Ellora Caves


. . . the great temple named Aladra [Ellora], where Indians come on pilgrimage from the farthest regions. The temple has an entire city dedicated to its support and it is surrounded                 by thousands of cells where devotees consecrated to the worship of the idol dwell. [i]

                                                    ~al Masudi, of Baghdad upon his visit to the Ellora Caves in 915 C.E.



Ellora, cave 10, teaching Buddha, taken by Arian Zwegers https://www.flickr.com/photos/azwegers/9841499104

The history of the Ellora Caves is complex and involves a number of religions. The carvings and sculptures in the sacred site span from the sixth to tenth centuries CE. Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains created temples, shrines, and monasteries at the Ellora Caves, numbering twelve Buddhist caves, seventeen Hindu caves, and five Jain caves. Researchers believed that those who created the sculptures (the founders of the caves are unknown), and carvings in the cave wished to illustrate the divine and designate a space for veneration.[i] The site is overwhelming in its enormity and complexity and rich in artistry including depictions of Mahavira as well as other sacred religious figures such as the Buddha, Tirthankaras, and Krishna. Sacred animals, such as elephants and bulls, also grace the walls of the temples and shrines.[ii] In the past, the Ellora Caves were used as ascetic living places for Buddhist monks as well as locations for veneration for travelling ascetics as well as other believers that happened upon the caves along the trade route from Paithan to Ujjain which was located near the caves. [iii]


Ellora Cave 16, taken by Travelling Slacker https://www.flickr.com/photos/travellingslacker/14068572553

Presently this site is not used for practice but is a popular tourist attraction for believers as well as international tourists. Another Jain sacred site,  Khajuraho in central India. also serves a tourist location as opposed to hosting present veneration or ascetic living. [iv] These two World Heritage sites, both host activities to connect the history of the site to the present and to exemplify its relevance to the modern world. One example is the Ellora Festival of Classical Dance and Music held every March.

Kuchipudi performer

Kuchipudi performer, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_India

ellora cave 2

Ellora Caves, taken by Mark Robinson https://www.flickr.com/photos/coopersmoon/5674014902

[v] The significance of the Ellora Caves also lay in the form of the artwork in stone. By constructing the temples and shrines in stone, the connections to the past are made concrete and have become permanent aspects of the landscape. [vi] Similar longevity can be found in Mount Abu where a Jain temple is housed within a sacred mountain, a physical feature that could not be worn away with time, claiming its permanence on the landscape. Both the Ellora Caves and Mount Abu also include temples and shrines of other religions besides Jain temples, however, the temple of Mount Abu is still in use for veneration. In addition, all of the Jain sites mentioned are also home to sacred locations for other religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Thus, these sites demonstrate religious tolerance that existed in the early years on the Indian continent and project religious harmony in a physical manifestation to this day. [vii] Ellora Caves, Khajuraho, and Mount Abu are among a network of Jain sacred sites in Western and Central India that link together the sacred Jain landscape in India.


ellora caves 3

Ellora’s Cave 16 Kailasanatha Temple – a feat of human genius, taken by Jorge Láscar https://www.flickr.com/photos/jlascar/4558958916


[i] Geri Hockfield Malandra. Unfolding a Mandala : The Buddhist Cave Temples at Ellora. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993: 3,  eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost(accessed April 20, 2016).

[i] Stanely Wolpert. Encyclopedia of India. s.v. “Ellora Caves.”: Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons: Thomas Gale, 2006: 29, MUSCAT, EBSCOhost(accessed April 18, 2016).

[ii] Sarah Griffiths. “Holy smokes! CANNABIS has preserved ancient Indian artwork in the sacred Ellora Caves for 1,500 years.” Daily Mail(March 11, 2016):1, accessed April 18, 2016.

[iii] Encyclopaedia Britannica. s.v “Ellora Caves.” :Chicago, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2014. http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?sid=6fc87e8f-af11-441e-a359-74302684e139%40sessionmgr4003&vid=1&hid=4202&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#AN=87321967&db=ers (accessed April 18, 2016).

[iv] Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Ellora Caves,” 2014.

[v] Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Ellora Caves,” 2014.

[vi]Malandra, Unfolding a Mandala : The Buddhist Cave Temples at Ellora, 2-4.

[vii] Malandra, Unfolding a Mandala : The Buddhist Cave Temples at Ellora, 2-4.