Pitalkhora is a group of 18 Buddhist caves located in Gautala Sanctuary near Aurangabad. This group is known for the unique sculptural panels and murals in the caves.
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.
The caves are located on a hill called Chandora. This region is known as Khandesh This beautiful valley, which takes on the hue of melted brass in twilight, was used by the ancient Indians as a major pass on the trade route linking Ujjain – Maheshwar – Bahal with Ellora, Paithan and Ter.
Four of the caves are ‘chaityas’ and the rest are ‘viharas’. All the caves belong to the Hinayana period, but the paintings are of the Mahayana period (6th century CE). The caves are in two groups, one is a cluster of fourteen caves and the second of four.
The most important cave at the site is Cave 3, which is the main chaitya. This is apsidal in plan with a vaulted roof. Five crystal reliquaries in the shape of a ‘stupa’ were found in the structural portion of the partially rock-cut and partially constructed stupa in the chaityagriha. Today, one can see only the rock-cut base of the stupa. The original complete pillars demonstrate beautiful painting fragments of the Ajanta style. Many images of standing and seated Buddhas are clearly visible even today. The viharasfollow an ancient pattern with a hall in the centre with small residential cells along three walls. There are small benches and sometimes niches in the cells. Of these, Cave 4 is an elaborately carved vihara with pillars, pilasters, lattice windows and other decorations on the wall.
One of the most exquisite pieces of art can be seen at the entrance of Cave 4. The elaborate entrance of this cave is through a small passage with a flight of steps leading to the open space above in front of Cave 4. There are two ‘dwarapalas’ at the entrance, one on each side of the door. Their costume reminds us of the Shaka influence. In the adjacent wall, a five-hooded cobra was carved with holes in his hoods. The arrangement was made in such a manner that the water flowing through a channel behind used to get sprinkled through the cobra’s hoods. The plinth of the vihara in the wall adjacent to the entrance has a series of nine elephants ending with an almost life-size horse in profile with a male figure - a ‘chauri’ bearer. All this indeed makes for a spell-binding architectural arrangement. A striking figure of a Yaksha holding a pot on his head with an inscription on his hand was recovered along with many other fragments of sculptures in the clearance of the courtyard. Most of the sculptures are exhibited in the National Museum, New Delhi. However two important sculptures namely, a guardian Yaksha and Gajalakshmi are displayed in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum, Mumbai.
Distance from Mumbai: 365 kms.
Aurangabad District, Maharashtra, India
Pitalkhora caves are in the Gautala Sanctuary near the historical city of Aurangabad. The literal meaning of the word Pitalkhora is ‘Valley of Brass’. It probably got this name because of the yellowish sunrise covering the valley every morning. The roaring waterfalls and the valley gives an exceptional experience. The finely carved caves are on a hill called Chandorain in the Sastamala mountain ranges of western Maharashtra.
Currently, this region is known as Khandesh. It has several scenic places. This area has served as a major pass on an ancient trade route. The 4 of the Pitalkhora caves are 'Chaityas' (Buddhist prayer halls), and the remaining 14 caves are 'Viharas' (residential monasteries). All the caves here belong to the Theravada (Hinayana) period, the paintings in these caves belong to the Mahayana period of Buddhism, which makes it distinct from other Buddhist sites. The unique blend of two artistic features adds to the glory of the caves and thus makes it worth visiting.
Cave no.3 has the main Chaitya, apsidal in shape with an arched roof. Inside a semi rock-cut and partially constructed stupa in the Chaitya Griha, 5 stupa shaped crystal containers of relics were found. Though today only the rock-cut base of the stupa has remained here, its pillars have beautiful eye-catching paintings, similar to the Ajanta murals. At the entrance of cave 4 stands stunning sculptures of two Dwarpals (gatekeepers). The carvings of five-headed Naga, nine elephants, the horse with a male figurine strike achievement and advancement of imagination and architectural skills. Apart from these, many sculptural panels depicting life scenes of the Lord Buddha, a panel of Gajalakshmi and an image of a guardian Yaksha were found here. The image of Yaksha is currently placed in the National Museum at Delhi.
Pitalkhora caves are located on a hill called Chandora in Gautala Sanctuary, approx 80 km from Aurangabad.
The region of Aurangabad has a hot and dry climate. The summers are more extreme than winters and monsoon, with a temperature up to 40.5 degrees Celsius.
Winters are mild, and the average temperature varies from 28-30 degrees Celsius.
Monsoon season has extreme seasonal variations, and the annual rainfall in Aurangabad is around 726 mm.
Things to do
With so much that the caves exhibit to us, everything is worth seeing, although one must visit caves no.3 and 4, viharas, five headed naga, elephant carvings, stupa gallery and its water management.
Nearest tourist places
- After spending time at Pitalkhora one can visit
- Pitalkhora View Point
- Gautala Autramghat Sanctuary (25 KM)
- Sir Autram Smarak (19.5 KM)
- Ellora caves (49.2 KM)
- Chandika Devi Mandir, Paatna (35.4 KM)
Special food speciality and hotel
Traditional and delicious food items of Aurangabad like the Naan Khaliya are a must to try on the visit.
Vegetarian: Hurda, Daal Batti, Vaangi Bharata (a special preparation of Brinjal/Eggplant), Shev Bhaji
Accommodation facilities nearby & Hotel/ Hospital/Post Office/Police station
Accommodation facilities ranging from general to luxurious needs are available at the Aurangabad and vicinity.
Jawalkar Hospital (18.8 KM)
Kannad Police Station (18.7 KM)
Visiting Rule and Time, Best month to visit
The visiting hours are 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
August to February is considered the best period to visit the caves.
One must carry drinking water, a cap/hat, an umbrella (during the rainy season), and some snacks while visiting the caves.
Language spoken in area
English, Hindi, Marathi