About an hour away from Aurangabad are the Ellora Caves which are made up of 34 monasteries and temples cut into the basalt cliff dating from 600-1000 AD. The caves here demonstrate the religious harmony in ancient India where 12 Buddhist caves (500-750AD), 17 Hindu caves (600-870AD), and 5 Jain caves (800-1000AD) were created side by side. Unlike the Ajanta Caves, the Ellora Caves were never lost to oblivion because of their close proximity to the trade route. Work began at Ellora around the same time that the Ajanta Caves were abandoned. It coincided with a time in India when Buddhism was on the decline and Hinduism on the rise. Like the Ajanta Caves, the planning and precision in creating these structures from a single piece of rock are simply awe inspiring!
The most well known structure here at Ellora is the Kailasa temple which is the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world. It is carved in the shape of a chariot and dedicated to the Hindu god Lord Shiva. The structure covers an area twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens. It is believed that construction of the Kailasa temple began around 756 AD and took over 100 years to complete by the removal of 250,000 tons of rock. The temple represents Mount Kailash which is the abode of Lord Shiva and was originally covered in white plaster to make it look like a snowy mountain.
Entrance to the Kailasa Temple
The chariot shaped Kailasa Temple
Everything you see here including the elephant sculpture were carved from the same piece of rock.
Hindu legends cover the walls of the temple
Here you can see the cliff where the temple was excavated from…the precision and planning involved are truly incredible.
The Hindu epic Ramayana portrayed here where the wife of Rama was kidnapped by the demon king and Rama aided by an army of monkeys build a bridge across the ocean to Sri Lanka and battled and consequently killed the demon king.
The temple about 10-stories up atop the chariot.
Atop the chariot of Kailasa Temple
All the shrines, sculptures, and reliefs were carved from a single piece of rock. Imagine how not a single mistake can be made.
The other Hindu caves at Ellora are much smaller in comparison to Kailasa Temple.
Fire pits at the Hindu cave temple.
Hindu legend where Vishnu in the form of a human with a boar’s head descends to the bottom of the sea to rescue the earth, in the form of a girl, which has been removed by a demon.
From the Hindu caves, the Jain caves are a short bus ride from the main gates. They are not large compared to the other caves but elaborately decorated. The main Jain cave temple (Cave 32), dedicated to Mahavira and other Jain deities, is highly decorated with intricate carvings and sculptures. The 2-storey cave is created by carving and decorating the upper level first before continuing below.
Like the Kailasa Temple, the Jain cave temples are also excavated from a single piece of rock
A beautiful lotus flower decoration carved onto the ceiling in the center of the upper level of the main hall.
These beautifully carved pillars are not for support but for decoration since the entire structure was created by excavating a single piece of rock.
Relief depicting Jain saint, Gomatesvara, meditating in the forest for so long that vines have grown up his legs and animals start to crawl around his feet.
In contrast to the Hindu and Jain caves, the Buddhist cave temples here at Ellora are less elaborately decorated. All the Buddhist caves except one are monasteries. The Vishvakarma Cave, also known as the Carpenter’s Cave, is the most famous of the Buddhist Caves at Ellora. It has a cathedral like hall with beautiful beams carved to look like wood and a large seated Buddha in front of the stupa.
Cave 5 centers on a large assembly hall stretching 36 meters long with two rows of carved benches most probably used as a refectory for the monks.
The Ajanta and Ellora Caves were definitely my favorite stops on this journey in South India. I am actually surprised that there were very few foreign tourists and even the local visitors were mostly students on school trips. The guide said that these caves have not been publicized much by the Indian tourism department where their main focus so far has been in the Rajasthan area in the north. It is a pity that not more people know about this amazing place but I am selfishly pleased that for the most part I had the place all to myself :)
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