This Enormous 8th Century Temple in India Was Carved from One Rock

Kailasa Temple at the Ellora Caves in India

Stock Photos from Mazur Travel/Shutterstock

Formed from a single block of excavated stone, Kailasa temple is considered one of the most impressive cave temples in India. The enormous structure is one of 34 cave temples and monasteries that are collectively known as the Ellora Caves. Located in the western region of Maharashtra, the caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and include monuments dating between 600 and 1000 CE. While there are many impressive structures on-site, it's the megalithic Kailasa temple that is perhaps the most well known.

Renowned both for its size and impressive ornamentation, it's not entirely clear who had Kailasa temple built. While there are no written records, scholars generally attribute it to Rachtrakuta king Krishna I, who ruled from about 756 to 773 CE. This attribution is based on several epigraphs that connect the temple to “Krishnaraja,” though nothing written directly about the ruler contains information about the temple.

While scholars have yet to discover its true origins, a medieval legend paints a romantic picture behind the mammoth temple. According to a story written in Katha-Kalpataru by Krishna Yajnavalki, when a king was severely ill, his queen prayed to the god Shiva that her husband would be cured. In return for his health, the queen vowed to construct a temple in Shiva's name and fast until the shikhara, or peak, of the temple was completed.

Kailasa Temple at the Ellora Caves in India

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The king quickly got better and construction began on the temple, but to the couple's horror, they realized it would take years for the shikhara to emerge. Luckily, a clever engineer came along and explained that by starting from the top of the mountain, he could make the temple's shikhara appear within a week. This was much to the relief of the queen, who could quickly finish her fast and thus, the temple was constructed from the top down.

Though this is a legend and not fact, the truth is that Kailasa was built from the top. This unusual decision called for 200,000 tons of volcanic rock to be excavated from the rock. Standing at about three stories tall, a horseshoe-shaped courtyard has a gopuram—tower—at its entrance. Given the vast space and the ornate decorations of the temple, it's believed that the work may have started with Krishna I, but could have carried on for centuries, with different rulers adding their own flair.

Enormous stone carvings depict different Hindu deities with particular attention to Shiva. As one walks past the gopuram, panels on the left have followers of Shiva, while panels on the left show devotees of Vishnu.  At the base of the temple, a herd of carved elements appears to carry the load of the temple on their backs. It's thanks to these masterful sculptures, as well as the incredible engineering of the temple, that Kailasa is considered an outstanding example of Indian art and architecture.

Kailasa temple is a megalithic structure carved from one rock.

Kailasa Temple at the Ellora Caves in India

Stock Photos from Lana Kray/Shutterstock

UNESCO World Heritage Site - Ellora Caves

Stock Photos from Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock

Temple Carved from One Rock in India

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Located in India, it's part of the Ellora Caves and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kailasa Temple at the Ellora Caves in India

Stock Photos from Leonid Andronov

Temple Carved from One Rock in India

Stock Photos from Lana Kray/Shutterstock

The temple is dedicated to Shiva and is covered with ornate carvings showing different deities.

Carvings in Kailasa Temple at the Ellora Caves in India

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Kailasa Temple - Things to See in India

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Elephant Carvings at Kailasa Temple

Stock Photos from SurabhiArtss/Shutterstock

Carvings in Kailasa Temple at the Ellora Caves in India

Stock Photos from LEOCHEN66/Shutterstock

Carvings at Ellora Caves

Stock Photos from SurabhiArtss/Shutterstock

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.

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