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About Ellora caves
Location – Ellora Cave Rd | Ahead of Hiranya Reosrts, Aurangabad 431005, India
Timings – Open from sunrise to sunset (Closed on Tuesday)
Built in – During 350 – 700 AD
Significance – Listed as World Heritage Site
Entrance Fee – Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan) and BIMSTEC Countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar) – Rs. 30 per head.
Others: Indian Rs. 500/- per head (children up to 15 years free).
One of the most fascinating archaeological sites in Maharashtra, Ellora dates back to about 1,500 years ago, and is the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. The 34 caves are actually Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religious monuments carved in the rock. They were given the status of World heritage Site in 1983.
Created between the 6th and 10th century, the 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu and 5 Jain caves carved in proximity at Ellora are proof of the religious harmony prevalent during this period of Indian history.
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.
The caves are hewn out of the volcanic basaltic formation of Maharasthra, known as “Deccan Trap”, the term trap being of Scandinavian origin representing the step like formation of the volcanic deposits. The rock formation, on weathering has given rise to the appearance of terraces with flat summits. At Ellora, one can also have a glimpse of the channels (near Cave 32) through which the volcanic lava once flowed. These channels, due to overheating, have a characteristic brownish red colour. Similar rock was used in the construction of the Grishneshwar Temple nearby and also utilised for the flooring of the pathways at Bibi-ka-Maqbara.
All the Buddhist caves were carved in the period 6th – 7th centuries CE. These structures consist mostly of ‘viharas’ or monasteries. Some of these monastery caves have shrines including carvings of Gautama Buddha and ‘bodhisattvas’. Of these, Cave 5 is one of the most important and unique caves in India and can be dated to mid-6th century CE. It consists of a long hall with two benches running for over 18 meters in the centre. This cave was most probably used for group recitation of various Buddhist sutras. Further, Cave 10 is popularly known as Vishvakarma’s (the architect of gods) cave because of its intricate carvings. There is a huge Buddha image placed in front of the ‘stupa’ covering the base and the drum part of the stupa.One of the unique features of this cave is its rock-cut balcony.
The other two important caves are 11 and 12, known as Don Taal and Teen Taal respectively. Both are three-storied and serve as prime examples of esoteric monastic Buddhist architecture.
These caves were excavated during the rule of the Kalachuri, Chalukya and Rashtrakuta rulers. Of these, Caves 14, 15, 16, 21 and 29 are not to be missed caves. Cave 14 consists of the sculptural panels of numerous Hindu deities. Cave 15 can be reached after climbing a few steps. This cave has numerous noteworthy sculptures carved on the interior walls which still have some traces of plaster left suggesting the paintings on the sculptures. Cave 16, also known as the Kailasa is the unrivalled centre piece of Ellora. It looks like a multi-storied temple complex, but it was carved out of one single rock. The courtyard has two life size statues of elephants and two tall victory pillars. There are columned galleries decorated with huge sculpted panels of a variety of deities in the side walls. There are a few beautiful traces of paintings in the porch of the hall on the upper storey.
The Rameshwar cave i.e. Cave 21 is famous for some of the most beautiful sculptures at Ellora. On either side of the cave are images of Ganga and Yamuna. Locally known as Sita ki Nahani the Cave 29 is also unique in plan and elevation. Resembling the great cave at Elephanta in plan this cave also has some of the impressive sculptures at the site.
These caves are clustered in five excavations and numbered 30 to 34. Apart from these, there are six more Jaina caves on the opposite face of this hill. All of these caves belong to the Digambara sect of Jainism. One caves worth a visit includes Cave 32 or Indra Sabha. The lower storey of this cave lies unfinished, while the upper storey is one of the largest and most elaborate caves with beautiful pillars, large sculptural panels and paintings on its ceiling.
Of all the caves at Ellora, the Jaina caves have the largest number of paintings still extant on ceilings and side walls.
How to reach
The nearest airport is at Aurangabad, 30 kms away from Ellora Caves. Aurangabad has a good national airport, which is well connected to major cities like Mumbai, Delhi & Hyderabad.
Aurangabad Railway station is nearest to Ellora Caves, there are a plenty of private car services you can hire or you can avail the bus service from railway station to the caves.
There are public & private buses from Aurangabad to Ellora Caves. Alternative you can hire private car, there are plenty of tour operator you can choose from. The drive from Aurangabad to Ellora takes 1-2 hours.
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.
What to See at Ellora Caves
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 (also called Vishvakarma caves) are the earliest of the Ellora Caves, dating from 500 to 750 AD. All except Cave 10 are viharas (monasteries), 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 bejewelled 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 is named the Maharwada Cave because it was used by local Mahar tribespeople as a shelter during the monsoon. It centers on a grand assembly hall stretching 36 meters long, which was probably used as a refectory. The two rows of carved benches support this theory. The shrine Buddha is seated on a stool with his right hand touching the ground in the Earth Witness gesture.
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.
The magnificent Cave 10 dates from the early 700s and is known as the Carpenter’s Cave (Sutar Jhopadi) 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.
Cave 11 is known as the Dho Tal or “Two Floors” cave, although a basement level discovered in 1876 brings the total floors to three. The top floor is a long assembly hall lined with columns. It has both a Buddha shrine and images of Durga and Ganesh, indicating the cave was converted into a Hindu temple after it was abandoned by the Buddhists.
Cave 12, known as Tin Tal (“Three Floors”), also has an impressive upper hall. The walls of the shrine room are lined with five large bodhisattvas and is flanked by seven Buddhas, representing each of his previous incarnations.
Created during a time of prosperity and revival of Hindusim, 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 (the Sapta Matrikas) 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 a sequence 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 rvier goddesses, two door guardians and some loving couples (mithunas) 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, 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, dating from the late 800s and 900s, are 2 km north down an asphalt road (rickshaws are available). 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 (Indra’s Assembly Hall), 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.
Ellora Caves present a wonderful exemplar of cave temple architecture. The world heritage site of Ellora, has detailed fascia in the company of elaborate interiors. The main patrons of Ellora cave temples are assumed to be the Chalukya – Rashtrakuta rulers (7th – 10th century). In those times, many king and merchants contributed huge sum of money for the erection of these temples. The construction of these temples was believed to provide salvation (moksha) to the Kings.
Ellora Cave temples took around five centuries to seek completion. Wholly carved by Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks, the temples appear astonishing in the golden light of the Sun. Ellora Caves boast of the outstanding imagination and detail work of art in the shape of their ancient monasteries, temples and chapels. The exquisite carvings have glimpse of Buddhism, Hindu and Jain expressions. Exhibiting the ingenious excellence of the artists, the caves are adored with wooden beams, graceful angles, steps along with divine figures of gods and goddesses.
Ellora Cave has preserved beautiful wall paintings of the bygone era. Around 5 caves possess such paintings, but the best preserved lies in Kailasa Temple. According to the archeological revelations, the paintings were made in two phases. The paintings that belong to the first phase usually portray Lord Vishnu and Goddess Laxmi. In the later phase, the masterpiece is that of a procession of Shaiva, the holy men. The paintings also illustrate beautiful ‘Apsaras’ in a graceful flying pose.
A tourist can plan the visit of these caves according to the time available and depending upon the interest in ancient art. If a visitor has at his disposal three to four hours, then the Cave nos. 10 (Visvakarma Cave), 16 (Kailasa), 21 (Ramesvara) and 32 & 34 (Jaina group of caves) should not be missed. Thus, by visiting these caves, one can have a glimpse of the representative art of Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism. If a visitor has an entire day at his disposal, the Cave nos. 2, 5, 10 & 12 of the Buddhist group; Cave nos. 14, 15, 16, 21 & 29 of the Brahmanical group and Caves 32 to 34 of the Jaina group should be visited.
The caves are excavated in the scarp of a large plateau, running in a north-south direction for nearly 2 km, the scarp being in the form of a semi-circle, the Buddhist group at the right arc on the south, while the Jaina group at the left arc on the north and the Brahmanical group at the centre.
THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND
Enroute to the Ellora Caves are the popular attractions as follows:
- Daulatabad Fort: It is a beautiful rock fortress that is situated at a distance of 30 km from Aurangabad. It has innumerable secret, meandering passages.
- Khuldabad: A serene hill station, 10 kms from the Dhaulatabad fort, flaunts a few meticulously carved Sufi’s tomb.
- Bhadra maruti Mandir- A beautiful temple located a few kms to the east of the Sufi’s tomb.
Ellora Caves: Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Ellora Caves is during the months of October to February (winter season) and from June to September (monsoon season), these are the best time to visit Ellora Caves, as the weather is really pleasant during these months.
Although March, April and May are holiday season (most of the school & colleges are shut downs during these months) in India, but the temperature is really high during these months i.e. between 37 °C to 44 °C making the weather really hot and humid making it difficult to travel around the caves.
Ellora Caves: Visitor Information Centre
For more information about Ellora Caves you can contact the MTDC office in Aurangabad at below address:
MTDC (Holiday Camp)
Station Road, Aurangabad,
Maharashtra- Pin Code 431001
Telefax: 0240-2331198, 0240-2334259