Cave Architecture – Ajanta Caves – Ellora – Bagh Caves

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Cave Architecture

Ajanta Caves

The Ajanta Caves (75°40’ N; 20°30’ E) are situated at a distance of 107 km north of Aurangabad, the district headquarters. The caves attained the name from a nearby village named Ajanta located about 12 km from the site.

The caves discovered by an Army Officer in the Madras Regiment of the British Army in 1819 during one of his hunting expeditions. Instantly the discovery became very famous and Ajanta attained a very important tourist destination in the world. The caves, famous for its murals, are the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting.

These caves are excavated in horse–shoe shaped bend of rock surface nearly 76 m in height overlooking a narrow stream known as Waghora. The location of this valley provided a calm and serene environment for the Buddhist monks who retreated at these secluded places during the rainy seasons. This retreat also provided them with enough time for furthering their religious pursuits through intellectual discourses for a considerably longer period.

The caves were excavated in different periods (circa. 2nd century B.C. to 6th century A.D.) according to the necessity. Each cave was connected to the stream by a flight of steps, which are now almost obliterated, albeit traces of some could be noticed at some places.

In all, total 30 excavations were hewn out of rock which also include an unfinished one. Out of these, five (cave no. 9, 10, 19, 26, and 29) are chaityagrihas and the rest are viharas. In date and style also, these caves can be divided into two broad groups. The earliest excavations belong to the Hinayana phase of Buddhism of which similar examples could also be seen at Bhaja, Kondane, Pitalkhora, Nasik, etc.

In total, 5 caves at Ajanta belong to this phase, viz., 9 & 10 which are chaityagrihas and 8, 12, 13, & 15A which are viharas. These caves are datable to the pre-Christian era, the earliest among them being Cave 10 dating from the second century B.C. The object of worship is a stupa here and these caves exhibit the imitation of wooden construction to the extent that the rafters and beams are also sculpted even though they are non-functional.

The addition of new excavations could be noticed again during the period of Vakatakas, the contemporaries of the Imperial Guptas. The caves were caused to be excavated by royal patronage and the feudatories under the Vakatakas as illustrated by the inscriptions found in the caves.

The flurry of activities at Ajanta was between mid 5th century A.D. to the mid 6th century A.D. However, Hieun Tsang, the famous Chinese traveller who visited India during the first half of 7th century A.D. has left a vivid and graphic description of the flourishing Buddhist establishment here even though he did not visit the caves.

The world famous paintings at Ajanta also fall into two broad phases. The earliest is noticed in the form of fragmentary specimens in cave nos. 9 & 10, which are datable to second century B.C. The headgear and other ornaments of the images in these paintings resemble the bas-relief sculpture of Sanchi and Bharhut.

The second phase of paintings started around 5th – 6th centuries A.D. and continued for the next two centuries. The specimen of these exemplary paintings of Vakataka period could be noticed in cave nos. 1, 2, 16 and 17.

The variation in style and execution in these paintings also are noticed, mainly due to different authors of them. A decline in the execution is also noticed in some paintings as indicated by some rigid, mechanical and lifeless figures of Buddha in some later period paintings. The main theme of the paintings is the depiction of various Jataka stories, different incidents associated with the life of Buddha, and the contemporary events and social life also. The ceiling decoration invariably consists of decorative patterns, geometrical as well as floral.

The paintings were executed after elaborate preparation of the rock surface initially. The rock surface was left with chisel marks and grooves so that the layer applied over it can be held in an effective manner. The ground layer consists of a rough layer of ferruginous earth mixed with rock-grit or sand, vegetable fibres, paddy husk, grass and other fibrous material of organic origin on the rough surface of walls and ceilings.

A second coat of mud and ferruginous earth mixed with fine rock-powder or sand and fine fibrous vegetable material was applied over the ground surface. Then the surface was finally finished with a thin coat of lime wash. Over this surface, outlines are drawn boldly, then the spaces are filled with requisite colours in different shades and tones to achieve the effect of rounded and plastic volumes.

The colours and shades utilised also vary from red and yellow ochre, terra verte, to lime, kaolin, gypsum, lamp black and lapis lazuli. The chief binding material used here was glue. The paintings at Ajanta are not frescoes as they are painted with the aid of a binding agent, whereas in fresco the paintings are executed while the lime wash is still wet which, thereby acts as an intrinsic binding agent.

It is thought that the craftsmen who painted and sculpted in the Ajanta caves, were mostly Buddhist monks Perhaps many Hindu craftsmen of the lower castes had accepted the faith of the Buddha, the craftsmen, in those days, were grouped together according to their profession, they learnt their skill from father to son and son to son. Some of them were great masters, who invented new techniques new tools and new ways of handling paint and chisel, in every generation.

As the Buddhists began to scoop caves from the 1st century A.D. downwards, they evolved practical ways of working in the dark. The marshal, or stick torch, was smeared with vegetable oil and used for lighting dark corners. Also, large mirrors were used to reflect sunshine in to the interiors. And the walls were whitewashed smeared with lime plaster, before painting.

Colours used for the wall paintings were made from pebbles and vegetable found on the hillside. The guide will show you the pebbles of different Colours, these were crushed and ground and the mixed with glue.
The main colours used were; red ochre, yellow ochre, brown ochre, lamp black, white and lapis lazuli (blue). This last pigment was imported from Northern India, central Asia and Persia. Green was made by mixed this lapis lazuli with Indian yellow ochre.

The Indian wall painting technique is different from that of the fresco of the West. A layer of clay was mixed with cow dung and powdered rice hunk. This was first applied to the chipped rock surface. When it dries, a second coat of lime plaster was a trowel. The lines were then drawn in pink, brown or black; the colours were filled in with big brushes, made from the hair of squirrels tail.

The Ajanta cave temples in continuation from similar rock-cut shines in the Western Ghats and the Deccan. They are of two different kinds.

Some of them are Chaiity halls, for group worship as in Bhaja, Karla, and Kanheri. In the Chaitya hall caves (8, 9, 10, 12 & 13), there are symbolic stupas. These represent the grave mounds over the relics of the Buddha.

The second kind of cave in Ajanta is the Vihara cave. This has cells for monks to live in. the monks slept on stone bed, which shows that, even in the rich Mahayana period, austerity was practiced as a way to attain Buddha hood or enlightenment.

The caves are numbered from east to west, 1 through 29. Today, a terraced path connects the cave, but in ancient times each was independently accessed from the riverfront.

A viewing platform across the river affords an excellent view of the entire Ajanta site. The natural beauty of the area makes it clear why the monks chose the site for their spiritual pursuits.

Preserved inside the caves are many masterpieces of Buddhist art. Some reflect the earlier Theravada tradition of depicting the Buddha only in symbolic form such as a throne or footprints. Others, the Mahayana caves, feature colorful murals and statues depicting the life (and former lives) of the Buddha and various Bodhisattvas. The caves also depict scenes from everyday life and many include inscriptions indicating a prince or noble who gifted the cave to the monks.

It is most practical to explore the Ajanta Caves in reverse numerical order, so they are presented in this way below. This keeps you somewhat out of the masses of people moving from cave to cave in the other direction, and brings you out at the exit at the end. The numbers of the must-see caves are in bold.

 Cave 26

A Mahayana prayer hall (chaitya). The highlight is a large carved statue of the reclining Buddha, representing his moment of death. Below him, his followers mourn his passing; above, celestial beings rejoice. The cave also contains a stupa with an image of the Buddha in a pavilion.

 Cave 17

A Mahayana monastery covered with many well-preserved wall paintings. Maidens and celestial musicians are on the ceiling, and Buddhas, celestial guardians, goddesses, lotus petals and scroll work adorn the doorway.

One mural in Cave 17 shows Prince Simhala’s encounter with the man-eating ogresses of Sri Lanka, where he had been shipwrecked.

Another shows the king of gods flying amidst clouds with his entourage of celestial nymphs (apsaras) and musicians. The panel above the doorway depicting the seven Manushi Buddhas.

Cave 16

A Mahayana monastery featuring a beautiful painting of the princess Sundari fainting after learning that her husband (the Buddha’s half-brother, Nanda) was going to become a monk.

Cave 15, 13, 12

Theravada monastery caves.

Cave 10

Theravada prayer hall, thought to be the oldest cave temple at Ajanta, dating to the 2nd century BC. 

Cave 9

One of the earliest prayer hall caves, notable for its arched windows that let softly diffused sunlight in the cave.

This Theravada cave also features a large stupa.

Cave 8 

Theravada monastery cave.

Cave 4 

Incomplete, but the largest of the Ajanta monasteries.

Cave 2 

The façade of this Mahayana monastery cave shows the kings of Naga and their entourage. Inside, a glorious mandala dominates the ceiling, held by demons and decorated with birds, flowers, fruits and abstract designs.

The ceiling gives the effect of a cloth canopy, right down to the sag in the middle.

Cave 1

The most popular of the monastery caves at Ajanta. Every inch of the cave was originally painted, though much has worn away over the centuries.

The doorway to the antechamber is flanked by murals of two great bodhisattvas. On the right, holding a thunderbolt, is Avalokitesvara (or Vajrapani), the most important bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. On the left, holding a water lily, is the bodhisattva Padmapani.

The sidewalls of Cave 1’s antechamber show two scenes from the Buddha’s life, his temptation by Mara just before his enlightenment and the miracle of Sravasti, where the Buddha multiplied himself into thousand images.

Above the left porch of Cave 1 are friezes of the Three Signs (a sick man, an old man, and a corpse) that the Buddha saw on his fateful journey outside the palace that led him to become a monk. In the sanctum is a colossal sculpture of the Buddha in the preaching pose. Murals on the walls of the main hall depict numerous Jataka Tales, stories of the previous lives of Gautama Buddha.

Bagh Caves

 Ever since Buddhism arose in India, many monuments, sculptures, temple’s started spreading across the nation and worldwide.

The Bagh Caves are one of the finest examples of Buddhism culture in western Madhya Pradesh of Central India. They are popularly known as the Bagh Caves located on the bank of a seasonal stream called Baghani.

These caves are located at the distance of 95 kms from Dhar district of Central Indian state Madhya Pradesh; these southern hill slopes are famous as “Vindhyas” in Kukshi tehsil of Dhar districts. These caves having an adjacent location of Baghini River, depicts many Buddh sculptures like Viharas stupa and Boddhisattvas.

In a brief description Bagh Caves consisting of 09 wonderful caves, built out of rock cutting, got the dating between 400 and 700 AD. These caves Surrounded with the beautiful paintings, having a similar touch to Ajanta Caves in the north of Maharashtra state. There are only 2 groups of cave temples where we can see the murals of 5rh century CE or before, first in Ajanta & secondly in Bagh.

Ajanta & Ellora have got their due popularity but Bagh caves have been into oblivion from tourists and common people which is its ill-fate. This is described in the history that Buddhist monks were resided here and used this place for meditation and religious congregation.

It is said that these fantastic caves got this name Hindi language in which “Bagh” means Tiger & “Gufa” means Caves. These caves situated among the Vindhyas hillocks and there were a solid presence of tigers at pretty old time, when at the vicinity of the caves there were several tribes and villages and people from these tribes scared to go near these tiger den caves.

It is said that for some times under seclusion, abandoned by human beings and get densely forested. Due to presence of water through river, natural den and presence of enough prey in forest area had made these caves an ideal shelter for tigers. Due to presence of tigers, it got its name Bagh Caves.

If we follow the history of 4-5th century, this region was not arid & dry as it seems today.

Inscriptions reveal the fact that the area has good cultivated land and was more forested too. Inscriptions in Cave-2 given names of 8 villages: Lonakara Pallika, Dagdha Pallika, Devagraharaka, Gavayapaniyaka, Yajnagrahaka, Garjananaka & Pippalojjhara. All these eight village can be traced even today but some other mentioned names are unidentified.

Almost all the inscriptions of Bagh caves commence with the term “Valkha” and “Vikha-adishthana” which means the powerbase of the Chiefdom.

If we study only the available epigraphs, we will notice the Bhamanical influence but caves gives more stress on Buddhist activities. Their are about 36 epigraphs covering period from AD 358 to 487.

Study shows that during that period it was ruled by Guptas. Further study shows that Bagh lost its importance in later years and political center shifted from Bagh to Mahismati (today’s Maheshwar town).

Art and Architecture

These caves are one of rare specimen of rock cut structure in India, but the most amazing thing in these caves are the murals made in tempera technique, very akin to Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad.

The walls had strong mud plaster, and paintings were scribbled through this mud plaster very artistically using a thick plaster in brownish orange color, even the same thing applied over ceiling.

Work has been done in most similar way like Armamalai Caves in south, Tamil Nadu, Ajanta, Ellora and Karla Caves. Cave numbers 3 and 4 are considered best as these paintings are still visible clearly here but one can figure out more in cave number 2, 5 and 7.

To prevent further loss of the values of these paintings, most were carefully removed in 1982 and today can be seen in Archaeological Museum of Gwalior.

Kanheri Caves

 Kanheri (19°13’ N; 72°55’ E), the Kanhasela, Krishnagiri, Kanhagiri of ancient inscriptions, located north of Mumbai, was a major Buddhist centre. Kanheri is located in the island of Salsette and 6 miles from Thana. Kanheri is credited with the largest number of cave excavations in a single hill.

Kanheri thrived due to its proximity to ancient sea port towns like Sopara (Surparaka, the Supara of Greek; Subara of Arab writers; the ancient capital of northern Konkan), Kalyan a thriving port; Chemula, the Samylla of Greek geographers, Chemula of Silaharas, on the island of Trombay; the other ancient localities nearby were Vasya, perhaps Vasai or Bassein; Sri Staanara or Thana; and Ghodabandar.

It is generally believed that Buddhism first arrived in Aparantha (Western India) at Sopara which is very close to Kanheri.

The caves were excavated as early as mid 3rd century B.C. and were in occupation right up to 11th century A.D. They were mentioned by early visitors like the Portuguese in the 16th century A.D. and other travellers and voyagers of Europe.

Of the numerous donor inscriptions found here, many mention of ancient cities like Suparaka (Sopara); Nasika (Nasik); Chemuli (Chemula); Kalyana (Kalyan); Dhenukakata (Dhanyakataka, modern Amaravati in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. The donors were from all classes of the society, from members of the royal families to the commoners.

Prominent among the royal families mentioned in the inscriptions are Gautamiputra Satakarni (c. 106-130 A.D.); Vasisthiputra Sri Pulumavi (c. 130-158 A.D.); Sri Yajna Satakarni (c. 172-201 A.D.); Madhariputra Sakasena (c. end of 3rd century A.D.); the rulers of Satavahana dynasty whose ancient capital was Pratishthana (modern Paithan, district Aurangabad); Amoghavarsha of the Rashtrakuta dynasty dated in 853 A.D., etc.

The excavations at Kanheri are of the following types: (i) chaityagrhas, the place of worship of the Buddhist community, (ii) viharas or monasteries, they consist of single and multiple celled where the Buddhist monks resided, (iii) podhis or water cisterns, which were excavated ingeniously to trap the rain water and store them for use during summer periods and (iv) rock-cut benches and seats.

At Kanheri, the beginning of excavation of rock-cut caves coincides with the introduction of Buddhism in Aparantha.

The caves are generally small consisting of a single cell with a front pillared verandah approached by a flight of steps. The caves invariably contain a cistern for storing water. The initial excavations were very small and plain, devoid of any decorative motifs.

The pillars were plain squares or octagons and did not have the pot base which was introduced later. The most prominent among the excavations at Kanheri is the Cave 3, which is a chaityagriha which was excavated during the period of Yajna Satakarni (c. 172-201 A.D.) This chaityagrha is one of the largest in India second only to the one at Karle, district Pune.

The chaityagrha closely resembles the one at Karle. On plan it consists of a large rectangular hall with an apsidal back, a verandah and a spacious court in front, the dimensions of the hall being 26.36 X 13.66 X 12.9 m (l x b x h). A row of 34 pillars divide the hall into a central nave and flanking aisles. The roof of the nave is barrel vaulted while of the aisles are flat. There are evidences of provision of wooden rafters to the vaulted ceiling of the nave, which are gone now. The pillars of the hall are not uniform and of different styles and shapes and devoid of symmetry.

A stupa is provided at the apse of the hall which measures 4.9 m in diameter and 6.7 m in height. The façade of the hall is pierced by three doors with two groups of two couples, each group carved in the oblong recesses between the doors. A huge chaitya window bereft of any ornamentation was provided for the passage of light. The side walls are sculpted extensively with two massive images of standing Buddha in varada mudra and other Bodhisattva images. These sculptures are of later additions and are datable to around 5th – 6th centuries A.D.

Near the chaityagrha, once existed two structural stupas. One of thestupas, in stone, yielded two copper urns, containing ashes, a small gold box containing a piece of cloth, a silver box, a ruby, a pearl, pieces of gold and two copper plates one of them dated in A.D. 324. Another stupa was of brick which yielded an inscribed stone with characters datable to 5th – 6th centuries A.D.

Cave 1 is an unfinished chaityagrha, originally planned to have a double-storeyed verandah and a porch, apart from the pillared hall. The cave is dated to 5th – 6th centuries A.D. as the pillars with compressed cushion or amalaka top appears generally during this period.

Cave 11 which is also known as ‘Darbar Hall’ consists of a huge hall with a front verandah. The hall has shrine on its back wall and cells on two sides. The floor of the hall two low stone benches resembling Cave 5 of Ellora. Buddha in dharmacakrapravardana mudra adorns the shrine. The cave has four inscriptions of different periods, one dated in Saka 775 (A.D. 853) of the reign of Rashtrakuta King Amoghavarsha and his feudatory the Silahara prince, Kapardin. The inscription records the donation of various gifts and funds provided for the purchase of books and repairs to the damages.

Sculptural art here can be seen in Caves like 2, 3, 41, 67, 89, and 90. The image of Buddha is generally shown either standing or in seated posture. The latter in some cases are flanked by Bodhisattvas and in rare cases with their consorts.

Avalokitesvara is the other prominent figure apart from Buddha who finds importance here. Avalokitesvara can be seen prominently in Caves 2, 41 & 90 delivering his devotees from the eight great perils namely shipwreck, conflagration, wild elephant, lion, serpent, robber, captivity and demon.

Another interesting sculpture of Avalokitesvara is found in Cave 41 which is a four armed eleven faced one, the only of its kind in India. The cult of this form was popular in China, Chinese Turkistan, Combodia and Japan in 7th – 8th centuries A.D.

The Jataka stories are also found depicted as that of Dipankara Jataka in Cave 67 to cite an example.

The Buddhist establishment at Kanheri has an interesting evidence in the form of small structural stupas built on the floor of some of the caves. Such stupas were noticed in Caves 33, 38, etc. These stupas often contained large number of clay tablets inscribed in 10th century A.D. characters of the Buddhist creed. Another notable feature is the presence of a cemetery located on an isolated and secluded terrace. Here, both stone built and brick structural stupas are found erected on the charred remains of distinguished monks.

Aurangabad Caves

 Aurangabad is located in a valley watered by the river Dudhna between the Sihyachal and Satara range of hills. The ancient name of Aurangabad is Khirki which means a ‘window’ or ‘entrance’.

The Aurangabad caves (19°55’ N; 75°30’ E) are located on a hill running roughly east to west, nearly 2 km behind Bibi-ka-Maqbara.

In all twelve Buddhist Caves are found here which fall into three separate groups depending on its location.

The first group consists of caves 1 to 5, the second 6 to 9 and third 10 to 12. The caves are datable from circa 2nd – 3rd century AD to 7th century AD.

The first and the second groups are separated by nearly 500 metres from each other, with the former at the western side while the latter is on the eastern side of the same hill. The third group is further east of the second group.

At Aurangabad, due to its proximity to the ancient trade route and close to Pratishthana (modern Paithan), the capital of Satavahanas, patronage to religious activities can be understood, even though this is not corroborated by inscriptional evidences.

Here the earliest excavations (Caves 1 & 3) probably date to 2nd – 3rd century A.D. Cave 3 is in the form of a chaitya griha of the Hinayana order, albeit preserved very badly due to the nature of the rock formation. The heterogeneous rock formation here has prevented very large scale excavations.

The excavators have taken much care to avoid portions where the lose rock formations were present. Cave 1 is an unfinished vihara, the ceiling of verandah has fallen down. Cave 2 is also a vihara with a shrine of Buddha at the rear.

The remaining caves are generally ascribed to the Kalachuri dynasty. Of all, Cave 7 is the most elaborate and famous for its sculptural embellishments. On plan it includes a central shrine with circumambulation with an outer corridor running all around. This corridor has recesses at regular intervals which are carved with various Buddhist gods and goddesses. The front wall of the verandah has very beautiful representation of a panel of litany of Avalokitesvara and Bodhisatva on either side the entrance to the shrine.

The litany of Avalokitesvara is particularly more elaborate from similar examples at Ajanta and Ellora. The litany of Avalokitesvara represents the Bodhisatva Padmapani as ‘Saviour of Eight Great Perils’ (Fire, Theft, Demon, Elephant, Lion, Shipwreck, Snake, Monkey).

The other important sculptural panels are of Tara, the principal consort of Avalokitesvara, depicted to the left of central shrine door and a group of six female musicians on the left wall of the main shrine. The latter is particularly very famous and often taken as the representative sculptural panel of the Aurangabad Caves.

The main figure at the center is in a dancing attitude, with the five others playing different musical instruments. The remaining caves of the second group are of less important due to incomplete excavations.

Ellora Caves

The Ellora caves, locally known as ‘Verul Leni’ are located on the Aurangabad-Chalisgaon road at a distance of 30 km north-northwest of Aurangabad, the district headquarters.

Ellora is also famous for the largest single monolithic excavation in the world, the great Kailasa (Cave 16).

The caves are hewn out of the volcanic basaltic formation of Maharasthra, known as ‘Deccan Trap’, the term trap being of Scandinavian origin representing the step like formation of the volcanic deposits. The rock formation, on weathering has given rise to the appearance of terraces with flat summits.

At Ellora, we can also have a glimpse of the channels through which the volcanic lava once flowed. These channels, due to overheating, have a characteristic brownish red colour. Similar rock was used in the construction of the Grishneshwar Temple nearby and also utilised for the flooring of the pathways at Bibi-ka-Maqbara.

The hills in which the caves are hewn, forms part of the Sahyadri ranges of the Deccan and dated to the Cretaceous era of the Geological time scale (about 65 million years ago). The hills rise abruptly from the surrounding plains on the south and west, the western surface being extensively utilised for hewing the cave complexes.

The hill also supports several streams, the prominent among them being the Elaganga, which drains into the Shiv, a stream of the Godavari river system.

The volcanic lava flowed during different periods, gave rise to extensive horizontal flows alternating with vesicular trap beds. The vesicular traps formed the upper portion of each of the massive trap beds. The different lava flows also gave rise to vertical as well as horizontal joints in the rock formation. Depending upon the nature and mineralogical content of the lava flow, the rock formations also varied in character and texture, giving rise to various qualities like coarse grained, fine grained formations.

The ancient builders at Ellora, like other places, particularly chose the fine grained formations of the Deccan trap, ideal for sculpting and rock hewing. In addition to this, the ancient builders also traced the horizontal and vertical joints in the rock formation to minimise the labour and time during excavation and rock splitting. The basaltic rock is also ideal for rock hewing, as they are soft during the initial excavation and hardens on exposure to environment.

The region is also famous for its antiquity. It has been inhabited since time immemorial, the stone tools belonging to the Upper Palaeolithic (around 10,000 to 20,000 years ago), Mesolithic (less than 10,000 years ago) bearing testimony to this fact. The Chalcolithic remains (2500-1000 BC) in the vicinity also indicates the continuity of human occupation in this region.

The importance of Ellora during the early centuries of the Christian era is also understood by the findings of coins of Satavahanas, the ruling dynasty during the period.

Ellora is located directly on the ancient trade route which traversed from Pratishtana via Aurangabad, Ellora, Pital Khora, Patne, Nasika (modern Nasik). Nasik is at the crossroads of an ancient trade route connecting centres on the west to east and those on the north to south.
Thus grew one of the largest cave excavations at Ellora, that too of three different religious creeds, viz., Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism.

The caves are datable from circa 6th – 7th century A.D. to 11th – 12th century A.D. In total, there are nearly 100 caves in the hill range out of which 34 caves are famous and visited by many tourists, out of which Caves 1 to 12 are Buddhist; Caves 13 to 29 are Brahmanical and Caves 30 to 34 are Jaina. Two more groups of caves are noticed on the Elaganga and on an upper terrace, namely, the Ganesh Leni and Jogeshwari Leni.

These religious establishments could have received royal patronage from various dynasties, even though inscriptional evidences are lacking for most of them. The only definite inscriptional evidence is that of Rashtrakuta Dantidurga (c. 753-57 A.D.) on the back wall of the front mandapa of Cave 15.

The Great Kailasa (Cave 16) is attributed to Krishna I (c. 757-83 A.D.), the successor and uncle of Dantidurga. A copper plate grant from Baroda of the period of Karka II (c. 812-13 A.D.) speaks about the greatness of this edifice. The inscription tells us that this great edifice was built on a hill by Krishnaraja at Elapura (Ellora) and even the celestial beings moving in the sky were struck by its magnificence, as though it was self-existent, not created by mortals, and, even the architect who caused it was wonder struck that he could build it.

Apart from the above two inscriptions, the entire cave complexes lack inscriptions of the nature found at other cave sites like that of Ajanta, Nasik, Karle, Kanheri, etc.

In the absence of concrete inscriptional evidence, we can deduce the royal dynasties that could have extended their patronage to the religious establishments. The initiation of religious establishments at Ellora coincides with the departure of the tradition at Ajanta. It is well known that the excavations started here before the Rashtrakutas arrived on the scene and the Caves 1 to 10 and Cave 21 (Ramesvara) were definitely constructed before them. These excavations are generally attributed to the Kalachuris of Mahismati, appeared to have gained control of the region around Nasik and parts of ancient Asmaka (region around Aurangabad) including Bhogavardana (modern Bhokardan) and the Chalukyas of Badami who held their sway in this region for a brief period before their feudatories, the Rashtrakutas took over.

The Ellora caves, unlike Ajanta, have a distinction that they were never lost to oblivion, due to their close proximity to the trade route. There have been numerous written records to indicate that these caves were visited regularly by enthused travellers and royal personages as well. The earliest is that of an Arab geographer Al-Mas‘udi of the 10th century A.D. In 1352 A.D. the approach roads to the caves were repaired on the ensuing visit of Sultan Hasan Gangu Bahmani, who also camped at the site and visited the caves.

The other important accounts of these caves are by Firishta, Thevenot (1633-67), Niccolao Manucci (1653-1708), Charles Warre Malet (1794), Seely (1824). During the 19th century A.D. these caves were owned by the Holkars of Indore who auctioned for the right of worship and leasing them for religious as well as a form of entrance fee. After the Holkars, these caves passed into the control of Nizams of Hyderabad, who through their Archaeology Department carried out extensive repairs and maintenance of the caves under the guidance of Archaeological Survey of India.

The caves are under the maintenance of the Archaeological Survey of India after the reorganisation of states and the dominions of erstwhile Nizams merged into the state of Maharashtra.

A brief account on the architectural splendour and artistic expressions of various caves is given here for enabling one to understand the real character and importance of this wonderful place.

The caves are excavated in the scarp of a large plateau, running in a north-south direction for nearly 2 km, the scarp being in the form of a semi-circle, the Buddhist group at the right arc on the south, while the Jaina group at the left arc on the north and the Brahmanical group at the centre.

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