The Kailasa Temple: the world’s largest monolithic structure carved from one piece of rock

We see ancient edifices around the globe, like thе pyramids in Egypt, Borobudur in Indonesia, and the Pyramid of the Sun in the Valley of Mexico, and we ask ourselves, how? How could mankind, so far back in time, build such enormous structures? And all without the advanced technology we enjoy today.

Furthermore, when one looks at Stonehenge or similar prehistoric monuments, one instantly wonders: What drove men back then to erect such a thing? Place them in such situations where they are unable to give concrete explanations, and humans always presume the same old story, giving credit to some more advanced, often alien, civilization to explain their perplexing mystery.

The last couple of generations have achieved much more than any others before, but still, it seems as if we are determined to discredit everything anyone before us ever accomplished if we ourselves can’t replicate it. But the truth is, civilizations in ancient times were more advanced than we usually give them credit for. For instance, ancient Hindu Indians were masters of mathematics and architecture, with their trigonometry and algebra invented and developed independent of the Western world.

Kailasa temple features the use of multiple amazing architectural and sculptural styles Author: Jorge Láscar CC BY-SA2.0

There are approximately 30 million Sanskrit texts still waiting for experts to translate. That’s about all of the other civilizations writings combined, and if some somehow we manage to interpret just a small fraction of them, we might just find answers to the whats and whys that are troubling us. Like, for instance, how one temple was carved out of a mountain, stone by stone, ton by ton until 200,000 tons were extracted in no more than two decades to give the image of what is now the ancient Kailasa Temple in Maharashtra, India.

Ground plan of the temple

As to why, well, it is believed it was built as a tribute to the divine Lord Shiva, to symbolize his home on Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. And the legend says it was due to a death threatening sickness a king had, and his queen’s determination to build Shiva a temple if only her deity would answer her prayers and save her poor husband from the inevitable. Time was running out and so if this was to happen it had to be completed in no more than a week. And while many saw it as an impossible task, according to the Marathi people and this legend of theirs, an architect named Kokasa had a perfect solution in mind and built the temple within a week as he promised he would, carving a mountain from its top downwards. Thanks to him and his inventiveness, the king was saved, or so the legend goes.

The temple architecture shows traces of Pallava and Chalukya styles Author:Arian Zwegers CC by 2.0

While this might not be entirely true, with many historians and archeologists believing it was constructed somewhere in between years 757 and 783 AD, the fact still remains that it actually was constructed over a single rock by excavating a mountain from the top downwards.

In the period of two decades, by using a practice referred to as a “cut-out monolith” instead of the much more common and utilized “cut-in monolith” method, Hindus of the Rashtrakuta Empire excavated a total of 200,000 tons of rock, although others suggest that it was actually 400,000 tons, out of a volcanic rock in the Charanandri Hills in Ellora.

Kailasa is one of the 34 cave temples that collectively are known as the Ellora Caves Author: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra CC By 2.0

This means that, if people were working 12 hours a day, every single day, for let’s say 20 years, they would have to dig up no less than 20,000 tons a year, 1,666 tons a month, 55 tons a day, or 4-5 tons of rock every single hour. And this takes into account only rocks and dust that had to be removed from the place, aside from the actual excavation of the temple as well as the time and workforce required so the Kailasa Temple could look like a place fit for a God.

A medieval Marathi legend appears to refer to the construction of the Kailasa temple Author: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra CC By 2.0

Apart from the commitment and the immense collective effort required for it to be built, it is actually the complex design and the aesthetic manner in which it was constructed that makes this temple truly unique and stand out among the other 33 rock-cut religious cave-temples in the Ellora cave complex.

The base of the temple has been carved to suggest that elephants are holding the whole structure Author:Arun Sagar CC By 2.0

While on the top there are carved statues of elephants with a gorgeous Shikhara right beside them, the inside is filled with countless statues and reliefs as well as intricate carvings engraved almost in every corner. The 100-foot tall pillar and the elephants in the Arcades carved at the very bottom of the temple, which give the impression that they are carrying Mount Kailash on their backs, make this place truly breathtaking.

There are five other detached shrines in the temple’s premises Author: Arian Zwegers Cc By 2.0

The Ellora cave complex consists of 34 Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain Temples, all built by different civilizations in different times. Interestingly enough, they are all numbered, yet not chronologically.

Read another story from us: The Sri Shambulingeshwara Swamy temple to be dismantled and moved, to prevent being swamped again

Many archaeologists have come to an agreement that Kailasa is the oldest one built in the complex, while some even suggest it could date back much further than the official dating.

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