he would measure with only 3 steps. The king granted it and when the day came, the god put one foot on earth and one in the sky and just with that, he had no place left to lay his third step. Looking down at the king he laughed, reminding the king of how much he had promised. The king, understanding his lesson bowed his head, and asked the god to use it as a stepping stone. The god did, driving his head into the ground. The king is known for his great sacrifice and the carvings live on today to remind us all about the vanity of man.
These days, man does not work with nature anymore – he tries to recreate it, manipulate it, force it, but not work with it. Hopefully, this time in India, in all the things we see – from the relentless post card sellers, to the beggar with the monkey in the red dress who does tricks for a penny, the hoardes of women dressed in red and gold saris, or the leper who waits outside the temple grounds, the wandering goats, and the jet lagged tourists, we this generation can reflect on this principle of life, so we can make our future truly sustainable.