The largest and most varied group of Cave Temples in India are certainly those at Verûlê, Elorâ or Elurâ1, about twelve miles east of Aurangâbâd, in the Nizam's territory, consisting as they do, of some of the largest and finest examples of the works of all the three sects—Buddhists, Brahmans, and Jains.

The caves are excavated in the face of a hill, or rather the scarp of a large plateau, and run nearly north and south for about a mile and a quarter, the scarp at each end of this interval throwing out a horn towards the west. It is where the scarp at the south end begins to turn to the west that the earliest caves —a group of Buddhist ones—are situated; and in the north horn is the Indra Sabhâ or Jaina group, at the other extremity of the series. The Brahmanical group is situated between the two, and the ascent of the ghâṭ passes up the south side of Kailâsa, the third, and over the roof of the Dâś Avatâra, the second of them. Sixteen caves lie to the south of Kailâsa, fourteen being Buddhist,—and nearly as many to the north—Brahmanical and Jaina, but scattered over a greater distance.

From their great extent and magnificence the EIurâ caves have attracted considerable attention2 and were described by Thevenot3, Anquetil du Perron in 17584, by Sir Charles W. Malet5 in 1794. Colonel Sykes6 visited them about 1820, and many others have since then visited and described them.7

In 1803 Thomas Daniell published 24 views of these caves in folio, accompanied by plans made under his direction by James Wales, which are by far the most splendid and accurate account of these caves, as a whole, which has yet been published.

Beginning at the extreme south end of the series, where the oldest are situated, we find a group of Buddhist caves, apparently ranging from about A.D. 350 to 550, and popularly known as the Dhêṛawâṛâ, or low caste's quarter. It is not clear whether this term was applied out of contempt for the Buddhists by the modern Hindus, or is a corruption of Thêrawâṛâ or quarter of the Thêras8 or teachers, or, from their having in later times been occupied by Ḍhêṛs.

The first cave is much filled up with earth. It is, however, of no great interest, except as perhaps one of the oldest here, and probably attached to the next. It was a Vihâra or monastery with eight cells inside for monks, four in the back and four in the south side. It is 41 feet 6 inches wide and 42 feet 3 inches deep. The front has all fallen, except one pillar near the south end. Outside, in the south end of what may have been a verandah, is another cell or room.

The second is a large and interesting cave, and was, doubtless, a chapel or hall for worship. It is approached by a flight of steps leading to the top of a stylobate, the front of which has been carved in compartments with fat gaṇa or dwarf figures, often in grotesque attitudes. On this, four pillars, with pilasters at the ends, once supported the roof of the verandah, but this is now entirely gone (see plan, Plate LVII., fig. 2).

At the north end of the verandah is a fat squatting figure with a high and elaborate headdress or mukuṭa, a jewelled cord over his breast, and a bouquet of flowers in his right hand, attended by a chauri-bearer with his fly-flap. Right and left are small figures of Buddha sitting, with attendant chauri-bearers. On the south was probably a similar female figure, but only the attendant is left, and a gandharva or cherub holding a garland over her head. These figures are often met with, and may be conventional representations of the prince who executed the cave, and his wife, or possibly Suddhodana and Mayâdêvî, or (as in the Ajaṇṭâ paintings) of Śakra or Indra,—a favourite divinity with the Buddhists and Jains, and represented as almost a servant or attendant on Buddha,—:with his wife Sachî or Ambâ.

Two tall guardians or dwârpâlas stand by the door with lofty head-dresses and aureoles, gandharvas or cherubs over their shoulders, and a female figure with an aureole or nimbus behind her head, standing between the dwârpâla and the door.

The front wall is pierced by a door and two windows, and much of the remaining wall, together with the jambs of the windows, is covered with sculptures of Buddha. The cave is peculiar in having lateral galleries along each side, and, exclusive of these, measures nearly 48 feet square. The roof is supported by twelve massive columns arranged in a square, with elegant cushion capitals and high square bases, of the type found at Elephanta, standing on a platform raised about 18 inches above the front and side aisles which are about 17 feet high. Except the four in the back row, they have little dwarf figures on the upper corners of the square portions of the shafts; above these they are circular and fluted, while the spaces between the dwarf figures and a belt below them are covered with rich and varied arabesques (see Plate LVIII., fig. 1).

The side galleries have each four pillars in front, of a different design, while the fronts of the galleries are carved with florid work and musicians. In the five compartments of the back of each gallery are as many Buddhas seated in the same attitude as the colossal one in the shrine, and with his usual chauri-bearers, the one on his right hand usually holding also a lotus-bud. These side galleries were perhaps an afterthought, for in that on the north side some of the figures are quite unfinished.

The dwârpâlas of the shrine are large figures, 13 to 14 feet high: that on the left or north side is Padmapâni, very plainly dressed, with his robe fastened round the waist by a string; his headdress is the jaṭâ of plaited hair worn by ascetics; he has a small image of Amitâbha Buddha as a crest on the front of it, and holds a mâlâ or rosary in his right hand, and a lotus-stalk in his left. The other (on the south side) perhaps Indra,—as is almost always the case—has a very richly jewelled headdress, with a small dâgoba on the front of it, bracelets, armlets, a thick jewelled Brahmanical cord or janvi, and a small bouquet of flowers in his right hand. Both are attended by two pairs of flying gandharvas above, while about midway up the wall are others with curly wigs, bearing garlands. Between each dwârpâla and the door is a female worshipper with a flower in her right hand.

The shrine contains a colossal Buddha seated on a throne borne up at the corners by lions. His feet rest on a nearly circular plinth; his hands are in the dharmachakra mudrâ, and through the palm of the left hand passes the corner of his robe. This attitude, as well as a few others, are repeated scores of times, and is that of the Teacher enumerating, like Socrates, the points of his argument or lecture on his fingers. His head, always represented as covered with small knobs as of short-cut curly or woolly hair, and with a pile of them on the top, is surrounded by the usual nimbus. On each side of it are gandharvas. At each end of his throne stand his attendant chauri-bearers, who are just the duplicates of the warders outside. And on each side wall is a colossal standing figure of a Buddha. His right hand hangs down, and has the palm turned out; the left is bent upwards, and holds a part of his robe. In the corners next to these are four worshipping figures, one above the other. This cell is dark, but one of the least damaged of the sort here. The nose of Buddha has been broken off, probably within the last few years.

On each side of the shrine is a double cell in line with the side aisles. In the outer of these, and all over the front wall, are many figures of Buddha in different attitudes, with his attendants—the largest figure, however, being of a female on the front wall, right opposite to the north dwârpâla of the shrine, and with similar head-dress, lotus, &c., attended by two smaller females with lotus flowers. It is difficult to say who this may represent. It may be Mâyâ, the mother of Buddha, or his wife Yaśodharâ, or probably Târâ—a female counterpart of Avalôkiteśwara or Padmapâni,—all of whose symbols she possesses. In other places, too, we find Padmapâni attended by a female, and frequently by two.

The horse-shoe-shaped arch, representing the window of a Chaitya cave, the Buddhist-rail pattern, and the dagobâ in bas-relief, which are almost the sole ornaments in the early Buddhist caves at Bhâjâ, Beḍsâ, Kondânê, and Nâsik, have in this, and in the other caves here, almost entirely disappeared; we find only two small dâgobas in relief over an image of Buddha in the cell on the south of the shrine, and a third on the end of the south gallery. This and the profusion of imagery would seem to indicate a late date for the cave. Moreover, though evidently intended, like the Chaitya caves, solely as a place for worship, it has not the arched roof so general in such caves. It is very difficult to fix an age for it, but it may have been begun in the fifth or sixth century, while the carving may have been continued down to the seventh.

Proceeding northwards; between the last cave and the third is a water cistern, now filled up with earth.

The third cave, somewhat lower down in the rock, is a Vihâra or monastery, and belongs to about the same age as the second; it is probably the older of the two, but, like it, never seems to have been perfectly completed. The south half of the front wall is now entirely gone, as is also the verandah before it. It measures nearly 46 feet square and about 11 high, the roof being supported by twelve square columns with drooping ears falling over circular necks,—a sort of Indian Ionic. Three of them on each side are only blocked out, with octagonal necks. The cells for the monks have been twelve, five on each side and two in the back,—but the front one on the south side is now broken away. Between the two cells in the back is the shrine,—smaller than in the last cave, and the figures more abraded, but otherwise almost exactly the same; the uppermost of the four supplicants in the corners, however, has no attendants. See plan, Plate LVII., fig. 3.

On the north wall of the cave are two small sculptures (one of them just begun) of Buddha and attendant chauri-bearers.

There is a window in the front wall, north of the door, which has been divided by two colonnettes, both broken. It is bordered outside by a neat florid pattern. In the north end of the verandah is a chapel containing a Buddha with his legs crossed in front, and, as usual in most of the caves, with his hands in the teaching mudrâ. He is seated on a lotus, the stalk of which is supported by small figures having snake or nâga-hoods over their heads,—the males usually with three, five, or seven hoods, and the females with one or three. This sort of seat is known as a padmâsana, or lotus-throne. Buddha is attended, as usual, with two chauri-bearers, the one on his left having a jaṭâ, or headdress of plaited hair, with long locks hanging over the front of his shoulders, and a lotus in his left hand. Above their heads are gandharvas, or Indian cherubs.

On the right of this apartment is a much damaged copy of the pictorial litany described in No. VII. of the Aurangâbâd caves, but on a much smaller scale.

The next four or five caves are somewhat difficult to arrange satisfactorily; indeed, they are so damaged that it is not eaay to say how many of the apartments were separate caves, or how many belonged to one. We shall, however, take first the lower floor of the next as No.4, Plate LVII. It is much ruined, the whole of the outer half of it having disappeared. It measured 35 feet wide by 39 deep up to two pillars and pilasters with capitals having drooping florid ears, the shafts square below, and the necks having 32 flat flutes. Behind these is a cross aisle, and at the left or north end of it is a prominent figure of Lôkeśwara seated like Buddha, with high jaṭâ headdress, a small image of Buddha as a crest on the front of it, and his locks hanging down upon his shoulders, a deer-skin over his left shoulder, a mâlâ or rosary in his right hand, and clasping a lotus to his left thigh. He is attended by two females, one on his right hand with a rosary, the other holding a flower bud. Above the first is a standing Buddha, and over the latter another seated cross-legged on a lotus, with his right hand raised and the left down.

In the wall are doors to two cells and the shrine. The dwârpâlas are carved with elaborate headdresses, and a dwarf stands between each and the door. In the shrine Buddha is seated in the usual teaching attitude with a nimbus behind his head, and the foliage of the sacred Bo or Bodhi-tree rising from behind it. The chauri-bearers in this case stand behind the throne, and are only in bas-relief. The tall attendant on his left is richly dressed, and wears a jewelled cord like the Brahmanical jâṅvi across his breast; the other is destroyed.

In a cell on the south side of this cave is some sculpture. The west side is broken away, and blocked up by a mass of rock that has slipped down from above. The figures are principally Buddha with attendants, and a female with a rosary, &c.; but to the west of the door is a Padmapâni, and half of what has been already described in the last cave as a sort of litany, only that here there are two supplicants in each case, and that a smaller flying figure of Padmapâni is represented before each group.

The Mahârwâḍâ cave.9—Ascending a few steps we enter the fifth excavation, a very large Vihâra cave, about 117 feet deep by 58 wide, exclusive of two large side recesses, Plate LIX. The roof is supported by twenty-four pillars with square shafts, and capitals of the type found at Elephanta, and in the second cave here, having a thick torus or compressed cushion as the chief feature of the capital. They are arranged in two rows extending from front to back, and the space between is divided into three passages by two low stone benches, similar to those found in the Darbar cave at Kanheri (Plate LIV.). Their presence here at once suggests that this cave may have been used for the same purposes. That in fact it was the Dharmaśâlâ of the group, though, it must be confessed, it is not so easy to demonstrate its appropriateness for that purpose, as in the case of the Kanheri cave, nor to reconcile its disposition with the descriptions of Buddhist authors. Its arrangements generally do not seem well adapted to a hall of assembly, but it must be recollected that it is a very late cave of the sixth, possibly of the seventh, century, and we ought not to be surprised at any vagary the Buddhist architects indulged in at that period. It has been suggested that it was a refectory, but solid tables that you cannot get your legs under, nor get close to while squatting, are not a likely arrangement, nor one adapted to the simple fare of ascetic monks; besides these tables are very much in excess of the accommodation required for the 20 monks this cave might accommodate. Till therefore some better explanation of its peculiarities is brought forward, we are probably justified in assuming that it was the chapter house, or hall of assembly, of this group of Buddhist caves.

At the entrance of the left aisle is a chapel which contained a sitting figure of Buddha, now quite destroyed. In the shrine at the back is a large seated Buddha with attendants, and on each side the door, in arched recesses, as at a Bâgh, are attendants separately; Padmapâni, on the north side, attended by two small female figures with headdresses resembling royal crowns. The other figure is more richly bejewelled and similarly attended, while above gandharvas or cherubs on clouds bring garlands and presents to them.

Connected with this cave on the south side is another shrine, over the Cave No.4, Plate LVII., but the rock having fallen away it is inaccessible without a ladder. This shrine contained the usual image of Buddha and attendants: also a female figure holding a lotus-stalk, with her attendants. Round it was a passage or pradakshiṇâ for circumambulation, as in Hindu temples. From this passage and the vestibule in front several cells were entered. The half of the shrine, however, has slid down, and now blocks up the west side of the front cell of the Cave No.4 just below it.

Northwards from this we enter a hall with a stair landing in it from the cave below. This hall, of which the west side is entirely gone, is 26 feet from north to south, and 28 from east to west. On the east side it has three cells, and on the north has been separated from a still larger and very lofty hall by two pillars and their  corresponding pilasters, of which only one pillar and pilaster remain. The central hall was 26 feet wide and about 43 feet in length, exclusive of the antechamber at its east end, cut off from it by two pillars and their pilasters, as was also another hall on the north, 27 feet by 29, similar to that on the south, with three cells in the back, and as many in the east end, all with very high steps (see Plate LX., fig VI.).

The antechamber in the front of the shrine is filled with sculpture. On the north end is a female dressed exactly in the garb of Padmapâni. On the south end is a similar female figure, supposed to represent Sarasvatî, the goddess of learning, with a peacock at her left hand; below it a pandit reading. Neither of these are seen in the Plate No. LXI., which represents this façade. In it on the left, or north side, of the cell door is Padmapâni with his usual attributes, and two gandharvas above, and a male and female attendant below. It is not so clear who the corresponding figure of a dwârpâla on the right may represent, probably Manjuśri. Both are tall, carefully executed in all their details, and the figures by which they are accompanied, and the foliage above their heads, are of very considerable elegance. The frame work of the door of the cell is simpler than is generally found at that age, and in better taste than in most examples of its class.

In the shrine is a large image of Buddha seated, with the usual attendants. On the side walls are three rows containing, each, three Buddhas with their feet turned up, while below them on each side are worshippers and others.

On the north side of the front hall, a passage, divided from a balcony or small cave by two pillars. is the only way of access now left to a shrine which we may call the ninth cave. This has a well-carved façade, as seen from the south, which it faces. It consists of a small outer balcony and an inner covered portico, separated by two pillars, square below, octagonal above, and with drooping-eared capitals. On the back wall are two deep pilasters or attached column, with the compressed cushion capitals of the Elephanta cave style. These divide the wall into three compartments: in the centre one is a seated Buddha with four gandharvas above; in the left one is Padmapâni with two female attendants and two fat gandharvas above; in the east one is Buddha's other usual attendant, whether Indra, Manjuśri, or Vajrapâni, with two females, &c.

Returning now through No. VI. to the stair, we descend into the seventh, a large plain Vihâra, 51 feet wide by 43 deep, the roof supported by only four square columns. It has five cells in the back, and three on each side, but is no ways interesting, and appears never to have been finished.

The eighth may be entered from the last by a roughly-cut passage, or perhaps unfinished cell, in its north wall, and may be described as consisting of two rooms and the shrine, with its circum ambulatory passage. The inner hall is 28 feet by 25, with three cells on the north side, and is cut off by two pillars and pilasters at each end, on the east from the shrine, with its surrounding pradakshiṇa, and on the west from the outer apartment.

The shrine has the usual dwârpâlas and their attendants at the door; and inside is the seated Buddha with his attendants, but in this case Padmapâni has four arms, holding the châuri and the lotus in his left hands: and over his shoulder hangs a deer-skin. At his feet are small figures of devotees, and behind them is a tall female figure with a flower in her left hand, and a gandharva over her head. The other tall male attendant has a similar companion on his left, with a lotus flower and a rosary in her hands.

On the wall, at the south entrance to the pradakshiṇa, is a sculpture of Saraswatî, somewhat similar to the one in the cave above. Opposite is a cell, and in the passage two more, while behind the shrine is a long, raised recess with two square pillars in front.

The outer room is 28 feet by 17, with a slightly raised platform filling the west end of it. On the north side is a chapel on a raised floor with two slender columns in front, on the back wall of which is a seated Buddha, with attendants dressed nearly alike, with Brahmanical cords, necklaces, and armlets, but no chauris, the one on Buddha's left holding in his hand a three-pronged object, which is half of what we shall find as his frequent cognizance in other caves,—the vajrâ or thunderbolt, whence he may be styled Vajrapâni. On the west wall is Padmapâni with the female figure that we find so frequently associated with him.

Coming out of this by the large opening on the south side, just under the ninth cave, we find on the face of the rock to the west, but partly broken away, a sculptured group of a fat male and female, the latter with a child on her knees, and attendant, which we find in other caves10, and have supposed to represent the parents of Buddha, and himself as an infant, in fact, a Buddhist Holy Family.

There is now a break in the continuity of the caves, and we have to go some way northwards to the next and probably most modern group of all the Buddhist caves.

  • 1. The Brahmanical name for the modern shrine at the village of Elurâ is Ghṛishṇeśwara, Archæol. Sur. Rep., vol. iii. p. 82. It is one of the twelve sacred tîrthas, containing Liṅgas of Śiva, the others being,—Somnâth in Kâṭhiâwâṛ; Mahâkâla at Ujjain; Orhkâra on an island in the Narmadâ; Tryambak near Nâsik; Nâganâth in the Nizam's territory, east of Ahmadnagar; Vaidyanâth in the Dekhan; Bhîmasankar at the source of the Bhîma, north-west of Poona; Kedareśwar in the Himâlayas; Viśwânâth in Banarus; Mallikârjuna, on Śriśaila mountain in the Karnatic; and Râmeśwar in the extreme south on an island opposite to Ceylon.
  • 2. The earliest mention made of them seems to be that of Masu'di. In B. de Meynard's translation we read: "Nous avons décrit les temples de Plnde consacrés aux idoles qui ont la forme de bodrah (sans doute pradjapati) c'est-a-dire du germe qui parut dans Plnde à l'origine des temps; Ie grande temple nommé Aladrá, où les Indiens se rendent en pèlerinage des régions les plus éloignécs, Ie temple a une ville entière a titre de foundation piense et il est entouré de mille cellules où vivent lea dévots qui se consacrent á Padoration particulière de cette idole," tom. iv. p. 95. I owe this reference to Mr. E. Rehatsek. Ferishtah also refers to them.
  • 3. Voyage des Indes, pp. 221-223.
  • 4. Zend Avesta. Disc. prel., pp. ccxxxiv-ccxlix. He calls the place Iloura; R. Gough's Comparative View, pp. 60 ff.
  • 5. Asiat. Res., vol. v. pp. 382-424, with nine plates, and plan of Kailâs, but exceedingly inaccurate.
  • 6. Trans. Bomb. Lit. Soc., vol. iii. pp. 265-323. with thirteen Plates, and two sheets of inscriptions. The drawings are by no means correct, but they are much better than Malet's.
  • 7. Capt. J. B. Seeley visited them in 1810, and wrote an octavo volume of 560 pages, entitled The Wonders of Elora, &c. (published in 1824), giving a long inflated account of these temples, and of his own adventures, &c. The frontispiece, plan of Kailâs, and two other plates, are evidently copied from those in Malet's paper without acknowledgement, and signed "J. B. S. delt." For other notices see Bird's Historical Researches, pp. 18-30; Trans. R. As. Soc., vol. ii. pp. 326, 328, 487; Sykes, Jour. R. As. Soc., vol. v. pp. 81-90; Fergusson, ib., vol. viii. pp. 73-83, or Rock-cut Temples, pp. 44-54; and Ind. and East. Arch., pp. 127, 163, 262, 334-337, 445; Buckley, Calcutta Rev., vol. xxi. p. 457; Wilson, ib., vol. xlii.; J. B. B. R. A, Soc., vol. iii. pt. ii. pp. 80-84; Muir, Notes of a Trip, &c., pp. 53-63; The Rock Temples of Elurâ or Verul, by J. Burgess (Bombay, 1877).
  • 8. There was a Buddhist school culled Therawâdîs, conf. Oldenberg's Vinayapiṭakam, Int. p. xli.
  • 9. There is some confusion about the name of this cave. In 1803 it was called the Dherwara by Daniell, and bas since generally borne that name. Mr. Burgess, however, is quite certain that that appellation belongs to the caves represented on Plate LVII., and that this cave was properly called by natives on the spot “Maharwara”.—J. F.
  • 10. In Cave IV. at Ajaṇṭâ and Cave VII. at Aurangâbâd for example.