Ellora caves statuesI have a habit of not looking up information of a new place I’m going to visit. This might be very well due to lethargy, but it does give me the capacity to experience the new location with a clean mind, without any bias or expectation. It was no different in this visit too; when I first got to know that we are visiting Ellora caves I had half-expected dark dingy passages but never had I dreamt that temples could be carved out of mountains!! This is precisely what the Rashtrakutas have done at Ellora, carved temples out of Charanandri hills! Rashtrakutas in their 250 years of rule have built 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu and 5 Jain caves. The most popular of them has been the ‘monolithic’ Kailasanath Temple, more on it later.

Rashtrakutas: I didn’t know much about this empire other than the fact that this was the first empire which had promoted Kannada literature. What I hadnt been aware was the extent to which the empire extended in its peak – the empire held in its sway regions spanning from River Cauvery right upto Kanauj near the Gangetic plains. As the name indicates (Rashtra + Kuta – collection of Rashtra, states) the Empire was more of a collection of separate feudataries having allegiance to a single powerful ruler. Rashtrakuta had its centre at Manyakheta (present day Gulbarga, Karnataka). The tolerance of the empire towards all religions (prevalent) is clearly indicated by the temples dedicated to different religions at Ellora.

This visit to Ellora caves has been short, understandably, as I visited this place with a large party – 5 other friends. And a person interested in architecture photography (like me) is not pleasant company in any travel group. But then, what I saw in the limited 2-3 hours has convinced me that I will come to this place again with the exclusive puporse of photography with at least 2-3 days to spare.
We could visit two caves; the first of them was the most famous Kailasanath Temple – Cave 16.

Kailasanath temple - Ellora caves

This temple is a monolith in the true sense. The builders had to just carve the temple out from a hill side, no need of transporting stone or other materials. Sounds simple, right? Actually no! The fact that you are going to carve the top floor before even conceptualizing the ground floor should require some kind of imagination and planning! The temple has been carved top to bottom and front to back and has taken several generations of work and planning. The rock texture and color being the same as the surrounding mountain the temple hardly stands out on first glance, but as you enter the place the sculptures combined with the architectural genius is sure to evoke awe.

Kailasanath temple passageway - Ellora caves

A passage carved out of the mountain on the Temple’s rear. This passage is lined with beautiful sculptures of different deities and prominent figures. The temple sides have two levels of these passages.

Kailasanath temple Elephant carvings - Ellora caves

Elephant heads on the temple’s rear. Right above the Elephant heads is the structure that houses the large Shiva linga. The large animals supporting the structure symbolize the importance given to animal world in those times. This style of using elephants head I last saw in the Akshardham temple complex in Delhi and those are more than 1000 years newer in construction!

Narasimha devouring Hiranyakashipu - Ellora cavesSculpture of Lord Narasimha (avatar of Lord Vishnu) putting to death Hiranya-Kashyapu, the demon king. The sculpture’s surface bares the different layers of the Earth. I’m no Geologist but the the rocks at Ellora seem mostly of the Igneous variety.

Lord Shiva - Ellora cavesLord Shiva. Everything from the expression on the face to the stance and position of limbs gives out subtle characterstics which the sculptor wanted to portray. In this case the depiction might portray Lord Shiva to be supremely confident but at the same time gentle by the manner in which he has extended his hand to his wife. Again, notice the gradient in rock texture.

Lord Shiva - Ellora cavesThis carving might be that of Lord Shiva or that of a popular king.

Disclaimer: I’m presenting just an interpretation, I might well be wrong.

The right foot is crushing evil (people) and upholding justice. A person in dancing pose seems to depict promotion of dance and arts. Second right hand with trishul resting on Elephants head. Third Right hand with ‘Damruga’, shiva’s small percusion instrument (used while he dances). Second left hand holding a begging bowl, might represent humility. First left hand caressing the cheek of a seated lady might reprsent the importance of family values. There might be other interpretations and better ones at that.

Sculptures of Ellora cavesFrom here we visited another cave (cave number I forget). The entrace was carved like a tunnel from the hill side. Inside there are openings both on the left and right, so practically light enters from three directions but the hallway is big enough to be dark which makes it quite challenging for photography.
Pillars of Ellora caves

20 feet long sculptures of Ellora caves
The sanctum was adorned by 20 feet long sculptures on all sides. As all sanctums in India, here too there was a passage way to circumnavigate. The ceiling of the rear passage way due to lack of light was filled with Bats, and the floor with Bat droppings. I had no intention to agitate the bats by flashing my camera and quitely passed beneath them, but I did notice that this part of the cave was being distinctly avoided by other tourists, I soon realized why – I saw a Bat dropping fall quite close to me, thankfully missing me.

Ajanta Caves – Buddha sleeping poseIf you enjoyed this do check out my article on Ajanta caves - 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BC to about 480 or 650 AD. The caves depict masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the Jataka tales.

Anoop Hullenahalli

An Electronics Engineer working on wireless embedded systems for a living. Traveling, photographing and sharing my experiences here at ANUBIMB helps me unwind and break the monotony of life.


vidya · 21 Feb ’10 at 4:31 pm

>Amazing…..happened to see few of your older blogs too, n all I can say is that, very good use of the D40 🙂

Sid · 21 Feb ’10 at 5:57 pm

>Very very nice pictures. I loved the way the different layers of the rock come out in each of the sculptures.

Sarah · 22 Feb ’10 at 11:43 am

>For some reason even i thought the same. That caves might be dark and dingy. This is magnificent!! And breath-taking pics as usual.

anoop · 22 Feb ’10 at 1:53 pm

>vidya: thanks. the D40 is indeed a versatile camera. I still don't feel limited by the camera's capabilities. the day I do, I will upgrade :p

Sid: Thanks. Even I love the rock textures.

Sarah: Thanks. So, when are you checking out ellora? :p

Rajan · 23 Feb ’10 at 4:58 am

>Very nice narrative and awesome pictures! One more on the ever-growing must visit sites for me.

wandering soul · 25 Feb ’10 at 3:33 am

>Very nice post Anoop. I am eternally in love with our country… so many wonders..and all at one place!

$$ · 25 Feb ’10 at 9:34 am

>Wow..! Just amazing!
It is wonderful that these 'out-of-the-world' structures are not built by civil engineers from top colleges in the country or by people from universities in the US or UK!!! This is creativity and talent at its peak! 🙂

I love your pics, Hats off to lighting and composition!

anoop · 25 Feb ’10 at 1:00 pm

>Rajan: thanks. see you around then 🙂

Neelima: thanks. yeah, me too, and I have still not covered even 10% of them. its not just the wonders but the story behind them which keeps me interested. photography is something that just happens!

Shalini: I'm thinking, people who worked for mere money could have never accomplished such great structures. It would have needed faith of the highest order and obviously support from the monarch.
I would love to spend 2-3 days exclusively at this place for photography. someday.

Shwetha · 27 Feb ’10 at 7:56 am

>Awesome.. Ellora is a World Heritage.It represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut
architecture. We really appreciate your diligence. great job 🙂

Shwetha Pangannaya · 12 Mar ’10 at 10:02 am

>Very nice pics in ur blogs. and good flowing writing. i enjoyed reading them.

R Sudhir Kumar · 29 Mar ’10 at 11:07 am

>Good Post and very nice pictures. I am waiting to visit Ellora. Now I know what to expect.

Travel Asia · 16 Apr ’10 at 12:55 pm

>These stunning pictures of Ellora Caves. Chronologically numbered, there are 34 caves whose visit starts from the most ancient Buddhist caves at the south.

Harishpi · 19 Dec ’10 at 11:38 am

marvelous.. tempted to visit the place

    Anoop · 19 Dec ’10 at 11:59 am

    You should, but with sufficient time at your disposal.

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