In an ancient wonderland

Arumita Sengupta
History, Travel
In an ancient wonderland

Arumita Sengupta takes a journey back in time to the ancient world of multi-cultural , multi-faith World Heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora & comes back awestruck by the grandeur of the architectural and engnieering marvels. 


The view from its top

Our long awaited visit to Ajanta and Ellora finally shaped up during an inter-continental Sunday WhatsApp ‘adda’ with our friends. As a result, on a late February afternoon, we all met at Mumbai airport to board the Aurangabad flight on our way to Ellora.

Padmapani Bodhisatva, Ajanta

Ellora is a UNESCO world heritage site of rock cut monuments with Buddhist, Hindu and Jain influence, dating from 600- 1000 AD. The most famous of the monuments is the Kailash Temple which is an engineering and architectural marvel. This is also the celebrated backdrop of the famous novel ‘Kailash-e Kalenkari’ by Satyajit Ray.

Kailash temple at Ellora

We stayed in Hotel Kailash, just a short walk away from the Ellora caves. A comfortable nice place with friendly staff and rather nice cuisine. If you are a Bengali, they will proudly tell you that ‘Kailashe Kelankari’ movie was shot in this hotel and some of them had featured in that film too.

I was awestruck by the Kailash temple’s (cave 16) architecture: carved out of a single rock with an almost superhuman accuracy. The sculptors started carving from the top of a single rock and worked their way down as they removed the scrapped out pieces. The enormity of the task was brought home to us when the guide informed that three million tonnes of stones needed to be excavated to build the monolith. The resulting marvel is a freestanding, multi-level temple complex covering an area twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens.

A Buddhist chaitya at Ajanta

A short bus ride took us to the Jain monuments ( caves 30 – 34 ) at the north end of the complex. Cave 30, often referred as ‘Chotta Kailash’, is not to be missed. Next up were the Buddhist monasteries, especially caves 11 and 12, cut out from the rock face with a giant Buddha sitting at the back wall of each.

The following day, a three-hours drive took us to the world famous Ajanta caves. Another UNESCO heritage site, the collection of cave temples is arranged along the curvature of a horseshoe shaped cliff. Ajanta was constructed between 2nd century BC and 480 AD. The caves were accidentally discovered in 1819 by a colonial British officer, Captain John Smith while on a tiger hunt.

Kailash temple, Ellora

The area consists of 30 marked caves adorned with exquisite paintings and rock-cut sculptures. The magnificent paintings in caves 1, 2, 9, 10, 16 and 17 predominantly narrate the Jataka tales, Buddhist legends describing the births of the Buddha. The painting techniques bear resemblance to European fresco techniques. The main colours used were red ochre, yellow ochre, brown ochre, lamp black, white and lapis lazuli. The lapis lazuli, imported from northern India, central Asia and Persia, was mixed with Indian yellow ochre to make the green shade.

The sculptures in some of the caves contain superbly crafted images of the Buddha. Remarkable among these is the one depicting the Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana – his ultimate release from the cycle of rebirth, in Cave 26, evoking a sense of awe and reverence. Although a lot of paintings have been destroyed due to human intervention and ageing — a lot more should have been done to preserve this irreplaceable and incredible world heritage treasure — those that remain are enough to blow one’s mind.



Photos by: Arumita Sengupta

Arumita Sengupta. Works as a software professional passionate about travelling and photography.

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