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World Heritage Sites – Ellora Caves – Brahmanical Group of Caves

Brahmanical Group of Caves


There are altogether 17 excavations belonging to the Brahmanical faith at Ellora, excavated out of the west face of the hill for nearly a km and datable from around A.D. 650 to 900.

The main examples of this group are Cave 14, Ravana-ka-khai or the Abode of Ravana, the demon king of Lanka; Cave 15, Das Avatar or the Ten incarnations of Visnu; Cave 16, the great Kailasa; Cave 21, Ramesvara; Cave 29, Dumar Lena. These excavations immediately follow the Buddhist examples existed here and hence the earliest Brahmanical excavations are very much similar to the Buddhist ones. A gradual evolution of rock-cut architecture under the Rashtrakutas could be seen here. The evolution of temples from a simple cell with a mandapa into cells with pradakshina patha and an elaborate mandapa could be seen here.


The origin of the name Ravana-ka-khai for this cave is not known.

This cave is consisted of a huge pillared courtyard in front of a shrine containing a linga. The shrine has a circumambulatory passage directly approached also from the aisles of the courtyard. The side walls of the aisles of the courtyard are adorned with sculptural representations from Saiva as well as Vaishnava faith.

The south wall contains the images of mahisasura mardini (the slaying of buffalo-demon), Lord Siva and Parvai playing the game of chausar, Lord Siva performing the celestial dance (Nataraja), Ravananugraha murti (Ravana shaking the Mount Kailasa and later Siva pardoning him and blessing him), Gajasamhara murti (Siva killing the elephant-demon). By the side of these sculptural representations, and on the southern wall of the circumambulation, is the depiction of Saptamatrikas (Seven Divine Mothers), Chamunda with owl, Indrani with elephant, Varahi with boar, Lakshmi with garuda, Kaumari with peacock, Maheshwari with bull and Sarasvati with hamsa or goose.

The north wall contains the images of Bhavani or Durga, Gajalakshmi, Varaha, the boar incarnation of Vishnu, Vishnu and Lakshmi.

Curiously enough, the floor of the courtyard has four circular pits, might be remnants of a religious ritual of the past.


Probably for the first time at Ellora, the architects had gained enough expertise; they experimented by carving out a monolith structure out of the solid rock mass. This led to the finishing of the front mandapa of this cave which is two storeyed. This mandapa has also has a historical record of the Rashtrakuta king Dantidurga, which is mentioned above. The inscription mentions the genealogy of some of the kings of the Rashtrakuta dynasty. They are Dantivarma I (c. A.D. 600-630), his son Indraraja I (630-650), his son Govindaraja (650-675), his son Karkaraja I (675-700), his son Indraraja II (700-725), his son Dantidurga Khadgavaloka (725-757). Interestingly, the sculptural representations on the pillars of top storey are Buddhist, while the lower part is Brahmanical.

The first storey is reached by a flight of steps, which has eleven sunken compartments in which huge bas-reliefs of various gods and goddesses are carved. They are Ganapati, Parvati, Surya, Siva and Parvati, Mahisasuramardini, Ardhanarisvara, Bhavani or Durga, Ganapati, Uma in penance attitude, Ardhanarisvara and Kali.

The second storey measures 109 feet by 95 feet inclusive of a shrine of linga and an antechamber. The side walls of the front chamber have deep recesses adorned with huge sculptural reliefs. The sculptural representations are of Gajasamharamurti, Nataraja, Bhavani or Durga, Siva and Parvati playing the game of chausar, Kalyanasundara murti, Ravanugraha murti on the north wall. The back wall has Markandeya anugraha murti, Gangadhara murti, Ganapati, Parvati, Gajalakshmi, Vishnu, Lingodhbhava Siva and Tripurantaka murti. The south wall has the representations of Govardhanadhari Vishnu, Sheshasayi Vishnu, Vishnu on garuda, Varaha, the boar incarnation of Vishnu, Vamana Trivikrama avatara of Vishnu, Narasimha avatara of Vishnu.


The culmination of the rock-cut architecture is undoubtedly the magnificent Kailasa (Cave 16) which is the largest cave excavation in India, and probably in the entire world. This marks the departure from all the earlier conventions in which a huge mass of rock was made free of the parent rock formation first and then it was sculpted and carved into a huge temple. Three deep trenches were sunk in the parent rock mass which left a huge monolithic structure measuring 276 X 154 X 107 feet (length X width X height).

The influence of other temple styles cannot be neglected, for, this temple resembles closely with the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakkal, an early Chalukyan temple. Kailasa was excavated under Krishna I (A.D. 756-783) the Rashtrakuta monarch, who after subduing the Western Chalukyas in the eighth century was in the high of power. It was originally known as Krishneswara, after the great king, conceived on a mighty scale, announcing to the entire world, the ingenuity, character and architectural genius.

The Kailasa may be broadly classified into four parts, namely, the entrance gateway, the body of the temple, an intermediate nandi shrine, and the cloisters surrounding the courtyard.

The front wall of the Kailasa is in the form of a fortification wall with an entrance gopura of the Dravidian style at the centre. The wall is adorned with sculptural representations of Siva and Vishnu and Ashtadigpalas (guardian gods of eight directions). The representations of Urdhvadandava Siva, Brahma, Vishnu, Lingodhbhava Siva, Harihara, Ashtadigpalas, Vamana Trivikrama, Narasimha, Nataraja, etc., are seen on the front wall. A huge sub-terranean cistern is also seen to the south of this wall.

The entrance gopura is double-storeyed, the entrance being flanked by images of Ganga and Yamuna, the symbolical purification of the worshippers by these sacred rivers. A huge sculpture of Gajalakshmi greets the visitors after passing the entrance, and the huge court of the temple can be reached from here by either turning left or right.

The most prominent feature of the court is two huge monolithic elephants and pillars on each side. The pillars, square in shape rise to a height of 45 feet and is crowned by a huge trisula. The pillars are decorated with sculptural as well as moulding decorations.

The rear portion of the front wall is also decorated with various sculptures. Some of the important ones are Mahisasuramardini, Vishnu on garuda, Kama, the god of Love, Tripurantaka Siva, etc. Towards the northern portion of the court is a sunken shrine into the natural rock, with images of Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati. This may be the symbolical representation of unison of these three rivers at Prayaga, the most sacred spot of the Brahmanical faith. A lay worshipper is purified here by offering his prayers at this spot, just before proceeding further into the temple.

The main body of the temple is a huge parallelogram with the principal shrine excavated at the first floor level. The level corresponding to the lower storey consists of a series of mouldings executed one upon other. The massive plinth which is nearly 8 m in height is heavily moulded with a central frieze occupied by a boldly carved elephants, lions and mythical animals. Episodes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Krishna’s life are also sculpted on the walls of the plinth giving a running account of the great Epics.

The principal shrine proper rises to a height of nearly 23 m over the plinth with five subsidiary shrines all fashioned out of the rock. The interior of the shrine consists of a pillared mandapa, an antarala (antechamber) and a garbha griha (shrine). Remnants of paintings are to be seen on the ceilings of the portico immediately after one land on the first floor by right angled steps. The original paintings have survived at very less places. The paintings belong to two different periods, the first one of the period of Rashtrakutas while the second exactly superimposing the original one belong to the period of Holkars when the entire structure was given a lime wash and painted with ochre coloured paintings during the period of Ahalya Bai Holker.

The pillars of the mandapa are exquisitely carved with sculptural as well as geometrical motifs. The central piece of attraction is a huge nataraja image executed on the ceiling of the mandapa. One has only to marvel the pains taken to execute the sculpture, as the artist has to lie down on his back over scaffolding while preventing the dust and stone particles from his eye, illumined just with an oil lamp! The ceiling at many places contain murals, most of which have lost their luster due to soot and carbon deposition resulted by lighting of oil lamps in the past.

The main shrine is entered from the mandapa through an antechamber which have on its sidewalls, huge sculptures of Umamahesvara and Annapurna (the goddess of food). Once again the devotee is purified by the presence of Ganga and Yamuna depicted here with their respective vehicles, the crocodile and tortoise respectively. The sanctum contains a huge monolithic linga over a huge yonipitha, the ceiling is decorated with an enormous lotus. The devotee is conjured by the mystique in which the linga the iconic representation of Lord Siva is placed in the sanctum and tenders his obeisance and requests for the blessing from Almighty!

After coming out from the sanctum, one can have a huge circumambulation around the main shrine from an exit from the mandapa. On the circumambulatory passage are five independent shrines, two at the corners and three at the centers, with another two shrines just at the entrance and exit. These shrines are empty now; however, these could have been the shrines of parivara devatas of Lord Siva and other deities of Brahmanical faith. These shrines, seven in number, if added to the main shrine makes it an ashtayathana concept of a temple complex with eight shrines. The wall portion of the main shrine along with the subsidiary shrines are sculpted in detail with various representations of Lord Siva.

The visitor after completing the circumambulation again enters the mandapa and exits through the main entrance. In front of it is the nandimandpa, the vehicle of Lord Siva. It is a huge monolith, the style and execution indicates that it was sculpted somewhere else and placed here later. The interior of the nandimandapa is exquisitely painted with various episodes from the Ramayana, with votive inscriptions in the characters of the Rashtrakuta times. After passing through the nandimandapa, the visitor can reach the upper storey of the entrance gopura, and through a window can have a glimpse of the exterior of the cave complex. Two exits branch off from the upper storey of the gopura to an elevated platform, from where one can have a fuller view of the entire Kailasa temple complex. This elevated platform is an added attraction for most of the tourists for photography.

The visitor again retraces his way back and comes down through the nandimandapa and reaches the ground floor through the southern steps. After alighting, one can take a turn toward north below the bridge connecting the main shrine and nandimandapa. The portion below the bridge has two enormous sculptures of Siva, one as gajasamhara murti and other as dakshina murti (Siva in meditating attitude). After passing through this passage, the visitor again enters the courtyard, from where he can take a turn toward the east and reach the sculptured corridor filled with various sculptures.

The sculptured corridor is reached by a flight of steps on the northern wall of the live rock. The corridor is located just below the huge overhand of the live rock mass. One can only see to believe the understanding of cantilever principles mastered during ancient times and executed here. Marvellous representations of various sculptures of Lord Siva, Parvati, Vishnu, Brahma, etc., are depicted here. The majority of the sculptures belong to episodes and deeds connected with Lord Siva.

After completing the circuit, the visitor reaches a point at the ground floor just below the southern portion of the main shrine. Originally there was a stone bride connecting the southern balcony of the main shrine to the shrines on the parent rock mass. Now the bridge has fallen down and one can see the remnants of support pillars and masonry steps executed during the time of Nizams of Hyderabad. Below this bridge and on the southern wall of the main shrine is a very huge image of Ravananugraha murti (Ravana shaking mount Kailasa).

There are many unfinished excavations in the parent rock mass to the south of the main shrine. One prominent excavation in this portion is the depiction of saptamatrikas flanked by Ganapati and Chamunda. These sculptures are one of the detailed representations of saptramatrikas here, even though they are obliterated now.

The visit is not complete without a visit to another huge shrine on the parent rock mass to the north of the main shrine. This shrine seems to be of a later addition. It is also dedicated to Lord Siva and exquisitely carved.

Thus the visit to this wonderful temple complex is complete and the visitor is filled with full of wonder and just cannot prevent admiring at the efforts of his ancestors and the master craftsmen involved in creating such a masterpiece.


This cave is located midway between Cave 16 and 29 and is supposed to be the earliest among the Brahmanical caves. This cave is famous for the sculptural representations and its unique beauty.

This is also dedicated to Lord Siva who was worshipped in the form of linga. A nandi is placed just in front of the cave over a raised platform. The cave consists of a rectangular mandapa and the sanctum. The mandapa is provided with a dwarf wall which is fully sculpted on the exterior in vertical and horizontal bands. The entrance to the mandapa is flanked by sculptures of Ganga and Yamuna. Pillars emerge at regular intervals from the dwarf wall with very beautiful and elegant salabhanjikas (female figures clinging to creepers).

The walls of the mandapa and two cells one each on the north and south have massive sculptural representations. The cell on the south has representations of saptamatrikas on its southern wall, nataraja on eastern wall and Kali and Kala on western wall. The cell on the north has representations of the marriage of Siva and Parvati on its northern wall, Subrahmanya on its western wall and mahisasura mardini on its eastern wall.

On either side of the entrance to the shrine are two huge depictions, Ravananugraha murti to its north and Siva and Parvati playing the game of chausar to its south. The entrance doorway of the shrine is very elaborate, divided into different segments, and profusely carved. The entrance is guarded by two dvarapalas, one on each side. The sanctum contains a linga. A circumambulatory passage is scooped out of the live rock for pradakshana.


The Dumar Lena (Cave 29) is another important excavation at Ellora by the side of “Sita-ka-nahani” a pool created by a waterfall in the Elaganga. The Dumar Lena consists of an isolated shrine located within a group of halls arranged on a cruciform plan. Similar example is also seen at Elephanta Island near Bombay. The shrine houses a huge linga entered through four entrances flanked by huge dvarapalakas (door-keepers).

The halls are adorned with six huge sculptural panels depicting various episodes connected with Lord Siva. They are Ravananugrahamurti or Ravana Shaking Mount Kailasa (Siva blessing Ravana, the demon King), Kalyanamurti (the celestial marriage between Lord Siva and Parvati), Antakasuravadamurti (killing of the demon Antaka), Siva and Parvati playing chausar, Nataraja (the celestial dance of Lord Siva), Lakulisa (form of Lord Siva). This cave also has two enigmatic sculpted depressions, one on south and other on the north. The exact function of these depressions is not clearly understood. Various identifications have been proposed, the prominent among them is that they are religious Vedic altars used at specific important religious rituals.

A pathway near Cave 21 leads northward towards Cave nos. 22 – 28 and also to Ganesh Leni mentioned above.

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