Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
Temples in the Grand Canyon

Temples in the Grand Canyon

Author: Kuhu Singh
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: July 9, 2000

One of the most spectacular of nature's wonders, the Grand Canyon of Arizonaand Utah states in the US, has another wonder attached to it: in the form ofIndian (not native American) names bestowed on some of the rigid peaks andpinnacles of the canyon by the early pioneers who discovered the105-miles-long nature's carvings in the earth's belly.

Names such as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Manu, Buddha and Zoroastra immediatelycatch the eye as well as the senses (for the objects thus named are a sightfit for the heavens, thus believed one such early explorer John WesleyPowell(1834-1902), the one-armed major of the Civil War era, who led theGrand Canyon expeditions in 1869 and 1872 that explored, mapped and obtainedgeological data on the Colorado river, which greatly helped in opening upthe West for the Americans after the Great War.

But while Powell is credited to have named the landscape ``Grand'', thecredit for the Hindu names of some of the major plateaus and rock formationsgoes to his associate who accompanied him on his second expedition, ClarenceEdward Dutton, captain of ordinance in the US Army, geologist-poet and aYale man who was deeply influenced by the philosophies of the East.

It was he who likened the snow-covered peaks of the canyon walls to thepagodas of the Orients.  That would explain the Buddha temple.  But others?According to Professor Stephen J.  Pyne, professor of history at the ArizonaState University and author of the book, How the Canyon Became Grand, thereis ``no explicit explanation for naming the peaks after Hindu gods, onlyimplicit''.  He likens the christening of the peaks to the historical fact ofthe time ``when there was a growing awareness and respect in the West,particularly Europe, towards the Eastern philosophies, not economics of thepast.''

The names given were impromptu, without much thought, based on what the eyesfirst saw and the senses first experienced.  Therefore, there was a mixing ofthe Orient (Confucius Temple) and the Indian, the European with the Latin.Later expeditions even churned out names based on the mileage to the river``when they ran short of grand names,'' Pyne explains, who himself ledseveral expeditions to the canyon in recent years.  Some rock formations bearthe names of the early pioneers who helped discover the canyon like thePowell Peak and the Dutton Plateau.  And the rest have Native American namessuch as Yuma and Kaibab.  There's even a Hindu Amphitheatre which Duttonlikened to the ``profusion and richness which suggests an Orientalcharacter''.

Thus, the fantastic shapes of the many buttes or rock formations in thecanyon led to their fanciful names.  Brahma Temple was named after the firstof the Hindu Triad, the Supreme Creator, to correspond with the ShivaTemple: ``Shiva the destroyer, Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu the preserverof men against evil and misfortune,'' as Dutton later wrote.  Dutton foundthe Shiva Temple ``the grandest of all buttes, and most majestic inaspect...All around it are side gorges sunk to a depth nearly as profound asthat of the main channel...In such a stupendous scene of wreck, it seemed asif the fabled 'Destroyer' might find an abode not wholly uncongenial.''

The Grand Canyon, a product of erosion, is a gorge 217 miles in lengththrough which runs the mighty Colorado River.  Actually, the Grand Canyon iscomposed of many canyons with a composite of thousands of gorges, where eachwall is a composite structure, a wall composed of several walls but never arepetition.

What constitutes the canyon are layers of limestones and sandstones that canreach great heights and lowest depths and are topped with the Aubreylimestone, 1,000 feet in thickness.  This has great beds of alabaster thatare pure white putting in sharp contrast, the limestones below with towersand pinnacles, covered with snow during winters.

``The heavens constitute a portion of the facade...the earth and the heavenare blended in one vast structure...and...when the clouds play in thecanyon, as they often do in rainy season, the heavens seem to bealive...lending infinity to the walls.  The glories and the beauties of form,colour and sound unite in the Grand Canyon.  It is a region more difficult totraverse than Alps or the Himalayas, but is strength and courage aresufficient for the task, a concept of sublimity can be obtained never to beequalled on the hither side of paradise,'' thus wrote Powell in his book TheExploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons.

It was this grandeur that led to the borrowing of the Eastern names.

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements