Ellora's 34 caves were excavated by Buddhists (600-800 CE), Hindus (600-900) and Jains (800-1000). Each group shows artistic development over time, but the Hindu caves (caves 13`-29) are considered the most artistically significant (I remember being astonished the first time I viewed them).
This image comes from cave 14, and shows Shiva as Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance (note the musicians at bottom left).
All images January 2011
|Cave 15 is a temple dedicated to Shiva--the primary image in the holiest spot is a linga, and the panels carved into the walls of the cave primarily depict scenes from Shiva's mythology. In the temple's center is a large image of Shiva's bull, Nandi (4 feet tall, 6 feet long), which according to the canons of Hindu iconography, always has his head pointing toward Shiva (as a devoted servant).|
||This image from cave
15 shows another famous episode in Shiva's mythology. According to the
story the demon-king Ravana had become very powerful (in part through worship of
Shiva), and when Shiva didn't answer his prayers Ravana decided that he would
shake up Shiva's home on Mount Kailas. Ravana started to shake the
mountain (you can see is multiple arms at the bottom of the picture).
Shiva's wife Parvati became afraid, but Shiva simply pressed down on Ravana with
his big toe. Ravana was hopelessly trapped and had to beg for release.
At one level this shows Shiva's power, that he was able to defeat Ravana with such minimal effort. Yet the touch of the deity's foot is also traditionally seen as a symbol of blessing, and so Ravana also received this (even as it put him in his place).
This image shows the first manifestation of Shiva's symbol, the linga. According to the story, Shiva first appeared as a gigantic pillar of fire. Brahma (at left) and Vishnu tried to find its limits--Brahma by flying up, and Vishnu by burrowing down, but neither of them could do so. As they met again, still wondering what this was, a figure (namely Shiva) emerged from the pillar of fire, and thus established his identity as the supreme deity.
|This image shows Shiva as Tripurari, the
Destroyer of the Three Cities. According to the story, a group of powerful
deities generated immense religious merit, and used that to create three divine
cities, which could be destroyed only by a single arrow shot by Shiva.
In the course of time these deities lost their virtue, and eventually Shiva destroyed them to reestablish righteousness in the universe.
This story stresses Shiva's power (against which nothing can stand), but also his grace--after releasing the arrow to destroy the Three Cities, he sped ahead of it to rescue a devotee who lived there.
|This image looks outward from the main part of
cave 15, and shows a smaller temple at the entrance (on the back side are the
stairs one climbs to get up to the caves). It's an architectural flourish
to make the temple site more complex. Note the elaborate moldings and
cornices on the structure's top and bottom, and the niches with the figures.
Remember that this structure is not "built," but "carved out" from the hillside (whatever we see is left over from the original rock.
|Here is an exterior shot of Cave 15, showing something of its scale. Exterior steps (visible at bottom left), lead up to it, and another set of interior stairs leads from the ground floor to the first floor. Note too the uniformity of the pillars, both in style and in spacing. This was a massive project.|
|Even though cave 15 is primarily devoted to
Shiva, as in any Hindu temple there are also images of other deities. This
image shows Vishnu's Boar Avatar, in which he plunged into the ocean to rescue
the Earth (shown supported by his hand and leaning on his snout), who had been
imprisoned there by a demon.
The dominant theme in Vishnu's mythology is that of re-establishing the cosmic balance (often through slaying or neutralizing the agent causing that imbalance).
|This image shows
Vishnu's Dwarf Avatar (the 5th of ten). In this story the problem was the
demon-king Bali, who gained enough religious merit to become ruler of the
universe (and which point he became corrupted and started to oppress the world,
which is how these stories usually run).
Once Bali sponsored a great sacrifice where he gave away valuable gifts (generating more religious merit). Vishnu came to him disguised as a dwarf, and asked for three paces of land so that he could have a place for sacrifice. When Bali agreed, Vishnu's dwarf form suddenly expanded to gigantic size. With one step (shown here) he spanned the earth, with the second the heavens, and since there was no place left for a third step, Bali offered his own head. Vishnu stepped there and pushed him down to the underworlds, where Bali continued to rule (and he had also been blessed by the touch of the deity's foot).
This image shows Vishnu's fourth Avatar, the Man-Lion, which he took to slay a demon-king who could not be killed by day or night, by man or beast, or by any weapon. Because of this the demon became corrupt and oppressed others--in this case, demanding that everyone worship him instead of Vishnu.
His own son refused to do so, and as the demon was about to kill him, Vishnu burst forth in a composite man-lion form (neither man nor beast), at evening (neither day nor night), and tore out the demon's entrails with his claws (not a weapon). And that was the end of him.
These pages are in progress.
Page maintained by James G. Lochtefeld.
Last modified 29 August 2011