A memorable trip to Ajanta & Ellora Caves

Before our visit to Aurangabad (the capital of Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb during his long sojourn in Deccan), Maharashtra during the first week of August 2011, the very name of Ajanta & Ellora caves would conjure an image of grand statues of Lord Buddha and his disciples, cut into gigantic hills. A google search before the visit informed me that Ajanta Caves are among 15 sites in India which are included in the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites (Ellora being another).

 

The Ajanta Caves

From Aurangabad where we based ourselves, Ajanta is a two-hour comfortable journey by road. Spread around a horse-shoe shaped mountain range, there are 29 caves in all, carved from 2nd century BC onwards upto 7th century AD . While few of them are chaitya-grihas (meditation halls), the rest are monasteries (resting places for the monks).

These caves remained hidden from human eyes for some 1100 years and were accidentally discovered in AD 1819 during an expedition by British soldiers in nearby mountains. On 28 April 1819, a British officer for the Madras Presidency, John Smith, while hunting tiger, accidentally discovered the entrance to one of the cave temples (Cave No. 9) deep within the tangled undergrowth. Shortly after this discovery, the Ajanta Caves became renowned for their exotic setting, impressive architecture, historic artwork, and long-forgotten history. All paintings show heavy religious influence and centre around Buddha , Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings), incidents from the life of Buddha and the Jatakas (Buddhist literature).

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The Ellora Caves

The Ellora caves are located at a distance of 30 km from Aurangabad. There are 34 caves here and unlike Ajanta where only Buddhist caves are carved, at Ellora, three major religions i.e. Buddhism , Jainism and Hinduism are represented- starting with the Buddhist caves, you move on to the Hindu caves and finally to Jain caves. These caves were carved from 6th century AD to 12th century AD . Ellora is justly world-famous for the largest single monolithic excavation in the world, the great Kailasa (Cave 16).

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The Best Time

The visit to these caves is enjoyed maximum during monsoon , when every stream is filled with rainwater and the entire surroundings are lush green. We were indeed lucky to be there during height of monsoon this year and the monsoons surely made the environment very pleasant throughout our stay.

 

Shirdi

PS. While at Aurangabad, also take-out time to visit Shirdi which is some 100 km away. It is a two-hour drive from Aurangabad. If you are pressed for time, avoid the festival days and the weekends when crowds are much larger. We were lucky to be there on a Friday and it took just about 30 minutes of waiting before we were ushered into the sanctum sanctorum.

 

About the Author

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[author_image timthumb=’on’]wp-content/uploads/authors/rajinder-goel.jpg[/author_image] Rajinder Goel is based in Delhi Graduate from Pant Nagar University in Civil Engineering, presently working with Steel Authority of India as Deputy General Manager – Projects and he has a keen interest in travelling and study of old architectures.
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