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Maharashtra Tourism --- The Offical website of the Maharashtra Tourism
Buddha

"Go into all lands and preach the gospel.
Tell them that the poor and the lowly, 
the rich and the high are all one
and that all castes unite in this religion
as do the rivers in the sea."

The sacred places of pilgrimage directly associated with Buddha -- Lumbini, Sarnath, Bodhgaya, Kusinagara -- are all in northern India. But Maharashtra is unequalled in its wealth of splendid rock-cut sanctuaries in the country, Maharashtra has over 1,000 -- indispensable for the study of Buddhist art and architecture. Pilgrims from many lands come to pay homage to the Enlightened One, at one or more of these cave temples in Maharashtra.

The Buddhist bhikshu (monk) was a wanderer, carrying Buddha’s message of compassion and code of ethics from village to village. Often he followed the trade routes that criss-crossed the Deccan plateau, connecting wealthy towns and urban emporiums with one of the several flourishing sea ports and trading centres on the west coast.
Sometimes he would meet a caravan of merchandise going to Barygaza (today’s Bharuch,) or Sopara from where ships would carry these prized goods to distant countries. Sometimes there would be a Greek or Roman merchant in the company, curious to hear the teachings of the Enlightened One, a merchant who might donate generously to the sangha, the Buddhist order. Traversing the hilly terrain of central India, the bhikshus sheltered in secluded Caves, particularly during the monsoon. The enforced rain retreat may have encouraged monastic community life and, in time, meditation and prayer rituals. The trap rock of the Deccan with alternating hard and soft strata was easy to excavate as the bhikshus soon found, when they wished to enlarge their cells or provide shelter for their companions

Architecture closely followed religion and with the devotional phase of Buddhism came the chaitya or chapel for congregational prayer. With just hammer and chisel held in the hands, the bhikshus carved out viharas, residential cells, and chaityas for their monastic complexes.The earliest example of Buddhist architecture was the stupa, erected to house a relic. There are traces of simple funerary mounds at Elephanta Island but little is known about their history. Emperor Ashoka built several of these stone memorials as part of an imperial effort to spread Buddhism over his vast empire. The stupa at Nalasopara (Nalasopara is just outside Mumbai, 55 kms from Churchgate, south Mumbai, on the Central Railway line) -- once the headquarters of Ashoka’s important western province -- yielded a rich find of funerary caskets (now housed at The Asiatic Society of Bombay), layered one inside the other. Nearby stands a fragment of one of Ashoka’s rock edicts on the dharma (now in the collection of the(Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai)

The viharas at Kanheri indicate a large monastic settlement which probably began in the 1st century AD when the bhikshus followed the austere Hinayana tradition. The settlement grew into a scholastic centre with a large library and continued through generations of monks for several centuries. The cells are provided with stone beds and cisterns for storing water, and are connected by walkways.
Over time, the bhikshus enlarged their rock-cut Caves and in each group of viharas one was set aside as a chapel for meditation and the performance of prayer rituals. A stupa, now a votive memorial, was carved at the inner end and the arrangement of columns allowed a circumambulatory passage around it. Over the entrance was the characteristic arch in the shape of a pipal leaf. Originally simple and even severe, as at Bhaja, the chaitya developed into an impressive shrine like the magnificent Karla chaitya of the 2nd century AD -- an inscription here claims that it is the finest in ancient India. Wealthy merchants and townspeople as well as simple villagers from nearby would worship in these temples within Caves and their patronage sustained the sangha, as recorded at Karla.
The facade of the chaitya grew increasingly elaborate as Hinayana asceticism slowly came to be replaced by the exuberance of Mahayana architecture and sculpture. At Ajanta, the intricate arrangement of horizontal friezes in traditional designs of railings and arches, interspersed with seated and standing figures of Buddha and bodhisattvas almost make a mandala or mystic diagram of the facade. Elaborately carved and decorated, the votive stupas, often adorned with a figure of Buddha, within these later chaityas are a far cry from the original which they resemble only in form.

As Buddha had forbidden images to be made of himself, in the early years, Buddhist iconography used a variety of symbols to remind the devout of the Enlightened One. The bodhi tree, the empty seat, the wheel of dharma, the deer recalling the sermon at Sarnath, his footprints, all symbolized Buddha who was not depicted in human form till about the 1st century AD. By this time Buddhism had developed into a devotional form of worship and images of Buddha in attitudes of blessing or in deep meditation were installed in the chaityas. Mahayana transformed him into a God and legends of his previous births, the Jataka tales, and episodes from his life inspired the painters and sculptors of Ajanta in the following centuries.

The deep faith of the bhikshu illuminated by the imaginative artistic mind is expressed in the wall paintings of Ajanta which in conception and execution are unrivalled in the art heritage of the world.

The artist used the simplest tools and accessories -- a metal sheet to reflect sunlight into the shadowy recesses of the Caves, vegetables and mineral ores for pigments. His aesthetic perception, keen appreciation of nature and extraordinary talent infuse the paintings in Ajanta with a wonderful vibrancy, so that the walls seem to throb with movement and emotion.

Buddhist, Hindu and Jain faiths flourished harmoniously side by side in the tranquil atmosphere of Ellora. With the passing of time Mahayana Buddhism absorbed Tantric ideas and these influences are evident here. The strong, sober style of the pillars and massive sculptures with the viharas and chaityas is most impressive though the visitor is so overwhelmed by the grandeur of the Kailasa rock-cut shrine that often he has no time for the Buddhist group of Caves.

Imagination, skill and piety at Ellora soar into double and triple-storeyed cave sanctuaries carved into the hillside. Decorative features now transform the traditional pipal leaf of the chaitya and give it a trefoil shape. The viharas have pillared verandahs, another new architectural feature. The two-tiered Vishwakarma is both a chaitya and a vihara and has a large figure of a seated Buddha.

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