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Kailasa Temple: The Largest Monolithic Building In The World

The Kailasa Temple in Ellora, Maharashtra, India, is a megalith carved out of one single rock.

What Is A Monolithic Building?

A monolithic building is a rock-cut structure excavated from a single piece of material like stone. The building remains attached to the base of the solid rock from which it is cut. The building might also be cut from an outcrop like the Shore Temple in India, with some buildings requiring close inspection to reveal that they are monolithic. Monolithic architecture also includes monolithic domes, which are structures cast in a one-piece form, either permanently or temporarily. Examples of monolithic buildings include Pancha Rathas, Kailasa Temple, and Shore Temple in India, Monolithic churches in Ethiopia, and the mausoleum of Theodoric in Italy.

Kailasa Temple

Kailasa Temple is one of the largest monolithic ancient Hindu temples in Ellora, India. The building was carved out of a single rock and is considered one of the most magnificent cave temples because of its sculptural treatment, size, and architectural design. It is one of the 34 cave temples and monasteries that collectively form the Ellora Caves. The construction of Kailasa Temple is linked to King Krishna I, the 8th-century Rashtrakuta king who ruled between 756 and 773 CE. Its architecture shows traces of both Pallava and Chalukya styles. The temple houses several carefully carved panels depicting scenes from Ramayan and the adventures of Krishna. Monolithic pillars stand in the courtyard, flanking the entrance on both sides.

History Of The Kailasa Temple

The commissioning and construction of Kailasa Temple are attributed King Krishna I in AD 760. However, the attribution is not completely certain because the epigraphs linking the temple to King Krishna are not physically connected to the caves. The temple features a combination of distinct architectural and sculptural design combining it with its relatively large size. Its design and size have made scholars believe that the construction of the temple spanned the reign of several kings. However, major parts of the temple were completed during the reign of Krishna I with some parts of the temple attributed to the later rulers. The evidence suggests that the entire temple was planned from the beginning and no part was an afterthought. The temple is estimated to have been constructed by approximately 250 laborers over a period of 6 years.

The Construction Technique And Architecture

Kailasa Temple is known for its vertical excavation. The carvers might have started the work at the top of the original rock and moved downwards. It entailed the removal of approximately 200,000 tons of rocks by hammer and chisel before the temple could take shape. Its architect is different from those of the Deccan Region and appears to have been based on Kailasa Temple of Kanchi. The southern influence on the temple suggests the involvement of Chalukya and Pallava artists in its construction. The deities at the entrance of the temple feature Shaivaite and Vaishnavaite sects on the right and left respectively. The courtyard is U-shaped and reveals a two-storey gateway. A central shrine dedicated to Shiva is at the center of the courtyard. The shrine features a flat-roofed mandapa which is supported by 16 pillars. Scenes from Ramayan and Mahabharat are featured at the base of the temple hall. Overall, the Kailasa Temple is an engineering marvel that was executed from top to bottom with zero margins of error.

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