Over five centuries, generations of monks (Buddhist, Hindu and Jain) carved monasteries, chapels and temples from a 2km-long escarpment and decorated them with a profusion of remarkably detailed sculptures. Because of the escarpment’s gentle slope, in contrast with the sheer drop at Ajanta, many of the caves have elaborate courtyards in front of the main shrines. The masterpiece is the breathtaking Kailasa Temple (Cave 16). Dedicated to Shiva, it is the world’s largest monolithic sculpture, hewn from the rock by 7000 labourers over a 150-year period.
Altogether Ellora has 34 caves: 12 Buddhist (AD 600–800), 17 Hindu (AD 600–900) and five Jain (AD 800–1000). The site represents the renaissance of Hinduism under the Chalukya and Rashtrakuta dynasties, the subsequent decline of Indian Buddhism and a brief resurgence of Jainism under official patronage. The sculptures show the increasing influence of Tantric elements in India’s three great religions and their coexistence at one site indicates a lengthy period of religious tolerance.
Official guides can be hired at the ticket office in front of the Kailasa Temple for Rs 280 for up to four hours. Most relay an extensive knowledge of the cave architecture. Touts offer a selection of pictorial guidebooks. If you only have time to visit either Ellora or Ajanta then make it Ellora.
Ellora destination guides
Mumbai to Delhi
Travel to India and tour from Mumbai to Delhi, taking in the sights, cities and cultures that make this colourful country famous. Explore holy Buddhist caves at Ajanta, admire the mish-mash of Buddhist architectural styles in Sanchi and stroll by the river in chilled Orchha, all the while meeting friendly locals and indulging in spicy delights.