Thursday, May 30, 2013

magical ancient ajanta


Since the work crew is here most days smashing bricks as part of the new window project, I'm not getting much drawing done lately. Instead, I've been going out a lot, beading bits, reading and cruising the internet. The best part of having access to the internet, and the www in particular, has been that I can visit places and learn things it's likely I never would have heard of in times past. One of those places I'd love to see, and likely won't,  are the Ajanta caves of Maharashta, a sparsely populated part of southwestern India.



The caves aren't the classic variety of natural depressions you might find in a mountainous landscape, but instead, are the product of human labor and ingenuity.  As you can see from this picture the caves are part of a horseshoe shaped gorge overlooking a heavily forested river valley. Twenty-two hundred years ago work began on an extensive series of Buddhist cave monuments and over a period of hundreds of years, thirty one of them were carved piece by piece from the rock face. Then, sometime around around the year 1000AD, they fell in to disuse, dense jungle grew around, hiding the caves away from human eyes.



For hundreds of years the Ajanta caves lay undisturbed until 1819, during the time of the British Raj, an officer out on a tiger hunt (yes, they really did) rediscovered one of the doorways. The first thing he did was to carve his name and the date in one of the walls, but the second thing was that he reported his discovery. Archeologists have determined the first of these ancient temple monuments were hewn from bare rock around 230BC. Then a second period of building took place around 460AD. It was this second period that saw the creation of twenty temples that were used as monasteries.



There are paintings everywhere – literally.  Every surface apart from the floor is festooned with narrative paintings.  Time has taken a serious toll on these marvelous works with many parts simply just fragments of what they were when first created.  The stories are almost wholly devoted to Jātakas – tales of the Buddha’s previous lives.  They were created using an ancient method.  The surface was chiseled so it was rough and could hold plaster which was then spread across the surface.  Then the master painter would, while the plaster was still wet, start his work. The colors soaked into the plaster and became a part of the surface.  I'm guessing the artists never imagined their work lasting for over two thousand years. I wonder if my portraits of Crow will last so long? Come to think of it, they just might as he likes to stash them in his personal collection.

But no one knows when and why those caves were abandoned. There are a lot more pictures to be found on the web by googling but not much in the way of video. I did find this one on a World Heritage site if you'd like to have a better look:



It seems to me that human beings usually do their best work when it's done in service to a larger vision. It's guaranteed our new windows, or the building itself, won't last a twentieth as long. That's probably a good thing.

18 comments:

Life As I Know It Now said...

I had never heard of these caves! How very interesting. You always have such fascinating topics you find to discuss!

Tom said...

These really are wonderful. I think your final comment is correct. One just has to look at European cathedrals (well certainly English ones) to see that.

susan said...

I spend too much time reading about less savory developments, so finding stories like this are a balm.

susan said...

Yes, I was thinking so too. I visited a number of them when I lived in London, including all the Wren churches other than St. Paul's. Of course, there are hundreds more I never saw - the magnificent Chartres, for instance.

marja-leena said...

Amazing! The way the temples were carved into the rock remind me of Petra, but the number at Ajanta is mind-boggling. The architecture and detailing in the interiors is astounding. The paintings are another bonus. What a great find, Susan, I'd not heard of these. Good that they are included in the Unesco Heritage sites so they should remain protected.

Sean Jeating said...

Ui, I am tempted to wish the work crew will take their time smashing bricks. : )
Thanks for sharing this find, Susan. And my kind regards to Crow.

susan said...

The hardest part of writing this post was in having to choose only a few of the many equally amazing pictures. Two of the temples are aligned with the summer and winter solstices so that the rising sun on those days lights the throned Buddhas.

I was also happy to see it's a protected site. Obviously, being so far out of the way helped for a very long time.

susan said...

Hah! Since I saved lots more interesting bits to share later I'm hoping it's all done soon. Places like this are rare treasures indeed.

Crow responds in kind :)

Ol'Buzzard said...

Thank you for this post. The pictures and viedo are awesome. I did not know about this site.
the Ol'Buzzard

Sean Jeating said...

Well, correcting myself: May those noisy buggers come to an end soon; and may their work prove to be well done and last ... and last ... at least another one hundred years. : )

susan said...

It's good to be reminded that there is wonder and mystery still in this world. I'm glad you enjoyed this.

susan said...

Yes, finally we have good weather and must keep the windows and curtains closed for hours a day. I mean, the windows already looked okay to me. So long as the new ones last as long as my tenancy I'll be satisfied. :)

Rob-bear said...

Oh, this is an excellent story and adventure! I'm trying to imagine monks working this site, with dedication and skill. I'm sure they felt they were doing something important, but I don't think they could have envisioned the significance of what they produced. Nor how long it wold live.

Blessings and Bear hugs!
Bears Noting, Life in the Urban Forest (poetry).

susan said...

I'm glad you came by to enjoy it, Rob. As far as those monks were concerned I can only guess they had little concern for the material future. We owe them gratitude for their efforts and more to Kismet that protected their temples.

linda said...

hi my dear,
such a lovely post after reading the rather ugly sounding xbox thingy. isn't it amazing what humans are capable of producing when inclined toward something other than money/fame/sex/drugs/r&r? whatever... it is astonishing and i too wish to make the trek tho realize i will have to be happy with the video. thank you for again opening the mind to such beauty and spirituality.

hoping you are doing well. sorry to read again you are doing some sort of window thing replacement. i guess i missed the current drama whilst in my own. sigh, sometimes... i shall be emailing you when i am better. not very well currently but at least it's quiet and nobody's hungry. xoxoxox

susan said...

Hi, my sweet,
It's good to see you've been by this evening. Yes, the XBox thing is nasty in more ways than I wrote about but figured people should know about the having it watch you part. When I first read about Ajanta and saw the pictures I was staggered once again by just how much has changed in what people regard as important. Materialism is such a dead end.

When we rented this place we hadn't noticed all the windows in the building had been changed except on this face. I'd been planning a little balcony garden until I heard they'd be back and that's what's happening now. What with renewing brickwork before the windows it's likely they'll be here well into mid-summer. Oh well.

I'll look forward to hearing from you and will continue to wish you better health.. as always. xoxoxo

Gina Duarte said...

Fascinating and beautiful. It's so nice to see a longtime blogger friend still at it after so many years. My heart's just not in it...so glad yours still is...

susan said...

I'm glad you got to see the place in pictures too. So long as I can still find things as interesting as this I'll keep on posting (even if it isn't quite as much fun without you).
xoxo