Huge white windmills flailing their arms wildly were the first sight that greeted us as we approached Ellora. We had started off quite early from Pune and were getting surprisingly enthusiastic as we approached our destination. The long road stretched out straight and smooth ahead of us glistening and clean after the morning showers. The long drive had failed to dampen our spirits as we geared up for the day ahead.
Ellora caves to me is a clear evidence of what man can achieve without artificial intelligence. Built in an age long preceding the AI era, it symbolises the power that human beings are endowed with by their innate intelligence. It glorifies and justifies his birth as the supreme living being. When we stepped into the precincts of the caves this conviction was further reinforced.
When you visit Ellora, you become a historian, an archeologist, an engineer, an art enthusiast and an architect all at once. There are so many aspects of this place that you wish to arm yourself with the nuances of all these disciplines in order to appreciate the place better. I tried doing the same. However, overwhelmed with all the details I collated I decided to let my heart do the talking.
Built at a distance of 255 km from Pune (300 km from Mumbai), Ellora is a cluster of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu monuments expertly carved out of the Charanandri Hills. Out of the 100 caves, only 34 are opened to the public. The expertise and finesse that each cave displays makes it difficult to believe that such a huge body of work could have been carved by human hands. Every single curve in the motifs elaborating the ceilings and walls defined perfection. The ravages of time have, no doubt, left it bereft of several sculptures but that has in no way undermined its sheen or lustre. Its glory lies in being able to create a perfect poetry in stone. The stanzas of which may have been dulled by time but its rhythm and chant continues to harp the same emotions in every new heart that steps into their midst.
I peeked into the darkened crevices and was enthralled by the intricate motifs . Some of the corners were so dark I could not even see my own hand. To imagine people had crouched in those darkened corners and etched out that magic is unbelievable. The artists back then had very basic tools (a hammer and a chisel ) to fall back on. I believe what they did have in abundance was the power of imagination, visualisation, and creativity to weave out this pretty tapestry.
Cave 16 is believed to be the main one as it housed the Kailasa temple dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Its speciality lies in the fact that the entire gamut of the cave precincts was a monolithic structure. As we stepped into Cave 16 we gaped at the humongous assortment of shrines, garbha-grihya (sanctum sanctorum), the assembly hall and of course the spire that is shaped like the Mount Kailasa and realised that it was indeed difficult to fathom how all that could be carved out of a single rock. Was it Science, Art or just pure magic? Probably the last mentioned!
We had booked rooms in Hotel Kailas which was conveniently located opposite the cave premises. We had specifically asked for cave facing cottages which was just the right decision. Every room is fitted with a spacious little terrace (which they call the balcony) and ours just looked out towards the caves. Every time I sat in the terrace trying to focus on a book I had carried with me, I felt an eerie feeling of being beckoned. I would look up to stare into the deep dark caverns staring at me with their hooded eyes. I felt I just had to step into their crevices to explore them again and again. It beseeches you to cross over their threshold, run your hand over the stony ledges, fill your lungs with their dank musty smell or just sit down exhausted on their ravaged steps to absorb their timelessness. It coerces you to run around its trails and trace out every path leading you to traverse new paths.
The cave interiors are filled with a sublime solitude allowing you to while your time in exploring the intricate stonework in patient delight. The Buddhist caves hosts huge sculptures of The Buddha within a Garba Griha, a size which is rarely seen elsewhere. Standing before the awe-inspiring structures will lead you to involuntarily raise your hands in supplication and make you bow your head in gratitude to the great artisans who have left behind this invaluable treasure for posterity to cherish.
Our trip ended on a wistful note as we convinced ourselves to leave only when we promised ourselves to come back for a re-run of this experience. I know we will keep our promise because we cannot refrain from the allure of Ellora for too long.