For several years, B and I have talked about a visit to the Ajanta and Ellora caves someday. After our move to Pune, these architectural wonders were much closer to home. It didn’t take us long to plan a trip to the Ellora caves.
Ellora caves, also known as Verul Leni, is a marvellous complex of rock-cut temples and monasteries. This UNESCO world heritage site is located approximately 30 kilometers from Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
The drive from Aurangabad to Ellora took us past the Daulatabad Fort (a hike for another day). At Ellora, B was looking forward to exploring the Buddhist caves while Junior was excited about the Dashavatar cave and other sculptures from Hindu mythology. I was very curious about the famous Kailasa temple. With much anticipation and eagerness, we reached the historical site.
The Ellora Caves, an Architectural Marvel
The sprawling complex at Ellora consists of 34 rock-cut caves carved from volcanic basalt rock. Dating from the 6th century AD to the 10th century AD, these beautiful masterpieces have been built by the Kalachuri, the Rashtrakuta, the Chalukya, and the Yadava dynasties.
The ancient site has 17 Hindu caves (cave numbers 13 to 29), 12 Buddhist caves (cave numbers 1-12), and 5 Jain caves (cave numbers 30-34).
The Hindu Caves: A Fascinating Journey through Stories
Our day of exploration began at the imposing Cave 16, not just an ordinary cave. It is the towering Kailasanatha temple or Kailasa temple. Painstakingly carved from a single rock, this multi-storied structure represents Mount Kailash, Lord Shiva’s abode. I was awed by the architecture, to say the least. We walked around and up and down, admiring the Nandi, paying obeisance to the Shivalingam, identifying various mythological stories in the friezes, and trying to imagine the extent of planning and hard work that created this fantastic temple. The construction is said to have spanned a period of 200 years, and the area of this marvel is double the size of the Parthenon in Greece.
After that spectacular start, we moved on to Cave 15. Here, Junior was on his toes, moving from one depiction to another. Amar Chitra Katha’s Dashavatar is one of his favorite books. Although Junior was eager to view the depictions of the ten avatars, he had to be satisfied with the five incarnations in the cave.
Cave 14 captured our attention next. The river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna stand guard at the entrance. Our favorite discovery in this cave was the beautiful sculptures of the Saptamatrikas with their chubby babies. The mood changed to a serious one when we sighted the depiction of the goddesses of death, Kala and Kali.
The other notable Hindu caves were Cave 21 with its spectacular scenes of Shiva and Parvati’s wedding and Cave 29 (on the other side of the gorge) with the representation of Shiva battling Ravana’s attempts to shake Mount Kailash.
If the Hindu caves left us with a sense of amazement and wonder, the Buddhist and Jain caves at Ellora were not too far behind. Stay tuned for the second blog post in this series on the Ellora caves.