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Central India, Part 8: Ellora


When we put our plan for this trip together, we made sure that we would have a full day available to visit Ellora, another of Maharashtra's UNESCO World Heritage sites. It lies much closer to Aurangabad than Ajanta, meaning that we did not have to rush our breakfast to get there at a reasonable time.

As with Ajanta, references to Ellora often use the name in conjunction with the epithet 'caves' to provide a synopsis of what there is to see. However, the jewel in Ellora's crown cannot really be described as a cave. It is the huge Kailasanatha Temple, covering an area twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens and with a height which exceeds that of the latter by around 50%. Its front is shown in the photo at the top.

The temple is absolutely stunning and I make no apologies for devoting around half of this piece solely to it. It is often referred to as the Kailas(h)a Temple for short and was commissioned by a Rashtrakuta king in the 8th century. The entire complex is a monolithic structure that has been cut from the rocks of the cliff face. In order to create it the builders chiselled through some 85,000 cubic metres of rock, apparently starting at the top and working their way down. It is estimated that the material removed in the process weighed around 200,000 tonnes.

Some of the best views of the temple can be had from the edges of the cliffs around it. The next two photos were taken from the cliffs on the right-hand-side. The one after that depicts the view from the hillside at the back.



IMAGE8_3The photos show the immense scale of the structure and provide an idea of the enormous effort that must have gone into creating it. All three shots were taken in the morning soon after we arrived at the site. We returned a few hours later to take more photos with the sun more or less directly overhead. Here is one of them:


Facing the entrance of the temple is this panel showing the goddess Lakshmi seemingly being bathed by elephants.


When you wander around the courtyard it can be difficult to believe that objects such as these 17m high obelisks were cut from the surrounding rock, rather than being erected here.



The same sense of amazement overcomes you when you look at the intricate decorations of the facades – here at the central part of the temple.


Almost hidden from view are these ornate pavilions at the back of the complex.


 Richly decorated arcades surround much of the courtyard.



We had expected the Kailasa Temple to be a highlight of our trip and that certainly proved to be the case. However, there is a lot more to see at Ellora. There are over a hundred caves here, of which 34 can be viewed. These can be divided by religion into Buddhist (nos. 1-12), Hindu (nos. 13-29), and Jain (nos. 30-34) monuments. (In this numbering system the Kailasa Temple is no. 16.) The Buddhist caves are the oldest, with the earliest dating from the 7th century, and the Jain caves are the most recent, having been created in the 9th century. The Hindu caves fall into the period in between. The different times of construction are also reflected in the geographical position of the caves, with the Hindu monuments at the centre of the site, flanked by the Buddhist ones to the south and the Jain caves to the north.

The total distance from north to south is over 2km and, having been on our feet for several hours already, we were pleased to find that there is a bus which transports you to some of the outlying parts of the site. We started our further explorations in the north. The following three photos show examples of Jain caves.




Walking south, or taking the bus again, you get to the first Hindu caves. Below are three photos taken inside them – some of the caves were very large.




Several of the Buddhist caves were built as monasteries, some of them three stories high, as the next photo shows.


Cave 10 is known as the Vishvakarma Cave (also referred to as the 'Carpenter's Cave') and was probably the most impressive one in this part of the site. The two final photos depict different parts of this cave.



The cathedral-like cavern in the last picture reminded us of some of the prayer halls we had seen at Ajanta a day earlier.

The previous pieces in this series ended with a 'to be continued' line. As this is the last instalment, there is no such reference. Our 16-day trip effectively ended at Aurangabad, from where we took a flight to Mumbai and then onwards home to the UK.



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