Thursday, July 12, 2007

Move over hyped Taj Mahal, for me its Kailasa of Elora

Indian media is generally obsessed by Bollywood, Cricket and Personalities. What did Amitabh Bacchan do today? Has Azim Premji or S K Mittal figured in top 100 billionaires or if Sania Mirza slipped in her ATC ranking. It was respite to see the absence of Sachin Tendulkar’s on TV screen but soon this was replaced by hundreds of hours projecting Taj Mahal as a strong candidate for seven wonders.

Taj Mahal won the race not because Indian media hyped it but the process itself was skewed in her favour. When you have selection based on people voting on Internet, India with a million plus net population has an unfair advantage and also was with China, Brazil etc. So when Taj Mahal made it, I wasn’t as much elated with Taj being selected as I was disappointed by Angkor Wat of not being chosen. Those people who have seen both Angkor Wat and Taj Mahal perhaps agree with my feelings.

Why Indians are so passionate about Taj Mahal? Does it represent India? It was built by Mughal invaders borrowing design and skills of Islamic architecture from Persian and Arab world. Angkor Wat may not be in India but it represents the essence of India. Some may argue that Taj Mahal resides in Modern India and therefore we must advocate it. There is another architectural masterpiece in India that would surpass Taj Mahal in all respects . But it didn’t even figure in top 20. How can it be? The answer is obvious. When it is not accorded the rightful place by Government or is not supported by media, it is easy not to find a place in the hearts and minds of her very own Indian people . This place is Elora caves in the western part of India.

I sometime feel that in order to embrace secularism, people in the political seat of power wholeheartedly pushed Taj Mahal as a symbol of India. Promoting Angkor Wat or Elora caves would have meant a tacit consent to a Hindu religion because both are temples and have Hindu deities and Buddha. Taj Mahal was a safer bet as it wasn’t any mosque but a mausoleum. I feel sad that Elora can’t be the symbol of India.

Sculpture as an art would always be notched above any creative arts. But when thousands of sculptural creations are put together as a monument, the result is truly spectacular. Creation of Taj Mahal, Michael Angelo’s Pieta and David, Athena Panthenos is a hallmark of individual human endeavour at any given time But creation of Angkor Wat and Elora is an embodiment of generations of people spanning several centuries. One can’t capture Angkor Wat and Elora through camera lens; even a wide angled lens is not enough; it needs to be felt or would need a book to sum up its creativity. I was fortunate to visit Elora Caves, Angkor Wat and Taj Mahal and with conviction can say that Taj Mahal comes pale in the comparison to both of them. India’s pride should be Elora and without Angkor Wat, seven wonders are meaningless

The name of Elora caves is a misnomer but these are not the natural caves for yogis to sit and meditate but a series of 34 temples spanning 1.6 kms and all are exquisitely carved out of massive granite hillside. Generations of artisans over eight centuries toiled and created this spectacle. How they passed on the architectural secrets from one generation to anothershall remain a mystery. The Buddhist caves came first during 200 BC - 600 AD followed by the Hindu 500 - 900 AD and Jain 800 - 1000 AD. Just compare this with Taj Mahal that was built from 1631 till 1648 years. But out of all 34 temples, one temple named Kailasa is a hallmark of sculpture that has no parallel in its time either in India or all over the world. Kailasa temple complex was excavated from top of the hill. Only when someone goes to the site, one can appreciate the colossal endeavor that has gone in the creation of Kailasa. A part of the hill is vertically excavated to create not just a temple with exquisite carvings but also surroundings of sanctum, pavilions, basement, pillared halls balconies, bridges that connect the chambers, and all these are adorned with carvings of fascinating mythological stories, Vedic connotations on all this is a part of one single rock without any joints or support. Result is 52,00o sq ft creation with 100 ft. high shrine. The excavation must have gone simulteniously with the carvings. This is double the size of pantheon. As one stands in the open space of Kailasa temple and look up, the rock-cut aesthetics would make anyone spell bound. Kailasa Temple in Elora is a definitely a benchmark for school of architecture and sculptural design.

I do feel, if any Indian hasn’t been to Elora, he has wasted the opportunity to be born in India. Hopefully, when all hula bulla of seven wonders settle down, media would start recognizing other Indian monuments such as Elora, Ajanta, Konark, Khajuraho and Tanjore instead of harping on Bollywood, Cricket and Taj Mahal.

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Anonymous Siva Aditya Penumarthi said...

when it comes to recognizing any thing in India only if someone from outside India show interest, ppl in India start seeing it as a precious one. That how it is in India. Nevertheless you can't take credit from Taj.

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Pranati Mitra said...

Dear Milind ,
I admit you . Taj is no doubt one of the wonder . Then why not Red fort?
Why not kutub?
I you visit soth india there are so many temples and gopuram. Why not Ajanta , Illora? In Aurangabad you will find water suply system .
Have you visit Biwiki mukwara ? In Aorangabad muhammad bin tuglak buit a fort not on hill or surrounding hill. but it penetrating the hill there is great ford . I visited. If you treck himalayas, you will find so many temples. not only keder , but pabch kedar, badrinath and so may .I think hole India is wonder of the world.
Thank you because you think it .

Pranati mitra

6:38 PM  
Anonymous knisha said...

The article on Voting for Taj was really thought provoking. Made me think why i never considered this. I was not elated over its inclusion in the seven wonders but was happy to have our country on the world map through this selecton.
What made me surprised were your comments in your earlier article
"A visit to Barcelona without being at Cathedral is like visiting Agra and not seeing Taj Mahal."
It is obvious to bring in such a comparison since as you say, the media and tourism sector have hyped it.
So much for my comments on your blog. Let me know if there is something amiss.
I liked 'melting entrepreneurs'.......made me feel I am blissfully unaware of so many things in this world.


12:46 PM  
Anonymous krisgopala said...

Wholeheartedly agree with what you have said about the New seven wonder list. It is was nothing more than a media exercise, beneficiaries being mobile operators and internet portals. I have visited the Taj a few times and I do think it is quite a marvelous piece of architecture. But my friends who have seen both the Taj and the Ajantha/Ellora put the latter above the former. Moreover, the Taj’s history is somewhat shrouded in mystery. While our school textbooks taught us that it took some 2 decades to construct, none of the memoirs of some famous travelers who visited Shah Jehan seem to mention anything about it. This is probably why there are lots of overly romanticized stories about the Taj. Unless we get its facts cleared up, it would be inappropriate to blindly admire it.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous nitesh said...

I supported Angkor also along with Taj but to convince anybody you need certain grounds.. The no of people visit Elora is very less than the number of People visit Taj.... spread the awareness about Elora.. let people come n notice it’s beauty n then surely it’ll start representing India....

Good write up.....

Ambuj :-)

12:49 PM  
Anonymous neil said...

Very good review and nice to see a different perspective. Truly speaking, I am happy that Taj is counted amongst the 7 wonders, but Elora caves should have been given a chance. The thing that disappoints me that the hands which made the Taj met a fatal fate. So, how can Taj be accepted as the symbol of India that was built with so much injustice! I support your views

12:50 PM  
Anonymous ipsita said...

Hi Milind,
Love reading your travel reviews!! I have been to Ajanta Ellora as a kid. I personally liked Ellora better. Ajanta paintings really need a major restoration project. Hard to compare Taj and AE for me as I have never been to Taj - but ofcoruse heard lots about it and its definitely on one of my ’’to do list’’.
Wonderful review!

12:50 PM  
Anonymous sarav said...

Arey Milind,

I had been to these places umpteen number of times. They are marvellous. There is this professor from Aurangabad who can show you some rare, wondrous carvings and paintings that can be found at various other places klike Khajuraho, etc.

Good to read something from the place of my Childhood. :-)

12:51 PM  
Anonymous pravin said...

i read your article and i agree with you wholeheartedly about Ellora because I have been there and seen it. I have a feeling that this whole Taj episode was the handiwork of the mobile companies to generate revenues by making the mobile crazy indian public to push their buttons to vote and in the process generate revenues like never before. its purely financial playing on the sentiments of the indian people. more later. i have added ur blog as one of my favs page so that i get to ready it later at a leisurely time. take care

7:41 PM  
Anonymous rukshana said...


2:47 PM  

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