Although getting to the Pitalkhora Caves was a bit of a hike, the site was worth the sweat. It was fitting that we visited these caves at the end of the trip so as to make it easier to locate important features and methods of preservation by comparing it to other caves – mainly the Ajanta Caves. Though in ruins, these early Buddhist caves are grand and awe-inspiring. Remnants of chaitya arches are visible above the chaitya caves, while others had a vihara layout, with the foundation of dwelling rooms still preserved.
For me, it was amazing to see the effects of time on a site that appears to be timeless. The damage on the cave was quite evident from the outside, however, there are features such as the painted pillars in the massive chaitya hall and row of elephants in front that gives this site its own magnificence. With the ongoing damage caused by water and other factors, measures were taken to preserve the oldest known rock cut caves in India. Modern pillars were erected in the chaityas to help with holding up the structure. This is why the chaityas were less damages compared to the viharas, where I can’t recall any structural support was built. Further down the mountain, stupas were reconstructed to preserve the little that was left from the original.
By visiting the Pitalkhora Caves, I think that I was most taken aback by the fact that a site so grand and awe-inspiring will cease to exist in the near future. It allows you to pause and appreciate these magnificent structures even more.
The caves at Ajanta are an incredible testament to the abilities and devotion of ancient Indian people. These caves are not only beautiful, but incredibly complex. While many of the caves contain monastic cells the primary purpose of the caves is contested. This is what my research focused on. During my research I discovered that there is some debate as to who the caves were meant for. Were they carved for Buddha? monastic retreat? or something else? While the caves are clearly Buddhist shrines the presence of another deity is also clear. The Naga King is a local water deity that was worshipped in the region long before the Buddha. The hillside that the caves are cut into was thought to be the home of the Naga King. Because of this the people that carved the caves saw it as incredibly important that the Naga King be represented and welcomed in the caves as well. There is an inscription on the entry way to cave 16, which states that the this place was the home of the Naga King. This inscription is just a few stairs above a small cutout in the rock, which contains a statue of the Naga King. This small cutout is actually believed to have been the home of the Naga King. Through my research I found that while the Buddha is the primary focus of the caves, his worship and presence in the region is done with the blessing and protection of the Naga King.
Below are some sources for more information about this subject:
DeCaroli, Robert . “”The Abode of the Naga King”: Questions of Art, Audience, and Local Deities at the Ajaṇṭā Caves.” Ars Orientalis 40 (2011): 142-61. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23075934.
Weiner, Sheila L. “Ajantā Iconography and Chronology.” East and West 26, no. 3/4 (1976): 343-58. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29756316.
Spink, Walter M. “The Caves at Ajanta.” Archaeology 45, no. 6 (1992): 52-60. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41766316.
Although I personally favor the caves at Ajanta because it was the location my research project focused on the caves at Elephanta come at a close second. Elephanta was the first place we visited in India and it was not at all what I was expecting. As Reyna had mentioned in her presentation and what I believe is the most powerful part of our entire experience in India was that we truly had no clue as to how big everything we studied was we arrived at the sites in person. Like Professor Kaimal I enjoyed looking that the rock art of Shiva slaying Andhaka because of the large amount of masculinity that Shiva is showing. Shiva is at the center of this art and is seen holding a large sword in his right hand and the bowl in his left hand to catch the blood of the beast to ensure it would not come alive again. The detail in his face was very interesting because it looked as if he and his rage was alive. Seeing his fangs and the anger in his eyes was something that you could only experience in person.
On Wednesday Jan. 11 I was able to present in front of the class about my research topic about the caves at Ajanta. Unlike the presentations we gave during the fall semester in class I was able to present at the actual site of Ajanta which was something that was unimaginable. My research on Ajanta largely focused on the economic aspects of the caves. Much like Connor’s research, I also looked at the caves not only as site for religious worship but also one of economic importance to the region because the caves sat on a trade route. Some of the researchers I looked into heavily discussed the amount of power donors had over the creation of the caves. Most of my sources focused on the exteriors of the chitya halls since they look very regal and kind of palace like to support their claims that the caves at Ajanta were to be built in a grand way to kind of be built for a king.
Here are some great sources to look at that I used for my research:
Brancaccio, Pia. “The Cave as a Palace and the Forest as a Garden: Buddhist Caves and Natural Landscape in Western Deccan,” Paper presented at the annual Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium, Washington D.C., November 14, 2014.
Singh, Manager and Babasaheb Ramrao Arbab. “Architectural History and Painting Art at Ajanta: Some Salient Features.” Arts (2013): 134-150. Accessed December 3, 2016. Doi10.3390/arts2030134.
Spink, Walter M. “Patterns of Patronage.” in Arguments of Ajanta, vol. 2 of Ajanta: History and Development. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
I loved seeing the sculpture Ardhanarishvara in person at Elephanta. I enjoyed seeing the unity and balance between male and female first hand. I was especially captivated by the specific parts of the sculpture where you could clearly decipher the male versus the female because it seemed really exaggerated. Examples include the jutted out hip, difference of earlobes on both ears, etc. It was like the artisans clearly wanted you (the audience) to know exactly what it was they were trying portray in this relief.
A point that was brought up about the sculpture that completely stuck with me was that, besides unity and balance, this piece can represent how inseparable the female and the male are. This point was further explained with the example that both the male and the female are needed for creation to occur. I found this piece of information completely shocking because I had never thought of the relief in that light before. Another part of the relief that was further talked about was we know that Shiva is the male counterpart of the figure, but we do not know who the female is. However, people tend to always assume that the figure is Parvati. I had been one of those people who assumed that the female counterpart was Parvati. I loved realizing my mistake in that moment because it raised so many questions for me and made me wonder. The most powerful part about seeing Ardhanarishvara was all the new information I acquired from people who were more familiar with the sculpture.
The most striking visit of the trip for me was our time spent at the Kailasanatha temple on our first day at Ellora.
Its size, as shown in these pictures from above is immediately awe inspiring. After that shock wore off, it was equally impressive considering the manner in which the cave was constructed-chiseled from the top down.
It is hard to fathom with the size and level of detail on all parts of the structure how this would have been planned and executed. The Kailasanatha encompassed the whole class for me, and incorporated ideas that I had previously only considered in isolation, and in the classroom. Here, architecture, iconography, school children, and good food came together to form an unforgettable experience. And while I think nothing will match standing in front of the massive rendition of Mt Kailash, pictures can portray such an experience better than words
Although I focused my research on the Kailasantha Temple at Ellora, it was the Shiva Caves that truly shocked me. I often times stumbled upon articles describing all of the caves as such a magical, beautiful escape from the real world and I did not fully experience this until seeing the caves! Walking around seeing these huge sculptures of Shiva and Parvati, I felt very small and insignificant. I don’t mean that in a bad
way though! I felt like I was just a human and I could witness all of the glory and bravery and struggles that Shiva endured without actually having to go through it myself. I was at a loss for words as I walked around. In every single direction, there was something new and exciting commanding my attention and every time I passed a sculpture I had already seen before, a new detail would pop out at me revealing something else. I spent much of my time reflecting on the skill and strength those who created this monument were! It is easy to visit these monuments and pay homage to the gods depicted on the walls for all of their successes, but really, equally as admirable are those who spent years of their lives chiseling away to create these beautiful works of art! It was an amazing experience.
My presentation at the Chota (small) Kailasa Temple at Ellora focused on my research on the importance of the Jain structures in the Ellora complex. We acknowledged Ellora in our studies as a tri-religious site, but learned it as a Buddhist and Hindu dominated place. To an extent, all the metrics support this: there are only 5 caves attributed to Jains, they were completed in the last periods of construction, they are smaller than what we saw yesterday (on our first day at Ellora), and some scholars see the Jain imagery as repetitive and unoriginal. As seen in this interpretation of the Jain caves, the importance of an academic following is clear for the perceived importance of a site. We see with Walter Spink the number of man hours that can go into creating educated conclusions on a single cave let alone a whole complex. And so the Jain caves lag or are left out to a certain extent, especially in colonial era work. The Chota Kailasa gets its name from its resemblance to the Kailasanatha Temple. It is however smaller, and unfinished which adds to this diminutive name. This shows the lense through which those studying it were seeing it through- the majority of references to it noted it as a “poor” imitation of the Kailasanatha. And while the similarities are important, it’s also important to see the intentionality of the cave. Jainism is similar to Buddhism and Hinduism in its focus on achieving enlightenment. The 24 Tirthankaras or Jinas are those who have reached this level of enlightenment and serve as teachers to those still seeking. The Chota Kailasa is a space that houses these figures. They all are portrayed in the perfected form they reached which means that all 24 figures look similar if not identical to the untrained eye. These Jinas, in turn look similar if not identical to figures of the Buddha and later figures of Shiva. The function of the Jinas is to show the ideal form, which does not require a complex image. Instead the beauty of the imagery is in the lesson it teaches about the state of meditative reflection. Add in the standing position of several Jinas and a galaxy of other gods and you’ve achieved a complex and interesting iconography but when you looks for Shiva in everything, you can find it.
In seeing the Chota Kailasa, and the other Jain caves in person, it was even more evident the separation between the colonial-era readings I found and the few more recent Jain scholars. Although Owens and Cort especially described the way that the imagery and the layout interact, there is no replacement to seeing it in person. It also left me a little more divided on my critique of previous scholars for attributing too much of the Jain caves to the “possibly Shiva” category. On one hand, the imagery looks very similar, and the inference that is necessary when dealing with aging and decaying works. On the other hand, much distinction has been drawn between the similar iconographies of the Buddhist and Hindu caves, showing the ability to deal with separateness among similarity which is not afforded as equally to Jainism, as shown and propagated though fewer active scholars.
Some suggested readings:
Owen, Lisa N., “Relationships between Art, Architecture and Devotional Practices at Ellora.” In Living Rock: Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain cave temples in the Western Deccan, ed. Pia Brancaccio, 127-37. Mumbai: Marg Foundation, 2013.
Owen, Lisa N. Carving Devotion in the Jain Caves at Ellora. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2012.
Cort, John E. Framing the Jina : Narratives of Icons and Idols in Jain history. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.
On the bus ride driving to Ellora, I was absolutely terrified to give my short presentation. I spent so much of the semester preparing, however I felt that when the time came to spoke, what I researched would not make much sense. This is because my research is not necessarily fact-based. My research is open to interpretation and something that will only be witnessed if the viewer chooses so. With situations like this, there is a lot of room for people to experience different things and disagree with each other on what the “truth” really is.
Upon arriving at Ellora, I was absolutely blown away by the beauty and size of the temple. It was so much more magical than I expected. The intricate details, the huge figures and even the color was amazing to see. Pictures truly do not do it justice. For a few minutes I just walked around with so many thoughts running through my head. I then saw the staircase with the frieze that I studied and I was reminded of my research! My research was focused on how the monument at Ellora can be viewed as a chronological journey. I began by explaining the concept of the four yugas which I learned from the Britannica Dictionary are ages of mankind. We are currently in the fourth and will be in this yuga until the destruction of the world and time will then reset in the first yuga. I explained how as you circumambulate on the first level of Kailasanatha you are traveling in the fourth yuga. As I learned through John Hawley’s work, as you climb the staircase on either the right or the left, you are also traveling through the friezes flanking the walls which our representative of the second or third yuga. It was also important to explain how to read the friezes which Stephen Markel talked about in his book. The friezes must be read from
left to right and top to the bottom. When you arrive on the top level of the Kailasanatha Temple, you have entered the first yuga. The dravida form of the temple also echoes the theme of transcending time, as the higher up
you go the closer to Shiva you are! It feels so different to talk about this theme in class with pictures then it was to share it with my peers when we were actually there! I did not expect to feel as excited as I did to share the journey with them and my hope is that they experienced the symbolic journey through time while being at the temple! Kailasa is truly such a magical and powerful place.
If you wanted to learn more I would suggest checking these sources out:
Britannica Academic, s.v. “Yuga,” accessed November 16, 2016,
Hawley, John Stratton. “Scenes from the Childhood of Kṛṣṇa on the Kailāsanātha Temple, Ellora.” Archives of Asian Art 34 (1981): 74-90.
Stephen Markel. “The “Rāmāyaṇa” Cycle on the Kailāsanātha Temple at Ellora.” Ars Orientalis 30 (2000): 59-71. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4629570.