Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay

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Ellora Caves has been on my travel wish list for absolute ages. These caves left me in disbelief as they are the world’s largest rock-cut monastery and temple cave complex and date back to 600 – 1000 CE. I became curious to see these Ellora caves after seeing the Feluda film Kailashe Kelenkari, where Feluda, Topshe and Lalmohan Babu fight smugglers looting Indian artefacts. UNESCO, too, declared it a World Heritage Site in 1863. That includes 34 monasteries and temples spanning over 2 km and carved from a single basalt cliff. 

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Cave 16- Kailasha

About 30 kilometres from AurangabadDaulatabad: A Medieval Era Fort lie the Ellora caves; we started early in the morning, and I also visited the Grishneswar temple. Upon reaching the site, I realised calling this brilliant artistry mere Ellora Caves would be an insult. Upon entering the premises, it is in front of Ellora Cave 16, the Kailasha Cave, the most popular and awe-inspiring one. Seeing how people of multiple faiths can live, worship, and coexist peacefully is inspiring. 

Brilliant Architecture

However, the road to the right (concerning a person standing facing cave 16) takes you to caves 1-15 and the road to the left to caves 17-28. Standing before Cave 16, I asked myself, what can humanity do with a hammer and chisel? Thirty-four caves were hewn out of the basalt rocks, popularly known in this region as the ‘Deccan Trap’ along the slopes of the Sahayadri mountains. A noteworthy fact about the Ellora Caves is that they served as living quarters and shrines for three religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. The co-existence of all the caves reflects the religious tolerance of a bygone era.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Deccan Trap

Ellora’s Hindu caves are the most ancient examples on the site, with construction beginning around 550 CE. The second phase of Hindu monuments was built between 730 and 950 CE. There is a lot of debate among history experts regarding the accuracy of this information and the chronology of cave construction.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Cave 16 Courtyard

It is considered that the  Kalachuris of Mahishmati and the Chalukyas of Badamis have had an active role in establishing the cave temples 1 – 10 and 21. However, the construction of caves 11 and 12 and all the Hindu caves except Cave 21 is attributed to the Rashtrakutas. The inscriptions found in Cave 15 confirmed Rashtrakuta’s contribution to the caves. ‘

Ellora Caves

I began my Ellora caves exploration with Cave 16, known as the Kailasha Cave– — the world’s largest monolithic structure. It is said the grandeur of this cave overshadows all others as the finest thing that man has created with a chisel and hammer. It is said to have been constructed by King Krishna I, hewn out of a single piece of rock. The architecture is classic Dravidian and is dedicated to the life of Lord Shiva.


Upon entering, I saw a glimpse of towering over awestruck pilgrims. This two-storey cave is an imaginative depiction of Shiva’s home, Mount Kailash. Every inch of carved rock reveals another vivid moment in the story of this powerful Hindu God.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Mount Kailasha

The wall of the fort-styled facade flaunts carved images of Naga-Nagin, the various avatars of Vishnu—Trivikrama, Varaha, Narasimha and the river Goddess. At the same time, the left side is dominated by images of Kartikeya, Agni, Vayu and the dancing Shiva.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Gaja Lakshmi

As I entered the cave’s entrance to the courtyard, Dwarapalas guarded Gajalaxmi. And the panels surrounding Dwarapalas portray battle.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Vishnu Trivikrama

Moreover, the entire entrance is carved with sculptures from the Hindu pantheon, like the Narasimha avatar of Vishnu or Meditating Vishnu, found on many panels of the temple exterior. However, the courtyard’s intricately designed tall pillar and the standing rock elephant are the most striking.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Vishnu in various form

Walking around the courtyard, I saw the exterior of the main temple within this cave, which is also adorned by minute carvings of scenes from Ramayana, like the Samudramanthan.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay

It occupies a vast area on the panel. On a large panel, we again found a colossal effigy of Ravana shaking Kailasha.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Ravana Shaking Kailasha

Massive beasts like elephants and lions are sculptured around the central shrine’s plinth. I was awestruck by the details! 

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Elephants around the Shrine

After exploring the entire courtyard and checking out the galleries on all sides, we climbed the steps to reach the main temple.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Shiva Temple Entrance

Removing the show was mandatory here, and taking photographs in the crowd was extremely difficult, but I managed. Well, Dwarapalas guard the Garbhagriha, where a vast lingam rests, and Faint lights light the interiors of the main shrine.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay

The interiors have well-grooved sculptures and half-worn painted ceilings with bated breaths.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Temple interior

We appreciate the delicate works of the artists. From the Veranda, the entry point flanked by the garden was visible. 

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
The Veranda

 Cave 15

After wandering around in Kailasha caves more than usual, I moved to cave 15, dedicated to Das Avatar Vishnu. We took a flight of steps that led us to the courtyard of the massive double-storeyed cave. 

Cave 15

The manda, also called the Nandi manda or dancing hall, was present in the centre of the open courtyard and had many tales to tell. Though the exact nature of the Mandapa cannot be ascertained, what remains with us are theories. The outer walls of the Mandapa were well decorated with carvings of male and female figures with ornamental windows, making it more beautiful.

Nandi mandapa

On the second floor, the story of legend is that the demon Hiranyakasipu is engraved. The demon Hiranyakasipu pleased the Gods and successfully got the boon of immortality that he could not be destroyed indoors or outdoors, either by beast or men, either during daytime or night. But Lord Vishnu took the form of a half-beast, half-man. He killed the demon on a “veranda”, or porch, which is a surface neither outdoor nor indoor, during dusk, which is considered neither day nor night.


There are brilliant stories of Gajendra being saved by Vishnu when he prayed to him, the reclining Vishnu creating the universe with his companion Lakhsmi, Lord Krishna — an incarnation of Vishnu — saving the villagers from the angry Indra, making up the contents of the consecutive panels. I was so lost in appreciating the perseverance that must have gone into recreating these stories on rocks that I forgot to take pictures of.

Shiva in Lingam form

The corner panel on the right rear wall describes Tripurantaka. It shows Shiva riding a chariot driven by Brahma. The tale is about how Shiva destroyed the three demon cities with a single arrow, the only way to destroy them.


The panel adjacent to Tripurantaka represents Shiva emerging from Lingam. Awe, struck by the infinite size of the Lingam, Brahma and Vishnu offer him their praise. Initially, Brahma had the task of finding the upper end of the Lingam, and Vishnu took the responsibility of finding the lower end; however, both failed.

Pillar in cave 15

While the pillars of the second floor have carvings of Buddha images along with Tara, due to these carvings, experts believe this cave might have been a newly constructed Buddhist vihara, which was later transformed into a Hindu cave.

Cave 14

The sculpture details of Cave 14 overwhelmed our visual senses. Surrounding the shrine of this cave is a circumambulatory passage. On one of the walls of this passage, Saptamatrika is found engraved. Saptamatrika are the seven mothers, and their mounts identify them. The Brahmani has a goose, Vaishnavi has a Garuda, Maheshwari has a bull, Indrani has an elephant, Kumari has a peacock, Varahi has a boar, Chamunda has a jackal. They all have babies with them.


Virbhadra attends the Saptamatrika to the left and Lord Ganesha, Goddess Kali and a skeleton to the right. The skeleton is representative of ‘kaal’ or time.

Mythological portrayal

The panel which comes next to the Saptamatrika is Andhakasuravadha. Here, the Bhairav avatar of Lord Shiva is portrayed. He is seen here killing the demon Andhaka as Parvati and Ganesha rest at his feet. A little dwarf gives company to the party.

Shiva Parvati

There was another craving like Ravana is found trying to shake Mount Kailasha—even illustrations of Varaha or Goddess Durga. There are also mysterious pits on the floor located in this cave. These could be attributed to ancient religious rituals.

Cave 13

It was nothing more than a hole in the rock. The cave must be completed; some argue it served as a granary.

Cave 13

Cave 17

I route myself towards cave 17, quite a distance away, but the road to it was pretty scenic. The central shrine consists of the Shivling, whereas the pillars had female figures and walls with effigies of Mahishasurmardhini and Ganesha eating lad in the company of dwarfs.

Cave 17

Cave 18

Walking through patches of greenery, I reached the cave, which had no literature available. It has a simple facade and a simple pillared hall. A Shivling occupies the central shrine.

Cave 18

Cave 19

The main shrine of Cave 19 also houses a Shivling. The pillared hall consists of a panel on Lakulisa and Kirtimukha. Dwarapalas flank the doorway to the shrine.

Cave 19

Moreover, the cave has two entrances: Ellora Cave 19A and Cave 19B. The facade and entry to Cave 19A were shut for some reason.

Cave 20

I took a flight of stairs to Cave 20, a simple cave with a central lingam flanked by Dwarapalas. Some ruined impressions on walls remained, which must have been sculptured. The lower cave has a primary hall, probably used as a living quarter with a veranda.

Cave 20

Cave 21 (Ramesvara Cave)

This cave has a ‘Nandipitha’- a shrine for the bull Nandi. The concise is decorated with patterns and rich imagination carved everywhere around it. 

Cave 21

Two river Goddess Ganga and Yamuna sculptures are outside the Verandaveranda on the left and right walls.

Goddess Ganga & Yamuna carved.

 At the same time, the left wall portrays the details of the Shiva–Parvati marriage, popularly known as Kalyanasundaramurti. On another panel, Mahishasur Mardhini and Ravana shaking Kailasha are engraved.

Other mytholocial stories

The seven mothers- Saptamatrikas– are carved out in detail on the right wall. On an adjacent panel, three skeletons are found. Two of them are supposed to represent Kala and Kali– The male and female versions of the forces of time. They are usually associated with fierce violence, death and corpses.

Cave 22

The Nandi mandapa welcomed us in cave 22. It is centrally positioned in the small courtyard. To the left are the detailed model of Saptamatrika and the skeletons representing the force of time. Further into the cave, images of Dwarapalas could be found. I found his family around the main shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva — Parvati, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kartikeyya.

Cave 22

Cave 23

The cave is mostly in ruins, with sparse information. This cave has eight shrines with lingams. In Shrine Seven, there is a unique sculpture on the walls. It is called Maheshmurti. I am trying to remember coming across it in other caves. Shrine 6 houses Illika Torana.

Cave 23 way

Cave 24

The cave consists of a group of 5 shrines with a lingam in each of them. Sculpted GaneshaLakulisha and river goddess Ganga are engraved on three wall panels.

Cave 24

The veranda of the cave leads to a flight of steps to reach a shrine within the cave.

Cave 25

The courtyard of the cave flaunts an eroded Nandipitha. The left side of the Verandaveranda has tiny carvings of standing Saptamatrika and an elaborate panel of Kubera. Near the shrine, the ceiling has a striking sculpture of the Sun chariot, which we unfortunately missed seeing.

Cave 25

Cave 26

Like the rest of the caves, this cave is also devoted to Shiva, and the shrine has a lingam. Dwarapalas flank the door to the shrine. Some sculptures of Hindu pantheon figures are found inside the cave, but most need to be fixed or included.

Cave 26


Cave 27

The location of  Cave 27 is beautiful, particularly during the monsoon season.

Cave 27

A waterfall gorges down over the cave opening, forming a seasonal pool called “Sita-ki-nahani”. The waterfall was still there when we visited. Still, it was less vigorous than expected to become midway into monsoon. The entry to the cave is through a wafer-thin passage.

Sita Ki nahani

The Veranda of this cave is richly embellished with carvings of Varaha, Mahishasurmardini, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Balaram, Subhadra, Jagannath and Sheshayi Vishnu. The main hall is as simple as anyone could imagine. The shrine meant to hold the Shiva linga is attended by Dwarapalas.

Veranda richly carved

Cave 28

The modern-day form of Cave 28 appeared to us as a tiny opening in the cliff. We believe most of the cave has eroded, and what remains is too treacherous to explore. Some boulders block the way from Cave 27 to Cave 28. The ‘way’ is almost nonexistent anyway. It moves through a passage exactly behind the waterfalls.

Cave 28

Cave 29(Dumar Lena)

Cave 29 is visible from Cave 27, and the ‘path’ which takes us to Cave 28 also takes us to Cave 29; however, it is unsafe, and some boulders have blocked it to stop accidents. However, this is the only cave that can be entered from three sides. A couple of lions guard each entrance. Seated lions also flank the northern entrance to the cave. One of the panels here is ornamented by the dancing Shiva — Nataraja. The other one has Lakulisa.

Ellora caves: Temples that are photo eassay
Lion around Cave 29

While the southern entrance of the cave is very scenic as from here, cave 28,27,26,25 are visible along with the waterfalls and the stream “Sita-ki-nahani”. The walls around this entrance are enhanced with panels of Shiva–Parvati scenes. One shows the marriage known as Kalyanasundaramurti, and the other shows “Shiva and Parvati playing Chausar”. The sanctum is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It has a lingam protected by Dwarapalas. And in front of the southern and northern gates of the cave are two mysterious sculpted depressions.

Sculpture work

As I walked back to cave 16, I thought, as the Hindu caves (#13-29) followed the Buddhist ones, were Hindus followed by the Jain? Jainism as a religion is known for its commitment, and they are more than just vegans. 

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 desired Ellora 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 Ellora 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 Caves.


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