Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.

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Buddhist Caves of  Ellora from 1 – 12 dates between 600 – 800 AD are located at the southernmost end. During the 7th century, out of the cliffside, many enterprising Buddhists decided to carve a nice little vihara (monastery) for themselves. The emerging cave must have been a hit because soon enough, another one was being carved next door, and then another. Over the next 200 years, the Buddhists cut a dozen of these cave temples. 

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.
Buddhist Caves

These caves are categorised into viharas and chaityas- initially simple – little more than hand-carved caves dug out of the hillside. As time went on, though, they became more and more convoluted: caves would interconnect with other caves and be multi-level affairs, with stone staircases connecting the floors. Viharas are where Buddhist monks lived, worshipped and did daily chores, whereas chaityas are assembly halls. 

Cave 1

I walked towards it, considered the southern terminal end of the cave complex. The directions to the caves are well-marked with white ink on the broad streets of the Ellora caves complex. Cave 1 was not impressive, but it was the most straightforward and smallest vihara; it may have served as a granary. The original architects, as the stone towers and beautifully carved friezes, were designed with the transcendent state of blissful Nirvana in mind.

Architectural Bliss

This cave has eight cells, four on the rear wall and four on the right wall. This cave has eight cells, four on the back wall and four on the right wall. The facade of the cave could be more impressive, but there are some interesting holes on the left wall of the cave. It is believed these holes were made much later, and they were used to tie ropes by slipping a rope in through one hole and taking it out through another! 

Cave 2 

It is adjacent to Cave 1. Two massive Bodhisattvas guard the doorway. However, inside the cave, I found a hypostyle wall flanked by twelve pillars. And these cushioned pillars have carvings belonging to Buddhist pantheons. This fabulous embellishment is on the inside walls of the right window. It represents the seated Buddha. Moreover, the central shrine consists of Lord Buddha sitting on a lion’s throne in Bhadrasana pose.


The tale of Lord Buddha creating trees by planting a toothpick in the ground or creating a jewel lake is known as the Miracles of Shravasti. In this cave, we found the Miracles of Shravasti finely chiselled on the volcanic rocks. Along the cave walls, I saw giant sculptures of seated Lord Buddha surrounded by flying dwarfs and Bodhisattvas. There was an incomplete sculpture of Buddha, too.

Incomplete Buddha

Cave 3 

It seemed tiny, and nothing was fancy or different about it. Only a little literature exists about this cave, and The sculptures inside the cave needed to be completed. 

Incomplete sculptures

Cave 4

A similar condition was unfinished and not well maintained. It is almost in ruins, and a part has already collapsed. We did not venture in as there were signs of maintenance work under progress.

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.
Work in progress

Cave 5 

However, there was a unique cave in Ellora and the largest vihara. What makes it unique are the parallel running end-to-end low rock-cut benches. It was used as an assembly hall for dining or for carrying out regular religious practices. I have been to the Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayas many times and have seen monks practice religious rituals precisely in the same settings I found carved out here!

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.
Tabletop Cave 5

The main shrine has a seated Buddha with Bodhisattvas on both sides and flying figures around him. Due to the darkness, we could not take a close picture of the main shrine.

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.

Cave 6-9

These Ellora Buddhist caves were unmappable; the construction was such that one cave led to the path of another. But thanks to the marking, I clarified to an extent. In cave 6, the sculpture of Tara (in the picture) and Mahamayuri sets this cave apart. Mahamayuri is a Goddess of learning, though I felt it is Tara who strikes a remarkable resemblance with the Hindu Goddess of learning – Saraswati.

Lord Buddha

Cave 7

On the other hand, it is a passage to cave 8; it is primarily unadorned but may have a couple of unfinished sculptures of Tara and Mahamayuri (which we should have noticed).


Incomplete sculpture

Cave 8

Interestingly, it is the downstairs of cave 7 in the present-day Ellora caves, where the sanctum is detached from the rear wall to make way for a circumambulatory passage encircling the shrine.

Interconnected Caves

The circular passage inside Cave 8 is dark, and cells are attached to the two walls.

Cave 9

It has elaborate carvings of Buddhism on the upper facade of the cave. The detail of the carving was intricate & eye-catching. Beyond the cushioned columns, inside the cave was the usual seated Buddha with eloquent carvings of female attendants on the walls. However, I couldn’t find any ‘lower facade’ to cave 9. I wonder if it exists. 

Intricate facade


Cave 10( Vishwakarma Cave)

One of the most famous Ellora Buddhist caves was constructed in the 7th century. It is also known as ‘Sutar ki Jhopdi ‘or ‘Carpenter’s cave ‘owing to the finishing of the rock. This cave is the only Chaitya Hall in the Ellora, and the facade and courtyard of this cave are massive both qualitatively and quantitatively. 

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.
Cave 10

The rocks were carved from wild animals like elephants to form the frieze of the primary entrance passage. Moreover, the cave facade is heavily decorated with carvings of sexual couples. The walls on the first floor have cells and niches with figures of Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani. The Vaulted roof, which imitated wooden ribs (naga Ribs), stunned me. The exciting fact was that two friezes were between the naga ends of the ribs and the tops of the pillars. The upper frieze shows Buddha figures in panels, and the lower frieze shows ganas. 

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.
Vaulted rooftop

The imposing apsidal Chaitya hall has an elaborate stupa in the rear. A statue of Buddha in the Pralambapada posture with the Bodhisattvas and Vidyadharas is carved in the front of the stupas. The hall is softly illuminated by the natural light that pours in from the window on top of the entrance door. When the crowd left, the surroundings felt surreal.

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.
First Sunlight on Lord Buddha

A flight of steps took us up to the top-floor balcony. There is a Buddhist creed inscribed in characters of the 8th-9th century. And the dancing figures and the mithunas on the parapets are noteworthy.

Cave 11

This gigantic  Ellora Buddhist cave with a spacious courtyard makes it one of the most fascinating ancient structures. And thankfully there was less crowded. The pillars of this cave are relatively simple and not embellished with fancy images. The second and third-level flooring is smoother than its level-one counterpart. The shrine on the second storey has a seated Buddha with folded legs and a right hand touching the Earth, popularly known as the ‘Earth touching Buddha, ‘ whereas the shrine on the third storey has a seated Buddha with legs down.

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.
Cave 11

Cave 12 (Teen Thal)

It is more impressive than Ellora Buddhist Cave 11 since several panels on the first level of the cave have intricately carved figures of the Buddhist pantheon. The most notable is the centrally seated Buddha surrounded by eight Bodhisattvas.

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.
Teel Tal

There is a middle floor between the first and second levels. This little space is a storehouse of awe-inspiring artistry. We saw on its wall panels an impression of Avalokiteshwara in a seated position with Jambala to his right and Tara to his left. Moreover, I found curious holes of different shapes were made on the floor. But no explanation for it. 

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.

On the second level, the entry to the main hall is flanked by a seated Bodhisattva on the right wall in the company of four females. Avalokiteshwara and Vajrapani proudly guard the shrine. They stand on a lotus as they protect the shrine. I even found inscriptions on the pillar near the entrance of this hall. 

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.
Main Hall

A seated Buddha on one end of the veranda welcomed us on the topmost level of this cave. It was just a trailer of what we would witness in the hall. The pillared hall has striking carvings of Buddha carved on almost all its walls. The shrine’s left and right rear walls have seven chiselled meditating Buddhas. These are thought to represent the seven historical Buddhas.

Buddhist Caves of Ellora : Suprisingly Stupendous Panaroma.
Historical Buddha

This idea of the Buddhists caught on because some Hindus began carving their rival temples just down the path after a century or so. Moreover, the latest Buddhist Cave and the earliest Hindu temples were constructed more or less contemporaneously, and there may have been a bit of competition because, during this period, those Buddhist temples suddenly got more complex and ornate. But they needed to figure out what was coming next.

How to Reach

By Air

The city has the nearest Aurangabad Airport, which is 10km from the city centre. A cab or Auto can be hired from the airport to reach the Ellora Buddhist Caves. 

By Rail 

The city railhead is well connected with all major cities like Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Nagpur, Pune, Madurai, Bhopal and Gwalior. The railway station is 2-3km away from the bus stand. A cab or Auto can be hired to reach the Ellora Buddhist Caves. 

By Road 

The road connectivity of State and National Highways is excellent. State and private buses are available from Mumbai, Pune, Ahmednagar, Nashik, Nagpur and other nearby cities. These buses ply at regular intervals. One can also book a cab or self-drive to Ellora Buddhist Caves.



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