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The cave temples of Ellora – a photo feature

December 17, 2007

The cave temples of Ellora are 28 kms from Aurangabad in Maharashtra, and in the opposite direction from the Ajanta caves. So this means that separate days need to be earmarked to see both Ajanta and Ellora. The temples of Ellora are different from that of Ajanta, and not just because fewer paintings have survived the onslaught of the ages (you get to see a lot of beautiful sculpture). These temples are markedly different because they do not represent just Buddhism (like the Ajanta caves) but also Hinduism and Jainism. There are beautiful carvings of the various gods and goddesses. Each style of architecture is distinctively different and time periods are different. The Buddhist caves are from 500-700 A.D and some of the Hindu temples were built as late as the 9th century A.D. The caves are spread out over a very large distances and to visit some of them you can take your own vehicle.

The photograph below is where a lot of the caves are on one hill-side…it’s taken from the centre and it’s a combination of two photographs. It was very bright and sunny and therefore the pictures did not come out as well as they should have.

The picture below was taken from exactly the same spot as the one above, but from the opposite direction.

The photographs I have selected are not in any particular sequence and nor have I labeled them with the different styles of architecture. I have simply selected the best photographs and published them here.

You have to climb a very steep hill to get to see this one but it’s well worth the climb!

The photograph below is that of the monastery, where the monks used to live. Inside it’s very simple, with stone slabs for beds.

The photograph below is of the most spectacular temple in the whole complex – the Kailash Temple which was built in the 8th-9th century A.D. It has various sculpted panels – that of Durga and Vishnu. The shrine itself has Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. The right wall of the temple has Shiva and other goddesses like Parvati. It’s amazing to see that this temple was carved out of sheer rock and that too by hand.

This is a panoramic view of the inside of the temple complex and the photograph has been derived by stitching together two photos. It has only captured one side of the temple complex however.

In the photos below you can see more details and can see that these temples were originally painted. But time has taken it’s toll.

There are some caves (Jain) which are at a distance from the others and the two pictures below were taken there.

Related Seeing/Reading: Ajanta caves photo feature
Aurangabad caves, Bibi-ka-maqbara and the Daulatabad Fort – photo feature
Aurangabad in pictures
Other travel articles with photos
A photo tour of Mammallapuram

(Photographs are copyrighted to me. They have been taken with a digital camera. One of the pictures of the Kailash temple has been taken with a film camera, which is actually the clearest!)

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2007 12:38 pm

    Your pictures and description have revived my interest in Ajanta and Ellora. Tried several times to make a trip but never got around to actually doing it. Hopefully, will make the trip in near future.

    Thanks for sharing your pictures.

  2. December 17, 2007 1:26 pm

    The 5th picture of the Square temple carved out of the mountain shows what looks like two elephants flanking the stairs, and from what little I could make out look to be marvellously naturalistic in representation. The 14th picture also has elephants seeming to support the entablature – and these are wonderfully carved. obviously the natural world’s living beings other than mankind has equal importance in the representations of the world in your religions, as contrasted with similar carvings in holy places in Europe, where the imagery is human-centric, and nature exists to be a backdrop for human activity, and mught be considered of secondary importance to mankind. I would love to look at all the wonderful images in these temples and see the variety of living beings depicted. Your photographs are wonderful, Nita. Your blogs make me realize what a remarkable country and people you are and have been historically. G

  3. December 17, 2007 1:43 pm

    @suburbanlife: Thank you. It’s wonderful to see India through your eyes! πŸ™‚
    As you pointed out, we not only worship some animals, quite a few of our Gods and goddesses are surrounded by them. What a wonderful observation from you! Shiva for example has a snake coiled around him, then we have Ganpati who has an elephant head, and Hanuman who is a monkey. Elephants, rats and bulls are also depicted…and I am sure I have missed some examples as I am not too knowlegable on religious issues.
    If you like I can email some more of my pics to you. I can always reduce the size of the images (like I have in the post) so that the mail is not too heavy.
    Thanks again.

    you are welcome. And thanks for your appreciation.

  4. December 17, 2007 3:11 pm

    Hey, awesome pics. I missed a chance to tour there a few years back. Tis worth a visit in the future.

  5. December 17, 2007 3:45 pm

    @ Suburbanlife and @Nita:

    As Nita mentions, some mythological figures have animal bodies or forms.

    Animals are quite integral to much Indian imagery, particularly religious but also in Indian literature. Our fables with animal characters and morals for humans are collected in Panchatantra (available on Amazon).

    In Hindu mythology, all “Gods” have animals who carry them around (their ‘vaahan’ or vehicles).

    The creator Brahma and his consort, Saraswati, also the Goddess of knowledge, have a swan.

    The preserver Vishnu rides Garuda, an eagle like bird. He also is depicted resting on Shesha-naag, a multi-hooded snake.

    The destroyer Shiva has a bull called Nandi; his son Ganesha has a mouse, his other son Kartikeya has a peacock;

    Indra, the king of Gods, has Airavata, an elephant; Shani, the god of death rides a buffalo. Kali and Durga, two incarnations of Shakti (power depicted as a woman) ride a lion or in some depictions a tiger.

    Animal figures and characters also features in other epics such as the Takshak, a powerful serpent in Mahabharata; characters such as Jambvant, a bear and Hanuman, a monkey in Ramayana.

    Narasimha, half-man, half-God is described as one of 10 avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu. He appears to kill a demonic character, Hiranyakashipu, who has obtained a boon that he would live forever as he cannot be stabbed or shot at, cannot be killed on earth or in the air, would not die in the day or night, would not die inside or outside.

    Narasimha in a fine interpretation, the story goes, kills H by balancing him on his thigh (neither earth nor air), by tearing open H’s stomach with his nails (no shooting, stabbing etc and nails are not weapons), on the threshold (neither inside nor outside) at dusk (neither day nor night).

    I am sure more stories will come forth from the readers of this blog!

  6. December 17, 2007 4:27 pm

    @ SuburbanLife and @ Nita: Now there is a full post on this – thanks for making it possible through your exchange here

  7. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 17, 2007 4:37 pm


    Kudos for a fairly exhaustive listing! An important one to add would be the vulture Jatayu, who lost his life trying to rescue Sita as Ravana was carrying her off to Lanka. Of the less prominent ones is the ambiguously identified Makaradhwaja.

    Interestingly, such examples don’t seem to exist in the Mahabharata (can you think of any?). It manages to grip the imagination without indulging much in fantasy.

    Apart from divine and semi-divine entities in human, animal or human+animal form, there are the elaborate friezes that ornament especially the plinth layers (“thara”) of temples, most often comprising elephants (gajathara), humans (narathara) and geese (hansavali — the word “hansa” is often erroneously translated as swan, a species that was not known in India).

    Thanks for a rich synopsis.

  8. Bharath permalink
    December 17, 2007 4:50 pm

    Thanks for sharing.. Pictures have come out very nice. This site is one of Jain holy place where few of 24 Jain Teerthankara took Path to liberation, ‘Moksha’ or ‘Nirvana’.

  9. December 17, 2007 5:24 pm



    “Interestingly, such examples don’t seem to exist in the Mahabharata (can you think of any?). It manages to grip the imagination without indulging much in fantasy.”

    Not much fantasy? What about all those missiles (astras)? And the live commentary from Sanjay (television perhaps?)? And the original immaculate conception – Karna!

    I think Mahabharata indulged fantasy in different ways and being a war-centric story, the fantasy was directed differently.


  10. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 17, 2007 5:34 pm


    In fact you did mention Takshaka.

    The astras, though a flight of fancy, are at least plausible (much more than Hanuman flying across with a whole mountain, or the Pushpaka Vimana).

    Sanjaya, remember, was reporting to a blind Dhrtarashtra. Could very well have been from a vantage point not too far from the battlefield. Also, some modern scholarship suggests that the Geeta is an interpolation.

    And Karna was no more immaculately conceived than Yudhishthira, Bhima or Arjuna. Even Nakula and Sahadeva were born to Madri after Kunti had shared the boon with her.

    Anyway, the point is not to argue about this. Both epics occupy an important place in Indian culture, though I draw the line at calling them “dharmagrantha”.

  11. December 17, 2007 6:23 pm

    Jayan, thanks. Do make that visit!

    Bharath, I wish you had seen my pictures of Ajanta. I had actually expected you to comment then knowing you are Buddhist, but I guess as you were traveling and you couldn’t. Thank for your response here.

    Shefaly, thanks and thanks! A very detailed informative comment, and as you said worthy of a separate post.

    Vivek, I guess Shefaly beat you to it! Thanks for the additions.

  12. December 17, 2007 6:28 pm

    @ Vivek:

    “The astras, though a flight of fancy, are at least plausible (much more than Hanuman flying across with a whole mountain, or the Pushpaka Vimana).”

    I think Pushpaka Vimana is as plausible as the Brahmastra. However both are plausible only in the light of what we know _now_ rather than what was possibly state of the art then. Isn’t it? This is what happens with interpreting the past with a modern lens.

    “Could very well have been from a vantage point not too far from the battlefield.”

    @ Nita: Thanks. I did write the post and there is much more I wanted to write but had stuff to attend to… C’est la vie..
    This is too subjective πŸ™‚

    On epics versus dharmagrantha: well you agree with me I see. I refer to all this as Hindu mythology and epics and not as religious tomes πŸ™‚

  13. December 17, 2007 6:33 pm

    Nita: Sorry last line was for Vivek… I do not know how I typed the note to you in the middle of all that. Sorry.

  14. December 17, 2007 6:37 pm

    Nita: Sorry to keep posting. You are on WP home page with this post! Kudos.

  15. wishtobeanon... permalink
    December 17, 2007 6:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing your pictures showing our glorious past!
    Informative comments too from your readers.

    I’ve missed quite a lot of your previous posts. Now, that I have time, I will be a regular reader.

  16. December 17, 2007 7:20 pm

    Thanks for the pictures Nita. I really enjoy learning about the history of India.

  17. December 17, 2007 9:25 pm

    Shefaly thanks for letting me know. πŸ™‚

    wishtobeanon, glad to have you back. πŸ™‚

    Brian, thanks. It’s good to know that you are reading the posts. πŸ™‚

  18. December 17, 2007 9:42 pm

    The dog that accompanied the Pandavas and Yudhisthir to the top of the mountain at the end of Mahabharata.

    Jataka tales focus on animals – assigning them the same emotions and qualities as humans, and have them interacting with humans.

    Nita, thanks for the beautiful pics! If you use flickr or picasa, you could put more pictures there and provide a link to the album from your post. πŸ™‚

  19. December 17, 2007 9:48 pm


    thanks. i do have a flickr acount but never used it much. One day I’ll load the stuff…

  20. December 17, 2007 10:07 pm

    Again, absolutely breathtaking. I can’t get over the stonework. Imagining what it looked like back then…*whistles*.

    This is the first time I’ve heard of Jainism so I looked it up. Learn something new every day. Thanks.

  21. December 18, 2007 12:21 am

    brings back the memories
    i have some great pics have to post them sometime
    may be ill start a photoblog that is if time permits

    nita did u visit the jain caves off the main complex
    they were rather intricately carved
    or did u use the route on top of the hillock above the complex ?
    ps u must have seen the magnificent grishneshwar temple close by i assume

  22. December 19, 2007 1:45 am

    Beautiful pictures! Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us, Nita. It makes me want to visit. Maybe someday. πŸ™‚

  23. December 19, 2007 4:21 am

    Had to take a look for myself after reading Shefaly’s post. “Stunning” is all I have to say. I wonder why it is that India seems not to exist outside of call centers and outsourced programmers for most Westerners, at least those of us in the U.S.?

    Shefaly, your “Mice and Men” post title reminded me of an email newsletter I received just yesterday with the source of that oft-used quote, a poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1785. Here’s the farmer’s lament after accidentally plowing up a mouse’s home in his field in its entirety, as taken from the Monday Morning Memo ( mondaymorningmemo ):

    “Small, sleek, cowering, timorous beast,
    Oh, what panic is in your breast!
    You need not start away so hasty
    With a hurrying scamper!
    I would be loath to run and chase you,
    With a murderous spade!

    I’m truly sorry that Man’s dominion
    Has broken Nature’s social union,
    And justifies that ill opinion
    Which makes you startle
    At me – your poor, earth-born companion
    And fellow mortal!

    I doubt not that you may steal;
    So what? Poor beastie, you must live!
    An odd ear from twenty four sheaves of corn
    is a small request:
    I’ll get a blessing with the rest,
    And never miss it!

    Your tiny housie, too, is in ruin!
    Its feeble walls the winds are strewing!
    And nothing now, from which to build a new one
    Of foliage green!
    And bleak December’s winds ensuing
    Both bitter and keen!

    You saw the fields laid bare and wasted
    And weary Winter coming fast,
    And cozy here, beneath the blast,
    You thought to dwell.
    Until crash! the cruel plow passed
    Right through your cell.

    That tiny heap of leaves and stubble
    Has cost you many a weary nibble!
    Now you are turned out for your trouble
    Without house or home,
    To endure the Winter’s sleety dribble,
    and frosty cold.

    But Mousie, you are not alone
    In proving that foresight may be vain:
    The best laid plans of mice and men
    often go awry,
    And leave us nothing but grief and pain
    Instead of promised joy!

    Still, you are blessed, compared with me!
    Only this moment touches you:
    But oh! I backward cast my eye
    On prospects turned to sadness!
    And though forward I cannot see,
    I guess and fear!”

    – Robert Burns

  24. December 19, 2007 11:42 am

    @ordinary girl:

    Thanks. I do hope you visit one day…and be sure to contact me! πŸ™‚

  25. January 29, 2009 3:17 pm

    Lovely pictures and notes.

    I am planning a trip to Ajanta and Ellora caves. They have been embedded in memory since school days and I need to go and see them for real.

    Hoping this year this trip shall materialize.

    I hope your trip materializes! Have a good time! – Nita.


  1. Of Mice and Men in Hindu mythology « La Vie Quotidienne

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