Ellora caves are in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. Ellora showcases the experiments that had carried out by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monks some 600 to 300 years back.
Location: Near Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Founded In: 5th to 10th century
Represent: Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism
Status: UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Ellora caves, locally known as ‘Verul Leni’ is located on the Aurangabad-Chalisgaon road at a distance of 30 km north-northwest of Aurangabad, the district headquarters. The name Ellora itself inspires everyone as it represents one of the largest rock-hewn monastic-temple complexes in the entire world. Ellora is also world famous for the largest single monolithic excavation in the world, the great Kailasa (Cave 16). The visit to these caves is enjoyed maximum during monsoon, when every stream is filled with rainwater, and the entire environ is lush green. The monsoon is not only a season of rains in this part, the local visitors are attracted to visit these ideal locations to have a glimpse of the mother nature in full bloom.
History of Ellora Caves
The caves at Ellora were carved out of the vertical face of the Charanandri hills between the 6th and 10th centuries. The carving work began around 550 AD, about the same time the Ajanta Caves (100km northeast) were abandoned.
The Ellora Caves were built at time when Buddhism was declining in India and Hinduism was beginning to reassert itself. The Brahmanical movement was especially powerful under the patronage of the Chalukya and Rashtrakuta kings, who oversaw most of the work at Ellora – including the magnificent Kailasa Temple built in the 700s.
The last period of building activity took place in the 10th century, when the local rulers switched allegiance from Shaivism (Hinduism devoted to Shiva) to the Digambara sect of Jainism.
The coexistence of structures from three different religions serve as a splendid visual representation of the prevalent religious tolerance of India. For this reason and others, the Ellora Caves were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
Caves And Temples
In total there are 34 temples carved out of stone. These can be divided into three groups belonging roughly to three periods: Buddhist, Hindu and Jain. Only 12 of the 34 caves are Buddhist, but even these caves incorporate Hindu and Jain theme, demonstrating the gradual decline of Buddhism.
It took over five centuries for the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monks to chisel out these monasteries, temples, and chapels and decorate them with remarkable imagination and detail. These caves run North-South and take on the Golden Radiance of the late afternoon sun.
The Buddhist Caves
Out of 34 caves, sixteen caves are the oldest in the group and were carved in the 5th century. As one enters these caves, one crosses graceful angles and steps in a high ceiling chamber where a 15 feet huge statute of Buddha is sitting in a preaching pose. In these caves the artist has tried an element of surprise by giving them expression of wood. Most of these 16 caves are ‘Viharas’ but cave number 10 is a ‘Chaitya’.
The style of carvings and sculptures in these caves indicate that initially the artist was going in for simple decorations but later, as in caves 11 and 12, he became more ambitious.
The 10th cave has an impression of wooden beams on its ceiling and has a small decorated window, which illuminates the sitting Buddha. These caves are rightly called the “Vishvakarma” caves. This cave is considered to be one of the finest caves in India. Here life and religion go hand in hand. The amorous couples play joyfully along the balustrade.
While stepping out of this cave one will come across an upper gallery giving a view of the precisely carved Naga Queen, the harbinger of monsoon and the dwarfs who were the court entertainers. The Buddhists believe that Buddha returns after every five thousand years, thus the 12th cave has seven images of Buddha depicting his seven incarnations.
The Hindu Caves
All the Hindu caves have elaborate carvings done on them, right from top to bottom. Cave number sixteen is known as the Kailasa or Kailasanatha Temple and is probably the most popular as well as more exquisite of all the Hindu caves at Ellora. The cave has been designed in such a way so as to illustrate Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. Carved out of a single piece of rock, it is a multi-storied temple complex that spreads over an area double the size of the Parthenon in Athens.
As one crosses the two-storied gateway of the caves, a U-shaped courtyard comes into sight. Three-stories high columned galleries edge the courtyard and stand scattered with huge sculpted panels and alcoves with sculptures of deities. The central temple has been built as per South Indian architectural style and houses the Shiva Lingam, along with an image of the Nandi bull. Illustrative carvings adorn the lower stories of the two-storied Nandi Mandap, which is connected with the porch by a living rock bridge.
The Jain Caves
Jain caves symbolize certain special aspects of the Jain religion, especially the strict sense of asceticism. Though the Jain caves are not as much in size as the other caves, they do exhibit remarkably detailed art works. The thirty-second cave is known as Indra Sabha. It is basically a shrine, which has a ceiling that is adorned with a very delicate carving of the lotus flower.
There is another cave, where one can see an impressive yakshi seated on her lion under a mango tree, which is laden with fruits. Almost all the caves belonging to the Jain religion have intricate detailing that ornaments their interiors. Many of the caves also have fragments of paintings in the ceilings, which stand testimony to the fact that once they were decorated with rich images.
How to Get There
Air: Aurangabad is the nearest airport from the cave site.
Rail: Aurangabad is the nearest railway station on South Central Railway Line. Mumbai – Aurangabad via Manmad is 388-km and via Pune it is 400-km.
Road: Aurangabad, being a major city of Maharashtra, is well connected by road. Tourists can take taxi from Aurangabad to access Ajanta and Ellora Caves. State buses run from Mumbai, Pune, Ahmednagar, Jalgaon, Shirdi, Nasik, Dhule, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Indore and Bijapur to Aurangabad, and from Jalgaon to Ajanta.
Where To Stay
The M T D C Holiday Resort near Aurangabad railway station, the Ajanta Travellers Lodge at the caves and the M T D C Holiday Resort at Fardapur (about 4-km from Aurangabad) are some of the best options for accommodation for tourists visiting the cave sites apart from hotels at Aurangabad.