Travel Stories

ellora and ajanta

The caves at Ellora and Ajanta, some predating the birth of Christ, are stunning human accomplishments: the craft, scale, vision, and attention to detail, how incredibly beautiful the art, sculptures, paintings, and architecture.  Each cave, column, and statue hand chiseled out of  the mountainsides, in some caves to a depth of fifty meters, and sometimes to an equivalent height, the remainder of the mountain above the cave ceiling, sometimes a vaulted ceiling with rows of parallel stone arch supports and curved rafters or roof beams that have no function other than artistic, all being supported by very functional rows of stone columns which have been left attached to the floor and the ceiling of the temple, monastery, study hall, or shrine, as they were chipped away around, each column stunning in its perfect shape, and in the detail etched into it, every column (and statue) being what has been left of the mountain rock, mostly basalt, with nothing added except some plaster on the ceilings and walls in order to provide a smooth painting surface. The imagination, skill, and effort required to create these structures is absolutely inspirational, and quite literally breathtaking for me.  I spend hours and hours at Ajanta, smashing my world record of times per hour saying, “OMG this is absolutely amazing, I can’t fucking believe it, OMG this is incredible,” topping even the pyramids of Ginza, and the temple complex at Angkor Wat, at least for me, although not more amazing than the everyday miracle of birth, or of skin repairing itself, a separate class of creative art and phenomena.  There are about thirty caves at each site, some unfinished.  It is interesting how the unfinished works add to the appreciation of the completed work.  The setting in Ajanta is at a huge curve in a river giving a wonderful horseshoe shape to the complex. And while we live in a world where anyone with access to the Internet can Google this and learn more about it than I can say or show you, I learn here that Lord Krishna was born in jail and Shiva played dice with his wife, and begged her to play again when he lost. I also see a long tailed chipmunk sitting here looking up at a very tall column which is intended to be gazed upon as a reminder of our insignificance. I killed a chipmunk once, for sport, when I was about twelve, with a rifle.  That chipmunk has guided my actions ever since and visited me here.  And perhaps, like Bhahubuli, who stood for twelve years in one position awaiting enlightenment without success I also need a reminder of the ways my elephantine ego also stands in my way.  I love the fact that the rock chiseled away from these mountains to create the temples was then used by the local villagers to build their homes, remains of which can still be seen today.  And at the very moment I deposit some shards of my departed nephew into the hands of Mahavurah, in the only Jain cave of all the caves (number 32 at Ellora), near the wheel of law, my guide starts to sing for no reason apparent to me, a child in the adjoining temple starts to laugh, and I go to sit under the statue of the wish-granting tree to ask for my sister’s peace of mind.