Ellora, Western India, is a World Heritage Site with thirty-four magnificent Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temple-caves excavated and sculpted from the mountain’s rock. Ellora Cave 10, a 7th-century Buddhist chaitya hall, or shrine, features a towering seated Buddha sculpted with hands in the dharmachakra mudra (or “teaching pose”). This cave has also long been known to locals, pilgrims and art historians as the “Vishwakarma Cave” or the “Carpenters’ Hut.” Why is this so? The deity Vishwakarma, “Maker of the Universe,” is usually depicted with tools, and is considered the divine ancestor of artisan communities and protective patron of industrial workers in many regions of India. I build on contemporary ethnographic research on Vishwakarma worship, historical accounts of Ellora, and an elaborate mythology featuring Vishwakarma’s presence on the sacred Ellora mountain, using the prism of Cave 10 to recuperate artisans’ perspectives on making and the provocations of mystery.
Kirin Narayan (Ph.D., U. California Berkeley) is Professor of Anthropology at the Australian National University. Trained in cultural anthropology and folklore at the University of California, Berkeley, a fascination with the social life of narrative threads through her interest in oral traditions, creativity, religion, gender, South Asia, South Asian diaspora and ethnographic writing. She is the author of Storytellers, Saints and Scoundrels: Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching (1989); Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon: Himalayan Foothill Folktales (1997) in collaboration with Urmila Devi Sood, a Kangra storyteller; Love Stars and All That (1994), a novel; My Family and Other Saints (2007) a family memoir; Alive in the Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Chekhov (2012); and Everyday Creativity: Singing Goddesses in the Himalayan Foothills (2016). She is also co-editor of Creativity/Anthropology (1993) and editor, with a new introduction, for a reissue of a nineteenth-century classic of Indian folktales, Mary Frere’s Old Deccan Days (2002).