When in or around the Maharashtra city of Aurangabad, Ajanta and Ellora often come up together as the must-visit tourist spots. However, there is quite a distance between the two cave complexes and though there is striking semblance between the two, both the complexes showcase different forms and colours of art and aesthetics and hold different historical value in time.

Ellora caves are located hardly 28 kilometres off Aurangabad and can be rounded off in a half-day’s visit. These caves, around 34 in number, which are open to the public out of over scattered caves, are supposed to be around 1,500 years old and considered one of the largest rock-cut temple cave complexes in the world.

Cave 16 needs special mention, as it features the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world, the Kailasha Temple, a chariot shaped monument dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple excavation also features sculptures depicting the gods, goddesses and mythologies and relief panels summarizing the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

All the caves are cut from basalt cliffs on Charanandri Hills. It is estimated that the artists removed three million cubic feet of stone, weighing approximately 200,000 tonnes, to excavate the temple, which is technologically a challenging feat and needs exquisite engineering to pull through.

The Dashavatara, Rameshwar, Chhota Kailasha and Nikanth are some of the other famous Hindu temples.

Mention also must be made particularly of a Buddhist cave, a chaitya or worshipping place in Cave 10, that has a ceiling with a special sculpted formation in the rocks that makes it look a wooden craft of symmetrically arranged beams. For this reason, this cave is also called the ‘Carpenter’s Cave’. The hall also consists a 15-ft-tall sitting Buddha statue.

The Jain temples are smaller in size than the Buddhist or Hindu constructions and predominantly represent the Digambara sect, but the main attraction of the Jain temples are their highly detailed and intricate carvings through which the 24 Jinas have been depicted across five caves.

 The caves hold special significance also for the fact that here we find almost an equal number of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples/monasteries in close succession, which is a rare specimen that depicts the prevalent religious harmony that the country enjoyed way back in the 6th century AD. Among those which are open to the public, 17 are Hindu temples, while 12 are Buddhist and 5 Jain caves. The Rashtrakuta rulers and later the Yadavas are said to be instrumental in constructing these temples.

Ellora, a World Heritage Site, sits on a relatively flat rocky region of the Western Ghats, and volcanic activity that the area was prone to in the ancient times, probably created the multilayered basalt formations, officially known as the Deccan Traps. The vertical face made access to many layers of rock formations easier, which gave the opportunity to the architects of that era to pick basalt with finer grains and hence bring out more detailed sculpting.

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