[Day 17] Today we took time out from visiting the ancient cave sites we have mainly been focusing on in this trip, and spent time with the local community in Aurangabad, around 25% of which is Buddhist, and seems to be one of the main centres of Buddhism in India at the present day.
In the morning we went with the other Temple monks for house dāna with a teacher and his wife, also a teacher, who are some of the main supporters at the Temple we are staying in. The pre-meal discussion mainly ranged around the persistent question of casteism in India.
At lunch we went on an organised walk for piṇḍapāta in a nearby neighbourhood, and the supporters also followed us back to the temple to offer more food there. It was a really satisfaying meal. In the evening I led a short meditation programme focused on mettā for what was mainly the same supporters.
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[Day 18] Today we travelled to Pitalkhora, which, starting from Auarangabad, is around an hour further on from the Ellora caves, on the same road. The Pitalkhora site is one of the earliest in western India, and is also one of the most remote. The caves were evidently intended for intensive meditation and must have been about as secluded as it was possible to get.
They are now situated in a Wildlife Sanctuary, but as we arrived in the middle of the day in the hot and dry season, we didn’t see any wildlife, except a few parrots. The arrival point is above the caves, and it is necessary to walk down the valley for around 1/2 kilometre before we arrived.
The fourteen caves themselves are all in very bad condition, and have either collapsed, or in certain cases seem to have been broken down, and there is less to actually see here by way of architectural or decorative remains, but the place is still worth visiting for the quiet and meditative atmosphere they evoke. There is a large Chaitya cave on one side of the ravine, and a number of smaller ones on the other, perhaps of revered monks who had passed away while living there. The rest appear to have been vihāra caves.
The caves were developed during the Hīnayāna period but were apparently taken over by Mahāyānists at some point, and some of the typical wall painting from the period remains on the columns in the main Chaitya hall. It reminded me that most of the bare structures we have been seeing at the various sites would in fact have been covered in bright paintings during the period of their occupation.
After the climb up from the caves in the middle of the day I was suffering from exhaustion and nausea for the rest of the day, and didn’t do anything further that day after returning to Ellora to stay for the next few days.