One of the most fascinating archaeological sites in Maharashtra, Ellora dates back to about 1,500 years ago, and is the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. The 34 caves are actually Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religious monuments carved in the rock. They were given the status of World heritage Site in 1983.
Created between the 6th and 10th century, the 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu and 5 Jain caves carved in proximity at Ellora are proof of the religious harmony prevalent during this period of Indian history.
All the Buddhist caves were carved in the period 6th – 7th centuries CE. These structures consist mostly of ‘viharas’ or monasteries. Some of these monastery caves have shrines including carvings of Gautama Buddha and ‘bodhisattvas’.
Of these, Cave 5 is one of the most important and unique caves in India and can be dated to mid-6th century CE. It consists of a long hall with two benches running for over 18 meters in the centre. This cave was most probably used for group recitation of various Buddhist sutras. Further, Cave 10 is popularly known as Vishvakarma’s (the architect of gods) cave because of its intricate carvings. There is a huge Buddha image placed in front of the ‘stupa’ covering the base and the drum part of the stupa.One of the unique features of this cave is its rock-cut balcony.
The other two important caves are 11 and 12, known as Don Taal and Teen Taal respectively. Both are three-storied and serve as prime examples of esoteric monastic Buddhist architecture.
These caves were excavated during the rule of the Kalachuri, Chalukya and Rashtrakuta rulers. Of these, Caves 14, 15, 16, 21 and 29 are not to be missed caves. Cave 14 consists of the sculptural panels of numerous Hindu deities. Cave 15 can be reached after climbing a few steps. This cave has numerous noteworthy sculptures carved on the interior walls which still have some traces of plaster left suggesting the paintings on the sculptures. Cave 16, also known as the Kailasa is the unrivalled centre piece of Ellora. It looks like a multi-storied temple complex, but it was carved out of one single rock. The courtyard has two life size statues of elephants and two tall victory pillars. There are columned galleries decorated with huge sculpted panels of a variety of deities in the side walls. There are a few beautiful traces of paintings in the porch of the hall on the upper storey.
The Rameshwar cave i.e. Cave 21 is famous for some of the most beautiful sculptures at Ellora. On either side of the cave are images of Ganga and Yamuna. Locally known as Sita ki Nahani the Cave 29 is also unique in plan and elevation. Resembling the great cave at Elephanta in plan this cave also has some of the impressive sculptures at the site.
These caves are clustered in five excavations and numbered 30 to 34. Apart from these, there are six more Jaina caves on the opposite face of this hill. All of these caves belong to the Digambara sect of Jainism. One caves worth a visit includes Cave 32 or Indra Sabha. The lower storey of this cave lies unfinished, while the upper storey is one of the largest and most elaborate caves with beautiful pillars, large sculptural panels and paintings on its ceiling.
Of all the caves at Ellora, the Jaina caves have the largest number of paintings still extant on ceilings and side walls.
Things to Do
Stay in Aurangabad
While you may visit the Ajanta and Ellora caves, it is always good to stay at Aurangabad, known as the City of Gates. Named after Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the city has now been declared as the ‘Tourism Capital of Maharashtra’. The fifth largest city in Maharashtra, it has several entertaining options for tourists including caves in the city itself as also the Daulatabad Fort.
Study Mughal Architecture
To get an understanding of how and why Mughal architecture was so very different, plan a visit to Bibi Ka Maqbara, situated about 3 kilometers from the city. This is the burial place of Emperor Aurangzeb’s wife, Dilras Banu Begum, also known as Rabia-ud-Daurani. It is an imitation of the Taj Mahal at Agra and due to its similar design, it is popularly known as the ‘Taj of the Deccan’. The ‘maqbara’ stands in the middle of a spacious and formally planned Mughal garden with axial ponds, fountains, water channels, broad pathways and pavilions. Behind the mausoleum is located a small archaeological museum.
See the Water Dance
Panchakki, meaning a water mill, is located about 1 kilometer from the city, and is a 17th century creation that intrigues for its underground water channel, which traverses more than 8 kilometers to its source in the mountains. The channel culminates in a mesmerising artificial waterfall that powers the mill. The beauty of the mosque housed in the inner enclosure is enhanced by a series of dancing water fountains.
Be With the Birds
If you like nature at its best, and particularly birds, go to the Salim Ali Sarovar, popularly known as Salim Ali Talab, which is located near Delhi Gate, opposite Himayat Bagh in Aurangabad. During the Mughal period it was known as Khiziri Talab. It has been renamed after the great ornithologist and naturalist Salim Ali and has a bird sanctuary and a garden.
Savour Local Cuisine
When in Aurangabad, don’t forget to taste the local delicacy called the ‘Naan Qalia’ a meat dish cooked in special herbs and spices.
How to reach:
The nearest airport is Aurangabad which has daily flights to major Indian cities.
Aurangabad railway station is well connected to most cities.The Aurangabad Jan Shatabdi Express is a daily fast train to Mumbai.
Ellora is about 30 km from Aurangabad. Buses, rickshaws and taxis ply regularly between the two.
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