Rock Cut Caves- a tribute to faith
Rock Cut Caves- a tribute to faith
Close your eyes and reflect........ do you have the devotion to spend years of your life ......... working seven days a week to carve out caves on a mountain face.
This takes a special kind of devotion that seems to be lost in our world.... in our time. What kind of message and insight did our fore fathers have that made them so committed. Their devotion to their God made them confront a vertical stone mountain, their first thought being.... ‘I must carve this into a cave temple with my bare hands’.
Centuries ago, Indian monks and artists took years creating incredible rock-cut architecture manually out of sandstone, cliffs, and rock formations. After this amazing feat was achieved, they then created intricate designs on the walls with carvings and murals, and filled the interiors with statues. Indian cave temples are a record of of our life style and culture of the time and they further bring out the importance of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism to our country’s history.
Let us back track a bit........ to the time when natural caves were used to create shrines. Some of the most famous natural cave temples are Vaishno Devi, Amarnath and Varaha cave. These are still active and hundreds of pilgrims visit the caves for worship.
The earliest caves were used for the creating shrines and shelters. Research has given us evidence to establish that the caves were first occupied and altered during the Mesolithic period around 6000 BC which would make them 8000 years ago. These caves had basic rock cut designs. The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, a World Heritage Site, are located on the edge of the Deccan Plateau. Dramatic erosion has left massive sandstone outcrops. The area's many caves and grottos have yielded primitive tools and decorative rock paintings. This is the start of a glorious journey of man into the art and architecture of natural and man made caves.
Soon the focus changed from searching and finding natural caves to pro-actively creating caves by scoping out the sides of mountains and creating caves.
India is the home to the largest number of rock-cut architecture. Let us understand the effort and dedication needed to create a rock cut cave. Rock-cut architecture is created by carving it out of solid natural rock. Rock that is not part of the structure is removed until the only rock left is the architectural elements of the excavated interior.
When you travel to visit ancient rock cut sites you will realise that a great volume of rock had to be removed to create theses caves........ What happened to all this rock. The huge volume of stone removed have vanished from the site. The rocks were used like quarry rock and used elsewhere as construction materials. So noting is wasted and projects become commercially viable.
For almost 2600 years from 1280 BCE to the 12 and 13th century CE, rock-cut architecture was the rage from the Far East and Orient, to Africa and the Middle East.
There are more than 1,500 known rock cut structures in India. Many of these structures contain artwork of global importance, and most are adorned with exquisite stone carvings. These ancient and medieval structures represent significant achievements of structural engineering and craftsmanship.
The belief in ancient times was that caves are place of sanctity. Caves that were enlarged or entirely man-made were felt to hold the same sanctity as natural caves. In fact, the sanctuary in all Indian religious structures, even free-standing ones, retains the same cave-like feeling of sacredness, being small and dark without natural light.
When Buddhist missionaries arrived, they naturally gravitated to caves for use as temples and abodes, in accord with their religious ideas of asceticism and the monastic life. The Western Ghats topography, with its flat-topped basalt hills, deep ravines, and sharp cliffs, was suited to their cultural inclinations. Some of the more sumptuous cave temples, commissioned by wealthy traders, included pillars, arches, and elaborate facades during the time maritime trade boomed between the Roman Empire and south-east Asia. Relics found in these caves suggest a connection between the religious and the commercial, as Buddhist missionaries often accompanied traders on the busy international trading routes through India.
As mercantile and royal endowments grew, cave interiors became more elaborate, with interior walls decorated in paintings, reliefs, and intricate carvings. Facades were added to the exteriors while the interiors became designated for specific uses, such as monasteries or viharas and worship halls or chaityas. Over the centuries, simple caves began to resemble free-standing buildings, needing to be formally designed and requiring highly skilled artisans and craftsmen to complete. These artisans had not forgotten their timber roots and imitated the nuances of a wooden structure and the wood grain in working with stone.
Rock cut caves have a certain aura that permeates through time. Standing steadfast for centuries, they tell us what our fore fathers deemed was important to preserve and showcase.
A period of intense building activity happened in the western Deccan, mostly Buddhist shrines and monasteries between 100 BC and 170 AD. A profuse variety of decorative sculpture, intricately carved columns and carved reliefs are found, including exquisitely carved cornices and pilaster. Skilled artisans crafted living rock to imitate timbered wood. They gave the feel of wood grain and shaped intricate decorative carving. All this effort was to achieve great architectural elements that were ornamental and not functional in the classical sense.
Rock cut temples is found in great numbers all over western India. The concept fired the imagination and interest with the great kings of south India.
Hindu kings from Southern India patronized many cave temples dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses. One such prominent example of cave temple architecture are the Badami Cave Temples at Badami, the early Chalukya capital, carved out in the 6th century. There are four cave temples hewn from the sides of cliffs, three Hindu and one Jain, that contain carved architectural elements such as decorative pillars and brackets as well as finely carved sculpture and richly etched ceiling panels.
The Pallava architects started the carving of rock for the creation of a monolithic copies of structural temples. Pancha Rathas is an example of monolith Indian rock cut architecture dating from the late 7th century located at Mamallapuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A feature of the spread of the rock-cut cave temples of the early Pallavas is that they did not move further south than Aragandanallur, with the solitary exception of Tiruchitrapalli on the south bank of the Kaveri River.
Rock Cut Caves soon spread and were found in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kashmir, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand.
With over a thousand sites all over India, a visit to a few sites famous for their antiquity and beauty will give a true experience of visiting the caves and breating in the magic of it's builders........
By the 5th century the style of building temples changed. Free standing stone structures began to appear all over the country. This trend was more marked by the temples of South India. The reason for this could be that the rocks in South India was mostly granite. Granite is one of the hardest stones in the world. The task was becoming hard and time consuming. The Pallava kings experimented with by building temples with cut stone blocks. The experiment was big success and the landscape in the South of India was dotted by some magnificent temples.
Rock cut temples were still being built till the 10th century....... and slowly they gave way to the new concept and the art form was not practiced any more.
When we see the rock cut structures what should we see and feel. The rock cut temple are a true tribute to the faith of the people who worked for generations with out losing focus on faith. People who lived with the strength of their passion for their God. People who put faith above art....... but just the same gave art to the Gods as a tribute of their faith.
If ever we can rekindle such a faith today the world can once again see the creation of art on a scale that will be monuments of our time for the generation to come in the future.