Poetry in Stones.....Ellora Caves (Aurangabad, Maharashtra/India)

We were all set to witness the structural grandeur of Verul…more popularly known as the Ellora caves in Aurangabad, a town in the state of Maharashtra, India.

The intricate sculptural wonders of the Ellora caves are perhaps the most beautiful and unusual combination in the descriptions of UNESCO world heritage sites in India.

Ellora was easy to visit first because of its distance from the city, and it was also suggested that we visit the Ellora caves in the afternoon because the caves face the west and therefore the dominance of sunlight makes it easier to go around the entire magnificent complex.

An impressive collection of architectural creations of three different beliefs, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, the caves are conveniently located in the bend of the Charanadari hills of the Deccan. The caves comprises of 34 monasteries and temples, extending over more than 2 km, dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff and the undisturbed placement of the monuments, one after the other, makes the scene look beautiful. Among the 34 monasteries, 12 belong to the Buddhists, 17 to the Hindus and the balance 5 to the Jains. The caves are numbered roughly chronologically, starting with the oldest Buddhist caves at the south end.

The Buddhist caves are also the earliest of the Ellora Caves, dating from 500 to 750 AD. Most of the ‘caves’ that we saw here were actually monasteries which were used for study, meditation, rituals and even for eating and sleeping. As we proceeded, the caves started to become stronger and broader, the reason which Historians think was, the growing need to compete with Hinduism. The first cave was a simple monastery with very little sculpture while the second cave was a magnificent one. A highly impressive large central hall is supported by 12 great square pillars and is lined with sculptures of seated Buddhas and inside the shrine is a stately statue of seated Buddha on a throne; absolutely fantastic! Walking past the other caves and admiring the sculptures, we reached the last cave with was actually three storied. It has an impressive upper hall where the walls are lined with five large bodhisattvas and is flanked by seven Buddhas, representing each of his previous incarnations.

The Hindu Caves were created during a time of prosperity and revival of Hinduism, representing an entirely different style of creative vision and skill than the Buddhist caves. The temples were carved from top to bottom and required several generations of planning and coordination to take shape. The most beautiful among all the caves here was a temple carved from the solid rock, designed almost like the other temples of that era. It represents Mount Kailash, (in the Himalayan range) the abode of Lord Shiva, (the Hindu god of destroyer and restorer of worlds) and is called the Kailash Temple. It originally had a thick coat of white plaster to make it look like a snowy mountain. The temple is a grand structure, an amazing piece of architecture, with interesting and varied sculpture. The construction of this temple was considered to be an architectural marvel that involved removal of 250,000 tons of rock, took 100 years to complete and covers an area double the size of Parthenon in Athens… the grandeur truly showed!!

Our last stop was the Jain Caves dating from the late 800s and 900s. These were located 2 km north down a road where visitors could either walk or hire a pedicab. These caves reflected the distinctiveness of Jain philosophy and tradition. Much smaller in size, the caves too contained detailed artwork and rich paintings, notably the Indra Sabha [The Hindu God Indra's (The king of Gods) Assembly Hall], which was a miniature of the Kailash Temple with elaborate carvings.

We returned to our hotel with fond memories of the carvings and was all set for our trip to Ajanta, the next day.