Ellora caves lay in the lap of the Chamadari hills extending over a mile and a quarter in the north-south direction and are situated 18 miles northwest of Aurangabad. Ellora represents some 300 years of great experiments carried out by different faiths with their very different iconography and structural compulsions.
Ellora caves are finest specimens of cave temple architecture. They house elaborate facades and exquisitely adorned interiors. These structures representing the three faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, were carved during 350 AD to 700 AD period. The cave monuments of Ellora were chiefly patronised by the Chalukya - Rashtrakuta rulers (7th - 10th century AD). These cave shrines are memorable for their invaluable contribution to the enormous wealth of Indian heritage. There are 34 caves in total. These can be divided into three groups belonging roughly to three periods: Buddhist, Hindu and Jain. Only 12 of the 34 caves are Buddhist, but even these caves incorporate the Hindu and Jain theme, demonstrating the gradual decline of Buddhism.
It took over five centuries for the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monks to chisel out these monasteries, temples, and chapels and decorate them with remarkable imagination and detail.
Sixteen caves are the oldest in the group and were carved in the 5th century. As one enters these caves, one crosses graceful angles and steps in a high ceiling chamber where a 15 feet huge statue of Buddha is sitting in a preaching pose. In these caves the artist has tried an element of surprise by giving them an expression of wood. Most of these 16 caves are 'Viharas' but cave number 10 is a 'Chaitya'. The 10th cave has an impression of wooden beams on its ceiling and has a small decorated window, which illuminates the sitting Buddha. These caves are rightly called the "Vishvakarma" caves. This cave is considered to be one of the finest caves in India.
The Buddhists believe that Buddha returns after every five thousand years, thus the 12th cave has seven images of Buddha depicting his seven incarnations.
The Hindu caves exhibit a totally different league from the Jain and Buddhist temples in terms of style, creative vision and execution skills. These temples were built 'top to bottom' and the architecture of these caves show, that it required several generations of planning and co-ordination to give it the final shape. Cave 14 was initially a Buddha Vihar but in the 7th century it was turned into a Shiva temple. Here Shiva is depicted as "The Destroyer".
The 16th cave in the group is one of the audacious feats in architecture ever achieved. The idea was to build Kailash from a single stone. Hence it got its name, Kailasnath temple. Mural paintings in Ellora are found in 5 caves, but only in the Kailasa temple are they somewhat preserved.