The caves at Ellora were carved out of the vertical face of the Charanandri hills between the 6th and 10th centuries. The carving work began around 550 AD, about the same time the Ajanta Caves (100km northeast) were abandoned.
The Ellora Caves were built at time when Buddhism was declining in India and Hinduism was beginning to reassert itself. The Brahmanical movement was especially powerful under the patronage of the Chalukya and Rashtrakuta kings, who oversaw most of the work at Ellora - including the magnificent Kailasa Temple built in the 700s.
The last period of building activity took place in the 10th century, when the local rulers switched allegiance from Shaivism (Hinduism devoted to Shiva) to the Digambara sect of Jainism.
The coexistence of structures from three different religions serve as a splendid visual representation of the prevalent religious tolerance of India. For this reason and others, the Ellora Caves were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
What to See
There are 34 caves in all: 12 Buddhist caves (500-750 AD), 17 Hindu caves (600-870 AD) and 5 Jain caves (800-1000 AD). The caves are numbered roughly chronologically, starting with the oldest Buddhist caves at the south end.
The Buddhist Caves
The Buddhist caves (also called Vishvakarma caves) are the earliest of the Ellora Caves, dating from 500 to 750 AD. All except Cave 10 are viharas (monasteries), which were used for study, meditation, communal rituals, eating and sleeping.
The caves become steadily larger and more elaborately decorated as they progress to the north, which scholars have explained by the growing need to compete with Hinduism for patronage. The earliest Hindu caves at Ellora date from 600 AD, right in the middle of the Buddhist period.
Cave 1: is a plain vihara Cave: with eight small monastic cells are very little sculpture. It may have served as a granary for the larger halls.
Cave 2: is much more impressive. A large central chamber supported by 12 great square pillars is lined with sculptures of seated Buddhas. The doorway into the sanctuary is flanked by a muscular Padmapani, holding a lotus, and a bejewelled Maitreya, the Future Buddha. Both are accompanied by their consorts. Inside the shrine is a stately seated Buddha on a lion throne.
Caves 3: and 4 have a similar design as Cave 2, but are in poor condition.
Cave 5: is named the Maharwada Cave because it was used by local Mahar tribespeople as a shelter during the monsoon. It centers on a grand assembly hall stretching 36 meters long, which was probably used as a refectory. The two rows of carved benches support this theory. The shrine Buddha is seated on a stool with his right hand touching the ground in the Earth Witness gesture.
Cave 6: was carved in the 600s and is home to two of the finest sculptures at Ellora. On the left is the goddess Tara, with an intense but kind expression. Opposite her on the right is Mahamayuri, the Buddhist goddess of learning, shown with her attribute, the peacock. A diligent student sits at his desk below. Significantly, Mahamayuri has a very similar Hindu counterpart, Saraswati.
And Many other interesting caves are there.
How to reach There:
Air: Nearest Airport is Chikalthana,12kms from the Aurangabad city and 30kms from Ellora. Flights link Aurangabad to Delhi, Udaipur, Jaipur and Mumbai. Indian Airlines connects Aurangabad with Delhi and Mumbai (388 km) daily. Jet Airways also has regular flights from Mumbai to Aurangabad.
Rail: Aurangabad is directly linked to Mumbai and Pune. Jalgaon, the nearest railhead on the Central Railways line, is 59 km from Ellora. Two trains Tapovan Express and Devgiri Express depart daily from Mumbai to Aurangabad.
Road: State buses run from Mumbai (392km), Pune, Ahmednagar, Jalgaon, Shirdi, Nasik, Dhule, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Indore and Bijapur to Aurangabad, and from Jalgaon to Ajanta. Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (M T D C) operates conducted tours from Mumbai, Jalgaon, Aurangabad etc. One can get bus frequently for Ajanta from Aurangabad.