Awe inspiring and Jaw dropping, simply said! Every visit to these magnificent monolith caves inspires me and goads me to dwell much deeper within! What a human being can make if only one believes in his ideas and pursues it with all his vigour.
- How was it possible to create such a large cluster of cave architectural marvels in 700AD?
- How was it conceived? How the thought of chiseling from the top to the bottom must have occurred?
- How could they imagine creating a cave hall measuring 55m X 36m?
I shot a few short clips with my ipad and did a simple edit and uploaded it on Youtube with an intention of including in this article. Then I realized that there are many beautiful videos already on youtube, in a few of which it has been assumed that such a creation 2000-1500 years ago is not humanely possible and it has to be only a creation of aliens. I have included a few videos in the end!
Ellora is an archaeological site, 29 km (18 mi) North-West of the city of Aurangabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra built by the Rashtrakuta dynasty. Well known for its monumental caves, Ellora is a World Heritage Site. Ellora represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. The 34 “caves” are actually structures excavated out of the vertical face of the Charanandri hills. Buddhist, Hindu and Jain rock-cut temples and viharas and mathas were built between the 5th century and 10th century. The 12 Buddhist (caves 1–12), 17 Hindu (caves 13–29) and 5 Jain (caves 30–34) caves, built in proximity, demonstrate the religious harmony prevalent during this period of Indian history. It is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India.
The Kailashanatha Temple
Cave 16, also known as the Kailasa or the Kailasanatha, is the unrivaled centerpiece of Ellora. This is designed to recall Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva – looks like a freestanding, multi-storeyed temple complex, but it was carved out of one single rock, and covers an area double the size of Parthenon in Athens. Initially the temple was covered with white plaster thus even more increasing the similarity to snow-covered Mount Kailash.
All the carvings are done in more than one level. A two-storeyed gateway resembling a South Indian Gopura opens to reveal a U-shaped courtyard. The courtyard is edged by columned galleries three storeys high. The galleries are punctuated by huge sculpted panels, and alcoves containing enormous sculptures of a variety of deities. Originally flying bridges of stone connected these galleries to central temple structures, but these have fallen.
Within the courtyard are three structures. As is traditional in Shiva temples, the first is a large image of the sacred bull Nandi in front of the central temple. The central temple – Nandi Mantapa or Mandapa – houses the Lingam. The Nandi Mandapa stands on 16 pillars and is 29.3 m high. The base of the Nandi Mandapa has been carved to suggest that life-sized elephants are holding the structure aloft. A living rock bridge connects the Nandi Mandapa to the Shiva temple behind it. The temple itself is a tall pyramidal structure reminiscent of a South Indian Dravidian temple.
The shrine – complete with pillars, windows, inner and outer rooms, gathering halls, and an enormous lingam at its heart – carved from living stone, is carved with niches, pilasters, windows as well as images of deities, mithunas (erotic male and female figures) and other figures. Most of the deities at the left of the entrance are Shaivaite (followers of Shiva) while on the right hand side the deities are Vaishnavaites (followers of Vishnu). There are two Dhvajastambhas (pillars with the flagstaff) in the courtyard. The grand sculpture of Ravana attempting to lift Mount Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva, with his full might is a landmark in Indian art. The construction of this cave was a feat of human genius – it entailed the removal of 200,000 tonnes of rock, and took 100 years to complete.
The five Jain caves at Ellora belong to the ninth and tenth centuries. They all belong to the Digambara sect. Jain caves reveal specific dimensions of Jain philosophy and tradition. They reflect a strict sense of asceticism – they are not relatively large as compared to others, but they present exceptionally detailed art works.
The most remarkable Jain shrines are the Chhota Kailash (cave 30), the Indra Sabha (cave 32) and the Jagannath Sabha (cave 33). Cave 31 is an unfinished four-pillared hall and a shrine. Cave 34 is a small cave, which can be approached through an opening on the left side of Cave 33.
Amongst other devotional carvings, a place called samvatsarana can be found in Elora caves. Samvatsarana is of special interest to Jains, as it is a hall where the tirthankara preaches after attaining omniscience.
The Indra Sabha
The Indra Sabha (Cave 32) is a two storeyed cave with one more monolithic shrine in its court. It has a very fine carving of the lotus flower on the ceiling. It got the appellation “Indra Sabha” probably it is significantly ornate and also because of the sculpture of the yaksha (dedicated attendant deity) Matanga on an elephant, which was wrongly identified as that of Indra.
On the upper level of the double-storied shrine excavated at the rear of the court, an U image of Ambika, the yakshini of Neminath, is found seated on her lion under a mango tree, laden with fruits.
The Buddhist Caves
These caves were built during the 5th-7th century. It was initially thought that the Buddhist caves were one of the earliest structures, created between the fifth and eighth centuries, with caves 1-5 in the first phase (400-600) and 6-12 in the later phase (mid 7th-mid 8th), but now it is clear to the modern scholars that some of the Hindu caves (27,29,21,28,19,26,20,17 and 14) precede these caves. The earliest Buddhist cave is Cave 6, followed by 5,2,3,5 (right wing), 4,7,8,10 and 9. Caves 11 and 12 were the last. All the Buddhist caves were constructed between 630-700.
These structures consist mostly of viharas or monasteries: large, multi-storeyed buildings carved into the mountain face, including living quarters, sleeping quarters, kitchens, and other rooms. Some of these monastery caves have shrines including carvings of Gautama Buddha, bodhisattvas and saints. In many of these caves, sculptors have endeavoured to give the stone the look of wood.
Most famous of the Buddhist caves is cave 10, a chaitya hall (chandrashala) or ‘Vishvakarma cave’, popularly known as the ‘Carpenter’s Cave’. Beyond its multi-storeyed entry is a cathedral-like stupa hall also known as chaitya, whose ceiling has been carved to give the impression of wooden beams. At the heart of this cave is a 15-foot statue of Buddha seated in a preaching pose. Amongst other Buddhist caves, all of the first nine (caves 1–9) are monasteries. The last two caves, Do Tal (cave 11) and Tin Tal (cave 12) have three stories.
The Vishwakarma (Cave 10) is the only chaitya griha amongst the Buddhist group of caves. It is locally known as Vishwakarma or Sutar ka jhopda “carpenter’s hut”. It follows the pattern of construction of Caves 19 and 26 of Ajanta. On stylistic grounds, the date of construction of this cave is assigned to 700 A.D. The chaitya once had a high screen wall, which is ruined at present. At the front is a rock-cut court, which is entered through a flight of steps. On either side are pillared porticos with chambers in their back walls. These were probably intended to have subsidiary shrines but not completed. The pillared verandah of the chaitya has a small shrine at either end and a single cell in the far end of the back wall. The corridor columns have massive squarish shafts and ghata-pallava (vase and foliage) capitals. The main hall is apsidal on plan and is divided into a central nave and side aisles by 28 octagonal columns with plain bracket capitals. In the apsidal end of the chaitya hall is a stupa on the face of which a colossal 3.30 m high seated Buddha in vyakhyana mudra (teaching posture) is carved. A large Bodhi tree is carved at the back. The hall has a vaulted roof in which ribs have been carved in the rock imitating the wooden ones.
That is the typical look on the face of every visitor, that of disbelief and awe! Ellora and Ajanta should figure in the “Must see” list of any human being who is fond of traveling and exploring the world!
For more images from this series, kindly go to
Incredible India – World Heritage sites Ellora and Ajanta, a set on Flickr.