A visit to Aganta Caves and other Buddhist places in Southern India

Brother Hing Sing Huat and I with our host made a detour to visit some significant Buddhist sites after the foundation ground breaking ceremony of a Buddhist Centre on May 24th 2014 in Andhra Pradesh at the invitation of Venerable Analayo. Click on to the link to read: Foundation Ceremony of a Buddhist Centre at Andhra Pradesh | Buddhism and Daily Living.

We arrived at Chennai Airport on May 23rd 2014 and departed from Hyderabad International Airport on June 1st 2014 at 11:30 pm for our homeward journey. We travelled by land transport with train rides on two legs of the journey: one for 16 hours and another leg for 14 hours while the rest of the trip by car.

The weather was extremely hot hovering at 45 degrees and up to a high of 47 degrees Celsius in the day. We spent most the time visiting some Buddhist Centres, schools, colleges and universities and several householders and also did a blessing service for a marriage ceremony to the newly-wed couple, to reach out to them in the propagation of Buddhism.

Significant Buddhist Sites

Rock-cut caves at Guntupalli – The history of Guntupalli caves dated back to 200 B.C. Thousands of people still visit this historical place and it is believed that the entire development and expansion of its growth was during the centuries of 2nd B.C. to 3rd A.D. In the entire Sangharam of this place, either in rock-cuts or in structures, Gautama Buddha picture impressions are not found. So it is evident that “Heenayanam” Buddhist culture i.e. early ages of Buddhist culture still prevails in this place

 Jeelakarragudem caves 1

Ellora Caves – These 34 monasteries and temples, extending over more than 2 km, were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff, not far from Aurangabad, in Maharashtra. Ellora, with its uninterrupted sequence of monuments dating from A.D. 600 to 1000, brings the civilization of ancient India to life. Not only is the Ellora complex a unique artistic creation and a technological exploit but, with its sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India.

Ellora Caves 2

Aganta Caves – The caves are situated 100 km north-east of Ellora, 104 km from Aurangabad and 52 km from Jalgaon Railway Station. They are cut into the volcanic lava of the Deccan in the forest ravines of the Sahyadri Hills and are set in beautiful sylvan surroundings. These magnificent caves containing carvings that depict the life of Buddha, and their carvings and sculptures are considered to be the beginning of classical Indian art.

The 29 caves were excavated beginning around 200 BC, but they were abandoned in AD 650 in favour of Ellora. Five of the caves were temples and 24 were monasteries, thought to have been occupied by some 200 monks and artisans. The Ajanta Caves were gradually forgotten until their ‘rediscovery’ by a British tiger-hunting party in 1819.

The Ajanta site comprises thirty caves cut into the side of a cliff which rises above a meander in the Waghora River. Today the caves are reached by a road which runs along a terrace mid-way up the cliff, but each cave was once linked by a stairway to the edge of the water. This is a Buddhist community, comprising five sanctuaries or Chaitya-grihas (caves 9, 10, 19, 26 and 29) and monastic complex sangharamas or viharas. A first group of caves was created in the 2nd century BC: the chaitya-grihas open into the rock wall by doorways surmounted by a horse-shoe shaped bay. The ground plan is a basilical one: piers separate the principal nave from the side aisles which join in the apsis to permit the ritual circumambulation behind the (commemorative monument). This rupestral architecture scrupulously reproduces the forms and elements visible in wooden constructions.

A second group of caves was created at a later date, the 5th and 6th centuries AD, during the Gupta and post-Gupta periods. These caves were excavated during the supremacy of the Vakatakas and Guptas. According to inscriptions, Varahadeva, the minister of the Vakataka king, Harishena (c. AD 475-500), dedicated Cave 16 to the Buddhist sangha while Cave 17 was the gift of the prince, a feudatory. An inscription records that the Buddha image in Cave 4 was the gift of some Abhayanandi who hailed from Mathura.

The earlier architectural formulas were re-employed but treated in an infinitely richer and more ample manner. The decoration attained, at this time, an unequalled splendour: the statuary is numerous (it was already permissible to represent Buddha as a human; these representations are found both on the facades and in the interior). Finally, the wall painting, profuse and sensitive, constitutes, no doubt, the most striking artistic achievement of Ajanta.

Under the impulse of the Gupta dynasty, Indian art in effect reached its apogee. The Ajanta Caves are generally decorated with painted or sculpted figures of supple form and classic balance with which the name of the dynasty has remained synonymous. The refined lightness of the decoration, the balance of the compositions, the marvellous beauty of the feminine figures place the paintings of Ajanta among the major achievements of the Gupta and post-Gupta style and confer on them the ranking of a masterpiece of universal pictorial art.



Other Sites of Interest

Lumbini Park is an amusement park near Tank Bund, it has musical fountain and laser show from 6:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Lumbini park offers a lot of amusement for all kinds of people. This park is a part of the Buddha Poornima project. It is located a few yards from the monolithic Buddha statue on the Rock of Gibraltar in the Hussain Sagar. The park has been named after the garden that was the birth place of Siddharth, the later day Buddha.

 Andhra Pradesh State Archeological Museum – We visited the Buddhist Gallery where some relics were housed with ancient artifacts.

New Buddhist Centres under construction – We visited some sites in Aurangabad under construction and it is encouraging to see the revival of Buddhism in these southern states.

Other Sites 1

Homeward Bound

It was a tiring trip but worth every cent to know that Buddhism is being revived in India, the birth place of Lord Buddha although in the poorer state. Nevertheless with the support from Buddhists outside India, Buddhism should once again take root here and hopefully flourish to its glorious days.

“Bhikkhus, There are nay beings, such as devas, humans, Brahmins, who have little dust of impurity in their eyes of wisdom. Through not hearing the Dhamma they will suffer a great loss of the extraordinary Dhamma which is the Path and Fruition. There will appear clearly some devas and humans who will realize the nature and meaning of the Dhamma perfectly and thoroughly.” (Mahabuddhavamsa – The Great Chronicle of Buddhas, Singapore Edition, Page 401).

On the night of our departure to the airport we witnessed the fervent ceremony of the people celebrating a historical event, the creation of a new state from the mother land of Andhra Pradesh, a dawn of a new state, Telangang.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

Contributor: Chin Kee Thou

July 5th 2014

About Chin Kee Thou

Reading Buddhist scriptures and writing articles for the blog and newsletters.
This entry was posted in Buddhism in Daily Life, Dhamma in Daily Life, Events, Sutta in Daily Life. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A visit to Aganta Caves and other Buddhist places in Southern India

  1. Pingback: A pictorial tour of archaeological sites and other monuments in Southern India | Buddhism and Daily Living

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