The Kailasa rock-cut temple: of Ellora - a UNESCO World Heritage Site-

Kailasa temple, Ellora near Aurangabad, MH.commons.wikimedia.org


In the realm of rock-cut man made temples, the  Kailasa temple, one among the 34 temples and monasteries,  at Ellora near Aurangabad, Maharashtra  is  the most puzzling and inexplicable  one  considering the way it was built in the Deccan plateau.   An absolutely  difficult and tedious  architectural work,  unlike independently standing temples, this was  carved  entirely  from the top to the bottom into the  high  vertical basalt  rock cliff face extending over  whooping 2 km long in Elapura (known today as Ellora).  The crux of the problem is the amazing work was done in a terrain made of  Basalt rocks of volcanic origin. Normally, they  are  not as strong as those of plutonic rocks (formed with in the earth)  like granite and it family.  The artisans  in the way past would have spent much time to  bring to life  massive,  structurally  grand  temple in this vast terrain.  It is said   roughly 150,000 to 200,000 tons of solid rock  had  been removed  and disposed of  carefully leaving the temple  to  stand  independent  of the surrounding rock. There are innumerable carvings on the inside and outside. the caves. How did they do this great feat without any modern machinery? It is  quite mystifying.   


Corridor flanking kailasa temple, Ellora MHuasatish.com


Kailasa  temple  uasatish.com/kailasa


Kailasa  temple ,Ramayana Ellora, MH speakzeasy.wordpress.com


Kailasa rock-cut temple, Ellora, MH speakzeasy.wordpress.com

Kailasa temple, Ellora, MH chidambaramhiddentreasure.com


The Kailasa (Sanskrit : KailasanathaTemple (cave 16), one of the largest rock-cut ancient Hindu temples  in Ellora is a major attraction in Marathwada region of Maharashtra. The unrivaled  and matchless centerpiece of Ellora, it resembles the abode of God Shiva - Mount Kailash.  It is a free standing, multi-story temple complex, but it was carved out of one single block of vertical rock  cliff, covering  double the size of Parthenon in Athens. Initially the temple was covered with white plaster thus even more increasing the similarity to snow-covered Mount Kailash.

Though stone inscriptions are not available, it was commissioned by a Rashtrakuta ruler -  king Krishna I (r. 756-773 CE (attested in Kannada inscriptions; two epigraphs  link the temple to "Krishnaraja").  The historians noted the work on the temple  began during the reign of   king Dantidurga (735-757 AD). 

The beautifully sculpted walls of the Kailasanath Temple  depict various deities of  the Hindu Mythology and episodes from   the Puranas, Ramayana, and Mahabharata.  The  place  is carved with niches, plasters, windows as well as images of Deities, Mithunas -  erotic male and female figures  and other figures.  Most of the deities on the left of the entrance are  followers of Lord Shiva -  Shaivites. Whereas, the deities  on the right side are followers of Lord Vishnu  Vaishnavites.

The meticulous carvings cover  more than one level and the two-story gateway is similar to a South Indian gopura (tower) opening up to bring out a U-shaped courtyard. The  big courtyard is edged by columned galleries three story  high and they  punctuated by huge sculpted panels, and  recesses (alcoves) containing enormous sculptures of a variety of deities. In the past there were  stone sky bridges  connecting the  galleries to central temple structures, but these fell down later. 

Rock Cut Pillar/victory pillar, Kailasa temple, Ellora uasatish.com

There are  three structures in the court yard.  As in traditional  Shiva temples, the first is a large image of the sacred bull Nandi in front of the central temple. The central temple - Nandi Mantapa or Mandapa that houses the Lingam. The  tall 29.3 m high Nandi Mandapa stands on 16 pillars. The base of the Nandi Mandapa has been carved to suggest that life-sized elephants are holding the structure aloft. 

.Kailasanatha temple Nandi - 11 (cave 15)flickr.com

A rock bridge connects the Nandi Mandapa to the Shiva temple behind it. The temple itself is a tall pyramidal structure with   elaborate sculptural features, workmanship, architectural  elements -  pillars, windows, inner and outer rooms, gathering halls, and an enormous lingam at the center. etc., reminiscent of a South Indian Dravidian temple.   Lingam  is  an abstract or aniconic representation of the Hindu god Shiva in Shaivism  and it is the  "outward symbol" of the "formless Reality", symbolic of merging of the 'primordial matter' (Prakṛti) with the 'pure consciousness' (Purusha) in transcendental context.  
 
Though there are two Dhvajastambhas (pillars with the flag-mast) in the courtyard their function and location may be confusing. They are free-standing victory pillars (kirti stambhs).  The grand sculpture of Ravana attempting to lift Mount Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva, with his full might is a landmark in Indian art. 

 The Kailasa temple is a fine example of excellence in artistic creation with theological connotations. One could see a flow of  Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism and their blending at the Ellora complex where the artistic and technical exploits are at peak. The religious amalgamation shows  the “spirit of tolerance” that was characteristic of ancient India. One of India’s most important archaeological sites from the Gupta period, it is currently a tourist site under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India.