Ellora, near Aurangabad, is the site of stunning Buddhist, Hindu and Jain cave temples, built by artists from the sixth century A.D. till about 1000 A.D.

The masterpiece at Ellora is the astonishing temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is the world’s largest monolithic sculpture, carved out of one single rock cliff by 7000 labourers over a 150 year period. The workers started at the top and gradually cut downward, an amazing feat of architecture with no room for improvisation or error. The temple is called the Kailasha temple, taking its name from Mount Kailash, a Tibetan peak in the Himalaya considered to be a divine axis between heaven and earth, where the Hindus believe Shiva lives.

What to see

  1. Buddhist Caves: These caves were excavated entirely in the Mahayana phase by which time the Buddha was being worshipped in his physical form. They consist mainly of viharas sculpted with images of the Buddha, the bodhisattvas and the pantheon of Buddhist divinities and are embellished with medallions, ornamental scrolls and floral motifs.

  2. Hindu Caves: While a meditative calm pervades the Buddhist caves, divine energy surges through the sculptures in the Hindu caves. Although the presence of Shiva predominates, many other gods and goddesses are depicted here in vivid mythological scenes. The monument that occupies centre-stage at Ellora is undoubtedly, the magnificently carved temple of Kailasa (Cave 16). This is the largest monolithic structure in the world – unrivalled in its engineering skill, magnitude and grandeur. This temple, dedicated to Shiva, has been carved from top to bottom out of a massive rock. There are many friezes and carvings depicting stories from the Hindu epics: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, including the dramatic panel of Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa, the abode of Shiva. Also impressive is Dashavatara (Cave 15), a two-storeyed cave, depicting the ten incarnations of Vishnu and narrative themes related to Shiva. All the sculptures are carved in deep recesses. The natural play of light and shade, enhances the unrestrained vigour and dynamic energy of the divine beings. The earliest excavation here is of Dhumar Lena or Cave 29.

  3. Jain Caves: These are intricately adorned with images of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, the tirthankaras, or saints worshipped by the Jains and are embellished with exquisitely carved foliage and garland motifs. Although only fragments of paintings remain, one can imagine the wealth of imagery and detailing with which these caves must have once been adorned. (Cave Timings , The Ellora Caves are open from 0900 hrs to 0530 hrs. The caves are closed on Mondays and National holidays.

  4. Ghrishneshwar Temple and Ahilyabai Holkar Tank: Just half a kilometre from the Ellora Caves is Ghrishneshwar Temple. It enshrines one of the 12 jyotirlingas dedicated to Shiva. The temple walls are richly sculptured. Both the temple and its masonry tank were built by Queen Ahilyabai Holkar, who ruled Indore from 1765 to 1795.

Getting There

Air: Aurangabad is the gateway to the region, and is generally where you would arrive or depart from. The nearest airport is Aurangabad airport around 10 kms east of the town, and is directly air-linked to Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur and Udaipur.

Rail: Aurangabad is well connected to Mumbai and other cities. There are two trains that depart daily from Mumbai. The Tapovan Express leaves Mumbai early morning arriving in Aurangabad by late afternoon, while the Devgiri Express is an overnight train.

Road: Ajanta is connected by motorable roads with Aurangabad, Jalgaon, Fardapur.

General information