Ellora sign

Kailash Cave Entrance

UNESCO World Heritage Site
In the 8th and 9th centuries CE, the Kailash Cave Temple was carved out of the volcanic rock which 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 built into the side of this plateau, Kailash, cave number 16, is monumental by any standards. The Kailash rock-cut temple stands 30 metres (99 feet) high, 52 metres (170 feet) in length, and 33 metres (108 feet) wide. The other 33 caves, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain, were dug 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, the entire complex carved out of the same black rock.

Inner Sanctum with
Kerosene Lamp

Doorway to Inner Sanctum

Shiva Lingam and Yoni

As the central deity of the Kailash temple is the Hindu god, Shiva, the innermost shrine contains a Shiva lingam atop a large black yoni that stands about chest high. This shrine area is small with just enough room for a line of people to circumambulate the lingam and yoni which are illuminated by one small kerosene lamp.


Apsaras and Gandharva
The walls of the temple contain carvings that depict stories of gods and goddesses from the Hindu Puranas, along with heavenly creatures like apsaras (celestial nymphs), gandharvas (heavenly musicians), and many auspicious amorous couples representing good fortune and fertility.

Amorous Couple

Amorous Couple

Amorous Couple
Carved elephants, symbols of prosperity and royal power, and lions, the animal symbol of the ruling family who built Kailash, appear to be supporting the main part of the temple. One wall depicts favorite scenes from the Ramayana while the parallel wall on the other side of the compound tells the story of the Mahabharata in carved vignettes of well-known episodes.

Stone Elephants

Scenes from Ramayana
Kamasutra Images
In one direction are couples apparently inspired by the pages of the Kamasutra, and in another, beautifully sculpted images of the three river goddesses, Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati.
Mata Ganga
Entering through the only doorway, visitors are greeted by a wonderful image of the goddess Gaja-Lakshmi seated on hundreds of lotuses and flanked by her auspicious elephants. Reigning over the entrance, Gaja-Lakshmi ensures the prosperity of the ruling family as well as prosperity for all who enter and receive her darshan.

Goddess Laksmi with Elephants Inside Entrance

Manu Stambha Just Inside the Temple Courtyard

Shanti Shiva
On either side of a hallway under the temple are beatific and terrific forms of Shiva. Destruction and creativity, the two sides of Siva's personality, remind viewers of the creative tension that runs through human existence.

Peaceful (Shanti) Shiva
Other wall sculptures tell the story of Bhagiratha who practiced penance for eons to purify the sins of his ancestors; and the tale of Vishnu and Brahma as they realize they are no match for Shiva whose lingam, they discover, has no beginning or end.

Bhagiratha's Penance

Searching for Where the Shiva Lingam Begins and Ends

The image of Ardhanarishvara, Lord-who-is-half-woman, is a well-known figure of Shiva joined with his consort, Parvati.

Shiva Nataraja
Cave Painting

Kamadeva and Rati
with Others
The god of desire, Kamadeva, and his consort, Rati, are carved on the inside of the courtyard wall for visitors just entering, or just leaving. How appropriate to be reminded of the powerful pull of desire both before and after visiting a temple.

Kamadeva and Rati with Sugarcane Bow