Ellora – The essence of Indian rock-cut-architecture

Why Ellora was ever made and that too at this location?

Many of you must have wondered or asked yourself while visiting Ellora, or a place like Ajanta, so am I. In the middle of nowhere, astonishingly carved into the hillside rock, there are 34 caves dating from between the 6th and 11th centuries AD would definitely made you speechless for a long time.

Ellora, the finest example of Indian rock-cut architecture


Few years back in June 2007, I had an unexpected opportunity to visit Aurangabad for official purpose. Well, it was practically to familiar with the city, as I was about to shift my base there.  My transfer to Aurangabad was almost finalized; however, I was not able to decide. We were expecting a new member in our family in two months’ time. Hence, leaving the job was only the second thing in my mind at that point of time. Hence, just thought to go and check the place myself, before deciding on anything.  On 21st June, 2007, I boarded the train from New Delhi Station to reach Aurangabad, my second trip in Maharashtra after Nagpur.

The first impression was not bad. Once back in the hotel room by 6:30 p.m. from factory, used to roam around the city, markets and returned to my room after dinner. Aurangabad is a small city with all modern facilities and seems to be economical as well. Roads are good, well maintained and there is no power cut like in the entire State. I spent the first Sunday searching for an accommodation and it was not a difficult task or project like in Delhi & NCR. Room rent was also much lower than what I was paying in Gurgaon for a similar kind of accommodation, if not better. So, that part is ok, but the biggest hurdle turned out to be the connectivity with Kolkata, my home. There was no direct train or flight from Aurangabad, so it would be a difficult task for me to reach home in case of any emergency or even otherwise. Though, I liked the place very much, but I had already taken a decision.

Suddenly, I became restless and wanted to return home at the earliest. The thought to visit Ajanta & Ellora was always in my mind, if I could stay one more week.  As usual, I was given another assignment and had to stay back. The initial joy to explore the place was no longer there anymore when I returned in the evening, after a quiet dinner and watching TV, went to sleep most of the days.

Next Sunday (July 1st) when I wake up in the morning, it was raining heavily. My initial disappointment evaporated almost immediately as soon as I opened the window. It was a beautiful view.  The Western Ghats in monsoon is just amazing; you must visit Aurangabad during monsoon. Anyway, rain stopped around 8 in the morning and very soon there was a knock. Amol, the driver of the auto (which I hired for Rs.400/- for the entire day last night) came to pick-me up. After a hurried breakfast, we left around 8:45. The person was very friendly in nature & he started talking about the city, its’ places and we left the city very soon. The drive till Ellora (~30 km from the city) was very smooth on a good motorable road and we reached there in an hours’ time.

Monsoon magic over beautiful Aurangabad

Finally, I was standing in front of the Kailash temple, the greatest marvel in Indian art where huge temple has been carved from single monolithic stone over the decades.  We have heard, read a lot about Ajanta & Ellora since our school days and ‘am an ardent fan of Feluda*. I have read “Kailashey Kelenkari” several times and all of a sudden those characters became real and it seems like it’s just happening in front of me. Few month’s later when ‘‘Kailashey Kelenkari”, finally released on Dec 21, 2007, I could actually relate the film along with my feelings at Kailash Temple. I would also suggest you to see the movie – it has English subtitles, so you shouldn’t have any problem and film has no language we all know, right.

* For all my non-Bengali readers (because Bengalis don’t require his introduction here, Feluda is larger than life to all of us since when we have started reading stories), Feluda or Prodosh Chandra Mitra, who uses the anglicised name Pradosh C. Mitter, is a fictional private investigator starring in a series of Bengali novels and short stories written by the Great film director and writer Satyajit Ray. It was an amazing feeling to be in front of Cave 16, known as Kailash Temple. I was astonished!

Kailashe Kelenkari

Ellora caves, built by the Rashtrakuta dynasty, dating back to the 5th century A.D. are dedicated to three different religions i.e. Hinduism. Buddhism and Jainism. The caves at Ellora are a mixture of Buddhist (caves 1–12), Hindu (caves 13–29) and Jain (caves 30–34); demonstrate the religious harmony prevalent during this period of Indian history. The entrance is in front of Cave 16, also known as Kailash Temple or the Kailasanatha. On your RHS, all the Hindu and Buddhist caves situated and you need to go a few kms on your left to reach Jain caves. 

Note: Some of the information were sourced from Wikipedia.

On your way to reach Jain Caves

There is a debate about who came here & started the work first and there are many opinions. However, I am not a scholar but just an ordinary traveller, who wants to visualize and go back to the past when some group of people crafted these caves by hand, with only a hammer and chisel. Life must had been extremely difficult but with their sheer dedication and mastery over arts, they had created life in this rocky mountain area, like the creator of the Universe ‘Brahma’.

Kailash temple is no doubt 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. Initially the temple was covered with white plaster thus even more increasing the similarity to snow covered Mount Kailash.

Main Entrance; Kailash Temple – Cave 16

There is a large sacred bull Nandi in the front of the central temple, carved elephants out of the rock form the base of the temple to hold the temple aloft.  You will be amazed to see the Lord Shiva Linga, which is in the first floor. The room is completely dark and you will require a torch to even see your own hand. Carrying a torch is a must requirement at Ellora. Now just imagine, how those person worked without any support of modern technology or any form of electricity.

Nandi

The temple is a splendid achievement of Rashtrakuta Karnata architecture. This project was started by Krishna I (757–773) of the Rashtrakuta dynasty that ruled from Manyakheta in present day Karnataka state.

Buddhist Caves (caves 1–12) were built during the 5th-7th century. These structures consist mostly of viharas or monasteries, large, multi-storeyed buildings carved into the mountain face, including living quarters, sleeping quarters, kitchens and other rooms.

Beautiful Ellora caves

Beautiful Ellora caves

Beautiful Ellora caves

The most famous Buddhist cave is Cave 10;  a 15-foot statue of Buddha seated in a preaching pose. This cave is also known as Vishwakarma or Sutur ka Jhopda “Carpenter’s hut”.

Cave 10; Carpenter’s cave

Jain Caves (Caves 30–34) belong to the ninth and tenth centuries. They all belong to the Digambara sect. These caves are famous for the detailed art works. The most remarkable Jain shrines is Cave 32, the Indra Sabha.

Beautiful Ellora caves

Beautiful Ellora caves

The Ellora caves are renowned for their extraordinary architecture. I wanted to discover this place at my own pace, which was hidden from all for so many years and noone can actually tell what inspires them to come to this place and create life out of nowhere. I bought a guide book from the counter which was of immense help to me. However, you can hire a guide as well.

By 3 O’clock, I call it a day; packed some food and  headed towards Daulatabad fort. Recently, there were two brilliant articles on this Fort from Nirdesh & Vishal, so I refrain myself adding one more, except few pictures. I was totally exhausted and couldn’t go to the top of the fort. Daulatabad fort is a wonderful place to visit.

Daulatabad Fort

Canon at Daulatabad Fort

On my way back, I saw Bibi Ka Maqbara.  It is a maqbara built by the Mughal Prince Azam Shah, in the late 17th century as a loving tribute to his mother, Rabia Durrani (the first wife of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb). This monument is also called the Dakkhani Taj. Restoration work was in progress and it was almost dark, so decided to return to the hotel.

Bibi-ka-Maqbara

I was planning for a trip to Ajanta next Sunday (July 8, 2007) which is ~ 100 km from the city, but I got a surprise call after reaching hotel from my mentor, asking to send the CV by night. Everything materialized very soon and left Aurangabad on 6th night for Mumbai to catch a flight to reach Delhi to join my present company.  Inbetween, did some shopping, bought few Paithani silk sarees, who knows when I would have a chance to visit the place again.

Can hundred of years’ work be covered in just few hours? I failed in capturing the beauty of the magnificant Kailash temple in my camera and unable to post them for all of you, since I didn’t have a digital/DSLR that time. However, I captured the place in my handycam very well and watch the same at my leisure whenever I find some time. I still remember my brief stay at Aurangabad and will definitely visit Ajanta & Ellora one more time, at least.

  • Hi Amitava….Good post, the Deccani Taj is something new for me, hopefully will be able to visit it soon. …

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Tx DT.

      We will be waiting for the post, with stunning photographs from you. Just wish that you should visit there on a sunny day. You will definitely get a better picture during afternoon…and carry a powerful torch…Don’t start comparing ‘Deccani Taj’ with Taj Mahal…it might be a small replica of that original one…

      Take care,

  • ये गुफ़ाएँ लगता है कि अभी इन्हें देखने का मुहर्त नहीं आया है तभी तो मैं और विशाल इनके सामने थे समय भी था फ़िर भी, हम इन्हे देख नहीं पाये।

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Hi Sandeep, you missed it because you went there on Tuesday…you will definitely visit the place one day…we will wait for your story too.

  • Good to know about the beautiful caves & the poor man’s Taj, Amitava Ji, thanks for sharing! Aurangabad is surely a fascinating city, will explore it some day…

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Tx Vipin…yes, these are magnificant…do visit whenever you will have a chance. It is a very good city. Wishing you all the best

  • D.L.Narayan

    Ellora is definitely one of the wonders of the world in my book, especially the Kailashanatha temple which was executed over a period of 120 years. The original architect had a concept in his mind and the temple was completed several generations later. In the days when there were no engineering drawings, this feat is truly mind boggling. It is said that the original temple was covered by snow white plaster to replicate the Kailash mountain. It must have truly been a sight for the Gods!

    Have been there 20 years ago and after reading your blog, the desire to revisit that wonderful place has been kindled in me. Thanks for sharing, Amitava.

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Tx DL.
      This post could have been renamed as ‘Beyond the 7 Wonders”.
      Do visit whenever you will have a chance to go there…we will look forward to another wonderful post from you.

      Take care,

  • Praveen Wadhwa

    I visited Ellora in 1984, at that time these were still caves in the wilderness. There was not even a tea shop by the road. Just a blue sign by archaeological department.

    I was with my friend and he just looked around then went to sleep under a tree and I tried to interpret mind blowing stone work but gave it up after more than an hour. Then I joined my friend.

    He said — “Patthar sae matha mara hua hai ……..”

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Thank you Praveen.

  • Aurangabad is very beautiful place . I liked it. I missed these Ellora Caves because I came there on Tuesday when they are closed. There are direct trains from Manmad to Kolkatta which is around 100 kms from Aurangabad.

    Well another Brilliant one from you Amitava.

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Tx Vishal.

      I wish you & Sandeep to visit this place once again in the near future…you will definitely love it.

  • SilentSoul

    Amitava you have brought out the article quite well. Fotos are able to show the magnificence of the place.

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Tx SS.
      I am honored that you like the post and the photos as well.

  • Dear Amitava,

    The start of your narration is very beautiful and sincerely written.

    I have been to Elephanta caves near Mumbai and also the caves in National Park, Borivali (East) but Ellora and Ajanta are still on my wish list. A very dedicated photographer and author friend of mine had visited this place and after seeing those professional quality photographs, it is quite natural that I found many wonderful details missing in these old photographs. But the description is really wonderful and I have made a commitment to myself to visit there soon whenever I happen to visit my sisters in Mumbai. Thanks for sharing.

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Tx Sushant.
      Yeah…I do agree with you completely. It can be a photographers’ delight. Only Kailash Temple alone can give you end number of beautiful shots. I just took some snaps to capture the place…never thought to publish them, neither I was equipped well during that time…but the beauti of the place stored in my memory forever. I will definitely go there once again, may be in the next six month’s time and my new possession will not disappoint you…I promise.

      We do look forward your post, along with beautiful photos of Ajanta & Ellora…whenever you will have a chance to visit there. Take care,

  • Ritesh gupta

    hi..
    Wonderful, well written & informative post..pics are very nice…
    I want to these places… Lets see when will we go..
    Tnx for sharing

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Hi Ritesh…Thank you.
      Yes, definitely…I wish you good luck and may be sometime next year, we will also have a post from you too…Take care,

  • Nirdesh

    Hi Amitava,

    I love reading posts from Aurangabad where I went to college and spent four memorable years.

    Only Jatdevta and Vishal can make it to top of Daulatabad Fort!

    Thanks.

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Tx Nirdesh…it must always be good to know about the places, where you spent some time…good time with friends/others keep on coming back…those good old days…

  • @ Nirdesh – So far. :-)

    @ Amitava – Very well written Amitava. The beauty of Ellora is probably world known. Not only lights and other new world tools, which after Khaujuraho and Mahabalipuram, I am beginning to assume that probably the skill and dedication was so high that they just needed basic tools, but also the fact that place gets real hot during a better part of year.

    It seems that Aurangabad is calling me. I was close to executing this, during this year x-mss/NewYear period but that didn’t happen. Hopefully I would be there soon.

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Hi Nandan,

      Thank you so much. Absolutely true…such an adverse condition, still…
      we can only see the beauty through our eyes…
      I am sure you will definitely be there in Y-2013 and we will have one masterpiece from you, apart from the 16th Interview…we will wait for the day.

  • AUROJIT

    Hi Amitav,

    We visited the caves during 2001 and the setting was about the same as you have described here. Thanks for making us feel nostalgic (Gia nostal…..on tram-line….) :-)

    We had similarly hired an auto for the day and so on. Daughter was small and there was a provision wherein a guy would wrap her around his back and walk along with us – that is a very memorable part for us.

    KK is something we saw much after the trip thinking that the movie has something to do with Himalayas. We were pleasantly surprised to find this known setting.

    Thanks for another interesting and informative article.

    Auro.

    • Amitava Chatterjee

      Tx Auro and for your continuous encouragement.
      So, it had been almost a decade now, since you visited the place…may be next trip will be an educational trip for your daughter too.