Thursday, August 23, 2018

Mute reminders of an Emperor and an Empire

Having finished Ellora Caves, we set off through bylanes to reach the Dargah of Sheik Zainuddin to visit the tomb of the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb.

 For someone who was feared, forever plotting to overthrow other rulers and expand his already large empire, it is a surprise that he spent his free time in religious activity, stitching caps or writing the Holy Quran. It was also his wish that when he died the money for his final rites and his grave should be from these religious earnings.

When he died in 1707 in Ahmednagar, his body was brought by his son Azam Shah to Khuldabad where he was buried next to his spiritual master Sheik Zainuddin in an unmarked grave, open to the sky.  It was much later that Lord Curzon, the viceroy of Britain had a marble slab and trellis around it.  The visit was a solemn experience.

Aurangzeb's Tomb - Open to the sky
Much later Lord Curzon had the marble structure put up

The Dargah of the spiritual master of Aurangzeb - Sheik Zainuddin

The skies suddenly opened up and it poured along the way.  We reached for our rain jackets, the rain was not going to stop us exploring the fort.  We had had a glimpse of the structure atop the conical hill and a orangish Minaret on the way to the Ellora Caves. It had not seemed impressive from afar.  Nevertheless, it was a fort AND we love forts.  There is an air of intrigue about them.  The battles that were fought, the elephants that were used to batter down the gates, the hot oil that was poured down on the invaders.  It all seems gory and so medieval.  We were looking forward to the visit to the Daulatabad Fort.  We reached the fort and Lo! the rain stopped!

We bought our tickets and were apprehensive till we  turned the corner.  From thereon it was a different story. The fort walls that were hidden from outside were remarkable with a single entry and exit point, huge wooden spiked gate and canons, a watchtower and more gates as we walked in.

The Devagiri Fort as it was called was built by a Yadava king in 1187 on an important caravan route.  It was much later after it changed hands and when Mohammed Bin Tughlaq acquired the area that he changed the name to Daulatabad.  He made it the capital of his empire and had the whole population of Delhi move here.  When there was a drought that led to a lack of water, he shifted them back to Delhi.
The Entrance to the Fort- quite deceptive since the flag mast is in the other direction
Another fortification wall of Mahakot, gate, courtyard and cannons alongside in niches

Watchtower at Mahakot
The stepwell or Baoli near the entrance.  There is also a massive tank nearby (Haathi Haud)
Vast courtyard of the Bharat Mata Temple (once the Jami Masjid) - the conical hill with the baradari in the background

106 or more pillars in the Bharat Mata Temple- these were brought from nearby Jain and Hindu temples
Chand Minar - built by Bahmani Ruler Hasan Gangu as a replica of Qutb Minar 

Path and steps leading to the Kalakot (Death Gate)
Chini Mahal - Aurangzeb built it to keep his important prisoners.

A bastion with the Mendha Tope ( Ram Canon) with inscriptions
If one got past all that , there was the moat, beyond that through winding dark tunnels that made the disoriented enemy look for an exit and in that state of confusion jump out of a window to their death in the moat below. 

High walls and a moat below

Andheri - the dark winding tunnel that disoriented many an enemy

The window, now with bars, that enemy would mistake for an exit and head down into the moat
No guide seemed available that day and we did not want to risk going through the tunnel on our own.  A recent staircase has been built to take the tourist halfway.  We did get up there to get a good view of the city and parts of the fort wall that remained.

A more recent staircase that led to at least half of the winding staircase of the Andheri
For the invaders who made it through the tunnel the ascent to the baradari was steep and narrow.   A difficult fort to conquer indeed.  We didn't make it to the top, but I think we did a lot more than most of the other tourists there.  It had been a long day and perhaps a guide and less tired legs might have seen us conquer the fort.  We were however pleased with ourselves.  It was the end to our short but wonderful trip to Aurangabad.  A trip I would recommend to anyone without hesitation.  Visits to ancient caves, to a mighty tomb and a humble grave, to small museums with great artefacts, an old temple and a great fort.  Could one ask for more?

Aurangzeb Tomb - entry is free.
 A small tip to the person who shows you around is expected.

Daulatabad Fort - Rs 15/- for Indians. Open from sunrise to sunset.
Allow at least two hours.  Wear comfortable shoes. Carry water.

Every stone has a statue inside - Ellora Caves

Day 3 and our last day in the city of Aurangabad began at the18th century built Grishneshwar Temple. Just less than half a mile away were the Ellora Caves, 34 caves dedicated to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.  If you think the Ajanta Caves are amazing, this will be another experience one will never forget.  The caves were made between 5th-11th Century AD.  As Michelangelo rightly said - Every stone has a statue in it.  However, in this case it is not just one but a multitude of them.

View of Kailasa temple from top -  monolithic structure clearly noted- This picture source- Wiki

Cave 16 (Kailasa Temple ) from the front 
Cave 16
The first cave that you enter right across the entrance is Cave 16, the Kailasa Temple, named after the mountain abode of Lord Shiva.  The world's largest monolithic structure !  It also has the largest cantilevered rock ceiling !  Unlike the Ajanta caves, this was carved top-down from a single rock.  The fable ,the authenticity is doubtful, but as always makes an interesting read, is that Queen Elu, wife of Rashtrakuta king Krishna I, wanted a temple dedicated to Lord Siva and went on a fast, vowing that she would end it only when the temple finial was made.  The king was worried and called the architect (Kokasa) who first cut and worked on the finial on top of hill.  The queen on seeing the structure, believed the temple to have been completed and broke her fast.  The rest of the temple was carved there on, from the top to the bottom.

The cantilever supports a rock mass 30 metres tall on the Northern corridor with a gallery of statues

The Kailasa Temple is twice the size of the Parthenon.  Need I say more?  164 feet deep, 109 feet wide, and 98 feet high.  About 200,000 tones of rock was excavated !  

There are statues of Shiva, Parvati among others.  There are eight rows of friezes that portray the story of Ramayana and the Mahabharata. 

Frieze of Mahabharata on the Northern side

8 rows - the frieze of Ramayana
The plinth - with elephants as if to depict that it supports the weight of the structure
At the base of the temple are shrines dedicated to Ganesha, Rudra, Parvati, Chand and Saptamatri
The 17m high Obelisk  (Kirti Stambh) - there are two of them
Shiva as Gajasamharamurthi - Demon Gajamukhasura in guise of elephants was troubling the devas who prayed to Shiva to slay him. In this carving he has torn open the elephant and is dancing within the body. 
The complex consists of many monuments.  The main temple called Kailasa or Rangamahal.  A two storeyed gopura.  Five monolithic shrines in the circumambulatory path around the sanctum of the temple. Three galleries of sculptures on the eastern, northern and southern sides of the temple, two stand-alone monolithic elephants and two kirti stambhs ( victory pillars).  Elephants were the favoured animals of the Rashtrakuta kings, who helped them in their battles.

One of the two stand-alone monolithic elephants
It wasn't easy to tear oneself away from this cave.  It seemed like we had not spent enough time.  But we had to move on to the Buddhist caves.

Cave No 10

The Viswakarma Cave Temple, the only chaitya griha within the Ellora Caves, where the 15 - foot Buddha is seated on the lion throne, flanked by a standing Bodhisattva. The rocky ceiling of the cave has been created in wooden style architecture.  The apsidal hall has 30 pillars.  There is a beautiful echo effect within the hall and the monks reciting in unison would have sounded divine.  The upper floor probably seated important visitors and musicians.

The 15-foot seated Buddha

Cave 10 facade has beautiful sculptures of animals, flowers and couples. It has a window through which the light streams into the Cave
Cave 12 - A row of Buddhas on the upper floor.

Cave 21 has a Nataraja in the courtyard.  It is dedicated to Lord Siva. 

Ravana shakes Mount Kailash
Nataraja Shiva is accompanied by musicians below and Agni, Indra, Vishnu, Brahma and other celestial divinities above

Shiva and Parvati play Chausar in company of Ganesh.  Panel below Ganas playing with Nandi the Bull.

Cave 29 - Is known as the Dumar Lena.  It is dedicated to Siva. It has 26 fluted pillars and the sanctum contains the Siva Linga.  The doorkeepers or dvarapalas flanking the gate almost reach the ceiling.  The walls and verandah have beautiful sculptures.  To the east, during the monsoons, the water from the stream cascades down the sides.  
Entrance to Dumar Lena
Huge pillars and dwarapalak ( not clearly visible) that reach the ceiling.
Multi-armed Shiva slaying demon Andhakasura; a horrified Parvati seen seated on the right

Lakulisha, a Shaivite saint associated with the Pashupata sect of Shaivism, seated on a lotus seat upheld by Naga deities
A multi-armed Ravana shaking mount Kailash, Shiva-Parvati’s abode. Gana figures seen below, celestial figures seen above

Cave 32 - Is a double storied temple dedicated to the Digambar sect of Jainism. It is also known as the Indra Sabha. The courtyard has a monolithic pillar and elephant. The sanctum has the figure of Mahavira on a lion throne. The intricately carved pillars here are its most notable feature.  

Cave 32 to the right
Intricately carved pillars

The inner sanctum houses the Mahaveera

Statues at either end of the corridor at the entrance

We could or probably should have done more of the caves.  However, since the shuttle bus that took visitors to the Jain caves was not plying that day we had walked a lot and our legs were weary.  This would have required a whole day of patient viewing for the average tourist. For the more serious ones, there can be no end.

For those who have love Hindu mythology, this place is a must visit.  For those who do not, it is still a great place to visit, if not anything to simply stand, stare and wonder about the brilliance of those who created it all. 

Ellora Caves - Closed on Tuesdays
Fees - for Indians - Rs 40/-
Timings - 6 am to 5.30 pm
Wear comfortable footwear.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Hills are Alive - Ajanta Caves - Aurangabad Part II

 Cave 1 - Bodhisattva as the lotus-bearer Padmapani,the embodiment of Buddhist compassion
Thousands of years ago, hills on the Sahyadari range must have come alive with the rhythmic click of the hammer and chisel against the rock that continued for a few hundreds of years.  Then it abruptly ended and quiet prevailed for another thousand years.  Covered with dense vegetation and abound with wildlife the work lay hidden  till 1819, when a captain in the British Army led a hunting party and chased a tiger that disappeared into the thick outgrowth.  The trail led him to a gorge and a glint of sunshine revealed what appeared to be a sculpted arch.  The discovery of the Ajanta Caves was recorded with its first graffiti by Captain John Smith who etched his name and the date - April 20, 1819.

A total view of the horseshoe arrangement of Ajanta Caves from the View Point
Caves carved by nature are a beauty, no doubt, however these man-made caves are jaw dropping.  Especially when you realise the work began in 2nd Century BC.  A hundred questions race through one's mind.  Who was the master planner ? How did they get the dimensions right? Rock cut with primitive tools and superhuman strength and intellect!

 The Ajanta Caves are a little more than a 2 hour drive from the city of Aurangabad on not the best roads. Tourists have to park 4 km away from the caves and take the bus shuttle.  As you make way towards the bus station it is necessary to be wary of the hawkers carrying pieces of crystal rock and little statues. With very few tourists we were easy targets.  We managed to make a hasty retreat without being lured into the shops. A short bus ride and then a steep climb of steps and we were at the caves.  We got a good guide in elderly Mr Patil, or Uncle as he said he was popularly referred to.

First glimpse of the Caves as you enter
The caves once abandoned in the 8th Century AD have withstood a 1000 years and more of ravages of nature and wildlife.  Most paintings have been damaged either in total or part.  What remains gives us a glimpse of the mastery of the art of the past.  There are 29 caves with Chaitya grihas (prayer halls) and Viharas (monasteries/dormitories) done under the patronage of various rulers of the time.

The murals in Ajanta bring alive the Jataka stories of the life of Buddha. One can see the depth in the paintings and the skill of the painters. In dim light that might have streamed in for a few hours or with light from oil lamps, tales of the renunciation, the battles, the court life, visitors from afar were all captured in perspective in the paintings on the pillars, walls and ceilings. Ceiling art in certain caves is mostly restricted to geometric shapes and flowers and animals while others were elaborate. The rock sculptures are very detailed. 

The rock cut surface was prepared with a layer of clay, mixed with rice husk and cow dung.  When it dried another layer of lime plaster was applied and once dry the images were drawn   Natural colours of red, yellow ochre, lime, lamp black and lapis lazuli ( from Afghanistan) were used. As you take in the paintings one travels back in time, and yet again your attention is brought to a headgear, a garment, intricate jewellery, hairstyles that seems so contemporary.  In one painting the pearls of the necklace glow luminously. The trade route was through the Deccan and there were visitors to the court from Africa, Greece and perhaps from the middle east, or so we gather as the characters recorded in the paintings are clearly not from the region.

While the expressive paintings and sculptures are the highlight of the caves, the structure of the cave itself is breathtaking.  The rock here was worked upon from the exterior to the interior.  The outer verandah, porch,  the pillars and as work progressed the inner sanctum of the cave was exposed and worked upon.  Mr Patil told us it would have been collective work starting from the rough cut to the smooth finish, at this stage an architect would have had to give shape to the structure and the designer would step in to plan the layout and thus giving direction to the painter.

At the time the caves were made there was a transition in Buddhism from the school of the Hinayana, where it was mainly the stupas without any idols to Mahayana where the use of idols were also followed.

The finished caves are still breathtaking even in their present state, however, it is essential that you do not skip the abandoned unfinished caves especially Cave 24 that  actually gives you a feel of how the rock was worked upon to create the caves.  Here the outer structure is ready and the excavation for the ridges and pillars, hall and other structures have been left halfway.  It is here that the image of the planning and execution comes alive and slowly an understanding of the pattern and flow of work that would have taken place eons ago.

Cave 1 is the first cave that the visitors encounter.
Cave 1 - Jataka tales - where the king announces he abdicates to become an ascetic
Cave 1-To dissuade the king from renouncing the world, a dance performance takes place in the palace courtyard

The king undergoes ritual bath for renouncers

Bodhisattva - The Vajrapani

                                         A foreigner ( Persian)  - ceiling of Cave 1

                                          More Persians - Note the blue socks 
Cave 2 has a feminine focus. Has intricate rock carvings and paintings.
Cave 2 - Colonnades with reliefs in verandah

Cave 2 - Buddha in Tushita Heaven

Cave 2 - Many Buddhas - Miracle of Srivasti

Cave 2 - Ceiling Painting

Cave 4 is the largest of the Ajanta Caves


Buddha in a Preaching Pose

Cave 7 - Buddhas on the antechamber wall on the right

Entrance to Cave 9

Cave 9, a first period Hinayana style chaitya worship hall with stupa only no idols.

Cave 9 -Frescoe with Buddhas in orange robes and protected by chatra - umbrellas
Cave 9 and 10 are the oldest among the Ajanta Caves

Cave 10 - Source Wiki

Interior of Cave 10
Pillars in Cave 10

Cave 12- with cells for the Buddhist monks

Cave 16 - entrance to the Mahayana Monastery - with two huge elephants flanking the entrance

Cave 17- Samsara Chakra 

Cave 17 verandah doorway, eight Buddhas ( future Buddhas?) under which are paintings of eight couples
Cave 24 - The unfinished cave 

Cave 26 has sculptures that are most elaborate.  The cave has aisles for circumambulation 
Cave 26 - left aisle wall - Mahaparinirvana of Buddha, or Dying Buddha
Temptation of the Buddha; the daughters of Mara carved below are trying to seduce him
Cave 26 - Stupa with seated Buddha.  Source here

As you walk out of the caves the sense of awe remains with you.  The hawkers once again accost, dragging you out of the tranquility that had set in. In the quiet of the night after my return the images continue to haunt me.  How on earth did they carve that mountain?  There could not be anything that could astound or amaze me I thought.  That is till I went to the Ellora Caves the next day. It was comparable.....

References - Sahapedia, WikiWilliam Darlymple 
Pictures here are all mine except for two given with source. Light was poor inside the caves and pictures were captured with a cell phone.

Ajanta Caves are closed on Mondays.  
Open 9am-5pm.  
Fee - Amenities fee Rs 10/- Shuttle Bus Rs 20-30/- and the Entry fee - Rs 30/-  
(Non Indians will have to pay more)
Government approved guide cost Rs 1600/- ( you have to take their word for it)  
Mr Patil, our guide, was very good.  He can be contacted on 9923264688

Wear comfortable sandals rather than shoes as footwear has to be removed at most caves.Carry water.  No food available inside. 

Photography without use of flash is allowed. 

Be wary of hawkers. Buy at government authorised stalls. There is a publication store at the entrance of the caves on top.

Do not miss going to the View Point.  It is a detour, but worth it.  You may walk from there to the Caves, but I did not. 

Related Posts with Thumbnails