The Jain Temple at Ellora

The Jain Temple at Ellora was Jesse’s site of study.  At this point in the trip we were all used to being mobbed by people at every site we visited.  Immediately this site was different.  The small entryway hid from view the large temple carved out temple behind it. Once we walked through the gate, however, we entered a space surrounded by four high cliff walls, and defined by a large temple in the center.  We were alone.  We all scattered running around to see all the different parts of the temple.  The carvings were as beautiful as any that we saw and it was very peaceful.  After a few minutes some of us noticed that there were stairs around the back of the temple.  Naturally, we climbed up.  It wasn’t a perfect stairway, and at the end you had to shimmy across a small ledge to reach the roof, but we made it.  On the roof there was another room built into the ascending roof over part of temple.  There was a small door about three feet high.  Inside we found another small temple, directly over the main one beneath our feet.  This struck me as funny at first, but then I realized why I liked it; the designers of the temple wanted you to interact with it.  It was not just a temple to be visited and worshipped.  It was more like a holy play ground to be interacted with and climbed on.  This realization gave me a better appreciation for the site as a whole and highlighted an already beautiful temple.

Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora!

One of the sites that I found most interesting and impressive was the Kailasanatha temple at Ellora. It was absolutely enormous and so detailed! The panels on each side depicting different stories were so artistic in the way certain parts of the story were presented. The temple itself is full of messages of power, protection, and perseverance. From lions and elephants fighting at the base of the temple to the powerful Durga slaying the buffalo demon, the themes of dominance and force are emphasized in this temple. Around the temple are large reliefs sculpted into the rock surrounding the temple. It was so fascinating to walk around and hear Professor Kaimal and Professor Ganvir explain the stories behind each relief. We recognized some of the stories from class and from other temples, however some of them were new and equally as exciting. The fact that the sponsor of the temple went to such great lengths to demonstrate his power and ability to care for his people shows the loyalty leaders had to their people and also shows the importance of religion in their everyday lives. Kailasanatha is definitely a temple in which one can feel the power of the gods and of the rulers of the time which for me makes it so remarkable.

Garden in front of the Kailasanatha Temple
One of the panels on the side of the temple
Durga fighting the buffalo demon
Elephant and lion fighting on the base of the temple
Ravana trapped under Mount Kailash
Part of the hall of reliefs wrapped around the temple
The Kailasanatha Temple


Kailasanatha MM

Out of all the caves that we visited, Kailasanatha was the most overwhelming. It’s outside appearance was very deceiving, for it did not allow me to properly gauge the size. Unlike most of the other caves that we visited, Kailasanatha was more of a wide open space and was not what came to mind when I thought of a cave. Furthermore, after seeing the large amount of people that were present there at once, I can only imagine that it must have been a very busy place of worship in comparison to the other caves of Ellora and the Elephanta caves. What first caught my attention at Kailasanatha was the large detailed figures of Hindu gods, but ultimately, I found the smaller carvings most interesting. I remember standing in awe as Professor Kaimal told the story depicted in one of the freezes as after a friend and I completely misinterpreted it. It was amazing how such a small part of the cave could tell such a detailed story. This visit made me wonder just what I should be taking away from these temple visits and if it would even be possible during my short stay in India.

Another important takeaway that I got from this temple visit is that the celebrity life is not the life for me. Though it would have been ideal to walk about the cave in peace, we were constantly stopped by children, couples, and families requesting to take a photo with us. I did not realize until that day how much we stood out as foreigners. I had to keep reminding myself that not everyone is from a country where people are expected to look different, so their actions were pretty reasonable. Also, these encounters were some of the best opportunities for me to freely socialize with Indian citizens in an environment where it was acceptable to discuss our differences.

Shiva Depictions

Although I focused my research on the Kailasantha Temple at Ellora, it was the Shiva Caves that truly shocked me. I often times stumbled upon articles describing all of the caves as such a magical, beautiful escape from the real world and I did not fully experience this until seeing the caves! Walking around seeing these huge sculptures of Shiva and Parvati, I felt very small and insignificant. I don’t mean that in a bad

One of the first depictions you see upon entering… it’s huge

way though! I felt like I was just a human and I could witness all of the glory and bravery and struggles that Shiva endured without actually having to go through it myself. I was at a loss for words as I walked around. In every single direction, there was something new and exciting commanding my attention and every time I passed a sculpture I had already seen before, a new detail would pop out at me revealing something else. I spent much of my time reflecting on the skill and strength those who created this monument were! It is easy to visit these monuments and pay homage to the gods depicted on the walls for all of their successes, but really, equally as admirable are those who spent years of their lives chiseling away to create these beautiful works of art!  It was an amazing experience.

Experiencing Ellora

This entire trip has been difficult to put into words. From the views passing by the bus window to the incredible variety of food, smells, people and just things to see and to experience there is just so much to take in. That being said, actually physically seeing these sites has been one of the coolest (for lack of a better term) experiences. Seeing photographs cannot begin to do justice to these sites. Of these experiences, exploring Cave 15 at Ellora has been one of my favorite thus far. I had done my project during the fall semester on the relationship between the three religions at the site, but after all that researching nothing prepared me fully to see it with my own eyes. As I led the way through the entry archway into the site, the buildings were nothing like the pictures had appeared.

My first thought was that I had made some crucial mistake and ended up at the wrong site. It took a few frantic minutes before I found that not only that I was at the right site, but that the evidence I want to explain was even more obvious than I had hoped. The Hindu depictions, mainly of Shiva, are set deeply into the stone, and it can easily be imagined that they are carved over some earlier Buddhist work. Additionally, the figures on top of the second floor pillars are Buddhas, with all the iconography that goes along with him. The idea that the site was an unfinished Buddhist cave later reconstructed for Hindu use was no longer some hypothesis from a scholars article, but something that I agree with based on what I saw with my own eyes. It felt as if some great puzzle was being pieced together after so much time, and thats a feeling I won’t soon forget.


If you are interested in looking farther into how Hindu, Buddhist and Jain sites relate to one another, I suggest the following articles;

Kumar, Krishna. “The Buddhist Origin of Some Brahmanical Cave-Temples at Ellora.” East and West 26, no. 3/4 (1976): 359–73.

Owen, Lisa N. “Kings or Ascetics? Evidence of Patronage in Ellora’s Jain Caves.” Artibus Asia 70, no. 2 (2010): 181–225.

Example of Buddha depiction above flowering pot on second floor pillars at Cave 15.
Panoramic of cave 15, to the right and left are Shivas that have been deeply engraved and the second floor pillars depict Buddha.
Views from on top Cave 15
Approaching the Kailasanatha Temple (16)
Landing at sunset in Aurangabad
Lunch within view of Ellora caves


The Kailasanatha temple and Cave 15 at Ellora

Fjordi Mulla explains the collaboration between generations of kings to excavate the Kailasanatha temple
Nali Byrd explains how to read the building as a chronogram.
Camila Loke discusses the parallels this narrative implies between kings and gods
Gabby Yates explains how Cave 15 could work for Jaina worship and then be adapted for Hindu worship.
Resting on the bridge that leads to the temple interior. Kailasanatha temple, Ellora.
The 8 matrika goddesses attended by Siva (L) and the elephant-headed Ganesha (R)