January 25, 2015
Ellora, an immense and overwhelming complex of caves built over four centuries and three religions – Buddhism (AD 600-800), Hinduism (AD 600-900) and Jainism (AD 800-1000), is a stunning display of carved temples and figures.
Arriving at 10:30AM, the parking lot was beginning to fill with a short backup at the security gate. The massive size of the complex, however, including Cave 16, the main draw, dilutes the crowds to a manageable level. The colorful sarees a striking contrast against the gray stone.
Cave 16, the Hindu Kailasa Temple, is the largest monolithic carving in the world. No scaffolding was necessary as the colossal structure was carved out of the cliff face from top to bottom, taking over 200 years to complete.
For me it was one of the most impressive sights I have ever seen. As I walk around and through the temple structure I try to picture the intricate carvings painted as they were in their heyday. Only a few patches of stucco and paint remain on the structure but one can imagine the dizzying array of color and design. Be sure to climb up above the structure for a bird’s eye view, the only vantage point that really shows the complex in its entirety.
South of Cave 16 are three more caves of the Hindu group and the 12 Buddhist caves. If you are running out of time or simply glazing over with Buddha fatigue, some of the caves are much more noteworthy than others. The most interesting are 15, 14 and 12 through 8.
Heading north the rest of the Hindu caves are mostly minor, except for 21 and 29, a large cave of remarkable carvings.
If you have come by car and driver, cave 29 and the Jain caves further to the north are reachable by road. The latter are worth the visit for the most intricate carvings of the entire complex.
As the afternoon progresses more and more Indians are out for a Sunday visit. Even Cave 16 becomes overwhelmed by their number.