Ellora: Heritage of Inclusion.

Vishal Chauhan, 14/05/2019
Ellora: Heritage of Inclusion.

The brand new 20 rupee note, stamped with a motif of Ellora caves, offers a marvelous tribute to the spirit of religious tolerance enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

The new Rs 20 note, bearing the image of the world renowned Ellora rock-cut temple, celebrates India’s soft power in artistic-cultural terms. It is also an example of the adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The French original of the proverb says, “Turbulent changes do not affect reality at a deeper level other than to cement the status quo.”

The genesis of the banknote lies in the chaos caused by the 2016 demonetization. At that time, over 86 per cent of the country’s banknotes in circulation were withdrawn overnight. However, the replacements, which turned out to be smaller and sleeker, still had to conform to old familiarity such as Gandhiji’s visage on the obverse side of the note, the thematic engravings on the reverse and so on

A signal for historical continuity and fiscal stability, for example, was provided by the engraving of the Red Fort printed on the new Rs 500 banknote.

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It was on the ramparts of the Red Fort that the Tricolor was unfurled for the first time after Independence and the Mughal-era bastion has continued to be the epicenter of India’s Independence Day celebrations ever since

The other currency notes that followed were also themed around India’s heritage sites. The apricot hued Rs 200 note, for instance, bears the Sanchi Stupa and the Rs 50 blue bill has the Hampi stone chariot.


The new currencies have their individual/unique histories, Ellora on the latest Rs 20 note arguably has the most electrifying profile compared to the rest. In terms of both its artistic vision as well as its mind boggling execution, Ellora remains Primus inter pares, a ‘first among equals’. Located in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, Ellora is the largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world, featuring Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monuments, and artwork, dating from the 600-1000 CE period.

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From its inception, the Shaivite temple — known as Kailasanatha — featured on the currency note, became universally acclaimed as the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. It is renowned as the world’s largest single monolithic excavation of a shrine, which means it was carved top down — from pinnacle to plinth. It is therefore a spectacular example of both the penetrative and deductive approaches to cave-carving

Beliefs and theories about Kailasa abound. Some treat it as a miracle. Some attribute it to aliens. Some others believe it might have taken 500 years to carve, while one American scholar feels it was heaven in just over 20 years.

Two superb verses on Ellora embossed on copper plate have also been found. These show how highly venerated the shrine was throughout India: one stanza says when the gods traveling through the skies saw the temple, they wondered how it could be the work of mere mortals. After a long debate they concluded that Shiva himself must have made the shrine as his earthly abode.

The other stanza proclaims that when the (human) sculptor himself tried to replicate the feat, he failed only to conclude that he was just an instrument of divine will.

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Later inscriptions credit the great architect-sculptor Kokasa for having conjured up Kailasa for his royal patrons. This marks an exceptional break from the tradition of anonymity associated with most Indian artworks. Apocryphal stories of why the building was started from the lightning rod downwards are also found in medieval texts. According to one, a legendary king got rid of his incurable ailment by bathing at a tank and praying to Shiva as Sri Grishneshwara near Elapura.

His queen, Manikavati, then made a vow of building a marvelous temple and to remain fasting until she saw the completion of the finial or Kalasha. The king reluctantly agreed and summoned architects from all over. But no one seemed capable of executing the project in time in order to save the queen’s life. The sole exception was Kokasa, an artist residing in Paithan (Prathishana) in Maharashtra. He carved the pinnacle in a week’s time and thus saved the royal couple from their pious predicament.

This allegedly moon-born king and his faithful queen remain enshrouded in legend largely because no other credible information is available about their kingdom or reign. The abundance at Ellora of rock-cut shrines devoted to other great faiths and sects of India, however, also testifies to an enduring tradition of tolerance and compassion prevailing among patrons as well as devotees. This is also the motto of Sarva dharma sama bhava, equality of faith, that the Indian Republic enshrines in its Constitution. It has now been reiterated in the form of these brand new banknotes, millions upon millions times, once again

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