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Ellora caves 1-12

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Ellora caves: quick facts

Location (modern)Ellora or Verul in Aurangabad district
Location (ancient)Charanadri hills in Elapura
PeriodCa. 550 - 950 CE (Dhavalikar 2005, 10)
Kingdom/dynastyKalachuri, Western Chalukya and Rashtrakuta
No. of caves34
Religious affiliationsBuddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism

Ellora is listed as a UNESCO’s World Heritage Monument.

The site. It is a unique group of 34 edifices consisting of the Buddhist caves (1–12), Hindu caves (13–29), and Jain caves (30–34); amongst a few others that are in a poor state of preservation. Although the rock-cut activity began from the 5th century CE, the major excavations were conceived on the site between the 6th and the 10th century CE, under the reign of the Kalachuris, and the Rashtrakutas. The site was active till 13th century CE.  

Architecture. The pinnacle of Indian rock-cut architecture, Ellora is considered the peak of innovation and advancement.

In the Buddhist group, Cave 5 has a large rectangular hall with a pair of full length low-benches comparable with the Cave 11 of Kanheri. The massive two-storied (Do thal) and three-storied (Tin thal) excavations are also a unique feature of the site. In terms of its spatial spread, Ellora is the largest among Indian rock-cut cave sites, which includes the world’s greatest rock-cut edifice the Kailasa temple (Cave 16) that is carved out of a single basalt mount. This temple resembles the Dravida architecture style of South India.

The group of Jain caves houses a smaller version of the Kailasa temple known as Chhota Kailasa (Cave 30). Indra Sabha (Cave 32) and Jagannnath Sabha (Cave33) have complex plans consisting of a verandah, a hall, shrines, highly decorative pillar capitals, and staircases.

Sculpture. The Buddhist caves contain ornate Buddha and Bodhisattava images carved in various postures and mudras. Other notable themes are represented in the sculptures of Buddhist goddesses such as Tara (the goddess of navigation), Mahamayuri (the goddess of secret sciences, or the protector of devotees from poisoning), and Manjushree (the goddess of wisdom) .

The Hindu caves of Ellora represent mainstream cults (Shaivite, Vaishnavite, and Shakta) in high-relief sculptural panels depicting scenes from Puranas and other known literature. These sculptures seem to be more evolved, ornate, and stylised compared to those of the Buddhist and Jain groups. Especially, Cave 15, Dashavatara, is known for its monumental sculptures that depict incredible movement, and theatricality. Cave 16, Kailasa, has an entire dedicated sculpture gallery around the monolith.

In Jain caves, sculptures of Tirthankaras, Yaksha Matanga, Yakshi Siddhayika, and twelve-armed Yakshi Chakreshvari are represented. 

Painting. Unlike Ajanta, Ellora has very few traces of paintings, although Cave 16 and the Jain caves do have certain traces of paintings from various time periods. Although the Jain caves have extensively painted walls, ceilings and whole of insides and sculptures in the shrines. These have to be seen from close distance with good quality light.

Epigraphy. Inscriptions at Dashavatara (Cave 15) bears a source to trace the genealogy of the Rashtrakuta dynasty which is inscribed in Sanskrit. Kailasa (Cave 16) has painted inscriptions which tell about the battle scenes painting. The Jain caves also have few inscriptions. Baroda copper plate of Rashtrakuta king Karkkaraja II has references of Rashtrakuta kings and the great Kailasa temple. 

Ellora or Verul village is also a known pilgrimage centre due to one of the Jyotirlingas known as Ghrishneshvar just 1 km away from the site.

Module curator: Sandeep Joshi. Photographs: Dr. Rajesh Kumar Singh.