Ellora cave complex is one of the World’s largest rock-cut caves presenting the temples and artwork of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain. There are more than 100 caves on this UNESCO World Heritage Site, but only 34 are open to the public.
Among those 34 caves, the first 12 caves from the southern end occupy Buddhist shrines, Hindu shrines are in the central part, from 13 to 29 caves and 30 to 34 caves in the northern end are Jain caves.
Amid those 34 caves of Ellora, the most remarkable one is cave no. 16th Kailasa Temple. Kailasa or Kailasanatha Temple is one of India’s greatest monuments and the world’s largest monolithic structure carved on a single rock. This monument is named after Mount Kailash, which is believed to be the adobe of Lord Shiva. Thus, this temple was dedicated to Lord Shiva and was meant to be a replica of Mount Kailash.
History of Temple
There are no such engravings on the site to track its history. The fascinating fact is that nothing is precisely known about the origin and builders of the temple. The rock is said to be around 6000 years old but when was the temple carved is still a mystery. Researchers or historians believe that the temple started being constructed in the eighth century during the reign of King Krishna I of Rashtrakuta Dynasty, but this period also varies among historians.
Since the temple portrays the use of different architectural designs, some scholars believe that the construction and expansion of the temple complex continued through the reigns of multiple successors. However, the main temple is believed to be built in the 8th century and only took 18 years to complete, which is a mystery for modern science.
According to the legend, when King Krishna I fell ill, his queen prayed to Lord Shiva at Elapura (currently called Ellora) to cure her husband. She also vowed to build a Shiva temple and not eat until she could see the top (shikhara) of the temple. Thus, when the king was cured, she requested him to build a temple immediately because of her vow.
Many architects rejected the proposal of the King to construct a temple, mentioning it would take more than a month to complete its top. One architect named Kokasa assured the king that the queen would be able to see the temple’s shikhara within a week. Then he started carving the temple from the top and was able to finish the shikhara within a week, enabling the queen to end her fast.
Temple’s Construction and Features
As mentioned above, the temple was excavated from top to bottom with massive amounts of stones dug out. Historians estimate that approx. 400,000 tons of rocks were removed from the site in the making of this temple. And those cut-out rocks were never found and seen in and around the site. The temple is about 200 ft. in length and 100 ft. in breadth and height.
Describing the temple’s features itself is a difficult task, as the temple is carved in such a magnificent way (both inside and out) from the top of the mountain. Everything that has been carved within and outside the temple has a complete finishing as the work progressed downward. One can witness the beautiful combination of both the southern and northern Indian styles. It looks like the heavenly creation of art in the human world.
This west-facing Kailasa Temple has a two-storeyed gateway (gopuram) leading to the U-shaped courtyard, which is edged by the huge pillars. Within the courtyard is a sacred bull Nandi’s sculpture facing the main temple. The Nandi Mandapa is built in 2 storey design, in which lower storey is decorated with expressive carvings. The main temple houses the Shiva Lingham and also features a flat-roofed pavilion supported by 16 pillars and a Dravidian Shikhara. There are two free-standing pillars (Dhwajasthambhas) which are 51 feet high, situated one on each side of the Nandi’s shrine.
The temple area comprises other shrines too. The northern court has shrines of goddess Ganga and Yamuna, and Lankeshwor (a form of Shiva). Likewise, the southern part consists of Yajna Shala and the suburb of Lanka as mentioned in Ramayana. Carvings on the pillars depict the events of Mahabharata and Ramanaya.
One of the most eye-catchy and important features of this temple is the sculpture of elephants, which makes it look like the entire temple stands on those elephants. Besides that, there are 56 chambers inside the compound walls of the temple which are used for meditation. People believe that they get peace of mind and spiritual presence while visiting and meditating here.
Interesting Facts about Kailasa Temple
- As per the archeologists, the main temple’s construction would have taken more than 100 years even with the use of present-day machinery. But, in reality, it only took 18 years to complete the construction of the temple using iron chisel and hammers only. They are trying to research how the temple was built in that short duration.
- This shiva temple cannot be destructed easily. It is said that Mugal King Aurangzeb send 1000 of his people to destroy the temple in 1682, who worked for complete 3 years to destroy the temple. But they could only disfigure a few statues.
- There are numerous holes, and shafts that were dug during its construction, which actually cannot be done by using such tools of that time. So how was it possible? It’s still a mystery.
Located in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India, the Kailasa Temple of Ellora Caves is one of the must-visit Hindu Temple in India. One must visit this temple to see the ancient mystery and the most beautiful architecture.