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  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, inner sanctum
    Kailash Cave Temple, inner sanctum

    This photo shows the steps leading up to the doorway of the Kailash Temple inner sanctum. In the center of the small shrine room is a large Shiva lingam and yoni positioned to allow only a single line of people to circumambulate this aniconic representation of the divine. This inner sanctum is continuously illuminated by one kerosene lamp.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Hindu Caves, Ravana shakes Mt. Kailash
    Ellora Hindu Caves, Ravana shakes Mt. Kailash

    In this well-known scene, Shiva and Parvati sit close together in their abode on Mt. Kailash while the demon Ravana shakes it from below. Shiva puts his foot down to calm the shaking of Ravana and continues to fondle Parvati.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Buddhist Caves, school field trip
    Ellora Buddhist Caves, school field trip

    The Ellora Caves are a popular site for school field trips. Students learn the history of the early religious communities who lived in this area as they walk through the caves and observe the figures and symbols.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, Shiva linga with no beginning or end
    Kailash Cave Temple, Shiva linga with no beginning or end

    The wall sculpture illustrates the tale of Vishnu and Brahma who find they are no match for the mighty Shiva whose power symbolized in his lingam has no beginning or end.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, Kamadeva and Rati with sugarcane bow
    Kailash Cave Temple, Kamadeva and Rati with sugarcane bow

    The god of desire, Kamadeva, and his consort, Rati, are carved on the inside of the couryard wall for visitors just entering, or just leaving the temple complex. Between Kama and Rati is the god's weapon, a sugarcane bow, which is sheltering them with its bower of leaves.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, Gandharvas accompanying Kamadeva and Rati
    Kailash Cave Temple, Gandharvas accompanying Kamadeva and Rati

    Next to an image of Kamadeva, god of desire, and his consort, Rati, is this panel containing apsarases and these gandharvas, heavenly creatures also associated with sensuality, music, and desire.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, amorous couple 1
    Kailash Cave Temple, amorous couple 1

    Auspicious figures of amorous couples in small stone niches adorn the magnificent Kailash Cave Temple, cave #16 in the series of Ellora Caves. These figures represent fertility and good fortune for all who see them.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, Ardhanarishvara
    Kailash Cave Temple, Ardhanarishvara

    Ardhanarishvara, the Lord who is Half Woman, has been carved into one of the many niches on the outside of the temple. The sculptors depicted many of the well-known stories of Hindu gods and goddesses on the walls of the temple. Pilgrims walking past these depictions are reminded of the tales and their teachings.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Buddhist Caves, Chaitya Hall entranceway, amorous couples detail
    Ellora Buddhist Caves, Chaitya Hall entranceway, amorous couples detail

    From the top of the entranceway, this is a close up of the amorous couples with children inside the repeated niches.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, Mata Ganga
    Kailash Cave Temple, Mata Ganga

    Mata Ganga stands in this shrine niche on top of her vahana, the makara. A representation of the River Ganga, she stands next to two other river goddesses, Yamuna and Saraswati.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, inner sanctum doorway
    Kailash Cave Temple, inner sanctum doorway

    This doorway leads into a small shrine room with a lingam carved in a yoni, symbol of the union of Shiva and Shakti, the divine male and female. The light of the candle, the only illumination in this inner shrine room, is visible through the doorway.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Buddhist Caves, Chaitya Hall entrance, near view
    Ellora Buddhist Caves, Chaitya Hall entrance, near view

    This ornate entranceway to Chaitya Hall would have received large numbers of monks and pilgrims. Today, children on school field trips climb through the stone passageways to learn about the history of these early communities.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Buddhist Caves, Chaitya Hall balcony entrance adornments
    Ellora Buddhist Caves, Chaitya Hall balcony entrance adornments

    Gandharvas (celestial male musicians) flanked by apsarases (celestial nymphs) float on either side of the opening over the balcony entrance to the Chaitya Hall. These auspicious heavenly creatures represent good fortune for all who enter this site.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Hindu Caves, mango detail
    Ellora Hindu Caves, mango detail

    Mango tree limbs, laden with fruit, are carved over doorways in the caves as auspicious symbols of fertility and good fortune.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Hindu Caves, viewed from a distance
    Ellora Hindu Caves, viewed from a distance

    Part of a series of caves carved into the basalt rock of these hillsides are the Hindu caves offering particularly beautiful images of such favorite scenes as the weddings of Shiva and Parvati, and Rama and Sita. Cave 29 known as "Sita ki nanahi" or "Sita ki kunda", the bathing place of Sita, draws honeymooning couples who take their pictures in front of the magnificent waterfall. During the monsoon season, this waterfall falls into a beautiful pool between two caves.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Buddhist Caves, Teen Tal, close up
    Ellora Buddhist Caves, Teen Tal, close up

    Buddhist monks lived in small room on the upper levels of this vihara, or monastery.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, Gandharva
    Kailash Cave Temple, Gandharva

    This carving of a gandharva or celestial musician on an outside wall behind the main part of the temple appears to be attached to the wall with a post. This depiction makes the gandharva appear to be flying in mid-air, an appropriate pose for a celestial musician not bound by the gravity of earth.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Hindu Caves, wedding of Shiva and Parvati
    Ellora Hindu Caves, wedding of Shiva and Parvati

    Shiva takes Parvati's hand to lead her around the sacred fire to solemnize their wedding. Attending the ceremony are dozens of celestial apsaras and gandharvas to dance and sing, as well as Brahma and Vishnu at Shiva's left. The couple standing next to Parvati may be her parents, Himalaya and Meena.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Buddhist Caves, Chaitya Hall, seated Buddha in stupa
    Ellora Buddhist Caves, Chaitya Hall, seated Buddha in stupa

    Inside Cave #10, the Buddha is seated on a lion throne within a stupa. The Buddha is shown in the teaching posture in this hall. Celestial beings surround him and bodhisattvas stand at his side.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, entrance
    Kailash Cave Temple, entrance

    In the 8th and 9th centuries CE, the Kailash Cave Temple was carved out of the volcanic rock that formed countless plateaus in the western ghats (small mountain range), part of the geological formation known as the Deccan Plateau. Part of a group of 34 caves carved into the side of this plateau, Kailash, cave number 16, is monumental by any standards. The Kailash rock-cut temple stands 30 meters (99 feet) high, 52 meters (170 feet) in length, and 33 meters (108 feet) wide. The other 33 caves, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain, were created by digging into the side of the plateau much like other cave dwellings, but Kailash appears to have been literally excavated from the top in order to create a free-standing temple encircled by smaller cave shrines.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Buddhist Caves, Chaitya Hall, entranceway sculptures of amorous couples
    Ellora Buddhist Caves, Chaitya Hall, entranceway sculptures of amorous couples

    Across the top of the entrance to the Chaitya Hall is this series of small niches containing amorous couples in slightly different poses with their bodies bent as if in response to their partners. On either side of each couple is a small figure, perhaps a child. Repeating these figures across the length of the top of the entranceway offers images of fertility and good fortune to all who pass through.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, Gajalakshmi
    Kailash Cave Temple, Gajalakshmi

    This auspicious image of the goddess, Gajalakshmi, framed by her royal elephants stands at the entrance to the Kailash Cave Temple complex. Gajalakshmi, along with her elephants, was churned fully formed from the Milky Ocean. She indicates good fortune and wealth for all who enter.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, Kamadeva and Rati with Apsaras and Gandharvas
    Kailash Cave Temple, Kamadeva and Rati with Apsaras and Gandharvas

    God of desire, Kamadeva, and his consort Rati are flanked by their assistants, a sensuous apsaras or heavenly nymph and gandharvas who are charming celestial musicians.

  • Thumbnail for Kailash Cave Temple, amorous couple 2
    Kailash Cave Temple, amorous couple 2

    Auspicious figures of amorous couples in small stone niches adorn the magnificent Kailash Cave Temple, cave #16 in the series of Ellora Caves. These figures represent fertility and good fortune for all who see them.

  • Thumbnail for Ellora Buddhist Caves, Bodhsattva Dvarapala
    Ellora Buddhist Caves, Bodhsattva Dvarapala

    This sculpted bodhisattva figure stands as a dvarapala (door guardian) at the entrance to the cave.