Cave temples were excavated here between the 6th-8th c. CE. The caves are a few miles outside the city, in two groups about a mile apart. This image shows the approach to the eastern group--to give some idea of the landscape, and the enormous efforts that went into building them.
||The two types of Buddhist caves are the vihara or monastery, where the monks lived, and the chaitya or worship hall (at left). This is a smaller-sized worship space (10 feet high) from Cave 4 in Aurangabad's western caves. Note the vaulted ribs in the ceiling, which were carved to mimic wooden construction techniques of the time. At the bottom is a stupa, which is one of the symbolic forms of the Buddha. Aurangabad's caves have considerable iconic imagery, but this particular cave was excavated by monks from conservative Buddhists pejoratively called the "Hinayana" school (I use that word with some reservation, but the modern Theravada Buddhists were only one of 16 such schools), and so the Buddha was rendered aniconically.|
|Here is just one of those iconic Buddha figures, this one in the meditation pose (with the hands folded in the lap).|
|Cave 7 of the western group has the most highly
developed images. On the left side of the cave door is a large sculpture
of the Bodhisattva Padmapani, who is the embodiment of compassion. Here he
is shown with the lotus, which is one of his symbols, and he is displaying the
open palm for the "fear-not" gesture. On both sides it shows the
bodhisattva actively intervening to save devotees from eight perils:
On the left side he is saving them from fire, the enemy's sword, improsonment, and shipwreck, and on the right side from attacks by lions, snakes, elephants, and from Death itself.
This was sculpted in a time when the worship of these celestial bodhisattvas was an established feature of Buddhist religious life, and these beings were seen as sources of help and blessing.
Here are close-ups of a few of the dangers: At left the bodhisattva is saving them from fire and sword (see flames at top left, and the sword just below it), and in the figure above we see people being saved from a very small elephant at far right (clearly not to scale).
Notice in all of the images the bodhisattva is coming to devotees with his hand in abhaya mudra ("fear-not").
|On the right side of the same doorway is the
bodhisattva Vajrapani, the embodiment of wisdom. He is dressed like a
prince, and carries in his hand the sword of knowledge that cuts through
ignorance. Celestial nymphs and musicians fly over his head, but the
figure at the bottom right is Saraswati, the Hindu goddess who is the patron of
arts, culture and learning. Including her image here is a good indication
that 8th century religious boundaries were different than they are today (that
is, the sculptors didn't see any problem including a Hindu goddess).
This same combination of Padmapani and Vajrapani (representing wisdom and compassion as the ultimate virtues) can be seen in the famous cave paintings at Ajanta.
|Finally, here are a small collection of
teaching Buddhas (in some cases sitting with legs crossed, and sometimes with
legs upright, but in every case the hands are in the gesture associated with the
Buddha's First Sermon (which is of course a symbol for the Buddha's entire
teaching). Note that in each of the little images the Buddha has some
listeners standing around him as an audience to hear the teaching.
These images were small (six inches to a foot tall), and this was really just a small decorative panel on a much larger wall, but I was drawn by the detail and the fine quality of the work.
These pages are in progress.
Page maintained by James G. Lochtefeld.
Last modified 13 August 2011