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Hindu Group of Caves in Ellora – Importance of Ellora Caves in Hinduism

Ellora, ancient Elapura, is a village located about 18 kilometer west of Aurangabad in Maharashtra. There are thirty-four rock-cut cave temples which belong to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Hindu Group of Caves in Ellora

Rameshwar Cave - Cave 21

Cave 21 is a very important cave in Ellora and from a point of view of Hinduism.

It contains exquisite sculptures in the Gupta tradition; and can be dated to the latter half of the 6th century AD. This is the oldest cave in Ellora.

The cave is known as Rameshwar cave and it consists of a square sanctum sanctorum with a Shivalinga and a space to go around the Shivling.

The walls of the sanctum sanctorum have gigantic doorkeepers flanking the entrance. The right back wall of sanctum has Shiva Parvati playing game of caushar (game of dice) and on the left panel has Ravana shaking Kailasa.

The main shrine has a richly carved door frame.

The cave has sculpted panels.

There is a high pedestal with a white bull Nandi.

There are cells inside the walls of the rock-cut courtyard.

The pillars in the hall have exquisite bracket capitals with salabhanjikas (sculpture of a woman, displaying stylized feminine features, standing near a tree and grasping a branch) supporting the roof.

On the either side in the wall are carved figures of Ganga and Yamuna in high relief.

The oblong mandapa too has exquisitely sculpted panels on its walls and sides.

On the right wall of the southern lateral extension are Kala and Kali. The back wall are sculptured with images of Sapta Matrikas who can be identified by their mounts, which are carved on the pedestals.

On the east end of the cave is seen the dancing eight-armed Shiva. Bhringi is seen dancing behind Shiva here. Goddess Parvati and her attendants are watching the dance. Gods and Goddesses from Hindu pantheon on their mounts are also depicted watching the dance of Shiva.

At the left of the north side of Rameshwar cave one can see Kartik, son of Shiva, holding a peacock. The back wall has Brahma and a female devotee. The opposite panel here depicts Mahishasuramardini.

The sculpture on the extreme right on north side is of Kalayna Sundari Murti (marriage of Shiva with Parvati). Next to it is Parvati performing the severe austerity of Panchagni Tapas to obtain Shiva as her husband, and Shiva as a mendicant is approaching her.

Here there are also figures of frolicking attendants of Shiva (ganas)

Ravana Ka Khai - Cave 14

This is a single storied square cave. It is approached by a flight of steps leading into a large hall with pillared front.

The sanctum is at the back and has space for circumambulation. There is a Shivling. There are doorkeepers and devotees carved in the entrance. Fire altars can be seen on the ground here.

The pillars of the hall have massive square shafts, each crowned by vase and foliage capitals.

The sidewalls of the halls have sculpted panels five on either side.

The first sculpture on the north wall depicts a standing Durga holding a trident in her left hand. Her left leg rests over a lion. The sculpture is damaged – three hands of Durga are broken. Two flying Vidyadharas are seen hovering in the sky.

The next panel has Goddess Lakshmi seated on a lotus below it are lotus creepers, aquatic plants and aquatic creatures. Male attendants on each side of the Goddess hold a water pitcher. Flying Vidyadharas are seen hovering in the sky. Two attendants bath Goddess here.

The third panel is of the Varaha manifestation of Vishnu. He stands on the coiled body of a snake. The right hand holds discus and the left hand holds earth, which he rescued in the avatar. Corners of the panel have flying vidyadharas.

The fourth panel depicts Vishnu seated along with his consorts Sridevi and Bhudevi. Vishnu wears a cylindrical crown and his mount Garuda is present. Some musicians can be seen seated down.

The fifth panel is of Vishnu seated with a consort.

The circumambulatory passage in the sanctum sanctorum have sculptures of Sapta Matrikas holding a child and the identity of each possible by the mount carved on the pedestal.

To the right there is a standing image of Shiva.

The shrine doors have female attendants, Ganga, and Yamuna.

There right wall here has five panels.

The first is of Andhakari Shiva. Shiva is standing here in Atidha pose. The eight-armed Shiva holds skin of Gajasura and is setting forth to destroy Andhaka. The other arms have his regular weapons. 
The sculpture of Ganesha is found between the legs of Shiva.

The next panel shows Shiva Tandava with musicians on his right, and his consort Parvati on the left. At the back there are figures of Dikpalas and other gods including Bhringi.

Shiva Parvati playing causar is seen in the next panel. In the same panel on the lower side Nandi is seen playing with Ganas.

The next panel of an impressive Mahishasura Mardini is badly damaged.

Dashavatara Cave – Cave 15

This is a two-storied cave and it was established in 752 AD.  

The upper floor of the two-storied cave is a large hall and it is supported by 42 massive pillars having square shafts. There is a sanctum sanctorum in the back wall of the upper floor, which is joined to the hall by a vestibule. The sanctum sanctorum has a Shivling.

The upper floor hall side walls contain a number of sculptured panels carved in deep recesses. The north walls depict Shaiva themes and the south walls depict Vaishnava themes.

There is a balcony, which is projecting out. And on either side of it are doorkeepers standing in three bends.

The north side left wall first panel depicts Andhakari Shiva. Shiva is standing here in Atida pose. The eight-armed Shiva holds skin of Gajasura and is setting forth to destroy Andhaka. The other arms have his regular weapons.

The next panel is of Shiva Tandava.

The third panel was probably meant for Shivling.

The fourth panel depicts Shiva and Parvati on Kailash playing causar. They are flanked by four attendants, two of them holding fly whisks.

Next panel is of marriage of Shiva and Parvati – Kalyana Sundara Murti. Brahma, Ganesha and Dikpalas are also visible. Brahma is the priest here.

The next panel has Ravana shaking the Kailash mountain and Shiva rendering him immobile by just pressing the toe.

The last panel is dedicated to Ganesha.

The back wall, the first panel is of Kalari Shiva. Shiva protects his devotee young Markandeya from the clutches of death (Yama). This figure is also known as Markandeya Anugraha Murti.

Next panel is of Gangadhara. Shiva and Parvati are standing with Ganga flowing from Shiva’s matted locks.

The antechamber has Ganesh on left and Gajalakshmi on right. The south end is dedicated to Vishnu.

The back wall on south side has the Lingodbhavamurti of Shiva. The sculpture has Shiva standing in a column of fire. Shiva is flanked by Brahma on the right and Vishnu on the left. At the bottom, Vishnu is depicted in the form of Varaha burrowing down to find the bottom of the linga. Top of the linga has murti of Brahma in the form of a swan flying to find the top of the linga.

Tripurantaka is depicted in the last panel. Shiva is depicted as destroying the three cities of demons (Tripurasura) as Tripurari.

There are other panels depicting stories associated with Shiva.

There are also panels depicting stories of Vishnu like Sri Krishna lifting Mount Govardhan, Vishnu on reclining on Ananta Sesha and Gajendra Moksha.

The south wall has sculptures of Varaha, Tri Vikrama (Vamana) and Narasimha Avatars of Vishnu.
Many of the sculptures here are mutilated.

The cave is noted for massive pillars and huge sculptures.

The sculptures are stumpy because of the constraints of the height of the hall.

Cave 16 Kailasa

The Kailasa temple is the most noted of all the splendours of Ellora, a free-standing temple rather than a cave, entirely sculpted out of a great mass of basalt.

Kailasa is the largest monolithic temple created by the Rashtrakuta King, Krishna (757 – 83 AD).

It derives its name from the famous sculptured panel depicting the scene of Ravana shaking Mount Kailash.

The temple is created by entrenching vertically into the hill-side on all sides of a central rectangle about sixty meters long and thirty meters wide. In the process, a central mass of rock about thirty meters high has been isolated and carved into a main temple complex, with all components and peripheral shrines in addition to two free-standing pillars.

Both conceptually and artistically, the Kailasa is a unique and remarkable monument.

Patronized by a succession of rulers from the Rashtrakuta dynasty, mid-8th century, it symbolizes Mount Kailasa, the abode of Shiva. River goddesses mark the route to the three sections of the temple (a Nandi shrine, a gatehouse and the main sanctuary) which are on a raised plinth borne by elephants. The principal shrine is topped by a pyramidal tower (shikara). Superb sculptural friezes in the temple tell tales from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and of Shiva.

The Gajalakshmi panel seen in this view is situated at the entrance to Kailasanatha cave temple and symbolises prosperity. It depicts two elephants pouring water over the goddess Lakshmi. Two figures of guardians are carved on the sides.

Cave 17 to 20 are modest excavations, all Shaivite with a Shivling in the sanctum sanctorum.

Cave 22, Nilakathan, is a part of the Hindu cave temples at Ellora which dates from the 8th century. The cave has sculptures of Vishnu and Ganesha and a skeleton Bhringi or Kala with two arms and outspread hair.

Cave 29 Dhumar Lena

Dhumar Lena is one of the earliest caves of the Hindu series and dates from the Kalachuri period in the 6th century, as denoted by the similarity between its columns and those at the Elephanta cave. Large-scale sculpted wall panels on the sides represent stories of Hindu God Shiva.

The sculpture in this view depicts Shiva holding the hand of Parvati. Brahma, the priest, is seated on the floor making offerings into the fire. In the upper part of the panel there are semi-divine and divine flying figures.

The sculpture in this view depicts Shiva Andhakasura Vadha Murti, a ferocious aspect of Shiva; He is represented with eight arms, two of them holding the spear impaling the demon Andhaka, shown at the top left corner.

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