Words read during my school days swirled around me. Every word I read became alive. They danced around me to a mystic rhythm, from my distant memory. Gradually the crescendo kept building up.
I spiraled back in my memory tunnel towards a long forgotten reminiscence. For a moment, I was back in my ninth grade. Our History teacher had asked us to follow while one of my fellow classmates read out aloud from our History text. The chapter was on ‘Ajanta Ellora.’ I had listened in rapt attention. I was absorbing every word on the page like a thirsty sponge.
Little did I know back then that someday I shall be blessed enough to see those very words from my textbook in reality.
Visiting of Ajanta Ellora topped the list of my Aurangabad tour.It was a weekend retreat for my husband and me. We caught a train to the city of Aurangabad from Mumbai, Dadar station. It took us about 9 hours to reach.
Aurangabad, the city was named after the sixth Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb. Son of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal of famed Taj Mahal had found this place befitting of creating his own history.
History in itself has a magnetism that no man can escape. I too was caught into the magic of the city.
We had booked a cab to take us around the place. Next day early morning, we set out on our new venture. Our first destination was Daulatabad Fort, about 15 km from Aurangabad.
Daulatabad Fort having derived its name from the word, ‘daulat’ that means wealth was a true epitome of prosperity. Even today it stands with the arrogance, telling the tale from the 12th century when it was built. Every brick and mortar of the Fort whispered untold stories of both war and heroism.
From there, we headed to Bibi Ka Maqbara, built in a resemblance of the real Taj Mahal by Aurangzeb’s son, Prince Azam Shah in the memory of his mother Dilras Banu Begum. It is also known as the ‘Taj of Deccan.’ The tribute in white marble bespeaks of the purity and sheer elegance of the time.The beautiful gardens and fountains that surrounds the mausoleum, carries the evidence of the artistic mind of its creators.
We also visited Panchakki or the Water Mill. The great architectural mind of the geniuses in India during that era.
Our final destination in the city was that of Aurangzeb’s Tomb. Following the direction given by local people, we arrived at a tiny lane. The gateway of the tomb belonging to one of the greatest ruler of the country lay in such unobtrusive manner, that it was easy to miss.
Beneath the open sky, encircled by modest marble-cut screen was the final resting place Aurangzeb.The true ruler lay silently amongst his own beloved people. His tomb humbled me to the core. Reminding me that even after being dead for over two centuries a legend never ceases to be a legend.
Of all the places, we visited in Aurangabad one that surpassed everything was undoubtedly, the caves of Ajanta Ellora.
Our next day’s journey took us to the much-awaited caves. Our first stop was Ellora. As we drove past the meandering hilly road, the panoramic view that welcomed us was simply awe-inspiring.
Compared to Ajanta, Ellora caves were of more recent in time. The 34 rock-cut caves had witnessed the touches of three different religions – Buddhists, Hindus and Jains. As I stood marveling the architectures, I was reminded of the great artisan ship of the artists of time when all the religions co-existed together harmoniously. Each rock was carved to precision. It was as if the sculptures were throbbing with an unknown life force.
Leaving behind the roads of Ellora we headed towards Ajanta, a true sanctuary to the path of Lord Buddha.
Buddha, a beautiful word that refers to the enlightened one, sits here at eternal peace. Beckoning all the souls to find respite from the woes of the world outside.
Folklore has it that the caves were long forgotten to mankind until the chance discovery by a British officer on his hunting spree.
The entire mountain was excavated in a crescent moon shape to uncover the array of wealth that was hidden behind the foliage for so many years.In total, there were 30 caves. Each cave stood magnificently, echoing its own tale from the glorious past. The cravings in each one of them were breath taking.
Since the time immemorial when these caves sheltered the Monks, they have paved the way for all to sanctity.
A primitive silence prevailed as I stood in front of the rock cut statue of meditating Lord Buddha at Ajanta. Lining the caves were tiny cells where the monks once lived and studied.
Above me were the celestial drawings of artists etched out laboriously. Leaving behind the memories from thelife of Lord Buddha. Tales from the Jatakas embellished the walls. The riots of colors stood out against the dull rock surface. Rainbows predominantly in hues of red, blue, green and yellow brought out in contrast of greys.
The steady sound of dripping water reached my ears. Somewhere from deep within the cavern, the bats screeched. The silence broke suddenly. I was jolted back from my reverie.
A thousand words would not have made Ajanta Ellora as alive as I witnessed with my own eyes. A true heritage of the world still waits for all to pay homage at least once in their lifetime.
Although the Buddhist monks have long gone, if you close your eyes and hear with your heart, you can still hear the caves reverberating to the ancient chant of ‘Buddham Saranam Gachchami,’ meaning ‘I go to Buddha for refuge.’ The tempo that I was hearing for so long reached its climax and erupted into thousands of sparkling light of myriad colors.
I found my peace under the loving grace of Buddha, whose presence can be felt in every nook and corner of the caves. He continues to look after all his children who come to seek him.
The tour ended too soon for us. However, we brought back a memory worthy of all. In my heart I still carry, the sacred vandana or worship of the Greatest of the Greats ‘Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa’ that so aptly means ‘Honour to the Blessed one, the Exalted One, the fully Enlightened One.’