Located near the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra, India; the famous Ajanta and Ellora are the world heritage sites famous for the cave shrines that are cut out of rock, all by hand. Every structure of this cave site has been cut out of solid rock. They are the greatest specimens of rock-cut architecture and Buddhist culture.
The Ajanta and Ellora caves are one of the most well known popular tourist attractions in India and are easily accessible from various parts of the country. They are situated roughly 300 kilometers northeast of Mumbai (Bombay). They are some of the most astounding examples of cave architecture in the world.
Ajanta has 29 caves and Ellora has 34 caves. They remained shrouded in mystery for over a millennium, till John Smith, a British Army Officer, accidentally rediscovered them while on a hunting expedition. These caves aren’t natural caves, but they have been built by generations of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Monks who lived and worshipped in the caves, and slowly carved out elaborate pillars, statues and meditation rooms.
The Ajanta and Ellora caves are listed among the World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO. This has been done to preserve their artistic legacy, so that they can continue to inspire the lives of generations to come and enrich them deeply.
Ajanta is 100 kms from Aurangabad and the caves were discovered in 1819. They depict “Buddhist religious art” and “universal pictorial art” and are known all over the world for their unique style. They portray very beautifully the story of Buddhism, spanning from a period from 200 BC to 650 AD.
The 29 Ajanta caves were used as the shelter of the Buddhist monks who were teachers in various Buddhist rituals. They performed rituals in the Chaityas and Viharas and these were the nerve-centers of the Buddhist cultural movement.
An amazing feature is that the Buddhist monks carved out impressive figures that adorn the walls of these structures, using simple tools like hammer and chisel. They portray tales of the several incarnations of the Buddha and many stories from the Jatakas.
The Ellora caves, 34 in number, are carved into the sides of a basaltic hill. They are just 30 Kms from the main city of Aurangabad. Ellora Caves are devoted to Buddhist, Jain and Hindu faiths; they have an amazing wealth of sculpture. They were carved during the 350 AD to 700 AD period.
Unlike the Ajanta caves, the Ellora Cave temples are home to various monuments, carvings and sculptures relating to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. They consist of magnificent sculptures and monuments dedicated to Lord Buddha, Lord Vishwakarma, dwarfs, dancing girls, yakshas and musicians.
The Ellora Caves are the finest specimens of cave-temple architecture. The 17 caves in the centre are dedicated to Hinduism, the 12 caves to the south are Buddhist and 5 caves to the north are Jain. The sculptures accurately convey the grace, nobility and serenity inherent in the Buddha.
Although all the caves in Ellora are marvelous architectural feats, the Kailash Cave Temple is the most famous temple which consists of magnificent sculptures of Lord Shiva and can be called as the jewel in the crown.
It is the largest monolithic structure in the world and has been carved totally from a single rock. It represents Mt. Kailasa, the home of the god Shiva in the Himalayas. It is believed to have taken 7,000 laborers 150 years to complete the project. It shows Man’s determination when his mind, heart and hands work in unison towards the fulfillment of a supreme ideal.
Visiting Ajanta and Ellora
Ajanta and Ellora Caves are one of India’s greatest architectural treasures. They attract thousands of visitors and tourists annually. The sites are open daily from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., with guides available for hire. Entry is free to all caves at Ellora except the Kailasa Temple.
Both Ajanta and Ellora caves are open for public viewing throughout week with exception of weekly holiday of Monday for Ajanta and Tuesday for Ellora. Both caves are open on national holidays.