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Kailasa Temple

If you’ve ever visited the ruins of an ancient city or monument, it’s hard to not stand in awe of our ancestors’ architectural abilities. The fact that they were able to achieve incredible feats of engineering without the aid of large machinery or CAD is dumbfounding. One such example is Kailasa Temple in Ellora, India. Incredibly, the temple is carved from one piece of rock. If you’re picturing a cute little one-roomed building, you’re wrong. The structure covers roughly 46,000 square feet - twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens.


The temple was built in 760 AD by King Krishna I to mimic Mount Kailash, home of god Shiva. Life size carvings of elephants hold up the structure, and intricate designs are etched into almost every surface. A layer of plaster is thought to have once coated the temple, representing the mountain's snowy peaks. But that’s not all...


What makes this temple particularly interesting is that it was carved from the top down. Yeah, they essentially dug and sculpted the rock at the same time. It was also constructed in record time. Many assumed it took hundreds of years to build, but historians now believe it only took an estimated 18 years.


It’s also hard to ‘break’. In 1982, Mughal King Aurangzeb allegedly tried to destroy the temple, but after three years of sending 1,000 men to crack it’s foundations, they gave up.


So why did they build it from the top down? Well, we don’t know for sure, but one theory is particularly enchanting. Legend has it that when a king became ill, the queen would promise to build a temple in Shiva’s name if her husband’s life was spared. She’d also vow to fast until the peak (or Shikhara) of the temple was completed. Skipping breakfast is one thing, but fasting while a temple gets built is quite another. In a fit of innovation, the temple’s architect proposed the ‘top-down’ approach, so the peak would be completed first. This way, the king lives, Shiva gets a temple, and the queen doesn’t have to wait 18 years to eat a sandwich. #everyonewins.


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Kailasa Temple

Kailasa Temple, Ellora Caves

Image by saiko3p / Getty Images

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