Recently my wife, Katie, and I traveled to India for the first time (April 2017), excited to visit this ancient land of mysteries. As a geologist, I had a particular interest in seeing the country’s magnificent caves and temples, from the Ajanta and Ellora structures cut deep into the bedrock near Aurangabad, to the ornate and towering edifices of Khajuraho.
The Ellora and Ajanta complexes were carved out of the solid living bedrock composed of ancient basalts, a prodigious feat. The Ajanta “caves” are a series of man-made recesses, some 29 in number, located high in the cliffs along a horseshoe bend in the Waghora River, downstream from an ancient waterfall (when we visited, the river was dry). The Englishman John Smith discovered the complex in 1819. By the end of the nineteenth century it had become a popular tourist destination. According to the standard story, the Ajanta caves were the work of Buddhist monks occupying the site from around the second century BCE to the sixth century CE, after which, activity shifted to Ellora, and Ajanta was ultimately abandoned and forgotten.
Ellora consists of 34 caves and structures, all of which, like Ajanta, are carved from the basalt bedrock. Although most are “caves” (structures recessed in natural rock cliffs), there is also the absolutely amazing Kailasa Temple that, while carved from the bedrock, is not a cave but an actual free-standing structure approximately 200 feet long, 100 feet wide, and nearly 100 feet tall. At Ellora there are not just Buddhist temples and caves but also Hindu and Jain structures. By the standard chronologies, the caves at Ellora span the period from about the seventh through eleventh centuries CE, with the Kailasa Temple dated to the middle of the eighth century.
The structures in India are not caves in a natural sense, but, rather, rock mansions with palace-like interiors; some have multiple stories. An extraordinary amount of time and energy went into carving and decorating these “caves”, which boast incredible façades, intricate sculptures and reliefs, and technically outstanding wall and ceiling paintings. They are India’s version of Petra (Jordan)—and comparable to the engineering feats of Cappadocia (Turkey), where dwellings and even entire underground cities were carved out of the bedrock.
The basalts of Ajanta and Ellora, however, are even harder and more difficult to carve than the volcanic bedrock, consisting of congealed volcanic ash (tuff), which was primarily used for the underground structures of Cappadocia. Adding to the mystery of Ajanta and Ellora, they are said to be primarily the work of monks, but when have monks ever been connected to such amazing feats of construction? Where are the records or remnants of their technology? These “caves” were not cut into the bedrock using just simple tools and the “chip-chip” method; this is mind-boggling engineering. Monks are typically known for possessing nothing other than their faith.
Like many ancient sites around the world, the temples and caves at both Ajanta and Ellora show evidence of use, reworking, and reuse over a considerable period of time. Standard archaeologists and historians do not deny this, but I wonder just how far back the original structures might date. And why were they originally built?
Curiously, more than a dozen caves appear rough-hewn, lacking fine carvings and other details. According to the standard story, these were left unfinished and abandoned. But by my way of thinking, it does not make sense to start carving out a cave, only to abandon it, then start another one, only to abandon it, and to continue such an apparently needless task over a dozen times. Katie and I had to wonder if there wasn’t something else going on here. Were the supposedly unfinished caves really unfinished and abandoned, or had all these structures actually been carved and utilized during a much earlier period—many thousands of years earlier?
Another important issue is where is all of the rubble and debris that had to be removed when carving out the structures? How could it simply disappear? This is an issue for not only the Ajanta and Ellora rock-cut structures but the underground cities of Cappadocia as well. The standard explanation is that the piles of debris and rubble have long since eroded away—swept away by the rain and wind. But given the volume of debris involved both in India and in Turkey, as a geologist I doubt it would have so thoroughly disappeared in only a few millennia. However, if the structures are considerably older, then it would make sense that the debris had succumbed to the natural elements.
Just as Christians appropriated unto themselves and then plastered, painted, and reworked the much older rock shelters of Cappadocia, I suspect the Indian monks rediscovered and reused wonders left from a long-forgotten time.
For many years Katie and I have been studying the events at the end of the last ice age, circa 9700 BCE, which decimated the early civilizations of that time. Major solar outbursts were the instigating factors. Electrical plasma discharges from the Sun, driven to the surface of our planet, would have caused widespread incineration where they touched down as well as setting off wildfires. Solar outbursts not only warmed the planet overall but, hitting glaciers, oceans, and lakes, through melting and instantaneous evaporation, would have placed vast amounts of moisture into the atmosphere that subsequently came down as torrential rains. These rains, combined with rising sea levels, caused flooding across our planet. Retreating to caves and other underground shelters would have been a way for isolated pockets of humanity to survive the cataclysmic, solar-induced onslaughts and associated high radiation levels at the end of the last ice age. Many large mammals, such as mastodons, saber-toothed cats, and giant ground sloths, went extinct at this time. Why? Because they had no place to escape. On the other hand, smaller animals could hide in burrows, under rocks, and in small cracks and crevices.
So, could the caves in India be part of this bigger picture? Might they have originated with the events at the end of the last ice age, only to be rediscovered and reused at much later times? Support for this hypothesis comes from another line of evidence.
In India, going back to extremely ancient times, there is a strange stylized humanoid-like symbol, with arms and legs bent up toward the head, which resembles or recalls various plasma configurations that would be seen in the sky during a major solar outburst, such as occurred at the end of the last ice age. At Ajanta and Ellora, Katie and I also found, among the carvings, humanoid and other images that resemble ancient plasma configurations. Similar depictions have been identified in petroglyphs and other art from around the world, as documented by plasma physicist Dr. Anthony Peratt (Los Alamos Laboratory), who has also concluded that there was a major solar outburst in antiquity. (For those who have not followed the work related to this subject, see my book Forgotten Civilization.)
The humanoid-like symbol has a traditional interpretation as one of the representations of the ancient Srivatsa symbol, which means “Beloved of Sri” where “Sri” is a title of veneration. Thus in some situations it can refer to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of fortune and prosperity and the consort of Vishnu. The Srivatsa symbol takes various forms; it is often depicted as an endless knot.
On the gates of the Buddhist complex at Sanchi (northcentral India), which includes the Great Stupa said to house the relics of the Buddha, a very distinct Srivatsa symbol is found. Here, however, it sits on and between two “ribbons” that, according to the Indian scholar Dr. S. Kalyanaraman of the Sarasvati Research Center (Chennai, India), represent two flanking fish tails, an ancient glyph for “two fishes”. Furthermore, Dr. Kalyanaraman has noted that many variants of this archaic Srivatsa symbol were found thousands of years ago in Central Anatolia, Turkey. Now all the pieces came together for us.
Anatolia includes the ancient underground cities of Cappadocia—going underground was the best way to survive the solar outbursts at the end of the last ice age, dismal times which would have included periods of high radiation levels on the surface of our planet. In Anatolia and Aurangabad, and around the globe, people were viewing strange shapes in the sky and seeking refuge in caves and rock shelters during the turmoil that marked the end of the last ice age.
But what about the two fish tails associated with the Srivatsa symbol? Immediately the constellation Pisces, and therefore the Age of Pisces, came to mind. But this made no sense in terms of dating the end of the last ice age. Currently we are just leaving the Age of Pisces and entering the Age of Aquarius, thus the last Age of Pisces occurred some 26,000 or so years ago. The end of the last ice age occurred during the Age of Leo. (The Great Sphinx in Egypt has its origins in the Age of Leo and was probably originally a lion; see my 2017 book with Robert Bauval, Origins of the Sphinx.) Then it occurred to me that not only the vernal equinox can be used to mark and name precessional ages, as is done in the Western astrological tradition, but the autumnal equinox can be used, as well. In India, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri and his followers often refer to precessional ages based on the autumnal equinox. Using this system, the end of the last ice age, circa 9700 BCE, falls at the end of the “Age of Pisces” and/or the beginning of the “Age of Aquarius” (depending on how one recognizes the constellations). Returning to the beautiful Srivatsa symbol depicted at Sanchi, the meaning is evident to me: not only does it record the memory of a major solar outburst, but also it encodes the timing of the event. The solar outburst symbol is on the point between the two fish tails. It rises between the two fish tails; this I interpret as meaning that the event occurred at the very termination of the Age of Pisces, as defined in India using the autumnal equinox.
Before leaving the topic of the Srivatsa symbol and its possible interpretation, I want to offer a bit of speculation. Interestingly, in some depictions of the Srivatsa, two circles with dots in their centers flank the central symbol. A circle with a dot is the traditional astrological symbol for the Sun. Are these symbols just decorative, or are they part of the original plasma configuration seen in the sky at the end of the last ice age, or could they literally refer to “two Suns”? The succession of world ages described above is due to precession, the slow shift of the stars relative to the equinoctial Sun. Most astronomers attribute precession to a slow wobble in Earth’s spin axis, but there is also the theory that precession may be due to our star, the Sun, having a companion. That is, our Sun is part of a binary system composed of two stars—two “Suns” (a subject being researched by Walter Cruttenden of the Binary Research Institute). Today it is not at all obvious that there is a “second Sun”—after all, we do not see two Suns in the sky—but perhaps the second Sun is a dark, highly massive, object that is difficult to detect. Is, or was, there a second Sun in ancient times, of which ancient people were quite aware? Does it modulate world ages, or even influence our Sun (perhaps due to electromagnetic changes), initiating major solar outbursts?
Returning to the subject of major solar outbursts, one of the phenomena associated with such an event would be incidents of electrically-charged particles, electrical plasma, driving down through the atmosphere and literally hitting the surface of Earth in places. These would appear as massive lightning strikes, huge thunderbolts hitting our planet. While in India, Katie and I visited the temples of Khajuraho. These are famous (or infamous) for their sensual, in some cases explicitly sexual, scenes carved into their façades. Various speculations have been offered as to the meaning and purpose of the erotic themes that are so out of character in the eyes of many a Westerner, given that this is a sacred site. But, one can argue, there was a different sensibility in ancient India—still, is this a full explanation? An important aspect may be that the explicit scenes appear primarily on the external walls of temples. Were they put there as a form of temptation to test the strength of one’s faith? Are they a metaphor for the carnal base instincts that must be overcome? Or do they represent genuine religious practices of the time, a cult that reversed the laws of ordinary morality to somehow achieve an exalted state? Are they an instructive sex manual? Or are they simply stating that sex and sensuality are a rightful part of human nature and the cosmos, and therefore should not be shunned or ignored? I do not find any of these explanations particularly satisfying; however, there is another explanation we should consider, one that connects the temples of Khajuraho to the topic of solar outbursts.
According to a persistent tradition, the sexual scenes are there for the purpose of protecting against and warding off lightning (Shobita Punja, Khajuraho: The First Thousand Years, 2000). Elaborating on the lightning explanation, one idea is that the gods, who might strike the temples with lightning, would either be disgusted by the sight of the erotic scenes and thus leave, or they might be so delighted with what they saw that they would spare the temple. Or is it that a god will never strike a couple—whether flesh and blood or carved in stone—while in the sexual act?
Upon first learning of the idea that the erotic scenes might be intended to prevent lightning strikes, immediately the proverbial light bulb turned on. The time and expense of carving such numerous erotic scenes simply to ward off the occasional conventional modern-style lightning does not strike me as credible—but go back in time to a different era. I pondered the events of the last ice age, and how those events might be interpreted and reinterpreted down through the ages as the result of giant lightning strikes, something that must be protected against at all costs.
Any rich and ancient symbolism will encode and have imprinted upon it multiple layers of meaning. In my assessment, many ancient symbols can be traced back to, or record, vague memories (perhaps now unconsciously held in the depths of the collective human psyche) of the traumatic events at the end of the last ice age. The Srivatsa and the carvings of Khajuraho, each in their own way, preserve just such symbolism and memories. The Ajanta and Ellora caves and temples, although heavily modified and reused in later centuries and millennia, may represent physical remains from that distant time.
Robert M. Schoch, Honorary Professor at the Nikola Vaptsarov Naval Academy and a full-time faculty member at Boston University, earned his Ph.D. in geology and geophysics at Yale University. Best known for re-dating the Great Sphinx, he is the author of Forgotten Civilization: The Role of Solar Outbursts in Our Past and Future, and many other books. Website: www.robertschoch.com