SCHOLARS are unanimous that the Kailasa temple at Ellora is modelled after the Kailasanatha temple in Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu and the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal in Karnataka. The Kailasanatha temple was built by the Pallava king Rajasimha (regnal years circa A.D. 691-728) and the Virupaksha temple was built by the Chalukya king Vikramaditya II (regnal years A.D. 734 -744). Both are structural temples built from the bottom to the top. The much smaller monolithic Vettuvankovil temple at Kazhugumalai in Tamil Nadu was, like the Ellora temple, carved out of a hill, and sculpted from the top to the bottom. The Vettuvankovil temple was excavated around A.D. 800, during the reign of the Pandya king Nedunjadayan.
K.V. Soundara Rajan, in his book The Ellora Monoliths , says: “At the time of the inception of the Rashtrakuta monoliths at Ellora… there were only the [Five] Rathas of the Pallavas at Mamallapuram as the forerunner.”
C. Sivaramamurti, in his book Kalugumalai and Early Pandyan Rock-cut Shrines , says: “At Kalugumalai, the Pandyan architects and sculptors found a whole hill, a monolithic rock, which reminded them of the beautifully embellished Siva temple at Ellora. The challenge was accepted. From the top downwards, work began in right earnest. More than half the work was completed. We do not know what calamity prevented the completion.” He says elsewhere in the book: “By far the most beautiful rock-cut temple of the Pandya period is the one at Kalugumalai, a half-finished free-standing monolith which recalls the famous temple of Siva at Ellora.”
Although the Kailasa temple was inspired in concept and design by the Virupaksha temple, it was twice the size of the Virupaksha temple, observed A.M.V. Subramanyam, Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Aurangabad Circle. Kailasa also surpassed other monoliths in scale, grandeur and ornamentation, he added.
T.S. Satyamurthy, former Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai Circle, explained why the sculptors of Kailasa took the Kailasanatha and the Virupaksha temples as their models. Since the Kailasa temple was cut out of a rock, from the top to the bottom, the sculptors could not visualise how deep they could go in the rock formation. They also did not know whether it was a solid rock formation that continued deep down. So they used the measurements of the Kailasanatha and Virupaksha temples’ vimanas as models and multiplied them for the rock-cut at Ellora. “When you construct a temple from the bottom to the top, you can make changes as you go up and make it more stable. But when you excavate a temple out of rock from the top to the bottom, you cannot make changes or afford to make mistakes,” said Satyamurthy.
Rajesh Waklekar, Conservation Assistant of the ASI at Ellora, said the ASI undertook systematic and meticulous conservation work in many of the rock-cut monuments at Ellora. A crack in a shrine at the Kailasa complex was stitched neatly. “It is easier nowadays to measure the width of cracks on ceilings with the help of laser beams,” he said. When the temple was under worship, soot from the lighted oil lamps used to collect on its wall and ceilings. “We have removed the soot by chemical treatment,” said Waklekar.
Subramanyam said the technique of edging was used to prevent the monument from deteriorating. “There is no problem of seepage of water in the temple because it is detached from the hill,” he said.