The Ellora caverns complex in Western India's Maharashtra state would stop you in your tracks.
Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, these caverns are the world's largest rock-cut monastery and temple cave complex. The sheer amount of stone dug out by hand to create this masterpiece will leave you speechless.
"In today's unpleasant culture, this site exemplifies the ancient Indian ethos of tolerance."
The Hindu Caves
The Hindu caves are the most striking in style, while Buddhist caves feature simpler adornments, and many Jain temples are two storeys and unfinished.
In the heart of the complex, there are 17 Hindu temples dating from 500 to 900 CE.
Cave 16 is the pinnacle of all caves, commanding your attention as soon as you enter the compound.
The Ellora Caves, which were built later, feature Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu rock-cut temples.
The Kailasha Temple erected in the eighth century CE, is the most famous of these.
The Kings were not content with simply drilling a hole in a cave; they also ordered the entire rock face to be removed.
The temple was carved out of the hillside and featured massive pillars, statues, doorways, corridors, and murals displaying Hindu mythology scenes.
The ground design of the Kailasha Temple is similar to the Parthenon, with a height of half of it.
It has been dubbed "the most spectacular single work of art executed in India" by historians.
Dedicated Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain sanctuaries can be found here, reflecting the religious attitudes of the time. It utilized no machinery, and everything was done by hand with a hammer and a chisel, which makes this very extraordinary.
The complex is 50 meters long and 33 meters wide, and when you are standing on the cliff 30 meters above, you will notice the four levels.
A short tour through the complex will reveal elaborately carved monoliths, impressive life-size sculptures of elephants and other animals, and erotic representations of Hindu divinities and mythological figures.
In the central courtyard, you will notice a monument of Shiva's bull Nandi standing on a porch, and along the walls, you will see a scene of Vishnu transformed into a man-lion battling a demon.
The central shrine housing the lingam features a flat-roofed mandapa supported by 16 pillars, and among the depictions within the halls is that of a 10-headed demon King shaking Kailasa mountain. The structure is 50 metres long and 33 metres wide, with four floors visible from 30 metres above.
A stroll through the complex will show intricately carved monoliths, life-size statues of elephants and other creatures, and sensual portrayals of Hindu gods and legendary figures.
A statue of Shiva's bull Nandi stands on a porch in the central courtyard, and a tableau of Vishnu turned into a man-lion fighting a demon can be found around the walls.
A flat-roofed mandapa supports the central shrine housing the lingam, and one of the images within the halls is of a 10-headed demon King shaking Kailasa mountain.
The Ellora caves are Buddhist and located on the cliff's southern side.
Each cave dates from 200 BCE until 600 CE.
Architecturally, Caves 5, 10, and 12 are significant.
Cave 5 contains a one-of-a-kind hall with two parallel low benches in the centre, making it India's second-only cave with this style.
Cave 10 houses the primary Buddhist prayer hall, while Caverns 11 and 12 are Vajrayana-affiliated three-story caves.
These caves are supposedly made solely by human hands, and viewing them reveals the builders' incredible skill and artistry.
The 5 Jain temples belong to the Digambara sect of Jains and, with a 700-year-old living tradition, are located on the complex's northern side.
The oldest phase of Jain cave temples is frequently tricky to date without changes or inscriptions.
With its beautiful carvings of lotus flowers and other complex ornamentation, Cave 32 is particularly significant because it demonstrates the austere attitude of this religious sect.
It is divided into two parts.
The lower level is unfinished, and the upper level is the cave with the most extensive decoration. It features stunning pillars, massive sculptural panels, and ceiling paintings.
Cave 30 is a large cave nestled away in the thicket of plants that visitors frequently ignore.
It is called Chot Kailsa ("little Kailasa") locally and has a monolithic construction comparable to Hindu Cave 16 but lacks elephant decorations and free-standing pillars. Only the interior and the carvings are finished, leaving the cave unfinished from the outside.
"The superb grottoes or caves of Adjuntah, which rival those of Ellora, and perhaps in general beauty surpass them, occupy the lower end of a small valley about half a mile from the town." - Jules Verne
The Ellora caves of Maharashtra indeed encompass profound architectural value and has structural elements worth witnessing.
Its relation with Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Jainism make it a special tourist attraction.
author: Rishika Kumari
editor: Akash R. Ekka