Ellora Caves History | Buddhist Caves | Vishvakarma Cave

About Ellora Caves:

The Ellora caves are in the Indian state of Maharashtra about 29 kilometres northwest of the city of Aurangabad, 300 kilometres east-northeast of Mumbai, 235 kilometres from Pune and about 100 kilometres west of the Ajanta Caves, 2.3 kilometres from Grishneshwar Temple.

It is one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world, featuring Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monuments, and artwork, dating from the 600–1000 CE period.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ellora, also called Verul or Elura, is the short form of the ancient name Elapura. The older form of the name has been found in ancient references such as the Baroda inscription of 812 CE which mentions “the greatness of this edifice” and that “this great edifice was built on a hill by Krishnaraja at Elapura, the edifice in the inscription being the Kailasa temple (Cave 16). In the Indian tradition, each cave is named and has a suffix Guha (Sanskrit), Lena or Leni (Marathi), meaning cave.

There are over 100 caves at the site, all excavated from the basalt cliffs in the Charanandri Hills, 34 of which are open to the public. These consist of 12 Buddhist (caves 1–12), 17 Hindu (caves 13–29) and 5 Jain (caves 30–34) caves, each group representing deities and mythologies prevalent in the 1st millennium CE, as well as monasteries of each respective religion.

The Buddhist monuments: Caves 1–12

These caves are located on the southern side and were built either between 630–700 CE, or 600–730 CE. It was initially thought that the Buddhist caves were the earliest structures that were created between the fifth and eighth centuries, with caves 1–5 in the first phase (400–600) and 6–12 in the later phase (650–750), but modern scholarship now considers the construction of Hindu caves to have been before the Buddhist caves. The earliest Buddhist cave is Cave 6, then 5, 2, 3, 5 (right wing), 4, 7, 8, 10 and 9,[24] with caves 11 and 12, also known as Do Thal and Tin Thal respectively, being the last.

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Buddhist Monument at Ellora Caves

Eleven out of the twelve Buddhist caves consist of viharas, or monasteries with prayer halls: large, multi-storeyed buildings carved into the mountain face, including living quarters, sleeping quarters, kitchens, and other rooms. The monastery caves have shrines including carvings of Gautama Buddha, bodhisattvas and saints. In some of these caves, sculptors have endeavoured to give the stone the look of wood.

Caves 5, 10, 11 and 12 are architecturally important Buddhist caves. Cave 5 is unique among the Ellora caves as it was designed as a hall with a pair of parallel refectory benches in the centre and a Buddha statue in the rear. This cave, and Cave 11 of the Kanheri Caves, are the only two Buddhist caves in India arranged in such a way. Caves 1 through 9 are all monasteries while Cave 10, the Vīśvakarmā Cave, is a major Buddhist prayer hall.

Caves 11 and 12 are three-storied Mahayana monastery caves with idols, mandalas carved into the walls, and numerous goddesses, and Bodhisattva-related iconography, belonging to Vajrayana Buddhism. These are compelling evidence to suggest that Vajrayana and Tantra ideas of Buddhism were well established in South Asia by the 8th-century CE.

The Vishvakarma Cave:

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Buddhist Goddess at Vishvakarma Caves at Ellora Caves

Notable among the Buddhist caves is Cave 10, a chaitya worship hall called the ‘Vishvakarma cave’, built around 650 CE. It is also known as the “Carpenter’s Cave” because the rock has been given a finish that has the appearance of wooden beams. Beyond its multi-storeyed entry is a cathedral-like stupa hall also known as chaitya-griha (prayer house). At the heart of this cave is a 15-foot statue of Buddha seated in a preaching pose.

Cave 10 combines a vihara with a chapel-like worship hall that has eight subsidiary cells, four in the back wall and four in the right, as well as a portico in the front. It is the only dedicated chaitya griha amongst the Buddhist caves and is constructed along similar lines to Caves 19 and 26 of Ajanta. Cave 10 also features a gavaksha, or chandrashala, arched window and a side connection to Cave 9 of Ellora.

The main hall of the Visvakarma cave is apsidal in plan and is divided into a central nave and side aisles by 28 octagonal columns with plain bracket capitals. In the apsidal end of the chaitya hall is a stupa on the face of which a colossal high seated Buddha in vyakhyana mudra (teaching posture). A large Bodhi tree is carved at his back. The hall has a vaulted roof in which ribs (known as triforium) have been carved in the rock imitating the wooden ones. The friezes above the pillars are Naga queens, and the extensive relief artwork shows characters such as entertainers, dancers and musicians.

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Buddhist Idol Ellora Caves

The front of the prayer hall is a rock-cut court entered via a flight of steps. The entrance of the Cave has a carved facade decorated with numerous Indian motifs including apsaras and meditating monks. On either side of the upper level are pillared porticos with small rooms in their back walls. The pillared verandah of the chaitya has a small shrine at either end and a single cell in the far end of the back wall. The corridor columns have massive squared shafts and ghata-pallava (vase and foliage) capitals. The various levels of Cave 10 also feature idols of male and female deities, such as Maitreya, Tara, Avalokitesvara (Vajradhamma), Manjusri, Bhrkuti, and Mahamayuri, carved in the Pala dynasty style found in eastern regions of India. Some southern Indian influences can also be found in various works in this cave.

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