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Ellora Caves

Pilgrims at Ellora Caves


  • The Ellora caves are famous religious caves located in modern day Maharashtra in India. Unlike the Ajanta caves, which are nearby, the caves at Ellora were home to a plethora of religions, including Buddhism. The caves date to the 6th century AD and were inhabited at least for another 300-400 years. The Ellora caves were excavated on an embankment facing west along two kilometers. The rock the excavators carved into was volcanic. 34 such caves exist. The Buddhist caves were carved first and are thus numbered appropriately as 1-12. The Hindu Brahmins carved caves 14-29 while the highly reclusive and ascetic Jains carved caves 30-34. The existence of all of these religions literally back to back to back is evidence that the religions during the Medieval Indian periods lived syncretically and got along. In fact, there is good evidence to suggest that they shared resources, devotees, and, of course, space as seen at Ellora. Although many people might think of the famous Buddhist stupas and caitya shrine halls when they imagine early religious rock-cut architecture in India, it is the fantastic cave 16 of the Hindus that is likely the most spectacular example of premier rock-cut architecture.

Inside of a Completely Carved Cave

  • Caves in India were used by religious ascetics for nearly a thousand prior to the construction of Ellora. Many of the world-renouncing religions of India taught self- mortifying religious practices in order to gain insight into the nature of the universe. Caves, functioning as natural shelter, were easy locations to inhabit for those religious seekers searching for quiet solitude away from the hustle and bustle of cities. With time, however, the caves became more elaborate and eventually began to be carved into. Instead of naturally occurring shelters with primitive features, the religious ascetics used donations made by pious laymen to hire workers. These workers carved entire chambers into existing rock-faces and, eventually, manufactured the enormous structures that may be seen at Ellora. With the funds provided by very rich merchants and royal families, the ascetics began to live more and more lavishly with more and more material needs. In time, the rock-cut shelters were no longer living quarters but rather chambers setup for worship with many different objects of worship like images and stupas (reliquary chambers). Since the architecture was so astounding, thousands of pilgrims would flock from all over the continent to pay homage to not only the mendicates living in the caves but also to the caves themselves which were seen as the actual embodiments of deities, much like how images and relief carvings are often seen as something more than just representations.

Hindu Devotional Sculpture

The Holy Mountain As Pure Stone