Visited by tourists from India and all the world, the ancient rock-cut caves of the Ajanta and Ellora are a must-see for any travel enthusiast. These caves have stood the testimony of time, and are replete with intricate carvings and paintings, and are great source of information about the skills of ancient sculptors, customs, styles, ornaments etc. If history and art are your interests, then this is a must visit destination for you…
WORDS BY: SANGEETA S
The Ajanta and Ellora caves are two rock-cut caves situated in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, located at a distance of about 100 kms from each other. Recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, both the caves are known for their aesthetics and history. While the paintings on the cave walls of Ajanta are on the theme of Buddhism, the Ellora Caves are a collection of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu temples, monuments and monasteries. Ajanta is a collection of approximately 30 caves built around a horse-shoe shaped mountain, and Ellora is a collection of 34 caves. Ajanta and Ellora caves were meticulously hand crafted, with only a hammer and chisel. This makes these caves very unique and are regarded as one of the most spectacular sites found in India today.
The caves in Ajanta were built in two phases; the first phase was around the 2nd Century while the second set of caves was built around 400-650 AD. The caves were named after a nearby village called Ajanta and the paintings were themed around Lord Buddha and Buddhist religious art, with figures of the Gautama and depictions of the stories that tell about His previous lives. It is believed that several Buddhist monks used to spend their time in these caves during monsoons as they were not allowed to travel during that period of the year. And it was during this time that they painted the walls of the caves apart from their daily prayers and discussions on religion.
At Ajanta, there were two types of caves—Vihara and Chaitya griha. While Viharas are monasteries used for living and prayer, Chaitya grihas are halls used for prayers. Viharas are square halls with small cells along the sidewalls; the square halls were used for prayer while the cells were used by monks for resting. Chaitya grihas are long tunnel like caves with round pillars on both sides. At the end of the cave is placed the main Stupa, which is a symbol of the Lord Buddha.
Dedicated to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions, Ellora caves were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. Famous for the largest single monolithic excavation in the world namely the Great Kailasa, Ellora represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. With exquisite sculptures, Ellora is the most visited ancient monument in Maharashtra today.
There are 34 caves in all here and they are numbered roughly chronologically, starting with the oldest Buddhist caves at the south end. There are 12 Buddhist caves, 17 Hindu caves and 5 Jain caves.
The caves are open from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm Tuesday to Sunday. The Ajanta Caves remain closed on all Mondays, while the Ellora Caves are closed on Tuesdays. Both, Ajanta and Ellora caves are open on all national holidays.
You will need to pay entry fee to enter the caves. Once a week the entry is free, but it is best to avoid the free entry day due to heavy rush.
Since Aurangabad is well connected by air, train and tourist buses, you can easily reach the city by either modes of transport. There are many taxis available at the Aurangabad train station and airport and, they can be easily hired for your visit. Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation also conducts inexpensive daily guided bus tours to the Ajanta and Ellora caves from Aurangabad. The tours run separately — one goes to Ajanta and the other to Ellora — and can be booked in advance.
Both the caves are unique and have their own significance. While Ajanta is known for sophisticated ancient paintings, the caves of Ellora are known for extraordinary architecture. Both are unique but Ajanta has some added attractions such as an outstanding setting overlooking a gorge along the Waghora River. But each cave at Ajanta and Ellora has a different story to tell so if possible try to visit both to get the complete history.
• Keep yourself hydrated. Carry enough drinking water with you
• A hat and a sunscreen should be a great help to keep you cool
• Wear comfortable, flat shoes as there will be good amount of walking if you wish to really explore the caves well
• While entering the temples, you will be asked to take off your shoes, so be prepared
• Each cave is unique so make sure you keep patience and explore all of them
• The Hindu temple to Shiva is a must-see at Ellora
• The best time to visit the caves is from November to March, when it’s cooler and dry
• Bring a torch with you to the caves as many of them are quite dark and lighting is poor
The Ellora festival is also popularly known as the Ellora Ajanta festival. This is organized by the Aurangabad festival Committee. This festival, a three-day event, is generally held every year during the month of October. In the earlier times, this festival was held at the Ellora Caves but now the venue of the festival has been shifted to the Soneri Mahal. The festival offers a platform to artists from all across the world to showcase talents of classical music and dance. Apart from showcasing the dance and music the festival also helps artisans and craftsmen who gather here, to promote their handicrafts and other excellent work of arts done by them. The festival displays our great cultural background.