Caves of Ellora, Aurangabad, India

Caves of Ellora are twenty eight kilometers (18 miles) from Aurangabad. The road passes by the base of the Daultabad fort. The Cave Temples of Ellora are the product of three religious systems-Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Jainism containing elaborate carvings of gods and goddesses and remarkable memorials of the three great faiths they represent.

Each system had its individual style of architecture and Ellora presents the varied styles side by side. The sculptural work, too, reveals the points of contrast. The excavations on a sloping hill-side are spread over an area, from north to south, of about two kilometers. There are 34 caves in all: 12 Buddhist caves (500-750 AD), 17 Hindu caves (600-870 AD) and 5 Jain caves (800-1000 AD). The caves are numbered roughly chronologically, starting with the oldest Buddhist caves at the south end.

The Buddhist Caves:
The Buddhist caves are the earliest of the Ellora Caves, dating from 500 to 750 AD. All except Cave 10 are viharas, which were used for study, meditation, communal rituals, eating and sleeping.
The caves become steadily larger and more elaborately decorated as they progress to the north, which scholars have explained by the growing need to compete with Hinduism for patronage. The earliest Hindu caves at Ellora date from 600 AD, right in the middle of the Buddhist period.
Cave 1 is a plain vihara with eight small monastic cells are very little sculpture. It may have served as a granary for the larger halls.

Cave 2 is much more impressive. A large central chamber supported by 12 great square pillars is lined with sculptures of seated Buddhas. The doorway into the sanctuary is flanked by a muscular Padmapani, holding a lotus, and a bejeweled Maitreya, the Future Buddha. Both are accompanied by their consorts. Inside the shrine is a stately seated Buddha on a lion throne.

Caves 3 and 4 have a similar design as Cave 2, but are in poor condition.

Cave 5 the largest in this series, is viahra, 35.66 meter by 17 meters (117 ft. by 56 ft.), and has in addition two side recesses. Twenty four pillars hold roof. The interior seems to indicate that it was used either as a, room for guests or as a classroom for novitiates. There is the usual Buddha image in a chapel.

Cave 6 was carved in the 600s and is home to two of the finest sculptures at Ellora. On the left is the goddess Tara, with an intense but kind expression. Opposite her on the right is Mahamayuri, the Buddhist goddess of learning, shown with her attribute, the peacock. A diligent student sits at his desk below. Significantly, Mahamayuri has a very similar Hindu counterpart, Saraswati.

Caves No.7, 8, 9 are not worth seeing.

The magnificent Cave 10 dates from the early 700s and is known as the Carpenter’s Cave because of its imitation in stone of wooden beams on the ceiling. At the far end, a seated Buddha is enthroned in front of a large stone stupa.

The Hindu Caves:
Created during a time of prosperity and revival of Hinduism, the Hindu caves represent an entirely different style of creative vision and skill than the Buddhist caves. The Hindu temples were carved from top to bottom and required several generations of planning and coordination to take shape.

There are 17 Hindu caves in all (numbered 13 to 29), which were carved between 600 and 870 AD. They occupy the center of the cave complex, grouped around either side of the famous Kailasa Temple.

In contrast to the serene and solemn Buddhas of the earlier caves, the walls of the Hindu caves are covered in lively bas-reliefs depicting events from the Hindu scriptures. All of the caves are dedicated to the god Shiva, but there are also some images of Vishnu and his various incarnations.

Cave 14 dates from the early 600s and was converted from a Buddhist vihara. Its long walls are adorned with magnificently carved friezes and the entrance to the sanctuary is guarded by the river goddess Ganga and Yamuna. Inside, an alcove shelters seven large-breasted fertility goddesses holding chubby babies on their laps. Appearing to their right is the female aspect of Ganesh and the cadaverous goddesses of death, Kala and Kali.

Cave 15 is also a former Buddhist cave adopted by the Hindus. The ground floor is mostly uninteresting, but the top floor has some of the best sculpture at Ellora. Along the right wall are sequences of panels showing five of Vishnu's ten incarnations or avatars, which give the cave its name, Das Avatara.

A panel to the right of the antechamber depicts the superiority of Shaivism in the region at the time - Shiva emerges from a linga while his rivals Brahma and Vishnu stand in humility and supplication. The cave's most elegant sculpture is in the left wall of the chamber: it shows Shiva as Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer.

The most notable Hindu cave (Cave 16) is not a cave at all, but a magnificent temple carved from the solid rock, patterned closely on the freestanding temples of the time. It represents Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, and is called the Kailashnath, Kailash, or Kailasa Temple. It originally had a thick coat of white plaster to make it look like a snowy mountain.

The Kailash Temple is a stupendous piece of architecture, with interesting spatial effects and varied sculpture. It is believed to have been started by the Rashtrakuta king Krishna I (756-773). The construction was a feat of human genius – it entailed removal of 250,000 tons of rock, took 100 years to complete and covers an area double the size of Parthenon in Athens.Many more Hindu caves stretch down the hillside north of Kailash, but only three are must-sees: 21, 25 and 29.

Cave 21, the Ramesvara, dates from the late 500s and is thought to be the oldest Hindu cave at Ellora. It houses some fine sculpture, including a pair of river goddesses, two door guardians and some loving couples around the walls of the balcony.

Cave 25 features a sculpture of the sun god Surya driving his chariot towards the dawn.

North of this, the trail soon drops steeply down to a gorge, under a seasonal waterfall, and back up to Cave 29, the Dhumar Lena. Dating from the late 500s, it has an unusual cross-shaped plan. Pairs of lions guard its three staircases. Inside, the walls are covered in large friezes. To the left of the entrance, Shiva slays the Andhaka demon, and then defeats the many-armed Ravana's attempt to shake him and Parvati off the top of Mount Kailash. Don't miss the dwarf baring his bottom to taunt the demon! On the south side, Shiva teases Parvati by holding her arm back as she prepares to throw dice in a game.

The Jain Caves:
The Jain caves, dating from the late 800s and 900s, are 2 km north down an asphalt road. They reflect the distinctiveness of Jain philosophy and tradition, including a strict sense of asceticism combined with elaborate decoration. They are not large compared to others, but contain exceptionally detailed artworks. Many of the Jain caves had rich paintings in the ceilings, fragments of which are still visible. The most notable of the group is Cave 32, the Indra Sabha, a miniature of the Kailash Temple. The bottom level is plain but the upper floor has elaborate carvings, including a fine lotus flower on the ceiling. Two tirthankaras guard the entrance to the central shrine. On the right is the naked Gomatesvara, who is meditating deeply in the forest - so much so that vines have grown up his legs and animals, snakes and scorpions crawl around his feet.




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