Sunday, February 17, 2008
Ellora & Ajanta
It is well nigh impossible to over-esteem the stupendous achievements in architecture, sculpture, and painting visible at Ellora & Ajanta, where the temples, monasteries, and sculptures were not "built" or "made" but simply excavated from solid rock, mostly in the first millenium A.D. Nowhere are the challenges associated with these endeavors (and one's awe, bordering on disbelief, at their realization) driven home more clearly than in Ellora's Cave 16, a mammoth Kailash temple that was excavated and shaped over a century and a half. Not to put too fine a point on it, the temple -- apparently intended as an earthly replica of Mount Kailash, abode of Shiva and Parvati -- is simply one of the most impressive sights I've ever seen. But the paintings that have survived at Ajanta add yet another layer of wonder -- at the mere fact of their survival, but also because the Ajanta paintings humanize the sculptural setting, by enabling the viewer access to a more intimate register, one that does not overawe with its scale but with its vividness. The scale of the artistry on view at these sites, and the forbidding light conditions of the caves, mean that any notion of doing justice to Ajanta & Ellora by means of these photos is frivolous.