Ajanta and Ellora Caves in the Maharashtra state of India are a popular tourist destination worldwide for the magnificent sculptures and carvings. While Ajanta Caves is a group of Buddhist cave temples Ellora Caves or Verul Caves are exemplary rock-cut cave temples dedicated to Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Jainism. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Ellora temples was built between 5th and 13 century.
The Ellora Caves span through a distance of 2 km from Cave 1 to Cave 34. The main entrance to Ellora Caves through the ticket counter will take the visitors to the most important and grandiose of the Ellora Caves – the Brahmanical Cave no 16. To the left are the rest of Brahmanical Caves and at the far end are the Jain cave temples which can be reached by walk or by boarding one of the government buses running between Cave no 16 and the Jain cave temples. On the right are 3 more Brahmanical Caves and 12 Buddhist cave temples.
Brahmanical Caves (Cave no 13 to 29)
The imposing of Brahmanical temples is the majestic Cave no 16 or the Kailasa temple Ellora carved out of a massive monolith. The entrance of the temple courtyard is a two-storeyed gateway the exterior wall of which has sculpted deities.
On entering the complex visitors are greeted with a large sculpture of Gaja-Lakshmi flanked by dvarapalas (doorkeepers).
To the left, the passage opens into a large courtyard open to the sky and dominated by a large monolithic elephant. Yet another striking monument is a column called dhvajastambha.
The base of the main central temple is decorated with an interesting and impressive frieze of huge sculptures of elephants and other mythological animals which give a feel that the animals are holding the entire structure on their back.
The temple courtyard is surrounded by pillared arcade punctuated by huge sculptures of a variety of deities.
On either side of the main mandapa on the lower wall are panels embellished with friezes illustrating scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana. There are several niches in the walls of the basement which house sculptures representing Hindu Mythology.
Two sets of stairs on left and right of the main courtyard lead to the main shrine on the first floor which is a sixteen pillared mandapa. The main shrine is dedicated to Hindu deity Lord Shiva and houses the lingam.
A beautiful sculpture of Goddess Kali at the entrance of the stairs to the main shrine.
The main shrine is surrounded by five smaller shrines enshrining various Hindu deities. The main shrine has beautiful carvings of flying Gandharvas, the porticos have sculptures of dvarapalas similar to the ones on the main entrance gateway.
A stone bridge connects the main shrine to the another hall housing the Nandi called Nandimantapa.
The Nandi mandapa is connected to the upper floor of entrance gopura which offers view of the garden at the entrance of Cave no 16.
Cave 17 to Cave 29 are few more Brahmanical temples of which Caves 29 and 21 are most impressive. Cave 21 known as Rameshvara has a courtyard with Nandi on a high pedestal. The cave has some of the exquisite sculptures with intricate architectural details. The pillars on the facade are a reminiscence of pillars in Badami Cave temples of Karnataka. Cave 29 is the largest Brahmanical Cave and has some of the remarkable sculptures with 26 massive pillars, the most beautiful is sculpture depicting marriage of Shiva and Parvati.
Jaina Cave Temples (Cave no 30 to 34)
The 6 Jain cave temples of Ellora sit as a separate group of temples. The Cave 30 is an unfinished replica of Cave no 16. The most elaborate of all the Jain temples is the Cave no 32 known as Indra-Sabha. The entrance leads to a courtyard with a monolithic mandapa in the center flanked by a huge elephant and beautiful manastambha on either side. The main cave is two-storeyed with a huge Tirthankaras on the lower floor and Mahavira on the upper floor. The upper floor has 12 pillars with elaborate ornamentations.
A passage from Cave no 32 leads to cave no 33 known as Jagannatha-sabha enshrining Sumatinatha. The pillars are massive and elaborately carved similarly to the Cave no 32.
The beautifully sculpted god of wealth, Matanga and goddess of wealth and prosperity, Siddhayika in upper floor veranda of Cave no 32.
Buddhist Cave Temples (Cave no 1 to 12)
The Cave no 1 to 12 of Ellora Caves are Buddhist Cave Temples built in similar style to the Ajanta Caves though they differ in details and subject. Caves 1 to 12 excluding the Cave 10 are all viharas or the monasteries which house meditation rooms where the monks were believed to reside. Amongst all the Buddhist cave temples of Ellora the cave no 10 or the Visvakarma is a chaitya hall. The cave has an elaborate stupa with a colossal figure of Buddha seated in a preaching posture. The vaulted ceiling has rib carving with the interesting motifs on the facade.
Caves 11 known as Do Thal and Cave no 12 known as Tin Thal are three-storied monasteries with shrines on each of the floors. The floors house several remarkable sculptures of Brahmanical faith Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Mahishasuramardini, and Ganesha.
Ellora Cave Temples are some 29 km from Aurangabad and can be reached through renting a cab or by daily buses run by MTDC (Maharashtra government) from Aurangabad bus station some 5 km from Aurangabad railway station. The bus to Ellora also has stops at Daulatabad Fort and Bibi Ka Maqbara. One can also plan to visit Khuldabad which is 5 km from Ellora. Khuldabad has the tomb of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and first and last Nizams of Hyderabad.
Hire a Guide? – We hired a guide for Ajanta Caves and though we were very happy with the decision we chose not go for one in Ellora. We bought guides on Ajanta Caves and Ellora caves books available at any of the ticket counters which helped us with enough information through the Ellora caves. Though guides are highly recommended on Ajanta Ellora Tour the guide books work out well enough.
Ellora Caves Timings – Open from 09:00 am – 05:30 pm on all days but closed on Tuesday
Mumbai to Ajanta Ellora – Mumbai and Aurangabad are well connected by buses and trains. And there are regular buses and cabs plying from Aurangabad to Ajanta Ellora Caves.
What has been your favorite part about the Ellora Cave Temples? Do share with us in comments.
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