Elephanta caves, Mumbai-- I entered a world made of shadows and sudden brightness. The play of the light, the vastness of the space and its irregular form, the figures carved on the walls: all of it gave the place a sacred character, sacred in the deepest meaning of the word. In the shadows were the powerful reliefs and statues, many of them mutilated by the fanaticism of the Portuguese and the Muslims, but all of them majestic, solid, made of a solar material. Corporeal beauty, turned into living stone. Divinities of the earth, sexual incarnations of the most abstract thought, gods that were simultaneously intellectual and carnal, terrible and peaceful.
Gothic architecture is the music turned to stone; one could say that Hindu architecture is sculpted dance. The Absolute, the principle in whose matrix all contradictions dissolve (Brahma), is “neither this nor this nor this.” It is the way in which the great temples at Ellora, Ajanta, Karli, and other sites were built, carved out of mountains. In Islamic architecture, nothing is sculptural—exactly the opposite of the Hindu. The Red Fort, on the bank of the wide Jamuna River, is as powerful as a fort and as graceful as a palace. It is difficult to think of another tower that combines the height, solidity, and slender elegance of the Qutab Minar. The reddish stone, contrasting with the transparency of the air and the blue of the sky, gives the monument a vertical dynamism, like a huge rocket aimed at the stars. The mausoleum is like a poem made not of words but of trees, pools, avenues of sand and flowers: strict meters that cross and recross in angles that are obvious but no less surprising rhymes. Everything has been transformed into a construction made of cubes, hemispheres, and arcs: the universe reduced to its essential geometric elements. The abolition of time turned into space, space turned into a collection of shapes that are simultaneously solid and light, creations of another space, made of air. There is nothing terrifying in these tombs: they give the sensation of infinity and pacify the soul. The simplicity and harmony of their forms satisfy one of the most profound necessities of the spirit: the longing for order, the love of proportion. At the same time they arouse our fantasies. These monuments and gardens incite us to dream and to fly. They are magic carpets. Compare Ellora with the Taj Mahal, or the frescoes of Ajanta with Mughal miniatures. These are not distinct artistic styles, but rather two different visions of the world.