Rocks Of Faith

The religious art and architecture of the Ajanta and Ellora caves have been hailed as some of the finest masterpieces of antiquity

10/3/2017 6:36:51 PM
written By : Abhijit Nag Print

The Buddhist cave murals at Ajanta have been hailed by the British historian John Keay as “the finest gallery of pictures to survive from any ancient civilisation”. Breathtaking, too, is the art and architecture found in the Ellora caves. Anyone who wants to see the wonders of ancient India will marvel at these sites deep in the heart of Maharashtra. Both are protected monuments under the Archaeological Survey of India and Unesco World Heritage Sites.

While Ajanta dazzles with its Buddhist art and sculpture, Ellora has caves and temples made by the Buddhists, Hindus and Jains. 

Nestled in the sheer cliffs of a horseshoe-shaped gorge, the Ajanta caves are awesome in their spectacular setting. The Waghur river runs through the gorge. Waterfalls cascade nearby. Originally an unspoilt wilderness located close to trade routes, Ajanta was an ideal location for the Buddhist monks who built monasteries there to pray and meditate in peace and tranquillity.

Ajanta was abandoned, however, sometime in the seventh century when caves and temples began to be built in Ellora, about 100 km away. Ajanta was swallowed up by the jungle. And a wilderness it remained, forgotten by the outside world, for a thousand years.  It was “rediscovered” only in 1819 when a British army officer on a tiger hunt was led to the entrance to Cave No 10 by a local shepherd boy. 

The Ajanta caves have been described as the Louvre of the East. The 29 rock-cut temples were built in two phases, the first group starting around the 2nd century BC, the second between 400 and 650 AD. In addition to the rows of stone Buddhas and other sculpture in the caves, there is also a profusion of murals depicting everything from battlefields to sailing ships, city streets, forests and snowcapped mountains. The caves were sponsored and built by Hindus. According to art historian Walter Spink, the majority were built during the reign of King Harishena of the Vakataka dynasty in the late fifth century,

Ajanta is a major tourist attraction. To beat the crowd, avoid going on a weekend or a public holiday. The caves are best seen in the monsoon, when the river is full and the gorge reverberates with the sound of waterfalls, and in the cooler months between October and March. 

Ellora also inspires awe and wonder, especially for its great Kailasa temple, the largest single monolithic excavation in the world. The colossal temple rears from a huge hole dug into the hillside. Dedicated to Shiva, it was built by the Rashtrakuta King Krishna I in the eighth century to represent Mt Kailasa, Shiva’s Himalayan abode. Built between the seventh and the 11th century, the Ellora caves are a treasure trove of art and sculpture. Excavated from the steep basalt cliffs of the Charanandri hills, there are more than 100 caves -- 34 open to the public. Twelve are Buddhist (caves 1–12), 17 Hindu (caves 13–29) and five Jain. Ingeniously built, the caves were carved out of rocks, the builders working their way down the precipices, starting from the top, to eliminate the need for scaffolding.

Ellora grew in importance because it was on a busy caravan route between inland cities and the ports of the west coast. 

Many of the Buddhist and Hindu caves were built during the rule of the Hindu Chalukya and Rashtrakuta dynasties. 

The Jain caves were built by the Yadava dynasty. Mostly excavated in the ninth and early tenth centuries, they are not as large as the Buddhist and Hindu caves, but are a sight to see because of their exceptionally detailed art works.

1 comment for “Rocks Of Faith”

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    2017.11.3yangping

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