Sunday, 13 November 2011

Aurangabad Part II - Ellora – Enchanted by the Name, Speechless by the Sight (The Buddhist Caves)

We drove towards Ellora. Just when we crossed Daultabad Fort, we had a flat tyre. My patience was running out but nothing doing, we had to wait. Anyway the replacement work was quickly over and we started our voyage again.

Ellora is situated just about 30 Kms from the main city, it should not take more than 30 minutes to reach but unfortunately due to that flat tyre incident and an initial patch of really bad (and dusty) road, it took around an hour for us. Enroute we crossed one of those 52 ancient gates. Sometimes later, the caves appeared at a distance on the hills – my joy literally knew no bounds. So excited I felt.

Before we visited Ellora, we crossed the main entrance of Ellora and drove towards Grishneshwar Temple. This temple is considered to be one of 12 famous jyotirlingas in India. The temple was constructed by Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore who ruled between 1765 and 1795. The walls are made of red basalt with astonishing carvings of various motifs. The temple gained much popularity among the natives during the reign of Maloji Bhosle, the grandfather of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Unfortunately no snap is allowed of this architectural marvel, so we had to see as much as we could in a short time.

We offered Pujas there to the deity and completed the rituals quickly. Now we headed towards the main attraction.

Ellora is locally known as ‘Verul Leni’ (Verul Caves – Verul is the local name for Ellora). Well-known for its monumental caves, Ellora was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO and represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. The entire area consists of 34 caves of different religions – which shows the height Indian Architecture and Art reached during the ancient days and also the religious harmony in India – 12 Buddhist Caves (Caves 1 – 12), 17 Hindu Caves (Caves 13 – 29) and 5 Jaina caves (Caves 30 – 34). Excavated between the 4th century and 10th century, they reside in somewhat close proximity.

It is understood that these marvels could have received royal patronage – for example the inscriptional evidence is that of Rashtrakuta Dantidurga (c. 753-57 A.D.) on the back wall of the front mandapa of Cave 15. The Great Kailasa (Cave 16) is attributed to Krishna I (c. 757-83 A.D.), the successor and uncle of Dantidurga.

Unlike Ajanta, Ellora Caves were never completely lost into the oblivion due to their close proximity to the ancient trade routes and various renowned historians and travelers from various eras documented these caves in their logs and journals.

History did not remember the names of those who actually carved these caves with primitive tools like hammer and chisel, but the artists are immortalized through their arts, their creations.

When we reached Ellora, we bought the tickets (10Rs per head for Indians and $5 for non-Indians) and parked our Car at the parking. Our driver Balmik advised that here we can visit Caves 1-16 and then we’ll head towards another entrance for the rest of the caves. We bought a small guide book but we did not hire any guide as we planned to explore the caves by ourselves. This is one of the best decisions we made.

Buddhist Caves

There are 12 caves located in sequence. These 12 caves can be divided into two distinct groups based on the date when these caves were excavated. Cave 1 to 5 is earlier (4th Century – 6th Century) among the twelve and is placed in a separate group from Caves 6 to 12 which are later (7th Century – 8th Century) in date.

Cave 1

Cave 1 is called as Dhedwada. It is a vihara (Monastery) with eight cells – four in the back wall and four at the cell. It is believed that this cave might have served as a granary for other Viharas.

Cave 2

This cave is a Shrine dedicated to Lord Buddha. The side galleries have images of Buddha, many of them are unfinished. The sculptures are enormous especially the dwarapalas (door-keepers), and apart from Buddha many other deities were also carved.

Cave 3

This is an unfinished Vihara. This is perhaps a little older than Cave 2. There is a Verandah, the north end of which houses a chapel containing a Buddha, with his legs crossed in front, and his hands in the teaching attitude. He is seated on the lotus throne.

Cave 4

This is called as Lokeswara. The cave is much ruined, with the frontal part completely disappeared. A cross aisle is present behind the pillars, and at the left end of it is Lokeswara seated like Buddha, and there is also a small Buddha as crest on its front.

Cave 5

This is called as Maharvada, which is also a vihara (monastery) and measures 117 feet deep and 59 feet wide. This also houses a Buddha Shrine.

Cave 6

This was created in later half of 6th century. This contains two very beautiful sculptures of star goddess Tara and goddess of learning Mahamayuri with peacock.

Cave 7

Though this is a large cave, this is perhaps an unfinished cave of 12 cells. There is an image of the star goddess Tara in a relaxed pose, this could be a later intrusion.

Cave 8

This is internally connected with Cave 7. This is the 1st floor of the Cave 7. There is a seated image of Buddha and a standing figure of the star goddess Tara just besides him.

Cave 9

This is one of the most decorated caves in the Buddhist excavations. But the work for this cave also stopped in between. This cave has six seated Buddha images.

Cave 10

This is the most important of the Buddhist caves and called as Viswakarma (The Celestial Architect) Cave. This is also called ‘Sutar Ka Jhopra’ (Carpenter’s hut). The local carpenters used to visit the cave frequently and worship Buddha as Viswakarma as the patron of their craft. They still do follow some of the ancient rituals here. This cave is the only Chaitya Griha (prayer hall) amongst all the Buddhist group of caves at Ellora. Unlike the stupas we saw at Karla, Bhaje or Bedse Caves in Pune, there is a seated Buddha placed on the front part of a large stupa, which is nearly 27 feet in height.

Cave 11

This is named as ‘Do Tal/Thal’ meaning two storeyed. But in reality this is actually three storeyed. When this cave was dug out, one story was still beneath the ground hence the name. This is another Vihara.

Cave 12

This is called ‘Teen Tal/Thal’ or three storeyed. This is largest monastery at Ellora and really gigantic in size. The upper storeys are reached by a flight of stairs. The first storey has a Shrine of Buddha. The top storey is an enormous hall with another shrine and a huge antechamber.

Here are some snaps from the Buddhist Caves:

One of the many gates on the way to Ellora

I guess the snaps do not speak about the actual beauty, which can only be absorbed through one's own eyes. We were already speechless by what we had seen so far. We were in deep thoughts and trying to imagine the artists doing the excavation and carvings, but could not. The caves seemed to be standing there forever.

But little did we know what was still awaiting in front of us. We proceeded towards the Hindu Caves.

For this post, I acknowledge -


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