Ellora Caves - Indian Architecture History
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Ellora Caves

Ellora temple
Outside of Carpenter's Cave, Ellora, about 575 AD

In the Guptan period, when architects in India were beginning to build more and more temples, they cut thirty-five temples and monasteries into a cliff in north-western India, near Mumbai, at Ellora. Ellora was on the main road between north India and south India, so it was a good place to build monasteries where travelers could stay the night (because there were no hotels at that time).

The first people who carved temples at Ellora were Buddhists, and so they built temples to the Buddha. People built these Buddhist temples and monasteries between about 550 and 700 AD. Because the men who carved the images were still new to carving stone, they often tried to make their stone carvings look like the wood they were more used to. In the "Carpenter's Cave", the builders carved bands of stone to look like wooden beams holding up the ceiling.

A Hindu temple carved at Ellora

As Buddhism became less popular in India, beginning in the 600s AD, people who were Hindus built Hindu temples at Ellora to Shiva and Vishnu. The Hindu temples were very complicated and sometimes took a hundred years to finish. Some of these temples are built in a south Indian style, even though they are in the north, because they were built about 760 AD by King Krishna I of Manyakheta, who had conquered part of south India too and wanted people to know how big his empire was.

Beginning about 800 AD, people who were Jains built Jain temples at Ellora too, so that Jains who took the road would also have a comfortable place to stay. At this time, people from the different religions were not fighting and so they didn't mind having their temples near each other. By 1100, Ellora was big enough, and people stopped carving new caves there. But they kept on using the caves to worship the gods, and to stay in when they were travelling, for hundreds more years after that.

Learn by doing: build a temple like this out of Lego or in Minecraft
More about Indian Architecture (the Guptan period)
Medieval Indian Architecture

Bibliography and further reading about Indian architecture:

More about Indian Architecture (the Guptan period)
Medieval Indian Architecture
More about India
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 28 April, 2017