Chiseled during the span between the 2nd century BC and the 8th century AD, the Ajanta and Ellora caves are two of the most alluring tourist destinations in India. Your tour to India is, in fact, incomplete without a trip to this wonderful tourist site near the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
Discovered by John Smith, a British Army Officer with his group on their expedition in 1819, the caves of Ajanta and Ellora lay amidst the Sahyadri hills, carved into the mountain side, over the Waghora River. They illustrate the story of Buddhism, spanning over a period from 200 BC to 650 AD. There are 29 caves which were built as isolated retreats of the Buddhist monks, who preached and performed religious rites in the Chaityas and Viharas, the ancient centers of learning of the Buddhist cultural movement. The saints carved out the stunning figures to decorate the walls of these structures with the help of hammer and chisel. A lot of the caves exhibit panels demonstrating stories from the Jatakas - tales of the several incarnations of the Buddha. One can notice images of nymphs and princesses amongst others.
At 30 kms from Aurangabad are located the Ellora caves, 34 in number. They are carved into the sides of a basaltic hill. The facades and finely designed interiors are some of the finest examples of cave - temple architecture. Carved during 350 AD to 700 AD, these structures depict the three faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The 17 in the centre are dedicated to Hinduism, 12 caves to the south are Buddhist and the 5 caves to the north are Jain.
The Kailasa temple in Cave 16 stands as one of the greatest architectural wonders with the entire composition chiseled out of a monolith. This mountain, believed to be the holy abode of Lord Shiva, is probably the world's largest monolith. The pavilion, gateway, assembly hall, sanctum and tower, are all cut out of a single block. Unlike most of the other temple constructions that start from the base, the sculpture here starts from the very top and the sides. Though massive in size, it exhibits the most delicate and intricate works of art. The Dumar Lena cave is built in resemblance of the famous cave - temple at Elephanta, and is devoted to Lord Shiva.
The Jain caves are located almost a mile away from the Kailasa temple, among which Cave 32 has a beautiful shrine decorated with exquisite carved forms of a lotus flower on the roof, and a yakshi on a lion under a mango tree. Caves 32 and 34 house the majestic statues of Parasnath. The other Jain caves have the illustrations of Tirthankaras, and one of them, even has a seated figure of Mahavira.
The Ajanta and Ellora caves gracefully convey the aspects of nobility, grace and serenity reminiscent of Buddha himself and his teachings.