The village of Ellora lies 18 miles (30 km) northwest of Aurangabad in the state of Maharashtra in India. It is an archaeological site well-known for its monumental caves that are epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture.
Historians and archaeologists conjecture that the Rashtrakuta dynasty built the temples found there. Ellora is also known as Elapura in the Rashtrakuta Kannada literature.
There are 34 caves at Ellora, excavated out of the vertical face of the Charanandri hills, extending more than two kilometers. There are 12 Buddhist caves (1–12), 17 Hindu caves (13–29), and five Jain caves (30–34). All the caves are in proximity revealing the religious harmony that prevailed in the region during this period. Now, the Ellora cave complex is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India and is a World Heritage Site.
From written records, we learn that travelers from outside India, often visited the Ellora caves. The 10th-century Arab historian and geographer Al-Mas‘udi was one of the early visitors. In 1352, Sultan Hasan Gangu Bahmani visited the caves. The other historical visitors were: Persian historian Firishta (1560 – 1620), French traveler Jean de Thévenot (1633 – 1667), Italian writer and traveler Niccolao Manucci (1639 – 1717), and Sir Charles Warre Malet (1752 – 1815), the British East India Company’s Resident at the court of the Peshwa Mahrattas.
The Kailasanatha temple
Among all the cave temples at Ellora, the unrivaled centerpiece is Cave 16 – the Kailasanatha temple, designed to recall Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. It is also known as Kailasa temple. It is an unrivaled work of rock architecture, a monument that has always excited and astonished travelers.
Some historians and archaeologists presume that the majestic Kailasanatha temple was created before any other temple in the Ellora cave complex.
As attested in Kannada inscriptions of 775, King Krishna I of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty who ruled from 756 –774, responsible for building 18 Shiva temples, commissioned the building of the Kailasanatha temple.
The temple encompasses Dravidian architecture. It does not contain any of the Shikharas common to the Nagara style. It was built similar to the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal in Karnataka. King Krishna I employed architects from the Pallava kingdom in South India. The walls of the temple have marvelous sculptures from Hindu mythology, including Ravana, Shiva, and Parvathi while the ceilings have paintings. At first, white plaster covered the walls of the Kailasanatha temple to simulate the snow-covered Mount Kailas in Tibet.
Though the Kailasanatha temple looks like a freestanding, multi-storied temple complex, it is, in fact, a monolithic structure carved out of one single rock. It is the largest monolithic human-created structure in the world. It covers an area of over 42,500 square feet (3,948 square metres). The Kailasanatha Temple is 276 by 154 feet (84 by 47 metres) wide. It has a larger area than the Parthenon temple on the Athenian Acropolis, in Greece. Measured at the stylobate, the dimensions of the base of the Parthenon are 228 by 101 feet (69.5 by 30.9 metres) or 23,030 square feet (2,140 square metres).
The Kailasanatha temple is notable for its vertical excavation. Carvers started at the top of the rock and excavated downwards. In all the other temples and caves in the rest of the world and even in Ellora, the carvers hewed out rock from the front and carved as they went along using the rock cutting technique called “cut-in monolith“.
It was only at Kailasanatha temple the architects used the exact opposite technique called “cut-out monolith“. They worked downwards and hewed out all the unnecessary rock. After that, the sculptors chiseled the sculptures and intricate designs. This work would have required extreme planning and precision work to avoid damage to the completed work. Just imagine the colossal amount of rock removed to create this pillar.
All the carvings on the Kailasanatha temple are on more than one level.
The temple structure begins with a two-storied gopuram or gateway. It serves to screen the sacred temple from the outside world.
On entering the temple premises, we come to a U-shaped courtyard edged by a columned arcade three stories high, punctuated by huge sculpted panels, and alcoves with enormous sculptures of deities.
In the middle of this courtyard are two hewn out two-storied monolithic temple structures, each about 23 feet (7 metres) high.
The first structure is the Nandi Mandapa – the traditional Dravidian Shivaite shrine housing the bull “Nandi“.
Two 50-feet-high dhwajasthambhas, obelisk-like monolithic carved pillars that dwarf the humans standing beside them, flank the Nandi Mandapa. Decorated with frieze carvings, it would have taken years of work to create such huge structures.
Then comes the central main Shiva temple housing the lingam, a symbol of the energy and potential of the Hindu god Shiva.
The vimanam (steeple), that crowns the Garbhagriha, the Sanctum sanctorum of the temple rises to a height of about 90 feet., and about 120 feet (36.6 metres) high.
Elaborate illustrative carvings decorate the lower storeys of both the Nandi Mandapa and the Shiva temple. Life-size elephants carved on the base of the Shiva temple give us the impression that the elephants are holding the structure aloft.
In the early days of construction, stone flying bridges connected these galleries to the central buildings, perhaps to remove the debris chiseled out from the columned arcades, galleries, the central buildings, etc. Those flying bridges must have collapsed or removed after constructing the temple.
There are no records of the monstrous task of constructing the Kailasanatha temple. Most historians and archaeologists presume it took 26 years between 757 and 783 to build the temple, during the reign of King Krishna I and nine years after his death.
To find out if historians could be right about the 26 years of construction of the temple, let us do a simple arithmetic calculation. A colossal amount of rock, about 400,000 tons was hewed out. Some writers state the amount of rocked hewed out as 200,000 tons.
Let us just focus only on the removal of rock from the site. We will assume the workers toiled 12 hours per day, for 26 years to remove 400,000 tons of rock as the historians claim. So, 15,384 tons of rock had to be removed every year. This means that 42 tons of rock were removed every day, which gives us 1.75 tons of rock removed every hour. An impossible task which no groups of humans could have done at that time.
From the chisel marks found on walls of this temple, archaeologists assume that the carvers used three types of chisels pointing to three different periods of the Rashtrakuta dynasty.
Inscriptions on the Kailasanatha temple itself range from 9th to 15th century. So, we can conclude that it would have taken not 26 years, but centuries of human labor to create the Kailasanatha temple.
- Ellora Caves (en.wikipedia.org)
- Krishna I (en.wikipedia.org)
- Kailasa temple, Ellora (en.wikipedia.org)
- Kailasanatha Temple – Ellora (templenet.com)
- Kailash Temple Maharashtra (cultureholidays.com)H
- idden Secrets of Ancient Kailasa Temple and Ellora Caves (ancientvisitors.blogspot.com)
- Kailash Temple Ellora (slideshare.net)
- Incredible India ! Ellora caves (700 AD) – Showcasing the capability of Indian Architects and Sculptors (sreenionroad.wordpress.com)
- Ellora Caves, Kailasanatha Temple (wondermondo.com)