Ellora Cave Complex is situated 29 Kms North-West of Aurangabad, a prominent city located 300 Kms away from Mumbai in India. The name Ellora has been derived from Elapura, what the place was originally known as. Carved out of Volcanic basalt rock, this group of temples and monasteries are dedicated to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism spanning between 600-1000 AD. Out of a hundred caves discovered, 34 are accessible to the public today.
Millions of years back, ancient volcanic lava flowed past the Deccan plateau and solidified to form multiple layers of fine-grain basaltic rock. Evidence of early human settlement dating back to upper Palaeolithic period (10,000 to 20,000 years old) has been located in this area. Ellora had a close proximity to a famous trade route since the Satavahana dynasty’s period (271 BC to 30 BC). Perhaps that was the reason why Ellora never got abandoned and lost to oblivion like Ajanta caves. (Read about Ajanta here>>) Though the exact period of construction has not been traced out, it is believed that this spectacular architecture was the contribution from King Krishna#1 of Rashtrakuta dynasty (760 AD). The written records of Arab travellers who visited Ellora during 10th century give us a detailed description about this architectural splendour .
The entire stretch of caves has been carved into the outer side of a semi-circular hillock spanning around 2 km in the North-South orientation. The Hindu Brahmanical group of monuments are situated in the centre of the arc, with Buddhist monasteries to the right (South), while the Jain temples are concentrated on the left side (North).
Ellora is a conglomeration of different faiths situated in one place, which signifies the importance of religious tolerance existed in those days. Caves 1 to 12 are Buddhist monasteries, 13 to 29 are Hindu monuments and 30 to 34 are Jain Temples.
Out of the 34 numbered caves in Ellora, Cave No. 16 features the ‘Kailasa temple’, one of the most magnificent monolithic excavations in India. It is hard to believe that this enigmatic temple complex has been carved out of a single piece of rock, sometime between 757-783 AD. Conflicting statements also suggest that the temple could have been built much earlier.
I have spent most of my time in and around Kailasa to explore and photograph this incredible piece of art. Monsoon would be the ideal time to visit Ellora as the area gets filled with lush green vegetation and gorgeous waterfalls. But you must be very cautious while climbing up the rocky sides as it could become very slippery in rainy season. The security guards refused to let me climb up the hill to capture the view of the temple from top, but I finally sneaked-in through the fence and captured those scenes as well.
Anyhow, the construction of Kailasa temple still remains a mystery. The early builders were well-aware of the properties of basalt rock chosen for hewing one of the largest rock-cut structures in the world. It was probably easy to carve on this type of rock at that time, which became harder as time passed. Perfectly aligned to the magnetic North-South direction of earth, the temple faces exactly to the West direction.
It is believed that a vertical excavation technique has been utilized to scoop away nearly 400,000 tons of rock to create this monolithic structure, which took over 20 years to complete. Usually rocks are cut-in from the front, whereas Kailasa used a cut-out technique. Scooping away such a large amount of rock by human labour could’ve been a monstrous task. Moreover, accomplishing that without the help of modern machinery is almost impossible.
Architects and researchers have formed multiple theories about the peculiar construction methods used here. Some say that the temple has been built by more advanced civilization and some people suggest involvement of extra-terrestrial intelligence.
The interior walls and corridors of the temple have been filled with intricate carvings depicting the stories from Hindu epics. You will be surprised to see elevated bridges that connect different shrines, rain water harvesting systems, drainage tunnels, balconies, stairways, peeping holes etc. constructed with ultimate engineering precision. Hundreds of 4”dia holes drilled on the floor and several narrow tunnels inaccessible to normal humans have not been traced so far. Many people believe that there exists an underground city beneath the Kailasa temple as the ancient Hindu literature narrate stories about Naga (Snake god) kingdom below the earth. Somehow, the narrow tunnels going far deep into the rock suggest the presence of a smaller species or humanoids who could access those. This concept about underground world has been reflected in many of the stone reliefs found on the side walls of the corridor. The sculptures have been divided into two sections, showing the gods & human in the upper half and smaller humanoids and Naga motifs in the bottom half. Many of these holes were sealed with concrete recently when the people started losing their articles, those were impossible to be recovered.
Ellora is also famous for its vibrantly coloured mural paintings and art works. Sculptured walls have been plastered and painted using natural dyes, which could be found intact in several places, even after centuries of exposure to natural conditions . A recent scientific discovery has proven the usage of Cannabis (Marijuana) plant mixed with the plaster by the ancient artists who painted the murals in Ellora. This method actually preserved the wall paintings by regulating humidity and keeping away insects.
However, the golden period of religious harmony did not last long. The arrival of Mughal rulers and their policy of spreading hatred towards other faiths was disastrous to many such architectural marvels. In 1682, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb deployed an army of 1000 men to demolish Kailasa temple, but 3 years of their continuous effort turned out to be futile and Kailasa survived the attack. A number of broken and defaced statues still remain as an evidence for those unsuccessful attempts. Ellora caves have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and let’s hope it remains intact for several centuries ahead for our future generations to enjoy the dedication & workmanship of their ancestors.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE MAGNIFICENT CARVINGS ON THE SIDE WALLS OF THE CORRIDOR. CLICK ON AN IMAGE TO WATCH IT IN FULL RESOLUTION.
INTRICATE CARVINGS ON THE SIDE WALLS OF KAILASA TEMPLE, DECORATED WITH MURALS. CLICK ON AN IMAGE TO WATCH IT IN FULL RESOLUTION.
How to Reach Ellora:
By Air :
- Nearest Airport : Aurangabad
By Rail :
- Nearest Railway Station: Aurangabad
By Road :
- Mumbai – Aurangabad – Ellora – 327 Km
- Aurangabad – Ajanta – 29 Km
Points to be noted :
- Tuesday Holiday
- Open from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm
Entry fee :
- Rupees 10 for Indian Nationals and visitors of SAARC & BIMSTEC Countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, Afghanistan, Thailand and Myanmar)
- Rupees 250 any other foreign tourist
- Rupees 25 per camera
- Free entry for children below 15 years