The sculpture in the Buddhist caves accurately conveys the nobility, grace and serenity inherent in the Buddha. Caves 6 and 10 house images from the Buddhist and Hindu faith, under the same roof, the latter dedicated to Vishwakarma, the patron saint of Indian craftsmen. The Vishvakarma cave is both a Chaitya and a Vihara, with a seated Buddha placed in the stupa. Its two - storied structure sports a colourful pageant of dwarfs, dancing and making music.
The 34 caves contain Buddhist Chaityas, Viharas and Hindu & Jain temples and they are arranged in a linear position and are numbered from south to north, corresponding more or less to the order in which they were constructed. The southernmost temples, caves 1-12, are Buddhist and were built in the 7th-8th centuries AD. The middle caves (13-29) are Hindu, which includes some conversions of earlier Buddhist caves, where their dates range from the 7th- 9th century AD. The remaining upper caves depict Jainism and trace back to the 9th century AD.
Spanning a period of about 600 years between the 5th and 11th century AD, the earliest excavation here is of the Dhumar Lena (Cave 29). The most imposing excavation is, without doubt, that of the magnificent Kailasa Temple (Cave 16) which is the largest monolithic structure in the world, sculpted out of a rock by 7000 labourers over a 150 year period. Known as Verul in ancient times, it has continuously attracted pilgrims through the centuries to the present day.
Sites & Structures of Ellora Caves
It dates back to the 7th century and the columns are similar in form to the ones at Elephanta. However, unlike the Elephanta columns, these at Ellora bear extensive decoration on their upper shafts.
It also dates back to the 7th century and it illustrates a typical Vihara layout in the interior of the cave. It includes an open communal area, surrounded by columns, with low stone benches for seating. The monks' chambers are cut into the wall behind the columns. A shrine area with images of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, and attendants occupies the far end of the cave. One can also view a medallion with a couple seated and they surrounded by vegetal arabesques, on the doorpost of this cave.
It traces back to the 8th century AD. A characteristic gavaksha (horse-shoe shaped) arch and flying celestials tops the upper balcony doorway of this chaitya hall. The interior of this pillared chaitya hall contains a large shrine (resembling a stupa) with a larger-than-life-size figure of the seated Buddha as the principal focus of worship. Within a niche framed by carved backers, stands a bodhisattva flanked by two standing female figures. Although the bodhisattva's head and upper torso is finely done, his legs seem unfinished. Apart from this, one can also view a fresco of dwarf musicians, from the balcony of this cave, provides a playful decoration.
It is an 8th century cave, which is a three-storied vihara, with a plain facade. The cave has sculptures and some remains of painted decoration inside. This large fragment of painted ceiling gives a good idea of the original decorative scheme, where colours like black, red and earth predominate and circular or lotus forms alternate the panels of the flying beings.
Seven Buddhas flank each side of the entrance to the inner shrine. These are meditating Buddha's in Dhyana mudra. Even the multiplicity of Buddha's is related to the development of esoteric doctrine. Even substantial paint remains on these Buddhist saviors, which are carved in low relief on the wall. The detail carving was finished in plaster, some pieces of which have fallen off these figures. It also includes a Buddha, seated on a lotus throne above a pedestal with carved lions and attendants also flank him. However, one can also view a few damaged sculptures with restorations. Example: To the Buddha's right upper arm, horizontal bands are evident that continue to the figure at the Buddha's right.
The cave also contains a relief panel of twelve goddesses, seated on lotus pedestals. However, out of these, one can find on goddess, whose surrounding niche was originally painted, but now only a few traces of the same remain. All the Goddesses iconography, such as Tara, Mahamayuri relates to the development of Esoteric Buddhism towards the end of the active period of Buddhist influence in India.
It was originally a Buddhist vihara, but was converted in the 8th century to Shiva worship with the addition of a linga shrine and Hindu sculptures. This cave includes a beautiful panel that is distinguished by the fineness of its carving and the exuberance of its decoration. Its triangular area in the center of the design appears to be occupied by a pot resting on the base of a fluted column, possibly representing a stupa, where two lions flank it. A central figure in front of the pot has been considerably damaged. To the sides, the torsos of two dancing figures emerge from swirling arabesques of vegetation.
Numerous secondary figures, including musicians and attendants, fill in the design, while a small-seated goddess within a lotus mandorla occupies the top of the pot. Additional attendants crowd the right and left upper corners, separated from the seated goddess by halved lotus flowers. Also included here is the sculpture of the Nandi that faces the central linga shrine in the upper story of the temple.
This is also called the Kailasa or Kailash, and can also be numbered prosaically as Cave 16 at Ellora. The name "Kailasanatha" refers to Mount Kailasa, the mountain home of Shiva and Parvati in Tibet, of which this temple is a symbolic model. Founded in the last quarter of the 8th century by king Krishna I, it consists of a single enormous excavation almost 100 feet deep into the rock of the cliff. This temple architecture consists of the sculpture of various Gods and Goddesses and also various other intricate carvings as given below:
Goddess Lakshmi: Just inside the temple, elephants in this large panel facing the gateway lustrate her.
Shrine of the River Goddesses: This view looks north towards the shrine entrance, which occupies the westernmost corner of the north wall enclosing the temple. A life-size elephant sculpture is prominent in the right foreground.
Southeast Corner: A view from the southeast (rear) encompasses part of the temple base, "supported" by elephants, and extends past the first floor (note the people midway up at photo left) to the great tower which rises over 100 feet above the ground level.
Ramayana Panel: This panel is situated at the southwest corner, ground floor level, of the temple.
Nandi Pavilion: The structures on the upper level of the temple are connected by a series of walkways, two of which connect the Nandi pavilion to the gateway (right) and the main temple (left). At the left of the photo appears the large north column, the same one shown on the previous page.
This cave depicts the following sculptures:
Ravana Shakes Mt. Kailasa: In this sculpture panel at the south base of the temple, a demon named Ravana (below, with multiple heads and arms) shakes Mt. Kailasa, annoying Shiva and Parvati in their mountain home. Shiva easily quells the earthquake by pressing down on the mountain with his toe.
Rameshvara Temple: This was constructed in the late 6th century, making it earlier than many of the lower-numbered caves including Kailasanatha.
Shiva and Parvati at Dice: Shiva and Parvati play dice, a favorite pastime, surrounded by a host of attendants. The story goes that when Parvati objects to his cheating at the game, Shiva's anger threatens to burn up the world until Parvati relents.
Durga Slays the Buffalo: Durga pulls up the head of the buffalo demon, just before delivering her killing blow. The treatment here is rather "posed" and static, considering the violence of the theme.
Shiva Dancing: Shiva's legs in this much-admired panel seem oddly shortened. River Ganga: The goddess Ganga is identified as she stands on the Makara and her left arm rests on a gana.
River Ganga: The same sculpture is again seen in a much more appealing, although less analytically informative and in some respects the true relationship between the smaller and larger female figures cannot be known. Also a comparison between this and the previous sculpture creates a the creative tension between the image and the art history.
This cave depicts the following sculptures:
Ravana Shakes Mt. Kailasa: This has a lot of similarity between the sculpture in Cave 21. And Cave 29 also dates, like Cave 21, to the late 6th century.
Shiva Slays Andhaka: This stunning panel portrays Shiva as the slayer of the demon, Andhaka. Shiva dances in triumph beneath the outstretched skin of the elephant demon Nila, one of Andhaka's allies, as a seated Parvati looks on admiringly. In his right hand, Shiva holds a skull cap used to catch Andhaka's blood. The head of the elephant is barely visible behind Shiva's raised sword.
This cave dates to the early 9th century. The similarity to Buddhist iconography is obvious, but Jain tirthankaras can be distinguished by the nudity of their figures. It also depicts the following sculptures:
Mahavira: The Jain tirthankara Mahavira, founder of the Jain religion, is flanked by divinities of prosperity (Matanga, maleon his left) and generosity (Sidaika, female, on his right).
Matanga: He is the Jain god of prosperity.
Sidaika: She is the Jain Goddess of generosity.
Columns: Although different in detail from Cave 2, these columns share some overriding features including a square lower shaft and pincushion abacus. The circular upper shaft, however, is considerably truncated.
Head of a Divinity: The head of an unfinished statue rises evocatively from its bare matrix of stone. This is very much in line with the basic Indian concept, whereby every point in space is the potential locus of an emergence of the divine.
Grishneshvara Temple: This 18th century Hindu revivalist monument, located in a small village a short distance across the valley due west of Kailasanatha Temple, enshrines a 2nd century BC Shiva linga. The temple continues in worship down to the present day, as shown by the flags flying on its superstructure. In the foreground is a Brahmin, probably associated with the temple, distinguished by his red dhoti and bared torso.