Located around thirty kilometers away from the city Aurangabad in the state of Maharashtra in India, Ellora is an important and unique archaeological site. Locally the place is known as Verul. Extending over an area of more than two kilometers, Ellora is one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world, and presents surprising monuments and artwork of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism from the 600-1000 CE period.
The site consists of more than 100 caves, of which only 34 caves are open to the public. These caves were excavated out of the vertical cliff in the Charanandri hills. The archaeological site consists of 12 Buddhist (caves 1–12), 17 Hindus (caves 13–29) and 5 Jain (caves 30–34) caves. It is estimated that, chronologically the caves had three building periods, consisting of an early Hindu period (~550 to 600 CE), a Buddhist phase (~600 to 730 CE), and finally, a later Hindu and Jain phase (~730 to 950 CE). It is estimated that, the earliest Ellora caves may have been built during the rule of the Hindu dynasties of Vakataka and the Traikutakas. It should be noted here that, Vakatakas are also known for sponsoring the Ajanta caves. However, it is also likely that some of the earliest Ellora caves, such as Hindu Cave 29, were built by the Shiva-inspired Kalachuri Hindu dynasty, while the Buddhist caves were built by the Chalukya Hindu dynasty. The Hindu Rashtrakuta dynasty sponsored the later Hindu caves and early Jaina caves while the last Jaina caves were possibly built by the Yadava Hindu dynasty that also sponsored other Jaina cave temples.
Among the Buddhist caves, Caves 5, 10, 11 and 12 are architecturally important. However, the most famous among them is cave 10, a worship hall called the Vishvakarma cave. For its artistic finish, it is also known as Carpenter’s Cave. Beyond its multi-storeyed entrance, there is a cathedral-like Stupa or Chaitya Griha (prayer house) inside the cave, with a 15-foot statue of Buddha seated in a preaching pose.
The most remarkable Jain shrines are cave 30 (Chhota Kailash), 32 (Indra Sabha), and 33 (Jagannath Sabha).
Among the Hindu caves, cave 15 is known as the Dasavatara cave, since the top floor depicts all the Ten Avataras or the incarnations of Vishnu. The cave also has a beautiful sculpture of Shiva as Dancing Nataraja, the cosmic dancer. Cave 21 is known as Rameswara, and is said to be the oldest of the Hindu caves. It is adorned with several unique reliefs depicting the story of goddess Parvati’s pursuit of Lord Shiva in her Tapasya. The entrance of the cave features elegantly carved gigantic sculptures of goddesses Ganga and Yamuna on each side, and thus emphasizing their significance and importance in Indian culture.
Cave 29, also called Dhumar Lena, is one of the earliest excavations in Ellora and among the largest. It has three entrances with lion sculptures on either side of each entrance. At the main entrance are the panels of Ravana shaking the Kailash Mountain. At the South East entrance are the panels of the celestial marriage between Lord Shiva and Parvati, and another one depicting Shiva and Parvati playing dice.
However, cave 16 is the most remarkable of all the other caves in Ellora. Also known and renowned as Kailash Temple, it is considered as one of the miraculous human creations in the world. It is considered as a remarkable creation because of its size, structure, architecture and the unique way of construction. In fact, the temple is not built, but cut and carved out of a huge and gigantic monolith. The temple is noted for its vertical excavation. The rock was directly cut from the top to the base of the temple, yet it has maintained the beauty of architectural planning. The astonishing factor is that, an unbelievable quantity of about 400,000 tons of rock is carved out in a period of 20 years for completion of the temple. The temple expanse is huge and the area it covers is double the size of the Parthenon in Athens. It is the largest monolithic human built structure of the world.
It is estimated that the Kailash Temple have been made in 757 to 783 CE, during the reign of King Krishna I of the Rashtrakut dynasty. The rear wall of its courtyard is 276 feet X 154 feet and is 100 feet high. The temple itself is 164 feet deep and 109 feet wide, with the height of 98 feet. The temple has secret passageways, a good drainage system, connecting bridges and complicated designs, all carved out of this one single rock. It has the unique feature of having the largest cantilevered rock ceiling in the world. It is rightly considered as the jewel in the crown of Ellora.
The caves of Ajanta were abandoned and eventually forgotten through the centuries. However, Ellora Caves were admired by people throughout the history till this day. Today, this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Maharashtra state and one of the older UNESCO World Heritage monuments.