Art and Science meet in Nepal in July, 2011. UAB professors Dr. Cathleen Cummings (Art History) and Dr. Cynthia Ryan (English), with VCU professor Dr. Dina Bangdel (Art History) and their students study the art history and religion of both Buddhism and Hinduism concentrated in the artistically rich environment of Kathmandu Valley. Students will also study the intersections between the unique cultural landscape of Nepal and Nepalese understandings of the physical and spiritual body.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
July 11 marked our first full day in Nepal. Fittingly, we went to the Swayambhu Stupa, the core monument in Newar Buddhism. This was an AMAZING experience, especially for the first day. The monument itself is stunning, depicting many important Buddhist deities of the Nepalese tradition as well as being central to the story of the creation of the Kathmandu Valley, all in dazzling gold, intricate architecture and statues everywhere.
For being as important to the valley as the Swayambhu Stupa is, it wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be. It was busy, but not insanely so. I was very happy about that. No pushy crowds to deal with. That said, I did feel in the way from time to time. I would stand trying to take a picture or try to get a better look at some part of the stupa, and I felt as though I may be blocking off some of the pilgrims and faithful from taking part in their convictions. Luckily, they were usually able to squeeze past this photo-crazy American and his big backpack.
Another thing that caught me a little off guard about the experience was the aggressive vendors around the monument. I understand the idea of making a living at this religious site is not in itself a bad thing, but to sell spiritually meaningful (when used in the right context and not as souvenirs) items and be really pushy about it rubs me the wrong way. A few shop owners got quite angry at a few of us for not buying anything at there storefronts. Some going so far as telling us not to come back. Here is this site, center to a religion that focuses on the ability to be non-materialistic, and there is this big consumerist air hanging about. I think the tourism in the area is to blame though. I like to think that we are a different kind of visitor to the area, learning and discovering while not contributing to the strengthening of western ideals in the country, but who knows. I did end up buying a pendant.