In the rocky landscapes of Maharashtra, India, lies a treasure trove of ancient wonders carved deep into the heart of solid rock, the Ellora Caves. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, they attract travelers and history enthusiasts to unravel the mysteries of India’s vibrant cultural heritage.

Map of Location of Ellora Caves | Source: Britannica

Ellora, also known as Verul or Elura, is the abbreviated form of the ancient name Elloorpuram. The older version of this name appears in ancient records like the Baroda inscription of 812 CE, which praises “the greatness of this edifice” and credits Krishnaraja with building “this great edifice on a hill at Elapura,” referring to the Kailasa temple mentioned in the inscription. According to Indian tradition, each cave is named and suffixed with Guha in Sanskrit or Lena/Leni in Marathi, signifying “cave.”

Guide to Ellora Caves | Source: Wikipedia

The site boasts over 100 caves, all carved from the basalt cliffs in the Charanandri Hills. Among them, 34 caves are open to the public. It’s a multi-religious masterpiece. Carved painstakingly over centuries from the face of a basalt cliff, the Ellora complex houses 34 caves dedicated to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, standing side-by-side in harmonious unity.

The Southern Caves (Buddhist Caves)

Dating from 600 BCE to 730 CE, these caves exhibit the profound influence of Buddhism. Experience Buddhism in Caves 1 to 12, where serenity permeates every corner. Cave 10, also known as the Vishvakarma Cave, displays remarkable Buddhist artistry. Inside, the teaching Buddha presides over a sanctuary adorned with intricately carved pillars and celestial beings. The tranquil atmosphere encourages contemplation and reflection.

Vishvakarma Buddhist Cave | Source: Wikipedia

Eleven out of the twelve Buddhist caves are viharas, serving as monastic complexes with prayer halls. These expansive, multi-storeyed structures are intricately carved into the mountain face, offering living quarters, sleeping areas, kitchens, and other facilities. Within these monastery caves, visitors can find shrines adorned with exquisite carvings depicting Gautama Buddha, bodhisattvas, and revered saints.

The Central Caves (Hindu Caves)

Carved between 600-900 CE, this section exemplifies the deep impact of Hinduism. Spanning from Cave 13 to Cave 29, the Hindu caves radiate divine splendor. Among them, Cave 16 stands out as the crown jewel, the Kailasa Temple. Carved entirely from a single rock, this monumental structure pays homage to Lord Shiva and mirrors Mount Kailash, his celestial dwelling. The elaborate carvings and towering gopurams evoke wonder, showcasing the incredible craftsmanship of ancient times.

Stone Pillar – Cave 16 | Source: Wikipedia

Modeled after traditional Hindu temples, it includes a gateway, an assembly hall, a multi-storey main temple encircled by numerous shrines following the square principle, a space for circumambulation, a garbha-grihya (sanctum sanctorum) housing the linga-yoni, and a spire resembling Mount Kailash, all meticulously carved from a single rock.

The Northern Caves (Jain Caves)

Jainism thrived here between 800-1000 CE. The Jain caves, located in Caves 30 to 34, offer insight into the simplicity and spirituality of Jainism. Cave 32, known as the Indra Sabha, stands out with its understated design and graceful sculptures depicting Jain Tirthankaras. Amidst the lively atmosphere of the Ellora complex, these caves offer a peaceful sanctuary for contemplation.

Shikhar of Indra Sabha | Source: Wikipedia

Like many caves in Ellora, this temple is adorned with numerous carvings, including intricate depictions of lotus flowers on the ceiling. On the upper level of the shrine, excavated at the rear of the courtyard, stands an image of Ambika, the yakshini of Neminath, seated on her lion under a mango tree laden with fruit. At the center of the shrine lies Sarvatobhadra, where four Tirthankaras of Jainism, Rishabhanatha, Neminatha, Parsvanatha, and Mahavira are aligned to the cardinal directions, providing a sacred space for devotees to worship.

Indra Sabha | Source: Wikipedia

While the Ellora Caves have weathered the ravages of time, they remain vulnerable to natural decay and human encroachment. Conservation efforts led by archaeological authorities aim to safeguard these cultural treasures for future generations. Through meticulous restoration and sustainable tourism practices, the legacy of Ellora continues to endure.

India 20 Rupees Banknote | 2022 | Obverse | Source: Banknote World

Banknote Featuring the Ellora Caves

The Ellora Caves, notably Cave 16, the Kailasa Temple, were showcased on the Indian 20 Rupees banknote issued by the Reserve Bank of India in 2022. Alongside the revered figure of Mahatma Gandhi and the iconic lion capital of the Ashoka pillar on the obverse side, the reverse side of the banknote proudly presents the captivating view of the majestic Ellora Caves, Swachh Bharat logo and a language panel.

India 20 Rupees Banknote | 2022 | Reverse | Source: Banknote World

By featuring Ellora Caves on its currency, India honors the cultural legacy of this ancient site and invites people from around the world to appreciate the beauty and historical importance of one of its most treasured landmarks.

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