Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ellora elegant & immortal

Imagine shoveling 2 lakh tonnes of rock surface and building an edifice to represent Mount Kailash which is the abode of Shiva. The grandeur of such scale has never been attempted by mankind after the Parthenon . A massive army of 7000 laborers and hundreds of master craftsmen focused for 150 years to complete the Kailashnath Temple @ Ellora. It is twice the area of Parthenon and 1.5 times taller. A scale and grandeur unrivalled in the history of mankind.

“ Where minds, hearts and hands worked in unison with consummate passion to etch an edifice as gigantic as Kailash temple “

The commissioning of the Kailashnath temple is credited to Krishnaraja I ( 753 -83 AD ) and completed during the reign of Krishna II ( 878 – 914 ). The matching of the names of the king is rare coincidence. Kailashnath temple was fashioned on the lines of Virupakasha temple @ Pattadakal which has dedicated in 740 AD by King Vishnuvardhan.

My theory is that after the abandonment of Ajanta artisans moved to next destination at Aihole and than again migrated to Badami and Pattadakkal and than shifted focus to Ellora to complete the grandeur spanning 4 centuries. Than once again they migrated to Belur &  Halebid and than finally to Hampi the Vijaynagar Empire. Thus the circle of artistic excellence came to attain its zenith at Hampi. The interlinkage of subject matter such as Shiva, Vishnu, Shiv Ling, Nandi, Lion, Elephant etc are all common icons of sculpture during this transmigration from one kingdom to another.


Ellora was located on the ancient trading caravan route of Paithan Pitalkhora, Ajanta and Nasik. It is locally known as Verul Leni instead of Ellora. Don’t be surprised it means the same destination Ellora in the local Lingo. It is located 30 km North west of Aurangabad which can serve as the base town in terms of accommodation. The visit to this magnificient location will be thoroughly enjoyed during the monsoon, when it is filled lush green all over adding colour to the grandeur. The next best season is the winter months of Dec to February.

Once upon a time Volcanic eruptions were frequent in these terrains. The volcanic Lava flowed during different periods in sands of ancient times. The lava flow created vertical and horizontal joints on the rock formation. It created a coarsed grain and fine grained texture on the rocks. The sculptures chose fine grained surface for structural stability and carving the rock surface. The sculptors minimized their labour by hewing rock face at vertical and horizontal joints. Thus the basaltic rocks were ideal for rock sculpting, they are soft during sculpting and when exposed to atmosphere they harden.

This region has been ancient dwelling place of Upper Paleolithic mankind ( 10,000 – 20000 years old ) Mesolithic ( Less than 10,000 years old ) and Chacolthic mankind. ( 2500 – 1000 BC ). It has been the region of continuous human inhabitation from time immemorial with traces of all their belongings cropping up in the area.

Unlike Ajanta, Ellora caves never went in oblivion since it was located on the ancient trading route. Ellora caves received patronage from various period ranging from Kalachuris from Nasik, Asmakas ( Vidharbha) Chalukyas, Sathavahanas and Rashtrakutas


For time starved tourist these are important caves and rest can be missed for a later visit. Cave No 10 ( vishwakarma ) No 16 ( kailash temple ) 21 ( ramesvar ) 32 & 34 ( jaina temples ) are a must for time pressed visitors. This represents the summary of the three religious branches Buddha, Hindu and Jaina legacy. The cave temples are locate on a semi circle arch formation. The Buddhist temple ( 2,5,10, 12) on the right arch facing south, the Hindu group ( 14,15,16,21 & 29 ) in the centre and Jaina group ( 32,33,34 ) on the north.


RS 10/- Per adult of Saarc countries including India
Childrens below 15 are allowed free
5 $ for a foreigner
9am to 5.30 pm.


The migrated artisans from Ajanta began excavating 12 buddhist caves. The date of excavation work spans over 3 centuries between 450 AD to 750 AD. During this period 12 caves can be sub classified into chaityagriha and monasteries. Cave no 1 to 5 refer to early period and 6 to 12 refer to later block. When compared to Ajanta the cave sizes are much smaller at Ellora except for Kailashnath temple.

CAVE 2 :

This cave is dedicated to Lord Buddha, and can be reached through small flight of steps. It contains a shrine for Buddha with pillared side galleria, many of the sculptures are unfinished, the sculptures are prominent particularly of the watchman ( dwarapalikas ) apart from Buddha image.

CAVE 5 :

This temple seems to be preaching area for the disciples and monks. The statue of Buddha is located at the centre and a bench for the Guruji, in the middle with benches on the sides for all the disciples to listen to the sermon and meditate. Budhham saranam Gachami. There are 12 ornamented pillars in the hall on both sides. This cave ( maharvada ) is a vihara ( monastery ) measuring 117x59 feet width.

CAVE 10 :

It is popularly known as carpenters cave or sutar ka jhopdi ( carpenters hut ). Otherwise it is named as Vishwakarma cave ( celestial architect ). The local carpenters and masons used to visit this cave and worship the Lord Vishwakarma ( Buddha ) as their chief almighty.

A large stupa 27 feet high with statue of Buddha 11 feet high is installed in this magnificient two storeyed cave. There are 14 pillars on each side of the aisle. The roof of this cave is like a ribbed wooden formation etched on stone. The bottom lintel of the ribbed portion is decorated images of Buddha with attendants.

The arch has an attic window for light to seep in to brighten the cave, and there are images of Manjushri and Avalokiteswara on the north and south respectively. The Stupa and the balcony is finished as if it is carved out of wood. The close imitation of carpenters moulding technique has been displayed to perfection in this cave aptly called the carpenters cave. The wooden pins and joints on the beam and lintel are perfect sculpting and imitation in stone.


This 3 storied monastery is magnum opus and locally known as Teen Thal or three different rhythm of musical notes in classical form. The ground contains a huge pillared hall like a courtyard. It leads to steps on the right towards the first floor. There are nine cells with images of Buddha and his consorts adorning the wall panels.

Again a stair case leads to the 2nd floor. The entire hall measure 118x34 feet width.
The hall is divided into three portions with 8 pillars. It contains 13 cells, with image of Buddha on the east with meditative posture. The entire scene depicts the eventful moment in Buddha’s life attaining enlightment. There 5 different postures of Buddha adorning the fa├žade.

Third storey is again accessible through flight of steps from the second floor. There are representations of 14 Buddhas with 7 each on North and Southern panels. They are in different forms such as Vipasi, Sakhi, Visvabahu, Krachunda, Kanakamuni,Kashyapa & Sakyasimha. The sides of the antechamber are adorned by favourite deities Padmapani and Vajrapani.


There are 17 caves belonging to the hindu era excavated between 650 AD to 900 AD. These caves have obviously been patronized by chalukyan and Rashtrakuta emperors. They are gradual migration from the Buddhist viharas to sikhara type of construction.

The leading group of caves in this group are Cave 14 known as Ravan ka kai or abode of Ravana Cave 15 signifying Dusavatar of Vishn Cave 16 Monolithic Kailash temple Cave 21 Rameswara Cave Dumar Leni .


RAVAN KA KAI ( Abode of RAVAN, king of Sri Lanka )

This two storyed structure signifies the graduation of art from simple Buddhist to complex form of Hindu architecture. The presence of Rashtrakuta emperors and their genealogy is mentioned in the inscriptions on the mantap. We find the names of the kings from Rashtrakuta clan mentioned in an order ;

Dantivarma the founder ( 600 – 630 AD )
Son Indraraja ( 630 - 650 AD )
Son Govindaraja ( 650 – 675 AD )
Son Kakaraja ( 675 –700 AD )
Son Indraraja II ( 700 – 725 AD)
Son Dantidurga ( 725 – 756 AD )
Krishna 1 ( 756 - 774 AD )
Govinda II ( 774 - 780 AD )
Dhruva ( 780 – 793 AD )
Govinda III ( 793 – 814 AD )
Amogavarsha ( 814 – 878 AM)
Krishna II ( 878 – 914 AD )

The artisans with their previous expertise started carving monolithic statues. Here one can see the depiction of Ravana lifting the abode of Shiva in penance and thereby gaining his blessings. This cave has sculptures of Buddha as well as Hindu gods.

The first floor contains images of various Hindu deities such as Ganesh, Parvathi, Shiva, Durga, and various other forms of shiva in aadhanarieswar and mahishasurmardhani.

The second storey chamber measures 109x95 feet width. There is a linga in the sanctum. The side walls contain various images of deities and Ravana. The south wall has representations of various forms of Vishnu. They are in boar avatar, trivikarma avatar and Narasimha avatar.



It is the largest cave temple excavation undertaken in the world almost an inspiration to Angkor Wat in Cambodia in the 12th century. The rocky structure was hewn downwards separating it from the parent rock formation. Deep trenches were dug on all three sides separating a monolithic structure of 276x154x107 feet high super edifice.

Krishna I ( 756 -783 AD ) after subduing his Chalukyan Lords in a battle signaled the commissioning of this super structure. It was originally known as Krishneswar temple, but later changed after his demise to Kailasa temple. This temple is modeled on the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal.

Kailash complex can be divided in four parts, the enterance gateway, main temple, intermediate Nandi shrine and courtyard pillars and images.

The four lion sculptures on the roof of the temple seems to be guarding from the evil forces from all direction. This is a unique symbolism to invoke the blessings of the Lord to protect this monument from damaging influence of nature.

It is estimated that 2 lakh tonnes of rock surface was exhumed out one all three sides in a U shaped formation to design the archway enterance and the inner edifice of Kailash temple.

All the carvings are done in different levels. A two storyed gateway opens to an u shaped courtyard which was earlier connected by stone bridges, but these have collapsed subsequently due to structural imbalance. There are statues of huge deities of Ganga and Yamuna symbolizing the purity of the endeavour, in the front enterance literally welcoming the visitors.

The rows of elephants on the side walls of the main shiva temple gives an impression that they are literally holding the temple on their strong backbones.

The most prominent feature of the court yard are two monolithic elephants and pillars on each side of the temple premises. The pillar raises to the height of 45 feet and is crowned by trishul. The is decorated with various geometric designs and moulds.

Main temple is designed in a parallelogram with the principal shrine excavated at the first floor level. The principal shrine raises to a height of 23 meters over the plinth. There are 5 subsidiary shrines fashioned around the principal shrine. The interiors of the shrine contains pillared mantap with carvings similar to the virupaksha temple. The antechamber contains the garbhagriha. Remnants of the paintings are slightly visible which were undertaken during the reign of Krishna and Ahilya Bai Holkar.
The central figure of Nataraja executed on the ceiling of the shrine was delicately carved with artisan lying on his back and chiseling the image with precision. He was illuminated by oil lamp and had to cover his eyes from the falling debris of dust and stone. The ceiling at many places were similarly drawn using the scaffolding support. These murals have lost their lustre by lighting of lamps in the past. This is evident by carbon depositing on the murals.

Mantap is entered through the antechamber wherein the Linga is etched over the pedestal. There are two deities Ganga and Yamuna once again purifying the atmosphere with their presence. The respective vehicle of crocodile and tortoise is symbolic. The ceiling is etched with lotus, with the iconic Linga represent Lord Shiva. One is carried away by the grandeur of the architects imagination.

On circumbulation of the main shrine there are 5 subsidiary and including the main shrine there are two other independent shrines, wherein the images of the deities are missing which would mean ashta mandalam or eight constellations. The wall portion of the temple is carved with various images of Lord shiva.

After completing the pradakshina ( circular tour ) one enters into the Nandi mantap complex, The Nandi is the vehicle of Lord of Shiva, which has been finished outside the temple complex and hoisted into this complex. The interior of the complex is well painted with scenes from Ramayan and embedded with inscriptions from Rashtrakuta kings. After passing through this complex one can enter upper storey of the enterance gopuram. One can have peep through the window at the main temple gopuram and roof of the main temple. In this complex the tourist can find a courtyard for resting and heaving a sigh of relief and pause for breath and ponder at the artistic excellance of the monumental effort the artisan. This pedestal is used used for photography and videography.

Once the circular motion is completed on the Nandi complex one reaches a point at the ground floor from where the remanents of another stone bridge can be seen. It was connecting from south to the main building. There are unfinished portion on the south side of the edifice.

A visit is incomplete without a visit to the north of the temple complex wherein it is once again dedicated to Lord Shiva. One now keeps wondering where is the erotic or romantic episodes etched, there is a portion behind the temple which is dedicated to Kama deva, or goddess of Love. Check out maybe one find some romantic poses in this magnetic and awe inspiring incomplete edifice. If you are unable to locate the same please do get in touch. Lol. If you are able to locate them than do photograph and reveal it to the world.


It is one the earliest hindu caves located midway of the entire cave formation. This cave too is dedicated to Lord shiva. A nandi is located in front of the cave on a raised pedestal. The entrance of the cave is flanked by sculptures of Ganga and Yamuna.

Inside the mantap sculpture of Nataraj on the eastern portion and Kali on the western portion is embedded. The northern portion is embedded with an image of shiva parvathi getting married. There are images of subramanya and shiva in mahishashvardini format.

On the enterance verandah one can find depiction of Ravangruha and Shiva & parvathi playing games. A pathway from cave 21 leads to cave 22 to 28.



Dumar Leni or cave is situated next to sita ka nahana or waterfalls. A pool created by this waterfall is known as Elaganga. There is linga in this cave as the sanctum surrounded by dwarpalikas. The hall is filled with Lord shiva’s image in 6 different avatars. One depicts Ravana holding aloft mount kailash, another celestial wedding of Lord shiva with parvathi, Killing of demon antaka and Shiva parvathi playing chausar, Nataraja pose There are two pits maybe used for vedic homa during the times of prayer.

CAVES 30-34


The followers of Jainism left their imprint during the 11th and 12th century AD. Caves No 32 and 33 are known as Indra sabha and Jaganath sabha. Cave 30 is unfinished format and is also known as chota Kailash. The technique of rock excavation is similar to that of cave 16.



This shrine is dedicated to Lord Mahavir and other teertankaras. They systematically arranged in the double storied cave. The main entrance is in Dravidian Gopuram style. A monolithic pillar with an elephant guarding it. The elephant resembles the Kailash temple courtyard elephant in a well preserved format. The monolithic pillar stands 28 feet tall, crowned with four teerthankaras seated in four direction.

The four teertankaras embedded in the shrine are : Rshabnatha ( 1st ) Parsvnatha ( 22nd ) Neminatha ( 23rd ) and Mahvira ( 24th ) are in different forms along with accompanying deities Indra on elephant and Ambica seat on Lion. The side walls display images of Gommateswara and Parsvanatha with a snake hood above his temple.

On the first floor it is a shrine dedicated solely to Lord Mahavir. One can see the remains of the vanishing murals. A huge Mahavir statue is installed in the shrine at the sanctum. The archway is elegantly carved.


There is an elaborate plan to harvest rain water to be preserved in water cisterns. This was used during the non monsoon seasons. This reveals the engineering skills of the artisans of ancient times. Even to this modern times one can find water filled in the cisterns during non season.

The elegance achieved at Ellora Kailashnath temple is unparalleled in scale and execution in Indian temple architecture. The grandeur and massive scale in which it was planned leaves one bewildered and wondering even after alleged 150 years of construction, it is still incomplete edifice and stands tall even in ruins after more than 1100 years of construction. Maybe the withdrawl of patronage and lucrative offers from Hoyasala kings lured the artisans away to better prospects in modern parlance. Maybe if all the edifices were completed it would have surpassed the grandeur of Angkor wat. The artisans literally moved mountains to build the Kailashnath temple.

Ack :  ASI, Wiki, and other sources from Internet, Photo courtsey from Wiki


Ricky Albert said...

really very nice information shared by the author about india...india is the great country of the world...i like the efforts of the author..

India information guide

Harish P I said...

Exciting description. would love to visit the place.

Deguide said...

Thanks Harish for your visit and comments, yes Ellora signifies the pinnacle of architecture in Western India

Arti said...

Great pics and the caves indeed have a lot of history within them!

Deguide said...

Thanks for the compliment Arti, of course the history of Kailash temple is unparalled in Indian history.

Rituparna said...

Hey this was a very helpful post. We have been planning on going to Ajanta & Ellora for sometime now.

sabesan said...

this is Sabesan from Karaikudi,Tamilnadu.I had been visiting Ellora caves for last ten years,They are beyond any words to describe,one has to be there to visually enjoy our Indian worksmanship work.It is a great fete of no match.Be there to be apart of it-sabesan

Shridhar Mhatre said...

A visitor can only marvel at the vision of its unknown planner who was able to foresee this gigantic temple emerging from a mountainside... Kailash Temple in Ellora


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