The sleeper bus dropped us off at Baba Petrol Pump, a bus stop in Aurangabad at 7.15 AM. It was an eight hours long journey but we were not complaining! For both of us it was our first tryst with a ‘sleeper bus’ and the ‘luxury service’ received in reality exceeded our expectation.
Blessed by Amazon.in, we had received a couple of Yatra.com discount vouchers. Using those we booked ourselves a decent hotel in Aurangabad, but, the location turned out to be quite a distance away from both the MSRTC bus stand and the Aurangabad Railway Station.
Enroute to our hotel, the auto-driver tried his best to convince us that we couldn’t survive an Aurangabad trip solely on public transport. Our fragile muscles would be overwhelmed with fatigue if we take the local bus. So we must consider his proposal of hiring him and the AC vehicle proposed by him for the trip to Ellora and the other attractions around Aurangabad.
Thank God we had clearly chalked out a plan and done proper research way before we left our home in Mumbai. There was no dearth of touts in the city.
REACHING ELLORA CAVES FROM AURANGABAD
Dumping our luggage in the hotel room in Osmanpura, we left for the Great Ellora exploration at 8.30 AM. We took an auto from Osmanpura which dropped us off at Aurangabad MSRTC bus stand for INR 60. On reaching the bus stand, we were welcomed by ambitious touts yelling “Pune Pune”, “Nasik Nasik”, almost running after us in hopes of transporting us to places we did not intend to go.
The overzealousness of the tribe can easily scare and confuse a solo female traveller or any foreigner.
The bus stand was dirty and chaotic. We ran like a headless chicken asking officials at every freaking counter the whereabouts of local buses which crosses the way to Ellora caves. The responses did nothing to reduce our confusion as each person we asked provided a different answer! Its bus number 4, replied one, whereas the other pointed us to the plush AC tourist bus even when we insisted we were not interested in it.
Numerous red coloured gigantic state buses stood on either side of the shady bus stand. Some were empty whereas others were getting filled up gradually. Since the responses we got from the counter did not help us, we approached a driver seated in the bus and asked him directly if the bus can drop us to Ellora caves. He answered in the affirmative and we hopped in.
Autos: Autos can be hired for a daytrip to Ellora caves, Daulatabad Fort, Khuladabad (Aurangzeb’s Tomb). They charge somewhere around INR 700 for the daytrip. They try to fit in as many places possible in a single day. Almost all auto drivers try to sell their ‘sightseeing tour’ services to everyone they meet and are pretty persuasive. Autos are found extensively in the city and they can be hired from any point, any street. Don’t worry– the auto-drivers would find you before you find them!
Private Car+driver: I have no personal experience in this but I believe they can be arranged via the reception desk of your accommodation (just like it works in the rest of India).
Tourist Bus: There are clean, AC tourist buses leaving Aurangabad MSRTC bus stand for Ellora caves. These buses try to fit in some other spots like Daulatabad Fort and Bibi-ka-Maqbara in a daytrip and they are supposed to provide 1 guide for the entire lot.
Local Buses: There are several buses which leave Aurangabad bus stand and travel to other cities. Most of these buses travel via the Ellora Caves route. The charge is INR 39 per seat from Aurangabad bus stand to Ellora caves. The buses are unclean but punctual. Tourists generally avoid these so it’s a good way of observing local lives. We took the Chalisgaon bound bus. It took 45 minutes to reach the Ellora Caves.
The local bus journey to Ellora
When we boarded the bus at 9 AM, only the centrally positioned seats in the last row were vacant. To our left sat a mother and child to our right were two young lads. I tried to chat with the mother-daughter duo but language was a barrier. In between their Marathi and my Hindi information got lost somewhere!
A while later, the ladies boarded off and an elderly man filled in the vacancy. He communicated to us the bus was “Chalisgaon” bound. In the meantime, the co-passengers to our right joined in the conversation. The ones sitting in the front seat: an old lady and some middle aged men joined the party too. We were ‘the tourists’ and they were the locals. Some of them spoke proper Hindi and played guide as the bus crossed the Daulatabad fort and Khuladabad. It was clear that tourists don’t travel in local bus often and the lovely locals were quite excited to help us know their place better.
By the time the Ellora Caves stoppage was reached, half of the passengers had joined in our conversation and the ladies were already giving us a goodbye smile!
And we travel by local transport for moments like this!
Fell for a tout trap
An auto driver took us from the point where the bus dropped us to the gates of Ellora caves for INR 10 each. It was just 5 minutes walking distance and we had Google maps with us, so I honestly have no idea why we took the auto. Probably we didn’t want to walk along a highway and we were too desperate to reach the caves early in order to avoid a sea of heads.
Food near Ellora
We were almost starving ourselves and thriving on biscuits since the morning in an attempt to beat the crowds. We arrived at around 9.45 AM and saw a few shacks around the gates of the Ellora cave complex. Most of them were selling food and others were selling items like selfie sticks, balloons, toys etc. Yawning locals were pulling up the shutters. This gave us some relief: people don’t arrive here this early.
The foods available at these counters were pavbhaji, poha, misaalpav, idli, vadapav, samosa pav and sometimes puri-bhaji. Most of these are typical Maharashtrian food. I (Tania) am a very slow eater and wasting precious time eating my favourite food can cost us our exclusive chance of viewing the caves crowd-free. So I chose the type of food which I can have while on the go. Though our bong hearts yearned for puri-bhaji (a.k.a luchi-torkari) the husband settled for vadapavs and I got some samosa pavs for myself.
Practical Information And Some Word Of Advice
Please note all these counters are on the road outside the cave complex and they are not hygienic. Inside the cave complex you may occasionally come across a fruit seller or mineral water bottle seller, but they are rare. So fill your tummy before entering the gates or carry dry foods like us. Also stock up sufficient water. Find a bin to drop the wastes; if you fail to find the bin keep the wrappers in your pocket or bags.
Treat the caves the way you would like your home to be treated by guests: DO NOT LITTER.
Do not litter. Do not litter. Do not litter.
ELLORA CAVES – GET READY TO TIME TRAVEL
Location: Maharashtra, India
Status: UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ticket: INR 30 for Indians. Extra charge if you want to carry video cameras.
Time: 9 AM- 5.30 PM
Closed on Tuesday.
Basic bathroom facility is available in front of cave 16 (entrance).
Important Caves- 10,11,12,14,15,16,21,29,30,32,33
The History And Geography
The Ellora caves are an example of what mankind can do with a hammer and chisel. They comprise of 34 caves in total, stretching for 2 kilometres in North-South direction along the slopes of the Sahayadri mountains. The caves were hewn out of the basalt rocks which are popularly known in this region as the ‘Deccan Trap’. These types of rocks formed by lava flow are generally ideal for sculpting since, they are soft during exhumation but exposure to environment hardens them up.
The noteworthy fact about the Ellora Caves is that they house caves which served as both living quarters and shrines of three religions- Buddhism, Hunduism and Jainism. The co-existence of all the caves side by side reflects religious tolerance of a bygone era. Unfortunately, these exquisitely built caves lack proper evidence in form of inscription, so the history of the caves is fuzzy.
Buddhist Caves: Cave 1 – Cave 12 (600 – 800 AD)
Hindu Caves: Cave 13 – Cave 29 (600 – 900 AD)
Jain Caves: Cave 30 – Cave 34 (800 – 1000 AD)
The Kalachuris of Mahishmati and the Chalukyas of Badamis are considered to have had an active role in establishing the cave temples 1 – 10 and 21. The construction of cave 11, 12 and all the Hindu caves excepting cave 21 is attributed to the Rashtrakutas. The only inscription was found in cave 15 which related these caves to Rashtrakuta Dantidurga. The Jain cave temples are considered to be the newest by observing the change in style and by deciphering whatever little inscription was found in them. The Yadavas of Deogiri, who are popular for providing patronage to Jainism might have planned and funded the Jain cave temples construction.
There is a lot of debate among the history experts regarding the accuracy of this information and chronology of cave construction.
Aesthetics – Sculpture and Architecture
To call the Ellora caves ‘caves’ will be an utter insult to the brilliant artistry of ancient India. It is unimaginable how such intricate designs were chiselled out of mere rocks. We were fascinated that sculptures with minute details depicting stories from the Jatakas and religious scriptures on the walls of the cave temples stand strong even to this day. Climate change, weathering, exposure to a crowd of people — nothing could take their glory away.
Imagine a rock carved in such a way so as to build a three-storeyed building. What marvel of an architect could have planned and executed that so flawlessly without access to modern technology!
The Mapping Of The Caves & Transportation
The entry point to the cave premises is in front of cave 16, the Kailasha cave, the most popular and awe-inspiring one. The road to the right (with respect to a person standing facing cave 16) takes you to caves 1-15 and the road to the left, to caves 17-28.
In order to go to cave 29-34, we had to return back to the entry point of cave 16 and take a bus from there. In about 5 minutes we reached a bifurcation point. One route from this point leads to cave 29 which must be covered on foot, and the other to cave 30-34. The bus continued rolling on the route to cave 30-34.
While returning from cave 30-34, the same bus dropped us off at the intersection point to reach cave 29.
On our way back from cave 29, we waited for the next bus from cave 30-34 to stop at the intersection and take us back to the gates of Ellora caves.
How this bus works?
There is no bus to visit caves 1- 28 and these are only accessible on foot. Caves 29-34 are about one kilometre away from cave 16, though it is a walking distance for some, many will prefer the luxury of the bus to save energy and time.
One bus continually plies in this route making to and fro trips from the gates to cave 30-34 premises. The tickets can be obtained from the person sitting with a table opposite to cave 16, almost adjacent to the garden railings. It takes around INR 22 for a to and fro trip including a break for cave 29.
The bus generally waits at cave 30-34 premises for sometimes before starting the return trip. One can get down at the intersection point and walk up to cave 29, then come all the way back to the intersection point to catch a return bus back to the gates.
We studied the map at the broad gate of Ellora caves and moved forward.
The entry ticket was INR 30 for adult Indians. We were allowed to carry our DSLR camera inside free of cost. However additional money needs to be paid in order to carry movie camera and shoot in the Ellora Cave premises. We found some people offering guide services in front of the ticket counter.
We did not hire a guide but we got ourselves a guidebook for INR 60 from a seller selling them right under the shade of a tree in front of Kailash cave(cave no.16), the cave which is adjacent to the gates.
We were happy to find very few visitors. So our marathon race to reach the caves early finally paid off.
The Buddhist Caves
These caves are categorised into viharas and chaityas. Viharas are the place where the Buddhist monks lived, worshipped and did daily chores whereas chaityas are assembly halls.
The directions to the caves are well marked with white ink on the broad streets of the Ellora caves complex. We turned to the right (south) of cave 16 and followed the markings until we reached cave 1. Cave 1 can be considered as the southern terminal end of the entire cave complex. To reach it, one has to cross all caves 1-16 in the reverse order.
As we read in the guidebooks, cave 1, was not an impressive one. It was the simplest and smallest vihara; some guidebooks say it may have served as a granary.
There are 8 cells in this cave, 4 on the rear wall and 4 on the right wall.
And an incomplete cell adjacent to the right wall outside the cave.
The facade of the cave is unimpressive but there are some interesting holes on the left wall of the cave. It is believed these holes were made on a much later date and they were used to tie ropes by slipping a rope in through one hole and taking it out through another!
Cave 2 is adjacent to cave 1. The doorway is guarded by two massive Bodhisattvas.
Inside the cave we found a hypostyle wall flanked by twelve pillars.
The cushioned pillars have carvings belonging to Buddhist pantheons.
We found this awesome embellishment on the inside walls of the right window. It represents the seated Buddha.
The central shrine consists of Lord Buddha seated on a lion throne in Bhadrasana pose.
The tale of how Lord Buddha created trees by just planting a toothpick in the ground or how he created the jewel lake are famously known as the Miracles of Shravasti. In this cave we found Miracles of Shravasti finely chiselled on the volcanic rocks.
On the walls of the cave we found giant sculptures of seated Lord Buddha surrounded by flying dwarfs and Bodhisattvas.
Here we see an incomplete sculpture of Buddha.
Not much literature exists about this cave. We did not photograph it as it seemed really tiny, dark and nothing fancy or different about it. The sculptures inside the cave were mostly incomplete. Figures from Miracles of Shravasti, Bodhisattvas and seated Buddha were the common sculptures here.
Cave 4 is unfinished and not well maintained. It is almost in ruins and it looked like a part of it had already collapsed. We did not venture in as there were signs of maintenance work under progress.
This is one unique cave in Ellora and the largest vihara. What make it unique are the parallel running end to end low rock-cut benches.
The consensus is that cave 5 was used as an assembly hall for dining purpose or for carrying out regular religious practices. We have been to the Buddhist monasteries in Himalayas a ton of times and I have seen monks practice religious rituals exactly in the same settings as I found carved out here!
The main shrine has a seated Buddha with Bodhisattvas on both his sides and flying figures around him. Due to the darkness, we were unable to take a close picture of the main shrine.
I will be honest here; cave no.6-9 had us all confused. It was very difficult to map which is what. To make the situation worse, the construction is such that one cave lead to the path of another.
I have tried my best to be as accurate as I can, but forgive me if I go wrong somewhere!
This was the entrance to cave 6.
The seated Buddha with Bodhisattvas on his either sides is found in the main shrine.
The sculpture of Tara (in the picture) and Mahamayuri is what sets this cave apart. Mahamayuri is a Goddess of learning, though I felt it is Tara who strikes a remarkable resemblance with the Hindu Goddess of learning – Saraswati.
In the guidebooks cave 7 is mentioned as a passage to cave 8. We mistakenly thought of it as a passage to cave 9. The cave is mostly unadorned but it may have a couple of unfinished sculptures of Tara and Mahamayuri (which we missed noticing).
Now what I have gathered is that cave 8 is the downstairs of cave 7 in the present day Ellora caves. Its sanctum is detached from the rear wall to make way for a circumambulatory passage encircling the shrine.
The inside of cave 8 is dark; the circumambulatory passage is pitch dark. There are cells attached to the two walls.
The upper facade of cave 9 has elaborate carvings of the seated Buddha and various other significant characters in Buddhism. Our eyes were overwhelmed with all the detailed carvings.
In the shrine beyond the cushioned columns was the usual seated Buddha. On the nearby walls were eloquent carvings of female attendants. The picture I took came very bad, even though there was sufficient light. The presence of too many strangers severely staring at my camera and questioning if I am a pro photographer or just a girl pretending to be one (which is true) made me nervous I guess.
Unfortunately we just couldn’t find out any ‘lower facade’ to cave 9. I doubt if it exists. So I asked the husband to go to the lower level via cave 7,8 and take some cool photos of me standing stupidly in front of the historic grandeur.
Cave 10 (Vishwakarma Cave)
The double-storeyed cave was moderately crowded when we entered, though by the time we finished exploring, the crowd had left. It is one of the popular caves in Ellora and the only chaitya cave among all the Buddhist caves.
The facade and courtyard of this cave is massive both qualitatively and quantitatively. Wild animals like elephants were carved out of the rocks to form the frieze of the primary entrance passage. The cave facade is heavily decorated with carvings of sexual couples.
What makes cave 10 stands out is the ceiling of its central hall. We were left in total awe on entering the hall. The ceiling has arched ribs carved out of solid rock mimicking wooden ribbed vaults.
The imposing 27 feet tall stone made Buddha seated in the middle of this hall is softly illuminated by the natural light that pours in from the window on top of the entrance door. When the crowd left, the surroundings felt surreal.
The lintel was decorated by panels of seated Buddha.
A flight of steps took us up to the top floor balcony.
The surroundings of the window and opening through which the natural light enters the hall had been widely decorated with detailed sculpting of male, female figures and architectural patterns.
We were so thankful to get this cave crowd free. The cave is three storeyed. The gigantic size of the cave and the spacious courtyard itself makes it one of the most fascinating ancient structures of the World. We can’t believe our luck when we got all this space to ourselves!
It’s really hard to call this edifice a ‘cave’. I don’t know why it’s not a wonder of the world.
The pillars of this cave are rather simple and not embellished by fancy images. The flooring of the second and third level is smoother compared to its counterpart in level one.
We found humble patterns on the pillars of the third level.
The shrine on second storey has a seated Buddha with folded legs and right hand touching Earth. This is popularly known as the ‘Earth touching Buddha’, whereas, the shrine on third storey has a seated Buddha with legs down.
We also noticed channels cut in the rock surface of the floor to drain out water.
The interior halls on all three floors were as imposing as I imagined them to be with intricately carved out decorative panels. But due to lack of proper light, images of the interior couldn’t be properly captured.
Cave 12 (Teen Thal)
The facade of the three storeyed cave 12 is as impressive as that of cave 11.
The cistern chamber is to the left of the entry passage to cave 12.
There are several panels on the first level of the cave with intricately carved out figures of the Buddhist pantheon. The most notable among these is the centrally seated Buddha surrounded by eight Bodhisattvas.
There is a middle floor in between first and second levels. This little space is a storehouse of awe inspiring artistry. We saw on its wall panels an impression of Avalokiteshwara in a seated position with Jambala to his right and Tara to his left.
The stone lotus on the ceiling blooms gracefully.
We found a rock cut seated Buddha with Avalokiteshwara and Vajrapani.
Curious holes of different shape were made on the floor. We are searching for an explanation for these.
In the second level the entry to the main hall is flanked by a seated Bodhisattva on the right wall in company of four females.
On the left wall is seated Rakta Avalokiteshwar with Bhrikuti and Tara.
The shrine is proudly guarded by Avalokiteshwara and Vajrapani. They stand on a lotus as they guard the shrine.
Please keep your eyes open to find out inscriptions on the pillar near the entrance of this hall. We got to know about its existence only after returning back!
A seated Buddha on one end of the veranda welcomed us on the topmost level of this cave. It was just a trailer to what we were going to witness in the hall. The pillared hall has striking carvings of Buddha carved on almost all its walls.
The rear wall both left and right around the shrine has 7 chiselled meditating Buddha. These are thought to represent the seven historical Buddha.
Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwar and Vajrapani guard the door to the shrine. The adjacent walls to the shrine have seated female Bodhisattvas engraved over them.
We could not photograph the shrine area as it was not sufficiently lit up.
Here are some of the photos of the sculptures inside the grand hall of third level.
The Hindu Caves
It was nothing more than a hole in the rock. The cave is incomplete and some argue it probably served as a granary.
The sculpture details of cave 14 overwhelmed our visual senses. We still cannot fathom how thousands of years back in time humans created such fine features out of rock faces without the aid of any technology.
The illustrations on the panels of this cave are obviously different from those of cave 1-12 owing to the fact that this is a Hindu cave.
Surrounding the shrine of this cave is a circumambulatory passage. On one of the walls of this passage Saptamatrika is found clearly engraved.
Saptamatrika are the seven mothers and they are identified by their mounts. The Brahmani has goose, Vaishnavi has Garuda, Maheshwari has bull, Indrani has elephant, Kumari has peacock, Varahi has boar, Chamunda has a jackal. They all have babies with them.
The Saptamatrika are attended by Virbhadra to the left and Lord Ganesha, Goddess Kali and a skeleton to the right. The skeleton is representative of ‘kaal’ or time.
The panel which comes next to the Saptamatrika is Andhakasuravadha. Here the Bhairav avatar of Lord Shiva is portrayed. He is seen here killing the demon Andhaka as Parvati and Ganesha rest at his feet. A little dwarf gives company to the party.
In the next panel Ravana is found trying to shake Mount Kailasha, the abode of Shiva and Parvati. Ravana struggles to shake the home of Shiva with all his legs and ten heads; Shiva responds to this by putting just one of his legs down. Parvati is seen romancing here with her husband Lord Shiva.
Another panel to the right of Ravana shaking Kailasha depicts the dancing Shiva. Parvati is seen standing near his leg. In the sky Agni, Brahma and Vishnu roam with their vahana.
Scenes from Mount Kailasha are depicted on the next panel. Shiva and Parvati sit on Mount Kailasha with Ganesha. They are attended by several others. On the lower panel the bull is representative of Nandi.
On the left wall of the aisle we found illustrations of Varaha. The curl under his right foot is supposed to represent underwater forces, which he is trying to calm down in his attempt to save the Earth Goddess.
The panel beside Varaha presents a seated Vishnu and Laxmi, attended by many females.
Goddess Durga is found on both the left and right panels of the aisle near the entrance door. Mounted on her lion, the Goddess is ready to kill the buffalo demon. Sculptures of Durga are found abundantly in this cave — sometimes on the panels, sometimes on the pillar; sometimes complete and sometimes incomplete.
The central shrine is devoid of any idol. Historians say that it is highly possible that the central deity of the cave used to be Goddess Durga. This was later misplaced either by an accident or on purpose. The cave clearly worships the Hindu female divine characters.
Mysterious pits on the floor were found in this cave. These could be attributed to ancient religious rituals.
Cave 15 (Das Avatar or ten incarnations of Vishnu)
The gorgeous cave 15 completely prepared us for the upcoming cave 16. A flight of steps led us to the courtyard of the massive double storeyed cave 15.
The arresting mandapa centrally positioned in the open courtyard has many tales to tell. Some wish to refer this as the Nandi mandapa, others call it the dancing hall. The exact nature of the mandapa cannot be ascertained; what remains with us are theories. The outer walls of the mandapa are well decorated with carvings of male and female figures. The ornamental windows make it more beautiful.
The second floor of this cave has a rich portrayal of several Hindu mythological characters and stories.
On the pillars of the second floor there are carvings of Buddha images along with Tara. Due to these engravings and the fact that the cave closely resembles cave 11 and 12, experts are of the opinion that this cave might have been a newly constructed Buddhist vihara which was later transformed into a Hindu cave.
The story of Hiranyakasipu is depicted on the left wall of the hall on second floor. The legend is that demon Hiranyakasipu pleased the Gods and he was successful in getting the boon of immortality that he cannot be destroyed either indoor or outdoor, either by beast or by men, either during daytime or night. But Lord Vishnu took form of a half beast half man and killed the demon on a “veranda”, or porch, which is a surface neither outdoor nor indoor, during dusk which is considered neither day nor night.
This panel describes the Trivikrama of Vishnu.
The next panel is attributed to Varaha.
The brilliant story of Gajendra being saved by Vishnu when he prayed to him; the reclining Vishnu creating the universe with his companion Lakhsmi; Lord Krishna — an incarnation of Vishnu — saving the villagers from the angry Indra, make up the contents of the consecutive panels. I was so lost in appreciating the perseverance that must have went into recreating these stories on rocks that I forgot to take pictures.
The corner panel on the right rear wall describes Tripurantaka. It shows Shiva riding a chariot driven by Brahma. The tale is all about how Shiva destroyed the three demon cities with a single arrow, the only way to destroy them.
The panel adjacent to Tripurantaka represents Shiva emerging from Lingam. Awe struck by the infinite size of the lingam, Brahma and Vishnu offer him their praise. Initially Brahma had the task of finding the upper end of the lingam and Vishnu took the responsibility of finding the lower end; however both of them failed.
Elaborate couples on pillar brackets adorn the pillars around the central shrine.
The shrine consists of the lingam.
Cave 16 (Kailash Cave – The most important and the most stunning cave)
King Krishna I is credited with the construction of the Kailasha cave- the world’s largest monolithic structure. The grandeur of this cave overshadows all others. It will forever be the finest thing that man has created with a chisel and hammer.
Its sheer size and heavy artwork took a toll on our confidence, and we hardly consider ourselves able enough to document such fine detailed work of expertise.
The facade of the cave itself speaks of what can be expected inside it. The wall of the fort-styled facade flaunts carved images of Naga-Nagin, the various avatars of Vishnu — Trivikrama, Varaha, Narasimha and the river Goddess.
The left side is dominated by images of Kartikeya, Agni, Vayu and the dancing Shiva.
In the main entrance to the courtyard dwarapalas guard Gajalaxmi. The panels surrounding dwarapalas portrays battling Goddess Durga, Ganesha, Vishnu and so many others that it is really hard to remember.
The entire entrance panel is richly carved with figures from the Hindu pantheon. The Narasimham avatar of Vishnu is the most eye catching one here. Meditating Vishnu is found on many panels of the temple exterior.
The most striking structure in this entire cave temple is the intricately designed tall pillar and the free standing rock cut elephant on the courtyard. A pillar and an elephant stand on each side of the central entrance.
The exterior of the main temple within this cave is also adorned by minute carvings of scenes from Ramayana like the Samudramanthan. It occupies a vast area on the panel. On a large panel we again found a huge effigy of Ravana shaking Kailasha.
All around the central shrine’s plinth huge beasts like elephants and lions are sculptured.
Cloisters surround the central courtyard of the cave.
On the south walls of it are 12 panels. Starting from the entrance going inwards the panels depict the following:
1. Goddess Annapurna
3. Krishna incarnation of Lord Vishnu
4. Boar incarnation of Lord Vishnu
5. Vishnu riding sun bird Garuda
6. Vishnu as Trivikrama
7. Krishna incarnation of Lord Vishnu lifting Mount Govardhana
9. Narasimham avatar of Vishnu
10. Demon Ravana trying to lift the Lingam
11. Lord Shiva
12. The half man and half woman avatar of Lord Shiva
On the eastern walls there are 19 panels dominated by several avatars of Lord Shiva. Starting from south going towards north the panels depicts the following:
2. Shiva and Parvati– The lotus pond scene
3. Shiva and Parvati
5. Nataraj avatar of Shiva
6. Bhikshatana Shiva
12. The descent of Ganges from Shiva’s jata
14. Shiva emerging from Lingam in the act of rescuing his bhakt (follower) from Yama (God of death)
Ellora cave 16 – Shiva emerging from lingam to save bhakht from Yama
15. Lakulisa Shiva
16. Seated Shiva and Parvati in Kailash
17. Tripurantaka (Shiva)
18. Andhakasuravada (Shiva)
19. Marriage scene of Shiva and Parvati
The 12 panels on the northern walls moving from east to west are-
1. Markandeya is rescued from Yama by Shiva.
2. Heroes of the epic Ramayana, Ram and Lakshman worship Shiva.
3. Shiva and Parvati sitting in Kailash, on the lower panel nandi (the bull) is standing.
4. Shiva is sitting with a veena in his hand alongside Parvati. On the lower panel is nandi (the bull).
5. An incomplete impression of Ravana shaking Kailasha.
6. Kubera– The Lord of wealth.
7. Seated Parvati and Shiva.
9-11. Seated Shiva and Parvati in various postures.
12. Ravana offering his heads to Shiva.
When we were completely done exploring the entire courtyard and checking out the galleries on all sides, we climbed the steps up to reach the main temple. It was extremely crowded and most of the domestic tourists worship and offer puja at this particular shrine. Removal of shoes was mandatory.
Taking a photograph in the crowd was extremely difficult. But we anyways found our quite corners in the terrace path around the main shrine walls.
Faint lights lit the interiors of the main shrine. Dwarapalas guard the garbhagriha where a huge lingam rests.
The interiors has well grooved sculptures and half worn painted ceilings, but photographing them was almost impossible due to low light.
On the terrace around the main shrine have many other sub shrines. These are not popular with the religious folk so expect them to be quite empty. With bated breaths we appreciated the delicate works of the artists and photographed the lower level from the upper level.
From the veranda the entry point flanked by the garden was visible. Sadly we couldn’t enjoy the view as much as we would have liked to since the place had turned into a selfie spot.
Cave 17 is quite a distance away from cave 16. The road to it was pretty scenic. We visited during the advent of monsoon when greenery was in full swing. More than the cave I admired the little trail between the grasses which took us to the caves.
The facade of cave 17.
The female figures on the pillars are the most noteworthy in this cave. The central shrine consists of the shivling.
On the left and right wall of the cave there is one panel each with effigies of Mahishasurmardhini and Ganesha eating ladoo in the company of dwarfs.
A brisk walk through patches of greenery brought us to cave 18. Absolutely no literature was available on this cave.
It has a simple facade and a simple pillared hall. The central shrine is occupied by a shivling.
The main shrine of cave 19 also houses a shivling. The pillared hall consists of a panel on Lakulisa and Kirtimukha. The doorway to the shrine is flanked by Dwarapalas.
There are two entrances to the cave, identified as cave 19A and cave 19B. The facade and entry to cave 19A was shut for some reason.
I went up the flight of steps to check cave 20 and the husband remained in the premises of cave 21 and took two snaps of me climbing up. We were too tired and we still had 14 more caves to check.
Cave 20 is also a simple cave with a central lingam flanked by dwarapalas. Some ruined impressions on walls remained which must have been sculptures. The lower cave has a basic hall, which was probably used as living quarter with veranda.
Cave 21 (Ramesvara Cave)
The impressive facade of cave 21 has a ‘Nandipitha’- a shrine for the bull Nandi. The pitha is very well decorated with patterns and rich imaginations carved everywhere around it.
On the left and right wall, outside the veranda are two sculptures of river Goddess Ganga and Yamuna.
The cave is adorned by pillars with curvy female brackets.
The left wall portrays the details of Shiva – Parvati marriage, popularly known as Kalyanasundaramurti. On another panel Mahishasur Mardhini and Ravana shaking Kailasha are clearly engraved.
On the right wall the seven mothers- Saptamatrikas are carved out in detail. On an adjacent panel, 3 skeletons are found. Two of them are supposed to represent Kala and Kali– The male and female versions of the forces of time. They are usually associated with fierce violence, death and corpses.
Dwarapalas are present on the two sides of the door to shrine. A shivling rules the shrine. There is a circumambulatory passage around the shrine.
The nandimandapa welcomed us in cave 22. It is centrally positioned in the small courtyard. To the left are the detailed model of Saptamatrika and the skeletons representing the force of time. Further into the cave, images of dwarapalas could be found.
Around the main shrine which is dedicated to Lord Shiva, we found his family members — Parvati, Saraswati, Lakhshmi and Kartikeyya.
The cave is extremely underrated in all guidebooks and the sparse information I received made me believe that entering the cave is not worth it. Though the cave is mostly in ruins and much of the important artistry is broken and eroded, I wish I could have reconsidered my decision.
This cave has 8 shrines with lingams. In shrine 7 there is a very unique sculpture on the walls, it is called Maheshmurti. I don’t remember coming across it in other caves. Shrine 6 houses Illika Torana.
The cave consists of a group of 5 shrines with a lingam in each of them. Sculpted Ganesha, Lakulisha and river goddess Ganga are engraved in 3 panels of the wall.
The veranda of the cave and the flight of steps to reach a shrine within the cave were taken over by modern day couples and people enjoying an afternoon nap. We felt odd and intrusive in that setting so just photographed the facade and returned back on the trail.
The courtyard of the cave flaunts an eroded Nandipitha. The left side of the Veranda has tiny carvings of standing Saptamatrika and an elaborate panel of Kubera.
The ceiling of the pillared hall has a lotus medallion.
Near the shrine the ceiling has a striking sculpture of the Sun chariot, which, unfortunately, we missed seeing.
Just like the rest of the caves, this cave is also devoted to Shiva and the shrine has a lingam. The door to the shrine is flanked by dwarapalas. Some of the sculptures of figures of the Hindu pantheon are found inside the cave but most of them are broken or missing.
The location of cave 27 is beautiful, particularly in the monsoon season. A waterfall gorges down over the cave opening and forms a seasonal pool popularly known as “Sita-ki-nahani”. The waterfall was still there when we visited but it wasn’t as vigorous as it is expected to become midway into monsoon. The entry to the cave is through a wafer thin passage.
The veranda of this cave is richly embellished with carvings of Varaha, Mahishasurmardini, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Balaram, Subhadra, Jagannath and Sheshayi Vishnu. The main hall is as simple as anyone could imagine. The shrine meant to hold the shivalinga is attended by dwarapalas.
The modern day form of cave 28 appeared to us as a tiny opening in the cliff. We believe most of the cave has eroded and what remains is too treacherous to explore. The way from cave 27 to cave 28 is blocked by some boulders. The ‘way’ is anyways almost nonexistent. It moves through a passage exactly behind the waterfalls.
Cave 29 (Dumar Lena)
Cave 29 is visible from cave 27 and the ‘path’ which takes us to cave 28 also takes us to cave 29; however, it is an unsafe way and it had been blocked by some boulders to stop accidents. So we walked all the way back to cave 16 and took a bus from there.
This is the only cave which can be entered from three sides. Each entrance is guarded by a couple of lions.
We went in through the western entrance. On the interior wall of the cave to the right of the western entrance (facing the cave) is the chiselled out version of Ravananugrahamurti — Ravana shaking Mount Kailasha.
On the left panel is the Andhakasuravadha avatar of Lord Shiva.
The northern entrance to the cave is also flanked by seated lions. One of the panels here is ornamented by the dancing Shiva — Nataraja. The other one has Lakulisa.
The northern entrance does not enjoy any open space. It is in very close proximity with the next chunk of rock. Bats fly around this area. On lifting my head up, I saw the sky – a mere slit between two rock walls. I(Tania) walked through this stinky (bat shit?) narrow alley and I would be lying if I said it didn’t give me goosebumps.
The southern entrance of the cave is very scenic as from here cave 28,27,26,25 are visible along with the waterfalls and the stream “Sita-ki-nahani”. The walls around this entrance are enhanced with panels of Shiva – Parvati scenes. One of them shows the marriage known as Kalyanasundaramurti and the other one shows “Shiva and Parvati playing Chausar”.
In front of the southern and northern gates of the cave are two mysterious sculpted depressions.
The sanctum is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It has a lingam protected by dwarapalas.
The Jaina Caves
Cave 30 (Chota Kailash)
Cave 30-34 are all Jain caves. This cave is referred to as “Chota Kailash”. We missed seeing this incomplete cave as a result of sheer confusion. The overnight journey, the constant walking with limited food and water and an overwhelming amount of information definitely affected our minds.
We later realised the area marked to house cave 30-34 had two caves missing from it — the two which we missed. Proper directions to reach these two caves were not given. If you plan to visit, please do thorough research and rely only upon that.
Cave 30 has two parts. The one which is farthest from caves 31,32 and 33 is the one which is often referred to as “Chota Kailash”. Though incomplete the architecture and style of this cave closely resembles that of cave 16.
The entrance flanks three huge rock hewn images of Mahavira on one side and a sculpture of Goddess Chakreshvari seated on her vahana Garuda on the other. The entrance to the front porch has chiselled out dancing figures on its walls. These dancing figures are assumed to be influenced by Nataraja– Dancing Shiva. A lotus medallion on the ceiling stares down upon the visitors. Dwarapalas guard the doorway.
Inside the hypostyle hall, the walls are embellished by impressions of seated and standing Jinas including Parsvanath– the 23rd Tirthankara.
Seated Mahavira in the company of Tirthankaras, Jinas and many other flying celestials, rule the main shrine.
There is a right wing of this cave on the walls of which several other stories from Jain mythology are engraved. Tales of Bahubali, Parsvanath, Ambika are some of them.
The portion of cave 30 which is closer to caves 31,32,33 is majorly unfinished. The most noticeable is the triple layered lotus medallion on both the interior ceiling and the exterior roof of the cave temple.
Cave 31 is unimpressive and incomplete. From the facade it seemed completely tucked under a cliff. It is a small cave with carvings of seated Jinas and Parsvanath on its walls.
Cave 32 (Indra Sabha)
There are so many shrines in this double storeyed cave that it’s hard to keep track. The architecture and design of this cave felt a bit complex to a layman’s mind like mine.
To the right of the main entrance of the cave was another cave, which I assume is a part of cave 32. The ceiling of the cave flaunts a much eroded lotus medallion. On the left wall of the interiors of this cave is a well sculpted story portraying “Kamatha’s attack on Parsvanath”. Nagins are seen here protecting Parsvanath with their hood. To the opposite panel, on the right wall “Penance of Bahubali” is depicted.
On the left rear wall, Sarvanubhuti sits upon his mount, the elephant, with one leg upon a long stemmed lotus. Four parrots eat fruits from the tree shading Sarvanubhuti. On the right rear wall, Ambika sits upon her mount, the lion, with one leg upon a lotus flower. On her lap is a child and she is under the shade of the mango tree. Between the left and right rear wall is the shrine dedicated to Mahavira.
On entering the main gateway to cave 32, a strikingly designed pavilion housing a Chaumukha with seated Tirthankaras seeks our attention. The exterior walls of the pavilion have been painstakingly carved with fine designs.
A pillar and a giant elephant adorn the main courtyard. This is where the similarity of this cave with cave 16 is apparent.
The two shrines to the left of the pavilion are dedicated to Mahavira and one is dedicated to a seated Jina. The two shrines to the right of the pavilion are dedicated to seated Jinas. Almost all the shrines are flanked by detailed sculptures of Bahubali, Ambika, Sarvanubhuti and Kamatha’s attack on Parsvanath.
The main shrine on the ground floor of the cave is occupied by a seated Tirthankara. The hall is comparatively simple without much decoration.
The staircase which took us to the second storey was extremely steep. People suffering from vertigo may feel a minor sting of fear while climbing down.
Life sized sculptures of characters of the Jain pantheon adorned the hall. The first one whom we noticed was the huge idol of Sarvanabhuti.
On the opposite end of this corridor is Ambika seated on her mount lion. The face of the lion is missing though.
The entire hall is beautified by stunning giant sculptures of seated Tirthankaras. The pillars had intricate motifs all over them.
The central ceiling of the hall has a lotus medallion.
The shrine is dominated by a seated Jina.
On the left and right panel of the door to the shrine are two huge models of Parsvanath and Bahubali.
The uniqueness of this cave lies in its murals. The remains of murals and paintings on the ceilings and walls of this cave is eye catching. Even a layman could easily spot them!
There are two more shrines on this floor to the left and right of the main hall. These shrines and the halls attached to them can be reached via a passage in the main hall of the second storey. These side shrines and attached halls bear similarities with usual Jain sculptures but the paintings on the rock faces are better preserved here than any other cave of Ellora.
We missed going to these parts of the cave as the passage was blocked for some reason.
Cave 33 (Jagannath Sabha)
This is another cave which is highly underrated in most of the cheap guidebooks. This cave is two storeyed with extremely well detailed artistry all over it. Figures of seated Tirthankaras, Parsvanath, Bahubali, Ambika and Sarvanubhuti dominate the lower level and paintings in comparatively good condition are found across its upper level.
The only drawback is that, since the inside of the cave is very dark, photographic possibilities are limited.
Pillar details of this cave make it unique. Sculptures of Jain deities are engraved all around its walls.
RETURN TRIP TO AURANGABAD CITY FROM ELLORA CAVES BY MSRTC (STATE) BUS
When at 5.30 PM we came out of the cave premises, we saw the entire locality has come alive. The vendors were yelling, the shops which were sleepy in the morning were in full swing action in the evening. The atmosphere quite felt like a village fair.
We boarded a MSRTC bus going to Aurangabad and the journey took around 45 minutes. Unlike the onward journey, this time we did not get a seat. All the seats were full with locals and as expected they were very surprised to find ‘tourists’ travelling alongside them in a local bus in standing mode. The bus ride was pretty smooth without any obstruction or jams. The return ride cost us INR 38 per head.
CROWD DISTRIBUTION IN THE ELLORA CAVES AND HOW TO AVOID IT
Cave 10,11,12,14,15,16,21,29,30,32,33 are considered to be the important ones, owing to their grandeur. Of all these, cave 16 is the most important and striking one.
The internet is full of information on how footfall in Ellora caves exceeds that in the Ajanta caves. The proximity of Ellora to the larger towns is thought to be the reason behind this. But, what we deduced from our experience is that cave 16 (Kailasha cave) in Ellora is the one and only cave which receives the mad rush.
Though Ellora caves are visited by architecture enthusiasts, art and sculpture enthusiasts and travel enthusiasts, most of the visitors here are domestic tourists who are interested in ticking off a place on their bucket list or having a relaxed weekend away from the city. This group of people don’t do proper research and rely on the information conveyed to them from the hotel authorities or by their car driver or from the autorickshaw drivers whom they hire for sightseeing! So most of the time they end up visiting only cave 16.
These people generally cover many sights in and around Aurangabad in a single day and arrive in Ellora caves late, generally in the afternoon.
The others who are better informed choose to visit all the important caves. The visitors who hire a guide tend to check out all the important caves.
Some people are too lazy to walk and drop many of the important caves from their list even after having proper information; others are people who have health issues (aged people) and are not fit enough to walk and climb up steps.
Though the Jaina group of caves are at a terminal end of the premise, they receive a healthy bit of crowd due to the bus service from the main gate of the Ellora caves. A boon for people who are not fit to walk the long distance or just want to save time, or maybe both!
During this trip we reached at 10 AM and explored the cave sequentially, from 1 to 34. The next time we go we would try to reach at 9 AM and explore the important caves first (since the rush rises as the day progress) and then the less important ones.
We travelled during the early monsoon season and though there were little spells of rainfall it never created any nuisance. Rather, the rain brought down the temperature, increased the greenery and made the weather very comfortable. So much of walking would have been impossible otherwise.
Still have some questions? Please let me help you with the answers! Drop the questions in the comment box!
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