Ellora, known as Verul, has been a place of pilgrimage since ancient times. The 34 caves at Ellora were excavated over a period of 600 years - from the 5th century AD to the 11th century AD. Extending in a linear arrangement, these excavations comprise Buddhist shrines and monasteries (Caves 1-12), located at the southernmost end of the site; the Hindu temples (Cave 13-29), occupying the central portion, and the Jain temples (Caves 30-34), at the northernmost end.
The most remarkable excavation at Ellora Caves is that of the magnificent Kailasa temple (Cave 16), which is the largest monolithic structure in the world.
Image of Lord Mahavira Cave 32 Ellora Caves
In the Buddhist caves, are sculpted figures of Lord Buddha, Bodhisattvas and the pantheon of Buddhist divinities; embellished with medallions, ornamental scrolls and floral motifs. The art of sculpture reaches its zenith in the Hindu caves, where larger-than-life images of various deities (Cave 15) like Shiva, Vishnu along with other gods and goddesses, exude vigor and the dynamic energy of divine beings. The Jain caves are decorated with sculptures of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism and Tirthankaras (the saints worshipped by the Jains). Fragments of paintings, depicting celestial beings and couples flying through the clouds, reveal the wealth of visual imagery which must have once adorned these caves.
Ellora Caves Entrance
Ellora Caves Map
The main entrance of Ellora complex lies just in front of Cave 16 (Kailasha). Cave 1 to Cave 15 is situated on the southern (right) side of Cave 16 and Cave 16 to Cave 34 lies on the northern (left) side of Cave 16.
Under the hood: Comprehensive Information about important caves of Ellora.
Elephant at the entrance of Cave 16
The Kailasha is a great monolithic rock cut temple isolated from surrounding rock and excavated from top to bottom and scooped out all through from outside to inside. It is said that ten generations worked for it and took more than 200 years for its completion. The temple was planned and begun under the Rastrakuta King Dantidurga (735-757 AD) and the major work went on in the reign of Krishna | (757-773 AD). The artistic activities of Kailasha were carried out in several phases and spread over many reigns of the Rastrakuta Rulers. This cave locally known as Kailasha is the abode of Siva, the patron deity of the temple. Kailasha is a temple complex, with all essential elements of temple, including main shrine, Nandi shrine, gateway, surrounding cloisters and subsidiary shrines. The temple is richly carved with niches, pilasters, windows and cornices. The whole temple is decorated with gigantic Images of deities, amorous couples, friezes of epic scenes alongwith faunal, floral and geometrical designs. After completion of the temple there is evidence of renewed plaster and painting in about 9th -11thcenturies A.D.
Various sculpture carved here in the temple are not there by accident, but by deliberate design. Every sculpture has a meaning and a purpose. The two elephants and free standing Pillars of Victory in courtyard reflect Rashtrakuta's supremacy and power. The figures of Sankha-Nidhi, Padma-Nidhi and the panel of Gajalaxmi in courtyard symbolize their prosperity. While the figures of river goddess Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, symbolize the Purity, Devotion and Knowledge respectively. The enormous animals supporting the superstructure of Kailasha show the great importance given for the animal world in the Hindu mythology. The whole temple complex is surrounded by a raised pillar corridor decorated with huge panels of mythological stories.
Ornated pillar in Cave 16 Ellora Caves
The main temple is called as Rang-Mahal (Painted-palace) because after its completion, the temple was plastered and painted. Rang-Mahal is rectangular on plan. The 7 meter high plinth is decorated with life size elephants and mythical animals and friezes illustrating two great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The main temple has a Vadya Mandapa, Nandi Mandapa, a pillared hall, an antechamber and a small sanctum surrounded by five subsidiary shrines (Panchayatana). The ceilings of the sanctum, antechamber and the hall have pendentive rosettes, goddess Anna-Purna and Dancing Siva respectively. The whole temple is also decorated with beautiful paintings.
Sculptures on rooftop at Cave 16
Lankeshvara temple carved on Northern corridor is dedicated to Lord Siva. The temple consist a pillared hall, an antechamber sanctum and Nandi shrine. On the parapet wall outside is a frieze of amorous couples carved in bass relief. The pillars and walls are decorated with a number of interesting panels. The sanctum houses a linga and the back wall is carved with the Maheshmurthi in low relief.
Cave 15 - Dasavatara Ellora Caves
The cave temple locally known as "Dasavatara Cave" because of the various incarnations of Vishnu depicted here belongs to circa 8th century A.D. The whole temple is planned on a grand scale, executed on elevated platform and entered through a rock-cut gateway, which leads to a courtyard. At the middle of courtyard is a small raised square hall called Natya Mandapa (Hall of Dance), containing the famous inscription of Dantidurga, a Rashtrakut ruler (758-756 AD)
The main structure is double storied. The ground floor had massive, square sectioned pillars with cell, and is plain and devoid of any sculpture. The upper floor is dedicated to Lord Siva. The sanctum door is very beautifully carved and is guarded by two huge doorkeepers. In the huge pillared hall is Nandi (Vehicle of Siva) seated majestically. The sidewalls are divided into several compartments and sculptured panels have been brought in bold relief. The northern side sculptures on belong to Shaivite theme while those on the southern side belong to vasishnavism.
Ravan ki Khai Cave 14 Ellora Caves
The cave is locally known as "Ravan ki Khai" because of the sculpture of Ravana shaking the Kailasha a popular theme at the Ellora. This cave temple (13.60*8.69 m) was probably dedicated to sakti cult. The sidewalls of the hall are scooped into several compartments containing the sculpture compositions of Hindu Mythology. The sanctum is separated from the back wall by a circumambulatory passage, opening into a hypostylar hall. The sanctum door is flanked by fly whisk-bearers, gigantic guards and river Goddesses respectively.
The disposition of the panels show vaishnava theme on one side and Saiva theme on the other showing religious harmony. The wall of the hall also contains a panel of seven-divine mothers. The emphasis on female divinities suggests prevalence’s of Sakti Worship.
Lord Buddha Preaching posture in Cave 12 Ellora Caves
This is a Buddhist monastery, datable to circa 8th Century A.D. and is known as "Teen Tal" because of its three floors. It looks massive and majestic but the facade is very simple and does not betray the rick sculptures within.
The first floor has a pillared hall an antechamber and sculptures with cells. The sanctum houses Lord Buddha in preaching posture on a lotus throne. The sidewalls of the Sanctum have panels of Pancha-Dnyani Buddhas and "Eight-Bodhisattava-Mandal". The second floor contains a pillared verandah, a pillared hall, sanctum with antechamber and a series of cells. The central figure of the Sanctum is a beautiful panel of Buddhist devotee Sujata offering Kheer to Lord Buddha, seated in earth-touching posture, Seven-Mortal Buddha's and eight Bodhisattava mandal were also carved on the sidewall. All Sculptures were plastered and painted.
Lord Buddha images in Cave 12 Ellora Caves
The third floor is similar in plan and is more sculptural gallery than a prayer hall. The sidewalls of the hall are decorated with huge figures of Buddha flanked by Bodhisattavas and flying figures. The front wall of the hall is decorated with the panel of eleven Budhha's having foliage and umbrellas over their heards. On the wall of antechamber are carved twelve Buddhist Goddesses, originally painted and all are seated on a lotus throne. The sanctum also shows the popular panel of "Sujata offering Kheer". The cave has evidence of old paintings.
Main Entrance Cave 10 Ellora Caves
The double storied Buddhist cathedral-cum-monastery the only chaitya griha at Ellora cave is stylistically and palaeographically datable to 7th Century AD. It is a beautiful creation of artists, who have copied the contemporary wooden constructions in cave architecture. The most remarkable feature is the music gallery (upper floor) and the beautiful carved facade. The facade is decorated with a number of friezes of animals, couples and a beautifully carved window, which allows light to in the cave. It consists of a large courtyard with a double storeyed apartment on both sides and an apsidal pillared hall on a raised platform.
Stupa and Lord Buddha in Cave 10 Ellora Caves
The spacious hall apsidal on plan has thirty pillars arranged in an elongated apse. The object of worship is seated image of preaching Buddha flanked by two Bodhisattavas and celestial couples all carved against the stupa, which serves as an ornamental background. The drum of the stupa is also decorated with panels of Buddha and Bodhisattavas. The ribbed vault gives an echo effect in the hall when a person standing at one end of the columns of the nave creates any sound.
The upper floor is approached by a flight of steps cut to the sidewall of verandah; it is possible that from this Music-Gallery, background music was provided to the monks, chanting mantras below. It may also have been used for seating important visitors during prayers.
Cave 5 Ellora Caves
This is a very big and impressive Buddhist monastery (53.28* 36.63 m), datable to circa 7t century AD. The oblong hall, the two side chapels with cells, an antechamber and a sanctum are the chief architectural components.The massive pillars in the hall are decorated with paintings. The hall seems to have been used for monks as an assembly hall, Dining room and also for ritualistic purposes. The sanctum houses Lord Buddha in preaching posture and is guarded by two huge Bodhisattavas.
Ellora Caves from Cave number one
The Buddhist Monastery (18.06 * 16.85 m) is datable to circa 6th Century AD. Austerely plain and consists of an astylar hall having eight cells and is devoid of sculptural representation. It is possible that excavation was done for the residence of the stonecutters but was later on used by the Buddhist monks.
Lord Buddha Image
The Buddhist monastery (27.60 x 20.10 m) datable to circa 8th century AD., consists of a broken verandah, a hypostylar hall with lateral galleries and a sanctum flanked by cells. The monastery is decorated both internally and externally with sculptures of Lord Buddha in different postures and deities of Buddhist pantheon. The door of the hall and sanctum are guarded by large figures of Bodhisattvas. The hall has twelve decorative pillars which endow it with a majestic appearance. The lateral galleries and the walls are decorated with the Images of Buddhist pantheon. The sanctum houses Lord Buddha on a Lion-throne in preaching posture, attended by bejeweled Bodhisattvas.
Decorated Panel in Cave 21
This cave temple locally known as "Rameshvara" is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Excavated in 7th century A.D., with a raised platform, it has a courtyard and hall consisting sculptured pillars on both sides of Sanctum containing a Siva-linga inside.
Nandi Statue Cave 21 Ellora Caves
The Nandi platform, which is in the middle of the courtyard, is massive and decorated with figures of Gods and Goddess. The richly carved pillars and pilasters support the beautiful facade. On the outside of the parapet wall a long frieze of elephants and amorous couples are carved with great beauty and rich imagination. A panel of River Goddess executed outside the cave is really a masterpiece of Ellora Art. Elaborately carved doorframe with floral decoration, guarded by massive figures and sculptured chapels is the main attraction of this cave. The sculptured chapels consisting of a dumber of figures of Gods and Goddess in Hindu mythology reveal religious and social aspects of ancient India.
Ganesha Group of Caves
Ganesh Group of Caves
The group of caves located on the top of the hill on the right bank of the stream is known as Ganesha group because of a beautiful and massive image of Ganesha (Elephant God) This is group of 19 caves, most of them dedicated to Siva. The excavation belongs to 8th - 9th century A. D. Most of the cave temples have simple ground plan with sanctum, antechamber and hall but rarely with a Pillared hall. Some of them are painted with Hindu Mythological themes. The main colors are white, green and blue. A number of caves contain shiv-linga and the sculpture of Maheshmurti on the rear wall. Doorkeepers guard the cave entrances.
Image of river Goddess in Cave 29 Ellora
This cave temple (37.50 * 40.50 m) locally known as "dumar-lena" or "Sita-ki-nahani", after a beautifully cut figure of river goddess Yamuna mistakenly named as Sita. It is dedicated to Siva and impresses the visitor by its sheer massiveness and enormous figure sculptures. Datable to 8th Century AD, The temple has a unique ground plan. The 26 fluted pillars with the corresponding pilasters support the whole structure. The main hall is divided into central nave and two aisles on either side. The hall is entered through three particos on the South, North and West respectively. The sanctum containing a Siva-linga in the back wing of the case has four entrances on the cardinal directions. Huge doorkeepers, accompanies by female attendants, guard each side. The doorkeepers are very tall reaching almost to the roof of the cave.
Sculptures in Cave 29 Ellora Caves
The walls of the portico and verandah and carved with beautiful sculptures, The artist has chiseled out the sculptures with beautiful compositions and great imagination and skill. The proportionate figures have beautiful hairdo, fine-chin drapery and striking ornaments. During monsoon the stream becomes active and water cascades down on the eastern side of the cave, offering a fantastic view of the water fall from the eastern balcony.
Entrance Cave 32 Ellora
This is a double storied cave temple dedicated to the Digambar sect of Jainism, datable to 10th -11th century A D. The temple locally known as Indra-Sabha, because of the Matanga figure, mistakenly identified with Indra. The gateway leads to an open courtyard, having monolithic elephant and a huge monolithic pillar. The pillar with quadruple images on the top represents the glory of Jain religion on all four directions. The small hall having an entrance on all four sides houses quadruple image of Lord Mahavira. The facade wall also decorated with sculptures. The walls are full of Suparswanath, Gomteshvara, Matang and Siddhaika sculptures.
Jain deities in Cave 32 Ellora Caves
The main temple is double floored. The ground floor contains a verandah flanked by chapels, a big hall, an antechamber and sanctum. The chapels in verandah house Lord Mahavira and the walls are decorated with the sculptures of Jain deities. The wall of the hall is decorated with a number of panels of Jain deities. Inside the small sanctum is seen the image of Lord Mahavira seated on a Lion-throne, with fly whisk-bearers on both sides and umbrellas over his head.
Upper Floor Cave 32 Ellora
The upper floor consists of a big verandah, pillared hall and a sanctum. The sidewalls of the verandah have huge and beautiful sculptures of Matanga (God of wealth) and Ambica (Goddess of Prosperity). The whole upper floor termed as a sculptural-picture gallery. The walls are decorated with sculpture and the whole cave was also painted. The sanctum houses Lord Mahavira and Jain deities guard the door. The most notable feature of the upper floor is the varied and variegated designs of the pillars.
Pillars in Cave 33 Ellora
This cave temple is known as Jagannatha sabha or court of Jagannatha (Lord of the world). Dedicated to Digambara sect of Jainism is datable to 10th-11th centuries A. D. The main temple is, double storied. The lower floor consists of a verandah, a pillared hall, an antechamber and a sanctum. The verandah decorated with sculpture of Matanga (God of Wealth) and Slddhaika (Goddess of the Prosperity). While the wall of the hall sculptured with Jain deities, the sanctum houses Lord Mahavira on Lion-throne in mediation pose. A low door cell on the rear waif and a square hole in the floor were perhaps for concealing objects of value. The pillar designs are striking and are distinguished by their perfect finish meticulous precision.
The upper floor consists of a verandah flanked by Chapels, a big pillared hall and a sanctum on the rear wall. The upper floor is very beautifully carved and painted. The hall consisting of twelve decorative pillars is decorated with Tirthankara panels and paintings on the walls.
Information Courtesy: © Archeological Survey of India, Aurangabad Circle