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Ellora, Maharashtra, India

GPS: 20.026381198036, 75.178552656467

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Admirable from the point of view of their construction, the Ellora Caves are located in the Indian state of Maharashtra, about 30 kilometres north-west of the town of Aurangabad. Together with the neighbouring site of the Ajanta Caves (about 100 kilometres away), they form the most remarkable cave sanctuaries with troglodyte and Indian rock-cut architectures in India.

The underground complex of Ellora (formerly Elapura) comprises a series of 34 successive caves, temples and monasteries, carved into the rock of a basalt cliff. The site is believed to have been developed between the 6th and early 11th centuries AD during the Kalachuri, Chalukya, Rashtrakuta and Yadava dynasties after the completion of the older Ajanta Caves. It coincides with the decline in the influence of Buddhism in the region in favour of Hinduism. From their conception, the Ellora Caves served as a place of expression for three religious communities. They are still used today as a sanctuary dedicated to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. These excavated structures are carved by the force of arms into the vertical and rocky wall of the Charanandri Hills, after titanic work. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of tons of basalt rock were extracted from the site by the builders of the place, a real feat for the time. In total, thousands of sculptures, drawings, decorations and wall inscriptions can be seen in the Ellora Caves, which are numbered in chronological order of construction. The Hindu achievements seem to be part of the architectural continuity of the Buddhist temples that predate them in time.

Arranged side by side over a length of more than 2 kilometres, the temples, caves and monasteries of Ellora bear witness to the respect, tolerance and acceptance between the different religions of ancient India. The jewel of the place is undoubtedly the Kailasa or Kailasanatha temple, a colossal Hindu rock-cut temple, handcrafted in a gigantic monolith. Built from top to bottom on more than 30 metres high, this temple represents Mount Kailash, home of the god Shiva. According to tradition, this mountain located in the Himalayan range symbolizes the centre of the Buddhist Universe.

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  • The construction prowess of this underground masterpiece dug into the rock; one of the largest man-made troglodytic structures in the world; a site illustrating the apogee of rock art and religious harmony in Medieval India
  • The decorative and aesthetic beauty of the various shrines; the incredible faith that emanates from this place ; the architectural variety of temples, monasteries and sanctuaries linked to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cults
  • The 12 Buddhist temples in the south numbered 1 to 12 including viharas (monasteries) and a chaitya (shrine); the 17 Hindu temples in the north (caves 13 to 29); the 5 Jain temples of the Digambara school at the northern end (caves 30 to 34)
  • The Vishvakarma Cave designed as a large Buddhist prayer hall (n° 10); the impressive proportions of the Kailasa or Kailāśanātha temple (formed from a single block of stone, this Hindu structure is twice as large as the Parthenon in Athens); the two-storey Jain temple Indra Sabha (cave n° 32)
  • The statues and carved reliefs of elephants around and inside the Kailasa Temple (cave n°16); the wall paintings in cave n°5; the massive and finely carved pillars inside the caves; the thousands of sculptures
  • The panels engraved on the rock walls describing the stories of religions in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology; The art works evoking the epics of the major Hindu deities (Shiva, Vishnu and Krishna); the sculptures of the demon Ravana, the deity Matanga, the goddesses Yakshini and Durga; the representations of Dvarapala (deity in charge of guarding the doors of the temples); the mandalas (structures of different shapes used for rituals)
  • The view of the Ellora Caves from the top of the hill
  • The annual Classical Music and Dance Festival in March; the Ellora-Ajanta International Festival (folk and cultural performances) in October
  • Near the Ellora Caves, the ancient walled city of Khuldabad rich in historical sites including the Hindu Bhadra Maruti Temple, the tomb of the last Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (who died in 1707) and many other tombs
  • In total, the Ellora site contains about a hundred caves, but most of them are closed to the public for safety reasons.
  • According to specialists, all of these monuments were built in an uninterrupted manner by stonemasons over a period covering several centuries. The Hindu temples are said to be the oldest (built between 500 and 650), followed by the Buddhist temples (built between 600 and 750) and the Jain temples (built between 750 and 1000).
  • The Ellora Caves were located on the South Asian trade route and were used as a resting place for traders and monks during their travels. They received significant financial support from several royal dynasties that ruled this part of India in medieval times although its monarchs were not followers of any of the three religions.
  • The construction of the Kailasa temple is attributed to King Krishna I (Rashtrakuta dynasty) in the 8th century and included suspended stone bridges that collapsed. To build this architectural ensemble, about 200,000 tons of volcanic stone would have been extracted. A colonnaded area was laid out around the temple to encourage circumambulation.
  • This unique religious complex is said to have lost much of its influence in the late 13th century after the region was invaded by Muslim forces (many of Ellora’s temples were desecrated and damaged over the next two centuries by the Islamic sultanate)
  • The Buddhist Vishvakarma Cave (No. 10) is known as the “Carpenter’s Cave” because of its carved ceiling which looks like the wooden framework of a cathedral or an overturned boat hull. It houses a 4.5 metre high statue of Buddha in mudra vyakhyana (preaching position).
  • In the culture of Buddhism, the different building levels and wall elevations of the rock temples refer to spiritual concepts.
  • According to estimates, there are more than a thousand caves in the Indian state of Maharashtra containing shrines of various sizes, the vast majority of which are dedicated to Buddhism.
  • The town of Aurangabad can be an excellent base for visiting this place as it has an airport linked to major Indian cities, a railway station and a bus service serving the Ellora Caves (public transport or organized trips). It takes about an hour to get there by road.
  • By leaving early in the morning and choosing a weekday (note that the site is closed on Tuesdays), you can avoid the heavy influx of groups.
  • One or two days are not too much to take time to appreciate this fabulous rock heritage before considering visiting the other major cave complex in the region (Ajanta which is famous for its old architecture and paintings). Halfway between Aurangabad and the Ellora Caves, it is also possible to discover the citadel of Daulatabad (also known as Deogiri Fort).
  • It may be useful to bring a torch with you to illuminate the darker parts of the Ellora caves.

Where to eat

  • Green leaf Vegetarian Cuisine
    (copious and varied)
  • Latitude
    (international cuisine)
  • Bhoj Thali Restaurant
    (vegetarian restaurant)

Where to go out

  • Daulatabad Fort
    (14th century fortified site)
  • Ajanta Caves
    (Amazing Buddhist place)
  • Gautala Autramghat Sanctuary
    (wildlife reserve)

Where to sleep

  • Hotel Raviraj
    (clean and modern)
  • Hotel Kailas
    (a stone's throw from the caves)
  • Hotel J P International
    (spacious and well-equipped)

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