ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mention India, and many Americans think curry, saris and outsourcing.
Oh, and maybe the Taj Mahal.
From the Buddhist Stupas to Hindu temples and the legacy of the Moghal dynasties, India is rich in world-acclaimed architecture. With a population of 1.2 billion, the country is home to 28 World Heritage sites.
Ned O’Malia, who has taught world religions at the University of New Mexico for more than 30 years, will address “The Wonders of India: Art & Architecture” next Sunday at the Albuquerque Museum. The lecture is sponsored by the Albuquerque International Association.
O’Malia has traveled to India “nine or 10 times” since 1973. His talk will explore the Taj Mahal, the Pink Palace of Jaipur, the erotic temples of Kuranjuro and more.
Before the British set foot in this colorful land, the Moghal dynasties produced 23 emperors, building “almost everything in India,” O’Malia said.
“They built five or six magnificent buildings just as spectacular as the Taj Mahal,” he said.
The Taj Mahal is a white mausoleum located in Agra built by the Moghal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal (the third of nine).
“Almost all the emperors had eight or nine wives,” O’Malia said.
The monumental structure required 20,000 laborers in a style combining Islamic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Indian architecture. It became a World Heritage site in 1983. Construction began around 1632 and ended about 1653. Its familiar white dome houses an integrated complex of structures. Three burial crypts mark its center, filled with precious jewels.
The pink sandstone Palace of Jaipur was the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur, the head of the Kachwaha Rajput clan. The greatest part of it remains a royal residence.
“You get the right sunset and you see it’s all pink,” O’Malia said. “It’s on the highest part of a hill. The front is shaped like a crown five stories high.”
Dotted with 943 small windows, the palace was built between 1729 and 1732, initially by Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber. The women of his harem used the multiple views to watch the street scenes because they were forbidden to show themselves publicly.
Today most tourists take an elephant ride to the top.
Although they remain a strong tourism lure, images of most of the erotic temples of Kuranjuro are unfit for a family newspaper, O’Malia said.
“When the Moghals came they destroyed a lot of these temples,” he added. Just 20 remain.
Their imagery depicts same-sex sex and heterosexual fornication, along with human/animal couplings.
“Only about 10 percent are erotic, but that’s what people like,” O’Malia said. “They’re all for deities. They’re people, but in the form of angels. You will remember that the Hindus wrote the Kama Sutra.”
India’s latest monument is a 37-story house in Bombay. Built by another kind of mogul, it contains 19 elevators and parking for 160 cars with a staff of 600. Mukesh Ambani, who heads a large global conglomerate, built it for his wife and three children, O’Malia said.
“The Indians don’t like it too much.”
From 3-5 p.m. on Feb. 8, again at the Albuquerque Museum, O’Malia will move from the corporeal to the spiritual, giving a lecture on the religions of India.
“This is a rich soup,” he said.
Buddhism was born in Bodh Gaya; Jews have a long Indian history and one-fifth of the country’s population is Muslim. The states of Kerala and Goa are predominately Roman Catholic; the tomb of Saint Thomas is believed to be there, O’Malia said.
The Jains, many of whom dress in sky robes (i.e. naked) are a small but influential sect, as are the Sikhs. And of course, the Hindus, who count some 10,000 gods, and comprise the world’s third largest religion, O’Malia said.
“There is an endless number of gods, because if you believe everybody is on a path toward divinity, you can say everyone’s got a god within them.”