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Bhaja Caves

Located in the Bhaja village at Maval near Lonavala, Maharashtra in India, these caves are carved out of basalt rock of the hills. Having an easy access, they have twenty two entrances which further facilitate multiple entry and exit points for the tourists who throng there to witness the splendor of the beautiful and skillful carved rock caves. These are some of the oldest rock cut caves in the country.

The cave temple and the inscriptions therein have been preserved and protected by the Archaeological Survey of India as a historic national monument having great heritage value in the country and internationally.

Historical Background

The Bhaja caves are a group of twenty two caves cut into the basalt rock face of the hilly terrain just about 400 feet above the Bhaja village providing a panoramic view of the entire peaceful locale. A massive stairway carries one gradually up the gradient to the Bhaja caves. Such was the workmanship that the entire stairway is well maintained that is not frayed nor shattered anywhere to this day.

They had been probably created and worked upon in 200 BC. The Chaityagriha or the inner sanctum of the caves has some Buddhist figurines and one of them is of great eminence as it bears the name of a donor, whose name has been immortalized in rock as one Maharathi Kosikiputa Vihnudata from 2nd century AD. This may be taken as evidence that authenticates the age of the caves to be more than 2000 years old.

There are several inscriptions that have dated the caves to be older than 200 BC. Almost six clear inscriptions have been preserved with one of them being on the wooden slats of the roof. They conclusively provide testimony to the historicity and ancient heritage that these caves represent.

Salient Architectural Features

These caves are a prominent centre of Buddhism and especially venerated by the Hinayana sect within the Buddhists. The remarkable feature of these caves is the ribbed wooden ceiling. The wooden ribs curve upwards almost as if they are holding on to the roof.

The ribbed slats probably helped in preventing roof cave ins and also fortified the walls of the caves itself against any frail fault that may result in the cave balance being shattered and the entire rock face becoming a wall of rubble. While the architectural features of the Bhaja caves are similar to the Karla Caves, their singular impressive feature is the large Chaityagriha or the horse-shoe shaped entrance of the cloistered stupa.

Although, Buddhist in content, the cave construction follows the classic Hindu ‘Garbhagriha’ or sanctum sanctorum pattern with a circumambulatory path that goes around the sanctum. The Chaityagriha, however, houses a number of Buddha images. They are an exquisite example of the early Buddhist characteristics where Lord Buddha has been represented only through his manifestations like the lotus. In fact, according to historical records, Lord Buddha was painted and depicted in his humanly form only after the 4th century A.D.

The sculptures on the other hand have a very high quality of grace and beauty. They are featured as human figurines with very elaborate head dresses and garlands adorning the hair and the body besides jewelry and a high degree of ornamentation. The caves have all forms of human activities represented on the walls of the basalt rock face. Somewhere, there is a musical rendition taking place with a woman playing on the tabla (a percussion instrument) and at another place there is a bride being decked up while at another place there is a dance performance in full swing complete with audience and musicians.

Near the last of the caves, there has been created a waterfall that during the monsoon season fills up a pool at the bottom of the cave.

Fourteen Stupas

There are fourteen stupas that comprise this collection of caves. There are five stupas that are inside and nine which are outside the so far irregular excavation site. Three of the stupas bear inscriptions carrying the names of three monks who had probably died there. Their names were Ampinika, Dhammagiri and Sanghdina. Even the titles of address like ‘reverend’ have been observed as inscribed in these stupas like the stupa in which Stavirana Bhadanta was etched with marks of veneration like the relic boxes and the ‘Theras’ [Buddhist marks of respect and holiness.

Significant Caves

Some of the significant caves worth visiting and savoring for their significant presence of special artifacts are cave numbers six, nine, twelve to seventeen and cave number nineteen. Thus, a total of nine out of the total twenty two caves are remarkable at the present time because of various features. Cave Six has an irregular Vihara or a chamber which is fourteen square feet with a couple of cells located on each side and flanked by three cells at the back. Ornate windows decorate all the cell windows.

The name ‘Bodhi’ or the ploughman’s wife is inscribed on this particular cave signifying it to be gifted by her. Similarly, cave nine is remarkable for its railing pattern and broken animals strewn around. It has a frontal verandah. Cave twelve is twenty six and a half feet in width and fifty three feet in length.

The central pillar has seven different symbolizations of the Buddha who has been depicted as a bud, leaf, fan and a floral representation. Cave thirteen had been destroyed but the relics evidence its wooden architectural features.

Cave fourteen has stone benches, stone beds and square windows. Caves fifteen, sixteen and seventeen are comparatively smaller. The last has inscriptions describing it to be a gift from some warrior. Cave nineteen is remarkable in the fact that it has guardians adorn the doorway and the head of the entrance has the chariot of Lord Surya or the Sun God riding across the skies along with Lord Indra [king of the Gods] riding his elephant.


These caves are ancient heritage monuments of great value to civilization as they are relics of a bygone era and should maintained as such for progeny. Care should be taken to maintain them in their pristine beauty. All efforts should be taken to avoid doing anything that would end up marring these artifacts of ancient times.

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