Ellora cave temples in Maharastra are one of the finest UNESCO world heritage sites in India. The Kailasa temple in Ellora is the largest single monolithic excavation in the world. The sculptures and paintings of Ellora caves are one of the finest examples of ancient India’s workmanship skills. Ellora caves are not very crowded like other historical places in India. Still, it is one of the most popular travel destinations in Maharastra. It is also known as Verul Leni among locals. Mostly these caves are referred to as Ajanta Ellora caves but Ajanta and Ellora cave temples are more than 100 Km apart. You need a minimum of half a day to visit Ellora caves from Aurangabad.
How to travel to Ellora caves in India
Ellora caves are 30 Km from Aurangabad in Maharastra. Here are different options to travel to Ellora.
1.) There are buses regular buses from Aurangabad to Ellora every 20 minutes from the local bus station. The ticket cost is 60 INR per person. These buses have no fixed seats and incase of crowd you have to stand during your journey to Ellora which takes around 45 minutes.
2.) There are minibusses and jeeps available outside the Aurangabad bus station for Ellora. They charge 100 INR per person. Sometimes they take more than capacity and it gets very crowded in the minibus.
3.) MTDC (Maharastra tourism development corporation) conducts a daily tour every day except Tuesday.
The tour starts at 08.30 AM from Aurangabad Central Bus Stand (CBS) and returns at 05.30 PM.
The ticket cost is 276 INR per person but there is no guide on the bus. You can book this tour in advance from the counter at the MSRTC bus stand or MTDC office in Aurangabad.
This bus tour covers Ellora caves and Aurangabad Sightseeing in a day. The tour goes to Ellora caves, Daultabad Fort, Bibi Ka Maqbara and Panchakki. It is the most economical way to explore maximum places. The only disadvantage is that you have to follow the time table of the bus. Otherwise, buses are quite comfortable.
If you take the MTDC bus tour then it will drop you outside the Ellora caves while the local buses drop around 3 Km before. From this point, you have to take another bus to reach Ellora caves.
4.) You can also rent a cab for the whole day to visit Ellora caves and other places, it will cost approximately 1800 INR. This is the most comfortable option though a bit expensive.
Ellora caves from Mumbai and Pune by Train or Bus
Mumbai to Aurangabad is 365 Km and there are several overnight buses between Mumbai and Aurangabad.
Pune to Aurangabad is 235 Km and bus connectivity is very good.
You can book online tickets on Makemytrip or Redbus or Neeta travels website.
The train connectivity is also good between Mumbai and Aurangabad as well between Pune and Aurangabad. Book an advance ticket on IRCTC’s website.
Ellora caves information
Ellora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Maharastra. There is a total of 34 caves in Ellora, out of which 12 Buddhists (caves 1–12), 17 Hindu (caves 13–29) and 5 Jain (caves 30–34) caves. The caves are spread in more than 2 km area and were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff.
Who built Ellora Caves
There was a dispute if Hindu caves were carved before Buddist caves or vice versa. After a detailed study of Deccan caves and other surrounding areas scholars concluded Hindu caves were built before Buddhist caves.
Historians concluded that Hindu caves were built around 500 to 600 CE, the Buddhist caves shortly after Hindu caves around 600 to 730 CE and Jain caves were built in the last phase sometime between 730 to 950 CE.
There are no records and documented proof who built these caves. After the extensive study, it is concluded that the earliest Hindu caves may have been built during the Traikutakas and Vakataka dynasties. Vakataka dynasty also known for sponsoring the Ajanta caves.
However, another school of thought believes that the earliest caves (Eg Cave 29 – Hindu cave) were built by the Shiva-inspired Kalachuri dynasty. While the Buddhist caves were built by the Chalukya dynasty.
The later Hindu caves and early Jaina caves were built by the Rashtrakuta dynasty. It is believed that the last Jain caves were built by the Yadava dynasty, who also built some Jain cave temples.
The Hindu caves are the most dramatic in design and are mostly dedicated to Lord Shiva.
The Buddhist caves contain simple ornamentation. These caves served as a group of monasteries (viharas) and temples (chaityas). Some of the caves have sleeping cells that were carved for monks.
Ellora caves history
These caves date from the 500 to 1000 CE period. Though originally more than 100 caves were made, now only 34 caves are open for visitors.
The Hindu caves are temples sculptures depicting the gods, goddesses, and mythologies found in Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Hindu Epics. While Buddist caves were built as monasteries with prayer halls, living quarters, and other rooms.
Ellora caves were built on an ancient South Asian trade route and were an important commercial center in the Deccan region. These caves also served as a rest stop for pilgrims.
The caves of different religions were built close to one another and this illustrates the religious harmony of ancient India.
According to historians, Aurangjeb asked his commanders to destroy Ellora caves. They tried to destroy the caves and sculptures in the cave of Ellora but despite their effort, they could not. So, they damaged some of the idols and sculptures.
We are fortunate that they failed in destroying the caves and that why today we can see the beautiful Ellora caves.
Ellora caves mystery
Some people believe that these caves were built by Aliens because it is very difficult to make these caves with hammer and chisel. Most interestingly from top to bottom.
The most fascinating example is cave 16 known as Kailasa temple. This beautiful and intricate cave temple is made from a huge rock using a cut-out technique.
My guide told me that cave number 16 temple was built in 20 years and a total of 250,000 tons of rocks were removed to carve it. This means approximately 30 tones of stone were removed daily. It is difficult to understand how this was done in 20 years considering the designing and carving.
It is also difficult to imagine that 8 to 10,000 people were able to work in such a small place to carve a temple.
When I checked the facts, I came to know that it was built in 100 years. This time duration seems more realistic.
It is a big question where they dumped or used the leftover stones.
While we were exploring my guide also told me that there are many deep tunnels and narrow passages in the Ellora caves. At some places, he showed bars and lock at the entry of the caves. He told me there are tunnels under caves. It was dark and I can’t make out much from the outside. My Guide informed that a person can go inside these tunnels only for 10 to 15 feet and then these tunnels get too narrow for human beings.
He also showed some ventilation shafts and holes on the floor of some caves. According to him the actual reason for these holes is to provide fresh air to the underground city. Isn’t it funny??
There is more to his story. He further told me that tiny humanoids lived in this underground city and they built these beautiful temples.
To prove his point he showed us the sculptures of god and goddesses with tiny humanoids and animals with them. He showed a photograph which was an aerial view of Kailasa Temple, it showed a big “X” mark on its roof. According to him, that was created as a marking for extraterrestrials to spot the location from space. I found his stories amusing so when I started writing this post, I decided to check his claim and open Google Maps. Yes, there is indeed a mark like “X” on the roof of the temple as you can see from the screenshot of Google Maps.
It is up to you to decide how and who made these caves. I can’t decide but one thing is definite that they are a great example of beautiful workmanship.
Ellora cave architecture
It is one of the largest rock-cut cave temple complexes in the world. The most interesting aspect of Ellora’s caves is how they were constructed. These caves are rock-cut and carved from the mountain face. The caves are megalith and carved out of a single rock. No stones bocks were added in caves. The workmanship is intricate and detailed.
Important caves in Ellora
The Ellora caves are one of those sites that represent the renaissance of Hinduism under the Chalukya and Rashtrakuta dynasties, the subsequent rise of Buddhism and then the brief resurgence of Jainism.
Hindu temple caves of Ellora
The important caves of this group are Cave 14, Cave 15, Cave 16, Cave 21 and Cave 29. These caves are in the center of the complex group on both sides of the Kailasa Temple cave 16.
Kailasa temple or Kailashnath Temple – Cave 16
The cave temple no 16 is the most important and beautiful in Ellora complex. It is considered one of the grandest cave temples in India because of its size, architecture and sculptural built from megalith carved out of one single rock.
This is the only temple in the whole world where carvers started from the top of the rock and excavated downwards.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and represents Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva.
The temple is divided into 4 parts. The entrance gate, the Nandi shrine, the central shrine, and five shrines surrounding the courtyard.
A two-storeyed gateway opens in a U-shaped courtyard. The courtyard opens up in a columned arcade of three stories height with enormous sculptures of different Hindu deities. There are two flag posts (Sthambhas) in the courtyard. There were flying bridges of stone connected the galleries to the central temple, which has collapsed long ago.
The shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva in the center of the courtyard with a statue of Nandi in front of it. Temple is built on a high plinth which is carved with sculptures of lions and elephants. The main sanctum has a huge monolithic linga and the ceiling has a carving of an enormous lotus.
The outer walls of the temple have many sculptural designs depicting scenes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
In one sculpture Ravana trying to shake Mount Kailasha and Shiva pressing Ravana into the cavern of the mountain with his feet.
Several small sculptures on two walls depict the important events of Mahabharata and Ramayana.
There are five small temples on the premises, which are dedicated to Ganesha, Rudra, Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati.
It’s believed that the Kailasa temple was completely covered by white plaster and looked like Kailash mountain, that’s why it was given the name Kailasa Temple.
Ravana Ka Khai – Cave 14
This cave is modest in comparison to the Kailasa temple. The cave has a huge pillared courtyard, a mandapa with 16 pillars, and a shrine containing a linga with a wide walkway around it. The doorway has statues of goddess Ganga and Yamuna.
The walls on both sides of the mandapa are divided into five compartments. The walls of aisles of the courtyard are adorned with sculptures of god and goddesses.
Dumar Lena – Cave 29
This cave is similar in design to Elephanta caves but bigger. The cave has four entrances with big statues of Guards (Dawarpal) and a shrine dedicated to lord shiva with huge Lingam.
The steps leading to the hall has two large statues of lions with small elephants under their paws. The walls of the hall have six panels of sculptural showing different events associated with Lord Shiva.
There are two big depressions in this cave, which look mysterious but according to historians, these were used as Vedic altars for religious rituals.
Rameshwara Cave – Cave 21
The entrance of the cave has two large sculptures of the goddess Ganga and Yamuna. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and he is worshipped here in the form of Lingam. There is a statue of Nadi bull on the platform just outside the shrine with Lingam.
This cave depicts the story of Shiva and Parvati. The cave also has sculptures of the Sapta Matrika, the seven mother goddesses of the Shakti tradition of Hinduism with Ganesha and Shiva either side.
This cave is a good example of the interdependence of the masculine and the feminine energies of Hinduism.
Dashavatara Cave – Cave 15
This caves plan and layout are similar to the Buddist cave. Earlier it was believed that it was a Buddhist cave and later on converted into Hindu temple. After research, it was established this Hindu cave was built before Buddhist caves. Considering this we can only speculate what is the reason behind this design and presence of Hindu deities sculptures.
The open court of the cave has free-standing monolithic mandapa at the middle and a two-storeyed temple at the rear.
Large penal on the upper floor depict the “Ten Avatars” of Lord Vishnu. Other than Das Avatars this cave has sculptures depicting the marriage of Shiva & Parvati, dancing Shiva and events related to Shakti tradition.
Cave 17 To 20
Cave 17 is dedicated to Lord Shiva and also has sculptures of Ganesha, Durga, and Vishnu. The caves doorway has sculptures of guards with flowers and both guards are accompanied by dwarfs and Gandharvas. The cave temple is a columned hall with a linga with passage around it for circulating.
Inner pillars are carved with female figures and dwarf attendants.
Cave 18 is plain and you can easily miss it.
The cave 19 has a large lingam and nothing much to see.
Cave 20 has a small lingam. The door of the cave has carvings of creeper and roll patterns, it has two guards on both sides.
Cave 22 To 28
Cave 22 has a damaged temple of Nandi and Matrikas. The hall of the cave has sculptures of Ganesha, three goddesses, and a four-armed Vishnu. The lingam in the main sanctum is polished and locals smear blue streaks upon the linga hence this cave is also known as Nilkantha.
Cave 23 is just a double verandah with five doors opening into small cells. There are a lingam and a Trimurthi on the back wall.
Cave 24 is a series of five low cells known as Teli-Ka-Gana, which means the Oilman’s Mill. You can easily skip this cave.
Cave 25 is dedicated to Sun God Surya. He is depicted with his chariot drawn by seven horses and a female on both sides of it shooting with a bow. This cave is also known as Kunbharwada.
Cave 26 has columns with pilasters and similar to the Elephanta caves. There is a linga in the cave.
Cave 27 This cave has sculptures of Lakshmi, Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Mahishasuramardini, Varaha with Prithvi, and Vishnu in the form of Sesha Sayana. It is also known as Milkmaid’s Cave.
Cave 28 is under the cliff over which a stream falls and the waterfall is known Sita-Ki-Nahani. There are guards sculptures at the gate and a small cell inside the cave.
Important Buddhist caves of Ellora
Best Buddhist caves are numbers 10, 11 and 12.
Viswakarma Cave – Cave 10
The Viswakarma Cave is locally known as the Carpenter’s hut. The rock of the roof is carved in a way that it looks like the roof is made of wooden beams.
The entrance of the cave has a carved facade decorated with motifs of apsaras and meditating monks. The friezes above the pillars inside the caves have Naga queens, entertainers, dancers, and musician’s sculptures.
There is a 15-foot high statue of Buddha seated in a preaching pose at the heart of this cave.
Dho Tal – Cave 11
The name of the cave is driven from the two floors of this cave, “Dho” means two. This cave has a verandah with pillars, cells, shrines and decorative doors. The main attraction of the cave is a statue of Lord Buddha with Padmapani and Vajrapani.
The basement was discovered in 1876 during excavation which makes three floors in the cave but it is stilled known as Dho Tal.
Teen Tal – Cave 12
This cave is the largest monastic complex in Ellora with three stories and hence named Teen Tal.
There are cells on sidewalls of the first floor, while the second floor has a huge hall measuring 118 feet long and 34 feet wide. The hall is divided into three aisles with square pillars and has cells at the back of the hall. The shrine in the hall has a sculpture of Buddha and Bodhisattvas.
The upper floor hall is almost of the same size and has a shrine & big antechamber. The shrine has a sculpture of Lord Buddha flanked by Padmapani and Vajrapani. Hall has 14 images of Lord Buddha and walls of antechamber have images of female deities.
Cave number 1 to 5
These caves were built between 600 to 730 CE. These Buddhist caves are mostly viharas (monasteries). The multi-story viharas have living & sleeping quarters with kitchens.
Cave 1 is a plain vihara with eight small monastic cells.
Cave 2 is dedicated to Lord Buddha and can be reached through a flight of stairs. A large central chamber is supported by 12 square pillars and seated Buddhas. The doorway of the cave is decorated with sculptures of Padmapani holding a lotus and a future Maitreya Buddha, both accompanied by their consorts. Inside the temple has a sculpture of Buddha on a lion throne.
Caves 3 and 4 are similar in design as Cave 2 but there is nothing to see. You can easily skip them.
Cave 5 was used by local Mahar tribes for shelter during monsoon and also known as Maharwada Cave. This is also a vihara (monastery) with two low stone benches at the center which stretches throughout its length, which is 117 feet and has a row of 24 pillars, 12 on both sides. This cave monastery Buddha statue at the rear and also has 20 cells for monks.
Cave 6 To 9
These caves are also multistory viharas.
Cave 6 has sculptures of the goddess Tara and Mahamayuri on a peacock. A student sits at his desk below.
Cave 7 is a large plain cave with finished and unfinished cells.
Cave 8 has guards statues at the entrance and inside the cave a statue of Buddha sitting with his disciples. The statue of Padmapani has four arms and he is holding the lotus flower. The tall female statue with a flower in her left hand is another attraction of this cave.
Cave 9 facade has a beautiful design that contains a series of six seated Buddhas in well-caved arches. Between the arches, you can see the dwarfs and Yakshas. The friezes below have standing Bodhisattvas. The back wall of the cave has pilasters that divide the wall into three compartments in which Buddha is seated in the center with Padmapani with female attendants on left.
Important Jain caves of Ellora
Best caves to visit in Jain caves are 32, 30, 33 and 34.
Indra Sabah – Cave 32
Cave number 32 is situated in the north of Kailasa Temple and known as the Indra Sabha, it is the largest and finest of all Jain cave temples in Ellora. This Jain cave belongs to the Digambara sect. The cave is dedicated to Lord Mahavir and has statues of other Digambar of Jainism.
This cave has two floors, the ground floor is simple while upstairs has beautiful carvings. There is an open court and friezes are decorated with lions and elephant motifs. In the middle of the cave are a monolithic shrine of the Tirthankaras, a monolithic pillar to its right and a monolithic elephant to its left.
Ambika the mother goddess, with a child on her lap, a lion beneath and a tree above her all the main sculptures in this cave.
Indra seated on the elephant, Mahavira flanked by guardians of Tirthankaras are other important sculptures in this cave. The name of the cave is also driven by this.
The ceiling is carved with a massive lotus at its center. In Jainism, Tirthankara Padmaprabha is also represented by the symbol of a lotus. Padmaprabha means ‘bright as a red lotus’ in Sanskrit.
Jagannatha Sabha – Cave 33 & Cave 34
Cave 33 is the second-largest Jain cave with some nice sculptures. The main attraction of this cave is carvings of Mahavira with Parsvanatha on the left and holy cow on the right. The sculptures of Indra with his wife Indrani is also beautiful. There are five small shrines with individual columned mandapa and a sanctuary.
Cave 34 has the sculpture of sitting Mahavir in the center of the cave. The door has carvings of Matanga and Sidhaika, the Jain God of prosperity and generosity on either side. A small shrine in the cave depicts the image of the Tirthankaras.
Chhota Kailash – Cave 30
This cave has similarity with Kailasa cave that’s why known as Chhota Kailash. It features two big reliefs of dancing Indra, one with eight arms and another with twelve, both adorned with ornaments and a crown.
Indra’s arms are shown in various mudra similar to the dancing Shiva’s sculpture in Kailasa cave temple. The panel at the entrance has images of deities, celestials, musicians, and dancers. Some historian believes that it was a Hindu cave which was later on converted into Jain cave temple.
Inside walls have carvings of 22 seated Tirthankaras and Lord Mahavira seated on his Lion Throne.
Best time to visit Ellora cave temples
First of all, let me tell you when you should avoid visiting Ellora caves. From Mid March to June don’t visit Ellora. It gets very hot during the day and very difficult to move from one cave to another in the scorching heat.
July to Mid September is monsoon season but it doesn’t rain heavily in Aurangabad. It is a good time to visit if you don’t mind rains in between.
From mid-September to the end of October is a good time to visit. The surrounding areas are lush green and caves look beautiful. It rains very rarely and the weather remains pleasant.
November to February is the most popular time of the year to visit Ellora caves. Weather is mild so it is easier to walk around.
Ellora caves timing
The Ellora caves remain open from sunrise to sunset. This means from 7.00 AM to 6.00 PM. Ellora caves remain closed on Tuesday.
Ticket cost for Ellora Caves
For all other foreign travelers, it is 550 INR.
Tickets can be advanced booked through ASI’s online booking website.
Travel tips for Ellora caves
* You need a minimum of half a day to explore the important caves in Ellora. It will be ideal if you can spare a full day.
** Wear comfortable shoes because you have to walk a lot and at some places climb the uneven stairs. Also, make sure shoes are skid-proof.
* It is advisable to reach early morning because at that time the caves are less crowded and the weather is pleasant.
** Carry a water bottle and something to eat because you will feel thirsty as well as hungry while walking around.
* Make a plan beforehand and decide which caves you want to visit. This will help in exploring the best caves in limited time.
** If you are coming by a local bus or cab then you have to get down approximately 3 Km before the entry gate. Take another bus from here to reach the Ellora caves.
* Don’t use flash inside the cave temples to prevent damage to sculptures. Tripods are not allowed.
** There multiple dark passages in caves so carry a torch to explore.
* You need maximum time to visit the Kailasa temple. Visiting other caves depends upon the time. In case if you find a cave filled with tourists then skip it and visit the next cave. If your heart set on visiting all caves then come after 15-20 minutes.
** Many caves are average and you can miss them. It is a fun experience walking around in Ellora cave complex.
Places to stay in Ellora and nearby in Aurangabad
There are not many hotels near Ellora caves but if you want to stay there then Hotel Kailas is a nice medium budget option.
In my opinion, it is better to stay in Aurangabad because there are several good hotels. The most important thing is that it is a good base to visit Ajanta caves, Ellora caves and other places in Aurangabad.