After alighting at Manmad junction on busy Delhi-Mumbai circuit, I moved on to the small town of Ellora, located on Manmad-Chalisgaon road, as a part of my long overdue Ajanta-Ellora trip. The 34 famous and magnificent caves carved out of basaltic rocks are divided between Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious traditions. The cave no 1 to 12 belong to Buddhism; cave no 13 to 29 to Hinduism and caves no 29 to 34 are devoted to Jain Gods.
Before visiting Ellora, I had only a faint idea about Ellora caves and was aware that these caves are part of UNESCO world heritage sites. However, looking at caves, I realised soon that I was seeing one of the most extraordinary structures in my entire life. The scale and magnitude of the effort that has gone into shaping these caves is no less than impossible. One can only be dumbstruck at the first sight of these magnificent caves. These caves were hewn out sometimes between 5th and 8th century. The Rashtrakuta King Dantidurga (753- 757 AD) and his sucessor Krisna 1 (757 TO 787 AD) are known to be big patrons of these caves. The famous cave no 16 having World’s largest monolithic temple was carved out in later’s regime.
The caves 1 to 10 and cave 21 are believed to be older and hewn even before Rashtrakutas arrived on the scene. It is also noteworthy that the abandoning of Ajanta caves and establishing of Ellora caves coincided to some extent. It is also important to note that unlike Ajanta, Ellora caves were never abandoned and this may be attributed to the fact that Ellora is on an ancient trade route. The reference to caves comes in writings of Arab traveller Al Masudi who visited the place in 10th century AD.
I started my journey of these caves from famous Rameshwara cave 21. Its amazing and has big halls with huge pillars, all carved out of the cave itself. The statues of various God and Goddesses are there and there is a seasonal waterfall too on one side of the cave called locally as Sita ki Nahani or bathing place of Goddes Sita. The cave no 29 is also prominent for it’s sculptures. The sculpture of Ravana lifting Kailash Parvat while Lord Shiva and Parvati are sitting atop is really impressive.
The most famous cave however is cave 16, having temple Kailash. Carved out of a single stone, the magnitude and beauty of Kailash is such that you would have to bow your head to those who made it possible. This temple still in decent shape was carved out in 8th century and is a real gem. The sculpted elephants, dhwajstambhas and whole temple complex is simply extraordinary. The temple was designed to replicate Mount Kailash and few of walls were painted with limestone in such a way so as to get an impression of snow atop the mountain. The temple has been carved at many levels the galleries are decorated with most beautiful sculptures of various Gods and Goddesses. The central structure or Nandi-Mandapam houses Lingam and the idol of Nandi is outside. The temple simply is unbelievably beautiful.
Among the Buddhist temples, the one at cave 10 is most impressive with the huge sculpture of Buddha. The prayer hall has huge columns and a courtyard. The ceiling of the temple is carved out to replicate the wooden beams in Buddhist style and matches with few at Ajanta too. When I was there few Buddhist followers reached there in synchronous queue and I clicked the following picture. The color of rocks and white robes presented the perfect contrast in morning light.
Cave no 29 to 34 are devoted to Jainism and these too have some most intricately carved floral patterns and sculptors of Gods and various angles as per traditions. Despite being carved almost 1500 years ago, the sculpture are usually intact and impressive. The cave 30, Chhota Kailash, and Cave 32, Indra Sabha, are most impressive. The Indra Sabha has two levels and has beautiful carving
After visiting to all the caves, I realised that these caves were not possible to be hewn without the devotion and commitment of the sculptors who would have lived there for years before dedicating this to posterity. This commitment after gelling with human vision and intellect can do wonders and while may feel happy to have the progress in science and technology, the scale and magnitude of Ellora caves will always remain an humbling experience for me.