Monolithic in Indian art : Kailasa cave at Ellora

Ellora is located 28 km from Aurangabad in the present day Maharashtra, India. The caves were carved out of the Charanandri Hills between 5th and 10th centuries by the Rashtrakuta and Yadava dynasties. Out of the 34 caves 17 are Hindu, 12 Buddhist and 5 Jaina Caves. Ellora is a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Exterior of Kailasa Temple, Ellora

By G41rn8 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40344897

Kailasa is  Cave 16 among the Ellora caves, also known as Kailasanatha temple. It is carved out of single rock.  This temple aspires to recall and replicate Kailas Parvata or the abode of Shiva. Kailas is described as the centre of the world and Shiva’s lingam is the navel of the universe. The temple has lot of metaphor, symbolic message and meaning at all levels. The stepped pyramidal tower is thought to be a stairway to heaven.image003

Exterior of Kailasa Temple, Ellora

By Y.Shishido – http://pipimaru.dyndns.org/india_2004/index.html, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=365178

Rock-cut architecture predates structural temples.  The caves display well developed architectural design. It required great wealth and access to lot of resources. It was a very labourious and time consuming process to make these temples. The rock-cut temples at Mahabalipuram built by King Narasimhavarman I in the seventh century has a feel of timelessness and the monuments look like they have grown out of the earth. They were built around the same time as Kailasa temple. Kailasa temple shows traces of Pallava architecture.

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Courtyard view, Kailasa temple, Ellora

By Rashmi.parab – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21747606

Ellora’s 34 rock-cut temples and viharas or pillared halls are excavated and sculpted side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff extending to over 2 kilometres. The sculpting took place during mid 8th century under King Krishnaraja I of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, which ruled from Manyakheta of present day Karnataka. About 200,000 tons of rocks were scooped out to sculpt the temple. The Kailasa temple covers an area of 60,000 square feet and the vimana is 90 feet in height and has a large courtyard. The exterior of Kailasa is carved out of a hill and surrounding the temple is narrow passage. The narrow passage has two storeys of halls and galleries. The features of the temple are Dravidian. The sculpting started at the top and at each level detailing was done. The  lions to all cardinal directions and the elephant on the roof of the mandapa  are noteworthy.The vimana of the temple  is pyramidal. The shrine has pillars,pilasters,niches inner rooms, outer rooms, a large lingam carved at its centre. There are carved images of many deities, erotic couples(mithunas). Nataraja is carved on a square panel on the roof of the mandapa. The trenches on either side of the temple serve as a pradakshinapatha (circumbalutory)and passage into the nandimandapa and mukhamandapa. On either side of the nandimandapa are two monolithic pillars dhwajasthambhas which have beautiful sculpture on them. There is a monolithic elephant carved in the courtyard. The whole temple looks as if elephants on the plinth are holding the entire structure aloft. A bridge connects the nandimandapa and the porch of the temple. The vertical surfaces have  mythical animals and kirtimukhas(gargoyles).

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Mythical figures, Kailasa Temple, Ellora

By Suresh Bharathan – Own work, all rights released (Public domain), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2630215

The gateway to the temple is two-storied which leads to the courtyard, 180 feet long, 160 feet wide and 106 feet deep. The sculptures are at different levels in the courtyard and the main temple. Gajalakhsmi is seen while entering the complex.The monolithic elephants are connected to her. Marriage of Shiva to Parvati, Kala Bhairava are other impressive carvings. The carvings at Ellora is believed to have been done from top to base and looks like a multi-storied mansion to the onlooker.

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Lord Shiva, Kailasa Temple, Ellora

By No machine-readable author provided. QuartierLatin1968 assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=457205

The Ramayana and Mahabharata figures are also depicted in small niches in the two stories of corridors on three sides of the temple. Shiva-Parvathi seated together on Kailash is another important sculpture with Ravana trying to lift the mountain. Mahisasuramardini is seen on the north wall of the entrance gopuram. Ramayana scenes are depicted on the southern side. Shrines to  mother Goddess are on the southern side and the Lankeswara temple is towards northside. The shrines of river goddesses Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati are a part of the Kailasa  complex, as detached temples.

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Ramayana panel, Kailasa Temple,Ellora

By G41rn8 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40345473

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Sculpture on pillar,Kailasa Temple, Ellora

By Ekta Abhishek Bansal – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21203401

 

 

Posted by : Soma Ghosh

 

References:

Balasaheb Pant Pratinidhi/A handbook of Verul- Ellora Caves, Bombay : D. B Taraporewala and Sons,1929

Sengupta, Arputha Rani/Kailasanatha temple, Delhi : Agam Kala Prakashan,2009.

 

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6 thoughts on “Monolithic in Indian art : Kailasa cave at Ellora

  1. Vinod

    Magic in stone. Rare display of remarkable brilliance. These rare creations out of stone are a testimony to the brilliance and genius of their creators and a tribute to the human spirit.

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    Reply
  2. IV

    Well researched and excellently articulated. Looking at the picture of Ramayana pannel was like reading sheer poetry in stones.

    Like

    Reply

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