The Cave Temples of Northern Maharashtra – Ajanta and Ellora, Maharashtra, India
An Architectural Achievement of Mysterious Power
Bombay (Mumbai) may be the pulsating commercial heart of Maharashtra, but its soul lies in the interior around Aurangabad and its astonishing hand-hewn cave temples, which offer riches comparable to those of the Taj Mahal.
Dozens of chaityas (temples) and viharas (monasteries) were carved from solid rock faces; some were decorated with lavishly painted frescoes and statues, others with breathtaking architectural intricacy and detail.
The thirty Buddhist temples of Ajanta date from around 200 B.C. to A.D. 650 but were virtually forgotten until the 19th century, which probably accounts for their excellent state of preservation.
Whereas the Ajanta caves are known for their paintings, the thirty-four rock-cut temples of nearby Ellora are sculptural masterpieces. Their creation was a feat equivalent to carving an entire cathedral – interior and exterior, roof to roof – out of solid rock. It is believed that the Buddhist creators of Ajanta moved here after their work was finished there: of Ellora’s thirty-four caves, the twelve earliest, begun in A.D. 600, are Buddhist. They are followed by seventeen Hindu and five Jain temples.
The pièce de résistance is the Kailash Temple, whose dimensions and complexity astound: At almost 10,000 square feet, it covers twice the area of the Parthenon in Athens and is half again as tall. It has been estimated that approximately 200,000 tons of rock were removed to create this single cave temple.