Ellora Caves

There are 34 Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist Ellora Temples and monasteries in this remarkable cliffside location, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For this variety of religions to co-exist side by side is an indication of the religious tolerance that was a hallmark of ancient Indian culture. The setting for the Caves of Ellora is not quite as dramatic or breathtaking as that of the Ajanta Caves, but the sculptures are more beautiful and, in some cases, better preserved. It is possible to do Ellora Caves tours as well as visit Ajanta in the same day, although both are worth more time than that.

The monasteries and Temples at Ellora were carved out of the Ellora Caves in the Charanandri Hills over a period of five hundred years from the sixth to the tenth centuries AD. Coincidentally, work was begun on them about the same time the structures in the Ajanta Caves were abandoned.

The Caves of Ellora are numbered from 1 to 34, and are grouped by age and religion. The twelve (1 to 12) Buddhist caves (also called the Vishvakarma Caves) are the oldest, dated between 500 and 750 AD. Next are the Hindu caves (13 to 29), built from 600 to 870 AD. Shortly after this period, the local rulers changed from Hinduism to Jainism, and the last Jain caves (30 to 34) were built 800 to 1000 AD.

All of the Buddhist Ellora Caves except for cave number 10 are monasteries. They were places for meditation and study, as well as eating and sleeping. Most have a sanctuary and monastic cells or residence halls. Cave number 5 is also called the Maharwada Cave, as it was used by the people of the local Mahar tribes as a shelter during the monsoon. As such, it has a large assembly hall and rows of carved benches. Cave number 6 contains two of the finest carvings in all of the Ellora Caves and temples - one of the goddess Tara and one of Mahamayuri. Cave number 10 (called the Carpenter's Cave) is the only one of the Ellora Temples in the Buddhist group. It is also the most famous and magnificent, with a grand cathedral like hall and a fifteen-foot high statue of the seated Buddha.

Grouped around the famous Kailash Temple, the Hindu Ellora Temples were all carved downward from the surface above the caves, similar to the incredible Christian rock churches in Lalibela in Ethiopia Africa. Many required several generations of planning and execution. Contrasted with the serene and more ascetic Buddhist caves, the Hindu temples are covered in lively, almost exuberant, carvings typical of Hindu temples. You will see magnificently carved friezes and bas reliefs depicting gods, goddesses, ordinary people, and floral and geometric designs. The most notable of the Jain caves is cave number 32, which is a miniature of the Kailash Temple.

The nearest city to the Caves of Ellora is Aurangabad, about 30 miles away where there is an airport. You can book guided tours of both the Ellora Caves and the Ajanta Caves from here. Unless you are an experienced and intrepid traveler, it is probably more efficient to book a vacation package that includes the sites in its itinerary in advance.

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