Historical Information on Ellora and Ajanta Caves!
The Ellora Caves and the Ajanta Caves are near Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
Chalukya and Rashtrakuta kings ruled over the Deccan from the middle of the 6th century AD to almost the end of the 12th century.
The former were tolerant of all religions and, under their liberal patronage, the technique of excavating rock-cut temples reached a high degree of perfection.
With the rise of the Rashtrakuta and other powers in the Deccan, there was a decline of Buddhist influence, but artistic activity continued unabated.
Rock-hewn architecture reached its zenith in western India as the Western Ghats provided suitable sites for excavation and carving. No existing caves as such were used. Thus architecture was sculpture on a mass scale. The solidity of the rock obviated the need for periodic repairs, and many of the temples are in a state of good preservation to this day.
An aesthetic vision and advanced technical knowledge combined in the architects. It is interesting to note that the excavation usually proceeded from the top downwards—the natural rock-surface below providing a platform and eliminating the necessity of scaffolding.
The Ajanta Caves, accidentally discovered by a shooting party in 1829, are excavated out of amygdaloid trap rock, and situated in the scarped side of a deep ravine that is shaped like a crescent. They are entirely Buddhist and date from about 200 BC to approximately 650 AD. It is of interest to note that the Chinese Buddhist travellers, Hiuen Tsang and Fa Hien, refer to Ajanta in accounts of their travels.
Of the 29 excavations, four are chaitya halls (all differing in design) and the rest are viharas. The decorative motifs differ with the age of the excavations.
The Hinayana and Mahayana phases are also well defined, the first being simpler the second being much more decorative and characterised by images of the Buddha. The caves are unique in that they combine three forms of art—architecture, sculpture and painting.
The technique employed in the frescoes was to spread on the rough surface of the rock a layer of clay mixed with cow- dung and rice-husks. Sometimes pounded brick mixed with fibre was added.
Over the plaster was spread a coating of white lime plaster, and the surface was kept moist while the colour was applied. The outlines were first drawn in red. The colours used were local pigments and all the colours except blue could be obtained from neighbouring hills. The paintings sought their inspiration from the Jatakas, legendary Buddhist stories.
Caves No. 13, 12, 10, 9 and 8 (according to chronological sequence) belong to the Hinayana period; No. 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 18, and 20 and perhaps No. 6 and 7 belong to a later Mahayana period ending approximately AD 580 No, 1 to 5 and 21 to 29, also Mahayana in character, came into existence between AD 500 and 650. Caves 19 and 26 (chaitya) and 1 and 16 (viharas) are good representative specimens. No. 16 is one of the most important caves, being the most elegant architecturally. The shrine has a large statue of the Buddha preaching.
This cave contains the famous fresco of ‘The Dying Princess’. The Ellora Caves are unique because the visitor can see three styles of architecture at one place, 12 Buddhist, 5 Jain and 17 Brahmanical caves being located here side by side. Unlike the Ajanta cave temples, they are excavated in the sloping sides of a hill and not in a perpendicular cliff.
As a result, most of the temples have courtyards and sometimes an outer wall or rock with an entrance through it. The 10th century Arab geographer Masudi and the European Thevenot who visited the temples in 1667, have left accounts of these cave temples in their writings.
The Buddhist temples were excavated between AD 350 to 700 Compared with the Brahmanical temples, they are austere and solemn. Cave No. 10, the only chaitya at Ellora, is in the form of a chapel, reminiscent of Ajanta and Elephant. It is called Vishvakarma, the name indicating its dedication to the patron saint of the craftsman.
Caves No.11 and 12 are some of the few caves in India with more than one storey.
The next group consists of Brahmanical caves, excavated between the seventh and the early eighth century. No. 14, Ravan ki Khai (Excavation of Ravan) is different from the Buddhist temples, having a front aisle of 4 pillars, 12 columns enclosing a central hall and, beyond, a shrine standing by itself at the end of the hall.
The south wall has Shaiva sculptures; the north wall has Vaishnava (i.e. pertaining to Vishnu) sculptures, representations of Durga, Lakshmi, the Varaha or boar incarnation of Vishnu, etc. Inside the shrine is a figure of Durga. Cave No. 15 is the Dasavatara cave.
The Kalidasa temple, dedicated to Shiva, is considered to be a magnificent achievement of the ancient Hindus, and represents Shiva’s celestial abode, Mt. Kailasa. It was executed under the patronage of the Rashtrakuta king, Krishna I. It is one of the grandest monolithic excavations in the world. The architects worked from above downwards, until they struck one gigantic solid rock which they shaped into a temple. The hillside was cut down to the level of the base of the hill and it has been estimated that 3 million cubic feet of rock were chiselled out.
The remarkable imagination which conceived it, the unstinted labour which was spread over an uninterrupted period of a hundred years and finally, the sculpture with which it is adorned have been aptly summed by Percy Brown: “This plastic decoration is something more than a record of artistic form, it is a great spiritual achievement, each portion being a rich statement glowing with meaning.”
Kailasa stands in the middle of a vast court in which are carved colossal elephants and other animals. The main temple is dedicated to Shiva. The temple proper stands on a plinth and has an impressive frieze of boldly carved elephants and lions.
The temple is approached by flights of steps and is double- storeyed with chapels and monastic halls hewn out of the rock. Over the temple rises the tower in three tiers, with a projecting gable front surmounted by a cupola.
The interior consists of a pillared hall with a cruciform central aisle. The friezes on the wall have scenes from the Ramayana executed with superb artistry and craftsmanship. The pavilion has Shiva’s bull, Nandi, in front. The two pillars on either side of the Nandi shrine are called dhvajastambhas (flag-staffs). They have symbolic carvings pertaining to the cult of Shiva and are fine works of art.
In the final group of five Ellora caves (the Jain group), the most interesting are the Indra Sabha (assembly hall of Indra, king of the gods) and Jagannath Sabha (assembly hall of the lord of the universe).
The Indra Sabha is a two-storeyed shrine cut into the rock to a depth of over 200 feet and is approached through a rock-hewn doorway leading into a square courtyard. To the right is an imposing statue of an elephant. The Jagannath Sabha is similar in plan to the Indra Sabha but smaller. The shrine is a small antechamber with a well proportioned torana (arch), and within it is a seated Mahavira. The walls are recessed for figured sculptures, and the pillars are richly carved in the best Jain traditions.
The upper storey is borne on 12 profusely sculptured pillars and these and the broad surface dividing the two storeys are profusely carved, the upper one having images of the 24 Jain tirthankaras. The ceiling over the large altar is in the form of a large lotus. At each end of the hall is a large shrine containing a statue of Mahavira. This temple is possibly the earliest of the Jain group.
On the top of the hill in which the Jain caves are excavated is a rock-hewn statue of Parasnath.