Dating back to the 2nd BC and artistically built over a few centuries, the Caves of Maharashtra have an extraordinary appeal and aura. Nestled in the formidable Sahayadri Mountain Range, these caves have been home to monks of different religions.
Be it the paintings in the Ajanta caves or the sculpture of the Ellora caves, or the divine presence in the Elephanta caves, the visitors have always and will always continue to be spellbound. These caves offer a visit that is truly unforgettable. A visit that will induce a sense of discovery, a discovery of the self, and of the divine.
Ajanta and Ellora are the pride of Maharashtra. The rock-cut caves of both these sites are world famous and illustrate the degree of skill and artistry that Indian craftsmen had achieved several hundred years ago. Ajanta dates from 100 B.C. while Ellora is younger by some 600 years. The village of Ajanta is in the Sahyadri hills, about 99 kms. From Aurangabad; a few miles away in a mammoth horseshoe-formed rock, are 30 caves overlooking a gorge, 'each forming a room in the hill and some with inner rooms. Al these have been carved out of solid rock with little more than a hammer and chisel and the faith and inspiration of Buddhism. Here, for the Buddhist monks, the artisans excavated Chaityas (chapels) for prayer and Viharas (monasteries) where they lived and taught. Many of the caves have the most exquisite detailed carvings on the walls, pillars and entrances as well as magnificent wall paintings.
These caves were discovered early in the 19th century quite by chance by a party of British Officers on manoeuvres. Today the paintings and sculptures on Buddha's life, belonging to the more mellow and ritualistic Mahayana Buddhism period, are world famous. Copies of them were shown in the Crystal Palace exhibition in London in 1866. These were destroyed in a fire there. Further copies were published soon afterwards and four volumes of reproductions were brought out in 1933 by Ghulam Yazdani, the Director of Archaeology of the then Hyderabad State. Ajanta has formed an epicentre of interest for those who appreciate and are eager to know more about Indian history and art.
Ajanta Cave It is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India and has been listed in the World Heritage list of monuments. The 30 caves of Ajanta were created over a span of some 600 years. In their range of time and treatments they provide a panorama of life in ancient India and are a source of all kinds of information... hair styles, ornaments, textiles, musical instruments, details of architecture, customs etc. It was from this collection of classical Indian art that a particular style was formed that travelled with Buddhism to many parts of the world. Similar paintings can be seen in Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, Bamiyan in Afghanistan, temples and shrines in Tibet, Nepal, China and Japan.
Royal patronage made Ajanta possible. Professional artists carried out much of the work and each contributed his own individual skill and devotion to this monumental work.
The cave temples and monasteries at Ellora, excavated out of the vertical face of an escarpment, are 26 km north of Aurangabad. Extending in a linear arrangement, the 34 caves contain Buddhist Chaityas or halls of worship, and Viharas, or monasteries, Hindu and Jai temples. Spanning a period of about 600 years between the 5 th and 11 th century AD, the earliest excavation here is of the Dhumar Lena (Cave 29).The most imposing excavation is, without doubt, that of the magnificent Kailasa Temple (Cave 16) which is the largest monolithic structure in the world. Interestingly, Ellora, unlike the site of Ajanta, was never 'rediscovered'. Known as Verul in ancient times, it has continuously attracted pilgrims through the centuries to the present day. Ellora has been designed as a World Heritage Site, to be preserved as an artistic legacy that will continue to inspire and enrich the lives of generations to come.
9 nautical miles across the sea from the Gateway of India lay Elephanta, also known as 'Gharapuri'. Visit this green island for the wonders of the 7 th century, the painstakingly hewn rock-cut cave temple, dedicated to Shiva. The Maheshamurti panel in which Shiva is shown as a creator, protector and destroyer, is a sight that should be enjoyed at least once in a lifetime. Regular excursions to Elephanta start every day from the Gateway of India. The Elephanta Caves can be reached by Ferry from the Gateway of India, Mumbai.
Not as well known as Ajanta yet also interest are the rock-cut caves of Pitalkhora in the Satamala range of the Sahyadri hills. There are thirteen caves, set high up on the hill, overlooking picturesque ravines. Many of the caves contain carvings and paintings that date from the 1st century B.C. to the 5the century AD. They were discovered after Ajanta and are first mentioned in a publication of 1853 where Caves 3 and 4 are described. Many of the carvings as well as the paintings have been damaged by the weather and vandals. The caves appear to be of the early Hinayana period of Buddhism and are contemporary to the other rock-cut Buddhist temples in western India. They were probably excavated and carved during the Satavahana Kshaharata regimes. There appears to be a subsequent period of desertion and re-occupation much later in the 5th century AD. during the Vakataka rule. In the Hinayana Buddhist period no images of Buddha or Bodhisattvas (celestial beings personifying the virtues of Buddha and attending to the needs of the people) appear in places of worship and none can be seen in the caves of Pitalkhora except for the paintings in Cave 3, which belong to the later phase of occupation.