Maharastra, India. Feb. 2023.

The Ellora Caves, along with the nearby Ajanta Caves, are one of the most important and suggestive archeological Indian sites. They are a multi religious rock – cut caves complex, which became an important spiritual centre for five centuries, with the first inscriptions dated around 550 A.C. They are located 30 km away from the city of Aurangabad, Maharashtra, in the Charanandri Hills.

They really are “A Wonder of The World” among rockcut monuments and monoliths. Especially the Kailash Temple (cave n.16), which is the world’s biggest and stunning monolith temple. In fact, the Ellora Caves became part of UNESCO World Heritage in 1983.These caves, after they have been abandoned around 1235 A.C. and covered by vegetation, have been discovered then in 1819 by Jon Smith, a British official, accidentally hunting a tiger. He noticed, in a big cliff covered by vegetation, a man – made cave entrance, finding then all the other ones and also many artefacts.

Three religions groups created these huge caves temples complex: the Buddhists, Hindus and Jains. At Ellora there are over 100 caves, but only 34 are open to the public. Stunning deep caves, impressive temples, shrines and sculptures have been excavated and intricately carved all out from the volcanic black basalt cliff and nothing has been “built”. The temples and most of the carvings were originally profusely painted. The rock was covered with a lime plaster, which was painted also outdoor, but unfortunately the long erosion didn’t left a lot.

They are aligned next to each other, just above and along the Waghora River, connected by a long carved sidewalk and terraces, looking at a beautiful green landscape. During the monsoon rains the presence of the constant sound of a stream falling water, that comes down from the top of the rocky hill into the river, adds even more energy, life and magic to this beautiful place. Archeologists have found evidences that this area was inhabited already 20,000 years ago.

These 34 caves have been named and numbered, from the n. 1 to the n. 34. The majority of the caves and temples are Hindu. In fact, there are 17 Hindu (n.13 to n.29), 12 Buddhists (n.1 to n.12) and 5 Jains caves (n.30 to n.34).

There are different theories, about which ones were built first, the   Buddhist or the Hindu ones and who really created all them. Because there aren’t so many informations left, for the overlapping of styles and different dynasties and religions in 500 years. Lately, some archeologists are changing opinion, saying that are not the Buddhists, but the Hindu caves to be created first.

However, mainly, the Ellora caves had three important building periods: saying now that the first was an early Hindu period (550 to 600 A.D.), then Buddhist (600 to 730 A.D.) and a later Hindu and a Jain period (730 to 950 A.D.). Maybe Ellora was active until the invasion of the region, by the Delhi Sultanate, around 1235 A.D.

In this half century, Ellora became apparently first an Hindu spiritual and pilgrimage centre, then also Buddhist (or the opposite) and later also Jain. It also was the centre of arts and commerce for its great location. The Hindu caves were generally dedicated mainly to the Lord Shiva, the Buddhist ones to Lord Buddha and the Jains to the 24 Jinas, their spiritual teachers. Also the other Hindu Gods and Goddesses had significant importance and reverence.

This magical and religious place was attracting a regular stream of pilgrims, travellers, foreign visitors, teachers, scholars, many monks and royal personages. Apparently, this was indicating tolerance and solidarity, between these three different coexisting faiths and spiritual philosophies, during this period. Meditation, yoga teachings, peaceful Gods and Goddesses’ messages and mystical tales were the pillars of their philosophies.

It is impossible not to try to imagine the life and interaction of different people of this time. Walking up and down, going in and out from these beautiful curved temples, with incredible facades, along the river.

Many of the Hindu and Buddhist caves are stunning and big and some ones look like cathedrals, with a finish that has the appearance of wooden arched ceiling structures. Their proportions and shape are also designed to create acoustic rock rooms with particular resonance and amplification of the sounds. Their powerful harmonic vibrations, important for meditation and with healing proprieties, were normally used at the time.

Others have deep spaces and rooms with different functions, like for yoga practising, meditation, studies, prayer hall and dormitories. Also there are cooking areas, storages and large dining rooms, to welcome many people. Some temples have more floors with big stairs, decorated balconies, pillars and many big sculptures of Buddha and different Gods and Goddesses, which divide, support and enrich the spaces, with their presence. Carved leaves, plants, trees and many animals are everywhere.

Also meditating monks, Naga Queens, Apsaras, entertainers and musicians were mythical and important figures. Like spiritual guardians, all seem came our from the soul of these rocks, elegantly frozen in the same time, protecting this place since more the one thousand years. Persisting to the time, they continue to be ones of higher messengers of yoga teachings, meditation and different spiritual philosophies.

The Jain temples are not very big, but their architects and sculptors show their skills and elegance, also in the detailed curving art work of the sculptures of the 24 Jinas. Also the painters have decorated beautiful ceilings, with flying figures passing among the clouds. In fact, they are the best example of Jain temples in Maharastra.

The Hindu Kailash Temple monolith (cave n.16) is another example of something so stunning, that it seems so beyond the capabilities of the humans and their technological time. Until today it is the most complex and unique expression of architecture on rock.

It is a multi level temple, with a huge courtyard, freestanding, shrines, a big Shiva lingam, bridges, staircases, big pillars and balconies. There are also underground passages, raining harvesting and draining water systems. It is all decorated by stunning carvings of small and big sculptures everywhere. For its magnificence and beauty, legends say that Kailash Temple was created by the Gods, in few days.

Even now we can’t explain how technically and logistically they removed hundred of thousands of tonnes of rock, from the top of the hill to the bottom. Kailash temple is not only the greatest monolith in the world, but also a masterpiece of ancient Hindu and Indian temple architecture. Some theories say that all this work took around 135 years,,others say only 18 years.

The construction of the Kailash temple has been attributed to the Rashtrakuta Dynasty ( 753 982 A.C.), by the King Krishna I (r. 756 – 774 A.C.) and dedicated mainly to the Lord Shiva. Many archeologists think that it is much more older and it is difficult to establish agreement concerning the chronology of its construction.

The Mughal King Aurangzeb, who destroyed many Hindu temples, also tried to demolish Kailash temple, in 1682 for few years. It was not so easy and he stopped, damaging anyway many paintings and carvings of this stunning achievement of rock – cut monolith temple with many mysteries.