The hill sides in the west are exceptionally well suited for the formation of caves.
They lie everywhere horizontally and, as strata of harder and softer rocks alternate, they admit of caves being made between with great ease. They also have the advantage of keeping out moisture. To excavate a temple in so suitable a material means the expenditure of less labour than could be required to erect a similar building in stone. It is also much less expensive to chip out and throw away material than to quarry stone at a distance, carry it to the site of the temple, and there shape it and place it in position. These rock temples, again, were more likely to last.
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Except for the sculpture, they stand as they were made, whereas of contemporary buildings only one or two remain. In Western India there are more than fifty groups of caves, belonging to the three great sects Buddhists, Brahmans, and Jains. Seventy-five per cent of these are Buddhist caves.
All were devoted to religious purposes: some being halls intended for Worship alone; others monasteries containing a hall for assembly, with cells for monks; others were dharamsalas with or without cells, where councils or assemblies were held. Eighteen per cent of the excavations were the work of the Brahmans, but a large proportion of them are very large and far more interesting in design and decoration than the Buddhists temples. In structure they are similar, except that they contain no side cells for monks. Among the most important are those of Ellora, Ajanta and Elephanta. The cave temples of the Jains are not of so early an age as those of either of the other two sects, none of them perhaps dating earlier than the seventh century.
Though not numerous, there are some very fine temples among them. Among the caves at Ellora there are two groups, known as the Indra Sabha and Jagannatha Sabha, which, both for extent and elaborateness of decoration, are quite equal to any of the Brahmanical caves in that locality.