Kailasa Temple Ellora Caves: monolithic masterpiece

Share This Article
Kailashnath Temple; Temple Architecture;; Travel Blog; uasatish;;
Kailashnath Temple

Kailasa Temple in Ellora Caves is an extraordinary Shiva temple. It is 1,250 years old. The temple is a monolithic structure of basalt stone. Beautiful carved sculptures fill the temple. There are 32 caves in Ellora. Kailasa Temple is in the sixteenth cave. It represents Kailasa or Kailash, the Himalayan abode of Lord Shiva.

History of Kailasa Temple Ellora

There are no inscriptions in the temple to trace its history. But historians credit the construction to Rashtrakuta King Krishna I, during 756 to 773 CE. Later rulers further extended the temple. The master architect had chosen to excavate from the top of the mountain. Massive amounts of stone were dug out, without the help of modern machinery. Construction demanded the removal of 150,000 to 200,000 tons of solid rock. The temple stands independent of the surrounding rock. There are innumerable carvings on the inside and outside.

Ellora was never rediscovered, in contrast to other rock-cut sites in the Western Deccan such as Ajanta and Pitalkhora, . It has always been a holy place, known generally under the name of Verul. It drew pilgrims through the centuries down to the present day. Holy men occupied the cave temples over the years. It appears that even Aurangzeb paid a visit to the site on more than one occasion, probably from nearby Khuldabad. 

Gajalakshmi with Four Elephants; sculpture; Ellora Caves; uasatish;
Gajalakshmi with Four Elephants

The picture shows elephants spraying water on Gajalakshmi. This magnificent panel is in front of the entrance gate. The goddess is sitting on a double lotus in  kshirsagar (milk ocean). She is the goddess of fortune and wealth. The two small elephants are filling vessels with water.  The elephants flanking her are shown  pouring water from their trunk over the goddess. This aspect  is representative of prosperity, good luck, and abundance.  Gajalakshmi motifs are common in Hindu iconography.

Kailasa Temple Arcade; Ellora; travel blog; uasatish;
Kailasa Temple Arcade

Shiva Sculptures

Kailas Temple; Ellora Caves; cave no. 16; rock cut caves; India; Maharashtra; temple; UNESCO heritage site; uasatish; Shiva Thandava;
Shiva Thandava

The sculpture of Shiva in Tandava dance is in the rare abhanga pose, balanced delicately by four hands on each side. He stands gracefully with weight of the body placed on one leg. The pose shows meditation, repose and serenity. 

Yogeshwara Lord Shiva; Ellora Cave 16; uasatish; travel blog;
Yogeshwara Lord Shiva

Yogeshwar Shiva is carved on a colossal panel in the hall. It shows an eight-armed Shiva seated in padmasana at the centre on a double-petalled lotus pedestal supported by lions. His haloed head is adorned with a high jatamukuta with a crescent moon. A tree above his jatamukuta touches top of the panel. On Shiva’s right side are Varuna on a crocodile, Vayu on a deer and Mahesha and Ishana on bulls. At the top of the panel on Shiva’s left are Indra on Airavata, Yama on his buffalo, Agni on a ram and Kubera on a dead man.

Unsupported Rock Ceiling; Ellora Caves; Maharashtra; uasatish;
Unsupported Rock Ceiling

Construction of the Temple

The architecture of Kailasa Temple is notable for its vertical excavation. The work began at the top and moved downwards. Steel rod drills split the large boulders from the mountain.  You can even now see the drill marks on the surrounding walls. Kailasa Temple is the only structure in the world that has been cut from the top down, a megalith carved out of a single rock, .

The main mandapa has sixteen pillars. In front of it is a mandapa for Nandi, the bull vahana of Shiva. On each side is a dwajastambam or flag pole. There are five detached shrines in the temple complex. On either side of the main temple on the exterior walls are two panels depicting scenes from Mahabharatha and Ramayana. The Ramayana panel in the southern wall portrays a number of events in seven rows. 

Ellora Caves; cave no. 16; rock cut caves; India; Maharashtra; temple; UNESCO heritage site; uasatish; Ramayana;
Depiction of Ramayana

The northern wall has carvings showing scenes from Mahabharata. The panels are again in seven rows. The lower two rows display the childhood escapades of Krishna. The upper five rows have scenes of Arjuna’s penance, the Kirata-Arjuna fight and the Mahabharata war.

Ellora Caves; cave no. 16; rock cut caves; India; Maharashtra; temple; UNESCO heritage site; uasatish; Mahabharatham;
Mahabharatham Story

Architecture of Kailasa Temple Ellora

The temple architecture has Dravidian influences. The main temple has a U-shaped courtyard. A columned arcade three stories high surrounds the courtyard. The arcades contain enormous sculptures of deities and sculpted panels. 

There are five subsidiary shrines around the main temple in the path that runs along the side of the hill. This includes a shrine dedicated to river goddesses Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati and also a yajnashala (sacrificial chamber).

Elephant Figures; Kailas Temple; Ellora Cavs; travel blog; uasatish;
Huge Elephant Figures in Kailas Temple

Elephants are auspicious animals in Hinduism. They are part of some religious ceremonies and functions in India. You will find life-size sculptures of elephants in Kailasa Temple.

Kailas Temple; Ellora Caves; cave no. 16; rock cut caves; India; Maharashtra; temple; UNESCO heritage site; uasatish; victory pillar;
Rock Cut Pillar

There are two free-standing victory pillars (kirti stambhs)  in the temple.

Kailas Temple; Ellora Caves; cave no. 16; rock cut caves; India; Maharashtra; temple; UNESCO heritage site; uasatish; Nandi;
Nandi Bull

A sculpture of the sacred bull Nandi paying respects to Lord Shiva is in the centre of the temple. Most Shaivite temples have the sculpture of a humped bull resting on a raised platform and facing the shrine so that he may continuously gaze on Shiva.

Ellora Caves; Travel blog; uasatish; stone corridor;
Corridor Flanking Kailasa Temple

Mughal emperor Aurangzeb had tried to wreck Kailasa Temple. However he did not get much success. All he could inflict was minor damages but not to the main structure.

Kailas Temple; Ellora Caves; cave no. 16; rock cut caves; India; Maharashtra; temple; UNESCO heritage site; uasatish; Narasimha;

The sculpture shows Narasimha tearing out the guts of his enemy. Narasimha is one of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu. He is in the form of a man-lion. The sculpture depicts Narasimha ripping open the belly of the demon Hiranyakashipu.

Kailasa Temple; Ellora Caves; India; rock cut temple; cave no 16; uasatish; erotic sculpture;
Amorous Couple on Outer Wall

There are a few erotic sculptures on the outer walls of the temple.

If you liked the post, you could…

Join more than 5,000 fans of UASATISH by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

You may also like to read:
Ajanta Caves; India; Cave no 1; Bodhisattva-Padmapani; Maharashtra; uasatish; painting;
Ajjanta Cave 1 – Ancient Buddhist Monastery
Ajanta Cave 17 – Mahayana Vihara
Scroll to Top