Our tales on rocks in Ellora Caves – Prakash Thorat
Ellora, historically Elapura [or perhaps ancient Ilapura], situated in the Indhyadri ranges, is located 30 kms Northwest of Aurangabad [latitude 200 21′ N and longitude 740 15’E]. Ellora has largest, finest and variedly themed examples of cave architecture. It has a medieval art and architecture, representing India’s three dominant religions-Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. The caves are awarded the status of world heritage site byUNESCO. Its ancestors, fraternities and descendants are spread all over the Indian continent. Ellora sculptures represent the microcosm of early medieval art of India. The caves offer approximately 1200 examples of sculptures carved in different style having influence of Magadha of North, Saurashtra from west and Mandapa of Mahabalipurum.
The Ellora hill rises abruptly from the plains on the west and south and has a general elevation of about 2100 ft. from above the mean sea-level. It is situated in the hilly tracts of the Deccan trap formation, which, on weathering, gives the hills a characteristic appearance of terraces with a flat summit. The hill is constituted of extensive horizontal flows of trap alternating with vascular trap-beds. The upper portion of each of the massive trap-beds is formed by the vesicular trap. The rocks wither by exfoliation, shell by shell, because of their comparatively soft nature. The hard fresh rock forms the core, but the shell grades into clay. With erosion of the decomposed product, a decomposed or superficially-decomposed layer of the rock is laid bare. This favourable feature of the undulating spurs of the Sahyadri mountain ranges was one of the factors that led to record the heaviest-rock cut activities in Maharashtra. At Ellora, the caves have been carved out of the fine-grained and jointed trap-beds. The intermediary joints in the horizontal plane and master joints in the vertical plane, offered the great advantage to excavators to reduce their cost on manpower requirement.
The total number of caves excavated at different heights in the Ellora hill is upwards of fifty, but those which have artistic significance are at the foot of the hill.
Given Ellora’s place in Indian history as a Tirtha, or centre of pilgrimage, worship and ritual, the element of water here is accepted almost as “Purifying and fertilizing.” The Caves are, at once, a subtle and dramatic addition to the dry and rugged landscape. Because of their placement in the cliff, they are not visible from the road which once connected Paithan [ancient Pratisthana on the Godavari river with Aurangabad.-Maheshwari [Or Mahismati] and Ujjain- all important, trading, religious and political centres of ancient and medieval times. Inscriptions in Buddhist Cave sites throughout the Western Deccan indicate that monks, nuns and lay devotees travelled this route and there is a strategic connection between Ellora’s role as a religious centre and its position on a commercial path.
The area around Ellora has been inhabited by man even before the dawn of the historic times. The occurrence of stone tools on jasper, attributable to an industry of the pre-microlithic facies at Ellora, takes pre-history of the area to the middle stone age.
The Pratisthana or Paithan, situated 18 miles away from Ellora, is one of the oldest cities of the Deccan. According to a Jaina tradition, Satvahana after defeating Vikramaditya of Ujjayini made himself a king of Pratisthana. Ptolemy [150 B.C.] mentions it as an important city for textile industry. Ellora has a Jyotirlingam that finds mention in Shiva Purana. The area around Aurangabad was known as Asmaka country as mentioned in inscription in cave 26 of Ajanta.