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 Nepal Travel Guide

Ellora Caves For unknown reasons, Ajanta was abandoned in the seventh century when the artist monks moved to Ellora, 66 km away. Ellora first appears to the visitors as an irregular ridge of rockrising vertically from the ground. Unlike Ajanta, access to Ellora is very easy, but like Ajanta its true splendour lies concealed within. The rock-cut architecture of Ellora's charm are sometimes underappreciated because of Ajanta's fame; the visitors coming to Ellora after experiencing Ajanta's enhancements, is sometimes satisfied with so much rock-cut architecture, but that is doing Ellora a great injustice, for here, in this outcrop of basalt rock is the culmination of this form.Ellora represents some three hundred years of great experiments carried out by different faiths with their very different iconography and structural compulsions.

Painted with geometric design

34 cave temples of Ellora can be divided into three groups and roughly three periods: Buddhist, Hindu and Jain. Only 12 of the 34 caves are Buddhist, but even these incorporate Hindu and Jain theme, demostrating the gradual decline of Buddhism. The Buddhists first came to Ellora sometime in the early seventh century AD and began excavating in the most accessible place, which was the southern tip of rock face. The Buddhist caves all belong to Mahayana phase of the religion and contain of the religion and contain some of the most impressive images of Buddha. The ceilings of the caves were carved and often painted with geometric designs, while walls and pillars carried narrative sculpture and murals pertaining to the life of the Buddha. Sculptured images in the caves at Ellora are of Hindu, Jainand Buddhist deities and their consorts, auspicious symbols of apsaras, tree nymphs, attendant of gods, animal motif, tree and plants.


The first three caves, all dating to the seventh century are lofty, pillared halls with carved Buddha images fashioned on a large scale. Cave number 4, a vihara is two storeyed, but in rather poor condition today. The pillars here have rather intresting pot and foliage motifs. The tenth cave in this group is known as the Vishvakarma cave because , some say, it was so beautifully fashioned that it came to be known after the artisan of the gods; other say it is called this because it is popularly believed to have been great favourite of those belonging to the carpenter's caste. Whatever the legands behind its name, its fame rests on the fact that it is the last great chaitya hall to be carved in the Deccan. It has the impressive scale of the other monuments in the group including a particularly large hall surrounded by two storeys of galleries inside. Buddhism was already declining; Buddhist excavations at Ellora had, in fact, virtually ceased by close of 18th century.

Cave 11 was known for a long time as Do Tal (Two stories) to distinguish it from the next cave which was called Teen Tal(three stories). Three tiered Cave Number 12 known as Teen Tal, is a Buddhist chaitya or prayer hall and vihara, or monastery. But it was subsequently discovered that Do Tal was in fact Teen Tal and that the basement had been buried by several centuries of earth.

The adjacent Teen Tal has a rather impressive starkness, a little spoilt today by the fact that the frontage, which was crumbling, has been repaired with enormous slabs of concrete. This huge vihara once had enough cell to house over 40 monks, today it echoes rather emptily to the footsteps of visitors and the flighs of bats. The halls within the are decorated with a wealth of sculpture, of figures of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

The Rashtrakuta king, Dantidurga, gave a donation for the Cave 15 when work was in progress in mid-eighth century. This cave, known as the Dashavatars (ten incarnations) was begun as a Buddhist monastery through it was later excavated as a temple. A richly carved mandapa stands in the open court and figures on the friezes are those that are repeated throughout the temple of this group-such as Siva & Parvati playing dice, their marriage and their disturbance by Ravana.

kailasa Temple The ultiate culmination of rock-cut architecture in terms of sheer mastery of technique and dazzling conception, is Cave 16, better known as the Kailasa temple. Kailasa perheps fittingly, refers to the god Siva's abode in the mountains and was excavated under the patronage of the Rashtrakuta under the patronage of the Rashtrakuta rular Krishna I, who ascended the throne in the mid-eighth century. Work on the temple continued under his descendants for a hundred years.Kailasa is approached by an archway, the topmost storey of which is connected by a bridge to the temple complex. A Nandi shrine opposite the entrance is flanked two(15 m) column which are flanked in turn by two elephants. The temple itself rest on a very high plinth and contain some of the loveliest carvings in the whole hillside, including exquisite portrayals of Siva, Parvati, Nataraja as well as scene from the Ramayana & Mahabharata. The century is entered through an ornate doorway flanked by images of various river goddesses.

Rameshvara Cave

Of the remaining caves in the Hindu series, Cave 21, known as Rameshwara must be singled out for its beautiful sculpture. The goddesses Ganga, Jamna and Parvati, and the gods Siva and Kartikeya all figure on the friezes. Cave 29, Dhumar Lena, is said to be influenced by the pattern of caves at Elephanta near Bombay. It is certainly amongst the most imposing on the site and dates to the late sixth century. Cave 30 is known as Chota Kailasa for rather obvious reasons. It is rather stunted copy of cave16 but about a quarter of the original size. Inside are images of the Tirthankaras and of Mahavira Jain on his Lion throne.

The walls of many of the caves depict well-known legands and myths of the gods. The darkness with in and monumental size of the images creates an atmosphere of mystery and awe. A fabulous larger-than-life sized Natraja, revaels the scene of Cosmic Dance of Siva, accompanied by musicians and celestial onlookers.

Cave 32, the Indra Sabha, is so richly carved and decorated that it occasionally become rather overwhelming. The sides of the temple are covered with elaborate carving of Elephants, Lions and vases. If you look closely at roof you will see traces of maroon and green paint, leading one to speculate than in its prime the temple must have been vary elaborately ornamented.

One of the most beautiful elements in the caves at Ellora is the variety of carved pillars. The columns are all sturdy and have massive proportions to suit the size and scale of the caves in which they belong. Some pillars are plain, others have carved bases, capitals, brackets and fluted shafts.

With the completion of the last of the Jain Temples in the early part of the tenth century, work at Ellora, which had been continuing for well over three hundred years, was finally completed. Yet the pinnacle of achievements had been reached a long time before this with the remarkable Kailasa temple. Kailasa represented a break from the early traditions of rock-cut architecture. Kailasa was a rock-cut monolith, hewn in one piece from living rock. Temples ceased to be dark, pillared caverns and became open to the sunlight. Thus with Ellora the age of rock-cut architecture reached its climax and its end. But the achievements on that single piece of hillside are a lasting tribute to the imagination and faith of those who made them.

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