AJANTA AND ELLORA CAVES
The famous Ajanta and Ellora caves are located near the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The cave shrines were all cut out of rock, by hand, and rank amongst some of the most outstanding specimens of ancient Indian architectural heritage. The 34 caves at Ellora and the 29 caves at Ajanta, were remained shrouded in obscurity for over a millennium, till John Smith, a British Army Officer, accidentally stumbled upon them while on a hunting expedition in 1819. The view point from where John Smith first glimpsed the caves, provides a magnificent sight of the U-Shaped gorge and its scenic surroundings.
Ajanta has been designated as a World Heritage Site, to be preserved as an artistic legacy that will come to inspire and enrich the lives of generations to come.
The 29 caves were built as secluded retreats of the Buddhist monks, who taught and performed rituals in the Chaityas and Viharas, the ancient seats of learning, and nerve - centers of the Buddhist cultural movement. Using simple tools like hammer and chisel, the monks carved out the impressive figures adorning the walls of these structures. Exquisite wall - paintings and sculptures speak volumes of the India of yore. Many of the caves house panels depicting stories from the Jatakas, a rich mine of tales of the several incarnations of the Buddha. Images of nymphs and princesses amongst others, are also elaborately portrayed.
The Ellora caves, 34 in number, are carved into the sides of a basaltic hill, 30 kms from Aurangabad. The finest specimens of cave - temple architecture, they house elaborate facades and exquisitely adorned interiors. These structures representing the three faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, were carved during the 350 AD to 700 AD period. The 12 caves to the south are Buddhist, the 17 in the centre dedicated to Hinduism, and the 5 caves to the north are Jain.
The sculpture in the Buddhist caves accurately convey the nobility, grace and serenity inherent in the Buddha. Caves 6 and 10 house images from the Buddhist and Hindu faith, under the same roof, the latter dedicated to Vishwakarma, the patron saint of Indian craftsmen. The Vishvakarma cave is both a Chaitya and a Vihara, with a seated Buddha placed in the stupa. Its two - storied structure sports a colourful pageant of dwarfs, dancing and making music.
The Kailasa temple in Cave 16 is an architectural wonder, the entire structure having been carved out of a monolith, the process taking over a century to finish. This mountain - abode of Lord Shiva, is in all probability, the world's largest monolith, the gateway, pavilion, assembly hall, sanctum and tower, all hewn out of a single rock. What is amazing about it, is the fact that unlike other temple structures which are built base onwards, the sculptor or architect involved here, started carving from the very top and the sides. Gigantic, though it is, it remains one of the most delicate and intricate ancient works of art. The Dumar Lena cave resembles the famous cave - temple at Elephanta, and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
The Jain caves are about a mile away from the Kailasa temple, amongst which Cave 32, houses a beautiful shrine adorned with fine carvings of a lotus flower on the roof, and a yakshi on a lion under a mango - tree, while Caves 32 and 34 contain grand statues of Parasnath. The other Jain caves sport the images of Tirthankaras, and one of them, also, has a seated figure of Mahavira.
These cave shrines are memorable for their invaluable contribution to the enormous wealth of Indian heritage.
Other Places of Interest around Ajanta and Ellora
Eight Kilometers from the town this mausoleum was built in 1679 AD by the last of the Great Mughals, Emperor Aurangazeb in the memory of his wife Rabia-ud-Durrani. It was modelled after the Taj Mahal in Delhi.
Aurangabad Caves :
Nine kilometers from Aurangabad near Bibi-Ka-Maqbara are the cave temples if Aurangabad cut between the 6th and 8th century AD. The cave temples of Aurangabad make a worthy prelude to the far more celebrated Ellora and Ajanta.
The Panchakki or the watermill dates back to the Mughal times. Deriving its name from a mill worked by water power for grinding corn for the poor and the military garrison. It was built in 1624 AD to commemorate a Muslim saint Baba Shah Muzaffar.