This guidebook is part of the World Heritage Series published by the Archaeological Survey of
Representing the three major religions of India, the ancient caves of Ellora are,
in scale and detail, a breathtaking example of rock-cut architecture that stand testimony to
the imagination and artistry of its creators. Located about 29 kms to the north-west of
Aurangabad and about 100 kms from Ajanta, Ellora lies on an ancient trade route or the
dakshinapatha, and thus has always remained in the public eye.
The Buddhist Caves differ from the Ajanta caves in their subject, arrangement and details. The
Visvakarma cave (No.10), famous for its elaborate façade, is one of the finest examples of a
Among the Brahmanical Caves, one is overwhelmed by the magnificent proportion and stupendous
workmanship of the Kailasa (Cave 16), regarded as one of the greatest monolithic sculptures in
Of the five Jaina caves, the Indra Sabha and Jagannath Sabha stand out as imposing and
The caves, declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1983, are of abiding interest both to the
tourist and the connoisseur of architecture and sculpture.
Qutb Minar & adjoining monuments Humayun's Tomb & Adjacent monuments
B R Mani, Arundhati Banerji, Hoshiar Singh of ASI, New Delhi K. Veerabhadra Rao, R. Krishnaiah
of Aurangabad circle, ASI.
Good Earth Publications Team
Edited by: Swati Mitra, Anupriya Roy designed by: Deepankar Bhattacharyya
The rock-cut shrines of Ellora in Maharashtra are magnificent artistic creations, carved
between the fifth and the thirteenth century. These caves with diverse details and minute
carvings, representing three different faiths, Buddhist, Brahmanical and Jaina, are superb
examples of Indian art. The Buddhist caves which ae profusely ornamented, carved on a
large-scale, differ from the Ajanta Caves in their arrangements, subjects and details. Buddha
is always shown here with six, eight or ten Bodhisattvas. The Visvakarma cave (No.10) is the
great Chitya Temple, famous for its fine façade and large open courtyard, surrounded by a
corridor. Among the Brahmanical Caves, Kailasa (Cave 16) is remarkable for striking
proportion, elaborate workmanship, architectural content besides rich sculptural
ornamentation. It is by far the most elaborate and extensive rock-temple. Of the five Jaina
Caves, Indra and Jagannath Sabhas are massive, rich and extensive in execution.
Despite the abundant architectural and artistic wealth of Ellora, it is not possible to
precisely date the history of the region, not is it easy to assign monuments, except a few, to
any particular century. This is primarily due to lack of dateable evidence. Inscriptions have
been found in caves 15, 21 and 31, and these have given scholars some leads.
The inscriptions of cave 31 do not give any date, but from their palaeography, they may be
dated to ninth-tenth century. The inscribed Parsvanatha image on the scarp of the hill above
the Jaina caves was installed by a nobleman in 1234.
Cane 15 has an illegible inscription of the time of the Rashtrakuta king, Dantidurga (about AD
733-57) and a copper-plate grant of the sme king was obtained from her. However, these do not
give any information about the monuments of the region. Historically these monuments are
attributed to Krishna I (about AD 757-73). But adjuncts of this temple-complex, such as the
shrines of Lankesvara and the Nadidevatas, may be dated to a slightly later period.
The inscriptions on the pedestal of the bracket-figures in cave 21 are in old Kannada
characters of about sixth-seventh centuries and afford indirect evidence for the history of
the region under the early Chalukyas of Badami.
It is rather curious that not a shred of evidence exists for the history of the Buddhist
monuments in the absence of royal patronage after the eclipse of the Vakatakas. Those
responsible for the Buddhist excavations were perhaps commoners or small traders who left no
record of their donations. A pillar in cave 10 has a short inscription, but it is of little
use in dating the monument. The inscription in the balcony of cave 10 is the 'only inscription
at all of an early date found among the Buddha caves here'. According to J. Burgess (Report on
the Elura cave Temples, Archaeological survey of western India, V) it is ascribable to
eighth-ninth century. This proves that the Buddhist were active in the region long after the
cave was actually excavated. The style of architecture, sculpture and the stages of
development of iconography provide clues to the approximate date of the monuments.
The tentative chronology of the monuments of Ellora given below is based on such a study. An
overview of their general layout shows that a majority of the caves are located in separate
and concentrated groups such as caves 1 to 12, 14 and 15, 16 to 19, 20 to 24, 25 to 28, 32 to
34 and the group of caves upstream from Sita ki nahani. There are large individual monuments,
for instance, caves 16 and 29.
Of the twelve Buddhist excavations, Caves 1 to 10 form a definite group. Even here, caves 1 to
3 and 5 are simple and may be said to be from an earlier period. From the style of the
dvarapalas and the pillars, Caves 2 and 3 appear to belong to sixth century AD, while caves 1
and 5 may have been built somewhat earlier. Cave 4 and caves 6 to 10 may be assigned to the
sixth-seventh century, although cave 9 may be of a somewhat later date. Cave 10 displays
distinctly post-Gupta architectural designs and sculptural details, and probably the only
novel iconographic features to be see in Ellora.
The Brahmanical excavations may be divided into a number of sub-groups. Cave 12 and those
situated nearby belong to sixth-seventh century as is evident from inscriptions on the bases
of the bracket-figures of cave 12 and the style of its façade and pillars. Caves 14, 17 to 19,
25 to 27 and 29 may belong to seventh century. The style of the pillars and sculptures of 29
seem to anticipate those of the Elephant caves. Cave 15 was excavated after caves 11 and 12.
On the basis of the seated Buddha-like figures carved on a frieze above the first row of
pillars of the second storey, it is said that cave 15 was originally intended to be a Buddhist
excavation, but was subsequently appropriated by the Brahmanists. An inscription dating to the
reign of the Rashtrakuta king, Dantidurga, and the style of sculpture of this cave are
sufficient proof to date the major part of the work of the cave to the early half of eighth
Cave 16 displays architectural features belonging to two or three phases. While the main
temple belongs to the middle of eighth century, the Nadidevata shrine, the Lankesvara and the
gallery of icons in the rear may be assigned to-eighth-ninth century.
Cave 30 is perhaps the earliest of the Jaina caves and may be dated to the first half of ninth
century cave 32 seems to be either contemporaneous with or slightly later than cave 30. Cave
33 closely follows cave 32 and may be dated to ninth-tenth century. The other minor
excavations of this group belong to a much later period.
Ellora, also called Verul and Elura ia the corrupted form of the ancient name Elapura. The
group of canes at Ellora, in Maharashtra which include 'a few largest, most varied and finest
examples of the three religions- Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, is of absorbing interest both
to the student and the connoisseur of architecture, sculpture and painting. The wealth of
sculptures here is both of aesthetic interest as well as of iconographic importance. It was
probably the incredible scenic beauty of the place which induced the Jainas of ancient times
to name the hill on which the caves are excavated as Charanadri, that is, the hill of
Charanas, the denizens of celestial regions.
Ellora is about 29 kms to the north-west of Aurangabad on the Manmad-Kacheguda section of the
central Railway and can be reached by a good motorable road from there. It is about 5 kms from
Khuldabad. The world famous Buddhist caves of Ajanta are 105 kms from Aurangabad. There is a
regular bus-service between Aurangabad and Ellora and taxis are easily available from
Aurangabad for journeys to and fro. Visitors to the monuments can stay in the guest house and
Travellers' Bungalow at Khuldabad and in the Travellers' Bungalow at Ellora village.
Accommodation has to be reserved by previous application to the collector, Local engineer or
executive engineer, public works department, Aurangabad. Visitors can also stay at the guest
house by previous arrangement with the keeper of the guest house. It is advised that visitors
carry torches for examining the sculptures and paintings in the dark interior of the
Photographs of the caves and sculptures can be obtained from the superintending Archaeologist,
Archaeological survey of India, Aurangabad circle. Aurangabad or from the director general of
Archaeology in India, Janpath Road, New Delhi-110011. Picture postcards of select items of
caves are available in the booking office near cave 16.
The caves of Ellora run approximately in the north-south direction for almost 2 kms. At the
southern end are twelve Buddhist caves while in the north are six Jaina caves. In between lie
seventeen Brahmanical caves. Apart from these there are the unnumbered caves of the
Ganesa-lena group and the Jagesvari group, several of which have local names. The caves are
described in an order commencing with the Buddhist caves at the southern end. Visitors who
cannot see all the monuments should see at least Caves 6, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 21, 29, 30,
30A, 31, 32, 33, 34 and the Siva-Ghrishnesvara temple in the village. The present structure of
the temple of Siva-Ghrishnesvara was built in the late seventeenth century by Ahilyabai
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