Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ellora Caves Tour, Ajanta Ellora Caves, Places to visit in Maharashtra

The Ajanta and Ellora Caves are the ancient repository and Indian architectural heritage pride of Maharashtra, India. Both these sites are world famous and are cut in rocks. These caves are marvelous example of the highest degree of skills and artistry that Indian craftsmen had achieved several hundred years ago with primitive tools. Ajanta dates back 100 B.C. while Ellora is younger by some 600 years.

Ellora Caves are close to the modern time city Aurangabad in Maharashtra. Aurangabad City was founded in 1610, on the site of a village, Khirki by Malik Ambar and has always been a prominent region on the Deccan plateau. Having been inhabited since the Stone Age, it has a long artistic and cultural history - to which several dynasties have made major contributions over the years. Maurya rule marked the arrival of Buddhism in Maharashtra.

Ajanta and Ellora caves were shrouded in ignominy for over a millennium, till John Smith, a British Army Officer stumbled upon them while on a hunting expedition in 1819. Today Ajanta and Ellora caves have been honored the world heritage site status to be preserved as an artistic legacy for generations to witness. 

Ellora Caves

Ellora Caves is an archaeological site, 30 km from the city of Aurangabad in the Indian State of Maharashtra, India. The Caves were carved under patronage of the then Rashtrakuta dynasty. Ellora, With 34 caves devoted to Buddhist, Jain and Hindu faiths, represents the epitome of Indian rock cut architecture. Ellora caves are carved into the sides of a basaltic hill. As the finest specimens of cave temples, Ellora caves have elaborate facades and intricately aesthetic interiors to hypnotize your sensibilities. The name Ellora itself inspires everyone as it represents one of the largest rock-hewn monastic-temple complexes in the entire world. Ellora is also world famous for the largest single monolithic excavation in the world, the great Kailasa (Cave 16).   The  12 Buddhist ( Caves 1 to 12), 17 Hindu (Caves 13 to 29) and 5 Jain (Caves 30 to 34) Caves, built in proximity, demonstrate the religious harmony prevalent during this period of Indian history.

The caves were carved out of a slope in the hill in a north–south direction. They face west, so they receive light from the setting sun. All the caves were carved from the top to the bottom, so workers did not require scaffolding.

For some unknown reason, Ajanta was abandoned around the 7th century and the people making the caves moved to Ellora, 100km south.

The period of construction of these caves is in following order:

Buddhist Caves: 

5th century to 7th century AD
Caves 1 to 12 at the southern end

Hindu Caves: 

8th century to 10th century AD
Caves 13 to 29 in the middle

Jain Caves:
9th century to 11th century AD
Caves 30 to 34 at the northern end

The Buddhist Caves

It was initially thought that the Buddhist caves (also called Vishvakarma Caves) were one of the earliest structures, created between the fifth and eighth centuries, with caves 1-5 in the first phase (400-600AD) and 6-12 in the later phase (mid 7th-mid 8th), but now it is clear to the modern scholars that some of the Hindu caves (27, 29, 21, 28, 19, 26, 20, 17 and 14) precede these caves. The earliest Buddhist cave is Cave 6, followed by 5, 2, 3, 5 (right wing), 4, 7, 8, 10 and 9. Caves 11 and 12 were the last. All the Buddhist caves were constructed between 630-700 AD. All except Cave 10 which is a chaitya (temple), are Viharas (monasteries), which were used for study, meditation, communal rituals, eating and sleeping. The caves are not as architecturally interesting as the Hindu caves.

Cave 1 

The cave is a plain vihara with eight small cells, four in the back wall and four in the right wall. It may have served as a granary for the other viharas.

Cave 2

The cave is much more impressive. A large central chamber supported by 12 great square pillars is lined with sculptures of seated Buddhas. There are two large, standing dwarapalas (door guards).  Inside the cave, the shrine is a stately seated Buddha and two standing Buddhas, while along each of the side walls are five Buddhas accomplanied by Budhisattvas seated under trees.

Caves 3 and 4 

These caves have a similar design as Cave 2, but are in poor condition.

Cave 5

The cave is named as the Maharwada Cave because it was used by local Mahar tribes people as a shelter during the monsoon. The shrine Buddha is seated on a stool with his right hand touching the ground in the Earth Witness gesture.

Cave 6

The cave is home to two of the finest sculptures at Ellora. On the left is the goddess Tara, with an intense but kind expression. Opposite her on the right is Mahamayuri, the Buddhist goddess of learning, shown with her attribute, the peacock. A diligent student sits at his desk below.  The boundaries between religions melt here as Hindu’s consider Buddha as the incarnation of their Vishnu and Mahamayuri as Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of learning.

Cave 7

The cave is in for of an austere hall with pillars, is the first a two- storied cave.

Ellora-Caves 8-9

These two caves have nothing special.

Cave 10

The cave 10 is the most famous of the Buddhist caves. The magnificent Cave 10 dates from the early 700s AD and is known as the “Suttar Jhopadi or Carpenter’s Cave”, a tribute to Visvakarma, the architect of Demi Gods. At the far end, a seated Buddha is enthroned in front of a large stone stupa.  The hall has a vaulted roof in which ribs have been carved in the rock imitating the wooden ones. Decorating the walls are loving couples indicating how much Buddhism had changed from its early ascetic days.

Cave 11 

This cave is known as the Dho Tal or "Two Floors" cave. The lowest level (basement) is a veranda with a shrine and two cells at the back of it., The middle level has eight front pillars and fiver rear cells of which only the central are completed and decorated. The top floor is a long assembly hall lined with columns. It has both a Buddha shrine and images of Durga and Ganesh, indicating the cave was converted into a Hindu temple after it was abandoned by the Buddhists. The third storey which was discovered later has cells for sleeping (note the stone benches) on the lower floors but it is the figures of the Buddha which are of particular interest. The rows of seven Buddhas are symbolic of the belief that he appears on earth every 5000 years and has already visited it seven times. 

Cave 12

The cave is known as “Tin Thal or three storeyed”. The cave has cells for sleeping (stone benches) on the lower floor.  The walls of the shrine room are lined with five large bodhisattvas and are flanked by seven Buddhas. The rows of seven Buddhas are symbolic of the belief that he appears on earth every 5000 years and has already visited it seven times.

The Hindu Caves

The Hindu caves were constructed between the middle of sixth century to the end of the eighth century. The Hindu Caves are more impressive, profusely sculptured with Shiva and Vishnu Images. The caves are covered lively with the Hindu scriptures. All of the caves are dedicated to the God shiva, but there are also some images of Vishnu and his various incarnations.  The caves created during a time of prosperity and revival of Hinduism, represent entirely different style of vision and skill than of Buddhist caves. The early caves (caves 17–29) were constructed during the Kalachuri period.  The caves occupy the center of the cave complex, grouped either side of the famous Kailasa Temple. Some were of such complexity that they required several generations of planning and co-ordination to complete.

Cave 13

This cave marks the first of those caves carved by the Hindus.  It’s a simple, plain room. 

Cave 14

The cave known as Ravana ki khai, seventh century, is single storeyed and the last of the collection from the early period. The cave has sculptures of Varah (half-boar), Laxmi and Shiva.  At the entrance of the sanctum are sculptures of the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna. Nearby are carvings of the Sapta Matrikas. On the right wall there are carvings of Shiva as playing chess, Dancing Tandava and ignoring Ravana’s attempt to shake Mount Kailash.

Cave 15

The cave named “Dashavatara or ten incarnation of Lord Vishnu” is a Buddhist monastery later modified for Hindus.  The various avatars of Vishnu narrate numerous tales while Shiva rides the divine chariot and prepares to destroy the palaces of the demons. There is a Nandi bull and many sculptures. On the upper floor are some of the most outstanding carvings, including Lord Narasimha (Lord Vishnu as half lion) Lord Vishnu rescuing Gajendra, the elephant.

Cave 16 Kailasanatha

The Cave, is also known as the Kailasa or the Kailasanatha, is the centerpiece of Ellora. It is the largest monolithic structure in the world. This is designed to recall Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva and looks like a freestanding, multi-storeyed temple complex, but it was carved out of one single rock.  

In the cave and within the courtyard are three structures. As is traditional in Shiva temples, first is large image of the sacred bull Nandi in the front of the central temple. In the Nandi Pavilion facing the entrance is a beautiful carving of Lakshmi surrounded by adoring figures seated in a pond, she is being bathed by elephants carrying pots in their trunks. Also be on the lookout for mithunas- male and female figures in erotic situations. Central temple - Nandi Mandap - is housing the lingam. Nandi Mandap stands on 16 pillars. The base of the Nandi Mandap has been carved to suggest that life-sized elephants are holding the structure aloft. A living rock bridge connects the Nandi Mandap to the Shiva temple behind it. The temple itself is tall pyramidal structure reminiscent of a South Indian Dravidian temple. The shrine, complete with pillars, windows, inner and outer rooms, gathering halls, and an enormous lingam at its heart – carved from living stone, is carved with niches, pilasters, windows as well as images of deities. Most of the deities at the left of the entrance are Shaivaite (followers of Shiva) while on the right hand side the deities are Vaishnavaites (followers of Vishnu). There are two Dhvajastambhas (pillars with the flagstaff) in the courtyard. The grand sculpture of Ravana  attempting to lift Mount Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva, with his full might is a landmark in Indian art. The construction of this cave was a feat of human genius – it entailed removal of 200,000 tonnes of rock, and took 100 years to complete.

Other Hindu caves

Other notable Hindu caves are the Rameshvara (Cave 21), which has figurines of river goddesses Ganga and Yamuma at the entrance and the Dhumar Lena (Cave 29) whose design is similar to the cave temple on Elephanta Island near Mumbai. Two other caves, the Ravan ki Khai (Cave 14) and the Nilkantha (Cave 22) also have several sculptures. The rest of the Hindu caves, which include the Kumbharvada (Cave 25) and the Gopilena (Cave 27) have no significant sculptures.

The Jain Caves

The five Jain caves at Ellora belong to the ninth and tenth centuries. They all belong to the Digambara sect. These caves reveal specific dimensions of Jain philosophy and tradition. These Caves are an anticlimax after the Hindu ones, but they have an aura of peace and simplicity. These caves are not as large as compared to others, but they present exceptionally detailed artwork. The Jain caves 30 to 34 were excavated from 800AD until the late 11th century. Because of the sloping hillside, most of the cave entrances are set back from the level ground behind open courtyards and large colonnaded verandas or porches. The most remarkable Jain shrines are the Chhota Kailash (cave 30), the Indra Sabha (cave 32) and the Jagannath Sabha (cave 33). Cave 31 is an unfinished four-pillared hall and a shrine. Cave 34 is a small cave, which can be approached through an opening on the left side of Cave 33.

Cave 30

The cave 30, (Chhota Kailasa) is the largest and the first to be excavated. It’s a smaller incomplete replica of the Hindu Kailasa cave, decorated with Jain saints and goddesses; within the sanctuary is an image of the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, who sits on a lion throne.  

Cave 32, Indra Sabha

The Indra Sabha or Indra Assembly hall (Cave 32) is finest of the jain caves with two storied structure and one more monolithic shrine in its court. It’s a miniature version of Kailash Temple. It has a very fine carving of the lotus flower on the ceiling. The naked figure of the Gomatesvara, on the right, is fulfilling a vow of silence in the forest.  It got the appellation "Indra Sabha" probably because of the sculpture of the yaksha  (dedicated attendant deity) Matanga on an elephant, which was wrongly identified as that of Indra. On the upper level of the double-storied shrine excavated at the rear of the court, an imposing image of Ambika, the yakshini of Neminath, is found seated on her lion under a mango tree, laden with fruits.

Other Jain caves

All other Jain caves are also characterized by intricate detailing. Many of the structures had rich paintings in the ceilings – fragments of which are still visible.