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Location : Near Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Built in : Period between fifth and tenth century AD
Famous for : Cave architecture
Visiting fee : Rs. 250
Closed on : Thursday
How to reach here : Buses to Aurangabad are available from cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Nasik, Jalgaon, Pune, and Dhule. Local taxis can be hired after reaching Aurangabad. By rail, Aurangabad is the nearest rail head. By air, nearest airport is also at Aurangabad.
Located at a distance of about 18 miles from Aurangabad, Ellora caves are the evidence of the three great religions of India that were at their zenith at that time. This wonderful piece of cave architecture will mesmerize you by its grandeur and exquisite interiors. The caves were the works of Rashtrakuta kings; rising vertically from Charanandri hills. Theses monumental caves are the epitome of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.
Historical background :
The construction of Ellora caves began with the decline of Buddhism and the rise of Brahmanical movement of the Hindus. The tenth century saw the development of a new religion, namely Jainism. It is for this reason that the site of Ellora has caves belonging to all these religions. It appears as if three different beliefs and mentalities have been brought under one roof. Their coexistence is the proof of the religious tolerance of the builders.
The caves were formed from the volcanic deposits of basalt that took a long period of time to take the present shape. Flow of lava through these rocks gave them the appearances of staircases. Most of them are deep red in color due to overheated lave flowing through them. The site was of prime importance to Satvahanas who ruled over the area between Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. Ellora was situated on the trade route connecting various ports like Sopara and Kalyan to Ter and Bhokardan.
There are, in total, 34 caves; that have been named in a chronological order. You can notice that there are 5 Jain, 12 Buddhist, and 17 Hindu caves built at this spectacular site.
Buddhist Caves : As you go from south to north, you will spot a set of Buddhist caves which are the oldest among all the other caves. Most of them have been built in the form of monasteries. The caves from 1 to 5 are believed to be created in the beginning of the 5th century. These Ellora caves are colossal, have been carved out of mountains and were the dwelling places for monks. You will come to notice that some of them have shrines of Buddha and his followers. The chaitya hall of cave number 10 is exclusive. It houses a gigantic stupa hall which has a carved ceiling. Another splendid structural entity that will catch your attention is a 15 foot Buddha statue which is shown to be in a seating position. This particular cave is known by the name of "Vishvakarma". The cave is distinguished for the presence of a chaitya griha. On the front side of a court which is accessible by a series of steps. Cave 5 is commonly called Maharwada as it was used as a shelter place in the rainy season by a Malhar. A big assembly hall is present with the image of Buddha in a seating position. Cave 11 has two floors while cave 12 has three storeys.
Hindu Caves : As you enter the Hindu caves, you will come to know that the skill and the structural beauty of these caves is entirely different form their Buddhist counterparts. These majestic Ellora caves were carved from top to bottom. The exclusive feature of these pieces of architecture is the presence of bas reliefs, a phenomenon absent in Buddhist structures. Most of them have been devoted to Lord Shiva though some of them have images of other incarnationsas well.
On entering cave 14, one goes spellbound by the carved friezes that form part of the walls. On reaching the interiors, you will come across the sculpted images of a number of fertility goddesses who are shown to be holding their babies. This particular cave was earlier a Buddhist Vihara. Cave 15 is famous for the panels that depict five pout of ten avatars of Vishnu; it is due to this reason that the cave is called Das Avtara. The superiority of Shaivism is clear for another panel that depicts Lord Shiva to be incarnating from a lingam. As you explore further, you will find a splendid image of Shiva as Natraj dancer.
Cave 16 is most distinguished and exquisite from all the Hindu caves. The cave is the major attraction for the tourists who are keen to see the splendid Kailiashnath Temple here. The Temple was constructed from a solid rock and represents Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. The temple is a stupendous work of art and it took almost 100 years to get completed. There are multiple storeys with the gateway spanning over two storeys. Entering it will take you to a courtyard with galleries. These galleries house several sculptures dedicated to deities.
The majestic courtyard is adored with image of Nandi, the scared bull of Shiva. Nandi temple lies nearby and has Shiva lingam. A Shiva temple that is built in the shape of a pyramid is replete with pillars and gathering halls. It also has a huge lingam which is carved excessively. Erotic images of couples in sexual positions also form part of this temple.
Jain Caves : These Ellora caves are renowned for displaying minute details in their creations. Marked with the themes of asceticism and Jain philosophy, the caves are the epitomes of the Digambara sect. The most notable caves are cave 30, 32 and 33.
Cave 32 is called by the name Indra Sabha, built in the shape of a monolithic shrine. The excessive ornamentation of the interiors combined with depiction of god Indra in the form of elephant is the reason behind its name. The visitors will also notice a lotus flower carved on the ceiling of the shrine. The entrance is adorned with images of two tirthankaras.
Paintings : The wall paintings also form part of Ellora caves, some of these paintings are present in Kailasa temple. Most of them depict Hindu deities like Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi etc.
Whenever you happen to visit Aurangabad and nearby places, don't forget to explore the rich legacy of these caves that have charmed this generation since centuries.