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Ellora Caves-Summary

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Ellora Caves Summary (UNESCO-World Heritage Site)

Unlike the cave temples at Ajanta, those of Ellora caves are not solely Buddhist. Instead, they follow the development of religious thought in India through the decline of Buddhism in the latter half of 8th century, the Hindu renaissance that followed the return of Gupta dynasty, and the Jain resurgence between the 9th and 11th centuries. These caves have been divided into three groups Buddhist (Caves 1 to 12), Hindu (Caves 13 to 29) and Jain (Caves 30 to 34).


These caves include viharas (monasteries) and chaityas (chapels) where the monks worshipped. All except Cave 10 are Viharas, or monastery halls, which the monks would originally use for study, solitary meditation and communal worship, as well as the mundane business of eating and sleeping. As you silently progress through them, the chambers grow steadily more impressive in scale and tone.

Ellora-Cave 1:

This cave is a simple vihara.

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Ellora-Cave 2:

This Cave is an impressive monastery. At the door of the cave are dwarapala (guardians). The deceptively simple façade, but a lavish interior lies beyond. The interior of the hall is supported by 12 square based pillars, some decorated with the pot and foliage motif. In the center of the back wall is a three meter high seated Buddha and two standing Buddhas, while along each of the side walls are five Buddhas accompanied by Bodhisattvas seated under trees and their consorts.

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Ellora-Cave 3:

Similar to Cave 2, having a square central chamber with a Buddha image, this time seated on a lotus. Around the walls are 12 meditation cells. Cave 3 slightly older and similar in design to Cave 2, is in a rather poor condition.

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Ellora-Cave 4:

Cave 4 is slightly older and similar in design to Cave 2. Two storeyed and contains a Buddha sitting under the Bo(peepal) tree.

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Ellora-Cave 5:

Known as the “Maharvada” cave because it was used by the local mahar tribes- people as a shelter during the monsoon. The Maharwada , is the largest of the single storeyed caves in this group(17.6m by 36m). Two rows of 10 columns each run the length of the cave , as do two raised platforms which were probably tables, suggesting that this cave was a dining hall . The Buddha at the back is guarded on the left by Padmapani, On the right is Vajrapani. Inside the central shrine the Buddha is seated on a stool, his right hand touching the ground in the mudra denoting the” miracle of a thousand Buddhas” (performed by the master to confound a gang of heretics).He demonstrates some of the 32 distinctive marks: three folds in the neck, long ear lobes and the third eye. The mudra here signifies the Buddha’s first sermon at the Deer Park, and is in a teaching pose

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Ellora-Cave 6:

Contains a statue of Mahamayuri, the Buddhist goddess of learning, also identified as Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning. The boundaries between Hinduism and Buddhism are fuzzy and Hindus worship and recognize some Buddhist gods and goddesses as their own, and vice versa. For instance Hindus consider Buddha the avatar of Vishnu.

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Ellora-Cave 7:

An austere hall with pillars, is the first two- storey cave.

Ellora-Caves 8-9:The next two caves can be bypassed as they contain nothing new.

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Ellora-Cave 10:

Cave 10 is an impressive chaitya hall. Also known as “Suttar Jhopdi or Carpenter’s Cave” and called a tribute to Visvakarma, the Hindu god of tools and carpentry .Here the stone cutters reproduced the timbered roofs of their day over a richly decorated façade that resembles masonry work. . The main hall is large (26m by 13m, 10m high). The curved fluted ‘beams’ suggest to some the upturned hull of a ship. The chamber has 28 columns, each with a vase and foliage capital, dividing it up into a nave and aisles. The aisle runs round the decorated stupa (dagoba)with a colossal 4.5m ‘Preaching Buddha’ carved in front of it; the only actual Buddhist chapel at Ellora. Decorating the walls are loving couples, indicating how much Buddhism had changed from its early ascetic days. You can get a view of the friezes above the pillars which show Naga queens, symbolic precursors of the monsoon, and dwarfs as entertainers, dancing and playing musical instruments. . In front is a large courtyard approached by a flight of steps.

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Ellora-Cave 11:

This Cave is also known as the ‘two floors’ or the ‘dho tal’ cave. The lowest level (basement)is a veranda with a shrine and two cells at the back of it. The middle level has eight front pillars and five rear cells of which only the central three are completed and decorated. The upper level is a long columned assembly hall housing a Buddha shrine and, on its rear wall are images of Durga and Ganesh, evidence that the cave was converted into a Hindu temple after being abandoned by the Buddhist. Note the monks bed and pillows were carved out of rock.Cave11 and 12 illustrate the use of the upper levels of these caves as a residence for monks and pilgrim hostels.

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Ellora-Cave 12:

(Tin Thal or three storeyed) has cells for sleeping (note the stone benches) on the lower floors but it is the figures of the Buddha which are of particular interest. The rows of seven Buddhas are symbolic of the belief that he appears on earth every 5000 years and has already visited it seven times.


It’s another world…another universe…in which the calm contemplation of the seated Buddhas gives way to the dynamic cosmology of Hinduism. The Hindu group is even more impressive, profusely sculptured with Shiva and Vishnu images. Clockwise, they begin with Shiva killing the demon and end with the Vishnu as the man-lion Narasimha. These caves lie in the center of the group and are the most numerous. These caves were created around the 7th and 8th centuries.

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Ellora-Cave 13:

This cave marks the first of those carved by the Hindus which, when viewed in combination, offer a wealth of dynamic, exuberant representations of the colourful Hindu pantheon. It’s a simple, plain room.

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Ellora-Cave 14:

(Ravana ki khai, seventh century), is single storeyed and the last of the collection from the early period. River goddesses and guardians stand in the doorway while inside is a broken image of Durga and figurative panels on the walls of the principal deities, Vishnu, Shiva, Lakshmi and Parvati. Shiva as Natraj performs the dance of creation in this cave.

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Ellora-Cave 15:

Named “Dashavatara” is a Buddhist monastery later modified for Hindus, the manifold avatars of Vishnu tell numerous tales while Shiva rides the divine chariot and prepares to destroy the palaces of the demons. Das Avatara, (mid eighth century), reached by a flight of steps, has a large courtyard and is two – storeyed. Clockwise, they begin with Shiva killing the demon and end with the Vishnu as the man-lion Narasimha.

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Ellora-Cave 16:

Ellora is dominated by the mammoth Kailasa temple complex or Cave 16. It’s the largest monolithic structure in the world. To create the Kailasa complex, an army of stone cutters started at the top cliff, where they removed 3-million cubic feet of rock to create a vast pit with a freestanding rock left in the centre. Out of this single slab, 276 feet long and 154 feet wide, the workers created Shiva’s abode, which includes the main temple, a series of smaller shrines, and galleries built into a wall that encloses the entire complex. Nearly every surface is exquisitely sculpted with epic themes. Kailasa is, after all, the mythical mountain where the gods dwell. In its galleries are recreated various scenes from Shiva myths. One of them represents the eternal struggle between the forces of evil represented by Ravana, the demon King of Sri Lanka, and the forces of good represented by Shiva and Parvati.

Dedicated to Shiva, the complex is a replica of his legendary abode at Mount Kailasa in the Tibetan Himalayas. Mount Kailasa (6700m), the home of Siva, is a real mountain on the Tibetan plateau beyond the Himalaya. Its distinctive pyramidal shape, its isolation from other mountains, and the appearance to the discerning eye of a swastika etched by snow and ice on its rock face, imbued the mountain with great religious significance to Hindus and Buddhists alike. Kailasa was seen as the centre of the universe, and Siva is the Lord of Kailasa, Kailasanatha. To imitate the real snow-covered peaks, the sikharas here were once covered with white plaster.

Around the courtyard, numerous friezes illustrate the legends of Shiva and stories from great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. One interesting panel in the eastern wall relates the origin of Shiva’s main symbol, the Lingam, or phallus. Another frieze, on the outer wall of the main sanctuary on the southern side of the courtyard shows the demon Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa, from a story in the Ramayana.

In the Nandi Pavilion facing the entrance is a beautiful carving of Lakshmi surrounded by adoring figures seated in a pond, she is being bathed by elephants carrying pots in their trunks. Also be on the lookout for mithunas- male and female figures in erotic situations.

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Ellora-Cave 21:

(Ramesvara, late sixth century) has a court with a stone Nandi bull in the middle and side shrines. A linga sanctuary leads to the veranda. This cave is celebrated for its fine sculptures of amorous couples and the gods.

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Ellora-Cave 29:

(Dhumar Lena, late sixth century) is very similar to Elephanta cave in Mumbai, in concept. Access is from three sides, there is a spacious hall with a separate small sanctuary with a Lingam at the end. Wall panels depict Siva legends especially as Destroyer.

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These Caves are an anticlimax after the Hindu ones, but they have an aura of peace and simplicity The Jain caves 30 to 34 were excavated from 800AD until the late 11th century. Because of the sloping hillside, most of the cave entrances are set back from the level ground behind open courtyards and large colonnaded verandas or porches.

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Ellora-Cave 30:

Cave 30 (Chhota Kailasa) is the largest and the first to be excavated.It’s a smaller incomplete replica of the Hindu Kailasa cave, decorated with Jain saints and goddesses; within the sanctuary is an image of the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, who sits on a lion throne.

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Ellora-Cave 32:

Cave32, Indra Sabha (‘Indra’s Assembly Hall’) is the finest of the Jain caves; it’s a miniature version of Kailash temple. The lower of its two levels is plain and incomplete, but the upper storey is crammed with elaborate stonework, an open court is adorned on each of its side with carvings of elephants, lions and Tirthankaras (teachers worshipped by the Jains), and features a monolithic shrine in the centre. The ceiling is richly carved with a massive Lotus at the centre and you can see signs of painted figures among clouds. The naked figure of the Gomatesvara, on the right, is fulfilling a vow of silence in the forest. He is so deeply in meditation that creepers have grown up his legs, and animals, snake and scorpions crawling on his feet. Excavated in the late 9th and 10th centuries, after the Hindu phase had petered out, the Jain caves are Ellora’s swan song.

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Ellora-Cave 34:

The final cave no.34 is a small Jain sanctuary with a seated Mahavira at its center.

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Ajanta Caves 24Ellora-Cave 32
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