The period of 600-1000 CE in Indian history, was a period of discovery and creations. It was the peak of India’s historic art and architecture, probably built for posterity. Today, when you stand at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Ellora Caves, you would know what we are talking about. Art connoisseurs, patrons, and admirers of history from far and wide have stood spellbound and bowed in the awe of this gigantic magnificence of stone craft. The pride of India, these rock-cut monasteries, temples and ‘matth’ (chapels) of Ellora, collectively form the largest cave complex in the world.
The cave complex of Ellora is conveniently accessible from the major cities and towns of Maharashtra. You can reach Ellora by booking Aurangabad to Ajanta Caves cabs, or from Mumbai city which is 300km away.
Exploring the Caves
Perched on a volcanic plateau on the western Ghats, the premises of Ellora occupy a flat and layered surface, hardened by basalt rock over the eons of volcanic activity. For artistry purposes, these layered volcanic rocks made for the foundation of what was became a cultural wonder of India. Get ready to be stupefied at the detailing of stonework and fine artistry. One couldn’t possibly imagine the amount of time, human resources, and dedication that would have been invested in the making of this remarkable piece of architecture.
Surprising as it may seem, the Ellora cave complex is a living example of the religious harmony of its era with Buddhist, Hindu and Jain influence, all under the same roof. There are about 12 Buddhist caves, 17 Hindu caves, and five Jain caves, preserving the history, mythology, and art of each of these communities.
Each showcases the deities and religious scriptures of its respective religion. While the Hindu caves and some of the Buddhist caves were built under the patronage of Rashtrakuta Dynasty, the Jain caves were constructed under the Yadava Dynasty.
Most of these caves served the purpose of monasteries and temples for the monks and priest, while also acting as a resting point for pilgrims. Being on the South Asian trade route, Ellora also grew as a center for trade and commerce.
The Various Caves and Temples
The entire site houses about 100 caves, of which only 34 are open to the public for viewing and exploration. You can get to the caves, along with exploring Ajanta when you book an Aurangabad taxi service.
Cave 16 particularly is notable. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it features the Kailasa Temple. the largest excavated yet single monolithic rock sculpture in the world. Legends are that it took 150 years and about 7,000 artisans to carve out this architectural wonder from a slope of a rock. The temple is flanked by a chariot shaped monument and features inscriptions, deities of Vedic gods and goddesses, paintings, and shrines of Ganga, Jamuna, Saraswati and many avatars of Vishnu.
At a kilometer's walk from the caves of Ellora you will find the Grishneshwar Temple. This 18th-century temple is known to enshrine one of the five Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.
This is a four-pillared hall with within cave 34, which has remained unfinished. It is believed that Jain Tirthankaras used to preach in this cave after they achieved enlightenment.
These caves used to be the vihara - monasteries for Buddhist monks of its time. Of all, the most noteworthy is the Carpenter’s Cave which features a cathedral-like stupa (dome). In the center of the cave stands a 15-feet high statue of Buddha.
Protected and preserved by the Archeological Society of India, Ellora is a standing testament to India’s history which was rich in art, architecture, construction technique and religious values.