Caves of Maharashtra

Caves

Deep, dark and mysterious -- there is a secretive lure to ancient caves that eludes the brightness of sunbeams and radiates ancient history. Maharashtra, home to the largest number of caves in India, snuggles within its awe-inspiring Sahyadri Range caves of all sizes, shapes and hues. From ancient rock-cut ones to ones with intricate sculptures that have housed reigning deities since time immemorial, these caves are fascinating archeological legacies.

Walk into the aura of times forgotten, eras lost in the passage of rites of yore. Testimony to the fact that the land has always been benevolent to a variety of different religions, whose monks made these caves their homes and shrines.

The Elephanta caves, on an island 11 km from Mumbai, are proud to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site as also those of Ajanta and Ellora near Aurangabad which boast of the glorious architectural experiments for Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks and devotees. The creation of the World Heritage Monuments at Ajanta, started in 2nd century BCE and was completed only in the 5th - 6th century CE, tracing the entire journey of the evolution of Buddhist architecture.

The Kanheri caves, around the outskirts of Mumbai, hidden in the lush green hills, are considered to be very important to understand the development of Buddhism in Western India. The interesting sculptures of Yaksa figures on the walls of the Pitalkhora caves in Aurangabad also pay tribute to the master craftsmanship of legends.

The Bhaja and Karla caves date back to the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE too. Just like the Pandavleni caves near Shahada which were created for the Jaina monks and devotees. Today, the Maharashtra state government is in a continual process of preservation of these historic deep, dark rock –cut caves.

  • Maharashtra is known for its abundance of Buddhist caves – about 800 of them spread across various districts. But of these, the 32 caves  at the World Heritage Site of Ajanta stand out distinctively and attract tourists in large numbers because of their architectural splendour, Buddhist legacy and artistic masterpieces, including narratives painted on the walls of ‘chaityas’ (prayer halls) and ‘viharas’(residential cells). The caves include paintings and sculptures described by the government’s Archaeological Survey of India as “the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting” and these are representative of Buddhist religious art with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the Jataka tales.
     
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  • Caves are not merely the abodes of people living thousands of years ago. The discovery of caves has also led to an understanding of the world as it existed during those times and the cultural, social and religious practices of people that influenced the generations that followed them. Maharashtra has some of the most interesting cave sites in the country and the three that you must definitely visit are located at Bhaja, Bedse and Karla – known for their Buddhist affiliations.
     
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  • As you stand at Mumbai’s most well-known spot of tourist interest – the Gateway of India – the most overwhelming desire you will experience is to step into a boat and explore the Arabian Sea. But this need not just be a whim. It can serve a purpose too if you take the ride to visit the Elephanta Island which is just 10 kilometers from Mumbai. Not only is the island host to a bounty of nature in the form of lush plantations of palm, mango and tamarind trees but is also home to ancient cave temples that have been carved out of rock and which have been declared a World Heritage Site.
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  • One of the most fascinating archaeological sites in Maharashtra, Ellora dates back to about 1,500 years ago, and is the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. The 34 caves are actually Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religious monuments carved in the rock. They were given the status of World heritage Site in 1983.

    Created between the 6th and 10th century, the 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu and 5 Jain caves carved in proximity at Ellora are proof of the religious harmony prevalent during this period of Indian history.

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  • The caves at Kuda which are quite close to Murud Janjira overlook the Arabian Sea and are among those that provide the dual pleasure of being set in beautiful and natural surroundings and of academic interest in terms of their architectural design. Kuda, a sleepy village in district Raigad, 21 km southeast of Mangaon and 130 km from Mumbai on the Mumbai-Goa highway, has a group of 26 caves carved in a low hill on the sea coast, thereby making them caves with a view.
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  • A popular and prominent Digambara Jaina tirtha, at least since the 12th -13th century CE, are the Jaina caves on the hills of Mangi-Tungi in Nashik District. They are also famously known as ‘Siddhakshetra’, where legendary beings and 99 crore Jaina munis are believed to have achieved nirvana.
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  • A group of 18 caves located at Pitalkhora just about 80 kilometers from Aurangabad are one of the earliest examples of rock-cut architecture in India. Carved in the Satamala range of the Western Ghats of Maharashtra they are an early Buddhist site which dates back to the 2nd century BCE and are now a valuable source of study of the early Buddhist architecture. This is no doubt a remote place but a visit becomes worth the effort when you look at the architectural beauty of the caves.
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  • Buddha flanked by elevenheaded AvalokiteshwaraTM Cave no.41

    As the most enduring remnants of India’s treasured past, the caves in Mumbai, otherwise known as the commercial capital of the country, present a rich legacy of spiritual thought, faith and the culture of those times. But where, you may well ask, can caves be found in the cheek-by-jowl congestion of Mumbai? Rest assured, there are many! But it takes the spirit of an explorer to discover them, absorb the ambience that continues to linger over the years, and marvel at the religious icons they are. 

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Caves - Destination