There are thirty four caves at Ellora, in toto. Out of these, twelve belong to Mahayana sect of Buddhism, seventeen belong to Hinduism and five belong to Jainism. Given below is information on all the major and important caves at Ellora.
The Buddhist Caves seen at Ellora belong to the time when its Mahayana
sect was flourishing. The caves that have been numbered one to twelve
belong to this religion and were constructed between 550 AD and 750 AD.
The Buddhist caves of Ellora basically comprise of viharas
(monasteries). They are nothing but, large buildings carved into the
face of the mountain. The viharas are multi-storied and include rooms
like living quarters, sleeping quarters, kitchens, etc. There are some
viharas that were used as shrines by their dwellers
They have been adorned with exquisitely carved images of Lord Buddha,
Bodhisattvas and some saints. Out of these, the most important ones
comprise of cave number 10, 11 and 12. Cave 10 is a Chaitya Hall, based
on the Chaitya architecture of India. It is popularly known as
'Vishwakarma Cave' or 'Carpenter's Cave' and has a 15 foot idol of Lord
Buddha, in a preaching pose. Cave 11 as well as 12 is a three-story
structure. The former is known as 'Do Tal', while the latter is known as
Hindu Caves (Kailasa Temple)
There are total seventeen caves at Ellora that belong Hindu religion.
They are numbered from thirteen to twenty-nine and date back to
somewhere between 600 AD and 875 AD. The intricacy with which these
caves have been built is so great that it must have taken generations of
hard work and labor to complete them. Of all the Hindu caves in Ellora,
the most significant one is cave 16, which comprises of the 'Kailasa' or
'Kailasanatha' Temple. It was carved out of a single piece of rock.
Believed to be the largest monolithic structure in the whole world, the
temple has been carved in such a way, so as to represent Mount Kailash -
the abode of Lord Shiva. The entrance of the temple has been provided by
a two-storied gateway. As we enter the gateway, a U-shaped courtyard -
bordered by columned galleries - greets us. The galleries are
three-stories high and stand interspersed with massive sculpted panels
and alcoves, which are adorned with huge sculptures of various deities.
Initially, these galleries were connected to the central temple, with
the help of flying bridges of stone. The courtyard of the Kailasa Temple
comprises of two structures. In the path leading to the sanctum
sanctorum, where the Shivalinga is enshrined, one finds the image of
Nandi Bull, the vehicle of Lord Shiva. There is also a Nandi Mandap
inside the temple that, along with the main Shiva temple, reaches a
height of almost 7 m. The lower stories of the mandap are adorned with
At the base of the temple, one can see elaborate carvings that create
the feel that elephants are holding the structure aloft. The Shiva
Temple has been built as per the South Indian style of architecture,
representing a pyramid to some an extent. The temple is made of living
stone and has exquisitely carved niches, pilasters and windows, along
with images of deities, mithunas (sensual male and female figures) and
other figures. Deities on the left of the shrine are mostly Shaivaite
and those on the right are mostly Vaishnavaite.
In the courtyard of the Kailasa Temple, you can see a huge sculpture of
Ravana, who is shown attempting to lift Mount Kailasa. The construction
of this shrine required 200,000 tonnes of rock, and took around 100
years to be fully complete. There are a number of other notable caves
belonging to the Hindu religion at Ellora. These include Dashavatara
Cave (Cave 15), which depicts the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Then,
there is the Ramesvara Cave (Cave 21) and Dhumar Lena Cave (Cave 29).
There are five Jain caves in Ellora, numbered 30 to 34. They are
believed to have been built somewhere around 800 AD to 1000 AD and
reflect certain elements of the philosophy and tradition of Jainism.
These caves are neither too large, nor too ostentatious. Infact, one
gets a sense of asceticism by looking at the Jain caves. However, they
do have remarkably comprehensive art works. Some of these caves have
remains of, what were once, rich paintings.
Of all the Jain caves at Ellora, the most impressive is cave 32, a
shrine known as 'Indra Sabha'. The floor of this cave has been
ornamented with a very beautiful carving of the lotus flower. There is a
yet another Jain cave, with exquisite carvings. The carved image has an
imposing yakshini, seated on her lion, under a mango tree laden with
fruits. Though without much ornamentation, Jain caves at Ellora are as
remarkable as the Hindu and Buddhist ones.