The most incredible Hindu Temple at Ellora is the beautiful Kailash Temple
that is called cave number 16, even though it is not actually in a cave at all.
It is simply located where cave number 16 would be in numerical order with the
other 33 caves. What is astonishing about the temple is that is was carved from
the ground down—beginning at what would have been the surface above the roof
of the cave. This form of rock carving is similar to that used in carving the
beautiful Christian churches at Lalibela in Ethiopia and the underground city
of Cappadocia in Turkey.
The result is a completely free-standing structure, complete with interior rooms,
sanctuaries, and chambers. You will see similar attempts at this within the
Ajanta Caves, but nothing to compare
cave number 16.
The Kailash Temple Ellora is sometimes called the Kailashnath Temple, and was designed to resemble the sacred Mount Kailash located in Tibet, which is said to be the abode of the Lord Shiva. Because of this, the Kailash Temple is dedicated to Shiva and many of the sculptures at Kailash Temple are of this Hindu god. Originally, this structure was coated in a thick layer of white plaster so that it appeared to be covered with snow like the sacred mountain; some traces of this plaster remain today. You will see sculptures and carvings of the Lord Shiva on panels in many of his various forms (such as Nataraja and Dakshinamurti) in every action from paying a game of dice to performing a marriage ceremony.
The architectural feats involved in creating the Kailash Temple Ellora are
staggering. Started by King Krisha I in the eight century, it took generations
and more than 100 years to complete. The end result covers an area twice the
size of the Parthenon on the Acropolis
in Athens, Greece. It is one of the largest
structures in the world, rivaling even the Taj
Mahal in Agra, which, of course, was built in the traditional manner from
the ground up. It rises more than 100 feet high with sculptures at Kailash Temple
everywhere and almost its entire surface covered with intricate carvings.
Even the sculptures at Kailash Temple are carved from the same piece of rock as the rest of the temple. These include huge elephants, pillars and columns, the dominating main gateway, the five shrines in the large courtyard, the three-tiered tower, and even the second and third stories of the temple. Enter the Kailash Temple Ellora through a massive two-story gateway and into a gracious courtyard graced by statues of elephants that seem to be supporting the massive temple, the sacred bull Nandi, and carvings of lions. You will also see a sculpture of the god Ravana trying to lift Mount Kailash, home of the Lord Shiva. Within the courtyard are actually two temples, traditional in Shiva architecture. The first is a temple for sacred Nandi, which is connected to the huge main temple by a rock bridge.
If you want to know when to go to Kailash Temple for special events and festivals, you may want to consider the Ellora Festival of Music and Dance that occurs in December.