Ancient History

Who built Ellora Caves and why?

 Ellora Caves are extraordinary. They are one of the world’s largest monastery cave complexes carved directly into a rock face.

The Ellora Caves is the name of a sweeping complex of 34 temples and monasteries in southern India. 

It is considered to have been built between 756 and 773 AD, but UNESCO state that they earliest part dates from 600AD.

temple, carvings, rock
An extraordinary feat of engineering. Ellora Caves, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India. © Vyacheslav Argenberg / CC BY 4.0


Regarded as a marvel of construction. It is rightfully registered as a World Heritage Site by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

All built by hand, carved directly into the side of a mountain.  The largest building in the complex is the Kailasa Temple, and it, and the other structures, are a marvel of ancient craftsmanship.  The site is located about 30 kilometres from Aurangabad.

Huge Workforce

Before beginning their work, labourers toted away tons of stone removed from the hillside. Modern engineers suggest it took an army of men to chisel away at the site and create the U-shape it is famous for today.

Carved from a single ‘rock’ – Kailasanatha temple. Y.Shishido – CC BY-SA 3.0

Scholars generally agree that the Ellora Caves complex was built during the Rashtrakuta dynasty, during the reign of King Krishna.

He ruled regions of southern India between the 8th and the 10th centuries. Some historians and archaeologists say the temple was intended as the Himalayan home of Hindu god Lord Shiva.

The architects wanted it to replicate Mount Kailash, his mystical home. However, origins of the temples cannot be completely verified.


In the case of the Ellora caves, a large mountain was carved until the structures revealed themselves, so to speak. 

Kailasa is the only rock monument in the world built in this fashion. Others were begun at the bottom, and carved upward.

The Kailasa Temple is noteworthy for its vertical carving. The craftsmen began at the top of the rock and started to excavate and curve downwards. The level of skill of the master architects and craftsmen is considered some of the highest in the world.

Traditional methods and the easiest method were to crave from the front.

rock, stone, carving, temple
The skill and scale of the monument is spellbinding.

Experts estimate that 400,000 tonnes of rock were removed during the years of construction and carving. In addition to temples, there are reliefs, shrines, carvings of deities, and much more. 

National Pride

Thousands of people, both Indian citizens and visitors from Europe and elsewhere, tour the temple complex year round.

It is a source of great national pride, perhaps as much as the Taj Mahal. Everyone from scholars to civilians agrees that Kailasa is one of the most spectacular rock monuments in the world. It is certainly one of the largest complexes anywhere devoted to religion.

But religion was not the only matter on the minds of its architects and builders. Like many monasteries all those centuries ago. Ellora is constructed along a South Asian trade route.

Its location meant that not only religious folks. But also merchants and business people, had a place to rest and take shelter, sometimes travelling together to Ellora.

It became an important part of the Deccan business centre, and was granted a royal patronage for its service.

Temple, carvings, rock
Carved from the top down, Ellora Caves are unique. N M Kowlagi – CC BY-SA 4.0


Looking at photographs of aerial views of the Ellora Caves reveals just how imposing and almost intimidating the site is. Some historians estimate it took approximately 18 years to complete the complex. They do acknowledge that there is really no way of determining that  precisely.

The Ellora Caves was once the home of the Ellora Ajanta Festival. Which lasts for three days in October, but the festival is moving to a nearby location. Still, according to local tourism officials, the caves are an integral part of the event.

You can take a tour of the caves which will take just a few hours. But spending at least an entire afternoon at Ellora is definitely the way to go.

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The temples and other structures, which demonstrate the talent and dedication of the men who worked on it, is a testament to their belief in the project, and their desire to please the god they so devoutly believed in.

Bring the ancient monuments right up to to date, the Superintendent of the sites, Milan Kumar Chauley, tells the press. “There are 20 battery-operated vehicles on the premises that move visitors throughout the day. We have also proposed five temporary sheds for tourists at various locations which will also serve as the stops for these vehicles,”

India is a beautiful and diverse country, with various cultures. It is rich is history and traditions and should be on everyone’s bucket list.