When you think of ancient ruins, what comes to mind? The Parthenon, perhaps? The Pyramids of Giza? Petra in Jordan? Well, here’s another amazing ruin to add to your list. One that hardly anyone knows about!
The Cave Ruins of Ellora crouch near the modest town of Aurangabad, India, about 200 miles NE from Mumbai. It’s a fairly vast complex, with artwork dating back to 600-1000 CE. Here you can find 17 Hindu caves, 12 Buddhist caves and 5 Jain caves – in short, it’s a smorgasbord of religious art.
As my wife and I are touring the caves, we’re confronted by hundreds of local school kids, each with a cell phone, demanding a selfie with us. I have *never* felt so much like a movie star as I did in Ellora. Especially when the kids begin chanting “John Cena, John Cena,” a noted professional wrestler turned Hollywood actor (think “Peacemaker”). I can honestly (and modestly) say that I look nothing like John Cena or any other professional wrestler. Apparently, it’s enough that I’m male and a Westerner. “Sure kid, you want my autograph, too?”
The caves of Ellora are fine, they’re interesting (if a little dark). What wows me, however, are the plain-air ruins cut into a nearby, horseshoe-shaped crevasse. In this cramped little gully are squished the most wonderful stone temples and statues, many of which you can climb around and explore. Here’s the mind-blowing thing: everything was carved from the top down. Imagine an ancient architect walking along a rocky plain and thinking, “Hmm, why don’t we cut downward here, and carve each temple and statue as we excavate, from top to bottom?” How do you even plan for that? “Hey, let’s carve the head of this elephant first, then its shoulders, body, legs and finally feet.”
What a Wow place!