A Riddle called Ellora

in Overview
Published on: 25 September 2017

Deepak Kannal

Retd. Prof. Deepak Kannal is a sculptor and art historian with expertise on Ellora caves. Former Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts and Head of the Department of Art History and Aesthetics, M.S. University, Baroda, his two publications on the subject are "Ellora: An Enigma in Sculptural Styles" and "Ellora Caves: Sculpture and Architecture".

An Introduction to the Caves 


Ellora, locally known as Verul and mentioned as Elapura in medieval literature, is a group of 34 rock-cut caves in the mountain ranges of Satpuda, about 30 km from the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra, India.


It is the only cave complex where cave temples of all the major religions of ancient India, i.e., Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism are found together.


It seems that the site was throbbing with art activity for more than 500 years (from the fifth to eleventh centuries CE), mainly under the patronage of Kalachuri, Chalukya and Rashtrakuta dynasties and also the Bauddha sanghas. Unlike the neighbouring cave complex of equal importance, i.e., Ajanta, Ellora was not lost to collective amnesia. It remained a living monument.


According to the present-day sequence the first 12 caves are Buddhist, Caves 14–29 are Hindu, and the last five caves situated at a distance from the main complex are Jain caves. There are countless known and unknown caves over and above these numbered caves, including a group of small caves called 'Ganesha Lena' on top of the mountain and a humble monolith called Chhota Kailas a little distance from the Jain group of caves. In the ‘sthanapothi of Lilacharitra, a 13th-century text in Marathi, Swami Chakradhar tells his disciples that this whole mountain has been hollowed out from within. To some extent, it is true.  


A Riddle Called Ellora

‘Chinchechya panavar deul rachile, Adhi kalas mag paya re’.

'A temple was built on a tamarind leaf. The kalasha (finial) was amassed first and the foundation was laid later…' . This quotation is from a kuta kavya, a medieval Marathi tradition of embrangle or cryptic verse, and is perhaps inspired by the great monolith, the Kailasanatha of Ellora, which itself is a mysterious poem in stone!


Fig. 1. General view of Ellora from the southern end


Ellora is one of the best known historical monuments in India. A large corpus of published material pertaining to this cave complex is easily available not only in English but in many other languages too. Legions of scholars starting from Burgess and Ferguson in the 19th century and the uninitiated European visitors even before them have been writing about this complex. But its enigma is still intact. A large section of it is still shrouded in mystery and is waiting to be explicated. Ellora appears like an art historical conundrum for various reasons ,and the most obvious of them is its political and geographical vulnerability. Its early phase came into being in a region and a period (circa fifth-sixth century CE) that saw an extremely volatile political scenario and also some radical religious and cultural shifts. These pose a series of questions regarding its patronage, its exact period, cultic affiliations and their visual manifestations, the guilds and artisans that worked on this mammoth project, and also the visual language, formal elements and styles that emerged through interactions between them. A monument, therefore, cannot be studied in isolation. It ought to be studied in the context of other related monuments. To comprehend the aesthetics of this era, an enquiry into all these aspects is indispensable.


Fig. 2. The mutilated image of Vishnu and Nadidevatas, Cave 28


The Early Phase

The Shaivite and/or the Buddhist caves are considered to be the inaugural endeavours at Ellora (Spink 1967); however, some stray and extremely modest earlier attempts at cave architecture can be seen in the gorge behind the waterfall near Dhumarlena, i.e., Cave 29. The mutilated sculpture of Vishnu on the outer wall of this cave has attributes like the sudarshana cakra with spokes, and musala (pestle-shaped) gada (club) held in the udbahu, ('raised hand') position, which indicate an early date (Fig. 2). The nadidevatas (river goddesses) inside the mandapa are seen with the chhatra (parasol) which again is a Gupta feature observed at places like Kharod in Madhyadesa, datable to the mid–fifth century CE. The adjoining cave (No. 27) too is a Vaishnava cave with sculptures of Sheshashayin, Trideva and Ekanamsha flanked by Sankarshana and Vasudeva (Fig. 3), and is considered to be the earliest cave at this site on architectural grounds by Walter Spink (1967).


Fig. 3. The Ekanamsha panel, Cave 27


But other scholars like Krishnakumar (1966) are of the opinion that while the cave is doubtless of an early date, the Vaishnava sculpture in it is a later interpolation after a Hindu usurpation when the cave was found in an incomplete and abandoned state. Despite these contradictory opinions, these excavations suggest an early Vaishnava intervention at this site and call for further investigations. The rare representation of Ekanamsha in this period and region hints also at an Abhira connection to this cave, as the goddess was mainly worshipped by Abhiras, the cowherd community to which lord Krishna belonged. Considering the simple, unimposing religious structures built by Vakataka rulers at Ramtek and some other places, these modest caves may be attributed to either some branch of the Vakatakas or any of their Hindu feudatories with Abhira lineage.


Fig. 4. Cluster of Buddhist caves


The Buddhist caves are clustered towards the southern end of this complex (Fig. 4) ranging from Cave 2 to Cave 12. Cave 1 and Cave 13 are aborted excavations. Unlike Ajanta, there is hardly any controversy regarding the patronage of the Buddhist caves here. Ajanta is full of carved and painted inscriptions which clearly evidence the significant role of the laity, monks and the sangha in the patronage. The inscriptions that mention the genealogy of Vakatakas or names from some other dynasties do not categorically attribute the patronage to those dynasties. The same is true of the Nasik inscriptions of the Satavahanas. Though inscriptions affirm that generous grants were allocated by those rulers for the everyday expenses of the monastery, the construction of these caves cannot be attributed to those dynasties. Since there are no inscriptions in Ellora's Buddhist caves, there is hardly any confusion over their patronage. It is resolutely ascribed to the sangha. But there is a difference of opinion over the dating and sequence of these caves. One fact is fairly clear, that the physical sequence of the caves certainly does not correspond to  the chronological sequence revealed by excavations.


Fig. 5. Mahamayuri, Cave 7


The sequence suggested by Geri Malandra (1988) on the basis of architectural and sculptural characteristics, and also taking into consideration the Vajrayana iconographic developments is more or less acceptable (Fig. 5), although the dating that she suggests is debatable. She considers Cave 6 as the inaugural Buddhist monument at Ellora, followed by Caves 5, 2 and 3. Caves 4, 7 and 8 are placed in the third group and are followed by 10 and 9. Caves 11 and 12 are the last additions to this complex.  She brackets these activities between 600 CE and 730 CE. Spink also dates this group to the seventh century. If the activity at Ajanta had ceased in the last quarter of the fifth century, as argued by Walter Spink and generally accepted by most scholars, an interval of over a hundred years before it recommences at Ellora is difficult to account for. The contention pushing the Aurangabad caves between Ajanta and Ellora (Spink 1967) does not sound convincing either, for two reasons. Firstly, the interval is too long for the total body of work at Aurangabad to fill, and secondly, Aurangabad sculpture cannot be accepted as a sequel to Ajanta on stylistic grounds. The massive voluptuous figures hardly borrow anything from Ajanta (Fig. 6).


Fig. 6. An attendant figure from Aurangabad caves


On the other hand, Cave 27, Cave 2 and Cave 10 of Ellora display marked similarities with Ajanta architecture and suggest chronological imminence to it.  A large number of Buddhist caves at Ellora were abandoned in an incomplete state, and some of them were converted into Hindu monuments even in the early phase of Ellora, which according to these scholars is datable to the sixth century. Cave 27 and Cave 14 are earlier, and Cave 15 is a later example of it. The chronology suggested by Geri Malandra and Walter Spink placing all the Buddhist caves in seventh or even eighth century cannot explain this. It is also a matter of dubiety whether any of the Buddhist sanghas were active and prospering during the eighth century in this part of the country and could have taken up a task of this scale. A number of incomplete and abandoned Buddhist caves at this site, some of which were usurped by other sects at a later date, imply waning patronage to Buddhist sanghas and art activity after the mid–seventh century CE.


Fig. 7. Row of Shivaganas from Parvati Parinaya panel, Rameshwara Cave


Fig. 8. Row of Ganas from the balcony of Vishwakarma Cave


Considering the marked similarity between some of the sculptural panels from the Rameshvara cave (Cave 21) and the Vishvakarma cave (Cave 10, which is considered to be one of the later Buddhist caves), there is enough reason to infer that the Buddhist activity at Ellora was not much later than the early Hindu excavations, and came to a close by the mid–seventh century (Figs. 7-8).


Fig. 9. Vajrayana icon from Buddhist cave at Ellora


The Ellora Buddhist cave architecture is simpler but grander in scale than Ajanta. Caves 6, 11, 12, and 15 (which was converted into a Dashavatara cave during Rashtrakuta rule), were obviously designed to accommodate a large number of mendicants for various purposes. Caves 11, 12 and 15 are multi-storeyed caves resembling modern day dormitories, and Cave 6 is a vast hall perhaps designed as a reading room or lecture hall. The sculpture in the Buddhist caves divulges developments in Vajrayana through images of Tara, Mahamayuri, Bhrukuti and the Ashtabhayatarana ('saviour from the eight great fears') Bodhisattva (Figs. 9 -11).


Fig. 10. Dhyani Buddha panel, Cave 12


Two elegant panels portraying the Dhyani Buddhas and Manushi Buddhas are found in Cave 12 (Fig. 10). Due to the vast extent of this project, it seems that numerous guilds from different regions were working simultaneously on different caves. Interactions between them were inevitable. As a result, the sculptural styles are eclectic, inheriting elements from Traikutaka, Vakataka, Kalachuri and Chalukya lineages, and the quality of work is inconsistent. Alongside extremely refined sculpture, a body of crude and coarse sculptures carved by some unidentifiable lesser guilds and used as space fillers is also seen all over Ellora making its comprehension more difficult. 


Fig. 11. The Chaitya arch with Vidyadharas


Fig. 12. Buddha image along with the stupa, Cave 10


The only chaityagriha in this group, i.e., Cave 10, known as the Vishvakarma cave today and as the Kokas Vadhiyache lene (cave temple) in medieval times, is smaller than the spacious Hinayana chaityas at Ajanta, but it is a two-storied structure with an elegant chaitya arch flanked by vidyadharas or celestial demigods (Fig. 11), and discloses affinity with later Ajanta chaityagrihas. Like Cave 26 in Ajanta, the Vishvakarma cave also houses a large image of a seated Buddha which appears to be emerging from the stupa (Fig. 12). This chaitya is the last rock-cut chaitya in India. As mentioned earlier, the sculpture from this cave owes a lot to the Kalachuri idiom that is seen in some of the early Hindu caves of this complex.


The patronage of the early Hindu phase of Ellora is debatable. Sivaramamurthi (1957),  Deshpande (1976:113) and a few other scholars attributed this early phase to the Chalukyas of Vatapi, as some features of Badami cave sculpture are discernible in certain sculptures, particularly in Cave 14, known as Ravan ki Khai. This attribution also took into account that the Chalukya king Mangalesha was a devotee of Kartikeya and the Saptamatrikas, and their portrayals at Ellora. However, considering we have only a small number of such portrayals, and the date mentioned in an inscription issued by King Mangalesha in Cave 3 of Badami corresponds to 568 CE, pushing the entire phase to a much later date bracket, the attribution does not seem fully acceptable. Knowing the mobility of artists’ guilds during that period, it is quite possible that an Andhra-Karnata guild was active in this region and at this site.


Early rock-cut architecture in India right from the late Mauryan era was essentially confined to Buddhist monasteries with the single exception of the Jain cave complex at Khandagiri-Udaigiri in Orissa. The first major Hindu rock-cut temple is the Jogeshvari cave in northern Mumbai, which is placed at around 500 CE, based on the palaeographic characteristics of an inscription in its veranda. Jogeshvari is a Pashupata Shaiva cave with a sarvatobhadra shrine (i.e., facing all four cardinal directions) inside, and repeated depictions of Lord Lakulisha and his disciples in the sculptural panels. It was quite logical to ascribe its authorship to the Kalachuris who proclaimed themselves 'Paramamaheshvara', the most ardent devotees of Maheshvara. This dynasty hailed from Mahishmati in Madhyadesha but seem to have intervened in the political scenario of the Deccan in the last quarter of the fifth century (Mirashi 1964). The great cave of Elephanta in its vicinity, however, is far more evolved architecturally and sculpturally. It divulges obvious consanguinity with Jogeshvari. The hoard of Kalachuri coins found on the island of Elephanta was almost decisive evidence of Kalachuri rule and patronage of Elephanta. A similar coin that was discovered by Sengupta (1960) in front of the Rameshvara cave (No. 21), and the conspicuous stylistic similarity between the two monuments inevitably suggested the possibility of Kalachuri patronage in the early phase of Ellora art activity.


Fig. 13. General view, Cave 21


Rameshvara is one of the finest caves at Ellora. On stylistic grounds it may be placed between Jogeshvari and Elephanta, i.e., in the first half of the sixth century. It has a tall Nandipitha in its courtyard with a rare representation of Aditi Uttanapada on it. It is significant that a similar image is found at Elephanta also. The façade flaunts a row of pillars with beautifully carved bracket figures that echo the supple grace of the river goddesses flanking the cave (Fig. 13). The main hall is parallel to the façade and has upavarnakas (antechambers) on the lateral sides. The well-lit central mandapa has two large sculptural panels, the one on the left depicting Ravana shaking Kailasa, the one on the right akshakrida Shiva-Parvati (enjoying the game of dice). The vestibule between the two leads to the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) guarded by two dwarapalas which seem to be derived from the Avalokiteshvaras in Buddhist caves.


Fig. 14. Saptamatrika panel, Cave 21


The southern antechamber is adorned with a Saptamatrika panel (Fig. 14) accompanied by Kankala, a skeletal depiction of Bhairava, and an elegant image of Shiva Nataraja. The northern chamber has an elaborate narration of Parvati Parinaya, the courtship and marriage of Shiva and Parvati (Fig. 15) and two more panels of Kartikeya and Mahishamardini. If one subscribes to the notion of classicism, this cave truly represents it. The sculpture shows restrained grace and a contemplative disposition. The gradual evolution of the sculptural language and the increasing sophistication that is discernible through these panels hints at the time spent on this cave. As stated earlier, some of the sculptures from this cave, particularly the procession of ganas right below the Parvati Parinaya panel bears a striking similarity with the same theme repeated in the udgama (the entablature above the koshtha) niche on the south side of the chaitya arch of Cave 10. Even an untrained eye would attribute them to a single master and a common date bracket.


Fig.15. Parvati-parinaya detail, Cave 21


Ellora seems to have been throbbing with fervid art activity during this period, as one more cave divulges its contemporaneity with Rameshvara, and that is Cave No. 14 or Ravan ki Khai. The obvious similarity between the ground plan of this cave and Cave 2, and the architectural alterations like the circumambulatory path hewn around the garbhgriha at a later date prompts the idea of a possible transformation of this cave. The iconographic programme is different as it also includes a large number of Vaishnava sculpture. The visual language, the stylistic characteristics and the iconographic conventions clearly hint at the presence of a Chalukya guild in this project. The taut, inflexible immensity of Badami sculpture can easily be distinguished from the supple grace of the Kalachuri idiom, and that is why a discerning eye can notice that these two guilds have encroached into each other’s domains occasionally. The Kartikeya panel, some of the bracket figures on the southern side of the façade, and the two figures next to the Nataraja image from the Saptamatrika panel in the Rameshvara cave betray Badami intervention. The Akshakrida and Kankala in Ravan ki Khai are chiselled by the master of Rameshvara cave (Figs. 16-19). Such interactions between different lineages have resulted in composite styles in the later phase of Ellora.


Fig.16. Akshakrida, Cave 21


Fig. 17. Akshakrida, Cave 14


Fig. 18. Kankala, Cave 21


Fig. 19. Ravananugraha divulging Chalukya features, Cave 14


Cave 29 or Dhumarlena is the last cave, both physically and chronologically, from the early phase of Ellora. It is perhaps the largest and grandest of all, with remarkable points of similarity to the great cave of Elephanta. Like Elephanta and Jogeshvari, Dhumarlena also has a sarvatobhadra shrine inside the cave proclaiming its Pashupata affiliation. It follows the ground plan and the sculptural program of Elephanta quite faithfully, but the ethereal experience that Elephanta offers is starkly absent in Dhumarlena. The quality of sculpture, barring a couple of sculptures including the Kalyanasundaramurti, is surprisingly inferior, though the Kalachuri lineage is still discernible. Madhusudan Dhaky (1988) also points to a Chalukya influence on some of the sculptures from this cave.


According to an inscription of King Mangalesha, he defeated the Kalachuri ruler Buddharaja some time around 602 CE (Bolon 1979). This was followed by the conquests of Pulakesi II, and the Kalachuri lost their hold on this region probably by the second decade of the seventh century. The inconsistency in quality and style could be a result of this political turmoil and shift. The ambitious project was perhaps taken up by the Kalachuris towards the end of the sixth century. Kalachuri art and architecture was already on the decline as inevitably happens in the case of any tradition. After reaching its zenith it starts losing its vitality and tends to become ornate or pompous. The hollow magniloquence of Dhumarlena may be an instance of this phenomenon.


After the completion of architectural work, images of dwarapalas on the walls of the shrine and the Kalyanasundara panel, the work perhaps came to a standstill due to the Chalukya invasion, and was quite possibly, after a hiatus of two decades, completed by the new rulers of this region, the Chalukyas. The inconsistency in quality and style could be the consequence of this hiatus.


After this, art activity at Ellora seems to have gone into hibernation for more than a hundred years until the Rashtrakutas of Manyakhetaka proclaimed their sovereignty and revived art and architecture at this site under their patronage.



The Rashtrakuta Phase


Cave 22, apparently, is an unimportant cave containing some stray sculptures. But the monolithic mandapa that stands in its courtyard, though small and crudely carved, makes it significant. It is almost a maquette for a future project. The militant dwarapalas—temperamentally different from the contemplative and docile, Bodhisattva-like Kalachuri dwarapalasannounce the beginning of a new era that finds its expression in Cave 15 and reaches its culmination in Cave 16, that is, the Kailasanatha, the magnum opus of this complex.


Fig. 20. Miniature Buddha images on the pillar capitals of Cave 15


Cave 15, the Dashavatara cave was originally an incomplete and abandoned Buddhist dormitory conceived exactly like Caves 11 and 12. Being hewn from living rock, they are carved from top to bottom. In Cave 15, the top story is fully carved while the second one is partially carved. It was however forsaken before reaching ground level.  A row of small Buddha images on the pillar capitals of the top storey betrays its real identity (Fig. 20). A series of Vaishnava and Shaiva sculptures is carved in the large niches on the walls of the top floor.


Fig. 21. Narasimha and Hiranyakashyapu, Cave 15


Fig. 22. Trivikrama, Cave 15


This cave houses some of the finest and most ambitious sculptural panels. But considering the stylistic and iconographic inconsistency that prevails here, it is obvious that guilds of different lineages have displayed their skills in this cave. The Pattadakal guild (Narasimha and Trivikrama on the southern wall, Figs. 21-22) or the western Indian guild (Andhakasuravadha and Dancing Shiva, Figs. 23-24) can easily be identified from this medley of sculptures.


Fig. 23. Andhakasuravadha, Cave 15


Fig. 24. Dancing Shiva, Cave 15


The most interesting feature of this cave is the Nandimandapa-like monolith in the courtyard. The mandapa has no specific purpose. It is neither a Nandimandapa nor a shrine. A small chatushki (carved canopy) is attached to its rear and it shelters the only significant and elaborate inscription of this site mentioning the visit of the first sovereign king of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, the mighty Dantidurga, to this place. The Pallava monoliths, known as Pancha Pandava Rathas at Mamallapuram near Chennai, are not carved from living rock, and unlike the Dashavatara monolith they are almost solid. That is why this mandapa can be seen as the first successful attempt towards carving a proper monolith (Fig. 25).


Fig. 25. The monolithic 'Nandimandapa' in the courtyard of Cave 15


It is quite possible that a huge rock yet to be razed and standing in front of the partially carved cave inspired the sthapati, the master craftsman, to experiment with this architectural possibility. The confused and uncertain design of the mandapa and the grand but inconsistent sculpture inside gives a feeling that this cave was used almost like a laboratory to test the competence of artisans from different lineages, perhaps to be recruited for a grander project to be taken up soon. There are varied views regarding the authorship of the Kailasanatha monolith. In absence of any inscriptional evidence in situ, the debate is unresolved. But the sculpture and the monolith in the vicinity of Cave 15 may suggest that Kailasa was conceived by Dantidurga and executed by his uncle Krishnaraja I who came to the throne after his nephew.


Despite the controversy over the authorship of Kailasa, the aesthetic truth is that the sculpture and architecture of this cave divulges the yearning for grandeur, flamboyance and theatricality foretelling the inauguration of the Baroque in Indian art, exploiting art for the proclamation of power!



Kailasanatha or Manakesvara

Kailasanatha is mentioned as Manakeshvara in medieval literature. It seems that it became a legendary monument within a few decades of its creation.  One of the myths says that it was a smart solution to a problem caused by the oath of a queen not to take even a drop of water unless she saw the shikhara of the shivalaya she had promised to build if her husband was cured of disease. The sculptor carved the shikhara first, so saved her from death by starvation. A copper plate issued in 812-13 CE at a place called Siddhamshi in Gujarat by Karka Suvarnavarsha, a descendent of Rashtrakuta dynasty (Bhandarkar 1927) delineates its grandeur and beauty in a verse that describes how when the gods saw this monument from the skies they felt sceptical of its being the creation of humans, and were convinced that Lord Shiva himself must have crafted it as his earthly abode. The shilpi (sculptor) on the other hand kept wondering how he could have accomplished this after many unsuccessful attempts to repeat the feat. This copper plate and the Kadamba grant of Govinda Prabhutavarsha, another Rashtrakuta king, attribute the creation of this monolith to Krishnaraja I, Dantidurga’s uncle. These attributions place this monument in the second half of the eighth century but the evidence in situ indicates that the work continued for decades even after Krishna’s reign.


Kailasanatha is arguably the largest and grandest monolith in the world. Hewn out of a single living rock, it is approximately 200 feet long, 150 feet wide and 95 feet tall. The theories suggesting that the rock in which the shrine is carved was separated from the mountain by digging trenches on all sides cannot be substantiated on technical grounds. The work must have started at the top and progressed along the slope of the mountain, rolling down the large boulders split from the mountain using steel rod drills. The drill marks are still visible on the surrounding walls and the technique is used even today in the stone quarries of Rajasthan. It is important to give a thought to the technique as it would also suggest the chronology of sculptures. It is clearly visible in all the cave complexes that the scooping out of the rock is immediately followed by sculpting. The masons and sculptors work simultaneously (Fig. 26).


Fig. 26. Kailasanatha monolith, view from the top


The shrine proper is a pachayatana kind of complex where the central shrine is surrounded by subsidiary shines at the corners. It is surmounted by a Dravida vimana, the south Indian, pyramidal type of superstructure taking inspiration either from the Kailasanatha temple of Kanchipuram or the Virupaksha temple of Pattadakal. Closer observation of the architectural mouldings on the central shrine as well as the subsidiary shrines endorses the Kanchipuram influence, or rather the Kanchipuram contribution.


Fig. 27. Kailasanatha monolith, view from southern courtyard


Though the temple reveals affinity to the southern idiom, its spatial conception is quite different from the Kanchipuram or Pattadakal temples (Fig. 27). The central shrine along with the subsidiary shrines is placed on an unusually high pitha (platform) which is adorned with animated and almost life-size figures of elephants and stylized lions. The elevation saves the temple from sinking into the trench, visually. It would otherwise have been lost to sight with the towering cliffs all around. The pitha has a spacious courtyard around it. Two huge freestanding elephants and massive dhvajastambhas (flag staffs) flank the frontal portion of the shrine. The shrine has a large square-shaped navaranga mandapa divided into nine equal squares, a mukhamandapa and laterally placed ardhamandapas, a nandimandapa and a modest gopuram above the main entrance. The mukhamandapa shows some traces of painting on its ceiling. The surrounding cliffs also are adorned with caves like Yajnashala and Paralanka on the south, River Goddesses shrine and Lankeshvara on the north, and a long sculpture gallery on the east. The entrance is facing the west. No guild in India could have handled such an ambitious project independently. The patrons must have invited the most reputed guilds from all over the country to meet this challenge. A discerning eye can perceive their presence and identify their contribution to this colossus. As stated earlier, the architectural work with the gajathara (row of elephants) can clearly be attributed to Pallava artisans. The sculptures on the upper register of the shrine can confidently be ascribed to the guild that worked at the Virupaksha temple of Pattadakal and also in the Dashavatara cave. Ravan Jatayu Yuddha, the Vali Sugriva combat, the descent of Ganga, and the Lingodbhava are some of the significant panels from this group. The neutral flat backgrounds, the dance-like postures and the theatricality generated through the arrested movements of characters are the salient characteristics of Pattadakal sculptures. Some of the sculptures from Mahakuta are repeated at Ellora. The local Ellora idiom that astutely activates the space around the figures making them appear as emerging from the rock and receding back into it, was dormant for a few decades after the completion of Dhumarlena. It seems to have been revived at Kailasanatha. The sculpture in the Yajnashala, the Yogishvara Shiva under the bridge leading to Nandimandapa and the Gajalakshmi in front of the entrance are some examples of it. But the most fascinating are the sculptural panels depicting the enraged Bhairava facing the Yogishvara Shiva, and the enormous Ravana shaking mount Kailasa occupying the south wall of the monolith (Figs. 28a-28b). These sculptures divulge an amalgam of different stylistic lineages displaying the grand eclecticism of the Rashtrakuta idiom.


Fig. 28a. Ravananugraha, Kailasanatha


Fig. 28b. Detail of 28a


Work at this monolith continued even after the death of Krishnaraja. The River Goddess shrine, the Lankeshvara and the upper story of Paralanka are additions by the later Rashtrakuta rulers.  All of them together make this monument one of the most ambitious aesthetic endeavours in history.



The Jaina Caves


The Jain caves known as Indrasabha are numbered from 30 to 35, but in reality it is a single cave connected from inside, having more than one entrance. This cave has a few interesting inscriptions datable to the 11th century. One of these names its creator as Nagaverma; whether this was artist or patron is not clear. Another inscription mentions a patron called Sohila Brahmachari (Deshpande 1958). The cave has a tiny monolith with a dravida vimana in the courtyard, a freestanding elephant, and a pillar with a sarvatobhadrika image on top. The ground plan is extremely complex due to random additions of smaller caves. But together they give a very interesting character to it. The pillars are massive and ornate comparable to the pillars from the Lankeshvara shrine in the Kailasa complex.


Fig. 29. Jain goddess Ambika


The monumental images of Tirthankara, Bahubali and Panchaparameshthi are quite iconic and do not lend much to the aesthetic norms that were in vogue at that time. The norms can be seen in the images of gods and goddesses like Ambika, Shakra or Matangi. The Ambika images are some of the most beautiful images at Ellora (Fig. 29). The detailed depiction of flora and fauna too is fascinating.


One more important feature of this cave is the wall painting which divulges a marked affinity with Jain manuscript painting. The protruding eye which is considered the most significant feature of Jain painting can be seen on the walls of Indrasabha.


A monolith that appears almost like a diminutive of Kailsanatha is hidden in the wilderness a little away from this cluster of caves. This modest monument is worth a visit for its interesting iconography and also to understand the method and technicalities of carving a monolith.







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