Ellora Caves





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Ellora Caves

The Ellora Caves chiselled into perfection between the 4th and the 9th century. One of the most fascinating archaeological sites in Maharashtra, Ellora dates back to the Rashtrakuta dynasty, about 1,500 years ago, and is the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture.

Ellora Caves

Dhwajastambha, Kailashnath Temple, Ellora

Dhwajastambha, Kailashnath Temple, Ellora

Location of place Ellora Village, Aurangabad
Type of place Caves
Ancient Name Ellapuram
Nearest City Aurangabad City
Nearest Railway Station Aurangabad Railway Station
Nearest Airport Aurangabad Airport
Property Type Cultural
Selection Criteria (i), (ii), (vi) from OUV Selection Criteria
State Maharashtra
Dharma Hindu, Buddha, Jain
District Aurangabad District
Local Name Verul
UNESCO World Heritage Site : Year of Inscription 1983


In the lap of Charnadari hills which extend over a mile and a half-lie the world-famous cave temples of Ellora. The age-old portrayal of the harmonious co-existence of the three different faiths justifies the religious understanding of the kings and people of that period. The caves of Ellora, are a group of rock-cut temples representing the final stage of the cave-temple architecture of Western India. These magnificent rock-cut temples represent three different different Dharmic cultures, namely :

  • Buddha Dharma
  • Hindu Dharma
  • Jain Dharma

This Golden era in our history, as could be seen in the cave temples of Ellora, religious hostility changed into hospitality and reaction into reciprocity. The position of the Ellora range of caves lies at the focal point of the ancient trade routes. The first trade route sprang from Pratishthana (current day Paithan) and ended in Bhrugukachha (Bharuch). On the other hand, lied the trade route through Ajanta-Mahishmati-Ujjain.

Politically, economically and Socially Ellora caves have been an important station. The word Ellora comes from the erstwhile name of the place Ellapuram. It is said that Ellora is the anglicised version of the above. [ref]

Ellora has made its way even to Arab and European countries. The accounts of travellers describe the magnificence and richness of the caves.

Excavation (Carvings)

Ellora caves were chiefly patronised by the Chalukya-Rashtrakuta rulers (from 7th to 10th century). This was the time when the regional art was in full efflorescence. This period was the result of centuries of artistic activities in the cave temples of Western India ( 1st century BC to 10th century AD). This way of art could flourish due to the supportive atmosphere of the Satavahanas, Vakatakas, Chalukyas and Rasthrakutas.

At Ellora, the major significant excavator activities were carried out from the middle of the sixth century to the end of the tenth century. The dates of the caves, surprisingly, representing the three religious faiths are found to be overlapping. A tentative chronology of the caves may be suggested thus: the Buddhist caves, 550-750 A.D., the Hindu Caves, 600-875 A.D., and the Jain Caves 800-1000 A.D.

The Queen's vow

While returning back from a successful campaign over the Gurjara kingdom of Nandipur, the Rashtrakuta king Dantidurga and his uncle Krishna III retreated for the day close to a beautiful hillside landscape. Like a magnet, Dantidurga was attracted towards the hills and thinking of the place to have some unknown significance , he expressed his desire to build a Shiva temple there itself. The place that had captured his heart was Ellora.

Unfortunately, an upcoming campaign restricted him to execute his plan. Years later after Dantidurga's death, Krishna III succeeded the throne and along with his wife revisited the very same hills to subdue his tire from the affairs of the state. Experiencing nostalgia, he notified the queen of Dantidurga's wish and as his uncle also the inability to fulfil it. The Queen grew furious, and impulsively took a vow of not consuming even a morsel of food until she caught a glimpse of the kalasha of the temple. Though an impractical task , the king called upon Kokkas, the best sculptor of Pratishthan. After having an insight of the vow ,Kokkas asked for a week's time on a provision that the place of work be cordoned and none should approach within a radius of a kosa (3.5km). The king agreed with alacrity. A week later,on the top of a hillock was a beautifully carvedKalasha, and on it a saffron flag fluttering in the cool breeze, thus gratifying the queen who was having a vantage view of the construction from the distance of a kosa. But the queen was honestly tricked , as there lay only a Kalasha without the temple body , which yet had to be CARVED! 

Yes absolutely, it had to be carved and the only way possible was chiselling the hill from top to bottom - a herculean task befitting to the glory of the Rashtrakutas. After years of hardship and backbreaking work by about 7000 artisans, at Ellora stood the Kailashnath temple (Cave 16), the largest monolithic excavation in the world. [ref] [ref]

UNESCO World Heritage Site

UNESCO Criteria for Selection and Recognition of a World Heritage Site

To make it onto the World Heritage List, the heritage site must at least fall under one of the ten selection criteria for Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) in the “Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention".

The World Heritage Site is further classified into 3 types of properties based on the selection criteria from the Oustanding Universal Value (OUV) -

  1. If a site meets any of the first 6 criteria for OUV, then it is classified to be a Cultural property.
  2. In case any of the last 4 criteria for the OUV are applicable, then it is classified to be a Natural property.
  3. But if a site accommodates 2 or more criterias, with minimum one from first 6 criteria and last 4 criteria for OUV each, then it is classified to be a Mixed property. [ref]


  • (i) To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; 
  • (ii) To exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design; 
  • (iii) To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
  • (iv) To be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage (s) in human history; 
  • (v) To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change; 
  • (vi) To be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);


  • (vii) To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; 
  • (viii) To be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features; 
  • (ix) To be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals; 
  • (x) To contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation. [ref]

Ellora Cave's Criteria for UNESCO World Heritage Site

Year of inscription: 1983

Property Type - Cultural

Criteria: (i), (ii), (vi) from OUV [ref]

Ellora Visitor Centre (EVC)

These visitor centre of Ellora is among the state of the art facility centre in South Asia. The primary aim of the visitor centre is to sensitise the visitors before they visit the caves proper. It houses different mediums of interpretation in making the caves understandable to the seekers. The centre may help prolong the stay of the tourists in the district, thus having more positive impact on the local economy. It was also built to create an interest in the casual visitors who are not fully informed on this world heritage. Archaeology, History, Culture, Lifestyle, Customs, Traditions, Arts etc. concerning the caves make the substantial part of the visitor centre.

The Ellora Visitor Centre has a replica of the Kailasha cave 16 with interpretation tools. It houses a cafeteria, two restaurants, demonstration and sales area for Bidri, Paithani, Carpet weaving and Himroo. The centte has 60 small kiosks for local sellers to exhibit and sell their produce including handcrafted material. The two auditoriums play the informative movie on Ellora and double up as a place for cultural programmes. An open amphitheatre  for evening cultural
programmes. The EVC is huge and can accommodate several visitors at one time. [ref]

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