The magnificent architecture of the caves could only be envisioned by people with a higher purpose than by merely those who wanted to create an art form.
Having recently graduated and entered the corporate world, I feel a void in my life. My weekends feel boring without the hostel atmosphere and college friends. A new city and a new life though have given me the opportunity to explore myself and make new friends. Pune is the perfect place for someone who is looking for travel, especially historic tourism laced with natural beauty and adventure. In my last two months here, I have had a varied range of astounding experiences ranging from witnessing the 125th year of Ganeshotsav celebrations in and around the magnificent Dagduseth Halwai Ganesh temple to spending a night in the ancient Harishchandragad fort after trekking through the challenging Khireshwar route. Though all these experiences were awe-inspiring the best of the lot was a hurried 2 day trip with my parents (family is always special) to the city of Auranagabad and the sublime caves of Ajanta and Ellora.
After reaching Aurangabad and seeking the blessings of Grishneshwar Mahadev, we reached Ellora. The time available with us would not do justice to these architectural pearls, but we wanted to cover as much as we could in the scorching Auranagabad heat.
The primary attraction at Ellora is Cave number 16, the famous Kailashnath Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The exact dates when this structure was built or the technology used to build this Temple remain a mystery to date. The only thing known about this temple is that it has been built paradoxically using top-down construction by scooping out rock from a mountain. A video on Youtube by Phenomenal Travel Videos describes the impossibility of the construction. I am no expert in architecture and hence I will not dive into details of the possible methods of construction of this magnificent temple. I would also not want to go in depth about the special features of this Temple or the caves in general, because that is not the purpose of this article. I would through the rest of this article want to illustrate through examples, how such a temple can be built by pure human effort and how an advanced society contributed to this brilliant feat of engineering.
On the roof of the main Garbagriha (Sanctum Sanctorum) of the Kailashnath Temple, is a carving of Nataraja. The sculpture has been on the roof by cutting out rock and the laws of gravity would be prohibitive to such an exercise, but that is the least amazing thing about the sculpture. The sculpture is carved on the ceiling and any mistake while making the sculpture would have ruined the entire design of the Temple but the sculpture has been made perfectly without any mistake, which again is not the most astonishing feature of this sculpture. The real marvel is that when we look at the sculpture from below, it looks as if it is looking at us and as we move around in a circle, it looks as if the gaze of the sculpture is following us. This as one of my friends, a virtual reality enthusiast put it is the earliest example of perspective projection.
My mother and father were amazed with the sculpture and so was I, but after a little bit of contemplation a thought struck me. This thought stayed with me for the rest of the tour, both at Ellora and at Ajanta. This thought had started to explain to me a lot of things .Now I could comprehend how these caves were built with such perfection. The thought was that these caves were not exclusively a work of art, they were not singularly a feat of engineering or a show of cutting edge science. The goal with which these architects worked was different; it was the transcendental goal of achieving God by perfection of work. They dedicated this work to the Supreme Being by not inscribing their names anywhere in the Temple. They had dedicated the fruit of their work to the Supreme Being, as suggested in the third Adhyay (Chapter) of the Bhagavad Gita. When you do that, achieving perfection is no longer a goal but a mere necessity, a matter of routine and all the mighty engineering, technology and artistic innovations are just a means to fulfilling a routine task.
This can be further understood from the fact that neither the architects of Ellora, nor the Buddhist monks of Ajanta felt the need to document the technology they had found in the process of creating these brilliant caves or these everlasting paintings, because to them if you found a purpose in life, you would always get a way to find suitable technology and tools to achieve the purpose.
A modern day example of this phenomenon is Dashrath Manjhi, a man who carved out 110 meter long path in a mountain of 7 meter depth and 9 meter width with a hammer and chisel to create a road. His motivation was to build a road so that nobody from the village would meet the fate his wife met; falling of the hill and dying while trying to fetch water.
Hence, it is the purpose in life that makes a man act. Higher the purpose, higher the achievement and the better you get. The men who built Ajanta and Ellora had a higher purpose and that was to build a perfect Temple for the God of their choice and they did so in a dutiful, dispassionate way. But in their quest for God they remained peaceful and did not cause any plunder and hence developed a level of technological and artistic expertise that is unachievable by normal means. This is just a microcosm of how ancient Indian science, technology, math, art and other knowledge systems developed. The purpose of seeking knowledge was to attain perfection and achieve the status of the Supreme in the process. This was embodied by the Rishis who never filed any patents and were seldom proud of their knowledge (those who were, faced the consequences). It is this spiritual approach to knowledge and work that had allowed our society to advance so much. This approach also helped place an equal importance on the “How’s” of the material world which are currently taught as a part of science and the “What Can Be’s” of the metaphysical realm that are currently taught as a part of the Humanities.
Finally, I would like to state that the gravest mistakes done to our education system is the decoupling of science and humanities along with the degradation of the instructional material which has led to sub standard personnel in the Humanities. This has stifled innovation and creativity amongst us and stripped us of the ability to find and work towards a greater purpose. This has made us slaves to a system that we don’t have the creativity or skill set to change. And hence many of us feel that we are living a life in a mechanical way bereft of purpose. The next time you feel that way, visit Ajanta and Ellora and other feats of marvelous engineering and remember that achieving perfection in what you do is not choice but a necessity and you should work towards it. The need for perfection can’t be easily articulated and hence to have a better understanding of it, the Bhagavad Gita would help.