8 and 9: Entrance to the Kailash Temple


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The entrance
of the Kailash temple is a low two-storied gopuram (gateway), reminiscent of
Chola architecture. At first glimpse, from afar, the entrance looks like a
blank wall, presenting an unassuming, almost unfinished looking façade. It is
only upon further inspection that the sculptures adorning the gopuram appear. The
structure is in the form of a fortification wall, with niches divided by
pilasters, and is replete with sculptural representations of various Hindu
deities, the asta-dikpalas, as well as the various incarnations of Shiva and
Vishnu (main Hindu deities), Narsimha, Nataraja, and Varaha.11
The gateway is flanked on either side by sculptures of Hindu river goddesses,
Yamuna and Ganga, representing the symbolic purification of the visitor by
the waters of the rivers.12


Image 10: A symbol of prosperity:
Upon entering the temple, a vertical plane, embellished with a carving of
Gajalakshmi flanked by elephants takes centre stage.

Image 11: The entrance opens into an
imposing U-shaped courtyard with enormous carved pillars on either side
known as Dhwajasthambas, or twin pillars. The pillars are the highest point
of the temple, and are said to represent the individual’s ascent to the
sacred- the spiritual connector between man and God.

Image 12: A sketch I made of the Dhwajasthambam
while at the Kailash


Image 13: One of the most important sculptures of the
Kailash is probably the one depicting Ravana, the 10-headed antagonist in the
ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, shaking Kailash, the home of Shiva, the deity who
the temple is dedicated to, in the south panel. The sculpture has been carved
on the south face of the temple, and has been deeply inset in the stone frame
that it is only visible at certain times of the day.


The sculpture is in the Rashtrakuta style, characterised
by its display of tremendous movement and energy.13


Image 15: Above and below
the splint, the substructure has been worked upon and contoured. A frieze
of elephants and lions occupies the space in the centre.  The base of the main temple is so
skilfully excavated that it gives the impression that elephants are holding
up the entire structure. The rising plinth represents the detachment of the
individual from the earthly realm and expresses his ascent to the heavens.

Image 14: Arcades


Image 16: The incarnations of two deities, Vishnu and
Shiva appear frequently in the temple carvings. This may indicate the
prevalence of the Vaishnavism and Shaivism sects of Hinduism in that region
during the time, or the belief of the kings who commissioned the temple to be
built. The temple, though dedicated to Shiva, also pays homage to other Hindu




My Visit to
the Kailash Temple


Entering the Kailash, it feels
like you have entered a different realm. 
You’re surrounded by towering rock on all four sides. It’s evident from
the moment you enter that an entire cliff was excavated to build it, and the
effect is absolutely amazing.  



Image 18


You can still see the marks left
by a waterfall, which existed thousands of years ago. This probably served as a
water source, and must have been critical in the excavation and construction of
the temple. This allows the structure to blend seamlessly into the surrounding
environment, and reminds us of the traditional water harvesting techniques that
are so relevant to today’s India, and that great art does not have to be at the
expense of the environment. The Kailash temple, no matter what lens you approach
it with, holds the ability to teach you something.







Image 20


For an
artist, there are several things to note about the temple. The entire complex
was initially covered with white plaster, over which artisans painted designs
with coloured dyes. Although a lot of the plaster has faded away, the few
patches which remain display an exceptional understanding of colour. The white,
since it reflects light, enhances the colour of the dyes painted over it; making
them appear more vibrant. Although the pallet used is simplistic, the paintings
stand out, adding to the temple’s splendour.


Another significant aspect of the temple is the ingenious way the
creators used light. The free standing forms are awash with light, with every
detail being displayed clearly and in totality, and stand in contrast to the
dark and mysterious cavernous chambers. The darkness obscures the details,
leaving things to speculation.14
This, for me, enhanced the experience of visiting the Kailash.


The rough hewn treatment of the
rock- cut forms of the temple, juxtaposed with the finely detailed and sculpted
free standing works, presents a contrast. To me it speaks of permanence and
endurance – and of team effort. Whereas the art we so often see now veers towards individualism; the
Kailash temple was a collective effort that spanned generations.


Image 21











many ways, the Kailash temple is an artistic achievement like no other. It is
not just a structure with extraordinary technical and stylistic properties, but
a tribute to the artists’ and architects’ vision and ingenuity. Their
continuous, collective effort lasted generations and could perhaps serve as
inspiration in today’s world of extreme individualism and instant
gratification. It certainly inspires me and I have a feeling that I will return
there sometime later in my life.



      Image 22
and 23: Me at the Kailash temple




List of


Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

A sketch I made of a pillar in the

Downloaded from
in October 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

A sketch I made of the Dhwajasthambam while at the Kailash

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by me in September 2017

Taken by my mother in September 2017

Taken by my mother in September 2017

















Kailasa — The Stylistic Development and

M. K. Dhavalikar

Deccan College Post-Graduate and
Research Institute, Pune


Carving Devotion in the Jain Caves at Ellora
Volume 41 of Brill’s
Indological Library

Lisa Owen



Archaeology As History In Early South Asia

Himanshu Prabha Ray, Carla M. Sinopoli

Council of Historical Research


Kail?sa of Ellora and the Chronology of R?shtrak?ta Art

H. Goetz

Artibus Asiae


an Enigma in Sculptural Styles

Deepak Kannal

Books & Books


Hindu Notions of Space Making

Pranali Parikh

Research Cell, School of Interior Design, CEPT University


Encyclopaedia of Ancient Asian Civilizations

Charles Higham

Facts On File











2. in October 2017

“Section II: Periodic Report on the State of Conservation of
Ellora Caves, India, 2003”


The Awesome Monolithic Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora, India.










1  Lisa Owen, Carving Devotion
in the Jain Caves at Ellora

2 Charles Higham, Encyclopaedia
of Ancient Asian Civilizations






5 Lisa Owen, Carving
Devotion in the Jain
Caves at Ellora

6 Hermann
Goetz The Kail?sa of Ellora and the Chronology of
R?shtrak?ta Art


7 M.K
Dhavalikar, Hermann Goetz



9 from my
visit to the Ellora Visitor Museum

10 Pranali
Parikh, Hindu Notions of Space Making

11 Kailasa — The Stylistic Development And Chronology by M.K

12 Kailasa — The Stylistic Development And Chronology by M.K

13 M.K
Dhavalikar , Kailasa — The Stylistic Development and Chronology


14 Hindu
Notions of Space Making

  Image 7:
A plan of the Kailash



















Image 6: A sketch I made of a pillar in the

The complex consists of a large scooped- out
enclosure, measuring approximately 100 metres by 75 metres. 10
The scheme of the Kailash resolves itself into four main parts:

The temple
at Ellora, along with the traditional Rashtakuta architecture, also displays
features of Chalukya, Pallava, and early Chola sculptural styles, possibly due
to the migration of sculptors in the wake of a Rashtrakuta expansion. These
changes mark the political alignments and interactions of the Rashtrakutas in
the midst of their most successful period; with their reign tinged with
successive victories and imperial prerogatives. 9


Style and Architecture


Image 5


prepared the field, the builders undertook the lengthy task of hewing the
irregular mass of rock into shape. This was followed immediately by sculpting,
and each portion of the carved detail was completely finished as the work
progressed downwards, thus avoiding any need of scaffolding.”

The first
stage of work, for the builders at Kailash, involved the builders excavating
three huge trenches at a right angle out of the mountain, cutting down
vertically to the level of the base of the hill, creating a rectangle of 300
feet by 175 feet.



The temple
differs from others in Ellora in the matter of the technique used for its
construction. While most structures in the caves use the techniques “cut-in
monolith”, hewing out rock from the front and carving inwards, in the Kailash,
the sculptors did the exact opposite, starting work from the top, and cutting
and carving on rock downwards with cautious precision. The technique is known
as “cut out monolith”, and resulted in the formation of the largest monolithic
structure in the world.8


By observing the chisel marks on the stone walls, they have come
to the conclusion that primarily three types of chisels and hammers were used
to excavate and sculpt the temple.  The
creation is believed to be the work of more than 7000 craftsman, and was
conceived and executed by architects and sculptors from the Pallava and
Chalukyan kingdoms of South India.



All the experts’ views coincide on one area, though, that the
temple was constructed in the Dravidian style, with clear influences of Rashtrakutan
architecture, and as such, agree that the temple was commissioned by a
Rashtrakuta ruler, with later additions (such as some subsidiary shrines and
the plinth) by succeeding rulers, who wanted to leave their mark on the temple.7






Many scholars, including Hermann Goetz, a German art historian hold the view that the structure could not have been constructed
under the reign of a single king; claiming that its sheer size alone disproves the
theory of it having been sculptured and excavated within the fifteen years of
Krishnaraja’s reign. Goetz attributes the construction of the Kailash temple to
seven Rashtrakuta kings and one Pratihara king; ranging in time from 8th
century BCE to 13th century AD. 6
An archaeologist, M.K Dhavalikar, disproved some of Goetz’s theories, but
agreed that the construction could not be limited to the reign of one king. The
actual time it took to complete the construction is disputed; with varying
claims from experts, but estimates are near a 100 years for its construction.
Considering the size of the temple and the sculptures that    
adorn it, this estimate seems likely.               



(King Krishna I) of the Rashtrakuta dynasty is generally credited with the
creation of the Kailash temple, owing to inscriptions on the Baroda plates
commissioned 20 years after his reign, stating Krishnaraja had created a temple
“so wondrous it astonished the gods and even the architect who made it.” 5
However, archaeologists have found evidence of work being done to the temple in
different phases.


most countries, rock-cut architecture was preceded by free-standing stone. In
India, however, the latter is observed. In the ancient Indian civilizations, solid
rock has long been preferred to hewn stone as the material to grant permanence
to religious buildings.4


Origins and

Image 1:
Shiva killing a demon


I’ve always wanted to visit the
Kailash temple, and this essay provided me with the perfect opportunity. To
gather information for this essay, I visited the Kailash temple in Ellora, and
the Ellora Visitor Museum, located approximately half a kilometre away from the


The temple is dedicated to Shiva (a Hindu deity), and is intended
as an architectural representation of the god’s home, Mount Kailash. The
representation is not just a symbolic one: the profile elevation of the
building is said to bear a resemblance to that of the actual mountain in the
Himalayas. 3


Although all
the caves in Ellora are noteworthy for their intricate workmanship and well
thought out design, Cave 16 of the Ellora Caves, (also known as the Kailash
Temple) stood out to me. One of the things that have always fascinated me about
the Kailash temple was that it was carved out of an entire mountain. The skill
and technology required to construct such a monument, especially when experts
estimate that the artists removed three million cubic feet of stone to create
and shape it2,
would be massive. Even with today’s technology, this construction would be
considered a remarkable feat.


The Ellora
Caves, in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, have been a World Heritage
Site for 35 years, since they were declared such by UNESCO in 1983. Carved scrupulously
with both hollowed out and free-standing forms, they form one of the most
beautiful expressions of Indian art in the subcontinent. The coexistence of
monuments dedicated to three different religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, and
Jainism) in Ellora is a representation of the religious harmony during this
















Bibliography                                              page

List of Images                                             page

Conclusion                                                  page 18

My Visit to the Kailash Temple           page 15

Style and Architecture                           page

Origins and History                                 page

Introduction                                              page 3

Table of Contents                                     page

Abstract                                                       page


Table of


essay was meant to cover the artistic and architectural properties of the
Kailash temple in Maharashtra, India. I also attempted to briefly describe the
temple’s history. My research was greatly enhanced by my visit to the site in
September 2017, when I was able to study the temple first hand, and collect a
great number of photographs. I also made sketches.














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