Indian Culture and Traditions - 19

How Much Do We Know About Cave Architecture Of India

By Vimla Patil

Dr. Usha  Bhatia, who has done extensive research in the history of art and Hindu  monastic establishments in the Shivalik Hills and the Himalayas, throws  interesting light on our heritage sites!
“Cave monasteries were originally  built as habitats for monks and sanyasis,” says Dr. Usha Bhatia, who worked at  the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai, “These men and women who had  given up the life of the householder, needed solitude, peace and a conducive  environment to meditate or learn the texts of their religion under masters.  Therefore, they chose to make their dwellings far from human settlements. In  the Ashokan period, Buddhism became the state religion of the Maurya Empire in  the 3rd century BC. Earlier to this, wooden dwellings were built for  monks but they were not strong. During this period, the monks moved to the  Western Ghats or Sahyadris because the rocks of these hills were found to be  most suitable for carving out cave monasteries for the monks. Even today, this  area of Maharashtra, with more than 2000 caves of all kinds, is the world’s  richest cave monument area of the world.
“The earliest caves carved by  Buddhist monks belonged to the Hinayana Buddhist path. In this style of  architecture, which prevailed from 200 BC to 200 AD, only symbols of the Buddha  were used. No personal icon was used. After this era, Mahayana Buddhism  flourished in India and the cave temples made in this period showed the Buddha  in many poses. The idol of Buddha became a major feature of all temples of this  period. The caves at Karla – which boast the single largest cave hall with  well-formed pillars and an ornate entrance in the world – are one of the best  examples of Hinayana cave architecture. While there are figures of human  beings, celestial beings and animals on the entrance arch and the walls and  designs with animals on the rounded columns, which allow the devotees to  circumambulate the stupa, the Buddha is represented only by the stupa. Bhaja  caves, which lie on the opposite side of Karla, are in the same category. As  the number of monks increased, the caves also increased. Some were only living  quarters, with no embellishments and most were dug by the monks themselves.
“Ajanta and Ellora are also one of  the most wonderful group of caves. While cave numbers 9 and 10 have horseshoe  shaped gates and windows for light, they also have paintings and sculptures  which are world treasures today. Caves number 12 and 13 are viharas and chaityas.  Caves 15 to 20 are the most beautiful. Caves 21 to 26 come in the third phase  of building these shrines. The caves in Kanheri near Mumbai belong to the 10th  century AD. Some of them have only a stupa which Hindus have traditionally  thought to be a Shivling. Therefore there are lakhs of people here on  Mahashivaratri day. But they are truly worshipping a stupa. Kanheri caves are  also important for the development of the ornate pillars in Buddhist  caves.  The Mahakali caves near Mumbai  are Buddhist in origin. There are also the Lonar caves near Kalyan and  Bhiwandi. The Mandapeshwar and Jogeshwari caves – 108 in number – are Hindu.  Cave number 67 among these is important. There are Udaygiri caves in the  Nasik-Aurangabad area. There are five caves in Bagh near Satna in Madhya  Pradesh.
“But the finest caves in India are  to be found in Ellora and Elephanta. In Ellora, cave numbers 1 to 10 are  Buddhist, 11 to 17 are Hindu and 18 to 30 are Jain. The Kailas temple in Ellora  is counted among the modern wonders of the world because it is literally  scooped out of a single rock mountain. Ellora shows the three religions  co-existed peacefully for centuries in India. There is absolutely nothing to  prove that Hindus ever destroyed Buddhist shrines or any other. In fact, most  Hindus accept the Buddha as the ninth divine incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
  “Until 527 AD, there were no  constructed temples in India. Only cave shrines housed all the deities. In that  year, the first temple of stone blocks was constructed at site number 17 in  Sanchi. After that all the temples of Badami, Aihole and other famous sites  came up. Mortar was used in temple construction only after the 8th  century.
Around the 6th century  AD, Hinduism regained its position as the religion of the majority in India.  This was because Buddhism had grown restrictive and disallowed worship of a  variety of divine powers. Hinduism allowed much more freedom to the individual  to determine his or her own yardstick of spiritualism and manner of rituals or  worship. After the resurgence of Hinduism, great temples were built in all  parts of the South, in Khajuraho, in Gujarat and Orissa. Some of these temples  are architectural wonders because they are constructed only of stone. Their  intricate sculptures and architectural design and details are a major subject  of research and study today in many countries.”
Prof. Bhatia has obtained her MA in history of art from the Chandigarh  University. She completed her PhD under the guidance of Dr. B N Goswami on the  subject ‘Hindu Monastic Establishments in the Punjab Hills’. She worked as  assistant editor of the Lalit Kala Akademi publications and later became the  editor. She worked with Karl Khandalawala on various publications including  Thousand Years of Indian Painting. She also worked on the publication Painted  Visions from the Goenka collection. Presently, she works with Dr. Saryu Doshi,  Hon. Director of the National Gallery of Modern Art.
The author was Editor of Femina for 25 years. Vimla Patil is among  India's senior most Journalists-Media persons. She excels in writing lifestyle  pieces, women's concerns, travelogues, celebrity interviews, art-culture pieces  about India.  

India Is Home To 25000 Wild Elephants - The Largest Asian Elephant Population In The World
By Vimla Patil

Ecologists and  conservationists the world over believe that Indian forests have nurtured the  largest population of Asian elephants for a unique reason: The people of India  see the elephant as a form of Ganesha, the god of auspiciousness and wisdom!  They are reluctant to kill elephants even when they kill hundreds of people or  destroy crops in several eastern and southern states of India.
“In the conservation of wild life, it is difficult to judge  whether human beings are wrong or animals are getting out of control,” says  Meenakshi Nagendran, who represents the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund  Programme, an arm of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “I have worked with  the Asian Elephant Conservation Programme for some years now and have studied  the reasons why wild elephants destroy crops and kill villagers all through the  eastern and southern states of India. As their habitats – the dense tropical  jungles of Assam, Bengal, Orissa, Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala –  through which the elephant corridor passes – get denuded or destroyed and human  settlements encroach upon forest lands, elephants are deprived of their food and  water resources. They are forced to come out of the jungles in search of food  and water. Naturally, they feast upon the harvests, which are ripening in farms  that border the forest. One elephant eats 150 kg of food and drinks 150 gallons  of water every day! That makes the requirement of 25000 elephant really  awesome.
“Additionally, when  elephants get used to eating tasty paddy crops, they return to eat some more,  thus destroying the livelihood of thousands of poor farmers in India. But we  must respect their wildness and realize that they do not have the ability to  discern that they are doing wrong in stampeding into the fields so carefully  planted and nurtured by human beings. As animals, they go only by their hunger  and thirst. People, on the other hand, are forced to encroach upon forestlands  and even reserved animal sanctuaries and parks because of the huge growth in  population and the burgeoning ambitions of people to own more and more. This is  the basis of the animal-human being conflict which results in loss to both!”
Meenakshi informs that  the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund of U.S. has, until now, disbursed $6.4  million to various NGOs (like Aranya) and community projects groups working in  the area of conservation and to government agencies looking after elephant  populations in India. There is hope in India that if the conservation programme  works well with the support of international agencies, Asian elephants in India  will multiply and make India a wild-life-rich nation. At the present time, the  entire world has just 35,000 wild Asian elephants, out of which 25,000 are in  Indian forests. Kerala, the southern state, has the maximum number of elephants  in captivity. Elephants are used in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra  for all festivals, be they Hindu or Muslim. The rich and fabulous temples of  South India nurture large numbers of elephants because they are considered  sacred and auspicious. They are caparisoned with heavy golden ornaments and  participate in temple processions and festivals throughout the year. They are  also employed in the business of timber cutting and huge construction sites.
Krishnendu Bose, a  wild life enthusiast-film-maker, has been tracking India’s elephant population  with passion for the past two decades. Having created a large amount of footage  on elephant behavior and their conflict with human beings, Bose has now made a  film called “Elephant – God or Destroyer”. Bose actually lived in Kerala  and Karnataka villages bordering elephant forests and filmed their attacks on  farms and human beings. He says that wild elephants have killed hundreds of  people in the last three years. His film shows how villagers in remote forests  build their own alarm systems to drive away elephant herds from their fields.  Bose shows in the film that the main threat to wild elephants is from the  destruction of forest corridors, which are vital for elephants to move from one  forest to another – from the Karbi-Anglong forest in Assam to the Satyamangalam  forest in Kerala. This corridor – which stretches from Assam, through Bengal,  Bihar, Orissa, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka to end in Kerala – is constantly  depleted or destroyed by highways, dams, railway lines, human encroachments and  by timber merchants and quarry owners in the Nilgiris, the Eastern and Western  Ghats and the Himalayan foothills.
“Elephants are listed  under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972,” says Bose,  “But when their forest habitats shrink, the elephant-human being conflict  worsens. What chance does a human being have in comparison to an elephant,  which weighs 4000 kgs? When elephants become insecure, they attack human beings  and are sometimes shot down. They stop mating and the species comes under the  threat of extinction. As it is, in some parts of India, there is one female per  100 male elephants. This is dangerous for the survival of the Asian elephant.”  Bose’s film, made with help from the Public  Sector Broadcasting Trust, India, is a graphic portrayal of the present  situation in many states. Bose further says, “The Kaziranga experiment of  India’s wildlife programme has been successful. It is found that whenever man  leaves nature alone, the forces of nature heal themselves and bring back the  normal balance of forest life. In Kaziranga, it has been found that by stopping  human interference, the number of rhinos, elephants and even tigers have  increased in numbers!”
Bose further says,  “The Asian elephant has survived in spite of all these disasters because it is  considered an incarnation or form of Ganesha. But villagers, as you can see in  my film, are beginning to question their own faith. Is the elephant an animal,  a god or a destroyer? They ask. Still, their faith emerges stronger and they  are reluctant to harm an elephant except in extreme cases. Though their numbers  are depleting, wild animals like tigers, lions, deer, elephants etc continue to  inhabit Indian forests because of the faith of millions that each species is  associated with one divine deity or the other. But on the other hand, the  destruction of animals and forests continued unabated. This is the strange  duality of the Indian cultural mindset.”
Krishnendu Bose’s film  has been shown in India through the good offices of Meenakshi Nagendran from  the U.S. Asian Elephant Conservation Fund Programme, Bittu Sahgal, editor of  Sanctuary and Hemendra Kothari, founder, Wildlife Conservation Trust of India.
Author - Elephants are a symbol of aishwarya - opulence and prosperity - strength and wisdom. They are the vahana of Lakshmi and are auspicious. This is why they feature in all temples. Also, Buddha's mother Mahamaya saw a white elephant in her dream before the birth of the Buddha and thus in Buddhist temples, the Buddha is represented by an elephant. Similarly, Trishala, the mother of Mahaveer Swami, the 24th Jain Tirthankar, also saw an elephant among the 14 auspicious symbols in her dream while she was pregnant. Additionally, Ganesha, the lord of knowledge, auspiciousness and wisdom has an elephant head. Thus to all Indic religions and cultures, the elephant is sacred and appears in all places of worship. It is symbolic of royalty. The king of Siam  or Thailand has the largest collection of white elephants which are even more auspicious and there are films made on his collection. A search on the net will show these films.’.

Om Tat Sat

(My humble salutations to  Ms. Vimla Patil ji and hindu samskrit dot com  for the collection)


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