Sunday, December 11, 2005


Aurangabad used to be the seat of power during the last Mughal emperor's (Aurangzeb, hence the name of the city) reign, though you wouldn't be able to tell by walking around today. Apart from some remains of the old city wall, and some of its gates, there is little to distinguish Aurangabad from any other dusty, commercial Indian city (well, that's not entirely true, there is a rather tatty mausoleum that tries to imitate the Taj Mahal, which must have been pretty in its day). The two reasons for coming here lie in the hills close by. They are Ajanta and Ellora.

The two are cave temple complexes carved out of the basalt rock of the hillsides some 2200 to 1200 years ago. Most of the temples are Buddhist, though at Ellora there are Hindu and even Jain temples, and carved horizontally into the hillside. Some of them still contain their carvings and statues, and others yet have managed to retain some of the exquisite frescoes, which must have adorned the entirety of all the caves, portraying the lives of Buddha. But the crowning glory is to be found amongst the Hindu temples at Ellora. This one temple is called the Kailasa temple because it is supposed to represent Mount Kailash, Shiva's abode on earth. The temple was constructed by digging out the rock from the top down (so in actual fact it's not really a cave), so that this whole, monumental building (twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens) is actually made out of one single piece of rock! Something that, as far as I know, has never been done anywhere before or since. The scale of it just takes your breath away, and yet at closer inspection, despite the awesome grandeur, there is also fine attention to detail with smaller sculptures dotted all over the place. It just boggles the mind that something so audacious was even attempted all that time ago, let alone accomplished with such aplomb.

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