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Ellora Caves : Art & Architecture

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

Forgotten Art & Architecture of Ellora Caves

Sunrise at Ellora Caves
Sunrise at Ellora Caves

300km from Mumbai stand monuments of great art and architecture, known to us as Ellora Caves which have been excavated from the basalt cliffs in the Charanandri Hills. It is situated in the Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar district of Maharashtra. Ellora Caves is one of many magnificent rock-cut architectures in India, an amazing archaeological site that represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. These caves feature one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world. The caves are declared as World Heritage Site. The creator of this amazing monument was Krishna I.

Ellora Caves are a combination of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monuments, and the artwork depicts the religious harmony among the three major religions in ancient India. These caves are said to be chiseled between the 4th and the 9th centuries. Ellora caves, the finest examples of the rock-cut architecture, date back to the Rashtrakuta dynasty about fifteen hundred years ago. The site comprises over a hundred caves, however, the visitors are only allowed access to thirty four of them.

Of the thirty four caves, twelve are Buddhist, seventeen of them are Hindu, and five are Jain. Deities and monasteries of each respective religion have been represented by these three groups of caves. A lot of people might not be aware of it but the Hindu and the Buddhist caves have been constructed by the Rashtrakuta dynasty which ruled India from 8thto 10thcenturies. And the Jain Caves have been constructed by Yadav dynasty that ruled parts of India between 12th and 14th Century AD.

Ellora Caves : Art & Architecture
Ellora Caves : Art & Architecture

The most prominent caves amongst this series of caves at Ellora are the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, twenty-first and the twenty-ninth. If you go to the fourteenth cave, you will get to see spectacular sculptural panels adorned with Hindu deities. Cave number fifteen is a Hindu monument, however it resembles some of the Buddhist caves in Ellora. An inscription in the cave traces the genealogy of Rashtrakutas. This cave has a huge court which has been made of solid rock. The exterior of this two-storeycave has been carved beautifully and the roof has been crowned by human and animal figurines. The interior of the cave is nothing but awe-inspiring. It has been ornamented with bas reliefs. This cave has been noted for its exceptional art, the carvings which contain the floral ornamentations and the intricate carvings of snakes and dwarves. The most notable of them is the four-armed Rudra carving at the end of the balcony.

Ellora’s cave number sixteen is the most famous, it contains the famous Kailasha or Kailasa temple which is a prime attraction at Ellora caves. It is a chariot shaped monument which has been dedicated to Lord Shiva, the God of creation and destruction. It is said to be the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world. It looks like a multi-storied temple complex. There are two victory pillars in the Kailasa’s courtyard and its side walls have been decorated with sculpted panels. You will also get to see two life-sized elephant statues. Archeologists estimate that 400,000 tons of rock rubble was removed during the construction of this temple. The delicate architecture and the fact that it has been carved out of a single stones makes it stand out the most. It leaves anyone who sees this place utterly fascinated. It is without the shadow of a doubt considered one of the most remarkable ancient monuments in the world.

Another noteworthy cave is the twenty-first Ellora cave, that cave is known as the Rameshwar Cave. It has been adorned with images of Ganga and Yamuna which have been painstakingly carved into the walls. Ellora’s twenty-ninth cave, which is locally famous as ‘Sita ki Nahani’, resembles the great cave at Elephanta. It also contains a number of very impressive statues.

If we talk about the Buddhist caves which were carved between 6th and 7th century CE. These are mostly Viharas or monasteries. Some of these are the shrines carved with images of Lord Buddha and bodhisattvas. Cave number ten is very significant among the Buddhist caves. This cave is popularly known as Vishvakarma, containing a huge image of a Buddha sitting in front of the stupa. This image of Buddha is in a beautiful rock-cut balcony with smaller carvings as well. It also contains pillar on the side. Another important Buddhist cave is the fifth one. It has two benches that are about 40 feet long in the center. It is assumed that this must be the place where the group recitations of Buddhist sutras took place. Cave eleven and twelve too are strikingly beautiful, they are locally known as ‘Doh Taal and Teen Taal’, showcasing the mystical Buddhist architecture.

Another main group of caves among the Ellora caves is the Jain Caves. It’s a comparatively smaller group, containing just five caves numbered from thirty to thirty-four. The most significant here is the thirty-second. Despite being unfinished, it is the most spectacular cave here. The upper floor of this cave is said to be the largest and the most elaborated with beautiful pillars, large sculptural panels and paintings on its ceilings. The paintings on the walls too are amazing.

Ellora Caves are simply the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world, making this one of the best examples of ancient advanced technology. How, and in how much time was it built? There’s no known answer to this, a lot of the math which the engineers have tried to do has not added up. These caves are full of mysteries which are never likely to be solved. Whoever visits these caves, they find it absolutely mind boggling—pilgrims from all over the world and from India come to see this living, breathing mythology.

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