India has a rich tradition of monuments cut from living rock, ranging from cave-shrines with a single façade to entire monolithic temples with both an interior and an exterior excavated from a mountainside. At a rough count more than eleven hundred caves and monoliths exist at some forty-five sites, created by Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains over a span of a thousand years. And to those accustomed to the modern concept of finish, half of this vast range of rock-cut monuments appears incomplete. No doubt explanations revolving around singular historical circum-stances satisfactorily explain some of this incomplete work. This article, however, addresses the significant number of unfinished works that seem unexplained by specific historical circumstances, and proposes that the concept of “finish” was flexible. The patron's prime aim was to create a monument that was usable and functional, with a fully carved-out sanctum and a complementary iconographic program. Once the sanctum was ready for consecration and worship, many, if not most, patrons appear to have been unconcerned with the finish of the overall structure. If the subsidiary areas of a shrine came to fruition at the same time as the sanctum, all well and good. If not, as long as the sacred myths were clearly readable by devotees, figures within a panel could wait forever to be released from the rock of the mountainside, and the panel's framing pilasters could remain but roughly sketched out. With worship initiated, such details assumed and retained a low priority, even when the structure continued in worship for centuries after its initiation. It appears that “finish” was a flexible concept with regard to the rock-cut monuments of premodern India.

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