By Swami Harshananda
Ellora was anciently known as Elura. It has carved for itself a permanent and enviable place in the archaeological map of the country because of its magnificent temple of Kailāsanātha (Śiva). It is situated on the bank of a small tributary of the Godāvarī river in Maharashtra, at a distance of 64 km (40 miles) from Ajantā and 25 km (16 miles) from Aurangabad.
There are total 34 caves as follows:
- Hindu - 17 caves
- Buddhist - 12 caves
- Jain - 5 caves
Caves have the constructions of various types like relief figures of mythological gods, Caitya halls of prayer, living rooms for the bhikṣus and so on.
The prime attraction of Ellora is the Kailāsanātha temple built by the Rāsṭrakuṭa king, Kṛṣṇa I (CE 756-775). It is a marvelous work of art, architecture and building construction. The whole credit of its magnificent carving goes to the stone-cutters and carvers. They initiated digging from a deep three-sided trench above the hill to obtain a massive isolated block of rock 60 meters (197 ft.) long, 30 meters (98 ft.) wide and 30 meters high. The temple was then fashioned from this rocky mass from the top and the front, cutting away the rock, both externally and internally.
There are four sections in the temple:
- Main shrine
- Entrance gate to the West
- A separate shrine for Nandi, Śiva’s mount
- Cloisters surrounding the courtyard
The characteristics of the temple are:
- The temple stands on a lofty plinth of 7.6 meters (25 ft.) high.
- The friezes contain the figures of elephants and lions giving the impression that they are carrying the whole temple on their backs.
- The vimāna (tower) over the sanctum containing the liṅga, which is 28.9 meters (96 ft.) in height and is three-tiered.
- It is in the Pallava style of temple architecture.
- There is a hall (nṛttamaṇḍapa) of 16 pillars in front of the sanctum.
- Next to it connected by a bridge, is an elegant shrine of Nandi, 6 meters (20 ft.) square.
- On either side of this shrine there is a dhvajastambha (flag post) 15.5 meters (50 ft.) high.
- There is an imposing gateway at the front.
- Around the base of the vimāna, there are five miniature shrines which are now empty. They were probably meant for the:
Caves of Ellora
The 14th cave contains:
- Sculptures of Śiva in the dancing pose of Tāṇḍava
- Sculptures of Rāvaṇa caught under the mount Kailāsa
- Sculpture of Lakṣmī
- Sculpture of Bhavānī
- Sculpture of Viṣṇu
- Sculpture of Lakṣmī in Vaikuṇṭha
- Sculpture of Nārāyaṇa lying on serpent Seṣa
The 16th cave measures about 83 meters (276 ft.) by 46 meters (154 ft.). It is one of the finest cave temples of India containing a large number of sculptures depicting several incidents from the purāṇas dealing with Śiva and Pārvati.
The 17th cave measures about 20 meters by 11 meters (64 ft. by 37 ft.). It is also devoted to Śiva sculptures which include idols and figures of:
The Buddhist caves are mostly plain without any ornamentation. The 3rd and the 4th caves contain sculptures of Buddha seated on a lotus-throne or preaching sermons. The 12th cave contains an idol of Buddha 3.5 meters (111 ft.) high with other figures.
The 33rd cave is a Jaina shrine called Indrasabhā. Other caves contain the figures of Tirthaṅkaras, Gommaṭeśvara (32nd cave) Yakṣas and Yakṣis.
Paintings in the Caves
Paintings resembling to the caves of Ajantā have been discovered in cave no. 15 and have been assigned to the period 8th century CE. The most striking painting is that of Viṣṇu and Lakṣmī riding on the Garuḍa and passing through the clouds in the sky.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore