Aurangabad Cave Temples, Group 1, Maharasthra

high-definition creative commons photographs from the first group of rock-cut cave temples at Aurangabad, Maharasthra, together with a description.

The Aurangabad Caves
Description from Burgess and Fergusson, The Cave Temples of India (1885), Chapter IV

(slightly re-edited)

The group of caves at Aurangabad, though one of the smallest and least known, is far from being one of the least interesting among the cave temples of Western India. With the exception of a small and ruinous Chaitya, and some insignificant cells, they are all of one age, and that of the latest known. They are, in fact, the last dying effort of the style, and, like most architectural objects similarly situated, these caves display an excess of ornamentation and elaborateness of detail, which, though pleasing at first sight, is very destructive of true architectural effect.

To the historian of art they are not, however, less interesting on that account, nor less worthy of attention in this place. The hills in which these caves are situated lie to the north of the city, about a mile from the walls, and rise to a height of about 700 feet above the plains, presenting a precipitous scarp to the the south – the side in which the caves are excavated. They may be divided into three groups, scattered over a distance of fully a mile and a half, the first and second of which are Buddhist of a late date; and the third – from their unfinished condition and the entire absence of sculpture in them, it is difficult to say to what sect they belonged.

The first group consists of five caves lying nearly due north from the city. They are reached by a footpath ascending the right side of the gorge or recess of the hill in which they are, at a level of about 300 feet above the plain. Commencing from the west end of the series, or that farthest from where the path lands, we shall number them towards the east.

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Cave 1

Cave I, the most westerly of this group, is reached by a precipitous and difficult footpath leading up to it from the others, which are all at a lower level. The front, which is 74 feet in length, has had four advanced pillars forming a porch, and supporting a great mass of rock projecting far in advance of the pillars of the verandah. A great slab of rock, however, several feet thick and more than fifty in length, has split off by a horizontal flaw, and fallen down on the platform, crushing the pillars of the porch under it.

The verandah is 76 feet 5 inches long and 9 feet wide, with eight pillars in front, each with square bases and round or polygonal shafts of four different patterns, and bracket capitals with struts under each wing of the bracket, carved mostly with female figures. The whole style of these columns is so similar to that of those of Cave I. at Ajaṇṭā, and of others near the eastern extremity of the group, they must be assigned to the same age, while this being probably the last cave attempted here, it fixes the latest limit of this series as about coeval with or slightly subsequent to the latest at Ajaṇṭā – say towards the middle or end of the seventh century A.D.

The back wall of the verandah is pierced for three doors and two windows. It was intended for a 28 pillared Vihara; but the work was stopped when only the front aisle, about 9 feet wide, had been roughly cleared out.

Cave 2

Descending now to the second cave, we find that it has been a temple intended solely for worship, and yet not of the pattern usually designated Chaitya caves, but of a form probably borrowed by the Mahāyāna sect of Buddhists from the Brahmanical temples. The front is quite destroyed, but it has consisted of a verandah or open hall, 21 feet 6 inches wide by 12 feet 10 inches deep, with two pillars and their corresponding pilasters in front. Behind this the floor is raised about 2 feet, and on this stand two square pillars neatly carved on the upper halves of the shafts. Inside these is an aisle, about 9 feet wide and 21 feet long, in front of the shrine, which is surrounded by a pradakṣiṇā or passage for circumambulation – a ceremony probably taken over, with others from the Brahmanical religions, and employed by the early Buddhists in connexion with the Chaitya, and by the Mahāyāna or later development of the sect, as in this case, in connexion with the shrine containing the principal image.

At the doorway of this shrine stand two tall figures, each upon a lotus flower. That on the left of the door is the more plotic dressed, and from the small image of Buddha on his forehead and the lotus stalk he grasps in his right hand, at the top of which is also a figure of Buddha, we may suppose it was meant for Padmapāni or Avalokiteśwara, and the more elaborately-dressed one on the other side for Indra. Each is attended by a vidyādhara or gandharva and by a nāga figure with the five-hooded cobra. Inside is a seated Buddha, 9 feet high, his feet on a lotus footstool, and his bands in the dharmacakra or teaching mudrā, with celestial admirers over each shoulder. On the walls are four rows of smaller figures, each with his attendant chauri bearers, and some in the jñāṇa and others in the dharmacakra mudrā.

The walls of the pradakśiṇā are also covered with multitudes of similar figures. This cave is hardly earlier than the first, but not separated from it by any long interval. They were probably excavated within the same century.

Cave 3

The next is the finest cave in the group. It is a vihāra, of which the hall is 411 feet wide by 421 feet deep, with twelve columns, all richly carved in a variety of patterns combining the styles of Caves 1 and 26 at Ajaṇṭā... On each side of the hall are two cells, and a room or chapel with two pillars in front; those on the left side are marvels of elaborate sculpture. The verandah has been 30 feet long by 8 feet 9 inches wide, with four pillars in front, and a chapel at each end, but it is entirely ruined.

The antechamber to the shrine has two pillars and pilasters in front, with struts from their capitals consisting of female figures standing under foliage. The shrine is occupied by the usual colossal Buddha, his feet down, and hands in the dharmacakra mudrā, but the face and one knee have been damaged. It has one striking peculiarity, however, not noticed elsewhere, namely, two groups of worshipping figures about life-size which occupy the front corners of the shrine, seven on one side and six on the other, both male and female, some with garlands in their hands, mostly with thick lips and very elaborate headdresses and necklaces.

It is difficult to conjecture the age of this work, but it may be approximately placed about 640 to 650 A.D., or even later, for it is evident from an inspection of its plan that the original idea of a vihāra as an abode of monks had almost as entirely died out, as in the latest caves at Elurā. There are only four cells in the angles which could be used for that purpose. The back and sides are used as chapels, and adorned in the most elaborate manner, and the whole is a shrine for worship rather than a place of residence. We cannot tell how far the same system might have been adopted in the latest caves at Ajaṇṭā.

The corresponding caves there, 23 and 4, are only blocked out, and their plans cannot be ascertained. But this one is certainly later than no. 1 there, which still retains all the features of a vihāra as completely as the Nahāpana caves at Nashik.

Chaitya Hall and Cave 5

A few yards to the east of the last is the Chaitya cave, very much ruined, the whole front being gone, and what is left filled with fallen rock, ∓c. Its dimensions seem to have been 38 feet in length by 22.5 wide, with seventeen plain octagonal pillars and a dāgoba, 5 feet 8 inches in diameter. From the primitive simplicity of this cave we can hardly suppose that it was excavated after the middle of the fourth century, and may be even earlier. If this be the case, then we must suppose that there were monks' cells and vihāras of a much earlier type than any that new remain.

These may have been enlarged, and altered into Caves 2 and 5, or, which seems very probable, they were to the east of no. 5, where there is now a large hollow under the rock partially filled up with debris. Cave 5 appears to have been originally a small temple like no. 2, but without any dwārapālas to the shrine, which is all that is left. Inside it is about 8 feet square, and contains a large of Buddha, now appropriated by the Jains of the neighbouring city, and dedicated to Parśvanātha.


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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