It was 1976 and I was a newly “gone forth” monk making my way through India to Sri Lanka, bare-footed, with almost no money and where feasible, begging for my my food. I arrived in Ellora to see the famous cave temples. Walking along the scarp into which the caves are cut I noticed a very merger waterfall trickling over the highest and most vertical part of the cliff. I decided to climb up and have a look and although there was no path and it was very rough I managed to get to the top and walk along to where the waterfall was. An almost idyllic scene opened up before me. A small stream tumbled from one rock pool into another and eventually over the cliff. It ran through a narrow rocky gorge into the side of which were carved a collection of small cells and rooms, some with modest verandas in front of them. I inspected some of these and finding that they were all fairly clean and except for one, bat-free, I decided to spend a few days in one of them. And so I did. For the next four days I slept and meditated in a cave just big enough for one person, bathed in the rock pools and climbed down to the main caves with my begging bowl once a day to get food from the visitors, most of them Indians. These few days remains one of the highlights of my many trips to India.
This rocky gorge is interesting. I strongly suspect that it is where Ellora started. It seems likely that the first monks at Ellora lived in this gorge, originally under the few rock overhangs and later, when they began to attract devotees, in the small cells cut out of the rock for them. Ellora’s main cave temples cut into the scarp below speak of highly institutionalized monasticism, lavishly patronized and probably both wealthy and powerful – the very opposite to the simple modest caves in the gorge. After attending a conference in Pune last month I took the opportunity to revisit Ellora, and of course after seeing the main temples I wanted to see the place where I had stayed all those years ago. I clambered up the incline only to find when I got to the top that the Archaeological Dept. has built a path up there, although it did not look as if it got much use. Anyway, I followed it and soon I was back at the gorge. But a path means people and people means rubbish and indeed most of the rock pools has plastic bottles and other rubbish floating in them. Almost as bad, the AD has built an unsightly iron railing around the stream, no doubt to stop people falling in or swimming in the water, something for which it is completely useless as one can easily climb through it. Initially these changes left me a bit disappointed. But it wasn’t long before the silence, the beauty and the spirit of those monks who lived in the gorge so long ago filled me with happiness once again.