Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ellora & Ajanta Caves!

So! Now you know the name of our big weekend excursion! We took off on Friday after practice for a big trip to the Ellora & Ajanta Caves - sites recognized as World Heritage sites for their beauty and importance. These two spots are each filled with carved out caves used as monasteries and places for spiritual contemplation. The Ajanta caves are all Buddhist, and were started about 200 BC and abandoned about 600 AD. They possess both carvings and paintings. The Ellora caves have caves carved out from about 600 AD - 1000 AD, by Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains. I took TONS of great photos, but had to pick a few to share here:

Our trip was really wonderful. The caves were totally amazing in every way - beautiful landscape, beautiful artwork, and a breathtaking amount of determination and perserverance behind the very idea of it all. This picture is from the Ellora Caves, where we actually went on our second day. You can't really see from this picture how GIGANTIC this thing is. Those people you can see are seriously in the foreground... that structure is hu-mung-go. In fact, it is the largest structure carved from one piece of stone in the entire world. Called the Kailasa Temple (after Mount Kailash), the whole thing was carved straight out of the mountain side. The artisans started at the top, and in the front, with a giant masterplan, and over 150+ years, they carved this thing out. It's totally gorgeous, beautiful, and awe-inspiring.

Here's a picture from deep inside the Kailasa temple, of some lovely, life-sized elephants who line the bottom of one of the structures. It was amazing because the deeper into the temple that we got, the higher and more imposing the adjacent cliff side became. You develop a very deep appreciation for the work and effort that went into this magical spot. The cliffs were also alive with activity - bee hives and wild parrots...

At the Ellora Caves we were SO fortunate to find the most amazing guide. Vivek found us at the entrance & asked if we wanted a guide. We happily signed up and he was really wonderful. He spoke fantastic English, and had a very evident passion and interest in the caves. He was happy to answer any questions, even those that were a bit off-topic, and had a tremendous amount of knowledge. Because he knew that we were interested in yoga, he was certain to point out stories or dieties that might be of special interest to us. In one Buddhist cave temple, he even chanted for us so that we could hear the (amazing) acoustics of the room, and imagine what it must have sounded like when it was full of devotees. It was interesting actually, when he did that, because there was a sizeable group of rowdy young men in the temple at the time - taking pictures of each other. He told them in Hindi what he was going to do, and they instantly became silent and respectful. When he was done chanting, they gradually got back to their business of laughing and taking snapshots. It struck me as particularly cultural that these young men had such respect for tradition and spirituality. India is a wonderful land of unexpected contradictions and surprises in that way. One last thing about our guide that I loved... When I had fallen back to take a few photos, I was scampering to catch up, when I found him using his few spare moments to get out his OWN camera and taking pictures of some carved detailing in one of the caves. To me, that showed how much he loved this place... even if it was his job, he still loved it enough to be taking pictures. How lucky we were to find him and have him explain the carvings to us!

This is an overview picture of the Ajanta Caves. At Ajanta, there are both carvings and paintings. The caves at Ajanta are located in an exquisite valley, shaped like a horseshoe. Even without the caves, this is clearly a very special place. Amazingly, these caves were abandoned around 600AD, and not rediscovered until 1819 when a British man was tiger hunting here. From his lookout point, he saw a tiger disappear, and ended up seeing the arch of the largest cave temple carved out here. For this reason, the paintings have been relatively well preserved in places - with no exposure to light or human traffic. Flash photos are not allowed, and shoes must be removed before every cave... in the hopes of continuing to preserve the artworks.

This is inside one of the +/- 30 "caves" - which are actually rooms carved out of the steep mountain face rather than natural caves. Some are dormitory style halls, some are gathering halls, some are temples, some were left unfinished. In this photo, you can see the carvings and also some remnants of the paintings.

Here's a little shot of me, beaming away with happiness. I was pretty stoked on this whole weekend. It was all so beautiful... and it's always amazing to me to contemplate the artistic impulse. This was a serious undertaking - clearly done by very skilled, determined, and devoted people. And, as always with massive artistic endeavors, there is the fascinating combination of skill, money, politics, and religion at play.

Of course I must mention that there were MONKEYS at the caves! I LOVE monkeys! I went down to the river to do some monkey watching... they are really fantastic. So thoughtful and mischevious. These guys were really quite big (maybe 50-60 pounds?)... so they're a bit scary too. I enjoyed watching some monkey drama unfold, and taking some pictures. There were big macho males, rambunctious adolescents, and mother monkeys holding on to their babies. Very exciting.

And here's one more shot to share, a detail of some of the tempera paintings. Here too we hired a guide and he did a good job of explaining the myths and tales that were being depicted. The paintings were quite lovely, including very humanistic and naturalistic representations - not nearly so stylized as I would have expected. With countless little details like jewelry, toes, expressions, animals... very lovely. It was really a wonderful, wonderful trip.

1 comment:

hema said...

Hi Amey
The pic of the elephants at Kailash temple is amazing. Do you think I could use it for a calander I am trying to print? I cant pay you for it but I can give you credit. The calander will not be sold commercially. It will be for personal distribution. I can send you a copy once at hemas_colorcom