Monday, September 9, 2013

The Rock-cut Caves of Ellora and Ajanta, Maharashtra, India

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Kailashnath Temple, also Kailash or Kailāsa or Kailasanath Temple, is a famous temple, one of the 34 monasteries and temples known collectively as the Ellora Caves, extending over more than 2 km, that were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff in the complex located at Ellora, Maharashtra, India. Of these, the Kailasa (cave 16) is a remarkable example of Dravidian architecture on account of its striking proportion; elaborate workmanship architectural content and sculptural ornamentation of rock-cut architecture. It is designed to recall Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. It is a megalith carved out of one single rock and is claimed to have been built in the 8th century by the Rashtrakuta king Krishna I. However, rock cannot be carbon dated so personnally, I believe this wonder to be much older than it is claimed to be.

It is estimated that about 400,000 tons of rocks were scooped out over hundreds of years to construct this monolithic structure.

All the carvings are done in more than one level. A two-storeyed gateway opens to reveal a U-shaped courtyard. The courtyard is edged by a columned arcade three stories high. The arcades are punctuated by huge sculpted panels, and alcoves containing enormous sculptures of a variety of deities. Originally flying bridges of stone connected these galleries to central temple structures, but these have fallen.

Within the courtyard are two structures. As is traditional in Shiva temples, an image of the sacred bull Nandi fronts the central temple housing the lingam. In Cave 16, the Nandi Mandap and main Shiva temple are each about 7 metres high, and built on two storeys. The lower stories of the Nandi Mandap are both solid structures, decorated with elaborate illustrative carvings. The base of the temple has been carved to suggest that elephants are holding the structure aloft.

A rock bridge connects the Nandi Mandap to the porch of the temple. The temple itself is a tall pyramidic structure reminiscent of a South Indian temple. The shrine – complete with pillars, windows, inner and outer rooms, gathering halls, and an enormous stone lingam at its heart – is carved with niches, plasters, windows as well as images of deities, mithunas (erotic male and female figures) and other figures. Most of the deities at the left of the entrance are Shaivaite (followers of Lord Shiva) while on the right hand side the deities are Vaishnavaites (followers of Lord Vishnu).

There are two Dhwajasthambha (pillars with the flagstaff) in the courtyard. The grand sculpture of Ravana attempting to lift Mount Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva, with his --full might is a landmark in Indian art.


Ajanta Caves, India

The Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India are about 300 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which claimed to date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE. The caves include paintings and sculptures described by the government Archaeological Survey of India as "the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting", which are masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the Jataka tales. The caves were built in two phases starting around the 2nd century BCE, with the second group of caves built around 400–650 CE according to older accounts, or all in a brief period between 460 to 480 according to the recent proposals of Walter M. Spink. The site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, and since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The caves are located in the Indian state of Maharashtra, near Jalgaon and just outside the village of Ajinṭhā. They are 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the Ellora Caves, which contain Hindu and Jain temples as well as Buddhist caves, the last dating from a period similar to Ajanta. The Ajanta caves are cut into the side of a cliff that is on the south side of a U-shaped gorge on the small river Waghora (or Wagura), and although they are now along and above a modern pathway running across the cliff they were originally reached by individual stairs or ladders from the side of the river 35 to 110 feet below.

The area was previously heavily forested, and after the site ceased to be used the caves were covered by jungle until accidentally rediscovered in 1819 by a British officer on a hunting party. They are Buddhist monastic buildings, apparently representing a number of distinct "monasteries" or colleges. The caves are numbered 1 to 28 according to their place along the path, beginning at the entrance. Several are unfinished and some barely begun and others are small shrines, included in the traditional numbering as e.g. "9A"; "Cave 15A" was still hidden under rubble when the numbering was done. Further round the gorge are a number of waterfalls, which when the river is high are audible from outside the caves.

The caves form the largest corpus of early Indian wall-painting; indeed other survivals from the area of modern India are very few indeed, though they are related to 5th-century paintings at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. The elaborate architectural carving in many caves is also very rare, and the style of the many figure sculptures is a highly local one, found only at a couple of nearby contemporary sites, although the Ajanta tradition can be related to the later Hindu Ellora Caves and other sites.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sachsayhuaman, Cusco Peru

Arial View of  the Huge Complex of Sachsayhuaman above Cusco Peru

Saksaywaman, Sasawaman, Saksawaman, Sasaywaman, Saqsaywaman or Saksaq Waman is a walled complex on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, Peru, the former capital of the Inca Empire. Like other Pre-Inca constructions, the complex is made of large polished dry stone walls with boulders carefully cut to fit together tightly without mortar.

Sachsayhuaman sits at an altitude of 3,701 meters above sealevel and is part of the city of Cusco in Peru.

Megalithic Cuzco; Sachsayhuaman and the 120 Ton Stones

Video Source: Brien Foerster

Located on a steep hill that overlooks the city, Sachsayhuaman contains an impressive view of the valley to the southeast. Surface collections of pottery at Saksaywaman indicate that occupation of the hill top dates back at least a millennium. However recent theories point to the construction being thousands of years older due to their similar construction of megalithic stone building’s found around the World.


Because of its location high above Cusco and its immense terrace walls, this area of Saksaywaman is frequently referred to as a fortress.

Inca: The Largest Stone Wall: Sachsayhuaman

Video Source: Brien Foerster

The importance of its military functions was highlighted in 1536 when Manco Inca lay siege to Cusco. Much of the fighting occurred in and around Saksaywaman as it was critical for maintaining control over the city. It is clear from descriptions of the siege, as well as from excavations at the site, that there were towers on its summit as well as a series of other buildings. For example Pedro Sancho, who visited the complex before the siege, mentions the labyrinth-like quality of the complex and the fact that it held a great number of storage rooms filled with a wide variety of items. He also notes that there were buildings with large windows that looked over the city. These structures, like so much of the site, have long since been destroyed.

The best-known zone of Saksaywaman includes its great plaza and its adjacent three massive terrace walls. The stones used in the construction of these terraces are among the largest used in any building in prehispanic America and display a precision of fitting that is unmatched in the Americas. The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward, is thought to have helped the ruins survive devastating earthquakes in Cuzco. It is believed by many that they were built precisely to survive earthquakes.

The longest of three walls is about 400 meters. They are about 6 meters tall. The estimated volume of stone is over 6,000 cubic meters. Estimates for the weight of the largest Andesite block vary from 128 tonnes to almost 200 tonnes.

Video Source: Brien Foerster

Following the siege of Cuzco, the Spaniards began to use Saksaywaman as a source of stones for building Spanish Cuzco and within a few years much of the complex was demolished. The site was destroyed block-by-block to build the new governmental and religious buildings of the city, as well as the houses of the wealthiest Spaniards. In the words of Garcilaso de la Vega (1966:471 [1609: Part 1, Book. Bk. 7, Ch. 29]): "to save themselves the expense, effort and delay with which the Indians worked the stone, they pulled down all the smooth masonry in the walls. There is indeed not a house in the city that has not been made of this stone, or at least the houses built by the Spaniards." Today, only the stones that were too large to be easily moved remain at the site.

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Sideways view of the walls of Saksaywaman showing the details of the stonework and the angle of the walls.


Monday, September 2, 2013

The Man Who Fell From Heaven

By: Rodney Venis Prince Rupert Daily News (Nov.1999)

The origins of the Man Who Fell From Heaven are as shadowy as the figure embedded in the rocky shores of Metlakatla.

The human-like impression of Robeson Point has long fascinated archaeologist both amateur and professional due to characteristics that are unique to its petroglyph form. Many of petroglyphs are located in intertidal zones, where legend has it they are in touch with spirits of the underworld.

Those located on the Skeena River are covered annually when the river rises, appearing to have been some sort of seasonal marker or a "call" to fish inside the river asking them to be caught. But the Man is located above that zone, frustrating attempts by experts to characterize it.

The Man's rock form makes it impossible to date. Its size is also a puzzle. Carved from the scrape of stone onto stone, we know the creation of the Man would have taken years. But to what end the ancient craftsmen engaged in the task remains inscrutable.

As a result, the tales of the petroglyph are as fantastical as the Man himself.

The more practically minded content themselves with the explanation the Man is a marker of some momentous event or celebration.

The more credulous subscribe to the story that the spot is where the body of a drowned man lay, his mortal soul leaving more than just a memory on the beach where his body was found.

Those of a romantic bent say it was the labours of a love-struck youth anxious to prove his strength to a band chief in order to win the affections of the leader's daughter.

Another oral history revolves around the trickster of native lore, the Raven.

Born of a forbidden union between two mortal brothers and two sisters of the spirit world, the Raven and his sibling were condemned to walk the earth in human form. The latter plummeted into the sea and caught in a bed of kelp, sank out of the knowledge of man.

Wishing to avoid his brother's fate, the cunning bird chose to land on the hard shore. Much to his consternation, he found himself trapped much like his brother, only this time in a rocky prison. By cajoling a friendly land otter, the Raven managed to free himself. He ended up wandering the banks of the Skeena, teaching the native peoples arts necessary for survival and leaving his mark in petroglyphs very different to the one that bore witness to his fall from grace.

The last tale is the one for which the carving takes its name. A young man was exiled from the village of Metlakatla for a forgotten transgression. Days later he returned to the village, mad with hunger and raved that he had journeyed to the sky and observed many wonders and feats of magic. He lamented that he could have remained forever but somehow fell and plunged from the above back to the village.

The elders, while amused by the audacity of the young man's tale, were about to cast him out again when he offered, unexpectedly, proof of his unlikely exploits.

He escorted the bemused villagers to Robeson Point and there showed them the crater his body had made when he struck the shore.

He was not only allowed to return to the village but was given a position of honour as shaman.

Other stories cast a more cynical light on the young man's metaphysical experience. They say he waited until the men of the village were away fishing. When they were safely out of earshot, he threw several stones into the water and, as the women and children came rushing to investigate, he got up from the shore, brushed himself off and told them he had fallen from heaven.

Regardless of which tale, if any, you believe, the curious can look upon a fiberglass recreation of the Man at the Museum of Northern British Columbia. Similar displays can be found at the B.C. Museum in Victoria and the National Museum of Man in Ottawa.

More information on this and other petroglyphs can be found in the "The Man Who Fell From Heaven" by Phyllis Bowman in the B.C. Historical News, Summer 1994, which can be found at the Prince Rupert Archives.”

Photo Link 02: Man Who Fell From Heaven



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