Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day 91, Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, Indian UNESCO site

Sanjay and Bash have invited us to return to Madhya Pradesh to see the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters ((

Yippee!! Another UNESCO world heritage site!

The name Bhimbetka is associated with the historical figure, Bhima, (a hero-deity renowned for his immense strength) from the Hindu epic Mahabharat.

As we drive there, we notice that the entire area is covered by thick vegetation, and has abundant natural resources in its perennial water supplies, natural shelters, rich forest flora and fauna.

Sanjay told us that he had been to an exhibit at the museum in Bhopal , and that he learnt that the Bhimbetka shelters exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India!

At least some of these shelters were inhabited by man for in excess of 100,000 years!! WOW!

The rock shelters are easy to find; 15 are accessible, signposted with a number (S1 to S15) and linked by a concrete path.

We have seen hunting scenes with hunters carrying bows, arrows, swords and shields....obviously hunter gatherers....

Thanks to their natural red and white pigments, the colours are remarkably well- preserved and, in certain caves, paintings of different eras adorn the same rock surface.

It is truly a marvel that the paintings have not faded even after thousands of years.

It is believed that these paints were made of colored earth, vegetable dyes, roots and animal fat and brushes were made of pieces of fibrous plants.

Oh, there is the The "Zoo Rock" shelter
It depicts elephants, sambar, bison and deer.

A gamut of figures and scenes spill across the rocks: wild buffaloes (gaurs), rhinoceroses, bears and tigers, hunting scenes, initiation ceremonies, childbirth, communal dancing and drinking sessions, religious rites and burials.

The latest are crude, geometric figures probably dating from the medieval period, when much of the artistry was lost.

You know what guys....these may very well be the world's oldest stone walls and floors!!

The caves have evolved over time into excellent rock-shelters, ideal sites for aboriginal settlements.

The smooth shape of the rocks has led some scientists to believe that the area was once under water.

The rocks have taken on incredible shapes in several stunning hues and textures.

Apart from the central place the aboriginal drawings have in human history, the caves themselves offer interesting material for a study of the earth's history.

Hmm, these sure do resemble the cave paintings of the Bushmen back home in South Africa!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Day 90, The Sri Harimandir Sahib, Amritsar, India

Sat Sri Kal from Punjab

Today we are going to a place of both stupendous beauty and sublime peacefulness. Originally a small lake in the midst of a quiet forest, this site has been a meditation retreat for wandering mendicants and sages since deep antiquity.

The Buddha is known to have spent time at this place in contemplation.

Two thousand years after Buddha's time, another philosopher-saint came to live an
d meditate by the peaceful lake.

This was Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of the Sikh religion. After the p
assing away of Guru Nanak, his disciples continued to frequent the site; over the centuries it became the primary sacred shrine of the Sikhs.

Yes, we are visiting the Sri Harimandir Sahib of Amritsar in India today.

Sita told us not to drink alcohol, eat meat or smoke in the shrine( that is now on the tentative list of UNESCO world heritage sites.

We left our socks and shoes at the facility near the entrance, covered our heads with the bandanas that are provided, and then washed our feet by wading through the shallow pool before
Wow, this place is simply magical......

Beginning early in the morning and lasting until long past sunset, hymns are chanted to the exquisite accompaniment of flutes, drums, and stringed instruments.

Echoing across the serene lake, this enchantingly beautiful music induces a delicate yet powerful state of trance in the pilgrims strolling leisurely around the marble con course encircling the pool and temple.
The most famous and sacred part of the complex is the Hari Mandir (Divine Temple) or Darbar Sahib (Court of the Lord), which is the beautiful golden structure at the centre of a large body of water.

The water that surrounds the Hari Mandir is a sacred pool known as the Amrit Sarovar (pool of ambrosial nectar).

The temple is reached by following the Parikrama, which circumscribes the sacred pool in a clockwise direction

The lake was enlarged and structurally contained during the leadership of the fourth Sikh Guru (Ram Dass, 1574-1581), and during the leadership of the fifth Guru (Arjan, 158 1-1606), the Hari Mandir, or Temple of God was built.

From the early 1600s to the mid 1700s the sixth through tenth Sikh Gurus were constantly involved in defending both their religion and their temple against Moslem armies.

On numerous o
ccasions the temple was destroyed by the Moslems, and each time was rebuilt more beautifully by the Sikhs.

From 1767 onwards, the Sikhs became strong enough militarily to repulse invaders.
Peace returned to the Hari Mandir.

The temple's architecture draws on both Hindu and Moslem artistic styles yet represents a unique coevolution of the two.

During the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), Hari Mandir was richly ornamented with marble sculptures, golden gilding, and large quantities of precious stones.

The gold-plated building features copper cupolas and white marble walls encrusted with precious stones arranged in decorative Islamic-style floral patterns.

The structure is decorated inside and out with verses from the Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book).

Within the sanctuary, on a jewel-studded platform, lies The Guru Granth Sahib or Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture and the final Guru of the Sikhs.

It is a voluminous text of 1430 angs (parts), compiled and composed during the period of Sikh Gurus, from 1469 to 1708.

It is a collection of hymns or shabad, which describe what God is like and the right way to live.

Some of the major messages can be summarized as follows: -
  1. All peoples of the world are equal
  2. Women are equal
  3. One God for all
  4. Speak and live truthfully
  5. Control the five vices
  6. Live in God's hukam (The Will of the One GOD)
  7. Practice Humility, Kindness, Compassion, Love, etc
The fascinating scene inside the Hari Mandir is televised throughout India for Sikh viewers.

A chauri (whisk) is continually waved above the Book as lines of Sikhs pay their respects by touching their foreheads to the temple floor and walls, continuing in a clockwise direction at a relaxed pace.

Every night, the Granth Sahib is carried in procession along this bridge to its "bed" in the Akal Takht, the seat of the Sikh parliament (built 1609).

Called the Palki Sahib, this nightly ceremony provides a chance for all male pilgrims and visitors to actively participate in the veneration of the Holy Book.

Lines form in front of and behind the heavy palanquin and each man shoulders the burden for a few seconds before passing it along, forming a human conveyer belt that allows everyone to participate and everyone to rest.

Another major highlight of the Golden Temple complex is the Guru-ka-Langar, a dining hall where around 35,000 people a day are fed for free by temple volunteers. Everyone is invited to join this communal breaking of bread, so we did too.

All participants sit on the floor, regardless of caste, status, wealth or creed, powerfully symbolizing the central Sikh doctrine of the equality of all people.

All Sikhs are expected at some point in their lives to volunteer for a week at the temple, and everyone we saw working here is fulfilling that duty, so we helped them too by peeling some vegetables and washing some dishes.

Did you know that the foundation stone of the historic building was laid by a non-Sikh?
The Guru gave the task of initiating the building to a Muslim
Saint Hazrat Mian Mir ji of Lahore in December 1588.

Can you imagine Julius II the Pope who asked Michaelangelo to redesign the Vatican asking him to find a Jewish Rabi to lay its cornerstone?

The Guru had been asked by the previous Guru to find the Holiest man in India to lay the stone for the Gurdwara. Guru Arjan in choosing his friend Hazrat Mian Mir ji to lay the stone showed the world the true message of religion, promoting Interfaith dialogue and interaction.

In the circumambulation of Nectar pool, near the main entrance there is an old Beri known as Ber Baba Budhaji. flash.html

Marti wants to know what is a Beri? It is a TREE, Ziziphus mauritiana, Indian Jujube also know as Narkeli kul, Ber, Boroi, Bor, Beri, Indian plum is a tropical fruit tree species, belonging to the family Rhamnaceae)

When Baba Buddhaji supervised the tank's construction, this Ber tree extended over his head its umbrella-like leafy branches thus protecting him from parching summer and roaring clouds. Thus, though humble, the Ber Baba Buddhaji served Guru's cause in its own way.

Sita told us that this holy shrine is richly decorated during holy festivals like Diwali

and the Guru's birthday.

A sight to behold.

We also learnt some Punjabi phrases:
  • hello => Sat Sri Kal

  • how are you (to a friend) => Kiddha

  • how are you to (older person) => tusi tikh ho

  • if they ask you 'how are you' you say (friends) => tikh ha

  • if if they ask you 'how are you' you say (older person) => tikh takh ha
We loved Punjab:-)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day 89,The Great Stupa of Sanchi, Indian UNESCO site

Yippee, Sanjay and Bash are taking us to "Asoka's city", Sanchi, to see some of India's oldest Buddhist monuments ......we love UNESCO we are really looking forward to this visit.

Sanjay says that he wanted us to watch the movie "Asoka" first so that we would appreciate the significance of the site in Sanchi.

After a period of eight years of being a king, Asoka planned to seize the territory of Kalinga, the present day Orissa.

He led a huge army and fought a gruesome battle with the army of Kaling
a . The battle took place on the Dhauli hills that are located on the banks of River Daya.

Though Ashoka emerged victorious at the end, the sight of the battlefield made his heart break with shame, guilt and disgust.

It is said that the battle was so furious that the waters of River Daya turned red with the blood of the slain soldiers and civilians!!

The sight of numerous corpses lying strewn across the battlefield made his heart wren ch. He felt sick inside.

The battle ground looked like a graveyard with bodies of not just soldiers but men, women and children.

He saw young children crying over the bodies of their dead parents, women crying over the bodies of their dead husbands, mothers crying over the loss of a child.This made him heartbroke

He walked on to the battlefield and said

"What have I done? Is this a victory, what's a defeat then! This is a victory or a defeat!
This is justice or injustice! It's gallantry or a rout?
Is it a valor to kill innocent children and women?
I d
o it to widen the empire or for prosperity or to destroy the other's kingdom or splendor? Someone has lost her husband, someone a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant.... What's this debris of the corpses?
Are these marks of victory or defeat?
Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil?
What have I done! What have I done!"

So, in 262 BC, repentant of the horrors he had inflicted on Kalinga in present-day Orissa, the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism.

He was so inspired by the teachings of the Buddhist monks and Buddhist philosophies that he used his status to impart this knowledge all over the world.

As a penance he built the Great Stupa at Sanchi, the first Buddhist monument in the region and many other religious structures followed.

A renowned centre of Buddhism, Sanchi boasts a rich artistic culture and among them the stupas, which date back to the 3rd century BC, outshines all other structures in its elegant grace.

Wow, this place is so peaceful............

Okay, let's explore.....
Appealingly placed on the top of a hill, these stupas carry with them such a rich legacy of architectural grandeur.

We are now standing outside Stupa 1 ( ) and its exquisite toranas.....

Constructed in 35 BC, the four toranas (gateways) in Sanchi portray important incidents in the life of Lord Buddha.

Situated respectively at the north, east, south and west entrances to the shrine, they each consist of two pillars joined by three cross beams (called architraves) which are carved as if they actually pass through the uprights

We are trying to read the inscriptions on them......apparently they depict stories related to Lord Buddha.

The Eastern gateway explicate the scene from Buddha's life where, the young Gau
tama (Buddha) leaves his father's palace in search of enlightenment.

The seven incarnations of Buddhism is explained on the Western gateway.

Annotations of the miracles that have been betrothed with Lord Buddha in the Jatakas (text that concerns the previous birth of Buddha) are contained on the Northern gateway of the stupa

There is the wheel-of-law!! flash.html

Exceedingly embellished carvings of the Southern gateway try to illustrate the birth of Gautama ...and there is the Bodhi tree!.

These works of art were created in the pre-Gandhara period, before it became fashionable to depict the Lord Buddha's human form - so he is represented in these friezes by images like a bo tree, a wheel, a tree or a stupa.

And there it is .....Stupa No. 1, the Great Stupa, the oldest and the exalted of all, the one that was built by the Emperor Ashoka himself!

A colossal hemispherical dome on the top adds a heavenly charm to this centuries old monument.....which gives this stupa the dimension of 36.5 m and the height of 16.4 m.

Highly embellished walls and gateways stand in everlasting majesty, and the paved procession path around it worn smooth by centuries of pilgrims.....making it an impressive UNESCO site

Marti wanted to see a ringed stupas so she has gone to see Stupa No. 2 that stands at the edge of the hill.

Lying adjacent to the Great Stupa, Stupa no. 3 is also referred as the most striking edifice of Buddhist as well as Mauryan arts.

In design, stupa number one and three are akin to each other.

The innermost chamber of this stupa holds the remnants of Sariputta and Mahamogallena, two earliest disciples of Lord Buddha.
It is believed that its magnificent gate way was built in the first century.
The coffer also contains five precious jewels - garnet, pearl, crystal, lapis and amethyst.

The Lord Buddha himself never came to Sanchi; however in the tranquil stillness of the place he seems closer than in any of the other famous places of religious pilgrimage which still follow Hinayana Buddhism

Even if religion isn't your thing, Sanchi is good place to just unwind and relax........tranquil, serene,....peaceful...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day 88, The Marble Rocks of Jabalpur

Oh, I am so I finally met the best Indian friend I have ever had........

Dear sweet Sanjay has taken us to his home where his beautiful wife Bash has prepared quite a royal feast for us.

She even catered for the vegetarians amongst us.

The savouries and desserts were simply to die for

Wow, Bash, that was a scrumptuous lunch.....yummmmmy!

Now we are going to watch a Bollywood movie about the Emperor Asoka

That was an awesome movie, even if it was not historically gave us a little insight to Asoka's personality...and the scenery was awesome.

Sanjay has a surprise in store for us.....he is taking us to Bhedaghat, a town on the banks of the holy River Narmada in Jabalpur.

Yippee, we are going to see the marble rocks at Bhedaghat, just like in the movie!!

Sanjay has arranged for us to go boating on the river tonight , since its a moonlit night........

Wow, the rocks rise to more than hundred feet on either side of the Narmada.

These white, floodlit rocks with views of black and dark green volcanic seams offer a majestic view. It is such a pleasure to enjoy the sight of the rocks during this moonlit night when they produce a magical effect.........

The whole stretch of water along this 2km long gorge is transformed into a sheet of liquid silver.......simply amazing.......


ell us a little about these rocks Sanjay.....

Well, they are basically metamorphic rock that are produced when limestone buried under the ground goes through constant physical and chemical changes and are the only of its kind in India!

Nopi is so in awe of this majestic view.....she says that the view of these rocks amongst the river on moonlit night make them appear like a sparkling of diamonds on a silver romantic........

Most of the rocks have interesting names based on what they appear to look like.

Sanjay pointed out the Monkey's Leap, the point where the mountainous rocks are the closest to each other.
It is apparently the spot where Lord Hanuman (character from Ramayana) had set foot on his way to Lanka.

Other interesting rock formations include the Hanthi ka Paon (Elephant Foot), a deer (Miran Kunch), the horns of a cow (Craay Singh) etc, etc...

Captain J. Forsyth summed up the beauty and tranquility of the marble rock experience of Jabalpur best
"The eye never wearies of the ....effect produced by the broken and reflected sunlight now glancing from a pinnacle of snow-white marble reared against the deep blue of the sky as from a point of silver, touching here and there with bright lights the prominences of the middle heights and again losing itself in the soft bluish greys of their recesses...".

Thanks so much dear Sanjay for this awesome day......

Jabalpur ( is amazing!

Next stop.....Sanchi??

What's wrong Marti?

Marti is upset because she sent snail mail to South Africa and it hasn't arrived as yet.......

Well my dear, you do know that there has been a postal strike in South Africa since 19 August, so let's all be patient, and hope that an agreement is reached soon.....

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Mahabodhi Complex, Bihar, Indian UNESCO site

My dear friend Brenda from New York has joined us in India....
She is the expert on Buddhism so we will once again have our very own tour guide...

Aaaahhhh, .....whether you're a Buddhist or not, the main thing to do in Bodh Gaya is just to absorb the vibe of the place where the Buddha attained awakening: the vapor trail of that energy is still in the air!

Brenda told us to show respect by
  1. Taking off our shoes before entering the inner parts of the main temple/stupa complex.
  2. Circum ambulating the stupa and other sacred objects in a clock-wise direction.
  3. Preserving the peace and tranquility.
  4. Not climbing onto statues or other sacred object
Wow, there it is ....The Mahabodhi Temple, one of the earliest Buddhist temples built in brick that still survives today.

The ground level of the temple is 45 meters square, stretching up in a pyramid shape that ends in a smaller square platform.

The central tower of Mahabodhi stands 180 feet (54 meters) tall.

The brickwork on the outside of the temple depicts scenes from the life of the Buddha.

Inside the temple, there is the 1700 year old image of a seated Buddha touching the earth with his right hand (a gesture known as the earth-witness mudra). In this posture the Buddha accomplished the supreme enlightenment.

The statue is of black stone but it has been covered in gold and dressed in bright orange robes.

The courtyard of the temple is studded with many smaller stupas and Buddha statues, some of which are several hundred years old.

Parts of the railing that surrounds the area are among the oldest elements of Mahabodhi Temple that survive today.

Immediately next to the Mahabodhi Temple is the Bodhi Tree.

The Bodhi Tree is known to botanists as Ficus religiosa (holy fig), a species of fig in the Moraceae family.

The Bodhi Tree that exists today is not the exact one that shaded the Buddha's meditation 2,500 years ago, but it may well be a direct descendant.

In the 3rd century BC, Emperor Asoka's daughter Sanghamitta brought a branch of the

Bodhi Tree to Sri Lanka and planted it there , where it still grows today.

According to one tradition, Asoka's wife destroyed the original Bodhi Tree out of jealousy over the time the emperor spent there!! Women!!

Other accounts have the tree destroyed in the 7th century. But most reports agree that the original tree was destroyed and replanted using a shoot from the Sri Lanka tree.

In early Buddhist art, before the Buddha image was used, the image of a tree was one of the symbols used to represent him.

Early pilgrims took leaves and seeds of the Bodhi Tree back to their monasteries and homes, and sacred trees throughout India and nearby countries are likely descendents of the Bodhi Tree.

Still today, it is customary to plant a Bodhi Tree in every Buddhist monastery to symbolize the presence of the dharma (Buddhist teachings).

At Bodhgaya, the Bodhi Tree is a favorite place for pilgrims to meditate and contemplate the Buddha's teachings.

Many also hang prayer flags or leave offerings at the sacred site.

So tell us Brenda, what happened after the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment?

During the first week after enlightenment, the Buddha sat under the bodhi tree experiencing the happiness of freedom and peace. He was free from disturbing thoughts, calm and blissful

During the second week, in thanks and gratitude to the tree that had sheltered him during his struggle for Buddhahood, the Buddha stood without moving his eyes as he meditated on the bodhi tree.

Following this example, it is the custom of Buddhists to pay respect to not only the original bodhi tree, but also to the descendants of the bodhi tree that still thrive today.

In the third week, the Buddha saw through his mind’s eye that the devas in the heavens were not sure whether he had attained enlightenment or not.

To prove his enlightenment the Buddha created a golden bridge in the air and walked up and down it for a whole week.

In the fourth week, he created a beautiful jewelled chamber and sitting inside it meditated on what was later known as the "Detailed Teaching" (Abhidhamma).

His mind and body were so purified that six coloured rays came out of his body — blue, yellow, red, white, orange and a mixture of these five.

Today these six colours make up the Buddhist flag. Each colour represented one noble quality of the Buddha: yellow for holiness, white for purity, blue for confidence, red for wisdom and orange for desirelessness.

The mixed colour represented all these noble qualities.

During the fifth week, while meditating under a banyan tree, three most charming girls called Tanha, Rati and Raga came to disturb his meditation.

They danced in a most seductive and charming
manner and did everything to tempt the Buddha to watch their dance. Yet he continued to meditate unperturbed, and soon they tired and left him alone.

The Buddha then went and meditated at the foot of a mucalinda tree.

It began t
o rain heavily and a huge king cobra came out and coiled his body seven times around the Buddha to keep him warm and placed his hood over the Buddha’s head to protect him from the rain.

After seven days the rain stopped and the snake changed into a young man who paid his respects to the Buddha. The Buddha then said:

"Happy are they who are contented.
Happiness is for those who hear and know the truth.
Happy are they who have good will in this world towards all sentient beings.
Happy are they who have no attachments and have passed beyond sense-desires.
The disappearance of the word "I AM " is indeed the highest happiness."

During the seventh week, the Buddha meditated under the rajayatana tree.
On the fiftieth morning, after seven weeks of fasting, two merchants came into his presence.
They were called Tapussa and Bhallika.
They offered the Buddha rice cakes and honey to break his fast and the Buddha told them some of what he had found in his enlightenment.

The Buddha wiped his head with his right hand and pulled out some hair to give to them.
These hair relics, called Kesa Datu, were later reputed to be enshrined by the merchants on their return home to what is now known as Burma, in the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon.

Sita says the tale of Lord Buddha and the cobra is so similar to that of Lord Krishna.....

The night of Lord Krishna was born, the birth was witnessed by heavy rains which led to the River Yamuna being flooded.

As soon as the feet of baby Lord Krishna were immersed in the river, the flow became normal and River Yamuna made way for the baby.

Then Sheshnag, the serpent formed an umbrella to save the new born baby from rain.....

Yes, Hindus believe that Lord Buddha is one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu

We have really enjoyed our day at the tranquil Mahabodhi Temple Complex.....

So tell us Sita, why is it a UNESCO world heritage site??

Sita says that the complex is one of the four holy sites related to the life of the Lord Buddha, and particularly to the attainment of Enlightenment.

It is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick, still standing in India, from the late Gupta period.

It is one of the few representations of the architectural genius of the Indian people in constructing fully developed brick temples in that era, and it has had significant influence in the development of architecture over the centuries.

The site of the Mahabodhi Temple provides exceptional records for the events associated with the life of Buddha and subsequent worship, particularly since Emperor Asoka built the first temple, the balustrades, and the memorial column in the 3rd century B.C..

The present Temple is one of the earliest and most imposing structures built entirely in brick from the late Gupta period. The sculpted stone balustrades are an outstanding early example of sculptural reliefs in stone.

And now we are going shopping......

day 87,Bodh Gaya, India

During our travels...we have been to several sacred all of us are very religiously tolerant, and curious souls.
So naturally, seeing all these marvellous caves with Buddhist murals and stupas, we want to know a little about Buddhism
Sometime during the sixth century BC, a solitary, wandering ascetic sat to meditate beneath a shady tree, resolving not to rise until he had attained the ultimate knowledge of spiritual enlightenment. Thus began Buddhism, one of the world's great religions and pilgrimage traditions.

Historians, religious scholars, and various Buddhist sects debate the actual year of the Buddha's birth; it may have been as early as 644 BC or as late as 540 BC. It is, however, relatively certain that he was born Prince Gautama Siddhartha, the son of Suddhodana, king of the Shakya tribe. His birthplace was the forest grove of Lumbini in the hilly regions of what is today northeastern India and Nepal.

Miraculous events surrounded his birth. Sages prophesied that he would become either a powerful king or, renouncing his royal life, an enlightened being and religious leader.

King Suddhodhana, wanting the former and fearing the later, sought to insulate his son from religious and philosophical concerns by surrounding him with a life of ease and plenty.

Enclosed within palace walls, the prince grew to manhood and fatherhood never having seen old age, sickness, poverty or death.

Yet this blindness to the full range of human experience was not to last. One day the prince ventured beyond the castle walls and, witnessing the inevitable sufferings of human existence, recognized the shallowness of his pampered life. Metaphysical questions filled his mind and with them the conviction that he must seek and know the great truth of life. Thus, at the age of twenty-nine, he let go the constraints of family and worldly responsibility to tread the path of self-discovery.

Following the ancient traditions of Hinduism, Siddhartha sought out spiritual teachers, or gurus. Inquiring of their knowledge, he diligently practiced various yogas and meditations.

Seven years passed, the last three in extreme asceticism, yet still he had not achieved his goal of enlightenment. Finally recognizing that such practices had served him well but were no longer appropriate, Siddhartha journeyed toward the ancient sacred forests of Uruvela (modern Gaya in Bihar, in north India) with the intention of finally and completely realizing the infinite.

According to Buddhist tradition, Siddharta Gautama finally abandoned years of rigorous fasting and asceticism by accepting milk and honey from a young woman. He then sat down beneath the Bodhi Tree and vowed not to move until he attained enlightenment.

According to some Buddhists, the Bodhi Tree is the center of the world and the site at which all Buddhas (enlightened ones) attain enlightenment......and so my we are off to Bodh Gaya, a village in the state of Bihar in India........

Monday, September 20, 2010

Day 86, Ellora Caves, Indian UNESCO site

We are in absolute awe of the Caves in Ajanta...and some of us think that it should have been considered as one of the 7 new wonders of the world!

We are so loving these of course our next stop is the Ellora Caves......

Over five centuries, generations of monks (Buddhist, Hindu and Jain) carved monasteries, chapels and temples from a 2km-long escarpment and decorated
them with a profusion of remarkably detailed sculptures

Because of the escarpment's gentle slope, in contrast with the sheer drop at Ajanta, many of the caves have elaborate courtyards in front of the main shrines.
Altogether Ellora has 34 caves:

12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu and 5 Jain .

The site represents the renaissance of Hinduism under the Chalukya and Rashtrakuta dynasties, the subsequent decline of Indian Buddhism and a brief resurgence of Jainism under official patronage.

The sculptures show the increasing influence of Tantric elements in India's three great religions and their coexistence at one site indicates a lengthy period of religious tolerance.

Ok guys...let's explore...The Buddhist Caves

The Buddhist caves (also called Vishvakarma caves) are the earliest of the Ellora Caves, dating from 500 to 750 AD.

All except Cave 10 are viharas (monasteries), which were used for study, medita
tion, communal rituals, eating and sleeping.

The caves become steadily larger and more elaborately decorated as they progress to the north, which scholars have explained by the growing need to compete with
Hinduism for patronage.

The earliest Hindu caves at Ellora date from 600 AD, right in the middle of the
Buddhist period.

Caves 1-9 are monasteries , and some of these monastery caves have shri
nes including carvings of Buddha, bodhisattvas and saints.

In many of these caves, sculptors have endeavoured to give the stone the look of wood .

We are now standing outside the magnificent Cave 10

This cave dates from the early 700s and is known as the Carpenter's Cave (Sut ar Jhopadi) because of its imitation in stone of wooden beams on the ceiling.

At the heart of this cave is a 15-foot statue of Buddha seated in a preaching pose....hmmm, reminiscent of Ajanta Caves......

The last two caves, Do Tal (cave 11) and Tin Tal (cave 12) have three stories.
Cave 12, known as Tin Tal , also has an impressive upper hall.

The walls of the shrine room are lined with five large bodhisattvas and is flanked by seven Buddhas, representing each of his previous incarnations.

I don't know about any of you...but I am simply blown away by these caves.......stunning.....

Okay, lets see the Hindu Caves next.

Created during a time of prosperity and revival of Hindusim, the Hindu caves
represent an entirely different style of creative vision and skill than the Buddhist caves.

The Hindu temples were carved from top to bottom and required several generations of planning and coordination to take shape.

The early caves (caves 17–29) were constructed during the Kalachuri period, while the caves 15 and 16 were constructed during Rashtrakuta period.

There are 17 Hindu caves in all (numbered 13 to 29), which were carved between 600 and 870 AD. They occupy the center of the cave complex, grouped around either side of the famous Kailasa Temple.
Wow, a sight to behold......the view from up here is absolutely breathtaking.

The most notable Hindu cave (Cave 16) is not a cave at all, but a magnificent temple carved from the solid rock, patterned closely on the freestanding temples of the time.

It represents Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, and is called the Kailashnath, Kailash, or Kailasa Temple.

It originally had a thick coat of white plaster to make it look like a snowy mountain.

The Kailash Temple is a stupendous piece of architecture, with interesting spatial effects and varied sculpture. It is believed to have been started by the Rashtrakuta king Krishna I (756-773).

This gargantuan structure looks like a freestanding, multi-storeyed temple complex, but it was carved out of one single rock!!

All the carvings are done in more than one level.

A two-storeyed gateway opens to reveal a U-shaped courtyard.

The courtyard is edged by columned galleries three storeys high.

The galleries are punctuated by huge sculpted panels, and alcoves containing enormous sculptures of a variety of deities.

Originally flying bridges of stone connected these galleries to central temple structures, but these have fallen.

Within the courtyard are two structures.

As is traditional in Shiva temples, an image of the sacred bull Nandi fronts the central temple housing the lingam.

In Cave 16, the Nandi Mandap and main Shiva temple are each about 7 meters high, and built on two stories.

The lower stories of the Nandi Mandap are both solid structures, decorated with elaborate illustrative carvings.

The base of the temple has been carved to suggest that elephants are holding the structure aloft.

A living rock bridge connects the Nandi Mandap to the porch of the temple.

The temple itself is tall pyramidal structure reminiscent of a South Indian temple.

The shrine – complete with pillars, windows, inner and outer rooms, gathering halls, and an enormous lingam at its heart – carved from living stone, is carved with niches, pilasters, windows as well as images of deities, mithunas (erotic male and female figures) and other figures.

Most of the deities at the left of the entrance are Shaivaite (followers of Shiva) while on the right hand side the deities are Vaishnavaites (followers of Vishnu).

There are two Dhvajastambhas (pillars with the flagstaff) in the courtyard.

The grand sculpture of Ravana attempting to lift Mount Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva, with his full might is a landmark in Indian art.

The construction was a feat of human genius – it entailed removal of 250,000 tons of rock by 7000 labourers, took 150 years to complete and covers an area double the size of Parthenon in Athens!!

Stupendous!! WOW!

Ok, we are now going to take a rickshaw down this asphalt road to the Jain Caves (dating from the late 800s and 900s) which are situated about 2km down the road.

Jain caves reveal specific dimensions of Jain philosophy and tradition. They reflect a strict sense of asceticism – they are not relatively large as compared to others, but they present exceptionally detailed art works.

The most remarkable Jain shrines are the Chhota Kailash (cave 30), the Indra Sabha (cave 32) and the Jagannath Sabha (cave 33).

The most notable of the group is Cave 32, the Indra Sabha (Indra's Assembly Hall), a miniature of the Kailash Temple.

The bottom level is plain but the upper floor has elaborate carvings, including a fine lotus flower on the ceiling.

Two tirthankaras guard the entrance to the central shrine.

On the right is the naked Gomatesvara, who is meditating deeply in the forest - so much so that vines have grown up his legs and animals, snakes and scorpions crawl around his feet.

Another amazing sight to behold!

These 34 monasteries and temples, extending over more than 2 km, that were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff in Maharashtra. Ellora, with its uninterrupted sequence of monuments dating from A.D. 600 to 1000, brings the civilization of ancient India to life.

Not only is the Ellora complex a unique artistic creation and a technological exploit but, with its sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India.

Another mindblowing UNESCO world heritage site.........its such a pity that when foreigners think of India...the only monument that comes to mind is the Taj Mahal...when there are gems like this be explored.

Btw, did you know that the breathtaking Kailasa Temple (Cave 16) is the world's largest monolithic sculpture hewn from the rock?