MONUMENTS OF MAHARASHTRA
Karle is 3km north of the town of Karle Caves Junction, 11 km from Lonavala on NH4. It is a Buddhist cave. It is the largest and the best preserved. In the porch of the cave, dividing the three doorways, are panels of figures in six couples, presumed to have been the wealthy patrons of the hall. Two rows of octagonal columns with pot-shaped bases divide the interior into three, forming a wide central aisle and, on the outside, a hall that allowed devotees to circumambulate the monolithic stupa at the back. Above each pillar’s fluted capital kneels a finely carved elephant mounted by two riders, one with arms draped over the other’s shoulders. Amazingly, perishable remnants survive from the time when the hall was in use; teak ribs on the vaulted ceiling show that the stone was carved to resemble a wooden structural model. Surmounting the stupa are the remains of a carved wooden umbrella.
Deep in the semi-arid hills of the Deccan, lie the rock-cut caves of AJANTA. It was only in the 19th century, that the Ajanta group of caves, lying deep within the Sahyadri hills, buried deep under a blanket of creepers and jungle, cut into the curved mountain side, above the Waghora river, were discovered.
Many of the caves house panels depicting stories from the Jatakas, a rich mine of tales of the several incarnations of the Buddha. Images of nymphs and princesses amongst others, are also elaborately portrayed. The 29 caves were built as secluded retreats of the Buddhist monks, who taught and performed rituals in the Chaityas and Viharas. Using simple tools like hammer and chisel, the monks carved out the impressive figures adorning the walls of these structures. Exquisite wall paintings and sculptures speak volumes of the India of yore.
Cave 1 houses some of the most well - preserved wall paintings which include two great Boddhisattvas, Padmapani and Avalokiteshvara. Caves 2 , 16 and 17 also contain amazing paintings, while Caves 1, 4, 17, 19, 24 and 26 boast of some of the most divine sculptures. The flying ‘apsara’ of Cave 17, and the image of Buddha preaching in Cave 17, are a couple of unforgettable works of art. The Ajanta caves and the treasures they house, are a landmark in the overall development of Buddhism as such.
The Ellora caves lie 30 kms northwest of Aurangabad. In all 34, Buddhist, Jain and Hindu caves in number, have an amazing wealth of sculpture. These are carved into the sides of a basaltic hill. The finest specimens of cave - temple architecture, they house elaborate facades and exquisitely adorned interiors. These structures representing the three faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, were carved during the 350 AD to 700 AD period. The 12 caves to the south are Buddhist, the 17 in the center dedicated to Hinduism, and the 5 caves to the north are Jain.
The sculpture in the Buddhist caves accurately convey the nobility, grace and serenity inherent in the Buddha. Most of the caves are Viharas or Monastery halls used by the monks for study, solitary meditation and worship.
The Kailasa temple in Cave 16 an architectural wonder, is Ellora’s masterpiece. The entire structure having been carved out of a monolith, the process taking over a century to finish. This mountain - abode of Lord Shiva, is in all probability, the world's largest monolith, the gateway, pavilion, assembly hall, sanctum and tower, all hewn out of a single rock. Gigantic, though it is, it remains one of the most delicate and intricate ancient works of art. The Dumar Lena cave resembles the famous cave - temple at Elephanta, and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
The Jain caves are about a mile away from the Kailasa temple, amongst which Cave 32, houses a beautiful shrine adorned with fine carvings of a lotus flower on the roof, and a ‘yakshi’ on a lion under a mango - tree, while Caves 32 and 34 contain grand statues of Parasnath. The other Jain caves sport the images of Tirthankaras, and one of them, also, has a seated figure of Mahavira, so deeply immersed in meditation that creepers have grown over his body.