Ellora caves lay in the lap of the Chamadari hills extending over a mile and a quarter in the north-south direction and are situated 18 miles northwest of Aurangabad. Ellora represents some 300 years of great experiments carried out by different faiths with their very different iconography and structural compulsions. Ellora first appears to the visitors as an irregular ridge of rock, rising vertically from the ground.
Ellora caves are finest specimens of cave temple
architecture. They house elaborate facades and exquisitely adorned
interiors. These structures representing the three faiths of Hinduism,
Buddhism and Jainism, were carved during 350 AD to 700 AD period.
The cave monuments of Ellora were chiefly patronised by the Chalukya - Rashtrakuta rulers (7th - 10th century AD). The kings and the mercantile community willingly donated to the cause of the temple building. Certain religious injunctions and the ethical codes, which prompted patronage of works of the art, governed the rulers. The temple building was considered to help the attainment of worldly power as well as religious merit and spiritual salvation.
These cave shrines are memorable for their invaluable contribution to the enormous wealth of Indian heritage.
In total there are 34 temples carved out of stone. These
can be divided into three groups belonging roughly to three periods:
Buddhist, Hindu and Jain. Only 12 of the 34 caves are Buddhist, but even
these caves incorporate Hindu and Jain theme, demonstrating the gradual
decline of Buddhism.
It took over five centuries for the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monks to chisel out these monasteries, temples, and chapels and decorate them with remarkable imagination and detail. These caves run North-South and take on the Golden Radiance of the late afternoon sun.
Out of 34 caves, sixteen caves are the oldest in the group
and were carved in the 5th century. As one enters these caves, one crosses
graceful angles and steps in a high ceiling chamber where a 15 feet huge
statute of Buddha is sitting in a preaching pose. In these caves the
artist has tried an element of surprise by giving them expression of wood.
Most of these 16 caves are 'Viharas' but cave number 10 is a 'Chaitya'.
The style of carvings and sculptures in these caves indicate that initially the artist was going in for simple decorations but later, as in caves 11 and 12, he became more ambitious.
The 10th cave has an impression of wooden beams on its ceiling and has a small decorated window, which illuminates the sitting Buddha. These caves are rightly called the "Vishvakarma" caves. This cave is considered to be one of the finest caves in India. Here life and religion go hand in hand. The amorous couples play joyfully along the balustrade.
While stepping out of this cave one will come across an upper gallery giving a view of the precisely carved Naga Queen, the harbinger of monsoon and the dwarfs who were the court entertainers. The Buddhists believe that Buddha returns after every five thousand years, thus the 12th cave has seven images of Buddha depicting his seven incarnations.
The Hindu caves exhibit a totally different league from the
Jain and Buddhist temples in terms of style, creative vision and execution
skills. These temples were built top to bottom and the architecture of
these caves show that it required several generation of planning and
co-ordination to give it the final shape. Cave 14 was initially a Buddha
Vihar but in the 7th century it was turned into Shiva temple. Here Shiva
is depicted as "The Destroyer".
The 16th cave in the group is one of the audacious feats in architecture ever achieved. The idea was to build Kailash from a single stone. Hence it got its name, Kailasnath temple. The artist then tried to give the structure, the shape of a temple. The scale at which the work was undertaken is enormous. It covers twice the area of the Parthenon in Athens and is 11/2 times high, and it entailed removing 200,000 tonnes of rock. It took 100 years to be completed. The Ramesvara cave has figurines of river Goddesses adorning its entrance. The Dumar Lena cave resembles the great cave shrine at Elephanta and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Each of the caves shows the beliefs of the Jains, and their strict asceticism that imbibed in them a spirit of non-violence towards all. These caves do not carry the high voltage drama of the Hindu or the Buddhist caves nor are they ambitious in size but they balance these with their exceptionally detailed work. The 32nd cave is a beautiful shrine with exquisite carvings of a lotus flower on the ceiling and an imposing 'Yakshi' seated on her lion under a mango-tree laden with fruit. The ceiling of this double-storied cave is also decorated with paintings.
Mural paintings in Ellora are found in 5 caves, but only in
the Kailasa temple
are they somewhat preserved. The paintings were done in two series - the
first, at the time of carving the caves and the subsequent one was done
several centuries later. The earlier paintings show Vishnu and Lakshmi
borne through the clouds by Garuda, with clouds in the background.
The sinewy figures have sharp features & pointed noses. The protruding eye typical of the later Gujarati style appears for the first time in Ellora. In the subsequent series, the main composition is that of a procession of Shaiva holy men. The flying 'Apsaras' are graceful. Very few murals in the Jain temples are well preserved.
Every year in the third week of March, M T D C organises the Ellora Festival of Classical Dance and Music at the caves.
is the nearest airport from the cave site.
Rail: Aurangabad is the nearest railway station on South Central Railway Line. Mumbai - Aurangabad via Manmad is 388-km and via Pune it is 400-km.
Road:Aurangabad, being a major city of Maharashtra, is well connected by road. Tourists can take taxi from Aurangabad to access Ajanta and Ellora Caves. State buses run from Mumbai, Pune, Ahmednagar, Jalgaon, Shirdi, Nasik, Dhule, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Indore and Bijapur to Aurangabad, and from Jalgaon to Ajanta.
The M T D C Holiday Resort near Aurangabad railway station, the Ajanta Travellers Lodge at the caves and the M T D C Holiday Resort at Fardapur (about 4-km from Aurangabad) are some of the best options for accommodation for tourists visiting the cave sites apart from hotels at Aurangabad.