Back in February, I traveled to India in order to do some Web development training for PayPal. In addition to having a wonderful time meeting and interacting with all of my coworkers, I got the opportunity to see some of the sights, including Mahabalipuram and DakshinaChitra in Tamil Nadu and the Taj Mahal in Agra. I did my best to document my experience in photos, and while it took some time, I've finally uploaded and tagged all of them. Go check them out!
Prior to leaving for India, I made plans to visit Delhi and Agra with two of my co-workers, Jeremy Gillick and Reena Bansal. Reena lived in Delhi for some time and she made a great tour guide. Thanks to accidentally perfect timing, we saw the new Bollywood epic Jodhaa Akbar just prior to visiting North India, and this gave us history on the sites we were seeing and really helped to bring them alive.
As great as that trip was, I really loved spending time in South India. The culture was simultaneously alien and completely familiar. There were more people and there was more activity than I think I've ever seen before, foods were completely unfamiliar, the language was completely unknown to me -- yet I felt completely at home with the chaos and the people. For my free time in and around Chennai, the role of tour guide was filled by fellow team-member Guru Prasath. He did a great job of ensuring that I gained a greater understanding of the cultural, spiritual, and linguistic history and traditions of the region. And, with the help of Anitha, another co-worker, I gained some lovely Indian fashions, too.
I'll admit that I didn't know much about India -- but one of the few things I knew, I learned back elementary school. For nearly 25 years an image has been stuck in my brain: that of a woman drawing an intricate pattern on the ground outside a home. The accompanying description explained that women in South India would wake each morning to draw kolams, or "painted prayers", in order to bring prosperity to the home and family. Never did I think that I'd see one in real life! Now that I have, I've been inspired to learn more about the designs and to draw some myself (just on paper, so far).
Drawing a kolam is a wonderful meditative practice that I would suggest to anyone who needs to quiet one's thoughts or develop greater concentration and attention to detail. It's also a practice in generating mathematical patterns. In my further reading about kolams, I've seen them referred to as "spiritual mathematical patterns", the practice of drawing them as "geometrical acts of kindness", and the women that create them as
"great female mathematicians who solve complicated line patterns every morning". Kolams are so intriguing, in fact, that computer scientists are studying them. How's that for ancient traditions mixing with technological advancements?
I guess that's what appeals to me about India -- the blending of old traditions with new technologies and outside influences to create something that is still uniquely Indian. As I see it, the people of India have one foot moving toward the future with the other rooted in the past, and I respect how they're working to reconcile the two. I can't wait until I return again, to learn more about what's been and where they're going. And next time I'll be sure to rise early to witness the kolam ritual, and maybe even try some of my own.
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