Kailasa temple

Shiva & Mars



The Kailash  or Kailasanatha temple  is one of the largest rock-cut ancient Hindu temples located in Ellora, Maharashtra, India. A megalith carved out of one single rock, it is considered one of the most remarkable cave temples in India because of its size, architecture and sculptural treatment.

The Kailasanatha temple (Cave 16) is one of the 32 cave temples and monasteries known collectively as the Ellora Caves. Its construction is generally attributed to the 8th century Rashtrakuta king Krishna I in 756-773 CE. The temple architecture shows traces of Pallava and Chalukya styles.

The Kailasa temple lacks a dedicatory inscription, but there is no doubt that it was commissioned by a Rashtrakuta ruler. Its construction is generally attributed to the Rashtrakuta king Krishna I (r. 756-773 CE), based on two epigraphs that link the temple to “Krishnaraja”

The Baroda copper-plate inscription (c. 812-813 CE) of Karkaraja II (a ruler of a Rashtrakuta branch of Gujarat) records the grant of a village in present-day Gujarat. It mentions Krishnaraja as the patron of Kailasanatha, and also mentions a Shiva temple at Elapura (Ellora). It states that the king constructed a temple so wonderous that even the gods and the architect were astonished. Most scholars believe that this is a reference to the Kailasa Shiva temple at Elora.
The Kadamba grant of Govinda Prabhutavarsha similarly appears to credit Krishnaraja with the construction of the temple.
However, the attribution of the temple to Krishna I is not completely certain because these epigraphs are not physically connected to the caves, and do not date Krishnaraja’s reign. Moreover, the land grants issued by Krishna’s successors do not contain any references to the Kailsa temple.

Kailasa temple features the use of multiple distinct architectural and sculptural styles. This, combined with its relatively large size, has led some scholars to believe that its construction spanned the reigns of multiple kings. Some of the temple reliefs feature the same style as the one used in the Dashavatara cave, which is located next to the temple. The Dashavatara cave contains an inscription of Krishna’s predecessor and nephew Dantidurga (c. 735–756 CE). Based on this, art historian Hermann Goetz (1952) theorized that the construction of the Kailasa temple began during the reign of Dantidurga. Krishna consecrated its first complete version, which was much smaller than the present-day temple. According to Gotez, Dantidurga’s role in the temple construction must have been deliberately suppressed, as Krishna sidelined Dantidurga’s sons to claim the throne after his death. Based on analysis of the different styles, Goetz further hypothesized that the later Rashtrakuta rulers also extended the temple. These rulers include Dhruva Dharavarsha, Govinda III, Amoghavarsha I, and Krishna III. According to Goetz, the 11th century Paramara ruler Bhoja commissioned the elephant-lion frieze on the lower plinth during his invasion of Deccan, and added a new layer of paintings. Finally, Ahilyabai Holkar commissioned the last layer of paintings in the temple.
M.K. Dhavalikar (1982) analyzed the architecture of the temple, and concluded that the major part of the temple was completed during the reign of Krishna I, although he agreed with Goetz that some other parts of the temple complex can be dated to the later rulers. According to Dhavalikar, the following components were completed by Krishna: the main shrine, its gateway, the nandi-mandapa, the lower-storey, the elephant-lion frieze, the court elephants and the victory pillars. Dhavalikar admits that the most important sculpture of the temple, which depicts Ravana shaking the Kailasa mountain, appears to have been built after the main edifice. This sculpture is considered as one of the finest pieces of Indian art, and it is possible that the temple came to be known as Kailasa after it. Dhavalikar theorizes that this sculpture was carved around 3-4 decades after the completion of the main shrine, on the basis of its similarity to the tandava sculpture in the Lankeshvar cave. H. Goetz dated this relief to the reign of Krishna III. Like Goetz, Dhavalikar attributes some other structures in the temple complex to the later rulers. These include the Lankeshvar cave and the shrine of the river goddesses (possibly constructed during the reign of Govinda III). Dhavalikar further theorizes that the excavation of the Dashavatara cave, which began during the reign of Dantidurga, was completed during the reign of Krishna I. This explains the similarities between the sculptures in the two caves.

Dhavalikar pointed out that no major part of the monolithic temple appears to have been an afterthought: architectural evidence suggests that the entire temple was planned at the beginning. The main shrine is very similar to (although much larger than) the Virupaksha Temple at Pattadakal, which itself is a replica of the Kailasa temple at Kanchi. The Pattadakal Virupaksha Temple was commissioned by the Chalukyas of Badami to commemorate their victory over the Pallavas, who had constructed the Kailasa temple at Kanchi. According to the Virupaksha temple inscriptions, the Chalukyas brought the Pallava artists to Pattadakal after defeating the Pallavas. Dhavalikar theorizes that after defeating the Chalukyas, Krishna must have been impressed by the Virupaksha Temple located in their territory. As a result, he brought the sculptors and architects of the Virupaksha Temple (including some Pallava artists) to his own territory, and engaged them in the construction of the Kailasa temple at Ellora. If one assumes that the architects of the Virupaksha temple helped construct the Kailasa temple at Ellora, the construction of a massive temple during the reign of a single monarch does not seem impossible. The architects already had a blueprint and a prototype, which must have significantly reduced the effort involved in constructing a new temple. Moreover, quarrying a monolithic temple would have actually involved less effort than transporting large stones to build a new temple of similar size. Assuming that one person can cut around 4 cubic feet of rock every day, Dhavalikar estimated that 250 labourers would have managed to construct the Kailasa temple at Ellora within 5.5 years. The presence of non-Rashtrakuta styles in the temple can be attributed to the involvement of Chalukya and Pallava artists.

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