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Notes on the Geography of Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist)

The first caves at Ellora, excavated from 550 to 600, were Hindu, but a series of Buddhist caves were created under Chalukyas from about 600 to 750. They constitute what one scholar calls "a visual record of the early development of tantric Buddhist art." See Geri H. Malandra, Unfolding a Mandala: The Buddhist Cave Temples at Ellora,, 1993.

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Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 1

A Muslim chronicler in the 1680s wrote something that might almost have been written yesterday: "In all seasons, and particularly in the monsoons, when this hill and the plain below resemble a garden in the luxuriance of its vegetation and the abundance of water, people come to see the place. A waterfall a hundred yards in width tumbles down from the hill. It is a marvelous place for strolling, charming to the eye." (Muhammad Saqi Musta'idd Khan, Maasir-i-Alamgiri: A History of the Emperor Aurangzib-'Alamgir, quoted by Malandra, p. 1)

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 2

The chronicler continues: "...in ages past, sappers possessed of magical skill excavated in the defiles of the mountain spacious houses for a length of one kos [mile]...."

The waterfall is more than an amenity: it probably has a lot to do with the creation of temples here. In other words, the caves at Ellora were created partly because the rock presented a face suitable for excavation but also the waterfalls, though seasonal, made the the place a tirtha, a sacred ford or crossing from the mundane to the spiritual world.

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 3

The view of the same waterfall from the mouth of the cave behind it.

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 4

The view inside ends in a small room with an image of the Buddha. The room here (Cave 5) is 117 feet deep by 58 wide.

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 5

Cave 12, paid for by an unknown Buddhist patron.

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 6

A closer view.

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 7

Inside, a figure of the Buddha. At this, the Muslim chronicler draws the line: "In ancient times when the sinful infidels had dominion over this country, certainly they and not demons (jinn) were the builders of these caves, although tradition differs on the point; it was a place of ownership of the tribe of false believers. At present it is a desolation in spite of its strong foundations; it rouses the sense of warning (of doom) to those who contemplate the future (end of things)."

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 8

Here, from a different level of the same cave, an image of the Buddha in the famous bhumisparsha mudra, touching the earth to symbolize his moment of enlightenment.

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 9

A circle of Manushi Buddhas rim the room. Maitreya, the future buddha, will descend to earth in this form.

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 10

Cave 10, or Visvakarman, named for the Hindu god of architecture.

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 11

The upper level has flying figures around a window that shines into the room behind.

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 12

This is that room, with a roof carved to imitate wood rafters. The room is informally called the Sutara Jhopadi or carpenter's shop. The cave can be compared with four similar prayer halls shown in the Ajanta folder.

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 13

The central figure is the Buddha called Vairocana, attended by the Buddhas Avalokitesvara and Maitreya.

Peninsular India: Ellora (Buddhist) picture 14

Maitreya is also represented in a niche on the upper level balcony.

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