Ellora, the largest rock-cut monastery-temple caves complexes in the world

Ellora, cave 10. Encyclopedia Britannica

 Above image:  Sculpture of the Buddha in the main room of the temple of Vishvakarma (cave 10) ...............

Ellora, one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple caves complexes in the world, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Maharashtra, India. The fascinating site is on the Aurangabad-Chalisgaon road at a distance of 30 km north-northwest of Aurangabad, the district headquarters. Here one can find beautiful artwork of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism from the 600-1000 CE period. Here are several caves, the largest being no. 16 cave that has the a huge monolithic rock excavation in the world, the Kailasha temple, a chariot shaped monument dedicated to Shiva. The gods, goddesses and mythologies found in Vaishnavism, Shaktism  are abundantly presented in this Kailasha complex, in addition to relief panels summarizing the two major Hindu Epics -The Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Cave 12, Ellora, a late multi-story rock-cut vihara.upload.wikimedia.org

Ellora Caves:Jagran Josh

In total there are 100 caves, of which 34 caves are open to public These excavations were found in the vertical Basaltic rock (volcanic rocks of the Deccan Plateau) Cliff in the Charanandri hills and have to be taken care of well because of the fragile nature of the terrain.  These excavations include 12 Buddhist (caves 1–12), 17 Hindu (caves 13–29) and 5 Jain (caves 30–34) caves. The interesting feature is each group is represented by  respective deities and mythologies that were popular  in 1st millennium CE. As for Buddhism, it presents representative monasteries, existing then. The proximity of these religious figures truly illustrates  the religious harmony and unity prevalent in ancient India. Records show that the all Ellora monuments were built by the Hindu rulers and the funding was provided by the  royals, traders and rich people. The Rashtrakuta dynasty built some of the Hindu & Buddhist group of caves, and Yadav dynasty  was instrumental in building Jain tem[ples. Ellora, during the early centuries of the Christian era, is also understood by the findings of coins of Satavahanas, the ruling dynasty during the period

kailasantha_temple Ellora caves studyblue.com

Ellora  monument site is about  300 kilometres (190 miles) east-northeast from Mumbai. It was once a commercial hub in the prime location in the Deccan region, that formed part of an ancient trade route of South Asia. Considering its strategic location, the temples served as places of worship for pilgrims and the  monasteries served the same purpose for monks. Both  monasteries and temples were used by the travelers as resting places in the by-gone days. Ellora Caves and  nearby Ajanta Caves, form one of the major tourist attractions in Marathwada region . Like Ajantha, Ellora is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India.

Ellora caves, kailasanatha temple. Maharastra. TwistedSifter


01. Visitors are advised to go to this site during the Monsoon season; the advantage being one can enjoy the scenic beauty  and the nature in full bloom. Besides, the entire area sports lush green cover that will be pleasing to the eye.

02. The terrain, where these caves are located, is of volcanic origin made of volcanic rocks called Basalt. The basaltic rocks exhibit tall hexagonal vertical columns caused by sudden cooling of lava at the surface, as a result they appear as rock pillars. They form the geological formation called Deccan Traps (Cretaceous era of the Geological time scale - about 65 million years ago). They form part of  the Sahyadri ranges of the Deccan. These basaltic rocks are susceptible to weathering and stream erosion and have given rise to the appearance of terraces with flat summits due to forces of nature. 

03. The volcanic lava that came out of the surface during different eruptions in different times  gave rise to extensive horizontal flows alternating with vesicular trap beds.  The different lava flows also gave rise to vertical as well as horizontal joints in the rock formation. 

04. Because of the nature and texture of Basaltic rocks, ancient artisans knew how to handle them. Cutting and splitting was easy because of the presence of joints  in the rocks. With dexterity, they made exquisite rock carvings as well as huge stone images.

 05.  The Deccan  Basalt rock is ideal for rock hewing, the technique widely understood during ancient times.

06.  It is believed that roughly, there are nearly 1200 caves of varying sizes in the entire Maharashtra, out of which nearly 900 alone belong to Buddhism. 

07.  Ellora was ideally located on the ancient trade route connecting the western ports on the Arabian sea like Sopara (Surparaka, the Supara of Greek;  the ancient capital of northern Konkan), Kalyan a thriving port, Chemula of Silaharas, on the island of Trombay, etc.

 08. The caves are date-able from circa 6th - 7th century A.D. to 11th - 12th century A.D. There are, in total, 100 caves in the hill range out of which 34 caves are we-known  and visited by many tourists; out of which Caves 1 to 12 are Buddhist; Caves 13 to 29 are Brahminical and Caves 30 to 34 are Jaina.

 09. Caves 1 to 10 and Cave 21 (Ramesvara) were definitely constructed before the arrival of Rastrayakutas. The Jaina caves definitely post-date the Rashtrakutas. The majority of Brahminical establishments and the remaining Buddhists ones came up during the time of Rashtrakutas.

10. Both  monasteries and temples, in the ancient time, were used by the travelers as resting places.