Ellora (Marathi: वेरूळ) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India. It is one of the largest rock-cut Hindu temple cave complexes in the world, featuring Hinduism in particular and few Buddhist and Jain monuments with Artwork dating from the 600–1000 CE period. Cave 16 features the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world, the Kailash temple, a chariot shaped monument dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Kailash temple excavation also features sculptures depicting the gods, goddesses found in Hinduism as well as relief panels summarizing the two major Hindu Epics. Ramyana and Mahabharata, which were originally composed in Sanskrit and later translated into many other Indian languages, and the Five Great Epics of Tamil literature and Sangam literature are some of the oldest surviving epic poems ever written.
There are over 100 caves at the site, all excavated from the basalt cliffs in the Charanandri Hills, 34 of which are open to public. These consist of 17 Hindu (caves 13–29), 12 Buddhist (caves 1–12) and 5 Jain (caves 30–34) caves, each group representing deities and mythologies prevalent in the 1st millennium CE, as well as monasteries of each respective religion. They were built close to one another and illustrate the religious harmony that existed in ancient India.
Although the caves served as temples and a rest stop for pilgrims, the site's location on an ancient South Asian trade route also made it an important commercial centre in the Deccan region. It is 29 kilometres (18 miles) north-west of Aurangabad, and about 300 kilometres (190 miles) east-northeast of Mumbai. Today, the Ellora Caves, along with the nearby Ajanta Caves, are a major tourist attraction in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra and a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India.
The Kailāśa temple: Cave 16
Cave 16, known as the Kailasa temple, is a particularly notable cave temple in India as a result of its size, architecture and having been entirely carved out of a single rock. The Kailasha temple, inspired by Mount Kailasha, is dedicated to Shiva. It is modeled along similar lines to other Hindu temples with a gateway, an assembly hall, a multi-storey main temple surrounded by numerous shrines laid out according to the square principle, an integrated space for circumambulation, a garbha-grihya (sanctum sanctorum) wherein resides the linga-yoni, and a spire-shaped like Mount Kailash – all carved from one rock. Other shrines carved from the same rock are dedicated to Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, the ten avatars of Vishnu, Vedic gods and goddesses including Indra, Agni, Vayu, Surya and Usha, as well as non-Vedic deities like Ganesha, Ardhanarishvara (half Shiva, half Parvati), Harihara (half Shiva, half Vishnu), Annapurna, Durga and others. The basement level of the temple features numerous Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakti works; a notable set of carvings include the twelve episodes from the childhood of Krishna, an important element of Vaishnavism.
The construction of the temple has been attributed to the Rashtrakuta king Krishna I (r. 756–773 CE), but elements of Pallava architecture have also been noted. The dimensions of the courtyard are 82 meters by 46 meters at the base, and 30 meters high (280 × 160 × 106 feet). The entrance features a low gopuram. The central shrine housing the lingam features a flat-roofed mandapa supported by 16 pillars, and a Dravidian shikhara. An image of Shiva's mount Nandi (the sacred bull) stands on a porch in front of the temple. Two of the walls in the main temple house rows of carvings depicting the Mahabharata, along the north side, and the Ramayana, on the south side.
The Kailasha temple is considered a highly notable example of temple construction from 1st millennium Indian history.
The Vishvakarma Cave
Notable among the Buddhist caves is Cave 10, a chaitya worship hall called the 'Vishvakarma cave', built around 650 CE. It is also known as the "Carpenter's Cave", because the rock has been given a finish that has the appearance of wooden beams. Beyond its multistoried entry is a cathedral-like stupa hall also known as chaitya-griha (prayer house). At the heart of this cave is a 15-foot statue of Buddha seated in a preaching pose.
The front of the prayer hall is a rock-cut court entered via a flight of steps. The entrance of the Cave has a carved façade decorated with numerous Indian motifs including apsaras and meditating monks. On either side of the upper level are pillared porticos with small rooms in their back walls. The pillared verandah of the chaitya has a small shrine at either end and a single cell in the far end of the back wall. The corridor columns have massive squared shafts and ghata-pallava (vase and foliage) capitals. The various levels of Cave 10 also feature idols of male and female deities, such as Maitreya, Tara, Avalokitesvara (Vajradhamma), Manjusri, Bhrkuti, and Mahamayuri, carved in the Pala dynasty style found in eastern regions of India. Some southern Indian influences can also be found in various works in this cave.