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Buddhist Cave in Ellora

By Devik Balami at
Buddhist Cave in Ellora

Another historically important cave in Maharashtra, India is Ellora Caves. Ellora is the short form of the ancient name Elapura which is also called Verul or Elura. Like Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves is also the largest rock-cut monastery-temple caves complexes in the world. The Ellora Caves is about 100 km west from Ajanta Caves, 29 km northwest of the city of Aurangabad and 300 km northeast from Mumbai. This site has the monuments and artworks from various religions - Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism which were built during the period 600-1000 CE which was sponsored by various royals, traders and rich people.

There have been disagreements regarding the chronology of constructions of the artworks in the caves. But the broad consensus after considering various points like comparing the styles at the Ellora Caves itself with other ancient and early medieval era, epigraphical evidence found at various archaeological sites, textual records, etc. came to the conclusion that the construction of the artworks at the Ellora Caves had three distinct periods- an early Hindu Period (nearly 550 to 600 CE), a Buddhist Phase (nearly 600 to 730 CE), and a later Hindu and Jain phase (nearly 730 to 950 CE)

The Buddhist Monuments at Ellora Caves

The Caves from 1 to 12 are located on the southern side of the Ellora cave collection and is believed to be built between the periods of 600-730CE. It was thought initially that the Buddhist Caves were first to build in that area. It was also believed that it was built in two distinct periods. From Cave 1 to 5 in the first phase that was during the 5th and 7th century and from Cave 6-12 in the later phase that was during late 7th and early 8th century.

Later with different researchers taken place on the site, it focuses on that some of Hindu caves were built even before the construction of Buddhist caves. Among Buddhist Caves, Cave 6 was built at first and then followed by 5, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, and 10. The last on 11 and 12 were the last one to be built. These two caves are also called Do Thal and Tin Thal respectively.

Except for one Buddhist cave, all other caves consists of Viharas, also called as monasteries, with Prayer Halls. These monasteries are large and some are multi-storeyed buildings which are carved into the mountain face. The Prayer Halls included in the monasteries have shrines including Antique Buddha Statues of Gautama Buddha, statues of Bodhisattvas, and as well as saints.

In some of the caves, statues even though carved in the stone are tried to give the wooden touch, meaning the artists have worked hard to generate the feeling of wooden statues. At the same time, Cave 5, 10, 11, and 12 are architecturally important Buddhist caves. Cave 5 is also called as Maharwada Cave. This cave is designed as a hall with two parallel refectory benches at the sides of the hall. At the rear side of the hall, there is an Antique Buddha statue in the seating position with Bhumisparsa Mudra posture.

Cave 10 is also called as Vishvakarma Cave. This cave is a major prayer hall and does not include monastery. Caves 11 and 12 are three-storied Mahayana monastery. These caves consist of numerous goddesses and Bodhisattva carved into the walls.

Cave 10: The Vishvakarma Cave

The Hall of the Visvakarma cave is divided into two sections- a central nave and side aisles. This division was formed by 28 octagonal columns with plain bracket capitals. In the rear end of the hall, 15 foot Buddha statue in Vyakhyana Mudra posture is placed which is likely to be built around 650 CE. The statue is supported with carved large Bodhi tree. The hall has a vaulted roof which is carved to form ribs also known as triforium, imitating the wooden ones. The front of the prayer hall is a rock-cut court which is entered through steps. The entrance has a dramatic façade which is well carved with Indian motifs and meditating monks. In addition to the Antique Buddha Statue, there are other statues - Maitreya, Tara, Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, Bhrikuti etc as well

In ancient times, Ellora was an important commercial area of the Deccan region. It is located on an ancient trade route of South Asia. The cave was used as monasteries for the monk, temples for prayers and a place to rest for pilgrims in the past but today it has become an archaeological site.