BENGALURU: With our stay extended in the Deccan heartland of Aurangabad, we decided take a look at a series of rock-cut cave temples which were usually left out of the itinerary of most tourists. Standing forlorn and aloof in the midst of a city that is embellished with innumerable Islamic monuments comprising forts, tombs, dargahs and masjids, the Aurangabad Cave temples are dedicated to Buddhist teachings. Although just next to Bibi Ka Maqbara, the monument dedicated to Emperor Aurangzeb’s wife, the caves hardly witness any visitors as most people push off thinking that they cannot rival the world-famous temples of Ajanta and Ellora.
One can walk to these caves from Bibi Ka Maqbara as it is situated on a hill running across from east to west. This is a group of 12 cave temples carved between third and the eighth century in the best of styles but have even eluded the attention of historians. However, after having visited the world heritage sites of Ajanta, I was keen to see these caves as they have been carved from top to bottom from the soft basalt rocks.
Presently, the Aurangabad caves overlook the sprawling campus of the Marathawada University and therefore, one can see a few curious students making their way around the temple complex that is divided into three different groups depending on their locations. The sculptural carvings are unique and decorated with panels, scrolls, geometric patterns, and flowery designs. Most of the structures here are similar as well as comparable to the ones in Ajanta.
Since most of the caves have been carved out of soft rock, some of them are incomplete while some have just withered away. Spread over an area of more than a kilometre, Cave 1 and 2 are basically viharas in different stages of construction. While the first one has no ceiling, it has beautiful pillars, panels and a portico and the second cave has a Buddha statue.
In this group, Cave 3 is the most grand as one can see devotees lining up on either side of a Buddha statue in various poses of devotion.
From here, when you go further and take a right turn towards other caves, the climb is very steep and leads to Cave 7, one of the best caves in this lot. People who come this far visit only this cave as it has some of the most elaborate sculptured panels where a seated Buddha is surrounded by lot of figures in different postures.
One can see many Buddhist gods and goddesses in this cave. One of the sculptured panels with a main dancing figure and five other female musicians playing different instruments is very famous and demonstrates the caliber and talent of the sculptors of those days.
Make it a point to carry a torch otherwise it is so dark that one cannot figure out the exquisite minute details on the sitting and standing figures.
The climb to these caves is steeper than either Ajanta or Ellora but it is worth the effort as it is not only spectacular but it also takes you back to an ancient era where people were so talented that they etched and carved for hundreds of years from the apex to the base of the mountains.
The local guide informed us it was not easy to carve as these rocks were unsuitable for excavation, so that might be why many caves in the third group have been left unfinished.
Even though I visited the Aurangabad Caves after seeing Ajanta and Ellora, I was not disappointed as these temples have seen the same dedication and effort but on a smaller scale.