Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Aurangabad Part III - Ellora - The Hindu Caves

The 17 Hindu excavations contain one of the best artistic monuments in India and in the world respectively – the great Kailasa (cave 16). We read about this a lot and so we were really eager to satisfy our thirst seeing this magnificent architecture. The Hindu caves were excavated during 7th – 10th century AD.

Cave 13

This is the first of the hindu caves, but this is just a plain room.

Cave 14

This cave is called ‘Ravan Ki Khai’ (The Abode of Ravana). This cave has fantastic carvings of mahisasura mardini (the slaying of buffalo-demon), Lord Siva and Parvati, Nataraja (celestial dance by Lord Shiva), Ravananugraha murti (Ravana shaking the Mount Kailasa and later Siva pardoning him and blessing him), Gajasamhara murti (Siva killing the elephant-demon), Durga, Vishnu and Lakshmi.

Cave 15

This is called the Dasavatara Cave.

Through a flight of stairs, you can enter Cave 15. This is a two storyed cave which has a temple (mandapa) in front of the caves. This cave is also rich with architecture. Among the many, there are images of Ganapati, Parvati, Surya, Siva and Parvati, Mahisasuramardini, Ardhanarisvara, Bhavani or Durga in the first storey. The second storey is huge which includes a shirne with a linga. Again we have images like Gajasamharamurti, Nataraja, Bhavani or Durga, Siva and Parvati. The finest of the architectures, as believed by many, is the death of Hiranyakashipu in the hands of Vishnu in a man-lion (Narasimha) form, emerging from a pillar.

Cave 16

This is the great Kailasa and undoubtedly the very best of Ellora. This is the largest cave excavation in India. I am not the one who can play with words to describe the beauty of this temple. All I can say that this cave is the unrivalled masterpiece of art. I will just quote from Wikipedia here –
"Cave 16, also known as the Kailasa or the Kailasanatha, is the unrivaled centerpiece of Ellora. This is designed to recall Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva – looks like a freestanding, multi-storeyed temple complex, but it was carved out of one single rock, and covers an area double the size of Parthenon in Athens. Initially the temple was covered with white plaster thus even more increasing the similarity to snow covered Mount Kailash.

All the carvings are done in more than one level. A two-storeyed gateway resembling a South Indian gopuram opens to reveal a U-shaped courtyard. The courtyard is edged by columned galleries three storeys high. The galleries are punctuated by huge sculpted panels, and alcoves containing enormous sculptures of a variety of deities. Originally flying bridges of stone connected these galleries to central temple structures, but these have fallen.

Within the courtyard are three structures. As is traditional in Shiva temples, first is large image of the sacred bull Nandi in the front of the central temple. Central temple - Nandi Mandap - is housing the lingam. Nandi Mandap stands on 16 pillars and is 29.3 m high. The base of the Nandi Mandap has been carved to suggest that life-sized elephants are holding the structure aloft. A living rock bridge connects the Nandi Mandap to the Shiva temple behind it. The temple itself is tall pyramidal structure reminiscent of a South Indian Dravidian temple. The shrine – complete with pillars, windows, inner and outer rooms, gathering halls, and an enormous lingam at its heart – carved from living stone, is carved with niches, pilasters, windows as well as images of deities, mithunas (erotic male and female figures) and other figures. Most of the deities at the left of the entrance are Shaivaite (followers of Shiva) while on the right hand side the deities are Vaishnavaites (followers of Vishnu). There are two Dhvajastambhas (pillars with the flagstaff) in the courtyard. The grand sculpture of Ravana attempting to lift Mount Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva, with his full might is a landmark in Indian art. The construction of this cave was a feat of human genius – it entailed removal of 200,000 tonnes of rock, and took 100 years to complete.

The temple is a splendid achievement of Dravidian art. This project was started by Krishna I (757–773) of the Rashtrakuta dynasty that ruled from Manyakheta in present day Karnataka state. His rule had also spread to southern India, hence this temple was excavated in the prevailing style. Its builders modelled it on the lines of the Virupaksha Temple in Pattadakalh. Being a south Indian style temple, it does not have a shikhara common to north Indian temples. "

We were really spellbound to see this marvel and sat sometime in silence, trying to absorb what we were watching. If you don't see it through your own eyes, you can't believe it.

The weather was hot and sun was cruel during the day – but we did not feel it. We were hungry, thristy and fatigued – but we did not bother. The effect of Kailasa was was still on us. Generation after generation passed on their knowledge to their successors and that’s how it was completed in a hundred years – but with the same precision everywhere, at every inch of the carvings.

Finally, and too reluctantly we had to bid farewell to Kailasa since we wanted to cover the other caves too. We had lunch in a small canteen besides the entrance and started for the other caves.

Cave 17

This is called Chota Dhumar Lena. It has figues like Brahma with female companions, Gandharavas, Vishnu, mahisasura mardini, four armed ganapati and surprisingly a figure of Buddha with three faces and various female figures.

Cave 18

This is extremely plain cave, but some of the features suggest that it has the concept of eight century Rashtrakuta dynasties.

Cave 19

This cave is almost ruined, but still contains a broken linga.

Cave 20

This has a wide passage inside it and carvings of Ganapati, Mahisasur mardini and a linga.

Cave 21

This is called the Ramesvara Cave. This is supposed to be the earliest of the Hindu Caves. This cave is also famous for its architectural significance. Lord Shiva, ganga, Yamuna, Kali, Mahisasura mardini, marriage of Shiva and Paravati, various female figures are found in this cave.
Cave 22

This cave is called the ‘Nilkantha’ Cave. The walls contain images of Shiva, Ganesa, Kartikeya, Nadi, Bringi etc.

Cave 23

This is mainly consisting of a double verandah and does not have some significant sculptures.

Cave 24

This is known as ‘Teli Ka Gana’ or Oilman’s Mill.

Cave 25

This is called as Kumbharvada and this contains beautiful sculpture of Surya the Sun god who is driving his chariot towards the dawn.

Cave 26

This is called as Janwasa.

Cave 27

This is called as Gopilena or the Milkmaid’s cave.

Cave 28

This consists some cells, but no significant architecture is found.

Cave 29

This is called ‘Dhumar Lena’ and this is a really huge cave. This is another important Hindu Cave. This is situated by the side of “Sita-ka-nahani” - a pool created by a waterfall in the Elaganga which is visible in full flow in monsoons. There are huge sculptures like the dwarpalas (doorkeepers), Ravana shaking the Mount Kailasha, huge linga, marriage of Shiva and Parvati, Nataraja – the dancing Shiva etc.

Cave 17 to Cave 29 is a really long and arduous walk and we were really exhausted by the time we completed cave 29. But still we had to complete the Jaina Caves. We again had some water, sat for some time and then proceeded towards the next entrance on our car.

The snaps from the Hindu Caves are here -

For this post, I acknowledge -


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