In the early seventh century AD the Buddhists of the Mahayana sect were the first to come to Ellora and began excavations in the Charnadar Mountains of what would ultimately become one of the most remarkable examples of rock cut architecture in the world.The painstaking slow process was done entirely by hand as the artisans and craftsman, inspired by faith and devotion, excavated from the top of the mountain downwards so that the ceilings were completed first.  Following close behind were the painters, sculptors and finishers who completed each section as it was cleared.Over two hundred years of labour produced twelve caves carved with images and statues of Buddhist images.It is said of cave ten that it was so beautifully fashioned that it became known as the Vishavakarma Cave, the deity worshiped by carpenters and artisans.

Concurrent with the final century of Buddhist excavations, the Hindu artisans arrived and began a series of sixteen complementary cave complexes dedicated to the various deities of the Hindu mythology, but particularly those representing Shiva.The ultimate culmination of the Hindu rock cut architectural effort is represented by cave number 16, better known as Kailash, a cave temple conceived as a representation of the mountain of the same name in western Tibet, legendary home of the god Shiva.The walls of many of the caves depict familiar legends and myths of Hindu lore in both sculpture and paintings including stories from the Mahabarata, and the Ramayanna as well as the depictions of Vishnu in his various Avataric forms.

While work on the Hindu caves continued into the latter part of the eighth century, the adherents of the Jain religion began their cave construction at the northern end of the cave complex, a small distance from the others.A total of five caves were constructed of which three contain significant carvings and decorations of lions elephants and vases.  Statues of the Jain founder, the naked Mahavira, a comtemporary of Buddha seated on a lion throne are found in all of the three principle Jain caves.

With the completion of the Jain caves at the end of the tenth century four hundred years of effort was finally completed.Perhaps the charm and spiritual significance of Ellora is that it represents experiments and iconography of three different faiths working side by side at various times.With the presence of the Chisthi Sufi shrines and tombs at adjacent Khuldabad and the Valley of the Saints, the major religious philosophies of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Islam represented at Ellora co-exist harmoniously as testaments of man’s relationship and devotion to God.

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ELLORA CAVES
ERUCH TELLS THE STORY (1:16)