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Buddhist Group of Caves

Buddhist Group of Caves


World Heritage Sites – Ellora Caves – Buddhist Group of Caves

At Ellora, the Buddhists were the first to start excavation of caves. Their period of excavation here can be dated between circa A.D. 450 and 700. During this period, 12 caves were excavated by the followers of Buddhism. These 12 caves can be sub-divided into two groups based on the date of these caves. Cave 1 to 5 is earlier among the twelve and is placed in a separate group from Caves 6 to 12 which are later in date. These two groups have chaityagrihas and monasteries.


This is a shrine dedicated to Lord Buddha, reached through a flight of steps, and consists of a pillared mandapa with side galleries with the shrine at the rear end. The side galleries have images of Buddha in the sunken niches, many of them unfinished. The pillars are adorned with cushion brackets. The sculptures are massive, particularly, the dvarapalas (door-keepers), and apart from Buddha in the shrine many subsidiary deities are also represented.


This is called as Maharvada, which is a vihara (monastery) and measures 117 feet deep and 59 feet wide. The most striking feature of this monastery is two long and low stone benches placed at the centre and stretches throughout its length, flanked by row of 24 pillars, 12 on each side. The monastery has a shrine for Buddha at the rear end and twenty cells for the monks. This cave could have been a place of preaching and learning of the Buddhist principles and teaching, the stone benches being the seats for the mendicant disciples.


The cave is popularly known as Visvakarma (the celestial architect) cave and also as Sutar-ka-jhopra (Carpenter’s hut). The local carpenters visit the cave frequently and worship Buddha as Visvakarma, the patron of their craft. The cave is entered through a gate, cut in the natural rock, into a courtyard open to the sky, with cells to the right and left arranged in two storeys. Through the courtyard, one reaches the chapel of Lord Buddha, a typical chaityagriha. The chapel is 81 feet long 43 feet wide and 34 feet high. The hall is divided into a nave with side aisles by 28 octagonal pillars, each 14 feet high.

The lay visitor is filled with awe at the sight of Lord Buddha seated in dharmacakra pravartanamudra, nearly 11 feet in height, visible by the natural light entering through the entrance door and chaitya window in the balcony. Here, the Buddha image is placed on the front part of a large stupa, nearly 27 feet in height.

The roof is a huge arch with imitations of wooden ribs neatly reproduced in stone. The flat portion in between the pillars and the bottom of the stone ribs, known as triforium, is decorated with a series of seated Buddha images flanked by attendant figures.

The huge chaitya arch in front of the chaityagriha has attained the form of a trefoil decoration, unlike the huge pointed horse-shore arch of earlier chaityas. The arch has three portions, the central one decorated with an attic window at its centre, which also lightens the interior of the cave. Below the other two portions are sunken niches with image of Avalokiteshwara on the south and Manjushri on the north. The niches represent miniature temple shrines and adorned with extremely beautiful decorations imitating a sikhara of contemporary times. The chaitya arch and the balcony decoration are complete with precision and also imitation of wooden architecture. Even the wooden pins at the joints of beams and lintels are imitated in stone.


This is the largest monastic complex at Ellora, or even in the entire Maharashtra. The complex is in three storeys, hence called as Teen Thal locally. The huge complex is entered through a huge entrance carved out of natural rock, which leads into a large courtyard. A step on the right leads to the first storey which has a shrine at the middle of the rear end. There are 9 cells arranged on the side walls of the first storey. Various sculptural representations of Buddha and subsidiary deities adorn the walls.

A stair leads to the second storey which is a huge hall measuring 118 feet north to south and 34 feet in width. The hall is divided into three aisles by rows of eight square pillars. This floor has 13 cells pierced on the end of halls and on the back wall. The shrine at the eastern side of the storey has a huge Buddha image in bhumisparsa mudra. In front of the Buddha image is Sujata offering payasa, the episode reminding the events just before the enlightenment of Siddhartha before he became Buddha. On each side of the seated Buddha image is a row of five Bodhisattvas.

The top floor is reached by a flight of steps on the north. The top storey is a huge hall of nearly equal dimensions of the lower one, with a shrine and a huge antechamber on the east. The back wall of the hall contains fourteen representations of Buddha, seven on the north and seven on the south. The seven images on the north are in bhumisparsa mudra and are of Vipasyi, Sikhi, Vishvabahu, Krakuchhanda, Kanakamuni, Kashyapa and Sakyasimha, all are manusi Buddhas. The seven on the south are representations of divine Buddhas. The side walls of the antechamber are adorned by three images of female deities, three on each side. The shrine is adorned by a colossal image of Lord Buddha flanked by Padmapani and Vajrapani.

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