Temples and Monasteries fashioned out on the solid rock form a special feature among the early architectural remains of India. A majority of them are of Buddhist origin, but some have been cut by the Brahmanical and Jain sects. Elephenta in Mumbai is one of the best known Saiva caves but there are others in Jogeshwari, Mumbai and Badami in Karnataka. There are some Jaina caves as well like the ones at Dharasimha.
But of all the groups, none are so deserving of notice as the ones in Ellora, about 25 kilometers from Aurangabad, where are some of the largest and most elaborately carved specimens of the work of all three sects, Buddhists, Hindus and Jains. These group of caves were excavated during the Rashtrakuta dynasty. This series of 34 caves are the most magnificent and the most interesting in India. The only group of caves that can rival this is the Ajanta but Ajanta is monotonous and belong to Buddhism. Even though excavation at Ellora began at the time they ceased in Ajanta, an immense additional interest was added by introducing Hindu and Jain places of worship.
In Indian terms, these caves or rock cut temples are called “Varshavas (Varsha + Awaas), means place to stay during the rainy season. The rulers of the era got these excavated for the benefit of monks and trades who move from one place to another. Later, when monks started making these as shelters for a longer duration the rulers also supported by making them places of worship.
I visited this place 15 years ago with my family. It was one of the rarest occasions that we all went out for a trip. Even though I spent only 45 minutes at this place the first time, it made a deep impact. I was extremely awed by its beauty and longed to visit again. This time, I spent two full days at this place admiring its beauty tracking every corner of the caves. I am very excited that finally, I am getting to write things which I have been feeling about this place for years.
The caves are excavated in the face of a hill, or rather the scrap of a large plateau that run nearly 2 kilometers. Even though it is a general perception that the Buddhist caves were the earliest excavations, recent research shows that some of the Hindu caves were the ones who were excavated first. When we compare the Buddhist caves of Ellora with others, there are significant differences.
The caves at Ellora are on quite as large in scale as at Ajanta, but differ in their arrangements. Even though these have abundance in sculpture, they lack the detail that we see in Ajanta. Also interesting is the presence of number of Bodhisattvas here which is not seen in other places like Kanheri. This shows that the Mahayana sect was at its peak or has just started taking form and the excavators wanted to show the prominence.
We will see each cave in detail in the posts to come….