The cave temples of Ajanta and Ellora are unique artistic creations – veritably the architectural marvels of ancient India. Located near the city of Aurangabad, in Maharashtra, these monumental rock-cut monastic complexes have left millions from around the world simply overawed. Extensively researched and written about by Indian and foreign scholars, (though a lot more about Ajanta), both these complexes figure among the ‘protected monuments’ of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). And also among the UNESCO’s world heritage sites.
Ajanta is the more ancient site dating back from the 2nd century BCE to about 600 CE. The 30 caves here were built as secluded retreats of the Buddhist monks, who taught and performed rituals in the Chaityas and Viharas -- the ancient seats of learning and nerve-centers of the Buddhist cultural movement. These caves, aesthetically decked with paintings and sculptures depicting the Jataka tales, are considered to be masterpieces of Buddhist religious art. The Ajanta caves were rediscovered in 1819 by John Smith from the Madras Regiment, after having been lost to the world for more than a thousand years.
Ellora: located at a distance of 30 kilometers from the city of Aurangabad, in Maharashtra, is a group of 34 caves, adorned with beautifully-crafted carvings, depicting the various pantheonic divinities of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. These caves -- cut out, side by side, in the Deccan basalt, during 600-1000 AD -- exemplify an awe-inspiring technological exploit of ancient India. The sculpture of this monastic complex, especially of the Kailasha temple, is sheer poetry in stone expressing some of the amazing plastic forms.
Dulari Qureshi’s book offers a comprehensive study of all the rock-cut cave shrines of the widely-acclaimed Ajanta and Ellora – together with line-drawings, photographs, ground plans and maps of the caves. She also discovers in Ajanta paintings the legendary fabrics of ancient India: variegated, magical, kaleidoscopic – suggestive of the genius of Indian craftsmen and artisans.
Dr Dulari Qureshi has recently retired as Professor and Director of the Department of Tourism Administration.