Oliver Lucas stood at the center of the Kailasanatha Temple and turned slowly around, taking in the ancient splendor and sheer grandiosity of the art that surrounded him on all sides. He stood near the center of a weathered platform of gray stone, which descended in three wide steps as it radiated out from him, the surface of each step inscribed with faintly visible remnants of decorative lines. On every side, intricately carved forms of humans, animals, and Hindu deities marched through the shadowy spaces of colonnades, supported walls, perched on ledges, and stood proudly atop pillars and rooftops.
“It’s stunning,” Oliver breathed.
“Even more so when you learn how it was built,” Jeanne replied.
“I actually read about that as I was doing some background research on your journal. All carved from the solid rock, and not even carved from the face of the mountain. I read that the stone carvers worked from the top and dug downwards, cutting away layer after layer of stone and sculpting the statuary and temple structures at the same time.”
Jeanne nodded and pointed to a particularly intricate collection of human figures dancing around a massive reclining bull. “That’s all a single piece of stone, and it’s the same stone as the ledge on which it rests, which is also one with the wall and roof of that temple.”
“It’s just breathtaking to imagine the time and ingenuity that went into planning and executing a project like this. I’ve visited plenty of temples, including this truly stunning shrine carved into volcanic glass in a cave the south Pacific, but I have never seen stone carving on such a singular and massive scale as this.”
“I saw the photos you published. It really was impressive, but you’re right that this in a whole other category.”
They continued to wander through the temple, making no particular effort to disguise their wonder at the scale of the carved architecture. Amid the throng of tourists from all over the world, who moved through the passageways and across the open courtyards individually, or in tight clusters following a tour guide, two more gawking Americans were nothing worthy of notice.
Oliver wondered at the display of engineering prowess and artistic talent revealed in each aspect of the temple complex. The outermost walls were inset with three levels of columned walkways, which rose more than thirty feet above Oliver’s head. Above these, the sheer face of streaked gray and white rock rose up another fifty feet or more to the top of the mountain. The central structure, which Jeanne explained was known as the mandapa and served as a sort of formal gathering area for the faithful who still came to worship in the temple, was elaborately decorated both inside and out with a series of intricately carved murals depicting scenes from Indian history and Hindu scripture. All around the base of the structure stood an army of miniature stone elephants, carved into the deeply inset stone so that it appeared that they were holding the structure on their backs. East of the mandapa, between it and the cliff face, stood the tall, vaguely pyramidical structure of the Shiva temple. Between the two structures ran a narrow alleyway, the walls of which were completely covered in intricately carved relief murals depicting crowds of worshipers offering sacrifices of food, drink, and woven flowers at the altars of their gods. Above the alleyway, the temples were linked with an arched stone bridge that was carved from the same solid rock as the temples which it served to join.