Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ajanta Ellora

We were looking for a quick weekend getaway and the place we zeroed-in on was Ajanta-Ellora. Having decided the place to visit, we booked train tickets to Aurangabad and landed there in the wee hours of a rather uncool Oct morning. It was 4.30 am and the sun was not yet out. We booked a room very near to the station and by 8.00 we were at the MTDC Office. This is the starting point for the tours to Ajanta and Ellora.

Our first tour was to the Ajanta Caves. A two hour’s drive brought us to Ajanta.
The Ajanta Caves are beautifully set on the inner curve of a mountain cliff overlooking a river. It resembles a horse shoe. The river wasn’t in its full glory but yet the setting was perfect. These caves were chiseled out by the Buddhist monks between 200 BC and 650 AD. The caves were hidden behind dense undergrowth and John Smith of the British Madras Regiment chanced upon them in 1819 during a hunting expedition.

Ajanta Caves number 30 in all and include “Viharas” and “Chaitya Gruhas”. The Viharas are flat roofed caves which were essentially the residences of the monks. They are of different sizes but all of them have a central hall and many small chambers. These chambers have stone beds and pillows and were the resting place of the monks. The Chaitya Gruhas on the other hand are “Stupas” i.e. they have a dome shaped roof. These are the prayer halls and house an image of the Buddha, most often seated in the “Dharmachakra Pravartana Mudra” (the teaching pose).

Since it was a guided tour, we were briefed by the guide on the history of each cave. Some of the caves were interesting one of them being Cave 1. It has elaborate carvings of scenes from the life of Gautam Buddha on the walls. Our guide explained to us the process of making of the murals. Right from the method of chiseling the rocky surface to the ingredients of the colors used for painting was described by the guide. He was quite good at his job.

After a look around at the caves, we headed for lunch at the MTDC Restaurant. It was time to get back to Aurangabad.

The guided tour to Ellora also included a visit to the Grishneshwar Temple, Daulatabad Fort, Bibi Ka Maqbara, and Panchaki. The first stop was the Grishneshwar Temple. It is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Shiva in India.

The Daulatabad Fort is a majestic fortress built atop a rocky hillock. The fortress dates back to the 9th century when it was called as Devgiri. It was Md. Bin Tughlaq who gave it the present name – Daulatabad, the City of Wealth. Tughlaq had shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad for a small period of time.

The fortress is situated atop the hillock and is surrounded by a deep moat. Crocodiles and venomous snakes used to inhabit the moat in the earlier days. The fortress has multi level defenses, many layers of massive walls and paths which are like a maze. It is easy to get lost in this maze and no wonder it is named as “Bhool Bhulaiyya”. There is a massive ram headed metal canon atop a small tower inside the fortress. There is also a 30 meter high tower called “Chand Minar” inside the fortress. This was built by one of the Bahmani invaders to commemorate his conquest of the fortress.

Our next stop was Ellora Caves which are a group of 34 caves built in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain styles demonstrating the religious harmony that existed in India even in those days. Caves 1-12 are the Buddhist style caves and consist of Viharas and Chaitya Gruhas. The most popular Buddhist cave is Cave 10, also known as the “Vishwakarma Cave”. It has a multi storeyed entry and a central stupa. A huge statue of Buddha in the teaching pose is seated below the stupa. The roof of the cave is carved in such a way that it looks like wooden beams.

Caves 13-29 are the Hindu Caves and the most popular one is Cave 16, also known as the “Kailashnath Temple”. This temple is the masterpiece at Ellora. It is a huge structure, consisting of a multi storeyed temple with a huge courtyard which houses 2 gigantic “Dhwajastambhas”. There is also a massive Nandi in the courtyard. There are numerous other pillars, prayer halls and images of deities all around the complex. And all this has been carved out of a single rock. It took around a century to complete this temple complex.

Caves 30-34 are the Jain Caves and depict the Jain philosophy and tradition. These caves have exceptionally detailed carvings. The carvings of Mahavir are very aesthetic. The Jain Caves were the last ones that we visited and here ended our Ellora tour.

The next stop on the way back was Bibi-Ka-Maqbara or the 'Mini Taj'. It is a miniature version of the Taj Mahal, but it is not built entirely of marble. Only the first couple of layers are marble while the rest is white plaster. But none the less it is impressive. This wound up our visit to Aurangabad and we made arrangements to board the evening train to Hyderabad.

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