It was mid day and the sun was bright, directly throwing his warm winter light on us. We were halfway through our journey and yet it felt we had seen nothing, observed nothing. High above the mountains of Ajanta, we stood looking at some of the best examples of art in Indian history. Ajanta is magnificent. And there is no other word that better describes the rock cut temples of Aurangabad.
Often you will find people telling you that travelling to Ajanta and Ellora is a day’s journey. They could not be more wrong. Every cave temple has wonders that you can stare at for hours. The paintings that you see in front of you are one of the greatest treasures of art in India. Year after year, craftsmen made these caves come alive with the most primitive of equipment, fuelled only by their passion to create.
Start your trip with Ajanta walk up the hills, the tourist guides and guidebooks will tell you that the best displays are in the first few caves. Do not believe them, rather take the entire journey and explore every cave. Understand the frustrations of the carvers of stone as they kept making the stones come alive. Listen in to their hushed silences still trapped in the stones. Listen to their dying footsteps as the royal patronage trickled to a close forcing them to leave the caves unfinished. Hear the faint noise of the religious chants as three religions coexisted for centuries. Look for the intricacies of the carvings; the brightness of the colours still remaining and try to imagine the interlinkages between the religions. Forget the babble of tourists and feel yourself transcend into a world of quiet scholarly studies and self-imposed mendicancy of monkhood.
Next day travel to Ellora. Start at Kailasa; for nothing else matters. Imagine a giant boulder. Men and women such as us will look at it in wonder and even if an inspiration seizes us, we will start chiselling away starting from the front. But imagine cutting through the rock from above and creating the abode of Lord Shiva on earth. Kailasa tells us of our own perfection; of the grandeur we were once capable of; of human triumph in pursuit of God or ungodly vanity of kings. Look at how Shivaism and Vaishnavism coexists under the same canopy. Once you have made your peace with the feeling of insignificance make your way to the left or right. The ancient rocks will tell you untold stories of Jainism and Buddhism. Look up at the Tirthankaras and the Bodhisatwas. They will smile down upon you and show you how their facial features changed with centuries.
As you walk away, tired but fulfilled, remember to leave the places clean. You owe it to your own future generations for Ajanta and Ellora need to remind us for our triumphs and our impermanence.