Ellora caves located near Aurangabad in Maharashtra were initially built by the Rashtrkutas. The caves belonging to the 6th to 10th century AD represent the epitome of the Indian Rock Cut architecture and are one of the World Heritage sites. The Buddhist, Brahmanical and Jaina caves of Ellora were made on the trade route from nearby Paithan to Ujjain in central India. There are 34 caves carved out of the Charanandri hills. Out of them, 12 are Buddhist Caves, 17 Hindu Caves and 5 Jaina Caves. Oldest caves are Hindu Caves.
The caves of the three faiths were made in overlapping periods, and as everywhere in ancient India, this demonstrates the generous attitude of rulers towards the worship of all divinities.
The Carpenter’s Cave / Vishvakarma Cave at Ellora
All except one of the Buddhist Caves at Ellora are Viharas. The sculptures include those of the Gautama Buddha, bodhisattvas and saints. In many of these caves, sculptors have endeavoured to give the stone the look of wood. The Cave number 10 also known as Vishwakarma Cave is the only chaitya.
Cave 10 or the Vishvakarma cave or Carpenter’s Cave is the most famous Buddhist Cave at Ellora. This cave has a pillared verandah whose columns have massive squarish shafts and ghata-pallava (vase and foliage) capitals. The main hall is apsidal on plan and is divided into a central nave and side aisles by 28 octagonal columns with plain bracket capitals. In the apsidal end of the chaitya hall is a stupa on the face of which a colossal 3.30 m high seated Buddha in vyakhyana mudra (teaching posture) is carved. The ceilings of this Chaitya hall has been sculpted in such a way that it appears having wooden ribs.
Kailasnath Temple, Ellora
The grand climax of rock-cut architecture in India was the making of Kailashnath Temple at Ellora. It is a vast multi-storey structure, carved inside and outside, made out of the heart of a rock. This temple is a remarkable example of the Dravidian architecture with Pallava influence. It was designed to recall Mount Kailas and was carved out of one single rock. It was built in the 8th century by the Rashtrakuta king Krishna I.
The Kailashnath Temple has been carved via the vertical excavation in which the carvers started at the top of the original rock, and excavated downward. The temple has been adorned with pillars, windows, inner and outer rooms, gathering halls, and an enormous stone lingam at its heart. The sculptures include the niches, plasters, windows as well as images of deities, mithunas and other figures. The deities belong to both the Shaivite as well as Vaishanv faith. The grand sculpture of Ravana attempting to lift Mount Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva, with his full might is a landmark in Indian art.
Indra Sabha (Jaina)
The five Jain caves at Ellora belong to the Digambara sect. These caves show dimensions of Jain philosophy and tradition and reflect a strict sense of asceticism. They are known for detailed work in sculpture. The notable Jaina caves are Chhota Kailash, Indra Sabha and Jagannath Sabha. Out of them, the Indra Sabha is a two storeyed cave with one more monolithic shrine in its court. It has a very fine carving of the lotus flower on the ceiling. Its name is a misnomer and derives from the sculpture of a Yaksha Matanga on the elephant, which was mistaken for Indra. It possesses an imposing image of Ambika, the yakshini of Neminath, seated on her lion under a mango tree, laden with fruits.