Ellora, in India, with its temples digged in the rock, is one of the most significant places in the Indian subcontinent. This is not only for its religious importance (the area is a place of pilgrimage for 3 different faiths), but also for its marvellous rock-cut architecture contained within. The Hindu Kailasa temple is, amongst all of them, the most stupefying one as it was not carved inside a cave but vertically cut through a gigantic basaltic monolith.
Below: overhead view of the Kailasa temple. Picture by Pratheepps shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
When visiting the Kailasa Temple, in the silence before the dawn, it is instinctive to thank those minds who thought and carved with such a mastery that majestic piece of an unknown past. When the light of the day still doesn’t caress the high rocks, the perfection of the structure of the different sanctuaries, the many statues of the Vedic divinities, the panels with the scenes of the epical poems of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the queues of elephants and lions, before the noisy visitors arrive, you can feel the magic of such a place and appreciate in solitude the mysticism that lingers in the air.
Below: outer view of a wall of the Temple. Picture by Danial Chitnis shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
When entering the Mandapa, the Sancta Sanctorum of the temple, it is a bit like entering another world: the 16 solid pillars placed in perfect symmetry in groups of 4 hit the eye as well as the soul. The tradition wants to turn around the pillars from left to right, while observing the different symbols engraved in each of the 4 sides. It is not just aesthetic, every one of them had a message to deliver.
Below: Elephants sculpted in the rock and supporting the structure. Picture by Sanjay Acharya shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
The Temple of Kailasa was not built, it was cut and sculpted from a single piece of rock digged in the hills of Charanandri, in the plateau of Deccan, village once called Elapura, nowadays known as Ellora, 30 km (18.6 miles) North-West from Aurangabad.
Below: pillar (sculpted) of the complex. Picture by Sanjay Acharya shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
Nothing from the original temple has been taken to the outside: it has all been made by a unity, it is all a symbol of creation. However, even though the structure, incisions and other parts have been altered multiple times, the original message has miraculously survived.
Below: one of the panels. Picture shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
Many are the temples in Ellora, one sitting next to the other; 34 are the ones open to visitors. Some are Hindu, others Buddhist and some other dedicated to Mahavira, founder of the Jainism. However, unlike the Kailasa Temple, they are all, apart from one little Jainist temple, caves sculpted in horizontal with only one frontal opening.
The Kailasa temple was cut from the top down for approximately 50 m down (165 ft). What was it cut with though? How did they manage to cut through this hard rock of basalt and make sanctuaries out of it?
King Krishna I commissioned this temple, built between the 757 and 783 AD, to revoke the Mount Kailash, abode of God Shiva. For this reason he had it painted in white, so to recall the snow of the mountain itself.
According some archeologists, during the excavation work they removed approximately 300,000 tons of rock, incredible work ended in only 18 years. For other researchers it took them hundreds of years to terminate the project.
The legend of the temple tells about a different story though. The King was very ill and the Queen prayed Shiva to heal her man; in exchange she promised the God to erect a temple in its honour and to observe fasting until the end of the construction. Shiva welcomed her prayers and restored the health in the King.
The architects who worked to the projects were worried about the hurry of the Queen as they knew that such a construction would have required a lot of time. However the architect Kokasa reassured the Queen telling her they would have finish it in a week time. They started digging downwards and when the sanctuary was finally over, it appeared magical with its incredible sculpture.